What Birthdays Teach Us

Well, it’s my birthday today.  36 years old.  It’s hard to believe I’m actually THAT OLD.  Thankfully, the “Asian gene” is alive and well in me, so I look like I’m 25…..perks of winning the ethnic lottery!

Anyway, per the usual these days, Facebook announces to the world (should you choose to include your birthday) the big day.  For one, I hate birthdays….not a big celebrator of them.  But the posts on my Facebook wall, the text messages, and even a few phone calls today have been a nice reminder of this simple truth:

You don’t get through this life on your own.

That’s the gift that each birthday brings for me: the gift of wisdom.  That as much as I’d like to think I’ve worked my ass off and earned every single thing in my life, the truth is, I’ve gotten there with the support, care, challenges, and lessons that come from others.  I wouldn’t be where I’m at because of people…and as I sit here and stare at everyone who’s posted on my wall to this point, that fact is evident.  So evident in fact, that I feel obligated to say thanks in the Facebook comments.  And even in this blog, as a count back, I want to say thanks as well.  Disclaimer: I’m not going to get everyone….but know each and every person who can honestly say they “know” me….know you’ve had an impact on my life and without you, I wouldn’t have gotten through this life on my own.

Here goes:

All those folks who I’ve had one-to-one conversations with about faith…..reminds me why the gospel matters and why being church matters – it’s worth the struggle.

My congregations, St. Andrew Lutheran & Holy Communion Lutheran, who have given me the space to be the pastor God’s called me to be, and who struggle alongside me in this task of being church.

Rocco Mansueto, who helped bring a lot of closure to my wrestling career and pushes me in thinking about this life and what’s important.  And we share trauma from Jack Effner beatings on the mat.

Steve Martin, who gave me an opportunity to explore and develop as a coach, and form strong bonds with ODU wrestling and the wrestlers there.

Mark Matzek, maybe one of the strangest guys I know, but also one of the most courageous and character-driven people I know.  Enjoy our friendship and coaching time together.

The rest of the Augsburg Wrestling family.  I may not be an Auggie…..but you guys are like family for me.  The bonds of brotherhood on the mat define me every day.

Mark Morton, who exemplifies what I love about the US Marine Corps and again, a guy of the highest character and faith I’ve met.  And deluded as he is about thinking he can break me, I appreciate the mentality to push limits and never accept mediocrity. : )

Jacqui Thone, pastor and friend who I share a passion for questions with – deep questions of faith.  You are a wrestler Jacqui, whether you care to admit it or not.

Deb Walker…..reminding me to let people take care of me, and not to resist that…ever. : )

Sharon Long & Barb Schulz….both church administrators, both sarcastic, both courageous….and both full of wisdom and empathy when I start ranting.  Truly a gift.

Kelly Chatman & Chip Gunsten, pastors who are really spiritual fathers to me.  Men whose passion for mission and ministry I strive to emulate in my life.

Chris & Cynthia Bowen, and their kids…..proof that the bonds formed in and through Christ matter…because I’m not sure in what life we would’ve been friends otherwise!

Matt & Nichole Bahen….proof that again, I can’t pull youth ministry off on my own, and needed your help every step of the way.

Andy Root, Eric Barreto, Rolf Jacobson, Walter Sundburg, Gracia Grindal, Matthew Skinner, Craig Koester, Alvin Luedke, Hollie Holt-Woehl, Heidi Albers, Terri Elton, Nancy Lee Gauche, Tim Coltvet, Rick Foss, & Rick Bliese….folks in the Luther Seminary community that listened to me, pushed me, and shaped me…even today.

Adam Butler…..I love your rants.  The world needs more passionate men like you.

Matt and Jacinda Shields….two people who are so faithful to God in ways I’m not.  You serve as an inspiration to me.

Josh & Kristina Jabaut….the first couple I married, and I now believe in divine intervention.

Angie Denker….I might not be where I am today if it wasn’t for that walk and talk Spring Semester that first year of Seminary.

Erika Benson…..for reminding me that trusting people again wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

All the folks I served with on Active Duty – Norfolk Naval Shipyard, NROTC Hampton Roads, USS JACKSONVILLE, NPTU Charleston & NNPTC…and my USNA classmates.  I learned Servant Leadership isn’t just a name of a book or a good idea….but it’s a way of life for a leader.

Paul Joyce…how we coached 60 kids in that small gym is beyond me, but I discovered my passion for coaching there.

Lee Pritts…who taught me passion is more important than credentials when it comes to doing what you love in this life.

Willie Stravino….you’re a weird son of a bitch.  But you, Caitlin, and Foster teach me daily that faith in God matters only in how it shapes the way you live….and the rest is bullshit.

Phillip Morrison….who reminds me that bonds of brotherhood sometimes die, but to still be thankful for the time and presence we shared.

All the wrestlers I’ve coached….thanks for allowing me to be part of your lives sharing that passion for wrestling.  Thanks for teaching me it’s not the W’s & L’s, but the character that’s formed that matters. And for your parents who entrusted me to do so.

All the youth and families I’ve ministered to and with over the years. You’ve taught me so much about God, faith, and what it means to struggle with it…and that it matters to do so. You gave me a home in the church when frankly, I had none.

The Wadzitas, The Patricks, the Watrous families for taking me in on my stops along the way….being my family away from home.

Jerry Riewer….my old Cross-Country coach showed me my temper and anger is something to face and overcome rather than let it consume me.

Ron Kurpiers….whose passion for teaching gifted students and pushing learning beyond “reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic” made me smarter and pushed me to pursue places like the Naval Academy, and to become a lifelong learner.

Jim, Betty, Steven, and Matthew McManamay….my USNA sponsors, who really taught me everything about being a good Naval Officer on those weekends in your home.

My family…who loves me no matter what, and who reminds me I’m not that big of a deal….I’m just a kid who was raised on a farm in Central MN.

My grandpa…..who taught me about values.

My dad….who I miss every single day and is still the best human being (not perfect) I know.

My mom….who taught me what forgiveness and grace are really about.

And my wife…the one person I know that at the end of the day, doesn’t think I suck.  And that counts for more than she knows.


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