Archive | August 2016

Memories and Hope

A couple weeks ago Mim and I drove to Chicago for the day to attend the visitation for Nita Beran, a good friend from our early years of living in Chicago. The quick trip brought back lots of memories, and prompted me to think about some of the hopes and dreams we had back in those “good old days.”

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Part of the Bible Study group. Mim and I are in the front center. My friend June and her husband Arden are standing on right. (1973)

As many of you know, Mim and I met each other in 1973 at a small group Bible Study. Mim had moved from Minneapolis to Chicago just a few months before, and she was working as a registered nurse at Swedish Covenant Hospital on the northwest side of Chicago. I had just been offered a job as an editorial researcher for The World Book Encyclopedia, and I was staying with a friend for a few days while I looked for an apartment before I moved to Chicago to start my new job. I accompanied my friend to a neighborhood Bible Study one evening, and that’s where I met Mim. When Mim found out I was looking for an apartment, she offered to let me live with her until I could find a place of my own. That was 43 years ago and we’re still living together.

Given that we met in a Bible study, it’s not surprising that we considered it important to go to church. The first church we attended together regularly was Circle Church. The church, founded by David Mains, an Evangelical Free pastor, was very creative, progressive, experimental, and evangelical. The congregation met in the Teamsters Union Hall, southwest of the loop, near the Circle Campus of the University of Illinois. The location is how it picked up the name Circle Church. The congregation was predominantly young, idealistic, college-educated adults with a passion for doing something constructive to improve society, to live the kind of lives God expected them to live.

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Teamsters Union Hall in Chicago – where Circle Church met on Sunday mornings

In 1968, the far west side of Chicago, the Austin neighborhood, had been the scene of extremely violent and destructive race riots. In the early 1970s Austin continued to be one of the poorest, most violent neighborhoods in Chicago. Several young couples from Circle Church decided to move into the Austin neighborhood to provide much needed professional services to the community and to become a stabilizing component in the community. They formed a non-profit organization called Circle Urban Ministries that served as an umbrella for some of the services they hoped to provide.

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Clinic staff in the late 1970s. Nita Beran is sitting on left. Doctors Jon Beran and John Payne are behind her. Dr. Emily Bray is in blue lab coat, 2nd from right.

Three young doctors in the church, who were just completing their residencies in a nearby hospital, and a nurse, Nita Beran, got together to establish a non-profit medical clinic, Circle Christian Health Center (CCHC), where they planned to provide wholistic health care services to the community.

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Dr. Emily Bray – my college roommate

Of the three doctors – Emily Bray, Jon Beran (Nita’s husband), and John Payne, I knew Emily the best. She had been my roommate at Wheaton College. Emily and I graduated from Wheaton in 1970.

Mim and I never joined the group of enthusiastic and dedicated Christians who lived in Austin, but we did eventually become involved in their medical ministry.

When Mim moved to Chicago in 1972, she started her professional nursing career at Swedish Covenant Hospital. She worked at Swedish for several years, settling into the Emergency Room as her specialty. She liked the pace and challenge of being able to help people in emergency situations.

In the late 1970s she learned about a program at Rush University where she would be able to get her master’s degree in nursing as a family nurse practitioner. It was a two-year full-time program, which meant she would have to reduce her working hours to part-time and also find other funding to cover the tuition.

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Mim in her academic garb for her MSN – Family Nurse Practitioner degree

She left Swedish Covenant Hospital to work in the emergency room of Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Hospital, a busy ER located just off the Eisenhower Expressway on the near west side of Chicago. After working there full-time for a year, she was able to reduce her hours to part-time while she worked on her master’s degree. She was also able to find the perfect grant to cover her tuition and even provide her a small stipend. It was a federal grant targeted toward developing nurse practitioners to serve in medically under-served areas. One of the grant requirements was that grant recipients would have to provide two years of service in a medically under-served area after completion of the program. Circle Christian Health Center in the Austin neighborhood qualified to meet this requirement. So that’s where Mim went to work after completing her program. Also, as part of her master’s program, her preceptorship was at CCHC, where she was mentored by all three physicians.

Meanwhile, I also decided to go to graduate school, and in 1981 I completed my MBA from the University of Chicago. However, my pathway to paying for it was easier than Mim’s. After two years I left World Book and I got a job with Northwest Industries, a major corporation in the loop. They encouraged me to get an MBA and actually paid for it as long as I took classes part-time and continued to work full-time. I completed my MBA from the University of Chicago in 1981. When I completed the program, my former college roommate Emily knew I would have more time on my hands, and asked me to become a member of the board of directors of Circle Christian Health Center. For the next few years, both Mim and I were deeply involved with CCHC.

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I was awarded a chocolate cake upon completion of my service on the board.

Jon Beran was the most low-key of the doctors at CCHC, and he was a good fit to become our family doctor for both Mim and me. (Also, several years later, when neither Mim nor I were working with CCHC any more, my mom came to Chicago to live with us for the last six weeks of her life while she received hospice care. Jon was willing to become her primary doctor. He made house calls to see her, traveling across the city, carrying his doctoring tools in a Jewel Food Store plastic bag so as not to draw attention – and danger – to his identity as a doctor who might be carrying drugs.)

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Nita Beran with Jon Beran and John Payne

Nita Beran, whose visitation we drove to Chicago for, was Jon’s wife and one of the clinic founders.  As the first Nursing Director, Nita was the one who designed the nursing and administrative processes that enabled the clinic to treat patients with loving care, as whole people, not just as ailments to cure.

When Mim stepped into Nita’s role as Nursing Director, Nita continued to work part-time with Mim while she also took care of her young, growing family. Nita and Jon had two children. Peter became an architect and still lives in Chicago. He spent the last couple years living with and helping his parents. Becky became a family practice doctor, like her dad. She and her family live in Tulsa.

For Mim and me, driving back into the Austin community, was a trip back to our past in more ways than one. Despite the faith and efforts of the idealistic young people who moved into the neighborhood in the 1970s, many of whom are still living and working there, Austin is still a very poor and violent area. Circle Urban Ministries and Circle Christian Health Center are still in operation. Jon still works at the clinic, although he has reduced his hours to about 3/4 time (half-time on paper, he said).

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CCHC has changed its name and updated its logo

As we drove down Madison Avenue looking for the funeral home and the parking lot, Mim and I made a quick decision. The two parking lots across the street from the funeral home where we were told we could park looked too unsafe. The two lots were separated by one storefront, a liquor store, we think. Several guys were leaning against the chain link fences surrounding the empty parking lots, which had weeds growing up in the cracks of the broken concrete. Not a place where we wanted to leave our car, and not a place where we wanted to even walk across the street. We decided to drive around the block and look for street parking on the same side as the funeral home. Fortunately, there was a spot right in front of the funeral home. And even more fortunately, Mim was driving at the time, and she’s better at parallel parking than I am. An elderly black gentleman opened the door of the funeral home for us and showed us where to go for the Nita Beran visitation. Then he went back to his perch – looking out the window at the street, keeping an eye on guests and their cars.

Once we were inside the funeral home, we were comfortable, and had warm hugs and good conversations with Jon, his children, and a few other people. The trip was an amazing step back in time. Friendships and hope truly survive. Unfortunately, the challenges of a far-from-perfect world survive, as well.

Nita had been living with ovarian cancer for a few years. Despite her personal challenges, she lived with hope and appreciation for each day. At the visitation, Jon gave us a sheet of paper that contained Nita’s thoughts on living with ovarian cancer, written last fall. This is the first paragraph of what she wrote:

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This week I hung up a fall wreath on our front porch. Just a small action, probably being repeated in many households across the country. But for me, it brought a memory of December 2014, when I found that wreath at Aldi, marked down to a quite reasonable price. I debated whether I should buy it because I was thinking, “You probably won’t be alive by next fall.” After a short time of deliberation, I put it in my shopping cart with the thought, “Someone else can enjoy it.” So now it is early October 2015, and my emotional response to finding it in the basement was mild surprise that I’m here to enjoy it! I share this as a small example of how the knowledge of a life-threatening illness pops up in my thinking in ordinary, sometimes humorous ways. Now when I see that wreath, it makes me smile.

Hope” is defined by the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary as, “to desire with expectation of obtainment.” Nita hoped that the wreath she bought on sale in December 2014 would bring joy to someone the next fall – whether that someone was herself or someone she loved. Back in the mid-1970s a group of idealistic young doctors and nurses at Circle Church hoped that they would be able to provide good quality health care services to the marginalized people living in the violent and economically depressed Austin community of Chicago. That hope came to fulfillment with the creation of Circle Christian Health Center – which is still meeting the health care needs of this community nearly 40 years later.

Memories and Hope. Mim and I feel very fortunate that we could share in this hope with these wonderful old friends. Our day trip to Chicago was a trip down memory lane. Like Nita, we have fall decorations to put out come October. Now I have a new memory along with renewed hopes to contemplate as we decorate for fall.

One more thought of Nita’s… Further down on the page we received at her visitation, she wrote about living with uncertainty.

It is hard to plan ahead when I don’t know how I will be feeling or what variables will hit. My challenge is to walk in faith, trusting God for whatever this day holds. So I want to be … living with hope and appreciation for each day.

Nita ended that thought by citing Romans 15:13 –

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  [NIV]

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Consistency vs. Change

Marian Smiling BW adjFive years, four months, and one week. That’s how long I’ve been writing weekly blog posts for the Whispering Winds Blog. As of today, that’s 279 posts. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had something to write about every single week without exception. Sometimes the ideas have come from Mim, or Pastor Jeff, or something I experienced, or something I read, or even something I ate! Sometimes I just happened to remember something from my past. Sometimes I even think God might have planted an idea in my mind for me to explore.

I really enjoy writing this blog, and I plan to continue to write posts as long as I can. However, I’ve decided to heed the advice of one of my own posts. On April 29, 2014, I posted “The Virtue of Inconsistency.” I began the post with one of my favorite quotations: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” [Ralph Waldo Emerson]

After five years, four months, and one week, I’ve decided to introduce a little inconsistency into the timing of my blog posts. I don’t know yet when I will make my next post to this blog. It may be next week, or it may be next month. My plan is to post to the blog whenever I have something to talk about.

For example, I’m going to Chicago this week for the funeral of an old friend. I expect to see a few friends from my early years in Chicago at the visitation. Maybe I’ll want to share some of my thoughts from that day. Maybe not.

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Staff of Circle Community Health Center where Mim worked and where I served on the board in the early 1980s.

Also, I haven’t written anything lately about worshiping God in jail. I don’t play the piano twice a month for the women’s worship service in the county jail like I used to. I just play occasionally, usually for special times like Christmas and Easter, but I’ll be playing twice in August. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m inspired by one or more of the inmates – or the chaplain – and I’ll want to tell you all about that.

And, I’ve started to read the first of my two new books on kindness. I’m quite certain I’ll learn something that I’ll want to tell you about. Or, Floey may just decide it’s time for another one of our conversations – either about kindness, or about something else that pops into her mind.

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So, why have I decided to be more sporadic with my blog posts?

Typically I spend about 12 hours a week thinking up a topic, writing a reflection, editing the language, finding or taking pictures to illustrate it, formatting the layout, posting to the blog, and announcing the post by email and on Facebook. Those 12 hours are often the best hours of my week. I really enjoy doing a blog.

But, there are a few other projects percolating in the back of my mind, and I think I need to take back some of my time from the blog to devote to these other projects for a while. One project has to do with writing, one with music, and one with both.

511XwNSqK8L._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_The writing project relates to a book I read several months ago, SOUL SURVIVOR: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church by Philip Yancey. This book has a Preface, an Epilogue, and 13 chapters in between. Each chapter is about a person who profoundly affected the author’s life, who had an impact on his soul. The characters were as wide ranging as Mahatma Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy, John Donne and Frederick Buechner. The stories Yancey told in each chapter were fascinating. By the end of the book, I found myself wondering, “Who are the people who have influenced my life? Who are the people I’ve known personally as friends and family who have impacted my soul? Who are the people who have influenced me from afar like Joan Chittister and other favorite authors?” I decided I’d like to write about my own spiritual journey, following the pattern Yancey established, by writing a short chapter about each person who has had a significant impact on my spiritual development. I don’t know that I’ll ever publish the book, but I think the process of writing it will be very enlightening to me personally. I may post individual chapters on my blog if I think others may benefit from reading my observations.

The music project is in response to a specific request. A few months ago Mim asked me for a special present for her 70th birthday – August 5, 2017 (next year). She wanted to give me plenty of time to get it ready. She wants me to record a CD of me playing some of her favorite music on the piano. She said she was thinking about what she might miss most after I die (assuming I die first), and she decided it would be listening to me playing the piano. Hence her request. We’ve come up with a list of hymn arrangements, classical music, and golden oldies she really likes. Based on the length of the lists, I think we’re talking about three CDs, not one. I need to get busy. I’m not planning to die soon – but Mim has proposed the deadline of her next birthday, only 12 months away.

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The third project, which involves both writing and music, is something that I want to do simply for myself because I think it will be both fun and inspiring. I want to put together a 3-ring binder of 365 of my favorite hymns, arranged by season and date. I want a 2-page spread for each hymn with the hymn itself on one side, and a story or reflection related to the hymn on the opposite side, with space for journaling comments on the bottom of the story side. Essentially this book will be a daily devotional for me to use based on great hymns.

I can hardly wait to get started on all three projects. By freeing up some of the time devoted to my blog, I think I can jump into the new projects. (And I have a few other projects in the back of my mind, too, waiting for free time and the right time to begin…)

My next blog post is unlikely to appear next Tuesday morning. But whenever it’s ready, I’ll send out my usual email and will also announce it on Facebook, as I have done for the past five years, four months, and one week. Also, if you have signed up to receive my posts directly from WhisperingWinds.com, you will continue to get them as they are posted.

Thanks for being my faithful readers over the past five years. I value the relationship we have begun, and I trust it will continue to grow as I incorporate the benefits of inconsistency into the next phase of my blogging and other writing.

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When Floey Scolded Me…

Floey - thoughtful faceI was sitting at my desk, clicking away on my computer. Floey came trotting up to me and sat down. “Hey, what are you doing, Mom?” she asked.

“Oh, hi, Floey. I just bought two new kindle books on Amazon.”

“You what???? You just organized 2,000 books on your bookcases throughout the house, and you just bought two more books?”

“Well, I bought digital books, Floey, so they won’t take up any physical space.”

“But, don’t you have enough to read already? I can’t believe you bought two more books. Does Mim know?”

“No. I haven’t told her yet. But let me tell you the titles of the two books I bought, and explain why I bought them.”

“Yeah. I think you had better explain.”

“Floey, do you remember what my special word is for this year?”

“Hmmm. I remember my word. It’s MEOW. I want to learn how to communicate better with the cats in the neighborhood this year. That’s why I chose MEOW for my special word. But I’m not doing very well with it. The cats seem to have gone into hiding. I don’t even see them any more to try to communicate with them. Hmmm. But I don’t remember your special word. What is it?”

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Learning to communicate (Internet image)

“Well, Floey. That’s the problem. I didn’t remember it either. It’s supposed to be the word I’m concentrating on all year, and I simply forgot it. I remember my special word for 2015. That was GRATITUDE. I couldn’t forget that word because every single night before going to sleep I thought about everything that I was grateful for that day. Gratitude was always on my mind. And the year before, 2014, the first year I chose a special word, my word was JOY. That word was also on my mind all year as I kept on the lookout for moments of joy everywhere. But I actually forgot this year’s word! I couldn’t believe it. I had to look back on my blog to the first of the year and re-read the post about our special words to find it.”

“Wow! That’s terrible, Mom. I can’t believe you forgot your special word!”

“I know. Fortunately, I had my blog to go back to so I could find it. My word for this year is KINDNESS. Now why do you think I forgot that word?”

“I don’t know, Mom. It sounds like a good, inspiring word to me.”

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“Well I’ve been thinking about this for a couple weeks – when I happened to think about our special words and realized I couldn’t remember my word. I think part of the reason I forgot it is that I never set up any ritual around the word that would prompt me to think about it this year, like I did with GRATITUDE as my word last year. So I decided maybe I should try to find a book about KINDNESS that would trigger my mind to start thinking about it.

Floeys Face 2Now that I’ve sorted through all 2,000 books that Mim and I own, I tried to remember if any of them were specifically about KINDNESS. You know, I couldn’t think of even one book that had KINDNESS as the major theme.”

“Really? That’s hard to believe, Mom. Are you sure?”

“I’m sure some of the books address kindness in passing, but none of our books have kindness as the main theme.”

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Our built-in bookcase holds less than half our books.

Floey just shook her head slowly from side to side. “So is that why you went to Amazon?” she asked.

“Yes, Floey. I went to amazon.com and searched for books on kindness.”

“I bet hundreds of books popped up. Right?”

“Well there were a lot. The list started with lots of children’s books, but then it moved on to adult books.”

“How did you pick out the two books you chose?”

“Well first, I checked to see if any of my favorite authors had written any books about kindness. I thought maybe Debbie Macomber or Philip Yancey or Max Lucado might have written books on the subject, but no luck – at least no books that I could find. Then I started reading the book descriptions and reader reviews of the books on Amazon.” One of the books with the best reviews was THE POWER OF KINDNESS: THE UNEXPECTED BENEFITS OF LEADING A COMPASSIONATE LIFE by Piero Ferrucci. The author is an Italian psychotherapist. The Dalai Lama wrote the preface to the book, which I considered quite an endorsement. The Publishers Weekly review of the book said,

41XJHAHAgmL[Ferrucci] writes in a soothing, humane manner… Laced with stories from religion and philosophy, anecdotes from patients and personal experience, the book explores how Ferrucci’s ideas can be applied to everyday life. In “Forgiveness,” he describes how a Holocaust survivor was able to forgive those who murdered his family and explains that forgiveness is the only remedy for unspeakable suffering. In the section on service, he suggests small ways one can benefit the lives of others, such as telling a joke to lift a friend’s spirits or offering to make dinner for someone who needs time to rest. Ferrucci offers a fine reminder of how good, and how easy, it is to be kind.

“I don’t know about you, Floey, but I like to learn knew things – to explore new ideas – by listening to stories, not just theories and explanations. Real stories. Apparently, that’s how this book is written, which is one of the reasons I chose it.”

“Well, Mom. It sounds like this is the perfect book for you to read. So, why did you buy a second book?”

“Well, I have a secret, Floey. I don’t think I’ve ever told you this about myself. Here goes… I come from an Evangelical background. I grew up in a conservative little Methodist Church, and I even graduated from Wheaton College – the alma mater of Billy Graham. Graham was even my graduation speaker.”

“Wow, Mom! You mean you come from the Religious Right? Really?”

“Well, yes, Floey. That’s where my roots are. And, even though many Evangelicals would refuse to claim me as one of their own because I don’t agree with some of their values, I still think that many Evangelicals really love God and are honestly trying to live the kind of life God intends for all of us to live. For that reason, I keep reading some Evangelical authors. I can learn from them – even though sometimes I’m horrified by what I read. Usually that’s not the case. Usually they have thoughtful insights to share.”

“I get it. Your second book is by an Evangelical, right?”

“You’re right, Floey. The second book is LOVE KINDNESS: DISCOVER THE POWER OF A FORGOTTEN CHRISTIAN VIRTUE by Barry H. Corey. Here’s a paragraph from the description of the book on Amazon:

510aS5svVvLDr. Barry Corey, president of Biola University, believes we tend to devalue the importance of kindness, opting instead for caustic expressions of certainty that push people away. We forget that the essence of what God requires of us is to “love kindness.” In this book, filled with stories from his travels around the globe, Barry shows us the forgotten way of kindness. It is a life that calls us to put ourselves at risk. A life that calls us to hope. A life of a firm center and soft edges. It is the life Christ invites us to follow, no matter what the cost.

“I can hardly wait to start reading these two books, Floey.”

“Well, I bet you won’t forget this year’s special word again.”

“Since you’re having a hard time with MEOW as your special word, do you want to adopt mine, Floey, and we’ll go on this journey into KINDNESS together?”

“Hey, that’s a great idea, Mom. Why don’t you start reading the first book to me this afternoon.  I don’t think I’m ready to hear from the Evangelicals yet.”

“Oh, Floey. We’ll work on opening up your mind to finding goodness (and kindness!) everywhere. Trust me…”

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