Photo by Maartje Van Caspal

At his 80th birthday party, beloved teacher and author Ivan Barrett made quite an announcement. He said the work of a reputable research team proved those who have the most birthdays live the longest! I’ve now celebrated my 64rd birthday and I’m grateful for every year. I wouldn’t go back or wish myself younger. I love the age I am.

I feel like I’m experiencing the miracle of the bonus years. I’m so grateful to live in a day and time when women begin a second life in their forties as their children become independent – a life that increases in options at fifty and can soar in the sixties and beyond. As much as I enjoyed my children when they were little, sometimes I can hardly relate to my first life; it seems so long ago. My second life has been so eventful; so much of what I’ve contributed, so many of my ah has and rich leaning experiences have happened in the decades since I turned 40.

Each Day a Jewel

Growing older gracefully isn’t easy – especially in a youth-crazed society. We are labeled “over the hill” just when we finally learn how to live. Yet we can transcend that nonsense, maintain our humor, and recognize the vast value of each passing day. Author Jean Irion said, “Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it will not always be so.” [1]

I like stacking up new normal days and years, experiences, learning, moments of being – and I never lose any of the years I’ve lived. Neither do I lose the wear and tear those years have brought! Sometimes I want to say, “Forget the health food. I need all the preservatives I can get!”

I heard a good joke the other day: You know why women over fifty don’t have babies? They would put them down somewhere and forget where they left them. Do I relate! It’s comforting to know that God doesn’t forget anything! A child wrote a letter to God and said, ” Dear God, I keep waiting for spring but it hasn’t come yet. Don’t forget.”

Winter or Spring, Loss or Gain: All a Matter of Perspective

Are some of us are still waiting for spring to come again in our lives? Are we feeling snowed in, frozen in place, dormant? Sometimes we have to wait on God’s timetable, but so many times we can make choices that hasten the return of that spring feeling. God will never forget to help us do that.

I know from experience that the middle age and senior years are not the sunset of life, but more like a new and colorful spring. We have a full palette of colors with which to paint our lives. The longer I paint my own pictures, the more I realize that many sunsets I perceived earlier as losses I now see as blessings that continue to enrich my life. I wrote a poem about that:

Some Days I Think All Life is Loss
Lamenting length of losses
I grieve shattered dreams and disillusion,
failure to create “ideals.”
I mourn lost times with children flown . .
No more angel-faced infants making soft sounds of satisfaction,
Toddlers giggling gaily, delighted with discovery,
Winsome smiles when baby teeth are lost,
No more school triumph, little league, music lessons,
teenage exuberance, high expectations.
All too soon my dreams and children flew the nest,
Leaving razor-sharp regret; is sorrow my bequest?

On Wiser Days I Know All Life is Gain
I sigh with deep contentment at each heart-held rich memory–
All mine to savor any time I choose–
I miss my babies, yet I wouldn’t wish the old days back;
With each age and stage come new and precious ways we’ve grown.
Great compensations for each loss–
What I have now exceeds all joys I’ve known:
Freedom to choose how I spend my hours,
Satin-skinned grandbabies to cuddle and coo over,
Time to pursue creative dreams, embrace peaceful living.
Each year past brings more life, awareness, hope.
Freedom from illusion as I embrace more truth.
The golden years of life are truly better than the rest . .
Perspective’s wondrous gifts are heaven-blest.

We can optimistically believe in the treasure to be found in our older years, seek it, find it, use it, enrich ourselves and the world. I truly believe that the last decades of our lives, if lived in light and truth, can illuminate all the rest. Our inner light can grow, and the brighter it gets, the more light we add to the world.

One of the most satisfying things I’ve done is recent years that I didn’t do for years is write. Here’s another of my efforts that would never win a prize but was oh, so much fun to write:

You Aren’t Over the Hill;
  You’re Reaching Life’s Mountaintop!

When the kids are grown, (or nearly so)
   And the body starts to creak and groan,
    Some people say life’s all downhill from there.
Don’t believe it.

Gladly I ‘ll pass the baton to the young;
   Let them compete to stuff the most into each hour,
    huff and puff their way through jam-packed days,
    rise early and work half through the night,
     complain there’s never enough time,
       brag about how busy they are–
As though busy-ness itself were the finest merit badge.

I’ll watch hundreds pass me on the fast track
   As I treasure slow walks around the block,
    friends who enjoy my company,
     good books by the fire in the evening,
      sound sleep in a warm bed at night,
Knowing I’m not the one missing out.

Serenity is my gift for slowing down.
   I contentedly fry my eggs in the morning and enjoy every bite
    Sighing with contentment because I know
     there’s plenty of time
To do whatever matters most!

Focus on What Only You Can Do

One way to measure what matters most in time use is to determine what no one else but you could do and what you will value the most at the end of your life. Well into my seventh decade of living, I sense the reality that my time remaining is limited. I am overcome with a sense of urgency to complete those tasks uniquely mine. What words must I write that no one else can write? What work do I need to do that no one else can do? Yet this inner voice does not urge me to speed, to hurry, or to stress, but to the calm of caring, the peace of purpose, the fun of focusing. Clarity of values brings simplicity. I find the need for fewer clothes, fewer “things”, fewer commitments. I easily say, “no” to many things so that I may say “yes” to the few I feel God wants me yet to do.

What are some of the things no one else can do but me?

  • No one else can record what I have learned or document my life experiences, or glean from my files the truths most meaningful to me.

  • No one else is likely to take “matter unorganized”–my countless stacks of photos, journal, letters, and memorabilia and finish the picture histories of myself and my family that I’ve started. However, I must balance such pursuits. I mustn’t set aside living in order to record my life! I have adorable grandchildren and no one else can give them just the kind of grandmotherly love that I can. I have grown children dear to my heart, friends who need my encouragement. No one but me can fill my role with them-or the role of wife to my husband-at least I’m not going to give them that chance!

Gratefully, there is overlap on the lists of things I love and the things no one else can do. For example

  • I love writing about the most special times in my life-the things I’ve enjoyed most, the funniest happenings, the most important lessons I’ve learned from hard experiences-and no one can record those things from my perspective but me.
  • No one but me can capture precious hours for pondering, prayer, reading inspirational texts–and I love doing those things. I benefit greatly when I withdraw from the clamor of too many commitments and give myself the gift of quiet time.
  • I love to edit and I’m still doing it-but I limit my projects to material I feel is unique and true and valuable; I’m especially drawn to it if I feel that no one else could bring to it the background I can.
  • I love reading funny things my children said when they were little. I’m compiling “quips” to include in the picture history I’m making for each child and I know no one else would do that. Here are some I’ve found lately:

My oldest son, when he was not quite two interrupted a phone conversation I was having, saying loudly, “Mama, chocolate milk.” I said, “I’ll get you some as soon as I finish talking on the phone.” And he retorted, “Hang up!” Children have easy solutions to any problem!

One day this same little son was in the tub and had little plastic animal tub toys around him and called out to me, “Mama, why does walrusses hang their teeth out?”

Another day he laughed at something he said, and when I didn’t laugh he said, “That’s not a whole bunch of funny, is it Mama?”

No one knows my children’s childhood history like I do-and no one will write it down or save the most treasured pictures of their growing up years if I don’t.

How to Overcome Obstacles to Working on Projects Only You Can Do

What keeps me from working much on this project that means so much to me? Everything! All the daily tasks seem more urgent-every phone call, e-mail, meal or lesson to prepare. And overwhelm keeps me from working on it-it is just such a huge project that it doesn’t seem possible that I will ever, ever get it finished. Are those your obstacles too?

Solution Ideas:

  • When you think you don’t have time, try working in 15 minute blocks,
  • Set “eat the elephant one bite at a time” goals. Break the project down into tiny doable portions. One page a week means 52 pages done in a year! But 0x0=0
  • Organize interest groups for support-as the Relief Society suggests. I have two friends who come over most Tuesdays for nearly two hours and we scrapbook together. By having a certain time and place to do it, we are making real progress. Otherwise, we all admit we would never be consistent.
  • Set yourself a deadline to share a piece of it–such as a birthday. Plan to read and show a section of a child’s book at his party, for example.

The most important things is to do a bit at a time on a fairly regular basis; any feeling of progress is an amazing motivator to keep doing more. Remember that if you are anything like me, these are the years you always promised yourself you would do this sort of thing!

Seasons of Life

I like to think of my life in seasons. Although I always want to keep that springtime feeling, I’m really in the autumn of my life now – always my favorite season because of the brilliant fall colors and because I love to savor the abundant harvest. This is a colorful harvest season – I’m reaping and harvesting the consequences of all my previous choices. Sometimes I wish I’d planted a few different crops, but the good ones I did plant and nurture carefully over the years are yielding rich rewards. The colors of my life have never been richer or more varied.

I wrote a poem that expresses my feelings about this season:

Abundant Blooms of Autumn

I planted grass, trees, rose bushes, seeds
In the springtime of my life . . .
Set out tender tiny plants in early summer;
My yard burst forth green blades, buds, and leaves.

July and August’s scorching heat
Left all my careful planting wilted, thirsty, brittle, dim.
Sweating, wilted too, I prayed for rain
And cried when many buds and blossoms died.

Now in autumn, kinder, mellow sunlight heals,
Life-restoring rain comes often, cool and fresh.
I lay on gracious green, see trees blaze crimson, gold,
Delight in surprise spectrum of late flowers, lush and fragrant.

One never knows how long this pleasant season of my life will last . . .
Killing frost may come today or wait long weeks.
I’m hoping for an Indian summer, long and warm
To give delayed, sweet buds the time to open, see the sun . . .
Time to enjoy my final, best abundant bloom.

Keep Growing!

I can choose to remain truly alive by making the most of whatever I have to work with. I can refuse to worry about what I can’t do anymore and focus instead on what I can still do.

Each year lived brings to each person on this earth a more rich background of experience. Consequently, we can become more and more interesting as we grow older–but only if we choose to remain interested in everything around us. There is always something new trying to emerge in our lives, trying to increase our awareness, our capacity to love, our ability to grow if we cooperate the tiniest bit.

Our later years are enhanced by all we’ve learned throughout our lives, all we’ve felt and experienced. Every pain, grief, and joy has been a schoolmaster teaching us so much we now can share. As I look back on decades of events and feelings, I look at things so differently than when I was young. I see that each person’s life is part of an interlinking network, that we each play an important role in God’s infinite plan for his children. Everything we do affects others, who affect still others.

The more loved ones I lose, the more I begin to comprehend the beauty of the inevitable cycle of life and death. Any fear of dying has been replaced by fear that I won’t finish what I’ve been sent here to do or that I will stop learning and growing before I die. Growing is painful at any age, so it is always a temptation to drift along, and when things are good, wish to stop and rest – to resist change.

But in God’s plan all nature keeps growing.

I never want to lose the sense of the unsolved mystery of life. I never want to quit trying to understand more. If I quit looking for and accepting new pieces in the puzzle of life, I will have lost the best and most vital part of living.

If we choose to open up our hearts on a daily basis, the older we become the more loving, appreciative, and forgiving we become. Growing in all the godly attributes is what life is all about. Death is nothing more than continuing the growing and becoming in a different setting. Praise be to God for the law of eternal progression. Praise be to God for the opportunity to live and grow and love and die and keep on living! May we love life’s second half because we make each day a day full of real living because we choose to follow His plan and spend the precious currency of our time on things that matter most.