Tag Archive | getting organized

Oh, the Conflicted Month of February

The merry, merry month of May

The merry, merry month of May

Oh, how I long for the “Merry, Merry Month of May.” But first I must struggle through the conflicted month of February, and then March and April.

I’m tired of winter. There I’ve said it. But huge piles of snow and sub-zero wind chills just represent the most obvious burdens of February. It’s the time of year I have to get serious about catching up on all the accounting for our business. I have to enter hundreds of transactions into QuickBooks. All the scraps of paper that I’ve just shoved into file folders all year long now have to be organized, analyzed, and keyed into the computer – one of my least favorite activities. About one full week of misery is what it takes to do the accounting for the year, at least to clean up our record-keeping to the point that I can turn everything over to a real accountant to figure our taxes.

Snowy Patio ChairI can remember when February was one of my favorite months. I remember one really special morning in February. I don’t think I was old enough to be in school yet. My mom did something really special for me. She took a heart-shaped cookie cutter and pressed it into a slice of bread. Then she pulled off the bread outside the cutter – which included all the hard crust I didn’t like – leaving behind a heart-shaped slice of bread. She buttered the bread heart and topped it off with her home-made strawberry jam. Paired with a cup of hot chocolate that was the best mid-morning snack I’ve ever had in my life.

bread valentineMy favorite holiday celebration in grade school every year was Valentine’s Day. We always had a party in the afternoon of Valentine’s Day, but we began preparations for the party about a week ahead of time. We covered a great big box (about 2’ x 2’ x 2’) with white paper. The teacher cut a slot on top of the box. Then we all cut out the fanciest red hearts we could imagine and pasted them all over the box. This became the valentine box. Day by day for the week leading up to Valentine’s Day we brought valentines for everyone in the class and dropped them into the box. For our party, the teacher would select a few students to be the mailmen. They opened the box and delivered the valentines to everyone. It was so much fun to carefully open every envelope and see what valentine each classmate had selected for me.

valentine - dogs sipping sodaIt had also been fun to spend hours at home over the week leading up to this party selecting which valentine I would give to each of my classmates. In the earliest grades, my mom bought me a book of valentines that were printed and perforated on heavy paper. I would carefully punch out each valentine, trying really hard not to tear it. When I was in the middle grades, my mom was working at a job in Madison, and she could afford to buy me the more expensive package of valentines that I didn’t need to punch out. I still like to look at the packages of valentines at dollar stores to see how closely today’s valentines resemble the ones I remember giving and receiving.

Another fun thing I remember doing for Valentine’s Day was pooling funds with my brother Danny to buy a beautiful heart-shaped box of chocolates for our mom. Of course, she always shared the chocolates with us, which made the surprise gift for her even better.

Valentine Candy Box 3So February is both a terrible month for me – I’m sick and tired of winter and I have to spend days doing the accounting I hate to do; and a joyful month for me – a time filled with happy childhood memories. It’s a conflicted month.

On that note, I think I’ll put on my down-filled winter jacket and ear muffs, put Floey’s pretty blue coat on her, and go for a short walk. Some fresh air will feel good, even if it’s cold air. Maybe I’ll make some hot chocolate when we come back.

Floey playing in snow

 

Awful August – except for …

Broken Glass grass and skyDoes it ever seem like your world is shattered? That life is suddenly broken? For some of my family members, that’s what August has been like this year.

I guess I would describe August 2014 along two tracks of events. One track is affecting my broadly extended family. The other track is affecting Mim and me mostly, and a few other unrelated people. I feel like I’ve been running as fast as I can along the “Mim and me track,” but the “broader family track” keeps pulling me over to slow down and cry with my family and wonder what’s happening in our world.

Sandy and Conrad looking out their kitchen window while hospice volunteers did spring yard work.

Sandy and Conrad looking out their kitchen window while hospice volunteers did spring yard work.

Perhaps I should begin by explaining who my “broadly extended family” includes. My brother, Danny, married his high school sweetheart, Sandy, shortly after they graduated from high school in the mid-1960s. They had two kids, Cindy and Kevin. As Danny and Sandy matured, they grew in different directions and divorced when their kids were still young. Danny and Sandy still stayed in contact over the years, primarily because of their kids. They both remarried twice, bringing more in-laws and nieces (no more nephews) into the family. We’re a big, complicated (but probably fairly typical) extended family. I think of Sandy as my first sister-in-law. She is still part of my “broadly extended family.” I knew Sandy in high school, even before she dated my brother. I’ve always liked and admired Sandy. She made me laugh a lot with her quick wit.

Sandy and Conrad holding handsSandy has been in declining health for the last few years, even though she’s only 67. Several months ago Kevin took the picture of his mother and her husband, Conrad, holding hands when she was in the hospital. Kevin had gone to visit her, and he found them both asleep but still comforting each other.

A few days later she was released from the hospital, to go home on hospice. Conrad would take care of her at home.

On Monday evening, August 4, Conrad went to Subway to get sandwiches. He was killed in a car accident on his way home, on the street right in front of their home.

Sandy was devastated. She lost all will to live. She died 16 days later. Her funeral is today.

Kevin has three daughters and his sister Cindy has two sons – all who lost two very loving grandparents in August. It’s been a very sad month. We’re reminded of the observation in Ecclesiastes 3, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die… a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” But it’s really hard when two deaths – of people you love deeply – come so close together. Too much time to weep. Too much time to mourn. And no time to laugh and dance.

Farmhouse exterior - summerOn the “Mim and me track,” our farmhouse is moving quickly into its next phase. As you may recall, six years ago we turned the farmhouse into a bed-and-breakfast style spiritual retreat center. We named it Whispering Winds Retreat Haven. A year and a half ago we put Whispering Winds on hiatus and agreed to rent the farmhouse to a family who needed a place to live for a couple years. On August 3rd the renters moved out, five months earlier than planned. We were okay with that because the renters were able to buy a home of their own sooner than they expected, and we really wanted to spruce up the place and try to sell it.

A few days before the renters moved out, I received an email from someone (Jeff) who wanted to talk with me about collaborating on reopening the farmhouse as a retreat center. Eventually Jeff would like to buy the place, but for now he wanted to see if we could work together to reopen the farmhouse as a retreat center. We scheduled a time to get together at the farm and talk. That meant Mim and I had just over a week to “spruce” up the place before our meeting.

We quickly realized that we had a bigger clean-up job on our hands than we had anticipated, and we would need help. Amazingly, within that one week in early August, we had two women from a cleaning service deep-clean the five bathrooms and the kitchen; five men from a landscaping service spend a full day weeding, pruning, and removing three truckloads of brush from the yard; another handyman mow our 3-acre lawn and spread 8 more yards of mulch (he had spread 10 yards earlier in the season); our HVAC service man clean the furnace and repair the central AC; and a friend help us carry a dozen heavy boxes of dishes, glasses, flatware, and other furnishings up from the basement. With all that help, the house was presentable for our meeting with Jeff to explore the possibility of collaborating on a retreat center.

The next week, we had a friend paint walls and ceilings as needed throughout the house, reinstall parts of the kitchen cabinets, and replace the garbage disposal and faucet in the kitchen sink. Mim and I worked, too – mostly moving around furnishings to make the house look like a B&B retreat center again. It was an amazing transformation! Oh, and we also bought a new range to replace the one that had been accidentally damaged beyond repair by trying to clean the self-cleaning ovens with a spray-on oven cleaner. (Caution: Don’t ever do that!)

We were amazed. With the help of half a dozen friends and half a dozen strangers, our farmhouse was completely transformed within a couple weeks – all within the same timeframe between Conrad’s death and Sandy’s death.

Stone Meadows Condominiums

Stone Meadows Condominiums

The day after our meeting with the retreat guy (which had been a great time for sharing ideas, but probably not the beginning of a retreat collaboration), our realtor showed the house to a prospective buyer. Thanks to all the help we had received over the past week the house and 3-acre lawn were completely ready for showing!

But then everything changed. Our friend Sharon, who was renting one of the condos in the duplex next door to ours, was told that her condo had been sold and she would need to move out within a month or so. Sharon is the friend who had welcomed “Mary,” one of the 93-year-olds we care for, as a short-term roommate because we didn’t have room for her in our condo.

So… that’s what the next phase is going to be in the life of our farmhouse… Sharon and “Mary” are going to move into the farmhouse next month. Sharon may also invite her 90-year-old parents to join her for the winter months. We’ve talked with our real estate agent and have decided to take the farmhouse off the market. It seems pretty obvious that this is where Sharon and “Mary” need to be for the next several months.

That’s August 2014. Track one is filled with sadness. Track two is filled with fast-paced problem-solving and lots of hard work. Between the two tracks, we’ve been able to deeply sense God’s presence, God’s comforting love. I guess that’s why I played “God Will Take Care of You” for the prelude last Sunday in church. The awful August of 2014 demonstrates this truth. We’re not in this world alone. God is with us, as are the friends and family God has sent to comfort us, as well as the kind strangers God has ready to help us with our various challenges.

Be not dismayed whate’er betide, God will take care of you;
Beneath God’s wings of love abide, God will take care of you.

Refrain:
God will take care of you, Thru ev’ry day, O’er all the way;
God will take care of you, God will take care of you.

Thru days of toil when heart grows frail, God will take care of you;
When dangers fierce your path assail, God will take care of you.

All you may need God will provide, God will take care of you;
Nothing you ask will be denied, God will take care of you.

No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you;
Lean, weary one, upon God’s breast, God will take care of you.

[Civilla D. Martin, 1904]

Gods presence butterfly

I can’t put it off any longer

File DrawerIt’s time. I added it to my to-do list on January 1, 2014. It’s well past time to pull out the 13 bulging folders from the file drawer, the folders labeled “January 2013” through “December 2013” and “Misc. Tax Info.”

I haven’t clicked on the QuickBooks icon on my desktop since last February, when I finished “doing the accounting” for 2012. For me, “doing the accounting” really means entering receipts and expenses for our businesses into the computer and printing out a few reports to give to a real accountant who will prepare our financial statements and our taxes.

Organizing and entering a year’s worth of transactions usually takes me about a week of 10 to 12-hour workdays. Every year I think about changing my pattern and “doing the accounting” on a monthly basis, but I’ve stuck to the same annual pattern for 15 years, so I doubt that I’ll ever change. My week for “doing accounting” early in the new year always becomes my least favorite week of the year, but I survive it. I guess this practice is part of my disguise – so no one will ever guess that I have an MBA from one of the most prestigious business schools in the country, the University of Chicago. My guess is they would not like to claim me as one of their own.

Anyway, I can’t put it off any longer…

Elsie at PresHouse

Mom working at Presbyterian Student Center at UW Madison

I think I learned something about procrastination from my mom. She was always very organized, and she got everything done that needed to be done by the time it needed to be done. But I remember once she told me that she always ironed my dad’s shirts last. Back in those days, housewives ironed almost everything, from sheets and pillow cases to shirts and pants, even handkerchiefs. My mom had a full-time job as a financial secretary for the Presbyterian Student Center in Madison in addition to being a farmer’s wife and raising three kids, but she still ironed everything – until she could teach me to take over that job. One day she told me about how she ironed clothes. She hated to iron my dad’s Sunday shirt the most of all, so she ironed it last – just in case the end of the world would come before she got to it.

Pablo Picasso thought a lot like my mom. He is quoted in www.goodreads.com as saying, “Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.”

That sounds like a good case for procrastination to me! If I die before I get the accounting done, that’s fine with me. However, I’m sure Mim wouldn’t like it.

Mark Twain shared his words of wisdom on procrastination, too. He said, “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.” I guess that’s my justification for doing accounting once a year instead of once a month.

Well, I guess it’s now “the day after tomorrow for me.” I really need to click on the QuickBooks icon.

Something that helps me focus on getting something done that I really hate to do, like accounting, is promising myself a reward when I complete the task. I’ve already ordered my reward from Amazon.com. Since my special word for 2014 is JOY, I’ve ordered the book CHASING JOY: MUSINGS ON LIFE IN A BITTERSWEET WORLD by Edward Hays. The book should arrive today or tomorrow, but I won’t let myself start reading it until the accounting is done.

I’d better get busy.

Chasing Joy

Why did we do it?

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

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

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

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

Mim and I have always enjoyed making music together.

We have always enjoyed making music together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Magic of Books

 

Welcoming guests during our B&B years

Welcoming guests during our B&B years

Three years and three and a half months ago I started writing a book on hospitality. Last Wednesday, 1200 days after starting the project, I signed off on the book with the publisher. In a week or two I should hold the first copy of the published book in my hands.

Why did I want to write a book on hospitality? I guess it’s because I think I know something about the subject. Forty years ago Mim started to teach me everything she knew about hospitality. Then we learned new things together about being hospitable. The more we learned, the more we were ready to begin new adventures – like having both short-term and long-term roommates, turning our home into a B&B, and then caring for people who are dying in our home.

Besides learning about hospitality from trial and error, we also were curious about whether or not God had any instructions for us in the Bible about being hospitable. Needless to say, we’ve done our homework on the subject of hospitality. That’s why I felt ready and able to write a book on it. I also felt driven to do so because I think hospitality is so important.

 

Come Lord Jesus FRONTBut now it’s done. After 1200 days, writing the book is no longer on my to-do list. How do I feel about that? Strange. I guess it’s the “empty nest syndrome.” My baby has left home. I went to Christmas Mountain again for a few days last week. That’s where I wrote a lot of the book over the last few years. It seemed strange not to feel that I had to focus all my attention on writing or revising the text yet one more time. The last version, number 13(!), is the last. The book – Come , Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest: Adventures in Hospitality – is finished.

So what’s next? I hope it’s not writing another book – at least not for a while. I have about 1200 books I want to read first. As British novelist Angela Carter said, “A book is simply the container of an idea – like a bottle; what is inside the book is what matters.” I guess that means I have about 1200 more ideas to explore. That’s the magic of books. They provide a means of exploring new ideas. Fortunately, now it’s time for me to do some more exploring. Maybe I’ll write another book later, when I can’t help it. I’ll let you know.

 

?????????????

Time to explore some new ideas.

 

The 4 Best Books I’ve Read Recently

3 books and kindle on desktopI’m sitting with three books and my Kindle on my desk right now. Within the past few weeks I’ve finished reading the three books. The fourth book is on my Kindle. All four books are excellent, and I want to tell you about them. Maybe you’ll want to read them, too.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been so busy writing my own two books that I haven’t taken the time to read much. Now that my second book is at the publisher, I’m starting to catch up on all the books I’ve been wanting to read. Am I ever having a wonderful time!

First, A New Devotional

Let me start with the book that I’m still reading – the book on my Kindle, Designed for Devotion: a 365-Day Journey from Genesis to Revelation by Dianne Neal Matthews. This is one of the books I’m using for daily devotional readings this year. (I’ve read Jesus Calling by Sarah Young for the past four years and decided to try something different this year.) I came upon Matthews’ website when I was building my own author website and I was looking for models to figure out how to structure my website. Her website (http://www.diannenealmatthews.com)   was obviously effective – it got me to download a Kindle version of her devotional book. Here’s the short description of her book from the website:

Designed for Devotion Book CoverThis new devotional combines fascinating historical background information about the Bible with practical application that readers can implement in their lives each day. Dianne guides readers on a journey through the Bible from beginning to end, highlighting major events, characters, stories, and teachings. These meditations will bring you deeper into the Scriptures as you deepen your relationship with God.

As someone who grew up going to Sunday School every Sunday from the time I was three, I knew all the popular Bible stories very well. What I’m missing is a broader understanding of how they all fit together, and also a more adult perspective on what God may be trying to tell us through these stories. Several times over the past forty years I’ve started annual reading plans designed to lead me through reading the whole Bible in a year. I never got much beyond Genesis. There was too much detail to give me the broader picture I was looking for. I think this devotional is exactly what I need.

Today I read the story about Joshua sending spies to scout out Jericho to determine how to defeat the city so that the Israelites could enter the Promised Land. Rahab, a prostitute, protected the spies by hiding them in her house. Rahab had heard rumors that the God the Israelites worshiped was the one and only true God, but she didn’t know all the details. In this devotional the author summarizes the Bible story and then suggests implications for our lives today:

Rahab gives us a marvelous picture of trust. So often we get caught up in what we don’t know or can’t understand. Or we focus on the lack of tangible proof that God is working in our life. God wants us to act on the basis of what he’s already revealed to us…

So far, I’ve read the first two months of the devotional, and I’ve covered the first five books of the Bible and now I’m into Joshua, the sixth book. Obviously, a lot has been left out of this “Cliff’s Notes” retelling of the Bible, but I’ve learned a tremendous amount about how God relates to people – from Adam and Eve to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and many others. It’s a fascinating progression of stories, and now I’m finally able to grasp some of the progression. This devotional book isn’t a replacement for reading the Bible directly, but it certainly is a valuable complement to it.

The Last 3 Books I’ve Read

Now to the three books I’ve finished reading over the last few weeks. Each of the three books digs into a single issue and approaches the issue with a combination of telling personal stories and searching the Bible for understanding and meaning. In my opinion, all three books deserve a 5-star rating. On Amazon.com, their average ratings ranged from 4.4 to 4.8, which means that the majority of reviewers agree with me!

I’ll briefly describe each book below. If you want more information about any of the books, you can look them up online or browse a local bookstore. You can also email me with any questions you may have, or post them on this blog.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood Book CoverA Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard as when I read this book. But I did more than laugh. I thought about some of the virtues God wants women to possess, based on what the Bible says, what various churches say, and what common sense tells me today. Rachel Held Evans is a young evangelical woman who is a prolific blogger, author, and speaker. For this book, she wanted to dig into the Bible to try to understand how a godly woman should live. After her initial study, she identified twelve topics that she would explore in depth, month by month, as she tried to live out a full year of “Biblical Womanhood.”  She started in October with the theme of gentleness. The primary Biblical reference was I Peter 3:3-4:

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. (NIV)

Each month she prepared a to-do list to help her live as the Bible instructed. For October, the list was:

  • Cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit, even during football games (I Peter 3:3-4)
  • Kick the gossip habit (I Timothy 5:12-13)
  • Take an etiquette lesson (Proverbs 11:22)
  • Practice contemplative prayer (Psalm 131)
  • Make a “swearing jar” for behaviors that mimic the “contentious woman” of Proverbs (Proverbs 21:19; 19:13; 27:15)
  • Do penance on the rooftop for acts of contention (Proverbs 21:9)

The rest of the chapter describes the sometimes hilarious and sometimes insightful predicaments she gets into. The theme for July was Justice. One of the to-do’s for that month was to switch to fair trade coffee and chocolate. She also traveled to Bolivia with World Vision to observe how people in one small village of the world live. Her adventures every month gave me something to seriously think about related to how God wants me to live my life in my world.

PrintTorn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee. A few years ago I googled “gay Christian” and ended up learning about the Gay Christian Network (http://www.gaychristian.net). They describe themselves as “a nonprofit ministry serving Christians who happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, and those who care about them. Besides hosting a website that is supportive of LGBT Christians (and friends) who are trying to reconcile being gay and being Christian, the Gay Christian Network sponsors an annual conference to bring LGBT Christians together for mutual support. Mim and I went to the conference in 2011. We had never been a part of a group of hundreds of LGBT Christians before – worshipping God together, telling our stories, listening to inspiring speakers (including author Philip Yancey), and making new friends. That’s where we met Justin Lee, the founder of this organization and author of Torn.

Torn is Justin’s life story. He grew up in a loving, Southern Baptist family, and was a committed Christian from early childhood. He earned the nickname of “God-boy” because living life the way God intended for him was always in the forefront of his mind. In high school, he reluctantly came to the conclusion that he was gay, through no fault of his own. His personal struggles in dealing with this realization make up the first half of the book. In the rest of the book Justin takes us along on his search to understand what the Bible really says about being gay.

One of the blurbs on the back cover of Torn was written by Rachel Held Evans. This is what she says about his book:

This is the most important book I’ve read in years, and it will be the first I recommend to anyone interested in bridging the divide between the LGBT community and the church. Justin has given us a precious gift with this story. May we receive it with the same courage and faith with which it was delivered.

Andrew You Died Too Soon Book CoverAndrew, You Died Too Soon by Corinne Chilstrom. How would you react if someone who is very close to you committed suicide? How would you grieve? How can you be supportive of others who grieve in this type of situation? Can the Bible give us any comfort? These are some of the questions Corinne Chilstrom deals with in this book. Chilstrom is a Lutheran pastor and a nurse, and her 18-year-old son committed suicide.

Granger Westberg, author of the book Good Grief endorsed Chilstrom’s book with these words:

I was deeply moved as I read this absolutely honest story by a Christian mother who lost her son – by suicide. Grieving parents will find this forthright documentary written by a loving mother in deep grief to be more than just supportive – it glows with spiritual insights. Corinne Chilstrom has opened her heart, mind, and spirit to all people who are struggling with seemingly unendurable grief.

I kept a Kleenex in my hand as I read this book. I had to wipe a lot of tears from my eyes to be able to see the words clearly enough to keep reading. But I learned a little more about God’s promise to never forsake us. I also learned a little about how to be a helpful friend to someone who is grieving the loss of a child or other dear one through the tragedy of suicide. It’s a good book. Another endorsement on the back cover of the book said, “Chilstrom’s book speaks to Christians who want to know what to do in the face of sudden tragedy… This is a book for us as we learn to grieve, for all of us as we learn to live.” (Norma Cook Everist, Wartburg Theological Seminary)

What Should I Read Next?

Biblical womanhood, the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate, and suicide – three big topics – and three excellent books. Plus a fascinating daily devotional that attempts to organize all the Bible stories I learned as a kid in Sunday School and put them into perspective. Thank God for books!

I haven’t decided which book to pick up next to read. Any suggestions? What’s the best book you’ve read recently? I really want to know – and I suspect that other readers of this blog would like to know some good recommendations, too.

A Time to Change Plans

Yesterday afternoon I wrote a blurb for the back cover of my new book on hospitality, COME, LORD JESUS, BE OUR GUEST. I plan to submit my edited manuscript along with cover suggestions to my publisher, Inspiring Voices (a division of GUIDEPOSTS) this afternoon. I’m pretty excited. This is the book I’ve been working on for more than three years. Here’s what I drafted for the back cover:

“Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.” And he came – as a homeless man, a stranger, a friend.

Marian Korth and her partner Mim Jacobson have served breakfast to thousands of overnight guests in their home, but they didn’t bother to offer a cup of coffee to a homeless man huddling on their doorstep one cold winter morning. Why didn’t they welcome this “Jesus” into their home?

Marian still has more to learn about hospitality, although she’s had more than 60 years of adventures in hospitality already. She can tell stories about being hospitable (or not) from:

    • Growing up on a farm
    • Living in Chicago
    • Turning their home into a bed and breakfast
    • Caring for people in their home as they are dying
    • Running their home as a spiritual retreat center

Kindness is the common thread that runs through all these adventures in hospitality. The first verse Marian memorized as a child was Ephesians 4:32, “Be ye kind, one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (She memorized it and still thinks about it in the King James Version.)

In these stories, Marian reflects on what God is telling her about living a life of hospitality. She thinks it’s pretty exciting to know that God has told us, “Be ready with a meal or a bed when it’s needed. Why, some have extended hospitality to angels without ever knowing it!” (Hebrews 13:2 The Message)

I’ll let you know when the book is available. I expect to hold it in my hands by summer, maybe earlier.

My first book, LISTENING FOR GOD: 52 REFLECTIONS ON EVERYDAY LIFE, is already available. The back cover blurb for that book begins,

Discover how God talks to us through everyday happenings.

    • One day, God tells us to hold our to-do lists lightly. There are more important things for today.
    • Another day, God’s message is to think a little harder about how we spend our money.
    • Some days, God just says to relax and enjoy the beauty of the earth…

The first bullet point on this cover certainly fits today’s to-do list for me. I had planned to write about a conversation I had with my dog, Abbey, for this morning’s blog post. I was going to talk about sometimes being too busy to take long walks, and the wisdom (or lack thereof) in that. Instead I spent time talking with my nephew about why people commit suicide. A friend of his killed himself yesterday.

On Mim’s recommendation, I’ve ordered a couple copies of the book, ANDREW, YOU DIED TOO SOON, by Corinne Chilstrom – one for my nephew and one for me. Mim says it’s an excellent book on suicide. Chilstrom is a Lutheran pastor and nurse whose son committed suicide.

Today’s revised to-do list makes time for listening. Maybe next week, I’ll have time to share the conversation between Abbey and me about being too busy… I might even offer my own paraphrase of Hebrews 13:2 – “Be ready with a meal or a bed or a listening ear when it’s needed…”

Abbey-Marian

Note:  If you want more information about either of my books, check out my author website, www.MarianKorth.com.