Tag Archive | thankful

Gratitude and Surprises

Gratitude words“Gratitude” has been an interesting word to think about for a whole year. Last December when I chose “Gratitude” to be my special word to ponder for 2015 (instead of making any New Year’s Resolutions), I had no idea how much my perspective on everyday life would be altered by thinking about being grateful every single day.

Gratitude jar with note

The first entry in my Gratitude Jar

As you may recall from my blog posts early in the year, I put a “Gratitude Jar” on my desk with the intention of writing down things I was grateful for every day, and stuffing the jar with these notes. I envisioned a jar overflowing with notes by the end of the year.

I just emptied the jar and I had a pretty small handful of notes. After the first week of looking at the jar, I decided I needed to create a little form on the note paper to make it easier to quickly jot down what I was grateful for. When that didn’t trigger me to write things down on a daily basis, I decided I needed to move the jar from my desk to my easy chair where I read my devotional materials. Obviously that didn’t help either. I guess having a “Gratitude Jar” didn’t easily fit into my routine. It seemed like a good idea, but it really didn’t help me.

However, what has worked well for me all year is to think about whatever I’m grateful for every night when I go to bed. This has become a habit that is the best new thing for me in 2015. I don’t limit myself to being grateful only at bedtime – more and more often these thoughts come into my mind during the day, too.

Towards the end of November, around Thanksgiving, several of the daily readings in Sarah Young’s JESUS CALLING book are about being thankful. On November 25, she paraphrases Jesus as saying:

Thank Me frequently as you journey through today. This practice makes it possible to pray without ceasing, as the apostle Paul taught. …

When your mind is occupied with thanking Me, you have no time for worrying or complaining. If you practice thankfulness consistently, negative thought patterns will gradually grow weaker and weaker. Draw near to Me with a grateful heart, and My Presence will fill you with Joy and Peace.

Yesterday in church Pastor Jeff described us as being big winners in the cosmic lottery. He encouraged us to open our eyes and be grateful for all the blessings we have received. To emphasize the point he sang the old camp song, “Rise and Shine and Give God the Glory.” That’s kind of what having “Gratitude” as my special word for the day has been helping me do throughout 2015 – to open my eyes to recognize and be thankful for all kinds of blessings in my life every day.

Marian at organ - tall picYesterday was a day of surprises for me – surprises to be grateful for. I went to church alone because Mim was away at a timeshare in Wisconsin Dells for a few days. Before the service started I was sitting at the organ getting my music set up. I looked back at the entrance to the sanctuary, and there came Mim. She had woken up early and decided to drive from the Dells to Madison for the service. Seeing her walk through the entrance was a nice surprise for me.

After church we decided to go out for brunch before Mim drove back to the Dells and I drove home. We were headed toward a Perkins Restaurant, but when we drove by a Hy-Vee Food Store I said, “Don’t they serve breakfast?” Mim said, “I think they do.” So I turned into the Hy-Vee parking lot.

The host was about to seat us in a booth when we saw Kay and Lynn, two women from church, sitting in the next booth, and they invited us to join them. They had just placed their order, so it was good timing.

We sat down and the waitress came right back. She looked at me and said, “I know you.” She was a little familiar to me, but I couldn’t place her. Then she said something about Chaplain Julia, and I remembered. She had been an inmate at the county jail, and we had gotten to know each other from my playing the piano for the women’s worship service in the jail chapel. She told me that she has been out of jail for two full years now, with no relapses. She has stayed sober and she has a job working at Hy-Vee. It was great to see her again, and to hear that she’s doing well. That was another great surprise of the day for me.

One of the things we always do in jail worship services is pray for each other. We sit in a circle, and we go around the circle, praying out loud for the person sitting on our right. I’m sure this waitress and I have prayed for each other many times. Seeing each other today was a totally unexpected reunion! I’m so thankful that Mim and I spontaneously decided to try out Hy-Vee for brunch as we “just happened” to drive by.

Gratitude Jar 11-30-15When I got home and started to write this blog, I pulled the handful of notes out of my “Gratitude Jar” and re-read them. The note dated March 31, 2015 said, “My heart is full of gratitude for people who pray with me and for me! Especially inmates!” I smiled when I read that. Life is full of blessings and surprises.

Yes. “Gratitude” was a good word to focus on this year. And, Sarah Young was right when she paraphrased Jesus saying, “Draw near to Me with a grateful heart, and My Presence will fill you with Joy and Peace.”

Gratitude bird

Gratitude for Thanksgivings Past

Mim - Blue Sky - adj

Mim

One day last week when Mim and I were out walking Floey, Mim asked me, “Are you looking forward to Thanksgiving this year?” I thought for a minute, and then replied, “Not really. I’m not dreading it, but I’m not excited about it. We don’t really have any special plans. Oh, we’ll have a nice dinner at home, but we’re not expecting a house full of friends and relatives, like has been the case for many Thanksgivings in the past. But Mim’s question got me thinking about Thanksgivings Past…

We don’t have a family Thanksgiving tradition that we’ve followed for years and years. We usually have a big turkey dinner, although Mim just reminded me of one Thanksgiving on the farm during our B&B days when we spent the day cleaning up the yard and we put a pizza in the oven for our big dinner when the work was done.

When we lived in Chicago we established a tradition for several years of having a big family dinner in our two-flat. Mim’s mom came down from Minnesota and spent a week or so with us. My mom and dad came down from Cambridge and spent the 4-day weekend with us. My brother and his family and my sister and her family all came down for the day.

Family at Thanksgiving in ChicagoWe fixed the traditional turkey dinner and served 20-25 people. We arranged our dining room table and several folding tables into a T-shape so that we could all fit around the “same table.” Our downstairs neighbor joined us and contributed the stuffing. It was a fun family gathering, although a bit chaotic to get that many people seated together in a moderate size dining room. My mom gave me a double set of stainless steel “silverware” for Christmas after our first Thanksgiving in Chicago so that we wouldn’t have to borrow from our neighbor next time. My mom felt that everyone should have enough china and silverware to serve a sit-down dinner for as many guests as they invite, even if it’s 24 guests – regardless of the size of their dining room. You can always squeeze a couple more people around a table, but everyone needs their own place setting.

Since Mim and I have lived in Wisconsin (since 1992), we haven’t had a regular pattern for Thanksgiving. Sometimes we’ve gone to my brother’s for a Thanksgiving dinner; sometimes to my sister’s; sometimes both! Sometimes we’ve hosted family and friends of our assisted living residents. All of these Thanksgiving dinners have been times of being thankful for good food and for the wonderful people who are a part of our lives.

My happiest Thanksgiving memories of all come from the time when I was a child and I was helping my mom get everything ready for the big dinner. Usually there would be about a dozen people all together for dinner. My first job of the morning was to crawl under the dining room table to unlatch the lever so that the table could be pulled open for two leaves to be put in place. Next Mom and I would put on the lace tablecloth together. Then I set the table with the “good dishes” and silverware. My next job was to carry up folding chairs from the basement and set them around the table, interspersed with the regular dining chairs. If needed, I added the piano stool and organ bench. Two kids could sit together on the bench.

roast turkeyMom never thought she knew how to roast a big turkey, so the Cambridge Bakery took care of that for her. All we had to do was have someone go to the bakery to pick it up when we were ready to eat. That was Dad’s job. Mom fixed all the rest of the food – potatoes, gravy, stuffing, corn, squash, green beans or peas, cranberries, fruit salad, clover-leaf rolls, and pumpkin pie. The beverages were apple cider (from a cousin’s apple orchard in Lake Mills) and coffee.

nut cupsJust helping Mom get all the food ready was fun. We worked together well. She told me what to do, and I knew how to follow directions. But the absolutely best job of all for me was filling the nut cups. That’s what made Thanksgiving special. Nut cups. I don’t know why that tradition has fallen out of favor these days. It’s a real loss. The nut cups themselves were small paper cups covered in brightly colored crepe paper. Mom always picked up bags of M&Ms, candy corn, candy pumpkins, Brach’s bridge mix chocolates, and a can of peanuts.  I carefully counted out an equal number of every piece of candy and every peanut as I filled each nut cup. I had to be fair. Then I placed a nut cup at the top of each plate to the left of the glass.

candy corn and pumpkinsWhen we hosted Thanksgiving dinners in Chicago, I carried on the nut cup tradition. I couldn’t find crepe paper nut cups in the stores anymore, so I made some square ones out of construction paper and put a Thanksgiving-themed sticker on each one. They also doubled as name plates so we could politely tell each person where to sit. The ingredients were the same except we substituted foil covered chocolates for the bridge mix and mixed nuts for the peanuts. (The Georgia Nut Company outlet store was just down the street from us.)

Thanksgiving chocolatesBack to Mim’s question, I guess what’s special about Thanksgiving this year is that I took time to remember all my Thanksgivings Past.

In yesterday’s JESUS CALLING devotional reading, Sarah Young wrote that Jesus told us:

As you sit quietly in My Presence, let Me fill your heart and mind with thankfulness. …

As you go through this day, look for tiny treasures strategically placed along the way. I lovingly go before you and plant little pleasures to brighten your day. Look carefully for them, and pluck them one by one. When you reach the end of the day, you will have gathered a lovely bouquet. Offer it up to Me with a grateful heart. Receive My Peace as you lie down to sleep, with thankful thoughts playing a lullaby in your mind.

The tiny treasures I’m discovering today are all kinds of wonderful Thanksgiving memories – especially nut cups!

Happy-Thanksgiving-Wallpaper-2012-1

 

Grinning from Ear to Ear

Floey is always happy to see me - or anyone else.

Floey is always happy to see me – or anyone else.

Floey greeted me as I walked in the door.

Marian Smiling BW adj

That’s me – grinning from ear to ear.

“Hey, Mom, welcome home. But why do you have such a big smile on your face? I thought you were at a funeral.”

“You’re right, Floey. I was at a funeral. It was the fifteenth funeral I’ve played the organ for so far this year. It was a very nice funeral for a beautiful, kind, loving, 103-year-old woman. There was a lot of love expressed and felt throughout the whole church.”

“That’s nice, Mom, but you’re grinning from ear to ear. Did the funeral really put that big smile on your face?”

“Well, not really, Floey. It was almost noon when I left the church and I was really hungry, so I stopped at the McDonald’s in Cottage Grove on my way home.”

“What in the world did you eat at McDonald’s that made you that happy?”

“Well, I was hungry for their filet-of-fish sandwich, and of course I got the ‘meal deal’ to get fries and a soda with it. The food was good, but that’s not what made me smile. When I pulled into the BP station that the McDonald’s is attached to, I saw that there was only one parking place left. I took it, but groaned when I saw three big construction workers get out of the van next to me and walk toward the McDonald’s entrance. I followed them into McDonald’s, and groaned again. The small restaurant area was packed with over a dozen people in line. I almost turned around and walked out. I probably could drive home and make a sandwich about as quickly as I would get my food here. But by that time, I was really craving a filet-of-fish sandwich, so I decided to wait a couple minutes to see how fast the line moved. I was amazed. In almost no time, I was ordering my meal. The clerk offered to give me my cup while I waited for my meal, so I could get my soda right away. I got my drink, waited just a couple minutes, and then sat down to eat in a clean booth.”

McDonalds Filet-of-Fish Meal

Not the healthiest, but just what I was hungry for.

“You were lucky, Mom. Sometimes you really have to wait a long time to get your food at that time of day, and then when you do, there’s no place to sit – or at least no clean place.”

high five“Yeah, I know. I really was lucky. As I ate my meal, the crowd cleared out. When I was ready to leave, there was no one in line, and the clerk who had waited on me was standing alone at the counter, waiting for whoever might come in the door next. She smiled at me as I got up to leave, and she wished me a good rest of the day. I dropped my empty containers in the trash can and walked up to the counter. I told her, ‘I’m impressed! You are efficient! I can’t believe how quickly and pleasantly you served everyone. When I came in here a little while ago and saw the crowd, I almost turned around and walked out. I’m glad I didn’t. You’re really efficient!’ She flashed me a big smile, put up her hand for a high-five, and called back to her co-workers, ‘Hey, a compliment! A compliment!’ A customer standing nearby smiled, the clerk smiled, and I smiled.”

“Wow, Mom. I bet from the way she reacted, she doesn’t get many compliments.”

“I think you’re right, Floey. And you know what, by taking the time to give a well-deserved compliment, I put smiles on the faces of three people – the clerk, the other customer standing nearby, and me. I bet there were smiles on the faces of the other workers in the kitchen that the clerk had called back to, as well. It was so easy to give a moment of happiness to so many people, including myself.”

Kitty and Floey

Kitty and Floey

“I know all about that, Mom. You know how I always run to the door to greet whoever is coming. I do that to let them know they are welcome in our home. I want them to know that I am grateful that they came to see us. That greeting usually makes them happy, and that makes me even happier.”

“I should have known, Floey, that you would have all this figured out already. You know just how to give anyone a moment of happiness.”

“Thanks, Mom. I really try. I think that’s my mission in life.”

“Floey, do you remember my special word for 2015?”

Floey looked thoughtful for a moment. “I think it’s GRATITUDE.”

“Yeah. That’s it. GRATITUDE. I haven’t written much about my special word lately, but this incident reminds me to be grateful for all the good little things that happen every day. By being grateful for the surprisingly good and quick service I got at McDonald’s, I was prompted to give a compliment, which prompted the clerk to share the compliment, which gave a whole bunch of us a reason to smile and be happy.”

“So that’s it, Mom. GRATITUDE for the good little things in life has you grinning from ear to ear.”

“Yeah. Now you know my secret, Floey – and I know yours,” and I gave her a big hug.

Floey-Marian 01-06-15

Abbey Still Has More to Say

Abbey-Marian

Abbey and me collaborating on blog posts

In my imagination, Abbey has been talking to me over the last couple weeks. Her spirit is still very much alive. “Mom,” she said, “I was really sad to leave you, and I still think about you a lot. But I’ve also been really busy exploring heaven. You can’t imagine all the smells there are up here. One of my first days here I picked up a familiar scent and followed the trail for a few minutes, and you’ll never guess who it led me to – cousin Holly! We reminisced for a while about the good old days in Uncle Dan’s workshop, and then she offered to take me around to meet lots of our relatives – both canine and human. Every day in heaven is a new adventure!”

It was so good to hear Abbey talking to me again, even if it was just in my imagination. One thing Abbey said to me was, “Our imaginations are among the best gifts God ever gave us.”

Abbey also told me, “Mom, you need to get another dog as soon as you can. Your family is incomplete without one. I’ll help you find the next dog, one who will be the perfect fit for you and Mim and everyone you take care of. What you need to do is write a HELP WANTED ad in your blog to let your friends know that you are looking for another canine companion and caregiver – someone a lot like me. Then you also need to do an Internet search for ‘dog adoption.’ Your old dog Megabyte, who I met up here last week, told me all about how search engines work. She said if you enter the search criteria correctly, Megabyte and I can arrange to have the right dog come up near the top of your search results. Then you just need to follow up with the contact info to meet the perfect dog for you.”

As you know, I followed Abbey’s advice. Last week I blogged the HELP WANTED ad. I also did an Internet search to try to find the right dog. IT WORKED!!! The perfect dog came to our attention almost right away. I followed up with the contact info for ARVSS (Animal Rescue and Vet Support Services), learned more details about her, filled out an online application, and interviewed her and her foster mom. As of Sunday afternoon, she has joined our family.

Yesterday, Abbey entered my imagination again and said, “Mom, you have no idea how happy Megabyte, Maia, and I are that you brought another dog into our family. We had a party last night to celebrate our new sibling. And we’re so proud of you that you followed our advice and found the dog we sent your way.”

Floey adoption photo

Floey – named after Florence Nightingale.

So who is our new companion and caregiver? We’ve renamed her “Floey” – short for Florence Nightingale, one of the most famous caregivers of all time. She came with a rather strange name for a dog, “Pony.” We figured that “Floey” sounds enough like “Pony” that she’ll adjust to her new name quickly. And, in fact, she already has. I called her by her new name a few minutes ago, and she came right over to me. She’s lying on the floor beside me now as I’m writing this blog post.

“Hey, Floey, do you want to help me write my blog post today?”

“Sure, Mom. What do you want me to do?”

“I want to let people know all about you. What should we tell them?”

“That’s easy. I’m 10 months old, nearly full-grown. I weigh 28 pounds. I never knew my parents, but I think I’m a distinctive mix of several breeds including Australian Shepherd or border collie, and whippet. I’m quite petite in my features, except I have long, lean legs which make me a very good runner.”

Floey playing with cousin Lucy in Uncle Dan's carpentry shop.

Floey playing with cousin Lucy in Uncle Dan’s carpentry shop.

“Why did you want to join our family, Floey? You know you’ll have to be a working dog if you live with us – you’ll have to be a loving companion and caregiver around the clock.”

Floey meeting Anna.

Floey meeting Anna.

“I think I was born to love and be loved. I think we all were, but not everyone realizes it. When I first walked into your house and saw Anna sitting at the kitchen counter, I knew I had to run up to her and kiss her. She laughed and laughed and petted me. We were both so happy. Then when I sniffed around,  exploring the house, I saw Carolyn sitting in her room. I ran up to greet her, and she reached out her arms to welcome me. She told me how beautiful I am. I immediately fell in love with both Anna and Carolyn. That was after I’d already fallen in love with Mim and you. Can you imagine what that feels like to fall in love with four new people, all in one afternoon? It’s wonderful!”

“Hearing you talk, Floey, I want to say you are the personification of love, but I know that’s not quite the right word. Dogification, maybe? Anyway, I’m truly thankful that you have joined our family.”

“And, I’m thankful that God brought us all together,” responded Floey.

This is the perfect week for Thanksgiving. We have so much to be thankful for, including the dogs in our lives and their uninhibited and unlimited ability to love.

Floey resting on my legs at the end of her adoption day.

Floey and me putting our feet up at the end of our first day together.

 

Thinking too hard

Abbey and me thinking really hard about something

Abbey and me thinking really hard about something

Sometimes, I think, I think too much. I think too hard about choices as I try to determine what is best. For example,  today I’m trying to decide whether to write my blog about what some inmates said the last time we shared a worship service in the jail chapel, or to write about some new insights I gained last week about why “Christ the King Sunday” really can be relevant to us today. Or, can I relate the two thoughts to each other, and avoid having to choose one or the other… I think I’ll try that.

Marian at Messiah organ 2Every week I think a lot about what music I should play for a prelude and postlude in church. I think the prelude is particularly important for setting the tone for the service, to invite the people into a sense of readiness for the worship experience that is beginning. To help me select music that is appropriate, I study the Scriptures that will be read, I consider the hymns the pastor chose for the service, and I sometimes search out Internet resources for music suggestions related to the themes associated with the lectionary readings for that week. (If I’m short on time, I look back in my files to see what I played three years ago, the last time the same Scriptures were read.)

Last Sunday was “Christ the King Sunday” – the last Sunday of the church year. (Advent, the beginning of the church year when we look forward to the birth of Christ, starts next Sunday.) Last Sunday was also the Sunday before Thanksgiving – a national holiday rather than a church celebration, but with spiritual significance nonetheless. Almost every year, I choose to play Thanksgiving music rather than “Christ the King” music. My rationale has always been – what relevance does “Christ the King” have to us today? It’s much more important to think about being thankful to God for all the blessings in our lives than to ponder the image of Christ as a king.

This year, our music director selected a new song for the women’s choir to sing – “O Christ, What Can It Mean for Us?” by contemporary hymn writer Delores Dufner, OSB. Here are the words.

O Christ, what can it mean for us to claim you as our king?
What royal face have you revealed whose praise the church would sing?
Aspiring not to glory’s height, to power, wealth, and fame,
you walked a diff’rent, lowly way, another’s will your aim.

You came, the image of our God, to heal and to forgive,
to shed your blood for sinners’ sake that we might rise and live.
To break the law of death you came, the law of love to bring:
a diff’rent rule of righteousness, a diff’rent kind of king.

Though some would make their greatness felt and lord it over all,
you said the first must be the last and service be our call.
O Christ, in workplace, church, and home, let none to power cling;
for still, through us, you come to serve, a diff’rent kind of king.

You chose a humble human form and shunned the world’s renown;
you died for us upon a cross with thorns your only crown.
But still, beyond the span of years, our glad hosannas ring,
for now at God’s right hand you reign, a diff’rent kind of king!

Delores Dufner, OSB, b. 1939, © 2001, 2003 GIA Publications

Jesus head 2

Jesus Christ, a different kind of king

The words of that song gave me something to think about. As a “diff’rent kind of king,” Christ came “to heal and to forgive.” Christ is a king who said, “the first must be the last, and service be our call.” Christ, through us, still “comes to serve, a diff’rent kind of king.”

That’s something to think about! And it transitions nicely into our discussion in the jail worship service a week or so ago.

About a dozen women inmates plus the chaplain and myself were sitting in a circle. The chaplain asked each of us to share with the group what we were thankful for. The young woman seated on my right said she was thankful for a second chance. The fact that she was in jail meant that she was given the gift of some time to think about the direction her life was going, and that when she left jail she would have a second chance, the opportunity to begin her life over again. Several other inmates voiced similar thoughts. After we all had shared what we were thankful for, we went around the circle again, each of us praying for the person on our right. We ended the service by serving communion to each other, and singing the hymn, “Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ.”

As usual, my spirits were uplifted by sharing this worship experience with the women in jail. Christ is a king who loves every single one of us, forgives us, and gives us second chances. And Christ, “a diff’rent kind of king,” can be seen in every single one of us, as well.

Dr. V. Raymond Edman addressing the students of Wheaton College. I was there, sitting in my assigned seat. September 22, 1967

Dr. V. Raymond Edman addressing the students of Wheaton College. I was there, sitting in my assigned seat.
September 22, 1967

One more thought. (See, sometimes I think too much.) Another personal association I have with “Christ the King” goes back to my college days.

At Wheaton College, students were required to attend a half-hour-long worship service in Edman Chapel every morning, Monday through Friday. We had assigned seats, and attendance was taken. On September 22, 1967, (I was a sophomore) the speaker was College Chancellor, Dr. V. Raymond Edman. The title of his talk was “The Presence of the King.”

Dr. Edman described his experience of meeting the emperor of Ethiopia, His Majesty Haile Selassie. He explained in detail the court protocol that was followed, and then he related that experience to how we should approach coming before the presence of Christ the King – how the Bible says we should “Be still and know that I am God.” He talked about how we should be quiet when we enter the chapel, and how we should quiet our minds as we prepare to listen to what God has to say to us.

As Dr. Edman was making that point, he suddenly stopped speaking and fell to the floor. As Billy Graham said at his memorial service a couple days later, he had moved into “The Presence of the King” as he was speaking.

Here’s a link to both the text and an audio recording of “The Presence of the King”  http://www2.wheaton.edu/learnres/ARCSC/exhibits/edman/. The ten-minute audio version is the actual recording of Dr. Edman delivering this message in Chapel.

Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974.

Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974.
In his chapel address, Dr. Edman described walking through this long room, bowing, and being beckoned to come forward to talk with the emperor.

I guess how we approach being in “The Presence of the King” is appropriate to think about on Christ the King Sunday, or any time we approach God, whether we’re at home, work, church, or even jail.

Remembering the Saints – the most significant people in my life who are now dead

Lots of my relatives - the year before I was born. My brother Danny is sitting on the grass on the right side of the picture - in front of Mom and beside Grandpa.

Lots of my relatives – the year before I was born. My brother Danny is sitting on the grass on the right side of the picture – in front of Mom and beside Grandpa.

 

Thursday of this week is Halloween, the eve of All Saints Day. On Sunday, some churches will read a list of members of the congregation who have died over the past year. This is a time of year to remember the people who are no longer with us who have been significant to us in our own lives, and to thank God for these people.

As I was curled up under the covers in bed this morning thinking about what to blog about today, making a list of these people came to mind – not just the people who died this year, but all the people who have died who have been significant to me. I started making a mental list of them, and I realized I’d better get up and write them down – the names were coming to me too fast to remember and organize in my mind. So I got up and quickly jotted down the names as they came to me, and I realized I’d better limit the number of people to include in the blog. So I crossed off a few names and settled on 13 people for this blog (a good number for Halloween), plus one bonus. I’m still going to thank God for all the rest, too, even if I don’t tell you about them today.

Here’s the list – 13 people who have been very significant to me in my life, and who have moved on to their next life:

  1. Mom and Dad at their 50th Anniversary celebration.

    Mom and Dad at their 50th Anniversary celebration.

    Mom. I think the most significant thing I learned from my mom is about love. I always knew she loved me, as well as my siblings, her grandchildren, her Sunday School kids, the UW students who stopped in to see her at the Presbyterian Student Center in Madison where she worked, the starving kids in Africa that she read about in her mail and sent checks to every month, and everyone else who touched her life – she loved us all.

  2. Dad. My dad taught me about work. As a farmer, he knew that he was responsible for getting all the work done. If the hay baler broke, that didn’t mean he didn’t have to bale hay that day. It meant he had to figure out how to fix the baler as quickly as possible so that he could still bale the hay and get everything else done he had planned for that day. His attitude taught me to be a problem solver as well as a hard worker.
  3. Nancy. My big sister (11 years older than me) taught me to set aside some time every day to read the Bible and pray. When she went away to college, she ordered me a subscription to a children’s daily devotional booklet to help me keep on track.
  4. Helen Knoblauch. My first grade teacher was a very kind and loving person. Everyone in her class knew that she loved them. One way she showed that love was by being the kindest of all to the kid that was hurting the most that day. I remember one day when I was that kid. A leaf had blown into my eye and scratched it when I was playing on the playground after lunch. My eye really hurt and I was crying. Mrs. Knoblauch had me sit on her lap while she read a storybook to the class. That made me feel a whole lot better – so much better that I still remember it almost 60 years later.
  5. Marion Gilberts. She was our church organist and my piano and organ teacher. In addition to using the typical lesson books, she had me learn every hymn in both of the hymnals we used in church. She also gave me the experience of playing in church by having me play an offertory at least once a year. She didn’t just teach me the piano and organ, she taught me to be a church organist.
  6. Aunt Edith at the piano. (In the 1930s she married the happy little boy pictured above, my Uncle Helmer.

    Aunt Edith at the piano.

    Aunt Edith. She was the most creative pianist I ever watched tickle the ivories. She was a self-taught gospel pianist who could play any hymn she had ever heard, in any key you wanted to hear it. The only printed music I saw her use was a hymnal or songbook, yet she improvised all over the keyboard. She is still my inspiration to learn to play more by ear and to improvise.

  7. Rev. Royal Bailie. He was the pastor that confirmed me in the Methodist Church. As a confirmation gift he gave me a different kind of Bible, the J. B. Phillips paraphrase of the New Testament. That’s the only Bible that I completely wore out the binding by opening it too much.
  8. Auntie Emma. Also known as Emma Prescott. She was my grandma’s sister. I always thought of her as the most generous Christian I knew. She and her husband, Uncle Don, supported many children through World Vision and other missions. She once made a comment that I’ll never forget. She said she was glad she didn’t have as much money as one of her daughters had. Stewardship of that amount of money was more than she could imagine handling wisely. That comment has always made me think seriously about my stewardship of all the resources God has given me.
  9. Rev. Bill Leslie. He was the pastor of one of the churches I attended in Chicago for several years. I didn’t know him very well personally, but I learned a lot from his preaching. He prompted me to think for the first time about what my responsibility as a Christian is for dealing with the problems in the city, particularly the problems that resulted from the injustices that are inherent in our culture.
  10. Mark Hjermstad. Mark was a loving pragmatist, and that’s not an oxymoron. He taught me to relate to the world the best way you can. He was a closeted gay pre-kindergarten teacher for special needs children in the Chicago Public School System. We met Mark in church, shortly before his partner died of AIDS. He became one of our best friends. He always encouraged his gay friends to be as open as they could about who they were – although he couldn’t be out as a gay teacher and still keep his own job.
  11. Mary Borgerud. Mrs. Borgerud was my fifth- and sixth-grade teacher. She taught me history, geography, kindness, and generosity. She also taught me to have fun with writing. I still remember one of the essays I wrote in her class – “I’m a Little Mouse with Great Big Eyes.” We also laughed a lot together, especially when she came to live with Mim and me at Country Comforts Assisted Living for the last year or so of her life.
  12. Eileen Scott. Thanks to Eileen I’m a church organist again. Between 1975 and 1999 I didn’t play the piano or organ for anyone except myself at home. In 1999, Eileen learned that the Methodist pastor in town discouraged me from playing for a Christmas program in his church because of my sexual orientation. As a very strong take-charge person, Eileen approached me about becoming an organist in her church, the Presbyterian Church in town. Being a church organist has been a significant part of my life ever since.
  13. Selma Jacobson. I guess now I can say Selma is my mother-in-law. Shortly after Mim and I moved to Wisconsin, Mim’s mom had a stroke which left her paralyzed on her left side. After several months of rehab, she came to live with Mim and me. Despite all her physical losses, she always maintained a positive attitude and a very pleasant disposition. She lived with us for the last five years of her life, and was a daily inspiration to me to accept life for what it is, and to always trust in God’s love and kindness.

And now, for one bonus saint – Megabyte. She was the first dog that Mim and I got together, and she enriched our lives for 15 years. The one thing that dogs know better than anything, and better than anyone else knows, is how to love.

Many names are missing from this list – Grandma, Uncle Helmer, Gary, Clark, Steve, Nicki, Hiram, Joe, Donnie, and more. If I kept naming them I wouldn’t get this blog posted today. There’s also an equally long list of people who are still alive that I’m thankful for. God has truly blessed me with loads of wonderful people – and dogs – in my life. I am so thankful. I guess it’s appropriate that Halloween, the eve of All Saints Day, starts off the holiday season. Then comes Thanksgiving, and then Christmas. All three holidays are times to be especially thankful for all the good gifts God has given us.

Megabyte and Selma welcoming a new kitten into our home.

Megabyte and Selma welcoming a new kitten into our home.

Enjoying Gifts – Both Yours and Mine

Gift - Gold

Yesterday I saw and heard something wonderful! Mim and I went to the Overture Center in Madison to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra perform with Gabriela Montero as guest pianist. I had never heard of Gabriela Montero before yesterday, but she was going to play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, and we knew we would enjoy the music enough to compensate for the frigid Wisconsin weather we’d have to tolerate to get there.

We were right! The whole concert was absolutely beautiful, but the real highlight was totally unexpected. After the standing ovation for the performance of the piano concerto, Gabriela Montero came back on stage and asked the audience to sing or call out a musical theme, and she would improvise on it as an encore. Someone called out, “I’ve been workin’ on the railroad.” Montero (a native of Venezuela) looked a little surprised, laughed with the audience, then plunked out the tune on the piano one note at a time and asked, “Is this it?” The audience responded with a hearty “Yes!” She said, “No one has ever asked for this tune before.” Then she paused about ten seconds and began an amazing improvisation on that tune for about five minutes. She put almost as much exuberance and variety into improvising that tune as Beethoven had put into writing his Piano Concerto No. 1.

I looked on YouTube this morning to find an example of Gabriela Montero’s improvisation on a familiar tune. This link (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6Aa92cZToI) is to an improvisation of “Happy Birthday.” This video might help you imagine what she did to “I’ve been workin’ on the railroad” yesterday.

Gabriela Montero definitely has the gift of musical improvisation. And she uses it well to bring joy to many people – from the “birthday girl” honored in the above video, to the thousands of people who marvel at her spontaneous improvisations in concert halls around the world.

Gifts…. That subject was on my mind yesterday because of the second Scripture reading in church, I Corinthians 12:1-11. I’ve been reading THE MESSAGE paraphrase a lot more lately to try to gain fresh insights into familiar Bible passages. Here are verses 4 and 7 from THE MESSAGE. “God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere, but they all originate in God’s Spirit…. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is. Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people!”

After yesterday, I know that one of the gifts God has given Gabriela Montero is musical improvisation.  But the Scripture says that each person gets something – everyone receives gifts, and there is tremendous variety in what these gifts are.

That prompted me to think about some of the gifts the Spirit has given me. I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that I described the prelude I played on the piano in church yesterday morning as improvisations on “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” The same word, “improvisations,” does not describe the same thing Montero did with her tune and what I did with mine. I think the gift God has given me is the sensitivity to figure out what hymn tune will help someone in the congregation draw closer to God. Generally I choose music that complements the Scripture readings of the day, and that is arranged in a style that reflects the mood of the text. That certainly is a very different gift than what the Spirit gave to Gabriela Montero.

The last verse of Sunday’s reading (verse 11) puts some perspective on the different gifts we each receive, “All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what and when.”

I’m thankful for the gifts the Spirit has given me, and even more, I’m thankful for the gifts the Spirit has given others.

small blue christmas gifts