It’s Not About the Money

I admit that I have been somewhat hesitant to blog about this as it could make me sound like the hero. I don’t view myself as a hero, nor do I want to be considered that way, but instead, I want to share how I was moved. Let me start with a bit of a backstory for perspective.

Over a year ago, I received word that my beloved great aunt had passed away. I prepared myself to drive the 1,000 mile, 15 and a half hour trip to Long Island (New York). My parents encouraged me to look for a flight at a reasonable price and, to my surprise, I found one cheaper than what it would cost to drive. So I woke up thinking I was driving and went to bed preparing for a flight the next day.

In my hurry to leave town, I stopped at Chick-fil-A to grab a quick dinner. Understand, I’m not too fond of the drive-through. I avoid it whenever I can. I like the social interaction of which a drive-through lacks. I want to see the face of the person taking my order and make sure he or she understands my order. When I go into the store, I forget my cell phone, the very device that I have come to trust to cover almost every aspect of my life. I use this 14 oz touch-screen to pay for my meal because I always have it with me. Where did I forget it? In my vehicle… on the parking lot… less than a minute, round trip.

I pulled out the credit card I had in my pocket, but the card failed. I told the young lady at the till I’d be right back as I prepared to run for the door. By the point, she had already signaled to her manager, who came over and tried the card one more time. When my card failed, she gave me my meal for free without any further questioning or considerations. I insisted that I had the money, but she repeated, “It’s no problem. It is taken care of.”

I have to admit I felt a little guilty. Why did I deserve this free meal? Was I taking advantage of the fact that my phone was not readily available? Then I realized that I never asked for it. I told them I was ready to run out to my truck to get it and pay for my meal. I never asked them to help me out and insisted that I could cover it. But was it really about the money?  NO!

I was leaving town to go to the funeral of one of the most cherished people in my life. Between where I stood and that funeral was a three hour drive to the city where I would catch my flight, a hotel stay, leaving my vehicle parked on the lot, getting a shuttle to the airport, getting through security with my carry-on luggage, catching my flight, meeting up with my parents on Long Island… Ok, I think I made my point. There was a bit of stress involved in this. A non-functional credit card was adding to an exhausting situation. The staff took that stress away without asking any questions.

Fast forward to the present. It’s a Sunday morning. The church is virtual due to COVID-19, but I’m the assisting minister this particular Sunday. As I get ready to leave for worship, I instinctively look at the tires. The recent and rapid change in temperature has caused one of my tires to go flat. We are blessed enough that I can use the other vehicle to go to church.

After church, I ran a few errands, inculding getting what I’ll need to put air in the tire before moving the vehicle. I make a quick stop at the gas station. While I’m there, a mother had put gas in her van and came in to pay for it. I missed the initial exchange. As I came to the register, she was out in her vehicle. She was franticly looking through her purse while the kids were looking through the rest of the van.

I’ll admit, I know who the family is. I don’t know much about them. One thing I really don’t know is their financial situation. I have no reason to assume they are having financial difficulties. I didn’t know how she had attempted to pay in the first place or why she was looking for more payment. I’m not sure that she ever turned to anyone and gave any indication that she may not be able to cover the bill.

I saw them looking through the vehicle. I looked at how much of the bill was left. It wasn’t much. I told the cashier I’d cover it for her. From the response of the cashier, I believe there are many good Samaritans out there. I think she has watched others help out in the past.

The cashier offered for me to take the receipt to the woman, and I declined. The only reason I approached her was to let her know that they could stop the frantic hurry of trying to find a way to pay for the gas. I would have been perfectly happy to let her go without ever knowing where the money came from or how it was covered. Again, it wasn’t about the money. It was ending the stress. It was the ability to move on with the day. It was making one less struggle.

I started with a reflection on how others helped me. I reflected on what a difference it made in my day. I don’t believe the fast-food restaurant’s staff’s actions called me to pay it forward. I believe it was an intrinsic desire to be part of a caring community. I wanted to help someone in need. It isn’t the form of “needy” we are used to, but needy has several forms. To this day, I take joy in sharing with her and her family to take away that one stress they didn’t need.

Above all, it isn’t about the money!

Addendum: I was fortunate enough to have a chance to sit across the table from the manager I mentioned above. While she was working on getting some business stuff organized I took the opportunity to share the rest of the story with her. That day, she only knew my credit card didn’t work. I explained that I was on my way out of town for a funeral, and what the gesture meant to me. I was happy to share as I saw the joy on her face (even if it was COVID-mask covered) to hear my side.

The Laundry Mat

It is no secret that I consider myself blessed.  I’m blessed with a great family, including my wife and kids.  I have great parents and wonderful in-laws.  We have food on the table every night.  We have two vehicles that are both working great.  We have many good friends that I know I can rely on for all sorts of assistance.

One of those blessings is the clothing we own.  Frankly… it may simply be too much.  Sometimes it is difficult to get caught up on all of our laundry.  I decided it was time for us to sort out all of our laundry and head to the laundry mat to get it all completed.

First, the hard part. We had to sort things into appropriate loads.  The kids and I worked to make piles that we would load into bins to take to the laundry mat.  When I say, “the kids and I…” please don’t misunderstand me.  The kids were not fond of this job.  My oldest struggled to wrap his mind around all of the dirty clothing he was touching.  The younger two had a very hard time focusing on the task and played around.  I told them that if they chose not to help then they are also choosing not to watch TV.  (They haven’t had the living room TV on since.)

I know part of my frustration with their help was the simple fact that I hate doing laundry myself.  I don’t mind doing dishes.  Vacuuming isn’t a problem for me.  Washing windows is alright and I actually enjoy mowing the lawn. Yet, when it comes to laundry, I’d rather clean the dog poop up from the back yard.  (For reference sake, I don’t currently have a dog.  I did grow up with dogs and I’m quite clear on what that task involves.) It was hard to motivate the kids to do something that I had no interest in doing myself.  The end result, it took about twice as long to sort the laundry as I believe it should have.

By the time I was loading the piles into bins and collecting everything we’d need for the laundry mat, the kids had made their way outside to play.  I’m not sure I blame them.  The next challenge was getting them to come load up in the vehicle to go.  For some reason they weren’t jumping for the opportunity.  I’m still not sure I can blame them.

We arrived at the laundry mat and I put the first load in.  The kids were all quite helpful at this point.  My daughter was eager for the opportunity to help out with the oversized washer.  It was then that I realized a different problem I was up against.  When it took me longer than expected, it also pushed my time back and I knew I wasn’t going to make it home in time to cook dinner.  At least as one fear began to grow there was another fear that turned out okay. The kids weren’t misbehaving. They had found a TV with one of their favorite shows on and they were glued.

You win some, you lose some. Perhaps tomorrow they’ll have TV privileges back.

The Hike

I spent the past school year as a Webelo den leader for our local cub scouts.  I had six enthusiastic scouts who worked hard at the adventures to complete their rank.  Unfortunately, weather was not on our side this year.  Between snow storms, ice storms and cold weather (bitterly cold for this region) our schedule got thrown off.

I was one adventure short for our kiddos.  They had to complete a 3-mile hike.  So, instead of hiking in the cool weather as I had planned, we hiked on a modestly warm day. I spread the word to the other scouts in the den.  One parent asked how long it should take.  I planned on an hour and a half, tops.

After driving around town to collect everything I needed to fulfil the adventure, we (all three of my kids, 10, 8 and 5) filled our water bottles, put on sun screen and made our way to the trail to meet the others.

So the thing about water bottles… when they go flying across the back seat of a vehicle, they may open and spill.  I took a turn quickly to avoid oncoming traffic.  Soon, my eldest’s water bottle only had drops in it.  Perhaps we aren’t off to the best start. Luckily for us, one of his friends had some extra water for him.

When we got to the trailhead, we were missing one of the scouts and their family.  We went ahead and made our trail mix and our first aid kits while we waited.  It was just as we were getting ready to hit the trail that the family pulled up. They had been at a different trailhead until the dad got the text that I had sent a short time ago.  (oops.  I’ve never claimed to be the greatest in organization and forward planning.)

By the time we actually started hiking I was a little frazzled, but happy to be moving.  Still, it couldn’t be as easy as I had planned it to be.  By the time we hit a half mile we had to cross moving water three times.  The recent rain had made a good amount of mud at some spots.  To top it all off, the hike had taken us a full hour and a half.  Including all of the other setbacks and mishaps, it was over two hours instead of the hour and a half, tops, that I had planned.

At the end of the hike, I was quite impressed.  I was impressed with how the group stayed together and had a good time together.  I was impressed with how well my youngest had done, hardly complaining about the distance or the pace and continuing to plug along.  I was impressed that we all still had a bit of energy left in us when we finished.

So I asked the kids when we should take the next hike.  Silence filled the vehicle.

Bedroom Cleaning

Is it a usual thing for kids’ rooms to be messy?  I recall my bedroom being close to a disaster worthy of a state of emergency. My kids are no different.

I started the kids with a room cleaning chart.  I decided not to be overly ambitious to begin with.  I have four categories to begin with. I expect they put their clothing away, make their beds, put toys away and keep the closets clean.  For this week (the first week of break) we are starting by focusing on the clothing.  For the first day, one of the three managed to get all of his clothing where it belongs. Hopefully by the end of the week this will be better, next week we move on to making beds.

Baby steps.

Day 1

It’s Monday.  It is the first day that the kids would be in school but aren’t.  We spent a week looking through options about how to manage the kids for the small gap between my wife leaving for work and my coming home.  And so… Saturday, we manage to line up the daughter of one of my coworkers.  I’m really not sure how this will all work out, but I’ll hold my breath for a good resolve.

On Mondays I get out a little earlier than the rest of the week.  My wife had taken the kids and gone to pick up the sitter.  I was happy to go catch up on the rest I missed the night before.  When I woke, there were the kids… watching TV.  Honestly, I wasn’t going to complain.  Everyone was trying to get used to a new normal.  Just as long as this doesn’t become the new normal.

My plan… after we take the sitter home we go outside and play a game with the neighbor kids.  Then the kids and I will work together to come up with a meal for dinner and mom will come home happy to the beautiful meal in front of her.

What actually happened. We got home and I had a few business items that I needed to tend to.  The kids went in and out, playing in various areas and with various people. Before I know it I’m throwing together a quick dinner that will satisfy the nutritional requirements.

Okay, the plan didn’t work out as well. At the end of the day, the kids are all well and they have enjoyed their first day of summer break.  Better luck tomorrow?

Schools out for Summer, Intro

This summer is a little different for our family.  It is the first summer since college that my wife is working.  My job requires me to work early in the morning, then I’m home with the kids.  This is the story of our summer

It started when school let out on June 7th.  It involved a bit of planning about how the kids would be managed through the day.  There was a small gap in time between when my wife leaves for work and when I get home, not to mention some time to rest.

Then, everyday has its own adventures.  Some adventures will include the chores that we are behind on and learning responsibility for those chores (or try anyway) while others will be out in the town.  I picture some will be grand and others will… well… flop.  It’s all part of life.

Stay tuned.

Bismarck vs. Dubuque

It was July 20th that we moved into our house at the seminary in Dubuque.  The day before we packed all of our worldly belongings into a truck and made the 800 mile journey to where we live now.  We have a lot of transitions to make and we are settling in, though we do occasionally look back at where we came from.

For me, this is far from my first big move.  Growing up in Pennsylvania, I first had to make my way out to the Midwest.  At that point it was with the help of my parents, and everything I needed fit into my Volvo station wagon and my parents Areostar.  After graduating from college I moved 100 miles west.  At this point everything fit into my Areostar and a medium sized u haul trailer.  A year later I moved in with my wife, which took a small truck.

All these moves got slightly bigger and slightly bigger, vehicle wise.  But they were all really short, less than 200 miles.  The most major move was when we bought our house in Bismarck.  It didn’t have to do with the stuff we had, but the settling down that we were doing.

Six years later, we have added three kids and a lot more stuff.  All our kids had ever known was Bismarck.  That is where they went to church, school and played with their friends.  They were excited for the move, but also knew there would be changes.

The House

Our house was a 4 bed, 2 bath house with a nice living room and family room.  We had a small deck overlooking our modest back yard.  Across the street was a great playground that the kids spent a lot of time at.  Our house was a beautiful house.  It was perfect for a family like ours.

The house we live in here is also beautiful.  It has a basement, which our house in Bismarck doesn’t have.  It is only a three bedroom house, which means we have to have our boys sharing a room.  We also have to use some of the basement as a family room or do without.

The Community

This is a big difference for us.  We lived on a busy street that had a variety of ages and backgrounds of people who live there.  We would walk through the neighborhood frequently, yet we didn’t know many of our neighbors that well.

Our neighbors here are all involved with the seminary in one way or another.  The kids go outside to play, and I’m not very worried about who they are with or what they are up to.  The hardest part is breaking them away from their friends so they can come in for dinner.


North Dakota is very flat.  It changes a little bit further to the west in the badlands.  Bismarck has some hills, but relative to most places the hills aren’t much.

Dubuque is one big hill.  If it isn’t rolling one direction it is rolling another.  Personally, I love it.  I have always loved hills.  My running is reminding me that I really am not used to running hills, but it is still fun.  The rest of the family is growing accustomed to it as well.

The Weather

If you know anything about Weather in North Dakota you probably know it gets very cold and windy.  North Dakota has several windfarms across the prairie.  This is part of what makes North Dakota an energy rich state, especially in the area of zero emission and renewable.  It also happens to be one of the things I have hated about North Dakota.  I don’t mind some wind from time to time.  North Dakota’s wind is far too frequent and far too strong for my taste.

Dubuque doesn’t have the wind, thank goodness, but we have traded that for another climate factor that I could do without.  The humidity here seems to be more than I can handle.  Growing up in Pennsylvania, I am used to having more humidity than North Dakota.  Dubuque seems to be on the extreme end of it.  While attempting to finish one run I realized how hard I was breathing compared to other runs.  I then realized just how humid it is.  My Facebook read, “Will I ever get used to this humidity?”  A graduate of Wartburg who is from North Dakota gave me a simple answer.  “NO”

As far as the cold is concerned, I have a few more months to determine how that will go.

Life in General

There are plenty of changes to get used to.  My body is still trying to adjust to not working shift work anymore.  We are all trying to adjust to our schedules.  The kids are adjusting to the new school as I am adjusting to being a student again.  As we work through these adjustments it is hard to not look back, occasionally with a heavy heart.  Sometimes it is easier for us to see what we miss instead of what we love about where we are.  We occasionally try to remind ourselves to, as the song says, count our blessings and name them one by one… see what God has done!

Disheartening Perceptions

The past two months have gone by in a crazy way.  I am excited to be where I am, but it is not exactly and easy place to be either.  One thing I’m still working on is getting used to telling people that I am an seminarian.  When I’m asked what I do, I usually have to state that I’m a student.  It seems that many are surprised to find out that there really are seminarians out there.  (I should be used to this by now.  That was the same response I often got when people found out I was a 911 dispatcher.)

Today caught me off guard.  I took a trip to the local Verizon Wireless store.  As I’m waiting a young man approached me.  We started with some conversation which led him to telling me he is a trucker.  I found some common ground to visit with him as I talked about my history of driving as well.  The conversation soon led to me coming here.

“I’m a seminarian.” I explained to him.  “What’s that?”  I explained that it was theological school, but he was still confused.  I explained that I am going to be a pastor, but he still wasn’t sure what that meant.  As I was explaining what a pastor does, he asked if it was different that a priest.  I finally felt like I was getting somewhere.

As we continued talking he mentioned that he does not go to church, which wasn’t exactly any news flash to me, and continued to say that most would say that he is going to hell.  It appeared he expected me to have a similar response.  I didn’t.  I did my best to keep a good conversation going, but I was heartbroken.  It was an uncomfortable feeling to me to know that this young man expected me to condemn him when I didn’t know him.  I pulled the conversation back to the mutual interest of driving, and other topics came us as well that we found some common ground on.  He left before I did, but was sure to say goodbye before he did.  I felt good about this.

Perhaps some out there are wondering if I believe he is going to hell or not.  I will simply say that I am not here to make that judgement.  I did tell him that I don’t believe that simply based on our conversation there.  But it still hurt that he believed I would say that.  It hurts to know that this is the impression that exists.

I am not going to use my blog to preach, at least not yet.  I do, however, want to encourage.  I want to encourage everyone.  When it comes to music and running, I always encourage to do what you can to the best of your ability.  I don’t expect a runner’s first race to average a 8 minute mile.  I don’t expect someone to perform Vivaldi for their first concert on an instrument.  (That comes from experience as my first performance on the string bass was Vivaldi’s Seasons.  I was highly unprepared to perform it on the bass, despite my musical background to that point).  I don’t expect someone who has not been in church much to understand Christian beliefs and heaven and hell.

When I left to go to the store, I had an intention of activating my iPad.  I had no intent of converting anyone or sharing God’s word in that moment.  I sure would have, if it had seemed he was looking for it.  I would have loved to have told him about my beliefs and even why he shouldn’t listen to people who tell him he is going to hell (assuming they are doing so with the little information I had and not something I don’t know.)  Instead, I felt it was important for him to have a connection with someone who wasn’t going to condemn him on the spot, so I kept it at that.  Instead of being concerned about him, I’m much more concerned about those who condemned him on the spot.

If I’d known 20 years ago!

I have finished my first class at Wartburg Seminary.  As a prerequisite to classes during my first semester in the Masters of Divinity (M.Div.) program I needed to pass biblical Greek.  In my case I took a residential Summer Greek class.  It was a six week class that started with the Greek alphabet and concluded with translating scripture from the Bible.

With small exception, learning a new language is not easy.  Learning a new language in your mid thirties (or in my case after a few 29th birthdays) is even harder.  Luckily for me, I had a background that took the edge off.

As a kid, my family held close to our Swedish heritage.  My great grandfather was a pastor in Brooklyn, preaching in Swedish to his congregation.  My grandparents would use Swedish in the house, but didn’t pass it along to my mother and aunt.

When my sister was in high school she chose to attend a two week program at Sjölunden, Concordia Language Villages’ Swedish village in Bemidji, MN.  After her first year, my parent let me go with her.  I spent five years as a two week villager before one year as a credit student.  That year I earned high school credit after studying Swedish for four weeks.

Concordia Language Villages’ method of learning language is immersion.  From the moment the campers wake in the morning to when they go to bed they are surrounded by the target language.  The counselors avoid using English, using a variety of styles to convey what a word means to the campers.

Over the course of my six years with Sjölunden I grew to understand and speak Swedish at a fluent level, tough some of my friends who studied it further learned it to near perfection.  I have to admit, I don’t know English to near perfection (and I have a lot of English teachers who can vouch for that) so I doubt I’ll get any other language that well.

A few years ago, as a 911 dispatcher, I started learning Spanish to a point that would be able to work with Spanish speakers on 911 calls.  I was not able to follow through as well and never did get to a point of knowing Spanish, but I was at a point that I could listen to interpreters and understand the gist of what was being said, helping prepare me for what was coming before they told me.

Learning Spanish never became a focus for me, and I was not able to devote a lot of time to it.  I was learning through a computer program, which is much different than working with people.  I would get frustrated that the computer wasn’t happy with how I was saying a word when I was convinced it was the mic not picking me up well enough. There were key practices to learning and understanding a language that I developed at Sjölunden that came to the surface and helped me learn as much as I did in the short time I worked with it.

Fast forward to July of 2016, roughly 22 years after starting at Sjölunden, I sit down to learn Greek.  Another thing to understand about Greek is that there are different kinds of Greek.  The Greek I learned (and to an extent am still learning) is the Greek used in the Bible, not Greek used on the streets in Athens today.  This language is “dead” and not spoken anymore.  While we have an understanding of the language, it is still debated how some of the specifics of the language work.  Having a conversation in Biblical Greek, not so much.

In Biblical Greek, the same word can mean so many different things based on how the word ends.  Most of the past six weeks has been spent focusing on those endings and how the endings relate to one another to create an understanding of what is meant.  While I still need more practice to develop my own abilities with Greek, but I am at a point that I can start interpreting the New Testament myself.

Now I am not trying to say that there is any close relation between Greek and Swedish, or that learning Swedish gave me any ability that I would not have already had to learn Greek.  If I had gotten further in Spanish, it may have helped me more with Greek.  To my understanding, there are a lot of similarities between Spanish and Greek.  But the foundation of learning a language is the same.  The connections made in the brain are all the same.  Learning one secondary language opens the ability to learn more languages.  I believe strongly that my ability to learn Greek was helped by starting to learn Swedish twenty years ago.

I had no idea where I was going to end up with my life when I started at Sjölunden twenty years ago.  I would not have believed to be learning a new language at this stage of my life.  I am thankful, not only for those years at Sjölunden, but for the foundation that I learned at that time.

Now, just how well did I do with Greek?  Similar to being a credit student at Sjölunden, my grade was one thing, but the real test was when I was in Sweden two years later.  For Greek,  I haven’t gotten my grades yet though I’m confident I passed.  The real test isn’t here at Wartburg, but when I answer my call to be a Pastor in God’s church.

Hit the Ground Running

It is almost three weeks since we left Bismarck for Dubuque.  The journey was a little crazy, and may have involved a mishap or two, but isn’t that just assumed when it comes to moving?  I’ll have a video soon showing a small amount of our fun traveling, but how much can you really show in a 15 minute video.

I did know that we were not doing well packing in advance as I had hoped.  We worked at things, but with 3 kids around and a lot of other excitement it didn’t go as planned.  By the time my folks arrived I was able to see how much was left to pack rather than how much we had packed so far.  We slaved away for 3 days putting all of the stuff in order and getting it into the truck. While we had been working on downsizing, we still had too much stuff to pack.

I had one deadline that I had to hit which altered when we left.  When I picked up the Uhaul they didn’t have a car transporter for me in Bismarck.  I would need to stop in Jamestown to pick that up.  This meant that we had to leave with enough time to get it before they closed.  I thought we’d have plenty of time for that.  As it turned out, we were pushing the clock when we left.  My mom and I pushed ahead, leaving my dad and Jill to finish.  My nephew and niece also helped in the last minute push.

Ultimately we had five vehicles going (not including the one being towed) that were loaded with people and household goods (aka stuff).  We put in about 6 hours on the road that night, staying in St. Cloud, MN.  We didn’t leave that early the next morning, but gave the kids a bit of a chance to run around and stretch their legs.

As the trip went on and on, it seemed to get longer and longer.  I had plans to arrive around 5:00 pm.  We were still about 2 hours away at 5:00, stopping for gas and dinner.  I grabbed things and my nephew and I jumped back in the Uhaul, pushing down the road as soon as we possibly could.  The rest of my family caught up as they could, but it took most of the time driving to do so.  I was so happy to be there that I couldn’t quite explain it.

Then came the real fun, moving in…