A few weeks ago, I talked about the Immanuel Spirit, the set of guidelines we all try to live and work by here at Immanuel.  Today, I want to take a deeper dive into one of these guidelines.  It’s the first on the list, and one of the most challenging to abide by: “Embrace and value our differences, while assuming positive intentions.”

There’s a lot packed in to these two clauses.  In the first one, we agree not only recognize the differences between ourselves and others but also to embrace and value them.  It can be very difficult to genuinely embrace the differences between ourselves and others; after all, most of us approach things the way we do because those ways make sense to us.  When someone approaches something from a different angle, it’s easy to see their way as wrong.  When we embrace and value our differences, however, we recognize that it can sometimes be helpful to take into account multiple points of view.

The second part of this statement can be even more difficult to live by.  When we “assume positive intentions,” we approach interactions with the assumption that the other person wants a good outcome, just as we do.  When we disagree with the people around us, we do our best to assume that they (like us) want the best for the team, the residents, and the organization.

When we feel passionately about our work, it can be hard to adhere to this guideline (because most of us have good reasons for how we approach things!), but when we do, our work lives are generally more pleasant and productive.  Most of the time people genuinely are coming from a positive place, so even when we at first don’t agree, we can trust that we all have the same end goals.  The residents really do come first here at Immanuel.

When we embrace and value our differences while assuming positive attentions, we find compromise solutions when we disagree about the best way to approach a problem.  We also have better working relationships because we’re not focused on being right all the time.  It’s often hard to do, but it’s almost always worth it!

If you’re ever at Buffalo Terrace and looking for Marvin Schultz, you can often find him in the Patio Room or Wooden Nickel playing games with his friends.  Marvin has long enjoyed games of all kinds.  I know this first-hand because I’ve known him all my life—he’s my Grandpa.

Marvin moved in to Buffalo Hill Terrace almost two years ago.  As soon as he moved in, he found a group of friends with whom he regularly plays his favorite card game, Hand and Foot.  And if you walk in the North Entrance and see a group of people playing a dice game called Farkle in the Café, that’s probably our family.  Marvin can and will play almost any game—board games, card games, dice games, games of chance, games of strategy—that others want to play.  No matter whom he’s playing with, he takes a relaxed approach.  “To me games should be fun and relaxing,” he comments.  “If you get all uptight about losing, don’t play.”

Family has always been central to Marvin’s love of games.  When he was growing up, he played games with his mother, Hilda, and his whole family of four would play canasta at Christmas time. His Passions Project photo shows him playing chess, one of his favorites.  His older brother, Merlyn, taught him to play the game and was his most common opponent when they were growing up.    Eventually, Marvin got good enough that he could beat Merlyn at a game or two, but it didn’t happen often!

That was okay, though, because winning has never been what Marvin likes most about playing chess.  He enjoys formulating a strategy, including a plan of attack and a defense at the same time.  He doesn’t memorize move sequences the way some players do.  Instead, he takes it one move a time—and one game at a time.  “Every game’s different to me,” he says. “It depends on what your opponent does.”

Marvin was born in Wisconsin and, when he was growing up, his family lived in a variety of states including New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Texas.  After graduating with his engineering degree, Marvin took a job at Boeing and moved to Wichita, Kansas.  He soon met Shirley, the love of his life.  The couple dated for one summer.  Then, Shirley went back to college.  While she was away, he wrote her one letter.  It must have been a good letter, because they became engaged almost as soon as she came back to Wichita the next summer and married that August.  They went on to have six children (one passed away as a young child), three of whom now live in Northwest Montana.

Marvin moved to Kalispell in 2013 to live with his second daughter, Carla (I call her Mom).  In 2017, he moved into Buffalo Hill Terrace.  He loves living here, where he has a lot of friends and game-playing buddies.  And next week, his two children who don’t live nearby will be coming to visit along with their spouses and some of their kids (Marvin’s grandkids, my cousins).  I know he’s looking forward to it, and I’m sure we’ll be playing some games! 

When prospective residents or other newcomers visit Immanuel, they often remark on what a positive environment they find.  Many of them have remarked that “it just feels different” from other communities or workplaces.  That difference usually has to do with the way staff members interact with each other and with residents.  People say to hi to each other in the halls, often calling each other by name and sometimes stopping for a brief exchange about how the day is going.  Residents gather in the Patio Room for coffee and games or just for a chat before dinner.  Floor staff are busy, but they always appear to enjoy each other’s company when they’re working in teams, and they take the time to greet passersby.

At Immanuel, we emphasize “community,” and that’s part of what creates this atmosphere.  But we also strive every day to live and work the values described in the Immanuel Spirit.  The Immanuel Spirit was developed by leadership several years ago to structure the culture we want to create here at Immanuel.  For example, the Immanuel Spirit reminds us to “Greet everyone warmly, by name, and with a smile” and to “Contribute to an atmosphere of positivity, teamwork, and cultural support.”  It’s these values that are reflected in the exchanges visitors notice.

But these values aren’t just for show.  They shine through in other areas, as well.  For example, recently our culinary team was preparing a meal from a specific ethnic tradition for some visiting VIPs.  A housekeeper with experience preparing this kind of ethnic cuisine happened to wander through the kitchen.  She noticed that something wasn’t quite right, and she jumped in to help.  A little bit later, she returned to the kitchen when her assistance was requested.  This housekeeper isn’t on the culinary team, of course, and she still had housekeeping work to finish, but because teamwork is so important at Immanuel, she stopped what she was doing to make sure that a big event turned out as well as it possibly could.  She saw a problem she could help solve and jumped in—incidentally, another of the Immanuel Spirit commitments is “Respond to every problem I see.”

It’s not always easy to honor all fifteen points of the Immanuel Spirit, but when we keep them in mind, we create a culture that is welcoming and special.  We strive to work as a team across departments, and when we do, residents and guests notice.

When guests enter The Retreat at Buffalo Hill, Immanuel Lutheran Communities’ short-term rehabilitation community, they’re usually not feeling too great.  They come to the Retreat because they need help getting back on their feet after illness, injury, or surgery, and while they’re there, they get a variety of therapies, depending on what their doctor orders.  By the time they leave, they’re usually feeling a lot better.

Because they feel so much better when they leave than when they arrived, many guests over the years have expressed their desire to say thank you to the team at the Retreat.  That’s why the Immanuel Foundation has just rolled out our Grateful Guest program.  This program allows donors to make a gift to one of several funds—and, if they choose, to recognize a staff member who made a particularly big difference for them.

Some guests will choose to donate to the Employee Fund.  This fund has two main purposes: to support employees going through a rough patch via the Christ Care Fund (administered by our Pastoral Care department) and to provide funding for those looking to advance their education.  Grateful guests help our employees become even better at their jobs.  They also help them weather challenges like medical emergencies, car trouble, and heating outages.

Some guests might prefer to give in ways that help future guests experience the same level of service they received during their stay.  Gifts to our Programs and Services help make up the difference between Medicaid reimbursement rates and Immanuel’s costs to provide service.  They might also purchase necessary equipment that strengthens the Retreat’s ability to help guests get better.

And if guests don’t know how they want their gifts to be used, they can simply tell us to use them for the Greatest Need.  Greatest Need funds fill in gaps across campus, and the Immanuel Foundation board helps determine how they’re used.

No matter how they choose to designate their gifts, grateful guests can use their gift to honor a specific staff member who made their time at the Retreat particularly special, healing, or comfortable.  This person might be a CNA, a cook, a therapist, a housekeeper, or anyone else who made a difference for them specifically.  The staff member will be notified and recognized by their fellow employees.

All in all, the Grateful Guest program is a great new way for Retreat guests to say thank you for their stay while helping Immanuel become an even stronger organization.

At the Immanuel Foundation, we are privileged to work with a wonderful Resident Advisory Committee.  This group, composed of five active, engaged residents of Buffalo Hill Terrace and The Villas, gives us their input on our fundraising strategies and priorities.  They know the “buzz” around the community, and they’re willing to share it.  Since we fundraise for the community, it’s important to us that we understand residents’ priorities.  Our committee members share information about what residents are thinking and what’s important to them, and they’re great ambassadors for the work we do in the Foundation.

Our committee members are also great at helping out with practical tasks.  They’ve helped us stuff mailings, prepare for events, staff tables, and of course they were a huge help at our Estate Sale last May.  They’ve become an integral part of the Immanuel Foundation, and at this point we probably couldn’t do the work we do without them.

Our committee is not the only one at Immanuel.  The Foundation committee is part of a larger system at Buffalo Hill Terrace and the Villas that engages residents with operations.  After all, this community is their home, so they should have a voice in how things are run.  To help make their voices heard, the Buffalo Hill Terrace administration established committees for dining, recreation, finance, and the physical building.  There’s also a group of Resident Ambassadors that helps show new residents around, provides tours for prospective residents, and makes their apartment homes available for viewing.  Representatives from all of these individual committees, as well as the Foundation Committee, come together monthly to share updates and help Carla Wilton, the Buffalo Hill Terrace Executive Director, make decisions that impact residents.

These committees are great for everybody.  They’re great for staff because we get direct impact from residents.  They’re great for residents because they have a voice in how the organization runs.  And they’re great for the organization as a whole because we can be sure we’re responding to the people for whom we exist in the first place.

Like all retirement communities, Buffalo Hill Terrace has a wealth of experience and expertise within its walls.  These committees also give the residents a chance to go on using their talents and skills in a way that benefits their community.  They are retired, but that doesn’t mean they’ve lost their skills or their interests.  So, residents with finance backgrounds join the finance committee, those with a background or particular interest in food service join the dining committee, etc.  In the Foundation, we benefit from residents on our committee with long histories of volunteering and board service for a wide variety of organizations.

By participating in the governance and oversight of the organization, residents remain engaged with their community and their world.  And Immanuel finds ways to provide even better service that’s tailored to the particular group of people who live here.  Thank you so much to all of the residents who offer their time on the committees—you help keep the community great!

On the door of Shirley Pryor’s room at the Immanuel Skilled Care Center hangs a sign informing visitors that the occupant is an artist.  As soon as you open and step through that door, you see why.  Shirley’s walls hold several of her works, and their variety, skill, and beauty is evident.

Shirley has been an artist for most of her life.  “I just always liked to draw,” she said when we interviewed her before her Passions Project photo session.  This love of drawing grew into a passion for painting as she grew older.  The artwork in her room includes both oils and pastels, and she’s painted in watercolor, as well.  Oils are her favorite, though, because of their vibrant colors and their texture.

Shirley was fortunate in that she was able to support herself and her three children with her art.  She sold dozens of paintings over the course of her working life and, while she taught occasionally, most of her income came from selling her artwork. 

Unfortunately, Shirley is no longer able to paint.  She still enjoys looking around at all the art hanging on her walls, most of which is her own.  Her family, which now includes over a dozen grandchildren and several great-grandchildren as well as her two daughters, one son, and their spouses, also have and enjoy some of her remaining paintings.  Her youngest daughter lives locally, and Shirley feels lucky to get to spend a lot of time with her.

Shirley has painted everything from garden scenes to wildlife.  Her favorite painting she’s ever done is a full-length portrait of her daughter.  It was challenging, she says, but totally worth it.  And it’s not the only large painting she’s completed; once, when she was living in Arizona, she painted a large mural in a public space.  The painting of irises she’s pictured with here is Shirley’s favorite of the pictures she has left.  She’s certainly able to capture the beauty in what she sees!

Every year, Immanuel Lutheran Communities hosts an outdoor concert series for residents, families, and the wider Flathead Valley community.  Everyone is invited to these evening events, and snacks are served.  At the end of the summer, in September, we celebrate with a grand finale featuring a full meal as well as entertainment.

This year, though, something is different.  This year, the concert series is sponsored in part by generous gifts from businesses around the valley.  It’s been a great opportunity to connect or reconnect with these community partners, all of whom want to help our area’s seniors in need.  These gifts will help ensure that Immanuel Lutheran Communities can continue to provide safe homes in vibrant communities for Montana seniors at all income levels.  They’ll supplement the gap between Medicaid payments and the costs of caring for residents in the Skilled Care Center, help us offer memory support day services to families who aren’t able to pay the full fee, and address other needs on campus as they arise.  We are very grateful to these sponsors!

While our sponsors are a great addition to the concert series, little else about this summer tradition has changed.  The concerts are still a great time for an intergenerational community to come together to relax enjoy our beautiful Flathead Valley summer.  For the first concert Wednesday evening, the weather was almost perfect.  It was a little windy, but it wasn’t too hot and the clouds kept the sun from baking the crowd.  Chef Nelson’s nacho bar was a hit, as were the churros his team supplied for dessert.

This week’s concert featured Jack Gladstone, who also kicked off last year’s concert series.  Jack’s unique combination of original music, storytelling, and popular favorites made for an engaging and upbeat evening.  Jack’s music is deeply rooted in Montana and in his Blackfeet heritage.  He tells his own story, and he connects it to the historical world and the wider community.  His performances are well-received in no small part because they’re so connected to a place his audience loves.

This week, that audience included many family members as well as residents.  It’s very common for children and grandchildren to join residents at these events.  They’re nice partly because people of all ages can enjoy them together.  The Immanuel Foundation is delighted to be an integral part of the community that comes together at these concerts.  Thank you so much to our sponsors and to everyone who attended!

On the Fourth of July, we celebrate the United States’ declaration of independence from Great Britain.  Independence is a trait we as Americans continue to value in ourselves, both as individuals and as a nation.

In fact, the possibility of losing independence is one the main reasons why many Americans fear aging.  And as we get older, we’re more likely to be confronted with the possibility that we won’t always be independent.  A 2017 study presented at the Innovations in Aging conference found that a fear of dependency—that is, a fear of being unable to take care of one’s self—was a strong predictor of depression in American older adults.  Even when other factors like the subjects’ health, age, and disability were taken into account, older adults who were afraid of being dependent on others were more likely to be depressed than those who didn’t share this fear.

This is particularly worrying because, whether we like it or not, aging often means we lose some measure of independence.  In fact, some seniors move into communities like Immanuel because they know they can no longer live on their own, whether because of health problems or difficulty with the daily tasks of home maintenance.  Immanuel offers a whole spectrum of services, from Assisted Living to Skilled Nursing, for seniors needing various levels of help with activities of daily living.  While it’s part of Immanuel’s philosophy to respect residents’ choices, it’s hard to deny that some residents are here precisely because they can’t live independently.

So how do we help seniors avoid the depression that seems to come with dependency in aging?  First, we can remember that aging is something that happens to all of us (if we’re lucky).  It’s not shameful.  The physical changes that inevitably accompany aging are part of the package.  They’re often unpleasant, but they’re not shameful, either.  Aging just is, and all of us, at all ages, should work on remembering and respecting that.  It won’t stop dependency, but it can go a long way toward mitigating depression.

Second, we can look for tradeoffs and ways that accepting help in some areas can help seniors maintain some forms of independence.  For example, a senior who has some mobility problems can go more places for longer if she uses a walker than if she resists it.  Or, seniors who move in to communities like Buffalo Hill Terrace often find that they go out more because they have someone else to drive them and friends to accompany them.  They’re not getting out independently, but they’re not remaining isolated, either.  By depending on others (or on devices) for some things, seniors can often continue to do the things that matter most to them.

As we celebrate American independence, let’s make sure we remember the many forms it can take.  And let’s also remember that none of us lives completely independently.  It seems almost cliché to invoke English poet John Donne’s “Meditation 17” here, but I’m going to do it anyway.  When Donne wrote his famous lines “No man is an island,/entire of itself;/every man is a piece of the continent,/a part of the main” in the winter of 1623, he was seriously ill.  The poem reflects on the interconnectedness of communities and the loss a community feels when one member passes away.  This interconnectedness means that it’s okay for us to need each other, as Donne surely needed his friends and neighbors when he was sick.  All of us will need more help as we age, and that’s okay.  We can depend on others without losing ourselves.

The long-running British television series Midsomer Murders probably isn’t the first place you’d look if you wanted commentary on aging in the twenty-first century.  After all, it’s a murder mystery show on which people of all ages die, the lead is not in any consistent way involved in elder care, and all of the regular characters are working-age adults.  However, the show portrays seniors as integral parts of the communities in Midsomer County (the extremely murderous fictional area in which the show is set) and often uses side plots to address issues in aging.

In general, the show does a good job of integrating aging issues into its plots, and seniors are never just jokes.  The two aging-related subjects that arise most frequently on Midsomer Murders are the vulnerability of older adults to fraud and the financial challenges that arise because seniors on fixed incomes can’t continue to live the lives to which they have become accustomed.  These two sides of the aging coin—seniors as victims and seniors as active agents looking for ways to meet their own needs—combine to show an interesting portrait of aging in the twenty-first century.

The two plots converge in interesting ways in the two episodes of Midsomer Murders that deal most directly with seniors.  The Season 3 episode “Blue Herrings” is set in an Assisted Living community of sorts (the show calls it a nursing home, but it bears a lot closer resemblance to Assisted Living in American terms).  In this episode, the main character, Inspector Barnaby, is visiting his aunt Alice, who’s there to recover after surgery.  He notices that there are a lot of strange goings-on at Lawnside, and one of the residents tells him she suspects that two staff members are conspiring to steal residents’ property by manipulating them into changing their wills and then murdering them.  Stolen jewelry and other irregularities compound both the residents’ and Barnaby’s suspicions, and everything comes to a head after a couple of suspicious deaths.

While all is not quite well at Lawnside, it turns out that residents are not being exploited by staff.  The one actual murderer was a resident’s family member, and the situation is just sad.  And the thief was another resident.  Tired of being pretty much confined to Lawnside but unable to afford regular meals out or taxis to the pub, he steals his fellow residents’ valuables and sells them as if they were his own.  While this is shown to be a bit silly and could easily have been played as a joke, the show clearly portrays the situation as having been brought about by the character’s circumstances.  He worked as a chauffeur, didn’t have significant savings, and has bills, so even small luxuries are struggles.  That he obtains them through theft certainly isn’t condoned, but the show treats him with understanding.

In Season 6’s “A Talent for Life,” one of the two central murder victims is an older adult.  Isobel Hewitt loves driving fast cars, and she was accustomed to living a luxurious lifestyle.  As she aged, however, she ran out of funds and had to rely on family.  When she and a friend are murdered while fly fishing, Barnaby first suspects that another friend killed her to get his hands on her assets.  After he learns that she is no longer wealthy, he no longer worries about theft, but he does suspect her hypercritical relatives, who constantly complained that Isobel wouldn’t reduce her expenses.

In “A Talent for Life,” the murder has less to do with Isobel’s age than with how she treated people.  She was fun, but she wasn’t always kind, and that ultimately came back to haunt her.  But her money problems are real problems, and they are caused in part by her age.  In general, Midsomer Murders suggests that it’s unrealistic and unfair to expect seniors to live in poverty just because they are no longer able to work.  At the same time, it shows how older adults are particularly vulnerable to fraud and theft that have the potential to leave them even more impoverished.  At the same time, it lets older adults be human.  Like everybody on Midsomer Murders, seniors frequently have agendas, and they’re as flawed as younger characters.  Seniors can be victims, the show suggests, and they’re uniquely vulnerable in some ways, but they don’t stop being who they are just because they’ve aged.  This commentary is subtle and occasional, but the show definitely has a clear point of view on aging.