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The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

Monday 10 July 2017 at 02:25 am.

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for July 6, 2017, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            My love of the writings of Charles Dickens began in high school, a time when English literature was already my favorite subject. From that phase of my life on, at each major life-change, each ending and beginning, I would think of the opening words of Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” – in some life-changes, being reminded of the words of the rest of the passage.

            When I graduated from high school, the rest of the passage flooded my mind: “it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” During the time of high school graduation, I felt every word of that passage keenly. Especially, “it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

            In the years that followed, God was good to me, and when I graduated from Sam Houston State Teachers’ College, I stopped the passage with “it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,” – probably the most apt terms to express my college life that anybody could come up with. It ended as I began my new life as a high school teacher, gaining more wisdom and losing some (not all) of the foolishness.

            A whole string of life-changes occurred during this time of my life: marriage (only “the best of times”), children (only “the best of times”), receiving a master’s degree (only “the best of times”), becoming a college teacher (only “the best of times”), and receiving a doctorate (only “the best of times”). God really blessed me richly during these times, -- I couldn’t believe that all these good things happened to me, the poor country boy from Dime Box.

            Then two more times of life-change came about that called for more of the Dickens’ passage than “[only] the best of times”: retirement from each of my two life careers.

            No doubt the one which caused me the most despair was retiring as an educator after 30 years of teaching, the last 22 in college. It was no longer an age of foolishness, but it was indeed an epoch of incredulity. No one loved college teaching any more than I did, though I can’t say that I was a great teacher (I wasn’t). The unhappiness began when I accepted an appointment to part-time, lower level, administration (my fault for seeking the appointment and accepting it). The despair began when major changes in the upper level administration took place. It had been the “best of times,” it was becoming “the worst of times,” so I knew it was time to retire.

            God was good to me, and He called me into the pastoral ministry, a new, post-retirement career. If anyone has been a pastor, they know it is not a bed or roses or a field of dancing daffodils, so it was “the best of times” and “the worst of times,’ which is probably what any pastor would say. Being “revered” by your congregation, being flooded with Christmas presents at Christmastime, preaching the gospel to eager listeners, teaching without having to give grades, having the freedom to make your own daily schedule, finding sacks of fresh home-grown tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, green beans, etc., stacked against your office door, celebrating births and baptisms, enjoying poppy-seed kolaches and coffee during fellowship time, being loved and accepted even when you weren’t exemplary, -- these things and many more made it the “best of times.”

            After many, many years of serving the congregation, the “worst of times” would happen, as dear, elderly parishioners would be called to the Church Triumphant. More than once, I was at a hospital or a nursing home, saying a bedside prayer as a precious soul left its earthly body. Of course, leaving this world was anything but the worst of times for those faithful children of God. Yet, of course, it was indeed the worst of times for the loved ones standing at the beside, as I discovered when I lost my mother and my father. It was the worst of times because we humans cannot conceive of the joys of heaven.

            This past Sunday was my last Sunday to preach at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas. As my daughter described it, it was a bittersweet occasion. But in no way do I feel the despair I felt when I retired from teaching. I will miss being a pastor, I will miss the regular interaction with people I love, but at 83, I will enjoy the freedom to finish my book, to begin another book, to paint, to do sculpture, and to enjoy my family.

-0-

Ray Spitzenberger has retired after serving as pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, for 28 years, teaching in high school for 9 years and at Wharton County Junior College for 22.

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