Tag Archive | Thanksgiving

Is It Over Yet?

Thanksgiving. Is it over yet? There are two parts to the word. THANKS: I think we did that last Thursday. And today is GIVING Tuesday. So we’re finishing up with THANKS-GIVING today. Good. It’s not over yet. I still have time to blog about “Thanksgiving.” 

I spent the first and third weeks of November this year at our Christmas Mountain timeshare to avoid distractions and concentrate on writing. I’m working on my next book of hymn reflections. I’ve chosen to write reflections on hymns related to four themes for this book: PEACE (my special word for 2018), WALKING WITH GOD, GOD’s FAMILY, and PRAYER. So far, I’ve completed the first two sections and I’m in the middle of the third section now. 

Some of the hymns about being a part of God’s family are commonly sung around Thanksgiving. One of the reflections I wrote this month is for “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come.” Since Thanksgiving isn’t really over yet, I thought I’d share my thoughts on this hymn as a Thanksgiving blog post. Then I’ll go online to make special donations to a couple of my favorite charities – New Moms and Casita Copan. HAPPY GIVING TUESDAY!

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TUNE:  ST. GEORGE’S WINDSOR
COMPOSER:  George J. Elvey 
(1816-1893) English organist and prolific composer of church music.
AUTHOR:  Henry Alford (1810-1871) Anglican priest, highly esteemed Greek scholar, and hymn writer.
SCRIPTURE:  Mark 4:26-29 Parable of the Seed; Matthew 13:24-43 Parable of the wheat and tares

“THE LODGING PLACE of a traveler on his way to Jerusalem” is the English translation of the Latin inscription on the tomb of Henry Alford, the author of this hymn. He followed in a long line of Anglican clergymen in his family – five generations of them. He was a precocious child. Before he reached the age of ten he had written several poems in Latin, as well as the history of the Jews, and a series of outlines for theologically sound sermons. He became a noted preacher and scholar. His most significant work was an 8-volume compilation and commentary, “The New Testament in Greek.” His hymns and poems are considered his lesser contributions, and many critics considered them an unfortunate distraction from his more scholarly endeavors.

His most famous hymn is “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come.” He wrote it for “Harvest Home,” a fall festival in England comparable to our Thanksgiving in America. The first verse of the hymn thanks God for another successful harvest. But then the hymn changes its focus to the harvest imagery Jesus used in two of his parables – the seed that grows into a fruitful plant and the parable of the weeds (tares) that grow in the field along with the wheat. By the last stanza, “harvest” refers to the final days of the earth.

In addition to the history and meaning of this hymn, I have a significant personal association with it. When I was 15, my grandmother died on the Sunday afternoon before Thanksgiving. My piano teacher teacher (our church organist) had been working with me for weeks to prepare me to play a fancy arrangement of “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” for the offertory for that Sunday evening church service. That Sunday afternoon, I knew I had to stop thinking about my grandma’s death. I had to stop crying, get myself ready for church, and go play “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come.” Our neighbor lady, a retired missionary, was the guest preacher for that evening. She sat next to me in church when she wasn’t at the pulpit. She even gave me her handkerchief. (I guess I ran out of Kleenex.) Once I started playing the offertory, I could focus on being thankful to God – not so much for the harvest, but for all these friends in church who cared about me and my family, the “family of God.”

Now whenever I hear or play this hymn, I think about being thankful to God for all the blessings we receive – good friends as well as good harvests.

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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

 

“Music . . . controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits”

Marian at Messiah organ 4Now is the time to start singing and playing the big, powerful hymns of the church. It all started last Sunday – Reformation Sunday. Our opening hymn at Messiah Lutheran Church was A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. I tried to set the mood for it with a much louder than usual prelude – a simple but bold arrangement of two of my favorite old hymns – A Mighty Fortress is our God and Holy, Holy, Holy. I loved the big, bold start to the service.

We continued with that big, bold style for the hymn we sang during the offering, O God, Our Help in Ages Past, and we ended the service with Lift High the Cross. I played To God Be the Glory for a big joyful postlude.

Pastor Jeff built upon the theme of boldness by talking about standing boldly for Christ, and he included I Have Decided To Follow Jesus as his sermon hymn. In his homily he included the famous Martin Luther quote, to “Sin boldly.” No, it’s not a typo and I just left off the g. It’s not “Sing boldly.” It’s “Sin boldly.” (You may want to listen to the sermon to hear the quote in context. Here’s the link to the sermons. http://messiahchurch.com/media/video/2015-homilies/. Then click on October 25, 2015.)

Personally, my favorite Martin Luther quote is, “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits. . . . A person who . . . does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God . . . does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.” Luther wrote those words in the forward to one of his books, according to Robert J. Morgan in his book Then Sings My Soul: 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories.

2015-10-26 Stone Meadows Pond

A picture of autumn in our back yard. I took the photo yesterday when I was grilling hot dogs for lunch.

It’s almost November, and autumn is finally here. Most of the leaves have turned from all shades of green to brilliant shades of red, orange, yellow, and brown. One day last week I picked up the biggest, boldest maple leaf I have ever seen in my life. I brought it in for 94-year-old Anna to trace and color. I had to give her an 11” x 17” sheet of paper for it to fit.

The leaf has started to curl, but Ann was able to trace it when it was still fresh.

The leaf has started to curl, but Anna was able to trace it when it was still fresh.

Big and bold. That’s what I associate with autumn. Big pumpkin fields with thousands of bright orange pumpkins. Acres and acres of golden corn fields and soybean fields. Bold, blustery winds making corn husks fly from fields into back yards and streets in the neighborhood – keeping Floey busy chasing them during our walks.

Big and bold. That’s the kind of music I associate with November. Hymns of Thanksgiving for God’s wondrous love and caring, for God’s generosity to us. Hymns like Thanks Be to God, Now Thank We All Our God, Come Ye Thankful People Come, Count Your Blessings, and We Gather Together.

I spent Sunday afternoon at the piano, playing all the big, bold Thanksgiving hymns I could find to begin planning the preludes and postludes for the rest of the year until Advent, which starts the end of November this year. I had a great time.

Speaking of Advent, I used to be quite self-disciplined and I didn’t let myself play any Christmas music, even at home, at least until after Thanksgiving. But there is so much wonderful Christmas music, one month isn’t enough time to enjoy it all. Now I let myself start playing it the first of November (at home only). But I need to be careful not to allow Christmas music to take away from the big, bold music of autumn and Thanksgiving. God gave us music for all seasons of the year to enjoy and ponder.

I totally agree with Martin Luther. “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits. . . .” Thanks be to God!

Ann coloring the huge leaf she traced on 11x17 paper. She told me she wants to include all the colors of fall in the leaf.

Anna coloring the huge leaf she traced on 11×17 paper. She told me she wants to include all the bright, bold colors of fall in this leaf.

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.

Learning to Count by 35

Last week I did a lot of thinking. I was at our Christmas Mountain timeshare in Wisconsin Dells to focus on writing my book on hospitality. I’ve been working on this project for almost three years, and the end is finally in sight. My goal is to complete it by January 31. I think I might make it.

As I was writing, I thought a lot about some of the things I learned in the first 35 years of my life. And then I thought about some of the things I’m learning in the second 35 years of my life – now that I’m getting closer to the end of that segment. But, why 35-year segments?

When I was growing up on the farm, we had both cows and chickens. Most of our milk and eggs were picked up by the milk man and the egg man. But, we also had customers, mostly friends of the family, who bought milk and eggs directly from us on the farm. The milk customers kept track of the gallons of milk they got, and wrote a check to pay for all of it at the end of the month.

Egg customers paid for the eggs at the time they got them. We had a lot more egg customers. Some of them would buy just a dozen or two eggs at a time and come every week or two. Others would buy several dozen eggs at a time, and come about once a month. (In the 1950’s, a bacon-and-egg breakfast was considered one of the healthiest breakfasts possible. People did a lot more baking too, which used up lots of eggs.)

Often the egg customers would come to get eggs in the late afternoon, after school was out. My mom was still at work in Madison, my dad was in the barn, my brother was outside working or playing, and I was the only one in the house. So, I was usually the one to sell the eggs. I needed to keep up to date on what the market price of eggs was so that I knew what to charge the customers. The most frequent price was 35-cents a dozen. This was before the days of calculators, so I would have to multiply the dozens times the price. I quickly learned to count by 35:  35 – 70 – 105 – 140 – 175 – 210. Beyond that, I multiplied on paper.

I still think by 35’s sometimes. Like the first 35 years of my life. That seems to be a pretty natural dividing point. Up through my mid-thirties, I considered myself young, and I looked young. On my 35th birthday, I had to show my driver’s license to prove I was over 21 just to enter a raffle!  In the first 35 or so years of my life, I followed pretty conventional standards. I got a good education and then I got a good job. In my second 35 or so years, I abandoned a few conventions. I’ve been self-employed for most of it, and I try to think regularly about what I’m doing for a living, and why I’m doing it.

My nephew Kevin has been taking pictures of me thinking.

What made me change course in my mid-thirties? I lost my job as a result of a corporate take-over. I learned that financial security wasn’t tied to having a good job. But the most important lesson I learned is “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” [I Thessalonians 5:18 NRSV]

The apparent tragedy of losing my really good job provided the opportunity for me to begin the less conventional segment of my life – being self-employed and doing work that helped people – as a business consultant, an innkeeper, a caregiver, and a retreat center host.

I have many things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Losing my job 26 years ago is one of the most important. I need to remember that, and to remember to “give thanks in all circumstances…”

I’m glad I had the time last week to think about things like this.

Happy Thanksgiving!