Jeannine's Story: A Little Piece of Dark Chocolate

As I approach mid-life I find myself asking the question, what does it mean to age well?

Is it a matter of establishing healthy habits that lead to better health? Or, is it looking younger than one actually is? Or, perhaps, staying active well past retirement? How about engaging in one's community? Or, is it a matter of enjoying life regardless of age?

It could be any one, or all of those things. At this stage of the game, I'm aware that the choices I make now will impact my life down the road. As such, I want to know what are the qualities that lead to a full and healthy-as-possible life. 

Recently, I spoke with someone who has been a wonderful example of what it means to live and age well. She leads, what she would describe, a quiet and unimportant life, serving others in anonymity. However, I have seen her life make a steady and lasting impact as she faces life with strength and courage.

She serves on a variety of teams at our church from media operator to nursery worker; she has traveled to Ethiopia to strengthen our church's partnership with a local ministry in the community of Addis Ketma and she has volunteered for many years in our church office. Aside from what she does is who she is - kind, compassionate, responsive and committed (especially to her kids and grandkids).

I've known Jeannine for many years now, but it was just a little while ago that I asked her what sort of movies she likes to watch and I discovered we share a liking of Sci-Fi such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Stranger Things, X-files, etc.  Yes! Yet, I wanted to discover more about her. She seemed surprised when I asked if I could interview her for The Worthy People Project. 

She didn't understand why I wanted to interview her and for that reason, she is the perfect candidate.

S: It's only 10:51 in the morning, but what is the most exciting thing that has happened today?

[J]: Today? I took a shower.

[S]: [laughing] That's great.

[J]: I ate a piece of chocolate...I have these little pieces of dark chocolate in my cupboard that are just one point [weight watchers point] and I eat one every day. It's my medicinal chocolate. 

[S]: [laughing] Medicinal chocolate? Oh, that's great. We all need medicinal chocolate.

S: Now, think of your childhood...[pause]...What is the first thing that came to your mind?

[J]: The farm where I grew up.

[S]: What were you doing in your memory?

[J]: Well, I used to rescue mice...from the cats. Got bit for it once.

[S]: By a cat?

[J]: No, by a mouse.

[S]: [Laughs hysterically]

[S]: Where was the farm?

[J]: About three miles west of Willmar [MN]. I went to a country school; one room with no running water.

[S]: Really? You're not that old!

[J]: Well, those old one room schools lasted a while and this was in the 1950's. We had an outhouse and a pump outside. The kids took turns pumping water for the school room where we would wash hands before lunch. There was one teacher for all six grades - 1st through 6th grade since there wasn't Kindergarten then.

S: What is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you?

[J]: I don't have anything that comes to mind...In junior high one of the girls said she liked my smile. She was a classmate. I was a very quiet, shy wallflower. Out of grade school, I went from the one room school with 3 of us in my grade to a junior high of 300 other kids in my class and there were 300 kids in each of the other classes as well.

[S]: That must have been a shock?

[J]: It was. It was. Oh, I can still remember. I was a worry wart, anyway, and oh did I have dreams. Oh man, it was so scary. I missed the bus home my first day. I called my mom in tears and she told me it was okay and that she would come and get me. It was my first time on a school bus, as well.

I was very, very, uh, self-conscience and I remember hearing on the bus (on the radio) that people wouldn't be so worried about what other people thought of them if they realized how seldom others thought of them. That really helped me, hearing that. We think we're the center of attention, but really everyone is doing their own thing and not worried about what someone else is doing. 

S: What's the last picture you took on your phone?

[J]: It probably should have been of my relatives since I was with them last weekend, but everyone was taking pictures, so I figured someone could send me one.

[S]: Oh! It's your granddaughter Josie!

[J]: Yep. I had her all to myself last Friday when the other kids were in school and we had a little tea party. She's eating a piece of her birthday cake from her birthday party which was the day before. 

[S]: What problem do you wish you could solve?

[J]: [pause] I'm not sure where to focus, I get a little overwhelmed with the needs across the world. There' so much. I get mailings all the time and there's all these good things that come in.  I can't give to all of them. What I try to do is make sure they are a Christian organization so that takes care of not only the physical needs but also the spiritual needs of people. 

[S]: Your husband passed away unexpectedly 15 years ago. What has been the hardest thing to overcome since his passing?

[J]: To begin with, anyway, the hardest thing was going to church alone. We'd always done that together. He was leading worship and I was in the band. Then, I discovered that the hardest thing was coming home alone after church. We had always done something afterward you know, like go out to eat or something. My companion was gone. That was very painful.

Otherwise, I missed him when it came to big financial decisions like buying a car or things like that. I don't like doing those things alone.

[S]: Have you ever found yourself desiring marriage again?

[J]: Maybe in some ways and then in other ways, when I think about the logistics of it, maybe not. It would mean having another family and then having a husband would take time away from my kids and my grandkids. It would be a different focus for me. I could see it happening, maybe, but I'm not looking. If God makes it happen...maybe. I guess if God makes it happen...then yes, I suppose.

In the back of my mind, I sort of have this dream of maybe, someday marrying like a medical missionary and the two of us going off to somewhere, like Ethiopia and serving together. I can see fulfillment for me in that. 

[S]: What is your greatest struggle these days?

[J]: It's probably the grandkids when I'm watching them; having to discipline them or break up fights. That kind of thing is hard because I want to respect their parent's style of parenting which may be different than how I parented which is not to say that how I parented is better or worse. I want to do what's best for the grandkids and give them what they need even if they are acting up. 

S: What cheers you up?

[J]: Um. probably talking to people.

[S]: Nice! Not that little piece of dark chocolate?

[J]: Well, maybe a little.

[S]: What is it about talking to people that cheers you up?

[J]: I think it's making a connection. I love my alone time at home, but if I have three days in a row I start getting anxious and not feeling good and feeling all separated from others. That doesn't feel good. It helps to make connections. 

Living and Aging Well

If you are facing mid-life, like me, or are in the years after, I hope you have the things in your life that lead you to live well. If not, what are the ways you might impact change in your life? It is never too late to learn new things or lean into that which matters most.

Jeannine has taught me that aging well means facing life with a strength that comes from deep within; continuing to connect with others in friendship and service; remaining active in a community; loving well and eating that piece of medicinal chocolate every day. 

What does aging well mean for you?