Tag Archive | Debbie Macomber

This Year’s Lesson: KINDNESS

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What do an Italian psychotherapist, a Christian college president in California, and a hitchhiker across America have in common? They each wrote a book about kindness. And I read them all this year.

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As you may recall, “kindness” is my special word for 2016. Upon the suggestion of Debbie Macomber in her book, One Perfect Word, I’ve chosen one special word to have as my focus for a whole year instead of making up New Year’s resolutions each year. I’ve done this for three years now.

By the middle of this year, I’d kind of forgotten about my special word for 2016. When I realized that, I decided to take my special word commitment a little more seriously, and I went to Amazon.com and searched for books on “kindness.” I downloaded Kindle versions of two books: The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life by Piero Ferrucci (the Italian psychotherapist) and Love Kindness: Discover the Power of a Forgotten Christian Virtue by Barry H. Corey (the president of Biola University). The next day I received my usual daily email from BookBub, a service that offers about half a dozen Kindle books each day for prices ranging from FREE to $1.99. That day’s offering included The Kindness of Strangers: Penniless across America by Mike McIntyre (the journalist who hitchhiked from the west coast to the east coast without a penny in his pocket in order to see if he would experience any kindness from strangers throughout this country).

All three books are filled with personal stories about people who have received or demonstrated kindness in a wide variety of circumstances. All three books are fascinating to read and I highly recommend them.

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I read The Power of Kindness first because of the Preface written by the Dalai Lama. I could hardly wait to start reading it. Here’s an excerpt from the Preface:

This is a book after my own heart. Piero Ferrucci has drawn on both his broad experience as a psychotherapist and what I think of as fundamental human values to write on the importance of kindness. What I particularly appreciate about his presentation is that he makes kindness the starting point, the fount from which flow so many other positive qualities, such as honesty, forgiveness, patience, and generosity. It is a compelling and encouraging approach.

I believe that if we stop to think, it is clear that our very survival, even today, depends upon the acts and kindness of so many people. Right from the moment of our birth, we are under the care and kindness of our parents; later in life, when facing the sufferings of disease and old age, we are again dependent on the kindness of others. If at the beginning and end of our lives we depend upon others’ kindness, why then in the middle, when we have the opportunity, should we not act kindly toward others?

Kindness and compassion are among the principal things that make our lives meaningful. They are the source of lasting happiness and joy…

Each chapter of this book is about a particular virtue, such as Honesty, Forgiveness, Humility, Flexibility, and so on. And each chapter is filled with stories about real people who demonstrate these virtues, with kindness always being at the core. For example, the chapter on Warmth includes this little story:

A woman I know, let’s call her Dorothea, tells me another story. Every evening she hears her neighbors’ baby girl crying in the apartment next to hers. The parents put the child to sleep alone in the dark. The baby cries for a long time while the parents watch television. The baby’s desperate crying expresses all her anguish, her solitude. What should Dorothea do? She is uncertain. Speaking to the parents might make things worse. She decides to sing. Just as she can hear the baby, the baby can hear her. Every evening when they put the baby to bed, Dorothea sings her sweet lullabies, talks to her through the thin walls, consoles and comforts her. The baby hears the invisible friendly voice, stops crying, and falls peacefully asleep. The warmth of a stranger’s voice has saved her from the icy cold of loneliness.

In the concluding chapter of the book, Ferrucci recalls another story:

In a story by Tolstoy, a poor shoemaker hears the voice of Christ in a dream: “Today I will come to you.” Then he wakes up and goes to work. During the day, he meets a young woman who is hungry and he gives her food. An old man passes by feeling cold, and he lets him in to warm himself. Later, he takes care of a child who is having problems with his mother. They are all spontaneous acts for which he need give no thought. At the end of the day, before going to sleep, the shoemaker remembers his dream and thinks that it has not come true, since he did not meet Christ. He then hears a voice. It is the voice of Christ, “My dear friend, did you not recognize me? I was that woman, I was that old man, I was the child and his mother…. You met me, and you helped me. I was with you the whole day.”

When you read this book, and when you stop to think about it, kindness really is at the core of just about everything good in this life. We encounter multiple opportunities every day to respond with kindness, just as we are often the recipients of the kindness of others.

510aS5svVvLThe second kindness book I read was Love Kindness: Discover the Power of a Forgotten Christian Virtue by Barry H. Corey. Why would I want to read a book written by an Evangelical who clearly and outspokenly believes that I am living a life of sin because I am a woman and I married a woman? Partly I wanted to read the book because I wanted to see what a staunch Evangelical would say about how to be kind to people you fundamentally disagree with on important issues. In what ways can I expect him to show kindness to me, and how should I be kind to him? And partly I wanted to read the book because the reviews said he was a good storyteller.

I wasn’t disappointed. The book is full of personal stories that illustrate how he learned to be kind in different circumstances. And what he learned not to do. Two key concepts he emphasized were to be “receivable” – to be welcoming of people with whom we have disagreements, and to have a “firm center with soft edges” – to be firm in our core beliefs as Christians, but to be softer, more flexible in less significant areas, which is often where our strongest disagreements foster hostility rather than loving kindness. One of the reviewers described the book this way:

Barry Corey is a kind man. He learned to be kind from his remarkable father. So Corey is well qualified – academically and spiritually – to write this book, a book that embodies the interesting approach of teaching different aspects of kindness through stories in his own life. For Corey, kindness is not niceness, adopting a position of compromise, or an expression of a desire to be received. Rather, it is learning to be receivable, and it is learning to dialog with those with whom we disagree with kindness in the way of Jesus. The number of issues that divide us is multiplying each day. As a result, there never has been a time other than now when Love Kindness is so desperately needed. Get this book, read it, discuss it with your friends and those whom you oppose. You’ll be glad you did. [J. P. Moreland – Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Biola University and author of The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters]

51vvcam7qfl-_sx326_bo1204203200_I saved the best book for last, and I just finished reading it a few days ago. Mike McIntyre is a newspaper columnist currently living in San Diego, although he has lived and worked as a journalist all around the world. Here’s the blurb about the book from Amazon.com:

Stuck in a job he no longer found fulfilling, journalist Mike McIntyre felt his life was quickly passing him by. So one day he hit the road to trek from one end of the country to the other with little more than the clothes on his back and without a single penny in his pocket. Through his travels, he found varying degrees of kindness in strangers from all walks of life – and discovered more about people and values and life on the road in America than he’d ever thought possible. The gifts of food and shelter he received along the way were outweighed only the the touching gifts of the heart – the willingness of many he met to welcome a lonely stranger into their homes … and the discovery that sometimes those who give the most are the ones with the least to spare.

This book has 40 short chapters, each one is the story of an encounter with a stranger who showed him kindness in some way as he hitchhiked penniless across America. A few of the stories were frightening, a few were sad, and many of them were remarkably inspiring. The stories gave fascinating glimpses into the lives of the Americans he met on his journey. In six weeks, Mike traveled 4,223 miles, crossed 14 states, accepted 82 rides, was given 78 meals and was invited to do the laundry in his backpack 5 times in the homes of drivers who offered him a bed for the night. On this journey, he found kindness expressed in ways he had never anticipated.

These three books on “kindness” provided three very different perspectives on the idea of “kindness.” I’m glad I read all three books, and I’m glad I chose “kindness” for my special word for 2016. My mom was onto something back in the 1950s when she made my 9-year-old brother Danny and 7-year-old me memorize the Bible verse Ephesians 4:32 –

kindness-1Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. 

Back then I thought her reason was to help Danny and me realize we needed to be nice to each other when we were home alone and she was away at work. Now I know she had more in mind. I think she knew, just like these three authors know, that kindness is the core virtue that can enrich everyone’s life.

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When Floey Scolded Me…

Floey - thoughtful faceI was sitting at my desk, clicking away on my computer. Floey came trotting up to me and sat down. “Hey, what are you doing, Mom?” she asked.

“Oh, hi, Floey. I just bought two new kindle books on Amazon.”

“You what???? You just organized 2,000 books on your bookcases throughout the house, and you just bought two more books?”

“Well, I bought digital books, Floey, so they won’t take up any physical space.”

“But, don’t you have enough to read already? I can’t believe you bought two more books. Does Mim know?”

“No. I haven’t told her yet. But let me tell you the titles of the two books I bought, and explain why I bought them.”

“Yeah. I think you had better explain.”

“Floey, do you remember what my special word is for this year?”

“Hmmm. I remember my word. It’s MEOW. I want to learn how to communicate better with the cats in the neighborhood this year. That’s why I chose MEOW for my special word. But I’m not doing very well with it. The cats seem to have gone into hiding. I don’t even see them any more to try to communicate with them. Hmmm. But I don’t remember your special word. What is it?”

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Learning to communicate (Internet image)

“Well, Floey. That’s the problem. I didn’t remember it either. It’s supposed to be the word I’m concentrating on all year, and I simply forgot it. I remember my special word for 2015. That was GRATITUDE. I couldn’t forget that word because every single night before going to sleep I thought about everything that I was grateful for that day. Gratitude was always on my mind. And the year before, 2014, the first year I chose a special word, my word was JOY. That word was also on my mind all year as I kept on the lookout for moments of joy everywhere. But I actually forgot this year’s word! I couldn’t believe it. I had to look back on my blog to the first of the year and re-read the post about our special words to find it.”

“Wow! That’s terrible, Mom. I can’t believe you forgot your special word!”

“I know. Fortunately, I had my blog to go back to so I could find it. My word for this year is KINDNESS. Now why do you think I forgot that word?”

“I don’t know, Mom. It sounds like a good, inspiring word to me.”

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“Well I’ve been thinking about this for a couple weeks – when I happened to think about our special words and realized I couldn’t remember my word. I think part of the reason I forgot it is that I never set up any ritual around the word that would prompt me to think about it this year, like I did with GRATITUDE as my word last year. So I decided maybe I should try to find a book about KINDNESS that would trigger my mind to start thinking about it.

Floeys Face 2Now that I’ve sorted through all 2,000 books that Mim and I own, I tried to remember if any of them were specifically about KINDNESS. You know, I couldn’t think of even one book that had KINDNESS as the major theme.”

“Really? That’s hard to believe, Mom. Are you sure?”

“I’m sure some of the books address kindness in passing, but none of our books have kindness as the main theme.”

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Our built-in bookcase holds less than half our books.

Floey just shook her head slowly from side to side. “So is that why you went to Amazon?” she asked.

“Yes, Floey. I went to amazon.com and searched for books on kindness.”

“I bet hundreds of books popped up. Right?”

“Well there were a lot. The list started with lots of children’s books, but then it moved on to adult books.”

“How did you pick out the two books you chose?”

“Well first, I checked to see if any of my favorite authors had written any books about kindness. I thought maybe Debbie Macomber or Philip Yancey or Max Lucado might have written books on the subject, but no luck – at least no books that I could find. Then I started reading the book descriptions and reader reviews of the books on Amazon.” One of the books with the best reviews was THE POWER OF KINDNESS: THE UNEXPECTED BENEFITS OF LEADING A COMPASSIONATE LIFE by Piero Ferrucci. The author is an Italian psychotherapist. The Dalai Lama wrote the preface to the book, which I considered quite an endorsement. The Publishers Weekly review of the book said,

41XJHAHAgmL[Ferrucci] writes in a soothing, humane manner… Laced with stories from religion and philosophy, anecdotes from patients and personal experience, the book explores how Ferrucci’s ideas can be applied to everyday life. In “Forgiveness,” he describes how a Holocaust survivor was able to forgive those who murdered his family and explains that forgiveness is the only remedy for unspeakable suffering. In the section on service, he suggests small ways one can benefit the lives of others, such as telling a joke to lift a friend’s spirits or offering to make dinner for someone who needs time to rest. Ferrucci offers a fine reminder of how good, and how easy, it is to be kind.

“I don’t know about you, Floey, but I like to learn knew things – to explore new ideas – by listening to stories, not just theories and explanations. Real stories. Apparently, that’s how this book is written, which is one of the reasons I chose it.”

“Well, Mom. It sounds like this is the perfect book for you to read. So, why did you buy a second book?”

“Well, I have a secret, Floey. I don’t think I’ve ever told you this about myself. Here goes… I come from an Evangelical background. I grew up in a conservative little Methodist Church, and I even graduated from Wheaton College – the alma mater of Billy Graham. Graham was even my graduation speaker.”

“Wow, Mom! You mean you come from the Religious Right? Really?”

“Well, yes, Floey. That’s where my roots are. And, even though many Evangelicals would refuse to claim me as one of their own because I don’t agree with some of their values, I still think that many Evangelicals really love God and are honestly trying to live the kind of life God intends for all of us to live. For that reason, I keep reading some Evangelical authors. I can learn from them – even though sometimes I’m horrified by what I read. Usually that’s not the case. Usually they have thoughtful insights to share.”

“I get it. Your second book is by an Evangelical, right?”

“You’re right, Floey. The second book is LOVE KINDNESS: DISCOVER THE POWER OF A FORGOTTEN CHRISTIAN VIRTUE by Barry H. Corey. Here’s a paragraph from the description of the book on Amazon:

510aS5svVvLDr. Barry Corey, president of Biola University, believes we tend to devalue the importance of kindness, opting instead for caustic expressions of certainty that push people away. We forget that the essence of what God requires of us is to “love kindness.” In this book, filled with stories from his travels around the globe, Barry shows us the forgotten way of kindness. It is a life that calls us to put ourselves at risk. A life that calls us to hope. A life of a firm center and soft edges. It is the life Christ invites us to follow, no matter what the cost.

“I can hardly wait to start reading these two books, Floey.”

“Well, I bet you won’t forget this year’s special word again.”

“Since you’re having a hard time with MEOW as your special word, do you want to adopt mine, Floey, and we’ll go on this journey into KINDNESS together?”

“Hey, that’s a great idea, Mom. Why don’t you start reading the first book to me this afternoon.  I don’t think I’m ready to hear from the Evangelicals yet.”

“Oh, Floey. We’ll work on opening up your mind to finding goodness (and kindness!) everywhere. Trust me…”

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Meow?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Floey’s cousins Sadie and Lola

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

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

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

Gratitude Rock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Floe-Marian faces 2015

Better Than Counting Sheep

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

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

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

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

Elsie at PresHouse

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

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

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Nancy, Danny, and me ready for church.

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

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

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

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

Working up the soil for his last garden

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

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

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Mim – my best friend for 42 years and counting …

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

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

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

 

 

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

Discovering God’s Guest List for My Life

Gods Guest ListI read another one of Debbie Macomber’s books when I was on vacation the week before last. The book was God’s Guest List: Welcoming Those Who Influence Our Lives. The other two books of Macomber’s that I’ve read recently are One Perfect Word (about the idea of having one special word for the year rather than New Year’s Resolutions) and One Simple Act: Discovering the Power of Generosity.

I expected God’s Guest List to be about hospitality. It’s not. It’s about the people God has invited into my life for a reason – to help me become the kind of person I am meant to be. Macomber opens the book by telling an old story about a woman who enters the gates of heaven. St. Peter takes her on a welcome tour to familiarize her with heaven. They walk by a large building with a huge door that’s locked. She asks St. Peter about it, and he says she really wouldn’t want to see that building, but she insists, so St. Peter unlocks the door. The building is filled with millions of beautifully wrapped presents. She asks if this is where presents are stored for everyone in heaven. St. Peter says, “No. These gifts aren’t for heaven. They were meant for earth.” The woman sees a stack of presents with her name on them and asks if she can have them now. St. Peter responds, “No. You don’t need them now. You needed them on earth, but you sent them back unopened. That’s what all these presents are – unopened returns from earth.”

Macomber then goes on to say,

Unfortunately, in real life God’s presents don’t always come gaily gift-wrapped, and they are not always easily recognized. Some even initially come looking like challenges. And often these gifts are people shaped.

The next 14 chapters include true stories and reflections about people who come into our lives –  people whose presence is a wonderful gift from God. Macomber encourages us to make lists of people who have come into our lives – family members, friends, strangers, chance encounters, and so on – people who are on God’s Guest List for us. She also prompts us to reflect on some of God’s Guest Lists for other people that we might be on.

God’s Guest List: Welcoming Those Who Influence Our Lives is a very readable book that I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend.

One of the many people on God’s Guest List for me, and I think I might have been on her list, too, is Glee Ellickson. I met her 11 years ago. One of our early residents at Country Comforts Assisted Living was “Marla.” She had fairly advanced dementia. She had been living at home with her daughter, and Glee had taken care of her when her daughter was at work. As “Marla’s” dementia progressed, her daughter felt that Marla needed more care than she and Glee could provide, so she moved her into Country Comforts. That’s when we met Glee, and we hired her to work for us a few hours a week to help us care for “Marla” as well as our other residents.

I think this picture was taken at their 60th wedding anniversary just a few years ago.

I think this picture was taken at their 60th wedding anniversary just a few years ago.

Glee and her husband Earl had farmed in rural Cambridge throughout their working years. Upon retirement, they moved to a house in Cambridge, and kept busy helping their kids and grandkids, and caring for “Marla” and our other residents. Glee was one of the kindest, most caring people I’ve met. All our residents have loved her, and over the years she became a very good friend of ours.

On July 22nd of this year, Earl died. He had been in declining health for several years, so the death wasn’t a big surprise, but it was still hard for their whole family. They are a very close, loving family.

A few weeks later, Glee finally went to a specialist about her sore throat and raspy voice. The news wasn’t good. She had advanced cancer of the thyroid. Glee stopped in to tell us her news, and Mim gave her a printout of my blog about our “Awful August.” A few days later we received a card from Glee with this message,

Hi Mim & Marian,

I want to tell you how much I appreciated getting a copy of Marian’s “August Blog.”

I’ve read it many times – every evening and also morning. The song [“God Will Take Care of You”] was a long ago favorite that I had forgotten about. It has helped me. Thank you.

I was to University Hospital yesterday. Surgery is for Sept. 9th. Will not know the time till the 8th. I will be there a few days. Pray for me. I will be glad when it is over.

Very thankful for a wonderful family. Hope Sept. is a better month for you folks and also for me.

Thanks to both of you for being my friends.

Love, Glee

Over the next couple of weeks Mim had a few short visits with Glee. The last one was Thursday just after we came home from Christmas Mountain. Glee told Mim, “I’ve made my peace with this.” Three days later on September 21st , two months after Earl went to heaven, Glee joined him.

I’m so thankful that God had all of us on each other’s Guest Lists. The presence of Glee in our lives for the past 11 years has been a real blessing in many, many ways – from her cheerfully helping us care for our residents – to baking the best sugar cookies ever for us and giving us the recipe. I will certainly miss Glee’s smiling face, cheerful disposition, and kind actions. Glee’s presence in our lives has been one of the best gifts on God’s Guest List for my life.

 

A Roundabout Path to Joy

One Simple Act book coverLast week I read the book One Simple Act: Discovering the Power of Generosity by Debbie Macomber.  It’s a wonderful little book with dozens of stories of people being generous in some way, and the consequences of that single act of generosity – to the recipient, to the giver, and to the observer. The book also includes dozens of suggestions of ways we can practice acts of generosity. One of the principles demonstrated by the stories is that joy is a natural outcome of generosity – joy that is shared by all involved.

Yesterday I learned that a friend of mine died last week. Mardelle Kornelsen Westley Burrowes is the sister of Clark, my sister Nancy’s husband. I’ve known Mardelle since 1960, the year before Nancy and Clark were married. I saw her briefly every few years at family gatherings, but I never knew her very well until three and a half years ago when I started writing this blog. She immediately became a regular reader and frequent commenter. By communicating through this blog, we grew closer. Her simple act of kindness in regularly giving me feedback on my blog brought a lot of joy to me. Mardelle even wrote an endorsement that appears in my first book. I’m very thankful for being a recipient of Mardelle’s generosity.

The Gospel reading on Sunday was the story in Matthew that is often referred to as “The Feeding of the 5,000.” Jesus asked his disciples to feed the people who had come to see him. The disciples said the only food they had to share with the thousands of people listening to him was a mere five loaves and two fishes – a child’s lunch. Jesus blessed the food, and asked the disciples to distribute it among the people. Miraculously, there was enough food for everyone, with 12 baskets full of leftovers. The point Pastor Jeff emphasized is that God asks us to use the resources we have to do what needs to be done – not to wait for someone else who may have more resources to do it. That’s the same point Macomber was making in her book – to be generous with whatever resources we have, and God will bless our generosity.

Goats w 6 people WThis past weekend the generosity of two young women brought a tremendous amount of joy to our household. Mim and I were coming home from a quick trip downtown, and we saw the Hinchley twins, high school girls who live on a dairy farm a couple miles from Cambridge, walking two goats on the sidewalk near our home. They had taken the goats downtown to be part of a petting zoo for Cambridge’s Maxwell Street Day celebration. We stopped to talk with the young women for a few minutes, and we asked them if they had the time to take the goats up to our condo so that our three 93-year-olds could pet them, especially Anna who had grown up on a farm and loved animals. They were happy to do it. As you can see by the pictures, our three assisted living residents loved petting the goats. Because the Hinchley twins were generous with their time, Anna, Marti, and Carolyn (as well as Mim and I) had a very special half-hour in the middle of our day. I think it was special for the twins, too, and probably even the goats!

As the book jacket on One Simple Act says, “What if you, personally, could make the world a better place . . . by tomorrow? Debbie Macomber knows the secret to doing exactly that! In a world that seems too often stingy and grudging, she has witnessed how one simple act of generosity can yield unforeseen miracles.”

Obviously, my friend Mardelle knew about that. She was very generous in taking the time to encourage me in my writing. The small child who shared his lunch of five loaves and two fishes must have been astounded to see what resulted from his generosity. And the Hinchley twins were able to observe all the joy that came from taking the time to let three nonagenarians pet their goats.

Generosity may seem like a roundabout path to joy, but it certainly is a sure path that leads to joy for everyone involved – the giver, the recipient, and the observers.

Ann and goat smiliing