Tag Archive | God’s Guest List

CLARK – One of the best and worst guests in my life

Nancy-Clark college graduation-landscapeThe first time I met Clark was in 1959. I was almost 11. Mom, Dad, Danny, and I had driven to Wheaton College for my sister Nancy’s graduation. We had a picnic lunch on the front lawn of the college, and Nancy had convinced Clark to come over to meet us. Clark had just graduated, too, and he was Nancy’s new boyfriend. I don’t remember much from that first meeting, other than that he was tall – 6’ 3” – and handsome. He smiled a lot and seemed pleasant.

The next time I saw him was later that summer. He drove up to Cambridge with his tape recorder to record Nancy playing some hymns on the organ. He was sometimes asked to sing in churches and he had to accompany himself on his guitar. He wanted Nancy to play a few hymns and gospel songs that he could play for accompaniment instead of having to strum a guitar. We had a small electronic organ in the living room. He was able to connect the organ and tape recorder with a cable so Nancy could play and he could sing, and only the organ music would record. He won me over during that visit by having me play a couple songs on the organ, too.

A couple years later Nancy and Clark were married. I was one of the bridesmaids – my first time in that role.

Nancy-Clark wedding

Over the years, my appreciation for Clark has fluctuated more than for anyone else I’ve known. The biggest blow up came when I was a senior in college. At that time, Nancy and Clark and their three sons and one daughter were living in Wheaton in the house where Clark had grown up, and Clark had started up a handyman business. He had gone to seminary after college, and had served as a youth pastor of a church in another Chicago suburb for a few years, but he really didn’t like the job of being a pastor, especially with the requirement to spend most of his evenings in church-related meetings. He liked doing the work that he had done to earn his way through seminary better, mainly painting houses and doing home remodeling projects.

Marian college graduation w Steve and Cindy

Marian with nephew Steve and niece Cindy

During my last year in college, Nancy and Clark invited me to live with them to minimize my costs of going to college. Their house was about a mile and a half from campus. During that year I realized how differently Clark and I thought about many things, and how important it was for Clark to be able to control the actions of everyone in his family, including me. In my last few weeks before graduation, I was busy making plans for what I would do after college, and Clark was trying to tell me what I could and could not do. By the time graduation came, Clark and I were barely on speaking terms.

Over the next 30 years, we had many family dinners and other activities together, and we both had good enough manners to be civil, even pleasant to each other. Occasionally, we even enjoyed each other’s company. But mostly, we intentionally tried to minimize our interactions. We were both imperfect souls, trying to find our way through life the best way we knew how – and our ways were very different. But because we were family, we needed to learn how to interact with each other the best way we could.

But then everything changed. In 1999, Nancy suffered a major stroke that left her with limited mobility. She worked incredibly hard in rehab, and regained the ability to walk somewhat, but she never regained complete use of her left side. Somehow, Clark was transformed by her stroke. He became the kindest, most loving and considerate person you can imagine. Over the next five years Nancy and Clark and Mim and I, and the rest of our extended family enjoyed many special times together.

Nancy-Clark 2 adj

In 2004, Clark was diagnosed with advanced leukemia and he died quite suddenly, not long after the diagnosis. His funeral was on the day that would have been Nancy and Clark’s 42nd wedding anniversary. A few weeks before his death he led a small group Bible Study and prayer meeting, and someone recorded him spontaneously singing the song “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” That tape was played at his funeral. His low voice singing these words, unaccompanied, is what I think of whenever I hear the song.

Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer!
That calls me from a world of care,
And bids me at my Father’s throne
Make all my wants and wishes known.
In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief
And oft escaped the tempter’s snare
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer!

I came across the song this week as I was looking over some quiet, introspective music for Lent. That’s what I’ve chosen to do for my spiritual practice throughout Lent this year – to spend time at the piano every day with prayerful music.

Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer!
The joys I feel, the bliss I share,
Of those whose anxious spirits burn
With strong desires for thy return!
With such I hasten to the place
Where God my Savior shows His face,
And gladly take my station there,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

It was good to think about Clark again today. He was one of the most challenging people on “God’s Guest List” for my life (to borrow author Debbie Macomber’s term). But he was also one of God’s greatest blessings in my life.

Clark jpg adj

Clark Kornelsen

Better Than Counting Sheep

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

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

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

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

Elsie at PresHouse

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

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

Nancy-Marian-Danny going to church

Nancy, Danny, and me ready for church.

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

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

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

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

Working up the soil for his last garden

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

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

Mim head and sky

Mim – my best friend for 42 years and counting …

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

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

Patti-Margaret-Holly-Edith cropped

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

 

 

Discovering God’s Guest List for My Life

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

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

Macomber then goes on to say,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Mim & Marian,

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

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

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

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

Thanks to both of you for being my friends.

Love, Glee

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

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