Let me tell you about this great winter vacation spot

Nearing our 30th wedding anniversary (a few years ago), Mary Beth and I discussed traveling to “somewhere warm.” “Thirty years is a big deal,” she told me, “and we have never taken a vacation where there are palm trees and ocean views.” I don’t like “touristy” places — I’m not a fan of man-made swimming pools and concrete. I’m not a golfer, a fisherman, or interested in tennis. I suggested looking for a resort in the British Virgin Islands, which we’d learned about from a priest friend who we knew in our early-married life. He’d told us it is a wonderful place to visit.

The resort I found online was beautiful. The cabins, set just steps from the white sand and sparkling blue lagoon, were sumptuous and inviting. High tea was served every day at 4 p.m., along with cakes and scones. The website warned us that high tea included a dress code (slacks, shoes and socks, and a button shirt for men). How cool was that? I learned, over the course of a few emails, that it would cost $2,000 apiece, which is very steep in our world. But hey, it was 30 years. Then I learned the price was not per week. It was per day.

“Honey,” I called, “I changed my mind about the British Virgin Islands.” She scanned the price tag. When she regained consciousness, we set about planning a trip better suited to our budget and our values.

Mary Beth and I traveled to a warm place, where a lovely but simple room awaited within a vine-covered, two story building. There were palm trees, fruit trees, coffee trees and brilliant flowers galore. No ocean view, but we rose each morning to see the rising sun obscured slightly by the smoke twisting skyward from an active volcano. High tea was replaced by a great morning cup of coffee. Mary Beth and I — along with eight people who’d traveled with us — took turns preparing our own meals, doing our dishes, and cleaning our living quarters.

Over our 10-day vacation, we met many beautiful people; often in their own homes, which usually had a dirt floor and flimsy walls. The better homes had a roof of corrugated tin. Every homeowner offered something to eat and drink. We held and played with developmentally disabled infants and children at a hospital in town. We picked coffee beans and worked on a building project at a local church. Our trip changed our lives forever!

If you’d like to learn more about the remarkable work done in Guatemala through Dave and Bina Huebsh and Rising Villages, google it and make a reservation. You will never be the same.

Curt Hanson, Director of Stewardship and Development, Diocese of Saint Cloud

God’s Tenfold Strategy

I recently spent a weekend in the Morrison County Jail.  I confess it was not my first time, and I’m confident it won’t be the last.  It was a typical jail weekend for me: a lot of singing, a little bit of dancing, plenty of laughter, and tears . . . believe me, there were tears.  That’s what generally happens at a REC retreat.  If you’ve not heard of it, REC is an acronym for “Residents Encountering Christ,” an offshoot of the TEC (“Together Encountering Christ”) program, modified to accommodate jail inmates.

There are a good number of unsung heroes in central Minnesota, who go into the jails every week to do just as Jesus tells us all to do: “I was hungry and you gave me food.  I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”  (Mt. 25: 35-36)  The time spent by these folks builds trust and melts hearts, preparing the jail residents for a retreat that can be life-changing.  I’m not one of the every-week heroes, although I admire them a great deal.  No, I’m a very amateur guitar strummer and singer who was blessed to be part of the music team that weekend.

When I first began working at TEC and REC retreats, I believed it was a sacrifice on my part.  I was generously giving back to God for all that God has done for me.  Giving back weekends, for goodness’ sake!  How very noble of me.

The problem was, I would go home invigorated, recharged, fired up . . . and grateful.  I realized that I was receiving tenfold what I’d given.  (I have come to refer to this as “God’s Math.”)

REC volunteers are expected to bring food to the retreat.  They are also expected to make a modest donation to help with expenses.  I, who once patted myself on the back for self-sacrifice, have finally grasped the reality of what God is doing for me—I am entrusted to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, to help carry on His ministry.  To visit the people He deeply loves and longs for.  And Jesus accepts my humble gifts.  Only one way for me to describe this, good stewards:  WOW.

Curt Hanson, Director of Stewardship and Development, Diocese of Saint Cloud

Lessons for a father of sons

Don’t ask me to predict the gender of the child you’re expecting

My Mom and Dad had four sons.  My older brother, Gary, and his first wife had three sons.

When Mary Beth and I were expecting our first child, neither of us hoped for one gender or the other.  We just wanted a baby.  But the law of averages told me “girl,” and that is what I predicted.  We named him Eric.  When we were expecting our second child, I only picked out girls’ names.  Surely this had to be a girl.  We named him Daniel.  With number three on the way, I made bets with all kinds of people, sure that we were about to give my mom a granddaughter.  Kyle is his name.  Awaiting the fourth, I finally abandoned predictions.  We had so many hand-me-downs that another boy would be quite practical.  Along came Brady.

I was quite comfortable having sons.  I spoke their language, and they spoke mine.  I understood the importance of riding a bicycle off the end of our dock in one’s underwear.  I could not fault them for ruining our VCR camera during the making of a home movie.  I proudly watched a four-year-old Kyle crawl up on Santa’s lap and ask for a bullwhip and the ability to fly before being set down and pointed back to his parents.  It all made sense to me.

Our oldest son and his wife had a boy.

But two years later they had a girl, and I was deathly afraid of her.  I think she knew it.  She didn’t want to be within sight of me.  I would try to hold her as she wailed and reached for her mommy with tears in her eyes.  I wondered aloud if we would ever negotiate a peace.

Somehow we overcame our fear of one another.  I discovered that I like princesses.  A lot.  And I like “Tinkerbelle Tea,” which Mariela pretends to brew for me, served with a plastic cookie or brownie.  She likes to be read to.  She greets me with a kiss on the cheek.  She cries when Mary Beth and I leave their Washington home after a visit.  She has taught me a great deal.  She has a sister and another brother now.  I’m no longer afraid.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, let’s thank God, especially during the Christmas Season, for the precious gifts of family and friends.

Curt Hanson, Director of Stewardship and Development, Diocese of Saint Cloud

God’s ‘lifetime plan’ for humility

On how our Creator is creatively reminding me of my coming helplessness

For a little more than a year now, I’ve been experiencing “mental hiccups” during conversations with others.

I have a thought, and I decide to voice it.

I get roughly 30 percent into my subject, and I draw a complete blank.

It seems nouns are the usual stumbling blocks.

Because my dad died after a 10-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease, I was alarmed by the frequent “blank screens” where once actual words resided. (Great words, sometimes with three or four syllables.)

So I voiced these fears to my doctor, who promptly asked: “When you lose a word are you aware you lost it, and frustrated that you can’t get it back?”

“Yes,” I nearly shouted. “Yes, I do.” (Oh, this guy is smart, I mused.)

“Well then,” he answered, “you don’t have dementia, Curt. You’re

just getting old.” (Thank you, Doc. That’s so much better.)

Bless her heart, my wife Mary Beth will patiently pitch word after word at me when I am stymied, most often filling in the blank and sending me on my way in three to four attempts.

“Honey, where are my —”

“Sunglasses?” (I shake my head.)

“Keys?” (Still shaking.)

“Gloves?” (Bingo!)

Still, it is a nagging, albeit minor issue, that I assume will dog me for the rest of my days.

Isn’t this another example of the creativity of our loving God?

We begin our lives absolutely helpless, grow in stature, intellect and spirituality for 18 to 20 years, live the next half century or so believing there is nothing we can’t do and, when the time is right, God eases us back toward helplessness to begin preparing for another birth.

God ensures that we will, at some time in our lives, find our humility. If we can’t find it, how will we be able to meet Jesus face to face?

Good stewards of our relationship with the Risen Christ, let’s mine the depth of our hearts this week, in search of our humility.

Trust me — you don’t want to wait for God to start playing with your nouns.

Curt Hanson, Director of Stewardship and Development, Diocese of Saint Cloud

Everything changed in first ‘big God moment’

I’m ashamed at how long it took me to fully appreciate God’s role in my life.

As a younger man, I thought any success I experienced was because of my own efforts: “I worked hard” or “I studied hard” (that would be a lie) or “I came up with that idea.”

I’ve always believed in God, although I did not always act as though I believed.

Perhaps like many of you, I kept God on a shelf until I desperately needed divine help or intervention, at which time I would fervently implore God’s mercy, aid and, often, forgiveness.

I had numerous “little God moments” over the course of my life. You know — a beautiful sunset, an inspiring or moving story or some experience that would stir a sense of God within me.

Drama of new life

But in early 1979 I witnessed the first of my “big God moments,” in a birthing room of a small town hospital. This experience was repeated three times; while each event was unique, each was exactly like the others.

My role in these particular dramas was to stand by the head of my wife’s bed, breathing with her in rapid staccato breaths, lightly clenching my teeth to make a series of “s-s-s” sounds.

We’d learned the Lamaze method and I was her “coach.” Lamaze was designed to bring about a pain-free delivery, and it worked like a charm for me. I don’t recall feeling a thing, so long as I stayed outside the reach of her flailing arms.

A card-carrying, certified sissy when it comes to the sight of blood, I ignored the doctor’s summons to join him where the action was to take place. “I should stay up here and coach,” I told him, as I intensified my breaths and hisses.

“No,” he said, “I think you should come now.”

I was happy to see that “ground zero” was well draped and lit with an intensely bright lamp, making it almost appear to be a Broadway stage. (I half-expected to hear Ed McMahon: “He-e-e-e-re’s Johnny!”)

It was all God

The crown of a tiny head appeared. I had no idea what it was until two eyes blinked at me and a gaping mouth filled the room with a quivering cry — a song that stirred me to the depth of my being.

God’s handiwork — life springing from life, love springing from love — obliterated any sense of the visceral.

This was all spirit. It was all God.

And I’ve not lost track of God’s intimate workings in my life to this day.

Good stewards, let’s pay attention to God’s presence in our everyday, ordinary lives this week.

And then let’s respond in prayers of praise and gratitude.

Curt Hanson, Director of Stewardship and Development, Diocese of Saint Cloud

At Mass, as in sports, it’s better if we don’t just watch

I am not particularly athletic, which is to say I’m not blessed with great hand-eye coordination, dazzling speed or notable strength.

However, I did participate in organized football from fourth grade through my freshman year of college (at Bemidji State); and in the early 1970’s, I was privileged to help coach a pee wee football team at a small community near Akron, Ohio.

(Pee wee football in Ohio was, and I suspect still is, much like youth hockey in Minnesota — except pee wee football is on steroids and has a stick of dynamite in each hand.)

I was, of course, a devoted Vikings fan.

Fast forward to the fall of 1993. My family and I are living in the Chester Park neighborhood of Duluth. It is a fabulous early October day: brilliant sunshine, temperature in the low-to-mid 60s, and crystal clear air scented with earthy autumnal aromas.

I am in the family room, cheering, scolding, imploring and cursing the Vikes. (By the way, at this time the team was winning about half their games while receiving significant notice in the papers and on TV due to abysmal off-the-field behavior.)

I glance out the window to find our four boys are shooting baskets in the driveway.

“That’s nice,” I think to myself. It looks like fun. I return to the game,

but intermittently check on the basketball game going on outside. Face the TV, look outside; face the TV, look outside again.

At last I turn off the television and head outside to enjoy the beautiful day and my kids.

To this day, I might occasionally tune into a few plays — or sometimes part of a quarter — of a football game.

I had spent my time observing sports because I felt I was getting too old to enter into sports. It makes me mindful of those times that I’ve observed the Mass rather than entering into it.

Because I’m too — what?

Busy?

Angry?

Worried?

Tired?

Not if I’m to be a good steward.

I am to live the Mass as Jesus wants me to live in him and he in me.

Stewardship is stepping out in faith to live God’s will.

Let’s not just dip our toes in the water this week. Let’s dive off the deep end.

Curt Hanson, Director of Stewardship and Development, Diocese of Saint Cloud

Changing hearts — possible, but not easy

In my younger years, I was the kind of guy who believed that changing other people’s attitudes and behaviors would make the world a better place. If only so-and-so would let others speak once in a while; if what’s-her-name would keep her political opinions to herself — or change to my political opinions. I think you get the picture.

Marriage, of course, took a little of the edge off this way of thinking, simply because I had to learn to accept different ideals and different ways of doing things, or get used to sleeping on a broken-down couch that was not adequate in length, width or back support. (Sounds like I know a little bit about that couch, eh?) Lessons that began with married life were perfected in the arrival of four sons over the ensuing years.

For example, I arrived home from work one afternoon, weary and drenched in sweat. My wife greeted me at the door, but as she spoke, a din erupted in our basement family room.

Having heard this sound before, I shouted down the stairway, “Hey!” (It got very quiet.)

“Are you guys jumping on that furniture again?”

Eric, the eldest, wandered out into the stairwell, with bowed head, slowly turning his face to me.

“Yes,” he replied.

(‘He sounds penitent,’ I thought to myself. ‘This is good.’)

“If I catch you guys jumping on that furniture again, there are going to be some sore rear ends around here, and four sad boys in this house! Do you understand me?”

“Yes,” said Eric with a renewed lilt in his voice as he ran back into the room.

I turned to my wife, and said smugly, “That’s how you discipline kids. You show them who’s the boss. You put them in their place.”

As I was speaking, we could hear a series of mechanical clicks, several beeps running together at high speed and muffled laughter, followed by a tinny version of my own voice: “If I catch you guys jumping on that furniture again, there are going to be some sore rear ends around here, and four sad boys in this house!”

They had recorded me on a Fisher-Price tape recorder. They hit “replay” and the laughter grew.

Through our family’s formative years and beyond, we experienced many more challenges, of course, many more laughs, and a whole lot of tears, fears and apprehensions.

But “the lesson” remains invaluable: there is just one heart in all the world that I can change — and it is mine. Easy to do? NO! But with God’s guidance, patience, and mercy it is possible. With God, everything is possible.

For example, Eric and his wife, Jenny, brought four beautiful children into the world; two boys and two girls. Hunter is the oldest, and he’s very much like his father. Very much.

(God answers prayers.)

Curt Hanson, Director of Stewardship and Development, Diocese of Saint Cloud

3 virtues tell us if we are the good stewards we might be

At Mass recently, the Gospel reading was from Luke 12: 13-21; the parable of a rich man whose bountiful harvest compelled him to pull down his grain bins and build larger ones, where he would store his grain and goods for years to come.  Satisfied with what he had done, he planned to relax, eat heartily, and drink well.  God had other plans for this fortunate/unfortunate fellow, however, and that very night his earthly life came to an end.  In the parable, the rich earthman is called a “fool” for stockpiling his wealth.  Wasn’t he merely being a good steward of the gifts God had provided?  Let’s think about it in light of some

FAITH – The rich man felt his great harvest was accomplished by him alone.  How many times have I patted myself on the back for completing a difficult task or achieving a milestone?  How often do I overlook God’s hand in my efforts, or acknowledge that he gave me specific abilities and talents that made success possible at all?  It seems the rich man ignored the importance of plentiful rain and sunlight in his endeavors.  We could all learn about faith from the beautiful but extremely impoverished people of Guatemala, who know they must rely solely on God for their daily bread.

GRATITUDE – Did the rich man thank God for his bounty?  Obviously not, as true gratitude most often results in acts of kindness and generosity.  (No mention was made of grain to be donated to the poor.)  What aspects of my life do I routinely take for granted?  How often to I thank God for my marriage, my kids and grandkids, my job . . . even my problems and difficulties?  Is my gratitude reflected in acts of charity done in God’s name?

HUMILITY – The rich man felt he was owed the luxury of relaxation, good food, and good drink.  Who hasn’t shared that very feeling?  But our current culture has opened the door to opportunities for the vigorous exercise of our Catholic faith.  Perhaps your heart is on fire for the poor; or the unborn; for those in jail or imprisoned by addiction; for people who are broken by disability or mental illness; for struggling married couples . . . opportunities are endless, especially if we are willing to follow our Savior and “wash others’ feet” in humble service.

Thank you, God, for the circuitous path that has led me to this place.  In your wisdom and your mercy, I pray that you will guide and guard our efforts to build a culture of passionate stewardship throughout the parishes of our diocese.

Curt Hanson, Director of Stewardship and Development, Diocese of Saint Cloud

Be the goodness God created you to be!

My mother passed away a few months ago, just weeks before her ninety-sixth year, and interestingly, on my birthday.  I found the birthday thing curious at the time, but my friend Jeff told me it was a great happenstance.  “Now you share a birthday with your mom,” he said, “because we all have three of them: one when we’re born into earthly life; another marking our baptism into Christ; and the final birthday when we complete the circle and return to God in heaven.”

I think of Lenora Irene May Hanson . . . my mom . . . often, of course, and miss her humor, her quirky outlook on things, her cooking (which was without rival), and her pragmatic approach to life.  She was a unique character who readers of my ramblings will undoubtedly revisit in future writings.  Now, however, I’d like to share a favorite story of mine.  It is my mom’s “stewardship story.”

In the mid-1990’s my wife, kids and I moved from Duluth to Little Falls.  We’d been in Duluth for about six years, during which my father passed away after a lengthy bout with Alzheimer’s disease.  Mom lived alone in Two Harbors, and although my brothers were relatively close by and she had quite a few friends, I made a habit of calling her on Sunday afternoons to take some edge off our leaving the area.  During our calls mom would report in detail the meals she’d had with her circle of friends (self-dubbed the “Golden Girls”), who won the most hands at Bridge (mom was a notorious card shark), and any other newsworthy items.

One day she ended a call by saying, “I almost forgot to tell you that I found out about a program in Two Harbors called ‘Community Partners.’  Volunteers from around the area come into the homes of senior citizens and help out with light chores and things.  It’s meant to help them stay in their own homes instead of having to move into assisted living.  I wanted to let you know that I signed up for it.”

Mom was well into her eighty’s at the time, and my head immediately filled with images of this tiny but independent and capable woman who would outwork most men when a project was underway, who doled out the majority of discipline in our family, and who seldom backed down from an argument, and never, NEVER asked for help.  I was awed by her new-found humility and willingness to receive a hand-up so as to maintain her independence.  “Mom,” I said, “I’m so proud of you.  You have never been one to ask for help, and yet you’re doing a very sensible thing here.”  “Yep,” she replied.  I signed up last Monday and had my first client on Wednesday . . . a lady in her 70’s that’s a little overweight and man, is she old!”

See the goodness of others today.  Be the goodness God created you to be!

Curt Hanson, Director of Stewardship and Development, Diocese of Saint Cloud