First Third Conversations

What I learned from Max

By Dr. Terri Martinson Elton, Director of the Center for First Third Ministry at Luther Seminary

 We're a week into 2013 and I, like many, use this change in the calendar year as a time to reflect. It can be typical and ordinary in many ways, but I do it faithfully each year. I'm not keen on making resolutions, but know amidst my fast-paced life, I need to stop and create space for discernment.

Discernment for me usually centers around the question, "how am I stewarding my life?", with secondary questions around my time, work, relationships, vocational callings, resources, etc. This year, however, God interrupted my usual pattern.

2012 didn't end very well, and following Christmas I was both overwhelmed and struggling with how to move forward in 2013. Then, for three days between Christmas and New Years, I found myself accompanying a dear friend and ministry colleague, along with his family, through a painful and life-changing journey. Christmas Day their 17-year-old son was playing with his cousins in the snow at grandma and grandpa's house, and suddenly the next day had to be airlifted to a regional hospital. I arrived with him in ICU on life-support fighting for his life. For days people stayed by his side, prayed, shared stories and hoped. The community, both gathered and virtual, was amazing. On day three doctor's did a brain scan, only to discover no brain activity. With more questions than answers, yet a clear path forward, it was time to say good-bye. With tears and heavy hearts, a community of faith prayed Max into God's arms. New Year's Eve hundreds gathered for a memorial service in Minnesota, and the following Saturday hundreds more gathered at his funeral back home in Texas. Three days, three sacred and gut-wrenching days, changed Max's family forever. And they changed me too.

It's too early in the year, and the pain too fresh, to know what the long-term impact of "this year's discernment" will be. But a few things I do know. I know I'll focus less on my weight or my 10k race time. I know I won't be as anxious about meeting work deadlines or about cleaning the house. I know I am hugging my kids more, and caring more about what matters most. And I know something deep inside me changed between celebrating Christ's birth and ringing in the new year. I look forward to the pain subsiding and I hope the family continues to be supported and finds healing. But mostly I hope this journey with Max will challenge not only me, but also others to see the world differently. And, as I do, I hope seeing The world anew will impact me as teacher, mother, spouse, minister and friend.

Friends, God is active in our world, yet I've often missed it because I've been caught up in my own humanness, focusing on the brokenness and unfulfilled promises. But I'm here to tell you, God, Immanuel, is with us. God's in all of our life, and can be found in the world in unexpected places. So, starting 2013, my pray for you, and me, is that God might bless the broken roads we travel...and these broken roads might lead us directly into God's arms.

- Terri

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Terri Elton is passionate about young people and their families, and loves the church. No really! She's our Associate Professor and teaches with an eye toward developing leaders and leading change.

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