In the middle of my 11-day getaway a couple weeks ago, I drove home to Cambridge to have Sunday brunch with Mim and my other cohort in big adventures, Ellen Kogstad. Ellen was in Wisconsin for a wedding, so I jumped at the chance to have a few hours together to catch up on our lives over eggs florentine at a new favorite restaurant in nearby Fort Atkinson.
Mim and I met Ellen 33 years ago, when we lived in Chicago. I was a newly minted MBA, earning a living in the big corporate world high up in the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower). But I was trying to do something more meaningful with my business skills by volunteering on the board of Circle Christian Health Center (CCHC), a medical clinic starting up on the far west side of Chicago, a medically under-served area of the city. At the time, Mim was nursing director of the clinic. One of the three founding physicians of CCHC was Emily Bray who had been my roommate at Wheaton College in the late 1960s.
Ellen had heard about me through my role on the CCHC board, and she wanted to meet me. She had a vision for a new ministry and she was getting her ducks in a row. The problem Ellen wanted to address was the growing number of teen moms who were homeless and were struggling to care for their babies. Ellen had been trying to help them on her own by keeping the trunk of her car filled with diapers and formula. She also hosted drop-in groups of new moms and their babies in her apartment. But she knew she couldn’t do enough alone to seriously address the problems these very young women and their children were facing. To do more she realized she needed to create a non-profit organization broadly focused on addressing all the needs of homeless teen moms and their children. She wanted me to join the board of directors she was trying to form to help create the organization.
That was the first big adventure Ellen and I took on together, along with several other people who were inspired by Ellen’s vision. I served as treasurer on the board for a few years and tried to keep the finances of the struggling new ministry somewhat organized. My mom wanted to help, too. She crocheted lots of baby afghans to help keep the babies warm. (I’ll admit I didn’t pass all the afghans on to New Moms. I kept out enough to be sure her grandchildren would have afghans for their own babies.)
Meanwhile, over the past 30 years, New Moms has grown into an amazing ministry. Last year the organization served over 500 adolescent parents and children – a whole lot more than Ellen could possibly help out of the trunk of her car! (To learn more about this amazing organization, explore their website: http://newmomsinc.org/.)
After getting New Moms off to a good start, Ellen went a different direction. She currently is Adjunct Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation at North Park Seminary in Chicago and is a frequent workshop leader. She also has returned to New Moms part time and serves as Director of Spiritual Formation.
Over the years our paths haven’t crossed many times, but in late 2008 we decided to become cohorts again and do another big adventure together. Mim and I had moved to our condo in mid-2007 with the intention of selling our farmhouse. After a year and a half, the house was still sitting empty, and I knew that couldn’t be God’s plan for this beautiful resource – to be unused. Mim and I sent out our annual Christmas letter and solicited ideas about what to do with our farmhouse throughout the economic recession when houses weren’t selling. Ellen called us right away and we scheduled a time for a long telephone conversation on the last day of the year – December 31, 2008.
In that conversation, Ellen shared her vision for our farmhouse – a spiritual retreat center. We talked excitedly for a couple hours, and then scheduled a weekend at the farmhouse to pray and dream and plan together. That was the beginning of Whispering Winds Retreat Haven. I became the primary hands-on person to transform the idea into a real ministry, with prayers and support from Ellen and Mim. For the next four years Whispering Winds Retreat Haven was a bed-and-breakfast-style retreat center that provided hospitality to hundreds of individuals and small groups. Whispering Winds became “A place to be still and be renewed by the Spirit. A place to relax in the peace and quiet of the country.”
At brunch on Sunday Ellen, Mim, and I had a lot of things to talk about, and we had a wonderful time. No plans for another big adventure together – yet…
Since “Gratitude” is my special word for this year, I’ve been thinking about how grateful I am for people, like Ellen, who have come into my life. Of all the millions of people living in Chicago, what are the odds that Ellen and I would ever meet? Pretty slim. Fortunately, there happened to be one critical intersection on our life pathways. Because I was a new MBA serving on the board of a struggling non-profit medical clinic, Ellen heard about me, and she took the initiative to find me and introduce herself. I wonder who told her about me – so I can thank that person. But since I don’t know who that person is – I guess I can thank the one who is ultimately responsible for all grand adventures – God.