Stories from Dad – “When Dean Met Elaine” (A Love Story)

So the other day I opened up my laptop, set it in front of my Dad, and started asking him questions. JP and Dad at Mount Carmel Questions that would invite him to tell the stories of his life.  Here is the first one I will share with you. I realized a few seconds into filming it that this was going to be something special.  That intuition was absolutely accurate. I now have a precious time capsule of him telling the story of how he and my Mom got together.

Here it is. Enjoy!

And when you’re done?  Go get your laptop and someone you love, and start asking them questions. You will never regret it.


+ Jonathan


Monday Mornings… and Dad

I am a bit tired from a wonderful, but very full last couple of weeks.

And I am tempted to think, “It’s Monday! I don’t want to get out of bed. I just want to sleep a bit more.” I may even be tempted to be a bit crabby.

Then I think of my Dad.   2015-09-05 10.29.47

He lost the love of his life over two years ago now. His body is giving out, slowly, as is the case with age. He used to be strong and a leader. He was often approached for advice and he was someone who influenced and changed lives. Not many people tap into his wisdom or gifts anymore. Which is tragedy.

But what is he doing? He is living life. He exercises nearly every day. He reads his Bible.. every day.. in Greek and in English. He seeks to sharpen his mind and strengthen his body. He loves his family and almost never misses an event. And currently, he is cruising around the country seeing friends and relatives he has not seen for a while. He is reliving memories.. and visiting place he always wanted to see with Mom, but never did. It is like our own personal Swenson-family version of “Where’s Waldo?” Every third day or so we get a text telling us what state he is in now. He is super happy. And I love it.
He is living life. And living it to the fullest he can as an 80+ (and growing older) man… for whom much of life is now in the rear-view mirror. (But don’t try to tell him that.)

So, when I think of Dad. I realize… I can probably get out of bed just fine this morning.
And I can attack life. That is what my Dad has done for over 80 years. I am only 50.

Time to brew the coffee… take a shower.. and hit the day with passion.

If I can be half the man my Dad is… it will be a good day. Even if it is Monday.

And I am not quite so tired now.

Thanks Dad.

Have a great Monday everyone.

Empty Nest

Jana and I spent the summer and early fall at Mount Carmel Family Camp and Retreat Center in Alexandra, MN.  I have been the Interim Director of Programming there the last two years and Jana has been working as their Director of Development.

As a result of being away from our home in Cedar Rapids until just a few days ago, we are aware that our empty-nesting phase had not really begun until now.  It was easy to feel like both our daughters were just “away at camp” this summer … or like we were were all on some sort of “extended leave of absence” from normal life.  Swenson_0031

So this past Thursday was our first full day back in Cedar Rapids… and thus, the first official day of Jana and I being empty-nesters in our actual home…. and under “normal” conditions. We did enjoy the six weeks of early fall quite a bit … going on several long walks, dating more than we have been able to do… talking and dreaming about the future … but we also realized we were not yet fully experiencing life, emotionally, without the girls around. Now that we are home, it is feeling more real.  The days of watching those two little blondies, loaded down with backpacks, heading off to school… are now a thing of the past.  Good… no….  GREAT memories, but memories nonetheless.

And so, a new chapter begins…

Thoughts at the two month mark of empty-nesting? Though it is less crazy-fun and more quiet, I do like getting to know my wife again. I feel like we are EACH getting an old friend back. Not that that person ever left, but the reality is… one’s attention is divided the from the moment the first baby is born, and this is as it should be. But, truth be told, I DO like getting my friend back. (I THINK Jana does too.) 

So, here’s to the new phase… and whatever life will bring. This much I know… though we drive each other crazy at times… the truth is… I love my wife.

I do miss those Blondies somethin’ fierce.. but this is okay. I’ve got a good roommate to keep me company.

So, here we go, Jana Swenson. Let’s do this thing…

The “Holy Spirit With Fur On”



Note: Our beloved Beagle, Daisy, died yesterday.  She had been increasingly lethargic on Thursday. Eating and drinking nothing. We began to worry. I took her to the vet yesterday and we soon learned Daisy’s liver was filled with several small cancerous tumors, some of which were spilling blood into her stomach. The kindest (and hardest) thing we could do was to let her go. Tears, hugs, kisses and thank-you’s all took place in the afternoon.. and by 4:30pm, we were saying a final goodbye.  It was terribly, terribly hard.  I wrote the following thoughts this morning — the first morning without our dear, fuzzy friend…

It is 4:45am and I wake up.  

I wake up because it is completely quiet.

I wake up because there is no scratching at the door, no light whimpering and no pawing at my feet to let a little rascal with four feet out the door to pee…. and really, to have the excuse to force me to give her an early morning treat.  Anything for a treat… Daisy at Gooseberry Falls

I used to complain about these early morning wake-up calls.  Two days ago, I complained about this early morning wake-up call. 

I would give anything to complain about it again.  And to have that four-legged friend climb back into bed, her tummy now full, as we settled back in for a few more winks, together… she keeping me warm on a cold winter’s morn.

I must admit, even as one who has spent most of his adult life in a career that involves comforting people through loss, I underestimated the degree of grief one feels in this moment.  Everything so many of you have written is true. These little “people” with fur and four legs actually DO become one of the family.  And to lose her, so suddenly… 

Wow. It hurts.  257440_10150643129565711_7478786_o

Daisy saw us through a lot as a family.  Caitlyn was eight years old when we first got her, and she (Caitlyn) had been traumatized by a neighbor’s large black lab as a toddler. That dog had gotten into our back porch one afternoon where Caitlyn was playing and, actually just being playful, had jumped up on Caitlyn and knocked her down. Little Cait was scared to death and became quite frightened of any canine thereafter for several years. She used to climb up Jana or my legs like a telephone poll and scramble to nearly sitting on top of our heads when she would see any dog… even from a distance in the park. Because of that traumatic experience as a toddler, she was legitimately terrified of dogs.

Daisy was the dog that broke that curse for Cait.

Jana, Christina and Caitlyn were driving by a pet store in Apple Valley, MN in the summer of 2004… we were living in Lakeville at the time…. and they saw a “Last Hope Adoption” sign and decided, on a whim, to go in and check it out.  When they walked in the store, the first dog they saw was a lovable, beautiful little beagle … about 2 yrs old, who had apparently been mistreated by her owners and needed someone to love her well.  Little did we know the degree to which the tables would be turned, and the reverse would be true. She was about to love US so well. SO very well, indeed.

 I believe Christina was drawn to Daisy in that pet store first… but to Jana’s shock and surprise, Caitlyn also walked right up to this little Beagle, and was instantly, completely at peace. (She had a grade school friend who owned a beagle.. and apparently had started to get a bit more comfortable with this breed of dog… and this breed alone!  The future had been set. This was meant to be…) 

Between this shocking, sudden change in our little Caitlyn Grace … and Jana and Christina’s immediate love of this adorable little Beagle… the deal was done. They say they tried to call me at work to get my opinion, but I don’t think they tried very hard.  J When I arrived home that afternoon, all three ladies in my life were standing, waiting for me in the driveway with very curious smiles on their faces which I couldn’t quite interpret. They followed me, silently, as I walked into the house , down the hallway and into the kitchen where I saw the cutest little pup I can remember ever meeting.  I remember saying, “There is a dog in our kitchen. Why is there a dog in our kitchen?”  They laughed, Daisy cuddled up to me, and I was won over in 30 seconds flat.  Never looked back. I fell in love with her instantly, just like my three Blondies had. 

2677_151404790710_3694935_nDon’t get me wrong. Daisy was rascal. She was a Beagle through and through. We never really could get her fully trained to obey us much… and she loved to bolt out the door and run, run, run after anything that moved… anything that looked even remotely close to resembling a squirrel or a rabbit.  She could run for miles… and we spent many a summer night in that part of Lakeville, chasing her down after one of her breakaways out the front door.  She could be moody and loud and stubborn. Just like the rest of our family. So, I guess she fit right in.  And we loved her for it. 886471_10153530912685711_2045323255_o

We have been through some incredible highs in life these past ten years, but also through some very dark valleys. As the Blondies grew from spunky little kids to beautiful young-adult beauties, Daisy was there for all of us, through all of it. Though the good, the bad and the ugly, Daisy was a constant source of unconditional love, companionship, and comfort… SUCH comfort. She brought laughter and joy to all of us, but especially to Jana… as Daisy stayed by her side through not one, but TWO bouts with cancer… including two rounds of chemo and one round of radiation.  Their daily routine, for the past ten years, healthy or sick, was for Jana to get her cup of coffee, grab her Bible and sit down in her big cozy chair with Daisy by her side, as “together” they read the Bible and prayed through the valley of the shadow of death.

301347_10150857131210711_1774825935_nDuring the past 10 years Daisy also saw us through two very difficult battles in congregations we served where the human side of the church got ugly… and our family was, in some ways, hung out to dry. In those two experiences, where it would have been easy to lose our faith and wonder where God was in it all, it was a group of trusted Christian friends and parishioners, along with our family… and yes… very much the constant, and unquestioning love of God as shown through a little Beagle… that helped to pull us through and remain afloat… in the midst of the spiritual and emotional storm.  We used to call her “the Holy Spirit with fur on” and, I for one… do not think it is a coincidence … as silly as it sounds, that “DOG” is the same word as “GOD” spelled backwards.  🙂

 So, we miss her.  We really miss her. Already.339120_10151121457525711_477638853_o

 And I will never underestimate, again, the pain of friend or a parishioner who loses a dear, beloved pet. As much of rascal and a character that she was… she represented a present, “incarnational” love from God that, quite simply, was and is irreplaceable. 

 So, it is now 5:30am… and I can’t go back to sleep.

Good-bye little friend who woke me up too early every morning.  We loved you so very much. And you loved US… SO very well, little “last hope” Beagle.

Thank-you, Daisy.  We will remember… YOU gave US hope.  335377_10150926459170711_2089841858_o

And we are forever grateful.