Tag Archive | God-given gifts

Christmas brings out the Poet in me

I am not a poet – but every once in a while, especially around Christmas, I like to play with song lyrics. Several years ago I was a real estate broker, and I rewrote six Christmas songs with a real estate theme. The new titles were:

  • Christmas Tree in condoO Real Estate, O Real Estate  
  • O Little Town of Cambridge
  • Go Tell it to the Whole World
  • All I want for Christmas Is …
  • I’m Dreaming of a Good Housing Market
  • We Wish You Some Real Estate Sales

I won’t share all the lyrics here. (Email me if you want them.) But to give you an idea of how much fun I had, here’s part of the first song (to the tune of “O Christmas Tree”).

O Real Estate, O Real Estate,
The time to sell is coming.
O Real Estate, O Real Estate,
The time to sell is coming.
To sell a home at Christmastide
Spreads hope and gladness far and wide.
O Real Estate, O Real Estate,
The time to sell is coming.

Like I said, I’m not a poet, but I sometimes have fun playing with lyrics. I guess I can thank my mom for that. When I was in junior high school, Mrs. Neupert, my English teacher gave us the assignment to write a poem for National Library Week. I had no idea how to start. I talked with my mom about it, and she said the easiest way to write a poem is to think of a song you really like to sing, one with an especially catchy tune, and write new words to it. She said the tune that worked best for her was “Oh, Susanna,” the old western song by Stephen Foster. So I tried it. The only words I still remember from my poem are the opening line, “I went down town the other night to get myself a book…” I can remember singing the song over and over again in my head until I got my new lyrics just right. I think I actually wrote four verses. I wish I still had them, but I don’t. Anyway, I have the memory of having lots of fun writing my poem for National Library Week.

Last year I took the very rhythmic Christmas poem, ‘Twas the Night before Christmas, and rewrote some of the words to use as a Christmas card for the people who live with us and for the friends who work for us at Country Comforts Assisted Living, to explain that instead of giving them individual Christmas presents we were donating a cow in their names from the ELCA [Lutheran] Good Gifts Catalog. Here’s that attempt at my poetry.

Christmas Cow

‘Twas the Night before Christmas at Country Comforts

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the earth
Lots of people were hungry, despite Jesus’ birth.
Many stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that kind people would have something to share.

The children were cuddled all snug on the floor
With visions of bread and milk and maybe something more.
And Mim in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap
Were racking our brains for a present to wrap.

When out on the roof there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutter, and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of midday to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a beautiful cow…. To my eye came a tear.

She was black and white, a cute little calf.
I smiled when I saw her, then let out a laugh.
A wink of her eye and a swish of her tail
Let me know – soon there would be milk in a pail.

‘God’s Global Barnyard’ came right to the rescue,
A cow for a family in need, yes, we knew
Would be the best gift we could possibly give –
All of us at Country Comforts can help one family live.

A share of a cow is a mere fifty dollars.
“A gift for each person,” sweet Floey then hollers,
“Adds up to a cow for a family in need.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good deed!”

My apologies to Clement Clarke Moore for taking such liberty with his classic Christmas poem.

cow head w cowbell outside cropped flippedThis year I’m playing around with “Jingle Bells” by James Lord Pierpont. I’m struggling to find the best onomatopoeic word for the sound of a cowbell – Clanging bell? Clinking bell? Bonging bell? I’m still working on it…

Whether you like to play around with words and music like I do, or if you prefer to play online by exploring wherever google takes you, or however you like to play – I hope you find plenty of time to play this holiday season. I’m sure play is one of the gifts of the spirit that the authors of the Bible just forgot to mention.

As an old proverb says, “The body heals with play, the mind heals with laughter and the spirit heals with joy.”

A-D-M 05-06-07 2 adj

Doris and Mary, former residents of Country Comforts Assisted Living, playing with Abbey, laughing, and experiencing joy.

 

 

Why in the World do I keep writing blog posts?

Floey sitting - profile croppedWhen I sat down at my computer to draft this blog post, my dog Floey came up to me, sat down, looked up and asked, “Hey, Mom. Why in the world do you keep writing blog posts? Just think about how much time we would have for walks if you didn’t do all this writing.”

I thought a minute before responding. Then I said, “You know, Floey, I’ve been thinking about that very question myself. My original purpose for creating www.WhisperingWindsBlog.com was to use it as a marketing tool to spread the word about Whispering Winds Retreat Haven. In order to get people to read the blog and think about coming to Whispering Winds for a retreat, I wrote about everyday happenings in my own life, things that prompted me to think that God really cares about us and is involved in our lives in many different ways. Over the past five years, I’ve built up a regular following of readers. Obviously, I no longer need to convince people to come to Whispering Winds for a retreat. It’s no longer in operation. So why do I keep writing?”

“Yup. That’s the question, Mom. Why do you bother to keep up the Whispering Winds Blog?” Floey looked hopeful that I might really give it up and go for a walk right now. But I wanted to think this through out loud with Floey before I grabbed her leash to go for a walk, so I continued.

Marian - 5th grade

Me as a 5th grader

“I’ve always liked to write. I remember one of the earliest personal essays I wrote was entitled, “I am a Little Mouse with Great Big Eyes.” I was in fifth grade when I was given the assignment to write a story. My mom gave me the idea to pretend I was a mouse in the schoolhouse and to write about all the strange things I saw. My teacher (Mrs. Borgerud – who 50 years later lived with us as an assisted living resident) liked the story so much she read it to the class. She could hardly read parts of it because she was laughing so hard. That was enough positive reinforcement for me to decide I really liked to write.”

“Wow. That sounds like a good story, Mom. Can you read it to me?” Floey looked at me expectantly.

“No, I’m afraid I can’t, Floey. My mom kept the story in the bottom drawer of the chest of drawers in her closet, where she kept all my school pictures, but somehow it got lost when we emptied the farmhouse to remodel it in the late 1900s.

Marian HS Graduation pic

Me as a high school senior

“But, back to writing, I even liked to do term papers. In junior high and high school I loved choosing a topic and going to the librarian for help in finding as many as a dozen books to study on the topic. One year in high school I wrote about the life, values, and influence of Sir Walter Raleigh for a term paper for my English class. Somehow, I convinced my mom that I needed to stay home from school for a day or two to complete my research and write the paper. I can still see myself sitting at the dining room table writing it well past midnight. Mom took all those handwritten pages to work the next day to type it for me – 12 pages typed – so I could turn it in the following day when it was due. My English teacher read that paper to the class, too, but no one laughed. I think a couple kids dozed off, but the teacher really liked it. He gave me an A.”

Floey interrupted my musings to say, “I don’t think you should have gotten an A if your paper put people to sleep.”

“Fortunately, my teacher didn’t agree with you. Anyway, I think maybe the real reason I started my blog five years ago was that I just like to write, and Whispering Winds gave me a reason to write. When the retreat center went on hiatus a few years ago, I justified keeping up the blog because we might reopen Whispering Winds sometime, and I wanted to keep my readers as prospective guests. Now that we sold the farmhouse, I know we won’t reopen Whispering Winds. Maybe I should stop writing the blog… That’s something I’ve been mulling over for the last few weeks as 2015 is coming to its end.

The Monastic Way“But then I started to read the December issue of The Monastic Way. I’ve been reading The Monastic Way, a monthly pamphlet written by Joan Chittister, for about four years. I saw the pamphlet for the first time when I was in the jail chapel playing the piano for the women’s worship service. The chaplain offered a pamphlet to me. I took it home, read the daily readings for that month, and then went online and subscribed to it. I think Joan Chittister writes the pamphlet primarily for inmates. It’s designed to be a thought-provoking devotional tool, regardless of one’s religious background.”

“I like The Monastic Way, too, Mom. I usually read it over your shoulder every morning,” Floey added.

“For the first couple years I read it, Floey, Chittister chose a painting for the front flap of the pamphlet. Each daily reading consisted of one or two sentences to help readers understand the meaning behind the painting and to help apply the artist’s message personally. Since 2014, Chittister has replaced the painting with a quotation to examine. This month’s quotation is one of my favorites. We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. [Teilhard de Chardin]

“In this month’s introduction to the quotation, Chittister writes:

It’s then [in the final third of life] that we begin to understand that life has been more about the shaping of the spirit than it has been the accumulation of things. It’s then that we finally come to know that it has been about our inner selves – our generous souls, our happy hearts, our loving relationships, our worthwhile work, successful or not – rather than our public status, that life has been about all along…. It is, in the end, who and what we have become spiritually in life that finally, ultimately, counts.

Listening for God FRONT“Writing my blog is something that helps me keep that perspective on life. As Teilhard de Chardin says, We are spiritual beings… To be sure I have something to write about every week, my mind is constantly on the lookout for signs in life that may be helpful for the development of my spiritual being. The title of my first book, Listening for God: 52 Reflections on Everyday Life, really defines what I’m doing with my blog. The book is simply a compilation of 52 blog posts selected from the first year and a half of my blog. For five years I’ve been consciously Listening for God, to be sure I’m hearing what God may be saying to me, and then sharing those insights on the blog. I don’t want to stop writing my blog mainly because I don’t want to stop Listening for God. Without the commitment to post something to the blog every week, I’m afraid I might get lax about Listening for God.

“I can understand that,” Floey interjected. “You always seem so busy I can see how you could forget to think about what God might be saying to you if you didn’t have to write about something every week.”

“God has given me a love of writing, Floey. Following that passion is critical to the development of my spiritual being. WhisperingWindsBlog.com is no longer a marketing tool. It’s a by-product of my spiritual journey. As long as it continues to contribute to my spiritual growth, I’ll continue to write posts.”

Floey-Marian faces selfie“I think I see,” responded Floey. “I guess that means I should go take a nap. We aren’t going for a walk just yet.”

“I’m afraid you’re right, Floey. But we’ll take time for one later. Sometimes that’s where God shows us new things to think about and write about.”

The Gift of a Lifetime

Florence (Floey) Nightingale

Florence (Floey) Nightingale

Floey was sitting in the living room, in front of her house (crate), looking up at the painting on the wall.

Floey sitting - profile

Floey admiring her portrait

“Mom, can you believe it? Kitty painted a portrait of me! She’s such a wonderful neighbor. I just love to go see her. She often gives me MilkBones, but I can’t believe she loves me enough to spend weeks painting my portrait.”

“You’re right, Floey. We have some pretty special neighbors.”

“Kitty is so talented. I know you gave her a couple photos of me to help her get started, but she made me look so regal. I feel like I’m the queen of the Stone Meadows Condominium Community. I guess I’m really special.”

“You are special, Floey. You have the gift of being friendly and loving to almost everyone you meet. You are the four-legged queen of the neighborhood.”

“Yeah. Except kids. I don’t always like kids. I never know what they’re going to do – pet me or poke me, pull my tail or fall on top of me… I’d rather stay away from kids. Maybe that means I’m really not all that friendly. Maybe I don’t deserve to be called ‘Queen of the Neighborhood’ after all.”

“We all have different talents, Floey. Your talent is bringing joy and love to adults, especially senior adults, like Kitty, and like all the people who live with us for assisted living. That makes you queen of the senior neighborhood. That fits the regal look Kitty painted of you.”

“I guess you’re right, Mom.”

Horses by Kitty“Kitty is very talented at painting pictures. Remember the painting of two horses in the pasture that  hangs above my desk? Kitty painted that, too. She gave it to me as a gift one day when I saw it hanging in her house and I told her how much I liked it. But you know what, Floey, Kitty says she’s not a very good painter, that she’s just an amateur.”

“Really? She’s a great painter. The portrait she painted of me shows me as a special dog. She painted me to look like the dog I want to be – regal and refined, with my front paws positioned only as a truly refined lady dog places them. That’s how I always try to sit, you know.”

“Sometimes it’s hard for us to recognize our own talents, Floey. God has given at least one talent to every one of us. Eugene Peterson paraphrased what the Bible says about God’s gifts to us this way:

Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful: wise counsel, clear understanding, simple trust, healing the sick, miraculous acts, proclamation, distinguishing between spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues. All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what, and when.  [I Corinthians 12:7-11 THE MESSAGE]

“I think it makes sense to add more examples to this list. To some people, God gives talents like painting pictures and being friendly.”

Kitty and Floey

Kitty and Floey – the best of friends

“I see what you mean, Mom. God has given Kitty the talent of painting, among other gifts, and God has given me the gift of being a good friend to lots of people in the neighborhood. How about you, Mom? Do you have any talents? Did God give you any gifts?”

“I think God gave me the gift of being able to play the organ and piano just well enough to help a congregation sing praises to God. I’m not talented enough musically to play on a concert stage, but that’s good, because if I had that much musical talent I’d have to dress up in fancy clothes and travel around to lots of big cities to perform. I wouldn’t like that. God gave me the talents that would be just right for me.”

“Hmm.” Floey looked at me thoughtfully. “I guess that makes sense. I can’t picture you in a fancy gown and high heels walking out on a stage to play a Beethoven sonata on a great big concert grand piano. But I can see you sitting on an organ bench, dressed in slacks and a sweater and wearing flat organ shoes, playing some hymns while the people sing along to worship God.”

“Isn’t it wonderful, Floey, that God has given us all such different gifts?  We’re all special, and God gave each of us just the right gifts for us to live together as a community, sharing our gifts with each other.”

“You’re right, Mom. I’m especially thankful today that God gave Kitty the gift of painting, and that she used that gift to paint a portrait of me. And I can use my gift of friendliness to let Kitty know how important she is to me and to let her know that I love her. I think that’s kind of what the Bible is saying, right? God wants us to use our gifts for the benefit of everyone. That’s why God gave us all different gifts – gifts to share with each other.”

“Right, Floey. God gave you the gift of understanding as well as the gift of friendliness.”

“I guess it’s OK that God gave the gift of liking to play with kids to other dogs instead of to me. I’m still queen of the senior neighborhood, and my portrait proves it!”

Kitty and Floey standing 1

Henry’s Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

 

 

The Goose Family is Home Again! Happy Spring!

3 in pondI got up from my desk and walked over to the patio door. “Oh, look, Floey, the Goose Family has returned.” A goose made a big splash as it landed on the water. The honking got even louder as another goose landed. “That looks like Gilbert and Gloria. Let’s go out and welcome them.”

“Who in the world are they?” asked Floey. “And what in the world are they?”

“Oh, that’s right, Floey. You’ve never met them. I’ll introduce you. Oh, look, here comes one more. That must be Grace. I bet Gregory won’t be far behind.”

I clipped Floey’s leash onto her collar and opened the patio door. Even though the sun was shining, it was a little cool to go outside without a jacket, but I couldn’t wait.

Floey looking at pond w ice“Welcome home, Gilbert! Hello, Grace! Hi Gloria! So good to see you again! Where’s Gregory?”

“Hi, Marian,” honked Grace. “Gregory will be here soon. He was busy teaching some of his favorite Lenten hymns to some teenage geese out in the countryside. He told us to go ahead and that he’d catch up with us later.”

Gilbert swam over close to the edge of the pond where Floey and I were standing. “Where’s Abbey? And, who is the new pup?”

1 walking on ice“It’s so good to see you again, Gilbert. This is Floey, short for Florence Nightingale, the nurse. Come on, Floey, you don’t need to hide behind my legs. The goose family shares the pond with us every summer. They’re wonderful neighbors.”

Floey peeked out from behind my legs. “Nice to meet you,” she said, but she stayed very close to me.

Gloria swam over to join our conversation. “Nice to meet you, too, Floey. But I’m anxious to tell Abbey all about our trip. Is she inside?”

“I’m afraid not, Gloria. Abbey joined her friends and family in heaven last November. She brightened our lives for eight years, but then she had to go home. Floey joined us shortly afterwards.”

Gloria responded, “So sorry to hear about Abbey. She was my best dog friend ever.” Gloria looked off into the distance for a moment. Then she turned back and looked directly at Floey. “I’m glad to meet you, Floey. I’m sure we’ll become good friends, too. Do you like to sing?”

Floey facing camera - icy pond behindFloey smiled. “I love to sing. And I have a really wide range – all the way from bass to soprano! Really! And I can sing every note in between, too. Listen…” She started with a low growl, then barked a few notes in her midrange, and ended with a howl that kept going higher and higher.

“Wow! We’ll be glad to have you sing with us,” she said to Floey with a smile. Then, she turned to me and said, “You know what song I think of whenever I’m sad, or when I think about a really good friend, like Abbey, who’s no longer with us? I think of ‘Near to the Heart of God’ by Cleland B. McAfee.”

Gilbert looked at Gloria, and nodded his head. Together they sang the first verse and refrain,

There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where sin cannot molest,
Near to the heart of God.

O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God,
Hold us, who wait before Thee,
Near to the heart of God.

Grace heard Gilbert and Gloria singing and she swam over to join them for the second verse.

There is a place of comfort sweet,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where we our Savior meet,
Near to the heart of God.

As the goose trio was singing the second verse, another goose circled overhead, and then splashed down onto the pond. It was Gregory. He cleared his throat, looked knowingly at the three singers, and then sang the third verse as a solo.

There is a place of full release,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where all is joy and peace,
Near to the heart of God.

The four of them sang the final refrain together, a perfectly blended 4-part choir. Both Floey and I had tears in our eyes when they finished. I said, “That was just beautiful. I’m so glad you are all back home with us. Welcome, Gregory. Now that you’re all here, I know spring has come.”

“Sorry we couldn’t make it for the beginning of Lent like we usually do,” honked Gregory. “This has been a terrible winter, and we just couldn’t fly north for the longest time. We started out several times, but we always had to turn around and go back south. I’m sure glad we’re finally here.”

“That’s right,” chimed in Grace. “There’s no better place than the Whispering Winds Pond to sing all those wonderful Lenten hymns. They are such good reminders of how much God loves us. I think we need to get busy singing some more. It will be Easter in less than two weeks, and, as I recall, there are 81 hymns in the Whispering Winds Lenten songbook, ‘Songs about the Love of God.’ Now that we’re all here, I think we should start with ‘Let’s Just Praise the Lord.’ That should warm us up good. Floey, why don’t you sing soprano on this one…”

4 geese on pond

Why Was I Created?

Over the last few years I’ve had the practice of starting the day with reading from two or three devotional books by my favorite inspirational writers. This year I’m reading:

  • The Monastic Way by Joan Chittister (a pamphlet that comes monthly, with the readings of each month based on a common theme),
  • Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith by Henri Nouwen, and
  • Through the Year with Jimmy Carter: 366 Daily Meditations from the 39th President.

I’ve mentioned some of the readings by Chittister and Nouwen in my blog, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned the Jimmy Carter book – until today.

Through the Year with Jimmy CarterI picked up this book at The Frugal Muse used bookstore last December, and I thought it might provide an interesting addition to my morning meditations. The blurb on the back of the book said, “Unique among the multitude of daily devotional books, Through the Year with Jimmy Carter combines the grace and wisdom of a deeply spiritual Bible study with personal stories and prayers for each day of the year, all drawn from the Sunday school lessons former president Jimmy Carter taught – and the life lessons God taught him.”

Last week, one of the readings was especially interesting. The title of the reading was “Called by God.” It started with this Bible verse: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” [Jeremiah 1:5] Then Carter cited a nationwide poll that had been published by USA TODAY. The question asked in the poll was, “If you could come face-to-face with God what would you ask?” The most popular responses fascinated me:

6%          How long will I live?
7%          Is there intelligent life elsewhere?
16%        Why do bad things happen?
19%        Is there life after death?
34%        Why was I created? What should I do with my life?

Carter commented, “Just as God had told Jeremiah, ‘I knew you in the womb, and even then I had a purpose for you,’ so God knew us in the womb and has a unique purpose for us.”

I told Mim about this poll, and she mentioned the popularity of the book The Purpose-Driven Life a few years ago. She wasn’t surprised that the most popular question people would ask God is what their purpose in life is. People want to know if there is a purpose for their life.

I remember thinking about that question a lot when I was in high school and college – what was I supposed to become? Or, what was God’s purpose for my life? Or, does God really have a plan for my life – or can I figure out for myself what I want to do with my life?

Marian TDS Caricature

Caricature of me created by a roving artist at a corporate Christmas party during my TDS years.

My ideas on that question have changed over the years. One of the most significant conversations I had with myself about the purpose of my life happened when I was working as a manager of financial systems at Telephone and Data Systems (TDS), a large privately-held telecommunications corporation. I wasn’t particularly happy in that job, mainly because I was routinely working 60 or more hours per week for the sole purpose of making more money for the Carlsons – the very wealthy family who owned the corporation. I didn’t see that any social good was being accomplished by all my efforts. I was convinced I was wasting my life by doing that job. When I reached that conclusion, I started to seriously look for another job. After having two interviews with the State about a position that sounded like a good fit for my skills and interests, I was pretty sure I would be offered the job, so I quit TDS. I didn’t want to waste any more of my life doing meaningless work for the Carlsons.

Oops… I didn’t get offered that state job. I guess I failed to convince the State that I was as good a fit as I thought I was… Which leads me to what Joan Chittister was prompting me to think about last week. The theme for the month of March is failure. The quote she is focusing upon is by St. Teresa of Avila, “To reach something good, it is useful to have gone astray.”

Chittister’s comment on Monday of last week was, “Failure is what teaches us that we belong somewhere else. Only by embracing this new possibility can we become the fullness of ourselves.”

When I failed to get the state job, I decided to spend a few months working full-time with Mim to turn our farmhouse into a bed and breakfast, and to do a little small business consulting on the side. That was 17 years ago. Our business, Korth-Jacobson LLC, has evolved over the years as Mim and I have recognized needs and opportunities to live the lives we think God wants us to live – and that we want to live. My unwillingness to stay in a job that seemed like a waste of time, coupled with my failure to get another job, gave us the opportunity to explore being self-employed – to explore doing the things in life we felt called to do.

Welcoming guests to our bed and breakfast

Welcoming guests to our bed and breakfast in the late 1990s

Thanks to Jimmy Carter and Joan Chittister, that’s what I’ve been thinking about over the past week – the purpose of my life and the importance of the failures in my life – so far. And there’s still more to go… I’m sure I’ll experience more failures before I die, and I expect I’ll gain more insights into what God wants me to do with the life I have left on earth. (I hope there’s some time left for retirement!)

Minor Characters in Our Life Stories

In last week’s blog post I wrote about the Sunday dinners of my childhood. To keep the story short, I left out one of the minor characters in those dinners, Eva Frankson. I’ve been thinking about her ever since.

Eva lived with Grandma. My grandma had a small house across the street from the west side park in Cambridge. The house had a large eat-in kitchen, a living room, one bedroom downstairs and one bedroom up in the attic. The bathroom was downstairs – a room large enough to hold Grandma’s loom where she wove rag rugs. (That’s another story.) Eva had the bedroom in the attic.

Eva worked as a waitress in one of the restaurants on Main Street. Grandma had worked in the same restaurant, and I guess that is where they met each other.

Grandma - Eva - waitresses

Waitresses of the Cottage Restaurant in Cambridge, about 1950. My grandma is on the left. Eva is on the right. I don’t know the three in the middle.

When I was in grade school, sometimes I would go to my grandma’s after school instead of taking the bus home, and I’d wait for my mom to come home from work in Madison to pick me up. Grandma and I usually spent the time putting together picture puzzles. We both loved to do puzzles. I remember listening together, very quietly, to hear Eva come in the front door after her walk home from work at the restaurant. If she was really tired, she’d stop in the living room before climbing upstairs to her room. Eva would compliment us on our progress on the puzzle, and then she and Grandma would talk a little bit about the day. But mostly Eva just sat down and rested. She was tired. After a few minutes she’d climb the stairs to her room.

Eva and Grandma with their cats. Eva never liked to have her picture taken - that's why she's hiding behind her cat.

Eva and Grandma with their cats. Eva never liked to have her picture taken – that’s why she’s hiding behind her cat.

Whenever Mom invited Grandma to go anywhere with us, she often invited Eva to join us. Once they both rode with us all the way to Wheaton, Illinois to visit my sister Nancy in college. It was pretty crowded in the car with Mom and Dad, Grandma, Eva, Danny, and me. I remember I sat on Eva’s lap for the whole car ride of almost three hours. I’ll admit, I got tired of sitting still. But as I look back on the trip 60 years later, I guess Eva probably got even more tired of holding me, although she never complained.

Eva never said much about anything. She was always pleasant, but very quiet. I once asked Mom about whether or not Eva had any relatives. Mom said that her parents had given her away when she was a little girl. Someone had been visiting them, and they had commented on what a nice little girl she was. The parents said they could have her if they wanted her. So they took her home with them. I guess that’s all Mom knew about the story.

The one person Eva occasionally talked about was John. Another time I asked Mom who John was. She said that although Eva had never married, she had a son named John. He had been killed in a farming accident when he was 13. I never learned any more details.

Eva was a quiet, extra person in my life. Kind of like a bonus family member – another  grandma, but not quite the same. She was part of the Sunday dinner family. After Grandma died, Mom helped Eva find another place to live and continued to include her in many of our family activities.

Eva w coffeeWhen I was in college, I came to the realization one day that my brother Danny had grown from a subtly rebellious teenager into a kind and caring young man. It was the day I learned that Danny had become the person that Eva could call upon for help whenever she needed strong young muscles to move something heavy, or a creative problem-solver to fix something. Danny was always there to help her. I guess Eva’s quiet presence in our lives had enriched Danny’s life as well as mine.

I’m glad last week’s blog post prompted me to remember and be thankful for Eva, one of the many “minor characters” who has enriched my life story.