The Education of
Nancy Ann Mathys Thurston
School by Osmosis
Sue Mathys’ Backyard Art School, 1957–1986
It wasn't easy being the daughter of Sue Tipps Mathys. She was creative in any media—woodcut, linoleum block print, silk screen, pantyhose rug making, celluclay, watercolor, acrylics, oil, fabric, words, letter writing... I couldn't imagine how I could ever be as good as she was, so why try?
That notwithstanding, Mom taught my neighborhood girlfriends and me how to make puppets with paper mache over clay faces and add fabric bodies, to paint still life watercolors, to sew and to write then sell (for 5 cents each) neighborhood newspapers.
Today I play with words, collage, line drawings, celluclay, altar building, home liturgical art, ritual creation … Do I really wear my mother's "jeans"? You betcha!
In the Box Public Schools
Abilene and Midland Texas, grades 1–12, 1960–1972
I learned my A, B, Cs and math (though I excelled in elementary analysis, I confess that I still use my fingers to count more often than I’d like). I learned how to play the viola and discovered the mysteries of the earth and plants. I struggled through chemistry. I delighted in writing and reading.
I practiced sitting quietly, coloring within the lines and following the rules. I remained blind to segregation for my first eight years, then didn’t change any friendships or perspectives during the remaining four years of integration. I learned history by snippets of the story as told by white, male historians and told volumes by what was left out (and took me years to figure out).
Bachelor of Applied Science (B.A.Sc.), Biology, 1972–1975
If you overlook little things like complete financial dependence and a limited and skewed-by-culture view of myself as a female, I was a free woman when I left home for Trinity University. Leaving behind the red, white and blue hallways of West Texas, I headed toward rooms filled with drugs, sex and rock and roll. It was quite a stretch for a good girl like me to be open to others doing their own thing while I tried to do mine.
Between the complexities of the college scene, I thrived in the intellectual stimulation of the university. I pursued biology as a stepping stone to my professional plan of physical therapy. Learning that a friend was going to transfer back his credits from his first year of medical school to complete a biology degree from Trinity, I applied to do the same thing. Therefore, I received two degrees from two universities in 1976. I loved it.
The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
Bachelor of Applied Science, Physical Therapy, 1975–1976
Fourteen months to become a full time professional physical therapist. It was short but packed full of amazing things—a cadaver that opened the body's muscle, nerve and vessels wonders in profound ways, books full of fascinating facts and labs that trained us in the art and science of therapy.
Wedded Bliss, 1967–present
What can I say? We met in 8th grade (1967) over a viola music stand and had our first date in 1969. Two weeks after I graduated from college (1976), we married. Neither Howard nor I would be who we are today without each other. I’ve always believed that we are soul mates, destined to be together. Long term marriage may not be the easiest school, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Connection to Spirit and Soul, 1979–present
For generations, my family has been knitted into the Christian church—Methodist, Baptist, Catholic. I was raised going to Sunday School every week. I spent ten years believing I was a fraud in the church but never left its fold. Christianity is the faith tradition in which I stand.
I am, however, unable to stay in one church box. My hunger for God was too strong to be fed by one tradition, or even local churches, alone. Methodist. Episcopal. Pentecostal. Social Justice. Mystical. Contemplative. I also felt called for three years to step away from the church and search out the excluded feminine. I am fascinated and honor other traditions, but they are not mine. And mine is wider and deeper and higher than I ever imagined possible—but Spirit continues to call me to the ever growing edge.
My education venues in this training includes the two-year Academy for Spiritual Formation, Bible and spiritual formation teacher and several programs in the art of spiritual direction. I was a licensed lay preacher at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and an Associate with the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Learning also occurred informally with friends, books, in the silence of my own heart and leaning against trees.
Mothering Paul (born in 1982) and Laura (born in 1986) has, and continues to be, one of my most powerful educational experiences of my life—loving, letting go, hanging in there .... The gift has flowed both ways. There aren't enough words for the degrees I have earned through becoming a mother.
Master's degree, Physical Therapy, 1983–1986
I thought I wanted to teach physical therapy, and this degree was a step in that direction. But while I was at Stanford, my life's work began to take a turn. Many of my educational experiences listed below were seeds planted during my time at Stanford.
Ministry of Money
Aligning money with faith, 1984–1994
Through two workshops and devouring their newsletter, this ministry of the Church of the Savior in Washington DC awakened the aligning of my heart and faith with every aspect of my daily life, including my money. Little did I know that this work would lead me out of physical therapy into “Big Topic” work.
The School of Interior Development through Group Dynamics
Striving for Commonwealth, 1976–present
I am drawn to groups and organizations that seek community. Isolation and rugged independence is at the heart of much of our world's darkness at this moment so near midnight. Working in diverse groups has given me a huge education in what doesn't work as well as glimpses of the profound gift of working collaboratively. Some of this work has been with organizations such as the church and Habitat for Humanity. Some with small groups of people interested in diving deeper into an aspect of life. Some groups have ended well, some have crashed and burned, and a couple continue. My education, as always, is ongoing.
Be Present, Inc.*
How to be a single co-chair of the VBSCFDT, 2002–present
Be Present has taught me more about building "personal and community well-being on the strength of self-knowledge rather than on the distress of oppression," replacing "silence with information, assumptions with a diversity of insights, and powerlessness with a sense of personal responsibility." (Vision Statement) I am still learning. I am still working with collaborative leadership. I am deeply grateful.
I am working with others in the Vision Based Social Change Fund Development Team to align philanthropy with equity, believing that philanthropy can take the lead in the movement toward justice.
Needle in the Haystack Studies, 2002–present
I stepped into Harvest Time after Dad's death and the time when our family's financial inheritance passed on to my generation. Harvest Time knew how to use money as a doorway to spiritual transformation. Working with money brought all of life to the surface, and open the way for transformation. My mystical faith has deepened as has the connection to my sisters and brothers around the globe and across the generations. My work here continues personally, as a couple (with Howard) and organizationally as Board Chair. This is one of the cornerstones of my life.
New Paradigm Economics Experimental School*
Money in the Service of Life, 2002–present
I put my toe into the doorway of this experimentation when I was in my twenties with tithing and seeking a way to earn money that was always a service to others. But it wasn’t until I joined a Harvest Time retreat circle that I simultaneously signed up for multiple classes of experimenting with money and community.
We pooled together money into a common donation “pot,” then decided together how to let it flow. Some of us experimented with buying into a condo, each giving 10% of our portfolio to become equal owners as we explored bold hospitality for life and death (hospice-tality), new community ownership models and supporting creativity for the greater good. We were given a piece of land and are in the middle of a gifting process with a diverse group of people from three organizations where “each party becomes giver and Gifted many times over, and our relationship to the Land and to each other transcends the roles of who gives and who receives legal title.” (from the Memorandum of Understanding)
In addition, three organizations—Harvest Time, Be Present, Inc. and Community Wholeness Venture— helped me wake up to race, class, gender and myself and now receive a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Big Topics at Midnight.
School of Womanly Arts
Full Powered Womanhood, 2005–present
I was born into a family and culture that nurtured intellectual and organizational skills. I learned art from Mom, but for most aspects of my life, logic and reason reigned supreme. Those skills were needed for writing Big Topics at Midnight...and for living my life...but they weren't enough. I needed to access my own feminine wisdom too.
I am deeply grateful for Earthmothers Candice Covington and Rosemary Beam for helping me learn to listen to my intuition, my body and the earth (including working with essential oils, vibrational essences and crystals). My more feminine nature has blossomed. More recently, this education has been supported by Andrea Mathieson of Raven Essences where my medicine of working with vibrational essences and deep listening has grown by leaps and bounds.
Out of the Box University
Packaging, Tape and Pogo Sticks, 2004 (Blossoming when I turned 50)–present
I live life in two directions. One is the rule-following, standard "good girl" direction, and one prefers coloring outside the lines and living amid boxes of different colors, sizes with interesting holes poked here and there.
When I set out to write Big Topics at Midnight, I knew it needed to include diversity, but I couldn't see writing about the diversity in the world around race, class and gender without using a variety of creative forms in the book itself. As a result, my reader gets words, photos and drawings, personal memoir, fictionalized ancestral memoir alongside a speaking moon: a Texas-sized and spirited Hectate: history that I never learned in school: my life as a myth with the Eight-eyed Steam Girl in her little red boat.
And here I am writing about my education inside and outside university walls. Writing this story is much more interesting...and true.
Community Wholeness Venture*
Standing in the Gap, 2005- present
My friendship with Alease Bess, and the ministry she birthed—Community Wholeness Venture—has woven its way into my book. This includes the ancestral pilgrimage that we took together back to the land that once held my family’s North Carolina Plantation, through money and spirit and discernment and friendship. She invited me to "stand in the gap" with her, and my life has never been the same.
Life is an excellent classroom for the curious student.