Archive | May 2015

I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover

A broken tennis ball was the only toy in the dog pen.

A broken tennis ball was the only toy in the dog pen.

One day last week Mim and I walked Floey to the farmhouse, about a mile round trip. One of the 93-year-olds we care for lives there, and Mim needed to see her. Floey and I went along for the walk.

As we were walking across the lawn, my brother’s dog Lucy came running over to greet us. While Mim went into the house, Floey, Lucy, and I walked over to the dog pen behind the garage so that I could take the leash off Floey and the dogs could play. I found a broken tennis ball in the pen and threw it for them to catch a few times. The ball didn’t bounce, so the game got old pretty quick. The dogs seemed content to just chase each other. As I was trying to decide whether to go into the house or stay in the dog pen, I looked down – and there was a four-leaf clover staring up at me.

I used to look for four-leaf clovers on lazy summer afternoons when I was a kid, and occasionally I’d find one, but not very often. I couldn’t believe that one was staring up at me without me spending at least 15 minutes looking for it. I bent down to be sure I was seeing it right. Sure enough, it was a perfect four-leaf clover, and I picked it. I decided it must be my lucky day!

The four-leaf clover from the dog pen

The four-leaf clover from the dog pen

When Mim came out of the house, I showed it to her, and we talked for a while about how hard we used to look for them when we were kids. We walked home, and I showed my lucky treasure to 94-year-old Anna. She laughed and told me stories about how she used to look for four-leaf clovers when she was a kid. Then I showed Carolyn, our 93-year-old resident, and she had the same reaction. That one four-leaf clover that stared up at me in the dog pen had just made four people happy. We were all laughing and remembering our own days of looking for these symbols of good luck.

I decided to google “four-leaf clover” to learn something about why they are considered lucky.

  • kids w 4 leaf cloversThe tradition of searching lawns for four-leaf clovers is said to have started in the Middle Ages. Children believed that if they carried a four-leaf clover with them, they could see fairies. So first they searched the lawn to find a four-leaf clover, and then they continued searching to find a fairy.
  • One legend is that Eve carried a four-leaf clover with her when she left the Garden of Eden. If that’s true, then anyone who finds a four-leaf clover has found a bit of Paradise. I like that legend.
  • In early Ireland, the Druids believed they could see evil spirits coming when they carried a Shamrock (three-leaf clover). And, if they could see the evil spirits coming, they could get away fast enough to be safe. Better yet, if they carried a four-leaf clover, they would have magical protection from evil spirits.
  • St. Patrick used the Shamrock, a three-leaf clover, to explain the Holy Trinity – one leaf each for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Later Christians added that the fourth leaf symbolizes the Grace of God.
  • Another explanation of the symbolism of the clover is that the four leaves represent faith, hope, love, and luck.
  • Scientists have calculated the odds of finding a four-leaf clover at 10,000 to 1.

So, was I lucky that day I found the four-leaf clover without even trying?

You bet! That one little clover brought back happy childhood memories to four people. And I bet, even a few more people will be thinking today about the time they found their first four-leaf clover. They might even start singing the novelty song written by Mort Dixon and Harry M. Woods in 1927:

4 leaf clover sheet music 1927I’m looking over a four leaf clover
that I overlooked before
One leaf is sunshine, the second is rain
Third is the roses that grow in the lane

No need explaining
The one remaining is somebody I adore
I’m looking over a four leaf clover
that I overlooked before…

I wish you the best of luck in finding your next four-leaf clover! Or, in simply remembering how happy you were the last time you found a four-leaf clover.

Ahhh – the laziest and happiest joys of summertime.

Let the season begin!

Lucy and Floey discussing the rules of their game when they were playing in The Carpentry Shop a few weeks ago.

Lucy and Floey loudly discussed the rules of their game when they played in The Carpentry Shop a few weeks ago. They know they’re lucky to have each other as cousins – regardless of whether or not there are four-leaf clovers in their playpen.

Frustrated?

Frustrated bodyHave you ever had one of those really frustrating days? Nothing is going your way. The clock radio was full of static when it woke you up in the morning. You were out of milk for breakfast.  The traffic was heavy and slow, and someone just cut you off. You can feel the frustration growing in you and you need a release.

Prayer BookOne morning last week I came across a prayer for that kind of day. I haven’t said much about the prayer book that’s part of my daily devotional reading for this year, My Personal Daily Prayer Book by Christine A. Dallman and Margaret Anne Huffman (©2003 Publications International, Ltd., Lincolnwood, IL). Each day’s page begins with a Bible verse and then provides a prayer. Sometimes the prayer is a quotation. Sometimes it’s written by the authors of this prayer book. Usually the prayer is very informal, very personal.

Here is the page from May 12, last Tuesday:

They refused to obey… they stiffened their necks…. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and you did not forsake them.  [Nehemiah 9:17]

The people around me are driving me nuts, God. Traffic was backed up on the tollway, the checkout counters were flooded with carts and strange characters, and the sidewalks were crowded and crunched. My mood overtook my manners today, and I stubbornly refused to say “after you,” “excuse me,” and “please” until I heard a three-year-old in the parking lot say politely to her mother, “Thank you.” With an apology on my lips, help me climb out of this rut of irritation and shame and make amends. Help me learn from my mistakes and do better for the rest of this day.  

frustrationThe next day, May 13, the authors were still talking about having a bad day. The Bible passage was:

Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. [Habakuk 3:17-18]

The prayer was:

Murphy’s law sometimes seems to characterize my life, God, but I don’t want to have a defeatist attitude. You allow difficulties to come my way to refine my character. Help me see setbacks as challenges and not as curses. Help me approach problems as opportunities to learn and grow and not as insurmountable walls. Teach me to have a tenacity of faith that can find a reason to be happy, even in adversity. Amen.

Frustration signSome days an extra comment or quotation follows the prayer. On May 13, a short poem (almost a limerick, except the first line doesn’t rhyme) ended the page:

‘Tis easy enough to be pleasant,
When life flows along like a song;
     But the man worth while
     is the one who will smile
When everything goes dead wrong.
    [Ella Wheeler Cox, “Worth While”]

I smiled when I read that. The inevitable experience of having a bad day on occasion doesn’t mean I can’t smile and make the best of the situation. Despite everything that seems to be happening around me, I know God still loves me, and that should help lighten my mood.

Fortunately, I’ve been having lots of good days lately, and very few bad days. However, I’m going to try hard to remember the pattern of the prayers (and the near-limerick) from May 12 and 13, and to pray a similar prayer the next time my day starts with static on the clock radio, no milk for my cereal, and way too many rude people crossing my path.

Nothing ever frustrated Megabyte more than the monstrous vacuum cleaner!

Nothing ever frustrated Megabyte, our first dog, more than the vacuum cleaner monster!

My Cohort in Big Adventures

Ellen M Kogstad

Ellen Kogstad – my cohort in big adventures!

In the middle of my 11-day getaway a couple weeks ago, I drove home to Cambridge to have Sunday brunch with Mim and my other cohort in big adventures, Ellen Kogstad. Ellen was in Wisconsin for a wedding, so I jumped at the chance to have a few hours together to catch up on our lives over eggs florentine at a new favorite restaurant in nearby Fort Atkinson.

Mim and I met Ellen 33 years ago, when we lived in Chicago. I was a newly minted MBA, earning a living in the big corporate world high up in the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower). But I was trying to do something more meaningful with my business skills by volunteering on the board of Circle Christian Health Center (CCHC), a medical clinic starting up on the far west side of Chicago, a medically under-served area of the city. At the time, Mim was nursing director of the clinic. One of the three founding physicians of CCHC was Emily Bray who had been my roommate at Wheaton College in the late 1960s.

Ellen had heard about me through my role on the CCHC board, and she wanted to meet me. She had a vision for a new ministry and she was getting her ducks in a row. The problem Ellen wanted to address was the growing number of teen moms who were homeless and were struggling to care for their babies. Ellen had been trying to help them on her own by keeping the trunk of her car filled with diapers and formula. She also hosted drop-in groups of new moms and their babies in her apartment. But she knew she couldn’t do enough alone to seriously address the problems these very young women and their children were facing. To do more she realized she needed to create a non-profit organization broadly focused on addressing all the needs of homeless teen moms and their children. She wanted me to join the board of directors she was trying to form to help create the organization.

New Moms LOGO

That was the first big adventure Ellen and I took on together, along with several other people who were inspired by Ellen’s vision. I served as treasurer on the board for a few years and tried to keep the finances of the struggling new ministry somewhat organized. My mom wanted to help, too. She crocheted lots of baby afghans to help keep the babies warm. (I’ll admit I didn’t pass all the afghans on to New Moms. I kept out enough to be sure her grandchildren would have afghans for their own babies.)

My mom kept crocheting baby afghans until just weeks before she died.

My mom kept crocheting baby afghans until just weeks before she died.

Meanwhile, over the past 30 years, New Moms has grown into an amazing ministry. Last year the organization served over 500 adolescent parents and children – a whole lot more than Ellen could possibly help out of the trunk of her car! (To learn more about this amazing organization, explore their website: http://newmomsinc.org/.)

New Moms Building

The “Transformation Center” – the new home of New Moms, Inc. provides housing to 40 homeless adolescent parents and up to 50 children in single-family apartments all located in one well-designed building on the west side of Chicago.

After getting New Moms off to a good start, Ellen went a different direction. She currently is Adjunct Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation at North Park Seminary in Chicago and is a frequent workshop leader. She also has returned to New Moms part time and serves as Director of Spiritual Formation.

Over the years our paths haven’t crossed many times, but in late 2008 we decided to become cohorts again and do another big adventure together. Mim and I had moved to our condo in mid-2007 with the intention of selling our farmhouse. After a year and a half, the house was still sitting empty, and I knew that couldn’t be God’s plan for this beautiful resource – to be unused. Mim and I sent out our annual Christmas letter and solicited ideas about what to do with our farmhouse throughout the economic recession when houses weren’t selling. Ellen called us right away and we scheduled a time for a long telephone conversation on the last day of the year – December 31, 2008.

In that conversation, Ellen shared her vision for our farmhouse – a spiritual retreat center. We talked excitedly for a couple hours, and then scheduled a weekend at the farmhouse to pray and dream and plan together. That was the beginning of Whispering Winds Retreat Haven. I became the primary hands-on person to transform the idea into a real ministry, with prayers and support from Ellen and Mim. For the next four years Whispering Winds Retreat Haven was a bed-and-breakfast-style retreat center that provided hospitality to hundreds of individuals and small groups. Whispering Winds became “A place to be still and be renewed by the Spirit. A place to relax in the peace and quiet of the country.”

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven

At brunch on Sunday Ellen, Mim, and I had a lot of things to talk about, and we had a wonderful time. No plans for another big adventure together – yet…

Since “Gratitude” is my special word for this year, I’ve been thinking about how grateful I am for people, like Ellen, who have come into my life. Of all the millions of people living in Chicago, what are the odds that Ellen and I would ever meet? Pretty slim. Fortunately, there happened to be one critical intersection on our life pathways. Because I was a new MBA serving on the board of a struggling non-profit medical clinic, Ellen heard about me, and she took the initiative to find me and introduce herself. I wonder who told her about me – so I can thank that person. But since I don’t know who that person is – I guess I can thank the one who is ultimately responsible for all grand adventures – God.

Dove in sky - left

My Mom – from her Boss’ Perspective

Elsie at PresHouse

Mom at work at Pres House in the 1960s.

I guess it’s natural to think about the special people in my life from strictly my own perspective. Obviously, that’s how I know them. I’ve written about my mom several times in this blog. Long-time readers of my blog know what she was like – at least from my perspective.

A couple months ago, I came across something that enabled me to see my mom from someone else’s perspective. When Mim was keeping a low profile, trying to recover from the flu, she decided to page through some old family scrapbooks. She came across a 1972 newsletter from the Presbyterian Student Center (Pres House) at the University of Wisconsin. Here’s the article that caught her attention:

Pres House 1

Pres House – the Presbyterian Student Center at UW Madison – where Mom worked during most of my growing up years.

Elsie Korth Retires June 30

Mrs. Elsie Korth, secretary and bookkeeper and receptionist at Pres House for 16 years, will be retiring June 30, 1972. I doubt that we will see the likes of her again. Surely the only secretary in existence who complains to her bosses when she has nothing to do; she has kept me, Jim Jondrow, and the entire present MCM staff hopping to find work. So excellent and efficient is her work, that we are all thoroughly spoiled!

By the fact that so much of the news in this newsletter has come addressed to Elsie, we can see ample evidence of another kind of service to us which Elsie has performed over the years. As an ever-listening and concerned friend of so many Pres House people, she provided a part of our student ministry that will not be forgotten. A member of the oldest Scandinavian Methodist Church in the world in Cambridge, Wisconsin, she certainly represented Willerup Methodist Church to this campus. And who can forget those delicious cookies and treats which Elsie delighted in surprising us with, or the terse commentary on the events and times permeating our ministry over these years. Oh, Elsie, we will miss you indeed.

The Pres House board surprised Elsie with a picture, in green, of U.S. Grant, lots of praise, and a sad farewell. When the staff asked to take her and her husband Carl out to dinner as a going away occasion, she asked instead if we could attend a Sunday afternoon buffet on their farm with our families. True to Elsie! We only ask, Pres House friends, that with Elsie’s departure you also continue to write to us at Pres House! You may continue to write to Elsie at: R. 2, Cambridge, Wisconsin 53523.

I smiled and got a little teary when I read that tribute to my mom. I remembered that fourteen and a half years later she was still receiving Christmas cards from some of those former university students and co-workers. I went through the Christmas cards sent to Mom in 1986 to let the senders know that she had died in October that year. Some of them wrote back to me, explaining how much they had appreciated knowing her.

As I was thinking about the Pres House newsletter article, I remembered the summer Mom taught me her work standards very clearly. It was the summer before I started my junior year in high school. I was asked to take over the job of preparing the Sunday bulletins for Willerup Methodist Church. The church did not have a secretary back then.

mimeograph machineThe process in those days (the 1960s) was:

  • Using notes provided by the pastor, type the bulletin on a mimeograph stencil.
  • Ink the mimeograph machine by squeezing thick black ink from a big toothpaste-like tube onto the roller drum and turning the crank of the mimeograph machine a few times to spread the globs of ink evenly.
  • Literally crank out about 150 bulletins on special bulletin paper stock.
  • Wait for the ink to dry and then fold the bulletins in half.

The pastor showed me how to type the stencils and work the mimeograph machine the first Saturday I did the bulletin. I thought the bulletins looked a little messy, but I was proud that I had learned how to do it. My mom was horrified at the quality. I think that’s the only time she was really embarrassed to be my mother. Well, maybe there were other times, but I never knew about them. This time there was no doubt. She was mortified when the pastor announced to the congregation that I had prepared the bulletin and had agreed to do them for the next couple years. After that first bulletin, Mom realized that if she wanted me to produce bulletins that met her standards, she’d have to teach me herself. So she did.

She taught me to start the process by typing up a draft of the bulletin from the pastor’s notes. (This was in the days of manual typewriters.) Then I would carefully proofread it, and if necessary, retype the draft. The next step was right justification. Wherever there was text that was more than one line long, such as a prayer, I had to figure out the best places to insert an extra space to ensure an even right margin. Mom taught me the best places – after periods and commas, between phrases, and around long words – in that order. I penciled in a mark on the draft for each place an extra space was needed.

Then I was ready to type the stencil, which was a blue, heavily waxed sheet. I had to type exactly as indicated on the marked-up draft. If I made a typo, I used a little bottle of liquid wax to brush over the typo, wait for the wax to dry, and then retype the word. If the wax was too thick or if the typo introduced spacing issues, I’d have to start a new stencil from scratch.

Our bulletins had pretty pictures on the covers, and I tried to fit all the information on the inside and back cover. Otherwise I had to do even more stencils for an insert.

Our bulletins had a pretty picture on the front cover and a story on the back cover. I tried to fit all the worship and announcement information on the inside. Otherwise I had to do even more stencils for an insert.

When I complained to Mom about how tedious the process was, she told me I had it easy. At Pres House the bulletins had three narrow columns to right-justify instead of just two wide columns, and her typewriter had increments, not just spaces, i.e., an “i” was one increment wide, an “m” was three increments, and most other letters were two increments. Try right-justifying that manually! I guess I did have it easy.

Mom also taught me two different methods for folding the bulletins. Either method produced perfectly folded bulletins – no unmatched corners, ever!

After a few weeks I got to be just as picky as Mom, and she was no longer embarrassed to see the bulletins in church on Sunday mornings. I guess I have to thank her for having a high standard for any work I produce to this day.

“So excellent and efficient is her work, that we are all thoroughly spoiled.” I guess that’s how Mom’s boss saw her. I liked reading the Rev. Dr. Jim Jondrow’s perspective of her from 1972. I also liked reading “ever listening and concerned friend … delicious cookies … terse commentary …”

Most of my memories of Mom relate to family times. It was good to read this newsletter, to see Mom from someone else’s perspective, and to be reminded of long-forgotten memories.

Everyone sees life and everything in it from a slightly (or greatly) different perspective. It’s always worthwhile to try to see someone else’s perspective on things, especially things close to us, including ourselves. Henri Nouwen wrote about this in “Friendship in the Twilight Zones of Our Hearts” in his book Bread for the Journey. He said,

There is a twilight zone in our own hearts that we ourselves cannot see. Even when we know quite a lot about ourselves – our gifts and weaknesses, our ambitions and aspirations, our motives and drives – large parts of ourselves remain in the shadow of consciousness. …

Other people, especially those who love us, can often see our twilight zones better than we ourselves can. The way we are seen and understood by others is different from the way we see and understand ourselves. We will never fully know the significance of our presence in the lives of our friends. That’s a grace, a grace that calls us not only to humility but also to a deep trust in those who love us.

Different perspectives. I’m really glad Mim paged through that old scrapbook, and shared with me the treasure she found. Seeing my mom from someone else’s perspective was enlightening and heartwarming. Now I’m more thankful than ever for Mom.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Mom sending fresh-cut flowers from her garden home with me to Chicago.

When I lived in Chicago and drove up to the farm in Cambridge to visit, Mom always sent fresh-cut flowers from her garden home with me. (Along with bags and bags of whatever vegetables were ripening in the garden.)