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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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My father's footsteps

The first time I saw my father cry was in church, at my grandfather’s funeral. I was 9 years old.

My father’s father died on the day after Christmas in 1985. I had no point of reference for how to grieve because, thankfully, this was my first experience with the loss of a loved one. I didn’t know my grandfather well, as he had been in the grip of Alzheimer’s for as long as my young mind could recall. But the way my father mourned was a powerful testament to the man his father had once been.

I had never imagined my father being susceptible to sorrow or fear or any of the emotions that were quite normal to me as a little girl. He was strong and stoic, though capable of a wonderful cheerfulness. He has an incredibly infectious laugh. His honesty and friendliness have always drawn people to him. We could barely venture out into public without him running into someone who would inevitably want to chat with him for what seemed like an eternity to the children and wife who waited for the friendly exchange to finish so they could continue on their way.

Through the years my father has consistently surprised me. Just when I think I know him, he says or does something that changes my image of him and how he sees the world. My father has shown me how to be compassionate, how to be respectful of others and how to help bear the weight of other peoples’ burdens when they get to be too much for them. More than this, he has taught me how to do it all with a quiet humility, never looking for thanks or praise for his deeds.

He doesn’t talk for the sake of hearing his own voice, as I often find myself doing. I find that when he has something to say, people listen more closely. Most of the lessons I’ve learned from my father have been by example: He does not preach but lives a life that we would all do well to model.

Through my father, I’ve learned how to be a Christian.

The descriptions of God as father have been particularly powerful for me. When in the Scripture Jesus calls God Abba, which I have come to understand as an equivalent to “daddy,” I think of my own father and the safety and comfort his presence brings me even now, as an adult.

I’ve made many decisions keeping in mind the question of how my father would approve. Not always, I admit, but usually I chose the path that would least likely lead to disappointing him. Nothing was more terrible than seeing a look of disappointment in his eyes when I was young and did something wrong. He could have ranted and yelled, could have spanked or threatened to—but no punishment was ever worse than that disappointed look.

When my father was on our church council, he served in the same way he approaches everything in life, with quiet determination and humility. Recently the opportunity has come up for me to take a position on the same council. I’m flattered—and honored to have the chance to follow my father’s example.

Just as my relationship with my earthly father has played a role in my decision-making, I’ve learned to ask God the Father to lead me in my adult life. I’m taking a step out into this new role because I know it’s my Father who has brought me to this place in life and called me to serve, having taught me how to do just that through the blessing of my earthly father’s example.

This week's front page features:


There was always a cake: The changing role of the pastor's spouse. (Photo at right.)

Trial in the wilderness: A clergy spouse finds a space of his own.

Sacred side of jazz: Seattle group records Duke Ellington.

Natural artist: Exhibits put educator in the hall of fame.

Also: Facing 'competition.'

Also: Thanks be to God!

Also: Student musicians get reality check.

Read these articles at our front page > > >


Ben McDonald  Coltvet
Margit Coltvet
Discuss the role of the clergy spouse:


Join Ben McDonald Coltvet (right) and Margit Coltvet to discuss the changing role of the clergy spouse.

Ben said he was aware of his mother Margit's "trial in the wilderness" as he prepared to step into the role of pastor's spouse at a new congregation.

If you're a pastor, or the spouse of a pastor, or simply have thoughts about the role of clergy spouses, please feel free to leave a comment below.

The conversation with Ben and Margit (right) begins on June 12, but readers are welcome to comment anytime!

Consider reading "Trial in the wilderness," "There was always a cake" and "Ways to support the pastor's spouse" before joining in.

Join the conversation > > >

This week on our blog:

Andrea Pohlmann blogs about tough decisions—can life questions be solved in an hour?

Andrea Pohlmann also writes about the home-buying decisions of religious leaders.

Sonia Solomonson takes a look at life in the trenches, sharing her visits to synod assemblies.

Check out our blog > > >

Introducing The Little Lutheran:

We at The Lutheran think it’s important to nurture the faith of the little ones in our midst. We developed The Little Lutheran for toddlers age 6 and younger to help them learn about God’s love for them and the world in which they live. We want them to know Jesus as friend and savior too.

Meet The Little Lutheran > > >

Share your evangelism tips:

Reader George C. Weirick challenged the staff of The Lutheran: "Tell us about programs that work or unusual or new evangelism methods."

Send us your tips via email, with a brief description (two or three paragraphs), along with contact information for those wanting more background.

The staff reviews submissions and publishes the best as a regular item on the “Currents” pages.

Members: Respond online > > >

Subscribe to The Lutheran magazine:

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For only $15.95 you'll receive 12 issues of The Lutheran magazine in your mailbox. You'll also receive access to back issues' articles since 1996 and unlimited study guide downloads (regularly $3.50 each) at www.thelutheran.org.

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November issue

NOVEMBER issue:

The ELCA's aging clergy wave

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