Born a Procrastinator

“There is a time to be born and a time to die,” so said Solomon in Ecclesiastes. But I was a procrastinator, even before I was born; so in a sense, I defied that edict. This was not good, since it was very important that I be born on time. It was a life and death matter!

Please listen to this tale of my untimely birth. And a postponed death. Both, of course, happened exactly when they were supposed to happen. But don’t tell the Elder Clan that, for they would disagree!

My Aunt Betty had suffered with the life-long debilitating effects of contracting rheumatic fever as a child. For most of her adult life she was an invalid, often bedridden. Despite this, she was the most popular person in Stockton, California, if the oft-told Elder Clan tales are correct!

According to those tales, Aunt Betty never complained about her situation. She was often described a saint who drew people to her bedside by a patient loving demeanor. When people came to visit to cheer her up, she cheered them up instead. She listened to their woes and gave wise counsel, so much so that streams of people came daily to “comfort her.”

In January of 1943, as WWII raged and people needed a LOT of comfort, Betty’s health deteriorated. So much so that her doctor predicted that she had only a few days to live. Maybe less! And he made this dire prediction just a few days before my due date!

My mother, so the family tale goes, was HUGE with child and “ready to pop.” She loved her sister-in-law, Betty, and spent lots of time “comforting her,” all the while complaining of her own discomfort. Aunt Betty’s greatest wish, so I’ve been told, was to live to see me; but as the days went by and I procrastinated, she got weaker and weaker.

The whole Elder Clan stood vigil, over both Aunt Betty and my poor over-pregnant mother. And that clan was huge!   Besides my Mom and Dad, there were my grandmother, my four other aunts (Katherine, Mary, Helen, and Mona), and my uncle Cliff Elder who was married to my Aunt Mona. They all temporarily lived together because of the war situation and because of Aunt Betty’s condition.

The day before my actual due date, things became critical. Betty drifted in and out of consciousness and the doctor predicted that she wouldn’t make it through the night.

The Clan stood by, helpless. If only Betty could hold on another day! If only the baby would come early! As the day wore on and Betty grew ever weaker, a decision was made. There was one last thing they could do for Betty.

My mother agreed, sorrowful that she would have to say an early goodbye to Betty — and make herself scarce. For what they decided to do was tell Betty I was on the way!

Betty perked up! She stayed awake and waited for news. When she began to fade, and death again seemed imminent, they announced the good news: the baby was born! It was a healthy baby GIRL! And Mary and Ellis (my mom and dad) had named her Elizabeth (Betty for short)!

Aunt Betty rejoiced! She rallied! And of course, she wanted to know all the details. It’s a good thing my grandmother was a great story-teller! At Betty’s bedside she wove tales of a harrowing car ride to the hospital, a long and horrendous labor, and a baby born blue and not breathing!

Oh, it was a dramatic tale! And not a bit of it true, for my mother was out in the hallway listening to every word while she suffered the non-labor pains of being nine months pregnant and nothing to show for it but a huge belly!

The predicted day – of both my birth and Betty’s demise – passed. I wasn’t born and Betty didn’t die. Instead, she continued to improve as she heard more news about her beautiful baby niece which my grandmother spun tirelessly – while my Mom listened in the hallway beside the doctor who shook his head in wonder at Betty’s improvement.

A week went by. Aunt Betty’s health continued to improve. All she could talk about was seeing her little niece, holding little Betty in her arms! Aunt Betty knew, of course, that she would have to wait, since (in those days) moms and newborns were kept in the maternity ward for a couple of weeks.

While Aunt Betty waited patiently, the rest of the Elder Clan worried and fretted. My mother was more than two weeks overdue and NOT happy about it! She couldn’t visit Betty, who would have showered her with compassion and would have listened to all her complaints. And she worried! What if that wildly kicking baby inside her bulging belly was a BOY!

It was just about all the Elder Clan talked about (out of ear-shot of Betty’s bedroom). What would they do if the baby was a boy? Betty was so thrilled that the child had been named for her! How could they break the news to her that her niece Betty was a BOY?

FINALLY, over two weeks past my due date, my mother went into labor! The next morning, a collective sigh could be heard throughout most of Stockton, when news got out that Mary Elder had delivered a baby GIRL!

Through some arm twisting (tales mention the intercession of my Dad’s commanding officer…), mom and baby were able to go home after less than a week (unheard of in those days). And Aunt Betty finally got to hold her little niece in her arms.

Aunt Betty lived another six months, daily delighting in her beloved namesake. I wish I could say that future procrastination on my part ever produced such life giving results!

This Elder Clan tale, so often told at family gatherings, made a lasting impression on me. I was “named before my birth.” And, even more important, my name, Elizabeth, (as my Aunt Mona told me) meant consecrated to God. Imagine my delight when years later, I came across a verse in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5). “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born, I consecrated you to Myself…”

There have been many times in my life, dark times of depression and self-loathing, when knowing this tale of my birth made ALL THE DIFFERENCE.

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A Round Tuit

Tom gave me a gift awhile back. He made it with nothing but a scrap of paper, scissors, and a colored pen. It was round…sort of (he cut it out freehand). And flat…sort of (cutting it out freehand crinkled the edges). And it was appropriate…absolutely. Tom had heard me remark, several times that day, “…when I get around to it.” Hence his gift: a round tuit.

The round tuit sits in a place of honor on my bookcase and I walk by it every day. You would think its tongue-in-cheek message would rub off on me. But no, I still can be heard saying, “I’ll do that later,” or “I’ll start on Monday,” or, “…when I get around to it.”

This habit of procrastination came home to me last week when I took a stab at cleaning off my desk. Now, my office desk is not anywhere as messy as Tom’s; but it had come to the point where there was no place to put notes when I was typing. That’s the reason…

Well, actually, I was procrastinating — dealing with the last throes of that “writer’s block” I wrote about last week. Cleaning off my desk sounded like a great idea. (Anything to put off writing!)

That’s when I noticed a purple-ribboned basket filled with greeting cards and little purple notes addressed to Tom and me. (Those of you who attended the celebration of our 50th Anniversary celebration last November might be able to guess what was in that little basket!)

On the day after that purple-full evening, when it was all over but the purple hair dye, I remember placing that basket on my desk, with this well-intentioned thought: “I’ll just set these here ‘til Tom and I have a peaceful, private moment to read through all the lovely notes and cards.”

That was eight months ago. I could excuse myself and say that, yes, we have had lots of peaceful moments – in doctor’s waiting rooms! But to be completely honest, we’ve had plenty of “peaceful, private moments” to go through that basket. We just never got a round tuit.

To a great part, that’s the story of my life! I am a lifelong procrastinator – this has NOTHING to do with age related forgetfulness! I’ve had so many plans, so many godly ambitions and dreams throughout my life; but 99% of them got derailed by a round tuit.

Ben Franklin got a LOT done in his life! But I wonder if he had to battle his own round tuits, since he had a lot to say about “not putting off today what you can do tomorrow.” Here is one of my favorite B.F. quotes: “You may delay, but time will not. And lost time is never found again.”

That reminds me of another quote, this time from Charles Dickens: “Procrastination is the thief of time.” And here is an old Scottish saying: “What will be done at any time will be done at no time.” And here’s one for my Protestant friends: “How soon not now becomes never.” (Martin Luther).

Isn’t it interesting how many quotes about procrastination I can come up with? I love collecting wise quotations – my files are full of them, waiting for a time when I will get a round tuit and write an article, story, or blog. “Researching” is often a handy procrastination tool for those of us who battle “writer’s block.”

I am learning SO much as I journey with cancer! But the most important thing is that time IS life. When I waste time, I waste life! Yes, I did get great news at the last doctor’s appointment (see my last blog); but the truth is, we do NOT know the “day or the hour.” Any of us. The doctor said I could live another 10+ years. But the truth is I could die tomorrow. Or today. That’s something for all of us procrastinators (and I know you are out there) to take to heart.

So, back to the basket. Going through the cards and notes, one by one, made me blush. I felt shame that it has been eight months since our Anniversary celebration! One of the cards contained a gift certificate – and I had never said thank you! (I wrote that thank you note yesterday! Bless you, Karen and Steve!)

But much more than shame, I felt a shower of love from our family and friends. A precious note from Rebecca (my daughter), written on her wedding stationary – from twenty years ago! A sweet note from my god-daughter, Maria. Another from my dearest friend, Julie.

But the biggest surprise – one that brought me to tears – was the note from my son-in-law, scribbled on one of the purple note cards we provided for our guests. I’ve shared some of John’s writing with you before, so you know he is a great writer. I called him last night, first to thank him, belatedly, for his beautiful tribute, but also to ask his permission to share what he wrote with you. He didn’t remember what he wrote, but trust me: I always will! Here is a portion of John’s note, leaving out some of the more personal comments:

“Love never fails.” Before Christina and I got married, if I’d been asked to describe love in a metaphor, I’d have said it’s like fire. Intense, unquenchable, all-consuming, ever-growing and ever-burning fire.

And it’s a good metaphor. But fires burn out. There are embers, sometimes, but they need fuel and tending. But the fire never burns at the same intensity as before.

After 15 years (of marriage), I now know that love is a rock. It is the firm place to stand in the storm…and I know some of the storms you’ve endured together. And the storms tried to break you…but the storms failed. Love never fails. Hard times financially, hard times spiritually, hard times with family, hard times with health, even the shadow of death…all broke against the unbreakable rock of love.

Love never fails. Not in 15 years. Not in 50 years. Not in the length, and breadth, and depth, and width of eternity….

Think about what I would have missed had I continued to procrastinate! I would never have had the JOY of reading this incredible gift John left in the basket! I would never have gotten a round tuit.

I also would never have experienced the DELIGHT of reading my grand-daughter Lydia’s brief tribute to Tom and me which I also got permission to share:

They were the reason my mom was born, and my Mom and Dad are the reason I was born. LOVE you, Grandpa and Grandma!

Procrastination almost robbed me of immeasurable JOY. What’s procrastination been robbing from you lately? It’s time to stop that thief! Let’s not wait until we can get a round tuit.

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Still Walking…but not Writing

 

I thought it was writer’s block. As the days flew by after I wrote my last blog, Walking in Joy, I occasionally returned to the computer, but nothing happened. Sometimes a trickle of triteness dribbled out onto the computer screen; but it sickened me and I bypassed the save button.

Not even on May 4, the 1st anniversary of this blog, Growing in Grace….at any age, and the 2nd anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis — and I had just received such good news! At my monthly cancer appointment, I asked the oncologist, “Since the second anniversary of my cancer diagnosis is coming up – when you then told me I had two years, more or less, to live – what’s the current prognosis?”

She smiled. “Who knows? You’ve had such a positive response to the Ibrance and Letrozole (my cancer meds), that, statistically speaking, you will continue to have positive results when we have to go to the next group of drugs.” (Why change meds? Inevitably, the cancer will mutate, start to grow again, and we will move on to the next cocktail of cancer poisons.)

Then she added, “I have patients who’ve been on Letrozole alone, and are still alive after 15 years of treatment!”

Strangely, her words stunned me. “Are you saying I could live another 13 years?”

“Yup.”

The good news brought me no joy. I left the clinic in an odd state of mind. In one sense, I was happy that things were going so well. But I was also a bit depressed.

It took me a while to figure out the problem: I didn’t want to live another 13 years! That would make me eighty-seven years old! I’m totally aware that a person can live a vibrant, purpose-filled life in their eighties and beyond. My grandmother lived to eighty-eight. My mother-in-law lived to eighty-three. Both were valiant examples of women who lived life with courage and faith through every decade of their lives. Why didn’t I want to be like them?

It comes down to courage. They had it and I don’t. At least that’s what I thought as I pondered my reaction to the doctor’s words. You see, living to 87 would also mean living with a plethora of side effects, both from my cancer meds, and quite simply, from growing older. As long as I reasoned that I had only a year or so to live, I could manage the chronic pain from medicine-caused neuropathy. With chronic fatigue, with chronic cancer induced brain fog. (Have you caught that repeating word, “chronic?” It’s not bad editing.)

And then there’s the diminishing sight and hearing. And the shortness of breath. And the fitful sleeping. And the thinning hair, the dry, and the itchy skin (thanks again to the cancer meds…or maybe it’s just aging…). Oh, and the chronic IBS – there’s that word again!

Do you get the picture? I was in the midst of a raging pity party! Where was that woman who “Walked in the Dark with the Prince of Peace?” (See my first blog.) I was wallowing in self-pity and actually complaining that I might live a lot longer than the doctor first predicted!

It took a while, but I finally came to my senses. Truthfully, life expectancy predictions are — as my former eighth grade students would say — bogus! We do NOT know “the day or the hour.” We have only TODAY to live. In the first days of my cancer diagnosis, I was inundated with the ironic beauty that truth. Each morning, I woke with a sense of gratitude for LIFE, for one-more-day! Somewhere in the last two years, I lost sight of the awesome wonder of LIFE. The understanding that ALL of my life is a prelude to Eternity!

You might ask, “What has this got to do with writer’s block?”   The truth is: there is no such thing as writer’s block. Every writer knows this, but hates to give up that marvelous excuse for not working at the craft of writing! It’s easier to moan, I can’t do it! I’ve got writer’s block!

I let the “cares of this world” strangle the life out of my words. I let the troubles of our age — the election firestorm, the news/fake-news fiasco — turn my thoughts to topics I really hated to write about but felt I couldn’t ignore. Writing became a drudge, an item on my To Do list that got increasingly easier to ignore. Well, I’ve had my pity party, and I am back, writing again, as you can see.

But Growing in Grace will be a little different from here on. First, there’s the new look (at least for friends on Facebook.) Instead of that bright purple petunia, (my WordPress avatar) you now see me! I have a very good friend who kept complaining about the flower – “We need to see who’s talking!” So now you can see. (If you prefer the petunia, blame Julie O.)

And there will be other changes. I will be trying to stay closer to my original goals for Growing in Grace. Here is a snippet from my journal written in late April, 1016:

Growing in Grace will be about growing older, about having to slow down, give up activities, “retiring.” It will be a place to share my journey with cancer, hopefully to encourage others along this same journey. But mostly it will be about walking with God, the master weaver, the master gardener, the shepherd, savior and lover of my soul.

Recently, I heard Tim McGraw’s popular song from 2000, Live Like You Were Dyin’. It says what I want to say much better than I ever could, so here are the lyrics. Enjoy!

He said I was in my early 40’s

With a lot of life before me,

And a moment came that stopped me on a dime.

I spent most of the next days, lookin’ at the x-rays,

Talkin’ ‘bout the options and talkin’ ‘bout sweet time.

I asked him when it sank in,

That this might really be the real end.

How’s it hit you,

When you get that kind of news?

Man what ya do?

And he says,

 

I went sky divin’,

I went rocky mountain climbin’,

I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu.

And I loved deeper,

And I spoke sweeter,

And I gave forgiveness I’ve been denying,

And he said someday I hope you get the chance

To live like you were dyin’ too.

 

Reminds me of the Scripture, “O, teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12) Well, not the bull ridin’….

 

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Walking In JOY

In my last blog, Walking with Trolls, part II, I shared two of my son-in-law’s Facebook posts. I hope they captured for you both John’s strong sense of brotherly love and his (slightly warped) sense of humor. In a future blog, I plan to share another of his FB posts. Hey, you should just become his FB friend! Or check out his blog, Munzer Musings, at:

http://munzermusings.blogspot.com/

I am blessed with two sons-in-law. Each of them is a little “weird,” but then they were attracted to my uniquely “weird” (and wonderful) daughters, Christina and Rebecca. Both John and Monty are gentle men. (Note the TWO words, not one.)

John makes a career of being a gentle man, working with special needs clients and teaching courses on non-violent ways to deal with troubled people. Both John and Christina teach these classes and espouse a non-aggressive response to violently acting people. They WILL “take a hit” — and have done so — rather than strike back in any defensive mode that will cause pain. I am proud of their work, but I would never take one of their classes. I don’t want to know it’s not right to punch back. Of course, I would never punch first….

My son-in-law Monty is cut from the same fabric. He is a gentle man. And a gentleman. (John, on the other hand….) Monty had trouble early on adjusting to our family. Especially at meal time. He made the comment early in the game that, at the dinner table, it takes our family just few minutes before we start talking about things that “should not be mentioned at the dinner table.” I smile thinking of our last meal with Monty: he didn’t wince once. He’s become one of us. Well, at least he doesn’t wince.

Anyway, Monty sent me a video clip that PERFECTLY fit both my need to watch something laugh-out-loud funny, AND my desire to add to the list of practical things I planned to share with you this week.

So far, my list looked like this:

1) LAUGH more! One thing I plan to do during Lent is to watch some old Carol Burnett videos – NOT as a penance, but as an antidote for Negativity Poisoning.

2) Practice Thumper’s mom’s admonition: “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” And instead, PRAY for that someone…especially if that someone happens to be our president….

3) Learn more about the issues of the day, choosing sources carefully, so I sound smarter when I argue….uh, scratch that. So I can have a better formed conscience.

So that was my list before I got Monty’s email. At the end of this post, I’ll give the web address of the clip Monty sent me. It’s only 12 minutes long, and – though its primary target audience seems to be those seeking to improve work productivity – it has some wise things to say that are pertinent to our subject.

The speaker in the video, Shaun Ancor, described our Negative News overload perfectly:

When I turn on the news, the majority of it is not positive. In fact, it’s mostly negative — about murder, corruption, disease, and disasters. And very quickly, my brain starts to think that’s the accurate ratio of positive and negative in the world!

When we feed on Negative News, we become negative people. And negative people are neither happy nor productive. Shaun goes on to list some ways to “up the positivity quotient” in our lives:

#1. Gratitude. Every day, for 21 days, write down three different things you’re grateful for that day. Shaun says that, after 21 days, the brain start to scan the world for a pattern –NOT a negative one, but positive! That reminds me of the Scripture, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (I Thessalonians 5:18)

Yesterday, Tom and I had the JOY of attending Mass with our God-daughter, Maria, and her mother Kristina. After Mass, they shared something that DELIGHTED me. As Kristina drives Maria to school each weekday morning, they share with each other things they’re each thankful for. WOW! What a notion!   Mother-daughter bonding at its best! (And they don’t stop at three!)

#2. Journaling.  Every day, journal about one positive experience that happened that day. This allows your brain to relive that experience – underlining it so to speak.

#3. Exercise. Shaun says exercise teaches that your behavior matters. Hmm. I can’t ever remember exercise teaching me anything but the fact that I don’t like it much. But, hey, Shaun IS right: you do feel more positive about yourself after you’ve exercised!

#4. Meditation. According to Shaun, meditation allows the brain to get over our cultural ADHD. Meditation helps us to focus on the one task at hand. (For me, meditation equals prayer; prayer helps me to focus on God more than on myself; and THAT helps me with EVERYTHING!)

#5. Random Acts of Kindness. Shaun suggests that, every day, we post three positive emails, FB or Twitter comments, praising or thanking someone in our digital network. Thumper’s mom would be so proud of us if we did this every day!

Isn’t this a great list? Though its primary audience is for business people, and its purpose is to increase productivity in the workplace, Shaun’s list is based on Scriptural principles. I could have added a Scripture reference to every point, not just the first one. What’s truth is TRUTH, right?

I intend to take this list to heart – except perhaps the journaling. I’m too busy writing blogs these days! I challenge you to try one or two of them. Let me know if you do — and what happened.

Once again, stay tuned. Next time I’ll focus on the third point on my list: developing a better understanding of the issues of the day without dipping into murky News sources.

 

PS Here’s the web address for the video clip Monty sent me:

http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work

 

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Walking with Trolls, part II

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist; but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” And trolls can be beaten, too! I have always loved this quote by G.K Chesterton. Today, it reminds me that the dragons and trolls of our life can also be beaten.

In last week’s blog, I talked about internet trolls, those who “sow discord on the internet though propaganda, hoaxes, and disinformation.” But mostly I focused on the “trollishness” of our media (and personal) conversations since the November election. I declared myself to be on a “fast” from News programs and from negative FB conversations.

Since then I have thought and prayed a LOT about the topic of negativity in my life – and not just since the election. My personality is bent more to the negative than the positive. My family might say that I am more than bent! I would disagree since I DO absolutely believe in the goodness of God, AND that He wins at the end of the story! That’s positive thinking, right?

But yes. I do usually see “the glass half empty.” So, this frenzy of negative Bad News REALLY gets to me. I quickly spiral down into a dangerous place – the “slough of despond.” More like a mental swamp full of dragons and trolls out to get me and those I love.

BUT! “Dragons can be beaten!”   So can trolls. And not just internet trolls. Now I am talking about those trolls that lurk in me, under the foundations of who I am, those inner sirens that call me away from my Faith which is SO positive, to a dingy, dark view of life. It’s time, not just for a News Ban, but a whole spiritual overhaul.

It is time for me, first, to try to develop a Godly mindset about the current issues that threaten to tear our nation apart, remembering first off that it is NEVER Godly to call people names. (Was it a coincidence that a recent Sunday Gospel Reading was from the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus taught about NOT calling anyone an Idiot, or Stupid, or a Fool – words bandied about quite often lately. Even by me.)

Shortly after the November election, my son-in-law, John, wrote a number of posts that were honey to my bitter soul. Here is one of them:

“The only thing I can think to do today, and going forward, is try to live this prayer. We must work for peace…. Shouting at each other led to this outcome. We’ll all need to do a better job listening to each other and caring for each other.

Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of Your our peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

   Thank you, John, for a refreshing reminder!  Thumper could learn a lot from you! (For those of you who might not remember: Thumper was Bambi’s friend, who shared his this wise advice: “If you can’t say something nice about someone, then don’t say anything at all.”)

Just so you don’t think John is a Saint (he is one with a small “s” most of the time….), here is another equally teachable FB message from him:

“Nobody wins a pissing contest. There are only two possible outcomes. Everyone gets pissed on, and everyone gets pissed off.” Ewww! But a perfect observation of today’s public discourse….

In another of John’s FB posts, he challenged us (his “followers”) to write to him personally and share why we voted the way we did. He warned against just putting it out there on FB, which would just bring about more arguing. John, I believe, wanted to have some civil, respectful conversations. No name calling – Bigot! Homophobe! Racist! Just a give-and-take conversation (translation: speak and LISTEN).

Wow, what a revolutionary thought! I wonder how many people took him up on his challenge. I didn’t. I planned to, then hesitated, then forgot about it. Really, I was afraid.

You see, I value John’s opinion of me, so I am afraid to talk about issues where I know we will disagree. I DO want to be understood more than I want to understand. Sorry to say.

But…. I am thinking long and hard about his challenge. Maybe it is time to “beat” that dragon of fear and have that conversation with John – NOT in person, though. I write a LOT better than I talk, so a “PM” (for those one or two of you don’t know what a “PM” is: it is a private message on FB. Ok, Facebook. But not today. I am busy writing this blog! And planning the next one, or two, or three.

You see, this blog was originally a bloated 1600+ words and my editor, Lisa, gently advised – complete with a happy-mouse-face cartoon – that I split the blog into two parts. Tom, the editor-in-chief, concurred.

SO… “the rest of the story/blog” will be coming soon. (In it, I will introduce my other wonderful son-in-law, Monty, who recently sent me a video clip that gives us a list of things to do to “increase the positivity quotient” in our lives. Please come back for the next installment.

Wait. I think I will strike the first blow to “beat the troll” by changing the next title – eliminate the troll! How about Walking in JOY

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Walking with Trolls

It’s been almost a year since I wrote my first blog on this website, Growing in Grace…at any age! The title of that blog was “Walking in the Dark with the Prince of Peace.” (If you haven’t read it, check out New? Start Here. There you can read the entire story of my stage-IV breast cancer diagnosis and the blessings I’ve received while “Walking in the Dark with the Prince of Peace.”)

So. Why am I now “Walking with Trolls?” When I was a child, trolls were those fearsome beasts in the Norwegian tale, The Billy Goats Gruff. Trolls lived under bridges and threatened to eat little goats who dared to cross over them. Today trolls, specifically internet trolls, are not fiction.

According to Google, a troll is “someone who sows discord on the internet though propaganda, hoaxes, and disinformation.” They are cyber-bullies that love to distort facts and defile reputations. These factual fearsome beasts come in all sizes, from malicious websites dedicated to “fake news,” to the lurking Facebook or Twitter hacker who joins in conversations with crude, derogatory, and often inflammatory comments. Trouble is: how can you tell a troll from a FB or Twitter buddie who is just venting? Our media conversations have taken on a trollish tone these days.

That term Fake News, popularized by Trump Tweets (seriously…presidents and popes who Tweet!?), has been bandied about on all news outlets, from on-line to major networks like CNN and Fox – mostly in an accusatory way: “Your News is fake! Our News is authentic!” The problem is, how do we know what is fake and what is real?

Trolls aren’t the only culprits. In an all-out effort to get the biggest headlines and lucrative bylines, news reporters are slanting stories toward sensationalism. There is little effort to check facts. Little or NO effort to be unbiased, to tell both sides of the story – a hallmark of good news reporting in the past. I call this Bad News – not so much Fake as it is badly written and unfairly slanted. Our newspapers and news magazines (on-line and off) read more like The National Enquirer than the “fair and balanced” news they purport to be.

This Fake/Bad News overload is not a new phenomenon. It’s been a growing problem for decades, but has exploded into a firestorm after the election.

The election…. Just saying that word makes my blood pressure rise! Since November (really since the primaries a year ago), we’ve been inundated with an onslaught of negative, hate-filled, fear-fomenting “News” that spreads to Facebook, to Twitter, to…well you get the point. We are surrounded by “social media” that has gone mad. Mad! In every sense of the word.

This isn’t the time or place to go into specific issues that scream from headlines: Suicide Bombing — Isis Claims Credit! Pro-life/Pro-choice March! Executive Orders! More Executive Orders! The point is that we are drowning in a stormy sea of negative news.

At least I am. And it’s not just the daily stories of marches, protests, and riots. The “everyday news” — drownings, traffic fatalities, missing persons, fires, floods, earthquakes, even the death of Packy the elephant — is weighing down my soul. (Hey, I was a senior at Marylhurst College when Packy was born at the Portland (Oregon) Zoo. I woke up to the happy news of his birth on my alarm radio!)

When I wake up these days, I find myself tense. What will happen today? Another flood/earthquake/tornado? Another Hispanic church attacked by hate mongers? Another suicide bombing? What’s next?!  For the rest of the day, I’m drawn like a moth to the Internet News, to Facebook, to radio talk shows to find out what’s happening. I have to know, right?

Then at night, I can’t sleep. My mind is churning. Anger and fear badger me into a state of hopelessness. My prayer life has become a litany of Why God? And, Where are you, God? Why? Why!

In the middle of one of those nightly litanies, I had an “ah-ha” moment. I’d been having a particularly bad case of acid indigestion that day, thanks to a spicy bowl of chili. The thought came to me as I complained to the Lord about the latest crisis in the News: I have spiritual indigestion.

I’ve been feasting daily on a steady diet of corrosive “News” – about the election, about the weather, about executive orders, about deportations, about murder and mayhem all over the world – and I have become SICK. Spiritually sick, emotionally sick, and even physically sick. My blood pressure has been in roller-coaster mode!

Just one example: I grieve for the mother in Arizona, Guadalupe Garcia, torn from her husband and two teen children, and deported to Mexico. I pray for her. I even signed a petition to stop the deportation. But it was too late. And I fear. Who is next? A father? A grandmother? A family with little children – perhaps classmates of my grand-daughter?

I don’t have the emotional armor to protect me from the impact of the Trolls and the Nightly News. Perhaps this battle with cancer has made me more sensitive, more aware of the preciousness of life – and more reactive to those things that threaten our world.

I suspect I’m not the only one suffering from the gluttonous intake of “News” that spews from all our social media vending machines – TV, Talk Radio, Internet, Facebook, Twitter, IPhone, IPad, ETC. In the past month, I’ve read four articles that talk about “addiction to social media.” Yep. That’s me – and I don’t even Tweet!

I am henceforth on a News diet. No more Internet News. No more Nightly News. And limited visits to Facebook — if a blood-pressure-issue is being discussed, I’m off to play Candy Crush! (Another Internet addiction, but at least it’s not News!) Or, better yet, I will spend more time reading the GOOD News, written by the WORD Himself, the Prince of Peace.

 

PS I promised a while back to keep my blogs under 1000 words. For those who care about such things, this blog “weighed in” at 994 words! (NOT counting this PS!)

Next week (God willing!) I will post Walking with Trolls, Part II. As my “editors” (Tom and Lisa) pointed out, today’s blog ended a little abruptly. There is more to the story!

More things we can do to survive the onslaught of heartbreaking issues we face in today’s world. Positive things! Things that can be part of the answer instead of just part of the problem. So, please come back next week!

 

 

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Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant

Let me say, right off: no one has died! The title of this blog, Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant, is often quoted at funerals as a comfort to mourners, implying that their beloved departed is ALIVE and receiving his just reward from Jesus. Yet in the actual Gospel parable (Matthew 25:23), Jesus makes no reference to death at all, just the completion of a job. You might even say, it was RETIREMENT time for the three servants!

Today I want to tell you about a “faithful servant.”

Fifty-three years ago, a tall, skinny (relatively speaking), and – to one certain young lady – very cute young man graduated from Portland University, packed his bags, and headed for his first “real job” in Pasadena California.

(A little aside here: this young lady FULLY expected to receive an engagement ring before Tom’s departure; but all that was on Tom’s mind was FREEDOM! Finally, he would be on his own in the marvelous world of bi-weekly paychecks! It took Tom two years before he realized something was missing in his life….)

Tom’s first “real job” was with the Navy. Not on a submarine – though he did get to take a ride on one as part of his job. He worked for the Naval Ordinance Test Station, helping to design parachutes for bombs! Heat seeking missiles that would blow enemy submarines out of the water. What more FUN job could there be for a young (male) engineer!

The 60’s were tense years and building the best bomb and the best delivery system were top priorities for the government. Not so much, though, for the protesters of the time! NOTS (the Naval Ordinance Test Station) was often picketed and the target of threatened violence. This didn’t seem to bother Tom. He was young then and therefore immortal.

Life was good! In 1966 he took his bride (the young lady from two years before) to live in Pasadena, and at first all was wonderful. “Baby made three” nine months later, though, and the thought of living so far from family and friends, along with several smoggy summers, made Tom begin to hanker for Oregon. That, and my nagging….

But first things first: to advance in his career as an electrical engineer, Tom needed a Master’s Degree. A long dreary stretch of full-time work and part-time grad school, balanced with becoming a husband and father in the space of a year, made those years a much different experience than the one Tom had envisioned the day he left Oregon and headed south. But he never complained – I can testify to that since I was too busy complaining for him to get a word in edge-wise! I wanted out of the smog, for my baby’s sake, and I wanted my husband’s attention! Instead, I was home alone a lot, taking care of Lisa – and typing Tom’s graduate thesis!

(Another aside: when I began typing Tom’s thesis, I did not know how to type. After that 50,000 word labor of love — for it was just that — I was pretty proficient! I have often thought of that “hidden blessing” as I spend so much time at a keyboard!)

But the day finally came. Tom held his diploma in his hands – and eventually the “ticket” North! The story of how the parachute designer for the Navy became a “meter-man” for Bonneville Power Association is too long to share here – maybe Tom will write it. Hey, he WILL have time now…. For today, January 6, 2017, is Tom’s last day at BPA.

[We joked that Tom was a “meter-man” – what he really did is design meters that helped BPA charge customers what they owed. What a comedown from designing parachutes for bombs! Or not…]

Think of it: he has worked for da-man — i.e. the government — for 53 years! Four years with the navy, 39 years at BPA, and 11 years at BPA, as a contractor (he “retired” eleven years ago on a Friday and then came back to work the next Monday, to the same desk, the same job – just a different signature on his paycheck!). Amazing! And if that were the entire story, Tom would maybe deserve a pat on the back, but not a commendation from DA-MAN, Himself.

I will serve as “first witness” for this commendation from Heaven – and Lisa, Rebecca, and Christina, I am sure, will back me up. For 53 years, Tom’s paycheck has supported the three of us with a (very nice) home and LOTS (as in too much) food, and closets FULL of feminity (while his closet has more dust in it than clothes).  And without complaints! I cannot remember, in our 50+ years together, a single question — even a creased brow — about how we girls “spent his hard earned money.”   He paid the checks for all of the above, and much, much more: tuition to private schools, piano lessons, guitar lessons, harp lessons, saxophone lessons, etc. etc. etc.

And the last seven years, he has turned a blind eye to my lavish – ok, wanton – spending on our darling Lydia! Ok. Here he sometimes pretends to complain, but I know that behind that bluster is an equal, if not greater, desire to delight our beloved granddaughter, every chance he can get. He just likes to blame it on “Grandma.”

So what am I saying here? Tom has gotten up at 5:30am and headed off to work by 7am, to face a commute that has grown from 30 minutes to over an hour! For more years than I can figure, he ended his work day with stints as chauffeur for the girls — picking them up at school, taking them to music lessons — only to come home for a quick nap before chaotic evenings with four women. And a few of those years he survived two daughters in puberty, one mouthy toddler who sometimes acted like she was in puberty, and a wife going through peri-menopause. For that alone he deserves a medal! Add to that list the years he suffered through a wife in grad school and student teaching and make that a Purple Heart! (For injuries his body suffered eating nightly TV dinners!)

Through all this (and there is SO MUCH MORE I won’t share…do you hear the three daughters cheering?) Tom has grown before our eyes from an already kind, generous, loving, godly person, to a GROWING-IN-GRACE Christian (in every sense of the word) Catholic. He is the very model of the title of this website!

I could say much more! I could list the awards Tom has earned at BPA (in the years BPA gave out awards…); and I could share another 1000 words about how he has supported me through this cancer adventure; and I could… well you get the point. Maybe I will end this with what one of the BPA secretaries said to me eleven years ago, when Tom “retired” the first time: “I don’t know what we will do without Tom. Every day, he brings humor (the good kind) to the office. He made it worthwhile to come to work.”   From secretaries THAT is commendation!

I won’t end with that. I will have the last word (as is usual, Tom would tell you):

THANK YOU, Tom, my husband for 50+ years, father to our three beautiful daughters, and my forever-best friend. For being there.   Always.

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