Saturday, May 23, 2020

Ask Aunt Dorcas: Wedding Preps, Screen Addictions and Diverse Readers

Aunt Dorcas and Nephew Conrad, at the Smucker Christmas dinner.
It is exactly as it appears.
Dorcas was tying her shoe and asking personal questions, and Conrad was skillfully avoiding them.
Shortly thereafter, he began dating a lovely young lady, and Dorcas was as surprised as anyone.

Q: How are the wedding preparations coming?
--Curious in Columbus

A: Actually, dear Readers, I made up that question myself because I felt like talking about the Wedding! Matt and Phoebe stayed with the original date of June 14 and will get married in a farmer's field west of here. They'll have a limited number of guests seated on chairs and everyone else in cars, listening to the ceremony on an FM frequency. 

I've had lots of time to think as I planted the garden and cleaned the oven this week* and decided to tackle the questions that follow.

*because one's son can't get properly married if the oven is dirty.

Q: I spend WAY too much time on my phone on YouTube/Instagram, etc. to the point where I sometimes don’t go to sleep until 4 in the morning. I just can’t stop. Help!
--Sleepless in Sugarcreek

A: I’m so proud of you for putting your situation into plain words, admitting your helplessness, and asking for help.

I don’t think I’ve ever been on my phone until 4 a.m., but I’ve had times and periods of being online way too much. Here are some things I’ve learned and observed about screen addiction. I also learned some of this from a young man named Justin Doutrich who did a lot of studying on the subject of addictions and shared it at church.

1. You are not alone. Many many people feel the same way you do: I just can’t stop!

2. You’ve taken the huge and significant step of saying the truth out loud. Applause for you!

3. In one sense, of course people can stop, in the moment. If they smell smoke, they can quit scrolling and run. But in a very real sense, you are absolutely right: you can’t stop. It is an addiction involving many of the same patterns and brain chemicals as an addiction to alcohol or eating or hoarding. The habit becomes bigger than you can handle on your own.

2. Addictions involve a chemical called dopamine. It gives you a happy little boost. When you get a message on Instagram or get notified of a new video on a channel you follow, your brain gets a little squirt of dopamine. Soon, you get addicted to that little kick. You crave it more and more, but it takes more and more visual input to get the same boost. So you scroll and scroll until 4 a.m.

3. Your experience shows that YouTube and Instagram are working exactly as they were designed to. I am not kidding. They were specifically designed to get you hooked, just like the nicotine in cigarettes was calculated to get people addicted. In both cases, it’s about money. Online sites live on advertising which is driven by clicks.

4. Isolation, guilt, and shame are a big part of any addiction. What a failure you are, what a bad excuse for a Christian, an adult, a mom, whatever. So you try and try to do better, but keep failing. What if someone finds out? So embarrassing!

Speaking the truth and admitting you have a problem is a huge and important step. Asking for help is another. It ends the isolation.

5. That habit/addiction has actually made physical changes in your brain. So changing your situation will involve training new pathways in your brain. It’s hard, but it can be done as you make better choices, over and over.

6. My theory is that certain types of brains are more susceptible to screen addictions and have more trouble undoing the damage. I’ve always had the ability to get utterly lost in whatever I was reading. So I’d be dusting the living room on a Saturday morning at age 12, and I’d pick up a Family Life magazine and start reading. Before long I would be so immersed I’d forget about the dusting, the rest of my chore list, and all the fun things I had hoped to do that day.

A long time later I would come out of the fog and realize I had been reading for a very long time, and the free time I had hoped for was unlikely to happen after all. So then, of course, I’d feel so disappointed and berate myself and resolve to do better, only to do it all over again the next Saturday.

Reading things online has the same effect. I can read an article and go clicking on to the next one, so utterly absorbed that I have no sense of time passing. If you have that sort of brain, I sympathize. Recognizing this weakness is important.

7. Castigating yourself and feeling bad won’t go far in making lasting change or new grooves in your brain. You need to dig deeper. For example, going online is often an escape from real life. 

So if I’m struggling with too much time on my phone, I ask myself, “What is it about my life that I’m trying to escape?” Often I’m overcommitted and feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes I have disappointment I don’t want to think about, or relationships that aren’t going well. Scrolling through Facebook distracts me from those realities, which feels good for a short time, but doesn’t solve anything.

So I need to work on actually fixing the things I’m trying to escape.

8. Another question to ask is, “Where am I going for comfort, and why?” We are made for community, and we need other people and the connection and belonging they provide.

Ultimately, Jesus is the true source of peace, comfort, belonging, and purpose. In the depths of our souls, only Jesus can truly satisfy those needs.

Going online to meet those needs is idolatry and self-destructive. 

Repentance and God’s forgiveness help to break the power of your addiction.

9. Also ask, “What else is going on in my brain?” When I wake up at 3 a.m. with my thoughts racing and all kinds of regrets about how I mothered 30 years ago, like that time I served the kids a snack and forgot that Emily was still out in her little yellow swing and couldn’t get out, I have to stop the whirling if I want to go back to sleep. What works best is a few minutes of word games on my phone. Somehow that works. I’m ok with that solution as long as it’s only a few minutes and I go back to sleep. If it ever turns into Too Much, I'll have to re-evaluate.

When I find myself zoning out online a lot during the day, especially in fall and winter, it’s a signal that my SAD is getting worse. If I take steps to improve the depression, such as taking walks and taking Vitamin D, I’m far less likely to get lost online.

10. Telling someone about your problem, asking for help, and being accountable are all huge steps in forming new and healthier habits.
I find that not only does too much time online make me feel stupid, but involving others makes me feel silly, like seriously, I can’t control this impulse on my own? 

But it works.

Accountability, for me, generally involves my daughters. I tell one or all of them that I need to be offline for a specific amount of time, and I specify the consequences if I fail. So I might send a group text: “Hey, I have to stay off my phone until 9:00 tonight or I have to put $5 in the girls’ fun money.”

The fun money jar is where we collect money for our annual trips with the three daughters and me.

That all seems ridiculous for an adult woman to have to take such measures, and maybe it’s kind of a dumb consequence. But, like I said, it works. Thankfully, the girls are very chill and non-shaming about it.

You need a person to tell and a silly punishment for them to apply if you mess up. I promise, it helps.

And I hope this post helps you. You’ve already done the hard step of saying the truth out loud. Get some real-life supporters and explore some of those hard questions.

Q: How conscious are you of the reader and the diverse backgrounds and perspectives that they have when you write? And do you reword your thoughts to reach that broad range? 
--Cousin Floyd

A: Interesting questions!

I am quite conscious of my diverse readership, and yes, I’d say I reword my thoughts to reach both the Horning Mennonite housewife in Pennsylvania and the single, secular professor in Eugene.

Someone told me once that you need to assume your readers have enough brains to figure things out. You don’t have to explain every little detail of Mennonite or farm life. Much can be gathered from context.

Thus, I can usually write a story of my mom or grandma, throw in some Pennsylvania Dutch words, and mention Amish customs, and people can get the gist of the story without laborious explanations.

However, some things can’t be easily gathered from context, and I’ve learned by lots of trial and error what they are. After we adopted Steven, I wrote in an article that he “had a heart for animals.” My writing group was confused. They thought it was a cool phrase, but what did it mean, exactly?

Thus I discovered this term was used mostly within the Christian world.

Mennonites talk about VS, coverings, layered desserts, Beachies, the lot, and blowing the pitch. You can’t expect a non-Mennonite reader to track you very well if you don’t explain. So, when I write non-fiction, I'm careful with tossing those terms into a paragraph.

We also refer to whole families by the husband's first name, pluralized, ["Are Johns and Philips coming to the reunion?"] and to ministers by their first name. "Paul is preaching today." No Reverend, Pastor, or even Mr.

However, I’m running into a few quandaries with the fiction I’m working on, because I want it to be authentic without laborious explanations. Maybe Aunt Martha says, “I hear Ellie is going to VS at Hillcrest.” You know that’s authentic cultural language. But Englisch readers won’t know what she’s talking about. It’s tricky and I haven’t found a good way to navigate it all.

[But I think readers can pick up from context that Englisch means non-Mennonite.]

It doesn't usually work the other way, where I explain terms from the Englisch world so that Mennonite readers will understand. As a minority culture, we're all exposed to their language and know enough to get by.

Mostly, though, readers are surprisingly similar at heart, and a good story is universal. If people don't understand all the details, at least they understand the basic plot and the emotions beneath it.

Thanks, Floyd, for being part of that diverse readership.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Ask Aunt Dorcas--Trains, A Rant on Dating, and the Poof

Aunt Dorcas finds that she likes answering questions. It gives her a good excuse to ramble and rant on her favorite subjects. So she will plan to continue these Saturday posts until she uses up all the questions people have submitted, with a break for her son's wedding of course.

These are her conclusions. You may draw your own conclusions with the good mind God gave you.

Today we begin with a fun question:

Q: How many times a day does the train go past your place? My 3 year old loved a story you posted of that.

A: Hey, someone else likes trains! We live about a quarter mile from the main track down the West Coast, so lots of trains go by. The Coast Starlight is a silver Amtrak train that runs from Los Angeles to Seattle. Another passenger train is the Amtrak Cascades, which has a long, sleek, striped look that always reminds me of a garter snake, but it's still pretty.

Then there are lots of freight trains hauling lumber, grain, tanks of unknown liquids, and lots of normal freight cars with mysterious contents.

I'm going to guess that trains pass fifteen times a day, but it could be eight or twenty. We've gotten so used to them that we even sleep through the train horns blowing at night. Then we have guests who look exhausted in the morning because the trains kept them awake, and we think, “Oh yeah. Trains.”

I always enjoy watching trains, but your question made me start noticing them a lot more. 


Q: Should a guy feel super strongly about a relationship before asking her out or is it ok to take the plunge even if he isn't head over heels obsessed?
--Farmer Melvin

A: This merits a short answer, a long answer, and a rant.

Short answer: No, a guy doesn’t need to feel super strongly. Yes, it’s ok to ask even if he isn’t obsessed.

Long answer: Feeling “super strongly” and “head over heels obsessed” before asking a girl out and, presumably, getting to know her well, seems just a bit alarming.

Here’s what seems healthier to me: 

A guy gets to know a girl well enough to be intrigued. He mentions this to the Lord, and asks for guidance, but he doesn’t deem it necessary to pray for a year or two.

He doesn’t send the girl mysterious, half-flirty texts and DMs for 3 months until she finally asks awkwardly what’s going on.

No. He asks the girl out so they can get to know each other better! He makes this clear: he is inviting her to go out for coffee. [We assume the virus is now history and coffee shops are open.]

The girl, being an adult and in tune with the Holy Spirit and maybe a teeny bit aware of the guy before this day, is allowed to say “Yes” or “No” that very day, if she wishes, without praying about it for a week. Or if she wants to wait and pray, that's ok too, as long as she doesn't do it just to sound spiritual, like I did once upon a time.

They meet for coffee, assuming she said Yes.

If the conversation doesn’t lag too badly, and he doesn’t slurp his coffee, we assume they meet again, and again, and before long they have a discussion about Defining the Relationship.

Once they know each other well enough, we hope they fall head over heels in love, get married, and live happily ever after.

The key factors:

Both are adults.
Everyone is honest about their intentions.
The guy takes action rather than dithering for a year or two while she takes on an imaginary Fairy Goddess Angel persona in his head, which no mortal woman can sustain in real life for very long.

Here comes the Rant:

While the guy is creating this fantasy character in his head, the young lady is trying to figure out what he’s thinking and what to do with her life—the inevitable dilemma of the single Mennonite woman. Maybe she kind of likes him and would give him a chance, but nothing is happening except a few odd indecipherable messages, so should she go ahead and pursue college and a career? Because it sure looks like she’ll be supporting herself for the rest of her days.

But then, most Mennonite men don’t go to college and seem to be intimidated by women who do, so that will shrink the pool of potentials that much more.

But she might not get married either way, and does she want to clean houses until she’s 35 and then go to college and pursue a job that will put new tires on the car without anguished budgeting?

I’m assuming that Farmer Melvin is over 25 years old. For him and so many like him, and older, both men and women let me just say: It’s hard. 

This post is not an auction poster for my many single adult kids. Without any help from me, they have experienced enough dating, drama, DMs, discussion, disappointment, meddling, matchmaking and mystery to merit many Sunday dinner discussions, evening chats in the living room, and sisterly confabs upstairs.

I am not free to tell any of it. I hope they appreciate that I am sitting on dozens of stories that are like squirming cats, scratching to get away, but I sit tight and don’t let them go. 

So this isn't an advertisement. But it's still about my adult kids, because they have made me aware of many other single Mennonites and of trends in that demographic.

If you’ve seen the new Little Women movie, you might remember the part where Amy explains that marriage is mostly an economic arrangement. I would add that it’s also a social/relational structure. If you follow Biblical values, it’s also the only means of sexual intimacy and babies.

So dating and marriage are about dreamy things like Romance and Finding the One, but mostly they’re about forming a partnership, economically and relationally, for the long-term benefit of both partners and the next generations.

Of course it’s crucial that you choose wisely who you will share a bed, budget, and babies with. But the process has been tragically complicated by years of focusing only on the Deep Weighty Decisions and Discerning God’s Will. It hasn't been ok, somehow, to be plain and practical about it.

I was about 19 when I was chatting with my friend Heidi’s mom, Noah-Lizzie. We covered the local gossip, including the fact that “Glen Hostetler” had gone on a date with “Velma Yoder.”
“Glen is different from his brothers!” Lizzie said.
“How so?” I wondered.
Er macht sich rum!” she pronounced, which means, literally, he makes himself around, or, he gets things done!

I thought, “Lizzie! How Amish of you!”

Well. I am now as practical and Amish as it’s possible to be. Bring on the discussion, strategy, matchmaking, plain language, and making yourself around.

In practical terms of finding a suitable mate, younger people have it easier. There are many more options in place to facilitate meeting and matching.

Some meet in high school, date as soon as they’re old enough, and get married. I can think of three such couples who were my kids’ classmates.

Others, not being too tied down to jobs or college, spend a winter in Bible school and meet someone there. My older kids’ friends and cousins who didn’t meet their future mate in high school often met at Bible school or a similar venue, such as the Shenandoah Music Camp or voluntary service. If you’re from a faraway place like Oregon, Bible schools and such do a good job of introducing young people to each other.

But let’s say someone meets a special person at Bible school, and they start dating, but after a year it doesn’t work out. Or no match is made.

Our Mennonite young person gets older. They start college or a business or a job that doesn’t allow flitting off for weeks at a time.

The potential meetings of potential mates dwindle in number.

Think of the Corona virus, since that is on all of our minds. If we are all out there meeting and mingling, the chance of the virus getting transferred is exponentially greater than if we’re all hunkered down, hardly seeing anyone outside of our tiny family circles.

Every Mennonite community seems to have a few unmarried people who are not right for each other but would be just fine for a compatible soul a few states away. Sometimes the compatible people actually live in the same community but go to different churches and socialize in different circles.

There are so few good, acceptable ways for them to meet and get acquainted well enough to make an informed decision about a relationship.

If they’re active online, they can get to know each other in a limited and heavily curated way. The rules are a bit fuzzy as to what’s really ok as they open the gates of friending/following, liking/commenting, and finally messaging.  Is it ok for a girl to follow a guy if it’s a private account? Can she message him, or, in the current lingo, slide into his DMs? Is it inappropriate if the guy comments on her posts all the time but never tries to get to know her by other means?

Online interaction can be a segue to real life interaction and even romance, as illustrated by my friend Luci. Ivan began following her blog, then commenting, and finally emailing. Then he declared his intentions and pursued a real life relationship. They are now married.

It keeps coming back to these:

Real life.
Supportive community.
Doing something.

Apparently, this isn’t only a Mennonite phenomenon. Our son Matt tells of attending Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and seeing dozens of other young men there, all with the same slightly desperate look that he recognized from having had the same look. If you want a nice Christian girl, you go to church, right? Isn’t that the best place to look? Capitol Hill Baptist even had an impressive written policy advocating Christian courtship and marriage.

It looked great on paper, but it didn’t work in real life. There was no opportunity for singles to meet and talk and get to know each other. Sunday school classes don’t allow for relaxed conversation. After church, there was time for only furtive glances before everyone dispersed and got back on the Metro.

This is what I propose [ha ha]. We all need to get involved. This requires a community solution.

I’m not saying we should all be deliberately matchmaking, although a few Christians have that spiritual gift, such as Jenny’s employer Don Smith, who matched Paul’s sister Rosie and her husband Phil, plus a few other couples.

Mostly, we should be making it easy for singles to meet and get to know each other. I know of numerous grateful couples who got a nudge at the top of the hill from a parent or friend, who then let go of the sled and let the couple steer it to the bottom on their own.

Of course, my favorite example is Matt and his fiancee Phoebe.

Matt said there were a number of widows at Capitol Hill. He thought it would be a great idea to ordain a few Deaconesses of Matchmaking among those widows. They could regularly invite a variety of singles over for food and games. People could get to know each other in a comfortable homey atmosphere. Even if no matches resulted, these young people, almost all far from home, could get a bit of mothering and socializing.

Most of us with a home and a living room or kitchen can invite people over. A group of older singles, at times, or a variety, since people living on their own often miss out on interaction with children and grandparents. The goal should be hospitality and helping.

Once upon a time, Anne Smucker invited half a dozen teachers from Mennonite schools in the valley to her house for dinner. She said later she wasn’t matchmaking, but before everyone left the table, her son Paul thanked her for the dinner, and a certain young lady took note of it. That evening the same young lady dropped a scoop of ice cream in her lap and calmly picked it up and put it into her bowl, which Paul didn’t notice, but things worked out anyhow.

But what about overt matchmaking? The word from the singles I know is: Ask. Don’t assume.
It’s easy: “How would you feel about me setting up a blind date for you?”
“I’d like to have you and the new teacher over for dinner, to get to know each other. Are you ok with that?”
They can say Yes or No or Tell Me More—what a concept!

Years ago, I wrote that a bunch of us moms should get together and bake whoopie pies. You know those chocolate sandwich cookies? You bake a whole bunch of them, then match them up, two by two, with a nice swoosh of gooey frosting in between.

Some cookies come out of the oven looking uniform and perfect. Those are easy to match up and are the first to go into the Tupperware happily glued together until death do them part. But others are too big or too small, or oddly shaped, or too flat.

It takes a bit of work to find a good match for those. But it can be done.

In the last year, a few people have quietly mentioned to me that a Mennonite moms' matchmaking group on facebook would be a good idea. Matt even offered to do the spreadsheet work for it. Singles could send in a profile and the moderator moms could verify the details through one of our nieces or friends from the same community. Then we could have a Zoom meeting and frost some whoopie pies, so to speak.

Do I need to pray about this for a year or two? Or should I follow my own advice and take action?

Back to Farmer Melvin: brave action is better than fearful dithering, no matter how much you spiritualize the hesitation.

Remember: Real life. A supportive community. Taking action.

Go for it, Farmer Melvin.

That's what I think.

Q: How do you get your hair to "puff" out like that on the top? I like it.

A: This made me laugh because puffs are kind of out of fashion. 

I wash my hair and brush it out. Then, while it's still wet, I put a little bloop of hair gel on my hands and rub it in around the front of my head. 

I comb it straight back, then I lay one hand on top of my head and slide it forward, forming a poof in front. I clip it in place and repeat the process on the sides.

When it's almost dry but not quite, I put it up into a bun, take out the clips around the front, and comb it all into place, hoping it behaves.

I have enough questions for at least three more posts, but if you want to add to my stash, email me at

Friday, May 08, 2020

Ask Aunt Dorcas--The Mommy Wars

Aunt Dorcas

Hoping to make my advice column a regular feature, I put out a call for questions and was rewarded with half a dozen that I hope to address on Saturdays to come.

This one struck a nerve:

How does one navigate this world of “mommy wars”? (Vaccinations, schooling, etc.)
--a mom of five

Moms have always been passionate.

When I had small children, the issues that mothers felt strongly about were using birth control or not, breast or bottle feeding, natural foods vs. processed, and spanking or not.

I don’t recall any heated arguments among my peers, but I recall feeling shame for disagreeing with the prevailing opinions in the room, all of which were strong and yes, passionate, but never hostile. There was always that one mom who had the book with all the answers, which she would give to you if your baby was fussy or you didn’t breastfeed.

So Mommy campaigns are nothing new. Dysfunction is not new either, and shame is as old as Eden. But in my opinion there’s a new level of crusading, dysfunction, and shaming in the online world, particularly in that swath of the internet where moms hang out.

Social media have been a blessing to moms, providing connection and communication at a stage of life when it’s hard to get out and do things with friends. I often look back at my children's baby years and think what a lifesaver it would have been to have email or facebook.

So, for moms today, the online world is where your friends hang out and your sister posts pictures of her baby. It’s the best source for new decorating and bullet journal ideas. Thoughtful people post interesting observations. Of course you want to be there.

Until everything goes south and the mommy wars begin. Here’s a hopefully-hypothetical situation:

One day you have your husband take a picture of you holding your baby outside on a windy autumn day. The baby is beautiful, the leaves are blowing, your hair looks nice for once. You feel proud and happy about this baby and that moment. You post a picture with a happy caption.

Suddenly the comments and messages pop up. Um, should you really take your baby outside like that without making sure he’s dressed warmly?? And even, what kind of mom are you? 

That mom on Instagram with the 10,000 followers and the refurbished log cabin and the five lovely kids all dressed like the Bride in Revelation, in fine linen, clean and white, every day, along with leather sandals of course, that you started following? And then you were so thrilled when she followed you back?

Well. That mom sends you a private message, just to encourage you to think about your baby’s core temperature and his sense of bonding with you and also his little ears and the possibility of an ear infection, especially if you bottle-feed, which she has kind of caught on that you do. No judgment, she says. Really.

The next day that same mom posts a long thoughtful post on Instagram featuring her baby all cuddly in a thick cream-colored knitted blanket, with only his round little face showing. She writes in the caption about how important it is to surround our children with warmth, that this teaches them bonding and comfort, starting in the womb, when they are safe and loved at your core body temperature that God made at the optimal degree where a child’s brain absorbs the greatest sense of security. Half a degree down and they show signs of distress and you know, she just wants to kindly speak out about moms who gauge a baby’s comfort by their own and don’t consider that babies have a much smaller body mass, so they get cold faster, and they don’t have the words to communicate this discomfort. The damage can show up years later in children who always need a security blanket and adults who are nervous and anxious and always pulling sweaters on and off, like women during menopause, or men who pull all the blankets to their side of the bed, trying to recreate the security of the womb. She’s done her research. There’s a connection. She knows about this.*

That’s when you hold your baby close, safe and warm, and start crying, feeling terrible, terrible, terrible, down to your core, where your body temperature has become icy cold. She’s talking about you. You’re a bad mom, a failure, who will never be good enough.

It isn’t safe out there.

Or maybe your mom used the Ezzos’ method for getting her babies on a sleeping and eating schedule, and you turned out ok, so you’re wondering if anyone still does that and if so, do they recommend it? All you’re after is information and personal experiences.

You post on Mommy101, a facebook group that I am not part of but I’ve heard plenty about.

An all-out battle erupts in the comments. Some are certain you will spoil your child rotten if you let them dictate their own schedule. It’s all part of a liberal scheme to destroy the family, and a 4-hour schedule is the only thing that’s going to save us. This is how God designed it! We can tell from the Old Testament and the 4-hour work shifts in the tabernacle and also the symbolism in the names of Isaiah’s children. Maher-Shalal-Hashbaz. Swift to the spoil, hasten to the prey. It’s actually about how quickly a mother’s milk spoils in the child’s stomach when they eat on demand aka “hasten to the prey.”* See?

Others reply with shock, outrage, and horror. Babies are not robots! How dare you put your own agenda and the clock ahead of a baby’s hunger and need for bonding? It’s all because of the influence of Bill Gothard and homeschooling and conservatives and that judgmental controlling spirit that still pervades the Mennonite churches.

The flames shooting from the phone burn your hand and scorch your eyelashes. You set the phone down in shock. My livin’ stars. Where did that come from?

You only wanted to get some friendly advice.

It’s not safe out there. It’s wrong. It’s cruel to all the young moms who need support and a safe place to connect.

What do you do?

Here’s what I suggest:

1. Don’t contribute to the fray. Encourage, share your experiences, gently type your opinion. But don’t sink below that line into shame, hostility, and judgment. Even if you know what’s true. Even if you could obliterate someone else with your knowledge and logic. You know in your heart where that line is.

We don’t always recognize how shaming our words might be until they’re spoken and gone. I remember when my friend Kay and I both had nursing babies. One day she told me that she thinks she’s dehydrated, and her husband said maybe she should get in the habit of drinking coffee in the morning, just to get more fluids.

“Oh no! Not coffee!” I exclaimed with all the passion of superior knowledge. “Coffee dehydrates you even more!”

She looked a bit deflated. I don’t think I had the sense to apologize then, but I’m apologizing now. It was none of my business. Besides, recent studies show that coffee doesn’t dehydrate like we always thought it did. I could have smiled and nodded. My goodness. She was all about taking good care of that baby. That's what we need to affirm.

2. Pursue personal healing. You won’t have the clarity and the tools to deal with others if you are operating out of insecurity, unhealed abuse, and a shaky sense of self.

For me, one aspect of healing has been especially important both online and off: learning that others don’t get to decide about me. They don’t get to define who I am.

I have a deep-rooted bug in my internal code that has me believing that anything that anyone says about me is true. More specifically, anything negative that people say or imply, that is automatically true.

Of course it’s not logical, but the wrong impacts on a childish brain will have bizarre effects.

So, if Sally thought I was a bad minister’s wife because I hadn’t visited the new mom in church yet, then I was a bad minister’s wife. It was true. She got to decide. I had to try even harder to be good and jump through all the hoops.

If Harvey told his wife who told her sister who told me that he thinks women have no business being writers, and I ought to take care of my family better and take my laundry in from the line before everyone goes by on Sunday morning, then suddenly I’d be in a panic. I so badly wanted to write, but here was someone confident and influential saying I shouldn’t. And of course he got to say. So I would bring in the towels on Saturday night and neglect the gift that was in me. I let someone else define who I am, what I’m like, and what I should be doing.

Put in those terms, it sounds completely ridiculous. But this is baggage that some of us carry, and you would be amazed at how many people, particularly in the social media world,  are willing to step right into that weakness and inform us precisely and regularly who we are and what we’re like.

This is the healthier way:

Other people are allowed to have opinions. They can think whatever they want. They have that liberty.

But there is a line drawn between them and you. Their opinions don’t define you, nor are their judgments or their confident statements somehow the final truth on you and the universe.

Your own heart isn’t the most reliable metric either, being easily deceived and awash in hormones.

This is why you have the Word and the Holy Spirit. This is where the truth is found about who you are. That voice is gentle, persistent, nurturing, and kind. Learn to recognize it. It will keep your identity on solid ground.

3. Set boundaries. 

Others are allowed to think and say what they want on their own pages.

You get to decide about you and yours.

You are allowed to unfollow the cool mom in the log cabin, delete the negative comment on your post, miss out on the discussion that everyone else is talking about, and block the toxic people.

Monitor that feeling in your gut. Leave the conversation if you feel the tension rising. Separate yourself from the person who is out to destroy your joy. 

You get to decide and define. The healthier you are, the better you can discern between discussion and argument, toxic and merely clumsy, enough and too much, wise advice and foolish ideas.

If you’re dealing with hormones, depression, and not enough sleep, don’t engage in the wild discussions online. 

Even if you’re perfectly healthy and healed and on top of things, you should only engage if you’re sure you have something valuable to offer or learn, and the comments don’t derail your mental health.

Invest your passion into your family, your interests, and select people who build you up.

It’s time for moms to get passionate about making their online conversations safe for everyone.

That’s what I think.

*I made that up. My daughter Emily read this and said, "Mom! Is that really a thing?" NO. I promise.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

ABC Post 11--Upside Down and Kate Brown

This Corona virus is turning everything upside down and sideways.

1. We haven't been to church in weeks.
2. You can pull up to the bank in a mask and no one minds.
3. Our church has a worship team, with services on YouTube.
4. I feel sorry for Kate Brown.

Kate Brown, in case you don't know, is the governor of Oregon. She and I have never seen eye to eye on much of anything, from foster care to farm policy to fiscal matters.

She happened to speak at Amy's graduation from community college. It was a fine speech as speeches go, but I thought it very odd that she, a liberal governor, had a multi-point gun analogy in this speech. It wasn't anti-gun, either. Just a comparison of life with shooting, or something, and hitting the target. I should have taken notes.

I thought, really, Kate Brown?

Then the Corona virus hit, and like every leader in the entire world, Kate Brown was in the hot seat. Oregon had one of the first diagnosed cases in the country. With limited information, a constantly changing situation, a looming crisis, and half a dozen differing opinions yelled in her ears, she had to make a decision, right now.

So she did. She closed schools and told people to stay home.

Was it because of this that Oregon has had one of the lowest COVID-19 rates in the country, or was it because she left a loophole for people to go outside in our beautiful natural habitat for exercise, or were we just really lucky?

As with so many other aspects of this pandemic, it's too soon to tell.

Oddly, Kate Brown may have saved my hide.

When the Corona virus hit the West Coast, I very quickly formulated a strategy. I have asthma, so I know what it's like to feel like I can't breathe. In the strongest possible terms, I didn't want to catch a disease that, according to reports we were hearing from Italy, fills your lungs and takes your breath, inch by inch.

Obviously, medical treatments were going to be hit and miss for a while, since it was a new virus. So I decided I would be super careful until the first wave had passed, things settled down, doctors knew what they were doing, and effective treatment was standardized. Then I could loosen up.


Our fiction-writing critique group was planning to meet one more time in March, but we weren't sure if we should. Then Kate Brown told everyone to stay home, so that made the decision for us. Three days after we would have had our meeting, one of our members came down with a nasty case of the Corona virus.

Of course there are lots of if's in this scenario, but it was a close fly-by, and I was quite happy not to have been exposed.

So she made a decision that benefited me, but that's not why I feel compassion for Kate Brown.

People end up in leadership for all kinds of reasons. Some are appointed, others volunteer, some feel a calling, and still others shove and elbow and campaign and fight for the job.

Leading is a challenging but rewarding job, most of the time.

When a crisis hits, it can be worse than your worst nightmare.

Suddenly, you're in the spotlight like you've never been before. Stuff is unfolding around you too fast for you to keep up. Everyone is looking to you to make a decision. At least five opposing, angry, desperate factions are yelling at you that you ought to do what they say, or there's going to be a total disaster, and it will all be your fault.

And there you are, smack in the middle. A decision must be made. Only you can make it.

Your information is limited. You don't have time to research and ponder and weigh.

No matter what you decide, it's somehow going to be wrong. You will not handle the situation perfectly, because it isn't possible.

People will be furious at you. They will proclaim your faults and idiocy in loud voices, to you and to others.

Time will very slowly reveal who was right and who was wrong, but no one will remember the ones who yelled the loudest about what turned out to be wrong. In fact, they themselves will forget they ever said such things.

Few will know what it took for the person in charge to keep his or her head, make decisions, and endure all the consequences with grace.

I've watched my husband serve as a leader for many years, and I've watched from the sidelines as crises unfolded. I can still feel the weight of it, the terrible impossibility of ever getting it all right. Somehow, in those times, he kept his head, but I absorbed the shock waves from the explosions, and the hot emotions.

That's why, while I have multiple opinions about our leaders' decisions and the virus-related repercussions in this country, I don't say much, [except maybe about the appalling lack of tests!], and I try to make it easier for everyone in charge, from the President all the way down to the people at Safeway who tell you where to stand.

Whether they came by it with integrity, or begged and cheated for the job, every leader is in a terrible position right now.

And that is why I feel sorry for Kate Brown.

The world is truly upside down.

Please don't comment about specific policies, quarantines, Kate Brown, or politics in general.
I'd love to hear how you and yours have handled leadership, crises, and fallout.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

ABC Post 10--Interview with a Covid/Hospice Nurse in Chicago

For today's post, I interviewed my sister Rebecca. She is a nurse in Chicago. Join us for a glimpse of a specialized medical field and the stories that few of us will ever see.

Please tell us who you are and where you live.

I'm Rebecca, Dorcas's sister.  I live in the southwest suburbs of Chicago.  

Describe your work pre-Covid 19.

I work as a hospice nurse.  Hospice is a service offered to those who medical professionals have determined have 6 months or less to live.  Patients may have cancer, Alzheimers disease, COPD, or a myriad of other diseases.  Hospice is a Medicare covered service that provides visits by nurses, chaplains, medical social workers, and home health aids, also medical equipment like hospital beds and oxygen, and  medications called 'comfort medications' that help with the typical symptoms that come with the dying process.  Our patients can be in privates homes, nursing homes or in hospitals.

My work entails visiting our hospice patients, doing a thorough assessment on them, especially focusing on managing typical end of life symptoms of pain, shortness of breath, agitation etc, as well as providing emotional support to the patients and their loved ones.

I also sign patients into the hospice system, called a Start of Care, as well as death visits when a patient passes.  Up until Covid-19 I was working in the hospital with our hospice patients maybe 10% of the time. The rest of the time I was with patients in their homes or in skilled nursing facilities.    

Describe your work currently. What has changed with Covid 19? What has stayed the same?  

My job description has not changed with Covid-19.  My goal is still symptom management and emotional support of patients and families.  What has changed is that we have a growing number of hospitalized hospice patients who have Covid-19. 

So instead of being in the hospital 10% of the time, I am now there 80% of the time.  And since nearly all of our hospitalized patients test positive for Covid-19, that means that most of my time in the hospital is with Covid-19 patients. 

What is it like for your patients i.e. how sick are they when admitted, and are they able to recover from Covid?

Because they're already in hospice, patients generally don't go home if they're positive for covid. So there's comorbidity-- Covid plus another condition that had them in hospice. 

Many of them come from extended care facilities that don't do this level of care, oxygen and all that. At this point they're way too sick for nursing homes.

So no, they don't usually go home from the hospital.

What is it like emotionally for them and also for you? Are any of them allowed to have visitors? If not, how does that change your work and/or the emotional load for you?

Having hospice patients with Covid adds a huge layer of emotional stress. It's already hard, and the family is struggling, but before Covid, the family would be around the bed, holding their hand.

Covid adds a huge layer of stress for nurses. The patient is alone in the room, with the door closed. You feel like you're all they've got, not only to comfort the patients but being that connection with family.

If you can, you set up a phone call. I had a patient last week who had been married 60 years, and of course they couldn't be together. He had an Ipad, so I FaceTimed his wife. I was holding up the Ipad, and she was on the other end of the call saying, "Honey, I love you! Can you say you love me?"

He could still hear, but he couldn't respond. She was begging him to say that he loves her, to blink an eye or something. But he just wasn't able to. There was such pain in her voice.

Before Covid, I was already being clear with the families about what was happening, and giving support on the phone as needed. But now, with the families not able to see their loved ones, I'm doing lots of emotional support over the phone.

It's a drop in the bucket to what they need, but it's all you can do.

Can you share more stories of actual people and how it's been for them?

One patient I had recently was a woman who was a ward of the state. There was no family to contact, and there was no family involved in her admission to the hospital. The state had assigned her a legal guardian. There was no emotional attachment there, only a legal responsibility for her affairs.

She passed away and there was no family to call, no family to care that she was gone. It was a whole new layer of grief as a nurse.

How do you process all that?

Through a lot of prayer—with the patients and on my own. That burden of being the last kind touch that the person receives, that's very significant. Even though it's an added layer of hard, it's an added layer of rewarding as well

Another of my patients was in the hospital for a surgery, and the family of course couldn't be with him. But he was able to come home. I was doing the start of care at the house when the ambulance brought him home from the hospital. 

Watching him and his wife reunite after weeks and weeks, and being part of that reunion, was just the happiest job situation yet. The man has dementia but still knew who she was. She refused to leave his side. I had to do all the forms and everything right there, because she was staying right beside him. It was so sweet and so wonderful to see them being together after being apart so long. 

How would you describe the Corona virus situation in Chicago at this point?

I don't follow the news and stats religiously, but what I understand is that Illinois has the 4th highest number of Covid cases by state, following NY, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.  The vast majority of Illinois' residents are in Chicago so as a city we are suffering, not like NYC, but still, the numbers are high.

So far in IL there have been nearly 46,000 cases and 2000 deaths.  Most of those are in Cook county in Chicago, which is the county we live in.  The hospital where I work has about half of the inpatients testing positive for Covid-19.  So far, there have been enough ventilators and PPE to go around, though we do ration and reuse PPE that normally would be considered disposable. 

First one wing was all Covid patients, then a second wing, then a third, and now half the hospital is Covid. This hospital has about 400 beds, so about 200 are Covid patients. Most of them are in their 50s—not elderly. The youngest is 28. Thankfully, most are recovering.

We try to keep the hospice patients in their own areas. We have our own hospice office at the hospital. 

We're always interacting with the nursing staff and doctors, giving voice to our patients and making sure their symptoms are being managed.

Covid just makes an added layer of stress for medical workers in every way. For example, you wear extra layers of PPE, but still everything you touch is dirty. Like I'll have to write something down. OK, now my pen is polluted. Or I need a bandage. I can't run get a bandage from the supply closet without taking all my gear off. It's challenging! 

Anything else you want to add would be great, just a view from the inside that those of us holed up at home might not think about.

This affects so many people at so many different levels. I did a death visit, and the son had tears in his eyes. He said, "I can't even buy flowers." They can't have a funeral either of course. He said, "My mom would have wanted flowers."

The fact that so many elderly have Covid makes me wonder if we have all been exposed, especially since the elderly that live at home hardly see anyone, and somehow they were exposed. I do feel that social distancing is important, though, because I recognize that we have limited ventilators and ICU beds. If we're all out together we can overwhelm the hospital capacity.

With my job, though, you're with people all the time, and there comes a point where you can't protect yourself any more.

How do you reconcile yourself with the danger?

This job has been a dream of mine for many years. It's been a huge gift to me—I love my job. I feel like I'm here for such a time as this. I believe the Scripture that my times are in his hands.

I'm not cavalier—I'm very careful—but I don't feel anxious.

How can we pray?

For me, you can pray for my safety, that I won't get sick. For physical and emotional strength to hold up. And that I'll be able to have compassion and care for patients well.

For Chicago, you can pray for the curve to flatten and the numbers to decrease. The numbers are still really high.

Thank you, Rebecca, for all you do, and for taking the time to give us a glimpse of your work world. Blessings to you and all the others like you.