Friday, March 29, 2019

Measuring Up (FMF)

I'm very excited to again this week join a talented group of women who connect each Friday in an online, unedited (so excuse all errors) flash mob free-write based on a one-word prompt from our fearless leader Kate Motaung. My timer is set for 5 minutes; let's see where the word "measure" takes me.

Oh, Kate, what a hard word, for me at least!

One one hand, I don't like to measure. 

When it comes to hanging pictures or other decor on a wall, I prefer to eyeball it, whack a nail with a hammer, put up the item, and walk away. 

But when it comes to other people and myself, I must admit that I am all to eager to grab my trusty guide and measure away. 

I measure using a variety of standards -- what they are really doesn't matter.

You see, it's not my place to measure the worth or value or right-or-wrongness or anything else of other people.  And in all fairness to myself, I have gotten better about measuring others. But I still have to rein in my natural tendencies far too often.

It is my job to judge myself, though. 

It's my responsibility, I believe, to measure myself. My conduct, my thought patterns, my speech.

As a Christian, the guide by which I measure those things should, of course, be Christ.

But that's not always what I use. All too often, I measure myself in some way against other things.

I measure my sense of style (and I'm using that term very loosely lol) by that of women whose style I admire.  And I'm comfortable with that.

But frequently, I find myself measuring my actions, thoughts, and speech by what I think is appropriate.

Sadly, that sometimes isn't a very reliable . . . 

Oops, there goes the timer, and I need to stop right there.  This blog is not intended to be a lecture but rather a conversation. I invite you to share your own thoughts about the word measure. What do you measure? 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Reflection on a Decision Made

This time last year, I had pretty much made the decision to retire from full-time teaching.

I weighed the pros and cons very carefully. There were only 2 items in the "con" column, but they were (and still are) daunting:

          I'd have far less income than I'd lived on in over 35 years
          I'd  be paying for my own health insurance on that greatly-reduced income

I knew I would miss working with students, but I also knew that I'd be applying to substitute teach in a few local districts, so I figured I'd get my student-contact fix often enough to keep me happy.

The main advantage I saw in taking early retirement was that I would have time. Time to do with as I wanted and felt led. Of course, I knew that on my drastically-reduced income, I wouldn't be engaging in much, if any, international travel or in any other pricey pursuits, but I was okay with that.

I kept remembering what my father told me almost 29 years ago, shortly after he was diagnosed with stage-4 cancer at age 64. He told me his one regret was that he continued to work after he could have retired because he wanted to make sure my mom was left with as much monthly income from his retirement and Social Security as was possible.

Ironically, just a few months before he received his cancer diagnosis, he had learned that as of the coming January (just a few months away), he would see no real increase in benefit by continuing to work. He had decided to retire as of December 31.

He told me he wished he had retired the very first day he could afford to, so that he could take my mom to all the places they'd planned to travel and do all the things they'd talked about doing. My father lived just 5 months after his diagnosis, and he told me several times during those 5 months to urge my own husband to retire as soon as he could.

Of course, my husband didn't have that option. At age 47, he was diagnosed with stage-4 colon cancer. Just 43 days later, shortly after turning 48 years old, he passed away.  Twice during those 43 days he reiterated what my father had said and urged me if at all possible to retire as soon as I could.

Those two men -- the two men who influenced my life more than anyone else -- were who I thought of last year as I contemplated retiring when I was healthy and energetic and quite capable of continuing to work.

I finally realized I needed to heed the words of the two men who were so very important to me and who had influenced me immeasurably.

As silly as it sounds, I almost felt as if I owed it to them to do what they had not, or in my husband's case, had not been able to do.

And so, on my 60th birthday, I walked away from what was my last full-time teaching job.

Most days I'm very glad I retired. No longer are the vast majority of my waking hours spent either in the classroom or either preparing for class or grading essays and other papers. I am able to attend Bible Study Fellowship, do some volunteer work, and live life at a more leisurely pace.

Other days, I wish I hadn't retired. I miss the students far more than I expected. I also miss planning activities and lessons that will help them acquire the skills they need to be successful in high school, college or trade school, and in the workplace. I even miss, to some degree at least, grading papers, seeing what the students accomplished and then planning new ways to reteach the skills that need further reinforcement.

I miss my paycheck; I don't like being on such a tight budget. Last week, 3 bills from a medical situation in January arrived in my mailbox. They brought with them a bit of stress, and this morning I was feeling especially mindful of the need to be prudent in my spending and of how serious an unexpected expense could be.

And then, sometime around lunch, I received word from a friend and former colleague that another former coworker from a different department had passed away unexpectedly.

I was shocked. The former co-worker was a vibrant woman with a sometimes-irreverent and dry humor that I could appreciate. She was energetic and engaging, and students often named her as their favorite instructor. She had a cute, crooked smile and chatted a mile a minute, and I always enjoyed our all-too-brief discussions as we hurried to or from our classes in the same building.

I knew she was older than me, but by how much, I had no idea. I remember that once, when we were talking, she mentioned that she "could" retire but at the same time could not. From what she said, I concluded that she had the time in but couldn't afford to.

Evidently, she could finally afford to retire in May 2018.

Just 10 months before unexpectedly passing away.

My heart has been heavy all afternoon.

I wish my former colleague had been able to experience many, many years of retirement, of reaping the benefits of a lifetime in the classroom, working with students so that they could have the best-possible future. I hope that the past 10 months were filled to the brim with fun and love and laughter and adventure.

Her passing is a stark reminder to waste no more time second-guessing my decision to retire.

It is a stark reminder to cherish each post-retirement day I have.

It is a stark reminder to look forward, not back.

Edited to add: Shortly after I posted this, a dear friend asked me if I could see myself returning to full-time teaching. I responded, "I would definitely return IF, after prayerful consideration, I determined to the best of my ability that God wanted me in the classroom full time again. I retired "early", and I have tons of energy, good health, etc., so I am open to whatever He wants."

Thank you for visiting. This blog was never intended to be a monologue, so I hope you'll join in the conversation by posting a comment.  

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Gideon and Me


Many of us know his story, or remember bits and pieces of it from long-ago Sunday School. I'd forgotten much of the story,  but my devotion this morning (New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional by Paul David Tripp) refreshed my memory.

Gideon was hiding out from the Midianites, who had invaded and plundered the Promised Land and were terrorizing the Israelites. He wasn't just hiding. He was working away -- "beating out wheat" -- inside a winepress.

An angel appeared to Gideon and told him that God had called him to lead in the battle against the very people Gideon was hiding from! Ironic, right?

Even more ironic is the fact that the angel called Gideon, this man hiding in fear of other men, " O mighty man of valor". He also told Gideon that God was with him.

You can hear the disbelief in Gideon's voice as he responds. First, he questions why, if God is with them, so many bad things have happened to the Israelites and to him. Then he zeroes in on God's selection of him as a leader. He's from the most inconsequential family, and he is the "least" in the family, he protests. The angel persists, so Gideon demands that he be given a sign. You can read all about it in Judges 6:11-8:32.

The story of Gideon is often called "humorous" by Bible scholars, and it is funny, in an ironic way (and I love irony).

But it can also be a very serious reminder to those of us who aren't getting the job done.

For example, what about me? I've felt a calling, a leading, to write a book much of my life.

Like Gideon, I've stayed busy. I've gone to college, worked, married, raised children, moved numerous times, remodeled homes, gone to conferences, cooked & cleaned, volunteered in my church and community, and the list goes on and on.

Like Gideon, I've questioned whether I'm the right person for the job. I don't have a big social media presence, nor do I understand all the ins and outs of various apps and programs to navigate social media. I'm 60 years old -- maybe it's too late. I know very little about getting published, and the market is horrible now. Who am I to think I'll ever see a book with my name on the cover sitting on a shelf at Barnes & Nobel?

Like Gideon, I've asked for a sign. Should I write a book? Maybe I should focus on articles, and freelance instead. If I write a book, should I focus on fiction or nonfiction? If I write a novel, what should it be about? Send me a sign, God.

There was nothing wrong with what Gideon was doing when the angel appeared; he was, in fact, working productively. And there's nothing wrong my working and raising a family, etc.

Likewise, it is certainly wise to make sure that we are following God's plan as we consider moving in a new direction or taking on a new task.

But it isn't wise to question God's calling for us.

It isn't wise to demand some huge sign from God.

Today, after years of busy-ness . . .

     after years of questioning and dreaming . . .

          after a year of waiting for a sign pointing me in the right direction . . .

               after months of plotting and character development and background work . . .

I start my book.

Does the story of Gideon resonate with you? Join in the conversation by sharing your thoughts via a comment. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

More or Less (FMF)

I'm very excited to again this week join a talented group of women who connect each Friday in an online, unedited (so excuse all errors) flash mob free-write based on a one-word prompt from our fearless leader Kate Motaung. My timer is set for 5 minutes; let's see where the word "more" takes me.

I was perplexed when, as a college undergraduate English major, one of my writing professors wrote "Less is MORE" on the chalkboard one morning.

Fifty minutes and copious notes later, I thought I knew what my professor was trying to say.

But it wasn't until twenty or so years later, that I realized that the "less is more" philosophy is one that fits me like the proverbial glove. 

I'm a minimalist, you see. Oh, I love to have special things around me as part of my decor. A framed engagement photo of my daughter and her now-husband and the dried rose they gave me after they were pronounced man and wife just a few weeks ago, for example, or the various items my son and daughter made or purchased and gave me over the years.

But I don't like clutter. Not physical clutter, emotional clutter, or even spiritual clutter. I embrace open space, nearly-empty kitchen countertops, a car devoid of "stuff". 

And for more than a few years, my to-do lists and goals centered around getting rid of things, of having less. I'm often teased because of my minimalistic mindset, and I've even been asked what I have against "stuff". 

For a long time I couldn't explain it, but about five years ago I realized that I want to free my life from physical clutter to have more time and space for the things that mean the most to me. I created a list, and I've moved it to the front of every bullet journal I've kept since then.  

My "more" list says:

          I Long for More . . . 

               a more intimate and authentic relationship with God

               more time with St and J (my son and daughter)

               more simplicity -- environmental,
                                                   possessions, including wardrobe
               more creativity in my daily life

               more friendships -- true friendships

               more experiences -- travel, events

               :) more financial cushion

Less . . . to make room for more.

What do you want more of in your life? Join in the conversation by sharing your thoughts via a comment. 

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Don't Give Up!

No matter how dissimilar you and I may be, I can pretty much guarantee that we have one thing in common. In fact, I would, if I were a betting person, wager my last year's salary that  we do.

I believe that, if we could sit down together over tea or coffee and talk openly and honestly about our lives, we would find we have both experienced a time when something -- or a collection of somethings -- seemed overwhelming. When whatever we were facing seemed insurmountable and maybe even tempted us to wave the white flag of surrender. 

Give up. Give in.

I've been there. Twice. And I'm still living with the aftereffects of both of those situations.

So when I heard that Kyle Idleman (author of my long-time favorite Not a Fan, 2011) was writing a new book titled Don't Give Up, I was very excited and immediately offered to serve on its launch team.

Now that I've read Don't Give Up, I'm even more excited!

Idleman immediately acknowledges that many of us are facing difficult situations, circumstances that are ugly and devastating. He goes on (in the introduction to section 1) to say, "But I've discovered that many of us have some voices of comfort in our lives yet what we really need is a voice of courage. We may feel the need for sympathy when what we really need is strength." (italics mine)

And I would say, from the perspective of someone who has spent the last 13 years dealing with significant losses (including that of my then-48-year-old husband) and their aftershocks, that Idleman has hit on a very important truth. 

Yes, the sympathy (and empathy) of others can be soothing, but it is courage -- courage to stay in the race and keep putting one foot in front of the other -- that is all too often absent and sorely needed.  

In section 1 of his newest release, Idleman encourages the reader to live courageously. To keep believing, keep fighting, and keep perspective. He goes on to discuss, in section 2, releasing ourselves from the weight of four things that all too often drag us down: anxiety, religion, lies, and unbelief. He concludes his book with section 3, in which he encourages the reader to run their race. He discusses the obstacles often faced and how to navigate them step by step, in confidence.

You might say that's nothing new, nothing you haven't heard before, BUT, and this is important, you haven't heard it through the words of Kyle Idleman. 

Several things stand out in this book. First, Idleman never deviates from Biblical truth. He doesn't put his spin on a passage, nor does he add or subtract from the Word. He simply presents what God says and then explains how it is applicable to our struggle to courageously and successfully "run the race" in the twenty-first century. 

And he doesn't preach at the reader. Instead, he candidly and with wry humor shares his own experiences and that of other individuals. Over and again, I found myself, often with a smile on my face but sometimes with a tear in my eye, nodding my head in acknowledgement of a shared experience or emotion and of the truth of Idleman's words. 

This book is for the spouse of an alcoholic, the parent of a wayward child, the individual struggling to tame their temper, the couple dealing with infertility, the young adult facing massive student-loan debt and scant means to make the payments, the person struggling with a chronic or life-threatening illness, someone fighting an addiction, the teenager who feels unloved and unwanted by his or her peers, and the list goes on and on.  

In short, Don't Give Up is for anyone and everyone, because all of us need Biblical, down-in-the-trenches wisdom on courage and perseverance in the face of life's challenges. 

Don't Give Up will be released on Tuesday, March 5. If you preorder (before March 5), you will receive several bonuses: 
     the audiobook version of the book
     a 7-day devotional journal
     ebook edition of Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman (another great book!)

To learn more and to preorder, follow this link:

I typically post my blog on Tuesday, but I'm sharing this a bit early so you don't miss out on the freebies!  

Friday, March 1, 2019

Search (FMF)

I'm very excited to again this week join a talented group of women who connect each Friday in an online, unedited (so excuse all errors) flash mob free-write based on a one-word prompt from our fearless leader Kate Motaung. My timer is set for 5 minutes; let's see where the word "search" takes me.

I spent much of my early life searching . . .

     for friends, love, acceptance, my role in life, meaningful work, happiness . . . 
          the list is endless, actually.

I searched in anticipation, with wild abandon at times, and almost always in joy of what might be.

I found so much . . . 

      my husband and children, wonderful friends, a nice job, a sense of purpose . . . 

           the list is endless and my life and heart  were full.

And then, in the space of three years, I lost two "things" that had been answers to some of that searching. Both losses created huge wholes in my life, in who I thought I was. 

I began to search anew.

It was a harder search. I was no longer young, and the search was more taxing. No longer was I searching in anticipation, with wild abandon, or in joy.

I searched in a fog of grief over what I had lost . . . in fear of what I might find.

I searched outside myself and within.

My search has led me . . . 

     to new places, both physically and emotionally . . . 

          to new jobs, with new experiences and new people and new growth . . .

               to new people . . . new friends . . . new mentors . . . new inspirations . . . new challengers

Most importantly, my search has caused me to explore  myself in ways I hadn't done since I was a teenager. 

I've explored my values, my priorities, my hopes and dreams.

Is my search over? Oh, I hope not.

Because now, once again, I search in anticipation, in joy, in wild abandon.

Are you searching? What do you seek? Where do you look? Please share your own thoughts via a comment.