How To Take Charge of Change

changeBen Franklin once wrote that in this world, nothing can be said to be certain but death and taxes. I beg to differ. First, you probably could hide in a cave for a very long time and not pay taxes. Death is indeed certain but meant for a different blog post.

The “certain thing” I think he left off was change.

Change can be a celebration or a catastrophe. It is almost always a challenge. But I believe the most important thing about change is this: it can happen to you, or it can happen because of you.

The definition of change is “to make or become different; transform.”

On the positive side, change is what keeps us alive and thinking. It gets you out of your rut and helps you see things in a new way. I believe we should always be looking for ways to mix it up. It’s amazing how making small changes to your daily routine can give you a new lease on life. Don’t believe me?  Take the room you’re in most often and paint it a different color. This year I went even farther than that and swapped out the uses of two rooms. I made the living room into the den and the den into a second bedroom. We painted the den a light blue with an accent wall of a deeper blue on which I hung a favorite painting.  To tell you the truth, there was a moment of surprise every morning when I came into my newly blue room. It was a bit of joy every day.

b new bowlThe change can be smaller than that. Do you often have oatmeal or cereal for breakfast? Buy a new bowl that you love. Is there somewhere you go often? Take a new route. Eat at a new restaurant. Find a new television program—these days there are thousands! Make a list of old friends you don’t hear from often and call one every week.

Life can throw some pretty big changes at us that seem almost overwhelming. You have an illness or accident. You lose loved ones or lose a job. These are all things that happen without your permission. They are indeed changes that happen to you. But how life goes on, how that change reverberates through your life, is where you step in and take control. You can change the aftermath of the change.

This year there came a larger change than I was originally expecting. I was offered the chance to move into Assisted Living.

Just the fact that it was a question meant there had been a change, a diminishment in my capabilities. There was a mourning that came with that diminishment.

I loved my apartment in Independent Living. It was large and beautiful, and perhaps you’d heard I recently painted my living room blue! My apartment was close to the dining room, which was handy, and when I walked (or rode my motorized wheelchair) through the halls, there was always a happy chorus of “Hi, Bill!”

And yet…I was getting stuck in my apartment more and more because I didn’t have the energy to go down long halls or to lengthy dinner seatings or prolonged meetings or activities in other buildings. I had three wonderful aides who came in, but often I was eating alone in my apartment and watching tv with the aides. That was it. My world had gotten very small.

Yet, moving, at my age, would be a challenge. First, I’d have to admit my capabilities were diminished.

Second, I’d have to leave everything that was comfortable and well-known. I’d be going into an apartment in a new building where no one knew me. I wouldn’t know my way around. I wouldn’t know how things worked. And my mind isn’t as sharp as it once was. Would I just go from being stuck in one apartment where I felt comfortable to being stuck in apartment where I didn’t know anybody?

However, when I looked at what was offered in assisted living, it seemed the right move for me. It provided 3 meals a day and activities that were  closer and more manageable, time-wise. It has aides on call 24 hours. With my family’s help, I decided it was time to move.

I know people whose families moved them into assisted living, and they decided this move had been done to them. The aging of their bodies was also done to them. These people are miserable to this day. They sit alone in their apartment, angry, running over a list of whose fault their current situation is and who they’ll never forgive. When they come out to eat, they sit in a chair and don’t say a word to anyone. They’re unhappy and proud of it.

I vowed I would not let this happen to me. I would take charge of the aftermath of the change.

The first weeks were indeed tricky. I didn’t know what time to eat and I couldn’t always remember where the dining room was. I wasn’t sure who did what or who to ask for help, or how often I could ask. I didn’t know anyone’s names. There were activities, but I needed help getting to them. Would people even come to ask? Without help, I would indeed be stuck in my apartment.

For the first two weeks I was miserable. At once point, I told my daughter I thought I’d made a terrible mistake.

But then I began to get the lay of the land. The aides who work here became my friends, also. I knew when the meals were and how to get around. I decided that I would take every opportunity that I could, given my pain and energy levels. And the opportunities were wonderful! They held church and hymn sing on Wednesday mornings and choir club on Wednesday nights. Every day has so many opportunities that I have to pick and choose so as not to do too much. I discovered new activities like a short story discussion group and there are wonderful holiday meals and activities. The table of 4 with whom I eat is a group of wonderful women who have become friends.

And yes, now when I go down the halls, there is indeed a chorus of “Hi, Bill!”

So yes, change is always a challenge. I wouldn’t even say, “try to pray about everything,” like it was a task to be accomplished. Instead, keep a running dialogue with God about the changes every day. Remember God is in the midst of change, right along with you.

All our lives, we need to change and grow.

Dad wedding photoThe final change I made was this. My wife Marilynn wanted to be married to a man with a full head of hair. It was important to her that, after I became bald the same way my dad and brothers did, that I wore a hairpiece. After Marilynn died and as I got older, it became more and more of a nuisance. When I moved to assisted living, I decided enough was enough. I was going to make this change on my own.

Now I am balding and it’s great. It’s much easier to get up in the morning and go to bed. I’m a happy camper. If you die before I do and see Marilynn, you can reassure her I’ll wear it again when I arrive at the Pearly Gates.

So, we can decide to instigate change or take charge of change.

But the best thing, I think, the most important thing, is to be the reason good changes happen to others.

And the world will be a much better place.

swedish supper
My son Stephen and me knoshing on the leftovers of the Swedish smorgasbord in my new (not blue) living room

 

How to Watch Church from Home

tv remoteNow that I’m mostly homebound, I’m grateful that our church broadcasts its service. Several friends have said they sometimes watch, or they watch if they’re in the mood, or they watch a broadcast from a larger church to be inspired by the message. When I tell them I find that hour on Sunday to be one of the most meaningful of my week, they sometimes ask how that is. Here is my answer.

DECIDE WHY YOU’RE WATCHING

Are you watching to be inspired by the message? Are you watching to bgt your “religion points” for the week? Are you watching so you can have fun being catty about the choir and the pastor and the person who runs the camera afterwards? Or are you watching because you are dedicating this hour on the Sabbath to worshipping God? (And yes, these are good questions to ask, even if you’re able to attend a physical church!)

While many of those are fine reasons, let’s cut to the importance of this hour and decide we’re going to watch the service as an act of worship.

MAKE THE COMMITMENT

Decide this is something you’re going to do each week. Set the time aside. Tell God (though you’ll be together all week) you’ll keep your end of the assigned meeting on Sunday.

PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME

If your own church or house of worship broadcasts its service, ask to get a bulletin or program as soon as one is printed. Here in our senior complex, they have a list of who wants bulletins and one appears in my mailbox on Friday or Saturday.

Also find the kind of hymnal they’re using if they use a hymnal. See if you can borrow one from the church, or have them order an extra you can pay for. You can also order one yourself from the hymnal company online. Short of that, you can find the lyrics online and print them out.

One of my favorite things to do, once you know which hymns you’ll sing, is to look up coffee and bookstheir history online. Almost every hymn has an interesting background and reason that the lyricist or composer wrote it. Knowing this will make the songs mean more to you as you sing.

You can also read the scripture passages in advance and look up writings about them online.

PREPARE THAT MORNING

When Sunday comes around, treat it like a day you’d be going to church. Have breakfast early. If you can, put on special clothes that give you a feeling of occasion. Getting dressed differently alerts you that something special is happening, that you are giving this hour respect.man in white suit

As the time nears, switch off the phone. People will get used to calling you before or after  church when they understand this is your schedule.

If you’re ready before the broadcast, put on music or hymns that put you in the spirit.

Use this time to look up the scripture passages and have them at hand.

BE RECEPTIVE

When the service starts, remember that you’ve come to worship.

The Prelude is especially important. It’s your call to pray, to enter into this time together with God, to open your heart and ask to be blessed and be a blessing. You’re going to church with God, not with the woman in the funny hat. I mean, the lovely hat. Use the Prelude to prepare your spirit.

Follow along in your Bible when the Scriptures are read.hymns

Sing the hymns, pay attention to the words and ponder the stories behind the songs.

Make notes about the prayer requests and truly PRAY for them during the service and during the week to come.

Take notes about anything that inspires you during the sermon.

HAVE YOUR OWN COFFEE HOUR

It may be right after the service, or it may be later. If you were going to design your own coffee hour food and drink, what would you offer? Have those on hand for yourself.

IF YOU CAN, HAVE A SERVICE-WATCHING BUDDY

If you can’t be together during the service, set a time you’ll call to talk about church and the meaning of the service and the content of the sermon. When I was a kid, we went home and had a lovely Sunday dinner and talked about the sermon. Hearing what others have to say–and talking about it to find out what you think–is the best way to carry the service with you during the week.

Remenber always that the point of the service is for you to worship God. No matter how much you feel the choir or pastor might improve, that experience is on you.

DURING THE WEEK

steepleSee if your church office can have a point person for you and others watching at home. Keep praying for those in need. Send them notes or give them a call, if appropriate. Keep up with  their situation. You are likely in a unique position to be a prayer warrior for them. Take this seriously.

Occasionally email words of encouragement to the pastor and music director. Tell them what during last week’s service has helped you through this week. As a former pastor I can tell you this will mean the world to them.

+++HOW TO BE OF HELP IF YOUR CHURCH BROADCASTS A SERVICE+++

Consider the homebound a true part of your congregation.

Help them obtain a hymnal and make sure they have a Bible handy.

Print the bulletin as early as you can, and get them a copy before the service.

Have a point person who will contact them, or who they can contact, to stay in touch. If there is a prayer list, make sure they get a copy.

BILL WEBBER was a pastor in the Midwest and in California for 40 years. He has now retired to be near family in Pompton Plains, NJ.

 

A Sense of Purpose No Matter What

seniors in classOne of the hardest things about getting older is a loss of purpose, and of being able to help, truly help, other people and this world of ours.

In my last post I talked about some of the things I’ve found hard about aging. As my abilities decrease, it has been a challenge to continue to find ways to be of use and help, but oh! it is so hard to live without a feeling of usefulness.

I’ve come to believe that, as long as I’m here, the world still neeeds me–and we need you, too! Young or old, if you’re reading this, the world is better for your presence. And we need your help. Now, more than ever.

For years I was a pastor and it felt easy to help others. Like-minded people came together every week with the intention of making the world a better place. Those who needed my help personally could schedule an appointment and come to my office.

But after retirement, that changed. While I was still active and able to get out, I found it a joy to help and encourage our local pastor. No matter what age you are, I am telling you as a pastor–encouragement means everything. My wife Marilynn and I also wrote books and hosted Angel Teas which were attended by many folks who came, not just to talk about angels, but also about their lives.

As Marilynn’s health deteriorated, I felt my calling was to care for her, and, as dementia crept into our home and into her mind, it was my priviledge to help her feel safe and loved. Even when she occasionally forgot I was her husband, she would be calmed when I explained I was the friend who cared for her and always kept her safe. (More on dementia in a future post.)

After Marilynn died, I was still able to get out, albeit locally. Yet at first, I was at a loss. People here didn’t know me. They didn’t know who I was or where I’d been or what I’d done. They didn’t know which apartment I lived in or that I have a silly sense of humor. How could they help me feel less isolated?

In our book How to Become a Sweet Old Lady instead of a Grumpy Old Grouch, Marilynn and I pointed out that step one was an attitude adjustment, and I found I needed one, too. If I was going to sit at home, irrirable, waiting for someone to come cheer me up, I’d die a grinch in a chair. This is the law of irony: to help yourself, you must set out to help others. I wasn’t the only lonely person out there. Instead of waiting on someone to cheer me up, I’d become the person who looked for people to cheer up!

I still live independently in a beautiful senior community where we have several wonderful restaurants and the residents can come for supper at any time between 3 and 7. Since Marilynn–and therefore, I–had been homebound, I only really knew people from church and choir. I prayed about how I could help my fellow seniors, and an idea came to mind. Instead of sitting with a small group of the same people every night, I would purposely go at different times. If you’re a single or a couple at Cedar Crest, the hostess asks if you would like to be seated with others. I decided that every night I would say yes–and pray that God would have the hostess seat me with the people with whom I was supposed to sit.

nutrition-for-seniors

Not surprisingly, I made new friends, and became involved in new activities because I met the people who ran them. Cedar Crest started a discussion group that invited local scholars, teachers and authors to come and present interesting programs–it’s important to never stop learning!  I also became the male half of a pair of residents who had dinner with new arrivals to help give them the lay of the land, and I gave a Senior Hostel class on storytelling.

But you know what? The times I believe I was of most use were the times I got to a table and found folks who hardly talked–at the beginning. As they slowly found someone who was interested, who would listen, one by one, they’d come alive. Sometimes they got lost in the conversation, sometimes they repeated themselves, but oh! I found out for certain the one of the greatest gifts of kindness to give anyone is a listening ear. It is transformative.

Before long, I realized I was being “set up” by others with whom I’d had supper. Not with lady friends, but with other friends of theirs who needed to talk. In my case, they knew I was a trained counselor and could offer some help or advice, even if they refused to seek “official” help. But mostly, these were people who had things they needed to say out loud. They needed to be heard.

This is something anyone can do. Be a listening ear. It changes lives.

I also got one of those computer card-making programs and made special cards for birthdays and holidays, writing thoughtfully to each person.

Several years have passed now, and I no longer have the energy or trust my brain enough to constantly meet new folks, so I sit at a table of old friends. I try to sign up for as many things as I can, not feeling guilty if I’m not well enough, when the time comes, to actually attend. I can’t even trust myself to open the stupid card-making program.

So what now? How can I still help and have a purpose?

There is one answer, the answer that is for everyone. I can still do the most important thing of all. I can pray.

If you hear nothing else from this blog, hear this: praying is the most important, and most powerful thing you can do.

praying-man

This is not saying, “Oh, Shirley, I’ll pray for you,” when she posts or says something. “Thoughts and prayers” that go no farther than that mean little. They’ve become a catch phrase.

So how do you pray powerfully?

First, when someone asks for prayer, if at all possible, stop right there and pray with them. On the phone, in the hall, in their apartment. Just stop and do it. They’ll know you’re serious and you’ll know you’re serious. (They may be surprised!) Most important, you’ve brought God in and God expands into any situation like yeast.

When you leave the person and go home, add him or her and their situation to your prayer list. Pray for them again then.

It doesn’t need to be someone who asks for prayers. If you have children or grandchildren who never call, put them on the list. Pray for family members, morning and night. If possible, find out from their parents or from them what’s up. What are their hopes, their hurts? How can you pray for them? Then do it. Bring the yeast of God to the situation. Keep up with what’s going on. Change your prayers as the needs change. Let them see what God can do, with love. Always with love. Even if they don’t go to church or synagogue, let them know they can come and ask you to pray for their friends.

Pray for your faith community. Uplift your pastor. Uplift the choir and those with needs. Check in with them about how it’s going. Let them know you’ve heard, you care. You’re praying and you’ll be there should they need extra or special prayers.

Be grateful and thrilled for things that go well.

Pray for this world of ours that seems so short on love and understanding. Pray, pray, PRAY. When you wake up in the middle of the night, PRAY. When you’re sitting alone in the afternoon, PRAY.

You have puropose and power about which you’ve never dreamed, and which you can access at any time. Do it! Whatever your age, become a prayer warrior.

Last year, my daughter and I found out that we had a great number of friends who were often up and awake in the middle of the night, so we started a Facebook group called Midnight Prayer Circle. People of many faiths and political persuasions know they can ask for prayers at any time, night or day, and pray-ers surround them.

So. No matter your age or situation, please know you and your power and kindness are needed in this world. Reach out. Do what you can. Listen. Laugh. Pray.

The pain in my back is still very bad. I can use your prayers. How can I pray for you?

Blessings,

Bill.

Bill Webber was a pastor for 35 years in the Midwest and on the West Coast. Along with his wife, he wrote several books including the bestselling A Rustle of Angels and  How to Become a Sweet Old Lady instead of a Grumpy Old Grouch. He was the angel columnist for Beliefnet.com, spoke widely and contributed to many publications and magazines. He now resides at 203 Arbor View in Pompton Plains, New Jersey 07444.

 

Then Something Happened. I Got Old.

My name is Bill Webber and with my wife, I wrote the book on aging successfully, How to Become a Sweet Old Lady instead a Grumpy Old Grouch. I gave many talks to up and coming seniors about how to enjoy your golden years. There were two rules:

Stay positive. Stay active.

That was my own game plan. Marilynn and I would travel. We’d write more books. I’d stay active in church, encouraging the pastors and members. I’d keep preaching, likely as pulpit supply, at other churches.

Then something happened.

I got old.

And it’s not what I expected.

Marilynn died in December of 2013. For five years before that, she was homebound, and I was her 24-7 caretaker. After she was gone, there were a couple of years where I could get out and do things and meet people in my new circumstance. But I have spinal stenosis and serious arthritis of the spine and am in chronic pain. And now, I’ve become one of those famous “shut-ins” everyone talks about helping, like we’re a benign burden yet an opportunity for service–not an underused resource. (More on that another day.)

I’d love to be active. I’d love to do yoga in the park and go to talks and programs. I’d love to feel good and be able to get dressed without help. I’d love to have my short term memory back. Not having it is disappointing and often embarrasing.

I also have to accept that I won’t die the way I hoped to: in the pulpit, inspiring folks and pointing to Jesus.

One hard thing is that my condition doesn’t show. I look fine. If I make it to church one Sunday and don’t the next, it’s assumed I was playing hookey and staying home, not that I don’t have the energy to get out of my chair let alone the door, or to and from a service.

For me, personally, the hardest thing is not being helpful. I’d love to accomplish things each day, to have goals and make contributions to the lives of my family and friends.

This first blog is about how things are different than I expected. Perhaps things are different for you, too. If so, I’d like to hear about it. What has surprised you about getting old?

Leave a comment. I’ll be happy to hear from you!

Blessings,

Bill