Mazzuchelli and Wahlert teachers (and siblings), Jolene (Berning) Belken ’93 and Tim Berning ’94, share experiences from their childhood and their memories of growing up in a family whose strong faith taught them to Witness for Christ.
Our parents, John and Ellen Berning, have given us the most amazing gifts parents can offer their children – unending love for God, family, and friends. This loving faith-filled gift, which they continue to give, practice, and model, has nurtured us into the people we are today.
Reflecting on the past 40 years, it has been through their actions and words that we witnessed Christ in our daily lives. Witnessing their strong faith and love for one another helped us understand what it means to be a disciple of Christ. As we contemplate the ways we witnessed for Christ in our family, certain clear themes emerge:
Our parents naturally shared their love for others, always keeping an open door policy. Growing up, we always had people coming and going in our house, whether it was the neighbors when they needed a babysitter or visitors just dropping in.
The biggest action of love for others was when our parents asked all five of us kids if we would be open to becoming a foster family. Though they had five children of their own and operated a 180-acre, 30-cow dairy farm, Mom and Dad still felt they had enough love to share. We still remember our mom saying, “Kids, I believe that we have more than enough love in this family, and it is our responsibility to share that love with other kids who need it.”
Together, we decided to take a leap of faith and become a foster family. Being a foster family allowed us to share the love we had with 32 children over the course of eight years. Some kids stayed with us for one or two days while others lived with us for months. The greatest blessing our family received for being a foster family was adopting our sisters Tina and Penny.
Random acts of kindness.
As Christians, we are called to reach out to others without expecting to receive anything in return. Our parents are always thinking of others. As a Christmas present one year, a neighbor was in need of a new refrigerator and our parents had one delivered without any recognition. Another selfless act we witnessed was our dad sending roses to widows on Valentine’s Day. And other kindness included gathering us children to Christmas carol for the elderly or simply making time for family and friends in need.
Our parents have always been deliberate in showing their love for each other. Dad randomly picks wildflowers and delivers them to Mom at the front door – he leaves little notes around the house for her to find – and if he sees Mom while he’s driving the bobcat through the farmyard, he’ll wave the bucket up and down as if to say, “hello!”
Mom always has a hot meal ready for Dad and she would always make sure he was in from chores before starting a family activity. She has always taken care of the little things that needed to be done. These and many other random acts of kindness have helped us witness the joy it brings to one’s heart and how good it feels to be loved.
The Blessing of another day.
Our parents make it a priority to take the time to recognize that each day is a gift from God. We never know what God has in plan for us, so we must appreciate what we are given. Our parents remind us to make the most of each day. We have witnessed them, as we all do, have good and bad days. And at the end of the day, they count their blessings and will say, “the good Lord willing, we will have another day tomorrow.” This has instilled in us that we need to slow down and appreciate the day we are given.
If you talk with our parents, they’ll remind you of the beauty of the day – whether the sun is shining, the weather is warm or cool, there’s beautiful sunrise or sunset, or there’s a stillness with the falling snow. They will also remind you of the birds singing, the animals playing, the bright moon or the starry night. Or they’ll mention a nice conversation they had with someone. These are just a few ways they see the good in every day, and in turn, we have come to find the beauty that God has given us in our everyday.
Our parents grew up with strong family morals and values, and they instilled these into us. Growing up on a dairy farm, we learned early on that to be successful in farming, it takes a whole family effort. Whether it was feeding cows, cleaning the milk tank, throwing new bedding down in winter time, milking, unloading hay, cutting grass, making dinner, cleaning the house… the list could go on and on. We learned what it was like to work and feel accomplished. No matter what the day was like, we always had family time at night whether it was playing ball together in the yard, baking cookies, playing cards or a board game, going to someone’s softball/baseball game or just hanging out. Looking back, those moments led us to our love of family and the importance of spending time together. Now our parents make that time with their 29 grandchildren. Family gatherings are cherished and our parents are always finding a way to expose their grandchildren to new things. After spending time together, they always say, “thanks for fitting us in” or “thanks for making our day.”
Our grandparents were very faith-filled, and they instilled faith in our parents. Our parents, in turn, have instilled faith in us. Our goal is to instill a strong faith in our own families as well.
Looking back, we know our parents went through some tough times running a small farm with five small children. Though, not once did we hear them complain or lose faith that things would work out. They knew their strong faith would help them get through whatever they needed at that time.
Our Catholic faith was a priority for our family. At times, money was tight, but we never noticed that as children because we were always loved, fed and cared for. We didn’t know any different.
Daily prayer – visiting and helping older neighbors – making Mass a priority every Sunday no matter what – praying the rosary just because, for someone specific, or for safe travel in bad weather – inviting the priest to visit – praying the stations of the cross – volunteering at Mass or serving on committees in our small parish, Nativity B.V.M. in Menominee, Ill. – writing on the backside of an envelope “In God We Trust” before mailing it – these are a few of the many different ways that we lived out our faith while growing up. To us, having and practicing our faith was just a natural thing to do and continues to this day. Our faith is rooted in who and where we came from.
We thank our parents for being who they are and for helping shape the people we are today. We hope and pray that we can do the same and Witness for Christ in our own families.
Jolene Belken and Tim Berning