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Freeing Advice From a 100-Year-Old Friend

A few days ago, for the first time, I attended a 100th birthday party.

My friend still lives in her own apartment (though with daily help) one floor above me. She looks lovely in her royal blue dress, her white hair framing bright eyes and the smile-lines of her face.

I hear stories from the few others present (all vaccinated, masked and socially distanced) of how when she retired at age sixty-five, she took up a volunteer position three days a week in the church office and stayed twenty years. She greeted by name each preschooler who came for the parents and tots program, welcomed each homeless friend who wandered in off the street. A friendly smile, a silent prayer, someone to see them—her simple offerings have blessed many.

As we finish our cake, someone asks, “Phyllis, the rest of us haven’t reached 100 yet. If you had one piece of advice for us younger ones, what would it be?” Without hesitation she replied, “Just be yourself, keep loving God, and serve.” She has lived this way.

Three Woven Strands

“Just be yourself, keep loving God, and serve.” It’s the weaving together of these three strands of her advice that keeps them all beautiful and true, the burden light.

“Just be yourself, keep loving God. . .” God doesn’t ask us to love him with someone else’s mind or strength, but with our own, however great or small that may be.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30)

“. . . and serve.” Serving, too, is lighter when it is the overflow of God’s love for us and ours for him rather than rising from a deep need to please others in order to feel safe. (Ask me how I know!)

It’s what Jesus has said from the beginning: fruit flows from making our home in him.

“I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing.” (John 15:5 The Message)

An Abundant and Varied Harvest

Here in the northern hemisphere, autumn has just begun. While farm wives are posting Instagram photos of their favorite farmers harvesting various grains, this girl in the heart of the city is delighting in the variety of berries and seed pods of all shapes and sizes that peek out between leaves or scatter the ground.

I’m intrigued all over again by how creative God is, and how varied his creation. And I’m reminded all over again that a perfect Gala apple does not taste like the very best tangerine, nor is it shaped like an ideal banana. A perfect apple is itself. And in being what it was created to be, it brings glory to its Creator.

I’m so grateful that God doesn’t ask us to be our neighbor, just to love them as we cling close to him, becoming more fully and freely ourselves in his love.

A Thank You

This morning, I want to whisper my thanks first to the One who sets us increasingly free to be ourselves in his love, and, second, to you. We have something to celebrate today. Together, we’ve just won the Word Guild’s Best Blog of the Year Award! I’ve prayed and written and posted here on this blog for over eleven years. You’ve read and prayed and encouraged and shared posts on facebook or forwarded them to a friend. Thank you!

Thank you for being your own beautiful self. Thank you for keeping on loving God, even, or especially, in the hard times. Thank you for glimpses you’ve let me see of your own life through an occasional comment or note. I am deeply honored to be entrusted with this sacred work of listening and writing, and I’m deeply honored to do it with you as we each press in, God helping us, to listen together to God’s heartbeat and make our home in Christ’s love.

May we each be given the grace today to just be ourselves, keep loving God, and serve from that place of overflowing love. Bless you, friend.

This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Soo Sen

    Thank you for another great BLOG that draws me to the face of GOD. Congratulations on the award!! It is well deserved. My call to authentically be myself and follow Jesus has not been clearer as I read your post. Today, I was sitting in clinical supervision where we were talking about “unmasking”, how so many of us walk around carrying these heavy masks so that we look like, sound like, and act like dominant cultures (depending on work cultures, ethnicity, gender etc) and how this act of masking has literally drained the lives out of us. Here lies the freedom that your friend has found – just be yourself and follow Jesus. Simple, yet profound. Safety in Christ so that we can enjoy an honest relationship with self and others. Thanks Caroline for the reminder. Just came at a road fork in my life.

  2. Louise

    Thank you for this lovely piece on dear Phyllis, Carolyn!

    And congratulations for winning the Word Guild’s Best Blog of the Year Award!!
    I agree!


  3. Jemma

    Thank you for your writing and message each time. So beautifully written and hearing the advice. Focus on the essentials in life, living it fully. Simple clear. Congratulations on the award. You write beautifully with depth and a honesty & that flows with kindness. Showing us the Lord himself ❤️

    1. Carolyn Watts

      Thanks for your kind words, Jemma. I’m so glad you see the Lord in what I write here. That is my longing!

  4. Eunice Smith

    I join in the congrats on your well deserved award on a blog I always look forward to reading and seek to apply the challenges you offer, always with the amazing love of God in the center. This one was very appropriate for me as I age and so quickly feel that I just don’t have the energy to be enough, do enough, All the self talk disappears here. Yeah!!
    Blessings upon your obedient heart that touches us all!!!!!!!! Eunice Smith

    1. Carolyn Watts

      Thanks so much for your kind words and your blessing, Eunice. I feel humbled and blessed to have readers like you who engage so deeply with what I write here.

  5. Linda

    Another insightful message Carolea . Be yourself ,, love God first and serve . How blessed you are having this wonderful 100 year old sister as your neighbour .
    Congratulations on your award . So special for God to bless you like that . God’s goodness abounds . You always speak from the heart giving us special things of God to ponder . Thank you so very much .

    1. Carolyn Watts

      Thanks so much for your encouraging words, Mrs. Oldreive. Yes, God’s goodness does abound! May you experience his kindness in your own life this day.

  6. Diana Kilgour

    Carolyn! I’m overjoyed that your blog has been recognized by a body that gives out awards and you are most deserving! You might be ready to (always humbly as is your style) soak up this moment but I’m wondering if you’ve thought of gathering up your words of inspiration, faith and insights – complete with your perfectly chosen photos – and putting them into a book…. just wondering….
    May God continue to be your inspiration and supply!

    1. Carolyn Watts

      Thanks so much for your encouragement, Diana. At the moment I’m working hard trying to finish up a non-blog-post book, but then who knows? Perhaps down the road some of these blog posts will show up in another book. If you think of me from time to time, I’d value your prayers for a publisher for the book I’m currently working on. Thanks!

      1. Sue

        Many joyful congratulations, Carolyn!

        This post was particularly helpful for me. Thank you

  7. Maurice

    Congratulations Carolyn. Award well deserved. you write so well and with such interesting insights into the nature around you and lessons from nature and life.

    1. Carolyn Watts

      Thanks so much for your encouragement. I’m so glad you enjoy what I write here.

  8. Judy

    What a delight to see this blog post surface in my FB feed! Two delights, really: Phyllis’s lovely smile (100 and still on her own!) and the news of your blog’s recognition as “best.” Well done, Carolyn. You’ve been faithful and others have been blessed as a result. In your reply to Diana, you mention another book….. intriguing!

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