Tag Archive | Nancy

My Sister Nancy

Nancy-Clark 2 adjToday, November 14, would have been my sister Nancy’s 82nd birthday. She died eleven years ago, just a few days after her 71st birthday. (My age now.) I was alone at our Christmas Mountain timeshare when she died unexpectedly. Mim called me with the shocking and sad news. I spent the rest of my retreat time at Christmas Mountain that week paging through a hymnal and playing all of Nancy’s favorite hymns on my portable keyboard.

I’m at Christmas Mountain again this year on November 14, finishing up the next book in my “Talking with God through Music” series, Hymns of Peace and Comfort. A lot of the hymns I’ve written about in this new book are the same hymns I played eleven years ago, as I was seeking comfort from God while I absorbed what it meant to lose a  sister. Music is truly a gift of God.

Nancy was almost like a second mom to me. She was eleven years older, so I saw her more as an adult than as a kid to play with. She was a big sister I was really proud of. She was smart (salutatorian of her high school class), musically talented (played piano, organ, and trombone), very Christian (she read her Bible and prayed every morning before getting out of bed), and she was always kind and loving to others. 

To say she had an influence on me is an understatement. I like to say that I was smarter than she was (I was valedictorian of my high school class), but she beat me in everything else. I learned to play piano and organ like her, but my arms were too short to play a trombone. When I learned to read, Nancy subscribed to a children’s daily devotional magazine for me to encourage me to read the Bible and pray every morning. I got in the habit, but I’m sure I missed more mornings than Nancy did. I have always tried to follow her example of being kind and loving to others. She was a really good role model for me.

Today is a good day to remember Nancy, and to thank God for all the wonderful people God has allowed me to spend time with in my life.

Nancy-Danny-Marian as kids - cropped

Me and my siblings – Danny, Nancy, and me

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

The 3 Heroes in my Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mom sending flowers from her garden home with me to Chicago

Mom sending flowers from her garden home with me to Chicago

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

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

So, why am I talking about my heroes today?

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

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

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

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

Marian w curls and cowboy hat

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