Keeping the 5th

In my last post (in addition to announcing my pending retirement from Mayo Clinic as of August 3) I paid tribute to my recently deceased father-in-law, Leonard Wacholz.

Today I want to honor my father and my mother, who are still very much with us and have been my most important sources of support and encouragement for more than 58 years (although Lisa has taken the lead in that regard for the last 40.)

Instead of Taking the 5th (Amendment), today I want to Keep the 5th (Commandment).

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are good occasions that cause us to reflect on our parents and their roles in our lives, and hopefully to spur us to gratitude.

I want to honor Lewis and LaVonne Aase today not because of a Hallmark trigger, but more spontaneously.

Eulogies (literally “good words”) should be spoken about the living, not just those who have finished their races.

Some people would say I’m privileged. I think a better word is blessed. In either case the benefits are undeserved and unearned. I didn’t choose my parents. Saying I’m blessed not only honors my father and mother, but also Our Father who gave me to them and them to me.

Here are just a few of the ways they have been a blessing to me, to my brother Mark and to our extended (and extensive) family.

  • They have demonstrated their love not only in words, but in concrete actions. For example, when Lisa and I moved six times in our first six years of marriage, our parents were there to help us move. Every time. That’s love.
  • They have modeled grace to us. Mark and I have both done things we came to regret. While there was never any question in the moment as to whether Dad and Mom approved, the consequences we experienced were better than we deserved. And when we came to our senses they didn’t hold our previous errors against us. They taught us the Law and showed us the Gospel.
  • Mom particularly modeled practical repentance. When her perfectionist tendencies caused her to occasionally overreact to something the men in her life did, she was quick to apologize and ask our forgiveness. Her willingness to admit mistakes made it easier for us to do the same.
  • They have lived out the practical implications of their Christian faith in their vocations. Mom worked as a geriatric nurse, caring for vulnerable aging patients and residents, and Dad was an elementary school principal whose continuing question in running school programs was, “What’s best for the kids?”
  • Dad has been relentless in developing and pushing helpful innovations. Some have been in his work and in areas of his direct responsibility, such as finding ways for younger students who weren’t keeping up academically to participate in the decision to take another year in a grade so they wouldn’t fall further and further behind. He also co-founded a mathematics challenge program called Math Masters in Austin, Minn. in 1989 that has grown throughout the state and continued to this day. You should read about it.
  • They’re faithful members of their church, contributing their time, talents and treasure and actively caring for members of the church body.
  • They’ve been active in other community improvement efforts. Dad’s been a Guardian ad Litem and mentor, and served Meals on Wheels until he broke his hip a couple of years ago. Even now, at 90, he is writing letters to elected officials suggesting that a program to have police officers visit elementary schools would be a constructive solution to the current societal unrest.

I could go on, and in the series on My Career Journey and My Faith Journey their ongoing influences will be a recurring theme.

Dad and Mom have striven to follow Jesus Christ in their life’s calling, in humble reliance on the Holy Spirit, and bearing His fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

They remain an inspiration to me and to many others, and a reminder that we are blessed to be a blessing.

I thank God for them.

Retiring from Mayo Clinic, Embracing Elderhood

My last day of work at Mayo Clinic will be one month from today, as I will be retiring August 3 to begin my third career.

I’m excited about what’s ahead, even as I look back fondly on more than 21 years of amazing experiences at Mayo Clinic and also on the chapters before April 2000 that prepared me for my Mayo career.

I started a series here on my blog in January 2020 to tell the story of My Health Journey, sharing what Lisa and I had learned over the previous three years that I thought others might find helpful.

Today I’m starting two more: My Career Journey and My Faith Journey.

Instead of a three-year scope I’ll be reflecting on more than a half-century of life experiences, but with the same goal: sharing stories and insights you might find interesting and that may lead to beneficial applications in your life.

Three factors spurred me to start these series: Chip Conley’s concept of modern elderhood, my renewed focus on old-fashioned Elderhood and our recent loss of Lisa’s dad.

As I wrote in Is 58 Halftime?, Chip Conley’s presentation two years ago challenged me to consider what my career contribution might be over the next 25 or 30 years, and how it would look different from my last few decades.

That led to some personal retooling, including getting my MBA, and also my decision to notify my division and department leaders on May 3 of my plans to retire from Mayo Clinic. As the series on My Career Journey progresses, I look forward to sharing news about what’s next for me, but before that I will begin my modern elder role by sharing earlier career stories and insights, including what mentors have helped me to learn. 

But I’m not just a modern elder: I’m a traditional one, too. Since 2010 I have been a Ruling Elder at Trinity Presbyterian Church, a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), in Rochester, Minn. I’ve just returned from attending the PCA’s 48th General Assembly in St. Louis. As I move into my third career, I want to dedicate more of my time and effort into this role, and in the My Faith Journey series I will share deeper “meaning of life” reflections.

The death of my father-in-law, Leonard Wacholz, on June 17 is my other motivation for starting these series. As I wrote in his obituary, Leonard was blessed with a long and relatively healthy life and was able to live at home on the farm until his last three months. His three children and 13 grandchildren (as well as us in-laws in both generations) have vivid and precious memories of Leonard, but for his 19 great-grandchildren (plus one on the way in October) the recollections will necessarily be fuzzier.

In his last weeks, as dementia was affecting his ability to speak and his short-term memory, we were amazed at some things Leonard could recall from 60, 70 or even 80 years ago. We know Leonard had a deep faith in Jesus and didn’t fear death, and so as the apostle Paul wrote, we don’t grieve “as those who have no hope.” But one of the hardest parts of losing him – besides the experience of his love, warmth and kindness – is that we’ve lost touch with those memories of his, and that we can’t ask him about them anymore. 

Through the series on My Career Journey and My Faith Journey, whatever good they may or may not do for others, I’ll be capturing memories – and hopefully wielding wisdom well – for my children and grandchildren.

And, Lord willing, through the changes Lisa and I have made as outlined in My Health Journey, we hope to also enjoy time with our children’s children’s children. 

I hope My Career Journey and My Faith Journey will be helpful to you, too.