How I Got My Moxie* On

OUTSTRETCHED ARMS AT SUNSET

It’s funny how little, unobtrusive, simple things can suddenly turn life in a new direction, open your eyes. A wise saying showing up on Facebook at just the right moment. A phone call from out of the blue. A book that has just the right sentence at just the right time. A song that brings back a meaningful memory. A voice from the past, speaking just the right words.

 

Or even an ironing board showing up at an inconvenient time. Yeh, I know, that’s a shift…but that’s what turned on a light recently in this 77-year-old brain.

 

I had encountered that board last year after I’d been sick for many months and was shocked then at how heavy it had become. Heavier than I’d ever known it to be. I’d lost 60 pounds and muscle mass and strength, and it had gained 20 pounds and considerable heft!

 

Dang! I’m old! I’m old enough all of a sudden that I can’t lift even a relatively light ironing board? At least it used to be light…

 

Months went by. I did nothing. Dismay did not turn into determination. Winter was hibernation season in Minnesota, and I just nestled in and hunkered down and stayed warm.

 

I tested myself with that ironing board periodically, and it wasn’t losing any weight at all. I just kept pretending that I could magically get stronger as I got healthy again. That ironing board was my nemesis. And it was winning!

 

And I finally got tired of losing. I’m in great health now (for my age), but I knew that something important was still missing, and that something was something I did not want to have to face.

 

exercise

 

If I wanted to age well – if my blog was to mean anything – I’d have to age as well as I can physically. “Good enough” was not good enough any more.

 

PROBLEM: EXERCISE HAS ALWAYS BEEN MY BETE NOIRE!**

 

I admit it, I am inherently lazy, and besides, I hate to sweat. A deadly combination, I know, but there you are. A great day for me is spent with a book, indoors, sitting, reading. When I have worked in a routine, it’s only lasted a couple of months before I’m bored and lazy kicks in again. Call it a failure of character! I can take it.

 

I’ve never found any sport at which I was even minimally capable, let alone proficient. I’m not particularly well-coordinated. Call that a failure of DNA. I was even pathetic at badminton! Besides, sweating, you know?

 

There was 2015 at the Rochester Athletic Club, which was glamorous and had everything I needed, including a buff instructor who taught me how to do everything safely. I was fit, alright! And I loved it!

 

But as time went by, it got harder and harder to get myself out of the house and into my car. And when I did, it seemed as though the available parking places at the RAC were farther and farther from the entrance! As if that’s a problem when you’re trying to get fit! I made it a problem: another failure of character. I lasted a year.

 

Now, at almost 78, I’ve realized that I’ve been paying a price. I can’t fool my aging body any more. I can’t wish it into shape. The wrinkles I get used to, but the loss of strength and agility is another matter altogether. I don’t know if I can get back as much as I’d like to, but I’ll never know if I don’t try. Bodies work that way.

 

I’ve tried walking. Boring. Countless walking machines. More boring. Walking in my large apartment complex. Meh – and boring. Exercise videos for “older people.” Not bad, but also, meh. Running? Are. You. Kidding?

 

But now the snows are melting fast, and temperatures are in the high 40’s-low 50’s and the sun has come out again after the long dark winter. Spirits are lighter – including mine – and everything seems possible again!

 

So just in time – how does that happen so often? – I read about Nordic pole walking*** in an article written by a woman I know. She loved it, so I did some exhaustive online research and thought I just might love it, too. It turns out that this form of exercise is even great for us elders! Okayyyyyyy!

 

I got my SWX Norway 8-oz. aluminum poles with carbonite tips three days later, AND I LOVE THEM!!!! Not being an athlete, it’s taking a little time to get the technique down (especially the use of my non-dominant left arm), but I do think that this thing is going to be my life-saver! This. I. Can. Do.

 

Even at this early stage, I’m sailing along, back straight, head up and looking ahead, per instructions. Hands loose in the straps, poles grabbing the pavement as I easily push down on them as they pass behind me. I’m flying! And, to my surprise, I didn’t even care when I realized that… I. Was. Sweating!!!!!

 

Imagine that!

Grace shows up as an ironing board!

And two eight-ounce poles!

 

Do I know that I am very, very lucky that I can still do this? Oh, my yes! I’m aware of that with every step I take. We do what we can. As long as we can. And sometimes we find that gratitude has become a way of life because physically, life has becomes harder now. And to choose to do anything that keeps us going and independent is also grace.

 

One major plus with Nordic pole walking: you use 90% of your muscles! That means arms, too! Ironing board, you are on notice! I am on a roll! I am coming for you!!!

 

And I intend to stay on a roll!

This old gal is gettin’ fit!

I’ve got a sweat to work up!

 

Now – where is that blasted ironing board! Hidden, of course. Behind the bathroom door. Where I never notice it…

**************************************************************************************

*moxie: having enough cleverness, skill, fortitude, cajones to solve (or at least to get out of) a difficult and personally threatening situation. Chutzpah. Fortitude. Grit. Gumption. Spunk.

**BETE NOIRE: French – black beast. Bane of one’s existence.

***If you want to see what Nordic pole walking is all about, a good shorter video on YouTube is “Nordic Pole Walking Technique” from Nordic Pole Walking USA (4:47 min.) A longer one (22:28), also on YouTube, is “The Nordic Pole Walking Technique by Nordixx Canada.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Grace of Regret

“Life is difficult.” So begins M. Scott Peck’s 1987 book, “The Road Less Traveled.” A simple truth sets the stage. My favorite simple truth in my elderhood is, “Grace arrives.” I keep finding it happening.

 

When life is difficult, when we find ourselves in our most vulnerable moments, scared and frail and carrying too much emotional weight and blind as a bat, we can usually find our saving grace. Eventually. It’s one of those miracles that crops up even if we’re not paying close attention. Grace arrives.

 

The Very Thing that picks us up and points the way forward in spite of our fear has just been waiting for us to give up. Watching for us to stop being convinced that all is lost. That nothing is going to change. That life is never going to be what we thought it could be. That we were lost and would never be found.

 

Grace shows up when we least expect it. And it hardly ever turns up looking or sounding quite like we thought it would.

 

As I anticipate my 78th birthday around the bend, I’ve been realizing that the power of Regret has been just such a saving grace this past year. It has been a familiar and largely unwanted companion for decades, but now it’s become another new grace of elderhood that I’ve only recently recognized.

 

Most of us don’t welcome regret; we don’t really want it to show up; we may have pushed it away more than once. Regret is hard. Regret is ugly. Regret is more painful than most of us are willing to go through.

 

Maybe that’s why so many modern “sayings” about regret all tell us to regret nothing. Live life fully and without regret, they urge. It’s just a roadblock to the life you’re meant to have. It gets in the way of your happiness. It keeps you from becoming the “real you.”

 

But regret, when it’s avoided, just keeps coming back. Over and over. And it never feels better when we simply turn our backs on it. It gains power every time we pretend that we can avoid it. And it breaks the dam we’ve built against it every time.

 

These elder years are the ones that have an insistent work to them: the work of remembering. None of us avoids it. We remember the past and remember it again. And again. We find ourselves going back over the life we’ve put together. It’s a necessary work.

 

The same memories tend to pop up over and over, both the good ones and the bad ones. And sometimes new memories appear. And some of the new ones are the most painful ones. Ones we’ve cleverly sidestepped if they have been those that carry our guilt.

 

“Life review” becomes more palpable and more urgent when our time is growing shorter. The work of remembering is to remember it all. And our work is not yet done.

 

Sorrowful memories are perhaps the hardest ones that come home to be taken care of. To be nurtured.

 

The deaths of our closest and dearest one always lights the fire of regret. I know it from my own hardest losses. And I know it from so many people whom I’ve nurtured as a pastor over the years. Even those who have had the greatest conflicts and problems in the now-lost relationships face regret.

 

Regret always shows up. And a great disservice is done if we are told not to pay attention to those regrets. Because regrets are the doorway to the repentance and forgiveness that gives us the grace to become who we are still meant to be.

 

Many of the regrets turn out to be the same – or very similar. Lists of what wrongs we’ve done and what right things we failed to do. They arrive as unwanted guilt:

guilt for every “I love you” that we left unspoken.

guilt for every silence that should have been filled.

guilt for every meanness that should have been silent.

guilt for every time we chose to do what we wanted to do instead of what our loved one wanted to do.

guilt for every decision that broke a heart.

guilt for every time we took for granted.

guilt for every time we turned away or spoke in anger.

guilt for our infidelities and our determined selfishness.

 

Sometimes forgiveness shows up early as we allow ourselves the grace to say that we are imperfect clay that messes up all the time even when we’re trying our best to be good. We’re “only human.” It can be quite a relief to admit that. And it is good. Because being human does mean being imperfect.

 

But sometimes forgiveness needs to wait a bit because there really are some times for which we carry a real guilt. To simply say that we should never regret is to say that we have never been responsible for the larger hurts that we have brought on others – and on ourselves. And guilt has its place in teaching us that.

 

We need to sorrow over that for a time. Feel its pain. Give it its due. Weep deeply and long if we must. Go the distance. Make repairs if we can. And then – when the time is right, let it go. Receive the forgiveness that has been waiting to meet us.

 

To deny our regrets is to deny our humanity. It is to live in the pretense of having done nothing wrong.

 

It is in the sorrows of our guilt that we find the power of repentance.

And repentance is the handmaid of regrets that are laid to rest at last.

“Yes, I forgive myself. Yes, I am forgiven.”

Now I am free to become better than I have ever been.

 

It’s all a part of weaving together the fabric of our one distinctive life: imperfect but, finally, redeemable.

 

And when the work has been done: Gratitude shows up! And wow! We’ve never known gratitude like we find in forgiveness!

 

Here’s the wonder, though. Once the letting go was accomplished, I found that all the bad memories vanished. My overactive mind does not go there any more. The work has been done. The unexpected grace has washed them all away.

 

And now wonderful memories, long forgotten, have been flooding back. There is room for them now! And it’s changing the whole way I do life! And I laugh more!

 

And I’m very okay with that!

Simple Lessons, Arriving Unexpectedly

On a personal note…

 

You know what happens when you get too big for your britches. (Elders will get this right away…you who are younger might need a tutorial…) Yes, sometimes, “something” happens. A distasteful lesson arrives, unwanted, insistent.

 

So it was this past Tuesday and Wednesday.

 

Those of you who have been reading this blog know that I’m endlessly cheerful about being old, and encouraging to those who are doubtful that there is anything to be cheerful about. I’m still feeling cheerful, but for all of that, I’ve also been humbled this past week.

 

I have been dutifully reminded that there really are limitations out there over which I have little control – but over which I do have some control that I have nonetheless refused to exert. The lesson has unfolded over two days which were more intense than any that I have had in a long time.

 

I’ve been proactive in keeping my life balanced so that I have the energy that I need to keep this elderhood in good shape. But sometimes life really does happen while you’re busy making other plans, to paraphrase John Lennon again.

 

And sometimes I have just avoided the work and discipline that should make that balance work. Like regular exercise…

 

Tuesday and Wednesday this week, I was steeped in intense work on behalf of the small church that I’m serving for a short time while they search for a new pastor. It began with a trip with two of the members – both elder men who happen to do a lot of walking.

 

We are in the midst of a thaw in this part of the world, after nearly 80 inches of snow that has piled up high. When we reached Minneapolis to meet with denominational officials, we found we had to park three blocks away. The walk to the Conference Center was uphill, the sidewalks mined with occasional strips of ice and slush which needed to be negotiated carefully. (We call it the “Minnesota shuffle.”)

 

I was doing so well, and I was congratulating myself for being an old woman who could still hack it on the winter walking scene (no small accomplishment!) with these two fit friends.  Then we reached the 8 or 9 steps that led to the parking lot.

 

I could barely lift my legs to begin the climb! They were dead weight! Nooooooo!! Step by step, I slowly made it to the top, but every step was a question mark. I was confounded! Would they notice? And I still had nearly a block left to reach the front door. Surprisingly, and to my considerable relief, every step on level ground was fine. Nonetheless, my comeuppance was clear.

 

The two-hour meeting was intense, full of energy and hard work. It was good. The hour and a half trip back home went well. But the next surprise, the limits of my stamina, was about to appear.

 

Intensity can be invigorating. It can also be draining.

Especially for us introverts!

 

As I parked my car in my beloved underground garage, I realized suddenly that I was totally, unabashedly exhausted! Done in!! Weary to the bone! I slept 10 hours that night. (My usual is 5-6 hours…)

 

The next day, I had a three-hour lunch with a wonderful woman of the church who filled me in on the history of the church over the past few years. My energy was at full tilt. Listening, I was reminded, is taxing work, even when it’s good work. My stamina was again being challenged.

 

That evening, I began to run a temperature of 100.5. Out of the blue! This happens now and then to me for no apparent reason. Chills and fever and feeling lousy for a day or so. Just a coincidence, or a lesson waiting to be learned? I slept 9 hours. And I had to cancel a third intense day.

 

Coming up against our limitations at any time can be frustrating. In elderhood, it can be downright discouraging – depressing – infuriating. Not so long ago, that would have been where I landed. But it isn’t our only option.

 

Giving up, giving in, doesn’t have to be the default choice.

 

The calm that I so cherish in my elderhood has turned out to still be strong and resilient, despite my dismay. Evidently it is well enough developed that it’s here to stay. That alone is good reason to take a deep breath of gratitude.

 

This grace of calm is not unique to me. It is part and parcel of this time of life, especially when we embrace it and welcome it. It becomes the balance that can keep us on an even keel. It takes our wobbly spirit and stills it and sets it on even ground. Its serenity clears away the cobwebs that have wound their gossamer fingers around any unused habits or forgotten intentions. It always amazes!

 

This calm also reminds me that I am still in charge of so much more than I think I am! My physical well-being is not just determined by my age. Yes, my body has been chugging along for nearly 78 years, and some things are wearing down. But there is such a thing as – EXERCISE – which is a meh! reality for me, but an essential for the rest of my life.

 

Two recalcitrant legs that almost refused to be lifted and a mysteriously appearing fever. Just chance, or a gentle warning? I’m thinking I need to pay attention. Okay, so here I go…and some day I may return to Minneapolis and climb that same hill and those same steps, just to prove that paying attention is all worth it!

 

Welcome the calm when it arrives! Nurture it! It will serve you well!

 

And I’m very okay with that!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life is difficult. Still, we dream

 

When I was a little girl, I cradled my baby dolls gently, rocking them and talking sweetly to them, dreaming of some day having real ones of my own.

 

When I was a child, I would help my mother in the kitchen and dream of having a home and family of my own.

 

When I was a teenager, I dreamed of being loved enough that I would become some handsome man’s wife and the mother of his children.

 

When I was 22 and sporting my hard-won Bachelor’s degree, I was married on a sunny June afternoon in the large, beautiful chapel of the university that had granted it to me. And I dreamed of living happily every after.

 

I was 25 and 28 when I gave birth to my two sons, and I dreamed of being the perfect mother, as my mother had been.

 

When I was 33, I lived through a clinical depression after a miscarriage, and life changed in ways I could never have anticipated. The safe and logical sequence of my years were interrupted as I began to notice that my dreams were changing. Insistently so.

 

In my 30’s, I went back to school for a Masters degree in vocal music. In my 40’s, I answered a calling to pastoral ministry, experienced the pain of divorce and watched my two sons leave the nest for some years in the military.

 

In my 50’s, I married my soul mate and lived out my pastoral calling in several ways – and retired for the first time.

 

In my 60’s I learned how to fish again and took up Norwegian decorative painting (rosemaling), completed the restoration of a large century-old Swedish immigrant log house, and became part of my extroverted husband’s enormous family and friends. And was dismayed by the appearance of Type 2 diabetes.

 

In my 70’s, I was both partner and nurse as my husband’s health deteriorated rapidly. When I was 72, he died. And some dreams went with him.

 

It took four and a half years to find the new dreams that would be worth following. This blog is the consequence.

 

Every dream at every stage was powerful and filled with light. And every dream turned out to be different from anything I had imagined. Sometimes they were better, sometimes they were worse. Each one that was given up left its lessons behind. Each one that was realized, grew my capacity for a deep and abiding gratitude. Amazingly, this profound gratitude has grown so deep and so surprising that it has become a new reason for living.

 

My dreams now seem to be among the most profound of all. Perhaps because my end grows closer and closer and is very real, not a dream at all. They are the dreams of most of us elders, I think, but that does not take away their power one whit.

 

I dream…that I will remain reasonably healthy for as long as possible. Enough to remain independent for years to come. Is this not a given? I mean, really.

 

I dream…that if my health deteriorates enough to need to change my circumstances, I will have built a store of resilience that brings me through the changes with some measure of equanimity and acceptance. (*equanimity: mental calmness/composure/evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation/self-possession)

 

I dream…that my mind will serve me well enough to keep writing. If not the blog forever, then even just completing my autobiography for my family will be enough. (There is still SO MUCH to say after living such a long life already!) Will my writing live in posterity? It doesn’t matter, really. The doing of it has already been grace.

 

I dream…that grace will afford me the time to keep nurturing my family (none of which lives closer than 2 hours away, so it’s tricky sometimes), growing new friendships and growing my own character.

 

I dream…that my end will come quickly. (I have SO much company on this one!) Barring that (which is more likely, I hear), that I can endure the decline of body (and mind?) with the gentle and accepting grace that my husband did.

 

I dream…that I may continue to greet each new year with a rollicking sense of humor and welcome. No matter how difficult it may still be to dream.

 

I dream…that I may keep discovering a sense of purpose and a sense of wonder. Change is inherent in both. New dreams can surprise.

 

I dream…that mystery may grow to become an intimate friend. A friend that still reminds me often that I am not-God. Mystery that is no longer a weight to carry, even as I still seek to understand what is still hidden.

 

I dream…of the day when I am reunited with my beloved and all I have loved who have gone on before me. As a Christian and pastor, this faith is an incomparable gift, hard-won and solid.

 

“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

“We make plans. God laughs.” – Anonymous freeway billboard

 

So why dream, anyway???

 

Because dreams give us direction. They point us ahead of ourselves. They read our hearts and minds and give us the promise of a future that holds meaning and fulfillment. They mine the depths of our spirits and set them on fire.

 

We are incapable of not dreaming. It is in our DNA, no matter how empty our lives may be. Yes, our dreams will change. Yes, many will go unfilled. Yes, we may lack the courage – or the opportunity – or the gifts to live some of them out. But they are the lodestar (*a person or thing that serves as an inspiration or guide) of every life at every age. Life is difficult. Still, we dream.

 

Having said all this…I would love to know what other dreams you have! I’m undoubtedly missing some that I need but haven’t yet noticed. Let’s relish them together!