Over the last eight weeks that I have been with Kind At Heart, I have had the honor of getting to know some incredible individuals packed full of wisdom, humor, and unique gifts. I have also heard "stories of old" that have deepened my understanding of our nation’s culture and how things have dramatically changed in recent decades. Regardless of age, we all have a great opportunity to be a light and share the love of Jesus with an older generation. I'd love to share a few lessons I've been learning about how to be a more positive representative for my own generation and others.





LESSON #1: Always carry humility in physical conduct and speech.


A good rule of thumb comes from a verse in Philippians 2:3-4 which says,

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

In practical terms, this means that we need to be intentional with how we approach our elders in body language, tone of voice, and sometimes in how we simply address them. Too many of the youth of my generation are unaware of how our actions and words impact the people around us; especially the elderly. Part of my process of growth has been to learn how to show honor and respect to those who have gone before me. I have learned that it is best to take on the position of a student who is willing to listen well, take to heart what is being shared, and engage in conversation in a way that shows others that what they are saying matters. And when possible, give lots of smiles and hugs!



LESSON #2: Learn to be an "Active Listener."


One great way to show humility is by becoming a good active listener. No matter the topic or level of interest, offering your time and attention truly means the world to someone who may be battling loneliness (a common struggle for those we serve at Kind at Heart). And ultimately, if you are seeking to bless someone else, it really isn’t about you anyway. So, what does it take to be a good active listener? It's pretty simple, actually! Just ask good questions and respect the other person’s life experiences even when they differ from your own. People of my generation often get hung up on differences in political and social issues, religion, and etc... So for the more opinionated person, remember that you have the opportunity to serve another and act as a positive representative for our generation. By learning to listen, we can hear different viewpoints that may shed light on the truth of something. And if you call yourself a Christian like I do, ultimately, we should be representing Christ! Sometimes we have to choose to not be offended for the sake of loving someone else and setting an example of the love of Jesus.




LESSON #3: Bring a gift as an act of kindness.


I have found that sometimes it helps to bring a gift as a way to "break the ice" with an older individual. Early one morning, I felt led by the Spirit to buy some yellow daisies for one of the Neighbors that a Kind at Heart work team would be serving that day. When Sena and I arrived at her house, I discovered that it was also her birthday. She was both surprised and blessed . . . and so was I! So take my word for it. You'll never regret going the extra mile in blessing another with a simple, tangible gift of encouragement.


A group of young children bring Mary a special Christmas gift


LESSON #4: Learn the art of hospitality.


Equally as important as giving is learning how to be a good receiver. While out visiting our Neighbors, I've been pleasantly surprised by how so many of them show kindness through the gift of hospitality. This concept of hospitality seems to be a fading concept in our society today, and we can learn a lot from our seniors. After all, it's Biblical!


“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” Hebrews 13:2.

Richard (right) loved to visit with Shane in his favorite spot - his front porch swing.


LESSON #5: Be good company.


Along with learning about hospitality is learning how to be a good guest. When visiting someone, it is important to read the room, the person, and how you are situating yourself around them as well. This is especially important if you have plans to stay in their home for a little while. Does the person you are visiting seem pretty laid back? Do they have a lot of keepsakes? Do they maintain their household better than you do? Do they have a disability of some kind? If so, how can you extend the offer to help them with something, if needed?


A Service Team volunteer puts down her yard tools to give Obdia a manicure and fresh coat of paint.

Sometimes there are habits that we form over time that come naturally and we don’t realize what we are communicating by our actions. It might be helpful to ask parents or grandparents for advice in this area. You might hear things like: "Don’t lay your dirty feet on the sofa like you would normally do at your friend’s house or in your dorm room." "Always turn off lights when you leave the room to conserve electricity." Or "Don’t lay wet towels on wooden furniture, lest you take the finish off." (I had to learn that one the hard way).



Some Closing Thoughts


I am convinced that young people and senior elders can learn a lot from each other if they would only allow for intentional time to lend a hand, have a conversation, and share experiences together that allow for teaching, growth and flourishing. I want to challenge my peers with the following: Find a way to bless an elder in your area. You may be surprised by the blessing you receive as a result.


All of us are going along a journey, and some are further down the road than others. Who better to ask for directions than those who have already been where we are?


I first met Anita through a letter-writing ministry I led on the John Brown University campus called "Pen Pals."


My co-leader, Rose Hanlon, and I used to write letters to Anita and other residents at the nursing home where she lived. Little did I know then that I would have the opportunity this summer to sing for her on her 93rd birthday and watch her open up birthday presents. Or sit down with her for over an hour to talk about life, love, and barrel racing. After all, I already knew pieces of her story and her witty personality and was confident that I could learn a lot from her perspective on life . . . and simply have a blast with her joy for life and sense of humor!




Q: What was life like when you were 22 years old? What were you doing at my age?


"When I was 22, I was doing my rodeo in McAlester, Oklahoma. I did barrel racing. Oh I loved doing barrel racing! It was fun. I never was number one, but I was always there trying. For two years straight I was second, so I did good then. One year I was going in a parade and it was so heartbreaking, because I dropped the American Flag. I was out front and someone shot a firecracker off in the audience and my horse jolted. Oh man, she jumped and went sideways a little bit and it messed me up and I dropped my flag. But I was down off of that horse so fast that people didn’t hardly know that I did it because I was down and got the flag and I got back up again in my saddle in a flash! I will never forget it. It was an embarrassing place for me."


A look at McAlester around the time when Anita was in her 20's

"Because McAlester has that big prison, the rodeo was made up of prisoners. They rode the bulls and wild horses and they roped and didn’t care if they got hurt or not. Nobody got hurt really bad, but some went to the hospital and were injured enough to need urgent medical assistance."


Q: What are some other stories from your childhood and teen years?


"Stigler, Oklahoma was where I was born . . . in a goose pasture. My mother’s home was sitting on the hill, and my mother was in the pasture of our white geese [when she had me]. She raised them at that time. The field was full of geese, and she and her friend picked the geese feathers and made feather beds and pillows. We didn’t have air mattresses back then. Those feather beds were heaven! She would get $100 for a feather bed, and a feather pillow was pretty expensive, too. She got by really well with that. Mother always found something that she could do."

"When I was in high school, she had a coffee shop in town called Main Street Coffee Shop where I ran the cash register and did waitressing. I didn’t want anyone in my way. If anyone was in my way, boy, I got ‘em out! The high school was about a mile from the coffee shop and I always ran the whole way from school to the coffee shop. My mother always made me a sandwich when I got there. Then I ran all the way back the next day. I got my exercise. I enjoyed it."




"My mother also had the Traveler’s Hotel that she owned. We had two apartments upstairs and the rooms to the right were for overnight people. I made the beds and cleaned the bathrooms and I worked with my mother and my wonderful sister. My sister was gorgeous, oh she was so pretty! She was three years younger than me and LAZY! She was supposed to be upstairs helping me but she didn’t do much. She was the baby in our family so she didn’t have to do much. I enjoyed my growing up years."

Q: How did you meet your husband?


"I met my husband there at the Traveler’s Hotel and there was a wait to see his sister who was near Fort Smith, and he stopped in the hotel. My mother set us up! When he checked in I knew his last name was Renn, and my mother was in the room right next to where we were talking as I was checking him in. She came to us and said to him, "Was your mother’s name Elizabeth?” He said, “Yes, ma’am! That’s my mother’s name. Do you know her?” And she said, “Yes I do! We went to church together.” He said to me, “Would you like to go out to dinner with me later this evening? I don’t know this town or anywhere to go for food. Would you go with me?” And I said, “I’ve already eaten. There are plenty of places down the road you can go.” Then my mother said, “Anita, why don’t you go with him? Show him around and you can go have coffee or pie with him.” She started us dating right there. I said, “Well, okay!” That was when we began. He was a nice looking young man. Well, the next couple of days he asked me if I wanted to go to Fort Smith to meet his sister and check out the town there. After I graduated high school, we got married when we were both 18 and 19. We were married 25 years before he died of bone cancer.


Q: Are there any other memories that stand out to you?


"I met Clint Eastwood in Carmel, California. My husband and I had coffee with him. We were having coffee that morning at a little restaurant and Clint Eastwood walked in. As soon as I saw him I said “Well, hi Clint!” He said, “Well, hello there!” I said, “Come over and have coffee with us!” We had a wonderful conversation and enjoyed meeting him."


"I’ve been to Ireland and Scotland when I was married to my second husband. They always say that we Americans drive on the wrong side of the road. Haha! Their roads are opposite of ours. Ireland and Scotland are absolutely beautiful and wonderful!


Q: What can younger people learn from the values of your generation?


"I feel like politeness is something young people could learn more of . . . manners. We had ‘em, and we were taught how to engage with people better. Nowadays, young people are consumed by texting and using their phones all the time. I wish they had never invented smartphones, because it takes away from healthy interactions. But they did, and I know you have to have one these days for work."


"[Younger people] need to be taught honor and respect. Not all, but some of them were not taught very well how to show respect to others -- especially elderly folk. I can always tell when parents and grandparents teach their kids how to show respect and love for others.


Conclusion


As I was listening to Anita, I couldn’t help but feel like her life was like a beautiful movie with so many exciting stories, entertaining for anyone. She is a vibrant character with so much zeal for life and passion for others! I was inspired to go out, have fun, and enjoy this beautiful and wonderful gift called life. I eagerly await another delightful visit with my new friend!


Linda is an incredible warrior woman living in the middle of Siloam Springs. At 92 years old and visually impaired, she is filled with joy and so much gratitude for life. She lives with her little dog, Bella, who she calls her "doll baby." Taking care of her furry companion (who is completely deaf and mostly blind) is one of the things that keep her going every day. The other thing in her garden, a beautiful space that she works hard to maintain.


"I'm in the backyard all the time . . . it is my passion. It gets me up every morning. My little dog goes out with me and we spend a lot of time out there."


(Check out the pictures below of a Kind at Heart volunteer group helping with some garden cleanup and revitalization).


Linda's ambition and independence serves her well in this community. She has lived in Siloam Springs for about twenty-two years and has gotten by so well despite her limitations.


Even though she has a difficult time seeing clearly, Linda has found a way to get her needs met and be part of the community. “I love this town! It’s a beautiful town!” she says. “How lovely is the new library? And how lovely is the new Farmer’s Market?” She loves seeing the new work done at the park. “It’s fantastic what they’ve done!


Linda can often be found looking for honey or fresh produce at the local Farmer's Market.

Linda goes on to share how the members of the community of Siloam Springs have been so good to her when she visits the grocery store. “I’ve learned not to be bashful. I take my time with my magnifying glass, and if I can’t read something or find anything I just look for somebody and say, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t mean to bother you, but could you tell me where the spaghetti sauce is?’ Nearly every time someone is willing to go out of their way to help me. We have very kind people in this town! If I am standing out in front of the store waiting for my taxi, it isn’t unusual to have three or four people stop and say ‘Can I help you?’, ‘Do you need something?’, ‘Do you need a ride?’ Very kind people”, says Linda.


I asked Linda what life was like when she was my age at 22, and she shared some incredible stories:


“I was living in Omaha, Nebraska in a third floor walk-up living with my best friend, Janie. She and I went to work together for several jobs. Any job we could get, we took. Up there in the winter, dances would take place at a community ballroom and Janie and I would make some money hanging up coats for people. We took odd jobs like that just to get food each week. I worked many full-time and part-time jobs and took night classes. In high school, I kept full-time jobs while going to school. Nowadays, kids wouldn’t be able to do that. I was in the band and orchestra, so I had to get up in the morning at 7:00 A.M. and go to school until one in the afternoon, then I worked until midnight. I studied for my classes on the way to and from work. That was my way of life back then. I had to work to survive.


A picture of 3-story apartments buildings in Omaha, NE in the 1930's.

“Back then, the man on the corner at the grocery store knew how hard we were working to get by and a lot of times he would say to us, “I’ve got a box of vegetables here that aren’t perfect. They’re not very good, so if you want ‘em you can have ‘em.” Linda recalled to me: “Did you ever eat spaghetti with nothin’ but tomatoes? That is the reason I am not crazy about spaghetti. Have you ever made pancakes with just flour and water? I don’t really like pancakes either,” says Linda.


“Even though I was poor and had to work hard, I don’t remember being unhappy. Janie (my best friend) and I had a great time and I would go back to those days in a heartbeat!


We did a lot of amazing things that didn’t cost anything and we did a lot of walking. Times are very different now. Kids these days think they need their own room, bathroom, and this and that, but no, no, no . . . back in my day, you only got what you worked for, and I’d do it again. Gosh sakes, it was fun!”


Linda swapping stories with a young volunteer on garden clean-up day. Oh the stories she has!

Throughout our time together, I could not help but think of Linda as being very alive! She has more stories than I can count that are just plain interesting and exciting! I didn’t even get to mention that she was an artist, owned several dress shops, and raised racehorses with her husband! The adventures in Linda's life are endless. Every minute of our sweet conversation was worth it.