Category Archives: Faith

Why ProTrump is NOT Prolife

A lot of prolife Christians are in a quandary over Donald Trump. They realize he’s a fool, yet know that he’s likely to appoint a conservative judge to the Supreme Court, which is a necessary step if they hope to overturn Roe v. Wade. As a result, many are conflicted about how to vote on November 8th.

guiltNow Stormy has been prolife for as long as she has been aware of the issue. In grade school, back in the post-Roe v. Wade late-70s, a women’s group visited our parochial school classroom to tell us about the issue of abortion. But they didn’t just bring pamphlets and rhetoric, they brought “visual aids” in the form of embryos and fetuses in glass jars preserved in formaldehyde. (Were they aborted? miscarried? I don’t know the details, I was only about 10 or 11 at the time.) All I can tell you is that peering at their tiny features in different stages of development affirmed to me that 1) they were tiny people 2) it was impossible to tell at what stage they went from being “a blob of cells” to tiny people. One of them even had a bruise where his/her head was hitting the glass—a very “human” reaction that I could relate to as a fairly rough-and-tumble girl who was usually sporting a few bruises and scrapes herself.

Obviously, no school could get away with this today. Not even a Catholic school. Parents would declare it traumatizing, although if society is deeming these babies to be mere tissue, than it shouldn’t be any more traumatizing than looking at gallstones in a science class. But I digress. My point in telling you this story was only to point out that I’m writing this as someone who is opposed to abortion in all but the most extreme cases.

jimmySo, as a prolife Christian who has voted on this issue myself in the past, I’m not experiencing any such conflict. Why? It’s simple. Trump is not prolife. Being prolife extends far beyond appointing conservative judges or regulating against abortion. It means respecting life. It means working to ensure that everyone has health insurance and access to affordable birth control. It means fathers stepping up to take care of their children. It means creating sensible gun laws to safeguard against senseless violence. It means offering compassion to victims of war. It means respecting and supporting people with disabilities. It means expanding education to strengthen future generations.

republican_jesusUltimately, being prolife means respecting, affirming and supporting life—at all ages and stages. It means advocating for life every. single. time. Trump has proven over and over that the only life he cares about is his own.

The number of abortions is at its lowest point since Roe v. Wade due to a number of factors, including education and better access to birth control. These are the kinds of issues pro-lifers need to focus on—and vote on—in the next election because the values that Trump preaches ultimately show a lack of respect for human life…a “looking out for Number One” mentality that inevitably will only lead to more loss of life.

Living fearless

Sometime in my early 30s, I had an epiphany about fear. I had wanted to adopt an orphaned child (not an infant) ever since I was a kid myself, but when I finally got to the stage in my life where I could afford the process, I had doubts. I already had two wonderful biological children and a happy marriage. What if I adopted a kid who was deeply troubled and screwed all of that up? This fear was holding me back.

Meanwhile, a guest speaker at church told us about a mission trip she had taken to work with Mother Teresa in India. I won’t describe the story that changed my perspective (I’m sure it would lose something in my retelling) but the upshot of it was I realized I needed to have faith in a good outcome and plunge ahead despite my fear.quote-inaction-breeds-doubt-and-fear-action-breeds-confidence-and-courage-if-you-want-to-conquer-fear-dale-carnegie-32059

Those of you who have met my daughter Blossom know that I was immeasurably blessed by my leap of faith.

A conscious choice to “Be not afraid”

Fast forward a few years to when my husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. A highly individualized illness, some people end up in a wheelchair in five years. Others still work for 15 or 20 years. About a quarter of those diagnosed end up with dementia. There was plenty to fear, but we made a conscious decision to not immerse ourselves too deeply in what “could be” and just focus on what he still could do in the here and now. So far, that decision has served us well, and we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the relatively slow progression of his disease.

I recently was alluding to some challenging family issues, mainly concentrated around my elderly parents, and I’ve determined that the source of these difficulties comes back to this same issue: Fear. My mother is living in fear more and more as she gets older. It’s causing her world to contract and leaving her confused and angry. It’s challenging for her adult children because the fear colors her perception—and our concern about her well-being is interpreted as attempts to take away her freedom.

We have nothing to fear but fear itself… and daycare costs

There are many times our lives require us to overcome our fear in order to move to the next phase: Going away to college, moving out on your own, interviewing for a job, asking someone on a date, proposing marriage, deciding to bring a child into the world, letting your children strike off on their own, learning to trust your adult children, learning to trust that things will work out, and finally trusting that, even when death is inevitable, God is by your side.

baby_moneyHaving a baby is a common example. Many young couples fear the responsibility of parenting. With news articles estimating that it will cost  a quarter of a million dollars to raise a newborn to age 18, it’s no wonder. Yet most of us plow ahead anyway—adjusting our lifestyles along the way—and consider ourselves the richer for it (even while our bank account takes a nosedive). Which brings me to my next point:

Bad things still will happen on occasion…but you’ll be okay

Living a fearless life doesn’t mean that you’ll experience smooth sailing from that point on. Some of the things you fear may actually come to fruition. But there is power in forging ahead anyway and usually you’ll find that 1) Most of the time the thing you feared doesn’t actually happen, or 2) On the rare occasion the bad outcome occurs, you’ll cope with it the best you can, learn something in the process and feel even stronger when you emerge on the other side. And because you’re now living a fearless life, you’ll view these episodes as infrequent storm clouds in your otherwise sunny life.

quote-you-can-sway-a-thousand-men-by-appealing-to-their-prejudices-quicker-than-you-can-convince-robert-a-heinlein-41-65-49Recent terrorist activity seems to have activated our society’s collective fear response and the result is ugly. The birth of this country was not a fear-based decision. Our forefathers (and mothers) had good reason to fear the quest for independence—after all, one man’s revolution is another man’s treason—but the shimmering ideal of a free nation was too enticing not to move forward despite their fears. Most of us lucky enough to be born in this country are here because we have ancestors that didn’t let fear stop them from leaving their homes behind in pursuit of a better life. As we watch our neighbors react to terrorist attacks by proposing fear-based restrictions on innocent people in the name of “protecting ’Merica” let’s remember that nothing could be LESS American.

 

 

The Ghost of Christmas Past

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If the Crazy Target Lady doesn’t scare you straight, you’re beyond saving.

I have a confession to make: Christmas doesn’t really stress me out. That’s not particularly scandalous, but admitting this during the holiday season feels a bit like a betrayal to my hurried and harried sisterhood. Because, let’s face it: Many of the tasks that comprise “making the season bright” (e.g., baking, decorating, Christmas shopping, entertaining) often fall to the female gender.

I’m not trying to be sexist about gender roles. If we bring Christmas cookies or chocolate truffles to a holiday party, everyone knows the compliments go to my husband, the baker in the family. (Not surprisingly, I have trouble following directions.) But I think there’s some truth in my generalization.

What’s more, when it comes to holiday merrymaking, the motivations of men and women are often different. For example, a man going all Clark Griswold on his house is likely doing it because he gets a kick out of the results. But oftentimes his wife who is going from shop to shop trying to find gifts for teachers and distant in-laws is doing it more to fulfill an expectation than as a labor of love.

I used to be this woman until I realized it was sucking all the fun out of the holidays and really—once they stop being fun, what’s the point? Well, my spiritual side would argue that the point of Christmas is Christ. But I found that the whole religious aspect of Christmas was overshadowed by the incessant busyness and blatant commercialism, as well. Where were the moments of quiet reflection? Where was the magic?

One January, as I was taking down ornaments and swearing to myself that I’d “do it differently next year,” I composed a letter to myself. I’ve always loved “A Christmas Carol” and watching the musical “Scrooge” is a family holiday tradition, so let’s call this missive a “Message from the Ghost of Christmas Past.” The note starts like this:

Every year you do the same thing, Stormy. So this is a letter from your post-holiday, wiser self. I hope you will heed her message.

Then it has seven bullets of advice, addressing topics like:

  • Cookies – “We are never at a loss for cookies at any holiday gathering. Three types…are plenty.”
  • Gifts – “Buy little hostess gifts when you see them. They always come in handy. Keep track of what you get the kids so you don’t buy too much.”
  • Christmas Cards – “Keep it simple. Don’t feel compelled to send to people you aren’t connected to…and don’t worry about the ‘but they sent us one’ game.”
  • Traditions – “These are what make the holidays fun…Make Christmas about events and not things. Smaller gatherings are fun and meaningful.”

These are merely excerpts—my actual instructions to myself were more detailed and specific. I printed out my message and packed it away with my Christmas decorations where it was promptly forgotten until the following December.

The next year, when I pulled out my garlands and stockings the weekend after Thanksgiving, I spotted the note from Christmas Past and decided to heed my own advice. After all, if you can’t believe yourself, who can you trust?

That season, I took a low-key approach to the holidays and was pleasantly surprised. I was relaxed. Nobody died when I decided to skip sending Christmas cards that year. And we still enjoyed all of our favorite traditions. What a revelation! I felt like I owed a debt of thanks to my stressed self. 

Since then, my Christmas preparations have varied somewhat—some years I make more of an effort, some years less. But whatever I do, I do it for the joy of it and not because it’s an expectation. This flexibility has been critical this year as my mom’s surgery and recovery has consumed a good portion of the free time that my siblings and I would have to spend on holiday preparations.

By now my low-key approach to the holidays has become second nature. Yet, I still keep the note to remind me of my frazzled, younger years. There are some advantages to growing older and as Scrooge himself can attest, it’s never too late to master the fine art of keeping Christmas.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” 
                    ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Power of the Clover!

Anyone living in Minnesota has felt a bit unlucky this year. As KitKat and I have mentioned several times, we’ve had unprecedentedly lousy weather this spring/summer. In addition, work has been relentlessly busy. It’s all a bit wearing on the spirit, so in early June—when a brief break in the rain allowed me to get to some long-neglected yardwork—I found this:

Power of the Clover!

Power of the Clover!

We were preparing for my youngest child’s graduation open house and our home really isn’t large enough to host her many family and friends, so when I found the clover, I was excited. I may not believe in gambling for the big jackpot, but finding such a lucky token surely must mean something, right?

Feeling a bit beaten down and daunted by the task of getting my house and yard into tip-top shape for the party, I decided to embrace the power of the clover. No matter what transpired in the coming week, I was going to view it as good fortune. I believe that our outlook is mostly a matter of attitude, so if I used this symbol of good fortune as a reminder of my blessings, it would bring about a change in attitude that would ultimately benefit me. Well, that was my theory at any rate.

I started the week with my attitude adjustment firmly planted. I was lucky! Good things were going to happen at every turn! I just needed to keep my outlook positive and my eyes open. The previous three months may have been a bit—well, sucky—but the tide was a turnin’ now and everything would be going my way!

Despite my positive outlook, the week was inauspicious. While nothing terrible happened, it wasn’t exactly like Lady Luck was smiling upon me. I was a bit disappointed in my botanical harbinger. Then, at the end of the week, things took a decided turn for the worst. We had a system issue at work. This wouldn’t be terribly catastrophic except that we had just had a similar problem—one that cost our company time and money and our clients considerable disruption—a mere month earlier. We hadn’t experienced such a significant disruption to our business before that, and the thought that this new incident might mirror the earlier one was weighing heavily on our minds as we sought to troubleshoot the situation. “Power of the Clover!” I invoked. Maybe this was the situation for which the luck was intended? Well, the problem was resolved much quicker than previously, but it didn’t feel so much like good luck as just an avoidance of really bad luck.

Disenchanted with my clover, I turned my attention back to other matters. My daughter’s graduation was troubling me and not just because we were hosting a big party and the weather wasn’t cooperative. This was my youngest child’s graduation from high school. I would soon be an “empty nester.” Moreover, my birthday was looming ahead. So, combine bad weather/party stress/empty nest/mid-life crisis/anxiety about getting older and you get a stormy Stormy.

So on my long list of to-dos, was my annual exam. I was telling my nurse practitioner about all of the things going on in my life and she was nodding sympathetically. At the same time, she was telling me that I was in great shape. My blood pressure—great! My lungs sounded good. Pressing on my abdomen, she commented on my muscle tone and said I was in the best shape of anyone she had seen that day. I have to confess, I was feeling pretty good about myself. Maybe turning 48 wasn’t that big of a deal. Then it came time to do my breast exam. “There’s a lump. Feel it?” Sure enough. How did I miss that? (Maybe because I do a half-assed job at breast self-exams when I remember to do them at all?) “When was your last mammogram?” she asked. It had been 2 ½ years. Shit. “You need to get that checked out.” Next was my pelvic exam. “Your ovary is enlarged.” Double shit.And I had made an outrageous statement about cancer being more suited to my temperament than Parkinson’s in an earlier post. How stupid could a person be? I was just asking God for another big slice of humble pie! Even if neither were indications of cancer, it would likely take a while to get the all-clear report and the specter of doom would be hanging over my head all weekend—tainting my daughter’s party, Father’s Day and my birthday. Boo.

Fortunately (luckily?), my doctor’s office was able to line up diagnostic tests quickly: The mammogram would be later that afternoon, and an ultrasound of my ovaries would be done the next day.

Stormy freaking out.

Stormy freaking out.

I have to confess, I freaked out a bit while waiting for the tests—after all, I was facing TWO diagnostic tests for two DIFFERENT kinds of cancer, one of them highly fatal. I wasn’t sure of my odds, but they were doubled, right? It was like a frickin’ BOGO! Suddenly, the status quo looked pretty attractive. Preparing for my daughter’s open house seemed very insignificant. So did turning another year older. After all, it’s a blessing to tear another page off the calendar, right? A lot of people don’t get that privilege. What was wrong with me that I had been so absorbed with such petty matters?

Well, if I ever needed to invoke the Power of the Clover, this was it. And I’m happy to report that my little four-leaf friend came through for me. Both abnormalities were harmless cysts, not malignant tumors. Afterward, I was much more enthusiastic about the fact that I had a wonderful accomplished daughter whose graduation we were celebrating. (After all, this is a good thing, right?) And despite an ominous forecast, it was even sunny for her party. Yay! So lucky! And so what if I was turning another year older—that’s better than the alternative, right? And I was certainly another year wiser as well. Sooooo lucky!

My dad always says, “It’s better to be lucky than good.” And while, I can’t determine who coined that expression, there’s some truth in it. However, the part that’s not explained is that luck isn’t something you “find”—like a clover—it’s all around you, hiding in plain sight. Rather, it’s something you need to RECOGNIZE . In the end, the clover was just a lens through which I gained some much-needed perspective. I don’t expect this realization to last (it never does) but maybe I can come back and read this at a later date and that will help me remember the good fortune that surrounds me. And if it helps you keep a little perspective, too, then it’s all been worth it.

When the going gets tough…

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month, and this is a disease that impacts me daily. About a decade ago, my husband was diagnosed with PD at the age of 44. This hit us out of the blue—there was no family history to foreshadow the condition and we were attributing his symptoms to something very mundane—a pinched nerve, carpal tunnel syndrome, etc.

I could write a lot about my husband and how terrifically he copes with the hand he’s been dealt… The man never complains or feels sorry for himself whereas I’m pretty sure that, in his shoes, I’d be the hostess of a 10-year pity party.

There are lots of nuances to his symptoms, but the upshot is this: His day is ruled by his medications and whether or not they are working. We sometimes refer to it as a Jekyll and Hyde existence but that doesn’t seem quite appropriate—while it’s “good” when his meds are “on” and “bad” when his meds are “off,” the whole Jekyll/Hyde analogy makes it sound like he turns evil, when he actually handles his off times with as much grace as any human being could muster.

Recently, he came up with another analogy—when his meds are off, he’s wooden and can’t move and when they are on he becomes “a real boy.” This seems more appropriate, and the transformation of how my husband comes to life when his medication kicks in is not unlike Pinocchio.

But I won’t presume to tell his story and instead will share my own. This is what I’ve learned having Parkinson’s “by proxy”…

1) There isn’t much I can control. I have a control-freak nature. And while having children was my first lesson in learning the limits of what I can control, dealing with my husband’s Parkinson’s is like being in graduate school. I find myself reciting the Serenity Prayer a lot. It’s a good prayer. I’m hoping one of these days it will sink in.

“I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.”       –Mother Teresa

2) There’s a method to His madness. While I think the adage, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” has some truth in it, I also think He likes pushing you right up against your limits at times. For example, I’m not the stop-and-smell-the-roses type. For a Midwesterner, I’ve got a rather intense East Coast approach to life and Parkinson’s is a condition that could try the patience of the most easy-going Southerner.

When I would think of my husband or myself dealing with illness, I imagined being struck with a more common condition, like cancer. This is a horrible, awful thing to deal with—no doubt about it. However, in many cases you can “battle” cancer, and if you’re lucky, you can win. Trust me, I’m not wishing my husband had cancer instead of Parkinson’s, but I sometimes think that fighting cancer would be more in line with my temperament. I like to think I would bravely don my armor and be at his side to help slay the dragons. But Parkinson’s isn’t a dragon—it’s the mosquito in the room whose buzzing keeps you up all night and slowly drives you insane.

There’s a David Byrne song with some slightly blasphemous lyrics that captures my perspective on this, “Green grass grows around the backyard shithouse. And that is where the sweetest flowers bloom. We are flowers growin’ in God’s garden, and that is why he spreads the shit around.”

Now, I don’t believe in a spiteful God, but I do think He is aware that my Serenity Garden is a bit overrun with weeds–and that my husband’s illness is part of a larger plan intended to help fertilize the flowers.

3) God provides help where you least expect it. Despite the negative lessons I’ve learned about myself, I’ve also learned that I’m not completely on my own. While testing me big time on the patience front, God has also sent some unlikely angels to support me through this process. People who accept me despite the aforementioned shortcomings. I’m very thankful for these people in my life.

Diamond or basketcase? The jury is still out...

Diamond or basketcase? The jury is still out…

4) We all need to cut each other some slack. There’s one aspect of my lack of patience that I’ll accept, and that is my growing intolerance of hatred and judgment and negativity. Life can be tough. But most of us are doing the best we can, and we all need to remember that. When it comes to disability awareness, I’m probably on the “more enlightened” end of the spectrum having worked for two organizations serving people with disabilities and consequently spending a lot of time around people with various conditions. Despite this experience, I cringe when I think about past incidents where I might have thought someone’s slowness was just disregard for other people’s time or assumed that someone’s lack of balance was the result of too many drinks. I know there are times when my husband’s symptoms are probably misinterpreted and that if others knew the true cause they would be more tolerant and considerate as well.

5) It’s anybody’s guess. Parkinson’s is a very individual disease. While there’s a typical progression to the illness, not everyone experiences their symptoms the same way. Some people’s illness progresses very quickly, others more slowly. I have no idea exactly what’s in store for my future–but then again, does anybody? I also have no idea how well I’ll continue to cope with it all. My only hope is that I continue to recognize the blessings in my life and appreciate those who are helping my husband and me along this journey.