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What Can I Do?

Floe-Marian faces 2015That question has been on my mind every day for the past couple weeks as I have watched the news from our southern border. And I know I’m not alone.

A few days ago one of my Facebook friends wrote, 

“I just keep giving because I don’t know what else to do beyond contact my legislators… It’s World Refugee Day today. It’s a day dedicated to raising awareness of the situation of refugees throughout the world. If you are at all in favor (or ambivalent) of this administration’s actions, I implore you to take a moment today to educate yourselves and find empathy for those seeking asylum from violent countries in Central America such as El Salvador and Honduras. The vast majority of these refugees are not looking to freeload off of the USA, they are seeking safety for themselves and their families.” 

Nearly half a million people have joined my Facebook friend in making a donation to RAICES, an immigration legal services provider who is committed to reuniting immigrant parents with their children who were taken away from them at our border. (https://www.raicestexas.org). I thought about sending them some money, but I wondered what else I could do to help alleviate the terrible situation of children from Central America being separated from their parents at the border, with no credible assurance that they will ever be reunited. 

I feel particularly connected to the people of Honduras because Mim and I are currently providing support for two girls in Honduras, Dulce and Leydi, through a small organization called Casita Copan. (CasitaCopan.org)

Leydi Emily Dulce

Leydi, Emily (founder and executive director of Casita Copan), and Dulce. (Photo by Liz Dougherty)

Also, we make donations, at least once a year, to various projects of Buenos Vecinos (BuenosVecinos.org), a small aid organization in western Honduras and Guatemala organized by Ellen Lippman Finn, a retired social worker and jazz musician from the United States. 

51smFhUIbL._SX322_BO1204203200_Ellen wrote a book about her experiences in Honduras, EMOTIONAL WITNESS: My seven-year journey as an aid worker into the heart of Honduras. (The book is available in both print and digital form on amazon.com.) I’d like to share a few excerpts from her book to provide a more personal glimpse into the extreme violence today’s Central American refugees are fleeing. Ellen writes:

My house was robbed again a couple days ago, in front of many witnesses who were afraid to come forward because the robber is a gang member… This was the thirteenth or fourteenth time I’ve been robbed…

I can’t count how many times I’ve been extorted. A couple of them really scared me. One I actually paid off because they threatened to harm a dear friend if I didn’t pay. And as far as murders – I can’t even count how many friends, workers, neighbors have been murdered by police, by an angered person, by narcotraficantes [drug traffickers], by gang members. I barely cry any more.

My neighbor had her head cut off with a machete in broad daylight on a main street. The police didn’t find her attacker. Police never “find” anyone.

One of the worst scenarios that keeps haunting me is the murder of Odilio. He was the kind and respected leader of a mountain village where he built a small school. He had just finished building the school when, in the middle of the night, two crazy men high on drugs forced their way into his house and shot him pointblank while his kids hid under the bed. The children are still traumatized, as well as all of the members of his community. They have now all dispersed, leaving the village empty. This kind of violence can and does happen anywhere and at any time. My friend’s son was murdered in a restaurant. We all live in fear…

One night, I heard gunshots and called the police. They never showed up. In the morning, at about 5:00 a.m., I found a dead body at my gate, full of bullet holes, dried blood everywhere. He was a young fellow I knew. No motive found. No murderer found. What’s worse is this wasn’t the only time I had found a dead body, and I live in a supposedly quiet tourist town. San Pedro Sula, our largest city, a few hours from here, is now considered the most dangerous city in the world due to gang violence.

Later in the book, Ellen described how she put together enough terrifying clues to realize that she was actually on a hit list. She discussed this with Marel, a Honduran friend and co-worker on many of her aid projects. He investigated and confirmed her suspicions. 

… after my conversation with Marel, I periodically saw men walking by my house in pairs, especially in the evening. This frightened me terribly at first. They appeared to be reading. This made no sense. Why would folks be reading? When I asked Marel, he told me that he hadn’t wanted to worry me, so he hadn’t mentioned anything. These men were from his church, many of whom I had helped over the years in one way or another, with food baskets, emergency medical help, house repairs, and school supplies. And yes, they were in fact reading. Bibles. They were walking around my house in two-hour shifts. When Marel told me this, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I was so touched. These men were protecting me in shifts, two at a time, two bibles at a time, praying, monitoring, their cell phones at the ready….

There was a continual yet futile search for more information. As I came to understand it, the narcotraficantes didn’t like that we were working in “their communities.” The more we empowered the communities with schools, or a clinic, or a bakery to make them self-sufficient, the less power and control the narcos would have to extort from the villagers. I still didn’t get it completely, but I was in no position to try and figure it out. I had to leave if I wanted to stay alive…”

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Ellen shopping for school supplies with some of her young friends.

That’s everyday life in Honduras, as seen through the eyes of a 70-year-old former social worker who who lived there for seven years, trying to help families survive their cruel circumstances. She had to flee for her life, and was back in the United States for a while. It’s still not safe for her to return to Honduras (except for a few carefully planned trips to visit her old friends), so she has moved to neighboring Guatemala. Through Buenos Vecinos (which translates to Good Neighbors) Ellen is doing basically the same kind of aid projects in Guatemala that she had done in Honduras – providing school supplies and school lunches, building schools, helping to address medical needs, and so on.

After reading this book, it’s easy to understand why individuals and families in Honduras are trying to immigrate to the United States. They are literally fleeing for their lives.

Back to my original question, what can I do to help? When I lived in Chicago and was working in business, I learned that to solve problems, it is important to figure out how to remedy the immediate problem, but it is just as important to look for the root cause of the problem in order to find a permanent solution. For us in the United States today, the immediate challenge is to reunite children who have been separated from their parents at the border. That’s the problem that brings tears to my eyes every day when I watch the news. That’s the problem (or at least one of the problems) that RAICES is trying to address, and they are getting help from nearly half a million people who are donating funds to support their efforts. Mim and I might join in with a small donation. We want to be a part of this solution.

But we also want to be a part of the long-term solution. Thanks to our connections with Ellen Lippman Finn and Buenos Vecinos, we know that a permanent solution involves making it possible for the incredibly poor families in Central America to survive and even to thrive in their own communities. We can do this by making donations to organizations like Buenos Vecinos so that they can provide resources to these families to help them meet their basic needs – food, clothing, housing, health care, education, and ultimately some means of livelihood.

And, on an even more personal level, Mim and I will continue to support our two girls at Casita Copan so that they can be assured their basic needs will always be met. Both girls will have birthdays this summer. We’ll send them birthday cards, and will provide an extra donation to the organization for birthday presents. They need to know that someone in North America really cares about them and has hope for their future.

Earlier this year Mim and I sent special presents with some friends of ours who went to Honduras to visit face-to-face with the children they support through another organization, Children International (children.org).

Leydi Dulce smiling w presents

(Photo by Liz Dougherty)

We sent Dulce (age 9) a backpack filled with coloring books and crayons, art papers and pens, and other craft supplies, and Leydi (age 16) a tablet computer along with an amazon.com gift card that she can use to download apps or kindle books. (She has Internet access at Casita Copan.)

I’m sure tears will still come to my eyes when I listen to the news again this evening, but at least I know that Mim and I are doing what we can to help solve the huge problems facing our neighbors to the south. If you, like us, want to know what you can do to help solve our world’s current immigration-related  problems, we encourage you to check out the websites of the organizations that are working to solve these problems with both short-term and long-term solutions, and consider making donations to support their efforts. 

www.RaicesTexas.org

CasitaCopan.org

Children.org

BuenosVecinos.org

Also, please feel free to respond to this blog post to share other ideas you may have to address these problems.

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Ellen with some young friends.

And one last comment. Some of the story of Ellen Lippman Finn and Buenos Vecinos may sound familiar to you. I wrote a blog post last February entitled “Memoir of a 70-year-old Super Hero.” If you want to learn even more about Ellen’s story and get a really close up look at the life of a loving and eccentric aid worker in Central America, pick up a copy of EMOTIONAL WITNESS: My Seven-Year Journey as an Aid Worker into the Heart of Honduras. I laughed hard, and I cried hard as I read this book. I highly recommend it. Here’s the link to it on amazon.com.  

Dementia, Music, and Talking with God

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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.

 

PLAY – the Best Medicine

A couple weeks ago Floey and I went for a long morning walk, and it really felt like summer for the first time this year. The sun had warmed the air to the mid 70s, a few white clouds floated in the bright blue sky, the birds were singing, and cornfields were showing off neat rows of 2-inch baby plants. Floey trotted beside me on her 16-foot extendable leash, watching carefully for any movement along the side of the road that could indicate a chipmunk, rabbit, or squirrel was hiding from us.

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As we walked along the country road that goes by our old farmhouse, a song that was popular when I was in high school popped into my mind – “Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer.” In my mind, Nat King Cole was singing it, and I was in the driveway of the farm, washing my first car, a 1963 Corvair. I remember I did that on perfect Sunday afternoons in 1966. That song made me smile and feel good 51 years ago, and it made me smile and feel good now as I was walking Floey.

Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Those days of soda and pretzels and beer
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Dust off the sun and moon and sing a song of cheer.

When Floey and I got back home, I said, “Alexa, play Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer by Nat King Cole.” My Amazon Echo gadget accommodated my whim, and I listened to the song just as I had remembered it.

Danny and Marian in first go-kart

We also built go-karts.

Summer is my favorite time of the year for lots of reasons. Most of my happy childhood memories took place in the summer – planting tobacco, baling hay, playing cowboys and Indians in the barn, walking down to the woods to explore, playing croquet on the front lawn. There was always lots of work to do, but there was always enough time to play, as well. Now that I’ve grown up, I find that it’s much harder to find time to play, although I’m usually most successful in finding time for play in the summer.

For the month of May, Joan Chittister wrote in the “Monastic Way” devotional pamphlet all about the importance of finding time to play. She started by quoting Proverbs 8:30, “I, Wisdom, was God’s delight day by day, playing with God every moment…”

fullsizeoutput_208aI’ve never used words quite like that to talk about “playing.” But as usual, Chittister gave me something to think about every day. One day she quoted Albert Einstein, “Play is the highest form of research.” She went on to explain, “Play frees our minds to think things we have never had the opportunity to think before. It enables us to come to know ourselves in other ways. It prompts us to think differently – about old things and new.”

Another day she said, “Adults get so work oriented, they forget to keep on growing. As a result we risk never becoming the rest of ourselves. To know who we are and what we can be requires a great deal of aimless activity…”

The next day she added, “To be really happy, we have to discover how to play as well as how to work.”

One of my favorite reflections of the month was on May 23. “Play … gives the mind room to think about more than the present. It provides the space we need to remember what life was like before arthritis of the soul set in.”

“Arthritis of the soul” is an image I won’t forget. I have a little arthritis in my knees, hips, and wrists. I don’t like it, and I do whatever I can to keep it from getting worse. I certainly don’t want to develop “arthritis of the soul,” and if taking time to play can prevent it, finding time to play will become a new priority for me.

So, how do I play as a “mature adult?” I’m not sure that rounding up my cousins to play cowboys and Indians in the barn will be quite as much fun as it was 60 years ago. Chittister had a suggestion. She said, “Get up tomorrow and go do something you’ve never done before. Then, decide if you’d like to do that again. If not, try something else the next day. Keep trying until you discover a whole new part of you. You’ll like yourself a whole lot better if you do.”

I think I have a few ideas of my own about how to play, too. Going for walks with Floey is fun and provides aimless time to think. Going on a treasure hunt with Mim usually ends up at a resale shop where all kinds of discoveries can be made – especially in the book department. Cuddling up with a good book can provide hours of escape from reality. Sometimes playing through a songbook of golden oldies on the piano can be unbelievably refreshing.

Now that the “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” are here, I’m ready to play. I need to prevent “arthritis of the soul.” And, as Joan Chittister says, “There’s no substitute for knowing how to do nothing [i.e., play] without feeling guilty about it.” And now you know how.

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Floey and I also play with gardening on our deck.

Something I Started To Think about in Fifth Grade

fullsizeoutput_2003I was about ten years old when I first tried to understand what the terms “socialism” and “capitalism” meant. My fifth grade teacher was Mrs. Borgerud, and she very patiently tried to explain to the class the core beliefs of each political/economic system. Back in the ‘50s, we all knew that the United States was right and Russia was wrong with regard to all our differences. Therefore, it was clear that capitalism was good and socialism was bad. We knew that. What we were trying to learn that day was what those big words really meant.

I learned that “socialism” was based on the belief that everyone is equally entitled to all our resources and everyone should be treated fairly. Our resources should be owned communally, and everyone should work together so that the basic needs of all of us would be met. My initial reaction was quite positive. That sounded like what Christ modeled in the New Testament – that we should help each other and take care of the poor and the sick. I was surprised. That couldn’t really be what “socialism” was all about… Or, was it?

Then I learned that “capitalism” was based on the belief that the harder we worked, the greater would be our rewards. Those who were poor, deserved to be poor because they didn’t work hard enough. That sounded to me more like selfishness and greed and disrespect for the poor. That didn’t seem to be the type of behavior the Bible encouraged.

I was puzzled. I looked around at the other kids in the class to see if they were as confused as I was by what we were hearing from our teacher. I couldn’t tell. No one expressed any of the shock that I was feeling. I guess I must not be understanding what Mrs. Borgerud was really saying. I didn’t speak up. I just listened some more.

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Mrs. Borgerud came to live with us for assisted living care several years ago. She and Abbey became good friends.

Mrs. Borgerud explained that one reason capitalism was better than socialism was that it provided an incentive for people to work hard. If you want to be rich, you can be rich. You just need to work hard enough. In contrast, the weakness in socialism is that there is no incentive to work hard. You will get all your needs met whether you work or not. Socialism provides an incentive to be lazy.

I guess that made sense. But I was still troubled. I didn’t know anyone who worked harder than my mom and dad, yet we considered ourselves poor, not rich. I never went hungry, and I always had enough clothes – although they all came from Penneys or Sears, not from Manchesters where some of my classmates from wealthier families bought their clothes. I’m sure their parents didn’t work harder than mine. There didn’t seem to be much of a correlation between hard work and wealth.

And what about the special offerings we sometimes had in church to provide food and clothing for the poor in our inner cities and in Africa and India? What did capitalism have to say about meeting the needs of the poor? Was being poor really their own problem because they were too lazy to work?

It’s been almost 60 years since I first wondered about these things.  Ever since that day in fifth grade, I’ve been suspicious that there may be serious inconsistencies between capitalism and what the Bible says about how God intends for us to share our resources with our neighbors.

At times I’ve wondered if socialism follows the teachings of the Bible more closely. That sounds more like how the early church lived.

Now the group of those who believed were of one heart and one soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. [Acts 4:32-35 NRSV]

Ellen M KogstadA few years ago Mim and I had a long conversation with Ellen, a friend of ours in Chicago. Her family immigrated from Norway to the United States when she was a little girl. Ellen still keeps in close touch with many of her relatives in Norway. Our conversation with Ellen was after one of her recent trips to Norway. She talked about how socialism has changed the way people think about caring for their less fortunate neighbors. “It’s the government’s job to see that their needs are met – not mine.” Her cousins rarely go to church, and they certainly don’t tithe. There’s no personal sense of responsibility to care for the poor. It seems that the advice given in Proverbs no longer applies to individuals in Norway.

Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, but one who turns a blind eye will get many a curse. [Proverbs 28:27 NRSV]

Why am I thinking about socialism and capitalism today? I can’t help but think about what is the appropriate role of government, as our country is jolted from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration. It seems we are changing in lightning speed from trying to be a “kind, gentle nation” to becoming a “tough, aggressive, me-first nation.” Selfishness is expressed in the new administration’s slogan of “America First!”

As I read the lectionary readings for January 29, 2017 in preparation for planning the music for Sunday’s church service, I read Micah 6:1-8, the Old Testament reading for the day. In the reading, God has a complaint against Israel. After all God has done for Israel, why aren’t they following after the righteousness they have been shown. The passage ends with these words:

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? [Micah 6:8 NRSV]

I think it’s obvious from experience around the world that no political/economic system is perfect. But God’s standard of how we should act as a nation has been set – To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. With all the political squabbling that’s going on now, this is what we need to remember. This needs to be our guiding principal – personally and as a nation.

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Special Words for 2017

Floey sitting - profile croppedFloey came bounding down the stairs, ran over to my desk, and sat down on the floor right next to me. “Good morning, Floey,” I said.

“Good morning, Mom. Is it time yet?” Floey asked.

“Yes. I think the time has finally come, Floey. Are you ready to talk about our special words for next year?”

“I sure am. I’ve been thinking about this for months. I don’t think I chose a very good word to focus on for 2016. I want to do better this year. Do you remember what I chose last year?”

“I sure do, Floey. You chose MEOW. You wanted to learn to communicate better with the cats in the neighborhood, and you thought learning their language would help.”

cat talking and smiling“Yeah. But it didn’t work very well. The neighborhood cats all disappeared. I think they were afraid to come out in the cold last January, and then they just turned into lazy house cats, and they didn’t come out much in the nice weather either.”

“That’s right, and by August I think you decided to adopt my special word of KINDNESS to use as your special word for the rest of the year. Was that better?”

“It was better, but I never really felt committed to that word. That was your word, not mine. So I’ve been thinking and thinking and thinking to come up with a better word for 2017.”

“What did you come up with?”

fullsizeoutput_1929“I kept thinking about a rather unpleasant conversation we had one day last summer. You said I was stubborn. And you said it in such a way I knew you thought it wasn’t good to be stubborn. I think our disagreement was all about taking time to sit at a curb before crossing a street, and then to sit again on the other side. Sometimes, I just don’t want to take the time to sit down, and to do it twice at every intersection seems like overkill. I just don’t see the point. Anyway, during that conversation you called me stubborn and you suggested that I should find a word that’s the opposite of stubborn to have as my special word for next year. Do you remember that?”

“I kind of remember.”

“Well I remember the conversation very well. I don’t like us to have disagreements. So I’ve thought a lot about opposites of stubborn. I came up with words like compliant, submissive, weak, yielding, and complacent. Those aren’t inspiring words at all.”

“I can see that, Floey. But couldn’t you come up with anything more positive that’s an opposite of stubborn?” I asked.

“Well, it took a while, but I finally did. I thought about words like willing, flexible, broad-minded, giving, and kind. And then it hit me. I thought of the word FRIEND. I want to focus on being a FRIEND. A friend is someone who doesn’t insist on getting their own way. Sometimes they will get their own way, but more importantly, they will think about what’s best for everyone, which may or may not be their own way. They will do what’s best for the other person just as much, or maybe even more than what’s best for themselves. So, for 2017, my special word is FRIEND.”

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Doris and her caregiver Abbey were best friends.

“That’s a great word, Floey. And it’s so appropriate! Have you heard the old saying that ‘dog is man’s best friend’?  The language of the expression could be cleaned up a little to make it more gender neutral, but the sentiment is true.”

“I’m sure FRIEND is going to be a great word for me to think about all year. I think that by the end of the year I’ll know how to be the best FRIEND that anyone could possibly have. I’m so excited!”

“That’s wonderful, Floey.”

“How about you, Mom? What’s your new word going to be?”

“I’m pretty excited about my new word, too, Floey. It’s HOPE. My special word for 2017 is HOPE.”

“I guess that’s a good word, Mom. But what made you choose HOPE?”fullsizeoutput_1ffa

“I have a really good reason for choosing it, Floey. HOPE is probably what I will need more than anything else in 2017. You see, after the presidential election last November, I was depressed, and I was really scared. In the past, sometimes I’ve been disappointed with the results of a presidential election, but I’ve never been really afraid of what might happen under the charge of the new president. But this time is different. I have no confidence in his competence or his integrity. I am afraid that he might carelessly do something that will result in economic or physical harm or even death to millions of people – both in this country and around the globe. You and me included. Like I said, I’m really scared. I sure HOPE I’m wrong. I HOPE that he truly wants to lead the country in good ways that will benefit all Americans as well as the rest of the world. And I HOPE that his unorthodox ways will lead to positive results. I need to give him a chance to be successful. I need to have HOPE.”

“Wow, Mom. That’s pretty serious. I knew the election was a big deal, but I didn’t think it would affect us personally. That’s scary.”

320943“Yeah, I know. That’s why I need to have HOPE this year. Sarah Young (the writer of the daily devotional book Jesus Calling) has written several other books in the same style – as though Jesus is speaking to us directly. In one of these books, Young quotes Jesus as saying,

Though difficulties abound in this world, rejoice that I am ever present with you. I can enable you to cope with any and all circumstances, strengthening you as you look trustingly to Me. No matter how hopeless your situation may seem, I assure you that all things are possible with Me….  [Jesus Lives: Seeing His Love in Your Life, p. 102]

“Young then cites Psalm 46:2 as assurance that God is really with us, helping us.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

“Young went on to reference Mark 10:27:

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.

“You know, Floey, I think the Bible has a lot to say about HOPE, and I plan to look into that this year, and hopefully I will become more hopeful about everything that’s going on in our world these days.”

Floey sighed and said, “Boy, Mom, we both have high expectations for our special words this year. Do you know what Mim’s new word is? I wonder if she’s decided on one yet.”

2015-floey-and-mim-on-couch-cropped“Here she comes, Floey. Let’s ask her. Hey, Mim, come join us. We’re talking about our special words for 2017. Have you chosen your new word yet?”

“I sure have. It’s HOPE,” she replied as she sat down with us.

“Hey, that’s my word,” I exclaimed. “You can’t have my word!”

“I certainly can! I’ve thought a lot about it, and I need to focus on HOPE this year. I’m going to turn 70 this summer, and I need to keep hoping that some of the changes I’m anticipating over the next few years will work out for the best. Even though I tend to worry, I need to remember that ultimately, God is in control. That gives me HOPE. That’s what I need to focus on – not worrying about the challenges and changes that are ahead in my life.”

Floey - thoughtful faceFloey looked from one mom to the other and said, “I can’t believe my moms are arguing over their special words for 2017!”

“You’re right, Floey. I guess I can share my word. Mim, I came across a benediction a few days ago that might be a good start for both of us in our focus on HOPE this year.

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. [Romans 15:13 NIV]

“Hey, I like that. Thanks for sharing it,” Mim responded.

Floey jumped up and trotted over to the patio door. “I think we’re all set. I’m going to learn everything there is to know about becoming a true FRIEND this year, and both of you are going to learn how to be more HOPEFUL. So, we’re ready. Time to go for a walk.”

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Two Thousand “Ducks in a Row”

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Just imagine 2,000 ducks waddling around a big pond. Some wood ducks. Some mallards. Some plain white farmyard ducks. Some old. Some fluffy little yellow ducklings. And they’re all mixed up. Now imagine that it is your job to organize them by species and subspecies, and then line them up alphabetically by name – from Abby to Zach. How long do you think it would take you to get all your ducks in a row?

It took me two weeks. Except my ducks are books. And yes, I estimate Mim and I together have about 2,000 books . This number does not include my digital books (about a hundred) nor my books of piano and organ music (another couple hundred). And it doesn’t include our cookbooks (probably another hundred or so).

Mim and I both like to read, and over the years we have accumulated many books. Mim says a good book becomes a friend – someone that we may want to go back to again and again at different times in our lives. We’ve accumulated friends, not just books. It’s not easy to part with friends. It’s not easy to part with books. But sometimes we try.

Twenty-four years ago when we moved from Chicago to Cambridge, we went through all our book shelves and gave away several boxes of books, the books we were pretty sure we wouldn’t read again. That’s when we got rid of most of our textbooks. But never fear. We found new books to enlighten our minds and enrich our souls.

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A mini-library in one of our B&B guest rooms

Eighteen years ago when we turned our farmhouse into Country Comforts Bed & Breakfast, one of our distinguishing amenities as a B&B was that we had a bookcase in every guest room. We wanted to have more than just a Gideon Bible in every room. We put a good selection of our favorite books in each room – devotional books, novels, biographies, coffee table style picture books, etc. Many of our guests picked up a book and enjoyed it during their stay with us. Some even asked to take a book home with them, and promised to return the book by mail when they finished reading it. We were happy to oblige – delighted to share our love of books.

Nine years ago when we moved from the farm to the condo we put hundreds of books in our down-sizing sale, but we still moved about twenty boxes of books with us to the condo.

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Some of the books in our down-sizing sale in 2007

We had my brother build a wall of bookshelves from the knee-wall to the ceiling along the hallway in the finished part of the basement. However, we never had time to organize our books. We simply unpacked the books and set them on the shelves in no particular order. We wanted to get everything out of boxes. Our plan was to organize the books later, when we had more time. That time never came. Whenever we wanted to pick up a particular book, we had to scan all the shelves until we found it. Sometimes we were successful. Sometimes we weren’t. And we spent a lot of time just looking.

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The book shelves my brother built for us – 6 sections of 4 shelves each

So why did I decide to get my “ducks in a row” over the last couple weeks?

By the end of June, the time finally came for us to empty the last of our belongings from the farmhouse. That included twelve more boxes of books! When we turned the farmhouse into a B&B-style retreat center we intentionally built up a nice little library of mostly inspirational books for guests of Whispering Winds to use. Some of these books were duplicates of our personal favorites. Others were new books that we picked up at resale shops and second-hand book stores in Madison. Even though we brought the big bookcase and a couple smaller bookcases from the farmhouse to the condo this summer, we still didn’t have room for all our books. I had no choice. I had to organize and filter all the books or Mim would never be able to get her car in the garage again.

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Bookcase in living room – reserved for our favorite authors

My first step in organizing 2,000-plus books was to go through all the books on the shelves in the basement, searching for our favorite authors: Max Lucado (34 books!), Philip Yancey (17 books), Frederick Buechner, Tony Campolo, Henri Nouwen, Edward Hays, and about a dozen other authors. I put these books in the big new bookcase (also built by my brother) that we moved from the farm to the living room of the condo, arranging the books by author and title. Then I went through the twelve boxes from the farmhouse, picking out the books of just our favorite authors, and inter-filing them on the shelves.

I put all the duplicates of these favorite authors in another bookcase – the one we designated for books to give to friends who may have an interest in a particular subject, author, or book. Mim often talks with friends about some of her favorite books. If the person is really interested in the book, Mim is happy to give them one of our duplicates – to keep permanently or to read and pass on to someone else. We don’t have a “lending library.” We have a “give-away library.”

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Our “Give-Away Library”

When I accomplished this first step of organizing the books of our favorite authors, I was elated. Finally, after nine years, our favorites are now organized so that we can easily find them whenever we want to read or simply reference an idea in them again.

Then I carried the twelve slightly lighter boxes downstairs, to organize these books with all the rest of our eagerly-waiting-to-be-organized books. I decided on the following general categories (which reflects our reading interests pretty well):

  • Bibles – old family Bibles and various newer translations (1 shelf)
  • Daily Devotionals (1-1/2 shelves)
  • Inspirational Stories (4 shelves)
  • Religious (6 shelves)
  • Biographies and Memoirs (3 shelves)
  • Bed & Breakfast and Travel (1 shelf)
  • Norwegian History and Humor (1 shelf)
  • Humor (1 shelf)
  • Dogs, Cats, and Other Animals (2 shelves)
  • Caregiving and Personality Types (1/2 shelf)
  • Health, Medical, and Alzheimer’s Disease (2 shelves)
  • Death and Dying (1-1/2 shelves)
  • Music Theory and Hymn Stories (1 shelf)
  • Writing (1 shelf)
  • Self-Improvement (1 shelf)
  • Current Issues (2 shelves)
  • Christmas (1-1/2 shelves)
  • Picture/Coffee Table-style books (1 shelf)
  • Fiction (7 shelves)
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The shelves lined with fiction

Using the 24 built-in shelves (six sections with four shelves in each section) plus five other bookcases downstairs, I was able to fit all the remaining books, each in its right place – the right bookcase, the right shelf, then alphabetically by author and title. By counting the average number of books on a shelf and multiplying that by the number of shelves, I estimate our library is now down to about 2,000 books. That’s after donating about ten boxes of books to St. Vinny’s.

When I described the process of getting all our “ducks in a row” in our home library to a friend, she asked how many of those books we have actually read. Mim answered, “All, except maybe an eighth of them.” That’s only about 250 books left to read. Fortunately, I’m sure we can find more books sitting in resale shops just waiting to become new friends when we need them.

So why do Mim and I think of some of these books as our friends? One book was one of my mom’s favorite novels. I feel a closeness to her whenever I pick up that book. Another book, OPEN HEART, OPEN HOME was written by Karen Mains, the wife of our pastor when we first lived in Chicago. That book prompted me to think about hospitality as something that should be an important element in my life. THE ECHO WITHIN by Robert Benson helped me think through my desire to write about ten years ago. ONE PERFECT WORD by Debbie Macomber got me started on the habit of coming up with a new word to focus on each year instead of coming up with New Year’s resolutions. JESUS CALLING by Sarah Young is a daily devotional that I’ve re-read at least four times. I’m reading it again this year after taking a couple years off. THE SHACK by William P. Young is a very weird novel that I read a few years ago when I had the flu. It made me think about the character of God more than anything else I’ve ever read. I’m sure I’ll read it again. All these friends have enriched my life in many ways.

I’d like to go on and on, telling you about more of these wonderful hardcover and paperback friends, now lined up like “ducks in a row,” but this blog post is already getting pretty long. I guess it’s time for you to tell me about some of the friends on your bookshelves.

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Dot-to-Dot Life

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Dot-to-Dot books were my absolute favorite activity books when I was a little girl – even better than coloring books – well, maybe my Red Ryder cowboy coloring book was the best of all – but other than that, dot-to-dot pages were my favorites. I could spend hours drawing lines from number to number to reveal a picture from what started out as just a mass of numbers.

mediumSunday morning I read a short paragraph from FIRSTLIGHT: The Early Inspirational Writings of Sue Monk Kidd.

During those times when I wonder what I’m going to do with my life and I’m unable to envision it, I recall a dot-to-dot picture of a giraffe – a gift from a four-year-old. The child had created the picture by moving his pencil from dot to dot, one at a time. It comforts me to know that when I can’t see the whole picture, all I really need is to see the next dot. [p. 175]

A couple weeks ago Mim and I went to my 50th high school class reunion. It was fun to talk with former classmates, to find out who is retired and who is still working, and to discover some surprises in what all of us have been doing with our lives.

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I’m in the front row, right in the middle, wearing glasses.

When we left high school, many of us had dreams of specific careers where we would spend our lives. In my case, I was going to be a chemist. Really! I changed my mind after my freshman year in college. I switched my major from chemistry to English and prepared myself to become an English teacher.

After college, I taught English for two years, and then I became an editorial researcher for The World Book Encyclopedia. The publishing business was interesting for a couple years, but then I switched again and began a new career path in business. I spent ten years working in the financial systems department of a large corporation in downtown Chicago and went to grad school evenings to get an MBA. Then I left big business and became a small business consultant, creating my own business. Then my partner Mim and I became owners of a bed and breakfast. Then I became a real estate agent. Then Mim and I turned our B&B into an assisted living business. Next we turned our farmhouse into a spiritual retreat center. Oh, and simultaneously with these “career changes” I became a church organist and a writer, publishing a weekly blog and a couple books.

So much for the idea of devoting my life to a one-track career. I really appreciate what Sue Monk Kidd said,  “It comforts me to know that when I can’t see the whole picture, all I really need is to see the next dot.” When I drew that first line from dot 1 to dot 2, I had no idea what the total picture of my life would end up looking like. In retrospect, that really didn’t matter. I just needed to live my life one dot at a time.

SKMBT_C28016070409180Joan Chittister focused on a related theme in the June issue of The Monastic Way. The 30 daily readings reflected on a quote by St. Catherine of Siena, “Be who God meant you to be and you’ll set the world on fire.”

The reflection on the first day of June boldly stated, “The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The work of life is to develop it. The meaning of life is to give your gift away.” [Chittister was quoting David Viscott, a psychiatrist.]

One of the things I learned from my own life experience, and had confirmed by the life experiences of some of my classmates at our reunion, is that God has given us many different gifts. Discovering what these gifts are is a lifelong adventure.

One of my classmates has written a book about his life story, That First Step. In the Foreword, Lee states, “There is nothing earth shattering or noble here, just a straightforward tale of a Navy Parachute Rigger who became an Air Force Master Sergeant.”

SKMBT_C28016070409240As I read the book, I learned a lot about day-to-day life in the military, about the job of a parachute rigger, and about the importance of packing a parachute just right so it definitely will open properly when the ripcord is pulled. I also learned about how Lee discovered his natural talents, his deep interests, and his amazing love for free-fall parachute jumping. Through the narrative of his story, I learned how he gradually discovered that his life was meant to be spent in the military – first in the Navy, then the Air Force. That was his life calling. Or, as he writes at the end of the book, “As I look back to those childhood days of playing soldier, maybe, just maybe, having this career was the fulfillment of my destiny.”

Lee has learned the truth of what St. Catherine of Siena said seven centuries ago, “Be who God meant you to be and you’ll set the world on fire.” Lee’s book makes it clear that he has had a very inspiring and rewarding career in the military. He has discovered his life purpose.

In The Monastic Way Joan Chittister defined “vocation” as “the call within us that tells us that we will never be really alive until we become what we are called to be… It is, Merton says, ‘the original selfhood given me at birth by God.’”

The next day Chittister added, “What we are given to work with in life is God’s gift to us. What we do with it is our gift to God.”

dot-icecream-1-coloring-pageOn the surface, my own career progression might look like I’m scribbling an abstract design on my dot-to-dot page rather than following the dots correctly. Fortunately, Sue Monk Kidd assured me that even if I can’t make out the complete picture of my life yet, all I need to see is where the next dot is. Sometimes I think I might be drawing lines with more than one pencil, but that’s okay. As long as there are more dots on my page, I’m still working on my gift to God.

Sue Monk Kidd includes the following story in her book FIRSTLIGHT:

Rabbi Joseph Liebermann told how he fell asleep one night and had a dream. In the dream he dies and goes to stand before the judgment seat of God. As he waits for God to speak, he fears that the Lord will ask him, “Why weren’t you a Moses … or a David … or a Solomon? But God surprises him. He simply asks, “Why weren’t you Rabbi Lieberman?”

When my life is over, I doubt God will ask me why I wasn’t a Mother Teresa. The question I fear most is, “Why weren’t you Sue Monk Kidd?”

The most gracious and courageous gift we can offer the world is our authenticity, our uniqueness, the expression of our true selves. [p. 176]

When my life is over, I doubt God will ask me why I wasn’t Joan Chittister or Sue Monk Kidd or J. S. Bach. I just hope God doesn’t ask me the question, “Why weren’t you Marian Korth?”

Marian w curls and cowboy hat

My earliest career aspiration was to be either a cowboy or an Indian.