I’m retired, now what?

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For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Romans 11:36 ESV

I’ve been churning and angsting these days, trying to pinpoint my organizing principle, my ‘why’ for how I spend the time God allots me each week.  I retired from classroom teaching 28 months ago.  For decades teaching and other work occupied the ‘big rock’ position in my jar of time. The others hours in a week filled up the space around that central commitment.

Having actively participated in the work force all my life has made adjusting to ‘no more big rock’ a source of stress. When you don’t work for money, choosing wisely how to spend time is more difficult.

By grace, Mabel and Tom Kenney visited last week, bringing me a tool in the form of four questions. At one point Mabel had been at a similar crossroads in her life when a friend and fellow pastor to Tom suggested a way to think about new commitments. The first question pierced my heart: ‘What is it that no one else but you can do?’  As my thoughts flew to skills, Mabel shared her answer, stunning me: ‘No one else can be Tom’s wife!’ This had nothing to do with talents or life experience, but with God’s providential choice of her primary relationship.

“I and no one else am Mike’s wife!” How freeingly simple! Loving, tending, guiding and enjoying this man of mine is my primary calling.  With that direction, it was easy to consider my role with each of our family members. My time connecting with family is of highest value.

The second and third questions Mabel shared had to do with what we just absolutely LOVE and DON’T love doing. Priorities and activities began to fall naturally into a hierarchy of value.

Reading Paul’s proclamation from Romans 11 this morning gave me a new idea.  I laid verse 26 over my current struggles and rewrote it this way:

 FROM the Lord is this churn over priorities and time.  I am getting THROUGH it with him and it is TO him that I offer my efforts, my stumblings, my back-and-forths, so that he GETS the glory when he has completed this segment of the painting, the tapestry that is my life.

What helped me this morning after that written affirmation was to make two lists.  My dad used to deal with decisions about time and activities by dividing them into the ‘have-to-dos’ and the ‘nice-to-dos’. So, I formed two columns, writing down all the Maria-scheduled events of my week.  Bible reading, study, prayer and journaling claim first position of all my chosen commitments.  Then follow appointments for health maintenance such as exercise class, regular chiro adjustments, sleep, stretching. Home and food prep have their assigned days and times. Next come particular times during the week when I meet by Zoom with Hispanic friends for mutual Spanish and English progress. Then there are those ministries I participate in weekly at church and at our local pregnancy resource center.  Zoom calls with Mike’s mom show up twice a week. And once school starts back up, Noah and Vera will each have a weekly slot for their Zoom Spanish and French lessons. Last and certainly not least are two dear friends with whom regular interactions both support and feed my soul. Finally, reading in Spanish each afternoon while Mike takes his shower and gets cleaned up for dinner rounds out my list.  Those twenty minutes feed and settle my soul after a ‘full day of work’.

Then there are the ‘nice-tos’.  I starred and highlighted just one, writing this weekly blog.  Everything else falls below that, if there is time.  Activities like the weekly video for my ‘EnglishwithoutFear’ YouTube channel, writing vignettes about second language learning as well as life stories to pass on to my kids.  I do like to write.  The occasional walk and talk with a friend fit into this category of ‘if there is enough time in the week, let’s do it.’

When company comes or we travel, the schedule changes, of course. But most of my days are spent at home and starting with the ‘what can I do that no one else can’ served as the impetus to see and order all these activities.  I feel relief!

Then the Lord added his heavenly perspective. Regina called me this morning less than 2 hours after I made my list and gave me a section of Isaiah that she was praying specifically for me.

In a time of favor I have answered you……I will ….. give you as a covenant to the people……saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’ They shall feed along the ways; on all bare heights shall be their pasture…..Isaiah 49:8-9 ESV 

I saw immediately how I am one of Jesus’ heralds of life and light and hope. I have good news for prisoners of darkness and hungry sheep.  Feeding myself first in the morning and then daily self-care give me the ballast and energy to minister to others through my presence and through my writing.  This is enough.  I am content.  Thanks be to God.

Is God sovereign over technology?

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Being taught something, without putting into practice what you have received in theory is futile. All good teachers teach by that principle.  We know what we know, when we can DO something with it. When we first start applying and using ‘book learning’, we will make a lot of mistakes.  That’s why teachers regularly give us homework and evaluate our progress, often by means of unannounced ‘pop’ quizzes.

It’s no surprise, then, that the model teacher, Jesus, fondly employs this same method.

Fully aware of Jesus’ motives and desire for me to grow through his tailored lessons in ‘being holy as God is holy’, I wasn’t initially thrown off guard yesterday when he handed me an unannounced practical exam. I’ve been working very slowly through John Piper’s latest book, Providence. His developed arguments reinforce what Mike and I have known for some years, that nothing occurs in this world that is not designed and sent forth by God.  The Bible explicitly proclaims this truth throughout both the Old and New Testaments.

For example, Isaiah 45:7 is one of many places where the LORD testifies to his purposeful, planned happenings: I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things. ESV

Mike and I are slowly learning to relax and trust God when ‘things don’t go as planned or as hoped’.  That’s why we regularly pray for each other when problems pop up. These days, it seems that many of these unexpected ‘gifts’ are tech issues that suddenly confront us with the potential both to frustrate and rattle us.  God sends them for his good purposes, but Satan uses them, trying his best to cause us to vent, feel anxious, distracted or even angry.

Yesterday, God gave me one such ‘gift’.  Immediately, when a major problem with the raw recording of my latest English without Fear video suddenly occurred, I did not panic. Seldom does a week go by without a few divinely-initiated ‘monkey wrenches’ thrown into the mix.

Since I’m learning to expect problems, I immediately saw and attributed this issue as an opportunity to count on God.  I pictured a smiling God handing me a practice session to see if I really believe what I SAY I believe, that he controls all events in my life.

I talked with him as I worked through one possible fix after another. Nothing helped. 

While I kept trying to fix this issue, my mind played with many thoughts such as:

  • Does God always provide?
  • Can I count on him for this?
  • Is he who he says he is?

I googled the problem and learned that because I had updated the IOS of my MacBook Pro, my video recording software needed an upgrade.  That took time to install. 

Once squared away, a new issue presented itself – the settings! When I recorded a trial video, there was no sound.  I fiddled around, still proclaiming my faith in my sovereign and good Father. Bungling through one change after another, I grew hungry and frustrated.  Yet, I kept practicing patience.  ‘This is from my Father, so he means this for good.  I will NOT let Satan rattle me.’

Time was marching on.  I had a Zoom class to teach at 2 pm, so I temporarily gave up to clean up the kitchen before my class.  Wiping the counters and loading the dishwasher gave Satan the opportunity to heat up the temptation toward self-pity. I could actually imagine myself giving in to a vent: ‘I’ve wasted all this time and I’m still no closer to a solution!’

By grace, I called out to God and told him all the truth I could think of so as NOT to yield to Satan’s whispers. Suddenly, I remembered what I had written in my journal earlier in the morning.  My mom used to say, “For this, I have Jesus.”  I combined that truth with something I heard Kathy Keller share at a conference: “I trust the One who died for me.”

At 2 pm, as my English-language learners entered my Zoom room for our weekly conversation class, I had to leave the entire problem with God.

Ninety minutes later, I ended the Zoom session and checked a text from Graham, our video-content-creator son.  He told me which setting to check in my recording software.  I did and it worked!!! Hallelujah! I texted him and Mike the good news.  God had come through and I had NOT given in to Satan.

‘Well, there’s this week’s blog topic!’ I thought with a smile. Victory in Christ, thanks to his grace.

But God wasn’t finished with me. I woke up this morning and started to edit what had worked perfectly yesterday afternoon.  No sound!!! What?  There’s a Part 2 to this lesson? That DID catch me by surprise.

I had to laugh, though. ‘You must REALLY want me to get this lesson, that from you and through you and to you are all things’ (Romans 11:36).  Nothing happens or fails to happen except by you.  You are the first cause of every event.

What did I do?  I took screen shots of my recording, still in the recording studio software and sent them to Graham and Mike.  Then I had to leave for a doctor’s appointment. Again, I talked to God on my drive to and fro, affirming my complete confidence in his goodness and his plans. And I asked for help.

What happened?  I don’t know.  I couldn’t get the sound to work on what I had successfully recorded yesterday.  So, I did a test video.  There was sound. For the umpteenth time, I recorded my English without Fear episode and it worked. Praise God!

What will happen next time?  He only knows.  But today, I’m rejoicing in his help and in ‘passing the pop quiz of faith’.  Satan, you lost that one.  My God is sufficient.

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