Thursday, January 17, 2019

THE BEST KIND OF FRIENDS

Bathed in prayer.

That's about the best way I can think to describe the past several months of my life.

Just over two years ago, a couple of friends and I began meeting together every other week to pray for one another. There is something incredibly soul-strengthening about hearing a sister pray your name out loud to the Father. Those coffee shop prayer meetings have been life-changing for me.

Praying friends are the best kind of friends.

Recent posts here at the blog have been about my journey to return to school to pursue a degree in nursing. Every single step of that journey has been prayed over by sisters who know and love me well. Week after week, they have taken my questions, doubts and struggles straight to the throne room of God; week after week, we have rejoiced together at the amazing way God has answered those prayers.

But last time we met, it wasn't the prayers for my family or prayers about school or work that touched my heart the deepest. It was a prayer that I had not even requested:

"God, as she is busy with the demands of work and school and family, please give Camille time in her schedule to write."

This friend understands how important writing is to me and has often encouraged me to develop and use this gift. I haven't mentioned my writing in months at our little prayer meetings - too preoccupied with more pressing matters - but my faithful friend has not forgotten. Her unsolicited prayer assured me that God has not forgotten either.

Praying friends...these are the best kind of friends.

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. - Matthew 18:20

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

NURSING SCHOOL, PART 3

In NURSING SCHOOL, PART 1, I shared how God removed multiple hurdles to pave the way for me to go to school. At the end of that first post, one hurdle remained...

When I started my new job last summer, I had two financial goals:

  • Build an emergency fund for medical expenses in case my youngest or I ever need to see a doctor.
  • Save to purchase a reliable vehicle. (Currently, I drive my middle daughter's van, which she will need back when she and her family return from Japan later this month. When the van is not available, my father-in-law has offered to let me drive his farm truck until I can save up enough for my own set of wheels.) 
Saving pretty much everything I made, I checked the first goal off in four months. Then, I began working on Goal #2.

Paying for school was NOT one of my financial goals. Last summer, school had not even crossed my mind. Then came that conversation in the library with my friend, and a seed was planted.

After clearing all previous hurdles, finally convinced that this school thing was something God really meant for me to pursue, I registered for spring classes.

"Now, God, how am I supposed to pay for this?"

I had until the Tuesday before classes started to pay fees. If God didn't make something plain to me by then, I would lose my classes. I had to depend on God to keep opening the doors.

I re-evaluated my financial situation. Since starting the new job, I have saved almost everything I've earned. What if I saved only half of each paycheck?

Well, it would take much longer to save for a vehicle, for starters. Since I'll be using my father-in-law's truck, will he mind? I do not want to presume upon his generosity.

Will half my paycheck be enough to cover fees?

I crunched the numbers. If I applied every single dollar I made at work to school fees, it would just barely cover tuition. What about books? What about transportation/gas? What about unexpected expenses?

"God, if this is really what You want me to do, You are going to have to make a way for it to work."

I prayed and waited, crunched the numbers again, prayed and waited. Every time I checked into my UTM account, I was chagrined by the bright red ! and the notice that I needed to pay fees in order to confirm my classes so that I wouldn't be dropped.

"God? Are you sure this is what you want me to do?"

Then, an unexpected grant that covered almost a quarter of my fees, making my balance considerably lower. I crunched the numbers again.

"God?"

Then, my son-in-law gifted me with the loan of a wealth of textbooks for Anatomy & Physiology and Microbiology.

School looked almost possible.

!

"God?"

"Mom, don't worry about a vehicle or gas. I'll cover that. We can carpool." Mondays and Wednesdays, my youngest and I have classes at the same time. Fridays and work days, I can borrow the van or the truck.

!

"God?"

I received a card two weeks ago. On the front, in big letters: "THANK YOU."

Inside: "Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday for the next few years..." The sender had heard that I was thinking about going back to school. He went on to say that since I helped him with his education when he was a young man, he wanted to help me pursue my education now. This unexpected benefactor and his wife had created a fund to help offset my school fees. (I am stunned, humbled and grateful.)

The ! is gone from my account now.

Classes began last Friday, and we hit the ground running. I am going to have to work my tail off to keep up, folks, but I am so excited - this is going to be an awesome semester!

God is so very gracious to this timid daughter of his. I keep coming back - "God?" - and He keeps saying, "Yes, I'm right here."

Sunday, January 13, 2019

NURSING SCHOOL, PART 2

In my last post, I shared how God opened doors and cleared hurdles on my journey toward nursing school. One reason I am writing about this journey here at the blog is to document - for myself, so I won't forget - all the incredible things I have seen God do over the past couple of months. I ended that last post with one hurdle standing. But before I tell you how God cleared that hurdle, I want to share...

Over and over through this months-long process, I have thought: "This is crazy. It doesn't make any sense. I am too old to go back to school. I'll be retirement age before I even graduate!" And over and over, I have thought: "God, do I understand you right? Do I even need to be pursuing this? Am I completely nuts?!"

And over and over again, this:

One day in town, I met a man - a complete stranger - who began chatting to me about his family: "My wife went back to school recently, says it's the best decision she ever made. She absolutely loves her job now. When I asked her if she had any thoughts of retiring any time soon, she said, 'No way!'"

"That's awesome," I replied. The fellow looked about my age, so I assumed his wife was about my age, too. "If you don't mind my asking, how old was your wife when she went back to school?"

"She was 55 when she went back to school. Took her several years to finish, but she stuck in there and got it done."

"Wow, that's incredible. What did she study?"

"Nursing. Loves it. She absolutely loves it."

This man had never met me, knew nothing about me. He had no idea I was thinking about going back to school, no idea I was thinking about studying nursing, too. No idea that that particular morning, I was on the verge of talking myself out of the whole crazy idea. It was like God put us in the same place, at the same time, for some kind of divine appointment.

ME: "Are you sure this is what you want me to do, God? I'm too old for this. This is crazy! Are you sure?"
GOD: "Yes. I'm sure."

Then there was the time I sat in Julie's chair at the salon. A middle-aged man came in and sat down across from me to wait his turn for a haircut. He was wearing scrubs.

"Do you work at Baptist?" I asked in an effort at conversation.

"Yes, I'm a nurse." He went on to explain how, after decades at a factory job, he decided to go back to school to study nursing. "Best decision I ever made. I love my work," he offered. "In fact, I'm planning on going back to school to take even more classes in the spring. I love this field, and I want to learn more."

This man had never met me, knew nothing about me. He had no idea I was thinking about going back to school, no idea I was thinking about studying nursing, too. No idea that that particular afternoon, I was on the verge of talking myself out of the whole crazy idea. It was like God put us in the same place, at the same time, for some kind of divine appointment.

ME: "Are you sure this is what you want me to do, God? I'm too old for this. This is crazy! Are you sure?"
GOD: "Yes. I'm sure."

Friends, this exact scenario has played out half-a-dozen times over the past six weeks. Every time my confidence has flagged, God has created a "divine appointment" to tell me again, "Yes. I'm sure."

God is so very kind and patient with this timid daughter of his.

I'm not sure where this will lead, but I am certain God wants me to take the next step forward. Timid or not, I will take it.

Now, about that last hurdle...

Monday, January 7, 2019

NURSING SCHOOL, PART 1

It's been rather quiet here at the blog. Life's been....interesting.

A month and a half ago, I shared how a friend challenged to me to imagine possibilities, rather than to think only in terms of impossibilities. (You can read that post here: UN-LEARNING "NO".) So, I've been imagining possibilities, and pushing into them. Today, and in the next few posts, I want to share some of what that process has looked like for me.

* * *

Beth had heard about my new job at the hospital, working as an assistant in the lab. "How's that going?" she asked.

"I absolutely LOVE it!" I exclaimed. "Even on my worst days, I still think, Man, I love my job!"

"So, have you given any thought to doing more, taking this job to the next level?" she asked. "Have you thought about maybe going back to school?"

"At my age?" I looked at Beth in disbelief. "Are you serious?"

I have never felt like a college degree was necessary for my success or happiness. Nor have I ever entertained any desire to pursue a professional career. I'm a mom and a writer; I am truly happy with that. Now, I also work at the lab; I like that, too. That really is enough for me. Besides, if I went back to school, I'd be nearly 60 years old by the time I graduated - ridiculous!

That's when Beth challenged me to think in terms of possibilities, instead of dismissively insisting that further education was ridiculous and impossible.

Beth's suggestion incubated several days before I gave it serious thought. Hmmm, what might I be interested in studying, IF I went back to school? What kind of programs are available in my area? How long do they take? How much do they cost? What difference would a degree make in my job options, my quality of life, etc.?

I prayed. "God, this idea is completely ludicrous. If this is something you want me to pursue, you are going to have to make that perfectly clear to me. And, you are going to have to work out all the details."

I started poking around online, made some phone calls to schools, talked to coworkers at the hospital. A seed began to grow. "IF I went back to school, given education options available locally, I think I might want to study nursing. BUT..."

And I had a long list of Buts.

First hurdle: could I go to school AND continue working at the lab? If my work schedule did not allow time for classes at the local university - or - if my class schedule did not allow me to be a useful employee at the lab, school was a No-Go. I seriously love my job - I am not quitting my job to attend classes, no way.

I needed to talk to my supervisor at work. I knocked on Mrs. Linda's door, certain she would think I was out of my ever-loving mind. "Mrs. Linda, can I talk to you about something?"

Well, not only did Linda NOT think I was crazy for entertaining the notion of going back to school, she encouraged the idea enthusiastically! She assured me that schedule conflicts would not be an issue: "When you know your class schedule, get back with me and we'll figure out a compatible work schedule. I'm really excited for you!"

But the work-school hurdle was only the first of many hurdles. School was still a long way from GO.

Second hurdle: would the university credit previous coursework from when I was a teenage college student, way back in the Paleolithic Age? I have 169 credit hours of college classes, folks, and I absolutely refuse to take another English composition, world history, or calculus class. If the university would not apply previous general education credits, school would be a No-Go. "God, if this is something you want me to do, you are going to have to work out the details concerning my previous coursework."

I met with an adviser at the University, who looked over my written-with-a-quill-pen-on-parchment transcripts. "Mmmm. Well, before you apply for our program, it looks like you'll need to take..."

We haggled. We pulled up college catalogs from the archive databases of schools I previously attended. I developed a tense online relationship with folks at the registrar's office.

After a harangue of transcript evaluations, emails, and phone calls, I received the university's verdict: all of my previous coursework relevant to the university's nursing program would be credited toward my.degree. The only classes I needed in order to be eligible to apply to the nursing program were two semesters of anatomy & physiology and one semester of microbiology.

"You can take those classes next year, take your admission test next winter, then possibly enter our nursing program the fall of 2020," my adviser suggested.

Hurdle #3: if I have to wait a year and a half to begin, school is a No-Go. I am no spring chicken, friend, and I'm not getting any younger. If the ball doesn't start rolling right away, there's a good chance I'll die of old age before I have time to complete a degree!

"What if I take A&P1 and Micro in the spring, then A&P2 in the summer?" I asked my adviser. "If I do that, I can begin the nursing program next fall."

She wasn't optimistic. "A&P is not always offered during summer term. Besides, you'd still have to take the nursing school entrance exam. For admission fall 2019, the entrance exam is next month. Slots fill up quickly, and there may not be any spots left."

I checked with the biology department. Yes, they were planning to offer A&P2 during the summer 2019 session. That left...

Hurdle #4: Nursing School Entrance Exam. I haven't taken an exam in almost 30 years, so this hurdle kind of freaked me out. I looked at sample exams online: the English and math components would be a piece of cake, thanks to homeschooling my kids; the science component, however, was heavily A&P-based, and this was a class I had never taken.

I clicked on the link to register for the exam online: one slot available in December, and it just happened to be on a day I wasn't scheduled to work at the hospital. "God, you got this covered, too?" I paid the fee, but a knot of doubt tightened in my stomach.

God laid that doubt to rest: I scored well above the cut-off score required for admission to the nursing program. Relieved and elated, I ran from the testing center straight to my adviser's office and laid the test results on her desk. She looked up at me and smiled.

Now, only one hurdle left...

Thursday, December 20, 2018

WHAT I WANT MOST...

"You always do what you want most to do."

At least that's what my husband tells me.

I started the day with high ambitions. And, I have checked several things off my to-do list: wrote an article; cleaned at Catherine's; ironed my work uniforms; answered a few emails...

But there is so much more that I wanted to do that I simply did not do!

Apparently, more than washing windows, submitting a query, or fighting the pre-Christmas crowds in search of a few last-minute gifts, what I REALLY wanted to do today was...

Eat.
Sleep.
Work a jigsaw puzzle.
Drink hot beverages.
Visit with my kids.

So, yeah - what Steve said.

Sometimes I want to do the things I need to do. Yesterday, for example, I genuinely wanted to mop the floors and clean the bathrooms. (Actually, I wanted clean floors and bathrooms, and doing the work of mopping and scrubbing was the only way to achieve that.)

But what if my need-to list and my want-to list don't match up? In this season of life - I am loving the 50s - more and more, I find myself skipping the I-need-to list in favor of the I-want-to list.

Giving want-to precedence over need-to comes easily for some folks. Not for me, not for someone with an overwhelming compulsion to try to meet the perceived expectations of others. For me, the transition from need-to to want-to has been a slow, sometimes difficult process.

Thankfully, it seems to be getting easier with practice.

* * *
Quote of the day, an excerpt from a meme shared by a friend: "...life is way too short to leave the key to your happiness in someone else's pocket."



Sunday, December 9, 2018

LEARNING TO CHILL

I tend to stay so busy when I am at home - start a load of laundry, cook the next meal, wash dishes, check off another chore, do the next thing, and then the next, and then the next - that I often feel disconnected from other people in the house. It is very difficult for me to STOP. To make matters worse, when I get on the go-go-go treadmill, and others don't, I begin to resent the fact that I am always working while they get to rest.

I tell myself - and then begin to believe - two lies:
1. I have to do all of this work myself.
2. Others do not appreciate what I do. (If they did, they wouldn't be so chill, right?!)

Now, I know better...I really do. Nobody in my family insists that I go-go-go. And nobody is going to get upset if I stop.

I create this stress myself, and then I get irritated with the others because I'm so stressed - that makes no sense, people!

So this weekend, I did a little exercise: instead of getting on the go-go treadmill, and then getting irritated with those who chose not to get on the go-go treadmill with me, I decided to ignore my natural tendencies and follow the example of those more chill than myself.

Instead of jumping up right after dinner and tackling the dishes in the sink, I followed everyone else to the living area.

Instead of doing laundry, sweeping, or cleaning the bathroom while others were working a crossword or scrolling through Pinterest, I read a book.

When the rest of the family picked up their cell phones, I pulled out my laptop.

I do not have words to describe how difficult and uncomfortable this has been for me.

Do I feel all chill and relaxed after an entire weekend of chilling and relaxing? NO. I feel like I'm developing an ulcer. This not-working thing is wearing me out!

I need some encouragement, folks. Learning to chill - does it get easier with practice?

Thursday, December 6, 2018

GOODBYE SHADOWS AND GLORY SUNSHINE

Thanksgiving is behind us, and now we are hurtling headlong toward Christmas.

I don’t know about you, but I had a full house Thanksgiving weekend. Full, as in wall-to-wall air mattresses and pallets on the floor at bedtime. Full, as in take-a-number for a shower in the morning. Full as in “Is this the third pot of coffee we’ve brewed this afternoon, or the fourth?”

I love a house filled with family and friends. I love crowding elbow-to-elbow around the table. I love long conversations over coffee. I love the kitchen weave of many cooks preparing a meal together.

I had a full house for Thanksgiving, and it was awesome.

But then, everybody left.

As Thanksgiving weekend drew to a close, I stood on the front porch and waved goodbye as the last set of red taillights headed down the driveway.

Now, the beds have been remade with fresh linens. The air mattresses are deflated and put away. Floors are vacuumed and swept; mountains of towels, washed and folded; ginormous baking pans, stored until needed for the next family gathering.

The great big chaotic fullness of a family holiday has been replaced by a great big empty quiet. I already miss the conversations on the porch swing, the long walks on the farm, the laughter over dinner, the snuggles on the couch with the grandkids.

I don’t know about you, but for me, the shift from noisy to quiet, from full to empty is a little traumatic.

Perhaps it’s the physical fatigue: a house full of company is a lot of work! Perhaps, like a Sunday-evening child haunted by the thought of Monday-morning school, I am reluctant to return to life-as-usual. Perhaps the noise and chaos distracted me for a season from unpleasant realities in my day-to-day, and now, those realities once again clamor for my attention.

Whatever the reason, post-holiday emptiness and quiet settle over my heart like a shadow, like tears at the end of a beautiful love story.

Don’t you wish the fellowship and feasting could go on and on forever?

This droop in spirits as I transition from a packed-full house to lonely ol’ me at the computer is a gift, though, because it makes me mindful of Glory. It stirs in a me a longing for that day when family and friends will gather together to celebrate…and never have to say Goodbye again.

This goodbye shadow over my heart reminds me that I was created - indeed, all of us were created - for unbroken fellowship with our Creator.

C. S. Lewis, in They Asked for a Paper, put it this way: “A man’s physical hunger does not prove that man will get any bread…But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating…

“In the same way, though I do not believe…that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will.”

The goodbye shadow that comes after time spent with people I love makes me long all the more for that great day when there will be no more goodbyes. So, I’ll take today’s shadow: it points me to the sunshine.

(This is taken from one of my first "Porch Swing Perspective" articles, written just over a year ago. Has it really already been a year? Time flies!)