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Living the Big Life at 86

My mother-in-law, Joyce Shadinger, is maybe the coolest person I have ever known. She was born 86 years ago in rural GA, the baby of 8 children. Shortly after Joyce was born her dad died. She grew up working on a 50 acre farm. They raised cotton and all the food they ate. Her family made it through the great depression with hard work, determination and a lot of love.

In 1950, Joyce married her true love, Julian, and had two children. Her husband died in 1982 from pancreatic cancer. Her only son and only grandson died in 1997 in a horrific tragedy. That left her with her daughter, (my wife) Jane, and her granddaughter, Jenna.

I met Joyce in 2005. Instantly I knew she was not ordinary. And, as each year passes she grows more special.

Here’s what I mean….
Joyce lives every day as if she truly sees it as a gift. Gratitude just pours out of her. She appreciates everything. It never fails. When she goes to a party, play or church service she always says the same thing. “Ray, I think that was the best (fill in the blank) I have ever seen.” She genuinely thinks every experience she has is simply the best. I get tickled at this, but then I think, what a great way to live.

Joyce knows she won’t live on this earth forever, but while she’s here she’s going to squeeze the most out of every day. At 86, Joyce keeps a busier schedule than most of us in our 50’s. She gets up early, exercises and hits the road. She meets friends who walk with her every day. She meets friends for breakfast. She helps with activities at her church. She makes food for everyone. She meets friends for lunch. She does Zumba. She babysits her great grandkids. She helps her daughter host huge dinner parties. She travels. She sings in the church choir. She works a garden. She drives all over town. I am simply amazed at her commitment to keep moving.

Please don’t misunderstand. I am not implying that Joyce always feels great. She does not. She has had both hips replaced and two serious eye surgeries over the last 6 years. There are times when I know she is hurting. And yet, she has a toughness unlike anything I have ever seen. When she is in pain I have seen her take 2 BC powders then head to her garden to till the soil and plant something. She says it’s therapy. Her attitude is, I will rest when I die. Until then I want to keep moving.

Many older people I know have not only grown more sedentary, but because they sit and watch things like FOX News, they have grown more afraid of life. Not my mother-in-law. She doesn’t have time to watch the endless news cycle. She knows there is bad in the world. She lived through WW2. There has always been bad. She just refuses to dwell on it or let it paralyze her.

One more thing about Joyce that sets her apart from so many people. As she ages, her acceptance of people is not shrinking, but getting larger. So many people Joyce’s age from GA have deep seated prejudices against people who are different. My mother-in-law has a wonderful way of just loving everybody. Her friends are from every race, religion, and orientation.

Joyce is a truly unique person. I have never met anyone quite like her. I stand in awe of her. I have found myself praying a different prayer than I thought I would be praying at this stage of my life…..
Dear God, please let me grow older just like her.

Living the Big Life


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