Tag Archive | Chicago

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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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).


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:


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]


Feeling Safe in our Homes Away from Home

SKMBT_C28016061316360 copy

1975: Mim and me with a friend in front of our favorite neighborhood bar – Moody’s Pub

“Paris” is the closest experience to “Pulse” (the gay bar in Orlando) I can relate to. Twenty-five years ago, when Mim and I still lived in Chicago, occasionally we would go with a couple friends to “Paris,” a lesbian nightclub on the mid-north side of Chicago. The four of us would sit at the bar, sip on a glass of wine or an imported non-alcoholic citrus flavored sparkling water, try to carry on a conversation over the loud music, and watch dozens of women dancing together. We never ventured out on the dance floor ourselves, because growing up in a Methodist family who considered dancing sinful, I didn’t know how to dance. Going to “Paris” wasn’t our favorite means of socializing, but there’s no doubt we could feel the positive energy in the room. It felt good to be in a place where we weren’t afraid to be identified as gay. Even though we didn’t know most of the people, there was a definite sense of community in the room.

We visited with friends in our home – or theirs – more often than we went out to bars, but there were three other bars in Chicago that we frequented more regularly than “Paris.”

SKMBT_C28016061408070When I was going to grad school a couple evenings a week, sometimes Mim would meet me after class and we would walk to “Sherlock’s Home.” The atmosphere was just as I imagined a personal library in an old English mansion to be like. There was no bar to sit around. Instead the darkened room was scattered with small groupings of leather wingback chairs, end tables, and floor lamps. The walls were lined floor to ceiling with old hardcover books. Mim and I would usually share a plate of French bread, baked brie, and fresh fruit along with a couple glasses of wine as we talked about our days. It was a good way to unwind at the end of very busy days.

Whenever we had out-of-town guests, and we thought they would enjoy seeing the more elegant side of Chicago, we would take them to the lounge of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel atop Water Tower Place downtown. The lounge was like a very large living room with lots of groupings of sofas, easy chairs, and coffee tables. Each coffee table had a crystal dish filled with mixed nuts (no peanuts!). One wall of the room was all glass, revealing magnificent views of the “Magnificent Mile” – Michigan Avenue lined with Chicago’s most exclusive shops. There was a grand piano in the room, and usually a pianist was playing Broadway tunes.


Moody’s cheeseburgers are often rated the best in Chicago.

“Moody’s Pub” was our most usual bar to go to. It was a neighborhood bar that had the best burgers anywhere. We’re still trying to find a bar in Wisconsin that measures up to the standard they set. We went there often enough that George, the waitress, knew what we wanted and brought us a bottle of our favorite wine when she came to confirm our order of two cheeseburgers, medium and medium well, no onion and extra pickles.

Although I grew up never darkening the door of a bar, I have learned that bars play an important role in our lives – a home away from home to get together with friends, share a meal or a drink, and enjoy each other’s company. A bar is a place of comfort, as well as a place for excitement. It’s a place to get together with like-minded souls.

The people who gathered at “Pulse” in Orlando last Saturday night – people who were celebrating their God-given gift of being created gay – suffered a terrible loss. A hundred of them were injured or killed by one person shooting a highly efficient assault weapon. And in addition to the tragedy of those deaths and injuries, thousands, even millions of people worldwide suffered a loss in their sense of safety. Is it safe to go to a gay bar any more? Is it safe to participate in a gay pride parade in any city – even Madison? Is it even safe to go to school? Or church? Or a movie theater? Can we feel safe anywhere outside of our homes?

Personally, I feel pretty safe living in Cambridge, Wisconsin. But I know I would feel safer if we had better gun control laws. I would also feel safer if we as a society made it a priority to learn to respect people who are different from us – a different race, a different nationality, a different sexual orientation, a different religion, a different socio-economic status… I would feel much, much safer if we placed a higher priority on loving our neighbor.

One of the Psalms we sing fairly often at Messiah Lutheran Church is “Psalm 27: The Lord is My Light.” Here are the words as we sing them.

The Lord is my light and my salvation,
of whom shall I be afraid, of whom shall I be afraid?

The Lord is my light and my help; whom should I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; before whom should I shrink?

There is one thing I ask of the Lord; for this I long:
to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.

I believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living;
hope in God, and take heart. Hope in the Lord!

Text:  Psalm 27:1-2, 4, 13-14; David Haas
Music:  David Haas   ©️1983, GIA Publications, Inc.

Moodys w Marilyn M M

Last summer Mim and I went back to Moody’s. We joined an old friend in the beer garden for Sangria and burgers.

The Emotional Jackpot

Mom 8th grade graduation

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.

Moms Memorandum Book - Jan 29 1922

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.

M-M Lounging in our first apartment cropped

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.

BC-1 MM Steve

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.

M-M Close-up - cropped

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.

A friend loves at all times - cropped




“Good morning, Abbey. You’re up bright and early this morning.”

“Yeah. Good morning, Mom. You moms sure got home late last night. I was waiting and waiting and waiting to talk with you, and when you finally came home, you went right to bed.”

Ann giving Abbey breakfast.

Ann giving Abbey breakfast.

“I’m sorry, Abbey. I didn’t know you wanted to talk. We had a wonderful day in Chicago yesterday, and we did stretch it a little more than we intended. I’ll tell you all about it, but first, tell me what you wanted to talk about all day yesterday.”

“Okay. I don’t know if you know it, or not, but every Sunday morning when you go to church, I spend some time thinking back over the previous week, and thinking ahead to what the upcoming week will bring. It’s my time for meditation.”

“I didn’t know that’s what you did, Abbey. That’s great!”

“Well yesterday, I thought a lot about the week in Boston, with the two bombings and everything that followed. It was a terrible tragedy. But, you know, I was SO PROUD of my cousins, the therapy dogs. They did such good work, comforting everyone in Boston from the injured and grieving to the police and other investigators, and everyone else in Boston who just couldn’t believe what was happening. My cousins did their jobs beautifully, showing everyone how to relax and take comfort knowing that we love them. You know, God created dogs for the primary purpose of demonstrating what real love is. I was so proud watching my cousins at work!”

Abbey welcoming Edith when she first came to live with us.

Abbey welcoming Edith when she first came to live with us.

“Yes, Abbey, your comfort dog cousins did beautiful work in Boston, just like you do beautiful work at home. I bet you spent time with Ann, letting her pet you, while we were gone yesterday.”

“Yup. I let her feed me, too. She likes that. She always tells me to chew my food and eat slowly. I don’t think she knows that every meal is a race for us dogs – to eat all our food before anyone else can get it. But she loves me, and I love her, too. Remember Edith? I loved her so much. I spent hours every day sitting by her side. And Patti. I crawled into bed with Patti to comfort her just a few days before she moved to heaven. Oh, and speaking of crawling into bed, remember how I used to wake Doris up every morning, by jumping in bed with her and licking her face until she woke up giggling! And Mary used to sneak me food from the table. I’ve had so many wonderful friends living here with you at Country Comforts Assisted Living.”

“Speaking of friends, Abbey, that’s why we went to Chicago yesterday, and why we came home so late. We went to the city to see lots of our old friends. We moved from Chicago to Wisconsin 21 years ago, but we still have lots of wonderful friends in Chicago. We started the day by going to Resurrection Lutheran Church. Before church started, we talked with a few old friends, then we worshiped together, and then we talked and talked and talked throughout coffee hour. We chatted with Gladys, Donna, May, Betsy, Brian, Harry, and we met some new people, too. It was so much fun to spend time with all these great friends, just like we used to do when we lived in Chicago.”

Abbey and Mary sharing a special moment together.

Abbey and Mary sharing a special moment together.

“Did you have time to eat any food, or did you just talk?”

“Oh, we took time to eat, too. And Gladys sent a coffee cake and some cookies home with us.”

“That’s good. What did you do next that kept you out so late?”

“We drove Gladys home from church. She’s in her 90s now, and doesn’t get around as easily as she used to. Then we drove a couple miles to North Park University, where Mim used to teach nursing. North Park was having a special service and reception to celebrate the 25-year anniversary of their chapter of Sigma Theta Tau, the International Honor Society of Nursing. Mim is a charter member of that organization, and she thought this would be a good opportunity to see some of her nursing colleagues. Did she ever talk a lot with them! We spent over three hours there. But one of her closest teaching buddies, Linda, wasn’t able to come to the event because she wasn’t feeling well. So Mim and I drove to her home in the suburbs to visit for a few minutes – which turned into an hour. Mim really enjoyed talking with all her old cronies. Then we came home.

Doris and Abbey comforting each other.

Doris and Abbey comforting each other.

“There’s an old saying that ‘Laughter is the best medicine.’ I agree that laughter is a good medicine, but I think friendship is an even better medicine. Both Mim and I were so refreshed by being with some of our old friends again for a few hours. There’s another old quote that I like. ‘Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.’ (Marcel Proust) Our souls are blossoming again after our wonderful day with friends yesterday.”

“That’s good to hear, Mom. I have a quote about friendship that I really like, too. ‘The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares.’ (Henry Nouwen) That’s the kind of friends dogs are.

“Abbey, I’m glad we’re not just family, we’re really good friends, too.”

“Me, too, Mom. And I’m thankful for all the new friends you bring home to live with us. Old friends, new friends, I love them all. That’s the way God made us dogs.”

Best friends and family.

Best friends and family.