March 2015

Spirit logo

A newsletter from the
California Lutheran Homes and Sunny View
Centers for Spirituality and Aging
Framing Stories with Hope

Since I started serving in the older adult world, I've had many elders tell me that growing old is a difficult process.  As the saying goes, "It's not for sissies."  They are often a bit bemused that they've lived so long and are sometimes unsure how to frame the future.  What does hope look like at 90?

I've been thinking that as the losses mount up as we age that there needs to be room for lament.  So often we tell ourselves and the elders we work with to "be positive!"  It's good to have a positive attitude, but it's also good, I think, to be able to name what has been lost and to take some time to lament the loss of something that is precious.  I've sometimes wondered if the elders we tend to label as "complainers" might end up that way because their important losses weren't validated and noted. 

The Psalms in the Jewish and Christian scriptures contain many examples of laments:  times when the Psalmist cries out to God about the impossible situation in which he finds himself and asks, "How long?"  It's not so much that the questioner is expecting an answer, but that he expects to be heard and understood.

Chaplains often speak of the ministry of presence.  That means learning to be with people in impossible and difficult situations that you can do nothing to change.  That's the part that makes accompanying elders on their aging journey so difficult.  We can't change it, we can only be present, listen and understand, and possibly provide a bit of hope.

One of the ways we can do that is to reflect back with a person who is recounting a difficult story on the ways that they were resilient, creative, and brave when facing that situation.  Fred Mandell, an artist and leadership consultant, says:   "When one weaves together the warp and woof of one's personal experience into a story about oneself that embodies resilience, hope and belief in the ability to make a difference, then one has created a powerful foundation."  He goes on to list affirmations that contribute to this foundation.  They are:

  • I am resilient
  • I am resourceful
  • I am a learner
  • I am self-reflective
  • I land on my feet
  • I can self-correct
  • I've known fear and acted despite it
  • I know how to ask for help
  • I am honest with myself
  • I am accountable
  • I have the capacity to give and receive love
  • I have the capacity to forgive

It seems to me that these are the qualities that we want to affirm in ourselves and in the elders whose stories we hear.  Can we frame those stories in terms of resilience, hope, and the belief in the ability to continue to make a difference?  And is this what hope looks like at 90?  

Registration for Anniversary Events is Open!

You are invited to one or both of the events which highlight the Center's fifteen year service to the aging community.  The first on Monday, April 13, from noon-4:00 p.m., is a "Colloquium on Congregational Ministry," featuring reflections from ongoing congregational older adult ministries, and reflections by Donald Koepke, founder of the CLH Center and by Nancy Gordon, current director of the Center.  Come to learn and to think together about the challenges and promises of Older Adult ministry today.

The second event is "Beyond Care: Exploring the Glorious Adventure of the Spirit," featuring Wendy Lustbader on Tuesday, April 14, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.  Wendy was one of the first presenters for the Center in its beginning days, and it's an honor to be able to have her come back.  Her workshop reflects her deep experience in the field of aging and depicts the potential for growth and self-discovery in later life, showing the many ways the soul enlarges when we move through explorations that may have seemed daunting earlier in life.  As an example, Carter Catlett Williams' quest as an elder to excavate a grief from childhood will be presented through excerpts from recorded interviews and from portions of her book, Glorious Adventure.  Grief and vulnerability can become doorways to spiritual well-being, but we need to embark on this adventure with an open heart and a readiness for discovery.

Use the link below to register for one or both of these anniversary events.

A Spirituality and Aging Event in Chicago - March 25, 2015
Wingspread is an event that brings the expertise of presenters at the annual Aging in America conference to practitioners in the community. 

Running from 4:00 - 9:00 p.m. at Fourth Presbyterian Church, the first part of the program will feature the Rev. John and Susan McFadden, PhD, co-authors of Aging Together: Dementia, Friendship and Flourishing Communities. They will examine our cultural narratives of fear and anxiety around dementia, and propose a new story that congregations can live out: a story based on providing vital connections and community for all our members, not based on cognitive ability but on creative programs and services that support the flourishing of all in our community, including those with dementia and their care-partners.


After a chance for networking, seeing the resources of the exhibitors while enjoying a light supper, we will be privileged to see the play, The Forgetting and the Forgiving. This play explores the story of two siblings, coming with different experiences with their mother, as they seek to care for her as Alzheimer's disease impacts all their lives. There is humor, music, some teaching moments, and transformation as the siblings walk this path. The playwright is the Rev. Dr. Jade Angelica, who has also authored, Where Two Worlds Touch: A Spiritual Journey through Alzheimer's Disease.


If you live in Chicago or you have connections with folks who live in Chicago, please help us spread the word.  And if you're participating in the AiA conference, you are invited to come to the evening performance of the play.  You can register for the whole event or just the play using the link below. 


Wingspread in Chicago, March 25, 2015 


Registration is for this Event is Now Open!

This is the first time this conference has been held in the United States.  Visit the Conference website to learn more about the speakers and events planned.  Use this link to submit a proposal to present a workshop, talk, or poster.  The deadline for submission is April 17.   Sign-up here to receive updates about the conference as it continues to take shape.  Please pass along information about the conference in any way that you are able.  To help you do that, here is flier that you can distribute far and wide!
In a workshop yesterday I was reminded how often we are preoccupied with thought of the past or worries about the future.  Such ruminations keep us from being fully present where we are and enjoying this present moment.  As spring continues to unveil new beauties before us, may we all be fully present and grateful for life each moment.

Many blessings!

Nancy Gordon, Director
California Lutheran Homes and Sunny View Centers for Spirituality and Aging

P.S. And if you are in Chicago for the Aging in America Conference, come by the Center's table in the Exhibit Hall!  Would love to see you there!