Something Very Personal By Edna Specht Beyer

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I am pleased to introduce my first guest blogger, Edna Specht Beyer, my paternal grandmother.  She actually passed away when I was in elementary school, and I never knew her very well.  Recently my mother uncovered some of Edna’s writings, and I have gotten to know her much better.  It turns out that she was a writer like me.  Or maybe I am a writer like her.

                I had heard that Edna had met her husband Lenard through a personal ad in the newspaper.  The story was so vague that it never seemed real to me.  Well, now I have the true story, told by Edna herself.

“Something Very Personal”

By Mrs. Lenard K. Beyer

GREETINGS from corn belt!  Isolated young woman, book-worm, wishes interesting correspondence.  Favorite novel, “Old Wives’ Tale”; favorite Waltz, Blue Danube; favorite sport, hiking; favorite dog, Irish Setter. Pet aversion, bridge.  Yours?  Corn Belt Miss.

 Sitting in a corner of my quiet little room one November afternoon a good many years ago, I scribbled the above lines in lead pencil.  This originated one of the small human interest ads that filled a back page of “The Saturday Review of Literature” each week.  Having gotten around to launching into this journalistic adventure I had had no idea what I was going to write when I tentatively jotted down my friendly opening line.   After a puzzled five or ten minutes another sentence formed rather limpingly.  Then an idea popped into my head, and the mention of a book I loved gave me enthusiasm.  Now I really got under way!  Dashingly I wrote other favorites, and recklessly topped them with something I really hated, “per aversion, bridge.”  Signing off with “Yours? Corn Belt Miss”, I felt flushed and excited.  Filled with a sense of wonder at what I was doing, I went to my desk and clicked off a copy on my portable typewriter.  Rereading my paragraph neatly typed, I thought it looked pretty good.

Rereading the same paragraph today in a yellowed copy of a 1933 magazine I am surprised at how gay and casual it seems in the company of the “Cultured, widely traveled” woman and the young man “with no degrading habits”.  I know not whether these more dignified neighboring ads brought any results.  I do feel sure that none of the other “personals” on the page could have had more important consequences to their writers than my own lively little paragraph.

But as I sat in my room rereading my neatly typed copy I expected nothing in particular, although I felt excited and filled with a vague sense of adventure.  What fun it would be to look in the mail hoping to find letters from persons with similar interests — anyone, anywhere.  How thrilling the possibilities of bursting the boundaries of one’s familiar environment!  What interesting friendships might come to me!  And perhaps even —- romance, whispered a sly little inner voice.  But no, I silenced the silly suggestion with my school teacher’s sensibleness and authority.

Then an incident occurred which might have kept me from mailing my “personal”.  There was an imperative knock at my door and my mother called to me announcing a long distance call from another part of the state.  It proved to be an offer of a teaching position which had to be accepted or refused immediately.  It was accepted.  But in the midst of packing shopping and getting ready to leave for school the “personal” was not quite forgotten.

“You are not going to send that now?” was my mother’s dubious question in regard to my silly little experiment.

But it seemed that I did want to send it.  So I counted the words, wrote a check to the editor and addressed an envelope to the magazine.  And in my haste I did not forget to include the stamps that were to bring me the letters from the interested readers of my “personal”.  However, I had all but lost interest in my experiment.  As I dropped the letter at the post office on a trip down town to shop for dresses and shoes for the schoolroom I was too preoccupied to feel any continued sense of adventure.  I had entirely gotten over my thrill at bursting out of my little prison of conventionality.  So I rushed on to my shopping and packing.  I was starting to teach once more, and it seemed like any other Fall except that it was six weeks late and I must hurry.

One sunshiny morning in October almost a year later I was waiting in a state of high excitement for a Ford V8 to turn into our driveway.  I have never experienced at any other time such a strange mixture of thrills, curiosity, hopes, fears and excitement as the morning that I waited for Lenard to arrive after his long trip.  Lenard and I had corresponded for most of the preceding year, our letters steadily increasing in number and intimacy as the time went on.  I had spent hours and hours writing to him and he to me.  Early in the correspondence he had told me of the pitiful tragedy of the loss of his wife and new-born child.005  I felt all too strongly how much the letters from the girl in the west had come to mean to him.  As I started at the approach of each passing car I was almost overwhelmed by my sense of responsibility at letting him drive a thousand miles to meet me.  As I peered at the girl in the mirror in my room I wondered again and again if I would look like the person that he had built up in his mind out of the many snap shots that I had sent him.

And he — would he really be like his pictures and letters?

Early in the morning I had put on my nicest house dress and arranged my unruly black curls as smoothly as possible.  Since then I had wandered restlessly and nervously about the house waiting for a car with an eastern license plate to drive in. Should I have let him drive that thousand miles to see the girl of the letters?  Would I come up to his ideal?  Would I like him?  Could we take off where our letters had left off?  When we met face to face would we be the same persons that each had thought he was writing to?  Or would we be really strangers?  I knew what music he liked, what books he read, what views he held on many subjects, what his hobbies were, what he liked for breakfast.  But I didn’t know the sound of his voice, how he walked, what mannerisms he had.  How would we react to each other?  How would our personalities “mix” when we were together in the flesh?  The hours dragged on and I began to think that perhaps he wouldn’t arrive that day after all.  I went about doing some housework absent-mindedly.  It was nearly lunch time now.  By this time I had begun to just glance at the cars going by.  Then suddenly my Mother’s, “There’s a car ——-“.

“It isn’t ——–?”

“Yes it is ———-a Ford V8 and he is driving in.”

Now that my “big moment” had arrived I became suddenly fussy about going out to meet “him”.  My hair needed smoothing and so forth.  Finally with my heart seeming to stand still I hurried to the door.

“Edna,” asked the young man at our front door.

“Yes.”

“How are you?”

“Why – a — I’m so excited I don’t know what to do.”  It was the last thing I had meant to say.  We looked at each other uncertainly for a moment and then a little blankly.  After all our months of writing, waiting for each other’s letters, and counting on each other, we seemed practically strangers at that moment.  He seemed a very nice young man, even finer than I had imagined.  And he was better looking.  But he seemed to be another person.  With bewilderment I felt that the person I thought I had been writing to for the past eleven months had never existed and someone slightly resembling him stood in his place.  His voice was the greatest surprise.  He had a quicker, almost hasty way of speaking.  And I was overwhelmed by the unlikeness of the real person from his pictured likenesses.  And in my confusion I realized that without a doubt he was feeling the same way about me.  A few minutes later I was helping him carry in things from his car and showing him his room in our home.  Somewhat gropingly we were trying to make conversations based on our letters.

The next two or three days I like to pass over even in my own thoughts.  I still feel strained and embarrassed when I think of that stage of our experiment.  Then one dull October afternoon when we were walking in the deserted natural park near my home, we sat down on a park bench and faced the situation together.  We did not really know each other very well, it seemed, and there was great doubt of our achieving the deep feeling and companionship that we both wanted so much. Strange as it may seem, that painful admission brought a new sense of understanding between us.

Then a few days later, on Halloween Eve, we experienced a sense of revelation.  I will never forget that evening — the tang of the Fall outside, the mantel decorated with pumpkins and autumn leaves, the cheerful open fire and the magic of our feeling for each other.  And being entirely feminine I will always keep the dress that I wore that night, the one of midnight-blue with the frilled collar and cuffs and the full swirling skirt that Lenard liked so much.  After that enchanted All Hallows Eve the days and evenings passed all too fast.

Early one crisp frosty morning we stood together in front of my home saying reluctant good-byes.  Lenard was about to retrace the thousand mile trip that he had made alone to see a young woman he had discovered in a magazine  I said that we must put the third of a continent between us once more before deciding that we were sure.  I myself felt entirely sure, but wanted to give him every chance to know his own heart in regard to the girl that might fill the empty place in his life.  As he drove off I stood watching as long as I could see him.  Then I stood alone once more shivering in my wooly white sweater and wondering whether, if I pinched myself, the past two weeks would turn out to be a dream. But many letters and telegrams the next few weeks reassured me that my happiness was all very real.

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002At noon two days before the following New Years, Lenard and I stood before the holly and evergreen decorated fireplace of my home and exchanged marriage vows before a local minister.  A few days later his friends were surprised by the news that he had married a bride in the west.  And my friends were equally puzzled by the announcements that I had married an easterner and gone east to live.  Only one of his friends and one of mine have ever learned how it happened.  Even yet we are sometimes startled by the innocent question, “And how did you meet?” A staid college professor and his faculty wife can hardly answer that it was through the “personal” column of a magazine.

To the natural question of the reader as to how it has turned out I can answer more frankly and say that we seem happier than most of our friends.

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Edna, Lenard, and George

And not long ago Lenard and I told each other that if we had it to do over we would repeat our unconventional romance.  Other results of that little “personal” of years ago are occasional nature articles that we write and publish together, a home that we think is lovely and a son who is a leader in the religious and social work of his city.

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Edna and Lenard’s son, George, my father

Lenard and I and more especially our son often marvel at the part that chance in the form of a small item in a magazine can play in life.

I hope you have all enjoyed reading my Grandmother Beyer’s true story as much as I have!  I think she and I have a similar style of writing.  I am so happy to know her better and to realize that I share in her heritage.  Now I think I will go curl up with Edna’s favorite novel as stated in her personal ad, Old Wives’ Tale, and see it we share the same taste in books.

The Death of Signarama

It would be in the cool of the evening when Chris and I would slip out to walk together, by ourselves.  This was a special treat.  It is hard to get time alone to talk and even harder to leave the house without some tag-alongs when you have 9 children.  I hadn’t been up to walking much in the past year, being pregnant and then recovering from having a C-section.  In the weeks following my surgery, Chris had encouraged me to walk with him.  It was spring and the weather was so lovely…but I wasn’t feeling up to it, and the truth was…I was afraid.  Afraid that I would be too tired to make it very far, afraid that my large incision would hurt and feel like it was busting open. The truth was, I was fighting the sorrow of having a C-section rather than the natural birth I had dreamed of, and I was still so very tired.

Chris kept pushing me out of my comfort zone (like he always does) and practically forced me to start walking.

“We will just go around the block and we can always stop and go back if you get too tired,” he wisely coaxed me.

So it began.  First just a short walk up the street and back, then around the block, then to the elementary school, and the all around the neighborhood.  The children got used to our nightly outings after supper, and older ones took care of the younger ones back at the house.

Chris and I got the glorious opportunity to clear our minds in the cool evening air. We would talk about our day and the children.  We were drawing closer to each other, and I could feel the depression lifting off of me.  I also thought I saw it lifting off of Chris as well.  He had been struggling the past 3 and a half years.  Almost four years ago was when we had purchased Signarama, a small sign shop down the street from our house.

We didn’t have experience in the sign industry, and we didn’t have a lot of start-up capital, nor was anyone willing to give us a loan or a decent line of credit. This was one of Chris’ big dreams, and we were crazy enough to take the leap into the unknown, believing that God had led us.

Being a business owner had taken a toll on Chris.  I had watched him begin with excitement and work hard.  I had watched that excitement diminish as he faced challenge after challenge.  He continued to fight and work hard month after month, but many days he had to fight through depression just to keep going.

In the midst of the struggle, we saw that God was working.  He saved us from having to close the doors three times.  We would get to the point where we had no more money to continue, could see no way out, and then God would do something miraculous. Singarama would remain to make signs for another day…and Chris would keep on fighting.

All through my pregnancy, time in the hospital for the C-section, and my slow recovery; Chris and I were both worn out, battling depression, and weary of fighting.  The business was failing again.

Yet when we took our walks together, we discussed all of these things and the weariness would lift a bit.  We enjoyed walking down the tree-lined streets and looking at the beautiful older homes in our neighborhood, each one unique and full of character.  Then we would follow a path through green rolling hills and marvel at the colors that the sunset had painted onto a perfect sky.

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The fact that all this majesty was found in a cemetery didn’t diminish it, but rather added to it.  The headstones had their own sublime beauty in the light of the setting sun.  Some were old and others were very recent.  Some had statues of angels…

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others were without any embellishment at all.  But all of them represented a life that had been celebrated by those who were left behind.  They were a memorial of the death of one who was loved.

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How fitting for us to be walking among these gravestones as we discussed the death of Signarama.

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During the long days of fighting for Signarama, having to close the shop had felt like the worst possible thing that could happen.

Yet as we discussed the inevitability of shutting down the business for good, we realized that this was not the worst possible thing.  We had lived alongside others who had endured much worse.  One guy had to sell his business because he and his wife were getting a divorce.  Another man was watching his fiancé slowly die of cancer.  Three marriages close to us had been shaken because of unthinkable betrayals.  Even in these tragic circumstances, there was always the hope of Christ.

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Thankfully, all we were facing was the loss of money.  Our marriage had been strengthened through the trials.  Our children were healthy and happy.  Our baby had not died but lived because of the C-section.  We were so blessed!!!!

Of course we weren’t just discussing the loss of money and the loss of our livelihood.  We were discussing the loss of a dream.  The loss of a big dream that we were hoping would lead to the fulfillment of many other dreams.  A big dream in which we had invested everything we had for the past four years!

Admitting that this dream really was dying was also admitting that we had heard God wrong. That He really hadn’t wanted us to buy Signarama in the first place.  Perhaps we had made a huge mistake and had gone woefully off course, wasting our time and money, moving backwards rather than forwards.

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Or perhaps God really did speak to us, but we just misinterpreted what He was saying.  Wow, we had seriously misinterpreted!  In fact, we had no idea what He was doing right now, or what He was going to do!  We admitted to each other that we didn’t know much of anything anymore.

How incredibly freeing that was!  We could surrender to God’s will, even if that meant losing everything we had wanted and worked for…because we knew that He was still good and that He still loved us.  We could surrender our “knowledge” and trust in God’s superior wisdom.

The possibility of Signarama being lifted off of Chris’ shoulders gave him a hope that he hadn’t had in a long time.  Perhaps he could finally be free of all the responsibility and the hassles and the long hours.

There was so much sorrow in the defeat and failure, yet there was so much hope as well.  The death of something always means the birth of something new, and new was exciting.

I began reading Me, Myself, and Bob by Phil Visher (the creator of Veggie Tales) during this time, and what a comfort it was to me!  Phil had a big dream like we did.  He had a huge success, and then the most colossal failure!  The grand scale of his failure sure made me feel better about our own.  But what was really striking about his book was the fact that he was actually THANKFUL for his failure because it brought him closer to God.

During some of his darkest hours, Phil was listening to a recording of a sermon and the preacher said, “What does it mean when God gives you a dream, and he shows up in it and the dream comes to life, and then without warning, the dream dies?  What does that mean?…It may mean that God wants to see what is more important to you – the dream or Him.”

This set Phil on a path to find God, to walk with Him as the men of old did.  Noah was able to fulfill the dream of building an ark after 500 years of walking with God.  Phil realized that during the frenzied years of “Veggie Tales”, his life was about working hard to meet deadlines and putting out new shows and new products.  He had spent very little time listening or seeking the voice of God.  It took failure for him to realize that, “the Christian life wasn’t about running like a maniac; it was about walking with God.  It wasn’t about impact; it was about obedience.  It wasn’t about making stuff up; it was about listening.”

Phil also said, “God has taught me to focus not on results, but on obedience.  Not on the destination but on the journey.  He loves you even when you aren’t doing anything at all.  We really shouldn’t attempt to do anything for God until we have learned to find our worth in Him alone…and God is enough for you.  But you can’t discover the truth of that statement while you’re clutching at your dreams.  You need to let them go.  Let yourself fall…and falling into God’s arms – relying solely on His power and will for your life – that’s where the fun starts.  That’s where you’ll find the ‘abundant life’ Jesus promised – the abundant life that doesn’t look anything like evangelical overload.  The impact God has planned for us doesn’t occur when we’re pursuing impact.  It occurs when we’re pursuing God.”

“Let it go.  Give it up.  Let it die.”

I heard of the voice of God speaking to me through those words.

Chris and I still prayed for a miracle for Signarama.

No miracle came.

So we let it go.

We gave it up.

We let it die.

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We gave up on all we had been working and fighting for, and decided that God was enough for us.  If all of this time and struggle had no other purpose than to bring us closer to God…than it had been worth it.

It was still hard to walk through the process and navigate through all the questions.

How will we tell our employees, our investors, our creditors?

What will Chris do for work?

What will we do for money?

How will be pay our bills?

(Here  is a beautiful song that described what we were feeling; The Unmaking by Nicole Nordeman.)

We had been stripped down to the essentials and these truths became clear –

Our lives are about knowing God.

The only dream that matters right now is knowing God more.

When we seek Him, we will find Him.

So the death of Signarama became the beginning of a new life of walking with God.

 

God is a Strange Kind of Blesser

I have a good man.  One of the best!  We have gone through our share of trials together, and I have watched him weather storm after storm.  I have seen him carry the weight of the world on his shoulders.  I have witnessed him straining under the overwhelming burden of it, trying with all his strength to simply stay afloat.

We have had many struggles during our marriage.  We have had times when we couldn’t pay our bills, we were getting calls from creditors threatening to take our home, and we were expecting that our vehicles would be repossessed.  We have gone through many financial storms such as layoffs and economic downturns.  We have followed trusted leaders into a treacherous sea of financial decisions and then have been abandoned, left to navigate to shore alone.  We have made our share of bad decisions, landing us in overwhelming debt.  We have also lived through the death of one dream after another, dreams that could have rescued us and put us on solid ground again.

 

One night a few years ago, we watched “Cinderella Man” together.  It became one of my favorite movies because it depicted something we had been through.  A young family with children to take care of.  A man wanting to work so badly, but there was no work to be found.  Things went from bad to worse in the middle of the Great Depression. Finally he got a break.  His former boxing trainer had gotten him a fight!  He would most certainly lose, but he would get paid.  He jumped at the chance to provide for his family!  The thought of being pummeled and hit until he was bloody was nothing to him. No suffering could compare to the thought of his children going without food.  Miraculously, he won the fight and eventually was in line to fight for the heavyweight title.  His opponent was a bear of a man who had killed someone in the ring with one knockout punch.  When James J. Braddock was talking to the media about how he had become such an amazing boxer when previously he was only mediocre, this was his answer, “Now I know what I am fighting for…milk.”

At this point Chris made a comment that I will never forget.  He said, “I would submit to a public beating if it would cancel all our debts.”

I almost wept right there!  The heart of a man who stands up and fights for his family against seemingly unbeatable odds!  Is there anything more courageous?  Chris had no opportunity to get into the ring like Jimmy Braddock, but he did work two jobs for four years to get us out of debt.  He worked hard, and he worked well.  He was diligent and did everything with wisdom and integrity.  In the midst of it, he realized that all of these jobs would drain him of his energy and time but never provide what we needed for our every growing family.

When Chris had the opportunity to buy a business, he jumped at it. He knew it would be a lot of work at first, but eventually he would be able to earn more as the owner and boss then he ever could as an employee.  He leaped out of the boat and started to swim into uncharted waters with faith and excitement.  It was true that we had failed many times before, but this time would be different!

It was about four months into owning the new business that we ran out of money.  We knew that God had led us there, but we didn’t know how to move forward.  I felt this amazing peace that everything would be just fine.  I didn’t know how, but I knew that God did, so I could trust Him.

Chris, on the other hand, had to go into work each day and try to figure out how he was going to buy materials to make signs and how he was going to pay his employees to make the signs.  On and on the troubles went day after day.  The days turned into weeks, and no miraculous provision materialized.  Things went from bad to worse.

I had seen Chris upset and discouraged before, but never like this.  In his mind, he had failed.  He had taken every resource we had and put it into this dream of a better life…and he had lost it all.  The darkness surrounding him was so thick; I could hardly get through it.  I could see that he was so tired of years of fighting and struggling, and his deepest heart’s desire was to just give up…on the business, on trying, on life.  His father had left him before he was old enough to remember.  Chris had vowed to himself that he would never leave his children fatherless.  So he kept fighting although he had lost almost all hope.  He kept going to work day after day, even though he felt it was useless.

He couldn’t see it, but I saw a miracle occurring.  Instead of getting angry and trying to ease his pain with distractions, Chris became humble and quiet.  He leaned into God.  He went to church whenever he could, and I saw him worship God in the midst of his hopelessness!

One night we both went to church because they were offering personal prophecies.  Boy, did we need a word from the Lord.  Any type of encouragement would be a life-preserver!  We sat down in the theater of our church and waited for one of the pastoral staff to come and pray for us.  Anne Stock, a senior pastor, kneeled down to where we were sitting and began to pray.  Her words were the very opposite of what Chris was expecting.  He was feeling like the biggest loser and screw-up there ever was.  Yet her prayer went something like this:

“God is enlarging you, showing you one more side.  You are ready.  He is showing you another dimension.  Don’t be concerned.  It is good.  I pray for Grace to do this different and new thing.  This is happening in your life right now is because He likes you!    HE IS A STRANGE KIND OF BLESSER. You are going to make it through this fire not even smelling like smoke, because there is a 4th man in the fire.  The fire is only burning that which had you bound; only the things that kept you from being free.  Your heart will come out unscathed.  Strength!”

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Chris was blown away.  God actually liked him and was blessing him.  Our struggles were not because he was destined to be a loser for the rest of his life.  It was because God knew he was ready to face this new trial and be enlarged by it.

I watched Chris begin to trust God more like a good Father, the good father that he had never had.  We looked on as God provided dramatic miracles to keep our business going, not just once, but twice!  And we see God doing the small miracles, day by day as we go into our fourth year.  We have lost the concern for our own lives.  Whether we fail or succeed is not so important.  Instead we are living to see the kingdom of God come to our little sphere of influence, however God wants to do it.

God is a strange kind of blesser!  As I look back over my life, the worst of times have always been linked to the very best of times.  When I was depressed or stressed or sick or so tired I couldn’t go on, that is when God met me and shook my world with His amazing words.  Words that have healed me and shaped who I am.  Words that I can offer to others to give them hope and meaning.  God is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (PS 34:18). What a blessing it is to have God so close!  Anything that comes into your life, no matter how evil or heartbreaking, can be turned around for good.  God can use absolutely anything to bless you!

If you look over the lives of famous history makers such a Joseph (in the Bible), Squanto, George Washington Carver, Corrie ten Boom, and even contemporaries such as Roland and Heidi Baker, you can see it!  You can see the crushing trials and loss that God used to bring about great blessings, not just for them but for the entire world.  If you are facing hard times, remember, your destiny is so great, so important, that God cannot leave you as you are.  He knows that there is an amazing treasure inside of you.  He knows that this trial will cause your roots to go deep down into His living waters.

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He knows that you are in the process of growing so deep and so wide and so strong, that all the powers of hell and all the forces on earth couldn’t move you from God’s purposes.  And in the midst of it all – His blessings overflow!

Happy 100th Birthday, Grammy!

La Vera Senior

La Vera Gisselman, Senior Picture

If my grandmother, La Vera Gisselman were still on this earth, she would be 100 years old today.  She was an extraordinary woman, and I remember her with such fondness.

John and Amelia Seipp

John and Amelia Seipp

La Vera child     She grew up in Wisconsin.  Her small family lived in the second story above a store that they owned.  She was full of love and admiration for her sainted mother, Amelia.  She had much respect for her father, John, although she described him as being strict and favoring her younger brother over her.  She told me her father was a very handsome man, always attracting the attention of the ladies.  Yet he had a certain smell about him, being very opposed to the overuse of precious and expensive water.  (La Vera was one of the most cleanly people I have ever known, almost to a fault.  As a child, I would wait on her heels and beg her to play with me.  Yet, she could not settle down to play a game or read a comic book until she felt that she had sufficiently cleaned my parents house.  This included taking the mattress off of my bed and vacuuming underneath it!)  Well, as a young woman, she described sneaking around when her father wasn’t home, filling up the wash tub with the rationed water and taking many forbidden baths.

When she was 16 years old, she met the love of her life, Harold Gisselman, at the ice skating rink.  He was immediately taken with her and offered to walk her half of the way home.

She thought to herself, “What kind of a guy is this, that he would only walk me part of the way!”

He ended up walking her the entire way to her front door, and it sounded like they were inseparable after that!  He was 20, so he had to wait for La Vera to grow up a bit before they could think about marriage.  Yet, they waited more than 10 years before they tied the knot.  In the frugal and patient way of their generation, they purchased a plot of land and had a house built before they got married.  (I remember looking at pictures of the basement being dug and the piles and piles of rocks that were pulled out of the ground.  Some of those rocks were used by Harold’s father to build a retaining wall in the back yard.  Many changes occurred to the house and the yard over the years, but 921 Humboldt Ave. remained their beloved home for all of their 50 plus years of marriage.  I have such wonderful memories of that little two bedroom, always clean and orderly, always meticulously maintained.  I remember picking cucumbers in the perfect, weedless garden.  I recall many neighbors and friends commenting on how the yard, bordered and overflowing with plants and flowers, was the prettiest one in Wausau.  Whenever an unusually cool breeze blows through Pennsylvania, I am taken back to those cool Wisconsin summers.  Whenever our radiators kick on that first cold day of fall, I am reminded of the smell of Grammy and Papa’s radiators that they had to turn on even in the summer!)

Finally, when Harold was 31 years old, he wed his beautiful La Vera on Nov 1, 1940.

Harold and La Vera Gisselman on their wedding day

Harold and La Vera Gisselman on their wedding day

They honeymooned in Chicago to pick out some furniture for their new home. When they returned to Wausau, they separated to continue living with their own parents until their home was completed.  Harold was the youngest of his mother’s four boys, and Anna always told him that when he moved out, she would just die.  The day he moved into his own home, which was just up the street from his mother’s home, she did pass away.  Much sorrow and joy were woven together in those early years.

Anna and Erik Gisselman

Anna and Erik Gisselman

Grammy told me that one day Harold was requested to report for duty.  It was WWII, and he had received a summons, but there was a possibility that he could be sent right back home again. Grammy passed the long hours waiting for him to return home by scrubbing every inch of her home.  Then she received a call.  He would not be returning but would be entering the Army Air Corp!  He went to an army base in St Louis, Missouri.  They discovered that he was very good at typing, so the army, in their wisdom, decided that he could best serve his country by doing office work in the states.  He was never sent over seas to fight, and I was always so thankful for that.  La Vera was able to visit him in St. Louis, and she became pregnant with their first and only child, my mother!  How very important that child was!

La Vera had to spend most of her pregnancy alone, although she did have the help and company of her mother.  When she told her father-in-law, Erik, that he was going to be a grandfather, he would walk up the street to help her as well.

The time came for her to give birth.  She entered the hospital and they put her to sleep.  She doesn’t remember any of the birth!  (She would become very uncomfortable when I would broach the topic of my natural childbirth experiences.  She preferred to stay in the dark about the whole mysterious affair.)  Harold received some leave and returned to see his baby girl!

Harold and Dana

After his time in the Army, Harold was hired as a bank teller.  He worked his way up the banking ladder until he was eventually the bank president.  Everyone called him Chick, and he was known and loved by everyone at the bank and most everyone in town.  He was an honest and intelligent man, always ready with a joke and a smile.  Years and years after his retirement and even years after his death in 1994, I still heard people around town talk about him with respect and admiration.

La Vera got a job as a kindergarten teacher’s assistant at Franklin Elementary.  Then she was the secretary at Horace Mann Junior High School and worked there for many years.  She was wonderful with children.  She gave me a box full of years and years worth of crafty invitations she helped to make, promoting some sort of school event.  She would often be a part of the school’s variety show in which she and Harold (along with many others) would deck themselves out in various costumes and perform skits.

Once they both retired, they would spend their winters in Florida and Arizona and their summers gardening and visiting their two beloved grandchildren (myself and my brother Jason) in Pennsylvania.  La Vera despised the heat and humidity of PA.  She would end up playing games with us in our cool basement to find relief.  We would also go to visit them in Wisconsin for 2-4 weeks in the summer.  Oh the fun we had playing at Marathon Park, hiking on Rib Mountain or the Eau Claire Dells, and visiting the cottage up north. We would swim in the frigid water until our quivering lips turned purple.  Once we all took a trip to Yellowstone National Park.  It was one of the best times of my childhood!

50th anniversary

Harold and La Vera celebrating their 50th anniversary

My Papa passed away the night that I graduated from High School.  La Vera was devastated and heart-broken.  He had prepared her for his death, and she knew how to take care of herself.  She was strong and self-determined.  One of her most memorable character traits was that she ALWAYS knew the right thing to do in EVERY situation, and she NEVER hesitated to speak her mind.  She could be taken as rather prideful and bossy at times, yet to me, that was just Grammy.

Several years passed and Grammy moved herself into a retirement community, selling her beloved home and going through all of her belongings.  Years after that she moved herself into a new retirement community, because it had a balcony off the living room that she liked better.  She loved that place and never wanted to leave.  She kept herself busy with cribbage games and a string of adoring boyfriends, always much younger that she was.  She lived independently up until two months before her death at age 96.  She was a marvel and a wonder to all who met her!  Her secrets to long life and vitality?  Exercise, fresh air, gardening, and a table-spoon of vinegar and black strap molasses everyday.  Her father, who died in his own home at age 96, swore by his vinegar and honey, and she carried on that tradition with a twist.

One point that Grammy was rather adamant about over the years was that I should not be a “baby making machine”, as she put it.  She was overjoyed with the first few children we had.  Then her excitement waned with the next few.  Somewhere around the 6th child, she acted annoyed when I announced a new pregnancy.  Pretty soon I was very hesitant to even tell her that I was pregnant again, almost wishing that I could assure her that we would absolutely have no more children and gain back her approval.  Her approval was always something that I highly coveted.  Woe to the person who had lost it!  Yet I knew that God had more precious babies for me, whether Grammy liked it or not!

My Grammy, LaVera Gisselman

My Grammy, LaVera Gisselman

In her final years, La Vera appeared to become less controlling and more accepting of others.  I had the privilege of spending the last week of her life by her side. She had a stroke and was no longer capable of making decisions on her own.  Chris and I traveled to Wisconsin and moved her into a memory care facility.  She was the most talkative, most opinionated, and spunkiest resident in the entire place.  She could hold the most lucid conversations, and a few times Chris and I thought we were making a horrible mistake by taking away her freedom, her apartment, and her car.  Yet the next moment she would think that Chris was a nurse and that another resident, Leonard, was actually her boyfriend, Harry.  She had the most hilarious conversations with Leonard, still believing that he was Harry, even after he refuted that fact in many ways.  Yet Leonard was smiling the whole time as though he didn’t mind the thought of being her boyfriend.

She passed peacefully in her sleep on February 4, 2011.  I was hard to say goodbye, but I was thankful that she didn’t have to live very long with dementia.

Later, in her belongings I found at least four typed note cards listing the names and birth dates of all her great-grandchildren (including Jason’s two children), as though she was afraid that she would forget one of them.  I also found a precious little bundle wrapped in white tissue paper.  It was a group of seven silver angels, one for each one of my children that I had at that time.  Each one was inscribed with the child’s name and inset with their birthstone.  Each great-grandchild was precious to her…I could see that clearly.  Now that she is on the other side of eternity, I know they are even more precious in her eyes.  I know that she is cheering me on as I am expecting our ninth little one in April.  She can now see into the fathomless depths of time; generation after generation, thousands of years upon thousands of years.  Every good thing my children accomplish during their lifetimes is part of HER legacy!  Their imprint on history is also HER imprint on history!  And their love of humanity and their love for God add to HER eternal bliss.

I love you Grammy!  I can hardly wait to see you again!

Our Love Story is My Favorite!

love story 4

The first time I met my husband, I was in a church gym surrounded by cheap lunch meat and the overpowering smell of raw onions.  My “boyfriend” Jesse had invited me to a sub-making fundraiser for the youth group of his church.  I must qualify the term “boyfriend” by saying that we were in junior high, and our “serious boyfriend/ girlfriend” relationship meant that we had each acknowledged that we liked each other, and on rare occasions our parents would drive us to see a movie together.  This time, my parents had driven me to Jesse’s church.

It was there that Jesse introduced me to his best friend who had just coasted into the gym on a skateboard.

“Anne, this is my friend, Chris.”

And that was the first time I met him, the man of my dreams.  Of course, at the time he was still an awkward teenager who simply said, “Hi,” and then skated off again.

I became very involved in Jesse’s church until it became my church as well.  I went to every Wednesday night, every Sunday morning, and every special event.  Chris and his brother and mother stopped going to church, so I never saw him.  Jesse and I broke up, but stayed really good friends.

About two years later Chris showed up for the annual youth group retreat. During that retreat, I realized that Chris had been an integral part of my circle of church friends before they had become my circle of friends.  He easily became part of the gang again. We all had a lot of fun.

love story

We were all together again at Jesse’s birthday party when Jesse blurted out, “Chris, you should take Anne to your prom!”

This seemed like a totally bizarre outburst on Jesse’s part, but Chris answered as though he had been already thinking about it.

“Yeah, do you wanna go?”

love story 2

“I guess so,” I replied.  I never thought it would happen.  He was a senior, I was a junior.  We went to different schools.  We didn’t know each other that well.  The prom was three months away.  He would most certainly have a girlfriend by then.

Chris started calling my house a few nights a week.  Then he asked me to accompany him to pick out a tux.  It was on that little date that he asked if I was his girlfriend.

I sat in stunned silence for what seemed like five full minutes.  I thought that in order to be his girlfriend, he had to ask me to be his girlfriend.  Perhaps I had missed something very important during our interactions the past few months.

“I don’t think I am,” I replied.

“Well, do you want to be?”

Again, silence.  I hadn’t thought about it.  I just didn’t know what to say.

“Could I think about it and let you know?”

We got together the following weekend to discuss our relationship.  I told him that I wasn’t ready to be in a serious relationship, and when I did get into one, I wanted to be sure that it was what God wanted.  Chris agreed and didn’t seem too discouraged.

Our friendship grew and deepened, and we did go to the prom together.

love story 3

We spent my entire senior year just “being friends”, although everyone else knew that we were more that just friends.  We would go on marathon dates that would consist of wandering around the city for 10 hours or more. We became youth leaders and had fun and wild times at church functions.

love story 5

We would pray, teach, preach, and put on crazy skits.  I played a party animal and heavy drinker in one skit, though in real life I had never had a drop of beer.  Chris dressed up as a nerdy scientist for another drama.  His entrance into the youth room was supposed to be especially dramatic as flash pots exploded behind him.  Unfortunately the flash pots were poorly timed and went off right in Chris’ face.  His eyes were sprayed with part of the explosion, and they were watering profusely for the entire skit.  Chris didn’t miss a beat and continued to act his part perfectly.

Once, the youth group went white water rafting.  It was great, except there was no white water.  We were floating lazily down the river.  This was ideal for Jesse and me, but Chris required more excitement.  He proposed taking the bailing buckets that our raft was equipped with and using them to douse a nearby raft with water.  Jesse and I insisted that such behavior would be rude and uncalled for and would ruin the peaceful boat trip we were enjoying.  Chris proceeded to fill up the bucket and dump the entire load of water on my head.  As I was dripping and gasping in utter disbelief of the horrendous treatment I had just endured, Chris leaned in to my soggy ear and whispered, “I love you!”

When time came for me to graduate, I had decided to spend a year doing missions with Youth With a Mission (YWAM) rather than go straight to college.

For the next year I was training in Texas and then went on outreaches to Belize, Central America and many places in the US.  I would write Chris long, chatty letters almost everyday.  Chris would write maybe once a month.  There were no cell phones and no land lines in the girls’ dorm where I was staying.  Chris and I would plan via letter weeks in advance to talk on the phone on a specific day and time.  I would take my quarters and go to the pay phone in the cafeteria, praying that there was not a line.

Both of us had to answer the question our hearts kept asking, “Is this the person I will marry?”

In my training classes, there was a teaching about laying everything important in our lives on the altar before God.  Being a Christian didn’t just mean believing in God.  It also meant giving Him everything!  I spent a good prayer time with God giving Him my dreams, ambitions, and Chris.  I wasn’t sure that God would give him back.

I knew that I loved Chris.  I loved his sense of humor, his incredible work ethic, and his high morals.  I loved that he always respected his mom.  I loved that he loved God.  I loved his dark brown eyes and his single dimple that would show itself when he smiled.  I truly felt that he was the most handsome man I had ever met.    But perhaps he wasn’t THE ONE. Maybe God’s perfect plan for my life didn’t include marrying Chris.  I was willing to do anything He told me to do.

love story 7

I was talking a walk around the lake in the beautiful countryside of the rural mission base when I felt God speak to me so clearly.

Do you think I blessed your relationship with Chris just to take it from you now?”

From that moment on, I never doubted that he would be my husband.  It took Chris a little longer.  He was talking classes at a community college, renting a room from a gentleman at church, working as a waiter, taking impromptu road trips with his crazy guy friends, driving fast in his sporty CRX, using his limited spending money on CDs instead of food, sporting a new bleached blond hairdo, and turning down offers from interested pretty young women.  I was a bit worried about him.

love story 6

He decided to fly out to Texas to visit me in May, even though he was basically a starving student.  He must have gotten his answer during that trip.  As soon as he returned home, he drove straight from the airport to the jewelry store to pick out an engagement ring.  I had no clue.  In my slow-moving fashion, I thought marriage would be years away, perhaps after college.  I did have a small scholarship to Eastern College that I was planning on using to study Elementary Education.  Yet I thought God might have other plans.

When my training school with YWAM was coming to an end, all the students were encouraged to ask God for our next step.  I was determined to hear His voice.  There were so many opportunities to be a missionary in any country in the world with YWAM.  I really thought that God would tell me to take everything I owned in a backpack and go to some exotic place.  His answer surprised me.

Go Home.”

I was home only a month when I decided to plan a special picnic dinner for Chris’ birthday.  I wanted it to be a special surprise.  My best friend, Autumn, was over, and she helped me prepare four courses and pack them carefully into a picnic basket.  When my mom heard of my plans, she offered the good china and a special table-cloth.

As I laid out the feast for Chris at our favorite date place (Negley Park), he seemed distracted and hardly ate anything.  After the meal, we sat together on the swings that overlooked the Harrisburg skyline as the sun set and the lights made the city sparkle.

Chris got up and then went down on one knee.

“I had a long talk with your parents….”

He took out a tiny box and I knew what he was going to say!  I gave him a huge hug and again, I was speechless!  I was overjoyed to become his wife, yet I was so surprised, I could not respond.

“Is that a yes?” he asked.

I nodded.

love story 8

love story 9Eleven months later, we became Mr. and Mrs. Brandenburg!  That was 18 years ago today.  So many volumes I could fill with all the adventures we have had, all the mountain tops and all the valleys, all the joys and all the sorrows, all the faith and all the doubt…but mostly all the love!  Perhaps that story is being written here on this blog, one precious chapter at a time.  It is my favorite story!

 

My Adventurous Husband with the Crazy, Impossible Dreams Might Just Be Right

 

Hershey Park, Fort Hunter 079

My husband, Chris, is very different from me.  In fact, he is quite the opposite.  He is spontaneous and impatient, prone to making rash and risky decisions.  He is also very driven.  When he has a certain goal in mind, all else fades to the background as he plows through valleys and climbs over mountains to reach that goal.  When he gets an idea in his head, it seems like an obsession to me.  I am a steady and reliable creature of habit.  I like to dwell, remain, and stay in my comfort zone.  I feel no need to go trailblazing into unknown and possibly scary territory.  To change my course is like trying to alter the flow of a river.  I have found that trying to deter Chris from a goal is like trying to stop a freight train once it is barreling down the tracks.  It is much easier to jump aboard and enjoy the ride!

We faced our first major financial decision as newlyweds.  Our apartment had washer and dryer hookups, but we had no washer and dryer.  We would spend hours at the Laundromat.  Chris reasoned that if we could put our Laundromat money towards payments on our own washer and dryer, we would be much better off.  I agreed, but when I saw the large price tag, I was terrified.  We ended up in our car in the Sears parking discussing the pros and cons. The worry of making a bad decision brought me to tears.  We ended up buying the brand-new, super-capacity Kenmore beauties, despite my abiding nervousness.  Eighteen years, 6 moves, and eight children later, they are still washing 2-3 loads a day!  Chris was totally right!

In 2006 we were renting a nice house on Market St where I found my Little Piece of Heaven.  Sure, I wanted to move eventually, but I figured that God would bring that opportunity right to us at the proper time.  But Chris was obsessed.  He was unsatisfied with our living conditions and upset that our rent money was going into someone else’s pocket instead of building up equity for us.  He talked to realtors.  He got lists of homes sent to him every week on the internet.  He kept finding houses that he wanted me to look at. The available four bedroom homes priced around $100,000 were not at all what I would call attractive or comfortable!  I didn’t want to look at these homes, not to mention consider living in them.  But I did it, because Chris asked me to.  We even put offers on two of them.  They had been on the market for a long time.  We thought we could get a good deal, fix them up and then sell them for more…all in an effort to get closer to our real dream house.  Both houses were snatched up right before our offers came in.

Chris didn’t give up, however.  He talked to other realtors, looked at other houses, and kept viewing homes on the internet.  None of the homes interested me at all.  Basically, I had given up on owning a home.  One day Chris came across a picture of an older home, shrouded in dark awnings and overgrown shrubbery.  He set up a time to see it.  He walked in the front door, took one look at the high ceilings and beautiful woodwork and thought, “This is it!”

There was just one mountain of a problem.  It was more than twice what we could afford.  He set up a second time to view the house and wanted me to come along.  I so desperately wanted to refuse him, and I almost did.  I didn’t want to go see another ugly house.  I definitely didn’t want to go see a beautiful house, fall in love with it, and then have to face the reality that we could never afford it.  But I did it, because Chris asked me to.

The house was built in 1924 and was in a beautiful neighborhood with tree lined streets.  I toured the gorgeous home, loving every detail of it! I tried NOT to love it…but I couldn’t help it.  I took a paper containing the specs of the home that included a tiny black and white picture of the exterior.  In my mind, that dreary picture was a picture of my dream home.  I placed the paper on top of my filing cabinet.  Every time I passed by and caught a glimpse of that paper, I would pray that God would do a miracle and give us that house!  Every time we passed the exit on the highway that would take us to the house, longing would fill my heart that someday that exit would lead to my home!  Every night before bed, the children would pray and ask God to give them that house!  Chris’ obsession had become a family obsession!

The realtor went to the owners with a crazy idea.  Even though the house had only been on the market for two weeks, he urged them to consider a sellers agreement, where we would make payments to them directly and take over the mortgage in a few years. It seemed like an eternity before they responded…THAT THEY WOULD!  Amazing miracle number one! Yet our soaring spirits sank a bit as we heard the terms.  The monthly payment was way too much, and we had to come up with $10,000 upfront.  Chris countered with $300 less per month.  They accepted! Amazing miracle number two!

Time came to sign the paperwork, and we still had no money to put down. Chris continued to plow ahead, scaling that mountain and signing away!  I was terrified and thought back to the washer and dryer purchase so long ago.  How small that decision seemed compared to this one was!  I sat with the realtor, the paperwork, and a kitchen timer in front of me.  I was timing contractions that had been coming every twenty minutes for baby number six.  I was about to have a baby, and here I was, facing one of the biggest decisions of my life!  I wanted to call it all off, or have a conference like we did in our car in the Sears parking lot.  I wanted to cry my heart out and beg Chris to back out of the whole thing!

Quietly a peace descended upon me, and my emotions stilled.  My contractions stopped.  I saw the hand of God moving heaven and earth.  I saw that it was He who had put that obsession into my husband’s heart.  I signed the paperwork and believed that God would work out the rest.  Amazing miracle number three!

I didn’t have any more contractions for almost a week.  My grandmother joyfully offered to give us the money we needed and a bit more!  Amazing miracle number four! Chris’ mom flew in from Colorado in anticipation of the new baby’s arrival.  That night my water broke, but there were no contractions.  In the morning, we thought we would pass the hours by showing my mother-in-law our new home!  It was a hot and humid day in August. I walked around my home, and I began to get contractions.  They increased as I showed off my four large bedrooms and gigantic bathroom on the second floor.  They increased even more as I went down to view my spacious and clean basement with shelves and shelves of storage space.  Finally, we all gathered outside to return to our rental house.  I leaned on the truck with one intense contraction.  It was hard to escape the pain with heat emanating from the sun above and rising from the blacktop below.  I thought, “What have I done, coming here while in labor?  I need to get home!”

We arrived home in plenty of time to fill the baby pool in our bedroom and call the midwife.  Our little Cooper was born a few hours later, healthy and happy!  Some weeks after that, we began to move into our new home.

june 2014 229We are still in this home, paying the mortgage (our mortgage!) eight years later.  That is the real miracle!  We have weathered job losses, economic downturns, and debt reduction programs.  We were close to foreclosure during the hard times, yet we are still here!

Three years ago Chris became obsessed with another goal, to become a business owner.  He talked to a business broker and received emails about local businesses for sale.  He read books about entrepreneurs and conversed with friends who were business owners.

“Oh brother,” I thought. “Here we go again!”

He inquired about a Signarama shop just blocks from our house.  He went to visit with the owner and saw the shop.  He was convinced that this was it.  He wanted me to see it all and tell him what I thought.  I really didn’t want to!  But I did, because he asked me to.

When I saw the shop I thought, “This is definitely NOT it!”  A sign shop, full of vinyl to make signs?  How boring!  I never had any interest in being a business owner, nor ever thought about making signs.  Chris began the slow process of turning my course.

We talked with the regional VP of Signarama to learn more about the franchise.  What emotions surfaced when I thought about this proposition; spending all we had plus going into debt to acquire a business?  Terror!  Pure fear!  Fear of not having enough to pay our bills.  Fear of heading towards foreclosure again!  Fear of making a big whopper mess-up of a decision!  Quietly peace descended upon me, and I heard the voice of God.

“Do not fear making mistakes.  Mistakes aren’t as powerful as you think they are.  You see them as huge giants that can rob you of your destiny.  That is not true.  Your mistakes cannot negate my promises or my power or my faithfulness in your life.  I can cause all your mistakes to prosper and use them for good.  In fact, your mistakes are your servants.  Use them to learn about me, yourself, and your destiny.  Use them to draw near to me.  Do not fear making mistakes.  Make all decisions in confidence and faith.  I AM able to lead you and keep you in my perfect will.  I AM faithful!”

So we took the plunge into business ownership.  It has been harder than we had ever imagined.  Some of my fears have come to pass, but I realized that they weren’t so bad after all.  God is in control, and He is bringing us through this into the abundant prosperity that He has promised!  Chris is learning to slow down his freight train to prayerfully consider my wisdom.  I am learning that my adventurous husband with his crazy obsessions might just be tapping into the very heart of God!

chris

“The moment you are in is pregnant with possibility.  DON’T kill it with fear.” – Bill Johnson

            I won’t kill it with fear!  I will move forward with faith and confidence!

I WILL ENJOY THE RIDE!

           hershey park