Saturday, July 23, 2011

Richly Blessed

This time last year, I was unemployed and planning to spend the next year on Sabbatical from teaching.  I thought I would be writing, traveling, and otherwise enjoying life.  Independent.  Answering to no one (at least not a boss) and nothing.  I was looking forward to it.  Who wouldn't?  But an out-of-the-blue phone call from a principal at a boarding school in Arizona changed everything.  A week later, I was on a plane bound for Phoenix.  Less than 24 hours later, even before I had arrived back in Boston, the job was mine.  If I wanted it.  A week later, I was packed and on my way back to Arizona for what ended up being an extremely interesting and rewarding school year teaching English in what almost seemed like a foreign country to me, so different was it from anything else I'd known--both culturally and professionally.

Among the many things that could stand out about that story, two things rise above them all.  The first is the way I felt when I was listening to the principal talk about the job during that first phone call.  My heart leapt up, literally.  It was shocking to me to realize that, to physically feel what it meant to even think about teaching again.  I hadn't considered how much it meant to me because I had been so busy making it OK not to be teaching for awhile.  The second is the way I felt retelling the above story this week to a new staff member.  I could feel myself smiling all over.  I was so happy, through and through, to be teaching!  What a blessing to be doing something with your life and know it's the right thing, the thing you were meant to do!

This sumer, I've been reading a couple of historical novels set during the Civil War.  This was not by design, but mere happenstance.  Perhaps.  The first was an amazing book about a young midwife who wanted to become a surgeon so much that she went to Washington to serve as a nurse in order to get experience working with doctors.  this was during a time when women were not considered fit for medical school, never mind medical practice.  Long story short, she reached her goal, but not before she experienced the horrors and terrors of a most brutal war.  Robin 's My Name is Mary Sutton is a must-read.  It was absolutely impossible to put the book down.  The writing was so distinct and clear that I often felt that I was Marry Sutton.  I lived and breathed her experiences.  Powerful stuff!

The second was the latest in a favorite series of mine devoted to women quilters:  The Union Quilters from Jennifer Chiaverini's Elm Creek Quilters series.  I have loved her books from the first, so I was looking forward to reading this one, especially as I had just finished reading about one woman's role in the Civil War.  I hate saying it, but coming off Robin's fabulous book, Jennifer's paled in comparison.  At first.  I struggled through the first few chapters, forcing myself to read on because I knew from past experience with this author that her stories were compelling and worth pursuing.  Happily, my perseverance has been rewarded.  I am about two thirds of the way done and am enjoying the read, as I had expected to do from the beginning.

Both books have presented a perspective that we don't often read about when studying the Civil War:  that of the women.  In the case of Mary Sutton, she put herself in the thick of things.  I have read Louisa May Alcott's account of her time, however brief, as a nurse in Washington and it parallels what I read here.  Conditions were deplorable for all, the medical staff as well as the patients.  Medical practices were primitive.  Conditions were anything but sterile.  Amputations were myriad.  Deaths were legion.  It's a wonder anyone got out alive!  And yet the doctors and nurses stayed on, doing ther best in untenable situations.

In the case of the Union quilters, they were relatively safe in the mountains of Pennsylvania.  But their loved ones--fathers, brothers, husbands, lovers00were off fighting in those appalling conditions, and it was the women's "job" to find ways to send comfort, courage, and strength to their soldiers in whatever way they could.  They raised money, made quilts, sent provisions, wrote letters, and lived holding their breaths in hopes that their soldiers would come back to them alive and in one piece.

These two books forced me to take a look at my own life--at the things that I want, the things that I think I need.  Put next to those who just want their next breath, who need something as small as a whispered word of encouragement, I for nothing and have need of even less.  Put next to what I thought I wanted a year ago, what I have now is infinitely more, quite unexpectedly so.  As my mother told me so long ago, "When you put your destiny in God's hands, there are no regrets."  I sometimes forget where I have placed myself:  in His hands.  I try to take charge of my own life, follow my own plans, often without thinking things all the way through.  Thankfully, God doesn't forget.  He has had me in His thoughts and plans the whole time.  When those plans are finally revealed, I am chagrined to think I thought I had something better. . .

Prayer found on dead body of Confederate soldier:

"I asked God for strength that I might achieve.  I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.  I asked for health that I might do greater things.  I was given infirmity that I might do better things.  I asked for riches that I might be happy. I was given poverty that I might be wise.  I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.  I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.  I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.  I was given life that I might enjoy all things.  I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.  Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.  I am, among all men, most richly blessed."

Indeed, so am I.


Morning's Minion said...

Rondi: It is interesting to read your reflections on this year of changes in your life. Not least is surely the huge difference in landscape and cultural heritage between New England and Arizona.
Although I'm a quilter I haven't read the books by Jennifer Chiaverini--I somehow thought they were a bit like the Christian fiction genre--grammer school vocabularly, contrived plots.
Our library in Adair County is very limited--but I think they have these--maybe I could give them a try [I notice I'm sounding quite tentative still!]
Historical fiction dealing with the Civil War era is a deep interest---the other book you mention is one I will look for.

Rondi said...

The change has been challenging, but very interesting. The Elm Creek Quilt series has been pretty interesting to my mother and me. Some are better than others, but on the whole have been very enjoyable. One of the things I appreciate is that Jennifer doesn't just move the story forward. She goes back into history, telling important stories about women and their roles in key events. Much more complicated than the Christian cozies...

Sunny said...

Thanks for the books tip, Rondi. I just put the nurse one on hold at the local library. PS The home garden flowers look better than the public gardens. IM("humble")O.