This Business of Aging


At every age and stage of my life, there have been specific words that triggered something in me—sometimes that something looked like resentment or strong disagreement, even a visible feistiness. More often, however, the clearest emotion rising from specific words or phrases has been . . . shame.

During my growing up years, any reference to what a ‘nice, big girl’ I was made me want to shrink back—and down. I was very tall for my age and not well coordinated, so calling attention to my size made me distinctly uncomfortable. I was also—of course—the very last person selected for any team created in elementary or middle school. By the time I was in high school, I had electives in PE and I took advantage of that, big time! Badminton and bowling I could manage, so that’s what I did for three years. And guess what? Being tall helped in both of those endeavors. Over time, I became more comfortable in my own skin and by the time I was a young adult, I began to love being tall. Also? By the time I was a grown-up, people knew enough not to call me a ‘nice, big girl!’

At that point in my life, however, the focus shifted to my personality more than my height and I began to hear these kinds of descriptive words: ‘strong,’ ‘capable,’ ‘natural leader.’ You might think I would feel flattered by such language—and eventually, I came to understand those kinds of descriptors as complimentary. Here’s the catch, however. I had been raised to believe that women do not lead. Women, I was taught, are designed to follow the men in their lives. So to my ears, such words meant I was doing something wrong. More than that, I was something wrong.


It took a long time to divest myself of the garbage that came with the complementarian worldview of my parents’ generation. Fortunately, the version I learned was not as harsh or limiting as those found in even more conservative circles. My parents encouraged me to get good grades and to pursue a college education—but the realreason for that education was to meet a ‘nice, Christian man’ and get married! And that’s exactly what I did. Fortunately, that proved to be a good decision for both of us—not everyone trapped in that mindset was as fortunate.

Then, something interesting began to happen around me: there was a shift in the broader culture that began in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and suddenly, I found myself caught in the middle of the debate about women. The zeitgeist of the 1950s had shifted dramatically and I felt lost much of the time. I had three babies in four years, adored them all, and was fortunate to be able to stay home while they were young. But almost every magazine I read made me question that decision.

‘Women’s lib’ told us that we should be contributing to the worlds of business or politics or education—anything but wasting our talents at home. I found myself being pulled two ways much of the time. I was curious, even excited about the whole idea of women in the workplace, and ashamed that I was perceived to be ‘stuck’ at home with little kids.

I felt triggered in both directions during those years, unsure of who I was becoming. I wasn’t a ‘women’s libber.’ But I wasn’t a ‘happy homemaker,’ either! My long journey of self-discovery began at a conference on Women in the Church designed by Roberta Hestenes and held in a hotel near my home in 1975. It helped me to see myself as God sees me: tall, strong, capable—all true—and also?  Called.My understanding of God, of scripture, of marriage, of family—all of it began to evolve and deepen. And that evolution eventually led to four years of seminary and seventeen years of professional parish ministry, something my young adult self could not possibly have imagined.  I am grateful to tell you that God has a great deal more imagination than any of us!

Now, I am old. And I have no sense of shame in using that word. I have earned every wrinkle on this face, every sagging piece of flesh in this body, every white hair on this head. But I’ll let you in a small secret: there is still one word that can trigger resistance in me, and here it is—elderly.

Old I can manage—elderly?—not so much!I don’t fully understand all the whys and wherefores of that truth, I only know that I do not like it! Yes, I’ve accumulated lots of years, so I happily own the word ‘old.’ But I am not yet ready for elderly. I can see it, lurking out there in the future somewhere, but I will not own it yet.

After all, I can still do most of what I’ve always done over this life of mine. Admittedly, I do it a little more slowly and a lot more carefully, but I do it. I no longer roller skate or ride a bicycle but I drive, I walk, I teach kids, I meet with those who are seeking more of God, I volunteer here and there around town, I travel, I breathe in life.  So feel free to call me old.

Just don’t let me hear you say, ‘elderly.’