The Word is Out

I am going to retire from teaching at the end of this school year.

It is with sadness and joy that I made this decision. Sadness – because I love to teach and I love the students. Joy – because I will be entering a new phase of life.

I began my teaching career 40 years ago during the 1974-1975 school year. I taught at Almond School in Swain County and I knew I had found my calling. Almond School was a small K-8 community school with amazing parent involvement and excellent teachers. I was mentored by some of the best. I taught in Swain County for three years during which time I met Phil. We got married, and June 9th of that 3rd year we had our first child – he was born the last day of school.

Miss Gayle Barker -1975

Miss Gayle Barker -1975

 

For the sake of full disclosure I must state that I have not taught school all 40 of those years. I stayed home with small children, volunteered at our church’s Christian School part-time and volunteered for the Jackson County Department of Public Health. Volunteering for the Health Department turned into a part-time job that involved teaching in all the schools in Jackson County.

I returned to full-time teaching and finally – as my mother loves to point out – starting using my college degree – art. Teaching art has given me a sense of fulfillment and pleasure that has confirmed for me that I was right where I was supposed to be – Smoky Mountain High School.

The decision to retire is based on three situations that confirmed this was the right time –

  • my parents, who had lived with us for 8 1/2 years, moved into a retirement community in my hometown of Wheaton, Illinois where my brother and his wife live. My father will be 91 next week and my mother will be 87 the week after. I miss them and want to go visit them more frequently.
  • our oldest daughter now lives in Maryland with her husband and four children and I plan to make that trip more often. I don’t want to miss so much of their young lives.
  • our youngest daughter will be having our 12th grandchild in August and I want to be available to assist her in every way I can. Our son-in-law said he would build a shed in the backyard so I could move in. How sweet!!

I really believe that teaching was my calling professionally and even more so spiritually. God has given me a love for high school students – even the ones who challenge my sanity – maybe especially those. I have enjoyed seeing the joy of discovery on the faces of students and hearing their excitement when they master a new skill in art class. I have learned so much from my students as well. That I will miss.

Mrs. Gayle Woody - 2015

Mrs. Gayle Woody – 2015

I am not retiring from my desire to honor God in all I do.

I will just be doing different things.

One of my underlying messages to students has been that life DOES NOT END AT 25, or 30, or 40, or, 50 – even 63!   I plan to exemplify that truth in the years I have left.

Colossians 3:16-17 are verses that have guided me since I was in college – especially verse 17.

16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

God is faithful. I anticipate with joy what lies ahead  – as I leave with sadness the co-workers and students of Smoky Mountain High School.

I have been richly blessed.

No New Year Resolutions.

Nana and Minions

I’ve been thinking lately about getting older. You have heard the phrase – “you are only as old as you feel”.

Not true.

When I got two Minion DVD’s for Christmas from grandsons, which by the way are really funny, I feel like one of the kids. Yet – I am still 63.

The reality is that I have been 63 for a week now and I ain’t no spring chicken.

  • I am the oldest (in age) faculty member at Smoky Mountain High School.
  • We opened presents starting with the oldest first – which was ME.
  • I got a senior discount when we went to see the Hobbit on Saturday night.
  • I fall asleep when I sit down and start to read in the evenings…and afternoon.
  • I was the last one up the hill on our family hike, but I enjoyed every minute.

The flip side of this aging coin is that I was also one of the younger individuals around when we visited my parents at their retirement community the week before Christmas. My father is 90 and my mother is 86, so 63 was inconsequential. It is a blessing to see these neighbors of my parents and hear about the activities they are involved in. My father has taught 7 people how to turn wooden bowls this year and both parents traveled to Brazil in September to promote an English language system with which my mother volunteers.

This thinking about age has led me to ask the question – “What next, Lord?”

It seems as though the previous stages of my life where relatively clearly laid out.

  • I went to school 13 years and graduated from high school.
  • I went to college and got a degree and teaching certification.
  • I got a job teaching.
  • I got married.
  • I had children.
  • I was able to stay home with our young children.
  • The children grew and I went to work part-time.
  • Our children became college age and I went to work full-time.
  • My active mothering role has ended – the children obtained jobs, some got married, some have their own children.

What next, Lord?

The above list leaves out the essential dynamic of the purpose of all those things I have done in my 63 years… I desire to live my life to bring glory to God.

In thinking about a New Year’s resolution, I realized that I did not need to think of something do to challenge myself to “improve”, “overcome something”, or “transform” my life.

I need to be faithful in the things that God has already given me to do.

Titus 2: 3-5 –

“3 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”

Those of us who are older women  have a clear mandate. I am so thankful for the faithful, godly women that have taught me over the years including my grandmothers, my mother, Sally Fesperman, Sue Makinson, Elizabeth Elliot and others.

May we all be faithful to be an example to the younger women God brings into our lives in 2015. God Bless you!

 

Celebrating Family

Tyler and the turtle

“I love my Pop because he plays with me and reads stories with funny voices. He takes me in the barn and gives me rides in the cart. Pop loves me and I love him.”

These and other words reflect the sentiments of our six eldest grandchildren as we celebrated Pop’s 60th birthday this weekend. Phil’s actual birthday was September 24th, but our eldest daughter couldn’t come from the west coast until early in October. So, since Phil doesn’t put much value on special days (or holidays in general) he was fine with celebrating when all of our four children could be here together. In fact, the only request that Phil had in regard to turning 60 was celebrating with family. We did well in that regard – all four children, one brother, 8 grandchildren, one son-in-law and 2 parents-in-law.

There was lots of playing outside in the leaves, piling them up and jumping in the pile. We had a campfire and roasted marshmallows and made s’mores.  Great grandpa lived up to his reputation of roasting the perfect marshmallow – an evenly light brown crust with a soft, oozing center. It is an art form!

The grandchildren played with a box turtle found by Great grandpa. This amazing turtle was oblivious to the children’s squeals of delight and never receded into its shell.  It crawled around and every time it was picked up and moved, it stayed out of its shell and just crawled more. It eventually crept under the periwinkle and hopefully has found peace, safety, and a food source.

The little branch that runs through the yard (it is too small to call a creek) was the next center of attention. The grandchildren made “soup”, “spaghetti” and other tasty delicacies. All had wet feet (including their socks and shoes) and mud splashed on clothes. Pop found a crawdad, and the claws held fascination for the children.

We picked some of the remaining flowers in the yard and the little ones took them to their mothers (or aunt). Then they came back to me and wanted a flower for themselves!

All these activities were a time to enjoy the wonder and beauty of God’s creation. The beauty of the fall trees and colorful leaves is often appreciated this time of year. Yet seeing the turtle and crawdad were special surprises that added to the blessing of being together as a family. Picking a flower blossom, even if it is taken apart petal by petal, is a chance to examine creation first hand.

Matthew 6:28-33 New Living Translation

28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, He will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

The beauty of the leaves and flowers and the wonder of the turtle and crawdad were especially meaningful because we saw the wonder of God’s creation through the wonder in the eyes of our grandchildren.

Celebrating Family with our children and grandchildren this weekend was such a blessing. It didn’t cost any money to participate in those activities outside. After the children were in bed we talked and laughed and talked some more. We discussed watching a movie or playing a game, but we were all tired and only played a game together as adults once.

Celebrating family comes in many forms – different families have unique ways to celebrate. The important part is to celebrate the blessing of being together.

Sixty

I was staying with my grandparents over the Christmas holidays when I was about 10 years old. They were members of a group at College Church in Wheaton called “60+ Club”. It was a fellowship group for people over 60 years old. “60+” was having a Christmas party and since I was staying with my grandparents they took me with them. I’ll always remember the way my grandparents introduced me to their friends. They seemed so proud of me and wanted their friends to know I was their grandchild. I already knew many of these people because our whole family had attended College Church my whole life!  Another thing I remember was the way the people there addressed each other. It was “Rev. Barker” and “Mrs. Gustafsson”, “Mr. Fischer”, and “Mrs. Alexander”. These people knew each other well but no one called each other by their first names! They were very gracious and made me feel like an honored guest, not a bother who my grandparents had to drag along. The final memory is how OLD these people seemed. They were all over 60!

I will be 60 in four days. I am looking forward to it! I have so much to be thankful for and so many wonderful opportunities to look forward to. Just last week one of my Art II students was acting lazy and tired in class. I said, “Jim, (not his real name) I have more energy at my age than you do at 16!”  Jim looked at me and replied, “I think people should just die when they turn 60!” Most of the rest of the class was horrified! Several of my students knew that I was going to be 60 soon. Several other students laughed – I did, too.  “Jim, I will be 60 soon and I enjoy life so much. I have many things to be thankful for.”  I replied. Besides teaching art – I hope to teach them life does not end at 30.

I was reminded by this incident that our culture has deceived young people into thinking that you only have fun in life when you are young. The lie is also pervasive that after 30 there is nothing worth living for. “The best years of your life”… when are those? Certainly not after 30 and definitely not after 60! How sad!

The Bible tells of numerous people who had their finest moments when they were old and “full of years”. Moses became the leader of the Israelites after 40, Abraham, Sarah, Elizabeth, Zechariah, all were used of God when they were old.

As someone who is now facing “the rest of my life” I want to be a testimony of someone who enjoys every minute that God gives me to fulfill His purposes. I was blessed with 4 grandparents who lived fully until the very end of their lives. My father’s father did acquire some dementia his last few years, but each dessert was “the best I ever tasted”, and each flower was the “most beautiful I have ever seen”. What a pleasant way to finish life. Instead of pining for the past – Grandpa Barker certainly enjoyed the present!

My Grandmother Rohner painted lovely paintings past her 90th birthday. Until her final months, she was still collecting pictures and thinking about layouts for paintings that she never painted, but she was still planning!

As a grandmother myself now, I want to model for my grandchildren a zest for life and an appreciation for the blessings of God’s faithfulness. I want to let them see by example that getting older is not something to dread or lament but something to receive from God since He is the one who numbers our days.

These verses are a chorus we sing that is one of my ALL TIME favorites. May we be living testimonies of this Truth!

Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)

22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
      His mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning; 
      great is Your faithfulness.