Monday, March 23, 2015


Our newer folks at Holy Trinity don’t know Janice, but those who have been around a while remember her well from the time when she was a pillar of our congregation. These days, every so often her sister brings her to worship and we’re blessed to have her with us, but those occasions are too few and far between. 

For decades, Janice was a faithful alto in the choir. Although her presence was important to us, she didn't have the strongest voice, and you couldn’t really hear her. So, when she announced that she was going to sing a solo in worship, we were all surprised. “Lead Me, Guide Me” was the song. An appropriate one for Janice who had dealt with a number of physical challenges her whole life and truly trusted in God every step of the way.

She was supposed to arrive early to run through the song one last time with our music director. We expected her at 10:30. 10:30 passed, and no Janice. For weeks she had been talking about singing this solo, so her tardiness was odd. (Janice was never late for anything.) 

When we started worship at 11:00 and still hadn't seen her, we started to get concerned. At 11:15 Kathy went to her house, which was right around the corner from the church. 

Fortunately, Kathy is a nurse, because when she got to Janice’s she saw that Janice had had something that looked like a stroke and Kathy took care of her until the paramedics arrived on the scene.

It turned out Janice had a seizure that erased her short term memory. After several years, it has improved only slightly. She can remember people from her past and stories from before her seizure, but since then, she literally can’t tell you what she did 5 minutes ago. 

Over time, Janice has learned to cope with her new limitations. She lives in an assisted living facility where the walls in her room are plastered with signs her sister made for her, telling her what day it is, important phone numbers, what happened to her, and so on. She carries a schedule of daily activities in a pouch that hangs from her neck and she has a pad of paper by the chair in her room where she writes down everything that she does. 

Janice has no memory of the weeks leading up to that fateful Sunday and whenever she hears the story, to this day, when it comes to the part where she was going to sing a solo in church, she is hearing it again for the first time, and she laughs hysterically at the thought of it. 

"There is no way I was going to sing a solo in church!" she’ll say. 

"Yes, Janice, you were."  And she’ll shake her head in disbelief. 

In truth, if she hadn’t been singing a solo, we would have assumed she was visiting with family that day and no one would have checked on her when she didn’t appear at worship. Another 20 minutes without someone finding her and she would have been dead. So offering to sing that solo, something that was totally out of character for Janice, saved her life.

Can you imagine how terrifying it would be to suddenly lose your memory like that? When I think about it, I imagine that it might feel a lot like dying. I have always thought that being alive is synonymous with maintaining cognitive ability. But Janice has me rethinking that. Maybe there's more to life than registering our life experience in our brains. 

With Janice, losing her memory hasn't changed the essence of who she is as a person. Janice is still Janice. She is still able to cope with whatever life hands her. She exudes positive energy. She participates in every activity that comes her way with a smile on her face. After spending time with her, I always feel good about myself because she is so loving and supportive. 

Janice is fiercely loyal to Holy Trinity. She was always our strongest prayer warrior and she continues to be. She also always gave faithfully to the church financially, something that continues to this day. Whenever I visit her, she will invariably ask me, “How is Holy Trinity doing financially?” I will tell her we’re just fine. A couple more times in our conversation she will ask me the same question, “How is Holy Trinity doing financially?” because she can’t remember she had already asked me. This is the question she asks me more than any other. It reminds me of the Biblical truth about how connected our hearts are to our treasures. Janice clearly links her love for Holy Trinity with the support she gives through her offerings. 

In the midst of all the things she forgets, Janice remembers what's most important to her. She hasn't forgotten the love she has for our congregation and the love we have for her.  For Janice, the faith community she loves is a manifestation of the love of God in her life. 

Janice has been a gift to me personally. Spending time with her always brings me to recognize how living moment to moment, caught up in the minute details of my life, distracts me from living from the core of who I really am, a person created to be in relationship with the God of love.  

Lead me, guide me, along the way:
for if you lead me, I cannot stray.
Lord, let me walk each day with thee.
Lead me, O Lord, lead me. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Trouble is on its way

One of my dearest friends in the entire world is coming to Charlotte tomorrow. I suspect we’ll get into some kind of trouble because we always do.

I met Donna when I was in my twenties, pregnant with my second child. She was living in Ohio at the time and I was living in North Dakota. We were both attending a meeting in Minneapolis. Our Lutheran publishing house was introducing new Sunday school material and they had recruited people from all over the American Lutheran Church to be trained so they could return to their respective geographic areas and introduce the material.

Although Donna and I had never met before this event, we clicked like lifelong friends. 

During our first lunch together at the Marriott, we were deep in conversation when a huge cockroach started strutting across the linen tablecloth. Donna spied it while she was speaking. Without missing a word, she calmly picked up a coffee cup and nonchalantly placed it over the roach, trapping it inside. We finished our lunch and left the surprise for the waitstaff. I was duly impressed by this woman.

Throughout the training we had great fun, even when things weren’t particularly designed with fun in mind. When it came time for us to part, I grieved the fact that we lived so far apart and I would never see this person again.

About five years later, I moved to Ohio and guess who was a short drive away! I gave Donna a call and we picked up right where we left off. At the time, I had no idea what a lifeline she would be for me over the course of the next decade as I walked through the darkest time of my life.  

Then I moved again. Leaving Donna was one of the worst things about moving away from Ohio for me. 

Since then, I’ve gone up her way, she’s come down my way, and we’ve met up in the middle for some adventures from time to time.

So she’s coming to North Carolina tomorrow. And that got me to thinking about the first time she came to visit me after I moved to Charlotte.

The two of us decided to make a trip to Asheville. We drove over in my new car.

Back when I lived in Ohio I was always complaining because it seemed like I was the only person in the world who still had to crank her car windows up and down and I had vowed that my next car would have power windows. So, now I had them. And I was going to make a big freakin' deal out it!

On the drive to Asheville we stopped at a McDonald’s and while we were going through the drive through I started showing off, making my window go up and down, down and up, over and over again. “Do you see how cool that is? Is that not the best thing ever!”

After about a dozen times, the window suddenly stopped half-way down and wouldn’t budge. Yep, I broke the damn window and had to drive like that for the remainder of the trip. Donna was amused by this, but I was not. Especially when it started raining.

Roughly six weeks before Donna arrived I had made arrangements for us to stay at a Bed & Breakfast in the Asheville area. A friend highly recommended the place. When I called and made the reservation, they told me they would mail my confirmation that day. (All of this stuff happened before people used the internet for such things.)

I waited and waited, but the confirmation never came. And here's the really bad part. I didn’t write the name of the place down because I figured I would have the name when I got their letter. 

I tried to call the friend who had recommended it and she was in Germany. (This was also before people used cell phones like they do now.) Oy.

I had made a reservation for two nights at some mystery place with my credit card. So, now what did I do?

I decided that if I saw the name of the place I would recognize it. And really, how many Bed & Breakfasts could there be in the Asheville area?

Donna and I arrived in Asheville in the pouring rain. We drove around for a while and found a visitor’s center. We went in and I described my dilemma to them. After making some sarcastic remarks that Donna appreciated more than I did, they handed me a listing of B & Bs in Asheville and said that if I needed to use their phone, I could.

Well, if you've ever been to Asheville, you probably realize that there are a lot of cities that have smaller phone directories than the book they handed me.

I sat down and started randomly calling places. “Hello, do you have a reservation for Nancy Kraft for tonight?”

They weren’t allowed to give out that information, they would tell me. So then I’d start whining, “No, you don't understand. I’m Nancy Kraft. I want to know if I made a reservation there. I made a reservation somewhere and I can’t remember where it was.”

I suspect most of them thought I was making a crank call because of all the laughter they could hear in the background. Donna was thoroughly enjoying this.

After about twenty calls, I finally called a place that assured me they were the B & B where I had made a reservation. So, who’s laughing now, Donna?

When I got home the long-awaited letter of confirmation was waiting for me in my mailbox. It was not from the place where we stayed. 

So, tomorrow afternoon another installment in "The Adventures of Donna & Nancy" begins at Charlotte-Douglas Airport and I’m expecting more trouble. Of course, I mean that in the best way possible.