Archive | January 2016

The Emotional Jackpot

Mom 8th grade graduation

Mom’s 8th grade graduation picture. Mom is at far right.

As I was thinking about what to write in my blog this week, I picked up my mom’s little black book again. This is the little hardcover “Memorandum Book” that Stella Lillesand, my mom’s Sunday School teacher, had given her in 1921, when Mom was 13 years old. Mom had used this book to write down Bible verses as she memorized them starting on October 2, 1921 and ending on August 5, 1923.

Her first entry was “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14) Her last entry was “But thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord.” (I Corinthians 15:57)

I decided to look up any verse she might have memorized the last week in January, this week almost 100 years ago. On January 29, 1922 she wrote, “A friend loveth at all times.” (Proverbs 17:17) When I read that, I thought I’d hit the emotional jackpot. My best friend, Mim, and I have celebrated the week between January 24 and February 1 for the last 27 years.

Moms Memorandum Book - Jan 29 1922

January 29, 1922 – Bottom of left page

The last week in January of 1973 I met Mim at a small group Bible Study in Chicago. I had just accepted a position as an editorial researcher for The World Book Encyclopedia and I needed to find an apartment, move into it, and be ready to start my new job in three days. I was staying with my friend, June, while I looked for an apartment, and I’d gone with June to her church Bible Study.

After the Bible Study, Mim walked across the room to talk with June and to meet me. When Mim found out I was under pressure to find an apartment and move in three days, she invited me to stay with her in her apartment until I found a place of my own – regardless of how long that might take. On February 1 of this year, we will have lived together 43 years. I never did find a place of my own.

M-M Lounging in our first apartment cropped

Mim and me in our first apartment in Chicago – 1973

By the time Mim and I had lived together 16 years our friendship had deepened and our lives had become quite intertwined. When a close friend of ours died without a will, we realized we should have wills and power of attorney documents drawn up for ourselves. We asked our Lutheran pastor if he would be a witness to the signing of our wills. He said he would be happy to do that, but also suggested that we might want to have a Blessing Ceremony for the church to bless our loving relationship and our lifetime commitment to each other. Both Mim and I thought that was a great idea, and on January 24, 1989 our pastor and a few close friends gathered in our home for our Blessing Ceremony.

BC-1 MM Steve

A picture from our Blessing Ceremony – 1989

Just two and a half years ago, on September 15, 2013, we added one more date to our list of anniversaries to celebrate – the day we were legally married.

All three of these dates are very significant to us. Being legally married conveyed the same rights and privileges to us that all other legally married couples have. That’s a huge relief from a practical standpoint. The Blessing Ceremony is when God and the church blessed our commitment to love and cherish each other for the rest of our lives. The day Mim and I met each other and Mim offered me her friendship, along with a place to stay, marked the beginning of a loving friendship that was surely a precious gift from God.

M-M Close-up - cropped

Our Wedding Picture – 2013

I think God put a pretty bow on this gift, perhaps a “God-wink,” by letting me discover that the Bible verse my mom memorized the last week in January of 1922 was “A friend loveth at all times.” God gave me the gift of a very special best friend 43 years ago, a friend who loves me at all times, just as God intends for us.

A friend loves at all times - cropped

Thinking again about a very old conversation

Marian - College Graduation Pix

My college graduation picture – 1970

I still think about something we discussed in one of my college classes that really disturbed me at the time. Almost 50 years later, I still think about it when something triggers the thought. It happened again last week. On January 15, the hymn for the day in the daily devotional book, Near to the Heart of God: Meditations on 366 Best-Loved Hymns, was “Search Me, O God.”

Search me, O God, and know my heart today;
Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray.
See if there be some wicked way in me:
Cleanse me from ev’ry sin, and set me free.

That hymn, written by evangelist, army chaplain, and college professor Dr. James Edwin Orr, is based on Psalm 139:23-24:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. [New Revised Standard Version]

The tune is called “Maori.” In 1936 when Dr. Orr was leading some evangelistic services in New Zealand, he heard four young Aborigine women singing a beautiful song entitled “The Song of Farewell.” The first words of the song were, “Now is the hour when we must say good-bye.” He couldn’t get the tune out of his mind. He began singing the words from Psalm 139 to the tune. He wrote the words as he fit them to the melody on the back of an envelope while he stood in line at a post office in New Zealand. Later that year he published the song in his book, All You Need. Over the years the hymn has been identified by two titles, “Cleanse Me” and “Search Me, O God.”

When I was a kid, we sang that hymn frequently at the end of Sunday night services at Willerup Methodist Church in Cambridge. I always liked the hymn. I thought the tune was beautiful, and it set the tone well for the quiet, meditative words. It was one of my favorites of that style of hymn.

What disturbed me in my Music Appreciation class at Wheaton College was that Dr. Cronk cited that hymn as one of the most atrocious examples of pairing overly emotional introspective words with a syrupy sweet secular tune. That was an insult I took personally. It was a direct challenge to the validity of my musical tastes. I liked that hymn. Obviously, I’ve thought about it a lot, even now almost 50 years later.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hazel petting our cat Penny

Another association I have with this hymn, or rather, the tune, is with one of our assisted living residents. Although 95-year-old Hazel was very hard of hearing and nearly blind, she loved to listen to me play the piano. We were still living at the farmhouse when Hazel lived with us, and whenever I sat down at the piano, Hazel would come into the living room to sit down and listen. One day she asked me if I knew “Now is the Hour.” She said it was the most beautiful song she had ever heard. I didn’t recognize the song by the title, so I went to one of my favorite websites, www.MusicNotes.com, searched for the title, and downloaded and printed a piano arrangement of the song. Hazel just loved listening to me play it. I played it often throughout the year that Hazel lived with us. I even played it as part of the pre-service music for her funeral. Whether I’m playing it as a secular song or a meditative hymn, the words that play in my mind are “Search me, O God…”

Reluctantly, I’ll admit that I’m glad Dr. Cronk said what he did about this hymn, even though it both hurt and troubled me at the time. His words have prompted me to think a lot about the meaning of the words of any hymn I play or sing. I also think a lot about the contribution of the music to the mood of the hymn.

There is often a story behind the pairing of text and music for a hymn. Many of the classic old hymns in our hymnals, including many written by Martin Luther and Charles Wesley, are paired with secular tunes of their eras. A hymnal is chock-full of things to think about. (Feel free to browse the hymnal the next time you’re sitting through a sermon that’s a little too long.)

Over the years I’ve learned that the more I understand a hymn, the more I appreciate it. I guess that’s why Music Appreciation was one of the best courses I ever took in college. Besides, the homework was always fun – simply listening to music.

Cleanse Me hymn 2

When and Why I gave up my Gun

 

Mom-Dad on stump

Mom and Dad

It was the summer of 1991. Mim and I were still living in Chicago, but we spent quite a bit of time in Cambridge that summer. It was the year my dad died, and we spent most weekends throughout the summer at the farmhouse, sorting through all my parents’ belongings. My mom had died five years earlier, and my dad had continued to live at the farmhouse. There had been no need to go through things after my mom’s death, so we had to go through everything in 1991.

It was during that summer that Mim and I decided to have my brother remodel the farmhouse into our dream house, and then we would sell our two-flat in Chicago and move to the farm. We had always dreamed of retiring on the farm, but in 1991 we made the decision to move to the farm while we were in the middle of our careers.

The following May the major remodeling project (gutting the house and doubling its size) was completed and we moved into our beautiful “new” century-old farmhouse.

 

 

Original House - 1992

Farmhouse – Before and After

WW NW

Back in the summer of 1991, as we were going through the house, divvying up things among my brother and sister and their kids and us, we came upon my dad’s 22-rifle that he had kept in the closet next to the kitchen door. He didn’t use the gun for hunting. He used it to scare away wild animals from the house – like raccoons and an occasional fox.

My brother said we should keep the rifle for the same reason. We might need it to scare away some pesky wild animals. Shooting the rifle at the sky would do the job.

22-rifle

That seemed like a good idea to me. I remember learning to shoot a 22-rifle when I was a kid and Danny bought his first real 22-rifle. We lined up tin cans on the fireplace at the edge of the lawn and took turns seeing how many we could hit from about 50 feet away. It was fun. Now I could picture Mim and me having a little target practice with tin cans when we were settled into our new home on the farm.

But then Mim overheard us talking and said in no uncertain terms, “We are not having a gun in our house!” One of my nephews was delighted to hear her comment. He immediately offered to take the gun off our hands. So, I gave it to him. It wasn’t worth fighting over.

Mim and I obviously had very different feelings toward guns. I grew up playing cowboys and Indians with Danny and my cousins. We played with toy pistols and rifles all the time. Then we graduated to BB guns and pellet guns, and finally a 22-rifle. I knew you had to be careful with real guns, but I basically viewed them as toys for shooting at targets and potentially tools for scaring off wild animals. (I never had any desire to hunt.)

Danny and Marian shooting with rifles cropped

Danny & Marian protecting their snowman with rifles.

Mim, on the other hand, saw guns as dangerous weapons. She didn’t play with toy guns as a kid. Her primary association with guns came from her job as a nurse in Chicago. She had to try to repair some of the damage done by real guns when she worked in a hospital emergency room. She had such a strong aversion to guns that she actually quit her job as a hospice nurse in Chicago when her employer’s solution to the problem of a nurse needing to go into a rough neighborhood alone in the middle of the night to care for a dying patient was to supply the nurse with an escort who carried a gun.

Obviously, Mim and I had completely different reactions to the prospect of keeping a gun in our farmhouse. Fortunately, we were able to quickly resolve our differences.

So, why can’t our country resolve our differences about gun ownership? I think the basic reason is really very simple. Each side refuses to acknowledge that the other side has some valid reasons behind their feelings and opinions.

7 HabitsOne of the best business books I ever read was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. The major premise behind this book is that the way to be most effective is to really strive to understand the perspective of the person you disagree with. (I’ll admit I read the book about 40 years ago, but that’s what I remember most from it.)

There may be other factors that play into the gun controversy, but if everyone who holds a strong opinion on the matter would really try to understand, not necessarily agree with, but simply understand another perspective on the issue, there might be some hope for a good resolution, a reasonable compromise.

I’m sure that’s why Mim and I could quickly resolve our disagreement over keeping the 22- rifle. I understood how terrifying it would be for Mim to have a gun in the house. And I measured that fear against my need to protect us from wild animals. Also, I was sure I wouldn’t be able to engage Mim in shooting at tin cans even though I had briefly fantasized about it. Giving away the gun was a no-brainer. In reality, over the next 20-plus years, I would have needed the gun only once for protection, and in that case, I got my brother to come over with one of his guns to send the huge menacing snake in the asparagus patch to its final resting place.

I guess the gun controversy isn’t the only ongoing disaster our country is unable to resolve because of our inability to acknowledge the validity of different perspectives on the issues. Immigration. Gay marriage. Abortion. Global weather change. Freedom of religion. And on and on.

We need to learn to listen. And to understand each other. And to respect each other. These are the processes we need to value. Not who can shout the loudest. Or raise the most money to buy the most politicians.

We need to take out the earplugs, soften our voices, and listen. Especially this year, when the tendency will be to do just the opposite.

listen-understand-act

 

Meow?

Floey smiling profileFloey came running up to my desk and stood beside me. “I’m ready, Mom. Let’s get started. I can hardly wait to start blogging about my special word for 2016.” Floey was wagging her tail so hard and fast I was afraid she might knock the landline phone off my desk.

“Okay, Floey. We can get started. First, tell me about how it worked for you to have the word PLAY for your special word throughout 2015.”

“Sure. PLAY was a good word for me for 2015. I didn’t really need to be reminded to play for myself. I’m not even two years old yet, not till January 24th. So, taking time to play comes natural to me. But, you know, most of my human friends are lots older than I am, and they forget to play. So my focus last year was to help everyone else remember to take time to play. It’s been good for all of us.”

“Oh, you are so right about that, Floey. What’s your new word for 2016?”

“I think you’ll be surprised at what I chose.”

“Whether I’m surprised, or not, doesn’t matter. It’s your word, the word that has come into your heart and mind as the truly special word you want to concentrate on this whole upcoming year.”

“Okay, Mom. Here goes. My word for 2016 is MEOW.”

“MEOW? Really? Why did you choose that word, Floey?”

“Well, Mom, as we walk through the neighborhood, we run into a few cats. I’d like to become friends with them, but I don’t know how to communicate with them very well. I try to sniff them in greeting, and they don’t seem to like it. One cat even growls and hisses at me. At best, I sometimes hear a questioning MEOW. I figure that I need to learn how to become friends with cats. Having MEOW as my word for 2016, I’ll be focused on learning how to communicate better with my feline neighbors. I know we can all become friends if we try. My cousin Sadie sent me a picture of her cuddling with Lola, your niece Emily’s cat. I want to become friends with cats, just like Sadie does.”

Lucy and cat

Floey’s cousins Sadie and Lola

“I’m proud of you, Floey. Some dogs and people just decide to not like anyone who is different from themselves. I’m so glad you want to learn to be a friend to someone who is different from you.”

“Good. Glad you approve of my word, even though I don’t need your approval. How about your word, Mom?”

“Well, you remember that my special word for 2015 was GRATITUDE. I wrote about that word a few times last year on the blog. It was an excellent focus for me for the year. Even though 2015 had its ups and downs, there was always something to be grateful for. Having GRATITUDE as my word for 2015 has changed my life. I now have a new habit – thinking of things that I’m grateful for each night as I lie in bed waiting to fall asleep.”

Gratitude Rock

“That sounds like a good thing, Mom. Do you think you will keep on thinking those bedtime thoughts in 2016 when GRATITUDE isn’t your special word for the year.”

“I’m sure of it, Floey. In 2014, my special word was JOY. I was always on the lookout for seeing moments of JOY all around me, and I’m still on the lookout for joyful moments. It’s a habit that’s stuck. I’m sure my new GRATITUDE habit will stick, too.”

“So what’s your new word going to be, Mom?”

“I’ve decided on KINDNESS. This year is going to be a year with an abundance of hate spewed out of lots of mouths. It’s a presidential election year – where it seems to be acceptable to be nasty. In order to offset the excess of hate and nastiness, I’m going to be on special lookout for moments of kindness – both to observe and to do.”

Kindness - colorful flower

Just then Mim came down the stairs into my office. “Your timing is perfect, Mim. Floey and I are working on my blog, and we’re talking about our special words for 2015 and 2016. I remember your special word for 2015 was WAIT. Was that a good word for you last year?”

“It sure was. I keep thinking I’m ready to move on to the next phase of my life – retirement, but for a variety of reasons I can’t move on yet. I have to WAIT until the timing is right. It’s been good for me to WAIT for God’s timing, and to think about WAITING as part of God’s plan for our lives. A time of WAITING is important for learning, for growth, and for other things to be happening. It’s been good to think about the blessings of WAITING over the past year.”

“The phrase ’the blessings of WAITING’ is quite a foreign concept in our culture,” I responded.

 

Waiting-Bird cropped

“It sure is,” Mim replied. “But I’m really glad I chose the word WAIT for 2015. It was a good word to ponder throughout the year while different things happened – like selling the farmhouse. We were ready to sell the farmhouse eight years ago, but the timing wasn’t right. God wanted us to WAIT until this year – and for good reasons:  The farmhouse provided a place for people to spend time alone with God when the farmhouse served as Whispering Winds Retreat Haven. A few years later the farmhouse provided a home for a family needing a place to live for a couple years. And although we had no inkling this would happen, in eight years some friends would be ready to buy the farmhouse and begin a new ministry there. The timing was right for them in 2015. It wasn’t in 2007. Back then we didn’t even know these people. It’s obvious now that there were lots of good reasons for WAITING that we didn’t know anything about eight years ago.”

With a twinkle in her eye, Floey said, “I can’t WAIT any longer. What’s your special word going to be for 2016?”

“My new word is one you may want to think about, too, Floey. It’s PATIENCE. Last year I focused on the blessings of WAITING. In 2016 I’ll focus on my feelings while I wait. I hope to learn to be more PATIENT.”

Patience while waiting cropped

“Okay, Moms. I think we’ve almost finished writing this blog post about our special words for 2016.  I’m going to change from concentrating on PLAY to learning about MEOW. “

I interjected, “And I’m changing my focus from GRATITUDE to KINDNESS.”

And Mim concluded, “And I’m going from WAITING to PATIENCE.”

We all One Perfect Word book covertook a minute to re-read the post, and then I added, “You know, this is my third year of having a special word instead of coming up with any New Year’s resolutions. I’m so glad Debbie Macomber shared the idea in her book, One Perfect Word. It’s the best new practice I’ve picked up in decades! She summarized the practice very well in the first chapter of her book:

When we choose one single word … and spend a year with it, I’ve found that the Lord takes us by the hand and walks us through the year, teaching us about that word, about ourselves, and even more, about God Himself.

“Let’s begin our adventure of living and learning our new words for 2016 – MEOW, PATIENCE, and KINDNESS.”

Floey jumped up at that. “Let’s go looking for cats, Moms. I’m ready!”

Mim replied, “I don’t think there are any cats outside today – it’s too cold and windy. Maybe tomorrow. I think we ALL need to learn a little about PATIENCE this year, not just me.”

And I said, “Let’s be extra KIND to each other today. Let our adventures of 2016 begin!”

Floe-Marian faces 2015