The call to the Southwest

Retirement looked easy – I just wanted to eat bonbons and watch TV

The first thing I noticed after moving to metro Phoenix is that most people don’t get dressed up here. They’re usually casual, wearing sandals or flip-flops and shorts or jeans. Because I choose to dress professionally with a flare, I’m usually asked: You’re not from around here, are you? But that doesn’t matter because I get dressed up for me.

I decided in my late 40s while living in Chicago that I would retire as soon as I was eligible. My jobs as an executive assistant and event planner were highstress and fast-paced. So after 39 years, I knew I’d be ready to slow down while my health was still good.

There are several things I miss from the Chicagoland area – the food, shopping and culture. It’s a great city for getting deep-dish pizza, sitting by Lake Michigan and eating fried shrimp near Navy Pier. But the 47-degrees-belowzero weather got tiring – which is why, almost 15 years ago, my husband at the time suggested we try Arizona. So we moved here, even before retirement. My family is originally from the South, so the warmer weather just felt right.

While traveling on the downside of life’s mountain, I’m glad to be on top of the ground, rather than have the ground on top of me. It’s great to feel fulfilled and love life.

Beforehand, retirement seemed easy – I thought it was all about eating bonbons and watching TV. After retirement, I didn’t do anything for 1½ years. But sitting around and doing nothing got boring. How many lunches and shopping trips can a girl take? Plus, the threat of Alzheimer’s disease concerns me, since it runs in my family. I needed to keep this old brain active, so I started working on part-time projects.

Last fall, I was working with a marketing company temporarily for three months as part of a logistics team that planned training events. My job was coordinating and posting attendee lists with venues, hotels and businesses, as well as coordinating rooms, food, materials, activity lists, instructors and travel.

The company wanted me to move to a full-time, permanent position. But that’s not for me. After retirement, my perceptions about jobs changed. I want work to fit my lifestyle now. My jobs come through a temp agency, so I can decide when and where to work.

Work keeps me young and high-spirited.There’s always something new to learn. I tell others who are getting ready for retirement to keep open minded to new adventures and skills. Don’t assume you know everything.

When you’re working, you take job benefits for granted, like life, health and other insurance plans. After deciding when to retire, I started saving more. People should start saving as soon as they can. They should also make it a point to schedule an appointment with a counselor at the Social Security office to find out about retirement so they at least have a solid foundation to start from. I had to rush to discuss options and complete my paperwork to finalize everything at the last minute.

I can’t say enough about doing your homework well in advance before you retire. I had to learn that my Social Security check was going to be reduced by taxes and that I had to pay for part of Medicare insurance and additional supplemental health coverage. I just prayed to God to show me whatever I needed to do when it came to retirement.

Now, working on temp jobs during retirement helps me financially. One of my relatives, who is in her 80s, depends on Social Security only. With no increase this year, she will suffer. Work keeps me young and high-spirited. There’s always something new to learn. I tell others who are getting ready for retirement to keep open minded to new adventures and skills. Don’t assume you know everything. When you’re working, you take job benefits for granted, like life, health and other insurance plans. After deciding when to retire, I started saving more. People should start saving as soon as they can. They should also make it a point to schedule an appointment with a counselor at the Social Security office to find out about retirement so they at least have a solid I’m “the young relative” who can help her, so she’s now sort of my dependent. It’s devastating to be on a fixed income and to not have enough money at the end of the month to support yourself.

Most of my adult life I have been involved in teaching Sunday school classes for young adults in their 20s to 40s. I have a soft spot for young adults and children, too. I also teach the new members’ classes.

At almost age 69, I’m like the “other mother” to 27 children. They call me Ma or Ma Brown. All of them have biological mothers, but I’m like their spiritual mother. I orient them to church culture, history and structure as they become part of the faith community – and help them with “life-hood.”

Not being their biological parent, it is easy for me to listen to their struggles, their stories and offer them choices. If they ask me questions, I won’t just tell them what they want to hear. I am not the kind of loved one who sugarcoats answers. It’s important for them to grow in their faith and their relationship with God.

I am still a “Christian under construction” myself. I am content when God decides to change the window dressing or paint from time to time – but am happy he never stops building within me. I stay connected with my belief in God through my church and church family. Retirement gave me more time to study the Bible and to develop a closer relationship with God. I want to serve God and share the gifts he has placed within me.

Staying active is important. It’s detrimental when people my age become idle. And I can never learn enough. I believe the saying that “the idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” This coming year, I want to learn how to play bridge and speak Spanish.

I have lots of fun. I was in Hawaii for a month last fall, my fifth time there. I travel with a friend whose husband passed away a few years ago. Thanks to our silver hair, we now call ourselves the platinum ladies!

My short-term plan is to make preparations to spend my 70th birthday on the beautiful beaches in Aruba! God has been so good to me. I have a sound mind, good health and a free spirit. I don’t know what the future holds, but I will go where the Lord leads me.

Brenda Brown is an Everence member living in Phoenix, Arizona, who told her story to Judy Martin Godshalk, a Marketing Manager at Everence.

Home-state insurer

One thing Brenda doesn’t have to worry about in retirement is her health coverage. When she dove into the retirement health insurance maze, Everence caught her eye on the list of supplemental plan insurers. “I noticed that Everence is based in Goshen and is a religious organization,” she said. “I was born and raised in nearby South Bend, Indiana.

“I was blessed and grateful to find Financial Representative Jim Smith. He won me over,” she said. “Jim laid out everything and answered all my questions. I love that I don’t usually have co-payments and am thankful for my coverage.” Learn more at everence.com/medsupp.