First Third Conversations


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

Yesterday was a cold brisk morning and I spent the day biking around Minneapolis and St. Paul. Why? Because I wanted to join thousands of family, friends and neighbors cheer on runners of the Twin Cities marathon. For 26.2 miles, runners young and old, with various approaches and attire, ran; some ran in groups, others ventured alone. And we, the spectators, did whatever we could to offer energy, encouragement and motivation. I’d like to believe that in some way, our presence mattered to them.

I entered the day hoping to give to others, but I ended the day having received a gift. Physically my hands and feet were numb much of the day, but emotionally I was overwhelmed with admiration.  As each participant ran by I wondered about their story. Why run a marathon? Why this one? Why now? You see people don’t run marathons by accident; everyone has a goal, some reason to participate, and it’s usually personal. And marathoners imagine this day for months as they train and prepare. Mornings they don’t want to run, they do it anyway. Days their body hurts, they still hit the pavement for another day of training. (I know because I’ve been living with someone in training for months.) And now the day is here. They are doing it. Some recognize this reality during the race, and you can see the joy on their face, even midst their pain. (In fact yesterday I saw several tears up at mile 26 as the finish line was within reach.) Others only come to know it only after the fact. (After the muscles heal and the itch to run starts again!) But yesterday from my vantage point, at the various mile markers, I was in awe, admiring each and every one of them in their journey.

Still pondering these thoughts I ended my day with another experience of admiration. A friend posted on CaringBridge another update on her husband’s journey with a brain tumor. The last one was hopeful, this one less so. “Frustrated” was the word she used, but I could tell in her tone frustration was only the tip of the iceberg. This journey has been long, and there’s no training or preparation one can do before or during it. You can’t put “the day” on the calendar and there are few mile markers to guide the way. Yes, there are people supporting along the road, but there stretches of the road where the chorus of prayers are silent. And from her post, her closing thoughts, I discovered my word for the day. Gratitude. Gratitude comes from within, from our perspective. Gratitude is a powerful thing which not only changes our way of seeing, but infects others as well. Gratitude comes as we see what’s in front of us in new ways which take us deeper into the moment. Yes, there is beauty in agony and promise in despair.

My friend ends her post grateful, even in the midst of frustration, claiming to be blessed. And she invites us, the readers and supporters, to join her, pointing to a link. Today, I end with her sentiments. I too am blessed. And I too want to participate in this movement of gratitude. And I challenge you to join. One way to start is by taking 10 minutes and watching Louie Schwartzberg’s TEDtalk on Gratitude.

- 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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