Archive | April 2016

Another Piece in God’s Puzzle

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Copan Ruinas, Copan, Honduras – where Casita Copan Children’s Home is located.

A couple weeks ago I received an email from Karina Sibrian Zepeda. She’s the new Director of Development for Casita Copan in Honduras. The subject of her email was “Why do you support Dulce Maria and Leydi?” This is part of her email:

My name is Karina and I am the new Director of Development for Casita Copan. I hope this email finds you well! First, I want to thank you for sponsoring Dulce Maria and Leydi. Dulce Maria is very mild-mannered and a bit shy, but will never deny a smile! Leydi is a very hard worker and likes to keep busy. They are both so lucky to have you as a sponsor;  you are ensuring them with the consistency and support they need to grow. 

This spring, our goal is to get sponsors for all the Casita Copan children, and what better way to persuade new sponsors to sign up than by showing them the benefits of sponsorship from our current sponsors, like yourself? This is why I am writing today to ask: what is your favorite part about sponsoring Dulce Maria and Leydi? 

I took a few days to think about her request before responding to it. I’ll show you my response at the end of this blog post. But first, let me provide a little background – both about myself and about Casita Copan.

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Mom and Dad in their retirement years. Here they’re watching two grandchildren compete in a high school cross country meet.

I grew up in a family where the biggest disagreement between my parents was over how much money they should donate to missions. My mom was much more generous than my dad. They eventually worked out their differences when they retired and had separate checking accounts. They each had their own social security checks deposited in their own checking account, and they agreed who would pay which bills. What was left over they could each use as they pleased. In 1986, when my mom died, one of my jobs was to write to each of the missions and non-profit causes she regularly supported to let them know her monthly support of $5 or $10 would end. I sent over a dozen letters. The one letter I couldn’t send was to World Vision. Instead I wrote them a different letter – to change the sponsorship of a little girl in India from my mom to me. Mim and I continued her support until she became an adult.

A few years ago, Liz, the daughter of one of our assisted living residents, told us about Ellen, a woman in Honduras who was raising money to give Christmas baskets of food and clothing to poor families in rural Honduras. Liz knew Ellen personally, and she told us how much Ellen was able to put into a basket for a mere $25. We sent a donation of $100 to Ellen to cover the cost of four baskets. Through email, we still hear from Ellen occasionally, and we continue to donate Christmas baskets every year. It was through Ellen (another piece in God’s puzzle – to continue the metaphor I used in this blog a couple weeks ago) that we learned about Casita Copan.

Ellen emailed people who had provided money for gift baskets to tell them about Emily, a teacher she knew in a rural area of Honduras who wanted to help poor children in her community have a more stable childhood. Emily founded Casita Copan Children’s Home. This is Casita Copan’s Mission and Vision:

Our mission is to reduce child abandonment by nurturing orphaned and vulnerable children and supporting single mothers.

Our vision is to break the cycle of child abandonment by providing essential childcare services to working families whose economic situation puts their children at risk of abandonment and creating real homes for orphaned and abandoned children. We believe that all children deserve to grow up in caring, nurturing environments where they are supported and empowered to achieve their dreams.

In 2012, Emily started a daycare program for children so that single mothers could drop off their children on their way to work, and their children would be well taken care of during the day while their mothers were at work. The organization adopted a sponsorship model to raise ongoing funds to support the program.

When you choose to become a sponsor, you guarantee that a special child in Honduras will grow up with the nutrition, education, medical care, emotional support, and love that they need to achieve their dreams for a better future.

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Dulce Maria – the little second-grader Mim and I sponsor

That’s where Mim and I came into the picture. After reading Ellen’s email, we found out more about Casita Copan, and we decided to become a sponsor. Dulce Maria is the little 5-year-old girl – now 7 – that we are sponsoring.

A couple years later, a nearby orphanage was forced by the government to close because of providing inadequate care for their children. Casita Copan agreed to take in all 13 children from the orphanage. They have set up three “casitas” – individual homes where 4 or 5 children and a foster mother live. They have created a much more home-like model than an institutional orphanage, and the results have been amazing. These children know they have become part of a real family. (At the time these casitas were being furnished Mim and I had another practical opportunity to provide something useful – the funds to buy a refrigerator for the kitchen of one of the homes.)

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Leydi – eager to start high school

Several months ago we learned through an email newsletter from Casita Copan that another need they would like to address is that some of their older children are not able to go to high school because their families cannot afford it. They wanted to set up an internship and scholarship program for these children. Casita Copan was seeking sponsors to provide scholarships. The young people awarded the scholarships would make a commitment to go to high school, keep up their grades, and work at Casita Copan after school in an internship program where they would learn practical job skills. Mim and I decided to sponsor one scholarship, and that’s where we were matched up with Leydi, a delightful, smart, and hard-working young woman.

Mim and I are quite excited about being a part of Casita Copan. You can learn more about the organization on their website https://www.casitacopan.org/mission-vision/.

 

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Emily, the founder of Casita Copan, is in the back row, second from left.

This is how I responded to Karina’s email.

Poverty. Suffering. Injustice. These problems are all around us. Is there anything at all that we can do to help solve these universal problems? The problems seem so daunting.

Through Casita Copan, Mim and I have found a way that we can help a couple children live a better life. Nothing can make us happier than that.

We’re so thankful that Casita Copan matched us up a couple years ago with Dulce Maria, a little girl who is now seven years old. We enjoy occasionally receiving letters and pictures from her.

A few months ago Casita Copan matched us up with another girl, Leydi, and invited us to provide a full scholarship for her so that she can go to high school. We’re delighted to be able to sponsor her to allow her the opportunity to pursue further education and to continue to develop her God-given talents.

There will always be poverty, suffering, and injustice in the world. But Casita Copan has found a way to apply the meager resources Mim and I can provide to help two little girls have a better life. That’s amazing. We’re so thankful for what Casita Copan can do.

Marian Korth & Mim Jacobson

If you want to be a piece of this part of God’s puzzle, check out www.CasitaCopan.org for more information. Or, feel free to contact me directly. I’ll be happy to tell you more about “the joy of being a piece of the puzzle.”

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A thank you note we received from Dulce after we sent a little extra money to Emily to buy her a birthday present last year.

I Planned and God Laughed

Marian at Messiah organ 5Thursday was just one of those days. I usually try to go to church to practice the organ for a couple hours about 9:00 every Thursday morning. Last Thursday I was running behind schedule because of being away at Christmas Mountain for a 3-day getaway earlier in the week, and I didn’t have any music picked out to play for the Saturday and Sunday services yet. I had tried to pick out the music Wednesday evening, but I was just too tired.

I always read the scriptures for the service and try to select a prelude, postlude, and any special music that relates to the theme of the service. Early Thursday morning I tried to think of appropriate music, but nothing came to mind. As I paged through several music books for ideas, I realized I’d be pretty late for my church practice time. I called Annette at church to let her know I was still coming, but would be there late morning or early afternoon. I got there about 11:30, carrying a dozen music books of possible preludes and postludes. The first book I opened up had the perfect prelude. The second book had just the right postlude. Amazing.

As I was practicing, my friend Peggy just happened to drop in the church. I hadn’t seen her in more than four months. What an unexpected, pleasant surprise! We made plans to go out to dinner that evening.

I went back to practicing, and then Clyde, the church director of music who just happens to work nearby, dropped in during his lunch hour. Great! I had some music questions for him about the hymns selected for Sunday. We had a good chance to go over them.

A few minutes later Pastor Jeff came into the sanctuary where I was practicing. We chatted for a few minutes, and then I reached for my phone to check my calendar to see if I would be available to play for a funeral in the next week or so.

As I finished up my practicing I thought about how good it was that I had practiced later than I had planned. God knew that a later practice time would enable me to meet up with all these people!

blueberry6ozAs I was sitting in my car, ready to leave the church parking lot, I called Mim, who was away for her 3-day getaway at Christmas Mountain. (We had split the week between us.) Our youngest resident (only 94) had asked me at breakfast if we could get some more fresh blueberries from Costco. They had been so big, sweet, and juicy, and she loved to have them on her cereal. Mim had been at Costco earlier in the week, and I wanted to ask her if she knew if they still had those special blueberries when she was there. If so, I would go to Costco on my way home. Mim said she thought they had some, but she suggested that I stop at Metro Market, right by church, instead. They have a big produce section and would probably have good blueberries, and they were much closer than Costco.

So that’s what I did. I left the church parking lot and drove to Metro Market. Unfortunately, they didn’t have nice big blueberries, but they did have honey crisp apples. So I bought a bag of them, checked out, and went to the car.

o-IPHONE-6-facebookI reached for my cellphone in my pocket, and it wasn’t there. It must have fallen out of my pocket when I got out of the car, so I searched the ground near the car, but I didn’t find it. I searched the car. No luck. I re-traced my steps through the parking lot into the store and throughout the store. No luck. I went to the information desk in the store to see if anyone had turned in the phone. No one had. A check-out clerk suggested that I take her phone, call my phone to make it ring, and re-trace my steps throughout the store. It must have fallen out of my pocket somewhere. I did what she suggested. No luck. I asked her if I could take her phone out to my car to see if I could hear my phone ringing in the parking lot or in my car. She said sure. Again, no luck. I returned her phone, and left my name and home phone number at the information desk at Metro Market so they could call me if anyone turned in my phone.

Pretty frustrated, but appreciative of the helpfulness of everyone at Metro Market, I left the parking lot and drove to Costco for blueberries. They still had them – and they really are delicious! About an hour had passed, so I decided to stop at Metro Market again before heading home – just in case someone had turned in the phone. No luck.

I arrived home about 4:00. The plan was for me to pick up Peggy at 5:00 and we would drive to a restaurant in Fort for an early dinner. I decided to call the US Cellular store in Fort to ask them to de-activate the phone and download my info onto a new phone for me to pick up the next day. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), my call went to voicemail, and I did not leave a message. Apparently, everyone was with customers. I tried calling the Lake Mills store. Same result.

I decided to call Peggy and suggest changing our plans. I said, “Let’s go to Lake Mills instead and stop at the US Cellular store first, and then go out to dinner in Lake Mills.” She was game for the change in plans.

I picked her up and we drove to Lake Mills. A US Cellular representative greeted us as we walked through the door of the store. I explained my predicament, and he said, “Let’s try to find your phone first.” I gave him my cell phone number and my Apple password. He keyed that info into his computer, and a green dot showed up on a map on his computer screen. There was my phone. The green dot was just north of Cottage Grove Road and just west of the Interstate. That looked like the location of church. The phone must have fallen out of my pocket in the parking lot of the church just before I drove away.

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I had parked my car in the first handicapped parking space, in front of the smaller window.

Peggy and I abandoned our plan to have dinner in Lake Mills, and drove back to Madison, to church. I looked around the handicapped parking space where I had parked earlier in the day. No phone. The church was locked, but I had a key, so we went inside to see if someone had brought the phone inside. It wasn’t in the gathering space. I checked my mail slot in the office. Not there. Maybe it would be in my music slot by the organ. As I walked toward the organ, I spied it sitting on the piano. That’s where I had put it after Pastor Jeff and I had talked and I had entered the funeral into my calendar in my phone. I was so happy to have my phone in my hands again.

As we were ready to leave the church, I saw an elderly man trying to get into the church, but the doors were locked. I went to see what he wanted, and he asked if this is where the “whittling” was happening. I had heard people downstairs, so I asked him to wait with Peggy while I ran downstairs to see if that was the group. Sure enough, it was a wood carving group meeting. I went back upstairs, and showed him to the elevator so that he could go downstairs and join the “whittlers.”

I guess God needed someone to be near the main entrance of the church about that time to welcome this elderly stranger. I’m not quite sure why God chose Peggy and me to be the ones to welcome him, but I’m glad we were at the right place at the right time.

Prius VAs I was thinking back over the day, one of the most amazing things is that I did not consider at all the possibility that I might have left my phone in church. I knew I had my phone with me when I left the church because I sat in my car and called Mim to ask about blueberries before I left the church parking lot. My fancy new Toyota Prius V has the feature that my phone automatically connects with the car when I step into the car if my phone is with me. I make and receive phone calls through buttons on the dash and steering wheel. Apparently, there was a straight shot where I left my phone on the piano in church, through the church window, through my windshield, and to the phone interface of the car. And the signal between the phone and the car interface was strong enough to connect.

I’m sure God had a good laugh all day long about the intersections of my plans and God’s plans. When God finally let Peggy and me in on the joke, we laughed, too, as we dined on a great dinner at Angelo’s Italian restaurant on Monona Drive, not far from church.

My day certainly didn’t go according to my plans. God’s plans were much better – especially the way they ended!

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Angelo’s – a great place to end our day!

The Joy of Being a Piece of the Puzzle

iStock_000017949838XSmallI’m drafting this blog post on Thursday morning. I plan to post it on Tuesday, my usual day for posting to WhisperingWindsBlog.com. I’m writing this post so early because I plan to spend a few days at our Christmas Mountain timeshare, and I want to spend my time reading, walking, and putting together a picture puzzle, not writing. I want to simply relax.

For that past 14 years that Mim and I have been doing assisted living in our home, most of our vacations have been taken separately, so that one of us is almost always at home to be able to care for our residents. We’ve learned that the most enjoyable way for us to take separate vacations is to go to a nearby timeshare, splitting the week between us. This time, I’ll go to Christmas Mountain Sunday afternoon. Mim will meet me for lunch on Wednesday and then I’ll go home, and she’ll stay at Christmas Mountain till Saturday morning.

Putting together a picture puzzle is something that relaxes me, and I often do one at Christmas Mountain. As a child, putting together a puzzle was an activity I often did with my grandma. She always had a card table set up in her living room with a puzzle in progress. We spent many hours together enjoying each other’s company as we worked on this shared task.

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Grandma and me in her living room, playing with her cat. I don’t have a picture of us working on a puzzle.

As I was thinking about which picture puzzle to take with me to Christmas Mountain this time, my mind wandered to an email I received a couple weeks ago from Tracy, a friend from church. Although she didn’t use these exact words, she marveled at how we are all pieces of a big puzzle that God is putting together. We may not know exactly how we fit into the big picture, but God does. Let me provide the background of our email correspondence.

For the past several years, our church (Messiah Lutheran Church in Madison, WI) has published a booklet of Lent Devotionals – 47 one-page reflections, each written by a member of Messiah. Catherine Puisto, Coordinator of Children’s and Family Ministry, has led this annual project, and has done an amazing job with it. Middle schoolers, teenagers, and adults all contribute their writings. Mim and I look forward to getting the booklet each year, and we usually pick up a few extra copies to share with some of our friends.

IMG_0929The devotional for Maundy Thursday, March 24, was written by Tracy Frank. The verse she was assigned to reflect on was Mark 14:34. “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’”

I’ve read the story many times about Jesus going into the garden to pray just before his arrest and crucifixion, and how he asked his disciples to stay awake with him during this agonizing time of trial, and how they fell asleep. But, I’d never thought about the event quite the way Tracy wrote about it. Here’s part of her reflection:

Who is grieving? Are we awake?

In the story of the life of our Savior, Jesus agonizes over His coming death with deep grief and sorrow. He calls on his friends to stay with him and keep awake for he knows what is coming. The disciples, not understanding the depth of his sorrow, fall asleep and cannot be trusted to be there for him. Can you and I be trusted to keep awake for Jesus?

Everyone around us has a story and many people have stories of deep, deep grief. I can’t imagine the grief held by a woman whose 12 year old son was shot dead by police while playing with a toy gun in a park, or the grief of parents running with their children from their home country because of war, or the grief of a mother whose newborn child has a disease with a diagnosis of only months of life. We live among this kind of pain yet sometimes we don’t respond to the calls of God to live fully awake. …

As Christians we are to trust that God can transfigure grief into joy and we are called to offer grace and compassion to those in pain. …

Maundy Thursday, the day I read this reflection, was a day I was scheduled to play the piano for the women’s worship service in the Dane County Jail. During the time of testimony when we go around the circle and share what’s on our mind loosely related to the Scripture we have just read, I shared Tracy’s reflection – that God has asked each of us to be on the watch for others who are grieving or struggling through difficult circumstances so that we can support them in their time of need.

One of the inmates seemed to be particularly teary that day, and everyone seemed very attuned to her, as well as to what I was saying. I later found out from the chaplain that the teary woman had just found out the day before that her brother had been killed, and she was in the depths of grieving that loss. The women sitting in our worship circle could easily identify with being asked by Jesus to sit together in support of this woman who was grieving.

The next day I emailed Tracy to tell her how her reflection had been used. She responded with, “Thank you for sharing Marian. Could have never guessed when I wrote it that it would be shared in this way. Thankful that God used the thoughts from my heart to connect to women at the Dane County Jail through your words and sharing. Humbled!”

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Pieces of God’s puzzle. That’s what came into my mind as I thought about picture puzzles today. We may not have a clue about how we fit into someone else’s life story, but God knows just how we all fit into the big picture.

Yes. I agree with Tracy. It’s very humbling. And sometimes a source of great joy. I’m glad to be a piece of the same puzzle as Tracy, and Catherine, and Chaplain Julia, and Mim, and my grandma, and you, and everyone else who has touched my life…

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“Good enough for who it’s for”

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Carl Korth

Last Saturday would have been my dad’s 112th birthday. He was born April 2, 1904, and died at home on June 19, 1991, at the age of 87. “Good enough for who it’s for” was one of his favorite expressions. He used to say it jokingly when he gave a gift to someone, or when he did something kind for someone. For example, early in my years of living in Chicago, Mim and I moved into a new, larger apartment. One of the bathrooms didn’t have a storage cabinet for towels. I asked my dad to build one for us. I gave him the dimensions that would conveniently hold several folded towels and a six-pack of toilet paper, and that would fit in the space available in the bathroom. He basically built me a big box out of plywood, put a shelf in the middle, mounted two doors on the front, and painted it white. It wasn’t very elegant, but it was exactly what we wanted. When I thanked him for it, he responded with “Well, I guess it’s good enough for who it’s for.” Said with a grin, the implication was that I wasn’t good enough to deserve anything better than that humble cabinet.

One of Dad’s favorite things to talk about during his later years in life was all the changes he’d seen in his lifetime. He described how his life started out for him on the farm in Lake Mills. He talked about walking three miles with his brothers and sisters and neighbor kids to the one-room brick schoolhouse down the road. (The building still stands today.) He talked about hitching up the team of horses to work the fields, as well as to pull the sleigh over the snow-covered hillsides. Then he talked about changes in transportation – from coaxing the horse to pull the buggy, to crank-starting his first automobile, to zooming along today’s interstates, and watching planes fly overhead. His next topic often was changes in farming technology – draft horses, to the old “F-20” tractor, to his bright red “H” classic workhorse of a tractor, and the huge new tractors sported by some of the young farmers today – those with air conditioned cabs. He would hardly call that farming. Then he talked about the changes the telephone brought about. He was clearly in awe of the changes in everyday life that he’d seen during his lifetime.

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The farm on Rock Lake in Lake Mills where my dad grew up. The farm is now a county park – “Korth Park.” Much of the land is being restored to natural prairie. Walking trails meander along the lake shore and through the prairie.

As I think back about the life he lived, I think of the personal and social changes he saw as well as the technological changes he lived through. He was born Carl Robert Korth, on a small farm in rural Lake Mills, Wisconsin. The farm was next to Rock Lake – a good source of fish to supplement their meals, when they had time to fish. Carl was the fourth oldest of ten children, the second oldest boy. When he reached the age of 12, he had to drop out of school to go to rural Cambridge, about 10 miles away, to work on a farm as a hired hand. His meager earnings were needed to help support the family.

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My dad’s confirmation picture

Occasionally, Dad talked about those years of being a teen-aged hired man. He stayed at the farm in Cambridge all week long. Sometimes he was able to go home on weekends. He had a room in the farmhouse where he slept. He was given meals in the kitchen – after the family was done eating. He didn’t have particularly fond memories of those years. He was a German-American farm boy working for a Norwegian-American farm family, and there were cultural differences and biases. Dad’s story-telling when he was in his 80s revealed that he had felt somewhat looked down upon for being just a poor hired hand, and being a German-American one made it even worse in the eyes of Norwegian Americans.

His skill as a farm laborer was a big help to his family in Lake Mills by enabling him to help support them. Unfortunately, his deepest desire was to be a carpenter. But that would never happen. He knew how to farm, and farming would be his livelihood for the rest of his life.

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Mom and Dad’s wedding picture – 1936

The best part of working as a hired hand in a Norwegian-American community is that’s where he met his future wife – Elsie Kenseth. She belonged to the same church as the farm family Carl worked for. The young people of the church had a very active youth group, and Carl was allowed to participate in some of their activities – like ice skating parties, baseball games, and picnics. When in their twenties, Carl and Elsie married, and they took over the operation and eventual ownership of Elsie’s family farm.

Carl also joined Elsie’s church, the church whose claim to fame was “The oldest Scandinavian Methodist Church in the World.” During the time Carl and Elsie were active members of the church, the congregation was very proud of it’s Norwegian heritage. Carl was “welcomed” into the church as Elsie’s husband, but he was never asked to be an usher or have any other role with responsibility within the church. He could attend services and potlucks, but he was never part of the “inner circle.” Life in the church for Carl wasn’t all that different from life as a German-American hired hand on a Norwegian-American family farm.

When I look back at how my dad was treated as a cultural outsider throughout much of his adult life, I think about his favorite joking expression – “good enough for who it’s for” – from a slightly different perspective. I’m glad he was able to approach his circumstances with humor rather than bitterness.

Forty years later, when Carl retired – sold his last cows and butchered his last chickens – he turned the chicken house into his carpentry shop. That’s where he made the white cabinet for our bathroom in Chicago. He also made lots of magazine racks, knife holders, boot jacks, book shelves, and small windmill-style lawn ornaments. He also helped my brother Danny (who had become a carpenter) build modest ranch-style houses in Cambridge throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s. In his retirement years, he finally was able to do what he had wanted to do all his life.

Last weekend, Pastor Jeff’s sermon was about kindness, about how being kind is not just saying the right words, like “I’ll pray for you in your difficult circumstances.” Kindness is asking the question, “How can I help you?” For my dad, kindness would have been asking him, “How can I help you feel more welcome?” Just giving him a job as a hired hand and allowing him to attend church services wasn’t really enough. That wasn’t “good enough for who it’s for.”

Happy birthday, Dad. I wrote this blog for you. Hope it’s “good enough for who it’s for.”

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Dad and me sharing a joke and some coffee in our dining room in Chicago.