My name is Jeff and I'm a pastor of a small, local, Christian fellowship

It's a wonderful thing to love your work; to know that when you do it you are doing something that you were born to do. I am so fortunate to be both. I don't say I am the best at what I do. God knows that are so many others who do it better. But I do feel fairly lucky to be called by such a good God to do work I can only do with his help, to be loved by a beautiful woman, and to have a workshop where I can work my craft. These musings of mine are part of that work.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Assuming the "CHARGE!" position
Since 2008, I have had the privilege of coaching the Chetek-Weyerhaueser HS Cross Country team. Our team has a tradition of sorts come race day. After their warm-ups and their run-outs, after stretching and getting their spikes on, after huddling up for a group prayer, they get in their assigned starting lane and await the countdown of the official. In CC, the starter will announce “5 minutes to race time”, “3 minutes to race time”, and so forth. At the ten second mark he begins the countdown which after he reaches 5 goes silent. At that moment, our kids – both girls and boys – raise their right hand into the air, make a fist and at the retort of the pistol yell as loud as they can, “CHARGE!” I believe this started my first year as coach. I didn't come up with the idea but my only requirement now is that their CHARGE be not wimpy but shouted with authority. (In fact, we actually have a drill called, “Run and Scream” where we practice the C-W Charge so that it is yelled appropriately.) In any case, this is what our kids do at the start of every race.

The "CHARGE!" 2010
A week ago we ran in the Rice Lake Invitational, what I refer to as the Über-meet where perhaps 1,000 runners converge on the grounds of UW-BC to run a series of races fielding several hundred runners each. For our JV guys' race, however, due to injury and vacation, only Austin was able to run and so all by his lonesome he took his place in our designated starting lane. Austin is a kid who a year ago could hardly run without walking, arguably the slowest kid in CC in this part of the State. He was born with hydrocephalus (i.e., water on the brain) and has some other physical limitations. He also has two sets of upper teeth the result of which it is very difficult to understand what he's saying much of the time. He came out last year and we agreed that our one goal for him was to run a complete race – something he achieved at the conference meet later that fall. In the spring, he went out for track but due to the fact that Coach Buchman can only race so many guys he didn't see a lot of action. But this year he is running stronger and longer. In fact, he's already had a race or two where he wasn't last – something that's not important to me but is to him. At Rice Lake, after I prayed with him and stepped off to the side, he looked so forlorn among the hundred or so other runners lined up all around him.

The "CHARGE!" at Spooner 2011
Even though my 35mm SLR camera is always at hand, I had put it away in my case. After shooting the start of the previous five races there was going to be nothing unusual about the start of this one. But when the ref hit the 5-second mark and went silent, automatically Austin's hand went into the air, made a fist and when the gun went off I could clearly hear him yell, CHARGE! above the assorted yelling of the bystanders. Incredible. I wouldn't have said anything had he not chose to do this. After all, he was running all by himself in a race that he was most likely going to come in last. But what a beautiful moment that was when in a sea of runners here was my guy bravely making known our presence out on that field as if some fierce compatriot of William Wallace at Stirling Bridge. When I think of the challenges this kid has both physically, mentally and economically seeing him valiantly charge out of the box with his fist in the air it was decidedly, as the kids like to say these days, epic. One physically impaired young man against so many on a field where he would indeed run dead last that afternoon but also set a new personal record for himself. It was a race that began with panache and ended with a flourish. And my only regret is that I didn't capture the start on film.
William Wallace would approve
Though I do get paid to coach my kids, it's moments like these that are part of the true payoff in this job: helping young people look adversity in the face and run recklessly to it. It's the kind of mettle Austin is going to need to overcome the limitations he has been born with and into. But last week in that field across the road from the UW-BC campus his display of courage brought a tear to my eye and gave me hope that he may get there yet.
Go, Dog, Go

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 Memory

It was a Tuesday and it was a beautiful late summer morning in northern Wisconsin the day the Towers fell. I was at Roselawn Elementary here in Chetek reading to kids as I have been doing since Christine was in kindergarten. I had just left one classroom and was heading down the west wing when Mrs. Neuman, a third grade teacher there, stopped me in the hall and said, “Have you heard? The World Trade Center has been hit by a plane?” That is my first memory of 9/11 and the second was wondering how could that happen to such a tall building. Like a lot of people far removed from New York City, I did not realize until later that day that the WTC was, in fact, seven buildings not one.

As soon as I was done reading that morning, Linda and I were scheduled to meet up with Don and Chris Fritz, friends of ours, and drive to Eau Claire to pick out and purchase a new keyboard for our fellowship. When I got home, they were sitting in their vehicle listening to the news on their car radio. We listened enthralled to the report the entire 45 minute drive. At the time – 10:00 o'clock in the morning-or-so CST – there was a lot of information being passed along that had not been confirmed. I recall one little bit of trivia – beyond realizing that we were talking about 7 towers and not 1 – that each tower had its own Zip Code and at capacity could have up to 25,000 people within. I remember thinking, “50,000 people! That's like the entire population of Eau Claire!”

Meanwhile in Eau Claire...
Perhaps the most prominent memory I have of that day, however, occurred at Morgan Music where our salesman was making his pitch about which keyboard would be best for us. He had us wander around the showroom and sample the different models. Half way through this little exercise I remember asking the rest of our small group, “Is anyone bothered by what we're doing?” When they all looked at me quizzically I said, “I mean, half a country a way 50,000 people may be dead and we're plunking on keys listening to tone quality.” It was and still is bizarre to me. But we continued our sampling and before we left had purchased the keyboard that now sits in our sanctuary. It arrived just in time for Troy and Tina's wedding that was held that Saturday.

Like everybody else that day, I sat mesmerized in front of the TV watching the news feed of the Towers falling, the Pentagon burning and the smoking remains of the plane that landed in that Pennsylvania field. I called my dad that night to talk about the events of the day and tell him I loved him. And when I tucked my kids into bed, I prayed with them and gave them an extra long hug good-night.

While local news carried reports of churches being opened for people to pray, in Chetek that wasn't the case. However, the next day Pastor Keith from Chetek Lutheran and I spoke together about them hosting a community prayer gathering on Thursday night. 50 people showed up – and mostly old people at that. It was, in my mind, a curious response to such an emotionally overwhelming week
Lynsee playing on the keyboard we bought that day

 Last summer, while we were vacationing in D.C., we rented a van for a couple of days. We had drove out to Mount Vernon earlier in the day and we were hoping to get to the Iwo Jima Memorial before dark. I got turned around on the Beltway and had pulled off to get directions at a convenience store. The man behind me was wearing a Pentagon I.D. badge and must have overheard me because when he came back to his vehicle he stepped over to me and said, "Hey, have you seen the Pentagon Memorial?" When I told him I didn't even know that there was one, he suggested that if we had the time we should take a few minutes to
stop by and see it as it was just over the hill and around the corner. It was a serendipitous find while lost just outside our nation's capital. But it brought back that weird juxtapositional feeling I had that morning of plunking on keys while meanwhile half a country a city was in turmoil and our country was now at war.