By Donna Scales, Community Leader and Author.
FIFTIES: When I turned fifty I discovered God’s singular mistake: we shouldn’t live past fifty! What was it with these Golden Years? To use a rather unlovely word, I felt like crap. Both hips hurt, and their throbbing kept me awake at night. I had to pull myself up stairs and ask for help to rise out of a car seat. Before me, two generations of my family had lived to be one hundred. And I had fifty more years of this? My eighty-year-old mother walked better than I did.
Well, I decided, it might just be that God really hadn’t made a mistake; maybe I’d made the mistake. I’d let myself get out of shape and my attitude had followed. Physical therapy helped my hips and a committed exercise plan renewed the strength and fitness I’d let slide. With renewed energy my once adventuresome spirit kicked back in.
Since our daughter and son were off on their own, I started doing something I’d always longed to do: tutor/mentor in an inner city school. My goal was to keep one kid out of a gang. I don’t know if I accomplished that, but I never left the school without feeling I’d changed the world—at least in my small way.
My husband was still working full-time and used competitive racquetball to meet his recreational needs. I had to create my own activities. I kept up my home program of floor exercises and walking, and at age sixty I added rowing. I got up at 5 a.m. and was on the river with my crew of eight at 5:45! It was an incredible learning curve to start such a challenging sport. I loved it. I’d been a good athlete when I was young, but I’d missed the era of team sports and had never been coached. I wasn’t used to being yelled at or criticized. But I persevered and thrived.
SIXTIES: In my mid sixties I stretched my comfort-zone further by going on five mission trips to El Salvador. I’d never even been out of the country or possessed a passport. I was really too old to go, and I don’t do heat, bugs, or snakes. But I got all three and a whole lot more when I joined a team from our church to help start a village. Our goal was to stop the cycle of poverty for the twenty-six families in our village. I used my regained health and can-do attitude to pry out rocks to construct an access road, haul cinder blocks to build humble one-room homes, dig ditches for water lines . . .
But even with my ongoing commitment to fitness and adventure, I couldn’t push away reality—aging is tough. Your parents die. Health problems kick in. Family issues can get complicated, sometimes painful. Money—will there be enough? So I did the singular most significant thing that has helped me face the age and stages of my life: I got a little help from my friends . . . actually, a lot of help from my friends.
I’d always been a part of women’s groups, but after I’d passed the gruesome fifty mark, I discovered I could empathize with the challenges of younger women because I’d already been there. But they couldn’t understand or relate to mine. Other seasoned women in our church had the same need: to connect with women our own age and support, confirm, and encourage one another. And so . . . OAKS (Older Active Kindred Sisters) was born. We started our own group and chose the name, OAKS, from Isaiah 61:3: And they shall be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for His glory. That verse was the perfect description of our goal. Our motto became:
TO FINISH THE RACE WITH GRACE
We meet monthly for two hours, invite women fifty-five and older, discuss topics common to our season of life, find the wisdom to face challenges from the women within our group, pray for one another, and then laugh our heads off over lunch. As a group we choose our discussion topics. Some are serious: mobility issues, depression, transitions, when to say no, grief . . . Other topics are more light-hearted: good books, travel, and keeping up with technology. One of our favorites has been good old-fashioned “Show and Tell.” We have an annual retreat at a sister’s farm where we sing, play games, pray, laugh, eat a lot, talk even more, and return more deeply bonded. We never think the last one is possible, but it continues to happen.
SEVENTIES: Most recently, while in my seventies, my OAK sisters have helped me in a very specific way. Due to inherited arthritis and past athletic injuries, my husband finally gave up racquetball. And, it turned out, there was very little we could actively do together. To prevent bitterness from clamping down on my heart, I started asking OAK sisters to go on walks and outings with me. Having something to look forward to pushed my lurking rancor aside. With the more physically capable members, we eventually formed a Thursday morning walking/hiking/lunch group. We call it THRIVE TIME. While we walk we plan occasional special outings like kayaking, air ballooning, laser tag, plays, and concerts.
I’m a woman of words, but I’ve never found the perfect ones to capture what OAKS has come to mean to me. The best I’ve come up with is an image from many years ago. . . I’d helped with Special Olympics. Having finished my event, I watched a track race. A girl was running with every passion in her—full speed ahead—into the dark unknown. She was blind. How could she do that? There was a helper running beside her, telling her where to go, and the speed with which to run . . . That Olympics scenario describes the race we OAK sisters are running. Sometimes my challenge is when I go into unknown or unwanted territory, but an OAK sister who has experienced that part of her race runs beside me, telling me what to expect. At other times, I am the helper, running beside a fellow sister who is facing an adjustment I’ve already lived through. All the way, we are there for each other. My OAK sisters and I are in the final leg of this journey called life. At the finish line, we will be applauding as . . . EACH SISTER FINISHES HER RACE—WITH GRACE.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7
And they shall be called OAKS of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for His glory. Isaiah 61:3