Perfect Olympic Endings

I’ll admit it. I like knowing the results of the Olympic events before they air. I actually search for the results on Twitter and other news outlets. I enjoy knowing how it all turns out. And yet I still watch. I watch in comfort knowing how it ends.

Maybe that’s because in my daily life and work I don’t know how things are going to turn out. In real life things are not always tied up so neatly with a nice little bow and a happy ending. Things aren’t always so tidy. There’s enough suspense in every day life. I don’t need it in my entertainment, too. I like knowing how it all turns out.

Now living in the land of Disney reminds me that, like all Disney movies, there is evil in the world. But it all turns out well in the end. At Disney, there is always a happy ending.

That may seem somewhat simplistic. But I’ve walked out to enough gravesides to know that life is tough. It is often pretty sad. We need all the joy in life we can get, as the Lord allows.

I guess that’s one of the great things about being a Christian. It’s one of the reasons I wish all my friends, neighbors, and acquaintances were.

We know the end of the story. This life is filled with sadness, sorrow, frustration, trouble, and hardship. And, yet, there is also plenty in life to be happy about and in which to rejoice. For that I am thankful.

But I am most thankful that the end of the only story that really matters is a happy ending. Being saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ means that as sad as the end may seem for those left behind, for me the end will only be a new and wildly incredible beginning.

Everything will be new, good, and perfect. There will be no more endings.

It’s fun knowing how it will all end.

Do you like knowing ahead of time how Olympic events, or anything else, ends?

10 Observations About Orlando from a New Resident

Now that we’ve been living in Orlando for the last few weeks, there are a few observations I must make about this city and the Florida lifestyle. It is an adjustment, to be sure, but a fun one nonetheless. If you’re new to town, here’s what you might find:

  1. Stop lights last about 3 days. I have to shave every time the light finally turns green.
  2. I enjoy living close to the beach far, far more than I thought I would. Now I just need to work on my six-pack abs.
  3. You can’t find decent, Milwaukee-style, thin crust pizza. It’s all poor imitation New York style. Oh, Zaffiro’s how I miss you.
  4. It takes an act of congress, and the budget of congress, to get a Florida driver’s license and license plates. It was easier to get behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. I’m accepting donations.
  5. There is no such thing as a real Florida native. I seriously doubt the truthfulness of the one person who told me he really was. 😉
  6. The heat really isn’t as bad as I thought it might be. Case in point: Today it was over 100 degrees in Milwaukee…and only 89 here in Orlando. Having said that, I don’t know what they did in the days before air conditioning.
  7. Suburban Orlando doesn’t know how to do independent restaurants. I challenge the restauranteurs in this area to visit Milwaukee and find out how it’s done. (For just a sample, check out Centro Cafe, Water Buffalo, A.J. Bomber’s, Rumpus Room, The Knick, Crazy Water, or La Merenda).
  8. There’s no need for pets. Just step out your front door into a veritable zoo filled with gators, geckos, and gulls (amongst other various and sundry wildlife).
  9. If you miss one strip mall, there’s another just down the street. I can get my frozen yogurt fix on most any block in the immediate area, in most any strip mall in the immediate area.
  10. Florida people are wonderfully welcoming and casually laid back. They take in stride the rain that comes most every summer afternoon, and turns back into glorious sunshine just moments later. …And they have welcomed us with open arms.

Living within close striking distance of Disney is, for us, tasty frosting on the cake. Can’t wait to take advantage of all it has to offer. In fact, I think we’ll celebrate our anniversary by having dinner there this Friday (a return to the place where we took our honeymoon 27 years ago).

What have you observed recently about the place where you live?

Florida: Love It…Or Not

Now that we are on the very verge of living in Florida, I must divulge an interesting phenomenon. The state of Florida has a great many lovers…and haters.

Over the past couple of months, every time we told people we were moving to Florida, we would get one of two reactions:

  1. Why would anybody EVER move to Florida?
  2. I wish I could move to Florida!

Reaction number 1 came with a plethora of reasons:

  • It’s too hot.
  • There are too many retirees.
  • There is too much traffic.
  • I need all four seasons.
  • It’s too humid.
  • Hurricanes.

Reaction number 2 came with mouths and eyes wide open:

  • I wish I could move to Florida.
  • I love the heat.
  • No more snow to shovel.
  • So much fun stuff to do.
  • No more winter.
  • I love the beach.

It was pretty amazing. Everyone had an opinion. And they weren’t afraid to share it. It was as though I had no feelings whatsoever regarding the impending move to a place I would have never imagined living in a thousand years.

For the record:

  • I like the heat.
  • I don’t even mind the humidity (usually…).
  • I can’t stand the winter and all of its inconveniences.
  • I do not like the cold or snow.
  • I will miss the fall, but have a son who lives in Nashville, so I can go there to visit him…and it.
  • Hurricanes and tropical storms may certainly be an inconvenience, but at least they don’t drop snow (snow storms can be pretty destructive, too).
  • I think I’ll quickly be able to get used to celebrating Christmas in shorts.
  • Our family loves Disney more than the average family.
  • We can’t wait to have friends and relatives visit us in one of the vacation capitols of the world.
  • I’m willing to put up with traffic to live in a place that’s warm.
  • Have I mentioned I like the warmth?

So, to all who would never want to live in Florida: you certainly don’t have to. Thanks for your opinion. 😉

I, for one, look forward to living there and enjoying it. In fact, I’m pretty excited about it.

Would you want to live in Florida…or not?

Farewell, Milwaukee

Dear Milwaukee:

Farewell. I’m going to miss you.

Farewell, Milwaukee:

  • City of my birth.
  • City of my elementary, high school, and college days.
  • City of many fine restaurants.
  • Underrated city.
  • City of the Third Ward and Summerfest.
  • City of freezing cold Januarys, and beautiful blue Junes.
  • City of Common Ground and caring neighbors.
  • Hard-working city.
  • City of Lake Michigan and the Calatrava.
  • City of our childrens’ years of growing up.
  • City of First Stage and Milwaukee Lutheran Red Knight Baseball.
  • Blue Collar city.
  • City of Miller Park and the Milwaukee Brewers.
  • City of Frozen Custard and Butter Burgers.
  • City of slight traffic.
  • Architectural gem.
  • City of great sports radio.
  • City of rabid Packers fans.
  • City of passionate talk radio.
  • Always my home town.
  • City of Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church.
  • City of my forever friends.
  • City of my loving, caring, generous parents.
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Farewell, Milwaukee. I will miss you.

Love, Tom.

If you were leaving your home town, what would you miss?

10 Florida Things to Which I Look Forward

If you read my last post you know that I’m really going to miss my hometown for all sorts of reasons. But it’s a very bittersweet time, because there are things about my new hometown and new state about which I am really looking forward. We’ll be hitting the ground in the heat of a Florida mid-summer, ready to live and serve.

So here are 10 Florida things to which I look forward:

  1. Sunshine. I’m one of those people that needs sunshine, and lots of it! Gray days get me down. Wisconsin winters are full of them. Florida winters (I’m told) are full of Mr. Golden Sun. It’ll do me good.
  2. Disney. If you know anything about our family, you know that we (and I mean ALL FOUR of us) love Disney. Tammy and I even honeymooned there (Honeymoonin’ 85! Woohoo!). It’ll be almost surreal to live just down the road.
  3. The People of Ascension Lutheran in Casselberry. Our first introductions to the people of Ascension have been tremendous. We have seen a sense of service, a sense of ministry and outreach, and a great sense of humor. We look forward to new and lasting relationships and a great deal of hard work that matters for the sake of the Kingdom.
  4. No More Winter. (See #1) All my life I have wanted to live in a place where blistering cold and snowy winters were something that other people experienced. I never ever thought it would be. The older I get the more I have found it difficult to tolerate Wisconsin winters. I’m really looking forward to never having to shovel, scrape off my car, or track my way through snow.
  5. Getting to Know a New City. I have always been a “city person” at heart, and I look forward to exploring the nooks and crannies of Orlando, discovering new places to eat, shop, and create art.
  6. Welcoming Visitors. We love to entertain and plan on having a place where people from out of town can come and stay when they’re in the area for Orlando’s wonderful attractions. A place will always be waiting for our family and friends…even those who want to escape the northern winters for a brief respite.
  7. The Latino Culture. It’s a culture with which I have had little contact, but want to get to know much better as Ascension and I move forward in ministry. I’d even like to pick up some Spanish. Any tutors out there?
  8. The Winter Park Farmer’s Market. On a recent visit we went to this farmer’s market in the quaint suburb of Winter Park. It’s held every Saturday of the year but one. I can’t wait to use year-round fresh produce for my cooking.
  9. Exploring the State. I’ve never been to Miami, Key West, or the Everglades. I’d like to eventually visit them all. It’ll be fun to compare the east coast with the west coast, and discover some of the beauty the state of Florida has to offer.
  10. Our Kids. It’ll be great living near @ashyliz and having @beggebrecht come to visit. They love Florida, and we love them.

If you were moving to a new place, what would you most anticipate?

10 Things I’ll Miss About Milwaukee

After more than fifteen years, it’s hard to believe I’m spending my last couple of months in the city in which I was born and raised. I love my city, and have always been an ambassador, saying that Milwaukee is one of the most underrated cities in America. There are both personal and public things I will miss.

Here are, in no particular order, ten things that I will miss about living in the city of Milwaukee:

  1. Miller Park. My favorite team plays just a few miles down the road from where I have lived. I will miss the seats I have had one level up, right behind home plate, right underneath Bob Uecker. It’ll be tough to have to cheer my team on from afar. But I will. It’s in my blood.
  2. The People of Mt. Calvary. For the past decade-and-a-half we have laughed and cried together, dreamed and planned together, worshiped and served together. We have built a building, started a new service, and made inroads into the community. We have worked hard to bring hope to the heart of the city. Milwaukee is a better place, and the Lord’s kingdom has a special corner, because of the people of Mt. Calvary.
  3. My Parents. It will be tough to leave the people who are more than just parents. They are friends. We dined together, saw shows together, hung out together, had interesting discussions, and great times together. Here’s to hoping they will come to visit often.
  4. Convenience. This city is easy to get around. When people here complain about the traffic, they don’t know what they’re talking about (Trust me. I lived in the Washington, D.C., area). The old saying goes you can get anywhere around here in 20 minutes or less. It’s pretty true.
  5. Concordia University — Wisconsin. I was privileged to teach at this fine institution for more 13 years. I will miss the energy of college students, the incredible campus, and the relationships I have made.
  6. Sala da Pranzo and Other Independent Restaurants. At Sala, we got to know the owners. They are a hard working brother and sister who have built a business on great food and a personal touch. The city of Milwaukee is filled with places like this. We will miss them. Yet we look forward to making new discoveries in our new home.
  7. Theatre. Milwaukee has a theatre scene that would be the envy of many a city. I will miss First Stage, where our kids performed and where magic is made. I will miss the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre and its company of some of the finest actors anywhere. I will miss the Skylight Theatre and its eclectic offerings of musical theatre and light opera. Milwaukee is a theatre-goers delight.
  8. 540 ESPN Milwaukee. I love my local sports coverage, especially of the Brewers and Packers. I love “The D-List” and “Homer and Thunder.” Guess I’m going to have listen to live streaming and podcasts.
  9. Friends. An important thing for a pastor is to be able to be around people with whom there is no pretense…the opportunity to “be me” and not have to “be on.” Thank you, friends. You are a blessing to me. The distance won’t diminish our friendship.
  10. Kopp’s Frozen Custard, The Milwaukee Art Museum, The Third Ward, The Milwaukee Public Market, and The Oak Leaf Trail. Enough said.

I’ll miss you, Milwaukee.

If you had to leave your city, what would you miss?


Learning From Loss (Even Losses That Aren’t My Own)

It’s an empty feeling. The Green Bay Packers were 15-1 in 2011’s regular season. They were pretty close to prohibitive favorites to be Super Bowl repeat winners.

But it was not to be.

Those of you who are not sports fans may find it difficult to empathize or understand. But sports are an incredible reflection of life. I have always said that they are the ultimate reality TV:

  • You can’t predict it
  • It happens in real time
  • There is actual (not feigned) emotion
  • Games have a real impact on economy, media, and people’s lives

Subsequently, I probably put way too much stock and emotion into games in which “my teams” are playing. So after this evening’s Packers loss to the Giants I’m feeling sad, down, and empty. I’d like to tell you it will go away, but I still resent the Denver Broncos for defeating the Green Bay Packers in the 1998 Super Bowl. And, yes, I still resent the St. Louis Cardinals for defeating the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1982 World Series (thus, it was torture for me that the Cardinals defeated the Milwaukee Brewers once again on their way to winning the 2011 World Series).

As much as I don’t like the outcome of today’s Packers/Giants game, it adds variety, interest, and spice to life.

So I have to cope with the loss. It teaches me that I have to cope with real life disappointments. Life is not perfect. It will not always go as I have planned. It will not always include wins and triumphs. Life has ups and downs.

But just like the Green Bay Packers now have to push forward, set new goals, and look to next year, so I must often do the same. When life’s losses come along in my life it is not the end. There is still tomorrow. There is still next month and next year.

As long as I am given life and breath I know that I have purpose to carry on and fulfill my calling. I have been endowed with gifts, talents, and abilities to do the things set before me…and sometimes even more than I think I can do.

A loss is a learning experience. I have to remember that. It teaches me to avoid things that have caused my failures and losses. It teaches me the things that have brought about failure.

I may not ever actually get over a loss, but it can give me motivation, incentive, and inspiration to improve, progress, and develop. I feel empty because of today’s Packers loss. I can only imagine how the players feel (sometimes I think they don’t care as much as fans do…but that’s another story). But hard as it may be, I will try to move on and be stronger.

How do failures and losses give you motivation and incentive to improve and get better?


TOMS Shoes, Reducir Velocidad, Fast Pace, and Enjoying Life

My generous mother got all her grandchildren TOMS Shoes for Christmas. Every time a pair of TOMS Shoes is purchased another pair is given to a child in a third world country. That means that this Christmas, somewhere in the world, eleven kids who didn’t have shoes are now wearing them.

Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS Shoes, recently spoke with The Wall Street Journal. The first name for the company was “Shoes for a Better Tomorrow,” which then became “Tomorrow’s Shoes,” and finally “TOMS Shoes.” In The Wall Street Journal article Mycoskie said:

The best road trip I’ve ever taken was the drive down Chile from Santiago to Patagonia. While passing the most pristine countryside and glaciers, I came across an old rusted sign on the road that read “reducir velocidad” (“slow down”). I pulled over and took a picture because I thought it really meant something prophetic. I made 700 copies of that picture and sent it to my friends and influential people that support TOMS. People still tell me that picture sits on their desks and reminds them to slow down and enjoy life.

January is a very busy month for me…this year more than others. I am teaching a class at Concordia University — Wisconsin every day these first three weeks of the month, writing an Advent Series for Creative Communications for the Parish, and doing my best to stay on top of things with sermons, homebound and hospital visits, and worship planning. It’s very difficult for me to slow down. And enjoy life.

But as I sit here and reflect on this day my mind is slowing down my body and helping me to enjoy life:

  • I’m thankful for the opportunity to teach college students who are respectful and interested;
  • I appreciate their attentiveness and eagerness to learn;
  • I’m incredibly appreciative for the opportunity to be employed to do something I really enjoy: writing;
  • I’m blessed by the 95-year-old woman I visited today who loves the Packers as much as I do;
  • I look forward to worshiping together and sharing God’s Word with the people of Mt. Calvary;
  • I’m thankful for my health;
  • I love how long distance phone calls from my children during the day slow me down and allow me to appreciate them;
  • I look forward to dinner with my wife every evening, where we slow down, talk about our day, and appreciate each other.

Reducir Velocidad. Slow down. As the new year begins it’s so easy to jump right back into the rat race and forget the slow and simple leisure of the Holiday season.

Take at least a few moments to slow down and enjoy the moment each day. Don’t let life pass you by. Count your blessings. In the midst of the whirlwind find the calm.

When you take a moment to slow down, what do you most appreciate?

Top 10 Posts of 2011 (2 of Which Contain the Number 10)

Way back in April I moved my blog to a self-hosted site and made a commitment to posting three times a week. For the most part I lived up to that commitment, and plan to do the same this year.

I want to express a very sincere word of thanks to all of you who have read my posts throughout the year. I’m learning as I go, and your feedback has helped me refine my craft. Your kindness, comments, and creativity have given me motivation and education that is unequaled.

Here are my top ten most read posts of 2011. If you missed any of them, here’s a chance to catch up. If you have any thoughts, ideas, or anything you’d like to see me write about in 2012, please comment below.

1. How to Raise a Daughter

2. How Zig Ziglar and Seth Godin Taught Me to Write and Keep Goals

3. 10 Christmas Carols I’d Be Glad to Never Hear Again

4. 10 Christmas Carols I Wish They Played On the Radio

5. What a 4-Year-Old in My Car Taught Me About Taking Things for Granted

6. Presidential Public Speaking

7. Creative Kids

8. 20 Things I Learned During 20 Years of Life as a Pastor

9. 20 Surprising Things You Probably Never Knew About Me

10. What I Learned Waiting in Line 16 Hours for a U2 Concert

Here’s to a year filled with creativity. Happy New Year!

What’s So Great About Friday?

You’ve seen it, haven’t you? Just take a look at Twitter or Facebook on a Monday morning and count how many times you see a statement something like this: “I can’t wait until the weekend,” or “When’s it going to be Friday,” or “It’s only Monday…can this week go any more slowly?”

Most people agree: Fridays are great.

Here are 11 reasons why:

  1. Friday evening at 5:00 means you have the whole weekend in front of you.
  2. In many workplaces it’s “casual day.”
  3. In Milwaukee: Fish Fries.
  4. Date night.
  5. Staying up late.
  6. Less stress.
  7. Get-togethers with friends.
  8. Watching a “guilty pleasure” on TV.
  9. Looking forward to sleeping in on Saturday morning.
  10. For many people (except pastors, emergency workers, medical staff, and others): two full days without the pressure of formal work.
  11. It’s a day that once a year is called “Good.”

Why do you love Fridays?