Archive for the 'Family' Category

A Prayer of Remembrance

dsc_0046Dear God,

Thank-you for the gift of Lois Hanselman Bilhorn. We are blessed in the fullest sense of the word.

Her tenderness, her persistence, her elegance, but most of all her unconditional love have helped us to understand and know you more.

And as we leave here, may we remember:

When we are tempted to be coarse, may we be tender as Lois was.

When our courage wanes, hope is bleak, faith is small and we want to give up, may we persist in faithfulness as Lois did.

May our elegance be not simply superficial, but beauty that is marked first by substance and depth.

And may we love others unconditionally as Lois did, knowing that you are love and we ultimately know true love is found in you.


Help us to follow Lois

And those who have gone before us

As we follow you,

Until all sad things are made untrue.

In Jesus name we pray,




Breathing, Winter, and Resting in Peace

It’s been really cold this week in Chicago – if you don’t go outside, or are in a warm weather climate, you can just check people’s facebook status updates to find out what the windchill is outside.

The extreme temperatures always seem to challenge me to see how tough I am.  I like going out in the really cold (safely, of course) and breathing deeply.  As I breathe in through my nose, the frigid temperatures freezes it’s contents.  [Boogers, to use the technical term.]

I breathe out, and this cloud of CO2 exits my mouth and wafts in a white cloud away from my face.  As a kid waiting for the bus outside, I would try blowing rings in the frigid air.  Sometimes I still try this as I walk in the cold – still to no avail.

As I”m walking to my office, I get a call from my Dad that if I wanted to see my grandmother one last time, I should head up north to Wisconsin sooner rather than later.  I also get word from my mom that our long time neighbor, Kay Richardson, just passed away as well and her funeral is on Saturday.

I drive the all too familiar route I’ve driven hundreds of times before, and first stop at the visitation for Kay.  I mowed Kay’s yard and sat with her and helped her in her house for a few years as she wasn’t doing well.  I stop at her visitation and greet my neighbors – tears, laughter, and grieving.  We joke around – the neighbor who has been around the shortest has been there for 39 years. She’s the “rookie.”

But I can’t get Grandma Lois out of my mind.  “I need to see Grandma,” I say to myself.  I do my best to be fully present there, but my mind is elsewhere.  Something on the inside tells me I need to go.

I drive through the backroads to her home, looking at the snowscaped cornfields and forests.  It’s winter in Wisconsin – the drifts on the cornfields look like white waves of an ocean.  The wind blows snow across the road, sending the frigid temperatures down even further with windchill factors that have closed school the last couple days.

I think about the seasons of life – how the rhythm of life is governed by suns rising and setting, seasons coming and going.  And Grandma is in the winter of life.  The sun is setting.

I arrive and am of course greeted by family and folgers.  Grandma’s sister-in-law, my Aunt Ruth, greets me warmly and hugs me and says she’s glad I can see her one last time.  I see my cousin Michelle and Uncle Red – the one who gleefully tormented my brothers and I as kids and we loved it.  But we aren’t full of glee now.

I sit with Grandma, and she is a shadow of herself.  She can barely speak, and the words only come in small numbers.   She’s a tough woman – you wouldn’t know it because she’s so sweet, but she’s tough as nails.  But even she can’t tough this one out.  Last night, she said, “I need to get out of this body.”

Breathing is hard for her – it’s like she’s breathing the heavy cold air of winter, with each breath getting heavier and heavier.  Her entire body moves with every breath, and she’s in pain unless the morphine is in.  I pray for her to have the opportunity to go home soon.

I tell Grandma  how grateful I am for her persistent love and tender care.  Loved is the best word I can use to describe what it meant to be her grandson.  It’s the only word worthy.  I say a few other things I’ve always wanted to say, and she squeezes my hand. That’s all I needed.

I hold her hand for some time, and say goodbye.

The next night I spent with my small group and we watched a video by a trendy hip young pastor called, “Breathe.”  We’re skeptical at the depth of the content with which we will go.  We learn the Hebrew word for God is made of four letters in Hebrew – YHWH, or what we say as Yahweh.  But these four letters said in succession sound like breathing.  We also learn the Hebrew word and Greek word for Spirit is the same worth for Breath.

I think of Grandma trying so hard to breathe.  I think of my breathing the cold air on my walk to the office. Breathe in, breathe out.  God is present with us – like breathing.

My friend in my small group tells the story of when he saw his father’s final breath on his deathbed.  He said it was longer – like he kept exhaling well beyond the point of a typical exhale.  And it was unmistakeable.  The spirit of this life had left him. He was now resting at Jesus’ side.

I imagine my Grandma and her last breath.  I sense it will be soon.

As I drive home, I call my mom and ask on my Grandma’s condition.  It’s not good, she says.  My Dad is on the way in to see her.

Just minutes later, my dad calls as I’m in the checkout line of the grocery store.  It’s the call.  The breath of this life has left her, and she’s now asleep at Jesus’ side in no pain, no crying, no cold of winter, no heavy breathing.  She’s at peace.

Lois means, “more desireable” in Greek.  As I talked with her for the past two months, it’s clear that her life was one to be desired – it’s rare to see a life so well lived.  Sweet, tough, tender, persistent, and loving.    She loved us even when we weren’t loveable, foreshadowing a greater love that we found in God.

Thank-you, Grandma.

Out with the old, in with the new? New Feet, New Year.

2008 felt like one of the longer years in my life.

When I was driving back to Chicago from Wisconsin, I called my good friend Sandra and realized that while I love being with my family, this particular year wasn’t a very “restful time.”  It’s especially so in this year that has been more weighty, impending, and ominous with the sun setting on the life of a cherished member of my family.

So, when I was talking with Sandra, she texted me the next day and said that she thought I could use a break and asked me to come over early to her husband and her’s new year’s party.  Karl knows my family well also – he was a student of my brother Josh and was a housemate with him his first couple of years out of school.

Sandra gave me directions to her new place on the west side of the city, and I drove to meet her.  She told me to meet her at the public library, and as I came outside of the door she greeted me, saying, “You know, there are times where I am stressed out and just need to be in a place that feels like home – where I can be myself and be among others like me.  Because life is just sometimes hard, you know?  So I thought I’d help you find a place where you can relax like I relax, and feel at home.”

I breathed a sigh of relief.  We started walking, me fully expecting to go to pub of sorts where I could grab a Guinness and enjoy another in a long succession of great conversations with my friend and partner in ministry.

Was I in for a surprise.

Sandra stops short into this trendy, refurbished building with all of these voices…but these voices aren’t deep like the droan you hear in a bar.  And the lighting wasn’t dark, either.  And the smell was what was most jolting…and then I realized I was in for something totally unexpected.

“Welcome!” I saw a woman who looked like a Hispanic Lucille Ball, who greets me with a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

(That’s not normal pub ettiquette, in case you didn’t know.)

I look at Sandra, probably with the look of a scared dog in my eyes.  I can feel my face turning red because I’m embarrassed.  Why?

I realize I’m in a beauty salon, surrounded by probably 20-some Hispanic women.  I’m the only white guy in the joint.

(The song from Sesame Street runs through my head, “One of these things is not like the other, which one is different – do you know?”)

And Sandra signed me up for a pedicure behind my back.  She said, “Andy, there was no way I could get you to do this yourself, so I surprised you. SURPRISE!”  A devious-yet-innocent smile comes across her face…

I got totally punked.

I think to myself, “Somewhere my father is hurting and he doesn’t know why.”

Do I have to turn in my man card for this?

I regain my composure.  I think to myself, “OK, Andy, this is just another cross-cultural experience.  Everyone is speaking Spanish, and you can pick up about half of what is being said. Almost everyone around you is a woman, so just smile and nod.  Just remember to have an open posture…ask questions…you know, all those things I’m supposed to remember in the approaching differences diagram… like a good cross-cultural student.”

That was a lot easier when the coffee and rice pudding came. I can do this.

So, for the next hour, I get a pedicure (I’ve since learned that this is abbreviated, “pedi”).  I have ugly feet.  They’re calloused and mangled…not exactly worth looking at. The poor woman pedicure giver-er…

But I must say, this woman did a phenomenal job on my feet.  They felt lighter as I got them out of the little foot-bathtub-thingy, and I realized that this woman sanded off my callouses…I must have lost a pound in the process.  And my ugly feet got a little less ugly.

So, here’s to a new year – to great friends, funny pranks, and losing the callouses from the hard walk of life that keep us from seeing what really is.

60 Years of Marriage. Wow.

Mer & Lois - Then and Now

Mer & Lois - Then and Now


Today we are celebrating my Grandma Lois and Grandpa Merlyn’s 60th Anniversary.  They were married in Oak Park, IL and during the honeymoon they attended the InterVarsity Missions Conference in 1948 held for the first time in Urbana, IL. 

For the next 60 years, they would live in 15 cities in 4 countries, raise five children, and now have 28 grandchildren.  What a legacy.

Eavesdropping on Angels: Merry Christmas from a different perspective

Merry Christmas from the Bilhorns

Merry Christmas from the Bilhorns

From J. B. Phillips – a fictional conversation between two angels:

“Do you mean that our great and glorious Prince.went down in Person to visit this fifth-rate little ball?  Why should he do such a thing like that?” The little angel’s face wrinkled in disgust.  “Do you mean to tell me,” he said, “that he stooped so low as to become one of those creeping, crawling creatures of that floating ball?”

“I do, and I don’t think he would like you to call them ‘creeping, crawling creatures’ in that tone of voice.  For, strange as it may seem to us, He loves them.  He went down to visit them to lift them up to become like Him.”

The little angel looked blank.  Such a thought was almost beyond his comprehension.

On Death, Dying and Ending Well

Grandma Lois and I

Grandma Lois and I

I’m quite fortunate in that I have a job where I can pack up my stuff and work from most anywhere when my students aren’t in session. I was planning on driving back to my folks place in Wisconsin on Friday, until I got home and my housemate told me that if I was considering leaving on Friday I should surely reconsider. The snow was a-coming, and blowing pretty hard.

So in the time it took to get a couple of loads of laundry done, I packed up and headed north trying to beat the snow. I succeeded.

My reason for going back to Wisconsin: my Grandma Lois has terminal cancer. She and my Grandpa have lived in my hometown over the past 13 years after living in 4 countries and 15 cities throughout their life. If Grandma had her way, she would have moved to be with her grandchildren years before, but such wasn’t the case.

Americans seem to have a hard time with death. Other cultures seem to embrace it – we don’t. I was invited to share about Dia de los Muertos by a joint programming endeavor with La Fe (InterVarsity’s Latino Fellowship), Sheil Catholic Center, and the Department of Hispanic Student Affairs at the end of October for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

(Does anyone else find it completely ironic that an evangelical white dude from southern rural Wisconsin was invited to speak at a Latino Catholic celebration? I do.)

Little did I know that the preparations I made would be for me more than anyone. I began to think of those in my life who would likely be passing to be at Jesus’ side. I grew up with a lot of “grandmas and grandpas” in my upbringing. I realized that in the next five years, I will probably be seeing the last of a generation that formed me.

Death is something we don’t like talking about in America. We hire people to prepare the dead when most cultures do it themselves. I wonder why that is. Any thoughts on why we are phobic of death?

As I’ve been sitting with Grandma, sharing stories over the last few days, I realize what a great treasure a life well lived is. I know very few folks who have “ended well” – whether it be in a job, a career, or a life.

Grandma Lois is ending well. We sat at her place for lunch, and she was still the consummate hostess, ensuring that we all had everything we needed. As I put my last bite of soup in my mouth, she asked if I wanted more. The woman can’t even stand, and she still is looking out for her grandchildren. A lump rose to my throat, and I told her I would love some more. She said, “Well, I’d get it for you, but i just can’t get up right now.” “I know, Grandma, that’s OK.”

We sit together and still laugh, cry, share secrets, and sometimes are just quiet as she holds my hand. There is something absolutely beautiful about a life well lived that is ending well – and for those those of us who are still called to press on, we need models of folks who have fought the good fight and finish the race. Because far too many don’t.

Grandma Lois is one of them. I’m proud to be her grandson, and hope I end well as she is.

Funny quotes from the Bilhorn Family Thanksgiving

From my sister-in-law, Anna:

Anna: Andy, I thought of you the other day.

Andy: Really? Why?

Anna: Caleb [my nearly 2-year-old nephew] said his first three word sentence.

Andy: Oh really?  What was that?

Anna: Mommy, I poo.

Grandpa Mer sharing stories of being at Schurz High School when his Dad (Great-Grandpa John Chester) was his principal.  Jeremy (my brother) has just become a principal in his high school this year.

Mer: It was hard having my Dad as a principal.  Most teachers didn’t want to rock the boat with Dad, but one did – Dad assigned her husband to a different district and she took it out on me by giving me my only “B.”

Jeremy: That’s sad.

Mer: Well, there were certain benefits.  We would buy 10 bottles of milk with a dime – Clem [his brother] and I.  And we’d split five bottles of milk each with five sandwiches at lunch.  Then we’d stack the bottles real carefully on the end of the table, and as the last one walked out would kick the leg of the table and the bottles would go crashing down.

Jeremy: Grandpa! 

Merlyn: Yeah, I was a little rebellious.  But I did end up marrying the lunch attendants daughter.  I had to tell him.

At the dinner table (four generations of first born men at the table):

Jeremy:You know how John George (great-great-grandfather) died?

Andy: How?

Merlyn: He had a hernia moving a pot-belly stove.

Dave: Really?

Jeremy: Yeah, he died young at 53.  Moving really heavy objects – you know, objects that resemble the big woodpile out the door there?  The ones you’ll be moving tomorrow.

From visiting my Grandma Lois in the hospital:

Grandpa Mer: (stuggling to get his scarf on in shoulders) Well, it only hurts when I try to stand or try to sit.  But once I sit and once I stand I’m fine.

Dad: You’re still in rough shape, Dad.

Grandpa Mer: I’m in great shape for the shape I’m in.

As we are leaving the hospital:

Grandma Lois: How is your knee, Dave?

Dave: It’s still there.

Grandma Lois: You take care of that knee.  I’m still your mother and I can tell you that.

Grandpa Mer: You know, at our 22nd Anniversary, she told me “I’ve been married to you now for 22 years – now I’ve taken care of you longer than your mother.  You listen to me now.”

May 2018
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