The Power of God’s Country

God’s Country: “A place conceived of as especially favored by God; a place away from a city.” Merriam-Webster

Last weekend, my husband and I flew to Virginia to see our youngest at school. She was thrilled to have us there and kept us really busy with her friends and touring around the university. It was all precious, precious time together, but there was something extra special about driving (and stopping) along the Blueridge Parkway.

We have traveled through Virginia for years, heading south every spring break with the kids. Back then, we drove which was exhausting, but we saw some beautiful scenery along the way. I fell in love with Virginia. I can appreciate northern Virginia for its proximity to D.C. and many historical sites. We have visited people and toured Leesburg, Arlington, etc., and enjoyed the shopping and eating. All of my travels there offered wonderful sights, but mid to lower Virginia is just stunningly beautiful.

Maybe it’s because I live in a part of NYS where we don’t have mountains so I’m always captivated by them on vacation. Maybe it’s because I live on five acres with a long driveway and I am a girl who likes open space.

I work in the city and take a deep breath when I hit that part of the thruway that finally parts wide. My town is lovely yet there was something much grander, peaceful and right about standing at the center of miles of valleys and mountains.

My job is stressful. I received a promotion a few months ago which was awesome but my hours went up, along with my stress. I do yoga and try my best to compartmentalize work from home but it’s challenging. Above and beyond is usually a way of life. Sustaining that level of giving and producing at work and then home is depleting. An hour of exercise a couple times a week does not restore me as it may have back in my 20’s.

The breathtaking mountainside along the Blueridge Parkway brought my shoulders back down where they belong. I walked in sneakers instead of heels. I breathed deeper than I do on a yoga mat. My eyes were off data and employee issues, soaking in what I name God’s Country.

“What are men to rocks and mountains?” Jane Austen

Those mountains reminded me that I’m missing time with God. We talk every day but my world shifted when I took on another job. I don’t spend enough time in the wide-open space of His Word. Peace like I experienced at the mountainside is elusive during many work days.

Make no mistake that He speaks in offices, at the watercooler, and has made His presence known during colleague conversations. But I thirst for more. I count this as a good thing. I never want to be comfortable too far away from Him, living lukewarm.

Late Sunday I had to come down from the Virginia mountains, just like Moses when he descended from Mt. Sinai. I reentered work on Monday, having to immediately address poor management behavior, just as Moses was confronted with poor behavior by the Israelites. The corporate culture at my company is unlike anything anyone has ever experienced, leading to high turnover. But God uses me for good in my particular role. I believe that He put me where I am to be a light in a crazy place as well as teach me a few lessons of my own.

He is at work and accomplishes His purposes even when we’re not in bible study. He is always with us but there is something powerful about standing in the literal “mist” and “midst” of His spectacular creation. Being engulfed in endless autumn color, feeling cool wind against my face that also refreshed my mind – and the complete silence in nature – equaled renewal.

There is a reason for all seasons in nature and in our lives. This specific season in my work life is challenging, but the chaos likely helps me appreciate God’s Country profoundly more.

Reminiscing During a Walk at the Park

I’ve been walking our local parks for years. I love them all (and we have several) for their individuality, but one close to my house has beauty, water and multiple sports fields that hold sentimental value to me.My son ran many-a-bases and threw countless pitches on the various baseball diamonds. My girls carried snack bags, watched movies on portable DVD players during the double-headers, sat on the swings and played pretend with the other sisters bored at their brothers’ baseball games. It might have registered 120* on the turf during my daughters’ lacrosse games, but we parents were also melting on the sidelines!

That was years ago and last night, I strolled alone through the very active and busy park, realizing that with every baseball and soccer game I was passing in stride, I was watching the next generation standing behind home plate.

Grandparents in their chairs, rooting on their grandkids.

Dads at first and third base yelling to their boys…

Mamas pushing and pulling strollers off to the side, rocking their youngest ones as sunset began.

Throughout my long two-hour walk, I grinned knowingly.

I was that Mama. My husband was that Dad, rounding them to home.Throughout my laps, I wiped tears from under my sunglasses. Wasn’t it just last week I was filling the cooler, packing the snacks, grabbing books and blankets? I strode past a long line of parked mini-vans and hatch-backs and trucks …  each stuffed with lawn chairs. Wasn’t I just driving my mini-van? I had mini-vans for 18 years and I loved them. They represented family life that I loved being immersed in. I can still see my kids running from the park playground into the side van door as the skies opened and torrential rain poured. Awesome giggles and real joy flowed from the back seats. Their eyes wide at the ominous clouds and shaking of thunder.

The echoes of their young laughter flooded my mind. It was a precious time before student loans and adult-jobs. My chest filled with the childhood freedom we all enjoyed together. A child’s oblivion of adult world problems… their purity… their frequent laughter… their lightness… it rubs off on the grown ups.

I was smiling at the thoughts, but wiped wetness from my cheeks again. These years are good too…really good. My twins are recent university grads. My baby duck just served the Lord for eight weeks and is finally back in the nest for the remainder of the summer before returning to her university. Even though they are young adults now, we still play games, watch movies, cheer on our Yankees (if you’re a Sox fan, we can still be friends :)), eat dinners together…these years are merely different. They too elicit special feelings and deep appreciation for all God has blessed me with as a Mama of three children. Those ‘free-years’ were just so much stinkin’ fun.

Picking up my pace, I walked far around the nasty, hissing geese…
Summer was painfully late arriving here in New York. About two weeks ago, hot weather finally showed up and it’s been glorious.

This one is a bit fuzzy off my cell phone, but I’m including it as the birds chirping throughout the park is a summer joy to me!
Oh, the happy daisies never get old, do they? Always smiling at us. As I hopped back into my car, these little flowers left me filled with gratitude for the good memories, and lifted up with joy for the good there is now – and will continue to be.
Admire each pretty flow’r
With its sweet smell;
To praise their Maker, and to tell
The marks of His great pow’r.      Thomas Traherne

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grateful for the Few Remaining Drive-Ins!

It’s remained an annual tradition with my family of five. With 22 yr. old twins and a 20 yr. old (along with 10 others we invited this summer), we again drove over an hour to our favorite drive-in for a night of family fun. It’s something that we all look forward to and it never gets old.

Over the years, we have brought the kids friends, our friends, and whoever happened to be around our house during the summers.  Coolers packed, popcorn popped and boxes of candy fill our vehicles!

It’s quite a drive, but the views on the way are beautiful farm lands.

Back in the 1950’s, there were around 4,000 drive-ins around the country. Today, only 330 remain open.

Although you can see I took a photo of the lot full of car stand speakers, the majority of drive-ins now use FM radio to broadcast sound. We use the radio but still enjoy hearing the speakers too!

We were early enough this year that I could photograph the screen and parking lot while still empty, but the place fills up quickly. The crowded lots give me hope that this cool summer activity will remain around for a few more years.

Interested in drive-in fun facts and history? Check out this site that I used for the few facts presented in this post: https://www.driveinmovie.com/history-of-drive-ins

Joining the Rat-Race Mid-Life

 

Over 20 years ago, I sat on the tarmac in Iowa waiting to take off and return home from a business trip. I was in my first big-girl job post-college, and after receiving a promotion, was promptly sent to various cities to work with administrators in the Midwest and Northeast.

Looking out the window at the night-time sky, a red jelly-like substance began dripping over the windows. I asked the flight attendant what it was, as this girl had only been on one plane ride at 18 years old and knew little about air travel.

She explained that the weather was frigid and the plane was being de-iced. I wondered if I should be worried. I was too young to be as fearful as I would certainly be today. The delay was more annoying than anything and I decided then and there to return to graduate school and become a teacher.I’ve spent 20 years in higher education and there were two main advantages for me: 1) It was truly a meaningful career when I began and, 2) It was the best Mom-gig a girl could hope for while raising children.Fast forward a couple of decades and two giant truths now dominate my professional existence: 1) While the cost of tuition has skyrocketed exponentially, our pay has not. 2) The majority of collegiate institutions are about anything and everything except teaching and learning. Of course there are exceptions. However, if you read the data, and have current affiliation with several universities as I do, you will observe a shift in the actual “education” portion that is alarming. I have also held administrative positions along with teaching, so my insight goes beyond the classroom.

With twins just graduating from college and my youngest with two years left to go at her university, well…this mid-life Mama had to get another job. In addition to kids in college…

-We are a part of a destination wedding this August where my girls are standing up and I’m part of the ceremony (more on that in August).

-My husband went through a job change a year ago and his salary dropped considerably at the new company…blah blah blah…there are too many stories like ours to count lately. You can imagine the strain.

-Then, he landed himself in the hospital for a couple of days-nothing serious but the medical co-pays for three days in the hospital blew through his very handsome severance package.

The timing of these several things at once was comical and costly.

So, I cut the on-campus teaching, kept the online professorship, and added a three-days a week position in HR with a small company at their corporate office. Promptly after I started, the HR Director resigned. I’m essentially the entire HR department on a three-day schedule doing five days plus worth of work. I’ve already been working on my days “off”.

To say the adjustment from both a professional standpoint and a personal one has been challenging would be an understatement.Two kids (here) graduated and moved home from college. My youngest is serving in ministry in Texas for three more weeks. The change in the household has been tremendous. God bless the kids, they are doing the dishes, and occasionally vacuum…After 10 minutes of searching, I find the pasta strainer with the syrup (?), but who am I to complain?! 🙂

I’m working more than I have in a decade while still doing most everything I did prior to the new job.

I’m trying to adjust. I didn’t really think it would be that big of a deal. After all, before kids (and life in higher ed) I had a career in business. I traveled for heaven’s sake. I was a working professional!

I’ve changed and I’m waaaaay older.

Driving home in wicked traffic the other day, I was reminded of how this is just normal life for most. Sit and wait while four lights change and we creep up to finally get through an intersection. Wild morning traffic is something most people have been navigating for decades while I purposely set up early morning office hours to avoid. I taught late classes so my husband was home with the kids when I left. I graded papers and lesson-planned from my home office.

Lunch was when I wanted it and it certainly didn’t have a time limit.Oh, the schedule of “regular hours”. It’s laughable to those of you reading who’ve been in the rat race for decades. Up at 6am, on the road by 7am, work work work, eat lunch fast, back to your desk, back in the car at 5pm….

The conventional work schedule alone makes this deep thinker ponder who came up with the 8-5 workday. Why are we all bumper to bumper at 7:30am just to reach the destination by 8am? Why are we again bumper to bumper at 5:15pm? Even though more employees than ever are working from home, or have flex hours, my small company runs a tight, traditional culture with zero flexibility.

Definition of rat race according to dictionary.com: any exhausting, unremitting, and usually competitive activity or routine, especially a….life spent trying to get ahead with little time left for leisure, contemplation, etc.The part of the rat race definition that makes me laugh out loud includes leisure and contemplation. Professors contemplate! We lead our students to think, not just answer questions. We have more opportunity for leisure due to flexibility.

In those years when I had the luxury of being “contemplative”, and particularly when I was in the evening classes with working adults completing their Bachelors and Masters degrees, I spent considerable time discussing the importance of locating the job that would be satisfying after they finally graduated. We wrote out the number of waking hours on paper, subtracting not only 40-hours in a building, but planning for work, choosing clothes for work, drive time, required social and corporate events, buying Christmas gifts for workmates, etc., etc.The ultimate point of the exercise was revealing the truth that full-time working adults work more than they literally do anything else. More time at work than with family. More time working than cooking or playing or creating. I made them take a hot second “contemplating” that stark reality. Really thinking about life in the present – but also what they wanted it to look like in a few years.

Most people work for money and few work because they love what they do.

Most are hustling in the rat-race “routine”, “competitively” working to get ahead, hoping to reach those goals of “leisure” and the luxury of living more “contemplatively”.

My Bible app devotion recently stated: “You have been entrusted with talents… It really matters how you use these.” If only we could all earn a living utilizing our true, greatest talents. I have observed most people at best use their gifts in hobbies or volunteering in ministries. Excruciatingly few can pay medical and dental benefits without a company-job having nothing to do with their greatest gifts. We use our gifts to serve as best we can-where we are.

We are old enough to know that life requires attention. If we’re going to enjoy any of it, we must leave the housework, skip the obligatory visit to the distant-relative’s house and read the book that is collecting dust because too many other things trump sitting down in “leisure”.

I miss my extended quiet time with God in the mornings. I’m way behind in my Bible reading. I catch up on my days off. Things like crafts and baking are time-intensive joys that I cannot afford. My leisure time is spent with my kids doing things together. They will only live home for a limited amount of time and I’m not going to miss these remaining moments living together.

Throughout the years, I could see how my full-time career friends had time for nothing but work. I observed at a distance their counting days off…worried about arriving 10 minutes late or leaving a half hour early to catch their kids’ game after school. Mentally tortured about missing family events and simultaneously feeling obligated to their employer.While I previously watched at a distance, I now live it and while the work is interesting, the schedule is a bummer. I’m thankful that this existence now was not the reality while raising kids. As always, a big hug and sincere admiration to those working parents who legit do it all – and well.

On that note, it’s time to enjoy the weekend and family…

I wish each of you a Happy Weekend! 🙂

Photos: 99designs.com-woman; aviation.stackexchange.com-plane; nyfa.edu/Harvard/-Harvard; robbreport.com/lifestyle/news/would-you-pay-6-5-million-to-get-your-kid-into-yale-2843748/-Yale; ft.com/content/804b928e-6cde-11df-91c8-00144feab49a-RatRace; Cnn.com-man on desk; Colossians: Pinterest

D-Day Celebrations Have Me Thinking About Patriotism

I don’t come from a military family, nor was I raised with any real political discussion or  thoughts about country. Yet, in my twenties I started paying attention to history and even more so in the last decade, I’ve grown to be highly patriotic. There was no significant reason why other than maturing enough to realize that we truly live in a great nation and freedom really isn’t free.Catching a bit of the D-Day celebrations on the news yesterday once again touched my heart and mind. Veterans who served 75 years ago had patriotism – a love of country – and understanding of history and the importance of serving that is lacking in contemporary society. Our 20-somethings struggle to answer questions such as, “What is D-Day?” “When was WWII and why did it start?” My own 20-somethings included.

Even us 50-somethings can’t fully relate to some of the news tag lines from yesterday:

My grandmother widowed at 18. She still feels that grave loss 75 years after D-Day.

We had to go down and clean up the bodies on the beaches because we had new troops coming in.

When service transcended party: D-Day, my dad and Gen. Dwight Eisenhower.

War is terrible. Tragic. D-Day was those things. It also was heroic and necessary. Younger generations of Americans won’t understand what happened on June 6, 1944, unless they are inspired to learn it.Years ago when I started talking politics and studying history, I brought topics into my college classroom, encouraging students to be engaged. They were. I learned that there is a big difference between reading your 6th grade textbook and bringing history and politics to life by making a practical connection to modern living. I also raised my kids to be politically engaged in the last few years and encourage all young adults to study and understand why they believe what they profess to believe.  In a world where taking time to read, learn and pay attention longer than five minutes is rare, I’m going to take six minutes (wink) and continue talking to my 20-somethings about history and its relevance to our future as Americans.

The next chance to really celebrate this amazing nation is July 4th (and of course wear red, white and blue on Flag Day, June 14th!). I plan to take time to honor our nation and thank those who serve.

Happy Weekend to All! 🙂