By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine
Missy Buchanan knows that many of the people who purchase her books aren’t the ones who ultimately read them. Frequently, men and women buy her books for older friends and loved ones—often because those older folks already love Missy’s writing and are eager to get her latest book.
In other words: Missy’s new book, From Dry Bones to Living Hope might make a perfect gift for an older person on your holiday gift list—perhaps someone who is otherwise hard to shop for. The paperback edition of her book is printed in “enlarged type,” so it’s easy for everyone to read, even people with visual challenges. And, her book also is available via Kindle from Amazon, because lots of older men and women enjoy reading on Kindles (or other tablet-style devices) that are easy to hold, to transport and to adjust to various type sizes.
Depending on your own age, and the ages of your friends and family members, you may recognize Missy as the nation’s leading author specializing in bringing spiritual solace to men and women who are in their mid-70s or older.
Yes, that’s a very specific niche within the genre of inspirational writing. It’s an audience that Missy understands from her many years of work as an educator, a small-group teacher for older adults and as a speaker at countless events, classes, retreats and conferences.
That national reputation is why, a decade ago, Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts recruited Missy to help her elderly mother Lucimarian Roberts write her own memoir. Roberts contacted Missy because she learned that Missy was her mother’s favorite author. Lucimarian kept a well-read copy of one of Missy’s inspirational readers in her bedroom. The result of this collaboration was the best-selling My Story, My Song, Lucimarian’s autobiography “as told to Missy Buchanan.”
(Back in 2012, ReadTheSpirit published a story about that project, based on a heart-felt column Missy wrote after the book was published and she learned that Lucimarian had passed away.)
“I’m in a niche where the people I’m writing for—my main readers—often are receiving my books from adult children, a friend, a caregiver or someone at church,” Missy said. “Once they find my books, they connect with the honest voice I use when I’m writing—and they sometimes will read my books over and over again. I remember hearing from a daughter that she didn’t like my books, then two weeks later I got a letter from her mother—who actually read the book—saying, ‘Finally! Someone understands what I’m going through.'”
“These older readers understand what I’m writing about and they love my books—but many of these men and women in their 80s and 90s don’t have active Amazon accounts themselves,” Missy said. “So, they often are getting my books from their adult children, their church or their younger friends. It is a little bit of a challenge for me as a writer that a lot of my books aren’t bought by my readers—they’re bought for my readers by someone else.”
In fact, that situation can lead to some occasional misunderstandings. From the debut of her very first book in 2008, some younger adults are unsettled by her writing.
Missy told me, “I’ve even heard from some younger adults who tell me, ‘Your books are depressing!’ But, they’re not depressing for the people who I’m writing for. I’ve found that my readers—people who are in their 70s, 80s and 90s—are completely honest about the hard challenges of aging. It’s usually their adult children who are more nervous about honestly discussing these issues. I’ve learned that from the very first book I published.”
That first book in 2008 was titled, Living with Purpose in a Worn-out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults.
As editor of this online magazine, I have to admit that my own first reaction to Missy’s title was: That’s depressing! When I interviewed Missy the very first time about that book, I was honest in admitting my reaction. I told her, “Stop and think about this for a moment: Who would buy a gift for an older friend or loved one with a title that says the person has a Worn-out Body?”
She laughed at my reaction. In fact, her book already was flying off bookstore shelves. In fact, that very first book was Lucimarian’s favorite and led to Missy’s work on Lucimarian’s best-selling memoir.
Over the years, I have chuckled with Missy about that initial reaction—and how wrong I was. Missy has proven that she has a pitch-perfect genius for wording her inspirational stories and her spiritual advice so that they directly connect with her target audience. At this point, she has thousands of loyal readers waiting for her next new book—although they sometimes do rely on younger family members or friends to actually purchase these new books for them.
WHAT’S IN MISSY BUCHANAN’S NEW BOOK?
In 144 pages, Missy gives us 21 chapters with titles, such as: Life in the Valley of Dry Bones, When Praise Will Not Come, Digital Divide, The Path to Purpose, Persistently Patient, Divine Interruptions and Standing on the Promises.
Each chapter begins with a brief Bible passage, ranging from Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah and of course Ezekiel’s story of dry bones springing to life—to the New Testament’s I Corinthians and Philippians. Then, after the short scripture, there is a “prayerful lament,” describing common challenges as we age. Readers who are familiar with Psalms will recognize many of these “laments” as contemporary Psalms, calling out to God for help. Throughout her body of work, Missy clearly loves Psalms. She even devotes one entire chapter in this new book to wisdom from the life of David, who is credited as the author of many Psalms.
“The fact that there is a lament in each chapter goes back to what we were talking about earlier,” Missy said. “My goal always is honesty about what older adults are going through. One of the things I hear from older people wherever I go is: ‘Don’t sugar coat it! If you do sugar coat it, we wont believe you.’ But, I don’t stop with the lament. After expressing honestly those feelings on our hearts, then we must ask: What are we going to do about that today? Those action steps are hugely important.”
Missy’s ultimate destination in each chapter is the third section, which she calls “Cultivating Hope.” These are very practical ideas for spiritual reflection, including many pages where readers may want to jot down their responses to her questions.
“Upper Room should sell a pen along with your book,” I told Missy. “Readers will need a pen or perhaps a pencil to jot down their thoughts.”
“Oh, yes, we hope people will write in this book,” she said. “Got to have a pen or pencil handy when you’re reading this book!”
Of course, that also means Missy’s new book is essentially a self-contained study guide that’s perfect for individual reflection, small-group discussions, men’s or women’s circles in congregations or Sunday School classes.
And one important note for our magazine’s readers who are not Christian: Missy herself is Christian and this new book does draw occasionally on inspirational passages from the Christian New Testament. But Missy also is a nondenominational writer and the majority of her chapters spring from “Abrahamic” roots, drawing heavily from Hebrew scriptures (the Christian Old Testament). Plus, her preferred style of addressing God is simply as “God”—so that her loyal audience already extends far behind specifically Christian readers.
MISSY BUCHANAN’S PRACTICAL SPIRITUAL ADVICE
Missy’s new book springs from the inspiration of Ezekiel, Chapter 37, the famous Bible passage in which God’s spirit moves through dry bones and brings them to new life. It’s a dramatic and very concrete image that has inspired many writers and artists down through the centuries, including the great hymn writer James Weldon Johnson, who composed the spiritual Dem Bones and first recorded it with Jubilee Singers in 1928.
The advice in Missy’s Cultivating Hope sections is similarly concrete. Her questions are direct and varied. In a single paragraph, she might suggest four or five ideas to light up your day. Reading her book reminded me immediately of Ken Whitt’s God Is Just Love, written for multi-generational families and spilling over with so many practical ideas that Ken closes with a section called, “100 Things Families Can Do to Find Hope and Be Love.” This style of writing turns these books into spiritual toolboxes!
“Missy, I’ve got to credit you with some ideas in this book that I’ve never heard before—and that’s really saying something because I’ve been looking at new inspirational books for decades, now,” I told her in our interview. “My favorite new idea in your book is: Praying during the commercial breaks in TV shows. I love it! Great spiritual leaders have recommended fixed-hour prayer for thousands of years. But, now you’ve added a truly new twist! Mute the TV during commercial breaks and pray for several minutes.”
Missy laughed. “Well, I’ve got to tell you that idea comes from the fact that I see sooo many older people who spend their days sitting in a chair with the TV going. They may have the remote right there, so they could turn off that TV and do something else, but a lot of them never touch the remote. A major first step to help a lot of these men and women is to get them to turn off that TV and do something else. So, I thought: Hmmm, a first step just might be asking them to grab that remote, mute the commercials and spend that time in prayer.”
She chuckled again. “I mean, it may sound like a crazy idea for prayer, but if you think about it—getting away from that TV is the real goal.”
“What makes you keep writing these books?” I asked her as we closed our interview. “What do you hope your writing accomplishes in the world?”
“I want to be a companion to my readers,” she said. “One of the sweetest photos I ever was sent came from a woman whose mother had died. When she went in to take care of her mother’s things, after the funeral, she looked at the stack of books on her mother’s nightstand. Several of my books were there with bookmarks sticking out of them at various pages she loved. It was obvious her mother had read these books many times. In her note with the photo the woman wrote one of the best things I could have received. She wrote: ‘Mom almost wore out our books!’ ”
Care to Read More?
ReadTheSpirit has been recommending Missy’s books for many years.
...In 2019, we recommended a unique book from Missy: Beach Calling—A Devotional Journal for the Middle Years and Beyond.
...In 2009, Missy wrote 10 Tips for Ministry with Older Americans, advice that still is valuable a decade later.
...Later, we reported on Missy’s clever idea of formatting short inspirational messages in a stand-up, page-a-day format called Spirit Boosters.
...We also wrote about her encouragement of cross-generational conversations in Voices of Aging.
Missy also wrote the Foreword for our own 2021 book, Now What? A Guide to the Gifts and Challenges of Aging.
In that Foreword, she wrote in part: “It is true that every person’s journey of aging is unique. That’s why this book offers such a vast array of information on the most vital topics of aging. Drawing on the expertise and experiences of professionals involved in eldercare, this book will truly guide families through the uneven landscape of late life—and will point readers toward helpful answers for the question we all share, at some point in life: Now what?”