Archive | September 2013

Why did we do it?

Mim and Marian Wedding September 15, 2013 Harbo Chapel at Augsburg College, Minneapolis

Mim and Marian Wedding, September 15, 2013
Harbo Chapel at Augsburg College, Minneapolis

Sunday in church our pastor announced to the congregation that Mim and I were married in Minneapolis last weekend, after living together 40 years. Seated on the organ bench, which is near the front of the sanctuary, I looked out over all the people who had great big smiles on their faces as they applauded us. (There may have been a few looks of disapproval, but I didn’t notice them.) It was wonderful to feel the warmth of our church family.

After the service, while I was playing the postlude, several people patted me on the back or gave me a hug and said congratulations. One choir member asked me, “Why did you get married now, after 40 years?” Since I was in the middle of playing a loud, exuberant arrangement of “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand” I said I’d tell her later.

Mim and I have always enjoyed making music together.

We have always enjoyed making music together.

I guess that’s a good question – why did Mim and I finally get married? Probably many other people, including my brother and some of our nieces and nephews, are wondering the same thing. Let me explain by telling a little of our personal story.

Mim and I met each other in a small group Bible study in Chicago on February 1, 1973. After the Bible study, when everyone was talking over coffee, Mim learned that I was moving to Chicago to accept a new job as an editorial researcher for The World Book Encyclopedia, and that I was looking for an apartment. Mim invited me to stay with her until I could find my own place. We became friends, and I never moved out.

Sixteen years later, on January 24, 1989, our Lutheran pastor in Chicago officiated at a Blessing Ceremony for us in lieu of a wedding. Having a wedding wasn’t a legal option at that time. In our Blessing Ceremony, we made a commitment before God, our pastor, and other witnesses to love and be faithful to each other for the rest of our lives. The ceremony was accompanied by the signing of wills and power of attorney documents to approximate the most important legal protections a marriage automatically provides.

With our pastor Steve at our Blessing Ceremony, January 24, 1989.

With our pastor Steve at our Blessing Ceremony, January 24, 1989.

Our Chicago pastor kiddingly reminded me on Facebook last week that that was our REAL wedding, back in 1989! We agree. That’s when we committed ourselves to each other, and the church blessed our commitment.

This year many of the legal prohibitions against same-sex marriage have been dissolved, both at the federal level and in several states, including Minnesota, but not in Wisconsin. Mim and I have been planning for an eventual move to Minnesota in order to provide better protection to each other as we begin to face the inevitable challenges of aging. And then last month, a big change happened. The Federal Department of Treasury announced that the Federal Government will recognize all legally performed same-sex marriages, regardless of whether or not the couple resides in the state where the marriage was performed. The impact of that change is huge for couples like us.  We could get married in Minnesota and still live in Wisconsin, and the Federal Government would recognize our marriage.

The Department of Treasury made that announcement on Thursday, August 29, 2013. By Saturday, August 31, Mim and I were planning our wedding. The following Wednesday, September 4, we made a day trip to Minneapolis to get our marriage license and reserve the small chapel at Augsburg College, Mim’s alma mater, located near downtown Minneapolis, for our wedding.

A small round table served as our altar in the chapel.

A small round table served as our altar in the chapel.

On Sunday, September 15, 2013 Mim and I were married in a small ceremony. The officiant was a spiritual director and former Augsburg classmate of Mim. The witnesses were two close friends of ours who live in the Twin Cities area. After the ceremony, we all enjoyed a celebratory dinner at True Thai restaurant near Augsburg. Mim and I spent Monday visiting friends in southern Minnesota and then we drove back home to Cambridge.

Are our lives any different now that we are legally married? Not really. Our day-to-day living is the same as it has been for many years. We have been a family since God brought us together. But now we feel a little more secure, knowing that, at least on the federal level, our basic rights as a family are protected.

We have not abandoned our plans to move to Minnesota in the future, because Wisconsin still does not provide us many important rights that other married couples have – such as the right to be treated as a spouse when the other member of the couple is hospitalized. Mim and I expect that all states, even Wisconsin, will fully honor same-sex marriages eventually. That may happen in a few years, or perhaps it may take a decade or two. Since Mim and I are already in our sixties, we don’t know how long we can wait for Wisconsin to catch up to Minnesota and other states in treating us the same as any other married couple.

But for now, we are happily married and residing in Wisconsin – already having celebrated our 40th anniversary of living together; being almost ready to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our commitment to each other being blessed by the church; and just beginning our first year of “legal marriage.”

We recreated the altar on our piano at home. Something old: The candelabra were used in her parents' wedding.  Something new: The flowers. Something borrowed: The cross was borrowed from our church. Something blue: The votive candle.

We recreated the altar on our piano at home.
Something old: The candelabra were used in Mim’s parents’ wedding.
Something new: My sister-in-law had more fresh flowers waiting for us.
Something borrowed: The cross was borrowed from our church.
Something blue: We had lots of blue!

Sharing Some Thoughts

1984:  Marian, Mim, and Marilyn

1984: Marian, Mim, and Marilyn in the back yard of our two-flat in Chicago.
Marilyn lived on the first floor. Mim and I had the second floor.

Marilyn Huebel, a very good friend of mine in Chicago, writes a weekly blog, much like I do. A couple Mondays ago she posted “Vinegar on Spinach.” I really liked the post, and asked her if I could share it on my blog sometime. She agreed, and today’s the day you get to read it. If you want to read more from her blog, follow this link: http://monday-muser.blogspot.com/.

Vinegar on Spinach

Butter and VinegarGoing to a friend’s for supper on a school night was rare, but there I was with Bonnie at her family’s dinner table.  This was an era when families sat down together as soon as dad got home from work to eat meat-and-potatoes meals prepared by stay-at-home moms.  That evening, as the dishes were passed, I saw there was spinach.  I put some on my plate and remember commenting that lots of second graders didn’t like spinach, but I did.  Then I looked around for the vinegar.  In my house we put a few drops of vinegar on cooked spinach, poured carefully from the small cut glass carafe kept just for that purpose. There was no vial of vinegar on the table, so I watched to see what this family did.  As the butter dish was passed, everyone took some and put a pat of butter on their spinach.  I did too.  Thus came one of my first experiences of ‘people do it differently’ and discovering I could enjoy those differences.

Do you remember a similar circumstance that awoke the idea of options and seeing that there is more than one way?

Part of me wants to end this musing right here, offering a nostalgic reflection that might make you smile and think of your own awakening to the concept of preferences.  But part of me pushes on to wonder about paring down today’s world problems screaming in the headlines to vinegar vs. butter.  From fashion to football to foreign policy there are differing opinions and options.  Those options can make or break reputations or fortunes.  The consequences of those differences can result in life or death.

When the prevailing opinion informs us to buy blue or orange, wear wide or skinny ties, short or long skirts, we may go along, wanting to fit in.  One team studies the opposing team’s strategies and go-to plays.  Local and global issues become so complicated that I wonder if anyone truly understands them for often there are deep historical complexities and discord is the norm.  Yet people, individually and collectively, can cross the line from option to judgment to right vs. wrong. We stop seeing a person, a culture, a nation, a whole, and see only the issue that divides us.

Certainly there are rights and wrongs in the world and things worth fighting for.  Let’s not confuse those things with tribal preferences of vinegar vs. butter.

Marilyn

“To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.”  Robert Louis Stevenson

Thanks, Marilyn. Glad we're still sharing good times and good thoughts.

Thanks, Marilyn. Glad we’re still sharing good times and good thoughts.

Make My Day!

Gladys on right, with her sister Alice

Gladys on right, with her sister Alice

A few weeks ago I received a phone call from Gladys, one of my ninety-plus-year-old friends in Chicago. I had sent her a letter to tell her about the two books I’ve written, and she was calling to talk about them, as well as to bring Mim and me up to date with some changes in her life.

About 25 years ago, when Mim and I became members of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Chicago, Gladys was one of the first friends we made in the church. Gladys and her sister Alice, along with their husbands, were all very active members of the “Friendship Club” at Resurrection. Although the Friendship Club was essentially a seniors club at the church, the members of the Friendship Club were very friendly and welcoming to anyone who came to church.

Over the years, our friendship with Gladys has remained close through phone calls, letters, and occasional face-to-face visits in Chicago. The Friendship Club even took several trips to Wisconsin to visit with Mim and me.

A few years ago Gladys’ sister passed away. Their husbands had passed away several years before that. Now, Gladys is the only one left of the foursome. She still lives in her own home, but is unsure how much longer she can do that, primarily because she is nearly blind with macular degeneration. Despite the changes in her life over the past several years, Gladys maintains a very pleasant disposition. I’m inspired whenever I talk with her.

The Friendship Club visiting with us on our front porch during one of their annual day trips to Wisconsin for "Lunch with Mim and Marian."

The Friendship Club visiting with us on our front porch during one of their annual day trips to Wisconsin for “Lunch with Mim and Marian.” Alice and Gladys are 3rd and 4th from left.

As Gladys and I were talking on the phone a few weeks ago, she asked if I had given any consideration to having my books produced as “books on tape” for the blind. I was sorry to admit that I hadn’t even thought of that. But now I’ve been thinking about alternative ways of making books accessible to people with impaired vision. I started by checking out the “Text-to-Speech” option on my Kindle. I was surprised how well it worked. However, at least on my Kindle, it’s necessary to see the device well enough to control the starting and stopping of the reading. I’m not sure that giving a Kindle to Gladys is the best solution.

As I was thinking about this, I remembered a boss I had in the 1980s when I worked for Northwest Industries in Chicago. Allan volunteered as a reader at the Lighthouse for the Blind. Sometimes he recorded what he read. Other times he read face-to-face to someone who was eager to listen. I wish I could go and read my books to Gladys. But I know that’s not practical. A 270-mile round trip is a lot of time on the road, and a lot of gas, for an hour or two of reading.

But maybe I can be a little more sensitive to the needs of people closer to home. If I know of someone whose vision is no longer good enough to read, maybe I can find the time to go visit with them and read a little – either a story or two in one of my books, or better yet, another book that I haven’t read already so that we both will enjoy hearing a new story. Last year I went to see my Aunt Edith and I read to her a few times. We both really enjoyed those times together. Way back in 1986 when my mom lived with us in Chicago for several weeks before she passed away, I often read to her. Her favorite book (besides the Bible) at that time was The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. We laughed together a lot as I read the story. I wonder who else might enjoy some reading time…

On the subject of reading a new story, I just received some “book stubs” for Come, Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest from my publisher. A “book stub” is a plastic card, the size of a credit card, that contains a code that allows you to download one copy of the book in whatever e-book format you prefer (Kindle, Nook, iPad.). If you’d like a free copy of my book in e-book format, send me an email with your mailing address and I’ll send a book stub to you. (My supply is limited, so email me as soon as you can.)

You’ll make my day if you tell me that you’ll try to read at least some of the stories in my book to someone who cannot see well enough to read for themself. (But that’s not a requirement for getting a book stub – just ask me for it!)

Gladys Johnson

Gladys, one of the best kinds of friends –
a friend who inspires

My Mom’s Wedding Ring

My mom's wedding ring is a simple gold band with seven tiny diamond chips set in the top quarter of the band.

My mom’s wedding ring is a simple gold band with seven tiny diamond chips set in the top quarter of the band.

I wore my mom’s wedding ring to church on Sunday. I sometimes wear the ring when I want to feel that Mom is especially close to me. Often that’s when I’m planning to play some extra special music on the piano or organ at church, and I know Mom would really enjoy listening to it. I usually wear it to church on Christmas Eve when I play lots of Christmas music on both the piano and organ, and lead the congregation in singing Christmas carols.

I wore the ring last Sunday because it was my last Sunday of being an organist of East Koshkonong Lutheran Church. I’ve been half-time organist there for exactly one year to the day. I may still play at East occasionally as a substitute, but I’ve decided to stop playing there regularly, and will be playing more often at my home church, Messiah Lutheran Church in Madison.

East Koshkonong Lutheran Church is a beautiful old country church about 5 miles southwest of Cambridge.

East Koshkonong Lutheran Church is a beautiful old country church about 5 miles southwest of Cambridge. The sanctuary has some of the most beautiful stained glass windows I have ever seen. The organ and piano are in the balcony.

For my last regular Sunday at East, I played an extended prelude, about fifteen minutes. First I played two arrangements of my mom’s favorite gospel songs on the piano – “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” and “In the Garden.” Then I played one of my favorite piano arrangements that weaves together two hymns – “It Is Well with My Soul” and “Be Still My Soul.” Then I moved to the organ and played a transcription of “Finlandia” – the original source of the tune for the hymn “Be Still My Soul.” I’m pretty sure my mom was listening.

After church I was honored with a special coffee hour. I was a little uncomfortable with being the center of attention. (I got that trait from my mom. My dad would have loved the attention.) But it really was nice to have so many people come up to me to tell me how much they had enjoyed my playing over the past year. Some of them have become good friends and I’ll miss seeing them regularly. Others I had not met previously, but it was nice to know they had enjoyed my music and they wanted me to know that.

I’m very thankful for the experience I’ve had over the past year of becoming a part of the church family that worships together at East. I guess I’ll still consider the people at East to be part of my “extended church family,” and I’ll look forward to subbing there occasionally to be able to worship together again.

That reminds me of a song written by Bill Gaither. It was a favorite of one of our assisted living residents, Mary Borgerud, and we used to sing it together frequently when she lived with us.

I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God –
I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod;
For I’m part of the family, the family of God.

My mom liked that song, too. Maybe I should wear her ring more often to be reminded that we’re always in the company of a really big extended family, the family of God.

Moms Ring on hand playing piano cropped