Tag Archives: confidence

Becoming an elder

For Christmas, a friend got me a subscription to a magazine on spirituality. I was enjoying the articles in the first issue, on topics from resilience, joy, domestication and healthy hips.

And then I got to the retreat section, featuring spas and meditation centers in places like Costa Rica and Mexico. I skipped those pages since they are unlikely destinations and went to the more-possible selection of sites in the States. Then I landed on one called modern elder academy, and I thought, this is for me, seeing as how I am an elder (71 years old) and I am reinventing myself (modern?).

But it seems that in modern parlance, I am probably more of an ancient because this retreat is geared for elders who are in their forties. You read that right—forties!

When did forty-year-olds become elders?

Has life expectancy dropped precipitously?

I was confused.

I thought we were in a period of having the most centenarians in history. If forty-year-olds are elders, what is someone who have lived more than one hundred years?

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Then I remembered back to the late nineties (when I was in my forties) and my first essay was published. I started getting emails asked me to become resident expert from a variety of e-journals and blog sites. At first, I ignored them because I didn’t understand why I was getting them. Expert? What could possibly qualify me as expert?

But the requests kept coming, so I finally responded to one and was told that since I published an essay on forgiveness, I qualified as an expert. One essay? An expert? I don’t think so.

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A few years after that, I started working with post-college graduates and realized that in the thirty years since I was twenty, a lot had changed. These young people said things like, “I have been doing (insert activity) for years.” “You are only twenty-something,” I would reply. “How many years can it be?” The answer was usually “two” or “three.”

At the time, I was also teaching knitting to mostly twenty-somethings who were going on two-year overseas service assignments, and during one of my knitting classes, one woman asked if I had been knitting for long. “Not too long,” I said. “Maybe ten years.”

“Ten years!” she exclaimed. “That’s almost half my life. That’s very long.” Perspective, I thought.

Then there was the young man who had meditated for fifteen minutes a day for thirty days and raved about how meditation has changed his life. “That is a good start,” I said, and then added, “Come talk to me when you have been meditating fifteen minutes a day for fifteen years.”

Those are now the people who are hitting their forties, and given their confidence in their twenties, I can see that at forty, they might consider themselves full of wisdom—like elders.

Me? I finally accepted my expert status when I was in my sixties and am just now settling into my status as an elder, at seventy-one.

God winks

God wink is an expression I first heard when I moved to Michigan eight years ago. A God wink is one of those serendipitous events, something totally unexpected, which has a hint of divine intervention in it.

Since moving here, I have heard God wink on several times, but not used the phrase myself until the other day.

Two days after I came to the aid of the woman who fell off the ladder—and knowing only my first name and my street name—this woman went house to house on my street to find me. She wanted to thank me for helping her. One of my neighbors pointed out my house to her, and she pulled into my driveway just as I was coming home.

We chatted a bit and she thanked me (and gave me a lovely gift).

“No one else who would have helped me,” she said.

“I wasn’t supposed to be here,” I told her. “I was meant to be in Europe this week, but I canceled because of Covid.”

And then I gasped. “This was a God wink,” I exclaimed.

The next morning, the Liturgy of the Hours had a reading from St. Ephrem, who wrote, “When the Lord commanded us to be vigilant, he meant vigilance…against lethargy and timidity.”

Being vigilant is a theme for me this Advent, and I think of helping the woman who fell off the ladder as an example of being vigilant.

When she visited me, she told me a car had been parked in front of her house the entire time she was hanging lights. There were two people inside the car, and they only drove away after I had left her. Even though they were closer to her when she fell, neither of them got out of the car to help her.

Reading St. Ephrem’s words, I wondered about being vigilant against timidity and if the people in that car were too timid to come to her aid.

Timidity is defined as “a lack of courage or confidence.” Perhaps they lacked either courage or confidence.

One of the gifts of aging for me is having the confidence to respond in a crisis. I may not have medical training, but I can tell when someone needs medical help—and I can certainly call 911 or drive someone to Urgent Care.

Are there other times, though, when I lack courage or confidence? When I am, in fact, timid?

John the Baptist comes to mind. He lacked neither courage nor confidence, but boldly proclaimed his message of repentance.

Advent is a time to take a step back from daily life and look at where we might need more courage and confidence to speak of love, forgiveness and hope. Advent is a time to pray for the grace to be vigilant against timidity and to act on the urgings of the Holy Spirit to extend a helping hand.

When we act with courage and confidence, we can be conduits of God winks.

Waiting

Waiting for the hurricane to make landfall, anxious and uncertain.

Waiting for the next terror attack or mass shooting.

Waiting to see the course of disease.

I have known this anxiety before,

this waiting for some unseen danger, some impending doom.

When and where will the catastrophe strike?

And where can I find safety and security?

I suppose my safety is where it has always been.

In reaching out to another,

in kindness, in caring, in nature,

appreciating the beauty of a sunset or a bird or a flower,

feeling the wind and the warmth of the sun,

living in every moment and seeking goodness,

trusting in my place in the universe.

How blessed I am to be alive.

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Fearless

My friend Ted was a very private person. He often confided in me, but always with the admonition not to tell anyone.

“Who would I tell?” was my usual retort, and he would recite a list of our friends.

“They wouldn’t care,” I would say, and he would mutter something under his breath. But he knew I was trustworthy, that I would not tell.

I am good at keeping secrets. My eight years of working for the FBI gave me lots of practice in keeping all kinds of secrets. Plus, if we had a family coat of arms, our motto would be Don’t tell. I came to the FBI as a fully-formed secret-keeper.

I was such an obvious secret-keeper that people sought me out to pour out their hidden lives.

True confessions was how I thought of those occasions when co-workers would reveal to me their deepest, darkest secrets. The stories usually began with “I have never told anyone this, but….”  I knew who was having affairs, who had had abortions and who had been abused as children. I knew of betrayals and dashed hopes. I knew the fears and anxieties traumatic life events could create. I listened and kept their confidences.

Somehow, I seemed to have the capacity to receive these sacred sharings. It felt like a God thing—and a mystery to me, the way people sought me out. People needed to talk, and I could listen. And after hearing someone’s confession, I released what I had heard, offering it as a prayer to God for healing.

These were one-sided conversations, though, because I kept my own secrets to myself.

Then, in my late twenties, I heard the slogan, You are only as sick as your secrets. If my secrets were the measure of my health, I was in deep trouble, because I kept lots of them. I knew government secrets from working at the FBI, other people’s secrets and my own.

When I heard that slogan, something shook loose inside me. I began to consider my secrets.

Mine were not so different from those others had confided in me. So, why was I holding onto them so tightly? What was I protecting? I looked for someone in whom I could confide and took baby steps in revealing my secrets. With each true confession, I felt lighter, freed from the burden of the secret.

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I came to understand that what happened in the past could not hurt me in the present, and I came to see myself as a survivor. Sharing helped me see my strengths and showed me how resilient I am.

Over the years, I have shared more and more of my past and now I am quite public.

If I had a family coat of arms, I would want my motto to be Nothing to prove, nothing to fear, nothing to hide. I want to be transparent and to accept myself as I truly am. I see that as the way to health and freedom.

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Read the neon signs

Sitting at a bar with two friends one evening, one shared that he suspected his wife was having an affair. We asked why he thought that. He explained that her job at a bank, a job she had had for many years, was always a 9-5 kind of job, but recently, she had begun to work a lot of late nights and even weekends and some overnights.

“Read the neon signs,” my other friend advised.

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That memory resurfaced while I was walking the dog this morning and begged the question, “What neon signs am I not reading?”

Sometimes ignoring reality is much easier than facing it. Looking back on my life, I can see many times when I refused to read the neon signs. I did not want to face the truth and have to deal with the fallout. I have often taken the attitude that if I ignore something long enough, it will go away, which can work.

But, living that way requires me to ignore my intuition and to suppress my feelings. It takes a lot of energy to deny reality and to pretend that everything is okay when, at some level, I know it is not.

God calls me to pull my head from the sand and face the difficulties I have been trying to avoid, the reality I have been ignoring. God calls me to live in a truth that sets me free.

Sometimes, as in my friend’s situation, the signs are pretty clear. Other times, though, the signs are not as easy to see.

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I must be in one of those cloudy periods now, because I don’t have a clue why this memory came back to me or what new lesson it is inviting me to learn. I can’t see what I can’t see, and I don’t know what I don’t know.

Could the neon signs be related to my relationship with Jesus and how I am feeling disconnected?

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Could it have something to do with my desire to move from full-time work to semi-retirement?

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Or does it have something to do with forming new relationships as I settle into life in Michigan?

Or….

I pray that God will open my eyes so I can see what is probably right in front of me—and then give me the courage to act. I want to be free. I want my life to be authentic.

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