Missy Buchanan is the first person to point out that—despite her seven popular books and her national advocacy on behalf of aging Americans—she’s not an expert in traditional terms.
“I don’t have a doctorate. I’m not a university researcher. I’m not a medical doctor. I’m not an ordained pastor. I’m just—well, I’m just me,” she says. “But, you know what? Often that’s how God works: God calls unlikely people to go out and do the work that needs to be done.”
However, as her readers nationwide and viewers of Good Morning America know, Missy’s talents begin with careful listening—the main discipline she tries to teach to her ever-growing audience nationwide. When her own parents were in their final years of life, she listened attentively to them. She listened to their friends. And, as she began writing about the spiritual lives of Americans aged 80 and older, she found that older men and women were eager to give her an earful.
That’s how she wound up twice appearing on Good Morning America, after co-authoring the memoir of GMA host Robin Roberts’ mother Lucimarian Roberts.
A CALL IN THE NIGHT
One night, Missy was at home with her husband Barry in Rockwall, Texas, when the phone rang. “And there was this woman with the sweetest little voice, asking, ‘Is this Missy Buchanan?’”
Missy said, “Yes, ma’am.”
“And, is this the same Missy Buchanan who wrote the book Living with Purpose?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Missy repeated.
Then, Lucimarian Roberts said, “You don’t know me but I think you know my daughter, Robin Roberts of Good Morning America.”
That night, a two-year friendship began that extended through an emotional launch of Lucimarian’s co-written book, My Story, My Song; Missy’s appearances on Good Morning America—and then, all-too-soon after the book’s debut, Lucimarian’s death.
“As we began this book, she still was living in Mississippi close to Biloxi where she had moved with her husband, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen,” Missy says. “I would travel back and forth to Mississippi and would sit with Lucimarian in her living room. She would talk; I would listen.”
There was an urgency driving this project. “The week before the book launch in 2012, she had been in the hospital,” Missy recalls. “But that spring, we had such a memorable gathering of about 350 of her friends and family. She was able to sign books all one day and the next day, too. All of the people who came had wonderful things to say about her. Then, she died in August, that year.”
The sharing of stories is such a powerful experience, Missy says, “that Lucimarian Roberts really became a cheerleader for me. She had chosen me to help her tell her story because she found my first book Living with Purpose, so helpful in her own life. And, of course, when we began this new book, I showed up at her home for that first conversation with so many questions I had prepared. I didn’t need to ask a one of them—the stories just flowed and it became the book.”
Missy kept listening. “The most important thing was helping her to tell her story. And it was such a pleasure to do this. She was so encouraging to me. I remember she’d end every conversation with these words: ‘I love you. You keep writing and speaking. We need to hear this. We need it.’ Every time. And that’s what I keep doing.”
INVITING US TO TALK ACROSS GENERATIONS
Now, in her seventh book, Missy invites adults young and old into dialogue, based on thousands of conversations she has experienced through the years. Voices of Aging is subtitled Adult Children and Aging Parents Talk with God. In the book, Missy presents both sides of 20 conversations on topics including: “The Car” (and whether it’s still smart to drive), “Doctors and Hospitals,” “Money,” “Holidays” and “Boundaries.”
Recognize your own family in that list? If her book can help your family through even one of these 20 topics—you’ll be glad you discovered Missy’s book today.
This is an inspirational book, including recommended Bible verses and short prayers that families might use if faith is a daily part of your relationships. But—as important as talking with God is to most of Missy’s readers—the real power of this new book is that it gets both generations talking with each other!
And, believe it or not, this book is not a downer! There’s a chapter on “Laughter” that will be a welcome relief to readers, for example. Missy’s tone through all of her books (check out her 2013 book Joy Boosters) is relentless optimism. As Missy describes this, it’s the central value of hope that runs like an artery through her life of faith.
“What I’m trying to do is reconnect these millions of Americans who have been all but forgotten by their churches,” she explains. “That’s what got me started on this work.”
A CHURCH GROWTH ISSUE
As you will learn this week in an OurValues series from University of Michigan sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker: It’s time to stop thinking about “aging” as an issue affecting someone else. Right now we are meeting aging America—and “they” are us!
Nearly every congregation in America is eager to welcome more men, women and their families. Yet, most church-growth programs focus almost entirely on young adults—while congregations are abandoning countless older members because they can no longer drive, or need help perhaps with wheelchairs. In addition to exiling all of those men and women—congregations often are pushing away their adult children and who can’t find Sunday-morning options to cover their caregiving duties.
That’s the truth Missy discovered a decade ago, when she began her nationwide mission by simply writing devotional readings for her own parents, adding them page by page to a home-made notebook and eventually making copies for an ever-growing circle of friends.
“This was born out of my own experiences with my parents,” she says. “When I began, I had no intention of becoming a national advocate on these issues. But I discovered that there were all of these people out there who had invested so much of their lives in their communities and their churches—then, once they had trouble attending regularly—their churches forgot them.”
At first, Missy thought of buying some inspirational books for older people, then using them to help lead devotional experiences among her parents’ friends. “But what happened at the bookstores really surprised me! I asked, ‘Do you have any inspirational books for seniors?’ And, they would lead me to the graduation section!”
She laughs. “So I would have to redefine what I wanted. And I would hear, ‘Well, there are all sorts of books written about senior citizens–but something inspirational?’ ”
She found shelves groaning with books about the problems of aging, how to avoid the effects of aging, financial planning—”but nothing inspirational written in language that speaks to their hearts, especially the hearts of men and women who are 80 and older.”
A former teacher armed with a masters in education, Missy began writing and sharing her own inspirational readings. Her first short prayer-poems were voiced from the collective experiences of older adults she met through her parents.
“I wrote them in the first person as if the person reading them was talking to God,” Missy says. “That’s the book that Lucimarian Roberts found and often liked to read from.”
Younger adults might think that older men and women would be experts at prayer, but that isn’t the case as they live through the often disorienting experiences of advanced age. “I regularly talk to older people who tell me, ‘As I’m getting older, I can’t pray the way I used to pray.’ ”
And Missy always asks, “Tell me what you mean.”
She listens. “Often they tell me, ‘I can’t formulate the words. I can’t make the words come to say what’s on my heart now.’ So, that’s what I try to do through all of my books—help their voices rise.”
She says, “You may think these books aren’t for you right now. But you may not realize that you can become the companion for someone on this journey by making time to talk, to share—and to listen.”
(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)
Care to read more?
VISIT MISSY—Click on her photo, above, to visit her web page, but you’ll hear most frequently from the author by following her on Twitter or connecting with her on Facebook.
EXPLORE OUR RESOURCES—ReadTheSpirit publishes a wide range of resources on aging, coping and caregiving. We publish the online magazine known as We Are Caregivers; and our ReadTheSpirit bookstore features a number of books of special interest to caregivers and senior citizens. This week, Dr. Wayne Baker’s OurValues project also is publishing a special series on Aging America, looking both at the emerging facts—and hopeful trends.