Semi-Retired?

It seems surprising, but. mostly by accident, I seem to have become semi-retired over the past months. My work as an interim pastor came to an end in May, followed by a bike trip that needed to be cut short in July. Since then, even though I am working on a number of opportunities, work responsibilities with a paycheque have been a very small part of life.

I’m not complaining. The lazy mornings, the book reading (for fun), the long bike rides with friends, the freedom from schedules and responsibilities have been nice. Its given me a glimpse of what it might mean to be retired. I’ve actually been able to accomplish quite a few things.

A year and a half ago, J took over my shop in the shed. She hired a contractor to insulate and finish it so she could move her pottery in. I was left with one wall and a shelf for my tools and hardware, but, she was jealously eyeing that space as well, providing all sorts of “helpful” suggestions for other places this stuff could go.

I started the process of moving, just to the other side of the wall. The first thing needed was a new work bench since my old one is now a pottery table. I also needed to come up with a neat and tidy way to store the tools that were hanging on the wall. So, with plans and lists, I went off to the lumber yard with my trailer.

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I’m pleased with the result. The new workbench and cabinet are both on wheels 0D8F769E-30E1-47CF-A945-D1F3EF43ADD2so the space is easily changed to allow the tractor and snowblower access in the winter time. I will admit, if I buy many more tools, I’ll need to build another cabinet.

So, in good retired fashion, I’ve spent more than a week getting ready to do something. But now, what to do? While we are nowhere near living in poverty, the lack of a regular paycheque does slow one down from just running out and buying more stuff, even if it is retirement project building material.

In the purge from J’s shop, a cupboard her dad had made as a dresser ended up sitting outside the door on its way to the burn pile. It was made of plywood, painted, covered with stickers and the scribblings of more than one kid. I “rescued” it, broke it down, and re-purposed it as a bird house. 20151008_090934

I know this stopping place is only a temporary state. While I am a little anxious to get the next stage of the journey underway, there is something rejuvenating about this time of being between things.

The birds might be happy too….

2013 Christmas Letter

Christmas time is a good time to reflect on the past year. It is at this time we remember the Gift God gave to the world. It is also a time of giving gifts to each other, appreciating and enjoying these gifts. We were given the gift of another year, with all of the good and exciting things that happened in it. While 2012 revolved around the growth of our family, this year was more about travel and milestones.

Introducing D to Sesame Street

Introducing D to Sesame Street

We were in Edmonton twice this year to visit with our Grandson D and his parents. He is growing up so quickly. Our last visit in October was wonderful, because D, now walking, is so responsive. We visited the zoo together where he became totally enamored with the domestic pigs, mimicking their grunts at every opportunity. Google talk has been a wonderful tool for keeping, and growing our relationship. I find it amazing the way a eighteen month old can seem to understand that the folks on the screen talking to him are real, as he interacts with us, just as if we were in the same room. Our son-in-law, J, has finished his PhD, with his defense in September. R, continues to work on the last stages of hers and hopes to complete this spring. They are doing a great job of balancing their lives as students and parents.

J and Clementine out for a drive

J and Clementine out for a drive

In February we traveled to San Francisco to visit J and L and our newest grand puppy, Clementine.   J continues his work with Google and seems to be flying around the world on business even more than he did before. L has left Google for a job with a company that makes a robot which is run by an iPhone. This company is based in San Francisco, saving her the commute to Mountain View which J continues to make. Clementine goes to work with one of them, most days.

J and M in Toronto came home a couple of weeks ago with news. They are going to be parents to more than two dogs and a cat. The baby is expected to arrive sometime in June. This news has put a little more pressure on them to finish the work they have been doing on their house.

Doggie messengers

Doggie messengers

They have been renovating the attic for a master bedroom and still have work to do on the main floor. M completed the requirements for his engineer’s stamp this year and also got his real estate licence. J continues to be active in her church as a youth leader and in her knitting group.

Last month we said goodbye to Liia. It was tougher to let her go than either of us had imagined.

Liia May 2004-Nov 2013

Liia May 2004-Nov 2013

Over the years on the farm we had, in one way or another, had animals come and go in our lives. Liia had entrenched herself in a much more intimate spot  than any of those others. We still feel her absence every day. For the first time in over 30 years, our house is pet-free.

History and cow pastures in Ireland

History and cow pastures in Ireland

This year, we joined the group we walked the Camino with in 2011 to visit the high holy crosses of Ireland. We decided that an eleven day bus trip in Ireland was not really an active enough holiday for us, so we extended it with a sixteen day bicycle trip. Ireland was a wonderful experience. The people are amazingly friendly and the history of the place is deep. The history surrounds you in castles, tower houses, and cottages.

Across a two lane road in Ireland

Across a two lane road in Ireland

Much of it just left where it is, protected by law and maintained by sheep and cattle. We were gone nearly a month.

J continues to work at the local YMCA as a personal trainer. She has also rediscovered knitting putting together socks, shawls, sweaters, and most recently Christmas balls. She has also started playing with clay at a local pottery shop.

Some of the many Christmas balls

Some of the many Christmas balls

The first days were pretty frustrating, but now warns me a new shelf might be required for all of the pottery she is bringing home this week and is hoping to make in the future.

A couple of years ago, J and I started taking dance classes. Initially, it was to keep from embarrassing ourselves at J & M’s wedding, but, finding that we enjoy doing this together we have continued. We don’t get a lot of chances to show off our skills, and maybe that is not even the point of the classes for us. For us, it something we can do together when biking, canoeing, and travelling are not possible. It’s good to have a best friend to share life with.

In April, I finished the last class of the MDiv I have been working on since 2009. In June, I was declared a candidate for ministry in the Christian Reformed Church. In September the congregation in Lucknow, my home congregation, called me to be their interim pastor.

Graduation October 2013

Graduation October 2013

While it seems like the end of the journey, it’s really just another way point. I’m enjoying the work at the church and look forward to the next couple of years here. The call is a part time one and I continue to consult with sheep and goat farmers through Threefold Consulting.

As the year draws to a close, we look forward to 2014.  We’re already talking about the cycle trip we hope to make, the canoe trip in Algonquin, the new grand baby. How many times will we get on an airplane next year?  Even as we talk about these things, we recognize life is fragile and we’re in God’s hands; whatever comes, we trust it’s part of God’s plan.

Bi-vocational

I had a phone call from one of my consulting customers, and good friend, this week.

“So, we have some corn silage off. There’s a sample in the freezer, but maybe you are too busy for us now that you are a preacher” says the voice on the phone message.

The voice has a smile in it, a big grin even, but behind the banter, I perceive a little bit of concern. I can understand his concern.

picture courtesy SermonCentral.com

picture courtesy SermonCentral.com

We have worked together for many years, built a relationship which has been fruitful for both of us both in business and personal terms and now, there is something new, change. Every time something new is added to the mix of life, dynamics will change, focus will be altered. I share his concern about what things will look like in the world of bi-vocational.

Of course, I need to remind both of us, I have actually been bi-vocational for many years. Early in our relationship, I was strictly a nutritionist, building rations for all sorts of ruminants, but, by 2004 I was also the Sales Manager for the feed company. I carried two sets of business cards. When the company was sold to a larger one, I continued to do some nutrition work while taking on the role of the Ruminant Business Manager with thirteen people reporting to me across the province and some responsibilities across the country. In 2010,  I went back to school full-time and created Threefold Consulting, I still had my feet in two worlds. Today, even though I am taking one course at the seminary, I have essentially traded the full-time student vocation for that of interim pastor.

Certainly, the demands of a full-time student are somewhat different than those of a part-time interim pastor and a time of transition will take place as the new role settles into my life.  I think past experience has shown I can balance a number of roles at the same time, effectively. I need to keep reminding myself of this and the fact that I do not do this alone, in fact, never have.

 

God Made a Farmer

By now, you may have seen the video “God Made a Farmer”  which ran as an during the Super Bowl yesterday. Dodge did a wonderful job resurrecting Paul Harvey’s 1978 essay against the backdrop of, at least some, pictures of modern farming practices, people, and culture. The video exudes a warm fuzzy feeling, a feeling of longing for the kind of life described; a life of struggle and reward; a God ordained task for the greater good. There are good things here, but I also have a few issues.

There is nothing wrong with raising the status of farmers, pointing out how long and hard they work, pointing out the fact they are people who care for the environment,for the land, and livestock they have under their care. These things are all true, but, I think the underlying life-style feel of the piece is misleading. I was a farmer once, and I, like Paul Harvey’s mythical creation, was out in the barn with calving cows and lambing ewes at some pretty crazy hours of the night. I was there for two reasons, the first of which was likely a financial one, with the love of the animal, the warm fuzzy bit, coming up a close second, depending on the night. If the lamb or calf, or in the worst case scenario, the ewe or the cow, died, because I decided to stay in bed, warm, with my equally work worn wife, there would be difficulty paying off the hundreds of thousands of dollars I (we) had borrowed to follow the calling God gave me to farm. A lot of what farmers do comes down to simple economics.

Harvey puts God into the mix as the creator, on the eighth day, of the farmer. I won’t argue with poetic license or the idea that God’s creative work might not have ended on the seventh day. I do like the concept of God creating a farmer. Doesn’t God do that every time someone is “called” to a particular task? In Reformed circles, we would have no issue with the idea that someone is called to the ministry, and in theory we do understand our occupations, our life work, as callings, but we often don’t treat them that way. A calling recognizes that the supervisor, or foreman, is not actually the higher power to which we answer, we are working for God. In God’s kingdom each one of us needs to find the place to which God is calling us. Farmers are called, created, to farm.

I guess the pieces of this video that sort of bother me are the things that are not said. I can’t disagree with much of the content. Most of the farmers I know, and work with, do a lot of the things that Harvey puts out there (I’m not sure about the splint on the meadow lark’s leg though). I didn’t hear about the heartache of sending a crop to market knowing it wasn’t going to bring in enough to cover the input costs. I didn’t hear any mention of the child who didn’t make it through grade school because of a farm accident. I missed the mention of the marital tension that comes when there is no money for new windows in the house, when kids need to have less because the farm comes first. No mention is made of the opportunities kids miss both at school and in the community because their labour is needed to keep the farm running. Its not all warm and fuzzy. He really doesn’t mention the strain the payments on a new Dodge truck will make on farm finances or the fact that owning one doesn’t make you a farmer.

Harvey’s piece, though, touches on a lot of the things that makes the call to farm a wonderful calling. I was called to farm, a calling which I thought would be for a lifetime. Sometimes, I still miss it.

Reminiscing

This past week, for some reason, my daughters have been looking at the past, at least one of them with some sense of fondness. Both are bloggers. One of them maybe got the thing started with a characteristically oblique post followed by the other with a more eloquent offering.

The house in the 50's

Their posts revolve around our old house. Both of them posted the same picture from an era well before the time that we lived in it. It was a big old farm-house, home for our family for eighteen years. Our youngest daughter was born there. The other two children may have vague memories of other places, but this house would have figured largely in their lives. It was home.

When we moved in it was livable for a family that was trying to start a farm life and  willing to put up with less to make that happen, but really, it was a mess. The windows throughout the house were in bad condition. The frame addition that housed the kitchen and bathroom was sided with rotting painted particle board. There was little insulation. The oil bill was high and we actually did not heat most of the house. A wood stove in the kitchen kept us warm during the day, blankets did the job at night.

As we left it

Over the years we did renovate and fix. If we were doing it today we’d likely have a renovation blog. As it is, there are virtually no before and after pictures and those  there are only happened because we were taking a picture of somebody. There were no digital cameras back then and film was too expensive to waste on remembering what we wanted to get rid of. The house was entirely gutted in three stages over about eight years. A new kitchen and bathroom were installed. All the windows were replaced. The particle board was covered with siding. Two new porches were built. We put on a new roof. The carpets were pulled out and the wood floors underneath were sanded and refinished. A new wood stove, furnace and water heater were installed. Heating bills went down. We started to use the whole house.

It was more than just a house

At the same time, we built barns and sheds and a silo. We built a life and a business. It was a business that allowed us to work together as a family (code for child labour). While money was always an issue since there were more ways to use it than places for it to come from, this time in our life was a good one. We raised our family, we learned together, we dreamed together.

But, life moves on. Life throws curve balls that are unexpected, that change the direction that you think you are supposed to go. So we moved on. We were blessed in that moving as well. Somehow God gets the message through that its time for the next step.

There are things about that time and place that I miss. They are not the same things that my kids may reminisce about. I miss the dreaming, the sense of possibility, the sense of working with, or against nature, and succeeding. The sense that next year would be the one when things would come together. I miss the order of the seasons and the work plan that they wrote. I miss the common cause that J and I once had, every day, on almost every front.

But, I don’t really miss the house.

Genesis 12:1-3

So…a Mexican, a Korean, and a Canadian are at a Canadian Bible study…..

The title of this post was my reality this past week. I’m not going to say too much about the Canadian Bible Study other than the fact that I brought one book home to finish. Some people think I should have brought more since the books are cheaper in the US.

I was in Grand Rapids visiting Calvin Seminary and some Christian Reformed Church highlights. It was a week of meetings, classes, psychologist visits, and orientation. The week was full, and while initially it seemed to just be a hurdle to be jumped, it turned out to be good.

There are eight people in the pilot program that I am part of. Four of us were able to come to GR this past week. We came from all over the map (El Paso TX, Fullerton CA, Seattle WA, and Lucknow ON). We represented a wide slice of CRC demographic (Mexican/American, Korean/American, Canadian, American Woman). We had fun together, prayed together, shared our hopes and dreams with each other. We became friends.

We experienced, I think, some of the same sort of communitas that we found on the Camino. A common goal and common struggle leads quickly to caring for each other.

Our group along with our CRC coordinator.

We also got to meet the Resident EPMC’s. These are folks who will attend Calvin seminary and do, in thirteen weeks, what we will do over 24 months. This year there are more EPMC’s than ever. Fourteen residents and eight in the pilot program. I have the dubious honour of being the oldest person in the group.

Us three guys lived together for the week in a condo owned by Christian Reformed World Missions. Thus the line…a Mexican, a Korean, and a Canadian are at a Canadian Bible study…..

Sitting in the Calgary Airport

So I’m stretching my Easter Sunday.  This year it will be 26 hours long and I think I will be tired by the end of it. The entire weekend has been busy with more work done on the youngest daughter’s dusty house. This weekend they moved in.

Now I’m sitting at the Calgary airport on my way to Edmonton to do a couple of days of training for my primary consulting client. I’ll be back home on Wednesday evening.

I sometimes feel like I lead a sort of a double life.  Almost schizophrenic. I spend a lot of time thinking about God things, theology, Biblical studies, seminary, church, oh, and don’t forget Hebrew, and then I need to be able to change gears and focus on some activities and skills that I have that can help to pay the bills.  I am actually very fortunate that the skills that I have are unique enough to be of considerable value to those who hire me. Hopefully that will continue, at least through to the end of the MDiv program, and maybe even beyond as we continue to struggle to see the end of this journey that I am on with my best friend.  Today, we got another glimpse of what could be, with a job posting in our church bulletin.  The posting was a position that I have sometimes talked about being “right” for us.  Unfortunately, the time is wrong.

So….we travel on.  I spent much of the 4 hour flight working on Hebrew.  I should have another 100 words by Thursday and be able to do some fancy things with verbs.

שלום