Waiting

“How is retirement so far?” my older brother recently asked.

“Every day feels like Saturday,” I replied.

“That’s retirement,” he said.

Saturdays have always been my “catch-up” days—grocery shopping, cleaning, running errands, etc. All those things I did not get to during the week were seen to on Saturdays.

With no work and no “mom duty,” my calendar is clear, and I have loads of time to spread out my shopping, housework and errands throughout the week.

Last weekend, I attended a (virtual) retreat for people in transition, and the question that snagged my attention comes from 1 Kings 19:13, when the Lord asked Elijah, “What are you doing here?”

It took me back to when I worked for an adult literacy council and often spoke to community groups about our work. I usually asked an adult learner to accompany me and share how we had helped.

One of the adult learners spoke of the challenges of learning English. She would say that the two questions, “How are you?” and “How are you doing?” confused her because she thought she was being asked two different questions. The word “doing” threw her.

I thought the same as I listened to the question to Elijah. What was he doing there? He wasn’t doing anything, really, just standing outside waiting for God to come by.

It occurred to me that different questions might have been, “Why are you here?” or “What are you looking for?” or “What do you want?”

Now that I am no longer working and no longer caring for my mom—two things I used to do—I am asking myself, “What am I doing here?” and is it ok to do nothing, to just stand outside and wait for God to pass by?

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Rest

Getting away to the lake,

watching the sun rise and set

over calm water,

walking along the shore,

collecting stones.

Three ducklings entertain us as they stray and

then return at their mother’s call.

Dark clouds gather along the horizon and

the winds pick up.

We watch as the rain approaches.

There is nothing to be done but watch and

wait for the sun to return.

It is good to be here, resting.

The best is yet to come

My life has been turned a bit upside down recently by my mother’s death and my leaving the job I have had for the past seven years. Two big losses at the same time and lots of empty space in front of me.

No more dinners with my mother or shopping for her or calling or stopping by to check in.

And no more work emails or office to go to or meetings to attend.

I have to admit that it is a bit scary to stand in front of this vast empty canvas without the commitments that have structured my life for the past years. And yet…

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I have decided to view the coming year as a sabbatical, a time to pause after thirty-five years of working in nonprofit management, to reflect on and say goodbye to what has been, and to prepare for what is to come.

Almost as soon as I made that decision, two retreat opportunities presented themselves—one is focused on discernment for people in transition and the other is for writers. I had not been looking for either one, but both seem opportune, and I signed up for them. One is virtual, and the other is in Texas—my first flight since the pandemic lockdown in March 2020.

As a child, I had no idea what I might be when I grew up—no passionate hopes or dreams to be this or that. As an adult, I tended to fall into jobs more than selecting them with a goal in mind.

So here I am in the third third of my life, still deciding what I want to be when I grow up. Only now, I have lots of experience and a pretty good idea of my gifts and talents.

And that knowledge and awareness energizes me—standing on the precipice of the next chapter in my life is thrilling.

My friend Jim used to say, “The best is yet to come.” I am in total agreement, and I am looking forward to what the next chapter of my life holds.

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My mom

“I want to live until I die,” my friend Jim said when he understood that an incurable brain cancer would soon end his life. He did not want to be kept alive by artificial means; he also did not want to live or die in a hospital.

My mother felt the same. When the doctor offered her a pacemaker after her first heart attack three years ago, she said, “No.” He explained that her heart would probably give out while she was sleeping and she would just not wake up one day. “That would be a blessing,” she said.

At the time of that first heart attack, my mom was ninety-two, still driving, going to card parties every week, living in her own home and enjoying life.

After that heart attack, she began to slow down a bit and cut back on some of her activities, but she continued to live on her own and to cook, clean and do her laundry. She was very independent.

Over the past three years, she has had several medical issues that landed her in the hospital for a week at a time, and each time, she returned to her home determined to live as fully as possible.

After an internal bleeding incident in January, her doc took her off heart medicine, and she went on hospice. Then we knew it was only a matter of time until her heart gave out.

When she started falling a few weeks ago, we knew she was getting weaker every day.

Her consistent wish was to live and die in her home.

With some help, my sisters and I were able to make that happen. The past three weeks, someone was with my mom 24/7.

Giving up was not an option for my mom. She had known people who did just that—they stopped doing what they had always done and just waited for death. She would say they stopped living before they died. That was not my mom’s way.

Just last week, she looked at a silk flower arrangement on top of a cabinet and asked me to bring it down. “I want to wash the flowers and rearrange them,” she said. I brought down the basket and helped my mom get to the kitchen sink where she washed the flowers. It was exhausting for her; it was also her way of living her life.

Last Wednesday evening, she ate her last supper. On Thursday, she was too weak to get out of bed and too weak to swallow. We made her as comfortable as possible and kept vigil over the next two days.

Hospice nurses came every day, and each one said some version of, “You girls are doing a great job with your mother.” We are not medical people, and their affirmations were appreciated.

After only two days in bed, my mother died peacefully on Saturday morning, surrounded by family. She truly lived until she died—a role model for living a full life.

Return to calm

The mundane tasks of everyday living

create a sense of tranquility

that stretches out like a

placid lake reaching for the horizon,

each day the same as the one before

and the one to come.

The monotony of routine and habit  

can lull me into believing that the future

will be made up of days like these.

I can sometimes tire of the monotony,

almost wishing for an interruption in the predictable—

until one inevitably comes along,

jolting me out of languid days and tossing me about

like a small boat caught in a storm.

And then I crave the sameness that had been,

the predictability of a daily routine.

I long to return to those times

when I could anticipate how each day would unfold,

when there were no surprises and

I could spend hours daydreaming about future travel or

gathering with friends.

I cannot stop or wish away these unwelcome interruptions.

I can only take comfort in knowing

that the turbulence will end and

calm will return.

Check your ego at the door

I once belonged to a networking group of about a dozen people, all leaders in our field. One of the ground rules for our networking sessions was to “check your ego at the door.” We all claimed to be “servant leaders” which would imply that our egos would be kept in check, but the reality was that when two or more successful people got together, a game of one-upmanship often ensued.

Some of these people had international reputations; others were leaders in our local community. The “ego” rule made it possible for us to meet as equals. If someone started name-dropping or praising their own achievements, another member would gently recall the rule. It got to the point that only one word was needed to rein in an inflated sense of self. “Ego,” someone would say.

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I have often thought of that rule, especially when working with nonprofit boards which are usually made up of successful community leaders. I gently remind them that the most important thing about nonprofits is the mission, and I invite them to stay focused on advancing the mission of the organization rather than focusing on their individual contributions.

I am fortunate that my dad was not into hero-worship; he often said that everyone “puts his pants on one leg at a time.” No one was any more important than anyone else in my dad’s eyes. His attitude has stayed with me, and I think it has served me well. (I do have to admit, though, that I was somewhat starstruck the time I was standing next to Ray Charles at JFK Airport and when I was sitting just a few feet away from the Pope.)

Competition is a cornerstone of capitalism, and it is common to encounter successful people who love to tell you how they built up their company or scored some big deal. My eyes tend to glaze over during those monologues; I am much more interested in those who praise all the people who made their success possible.

My friend Ted was one of those people. He was a successful lawyer, well-known in his field and treated like a big deal at his work. He was very generous with his resources and often donated to the nonprofit where I worked—always requesting anonymity. “Don’t let your right hand know what your left is doing,” (Matthew 6:3) was one of his favorite Bible quotes.

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I think all of this has come to mind because I am leaving my profession to embark on the next chapter of my life. When I told my boss I was leaving, she repeated something she has said to me several times since our two nonprofits merged a few years ago—she is amazed that I gave up my job as executive director and set aside my ego for the sake of the mission.

Perhaps it is unusual; for me, though, it was remembering to stay focused on the mission and to check my ego at the door.