Tag Archive | Bible study

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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The Emotional Jackpot

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Mom’s 8th grade graduation picture. Mom is at far right.

As I was thinking about what to write in my blog this week, I picked up my mom’s little black book again. This is the little hardcover “Memorandum Book” that Stella Lillesand, my mom’s Sunday School teacher, had given her in 1921, when Mom was 13 years old. Mom had used this book to write down Bible verses as she memorized them starting on October 2, 1921 and ending on August 5, 1923.

Her first entry was “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14) Her last entry was “But thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord.” (I Corinthians 15:57)

I decided to look up any verse she might have memorized the last week in January, this week almost 100 years ago. On January 29, 1922 she wrote, “A friend loveth at all times.” (Proverbs 17:17) When I read that, I thought I’d hit the emotional jackpot. My best friend, Mim, and I have celebrated the week between January 24 and February 1 for the last 27 years.

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January 29, 1922 – Bottom of left page

The last week in January of 1973 I met Mim at a small group Bible Study in Chicago. I had just accepted a position as an editorial researcher for The World Book Encyclopedia and I needed to find an apartment, move into it, and be ready to start my new job in three days. I was staying with my friend, June, while I looked for an apartment, and I’d gone with June to her church Bible Study.

After the Bible Study, Mim walked across the room to talk with June and to meet me. When Mim found out I was under pressure to find an apartment and move in three days, she invited me to stay with her in her apartment until I found a place of my own – regardless of how long that might take. On February 1 of this year, we will have lived together 43 years. I never did find a place of my own.

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Mim and me in our first apartment in Chicago – 1973

By the time Mim and I had lived together 16 years our friendship had deepened and our lives had become quite intertwined. When a close friend of ours died without a will, we realized we should have wills and power of attorney documents drawn up for ourselves. We asked our Lutheran pastor if he would be a witness to the signing of our wills. He said he would be happy to do that, but also suggested that we might want to have a Blessing Ceremony for the church to bless our loving relationship and our lifetime commitment to each other. Both Mim and I thought that was a great idea, and on January 24, 1989 our pastor and a few close friends gathered in our home for our Blessing Ceremony.

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A picture from our Blessing Ceremony – 1989

Just two and a half years ago, on September 15, 2013, we added one more date to our list of anniversaries to celebrate – the day we were legally married.

All three of these dates are very significant to us. Being legally married conveyed the same rights and privileges to us that all other legally married couples have. That’s a huge relief from a practical standpoint. The Blessing Ceremony is when God and the church blessed our commitment to love and cherish each other for the rest of our lives. The day Mim and I met each other and Mim offered me her friendship, along with a place to stay, marked the beginning of a loving friendship that was surely a precious gift from God.

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Our Wedding Picture – 2013

I think God put a pretty bow on this gift, perhaps a “God-wink,” by letting me discover that the Bible verse my mom memorized the last week in January of 1922 was “A friend loveth at all times.” God gave me the gift of a very special best friend 43 years ago, a friend who loves me at all times, just as God intends for us.

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Why did we do it?

Mim and Marian Wedding September 15, 2013 Harbo Chapel at Augsburg College, Minneapolis

Mim and Marian Wedding, September 15, 2013
Harbo Chapel at Augsburg College, Minneapolis

Sunday in church our pastor announced to the congregation that Mim and I were married in Minneapolis last weekend, after living together 40 years. Seated on the organ bench, which is near the front of the sanctuary, I looked out over all the people who had great big smiles on their faces as they applauded us. (There may have been a few looks of disapproval, but I didn’t notice them.) It was wonderful to feel the warmth of our church family.

After the service, while I was playing the postlude, several people patted me on the back or gave me a hug and said congratulations. One choir member asked me, “Why did you get married now, after 40 years?” Since I was in the middle of playing a loud, exuberant arrangement of “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand” I said I’d tell her later.

Mim and I have always enjoyed making music together.

We have always enjoyed making music together.

I guess that’s a good question – why did Mim and I finally get married? Probably many other people, including my brother and some of our nieces and nephews, are wondering the same thing. Let me explain by telling a little of our personal story.

Mim and I met each other in a small group Bible study in Chicago on February 1, 1973. After the Bible study, when everyone was talking over coffee, Mim learned that I was moving to Chicago to accept a new job as an editorial researcher for The World Book Encyclopedia, and that I was looking for an apartment. Mim invited me to stay with her until I could find my own place. We became friends, and I never moved out.

Sixteen years later, on January 24, 1989, our Lutheran pastor in Chicago officiated at a Blessing Ceremony for us in lieu of a wedding. Having a wedding wasn’t a legal option at that time. In our Blessing Ceremony, we made a commitment before God, our pastor, and other witnesses to love and be faithful to each other for the rest of our lives. The ceremony was accompanied by the signing of wills and power of attorney documents to approximate the most important legal protections a marriage automatically provides.

With our pastor Steve at our Blessing Ceremony, January 24, 1989.

With our pastor Steve at our Blessing Ceremony, January 24, 1989.

Our Chicago pastor kiddingly reminded me on Facebook last week that that was our REAL wedding, back in 1989! We agree. That’s when we committed ourselves to each other, and the church blessed our commitment.

This year many of the legal prohibitions against same-sex marriage have been dissolved, both at the federal level and in several states, including Minnesota, but not in Wisconsin. Mim and I have been planning for an eventual move to Minnesota in order to provide better protection to each other as we begin to face the inevitable challenges of aging. And then last month, a big change happened. The Federal Department of Treasury announced that the Federal Government will recognize all legally performed same-sex marriages, regardless of whether or not the couple resides in the state where the marriage was performed. The impact of that change is huge for couples like us.  We could get married in Minnesota and still live in Wisconsin, and the Federal Government would recognize our marriage.

The Department of Treasury made that announcement on Thursday, August 29, 2013. By Saturday, August 31, Mim and I were planning our wedding. The following Wednesday, September 4, we made a day trip to Minneapolis to get our marriage license and reserve the small chapel at Augsburg College, Mim’s alma mater, located near downtown Minneapolis, for our wedding.

A small round table served as our altar in the chapel.

A small round table served as our altar in the chapel.

On Sunday, September 15, 2013 Mim and I were married in a small ceremony. The officiant was a spiritual director and former Augsburg classmate of Mim. The witnesses were two close friends of ours who live in the Twin Cities area. After the ceremony, we all enjoyed a celebratory dinner at True Thai restaurant near Augsburg. Mim and I spent Monday visiting friends in southern Minnesota and then we drove back home to Cambridge.

Are our lives any different now that we are legally married? Not really. Our day-to-day living is the same as it has been for many years. We have been a family since God brought us together. But now we feel a little more secure, knowing that, at least on the federal level, our basic rights as a family are protected.

We have not abandoned our plans to move to Minnesota in the future, because Wisconsin still does not provide us many important rights that other married couples have – such as the right to be treated as a spouse when the other member of the couple is hospitalized. Mim and I expect that all states, even Wisconsin, will fully honor same-sex marriages eventually. That may happen in a few years, or perhaps it may take a decade or two. Since Mim and I are already in our sixties, we don’t know how long we can wait for Wisconsin to catch up to Minnesota and other states in treating us the same as any other married couple.

But for now, we are happily married and residing in Wisconsin – already having celebrated our 40th anniversary of living together; being almost ready to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our commitment to each other being blessed by the church; and just beginning our first year of “legal marriage.”

We recreated the altar on our piano at home. Something old: The candelabra were used in her parents' wedding.  Something new: The flowers. Something borrowed: The cross was borrowed from our church. Something blue: The votive candle.

We recreated the altar on our piano at home.
Something old: The candelabra were used in Mim’s parents’ wedding.
Something new: My sister-in-law had more fresh flowers waiting for us.
Something borrowed: The cross was borrowed from our church.
Something blue: We had lots of blue!

Summer Small Group Opportunities at Whispering Winds… Starting this month!

 

 

 

Joan Gunderman will be leading two small groups at Whispering Winds this summer. I asked her to tell us about these groups in today’s blog post.

“Great Reads”

3rd Mondays, May-October, 7:00-8:30 p.m.

The Whispering Winds front porch is a comfortable gathering space, the perfect spot to watch the sun setting over corn fields.

Are you someone who enjoys discussing a good book with others who have read it, too?   You’ll have a series of opportunities to do so, reading and discussing books with a spiritual bent, monthly from May through October at Whispering Winds.  Both fiction and non-fiction will be in the mix.  You can sign up for all of them, or for one at a time.  $10 per evening covers our modest expenses and yummy dessert (Whispering Winds style!). I will choose the first three reads, and the readers will join me in selecting the remaining three, from your suggestions.  Here are the first three:

May 21 – Imaginary Jesus, by Matt Mikalatos

Imaginary Jesus is an hilarious, fast-paced, not-quite-fictional story that’s unlike anything you’ve ever read before. When Matt Mikalatos realizes that his longtime buddy in the robe and sandals isn’t the real Jesus at all, but an imaginary one, he embarks on a mission to find the real thing. On his wild ride through time, space, and Portland, Oregon, he encounters hundreds of other Imaginary Jesuses determined to stand in his way (like Legalistic Jesus, Perpetually Angry Jesus, and Magic 8 Ball Jesus). But Matt won’t stop until he finds the real Jesus—and finally gets an answer to the question that’s haunted him for years.

June 18 – Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now, by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou, one of the best-loved authors of our time, shares the wisdom of a remarkable life in this best-selling spiritual classic. This is Maya Angelou talking from the heart, down to earth and real, but also inspiring. This is a book to treasured, a book about being in all ways a woman, about living well, about the power of the word, and about the power of spirituality to move and shape your life. Passionate, lively, and lyrical, Maya Angelou’s unforgettable work offers a gem of truth on every page.

July 16 – Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish, by Sue Bender

“I had an obsession with the Amish. Plain and simple. Objectively it made no sense. I, who worked hard at being special, fell in love with a people who valued being ordinary.”

So begins Sue Bender’s story, the captivating and inspiring true story of a harried urban Californian moved by the beauty of a display of quilts to seek out and live with the Amish. Discovering lives shaped by unfamiliar yet comforting ideas about time, work, and community, Bender is gently coaxed to consider, “Is there another way to lead a good life?”

On nice summer evenings the small group may meet on the front porch.

Heeding a persistent inner voice, Bender searches for Amish families willing to allow her to visit and share in their daily lives. Plain and Simple vividly recounts sojourns with two Amish families, visits during which Bender enters a world without television, telephone, electric light, refrigerators, or computers; a world where clutter and hurry are replaced with inner quiet and calm ritual; a world where a sunny kitchen “glows” and “no distinction was made between the sacred and the everyday.”

Join me in a lovely and thought-provoking read.

Spiritual Formation Group

3rd Tuesday, May-October, 7:00-8:30 p.m.

O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  (Psalm 63:1)

I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. (Psalm 143:6)

Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee. Lord, teach me to know and understand (St. Augustine, 354-430 AD)

Deepening our connection with God, deepening our connection with our own soul, getting to know who we really are as a child of God, and following our God-led path, brings the greatest joy in life. [paraphrased from Ruth Fishel, author of Time for Joy.]  It has been a point of longing from as early as the Psalms (and earlier), through the time of Jesus himself, the early church, and still today.  Worship and church work take us part of the way, but more and more people are realizing they are hungry to meet and know the gracious and loving God/Christ/Spirit dwelling within them.

Spiritual formation is a sacred journey, not a destination, and has everything to do with the richness of life — your own life, and the life of the world God loves.  It is not navel-gazing for our own sake.  It is the rich soil from which trust, humility, peace, contentment, healthy relationships, and loving as Jesus loves grow.  It is a truly amazing journey!

Or, if the mosquitoes try to join us, the Gazebo is another great meeting space.

We will meet six times, reading and discussing together the book Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life, by Marjorie J. Thompson.  It’s a classic and continuing favorite.

The registration for the spiritual formation series is $50. Even if you know you’ll have to miss one (or two at the most) feel free to register anyway.  We give and receive the most when we commit ourselves to one another and to gathering together each month.

Note for both “Great Reads” and Spiritual Formation participants: I have checked Amazon.com out for all of the books listed here.  They are all available and, if you’re willing to consider “Used – Like New” or “Used – Very Good” you can get some very good deals.  (This is what I do most of the time!)

To register for the “Great Reads” small group or the Spiritual Formation Group, call 608.212.6197 or email mariankorth@gmail.com.