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’….

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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!

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

We pledged our Troth

 

First off, what on earth is a troth? Merriam-Webster defines troth as “one’s pledged faithfulness.” “By my troth, I will not trespass on your precious property,” is the word-use example MW gives. How quaint! Troth is such an old fashioned word. Sadly, in today’s world, so also is its meaning.

We have politicians “pledging their faithfulness,” promising us the moon; and couples “pledging their faithfulness – as long as we both shall love.” Oh, they don’t really use those exact words, but that’s what the marriage vows have come to mean in today’s culture. Isn’t that why we have pre-nups?

It’s with these sad, and I admit, pessimistic thoughts, that I write this blog today. This weekend, Tom and I will celebrate the fifty-first anniversary of the first time we pledged our troth, “as long as we both shall live.”

Our Golden Wedding Anniversary was actually a few months back, on June 18. To read about why we are celebrating NOW, read my blog-post, A Groovy Kind of Love. It explains why we decided to wait until this November to celebrate. It also gives quite a lot of information about the Betrothal Ceremony. I was planning to fill today’s blog with lots more betrothal trivia, but instead…

Indulge me, dear readers, as I take a memory trip, (not the same as the “trips” that were common in the 60’s…) to the day Tom and I were forever bound together spiritually. The day we were betrothed:

We were so young. But we didn’t know it. We were old enough to vote. Old enough to drink. Of course, we were old enough to marry! Tom had the engagement ring in his pocket. He had already presented it to me (that’s a story for another day…), but it wasn’t time yet to put it on my finger officially. That time would take place before the altar of God, in the tiny chapel at my old high school….

Tom and I followed Fr. Pettingill up the stairs from Father’s office/apartment. He was the assistant pastor at my parish, but also taught at Marin Catholic High School, and lived on campus. As we walked past the gymnasium, memories of PE classes (ugh!) and sock hops (fun!) lingered in my mind – much more real to me than what Tom and I were about to do.

Father Pettingill had been giving us pre-marital counseling that spring; and in the course of that counseling, he had suggested that we “seal our engagement” in a Betrothal Ceremony. He (wisely) mentioned that the grace of the betrothal would help us remain celibate until our actual wedding day. We needed that grace!

So, we decided to become betrothed before we officially announced our engagement. (I recently found our engagement announcement that had originally appeared in the San Rafael Tribune on November 23, 1965 – on line! Amazing, and a little weird…)

It’s hard to remember, really, what we were thinking that November day. We were in the throes of young love, and that’s what was mostly on our minds.

Except… I remember a profound “sense of the sacred,” a need to bring this most important decision of our lives to the LORD. That’s part of the reason why it was just Tom and me. No guests taking photos (I am a bit sad about that now) or whispering how cute we looked. We were cute, really, but that had NOTHING to do with this sacred moment.

As for Tom’s thoughts that November day: I think he was a bit shell-shocked. I’ve asked him what he remembers. “I remember doing something at the high school. We went to the chapel. It is all very vague….”

For those readers who know Tom, let me say, this was not a “senior moment,” no memory loss caused by aging brain cells! The important moments in life are often a blur in our memory. BUT – and this is the IMPORTANT thing – those moments, especially those sacred moments, are what shape our lives. They “grace us” to walk in faith, through the obstacle course called LIFE. We don’t need to remember God’s touch for it to be effective.

SO, there we were…in the chapel, standing side-by-side at the altar, thinking we were mature enough to take betrothal vows that were as sacred and as serious as wedding VOWS.  We were so young. So clueless. We loved each other and we LOVED God, and that was all that mattered….that, and the sparkly ring Tom placed on my finger, and the engagement party that would be held at my Aunt Mona’s house that night!

And here we are, 51 years later. Battered and bruised by LIFE and all it entails. “…for better for worse…in sickness and in health…”   There are days when we feel SO OLD. (Hey, timewise, we ARE old.)

The gorgeous ¾ carat diamond wedding ring Tom placed on my finger that day now rests in a velvet bag in the safe deposit box. It’s too small for me today; but its meaning (eternal love) is embedded in my heart now, not in its sparkle.

Our “date nights” these days consist of dinners out after doctor appointments. We discuss blood test results over soup and salad. Without margarita’s, sad to say, because they would react with my meds. If this sounds sad and pitiful, it’s not! Those blood tests are almost always positive. And yes, we do try to get the “early senior discount.”

Yet…. We are still so young.   Our spirits are young. And as clueless to what lies ahead as we were that day, following Fr. Pettingill up the stairs. Eternity is just not something you can get your head around.

On this Saturday, Tom and I will renew the vows we took 51 years ago, then repeated nine months later on June 18, 1966, our wedding day. That was a LONG time ago! Yet, compared to eternity…it was a flash in the pan. Like a streak of lightning…

That reminds me of a joke Tom brought home from work yesterday. A quote from Clint Eastwood: “Marriages are made in heaven…so are thunder and lightning.”

 

[As I said, I planned to tell you LOTS more about the history of the Betrothal Ceremony in this blog; but instead I took a trip down memory lane. I hope you enjoyed the detour. But, for those who DO love history, just go to Google and search for betrothal and…

St. Thomas Aquinas

Or, St. Augustine

Or, Pope Benedict the First

Or, Pope Gregory the Great

Or — go to http://www.catholicculture.org

Or — get a copy of the actual ceremony from 1965, at http://www.catholicfreeshipping.com

Like I said, I had LOTS of trivia about Betrothals to share…aren’t you glad I didn’t?]

Note: stuff in brackets do not count as part of this blog. Otherwise I would have gone over the 1000 word limit I promised a while back.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Tribute to Teresa

This coming Saturday (October 15) is the feast day of Saint Teresa of Avila. For many years now, I’ve looked to Saint Teresa as the model of the kind of person I would most want to be, if only I could! That’s what Saints are for! They are to be like prototypes for us, examples of how to live the Christian life.

Who could not be attracted to this Saint? Once, while traveling by ox cart from one of her Carmelite Foundations to another, the cart overturned and Teresa was dumped into the mud. “Mud” was the polite way of describing the liquefied dung that covered the roads in sixteen century Spain.

Picture it in your mind. There she was traveling wearily from convent to convent, doing exactly what Lord had asked her to do.   She was doing HIS work, she was HIS servant, faithfully following HIS commands. Teresa looked up to heaven, and remarked (I am sure with a wry smile), “Your Majesty, if this is how You treat your friends, no wonder You have so few of them!”

In the last year, I’ve come to look on Saint Teresa, not just as a Saint in heaven that I can admire from afar, but as a friend.  Please, dear Protestant friends of mine, do not fret. Friendship with the Saints isn’t something to fear or condemn.   It’s our privilege as members of the Communion of Saints.

You might ask, “Just how does one become a member of this illustrious group, this fellowship that seems to span the bridge between life and death? The answer is Baptism. All baptized Christians are members, by re-birth, in the Communion of Saints, also called the Body of Christ.

One of my dearest friends (down here on earth!) is Julie Onderko, founder of the Apostolate Catholic Finish Strong. A year ago, Julie’s first book, Discover Your Next Mission from God: Saints who Found God’s Will – and How You Can Too, was published. This book, which I highly recommend, has helped me to understand, at least in a small way, the Catholic teaching about the Communion of Saints, that great “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) who watch from the grandstands of heaven and cheer us on. They CARE about us – we are their sisters and brothers after all!

Perhaps in a future blog I will share more about my growing friendship with Teresa — how she inspires me every day to be a better writer! And how she models (in her writings) how I can face both my cancer and (sometimes even more daunting) growing old.  Until then, I highly recommend reading Teresa of Avila, The Book of Her Life, written by Teresa herself and translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD. (I strongly advise choosing this translation. Kieran Kavanaugh has translated all Saint Teresa’s writings and is considered THE expert on all things Teresian.)

I also invite you to read the following article which I wrote four years ago for Catholic Finish Strong – (catholicfinishstrong.com).  Enjoy!

 

The Saint Who Wanted to Retire

by

Elizabeth Wolf

      “I’m too busy!”  “I’m too old!”  “I’m not qualified!” Have these thoughts ever stormed your heart after God asked something of you? Such “fiery darts” from the enemy have always plagued good people trying to discern the will of God. Think of Moses – “I can’t speak well!” Or, Jeremiah – “I’m too young!” Or, Sarah – “I’m too old!” Or, Isaiah – “I’m too sinful!” Or, Saint Teresa of Avila….

 A Brief Teresian History

     Teresa entered the Carmelite monastery of The Incarnation in 1535 at the age of twenty. After nineteen pleasant but spiritually fruitless years as a Carmelite sister, Teresa underwent a profound conversion experience. During this life-changing spiritual upheaval, her eyes were opened to the desperate plight of the Church. The Protestant Revolt was at its height and whole nations had fallen away from the Truth. “The world is in flames…they want to ravage His Church…,” Teresa wrote to her Sisters [from Way of Perfection].

In response to this, Teresa began what she felt would be her life’s work: reforming her Carmelite Order, returning it to its eremitic, contemplative roots. She so believed in the power of the “prayer of the righteous man (or woman),” that her thought was: the more spiritual we (Carmelites) become, through prayer and a life of holiness, the closer to Jesus Christ we will become, and therefore the more effective our prayers for the Church will be. As she put it, “Let us be the kind of persons whose prayers can be useful in helping those servants of God, that though enclosed we will be fighting in strict solidarity with the captains (the theologians and preachers) who defend the Church” [from Way of Perfection].

With these thoughts in mind, Teresa began her work as founder of the new Discalced Carmel Order. In the next twenty-three years, Teresa traveled throughout Spain in covered wagons, on the backs of mules and horses, and even sometimes on foot, founding twelve new Foundations, Carmelite communities for women — and she inspired a young friar, John of the Cross, to help her establish new Communities for the friars.

At sixty-two years old, after founding twelve new Carmelite Communities, she was (understandably) tired. Teresa looked forward to retiring – to “continue with her spinning” and live the quiet contemplative life she had worked so hard to establish for her Sisters. But God had other plans for her.

  Teresa’s Life as a Writer

      Eight years after her conversion experience, under obedience to her spiritual director, Teresa penned her first major work, The Book of Her Life – at the age of fifty! Following in quick succession (again on orders from her superiors), came Way of Perfection, Foundations, and a number of smaller works, all this as she traveled from place to place doing the work of the Discalced Carmelite founder.

Teresa never thought of herself as a writer. First of all she was too busy! All of her writing – except for her hundreds of letters to friends and family – were written under obedience to her superiors. She felt that writing, especially doctrinal writing, should be left to the “learned theologians.” For these reasons – and because she longed for that “retirement” — she balked when asked by her good friend and confessor, Fr. Jerome Gracian, to write yet another book!

The Interior Castle

      Teresa countered Gracian’s request with every argument she could think of. She was too old! Sixty-two years old! She was too busy!  It was too dangerous!  (She was right in thinking it was dangerous. The Book of Her Life had recently been confiscated by the Inquisition!)  Gracian countered with advice to write the book “in more general terms,” not as her own personal experience.

Teresa continued to protest. She was too sick! (Her physician had recently forbidden her to even take up a pen to write anything!) Her last argument: She was too stupid!  Gracian wanted her to write a book on prayer?  Shouldn’t that be left to those “learned theologians!”

Gracian won the battle, but only after he got Teresa’s spiritual director, Fr. Alonso Velazquez, on his side. Velazquez even bought Teresa all the paper, ink, and pens she would need to complete the task! Once again under obedience, Teresa began to write her masterpiece, The Interior Castle. In her prologue Teresa expresses her feelings in typical Teresian style:

Not many things that I have been ordered to do under obedience have been as difficult for me as is this present task of writing about prayer. First, it doesn’t seem that the Lord is giving me either the spirit or the desire to undertake the work. Second, I have been experiencing now for three months such great noise and weakness in my head that I’ve found it a hardship even to write concerning necessary business matters. But knowing that the strength given by obedience usually lessens the difficulty of things that seem impossible, I resolved to carry out the task very willingly; even though my human nature seems greatly distressed… May He, in whose mercy I trust and who has helped me in other more difficult things so as to favor me, do this work for me.

Finishing Strong!

      Teresa completed The Interior Castle in less than five months — actually, because of numerous interruptions, she had only two months of writing time. These five months were the most difficult of Teresa’s life. Here are just a few obstacles and sorrows she faced during this time:

  • Religious leaders (from Carmel!) were threatening to shut down many of the new Carmels.
  • The Inquisition continued to “study” Teresa’s writing, combing through it for heresy (which they never found).
  • Her friend and protector, Fr. Nicolas Ormanto, the Papal Nuncio, died and was replaced by a man who labeled Teresa “a restless gadabout.”
  • A pamphlet was published, accusing Teresa and Gracian of “lurid crimes.” Few believed the lies but it spawned suspicion about Teresa’s credibility.
  • Her friend and fellow worker, John of the Cross, was kidnapped and thrown into prison.
  • Teresa was re-elected as prioress of The Incarnation. Now that might sound like a good thing, but Teresa didn’t think so! Then the election was annulled (by those same religious leaders who held Teresa in suspicion). The Sisters, in protest, elected her again – and they were in turn excommunicated! (The stand-off was ultimately resolved, but not during these five chaotic months.)

Yet, through all this turmoil, The Interior Castle was completed — the work that (more than any other) inspired Pope Paul VI, in 1970, to name Teresa of Avila a Doctor of the Church.

How did she do it? How did Teresa not listen to the voices that shouted: Too old! Too weak! Too sick! Too busy! Too Stupid! The answer to this question can be found, first of all, in Teresa’s own words. Remember them? “But knowing that the strength given by obedience usually lessens the difficulty of things that seem impossible.” Teresa knew the spiritual secret, that an attitude of obedience silences the enemy and brings peace.

And second, we have the testimony of a witness, Maria del Nacimiento, who actually watched Teresa as she wrote: When the said Mother Teresa of Jesus wrote the book called The Dwelling Places [the original title of The Interior Castle]… it was after Communion. This witness understood that in all that she wrote, and during the time she was writing, she was in prayer.

       The Interior Castle was Teresa’s last doctrinal work.  For the next five years, the “restless gadabout” continued her travels, founding, instructing and encouraging the new Carmels.  She was on the road until the eve of her death. At the age of sixty-seven, Teresa was finally able to retire, not “to her spinning,” but to Glory.

St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church, thank you for your example. Thank you for not retiring “to do your spinning.” Thank you for showing us all how to Finish Strong.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments