Season of Lent prepares us for the joy of Easter

LENT 03Of all the seasons in the church year, Lent may be my favorite.

With the 40 days of penitence and fasting to prepare for Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday morning come Wednesday night church services.

I love church at night.

That’s why I also like Advent and the four Wednesday night services each December that prepare us for the birth of Bethlehem’s baby.

Some Christian churches don’t observe Lent, something I cannot imagine. But many do hold Wednesday night and Sunday night services — year around.

My husband was raised in such a denomination down South. He has many fond memories of those days. Three hours every week were spent in church.

Jim and I have talked about it many times and did so again this week when the topic of Lent came up.

“I went to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night with my grandmother,” he said. “We just knew if the door was open, we were supposed to be there. But, I don’t remember anything about Lent. I had never heard of Lent.”

Until he became a Lutheran nearly 50 years ago.

Now going to Wednesday night Lenten services takes him back to the Wednesday nights of his youth.

“I’m from the old school,” he said. “If the door is open, you go. It’s something you want to do. It’s a special time of year and it’s a special service.”

He does, however, think Lutherans could add some good ole songs to their repertoire. For example, he’d think he’d died and gone to heaven if we ever sang “Standing on the Promises,” “Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb?” “Power in the Blood,” or “Bringing in the Sheaves.”

Just this week, he picked up his old hymnal and I heard him reliving his childhood from another room.

Yes, he was singing.

I must admit I love those songs, too.

My first Lenten memories come from my home country church, Bethlehem Lutheran, near Upham, N.D. I loved going there when the stars were out in full bloom.

That’s where I learned the beautiful Vespers service from the old Lutheran Hymnal that came out in 1941. I loved a part of the liturgy called The Nunc Dimittis. Words for the canticle (song) come right from the Bible.

The wonder of Lent and its series of services stand out in every place we’ve ever lived and attended church since our marriage: Peace Lutheran in Great Falls, Mont.; Trinity Lutheran in Cheyenne, Wyo.; Bethlehem Lutheran in Rapid City, S.D.; and St. Mark’s Lutheran in Minot. But, for sure, there’s one church that stands out more than any other. It’s St. Paul’s Lutheran in Minot, where I went to Lenten services during my college years.

Each week, as the Vespers service ended, the congregation sang, “Abide with Me.” Everyone knew the eighth verse by heart. There was no need for the lights to be on so in total darkness with only a beam of light from the balcony that was fixed on the cross on the altar below we sang:

“Hold thou Thy Cross before my closing eyes
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.”

Decades have passed between then and now, but I haven’t forgotten the power of those moments and the glow of the night. It was like being engulfed in a tomb, with that ray of light offering the hope that Easter Sunday morning brings.

That light and that hope is the reason we experience the fasting, penitence, the darkness and the ashes of Lent.

Until Soon

I knew they were coming so I baked a cake!

I was sitting on the couch the other night, feet propped on coffee table, fingers turning the pages of a worn, tattered and splattered cookbook, when I happened upon a recipe for chocolate cake.

recipeI had written a note in the margin. It said: “Wonderful.” Not just one “wonderful,” but three: “wonderful wonderful, wonderful,” followed by “Made for Amelia’s 5th B-day.”

Let me think! Gosh! That was nearly 16 years ago.

Oops! Busted!

Quite a few times over the years Jim has said, “You find something I really like and then you never make it again.”

Amelia is our first born granddaughter who will turn 21 in June. She’s done two stints overseas with Youth with a Mission and now is attending a Christian University in the Twin Cities.

AmeliaI sent Amelia a txt the moment I happened upon the recipe telling her of my discovery and what I had scribbled beside it. She wrote right back saying, “Oh grandma, you have made my day. I could use some of that chocolate cake right now.”

My brother, Myrlin, sister-in-law, Shirley, and my niece, Myrna,and her husband Jim, are coming this weekend and I wanted something special for dessert. That’s why I had my nose in my old Immanuel Lutheran (my church) cookbook. Seems I hit the jackpot.

I love cake but rarely buy a mix as I prefer to make them from scratch. And I can’t bring myself to buy frosting in a can. It just tastes, so, well, store bought.

Our church cookbook was published in the late 1970s and Doreen Whetzel submitted this recipe. After 16 years I have made it again and I love it because it’s so easy and so delicious, All the ingredients are ones you most likely have in your cupboards.

My favorite chocolate frosting is the old-fashioned boiled kind my mother used to make. I don’t have Mom’s recipe, but some time ago I got it from my good friend, Bethany Andrist.

I had a great time whipping up both cake and frosting. In case you’d like to try them, here they are:

CHOCOLATE CAKE

2 cups sugar
3 eggs, beaten
½ cup Crisco
½ cup cocoa in 1 cup boiling water
½ cup sour milk or buttermilk
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons soda

Mix in order given and pour into a 9×13-inch cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees until done. That’s about 40 minutes but check it with a toothpick.

BETHANY’S BOILED CHOCOLATE FROSTING

2 cups sugar
½ cup cocoa
½ cup whole milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine ingredients in a medium-sized heavy-bottom saucepan. Cook until mixture forms a soft ball in cold water (238 degrees on a candy thermometer). I don’t have a candy thermometer so I did the cold water test. It formed a soft ball after boiling only about two minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to cool until lukewarm. IMPORTANT: Do not stir after it comes to a rolling boil and while it’s cooling to lukewarm. Beat until spreading consistency then spread on cake. HINT: You don’t need to beat it very long at all as it sets up really, really, really quickly. (Notice the three “reallys?” If you beat it too long it becomes difficult to spread on the cake which almost happened to me.

cake

Yup. I knew they were coming so I baked a cake. Might be the best in the land. Think I’ll hire a band.

Until Soon

Back to Maxbass by way of basketball

Gemini (Jim and I) have a lot of highlights, in our hair (get it?) and otherwise.

Among those of the winter season are the University of North Dakota men’s and women’s basketball games played in the Betty Englestad Sioux Center. We absolutely love to watch both teams play and are loyal fans no matter – victory or defeat. Why by the time the last game rolls around we feel like we’ve gotten to know the players personally. Some we have met thanks to having sat beside a mom or a dad or a girlfriend. Like the night Quinton Hooker’s girlfriend from the Twin Cities ended up right next to my season ticket seat. Her name is Julia and it was like I’d known her all my life. She wanted us to meet Quinton and we jumped at the chance. She snapped this picture of Jim and me with him after the game. He is one standup young man, on and off the court.

20160102_160404So it’s not only what’s happening on the court during a 40-minute game that makes it all so enjoyable. It’s also those we meet in the stands, be they visitors or hometown people we have come to know over the years. They, along with the players, fuel the fire of desire to never miss a game.

For starters, on our immediate right sit the Brothers Bethke. Anyone who knows Glenn and Gary, retired Grand Forks teachers who are twins, know the party they are in and of themselves.

Then there’s Margo and Steve Weisser (below) who sit smack dab in front of us.

20160121_194521We’ve chit-chatted with Margo and Steve over the years, even dipped in each other’s popcorn and shared one another’s Good and Plenty’s.

At halftime the other night I noticed Steve was wearing a graduation ring on his pinky finger. I asked if it was his. No, it was Margo’s. They were high school sweethearts right here in Grand Forks and have now celebrated 45 years of marriage.

Margo asked where I graduated from high school and when I said, “Newburg, N.D.,” Steve whirled around in his seat and said, “My mother was from Maxbass.”

Oh dear goodness, I just about jumped out of my seat. Maxbass, 11 miles west of Newburg, holds many fond memories for me. When I was a teen-ager, the very best thing to do on a Saturday night was to go to the record hop in Maxbass.

Steve has fond memories of Maxbass as well. He spoke of the many times his mother Lois Josewski Weisser, Grand Forks, and her late husband, Wilbur, took their sons back to her hometown to visit their Maxbass grandparents. Steve’s grandfather was postmaster there for many years.

Naturally, I had to call and tell my Maxbass born-and-bred friend, Sharon Weber Kersten, of Newburg, who called another Maxbass born-and-bred friend, Carolyn Thompson Miller, also of Newburg. Carolyn then called her brother, Dale Thompson, who lives in Denver. They all remember the Josewski kids from school. I received a note from Sharon who said the chain-reaction phone calls made “people happy.”

At the last game, Steve reported that he has shared all this with his mother Lois. Now, her memories of Maxbass also have been pleasantly rekindled.

I must say it’s a great big bonus when you run into unexpected nostalgia at a basketball game. You can’t keep it to yourself and must pass it on.

I’d also like to pass along a column I wrote about Maxbass 23 years ago when I was on staff at the Grand Forks Herald.

Here tis:

Some of my fondest memories are of Saturday nights, back when I was a teenager living on a north central North Dakota farm near Newburg.

But I didn’t spend those nights on the farm or even in Newburg. Not if I could help it. My friends and I hurried to Maxbass, 11 miles west.

Oh, Maxbass. We still swoon when we think of it. The town is smaller and quieter these days. Hard to imagine its streets jam-packed with young and old on a long ago Saturday when its population of 250 swelled for the night.

In the late 1950s, there was a radio station called KQDY “CUTIE” in Minot (45 miles south). The station sent a disc jockey out every Saturday night to spin records for a hop in Maxbass. But it wasn’t only the records that would spin. The dance floor was crowded with teens having the time of their lives.

It was no fun to miss a Saturday night hop where we would dance our socks off and meet friends from our town and others. Missing the hop just didn’t happen during my junior and senior years in high school, the same years Ike and Mamie were in the White House.

The hops were held in a big building on the southwest corner of the town square. Years before CUTIE Radio ever came to Maxbass that building had been the theater. In fact, the old theater seats were still there. They lined all four walls around the huge dance floor. I used to wonder which seats I had sat in as a child when my parents would, oh so rarely, take us to a Ma and Pa Kettle movie.

It was at those hops that Carole Anderson Roach, Judy Brandt Goetz, Karen Wahus Irey and I learned to dance in our bobby socks, saddle shoes and poodle skirts with lots of crinolines swishing around. Judy’s parents often let her have the car, or Karen’s parents would take us. George and Vernice Wahus always went to visit relatives in town anyway.

When the music would start, we girls waited, hoped and crossed our fingers that the guys we had crushes on across the room would come and ask us to dance. Heaven forbid we would ask them. But if they were too slow in their approach, two of us girls would head for the dance floor. We just couldn’t let that great music go to waste.

If you were really lucky, Junior Hamel would ask you to dance. He was the envy of anyone who ever tried to make both feet work at the same time. That guy had rhythm throughout his whole body. All the girls wanted to dance with him, but wondered if they could ever keep up.

I got to dance with him once. I kept up.

We teens were definitely “At the Hop,” with Danny and the Juniors. With Bill Haley and His Comets we’d “Rock Around the Clock.” We were “The Great Pretenders,” with the Platters, and we helped the Everly Brothers “Wake Up Little Suzie.” Sometimes we’d even “Twist,” with Chubby Checker. And, every Saturday night one of us was Buddy Knox’s “Party Doll.”

I never saw any teens drinking. Everyone was there to have good, clean fun. Besides, we were chums with Al Lambert, the town cop. A jolly, gentle giant of a guy, he seemed to like the kids as much as we liked him.

After the hop, everyone crowded into the café next door for a burger and a Coke. Practically bulging the booths, we’d talk more about the good time we’d just had.

We couldn’t lollygag too long, though. We had to get home. Because no matter how tired you were Sunday morning there was no missing church. Period.

Say I’m old-fashioned, say I’m over-the-hill. I still like to reminisce about the days of old, and that old-time rock ‘n’ roll.

__________________________________________________

These are my Maxbass memories. Brought back by the mention of its name – at a basketball game.

Until Soon

You couldn’t help but sing when Elvern Vanyo played

Elvern Vanyo

Elvern Vanyo

This morning, Mass of Christian Burial was held in Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Tabor, Minn., for Elvern Vanyo a most beautiful and sacred lady. She was 87 when she died on Jan. 13, 2016. Last Saturday, as I read her obituary in the Herald, memories of the wonderful afternoon I spend with her washed over me. When Elvern was just 75, she was the subject of my Herald “In the Spirit,” column. I had met her at her church in Tabor and as she played the organ, with me on the bench beside her, we belted out a bunch of Christmas songs. Ever since that day, she’s held a very special place in my heart and I imagine her now playing in heaven for a mass choir of angels. I share with you here, the column I wrote on Elvern published in the Herald on Dec. 27, 2003. I think you’ll see how delightfully fun and adventurous she was. Even polio couldn’t stop her.

TABOR, Minn. – It was an uplifting way to spend a pre-Christmas weekday afternoon – Elvern Vanyo on the bench making the M. Peholler pipe organ swell to glorious heights and she and I singing our hearts out. Elvern is known for her organist talents, but her beautiful soprano voice cannot be overlooked. “I love to sing,” she says. “I don’t understand when people say they don’t like music. That’s hard to imagine.”

We sang “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Silent Night,” and my all-time favorite, “O Come Little Children.”

Elvern pulled out a white knobbed organ stop for “Joy to the World,” and the sound of trumpets filled the sanctuary. “I like them all,” Elvern said.

Me too.

Elvern enjoys introducing new hymns to the congregation.

“At first they don’t sing them very well,” she says, “but eventually they forget that it was new and after they hear it a couple times, they get into the flow of it.”

We were inside Tabor’s Holy Trinity Catholic Church where Elvern has been organist for 59 of her 75 years. She started at age 16, the same year she was Valedictorian of her Alvarado (Minn.) graduating class.

“I started on the pump organ,” Elvern says. “In those days whoever could play just played. Once you volunteered, it was yours for life. It’s something you can’t help but love. I don’t consider myself a professional, I just do the best I can. I haven’t missed very many Sundays.”

From that first pump organ, Elvern graduated to a Wurlitzer organ, then this splendid pipe organ. Besides all the Masses down through the years, she’s played for more weddings and funerals than she can count.

Elvern has the Doxology taped on the organ above the third keyboard. It keeps her mindful of all the personal reasons she has for praising God. Forever vivid in her mind is Christmas Day 1947 when polio placed her in the hospital for a several month stay. She was 19 and Jonas Salk had not yet discovered the polio vaccine.

Polio “hasn’t stopped me,” Elvern says, as her fingers move across the keyboard striking beautiful chords. “My right leg is weak, but I don’t let it slow me down,” she adds, as it plays for foot pedals adding depth to the sound.

To Elvern, happiness “comes from giving and strength to accomplish goals comes from the Lord.”

Her parents are the late Andrew and Anna Vanyo. Elvern’s sister Mary Anne Tupa, is a longtime organist at Holy Family Catholic Church, Grand Forks. Other siblings are Andrew Vanyo, Moorhead; Monica Novak, Brooks, Minn., Mildred Novak, East Grand Forks, and Irene Pribula, Alvarado.

The Vanyo family was very church oriented, Elvern says. “Anything that had to do with church was a priority.”

The farm near Tabor where Elvern grew up remains her home. When she was a student at Ashdale rural school, a mile and a half away, “the teacher gave us piano lessons at recess time,” she says. There’s been no other formal training except for music workshops like the one at St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minn., which included a session on Gregorian chant.

“I love chant,” Elvern says.

Polio also didn’t keep Elvern from a very successful vocation. She never married because, “I was to career oriented,” she says. “I’ve just worked, worked, worked.”

After high school, Elvern’s first job was with the Woolworth Company. In 1950, three years after the polio struck, she started in the office of St. Michael’s Hospital. She saw the hospital move to a new building on Columbia Road (now part of the Medical School Complex at UND), and she was there for the 1971 merger of St. Michael’s and Deaconess Hospital, which formed United Hospital, now Altru.

Then Elvern switched careers.

In 1973, when the Ramada Inn was being built, she was hired as its office manager. She was promoted to assistant manager, then general manager. After 28 years with the Ramada, she retired in 2001.

Elvern has been to Rome three times and visited all four Basilicas: St. Peter’s, St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major.

The first trip was in 1960, the second in 1975 and the latest in October of this year when she and a sister and a niece attended a canonization service in St. Peter’s Square. They were among people from 42 nations.

“We had front row seats,” says Elvern, who was close enough to Pope John Paul II, to clasp his hand and kiss his ring.

Elvern has no plans to retire from playing the organ at Holy Trinity. However, “someday somebody’s going to have to do it,” she says. “I won’t be here forever.”

She feels God’s presence as she plays for worship. “I could never describe it,” Elvern says with a look of reverence on her face. “It’s something that comes from within. There’s a lot of joy.”

As our time together was about to end, Elvern moved to the piano which sits back to back with the organ. She spread the sheet music to “Gesu Bambino,” across the music stand and soon we were singing again:

“When blossoms flowered mid the snow upon a winter night; was born the Christ Child, the Christmas Rose, the King of Love and Light.”

_______________________________

And that is Elvern’s amazing life story.

Until Soon

Forgiveness has a sweet fragrance

I anticipate each message much like I do the dawning of a brand new day.

Every Monday through Friday a “Today’s Quote,” shows up in my inbox. I don’t recall getting on a website and subscribing to this but I sure do like these tiny nuggets of inspirational wisdom/food for thought. They have the power to hit a whole lot of nails right on the head.

For example:

  •  “No man was ever wise by chance,” words accredited to Lucius Annaeus Seneca, a Roman orator/lawyer born around 4 BC.
  • “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” said by Lord Acton, English Catholic historian, politician, and writer.
  • “Defeat may serve as well as victory to shake the soul and let the glory out,” spoken by Edwin Markham, American Poet Laureate of Oregon.
  • “The sweetest of all sounds is praise,” declared by Greek historian Xenophon.
  •  “The soul’s joy lies in doing,” proclaimed by Percy Bysshe Shelley, major English romantic poet.
  • “A pure hand needs no glove to cover it,” Nathaniel Hawthorne, American novelist.
  •  “Every burden is a blessing,” Walt Kelly, American animator and cartoonist.
  •  “Whatever you are, be a good one,” the words of Abraham Lincoln.

And then one day this week, right there in my inbox, was this:

  • “Forgiveness is a funny thing. It warms the heart and cools the sting,” a statement from William Arthur Ward, one of America’s most quoted writers of inspirational maxims.

Really? Forgiveness can both warm us up and cool us down?

That one really set my wheels in motion because it seems every which way we turn we run into people who have been hurt by someone. We are shrouded in hurt and we all know how doggone hard it is to forgive.

Just like everybody else in this world, I know a lot of people. Consequently I know many who could and should try a little forgiveness. For example, I know:

  • A wife who has hurt her husband and a husband who has hurt his wife
  • I know a brother who has hurt his brother and a sister who has hurt her sister.
  • I know sisters-in-law who have hurt one another.
  • I know a daughter who has hurt her mother and a mother who has hurt her daughter.
  • I know a dad who has hurt his kids and kids who have deeply hurt their parents.
  • I know a nephew who has hurt his aunt and an aunt who has hurt her niece
  • I even know of physicians who, unintentionally of course, have hurt their patients – both physically and emotionally.

I could go on but you get my drift.

We do sometimes hear of people who have forgiven someone for doing something absolutely unforgiveable – like murder a family member or abduct and kill a precious child.

Which reminds me of a beautiful example of forgiveness displayed in the story told last week on the television program, “Dateline.” You know the one whose previews suggest, “Don’t watch alone.”

In case you didn’t see last week’s episode, a man was in prison for killing one woman and was awaiting trial for the rape and attempted murder of another woman. His last victim did not die despite his nearly beating her to death then setting her and her home on fire. After a long and very painful and difficult recovery here she was for all the world to see – relearning how to speak, beautiful inside and out and declaring her forgiveness of her attacker.

My personal belief is – that kind of forgiveness is not possible unless it is first sifted through the hands of God.

So here’s me: I remember once when I was deeply hurt by someone I said, “I’m not going to forgive her because she hasn’t asked for my forgiveness.” To which a friend suggested, “Maybe she didn’t know she hurt you.”

Then I wondered how many people I have hurt by something I have said or done that I was totally oblivious to. It could just as easily have been me hurting someone rather than me being hurt. About that time, I happened upon Psalm 19:12b where the David of the Bible asked God to “Forgive my hidden faults.”

There are many Bible verses which speak of forgiveness. Among my favorites is Colossians 3:13: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

If forgiveness is something you are struggling with right now, it might be helpful to see it (forgiveness) as a way to release yourself from the bonds that come with un-forgiveness and the trappings of the past. Surrender it, throw it all out the window and move on with the rest of your life in an honest, open and kind way.

Layout 1Forgiveness can set you free. I know, I’ve been there and done that. Forgiveness is not a weakness, it’s a sign of strength. Not forgiving someone can eat you up inside. I’ve seen that happen to people, too.

Forgiving someone releases you from your suffering and it makes you feel good about yourself. It’s an accomplishment!

Take to heart Abe Lincoln’s advice (from above). If you are a “forgiver,” be a good one. Forgive everyone and along with that, don’t forget to forgive yourself.

Let me close with the words of two people: Mother Theresa and a man named Robert Muller.

Mother Theresa said: “If we really want to love we must learn how to forgive.”

And Muller, an international civil servant with the United Nations who served as Secretary-General for 40 years, once said this: “To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold peace and happiness.

Yes, forgiveness is a funny thing. It can warm us up and it can cool us down.

Incidentally, “Today’s Quotes,” that pop up in my inbox are from a website called, Quotable Notes out of Cambridge, Mass.

Until Soon

Together Again

Remember “Together Again,” the Buck Owens ballad that went No. 1 in 1964? That song, which speaks almost prayerfully of the joy of reclaimed love, came to mind Tuesday as I left Hugo’s Grocery Store on 17th Avenue South – though it was not love I had just reclaimed.

Still with me, after all these years, are words to popular songs from my younger days and “Together Again,” is one of them. Consequently, these lyrics came out of the recesses as I headed home:

Together again the gray skies are gone
You’re back in my arms (on my fingers) now where you belong
The love (the warmth) that I knew is living again
And nothing else matters, we’re together again

I beat myself up when I lose things and granted, this was not a life-or-death dilemma, but I was flying high as I had just re-found one of my very nice, brand new, lined and toasty warm brown gloves. It and its mate had been apart for about 24 hours and now they and my hands were together again.

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What makes this story especially sweet is that the gal working the Hugo’s service desk shared in my absolute delight. When I approached her and asked if by any chance someone had turned in a ladies brown glove, she positively beamed and her head bobbled like it sat atop a doll. She reached for the glove and presented it to me. “Oh I’m so happy,” she said. When I told her I had recently purchased the pair in Branson, Mo., she continued to beam and repeated, “Oh, I’m so happy.”

I could tell she truly was as ecstatic as I was.

God bless the person who spotted my glove, probably in the popcorn and peanut M & M aisle, and was kind enough to take it to the service counter.

In the grand scheme of life, losing then finding a glove is quite trivial, but it’s the little things that mean a lot. Remember that song? Kitty Kallen took “Little Things Mean a Lot,” to No. 1 in 1954. Once again, it’s about love and I remember these words, too:

Blow me a kiss from across the room
Say I look nice when I’m not
Touch my hair as you pass my chair
Little things mean a lot

Give me your arm as we cross the street
Call me at six on the dot
A line a day when you’re far away
Little things mean a lot

How joyful it is when something that has been lost is found, be it a favorite glove, sunglasses or cell phone. Those are some of the things I’ve lost that came back to me because someone did the “little thing,” which was the “right thing,” and turned them in at the lost and found.

Over my lifetime, I can think of just one really precious item that I lost but never did find. It was a diamond pendant with a uniquely beautiful setting that Jim gave me for my birthday. I still envision it in my mind’s eye even though it’s been gone 40 years. I believe I lost it when we were on a trip and spent a couple nights in a hotel. I often browse jewelry stores hoping to see one like it but so far I have not.

If we “people watch” closely, we will see the small acts of kindness we can do to make someone’s day. There’s another verse to Kitty Kallen’s song that is food for thought not only for every day of the year but especially during this beautiful Christmas season. I close with this:

Give me a hand when I’ve lost the way
Give me your shoulder to cry on
Whether the day is bright or gray
Give me your heart to rely on
Send me the warmth of a secret smile
To show me you haven’t forgot
That always and ever, that’s now and forever
Little things mean a lot

Until Soon

Hope and love are back in style

20151106_094308 (1)When Kirk Walden first became involved with the pro-life movement some 30 years ago, there were 2,000 abortion clinics across the United States. Today, “there are less than 800,” he told a Monday night audience of more than 600 people. “Hope and love are back in style,” he added. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with the law (Roe vs. Wade), but I believe in the next 10 years we could see abortion become obsolete. If no one chooses abortion, the centers won’t stay open.”

Fargo is home to the only abortion clinic in North Dakota. Three states, Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi no longer have abortion clinics at all. “They have closed for lack of patient volume,” Walden said.

There’s proof right here in Grand Forks that many young women are having a change of heart. In 2014, 88 of 96 who walked through the doors of the Women’s Pregnancy Center decided to choose life rather than go through with an abortion.

Many times that change of heart comes when the mother sees the image of her developing child via ultrasound. What she sees is that at six weeks of development, the baby is already the size of a lentil. Its circulatory system has formed, the heart is beating and visible on the ultrasound, the kidneys have appeared and the cranial nerves have formed.

When seeing the ultrasound, Walden has witnessed a pregnant girl exclaiming, “I had no idea it was a baby!”

Walden, founder and President of Life Trends, an organization that works with crisis pregnancy ministries, came from Nashville, Tenn., with his accent in tow, to be guest speaker at the Grand Forks Women’s Pregnancy Center’s annual fundraising banquet in the Alerus Center.

“Listen slow because I’m from the south,” said he who is inspirational, statistical, comical and devout in his Christian faith.

20151102_204107 (1)

Kirk Walden autographing his book, “The Wall,” which speaks of rebuilding a culture of life in America and ending abortion as we know it.

As Walden was attempting to fulfill his dream of playing professional golf, he heard a sermon on the sanctity of life that changed his life. After becoming the director of a pregnancy care center he knew, “this is where I need to be.”

Today he’s one of the country’s most sought-after banquet speakers. As he shares his passion for life with audiences, he has played a major role in raising more than $25 million for America’s pregnancy help centers in the last decade.

Walden shares his personal story of overnight becoming a single dad with three small children ages 3, 5, and 7. His first wife just walked out on them and a couple days later called saying she was never coming back.

“The family of God picks up hurting people in an amazing way,” he said. “I got picked up by the family of God (at his church). They took someone who was broken and told him he still had value.” After marrying Jennifer, his second wife, two more sons have been added to their very happy family.

Picking up hurting people and educating them to make life-affirming choices that will have a positive effect on their future IS the mission of the Grand Forks Women’s Pregnancy Center.

The center opened in 1987 and just this summer moved from its downtown Grand Forks location to its beautiful new space in the Grand Cities Mall, 1726 S. Washington Street, Suite 70. It’s right across the hall from the wonderful aromas that float over from the O For Heaven’s Cakes Bakery.

Their website is: www.gfwpc.org. The phone number is: (701) 746-8866.

Lorraine Helgeson is executive director of the center, a non-profit Christian agency which serves clients ranging in age from 15 to 35 from Grand Forks and surrounding counties.

Necole Frances Johnson chairs the board. Others on the board are Destin Coles, Tana Thorfinnson, Randy Schoenborn and Carter Johnson. Members of the staff are Leah Mahlen, Rachel Gothberg, Kristi Gieseke, Medora Decker, Tamara Leetun, Suzanne Bethke, Dr. Eric Pearson and Dr. Jody Treuer.

Services offered by the clinic include pregnancy testing, first trimester ultrasounds, STI (Sexually Transmitted Infections) testing and treatment, options counseling education on the physical, spiritual and emotional effects of abortion, post abortion support, youth education services as well as prenatal classes, parenting classes, abstinence counseling and Bible study.

Nearly countless are the volunteers who give of their time to help the center’s staff. And long is the list of underwriters who generously supported and sponsored the banquet so that every dollar donated Monday night goes straight to the pro-life ministry of the center.

That total is “over $100,000,” Lorraine Helgeson said, “and our monthly giving is up so Kirk Walden really helped with that. It was so much fun. I didn’t want the evening to end.”

Women’s Pregnancy Centers, all 800 left in the country, are the only agencies I know of whose goal it is to close their doors – permanently.

Until Soon

What’s not to love about Branson?

BRANSON, MO. – Like most people, I don’t like real “Spiders and Snakes,” but I sure do love watching and listening to Jim Stafford sing his signature song live on stage in his Branson (Mo.) theater. Of all the humorous country novelty songs Stafford has written and recorded, that’s the one that took him into the big time in the mid-1970s.

A trip to the Ozarks earlier this month was our fourth time to Branson and the second time we’ve seen Stafford. He’s a great classical guitarist, his little yarns are simply hilarious and this Florida boy is downhome REAL. So genuine, personable and engaging is Jim Stafford that it’s understandable that after 25 performance years in Branson, audiences have voted him best entertainer, best personality and best comedy show.

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In the lobby after the show, it was great fun to chat with Stafford as well as James Ingle, his drummer, who has been with him since 1989. Ingle, a Vietnam veteran, also traveled with Roy Clark for 10 years.

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I had to share with Jim Ingle that I also have taken up drumming and play with my worship band at church. He thought that was terrific and told me to never ever stop playing. I assured him that is my plan.

During his show, Stafford brought out two young brothers who are 16 and 18 years old. They are Bradley and Brett Anderson, farm boys from Florida that Stafford heard at a festival down there and thought so talented that he has made them a part of his show.

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The Anderson siblings are an Indie Americana band that plays under the name, “Brother Brother,” doing a mix of folk, alternative, bluegrass and roots infused original music they play on acoustic instruments. I bought their CD and am listening as we speak. Their voices are beautiful, their instrumentation phenomenal and these two home-schooled boys never have had a formal music lesson. They are self-taught.

Go to their website: brotherbrothermusic.com, and check them out.

Angie Anderson, mother of the brothers, is living with them in Branson as their dad and another brother hold down the family farm in Florida but come often to Branson to see them to keep the family close.

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When we finally did bid adieu to the Jim Stafford show people, we looked around the lobby and saw no one. My husband, Jim, chuckled and said, “Just like church, we’re always the last to leave.”

While in Branson we also saw the show that presents the No. 1 hits from the 1950s and 1960s, we saw Legends where such stars as Jerry Lee Lewis, Patsy Cline, Aretha Franklin, the Blues Brothers and Elvis Presley are portrayed

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And at the Sight & Sound Theater, the nation’s largest professional Christian theatrical company, we saw, “Jonah,” told and sang straight from the Bible. For a time it seemed we were all in the belly of that big fish.

The guys in our party also played golf at Top of the Rock where we ladies joined them for lunch.

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Now that I’m back home, my fondest reminiscence of our latest trip to Branson, take me back to Jim Stafford and Brother Brother, who have words by C.S. Lewis printed on the back of their CD jacket. They are as follows:

“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a time we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

I predict Brother Brother will make it big as did Jim Stafford. I thank the “Spiders and Snake,” guy who is introducing these wholesome young men to the world. We need so much more of their clean-cutness among us.

Until Soon

Selma – a book that was possible and necessary

Lela Peterson whole heartedly concurs with Seth Godin, an American author, entrepreneur, marketer, and public speaker, who once told an audience, “The book that will most change your life is the book you write.”

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Lela, from Reynolds, N.D., has written a book — about her grandparents. Titled, “Selma,” it was published in June and last Saturday (September 26, 2015) at a conference in Moorhead, Minn., “Selma,” received the Family History Award from the Heritage Education Commission.

The award is, “a real honor,” Lela said.

Perhaps an even greater honor for Lela is that when she was born, her grandmother’s name, Selma, was given to her as a middle name.

Lela’s grandfather, Johan Sjoqvist, died before she was born. Lela knew her grandmother on her mother’s side, although not well. Their visits were few and far between, but when Lela did sit at Selma’s knee to hear stories of Sweden and to learn Swedish words, she recalls being mesmerized by her grandmother, hungering to know and understand and love her more deeply.

And that’s how writing this book has changed Lela. As a result of three trips to the area of Sweden where her grandparents came from and years of researching their lives both across the Atlantic and here, she knows them now, almost intimately, and profoundly respects and appreciates them for the hardships they endured both in Sweden and America.

“Selma,” with a picture on nearly every page, is a book about deep and abiding pioneer fortitude and love, sorrow and loss, an unwavering faith in God, unbelievably back-breaking endurance, and added to the mix, very interesting North Dakota history.

Here’s just enough of the story of Selma to whet your reading appetite:

Life was tough in Sweden in the early 1900s, and advertisements were placed in Swedish newspapers about free land in America. Why all you had to do was throw wheat seed into the black dirt and you could become rich in a year’s time

In 1902, Johan Sjoqvist, a maker of shoes, received a letter from a Swedish acquaintance who had already settled in Grover Township of Renville County  near Tolley, N, D. The man wrote that 100 acres of land was available to Johan, free for the taking. It was a tough decision, but after pondering it, Johan and Selma decided to act on the offer. They would make a fortune in North Dakota and then return to their beloved Sweden.

By 1903, they had decided that Johan would cross the ocean first, build a house for his family and Selma would follow a year or so later with three of their five children leaving two in Sweden with her parents.

Because, of course they would return.

But did they?

Only the book knows.

Lela’s grandmother was one who “leaned back in the arms of Jesus,” Lela said. “She had very strong faith. She was always calm. No matter the adversity, she hung tight saying, ‘it’s going to be OK.’ ”

Anyone interested in purchasing a copy of “Selma” may email Lela at: lelaspeterson@gmail.com. The book sells for $20 and for an additional $4, Lela will mail it out.

She’s also doing a book signing at the Christian Bookshelf in Grand Forks from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 10.

Lela Selma Atwood Peterson is a graduate of both Minot State University and the University of North Dakota. For many years she taught elementary school in North Dakota, Wisconsin and Germany. In her retirement she enjoys writing family history and doing genealogical research.

In her acknowledgement at the close of “Selma,” Lela writes these words to her large extended family — her fellow descendants of Johan and Selma Sjoqvist:

“My heart is filled with love for all of you. I want to thank my grandparents and parents for making this possible and my children for making it necessary.”

Until Soon

If only this pillow could talk

Out of necessity of the heart, every so often I must return to one of my childhood happy places – the farm in north central North Dakota where my grandparents lived and where my mother grew up.

Grandpa homesteaded here in 1904 and this is where he and Grandma raised their six children who went on to have 15 kids of their own, one of which is me.

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Grandparents Henry and Ida Niewoehner

Hard to believe that practically every Sunday after church and “the feast,” we young’uns would skip a rope that was tied to a coral post. Then, after catching our breath, we’d lift the rafters with our singing around the piano in the living room – we who once were young are now the older generation.

How in the world did this come to be?

Over the years, since the generation before us took leave for eternity, we cousins and siblings have gathered on this Holy Ground several times to reunite, reminisce, remember and divvy up keepsakes we now hold dear that once belonged to Grandma and Grandpa.

And when we are in that very living room, without fail, we sing one of our old favorites, “Bless This House.”

In her later years, Grandma had two bedrooms in this absolutely beautiful mansion of a home. She used her cooler north bedroom during the summer and cozied up in her warmer east bedroom during the winter.

Which brings me to my most recent visit.

I walked into Grandma’s north bedroom the other day and there on the bed was this old tattered fancy satiny pillow with an endearing message inside a frayed fringe.

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Long gone from the walls of this room is the picture of a guardian angel watching over two children crossing a bridge. Gone are Grandma’s dresses and shoes from the closet, her powder puffs and hankies. Gone are her beautiful quilts but standing at attention was this pillow on her bed. How did we all miss this?

You’ve no doubt heard of pillow talk. I sure wish this one could but since it can’t, here’s what I imagine:

I’ll bet Grandpa brought this pillow back to Grandma from one of his shipping cattle trips to St. Paul. He probably stopped at Donaldson’s and when he saw the verse thought it perfect for his beloved. It reads:

To My Dear Wife:

From memories’ garden I recall
The sweetheart days we knew
With lovely flowers, singing birds,
And skies of azure blue.
Dear Wife of Mine how sweet the words
A hoped for dream come true,
My heart is happy when I think
Of home sweet home and you.

Grandma kept the home fires burning while Grandpa took his cattle to market and I’m sure he found great delight in bringing this verse back to her. There are a few spots on the satin. I imagine them as the tears Grandma shed while he was away.

My brother, Myrlin, remembers what all took place when Grandpa shipped cattle. “I can still see it in my mind’s camera,” he said.

The cattle were shipped to St. Paul by railroad from Russell, N.D., which was at least 10 miles from Grandpa’s farm. “They would go early in the morning and they drove (herded) the cattle along the road to Russell, imagine that,” Myrlin said. “The railroad anticipated their coming. There were stockyards on the west side of the depot. They put the cattle in the stockyards and then they would load them in open air box cars. ”

Myrlin also recalled early one morning when as a lad he was there in the midst of all the cattle chaos. “I remember Grandpa pouring coffee and drinking it around the stove in the depot.”

Maybe that’s the very trip in which Grandpa brought back this pillow for Grandma.

Wonder if Grandpa knew that someday the verse would also speak to this granddaughter who revised the last two lines just a tad?

“My heart is happy when I think of home, sweet Grandma and Grandpa’s home, and them.”

Until Soon