I woke up this morning to see a few light, fluffy flakes of snow swirling in the air and a dusting of bright, white snow on the ground, just enough to cover the mud and dirt and to leave the world looking clean and new.
So, to my friends who keep asking, “Aren’t you sick of the snow, yet?” which seems to be the most common topic of conversation here in Upstate New York, I would have to say, “No, not really.”
There is such beauty in winter. If you choose to, you can focus on the cold, on the dark, and on all that is dead or dormant until spring. Or you can choose to focus on the beauty of the white snow contrasting against the dark bark of the bare trees, on the deer bounding through the leafless woods, and on the pastel sunsets reflecting on the glistening snow.
It reminds me of the beauty of my friends who are in the winter season of life. We could choose to focus on their physical decline, on all the daily struggles that inevitably come from the aging process. Or we could focus on the beauty of a strong spirit that has fought and survived many battles. Let’s face it, if you make it well into your 80s or 90s with a smile on your face, a positive attitude, and your faith intact, that is truly commendable.
I know a few friends and family members who would fall into this category, but today I will focus on just one, my good friend Elliot Brodie, who is 96 years old. He has been through challenges most of us have never faced, yet he is always smiling.
Elliot was raised as one of eight children on a dairy farm in the beautiful rolling hills of Cherry Valley, NY. When he grew up, he had his eye on a certain neighborhood girl named Luella. When they started dating, he met with her pastor. “You shouldn’t be dating her since you’re not a Christian,” he told Elliot. By the end of their meeting, the pastor had led Elliot to the Lord. He and Luella were married the next year, in 1942.
Elliot took after his father and became a dairy farmer. He also took after his parents by having a large family – three boys and four girls. Elliot has wonderful memories of raising his kids on the farm. Their lives were centered around church, good hard work, and fun.
In 1975, Elliot was involved in two serious motor vehicle accidents, twenty-nine days apart, neither of which were his fault. From the second accident, he had 67 stitches on his face and a severe back injury. He was laid up for a couple of years. This was a difficult time for Elliot, but God used it to lead him into youth ministry.
During this time, Elliot’s son, who was a pastor, recruited him to help work with youth as part of a camping ministry. At first, Elliot thought he would not be of any help, but his son talked him into it.
“I enjoyed it even though I wasn’t feeling well,” Elliot explained, “and it made me realize how much I loved working with children.”
Also, during this time, his children were growing up and graduating from high school. Four of them went on to Practical Bible Training School, which was a three-year Bible school in the Binghamton area. Elliot and his wife would often open their home to numerous students. They both loved having a house full of young people.
Elliot transitioned from dairy farming to helping produce maple syrup with his son, Frank, which is sold under the business name “Brodie’s Sugarbush.” He also continued working with youth at his church, then in 1999, he faced another huge trial. While he was adding the finishing touches to the new home he had just built, the insulation caught on fire, and the whole house and its contents burned to the ground.
“We lost everything,” Elliot said, “but people were so generous.” He explained how one family from his church had just lost their father, and they did not know what to do with his estate. They offered the contents of his house to Elliot and his family to start over.
“Eventually we were able to get some insurance money and rebuild,” said Elliot.
It was during the years following the fire that I met Elliot. He was volunteering at the AWANA club at our church. I was so impressed that, even though he was already advanced in age, he would drive himself almost an hour back and forth to church every Sunday on the two-lane country roads and again in the evening for the youth programs. He was always smiling, and every time I saw him, he would grab my hand and ask about my family.
My youngest daughter was in Elliot’s AWANA group, and she quickly developed a close bond with him. She even invited him to her tenth birthday party.
Besides seeing him at church, we would see him every year at the Harvest Festival at the Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, NY. My children would grow plants to display as 4-H projects, and Elliot and his daughter would set up a display of their maple products. We would stop at their booth to buy maple candy and honey sticks, and Elliot would always throw in a few extra.
During these years, Elliot struggled with two other losses. He lost a precious grandchild to cancer, and then his own beloved wife, Luella, went home to be with Jesus after her own long battle with cancer.
“God takes you through the trials. You don’t even think about it,” Elliot said.
Two years ago, Elliot suffered another great loss due to fire. This time it was his sap house that burned. Many people reached out to him at the time. Most noteworthy to him was a gift of $100 he received from a teenager who had been in his AWANA club when she was younger. He knew that that amount of money represented a month’s worth of wages for her.
The Brodies were able to rebuild, but they had to scale down. A friend from the community has been boiling down their sap for them which has helped them to stay in business.
“Some people are just nice,” Elliot said.
Elliot’s greatest struggle has been in the last few months when his health has declined to the point that he can no longer drive and can barely walk. At the age of 96, he finally had to give up his work with the youth group. “I miss the kids so much,” he said, “Once in a while I will hear from one of them, even from some that I worked with many years ago. I just love that!”
As you enjoy the last few days of winter (or endure them, depending on your perspective) please look around you and reach out to the beautiful people God has put in your path who are in the winter season of their lives. Let them know you see them as the strong, victorious survivors that they are.
*Not familiar with AWANA? visit their website at https://www.awana.org/about/