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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?”

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

Talking with Floey about Forecasts

Floey sitting - profile croppedFloey jumped off the love seat in my home office, trotted over to my desk where I was sitting, and sat down next to me. “Mom, it’s been a week, and you still haven’t told me about the third thing you were thinking about during your getaway at your Christmas Mountain timeshare last week. Can you take time to tell me about it now?”

“Sure, Floey. I’m ready to take a break from my computer, anyway.”

“Good. Remember, you told me all about reading Joseph Cardinal Bernardin’s book, THE GIFT OF PEACE, and how inspiring that book was. Then you told me about how frustrated you got with technical problems when you tried to post last week’s blog post, and how much you need to become more patient.”

“You have a good memory, Floey.”

“Let’s hope your memory is as good so you can tell me about the third thing you thought about during your Christmas Mountain getaway. You haven’t forgotten, have you?”

“Actually, Floey, I thought about some old, old memories during my week away. Last Wednesday was the 25th of the month. For the past forty years, on the 25th of the month, almost every month (except December), I think Forecast Day.”

“Forecast Day? What does that mean?”

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On clear days, I could see across Lake Michigan from my window office on the 63rd floor.

“In the summer of 1975 I started working for Northwest Industries in the Finance Systems Division. I was 27 at the time and living in Chicago with Mim.”

“What did you do at Northwest Industries?”

“I started out with the catch-all title of Coordinator of Financial Systems. Basically, I worked with accountants, analysts, and their managers to be sure all the newly computerized financial systems worked together smoothly.”

“How did you get that kind of job? I thought you were an English teacher and an editorial researcher.”

“I learned on the job. I took the job because they said they would teach me everything I needed to know, and they would also pay for me to get my MBA, taking one or two courses at a time in the evening.”

“Did you get your MBA?”

“Yes, I did. It took me five years of evening classes, but I got my MBA from the University of Chicago in 1981.”

“More important, did you like the job?”

“Most of the time I liked it. Northwest Industries was a good place to work. The corporate office was on the 63rd floor of the Sears Tower (now called the Willis Tower).

“What did Northwest Industries do? I’ve never heard of the company.”

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One of my treasures from my Northwest Industries days is this pencil holder – a child’s boot from Acme Boot Company.

“Northwest Industries called itself a diversified holding company. It owned about a dozen companies. Acme Boot Company in Tennessee was the world’s largest manufacturer of cowboy boots and paratrooper boots for the U.S. military. Union Underwear Company in Kentucky and Fruit of the Loom in New York made and sold lots of “union suits” and other underwear. Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Los Angeles was the largest bottler of Coke beverages. General Battery Corporation in Pennsylvania made replacement batteries for cars. Lone Star Steel manufactured tubular steel, like that used for the Alaska Pipeline. The Buckingham Corporation was the sole U.S. importer of Cutty Sark Scotch and Mouton Cadet wines.”

“Wow. I guess Northwest Industries was diversified!”

“Yes, it was. In order to manage these companies to make them as productive and profitable as possible, the corporate headquarters in Chicago, where I worked, used four cycles to plan and monitor performance for the companies. And that’s what I thought about at Christmas Mountain last week.”

“So last week at Christmas Mountain you realized it was the 25th, and you thought Forecast Day, and from there you thought about all four planning and monitoring cycles? I think you need to explain a little more.”

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“First, let me identify the four cycles: long-range plan, budget, forecast, and actual results. A brand new long-range plan was created every summer. That’s when everyone took some time to dream and plan how they would like to see Northwest Industries develop over the next four years. Each operating company prepared its own plan, and then our computer systems consolidated the plans.

In the fall an annual budget for the upcoming year was developed. This is where each company prepared specific plans for improving its productivity and profitability over the next twelve months, consistent with its long-range plan.

These two cycles were annual cycles and they focused everyone’s attention on planning. The other two cycles were monthly cycles and they turned everyone’s attention to monitoring progress against the plans.

The Forecast cycle was the most stressful cycle of all. On the 25th of the month, or if the 25th fell on a weekend or holiday, the last business day before the 25th, a complete set of financial statements was prepared along with narratives. The Forecast was intended to give corporate executives a preview of what actual results for the month and remainder of the year would be – before the month was over. The narratives explained why the forecast deviated from the budget, if it did, and what could be done to improve the numbers, if possible.”

“But, Mom, couldn’t those executives at least wait until the end of the month to get the final monthly numbers?”

“No, I think they thought if they knew ahead of time, they might be able to make some changes that would improve the final numbers, even for the current month.”

“Well, I think I understand the first three cycles – Long-Range Plan, Budget, and Forecast. Tell me about the Actual Results cycle.”

tumblr_m32egnnhYP1rsiwfpo1_500“The final numbers for the month were usually due from the operating companies by the 5th of the following month and they were consolidated by the end of that day. If Actual Results for any company differed from the numbers submitted for the Forecast cycle, individual company analysts were held accountable for not understanding and monitoring their businesses carefully enough. For example, one of the closest predictors of Sales for the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Lost Angeles was the weather forecast. More Coke is sold when it’s hot and sunny than when it’s cold and rainy. If you want to know how much Coke will be sold for the whole month, and it’s only the 25th of the month, it makes sense to study the weather forecast.”

“That’s interesting, Mom, but why were you thinking about this stuff at Christmas Mountain? You haven’t had to care about these cycles for at least thirty years.”

“Well, like I said, on the 25th of the month I still think Forecast Day. At Christmas Mountain, on Wednesday, it was the 25th, and I thought Forecast Day. And, being at Christmas Mountain, I had time to think more about those days back in the 1970s and 1980s. I was probably more inclined to think about my Northwest Industries days because of my technology frustrations the day before when I was working on my blog. I remembered what it was like to wait for the computer to consolidate all the numbers, and then to wait again for the computer to print out complete sets of financial statements. I remember some months I physically ran copies of the statements to the executives at the last minute, just before they left for the day, so that they could carry these statements along with them to study on their train ride home. Thinking about these four planning and monitoring cycles brought back lots of memories. And then I thought, maybe it makes sense to think about how relevant these cycles could be in our personal lives today.”

“What do you mean, Mom?”

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“I think it might be a good idea to do a long-range plan for our own personal lives periodically – probably not every year, but at least more than one time – when we’re finishing school and beginning our careers. I also think it might be a good idea to come up with specific plans (like “Budgets”) every year. That may take the form of New Year’s Resolutions…”

Floey interjected, “Or choosing a special word to focus on all year, like we do.”

“Yeah, that’s the idea. And then comes the Forecast. I don’t know if that needs to be done monthly, although it probably wouldn’t hurt. I think it might be good to periodically review what we’ve observed and learned related to our word for the year and other experiences we’ve had so far in the year. As part of that Forecast review, we could decide if we need to make any changes to be sure we’re working toward the results we want to see in our lives. Following these cycles just might help us become the people God intended for us to become.”

“Wow, Mom. You’ve really been thinking hard about this. Are you sure you’re not taking this too far?”

“Maybe I am, Floey. But what is important is that at Christmas Mountain I have quiet time to think about things like this, and to listen hard to hear what God may be trying to tell me.”

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Floey and me taking a walk in the neighborhood.

“Okay, Mom. I’ll try not to be mad at you next time you go away like this and leave me behind. Maybe I can use the time when you’re gone to try to Forecast where I’ll be by the end of the year in learning all about my special word for this year – Meow – and learning how to communicate better with cats.”

“That’s the spirit, Floey. After all this heavy thinking, let’s go for a walk.”

“Great! We can’t let thinking get in the way of enjoying life! Let’s go!”

 

Making the World a Softer, Better Place

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Gracie helping Katie get ready for prom.

This past weekend I kept checking Facebook on my smartphone, waiting for news and pictures. It was a big weekend for my family. My great niece Mollie was in Fort Worth, Texas, competing at the national championships for gymnastics. Meanwhile, her twin sister Katie was on the prom court of the Cambridge High School Junior Prom. Supporting each twin was a matter of divide and conquer for the family. The father, my nephew Kevin, accompanied Mollie to Fort Worth, and took some great pictures. The mother, Shawn, stayed home, along with the younger sister, Gracie, and they helped Katie get ready for the prom. And they took great pictures, too.

It was an exciting weekend for everyone. But the abundance of blessings was really a mixed blessing. Mollie had to miss going to her junior prom because of it falling on the same date as the national gymnastics competition. Katie had to miss cheering for her twin sister as she competed in Texas because she couldn’t be two places at once. Interesting how blessings and sacrifices can be two sides of the same coin.

Shawn was the first to provide an update on Facebook. It was fun to see Katie all dressed up. It was a beautiful evening for beautiful young couples.

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Cambridge High School Prom Court – Katie is 3rd from right.

On Sunday, Kevin entered the following update about Mollie on Facebook.

Mollie is the Senior C National Floor Champion. She finished 2nd in the overall. Took 3rd in vault and 5th on bars.

Mollie was awarded an all expense paid trip back to Texas in October because she made the Junior Olympic National Team. She will meet the Olympic coaches and practice for four days.

Words cannot express how proud we are of her. Congratulations Mollie on an incredible achievement.

A tremendous thank you to Aubrie for the dedication and patience coaching Mollie. Thank you to our parents for helping Mollie get to where she is. Thanks be to God for giving Mollie this incredible talent for gymnastics. It will take her farther than she can ever imagine.

Thank you to Danielle J Lynch [Kevin’s sister who lives in San Antonio] and family for making the weekend trip! Thank you Adrienne Lacy [a family friend] and family for coming as well! Thanks to Chase’s sister Rene’ and her husband Patrick for the hospitality and friendship this weekend. It’s nice to have a fan base everywhere we go! 

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Mollie on Bars – one of four events gymnasts compete in.

Kevin posted several photos he had taken showing Mollie in action. Here’s one of the photos I lifted from Facebook.

My mom, Kevin’s grandma, would have been very proud of both Katie and Mollie. (And Gracie, too, for being a supportive kid sister.) But I think Mom would have been proudest of Kevin. Mom always worried about him. She thought he had way too much energy and creativity for his own good. He was always running. Everything he did, he did fast.

I remember one story Mom told about when she baked and decorated a batch of cut-out cookies for him to take to school to share for his birthday. As usual, he ran as fast as he could to get to the car to go to school, even though this time he was carrying a big round tin full of special cookies. He tripped and fell, and all the beautiful cookies broke into pieces. I’m sure it bothered my mom more than him. He still shared the cookies with his classmates. They tasted just as good whether they were broken or not. It seemed that nothing could slow down his speed of movement nor subdue his enthusiasm for whatever he was doing. (I think his girls all inherited those traits.)

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Kevin on stilts – 1984. Note the stepladder and electrical wires.

When Kevin was 13, he decided he’d make a pair of stilts and teach himself to walk around and see everything from a bird’s-eye perspective. After constructing the stilts, he realized that he needed a stepladder to get on the stilts. When he started walking with the stilts, he discovered he was lucky that the stilts were just short enough that he could still walk under the electrical wire that was strung from the pole to the house – without the stilts catching and pulling down the wire. Kevin’s guardian angel was kept very, very busy throughout his childhood.

Mom prayed for all her grandchildren every day. But I think she must have prayed for Kevin at least ten times a day. She knew that praying for him was the best way to keep him safe – just in case his guardian angel was taking a much-needed nap.

So why would my mom have been proud of Kevin today? In his Facebook post he demonstrated that he’s learned one of the most important lessons in life. He’s learned that we are who we are because of all the people who have helped us in our lives. Like the African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It took a village to raise Kevin, and it’s taking a village to raise Katie, Mollie, and Gracie.

I’m thankful that I can be part of this village, that all of us are connected to each other’s lives and well-being. As Joan Chittister said in this month’s “Monastic Way” pamphlet,

There can never be too much kindness in life – either for us or because of us. Every act of kindness makes the world a softer, better place. As Aesop wrote, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

Thanks to everyone reading this post who’s making the world a softer, better place for everyone in their lives.

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Mollie and her coach

 

Another Piece in God’s Puzzle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Leydi – eager to start high school

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

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

 

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

This is how I responded to Karina’s email.

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

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

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

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

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

Marian Korth & Mim Jacobson

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

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

Congratulations to My Great Niece Mollie

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Mollie at her first gymnastics meet at age 6

I was inspired and I learned a lot last Saturday – actually 2 Saturdays ago. It was a great day!

Prior to that Saturday, I had never been to a gymnastics meet. I guess that doesn’t make me a very good great aunt, since my 17-year-old great niece Mollie has participated in gymnastics since the age of 6. That Saturday Mim and I decided to take the opportunity to watch Mollie compete at the State Gymnastics Meet being held in Madison at the Alliant Center.

I knew Mollie always liked to run and jump and turn summersaults. I remember watching her demonstrate her skills when she was still a toddler. On Saturday, we were able to see how those skills have developed.

I said I learned a lot on Saturday. I learned that gymnasts perform and compete in four different events – bars, beam, floor, and vault. Without going into details, I concluded that bars and floor are the most fun to watch, the most graceful. Beam and vault are the scariest to watch. I admit, I was scared for everyone competing in every event. I can’t imagine having my body do any of the things they all do with such strength and grace.

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A still shot of Mollie performing on bars.

Watching these incredible gymnasts perform brought back humble memories for me of tumbling in gym class when I was in grade school and high school. One of the things we were required to do was run, jump, and turn a summersault over someone lying on the mat. Then over 2 people on the mat. Then 3. Then 4. Believe it or not, I managed to be successful – until it was 5 people on the mat. My head landed on the fifth person, and then my body didn’t follow through quite right, and I ended up with a very stiff neck. As I recall, I even missed a couple days of school nursing my neck, although I never saw a doctor about it. Fortunately, by the time I got back to gym class, we were finished with that exercise, and the class had moved on to rope climbing – which I simply refused to do. I wasn’t going to climb up a rope to touch the ceiling of the gym. What if I fell and broke my neck!? I got my only D in all my years in the Cambridge School System for my non-performance in gym class that semester.

My great niece Mollie is very different from me. I’m sure she could have tumbled over 5 bodies by the time she was 3. I think she must have been born with springs instead of bones, considering how she can flip her body around. But besides being born with springs, she has worked really hard training her body to do what she and her coach want it to do. Her daily routine for years has been to go to her gym in Madison to work out for a couple hours after school – every single day.

944877_1655880611344242_714344027203013612_nThe result of her dedication was becoming Number 1 in the state of Wisconsin for gymnastics in 2016. She placed first in all 4 events, which also meant she was first overall. We were all so proud of her.

What made me the proudest was the way Mollie and the other gymnasts all treated each other. During the Awards Ceremony at the end of the competition, Mollie’s name was was the first one called because she had placed placed first in the first event. She climbed up to the top spot on the platform and was given her medal. When the 2nd place winner was called, as she climbed up to the number 2 spot on the platform, Mollie reached down to give her a big hug. The same for the 3rd place winner. Everyone seemed genuinely pleased with each others’ accomplishments. This behavior was repeated for each award for each event. Similarly during the warm-ups and competition, all the gymnasts hugged and cheered each other on. Kindness was on display everywhere throughout the meet.

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Mollie’s kid sister Gracie declaring that her “gold” medals really aren’t gold, but impressive nonetheless.

Although Mollie is still a junior in high school, this will be her last year to compete in the state gymnastics championship. She has received a full athletic scholarship to the University of Kentucky. She will speed through her senior year of high school to graduate in December, and start college and gymnastics at Kentucky in January 2017.

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Mollie with her proud parents.

But she’s not quite finished with competition for this year yet. Her next meet will be in St. Louis for Regionals, and depending on her status there, she may go to Nationals at Fort Worth. (She’s competed at Nationals the last two years.)

I’m truly excited for Mollie. And I’m proud of her gymnastic skills and accomplishments. I was amazed to watch her on Saturday. But most of all, I’m thankful that she’s already learned so much about kindness.

KINDNESS is my special word for this year, and I’m delighted to see it popping up all over. Last week I blogged about kindness in end-of-life care. This week I’m blogging about kindness in gymnastics, and specifically as demonstrated by my great niece Mollie. Who knows where I’ll see another amazing demonstration of kindness next… I think I chose a great word to focus on this year!

P.S. I’ve attached a youtube video below that shows Mollie in action.

Meow?

Floey smiling profileFloey came running up to my desk and stood beside me. “I’m ready, Mom. Let’s get started. I can hardly wait to start blogging about my special word for 2016.” Floey was wagging her tail so hard and fast I was afraid she might knock the landline phone off my desk.

“Okay, Floey. We can get started. First, tell me about how it worked for you to have the word PLAY for your special word throughout 2015.”

“Sure. PLAY was a good word for me for 2015. I didn’t really need to be reminded to play for myself. I’m not even two years old yet, not till January 24th. So, taking time to play comes natural to me. But, you know, most of my human friends are lots older than I am, and they forget to play. So my focus last year was to help everyone else remember to take time to play. It’s been good for all of us.”

“Oh, you are so right about that, Floey. What’s your new word for 2016?”

“I think you’ll be surprised at what I chose.”

“Whether I’m surprised, or not, doesn’t matter. It’s your word, the word that has come into your heart and mind as the truly special word you want to concentrate on this whole upcoming year.”

“Okay, Mom. Here goes. My word for 2016 is MEOW.”

“MEOW? Really? Why did you choose that word, Floey?”

“Well, Mom, as we walk through the neighborhood, we run into a few cats. I’d like to become friends with them, but I don’t know how to communicate with them very well. I try to sniff them in greeting, and they don’t seem to like it. One cat even growls and hisses at me. At best, I sometimes hear a questioning MEOW. I figure that I need to learn how to become friends with cats. Having MEOW as my word for 2016, I’ll be focused on learning how to communicate better with my feline neighbors. I know we can all become friends if we try. My cousin Sadie sent me a picture of her cuddling with Lola, your niece Emily’s cat. I want to become friends with cats, just like Sadie does.”

Lucy and cat

Floey’s cousins Sadie and Lola

“I’m proud of you, Floey. Some dogs and people just decide to not like anyone who is different from themselves. I’m so glad you want to learn to be a friend to someone who is different from you.”

“Good. Glad you approve of my word, even though I don’t need your approval. How about your word, Mom?”

“Well, you remember that my special word for 2015 was GRATITUDE. I wrote about that word a few times last year on the blog. It was an excellent focus for me for the year. Even though 2015 had its ups and downs, there was always something to be grateful for. Having GRATITUDE as my word for 2015 has changed my life. I now have a new habit – thinking of things that I’m grateful for each night as I lie in bed waiting to fall asleep.”

Gratitude Rock

“That sounds like a good thing, Mom. Do you think you will keep on thinking those bedtime thoughts in 2016 when GRATITUDE isn’t your special word for the year.”

“I’m sure of it, Floey. In 2014, my special word was JOY. I was always on the lookout for seeing moments of JOY all around me, and I’m still on the lookout for joyful moments. It’s a habit that’s stuck. I’m sure my new GRATITUDE habit will stick, too.”

“So what’s your new word going to be, Mom?”

“I’ve decided on KINDNESS. This year is going to be a year with an abundance of hate spewed out of lots of mouths. It’s a presidential election year – where it seems to be acceptable to be nasty. In order to offset the excess of hate and nastiness, I’m going to be on special lookout for moments of kindness – both to observe and to do.”

Kindness - colorful flower

Just then Mim came down the stairs into my office. “Your timing is perfect, Mim. Floey and I are working on my blog, and we’re talking about our special words for 2015 and 2016. I remember your special word for 2015 was WAIT. Was that a good word for you last year?”

“It sure was. I keep thinking I’m ready to move on to the next phase of my life – retirement, but for a variety of reasons I can’t move on yet. I have to WAIT until the timing is right. It’s been good for me to WAIT for God’s timing, and to think about WAITING as part of God’s plan for our lives. A time of WAITING is important for learning, for growth, and for other things to be happening. It’s been good to think about the blessings of WAITING over the past year.”

“The phrase ’the blessings of WAITING’ is quite a foreign concept in our culture,” I responded.

 

Waiting-Bird cropped

“It sure is,” Mim replied. “But I’m really glad I chose the word WAIT for 2015. It was a good word to ponder throughout the year while different things happened – like selling the farmhouse. We were ready to sell the farmhouse eight years ago, but the timing wasn’t right. God wanted us to WAIT until this year – and for good reasons:  The farmhouse provided a place for people to spend time alone with God when the farmhouse served as Whispering Winds Retreat Haven. A few years later the farmhouse provided a home for a family needing a place to live for a couple years. And although we had no inkling this would happen, in eight years some friends would be ready to buy the farmhouse and begin a new ministry there. The timing was right for them in 2015. It wasn’t in 2007. Back then we didn’t even know these people. It’s obvious now that there were lots of good reasons for WAITING that we didn’t know anything about eight years ago.”

With a twinkle in her eye, Floey said, “I can’t WAIT any longer. What’s your special word going to be for 2016?”

“My new word is one you may want to think about, too, Floey. It’s PATIENCE. Last year I focused on the blessings of WAITING. In 2016 I’ll focus on my feelings while I wait. I hope to learn to be more PATIENT.”

Patience while waiting cropped

“Okay, Moms. I think we’ve almost finished writing this blog post about our special words for 2016.  I’m going to change from concentrating on PLAY to learning about MEOW. “

I interjected, “And I’m changing my focus from GRATITUDE to KINDNESS.”

And Mim concluded, “And I’m going from WAITING to PATIENCE.”

We all One Perfect Word book covertook a minute to re-read the post, and then I added, “You know, this is my third year of having a special word instead of coming up with any New Year’s resolutions. I’m so glad Debbie Macomber shared the idea in her book, One Perfect Word. It’s the best new practice I’ve picked up in decades! She summarized the practice very well in the first chapter of her book:

When we choose one single word … and spend a year with it, I’ve found that the Lord takes us by the hand and walks us through the year, teaching us about that word, about ourselves, and even more, about God Himself.

“Let’s begin our adventure of living and learning our new words for 2016 – MEOW, PATIENCE, and KINDNESS.”

Floey jumped up at that. “Let’s go looking for cats, Moms. I’m ready!”

Mim replied, “I don’t think there are any cats outside today – it’s too cold and windy. Maybe tomorrow. I think we ALL need to learn a little about PATIENCE this year, not just me.”

And I said, “Let’s be extra KIND to each other today. Let our adventures of 2016 begin!”

Floe-Marian faces 2015

The Life of a Farmhouse Continues

Ready for a new adventure...

The Farmhouse (FH), about 1999

Last Thursday was a very big day for Mim and me. We sold our farmhouse. This is the farmhouse where I grew up, and where my mom grew up. The farm had been in my family for over a hundred years – since 1908. Mim and I moved to the farmhouse in 1992, after my dad died. My brother remodeled the house into our dream house, where we intended to live for the rest of our lives.

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Mim and Marian at the farmhouse -2006.

Mim and I thoroughly enjoyed living there for 15 years, but as we got a little older, we realized it wasn’t all that much fun to mow 3 acres of lawn, weed flower beds scattered all over the yard, and keep a 3,672 square foot house clean. More importantly, we realized we didn’t need that much space any more, and it simply wasn’t good stewardship of God’s resources to keep the farmhouse. So, in 2007 we decided to sell it and move to a new condo that was being built in what used to be the pasture of the farm. We told our friends that we got old and were “moving out to pasture.”

That was 8 years ago. We moved into our condo, but we didn’t sell the farmhouse. I guess God had other ideas for the farmhouse. In 2009 we opened its doors to the public as a spiritual retreat center – Whispering Winds Retreat Haven. (That’s why I originally started writing this blog – to let people know about Whispering Winds and the opportunity it offered to spend some quiet, peaceful time alone with the Spirit.)

In 2012 one of my blog posts was a conversation between the farmhouse and me. Last week when I was pondering turning over the keys to the new owners, I decided to have another conversation with the farmhouse about the change that was about to happen.

Here’s the 2012 conversation, originally posted on this blog December 2, 2012, followed by the Addendum – my conversation with the farmhouse last Thursday, just before closing.

The Life of a Farmhouse, Whispering Winds Blog, December 2, 2012

Captain Kangaroo talking with Grandfather Clock.

Captain Kangaroo talking with Grandfather Clock.

When I was a kid, I’d occasionally watch “Captain Kangaroo” on TV. One of the characters on the show was Grandfather Clock. He was a tall, normal-looking grandfather clock, except he had a cartoon-like face and he talked. He often talked about whatever was on his mind and how he felt about it.  I thought about Grandfather Clock today because I’ve been having a conversation in my mind with our farmhouse, another supposedly inanimate object just like Grandfather Clock. The farmhouse (FH) was rather talkative and she let me know how she was feeling. FH has feelings, too. At least in my mind she does.

What prompted this conversation is that the farmhouse will be going through another transition over the next month (January 2013). Whispering Winds Retreat Haven will be going on hiatus. The farmhouse will become home to a family for the next couple years while this family is in a transition period.

I asked FH how she feels about this change. She responded, “I’m looking forward to having Mike and Nancy live here. I’ve enjoyed welcoming new people every week or so, but I’m ready for some consistency for a while.  And, Mike said he loves to do yard work. I know you and Mim try to keep up with the weeding, lawn mowing, trimming shrubs, and cutting asparagus and rhubarb, but I can tell it’s a struggle for both of you to keep up with everything. I think Mike may treat the yard more lovingly than you have been doing lately.”

“That’s probably true,” I agreed. “But won’t you miss all the warm feelings shared by the people who come here for retreats?”

“Oh, I’m sure I will, but I expect we’ll go back to welcoming guests here again before too long. I have a 122-year history of welcoming guests into my rooms. I’ve had thousands of people within my walls. Some have stayed for just a day or two. Some guests have become part of the family and have stayed for several years.”

“That’s a long history, FH. Tell me a little about it.”

“Country Comforts Bed and Breakfast” – painted by Rocio Herrera, 2001.

“I don’t remember my first couple decades very well. I know I was built in 1890. My memory of the first family who lived within me is pretty fuzzy. But I remember the second family well. It was your grandparents and your mom and her brothers. They came to live here in 1908. Your mom was just three weeks old when they moved in. A year later your mom was blessed with a baby brother, and then a few years later she got another baby brother. The whole family worked really hard on the farm – milking cows, taking care of chickens, and driving a team of horses to work the fields. But no one worked on Sundays, except for what really had to be done, like milking the cows. Instead, everyone went to church both in the morning and in the evening. But the afternoons were for relaxing and having fun. Throughout the summer, all the kids from church came out to the farm to play baseball on the lawn by the road. Your grandma made root beer for everyone to quench their thirst. All the kids had so much fun!”

Marian's grandfather, Martin Kenseth, plowing with horses.

Marian’s grandfather, Martin Kenseth, plowing with horses.

“Yeah. I remember my mom talked about how much fun they had playing together here. Everyone really liked my grandma’s root beer, too. Another thing my mom told me about my grandma is that she was constantly rearranging the rooms in the house. My mom said that at some time or other, every room of the house was her bedroom. Is that true?”

FH laughed. “Well, she may have exaggerated a little. But your grandma did move things around a lot. That’s one way she kept me clean. When you move all the furniture out of a room, it’s easy to clean it thoroughly before moving any furniture back in.”

“When I grew up in the house, I always had the same bedroom.”

Danny and barn - cropped

Danny, Marian, and Dad building the new barn.

“Yes, I think your mom compensated for the disruption in her life of constantly changing rooms by never, ever, changing the rooms or rearranging any furniture within a room when she was in charge. When your grandparents retired, they moved to a small house in town, and your parents took over the farm. Your mom loved living here. Your mom and dad modernized the farm to mid-1950’s standards. They built a new barn and they made quite a few improvements to the house – like indoor plumbing, electricity, and a furnace. They added a new kitchen, too.”

“I’ve always loved living here. It’s out in the country, but it’s close to town. It’s just so peaceful here. That’s what most of our guests have said about our home. It’s so peaceful.”

“I’m glad to hear that, Marian. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to serve as a peaceful refuge for so many people. I think one of the reasons for the peacefulness people sense here is that God has been directly invited several times to be present within my walls. Your mom first had a house blessing sometime in the 1970’s. The pastor walked through the house, room by room, with your parents and some of their friends and invited God to be present at all times in each room throughout the whole house.”

“I remember my mom telling me about that, but I was living in Chicago at the time, so I wasn’t here for it. But Mim and I had house blessings, too, when we turned you into Country Comforts Bed & Breakfast, and when we became handicapped accessible, and when we became a retreat center, and…”

“That’s right. But you’re getting ahead of my story. After your parents died, you decided to have your brother remodel me into your dream house. What a “facelift” that was! You stretched me from a 1500 square foot century-old farmhouse into a 3000 square foot country home with plenty of space for guests. The expansion was a real shock to my system, but I’m glad you did it.”

Mim's mom (Selma), Mim and me on the front porch

Mim’s mom (Selma), Mim and Marian on the front porch

I’m glad we did it, too. We completed the remodeling just in time. About half a year after we moved within your walls, Mim’s mom had a stroke. She became our first long-term guest. She lived with us almost five years.”

“Mim’s mom liked to have guests, too. Quite a few of her friends from Minnesota came to visit and they stayed in my rooms for a few days when she was living with you. That was a good warm-up for my next phase – when you named me “Country Comforts Bed & Breakfast.”

“You have gone through a lot of changes, FH.”

“You’re right about that. A lot of changes and a lot of guests! Over 2,000 guests stayed in my guest rooms over the next five years. They came from all over – from 45 states and 12 foreign countries. It was so much fun to share the peacefulness of the farm setting with so many people. Some people fell so much in love with me that they came back again and again. Some of them even chose one of my rooms as their favorite to return to several times a year.”

“That’s when Mim and I decided it was time to stretch you even further – we put on another addition, 672 more square feet, so that we could easily accommodate people in wheelchairs and with other physical limitations.”

Meg and Marie - adj

Megabyte and Marie, one of our earliest assisted living residents, enjoying the fireplace together.

“Yeah. You thought you were doing it for B&B guests, but God had something else in mind. After September 11, 2001, travel declined significantly. You decided to adapt all my doorways a little, put in permanent ramps, and you changed my name again – from ‘Country Comforts Bed & Breakfast’ to ‘Country Comforts Assisted Living.’ That was quite a change, too, but those years were very satisfying. I became ‘home’ to ten elderly people over the next five years, two or three at a time.”

“How did you feel in 2007, FH, when we decided to leave you and move to a new condo in the pasture? You knew we were trying to sell you. Did that hurt?”

“I was a little apprehensive, not knowing who would come along to buy me. But, with more than a hundred years of God bringing the right people through my doors, I knew whoever came next would be the right people. When no one seemed to want to buy me, I couldn’t understand why. But then it became clear. And you caught on, too. God wanted us to be together a while longer. That’s when you renamed me ‘Whispering Winds Retreat Haven.’ I became a B&B-style retreat center. That was my best identity yet. I love having people come through my doors to spend quiet time praying and listening for what God has to say to them.”

In the Prayer Room of Whispering Winds

In the Prayer Room of Whispering Winds

“And that brings us to the present (2012), being on the verge of another change. Are you okay with it, FH? To have just one family living with you for a couple years?”

“Like I said before, with all the house blessings we’ve had, I know that God will always be within my rooms. Whoever comes through my doors will be blessed. I’m sure that will be the case for Mike and Nancy, and for whoever comes after them. Whether I return to being Whispering Winds and welcome more guests coming on retreat, or whether there is some other use for my next phase, I know that God will always be with me, and that makes every next phase a great adventure.”

“I’m glad you feel that way, FH.”

Addendum written August 20, 2015 – Another Conversation

“Well, FH, it’s been almost three years since our last conversation. Are you ready for another change?”

“I think we’ve been easing into the next change for a year already. When Nancy and Mike moved out last summer, you thought about selling me again. But then you decided to let Sharon and Martha live here for a while instead. It’s kind of like our first assisted living days, only on a smaller scale, and more like supportive living—not quite so intense without having to deal with major health concerns.”

“That’s right, FH. And now we have someone ready to buy the house and continue the status quo living arrangement for a year or so. Then they plan to expand the supportive living business to provide a home for more people. The expansion will probably happen next summer when the owner’s mother moves into the house and joins her daughter in the supportive living business.”

“I think that’s wonderful. All my existence as a farmhouse—way back to 1890—I have been committed to two primary values—stewardship and hospitality. I have always wanted my owners to make good use of me—not to ever waste the wonderful resource that I can be. I was built to be used for good purposes. And hospitality is the best of all possible uses for me. I am meant to be a place where people will be welcomed, cared for, and loved. A peaceful place for people to call home. It looks like that’s exactly what my new owners will be doing with me. I’m ready to move on to my next adventure!”

“Good! Me too. God be with you, FH, as always.”

Ready for a new adventure . . .

Ready for a new adventure . . .