Archive | May 2013


church cemetery

On Memorial Day, patriotic concert planners and parade organizers try to get us to remember the wars our country has fought and the veterans who have made personal sacrifices for the benefit of all of us. That’s a good thing. We need to remember our history and we need to be thankful for the people in our past. The Bible tells us to remember our past. “Remember the days of old, consider the years long past; ask your father, and he will inform you, your elders, and they will tell you.” (Deuteronomy 32:7 NRSV)

Garys GraveI went to the cemetery on Saturday to put some silk flowers next to my parents’ grave stone. It was good to walk along the rows of graves and see all the flowers and other objects placed on the graves. I love the ceramic dog sitting on my cousin Gary’s grave. There were pretty flowers on my sister’s grave and on her son Steve’s grave. When I got to my parents’ grave stone I was surprised to see the silk flowers from last year still looking pretty good – slightly faded, but still nice and colorful. Since I had some fresh new flowers, I pulled out the old ones and planted the bright new ones. But I wanted to do something with the old ones. They were too nice to throw away. So I walked up to the older section of the cemetery. There weren’t as many flowers there.  I found my grandparents’ graves and planted the year-old silk flowers beside my grandma’s grave stone. I don’t know if my grandma was offended that her flowers weren’t as fresh as her daughter’s flowers, or if she was pleased that I remembered her. I hope the latter.

Memory WallTaking time to remember the people in our lives, both past and present, is important. It helps us understand how full and rich our lives are. We have a memory wall in our home – a wall where we display pictures of everyone who has come to us for assisted living. Currently, the wall has some twenty pictures. It includes my mom and dad and Mim’s mom – the first people we cared for throughout their last days. It also includes everyone who has lived with us since then, including our four-legged family members. Today I plan to get another frame so that I can add our newest resident, Roger, to the memory wall. I walk past this wall several times every day and I’m reminded of how each of these “extended family members” has enriched my life.

On Memorial Day it’s good to collectively remember our national history and be thankful for the men and women who have fought for our country. But it’s just as important to remember our rich personal heritage every day and thank God for all the people who have been blessings to us.

Mom-Dad grave

A Peek at my Second Book

Come Lord Jesus FRONTMy goal for this week is to finish reviewing the proofs for my second book, Come, Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest: Adventures in Hospitality . (My real goal was to finish this task last week, but lots of other things happened instead, including accepting the opportunity to be hospitable to the newest assisted living resident in our home.) Rather than take a couple hours this morning to write a new blog post, I decided to provide a peek at one of the stories in my new book.

The book traces my understanding of what it means to be kind and hospitable to others, as the Bible instructs us, by telling a total of 90 personal stories, spanning the time frame of my childhood up to the present. I firmly believe that one of the key (and most ignored) messages of the Bible is to be kind and hospitable to others. In my book each story begins with a Bible verse that states the principle I learned from the incident, or in some other way relates the story to the overall theme of hospitality.

The story I selected for today’s sneak preview is about when my mom and dad came to Chicago to live with us for the last six weeks of my mom’s life. We had some wonderful moments together during that time. Here’s the story.

Caring for Mom as She Was Dying

Anyone who neglects to care for family members in need repudiates the faith.
That’s worse than refusing to believe in the first place.” [I Timothy 5:8 MSG]

At age 78 my mother was diagnosed with liver cancer. After the diagnosis, Mim and I made weekly trips to Wisconsin to take her to the clinic for chemotherapy. After a few weeks she chose to discontinue the treatments because of how sick they made her feel. Her doctor predicted she would live only two or three months without more treatments, maybe a year or two with treatments.

A couple weeks after my mom stopped receiving chemo Mim and I went to Door County in northeastern Wisconsin for a week-long vacation. We stopped to see my parents on our way up there, mostly to see how my mom was doing. Already she was much weaker.

Mim and I had a wonderful week relaxing in Door County. Little did we know that God was providing a week of rest for us before what would become an intense six-week period of care giving.

On our way back to Chicago we stopped to see my parents again. My mom’s health had deteriorated further and she was quite weak. We offered to get Hospice and some local caregivers lined up to help my dad care for her at home. As an alternative, we invited her and my dad to come to Chicago to live with us, and we (mostly Mim) would take care of her.

We stayed with my parents for the night. The next morning, my mom got up and said she’d made up her mind. She wanted to come home with us to Chicago. We spent the next few hours helping my mom and dad pack up their things – a few clothes, my mom’s crocheting, and their Bibles. We told my brother and sister about the new plan, and they came over to help pack up for the move.

Dad rode with Mim and me in my car. My nephew, Dave, drove Mom in his parents’ van, so that she could be lying down for the two-hour drive. Then Dave carried her up the stairs to our second-floor apartment.

We called Hospice the next day to help us get a hospital bed and a local physician to prescribe pain medication. We also enlisted one of the physicians Mim had worked with to be Mom’s primary care physician.

Mim was teaching nursing at North Park College at the time, and had a flexible schedule. She also had very kind and highly skilled colleagues who volunteered to help care for Mom to give Mim and me a little time off from round-the-clock care giving. I had just left my corporate job and was in the process of starting up my own small business consulting practice, which meant that I also had a flexible schedule.

We turned our living room into Mom’s room. For the first couple weeks she was able to walk around the apartment and eat with us in the dining room. As she got weaker, she spent most of her time in the living room. I played her favorite hymns on the piano, over and over again. I read to her. She really liked The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, a good story that made her smile and laugh. My brother and sister and their families came down to visit her weekly. Her two brothers and their wives came to visit, too.

While Mom lived with us, Mim periodically asked her, “Do you know where you are?” as a means of monitoring her mental well-being and cognitive decline. One day Mom answered, “I know you want me to say I’m in Chicago, but I’m not. I’m at home.” That said to us we were providing the kind of hospitality she needed.

Mom lived with us for six weeks. She was the first of several people we have invited to live with us during their final weeks on earth. There can be many precious moments as the end of a person’s earthly life approaches. We’re thankful for the opportunity to share those special times.

Mom kept crocheting  afghans for babies of teenage mothers in Chicago until just a few weeks before she died.

Mom kept crocheting afghans for babies of poor teenage mothers in Chicago until just a few weeks before she died.

I Found a Treasure on Saturday!

Mom's Memorandum Book from her teenage years

Mom’s Memorandum Book from her teenage years

I found a treasure last Saturday afternoon – a little, black, hard-cover “Memorandum Book.” From the inscription on the inside cover, it appears that Stella Lillesand, an elderly woman that I clearly remember from my childhood, had given the blank book to my mom in 1921. I remember my mom telling me that Stella had been her Sunday School Teacher.

The following was written on the top of the first page of the book: “Gems from the Bible memorized during my junior year 1921. Further down on the page, was written: “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.”  Psalm 119:11

The inscription and first page were written in handwriting that I don’t recognize. I assume those words were written by Stella. The rest of the little (3-inch by 5-inch) book is in my mom’s handwriting. The first entry is dated October 2, 1921. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

The second entry was dated October 9, 1921. “My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:2. It appears that my mom recorded and memorized one verse a week for a couple years. I had fun over the weekend reading through the book and seeing which verses my mom had memorized. There were quite a few from the Psalms, but also from all over the Old and New Testaments, even Nehemiah!

The verse for 90 years ago today (May 13, 1923) was “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

Moms Memorandum Book inside

I always knew that my mom considered it very important to memorize Scripture. When my brother Danny and I were in grade school, Mom worked in Madison. To help us remember to do our chores when we got home from school – when she wouldn’t be there to remind us – she made charts for us each week. Basically, the charts were 8-column spreadsheets. The first column listed all our chores. Danny’s were on the top half, and mine were on the bottom half. The remaining 7 columns were for each day of the week. On the very top of the chart each week was a new Bible verse for us to memorize. Each time we completed a chore, we were supposed to read the Bible verse and then write the Bible reference in the appropriate square of the grid. (We weren’t supposed to use just a simple check-mark, except on Sundays when we recited the memorized verse to Mom.) I remember the first verse we memorized this way was Ephesians 4:32: “And be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

These weekly charts were taped on a window in the dining room for our easy use.

These weekly charts were taped on a window in the dining room for our easy use.

That’s another treasure I found last Saturday. My mom had saved some of those old charts! I’ll have to admit that as I flipped through those charts, I don’t remember all the Bible verses I memorized more than fifty years ago, but I remember some of them. Maybe I should get myself a little black memorandum book like Stella gave my mom, and write down some of the Bible verses I’ve memorized, or would like to memorize. Then if I forget them, I can always go back to my little black book for the “Gems from the Bible.” But in the meantime, I’ll just use my mom’s.

Mim, Mom, and me two months before Mom died, living with us in Chicago.

Mim, Mom, and me two months before Mom died, while living with us in Chicago.
Mom was the first of many people we have cared for in our home throughout their last days.

When Bad Things Happen to Good Birds

Phyllis and Fred H. Finch. Photo from

Phyllis and Fred H. Finch.
Photo from

This morning I overheard a conversation between Phyllis and Fred H. Finch in our back yard. I actually was listening for them specifically, because I felt bad about something Mim and I did yesterday, something that hurt them, I’m sure.

Fred H Finch often sings from the railing of our deck.

Fred H Finch often sings from the railing of our deck.

Fred often sits on the railing of our deck and sings beautiful songs. I love watching his bright red head and throat as he sings praises to God, totally engrossed in praising his Creator. A few weeks ago, his wife, the hard worker of the family, kept flying back and forth, building a nest in our retractable awning while Fred was singing. As soon as Mim and I saw what she was doing, we got out a ladder and one of those three-foot long grabbers, and pulled the nest down. We love having all the birds in our back yard, but we were afraid the nest in the awning would damage the mechanical parts that enable us to extend and retract the awning with a simple remote control. So, we wanted to discourage Phyllis from building their new home in our awning. Well, yesterday, Phyllis decided to try to build a nest in the awning again, and Mim and I got the ladder and the grabber out again, and pulled out the unfinished nest.

This morning Phyllis was perched on the back of the metal chair on the deck, whimpering. Fred flew up beside her and asked, “What’s wrong, sweetie?”

House Finch Pair 2“Oh, Fred, they did it again. I watched them from a distance yesterday, and I was pretty sure that’s what they were doing. Those two big wing-less monsters climbed up on a ladder, and with a long stick with a beak on the end, they pulled apart the brand new nest I was building. Oh, why did they do that? That awning is such a perfect foundation for our home. I’m almost ready to start laying eggs, and we need a home for our children. Now I need to start building our nest all over again. I prayed all night to the great Mother Hen that they really hadn’t destroyed our home again, but it didn’t do any good. Why does Mother Hen allow bad things to happen to good birds? I just can’t understand it.” Phyllis’ chirp returned to a whimper.

“I don’t know, Phyllis, I just don’t know. But I do know that Mother Hen still loves us and will see that our needs are met. In the Bible she said, ‘Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Mother feeds them.’ (Matthew 6:26)

“I know you’re right, Fred, but sometimes it’s hard to keep the faith when bad things like this happen.”

“Proof of Mother’s love can be seen all around us, Phyllis. Let’s go looking for another home site. I’m sure we can find one nearby. You probably shouldn’t try the awning again, but I’m sure we can find another good foundation if we look hard enough. And there are plenty of small twigs and grasses around to build a nice nest once we find the right spot. Mother Hen is good.”

Then the two house finches flew off the deck to search for a new home site. I hope they find one nearby so that Fred will keep coming to the deck to sing.

Mother Hen protecting her chicks

God’s love explained: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” (Matthew 23:37)