50 Random Thoughts As I Approach a Half Century

50 Random Thoughts As I Approach A Half Century  12795119_10156610050235711_9128133260199630244_o
1. Life experiences will be fickle and can be interpreted by emotion. People will be inconsistent. But one constant is this: God is good.
2. I always believed my parents were special. Not perfect. But special. At 50 I know it.
3. No one tells you when you are 25 that you will, in many ways, still feel like you are that age (or at least 32) when you are 50.
4. An Oreo a day adds up to a lot of Oreos. And it is harder to take off than to put on. One less Oreo a day would have been a good idea.
5. Choose great friends. They will be your lifeline when the storms of life come crashing.
6. Sometimes God speaks loudly. Often he is quiet. Each voice is part of the relationship. And each voice draws you closer.
7. Everyone needs to take Advanced Placement English. It will serve you well the rest of your life.
8. At the end of the day, it is God’s job to get people to Heaven. It is our job to love people well, and to point them to Jesus.
9. Nothing… and I do mean NOTHING… Nothing will rock your world more than the birth of your children. Your heart will explode and you will never be the same.
10. Related to #9 – Nothing has taught me more about the Heart of God than being a Dad.
11. I believe. This does not mean I have no doubt. Doubt is part of faith. And it is okay to embrace and learn from it, rather than fear it. It is better, in my experience, far better.. to live with faith and hope and joy.. than to give in to cynicism and negativity.
12. Very few people truly listen to other people. If you listen well, you will be well loved in return. Truth.
13. A great sermon is, to me, one that names my sin honestly, declares the grace of Jesus Christ unconditionally and calls me to serve the world compassionately.
14. There is inequality in the workplace. Reality. Some of the most gifted leaders I have known are women. And they are treated differently. That is just truth. And it needs to change.
15. Few things are more dangerous and damaging than a Christian leader without legitimate accountability.
16. * Forgiveness is this: a. Giving up the Right to Be Angry (for the sake of the relationship) b. Giving Notice (Being honest about where and how you have been hurt and committing to talking it through maturely and fairly.) c. Giving Gifts (The gift of unconditional love and forgiveness modeled to us first in Jesus Christ.)        * Thanks to Walter Wangerin, Jr. for that summary.
17. A dog will sooth your spirit and love you well. (And drive you crazy too.)
18. Getting married forces you to recognize your own sin. And teaches you how to give and receive forgiveness.
19. Being a parent forces you to grow up.
20. Seeing a parent die will change your life forever.
21. There is a difference, at a funeral, for those who know Jesus Christ and those who do not. There just is. Truth.
22. God will lead us to refining fires, whether we like it or not. He wants us to grow up. And often.. usually.. this is what it takes.
23. Positivity will take you much further than cynicism.
24. The happiest people I know are those who give their life away in the cause of loving other people.
25. There is a vice and a virtue to nearly everything.
26. Narcissism is common. Humility not so much.
27. If you want to be a good actor, public speaker, presenter, etc., the first thing to do is to stop shuffling your feet. It will give you strength in your presentation immediately. And this will transfer to self-confidence.
28. One book read well and applied is better than several on the shelf.
29. The point of reading the Bible is not to “get through the Bible”.. but rather, to let the Bible get through you.
30. Road trips late at night provide the best opportunity for meaningful conversation.
31. The Vikings may never win the Super Bowl in my lifetime. But it is still better to be Purple than Green.
32. Know what you LOVE to do and find a way to get paid for it. Major secret to life.
33. Call your Parents.
34. Harboring anger hurts you much more than the other person.
35. Everyone you meet has a story.
36. Talking to the elderly is important. Very few people do.
37. When you graduate from High School know this: Your 25th Reunion will be here faster than you can spit.
38. There are some issues that are dividing and destroying Christianity. We MUST keep the cross at the center. It will guide everything else. And to realize one is a sinner is the first step towards loving others better in the midst of the conversation.
40. Expectations can be defined as “predetermined disappointment”.  Be careful and aware of them.
41. If you are in a mellow mood nothing tops Simon and Garfunkel.
42. You cannot truly celebrate Easter Sunday unless you have first journeyed through Good Friday.
43. Sometimes, when one is in pain, you cannot pray. Or sing. Or give praise. But the body of believers around you can.. on your behalf. And this is okay. In fact, it is amazing.
44. Riding in an ambulance or being put out for surgery will make one consider whether or not this God thing is for real.
45. As long as there are tests given, there will always be prayer in school.
46. Marriage is Wonderful. And it is Hard. And is the best thing worth fighting for. End of story.
47. At the end of the day, whom will you have loved with the love of Christ and how? That is what matters.
48. The joy of the Lord is my strength. – Nehemiah 8:10
49. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in Jesus Christ who loved me and gave himself up for me.        – Galatians 2:20
50. “I could wish you joy and peace, to last your whole life long. I could wish you treasures, or that all your dreams come true. Or wish you all the happiness, that this life could bring. But I wish you Jesus… more than anything.” – Scott Wesley Brown                                                                                                                            

Jonathan Swenson


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…

Dropping Your Daughter Off at College…

I have now learned, this being the second of two “drop-off-daughter-to-college” moments, that said activity leads to an entirely predictable chain of events, the details of which can only be outlined as follows:

First, a brief and poorly executed (read “failed”) attempt at fatherly bravado soon folloCait and Kjersten by Tower Moving In Daywed, (approximately 8.4 seconds after beginning the drive away) by an absolutely fascinating and unmatched verbal explosion coming forth from somewhere deep within me… a spontaneous typhoon of emotion, unlike anything else I have ever experienced. A cacophony of sobs, snorts, sniffles… prompted by feelings that have somehow managed to force their way from the knot in my stomach past the basketball-sized lump in my throat to surface through tears, sighs and groans.

At least they are getting out. They need to.

This, in turn, is followed by a rather salty streak of cursing … rather blue and impressive, if I say so myself … words that seldom escape my lips, yet there they are.. in full force in this moment. Yet, somehow, I think God is cool with this. He understands. He’s been there & done that with the whole… “giving away your kid” thing. He gets it. And this, too, needs to get out.

And then, not timed– but when the time is right… all of this concludes, eventually, with a strange flood of overwhelming pride and peace and even excitement.. as a heart-soothing gratitude begins to settle the moment… buoyed by vivid memories and becoming strong through Spirit-led prayers of joy and thanksgiving that God chose me, of all people, to be “Dad” to these two incredible young women. And a thanksgiving, too, that God STILL lets me co–parent with a woman of such class, grace, wisdom and relational brilliance whose inner and outer beauty is so clearly passed on to her girls.

Kind of hard on a father, these initial moments of parting.

And kind of completely wonderful.

The intensity of emotion in these moments,for all parents, reveals the beauty and the pain, too, of the journey that has been taken the past 18 + years. It — again, the emotion — is a needed and deserved catharsis to the most challenging but most rewarding time of our lives.

And then… as one emerges from the initial emotional storm, you realize there is a gift to be opened, and you remember that it is time to do some flying yourself!

So… I lean to my wife, and I speak these words, feeling slightly younger than I did a few hours ago… “Here we go, Jana. Come fly with me again. Like we did 20+ years ago. Let’s fly again, my love.”

And so the NEW flight begins…J & J BACK IN THE DAY

Two Kids and a Box

I posted this photo on my Facebook page this morning.


I posted it to celebrate my older daughter, Christina’s 20th Birthday and remembering, fondly the days when she and her sister, Caitlyn, were just young punks running around the house and enjoying life.  Seems like only a couple of years ago… and now my wife Jana and I are nearly empty-nesters.  Time does indeed, fly.

But I noticed something else: There are really only two things in the photo. Well, three things.  Two kids… and a box.

No cell phones. No laptops. No i-pods or i-pads or.. gasp.. anything electronic at all.  And, actually… there are no store-bought games and no latest toy from the latest advertiser-created craze.

2 kids…. and a box.

I think there’s a not so-subtle metaphor and reminder in the photo. Joy in life comes in relationship and simplicity.  Sprinkle in a little unconditional love from a parent, add a friend or two and measure those gifts with a foundation in the love of Christ… and, well… I’m not sure we need much more than that.. do we?

Two kids and a box.  A friend or two… and the love of Christ. Give me that… and…  I think, in the end… I’m good to go. How ’bout you?

Waddya, say my friends? Let’s go find a box.


No Illusions

Wedding PicLet’s have no illusions. Life is sometimes very hard. So.. when I put up a picture of me and my bride… celebrating 23 yrs of marriage.. and when I post a video of us dancing, blissfully in love at our wedding reception… do not be mislead. I am not even pretending to say that life is free and easy and that we have remained forever, hopelessly, romantically in love every moment of the last 23 years.

Yes, there has been and still is wonderful partnership and romance. I married WAY up… and I am so very blessed to have Jana as my bride. But, truth-be-spoken… we are both incredibly bull-headed. We don’t give in easily. And we are opposites in SO many things.

There have been times, truthfully, that either one of us … or BOTH of us wondered if our marriage would survive. Sometimes we still do. The blessing of the last 23 years is not that it has all been easy.. and lovey-dovey … and always filled with rainbows and sunshine. The blessings is that, despite our tendencies to be self-focused and inconsistent in our expressions of love for each other, God’s grace has been the foundation of this relationship.. even when we ourselves screwed it up.. and when, to this day, we continue to do so.

The blessing of the ring on the finger is that we have made a commitment to hold tight, even in the seasons when the emotions and the fun and the romance are not highly present… due to arguments or the business of life, or parenting, or work problems, or survival.. you name it…. OR… in seasons of poor health, and loss of loved ones.. and other major life transitions… where the grief and fear and yes, even the healing and recovery can be all consuming.

Let’s face it. 2013 … the 23rd year of our marriage will NOT go down as our favorite year. But even though we can be completely unworthy of the gift of a life partner, God has been gracious to us.. and kept us standing in the midst of all of these storms. THAT truth, as part of the gift of life in Christ, is the greatest gift I have ever received.

So, again.. no illusions. No Facebook fantasy or projection of a marriage or a life that is “problem-free or hassle-free or marital-argument-free or temptation-free or life-threatening-experience free.” It is by Grace alone that we are still together, poop-heads that we can sometimes be.  And for that I am forever grateful. And BECAUSE of that, my wife is able to forgive me… and I, her… and as a result, we ARE forever “in love.” Real love. Sometimes Tough Love. Graced-Love. That’s marriage, right my friends? The hardest and best of all human relationships.

23 yrs. Wonderful, Romantic, Tough and Hard and Beautiful.

Grace of God. No illusions.