Tag Archive | Resurrection Lutheran Church

“Family”

Mim and Marian eating lutefisk dinner at St. Olaf College about 40 years ago.

Mim and Marian eating lutefisk dinner
at St. Olaf College about 40 years ago.

About 40 years ago, I went “home” with Mim for the first time. We drove from Chicago to Kenyon, Minnesota, at least a seven-hour drive, the first weekend in December. In Kenyon, we picked up Mim’s mom, Selma, and drove another 15 miles to go to the St. Olaf College Christmas concert. Mim’s mom, who worked in food service at St. Olaf, was able to get us tickets for the concert, a major achievement for a very popular annual concert.  That was the first of many St. Olaf Christmas concerts I went to with Mim and her mom.

That was also the first time I went with Mim to her home church, Gol Lutheran Church in rural Kenyon. It had been Mim’s family church on her mom’s side for four generations, ever since they immigrated from Norway. Also, Mim’s dad had been the pastor at Gol for 20years.

Mim - Selma outside church 125th adjMy first reaction to Mim’s church was – what a beautiful old country church. I was a little frustrated with trying to follow the liturgy, which was much more structured than I was used to, having grown up a Methodist. Mim’s mom was proud to have her daughter and her roommate home for the weekend, so we stood around and talked to a lot of people after the service. That was not my favorite part of the weekend! Making small talk with strangers has never been one of my strengths.

Over the next 20 years, Mim and I went to Kenyon to visit Selma one or two weekends a year, and we always went to church with her. Gradually, I got to know a few of the people in the church and I started to feel a little more at home there.

Mim - Selma by organ 125th cropped

Mim and Selma at Gol’s 125th Anniversary

In 1989, Gol celebrated its 125th anniversary in style. Mim and I joined Selma for the whole weekend, and we all enjoyed lots of music, lots of eating, lots of picture taking, and an original play that taught us lots about Gol church history.

Twenty-five years later, last weekend, Gol celebrated its 150th anniversary. Mim really wanted to participate in the celebration. I was considerably less enthusiastic about spending a whole weekend in Kenyon, Minnesota with a couple hundred people I didn’t know.  At best, I might know two or three people. But, I figured this is one of those things you have to do for family. So we spent the weekend in Minnesota.

Much to my surprise, I had a great time all weekend. “Family” really is the key word. As Philip Yancey, one of my favorite authors, has said, “I go to church as an expression of my need for God and for God’s family.” We spent the weekend with one particular branch of God’s family. We were with about 250 of God’s family members – almost all of Norwegian descent. I think everyone had great appreciation for Norwegian-American church history, food, and music. Of the 250 people, I recognized about a dozen of them from my previous visits to Gol. Mim introduced me to about another dozen of her old friends. All 24 of them were people I enjoyed visiting with. I’ll have to admit, it was kind of fun to get together with this big extended church family.

The Rev. John Hagen, a former pastor of Gol, preached briefly from the steps of the farmhouse where the congregation met before the church was built.

The Rev. John Hagen, a former pastor of Gol, preached briefly from the steps of the farmhouse where the congregation had met before the church was built.

Finally I’m beginning to understand that my extended church family is growing bigger and bigger. It started with the church of my childhood  – Willerup United Methodist Church in Cambridge. Even though Willerup is no longer the church where I regularly go to worship God, I still feel connected to some of God’s family members who worship there. I also feel connected to the building itself where I spent literally thousands of hours (on average 4 hours per week, 52 weeks a year, 18 years plus 4 summers during my college years) learning about God. I also feel a connection to the cemetery next door where my parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and other relatives are buried.

My growing extended church family also includes members of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Chicago, Messiah Lutheran Church in Madison, as well as other churches I have been a part of over the years. And since Gol is a big part of Mim’s church family, it has also become part of my church family.

The more I think about my extended church family, the more I realize how big it really is. Beyond all the church family members I know personally, God’s family is described in the Bible this way:

Now you are no longer strangers to God and foreigners to heaven, but you are members of God’s very own family, citizens of God’s country, and you belong in God’s household with every other Christian. What a foundation you stand on now: the apostles and the prophets; and the cornerstone of the building is Jesus Christ himself! We who believe are carefully joined together with Christ as parts of a beautiful, constantly growing temple for God. And you also are joined with him and with each other by the Spirit, and are part of this dwelling place of God. [Ephesians 2:19-22 The Living Bible]

Spending last weekend with all the people celebrating the 150-year history of one small branch of God’s family in Minnesota reminded me of the Bill Gaither song, “The Family of God.” Here’s the chorus:

I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God
I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod;
For I’m part of the family, the family of God.

Gol Group Picture 125th

“Part of the family, the family of God”

Make My Day!

Gladys on right, with her sister Alice

Gladys on right, with her sister Alice

A few weeks ago I received a phone call from Gladys, one of my ninety-plus-year-old friends in Chicago. I had sent her a letter to tell her about the two books I’ve written, and she was calling to talk about them, as well as to bring Mim and me up to date with some changes in her life.

About 25 years ago, when Mim and I became members of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Chicago, Gladys was one of the first friends we made in the church. Gladys and her sister Alice, along with their husbands, were all very active members of the “Friendship Club” at Resurrection. Although the Friendship Club was essentially a seniors club at the church, the members of the Friendship Club were very friendly and welcoming to anyone who came to church.

Over the years, our friendship with Gladys has remained close through phone calls, letters, and occasional face-to-face visits in Chicago. The Friendship Club even took several trips to Wisconsin to visit with Mim and me.

A few years ago Gladys’ sister passed away. Their husbands had passed away several years before that. Now, Gladys is the only one left of the foursome. She still lives in her own home, but is unsure how much longer she can do that, primarily because she is nearly blind with macular degeneration. Despite the changes in her life over the past several years, Gladys maintains a very pleasant disposition. I’m inspired whenever I talk with her.

The Friendship Club visiting with us on our front porch during one of their annual day trips to Wisconsin for "Lunch with Mim and Marian."

The Friendship Club visiting with us on our front porch during one of their annual day trips to Wisconsin for “Lunch with Mim and Marian.” Alice and Gladys are 3rd and 4th from left.

As Gladys and I were talking on the phone a few weeks ago, she asked if I had given any consideration to having my books produced as “books on tape” for the blind. I was sorry to admit that I hadn’t even thought of that. But now I’ve been thinking about alternative ways of making books accessible to people with impaired vision. I started by checking out the “Text-to-Speech” option on my Kindle. I was surprised how well it worked. However, at least on my Kindle, it’s necessary to see the device well enough to control the starting and stopping of the reading. I’m not sure that giving a Kindle to Gladys is the best solution.

As I was thinking about this, I remembered a boss I had in the 1980s when I worked for Northwest Industries in Chicago. Allan volunteered as a reader at the Lighthouse for the Blind. Sometimes he recorded what he read. Other times he read face-to-face to someone who was eager to listen. I wish I could go and read my books to Gladys. But I know that’s not practical. A 270-mile round trip is a lot of time on the road, and a lot of gas, for an hour or two of reading.

But maybe I can be a little more sensitive to the needs of people closer to home. If I know of someone whose vision is no longer good enough to read, maybe I can find the time to go visit with them and read a little – either a story or two in one of my books, or better yet, another book that I haven’t read already so that we both will enjoy hearing a new story. Last year I went to see my Aunt Edith and I read to her a few times. We both really enjoyed those times together. Way back in 1986 when my mom lived with us in Chicago for several weeks before she passed away, I often read to her. Her favorite book (besides the Bible) at that time was The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. We laughed together a lot as I read the story. I wonder who else might enjoy some reading time…

On the subject of reading a new story, I just received some “book stubs” for Come, Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest from my publisher. A “book stub” is a plastic card, the size of a credit card, that contains a code that allows you to download one copy of the book in whatever e-book format you prefer (Kindle, Nook, iPad.). If you’d like a free copy of my book in e-book format, send me an email with your mailing address and I’ll send a book stub to you. (My supply is limited, so email me as soon as you can.)

You’ll make my day if you tell me that you’ll try to read at least some of the stories in my book to someone who cannot see well enough to read for themself. (But that’s not a requirement for getting a book stub – just ask me for it!)

Gladys Johnson

Gladys, one of the best kinds of friends –
a friend who inspires

Friends

Abbey-Marian

 

“Good morning, Abbey. You’re up bright and early this morning.”

“Yeah. Good morning, Mom. You moms sure got home late last night. I was waiting and waiting and waiting to talk with you, and when you finally came home, you went right to bed.”

Ann giving Abbey breakfast.

Ann giving Abbey breakfast.

“I’m sorry, Abbey. I didn’t know you wanted to talk. We had a wonderful day in Chicago yesterday, and we did stretch it a little more than we intended. I’ll tell you all about it, but first, tell me what you wanted to talk about all day yesterday.”

“Okay. I don’t know if you know it, or not, but every Sunday morning when you go to church, I spend some time thinking back over the previous week, and thinking ahead to what the upcoming week will bring. It’s my time for meditation.”

“I didn’t know that’s what you did, Abbey. That’s great!”

“Well yesterday, I thought a lot about the week in Boston, with the two bombings and everything that followed. It was a terrible tragedy. But, you know, I was SO PROUD of my cousins, the therapy dogs. They did such good work, comforting everyone in Boston from the injured and grieving to the police and other investigators, and everyone else in Boston who just couldn’t believe what was happening. My cousins did their jobs beautifully, showing everyone how to relax and take comfort knowing that we love them. You know, God created dogs for the primary purpose of demonstrating what real love is. I was so proud watching my cousins at work!”

Abbey welcoming Edith when she first came to live with us.

Abbey welcoming Edith when she first came to live with us.

“Yes, Abbey, your comfort dog cousins did beautiful work in Boston, just like you do beautiful work at home. I bet you spent time with Ann, letting her pet you, while we were gone yesterday.”

“Yup. I let her feed me, too. She likes that. She always tells me to chew my food and eat slowly. I don’t think she knows that every meal is a race for us dogs – to eat all our food before anyone else can get it. But she loves me, and I love her, too. Remember Edith? I loved her so much. I spent hours every day sitting by her side. And Patti. I crawled into bed with Patti to comfort her just a few days before she moved to heaven. Oh, and speaking of crawling into bed, remember how I used to wake Doris up every morning, by jumping in bed with her and licking her face until she woke up giggling! And Mary used to sneak me food from the table. I’ve had so many wonderful friends living here with you at Country Comforts Assisted Living.”

“Speaking of friends, Abbey, that’s why we went to Chicago yesterday, and why we came home so late. We went to the city to see lots of our old friends. We moved from Chicago to Wisconsin 21 years ago, but we still have lots of wonderful friends in Chicago. We started the day by going to Resurrection Lutheran Church. Before church started, we talked with a few old friends, then we worshiped together, and then we talked and talked and talked throughout coffee hour. We chatted with Gladys, Donna, May, Betsy, Brian, Harry, and we met some new people, too. It was so much fun to spend time with all these great friends, just like we used to do when we lived in Chicago.”

Abbey and Mary sharing a special moment together.

Abbey and Mary sharing a special moment together.

“Did you have time to eat any food, or did you just talk?”

“Oh, we took time to eat, too. And Gladys sent a coffee cake and some cookies home with us.”

“That’s good. What did you do next that kept you out so late?”

“We drove Gladys home from church. She’s in her 90s now, and doesn’t get around as easily as she used to. Then we drove a couple miles to North Park University, where Mim used to teach nursing. North Park was having a special service and reception to celebrate the 25-year anniversary of their chapter of Sigma Theta Tau, the International Honor Society of Nursing. Mim is a charter member of that organization, and she thought this would be a good opportunity to see some of her nursing colleagues. Did she ever talk a lot with them! We spent over three hours there. But one of her closest teaching buddies, Linda, wasn’t able to come to the event because she wasn’t feeling well. So Mim and I drove to her home in the suburbs to visit for a few minutes – which turned into an hour. Mim really enjoyed talking with all her old cronies. Then we came home.

Doris and Abbey comforting each other.

Doris and Abbey comforting each other.

“There’s an old saying that ‘Laughter is the best medicine.’ I agree that laughter is a good medicine, but I think friendship is an even better medicine. Both Mim and I were so refreshed by being with some of our old friends again for a few hours. There’s another old quote that I like. ‘Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.’ (Marcel Proust) Our souls are blossoming again after our wonderful day with friends yesterday.”

“That’s good to hear, Mom. I have a quote about friendship that I really like, too. ‘The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares.’ (Henry Nouwen) That’s the kind of friends dogs are.

“Abbey, I’m glad we’re not just family, we’re really good friends, too.”

“Me, too, Mom. And I’m thankful for all the new friends you bring home to live with us. Old friends, new friends, I love them all. That’s the way God made us dogs.”

Best friends and family.

Best friends and family.