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Monday, April 11, 2011

“Retirement,” Rejuvenation, and Reassignment

The following was written in October 0f 2010:

Life takes its turns and you find yourself living differently. I had taken a three-year break from teaching and now I am a different role. I have gone from teaching high school English to teaching English as a Second Language to kindergartners, first, and second graders. It's a good fit, thank the Lord.

My life has been a tug-of-war between the home life and the job life. I think it is for many women. I love to write, read, paint, draw, play the piano, study, plunder, write letters, keep house, nest, and sometimes cook. But I have observed that the job makes my time at home all the more precious and, well, productive.

Energy begets energy, creating a momentum. You discover that you can do more than you thought you could. When that law fails, a short nap does wonders.

Finding one’s way to retirement and beyond is a tricky thing. For many, it brings on a panicky feeling. What if I am bored? What if I need to take on a part-time job to make it financially? What else can I do besides this job I have done for thirty years? I speak hypothetically. I have only eleven years of teaching behind me although I am retirement age. Is that a blessing? I can keep at this for years, Lord willing, while my contemporaries are feeling retirement is the next thing to do.

My three years out were rejuvenating. I wrote books (none published yet); I painted; I taught art; I delved into the grandmother role with reckless abandon. I took a few awesome trips. Consequently, life on the job now is fresh. I wish for the weary worker, especially teachers, the same refreshing I was able to experience. My heart goes out the exhausted and burned out teacher. Everyone needs refreshing. I think the sabbatical should be instated.

A few years ago I discovered the book Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher. She offers tips and insight for the type of person with many interests. The message in the title is simply this: we do not have to choose one career and follow it straight to retirement. If we have other passions, we should give them place and expression where possible. And she makes the reader think anything is possible. I found the book to ring true for my personality type. I have four or five interests that never leave me. No one job will perfectly incorporate all those interests, but they are still worthy of attention. So, I am fully expecting that I will find the season for painting and writing and cooking and whatever...again. Meanwhile, I am very thankful that I have a job that fits so well.

John 15 talks about the heavenly Father being the husbandman of the vine (or “the vinedresser,” according to some translations). He knows what to prune in order for our lives to bear much fruit. Pruning can be painful because we lose something we are familiar with. Perhaps something we treasure. Our Maker alone knows what will lead to the broader, more fulfilling life, that weaves best into the purposes for which He made us. As I look back on the journey, I see His hand at work in experiences, events, and connections I had no idea were working together for a purpose. I through a glass darkly, but I see better than I did in the "formative" years of my life. Still, it is all a journey of faith. Faith in God, a God who is Love. And faith that all the twists and turns are indeed working toward a good thing...His purposes.

John 15: 1 I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.

James 1: 16-18 a Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth....

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sunday Afternoon

There is something sacred about Sunday afternoon. I feel justified if not duty bound to take a nap. Or perhaps stroll through the yard, ride a bike, rock in a rocking chair, read for no reason but because I want to. I don't know how much of this is cultural and how much is tied to Sunday being my family's traditional "seventh day" (though it is technically the first) set apart for God and family. It seems there is a stillness that can settle over me if I let it. It is beyond me yet it favors me if I pay attention.

If it's rainy, I nap longer, read longer, fix a cup of tea, watch a movie I've been wanting to watch, pull out old picture albums, read old letters, write new ones, listen to the quiet. If it's pretty out, I can enjoy the day from the window or tiptoe out (or propel myself deliriously into the outdoors if so inclined) and flirt with nature and find my inner child again. Now I can shut this Sunday afternoon stillness up at will. I can run about in a frenzy if I choose. I can get all tied up in knots about Monday or any other potential need for concern.

The Jewish custom of Sabbath has its own fervor for stillness as a springboard for restoration. Everything is a purposeful frenzy on Fridays so that all preparation can be made for twenty-four hours of this sacred stillness. By sundown Friday evening, the meal is ready, the family is gathered, the Mama lights candles and covers her eyes to shut out the work she just left behind, like shutting a door. She waves the light of the candle back toward her heart and then prays the Hebrew Sabbath prayer. In essence, she thanks God for "commanding" her family to stop work (not a grievous commandment) and enjoy a time of feasting, fun, and rest. Then the Papa of the home thanks God for giving us power to get bread from the earth and for the fruit of the vine, recognizing how dependent we are upon that basic process of seedtime and harvest and how it really does come from His blessed provision.

You know, if we remove worrisome concern for religious propriety and truly enjoy that "seventh day" of the week, reveling in our Maker’s great loving-kindnesses, big and small, we just might find ourselves thanking Him for commanding this Sabbath rest. And if in that process we each wake up a childlikeness inside ourselves, we have found step one to entering the Kingdom of Heaven.

Matthew 18:2-5 ...Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, "I'm telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you're not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God's kingdom. –The Message Bible

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Somewhat Functional Family

I want to know who has a fully functional family. The term dysfunctional (relating badly; characterized by an inability to function emotionally or as a social unit- Encarta) is pretty generic now. Isn’t everybody’s family dysfunctional in some way? We got so used to this condition in our family we made it our trademark, and frankly, I think that has made all the difference.

When my husband, M. D., and I were first married, he set three alarm clocks. One was a windup clock—just in case the electricity went off. He would fiddle with those clocks like he was in a zone—the alarm-clock zone. He would scrunch up his face and pull out the knob to set the manual clock, back off, stare at it, and then check it again. Just before he lay down for the night, he’d ask if I had messed with the alarm clocks. I thought, “I have married a neurotic weirdo.” Today we call that OCD for obsessive compulsive disorder.

Recently we were served by what our daughter tagged an OCD waiter which led to me retelling that story about her dad. He laughed with us though he denied ever having acted that way.

Thirty-six years of marriage have mellowed the fellow. He is down to one alarm clock, an electric one which he barely fiddles with at all. Life is good.

I, on the other hand, am almost perfectly normal, from my humble perspective, except for the neurotic behaviors I developed in trying to keep the family on the normal track.

I have a family portrait to prove it: M.D. and me, James (10), Hope (8), Mark (6), and Gloria, the baby. We had a five o’clock Sunday afternoon appointment for a family photo shoot, a fund-raiser for the elementary school. For $4.95, we were to get a huge portrait of the fam. The photographer, of course, thought we would just love the poses he snapped and buy lots more. Think again, buddy.

It didn’t take this guy long to figure out he would lose on us. I saw it in his eyes. Gloria was just a few months old. Any mom should know that five p.m. is not the happy hour for baby. I must have gotten the only remaining timeslot having procrastinated, as I often did. Sure enough, she writhed, squirmed, and cried in my lap until the photographer just gave up, took a picture, and sent us on our way.

The final product was hilarious. M.D. looked like a member of the Mafia who was having a bad day. He had the proverbial five-o’clock shadow, not having shaved since dawn, and no trace of a smile. Surely this man can chew nails, one might think.

James had a look of sweet tolerance as if to say, “There’s no way out of this picture. I’m stuck until I graduate and make ‘em proud.” His expression looks more like a smirk than a smile.

Hope gave the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding smile. Surely she is thinking, “If I act like I really feel on this day, my expression will be forever frozen in photography, so I’ll attempt a smile.”

Mark, for some strange reason, sucked in his cheeks like he was about to make a fish mouth. Bless his heart. He seems to be waiting patiently for the inevitable.

Baby Gloria, arching her back, tears pooling in her big brown eyes, was working up to a major wail. Her useless pacifier slung forward from a ribbon pinned on her dress.

But I…I was like the Madonna. (Mother-of-Jesus Madonna, not the infamous singer). I have a serene countenance that is doing its work of drawing this half a dozen people together into a functional unit. I willed them to relate nicely, not badly; to function as a healthy social unit.

Well, the portrait arrived and we all got a good laugh out of it. Soon after that, my mom and dad came for a visit. To make them laugh, I showed them the picture. Mom said, “Well, I like it. Can I have it?”
“Sure,” I said. “I’m certainly not going to do anything with it. Use it for your vegetable garden instead of a scarecrow.”

Ha. Ha. Ha. I’ll have you know she framed it and hung it in her den for all the visitors to gaze at and say, “Oh, so this is your daughter and her family. Oh…..oh……oh.”

Mom always put them at ease and made them laugh as she told the story behind it. You see, she is also a serene soul, seeking to tie people into fully functioning family units, by all means possible. She gave that photo place! Her hanging it said to all viewers, “Life is not picture-perfect. So what. We’re still family. Now let’s admit it and laugh.”

We never had a professional family photo again. Never.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Primordial Pondering

I found Stephen W. Hawking's A Brief History of Time: from the Big Bang to Black Holes (Bantam Books, 1988) at a thrift store. I feel I owe Stephen an apology for not paying full price for this intense and awesome project.

I was first introduced to this amazing scientist when showing a video for a science class while substitute teaching at Union Pines High School once upon a time. I got to watch and take notes as many times as the day had class periods, minus one for the teacher's planning.

At the end of the video, I had this sneaking suspicion that Hawking believes in (gasp) a Creator, a Maker, which did not quell his passionate pursuit of "the outer limits of our knowledge of astrophysics and the nature of time and the universe" (from the inside book jacket).

Now that I have book in hand I am nudged into a "search for meaning." Not for my own existence but for the text before me. (I am so NOT a scientist.) Words and phrases like intrinsic mass, quantum mechanics, geodesics, pulsars, and primordial black holes hold strange fascination but are met sadly with no real comprehension from either my left or right brain.

My eyes rest upon a cool statement on a hot, glowing topic: "Black holes are not really black after all....the smaller they are the more they glow." Far out!

But my favorite gleaning from this browse-through is the last paragraph of the conclusion: "...if we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason--for then we would know the mind of God."

I honor the great effort of gifted individuals like Hawking and Einstein and I salute their passion for this pursuit. However, I am so relieved that having a glimpse of the mind of God is made available ironically through......are you ready?.......a childlike heart.

I must explain that I am a mere fascinated bystander to the scientific theories but a driven seeker of truth. The two identifications collide in an Einstein quote that I cherish. "The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives." Another favored quote rather on the same line of thought is by poet Louise Bogan, "I cannot believe that the inscrutable universe turns on an axis of suffering; surely the strange beauty of the world must somewhere rest on pure joy!"

What a relief! Dare I tell the great scientists that the Creator is (complete theory, proven out 2000 years ago at the Roman execution of the Jewish Son of God).............are you ready?..... by His own admission, LOVE?

While that tidbit of profundity is best believed by faith, I am ever building a case to prove to someone out there that it is true. God is love.

When I taught sophomore English, Elie Wiesel's Night was in the curriculum. The story of a young boy's account of the reign of terror generated by maniacle spirits embodying the man Hitler and his engine of the final solution pushed me into deep meditation about the love of God.

I found comfort in the words of Francois Mauriac in answer to the question posed at the witness of the hanging of a child, who "had the face of a sad angel," in the concentration camp, "For God's sake, where is God?"

Mauriac replies to the question in the forward of Night:

"And I, who believe that God is love, what answer was there to give my young interlocutor [Elie] whose dark eyes still held the reflection of the angelic sadness that had appeared one day on the face of a hanged child? What did I say to him? Did I speak to him of that other Jew, this crucified brother who perhaps resembled him and whose cross conquered the world? Did I explain to him that what had been a stumbling block for his faith had become a cornerstone for mine? And that the connection between the cross and human suffering remains, in my view, the key to the unfathomable mystery in which the faith of his childhood was lost?"

If I may apply Mauriac's words to my premise, irony of ironies, "the connection between the cross and human suffering remains...the key to the unfathomable mystery...."--God is love.

In the midst of the thievery of our innocence, the killing of our brotherhood, the destruction of beauty and truth, the Crucified Jew, the ultimate expression of God's very essence on the earth, comes that we may "have life and that more abundantly."

That, dear reader, is a quantum thought that holds the universe poised on the axis of joy.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Midnight Musings

I hope my blogspot will become more social. I cannot figure out how to make that happen. I remember Julie in the movie Julie and Julia typing, "Is anybody out there?" Or something to that effect. I'm just glad I don't have to cook Julia Child's French recipes before each blog.

My mom, who is dealing with memory loss, asked Dad and me many times today, "Where are we going?" We were on our way to the Rose Hill Restaurant for lunch. I said, "Mom, you tell me where we are going." She replied, "To the Rose Hill Restaurant."

I said, "I know why you are always asking 'Where are we going?'...because your mama's name was Annie-Go. Annie-Go Cornelia Hawes James." We all laughed and started in on some older, more accessible memories for Mom.

For the record, my grandmother's name was not Annie-Go. That is what we nicknamed her because she was always eager to go somewhere--shopping, visiting, antiquing, church, Hardees. She lived to be 93, just shy of 94. I was blessed to have been brought up in a three-generation household. I watched my parents care for Grandma throughout her life. Their example was stellar. Their presence in our lives today is a blessing.

On another line of thought (considering it's Memorial Day weekend), my dad and my husband's dad both served our country during WWII. It's a wonder they did not cross paths. And it's a wonder my husband and I are here. Our dads both said that had Truman not used the atomic bomb in Japan, as horrible as it was, they would both have perished in the next effort of the war in Japan. Thank you to the veterans and active military who serve(d) our country. Thanks, "greatest generation," for the freedoms we enjoy.

One more thought and then I will call it a night. Has anyone read Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything? Neither have I. But! I have read the first few pages. In the introduction he says, "Welcome. And congratulations. I am delighted that you could make it. Getting here wasn't easy, I know. I suspect it was a little toughter than you realize." He continues explaining what an amazing series of events had to occur at the atomic level for you to make it to this "state known as existence." His description of this scientific process makes the reader appreciate his or her success at being. Just being. Something, he says, is "generally underappreciated."

So considering that our dads might have died during WWII but didn't , and considering that we made it through all the life struggles just to get born, and considering that we are decades down the road of life, I am downright grateful. Hope you are too.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Favorite Music?

Putting one's essence into little blog boxes is a challenge. I could not respond to "favorite music." I mean really. What if I were to be limited to the number of songs that I could type in that little box? I would be starved for the lost songs.

I choose favorite music from my repertoire as the mood and purpose change:

  • At the oddest times, I have a decided hunger for the classics. I learned to play classical piano under the instruction and wise guidance of Mrs. Nell Middleton (and a few earlier teachers.) Clementi's Sonatinas are forever in my fingers and heart.

  • I love a bit of country and western. When the time is right for it, no other style will do. If we vacation in Tennessee, the music we listen to is decidedly different from the music we listen to at the beach. (We always take John Denver with us to the mountains.)

  • When I give cooking my best effort, I must have Italian or Latino music to charge my culinary self image with life and possibility.

  • The grandchildren have reintroduced me to Ballou from Jungle Book singing "Bare Necessities" and as we listen and dance about appropriately, there is no better song on earth.

  • I have my prayer music collection on CDs. As I pray for America or Israel, each nation's songs ignite and enhance my prayers.

  • I experience my favorite music exploration lately when I sit at the piano and let the creative juices flow as I create "by ear" and "by heart" the songs that I hold deep within. As the Scripture says, "deep calls unto deep" and I am drawn to the heart of God in music.

My sampling of "Favorite Music" is evidence that variety is spicy. While young, I was gathering the "spices" for the moods and seasons of my life. Now that I have some decades behind me, I notice that I have on file just the right spice for the dish at hand.

Okay, my analogies are making me hungry. How about some Cannelloni inspired by the heavenly voice of Andrea Bocelli?

copyright --Peggy Guthrie

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

May 19, 2010

Marilyn Thomas and I are attending the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers' Conference at Ridgecrest, Black Mountain, NC. We are saturated with ideas for our future as writers, as well as course corrections for our past. Can anybody say "recalculating"? The experience has been rich in countless ways: loveliest of settings--the Great Smokey Mountains--for beauty, excellent faculty for wisdom and instruction, other writers from every angle, genre, and stage of the journey for fellowship, and the still small Voice within for encouragement to stay the course.

Before I say goodnight, I will post a happy birthday to my Daddy! You are the greatest.