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Layman's Walk

A Reflection Entering Advent

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And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. (Luke 2:10)

The Advent season can inspire mixed emotions. For some, there is the anticipation of Christmas celebrations and festive gatherings with family and friends. Yet for many others, there may be grief for loved ones who are no longer here with us, sadness and disappointment at not being able to afford a prized gift for a loved one, or a bittersweet nostalgia for seasons of yesteryear and better or happier times, or the deafening silence of loneliness and isolation.

Advent can also be a time of uncertainty and fear. I can only imagine that Mary and Joseph felt both of these emotions in the core of their beings. Here is Mary, a very young, unwed woman who is suddenly with child. Then there is her fiancé Joseph, who is faced with the dilemma of whether or not to continue in his planned marriage after having received such shocking news. This is only the beginning of their struggle.

After months of being social pariahs in their hometown with others whispering about them behind their backs, they will embark on a long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem—right at the time Mary is to give birth. She will give birth to her firstborn, not in a modern hospital or even in a simple home, but in a filthy cave with livestock at her side.

Mary’s child, our Lord Jesus, will not be laid in a cradle that is soft and warm, but upon a pile of straw in a food trough. Yet, it is for this birth that the angels will sing “Gloria in excelsis Deo!” (Glory to God in the highest!)

Yes, this season inspires the breadth of human emotions, just as when Jesus was born all those years ago. The way about which God accomplishes the divine mission of salvation through Christ is complicated and rife with struggle. Everything about the incarnation of God in Christ Jesus on earth—from start to finish, from conception to birth, from ministry to death—is full of uncertainty, fear, and pain. Yet it is from within all of this—indeed, it is in spite of all of this—that God nevertheless accomplishes the sacred mission: to redeem the beloved creation.

In spite of the shame, the fear, the pain, and sadness that Jesus will encounter, God gifts the world with wonder, joy, and hope; with forgiveness, love and peace. After months of social scorn and exclusion, the discomfort of traveling a great distance while ready to give birth, and the frustration of bearing forth her child in a stable, Mary looks down at her son. She holds baby Jesus close to her chest and looks at him with a mother’s love. She sees past all she has suffered and beholds the face of God.

That is the invitation to us this Advent season: to look beyond the trials and hardships, the pain and suffering we experience in our own lives, and to hold on to hope we have in Jesus’ coming into our world. It is not easy. It can be a difficult struggle, and yet, we wait upon our Lord in faith.

God is coming to us. In the midst of our problems and pain, God is coming to us. In our uncertainty and fear, God is coming to us.

Fear not, for this is the Good News of great joy that is for all to hear!

In Christ+


Layman's Walk

Hey Pop

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Hey Pop,

It’s been a year since you left us. I’ll admit, it’s been a lot harder for Mom — infinitely harder — than it has been for me. Don’t get me wrong, I still miss you. Kari and the kids miss you, too. But I think I see a bigger picture.

You were never one to shy away from the talk of death. You always made us aware, even as kids, that death was the ultimate end for everyone in this world. While you never confessed a faith of sorts, you also acknowledged that there had to be something bigger than us. I always took comfort in that — I think partly because it was outside of any established religion or belief system. It was just something you felt in your own being.

Mom is still misses you terribly, and I can appreciate that. She doesn’t see what you saw ahead in the same way: a redo of all the treatment, travel, pain, and general misery that would be repeated with the hope of a few months of good times, only to be repeated again and again, each time being less effective until you died. She doesn’t see your leaving was a gift of freedom to her: not being relegated to being your nurse, stuck at home every day of her retirement, suffering alongside you.

Of course, Mom would have gladly chosen that–your being here, that is, and tending to you. She’d have rather stayed by your side through all that might have come if you would have just stayed here. She constantly laments it not the case.

I knew how you felt about the end of life. You never wanted to be sick for long. You never wanted your bride to be your nurse. You never wanted pity from me or Christina or your grandkids over your condition.

I’m still convinced –100%– that you knew what was coming and what you were doing. I remember the day in 2021 when Isaac performed for Pumpkin Idol. You felt terrible that day and when I came back from the performance, I took a nap on the couch in the family room. You moved to sit right across from me and when I woke, you said, “Little nap?” It took all you had to speak that day because your throat was so dry. I should have seen what was coming. I’d have talked so much more. I’d have asked so much more. I’d have hugged you so much tighter.

I thought it odd to see you watching me sleep, but in hindsight, I’d have done nothing different with my own children had I known my time was near. To watch over a person you had made, sleeping at peace, knowing they would be ok once you were gone had to give you a sense of peace (and hopefully satisfaction). At least I hope it did. I wish I had the awareness that I have learned in the year that followed. I may have understood what was happening that afternoon: you were saying “Goodbye.”

The last year has brought an abundance of changes. I hope you would be happy about most of them. Mom is much more social. She enjoys meals with family and friends, has her fair share of wine at PK, and walks with her girlfriends. She’s finally getting that bum hip replaced next month, so I’m sure she’ll be even more active in the coming year. She still wants a “girls’ trip” with Chrissy and Kari and I’m sure she’ll get it.

I finished my year-long pastoral internship on August 31. It was so strange to mourn your death as I started this. Today I can hardly believe my internship has completed and you’ve been gone a year. I know you never cared much for religion (at all), but I sure hope you’re happy that I’m preaching a message of love and forgiveness in spite of people’s failures and faults and not a message that condemns them for their screwups while ignoring my own. I hate religious hipocracy as much as you do. Thanks for instilling that in me so strongly.

I guess that’s about it. Chrissy and the kids are at the duplex across the backyard in Flanagan while Kyle is at MIT. I’m really glad Mom has her and the kids for the next year, especially after them having been so far away for so long and with our impending move.

I did my best to do all you asked of me to take care of Mom and the “business end of dying” that we had discussed multiple times. The “Zulu” file on the computer was really helpful and made things much easier than they would have otherwise been. Thanks for that. I began tending to it the day you died per our agreement.

I’ve had a few dreams with you in them over the last year, but all we do in them is argue. That probably says more than I’d like to admit. Some damned head shrink would probably have a hayday with that. But I’ll always remember the phone ne call from you when Addie was about two years old, telling me not to make some of the same mistakes you made. That call really changed my approach to parenting and helped me get some help I really needed at the time.

I still blow-up at my kids more than I should–though they arguably still deserve it. But more often than not, I collect myself, call them in, apologize and try to explain my emotions. You didn’t do this when I was a kid, but your guidance led me to do this. It has made me a better father.

I tell them I am far from a perfect father, but I’m doing my best to do better than you did. This isn’t a slight, but a huge compliment to you. I know how you were raised, and I know how you raised me. After all you took as a kid, you never laid a hand on me other than the occasional spanking — and those were always more than deserved. You did better than those before you, and I’m so fortunate that you did. My goal was to continue in your bettering example.

You did such a good job at improving on your own upbringing with me and I only hope I do as incrementally a good job with your grandkids as you did with me.

Well, not sure what else to say or how to end this, so I’ll just say:

“It is what it is. See you when I get there.”

I love you, Dad.


Layman's Walk

Endings and Beginnings

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This past week has been both incredibly rewarding and emotionally draining. I didn’t realize it this morning when my mind, spinning with the thoughts of a hundred topics, anticipations, and anxieties jerked me out of my sleep and refused to give me any reprieve. I should have simply arose from my bed then and started to write my thoughts. Now that over eight hours have passed, what had been catalysts of overwhelming emotional responses have dwindled into things that seem more manageable in the daylight. Still, many of them continue to have, “free rent in my dome,” so I think expressing them would be helpful.

The following are the random emotional ramblings of someone who is saddened at the end of something wonderful, excited and looking forward to the future, and also worried about the effects of my decisions on others who I love very much.

I graduated from Luther Seminary this past weekend–just in case the multiple posts on social media by me, my wife, and my mother somehow blissfully passed by your news feed. While I have “walked” for graduation, I’m technically not 100% finished until my internship at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Springfield concludes on August 31.

The days of August 31 and September 1 have played such interesting roles in my life over the past twenty-plus years. It was on August 31st in 1999 that Kari and I had our first kiss as a pair of 17-year-olds; the following day we were an “item” or whatever it is that high-school kids call their boyfriend or girlfriend now. Two years later, right before 9/11, we were engaged.

Many years later, September 1 would be the day I started seminary and received my first tattoo at the hands of my cousin in Colorado which permanently displays my faith on my person. A short four years later it was the day I started my internship. This coming August 31 will be the official last day of my formal five years as a student at Luther Seminary.

This is what we celebrated this past week. After five years I have (will have) finished my longest foray into higher education. I earned my bachelor’s degree in three years, and my MBA in eighteen months. Five years is the longest I have worked consistently for a specific end result.

And what an end it was! The excitement and pride I felt as we left the graduation ceremony and were met by the faculty of the seminary, lined up on both sides of us as we exited Central Lutheran Church, applauding for us and smiling were overwhelming. I have such fond memories of these people who have taught me so much and expanded my capabilities of thought and faith. Many of them I had for only one or two courses over these five years, and to have them recognize me and congratulate me by name meant the world. I look up to these people with the highest esteem.

Then I caught up with my family, who had journeyed with me to St. Paul on June 1 to spend some time there together before the graduation activities of the weekend. My incredibly supporting wife, Kari, who keeps me centered when I am drawn off-kilter, and my four kids–Addison, Isaac, Evan, and Abigail, and my mom, Carol, who is not just awesome because she’s my mom, but has helped out so much as I (and now Kari) are pursuing calls to Christ’s church.

Notably absent was my dad, Brent, who died almost nine months ago. It’s strange to look at a family photo and not see him in it. Dad was anything but religious. I know he believed in something, but he was certain that if another human being was convinced they had a monopoly on the truth, then that person was full of something else entirely. He and I never really talked much about my calling. I had walked away from a lucrative career to pursue it. Being the sole earner for a family of six, this move certainly had to seem illogical, regardless of how much consulting business I had. I can say this confidently because it even seemed illogical to me at the time, though I knew in the core of my being it was the right decision.

I realized as I thought about how this journey began, that it was bookended with the deaths of close loved ones. Just three months after Kari and I attended Luther’s Dokimatzo (Discernment) Weekend in April 2016, Kari’s mom died at 54. Just a few months shy of my 40th birthday and less than one month into my culminating internship, six and a half years later, my dad died at 66.

If ever there was a clear message about the importance of making the most out of our lives–and doing so in a way that values relationships with one another, with being present with those who we love the most, and ignoring the worthless things the rest of the world tells us we should focus on, it was this.

And I am truly grateful for my family–for my extended family, my in-laws, my parents, my kids, and for Kari. How she and I ended up with the four compassionate, loving, thoughtful, intelligent, and talented kids we have, God only knows. They each have such an interesting mix of their mother and me, and while they are so alike in many ways, their individuality and their growing and maturing personalities are nothing short of amazing to me.

As I approach the end of my internship and look forward to my first call as an ordained congregational minister, it’s my kids that cause me the most anxiety. First calls generally involve moving. Five years ago when I started seminary, the kids were gung-ho. For a 9, 7, 4, and 3-year-old kid, moving is exciting and five years is a lifetime away. But with the prospect on the horizon as Addison enters high school and Isaac enters Jr. High, opinions about moving are nowhere near as positive. And this is where my own anxiety flares up. My kids, like me at their ages, are already not thrilled about going to church a lot of the time. The idea that “church” is what is going to make them move and leave behind friends they have had since they were very small leaves them with a very negative opinion of the church.

It is, of course, the hope of both their mom and me that if we move, once we have settled in, things will work out. All four of our kids are approachable and friendly. I’ve no doubt they will all make fast friends wherever we go. I only hope this experience does not dampen their own growing spiritual lives. My own attempts at discussing this with them generally fail, as who wants to discuss their pain with the person they see as the cause of it?

As with anything in life, change is inevitable. People grow. People learn. People move. It’s how it works. And it can be painful. This last week, my family stayed in an upstairs duplex that I stayed in for two weeks during my last January intensive at Luther in 2020 before the pandemic hit. It was truly two of the best weeks of my adult life and I got to spend it with some of my favorite people on earth. As I looked around the place as we departed on Monday morning, it was with a sense of sadness and loss, knowing that my likelihood of returning to this place where I had shared so much joy with such good friends was slim, and even less likely was the chance that I would stay there again with those people.

This is the way life is. Everything has a beginning and an end, an end and a beginning. This applies to all the various chapters of our lives and to life itself.

May we spend that time in appreciation for whatever it is around us and in brotherly love with one another, neither yearning for what has passed or vying for what might be in the future, but in the present, in this day that God has made and has given to us to live.