Tag Archive | talking with God

The Little Books Are Here!

9b9cc55960ea3611d835b85b118f3ac4When I was a freshman in high school I went to a national convention in Washington D.C. sponsored by Youth For Christ (YFC). If I remember correctly, there were 10,000 high school kids from all over the country at this convention. The main speaker was Billy Graham. I had heard him speak before in Chicago, and I heard him speak again several times later. He was even our commencement speaker when I graduated from Wheaton College. But the one thing I remember most vividly from all the times I’ve heard Graham speak was at that YFC convention in Washington. He said that one of the most important things in his Christian life was spending time reading the Bible. Specifically, he said he read five Psalms and one Proverb every day, month after month, year after year. The Psalms helped him learn how to communicate with God, and the Proverbs helped him learn how to get along with people.

I remember I tried reading the Psalms and Proverbs every day for a few weeks after I heard him say that, but no magic lights went on. I didn’t quite understand what the Psalms and Proverbs really meant for me in my life as a high school student back in the 1960s. There are a few Psalms that I like reading, like Psalm 23 and Psalm 100. And there are a few verses that stand out, like:

Psalm 19:1 – The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.

Psalm 46:10 – Be still and know that I am God.

Psalm 51:10 – Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

But in general, I haven’t bothered reading either the Psalms or Proverbs very much in the 55 years since the day I heard Graham commend them so highly. That is, until I started working on my current writing project –  TALKING WITH GOD THROUGH MUSIC, a book of reflections on some of my favorite hymns.

As I started to organize my thoughts for this project, I made a list of over 300 of my favorite hymns, and then I started to do research into the historical background of each hymn and the Biblical references within each hymn. I was quite surprised to discover how prominent the Psalms were in what I was learning. I decided to make the first section of my writing project include only hymns that are based on scriptural references from the Psalms. I selected 31 of my favorite Psalm-based hymns for this section.

My original concept for this writing project was to write a 365-day devotional, with a 2-page spread for each hymn, with the first page being factual information and my reflections on the hymn and the second page being the melody line and lyrics. The 31 Psalm-based hymns would be the hymns for January. It has since dawned on me that a 730-page book is a bigger project than I want to undertake. My current vision for this project is to include 101 of my favorite hymns, with reflections on about 10 hymns for each of about 10 different themes – like peace, joy, comfort, etc. A book that’s a little over 200 pages will be much more manageable to write, and even to hold as you read it.

fullsizeoutput_22baAs I mentioned in my last blog post, I’ve decided to publish my 31 Psalm-based hymns as a separate book, a 68-page prototype of what my 101 favorite hymns book will look like. That spin-off project is now completed. If you would like a FREE copy of this little book, please send me your mailing address, and I’ll be happy to send you one. After you have had a chance to look at the prototype, I would appreciate your sending me any suggestions you may have for how to make the next book better. The last page of the book provides details on how to send feedback.

Meanwhile, an unexpected personal benefit to me of this writing project is that I think I understand a little more of what Billy Graham meant 55 years ago when he talked about the importance of reading the Psalms for learning how to communicate more deeply with God. I’ve gone back to looking at the Psalms again – both in the Bible and in hymnals. Maybe, you will find that reading TALKING WITH GOD THROUGH MUSIC: Reflections on My Favorite Psalm-Based Hymns will provide you with a similar unexpected benefit.

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Being Robbed

Blogger Linda Swanson - "Journey in Process" blog

“Journey in Process” is one of about a half-dozen blogs I follow. Linda Swanson in the blogger.

“I will not be robbed!” was the title of a blog post written by Linda Swanson for her blog, Journey in Process. Linda is a spiritual director who works mostly with missionaries all around the globe. She currently lives in New Jersey. She and her husband, Kevin, who is a pilot and a pastor, have spent most of their careers working for Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), an aviation and technology service focused on providing support to missionaries.

During the year that I have been following Linda’s blog, she has traveled extensively, speaking at several retreats and conferences, mostly for missionaries in Africa and Asia. She’s back in New Jersey now, and a couple weeks ago she wrote about being robbed at her new home and how she reacted to being robbed. That blog post reminded me of the times that I have been robbed, and how being robbed made me feel.

Telephone TableThe first time I was robbed I was in high school. There was a small telephone table in the dining room that I used as the space for dropping my books and purse when I came home from school. I also left a few of my things on that table – like pens and notepads. Sometimes I left some money there, if I didn’t want to have it with me in school.

One day, I remember I left two one-dollar bills on the table.  When I came home from school that day, the money wasn’t there. I asked my brother Danny about it, and he didn’t know anything was missing. When I mentioned it to my mom and dad, my dad said that around noon that day, he saw one of our neighbors come out of the house. (We never kept the door locked.) Dad had walked up to the house from the barn to see what the neighbor wanted, and the neighbor said something about wanting to borrow a tool – but my dad said the situation seemed a little suspicious. The visitor was a new neighbor that no one really trusted yet. Together Mom, Dad, and I concluded that the neighbor had probably come to the house to see my dad about something, and had decided to walk into the house and look around since no one appeared to be home. He probably saw the two one-dollar bills and slipped them into his pocket. My family never did trust that neighbor.

2 one-dollar bills 2 croppedWe did not confront the apparent thief. Mom said I should consider $2 the cost of the lesson I was learning about leaving money lying around in the open. Two dollars may not seem like much now, but back then it was two weeks’ allowance. I felt bad about the money, but I felt particularly bad that the reason I lost the money was that I was careless about where I kept it. I did learn a lesson.

The second time I was robbed I was living in Chicago with Mim and two other women – Marlene and Maurine. We were the four M’s. We lived on the first floor of a large vintage two-flat in a nice neighborhood. One beautiful summer night we left the windows open in the sun room. The next morning we discovered that two of our bicycles had been stolen from the sun room. The thieves had simply cut the screen, climbed inside, chosen the two bikes they wanted to steal, lifted them out the window, and probably rode off on them. We were fortunate they just wanted a couple bikes. They could have walked off with a lot more of our possessions. But I remember feeling spooked – knowing that while I had been sleeping, a couple strangers had been in our apartment. I was a little scared.  I learned a lesson that day, too – don’t leave first floor windows open at night in a city.

This 26-inch 3-speed Schwinn bicycle had been my a really special present I received on my 10th birthday.

My 3-speed Schwinn bicycle was one of the bikes that was stolen. My parents had given it to me on my 10th birthday.

I was almost robbed a third time, but I caught the thief in the act. I was climbing up the steps of the “L” in downtown Chicago. It was about 5:00 Friday evening, and the stairs and platform were crowded with everyone rushing to go home from work. As I reached out my hand to hold the swinging door to the “L” platform I turned to look back at the person behind me to be sure he would grab the door after me and not get slammed in the face. I saw that he was holding my wallet as he was removing his hand from my purse, a shoulder bag. He was startled to see me look at him, and he dropped the wallet back into the purse. When I got through the door onto the platform, I walked as fast as I could to get as far away from him as possible. Again, I was scared, but very thankful. That’s when I learned to use a small purse and keep it inside my completely closed briefcase.

L platformMim has been robbed twice. The first time, she had met me in the loop after work so that we could do a little Christmas shopping. As we walked from the Sears Tower to State Street we passed some kids who were laughing and jumping around on the street. A couple of them bumped into us, but we just smiled and kept walking. Everyone was having a good time, enjoying the spirit of Christmas. However, when we were in a store and Mim reached in her purse for her wallet to make her first purchase, she discovered that her wallet was missing. I paid for the present she was buying, but then we went home and called the police and filed the report. Unfortunately, in this case, Mim also had to notify credit card companies and get a new driver’s license. This robbery wasn’t particularly costly to us, but it was the biggest nuisance.

concrete flower pot w petuniasThe oddest robbery we’ve experienced was also in Chicago. Mim had just finished planting a big concrete pot with petunias and other annuals to sit on the ledge beside the front steps of our two-flat. She went around to the back of the house to put her garden tools away. When she came back to the front of the house to admire her handiwork, the pot was gone. In less than five minutes, someone had stolen Mim’s big flower pot. It had to be a strong person, because the concrete pot filled with potting soil and live plants and soaked with water was heavy. I can’t imagine that someone would steal a freshly planted flower pot to enjoy for the summer.

In all five of these robberies, we were a little shaken. I googled “robbed quotes” to see if someone could express more clearly than I can what our feelings were about being robbed. The closest quote to how I felt was by the British actor John Boyega. He said, “Being robbed hurts – not physically, but from what it does to your pride.” I guess I would substitute “sense of security” for the word “pride.” Being robbed makes you feel vulnerable and a little scared. In our cases, we also felt thankful that the losses weren’t greater.

What Linda said in her blog was,

Linda SwansonRobbed. I don’t know what to do with that word. When I woke this morning, I felt the power of that word start to do a color wash of gray over my perceptions of our new home, our new neighborhood. I lay in bed much longer than normal feeling the word, recognizing where it wanted to take my thoughts and conclusions, assumptions and presumptions. And, I decided not to go there.… Life will only be right if I remember where my security really comes from, that my joy and contentment are based on my relationship with God and not my circumstances.

Thanks, Linda, for reminding me of what it feels like to be robbed, and prompting me to be grateful again that my security really comes from God.

The Goose Family is Home Again! Happy Spring!

3 in pondI got up from my desk and walked over to the patio door. “Oh, look, Floey, the Goose Family has returned.” A goose made a big splash as it landed on the water. The honking got even louder as another goose landed. “That looks like Gilbert and Gloria. Let’s go out and welcome them.”

“Who in the world are they?” asked Floey. “And what in the world are they?”

“Oh, that’s right, Floey. You’ve never met them. I’ll introduce you. Oh, look, here comes one more. That must be Grace. I bet Gregory won’t be far behind.”

I clipped Floey’s leash onto her collar and opened the patio door. Even though the sun was shining, it was a little cool to go outside without a jacket, but I couldn’t wait.

Floey looking at pond w ice“Welcome home, Gilbert! Hello, Grace! Hi Gloria! So good to see you again! Where’s Gregory?”

“Hi, Marian,” honked Grace. “Gregory will be here soon. He was busy teaching some of his favorite Lenten hymns to some teenage geese out in the countryside. He told us to go ahead and that he’d catch up with us later.”

Gilbert swam over close to the edge of the pond where Floey and I were standing. “Where’s Abbey? And, who is the new pup?”

1 walking on ice“It’s so good to see you again, Gilbert. This is Floey, short for Florence Nightingale, the nurse. Come on, Floey, you don’t need to hide behind my legs. The goose family shares the pond with us every summer. They’re wonderful neighbors.”

Floey peeked out from behind my legs. “Nice to meet you,” she said, but she stayed very close to me.

Gloria swam over to join our conversation. “Nice to meet you, too, Floey. But I’m anxious to tell Abbey all about our trip. Is she inside?”

“I’m afraid not, Gloria. Abbey joined her friends and family in heaven last November. She brightened our lives for eight years, but then she had to go home. Floey joined us shortly afterwards.”

Gloria responded, “So sorry to hear about Abbey. She was my best dog friend ever.” Gloria looked off into the distance for a moment. Then she turned back and looked directly at Floey. “I’m glad to meet you, Floey. I’m sure we’ll become good friends, too. Do you like to sing?”

Floey facing camera - icy pond behindFloey smiled. “I love to sing. And I have a really wide range – all the way from bass to soprano! Really! And I can sing every note in between, too. Listen…” She started with a low growl, then barked a few notes in her midrange, and ended with a howl that kept going higher and higher.

“Wow! We’ll be glad to have you sing with us,” she said to Floey with a smile. Then, she turned to me and said, “You know what song I think of whenever I’m sad, or when I think about a really good friend, like Abbey, who’s no longer with us? I think of ‘Near to the Heart of God’ by Cleland B. McAfee.”

Gilbert looked at Gloria, and nodded his head. Together they sang the first verse and refrain,

There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where sin cannot molest,
Near to the heart of God.

O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God,
Hold us, who wait before Thee,
Near to the heart of God.

Grace heard Gilbert and Gloria singing and she swam over to join them for the second verse.

There is a place of comfort sweet,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where we our Savior meet,
Near to the heart of God.

As the goose trio was singing the second verse, another goose circled overhead, and then splashed down onto the pond. It was Gregory. He cleared his throat, looked knowingly at the three singers, and then sang the third verse as a solo.

There is a place of full release,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where all is joy and peace,
Near to the heart of God.

The four of them sang the final refrain together, a perfectly blended 4-part choir. Both Floey and I had tears in our eyes when they finished. I said, “That was just beautiful. I’m so glad you are all back home with us. Welcome, Gregory. Now that you’re all here, I know spring has come.”

“Sorry we couldn’t make it for the beginning of Lent like we usually do,” honked Gregory. “This has been a terrible winter, and we just couldn’t fly north for the longest time. We started out several times, but we always had to turn around and go back south. I’m sure glad we’re finally here.”

“That’s right,” chimed in Grace. “There’s no better place than the Whispering Winds Pond to sing all those wonderful Lenten hymns. They are such good reminders of how much God loves us. I think we need to get busy singing some more. It will be Easter in less than two weeks, and, as I recall, there are 81 hymns in the Whispering Winds Lenten songbook, ‘Songs about the Love of God.’ Now that we’re all here, I think we should start with ‘Let’s Just Praise the Lord.’ That should warm us up good. Floey, why don’t you sing soprano on this one…”

4 geese on pond

Why Was I Created?

Over the last few years I’ve had the practice of starting the day with reading from two or three devotional books by my favorite inspirational writers. This year I’m reading:

  • The Monastic Way by Joan Chittister (a pamphlet that comes monthly, with the readings of each month based on a common theme),
  • Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith by Henri Nouwen, and
  • Through the Year with Jimmy Carter: 366 Daily Meditations from the 39th President.

I’ve mentioned some of the readings by Chittister and Nouwen in my blog, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned the Jimmy Carter book – until today.

Through the Year with Jimmy CarterI picked up this book at The Frugal Muse used bookstore last December, and I thought it might provide an interesting addition to my morning meditations. The blurb on the back of the book said, “Unique among the multitude of daily devotional books, Through the Year with Jimmy Carter combines the grace and wisdom of a deeply spiritual Bible study with personal stories and prayers for each day of the year, all drawn from the Sunday school lessons former president Jimmy Carter taught – and the life lessons God taught him.”

Last week, one of the readings was especially interesting. The title of the reading was “Called by God.” It started with this Bible verse: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” [Jeremiah 1:5] Then Carter cited a nationwide poll that had been published by USA TODAY. The question asked in the poll was, “If you could come face-to-face with God what would you ask?” The most popular responses fascinated me:

6%          How long will I live?
7%          Is there intelligent life elsewhere?
16%        Why do bad things happen?
19%        Is there life after death?
34%        Why was I created? What should I do with my life?

Carter commented, “Just as God had told Jeremiah, ‘I knew you in the womb, and even then I had a purpose for you,’ so God knew us in the womb and has a unique purpose for us.”

I told Mim about this poll, and she mentioned the popularity of the book The Purpose-Driven Life a few years ago. She wasn’t surprised that the most popular question people would ask God is what their purpose in life is. People want to know if there is a purpose for their life.

I remember thinking about that question a lot when I was in high school and college – what was I supposed to become? Or, what was God’s purpose for my life? Or, does God really have a plan for my life – or can I figure out for myself what I want to do with my life?

Marian TDS Caricature

Caricature of me created by a roving artist at a corporate Christmas party during my TDS years.

My ideas on that question have changed over the years. One of the most significant conversations I had with myself about the purpose of my life happened when I was working as a manager of financial systems at Telephone and Data Systems (TDS), a large privately-held telecommunications corporation. I wasn’t particularly happy in that job, mainly because I was routinely working 60 or more hours per week for the sole purpose of making more money for the Carlsons – the very wealthy family who owned the corporation. I didn’t see that any social good was being accomplished by all my efforts. I was convinced I was wasting my life by doing that job. When I reached that conclusion, I started to seriously look for another job. After having two interviews with the State about a position that sounded like a good fit for my skills and interests, I was pretty sure I would be offered the job, so I quit TDS. I didn’t want to waste any more of my life doing meaningless work for the Carlsons.

Oops… I didn’t get offered that state job. I guess I failed to convince the State that I was as good a fit as I thought I was… Which leads me to what Joan Chittister was prompting me to think about last week. The theme for the month of March is failure. The quote she is focusing upon is by St. Teresa of Avila, “To reach something good, it is useful to have gone astray.”

Chittister’s comment on Monday of last week was, “Failure is what teaches us that we belong somewhere else. Only by embracing this new possibility can we become the fullness of ourselves.”

When I failed to get the state job, I decided to spend a few months working full-time with Mim to turn our farmhouse into a bed and breakfast, and to do a little small business consulting on the side. That was 17 years ago. Our business, Korth-Jacobson LLC, has evolved over the years as Mim and I have recognized needs and opportunities to live the lives we think God wants us to live – and that we want to live. My unwillingness to stay in a job that seemed like a waste of time, coupled with my failure to get another job, gave us the opportunity to explore being self-employed – to explore doing the things in life we felt called to do.

Welcoming guests to our bed and breakfast

Welcoming guests to our bed and breakfast in the late 1990s

Thanks to Jimmy Carter and Joan Chittister, that’s what I’ve been thinking about over the past week – the purpose of my life and the importance of the failures in my life – so far. And there’s still more to go… I’m sure I’ll experience more failures before I die, and I expect I’ll gain more insights into what God wants me to do with the life I have left on earth. (I hope there’s some time left for retirement!)

Dinnertime

Abbey Hungry 05-12-08

Abbey used to let us know when she was really hungry by bringing us her metal dish – and dropping it on the kitchen floor, making a clatter capable of waking the neighbors.

I guess today is a good day to talk about dinnertime. It’s Mardi Gras – Fat Tuesday – a time of feasting the day before beginning a forty-day fast for Lent. Mim and I are planning to go out for a musical feast tonight – an organ recital by Thomas Trotter (a fantastic organist from England) at the Overture Center in Madison. We’ll probably stop at Culver’s for a cheeseburger and fries on our way there. If the flavor-of-the-day is really good, we might splurge on a small dish of custard – but only if it’s a really good flavor. The real feast of the evening will be musical.

Bread for the Journey coverOver the past few days I’ve been reading about “the meal that makes us family and friends” in the book Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith by Henri J. M. Nouwen. The reflection for February 15 in this daily devotional book started with these words:

We all need to eat and drink to stay alive. But having a meal is more than eating and drinking. It is celebrating the gifts of life we share. A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events. Around the table we become vulnerable, filling one another’s plates and cups and encouraging one another to eat and drink. Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst. Around the table we become family, friends, community, yes, a body.

During most of my growing up years, Sunday dinner, eaten about 1:00 p.m., was the most special meal of the week. My mom usually put a roast in the oven before we left for Sunday school so that it would be almost ready when we got home from church, between 12:15 and 12:30. Mom had the potatoes peeled and waiting in the pressure cooker.  She turned the burner on to start the potatoes and grabbed a package of our own garden vegetables from the freezer, either corn or green beans. While the potatoes and vegetables were cooking Mom made gravy, and last of all she mashed the potatoes. My job was to bake some refrigerator rolls and set the table. Then the whole family gathered around the table, Danny and I said the “Come, Lord Jesus” prayer, and we ate and talked and laughed together. Often my Grandma Kenseth joined us for this meal. The meal ended with a dessert of homemade cookies, cake, or pie – and always ice cream.

What made this meal so special every week was that it was the only meal we all ate together. My dad was usually in the barn milking cows when the rest of us ate breakfast, and also when we ate supper. On weekdays, my dad was the only one home at noon. My mom was at work in Madison, and Danny and I were in school. Sunday dinner was the special time to eat together.  Besides sharing the meal, it was also a time for the whole family to be involved in conversation. I guess those Sunday dinners were pretty instrumental in forming our identity as a family.

In 1973, when I first met Mim and she invited me to share her apartment with her until I could find an apartment of my own in Chicago, Mim and I went out for dinner at the Buffalo Ice Cream Parlor (for cheeseburgers and hot fudge sundaes) to get to know each other a little, and to clarify our expectations as roommates. One of the rules Mim insisted on is that we eat meals together whenever possible, and that we would share equally in the cost of all groceries. I think Mim’s concerns were mostly about not wanting to keep track of which food belonged to each of us. But as Nouwen suggests, “Around the table we become family, friends, community, yes, a body.” Maybe Mim had an inkling of how important it is to share mealtime.

Mim and me, ready to sit down for Easter dinner in the dining room of our apartment in Chicago. We’re still dressed up from church.

Sharing meal time provides an opportunity for developing relationships better than almost any other activity. I was surprised to learn that this is true even for business meals. When I worked for Northwest Industries in Chicago I frequently had to travel on business. During those years I ate plenty of restaurant meals alone. I usually went to the restaurant with a notebook to outline plans and draft reports while I ate. But whenever I went out to dinner with a business associate instead of eating alone, I found that I got to know the person beyond the business context. By “celebrating the gifts of life we share” together over a meal, a genuine friendship usually developed. Meal time truly was a special time, even on business.

Twenty-some years later when Mim and I turned our farmhouse in Cambridge into Country Comforts Bed & Breakfast, we made the decision to have all our guests eat breakfast together around the dining room table. As our guests ate, we stayed in the dining room to refill coffee cups and to be sure food was passed around the table, and also to encourage conversation among all the guests. (We usually had four to eight guests at a time.)  One morning, near the end of breakfast, I remember a young man said, “I was dreading this breakfast – having to eat together with strangers, but I’m really enjoying it. I feel like we’re all friends.”

B&B Guests at breakfast

B&B guests at breakfast in our farmhouse

When we changed Country Comforts B&B into Country Comforts Assisted Living, we changed from sharing our breakfast time to sharing all meal times except breakfast. Mim and I and our residents all like to start our day at different times, so we each eat breakfast on our own. But lunch and dinner are always shared meals. I think that is a big part of what transforms our residents from being strangers living under the same roof into becoming caring family members of the Country Comforts family.

Sharing a meal with our Country Comforts family

Sharing a meal with our Country Comforts family

Today’s reading from Nouwen says, “The table is one of the most intimate places in our lives. It is there that we give ourselves to one another…. We invite our friends to become part of our lives. We want them to be nurtured by the same food and drink that nurture us.”

I’m glad Nouwen’s book prompted me to think about meal time. Whether we’re feasting for Fat Tuesday or eating more modest meals throughout Lent, it’s good to remember that “A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events…. Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst.”

Our extended family gathered around our extended table for Thanksgiving dinner in Chicago, 1984.

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.

 

 

More on that Reflection in the Mirror – and in the Photo

Floey sitting w patio door reflectionIn last week’s blog post I wrote about Floey’s reaction to seeing her reflection, and I changed the words of a familiar old song to “How Mean is that Doggie in the Mirror?” Then, personalizing it, I rewrote the simple lyrics again with the words “How Kind is that Person in the Mirror?” This week Floey and I have some more thoughts about reflections that we see of ourselves…

This time of year is significant for our family, and I was talking with Floey about that on Saturday. “Hey, Floey, do you know what today is?”

Floey-Marian faces selfie 2“I sure do, Mom! It’s the second day of my one-year birthday celebration. You do know I have a 2-day birthday, don’t you?”

“Well, I guess you might say that,” I replied. “Your adoption record says you were born on January 23, 2014, but your first vet record has a hand-written birthdate that is either January 24 or January 29 – I can’t tell for sure. So I guess we could celebrate your birthday throughout January 23 and 24, if you’d like.”

“Yup. That’s what I want to do – every year – a 2-day celebration!” she said with her tail wagging.

“OK, that’s what we’ll do,” I told her. Then I added, “You chose a really special time of year to be born, Floey, at least for our family.”

“Really? What else is special – besides my birthday?”

“We celebrate the nine days from January 24 to February 1 every year. On February 1, 1973 I met Mim in a small group Bible study, and she invited me to share her apartment with her until I could find a place of my own. I never moved out. On February 1 of this year we will have lived together 42 years.”

“Wow! That’s 294 dog years!” Floey exclaimed. “But what happened on January 24 that gives you reason to celebrate all those days between January 24 and February 1?”

“On January 24, 1989 – 26 years ago – Mim and I had a Blessing Ceremony. It was our time to publicly declare our love for each other and to promise to love and care for each other for the rest of our lives. Our Lutheran pastor performed the ceremony. Our attorney was there with our wills and power of attorney documents to be signed and witnessed for us to convey to each other as many ‘spousal rights’ as we could.”

“Does that mean that you’re really married? That we’re really a family forever?”

Floey-Marian working at desk 2“Of course it does, Floey. But for legal purposes we had a legal wedding in Minnesota a year and a half ago. That’s another date we celebrate – September 15.”

“I’m sure glad I joined this family! We celebrate a lot!”

“We sure do, and the nine-day stretch of January 24 through February 1 is the special time we’re celebrating right now.”

“Hey, we can make it a ten-day celebration, by having it begin with my birthday!”

“I guess we can, Floey. But now, maybe you can help me pick out some pictures to use. I want to create an anniversary card for Mim. I’ve got lots of old photos to choose from.”

Ch-1 MM front of Xmas treeFloey stared at an old photo. “Is that really you, Mom? It can’t be. Those two young women look really happy, but they don’t look very wise. And they are long-haired people. Were you and Mim ever long-haired?”

“Yes, Floey. We were both long-haired people when we were in our twenties. Can’t you see any resemblance to us at all in this picture?”

“I don’t know, Mom.”

MM 1988 church picture cropped“Well, how about this picture. It was taken about 15 years later for the church directory. We knew we had found the right church when the pastor said that of course we could have our picture taken together as a family for the church directory. That’s the pastor who married us with a blessing ceremony a couple years later. Here’s a picture from the ceremony.”

BC-1 MM Steve“I guess I can see you in that picture. Old pictures give funny reflections of who you are, don’t they. They aren’t quite like mirrors. Or maybe we can say they are mirrors that reflect our history.”

“You’re right, Floey. That’s a good way to say it.”

I flipped through some more pictures in the photo album. Floey jumped up and said, “Is that you and Mim holding that blond puppy?”

Ch-1 MM Megabyte on couch“Yes. That’s Megabyte. About a year after our blessing ceremony we adopted our first dog. We were ready for our family to grow. A year later we adopted our second dog, Maia. She’s in this next picture along with Megabyte and Mim’s mom who lived with us for five years.”

M-M-Selma-Meg-Maia cropped“I’m glad you have these family pictures so I can see my older sisters and see all the love that has been shared in my family.”

“I’m glad you can see the love in these family pictures. That’s what I really hope these reflections of our family life over the years show. The next picture is only a couple years old – so you should easily recognize us. It’s a family portrait with Abbey, our last dog before you came to us. Do you think we still look as happy as we did on our first picture? And have we started to look wise yet?”

PID 445601 Back Cover Family Portrait“Oh, Mom, I can see love and happiness in all of these pictures. I think there might be some wisdom starting to show too – in the gray hair and the extra weight (probably gained by sitting around pondering life’s mysteries). But you don’t have any family pictures with me in them yet. When can we get our picture taken together?”

Mim-Floey-Marian 01-06-15“That will happen soon. Remember I took that selfie a couple weeks ago. Pretty soon we’ll start taking more pictures. We want our photo history to reflect as much of the love and joy in our lives as possible.

“I guess I need to write another verse for our doggie song.”

How loving is that family in the photo?
The one with the moms and the dogs.
How loving is that family in the photo?
I hope they’re still keeping photo logs.

“That’s kind of a strange lyric, Mom. Can’t you do better than that?”

“Well, Floey, what words can you think of that rhyme with ‘dogs’?”

“I see what you mean. I’ll stick with ‘woof, woof’ – that always rhymes.”

Floey adoption photo