William D. Webber: A Life of Purpose and Encouragement

b changesThe Reverend Dr. William D. Webber was born in St. Charles, Illinois on July 1, 1930, the fourth of six children of Leroy Dewey Webber and Freda Diderichsen Webber. The story goes that as his parents contemplated naming him Zachariah Malachi, his Aunt Dora Diderichsen, who happened to be the attending nurse, filled in the birth certificate herself with William Diderichsen. He told a simpler version: he came on the first of the month, so his parents called him Bill.

dad five kids
The first 5 Webber children: Lee, Art, Betty, Bill, Jim

 

The Webbers were a musical family, each child playing an instrument. Bill sang bass and played the tuba and was much in demand in the Chicago area to fill in with orchestras and bands whooping it up with Sousa marches. For a while he considered becoming a professional musician and conductor.

One day while decorating the fellowship hall of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, for a high school youth group event, Bill saw the most vibrant and beautiful girl in the world on a ladder, laughing and hanging colorful streamers. She was Marilynn Carlson, the only daughter of Alice and Arthur, who had recently moved to Wheaton from Chicago. Though their families had polar opposite family dynamics, the two hit it off. They were married by college president Dr. V. Raymond Edman in College Church on June 16, 1952, the day they graduated from Wheaton College, where they’d both majored in speech. For his senior recital, he presented the entire book of Lost Horizon by memory.

dad and mom engaged
Bill and Marilynn at their engagement party. Marilynn’s mother Alice told her that if she didn’t marry Bill, Alice would.

Bill went on to Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, while working as the choir director at Central Avenue Baptist Church in Chicago. When their pastor moved on, young Bill became the de facto pastor during the search. From there, after graduating from seminary as an American Baptist pastor, he and Marilynn accepted a call to pastor the small First Baptist Church of Hutsonville, Illinois, where Marilynn, a credentialed teacher, ran the one-room schoolhouse. Bill also directed the local high school band and shocked the community by having them play the newfangled “Rock Around the Clock.” While in Hutsonville, they welcomed their daughter Sharon.

Bill’s next church was in Momence, Illinois, home of the gladiola festival and (at the time) an active mob community. Bill remembered when the capo of a rival family warned him before a funeral that he’d “better not pray [the deceased] into heaven!” It was in Momence they added their son Stephen.

From there, Bill accepted the call to the First Baptist Church in of Park Forest, Illinois. They lived there for five years and oversaw the building of both the parsonage and the new sanctuary. Park Forest was a “planned community,” and Bill found it an enjoyable challenge to help the driven young commuters find the importance of their spirituality.

dad and grandchild
With first grandchild, Aubrey

The young family then spent 10 years in Springfield, Missouri, where Bill became senior pastor of University Heights Baptist Church, which had a large, active congregation, a youth group, and soon, a touring youth choir. Bill especially enjoyed helping start an ecumenical clergy group. During this time, he earned his doctorate at Midwestern Theological Seminary. He and Marilynn shared their love of travel as they led tour groups to Israel, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Greece, among other countries. The family also did a pulpit exchange for a summer with Rev. Jack Haring, a pastor from Brighton, England.

From there, Bill became the senior pastor of the historic First Baptist in Seattle, Washington, and then First Baptist of Stockton, California, making dear friends in every city. He retired from pastoring to become the Director of Mount Rubidoux Manor, an American Baptist Retirement Home in Riverside, California.

Dad_Tea
At tea in New Jersey

With Marilynn, he wrote the bestselling A Rustle of Angels. This was followed by How to Become a Sweet Old Lady instead of a Grumpy Old Grouch, both from Zondervan, as well as Tea with the Angel Lady. In retirement, they began an active speaking career and hosted groups from all over the world for teas in their home.

Bill loved the Lord and he loved people. Whenever someone would come to speak to him, he would stop what he was doing and give them his full attention. His sense of humor was legend, as was his unwavering support of his friends, congregants, and anyone who crossed his path. One of his favorite Biblical characters was Barnabas, the “son of encouragement.”

When Marilynn’s health began to fail, he and Marilynn moved across the country to be near their children in New York.

Bill was predeceased by Marilynn in 2013, as well as by his parents, his brothers Lee and James Webber and sisters Betty and Janet.

He died peacefully with his son and daughter in attendance on 02/02/2020 at 2 p.m. (Central time, where he was born) in his apartment, 2202. His entire family, including all the grandchildren, were  present the week before to celebrate his life and faith and say good-by.

He is survived by daughter Sharon Linnéa, a novelist and biographer, her husband, Robert Scott, Director of Faith Formation at Trinity Church Wall Street and their children, Jonathan, who works at Activate Marketing Services in NYC and Linnéa, who just graduated with a degree in Criminology and double minor in Anthropology and Dispute Resolution. He is also survived by his son Stephen, Executive Director of BerkleeNYC and Dean of Strategic Initiatives for Berklee College of Music, daughter-in-law Susan Webber, a painter and social activist, and their kids Aubrey Turner and Laser Malena-Webber of the nerd-rock comedy duo, the Doubleclicks.

Dad_Humorous
In costume as one of the characters he gave orations as

In lieu of flowers, and in his honor, the family has established the the William D. Webber Prize for Humorous Short Stories to celebrate his love for storytelling and humor. Friends who care to are invited to join in.

Give the Gift of Encouragement

On August 9, 2015, Dr. William D. Webber preached this sermon at the Chapel at Cedar Crest, in Pompton Plains, New Jersey, where he lives. After a life of enjoying speaking (without notes!), he announced privately to his family, “I will not preach again. My mind isn’t what it was. That time has passed.” Below is that sermon. It was fitting, as it sums up perfectly who he spent his whole life being.

Good morning! Longfellow wrote:

Lives of great men all remind us

We should make our lives sublime;

And departing leave behind us

Footprints on the sands of time.

In the pages of Scripture we find the accounts of men and women, many of them like you and me. Their stories are told so we may profit from their examples. Today I want you to think with me about one such person, why he is in the Bible, and lessons we need so badly to learn from his life. His name is Joseph. You probably don’t recall him by his given name because he is most remembered by his nickname, Barnabas. “Barnabas” means “the encourager.”

HOW DO PEOPLE THINK OF YOU?

What do people call you when you’re not around? In the first church I pastored, I was called “The Kid Preacher.” Betty Jo Norton told me her father called me “that durn preacher.”

What is your name?

Acts 4:36 says, “Joseph, a Levite from Cypress, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement) sold a field he owned and brought the money [to help those who were in need].”

First, notice Joseph already had a nickname. He was always encouraging.

These were tough times for so many Christians. They were hurting. They were in need. Joseph wanted to encourage them.

Second, notice this did not come naturally to him. He was a Levite, a rule-keeper. He changed when he became a Christian.

Can people notice your life being changed by Christ?

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN PEOPLE ARE HURTING?

Who do you know who is hurting? What can you do to help?

Our three-year-old granddaughter, Linnéa, was frightened on the first day of preschool when the parents had to leave. But there was one child she knew, so the two of them stood together, holding hands. Then Linnéa noticed another three-year-old standing alone, crying. Linnéa went to her and said, “It’s okay. We will hold your hand.” Linnéa took one of her hands, her friend took the other, and the child stopped crying.

If a three-year-old can find a way to encourage others, we all can.

We don’t need to look far to find those who need encouragement. Someone you know is hurting. It might not be financial, as it was in today’s scripture. But can you find a way to encourage them?

BARNABAS’ STORY BECOMES MORE INTERESTING AS IT GOES ALONG.

According to Acts 11:19-26, the Christians were persecuted, and as a result, they were scattered. At first, they shared the teachings of Jesus only with fellow Jews. But in Antioch they did something that had not been done before. They began telling Gentiles about Jesus.  A new church sprang up, and soon the majority of church members had no Jewish ties. They didn’t keep kosher kitchens or wear head coverings or keep the many Jewish traditions. Word got back to Jerusalem. The leaders of the church in Jerusalem decided to send an independent examiner to see if the church in Antioch was orthodox.

Church historians now recognize this as being one of the greatest turning points of the Christian church. The burning question was, Is it possible to become a Christian without becoming a Jew first?

Thank God they sent Barnabas.

Acts 11:23 says, “when Barnabas arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.”

They sent Barnabas because they knew they could count on his orthodoxy, and, if everything was all right, they knew he would encourage the new Christians.

Barnabas discovered the Christians in Antioch were not completed Jews, but they were sincere Christians, and he encouraged them to go deeper in the Lord.

Bruce Larsen, who was a fellow pastor in Seattle, told me of one speaking tour where he met two pastors. Each told him they pastored a church “full of Archie Bunkers.” One asked, “Pray I can get out of here.” The other said, “What an opportunity to love them, encourage them, and have the Holy Spirit work in their lives.”

HOW DO YOU RELATE TO PEOPLE WHO ARE DIFFERENT THAN YOU? How can you be an encourager to them?

Barnabas remained as pastor of the first church in Antioch. Many came to Christ. Soon they needed an assistant pastor. In response, Acts 11:25 tells us that Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Paul.

When Saul was converted, no one trusted him. They were afraid his conversion was not real, that he would infiltrate the church, and send them all to prison or to their deaths. Barnabas recognized the problem. Paul was a person with difficulty fitting in. Barnabas got to know him, brought him to Antioch, and persuaded church leaders to accept him.

How do you help those who have difficulty fitting in?

The natural response—or, more clearly, the temptation—is to wish they weren’t there and they would go away and not come back. The Christian response is to look for a way to help.

“Sit with me in church.” “Sit with me in the lunchroom.” “Welcome to our town. What do you need?”

Who do you know who has trouble fitting in? How can you encourage them?

Then, after several years (in about 47 A.D.), Paul and Barnabas became the first Christian missionaries and went on a journey to spread the good news. The first missionaries were Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark.

John Mark  quit in Pamphillia and went home.

We are never told why. Commentators suggest:

+ He might have become homesick. Have you ever gotten homesick?

+ His family may have needed him.

+ He discovered how hard it was to be a missionary.

Then, in Acts 15, we read of plans for the second missionary journey. Barnabas said, “Let’s take John Mark once again.” But Paul would not hear of it. “John Mark is a quitter. He failed once. I’m not going to take a second chance on him.”

Paul was so adamant that Paul and Barnabas did not go on the second journey together. Instead they split. Paul took Silas and Barnabas took John Mark, and they went two different ways.

What happened to this quitter, John Mark?

You know him now as Mark, the author of the second gospel.

Later, Paul wrote, “Send Mark to me in prison, because he is so profitable for the gospel.”

You never know what a difference encouragement will make.

Who do you know who has failed? How can you encourage them?

Look at the results of the encouragement Barnabas gave:

  1. Christians were strengthened, both in his home church and in Antioch.
  2. By accepting and encouraging those who were different, the door was opened to spread the good news to the entire world.
  3. Because of Barnabas’ encouragement, Paul went from being an outcast to being an apostle and author of many epistles.
  4. Mark is credited with writing the Gospel of Mark.

HOW DO WE DO IT? HOW DO WE BECOME ENCOURAGERS?

  1. Choose your attitude daily.

One of my favorite quotes:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company…a church…a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you.” –Chuck Swindoll

  1. Begin with a one day fast from criticism.

Catherine Marshall felt God calling her to go one day without criticizing. It’s a wonderful spiritual exercise for us all.

  1. Remember the ten to one rule.

Encourage more. Criticize less. We are more affected by criticism than by praise. It’s human to remember words of criticism others speak and to be sure they mean every word, while we assume praise is simply polite conversation. Psychologists tell us it takes about ten compliments to offset one criticism.

  1. Include your family

Be their cheerleader. Be at least as kind to your family as you are to strangers.

  1. Include your church family, especially pastors and staff.

Pollster George Barna has discovered that pastors are the single most occupationally frustrated professionals in America. According to the Fuller Institute survey, 80% of all pastors feel their jobs have a negative effect on their families. Pastors’ spouses and children often feel isolated and pressured by high expectations. Another study found we express our appreciation much more often to lay leaders than paid staff. Encourage your pastor! Express appreciation to everyone who does something in the church, whether the task is large or small. Encourage everyone.

  1. Encourage everyone.

Encourage those going through tough times.

Encourage those who are different than you.

Encourage those who have difficulty fitting in.

Encourage those who have failed.

Pray to be like Barnabas, a good man full of the Holy Spirit, and an encourager.

If this doesn’t come naturally to you, remember it did not come naturally to Barnabas, either.

With God’s help, you can change. Once, when my wife Marilynn gave a talk, a negative woman came up to her afterwards and said, “Don’t you know you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?”

Marilynn replied, “Do you think the God who created the universe, who knows everything, is baffled by you and your problems? Couldn’t God help you change if you asked?”

Our real sin is to be stuck with ourselves and refuse to change.

Heavenly Father,

We thank you that in the times of our failures you have helped us. In the times of our sins, you have forgiven us. In our darkest days you give us hope. We thank you that you are a God of encouragement. Help us to be your followers and to be people who are known as encouragers. Show us now someone who needs our encouragement. Amen.

Image may contain: 3 people, including William Webber, people smiling, indoor

 

 

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