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Marilyn Silver leaves a legacy of stunning quilts, happy tastebuds and adoring family and friends

Marilyn Silver surrounded by her family.

Marilyn was a four-season friend.  From NoMI to Sarasota, we shared drinks, meals, plane rides and adventures.  Her late husband Bob was a friend, too, and Burton’s fishing buddy.

I met Marilyn some 50 years ago working on a Fashion Group fundraiser.  We created a fashion library named for Marilyn’s close friend and my colleague, late Detroit News fashion editor Tavy Stone.  Once a professional party planner, Marilyn was the perfect co-chair; the event: stellar.

In time, I watched Marilyn fight to save her son Randy, who died while still a young father.  I saw the countless nights Marilyn spent with him at Karmanos Cancer Center or on her sofa, trying to help him get comfortable, to find something he could eat.  We felt her despair over losing him, then watched her slowly find joy in life again.

Several years later, Bob became ill. Burton and I sat in his hospital room trying to figure something comforting to say while Marilyn moaned, “Why can’t they do something?”

Marilyn and Bob were married 62 years.   They’d drive to our farm south of Charlevoix—a tad hard to find.  They’d arrive still bickering about directions, Marilyn fuming, “I’m gonna divorce him.”  After Bob died, it was as though someone let the air out of Marilyn’s balloon.  She remained deflated for about a year, then rallied.  She focused on son and daughter-in-law Michael and Beth, sister Sharon, grandkids, a passel of nieces and nephews, and a horde of friends.

Her official obit reads: “A friend of almost everybody.”

Grandson Jack, giving Marilyn’s eulogy, called  his grandmother “loyal and generous.” He said, “She gave great advice.”   All true.  Marilyn and I traded book recommendations.  We attended oddball indie movies and discussed them after at the bar of PF Chang.

I love the quilt Marilyn made for me.

Marilyn was a talented artist.  She sewed dozens of quilts as gifts for family members and close friends.  I was honored to receive one.  For a recent birthday, Marilyn’s granddaughter Rachel had recipients take a photo with their quilts and published the photos in a book that attests to Marilyn’s creative talent.

Marilyn’s meals were also works of art.  Many began with gravlax from Bob’s fishing forays.  At the end of each dinner, Bob said, “That was the best meal I ever ate.”  An invitation to dine at Marilyn’s was a treat.  I’m blessed I was able to savor her cuisine while my stomach still cooperated.  It no longer does.  Just 12 days before Marilyn died, I sat at her dining table picking onions out of savory homemade meatloaf.  (The meal was technically prepared by Sharon.  Marilyn sat at the counter directing.)  “Suzy used to be my best customer,” Marilyn said.  “Now she’s a pain in the ass.”

(Next month, my sister and I will travel to Japan.  We’re staying at a ryokan, an inn where traditional food is served.  I alerted the trip organizer to my food issues,  saying I’d dine at the ryokan and eat what I could.  But I’ve been banished.  In an email, the organizer informed me the chef inspects plates after each course and becomes offended if food is left.   I’m just sorry Marilyn died before I could forward that email.)

Marilyn had flair.  Granddaughter Rachel once needed something to wear to a black tie event.  Marilyn owned a sequined shirt she wore with black pants.  As Rachel was then about 4 inches shorter, Marilyn suggested she wear the shirt as a dress.  “I got so many compliments,” Rachel says.  “All my friends wanted to borrow it.  Grama was so glamorous and creative.”

Marilyn’s style extended to her surroundings.  She and Bob built a home overlooking Round Lake in Charlevoix.  In the center of the great room—a red leather sofa.  Vaseline bowls, multi-colored goblets, boxes, pillows—treasures from her (sometimes our) antiquing excursions—were artfully arranged.  Days before she died, Marilyn bought exotic, well-trodden rugs from NoMI handbag maker Barbara May’s garage sale and had them turned into cushions.

Marilyn and her granddaughter Rachel

Rachel says, “She’d see a button or piece of trim at an antiques fair and know it was ‘something.’  A few months later, it turned up on a quilt.  She taught me to haggle on Canal Street in NY.   I didn’t visit my wedding venue ’til the day I was married because my grandmother and mother planned the whole thing.  Grama envisioned the ceiling of the tent looking like a tree with a trunk supporting it.  I’ve never seen anything like it before or since.”  (That’s saying a lot because Rachel runs a website, Love Stories TV, which features wedding videos.)

Only family and close friends knew about Marilyn’s cancer diagnosis.  She never wanted to be seen or treated as a victim.  When she first shared her illness with her family about 1 and 1/2 years ago, her extended family agreed to take shifts.  They stayed with Marilyn for a week or so at a time.  As she declined, someone she knew and loved was always there to help.

Marilyn thought, looked and acted years younger than 89.  She could, and did, talk to anyone of any age or station, including an hour long conversation with our then 5 year old granddaughter, Lindsay. Marilyn designed her home in Charlevoix to sleep multiples.  Nothing pleased her more than to have several of son Michael’s brawny biker buddies slumbering in her lower level.

Years ago, Marilyn advised me to wear eye make-up.  As Jack said, his grandmother gave good advice.  So when dressing for a funeral I knew would be tough, I dutifully applied eyeliner and mascara.  At the end of the service, there wasn’t much left.

I feared I wasn’t up to the challenge of capturing such a funny, feisty, much-loved friend.  Then I thought of the first line above.  In the funeral service, which—naturally—Marilyn planned, the rabbi read from Ecclesiastes, “To everything there is a season…”  It felt as though Marilyn gave me a thumbs up.

But 4 seasons x 50 years=200 seasons.  Not nearly enough.

As that wise bear Winnie said to Piglet, “If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart.  I’ll stay there forever.”

Matriarch, artist, chef, collector, host, sage and “friend to almost everybody.”  You’re forever in our hearts.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Paul Kalanithi reclaims his faith, shares his wisdom and dies with grace

When I first heard of When Breath Becomes Air, I thought: too sad to read.  But many months later, I sampled Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s memoir on my Kindle.  The writing was beautiful; the thinking, profound.  I was hooked.

Click on this photo from the website about Dr. Kalanithi’s life and work to learn much more. His website features videos, reviews of the book as well as a schedule of appearances by Paul’s wife Lucy.

A neurosurgeon and neuroscientist, Kalanithi had degrees from Stanford, Cambridge and Yale in literature and science.  The future was his.

At 36, he developed lung cancer.

Readers know my fondness for survival stories.   This isn’t one.  Paul Kalanithi died at 37.   But he lived brilliantly if all too briefly.   His memoir covers his younger years as well as his decision to become a doctor.  As a neurosurgeon, he recognized the crucial link between brain and personality.  “The call to protect life—and not merely life but another’s identity; it is perhaps not too much to say another’s soul—was obvious in its sacredness.”

As a chief resident, he acknowledges the long, back-breaking, precise attention demanded of him.   “…technical excellence was a moral requirement.  Good intentions were not enough, not when so much depended on my skills, when the difference between tragedy and triumph was defined by one or two millimeters.”

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

About his profession: “People often ask if it is a calling, and my answer is always yes.  You can’t see it as a job, because if it’s a job, it’s one of the worst jobs there is.”

If, God forbid, you had to have brain surgery, this was the doctor you’d want.

Kalanithi writes honestly about trials earlier in his marriage, his former passion for biking and hiking, deciding to freeze sperm before starting chemo, questioning whether or not to have a baby, appreciating his smart and sensitive oncologist.  He reads great literature, “searching for a vocabulary with which to make sense of death, to find a way to begin defining myself and inching forward again.”

Though Paul grew up in a devout Christian family, in his teens and 20s, he rejected religion.  “My notion of God and Jesus had grown, to put it gently, tenuous.  During my sojourn in ironclad atheism, the primary arsenal leveled against Christianity had been its failure on empirical grounds.  Surely enlightened reason offered a more coherent cosmos.  …There is no proof of God; therefore, it is unreasonable to believe in God.”

He acknowledges the bias science holds against religion.  And the flaw he comes to see in that bias.  His thoughts are so lucid and well-expressed you’ll want to read this remarkable paragraph more than once:

“Yet the paradox is that scientific methodology is the product of human hands and thus cannot reach some permanent truth.  We build scientific theories to organize and manipulate the world, to reduce phenomena into manageable units.  Science is based on reproducibility and manufactured objectivity.  As strong as that makes its ability to generate claims about matter and energy, it also makes scientific knowledge inapplicable to the existential, visceral nature of human life, which is unique and subjective and unpredictable.  Science may provide the most useful way to organize empirical, reproducible data, but its power to do so is predicated on its inability to grasp the most central aspects of human life: hope, fear, love, hate, beauty, envy, honor, weakness, striving, suffering, virtue.”

Kalanthi’s memoir was published posthumously by his wife, Lucy, also a doctor.  In the  Epilogue, Lucy writes, “Most of our family and friends will have been unaware, until the publication of this book, of the marital trouble Paul and I weathered toward the end of his residency.  But I am glad Paul wrote about it.  It’s part of our truth, another redefinition, a piece of the struggle and redemption and meaning of Paul’s life and mine.  …We each joked to close friends that the secret to saving a relationship is for one person to become terminally ill.”

I managed not to cry about the loss of this extraordinary man… until Lucy’s mention of visiting her  husband’s grave.  There, in the Santa Cruz Mountains overlooking the Pacific, Lucy takes a small bottle of Madeira, the wine she and Paul drank on their honeymoon.  “Each time I pour some out on the grass for Paul.”

I raise my glass to an amazing couple, for living with courage, conviction and compassion.  To Paul for showing us how to die with grace.  And to Lucy, for bearing witness.

Through the Good Hart Artist Residency, Susan and Bill Klco enrich Northern Michigan

Bill and Susan Klco

A fearless couple in the beautiful but tiny (pop: 493), out-of-the-way town of Good Hart, MI, decided to have some fun in their retirement.  Susan and Bill Klco (pronounced Kelso—the name’s Slovakian) have had a LOT of fun with their project.  And a LOT of work.

Bill owned and/or worked for software companies in the Netherlands, Paris and Kansas City.  Susan worked for the state of Michigan as a biologist, then taught or consulted in biology.  Both grew up in families of 8 kids.  They have 4 children, all grown.

Daughter Megan Klco Kellner and her husband Justin are both artists.  Susan and Bill watched the Kellners’ artist friends deal with student debt and competition for jobs and shows.

“We wanted to find a way to support artists,” Susan says.  “And to be creative in our own lives, through making wearable and functional art.”

Having traveled often and hosted many houseguests, the Kicos were used to sharing their home.   They enjoyed company.  And they had extra space above the garage.

Lightbulb moment: How about an artists’ residency?

Susan first convinced Bill of what seemed to me a far-fetched notion.  What artists would drag themselves and their supplies to the boonies so far north?

It turns out: dozens.

Susan and Bill attended a conference to learn how to set up and run an artist residency program.  Susan called the Crooked Tree Arts Center in Petoskey, with which she hoped to partner.  “It was a new idea up here,” Susan says.  “It took a bit of selling.  We’re not wealthy art patrons or society types with important connections.”

When Susan reached Liz Ahrens, exec director of CTAC, she found a kindred spirit.  “We’d been thinking about residencies,” Liz says.  “We needed someone to run with it.  I just wanted to be sure the call for artists described the remoteness of the location.”

The Good Hart Artists Residency has been going on for 5 years.  The philosophy, according to the website.  “… connecting people from different backgrounds and cultures opens minds and makes for a more interesting and compassionate world.”

When their children were growing up, the Klcos hosted several foreign exchange students.  “We always felt we received more than we gave,” Susan says.  The Klco kids picked up the travel bug.  Son David traveled to Romania “to hold babies in an orphanage.”  David and Megan helped dig a church foundation in Peru.  Daughter Mara traveled to China and India.   Last spring Susan and Bill attended the wedding of their exchange daughter from Italy.

The program extends an open call to artists several months ahead.  Selected artists visit for 2-3 weeks at a time.  Each artist interacts with the community, through a class or lecture and Saturday open studio.  Each receives a $500 stipend.  In 2018 there were 113 applicants for 5 spots. Another benefit of the program: Susan’s frequent home-cooked meals.  CTAC’s Liz Ahrens calls Susan “a phenomenal cook,” lauding the scones Susan bakes for residency artists’ talks at CTAC.  Susan’s husband Bill agrees, noting the size of the family in which Susan grew up.  He says, “Susan cooks big.”

I learned about the residency program when artist Mami Takahashi spoke this past summer at CTAC.  Mami gave a fascinating talk about the immigrant experience in America and the art she makes to illuminate that experience.

Click on the photo to learn more about Mami Takahashi

So far, the program’s had only one near casualty.

Artist Amanda Boyd manipulates candles or an oil lamp below a canvas to create artworks made from smoke and flame.  During a workshop at the CTAC. kerosene from the lamp Amanda was using started burning down into the reserve fuel.  Susan jumped in with a stainless steel bowl, rushed the lamp outside and extinguished the fire.

Despite the work involved, the Klcos are going strong  They’ve taken over the administration of the program, initially handled by CTAC.

Architect’s sketch of the new home.

Bill’s building a small ADA compliant house with an attached studio down the hill from their home for future artists.  They want to be able to accommodate artists with dependents.  They’ve applied for a grant to offer a residency for a K-12 Michigan art teacher.

And that’s not all…

Another of the Klco kids is a librarian.  Daughter Mara Klco, director of MI’s Indian River Library, convinced them to add a writer’s residency.  This year they hosted visiting writer, Bryna Cofrin-Shaw.  The family’s love of books stems from Susan and Bill’s never having had TV reception or cable TV.  “We wanted our kids to be outside,” their mom says.  And, when inside, to read.

Thanks, Susan and Bill, for your determination, pluck and sensitivity.  Thanks for all you’re doing to make NoMI an even more beautiful and literate place.

Walter Green spends a year thanking people who influenced him

Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.
Albert Schweitzer

At a low point in my life—marriage problems, flagging self-esteem, sick mother—I dragged myself to California to attend a program run by the late Debbie Ford. I’d devoured her self-help book, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers.  Debbie taught our group of woebegone disciples to create a gratitude list. Despite my troubles, I realized I had lots to be thankful for.

Returning home, I shared the experience with a dear friend, also in a slump. She denied having anything for which to be grateful.

“What about your good hair?” I asked. “Your sense of style? Your delicious brownies? Start small.”

She, too, perked up.

So I was primed to appreciate Walter Green. He devoted a year of his life to thanking people who’d meaningfully influenced him. His motivation came partly from regret over not having fully expressed gratitude to his mother. She’d survived the family’s financial ruin when her husband’s business failed, a radical mastectomy at 37, raised 2 sons and lived through the deaths of 2 husbands. She wrote annual reviews of 75 books she considered each year’s best, charged for them and donated the returns to the library. (I have a soft spot for bibliophiles.)

Walter and his wife, Lola, live in Cali and are friends of my sister. Walter was Chairman and CEO of Harrison Conferences Services, which became the leading conference center management company in the U.S. After 25 years, he sold his business and began mentoring others.

Reflecting on those who nurtured and advised him along the way, he came up with 44 names.  Walter writes, “I don’t think anyone is, in fact, self made.  Without parents, colleagues, family or friends, where would any of us be?”

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Walter’s list included family members, friends, teachers, colleagues and customers.  He arranged conversations with each, told them what they meant to him and recorded their conversations. He took a photo with each and sent them a copy, plus a cassette of their discussion and a plaque.  He wrote a book about the experience, This Is the Moment!

I was especially drawn to Walter’s passage on Fred Jervis, 87, founder of the Center for Constructive Change. Fred was blinded, at 19, in WWII. Walter asked him about the impact of his blindness. Fred said he thought it gave him an edge. Since Fred was unable to make visual observations, Walter writes, “he’d developed a remarkable ability to ask questions that helped his clients clarify their purpose and achieve their hoped-for results.”

During what Walter calls his gratitude journey, he learned about columnist Art Buchwald.  In hospice with a terminal kidney disease, Buchwald had time to write another book. He asked some friends to write eulogies about him to include in his book. Among them: broadcast journalists Tom Brokaw and Mike Wallace and former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee.  Walter writes of those eulogies, “I’m sure those who wrote them received equal satisfaction and closure from the fact that Art got to hear them.”

Walter provides a road map for readers to launch their own gratitude journeys.  With an in-person encounter, he suggests picking a place that’s quiet; meeting at a specific time in a  setting such as where you first met or someplace he or she would appreciate. He expressed gratitude to wife Lola at a safari camp in Kenya. Among the things he said, “Your spontaneity and love of life have been an incredibly vital counterpoint to my structured and disciplined approach to almost everything.”

Walter advises prolonging the moment with a pursuit you both enjoy. If your expression takes place in a phone call, he recommends making an appointment to talk—to emphasize the significance of the moment and make sure the other person has enough time.

Walter suggests coming up with a special remembrance. He mentions Oprah Winfrey’s commissioning of a quilt for Maya Angelou’s birthday. I’d guess it was a Story Quilt. And that she presented it on the cruise mentioned in my recent column at which Rennie Kaufmann was a featured singer.

In The Invention of Wings, an Oprah Book Club pick set in the 1800s, Handful, a slave, is a talented seamstress.  She sews a Story Quilt depicting images from her life.  Creating and treasuring quilts was a significant part of African American history, especially among slaves who were forbidden to read or write.

Today, contemporary African American artist Sanford Biggers paints on quilts.  In 2014, his stunning reworked quilts were exhibited at Sarasota’s Ringling Museum.  I was knocked out to learn they’d been donated by descendants of slave owners.

Mark Twain said, “To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.”  Thanks, dear reader, for being my someone.  And thanks, Walter, for sharing a great idea.

Lola and Walter Green


In Santa Barbara, the Weisbarts give one lucky dog a new home

Judi Weisbart with BeBe.

Judi was having a rough time.  In 2015 she lost her beloved mom, who’d lived with her for 34 years.  Over the next 12 months, the Weisbarts lost 7 friends and family members.  Judi’s mom died with her cat Ninja on her lap.  When her mom’s body was taken from the house, Ninja “let out a blood curdling scream and, after, refused to eat.”  3 weeks later, Ninja died.  3 months later, the Weisbarts’ Lhasa Apso Macho died.

The only ones left in the Weisbart home in Santa Barbara, CA, were Judi and her husband Harry.  “It felt weird,” Judi says.

Last April, following the fires and debris flow in Santa Barbara, Judi adopted a puppy from a shelter in Camarillo, CA.  Charlie was a “sweet dog, but he barked.  The barking bothered Harry’s ears.”  Judi posted the pup on Craigslist.  In 2 hours, 6 people wanted him.  Judi gave him to a mom and her 6 year old daughter.  The mom had lost her car in the floods, which also took the life of her employer.  “The trauma she’d suffered was obvious.  I was meant to give Charlie to her.  He helped her with her fear and sleeps with her at night.”

But my sister’s dear friend Judi missed having a dog.  “I wanted something to love and care for,” she says.

Harry Weisbart and BeBe.

Judi and Harry enjoyed Shabbat dinner in LA with Harry’s oldest and best friend, Gary Jacobs and his wife Sylvia.   The couple had a little white rescue dog.  Judi was inspired.

She told Harry she wanted to return to the same shelter where they’d found Macho.   “It was 102 degrees out, but Harry’s a good husband.  He agreed to go.”  In the heat, the shelter “didn’t smell so good.”  The only available dogs were pit bulls and chihuahuas.

Judi told the woman in charge of the shelter she’d like a Lhaso Apso.  The woman snapped, “You and 20 other people.  Stand in line.”

Judi and Harry walked out.   In the parking lot, they saw a woman holding a little white dog.  Judi asked about it.  The woman was from L.A.  She found the dog running in the street and took her home.  She had a vet check for a chip.  Negative.  Nor were there any reports about a lost dog.  She’d been with the woman for 5 days, but the woman couldn’t keep her.

Judi asked, “You drove 40 miles just to drop off this dog?”

The stranger nodded.  “This was the closest no kill shelter.”

Judi asked to hold the dog, who promptly licked her face.  Harry asked if she pooped or peed inside.  Nope.

Judi asked, “Can we keep her?”

The dog’s temporary owner beamed.

The Weisbarts headed home.  In the back seat, their new pooch didn’t utter a whimper.  A vet guessed the dog at close to 3 years old, a mix of poodle, maltese and maybe cocker.

The Weisbarts’ newest occupant understands simple commands—“down” and “bed.”  Her comprehension of where to poop or pee’s a  tad lacking.  Judi’s philosophical.  “Nothing’s perfect.  We often need to take on challenges to truly bond with a pet.  I hope to have her trained very soon.”

Judi told her girlfriend about her “new baby,” deeming her another “miracle dog.”  Her friend said, “It’s beshert.”  (Yiddish for “meant to be.”)   Judi agreed and named her latest charge BeBe, for Beshert Baby.

Way to go, Weisbarts, on taking in a rescue dog.  Wishing you lots of licks, oodles of wags, and plenty of properly deposited poops.

Denver Moore challenges Kathy Izard to create housing for Charlotte, NC’s homeless

The Hundred Story Home is subtitled “finding faith in ourselves and something bigger.”  It’s a well-titled, well-told tale of one woman’s seemingly impossible mission.  Several meaningful coincidences give her hope and keep her going.

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Author Kathy Izard calls them God-instances.  I call them Godsigns.   In any case, the book’s a great read.  Especially since Kathy was a confirmed non-believer.

Kathy grew up with a father who often told her “you can do anything,” but died at 64 of leukemia. And with a creative mom who suffered years of bipolar episodes, hearing voices, and frequent hospitalizations.  Forced to sit through tedious church services as a child and disillusioned that God didn’t spare her father, Kathy gave up on God.

Her experiences make it clear: God didn’t give up on her.

A graphic designer and young mother in Charlotte, NC, Kathy volunteers at a soup kitchen run by the Urban Ministry Center (UMC).  Reading a book, Same Kind of Different as Me, by Ron Hall and formerly homeless Denver Moore, she organizes a luncheon featuring the authors.  She drives Denver around town showing off the UMC’s soup kitchen, art room and vegetable garden.

Denver asks, “You do all this good in the day and then lock them out to the bad at night? Where are the beds?”

Kathy writes, “His accusation left me gutted.” She finds herself volunteering to create a housing complex for the homeless and name it Moore Place.

Kathy researches homelessness. She concludes that it costs less to house homeless people than to pay for their hospital bills, substance abuse treatment and other expenses. That the chronically homeless represent 10-20% of the homeless population but consume over 50% of the resources. That housing them would free up shelters to serve the 80% who could transition with less intensive support.

Kathy closes her business to start a program she calls Homeless to Homes. Realizing more than 6000 homeless people live in Charlotte, she becomes good friends with several. They include Larry, aka Chilly Willy, who in the past 20 years had survived prison, muggings, illness, heat waves, and ice storms. And Eugene Coleman whose campsite is a hole in the ground under a highway overpass.

Another friend is Bill Halsey, a “quiet cowboy” in a dirty leather hat who lives in a cave he dug by the train tracks.  One day at the UMC, Kathy’s serving soup. A tough guy cuts the line to take seconds. Kathy objects. The soup thief throws the bowl of tomatoes and noodles at her. Halsey jumps in to defend her.

Kathy determines to create homes for these people. It takes 10 years of superhuman effort to make the contacts, spread the word and raise the money to build an apartment complex to house more than 100. Though uncomfortable with fundraising, Kathy manages to inspire others and receives donations from big foundations and corporations and many individuals.  One anonymous donor she calls the Mailbox Angel sends monthly pink envelopes with Hallmark cards containing $5 or $10 and a note: “May God bless and multiply this small amount.”  About them, Kathy writes, “The idea that someone I had never met would give to your cause this way made me feel I wasn’t crazy…”

Kathy’s friend Lisa prays with her.  Kathy, an agnostic who prides herself on self-reliance, admits, “To get this done, I have to believe in God because I can’t do this myself.” Lisa insists God is on the case.  Dubious, Kathy asks how she’d know.  Lisa says, “God has a funny way of showing off.”

After 10 years and a small trial program, God shows off in many ways. The building gets built; residents move in. Kathy sees how having a home changes them. She finds Caroline, the perfect person to run the Homeless to Homes program. Caroline, who worked at Common Ground in NY, moves to Charlotte where she grew up. Caroline’s old high school decides to raise money for Moore Place. Caroline’s asked to speak. She invites Eugene Coleman to join her.

In a packed gymnasium, Coleman stands behind the mic not saying a word. Finally, after what Kathy calls “an uncomfortable silence,” Coleman asks, “Can you see me?” Another long pause. “Because for 20 years, I didn’t think anyone saw me.  … I didn’t want to be seen. Drugs took all my pride, robbed me of every piece of self-respect, every dream I ever had. But somehow God saw fit to give me a second chance. And that second chance is people like you.”

Moore Place opens. Chilly Willy, Coleman and many more are housed, Kathy receives another pastel envelope from the Mailbox Angel. This time there’s a small return address with a name, Lily Halsey. Kathy realizes she’s the mother of Bill, the man who came to her defense in a soup line and no longer lives in a cave. He has a real home in Moore Place. Kathy visits his mom in a nursing home. Lily tells her how her son lost his job, his confidence and his home. And how she worried about him. When she read of the UMC’s plans to create housing, she wanted to help. She began sending a few dollars each month, and praying about it. Kathy writes that Lily “said with unwavering faith, ‘No one would have built Moore Place unless they believed God was in it.’”

From the standpoint of physics—a field that fascinates and befuddles me—Kathy’s determination demonstrates the power of the quantum field. Stick with me here.  In a recent newsletter, scientist and author Dr. Joe Dispenza, explains: “When we connect to the quantum field—that place where all new potentials exist as possibilities not yet materialized into our 3D reality—our nervous system becomes like an antenna or a super conductor whose job it is to pull more highly organized, coherent energy, information and consciousness from the field into our biology.”  Whoa.

Kathy puts it more simply.  Near the end of the book, she reflects on her journey.  “I can’t explain grace or God’s plan, but this much I have learned: grace is that moment when your purpose speaks to you so loudly you can’t help but hear it.  Believing in it is crazy, but denying you heard it is even crazier.  You may not see it coming, but when grace finds you, stop, listen, and take good notes.  Everything in your life has prepared you for this.  You are ready, and grace is real.”

If you enjoy reading about Godsigns and about prevailing over tremendous  odds, this book’s for you.  Thanks for sharing, Kathy.  May such grace find us all.

Singer and Pastor Rennie Kaufmann helps Aretha Franklin close to home and a little boy far, far away

The boy who would become Matthew proudly holds a book of photos of his new American family and sits at a laptop computer to meet his new brothers and sisters via the Internet.

Rennie Kaufmann, of Grosse Pointe, MI, is one of the most talented people I know.  An amazing singer with a ginormous heart.

Rennie with Oprah

First, here’s a story involving Rennie and Detroit legend Aretha Franklin: In 1998, Detroit’s late Queen of Soul sang Puccini’s Nessun Dorma in honor of Pavarotti at a MusicCares dinner.  2 nights later, she was booked to perform a Blue Brothers number with Dan Akroyd, John Goodman and Jim Belushi at the Grammys.  Pavarotti was there to sing Nessun Dorma, but was too ill to perform. With 20 minutes to go, the producer rushed into Aretha’s dressing room.  Could she fill in?  She listened to the dress rehearsal, then said: “I can do it.”  She pulled off a bravura performance of one of the most famous arias of all time, on TV, before a live audience including Faith Hill and Celine Dion.

So what did this have to do with Rennie?

Earlier that year, Aretha called Rennie, who was recommended by a Detroit music association.  Aretha  wanted help with the Italian pronunciations of Nessun Dorma.  Rennie was thrilled.  He FAXed her a phonetic text of the words. Soon after, Rennie did his first gig for Oprah on a Caribbean cruise she hosted for poet Maya Angelou’s birthday.  Guests included producer Quincy Jones, singers Odetta and Natalie Cole and “pretty much everyone who was anyone in black entertainment.  It was a kick to be included.”  After the cruise, Aretha called her new pal again to make sure he was watching TV.  Oprah was showing video clips from the cruise.

But I digress. Though he sings for the rich and famous, Rennie’s not carried away by celebrity. The reason I wanted to talk to him involves his adoption of a Chinese boy 3+ years ago, a boy with Spina Bifida and special needs.

Rennie with his wife Karen at their church.

Rennie and Karen, in their 50s, had home schooled and raised 5 biological kids, all now adults.  Another child was “the last thing on our minds,” Rennie says.  He sings at private and corporate parties, lately with daughter Esther,  “to support my family and my day job.”  Rennie’s the pastor of Risen Christ Lutheran Church in Plymouth.  He’s also a chaplain for Wellspring Lutheran Services and ministers to people in rehab and sick and hospice patients.

The Kaufmann kids grew up volunteering along with their parents.  The older children had been on service/missionary trips.  About 5 years ago, the younger 2, Luke and Esther, expressed interest.  Through the organization Joni and Friends, Karen, Luke and Esther learned about Shepherd’s Field Children’s Village in China.  It’s a safe haven for at-risk special-needs orphans who’ve been abandoned.  When the threesome left for Beijing to serve for a month, Rennie joked, “I hope you’ll come back with the same amount of kids you left with.”

Toward the end of their overseas stay, Karen et al Skyped Rennie.  He recalls, “There was a long pause on the computer screen.  Then Esther said, ‘So Dad, there’s a little boy who needs a forever family.’  And Karen said, ‘I’m honoring your request to return with the same amount of children.  But I put one on layaway.’”

The little boy was 13, with a congenital spinal disease.  Once he turned 14, he’d no longer be eligible for adoption—that is if anyone wanted a child with obvious medical problems.   Esther, 22 (17 at the time), says the 13 year old was “one of the oldest children at the orphanage.  He was so sweet, always helping  others.  It would have broken my heart if he didn’t have a family.”

“We didn’t have a pot to pee in,” Rennie said.  But he told his wife and daughter, “We’ll pray about it.  If it’s God’s will, it’ll happen.”

And so the Kaufmann family began holding garage sales and spaghetti dinners.  The community rallied.   “It seemed like every time we needed extra money for an adoption expense or background check, the money showed up.”  4 months before the orphan, whom they named Matthew, turned 14, Karen and Rennie went to China to bring him home.  Meanwhile, Esther took a couple of semesters in Mandarin to  minimally communicate with her new brother, who then spoke no English.

Matthew’s had surgery on his spine and elsewhere.  “He’ll have a lifetime of medical needs,” Rennie says.  “But there are opportunities for care in the US he’d never have had.  He takes voice lessons and piano and studies hard.  He tells stupid jokes like his dad.  He’s brought us great joy.  We say that HE adopted US.  In Hebrew, his name means Gift of God.  God prepared a family for Matthew.   With him, we feel complete.“

Now 17, Matthew enjoys accompanying his dad in helping seniors and rehab patients.  He’s catching up academically.  His proud papa says, “He talks more and more about becoming a doctor.  And he aced his first college class!”

Rennie says, “We aren’t islands.  We’re meant to reach out to each other and lift each other up.  My guiding principle: Love people.  Use things.  Never the other way around.”

Sing it, Rennie!

The Kaufmann Clan these days. Matthew is in the center holding his nephew Caleb, who is Renie’s and Karen’s grandson.