What I’m Learning Living in a Retirement Community

While we are waiting for our house to be built, my wife, Tammy, and I are temporarily living in a retirement community. Our first day here a lady pulled up next to us in her golf cart and we said, “How’s your day going?” She responded: “It’s always a great day at the Haven!”

And that has been the sentiment of almost every person we have encountered here ever since.

Here are just a few observations I’m making about life in a retirement community:

  • All kinds of people are walking, riding bikes, and exercising early in the morning.
  • Clouds of perfume remain even after women walk away.
  • Couples walk hand-in-hand at sunset.
  • Golf carts become the major mode of transportation on “campus” (wouldn’t YOU love to tool around in one of those things whenever you wanted?).
  • People are relaxed and always friendly.
  • Everyone waves.
  • It is a law to sit on the porch in the afternoon when the weather is nice.
  • When you live here you get to say whatever you want…no filters!

Every morning the humid Florida air leaves a heavy layer of dew on the grass. It’s like manna from the sky. I’m convinced that along with that dew a layer of love is left behind. When you get to the point in life that the days ahead are shorter than the days behind, nothing is more important than love. And it shows itself around this place in many and various ways.

On those sunset evenings when romantic walks are taken around the grounds, hand clings to hand knowing that life is short and love is what matters.

Living at the retirement community reminds me that 

  • Life is short
  • Love is long
  • Waving is the magic wand that sprinkles good will all around
  • Sometimes sitting on the porch on a warm summer afternoon is just what the doctor ordered
  • Use just a little too much perfume every once in a while
  • When all else fails, relax a little bit
  • …And drive a golf cart every once in a while so that you feel like a kid again

What have you learned from those who are older than you?

Funny As a Heart Attack

One of my very best friends had a heart attack the other day. And that’s not funny. In fact, it was about as serious a life event as one could ever go through. You’ve heard the saying, “I’m serious as a heart attack.” Well, this was serious.

Some said the heart attack was “minor.” A heart attack is only “minor” if it’s not happening to you. It’s serious.

Having said that, when I visited my friend in the hospital, we laughed.  And laughed. And laughed. Following his procedure, he was feeling better than he had in months. He almost couldn’t contain his excitement. The day he had the heart attack just happened to be his birthday. He said that his new lease on life was the best birthday present he could have received. He said and did things that made the three of us in the room with him laugh extremely hard. As a pastor, I’ve been in many, many hospital rooms over the years. I have never laughed in a hospital room as hard as I did that day.

It was a funny couple of hours. 

But there was something that made the day poignant, as well. What impressed me more than anything else was that my friend, having just had a heart attack and gone through a cardiac catheterization, was seemingly more concerned about other people than he was about himself. He got on the phone there in his hospital bed planning, making arrangements, and feeling badly for people who would be negatively impacted by his inability to do certain things over the next few days and weeks.

Attack or not, the guy has a heart. He lives the Christian life. He knows that loving and serving God means loving and serving people right here on earth. He doesn’t just say it. He lives it.

His is a forgiven heart (as are yours and mine). And a forgiven heart is a giving heart. Forgiveness fuels hearts to do what God calls and enables them to do.

A heart attack is nothing to joke about. But when the heart of a giving person attacks others with love, the world is changed. That’s the kind of heart attack that can bring smiles, joy, and laughter.

When have you seen someone make the best of a difficult situation and show great heart?

If You Can Read This, Thank the Husband of a Teacher

Every year about this time a different person moves into our house. She’s a bit more serious and a great deal more intense than the person who lives here during the summer. When school is about to begin a carefree, fun-loving person is replaced by someone with intensity and dedication.

My wife, Tammy, is a teacher. There is a transition in her personality every year at this time. If there is a teacher in your household, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Fridays become holidays. Summers are savored. Christmas break is a fantastic Christmas gift.

Those who don’t have educators in their homes have no idea. In fact, I wonder just how much of the public realizes and understands the amount of work, preparation, time, effort, care, and concern that goes into teaching a class — grade school, high school, or college.

I know it’s popular to say that teachers have it easy because they get holidays and summers off. But I can tell you from first hand knowledge that they more than make up for those hours during the school year. Evenings, weekends, and free time that other people take for granted are all used by teachers to get their “take home” work finished.

If a teacher has never taught a class or grade level before, you can simply double the work about which I just wrote. Sure, it gets easier the longer you teach a class or subject. But there is always work. Every day. School year weekends. All the way through to the last day of school.

You think children are happy when school’s over? Ask a teacher how they feel about summer vacation. It’s not because they don’t enjoy teaching. It’s just that they need a break.

You’ve seen the bumper sticker: If you can read this, thank a teacher.  The teacher’s family deserves some thanks, too, for the sacrifices they make at the expense of grading papers, planning classes, and going to bed early.

So, if you see a teacher today as another school year begins, thank her (or him). You might also think about thanking that teacher’s husband and family.

What’s a memory of your favorite teacher?

10 Ways for a Congregation to Show Love for Their Pastor

“The Long Goodbye” ended yesterday. After more than fifteen years serving one congregation, the people of Mt. Calvary invited me back for one last service of celebration and a luncheon in my honor. The service included an incredible sermon by The Rev. Dr. Patrick Ferry, president of Concordia University — Wisconsin, Elders’ Blessings, and a Farewell and Godspeed. The reception included a Milwaukee Brewers and Green Packers themed luncheon. There was tail gate type food, bobble heads on all the tables, kind words from various speakers, greetings too many to mention, and the extremely thoughtful gift of the Spanish version of Rosetta Stone software, because I’m headed to a place where that just might come in handy.

But the congregation to which I am now former pastor, did much more than just love me on my last day. They loved me throughout my fifteen years in that place. Here are ten of the ways:

  1. Early in my tenure they sent me to Israel for eighteen days. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. The memories and things I learned were almost beyond comprehension.
  2. My family and I were remembered each Christmas with generous words and generous gifts. Our holidays were always made special by the people of Mt. Calvary.
  3. The Elders always cared for me as a person, not just as a pastor. These men were genuine in their concern. The chair of the board often took me out for lunch “just because.”
  4. When I had an emergency appendectomy, members prayed and provided unique ways to pass the time. I remember being given a homemade CD with some “get well” music on it.
  5. To express her love, one member would occasionally leave brownies for me after church on Sunday mornings. Yum!
  6. They followed along even at some of the darkest hours. When a massive (for us) building project seemed dead in the water, they came with me as I did all I knew to do: move forward.
  7. Though I may not have always deserved it, they complimented me amongst the church-at-large and in the community. It’s like complimenting one’s child right in front of her. It is a “self fulfilling prophecy.” People love to be told they are doing well.
  8. Tools were provided for me to improve in ministry. They gave me ample budgets for books and periodicals, support staff of the highest quality, and leeway to experiment with creativity.
  9. They loved me enough to graciously let me go, following a Call to another place. That is love of the highest kind.
  10. They provided a three-month sabbatical that was, professionally speaking, one of the greatest things to happen to me. I was tired, on the verge of being burned out, and in need of renewal. Following the sabbatical I came back refreshed, full of energy, and ready for more ministry.

Love is often undeserved. I’m reminded of Luke 17:10 which says, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” But loved I was, and loved we were…my family and me. For that we will be always grateful to the people of Mt. Calvary.

How have you shown love to your pastor?

The Long Goodbye

Nancy Reagan called it “The Long Goodbye.” She was speaking of the care she provided for her husband who was a ailing with the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Every day was “goodbye” as she found her husband moving further and further away while the disease took its toll.

Nobody here is suffering from Alzheimer’s. But it’s been a long goodbye between me and the church I’ve served the past fifteen years.

  • I received a Call to Ascension Lutheran in Casselberry, Florida, the first Sunday in March.
  • I announced my decision to accept the Call on April 15th.
  • I preached my last sermon as pastor of Mt. Calvary on May 27th.
  • The congregation has graciously decided to do a service of thanksgiving and farewell on June 3rd.

All of that adds up to a great deal of time to let it all sink in, for people to express their emotions, for many to say farewell. Long goodbyes are not easy. Sometimes I think it might just be easier to announce a decision one week and be gone the next.

But there is something to be said for long goodbyes. This period of time has allowed the opportunity to

  • Prepare my assistant, boards, and other leaders for the transition.
  • Sort through things that I may or may not need as I move on in ministry.
  • Give people time to go through “the stages of grief.”
  • Give me the time to thank those who have been so helpful in my ministry.
  • Help both me and the congregation sit back and realize just how much we have appreciated each other.

As uncomfortable as it may sometimes be, there is something to be said for a long goodbye. In the end it brings closure, peace, and good will.

Farewells are really never easy. But if we must go through them, perhaps a little longer one is a little better.

When have you had the opportunity to say a long goodbye? Was it difficult, beneficial, or both?

You Don’t Know Me Like I Do

There was occasion in my sermon today to talk about my wife’s grandmother. It was in the context of thinking about people who “lay down their life for others.” For me, she’s the first person to comes to mind under that category.

Granny Mehrings lived well into her nineties, and at her funeral no one could think of one ill thing she had ever said about another person. Ever. She always put the best construction on everything. She built others up. She never drew attention to herself. Over the years she washed, cleaned, and pressed thousands of altar cloths as part of her duties for the altar guild of Trinity Lutheran Church, all to serve others and her beloved church.

But when others would point out to her these incredibly positive qualities, Granny Mehrings had a very singular response: “You don’t know me like I do.” I suppose that’s true. We didn’t know her like she did. We all have deep secrets and skeletons in our closets that only we know.

When I shared the sermon with Granny Mehrings’ own daughter, my wife’s mother, she responded:

She knew she needed and was assured of forgiveness. That, of course, was what made it so possible for her to be forgiving of others.

When I recognize my own sin and shortcomings, and my own vast need for forgiveness, it’s far easier for me to forgive. “You don’t know me like I do.” And if you did, you would recognize my need for forgiveness just like I do.

But that’s the jumping off point for laying down one’s life for others. In no way have I deserved the love and forgiveness I have received from God because of Jesus Christ. And yet He has given it to me in full measure. Because He knows me better than I do and still loves and forgives.

If he has first done that for me, how can I help but do it for others. Granny Mehrings knew that. God grant that I do to. And live it.

Whom is it in your life that demonstrates the phrase “laying down one’s life for others”?

Brothers and Sisters: Love Each Other

We have a video that is famous in our family only. It was taken shortly after our son, Ben, learned to ride a bike. There he is in front of our house, riding around. And into the picture comes his sister, Ashlyn. She is obviously much more skilled and literally riding circles around him.

Problem is, every time she gets within ten feet of him, Ben begins to panic. He yells at her to stay away. You parents know how it goes next. The more Ben yells, the more Ashlyn taunts him. The more he screams, the closer she gets. Ahhh, sibling rivalry.

As I write this, those same two children are spending a week together. Ben just finished his junior year of college, and for his vacation he decided not to come home to Milwaukee and visit his parents. Instead, he decided he would take the Megabus to Orlando and visit his sister for a week.

Are these the same two children on that video who were taunting one another and screaming? Actually, yes they are. Though they had their bouts of sibling rivalry over the years, these two really, really love each other. They have stayed in touch as they went to colleges hundreds of miles away from one another. They talk to each other on the phone, and text often. They truly care for each other and enjoy spending time together.

Is there anything that warms a parent’s heart more?

The Psalms say, “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him” (Psalm 127:3). God’s Word of truth speaks the truth once again. For this heritage, this reward, I am thankful. Our children love one another. What more could we ask?

The love siblings have for one another ought never be taken for granted. There are far too many instances where this is far from the case. Wedges have been driven between siblings by words or deeds and they refuse to even speak. So when children love one another it is a glimmer of the glory of God.

Children, do your parents a favor: Love each other. And show it. This will warm their hearts like nothing else.

What’s a story you can tell about children or siblings loving one another?

Learning Grace Through People and a 16 Foot POD

We have already been packing for weeks. The majority of our furniture has been sold on Craigslist. Last Saturday we held a “moving sale” where we unloaded a cache of stuff that we should have purged years ago. Our kids’ rooms are empty. There is a POD in our front yard. We’ve loaded into it about fifteen boxes, a couple of pieces of furniture, and had movers put our piano inside, awaiting the long trip to Florida. We’ve done a great deal on our own.

But we are more than indebted to some very special people who have helped us thus far: pricing items for the moving sale; making trips from church with a car full of tables; doing needed repairs in our home; sitting with us through the day of the sale; offering to help in any imaginable way.

In a word, it is humbling. It reminds me of Jesus words in Luke 17: “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

We are unworthy servants. We deserve none of the love we have been shown in the form of selfless help, but we have received it. It is a true form of grace: undeserved. We are leaving the people we have served for the past 15 years, and yet they still want to help and serve us. Incredible.

I can’t quite wrap my mind around it or fathom it. Which is proof to me that it’s true grace.

There is no way to humanly understand grace. It comes unexpectedly and undeserved. It comes when one feels most unworthy. It comes whether we want it to or not. It comes in the form of love wrapped in service. It comes without expecting anything in return.

I don’t know about you, but that’s not the way my mind operates. I want to give something in return, but the answer I get is “no.” Unfathomable. I don’t deserve it.

But that’s grace. Undeserved. Unearned. Unbelievable.

We have to be out of our house in a week-and-a-half. By God’s grace (and I write that with no hyperbole), we will have the rest packed, disposed of, or given away in the nick of time. This house has been a “grace place.” We’ve seen God work in ways too numerous to mention. Even in our final days domiciled here, God is demonstrating His grace to us in concrete ways.

Now let’s see how grace is given and shown as we try to fit all that we still own into a 16 foot POD.

Where have you seen God’s grace given through the love and service of others?

Loving and Lasting Letters Leaving a Legacy

The other day I spent five hours reducing six file drawers down to one Uhaul file box. There was one file, about six inches thick, that intrigued me the most. It was a file I had started years ago with the tag “mementos.” As I plowed my way through letter, after card, after program, after bulletin, my emotions went from joy, to melancholy, to happiness, to tears. It was quite a ride.

About two-thirds of the way through the file I ran across a packet of materials my grandmother had put together shortly after my grandfather’s death in 1977. It was a chapel sermon my dad presented a week after my grandfather died, a letter from my aunt to my grandfather, and letters from each of my grandparents to each other.

At the risk of going against my grandfather’s wishes, I’d like to share the letter he wrote to my grandmother about six months before he died from the ravages of liver cancer. I wish so much my children could have known my grandfather, and I think you’ll know why after you read this letter:

Oct. 9, 1976

To My Dear Wife:

Just a word of love and appreciation to the woman who has made my life complete these past 39 years.

I don’t know just how empty and barren my life would have been without you dear but I do know that sharing all these years has been thrilling and rewarding to me.

I have been married to a most beautiful and companionable woman who was always at my side to share my fun or sorrows: One who stuck by me to bolster me when it was needed, to keep me on an even keel when that was needed, one who backed me always, one who reasoned things out with me, who planned together with me, who raised my family with me and made them the best in the world in my estimation, who shared my love and my life with me to the fullest extent.

Remember those days of our early marriage when we raised our children and I was gone so many nights to meetings and was always backed by you to do my duty to the church, school, and high school? Those years when I sold the coal business and had the store, the years that I was doing any kind of job that I could to keep us going and then buying this home, how we always with the good Lord’s help were able to give our children a good Christian education by always working together with the Lord’s help to keep going. Finally we saw our children grown up and married to wonderful spouses and each blessed with a wonderful and healthy and outstanding family.

I love you with all my heart and soul my dear and may the good Lord give us many years to share our love and devotion to each other. His will be done.

With all my love,


Grandpa concluded the letter by asking that it only be shared between the two of them. I, for one, am glad that we are able to see it. Sorry, Grandpa, but this letter has let your legacy live on.

My grandfather worked many years of manual labor, was an entrepreneur, devoted his life to the church, and raised a Christian family. He gave us the appropriate number of “birthday spankings” on our birthdays, and always had a sense of humor and smile on his face. I remember that even when he was painfully ill, he never complained. His life was cut far too short.

May his legacy live on, not only through my father and mother, my aunt and cousins, my sisters and me, but through all of his great-grandchildren, as well.

What is the legacy that was left behind by your grandparents?

A House Is Not a Home

Now that we know for sure that we are moving we have been sorting, disposing, packing, debating, and deciding what to throw away and what to keep. It has brought back floods of memories. We have been in this house without our children for a while now. But there are still many “remnants” of them. Ashlyn last lived here for a few months last fall while she earned some money to get out on her own. Ben was here over this past Easter weekend.

Neither of them will ever again see the home in which they grew up. They have mixed feelings about that. And so do we.

But as we discussed with them our decision to start a new chapter in life we had to remind them that it wasn’t the house that made our home. This was the place where many good times, holidays, and memories were made. But the place isn’t what’s important. It’s the people.

A house is not a home. What makes the home are the ones who occupy the place. The home is the place where all of the following home-like things took place:

  • birthdays were celebrated
  • homework was wrangled
  • homecoming and prom dates started
  • music was made
  • family meals were had
  • plays were presented
  • Dad created Christmas dinner
  • Mom made special cakes
  • high school friends hung out
  • piano lessons were practiced
  • games were played
  • prayers were prayed
  • tears ran down
  • laughs went up
  • books were read out loud
  • illnesses were nursed
  • a baseball was thrown
  • a monolog was shown
  • a hamster was had
  • and a lot of love was shared

None of these things really had to do with the house. What made the home was the people.

And though the house will be missed, the people who possessed it still make the home, the home. No matter where they may be.

It is the family that makes a house a home. It is the people. The bricks and mortar are simply the boundary lines that hold it all together.

What memories have you created in your home?