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Memories and Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dr. Emily Bray – my college roommate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nita Beran with Jon Beran and John Payne

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

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

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

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CCHC has changed its name and updated its logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nita ended that thought by citing Romans 15:13 –

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

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Why Dogs Need an Ecumenical Church

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Cousins Lucy and Floey discussing life

The other day I overheard a conversation between Floey and her cousin Lucy, a golden retriever who is just a few months younger than Floey. Mim, Floey, and I had walked over to my brother’s house for our afternoon walk, and Lucy came out of the Carpentry Shop to play. My brother Danny followed her with a couple tennis balls and a ball thrower. After about twenty minutes of chasing balls, everyone was ready to take a break. That’s when I overheard Lucy and Floey talking. They didn’t seem very happy with each other.

“Floey, I can’t understand why you don’t bring the ball back to Dad to throw again. Why do you just chase the ball, and then plop down on the ground and look at the rest of us, daring us to come get it? That’s not the way to play ball!”

“That’s the way I play ball! Once I catch the ball, why in the world would I return it? It’s mine, fair and square. The game is chasing, anyway, not catching a ball just to return it.”

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Floey – protecting her tennis ball

“You’re wrong about that, Floey. God created us dogs to retrieve things for our humans. That’s part of God’s grand scheme in life. I’m especially good at retrieving things for my human friends, that’s why everyone calls me a “golden retriever.”

“That’s crazy, Lucy. You’re making up God’s design in life to fit what you like to do. God didn’t make dogs to retrieve little tokens for bossy humans with nothing better on their hands to do than throw tennis balls. God created dogs to run really fast, to chase away wild animals to keep the dangerous enemies away from our human friends.”

Lucy and Floey waiting for another tennis ball to be tossed

Lucy and Floey waiting for another tennis ball to be tossed

“Oh, yeah!” Lucy replied. “God created us to catch ducks that our humans shoot for food and to bring the ducks back to our humans. When our humans throw tennis balls, they are just trying to keep us in shape for those important hunting expeditions.”

The dogs were quiet for a few minutes. They were both catching their breath after all that running and arguing. Finally Floey said, “I’m thirsty, Lucy.”

“Me, too. Let’s go into the shop for a drink.”

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Floey quenching her thirst in the shop water bucket

They both got up and trotted into the shop. Floey lapped up a cup or two of water from the shop water bucket. Then she looked over at Sadie, the canine matriarch of the Carpentry Shop. Sadie was lying on her pillow near one of the saws. She looked over at the two young dogs, hoping they wouldn’t come over and try to get her to play. She let out a low growl to let them know her thoughts. Meanwhile, Lucy quenched her thirst at the water bucket.

Sadie - the matriarch of the shop

Sadie – the matriarch of the shop

Mim, Danny, and I had followed the dogs into the shop. Danny walked over to the treat corner and said, “Anyone want a treat?” All three dogs followed him to the opposite end of the shop, and he gave each dog an extra large Milk Bone. It was the biggest treat Floey had ever seen. She bit it, and half fell out of her mouth. Lucy, who had already gobbled up hers, reached down and gobbled up that half before Floey realized what was happening. But Floey didn’t seem to mind. Even half of that treat was more than she usually gets.

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Treat time in the shop

Floey said to Lucy, “Let’s go back outside before your dad starts up any of those noisy saws. I hate how noisy it gets in here.”

“Okay,” Lucy responded, and both dogs went back outside. Sadie followed them, but found a nice spot in the shade to lie down.

Lucy and Floey wandered over to another shady spot to continue their conversation. Floey started it. “Lucy, you have the biggest mouth of any dog I’ve met.”

Lucy and Floey enjoying a lively discussion

Lucy and Floey enjoying a lively discussion

Lucy looked at her cautiously but didn’t say anything. Maybe she was wondering if Floey was mad about that half MilkBone she had taken away from her and eaten.

Floey continued. “I mean that as a compliment. I’m impressed when I watch you carry two tennis balls at once. I never could do that.”

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Cousins Lucy and Floey acknowledging their differences…

Lucy smiled. “Thanks, Floey. I think God gave me such a big mouth so that I can easily retrieve things, like ducks, for my humans.”

“That may be,” Floey said thoughtfully.

Lucy added, “You know, Floey, you are the fastest runner I’ve ever seen. Until you came along, no one ever beat me to a tennis ball, no matter how far it was thrown. I was the fastest dog around, maybe because I’m the youngest. But then you came along, and you beat me every time.”

“Like I said, Lucy, God created me to chase away wild animals to keep my humans safe. God gave me the ability to run really fast.”

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Lucy and Floey – friends forever

Both dogs were silent again for a few minutes, thinking. Finally Floey broke the silence. “Did you ever think, Lucy, that maybe God created us with different gifts? Maybe God gave you the gift of retrieving and me the gift of chasing. Maybe God intends for you to retrieve ducks, and God intends for me to chase wild animals. Just think about how much good we can do together, each of us using our special gifts! God’s world is a better place because of us and our God-given gifts!”

“You’re right, Floey! I remember one day my dad read something about this in the Bible. I think it was I Peter 4:10 (NIV), Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”

“That makes sense, Lucy. Look, here come my moms from the shop. I guess I have to go home. See you tomorrow, Lucy. Bye, Sadie.”

Sadie and Lucy watching us walk home - sending us good wishes to come again.

Sadie and Lucy saying “Good-bye, good friend.”

Getting Caught Whispering

The house on the left was my grandma's. The one on the right was the Spauldings. In between was a row of deep red, pink, and white peonies.

The house on the left was my grandma’s. The one on the right was where Gary and Wayne grew up. In between was a row of deep red, pink, and white peonies. Across the street was a park, the perfect place to play – and fish. Koshkonong Creek ran through the park.

On Thursday of last week I played the organ for the funeral of Wayne, a young man, age 64. He was the kid brother of Gary, a classmate of mine. Gary died a few years ago.

Gary and Wayne grew up in the house in Cambridge next door to my grandma. We were never close friends, but we’ve known each other practically our whole lives. After the two boys had graduated from high school, the family bought my grandma’s house, and Gary and Wayne lived there, next door to their parents.

I remember in fourth grade, Gary and I were in the same classroom. We sat in opposite corners of the room. I was always the shortest kid in class, so I was in the front. Gary was always the tallest kid, so he was in the back. In that classroom, the group of kids that seemed to learn the fastest were on the right side of the room; the ones who took longer to learn new things were on the left.  I don’t remember who sat smack dab in the middle of the room, but whoever he or she was must have been the perfect average in height and learning style.

This wasn't my classroom, but it looks a lot like it.

This wasn’t my classroom, but it looks a lot like it.

One day in fourth grade all of us were taking a test. When we were finished with the test we were supposed to bring it up to the teacher’s desk – in the front left of the classroom – and return to our seat and sit quietly until everyone was finished. I remember taking my test up to Mrs. Schuster’s desk, and walking down the aisle to the back of the room, the long way back to my desk. As I walked by Gary’s desk he whispered something to me. I stopped to respond, and we whispered for a minute. I don’t remember what we talked about. We didn’t escape being noticed by the teacher. Mrs. Schuster loudly ordered me to walk to my desk immediately and not to whisper another word. It’s rare that a teacher scolded me and I felt terrible. Gary and I smiled at each other without whispering another word, and I went back to my desk as fast as I could walk without running.

Being at Wayne’s funeral reminded me of that incident. I never knew Gary or Wayne very well, and that’s my loss. The pastor and one of Wayne’s friends talked about Wayne being a gentle giant, a 6’4” quiet, humble man. He had been a custodian at the Cambridge schools for 25 years. He was an usher in the Presbyterian Church. I wish I had known him better.

Wayne Spaulding, age 64.

Wayne Spaulding, age 64.

I would guess there were between 50 and 75 people at the funeral – more than I had expected. At the lunch at church following the funeral, I went through the food line, and then looked out at the tables to find a place to sit. There were two tables with open chairs. A large round table had four or five women seated and two or three empty chairs. A long table had three men on one side and no one on the other side. I didn’t know any of the women at the women’s table. I knew two of the men at the men’s table. They were classmates of mine. I chose the men’s table and asked if I could make the table co-ed. They welcomed me, and I sat down, facing the three men. I didn’t know Jerry and John very well, but at least I knew they were classmates. I introduced myself to the third man, Randy. He said he was a classmate of my nephew Kevin, and that he had briefly worked with Kevin and my brother Danny in carpentry after high school.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt turns out I had seated myself at the custodian’s table. All three men were custodians at the Cambridge schools and had worked with Wayne. It was a delightful lunch. I learned quite a bit about the schools from a custodian’s perspective. If I hadn’t joined the custodian’s table, I never would have known about the ghost that occupies the upper floor of the old school. I also learned about the issues our volunteer fire department faces with so few people available to volunteer in Cambridge during the day. Most people work in Madison or in other places away from Cambridge. (Randy is one of the volunteer fire fighters.)

I wish I could remember what Gary and I were whispering about in fourth grade. It’s ironic that the two quietest kids in class were caught whispering and were scolded for it. I wish we had been encouraged to talk with the kids in the opposite corners of the classroom instead of being discouraged from talking. We all lost out on the opportunity to broaden our perspectives on life.

I doubt that I’ll meet Jerry, John, and Randy for lunch on a regular basis. But I’m extremely grateful that Wayne’s funeral brought us together for a wonderful time of sharing. Thanks, Wayne.

And Gary – do you remember what we were whispering about almost 60 years ago? I wish we had continued the conversation sometime later, maybe even 50 years later…

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Better Than Counting Sheep

Counting SheepOne night last week I couldn’t sleep. I’d taken a Sudafed for some head congestion, and my body just wouldn’t let me drift off to sleep. So, I tried to heed the advice I’d received from a friend and shared on Facebook a week or two ago – use the time to talk with God.

God and I started out by talking about all the things I was grateful for that day. Mim and I were up at Christmas Mountain for a few days, and we’d had a nice, restful day together. After about half an hour of thinking about the events of the day and all the good things that came to mind, I was still wide awake. I guess God wanted us to talk a while longer.

The next topic that came up was all the heroes in my life – or the people on “God’s Guest List” for my life, to use author Debbie Macomber’s phrase. I spent most of the night remembering lots of people who had impacted my life in a very positive way. This was kind of like counting sheep, only each sheep was a person in my life that I was thankful for.

Of course, I started with my mom. Without a doubt, she was the kindest, most loving person I have known in my life. You know that, because I’ve written about her a lot in my blog.

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Mom worked at the Presbyterian Student Center at UW during most of my growing up years.

Then I thought about my sister Nancy. She was 11 years older than me, so she was almost like a second mom. She was truly my hero when I was a child. She started teaching me to play the piano before I was in school. When she went away to college she subscribed to a bi-monthly children’s daily devotional guide for me to get me in the habit of reading my Bible and praying every morning before getting out of bed.

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Nancy, Danny, and me ready for church.

The next person who came to mind was Mrs. Knoblauch, my first grade teacher. I had lots of good teachers as I grew up in Cambridge, but Mrs. Knoblauch was the one who got me off to a good start in school. The day I remember best in first grade was a blustery day in the fall. When I was out in the playground after lunch, a speck of dirt or a falling leaf blew into my eye. It hurt and my eye wouldn’t stop watering. Every day when we returned to the classroom from the playground after lunch, we would sit at our desks while Mrs. Knoblauch read us a story to quiet us down. That day, she looked at my eye first to be sure I would be okay, and then had me sit on her lap while she read the story to the class. I knew she loved me and would take care of me.

Then I thought about all my grade school, junior high, and high school teachers. Some made the list of heroes, some didn’t. Same for college professors.

I was still wide awake, so I went back to thinking more about my family. My brother Danny and my dad both made the heroes list, people that I admired and who had a positive impact on my life.

Danny is only two years older than me – so we were close enough in age to fight with each other about almost anything. We still disagree on many things, but we’ve learned not to fight most of the time. What I admire most about him is that he inherited our mom’s commitment to being kind and helpful to almost everyone. Probably the most valuable thing I learned from Danny is how to fight when it’s necessary to fight, and how to get along without fighting when that’s the best thing to do.

Working up the soil for his last garden

My dad still drove his tractor until about a month before he died, at age 87.

The earliest memory I have of my dad is riding on the tractor with him. I would sit on his lap and watch his hands on the steering wheel, especially that little gadget that was a ball-like wooden handle that enabled him to control the steering wheel with just one hand, even on bumpy fields. (I vaguely remember these gadgets were considered unsafe, so he eventually had to take it off. I know it wasn’t on the steering wheel when I started driving the tractor a few years later.) I guess the most valuable thing I learned from my dad is that you need to take responsibility for getting things done, regardless of the obstacles that may come your way. If the hay needs to be baled and the hay baler is broken, you figure out how to fix the hay baler. You don’t wait for someone else to do it.

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Mim – my best friend for 42 years and counting …

I continued to think about all the people who have been positive influences in my life – throughout my career, in my social life, and in my spiritual life. Mim certainly was on the list, along with people who have lived with us (and their families), my aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, classmates, fellow church members, … and, of course, my dogs.

I was able to keep “counting sheep” for several hours, feeling more and more grateful for all the people who have helped me become who I am today. Since you readers don’t have most of a night-time to review all these people with me, I’ll simply say, God and I had a nice, long conversation. Thanks to one sleepless night, I am more appreciative than ever of the many people who have touched my life.

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Patti (left) and her sister Edith (right) were among our many delightful assisted living residents. Edith’s daughter Margaret and granddaughter Holly joined “God’s guest list” for Mim and me when Edith first became a member of our assisted living family.

 

 

Transition Time

The winter wonderland surrounding the farmhouse

The winter wonderland surrounding the farmhouse

It’s official. Whispering Winds Retreat Haven is on break. As of the first of the year, the farmhouse will be home to another family for at least two years. In January of 2015, the farmhouse may reclaim the name of Whispering Winds and come back to life as a B&B-style retreat center again, or it may move ahead into a new stage of its life, possibly with a new owner. The farmhouse is for sale as soon as God sends the new owner our way.

Our Chicago friend Ellen, the one who helped us turn our farmhouse into Whispering Winds Retreat Haven four years ago, was with us this past weekend. Ellen, Mim, and I got together in the living room of Whispering Winds to celebrate the blessings of these last four years and to pray for this time of transition. With the help of the book, For Everything a Season: 75 Blessings for Daily Life (written by the Nilsen Family for The Youth & Family Institute, Bloomington, MN, 1999), we created a special blessing ceremony for this occasion. Our opening prayer was:

Gracious God,
you gave us a home in which to grow and rest,
to find shelter and experience the many joys and sorrows of life.
Thank you for the blessings of this place
and what it has meant to all who have lived and visited here.
May this home be a blessing to those who come after us.
Amen

We spent some time remembering many of the blessings we have experienced at Whispering Winds, many of our guests, and some of the special occasions that have been celebrated here. We ended our short liturgy with the following blessing:

May God’s love fill our hearts with gratitude for our blessings
and help us treasure every new stage of life.

Abbey is the most popular caregiver at Country Comforts.

Abbey is the most popular caregiver at Country Comforts.

Now what? Several people have asked me what I’m going to be doing with all my time now that I’m no longer managing Whispering Winds. Mim is very quick to answer that for me. All the things I was supposed to be doing for our other business, Country Comforts Assisted Living, can now become the priorities. Most importantly, I need to spread the word that we have decided to specialize in providing end-of-life care in our condo. That has become the niche for Country Comforts Assisted Living.

When people draw near to the end of their life, often they choose to receive hospice care at home with their loved ones taking care of them. A hospice organization provides help, but the majority of caregiving is done by family members. Sometimes, family members are not able to give the care their loved one needs at home. That’s where Country Comforts can help. Their loved one can be moved into our home where we’ll provide attentive and loving care for them. Family members can be with their loved one as much as they want at Country Comforts, but they can rely on us (mostly Mim who is a registered nurse) to provide whatever physical, emotional, and spiritual support is needed – from medication management to prayer. We work together with a hospice organization and the loved one’s doctors, pastor, and family members to help the loved one peacefully live out their last months, weeks, or days on this earth.

What will I be doing? Whatever I can to spread the word about the end-of-life care we provide. That means updating our website, www.CountryComfortsAssistedLiving.com; meeting with social workers, doctors, pastors, and community leaders in the area; and starting another blog about “Creating Moments to Cherish” as loved ones draw near to the end of their life. (I’ll also continue to keep up this blog, www.WhisperingWindsBlog.com, which has evolved into reflections on hearing God speak to us through everyday activities.)

Another thing I’ll be doing is writing and publishing more. I’m going back to Christmas Mountain the second week in January to do the final editing of my book on hospitality, Come, Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest. I hope to have this book published by summer. Meanwhile, I’m reviewing the proofs of my first book, Listening for God: 52 Reflections on Everyday Life, and plan to finish that task this week. I’ll let you know when the book is available on Amazon.com. Soon, I hope. It will be available in both paperback and e-book formats.

December 31 is a good time to talk about transitions. Hope you are looking back at the blessings of the past year and looking forward to a wonderful New Year, too!

Happy New Year from Marian, Abbey, and Mim. Family portrait compliments of Kevin Korth.

Happy New Year from Marian, Abbey, and Mim. Family portrait compliments of Kevin Korth.

All I Want for Christmas

Sears Christmas CatalogIn the 1950s, the day the SEARS CHRISTMAS CATALOG arrived in the mail was just about the best day of the year. I’d sit down in the living room, flip to the toy section, and spend the next hour or two looking at all the toys, page after page after page. When I got to the last page of toys, I’d go back to look again at the toys that I really wanted. They were usually on the cowboy page. I’d much rather dream about getting a ranch set than a doll house. (That’s probably why I still take such delight in setting up my “Bethlehem ranch” set for Christmas. My crèche has over 100 pieces, and is still growing!)

One year my mom tried to change my interests and she got me a big beautiful doll for Christmas. I cried when I opened the package. My mom gave up trying to change me, and got me a ranch set with a ranch house, corral, horses, and several cowboy figurines the next year. I couldn’t be happier. I finally outgrew the cowboy stage and drooled over chemistry sets in the Sears Catalog. One year my parents really splurged and got me the biggest chemistry set in the catalog. The next year, when my parents remodeled the kitchen, I was given the old hoosier to keep in my room as my laboratory. That way I didn’t have to take over the whole dining room table whenever I wanted to do chemistry experiments.

Hoosier that became my chemistry lab in my bedroom.

Hoosier that became my chemistry lab in my bedroom.

The other side of Christmas presents – the giving side – soon became even more exciting than the receiving side. Most Decembers I’d spend two or three hours working in the barn every day, stripping tobacco. (That’s another long story for another time.) I earned two-cents a lath – equal to about five minutes work. On Saturdays, I’d sometimes work all day. By the time I had earned between $5 and $10, I was ready to go Christmas shopping. Typical presents were a model car or airplane for my brother, a pen and stationery for my sister, a box of candy for my mom, and a tie for my dad. I felt rich with all the money in my billfold to be able to buy all those presents.

Over the last few years, Mim and I have changed some of our ideas about Christmas shopping. Whenever we’re in a store, any time of the year, and I see something that I’d really like to have, but I can’t quite justify that I  need it and that I should spend the money on it, Mim will say, that can be your Christmas present, and vice versa. That’s how we justified spending $16 on a monthly planner notebook for 2013 for Mim, and how we justified spending $300 on a Samsung Galaxy Note II smartphone for me last week. (I think I’ve mastered this new way of looking at presents better than Mim has!)

But the five things I really want most for Christmas this year are:

  1. Krumkake – and other homemade Christmas cookies, especially the Norwegian kinds.
  2. Good roads so that I can get to the Christmas services I’m scheduled to play for this year – all eight of them.
  3. Time to spend with my family and best friends.
  4. Quiet time to think about how much God loves me – and vice versa – probably relaxing time sitting at the piano, not necessarily completely quiet.
  5. The opportunity for everyone to experience a moment of God’s peace.
Part of the Fontanini creche I've been collecting since 1984.

Part of the Fontanini creche I’ve been collecting since 1984.

Great Expectations for this week – 7 of them!

For several weeks now, a friend of mine has been posting a list of three things she’s thankful for each day. Usually the lists are just that – three words or short phrases in a simple list format – just a quick statement of things she’s particularly thankful for that day. That practice got me thinking in lists. Today I made a list of some “Great Expectations” I have for this week. There are seven items on my list. I’m not nearly as concise as my friend, but here’s my list of “Great Expectations for this Week.”

  1. An inspiring and productive Writers Week at Whispering Winds. This week has been designated on our retreat calendar as “Retreat for Writers.” Several writers will be coming to Whispering Winds for a day or two to write, to be away from their distractions at home and to focus their energy entirely on writing. I expect each writer to have a wonderfully inspiring and productive time here.
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  2. Safe travel for weekend guests. This coming weekend a couple guests are coming to Cambridge for the wedding of a friend. One is coming from the east coast. The other is coming from Europe. I trust each guest will have safe travels, joyful celebrations with their friends, and a relaxing and refreshing time at Whispering Winds.
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  3. A good time of reflection at the women’s worship service at the county jail.  Reading Scripture, giving testimonies, singing hymns, and praying together with the chaplain and several inmates is a truly special time of sharing deep thoughts and feelings with each other and with God. I always look forward to playing the piano for these services and being invited to participate with the group in their sharing activities.
  4. Playing the pipe organ at Messiah

    Finding just the right organ music for next Sunday’s church service. As a church organist, I usually try to find a prelude and postlude, and sometimes other special music, that reinforces the main theme of the Scripture for that day. As I study the lectionary readings for Sunday, and flip through the pages of organ arrangements, I trust that just the right music will jump out at me. Almost always, that’s what happens. Sometimes the process takes an hour. Sometimes most of a day. My expectation is that the prelude will help people get in the right mindset for the message of the day, and that the postlude will help people remember what God is saying to them through the Scriptures, the sermon, and the hymns.
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  5. My brand new great-great-nephew and his mom will go home from the hospital early this week. Ethan is the 2-day-old son of Christina and Josh. Christina is the daughter of my nephew Terry and his wife, Eng (originally from Cambodia). Terry is the oldest son of my sister, Nancy, and her husband, Clark. Family connections are wonderful – especially the longer they get. Just think of all the people who are rejoicing over the birth of Ethan – literally all around the world – because of how we all are connected.
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    Marian’s grandfather plowing with horses.

  6. A smooth implementation of all the changes I just made on our website. Lots of new pictures. More information about the thread of hospitality that can be traced from the beginnings in 1908 when my grandparents bought the farm, through all the uses of the farm in the 104 years since then. Ending with some conjecture about how the farmhouse will be used next… Here’s a direct link to the new Past & Future section, http://whisperingwindsretreathaven.com/pastfuture.html.
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  7. That this blog post will prompt readers to ponder and be thankful for their own expectations for this week.