Archive | February 2012

The Goose Family Returns

Gilbert and Gloria Goose on Whispering Pond

Gilbert and Gloria Goose on Whispering Pond

Gregory and Grace, Gilbert and Gloria flew back to our pond last week. I was so happy to see them. It’s an early sign of spring. But it’s also just fun to see our old friends again. I took a few pictures to be able to spread the news that they’re back.

I asked Gloria why they returned so early this year. There’s still ice on the pond. She said, “We wanted to get back in time to be here for Lent.  The Whispering Pond is such a peaceful place to be.”

Gilbert piped in, “I know it’s a little early, but we wanted to be sure to be here in time for the Hymn Sing at Whispering Winds on Sunday afternoon, March 18. Most people don’t think of geese as songbirds, but we really like to sing. We don’t have any sopranos. You need robins and finches for the high notes. But we’ve got lots of strong baritones. Once we catch our breath from our long flight up here, we’re going to start practicing.”

Gregory and Grace Goose approach pond

Gregory and Grace Goose approach pond

Gregory and Grace ambled over to join the conversation. “You know,” Grace said, “most people and even some birds don’t know that the most beautiful music in the world is the music that’s usually sung during Lent. It’s mostly about love.”

Gregory, who prides himself on being the most educated goose in the northern hemisphere, said, “It’s not just romantic love, it’s about God’s love for us and our love for God. Most scholars consider the hymn, ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’ to be the greatest hymn in the English language. Next time you sing it, pay close attention to the words. The hymn was considered scandalous when it was written in 1707 because it was so personal.”

“I especially like the last verse,” said Grace.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

“I agree that Isaac Watts wrote a mighty fine hymn 300 years ago,” said Gilbert, “but my favorites are the spirituals. They’re just so much fun to sing. ‘Were You There?’ is probably the most popular spiritual sung during Lent, but my personal favorite is ‘I Want Jesus to Walk with Me,’ only I would change ‘walk’ to ‘fly.’ Actually, I sing that song a lot, any time of the year.  I like all three verses of this song, but the one I sing the most is the third.”

Gilbert walking alone

Gilbert walking alone

When I’m in trouble, Lord, walk with me;
When I’m in trouble, Lord, walk with me;
When my head is bowed in sorrow,
Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me.

“That’s what I sing when we’re flying into strong headwinds, or when we lose one of our flock. How about you, Gloria? What are your favorite songs to sing during Lent?”

“Oh, I have so many favorites. One of them is ‘Near to the Heart of God.’ I just feel so comforted by God whenever I hear that song. You know, it was written – both the music and words – by Cleland McAfee for his brother and sister-in-law when their two daughters died from diphtheria within 24 hours of each other in 1901.  Listen to the words of the second verse and refrain.”

Whispering Pond - Whispering Winds in background

Whispering Pond - Whispering Winds in background

There is a place of comfort sweet,
near to the heart of God;
a place where we our Savior meet,
near to the heart of God.

O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
sent from the heart of God;
hold us who wait before thee
near to the heart of God.

Gregory jumped into the conversation again. “But don’t forget the classic, ‘O Sacred Head Now Wounded.’ That was written almost a thousand years ago by a monk.  Then think about what Bach did to it by providing that amazing harmony. But back to the words, it’s a sad song, but also a love song. Listen to the words of the third verse.” Gregory sang the verse.

Gregory Singing

Gregory Singing

What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend,
for this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end?
O make me thine forever; and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to thee.

Everyone was silent for a moment. Then Gregory added, “I especially love the first and last lines.”

Grace said, “There are so many songs about God’s wonderful love for us and our love for God. I really like to sing Stainer’s ‘God So Loved the World,’ and ‘Beautiful Savior,’ and ‘Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, and … “

Gloria chimed in, “and ‘Jesus Loves Me’ and ‘The Love of God.’ One nice thing about the music we sing during Lent is that we can sing most of it any time of the year. It’s not like Christmas carols that we can only sing in December.”

“Talking about all these songs makes me want to sing,” honked Gilbert. “Let’s start practicing for that hymn sing right now.”

As they started to sing, I walked back into my office, but I left the patio door open. I think I’ll be hearing lots of songs in four-part harmony – like a gospel quartet – over the next few weeks. Maybe I’ll hum along with them when they’re practicing on the pond or flying overhead.

Geese returning to Whispering Pond

Geese returning to Whispering Pond

“I Saw Jesus”

Early one morning a few days ago, I walked by Emma’s* room on my way to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. I heard Emma talking, so I stepped inside her room to be sure she was okay. Emma is one of our two assisted living residents. She is 91, has dementia, and is quite frail, but she usually has a very cheerful disposition. We have cared for her in our home for more than three years.

Emma was lying in bed. Her eyes were wide open. I asked her if she was feeling okay, or if she needed anything. She looked at me and said, very clearly, “I saw Jesus!”

I thought I had heard her right, but to be sure, I asked her, “Did you say you saw Jesus?”

“Yes,” she responded. “I saw Jesus.”

“Did he know you?” I asked her.

“Yes.” Then the moment of clarity had passed. She continued to say words, but I couldn’t understand what she was trying to tell me. She looked very happy and was quite excited as she continued to talk.

For the past ten years, my partner, Mim, and I have been providing assisted living services in our home. We usually have two residents living with us. All twenty of the residents who have lived with us thus far have been quite frail, and many of them have had some degree of dementia. Most have come to live with us until they are ready to pass on to their next life. One resident lived with us for only a day before she passed on. Another resident lived with us almost four years. Most live a year or two.

Mim and I have learned that it is quite common for our residents to see visitors from heaven when they get closer to the end of their lives. The visitors may be angels, friends and family members who have preceded them in death, and now Jesus himself. Unfortunately, Mim and I don’t get to see these visitors. Only the resident can see them, and the resident is very comforted by the visit. The visitors seem to be here to alleviate any fears our residents may have about moving on to the other side.

My conversation with Emma last week brought to mind the song, “I’ve Just Seen Jesus” (words by Gloria Gaither, music by William J. Gaither and Danny Daniels). A few of the words are:

I’ve just seen Jesus
And I’ll never be the same again.

That prompted me to think about how music helps us both understand and express what we’ve learned about God’s love through our life experiences. Over the next few weeks I’ll have the perfect opportunity to share these thoughts. Pastor Joan Gunderman and I are working together on creating a Lenten e-retreat entitled “The Scandal of Lent.” Joan’s part is to write reflections based on the key themes of the book, The Scandal of Lent, by Robert Kysar. My part is to write reflections based on Lenten hymns, gospel songs, and spirituals for each week of Lent. Each reflection will include information about the song as well as links to online performances of the song. Our intent is that everyone who participates in this e-retreat will be able to say along with Emma, “I saw Jesus,” or at least be able to say, “I understand more about God’s love now than I did before, and I’ll never be the same again.”

For more information about our Lenten e-retreat, click here.

* To protect the privacy of our resident, I’ve changed her name to Emma in this blog post.

Work and Reward

I did it! I survived last week! Once a year I have a week filled with something I hate to do – accounting. Throughout the other 51 weeks of the year, I simply put all receipts, invoices, and any other papers that look important for tax reasons into file folders, one for each month. Then comes the one awful week every year, usually in February or March, when I tell myself I can’t do anything fun until I “do the accounting” for the year.

“Doing the accounting” entails entering hundreds of transactions into QuickBooks, reviewing the preliminary numbers that the computer cranks out, looking for things that don’t seem reasonable, hunting through the house for papers that must have escaped being filed and that could be anywhere, and finally getting everything organized enough to give to a real accountant who will prepare final financial statements for our businesses and calculate and file our taxes for us.

It’s done. The mess of papers is organized. We met with our accountant and turned over our records Friday afternoon. Now I can get back to doing the fun stuff. That’s my reward for suffering last week. I actually started doing fun stuff yesterday afternoon. This week, instead of my desk being covered by receipts and invoices, it is covered with hymnals and songbooks. Much better!

My first “fun” project is to remind myself of all the wonderful music that has been created over the centuries to help us turn closer to God during the Lenten season (February 22 through April 7 this year).  Why am I doing that? Mainly because I want to, but I have a couple other reasons, too.

First, Joan Gunderman is preparing another E-Retreat that Whispering Winds will be offering throughout Lent. She has asked me to prepare some of the reflections, making use of some of the musical resources that are particularly meaningful during Lent. I’ll share more information about the E-Retreat next week.

Second, Whispering Winds will be holding its first quarterly hymn sing of 2012 on March 18 (the third Sunday of the third month of the quarter at 3:00). I want to prepare a songbook, similar to what we had for our Christmas Carol Sing. My plan is to include five sections: traditional hymns, spirituals, gospel songs, contemporary songs, and possibly a few secular songs, as well. (After all, the hymn sing is the day after St. Patrick’s Day!)

My first step in preparing for both the E-Retreat and the Hymn Sing is to remind myself of all the wonderful music out there for Lent – “there” being in hymnals, songbooks, hymn story books, and the Internet. What fun! Imagine yourself sitting in the back of a Lutheran Church, listening to the congregation sing every song in the Lent section of their hymnal. Then picture yourself sitting in an African American Baptist Church, listening to that congregation sing all the songs in the Lent section of their hymnal. Then imagine yourself in Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Pentecostal, and contemporary-style non-denominational churches. That’s what I get to imagine this week. To help my imagination, I’ll sit at the piano with all those hymnals and songbooks, and play through every song. Then I’ll search for some of my favorites on YouTube. This is going to be a fun week! My reward for living through last week.

I’ve already found a new treasure, “He Looked beyond My Fault” (text by Dottie Rambo, copyright 1968 by John T. Benson Publishing Company).  The tune is Londonderry Aire (“Danny Boy”). I discovered it in the African American Heritage Hymnal (GIA Publications,  2001). Here are the words.

Amazing grace shall always be my song of praise,
For it was grace that bought my liberty;
I do not know just why Christ came to love me so,
He looked beyond my fault and saw my need.
I shall forever lift mine eyes to Calvary,
To view the cross where Jesus died for me;
How marvelous the grace that caught my falling soul,
He looked beyond my fault and saw my need.

In case you have a hard time imagining how that sounds, here’s a link to a YouTube video I found of a choir singing it:

Hope you have a wonderful week, too!

“A Season for Every Activity under Heaven”

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven….
A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…. 
[Ecclesiastes 3: 1, 4]

Two friends of mine died last week. One was a high school classmate. Nicki had a very bubbly personality – she was always happy and a fun person to be around, until the last few years. Unfortunately she suffered a long, steady decline from early onset Alzheimer ’s disease. My other friend had been our next door neighbor in Chicago for 13 years. Elaine was also a kind, happy person – always a joy to be around. She was older and her health had been deteriorating over the past few years. She was almost 90 when she died. Both friends have now completed their time of suffering.

As it says in the Bible, life provides ”a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” For me, last week was a time to mourn the deaths of my friends. Now it’s time to move ahead to some happier times. The village of Cambridge is here to help with that by hosting a “Frosty Frolic.”

Cambridge is a nice little town. Some of the businesses decided we needed a special celebration to help us enjoy winter more, so they came up with the idea for a “Frosty Frolic” for this weekend. My brother, Dan Korth, is participating in the celebration by hosting an open house in The Carpentry Shop as well as in his home. He’s inviting people to stop in to look at a fancy bar he’s building in his own family room. The bar is an ornate 1890’s era supper club style bar. I always enjoy looking at his projects. He’s come a long way from his first carpentry project.

Dan's first house

When Dan was a little boy, he knew exactly what he wanted to do when he got big – build things. He built his first house when he was seven. I helped him. That’s the two of us in the picture, hard at work.

Dan got quite a bit fancier in his buildings over the years. He built lots of houses in and around Cambridge. He also became intrigued by the challenges of remodeling commercial buildings. One of his more unusual projects was gutting the old Chevrolet garage on Main Street – that had originally been built as a wagon factory – and rebuilding it as retail space, a collection of eight Victorian-style shops. The building currently is the Rowe Pottery store. Another interesting project was across the street. He remodeled the old feed mill into a rustic restaurant.

Remodeled Farmhouse

One of his best projects was remodeling the farmhouse we grew up in, what is now Whispering Winds Retreat Haven. His starting point was a modest 1500 square foot two-story house with three bedrooms and one bathroom. He doubled its size, turning it into a 4-bedroom, 3-bathroom house with a fancy front porch. (His son – carpentry runs in the family – later added another bedroom and 2 more bathrooms.) The remodeled farmhouse has been quite versatile. The house has served as a bed and breakfast, an adult family home, and now as Whispering Winds Retreat Haven.

Dan has always said that he loves what he does for a living. He can’t imagine retiring. He’s having too much fun. He no longer builds houses. He just does the really fun stuff now – building custom cabinets and furniture.

Dan Korth in The Carpentry Shop

The Carpentry Shop, located right next to his house, is where he does all his work. He has a showroom filled with a variety of furniture and cabinets:

  • mission style chairs
  • end tables
  • book cases
  • a fireplace mantle
  • a wine cabinet
  • kitchen cabinets
  • a kitchen island on casters
  • an umbrella stand
  • and whatever else he feels like building.

Customers can buy furniture off the floor, or they can brainstorm ideas with Dan and have him build a one-of-a-kind piece of furniture or cabinetry that’s perfect for their needs.

The Carpentry Shop Helpers with Dan

If you can’t make it to Cambridge this Saturday, you may want to go to the FaceBook page for “The Carpentry Shop” and look at some pictures of his shop, his furniture, and his helpers.

(Note: It takes three shop dogs – Piper, Holly, and Sadie – to replace me as his helper.)

If you can make it to Cambridge, the town will do everything it can to be sure you have a great “frosty frolic” while you’re here. It may help you remember that “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”

Here are some of the special things you can do in (or near) Cambridge on Saturday afternoon this week:

  • Jump into Lake Ripley through a big hole cut into the ice as part of the “Dip for Dozer” fundraising event.
  • Watch the big ice chunks from the hole be transformed into beautiful ice sculptures with the help of a chain saw under the guidance of Jim Murray.
  • Enjoy a free wine and chocolate tasting at Katy’s Corner on Main Street in Cambridge.
  • Shop the sales in the specialty shops for which Cambridge is so well known.
  • Tour the studios and workshops of local artists and craftsmen, including a potter (Mark Skudlarek), a recycle artist (Simone Mausser), and, of course, a furniture and cabinet maker (Dan Korth).

More details about all of the special activities happening at Cambridge’s Frosty Frolic can be found at

Whispering Winds still has rooms available for the weekend. If you can stay two nights, you can have the second night free. Call 608-212-6197 for details.

It’s time to enjoy the season of winter – before it’s gone!