Growing older - unavoidable.
Growing older graciously - that is the challenge that Jodi addresses in her guest post.
Growing Old . . . at Thirty-Five
by Jodi Wise
Way back, about twenty years ago, I thought thirty-five was almost
ancient. Definitely middle aged, maybe past. My parents were about
thirty-five at the time, and my adolescent eyes did not view them as young.
And sixty? That was very old, somewhere beyond ancient. Why, nearly
everyone I knew in the age range of sixty and beyond had gray hair. And
everyone else knows that gray hair spells "O-L-D" in capital letters.
I was never sure why, but as I grew into adulthood, people often assumed me
to be younger than I was. As a married woman and mother, it's a flattering
experience to be asked if you're . . . nineteen? Or twenty? And it's even
more of an experience to correct the inquirer with "No, I'm thirty . . .
and married . . . with seven children" and watch her jaw drop to her knees.
It happened more than once and I enjoyed it more than I should have. After
all, I wasn't thirty-five yet, so I thought I had reason to look young.
But my young-looking days were numbered. Somewhere near my thirty-first
year, I found an unexpected and unwelcome imposter. One of the hairs on my
head had turn-coated. Without seeking my permission or approval, it became
white. Totally silvery-white. I was aghast. I was now OLD and I wasn't even
I yanked it out. I could not, would not be OLD at the tender age of
thirty-one. "Don't you know," my husband asked teasingly when I confessed my
ancientness to him, "that when you pull out one gray hair, two more will
come to its funeral?" (Understand that I am married to an optimistic man. At
least he expected me to grow more hair to replace the one I removed. I
would not have received such consolation by looking at the hair left on his
head.) No matter how many white hairs returned to mourn the death of the
first one, I was prepared to deal with them all the same way - at least as
long as I was physically able.
I'm sure you have guessed that I am now . . . thirty-five. That yanked-out
hair grew back long ago and brought a few more of its kind with it. I was
not cheered. They didn't multiply as fast as they could have, but still much
more speedily than I preferred. As I had vowed, I greeted each one with a
tug. Yet, just sometimes, I found myself almost wishing that I could view
them with the same attitude as a woman I met a few years ago. When the
subject of gray hair came up, she had told me with a grin, "I tell my
husband 'Don't you dare touch them. I earned every one of those!'."
But to me, gray hair still spelled "OLD", and I wasn't anxious to become
old. Both my husband and I had aging grandparents and I saw firsthand what
"old" means. It means being short of breath and having Parkinson's and
Alzheimer's and aching joints and things like that. No, becoming old did not
appeal to me.
Oh, I knew the Bible says "The hoary head is a crown of glory"and
I thought I believed it. Not until I found my own "hoary hair" did I
realize I never imagined myself with a hoary head, at least not in my
thirties or forties. Hoary heads only happened to other people. People who
were. . .well, old.
Then something happened a few weeks ago that left me
reconsidering my perception of my own gray hair. Our 13-year-old son and I
attended a local indoor auction. Seated to my left was a woman with dark
brown hair. On her left sat an older man, heavy-set, wrinkled and definitely
white-haired. In his seventies, perhaps. At first glance I didn't think much
about it. Probably a father-daughter set. Nice of the daughter to take her
father to an auction.
Before long, however, the woman turned to ask me a question and I got a
better view of her face. Hmm. The wrinkles in that face belied her mop of
dark hair. Could the couple possibly be husband and wife instead? When they
got up to leave I became convinced. The woman heaved herself from her chair
as if in pain and hobbled toward the door, stooped and shaky, followed by
the man, shuffling along with his cane.
Suddenly, I was struck with the absurdity of all her dark hair. Perhaps her
dark hair was natural, but I seriously doubted it. How did dark brown hair
help her anyway? Did it keep wrinkles from appearing on her face? Did it
keep her legs from growing achy and feeble? Did it keep her body from
becoming weakened and stooped? No. No. And no.
I couldn't help but imagine what would happen if she'd suddenly stop dyeing
her hair. Would her hair eventually become completely white? Would the
people she knew still recognize her? Is that why she didn't know when to
just let her age show?
Somewhere inside my head something was trying to tell me a few things, but
I didn't pursue it. I only vowed that if I'm seventy and white-haired, I
wouldn't be ridiculous enough to deny it.
It was a couple mornings later, while combing before church, that I found a
few more of those infamous white hairs. They're never hard to find. White
hairs have a mind of their own, almost as if they're determined to stand
straight up and shout to the world, "Look at us! We are here!"
I yanked out the most visible hair first and reached for the next one.
And then I stopped. The memory of that stooped and hobbling - but
oh-so-dark-haired! - woman came to mind. So, I asked myself, when do you
plan to stop denying it?
I think I'll stop now. A recent comment from our son should help. (I'm
still startled to find myself looking up into his almost 15-year-old face.
And I'm still adjusting to the thrill - and pang - that passes through my
heart at the astonishingly adult-sounding insights that sometimes come from
Our older children had been discussing gray hair in general, their parents'
in particular, with the most emphasis on their mother's since a lot of their
father's hair has gone on strike. I was listening a bit ruefully and must
have made a wry comment about gray hair that caused my son to want to
console me. "Oh, but it makes you look respectable," he told me seriously.
Ah, yes, respectable. Who minds getting gray hair if it helps her look
respectable? Too bad that woman at the auction didn't have sons to point out
the same to her.
Unknowingly, our son has now given me a reason to begin seeing
those gray hairs as badges instead. Badges that give mute testimony to the
years I've lived, the children I've borne, the work I've done, the prayers I've
prayed, the tears I've shed, the lessons I've learned. Badges that make me
look . . . no, not old, but that other word. You know, re. . . respe. . .
oh, yes, respectable.
I just hadn't planned on starting at (sigh) age thirty-five.
I have been married to Nelson for 16 years, live with him on our 100-acre
(+/-) dairy farm, and am mother to ten children -- five sons ages 15
(twins), 13, 12, and 16 months and five daughters ages 9, 8, 6, 5 and 3. I
spend my days submerged in both laundry and dish soap suds, sibling
rivalries and astounding amounts of food prep. A peek inside our home will
show you that deep-cleaning has not yet reached the red-alert level on my
to-do -- or hobby -- list, though there's always a (faint) hope that it
will happen tomorrow. . . along with organization and weight loss. But
above all, I struggle daily to "grow in grace" as my Lord would have me do.
Note from Gina: When I met Jodi for the first time in person this past fall, I was surprised at how young she appeared. I wouldn't have guessed her as thirty-five and certainly not the mother of ten children. And she is not nearly as gray-haired as me!