Archive | July 2013

Fluffy Clouds, Still Goldfinches, and Dirty Windows

Clouds over Cornfield

Up in heaven, a new angel must have been assigned to weather control for southern Wisconsin last week. As a newbie, he’s not quite sure how to maneuver all the clouds and keep the seasons in line. We’ve been covered by some of the biggest, fluffiest clouds I’ve ever seen in my life for the last couple days. But what’s really weird is that we’ve had October weather in July.  Instead of trying to keep cool with temperatures in the 80s and 90s, we’re trying to keep warm with temperatures in the 50s and 60s.

Pond to CondoOn our early morning walk Saturday morning, Mim pointed out two bright yellow goldfinches high in a tree just down the road from us. However, as we got closer, we discovered that the finches were two bright yellow leaves near the treetop. Even the tree was fooled by this weather! And we were fooled by the early-changing leaves. As we walked closer to the tree, our perspective changed, and we could see that the yellow dots were leaves. That’s why the “goldfinches” didn’t fly away when they saw us coming.

Perspective sharpens or distorts reality for us all the time. Way back in the time of the Roman Empire, Marcus Aurelius said, “Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” But for some reason, it’s so easy to forget that “truth.” Whether we’re talking politics, or religion, or today’s news stories.

The Apostle Paul wrote about this phenomenon in 1 Corinthians 13:12-13.

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, know him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. (The Message paraphrase)

That reminded me of a story I’d read and shared on Facebook last week. I told it to Mim as we walked down the country road:

Clothes LineA young couple moves into a new neighborhood. The next morning while they are eating breakfast, the young woman sees her neighbor hanging the wash outside. “That laundry is not very clean; she doesn’t know how to wash correctly. Perhaps she needs better laundry soap.” Her husband looks on, remaining silent. Every time her neighbor hangs her wash to dry, the young woman makes the same comments. A month later, the woman is surprised to see a nice clean wash on the line and says to her husband: “Look, she’s finally learned how to wash correctly. I wonder who taught her this?” The husband replies, “I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows.” And so it is with life… What we see when watching others depends on the clarity of the window through which we look.

Since we know that the window through which we see life is always somewhat dirty, or foggy, or provides some other kind of distortion, perhaps we should remember Paul’s advice, “Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.”

To “love extravagantly” may be for me to give the benefit of the doubt to the neighbor hanging up “dirty” laundry, to recognize that I may not have the complete “truth.” Or, for me to trust that my nephew who consistently supports the “wrong” side of every political issue that I care about, really is making the wisest judgments possible, given the “truths” he sees. Maybe the windows we’re each looking through just have different smudges.

After all, even the two bright yellow leaves on the tree acted upon their perception of October in July, not on the “truth” of a new weather control angel in heaven still getting used to the controls.

Yellow Leaves on Green Tree

I should have known better …

Marian at desk2Last Tuesday I did something really dumb. As a 65-year-old, I should have known better. The day started out fine. I spent the morning working on my computer in my home office. I was working on a mailing to promote my new book, Come, Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest. I knew I just had the morning to work, so I got right to work and was very focused and efficient.

In the afternoon I had an eye doctor appointment in Madison. Although the drive should be about half an hour, Mim and I allowed an hour, anticipating road construction. We arrived 25 minutes early. Apparently, the clinic was ahead of schedule, so less than 10 minutes after I checked in, I was taken back to the exam room, where all the preliminary questions, testing, and eye drops were taken care of. Then I waited and waited and waited. After more than 90 minutes of waiting, I was moved to another exam room to wait a little longer. As a nice gesture, Mim and I were offered a cup of coffee, which we accepted. (I think that was the first dumb thing I did that day.) Finally the eye doctor came, examined my eyes, and said everything was looking good and I should come back in a year, unless I had any more flare-ups like I’d had a few months ago.

mocha freezeSo Mim and I left, just in time to hit the beginning of rush hour. We went to Staples to get some envelopes for my mailing, and then we drove to Costco. It was a classic hot, humid summer day. We were both craving a mocha freeze, one of Costco’s specialty drinks. They are so refreshing! We needed a few items that we always get at Costco anyway, so going home via Costco seemed like a smart idea, not the dumb one that it actually was. I knew I had already had a cup of coffee at the eye doctor, so another cup of caffeine would not be a good idea. But those mocha freezes are so good I couldn’t resist. We sipped on the mochas as we wandered through the store.

We made one more quick stop at a grocery store on our way home, and got home about 6:30. We skipped supper. We weren’t hungry because of all the samples we’d snacked on at Costco. I spent the next hour cleaning out my email inbox. Then I put on TV to just relax for a couple hours before going to bed.

By 10:00 I wasn’t very sleepy yet, but I went to bed anyway. I knew the alarm would go off at 5:00 a.m. That’s the time we need to give our resident her first pills of the day. It’s also the best time to go for a vigorous walk, our usual morning exercise routine.

By 11:00 p.m., I was really regretting my caffeine indulgences of the afternoon. I tried to make good use of my wide-awake time in bed. I prayed for Mim. I prayed for my brother Danny and his family. I prayed for all my nieces and nephews. I prayed for Maria, the woman in prison I wrote about a few weeks ago.

By midnight I told myself that if I wasn’t asleep by 12:30 I’d get up and read the novel I had started to read a few days ago. By 12:30 I got up and read until 3:00. By then I was beginning to get sleepy.

By 3:30 I was back in bed and playing some of my favorite hymns on the piano in my mind.

By 5:00 when the radio alarm clock came on, I had finally gotten to sleep, but I woke up enough to listen to the news. Then I got up. I decided to skip my morning walk. The heat index was already 86 degrees at 5:00 in the morning!

Then this amazing thing happened. Before starting to work on my mailing project again, I read from my devotional books. One of them is Sarah Young’s newest book, Jesus Today. In this book, she writes in the same style as her other book, Jesus Calling, writing as though Jesus is speaking directly to the reader. Listen to what I read that morning:

Jesus Today coverRemember Me on your bed; think of Me through the watches of the night. When you are wakeful during the night, thoughts can fly at you from all directions. Unless you take charge of them, you are likely to become anxious. Your best strategy is to think about Me during your night watches. Start communicating with Me about whatever is on your mind. Cast all your anxiety on Me because I care for you. I am taking care of you! This makes it possible for you to relax and rejoice in the shadow of My wings.

When you remember Me during the night, think about who I really am. Ponder My perfections: My Love, Joy, and Peace. Rejoice in My majesty, wisdom, grace, and mercy. Find comfort in My names: Shepherd, Savior, Immanuel, Prince of Peace. Be awed by My Power and Glory, for I am King of kings and Lord of lords. Thus you worship Me and enjoy My Presence. These thoughts of Me will clear your mind – helping you see things from My perspective – and refresh your entire being. (p. 188)

Next time I can’t sleep at night, I’ll still pray for everyone who comes to mind, but I’ll also try to think more about who God really is. I think I was getting on track with that when I was playing those favorite hymns on the piano in my mind. I guess I’ll do more of that.

Or, maybe I’ll learn not to drink more than one cup of caffeine in the afternoon. But if I succumb to the temptation of a mocha freeze, at least I know a better way to spend the wide-awake hours of the night.

Marian-Abbey faces bronze

Abbey agrees –
I should have known better, but at least I’ll know better for next time.

My Brother Danny

Danny and me a long time ago

My brother and me a long time ago

I have a brother who is two years older than me. He’ll be 67 on September 11. (His birthday is the event I prefer to associate with that date.) To me, and to most of his friends and relatives that have known him since childhood, his name is Danny. To his wife, and to friends that first met him as an adult, his name is Dan. Legally, his name is Daniel, but I don’t know of anyone who calls him that.

My big brother as a baby being held my Mom

My big brother as a baby being held my Mom

I sometimes wonder why my parents gave him the name Daniel. I remember my mom said she really liked the name Danny, but she didn’t like the name Dan. I also know she liked the song “Danny Boy” – even though there wasn’t a drop of Irish blood in her – it was all Norwegian. I wonder if she named her only son for the song, or for the Bible character Daniel.

I knew the story about Daniel in the lion’s den, and something about some writing on a wall, but I didn’t know much else about Daniel in the Bible. One of the daily devotionals I’m reading this year is Designed for Devotion: a 365-Day Journey from Genesis to Revelation by Dianne Neal Matthews. On July 10, I started reading about the book of Daniel. I’ll have to admit, I’ve peeked ahead through July 18 to read everything she says about Daniel. I’ve learned that when Nebuchadnezzar attacked Jerusalem in 605 BC, he captured the most impressive young men and brought them back with him to Babylon to indoctrinate them and then place them in prominent positions in his court.

Daniel was one of the young men captured. Despite living the next 70 years in a culture that worshiped idols and promoted a very luxurious lifestyle, Daniel remained faithful to God.  Daniel trusted that, no matter what happened, God was in complete control. God’s plan would be accomplished for Daniel’s life, for the Jewish people, and for the world at large. For thousands of years, Daniel’s courage, integrity, and commitment to prayer have been an inspiration to generation after generation.

Maybe that’s why my parents gave my brother the name Daniel. They wanted him to have the same courage, integrity, and commitment to prayer that the Biblical Daniel had. And they wanted him to be an inspiration for future generations of our own family. Maybe.

Don’t feel that I’m putting any pressure on you, Danny!

Danny was always ready for a big job!

Danny was always ready for a big job!

An Endless Supply of Grandmas

Abbey welcoming Edith when she first came to live with us.

Abbey welcoming Edith when she first came to live with us.

Doris and Abbey comforting each other.

Doris and Abbey reminding each other how much love there is in the world

Seven years ago, Mim and I were interviewed by a 12-year-old boy. We wanted to adopt his 3-year-old dog Abbey. He wasn’t able to keep her any more, and he put her up for adoption through the Humane Society.  We saw Abbey’s picture on the Internet, and called the number listed to schedule a time to meet Abbey and be interviewed by the 12-year-old. During the interview, we told him that Abbey would have an endless supply of grandmas to pet her if she would live with us. That clinched it. We were chosen to be the lucky ones among all the people who wanted to adopt Abbey.

Over the last couple weeks I’ve been developing new marketing materials for Country Comforts Assisted Living. That got me thinking about all the grandmas and grandpas that have lived with us for assisted living over the years. I remembered that promise to Abbey’s previous owner. Yes, Abbey has been fortunate to have all those grandmas and grandpas to pet her.

Abbey comforting Patti during her last days

Abbey comforting Patti during her last days

But Abbey isn’t the only one who’s been fortunate. Mim and I are the “middle generation” between Abbey and these grandmas and grandpas. We’ve been blessed with all these “moms” and “dads.” Most people get only one mom and one dad. Over the past ten years we’ve had almost twenty“moms” and three “dads.” How fortunate is that – to get all these bonus moms and dads after our own were no longer with us!

What prompted me to develop new marketing materials for Country Comforts is the fact that this year we changed our focus from general assisted living care to end-of-life care. When people draw near to the end of their life, often they choose to receive hospice care at home with their loved ones taking care of them. A hospice organization can provide help, but the majority of caregiving is done by family members. Sometimes, family members are not able to give the end-of-life care at home that their loved one needs. That’s where Country Comforts can help. Rather than going to a nursing home, their loved one can move into our home where we will provide the skilled and attentive care they need. We will work together with the hospice organization of the family’s choice to care for the loved one and help coordinate a wide range of end-of-life issues – physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and legal. Our role is to support the resident and their family in any way we can.

Abbey helping Anna celebrate her birthday

Abbey helping Anna celebrate her birthday

While putting together brochures to explain the end-of-life care we want to provide, I went through pictures of many of these special people who have entered our lives over the past ten years. Our lives really have been enriched by each person who has lived with us. One whole section of the book I wrote about hospitality (Come, Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest) is about the people who have lived with us for assisted living. In the book, I tell a one- or two-page story about each person. I’ve re-read that section of the book many times to let my mind spend more time remembering each one. (You can find more information about the book at http://mariankorth.com/come-lord-jesus.html.)

Some of these bonus grandmas (or moms, depending on your perspective) are pictured here. More of them are included on our Country Comforts website (www.CountryComfortsAssistedLiving.com). I redesigned the website last weekend to reflect our new focus. If you take a peek at the website and are confused by any explanations that are unclear or find any bad links, please let me know. I’ll appreciate any suggestions you may have to make our website better. We want to be sure Abbey never runs out of the endless supply of grandmas we promised her.

Maria’s Story – Part 2

Another conversation with Abbey

Another conversation with Abbey

When I came home from playing the piano for the Women’s Worship Service at the county jail last Thursday, Abbey met me at the door. “Did you see Maria?” she asked. “Did Maria come to worship?”

“No, Abbey,” I replied. “Maria has already been transferred to the women’s prison in northeastern Wisconsin. That’s where she’ll serve her 13-year sentence for killing her little boy.”

“I’m sorry you didn’t get to see her again, Mom.”

“Even though I won’t be seeing her every month like I have for the last couple years, I won’t forget about her. And, like you suggested last week, Abbey, we can keep praying for her.”

“That’s right, Mom. I’m sure going to keep praying for her. I want God to keep her safe, and help her remember how much she is loved, and help her be an example of God’s presence in prison.”

“You know, Abbey, lots of people are praying for Maria. After last week’s blog post, several people responded on the blog saying they will pray for her. Others told me on Facebook, and some sent me emails. I told the chaplain in jail about all the people who are praying for Maria. The chaplain said she has printed out the blog along with the reader comments and she is going to mail it to Maria in prison. She expects Maria will be quite encouraged when she reads the blog and the comments.”

“That’s good. I hope she gets it soon. I bet the first few days in prison are especially hard for her. She is completely surrounded by strangers – the people she will live with for many years. I wonder if any of them will be friendly – like most of us dogs are.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know, Abbey. But that’s something else we can pray for – that she’ll make some good friends quickly. That reminds me, Abbey. I just finished reading a book entitled 10 Prayers You Can’t Live Without, and subtitled, How to Talk to God about Anything.  It was written by Rick Hamlin and was published this year by Guideposts in New York. It’s a wonderful book!”

“Oh, how I wish I could read. You talk about so many good books, Mom. Tell me about this one.”

“Well, there’s a separate chapter for each of the 10 prayers. The chapters are:10 Prayers

  1. Pray at Mealtime
  2. Prayer as Conversation
  3. Pray for Others
  4. Praying the Lord’s Prayer
  5. Praying for Forgiveness
  6. Pray through a Crisis
  7. Sing Your Prayer
  8. A Classic Prayer to Focus Your Thoughts
  9. Pray in Thanksgiving at All Times
  10. Pray Yes

“Each chapter is filled with stories from the author’s life or from other people’s lives about why or when that particular kind of prayer was extra important for them.”

“I bet that book was fun to read with all those personal stories.”

“It sure was, Abbey. It was very inspiring. Now that you and I are talking about praying for Maria, the chapter on praying for others (chapter 3) is very relevant. I’m sure God cares about Maria whether we pray for her, or not. But you know what really happens, Abbey, when we pray for someone? Listen to what Hamlin said in the middle of that chapter:

Prayer expands your world. You learn to care about people you would never have known otherwise, and you find out what makes them tick. You grow in your ability to love…[p. 53]

“We ourselves benefit, Abbey, by praying for others. And the person we pray for benefits, too. Later in this chapter the author talks about Bob and Lee Woodruff. Bob was the ABC News anchor who was seriously injured in the Iraq war.

You don’t go through something like that without being changed. For Lee she gained a new understanding of the power of prayer. When she was weak, when she was struggling, when she feared she was at the end of her rope, others were thoughtful enough to pray for her. They covered for her. They gave her strength. [p. 66]

“Wow! I get it, Mom. Just think of how Maria must feel if she knows that all of us care about her enough to pray for her. That must make her feel good, even though she knows she has many years of rough times ahead of her.”

“I think you’re right, Abbey.”

“Let’s see, God wants me to pray for others. That kind of prayer is a benefit to the person prayed for and it’s a benefit to me, too. Will you tell me about some of the other kinds of prayers in that book sometime?”

“I’ll try, Abbey. But meanwhile, we have a perfect opportunity to practice this kind of prayer by praying for Maria.”

“That’s true, Mom. AND, I can think of some other people I want to pray for, too. I’m going to start right now …”

Abbey eyes closed-praying