I heard laughter and hoots outside, and my
first thought was, Oh no, what now?
It was hot; I admit I was exhausted. I was in the church kitchen
preparing snacks. Our VBS was in high gear. After weeks of
labor-intensive preparation, the decorations were in place, loads
of supplies and snacks were accounted for, and volunteers were all
busy leading kids through the program. We were well underway…though
we’d had our share of bumps — behind-the-scenes power struggles
over how snacks should be served, a few minor tiffs about who was
in charge of what, and several discipline issues with kids.
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That’s why the upsurge in laughter made me nervous. I couldn’t see
through the kitchen window, so I headed for the door, bracing
What I found wasn’t kids misbehaving; the culprit was my games
leader, Jean. I should’ve guessed. Jean was showing off, turning
cartwheels out in the grass — and the kids were loudly rooting her
Did I mention that Jean is 79?
I was dismayed. And a little envious.
After her cartwheel-turning display, I broke down and asked Jean
where she found the energy and spunk. I was truly curious. I mean,
VBS was exhausting for most of us. I was tired (and maybe a little
cranky). So were many others. And then there was Jean,
demonstrating cartwheels for the kids.
Of course people wonder how a 79-year-old can lead 3- through
12-year-olds in games for a solid week of VBS. (They wonder how a
24-year-old can do it.) But Jean is an exceptional woman who can do
just that — and do it better than most people half her age. Her
looks are misleading: She’s a petite grandma with twinkling blue
eyes that hover behind oversized glasses. She sits demurely in her
pew most Sunday mornings, quietly worshipping with the rest of us.
But like most superheroes who lead double lives, Jean’s an
Her answer was simple enough: “I’m a firm believer in staying
active and keeping the blood flowing.”
Jean isn’t the typical 79-year-old. She’s taught aerobics for 17
years. Three days a week, she teaches aerobics at the high school
and again later in the day at a senior center. Thursdays she does
line dancing. She fills the rest of her calendar by tending her
large yard and garden, reading health magazines, and walking her
Jean’s a bundle of enthusiasm and boundless energy, a superhuman
example of passing on faith and fun to younger generations while
inspiring her own demographic. When I asked what motivated her —
aside from her desire to minister to children — she was blunt:
“The influence of young people is important,” she said, “because it
keeps me doing things that I might not otherwise.” She knew her
antics at VBS were more than just fun and games, too; she hoped her
example of service (with lots of smiles) might help “get some
seniors out from in front of the TV and get moving.”
Under that hot summer sun, though, I admit I could certainly feel
my own weariness. I confessed as much to Jean, and asked for words
of wisdom. As she spoke, I could almost see her swooping her
superhero cape over her shoulder: “Drink plenty of water,” she
advised, “and avoid getting overheated.”
Carolyn Brown is a volunteer VBS coordinator
and serves on the governing board for her church in Bayfield,
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