September, A Month for Transitions

On September 13 I gave a Zoom presentation on my career in religious publishing to a class of students who hadn’t decided on majors and were getting advice from several professionals. Little did I know that 9 days later, I would receive news that my job as editor & author relations manager was being deleted as of September 30. Here’s what I said in my presentation to the students. I wish I’d had time to practice it, time it, and whittle it down, but I did the best I could in the time I had available.

Hi, my name is Anne Leonard Trudel, and I graduated in 1980. I turn 63 this week, and I’m still enjoying my career in religious publishing. I currently work at The Upper Room in Nashville as an editor, writer, and author relations manager.

I majored in English at Carson-Newman. I had trouble deciding on a major because there were so many subjects I was interested in: music, biology, physiology, and religion, to name a few. If there had been a communications degree offered at the time I was in college, I would have chosen that as my major. I took Spanish courses, mostly in Spanish literature, and I was 3 hours short of a double major but never thought about using Spanish in my career.

While in college, I was an active member of Callies, or the Calliopean Literary Society as it was officially called (it was the closest thing to a sorority that we had). I held various leadership positions in Callies, serving as president the first semester of my senior year. In my junior year I joined Gamma Sigma Sigma because I was interested in the service aspect of that organization. I worked on the yearbook staff for 2 years in college, and I really enjoyed that. It pointed the way for me to decide to pursue a career in religious publishing.

I earned a teaching certificate in English and Spanish in college, but I never used it. I figured that getting certified to teach as a career to “fall back on” was a lousy reason to become a teacher. I grew up in a family of teachers, and I saw how hard they worked in their hours at home. I wanted to have a career where I could leave my work at work and be present with my family when I was at home. I met my husband in Dec. 1980, and we married in Aug. 1982. All along we planned to have two children, but we didn’t discuss exactly how we would manage raising our children. I never planned to stay home. I liked my job, and all our benefits were through my job because my husband was self-employed.

Humble Beginnings

My first real job was an entry-level editorial position at the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources). I was a manuscript assistant, which meant I verified factual information and helped edit manuscripts for grammatical errors. I was interviewed in May after college graduation for a manuscript assistant position in the Church Music Department. Sadly, the hiring supervisor chose another candidate because he figured I wouldn’t stay in that job long. The person he hired stayed in the job less than a year. I really wanted to work at the Baptist Sunday School Board. I contacted someone who was the minister of education at my church when I was a kid; he was a supervisor at the BSSB. I told him I was really interested in editorial work and would appreciate if he would recommend me if a position came open.

In early August a manuscript assistant position opened in his department, and he called me. He offered me the job over the phone, but we arranged for me to come to Nashville for an interview. I worked on a Sunday school curriculum called Bible Discoverers, designed for 3rd and 4th graders. In my church I took leadership training to learn how to teach children, and I wound up working in children’s choirs. There were a couple of years I worked with Acteens, the missions organization for teenage girls. I decided that children were much easier to teach, and I was interested in teaching them about God through music.

What post-graduate work have I done?

In spring 1981 I took an extension course with Southern Seminary. The course was on the religious development of children. I was fascinated by what I learned and wrote a paper on helping children deal with grief. About a year later, I took a college course in media writing at Middle Tennessee State University. This class taught me about writing for various media, and that learning came in handy later in my career when we started producing videos for children’s choir leaders.

I still wanted to do graduate study, but I wasn’t sure in what area. Besides, my husband and I were planning to start a family, so I put my dreams of graduate school on hold.

In 2019 I found out about a certificate in spiritual formation offered by Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Chicago. The coordinator of the spiritual formation certificate turned out to be an author I had worked with at my current employer, The Upper Room. I took three of the five courses required for the certificate. I took introduction to spiritual formation (that is the study of how we are shaped as Christians—really of how God uses events in our lives to shape us into the people he dreams for us to be). I also took a course on spiritual direction and had the experience of both receiving and giving spiritual direction. For those of you not familiar with spiritual direction, it is having sessions with a trained spiritual director  who listens for ways God is working in your life. The spiritual director does not tell you what you should do but acts as a spiritual companion to help you think about directions God may be leading you in your life and work.

A Summary of My Career

I worked for 2 years as a manuscript assistant in the Sunday school department. I wound up applying for a transfer to another manuscript assistant position in the Church Music Department —that was the job I had initially interviewed for after college graduation. I worked on 2 curriculum lines: Music Makers for grades 1-3, Young Musicians for grades 4-6,  and The Music Leader, the teacher’s magazine for children’s choir. After I was in the Music Department for 2 years, the assistant editor left, and I was in the right place at the right time—in 1984 my supervisor promoted me to assistant editor. During this time we started using computers for our work. When I was a manuscript assistant, I had worked on an electric typewriter, and it was before Post-it notes—I would write notes all over the manuscript.

In 1987 when our first child, Daniel, was born, the Baptist Sunday School Board began offering flex time, which meant—HALLELUJAH!—I didn’t have to be at work by 7:30 anymore. I chose to work from 8:00-4:30 when Daniel was a baby. I went back to work when he was 6 weeks old.

In 1990 our daughter, Julie, was born. This time I took a longer maternity leave (9 weeks) and asked my supervisor if I could work at home 3 days a week. I did this for 4 months. In January my supervisor said it was time for me to come back to the office full-time, so I did.

In 1994 my supervisor retired. He had been my boss for 14 years, and he promoted me just before he retired. I was a coordinating editor, which meant I was responsible for the features (articles) part of The Music Leader magazine. I worked with two design editors and two manuscript assistants to edit the curriculum for three-year-olds through sixth graders. My last position at LifeWay (the Baptist Sunday School Board was renamed in 1998) was as design editor, the highest editorial position. I planned writers conferences and edited materials for 4 curriculum lines. We underwent a redesign and started offering more curriculum materials including videos.

Things at LifeWay were moving along pretty well. I had two more bosses for a short time after my long-time supervisor retired. Then one of the curriculum writers I’d worked with was brought into the Music Ministries Department as a supervisor. She was my boss for a couple of years. We kind of butted heads because we had different philosophies. She wanted our children’s choir curriculum to become more academic. She had a lot of friends in music education. I felt like our materials were educationally sound, and I knew that many children’s choir leaders didn’t have degrees in music. I was a champion for practical materials that people who weren’t music majors could use to teach children about music. Struggles between bosses and employees often don’t end well. While I had a glowing performance review in May of 1998, by August of that year my supervisor started hinting that I needed to look for another job. I asked her how long I had, and she wouldn’t be specific. I wound up finding a job at another publisher, Thomas Nelson, and I left LifeWay on my son’s 12th birthday in 1999.

At Thomas Nelson, a nondenominational Christian publisher, I was a managing editor in Nelson Books. I worked closely with an acquisitions editor who was my boss. She telecommuted before it was a common practice. She lived in South Carolina and came to Nashville for meetings about once a month. We handled business by telephone or email. Editing books opened up a whole new world to me. I enjoyed working with the authors, and I was responsible for hiring freelance editors to edit our books. I also worked with the packaging team to get copy written for the back covers of books and participated in meetings where titles were decided and editors presented books to the sales team to get forecasts. The pace of work at Thomas Nelson was much faster than the pace at LifeWay. Also we were a publicly owned company, which meant that if we had a bad quarter, sometimes there would be layoffs. After I’d been working at Thomas Nelson for about 1 ½ years, Janet, my acquisitions editor, decided to semi-retire. The publisher decided to eliminate my position, but Thomas Nelson as a company saw fit to keep me. I was moved to another department to work on books that had been previously published. We updated the content, so I worked with the authors to do that. I still did many of the things I’d done as a managing editor, but I missed the process of taking a book from manuscript to completed book. Since things were pretty stressful, I decided to look for another job in religious publishing.

I found a job at The Upper Room as a project editor in Upper Room Books. The Upper Room is best known for a little devotional magazine that began publishing during the Great Depression. I starting working in Upper Room Books in 2001 and spent  9 years as a project editor. I enjoyed getting back to hands-on editing of books after the acquisitions editor worked with authors to acquire books and do the big picture editing. My favorite part of the job was working closely with authors to see a book through the production process from start to finish. While I was in Upper Room Books, I used my background in Spanish to coordinate the production of Spanish books. I also got the privilege of leading a recording session for a CD that went along with a curriculum line for children that Upper Room Books produced.

In 2010 I was asked to move to the marketing department. My job description was kind of vague, but my boss told me she wanted me to be the marketing wordsmith. I didn’t know beans about marketing, but I learned how to write back cover copy, catalog descriptions, online bookstore copy, plus I edited every marketing piece our department produced. I’ve had four different bosses in the time I’ve been in marketing, and my job has changed. I am the editor and author relations manager for the marketing department. I work with authors to provide them with tools they can use to market their books. The marketing department, of course, publicizes their books through catalogs, e-newsletters, and ads in online resources as well as print magazines.

This year I celebrated my 20th anniversary at The Upper Room. It has been a wonderful place to work, and the people I work with and the work I do changes lives. We help people grow in their relationship with God through books, programs like The Walk to Emmaus and the Academy for Spiritual Formation, and by providing events that help others learn how to go deeper in the Christian faith. I love learning new things, so marketing has kept me hopping over the years as we develop new processes and try to stay on the cutting edge of what is happening in the religious publishing industry. What has kept me motivated over the years is learning new things and continuing my education. I work with a wonderful team of people and manage a variety of projects. I can’t remember ever being bored with my job.

What advice would I give you as students preparing to enter the professional world? Learn everything you can while you’re in college. Be curious. If you can get an internship in your field, that will give you a good idea of whether you’re suited for that particular field. It’s good to have high expectations, but be realistic as you search for jobs. You may have to start in a lower position than you would like in order to get your foot in the door. My husband told me in the first four years that I worked at the Baptist Sunday School Board, “Sometimes you have to plow corn for a while.” In other words, don’t give up. You will encounter challenging situations wherever you go. Whatever you can do to learn about working with difficult people will serve you well. Find out what your personality/work style is and be flexible and willing to learn to work with people who are very different from you. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is one tool I’ve used, and I’ve also learned about myself through studying the Enneagram. Make it your goal to be a lifelong learner. Take advantage of training and development offered by your employer, and be assertive enough to ask for your employer to send you to professional training.

Take My Moments and My Days

This morning, I’ve been reading devotions in 4 magazines and books I use for spiritual reading: The Upper Room Disciplines 2020 (I’m rereading a lot of these because this year featured writers from Weavings magazine, my favorite magazine The Upper Room published between 1986–around 2013), The Upper Room Disciplines 2021, The Upper Room daily devotional guide, and Mornings with Jesus (a Guideposts publication).

Some days the different publications contain different messages. Today I got some messages that all seemed to have a common theme: God said, “I will be with you” (story of Moses’ calling in Genesis 3), God calls us (which includes me) to care for creation (The Upper Room had a story about a man trying to rescue a baby robin from a window well; the baby fought him, but he eventually was able to free the fledgling), “Look deeply into scripture and its message for you” (The Upper Room Disciplines 2021 centered on the scripture from Romans about how we glance at a mirror and then look away, forgetting what we look like), and “Take action to help others, trusting that God will lead you in the right direction.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the people of Waverly, Tennessee, whose lives were upended (and at least 20 people died) by severe flooding this past weekend. They got 17 inches of rain in about 6-7 hours, according to news reports. Nashvillians remember our devastating 100-year flood in 2010, which took 31 lives in Tennessee alone (it also affected neighboring states), sent many people running from their homes at a moment’s notice, and damaged many businesses and homes. It took years for Nashville to recover from that flood, and we are a big city compared to Waverly. I remember wanting to do something at the time of the Nashville flood. I got a chance later in the month (May) when the Festival of Homiletics (homiletics is a fancy word for preaching) met in town, and they decided to do a community service project during the festival. I went to work in Bellevue along with many other volunteers. Our job was to carry detritis from people’s homes to the curb to be picked up by garbage trucks. It deeply affected me to pick up pieces of people’s lives that were destroyed in the flood—toys, clothing, strollers, picture albums, books, pieces of furniture, artwork, kitchen items. I was reminded that all of our possessions are temporary; we won’t take them with us when we die.

I am now especially touched when I see people affected by flooding. It’s too bad that it sometimes takes a tragedy in your own backyard to sensitize you to the suffering of others in your state, another state, or another country. A small consolation is seeing how people come together to help others in need in the aftermath of natural disasters. I’m sure a lot of heroic acts play out every day when ordinary folks pause in their busy lives to help others recover from these tragedies.

This morning I am thinking, “Lord, what can I do?” Right now, nothing except pray and share financial aid. The needs will persist in the Waverly area for a long time. I am praying for God to move me in the right direction to help however I can, that I won’t soon forget this tragedy and move on to something else. I pray that God will move others to help too. Waverly and Humphries County (McEwen, Linden, and other towns) are hurting right now. People are traumatized and will be for some time to come. The story of the couple whose 7-month-old twins were swept from their daddy’s arms really got to me. Lord, help those families and those friends who have lost loved ones. Help us all to care when natural disasters affect our brothers and sisters near and far. I especially pray for their emotional and mental health as they recover. May they find the help they need. May we be the hands and feet of Christ in all the places that we can. Lord, help us all to care and to remember all people affected by tragedy, whether it’s flooding or the aftermath of our country’s troops withdrawing from Afghanistan. Lord, have mercy.

I started out this entry thinking about the words of a hymn that I love, “Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated”:

Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.

Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of thy love,

Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for thee.

Take my voice and let me sing always, only for my King.

Take my lips and let them be filled with messages from thee.

Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.

Take my intellect, and use every power as thou shalt choose.

Take my will and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine.

Take my heart, it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne.

Take my love, my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasurestore.

Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee.

—Words by Frances R. Havergal, 1873 (based on Romans 12:1); this hymn is No. 399 in the United Methodist Hymnal.

Why I Believe in Prayer

This week I started a new prayer practice. After reading my 4 devotional books and magazines each morning, I spend time in prayer. At first I wrote down prayer requests, but then it occurred to me that prayer is much more than my presenting requests to God.

Prayer is precious time spent with our Creator. God wants us to know him (for lack of a better pronoun and for the sake of not sounding stilted by saying Godself or the Divine) better; prayer is one of the best ways to get to know God and to build a closer relationship. I used to say my prayers to God and be done with it. Now I sometimes sit in silence before God. I like to light a candle to remind me of Christ’s presence with me, but I don’t do that all the time. I’ve tried centering prayer, and some days it hits the spot (helps me connect with God), and some days it just leaves me feeling like I’m focusing on one word without really feeling God’s presence. Yet I keep praying, because I believe that’s what Jesus wants me to do. Prayer is our lifeline to help us approach and “abide in” (live with, sense God’s presence) God. Prayer is for people who are searching for God. Prayer is for those who feel desperate, and it’s for those who know they cannot handle this life without turning to One who is greater than them. Prayer is also for those whose lives are going well. Thank God when your life is going smoothly, because there will be plenty of bumps in the road and obstacles that cause you to doubt God’s love for you.

Back to the prayer requests. I wrote prayers for people who came to mind, for my own soul’s well-being, for the needs of this hurting world. The catch was that I had to write them on tiny Post-it notes. So I made them succinct. I bet God appreciates not having many words thrown at him, because too often we keep droning on and on…and I imagine a divine yawn as God listens to our prattle. Yet God honors our intent to have a relationship with him, and somehow, mysteriously, prayer unleashes the power of God to work in what seem like impossible situations.

When our children were adolescents, my prayer life got serious. John and I were dealing with some tough situations. I have already written about them and don’t feel the need to be specific about them. But I knew that I needed help from a higher power. I also felt like we couldn’t make it through the rough waters we were trying to navigate if we didn’t have prayer support from our friends. Since then I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the power of intercessory prayer.

When someone asks you to pray for them, consider it a privilege. It’s not an obligation and should not be treated as such. That someone has entrusted you with a precious part of himself or herself. The person has confided in you. They have admitted that they can’t handle their situation alone and they need help. Yours may be the prayer that reaches through all the noise (though I believe that God hears all our prayers—what a cacophony it must be) and mysteriously unleashes some positive power or event that helps the person you are praying for.

If you don’t know what to pray (and often I don’t), you can rely on the Holy Spirit to pray for you. Scripture tells us the Holy Spirit speaks with groans too deep for words. That image comforts me when I find myself short of words.

A dear pastor once told me, “Often when we feel like our prayers aren’t not going beyond the ceiling, that is the very time they are touching the heart of God.” (This pastor said this when I was worried about an autoimmune disorder that I’d just been diagnosed with. I discussed his advice with him years later, and he said, “I kind of cringe when people come back to me and repeat things they heard me say early in my ministry.” But his advice helped me and kept me praying.)

Once when a close friend told me she couldn’t pray about her young daughter who had cancer, I said, “You don’t have to. God honors your desire to pray. And other people can pray for you when you can’t pray for yourself.”

Therefore, when someone asks you to pray for them, take them seriously. Write down their prayer request so you will remember it. Lift their name to God. I’ve quit praying for specific outcomes, because I believe God knows what is best in the situation. Sure, I want someone who’s sick with cancer to be healed. I want that person struggling with her marriage to find peace, and I’d like for their relationship to be reconciled. I want our hurting world to experience God’s love and peace. I want our political leaders to make wise decisions that help people, especially the poor and the forgotten. I may mention what I would like to see happen in my prayer, but ultimately it’s all up to God. God is so much bigger than we are and knows all the dynamics of each situation. I pray because Jesus set the model for praying (finding time alone with God, not trumpeting prayers in front of other people, pouring out his heart’s concerns and just communing with God). I pray because that is a way I can abide in Christ. I pray because … well, I just can’t imagine not praying. It is one of the holy things we humans can do. Prayer winds up changing us even if the situation we’re concerned about doesn’t change. It helps us cope. It reminds us that God is God, and we are not.

“Pray without ceasing,” the apostle Paul (not usually one of my favorite biblical characters) wrote. Let every breath be a prayer. Pray as you go about your daily activities. Your singing can be a prayer. You can clean toilets or make beds or take care of children or care for your parent or spouse and make it a prayer. Everything in your life can be a prayer if you let it. Just pray!

From Humiliation to Happiness

It was the single most humiliating event of my adult life. I was called into my manager’s office, and when I entered, I noticed that the associate department director was sitting behind her. She motioned me to come in and take a seat. Then she pulled out a stack of papers and began to read a letter to me.

It was the beginning of a 9-page, single-spaced letter detailing all the wrongs I’d done. As I sat there, I started to slouch in my seat. Each word was like a physical blow. I waited until she reached the second page, and then I said, “Could you hand me the letter so I can read it for myself?” Truth is, I was growing angrier as she read each word. Much of the content of the letter was due to miscommunication or lack of communication between my boss and me.

It was August, I think. I had just sat through another meeting with my colleagues in which our boss had berated all of us. After the meeting, I called someone I knew who helped people find jobs. He was a head hunter. I don’t know how I thought I qualified for a head hunter to help me find a job, but I was desperate. I told him I needed to find another job. This one was in a toxic environment, and I’d had enough. He listened patiently and told me he’d do what he could to help. The ironic thing was that I’d had a glowing performance review just three months earlier. I was puzzled as to how things could change so drastically in such a short time.

Flashback to the current situation: many of the situations described in the letter were due to conclusions my boss had jumped to. For instance, she had seen me with my 5-year-old daughter in the bookstore at the conference center where our staff was leading Music Week. She assumed I was goofing off and not doing my job. Little did she know that I’d gotten up at 4:30 that morning to get some work done before my family had breakfast about 7:00. She didn’t know about the hours I worked to prepare for the conference I was leading or about the plans I’d rewritten for the class, adjusting them to fit the needs of conference participants. All she knew was that she saw me spending time with my daughter. Did she talk to me about that encounter, which had taken place a couple of months before she wrote the letter? No. Did she mention most of the grievances she enumerated? No. I was blindsided.

I finished reading the letter and sat there in shock. Then I asked, “How much longer do I have?” Meaning, “How long until I’m unemployed and my family no longer has my income?” We depended on my income. All of our medical insurance and other benefits were through my job, because my husband was self-employed. My family’s welfare was at stake.

It was then that the associate department director decided to speak. He told me that one day I would thank him for firing me. I thought, “Not a snowball’s chance in hell.” He went on to tell me about people he’d had to dismiss from their jobs returning to him later and thanking him for firing them. I looked at him and thought…well, I won’t say what. Let’s just say they were unkind thoughts.

I had worked in this department for over 16 years. I had loved my jobs, moving from editorial assistant to assistant editor to coordinating editor, and finally to design editor (a position that I was unqualified for on paper because I didn’t have a master’s degree). My work had challenged me and drawn forth my very best efforts. Sometimes I worked longer hours than I should have, to the detriment of my family. All of that rushed through my mind, and I thought, “No job is worth robbing time from my family.” I don’t remember much about the rest of the meeting, except I never got a definitive answer about my question of how long I had to find another job, and I was relieved when I was able to escape from my boss’s office.

The following weeks were some of the hardest times of my career in publishing. I tried to carry on doing my job as if nothing were happening. I didn’t tell my colleagues about the little meeting in my boss’s office, but I’m sure they knew something was up. (I think I told one or two friends.) I scanned classified ads (this was before jobs were advertised widely on the Internet) and told people outside my company I was looking for a job. I asked for prayer in my Sunday school class. I applied for other positions at my company, but I really didn’t want to work anywhere else there because I didn’t have the passion for another job.

I went through career counseling at the YWCA and took some aptitude tests, as I considered completely switching fields and possibly going back to school. I didn’t know how we’d afford it, as my husband’s salary was unpredictable. I found out what sorts of jobs I was suited for. I also found out what my Myers-Briggs personality type was. My counselor told me I had many possibilities for a future job.

Then one day in December, I saw an ad for a managing editor position at Thomas Nelson, a respected publisher in town. It involved working with books. I was intrigued because I’d always edited curriculum, not a very exciting task for an English major who loved words. I picked up the phone and called the number in the ad.

After asking about the job, I explained my current position to the acquisitions editor who was conducting interviews. She sounded empathetic. For the first time I felt hopeful. She set up an appointment for us to meet. I took an editorial test, and the publisher of Nelson Books interviewed me (after the acquisitions editor decided I passed muster in my interview with her). In January I received the phone call I’d been waiting for. Janet Thoma offered me a job as her managing editor.

I left LifeWay Christian Resources on my son’s 12th birthday. My section threw a big farewell party for me, with a cake and punch and other refreshments. Friends from all over the organization came to wish me well. My boss presented me with an Impressionist framed print and a photo album with my name, department name, and dates of service engraved on a gold plate on the front. And off I went to discover the big wide world of book publishing.

I spent 2.5 years at Thomas Nelson, most of the time healing from my lack of self-confidence in my editorial skills. I couldn’t have asked for finer people to work with. I was so appreciative of their friendliness, collegiality, and how they taught me about book publishing. Then one day I saw another classified ad for an associate editor position with Upper Room Books. It was in January 2001. After several interviews, I was finally offered the job in April, and I began working at The Upper Room on May 1. I have been at The Upper Room ever since, and God has blessed me with challenging and satisfying work to do. I have worked as an editor first in Upper Room Books, then as an editor, copywriter, and author relations manager in marketing. Though we have gone through multiple reorganizations in the 20 years I’ve been there, it’s been the right place for me. I have been able to use every bit of my educational background in English, Spanish (I coordinated the production of Spanish products), and even my musical background. I have thrived in this setting. It reminded me a lot of LifeWay in the old days, when it was more ministry focused than focused on making money. (I am not naive. I know that any business needs to make money, even nonprofit religious publishers. But still it means a lot to work in a place where the focus is on ministry and making a difference in people’s lives.) God is good!

In my position as associate editor in Upper Room Books, I was called the copy queen. This picture was taken on one of my milestone anniversaries at The Upper Room.

A Letter to My Uncle and Cousin

Prologue: I wrote this letter to my uncle, Paul Blessing, for his 96th birthday, which turned out to be the last one we got to celebrate with him. When I was a child, Uncle Paul scared me a little. He had a quick temper, and he was ready with his belt as my cousins and I were growing up to punish them (and occasionally me) for wrongdoing.

Once when my cousin Joe and I were washing the car and I accidentally (for real) squirted him with the hose, Joe responded by socking me in the jaw. I started crying, and Uncle Paul came outside. He figured neither party was innocent, and he got a meter stick (quite a bit thicker than a yardstick, which I was used to my mother spanking me on the bottom with) and gave both Joe and me a whipping on the backs of our legs. I was frightened, shocked, and the thought occurred to me that we were being abused. But Joe and I wound up consoling each other by comparing the red marks on our hamstrings. Soon we were back to laughing and finished washing the car.

As Uncle Paul grew older, he mellowed a lot. He was quite affectionate with his grandchildren, and he and my aunt Myrt both took on our children as honorary grandchildren. (My dad was involved with Daniel and Julie as much as he could be, but he remarried in 1994 and didn’t have as much time to devote to his grandchildren as he did before he remarried.)

Uncle Paul was my dad’s first cousin, meaning he was my second cousin, I think.* The “once removed” label for cousins has always caused me confusion, so even after reading about the topic I can’t remember the exact relationships of my uncle and cousins to me. Uncle Paul and my dad (first cousins) married sisters, thereby making him my cousin and uncle and my cousins double cousins. Don’t ask me whether Bill, Sue, and Joe were second cousins once removed or third cousins; I think it was the former, but since we were also related on our moms’ side, it was easier to remember them as first cousins.

Uncle Paul woke up in pain early one Sunday morning in July 2018. He called his friend Mack, who worked at the funeral home where Uncle Paul volunteered a lot of his time. (Always the minister.) Mack drove Uncle Paul to the hospital, where they discovered he had gallstones. He had to have surgery, and his health quickly declined after surgery. My cousin Bill (the oldest of Uncle Paul’s and Aunt Myrt’s three children) realized that if they did not act soon, Uncle Paul might not make it. After consulting with a liver transplant surgeon he knows, Bill arranged for Uncle Paul to be transferred to a hospital in Cincinnati.

They took Uncle Paul by ambulance but didn’t seem in too much of a hurry, as it was around 5:00-5:30 p.m. the day they finally left for Cincinnati. Uncle Paul had another surgery when he got to Cincinnati. Afterward, he entertained the nurses and family visitors right up to a few minutes before he died. He had a heart attack, I believe, or it may have been a stroke. Anyway, he was kidding around with the nurse and one minute he was here, and the next minute he was gone.

I couldn’t believe it when my cousin Joe called to tell me the sad news of Uncle Paul’s death. He had not slowed down much as he got older…he was still driving and often went to the nursing home near his home to visit people and lead Bible studies with the “old people” (this is humorous, coming from a 96-year-old).

Here is the letter I wrote for Uncle Paul’s 96th birthday. I’m so glad we celebrated his 96th birthday, even though we’d had a big to-do for his 95th birthday.

February 15, 2018

Dear Uncle Paul,

Happy 96th birthday! I am so happy we are able to celebrate with you. When I think of you, here’s what I remember about you:

• A keen and curious mind, always striving to prepare the best material to present, whether through a sermon or teaching a Sunday school class

• A rolling stone that gathered no moss—when I recall my childhood memories of you, you were always busy doing something. If not out in the community ministering to someone’s need, you were busy at home with yardwork or at Reb’s fixing something in her house or helping her in the garden.

• An outgoing, friendly personality who obviously enjoyed being around people and never knew a stranger. I also remember your laughing a lot and saying “You see… you see.”

• A faithful spouse, cousin, in-law, and friend—I remember how lovingly you cared for Aunt Myrt and how you looked out for Reb in her latter years.

• A kind and caring presence to people at the nursing home and a comforting presence to people at the funeral home

• Your life was never dull. It seemed that something was always hopping with you, whether it was a mission trip to West Virginia or something going on in the Clinch Valley Baptist Association.

• You took your calling as a minister seriously and remain faithful to that call even now. How many 96-year-olds can say they preached a funeral in the past year? How many can say they officiated at their grandson’s wedding on the beach just 4½ years ago?

• You have meant so much to me and my family, stepping in as a grandfatherly substitute for our children when Daddy was consumed with caring for my mom. You and Aunt Myrt brought Reb down to Nashville at a time when I badly needed some coaching in mothering a newborn. I will never forget how relieved I felt when you three showed up at our house.

• I appreciate all the family stories you have shared with me. You made me feel like a real grownup the first time you came to our house (while you were attending a conference at what used to be the Baptist Sunday School Board). I learned the real truth about why Mamaw and Papaw slept in separate rooms, and I still chuckle when I think about that.

• I remember getting many cards and letters from you signed “With all my love.” That made me feel special.

• You excelled at grandparenthood. I am really thankful that you and Aunt Myrt took our family under your wing, treating Daniel and Julie as if they were your own grandchildren. They have pleasant memories of trips to Kingsport and SW Virginia because you made them feel loved.

• I have always enjoyed our parries about what was going on in the Southern Baptist Convention and debates about women in ministry. I know you were a little disappointed when I became a Methodist, but hey—at least I’m still faithfully attending church and growing in my spiritual life. I did what I had to do!

Here is perhaps my highest compliment to you: I hope I will be like you when I grow old. I hope I can remain positive in the face of grief and bravely continue on. Should my dear spouse die before I do, I hope I have the courage to pick myself up, dust off my feet, and continue living, as you have done. That doesn’t mean you don’t grieve—you did, but you faced your grief and worked through it. And always you kept in mind that God still had work for you to do. You have lived a life full of purpose and meaning.

In short (well not really—for an editor, I’m pretty verbose), I have been blessed and privileged to get to know you as an adult, and I am forever grateful to you. I hope we get to celebrate your 100th birthday in four short years!

Love you (John joins me in that sentiment),

Your niece and second cousin,

Anne  

*Oops, I think I was wrong about my cousin relationship to Uncle Paul. He is my second cousin once removed because we do not share grandparents. He was my father’s first cousin. Cousin Paul’s dad was my great uncle, so figure that one out—his being the child of my great grandparent would make him my second cousin, wouldn’t it? So I figured out my relationship to the children of cousins Bill and Joe: They are my first cousins once removed. We’ll just simplify things by calling each other cousins. For more information, see https://www.familysearch.org/blog/en/cousin-chart/.

One interesting thing I remember from the visitation at my mother’s funeral back in 1991: I stood next to my dad, and so many people came through the line, and Daddy would say, “This is my cousin _______.” All I could think of was that everyone who lived in his little holler (hollow) must’ve been related! I got tickled after a while. I asked Daddy how many cousins he had, and he didn’t know. His mother had 5 siblings, I think. Beyond that, I have not traced all my cousins. I do well enough to keep up with the cousins on my mom’s side of the family. I know my first cousins from my dad’s side of the family but not as well.

Sometimes I Picture God That Way*

“[God] will cover you with his feathers,

And under his wings you can hide.”

—Psalm 91:4 (NCV)

Though the imagery in Psalm 91:4 reminds me of a mother hen, it calls to mind my dad, my protector as I grew up. He and I shared a joyous, close relationship as far back as I can remember. When I was 7, Daddy was plowing the garden, and I delightedly ran behind him, tramping down the soil he’d just tilled. Unfortunately, he plowed up a nest of yellow jackets (wasps), and they swarmed around us. Daddy said, “Anne, go to the house NOW!” If I had obeyed him, I might have been better off, but instead I replied, “Ah, Daddy, they’re just flies.”

So the yellow jackets swarmed all over us. We ran up the hill toward our house as Daddy tried to keep the wasps off me. (To a college student pastor who was living with us that summer and was looking out the window, it appeared that Daddy was beating me on my back.) My mom knew something was wrong, because Daddy never punished me physically. She told the college student, “Ted, get the car keys!” She met us at the corner of the house, carrying a wash cloth and ice. We jumped into the car and Ted drove, and off we rushed to the local hospital’s emergency room.

In the blur of activity that followed, I remember my mom putting ice on my stings and using the wash cloth to pull yellow jackets from my hair. (Yes, she was protective too.) Sitting in the car’s front seat, Daddy he turned around and asked with concern, “How’s she doing?” By the time our car reached the bottom of our hilly street, his voice sounded funny. His throat and tongue were swelling in an anaphylactic reaction to the stings he’d gotten.

When we reached the emergency room, a nurse quickly assessed us. She decided I was okay, but Daddy needed quick treatment. Medical personnel rushed him back to an examination room and gave him an injection to stop his life-threatening reaction. Later we counted the number of stings we had received—I had 39, while Daddy had only 11. Over the next few days, Dad and I comforted each other as we recovered from the venom of the wasp stings.

My dad was already my hero, but this incident served to make him a superhero in my eyes. He was my mentor in faith, my protector, my first picture of what God is like. I was fortunate to have him in my life until I was 58 years old; he was almost 94 when he died.

In my mind’s eye I sometimes picture God looking at us, checking in just as a parent looks in on a child to see that all is well. When we spend time with God, we can sometimes sense moments when God feels so close that we can almost reach out and touch God’s face. These are the times that make life worthwhile.

*I got the title for this blog from a song by Kyle Matthews, whose music I love. It is Christian music but has much deeper lyrics than most contemporary Christian music. For more info about Kyle, visit his website: kylematthews.com/music

“Sometimes I Picture God That Way” is on his Sing Down album. Give his music a listen…it is beautiful.

Anne Trudel is a writer and editor living in Nashville, Tennessee. She enjoys the outdoors, reminiscing about her parents, and learning more about the natural world, where she feels closest to God.

Road Trips and Time Off

So wow, a whole year has gone by, and I haven’t written a single blog. Shows how busy my life is. Or that maybe I want to do something besides blog in my spare time.

I went road tripping in May with a college friend, my freshman roommate, Sally. Since then I have felt more energetic than I have in years. I think it was like pressing the Reset button on an electronic device. Why do we have the tendency to not listen to our bodies and spirits when they are crying out for rest? That’s sort of a rhetorical question, but my life post-road trip has made me think about the value of “sharpening the saw,” as Stephen Covey described taking time off in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

When I press the Pause button on my life and take a couple of weeks off back-to-back, I think about all sorts of things. I thought about retirement and when I want to retire. Not sure I have a clear answer on that one yet. I came back to work reenergized and rarin’ to go. Since the road trip, I have decided I want to pursue a certificate in spiritual formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Further education at this juncture in my life, on the surface, doesn’t make sense. I’m not doing it for the sake of advancing in my career. I’m doing it because I love a challenge, and I want to keep my gray matter functioning, and because I love thinking about spiritual stuff.

Taking time away from my family made me appreciate the unique gifts of my husband, son, and daughter. My son broke up with his girlfriend of almost two years while I was away. My daughter got another job than the one she had planned to start this fall. (It’s good…she just realized that she couldn’t teach Spanish at a high school level because her licensure covers only middle school). We are excited that she will be teaching at a great middle school, John Trotwood Moore…and she won’t be the only Spanish teacher at her school. I think JT Moore takes Spanish seriously, so none of this “Well, we’re not going to offer Spanish next year, so we need you to teach 5th grade science and social studies” stuff like she endured at her last school.

And John, well, let’s say I got a little frustrated trying to get in touch with him while on the road trip (I kept getting a busy signal when I called), but there was a reason I was able to reach our children and not him for a few days. We finally got connected, and all was well. Since the trip, he says I’ve changed, that I act more like Sally. Well, that’s a good thing. Sally is an assertive woman who knows her own mind and is practically a genius. She taught me much about laundry, wovens and knits, and lots of other things on the trip. I realized how much I didn’t know about her job as a professor at Texas Christian University, even though we have corresponded about our work and personal lives for years. Sally and her husband, Jim, have been married about 1 1/2 months longer than John and me. It’s fun to see the different ways we interact with our spouses.

I came home appreciating my spouse for allowing me to be who I am..an extravert who has introvert tendencies and needs solitude at times to figure out what the heck is going on in her life. Spending time with a longtime friend is a precious gift. Sally and I never turned the radio or any music on during the trip. We kept a conversation going most of the time. She also introduced me to a new author: Louise Penny, who writes murder mysteries. I didn’t start with the first book in the series but now will have to go back and read that one after I finish A Rule Against Murder.

I am grateful for time away and look forward to another road trip sometime! John and I took a brief one over the 4th of July weekend and caught up with several relatives and one lifelong friend. More road trips to come!

Anne and Dad 1

I also thought about my sweet dad a lot during the road trip. I miss him every day. This pic was taken at The Upper Room Agape Garden when he was nearly 90 (so I think it was around 2011 or 2012). He lived to age 93 (one month short of turning 94). Daddy was a very kind, humble, Christian man, and I am privileged to have had him for 25 years after my mom’s death.

 

 

 

 

 

Rainy Day After a Holiday

It’s the Tuesday after Memorial Day, or Tuesday/Monday, and maybe a double whammy: I took a vacation day on Friday. Didn’t sleep well last night. That seems to happen a lot the night before I return to work each week.

My husband and I were talking about Mondays yesterday. He commented, “It’s Monday. I can hardly drag myself out of bed.” I know the feeling. We talked about this a little more, and I suggested that maybe he feels down (really, a little more than just down) because Monday is a letdown after Sunday. Meaning that we experience a sort of high in our lives on Sundays because we attend worship, and we feel like part of a community, and we take a nap on Sunday afternoon whenever possible, and BAM…then Monday hits.

I usually dress up a bit more than usual on Mondays just so I feel a little perkier. And I drink more coffee on Mondays than on other days of the week. And my neck and shoulders feel a little tighter. Wait. Today’s not Monday; it’s Tuesday. And that means only 3 more days to work this week, and then it’s the weekend again. Even if it’s supposed to rain several inches today and tomorrow (thanks to leftovers from a tropical storm). We won’t see the sun until Thursday at least. I did see the sun peek through the clouds for a brief time while outside for a walk at lunch. I’m going to yoga in about 20 minutes, so maybe this day isn’t so bad after all.

I often think on rainy Mondays or a rainy day after a holiday (which was also rainy), “Rainy days and Mondays get me down…” The old Carpenters song from the 1970s. “What I feel they used to call the blues, nothing is really wrong, feeling like I don’t belong…”

Yeah, that’s the way I feel sometimes on Mondays or on the day after a holiday. Nothing is really wrong. I don’t feel like I don’t belong … today. But often I do. Oh well. At least I am relatively healthy, At least I have a job to get me out of bed in the mornings even if I didn’t sleep well the night before. At least I have a friend to walk with at lunchtime (who admitted that she didn’t feel like she accomplished much over the holiday weekend). I had posted one day on Facebook all that I had done that day, and it was quite a few chores/activities. I then told her the truth: When I get out of bed in the mornings, I have a certain amount of energy and I’m tempted to accomplish everything on my to-do list (which is endless). But then as the day progresses and my energy wanes, I feel the need for a nap. When I was younger, I used to push on through that feeling. I don’t do that any more. Now that I have two autoimmune diseases, I know I must listen to my body. When it tells me I need to nap, I try to lie down for at least 30 to 45 minutes. If I have nothing scheduled for the evening, then I just allow myself to nap for as long as I stay asleep. Sometimes I wake up thinking it’s morning when it’s really about 6:00 p.m. But that’s okay. At least I woke up!

M. Scott Peck said in his book The Road Less Traveled, “Life is difficult.” Indeed it is. Some days things happen that just break your heart. If you listen to the news, you don’t hear much good news. John and I often fast forward to the end of the evening news (NBC news with Lester Holt) to the “Making a Difference” segment. Sometimes that may be the only good news we’ve heard that day. It’s easy to let yourself get dragged down by sadness, disappointment, pain, just the everydayness of living. But each day is full of opportunities. Every morning when I wake up, even if my feet or joints are hurting, I think, “I’m alive. Check.” And thank the Lord for that. I have another day where I can enjoy a cup of coffee, linger over a handwritten note, slow down time a little by reading for pleasure and/or inspiration. And I don’t really have to worry because deep down, all is well, and as Julian of Norwich said, “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” I believe that with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength.

 

 

When I Was 10

I belong to a group at work called Bagelmasters (our version of Toastmasters). We are practicing public speaking. For the last meeting, I volunteered to give a speech on when I was 10. The time limit was three minutes. I can’t say anything in three minutes! I had whittled my speech down to the following, and then I had to add a sentence. I went over the time limit but nearly finished.

When I was 10 years old, the highlight of that year was getting glasses. Suddenly I could see buds, twigs, and branches on the trees for the first time. Before that, the whole world had looked like an Impressionist painting to me.

My favorite pastime was (no surprise) reading. I was really into the Misty of Chincoteague novels by Marguerite Henry. I was a member of her fan club and received her newsletter. Marguerite Henry wrote personal notes on my newsletter because of course I had written letters to her. Thus began my lifelong infatuation with authors.

The book that made the biggest impression on me that year was Anne of Green Gables. I identified with the sassy, cheerful character. I loved the way Anne of Green Gables spelled her name: Ann with an e. It just looked so much better than my plain A-N-N. So I latched on to that spelling and I persisted, even though my given name was Anna.

I was a shy kid, the tallest in my class, and I was fat. I went to the same elementary school where my mother taught, and I felt like no one liked me because she was a strict teacher. So I had a few friends and mostly just watched the popular girls. I remember talking with them about the pop song “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James and the Shondells.

I was in my third year of taking piano lessons. My teacher kept bugging me to practice at least 45 minutes a day. My mom, a wise woman, gave me a choice of practicing piano or washing the dishes. I chose to practice piano. I was the pianist at our little country church where about 15-20 people attended.

I belonged to Girl Scouts. I loved going to the meetings and working on merit badges. Girl Scouts was where I learned to sing in harmony. It was also where I developed a love for the outdoors.

In the wider world, there was a lot of turmoil. 1968 was the year that Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy got assassinated. It was also a time of many protests against the Vietnam War. Richard Nixon was president.*

When I was 10 my favorite subject was Social Studies. I liked school and went to church on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday nights. I was an only child and didn’t have any kids in my neighborhood to play with, so I was thrilled whenever my cousins came over. I had a pet dog named Wilhelmina…she was a stray. I’m sure I probably had a cat at the time, but I don’t remember. I do remember being 10 as a fun, rather carefree, daydreamy time.

 

* Richard Nixon was not president. See how inaccurate the memory can be? Nixon was elected president in 1968. Lyndon Johnson was president until January 1969.

I may come back and add pictures to this post, sometime when I have time to fool with my computer and actually want to. So it may not happen.

Procrastinator’s Days

Procrastinator’s Days

One of these days we gotta get organized …

A woman’s work is never done (something I often heard my mother say) …

Housework, housework, I love housework (sung sarcastically to the tune of “Pickles, Pickles, I like pickles,” a song I learned teaching children’s choir)

Over the Christmas holidays I decided to tackle some projects that have been niggling at me all year. I made progress in organizing our kitchen and am still working on that. Like a true procrastinator, I get sidetracked while doing projects. Finding one cherished item makes me go put it in a place where I will be able to find it, and when I go to that place, I find still more stuff that needs to be put away. This is why women never catch up…there is always more stuff to do than meets the eye. And sometimes you get sidetracked doing another project and forget to complete the original one. But I digress. (Ha.)

I kept feeling compelled to blog, so I finally gave in. Besides, I needed to sit for a while, I rationalized.

John is busy in our downstairs bedroom scrubbing the wall (we have some moisture problems that we need to address…meanwhile, the cinderblock walls have started to show signs of mildew, so he is hard at work with a scrub brush and some orange cleaner we have found that is a good all-purpose cleaner) as I write this. I was working on organizing the bookshelf in the kitchen, and I keep finding so many things we have put up in a hurry, thinking we would get around to reading them later. Well, guess what. Now some magazines have been sitting on those shelves for at least 2 years. I am tossing stuff in recycling right and left. I am filling a box for Goodwill with cookbooks I no longer use. This is such a freeing feeling! But I can take it only in small doses.

This morning I found my dad’s address book, which surprising had some fairly updated information. He had my, John’s, Daniel’s, and Julie’s cell phone numbers. He had Daniel’s first apartment address (only two residences behind) and Julie’s address in Spain. I found addresses and phone numbers for Helen’s (his wife’s) family, some living and some dead. I discovered obituaries for my uncle and cousin Clifford Blessing, my aunt Myrtle Blessing, my cousin Annie Fletcher, and my aunt Kate Couch. I found some photos of Daddy taken in 1979. He was quite a handsome man. Helen, in her beautiful handwriting, had written on the back: Walter Leonard 1979. It was like going through a family scrapbook. Funny how you find things tucked in odd places. Until 2015, this address book (with Hummel figurine-type drawings) had been used since the 1970s, when my aunt Euchie (Eunice Necessary) gave it to my parents as a Christmas gift.

On the top shelf of the bookshelf (the only one I’ve dusted so far) I found cookbooks from churches that have been special to me over the years: Broad Street United Methodist (inherited from my aunt Reb) and Lynn Garden Baptist in Kingsport and Crievewood Baptist Church in Nashville. I think I have one more church cookbook that John’s aunt Macon gave to us as a wedding present; it’s from First United Methodist Church in Savannah, TN, but I haven’t run across it yet.

I have found several recipes that I will never cook and decided to get unsentimental because my dad wrote some of them…if I save everything I find in his handwriting, I will not find a place for everything. One was for corn relish. If I recall correctly, it tasted sort of like rotten corn. You have to let it sit for 4 weeks after putting in all the ingredients. Maybe I better dig that recipe out and see if I can take a picture of it. No, it’s already in recycling. (I think perhaps I have confused it with pickled corn, which really did taste like rotten corn…Reb always kept several pints of it in her basement.)

This weekend I have been in the house for four days…work was called off on Friday due to ice, and the first time I got out was to go to church yesterday. For this long weekend I have chosen to spend my time as a gift: it’s Procrastinator’s Day(s)! I can do some things that I don’t have the chance to do in the normal crazy-busy schedule of my life while I am working full-time.

Today I have been catching up on correspondence, cleaning a little here and there, and enjoying having time to clean my stove, wash dishes, clean out the coffee maker, do a little laundry, and spot-clean in various places.

My mother used to save projects for summertime when she was out of school from her teaching job. She certainly kept me occupied, starting in elementary school (and paying me a nickel an hour, which I thought was a grand deal, for certain projects): mowing the lawn, washing windows, painting rooms inside our house, trimming around the trees in our yard with those old-fashioned scissor-like clippers (it’s a wonder I didn’t get carpal tunnel syndrome way back then), picking vegetables from our garden (with my dad) and helping Mommy can or freeze them, and helping with laundry. I don’t ever seem to have time for such projects at home unless I block out a weekend or take a few days of vacation (and who wants to do that with their vacation time?) to do such things. I’ve decided that I will just declare a Procrastinator’s Day several times a year and spend it doing mundane chores that I don’t especially enjoy doing but that need to be done. It’s about time to organize under the bathroom sinks and kitchen sink. Yikes. But for now I am concentrating on the kitchen. Then I will move to the bedroom, where I will clean my bedside table, which is spilling over with books and is quite dusty. Next up, clean the top of my and John’s chests of drawers. And then (the biggie) clean out the bookshelves in our bedroom. I have a small library down there and need to share some of those books with others. Some I will give to friends, and the rest to Goodwill.

Well, if I’m ever going to get anything done, I must get back to the kitchen. I’m encouraged to see some things starting to get into shape. Who knows, maybe I will even dust the living room (which I have done in the last 2 or 3 weeks). I could even get really organized like my boss and have an index card file with tasks written on each card, and rotate through the card file every quarter. Nah. Probably ain’t gonna happen. Besides, I can always save something to my Google drive and not have to waste time writing out cards.

Hasta luego!