Tag Archive | patience

Talking with Floey about Peace and Patience

Floey-Marian faces selfie 2Floey came running up to me as I opened the door into our condo from the garage. She was so excited I had to drop my suitcase to give her a big hug. “Oh, Floey. I’m so glad to see you. I missed you so much!”

“I missed you, too, Mom? Where did you go this time? Were you at Christmas Mountain again?” Floey asked.

“Yup. That’s where I was, Floey.”

“Why do you go there so often, Mom. I really miss you when you’re gone.”

“Oh, I wish I could take you with me, but like most timeshares, they don’t allow dogs. But anyway, if you did come with me, who would take care of our residents? They need you at home to do the pre-wash of their dishes before they go into the dishwasher. And the ladies like to have you snuggle up close to them to be petted. You’re needed at home.”

“I guess you’re right, Mom. But why do you go away so often?”

“Well, Floey, whenever I’m home, I’m always working, seven days a week. That’s the nature of our business – round-the-clock caregiving in our home. That’s why Mim and I need to get away, and why we almost always go away separately – so someone will always be home with you and our residents.”

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Christmas Mountain Village, Wisconsin Dells

I guess I understand. But what do you do at Christmas Mountain? I know it’s a ski resort in the winter and a golf resort during the rest of the year, and you don’t do either.”

“That’s a good question. You know what things I like to do, Floey. Don’t you?”

“Sure. You like to read and write and play the piano and go for walks.”

“Yup. And that’s exactly what I do at Christmas Mountain. I always get a nice, comfortable condo where I can sprawl out and enjoy my time there. Sometimes I even take my little five octave keyboard along so I can play the ‘piano.’ And, of course, I have my computer, iPad, iPhone, books, a puzzle, and I’ve even started bringing along a coloring book and colored pencils.”

“Wow. That’s why you always pack up so many bags when you leave!”

“That’s right. I want to have everything I might need to relax, in whatever way I feel like relaxing. This time I was away for almost a whole week, so I packed a lot of stuff.”

“Did you use all your stuff?”

“I guess not. I didn’t do the puzzle this time. I did more reading and writing than usual. And I walked quite a bit, too. And I spent some time just thinking.”

“What did you think about?”

images“One of the things I thought about was one of the books I read, THE GIFT OF PEACE by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, former Archbishop of Chicago. It was an incredibly inspiring book.”

“What was it about?”

“Here, let me show you, Floey.” I pulled my briefcase out of the car and pulled out the little book.

“Cardinal Bernardin wrote this book during the final months of his life. Thirteen days before he died, he finished the book, and hand-wrote a letter to serve as a preface to the book. The letter is actually published in the book in hand-written form. Let me read you an excerpt from the letter, Floey. That will give you a good impression of the tone and content of the book itself.”

“Okay, Mom. Read away.”

I have decided to write this very personal letter explaining why I have written this little book, The Gift of Peace. It is not an autobiography but simply a reflection on my life and ministry during the past three years, years that have been as joyful as they have been difficult. My reflections begin with the allegation of sexual misconduct brought against me November 1993 and continue to the present as I prepare for the last stage of my life which began in June 1995 with the diagnosis of an aggressive form of cancer.

To paraphrase Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, “it has been the best of times, it has been the worst of times.” The worst because of the humiliation, physical pain, anxiety and fear. The best because of the reconciliation, love, pastoral sensitivity and peace that have resulted from God’s grace and the support and prayers of so many people. While not denying the former, this reflection focuses on the latter, showing how, if we let him, God can write straight with crooked lines. To put it another way, this reflection is intended to help others understand how the good and the bad are always present in our human condition and, that if we “let go,” if we place ourselves totally in the hands of the Lord, the good will prevail.

“Wow. Did you say he died less than two weeks after writing the book?”

“That’s right, Floey. Pretty inspiring, isn’t it? I’m so glad I had the time and a quiet place to read his book and to think about it this past week. That’s why going to Christmas Mountain is so good for me. I have the time to be quiet, to read, and to think.”

“What else did you think about?” Floey asked.

“Well, I thought a lot about patience, especially on Tuesday.”

“Patience? That’s not your word for the year. I think that was Mim’s word a couple years ago. Why did you think about patience? And, why on Tuesday?”

“Think, Floey. You know. What do I always do on Tuesday mornings?”

“That’s easy, Mom. Every Tuesday morning you add a post to your blog. Right?”

“That’s right. When I know I’m going to be away from home I usually try to write the post before I leave home so that all I have to do when I’m away is my final editing and posting it on the Internet. Then I send an email to let subscribers know it has been posted, and I post a comment on Facebook to let a lot of my friends know it’s there. The Tuesday morning process usually takes less than an hour. Well, the Internet connection at Christmas Mountain is always slow, but at least Internet service is available. Last Tuesday the Internet connection was the slowest I have ever experienced. I wasn’t even sure I could post my blog. I pounded the table a few times, and I paced all around the condo many times trying to think of where I could find a public Wi-Fi network I could use to post my blog – like maybe at McDonald’s or Culver’s. I finally was able to post my reflection about favorite hymns, “An Odd Favorite,” at Christmas Mountain. However, I’m sure my blood pressure was well above the healthy normal range!”

“You really were frustrated!”

Anderson_Jacobson_AJ_832

These terminals were the workhorses of the Finance Department. A telephone handset plugged into the modem on the right to communicate at 30 cps.

“I sure was, Floey. Once the post was out there, I went for a walk. That helped me calm down. I thought about how dependent upon – and demanding of – technology we have become. I remembered my first job where I worked with computers – Northwest Industries in Chicago. That company was widely considered leading edge in using information technology for making business decisions. In the mid-1970s we used a dial-up connection to transmit data at the rate of 30 cps (characters per second), about six times faster than a good typist can type a letter. Pretty fast, don’t you think? Whenever I wanted to see a report, I sent it to the printer (initially we had no monitors to view) and then went to get a cup of coffee while I waited for the report to print. After a couple years, the top executives were equipped with monitors that could display data at the rate of 120 cps. That’s when we were collaborating with decision support specialists at MIT, in the glory days of using computers to enhance management decision making.

“I can’t even remember how I could be so patient in those days! Patience. Maybe that was a virtue I possessed in the 1970s, but I certainly didn’t have it last Tuesday. I just wanted to add a post to my blog. That’s all. And technology was crawling along, not zipping by.”

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“I bet you were really, really frustrated, Mom. I can see you getting stressed out just talking about it.”

“You’re right, Floey. But I thought about it for a while. You know, patience is listed as one of the gifts of the spirit, right after peace. The Bible says in Galatians 5:22-23:

But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. [New Living Translation]

“I don’t know, Floey. Maybe I need to spend more time pondering and praying for the gift of patience.”

“Hey, Mom. Maybe patience should be your special word next year.”

“Maybe… It’s a little early to think about next year’s special word. I still have seven months left to focus on kindness – my word for this year.”

“You’re right, Mom. That can wait. Did you think about anything else while you were at Christmas Mountain last week?”

“Well, yes, there was one more thing. But let’s talk about that later. I still have to empty the car and get settled in again at home.”

“Okay, Mom. But don’t forget we have to continue this conversation.”

 

Patience-is-not-about-how-long-you-can-wait-but-how-well-you-behave-while-youre-waiting.

Meow?

Floey smiling profileFloey came running up to my desk and stood beside me. “I’m ready, Mom. Let’s get started. I can hardly wait to start blogging about my special word for 2016.” Floey was wagging her tail so hard and fast I was afraid she might knock the landline phone off my desk.

“Okay, Floey. We can get started. First, tell me about how it worked for you to have the word PLAY for your special word throughout 2015.”

“Sure. PLAY was a good word for me for 2015. I didn’t really need to be reminded to play for myself. I’m not even two years old yet, not till January 24th. So, taking time to play comes natural to me. But, you know, most of my human friends are lots older than I am, and they forget to play. So my focus last year was to help everyone else remember to take time to play. It’s been good for all of us.”

“Oh, you are so right about that, Floey. What’s your new word for 2016?”

“I think you’ll be surprised at what I chose.”

“Whether I’m surprised, or not, doesn’t matter. It’s your word, the word that has come into your heart and mind as the truly special word you want to concentrate on this whole upcoming year.”

“Okay, Mom. Here goes. My word for 2016 is MEOW.”

“MEOW? Really? Why did you choose that word, Floey?”

“Well, Mom, as we walk through the neighborhood, we run into a few cats. I’d like to become friends with them, but I don’t know how to communicate with them very well. I try to sniff them in greeting, and they don’t seem to like it. One cat even growls and hisses at me. At best, I sometimes hear a questioning MEOW. I figure that I need to learn how to become friends with cats. Having MEOW as my word for 2016, I’ll be focused on learning how to communicate better with my feline neighbors. I know we can all become friends if we try. My cousin Sadie sent me a picture of her cuddling with Lola, your niece Emily’s cat. I want to become friends with cats, just like Sadie does.”

Lucy and cat

Floey’s cousins Sadie and Lola

“I’m proud of you, Floey. Some dogs and people just decide to not like anyone who is different from themselves. I’m so glad you want to learn to be a friend to someone who is different from you.”

“Good. Glad you approve of my word, even though I don’t need your approval. How about your word, Mom?”

“Well, you remember that my special word for 2015 was GRATITUDE. I wrote about that word a few times last year on the blog. It was an excellent focus for me for the year. Even though 2015 had its ups and downs, there was always something to be grateful for. Having GRATITUDE as my word for 2015 has changed my life. I now have a new habit – thinking of things that I’m grateful for each night as I lie in bed waiting to fall asleep.”

Gratitude Rock

“That sounds like a good thing, Mom. Do you think you will keep on thinking those bedtime thoughts in 2016 when GRATITUDE isn’t your special word for the year.”

“I’m sure of it, Floey. In 2014, my special word was JOY. I was always on the lookout for seeing moments of JOY all around me, and I’m still on the lookout for joyful moments. It’s a habit that’s stuck. I’m sure my new GRATITUDE habit will stick, too.”

“So what’s your new word going to be, Mom?”

“I’ve decided on KINDNESS. This year is going to be a year with an abundance of hate spewed out of lots of mouths. It’s a presidential election year – where it seems to be acceptable to be nasty. In order to offset the excess of hate and nastiness, I’m going to be on special lookout for moments of kindness – both to observe and to do.”

Kindness - colorful flower

Just then Mim came down the stairs into my office. “Your timing is perfect, Mim. Floey and I are working on my blog, and we’re talking about our special words for 2015 and 2016. I remember your special word for 2015 was WAIT. Was that a good word for you last year?”

“It sure was. I keep thinking I’m ready to move on to the next phase of my life – retirement, but for a variety of reasons I can’t move on yet. I have to WAIT until the timing is right. It’s been good for me to WAIT for God’s timing, and to think about WAITING as part of God’s plan for our lives. A time of WAITING is important for learning, for growth, and for other things to be happening. It’s been good to think about the blessings of WAITING over the past year.”

“The phrase ’the blessings of WAITING’ is quite a foreign concept in our culture,” I responded.

 

Waiting-Bird cropped

“It sure is,” Mim replied. “But I’m really glad I chose the word WAIT for 2015. It was a good word to ponder throughout the year while different things happened – like selling the farmhouse. We were ready to sell the farmhouse eight years ago, but the timing wasn’t right. God wanted us to WAIT until this year – and for good reasons:  The farmhouse provided a place for people to spend time alone with God when the farmhouse served as Whispering Winds Retreat Haven. A few years later the farmhouse provided a home for a family needing a place to live for a couple years. And although we had no inkling this would happen, in eight years some friends would be ready to buy the farmhouse and begin a new ministry there. The timing was right for them in 2015. It wasn’t in 2007. Back then we didn’t even know these people. It’s obvious now that there were lots of good reasons for WAITING that we didn’t know anything about eight years ago.”

With a twinkle in her eye, Floey said, “I can’t WAIT any longer. What’s your special word going to be for 2016?”

“My new word is one you may want to think about, too, Floey. It’s PATIENCE. Last year I focused on the blessings of WAITING. In 2016 I’ll focus on my feelings while I wait. I hope to learn to be more PATIENT.”

Patience while waiting cropped

“Okay, Moms. I think we’ve almost finished writing this blog post about our special words for 2016.  I’m going to change from concentrating on PLAY to learning about MEOW. “

I interjected, “And I’m changing my focus from GRATITUDE to KINDNESS.”

And Mim concluded, “And I’m going from WAITING to PATIENCE.”

We all One Perfect Word book covertook a minute to re-read the post, and then I added, “You know, this is my third year of having a special word instead of coming up with any New Year’s resolutions. I’m so glad Debbie Macomber shared the idea in her book, One Perfect Word. It’s the best new practice I’ve picked up in decades! She summarized the practice very well in the first chapter of her book:

When we choose one single word … and spend a year with it, I’ve found that the Lord takes us by the hand and walks us through the year, teaching us about that word, about ourselves, and even more, about God Himself.

“Let’s begin our adventure of living and learning our new words for 2016 – MEOW, PATIENCE, and KINDNESS.”

Floey jumped up at that. “Let’s go looking for cats, Moms. I’m ready!”

Mim replied, “I don’t think there are any cats outside today – it’s too cold and windy. Maybe tomorrow. I think we ALL need to learn a little about PATIENCE this year, not just me.”

And I said, “Let’s be extra KIND to each other today. Let our adventures of 2016 begin!”

Floe-Marian faces 2015

Canine Wisdom

F sitting 022815Floey came running over to me. Her tail was wagging as fast as it can wag, but she dutifully sat down and looked up at me. “Hey, Mom. Has it come yet?” she asked.

“What’s that, Floey?”

“My check for $50. Remember Ellen at ARVSS (Animal Rescue & Veterinary Support Services) where I came from said I would get a $50 graduation present if I successfully completed a beginner dog training class. And I did it! I graduated way back on February 9. I know you emailed a copy of my diploma to Ellen because I reminded you to do it. Has the check come yet? I can hardly wait to go shopping!”

“Well, Floey. It came, but I lost it. I’m so sorry.”

Her tail stopped wagging. “You lost it? You lost my check? You’re kidding, Mom. Where is it?” Her tail started thumping again.

“No, Floey. I really lost it. I emailed your diploma to ARVSS on Monday, and the check came in the mail on Tuesday. I wanted to cash it for you on Friday so we could go shopping during the weekend, but I couldn’t find it. I looked all over. I just can’t find it. It’s got to be here somewhere! I just can’t figure out where.”

F diploma“Did you look in the rack on top of your desk where you always put checks to be cashed?” Floey asked.

“That’s the first place I looked,” I replied. “I was sure it would be there. It wasn’t.”

“Well, did you look on the shelf at the top of the stairs where you put things to take downstairs?” she asked.

“Yes, I looked there next. I’ve spent a couple hours looking for it.”

F and Marian faces“So that’s why you cleaned off your desk and the work table in your office. I wondered why you were cleaning so thoroughly. You’re usually too busy to clean.”

“Yes. That’s why I’ve been cleaning up so much. I guess that’s a good side effect of losing the check – my office is the cleanest it’s been in months. But I’m so frustrated I can hardly stand it. I don’t know if I should pound the table or cry. I really feel bad, Floey.”

F looking up at me“Oh, don’t feel bad, Mom. I know you didn’t lose it on purpose. I don’t really need to have a $50 shopping spree. It would be fun, but it’s not something I need. What I need is a loving forever family – and thanks to you and Mim, I now have one.” Floey put her chin on my lap. She looked up at my face and said, “Mom, you need to remember what you read all last month in The Monastic Way. I’ve been peering over your shoulder every morning, and I know the daily readings by Joan Chittister were all about patience. Remember, the cover had a quote from St. Francis de Sales, “Be patient with everyone, but especially yourself.”

Face on lapFloey licked the tear that was rolling down my cheek. “Thanks, Floey. I remember the first reading of the month. ‘Patience is the quality it takes to fail and then to recover better, brighter, wiser than ever before.’ I certainly failed by losing your graduation present. I guess now I need to be patient to learn from my mistake – to be more careful about keeping track of important papers, like checks.”

Floey smiled. “My favorite reading was on Friday the 13th. ‘Patience is life without hysterics, without anger, without blame. It is the gift that keeps the world inching toward rightness.’ I think many dogs are born knowing this truth. The first ten months of my life weren’t easy, but I don’t blame anyone, and I’m not angry. With patience, I have now moved into the next phase of my life, and it is good.”

“You really are a good, patient dog, Floey. Thank you for helping me get over my frustration of the moment, and reminding me about how good last month’s Monastic Way was. Another reading that spoke to me was on February 22 – ‘We learn patience by repeating to ourselves over and over again, There is something in this moment that I am meant to learn. And then to stop and learn it.’”

F sitting w crossed legs -0022815Floey interrupted me. “I remember that reading. It ended with a quote from Barbara Johnson, ‘Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears.’ I thought that was a good description. Even though I’ve never driven a car, I guess the feeling is like staying in a SIT-STAY position when a squirrel runs within ten feet of you! That’s patience!”

“Thanks, Floey. You are both patient and understanding. I think you have a lot to teach me.”

ADDENDUM
I drafted this blog post on Saturday. On Monday morning Mim found the check. It was inside its envelope in the paper recycling box under the kitchen sink. Mim had looked in that box before but missed it. We have no idea how the envelop floated into that box. That will remain a mystery. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying a clean desk top and office work table.

UFF DA Revisited

Wisconsin ID

A few weeks ago I blogged about taking “Mary” (one of the people we care for) to the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles to get an official State ID card. She may need the Wisconsin ID to vote, but more urgently, she needs a State ID to cash in a U.S. Government Savings Bond. As you may recall reading in my May 20, 2014 blog post, we were unsuccessful in getting the ID. We needed to have a certified birth certificate. Mary didn’t have one. We walked away from the DMV with the web address for the official Illinois state website where we could obtain information about how to get an Illinois birth certificate. (Illinois is where Mary was born.) Keep in mind that Mary is 92 years old – will turn 93 later this month. She is not computer savvy.

I had titled the May 20 blog post “UFF DA” (a mild Norwegian expletive) because I had started the day of our visit to the DMV by reading the following prayer:

Grant me the grace to look with respect
upon all I will meet this day
and upon every event I encounter.
Mindful that I am a pilgrim,
may I treat each and every one with reverence and love,
as a manifestation of you to whom I journey.
[from Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim by Edward Hays]

Uff daI was anticipating some frustration in dealing with the state, based on prior experiences I’ve had. (Perhaps that will be another blog post sometime.) I wasn’t looking forward to treating “with reverence and love” anyone who would be hassling Mary and me with bureaucratic rules. UFF DA! What a prayer to begin that day with!

When Mary and I got home from the DMV, I immediately logged onto the Internet to find out the process for obtaining Mary’s birth certificate. I printed out the official Illinois form to request a certified birth certificate, and I worked with Mary to fill it out. We almost couldn’t complete the form because Mary couldn’t remember her mother’s maiden name. But then she thought of a cousin who might remember the name. We called her cousin, and fortunately, the cousin remembered the name. After completing the form, I made copies of Mary’s Medicare card, old Illinois ID card, and a bank statement showing her current address. We enclosed a check for $15, and sent everything to Springfield.

About three weeks later we received a letter from Springfield with an interesting enclosure – NOT a birth certificate, but instead a different document, “State of Illinois – Certification that record was not found.” The cover letter explained that Illinois does not have any record of Mary’s birth and that this certificate, along with one or more other documents that “prove the birth facts,” can be presented instead of a birth certificate for all official purposes.

At 9:00 Monday morning, June 23, Mary and I walked through the door of the DMV in Madison, armed with her “Certification that record was not found” document, her official Illinois ID which included her birth date, her social security card, and a bank statement showing her current address.

Waiting in Long LineI was a little alarmed to see that the line to check in stretched all the way to the door. There were at least twenty people in line ahead of us. I asked Mary if she needed to sit down while I stood in line for her. It was early in the day, and this little 92-year-old lady said she thought she could stand in line okay. Hopefully, the line would move fast.

By 9:17 we were at the head of the line. I explained to the clerk what we needed and gave her the Wisconsin ID application form, which we had already completed. She asked for a certified birth certificate. I gave her the “State of Illinois – Certification that record was not found” document and Mary’s Illinois ID. The clerk looked confused, and I explained that Mary had been born at home and that there was no official record of her birth. According to the letter Mary had received from Illinois, this should suffice. The clerk was satisfied with the explanation and asked Mary to sign her name on one of those little digital boxes like you sign when you use a credit card in a store. Mary had never used one of those before, and the stylus she had to use was as blunt as a pencil eraser, and the image on the screen was a little distorted. The clerk patiently cleared the screen for her so she could start over, three times. Finally, there was a satisfactory signature, and the clerk asked her to “click on the OK button.” Mary had no idea what she meant. I pointed to the OK box on the screen and asked Mary to touch it with the pen. She did that, and then stepped over to the wall opposite the camera to get her picture taken. The clerk snapped her picture, verified the picture was okay, smiled at us, gave us our paperwork, and told us to sit in the waiting area until our number was called.

By 9:30 our number was called. We walked to window #8 and handed our paperwork to the clerk. She asked us what we wanted. I replied that we were there for a Wisconsin ID. She asked for a birth certificate. I pointed to the “State of Illinois – Certification that record was not found” document and the Illinois ID that I had given her already. She had no idea what to do with that response. She asked the clerk working in the window next to her what to do. That clerk said to talk to their supervisor. So, our clerk left us, and went to get her supervisor. About five minutes later she came back with her supervisor.

frustrationThe supervisor asked for Mary’s marriage certificate. We didn’t have that with us, and Mary didn’t even know if she still had that document. I pointed out to the clerk that she was 92 years old and that she was from an era and culture where husbands took care of all family records, and her husband was deceased. The supervisor still wanted us to go home (20 miles away) and look for the marriage certificate.

We discussed alternatives for the next twenty minutes. During that time, Mary was getting more and more frustrated. At one point she said, “The damn thing’s not worth it. Let’s go home.”

I think her language surprised the supervisor. I persisted, saying, “It shouldn’t be this difficult. She just wants a Wisconsin ID to cash her savings bonds and maybe vote. I doubt very much that she will be able to find her marriage certificate. The documents we have provided should be sufficient to prove she is who she says she is.” I also pulled out a copy of the completed request for the birth certificate that we had sent to Springfield, which had prompted her receiving the certificate stating there was no birth record. That request provided her date of birth and connected her maiden name to her married name.

After more exploration of alternatives, the supervisor finally said to the clerk (not to us), “Well, this is quite a stretch, but use the ‘State of Illinois – Certification that record was not found’ document, Illinois ID, and Social Security card to process the request.” The supervisor walked away without looking at us.

The clerk, without saying anything to us, keyed a lot of keystrokes into the computer, and finally handed us a sheet of paper. She said, “You can use this paper as an ID until your card arrives in the mail. You should receive it in a week or two. If you have not received it in two weeks, you can call this number on the top of the page, but DO NOT CALL before two weeks!” It was clear that she was not happy that Mary was getting a Wisconsin ID without providing more documentation. The clerk had a very stern look on her face. She looked back at her computer, expecting us to leave.

I started to walk away, but Mary stepped closer to the counter. “May God bless you, ma’am. Thank you for helping me. And may you be truly blessed, and may you have a wonderful day.”

The clerk looked up, stunned. I was a little surprised, too. Obviously, Mary is living a life much like the prayer I read a month ago:

Grant me the grace to look with respect
upon all I will meet this day
and upon every event I encounter.
Mindful that I am a pilgrim,
may I treat each and every one with reverence and love,
as a manifestation of you to whom I journey.

UFF DA! I guess there are still more things I can learn by example from our elders.

"May you be truly blessed,  and may you have a wonderful day."

“May you be truly blessed,
and may you have a wonderful day.”

 

Implementing New Systems – the Way God Did It, and the Way We Do It

colorful sky

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. [Genesis 1:1-2 NKJV]

OMG! What did God do! He just went ahead and created a whole new system – the  heavens and the earth – and it doesn’t work! He didn’t allow enough time for analyzing all the implications of this new system. And there was NO TIME AT ALL set aside for testing the system before implementing it. Whatever made him think he could do it all in one day! Now what’s gonna happen? Space will never be the same again! I can’t believe he’ll be able to fix it. I can’t even imagine the cost of this foolhardiness.

Then God said, “Let there be light: and there was light.” And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day. [Genesis 1:3-5 NKJV]

Fortunately, God is all knowing and all powerful. God quickly started debugging his new system and implementing new features, and by the end of six days, the system worked flawlessly according to the design he had in mind.

DSCN1295

Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. [Genesis 1:31 NKJV]

If you’re not God, the implementation of a new system simply does not go smoothly. I’ve been thinking a lot about that over the past few weeks, partly because of all the news about the Affordable Care Act and the implementation of healthcare.gov, and partly because of some bugs in a new system I’m trying to learn.

I have a relatively strong systems background. During most of the years I lived in Chicago between 1972 and 1992, I worked in systems planning, development, and implementation. From this experience I understand the processes and the problems fairly well. When I had my own systems consulting practice, one of my clients was the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. My first assignment with them was to conduct a review of a newly implemented case tracking system. Cook County had spent millions of dollars and over a year implementing a new system designed to help the 600 attorneys in the Chicago office keep track of the status of all their cases. Most of the attorneys hated the new system and claimed that the system data was unreliable. The new system was “without form and void.” Apparently the system lacked internal controls, and the natural result of weak controls was that the data was inaccurate.

My job was to interview attorneys in all divisions of the State’s Attorney’s Office to learn what the specific problems were, and then to determine whether or not the problems could be fixed or if the system should be abandoned. It was a fascinating study to conduct. I learned all about what the Criminal Division needed from the system, what the Juvenile Division needed, the Tax Division, Probate, Victim Advocates, and so on. All these attorneys needed different things from the system, and each division had different reasons for hating the system.

Upon completion of the study, my recommendations were to make a few technical changes to the system to improve data integrity and to provide more extensive training in the use of the system so that the attorneys would have a better understanding of the controls within the system and the specific benefits the system would deliver to each division.

The most important thing I learned about implementing new systems is that patience is needed more than anything else. Eventually most of the bugs will be fixed, and system users will get through the learning curve.

Abbey helped me keep at the project despite all the frustrations I encountered.

Abbey helped me keep at the project despite all the frustrations I encountered.

However, I am still learning more and more about the use of new systems and how steep the learning curve can be, especially for systems that have a few glitches. My patience was severely tested over the last few days.

I decided to put together a photo book with all the pictures from our wedding, and to include pictures from our Blessing Ceremony 25 years ago. I have never used any of those Internet services that enable you to create a hardcover book of your pictures, but I have seen some of the books my nephew Kevin has created through these services, and I’ve been quite impressed. I called Kevin to find out which services he has used and to see if he had any advice for me. He said he’s used different services, and they’re all pretty good and relatively inexpensive.

I explored several services and decided to try Shutterfly.com for two reasons – it looked like it would be the easiest software to learn, and it’s the service Kevin had used on the photo book he had lent me to look at for ideas. After about twelve hours of stumbling along, learning by trial and error, I had created a 52-page photo book online. When I tried to save and submit the book for publishing, I received an error message that said the service was still uploading my photos and it would save the photo book file upon completion of the upload. That never happened. I finally called Shutterfly for customer support. After a 40-minute phone conversation, I concluded that they didn’t know how to fix the problem. Apparently I must have encountered a bug in their system. They told me I would have to recreate the whole 52-page photo book from scratch.

So that’s what I did, but I decided not to invest any more time with Shutterfly’s system. Even though it meant starting the learning curve over again, I decided to go with mpix.com. I spent about eight hours recreating the first 32 pages of the photo book on mpix, and then I ran into a bug in their system. Even though I had faithfully saved the book after every few pages, the whole photo book was deleted when I tried to go on to page 33. I tried to call mpix customer support, but discovered that they didn’t show their phone number on their website. They wanted to force users to request help via email. They responded to my emails within about an hour and forwarded my problem to their technical team to try to restore my deleted file. Although we exchanged several emails and mpix seemed to be trying to help me, they never were able to restore my file.

This is the wedding photo that will be on the cover of the book

This is the wedding photo that will be on the cover of the book

My patience was beginning to wear a little thin. Between the two services I had worked 20 hours on this photo book, and I had nothing to show for it. I really wanted to make a photo book, or I would have simply given up. I needed to start over from the beginning again. I decided to stay with mpix rather than go through another learning curve with a different service. At least the customer support people at mpix were nice and tried to be helpful, even if they wouldn’t let me call them.

Through another eight hours of careful work I created a 44-page photo book. I did my final edits on the book yesterday morning and successfully submitted the photo book for publication by 7:30 a.m. I expect to receive the hardcover book in the mail later this week. Hopefully, when I receive the book, I’ll be able to say, “Let there be a photo book, and there was a photo book. And I saw the photo book, that it was good.”

And likewise, may Americans say, “Let there be affordable universal health care, and there was affordable universal health care. And Americans saw affordable universal health care, that it was good.”

I’m sure God is thankful that He had the foresight to create the heavens and the earth before computer-based systems were invented to “help” him build his creation. Otherwise he might still be “fixing” the system.

Oh, wait. I guess he is . . .

[NOTE: I quoted from The New King James version of Genesis to keep some of the familiar language of the creation story. To be consistent with that style, I used masculine pronouns to refer to God – even though I know better. That’s a glitch in English we still have to deal with.]

Stumbling along in Life

Abbey looking up colorized 2Abbey was lying on the floor beside my desk as I was going through emails. After about ten minutes, she looked up at me and asked, “Hey, Mom. Have a few minutes to talk?”

“Sure, Abbey. What’s up?”

“When we were out for our walk this morning, did you notice me stumble? I was prancing along, really enjoying our walk. The grass was completely covered with a slippery coat of frost, but it felt nice and cool on my paws. We walked on the sidewalk for a while over by the neighbors, and then we turned around to come home. I was thinking about what a beautiful, crisp, fall day it was. Then splat. My face hit the ground. We had turned onto our circular drive, and I was trotting along next to the curb. I guess I tried to hop up on the grass, and my leg didn’t do what I expected it to do, and I fell right on my face. It hurt a little, but mostly, I was embarrassed.”

“Yeah, I saw you stumble, Abbey. I’m glad you were able to get right up and continue the rest of our walk. I’m always afraid you might be hurt when you stumble.”

“Why did that happen, Mom? I never used to stumble. Now it seems I stumble a lot.”

“Remember, we asked your vet about that. He said a few long words that basically mean that some of your muscles are getting weaker. That’s why you can’t open your mouth wide enough to pant and why you’re beginning to stumble. He says there’s nothing we can do to fix it. But, Abbey, try not to be embarrassed about it. All of us stumble in our own ways sometimes.”

“Really, Mom? How do you stumble?”

“Oh, sometimes my mind stumbles – that is I forget something. Several weeks ago, I forgot to go to a haircut.”

“I bet you were embarrassed about that!”

“I sure was. My mental clumsiness affected others, not just myself.”

“Yeah. At least when I stumble, I only hurt myself.”

“What did you do, Mom?”

“I apologized profusely, and scheduled another appointment for another day. The person who cuts my hair was very gracious about my mental lapse.”

“That’s good. It’s really hard not to feel bad when we don’t meet our own expectations of ourselves, isn’t it.”

“Whenever I make a mistake, like when I’m playing the organ in church, I say it keeps me humble. We always like to see ourselves as perfect. But we aren’t.”

“I’ll try to remember that, Mom. Whenever I stumble on a walk, I’ll say God tripped me to keep me humble.”

“That’s not exactly what I said. Perhaps God allows you to stumble and that gives you the opportunity to develop other traits, like humility, or patience. God always loves you, and doesn’t like to see you hurt or embarrassed.”

“Oh, Mom, that’s too many words to remember when I’m trying to pick myself up as fast as I can before too many cats and other dogs in the neighborhood see me flat on my face. I’ll just say God tripped me. Of course I know that God still loves me and always wants what’s best for me.”

Well, okay, Abbey. How do you feel about going for another walk this afternoon?”

“I can hardly wait. I don’t think I’ll stumble. I’ll try to concentrate harder on how to move my legs. But if I do stumble, I’ll consider it simply an exercise in strengthening my character. I guess even when life seems to be getting harder, it’s really helping me become a better dog!”

Abbey Profile 2