Tag Archive | Country Comforts

An Odd Favorite

Doris - Abbey on couch - cropped

Doris giving her best friend Abbey a hug. (Abbey was our canine caregiver prior to Floey.)

I thought about Doris last week. Doris lived with us for almost four years. She came for assisted living in 2005, shortly after her husband Ernie died. Doris, a nurse, had been caring for Ernie for many years, and now it was time for someone to care for Doris. She was in her late eighties.

What brought Doris to mind was one of the hymns we sang in church last Sunday – Holy, Holy, Holy. It was Trinity Sunday, and Holy, Holy, Holy is the classic hymn to sing to celebrate our understanding of our three-in-one God – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Doris loved this hymn. During the years that she lived with us, Mim, Doris, and Mary (our other resident at the time) often joined me at the piano in the evening to sing. We sang golden oldies like Let Me Call You Sweetheart and lots of hymns. Almost every night Doris requested Holy, Holy, Holy. 

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Her request surprised me. I grew up in a Methodist church where we did lots of singing. On Sunday mornings, we sang about half a dozen hymns and responses from THE METHODIST HYMNAL, a thick black book that was kept in the racks on the back of the pews. The hymns in the hymnal were the classical hymns of faith, dating mostly from the 16th through the early 19th centuries. I learned to like many of these stately old hymns, and that is how I would describe them – as stately hymns that we sang to formally and respectfully worship God.

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Willerup United Methodist Church, Cambridge, Wisconsin – my family church for generations

On Sunday evenings we sang out of a different songbook, either SONGS OF THE SANCTUARY (the blue book), or MELODIES OF PRAISE (the white book). These hardcover songbooks were handed out to each person as we entered church. The first 15 minutes of the service were spent singing from these songbooks. The pastor usually announced the first song for us to sing, and then it was up to the congregation to call out their requests. The blue book was filled with gospel songs from the 19th and 20th centuries – songs like Just a Closer Walk with Thee, When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder, He Leadeth Me, and Just As I Am. The white book was newer and included songs like How Great Thou Art, Wonderful Words of Life, and Blessed Assurance.

These Sunday evening songbooks were the source of everyone’s favorite gospel songs. THE METHODIST HYMNAL had all the nice stately hymns that were appropriate for the more formal Sunday morning service. The smaller songbooks had the more emotional songs that we would sing to express our feelings. These are the songs that became our favorites.

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When I was in high school I bought my own copy of Melodies of Praise to use at home. I chose a green cover rather than white.

Doris’ favorite hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy, was from the formal HYMNAL, not from the collection of gospel songs in the songbooks. That’s what surprised me. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had requested What a Friend We Have in Jesus or Jesus Loves Me (although she liked those songs, too). I was surprised at Holy, Holy, Holy being her choice almost every time we sang. 

Today I have very fond memories of the four of us singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Whenever we sing that hymn in church, I think about Doris and our evening sing-alongs in our living room at Country Comforts Assisted Living, our home.

When Doris died, her daughter asked me to play the piano in their Presbyterian church and to have a hymn sing for her funeral. I gave her daughter a list of every hymn I could remember that Doris had asked to sing in our sing-alongs, and I think we sang all of them at the funeral. In my mind I could still see Doris singing along, especially on Holy, Holy, Holy.

Abbey - Mary - sitting tall - adj

Mary and Abbey were friends, too.

Mary had a favorite hymn for our evening sing-alongs, too. It was The Family of God. Her choice also surprised me. I’ve known Mary most of my life. She was my fifth and sixth grade teacher, and then my history teacher when I was in junior high. She was 84 when she came to us for assisted living. Like me, she had grown up Methodist, and then turned Lutheran as an adult. What surprised me by her choice of a favorite hymn was that she chose a more contemporary gospel song. I expected her to choose something that had roots in her childhood years, a more traditional gospel song from an earlier era.

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I’ve always been interested in what people choose as their favorite hymns. Over the years, I’ve found it very revealing to learn what someone’s favorite hymns are. When I know your favorite hymns, I feel I’m beginning to really know you.

When I was an organist at the Presbyterian church in Cambridge, we had bulletin inserts for almost every funeral because invariably the favorite hymn of the deceased person was not included in the current edition of the hymnal.

At the request of the pastor, I coordinated the compilation of a songbook of congregational favorites. We asked the congregation to submit a list of their favorite hymns, whether they were in the current hymnal, or not. For all the hymns that were no longer in the hymnal, I found the hymns in my collection of old hymnals from a wide variety of denominations, added some of my own favorites, and arranged them into a songbook.

(I think we adequately addressed copyright issues by obtaining a Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) license and acknowledging that most of the older hymns were currently in the public domain.)

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This “Favorites” songbook has become my go-to book for finding an old gospel song that I want to use in a prelude or as a meditative response, regardless of whether I’m playing in a Presbyterian Church, a Lutheran Church, or even at the women’s worship service of the county jail.

When I played the piano regularly for the women’s worship service in the Dane County Jail, we usually sang two hymns, selected by the chaplain. The inmates, whose ages ranged from 20s to 60s, seemed to enjoy singing, regardless of the hymns selected. After the service was over, I kept playing whatever hymns and spirituals popped into my mind while we waited for deputies to come to escort the women out of the chapel and back to their cell blocks. Sometimes, the inmates sang along as I played, and often they requested their favorites to sing. As I recall, the most frequent requests were Amazing Grace, Jesus Loves Me, and How Great Thou Art.

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Dane County Jail – on the upper floors of the City-County Building

It seems that favorite hymns are surprisingly universal. Regardless of our ages and circumstances, many of the same songs speak to our hearts.

So what’s my most favorite hymn of all? That’s too hard a question. Some days, I think my answer would be Great Is Thy Faithfulness. Other days, I’d probably say Just a Closer Walk with Thee, or To God Be the Glory, or We Gather Together, or How Great Thou Art, or Near to the Heart of God. Last Sunday, I think I would have claimed Holy, Holy, Holy as my favorite. Really!

Thanks, Doris! You taught me that even a stately old hymn that’s two and a half centuries old can become one of my favorites. And thanks to you, too, Mary. You have proven that even octogenarians can learn to love brand new hymns!

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Mary and Doris sharing good times.

(Extra picture… Mim asked me why I didn’t use the picture below instead of the picture above to end this post. Picking favorite pictures to illustrate a story is just as hard as choosing favorite hymns! Sometimes, it’s just too hard to choose. So today you get two ending pictures.)

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Doris, Mary, and Abbey talking and laughing while waiting for our sing-along to begin.

The Life of a Farmhouse Continues

Ready for a new adventure...

The Farmhouse (FH), about 1999

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

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Mim and Marian at the farmhouse -2006.

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

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

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

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

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

Captain Kangaroo talking with Grandfather Clock.

Captain Kangaroo talking with Grandfather Clock.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Danny, Marian, and Dad building the new barn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Prayer Room of Whispering Winds

In the Prayer Room of Whispering Winds

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

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

“I’m glad you feel that way, FH.”

Addendum written August 20, 2015 – Another Conversation

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

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

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

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

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

Ready for a new adventure . . .

Ready for a new adventure . . .

My Musical Destiny

Welcoming guests to our bed and breakfast in 1998.

Welcoming guests to our bed and breakfast in 1998.

Seventeen years ago, Mim and I created a new business called Korth-Jacobson, LLC. Within that business structure we have done lots of different things – from being a bed and breakfast to selling real estate; from doing strategic planning and project management for small businesses to providing music in churches and a pub and other venues; from hosting spiritual retreats to caring for the elderly in our home. All of these businesses have been based out of our home. For the past 12 years, one of our businesses has been Country Comforts Assisted Living. We currently care for two 94-year-olds in our home, and we also coordinate the care of a third almost 94-year-old who lives with a neighbor.

By the very nature of this caregiving business, we are working 24/7. Whenever we are at home, we are responsible for being sure the needs of our residents are met. Whenever we are not at home, we need to be sure another caregiver is present to meet these needs. We have finally realized that to meet our own need for a break, we must take some time off, and that means we need to be away from our work environment – away from home. Lately we’ve established the schedule of taking Tuesdays and Thursdays off from about 1:00 or 1:30 pm till about 8:00 pm. Our most usual destinations on these days are Woodmans, Costco, and occasionally Trader Joe’s for groceries; Menards for hardware items; Farm & Fleet for dog treats and toys and for clothes when they go on sale (really!); and resale shops for books, clothes, gifts, and other bargains we “need.” Occasionally we’ll go to a movie if we don’t have any shopping that needs to be done.

A couple weeks ago we redeemed a gift certificate from a good friend and went to see the matinee performance at the Fireside Theater of “All Shook Up.”  We had a wonderful time listening to all those Elvis songs from the 50s and 60s, and laughing about the inter-racial mix-ups and mistaken sexual identity antics. Hearing those Elvis songs from our grade school and high school years brought back one of my childhood memories.

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Lowery electronic organ, state of the art using vacuum tube technology in 1957.

My sister Nancy (11 years older than me) started giving me piano lessons before I started school. I’ve  enjoyed playing the piano ever since. When I was nine, my mom bought a Lowery electronic organ. She had grown up playing a reed pump organ, and she missed playing an organ. A piano wasn’t as much fun for her, although she played it some. When the new electronic organ was delivered to our house I was as excited as I could be. I got to take the ten free lessons that came with the organ from Ward Brodt in Madison, and then I continued taking lessons from our church organist – both piano and organ. But from my first organ teacher at Ward Brodt I learned that any kind of music can be played on an organ – not just hymns. I had to walk through the print music department at the store to get to the lesson rooms, and I always browsed the music on my way out of the store. Most of my allowance was spent on music books with titles like “The Best Hits of 1962 for Easy Organ.” I acquired quite a collection and learned to play songs as varied as “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” to “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”

One Thursday morning when I was about 10 or 11, (I know it was Thursday because that was my mom’s day off) Eleanor Jarlsberg, one of my mom’s friends from church, came over for morning coffee. Mom and Eleanor were sitting at the dining room table drinking their coffee, and I was in the living room playing the organ just for fun, not practicing. I was going through my latest “Greatest Hits…” book. I was playing mostly the slower and quieter songs so that I wouldn’t disturb their conversation in the next room. When I finished playing the Elvis’ hit “Love Me Tender,” Eleanor asked me what hymn that was – she really liked it. When I told her it was an Elvis Presley song – not a hymn, she laughed and laughed, and I felt kind of embarrassed.

That’s when I began to put two and two together to understand that my destiny was to be a gospel pianist/organist, regardless of the type of music I tried to play. I’m not the gospel pianist that my Aunt Edith was who added all kinds of embellishments all over the keyboard. I’m not very good at that. I’m the kind of gospel music player that can play very expressively by varying volume and where on the keyboard I’m playing – high or low – and by sometimes holding a note a little too long to build the tension. I do simple stuff to draw the listener into the emotional message of the song.

Over the years as I learned more classical music on the piano and more traditional hymns and hymn arrangements on the organ, I tried to become more classical in my style of playing. But that was never as much fun for me. But then I noticed that Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” can easily morph into “Jesus Loves Me.” And that “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God” can weave itself into Pachelbel’s “Canon in D.”

Beer Barrel Polka sheet musicOne morning last week I had a musical breakthrough. A few years ago, a friend of mine was planning her funeral, and she asked me if I would be willing to play for it. Of course, I said sure. Then she said she wanted the funeral to be a joyous time of celebration. One of the songs she wanted me to play was “The Beer Barrel Polka.” I happen to know the song because that’s one of the songs my first organ teacher at Ward Brodt taught me. But, I’ve felt uncomfortable with that song for a funeral ever since she made the request. My friend died last week. As I was mulling over whether nor not I should play the song, it suddenly dawned on me – if I can morph “Clair de Lune” into “Jesus Loves Me” I certainly can morph “The Beer Barrel Polka” into “Jesus Loves Me.” So I did.

Yup. That’s my destiny. Regardless of what type of music I try to play, gospel is what’s going to come out. God made me that way, and I’ve finally come to whole-heartedly accept it.

Thanks, Nancy, for helping me learn that lesson.

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Nancy Koplin, a good friend who helped me find “Jesus Loves Me” in “The Beer Barrel Polka.”

Henry’s Story

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHenry is one of my heroes. I knew Henry for a total of about twelve years, starting in 2000. He wasn’t a perfect person. He had one significant flaw that I knew of – not being punctual. He lived by his internal clock, not his watch. But he taught me more about forgiveness, kindness, and absolute commitment to serving God than anyone else I’ve known in my 66 years of life. (Well, maybe my mom taught me more about those values, but Henry taught me the second most of anybody.)

Henry, who died a few years ago, was a Methodist minister who was called in 2000 to be pastor of Willerup United Methodist Church in Cambridge. Henry was a second career pastor. In his previous career he had worked in sales and marketing for a publishing company. He was about 60, divorced, and the father of two adult children. He was also the legal guardian and caregiver for Bob, a developmentally disabled man in his 40s.

I met Henry and Bob when they moved to Cambridge for Henry’s call to Willerup. Mim and I were living in our farmhouse at the time and we welcomed guests into our home as Country Comforts Bed & Breakfast. Henry wanted Bob and him to stay with us for the first few days during their move into the Willerup parsonage. He thought the move would be less disruptive for Bob if they could at least sleep in an environment that wasn’t as chaotic as a place filled with boxes in the process of being unpacked. However, when Henry and Bob arrived in Cambridge, they discovered that the parsonage wasn’t ready for them. The parsonage was in need of some minor repairs and major cleaning before they could move in.

Henry Hall and Bob SpauldingSo Henry and Bob ended up living with us for a couple months. During that time, we became good friends. As a B&B, we always served them breakfast, but as they were becoming friends, they often ate dinner with us too. Sometimes we’d go into the living room after dinner and gather around the piano for a sing-along, especially on days when my sister Nancy and her husband Clark had also joined us for dinner.

Willerup Sketch-BWUnfortunately, it became clear early in Henry’s time of ministry at Willerup that some members of the congregation were not pleased that Henry, a divorced, second-career pastor, was their minister. The congregation, in general, was quite conservative, and Henry and Bob didn’t fit their image of a traditional pastor and his family. Matters got worse when Bob, who spent his days at a sheltered work environment did some acting out to get more attention. Bob observed that another worker got extra attention when he told stories about his guardian being sexually inappropriate. So Bob tried to tell similar stories about Henry. Bob was right – he got lots of attention when he told these stories. A social worker and even the police got involved.

Word quickly got back to the congregation about these allegations, and certain members of the congregation demanded that Henry be forced to leave the church. Henry tried to continue to minister to the congregation, but stress was beginning to take its toll on his health. Furthermore, one of the social workers believed Bob’s stories without question, and managed to have Henry’s guardianship of Bob terminated, breaking up a healthy “family” relationship that had existed for many years. She also did everything she could to be sure Henry would spend the rest of his life in prison.

That’s when Henry taught me one of his most important lessons. I asked him how he could stand the prospect of spending years in prison because of Bob’s sensational but untrue stories. Henry said, “If I go to prison, it’s because God has a ministry for me to do there. It’s all up to God, and I’ll gladly do whatever He calls me to do.”

The legal case was eventually dropped, but Henry’s reputation was too badly damaged for him to be able to effectively minister at Willerup. He agreed to move to Madison and begin a part-time clown ministry. Being a clown had been a hobby of his for years, and he saw the potential to develop it into an intentional ministry. Henry also needed some less stressful time to regain his health. With all the turmoil, his body had really suffered, and he was put on a waiting list for a heart transplant.

In less than a year of Henry arriving in Cambridge, he was preparing to leave. He decided to take only a few things with him and to move into a small apartment in Madison. He called upon an auctioneer friend of his from his previous congregation to help him get rid of all the rest of his belongings.

Peter Rooster against condoBefore the auction, Mim and I talked with Henry about how hard it must be to give up most of his material possessions. We talked for a long time. He showed us some of his most treasured items that would be in the auction and told us stories about some of them. “Peter” was the name of a life-size cast iron rooster. A member of a previous congregation had given that to him as a gift because of how personally meaningful Henry had made the story of Peter’s betrayal of Jesus, of Jesus’ forgiveness of this betrayal, and of Jesus’ continuing love for Peter and for all of us.

The next day, Mim and I went to the auction. Henry was there. We asked him how he could bear to watch all his treasures being auctioned off. He responded, “I’m delighted to see who is bidding on what. It’s great to see who God has in mind to be the next caretaker of each item. Everything belongs to God anyway. There is no change in ownership.” That was another lesson Henry taught me.

Mim and I really wanted to get “Peter,” the 26-inch tall cast iron rooster. I got into a bidding war over him. I persisted, and “Peter” now stands proudly on the big rock at the corner of our condo – a reminder of Peter’s betrayal of Jesus and Jesus’ forgiveness and continuing love, and also a reminder of all the lessons we learned from Henry.

Peter Rooster against postAbout a year after Henry left Cambridge he got his new heart. The donor was a young man who died in a motorcycle accident. Henry’s recovery was long and hard, but he was determined to recover and continue to develop his clown ministry. He had a new focus for clowning – to comfort people who are involved in heart transplants – the families of donors, the recipients and their families, and the medical and nursing staff who work with everyone involved. He served in clown ministry for about ten years.

I’m very thankful that Henry was called to ministry in Cambridge, even though it was for a short time. By his example, I learned a lot about forgiveness, kindness, and absolute commitment to serving God. Henry is truly one of my heroes.

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Henry brought along some of his clown gear the last time he came to visit us in our home.

 

 

Dinnertime

Abbey Hungry 05-12-08

Abbey used to let us know when she was really hungry by bringing us her metal dish – and dropping it on the kitchen floor, making a clatter capable of waking the neighbors.

I guess today is a good day to talk about dinnertime. It’s Mardi Gras – Fat Tuesday – a time of feasting the day before beginning a forty-day fast for Lent. Mim and I are planning to go out for a musical feast tonight – an organ recital by Thomas Trotter (a fantastic organist from England) at the Overture Center in Madison. We’ll probably stop at Culver’s for a cheeseburger and fries on our way there. If the flavor-of-the-day is really good, we might splurge on a small dish of custard – but only if it’s a really good flavor. The real feast of the evening will be musical.

Bread for the Journey coverOver the past few days I’ve been reading about “the meal that makes us family and friends” in the book Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith by Henri J. M. Nouwen. The reflection for February 15 in this daily devotional book started with these words:

We all need to eat and drink to stay alive. But having a meal is more than eating and drinking. It is celebrating the gifts of life we share. A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events. Around the table we become vulnerable, filling one another’s plates and cups and encouraging one another to eat and drink. Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst. Around the table we become family, friends, community, yes, a body.

During most of my growing up years, Sunday dinner, eaten about 1:00 p.m., was the most special meal of the week. My mom usually put a roast in the oven before we left for Sunday school so that it would be almost ready when we got home from church, between 12:15 and 12:30. Mom had the potatoes peeled and waiting in the pressure cooker.  She turned the burner on to start the potatoes and grabbed a package of our own garden vegetables from the freezer, either corn or green beans. While the potatoes and vegetables were cooking Mom made gravy, and last of all she mashed the potatoes. My job was to bake some refrigerator rolls and set the table. Then the whole family gathered around the table, Danny and I said the “Come, Lord Jesus” prayer, and we ate and talked and laughed together. Often my Grandma Kenseth joined us for this meal. The meal ended with a dessert of homemade cookies, cake, or pie – and always ice cream.

What made this meal so special every week was that it was the only meal we all ate together. My dad was usually in the barn milking cows when the rest of us ate breakfast, and also when we ate supper. On weekdays, my dad was the only one home at noon. My mom was at work in Madison, and Danny and I were in school. Sunday dinner was the special time to eat together.  Besides sharing the meal, it was also a time for the whole family to be involved in conversation. I guess those Sunday dinners were pretty instrumental in forming our identity as a family.

In 1973, when I first met Mim and she invited me to share her apartment with her until I could find an apartment of my own in Chicago, Mim and I went out for dinner at the Buffalo Ice Cream Parlor (for cheeseburgers and hot fudge sundaes) to get to know each other a little, and to clarify our expectations as roommates. One of the rules Mim insisted on is that we eat meals together whenever possible, and that we would share equally in the cost of all groceries. I think Mim’s concerns were mostly about not wanting to keep track of which food belonged to each of us. But as Nouwen suggests, “Around the table we become family, friends, community, yes, a body.” Maybe Mim had an inkling of how important it is to share mealtime.

Mim and me, ready to sit down for Easter dinner in the dining room of our apartment in Chicago. We’re still dressed up from church.

Sharing meal time provides an opportunity for developing relationships better than almost any other activity. I was surprised to learn that this is true even for business meals. When I worked for Northwest Industries in Chicago I frequently had to travel on business. During those years I ate plenty of restaurant meals alone. I usually went to the restaurant with a notebook to outline plans and draft reports while I ate. But whenever I went out to dinner with a business associate instead of eating alone, I found that I got to know the person beyond the business context. By “celebrating the gifts of life we share” together over a meal, a genuine friendship usually developed. Meal time truly was a special time, even on business.

Twenty-some years later when Mim and I turned our farmhouse in Cambridge into Country Comforts Bed & Breakfast, we made the decision to have all our guests eat breakfast together around the dining room table. As our guests ate, we stayed in the dining room to refill coffee cups and to be sure food was passed around the table, and also to encourage conversation among all the guests. (We usually had four to eight guests at a time.)  One morning, near the end of breakfast, I remember a young man said, “I was dreading this breakfast – having to eat together with strangers, but I’m really enjoying it. I feel like we’re all friends.”

B&B Guests at breakfast

B&B guests at breakfast in our farmhouse

When we changed Country Comforts B&B into Country Comforts Assisted Living, we changed from sharing our breakfast time to sharing all meal times except breakfast. Mim and I and our residents all like to start our day at different times, so we each eat breakfast on our own. But lunch and dinner are always shared meals. I think that is a big part of what transforms our residents from being strangers living under the same roof into becoming caring family members of the Country Comforts family.

Sharing a meal with our Country Comforts family

Sharing a meal with our Country Comforts family

Today’s reading from Nouwen says, “The table is one of the most intimate places in our lives. It is there that we give ourselves to one another…. We invite our friends to become part of our lives. We want them to be nurtured by the same food and drink that nurture us.”

I’m glad Nouwen’s book prompted me to think about meal time. Whether we’re feasting for Fat Tuesday or eating more modest meals throughout Lent, it’s good to remember that “A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events…. Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst.”

Our extended family gathered around our extended table for Thanksgiving dinner in Chicago, 1984.

New Words for 2015

After one year’s experience, I’ve decided that I really like the idea of having one special word to focus on for a whole year, as an alternative to making New Year’s resolutions. Last year’s word for me was JOY. Knowing that JOY was what I would concentrate on every day from January 1, 2014 through December 31, 2014 helped me to recognize and appreciate how much JOY is in my life. It was an inspiring year.

Joy Cross and snowy pond

 

For 2015, I’ve chosen the word GRATITUDE. I’m quite excited about what a year focused on gratitude is going to look like. To give myself a preview of some of the things I might think about, I googled the word gratitude. This is some of what I got:

  • Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. (William Arthur Ward)
  • Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. (Melody Beattie)
  • It’s not happiness that brings us gratitude. It’s gratitude that brings us happiness.

Gratitude fall scenery

But I’m jumping ahead. I have a whole year to mull over this word.

Mim chose the word WAIT, with an emphasis on patience while waiting. She’s planning to re-read Holly Whitcomb’s book, Seven Spiritual Gifts of Waiting to get her started. I googled WAIT for her, as well, and came up with a quote attributed to Corrie ten Boom, “God has perfect timing; never early, never late. It takes a little patience and faith, but it’s worth the wait.”

wait-for-the-lord

 

Floey chose the word LEARN. Although she has already learned a lot in her first 11 months of life, she is determined to become the smartest dog and best four-legged caregiver possible. In addition to her on-the-job training at Country Comforts Assisted Living, she started a formal class last night. Floey, Mim, and I went to “Beginner” class at PetSmart in Madison to work on canine manners. She’s already good at SIT and DOWN, but she needs to learn more about STAY and COME. She also wants to learn leash etiquette. When Floey and I were talking about her word, she quoted Pablo Picasso, “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”

Learn

With our new words rolling around in our minds, Mim, Floey, and I are charging ahead into 2015. We’ll keep you posted on what impact GRATITUDE, WAIT, and LEARN have in our lives throughout the year.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Mim-Floey-Marian 01-06-15

Mim-Floey-Marian in my first selfie.

 

JOY – My Special Word for 2014

JOY Cross“Abbey, Mim & Me – Our Special Words for 2014” was the first blog post I wrote this year. I explained that rather than coming up with any New Year’s resolutions for 2014, I would spend the year focusing on JOY. The idea of choosing one special word to focus on for a whole year came from Debbie Macomber in her book, One Perfect Word: One Word Can Make All the Difference. The word I chose was JOY; Mim chose ENOUGH; and Abbey chose PLAY. To help me remember to think about my word, I bought an amber-colored glass cross with the words, “The JOY of the Lord is my strength” printed on it, and it hangs from a suction cup on my patio door. Every time I slide the door open, the JOY cross clinks on the glass door and I think about my word. Most nights I lay in bed before falling asleep and I think about the joy I have experienced that day.

I’m sure I’ve been more aware of joy in my life this year than any year in the past. The irony is that I’ve also experienced more than my usual share of sadness. Maybe that’s why God gave me the word JOY to focus on in 2014. I’ve been to lots of funerals for friends this year, and about half of them (4) have been for friends about my age – mid-sixties. But even at funerals, there can be joy, as we get together with old friends we haven’t seen in a long time and remember good times together with each other and with our friend who is no longer with us.

One of the biggest changes in our living situation happened early in 2014. For most of 2013 we had only one nonagenarian living with us. Before the end of January, another 92-year-old moved in. A couple weeks later a third 92-year-old moved in with a neighbor along with the understanding that she can rely on us for the general management of her care. Keeping up with three (now) 93-year-olds is keeping us very busy! All of them are very active. One is an avid reader and enjoys going out with friends and family. She has some kind of social engagement almost every week. The other two go to bingo once a week and have two or three other outings every week. All together, we have lots of good times together – a regularly recurring source of JOY.

The hidden JOY of being somewhat overwhelmed by all this added caregiving responsibility is that we now have six independent caregivers who help us out several hours a week so that Mim and I can take two afternoons off almost every week to do fun things – like going to movies and shopping at resale shops. (The best of many good movies we saw this year was “The Theory of Everything.” We both highly recommend it.) Mim and I were also able to get away for four quick mini-vacations – a first in many years. We visited friends in Wausau for a Wisconsin-style lobster fest. We went to Minnesota for the 150th anniversary of Gol Lutheran Church, Mim’s family church. And we went to our Christmas Mountain timeshare a couple times – once to celebrate our first wedding anniversary and once to just relax for a few days. We had lots of JOY to celebrate with each getaway.

Abbey head-on colorJOY would have been a good name for our dog Abbey. She brought an incredible amount of JOY to Mim and me and to everyone who lived with us during the eight years she was with us. When she had to leave us in November, there was a great big hole in our home. One of the 93-year-olds said the same thing every time she came into the house from one of her outings, “I miss Abbey so much.” Abbey would always be at the door to meet us. All three nonagenarians and Mim and me quickly agreed we wanted to get another dog to love us and be loved by us as soon as we could.

Within a couple weeks, Floey (short for Florence Nightingale, caregiver in training) joined our family. She’s been with us just over a month now, and already she’s taken on the role of bringing each one of us a daily dose of JOY.

Floey sittingJOY definitely was “the perfect word” for me for 2014. Focusing my attention on that special word helped me find and recognize and appreciate how much joy is in my life.

Which leads me to what I think will be my word for 2015 – GRATITUDE. That word keeps coming to mind whenever I try to think of what will be a good word to focus my attention on next year. I’ll decide for sure by January 1 – but I think GRATITUDE will be the word.

JOY Cross and Pond - closer