Archive | April 2012

A Voice from the Past

Sears Tower (now called the Willis Tower). The 63rd floor is where I worked from 1975 - 1986.

“Good night, Vince.”

“Night, Mare.” Then Vince would burst out laughing.

That was our end-of-the-workday ritual every day for about a year in the mid-1970’s. Nobody called me “Mare” except Vince. And he called me that only at the end of the day, just so he could say “nightmare” to me as a goodnight “blessing” when we left our adjacent cubicles on the 63rd floor of the Sears Tower in Chicago.

Vince and I were an unlikely pair to become friends.

Vince was a 50-year-old accountant who had just returned to the office after a slow recovery from a major heart attack. He had grown up and still lived in an old Italian neighborhood in Chicago. He shared his apartment with his mother. He went to mass every morning before coming to work. After his recovery from his heart attack, he had been placed in the new position of “staff accountant” – he was assigned to special projects in any area of the corporate office, wherever he was needed at the time. He was guaranteed a low stress job for the rest of his working life. That was in the days when corporations appreciated their employees and cared about their personal well-being. Vince liked to laugh, and he was always a pleasant person to be around.

I was a 27-year-old former English teacher who had grown up on a farm in Wisconsin. I was starting out in my first job in business. I knew nothing about accounting or financial systems, but I had been hired to learn how the custom-developed computerized financial systems worked, to write user manuals, and to train bookkeepers, accountants and managers to use these computerized systems.

Vince would not be so presumptuous as to consider himself a mentor to me, but he was more than happy to be a friendly soul next door, or rather, over the cubicle partition.

I haven’t seen Vince in 25 years. I heard that he died more than 20 years ago. But I thought about him a couple weeks ago. I remembered him giving me advice when I went to my first business conference. “You’ll hear all kinds of great ideas at the conference. That’s great. But, if you can bring back just one idea that’s really important – an idea that will change what you do, or how you think about just one thing – then the conference will have been worthwhile.”

A couple weeks ago I remembered Vince’s advice as I was driving to UW-Madison’s 23rd Annual Writers’ Institute.  The 3-day conference brought together a couple hundred writers, agents, publishers, and a few academics. This was my first time to attend the Writers’ Institute.  I didn’t know what to expect. I hoped to get some ideas about how to share some of the things I’m writing – this blog, my “book” on hospitality, other ideas floating around in my mind.

Well, Vince was right. I heard a lot of great ideas at the conference. Technology is drastically changing the structure of the publishing industry. The fundamental concept of a book is even changing with the emergence of e-books. The same is true of magazines with e-zines and blogs. I heard a lot of ideas. I talked with a lot of people who are working with those ideas. But, did I come away with one really great idea that will change what I do or how I think about just one thing that’s important to me?

Well, sort of… My mind is still swirling from all the new ideas I was exposed to. But I am putting together a strategy for completing my book on hospitality. That’s a start.

“Thanks, Vince.”

True Happiness – According to Abbey

A happy Abbey sharing her wisdom

Last Thursday my dog Abbey received a gift certificate. That prompted quite a conversation between Abbey and me about happiness and purpose in our lives. I recorded the conversation below. It all started with with me saying, “My, you’re looking happy today, Abbey. The happiest you have looked in weeks.”

Abbey responded with, “I am happy. Did you hear who came to see me yesterday? Katie. You know, one of Emma’s friends. She brought me a gift certificate to Nutzy Mutz & Crazy Catz, the best pet store in Madison! She wanted to thank me for being Emma’s best friend over the past few years.”

“How nice for you, Abbey. I bet you can hardly wait to go shopping.”

“That’s right. I hope to go next week. Isn’t that great! I get rewarded for doing something I love to do. Emma really became my best friend.”

Then she gave me a wink and said, “Now don’t get jealous – I love you, too.”

“Oh, I know you do, Abbey. You have enough love in you to share with loads of people.”

A wink from Abbey

“Yup, I do. Remember how much I loved ‘Dorothy.’ She was not a morning person. She hated to get up, so every morning I made it easier for her – I jumped into her bed and licked her face until she started giggling. That was so much fun!”

“Abbey, you really become close friends with almost everyone who lives here. I guess that’s your gift.”

“I know it is. I am so lucky! With my genes, I have two natural gifts – being a best friend (from my golden retriever mom) and having a terrific nose (from my beagle dad). I could have become a high profile canine drug enforcement officer sniffing out drugs, or a loving companion. I chose the latter. What a life! I bet I’m the richest dog alive, if you measure riches by how many people love you. And now I have a gift certificate, too!”

Abbey waking up "Dorothy" with kisses

“Well, I think you deserve it. I could tell your heart was broken when Emma left us to go to heaven.”

“Oh, I really was sad. I still miss her, and I always will. She was a wonderful lady. She would pet me for hours, her gentle hand on my back, the most beautiful smile on her lips, and her sparkling eyes looking down at me. Just remembering her gives me a warm feeling.

“I think I have the best life in the world – being a friendly companion to whoever needs one. I am so happy.”

“You’re right, Abbey. Many people never figure out their life calling like you did.”

“I know that’s true, but I really don’t understand why some people don’t ever figure out what their natural gifts are, and use them. To me, it seems so obvious.”

“I guess our human society has tried to become too practical. We focus on what we can do to earn a living rather than focusing on developing our natural gifts. Sometimes we even completely forget what our natural God-given gifts even are. We’re driven to make money, but we forget to connect that with developing the natural gifts we are born with.”

“I’ll never forget what my God-given gifts are. I know I was born to be a loving companion. And, I love my life! That’s true happiness.”

Edith and Abbey - friends forever.

Forgiveness – Challenge & Gift

Pastor Joan Gunderman
Spiritual Director & Retreat Leader

I asked Pastor Joan Gunderman to write today’s blog post. Joan and I have been friends for 13 years, ever since she started coming to our first bed & breakfast, Country Comforts, in the late 1990’s. Joan is a Lutheran pastor, retreat leader, and spiritual director. 

Joan will be leading three retreats this summer at Whispering Winds, along with a book discussion group and a spiritual formation group. I asked her to tell us what to expect in her first retreat, “Forgiveness – Challenge & Gift.”

More information is also available on our website (

If you would like to register for this retreat, please call me (608-212-6197) or email me (


I suspect you are much like me.  Things have happened in my life which were so unjust, so painful, that even the thought of forgiving the person or people behind it seemed out of the question.  Painful memories and anger served me too well.  Somehow it felt like justice.  And how could I stomach forgiving someone who would not admit he/she had done anything wrong; who insisted it was all my fault?

Yet, I regularly proclaim to God’s people:

In the night in which Jesus was betrayed…(and abandoned, by his closest friends)…

He gave himself to them, and to all people — his body (bread), his blood (wine) —

For the forgiveness of sin…

And when he was dying a torturous death on the cross, Jesus says, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”

For him, it seemed so easy (though I’m not at all sure it was).  But for you and me, forgiving may be the most difficult challenge of our life of faith.  There are so many legitimate reasons why forgiving someone who has hurt us is so hard.  Yet, Jesus calls us to do so.  But how?

I am so looking forward to the one-day retreat on Saturday, April 28, when we can begin to explore the gifts and mercies the Spirit of God offers us as we struggle with the challenge and the gift of forgiveness; as we open ourselves to God’s holy love at work in us, moving us from fear, anger, resistance — to forgiveness.

We will look with great intention at some questions which most of us ask:

  • Is forgiveness a one-time event?
  • Does forgiveness mean we forget, or condone, or dismiss what someone has done to hurt us?
  • Is forgiveness part of Christ’s command that we love our neighbor?

In the quiet and safe environment of Whispering Winds, we will explore together, in a rhythm of group time and personal time, both the difficulties and the spiritual and emotional gifts of forgiveness.  We won’t just be dealing in theory.  We will experience and practice some sacred and practical ways to begin the journey.

I am praying for this retreat, and for the people God might move to attend — maybe you.  God’s greatest love is freeing us from all that keeps us in bondage, all that keeps us from embracing the abundant life Jesus came to give.  I hope to see you Saturday, April 28.

Eight Questions

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven

Eight Questions to think about:

  1. What wrongdoing is the hardest one for me to forgive?
  2. Why is growing old so hard to do, and why is maturity so under-valued?
  3. What is “centering prayer,” and is it something I should know about and maybe even do?
  4. Do I have any “spiritual gifts” – and if so, what are they, and what should I do with them?
  5. Would I really write if I had several days away from home with all that time set aside just to write?
  6. Where is the “Christian community” for LGBT Christians, and how does “the church” fit into that?
  7. Can reading the Bible do more than simply inform me about God – can it really change me?
  8. Why in the world would I ever want to be together with people and not talk?

Why am I asking these questions? I’ve been talking with Pastor Joan Gunderman and Spiritual Director Ken Lund about possible retreat topics for Whispering Winds to offer over the next several months. Each of the retreats we  now have scheduled addresses one of the above questions.

The retreat schedule is listed below. Most of the retreats are from 9am to 4pm on Saturdays, cost $50, and include lunch. More details are posted on our website. Here’s a direct link.

If you would like to receive a flyer with more information about the retreats, please email me at Feel free to request any number of flyers if you would like to share them with your friends or church groups. I’ll be happy to mail you as many as you can use to help us spread the word about these retreats.

In addition to the public retreats listed below, Pastor Joan will be leading a “Great Reads” Group on Monday evenings from 7:00 – 8:30, a book discussion group that meets once a month. Pastor Joan will also lead a Spiritual Formation Group on Tuesday evenings from 7:00 – 8:30, also once a month. Information about these groups is also included on the website.

Here’s our current retreat schedule.

April 28  Forgiveness – Challenge & Gift.  Led by Joan Gunderman.  9am – 4pm.

May 26.  Wrinkles Don’t Hurt. Led by Joan Gunderman.  9am – 4pm.

June 2.  Centering Prayer – an Introductory Workshop.  Led by Ken Lund and another presenter commissioned by Contemplative Outreach International.  8:30 – 12:30.

June 16.  Spiritual Gifts.  Led by Joan Gunderman.  9am – 4pm.

July 1-8. Retreat for Writers. Hosted by Marian Korth. Flexible: from 1 to 7 days, day-time only or overnight.

July 21.  LGBT Christians and “the church.” Led by Ken Lund and Marian Korth. 9am – 4pm.

August 18.  Formational Scripture Reading: From Information to Transformation. Ken Lund. 9am – 4pm.

November 10.  Solitude Retreat. Led by Ken Lund. 9am – 4pm.

If you want to set aside more time to keep focused on the retreat topic, you are invited to  reserve a room to stay overnight the night before and/or the night after the retreat for any of the retreats. (Inquire about our special room rates during public retreats.)

So, which of the eight questions intrigues you most?

If the answer is “all of them,” great! I’ll look forward to seeing a lot of you over the next several months.

If the answer is “none of them,” let me know what questions you are thinking about. We can always make changes or additions to our retreat program – or we may be able to recommend other resources that may be helpful to you.

Bleeding Hearts

Remembering “Emma”

On an entirely different subject, we had a wonderful memorial service for “Emma” at Whispering Winds on Saturday. God gave us all an extra special remembrance of “Emma” – the redbud tree, the flowering crabs, the Korean Spice Viburnum tree, and the bleeding hearts were all in full bloom – from the palest pink to the brightest pink, and every shade in between. Pink was “Emma’s” favorite color. We couldn’t help but remember her wherever we looked on that beautiful, sunny day.

“Emma” and the Love of God

“I love you. I’ll be leaving soon. I’ll be good.” Those were Emma’s last words to me. She told me those things Tuesday as I was sitting beside her bed, holding her hand. On Wednesday afternoon Emma passed into her next life.

[Note: I’ve changed the name of our assisted living resident to “Emma” to protect her privacy.]

Emma’s last few weeks had been hard. She was 91 years old. She suffered from severe arthritis that was very painful, especially in her knees. She had somewhat advanced dementia which made it difficult for her to say what was on her mind. But Emma still enjoyed life. She didn’t want to die yet. She had a loving family – daughters, grandchildren, and great grandchildren – and friends who visited or called her often. She fought death as hard as she could. But by Wednesday she was ready to be born into her next life. She was ready to be held “Safe in the arms of Jesus” as the old Fanny Crosby gospel song describes.

As Emma’s life transition occurred, and as we’re moving into Holy Week, I’ve been thinking about how much God loves us and cares for us. Not only did Jesus suffer and die on the cross for us a couple thousand years ago as we remember particularly during Holy Week, God is still with us today – helping Emma through her life transition, helping us through our grief, and blessing us with many gifts including the gift of love.

One song that my mind has been singing a lot this past week is “The Love of God” by Frederick Lehman. This song tries to answer the question “How much does God really love us?” In the third verse, Lehman paints a word picture that I really like.

Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade.
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Tho’ stretched from sky to sky.

Forty-two years ago when I graduated from college, I moved to Connecticut and was a high school English teacher for a couple years. My favorite thing to do in my spare time was to drive an hour to East Matunuck State Beach in Rhode Island and walk to the tip of the breakwater. That took 45 minutes of scrambling over huge rocks, occasionally getting sprayed by an extra big wave crashing into the breakwater. By the time I reached the tip, I felt that I was completely surrounded by the vast ocean. On one of these mini-pilgrimages to the furthest boulder of the breakwater, the ocean looked different. It was the beginning of the hurricane season, with some activity along the Mid-Atlantic coast. As far north as I was, the ocean was churning more than usual, but not threatening any hurricanes locally. The water wasn’t blue or green; it looked black – like an ocean filled with ink.

That’s the image that comes to mind for me when I sing this song. Could we with ink the ocean fill … To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry…

How did Lehman think up that image? He acknowledges that it wasn’t original to him – he just wrote down some of the lines he recalled hearing in a sermon, and made it the third verse of a song he had already written. He tried to find the source of the lines. What he learned was that it was written on the wall of an insane asylum by an unknown inmate. However, more recently, the lines have been traced back further to an eleventh-century Jewish poet in Germany named Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai.

Obviously, we aren’t the only ones pondering the vastness of God’s love for us. This image alone has been helpful to our catching a glimpse of God’s love for a thousand years. From a medieval poet, to an inmate of an insane asylum, to a 19th century writer of gospel songs, to becoming a theme song of a 20th century evangelistic crusade ultimately reaching hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people – all wanting to understand and express their appreciation of God’s love. Last week I was able to understand a little more about God’s love as I saw Emma comforted and at peace as she passed from this life to the next.

There are several different versions of “The Love of God” on YouTube. This song was one of the signature songs of The Billy Graham Crusades. Below are two links to the song, both performances from Billy Graham Crusades.
This video begins with about half a minute of Billy Graham preaching about God’s love. His words are immediately followed by a group of Christian musicians singing “The Love of God.”
The second video is from an earlier crusade (1983) and features George Beverly Shea singing the song.

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure –
The saints’ and angels’ song!