Archive | February 2014

Let the birthdays begin!

Annas 93rd BdayLet the birthdays begin! Anna, the first of our trio of 92-year-olds, celebrated her 93rd birthday on Sunday. I asked her how she felt about turning 93. Her response: “I don’t feel like I’m that old. It’s just a number. It doesn’t mean anything. Life is good.”

Carolyn will turn 93 in June, and Marty in July. Then we’ll have a trio of 93-year-olds that we get to assist day-by-day through their later years in life.

As I was thinking about birthdays, I remembered a conversation from forty years ago that several of my twenty-something-year-old friends in Chicago were having. Arden, a newly ordained Reverend, said “I look forward to getting older. Just think of all the wisdom I’ll gain with each year of life.” (Arden grew up to obtain a Ph.D. in theology a few years later, taught at a Christian University, and eventually became the visitation minister of a large Methodist church.)

Now that I’m 65 instead of 25, I kind of agree with Arden. But even better than all the wisdom Mim and I have accumulated over the past 40 years, just think of all the wisdom that resides in our home right now. Taking advantage of that wisdom, I asked Anna what she thought about Arden’s comment. She said, “He’s right. I’m still learning something new every single day.”

How does she still continue to accumulate wisdom day by day?

"Sparrow and Berries" as colored by Anna.

“Sparrow and Berries” as colored by Anna. Notice the subtle shading, especially all the different colors in each leaf.

Every Monday morning she gets up very early, between 5:00 and 6:00, to get ready to go to the East Madison Monona Coalition on Aging (EMMCA) Day Care program for the whole day. There she meets with several other elderly people to work in the kitchen, play games, watch a concert or a movie on a big TV screen, and just plain visit with whoever is there for the day.

On Tuesdays she goes to Deerfield to play Bingo and have lunch with some new friends she has made over the past couple years.

On Wednesdays she goes to Lake Mills for the day for a “Reaching Out Respite” program. Every week is something different there – sometimes they listen to guest speakers, sometimes they sing, sometimes they play games or do exercises. They always have a good time with their friends.

On Thursdays she stays home. She spends most of the day sitting in her chair next to the patio door that goes out to the deck. (In nice weather, she sits on the deck.) From her chair she can watch the birds and other wildlife on our back yard pond and in the adjacent wildlife preserve. She often wonders what the birds are thinking and saying to each other as they fly by the deck. Sitting in that chair is also where she uses her colored pencils to create beautiful pictures.

On Fridays she often goes back to Monona (EMMCA). On the weekends she usually stays home, and her daughter comes to visit for a few hours. As Anna says, “Life is good.”

American author Herman Melville wrote, “To know how to grow old is the master work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living.” Mim and I are so fortunate to be able to learn from all these masters of wisdom that God has dropped into our lives.

Daisaku Ikeda, a Buddhist lay leader in Japan, has summed it up nicely,  “The wisdom and experience of older people is a resource of inestimable worth. Recognizing and treasuring the contributions of older people is essential to the long-term flourishing of any society.”

Let the birthdays begin – as we all continue on our journey to wisdom.

Anna has an amazing eye for detail when her hands are holding colored pencils.

Anna has an amazing eye for detail when her hands are holding colored pencils. She must have known a cat with those exact markings sometime in her life. She also must have remembered from her childhood on the farm that chicken feed attracts other birds, too.

I Have Something to Confess

That's me about the time this happened.I have something to confess, a sin of omission. It’s something that’s been on my mind off and on for the past sixty years. This sin of omission really weighed heavily on my conscience for the first year or two. Now it just comes to mind occasionally.

It happened when I was a little girl. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, probably about 6. I was at my grandma’s house. She was hosting a “Stanley Party.” There were lots of older women, probably about a dozen, in her living room. I knew most of them as being the grandmas from church.

A “Stanley Party” was kind of like a “Tupperware Party” only the products were “Stanley Home Products” – mostly household cleaners.

The company still exists:  http://www.shponline.com/english/about.asp

Grandma

Grandma

For the first hour of the party the “Stanley Lady” demonstrated the products and the women wrote up their orders. Then the hostess, my grandma on this day, brought out dessert and coffee for all the women, and everyone sat around and talked for a long time. I remember sitting on the floor in the living room, near the door to the hallway that went outside. I think I was coloring in a coloring book. I remember it was very noisy in the room. Everyone was talking, laughing, and enjoying being together.

It was snowing outside, and just beginning to get dark. Stella Lillesand, a really old lady who had been my mother’s Sunday School teacher when she was little, decided to leave the party first. Stella had to walk two long blocks to get to her home from my grandma’s house, and she thought the snow might make walking more difficult, especially as it got darker. Shortly after she left, I thought I heard an awful noise, like someone screaming. No one else seemed to hear it. I kept coloring, but then I heard the noise again. Was someone outside yelling? I looked around at all the women in the room. Everyone was talking, and no one else seemed to be hearing what I thought I heard. I was kind of afraid. I colored some more, and tried to forget about those awful noises. Maybe I wasn’t really hearing anything.

About half an hour later, someone else decided to leave the party. After saying her good-byes, she walked out the door. Less than a minute later, she came running back in, all excited. She had found Stella on the sidewalk, moaning in pain. My grandma called an ambulance, and Stella was taken to the hospital. She had slipped on the sidewalk right outside my grandma’s house, fallen, and broken her hip. That awful noise I had been hearing for the past half-hour was Stella crying for help. Oh, why hadn’t I told someone. I felt so bad. Today is the first day in sixty years that I’ve mentioned this “sin of omission” to anyone.

Why am I finally confessing it today? For some unknown reason, the whole incident came to mind again last week. I don’t know why.

And then Sunday afternoon Mim and I went to a Madison Symphony Orchestra concert. Overall, the concert was wonderful – one of the most enjoyable concerts I’ve been to in a long time. It was an unusually varied concert that included works by Jean Sibelius, Joseph Haydn, Alexander Arutiunian, and Richard Strauss.

A-BombRight in the middle of the concert was a work by John Adams called “Doctor Atomic Symphony,” composed in 2007. It was 25 minutes of frenzied agitation, loud mechanical crashes, and brash fanfares – all evoking both terror and sadness. The three movements are named, The Laboratory, Panic, and Trinity. “Doctor Atomic” refers to J. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who led the Manhattan Project in 1945 to create the first atomic bomb. The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s program description of the work quotes from the Hindu Bhagavad Gita, which was referenced by Oppenheimer following the first atomic bomb test, “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” The audience listening to the work Sunday afternoon couldn’t help but feel the heavy, heavy remorse of the scientists who carried out this horrible test of the atomic bomb, as they gradually realized the potential of the terror-filled monstrosities they were enabling.

Francois Rabelais (1483-1553), a writer of the French Renaissance, understood the relationship between conscience and scientific advancement centuries ago when he wrote, “Science without conscience is the death of the soul.”

A more contemporary Frenchman, Albert Camus (1913-1960), added, “A guilty conscience needs to confess. A work of art is a confession.” I guess that was the role of the “Doctor Atomic Symphony” – to put the confession of our atomic scientists into a form that could be understood and felt by the audience. I’m glad I had the opportunity to hear the “Doctor Atomic Symphony” but I’m really thankful that the rest of the concert included music that was much more pleasant and uplifting to hear.

George-WashingtonWhat do the regrets of a six-year-old and the remorse of the team of scientists who developed the atomic bomb have in common? Conscience. That special gift God gave to all of us.

George Washington’s 282nd birthday comes up on Saturday. He gave us some advice about conscience:

Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

flame

The Three Nonagenarians

3 ladies drinking - woodcut

Three 92-year-old women walk into a bar – an artist, a nun, and a state legislator. The bartender asks what he can get them. The artist wants a cup of herbal tea; the nun wants half a glass of milk; and the legislator asks for one glass of red wine – specifically, Menage a Trois.

I don’t really know the rest of the story yet. These are the three women we are caring for right now at Country Comforts Assisted Living – and we’re all having a wonderful time learning to share our lives with each other. The experience is teaching me that God really does have a sense of humor.

colored pencils

The artist spends hours every day creating beautiful pictures with her colored pencils. She grew up on a farm in northern Wisconsin and cherishes her rural background, even though she lived most of her adult life in Milwaukee. I’ve written about her in this blog before. Her most dominant personality trait is being thankful for everything.

praying-rosary

The “nun” really isn’t a nun. She’s a very devout Catholic who reminds me of my stereotype of a sweet, elderly nun. She spends much of her day reading, praying, and listening to sacred music. She is also very appreciative of any kindness shown to her, and she doesn’t want to be a bother to anyone.

wisconsin_state_capitol_statues

The legislator is a well-read, politically active, former state assembly person. She is meticulous in her appearance, and expects people to treat her with the respect she deserves. She cares about what’s going on in the world, and reads extensively to keep herself well-informed. She reads two daily newspapers, a weekly paper, and several magazines. She also watches the news on TV.

All three women are widows who have lived alone for many years. For a variety of reasons, they can no longer live on their own, which is why the three of them and Mim and I have all become friends and companions.

The 92-year-olds make a most unlikely three-some. I’m sure there was some chuckling among the angels up in heaven when God decided to put these three women together in the same household when they were in their nineties. Despite their differences, they enjoy each other’s company. I’m feeling the urge to write a mystery novel about “The Three Nonagenarians.” The basic storyline would be that Mim and I take Abbey for a quick walk, but something happens to us and we don’t come back. The three women figure out how to live together without us as they solve the mystery of what happened to us and manage to get us back. I’ve never written a novel before, so I don’t know if this will ever happen. But it’s fun to think about.

It’s also fun to imagine what God must be thinking in bringing the five of us together – “The Three Nonagenarians” plus Mim and me. It’s delightful. The five of us sharing this stage in our lives is a continuing source of unexpected JOY, a special treat for the year when my “perfect word” is JOY.

JOY candles

My Thoughts on Last Weekend’s Big Event

Not the Super Bowl – Church!

Humility SandLast week, as I was planning music for church, I read the lectionary readings for Sunday, as I usually do. I was happy to see that two of the three readings were among my favorites.

The Old Testament reading was Micah 6:1-8, which ends with the well-known verse:

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8 NRSV)

The Gospel reading was Matthew 5:1-12, a passage commonly referred to as “The Beatitudes.”

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Matthew 5:3-12 NRSV)

Sheet Music 2 - Theyll Know We Are ChristiansAfter I read the Scriptures, I thought about what music might prompt people to reflect on living the kind of life God wants us to live. Two songs came to mind: Lord, I Want to Be a Christian, and They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love. Fortunately, I remembered a couple arrangements of those songs that would make a good prelude and postlude. All I had to do was find the music. I found both pieces within an hour, and was all set for the service – after a little practicing.

Last weekend I was scheduled to play for the Saturday evening service at Messiah. (We have three services – 5 pm Saturday, 8:15 am Sunday, and 10:30 am Sunday.) The service was so good, particularly Pastor Jeff’s sermon, that I went on the Internet to the church’s website Sunday morning to watch the 8:15 service as it was streamed live (messiahchurch.com/streaming/).

emptying ocean 9The most vivid image that’s still in my mind from Pastor Jeff’s sermon is a story he told about St. Augustine. The 4th century priest was walking along the shore of the ocean, deep in thought, pondering what God really is like. He saw a little boy who had dug a hole in the sand and was running back and forth to the water’s edge, pouring bucket after bucket of water from the ocean into the hole. Augustine asked him what he was doing. The little boy replied, “I am trying to empty the ocean into this hole.”

Augustine said, “But that’s impossible.”

The little boy responded, “No more impossible than your being able to understand the wonders of God.” Then the little boy disappeared.

The point Pastor Jeff was trying to make by retelling this legend is that we need to be humble. Humility is a virtue that underlies all the Bible readings of last weekend’s service. And it’s a virtue that is undervalued and quite scarce in our society. “To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” is what the Old Testament prophet Micah said God wants us to do.

The gift I received from participating in worship last weekend was this image. I can picture myself trying to empty the ocean with a little plastic bucket, and I’ll be reminded – that’s how little I really understand the grand scheme of life on earth and how each of us fits in with God’s plan.

I guess there’s good reason I should be humble.

emptying ocean 10