Are you a sprinter or a marathoner?

Snow shoeing outfit.

Snow shoeing outfit.

I’m mostly a sprinter.

For fun, I recently tracked my tenure in all the jobs I’ve ever held.

Even though I’ve been an educator all my life, it’s also true that the longest job I ever held continuously was eight years as president of Goshen College.

It so happens that I’ve been blogging about memoir for eight years also. That rhythm suggests change is imminent.

Here’s the breakdown of the last eight years.

Before publishing my memoir Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World, I used my blog to share what I learned as I read 100Memoirs.

Since then, I’ve blogged about Magical Memoir Moments.

If you’ve been following this blog, you may have picked up some hints about my next sprint.

After taking a Lenten Sabbatical from blogging last year, I said:

In the midst of contemplation, I got an exciting new idea for a new writing project. I felt that familiar “powerful pulsing of love in the veins,” a feeling I have known since childhood and now associate with all creative work. I have been buzzing with gratitude for the gift of inspiration, even if it comes to naught or goes into directions I can’t foresee.


The electrical feeling of touching God’s garment can never be dismissed. As long as I have it, I’ll never feel old. I’ll be working on this new idea for weeks or months before I can talk about it. For now, I just want to report that I wasn’t expecting it and that I’m enjoying it. By getting calmer, I also got more excited.

Then I listened to Isabel Allende give a TED Talk on passion, and I learned a new word from her:


“‘Retirement’ in Spanish,” says Allende, “is “jubilación.” Jubilation, celebration.”

It’s viewed as a gift because: “Unless you are ill or very poor, you have choices.”

I was so inspired by this talk that I wrote a letter to Isabel Allende.

Imagine my excitement when she wrote back to me!

I sat with the idea of Jubilación, connecting it to the idea I first called “encore vocation” during my sabbatical,

wondering how it would re-enter my life again.

Then I went to a writer’s workshop at Whidbey Island.

While I was there, I recognized the Serendipity of place.

It was in the Farmhouse of the Whidbey Institute that I started on the path that led to my mission statement in 2004. I had returned to the same place and knew it again for the first time.

I remembered my mission:

“To prepare for the hour of my death. One good day at a time. And to help others do the same.”

It had been over ten years since that original statement came to me. That’s a long sprint!

My writing, moving forward, will evolve more directly toward that mission.

I’ve been given a wonderful gift to enable that work.

On December 18, 2015, I received word that I have been awarded the Kilian McDowell Fellowship at the Collegeville Institute next fall.

My topic? Jubilación: Vocation in the Third Act of Life

I look forward to taking many laps around this lake:

Along the Chapel Trail to Stella Maris at Sagatagan Lake

Along the Chapel Trail to Stella Maris at Sagatagan Lake. Photo: Bearings Magazine

I might even sprint!

Are you a sprinter or a marathoner? Do you see a pattern in the rhythms of time in your life? What questions or comments do you have about Jubilación?

Shirley Showalter


  1. Marian Beaman on January 20, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    I’m mostly a maranthoner, Shirley. My career in education progressing from teaching high school to college has spread over 40+ years. Now I’m well into my third act, writing. I remember a conversation years ago with a colleague who was also a textbook author/ poet. When I asked her what it was like to be a writer, she commented, “I feel myself filling up inside, much like a cow with milk flowing into her udders.” I vividly recall then wondering if I would ever have that feeling. Yes, I do recognize this flow now as you have all your life responding to those pulsations of energy.

    I see you now moving into a more contemplative life, which is not necessarily less active. Right now I’m reading Esther de Waal’s The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination. The prayers and chants give me a break from the urgency of moment.

    Jubilation is the perfect word to describe for this phase of our journey. I like all the synonyms that derive from its Latin origins: shouting for joy, triumph, exultation.

  2. Shirley Showalter on January 20, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    We are again in synch, Marian. I just ordered the book you refer to above. It will be perfect for two adventures I look forward to this year: a trip to Iona, Durham, and Lindisfarne. And then living the monastic life in Collegeville.

    Yes, contemplation and action are part of the same rhythm. I have sprinted around a park near DC while singing, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall rise up on wings like eagles.”

    Celtic influences are streaming to me from all directions. Last night as our adult ed committee was meeting, I was introduced to this lovely Celtic chant. I send it to you with blessing and respect for your marathon life.

  3. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on January 20, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    Shirley, I’m reading a biographical novel by Hedy Leonora Martens called “To and From Nowhere” . It’s the conclusion to “Favoured Among Women” and it deals with the life of a Mennonite Woman and her children who were “resettled” by Stalin, exiled to Kazakhstan in mid winter. What happened to these vulnerable women and children is almost too terrible to read. They constantly cried to God for help “waiting on the Lord to renew their strength.” What makes it so poignant for me is that “but for the grace of God that could have been our family!” My paternal aunts were part of an exile like that, and they remained strong until they passed away in their eighties. They lived for others suffering around them, because they were so strong. Jubilacion!

    • Shirley Showalter on January 21, 2016 at 12:52 pm

      Thank you, Elfrieda, for bringing suffering, compassion, and mercy into the consideration of the word Jubilación. Blessed are those who suffer and those who bring peace. These are your people, and you carry their charism. You will enjoy listening to the music in the link I shared with Marian above.

  4. Laurie Buchanan on January 20, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    Oh my blessed word, Shirley. I’m electrified with excitement at your opportunity! To be awarded the Kilian McDowell Fellowship at the Collegeville Institute is a tremendous honor. My hat is off to YOU! I can hardly wait to learn more about your next writing adventure: Jubilación: Vocation in the Third Act of Life

    • Shirley Showalter on January 21, 2016 at 12:54 pm

      Thank you, Laurie. You catch excitement better than anyone I know. Thanks for being there to share it. Looking forward to sharing in your many exciting journeys of 2016.

  5. Merril Smith on January 20, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    Shirley–congratulations on all of your sprints–and on this most recent (well-deserved) honor. You seem to feel great jubilation at embarking on this new project: “Jubilación: Vocation in the Third Act of Life.” I suspect though, there may very well be a fourth act.

    I suppose I’m a marathoner. I like to think that everything I do is built on what I’ve done. It’s all connected in some way. I’m sure though within this marathon of life, I’ve had some great sprints, as well as some trudging up hills. 🙂

    • Shirley Showalter on January 21, 2016 at 12:58 pm

      Merril, the idea of a fourth act has not occurred to me. But if I get one, I might devote it to painting and photography. So many loves! I’ll never run out of them — and neither will you.

      I share your belief in the connection. In the end this is the overriding truth and the names “sprinter” and “marathoner” become moot distinctions. Keep running, trudging, feeling the breath in your lungs.

  6. Carol Bodensteiner on January 21, 2016 at 11:08 am

    I am a sprinter, in the respect that I like projects I can get into and out of in a reasonably short time. As I said to you one day: “Two hours, two days, two weeks, two months, two years.” Writing novels has challenged me to stick with a much longer project, though even these longer works are broken down into chapters, scenes, sentences.

    You may be a sprinter, but you have a marathoner’s heart, Shirley. You’ve had a consistent thread through your live and work that has kept you on track and moving ahead. Congratulations on this new leg in the race.

    • Shirley Showalter on January 21, 2016 at 1:11 pm

      Carol, you have such a gift for clarity and groundedness. Your mantra has helped you accomplish so much and to stretch you beyond your normal limits. Hats off to you for your steady work that keeps accumulating into more books and more readers.

      I love what you said about the marathoner’s heart and the consistent thread. Reminds me of one of my favorite poems:

      “The Way It Is

      There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
      things that change. But it doesn’t change.
      People wonder about what you are pursuing.
      You have to explain about the thread.
      But it is hard for others to see.
      While you hold it you can’t get lost.
      Tragedies happen; people get hurt
      or die; and you suffer and get old.
      Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
      You don’t ever let go of the thread.

      ~ William Stafford ~”

  7. Marlene Kropf on January 21, 2016 at 11:32 am

    Shirley: I’m thrilled to hear this news — both because of the passion you will bring to writing such a book and the joy and hope it will offer others. This sprint will demand your most creative energy, your deepest insights, and every experience you’ve ever lived and reflected upon. You have what you need to do it!

    • Shirley Showalter on January 21, 2016 at 1:19 pm

      Marlene, so good to see you here and to have your encouragement. You’ve a special gift for the right word at the right time. As you know, the way can look long on the path ahead, even to a sprinter. And it bends away from the known into the unknown.

      But the assurance that “all experience is an arch” and has been preparing me all along is one that has always given me courage and breath for the next sprint. Thank you for the reminder and blessings as you continue your own pilgrimage.

  8. Kathleen Pooler on January 21, 2016 at 11:32 am

    Dear Shirley, as I read this, I felt like I was sailing on smooth waters as you led me through all the phases of your journey. Of course, I know it hasn’t always been that easy but I’ve known you to be very clear on your mission and open to new pathways. Congratulations on your well-deserved Fellowship award. I look forward to hearing all about it. In answer to your question, I think I’m a marathoner—in for the long haul–with a few sprints sprinkled in between. Wishing you continued success and happiness in this next phase of your journey. Very exciting and inspirational!

    • Shirley Showalter on January 21, 2016 at 1:26 pm

      Thanks for getting in the boat with me, Kathy. You are such a kind companion.No, it hasn’t always been smooth water, but I do have more blessings that I can count. Among them is the friendship of other writers, in it for the long haul. I’m so curious about what will happen in the next leg of both our journeys.

  9. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on January 21, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    Thank you for sharing the threads of G-d’s garment here. I feel gathered into a silky presence, and I know one name for that presence is Jubilacion.

  10. Shirley Showalter on January 21, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    “I feel gathered into a silky presence.”

    I love that image, Dolores. Last night I sat under a silky, colorful quilt in my writer’s group. It warmed me. Just as these words today warm me. Thank you.

  11. Joan Z. Rough on January 21, 2016 at 3:01 pm


    I’m very excited by your new project and look forward to watching as you dance your way in Jubilation through a project that I know will inspire many of us humans. I remember talking about this idea when we first met here in Charlottesville, not so long ago. Since I am also wanting use every remaining day of my life in a healing and inspiring way, I will be with you every step of the way. xo

    • Shirley Showalter on January 21, 2016 at 5:57 pm

      Joan, thank you. This topic has indeed been on my mind for years in various ways. And we have had the good fortune to be traveling the road together, whatever the pace. Thank you for your support.

  12. Tina Barbour on January 21, 2016 at 3:46 pm

    Shirley, I cannot wait to hear about your new writing project!! And congratulations on the fellowship. What a wonderful time of contemplation and creativity for you.

    I don’t know if I am a marathoner or sprinter. As far as JOBS go, I become restless and look for something else after about 6 or 7 years. But I am now in a job that uses many of the skills that I use in my life’s work, so perhaps this one will be different.

    I have recently gone in a very different direction in my own writing, a direction that I never would have imagined I would take. It has invigorated me and made me excited about writing again. It’s fun!

    Stay safe in this coming storm. I love snow, so I am sprinting toward the storm and hoping for lots of the white stuff! 🙂

    • Shirley Showalter on January 21, 2016 at 6:00 pm

      Tina, I can just feel your excitement. I’m so happy for you, both that you have work that builds on “the thread”(see the William Stafford poem above in the comments) and that you have a new writing topic. Do come back and place a link here if you have put your new subject online anywhere.


  13. Val Brubacher on January 21, 2016 at 5:11 pm

    Have you heard of the documentary Advanced Style?
    I watched this as part of a movie marathon on a flight home from Austria, having dropped off my daughter for a semester of international studies. A photographer has chronicled a series of fabulous older women in New York who are fashion icons, devoted to style and class in a way that can only happen in New York! Perhaps a little avante garde or over the top, but wonderful!
    Not directly related to your topic but I am always inspired by women in the third (or fourth!) chapter of life who continue to live beyond the expectations of what they should be doing at a certain age…like the artist who touches fame at 94 but never veered from her path.

    • Shirley Showalter on January 22, 2016 at 9:20 am

      I saw the clip you posted earlier on Facebook and thought about how Jubilación is all about having a vocation and finding joy in it all throughout one’s life. Whether others confirm it or not, we know who we are and what we are called to be and do. At least most of the time. 🙂 Good to see you here, Valerie. Hope your daughter has a wonderful year.

  14. Janet Givens on January 21, 2016 at 9:02 pm

    Oh Shirley! WOW. Congratulations. Twice. A personal response from Isabelle Allende (I’m very jealous) and the fellowship (I’m so tickled for you. You are obviously perfect for it — and thank you for the link). Jubilation. Indeed. Joy to the world.

    I had to give your sprint or marathon dichotomy some thought and I’ve come up with my answer: I am a serial marathoner. I can see a series of discrete phases of my life, often in 5 and 10 year increments, yet all bringing me to where I stand today. We returned from Peace Corps ten years ago this June and the book was hatched and has flown. A new phase is about to begin. I feel it. Thank you for helping me name it.

    • Shirley Showalter on January 22, 2016 at 10:24 am

      Janet, I think you and I are groping to the same kind of blend. For you it is “serial marathoner.” For me it is continuous, aligned, sprints that from 30,000 feet look like a marathon.

      Thanks for your kind words. I can’t wait to see what comes out of your new period of gestation. And I envy you upcoming time in Chincoteague with so many dear friends.

  15. Marylin Warner on January 22, 2016 at 12:26 am

    When I retired after 30 years of teaching h.s. writing, literature and speech, Shirley, one of my Writing to Publish students had made a pottery bowl with Jubilation! engraved on the side. It was one of my favorite things for years, until it was accidentally knocked off the table by by learning-to-walk granddaughter, and who could complain about that? 🙂
    Bundle up, stock up with necessities, and enjoy the snow storm. Do some wonderful writing!

    • Shirley Showalter on January 22, 2016 at 10:47 am

      Thank you, Marylin. I’m looking to the west right now and the sky is full of snow. I always love watching it advance toward us and then envelope our house here on top of the hill. Should be quite a ride. Snow shoes and sled lean against the kitchen wall.

      Your writing student must have known you would be a living embodiment of that word. The fact that your granddaughter broke it just means it was of use. Here’s a poem that connects the threads serendipitously:

  16. April Yamasaki on January 22, 2016 at 10:35 am

    I’m not at that point of Jubilacion yet, Shirley, but I love to see how you and others are leading the way! This is wonderful news for you personally and for all of us who benefit from your research and writing. Looking forward to following you on this journey!

    • Shirley Showalter on January 22, 2016 at 10:50 am

      Thanks for giving me the role of explorer on behalf of others as well as myself, April. My vocation is learning, and when I have learned, I can’t help myself. I have to share with others. It helps me so much to know that my joy and my struggle might be of use to others. Thanks for coming along on the ride.

  17. Marilyn L. Davis on February 4, 2016 at 4:41 pm

    Retiring, reinventing, and realization. Three topics that run through your words and my life. I came here because you liked my memoir piece at Two Drops of Ink. Again, it’s those unforeseen meetings and introductions that produce serendipity.

    The third quarter of our lives. I’m much more comfortable with that descriptor. Someone asked me the other day how I liked middle age. I had to tell them at 68, I knew very few people that were 136 year old, so perhaps they needed to rethink their description. Now I know from you that it’s Jubilación.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 6, 2016 at 12:58 pm

      Hi, Marilyn. It’s great to “meet” you this way. Thanks for the visit. I am following close behind you in age. Hard to give up the descriptor “middle-aged.” Of course, it was hard to accept it at first, too. The best response is joy. And connections with others on the path home. Hope we can continue connecting.

  18. Elaine Mansfield on February 6, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    How wonderful, Shirley. You looked and asked. You reflected, waited, and found the next open door. I seem to be heading for an open door, although it’s requiring a more creative and less sure side of me, more trust and experimentation, and less fear of failure.

    Jubilación is so important and sometimes hard to find. I’ve had a few too many sick and aging people to deal with including my own infirmities, but I’ve also learned to find that sense of celebration in my freedom to make choices and walk my own path. I know the joy of new ideas, moments of peace, beautiful sunny days like today, the gift (we won’t overthink this) of no snow in February, green mosses and running streams in the winter forest.

    This preparing for death, my own and others, gives me essential joy and a sense of meaning. When I walk in the local hospice to volunteer, I know I’m in the right place with the right people. I know I can help my brother and mother-in-law or a friend. And writing is another way.

    I’m a marathoner and “even more, a mudder. I don’t know a thing about horse racing and neither did Vic, but he loved calling me a mudder–the horse that does well on a wet slow track that messes up the faster horses. The persistent trudger who never gives up. That’s me.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 6, 2016 at 7:52 am

      Dear Elaine, I came back to this post today and noticed that I had not responded to your beautiful comment. Now you are mourning the loss of your amazing brother (I watched the video of the tribute to him at Harvard).

      You may be a mudder, but you are a sleek and beautiful one, rounding the bend to that final tape, cheering on the others as they go also to the finish line.

  19. […] to the Collegeville Institute in […]

  20. […] I was “on deck” as the first scholar to present my findings and receive feedback on my project: Jubilación: Vocation in the Third Act of Life. […]

  21. […] I felt an immediate kinship between the vocational search Jess has been on and my own lifelong search culminating in Jubilación. […]

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