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.

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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.

 

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Watermelon for Breakfast?

Just a little weird. But when it’s followed by watermelon for lunch, and watermelon for dinner, and the only reason I don’t eat watermelon for a bedtime snack is that I get up in the night often enough as it is – well, then it IS more than a little weird. It’s obsessive…or compulsive…or one of those words psychiatrists use on most all their patients.

So, what is it with all the watermelon? I haven’t always craved watermelon. In fact, many summers I have ignored the watermelons in the supermarket altogether. Too often I have brought one of those gargantuan gourds home, only to find that, inside, they were rotten or pithy or tasteless. So, in typical pessimist fashion, I would bypass the jolly green giants and head for the grapes and cherries instead.

An aside here: do you remember when the produce man would plunge a mysterious thingy into a prospective melon and pull out a sample for you to taste before you purchased a melon? Ah, those were the days!

Back to the subject: this summer, I haven’t passed a watermelon display once – and when Tom was doing the shopping, watermelon has been on the list. I have devoured the better part of at least five goliath-sized watermelons in the last four weeks. I just can’t seem to get enough of the pink-watery-sweet-juiciness. It’s like liquid cotton candy!

Like (yum!) cotton candy, each bite has little substance to chew on, just wild flavoressence that fills the senses with more than pinktaste. Both are the pink-pinnacle of the summer palate – I think that’s how the brain (maybe only my brain) files away the memory of watermelon and cotton candy. Under Pink. With cross files under picnics and fun and family. And Joy.

I know, fellow English guardians out there: Flavoressence and pinktaste are not words that can be found in the dictionary.   Sorry Merriam-Webster, but you just didn’t do a good job on watermelon words. Perhaps you never had watermelon fever – that pink-watery-sweet-juicy raving fever (or should that be “craving fever”) that I seem to be experiencing.

Ok…. I imagine, dear readers, that you are now wondering what is wrong with Elizabeth? She’s too old to be pregnant, so what’s with the watermelon craving-craziness? I’ve wondered, too.

My first guess was typical of my melancholic mindset. I am hungering for watermelon this summer because this will be my last summer. When the watermelon season is over, I will never taste watermelon again. The melancholy-me wept over this thought for about a minute.

Then the getting-to-be-wiser-me stopped, dried my tears, and asked the One who made watermelons, “What is going on here, Lord?”

This question quietly “popped” into my mind: Haven’t you been saying a lot lately about your new appreciation for LIFE ? Hmm…. That’s why watermelon tastes so delicious? I get it! It’s the same reason why the light filtering through the tree-tops dazzles my beauty-hungry eyes. I sit under trees these days just to watch the verdant dance of light!

Oh! And that stand-by music I listened to yesterday while waiting on the phone for 10+ minutes – it brought tears to my eyes. Not for the wait, but because it was Paganini! Ok.   Now I understand this odd behavior: I AM IN LOVE WITH LIFE.

Another thought interrupted my reverie. That’s not it. Well, not totally. O…K….   That “still small voice” brought my meandering meditation on melons to a halt! “Then what IS it? Why the craving for watermelons and light-kissed foliage and Paganini?!”

Then I knew. I felt it bubbling up within me…. Thankfulness. I am, for the first time in my life, THANKFUL, for things as simple as the taste of watermelon. The sight of kalaidascoping leaves in the sunlight. The sound of classical music.

I am THANKFUL. Thankful to God for making watermelon – and for giving me the taste buds to taste it! And the sense of smell to experience the watermelon aroma! (And don’t try to fool me. The artificial stuff in “watermelon” candy smells worse than it tastes!)

Maybe it’s the getting older that does it. We get so busy living (as in rushing to tackle the urgent) that we miss LIFE that’s all around us.   Our five senses go into overload, and stop feeling amazement at amazing things. And when that happens, we stop saying Thank You.

Hmm. Another thought comes into my mind. I remember… a little girl at a picnic, off to herself, biting into a HUGE half-circle of watermelon, oblivious to the messy pink juiciness running down her cheeks and on to her white pinafore. It was the 24th of July. Statehood Day — a bigger holiday for those of us that lived in Utah than the 4th of July. The little girl was about five and this was, maybe, her first taste of watermelon – at least the first she would remember for 68 years.

She was a good Catholic little girl and, after the first bite, she prayed, “Thank you God for watermelon. It’s so pink – and I LOVE pink! And it is so sweet, like candy, and so jmmhmm…”  A bite of pink-watery-sweet-juiciness filled her mouth and temporarily stopped the flow of words. With a “Yum” and a swallow, the little girl continued her prayer. “I wish You had left out ugly black seeds, God. Mommy says if I swallow one, a whole watermelon vine with hundreds of watermelons will grow in my stomach. I don’t think that’s true, but I am being real careful. It IS a bother. Watermelons would be SO much nicer if You had just left the seeds out. I wonder why You didn’t think of that?”

That little girl grew up, and eventually she forgot about saying thanks for the simple things in life – but she never stopped telling God how He should do things….

This treatise on watermelons is getting way too personal. I am going shopping. For a pineapple.

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The Smell of Freshly Sharpened Pencils

Recently Lisa asked Lydia, “Are you looking forward to school starting in September?” Lydia’s eyes sparkled (more so than usual) as she responded, “Yes. But sometimes…I am so excited I could burst!” (For those who might not know, Lisa is my oldest daughter and Lydia is my six and ¾ year old granddaughter.)

When Lisa told me about this, my heart swelled with memories. From my first day of school (first grade at St. Mary of the Wasatch in Salt Lake City, Utah) to my first day of Graduate School (at Concordia College in Portland Oregon), even to all the “first days” as a teacher, I fondly recall that feeling of being “so excited I could burst!”

That first day at St. Mary of the Wasatch, I remember so clearly…. That’s me, walking up a steep flight of stairs with my mother. With each stair, she stage-whispered (as only mothers can do): “School is NOT for talking! Not one word, but YES, SISTER or NO, SISTER! School is NOT a place to be a chatterbox! Not one word, but YES, SISTER….” That was the longest, steepest staircase I have ever climbed. With every upward step her commands pounded into my impressionable mind. In my heart, I fervently assented.   I didn’t know then the Scripture verse, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

Thus began my annual September fever of bright-eyed optimism, of setting my goals high, of “reaching for the moon!” (Just thinking while reminiscing — that first grade goal, to be a quiet, submissive student, was, in fact, the highest and most unreachable goal I have ever set for myself.)

Jump forward fifteen years to the day before the first day of my senior year in college (Marylhurst College in Lake Oswego, Oregon). That’s me, sitting out in the hall by the staircase in front of my dorm room (in Flavia Hall – ah the memories!), scribbling numbers on a note pad.

I am figuring out my cumulative grade-point average to see what I had to do, grade-wise, to graduate Magna Cum Laude. (Sadly, I had no statistical chance of reaching the highest academic honor, Summa Cum Laude, which had been my lofty goal on the first day of my freshman year in College….)

YES. I could do it…I could just reach the required GPA! IF I got an A or A- in two of the subjects I would be taking each semester, and a B+ in the third. And, IF I got an A on my senior thesis. That’s all. Ah, the confidence I had every September!

Now, jump forward thirty-three years to the first day of my first year in Graduate School. I was fifty-four years old and I had learned some things about September beginnings. That’s me, sitting in the parking lot of Concordia College, praying with trepidation, “Lord, this is Your idea, going back to school at my age – at least I think it is. Help me get through the gauntlet of grad school…with a diploma. That’s all, Lord – oh and yes, a license to teach.

That’s how life is. When we are young, we have such high expectations of life, such dreams! And dreams are good. As it has been said, “Reach for the moon! If you miss the moon, you will still land among the stars!” (Just an aside here to prove the point: that senior year in college, I did not graduate Magna Cum Laude. BUT, I did graduate Cum Laude – a goal I wouldn’t have attained had I not been “reaching for the moon.”)

So. Here it is September 1st and my precocious granddaughter awaits her first day of first grade, “bursting” with expectations. And here am I, contemplating the expectations of the September of my life. That’s me, looking up at those mountains we spoke of in my last post (see, Over The Hill…). I am seeking only one “prize” — the smile on the Lord’s face when He says to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

As I look back on my life thus far (just as I did at Marylhurst, when I scrutinized my cumulative grade-point average), I see that my “marks” are pretty low. THANK GOD there is not a “cumulative grade point average” dogging my steps! In this school of life, every day is a new day because “God’s mercies are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22).

Hmm. A new first day of “school.” I can almost smell the freshly sharpened pencils…and I can almost feel the starchy stiffness of the sailor middy blouse…the scratchiness of the woolen navy-blue pleated skirt – the uniform I wore, complete with sailor ribbon tie and blue beanie, at St. Raphael’s Grade School in San Rafael, California. (I loved that uniform!) I can even smell the elusive semi-pleasant odor that emanates from the halls of every school I have ever been in, both as a student and as a teacher.

Oh yes. Even at 74 years old, I am still in school. The School of the Spirit. And it’s September. Time to set goals high, right? Dear readers, whatever your age, join me and set your goals HIGH – let’s not just “reach for the moon” with vague hopes of “landing among the stars.” Let’s reach for the sun! Or should I say, SON.

I know. That sounds nice but what does that mean?   For me, that means doing those things that will help me to “Grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Stay tuned. In future posts I hope to share practical tips for growing spiritually – as I learn them. That’s my one of my September goals for this “school year.”

 

A Few Bits of Trivia (for those who love useless facts)

*Cum What? Translate the Latin, please!

         ~~ Cum Laude = with praise

~~ Magna Cum Laude = with high praise

 ~~ Summa Cum Laude = with highest praise

*For reasons I do not understand, many schools have dumped the laudable Latin (pun intended), and now use the terms honor, high honor, and highest honor. (Non Placet. I do not approve….)

*Norman Vincent Peele is said to have originated the quote, “Shoot for the moon. If you miss, you will land among the stars.” As my husband would point out, it would NOT have been a good thing had the Apollo 11 astronauts missed the moon and found themselves “among the stars.” That’s the trouble with metaphors. They never quite fit.

*Peele wrote the book, The Power of Positive Thinking. I read that once. And I follow its advice every September….

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Over The Hill…

This week we celebrated the 40th birthday of my dear (and delightful) son-in-law, John. He is married to my dear (and also delightful) daughter, Christina. And he is the father of our MOST dear and delightful granddaughter, Lydia.

When we started thinking about John’s 40th birthday, I asked Lydia if we should have an “Over the Hill” party, with black balloons and silly jokes about getting older. She said, “NO! Daddy’s feelings might be hurt! And black balloons are ugly and not fun AT ALL.”

In a way, Lydia is right (about her daddy’s feelings). Defining the age of forty as the pinnacle of life — that future years will be diminishingly fruitful — is not just “mean” and “not fun at all.” It is a LIE.

Recently I found this quote: “Over the hill? Actually 40 years is just reaching the end of the foothills and looking up to the snowcap mountain range just ahead.”   So true! The “foothills of life” are NOT the end, but the very beginning of life’s journey. Those first forty years are a warm-up to the greatest adventure of our lives – the climb to the heights! A climb to the heights of… of what?! What are those “snowcapped mountains” that loom ahead of us?

In the physical realm, the heights “over the hill” can be our most productive years. They are the years when the mortgage (finally!) gets paid, 401K’s are growing (hopefully), and job promotions are more likely to happen.

These years can be challenging times for families. Often, they are the teen years for offspring. Years when fidelity in marriage is tested. They are marked by death-defying challenges (such as teaching your beloved teenaged son/daughter to drive!!!), and the inevitable (despite face cream ads) encroachment of aging. Definitely, these years can be likened to mountain climbing!

An interesting phenomena pops up during these “over the hill” years: late bloomers. A late bloomer can be described as someone whose talents don’t begin to “blossom” until later in life – after going “over the hill.” Here are some examples:

  • Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until she was 70! (I am sure she must have doodled a little before that!)
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder was 65 when her first novel, Little House on the Prairie was published. She might not have put pen to paper if her daughter Rose hadn’t nagged her to write out her stories. Thank you Rose!
  • (Poor) Winston Churchill became prime minister of England at the age of 65, just eight months after England declared war on Germany in WWII. What was he thinking! Oh yes. Patriotism. Stepping into the job no one else could do.
  • My favorite: Teresa of Avila wrote her masterpiece, The Interior Castle, at the age of 62, while the Inquisition was scrutinizing her every word!
  • Me. My first magazine article was published in 1988. I was 45. (I find it humorous that I would ever list my name after St. Teresa of Avila – a DOCTOR OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH! And yet. She is what I aspire to be – a person who did what she felt God was calling her to do, despite her aches and pains (she had migraines and tinnitus!), and her stated desire to retire to her cloister and “sit and spin.” Ok, I don’t have any desire to “spin.”   But sitting – and not at a computer – would be nice! I plan to write an entire blog on St. Teresa in October, for her feast day (October 15) so stay tuned.

But, all that I just described — the achievements and challenges of life after 40 — are not really what’s alluded to in the quote I used at the beginning of this blog. What is that “white capped mountain range” that looms ahead of us?

Pope John XXIII said it best, though bluntly, in his Journal of a Soul: “I’ve got to get ready to die.” Ok. Perhaps now I’ve lost a few readers. We have such a knee jerk reaction to that word, DEATH. Maybe we don’t actually think of death as the grim reaper with a sharp scythe” out to cull us from the herd of humanity. But we act like it sometimes.

When Tom and I sat in the doctor’s office and heard the diagnosis, stage IV breast cancer, that had spread to my lungs, liver, and bones, I was too stunned to think. Neither Tom nor I remember much of what the doctor said after that – except, “The average life expectancy, with these cancer drugs, is…two years, sometimes more sometimes less.”

As I shared with you in my first blog, Walking in the Dark with the Prince of Peace, that was when Jesus Christ, that true Prince of Peace, stepped in, kicked out my fears, and filled me with the “peace that passes understanding.” And, this thought entered my mind: “Now I know what I’m to do. I am going to live the rest of my life GROWING in my knowledge and love of God, and spending quality, LOVING time with my husband, my daughters, my grandchild, my godchild, and my friends.”

Returning to our mountain climbing analogy, I think what John XIII really meant was, “I have got to put on my climbing boots!” And he did. He was sixty years old when he wrote the above entry in his journal. He died twenty-two years later, at the age of eighty-two. During those twenty-two years, he was elected Pope; he envisioned and called for the second Vatican Council; and two months before he died, he wrote his masterpiece Encyclical, Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth).   That was some mountain climbing.

So, that’s what I did that day in the doctor’s office, and what I try to do every day: “I put on my climbing boots!

I end this blog with a poem by Robert Browning:

Grow old along with me!

The best is yet to be,

The last of life,

For which the first was made.

 

 

 

 

 

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Another Anniversary

Today, August 4, marks the three month “anniversary” of Growing in Grace…at any age! I’ve enjoyed returning to the writing process after a three year hiatus, and I think in many ways, it’s brought healing to me. Writing, whether in blog form, personal journal, or letters to friends, IS a valid therapy for those going through stressful situations. In these last few months I’ve read at least four articles in cancer magazines (such as Cure, and Coping, – I love those titles!) that recommend writing your “cancer story” as a therapeutic way to deal with it.

But “writing therapy” is not just for us cancer patients. I’ve read other articles that have recommended writing projects (such as blogs and journals) for everything from the grieving process to post traumatic stress disorder. There is something in the writing process that helps the mind to wrap itself around crises of all kinds.

Before I began Growing in Grace, I spent a LOT of time arguing with myself about whether or not to begin blogging (shudder…I still hate that word, blogging). I did some prayer-journaling, asking myself (and God), “Why blog?” On this three-month anniversary, I would like to share with you a snippet of that journal:

Why on earth, Lord, in the midst of all this cancer chaos, would I tie myself down again to a writing schedule? My mind no longer works clearly – they call it “cancer fog.” Whatever it is, it’s murky, and words that once flowed freely seem to get stuck in the muck of my chemically drenched brain! I sense You calling me back to the keyboard, yet can this possibly be You?

[A “word picture”comes to mind, from an old fairy tale, Rumpelstiltskin, that seems to explain the reason why I should return to writing.]

My “work” [the actual writing] will be to fashion words into meaning…straw into gold. The straw is my life, my thoughts, my dreams, my regrets, my day-to-day struggles, my everything. The Gold is what God has done in and through it all …something I don’t see at all unless I take the time to really LOOK. And the writing process makes me LOOK. It is His work in my mind, as I struggle to find the words, that shows me the connections, the metaphors, the insights, into His workings in my everyday life. (Hmm. Maybe that’s why writing is such good therapy for cancer patients and others struggling with stressful situations….) SO. Why write? First, it is just for me. Doing the work (writing) helps me to see what is hidden.

This journaling process continued, listing pros and cons, why’s and why nots. You know of course, the conclusion; but let me share just one more entry:

I can also share with others who are struggling with such things as aging and all that comes with the gray hairs. I can share with those who face health crises such as cancer. And I can address that untouchable subject, approaching death. All straw. Scratchy straw, until God turns it into Gold. And He does! That’s what I can share.

So, friends, that’s what this blog is attempting to do. This three-month anniversary has been a good time to stop and take a look at Growing in Grace…. Where is it going? How can I do a better job of cooperating with God as He turns straw into GOLD? Prayerfully, I’ve decided to make some changes.

First of all, I’ve decided to stop posting every week. Instead, from now on, I will try to post twice a month, as “life” allows. The writing process needs TIME for careful editing – it IS a craft. First drafts are seldom finished products; they are often LONG and wordy, as have been many (most!) of my posts. I want to take more time to practice my craft, so to speak. Write. Rewrite. Cut. Paste. Rewrite again. The result will be shorter, tighter posts. I am SURE you will appreciate that!

I also want to sharpen my focus. The title of the blog is Growing in Grace…at any age! Those are very important words! How do we GROW when we are shrinking? (One 80+ year old friend recently shared with me that she has shrunk 9 inches!) And what is Grace? And why is aging such a difficult, heartbreaking, humiliating process? (Hey, if I were God — ok, take a moment to laugh! — I would have had us grow stronger as we grow older. We would simply live life to the fullest until it was time to ride off into the sunset! Such a life would seem much more glorious, much more dignified!) Actually, God really does have a marvelous plan in mind for us as we age.   That’s something I want to address in future blogs.

SO, dear family and friends, let me end this anniversary post with a THANK YOU. Thank you for giving me the opportunity share with you. You have helped me deal with cancer chaos and make some sense of it. And I hope I have shared a few things along the way that have helped you – entertained you, at least. Please know that you are in my prayers daily.

NOTE: this post is only 867 words long. Under 1000 words! That’s a first for Growing in Grace…at any age!

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First Mate Update

Hello – This is Captain Tom again with another update on the First Mate and her latest medical adventures.

All things have their time, and the time has come to decommission the Good Ship Cataract.  With the eye surgeries over and new glasses firmly in place (or is it “on face”?) the Good Ship has served its purpose.  So you might think the only proper thing to do would be to sail into port one last time and have a fitting ceremony commemorating our many adventures.

WRONG!!!!

Strange as it may sound, the First Mate did not sail into port, the “port” came to her.  Now you might argue that there are ports and then there are ports, and you would be right.  A “port” did come to her, but it’s not the sort of port where ships anchor.  It’s a semi-permanent medical device surgically implanted in her upper chest under the skin just below the collarbone.

She was starting to experience a problem common to many cancer patients.   The many blood draws to keep tabs on medicine side effects plus to the occasional IV infusions all need compatible veins in your arm to insert the needle.  Eventually scar tissue and other issues make finding a useable vein harder and harder.  The answer is to install a port.

During a day surgery, the port, about a half inch in diameter and needle friendly, is inserted under the skin in the vicinity of a large vein that runs across the chest.  The port has a tube or catheter on its back side that is inserted into the vein.  Inserting a needle into the top part of the port gives instant connection to the body’s blood system.  Nurses love them.

The port is fine, but there was some “collateral damage” from the surgery, mostly very tweaked and painful neck and back muscles from the position she was in during the procedure.  Once she recovers from that, the First Mate will be off, taking her Port with her wherever she goes.

The “P’s” Have It

This has been a week of “P’s” for me.  It started Saturday afternoon with our community band Playing in the Park.  That was followed by Pizza at our house and then it was Pickle making time.  Those Present, besides myself and the First Mate, were Lisa (daughter), Christina (daughter and mother of Lydia), John (son in law and father of Lydia) and lastly, Lydia (6 year old granddaughter).

My Part in all this was to take Pictures and stay out of the way.  Eventually I had to go Procure more vinegar and salt for the Pickle making Process.  The First Mate was busy, keeping things under control, and keeping out of any Pictures.

The following is a Photo essay on Pickle making.

It had been 7 years since the last family Pickle making bash.  Christina brought 25 Pounds of Pickling cucumbers and lots of onions.  We got dill, garlic, vinegar, hot Peppers, salt, alum and jar lids.  We combined our supply of quart jars and washed them.  Then, after Pizza at our house, the fun began:

 

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Get the dill ready.

 

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Bring the vinegar, salt, alum and water to a boil.  (This is the “hot stuff” to be used later)

 

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Start an assembly line to fill the jars with dill, onion slices, garlic cloves, hot peppers and, of course, cucumbers.

 

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Fill the jars to the top with the hot stuff and apply lids and rings

 

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And, if you are REALLY good, the last of the hot stuff exactly fills the last jar.

 

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33 jars in all. We will need to wait at least 4 to 6 weeks to see how things turn out.  The old family method was to open the first jar at Christmas, but I doubt we will wait that long.

 

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And here is the “SPECIAL” jar made just for daughter Rebecca.  She was with us only in spirit this time but 7 years ago she was here in body and spiced up a few jars with her own “special” recipe.  Somehow we ended up with a couple of those jars, and they were not dill pickles, they were fire pickles.  Lydia was concerned that we might be going to hurt Aunt Rebecca with our “special” jar.  Somehow, I don’t think so.

 

The house still smells faintly of vinegar fumes and onions but that should go away in a month or two.  The jars look so pretty, all lined up like little green soldiers, ready to march off to some cupboard somewhere.  And, maybe best of all, there were still two slices of Pizza left for lunch the next day.

After Picklemania, the next big event was the Port surgery on Tuesday.  Then on Wednesday it was the band Playing, this time in a different Park.  And on Friday, it was the successful Patching of a Punctured tire on the Prius.

Well that’s about it for now except, since this blog is called “Growing In Grace At Any Age”, maybe there should be something spiritual and something age related.  And “P” related. So here goes:

Praise the Lord!

Be like a Pickle and improve with age.

Bye for now.

 

Tom the Pickle Packer Photographer

 

 

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