To the Healers.. the Nurses and Doctors and First Responders… and the chaplains and pastors .. and social workers and the people who clean the room when the patients have gone home…

or gone HOME.

To those who put their lives on the line every day… and have for the past two years…
at first thanked….now taken for granted, perhaps… by some ….

Or worse yet, mocked or stripped of your education and training and area of expertise… your knowledge that could help… denied….. when someone rudely and immediately dismisses your attempts to help.. and even treats you poorly for offering it.

Thank You… for continuing to love.. and for serving .. and SAVING….even those who have not loved you back.

I know you are tired. Exhausted. Frustrated. It must be maddening.

But there you are.. showing up to work, still, each day.

Thank you for your servant-hearted love during these crazy times.. and lest we forget, during what we used to be known as “normal” times as well.

You. Are. Heroes.

And many of us (I hope MOST of us) … still notice.

So….I will say it again: Thank-you..

May God sustain you and keep you strong in the battle.


WHAT DO I ? (Four Questions and the Life Wisdom of an Acting Exercise)

As actors, we use certain tools to flesh out a character and, hopefully, to make the character and the scene authentic.

One of those tools is to ask four questions of the character:  
1. What do they need?
2. What do they want?
3. What do they fear?
4. What do they love?   

The answers inform so much of how actors develop characters into “real” human beings, with thoughts, emotions, intent, desire and yes, fear.

I have found this to be an interesting and helpful tool in pastoral ministry and counseling, as well. When counseling (or just casually conversing) with someone, when I am hoping to be intentional and (Ideally) helpful… these questions can help me hear the hopes and cries of the heart more accurately.

Ultimately, it can help to ask myself these same questions when faced with opportunity or risk or key decisions or hard feelings or confusing relationships or mixed emotions or inspiration or … you get the picture…

1. What do I need?
2. What do I want?
3. What do I fear?
4. What do I love?

It is an incredibly helpful tool that I admittedly came to later in life than I wish.
Especially the fear question.
It has only been in the last few years that I have started to more intentionally ask this question in the midst of difficult conversations with Jana, or a co-worker or even conversations with God, in prayer, as I try to sort things out in life. It can be incredibly helpful to identify what I fear.

When I do that, it takes away the power, to some degree, of whatever is haunting or holding me up from a goal, a relationship or a project. If I am strong and wise enough to identify my fears… and especially… if I can, in a non-emotional way … or in a way that does not point fingers or blame.. but just rationally (easier said than done, I admit), “name” the fear… well, then I can start to do something tangible and intentional about it. And in conversations with another person, it takes it off of “YOU” statements and makes it more about addressing those hurdles to good communication, rebuilding trust or analyzing my own wants, needs and motivations.

Try it. It is in incredibly helpful.

What do you have anxiety or anger about right now?
Or what key decision are you needing to make but are quite worried about?

Ask yourself what you fear.
(And what you need, want and love.)

The answers will absolutely guide the next steps in coming to resolution. They will help you in communicating and building trust and finding answers with others. And they will also inform your prayers, as you bring those concerns and fears to God and continue to ask for clarity and help.

Not bad for an old acting exercise, eh?

And they say a theater degree is impractical for life.

“They” speaketh incorrectly.

Love you, friends.

And more importantly, Jesus loves you.


+ Jonathan

Marriage Spats and Fist Pumps

MARRIAGE SPATS and FIST PUMPS12898417_10156727070090711_2609235112542732226_o

Jana and I had a marital spat this morning. 
Making some hard decisions.

You know, normal marital stuff.  Normal human being stuff.
We argued for a while.
Accused each other.

Didn’t own our own stuff.
Acted like we were 12.
Or 9.
Or 7.

Normal Human Stuff. 

by God’s Grace…
we mellowed a bit.
Not easily.

We are both strong-willed, prideful people.

But we did

By God’s Grace.

And then we started communicating without accusing.
(Or trying too.)

And we had a few false starts. And got mad again.

And then we tried to be grown-up’s.By God’s Grace.

And we started listening a little more to each other.
(And sometimes we didn’t, once again.)

Then we we slowly started to get on a role of positive momentum.
And we started agreeing on some solutions and priorities.

Then we smiled a little bit.
And hearts softened.
A little bit.

Then we found some new insight and a little humor.

Still tender.
Still tentative.

But we fist-pumped. (I liked that part.)

And congratulated each other on pretending to be grown-up’s.

By God’s Grace.

Then we shared a brief kiss. (I loved that part.)

And said, “I’m sorry.”
And “I love you.”11822762_10155927879630711_1625316169436860615_n

We should have also said, “I forgive you.”
But we skipped that step.
We will have to go back and get that in.
Cuz it’s important.
And often missed.For all of us human beings.

And that’s a problem.1935284_263793340710_8250788_n

And then we said, “Yay, us!”
And “Thank-you, God.”

So once again…
I arrive at this conclusion:

Marriage can be hard.
(Or any relationship involving two or more humans.)

And we can all act like morons far too easily.

But it is worth it to hang in there.

It is so worth it.

And in the end?
Marriage is Awesome.

By the Grace of God.

And it is hard. (There’s that human thing again.)

And then it is awesome, again.
By the Grace of God.

#working on that
#both of us

But we know that we are…12694594_10156560427275711_809274364131732757_o
and #forgiven
and therefore, #freetolove.

And because these things are true…

Marriage is awesome. (Most of the time.)And God is good. (ALL of the time.)

And we are grateful.

So very grateful.Thank-you, Lord.

A Moment of Crisis

A 7 year old boy is the first to greet me yesterday morning, shortly after I finish performing the Witnesses drama at the host church.

He looks a little worked up.  Jonathen Swenson Circle

I am thinking maybe one of the more intense scenes in the drama scared him a little. Or maybe he has a new question about God that he wants to ask me. Drama Ministry can make you think new thoughts and ask new faith-related questions. Happens all the time.

So the service is getting out now and people are coming towards my info table to say hello. I can tell this little guy is having a hard time working up the nerve to ask his question to the guest actor and pastor.   

I lean in a bit closer to help him out, and to let him have a little privacy. You know, so he can ask his question quietly.

He looks right into my eyes now, and I can see his forehead is scrunched up. Tears are forming in HIS eyes. This little guy is REALLY out of sorts about whatever it is he is going to discuss with me.

Finally his courage breaks through, he catches an extra breath and asks the big question…

“Do you know where the cookies and Kool-aid are?”

Apparently my display table was located where the coffee and cookies are usually served. A tragic miscalculation in hospitality.

I smile, give him a fist-pump and say, “A man after my own heart”… then point the way to the relocated post-service refreshments.

And once again, I am grateful to be a servant of the Gospel.


Jana and I have been sharing our story of her journey with Breast Cancer. We told it each of the last two weeks of Adult Camp here at Mount Carmel Ministries this past month.  2015-08-02 19.46.39

When we give the talk, it naturally causes many emotions to surface… both for us and for those listening. People identify with our pain, but they also re-enter their own stories of trial and loss… and this, of course, can bring tender tears.

As the group was sharing thoughts and reflections at the end of Jana and my presentation the other day, one gentlemen in the crowd (I will call him “Bill”) shared, though the tears, that his wife of many years had died of cancer a few months ago.He went on to say that, naturally, in his grief, he had been struggling to let go.

And then, with a tight throat and tears streaming down his cheeks, Bill shared the following experience which took place fairly recently.

12795119_10156610050235711_9128133260199630244_oHe told us that not too long ago…. a few months after his wife had died, he had been struggling to sleep well.. and he was lying in his bed on night, in the middles of the night, wide awake.

Then suddenly he heard his wife come to him and speak the following words, as clear as day:

“I’m not coming back.”


“I CAN’T come back.”


“Bill… I DON’T WANT to come back.”

When he shared that last word with us, a hush came over the room. I believe everyone of us hearing his story knew what he clearly knew: He had been given a great gift from God. And though he is certainly still grieving, as he NEEDS to do… at the very same time, his tears while telling this story were tears not ONLY of grief… but tears of assurance… with a hint of peace and joy.

Through this gift of God, his wife was reminding him that in Jesus something far greater awaits us on the other side. And so she blessed him (and now all of us) with incredible words of hope.

The Bible says:                                                                                                              “For we do not grieve as those who have no hope.”  (I Thessalonians 4:13) and     “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18).

Hear that truth in this woman’s words to her husband: “I’m not coming back. I can’t come back. I don’t WANT to come back.”

Unforgettable words. Undeniable Hope. Unstoppable Savior.

I look forward to not wanting to come back as well.

Thank-you, Lord Jesus.  IMG_9998

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.

A Word to the College Student as Finals Draw Near

I just sent this verse to my daughter this morning, to help her with the increasing end-of-the-college-year stress and the final push to finals.  IMG_1439

Such a stressful time for college students. Perhaps you would like to share it with the college student in YOUR life in the weeks ahead as well.  Here it is…

“Then they took the stupid final and got it over with. It wasn’t so bad after all. And all the people agreed that finals are stupid and whoever invented them is a big poopy-head. They forever banned the “Final” in the land of Israel. And there was much rejoicing.” I Chronicles 4:67

Okay… I suppose It MIGHT be helpful to note that this is NOT an actual verse in the Bible. But I thought it sounded pretty good.. so I made it up. No authority from God whatsoever. But perhaps therapeutic.

Hang in there college students. God IS with you. You CAN DO this!  

A Thank-You to Pastors and Church Staffs at the End of Holy Week


For every pastor who survived Holy Week,
and to every church staff these words I now speakIMG_9998

You DID it! You DID it! You’ve now crossed the line.  
You told the Great Story and I’ll bet you did fine.

Palm Sunday you spoke of the Triumphal Entry
The church was so packed not a seat was left empty.

You then served communion in a powerful way,
You made it so special for Maundy Thursday.

Next, dressed in black, you declared to the pews…
That Jesus had died — you shared the sad news.

You preached the seven last words that Christ said,
you probably spoke of the crown on his head.

And then, the next day, though so VERY tired,
you kept right on working so you wouldn’t get fired!

There was still much to do, and so little time
to prepare your sermon and make it sound FINE!  

While others were out on the town, having fun.
You stayed in your office, your work not yet done.

You prayed and you prayed and you wrestled with the text
for the perfect Easter sermon, to make it the best.

When others were watching the Sweet Sixteen Tourney.
You tried to describe how Christ took his last journey.

Imagining your parishioners’ great anticipation.
You tried oh, so hard, for the perfect illustration.

It sounded so good when you ran it in the morning…
But during the service, most folks found it boring.

Nevertheless, you kept right on going…
You made sure that everything kept right on flowing.

The choir, communion, the kid’s message too…
every part of the service you made sure went smooth.

And somehow you managed in all of this haze
to visit the sick and and kneel down and pray…

You visited homebounds and hospitals too.
Things time-consuming, you made sure to do!

And perhaps the greatest miracle of all…
you carried this out with a beautiful smile.

And now that it’s over and you’re finally home,
I hope you can rest. DO NOT ANSWER THE PHONE!

But hear this, proclaimers of Gods’ Easter Grace
Take time now to be still… to sit in one place…

… and let it sink in: What you preached on is TRUE!
Jesus died and he rose.. and he rose for YOU TOO!

And just in case no one else told you today…
let me be the first voice, to put it this way…

YOU ARE A HERO — do you know what you’ve done?
You proclaimed the GOOD NEWS.. that Jesus has won!

Cross by ChapelIt’s the most sacred calling that anyone could do.
And to share this Great News, our dear God chose YOU!

So THANK-YOU so much, for making it real…
For leaving it all, as they say, on the field.

Now go take a nap, you deserve it so much.
The work can now wait, take a break and have lunch.

Then go back to sleep and sleep a bit more
Spend time with family, don’t do ANY chores.

And when you awake from that well-deserved rest.
May you, too, rejoice… and may you be blessed!

You did it. You DID IT. Now may you be FREE…
To praise God for FREE time! He is RISEN INDEED!

+ Jonathan Swenson

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