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Friends and Relatives, Cats and Dogs

How many friends and relatives, cats and dogs does it take to make one’s life wonderful?

Hundreds. Maybe thousands. What it takes to make a life wonderful is to learn to appreciate – to be thankful for – the  enrichment each person and pet contributes to one’s life.

Mim and Marian with Megabyte - our first puppy - in our living room in Chicago.

Mim and Marian with Megabyte – our first puppy – in our living room in Chicago – 1990.

During the last couple weeks, Mim and I have had opportunities to see lots of friends and relatives from much earlier times in our lives. That got me started thinking about all the people in our lives – in our whole lifetimes – and how much all these people, and pets, have enriched our lives.

Mim and Roger Hovey

Mim and cousin Roger in 2006.

Last Friday, we attended the funeral of Mim’s last first cousin, Roger Hovey, age 93. We drove over 500 miles to Clear Lake, South Dakota for the funeral. After the service we ate a funeral lunch in the church fellowship hall with about a hundred of Roger’s friends and relatives, and we enjoyed a couple hours of visiting, mostly with second cousins of Mim. Then we drove 500 miles home. That’s how we spent Thursday, Friday, and half of Saturday last week. The trip was exhausting, but the time spent remembering Roger’s life and talking with Mim’s relatives was incredibly refreshing.

Roger and his wife June had lived and farmed in South Dakota their whole lives. For the last 30 years or so they spent their winters in Florida. When Mim and I moved to Wisconsin from Chicago 23 years ago, Roger and June started to drive through Cambridge almost every spring and fall on their way to and from Florida for a short visit. They never called to schedule the visit. They just rang the doorbell, usually mid-morning, and came in for a cup of coffee and an hour or two of conversation. Fortunately, either Mim or I always happened to be at home when they came. The last few years their daughter Pam drove with them. We always enjoyed their short, lively visits. Each visit was a time to step out of our daily routine and enjoy both reminiscing and catching up on the current lives of these loving people from our past – in this case, Mim’s past. However, over the 20 years of their twice yearly visits, they became good friends of mine, too.

June-Roger-Pam-Gene 2006

June and Roger with their daughter Pam and her husband Gene – 2006.

The week before the funeral, Mim and I went to Chicago for a church music conference. (All this travel is very unlike us with our 24/7/365 assisted living business, but everything just happened to work out smoothly for these two trips.) The conference was great, both practical and inspiring. But even better was the reconnection with more old friends and relatives. One day we had lunch with Mim’s niece and her daughter. We hadn’t seen them in at least 25 years. That evening we had half-pound cheeseburgers and a pitcher of Sangria in the beer garden of Moody’s Pub, our old hang-out in Chicago, with Marilyn, a friend from my college days who co-owned and lived in our two-flat in Chicago with us for 13 years.

Marilyn, Mim, and Marian in the Beer Garden of Moody's Pub - 2015.

Marilyn, Mim, and Marian in the Beer Garden of Moody’s Pub – 2015.

On our way back to our motel from Moody’s we drove through our old neighborhood and stopped to see Ruth, the woman who lived next door to us in Chicago. At 98, she’s still living in her two-flat, now all by herself. Until just a couple years ago, her sister Elaine had lived with her. Although Elaine was six years younger than Ruth, Elaine passed away first. We talked about some of the changes the neighborhood has seen in Ruth’s lifetime. Her parents had built the two-flat she is still living in, 90 years later. Their family was one of the Russian Jewish families who settled in that block of Chicago when it was first being developed in the 1920s.

Ruth (left) and her sister Elaine and their first dog Jenny, visiting us in our farmhouse just after we moved from Chicago to the farm in 1992.

Ruth (left) and her sister Elaine and their first dog Jenny, visiting us in our farmhouse just after we moved from Chicago to the farm in 1992.

Zoe - dropped

Zoe – still a puppy at heart until the day she died at age 15.

One of the more current things we talked about was Ruth’s dog Zoe. Her 15-year-old dog had died less than a week ago. One of Ruth’s friends wrote “Elegy for Zoe” on her blog, MidwesternRobot.com. It’s a beautiful story about Zoe and about close-knit friendships in the neighborhood. (I encourage you to follow the link to Zoe’s story, but be prepared to shed a tear or two.)

That’s partly why I’m reflecting on how friends, relatives, and pets enrich our lives throughout our whole lifetime. That’s what makes life so wonderful. I guess that’s why the Bible tells us to love each other.

For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [Galatians 5:14]

Fortunately, throughout my lifetime, I have had many, many neighbors – friends and relatives and cats and dogs – who have loved me and enriched my life greatly. It’s good to take time to remember these wonderful people and other loving creatures from our past.

Mim and Pam in cemetery - 2015.

Mim and Pam in cemetery – 2015.

Reflection on a Good Old Hymn

Over the past few weeks I’ve been writing reflections on Lenten hymns for our e-retreat entitled “The Scandal of Lent.”  Throughout Lent I plan to write a total of nine reflections about Lenten music, and Pastor Joan will write the same number of reflections about themes presented in the book The Scandal of Lent by Robert Kysar (Augsburg Publishing House, 1982). (For more information about the e-retreat, click here.)

One of the hardest parts of my assignment is to select which Lenten hymns to write about from all the beautiful music that is particularly meaningful during Lent. For today’s blog, I decided to write a reflection on one of the songs that I really wanted to include in the e-retreat, but there just weren’t enough sessions to squeeze it in.

Fanny Crosby

“Near the Cross”

Fanny Crosby (1820 – 1915) was one of the most prolific hymn writers ever. She wrote more than 8,000 hymns. She’s been referred to as “the Queen of Gospel Song Writers” and “the Mother of modern congregational singing in America.” In 1975 she was belatedly inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Two of her best known songs are “Blessed Assurance” and “To God Be the Glory.”

When she was only six weeks old, she had an eye infection. Unfortunately, the primitive medical treatment she received caused her to go blind. As she grew into childhood, her grandmother took a special interest in helping her memorize Bible verses. By the time she reached adulthood, she had memorized the four Gospels, Psalms, Proverbs, and several other books of the Bible. This knowledge was a tremendous resource for her to draw upon as she wrote hymns and gospel songs.

The circumstances surrounding her writing “Near the Cross” were quite typical of how she wrote her songs. A friend of hers, Howard Doane, came to her with a new melody he had composed. He played the music for her. She listened and then said she felt that the tune said, “Jesus, keep me near the cross,” and she promptly wrote the words.

Jesus, keep me near the cross;
There a precious fountain;
Free to all, a healing stream,
Flows from Calvary’s mountain.

Refrain:
In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory every,
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.

Near the cross, a trembling soul,
Love and mercy found me;
There the bright and Morning Star
Shed its beams around me.
Refrain.

Near the cross! O Lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day,
With its shadows o’er me.
Refrain.

Near the cross I’ll watch and wait,
Hoping, trusting ever,
‘Til I reach the golden strand
Just beyond the river.
Refrain.

Neville Peter

Neville Peter (b. 1972) is blind pianist and vocalist who has a special appreciation for the songs of Fanny Crosby. Click this link to a YouTube video where he sings “Near the Cross.”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5g1EWML1tNo

PERSONAL REFLECTION:

When Fanny Crosby was asked about her blindness, she responded with this statement:

It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me. [quoted from www.cyberhymnal.org]

Think about what challenges you personally have faced, or are currently facing in life. Can you imagine any positive result from these challenges? If you were asked to share your perspective on your own personal hardships, what would you say?

“I Saw Jesus”

Early one morning a few days ago, I walked by Emma’s* room on my way to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. I heard Emma talking, so I stepped inside her room to be sure she was okay. Emma is one of our two assisted living residents. She is 91, has dementia, and is quite frail, but she usually has a very cheerful disposition. We have cared for her in our home for more than three years.

Emma was lying in bed. Her eyes were wide open. I asked her if she was feeling okay, or if she needed anything. She looked at me and said, very clearly, “I saw Jesus!”

I thought I had heard her right, but to be sure, I asked her, “Did you say you saw Jesus?”

“Yes,” she responded. “I saw Jesus.”

“Did he know you?” I asked her.

“Yes.” Then the moment of clarity had passed. She continued to say words, but I couldn’t understand what she was trying to tell me. She looked very happy and was quite excited as she continued to talk.

For the past ten years, my partner, Mim, and I have been providing assisted living services in our home. We usually have two residents living with us. All twenty of the residents who have lived with us thus far have been quite frail, and many of them have had some degree of dementia. Most have come to live with us until they are ready to pass on to their next life. One resident lived with us for only a day before she passed on. Another resident lived with us almost four years. Most live a year or two.

Mim and I have learned that it is quite common for our residents to see visitors from heaven when they get closer to the end of their lives. The visitors may be angels, friends and family members who have preceded them in death, and now Jesus himself. Unfortunately, Mim and I don’t get to see these visitors. Only the resident can see them, and the resident is very comforted by the visit. The visitors seem to be here to alleviate any fears our residents may have about moving on to the other side.

My conversation with Emma last week brought to mind the song, “I’ve Just Seen Jesus” (words by Gloria Gaither, music by William J. Gaither and Danny Daniels). A few of the words are:

I’ve just seen Jesus
And I’ll never be the same again.

That prompted me to think about how music helps us both understand and express what we’ve learned about God’s love through our life experiences. Over the next few weeks I’ll have the perfect opportunity to share these thoughts. Pastor Joan Gunderman and I are working together on creating a Lenten e-retreat entitled “The Scandal of Lent.” Joan’s part is to write reflections based on the key themes of the book, The Scandal of Lent, by Robert Kysar. My part is to write reflections based on Lenten hymns, gospel songs, and spirituals for each week of Lent. Each reflection will include information about the song as well as links to online performances of the song. Our intent is that everyone who participates in this e-retreat will be able to say along with Emma, “I saw Jesus,” or at least be able to say, “I understand more about God’s love now than I did before, and I’ll never be the same again.”

For more information about our Lenten e-retreat, click here.

* To protect the privacy of our resident, I’ve changed her name to Emma in this blog post.