How a Hamburger Can Bring Back Special Memories

Memories are a funny thing. The faintest scent, an old song, or even a hamburger can take you right back to a certain place and time. This comes to mind because they just opened a Culver’s in our neighborhood down here in Florida. Of course I had to get my first Florida butter burger almost immediately.

As I sat there in the familiar blue dining room, I couldn’t help but be transported back. I can’t tell you how many times we went to a Milwaukee-area Culver’s while our kids were growing up. There were the frequent times we went after Little League baseball games. We went after dance recitals. I can even remember being there with our kids and their high school friends a time or two.

Funny how a simple little fast food place can bring families together and create memories. The taste of that burger reminds me of little Benjamin, our son, covered in dirt from playing catcher. There he sits around a table with his baseball buddies. They’re cramming down burgers and fries, then coming over to ask for their ice cream. In the mean time the parents are at another table discussing the finer points of Little League baseball.

Those were formative times. Our kids learned a great deal about life playing baseball. And they learned plenty about good families and family life when they hung around fellow players and their moms and dads after games.

That hamburger reminded me how much I love being a dad. Times change. The kids are grown. I don’t know if we’ll ever all sit around a table in a blue Culver’s dining room. But I’ll never forget the days we did, and the memories they created.

All because of a Culver’s hamburger.

What are the things that jog your memory?

One Very Good Reason God Created Marriage

My wife went out of town for a few days last week. She visited her parents in Illinois. I don’t mind being by myself for a short time. There’s always plenty I can do around the house. I can find what I need to eat. But a few days is enough. When she came back home I was certainly ready for her to be back. It was a very good reminder for me of one of the many reasons God created marriage.

The wedding service that I have, as a pastor, used dozens of times says this about marriage:

The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy, for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity…

I love those three words “help and comfort.” That help and comfort is to be given by husband and wife “in prosperity and adversity.” And that’s one very good reason why God created marriage.

What I noticed when Tammy was gone was that there were certain things I had to do which I’m not used to doing. She does them. For instance, she charged me with watering her newly planted flowers every day. I doubt I’d even plant flowers if I lived by myself. I just don’t enjoy doing yard work and would rather spend my time doing other things.

But I enjoy seeing those flowers when I drive up to our house. So I dutifully watered them. I didn’t want her to come home to dead flowers, especially after she nicely asked me to water them. She also keeps the house more nicely than I ever would. I don’t have the decorating touch that she does. And she washes the dishes when I do the cooking.

I would categorize all that stuff under “help and comfort.” I would hope that when I go away for a period of time, Tammy would miss the things that I typically do around the house. I hope I provide the “help and comfort” that she needs, as well.

Don’t we all need “help and comfort”? Life is often hard. For those of us who are married it’s so very nice to receive consistent help and comfort. And it’s also a reminder to us that we ought to provide “help and comfort” for those who don’t get it quite as consistently: those who are single, or widowed, or divorced.

Thank God for the gift of marriage. And for all those who provide for us any kind of help and comfort when we need it.

From where do you receive help and comfort when you need it?

The Benefit of Doing the Very Thing You Don’t Want To

There are very few things in life more difficult than a first-time mom going back to work after maternity leave. Our daughter has been dreading doing just that since the very day she left work to have her baby. Since then it’s been three full months of maternity leave bliss. She has enjoyed every day and every minute with her sweet little baby. She’s enjoyed midday walks and freedom from the confines of a daily job. But today’s the day. It’s hard for her to see the benefit of going back to work at all.

There is benefit to doing difficult things in life. Sure, that first day back to work is difficult for a first-time mom. And there will be more difficult days. The first day of Kindergarten. Kids at school making life difficult. Driving off in the car for the first time. And what it all really builds up to…the dreaded first day of college, and the empty nest.

The point is that difficult days raising children incrementally prepare us. We are never really ready for the day the empty nest becomes a reality. But we become just a bit more calloused the more we go through the stages and ages of life. We learn to know that as children grow there will be constant reminders of the passing of life. Things will not always be easy. Raising children isn’t.

Doing what we don’t want to isn’t easy. And I hate to be a fatalist, but it’s part of life. So if that’s true, we had better find the good in the things we dislike.

  • Back to work after a baby means that you have a job and are bringing in income and benefits
  • A job you dislike means learning experiences which will help in future positions
  • Taking a test at school means you’ve had the opportunity to learn new things
  • Surgery means potential healing
  • Going to the dentist means you get to keep your teeth

Life in this world can be difficult. It means doing difficult things. But when you do something difficult today, look for the silver-lining benefit. Your life will be the better for it.

What have you learned from doing something difficult?

An Opportunity for You to Strengthen Your Family

Every once in a while I run across a program that makes my heart sing. Here’s one that has a name on it you will recognize: Zig Ziglar. I have read Zig’s books, and even heard him speak a couple of years before he died. Now his family is giving your family the full potential to be, do, and have all that it has been designed for.

Deep down you have a desire for more. Unfortunately, you may feel discouraged and overwhelmed by everything that works against a healthy, balanced family life, from kids’ hectic schedules, to financial stress, to communication issues with loved ones, to pressure at work.

Thrive: A Ziglar Family Community will offer you a way to connect with experts as well as other families. You’ll learn to make small, manageable, positive changes and start to move from survival, to success, to significance, to legacy.

It’s all being kicked off with a week-long family challenge I’d like to invite you to join. This week is filled with high profile “challengers” who will present great messages to inspire and inform you.

If ever there was a challenger that needed no introduction, that’s today’s guest. It’s NFL player and Super Bowl championship coach —and proud father of 10 — Tony Dungy.

You probably recognize Tony as the most successful head coach in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ history.  He was also the first African American head coach to earn a Super Bowl victory, which he did with the Indianapolis Colts.

Tony is a #1 New York Times bestselling author of several books. In Uncommon Marriage, he and his wife Lauren share what it takes to build a marriage that lasts.

He’s involved with numerous charitable organizations, including All-Pro Dad, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Boys & Girls Clubs, among others.

He retired from coaching in 2009 and now serves as a studio analyst for NBC’s Football Night in America. You can probably imagine just how busy his schedule can be and how intentional he has to be about integrating work and family life.

And that’s what Tony is bringing to you today: his advice for finding ways to connect with your children even when your work life seems crazy busy. Tony has an innovative and effective idea for bringing work and home together that he learned years ago from his own father.

Click here to see what Tony wants to share with you today at the 7-Day Family Challenge from Ziglar Family.

PS – It’s kind of incredible that an NFL coach could implement a family policy with his team like Tony did. Click here to hear all about it!

Welcome to the World, Crosby!

Welcome to the first day of your life, Crosby! Consider this the very first ink blot in your lifelong digital footprint. After all, you’ve been born into a world of iPhones, Facebook, Instagram, Alexa, Snapchat, and blogs (I have a feeling you’ll be making numerous appearances in your grandpa’s blog for a long time to come). There’s no escaping it. And there’s no escaping the love that’s already being showered upon you by your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and relatives.

Crosby Benjamin Swenson, you entered the world early in the morning on January 8, 2017. It was the coldest day we’ve had in Florida for quite some time (a low of 35 degrees!). But you’ll discover that “winter” in Florida is very, very short. In just a day or two it’ll be back into the 70’s and 80’s again. Then you’ll be able to wear those onesies all those generous people gave you. In fact, you’ll learn all kinds of things: like the grass is green, MacIntosh is better than PC, and the Green Bay Packers are your favorite football team.

As you were entering the world, four of your grandparents (and one of your aunts) were just down the hall. They were in the hospital waiting room before dawn even broke. That’s how much they were looking forward to meeting you. As the old saying goes, “God may not come when you want Him, but He’s right on time.” Always. And God saw to it that you, little Crosby, were right on time.

You were 7 pounds, 12 ounces, 20 1/2 inches. That’s pretty good evidence that you were right on time. When they finally met you your grandparents shed some tears, broke into smiles, and couldn’t stop cuddling you. Your great-grandmother said that your name is one that “might take some living up to.” I think it sounds like the name of a baseball player or a quarterback. Maybe even an actor.

When your uncle who lives in Nashville saw all your pictures he gushed. After the photos he saw on Facebook he posted over and over again: “My little buddy.” I’m certain you always will be (buddies).

When you were born you still had some liquid in your lungs. There were just a few tense moments. But the nurses took good care of you and you were breathing regularly in no time. As the sun set that same evening you curled up in a little ball right there on your mother’s chest, sleeping like a baby (as it were). You may never be quite that content again in your entire life.

While you snoozed the Packers beat the New York Giants 38-13. Mason Crosby even kicked a field goal. Your first victory as a lifelong fan.

Just before your grandparents left you for the night, a prayer was said. The prayer gave thanks that you were healthy. It gave thanks for your loving family. It asked for health and protection for you and your mom and dad. And it looked forward to the day in just two weeks when Jesus will use water and His own Word to wash away your sin and sinfulness, transfer you from death to life, and plant in you the gift of growing faith.

There is nothing better or more important than that. In fact, you were born on the day we commemorate the Baptism of Jesus Himself: The Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. He took on your sin so that you never have to fear its punishment: not today; not ever.

Don’t ever forget that.

I, for one, will do my best to make sure that you don’t. You have my pledge on that, dear grandson, my dear little Crosby.

The Real Reason This Year’s World Series Was So Great

This year’s World Series will certainly go down in history as one of the greatest. Two historic franchises trying to win one for the first time in eons. The Cubs finally got the goat off their back. They are now World Champions. Chicago-land went apoplectic.

wrigley

If you know me well, you know that I’m not much of a Cubs fan (to say the least). But that’s another post for another time. I thoroughly enjoyed every game of this World Series. Game seven was probably one of the greatest, if not the greatest baseball game I have ever seen. But just because I don’t like the Cubs doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the baseball.

In fact, this World Series was great for reasons that far transcend just baseball. Baseball has always brought people and families together. But the Cubs fan base has a long and sordid history. It has decades of futility. There is that incredibly iconic stadium. The Cubbies have supporters throughout much of the midwest, and beyond. All of this adds up to one of the things I most enjoyed about watching everything that led up to the Series, and the Series itself.

Did you notice that so many Cubs fans were wishing they could be watching games with people who no longer live here on earth? 

  • The grandfather who listened to games on the radio
  • The dad who rode the L in to Wrigley with the son or daughter
  • The mom who loved tuning into those day games WGN before there was either cable at home or lights at Wrigley

This feeling was so prevalent that people began to use chalk to write the names of deceased loved ones on an outside Wrigley Field wall“This one’s for you dad.” Names of grandfathers, uncles, brothers, and mothers were written there. They were such touching messages that heaven and earth almost came together in a chalk mark on a seemingly sacred brick.

People say sports don’t matter. But tell that to the Cubs fans who, upon that last out, looked up to the sky with tears streaming down their faces. Tell that to my daughter who learned how to score a baseball game sitting at my side at Miller Park. Tell that to my son whose glove wore out from all those times we played catch in the front yard on 53rd Street.

Tell him that those rides to and from Little League games and practices was time wasted. Tell him that the lessons he learned about winning and losing, team work and goal-setting, discipline and hard work mean nothing.

Tell that to my family. Remind them of the times we laughed, cried, cheered, and even sat quietly together at Milwaukee Brewers baseball games. I dare you to tell them it meant nothing.

You can’t do it. You can’t do it because sports, and especially “thinking” sports like baseball, draw families together. It is a form of love shown and shared. Baseball, in many ways, is a metaphor for life. It’s filled with disappointments and bursts of joy. The lows are very low. And the highs are very high. It’s a reminder that doing well even three out of ten times is to be “successful.” And it’s an epic lesson in patience.

When families share all of these things together there is a bond. It’s a bond that sometimes even transcends this life to those who have already gone on to the next.

And that’s a very good thing. That’s why, even though it was much to my chagrin, the Cubbies winning a world series was so much greater than just a game. It brought together hopes, dreams, wishes, memories, and, finally, a World Championship.

Now maybe someday, sooner than later, it will be the Milwaukee Brewers’ turn. And I hope I get to share that same joy with my children (and grandchildren?) before I pitch a game in that great baseball field in the sky.

What impact has baseball had on your life?

How’s a Dad to Feel When His Son Is the Groom?

Tomorrow evening our son will be the groom. He is getting married. The woman he will marry is everything my wife, Tammy, and I could have ever hoped or dreamed for him. In fact, we prayed for Emily long before we even knew she existed. We prayed that both of our children would find faithful, Christian people with whom they would share their lives. We are grateful the Lord has answered that prayer…doubly so.

groom

When I stand up there in front of everybody to perform the ceremony, with Ben and Emily facing me, I’m sure I will feel a rush of emotions. I will think about the moment he was born. I’ll reflect on the little boy who always wanted to wear his “red and blue” outfit. His first day of kindergarten is seared into my brain. My mind will go back to all those days out on the baseball field, he the player, I the coach. I’ll remember him in his catcher’s gear fearlessly defending the plate against players bigger than he.

My thoughts will be directed to the moments he spent on stage in plays and musicals, the struggle it was to get him to do his homework, and the first time he picked up a guitar. I’ll remember the time we spent playing catch in the front yard on 58th Street in Milwaukee. There will be memories of the fish we caught together at the lake near Eagle River, Wisconsin. I’m sure I’ll ponder that day we dropped him off at Belmont University, and the times we came back to Nashville to hear him play with his band. I’ll relish the times we hit the links and played golf together, especially as his skills improved.

Now he will be the groom. What I will finally remember most as he stands before me ready to get married will be two other incredibly important days in his life:

  • The day he was baptized, and
  • The day he was confirmed in the Christian faith.

Those days have great bearing on what will now happen as he begins a new life as a married man. He will do so as a baptized and forgiven child of God. This groom (as all grooms) will be a sinner in need of forgiveness. And he will be a husband who delivers the very forgiveness of Christ to His wife, who will also find plenty of occasions to forgive him. I pray that he will show and share the light of Christ to His wife, and if God sees fit to give them a family, to their children as well.

So, how’s a dad to feel when his son is the groom? I suppose you could say it’s the ultimate mixture of emotions. There is pride, there is sorrow for days gone by, there is happiness for the joy of a newfound life, and there is thankfulness for the gifts of faith and forgiveness.

What emotions do you have at weddings?

How to Appreciate the Precious Gifts of Time and Love

Time and love are gifts that ought never be taken for granted. I was reminded of this watching a short clip of the Little League World Series. You can watch the clip here. A coach, who also happened to be the father of the pitcher in the game, came out to the mound simply to tell his son he loved him. The kid was struggling a little bit with his pitching, but his dad wanted him to know what was most important. Get the tissues ready when you watch it.

Baseball

The clip hit close to home. I coached baseball for thirteen years. Our son was on every one of the teams that I coached. I have to admit that there were times that I was harder on him than other members of the team. I overcompensated to show them and their parents that there would be no nepotism or favoritism.

But the one reason I coached all those years was so that I could spend quality time with my son. I’ll never forget all the time we had in the car on the way to and from games to talk about things (or to simply sit quietly). I will always treasure the trips to Culver’s after the games with the rest of the team. No one could ever take away from us the joys and sorrows, the ups and downs, we had as coach and player for the same team.

That dad on the mound of the Little League World Series reminded me just how much I love my son and just how quickly time slips away. The last game we had together as coach and player was a loss in our area high school playoffs. It was heart breaking. There were tears shed (yes, even my own). It was the end of an era.

Now our son lives nearly eleven hours away from us. We talk on the phone almost every day, but it’s much more difficult to go out in the front yard and throw the baseball around. Next time we get together we’re going to have to make it a point to do that.

Time and love are precious gifts. Here’s how to appreciate them:

  1. Do like the Little League coach and tell the people you love that you do. Say it out loud. Even if it’s in the middle of the Little League World Series on the pitchers mound.
  2. Be mindful of appreciating each day. Sure, there may be arguments or disagreements, but at the end of the day love still remains. Before you know it the little catcher behind the plate will be getting married.
  3. Honor the people you love with the gift of time. It’s a greater commodity than money, riches, or things. Time spent together can never be taken away. Toys break and money gets spent. Memories last forever.
  4. Receive time and love as the gifts that they are. When people want to give you those things, don’t deny them the opportunity. They should be treasured above all other earthly things.
  5. Be generous with time and love. There is far too little of either of them in this world. You can never give too much time or love to those near and dear…and even those not so near and dear. The gift of those two things could just change lives and relationships.

How will you intentionally appreciate the gifts of time and love today?

When a New Name Is the Best Thing to Happen to You

This past Mother’s Day I got a new name. Since it was her special day we took my wife, Tammy, to EPCOT at Disney World for the afternoon. Our daughter, Ashlyn, and her husband, Josh, came along. As we sat in faux Italy for a mid-afternoon dinner Ashlyn presented Tammy with a gift. It was a set of “Celebrate Florida” toddler flash cards. Ashlyn said, “You’re going to need extra toys in the house with a new baby coming.”

Baby Feet

I felt an immediate rush of heat run from my head to my toes. I had suddenly been given a new name: Grandpa. The only thing I could muster to say at the immediate moment was, “All our lives are going to change.” And, indeed, they will. But most certainly far more for the better.

It’s hard to explain how you can love a person not yet born. But it’s true. And it happens. I love that tiny little being more than words, as the old song goes.

It’s also true that there is added worry. Well, maybe not worry…but concern. I started worrying (ahem…being concerned) about Ashlyn almost immediately. But I’m so thankful she has such an incredible husband who cares for her so very well. I started worrying (um…being concerned) about the baby. My prayers have already included numerous petitions for the health and welfare of that precious one.

Ashlyn has an app on her phone to help her track her pregnancy (there’s an app for everything these days!). It references the current size of the embryo by comparing it to fruit. For a while it was a kumquat. Now it’s a lime. Our family gets a big kick out of that and texts jokes back and forth about it.

If I’m being completely honest, my new name is one to which I have very much looked forward. It’s a name that reminds me of two very special men in my own life. My grandfathers were funny, and wise, and generous, and faithful, and instilled in me the love of the news and sports, and they seemed to love me unconditionally. The grandfathers our children have are special, too. They have provided life lessons, encouragement, a spark of creativity, and a bit of engineering orderliness.

But now it’s my turn to take on that name. I hope and pray that I will be able to live up to the models I’ve had in my own life. I also hope and pray that I will be a picture of love to the little one that is coming into our lives. And I hope that little one will know very well just how much I love his/her mother and father. Even more, I hope that little one will know how much I love the whole family I’ve been given as a gift of God.

My new name is yet another gift from Him that is really just a small representation of the great gift of new life. What a gift it is. It is precious (and it is a life) even at this moment, still developing and being nurtured. It’s a picture of the unearned and undeserved nurture and love that each of us receives from a loving heavenly Father.

A new name is a wonderful thing.

When have you experienced the joy of a new name?

When “For Better or Worse” Means “For Better or Worse”

Today I saw “for better or worse” in action. She’s in the hospital with an infection. She has Alzheimer’s Disease. She doesn’t really recognize me. But she knows him. And he knows what it means to say “for better or worse.”

Wedding

Long ago they both said:

For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death parts us, and I pledge you my faithfulness.

We’ve all heard that spoken at weddings, but it’s hard to really know what it might mean until something actually happens in a marriage:

  • A bankruptcy
  • A child with birth defects
  • A knock down, drag out argument
  • A diagnosis
  • An embarrassing blessing of riches
  • A child gone astray
  • A job that takes one away for long periods of time
  • A memory that begins to fail

A promise is made, before God and everyone gathered, that these vows will be kept “until death parts us.” Just a quick glimpse at our world and our society shows that this is all easier said than done. But kudos to those who do it. It takes hard work. It takes commitment.

More than most everything else, it takes forgiveness:

  • “I’m sorry for what I said”
  • “I’m sorry for what I did”
  • “I’m sorry for what I spent”
  • “I’m sorry that I didn’t treat you the way I should have”
  • “I’m sorry that I’m selfish”
  • “I’m sorry that I wasn’t there for the kids”
  • “I’m sorry that I didn’t love you in the way that you deserve”

But it doesn’t end there. The work isn’t finished or complete until at the very least this is said:

  • “I forgive you for what you said”
  • “I forgive you for what you did”
  • “I forgive you for what you spent”
  • “I forgive you for not treating me the way you should have”
  • “I forgive you for being selfish”
  • “I forgive you for your absence from the kids”
  • “I forgive you for failing to love me the way you should have”

Then act like you really mean it.

There’s a book I like to recommend to couples about to get married. It’s just as good for couples who are already married. It’s The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God, by Timothy Keller. It will be a boon for your relationship and a reminder of the things that are most important.

As I left the hospital this morning there were tears in his eyes. He meant what he said when he said, “…for better or worse.” He’s fulfilling his vows in a way that is to be respected and admired. It can’t be easy.

But he’s showing that it can most certainly be done. 

With the help of God.

When have you seen “for better or worse” in action?