Category Archives: Observations

Like Riding A Bike

Navigating social media is like riding a bike. The internet provides a highway to virtual communication and sharing of ideas and experiences. Riding it for information and entertainment requires balance, a skill essential in learning to ride a bicycle.

bikers-1-of-1

I learned to ride a bike without the benefit of training wheels. The bike belonged to my brother and had a bar running from steering wheel to seat. I had to throw my leg over the bike to get on the seat. The bike was taller than I so catching my balance mid-air took quite a bit of trial-and-error (and tears.) I practiced on an inclined, graveled driveway with little unexpected traffic.

My dad had promised that I would get my own bike once I learned how to ride one. I remember clearly the excitement and freedom I felt when he drove me to the bike shop and I biked home on my new-to-me blue Schwinn while he followed closely behind me.

My freedom to ride came with learning to ride responsibly and, perhaps, those lessons were the most valuable of all. I learned to look further down the road to assess what was coming up. I learned the consequences of riding through mud puddles and riding rough-shod over bumps and cracks in the path. I learned to never leave my bike out of my sight while out-and-about on my little adventures. Most of all, I learned where I could and could not go and how to make a decision if it was safe to stop and explore or best to just keeping going.

Those early-learned lessons serve me well now as I explore the world virtually. Using the internet to look up basic information and accomplish mundane tasks is easy to master. Social media, however, is much trickier and far more dangerous in many ways. Click-bait tempts frequently. Fake news beckons in my peripheral vision. Mixed among the advertisements and games and ‘like’ and ‘follow’ pleas are those tidbits that keep me signing in every day: family stories and pictures, a peek at friends’ adventures, cool stuff to try, good recipes, funny memes, great photographs.

It is a two-way street; I can post similar things to share with those who like and follow me. I can connect with groups of people who have similar interests and we learn from each other. The rules of etiquette and common conduct keep this virtual world mostly in order.

I have learned, especially on the sites where anyone can see what I post, to be wary of the inherent dangers that lurk in this virtual world. People can and will twist your words to mean something entirely different or take them out of context, or just dislike them outright. They even steal your words and pictures and claim them as their own.

An obvious solution would be to simply avoid these sites altogether and save myself the stress. Is the benefit worth the risk? I think back to why I learned to ride a bike in the first place: for the freedom to explore my world and learn for myself what is out there and how to think about it. How to keep myself safe. How to find my way back home again. That is also the lure for me to participate in the virtual world. So I will ride on!

Out of Season

My Easter lilies are blooming in my little backyard flower garden. Yes, in July. One bloomed last October, too. Easter was early this year and the grouJuly Lily (1 of 1)nd was still frozen so I completely understand why neither one bloomed then. At least they are in sync with each other now.

It catches my attention when normal strays from its predicable path. I find it fascinating for a moment but then I want things to get back in line and behave themselves.

I am still early enough in retirement that I am not settled on the definition of normal for this time in my life. Everything was new the first year but now we are seeing cycles and seasons repeat. Last summer at this time I was excited about our big trip out West. We are not planning any special travel this year so I have turned my attention to other activities.

Next year is the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation and I am hoping to join a special tour to Germany to celebrate that event. This will be a solo trip as there is only one interested party in this family. This summer I signed up with a temporary agency to earn some money to fund this little adventure.

The first job offered was five weeks of painting dorm rooms at a local college. I did not accept that opportunity. I vividly recall the physical effort it took to paint just three rooms when we prepared our house for sale and I knew I couldn’t manage that full-time for a month.

Another opportunity involved simple receptionist tasks. A week of doing nothing but answering the phone seemed reasonable and I was told to bring something to do between calls as it would be boring. I was surprised just how tiring it is to sit at desk all day and wait for the phone to ring. I averaged five calls during an eight hour day and had no computer or wireless access. I only had books and my e-reader.

I did take note of what the new hire would be doing to manage that office, however, and I realized that even though I was fully qualified to perform to expectations, I had no desire whatsoever to ever do that again. That spark apparently has been extinguished for good.

Like my garden Easter lilies blooming out of season, my experiences to date with being back in the workplace are out-of-the-norm. Whatever my normal is as a retiree, I want it back. I remember once having a card on my desk in my cubicle that urged me to “Bloom where you are planted.” My roots have taken hold in retirement and I sincerely hope that I can continue to grow them deeply in this enriching soil. Working short-term for a travel goal is tolerable but I am glad it is not a necessity at this time.

 

The Lure of the Chapter

A sign of advancement among emerging readers is when they move from stories that are told beginning-to-end to stories that  have much more content between the beginning and the end. These are known as chapter books and I remember well when I personally was old enough to read them.

ChapterMy husband enjoys reading books one chapter at a time. I was astounded when I learned this about him early in our marriage – my reader style is to read until my eyesight is too blurry to see the words on the page. I have learned from his example the value of savoring a book a chapter at a time and have developed some patience when reading certain types of books.

We’ve all heard the expression about closing a chapter in our lives and moving on to the next one. I have recently realized hat my retirement is shaping up as a series of chapters that benefit from being savored. Earlier stages in my life spanned longer time frames and blended from one to the next with little inner awareness. There was a repetition of seasons, occasions, tasks and responsibilities that cycled through time and again with a certain amount of predictability.

Slightly more than a year into retirement, I am recognizing the variety in the chapters that  wrap themselves around the activities I engage in now. In the past year, I have cultivated my interest in music and photography. I have renewed a relationship with elementary education through my opportunity to volunteer at St. Stephen Lutheran School. I have served a term on a board for a music organization and worked my first election. I have traveled to beautiful places and have learned complex new things through both live and online classes.

Now I am into the second year in our new home and while some things, like the church seasons, are predicable and dependable, other things are wide open to choice. As summer approaches, I am free to select from any number of interesting activities and opportunities. Finding temporary jobs to build up my travel fund is a big unknown, but not a scary one. Working is a choice, not a necessity, at this time. Exploring the opportunities I’ve been offered recently to turn my photography into a business is intriguing.

The idea that is taking hold in my heart, however, is the thought of writing another novel. I love being in the initial stage of an idea growing into characters and a setting and a theme that will allow my imagination free reign. I love embarking on research and following paths of fact into fiction. This chapter is to be savored, not rushed. While I really want to know how my characters turn out, I am content to learn to know them a chapter at a time.

All my life I have known the verse from Philippians 4:6:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

I prayed this verse many times during dark chapters in my life, seeking God’s direction on how to escape from whatever trouble I was experiencing. Gaining insight and wisdom from the previous chapters in my life, I now pray this verse from a different perspective. Instead of starting from a place of worry and ending at being thankful, I start with being thankful and stop at simply telling God what I think I need. I don’t need to worry about how things will turn out. I have learned to trust that He’s got it all figured out for me.

Whatever the next chapters reveal about my life, I am going to strive to savor them and take the time to read between the lines, to absorb and appreciate what God is writing there.

 

 

Dressing Up

Holidays usually include dress-up occasions. As a child, the Sunday School Christmas Eve program was a sure bet for getting a new dress and maybe even new shoes. A frequent Santa request from me was a new set of paper dolls. My all-time favorite was the year I got The Lennon Sisters and I could create endless outfits and miniature stages for them to perform on for my winter entertainment.

Life roles require wardrobes. Every working woman I know has re-invested earnings in job-appropriate attire. When I retired, I happily donated the majority of my work clothes to charity because I was as tired of them as I was of being in the full-time workforce.

One of the prime attractions of the sport of golf for me was being able to wear cute outfits at resorts. Workout clothes are another favorite – comfortable, functional and a clear statement that I have good intentions about physical fitness.

Finding the right outfit can be stressful and exciting at the same time. One year my boss gave me her ticket to a very fancy award banquet and I spent a month’s worth of weekends researching and shopping and worrying about coming up with an outfit that was “right” for the occasion.

Some occasions call for uniformity and the many musical groups I’ve

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Concert ready

performed with all have a dress code, usually involving black. I loved coming up with costumes for our annual Halloween concert when I played in the Canton Concert Band.

Deciding what to wear became more of an issue as I grew older. The night before a workday I would choose an outfit and hang it on the closet door so it was ready to go in the morning. I seldom wore what I selected, however, and instead rummaged through everything until I was satisfied with something. Looking back, I think it was an expression of stress about the chaos the day would likely hold.

But when the anticipation was for a fun event, then my chosen outfit hung on the bedroom door where I could see it in the days leading up to the occasion and enjoy visualizing the fun the occasion promised.

Most little girls dream of the clothing they will wear on their wedding day. This is the ultimate day of decoration and the occasion is worthy of the thought and expense required to do it justice. It is also the day that God uses as an example to enlighten us on the eternal clothing we will wear. Isaiah 61:10 (NIV) expresses it this way:

10 I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

I find it comforting that there is no doubt about how I will be dressed in Heaven, thanks to Jesus’ clothing himself in humanity and successfully completing the work of my salvation.

 

Blooming Cycles

African violets in the stores are always in full bloom. I am lured by their beauty and think that if they can thrive under harsh store lights, surely they will thrive in my home. Or not.

My grandmother had a beautiful array of these flowers in the window of her small, neighborhood grocery store and whenever we visited, they were in bloom. I’ve even seen them thrive in the cubical world at work and bloom repeatedly.

I’ve made several attempts over the years to enjoy these lovely plants. Once the original blooms die off, I never got them to bloom again. I tried various windows and researched how often to water and feed them. Each effort eventually ended in long seasons of healthy, green stems and leaves, but no flowers.

African Violets

African Violets

Now that I am retired, I thought I would give these flowers another try. I bought seven plants, all in full bloom. As before, the blossoms eventually died off and beautiful, evergreen leaves remained. But this time I was able to give them proper attention and, after several months, I saw tiny buds begin to form. By fall, all plants were in full bloom.

By fall, I was also back in the classroom after a 30+ year absence. I am a volunteer tutor two mornings a week. It took a few weeks, but gradually, my skills and enthusiasm returned. I was beginning to thrive again in an environment once very near and dear to my heart.

As I look back over the decades, I began to identify times in my life when I was involved in challenges and projects that brought out the best in me. In between those peaks were the evergreen times when there were no clusters of varied blooms, just routine, yet productive, days.

I have often thought of different phases of my life as growth cycles but not necessarily as blooming cycles. As I see the many activities I have already incorporated into my retirement lifestyle since February, I realize I am not only in a growth cycle but most definitely a blooming cycle. It is sweet.

Isaiah 40:8 reminds me that eventually these cycles of change will come to an end, but one thing will remain always:

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” (NIV)

Changing from going to work every day to having multiple choices of how to live each day was a time of stress that yielded to a time of peace. Throughout it all, God’s Word sustained me with instruction and promise. My African violets remind me that whether my life is in an evergreen stage, a blooming stage, or eventually, a dying stage, God’s Word will not change. That is a source of great comfort to me.

 

 

 

 

My Intangible Pension

I was fortunate to enter the corporate world at a time when companies still offered pensions. About half-way through my career, the pension plans were replaced by 401k plans. I had enough time in to be vested in the pension plan, but also took advantage of continuing to save for retirement through the new tools and now I have a blend of retirement income types to finance this great last adventure.

As I grow accustomed to my new lifestyle, I realize that I am also drawing on the benefits of my intangible pension. This pension fund does not come from the stock market or a corporate plan. It is an accumulation of the skills and experiences I gained through working for various employers over fifty years.

My years in accounting-related jobs honed my skills in managing a budget and projecting expenses. I learned to keep a steady eye on the bottom line, a skill very much needed in retirement.

Keeping my many hobbies and interests thriving requires putting to good use the project management skills I learned at work. I did not leave my problem-solving skills and ability to be flexible back in a drawer in my cubicle; I use those techniques frequently.

Retirement in this day and age includes being able to work the technology. Remaining social as our bodies age becomes more of a challenge as the physical ability to get around diminishes with each passing year. The internet and social media allow opportunities to remain in contact with other people and keeping up with the business side of living is ever more dependent on being connected electronically.

I am very grateful that I had so many opportunities to learn computer technology throughout my career. I am confident to update and upgrade any computer and solve technical difficulties without having to call the Geek Squad. And the new toys beckon without instilling fear in my heart.

Of all the funds in my  intangible pension, I appreciate my learning skill the most. For a time, my employers saw educating their workers as a priority and I was able to take many classes and learn how to apply what I learned to my job. In later years, lack of funds extinguished the formal classes and it was then I really learned to teach myself new programs and software.

Now, one of my favorite retirement activities is learning from online classes and YouTube and actual books how to do something that  interests me and benefits others.  I also am confident to take community college classes. My job no longer depends on my mind mastering some new computer program. Mastering a new program now just means fun.

“Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.” (Ecclesiastes 11:6, NIV)

I invested my energy, my talents, and my attitude in my job during the day and on many, many evenings and weekends. There were failures among the successes during my careers. I did not realize then the seeds would continue to produce even after my formal work life ended. All praise to God for continuing to let these blessings flow in my life!

Color Me Gray

I still experience that fleeting startle reflex when I glance into a miGrayHair (1)rror and see my graying hair. I stopped coloring it when I crossed that inner mental line into retirement plan execution. Up until that point, maintaining my natural color was a technique used to support my employability. Despite the gains of equality in the past decades, a nearing retirement age employee is viewed increasingly as a liability rather than an asset.

Embracing the gray was symbolic of a deliberate engagement with the aging process and learning how to exploit it rather than attempt to hide it. As the cells that produce pigment in my hair die off, a mixture of monochromatic tones emerge. The color strip at the top of the photo is the palette derived from my hair. (I used the Adobe Color app to create it.) There are no longer any hints of red highlights or various shades of brown. The shiny, vibrant dark hair of previous years is absent.

The cells beneath my skull of hair are also dying off. Memory is the peskiest of these losses. I remember when I used to remember everything. I never hesitated to find the word I wanted to use. Now my brain cells are parking themselves in beach chairs and tossing back words that are close, or maybe similar or the same length, but they, too, are retired and aren’t about to find the exact word I want without prompting. And if I do quickly acquire the word I seek, I can’t remember how to spell it.

I see the parallel in the annual fall foliage routine. As daylight in the northern climes becomes less and less each day, the green pigment is no longer produced and the other pigments come forward for their number on nature’s stage. Their beauty entrances all who take the time to observe.

As my time on this earth grows ever shorter, I see the dominant interests and activities of my earlier years decrease. I am somewhat sad that I am too old to ride a roller coaster safely or backpack around Europe via youth hostels. The identity I had as a valued career employee is fading. I have moved away from dreams that no longer seem relevant.

But in their place, I see colors and texture of my personality emerge that were overshadowed by the dominance of my previous centers-of-interest. I see opportunities to experience things in a different way at a more reflective pace.

While early and middle life is a process of adding knowledge and skills and experiences and things, later life is a process of subtracting much of what was acquired physically, mentally, and emotionally. It is a process of continual change, all with the purpose of preparing me to rest in peace eternally.

Therefore I take comfort in Isaiah’s words from chapter 46, verse 4:

Even to your old age and gray hairs
    I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
    I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

While I am a being of change, my Creator is not. No matter what changes aging brings in its various forms, I am safe and secure in the knowledge that he loves me and proved it through his son, Jesus.

Going Up

Advancing through the stages of aging sometimes prompts comments about “going downhill.” The edges of physical strength and memory gradually soften and the body slowly shifts its shape to accommodate weakening bones and muscle tone. Indeed, it does seem like life’s energy is slipping downhill in bigger chunks with each passing year.

This summer I hiked up a 1.5 mile trail on a mountain in the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. People of all ages attempted this hike as it was identified as steep but moderately easy. Apparently, the degree of ‘easy’ is directly related to the age of the hiker.

Hiking (1 of 1)At my age, the hike took longer with many more rest stops than I would have needed thirty years ago. I often stepped off to the side to let families with children pass, along with the serious hikers who were using the trail as a connector to more difficult paths. I used these little breaks to look around and soak in the beauty of the woods and rocks surrounding me.

Naturally, I thought, “I am too old for this!” I subconsciously began to see the comparison to aging and I realized that aging into retirement years isn’t a downhill experience after all. It is still just a journey, more comparable to hiking uphill than sliding downhill.

It is a slower pace, with more breaks. I look back at my life and I see the peaks and plateaus that were my experiences in earlier years. I see shadows in the valleys of the bad and sad events. I see the tangled brush of confusion and doubts along the way and feel the unevenness of the path beneath my emotions.

Looking back on my life’s journey from the perspective and power of age, I value all parts of the journey to this point. The path continues up. My eyes are on the prize of Heaven that Jesus won for me with his perfect, life, death and resurrection.

As I continued my way up the mountain to Inspiration Point, I recalled the words of Psalm 121 and pondered with wonder at how the truth of these words is revealed in my life – past, present and future.

Psalm 121

A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

(New International Version)

This Psalm was one of my maternal Grandmother’s favorites. I love remembering her life of faith and how she leaned on the inspired words of this Psalm for her strength. I anticipate the joy of being re-united with her when my time is right.

I climbed that mountain trail to see a beautiful view. I can’t even imagine the spectacular view that awaits me at my life’s journey’s end. I just know that Jesus saved a place for me and all who believe in Him and it will be gloriously perfect.

Soul Grit

Returning from vacation to a clean house was like being greeted with a warm smile. I enjoyed being able to just concentrate on unpacking and catching up on trip laundry. The housework could easily wait until the next scheduled cleaning day.

Floor work

Floor work

As I went about my cleaning routine the next week, I was again surprised at how much dust and dirt I have to empty out of my vacuum cleaner each week. We don’t have children or pets, we don’t go to the beach, I rake my golf ball out of sand traps. Where does this dirt come from? It isn’t even visible to the naked eye.

It reminds me of my sins. The little ones that collect just below my consciousness and remain unrepented until I look for them. If I neglect to give them any attention, they pile up until my conscience starts to feel them, or I start to see consequences stemming from them. The bigger ones become obvious much sooner, of course.

Just as my house dust is dealt with during my weekly cleaning, my soul dirt is dealt with at regular worship services where I reflect on just how awesome God’s love is for me and for all sinners. The sins I remember show up for roll call and are repented of and dismissed. The sins I don’t remember, or even recognize, are also tossed away by the life and death of my Savior on my behalf.

Forgive and forget. Forgiving others is also part of the routine. Yes, it is a routine; just like dust and dirt return, so do sins; my own and those of others who affect me. I find forgiving comes much more easily than forgetting.

There is a difference between forgiving damage caused by sin and getting past it, whether self-inflicted or resulting from others. Personally, I am wired with a hot button that lights up when I am told to “get over it.” That means now, in someone else’s time frame. Like many, I need time to work through the healing/recovery/fixing process and I pray for patience with myself as I do this work. It is not a process than can be easily hurried.

Remembering the lesson from the spiritual mishap is important. Making corrections and seeing better ways to think and say and do things as we interact with God and with others makes life on this earth for more bearable internally and externally.

Eventually, the feeling associated with the hurt from sin recedes and the memory becomes more neutral. I am reminded of a favorite passage from one of Karen J Hasley’s novels in the Laramie series. The protagonist is in the process of “getting over it” and her inner dialogue includes recalling a painful memory. ‘It was like poking at a bruise to see if it still hurt.’ (I don’t remember which novel it was in or I would give the exact quote – see Karen J Hasley for all of Karen’s delightful novels.) Revisiting hurts to see if they still hurt is, hopefully, a short process. It is useful in determining when I have finally gotten over something sin-related that caused me emotional and spiritual stress.

As I complete each room during my weekly cleaning I spray a quick spritz of Fabreze fragrance in the room as a pleasant reminder that I am done with that room and it is in order for the moment. When I walk away from the Lord’s table after communion I also feel that sense of peace that, for the moment, all is right between me and my God and between me and those in my world. That peace makes the work of repentance worthwhile.

Anticipation of Things Above

Children love to anticipate things they think are going to be fun. My grandmother often warned me, when I was excited about some upcoming activity, that the “anticipation is not greater than the realization.” Her advice did not lower my expectations at all.

This week I have been volunteering for our church booth at the local county fair. Many scenes play out before my eyes and spark memories of my childhood when the highlight of the summer was going to the fair.

The years we lived in Menominee a trip to the fair was by no means guaranteed. The Upper Peninsula State Fair was an hour’s drive north. My dad worked a milk route and getting off early enough for us to make the trip meant getting up really, really early and getting the boss’s permission. We didn’t know in advance when, or if, we would be going. Finances and weather were also prime considerations in the decision. But we anticipated the possibility with great joy.

So my brother and sisters and I would go about our normal summer play, soaking up the sunshine and fresh air and companionship of friends. And then, we would suddenly hear Dad drive up and announce, “Let’s go!”

All the way to the fair we discussed our plans for how to use this precious time. How many20150727-DSC_0001Fair Rides At Night (1) rides would be be able to go on at a dime a ticket? Should we give up a ride so we could get a foot long hot dog? What about the games? We could  only play one, but which one? Would we be able stay until it got dark and ride some rides at night? Oh, the anticipation!

Twilight is upon me in my cycle of life and I think more about the much shorter distance from my place on earth to my place in heaven. I read the obituaries in our small town newspaper and wonder about how the people who died after a long illness anticipated the end of their earthly existence. It is hard to let go of this life, especially if we are not suffering physical distress. I am really enjoying the retirement phase of my life and hope it continues for a long time.

But, eventually, the sun will set on this life. I call to mind the words of 1 Corinthians 2:9, “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived  – the things God has prepared for those who love him.” Then I know that leaving this earth and going to the mansion prepared for me by Jesus Christ will be like enjoying a summer day  and suddenly hearing Dad’s voice calling me to come to something far better than childhood play and the annual summer fair.

The realization will be unimaginably greater than the anticipation.