Archives

Moving on to the Next Phase of Our Lives

ddKDiBP7QtqhQpiYFYQsPgMonday of this week seemed really strange. It was the first day of the next phase in our lives. The day before, Anna, our last long-term assisted living resident, moved on to her next life. She had lived with us for eight years, and had just celebrated her 98th birthday a couple weeks ago. She died peacefully last Sunday with Mim holding her hand.

Now Mim and I are beginning the next phase in our lives. We’re planning to be “retired” for several months while we recuperate and clean house. (We’re both in our early 70s.) But then we plan to work a little more. We have talked informally with Rainbow Hospice Care about the possibility of Rainbow referring families to us who feel they can no longer care at home for their loved one who is receiving hospice care. We would care for their loved one in our home for their last few days, weeks, or possibly months. But we aren’t ready to start doing that yet. We need a break first. That’s our plan.

In the immediate past phase of our lives we have provided assisted living in our home. We have done this for over 16 years.

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven

The previous phase of our lives had been turning our remodeled farmhouse into a bed and breakfast. We welcomed a couple thousand people into our home over a five-year period. We began the B&B in 1998. We loved it, and we experienced steady growth in the business. By late 1999 we decided to put an addition onto our house to be able to accommodate people in wheelchairs and with other mobility issues. We named the addition our Nightingale Suite. We became one of a handful of B&Bs in Wisconsin that were wheelchair accessible. But in order to do that, Mim and I had to become politically active to change the Wisconsin B&B law to permit additions to be built onto B&Bs. Getting the law changed was the most frustrating experience of our lives. But with lots of help from other B&B owners and a few savvy state legislators, the law was changed, and we were able to complete our addition.

On September 11, 2001, the B&B phase of our lives began an abrupt change. After 911, tourism dropped drastically all over the country, all around the world actually. Our steady growth in “room nights” for our Country Comforts Bed & Breakfast came to an end. After  several months of having many more empty rooms than full rooms, we decided we needed to re-think how we would earn a living. That’s when we decided to re-christen Country Comforts Bed & Breakfast to Country Comforts Assisted Living, capitalizing on Mim’s experience as a registered nurse. In November, 2002 we welcomed our first two assisted living residents.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe’ve been in the assisted living phase of our lives for 16 years and 5 months. During that time we’ve had a total of only 10 days without having a resident to care for in our home, and those days were all in the first few months of the business, 16 years ago. Fortunately, we have always had two or three excellent caregivers to give us a few hours off each week, and even an occasional night or two away. But even during our time away, Mim has always been on call as the nursing expert. 

In our 16+ years, we have cared for 20 people in our home, all but three of them through their last moment on earth. (Two recovered enough to go home, and one had to move on to a facility equipped to handle patients with advanced dementia.) In addition, we have cared for four other individuals outside of our home through their last days. We’re truly thankful for all the people, both residents and their families, God has brought into our lives throughout this phase of our lives.

Selma and baby Pun croppedkWe had good preparation for the assisted living phase of our lives by caring for our parents. In 1987, we cared for my mom for the last six weeks of her life. She and my dad came to Chicago to live with us while we cared for her. A few years later, in 1991, Mim and I took some time off from our work in Chicago to come to Cambridge to care for my dad throughout the last couple weeks of his life. And finally, in 1993, a few month’s after we moved to Wisconsin, Mim’s mother had a stroke that left her paralyzed on her left side. We cared for her in our home for almost five years.

Although both Mim and I have loved being in the assisted living phase of our lives, we’re ready for a little break. And on Monday of this week, that break began. It feels really strange to be able to come and go as we please, and not have to be sure our residents are cared for while we’re gone.

“Christ in Our Home” is a quarterly devotional booklet published by Augsburg Fortress in Minneapolis. Yesterday the scripture reading was from the end of the first chapter of Matthew, where an angel of the Lord told Joseph in a dream to marry his pregnant fiancee, Mary – that God had a plan for their lives. The comments in the devotional booklet really caught my attention as I was reflecting on the changes happening in my own life.

I have a hunch that most of us can relate to Joseph, because most of us have had something happen in our lives that took us off our planned route… Joseph later found out that God had a plan for him the whole time. It wasn’t Joseph’s original plan, but it was much better…

When life diverts us onto a detour, it is comforting to remember that God is with us, that God is still in control. And when we trust and believe in this, there is no detour too great to cause us to lose our way. When our lives seem out of control, we can trust that God is still in control and has a plan for us… [p. 82]

Mim and I have exciting plans for the next phase of our lives. Whether things happen exactly according to our plans, or not, we learned from the B&B and assisted living phases of our lives that God’s plans may be even greater than ours. We’re eager to see what’s next!M-M Close-up - cropped

The Love of a Dog

fullsizeoutput_281cOn February 23 we celebrated Anna’s 98th birthday. Anna has been living with us as an assisted living resident for eight years now. Some of her family members came for a little party, and everyone, especially Anna, had a really good time.

One week later, Anna had a stroke. It was about noon on Friday. She had walked with her walker over to the kitchen counter for lunch. After she had been sitting there a few minutes, she started to look a little sleepy and unsteady. Both Mim and I got up to check on her, helped her into a wheelchair, wheeled her into her bedroom, and then helped her into bed. As Mim checked her blood pressure and had her squeeze her hands and did other diagnostics, our dog Floey jumped into bed with Anna, and refused to leave her side. Anna giggled at Floey’s devotion and she reached down to pet her. Floey is a good friend of Anna’s, but she’s never hopped into bed with her before. Floey knew something was wrong, and she sprang into action to help Anna every bit as much as Mim and I had. 

Floey showed Anna just how much she loved her, and how important she was to her. I foolishly tried to coax Floey out of the bed with a treat to be sure she wouldn’t be in our way. She wouldn’t budge. Her place was with Anna. She loves Anna, and she knew Anna needed her to comfort her.

That’s kind of like God’s love, I think. At least, I think I begin to understand a little more what God’s love is like when I see Floey’s love for Anna.

We don’t know the final outcome of Anna’s stroke. She might be with us another couple years to make it ten years with us at Country Comforts Assisted Living, and a hundred years on this earth. Or she might not. What we do know is that she’s in the care of a loving God. And Floey is helping us understand what that means. 

ddKDiBP7QtqhQpiYFYQsPg

Floey and Anna watching TV together

Dementia, Music, and Talking with God

fullsizeoutput_22a5
Last Thursday Mim and I took a day-trip to Lake Geneva for Rainbow Hospice Care’s 14th annual “End-of Life Conference.” The theme this year was “A Focus on Dementia.” The whole conference was excellent! This is what continuing education is like for people in our business – assisted living.

The morning keynote speaker was Teepa Snow who helped us understand the functional limitations of individuals in each of the seven stages of dementia. She taught us how we can be most helpful when we try to provide care for residents in these stages, as well as how to care for their family members. As Teepa’s speaking and actions evolved into the typical behavior of a person in each stage of dementia, a lightbulb went on in our minds. So that’s why… Now I understand… Behaviors of many past residents came to mind.

The closing keynote speaker was Jolene Brackey, the author of Creating Moments of Joy. Throughout the past 15 years that Mim and I have been doing assisted living in our home, we have given away many copies of her book. The majority of people we have cared for have had some degree of dementia, and this book provides practical examples of how to provide “moments of joy” for these individuals. We’ve made the book required reading for anyone who works with us, and we routinely give the book to the families of our residents with dementia.

fullsizeoutput_22a6Jolene Brackey didn’t disappoint us as a speaker. At the end of a long day of learning for all of us at the conference, she provided us moments of joy as she told us stories and gave us practical examples for sharing joy freely with our residents.

One of the afternoon Breakout Sessions that I found particularly interesting was “Music and Memory.” From my own experience, I’ve known that music still communicates with many people who have very advanced dementia. I used to play the piano monthly for a senior respite organization in a nearby town. One of their clients was a man in his 50s who had early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. He would sit in the group all day long without saying a word. But when it came time for the sing-along, he would join in and sing enthusiastically, remembering all the words of the golden oldies and hymns I played for them.

fullsizeoutput_22a8The “Music and Memory” Breakout Session was an update on the progress of a non-profit organization called “Music & Memory.” The vision of “Music & Memory” is to provide the means for caregiving organizations to give an iPod with a personalized playlist for each person in their care. The playlist includes the favorite songs of each individual, often the popular hits of their high school years. Research has shown that people, even in the advanced stages of dementia, exhibit signs of happiness when they are listening to their favorite music.

In this session, we were asked to pair up with another session participant to learn about their favorite music – something we would need to do with a resident or their family if we were to try to create a personalized playlist. My partner was a college student, whose favorite music type is heavy metal, and whose favorite band is Metallica. In contrast, I’m nearly 70 and my favorite music type is sacred piano, and one of my favorite performers is Steve Hall. Our music vocabularies had almost no overlap. If I had to prepare a playlist of her favorites, I would really struggle. But I enjoyed talking with her and learning a little about heavy metal music. I now have a little better understanding of the incredible breadth of music that can speak to our souls.

Thinking about the power of music is something I’ve been doing for several months. As you may know from previous blog posts, I’m writing a book with the current working title of Talking with God through Music. I’ve actually been working on this book for over a year. Originally I intended it to be a daily devotional with personal reflections on 365 of my favorite hymns. I started writing the book in late 2016, and I started the project by writing reflections on hymns of thanksgiving. Then I worked on Christmas Carols. The more I wrote, and the more I organized my favorite hymns into different categories to figure out where in the year they should be placed in the book, I decided it made sense to start the book with a month’s worth of hymns based on Psalms – the hymn book of the Bible. I finished writing the Psalm section of my book the last time I was at our Christmas Mountain timeshare, a few weeks ago.

Now that I’ve written 31 reflections on Psalm-based hymns, I’ve decided to publish this collection of hymns and reflections as a separate book, Talking with God through Music: Reflections on My Favorite Psalm-Based Hymns. My plan is to use this 68-page book as a prototype for the larger book. I experimented with a lot of new things in writing this book, and I want to find out if all my extra homework is worth the effort. I did quite a bit of research into each hymn to be able to provide information about the author, the composer, and the historical context, along with my personal reasons for choosing the hymn as one of my favorites. I also learned to use music-writing software to create a melody line for each hymn so that readers can actually see the music and lyrics next to my paragraphs to help them remember what the hymn sounds like – to be able to sing it in their mind or even out loud.

I hope that readers will give me feedback on the prototype that will help me tweak the style and format for the larger book. My goal for the final book is to help readers discover how music, hymns in particular, can enrich their ability to talk with God. Music is the language of the soul. As St. Augustine said more than 1500 years ago, “Whoever sings prays twice.” And, as we were reminded last Thursday, music is an amazing means of communication for everyone, regardless of their cognitive state.

fullsizeoutput_22a7If you would like a copy of Talking with God through Music: Reflections on My Favorite Psalm-Based Hymns, let me know. I’ll be happy to send you one. I’d really appreciate your feedback on the concept and structure of the book before I put together my next book. My goal is to submit the text of the prototype to the publisher this week, and to receive the printed copies within a week or two. I’ll write another blog post when I have the books in hand.

 

Ghostly Tricks

abbey-doris-mary-in-sun-room

Doris and Mary having a good laugh with Abbey – our best caregiver of all. (About 10 years ago)

Over the past 14 years, Mim and I have cared for more than twenty elderly people who have lived with us in our home, usually one or two residents at a time. Almost all of them have lived out their last days with us. Some of them lived with us for just a few days, some a few months, and some a few years. We have been honored to have cared for them as they journeyed from this life into the next life.

Today is All Saints Day, a day to remember each one of them, along with all the other people who have been close to us throughout our lives, and who are no longer with us on earth.

doris-witch-w-mim-10-31-06-c

Mim helping Doris get dressed up for Halloween.

One of our former residents, Doris, has actually been on my mind a lot lately. Doris lived with us almost four years, and she and her family became close members of our extended assisted living family.

Doris had a good sense of humor and liked to joke around with people. She often warned us that she was going to come back and haunt us after she died. Well, she’s come back. Really! I didn’t want to believe that she would follow through on her joking threat, but I can’t think of any other explanation for what has happened.

Several months ago I replaced my 5-year-old HP laptop with my first Apple product, a MacBook. The biggest challenge I had with my transition into the Mac world was getting my big fancy Konica Minolta laser printer/copier to work with the Mac. After hours of trial and error plus long phone calls to Apple Support, I finally was able to download a third-party printer driver that works pretty well – not perfectly, but at least I can print most documents.

A couple days after I finally got the printer working, I tried to boot it up one morning, and it was completely dead. I tried everything I could think of – with no success. I finally placed a service call with Konica Minolta to have them come out to fix it. The printer appeared to be completely dead. Not even the copier function would work.

img_1599

My Konica Minolta printer/copier is an excellent color laser printer, but it’s big and heavy.

This printer/copier is a large, heavy, floor model – something I don’t move around very often when I clean house. But I decided to do a little cleaning that day so my office would look better for the Konica Minolta repairman. I tugged the printer in one direction, then the other, to “walk” it away from the wall so that I could vacuum behind it. I couldn’t believe what I saw! The printer cord was plugged into a surge protector/power strip, and the power strip was not plugged into the wall outlet. It was plugged into itself! I called Mim over to take a look. She was as shocked as I was. I unplugged the power strip from itself, plugged it into the wall outlet, turned the printer/copier on, and it worked just fine. I immediately called Konica Minolta to cancel the service call.

img_1600Mim and I tried our hardest to figure out how that could have happened. Did one of us sleep-walk (which we’ve never done as far as we know), struggle to pull the printer/copier away from the wall, mess up the cords, and then shove the printer/copier back in place – all without waking up or making enough noise to wake up the other person or even our dog? Did someone break into the house the previous night while we were asleep and do it as a practical joke? The printer had worked the night before, but not that morning.

Hmmm. Practical joke… The only person we could think of who would do a practical joke like that was the ghost of Doris… In my mind, I’ve given Doris a high-five, and we’ve had a good laugh over it.

I’m sure Doris isn’t the only friendly ghost who has visited our home. The most usual time for ghosts and angels to visit us has been when one of our residents is near death, and a deceased parent, or spouse, or even a stranger comes into the room of the person who is near death. This visitor has come to comfort, or possibly escort the resident to the next life. Mim and I have never seen any of the special visitors ourselves, but several residents have told us about them.

All Saints Day is a time to remember all who have died in Christ, and who are now gathering in heaven to praise God. That includes Doris, even though she may sometimes sneak back down to earth to play a practical joke on us.

The image of a crowd of saints gathering together in heaven is suggested several places in the Bible. For example, Revelation 7:9-10 says:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

In 1864 William Waltham How, an Anglican bishop, wrote a hymn using this image. Forty-two years later, Ralph Vaughan Williams composed a new tune for the hymn, creating one of the most moving and dramatic of all Christian hymns – “For All the Saints.” Here are the first and last verses. (You may want to google the title for the rest of the words.)

For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who They by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, of Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia! Alleluia!

For me, the highlight of All Saints Sunday is playing this hymn on a pipe organ and hearing the congregation loudly singing the joyful words. It puts a lump in my throat every year.

On the other end of the musical spectrum is a spiritual that describes the same image – “When the Saints Go Marching In.” There are many different verses for this song, both sacred and secular, the usual first and last verses are:

O when the saints go marching in,
O when the saints go marching in,
O Lord, I want to be in that number
when the saints go marching in.

O when they crown Him Lord of all,
O when they crown Him Lord of all,
O Lord, I want to be in that number
when they crown Him Lord of all.

In Cambridge, my hometown, the “Fight Song” for the high school football and basketball teams is “When the Jays Go Marching In.” (The Cambridge mascot is the blue jay.)

Back to our assisted living residents that I’m remembering today. Helen had been my first grade teacher, and had always been an enthusiastic fan of our school sports teams. (Her husband had been the high school principal and the football coach.)

helen-cropped

It was a special privilege to care for my first grade teacher in her last months.

The most fun I ever had playing the organ for a funeral was for Helen’s. For the postlude I played the majestic descending opening line of “For All the Saints” and then played its mirror image in the ascending opening line of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” I kept weaving these two tunes together as the people processed out of the church. It was the most fun juxtaposition of very different melodies on the same subject I’ve ever played around with.

I don’t know if Helen thought I was playing a joke on her by making up that postlude, or not, but I’m pretty sure she was smiling along with me and her friends and relatives as they processed out of the church.

Thanks to Doris and Helen and many of our other residents, there’s no doubt in my mind that ghosts and saints still have a sense of humor.

img_1605

Our “All Saints Wall” where pictures are mounted of all the people we have cared for in our home.

God’s Garden – and Mine

IMG_1271

I think God laughed a little at my lazy approach to gardening on the deck this summer, but decided to bless it anyway. The lettuce did very well in its bed of Miracle-Gro® Potting Mix. We’ve had several salads, and the lettuce keeps coming back when I cut it. It’s not quite as sweet and tender as it was a month ago, but it still makes a good salad. We had a few little radishes, but I think I made the mistake of planting too many seeds too close together. I wanted to get as many radishes as possible out of my bag of Miracle-Gro® Potting Mix. A couple weeks ago I pulled out the remaining radish greens with their scrawny roots, and planted the rest of the radish seeds from the package. I spaced each seed more appropriately, and this crop is coming up nicely. We’ll see if July is too hot to grow radishes, or not. It’s all an experiment.

IMG_1268The three tomato plants are doing very well. I transplanted each plant from the Deerfield Greenhouse into a larger pot filled with Miracle-Gro® Potting Mix. We’ve been eating fresh-picked tomatoes almost every day for weeks. Wonderful! A few of the leaves on two plants are starting to turn yellow, so I don’t know how long our prolific tomato harvest will last, but we’re certainly enjoying it now.

Fortunately, God has blessed us most from the gardens of our friends who still live in the country and have really big gardens. They have brought us asparagus, beans, cucumbers, different varieties of tomatoes and radishes, and various kinds of summer squash. And black raspberries!

Can you believe that the same God who thought up the idea of asparagus, lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, and tomatoes, also created black raspberries! And just think about all the produce that is yet to come as gardens continue to mature this summer and fall!

God spoke: “Earth, green up! Grow all varieties of seed-bearing plants, every sort of fruit-bearing tree.” And there it was. Earth produced green seed-bearing plants, all varieties, and fruit-bearing trees of all sorts. God saw that it was good. It was evening, it was morning – Day Three. [Genesis 1:11-13 The Message]

I’m discovering that God thought about nourishment for all of creation, not just us. This morning I went for a short walk in our back yard, near the pond. Lots of wild milkweeds are in full bloom. I expect to see many happy butterflies fluttering around any day now.

IMG_1302

Five years ago I wrote about “An Abundance of Tomatoes and Thistles” in this blog. I just discovered (by trying to follow an inactive link) that my blog posts from 2011 are no longer available on the Internet. (I switched blogging applications in 2012.) Here’s a flashback to when Whispering Winds was an active retreat center, and I was learning to share “my” tomatoes with God’s chipmunks. (This blog post is also included in my first book, LISTENING FOR GOD: 52 Reflections on Everyday Life.)

August 22, 2011:
This is a good year for cherry tomatoes at Whispering Winds. In the spring I planted a couple plants of my favorite variety, “Sweet 100” and one new variety that was simply identified on the tag as “large red cherry tomato.” For the past few weeks Charlie Chipmunk and I have been sharing an early abundance of the “large red cherry tomatoes” and a few of the “Sweet 100’s.” Charlie has decided that every tomato he tastes is worth eating in its entirety – no more taking one bite out of the tomato and then moving on to the next one like he did last year. This way, there are plenty of tomatoes for both of us, and for our guests, too. Unfortunately, Charlie has figured out that the “Sweet 100 s” are the sweetest of all tomatoes, so he gets most of them. But the “large red cherry tomatoes” are good, too, so everyone is happy.

Version 2

Charlie Chipmunk keeping a close eye on the tomatoes in the raised bed at Whispering Winds.

This is also a good year for thistles. That might not seem like a good thing, unless you’re a goldfinch, or someone who loves to see goldfinches. They’re my favorite songbird. Seeing a goldfinch perched on top of a bright purple thistle blossom reminds me of taking walks with my mom and seeing goldfinches perched on thistles along the roadside. She called them “wild canaries.” I’ve seen more goldfinches this year than ever. Almost every time I take a walk I see one or two, and smile, remembering my walks with Mom.

Late summer is a time for enjoying the abundance in God’s creation – the abundance of cherry tomatoes if you’re a person or a chipmunk; the abundance of thistle seeds if you’re a goldfinch.

I love the sights, sounds, and tastes of summer. As I walked around the pond this morning snapping pictures of the milkweeds with my smartphone, I was startled by the splash of a frog leaping into the pond right next to me. I guess I startled him, too. Then I started listening more closely to all the birds singing.

Last Saturday was the perfect day to enjoy summer with all our senses. I grilled really long hotdogs from Jones Dairy Farm in nearby Fort Atkinson, Mim cut up a fresh cucumber into a vinegar and sugar water mixture, and all of us – Carolyn, Anna, Martha (the three 95-year-olds), Floey, Mim, and me – had a picnic on the deck, with sweet, juicy watermelon for dessert (plus a few Oreos).

God certainly knows how to delight our senses!

Happy Summertime!

IMG_1265

Floey served as Anna’s foot rest, and enjoyed a soothing back massage throughout lunch.

Talking with Floey about Peace and Patience

Floey-Marian faces selfie 2Floey came running up to me as I opened the door into our condo from the garage. She was so excited I had to drop my suitcase to give her a big hug. “Oh, Floey. I’m so glad to see you. I missed you so much!”

“I missed you, too, Mom? Where did you go this time? Were you at Christmas Mountain again?” Floey asked.

“Yup. That’s where I was, Floey.”

“Why do you go there so often, Mom. I really miss you when you’re gone.”

“Oh, I wish I could take you with me, but like most timeshares, they don’t allow dogs. But anyway, if you did come with me, who would take care of our residents? They need you at home to do the pre-wash of their dishes before they go into the dishwasher. And the ladies like to have you snuggle up close to them to be petted. You’re needed at home.”

“I guess you’re right, Mom. But why do you go away so often?”

“Well, Floey, whenever I’m home, I’m always working, seven days a week. That’s the nature of our business – round-the-clock caregiving in our home. That’s why Mim and I need to get away, and why we almost always go away separately – so someone will always be home with you and our residents.”

5237856079_7b86c6fc7e

Christmas Mountain Village, Wisconsin Dells

I guess I understand. But what do you do at Christmas Mountain? I know it’s a ski resort in the winter and a golf resort during the rest of the year, and you don’t do either.”

“That’s a good question. You know what things I like to do, Floey. Don’t you?”

“Sure. You like to read and write and play the piano and go for walks.”

“Yup. And that’s exactly what I do at Christmas Mountain. I always get a nice, comfortable condo where I can sprawl out and enjoy my time there. Sometimes I even take my little five octave keyboard along so I can play the ‘piano.’ And, of course, I have my computer, iPad, iPhone, books, a puzzle, and I’ve even started bringing along a coloring book and colored pencils.”

“Wow. That’s why you always pack up so many bags when you leave!”

“That’s right. I want to have everything I might need to relax, in whatever way I feel like relaxing. This time I was away for almost a whole week, so I packed a lot of stuff.”

“Did you use all your stuff?”

“I guess not. I didn’t do the puzzle this time. I did more reading and writing than usual. And I walked quite a bit, too. And I spent some time just thinking.”

“What did you think about?”

images“One of the things I thought about was one of the books I read, THE GIFT OF PEACE by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, former Archbishop of Chicago. It was an incredibly inspiring book.”

“What was it about?”

“Here, let me show you, Floey.” I pulled my briefcase out of the car and pulled out the little book.

“Cardinal Bernardin wrote this book during the final months of his life. Thirteen days before he died, he finished the book, and hand-wrote a letter to serve as a preface to the book. The letter is actually published in the book in hand-written form. Let me read you an excerpt from the letter, Floey. That will give you a good impression of the tone and content of the book itself.”

“Okay, Mom. Read away.”

I have decided to write this very personal letter explaining why I have written this little book, The Gift of Peace. It is not an autobiography but simply a reflection on my life and ministry during the past three years, years that have been as joyful as they have been difficult. My reflections begin with the allegation of sexual misconduct brought against me November 1993 and continue to the present as I prepare for the last stage of my life which began in June 1995 with the diagnosis of an aggressive form of cancer.

To paraphrase Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, “it has been the best of times, it has been the worst of times.” The worst because of the humiliation, physical pain, anxiety and fear. The best because of the reconciliation, love, pastoral sensitivity and peace that have resulted from God’s grace and the support and prayers of so many people. While not denying the former, this reflection focuses on the latter, showing how, if we let him, God can write straight with crooked lines. To put it another way, this reflection is intended to help others understand how the good and the bad are always present in our human condition and, that if we “let go,” if we place ourselves totally in the hands of the Lord, the good will prevail.

“Wow. Did you say he died less than two weeks after writing the book?”

“That’s right, Floey. Pretty inspiring, isn’t it? I’m so glad I had the time and a quiet place to read his book and to think about it this past week. That’s why going to Christmas Mountain is so good for me. I have the time to be quiet, to read, and to think.”

“What else did you think about?” Floey asked.

“Well, I thought a lot about patience, especially on Tuesday.”

“Patience? That’s not your word for the year. I think that was Mim’s word a couple years ago. Why did you think about patience? And, why on Tuesday?”

“Think, Floey. You know. What do I always do on Tuesday mornings?”

“That’s easy, Mom. Every Tuesday morning you add a post to your blog. Right?”

“That’s right. When I know I’m going to be away from home I usually try to write the post before I leave home so that all I have to do when I’m away is my final editing and posting it on the Internet. Then I send an email to let subscribers know it has been posted, and I post a comment on Facebook to let a lot of my friends know it’s there. The Tuesday morning process usually takes less than an hour. Well, the Internet connection at Christmas Mountain is always slow, but at least Internet service is available. Last Tuesday the Internet connection was the slowest I have ever experienced. I wasn’t even sure I could post my blog. I pounded the table a few times, and I paced all around the condo many times trying to think of where I could find a public Wi-Fi network I could use to post my blog – like maybe at McDonald’s or Culver’s. I finally was able to post my reflection about favorite hymns, “An Odd Favorite,” at Christmas Mountain. However, I’m sure my blood pressure was well above the healthy normal range!”

“You really were frustrated!”

Anderson_Jacobson_AJ_832

These terminals were the workhorses of the Finance Department. A telephone handset plugged into the modem on the right to communicate at 30 cps.

“I sure was, Floey. Once the post was out there, I went for a walk. That helped me calm down. I thought about how dependent upon – and demanding of – technology we have become. I remembered my first job where I worked with computers – Northwest Industries in Chicago. That company was widely considered leading edge in using information technology for making business decisions. In the mid-1970s we used a dial-up connection to transmit data at the rate of 30 cps (characters per second), about six times faster than a good typist can type a letter. Pretty fast, don’t you think? Whenever I wanted to see a report, I sent it to the printer (initially we had no monitors to view) and then went to get a cup of coffee while I waited for the report to print. After a couple years, the top executives were equipped with monitors that could display data at the rate of 120 cps. That’s when we were collaborating with decision support specialists at MIT, in the glory days of using computers to enhance management decision making.

“I can’t even remember how I could be so patient in those days! Patience. Maybe that was a virtue I possessed in the 1970s, but I certainly didn’t have it last Tuesday. I just wanted to add a post to my blog. That’s all. And technology was crawling along, not zipping by.”

B-BI4KWCcAAY3MQ

“I bet you were really, really frustrated, Mom. I can see you getting stressed out just talking about it.”

“You’re right, Floey. But I thought about it for a while. You know, patience is listed as one of the gifts of the spirit, right after peace. The Bible says in Galatians 5:22-23:

But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. [New Living Translation]

“I don’t know, Floey. Maybe I need to spend more time pondering and praying for the gift of patience.”

“Hey, Mom. Maybe patience should be your special word next year.”

“Maybe… It’s a little early to think about next year’s special word. I still have seven months left to focus on kindness – my word for this year.”

“You’re right, Mom. That can wait. Did you think about anything else while you were at Christmas Mountain last week?”

“Well, yes, there was one more thing. But let’s talk about that later. I still have to empty the car and get settled in again at home.”

“Okay, Mom. But don’t forget we have to continue this conversation.”

 

Patience-is-not-about-how-long-you-can-wait-but-how-well-you-behave-while-youre-waiting.

An Odd Favorite

Doris - Abbey on couch - cropped

Doris giving her best friend Abbey a hug. (Abbey was our canine caregiver prior to Floey.)

I thought about Doris last week. Doris lived with us for almost four years. She came for assisted living in 2005, shortly after her husband Ernie died. Doris, a nurse, had been caring for Ernie for many years, and now it was time for someone to care for Doris. She was in her late eighties.

What brought Doris to mind was one of the hymns we sang in church last Sunday – Holy, Holy, Holy. It was Trinity Sunday, and Holy, Holy, Holy is the classic hymn to sing to celebrate our understanding of our three-in-one God – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Doris loved this hymn. During the years that she lived with us, Mim, Doris, and Mary (our other resident at the time) often joined me at the piano in the evening to sing. We sang golden oldies like Let Me Call You Sweetheart and lots of hymns. Almost every night Doris requested Holy, Holy, Holy. 

0014=2

Her request surprised me. I grew up in a Methodist church where we did lots of singing. On Sunday mornings, we sang about half a dozen hymns and responses from THE METHODIST HYMNAL, a thick black book that was kept in the racks on the back of the pews. The hymns in the hymnal were the classical hymns of faith, dating mostly from the 16th through the early 19th centuries. I learned to like many of these stately old hymns, and that is how I would describe them – as stately hymns that we sang to formally and respectfully worship God.

IMG_1007

Willerup United Methodist Church, Cambridge, Wisconsin – my family church for generations

On Sunday evenings we sang out of a different songbook, either SONGS OF THE SANCTUARY (the blue book), or MELODIES OF PRAISE (the white book). These hardcover songbooks were handed out to each person as we entered church. The first 15 minutes of the service were spent singing from these songbooks. The pastor usually announced the first song for us to sing, and then it was up to the congregation to call out their requests. The blue book was filled with gospel songs from the 19th and 20th centuries – songs like Just a Closer Walk with Thee, When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder, He Leadeth Me, and Just As I Am. The white book was newer and included songs like How Great Thou Art, Wonderful Words of Life, and Blessed Assurance.

These Sunday evening songbooks were the source of everyone’s favorite gospel songs. THE METHODIST HYMNAL had all the nice stately hymns that were appropriate for the more formal Sunday morning service. The smaller songbooks had the more emotional songs that we would sing to express our feelings. These are the songs that became our favorites.

IMG_1004

When I was in high school I bought my own copy of Melodies of Praise to use at home. I chose a green cover rather than white.

Doris’ favorite hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy, was from the formal HYMNAL, not from the collection of gospel songs in the songbooks. That’s what surprised me. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had requested What a Friend We Have in Jesus or Jesus Loves Me (although she liked those songs, too). I was surprised at Holy, Holy, Holy being her choice almost every time we sang. 

Today I have very fond memories of the four of us singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Whenever we sing that hymn in church, I think about Doris and our evening sing-alongs in our living room at Country Comforts Assisted Living, our home.

When Doris died, her daughter asked me to play the piano in their Presbyterian church and to have a hymn sing for her funeral. I gave her daughter a list of every hymn I could remember that Doris had asked to sing in our sing-alongs, and I think we sang all of them at the funeral. In my mind I could still see Doris singing along, especially on Holy, Holy, Holy.

Abbey - Mary - sitting tall - adj

Mary and Abbey were friends, too.

Mary had a favorite hymn for our evening sing-alongs, too. It was The Family of God. Her choice also surprised me. I’ve known Mary most of my life. She was my fifth and sixth grade teacher, and then my history teacher when I was in junior high. She was 84 when she came to us for assisted living. Like me, she had grown up Methodist, and then turned Lutheran as an adult. What surprised me by her choice of a favorite hymn was that she chose a more contemporary gospel song. I expected her to choose something that had roots in her childhood years, a more traditional gospel song from an earlier era.

IMG_0993

I’ve always been interested in what people choose as their favorite hymns. Over the years, I’ve found it very revealing to learn what someone’s favorite hymns are. When I know your favorite hymns, I feel I’m beginning to really know you.

When I was an organist at the Presbyterian church in Cambridge, we had bulletin inserts for almost every funeral because invariably the favorite hymn of the deceased person was not included in the current edition of the hymnal.

At the request of the pastor, I coordinated the compilation of a songbook of congregational favorites. We asked the congregation to submit a list of their favorite hymns, whether they were in the current hymnal, or not. For all the hymns that were no longer in the hymnal, I found the hymns in my collection of old hymnals from a wide variety of denominations, added some of my own favorites, and arranged them into a songbook.

(I think we adequately addressed copyright issues by obtaining a Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) license and acknowledging that most of the older hymns were currently in the public domain.)

IMG_0999

This “Favorites” songbook has become my go-to book for finding an old gospel song that I want to use in a prelude or as a meditative response, regardless of whether I’m playing in a Presbyterian Church, a Lutheran Church, or even at the women’s worship service of the county jail.

When I played the piano regularly for the women’s worship service in the Dane County Jail, we usually sang two hymns, selected by the chaplain. The inmates, whose ages ranged from 20s to 60s, seemed to enjoy singing, regardless of the hymns selected. After the service was over, I kept playing whatever hymns and spirituals popped into my mind while we waited for deputies to come to escort the women out of the chapel and back to their cell blocks. Sometimes, the inmates sang along as I played, and often they requested their favorites to sing. As I recall, the most frequent requests were Amazing Grace, Jesus Loves Me, and How Great Thou Art.

City-County Bldg 2

Dane County Jail – on the upper floors of the City-County Building

It seems that favorite hymns are surprisingly universal. Regardless of our ages and circumstances, many of the same songs speak to our hearts.

So what’s my most favorite hymn of all? That’s too hard a question. Some days, I think my answer would be Great Is Thy Faithfulness. Other days, I’d probably say Just a Closer Walk with Thee, or To God Be the Glory, or We Gather Together, or How Great Thou Art, or Near to the Heart of God. Last Sunday, I think I would have claimed Holy, Holy, Holy as my favorite. Really!

Thanks, Doris! You taught me that even a stately old hymn that’s two and a half centuries old can become one of my favorites. And thanks to you, too, Mary. You have proven that even octogenarians can learn to love brand new hymns!

Mary-Doris cropped

Mary and Doris sharing good times.

(Extra picture… Mim asked me why I didn’t use the picture below instead of the picture above to end this post. Picking favorite pictures to illustrate a story is just as hard as choosing favorite hymns! Sometimes, it’s just too hard to choose. So today you get two ending pictures.)

Abbey-Doris-Mary in Sun Room

Doris, Mary, and Abbey talking and laughing while waiting for our sing-along to begin.