Tag Archive | God’s love

The Love of a Dog

fullsizeoutput_281cOn February 23 we celebrated Anna’s 98th birthday. Anna has been living with us as an assisted living resident for eight years now. Some of her family members came for a little party, and everyone, especially Anna, had a really good time.

One week later, Anna had a stroke. It was about noon on Friday. She had walked with her walker over to the kitchen counter for lunch. After she had been sitting there a few minutes, she started to look a little sleepy and unsteady. Both Mim and I got up to check on her, helped her into a wheelchair, wheeled her into her bedroom, and then helped her into bed. As Mim checked her blood pressure and had her squeeze her hands and did other diagnostics, our dog Floey jumped into bed with Anna, and refused to leave her side. Anna giggled at Floey’s devotion and she reached down to pet her. Floey is a good friend of Anna’s, but she’s never hopped into bed with her before. Floey knew something was wrong, and she sprang into action to help Anna every bit as much as Mim and I had. 

Floey showed Anna just how much she loved her, and how important she was to her. I foolishly tried to coax Floey out of the bed with a treat to be sure she wouldn’t be in our way. She wouldn’t budge. Her place was with Anna. She loves Anna, and she knew Anna needed her to comfort her.

That’s kind of like God’s love, I think. At least, I think I begin to understand a little more what God’s love is like when I see Floey’s love for Anna.

We don’t know the final outcome of Anna’s stroke. She might be with us another couple years to make it ten years with us at Country Comforts Assisted Living, and a hundred years on this earth. Or she might not. What we do know is that she’s in the care of a loving God. And Floey is helping us understand what that means. 

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Floey and Anna watching TV together

A Glimpse of God’s Love

Last Saturday, Mim and I tried to drive to Chicago, normally about a two and a half hour drive, for a memorial service. Unfortunately, we got only as far as the distant northwest suburbs before we decided to turn around and go home. Although the weather forecast for Chicago was to get only 1 to 3 inches of snow, visibility had diminished to just a few car lengths, and the roads were getting pretty slippery. We thought it would be wiser to write a letter to our friend’s adult children to explain how much we admired their dad and how much we learned about God’s love from him.

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Jon presented me with a chocolate cake when I retired from the CCHC board.

Jon Beran was one of three founding doctors of Circle Christian Health Center (CCHC), a not-for-profit clinic on the far west side of Chicago – a very poor and violent, mostly African American neighborhood, and a medically under-served part of Chicago. Mim worked at the clinic in the early 1980s after she completed her advanced practice degree as a nurse practitioner. I served on the board of CCHC when I completed my MBA. We both chose Jon to be our personal physician. He was a good doctor, a good listener, and perhaps the kindest, most gentle, and most humble person I’ve ever met. 

When Jon was in medical school in the early 1970s, he attended Circle Church, an Evangelical Free congregation that met in rented space – the Teamster’s Union Hall on the near west side of Chicago, close to Circle Campus of the University of Illinois. The mostly college-aged and young professional members of the congregation enthusiastically committed their lives to serving Christ in their chosen professions wherever the needs were greatest. 

At that time, one of the most socially and economically distressed neighborhoods in Chicago was Austin, on the far west side of the city. A group of people within the Circle Church congregation decided to move into Austin to serve the people of that community. Circle Urban Ministries was founded as the network that would link a medical clinic, a counseling center, a legal aid practice, a youth center, and eventually a church. 

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Staff of CCHF in the late 1970s. Jon and Nita on left.

Jon and his wife Nita (a nurse) bought a house in Austin. They had two children and raised them in that neighborhood. (Their son has become an architect and their daughter has become a family practice physician, like her dad.) Both Jon and Nita spent their entire careers serving the people of Austin through CCHC. Nita passed away two years ago. Mim and I made it to her visitation. It was obvious by all the people from the neighborhood at the funeral home that Nita and Jon were very much loved by their community.

Mom crocheting

Mom kept crocheting afghans for babies of teenage mothers in Chicago until just a few weeks before she died.

One of my favorite memories of Jon relates to my mom. When she was in the last stages of liver cancer, Mom and Dad came to live with Mim and me in Chicago for her last six weeks. Although we got Mom signed up to receive hospice care while she lived with us, she needed to have a local doctor see her and prescribe medications. We asked Jon if he would be her doctor. Of course, he said yes. Mom was too weak to ride to the clinic, so Jon made house calls to see her. We lived pretty far from Austin, about a 30-minute drive or 45-minute trip on the “L” each way, but Jon came over to see her as often as she needed him, usually coming by “L.” He carried his stethoscope and other doctoring tools in a Jewel Food Store plastic bag. He didn’t carry a doctor’s bag because he didn’t want to look like a doctor who might be carrying drugs.

Besides caring for Mom’s physical needs, Jon also took time to listen to Mom talk about how she was trusting God to heal her. I didn’t eavesdrop on the whole conversation, but I know Jon somehow related her trust in God to the trust his children needed to have in him when he was teaching them how to swim. They needed to trust that he would take care of them even though they didn’t totally understand how everything was going to work. Then Jon prayed with Mom.

As I mentioned in this blog last week, my special word for 2019 is LOVE, as in the LOVE OF GOD. One of the books I’m reading to kick off my year-long reflection on LOVE is BUMPING INTO GOD: 35 stories of finding grace in unexpected places by Dominic Grassi, a Catholic priest who lives in Chicago. From the back cover of the book,

fullsizeoutput_2785A natural storyteller, Dominic Grassi invites readers to share his warm memories of life in Chicago over the past five decades. He shows how God is reflected in the people we meet every day: a butcher, a bookstore owner, a short-order cook. 

And, I would add, a special doctor named Jon. I’m sure thousands of people have caught a glimpse of God’s love by bumping into Jon sometime in their lives. I know my mom did. And so did I.

 

A Long Talk with My Dog – the best way to begin the New Year.

Floey looking at camera

Floey jumped down from the couch, stretched her whole body, and sauntered over to me. I was sitting at my desk. She plopped herself down right next to me. But instead of resuming her nap, she looked up at me and asked, “What are you doing, Mom? You look like you’re just staring off into space. What’s on your mind?”

“I’m just thinking about something I said, or rather, didn’t say yesterday, and I kind of regret the conversation.”

“Who were you talking with?”

“I went downtown for a haircut late yesterday afternoon.”

“Yeah. I remember. You took me out for a really quick walk, and then you left. Were you talking with the person who cuts your hair?”

“Yes. She cuts my hair really fast – like in ten minutes. But despite her cutting speed, she likes to talk with me the whole time she’s cutting. I don’t know how she can concentrate on getting my hair cut right, but somehow she does.”

“I wish my groomer was fast like that. She always takes at least 45 minutes, but she gives me a bath, blows me dry, trims the hair around my ears and paws, and gives me a pedicure. She talks to me, too, but I know she’s concentrating really hard on everything she does to me. At least she ends the grooming session with a really good treat. Do you get a treat?”

“No, Floey, I don’t.”

“That’s too bad. Well, what are you regretting about your conversation with your haircutter?”

“We really don’t know each other very well, and our conversations are usually just typical small talk – the weather, how our dogs are doing, any new restaurants we’ve tried, and so on. Yesterday she asked me if I have any goals for this new year. I told her no.”

“You don’t make New Year’s resolutions any more, so you don’t have goals, do you?”

“Well, sort of. Six years ago I changed from making New Year’s resolutions to choosing a special word to concentrate on all year long. The first special word I chose was JOY. Every day in 2014 I thought about finding JOY somewhere in the day. I loved the positive energy that came from finding JOY throughout the whole year. The next year I chose the word GRATITUDE. That was just as inspiring. In 2016, my word was KINDNESS. The next year was HOPE. And last year my word was PEACE. Every year has been really special by having a deliberate focus.”

fullsizeoutput_200f“I remember, Mom, in January of 2015, shortly after you adopted me, you explained “special words” to me, and as a young pup of less than a year old, I chose my first special word – LEARN, because I was going to concentrate on learning all I could to become the best companion to our residents that I could be. Remember, Mom?”

“I sure do, Floey, and you have learned a lot. Everyone agrees that you are our best caregiver of all.”

“Thanks, Mom. But let’s get back to your conversation yesterday. Why are you feeling bad about it?”

“Well, Floey, I should have told the person who cuts my hair (and the customer and hairdresser at the next chair who were listening to us) about how uplifting the practice of focusing on one special word for a year can be. Unlike when making a New Year’s resolution that you know will get broken before the end of the year, when you choose a special word, there can only be positive outcomes – the more you think about an inspiring word, the more inspired your life will be, even if you miss a few days of thinking about it. At least that’s been my experience in the six years I’ve been doing this.”

“One year, Mom, remember I chose a bad word. I chose the word MEOW because I was going to try to learn how to communicate better with the cats in the neighborhood. But the cats didn’t want to get to know me, so I eventually changed words. I borrowed your word of KINDNESS, and tried to be kind to those cats, even though they didn’t deserve it.”

“But even that worked out for good, Floey, because you focused on being KIND, and that enriched your life, didn’t it?”

“I guess so.”

“Anyway, I wish I’d taken the initiative yesterday to explain my approach of choosing a special word every year. Maybe the women in the salon would have liked to try out this practice for themselves.”

“Mom, tell me what you wished you had said to them. How did the word PEACE work out for you in 2018, and what’s your word for 2019? Is that what you wanted to tell them?”

“I guess so. One of the special things I did last year to deepen my understanding of PEACE was to look for all the hymns I could find with PEACE as the theme. I selected 16 of those hymns to include in my next book of hymn reflections. Dona Nobis Pacem, Let There Be Peace on Earth, Peace in the Valley, Make Me a Servant of Your Peace – those are just a few of the hymns that focus on the PEACE of God. I loved doing that study.”

“How about your word for this year?”

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“As I was thinking about what word to choose for this year, I realized that the themes of the four Sundays in Advent are HOPE, PEACE, JOY, and LOVE. I’ve already chosen three of the four themes. LOVE is the only one I haven’t focused on yet. The more I thought about it, I realized the most concise phrase that summarizes the nature of God is GOD IS LOVE. I guess it’s time I try to deepen my understanding of God’s LOVE. So LOVE is the word I chose for 2019.”

“That sounds like a good word for you this year. Do you know if Mim has chosen a word?”

“I think she said her word is going to be PATIENCE. We’ll have to ask her more about why she chose that word for this year when she gets home. How about you, Floey?”

“I chose the word LISTEN. I’m really good at listening sometimes, especially to our residents. But other times, I just block out voices and other noises I don’t want to be bothered with. I have such good ears, I should make better use of the gift of superior hearing that God has given me. I’ll listen for birds, chipmunks, music, the wind – whatever sounds are out there – maybe even for you when you call me to come…”

“Well that would be wonderful! As soon as I know that you listen well enough to always hear me when I call you to come, we can start going to the dog park!”

“That’s great! This is going to be a really good year!”

“You’re right, Floey. And thank you for listening to me now. Talking about what I wish I’d said yesterday makes me feel better. Thanks. You’re already a good listener. You’re off to a good start with your new word!”

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Christmas in Jail

City-County Bldg from City Hall

The upper floors of the City-County Building in Madison, Wisconsin are part of the Dane County Jail

“This is the first time I’ll be in jail over Christmas. I’ve been in jail a couple times before, but never over Christmas. I feel so bad for my family. Being in jail hurts my family more than it hurts me. I feel so bad for my kids. I’m really hurting my family by not being home with them for Christmas. I can’t let this happen again. I’ve got to get my life back together.”

The young woman struggled to keep tears from seeping out of her eyes as we went around the circle in the jail chapel, talking about what the Christmas story that we had just read in Matthew and Luke meant to us today.

I tried to imagine what it would have been like for my mom to be in jail over Christmas when I was a little girl.  It’s hard to picture my mom being in jail. I think the most illegal thing she ever did in her life was speed up to 70 miles per hour to pass a car on curvy Highway 12, driving from Cambridge to Madison on her way to work in the morning. The speed limit was 65 back then, and she had a gadget in her car that buzzed when she reached 66 mph. That didn’t happen very often.

Family Portrait - about 1960

Family portrait, about 1960: Nancy, Dad, Mom, Danny, Marian

But supposing Mom was in jail, whether guilty of anything, or not… What would Christmas have been like for me?

  • No Christmas baking: No cut-outs to frost and decorate. No Norwegian cookies. No date bars. No new recipe experiments – Mom tried out one or more new recipes every year. No homemade peanut brittle. No Holiday Hill whipped cream cake…
  • No one to ensure the whole house was decorated for Christmas, not just the tree.
  • No one to help us memorize our parts for the Christmas program in church.
  • No perfect Christmas presents. Mom always figured out what we wanted most, and managed to do all the Christmas shopping during the lunch hours of her job in Madison.
  • No one patiently trying to teach us patience on Christmas Eve as we waited for Dad to finish milking the cows and then come back into the house so we could open our presents.
  • No Christmas stockings. Mom always gave each of us one of her old nylon stockings with runs to set out on Christmas Eve for Santa to fill with an orange, an apple, a candy cane, and a few small wrapped presents for us to open on Christmas morning.
  • No special dinner on Christmas Day. Pan-fried chicken was my favorite.
  • No one to play Scrabble with me on Christmas afternoon.

I understood the young mother’s point in the jail circle. Christmas is a very important time to be with family, not to be sitting in jail. But that’s the situation for her this year. The other inmates understood her point, too. They felt the same way.

As we continued around the circle, we got to me. I commented that hearing the whole Christmas story read in one sitting – the shepherds, Jesus’ birth in the stable, the wise men – reminded me of a question that’s printed in the bulletin of one of the churches I’m playing at this Sunday. “If you could play a part in the Nativity story, which role would you want: shepherd, inn keeper, wise man, angel, Mary, or Joseph?”  I said that I would either want to be an angel or a shepherd. It would be so much fun, so thrilling to be singing – or playing an instrument – to be welcoming Baby Jesus into the world. Several of the inmates explored this idea for themselves. One said, “Oh, I’d want to be a shepherd. It would be so exciting.”

Nativity images

When we all finished sharing our thoughts on what the Christmas Story meant to us this year, it was time for our annual Christmas carol sing. I went to the piano and Chaplain Julia handed out song sheets. She told the inmates they could keep the song sheets if they wanted, but she would have to remove the staples before they could take them out of the chapel. Most of them wanted to keep the song sheets.

Christmas carols

Chaplain Julia said they could request two things – the song to sing and which verses to sing. The first song requested, as soon as Chaplain Julia asked for requests, was the last song in the booklet, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” The requester asked for all verses. Actually, all verses were requested for every song we sang. And, boy, did we have fun singing! There was never a long, awkward pause waiting for a request. As soon as we finished one song, another request was immediately out there. The women sang every song with enthusiasm, as a truly special women’s choir. I think we all identified with the angels. We sang a lot of angel carols – “Angels from the Realms of Glory,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” As usual, we ended with “Silent Night.”

When we finished singing, Chaplain Julia asked me, “Could we choose to be Baby Jesus in my question of who we would like to be in the Christmas Story?” She said, “It would be wonderful to be Baby Jesus and feel all the love of everyone singing to me.” The inmates agreed.

I guess a little miracle happened in jail last Thursday. The women who came to the chapel to worship God and sing Christmas Carols, walked in feeling the weight of being in jail over Christmas, away from their family and loved ones. When they walked out of the chapel and were escorted back to their cell blocks, their spirits were lifted. I’m sure some of their spirits were still praising God, singing “Glo-ri-a in ex-cel-sis De-o.” God’s love was being experienced right there in jail.

angels and Mary and Jesus

This picture may be bleached a little too white, but it still shows love – wondrous heavenly love and peace present on Earth.

 

 

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.

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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 Best Thing about Darkness

There seems to be much more darkness in the world today than there was a week ago, when I last posted my thoughts on this blog.

Clock and Calendar

In the most literal sense, the sun rose 9 minutes later today than it rose a week ago, and it will set 7 minutes earlier than it set a week ago – a net change of 16 minutes more darkness today than last Tuesday. By next Tuesday we’ll lose another 15 minutes of daylight. I don’t know how these times are calculated, but I trust the chart that is displayed on www.SunriseSunset.com. And, in a general sense, these times are confirmed by my personal observations. I’ve noticed that it’s getting dark a lot earlier in the evening, and I’ve noticed the same thing has happened this time of the year every year of my life. We’re moving into a season of darkness, a time when there is more darkness than light.

In a global news sense, the terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday night have brought a terrible sense of darkness across the whole world. How can there be so much hate in the world that people kill other people that they don’t even know? I don’t understand ISIS. But I don’t understand how we can turn a blind eye to people who don’t have food to eat and who will soon starve to death, either. And I don’t understand why there is extreme poverty in the world, in the United States, in Wisconsin, and yes, poverty, hunger, and homelessness even in my own home town. All around, we’re in a season of moral darkness, as well as having fewer hours of daylight.

eiffel-tower - night

The Eiffel Tower in Paris – the City of Light

Adding to this season of darkness, a friend of mine posted an entry on www.CaringBridge.com yesterday.

The days are darker and time seems to be going fast. After several consultations with my radiation oncologist and others on my cancer care team, I have chosen to start radiation once a day for 15 days. The team thinks it may shrink the [brain] tumors enough to slow down some of the cancer progress and symptoms. Discussion indicates possible life expectancy of two weeks, or two months, or who knows.

RuthAnn WilsonWell, those are all guesses. No one knows, of course. I will live every day the best I am able….

So far I have minimal pain and very loving care.

I have received many precious cards and letters from many of you. I treasure each one, and I enjoy reading them over and over, or having them read to me. I wish I could answer each one of you. Please know that I appreciate you so very much….

My friend is an inspiration to all of us who know her. Even though she is walking through “the valley of the shadow of death” she knows that God is with her, and she is comforted by God’s presence. Her strong faith and positive attitude are truly a comfort to all of us.

Lots of darkness is surrounding me today as I write this, but the best thing about a season of darkness was highlighted to me this morning as I read My Personal Daily Prayer Book by Christine A. Dallman and Margaret Anne Huffman.

Small deeds of goodness in the aftermath of trouble, like fireflies flickering against a dark sky, can blanket the world with sparkling lights.

When Mim and I still lived on the farm, sometimes on summer evenings, after dark, just before going to bed, we would walk our dogs to the end of the driveway to look across the road at the soybean field, glowing with hundreds, maybe thousands, of fireflies hovering just above the plants like silent fireworks. It was a beautiful sight, one that could only be seen in the darkness.

Fireflies over field

I can’t stop the days from getting shorter this time of year.  I can’t stop terrorists from killing. And I can’t feed everyone in the world who is starving. But I can listen to someone who is grieving. And I can send a card to let someone know I’m thinking about them and praying for them. And I can donate to the local food pantry.

I like the image of being one of the fireflies hovering over the dark field. Care to join me? Together we can make a marvelous display of hope above the darkness.

Fireflies close up

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.

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