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Issue 9-02

Willie Nelson and Etta James:
Lovin' Apologia

At this past Christmas Eve service (2009), the pastor made the point that we are always on God’s mind. He said this concept was like God putting our photo on His refrigerator and thinking of us every time He opens the door.

Sitting in the service, I kept hearing in my mind that musical phrase, “You were always on my mind, you were always on my mind…” Gee, how great would it have been to reference these pop lyrics, I thought. The Mainses have done worship-service planning for decades—first in the local church, then for thousands of churches through our 50-Day Spiritual Adventures. A great difficulty many worship leaders have is that their planning “floats,” detached from the real world, in which the congregation is struggling to flesh out Christian covenants. Sometimes a cultural reference jars recognition of reality in a way that reading another Scripture verse can’t.

What a great way to jog minds to attention from the “too much holiday preparation” fatigue, I thought. You were always on my mind, you were always on my mind… I could hear the phrase; I could even hear the gravelly voice, but I couldn’t quite get the name of the artist, so I consulted my personal cultural-trivia specialist, daughter-in-law Angela Mains, who finally supplied the name. “Willie Nelson,” she called from the background as I talked to my son on the phone. Oh, of course—Willie Nelson.

The Internet is great for little searches like this. After I printed off the lyrics, I discovered this song is really an apology for not having loved someone too well or too wisely. “Maybe I didn’t love you/ Quite as often as I could have…” Without the plaintive melody line, with the cold words staring at me from the page, the singer sounds like a love-cad—wasn’t there enough, didn’t give you the right attention…

Well, that wouldn’t work for a Christmas Eve service—unless … unless you were going to make the point that God doesn’t really need our photo on His refrigerator. He is never too busy, never neglectful; He doesn’t ever forget to do the right thing. We were always on His mind; we are always on His mind; we will be always on His mind. What a thought!—more than many of us can absorb most of the time.

So, I have been thinking and thinking about this concept, ever since Christmas Eve, even though Willie Nelson wasn’t included in the service.

This last year I’ve been trying to educate myself—I have gross popular-music deficiencies. One son (Angela’s husband) is always trying to discern the extent of my musical cultural-wasteland. “Hey, Mom,” he’ll challenge me when some song comes over the radio. “Who’s that singing? Come on, Mom. This is right out of your era.”

It doesn’t matter how much I explain that I was having babies (four of them) during my era and raising little kids, and that his Dad and I were planting an innovative and ground-breaking church in inner-city Chicago, and in the midst of this I was wrestling with developing the discipline of being a writer—all during “my era.” My ignorance is still judged as an amazing deficiency—“You don’t know this, Mom?”—Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

So in a self-education project, I started listening to “Best of…” albums (Marvin Gaye, Bruce Springsteen, etc., etc. “Hey, these guys are pretty good,” David said of The Best of the Beatles on a long drive to West Virginia.) I watched Ken Burns’ PBS documentary Jazz. I read Martha Bayes’ critical-analysis book Hole in Our Soul: The Loss of Beauty and Meaning in Popular Music. I caught the DVD Cadillac Records, which chronicles the rise of Chess Records, the Chicago-based recording studio that featured unknown R&B, blues, gospel and early rock singers, turning many of them into the first black recording artists (Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Etta James, Little Walter and Chuck Berry). This led me to a clearance-sale table at Borders, where I picked up a CD of Etta James’ Love Songs for $3.99 and began playing it as I drove around in the car.

Another haunting lovin’ apologia—some partner wants to bail, and the vocalist makes a pretty good point—“I’ve been lovin’ you too long/ To stop now.” James’ dusky-throated contralto wounds the listener—no loss of aching beauty or meaning here: “I’ve been lovin’ you/ A little too long/ I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna stop now/ Oh, don’t make me stop now…”

Well, you certainly wouldn’t play that for a Christmas Eve service focusing on the fact that God has us always on His mind, would you? It seems to be impossible, doesn’t it, to make God stop loving us. We blow it every week of our lives, we have adolescent temper-tantrums and crybaby sessions; we refuse to seek out the highest angels in our nature; we forget, neglect and negate God, but His nature is longsuffering, forgiving and loving. “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” That’s Psalm 103:8, NIV, and is one of hundreds of Scriptures that references these qualities of God’s nature.

I’ve learned I have to plan my birthdays—I can’t count on other people, even the ones who love me—to make it happen. So I generally ask myself, How would you like to spend your birthday today? Every extra year given to me from this point on in my life is reason for celebration. I chose to spend the day with my sister—after all, she has known me almost as long as anyone on this earth. And ever since my mother died on my 39th birthday, leaving me orphaned, I’ve made out a list of birthday wishes that I record in my prayer journal, making sure I’m intentionally aware of how God is favoring me on my birthday with His love. (After all, He’s the only Parent I still have living.)

This last birthday morning, David said to me, “How about if I pay to have your teeth whitened?” I was amazed. I had just written this down in my prayer-journal birthday-wish list. Driving in the car up to my sister’s (where I was trying to make an 11:15 a.m. showing of the film The Young Victoria), I played Etta James’ “I’ve been loving you too long/ To stop now…”

Laughingly, I thought of all the times when God hasn’t answered my prayers (maturity means I can laugh about this now), when He allowed me to go through long periods of suffering, when He gave me what looked like the silent treatment. During this disciplining process, I finally came to the place where I prayed a lament much like Etta James’ lovin’ apologia: Well, God. I guess You’re stuck with me. It doesn’t matter what You do, or how You appear to neglect me. It doesn’t matter if You answer my prayers, I’m not letting go. I’ve been loving You too long to stop now…

Suddenly, on this birthday, driving up Rt. 355 to Kildeer, IL, the car was filled with that extraordinary sense of God’s loving Presence. It is a gift that comes from the outside of our being. We can’t plan for it, we can’t contrive it, we can move close to it (thinking for a while about popular love-songs), but when it comes overwhelmingly to us, it is not because we have manipulated this stunning visitation. I am always on His mind. I am always on His mind.

What a birthday present—better than the teeth-whitening! But as if to top this off—or to make a point—as I drove home from a lovely morning with Valerie Bell and her enchanting daughter-in-law Kaylie (grandbaby Rowan slept through our conversation and beautifully prepared lunch), the whole plot of the novel I’ve been struggling with for more than a decade came together—ding! ding! ding! You are always on my mind. You are always on my mind. I couldn’t have asked for a better gift.

Things I didn’t have on my wish list and didn’t know I wanted came my way. Two chairs I’ve thought about having reupholstered landed back in my possession after circling on the family furniture roundabout. The expensive upholstery fabric of my choice was 50% off. I found exactly the color I wanted. Unexpected checks came through to pay for it. You are always on my mind. My daughter and son-in-law gave me an Amazon Kindle for those times when I really don’t want to lug books as I travel.

“See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…” whispers God through His prophet Isaiah to the people of Israel (49:16, NIV). This is better than having my photo on His refrigerator, of having my birth date written in His year diary. I have been living all this month of January 2010 with this overwhelming sense of God’s loving favor: He is abounding in steadfast love.

Do you feel a little out of the center of God’s merciful compassion? Scriptures a little dull? Why don’t you take a little time—oh, a few weeks at least, maybe a month or so—and consider the love songs that record the laments and longings and losses of the children of men? You too may hit that concrete reality (when you least expect it) that you are always on His mind. You are always on His mind.

Karen Mains


Look the following 2010 growth opportunities over and see if there is anything here that is something the Holy Spirit is nudging you to do today.

Wannabe (Better) Writers: Personal Memoir Writing

Registration Deadline is January 31!!

Karen Mains tested this teleconference mentoring training for writers last year and found it such a joyful enterprise for her and seemingly profitable for the six writers (with various publishing experiences), who met via phone for one hour twice a month, that she is offering it as a major outreach for eight months, from Feb. 18 through Oct. 28, (with a break in August.)

The writers will meet via teleconference calls on the second and fourth Thursday of each month at 7:00 p.m., Central Standard Time. The cost is $40 a month ($20 for each conference call, including three manuscript evaluations—works in progress—or a lump sum fee of $320). If you are interested in looking over the curriculum for the 16 teleconference calls, the prerequisites for attending, and further details as to the goals of the training, click this link:

E-mail if you wish to register. You must set up your payment schedule by January 31, since you need to e-mail some work to Karen by the first teleconference call on February 18, 2010.

A couple distance-learning advisors have commented that no one is doing this kind of long-term mentoring at this price—but this eight-month learning curve is deliberately designed to give adult learners enough time to integrate what they are learning into their writing attempts. We have room for 12 participants.

“Listen to My Life Mapping” Listening Group

This is the only Listening Group Hungry Souls will offer in 2010 since the plan is to finish gathering data, organize our findings, do a better job of training Listening Group Leaders, and begin publishing articles and books about the Listening Group experience.

The Listen to My Life Mapping Listening Group will run for 8 months, from February to October 2010. We will begin with an introductory and get-acquainted session, work on one map per month on our own, then debrief that journey by using the Listening Group architecture (listening in silence to one another, responding only through asking questions). The groups will be 3-4 people in size, will take 2.5 hours once a month, and will meet in safe and comfortable homes. We predict that this self-reflective tool, which has been tested nationally and is beginning to be used internationally, will give you a unique opportunity to see how your life story intersects with God’s story. The fee for the Listen to My Life workbook is $35. If you want to register interest or have other questions, contact Sharon Swing at . More information can be obtained by visiting the Web site,

Three-Day Retreats of Silence

Hungry Souls spent last spring working with a group of retreat leaders to develop the schedule for 3-Day Retreats of Silence. We are planning to offer two 3-Day Retreats of Silence in 2010.

Retreat of Silence One.
The first, held at the lovely St. Mary’s Monastery in Rock Island, Illinois (about a 2.5-hour drive from Chicago’s western suburbs) will be April 18-21. This is for women only. The cost is $225 for a single room (with bath). Karen Franzen and Brenna Jones will be leading this women’s retreat.

Karen Franzen is the Executive Pastor for Willow Creek McHenry County Church. She is responsible for training and development of the staff team as well as overseeing the day-to-day running of the church. Prior to her joining the Willow Creek staff 10 years ago, Karen taught at Northern Illinois University and counseled individuals, couples and families at Kairos Family Center in Elgin. Brenna Jones is a spiritual director, retreat leader and teacher trained through the Christos Center for Spiritual Formation. She has graduate training in biblical and theological studies and leads an active ministry of discipleship and support for women. She and her husband Stan are coauthors of God’s Design for Sex, a resource series for family sex education published by NavPress.
Registration deadline is February 28.

Retreat of Silence Two.
A weekend retreat of silence will be offered for men and women and will be led by Gay and Tom Patten. The dates for this are September 10-12. This is also being held at St. Mary’s Monastery in Rock, Island. More details to follow.

We have room for ten retreatants at each retreat. If you want to make sure to reserve a space, contact Susan Hands at . Be warned: We have a waiting list, so you will want to get your name in early.

Recovering Your Inner Child

Several years ago, Hungry Souls offered a small-group venture into the drawing and writing techniques offered by Dr. Lucia Capacchione in her workbook Recovery of Your Inner Child: The Highly Acclaimed Method of Liberating Your Inner Self. By request, we have been asked to revisit this  and will do so during the months of March and April, meeting once a week for two hours in the Mainses’ home. We gather, enter into quiet and prayer, then work on the workbook as individuals in different rooms. After an hour or so, we reconvene to share in an informal, listening way, what we have learned (or encountered) in our time of working solitude. Susan Garrison, LCSW, is joining a practice in West Chicago and will be co-leading this journey with Karen Mains. The fee for the course is $75, which includes the price of the workbook. We are planning day sessions, Thursdays at 10:00 a.m. but can make room for one evening session. If you are interested, let Karen know at . We have a waiting list but have room for a few more.


Volunteers have been crucial in developing the growth tools offered by Hungry Souls. The Listening Groups, the Retreats of Silence, the Global Bag Project, and now major adult distance-learning programs have all and are all being developed by capable volunteers. If you would like to be a part of the teams exploring and creating any of the following growth programs, we would love to have you join us. Inquire of Karen Mains at .

Retreat-Leaders Training

Many of you have told us, “I’d love to be a retreat leader.” In answer to this desire, and because of the need for spiritually mature and discerning leaders, 12 of us spent part of this last year designing a curriculum we feel retreat leaders need in order to be effective in their roles. We would like to launch a two-day training event this spring at the Mainstay Ministries teaching center in West Chicago. This will be videotaped so we can build it into Webinar training on the Hungry Souls Web site. The cost for the two-day training is $150/person. Group discounts are given if more than three people from one church attend. If you are interested, please register intent to attend so we can get a head count (actual registration will come later). E-mail Susan Hands at and we will provide a training agenda later in the year, as well as details as to date and times.

Global Bag Project

After a successful pre-holiday home sales effort, the Global Bag Project is developing a template for Bag Parties in a Box, which we are planning to ship all around the country. We know the pre-Christmas parties are hugely successful, but how can we develop home parties that achieve as much income per guest (sometimes as much as $135 per individual attendee) for the rest of the year? Could you hold a party in February, March or April?

We need to sell 40 bags a week to underwrite our commitments to bag-producers in Africa as we work with the Kenyan model as our primary location with the hope that we will become so glitch-free we can use it to replicate other bag-producing models in other impoverished countries. Contact Global Bag Project Director Carla Boelkens at .

Play for the Play-Deprived

Some of us, sorry to say, just don’t play very well. We either never learned to play or we’ve forgotten how! And yet, scientists are discovering that play is an essential part of well-being, reaping huge benefits spiritually, physically and relationally when we practice it.

Sue Higgins, spiritual director, and Karen Mains will be experimenting with play (some of it outrageous) in the days ahead. We will be using the book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown, M.D. As soon as you are interested, let Karen know. When we have four to five at a minimum ready to read the book, mark passages for discussion, take the “play history” provided, and determine your play type, then we will gather. Let Karen Mains know at or Sue Higgins at .

Our initial thinking is to design a once-a-month Play Date out of these discussions. We are embarking on a journey of discovery with one another and with God, for the sake of improving our own play capacities certainly, but also of coming closer to the Almighty, who it seems, has genetically designed humans, more than any other of His creatures, for play!

What is at hand out of this list for you to do? Are you going to DO IT?


The Soulish Food e-mails are being posted biweekly on the Hungry Souls Web site. Newcomers can look that over and decide if they want to register on the Web site to receive the biweekly newsletter. You might want to recommend this to friends also. They can go to

Karen Mains

Karen Mains

"God doesn’t really need our photo on His refrigerator. He is never too busy, never neglectful; He doesn’t ever forget to do the right thing. We were always on His mind; we are always on His mind; we will be always on His mind. What a thought!—more than many of us can absorb most of the time."


The Help

Writing the Natural Way: Using Right-Brain Techniques to Release Your Expressive Powers
By Gabriele Lusser Rico

This book's copyright is 1983, and I remember going through it with great benefit years ago. Russo's technique of clustering on paper (brainstorming ideas in nonlinear notes) was a huge benefit to me in organizing my thoughts for articles and broadcasts. Because of this tool, I never experience writer's block. Consequently, this is a book I highly recommend in classes or conversations I hold with writers who do suffer from being stalled. Many of them have gone out of their way to thank me for the recommendation. We all seem to have benefited from her concept.

As I prepared to put together the curriculum for the Wannabe (Better) Writers Telementoring Classes, I pulled the book down from the shelf, leafed through the pages and discovered that my underlining ended about two-thirds of the way through. I suspect I never finished. Someone wrote my name on the title page, but it is not my handwriting. It is a familiar handwriting, but I can't remember to whom it belongs. Whoever it was may have given this to me as a gift. I thank that unremembered friend now.

In the 1980s, I underlined with a pen, using wavy lines under pertinent sentences. When I go back to re-read a book I've read before, I use a highlighter so that if I review the book in the years ahead, I know how I responded at different times in my life to the author's thoughts. I can also hear the voice of a friend who said, "Only Karen Mains would draw wavy lines under quotes in a book." I frankly do not know what she meant (she was a psychologist), and I didn't ask her, but I hear her comment every time I see my underlining of those years.

So now, I am doing the exercises in the book again, and I am determined not to stop until the last page.

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