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Monday, January 24, 2022

Birthday Girls


Our youngest “child” turns 40 today. I struggle a bit believing that. Age creeps up when we’re not looking. She seems to be embracing this well.

Her birth took place on a Super Bowl Sunday. I was a little nervous, taking my wife to the hospital, that I might miss the Big Game. Okay…fine. I set the VCR before I left home. (You do remember VCRs, right?)

All turned out well. Ingrid Christine arrived in the early morning hours checking in at a mere 10 pounds 2 ounces—the smallest newborn of our three children. Rhonda, my wife, was made to have babies. No painkillers for her. I shudder to think.

Back in the day, the ignominious PeeWee Herman had a program called PeeWee’s Playhouse. That’s before we knew better. Nonethleless, our kids found it funny.

Each night before falling asleep, little Ingrid and I would lie down together and tease each other saying, “You’re PeeWee.” “No…YOU’RE PeeWee!!” We thought it was very funny. And from that, still today, you might catch me occasionally calling her…”PeeWee."

Of course, Ingrid is not alone in having a birthday on January 24th. Years later, while working in radio in Chicago, I paid tribute to my daughter on air for her birthday. A listener who shared the date wrote to me thanking me for the words I had said to my daughter and claimed them for herself as well. Touching.

Fast forward to last week. Via Facebook, I heard from this former listener again. The message connects to my birthday greeting from years before, but with quite an unusual twist.

Writes Kathy, “Hello Mark! You may very well not remember me. I surely was one of yours and Dave’s biggest (radio) fans! I’ve not found anyone who comes close! When I saw a Facebook post of yours pop up recently I was reminded of my birthday that I share with your Princess! I remember driving into work that morning feeling sorry for myself, feeling somewhat forgotten. I told you I was going to commandeer all the beautiful things you were saying for myself. You sent me a lovely card and I always think of you so fondly!”

Radio personalities never truly know how meaningful connections can be. So it was encouraging to hear from Kathy. But then, this…

“As you well know that birthday is rolling around again and for me it appears to be my last. I am with hospice now fighting pancreatic cancer. The doctor has given me about 5 more months. I am at total peace with the entire situation because I have left it all in God’s hands. I know even when I don’t understand His will, or necessarily like His will, I know I can trust His will!!! I’ve already seen miraculous things happen because of this diagnosis. So, I’m perfectly ready to walk the path I’m on.”

Remarkable faith, is it not? Kathy ended with a simple request…

“My two granddaughters are graduating in June and my prayer is that God will allow me to attend. I know it’s a long shot but it’s not too much for God to handle. So I simply ask that you would pray that God would grant this request—an early birthday gift! Thank you, Mark! And a very happy birthday to your Princess!”

I responded to her, agreeing to pray as she requested. And I opened by saying she sent such said news. But she disagreed. Writing back, she wrote, “Oh please don’t think of it as sad. I am so at peace with our Father’s plan.”

What is it that gives such confidence and peace to a person in the face of their departure from this earth? Kathy grasps the power of 2 Corinthians 5:8 which reads, “Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.” (NLT)

Kathy harbors no ill will toward God. She knows He loves her deeply and will bring her safely home. Maybe…by His grace, she’ll “graduate” after her granddaughters in June. I pray it is so.

To both of these special “birthday girls,” may you have a treasured day.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCosyuBzdSh1mXIas_kGY2Aw?

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit www.elfstrandgroup.com


Monday, January 17, 2022

Life is a Beautiful Thing


While a high school junior and living in Sidney, Montana, I was privileged to play the role of Georg Von Trapp in the musical The Sound of Music. For a small community, it became a rather large production. The role of Maria was played by a superb soprano (Beth Petrik). We appeared on a nearby television station and even performed for the governor. Two to three thousand people attended the two performances. What a memory!

The real Maria Von Trapp was quite a woman! Several decades ago, a book was published titled, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. A particularly interesting story was shared about how the family arrived in America while Maria was pregnant with her son, Johannes. He would be the youngest of their ten children. But almost wasn’t.

In this same time period, the Von Trapps were in a financial struggle.

The family had recently lost their fortune in a bank crash in Europe. During her pregnancy, Maria visited a doctor complaining of severe back pains. She was told she needed to abort the baby.

From her book Maria wrote, “Your wife cannot have another child,” the doctor informed Georg, “at least, not until the kidneys are back to normal. They are both badly infected … The child has to be removed, of course, immediately.” As a devout Catholic, this was an unacceptable choice. One she refused to make. The doctor went so far as to say, ‘The child won’t be born alive; this much I can tell you.”

But he was wrong. After much prayer, Johannes was born a healthy American boy. Maria Von Trapp has encouraged families to trust in God when they are facing similar struggles.

A more recent and dramatic story of a life preserved was shared last June in a radio broadcast of the ministry Focus on the Family. It told the story of Claire Culwell. Claire’s birth mom was just 14 years old when she gave birth to a daughter after an abortion procedure took the life of Claire's twin in the womb.

Claire’s birth mom, Tonya Glasby, became pregnant at 13. Obviously, a very scared young girl. But what to do?

Tonya explained, “And so I confided in my best friend Romy and told her…It came down to where I had to tell my mom, the most frightening day of my entire life.” The response from Tonya’s mother was immediate. “We’ve got to get rid of it. We can’t…you cannot do this, you cannot drag our family name through the ground.”

Tonya would indeed go to an abortion clinic to “dispose” of the baby. And then returned to school. But all was not well. She told her friend Romy something was wrong. She still felt “pregnant” — which she was despite not being sexually active.

The first abortion clinic refused to do another procedure as Tonya was too far along. They sent her to Kansas to abort the 20-week-old baby—a twin to the first! But things changed. Tonya decided to give birth and put the baby up for adoption—against her mother’s wishes. This she did. And Claire was given life!

Remarkably, birth mother and daughter were later reunited! God healed the relationship of Claire and her birth mom through a spirit of forgiveness. Both women now boldly speak out for preborn babies. Claire, now married with four children, is also the author of a new book, Survivor: An Abortion Survivor’s Surprising Story of Choosing Forgiveness and Finding Redemption.

Many churches recognize the third Sunday in January as Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. This year, that date fell yesterday—on January 16th. However, a number of churches will mark it on January 23rd because of the anniversary of the famed Roe v Wade decision. (January 22nd)

Chicagoland has many pro-life ministry resources. Support them. You never know whose life you’ll save.

As the Scriptures tell us, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” - Jeremiah 1:5

Life. It’s a beautiful thing.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCosyuBzdSh1mXIas_kGY2Aw?

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit www.elfstrandgroup.com

Articles of interest:

Monday, January 3, 2022

Madden & Eternity


Football legend, broadcaster, and video game pitchman John Madden died last week. He was 85. He died “unexpectedly.” Oddly, it was just a couple of days after a massive tribute to his life was shown on Fox Sports. And the 62nd wedding anniversary of the Maddens.

This man seemed to relish life. And people loved his down home sense of humanity. I had my grudges. His Raiders beat my Vikings in one of their four Super Bowl losses. It’s been forgiven.

John seemed to repeatedly say he had a very good life. He got to do what he wanted to do all the way through: teach. And he was good at it.

I can’t say I know a ton of people who can reflect on their earthly term with such enthusiasm. I’m not sure I can find the masses who even believe 2021 was a very good year. Yet, of course, it was in many ways. Perspective, I suppose.

My playlist last Friday morning, as I rode my exercise bike on New Year’s Eve, included a couple of leftover Christmastime songs that really deal more with snow and such. I have an affection for an old Bing Crosby tune titled "Wonderful White World of Winter." I played that one and chuckled over the lyric about bumping “your little noggin” on the toboggan. Don’t hear that king of thing anymore!

Then I mused over Karen Carpenter’s "What are You Doing New Year’s Eve?" And the classic "Same Auld Lang Syne" along with a Mannheim Steamroller version of the real song. I ended my morning ride with a bit of a twist—"It was a Very Good Year" sung by the master crooner himself, Frank Sinatra.

Weird about that song. I remember hearing it early on in life. It was recorded in 1965. I was 14. And I would note as he sang about aging that I had not even hit the first benchmark—17! Then the final verse begins, “But now my days are short. I’m in the autumn of my years…” Haunting to hear that now. I feel I’ve arrived. Last birthday was #70. Is that “old”? Depends on who you ask.

How old is old? My wife and I go round and round on that. Her maternal grandparents reached 100. Mine lived into their 70s as did my mother. My father died at 55.

Don’t ask Methuselah! The biblical legend lived to age 960. People lived MUCH older back then. Frequently 700-900 years. (I think your 900th birthday usually included a small of group of friends who talked about health issues and memory problems. Has nothing changed?)

Today, if you’re pushing 100 before you’re pushing up daisies you’ve had a LONG life. I can’t imagine my trek lasting that long. Nor do I want it to. I’m already falling apart.

Sergei Scherbov and Warren Sanderson are demographers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. In their recent book, Prospective Longevity: A New Vision of Population Again, they posit that chronological age only reveals how long we’ve lived so far. To determine whether you’ve earned the distinction of “old,” it’s better to consider how many years of life expectancy one has remaining. The demographers call this your “prospective age.”

Their view is that a person should be considered “old” when their life expectancy is 15 years or less. I would put myself in that category. I am unofficially, then, a fossil.

Psalm 90 was a prayer written by Moses. He said, “Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away.” Psalm 90:10 (NLT) It seems King David lived to about 70 years old.

But the real rubber-meets-the-road of John Madden’s famous bus not with the quality of this life, but the next. I know John’s long-time broadcast partner, Pat Summerall, came to trust in Jesus for eternity. I don’t know about John.

He grew up attending Catholic school. And according to one source, “John Madden…has always had Christian ideas and faith.” I hope that’s true, so that the joy he felt in this life will continue into the next.

For the record, John Madden was born in Austin, Minnesota. I wonder if deep down he was a Viking at heart? Hmmmm.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCosyuBzdSh1mXIas_kGY2Aw?

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit www.elfstrandgroup.com

Articles of interest:

Monday, December 27, 2021

2022 Predictions...


What’s ahead in 2022? Wouldn’t we all like to know that? Well…maybe not.

I recall standing in supermarket lines years ago and quickly getting a glimpse of the National Enquirer’s predictions for the coming year. Those who claim to have “the gift” of seeing the future never apologize for all their mistakes. Isn’t that just like humans?

I was able to find a New York Post story where they published the predictions from a “psychic” named John Cohan. He’s been featured doing this for 35 years. Here’s a sampling of his 2022 prognostications – almost all in the entertainment world. Easy pickins’.

• Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney’s feud triggers a fistfight.
• Meghan Markle and the once-very royal Prince Harry have a trial separation. He’s welcomed back home.
• Judge Judy stars in a movie as an actress.

A word to the wise…don’t hold your breath on ANY of that.

A bit more realistic would be the tech-related ones put forth by Wired magazine about our very near future. These were offered by the magazine’s editor about two weeks ago. His bottom line prediction: The future will be increasingly ... synthetic.

Exactly what does that mean? He envisions “computer-generated movie actors, lab-grown meat, virtual worlds, augmented-reality overlays, organisms whose genetic code was written by humans instead of evolved by natural selection, stories and artworks created by AI instead of humans, decisions on where to go and what to buy and how to live shaped by algorithms that anticipate our desires—or reshape them. A future in which the question ‘What is real?’ takes on a whole new meaning.” Wow. And that’s all in just one sentence!!

You can find horoscope predictions for those who follow astrology (I don’t), financial and weather predictions, plus a number of sports predictions, including the candidates for the 2022 Heisman award!
Many of us are fascinated to see into the future. People pressed Jesus on that issue as well. 

In Matthew 24:4-14 (ESV), Jesus lays out what must first take place. He said, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.”

What else? Jesus tells us: “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away[a] and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

There’s more. Keep reading in Matthew 24. The siren is sounding in these times. Prepare to meet the King!

Happy New Year! We don’t know what the future holds, but we know WHO holds the future!

Monday, December 20, 2021

Christmas: Love? Hate?


A really good headline should immediately draw you into a story. And so it was when breezing through my liberal-leaning Washington Post teasers I came across this: "Why I Hate Christmas." The hook was planted.

Brian Broome, the opinion writer of this piece, is the author of Punch Me Up to the Gods. To spare you searching, this book (according to a New York Times reviewer) “is a coming-of-age story that explores Black manhood and queerness in the Rust Belt." I won’t go further as that is not what the focus is of my blog.

Instead, it’s Broome’s distaste — even disgust—for what Andy Williams and a gaggle of others consider “the most wonderful time of the year.” So what is Broome’s problem? In a sentence, it’s that the Christmas season never lives up to the hype.

I can certainly sympathize with his irritation over commercials that sell a more blessed Christmas can be had with expensive jewelry or a new SUV. Only the blindest among us cannot discern that advertisers haven’t grasped the message of the Christ child. The satirist Stan Freberg hit the nail on the head when he composed his classic "Green Christmas” parody, which hit the radio waves in 1958.

Freberg had Scrooge heading up an ad agency. His team had found “innovative” ways to tie advertiser products into Christmas. Speaking up was Bob Cratchit, owner of a spice company. Bob’s firm intended to send Christmas cards with a simple message of "Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men." Scrooge would have none of that.

Admittedly, most advertisers today would reject that simple peace premise. Sending joy to the world is best tied into a Visa or MasterCard promotion. Amazon deliveries, we’re told, can bring joy as well.

Mr. Broome tells us that he came from a Christian family. He admits to recognizing the significance surrounding the birth of Christ. In fact, he actually played a camel in a church Christmas play one year.

But then…we hear the grudge factor. Gifts under the tree were necessities, such as a scarf, new mittens, or socks. And heaven forbid, as he writes, “the dreaded underpants.” (For the record, I’ve never received or chosen to give underwear to anyone at Christmas. It would be at the “bottom” of my list.) Apparently all the better gifts went to the more fortunate.

Broome even disses his family Christmas tree! Hear his grief as he sees it “glowing bright in the middle of the living room (as) a beacon to disappointment.” At this point, even Santa considered resigning!

This may seem a bit harsh, but Christians are part and parcel of the problem. Many of us among the so-call “faithful” jump into the shopping fray around (or before) Black Friday. We play lots of Christmas music that drifts far apart from the hymns that teach the theology of the coming Christ. Our kids are often led to believe that behavior earns them presents from the watchful eye of a jolly fictionalized guy.

In spite of these distortions, we don’t need to “hate” Christmas. We need to redeem the occasion as a celebration of hope and joy and peace. When the world sees more of that from Christ followers, maybe the things of earth will grow strangely dim.

The birth of Jesus arrived with a promise: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21 (ESV)

Mr. Broome has lost sight of the amazing gift Jesus brings—the willingness to forgive the worst of sinners who come to Him by faith. Miss that and your Christmas glass is half empty. Embrace the gift, and your Christmas glass will overflow.

God bless us. Every one. And Merry Christmas!

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCosyuBzdSh1mXIas_kGY2Aw?

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit www.elfstrandgroup.com

Articles of interest:

Monday, December 13, 2021

Duly Recognized


Are you a fan of awards shows? I’m talking about those programs like the Emmys, Academy Awards, the Grammy Awards, the Tony Awards, etc, etc. One source listed 46 different awards programs that have been held over the last five years. The list includes beauty pageants and sports awards shows along with the entertainment field.

Frankly, I don’t watch any of them. I used to. But I’ve found over the years that award winners are often ones I don’t recognize or believe should have won. Also, program content has shifted to more offensive language, visuals, and political agendas. Forget a simple set of winner announcements.

One of the awards programs held this past week was what is called the People's Choice Awards. When these were first announced in 1975, the winners were people from the entertainment world determined by the Gallup polling organization. Since 2005, online voting provides us the winners. There were originally14 categories. Today, there are 74! And they include awards for talent in music, television, movies, and pop culture.

Some consider the Peoples Choice Awards to be the biggest pop culture event of the year. With online voting determining winners, it could be better said that this is the biggest popularity contest of the year. Somehow, Justin Bieber snagged 10 nominations! This made him the most nominated male artist of the night.

Once again, many of the names of these “popular people” I did not recognize. Glad I didn’t have to vote. Winners included Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson — the People’s Champion Award. Luca was chosen as the Family Movie of the Year. And Loki was named the “choice” TV Show of 2021.

Oddly, in looking over the “big list” of awards shows, I found at least one missing: the Dove Awards for Christian musical artists. Bill Gaither started up this ceremony in 1969. But the third annual results were deemed invalid because of claims of ballot stuffing by the southern gospel group the Blackwood Brothers. Apparently their “popularity” required a bit of help!

The business world is always ready to reward achievers. There is something about recognition that motivates us to do more. Marketers have all kinds of gimmicks.

Celebrating team members isn’t just a matter of achievement. Workers are equally impressed when they are shown appreciation. Lack of same is one of the major reasons why employees will leave jobs.

I found one website offering, “105 Unique Gifts for Employees that Will Boost Morale & Show Appreciation in 2021.” One sure to be a hit was “a beautiful gift box stuffed with high quality sweets, healthy snacks, and wine paired perfectly.” I kind of liked the Sherpa blanket with the company logo. And how about a “power-pack of branded tech gear, including a rubberized powerbank, spot pro Bluetooth tracker, charging cable, PowerBuds, and a custom greeting card.” Oooh. Maybe that would help me perform even better! 

A lot of things on this list were Christmas time suggestions. I think gift cards and cash also send a pretty good message. (And you won’t find these at garage sales.)

Financial guru Dave Ramsey is well known for throwing lavish Christmas parties to show appreciation for his employees. In December of last year, he decided to make his event a “maskless” celebration. Not everyone “appreciated” that.

Bestselling author Dr. Gary Chapman followed up his famed Five Love Languages book with a variation titled: the 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

His list:

  • Words of Affirmation – uses words to affirm people
  • Acts of Service – actions speak louder than words
  • Receiving Gifts – people like things to feel appreciated
  • Quality Time – giving someone undivided attention
  • Physical Touch – appropriate touch (pats on the back)

Our need for recognition and appreciation in life will always leave us wanting more. Best to appreciate your value in light of who you are in God’s sight.

I like the way the Amplified Bible translates 1 John 1:3. It reads, “See what an incredible quality of love the Father has shown to us, that we would [be permitted to be] named and called and counted the children of God! And so we are!”

And so we are. Faith in Christ gives us all the recognition we truly need!

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCosyuBzdSh1mXIas_kGY2Aw?

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit www.elfstrandgroup.com

Articles of interest:

Monday, December 6, 2021

The 12 Scams of Christmas


I suppose crazy stunts have always been with us. Maybe since the beginning of time. (Who was the first earthling to pull somebody’s chair out before they sat down?) People love to play practical jokes. Or jump on board to test the limits of risky behavior. 

In my high school days, there was the “stuff the VW Beetle Challenge.” I’m sure that’s not the official title, but that was the objective. I never tried it.

But for the record — specifically the Guinness record — “The most people crammed into an old style VW Beetle is 20 and was achieved by the Asbury University Emancipation Project at the Lexington Rescue Mission in Lexington, Kentucky, on 9 December 2010.” A 1964 Beetle was used to draw attention to human trafficking.

So there you go. More recently, there was “gallon challenge” and the “cinnamon challenge.” And the famed “Tide Pod Challenge” by which you munch your way to a cleaner but possibly deadlier stomach. Well, okay, some were merely cooking them in frying pans, then chewing them up before spewing the soap from their mouths. Sheesh. 

But 2021 might be remembered for the rise of the popular Milk Crate Challenge. How does this work, you may ask? Participants walk precariously up a pyramid of milk crates, step by step, inching closer to…? The end could be a claim to greatness or, quite possibly, a trip to a hospital emergency room.

According to the Washington Post, when the victim lands, “throngs of people who’ve helped make the social media spectacle known as the Milk Crate Challenge into the latest viral phenomenon, proceed to sing a chorus of ‘oh!’ and ‘ah!’ as the pyramid collapses and a person’s body painfully lands on a milk crate or the ground.” The dangerous act can then be viewed by millions.

While practical jokes and stunts like those above had their own risks and dangers, it usually only involves a very limited group. Not so with the more troubling scams of our time. And Christmas season seems to bring out the worst of them. 

You’ve heard of the Twelve Days of Christmas? The Better Business Bureau has published the 12 Scams of Christmas to watch out for this season. 

Some general counsel from the BBB explains that many scams of the holiday season come to you through emails and social media platforms. Especially social media. Look out for “ads about discounted items, event promotions, job opportunities, and donation requests, as well as direct messages from strangers.” Make no payment or donation by wire or e-transfer, through third parties. Ignore requests for prepaid debit or gift cards.

So here are several of the naughties on the BBB Christmas Scammers list;

  • Social Media Gift Exchanges: A newer version of this scam revolves around exchanging bottles of wine; Another twist asks you to submit your email into a list where participants get to pick a name and send money to strangers to "pay it forward." There is even a twist about "Secret Santa Dog" where you buy a $10 gift for your "secret dog.”

  • Alerts About Compromised Accounts: Reports received about a con claiming your Amazon, Paypal, Netflix, or bank account has been compromised. Victims receive an email, call, or text message that explains that there has been suspicious activity on one of their accounts, and it further urges them to take immediate action to prevent the account from being compromised. Be extra cautious about unsolicited calls, emails, and texts. 

  • Fake Charities: Due to COVID-19, many organizations cancelled their usual fundraising events and are now inviting donors to support online. Donors are advised to look out for fraudulent charities and scammers pretending to be individuals in need. Avoid impromptu donation decisions to unfamiliar organizations. Where possible, donate to the charity through their website and use a credit card. 

  • Puppy Scams: Many families, especially those with children, may be considering adding a furry friend to their household this year. However, you could fall victim to a pet scam, which are on the rise this year. Request to see the pet in person before making a purchase.

Proverbs 21:6 warns, “The acquisition of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death.” (NASB)

Need I say more?


That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCosyuBzdSh1mXIas_kGY2Aw?

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit www.elfstrandgroup.com

Articles of interest: