Archive | June 2013

Maria’s Story

Abbey is a good listener.

Abbey is a good listener.

“Hey, Abbey. Can you come here a minute? I need to talk, and I need someone to just listen.”

“OK, Mom. You know I’m always ready to just sit beside you and listen. What’s up?”

“I’m really sad today. I heard on the news that a woman in Madison was sentenced to 13 years in prison for killing her three-year-old son. I know that woman.”

“You do? How would you know a a person who killed a child?”

“She’s Maria. She’s been in the county jail for two years – from the time she was arrested, during her trial, and then waiting and waiting and waiting for the sentence.  She comes to the women’s worship service almost every other week, whenever she is allowed to come to the chapel.”

“Wow. You worship God with people who have killed people?”

“Abbey, God loves every man and woman in the county jail. There are lots of nice people in jail. Some of them have made mistakes and are sorry for them, and others are in jail by mistake – they really aren’t guilty. And some are in jail for good reason. God loves all of them.”

Abbey looked thoughtful as she said, “I know God loves them, but do they even think about God? I suppose maybe the ones that choose to go to “church” while they’re in jail think about God some. Maybe they are some of the nicer ones.”

“I wouldn’t describe every inmate that I see as I walk through the jail hallways to get to the chapel as a nice person, Abbey. But I wouldn’t describe every person I see as I walk down the street in Cambridge as a nice person either.”

“Boy, that’s for sure. I tried to say ‘good morning’ to a cat when Mim and I were out walking this morning, and the cat hissed something awful. I was just being friendly. That was not a nice cat! But tell me about Maria. Is she a nice person?”

jail - hand cuffs“Yes, she is. That’s partly why I was so sad to hear she was sentenced to 13 years in prison. Maria is from Mexico and has had a hard life. I don’t know many details, other than that she had a job, a boyfriend, and two children – the three-year-old boy who died and a baby. She didn’t speak much English, although she’s been learning enough to understand and speak it a little in jail out of necessity. Two years ago her son was injured. She took him to the hospital, where he died after a few days. She was blamed for his death. She claims her boyfriend is the one who injured the little boy, although she feels guilty for not protecting her son from her boyfriend. Two years ago when she was arrested, her other child, the baby, was taken from her and placed in foster care. She has not seen, nor heard anything about her baby since she was arrested.

“Can you imagine that, Abbey? Her three-year-old son was killed, her baby was taken away from her, and she’s been sitting in jail for two years waiting to find out what’s going to become of her life. And now she just learned that up to thirteen years in prison are ahead of her. I don’t know anything about the status of the relationship with her boyfriend, other than that he has not been charged with any crime related to the death of her son. I don’t know if he has visited her in jail, or not.”

“Wow, Mom. I see why you’re sad. And you said that Maria is a nice person. With all that’s happened to her, I wonder how she can be nice. I’d be so angry I’d growl at everyone around me!”

“I know it’s hard to understand, Abbey. Maria is very soft-spoken. Sometimes she looks really sad, but usually she tries to maintain a positive attitude, and she has such a pretty smile. She trusts that God will take care of her and she is thankful for that promise of God. Maria is also especially thankful that one of the jail chaplains arranged for her son’s ashes to be brought into the jail and that he held a funeral for her little boy. That was so important for Maria emotionally and spiritually. The chaplain even made all the arrangements necessary to have her son’s ashes sent to her family in Mexico for his final resting place.

“When Maria first started coming to the women’s worship service, another inmate who was bilingual interpreted everything for her. More recently, Maria has been giving her testimony in English, although she still prays in Spanish. A few weeks ago, Maria served as an interpreter for a new inmate who didn’t speak any English. Maria is so kind and gentle and caring. She’s a wonderful example of kindness and gentleness to other inmates.”

Abbey Profile 2“You know what that reminds me of, Mom?”

“What, Abbey?”

“You’ve told me that Pastor Jeff often says in his sermons that we may be the only ‘Jesus’ some people will ever see. Maybe God has allowed Maria to spend so much time in jail because she’s such a good ‘Jesus,’ and she may be the only ‘Jesus’ some inmates will ever see.”

“You may be right, Abbey. I certainly don’t know. But I do know that I am inspired by Maria’s gentleness, peacefulness, and loving attitude despite the twists and turns her life has taken. I also know she will need our prayers to be able to keep strong in her faith as she moves on to this next phase of her life as a prisoner.”

“Will you see her the next time you play the piano for the women’s worship service in jail?”

“I don’t know, Abbey. I don’t know if she’s been moved to the women’s prison yet, or if she’s still in the county jail? And, if she’s still here, it may or may not be the week for the women in her cell block to be able to go to “church.”

A prison cell door“Well, if you see her, tell her that I’ll be praying three things for her:  1) that God will keep her safe in prison;  2) that God will continue to comfort her and help her understand how much God loves her; and 3) that she will be a shining example of God’s presence in prison.”

“I’ll be sure to tell her, Abbey. And, thanks for listening to me. I really needed to talk about this today.”

Abbey-Marian

Remembering My Dad

Carl Korth

Carl Korth

My dad's confirmation picture

My dad’s confirmation picture

I haven’t bought my dad a Father’s Day present in more than twenty years. He died 22 years ago. But with all the advertising on TV over the past few weeks, I’ve been prompted to think more about my dad, about the kind of dad he was, and about the kind of presents he liked to receive, and to give. I think his favorite present was one he gave both to himself and to his family. He really liked to take his whole family – three kids, their spouses, and all the grandkids – out to a restaurant for dinner, preferably a buffet. He was proud of his family, and he liked to show them off, especially on Father’s Day.

He came from a large family himself. He was one of ten kids. His family had the Korth farm on Rock Lake in Lake Mills, Wisconsin – the farm that has now been turned into a county park, “Korth Park.” As one of the older boys in the family, he had to drop out of school in seventh grade to go and work as a “hired hand” on another farm to help support the family. The blessing in disguise for having to be a country school drop-out is that is how he met his future wife. The farm where he worked was in Cambridge, only a couple miles from the farm where my mom grew up.

Sitting with his granddaughter, Cindy.

Sitting with his granddaughter, Cindy.

When my parents were first married, my dad got an assembly-line job at General Motors in Janesville. But as soon as their first daughter came along my mom and dad bought my mom’s family farm in Cambridge from my grandparents who retired and moved into town. My dad was destined to be a farmer.

As a farmer, my dad worked hard. The only time he was in the house instead of working outside was during mealtimes and when he was sleeping. Fortunately, mealtimes were times of conversation as well as eating.  I remember talking a lot about the weather, but that’s really important to a farmer.  We also joked and laughed a lot.

When my dad “retired” – that is he sold the cows and just raised corn, he took over primary responsibility for vegetable gardening from my mom.  He kept two huge gardens and raised enough produce to keep our whole extended family fed year around, plus have enough to give away to friends who came to visit. He loved spending time in the garden. Weeds didn’t have a chance. He knew how to use a hoe well, and he cleaned and sharpened it after every use. I still have the hoe in the garage, although I haven’t used it since we moved to the condo.

Picking some vegetables for me to take home to Chicago

Picking some vegetables for me to take home to Chicago

The only thing he liked better than spending time in the garden was going to the restaurant in town to have morning coffee with all the other retired farmers. He hated to spend the money on coffee, but the life of a farmer is solitary, and this was how he could get his social needs met. One year I gave him a jar of coins for Christmas – so he could have right change for the 35-cent bottomless cup of coffee. The restaurant had raised the price by a nickel.

On April 2, 1991 my dad turned 87. We all got together to celebrate his birthday. A few days later he was out on the tractor, working up the soil for his huge gardens. In June, just as his gardens were beginning to flourish, he got sick and was diagnosed with leukemia. He died within a few weeks. I guess we could say that our dad’s last present to us was another huge vegetable garden that we enjoyed all summer long.

Working up the soil for his last garden

Working up the soil for his last garden

Angels Among Us

Abbey kissing Marian bwThe past three weeks have been quite strenuous for all of us at Country Comforts Assisted Living. One of our residents was living through his last days in this life. Abbey is always a really big comfort to our residents as well as to their friends and family during this time of life transition, but it takes its toll on her too. I talked with her about that this morning.

“Good morning, Abbey. How are you feeling today?”

“Good morning, Mom. I think I’m a little better, but I’m still not feeling very chipper. My stomach still feels funny and I don’t have lots of energy. I think I want to keep my walks pretty short today.”

“That’s too bad. We’ll keep you on rice and hamburger for another day, too. You’ve been feeling bad for almost a week now. What do you think is wrong?”

“Oh, I know what’s wrong, and it will just take me some time to recover.  I really miss Robert. [I’ve changed his name to protect his privacy.] I know he lived with us less than three weeks, but he was such a nice man. His first morning here he shared his bacon with me – a bite for him and a bite for me, back and forth until we ate it all up. He shared it equally with me. I don’t know any human that’s been that generous. And he petted me so gently. When his eyes looked at me, I could tell that he was a man filled with love.”

“Yeah. I agree, Abbey. Robert really was a nice man. He had lots of friends who came to visit him. A lot of people really liked him.”

“That’s for sure. His daughter came to see him a couple times every day, and she always greeted me at the door with some good petting. And her husband always had treats for me in his pocket. Robert had one really special friend who sat beside him for hours, just being with him.”

“You know, Abbey. We’re really lucky. We’ve said before that our house is filled with a cloud of love when someone is coming to the end of their life. The house is filled with the love of friends and relatives. It’s so peaceful.”

Abbey Profile 2“But that’s not all, Mom. I know you didn’t see them, but angels were here during Robert’s last couple days, too. Robert talked about the two men and two women he saw in the corner. I saw them, too. They were angels who had come to comfort Robert and to show him the way home to God. Many of the people who come here for end-of-life care see angels before they pass on to the next life. I know you can’t see them, but I do, and the person who’s getting ready to be born into their new life sees them, too.”

“You know, Abbey, the Bible actually talks about that. In Psalm 91:11-12 it says, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” (NRSV) God sends his angels to watch out for us. I know we often have angels in our house when a guest draws near to the end of their life. I can’t see them, but our guests often tell us about the angels they see in their room.”

“Actually, I hate to say it, Mom, but I think that’s what upsets my stomach. I’m so excited by these heavenly guests that my body doesn’t know how to react. And when the angels leave, taking our guest with them, it takes me a few days to recover from the amazement of what I’ve seen and felt. I also miss our guest.”

“I think that might explain why you always seem to get sick just as one of our residents gets ready to move on to their next life.”

“I’ll get over it. I’m so thankful for how much God has blessed us by letting all these special people and their angels live with us, even if it’s just for a short time.”

“You’re right, Abbey. We’re so fortunate to have all these people share their lives with us. God has really blessed us.”

Family Portrait - Marian, Abbey, Mim

Family Portrait – Marian, Abbey, Mim

The Magic of Books

 

Welcoming guests during our B&B years

Welcoming guests during our B&B years

Three years and three and a half months ago I started writing a book on hospitality. Last Wednesday, 1200 days after starting the project, I signed off on the book with the publisher. In a week or two I should hold the first copy of the published book in my hands.

Why did I want to write a book on hospitality? I guess it’s because I think I know something about the subject. Forty years ago Mim started to teach me everything she knew about hospitality. Then we learned new things together about being hospitable. The more we learned, the more we were ready to begin new adventures – like having both short-term and long-term roommates, turning our home into a B&B, and then caring for people who are dying in our home.

Besides learning about hospitality from trial and error, we also were curious about whether or not God had any instructions for us in the Bible about being hospitable. Needless to say, we’ve done our homework on the subject of hospitality. That’s why I felt ready and able to write a book on it. I also felt driven to do so because I think hospitality is so important.

 

Come Lord Jesus FRONTBut now it’s done. After 1200 days, writing the book is no longer on my to-do list. How do I feel about that? Strange. I guess it’s the “empty nest syndrome.” My baby has left home. I went to Christmas Mountain again for a few days last week. That’s where I wrote a lot of the book over the last few years. It seemed strange not to feel that I had to focus all my attention on writing or revising the text yet one more time. The last version, number 13(!), is the last. The book – Come , Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest: Adventures in Hospitality – is finished.

So what’s next? I hope it’s not writing another book – at least not for a while. I have about 1200 books I want to read first. As British novelist Angela Carter said, “A book is simply the container of an idea – like a bottle; what is inside the book is what matters.” I guess that means I have about 1200 more ideas to explore. That’s the magic of books. They provide a means of exploring new ideas. Fortunately, now it’s time for me to do some more exploring. Maybe I’ll write another book later, when I can’t help it. I’ll let you know.

 

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Time to explore some new ideas.