First Gear, We’re Alright

Since Tom retired in 2018 we have had many starts and stops on the way to get here.

Retirement for us has been like a standard shift car. Do you remember learning to drive a stick shift car? If you never have you’ve missed a tangible life lesson!


My first car was a 1973 VW bug. It had only 4 gears, but each one had a purpose. And it took practice using the clutch to make each shift comfortable. How do I know?

When I was first learning to drive my car I was alone practicing starting and stopping in my neighborhood. I was forced to make a stop on a hill, which was fine until a police officer pulled up behind me. Suddenly it mattered how good I was. And I didn’t think I was ready. Actually I wasn’t—I floored the gas pedal and the clutch making an embarrassing jolt forward! Fortunately the officer wasn’t paying me as much attention as I was to him.


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Tom’s first car was also a standard shift—a 1965 mustang fastback. His engine had a lot more power than my little yellow bug. But our affection for our cars was the same.

He loved racing his high-powered orange sport car. Against his mother’s wishes he raced one last time when he ended up blowing the clutch which caused extensive damage to the floorboard and engine. It was towed to his home where he had to face the wrath of his Mom. His Dad required him to rebuild the car, literally, which took months—he rode the bus to school his senior year of high school. Breathe.

How does this fit with retirement?

When Tom first retired it was in 2012. It was unexpected. It was like driving our cars for the first time—fun, awkward and a realization we weren’t quite ready to do this. So Tom got another job. He worked off and on for the next six years until we finally got the hang of shifting gears.


Anything worth learning is worth doing well. Retirement was filled with many unknowns that we were excited to discover—together.

Just as we were about to hit 4th gear, life got complicated—a very sick granddaughter, a worldwide pandemic, a micro preemie grandson born at 24 weeks and the unexpected death of my healthy 66 yo brother to name a few. We found ourselves having to down shift to first gear, never able to accelerate. It felt as if our engine would never reach full speed.

But we realized this season was purposeful.

Every gear has a purpose, otherwise we could skip from 1st to 4th without incident. We must shift one gear at a time to help the engine reach a higher speed with less strain.

God knows our limits.

He knows how to take us from idling to full-speed. And He is patient. I may think I’m ready for over-drive, but God knows what’s best for us based on the road ahead that we can’t yet see.

Telling these stories of learning to drive stick-shift sounds easy and fun. But living through this time was stressful. And what we’re facing today will one day sound easier. What gets us from this day to that day is one word—trust!

First gear—we’re alright!

About Debi Walter

Tom and Debi have been sharing encouragements through their blogs for many years. Marriage, Reading God's Word and documenting family history is our focus. Growing in our relationship with the Lord is primary in all we say, write or do. We are grateful for all who desire to join us in the same endeavors.
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