Friday, August 19, 2011

It's a Job

This is a statement I’ve been hearing a lot recently from my peer group. Now that we are approaching retirement age, we are discovering that we’re not ready or prepared to take this giant step into the AARP world.

I never thought I’d be one of those saying, “It’s a job,” when asked about my work. I have always been one to look at my job in terms of contribution, fulfillment, and adding value to my workplace. I’ve spent the past twenty years pursuing a dream, searching for my bliss, and hoping that whatever I was doing was making a difference to someone besides myself. I’ve been guilty of bragging about my accomplishments and at times getting a swelled head over the importance of my job. Not any more.

After being laid off from a dream job in 2009, my attitude toward work and a paycheck has changed. While I was unemployed, I watched from the sidelines as several of my friends, who had retired with comfortable pensions, enjoyed their leisure time and newfound freedom. While I was simplifying my life in adjustment to leaner days, it seemed that they were out there living it up and living the high life. I was envious, and my skin was turning an eerie shade of green.

Recently, things have changed. I was offered a full-time job (finally!), and re-entered the workforce in a job that has little connection to my experience or education. It isn’t fulfilling or challenging, the pay isn’t great, but it’s a job. The company is a good one, and my co-workers are entertaining and fun to work with. I don’t dread going to work, but I daydream of greener pastures out there somewhere in retirement-land one of these days. I like my paycheck, especially now that I am watching my meager retirement fund vanishing before my eyes with the plunging stock market. I am thankful that I have a job.

What I find to be very interesting, however, is that many of my retired friends are now in job search mode. Evidently, their pensions aren’t enough to support their lifestyles, or retirement isn’t what it was cracked up to be, and they are looking for a job – any job. Every time I get together with high school friends, they ask me about my work, and ask me to keep my eyes and ears out for them. They want a job! And those who are either still working, or have been lucky enough to land something, will inevitably say when I ask them about their work, “It’s a job.”

And at this point in life, it’s enough.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Following Your Bliss

At some point when I was growing up, I either read about, or heard a sermon about, “Following Your Bliss.” I didn’t realize what this meant at the time, and it has taken a lifetime (at least, to-date) to understand, at least partially, what bliss really is.

When I was twenty, I was in love, and believed that my bliss resided in my new husband, who was a coach and teacher in a small north Georgia town. Bliss, to me at the time, was being married, looking forward to having a family one day, and being a part of the small community where we began our marriage. I didn’t look farther than the city limits of the little town, and I believed that my life would be one of living happily ever after.

It wasn’t long until life changed drastically for me, and for the next twenty-odd years I didn’t follow my bliss, but that of my husband. I followed him through four years in the Coast Guard, two graduate degrees, one of which was a theology degree, and in and out of seven parsonages and as many churches. During that time we had two sons, who tagged along with us everywhere we went, sometimes willingly, and sometimes not so enthusiastically. The years drifted by as I watched my husband follow his calling into ministry, supported him as he ministered to one congregation and then moved to the next, and did my best to be a good wife and mother.

During this time, I earned my bachelor’s degree in elementary education, not because I wanted to become a teacher, but because my husband thought that it was a good profession for a minister’s wife. I was a good teacher, but it definitely wasn’t my bliss, and after five years, I said goodbye to the public school system for good, knowing that it was not where I wanted to spend the rest of my working life.

When I applied for, and was offered, the position of a public library branch librarian, I felt a twinge of what bliss might be. I was happy in the library, and looked forward to going to work every day. The pay was lousy, though, and I was told that if I wanted to move up in the system, I would need to get my master’s degree in library science. The seed was planted, and I began to investigate some way to accomplish this goal, while at the time didn’t have a clue as to how it could be done. There were no library schools anywhere near our church, and when we moved to a new appointment the next June and I said farewell to yet another job, it still seemed like an insurmountable dream.

Even though becoming a librarian was definitely part of what bliss meant to me, it turned my life upside down for a few years in what I would consider to be the opposite of bliss. My marriage ended over my desire to become a librarian and have a career of my own. I also realized during that time that I really wasn’t a very good minister’s wife, at least not the one my husband wanted me to be. His bliss and mine came to a crossroads, and each of us insisted on following our individual bliss, which appeared to be going in opposite directions.

I became a librarian, which led to a wonderful job that included conference planning and association management. I was happy in my work, and fulfilled in my accomplishments, but still wondered why my life didn’t feel blissful. It even led to a dream come true for me: creating, developing, and managing a virtual library. I remembered that while I was in library school, I told my academic advisor that my dream was to build a library from the ground up. This is exactly what I did, although the “ground” was in cyberspace!

The financial crash of 2009 hit, and one of the victims was my job. My precious online library was suddenly part of my past, and I didn’t have a clue what the future had in store for me. My wonderful husband celebrated the loss of my job instead of encouraging me to feel sorry for myself, even though we weren’t sure how we were going to make it financially without my steady income. We hitched our wagon to God’s constant star, and knew that He would somehow guide us in the direction of bliss, whatever and wherever it might be.

In the past two years, I’ve finally discovered my bliss. My bliss is out in the garden during the spring and summer as we plant, nurture, and harvest. It is in the blue skies of an autumn afternoon and in the lightning strikes of a summer storm. It is in the wagging tails of my dogs and in the purrs of my cats. It is in the voices of my sons when they call me on the phone. It is in my husband’s smile, as he admires my kitchen counter full of fresh vegetables, drying herbs, and freshly canned jellies and preserves. It is the feeling I have when I write, watching my thoughts find their way into print. It is in the way my heart wells up and tears fill my eyes as I am overwhelmed with the blessings in my life.

Life brings struggles, disappointments, sadness and pain. We are not guaranteed an idyllic life with nothing but happiness and well-being. But I truly believe that when we listen to the voice of God in our lives, when we seek the divine in the everyday, and when we open our hearts to whatever comes our way, that is where we find our bliss.

And I’ve discovered that I don’t need to follow my bliss. Instead of being out in front of me, it walks beside me, and holds my hand.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Time Warp

Yesterday was my ex-husband, David Hampton’s, birthday. There are some things I never forget, and his birthday is one of them. Our paths seldom cross anymore – he and his wife live in Tidewater Virginia, and I am happily embedded in rural Georgia. But that doesn’t keep memories from flooding back at times, or my thoughts from going back in time to the years that we were together.

One birthday I remember in particular, and the one that kept creeping up on me yesterday and tapping me on the shoulder, was his 40th birthday.

We were in Fieldale, Virginia, for this milestone birthday. I wanted the world of Fieldale to know that David was turning 40, and some of my church friends were all too willing to help spread the word. I don’t remember who made the sign – it had to be either Darlene or Harriett - but on the morning of David’s birthday, a huge sign graced the front yard which read, “Lordy, Lordy, David’s 40!” Our car was also stuffed to capacity with black balloons. He received more birthday greetings in the mail than Santa receives letters from children, as everyone in town was alerted to his birthday. It was a fun time of celebration, that’s for sure!

My sons were 14 and 11 at the time, just the ages to really get a kick out of seeing their dad celebrate his special day. They liked watching his embarrassment about being in the spotlight, as well as his enjoyment about being in the spotlight. It was quite a day!

Yesterday, as memories of the day floated across the kitchen counter while I worked with the bounty from my garden, another thought hit me squarely in the head. My son, Wade, my little boy, is now 40 himself! And talking to Brian on the phone yesterday, he reminded me that he is “pushing 40.” Can it be possible? How can my sons be the age of their dad in this special memory? And, how old am I now, anyhow??? When David turned 40, I was the age that Brian is now- three years younger. Where has the time gone?

They say that you are only as old as you feel. I certainly don’t feel old, but the facts tell me that I’m progressing in that direction. And, so are my sons. My consolation in all of this is that memories are sweet, and no matter what my age may be, I can always escape into my memory bank to be whatever age I want.

I also repeat one of my mantras – “The secret of a long life is to continue getting older.” This is something I plan to do with each day I live.

Happy Birthday, David!