Open Letter to the Generations Before Me

The following is for the blog tour of Emily Wierenga’s memoir Making It Home. Did you know Emily has provided blog prompts?

Here are Emily’s blog prompts 14 and 15:

14. How would you encourage a woman who feels unnoticed, left out, or no longer relevant as she grows older?

15. How can the older generation encourage the younger generation to stay focused on God’s peace, identity and purpose through multiple life changes and seasons?

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Dear Christ followers of the generations before me:

I once overheard someone ask a woman in her twenties, “Are you going to the women’s mini-retreat?”

“Nah,” the twenty-something replied, “It’s just going to be a bunch of old ladies.”

This young woman came to church dressed in classy leather boots and neatly arranged, fashionable clothing. Her hair was expertly highlighted and curled, her makeup applied with a model’s know-how. Her dad was an influential leader in the church. When she threw a party, all the other young and younger ladies wanted an invitation. She landed a go-getter job that could easily extend into a prestigious career. She volunteered in the children’s ministry and was popular with kids and teens.

These are the girls and teens who heard her say, essentially, that she’s too cool to hang with the old ladies.

I wish that twenty-something woman and those girls and teens would be intentional about getting to know you. I wish they knew Amelia Sorensen, the woman in her eighties who taught my husband’s Sunday school when he was in first grade and invited families with teenagers over for a home-cooked meal. I wish they knew Hal DeMooy, the man who modeled daily Bible reading and encouraged the young to do the same—or Jim Downing, the Pearl Harbor survivor who, at age 102 and counting, is mentoring teens. I wish they knew the python-slaying Egelers.

I wish they knew the value of interacting with you, the generations who came before. Because if they don’t, they miss out on a chance to be rich—like passing by a cave of precious metals and walking away without mining it.

Get all the advice and instruction you can,
so you will be wise the rest of your life.

(Proverbs 19:20)

Your white hair and wrinkles represent decades refined and lived out under God’s grace, like nuggets and flakes of gold. You have the advantageous perspective of looking back on the same years and experiences younger generations still look forward to. You have already seen, perhaps multiple times, the same struggles and blessings I am experiencing right now.

I once sat on a panel to answer a local MOPS group’s questions about parenting. The young moms asked questions like, “What can you do when the kids don’t eat?” and “What if you and your husband don’t agree on the kids’ discipline?” and “How do you educate the child about ‘stranger danger’ and still encourage them to treat strangers kindly?” All of the questions were narrowed down to one person’s specific situation.

It occurred to me that a single answer could address every concern brought to the table:

You.

You are the answer that would provide a custom solution not only for every young mom but even for that individual’s pinpointed question at that Q&A.

So I encouraged those moms leaning forward and eagerly asking questions of the panel before them:

Find a mentor. Or several mentors.

Then I told them I get together with Jill once a month and Jean once a week. My senior year in college, when I was a newlywed navigating the new relationship with my husband’s parents, I pursued Mary to ask about her in-law relationships. I call Linda when I’m having a parenting crisis. When I was a new mom, I turned to Miriam, the Byrnes, Paula, and others. One day a few years ago I called Dorothy and asked, “I need help with marriage. Could I come over?”

“Sure, dear. When would you like to come?”

“What time do you get up in the morning?” I asked. I was there at seven a.m. the next day.

Richard Peck, Newbery-winning YA author and former high school teacher, agrees with me that we need you. He makes sure an elderly character appears in each of his novels:

I need them. Young readers need them more. The old folks are there in the novels as counterbalances. They provide wisdom and seasoning won only through long lifetimes, and compassion unavailable from the peer group. They offer alternatives in the accelerating battle between parents and children, and glimpses of the problems and sorrows of old age for a young generation fixated on their own.

– Richard Peck, Invitations to the World (New York: Dial Books, 2002), 26-27

We need you, and we need to pursue relationships with you. I’ve asked myself, How could I draw out wisdom from the older women around me? How do I mine wisdom from the quiet ones? What questions should I ask? What steps of relationship should I take? More than once, I’ve started by asking you for a recipe in hopes that it will lead to deeper friendship.

Though good advice lies deep within the heart,
a person with understanding will draw it out.

(Proverbs 20:5)

And then you remind me that every person is both young and old, so I ask myself questions as an older woman, too: What young person could I reach out to today? How can I be winsome and inviting to the young? What can I learn from the young?

Thank you for welcoming me into your lives. What would we do without you who have gone before?

With deep gratitude and appreciation,
Monica

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