Death with Dignity

In just over a year, my mother-in-law has lost both of her parents. They were wonderful people and we all miss them. My wife’s grandfather died first, last year, not long after the lockdown started. It was sudden, but not a surprise either. He’d been declining steadily over the past few years. He fell at home and just never recovered.

After he passed, my wife’s grandma moved up and lived about 20 feet away from my in-laws. She seemed to be doing very well for a little while, apart from the deep sadness of losing her husband of over 50 years.

Over the winter, though, we noticed a change in her breathing. A labor and raspiness that wasn’t there before. Early in the spring, she had a scan and her cancer was back. The doctor gave her a couple of months, even with treatment.

She chose not to pursue treatment. People choose not to receive treatment for all sorts of reasons. Some people want to pursue naturopathic methods until it’s too late1. Others don’t seek treatment out of denial. Some want death on their own terms2. But Marlene Vittitow’s reason was different. When I think about it, I can’t help feeling fortunate to have known her in this life.

She took a few days before making her decision. She preferred not to go through treatment again. She’d done that years before, and she knew just how awful it was. And it wouldn’t do anything more than delay the inevitable. So, she met with her pastor to discuss it. Her main concern wasn’t about pain avoidance or even for more time with family. She was most concerned about if she should pursue treatment, so she might have time for even one more opportunity to share the gospel.

Hers was a life so well spent that she felt no need to fight to extend it. And so, it ended peacefully at 8:03 on 16 July 2021. My wife was able to be there, gathered around with her family, as she passed on to be with her Savior.


In “The Death of Ivan Ilych” Leo Tolstoy describes the horror with which Ivan Ilych faces the realization of his impending death. He is tormented by the question of if his life was a good life.

’Maybe I did not live as I ought to have done,’ it suddenly occurred to him. ‘But how could that be, when I did everything properly?’

The Death of Ivan Ilych

Grandma Vittitow’s life was, in many ways, “proper,” but not in the successful, esteemed-among-humanity sort of way. Instead, she lived a life of quiet faithfulness.

The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

George Eliot, Middlemarch

She was always the first to point attention, and thanks, back to God, where it belonged, in any and every situation. But especially so when she was the recipient of praise. Hers was a “faithful, hidden life.” But her tomb will not go unvisited.

Permission to Breathe

A little while back, I posted about my commitment to posting on this blog. But it’s been a couple of weeks and I haven’t posted. I haven’t abandoned my blog, though. I have been working through a lot that’s been going on over the past few weeks, and I needed to scale back on what I was doing. There simply wasn’t enough time in the day to take care of everything.

Normally, I would have felt guilty about stepping back from some tasks and commitments, but this time I chose to reframe how I thought about it.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

— Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (ESV)

I still stand by my commitment, but I’m beginning to learn what the Preacher in Ecclesiastes might have meant. Sometimes it is a time to refrain. When it’s time to refrain, it’s actually worse to try to push on. For my own mental and physical health, I took a little while to refrain. But I’m coming back.

I’ll write more again soon.

Keeping Quotes

When I was a young man, I started writing down quotes that I found interesting, inspiring, or funny. I think I was probably inspired by a book my grandpa published when I was twelve, 1001 Great Stories and Quotes. It’s a habit I’ve kept up over the years, though with waxing and waning consistency. When I hear or read something that sparks my interest, I try to record it for future reference.

If a man empties his purse into his head, no man can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.

— Benjamin Franklin, “Poor Richard’s Almanack”

After a year or so, I started keeping the quotes in a notebook dedicated to the purpose. I found it was much easier to reference them there than to sort through my regular journals or loose-leaf notes to find the quote I wanted. I didn’t order or arrange them in any way, other than the order in which I discovered them. This has had its benefits and its detriments.

I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognized wiser than oneself.

— Marlene Dietrich

One of the fun little bits is to go through them and see them in the order I wrote them down. Since I remember roughly when I wrote some of them, I can estimate about what time in my life that particular quote seemed important. As I now begin the process of transferring them to a new, more durable notebook, I am careful to keep them in the same order and to not remove any of them; even if I find them silly or unimportant now. When I look back later, it is almost a sort of diary or journal to see the things that struck me as important or deep as a teenager. It’s enjoyable to get an indirect peek back into my mind at those stages.

Contrariwise, the most annoying thing is probably that, with no organizing structure, it is difficult to find a specific quote. If I know the exact quote I am looking for, I have no real way to find it quickly unless I can remember when I first encountered it. It also has the downside of not being able to find related quotes easily. If quotes were grouped by topic, I would be able to look up one quote about, let’s say, quotations and there would be other quotes about quotations nearby. Instead, with them lacking any arrangement other than by date of discovery, it can certainly be annoying when I know exactly what I’m looking for. In order to navigate right to what I want, I would need to know roughly when I wrote it down and roughly the order of all the other quotes.

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

But this is also its greatest strength, in my opinion. Since I am forced to skim through everything to find what I want, I am constantly experiencing the joy of rediscovery as I find quotes I had copied down and forgotten about. The joy of serendipity more than outweighs the inconveniences in finding what I wanted.

It seems to me that we often make things too easy on ourselves. For a while, I used an app on my phone to collect and organize my quotes. It was really nice and I loved it. When the app died, I was upset at first, but I’m really grateful now. It had made finding the exact quote I wanted so easy that I had completely lost the serendipitous discovery. As a result, I ended up returning to the same handful of quotes because those were the ones that came to memory. Since switching back to a physical notebook, I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been looking for a quote and stopped because I ran into a quote I had completely forgotten about; which spoke to me more in the moment than the quote for which I started searching.

This experience is worth too much to me. I want to go back to a system where I can find my saved quotes more readily, but I worry that it will cost too much.

This leads me to my current decision. As a mentioned above, I found that the notebook in which I kept my collection of quotes was beginning to fall apart, so I’ve started transferring all the quotes in their exact original order into a new notebook. But, as I build out my PKM (Personal Knowledge Management. More on this in the future…) in Obsidian, I really want to put my quotes in there as well. I can cross-link them and index and tag them to tease out how the ideas and concepts interrelate. But I’m hesitant to do that because I feel it would be better not to lose that serendipitous re-discovery.

But, I suppose the beauty of a digital system is that if I find that I am not using the notebook to rediscover what I had loved and forgotten, I can always delete the digital notes and force myself back.

Déjà Vu

I only feel déjà vu with negative experiences, almost never positive.

Our first three children came after completely complication-free pregnancies. Not once in those pregnancies did I get a feeling of déjà vu. Why? Because there’s nothing that sticks in the mind when everything goes as it should. But when something goes wrong the mind latches onto it.

We’re now on our sixth pregnancy. Our fourth child, Andrew Paul, was stillborn. After Andrew we had a miscarriage. With this pregnancy I feel déjà vu many times a day. There were so many events that led up to Andrew’s death that I can’t go for very long without having memories forced to the surface.

And in the latest ultrasound there were several uncomfortable similarities to our last ultrasound with Andrew. The baby looks beautiful and very healthy. But it’s still very worrying.

All we can do is pray for God to protect him, and trust Him to hold us. Trusting is so hard.


I am thankful that Adam Ford’s comic today was on trusting God.

This is one of the panels. The whole comic is well worth a read.

Drinking from the Firehose

I recently changed jobs. I went from being a web administrator in the medical field, working with SharePoint and ASP.Net to deploying and configuring software on Unix servers for a shipping logistics company. By my wife’s description (“He works with computers”) my job hasn’t changed much. In actuality, the only consistent thing between the two jobs is “He works with computers.”

It’s been intimidating to make such a big change. In some ways I feel almost like I’m starting over, learning all new systems. Fortunately, I’ve been playing with Unix for fun for almost 15 years, so I’m not starting from scratch. But at the start I had a few meetings where the only words I understood were the conjunctions. It felt like drinking from a firehose.

My “strategy” (if you can call it that) for learning everything I need to is based on how I’ve watched my children acquire language. This is the human mind’s first task after birth and the process has worked for many thousands of years, so I think it’s worth examining. It’s also very simple. It is natural, it’s the way I would have approached it by default, without thinking about it. And that’s part of why I think it’s interesting, because the human brain is so powerful. It’s natural approach is so effective. By mindfully approaching the subject like a language immersion study I am learning much faster than I anticipated.

When a child learns language she starts with a very simple base vocabulary and let context and usage inform the meaning of the new words as she encounters them. She also isn’t shy about asking for the meaning of some words if she can’t figure out the meaning on her own.

So that’s essentially what I did. I sat quietly and listened during my meetings and listened for how our systems are built and how they relate to each other. I usually waited until after the meeting to ask for clarification on some of the systems or acronyms so that I didn’t disturb the productivity of the meeting. I worried that asking these questions after the meeting rather than when they came up would detract from my ability to understand what was going on in the meeting. Actually, though, I found that steadily, day after day, I was building a more comprehensive mental picture of the systems. Every meeting I understood more and more.

I’m still not there, yet. But I’m now at a point where I feel comfortable, more or less, doing my job. This is really encouraging since I was very stressed about starting a job in a completely different discipline.

My Misdirection in “ Personal Development”

I’ve been so worried about content production vs. consumption this year. It’s been stressful to look at the minuscule amount of content that I personally create, outside of work. “How am I supposed to develop myself into a better person if I don’t have this cathartic outlet?” I’d ask myself. But, I never really stopped to consider that the thing that is the most important is they type of content I consume, not create. And it’s not been enough Scripture.

The key to developing myself personally in the ways I want is not introspection through content creation. That’s just navel-gazing. It’s learning to emulate and trust Jesus more, and more deeply. How? Brought consumption of a Scripture. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” Matthew 4:4 ESV. As my grandfather has said, “You cannot be profoundly influenced by that which you do not know.”