Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Birthday musings

This post ran on my Rooting for Ancestors blog in October 2008.

Most of my ancestors in medieval times never lived to be 50 years old. In fact, 35 was pushing menopause, and if a woman had had 12 or 15 pregnancies, she was either extremely robust and lived to be 85 – or she’d die giving birth at 25 or 35. Many of the men died in middle age, too, not always from war injuries.
John of Gaunt died at age 59 of natural causes. Reverend John Robinson, persecuted pastor of the Puritans before they sailed to America on the Mayflower, died in 1625 at age 50 in Leiden, Holland. Once my ancestors emigrated to America, their lives stretched into their 70s and 80s. My grandparents lived into their 80s, and Grandma Opal Carter Robinson was 98 when she died.

I was 29 when my mother turned 50, and I was 34 when she died of chronic lung disease at 55. Although she was extremely ill, and suffered more from her medication side effects than the asthma and emphysema, she lived a remarkable life.
Judith Anson Robinson only had a high school diploma; and although she had an academic scholarship offer to university, she was unable to use it with her extreme health challenges. She married Kenneth Robinson at age 18, and after a year they moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where the air was dry and breathable. Judith always had a stack of library loaners and how-to books across many subjects, and she took extension classes with the local PBS station and a syllabus.

She was self-taught at bookkeeping, but she successfully managed the family business and finances, took on the IRS in court, and won.
She was an accomplished, award-winning artist who worked in acrylic paint, chalk pastels, watercolor, ink, clay, and other media. Some of her artwork is photographed HERE.

She only had a few years of piano lessons from a small-town nun who was quick to rap knuckles on mistakes – but she became a wonderful piano teacher who taught on a piano earned by selling cosmetics. In fact, while my dad’s income was managed carefully, and we always lived on a cash basis, the piano teaching money paid the tuition for my brother’s and my Christian-school education.

Judith was either too sick to attend church often, or was warned by the doctor not to, because of her compromised immune system. But she knew her Bible intimately, read Christian books, and watched Christian TV. She had strong views on right and wrong, and could have
taught an ethics course on the community-college level. She was always interested in the “why” of behavior and thinking.

And she started with an inherited, inaccurate family tree and turned it into a pedigree so large and complex that software programmers in Salt Lake City had to enlarge version one of the Personal Ancestral File because her vast body of research wouldn’t fit into their parameters. She began in the 1960s and blew away the programmers with her little 128K Macintosh in 1984. No Internet. Just land-line phone and snail mail.

So my mom did all this and more in spite of her illness. When I’ve had a cold or flu, and I’m feeling rotten, I wonder how she got anything done, much less her list of accomplishments.
I’ve followed my mom’s lead in many ways: love of history and genealogy, performing church music, teaching music, expressing my creativity in writing and graphics, a tenderness for animals and nature, gardening, and lots of other interests.

But I wonder if any of this has affected anyone but me. What has been the effect of my existence in this world? Have I lived up to my potentia
l – done all that it’s possible for me to do with the advantage of excellent health and advanced education? Has my writing touched hearts or changed thinking? Have my music students’ lives been enhanced by my counsel and my teaching? Have I been an inspirational example to one person? Has my friendship or fellowship enriched another person, and how? Have I been an instrument of God, to bless others?

My 21-year-old mother kept a journal of the last few weeks that she was pregnant with me. She and my dad visited a model home that they moved to when I was a few months old. They visited friends from their young-people’s group at the Baptist church. Mom fretted that I was three weeks late in coming; and she was embarrassed to be so heavily pregnant and buying castor oil to hurry the onset of labor, when the pharmacist knew what it was for. (Oh, the shame!)
Mom even took the little red journal with her when she went to the hospital in labor with me.

Here’s the journal entry for October 15, 1958, the day I was born:
I’ve loved my baby for such a long time. Yet the joy I feel today as I hold her in my arms is beyond words. Praise God for the blessings and the happiness that we have in Christy, and we pray, with grateful hearts, to do the Lord’s will in raising her. Regarding the choice of her names: Christy is a feminine derivative of Christ, meaning “follower of Christ.” Kay is the word “rejoicing” in Old Teutonic. It is our hope that the name will truly describe her life.

On October 16, 1958, my mother wrote:
Between you and me, Baby, you might as well know that nobody in the world has ever loved a baby like you’re going to be loved by your mother. I’ve been saving up a part of myself for a long time and I’m going to start spending it on you. Surely this must be similar to the love Jesus has for us. I can see beyond the pink face and little slanty eyes to a beauty within you. It makes me so happy to look at you that it feels as if something in my chest will burst.

I wish I could talk to my mom and ask for her assessment of my 50 years of life. Have I created a worthy body of work? Have I proved my worth to my employer, church, friends, and society in general? Do I have a legacy? Have I fulfilled Mom’s hopes? Have I been faithful to the calling of God? Do I have a beauty of spirit? Do I have a measure of my mother’s taste and style? Is my thinking process logical and deep, or just quirky, lazy, and shallow? What about my relationships? Do I
have the qualities of compassion, love, mercy, and justice that God requires? Have my fluttering butterfly wings displaced any air?

Fifty is just a number. It’s seven in dog-years. As one of my birthday cards says, it’s three and a half in giant-redwood-years. But it’s also the next check-box down the survey, a less-desirable demographic to marketers and sociologists.
My ancestors, even if they died young and we know nothing about their lives, nevertheless passed on their DNA and influence, for good or ill, to their children.

What will I leave in my wake? Maybe I have the same amount of time left to live as I have lived already. Maybe I’ll go earlier from accident or disease.
There’s an axiom that says to live every day as if it’s your last. Now how is that possible? We must plan and act as if we have decades left. We have responsibilities and commitments to friends, family, and community that will pay off both now and down the road.

But maybe that’s
my sense of responsibility rearing up, and realization of the fact that I’m single, independent, and have no backup but God. (Which is not a bad thing!) I doubt that those 13th-century ancestors thought their progeny would think of such things, 800 years later.
My mom was about 26 in that photo, old enough to be my daughter, if I'd had children. But it does make one think about generations and what-ifs, not to mention: If every woman becomes her mother, does she eventually become her grandmother? Or does she become a composite of her foremothers at a certain point in her human development?

One of my blogger friends turned 30 three days after I turned 50. She described her domestication from intense college student to settled and satisfied wife and mother, becoming comfortable with finding bargains, gaining some baby weight, and (literally) juggling baby and computer keyboard. One of her friends mentioned feeling comfortable in her skin.

There are times I’ve been comfortable in my skin. And times when I’ve felt my skin itchy and tight, as if the relative humidity is in single digits and there’s not enough moisturizer in the world to soothe me. Those are the times when, like a reptile, it’s time to shed the old skin and step out into a new era, vulnerable to change. And predators.

When I was almost 18, it was time to leave my childhood friends, and to some degree, my family, and move 360 miles away to university. I was a little homesick for a week or two, but quickly adjusted to the enervating experience. As a musician, I went from big fish in small pond, to guppy in a lake. But I found my own jobs, fought my own battles, changed my major from music education to communications/print media, matured in my thinking, learned who and how to trust, and discovered some techniques for dealing with people that I still use today. On my visits to my parents’ home, I saw my 40-year-old mother as a woman with a college-age daughter over whom she was losing control and influence. (What my mother didn’t realize was how much influence she would regain as I aged.)

After university, I moved to Los Angeles to work with college friends. I was severely injured in a fall at age 23, and moved back to Phoenix to restart my life. My parents moved my furniture back from California, and were thrilled to have me back under their roof for a year and a half until I finished physical therapy and could move out again.

When I was 26, I loved a man with all my heart for several years, but he didn’t return the sentiment. After my parents, this man has had more influence on my thoughts and actions than any other human being. He taught me critical thinking (ironically, in a roundabout way), and that has affected every area of religion, politics, my writing, and relationships with others. At the same time, my world opened up with the introduction of new friends and activities, a change of career, and a general blossoming of opportunities. This was a similar age to my mother’s in that picture. In real time, my mother was 47 when I was 26.

I became very involved in church activities and became the Arizona singles ministry leader for my denomination. At the same time, I was teaching music at a Christian high school and elementary school, as well as taking students in my home. Over about 10 years, I worked for several churches as keyboardist and choir director. I edited and designed brochures, newsletters, and magazines for several organizations.

Then, in a short period, I was forced to shed my skin again. I was replaced at the Christian high school by a crony of the principal, and lost more than half my music students. Another cluster of students had to quit because of the recession that followed the Gulf War. A couple of female friends turned on me and I lost their fellowship. My financial-mainstay freelance editing job of six years was given to someone else after the president of the organization lied to me and about me to others. My spiritual and intellectual mentor moved to Australia. My mother, who’d nearly died one year before, became even more ill and passed away 11 days after Christmas. A car pulled in front of me and my car was totaled, and I re-injured my bad knee. Any one of those things is a risk factor for fatal illness!

The Lord was looking out for me, and although finances were tight, I was never in danger of failure. I had wonderful friends (in fact, we’re still friends after more than 20 years). I had a townhouse mortgage and a decent vehicle. Some of my lost teaching income was made up by a part-time job as church secretary at my family’s church. But the deeper one is involved in an organization based on deeply-held beliefs and values, the harder it is to compartmentalize one’s worship and one’s job. I’d be driving down the freeway on my way to church (for service and worship), and feeling road rage. Then some people in that toxic congregation got power-mad and made some assumptions about me that were untrue. So my skin got tight and itchy again!

At that point, a couple of friends and I spent an afternoon and evening in fellowship and prayer – about me – and my life changed again. I applied for positions in communications in California, and was asked to interview. One freelance writing job led to an interview nearby, and that became a job offer.

Uprooting my life, home, four elderly cats, and leaving my students and families, and the (nice) church where I worked as music director was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Getting established in a community where I knew no one was very lonely – and expensive! After two years in a rental house, I was able to buy a nice house in a beautiful neighborhood. Eventually, there was recognition, trust, and friendship. A nearby university, my alma mater, headhunted me, and I changed jobs.

But 19 months later, despite high ratings for the quantity and quality of my work, I got a new boss who decided to replace me with his brother-in-law. The weasel used his subordinate to “resign” me while he was out of the country. And I became jobless for seven months. Wow, there goes another skin, if not another cat’s life!

While I was vulnerable and tender again, I learned something very deep. I trusted a few Christian friends (of several denominations) with my deepest feelings and asked them to pray for me. They actually thanked me for the confidence and trust I’d placed in them; and said that they were privileged to be used by God to help me.

Although I had some emergency savings, some vacation pay, and a little unemployment, it was only enough to live on for three months, tops. But I always had enough money to pay bills, mortgage, and offerings at church during those seven months. God has a different math and accounting system than humans can figure out.

I was offered a job as writer and editor for an international Christian organization, and was given latitude to do quite a lot with it – until the administration changed over my head again. Do it this way, we love your work, but change it, no change it back, take this out, put this in, you can’t do that unless it goes through many layers of administration, we’re reorganizing the corporate structure and changing your title (to a lower level), etc. There was a wide variety of projects, though, from producing a bimonthly magazine to writing and editing books, video scripts, display ad design, and many other media assignments.

And at the church where I’ve been highly involved in music and other activities, there are some very real problems with people and finances. Based on studying the fundamental beliefs of my denomination, I’ve decided that there are several that I cannot support. My friends, my culture, and (until recently) my job are tied up in that denomination, and I remain there for reasons of fellowship and relationships. Perhaps God wants me to remain in my local church so I can continue to influence and inspire. But my skin is feeling tight and itchy and uncomfortable. In fact, my hands and feet feel like sandpaper on silk.

So turning 50, I’ve decided, isn’t about feeling comfortable in one’s skin, but being flexible instead of spastic. It’s recognizing that life comes in fits and starts. A birthday is just another turn of the flywheel, or another season in the endless cycle of seasons. That’s what maturity feels like.

Maybe this is what I’d tell my 26-year-old mother, the pretty woman whose gentle hand protectively covers the little hands of her children.
...Keep on keeping on.
...If you feel strongly about justice, then don’t worry about being “nice,” just stand up and do what needs doing.
...Don’t procrastinate: the job only gets harder, the longer you wait.
...Don’t go out without nice clothes and makeup because you can’t make a first impression a second time.
...Work hard and do your best for your own sake. You always represent your family, so be honorable at all times.
...Your name has a meaning, so live up to it.
...Treat your pets and garden tenderly.
...No one can resist having their hair ruffled and back tickled until they go to sleep.
...Love nature and not man-made amusements.
...If there’s no word for what you want to say, invent one.
...Don’t waste your brainpower with stupid entertainment – there’s little enough time to learn valuable, useful information.
...The difference between knowledge and wisdom is application and experience.

But those are things I learned from my mother. So how could I teach them to her? How did she learn them? Is there something to the “inherited memory” belief? (The concept seems paranormal or occult to me.) Is there such a thing as native intelligence? Was she a genius, or did she maximize average intellect?

Knowing her as I do, and as a daughter turns into her mother in so many ways, I believe that her interests in humanities and her study of relationships and genealogy gave her a sense of who she was, her place in the universe, her standing with God, and a real pride in all the thousands of lives that synthesized into the chromosomes of one being named Judith Anson Robinson.


  1. Bret D. Belko
    I've often wondered the same Christy... xoxox

    Paula Isenbarg
    beautiful writings Christy. Every time you touch the heart of another in even the most simple way I believe you change that person and thereby change that person's life. Thank you for changing mine (and Evie's!)

    Doreen Nimmo Lobock
    Christy, after having read your recent blog, all I can say is...WOW! You truly have a writing gift (as well as many others) and the ability to touch many lives in a positive way! Love you, girl!

    Stacey Robinson
    Christy, this particular blog, which I have read before, moves me to tears. Let me assure you Sister, you have done all that and more. Someday, when you stand before God, and he asks you, Did you know me? and Who did you bring with you? You can passionately and honestly yes, yes Lord, I knew you. And when you answer him to the second question and answer him you don't know, He will open the book of LIFE and will give the list of names. You are a credit to women and to Christians. You are a blessing to everyone who meets you, knows you, is influenced by you...all for their greater good. Be encouraged, you have not lived in vain. I love you!

    Gwynn Bell Coffey
    I agree with what Paula said. I know I have been personally blessed by your writing.

    Pamela Keele Cress
    Wonderful blog Christy! Mirrors some thoughts I am having about my own life right now. Thanks for your transparency and for being a blessing to me today.

  2. Hi Christy. I must say that your post was most touching. My mom died when she was 58. I am turning 50 in July and was wondering how I would deal with this new decade. What a blessing to have this experience to read your blog. I am sure that alot of what you are is being passed on to others which is what your mother desired. Another positive is you have a piece of your mom as well as your experiences with God and you have spread them all over the place. Hopefully, I to can spread a piece of my mom & most of all God all over the place.

    God Bless you in your endeavors!!!


    PS Check out my blog and tell me what you think:

    I wrote a note for your blog but I don't know if it got sent. I told you I am computer illiterate. I was moved by your Birthday Musings and I also couldn't agree more regarding Stacey's reply.
    Please know you are loved and appreciated and that your mother would be very proud of you.
    Lots of love.

  4. Cheryl G: Thank you for your comments. I wrote this piece in 2008 when I turned 50. Add another year to that, and you get: still seven in dog years! Yay! On the more serious side, I am sure that my mother and I will meet again in heaven. It's just that this most recent year of my life is another changing-skins cycle. Everything is in upheaval. I know, though, that when it all settles down, I'll be stronger and more healthy in every way because of God's leading and healing. May he bless you on your journey.


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