an unforgettable valentine’s day

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Valentine’s Day has never been my favorite holiday. Maybe it’s because I hate all the consumer hype, maybe it’s because I’m not overly romantic, or maybe it’s just because I hate the pressure of “finding just the right gift” to show those I love how much I care. But like it over not, Valentine’s Day comes every year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against celebrating love or sharing my feelings with those I love. What stresses me out about Valentine’s Day is that my ways of expressing love don’t look anything like the commercials on TV, and I’m left trying to honor the day and dumbfounded as how to do it.

Today is Valentine’s Day and if I want to spend time with my valentine, I will have to spend it in a warehouse…with hundreds of other people. You see today is the last of six days where over a dozen churches and community organizations have joined together to pack meals for hungry children. My husband, being part of the planning team, had to be there at 7 am to open the doors and has to be there through the final shift (5:00 – 7:00 pm) and clean-up tonight. So to spend time with him, I headed to the warehouse this morning and will return again tonight.

This afternoon I’m hanging around the house doing the week’s laundry and it makes today feel more like an ordinary Saturday than a holiday. For that I’m grateful. When I return to the warehouse later, I’ll be happy to be one among the many. Why? because for once this holiday focuses on an understanding of love that fits my own, and embodies my relationship with my valentine. Serving, more than bouquets of flowers and fancy dinners, is my picture of love. Serving not only those I know and love, but also people in our world who are in need is important to me, and our family. And this Valentine’s Day I get to share that commitment with others – and that is pretty awesome.

But there is another exciting element to this Valentine’s Day – the surprise of having our college daughter come home to surprise us and to participate in packing meals! Yes, for her too, love means caring for others and packing meals has been a part of her story since she was in first grade. So it’s a good weekend. Happily, I made her brownies when she arrived last night. Happily I will do her laundry today. Happily I dropped her off at the warehouse this morning to join her dad and the others. And happily I will get her ready to head back to school tomorrow. Our children watch how we love and sometimes they take the good and make it part of their own understanding of loving too.

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It’s soon time for me to return to the warehouse for the final shift of the week. Tonight as I stand in a cold warehouse with hundreds of people who want to make a difference in the lives of children, I will capture an imagine in my head. I’ll look to the screens and wait for the number – somewhere between the 2.2 million meals packed when I last left and the 3.0 million meals goal. And I will rest in the fact that this is a Valentine’s Day I won’t soon forget.

Grateful

After three weeks away, today I woke up in my own bed. In the room down the hall, my youngest, home from college for the weekend, slept in. I got up, without an alarm, and walked past the sink of dirty dishes to head to a spinning class at the Y. The sun filled the sky as I headed out, welcoming me to this new winter day in MN. It’s good to be home, and I’m grateful.

Today’s agenda is more about being than doing. Yes, there are some errands to run and a suitcase to unpack (and of course those dishes to wash), but if they don’t all get done it’s OK. Letting the day unfold as it will on this day without a schedule is rare. And having the chance to hang with the people I love and care about on this day is a gift. As a family with four separate lives who live apart more than together, I see a Saturday like this with new eyes.

I don’t know what your day has in store, but in a world so dictated by schedules and outside pressures, deadlines, and demands, I wish for you a carefree day with people you love some time soon in the future. Maybe you have to actually schedule it, or maybe, like me, it will just appear and all you have to do it have eyes to see it.

Even if you can’t get a day, maybe you can have a moment – even a moment today. If your kid asks to play a game or go outside, just say yes. If your spouse invites you to go to a movie, go for it! (Or invite them!) If your dog HAS to have that walk or your camera wants you to capture the beauty of today, take a few minutes, whatever you have, and do it. I think the sabbath time God invites us into might be disguised in days like this.

A day of being…being home, being me, being with people I love.

Grateful.

T

In Memory of Jannie Swart: “I Really Believe This Stuff”

Thankful for the passion and leadership of friend and colleague Jannie Swart. As a Luther Seminary PhD graduate, I had the pleasure of walking alongside his questions, learning, and wisdom during his time in St. Paul. While the time was different, the story is the same as posted here. I’m thankful for these works which point to my experience with Jannie and want to share them. May we all have the gospel shine through our lives.

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Last Monday, our seminary community was shocked by the sudden death of professor Jannie Swart. Despite having only served on the faculty at PTS for a year, his loving and enthusiastic faith had transformed the culture of the entire campus. The Lord used Jannie in such powerful ways that even people he never met were compelled to come to Friday’s memorial service.

My first encounter with Jannie was the day he approached me at the New Wilmington Mission Conference in 2013 and said, “We have to teach a church planting class together.” Jannie drew people into relationships in such a way that we couldn’t help but be implicated in whatever he was doing. Soon three other friends and colleagues had joined us and we planned the course I wrote about here.

Anyone who met Jannie felt as though they had made a new close friend. For me, Jannie was…

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Play – a summer must!

I’ve been out of town quite a bit the past few weeks and upon my return I’ve noticed something. The parks have more activity, more bike riders are filling our streets, and kids are simply put, more visible. And I love it! In a media-driven culture, this makes me very happy to see kids playing. Kids have in their DNA a desire for discovery, for social interaction with other kids, and a call to be outdoors.

A friend of mine posted a link to these beautiful pictures of children at play (Thanks Lori!) and it brought a smile to my face. Children, from around the world, at play. And the photographers have captured the similarity and differences so well. (Love the depth of these photos!)

As you look ahead to the remaining weeks of summer, let us adults encourage play among the children in our lives…and may we also be encouraged by children to have play we part of our lives!

Happy July 1st!

http://www.boredpanda.com/happy-children-playing/

Making Memories, and then some

Growing up many of my family adventures, planned and unplanned, were marked by the phrase, ‘making memories.’ Sometimes the phrase was used to mark the ordinary, but fulfilling times in life – such as the first summer night we roasted marshmallows around the campfire. Other times it described unforeseen challenges – such as when we survived camping in the midst of a huge thunderstorm. It was used to put a positive spin on negative experiences – like the time we wandered lost in an unfamiliar city for hours and didn’t stop for directions. And it was used to mark important occasions, putting words to moments we knew would be treasured long into the future – such as graduations and weddings.

The past ten days our family has been making memories; memories now stashed away, but ones which will live into the future as (various versions of) stories will be told and retold for years to come. You see this was a big year for the Elton’s – two graduations to be exact. And to mark these moments, we thought we had to celebrate. So we headed to Barcelona, Spain for 10 days of visiting places we had never been before. Ten days and seven different Mediterranean cities. Each day we explored places we had only studied in classes or heard about in the news. Each day we experienced amazing cities and saw another part of a beautiful region of the world. One day…Pompeii and the ruins of a city destroyed by a volcano. Another day…Rome and Vatican City. One day…pizza in Naples and yes…we were in Cannes, France during the final days of the international film festival. (Seriously? I still don’t know if I believe it.) Every day was interesting, filled with ancient history, glorious landscape, and many stories.

But the cities visited only provided some of the memories. Many more came from the ordinary, less glamorous, moments. There was the billiard challenge and the night bowling. There were card games of Rummy and daily work-outs together. There was ordering drinks by the pool, sitting in the hot tub, and waiting as they prepared to leave port. Ordinary things, yes, but these small events grounded each day and gave us opportunities to BE with each other. No schedules, no external demands. And woven into each day were the conversations, mostly at the meals, when we gathered each day, taking about life. We had the gift of time…time to simply have another cup of coffee (or glass of wine in my case) and wonder about today, the future, and what matters.

Tomorrow we board the plane for the flight home. The flight will be long, but it too is part of the journey. A saying our family has is, ‘sometimes you have to go far to come near.’ We have often used it referring to mission work, but today I believe it is fitting for this trip. We did travel far – our bodies reminded us of that the day we landed in Spain. But we also grew close – something being without internet and having only each other can often do. But ten days in tight quarters does not always equate to growing closer. And for that I am deeply grateful. We, four very different individuals, not only love each other, but we also like each other. We laugh, we give space, we explore the world together, and we have learned how to be family. Sure it’s taken time, and many days it’s been hard. But somewhere along the way, we did it. We figured it out – that pushing through the tough times and celebrating the good times is worth it. Sisters aren’t friends, they are family. And moms and dads do really have your back, even when it doesn’t seem like it. And having adventures, and making a few memories, just might be an important part of making it happen.

So, here’s to another chapter in making memories. Until next time…

A very grateful mom.

Meaning-Full

Meaning – “the end, purpose, or significance of something” or “full of significance”
Full – “completely filled” or “maximum” or “abundant”
…at least that’s what Dictionary.com says about these two words.

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Two Fridays ago I spent the afternoon with a group of women reflecting on 2013 and setting a direction for 2014. At the end of our afternoon we each had to land on one word that would guide us in 2014. My word (I cheated) was meaning-full.

What do I mean by meaning-full and what do I hope for in 2014?
What gives my life meaning is different then what gives your life meaning, but what we share is meaning grows out of our values. Naming our values is important, and so is living them. How do we interweave our values into the demands already on our life? In 2014 I want to reflect on what it is that’s filling my days, weeks and months. My life is full, but with what? Can my days be abundant with significance? Can my weeks be maximized towards the areas of life I most value? That’s the quest I’m on this year. I want my life to be full of what’s meaningful to me.

Okay, I got a word. So what?
That’s the challenge. And to start I know this. Habits, daily rituals and patterns form and shape my life. Those habits, like drinking too much Diet Coke, can take me away from my goals or, like attending the 6:00 am cycling class, they can move toward achieving my goals. So I’ve been evaluating my habits. Starting a new semester provides a natural opportunity for adapting habits. But so does the new year. So, I’m limiting my Diet Coke to one a week. (Yes, those that know me recognize that’s a big deal.) But I’m also adding some new habits. As I do life everyday, be it going to cycling class or heading to chapel or leading my group of 6th graders, I’m asking myself, “If, and how, this is creating meaning?” I’m wondering if I’m just going through the motions or if I’m fully present and seeking ways to put my values into play. So far, half way through the month, I’m slowly finding my way. This question has helped me evaluate my habits and maximize the things I’m already doing so I can live more meaning-full.

And what does this have to do with you?
Maybe you have a word too, or maybe you’ve been striving to live more meaningfully, or maybe you are open to being intentional about your habits. Those are all great things, and I hope me sharing helps you in some way. But there is something more fundamental here. Do you believe you can impact your life this year? In big, or small, ways we all have agency and the ability to impact our lives and the world. To do that, however, we need to believe a new future is possible, we need to be reflective and open, and we need to be intentional about the little things and our daily choices.

Tonight this was most evident as my class participated in The Wellness Center ministry. People of all walks of life, with varied life experiences and resources, came together for a meal and community. At the end of the night several people shared about what this community meant to them. All the responses were moving, but two stood out. The two men who had been homeless and welcomed into this community. Accepted as a fellow human, they were valued and cared about. They were not victims; they were human beings. Their stories reminded us social status, economic resources or fashion choices are not what make us human, relationships do. And we all can foster relationships – young and old, rich and poor, and with various religious beliefs. Tonight was meaning-full, and it was filled with hope, openness to change, and concrete ways for living today. Thanks for a teaching me tonight.

Dec. 10 – Christmas Time is Here?

I can relate to the opening scene from Charlie Brown Christmas. (If you want to remind yourself of the opening, click on the link below.) Today, I don’t feel much in the mood for Christmas. The past few days have been a bit melancholy and yesterday tipped the scales as I read a friend’s first CaringBridge post. At work, at church and in the community…are people for whom this will be their first Christmas without their loved one. Some of the grief is fresh, for others it’s almost a year into the process. Regardless, this year will be the first. Their wounds may not be visible, but their pain is real. Having experienced a brother’s death just before Christmas, I can’t overlook these moments in life.

But hope, the hope Christmas proclaims, was meant for times like this. Yes, even for Charlie Brown who can’t quite figure it out. Today this hope came alive for me in a reading from Isaiah, a preacher speaking hope out of a raw sense of loss and in singing a familiar Christmas carol rewritten. Let the words of this song, adapted from the words of Isaiah, speak to you this day.

O come, O come Immanuel/And bless each place your people dwell/Melt every weapon crafted for war/Bring peace upon the earth forever more.

O come, green shoot of Jesse, free/Your people from despair and apathy/Forge justice for the poor and the meek/Grant safety for the young ones and the weak.

O come now, living water, pour your grace/And bring new life to every withered place/Speak comfort to each trembling heart/Be strong, fear not, for I will ne’er depart.

O come, dear child of Mary come/God’s Word made flesh within our earthly home/Lord story within the womb of night/Revenge and hatred put to flight.

Refrain: Rejoice, Rejoice! Take heart and do not fear. God’s chosen one, Immanuel draws near.

 

Dec. 9 – the music of the season

Everywhere I turned these days, there it is. Music. And more specifically, Christmas music. Yesterday in worship the children told a version of the Christmas story in song. Working out at the Y, I overhead people talking about how they love listening to Christmas music on the radio. And Facebook has been filled with creative versions of traditional Christmas songs.

Growing up, singing Christmas carols was one of our holiday traditions. No, we weren’t that good …no four-part harmony or anything … but singing was one way our lives found themselves in the Christmas story. Different songs held different meaning and each of us had our favorites. For example, ‘I am so Glad each Christmas Eve’ was Grandpa Olga’s favorite and she taught it to all the grandkids in Swedish. To this day I can’t sing it without remembering her and her strong faith.

What if music was taken out of the holidays? What if the radio stations stopped playing carols? What if children didn’t sing the Christmas story in worship? What if people stopped gathering around pianos in living rooms debating which Christmas song was the best? I’ve got two challenges for you. First, try going a day without listening to Christmas music. Then reflect on what that was like. Second on another day seek out some special Christmas music and listen, really listen. I can’t help you with the first, but I can offer a couple of options on the second.

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Dec 6 – Paint with Your Soul

Growing up it wasn’t Christmas unless I’d made several gifts. As a child, the homemade gifts were simple, certainly not masterpieces. Although simple in nature, the ‘spirit’ of the gifts was priceless. As a child I didn’t think about the quality or worth of the gift. All that mattered was I had created it! As I got older, I was less carefree and more concerned with the quality of the gift. And my imagination narrowed. Today, as an adult I still make some gifts, but the carefree spirit I had as a child is gone. What would it take to get some of that back?

A few weeks ago I came across this video and it challenged me to lighten up and try to recapture some of my childhood creativity. Watch it and see what you think.