“I shall be seventy on Friday!” whispered my friend during worship on Sunday morning. Last time I had seen her, eighteen months ago, she was slowly recovering from major illness, and had been pale and weak. Now, looking at her radiant, happy face, I thought I had never seen her look more beautiful. As long as I have known her, Patty has always been attractive, vivacious, and a woman of faith. She has had many trials and difficulties but has prayed and praised her way through them. Now, she rose from her seat, took the microphone and testified to the goodness and faithfulness of God, exhorting us to keep abiding in the vine so we could continue to bear fruit. It was powerful, because she exemplifies her own words.
It took me back to Mrs Bendall. I met her when Anna, my daughter, had just been born. The elderly lady was a visitor in church that morning. She was quiet, a bit shy, but something about her made me want to get to know her. So during the week, I went to see her, wheeling the pram with Anna lying in it, and 2 yrs old Ben perched on top. (Those were the days when we had prams built like coaches, high, with large wheels and sprung so that the baby swayed gently, comfortably cocooned in its inner depths: not stuck in a bucket on wheels like they are now.)
I loved her from that moment. She adored Anna, being very fond of babies, and often had her on her lap in church. Somehow, in her gentle unassuming way, she became vital to our lives. She actually moved to live across the street so that she could be near us. She would pop in for coffee, babysit, and simply love us. Looking back, I can’t think of any particularly wise and wonderful things she said: she just smoothed our way by lovingly serving.
She seemed to be able to communicate easily with anyone. She was very fond of cricket and always knew the latest test scores. I remember giving her a lift once, and also in the car was an inarticulate, awkward teenager. In no time this little old lady had charmed him into chatting away about cricket as if he had known her forever.
One day, she told me that she had not married until well into her forties. She was idyllically happy. Then three months later, her husband dropped dead from a heart attack. I wept as she spoke with a gentle sadness, but no bitterness or anger. I remember the soft look on her face as she talked of the love of her life.
I wonder what fierce struggles she had fought and won? Now there was simply a beautiful dependence on God, a deep trust, and a growing hunger for his presence. Always eager for more, at the age of 76 she received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, spoke in tongues, and was coveting to prophesy.
One morning, we had an anxious phone call from her sister. Could we go and check on her? She wasn’t answering the phone. We ran over and found her body lying on her bedroom floor; only she wasn’t there, she had gone to Glory in the night.
We felt her loss keenly. I will always associate her with Psalm 92 v 12 “The righteous flourish like the palm tree, planted in the house of the Lord. They will still bear fruit in old age, and stay fresh and green.”
Liz Holden’s mother, Margaret Etherton, was like that too. Always hospitable, she was a pastor’s dream. She would stand near Terry at the end of Sunday morning, and say, “Just send any people who need lunch down to me.” We used to joke that her round table was elastic, as it seemed to stretch! She once made a chicken provide a meal for 15 people. When we exclaimed, “How did you do it?” she just said vaguely, “It must have been the Lord…” It probably was. After all, if he could do it with loaves and fishes, why not a chicken? She was a woman of faith and prayer.
Recently, I had a letter from my aunt. She was 102 in August. She was widowed about 60 years ago, and had to bring up 6 children on her own. Now a great, great grandmother, she is constantly praising God and looking forward to meeting loved ones in heaven.
I haven’t even mentioned my own mother, who at the age of 82 came to live near us. She had some cards printed inviting all the people in her block of flats to come to coffee, and then gave her testimony, and invited them to church. All her life she was motivated to bring people to Jesus, and prayed through every crisis.
I could go on, giving many examples of faith-filled elderly women. The thing is, now I am 65, I am on the edge being old myself! It is so strange, because I don’t feel old. (I remember my grandmother referring to “those dear old ladies” who were in their 70’s and 80’s. She was 98 at the time!) People without God are terrified of old age because they know life is rushing to its end, and they don’t know what to expect. So they try to perpetuate youth in an effort to postpone the inevitable.
Of course there are unwelcome aspects to aging: less energy, increased aches, droopy skin, wrinkles. I’m a sucker for face creams that promise miracles.(If you know of one that delivers the goods, let me know…) But the old ladies who walk with God have given me hope! You can be fruitful, happy and serene, enjoying the advantages of growing old. Yep: you have to be old(ish) to have grandkids, and they are amazing! You don’t have to prove anything any more, because you’ve been there and done that (whatever “that” is). And if you don’t feel like rushing about no one is surprised! (Although I still mostly do rush about). You have lots of good memories; you have lots to thank God for, and I do, all the time.
And you know what? We know where we are going…when the old bod drops off, we shall be young again, or better, recreated. I shall join the old ladies’ tea party in Heaven, except we won’t be old any more. “Our youth will be renewed as the eagles…”