Category Archives for "memories"

Ice Breaker – Earliest Childhood Memory

childhood memory ice breaker

Each week on The Stretched Blog, I ask an ice breaker question. The questions are designed to help us get to know each other here in The Stretched Community. I’ll provide my answer to the question here in the post, and then you can leave your response in the comments. While you’re in the comments section, see how others answered the ice breaker question.

(I’m always looking for Ice Breaker question ideas.  If you have an idea, send me an email at  If I use your question, I’ll give you credit and share your links.)

This week’s Stretched Ice Breaker is inspired by a question we have been talking about in our house this past week.  It’s been interested to hear our kids responses, and I’m looking forward to reading your response.

Question:  What is your earliest childhood memory?

My Answer:  If I try to remember my early childhood, I go back to my family’s first house on Illini Drive in Carol Stream, Illinois.  We lived in this house until I was 5 years old.  I remember birthday parties, climbing the big willow tree in the backyard, climbing in the attic of the dog house, and playing with my friends, Mark and Debbie.  I remember playing my Dad’s snare drum, making blanket trains in the living room, and setting up a Matchbox car track from the living room down the hallway.  I remember our dog, Snickers, licking empty ice cream containers in the kitchen, and I remember riding my bike for the first time without training wheels.  One of my earliest childhood memories though is when my brother, David, was born and came home from the hospital.  I don’t remember any of the particulars, but I remember things changing in the house as we all adjusted to his arrival.  I would have been 2 1/2 when he was born.

Answer this week’s ice breaker question by leaving a comment. I look forward to reading your response! (As always, feel free to share links.) And keep Stretching!

Visiting Grandma

Last night, I had the honor and blessing of visiting Grandma in Illinois.

My grandmother turned 93 years old in April.  I wrote about our last visit in a previous post.  She’s definitely a special woman.

Her health has continued to slip, and her memory is failing which is frustrating for someone who skipped to grades of school and is often referred to as the family genius.

When I arrived at her home (which is now a nursing home), the entire residence was in the middle of a tornado warning.  All the residents were lined up in the hallway in their wheelchairs with the doors closed to their rooms.  It appeared that they were getting ready for some type of wheelchair NASCAR race.  As I rounded the corner into the hallway, I was initially concerned that I might have trouble finding Grandma.  But I quickly found her lined up with the other residents eating a “Blackhawk” cookie.  (The Stanley Cup Finals started last night, and they were giving the residents “Blackhawk” cookies to help them celebrate the home team – the Chicago Blackhawks.)

She kind of smiled at me as we started to talk.  I asked her how she was doing, and I explained that I was in town for a business trip to my company’s home office.  After talking for a few minutes, she looked up at me and asked:  “What’s your name?”  The more recent year’s have clearly been unkind to Grandma’s memory.  Once I told her that I was her grandson, Jon, she seemed to spring to life as she pulled some information from the murky corridors of her brain.

Eventually, the tornado warning let up, and we went into her room where we could sit and talk.  We talked about Swedish Christmas food and about our family which is now spread from Guam to Pennsylvania and from Texas to Wisconsin.  We talked about Grandpa who passed away over six years ago and about the church where my grandparents used to be so active.  Some of the details came out clear and some were a bit cloudy.  Despite some of the confusion, it was amazing to me to see Grandma’s faith which has remained steadfast through the ups and downs of life and through the current physical and mental failings that seem to accelerate in more recent years.

Grandma has a hope for heaven.  She has a clear confidence in God.  She prays for her family – especially that they would follow Jesus.  Above her bed, she has a photo family tree that allows her to show off her two kids, seven grandchildren, and fifteen great-grandchildren (if I did the math correctly).  This photo collage also serves as her reminder to pray for each one of us.

Our visit contained laughs, smiles, some silent moments, and even a couple of tears.  As I left to return to my hotel, I told Grandma that I loved her, and I explained that I would see her next month when our family makes a swing through the Midwest on our vacation.  I’m not sure if she’ll remember our visit.  And I guess it doesn’t really matter.  For a couple of hours last night, I hope I brightened her day.  I know she brightened mine.

What is special about your grandma?

How To Celebrate Thanksgiving – 5 Ideas To Transform Your Holiday

November has been designated as the month for thanksgiving thanks to the holiday that falls towards the end of the month.  While I’d love to see thanksgiving be better represented the rest of the year, I can also tell you that our family probably concentrates more on giving thanks during this month than other months in the year.  (Note:  The picture above was taken this April at the Thanksgiving Square Chapel in Dallas, TX.)

Here is a list of several ideas which could help enhance your Thanksgiving experience.

  1. Run or walk at a Turkey Trot.Last year, I did the Thanksgiving Marathon in NYC which might be considered a little overboard.  Why not get out and run or walk a community 5K?  Many towns across the country have started their own Turkey Trot.  My wife and kids have run one in Latrobe, PA several times.  The races are always fun, and it makes the turkey taste so much better later that day.
  2. Invite someone over for dinner.  My guess is that you live near someone who is missing out on family.  They are lonely, and they may not have to means to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving meal.  Why not invite them over to your house?  Usually, there are more than enough leftovers to go around after the Thanksgiving feast, and we can always put an extra chair around the table.
  3. Go out and serve.  There are hundreds of opportunities around your community.  The church in my hometown used to hold a Community Thanksgiving Day meal where our family served a couple of times.  This was a great way for my parents to demonstrate that Thanksgiving was so much more than turkey and football.  We had the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need.  Why not find a place to serve with your family this Thanksgiving season?  (If you’re in the Perkiomen Valley area, consider joining our H.O.P.E. group.  We gather together twice a month to serve others in our community.  You can find out more about the group by going to our Facebook page (HOPEontheway).
  4. Start a Thanksgiving tradition.  For over ten years, our family has been using the same tablecloth for our Thanksgiving dinner.  The tablecloth is white.  Each year, those in attendance trace their hand onto the tablecloth using different colored fabric markers.  Then in each of the five fingers, we write down something for which we’re thankful along with our name and the year.  The tablecloth is now filled with names of grandparents who are no longer with us and with years of thanksgiving.  As we look at the table each year, it gives us to reflect on how God has blessed us even through years of challenge.  Why not start a new tradition this year in your home?  Go buy a tablecloth and some fabric markers today!
  5. Make it Thank You Thursday every week.  Matt McWilliams is a friend of mine from the blogging community.  A couple of months ago, Matt wrote about starting a Thank You Thursday Revolution.  In his post, he encouraged readers to write a handwritten Thank You note each Thursday.  Since his post, I’ve been writing a note every week to put into the mailbox of a co-worker.  It’s been remarkable to see the reaction.  We don’t need to be thankful one Thursday of the year.  Why not join the Thank You Thursday Revolution today?  It will change your world and the world of those around you!

This is a start!  What other ideas can you add to the list?  How do you celebrate Thanksgiving?  How can do you plan to transform your holiday?

I Remember When…Urbana ’90

I remember when I went to Urbana ’90.

What’s Urbana?  I can hear you asking.

Urbana is a missions conference sponsored by Intervarsity.  The conference takes place every three years between Christmas and New Years on the campus of the University of Illionois in Urbana/Champagne, Illinois.  The conference is specifically geared towards college students, and the conference is designed to challenge students to consider missions.

I actually had the opportunity to go to this conference twice – once in 1990 during my freshmen year in college and once in 1993 during my senior year in college.  I have great memories of both times.  In a way, Urbana ’93 came at a more critical time in my life as I was processing what to do after graduation.  Maybe I’ll share more about that in another post.

Urbana ’90 was an eye-opening experience.  In a way, it felt like I was being thrust into a more adult existence during this conference as I faced big issues and wrestled through challenging topics with other students.  My dad was there, but I didn’t seem him often as he stayed in a different dorm and participated in different activities geared towards pastors.  At Urbana ’90, I stayed with three other friends from my home town in Mt. Holly, NJ – Andy Travis, Paul Braun, and James Harton (pictured above).

Together, the four of us spent the conference listening to great speakers, worshiping with 20,000 other college students, talking to missionaries in the exhibit hall, and debriefing in a small group in the dorm (with the guy standing behind us in the picture).  In between all these activities, we walked around the snowy University of Illinois campus.

One of my favorite speakers from Urbana ’90 was Isaac Canales (funny that my son is named Isaac).  His message was hilarious, but it was also powerful in challenging my heart.  I can’t find a video feed of the message, but I found another video of Pastor Canales that features some of the same elements of his message at Urbana.  If you have a few minutes, you’ll enjoy listening to Isaac Canales:

It’s kind of interesting that none of us became full-time missionaries.  Andy is a scientist, Paul is a professor at the University of Illinois, James is a musician, and I’m an engineer/manager.  I think the term missionary carries a certain expectation that can miss the mark.  When we hear the word missionary, we expect to hear about someone who has gone overseas and who works full-time for a missions organization serving others and spreading the Word of God.  God can still use us right where we are.  We can be missionaries in our neighborhoods, in our places of employment, and in our other activities.  I think this must be one of the messages that I came away with when I left Urbana.

As I remember this conference which took place over 20 years ago, I’m thankful for the springboard towards missions that took place.  I still have an interest in missions overseas, but I’ve also realized that God calls us to be missionaries right where we live and work.  You can read some of my thoughts on this in my post:  Where Is Your Xenacoj?  Missions has definitely become a focus in our family, and I’m looking forward to seeing where God takes us as we continue to serve Him.

If you are a college student, I would highly recommend that you check out Urbana.  The next one is coming up this year – Urbana 12!  For more information, click here.  (I just discovered that the conference is now held in St. Louis, Missouri – still worth the drive!)

Have you ever been to a conference that changed your world?  Tell us about it.

I Remember When…My First Kiss

I remember when I kissed a girl for the first time.

No, I won’t go into all the details here.  That’s between her and me.

Yesterday was the 19th anniversary of my first kiss.  If you do the math that’s not long after I met my wife, Leanne.  Yep!  I’ve only kissed one girl, and it’s my wife.

19 years ago, we stopped at Subway in Grove City, PA after church and picked up lunch for a picnic at McConnell’s Mills.  After parking our car at the park, we walked down toward the river and found a nice spot on a rock right on the river.  It was here that we spent some time eating lunch and talking.  And eventually, it happened – the first kiss.

Like I said earlier, the details are for Leanne and me.  But let me just say, it was great!  And yes, it was worth the wait.  I’ll leave it at that.

I recall coming back to campus at Grove City College after dropping Leanne off at her dorm.  I felt like I was floating.  I came back to my dorm room which was filled with guys from my hall watching Sunday afternoon football.  One of my buddies figured it out – must have been the smile on my face.  Later that night, I was in the Hicks Dining Hall for dinner, and I was still floating.  At one point, I was obviously not paying attention to what I was doing.  I dropped my tray as I was interacting with one of Leanne’s friends.  Embarrassing, but it didn’t matter.  I had still had one of the best days of my life.

And that’s how I remember when I had my first kiss.

Do you remember your first kiss?  Who did you kiss?  Where did you share your first kiss?

I Remember When…I Met My Friend Brian

I remember when I met my friend, Brian.

When I was a freshman in high school, one of my classes was AP English with Mrs. Roszek.  This class was 8th period every day with some of the brightest students from my class.  My high school was made up of students from five different sending districts, so the first year of high school was a lot about meeting new classmates and about getting used to being in a much bigger environment.

The first week of English class, there was one kid in English class who stuck out.  He was not from one of the sending district schools.  Apparently, he was moving into the area to start his freshmen year of high school.  One thing that sticks out in my mind (and we still joke about this) is that Brian alternated between his ROTC uniform and coordinated JAMS shorts and shirts.  I don’t remember Brian being shy in class as he jumped right in on discussions about whatever topic we were covering in class.

One topic where he was more quiet and I was certainly more vocal was the week or so that we covered Biblical literature.  I’m not sure if this is still covered in the public high school setting or not, but our class spent a couple of weeks reading and discussing the Bible.  As a pastor’s kid, this was my place to shine.  I was the one who knew all the answers to the questions that came up during this week.

Not too long after school started, a family moved in across the street from my house.  I’m not sure what I was up to that day, but I wasn’t at home.  My out-going brother, David, was home though when this new family moved in, and he made sure to go over and introduce himself.  The family had an older son who had just started high school.  David told him that he had a brother who just started high school.  David invited the new guy over to our house for a drink and to show him a picture of me.  And it soon became apparent that this new boy knew who I was.

We still laugh today at the reaction we each had to this initial meeting.  It was Brian’s family who moved in across the street.  He thought, “Oh no, the Bible geek lives across the street from me.”  And my reaction was probably just as amusing, “Oh no, the ROTC/JAMS nerd from English class lives across the street from me.”

It wasn’t long before those thoughts were forgotten.  Brian and I became fast friends as we walked to the bus stop together everyday for four years.  Soon we were playing catch and running around the neighborhood together in preparation for cross-country season.  Brian was always much faster than me, but he allowed me to tag along none the less.  We would wear ourselves out on hot summer days and end up in his swimming pool practicing our “dives” and talking about the ups and downs of high school life.

Somewhere along the line, I invited Brian to youth group at my church.  He couldn’t make it to Sunday morning church as he was typically working at McDonald’s, but he became a regular and active part of the youth group (we called it SYNC – Senior Youth Nurturing in Christ).  We had a blast doing all kinds of fun things together over these four years, and I could barely scratch the surface on everything we did.

One thing that will always stick out in my memory is the note that Brian wrote to me at the end of our last missions trip together the summer before we went to college.  I don’t have the wording exactly right, but Brian’s note said something like “Jon, I want to thank you for your friendship over the years, but mostly I want to thank you for introducing me to Christ.”  Whoa!  I still tear up when I think about it.

Over the years, we have remained good friends.  We don’t see each other often enough as he lives in North Jersey a couple of hours away from my home.  But we still go camping together every Memorial Day weekend with a couple other guys, and our families still get together every August for another family camping trip.  It’s been fun to see him grow and to see our friendship continue as our families have grown and as we faced the challenges of life.

This summer during our family camping trip, Brian’s standing in the back on the right side.

Last night, I had the blessing of meeting up with Brian for dinner.  I’m up in the North Jersey area for a few days of meetings, and it worked out perfect.  We talked and talked for what seemed like minutes but was actually a few hours.  We remembered old times, but we mostly caught up on our families, and we wrestled out loud about some of the things we were dealing with recently.  And our get together made me remember when…I met my friend Brian.

How has friendship changed your life?  How did you meet one of your good friends?  Do you still keep in touch with any of your friends from high school?


I Remember When…I Dunked In A Game

I remember when I dunked in a basketball game.

When I was in junior high, I developed a love for the game of basketball.  I wasn’t even close to being one of the taller kids in the class at the time, and I hadn’t played organized basketball before.  But I signed up for the team anyway, and I made my way onto the “B” team my sixth grade year.  That year along with the other two years in junior high, I played guard.  My seventh grade year, I actually made the “A” team.  And I saw limited playing time for a team that eventually won the league championship.  In eighth grade, I started for the team as one of the guards although I may have also had playing time as a forward.

In high school, I didn’t go out for the team.  I was intimidated by the size of the upperclassmen and other taller kids in my class.  If I’m honest, I was also afraid of getting cut from the team.  I still loved the game.  I followed the Philadelphia 76ers fairly closely, and I started to follow the playing career of Michael Jordan.  I dreamed of being able to dunk the basketball someday especially late in high school as I finally began to grow.  Throughout high school, I continued to play pick up games whenever I had the chance.

When I arrived at Grove City College, I was placed in the section of the freshmen dorms where most of the basketball players lived.  I’m not sure if that was meant to further intimidate me or to spur me on to play more basketball.  I played a lot of pickup basketball games in the school gym, and I eventually started playing on intramural teams for my housing group.  As college progressed, I kept trying to dunk.  I could throw a tennis ball down fairly easily, but I struggled to palm the basketball and get high enough to actually throw down a slam.

Through the encouragement of friends, I started lifting – doing toe raises whenever possible.  Meanwhile, I kept trying to dunk.  Eventually, I got to the point where I could inch the ball over the rim.  It wasn’t a solid slam, but it was close enough at the time.  As I kept practicing, I realized that I would have to work a lot harder if I was going to get high enough and coordinated enough to actually put one down in one of the intramural games.

And so I worked, and worked, and worked some more.  I kept practicing.  I persevered and persisted until I consistently could dunk in warm ups.  My teammates knew I was getting close, and they kept talking about trying to set me up for a slam in a game.

The game finally arrived in the middle of my senior year.  Leanne was at the game as a spectator and as my girlfriend.  Somewhere in the middle of the game, the moment arrived.  Our team stole the ball, and I jumped in front of the other team on a fast break.  My teammate fed me the ball.  A few more dribbles and I was near the hoop.  As I picked up the ball, I stretched towards the basket.  With two hands, I threw the ball through the hoop, and I grabbed on to the rim.  I hung on the rim for a second or two to make sure I didn’t get undercut my the chasing players and to enjoy the moment.  As I let go of the rim, I fell to the floor landing on my to feet as the crowd went wild.

The moment was surreal.  I remember feeling as though I was floating as I ran back down the court and prepared to play defense.  What a feeling!

And that’s how I remember when I first dunked in a game.

Do you have an athletic accomplishment that sticks in your head?  Tell us about it by leaving a comment.

[There’s still time to win a copy of Kingdom Journeys by Seth Barnes.  Check out my blog from yesterday to find out how you could win. ]

I Remember When…I Broke My Arm

I remember when I broke my arm.  It was just a couple of days into first grade, and my family was attending a church picnic at a local park in the Wheaton, Illinois area.  I have always enjoyed climbing trees, so it was no surprise that I would be climbing an apple tree during this picnic.  I was about four feet off the ground in this particular apple tree when I somehow slipped and fell to the ground.  I must have landed funny, because something in my right arm hurt.

After resting at one of the picnic tables for a little while, my parents showed my arm to someone at the picnic who was a nurse.  She thought it would be best if my parents took me to the hospital.

When I arrived at the hospital, the X-rays showed a hairline fracture in my right wrist.  This meant a plaster cast all the way up to my shoulder.  I’m not sure why it had to go so high, but it was the late 70s.  What do you expect?

Initially, it was kind of cool to have a cast.  All my friends and classmates got to sign my cast.  My school pictures were taken with the cast (see above).  And I got special attention and help to complete my school work.  I think those cool things wore off quickly as I was forced to sit out of gym class.  Bath times were pretty awkward with one arm sitting out of the tub.  And as a right-hander, it wasn’t easy to write.

Six weeks after I broke my arm, I went back to the doctor where they sawed off the cast.  The saw was a little scary, but I quickly learned that it didn’t hurt.  When they took the cast off, my skin was pretty nasty.  What had been tanned from the summer sun was now pealing.

Besides a chip fracture to my ankle, I haven’t had a broken bone since.  And that’s okay!

Have you ever broken a bone?  Tell us about it!

I Remember When…My Brother Said “Drop That Louie”

For the last two weeks, I have featured a new series titled “I Remember When…”. This series retells memories from my past along with any reflections that go along with the story. Last week, I shared the story of our families big move to the east coast. And two weeks ago, I recalled the time when I first learned to ride a bicycle. Today, I share a story that has been tucked back in my memory bank for years.

David with his wife and son (several years ago).

For as long as I can remember, I have loved my brother, David, but I haven’t always been the best at showing it. In fact, there were times when I was down right mean to him. I’m not proud of the way I treated him on several occasions – like the time when I was seven years old. We lived in Wheaton, Illinois, and we had a couple of big maple trees in the backyard. I had a friend, Jeff Jankowski, over after church one Sunday. We had two rakes and a yard full of leaves. Being older and stronger (at the time), Jeff and I naturally took the rakes and used them to rake up a huge pile of leaves.

At some point during the afternoon, my brother who was five at the time grew tired of being left out of the raking. At first, David asked us repeatedly for one of the rakes. When this didn’t work, he resorted to trying to “steal” one of the rakes. As each moment passed, he became more and more frustrated. Finally, David had enough and he burst out one of the funniest statements I have ever heard:  “Drop that Louie!”. He was so mad. Jeff and I stood there stunned holding our rakes next to the leaf pile. We weren’t sure whether to be scared or whether to burst out laughing.

I don’t exactly remember how the altercation ended, but it seems to me we were laughing too hard to be angry with my brother. David has always had a way with words. He could always be depended on to grab the spotlight with a funny joke or story. Meanwhile, I was always the serious kid who was bent on over-achieving and protecting my spot as the oldest sibling.

I regret my behavior towards my brother when I was younger. Thankfully, I have had a chance to apologize to him for the “sins of my past”. We’re still very different people today. He’s a Packers fan, and I’m an Eagles fan. We’re also polar opposites when it comes to politics. But we have learned to love and respect each other. And we share a common bond in Christ. I’m so thankful for my brothers!

Do you have any siblings? What kind of relationship do you have with your sibling? Do you have any funny stories that involve your siblings?

I Remember When…My Family Moved Half Way Across The Country

Last week, I started a new series called “I Remember When…”. In this series of posts, I intend on exploring memories from my past.  Part of this exercise is to force me to recall things from  the depths of my memory bank.  Another aspect of this series is to share other sides of me.  I want Jon Stolpe Stretched to be a place to share my stretch marks and where I stretch those who read along.

When I was eight years old, my dad took a job as a full-time pastor far away from home.  I was born in Illinois and had lived there my “whole” life up to that point.  When my parents said we were moving to New Jersey, I’m not sure that I understood what was about to happen.  We were leaving my comfort zone near my friends and close to my grandparents and other extended family.

I remember the Mayflower truck arriving at our house in Wheaton, Illinois to load up with boxes and furniture from our house.  After the truck left our house, my parents, my brother, our dog, and I packed into our 1972 brown Chevy Impala and started our journey to the east coast.

On our way, I remember driving along the Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania Turnpikes.  We picked up a map at the first service area in Indiana, and I tracked our progress as we slowly made our way east.  I don’t know what the early settlers were thinking, but I had the sense that I was experiencing the same feelings without the smell and wind of a horse-drawn carriage.

My parents had already picked out our three bedroom split level house on Glenwood Road in Lumberton, New Jersey.  I don’t remember the actual moving-in experience, but I do remember the excitement of getting my own bedroom.  I would no longer be sharing a room with my younger brother.  I also remember meeting a few of the kids in the new neighborhood.  This new gang of kids was a bit rougher than my friends back in Illinois, and I think it took a little while to find close friends.  But eventually, New Jersey became home!

So much of who I am today is a result of the things I did and the friends I made in New Jersey.  Was the move scary?  Yes, I would say so.  Was it good?  Yes, it was good.  I’m thankful for God’s direction in our families life.

It’s good to reflect on this memory.  I still don’t like change, but this reminds me that God always has the bigger picture in mind.

When have you moved in your life – literally and figuratively?  What is stretching you these days?

What else do you want to know about my move half way across the country?