Posted tagged ‘Aging’

Living Longer, Living With Purpose

March 3, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W                                                         March 3, 2018


My father passed away two weeks ago three months shy of his 90th birthday. He lived a long life, and for that we are thankful. Carol and I are now the oldest generation of our family. There is no one above us and two generations below us.

Death makes a person ponder and think about where he/she is in the living of their life. I turn 64 in two months and, although I’m fairly healthy and active, I understand that I’m closer to entering the pearly gates than I am to the memories of those high school days.

There’s more research and study being done of the longest-living people around the world. Are there common themes? Are there communities that have a higher percentage of people who are a hundred years of age or older? Are there certain aspects of our world’s opportunities that tend to decrease the possibilities of living longer?

Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones and The  Blue Zones solution draws out some secrets of living long in his books. Blue Zones are places that he has identified in different places around the world that have a high number of people who live long lives. It’s interesting that Loma Linda, California is the only Blue Zone he mentions in his sharing of information with TIME magazine in the February 26, 2018 issue. Loma Linda is a haven for Seventh-Day Adventists, a denomination that avoids meat; eats plenty of plants, whole grains, and nuts; and emphasizes community and a day of rest (Sabbath) each week. Loma Linda Adventists live 10 years longer than their fellow Americans.

This is not to convince everyone to become Seventh Day Adventists, but rather to note a few of the trends that seem to be “preaching” to us.

Community, rest, diet, and (I’m putting this one in there as well!) purpose. Howard Friedman, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside also draws out the importance of some of the values that are a part of a faith community and our religious traditions: respect, compassion, gratitude, charity, humility, harmony, and meditation. Of course, when a faith community becomes more about power, bickering, discord, and being judgmental the opposite can happen. People can lose their spiritual relationship in the midst of the chaos of congregational dysfunction.

Although I grieve that my dad has passed on, I rejoice in the fact that he lived a long life that had purpose. All of those values that Friedman draws out as a part of a faith community were also evident in Dad’s life.

And the thing is…people are more and more wondering how to live longer and seeking to live longer, but living longer just to live longer is kind of like hitting the golf ball twice as many times during a round of golf. It’s not really what it’s about! Living with purpose and, hopefully, longer…like my father, is where I seek for my life to follow!

Going To See Dad…Probably for the Last Time!

February 14, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          February 14, 2018


I’m sitting in the Denver airport waiting for an early morning plane that will jet me across the country, hurry me off it in order to find another plane that will then come part of the way back in the other direction. It’s a hard trip, not because of the stress of flying, but rather because of the reason for the journey.

Dad is failing. It’s not unexpected. His second home this past year has been St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia. He’s inching towards his 90th birthday. Each week seems to bring a new health concern. Last week my sister was by his side for a consultation with a hospice counselor.

Today’s flight is punctuated with memories and uncertainty.

I remember how my dad stood by my mom’s side in her final days as the Parkinson’s gradually took away her ability to use her hands and legs, and her ability to speak. It was a painful journey.

I remember his journey to Colorado to attend our youngest daughter’s wedding. While there he brought Lizi to tears with the gift of a special piece of jewelry that had been my mom’s.

Since I didn’t eat breakfast this morning, I’m remembering my dad’s hamburgers. Honestly, I have never tasted another hamburger that rivaled his. Even though I got the recipe and instructions from him I could never come close to the distinctive flavor. When you ate two of Dad’s burgers you were sorry that you couldn’t handle a third!

I remember the sadness we experienced when he couldn’t attend our oldest daughter’s wedding because Mom’s health was not good, but I also cherish the memories of his visit about four years ago and how he bonded with our granddaughter Reagan, who was three at the time. I remember her coming into the house one morning and yelling, “Papaw, Papaw!” She paused for a moment and then she said to me, “I know he’s here. I can smell him!” (His after shave announced his presence.)

As the plane flies through the clouds I can’t see anything around me or below me. It’s a metaphor for Dad’s situation. There is not a clear picture of what is and what will be. Somewhere in front of us the clouds will part and the picture will be seen.

My emotions are close to the surface. A few times this morning the potential for tears was heightened, and yet they haven’t erupted as I expect they will. My father’s best emotion was laughter-laced joy. I can hear the echo of his chuckle as we fly over Kansas. I can see his body shaking in rhythm with the laughter. If it was a story that he was telling for the hundredth time he’d close the tale with his hand slapping his knee in total appreciation for the memory.

Death is not a fear of Pops. He’s prepared himself for it. A number of times over the past four and a half years since Mom passed he has taken the hour and a half drive over to Johnson County, Kentucky to visit her grave. His name is already etched on the grave marker beside her. A few feet away are the resting places of my aunts and uncles, and a wee bit further is where his mom, Grace Wolfe, has long since been lowered into the ground. Dad is ready to once again be laying next to my mother. There is sweetness and love in the known destination, just as there is a mixture of grief and peace within me as I consider what is to come.

Being Deacon Emeritus of his church, Beulah Baptist, death is simply a part of the faith journey. Dad looks forward to the reunion of the saints, and the glory of the Eternal Gathering.

“How’s it going, Pops?” That has been my Sunday night greeting to him for the past several years. “Well, hi, son!”

And we’d talk about this, that, and the other…the ladies at Wyngate (his senior independent living complex where he has resided for three years) who have been giving him the eye and considering the possibilities; the Kentucky Wildcats (he being a UK grad in the early 50’s); the latest fire alarm at Wyngate set off by one of the residents who wanted to cook up some bacon on a Friday night in his apartment; how his friend, Bill Ball, was doing (Bill passed away last August); and the weather.

I’ll miss the way we could make each other laugh, and at the thought of it I can sense the rumblings of the tears rising up.

Last weekend thousands of people attended a funeral in Colorado Springs for Micah Flick, a Sheriff’s deputy who was killed in the line of duty. A father, he leaves behind a wife and twin toddlers. It is a story about the cruelty of life, a senseless shooting by a man who did not value the life of someone else. Micah, in fact, took a bullet to save someone else’s life. He will always be remembered as a hero, even in the midst of tragedy.

My dad’s journey gets placed on the other end of the spectrum, a life that has been longer than anyone expected, a life that will be celebrated with tears of thankfulness and the smiles of many.

Things will not be the same, and that’s okay!

Richie Bibelheimer…38 Years Later!

July 30, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                July 30, 2017


A couple of weeks ago I was at church camp as…well, I’m not sure what my title position was! I think I was the “Whatever Person.” When someone said “whatever” it was my responsibility, unless it was a high school girl being flippant and obnoxious when she said the word!

So…as the Whatever Supervisor I was able to float from session to session. At our camp week we have elementary, middle school, and high school camps going on at the same time, so I roamed around making sure things were going okay.

The surprise of the week was reconnecting with an old seminary classmate of mine named Richie Bibelheimer. When I heard that name as the pastor for the middle school camp I knew it was my old seminary classmate. I mean…how many Richie Bibelheimer’s can there be, right? It took me a year of seminary just to learn how to pronounce it, and now 38 years later our paths were crossing again!

Here’s the thing about seeing someone 38 years after the last time you saw him! Your picture of him is still the one from 1979! You still remember him from the era of leisure suits, thinner waistlines, and Chuck Taylor high-tops.

He walked right past me at dinner Sunday night in the camp dining hall. After he passed he called my name clothed in question form. “Bill? Bill Wolfe?” I turned and looked at the white-haired senior citizen who had just passed me by. “Richie, is that you?”


“Good Lord! Richie Bibelheimer!” There’s one thing about seeing someone almost four decades removed! You don’t want to come right out and say it, but you’re thinking it! “Man, do you look old!”

And the thing is, he’s thinking the same thing about you! The last time you saw each other you were in your mid-twenties. You could still jump and run like a gazelle, you had all your hair, and you didn’t have to travel with a pharmacy everywhere. Now your knees hurt, your face sports a couple of age spots, and the only thing progressive about you are the lens in your glasses.

Time keeps going even when we slowly journey through each day, and all of a sudden you meet an old friend and you realize just how far you’ve journeyed since your last conversation.

The other side of that is our reluctance to think that people change, that they will always be who they were back in the day…some obnoxious, some attractive, some hard to figure out, and some who seem to have it all together. People change, however, despite our tendency to firmly implant them in a distant past understanding. The physical changes are easy to see, despite the attempts to hide them or pretend they don’t exist. It’s the inner changes, the emotional upheaval, and the chaos of life that get blanketed from our view. The double chin is easier to see than the broken marriage. The wrinkled face is much more evident than the loss of a child a decade earlier.

Richie and I looked at one another, came to grips with the march of Father Time upon our lives, and enjoyed the blessing of renewed friendship…38 years later as a Whatever Supervisor and a Middle School Camp Pastor.

Aging Parents From Five States Away

May 21, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             May 21, 2017


My dad turns 89 on June 18! Unfortunately, on May 18 he was a patient at St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia! He will continue to be there for two or three more days as he deals with a heart situation and limited strength.

And I am five states and two time zones away…in Colorado! My sister, nominated by me for sainthood, lives close by and keeps watch over Pops. I am so thankful for her tireless efforts to make sure he is okay. She has her own younger family generations to keep watch over, including seven grandkids, but she always finds the time to check in on Dad.

The assuredness of her on-site supervision gives me some degree of peace, but not totally. I’m experiencing what so many adult children are going through…living a long distance from their elderly parents. Some families move mom or dad, or both, close to where they live. Sometimes that works, but often it’s the worst solution. To move Mom or Dad away from where their peers live is usually emotionally and socially damaging.

Having my sister two miles away from Dad, and my brother about a three hour drive away, means I don’t have to worry about moving Dad to high-elevation Colorado. That thankful solution, however, does not eliminate the sense of helplessness. Carol and I will be flying back to Ohio in just about three weeks- being there for his 89th!- but each day of separation from my father includes an ongoing element of emotional anxiety. A question wraps itself around my mind: Is he okay today?

There was a time when we wanted distance from our parents. They were impeding our independence. They would ask us embarrassing questions in front of our friends, like “When are you going to be home?” We didn’t want to hear any more of their questions. In our opinion, they didn’t know anything! They were old-fashioned and not understanding of the times. Many of us went through that phase. We wanted to go away to college…so they wouldn’t see some of the things we wanted to do!

But then we hit the mid-twenties and had kids! And suddenly we had the questions and we needed them for answers as we entered the new territory of parenthood. The public library had books on parenting, but nothing came even close to the wisdom of our parents. They counseled us through those “life lab” situations.

Like a light switch we’ve flipped back and forth with our parents as life circumstances have changed, from dependent to independent to dependent to independent…

Perhaps at this time in my dad’s life, in a strange way, I’m even more dependent on him. He is the solution to my helplessness. My emotional wellness is dependent on knowing he is okay and cared for. That comes from the memories of experiences. Dad taught me how to ride a bicycle and a few years later how to drive. He taught me how to mow the lawn and how to tie a neck tie. He became my mom’s caregiver as she struggled with health problems. He modeled a walk with Christ, taught Sunday School for years and was, and is, a deacon.

It does something to you when you go to the cemetery with one of your parents, see where the other parent has already been laid to rest, and see the name of the one still standing beside you already on the grave marker. It hits you deep in your soul that these days with him are precious and few in number.

In reflection, I am thankful for these feelings I have of helplessness. They are the dividends of relational investment.

The Complications of Living An Uncomplicated Life

May 25, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       May 25, 2016


Just when life seems to be less complicated, procedures dot the schedule that make me bite my fingernails. I’m sitting in a waiting room of a medical building where Carol is having a colonoscopy. Oh joy!

She has informed me that I’m next! I heard it kind of like when the school secretary at Victory Heights Elementary In Winchester, Kentucky, told me I was next in the line of condemned students to see Mr. Sterling, the school principal with a strong forehand. I had thrown wet paper towels in the school restroom the previous day…and been caught! A night of no sleep had preceded my waiting room experience. I had tried to feign sickness that morning at home to no avail, kind of like trying to find a reason for canceling a colonoscopy!

Now Carol was looking at me like I had late homework that i was trying to turn in.

“You’re next!” her eyes shouted.

“ But what if I don’t wanta’!”

Not a safe and healthy response.  As Carol goes through her procedure, refusing to have one myself is not an option.

As we age life takes on a different kind of “complicated” to it. I played basketball with the boys on my seventh grade team a couple of days ago. As I climbed the steps from the school gym on the lower level back to the man floor my right knee protested. “Protests” by various parts of my body seem to be as numerous as protestors at Trump and Clinton rallies.  Acid reflux protests against the spaghetti with meat sauce I ate for lunch; my back protests at the bags of weed and feed I carried in; my teeth protest against the Enstrom’s almond toffee candy that I love to bite down on; and my bladder protests the amount of coffee I consumed, but then I’m the victim of a conspiracy protest as I stand at the urinal and can’t…you know!

Life is going down a different aisle of crowded and congested nowadays. When I was pastoring it seemed that each day was filled with appointments, deadlines, visits, meetings, and mad rushes. I longed for quiet moments and an empty schedule. Now many of my days are filled with…the complication of no complications. That means, I have so many possibilities of how the day might proceed, so many books that could be read, people that I’’m thinking about seeing, projects that I’m thinking about beginning…that I sometimes get frustrated for not achieving any of the possibilities. Dinnertime arrives and I shake my head over the fact that I wasted the day.

Don’t get me wrong! I enjoy the freedom of retirement, but I’m still adjusting to the life schedule changes. When you pastor for a long, long time everything revolves around it. Transitioning from ministry, many days, feels like trading in our Honda for a Schwinn (Do they still makes Schwinn bikes?). It’s a different pace that requires a different kind of energy.

Mondays used to be my day off. Now Monday is the day after Sunday, which has been the day…twice a month, I’ve preached at a small church forty-five minutes away from us. It used to be that Monday was my day of recovery from a week of ministry before starting the next week of ministry. Now Monday is the day I don’t need to recover. It’s the day I go to Starbucks at 7:15 in the morning, sit in my favorite seat at the end of the counter that looks out at Pike’s Peak, and write for a couple of hours as I drink a few cups of Pike Place…and then endure the protests at the urinal!

The complications of an uncomplicated life!

Carol is now out of her procedure and is giving me the look…the “You’re next look!” Ugh!

You’re As Old As You…Act!

May 6, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  MAY 6, 2016


    I received a birthday card yesterday. It was awesome, sent to me by a 93 year old woman that I just love. It was fueled with “old sayings.” One of them was “You know you are old when your back goes out more often than you do.” 

I’ll admit that there are certain parts of my body that I know are there every morning…and evening! In the afternoons I think they are taking a siesta. I’ll also admit that in my evening slumber…or in and out and in and out of slumber…I often has dreams of soaring to the rim and dunking the basketball over my twenty year old defender. I also dream of that awesome crossover dribble and blowing by him, and I also dream of draining three’s from the deep corner. But, as I say, even though they are frequent dreams they are now just dreams.

I’m writing a book right now that is “sort of” living out my dreams about a young boy who plays basketball, is fundamentally sound in the sport and also in life. It’s, hopefully, a feel good story that we all wish to be reality, and, I admit, was part of my hope growing up.

As I’m growing older I recognize that a lot of my actions are not usually associated with people who are Social Security eligibles. Today, for instance, I’ll go to middle school track practice. This evening I’ll let my grandkids crawl all over me, chase them around the house, play hide-and-seek, read books, chill with them, and perhaps play dress-up. Tomorrow I’ll be at a middle school track meet in the morning and afternoon, and then officiate three basketball games that evening. Next week I’ll substitute teach three to four days with students from first grade through high school. I’ll admit that the hot tub usually feels pretty darn good at the end of a long day.

But the other thing about getting almost a quarter of the way through my sixties is that I know I still have much to offer, and offer it willingly. I’m a retired pastor who still pastors. I just don’t get paid for it! Tomorrow morning, before the track meet, I’ll meet for breakfast with a young lady that I coached in basketball several years ago, and now Carol and I financially support through her ministry with Navigators at the University of North Florida. I’ll seek to be an encourager to her as she disciples young college women. Just as I encouraged her when she was zero for ten shooting in a basketball game, I’ll encourage her to stay focused, and on course, as she engages in spiritual conversations with college students.

You’re as old as your actions, and as old as your attitudes. Is my attitude about life laced with cynicism or optimism? I’ll admit I may be more of a hybrid…a cynical optimist.The throb in my knees as I’m climbing steps brings out the cynicism, but I’m optimistic that I’ll reach the top…or bottom…without falling on my face.

Next month I’ll be back in Ohio to visit my dad as he celebrates his 88th birthday. Physically he has slowed, but mentally and relationally he is an inspiration. The widow ladies at the senior complex he resides at love him…all of the ladies! Their love for him is based on how he treats people, how he acts, the optimism he faces each day with…even though it might include a skin radiation treatment. The nurses and technicians at the radiation department at St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia know him on a first name basis even though he might not have been there for a few months. He’s an inspiration to me about keeping a healthy life perspective.

You’re as old as you…act!

The Coming of Gray

September 23, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                  September 23, 2015


There is a young man on my middle school football team that jokes around with me everyday…and I mean everyday…at practice. We jab one another with teases and witty words. He really is a nice young man, and his main focus of kidding with me is my age. He comes at me from a “can you hear me” angle, from a “can you still run” poke, and, in recent days, my hair.

He’s right! In recent times my hair is getting more and more populated by gray. My scalp is starting to resemble a lawn trying to fight off the dandelions and crabgrass! The mirror that I stand in front of early in the morning has a deceptive light to it. I can’t really see the gray! Someone should market a mirror like that. It could be sold right next to the wrinkle cream!

Just as autumn is beginning to change the colors, the gray is coming to my highest personal point.

“How do I feel about that?” you ask.

I’m okay with it. It makes me realize that I haven’t taken a roadside rest from the journey of life. A friend of mine recently got his driver’s license renewed and they changed his hair color from brown to gray on the license. I’ve still got four years before that happens…since I just renewed about six months ago when the brown was still the dominant citizen of my head. (Although my license picture looks like I’m being booked for the county jail!)

Gray is okay! And I’m not going to try to avoid it. I’ve been fortunate. A few times I’ve had to show my license (Yes, the one where I look dazed and confused!) in order to get the senior citizen rate for a meal! It’s the other end of being “carded”, the one where you smile as you flip out the ID!

The more important question for me is how do I feel internally? How old do I feel in my spirit? How am I caring for my soul? What troubles me in the world, and in the church, is the amount of attention that gets paid to the outer shell and minimal reflection on my inner journey. When my spirit experiences the gray then I must step back and evaluate.

I’m recognizing periods of crankiness in my life. I’m usually not that way…ask my wife! When that “grump” appears it causes me to ponder what is going on. It’s a sign that I’m unsettled and usually means I need to get alone with God and have a little “Come to Jesus” session with him!

Scripture tells us that outer gray is a positive. Proverbs 16:31 says “Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of  righteousness.”

So…although I am cognizant of when I’m having spiritually gray periods, I’ll take some comfort in the fact that I’m weaving a crown on my head. My wife, Carol, might spoil the moment and say that I’ve already got a crown…it’s that bare spot on top of my scalp that I can’t see in the mirror!

The cruelty of truth!