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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

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit

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

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit

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

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit

Articles of interest: