Tag Archive | Elsie Korth

Shopping for a Tombstone

Marian at organ-MessiahSo far this year I have had the privilege of playing the piano or organ for nine funerals. I typically play for between five and ten funerals a year – and it’s only July! In the 31 days from June 1 through July 1 of this year, I played for five of those funerals. Needless to say, my mind has been spending lots of time thinking about funerals lately.

Every funeral is different, and I try to match the music I play to the emotional and spiritual needs of the family. Sometimes the person who died has planned their funeral and they have specific requests for what music they want at their funeral. Other times, family members have requests. Sometimes the pastor will offer suggestions. And sometimes I try to piece together what I know about the person and family and make a best guess at what music will be most comforting. One of these funerals was for a suicide and the family was in shock. One man had died suddenly, probably from a heart attack. One woman was close to 100 and had been in declining health for a long time. In all cases, loving friends and family were left behind and they needed to be comforted.

musical notes cartoonThe musical requests for some of the funerals in June were rather unusual. Besides the popular funeral hymns of “Amazing Grace,” “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” “In the Garden,” and “How Great Thou Art,” I was asked to play polkas, waltzes, and folk songs.

After watching families struggle over what should and should not be included in their loved one’s funeral, I decided I need to add another item to my personal to-do list: to plan my own funeral. Hopefully, I will get that done before the end of the year. At least that’s my target date.

Then, one day last week, I read in Jimmy Carter’s devotional book that I should think about what epitaph I’d like to see on my gravestone. Carter wrote, “I’m sure that most of us have given at least some thought to what we want inscribed on our gravestone…. Our lives need to have the right purpose. We need to look upon our service to Christ as the greatest achievement of all. And when we start thinking this way, we’ll start shaping our lives differently.” [Through the Year with Jimmy Carter, ©2011, Zondervan]

Archie Monuments wideThat reminded me of a day in 1987, several weeks after my mom had died. My dad and Mim and I drove to Archie Monuments in Watertown, Wisconsin, about 25 miles from Cambridge. We were going shopping for a tombstone for my mom’s (and ultimately my dad’s) grave. Before we left on this shopping expedition I called my brother and my sister to see if they had any preferences for style, color, or anything else. Since tombstones aren’t something you shop for every day, neither of them had put much thought into it, so they had no preferences for us to consider.

blank tombstones croppedMy dad had put some thought into it. When we got to Archie Monuments, he picked out his preferred style right away, an upright granite stone with a smooth, curved top. Most of the stones at that time had coarse chiseled tops, but he was adamant about wanting a smooth polished top, and he explained why. He wanted bird droppings to be washed off by the rain. We couldn’t argue with that, so the first decision was made. I completed the style selection by choosing a very dark gray-colored granite. I thought a really dark stone with just a few lighter gray flecks of color would be striking, and actually beautiful.

But then came the hard part. What information should be included on the monument? The name KORTH would be on the top. On the lower left side would be ELSIE with her birth and death dates, and on the lower right side would be CARL with his birth and death dates. No middle names or initials would be included, but exact birthdates would be included, not just the years. My dad was as adamant on dates as he was on the smooth top surface of the stone. I have no idea why he thought it was important for future generations to know exactly what day he died. But it was important to him, so that was what we specified.

2015-07-13 Korth tombstone 1With the factual information and monument style determined, we moved on to the more creative design work. Fairly quickly we decided to have a pair of praying hands etched on my mom’s side because she firmly believed in turning to God in prayer for every concern she had in life. On my dad’s side we selected a flower growing up beside a cross as a reference to his being a farmer who trusted in God.

Then for the hardest part of all – choosing an epitaph. Fortunately, the consultant at Archie’s gave us a book of sample epitaphs to page through for ideas. The three of us finally agreed on “I know that my redeemer lives.” I think my dad was pretty indifferent to the words, but he didn’t have any better suggestion, and he was tired and wanted to go home. We had already spent about three hours making the decisions up to that point. But both Mim and I were confident that those words summarized the most important aspect of my mom’s life – she had a very strong faith, and her belief in God was the most important part of her life. And Dad would just have to live (and rest forever) with the epitaph we primarily selected for Mom.

I chose the font for the text on my own. I don’t remember its name, but it’s very legible and looks dignified. I also asked for the shadow effect in the engraving. We were finally ready to go home. Shopping for a tombstone is not an easy job. All three of us were exhausted, but pleased with our choices.

I don’t think I’ll go as far as designing a tombstone for Mim and me by the end of this year. I’ll be happy if I get my funeral planned. But thanks to Jimmy Carter’s urging, I might start thinking about what I might like our tombstone to look like, and what I would like it to reflect about my life and Mim’s life and our life together. I guess maybe this is something Mim and I have to work on together. Maybe it will be a job for next winter.

When I went to the cemetery yesterday to take a photo of my parents' tombstone, I wandered through the cemetery. This stone is one of my favorites. It's the parents of my piano and organ teacher. The musical staff on top has the notes and words "I love to tell the story. Below Paul's name is engraved, "Local preacher over 40 years" and below Sarah's name is engraved "Church organist over 50 years."

When I went to the cemetery yesterday to take a photo of my parents’ tombstone, I wandered through the cemetery. This stone is one of my favorites. It’s the parents of my piano and organ teacher. The musical staff on top has the notes and words “I love to tell the story.” Below Paul’s name is engraved, “Local preacher over 40 years” and below Sarah’s name is engraved “Church organist over 50 years.” The stone tells the story of their lives very nicely.

Mom’s Big Adventure: A Road Trip to California in 1934

Elsie Kenseth Korth as a young woman

Elsie Kenseth Korth as a young woman

On August 19, 1934, in the heart of the Great Depression, three girlfriends started out on a road trip to California – Elsie Kenseth (my mom), Clarice Jarlsberg, and Eleanor Gilberts – three single young women in their mid-twenties who had grown up together in Cambridge. Within a couple years they would all be married and ready to begin having families. Their new identities would become Mrs. Carl Korth, Mrs. Joe Vasby, and Mrs. Lester Jarlsberg.  But the summer of 1934 was their time for a big adventure – a road trip to California.

Wedding of Clarice and Joe Vasby. Elsie is standing next to Clarice. Eleanor is on the far right.

Wedding of Clarice and Joe Vasby. Elsie is standing next to Clarice. Eleanor is on the far right.

In the early 1930s, Elsie had an office job at Madison General Hospital. Clarice also had a job in Madison, and the two of them shared an apartment, somewhere on the east side of Madison. They got together with their gang of friends from church in Cambridge often, and they all took many short trips together to visit other church friends who had scattered to Milwaukee and Chicago, as well as to neighboring towns.

By 1934, Elsie had saved up enough money to buy her own car, a 1930 Model A Ford, I think. (I vaguely remember hearing that she bought it used from her Uncle Dahl.) That’s the car they took on this adventure to California.

1930 Ford Model A Coupe - I think this is the kind of car Mom drove for this grand adventure.

1930 Ford Model A Coupe – I think this is the kind of car Mom drove for this grand adventure.

Since 1934 was before the time of cellphones, we have a glimpse into what this road trip was like through letters, postcards, and a few photos. The three women had planned the trip well, plotting out their route to be able to visit friends and relatives as well as see beautiful scenery. The earliest letter I could find regarding the details of the trip was dated July 30, 1934. It was from Art (I can’t read his last name) from Davey, Nebraska. The letter was in response to a letter Elsie must have written him about the possibility of seeing him during their trip. Here’s part of his letter:

Dear Elsie,

… Has it been hot out here? Well, we had fifteen straight days with the mercury above 105. How’s that? It’s the worst heat wave we have had for years…

I am at home at present and intend to be for a while as father needs me with his work so he says. Maybe he doesn’t want me to crawl away some place and starve, I don’t know. We have been working rather steady lately and have a few jobs bidded and lay awake nights praying for things to happen soon. But what I mean to say is that I will be home when you intend to come and not wishing for you to fool me and not show up for I really would like to see you again and actually talk to you face to face. Maybe I will be too shy so you may have to help me along. You must spend a day or so with us or I’ll feel bad. Our home is no mansion as the depression caused our taking a smaller place but you will have the typical western hospitality and if you will permit we can show you what there is to see…

A couple weeks later, on August 14, Art wrote another letter to Elsie, firming up the plans for their visit.

Second letter to Elsie from Art. The first one was typed.

Second letter to Elsie from Art. The first one was typed. This letter is extra yellowed because a newspaper clipping was enclosed.

Dear Elsie,

I hope to have your pardon for doing this in pencil but I wish to make a hasty reply so naturally this is it. Received your letter just five minutes past and was glad to hear that you really plan to come out to see us but really must it be only an afternoon visit? Why can’t you stay over and let us show you around Lincoln and our Capital of which we are so proud? We would try to make your brief visit entertaining as I have asked my dearest friend Ernest Johnson to help me. Now I just won’t take no for an answer even if your vacation is limited. Maybe the chance may never be so ripe again.

You say you plan to be in Omaha Sunday morning? Now here’s what you do… [a page and a half of driving directions followed]

Sincerely,

Art

[P.S.] Tell Clarice not to expect too much of the person in question.

Clarice and Elsie

Clarice and Elsie

The big day for the three women to pack up Elsie’s car and drive west finally arrived – August 18, 1934. Elsie’s mother, Hilda Kenseth (the only grandma I ever knew), wrote Elsie a letter the very next day. She mailed it to “Miss Elsie Kenseth, Denver, Colorado, General Delivery.” Apparently, Elsie found her way to the Denver Post Office to pick up the letter since I still have it.

Envelope to Elsie - General DeliverySunday afternoon

Dear Elsie,

Altho you just left yesterday I will at least start a letter today. Maybe it will be in Denver before you.… Was to church this morning.… Molly [Elsie’s dog] is O.K….  Will have to get something to eat now, as it will soon be chores time.

Haven’t any news but lots of love to send you. Quite a few asked for you today… Papa and Ham [her brother Helmer] are reading and Fletcher [younger brother] and Molly are busy at kitchen cabinet.

Lots of love,

Mama

The best correspondence of all was the postcards Elsie sent to Carl, her future husband. Those cards gave a glimpse into the adventures of the trip for these three young ladies. On August 21, four days into the trip, Elsie wrote this:

Elsie and Eleanor - car in background.

Elsie and Eleanor – car in background. Elsie looks pretty tired of driving. Eleanor appears to be texting, but I’m sure there was no time warp or my mom would have told me about it.

Postmarked BRIGHTON, COLO., AUG 22, 1934, 2 – PM

We reached the 1,000 mile mark today – and only have had to buy 1 new tire (the first day). Drove thru sand hills all day today, but expect to hit the mountains tomorrow. It’s a lot of fun – but I’m awfully tired. If you feel very ambitious you could write to me at Long Beach, California, General Delivery. We expect to get there eventually. Only 4 more cards to write – and then to bed.

Elsie

A couple days later Elsie sent Carl another postcard.

Post Card to CarlPostmarked ROCK SPRINGS, WYO. AUG 24, 1934, 6:30 PM

We’re way up in the air, and it’s awfully cold and windy. Have had so much trouble with the car I’m almost ready to go home. Had it in a garage 3 times yesterday and 3 times today. Twice today we were stalled in the mountains – once we had to get help from 9 miles away, and the second time a man towed us 5 miles. The country is beautiful, but the roads are terrible. Guess I’d rather live in Wisconsin after all. Outside of that we’re having a good time.

Elsie

Keep in mind, this was also before the days of credit cards. Elsie, Clarice, and Eleanor must have had enough cash with them to cover the cost of all these car repairs – plus gas, meals, lodging, and any other costs of this big adventure.

On Saturday afternoon, August 25, Elsie’s mother wrote her another letter.

Dear Elsie,

Just a week since you left and I wonder where you are now. Have been receiving your cards and am very glad to get them. Watch for the mail every day. Hope you are thru with car trouble now and will be able to make your destination all right…. Molly is as usual. She went out in the bedroom a few mornings after you left. She must have been looking for you. Papa took her upstairs with him when Helmer went with the horses. As she is so wild to go for a ride…

Where do you want us to write after this? Are you going on to N. Mex. Or not? You didn’t leave any more places you were going but figured on letting us know. Hope you make it all right and have no more trouble.

Love from us all,

Mama

[P.S.]  Don’t forget to bring greetings to Fletcher & family [Hilda’s brother living in Long Beach, California]. How I wish I could see them all.

The threesome did make it to California. On September 1, Elsie wrote this card to Carl:

Post Card of Long Beach 1934

Post Card Elsie sent to Carl from Long Beach, California. They had reached their destination! Time to head home.

Postmarked SOUTH GATE, CALIF, SEP 2, 1934, 4 PM

We’re at the last point of our trip now & hiking back tomorrow. Went swimming in the ocean today & the waves made me dizzy (more so than I usually am). It was lots of fun though. I’d like to come again sometime, only on a train or in someone else’s car. We’re going to church in Los Angeles tomorrow & Clarice is to sing. Will be home next Saturday or Sunday. My car won’t stand another trip so I’ll borrow one next time.

Elsie

That’s all the correspondence I can share in this blog post. I know there’s a box with more postcards from this trip somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet.  I remember reading about some of their meals en route and meeting up with other friends and making new friends (usually in churches) when I was packing up boxes to move from the farmhouse to the condo eight years ago. As I re-read the postcards and letters that I did find, I was quite impressed by my mom’s sense of adventure, her self-confidence in driving a Model A Ford over thousands of miles of only partially paved roads, her friendships, and her sense of humor.

The Elsie I knew as Mom was a Sunday School teacher of pre-schoolers, a secretary who drove to Madison every day to work, a gardener who raised enough vegetables to freeze to keep her family eating vegetables with every dinner for a whole year – year after year, and a mom who kept the cookie tins filled with fresh-baked cookies – often from brand-new recipes she’d discovered somewhere.

Reading about the Elsie who went on a big adventure with a couple girlfriends in the middle of the Great Depression adds a new dimension to her character for me. I wish I had asked her more about that trip. Thank goodness cellphones hadn’t been invented yet – or I wouldn’t know anything about this adventurous side of Mom at all!

Elsie - the adventurer

Elsie – the adventurer

My Mom – from her Boss’ Perspective

Elsie at PresHouse

Mom at work at Pres House in the 1960s.

I guess it’s natural to think about the special people in my life from strictly my own perspective. Obviously, that’s how I know them. I’ve written about my mom several times in this blog. Long-time readers of my blog know what she was like – at least from my perspective.

A couple months ago, I came across something that enabled me to see my mom from someone else’s perspective. When Mim was keeping a low profile, trying to recover from the flu, she decided to page through some old family scrapbooks. She came across a 1972 newsletter from the Presbyterian Student Center (Pres House) at the University of Wisconsin. Here’s the article that caught her attention:

Pres House 1

Pres House – the Presbyterian Student Center at UW Madison – where Mom worked during most of my growing up years.

Elsie Korth Retires June 30

Mrs. Elsie Korth, secretary and bookkeeper and receptionist at Pres House for 16 years, will be retiring June 30, 1972. I doubt that we will see the likes of her again. Surely the only secretary in existence who complains to her bosses when she has nothing to do; she has kept me, Jim Jondrow, and the entire present MCM staff hopping to find work. So excellent and efficient is her work, that we are all thoroughly spoiled!

By the fact that so much of the news in this newsletter has come addressed to Elsie, we can see ample evidence of another kind of service to us which Elsie has performed over the years. As an ever-listening and concerned friend of so many Pres House people, she provided a part of our student ministry that will not be forgotten. A member of the oldest Scandinavian Methodist Church in the world in Cambridge, Wisconsin, she certainly represented Willerup Methodist Church to this campus. And who can forget those delicious cookies and treats which Elsie delighted in surprising us with, or the terse commentary on the events and times permeating our ministry over these years. Oh, Elsie, we will miss you indeed.

The Pres House board surprised Elsie with a picture, in green, of U.S. Grant, lots of praise, and a sad farewell. When the staff asked to take her and her husband Carl out to dinner as a going away occasion, she asked instead if we could attend a Sunday afternoon buffet on their farm with our families. True to Elsie! We only ask, Pres House friends, that with Elsie’s departure you also continue to write to us at Pres House! You may continue to write to Elsie at: R. 2, Cambridge, Wisconsin 53523.

I smiled and got a little teary when I read that tribute to my mom. I remembered that fourteen and a half years later she was still receiving Christmas cards from some of those former university students and co-workers. I went through the Christmas cards sent to Mom in 1986 to let the senders know that she had died in October that year. Some of them wrote back to me, explaining how much they had appreciated knowing her.

As I was thinking about the Pres House newsletter article, I remembered the summer Mom taught me her work standards very clearly. It was the summer before I started my junior year in high school. I was asked to take over the job of preparing the Sunday bulletins for Willerup Methodist Church. The church did not have a secretary back then.

mimeograph machineThe process in those days (the 1960s) was:

  • Using notes provided by the pastor, type the bulletin on a mimeograph stencil.
  • Ink the mimeograph machine by squeezing thick black ink from a big toothpaste-like tube onto the roller drum and turning the crank of the mimeograph machine a few times to spread the globs of ink evenly.
  • Literally crank out about 150 bulletins on special bulletin paper stock.
  • Wait for the ink to dry and then fold the bulletins in half.

The pastor showed me how to type the stencils and work the mimeograph machine the first Saturday I did the bulletin. I thought the bulletins looked a little messy, but I was proud that I had learned how to do it. My mom was horrified at the quality. I think that’s the only time she was really embarrassed to be my mother. Well, maybe there were other times, but I never knew about them. This time there was no doubt. She was mortified when the pastor announced to the congregation that I had prepared the bulletin and had agreed to do them for the next couple years. After that first bulletin, Mom realized that if she wanted me to produce bulletins that met her standards, she’d have to teach me herself. So she did.

She taught me to start the process by typing up a draft of the bulletin from the pastor’s notes. (This was in the days of manual typewriters.) Then I would carefully proofread it, and if necessary, retype the draft. The next step was right justification. Wherever there was text that was more than one line long, such as a prayer, I had to figure out the best places to insert an extra space to ensure an even right margin. Mom taught me the best places – after periods and commas, between phrases, and around long words – in that order. I penciled in a mark on the draft for each place an extra space was needed.

Then I was ready to type the stencil, which was a blue, heavily waxed sheet. I had to type exactly as indicated on the marked-up draft. If I made a typo, I used a little bottle of liquid wax to brush over the typo, wait for the wax to dry, and then retype the word. If the wax was too thick or if the typo introduced spacing issues, I’d have to start a new stencil from scratch.

Our bulletins had pretty pictures on the covers, and I tried to fit all the information on the inside and back cover. Otherwise I had to do even more stencils for an insert.

Our bulletins had a pretty picture on the front cover and a story on the back cover. I tried to fit all the worship and announcement information on the inside. Otherwise I had to do even more stencils for an insert.

When I complained to Mom about how tedious the process was, she told me I had it easy. At Pres House the bulletins had three narrow columns to right-justify instead of just two wide columns, and her typewriter had increments, not just spaces, i.e., an “i” was one increment wide, an “m” was three increments, and most other letters were two increments. Try right-justifying that manually! I guess I did have it easy.

Mom also taught me two different methods for folding the bulletins. Either method produced perfectly folded bulletins – no unmatched corners, ever!

After a few weeks I got to be just as picky as Mom, and she was no longer embarrassed to see the bulletins in church on Sunday mornings. I guess I have to thank her for having a high standard for any work I produce to this day.

“So excellent and efficient is her work, that we are all thoroughly spoiled.” I guess that’s how Mom’s boss saw her. I liked reading the Rev. Dr. Jim Jondrow’s perspective of her from 1972. I also liked reading “ever listening and concerned friend … delicious cookies … terse commentary …”

Most of my memories of Mom relate to family times. It was good to read this newsletter, to see Mom from someone else’s perspective, and to be reminded of long-forgotten memories.

Everyone sees life and everything in it from a slightly (or greatly) different perspective. It’s always worthwhile to try to see someone else’s perspective on things, especially things close to us, including ourselves. Henri Nouwen wrote about this in “Friendship in the Twilight Zones of Our Hearts” in his book Bread for the Journey. He said,

There is a twilight zone in our own hearts that we ourselves cannot see. Even when we know quite a lot about ourselves – our gifts and weaknesses, our ambitions and aspirations, our motives and drives – large parts of ourselves remain in the shadow of consciousness. …

Other people, especially those who love us, can often see our twilight zones better than we ourselves can. The way we are seen and understood by others is different from the way we see and understand ourselves. We will never fully know the significance of our presence in the lives of our friends. That’s a grace, a grace that calls us not only to humility but also to a deep trust in those who love us.

Different perspectives. I’m really glad Mim paged through that old scrapbook, and shared with me the treasure she found. Seeing my mom from someone else’s perspective was enlightening and heartwarming. Now I’m more thankful than ever for Mom.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Mom sending fresh-cut flowers from her garden home with me to Chicago.

When I lived in Chicago and drove up to the farm in Cambridge to visit, Mom always sent fresh-cut flowers from her garden home with me. (Along with bags and bags of whatever vegetables were ripening in the garden.)

The 3 Heroes in my Life

Roy Rogers record coverThe earliest hero in my life was Roy Rogers. I wanted to be just like him – ride a horse like Trigger, have a dog like Bullet, and wear a white cowboy hat on my head and two six-guns in a holster at my waist. I wanted to always stand up for what was right, and always win.

The best day of my childhood was the day Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Trigger, and Bullet came to the Wisconsin State Fair. It was a rare day that my dad got someone else to do the evening milking so the whole family could go to Milwaukee (60 miles away) and spend all day at the fair – including the evening show featuring Roy Rogers and his cohorts in person.

Nancy, Danny, and me dressed up to go to church.

Nancy, Danny, and me dressed up to go to church.

My big sister Nancy was my second hero. She was 11 years older than me and was just about perfect. She was smart (salutatorian of her high school class); she played the piano, organ, and trombone well; and she liked having a little sister. (She probably liked having a little brother, too, although I don’t know for sure. I didn’t notice.)

I missed Nancy so much when she went away to college, I could hardly wait for her to come home during school holidays. I wrote her lots of letters, and sometimes I even enclosed a dollar bill that I’d saved up from my allowance so she could buy herself a special treat.

I loved Nancy so much, I wanted to grow up to be just like her.

As I got older and older and older I gradually realized that my real hero was my mom. She was the kindest and most generous person I’ve ever known. Mom was always doing something thoughtful for someone – like driving an elderly person to Madison for a doctor appointment, or planning a party for her Sunday School class of first graders, or freezing vegetables from her garden for Mim and me.

Mom sending flowers from her garden home with me to Chicago

Mom sending flowers from her garden home with me to Chicago

Mom knew what she believed to be right and she wasn’t afraid to express herself. She told me about several conversations she’d had with her boss, the senior pastor at the Presbyterian Student Center at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. (Mom was financial secretary of Pres House.) Dr. Jondrow just didn’t understand and believe enough of the Bible, and she wasn’t afraid to tell him so.

Mom was my lifetime hero. I still strive to be just like her in many ways.

So, why am I talking about my heroes today?

I must give credit to Edward Hays and his book, A BOOK OF WONDERS, again. In talking about heroes, Hays quoted a Yiddish proverb, “If I try to be like him [my hero], who will be like me?” Hays continues,

Read that proverb again slowly. Let it be a bugle sounding the call for you to be as fully as possible who you are, a one-and-only person, unique in all of human history… A learned and holy rabbi once told his disciples, “When I get to heaven God isn’t going to ask me, ‘Rabbi Yosef, why weren’t you more like Moses?’ No, God will ask me, ‘Rabbi Yosef, why weren’t you more like the Yosef whom I created?’”

Well, I guess I really don’t want to be exactly like my mom, or my sister, or Roy Rogers. I still want to develop some of the qualities I’ve admired so much in all three of my heroes. And then I want to combine those qualities with the unique characteristics and opportunities God has given me. Maybe I really can grow into the person God intends for me to be.

Thank goodness God is patient and has provided me with good coaches – both in the form of good people in my life and of good books to read.

Marian w curls and cowboy hat

As a child, I was always happiest with a cowboy hat on my head – even during those few years when my mom tried to curl my hair.

 

Flipping Patterns

Mom and Nancy, many years before I was born.

Mom and Nancy, many years before I was born.

One of my favorite stories that my mom used to tell is about when she was trying to make a dress. She laid out the fabric on the table and pinned the pattern to the fabric. She carefully cut out each piece, but she was having trouble with the dress sleeves. She kept getting two left sleeves. Regardless of how she positioned the pattern on the fabric, she always got the same result – another left sleeve. Finally, my sister, a preschooler at the time, suggested that she turn the pattern upside down. It worked! She got a right sleeve. My mom was a very intelligent woman – she just wasn’t a seamstress.

Working with patterns is how we learn many things. Prayer, for example. Jesus’ disciples asked him how to pray, and he gave them a pattern that we now call “The Lord’s Prayer,” or the “Our Father.” It has become a pattern for prayer that’s repeated weekly, or even daily, around the world. In my church, everyone in the congregation holds hands and sings the prayer together every Sunday morning.

When I was in eighth grade and taking classes to be confirmed as a Methodist, we were taught a variation of the Lord’s Prayer pattern to use when we prayed. It was a basic outline for personal prayer:

1)      Praise God and thank God for all the blessings I’ve received;

2)      Confess my sins and ask for forgiveness;

3)      Pray for the needs of others;

4)      Pray for my own needs.

(At least that’s the way I remember it.) I recall serious discussions about whether reading a prayer was actually praying, or if it needed to be completely personal and spontaneous to count with God. (Reciting or singing the Lord’s Prayer was an exception to the spontaneity rule.)

Marian playing BaldwinOver the last 50 years or so, I’ve tried several different prayer patterns. One of my favorite ways to pray is to sit down at the piano, sometimes with a hymnal and sometimes with just the hymns in my mind, and talk with God through music.

The actor Kelsey Grammer described this prayer pattern as, “Prayer is when you talk to God. Meditation is when you’re listening. Playing the piano allows you to do both at the same time.”

This year I’m trying a new pattern, using a prayer book, Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim, by Edward Hays. The prayer book consists of four sets of morning and evening prayers, one set for each season. Each set includes a morning prayer and an evening prayer for each day of the week.

Here’s an excerpt from today’s morning’s prayer:

Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim… As a planetary pilgrim,
I marvel that I have traveled over a million miles in space since yesterday morning.
My personal journey this day will be small in distance,
but I pray that it will be significant and sacred in my drawing closer to you.
As the Earth turns toward the sun, I turn my whole self toward you, my God,
as I now enter into silent prayer.

Period of silent prayer or meditation

Your Word is written large across all the universe,
in the wonders of creation and in holy books,
written by the pen of your Spirit.
Open my heart to your Word as I now pray.

A psalm, spiritual reading, or personal prayer
[Note: I’m working my way through a new hymnal in this part.]

May this morning prayer and all my prayers this day
be one with all this Earth, which you have ordained to prayer…

I dedicate this new day to you and ask that as spring unfolds before me
I may unfold according to your ancient dream.
As I reflect upon my personal needs this day,
I ask this blessing:_______________________

I ask that you look upon my work this day
as a sacrifice performed in solidarity with __________________
who is (are) in need of your grace and assistance.

Imprint upon my body, and upon all that I shall touch,
your sacred signature as I conclude this prayer
in your holy name
and in the name of your Son
and of the Holy Spirit,
One God, forever and ever, ages without end.
Amen.

Personally, I’m finding this more structured prayer pattern very refreshing this year, and a nice complement to my “piano prayers.” It’s kind of like Edward Hays has suggested that I flip the pattern over to learn new ways of talking with God. Just as my mom finally got all the pieces together for her dress, I’m slowly getting more of the pieces together for learning how to pray.

Philip Yancey, a prolific evangelical author, said it this way, “For me, prayer is not so much me setting out a shopping list of requests for God to consider as it is a way of ‘keeping company with God.’”

“Keeping company with God” – that’s something worth learning how to do! I’m thankful for patterns to help me learn how to “keep company with God.”

Lords Prayer

 

 

I Found a Treasure on Saturday!

Mom's Memorandum Book from her teenage years

Mom’s Memorandum Book from her teenage years

I found a treasure last Saturday afternoon – a little, black, hard-cover “Memorandum Book.” From the inscription on the inside cover, it appears that Stella Lillesand, an elderly woman that I clearly remember from my childhood, had given the blank book to my mom in 1921. I remember my mom telling me that Stella had been her Sunday School Teacher.

The following was written on the top of the first page of the book: “Gems from the Bible memorized during my junior year 1921. Further down on the page, was written: “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.”  Psalm 119:11

The inscription and first page were written in handwriting that I don’t recognize. I assume those words were written by Stella. The rest of the little (3-inch by 5-inch) book is in my mom’s handwriting. The first entry is dated October 2, 1921. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

The second entry was dated October 9, 1921. “My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:2. It appears that my mom recorded and memorized one verse a week for a couple years. I had fun over the weekend reading through the book and seeing which verses my mom had memorized. There were quite a few from the Psalms, but also from all over the Old and New Testaments, even Nehemiah!

The verse for 90 years ago today (May 13, 1923) was “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

Moms Memorandum Book inside

I always knew that my mom considered it very important to memorize Scripture. When my brother Danny and I were in grade school, Mom worked in Madison. To help us remember to do our chores when we got home from school – when she wouldn’t be there to remind us – she made charts for us each week. Basically, the charts were 8-column spreadsheets. The first column listed all our chores. Danny’s were on the top half, and mine were on the bottom half. The remaining 7 columns were for each day of the week. On the very top of the chart each week was a new Bible verse for us to memorize. Each time we completed a chore, we were supposed to read the Bible verse and then write the Bible reference in the appropriate square of the grid. (We weren’t supposed to use just a simple check-mark, except on Sundays when we recited the memorized verse to Mom.) I remember the first verse we memorized this way was Ephesians 4:32: “And be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

These weekly charts were taped on a window in the dining room for our easy use.

These weekly charts were taped on a window in the dining room for our easy use.

That’s another treasure I found last Saturday. My mom had saved some of those old charts! I’ll have to admit that as I flipped through those charts, I don’t remember all the Bible verses I memorized more than fifty years ago, but I remember some of them. Maybe I should get myself a little black memorandum book like Stella gave my mom, and write down some of the Bible verses I’ve memorized, or would like to memorize. Then if I forget them, I can always go back to my little black book for the “Gems from the Bible.” But in the meantime, I’ll just use my mom’s.

Mim, Mom, and me two months before Mom died, living with us in Chicago.

Mim, Mom, and me two months before Mom died, while living with us in Chicago.
Mom was the first of many people we have cared for in our home throughout their last days.

Owning My Name

MARIAN KORTH
Kindergarten picture

My name is Marian. I never had a nickname. That’s too bad, because I never liked my name. I first struggled with my name in kindergarten, as I described in my blog a couple weeks ago. My teacher, Miss Polly, tried to spell it with an “o” instead of an “a” and I knew she was wrong.  I survived the school system and I learned to live with my name, even if I didn’t like it. I sometimes wonder why my Mom and Dad gave me that name.

ELSIE the Cow

My Mom didn’t like her name either. Her first name was Elsie. Sometimes my friends and I teased her about being “Elsie, the cow” which was the marketing icon for Borden’s milk in the 1950’s. Mom didn’t like being called “Elsie,” but she hated her middle name, “Thelma May,” even more. Whenever she had to write her full name she used her first name, her maiden name, and her last name in order to avoid using her middle name. I don’t think I ever saw her first, middle, and last name in writing. That was a problem. It’s a long story, but I’ll give the short version here.

When my Mom was nearing the end of her life, she and my Dad came to Chicago to live with Mim and me so that we could take care of her. They lived with us for her last 6 weeks. When she died, we called a local funeral home to pick up her body and process the legal paperwork. The Cambridge funeral home then came to get her body and coordinated the visitation, funeral, and other final arrangements in Cambridge.

The man who came from the Chicago funeral home had to fill out all the legal paperwork. He asked me the questions and he wrote my answers on the form. Then he gave the form to me to review. I noticed that he had written my Mom’s middle name as “Thelma Mae” – with an “e” rather than a “y.” I thought about that a little, and tried to remember if I had ever seen her middle name written. I don’t think I had. So, I didn’t know if it ended with a “y” or an “e.” I decided not to change what he’d written on the form since I didn’t really know which spelling was correct. That’s unfortunate. The person who typed the official death certificate from this form changed “Elsie Thelma Mae Korth” to “Elsie Thelma MacKorth.” That’s the name that was officially filed with the State of Illinois Records Bureau in Springfield. What was involved in getting her name corrected (necessary to settle her estate) is a very long story for another day.

Names really are important, whether we like them, or not. In the women’s worship service in the county jail the chaplain instructs us to pray for the person on our right by name. If we don’t know the person’s name, we need to ask her before the prayer time begins. We pray for each other by going around the circle, each person praying for the person on her right. I’ll attest to the fact that when I hear the inmate on my left praying for me by name, her prayer resonates deeply within me. Then I have the honor of praying by name for the inmate sitting on my right. She can experience that same feeling of being blessed, of receiving a special blessing just for her. And so on around the circle, we all are blessed.

Using someone’s name is powerful. When someone calls me by name I assume that they know me, because they know my name. In the New Testament, Jesus is often described as “the good shepherd” who calls his sheep by name. In the Old Testament, God called Abraham, Moses, Samuel, and others – all by name. Even though I don’t particularly like the name, “Marian,” I think I’ll stick with it. That’s what all my friends, and even God, know me by.