Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness.Prov. 16:31

As my parents progressed through their 80s, they became more proactive about addressing items on their bucket list. Within that decade, they ticked off cruises through the Panama Canal, Alaska coast and Amazon River. Sometimes my siblings and I got pulled into the experience, as we did in at the 2012 annual Balloon Festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

That same year, my Mom overheard me planning a trip to Georgia to help my missionary daughter pack crates for her family’s move to Indonesia. Seizing the opportunity to fulfill another wish from her list, Mom hijacked my trip and rescheduled us for a stopover in Plains, Georgia. It had been her longtime desire to attend a Sunday school class taught by former President Jimmy Carter.

So that’s how we found ourselves being frisked by Secret Service agents a couple of weeks later. They carefully screened every person who entered the country church on the outskirts of Plains.

Sitting in the second row of the small sanctuary, Mom and I shared a moment of awe as the former president entered the room. I had come of age just in time to vote for Jimmy Carter in my very first presidential election. Now here was the man himself, dressed modestly in a blazer and bolo tie, his mind sharp and agile.

Having learned that I was a retired missionary, Mr. Carter asked me to open the session with prayer. He then launched into a Bible lesson with quiet passion, his words and expression filled with love for the Lord and for Scripture.

After the morning worship service, he and his wife – pronounced Rose, like the flower, Lynn – allowed us to be photographed with them before they boarded a plane for Washington, where they would attend President Barack Obama’s inauguration the next day.

I hadn’t thought much about it before that day, but meeting Jimmy Carter has now been added to my own list of life highlights. He embodies the best of elder adulthood. Age 88 at that time, and in the years that have followed, he has kept physically fit through daily exercise and stays actively involved in national and global issues. Whether providing homes for the homeless through Habitat for Humanity, negotiating peace in war-torn countries or supporting his rural community’s culture and economy, he continually makes the welfare of others his personal priority.

Active. Engaged. Involved. These words typify a life of purpose and meaning at any age, but are especially significant for seniors. Older adults bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to any situation. When seniors step forward as volunteers and mentors in their communities, everyone benefits. You don’t have to negotiate peace treaties in foreign countries to help make your own hometown a stronger and better place.

Almost a decade has passed since my trip to Plains. Now halfway through my sixties, I still look to the Carters and to my own parents, all in their nineties, as examples of how to live life with gusto at any age. It gives me hope and excitement for all that is yet to come.

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