Retirement redefined as renewal

Everyday Stewardship |

Going from two incomes to one and feeling OK

We’ve heard the expression about change being the only constant in life, but when change involves a household going from two incomes to one, it’s natural for at least some anxiety to creep in.

David Falls and his wife, Sabrina Sigal Falls, of Indianapolis know what that’s like. They experienced it firsthand as they were “wrestling with the numbers” in David’s words, prior to his retirement in September 2014.

Sabrina grew up in New Jersey and Pittsburgh and David, in Illinois. They both ended up in Philadelphia, and met at Central Philadelphia Friends (Quaker) Meeting.

“Both of us studied at Earlham School of Religion (in Richmond, Indiana) and I took a position here as a pastor in Indianapolis” after earning her Master of Divinity degree, Sabrina said. Earlham School of Religion, a graduate program of Earlham College, was founded as a Friends seminary in 1960.

After pastoring a Friends congregation, Sabrina turned her ministry to focus on therapeutic music, using the harp. “I was playing the harp on the side, but it became my full-time profession as well as a ministry,” she said.

“I became a certified music practitioner to play therapeutic music at people’s bedsides,” mostly in hospitals, Sabrina said. “The work pays fine per job, but it’s unpredictable.”

For 15 years prior to his retirement, David worked for the Indiana commission for Higher Education, helping to manage the state’s financial aid programs. He enjoyed the work, “but the stress was getting to be more than I could handle.”

He stepped out from behind his desk at the state commission, feeling relatively comfortable that things would work out in terms of finances.

Still, Sabrina’s new role as the sole income earner led to some uneasiness.
David said, “One reason Sabrina was concerned when I was leaving full-time employment, with benefits, is that she’s self-employed. She felt, ‘Now I’m carrying the weight of the earnings for our family.’”

The couple had worked with an advisor who helped them manage their investments, which they felt strongly should be concentrated in companies they consider socially responsible.
But the advisor was going through a transition of his own at the time David was pondering leaving his job, and wasn’t as accessible as the Fallses wanted him to be. David felt they needed a third party to affirm that their financial train is likely to stay on its track into the future.

“It was kind of a process of reassurance,” he said. “I thought we’d be OK, but I also thought it would be good to have someone with expertise in retirement planning” to review and assess their situation.

David said, “We’d heard about Mennonite Mutual Aid (now Everence®) for years,” especially after he and Sabrina started worshipping at Shalom Mennonite Church in Indianapolis. “I noticed a brochure about Everence in a pamphlet rack. The timing coincided with us exploring other options.”

After receiving positive feedback from several others in the church who had done business with Everence (and visiting, David and Sabrina began working on an overall financial plan with an Everence advisor with expertise in working with older adults and retirement-related issues.

As a result, the couple now feels better about their financial picture for the years ahead. “We feel confident we’ll be OK,” David said.

Health insurance was another issue to consider as David retired. Instead of having coverage through his employer, the Fallses needed to find a plan and pay for it themselves.

They found an insurance plan on the health care exchange set up through the Affordable Care Act, although the cost of their plan jumped recently and left them exploring other possibilities.

Sabrina continues her music ministry. She was drawn to the harp some 30 years ago, in part by listening to traditional Celtic music. There came a time when “I felt the Holy Spirit speaking to me, planting the seed.” Playing the harp “lifted my spirits, and I was able to use it as a healing instrument for other people.”

Sabrina has steady music therapy work at IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. She also visits St. Vincent Heart Center in Indianapolis and another nearby hospital, but not on a regular schedule. Typically, a hospital foundation or similar organization (not the patient) pays Sabrina for those sorts of visits. Sabrina also plays for weddings, funerals, memorial services, receptions, retreats and other occasions, as well as in church during worship services – and sometimes preaches at Shalom Mennonite.

David and Sabrina are blessed to live around the corner from their son, daughter-in-law and two young grandchildren. That proximity is intentional, as David and Sabrina sold their previous home and moved to be closer to their family. The new location has produced many opportunities to look after the grandkids, and the new home has provided David with a few home improvement projects.

“I tell people who ask me about my retirement that although I experience significantly less stress now than I had when I was employed – for which I am very thankful – I am not less busy,” David said. He has picked up most of the household duties, although Sabrina still handles meal preparation “for which I am very grateful because she is a talented cook.”

He does enjoy the freedom to take care of outdoor chores on a weekday if the weather forecast for the weekend looks unfavorable.

Sabrina has no plans to “retire” her music ministry. “If it is God’s will, I hope to be able to play the harp professionally and otherwise for the duration, so I do not give any thought to the alternative,” she said.

In fact, “My advice for people considering retirement: Retire the word ‘retire’ from your vocabulary.” Sabrina said, “If you’re excited about leaving your job or ending your career and this word is for you an apt description of that joyful eventuality, then fine – use it!”

But for many people, she said, “retirement” can be a scary term, “conjuring images of receding, withdrawing from an active and vital life. It contributes to the idea that growing older means being relegated to the sidelines and becoming irrelevant.”

In Sabrina’s view, “We need a better word! Maybe say, ‘I’m renewing’ or ‘I’m resetting.’ Because there’s so much to do, so many ways to use our gifts – and now there’s actually time to do so many things that we never had time for.”

Jim Miller


Jim Miller

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