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.
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.
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…
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.
I have been thinking and thinking about this concept, ever since
Christmas Eve, even though Willie Nelson wasn’t included in the service.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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…”
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…
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.
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.
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.
ACCELERATED, MEASURABLE SPIRITUAL-GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES
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
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: http://www.hungrysouls.org/events.php.
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
offer two 3-Day Retreats of Silence in 2010.
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
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.
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
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.
GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES NOW IN DEVELOPMENT
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
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
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
What is at hand out of this list for you to do? Are you going to DO IT?
The Soulish Food e-mails are
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 www.HungrySouls.org.
"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."
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
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.