Friday, May 30, 2014


So, last year I took on ‘widow;’ this year I wrap ‘retired’ around my neck. I end 40 years as an English teacher at Kokomo High School in Kokomo, Indiana.

I’ve heard that in some jobs, the human resources department conducts Exit Interviews when a long-time employee retires. I also hear that 'long-time employee’ is a quaint term as so many workers don’t start and retired from the same job.

I don’t think our school had HR when I began; I’m not 100% positive. I was busy teaching. We do now: I know this because we get emails from the administrative assistant to the HR director. So, someone gets paid for this and has enough to do to warrant a secretary.

At any rate, there was no Exit Interview and I’m not sure what the purpose would be. Would someone ask me Why? How? When?  Would someone want my feedback into what is good at KHS and what is less good? Would someone ask my opinion on how to help a new employee get integrated into the team? Would someone even want to know some of my tricks for getting 17-year-olds to eat out of my hand, pleasantly?

As far as I can see, I don’t think my input would be useful. So much has changed in public education since 1973. So so so much has changed in the last 5 years. My ideas, tricks, hints, and so forth probably would not work for someone else. New teachers need to find their own way. It will take time. There’s really no way to rush it. This reality makes it simple to hand my imaginary mantel to the next generation.

I’ve seen several of my friends really struggle with letting go of ‘their classroom,’ ‘their course,’ their ‘way to do.’ We kid ourselves, of course. Those kids and that room are not ours. Veteran teachers sell themselves on the made-up fact that if they don’t show up, education cannot happen. That’s one reason why seasoned faculty come to school with a slight fever and minor bronchitis….no one can do our job. Another wake-up reality is that if the excellent classroom teacher dropped dead (or inherited a sinful amount of wealth), someone else would walk into his classroom, pick up the book…or whatever they are using these days…and teach those kiddies.

We may be important but we are not irreplaceable.

I WAS asked for an interview by the students in the television production class. It was part of the project and my input gave them practice in editing and creating a DVD. As it’s the closest to an HR Exit Interview, I’ll preserve it here.

 I met them on time and was escorted into the studio where one young man focused the camera, one adjusted the lighting and one whipped out the paper with a prepared questions. They asked, among other things, why I had become a teacher. I wish my answer could have been more profound, more inspirational. Alas, it was not, but it was honest.

Why? I was attending a liberal arts college and in 1970’s, the overriding logic was to get a teaching credential so you could get a job. There were many of the liberal arts that did not sink in….philosophy, physics, mathematics…but English. Yes, THAT made sense to me. Literature. Writing. Grammar. Speech. I could master these well enough to teach to someone.

Back then, teacher preparation did not send you into a classroom until near the end of college. You operated on some sort of faith, I guess, that in the end, you’d feel at home. I did. At least one college chum discovered that she hated the public school classroom in April of her senior year. Back then, there weren’t so many alternative choices. I think she ended up working in a bank.

This is so different from today when potential teachers get placed in classrooms throughout their undergraduate years, in part so they can explore different ages and school settings. I think that makes good sense. Personally, I loved having college students come in to observe my classroom. And I really loved when I got to supervise a student teacher, all full of fresh ideas and anxious to try them out in a real setting.

So, I wanted job security. That’s pretty lame and even when the students interviewed me, I knew there was more to it, but it took some reflection to come to the better answer.

The better answer: I belong to God. I’m one of His children. He has had a plan for me. I have been pretty deaf to His whispers. He often has to hit me upside the hay-id to get my attention. Or He leads and lets me think it’s all my idea.

That was my path to teaching. I don’t know when it sunk in that I was walking in God’s will when I chose teaching for a career. “All YOUR idea, hey chickie?” He smiled. Similarly, it was all MY idea to marry that funny, smart red head that I met at Wheaton College. Just as it was MY idea that I go to Wheaton after high school.

I’ve lived long enough to know that many of God’s children actively seek His will in such momentous decisions. I wish I could say that. I cannot. I was much more “Hey, God, this is what I’m doing. Come along if you want.”

I’m much better these days at listening. And recognizing. And acting on those promptings that I know come from my Father. It’s a much better way to navigate this life, secure that you are doing exacting what the Father, who runs the big picture, wants you to do.

Now, as often as I can, I like to step back to observe that path I’ve walked and how God’s guiding was always there, leading me and also protecting me from my own ME-ness. One of the many blessings that He provided to Mike and me was Mike’s opportunity to teach at Ivy Tech…7 semesters! And I was sent back into my high school classroom as it was Mike’s decision that we get back into living a normal life until we couldn’t. We stopped sitting around, waiting for him to die.

At first, in spring 2010, I went back to KHS without any assurance that I would finish the semester; veteran teachers like to finish semesters. I also knew and told Mike that he would no longer have 100% of my attention. To do a good job…and by now, that’s all I could do…would require me to share myself with 145 students. He was ok with that.

And it was great. Really. There are about 1000 kids I would have never gotten to know; that ‘getting to know’ makes my life rich. And blessed.  And happy. AND distracted from the disease. We tried hard to shove the disease way down in our attention.

So, I was back doing my job. All good. And then the blessing. At least 5 times, God showed up big time to let me know I was walking where He wanted me, that I was in my classroom for a specific student. What a privilege. But that’s the thing about the Big Picture…God calls His children to do and go, sometimes when it makes no sense. May I continue to grow in faith to step out and just do and go, without the  meeting.

So, newly retired, I’ve been seeking the next chapter. This year, on leave, has been filled with tasks that needed to be done. Plus, I’ve traveled a lot, visiting important people. Some of these friends came to us through Mike’s illness. I wanted to thank them in person and God has permitted me that opportunity. But I figured that He wants something more out of me than just flitting around having fun. And I’ve asked several close friends to join me in praying for that next chapter.

As old habits die hard, I’ve mentally listed some options. But He is revealing to me a different book entirely. Stay tuned.

What I ask of my praying friends…who were OUR praying friends and continue to care for me in this way… is that I’ll keep my eyes open and my mouth shut as God makes His way clear.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Closing that book and opening another

            Last July, I sat with one of my guys, those men we arranged as my go-to resources, people I could (can) take my needs. This guy is an auctioneer/realtor who said, “Whatever you leave, I’ll sell.” For the last year, my major task was to move out of my house in Kokomo.

            Mike and I had talked about downsizing before he became ill. Then, we were just too busy with living to fret about such things. But I knew that I would need to leave the house that had been our home for almost 30 years. With that, I knew that I would move away from Kokomo, which had been my home for 40 years.
            So, I would work my way through that house, setting aside what I wanted and sorting out the rest. I think I did this 8 or 9 times.
            I began with the easy things: Mike’s clothes and the black hole treasures, like nail clippers and tweezers and scissors. As I sorted through drawers and cabinets, I brought baskets and oblong containers with me, filling them with all those random items spread out in our large house.
            Then, several large high school boys helped me empty the attic which had become a dumping ground for things that we would someday deal with. They brought them down to an upstairs bedroom where I could survey and decide.
            The upstairs bedroom closets came next. We had stored office records in boxes and I knew that these must follow me wherever I ended up. The IRS had 7 years to decide if it wants to audit the law practice. My financial guy (what an angel!) kept preaching “Don’t throw out anything” from boxes to ledgers, or anything with numbers, for that matter. So, I’ve done what I’ve been told along those lines.
            Although I had already boxed and sent the childhood treasures of our children, I found a few more things that I had saved: I boxed those up and transported them during one of my San Antonio trips.
            Neighbor Mike, Retired, kinda, cop Tom, and Brother-in-law Jim had the job of the tools and treasures. The rest was up to me.
            As God had made it clear that I would move to Winona Lake, where I am surrounded by all of Mike’s hand-made furniture, I no longer need or want all those things from Kokomo. I found myself letting go of it so easily. And as for my professional wardrobe, well, it’s not needed at the present time.
            I had to laugh at how it took 6 or 7 passes through my clothes to end up with what I actually need. (I loved some shoes too much.) Each time, I cut out several things until my closet was empty.
            Finally, I set some goals and dates for those goals as I have been pretty loose with deadlines. I unplugged all the cable and WIFI and set a date for moving out of my bedroom with everything empty. Check.
            Then, I set a date for the tools, etc. to be done.  Check.
            Finally, I set a date to lock the door and walk away. No problem, right? This process had shown me that I’m none too sentimental when it comes to stuff. There were very few items where I was not crystal clear on whether to take or leave.
            So, on that final day, I wanted one more sweep through my now-empty house, just to make sure. What I left would be gone after the auction.
 I started upstairs in the largest bedroom: it had been Allyson’s. It had been Zack’s. For one wonderful year, it had housed my first grandson. I stood in the doorway and said goodbye to that room.
            And then through tears, I walked through the whole house, stopping at each room to say good bye. Bedtimes, bath times, birthdays, holidays, graduations….oh my.  These have been the arena of my life. Such rich memories.
            My final stop was our room: where Mike and I lived; where I sat with Mike as he died. Whew. Those last few days were difficult and sweet. I hope I never forget.

            I will miss Kokomo: I will be back for maintenance but it is no longer my home. And so, time to move on.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

I REALLY Should Listen to Myself

Last December, I ran into a friend at church…he was a greeter and greeted me with, “So, how are you doing?” (Fine)  “Are you retiring from teaching?” (I’m currently on leave but will retire.)
“I wish I could retire. I don’t know how much more I can stand,” he volunteered. 

We’ve had chats before. I know that he works with people who drive him batty. Many are superiors so his coping mechanism is the slow burn, ineffective and damaging. And, I don’t know, do I always butt in? I believe God led me to offer him some advice.

“Think about this. Pick one of your co-workers, one who causes you the LEAST problem, and make it your New Year’s resolution to pray for him every day. Nothing specific…just ask God to help him have a good day. Do it while you do some other daily activity, like brushing your teeth.”

He looked at me with a smirk. “Really?”

“You should try it. First, if you’re praying for someone, you can’t harbor too many negative thoughts about him. And, I believe, that if you’ll do this for a month, God will honor it with some sliver of relief for you.” I suggested he keep him eyes open for God’s answer.

He mentioned that his list was long, that he could tackle 4 or 5. I suggested that he should pick just one and the one who is the hardest to hate. No reason to ford a river when you can start with dipping a toe in the stream.

I don’t know if he followed my advice. I hope so. Spiritual or no, you can’t change others; you can change your reactions to others. And, throwing in the prayer component, God will help you.

Yesterday, I heard some cynic say that all unsolicited advice is self-serving. Hmmm. Really? I hope not. However, that very good advice I gave came back to roost.


My continued life is so blessed. I find my heart overflows with joy, at big things like an upcoming wedding and little things, like that beautiful sunset. God just keeps solving my problems which are so small anyway. He brings people into my circle who help me, all the time. So I have nothing but shame for the following:

I have been harboring…let’s say…bad feelings toward 4 people who, in my opinion, could have made my last months at school a bit easier. They chose not to. I survived but when the smoke cleared, I camped out on my resentment. And not quietly. No big deal, right?

I was standing by the church’s Visitor Center a few weeks ago when one of these folks walked by. Not quite audible but just as clear, God whispered, “You need to forgive her.”

And I, pilgrim still, stamped my metaphoric foot and said, “No.”


I know, I knew, this was wrong. But me being me, I patted myself on the head. “There, there.” And went on my way.

It took a few restless hours until I posted it on Facebook and asked friends to pray for me. And, they did, but many included affirmations for me, to excuse my attitude. One reminded me that the person needed to ask for forgiveness.

Except, without details, the person did nothing wrong. This person could have, in my opinion, offered me a little grace and didn’t. And let’s be honest. I don’t know the big picture.

Armed with prayers and crystal clear on my guilt, I took it to the Lord. Wouldn’t you just know it? My advice to my friend came back to me. “You should pray for her.”

I really should listen to myself. I followed my own advice and within a day, there was no need to forgive her. I assume she’s having some really good days.

 And I have peace. And joy.  Still on the journey.

Sunday, May 11, 2014


Two trips to San Antonio
Two speeding tickets
Within 1 year

An aggravation. Motivation to use the cruise control. Search for a route that does NOT include Illinois. I WAS speeding. My excuses work for me….listening to Book on Tape, driving on dry pavement on an interstate, pacing with traffic (my sister, bless her, adds another: Ken Hayes’ daughter)…but did not work for the Illinois State Patrol. I paid those tickets and challenged myself to do better.

So what was this registered letter which found me, even as I am moving between two residences?

“Records maintained by the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) indicate that you must successfully complete a BMV-approved DRIVER SAFETY Program (DSP) within ninety (90) days from the date of this notice.  A DSP, also knows as a defensive driving school program, is a four (4) hour course that is available in a classroom, video/DVD, and on-line formals.  This is a BMV requirement under state statue and does not take the place of a course you may have been ordered to take by a court of law. If you fail to complete the BMV-approved DSP within ninety (90) days of the date of this notice, your driving privileges will be suspended effective…..”

Huh? Must be a mistake. I called my local BMV. “No ma’am, it’s not a mistake.”

But the tickets were in Illinois.

“Yes, we know.”

I paid them and they were NOT cheap. Isn’t that punishment enough?

“No ma’am. You must complete the course.”

Isn’t this for repeat drunk drivers?

“It is for most repeat offenders, ma’am.”

Oh. I have a record. BUSTED!

So, I laid the note in a prominent place and wrote 7/10/14 as the date that this MUST be completed. I then read further into the note. I could purchase a DVD, take the class on-line, or drive to an approved site for my instruction. The on-line option seemed the best but as I had never taken a course on-line, I did what I always do when faced with a task for which I lack confidence: I thought about it.

And thought about it. And thought about it.

Finally, last weekend, I moved from mental musings to physically firing up the computer to enroll in I Drive Safely, the program approved by the friendly folks at the BMV.

I figured that I could do this; I knew I would need at least 4 hours to do so but I could break it up. So first up, they took my money. Drivers who break rules get to pay here, pay there, pay all over the place. Then, the screen gave me about 20 Is-This-You questions that I would need to answer at the beginning of each section of the course. Nothing hard but none of those ‘favorite actor’ questions.

I then read....slowly...the instruction, as I did not want to mess this up and have to re-enroll. The course would take 4 hours. There would be 6 sections. Each sections would be broken into two or three parts. At the end of each section, there would be a test. I needed to get 70% or I’d be back taking that section over. Even if I got 70% or better, I was encouraged to review what I missed by revisiting that portion of the course.

AND, I must take a 10 minute break between sections. They warned me that this would be monitored and enforced.  Well, ok.

The course began with introductions of the main instructors: Pixlar characters of what you might find in a generic automobile:  Douglas Fur, the car deodorizer, shaped like a fir tree (get it?), Dash the Bobble head, Hula Lulu, Dusty the rag, and Deuce and Duna, the mirror dice. Sometimes they lectured; sometimes they argued with each other; sometimes, one would look right at me with information and then another would interrupt and explain with more detail. I was going to spend 4 hours, plus breaks, with these guys.

And there were humans also: Stress Guy, who sat at his desk and pounded on his computer terminal; Virus Girl, who needed some over-the-counter cold meds that made her drowsy; Police Officer on a motorcycle; Police Officer in a squad car; Safe Driving Man and Safe Driving Lady. They showed up to demonstrate good things and bad things.

For example, Stress Guy left his desk, stormed out to his car (he was late) and pulled out of the parking garage, the grrrrr on his face. I was sitting right next to him as he pounded on the steering wheel when he was stuck in traffic.  This is a Bad Thing. Stress Guy, I’m told, has a big chance of tailgating (bad), weeving (bad), and cutting off someone else (bad). Plus he is NOT using his Safe Driving Skills. You have to think to use your Safe Driving Skills.

Virus Girl sneezed all over her keyboard (ick) and then took some cold pills. THEN, she drove herself home. I was sitting right next to her as her eyes began to droop and her head nodded. This is a Bad Thing.  “Wake UP! Virus Girl!”  She, I’m told, has reduced reaction time and may actually fall asleep at the wheel (bad). She certainly isn’t using her Safe Driving Skills.

As these two showed up several times, we got to know each other. As for the Police Officers (highly suggest this address when you are pulled over, by the way): Motor cycle Cop reminded us that we should approach, pass, and pull ahead of a motorcycle as if it were a car…give it this much space. Also, we should always look for motorcycles in our blind spot as they are NOT as big a car.

Squad Car Officer showed up to remind us what NOT to do when you are pulled over by him: don’t get out of the car; don’t make sudden movements; don’t reach for anything; don’t make jokes; don’t drive off until he releases you to do so.

Also, Squad Car Guy showed up if you tried to move ahead in the lessons without taking that 10 minute break. He stands, hands-on-hips, staring right at the student (I’ve heard) and reminds you to take a break.

I must say, I began with an attitude until Dash informed me that ¼ of all traffic deaths involve excessive speeding. There were a lot of other statistics, too.  You are 70% more likely to survive an accident if you wear a seat belt. 50% of accidents involve impaired drivers – this includes those who are stressed out.

There was, of course, a lengthy section on drunken driving and the perils of mixing drugs with alcohol. I remember a grisly film from high school driver’s ed. about the same topic. Not much has changed except this time, we get to sit near parents who are interviewed as they sign the papers to donate their son’s organs.

I did get to sit next to Safe Driving Man and SD Lady as they did all sorts of good things. They always flash their signal before they change lanes. They always adjust their mirrors before they turn on the car. They always come to a complete stop when they are supposed to: several demonstrations about what is NOT a complete stop. Ooops.

I missed a few on the tests: at what distance from a bridge can you NOT pass? As I don’t pass much, this one didn’t stick. My choices (yeah, multiple choice and I still missed it) were 50 feet, 100 feet, 1000 feet and 2000 feet. Go ahead.

It’s 1000 feet. Ok, make a note.

I confess, I began the my required course with a less-that-positive attitude….I don’t drink and drive; I always wear my seat belt; I am the classic Type B….cut me off? God bless you. But as I progressed, with 10 minute breaks, I realized that there were some things I never got in high school and anyway, that was almost 50 years ago. Hey! EVERYBODY should take this class!

Then, as I drove to church, a good 65 miles of two-lanes, highways AND bridges, I found myself modeling some of Safe Driving Lady’s best habits. I learned a thing or two about safe driving.

AND, I will always use that speed control button, from now on. I promise, Squad Car Officer!