Thursday, February 6, 2014

Growing Old...At Thirty-five

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 middle-aged yet!    

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 his lips.)

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!


  1. I found my first gray hair around 18, as did my brothers and sister. I went through a week of "Oh, no! I'm going to have to dye my hair," and maybe some grieving, but in the end I decided that I don't care if I have grays; clearly, genetically my family will begin going gray early and it's easier and mentally healthier in the long run to accept myself as I am than try to battle nature.

    1. Yeah. I might have been 10 or maybe 11. Stress or something that triggered it but they just spring up every now and then.. My friend knows a family where everyone is completely hoary by age 30, if I remember it right. A fact of life.

  2. Thanks for the thoughts on gray hair.
    I got my first gray around 30 too and immediately started buying hair dye.
    I did it for a while but not long.

    -Hairdye is not for free

    -There is certainly most often a darker tone in the pacage than it tells you.
    (And of course you dont want people to notice that you actually are fighting becoming OLD, but they will, if you suddenly appear with almost black hair)

    -When would i stop?40? 50? 70?

    -Why do i do it? (pride)

    -Does my husband know of it? (no)

    -Would he approve of it? (no!)

    -And most of all ,what does my Lord Jesus think of it?
    Well ,the answer is clear: No!

    So i let the coulour fade away and am now wearing my hair just as my creator wants to have it.
    This is also honouring Him, i am convinced.

    But still, i must admit, that i am quite relived that the greyness at the moment seems to be staying at a certain level. .well for the moment...

    I trust the Lord will give me more grey hair when he thinks i need them to fight my vain again :-)

    Love Ruth

  3. I'm 48 and my hair's pretty much gray. I decided not to dye mine because I'm lazy and would have 4-5" of gray roots before I got around to coloring it again! :) And, anyway, I think coloring it the dark color it was when I was young would make me look old.

  4. Grey hair? I'm mid fifties and 'greying-up' with silver...I say that I'm simply "growing my own highlights!" My greying husband has a silvery beard so we are happily ageing together!

  5. My very own mother, who has battled more illness than any other person I know in her 69 years and takes it with a smile and faith, has a FULL head of DARK hair. She has never dyed her hair once in her life. She has a very few gray hairs intertwined here and there, but otherwise her hair is still gloriously dark.
    Yes, she has many wrinkles and her face looks older than her 69 almost 70 years, (maybe because of all her hardship?) and yes, she can't walk without help, but no, she doesn't dye her hair.

    "I only vowed that if I'm seventy and white-haired, I wouldn't be ridiculous enough to deny it"

    Please don't judge women who feel they must dye their hair to cover up grey. A lot of wives (in the non-plain world) get pressure from their husbands (and our society) to do so.

    Have a blessed day!

    1. Johanna -
      Thanks for your input on this topic! I'm sure Jodi didn't mean for her words to sound judgmental - and in her case - her husband was not encouraging her to dye her hair.


    2. My family also goes grey very late (by which I mean, at seventy many only have a few grey hairs). And I was quite annoyed by the assessment of the dark-haired old lady, as I expect similar assessments are made of my relations, and will probably ultimately be made of me, on the basis of a totally false assumption for which there is not really any good reason. The more unusual someone looks due to the incongruity between dark hair and other signs of aging, the more likely it is that it is straightforwardly natural.

      Also, while I realise that it is not the situation here, it is easy to imagine someone being sidelined in a church community because they are not grey at an age at which people usually are, and therefore, it is assumed that they dye their hair, and therefore, they are not quite trusted, and they are not given responsibilities or included with things, and so on... with nothing ever being said to their face. And that would be an injustice that mattered. If people who go grey younger often feel under pressure to dye their hair darker, are people who go grey older, to be put under at least equal pressure to dye their hair grey?!

    3. Thanks so much for sharing your input and perspective on this topic. We need reminded to be gracious and nonjudgmental toward each other.

  6. I actually feel that it is a personal choice. If one feels better to see themselves with hair that is not white, then they should dye it. We should feel good about ourselves. Having white or gray hair does not change how you embrace age-ing. Gray hair is just one aspect of getting older and the least important with all the other things we face as time marches on. Hair dye is the least important. I say PERSONAL CHOICE. Maggie

  7. Picture of Jodi please? ;) I am a mother of eight,(and 3 in heaven) serving Jesus in Kenya Africa ( and have enjoyed your blog back in the day when we milked cows on a 60 acre farm in Snyder Co Pa. This post really hit home as i'm 37 and have found a stray gray hair or two and realize that i'm headed toward "old." Been pondering why getting gray is such a struggle and suspect that it's immaturity on my part. May God help us grow up. :)
    And congratulations Gina on your beautiful daughter!

  8. Loved this post! My thoughts exactly! :) I smiled as I read this. We too have ten children. Five boys and five girls!


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