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reflections of mine others might find useful

Category: Personal Reflections (page 1 of 7)

These are the things God has been teaching me.

Finishing one race; starting another.

Today I crossed the finish line of a very long race and am about to start another.

I completed my final list of “to dos” this afternoon, the last of which was packing my office belongings into my car.  At 3:45 I walked down to Linda’s office, turned in my church keys, and instantly went from being Pastor Mark back to just  Mark.

I’ve been in full-time ministry for 32 years straight — and now, in an instant, I find myself unemployed and not really sure what this new normal will be like for me.  In two weeks I’ll be starting my next race — that of  a full time grad student.

What a change.  At this very moment I’m blogging these reflections instead of running youth group.   So weird.

Race Results.

Looking over my shoulder at the race I’ve just finished I am profoundly grateful and humbled that God would let me run it.

At my “graduation”/farewell party this past Sunday Cindy and I set out all of the youth group pictures and memorabilia that we had preserved from each of the past 25 years.  Perusing through them brought back many long-forgotten memories of ways that God blessed us with each other and with Himself.

I marveled at the number of youth group alums who came back to wish us farewell, coming from as far north as Duluth and as far south as Arkansas.  It was such a delight to reconnect with our old kids (some now in their 40s), watch them relive old memories, and reflect on how good God was to us during those years.  It struck me that with every single year, trip, and retreat God seemed to have sovereignly brought together those students and sponsors who needed each other at that precise moment in time.  We truly had something special.

On a personal note, Cindy and I were so profoundly touched by all those who were able to come and wish us well.  Thank you for expressing your kind words to us verbally and through the many, many cards.  Our view is that each of you has impacted us every bit as much as you say we have impacted you.  God gets the glory for it all.

It was indeed a good run!

Whenever I finish a race I find myself equally exhilarated, exhausted, and satisfied all at once — and looking for the massage tent!

So it is now.   And then on to the next race!

How I almost got disqualified from youth ministry.


My farewell party is this Sunday afternoon and people will naturally be congratulating me on my 25 years as youth pastor at New Covenant.

But what most people don’t know is that less than 2 years into my job, I almost disqualified myself.  I want to tell that story.

When I came to New Covenant in 1992 the youth group was in a state of disillusionment.  My predecessor’s departure had been unexpected and the high school group was admittedly in a state of disarray.  I came in knowing the youth group needed fixing and that it was my job to do just that!  I was going to make this youth group great again!

Armed with my Moody Bible theology degree and 6 years of church ministry experience, I had all the resources I needed to turn things around!  It didn’t take me long — just a few months — to come up with just the right programs to develop leaders and make disciples.  Several students signed up for my programs and gave me great feedback.  I was doing it!  Things were really getting fixed!

Or so I thought.  One summer day — having been here just a year and a half — I was unexpectedly called in to Pastor Ray’s office, where an elder and one of my few youth volunteers (we call them “sponsors”) were waiting.  They relayed the hard news to me that actually the youth group wasn’t fixed.  At all.  In fact, a high percentage of youth group members felt like they didn’t matter.  That it was “Mark’s youth group” not theirs.  And that if they didn’t show up, no one would likely even notice.  They were unheard and devalued.  They were falling through the cracks and my “discipleship kids” were the only ones I seemed to care about.

At first, I was in disbelief and in a state of shock.  But as they relayed one account after another of those who had been feeling neglected by me I recognized that they were speaking the truth in love.  In my frenzy to run a successful program and quickly turn things around I had completely missed that this youth group was about them, not me and my grandiose solutions that were being imposed on them.

I spent a week wrestling in prayer.  I did some fasting, and serious soul-searching.  I knew I couldn’t continue to be a shepherd that was actually wounding the sheep by my pride and neglect.  I was broken.  I either had to completely change my priorities or quit my job.  Thankfully, God allowed me to stay and change.

Those who were there will recall that I immediately did several things to demonstrate my change of heart.

  • I called a meeting of the whole youth group and in brokenness apologized for making the group about me, not them.  I confessed how I had imposed my plans on them rather than serving them.
  • I brought in a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle, which together we assembled and mounted on the wall to visually remind us all that every single person mattered.  We did this for several years.
  • I stated that if anyone ever caught me using the phrase “my youth group” I would pay them money on the spot.  It was God’s youth group, and their youth group, but I needed it to not be mine.
  • I confessed to having developed a “Savior Complex,” trying to run the youth group my way and attempting to shepherd the large group of students all by myself.  I committed to begin to pray that God would raise up a large team of youth sponsors, caring adults who would help prevent students from falling through the cracks if possible.

Graciously, the group gave me a second chance.  And God miraculously brought us just the sponsor team we needed.  In the remaining weeks of that summer 17 sponsors randomly approached me out-of-the-blue, asking to become sponsors.  It was remarkable because I had only prayed, never even making the need known to the church.  That so many approached me so quickly was a miraculous confirmation from God.

This traumatic experience of almost losing my job altered my life and ministry values — permanently.  It taught me the importance of listening to those whom I serve, frequently soliciting their input.  I learned to hold my agendas loosely.  To be teachable.  To be an includer. To give up control.  To do things as a team. To let others (students and sponsors) make ministry decisions that may be different than mine.  To admit that I can’t shepherd everyone and to be ok with sponsors impacting particular students better than I could.

So as I reflect on the lives of students that may have been impacted over these past 25 years I give the lion’s share of the credit to my wonderful sponsor team.  Without them our youth group would have self-destructed long ago!  Thank you, thank you to the dozens and dozens of you who served as sponsors over these years.  I couldn’t have done much of anything without you.   Did we care perfectly for every student?  Sadly no.  In a big group it’s hard to notice all the needs and direct our attention to the students when they need it most.  But looking back, we sure cared for a lot of them!

Here’s one of my favorite sponsor photos from over the years.  Mark Eades and I got our sponsors bowling shirts that year!

And now, as I step down from leading the high school group, I’m not at all concerned for the group’s well being.  My vacancy has been anticipated and the sponsors are ready.  The current team of committed sponsors will make sure that the youth group continues to function without skipping a beat and I am confident that the students will be well cared for moving forward.

I want to express special thanks to the sponsors who have committed to keep the group running smoothly during this time between youth pastors:  Stacey, Steve, Melissa, Bryan, Charley, Jennifer, Candace, Sabrina, Jeff, Tim, Brad T, Brad A, Sara, Dawn, Lynn, Ron, & Becky.  And I’m thankful for the resourcing and support that they will continue to be given by Mark Eades and Renee Kim.  The youth group is indeed in good hands!

The bus is empty but my tank is full.

Last night I drove the church bus for the last time.   A short trip there and back to the Great Jones County Fair — featuring a Casting Crowns concert.   Driving that bus has always been one of my favorite things to do!  As usual, this was another delightful trip.

Back at church, I dropped the kids off in the parking lot, grabbed the broom, and headed to the back of the bus, not prepared for what I would encounter there.   Tears.  Lots of them.  Coming out of my eyes.  Completely unexpected.

As I unhurriedly swept the bus for the last time I couldn’t help but reflect on how much this bus (and its predecessors) had changed our lives over these past 25 years.  Wherever it brought us it seems God was there, waiting to bond us together and teach us something profound. We always seemed to come home changed.

With tears of joy my mind raced back in time with overwhelming gratitude that God would have allowed me these over-the-road experiences.

  • 15 Mexico trips — we logged about 45,000 total miles on these trips!  And they were brutal — driving over 24 hours straight through.  On each trip God brought together a unique collection of people who had a profound impact on the 41 Mexican families we helped.  In all, 829 people made the trek.
  • Summer trips to Summit, Toronto, Indiana, Tennessee, New Orleans, Denver, Kansas City, Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Wisconsin and Colorado Springs.
  • Close to 100 Retreats to a variety of places including Camp Courageous, Camp Wapsie, Camp Io-Dis-E-Ca, East Iowa Bible Camp, Pine Lake Camp, Pictured Rocks Camp, Camp Wyoming, and my favorite, Rustic Camp Hitaga.  Most memorable retreat:  when we accidentally burned a cabin to the ground at Camp Wyoming.
  • A variety of special events: concerts, ski trips, ball games, conferences, a Billy Graham Crusade, Promise Keepers, amusement parks, sponsor hunts at the mall, Shamrock Around the Clock.
  • On these buses we had singalongs, testimonies, story times, comedy clubs, autograph signing, prayer meetings, book studies, discussion groups, creation talks with Charley, get-to-know-you mixers, and even duct-taping kids to the ceiling.  Talk about bonding!
  • As you would expect, some of my favorite bus memories involved adversity.  Like the time a bus engine caught on fire coming home from Adventureland and Tom Maring just happened to drive by and had it fixed within a half hour.   Or when a Mexico bus broke down in Oklahoma City for 18 hours and a youth group put us up overnight in their really cool youth building.  Or when a bus died in Cedar Falls on the way to Minnesota one winter and we impulsively rented a fleet of vans so we wouldn’t have to miss out on skiing.  Or when things got stolen out of a bus at the St. Louis Zoo with no evidence of how they got in — everything was still locked up tight!   Or when a  Mexico bus got stuck in snow in Wichita and we almost had to sleep at McDonalds overnight.   Or when we took a wrong turn in residential Chicago and ended up on a narrow street lined with cars on both sides with less than an inch of side clearance space.  Or when the transmission dropped out of a bus four miles from church . In a blizzard. After dark!
  • Each was a life-changing encounter, for which I will ever be grateful.  We bonded on these trips.  Lifelong friendships were forged in these seats.  I believe there are married couples today who first fell in love on these buses.

As I continued sweeping — and weeping — I thought about how so many of my personal ministry passions were fulfilled by having these buses.  I thought of what we would have missed out on had they not been at my disposal!

My thoughts then turned to the people over the years who procured these buses and helped keep them running.  For Brian Valenti (aka The Commish), who knew how to pick the perfect bus and who trained so many drivers over the years.  For Randy Hudson who helped me pick up our first “new” bus when I first came.  For Dave Beer,  who who did — and still does — the bulk of the mechanical work and the painting.  For Jeff Westrom, who came up with snazzy paint designs and helped implement them.  For John Maehl‘s financial and property management expertise  For George Bushlack, who always puts so much heart into into keeping the buses roadworthy and in tip-top shape.  For Larry Pinkston, who wired up a 50 foot internal microphone so we could have better sharing on the road.  For Charley Snodgrass, aka KC0CD, who wired them up with ham radios and who drove more miles than anyone except me, aka KC0ODH.  For Ruth Stavlund for stitching up the torn bus seats.  And for all the drivers, who worked so hard to get CDLs to help the ministry.  For all the sponsors who gave up their comfort to mingle with teens, sharing their lives with each passing mile.  For the New Covenant attenders over the years whose offering money helped pay for these vehicles and gas.

All these thoughts flooded my mind last night.  My tears were all tears of joy and gratitude to God, and not at all of sadness.  Those great memories made within these metal walls will be with me forever and they’ve changed me permanently.  We had something special for which I will ever be grateful.  It was a good ride!

But all journeys must come to an end and God has made it clear that my time has finally come to deboard this bus.  As I lock up the bus for the last time I know it’s time for someone else to chart the course for the future of New Covenant’s high school ministry.  God’s blessings will continue through the leadership of another and that thought also brings me joy.

As for me, I know it’s time to focus my energies on bringing hope and healing to a broken world.  I’m not sure exactly where this new counseling adventure of mine will lead, but I’m excited to find out.

Resolved to have NO SECRETS

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2017 will be remembered as the year when successful, famous people were suddenly taken down by the sins of their pasts being brought to light.

And when Christians fall, it’s doubly scandalous.  We all know of those who claimed to be followers of Jesus whose hidden sins were embarrassingly exposed.  Jesus himself, spoke out strongly against religious people who pretended to be Godly on the outside — while being corrupt on the inside.  “White washed tombs” he called them.

But before we get too critical of the hypocrites around, we should pause to recognize the propensity we all have for living a double life.

Being aware of my own vulnerability, I have set a life resolution — one of my 40 Life Resolutions —  as a reminder for me to continuously bring every vice of mine into the light.  I don’t ever want to be counted among those remembered as having fallen from grace.

Resolution #11:   Resolved to have absolutely no secrets of any kind in my personal life. I will fully disclose all my areas of weakness to trusted friends that they may hold me accountable — so that I may always be a man of complete authenticity and integrity.

How does this play out for me?   Four ways.

1.   When I mess up, I fess up.    I use this phrase a lot.  Secret  sins never go away –instead, they grow and fester until they eventually take you down. We sure see that happening around us today!  For my part, I want to live completely in the light.  This is why many years ago I installed Covenant Eyes on my computer and have had my reports sent to my wife AND my two daughters.  It’s amazing how those inappropriate images suddenly have very little sex appeal when indulging them would result in grievous conversations with my precious girls.  And even when the software doesn’t catch something that may pop up on my screen (which just happened when searching for the image above in this post) I have made it my personal policy to report what I see to Cindy — I figure it’s her business to know what my eyes and heart have glimpsed.

2.  Maximize, rather than minimize our sins.  Too many people — even within the church — try to minimize their sins, calling them mistakes or blunders.  They avoid taking full responsibility for their sin and make flimsy excuses instead.  This is a slippery slope which desensitizes people to the seriousness of their sin — they pretend they aren’t all that bad after all.   With me, if I’m going to err, I find it better to over-apologize, over-confess, and take more than my share of responsibility for my actions.

3. Absolute accountability.   By this I mean that I intend to be forthright in confessing not just my bad behavior, but also my sinful attitudes, thoughts, and weaknesses.   A mentor of mine once chastised me for my stated goal of confessing every sin.  He warned me that “people can’t be trusted to know everything about us.”  I respectfully disagree.  We’ll only become as holy as we become honest.  And if I’m doing things that potentially could make me unsafe around others, maybe I should stop doing those things!

4. Open Invitation.  I invite others to speak into my life about sins that I may be blind to.  That includes you!

As this new year arrives, may God’s people renew their efforts to live with integrity, that we may not see more of the casualties caused this past year by Christian hypocrisy.  It starts with us.  Join me in making such an important resolution.

Jesus sums it up in Matthew 5:16:   Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

…and I also want to live the way my dad did.

[This is a transcript of what I shared today at my dad’s funeral.]

I recently blogged about wanting to die the way my dad did.  It’s also equally true that I want to live the way he lived.  God’s fingerprints are all over that story too.

As an infant I was adopted by Jim and Corey Forstrom.  There were a million homes where I might have been placed, but God sovereignly delivered me to these extraordinary parents.  I will forever be grateful for that.

My dad’s life verses were  Proverbs 3:5-6.  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

“Trust in the Lord with all  your heart…”  At age 9, the Lord prompted Dad to  place his trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of his sins.  He recognized that he was a sinner, deserving of the wrath of a holy God and that it was only by God’s mercy and grace provided through the death of Jesus on his behalf that he could be made right with God.  Dad understood that God’s free gift of salvation could only be received through faith and not through doing good works.   Yet his life was characterized by good works, not as a way to earn his salvation, but out of gratitude for what God had done for him.

At age 19 — in an Iowa bean field of all places — the Lord impressed upon my dad a conviction to enter into full-time Christian service.  And oh how he followed that call!

By the time I entered the picture ten years later, my dad had finished college and seminary, and had been redirected from being a missionary in Africa to serving as a youth pastor in two different churches in Chicago and Minneapolis.  We then went to Crystal Free for four years before spending the next 22 years here in this church [First Free Rockford, Illinois].  And then my parents moved back to Minnesota for 8 years of involvement with the National Free Church missions, followed by 12 years of volunteer service  before returning here to Rockford for these past five years.

What I’d really like to share with you today is what I’ve personally gained from being Jim Forstrom’s son.

What a privilege to have had him as my dad!  As I reflect on what his life meant to me, I realize that I could speak for hours and hours about this.  But for your sakes, I will choose just a few of his qualities to focus on today.

The  first thing that comes to mind about dad is his authenticity.  What he taught, he lived.  At home he was exactly what you saw anywhere else.  He had a daily walk with Christ and he continually aligned his life with Scripture.  This is his Bible and this was the foundation of his life.  In a world where we see so many badly behaved so-called Christians who preach one thing but who live compromised personal lives, my dad stood out to me as the “real deal.”  I got a front row seat in seeing what a real Christ-follower looks like and it made me want to be one too.   If this is what being a Christian is all about, I want in!  Anyone who truly knew him would have felt the same.

His leadership in the home is the second thing that comes to mind.  Because my dad led our home using the principles of Scripture, it was a place of good relationships, love, nurture, respect, support, encouragement, and great delight.  I have only positive memories of those years.  Shannon and I had the privilege of growing up in an unusually healthy home.  Today, I find myself passionate about helping dysfunctional families become healthy, and I’m sure it stems back to the nurturing environment of my childhood home.  I personally reaped the benefits of a healthy home and I want that for others.  My future career in counseling finds its roots in my healthy home growing up.

My dad’s humility in serving others is something else that I greatly admire.  He was always content to be behind the scenes:  planning, organizing, problem-solving, equipping, training, and deploying.  He accomplished great things in life, but he didn’t need credit for them, or to be placed in the limelight, or to receive recognition.  His life was more about others than himself.  He preferred to make others shine.  I need to be more like him in this way.

His commitment to faithful hard work and finishing well have truly inspired me.  I tend to be lazy, but no one could ever accuse Jim Forstrom of laziness.  He was always on mission and enjoyed doing things that mattered.  A couple of years ago, when dementia had begun restricting his ministry opportunities, I remember him asking me for prayer that he could still find some kind of useful ministry to do during his remaining years.  It turned out that his final ministry was one of prayer, which he faithfully did right until the end.  I loved browsing through his folder of prayer letter updates, with notations from him about many of them in the margins.  They were his boys — and girls.   How he loved praying for their families and the advancement of their ministries.

D.L. Moody, the famous evangelist, once said something profound that could just as well apply to my dad:  “The world has yet to see what God can do with…the man who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him. I will try my utmost to be that man.”

On behalf of our family, I want to personally say how much your love and support has meant to us during this time of Dad’s homegoing .  Yes, we are grieving that he’s not currently with us.  But it is times like this that reveal the authenticity of our belief in what Scripture teaches.  We live based on the truth of this book and we die in the confidence of what this book teaches — that there is guaranteed for us an everlasting life with Jesus.  Dad had no fear of death, in fact in his last conversation with Mom he talked about looking forward to being  with Jesus.

Eternal life is a promise for those like Dad who have repented of sin and self-effort and who have trusted in Jesus’ death and resurrection for salvation.   Because of this confidence we don’t need to grieve like the world does.  We grieve with hope.  We know we will be reunited with Dad for eternity, enjoying the rewards that await all followers of Jesus who serve him well.  I know that Dad wanted nothing more than for all of his family and friends to one day end up with him in heaven.

Many of you listening to me [reading this] today never had the privilege to meet my dad.  Perhaps he sounds like someone you wish you could have known.  The good news is that you can meet him!  Give your life to Jesus and you can spend eternity getting acquainted with my amazing Dad!

I want to live the way my dad did because his life looks a lot like Jesus’.

Thank you for being here for our family today.

25 years ago I almost didn’t become the Youth Pastor at New Covenant.

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25 years ago today I became the Youth  Pastor at New Covenant, but it’s a miracle that I did.  The odds were against me all the way.

Very few of you know the story I’m about to tell.  But before I do, I have to show a picture of what Cindy and I looked like back in 1992.  We were 28.   We were young and in love.  Now we’re just old and in love!  And we have less hair!

Here’s the story.  For six years I had been serving as “Director of Christian Education and Youth” at a Baptist church in our hometown of Rockford, Illinois, when one day — out of the blue — I got a phone call from some guy in Iowa.  He said his name was Dave Sanders, that he was on a search committee, and that my name had been recommended to him by Jay Jentink (a former classmate of mine from Moody Bible Institute.)  They were looking for a full-time Youth Pastor!

To put this in perspective, this NEVER happens.  This was my dream job, but I hadn’t really told anyone about that dream.  I wasn’t looking to change jobs — I didn’t even have a resume!  From Dave’s description, New Covenant was a healthy, non-denominational church that made youth ministry a top priority.   It sounded like a perfect fit for me!

I didn’t even wait to tell Cindy the good news!  Instead I turned it down.

As much as I wanted to say yes to this exciting opportunity, I knew that I had to decline it.  In recent months Cindy and I had become very upset with things that were going on in our church, particularly how certain people that we loved were being mistreated (in our view) by a handful of adults.  We dreaded going to church to be around these “mean people.”  Somehow, I knew that to leave our church at that point would be running from our problems — and that we would always regret that.  I knew that God wasn’t releasing me.  So I hung up with Dave Sanders, knowing that I had just passed up a rare opportunity.

Remaining stuck with these people and losing our potential escape from them made us doubly miserable.  Recognizing our need for sympathy, we drove to Chicago to unload our woes on my best friend and mentor, Brian Carroll, and his wife Liz.  We vented for hours about the way we were surrounded by gossipy, negative, unloving, grumpy, back-stabbing people.  When we were done Brian quietly said eight words that changed our lives forever.  “It sounds like you’ve become just like them.”  Ouch.  It was a knife to our hearts, but we knew he was right.  He challenged us to give up our bitterness and instead choose joy, to love those we considered unlovely, to be Jesus to everyone.

It was like a switch in our souls was flipped.  In an instant our attitude changed from incredulity to love.  Instead of dreading church and going out of our way to avoid certain people we decided to make it our mission to gravitate toward them and treat them with kindness.  Starting that Sunday, church was suddenly a delight for us.  We stopped focusing on people’s shortfalls and started focusing on our responsibility to love them.  We saw that these were good people and that the log in our eyes was bigger than the speck in theirs.  Our attitude was completely transformed.  I was even prompted by God to personally apologize to each of the people I had harbored bitterness toward — an apology not for my actions, but for my attitude toward them.   One day — about a month later — I told God that I would be willing to work alongside them for the rest of my life.  A miracle!

That’s when Dave Sanders called back a second time.  “I know you turned us down, but for some reason your name keeps coming up in our search committee meetings.   Are you sure you won’t reconsider?”

To put this in perspective, this NEVER, NEVER happens.

Because we had resolved our bitterness with our church we knew that God had released to pursue this new opportunity.  I put together a resume and the interview process quickly confirmed that God’s had brought this about.  We left that church on good terms with everyone and consider many of them dear friends to this day.

So God brought us to Iowa!  Little did we know that my ministry here would last 25 years!  As I blogged about last year this church has meant so much to me and my family!  God has certainly been good to us!

I have nine months left as youth pastor before leaving to pursue my new career in counseling and a new chapter in my life, but I will always be thankful for our 25 years at New Covenant and how God brought it all about so long ago!

I want to die the way my dad just did…

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I told my youth group yesterday morning that today would be a good day for my dad to die.  God answered our prayers.   It’s 1:30 am.  My mom just called to say my dad just went to heaven.

He had mentally left us on the aptly named “Black Friday,” but it took nine more days for his body to concede.  He was resting comfortably under Hospice care when he took his final breath.

It’s Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to You only.”  That lyric from one of my favorite worship songs comes to mind right now.  Every breath is indeed a gift from God–none are owed.

Dad, aka Jim Forstrom, was 82.  He had suffered from vascular dementia for the past several years.  It didn’t alter his personality or physical abilities  but it did cause him to become spacially disoriented and he increasingly struggled to verbalize the thoughts that were stuck in his head.   In the past six months it was often hard to understand what he was trying to say.  He was always a good listener, but even more so as of late.

On Thanksgiving day, my parents had a group of dear friends over for dinner.  Dad enjoyed the meal as well as the after dinner conversation.  After the guests had gone and just before bedtime, my dad called Mom over to his recliner–something he hadn’t done before.  She brought a chair to his side.  With unusual clarity and articulation, he thanked her for being such a good wife to him throughout their 60 years of marriage.  He expressed his love for her and talked about his affection for Jesus.  It was truly a holy moment.  Mom prayed with him and read some scriptures from the Psalms.   There was something sacred about those shared moments together as if the Lord had given him a premonition that he was about to go to heaven.  Mom felt it too–she suspected the Lord might take him home right then and there as she hugged him in her arms.  When he didn’t, she thought that perhaps he would die in his sleep that very night.

On Black Friday, he did awaken, but his mental and physical condition were beginning to quickly deteriorate.  He was confused and couldn’t dress himself properly.  At one point in the day she found him in his recliner, but it was strangely turned around and he was staring at an empty wall.  By suppertime he had developed Parkinson’s-like symptoms and couldn’t even pick up a fork to feed himself.  After feeding him supper she had to help him shuffle his way to the bathroom, inching his way down the hallway.   (To put this in perspective, up until Wednesday he would go outside for 30-45 minute neighborhood walks by himself every day.)  Realizing she wouldn’t be able to put him to bed that night, she called 911.  An ambulance took him to the hospital.  He would never return home.  The premonition God had given them both was proving true.

We saw God’s sovereign hand in another way.  Cindy and I live in Cedar Rapids Iowa, and we were already on our way to Rockford at the very time that my dad was being admitted to the hospital. Our 35th Auburn HS class reunion was to be on Saturday night, but we had decided to come a day early.  By the time Mom called us we were almost there already.  What a blessing that Mom didn’t have to be alone on her journey!

On Saturday when we went to see Dad, he clearly wasn’t himself.  With rare exceptions he remained in a deep, deep sleep until he died nine days later.  For a few moments during those first few days he seemed to wake up enough to answer brief questions (name and birthday) and at those times he seemed to be vaguely aware of his visitors, but he mostly just slept — restlessly at first (which we observed before returning to Iowa) and calmly towards the end (according to Mom).

How blessed we are for the way God chose to take Dad home! I want to die the way my dad just did — with God’s fingerprints all over the story.    When I reflect on my own mortality I’ve often thought about how I want my life and my death to bring glory to God.  And now I can add, “just like my dad.”

I know I’ll be blogging in the future about his well-lived life!  His was definitely a life with no regrets, a life worth emulating — I want to be like him in every way.

During my week there, Mom and I were able to finalize details for my dad’s Celebration of Life service.  Always the planner, dad had planned out his funeral service in great detail so it he made it very easy for us!  Just as you’d expect!

My dad’s “Celebration of Life” service will be at First Free Rockford, on Tuesday, December 19 at 11 am, followed by a luncheon.  There will also be a visitation at the church the night before from 4-7 pm.

Do people really care what you wear?

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I was chatting with a guy one time who told me how burdened he was with deciding what to wear to church on Sundays.  It was causing him quite a bit of anxiety.   It struck me that anxiety over this is needless.  It shouldn’t matter what one wears.

I decided to do an experiment.  I would wear the exact same outfit every Sunday until someone made a comment.  I wore the same purple shirt, argyle sweater, & dress pants each week.

I started last November and it took until just now in May –seven months later –before anyone mentioned it.

 This could mean one of three things.

  1. People don’t care what you wear.
  2. People are nice and don’t say what they’re thinking.
  3. I do so many odd things that no one notices anymore.

Regardless, this seems like a good occasion to remember these words of Jesus:

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:28-34 (NIV)

Oh, and by the way, I don’t care what you wear — as long as it’s modest!

I want to live in a mental hospital

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I want to live in a mental hospital.

This past Wednesday night in youth group we discussed a Ted Talk video called “Lessons from the Mental Hospital .”   The woman shared her struggles with eating disorders, depression, and addictions.  She talked about how when she was institutionalized as a senior in high schooler she finally found a community where she could take off her masks and begin to deal with her own brokenness.

One comment that stood out to me was “in the mental hospital everyone wore their scars on the outside”.

Listen to more of the things she said.

  • there was no pretending, the jig was up.
  • we could express how we really felt
  • everyone learned how to be a good listener.
  • how to be brave enough to tell our own story while being kind enough not tell anybody else’s.
  • nobody was allowed to be left out.  everybody was worthy just because they existed.
  • there we were brave enough to take off our [masks]

It struck me that this is the kind of community we need our church and youth group to be.  We live in a world full of broken people, including ourselves.  Let’s not make people wait until they get to the mental hospital to offer them this kind of support.

Love Fails

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For many years I’ve been reflecting on the topic of love within marriages, families and friendships — and my profound conclusion is this:  Love Fails!

“Forstrom’s a heretic!” the Bible scholar will contend. “He’s 180 degrees off-base!  1 Corinthians 13:8 clearly instructs us that “Love never fails.”

Others will call me a pessimist. “Shouldn’t he be upholding unfailing love as the foundation on which to build healthy relationships?   What’s gotten into this guy?”

Let me explain.

Unconditional, pure, selfless love is certainly the biblical ideal — and at times it is achievable — but it’s never sustainable.

Human love always falls short. It’s unreliable. Limited. Lacking. Temporary.  Incomplete. Eventually, love always fails.

This is important to understand because if we don’t concede that others’ love will inevitably fail us, our expectations of them will be unrealistic and we will be needlessly — and perpectually —  offended.

Let me illustrate from our own lives with reference to Gary Chapman’s “Five Love Languages.

  • I am very aware that Cindy’s primary love language is “Acts of Service”, and yet here I am blogging instead of scrubbing the shower.  In fact, I’m ashamed to admit that I spend an average of about 23.5 hours a day not doing acts of service for her!
  • As for me, my primary love language is “Touch” — and you can be sure that I have made my wife Cindy very aware of that fact!  But at this moment as I write this she is not touching me.  She’s working on her “pile.”  She could be rubbing my shoulders at this very moment but she’s not — to my chagrin.  In fact Cindy spends about 15+ hours every day not touching me. (Note: I’m giving her full credit for all the time we spend sleeping–we share a “super single” sized waterbed so not touching me is not an option for those 7 or 8 hours!)

The point is this:  Cindy and I will never love and serve one another as much as we could.  There will always be one more honey-do project I could have done today.  Every backrub she thinks to gives me could have lasted 1 minute longer.  Or an hour longer.  Our love for each other always falls short of what it could have been.

Of course loving others involves much more than Touch or Acts of Service — there are multiple expressions of love.  But the reality is that the time and effort we spend intentionally and actively loving each other is quite often interrupted by other things.  Plus, we’re forgetful, we get distracted, we get overloaded, we’re unaware of needs, we lose momentum, we lose focus, we misprioritize, we run out of energy, and sometimes we get lazy.

Many people live their whole lives perpetually offended by this.

Instead of wallowing in feelings of neglect and resentment let’s put the failing love of others in perspective.  Here are seven ways:

  1. Cut them some slack.  Concede that others are simply human and prone to fall short.  Except by the grace of God, there go I.
  2. Recognize that life pulls people in many directions.  As I blogged about earlier we shouldn’t require others to do their best all the time.  Let’s not expect them to do as much for us as they could, instead let’s keep our expectations realistic.
  3.  Admit that we’re not the only recipient of someone’s love.  We have to share our loved ones with others. To not share them is to be controlling, manipulative, and selfish.  It it important to remember that we don’t need them.
  4. Recognize that our felt needs do not necessarily define what is best for us.  If Cindy gave me backrubs 16 hours a day the bills wouldn’t be paid, the house would be in disarray, etc.  If I did acts of service for Cindy around the house 16 hours a day I wouldn’t bring home a paycheck and we would no longer have a house!  My felt needs are not all that matters.
  5.  Humble yourself and admit how much you yourself also fail at loving others.  When I start to feel neglected by others an instant cure comes when I recognize how much more I’ve neglected them.  Take the log out of your own eye first, adopting the attitude of Brother Lawrence, “When I fail in my duty, I readily acknowledge it, saying, “I am used to do so; I shall never do otherwise if I am left to myself.” (The Practice of the Presence of God).
  6. Remind one another that your love is guaranteed to fail them.  Make it very clear that they can expect this from you.  Not that you’ll willfully harm them or spitefully neglect them, but that your love will ultimately fall short of all it could be.   “I promise to neglect you,” is a phrase they ought to hear you say, knowing that this will never be intentional, but that it will be inevitable.
  7. Trust in God’s unfailing love rather than man’s.  Allow the failings of human love to be useful in giving us a thirst for that love which never fails.

Guaranteed to fail you,

Mark

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