On the Threshold of Change

Change is a constant in life. I’ve been going through a weird time at work since March 17, when our editorial and publishing directors approached me about moving from Upper Room Books to  Marketing. My conversation with Robin and Lynne came on the heels of an announcement in staff meeting by our publisher, Sarah Wilke, that some of us would be working in different ways. Sarah hastened to assure us that layoffs were over (for the time being, I thought…since December of 2008, we have laid off close to 40% of our staff. This is just my estimate. I looked at a staff picture from December 2007 and counted how many people are no longer there).

Anyway, it’s been a strange time. People have asked me how I’m feeling about the move. It’s hard to describe. In one way I’m excited about the possibilities that a complete change in job assignment brings. I think it’s good to constantly develop new skills, and I’m a big believer in lifelong learning.

On the other hand, I am grieving about leaving the work I’ve been doing for the past few years, not to mention the relationships I’ve developed over that time. Upon reflection, the past 9 years have been the best period of my working life. I’ve worked with some awesome women, and we have gotten along well. My managing editor, Rita, is the best boss I’ve ever had. She’s also the only one I’ve felt comfortable enough to tease about being obsessive in some areas–grammar, personal habits (this woman is the ultimate cook, a model wife and mother,  a hard worker…sometimes too hard, is obsessive about getting in all her fruits and vegetables, bikes religiously–and she also picks at herself when she’s under stress). She and another colleague, Jeannie, and I have had adjacent offices in the same corner up to the last month. We’ve bounced ideas back and forth (often shouting from one office to another; a funny thing is that Rita and I can’t hear each other because our offices are right next to each other, but Jeannie could hear us both, and she’s interpreted for Rita & me) and been what I jokingly call the Trifecta or Holy Trinity of Upper Room Books. I can’t describe what Jeannie and Rita have meant to me over the past 9 years. When my teenage son was undergoing adolescent angst and some serious fallout from bad choices, these two women were my rock (along with some other trusted friends who have been my prayer supporters). They encouraged me when I was down and have been true friends to me. We have enjoyed a truly collegial atmosphere at work.

I’ve also been blessed to work with some understanding and supportive editorial directors, Jo Ann and Robin, and awesomely creative acquisitions editors, Kathleen and Amy. And our assistants, Karen and Joanna (and Joane, who split her responsibilities between Upper Room Books and Discipleship Resources) have all displayed helpful, cheerful, and positive attitudes even in the midst of difficulties.

Another group of people I will miss working with regularly are the authors, graphic designers, and freelance editors with whom I’ve developed relationships over the years. I can’t begin to say how blessed I’ve been to be in a job that has allowed me to be creative, work with some wonderfully creative and talented people, and use every bit of my educational background in English literature, Spanish, and music education.

So, I stand on the threshold of a new job. On one hand I’m a little terrified…what do I know about marketing? On the other hand, I’m excited. I like to learn. I love meeting new people. I like to be stretched, and I like opportunities to exercise my creativity. I am looking forward to developing new relationships in the marketing department with folks I already know, and I’m eager to see what I can do to help get the word out about some of the best spiritual formation resources  on this planet.

I consider myself fortunate and BLESSED to be employed in meaningful work and to get to work with creative, hardworking, passionate Christians who press me to be a better person. Mostly I am just grateful for the past 9 years and am optimistic about the next 9 or maybe even more.

Time to Slow Down

It seems that lately I’ve been operating on warp speed. I am trying to finish up one job before I move to another position at the same company (The Upper Room). It’s hard to make a clean break when you have several projects in progress. It comes down to making choices about what you can realistically accomplish in the time you have left.

The night before last, I started feeling a familiar scratchy sensation in my throat. I thought, “No! I don’t have time to get sick now.” Well, so much for that. You can’t choose when to get sick. Some things are just beyond your control. Yesterday I left work early, laptop in hand, to get a haircut (I’d had to cancel my appointment the previous day due to a conflict) and then presumably to work at home and make up the time I missed at the office. By the time I got home, I was feeling worse. I heard my pillow calling, “Time for a nap.” So I lay down for about an hour and a half.

I got up and puttered around the kitchen, preparing dinner. Someone at the beauty salon had mentioned making stuffed peppers, and I had some red and orange bell peppers in the fridge that were just begging to be used. By the time I finished cooking dinner, I was exhausted, so I piddled around a little more before I finally gave up and went to the couch for the evening.

I felt some kind of weird tightness behind my eyes, and soon I began coughing. Sometime during the night I got up and took my temperature. Sure enough, I was running a fever. I must have another sinus infection. I just got over a virus accompanied by laryngitis about a month ago. (Springtime in Nashville is a challenging time for most people; the city is situated in a basin, and pollen just seems to sit there until rain clears the air. We haven’t had much rain in the past couple of weeks.)

So today I will stay home and take care of myself. My body is telling me that it needs rest, and work can wait. In my younger days I would have pushed on through and dragged myself in to work. These days, I’d rather be kind to my body and surrender when it tells me it needs rest. I think I’ll live longer that way.

The work will get done eventually…I hope to be done with the current project I’m working on by tomorrow so I can get the manuscript in the mail to the author. It all depends on how long I can sit up and concentrate today. I see at least one nap in my future.

Meanwhile, the world can go on without me for at least a day. I know who’s ultimately in control, and that gives me a great deal of comfort.

Love and Lilacs

I  nearly missed it. A glimpse of grace among all the random events of a crazy day.

Yesterday morning when I walked into my office, the aroma of lilacs hit me as soon as I opened the door. I breathed in the divine scent and saw a blue water bottle filled with lilac sprigs sitting on my desk.

Suddenly I was transported to my mamaw’s house in Kermit, Virginia, and I felt like I was eight years old. Mamaw Leonard had a huge lilac bush in her side yard, next to her white painted clapboard house. As a kid I ran around barefoot in her yard.

I spent many pleasant hours at Mamaw’s house in my childhood. I remember being fascinated by the way she lived: she had no indoor plumbing, so there was a chamber pot sitting under her bed. Behind her house was a weathered gray wooden outhouse, and outside her creaky screen door was a rusty old well pump with a long handle that I used to love cranking up and down.

Mary Maggie Leonard was my grandmother’s name. Her face was leathery and wrinkled, and I remember when she kissed me, I instinctively drew back because she had brown juice around her mouth from dipping snuff, but then when the deed was done, I loved her sticky kiss and the strangely sweet smell of her breath.

My dad, mom, and I used to go visit my grandmother every Friday night. In the wintertime her living room was unbearably hot because of the woodburning stove which glowed from the coal she used to heat her 4-room house. I can see her living room in my mind: a tiny room about 10 by 12 feet,  withher rocking chair sitting beside the stove and an antique sewing machine with a black iron foot pedal placed near a window. On the wall hung a sepia-toned portrait of my dad as a 19-year-old Army private in World War II.

Funny, I remember Mamaw’s rocking chair and the screened door that slammed loudly, but I don’t remember what kind of couch she had. Probably a bristly maroon worn-looking overstuffed couch that later sat in our basement.

I remember sensing that my mom didn’t want to go to my grandmother’s, and she would be strangely quiet and I just knew she hated being at Mamaw’s house. I think she felt like Mamaw clung to Daddy too much, and it also irritated her that Mamaw sounded kind of whiney when she talked. My mother was an outgoing, positive person, and she got impatient with people who were “sad sacks,” as she called Mamaw.

Now I understand why Mamaw sounded the way she did. She led a hard life. When she was 13, her mother died, leaving her as the oldest of five (?) children responsible for cooking and supervising other household responsibilities because her dad, a farmer, needed her help.

Mary Maggie Blessing married James Campbell Leonard, who worked for the railroad in their mountain valley. They had six children, four girls and two boys. One of their twin daughters died from diphtheria at 18 months. Papaw Leonard contracted tuberculosis and died when my dad, Walter Paul Leonard, was only 9.

Mamaw was left with four children to raise (the oldest, Kate, was married by that time). She worked hard as a farmer, selling milk from her prized dairy cow and vegetables from the garden to eke out a living. She also worked as the postmaster at the Kermit post office.

When I was born, she was in her 70s. I remember hearing about her getting struck by lightning once when she was down near the wellhouse. It threw her to the ground and left a scar where it blazed up her arm.

Somewhere along the way, Mamaw had an accident that cut a tendon on the ring finger of her right hand. Her finger was permanently curled into her palm, and her knobby fingers were swollen with arthritis. Still, she had a smile for me every Friday night and freshly made molasses cookies waiting.

So…the smell of lilacs takes me back to Mamaw’s house. And I feel grateful for my friend Doug, who brought me the lilacs after I posted a simple comment on Facebook under a picture of a lilac bush blooming outside his bathroom window: “Bring me some lilacs if you get a chance. Lilacs are my favorite scent…they remind me of my grandmother.”

Thank you, Doug, for helping me remember.