The season of giving

I’m not ready for Christmas. The weather has been far too nice to even think about singing songs with jingling bells and white snow.

Besides, Thanksgiving gets the short end of the stick. And who doesn’t like Thanksgiving? There’s the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and all. the. food. And no one can tell you you’re being lazy when you take a nap (or ten) on the couch in the middle of the day.

It’s the best.

But before the turkey, stuffing, cranberry dishes, and mashed potatoes, there’s Thursday the 17th. For those of us in Minnesota, we celebrate by giving. It’s a day set aside for us to donate to charitable non-profit organizations that are near and dear to our heart. Causes that we care about.

Give to the Max 2016 is set for Thursday, November 17.

Whether you have a list of organizations you’re planning to give to, or you’re just going to search random schools and charities, here’s my guide to Minnesota non-profits deserving of your charitable giving.


Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a big hockey fan. From youth to high school to college to pros, I’ve watched, cheered for, and worked for every level. And there are so many amazing organizations supporting hockey players and their families. I’ve had the opportunity meet so many athletes and their families who are directly impacted by these great charities!

1. United Heroes League

Founded by active duty military personnel, United Heroes League (formerly Defending the Blue Line and Defending the Base Line) exists to keep our military kids active and engaged in youth sports. From hockey to baseball to basketball and football (and more), this non-profit provides free sports equipment, sports camp and clinic scholarships, tickets to collegiate and professional sporting events for military families, and much, much more!

Consider United Heroes League on Give to the Max Day 2016!

To donate on November 17, click here!

2. Hendrickson Foundation

The Hendrickson Foundation provides funding and support to the Minnesota Wild Sled Hockey team, the Minnesota Warriors (military) hockey team, and Minnesota Special Hockey (for individuals with special needs). Through financial aid, community awareness, and a basic love of the game, the Hendrickson Foundation believes that hockey changes lives.

Consider the Hendrickson Foundation on Give to the Max Day 2016!

To donate on November 17, click here!

3. Hockey Ministries International

Hockey is a year-round-every-weekend-Sunday-morning-away-games sport. If a hockey player isn’t playing in a game, they are at practice, camp, or clinics. It’s just the way it goes. For families, it can be hard to juggle the busy schedules and keep their kids engaged in other activities like Wednesday night church groups and Sunday morning services. That’s where Montreal (yes, the one in Quebec, Canada) based Hockey Ministries International, comes into play. For over 40 years, the organization has bridged the gap between the bench and the pew. They provide youth hockey camps for kids ages 9-17, and chapels for college, junior, and professional players. They also have a growing library of books and materials for hockey players and their families on living a faith-filled life. As a non-denominational organization, they have received recognition from some of the top names in the NHL – Mike Fisher, Matt Duchene, Jordan Staal, David Backes, and everyone’s favorite, Doc Emmerick.

Consider Hockey Ministries International on Give to the Max Day 2016!

To donate on November 17, click here!

4. DinoMights

That’s right, their logo is a dinosaur. DinoMights Hockey is right in the heart of Minneapolis serving urban youth by providing opportunities to stay active and participate in hockey! DinoMights strives to help kids succeed on and off the ice. They do this by helping kids grow physically, academically, socially, and spiritually. You will not meet a more enthusiastic group of kids and coaches – the DinoMights teams are incredible!

Consider DinoMights on Give to the Max Day 2016!

To donate on November 17, click here!

5. Your local hockey association

On the Give to the Max website, there’s a search tool that allows you to locate your local hockey association. In Minnesota, hockey is a non-profit. Our founding fathers, not really, but kind of, designed our hockey system on the basis of neighborly volunteerism. Coaches are unpaid dads, moms, former hockey pros, and members of our communities who believe that kids should play where they live. As a result, our local associations are non-profits that rely on fundraisers and your generous donations. To keep kids on the ice so they can grow up to represent Minnesota at the collegiate, junior, and pro levels, it is our duty to give to their teams and associations. Remember, coaches are not receiving salaries. By keeping hockey at the local level and in a non-profit format, we reduce the cost of the game for all families. It’s the Minnesota way.

Consider your local hockey association on Give to the Max Day 2016!

To donate on November 17, click here (and search for your association)!


Before you think that I only care about hockey, think again. The following organizations are ones that I’ve worked for, with, and supported over the years. All of them are incredibly deserving of your support.

1. Feed My Starving Children

When talking about Feed My Starving Children, there is so much to say. This Minnesota-based non-profit consistently hits a 4-star rating on Charity Navigator! They work tirelessly to feed kids in nearly 70 countries who would otherwise be without food, nutrition, hope, and life. They are a faith-based, Christian organization who believes that God has called us to feed His children. Through local, on-site volunteer opportunities where kids, families, church groups, schools, sports teams, corporate teams, etc. come in and pack the meals to a Patina-like MarketPlace where the goods are made by artisans in third-world countries, Feed My Starving Children offers an amazing volunteer experience and shopping trip! But they do so much more, and are literally responsible for saving hundreds, thousands of children around the world. Their success is due in large part on their ability to partner directly with organizations that work on the ground in countries like Haiti, Nicaragua, Swaziland, and the Ukraine. Established, trusted partners who know the people’s needs and can provide direct support – guiding FMSC in shipping food, receiving food, and distributing food to the kids and families who need it most (ultimately, ensuring the food does not fall into corrupt hands).

Consider Feed My Starving Children on Give to the Max Day 2016!

To donate on November 17, click here!

2. Children’s Shelter of Cebu

From feeding kids to sending them to school to providing medical care, Children’s Shelter of Cebu cares for children in the Philippines. They are not an adoption agency, but they provide a stable, loving home for children who are waiting for adoption or to be reunited with their birth parents. Their holistic approach to children allows the organization to develop relationships with each child and create a family-style environment.

Consider Children’s Shelter of Cebu on Give to the Max Day 2016!

To donate on November 17, click here!


1. Confidence Learning Center

Confidence Learning Center is located in the Brainerd Lakes are. Brimming with fish and fun, central Minnesota’s vacation land is a hot spot for families and kids. For individuals who are unable to attend traditional summer camps, Camp Confidence exists. A fully-accessible camp with every camp activity known to man, Camp Confidence serves individuals, group homes, schools, and families in their quest to experience outdoor recreation activities in a safe and encouraging environment. Everyone is capable of conquering the many camp activities! No one is told they “can’t,” because Confidence Learning Center knows that everyone has abilities – there is no such thing as disabilities.

For year-round activities and the ultimate camp experience, you have to check out Confidence Learning Center!

Consider Confidence Learning Center on Give to the Max Day 2016!

To donate on November 17, click here!

Give from the heart

While this list serves to guide you to amazing organizations, ultimately, what matters is that you give from your heart. There are hundreds of amazing charities around the state, across the nation, and worldwide, that provide shelter, food, education, sports opportunities, ETC. for well-deserving kids and families.

So, on November 17, Give to the Max by giving from your heart.

The love of an aunt

No one loves you like I do.

No. No one ever will.


That’s how I feel. That’s how my entire family feels. This week. Right now.

Because our dear, amazing aunt is no longer here to hug us super tight (she squeezed extra hard) and tell us how much she loves us.

Let’s be honest. She loved everyone (although I can name a couple dozen hockey players she probably didn’t always feel love toward..and she hated snakes). But other than that, she loved anyone. First and foremost, she loved Him. And from that love, she loved her husband, kids, daughter’s and son’s in law, and her sweet grandchildren with her entire heart. And then came everyone else. No matter who you were, my aunt loved you. Wholly, deeply, unconditionally, unequivocally.

Every day, she lived life to the fullest. Embraced the good with the bad. From life’s small moments to its greatest blessings, she was always grateful, thankful, graceful.

It almost sounds too good to be true, but believe me, it’s all true. Every word we speak about Aunt Jill, it’s truer than true.

She was the person in our family, in our worlds, who could break through any of life’s struggles and encourage you in words and prayer. The way she loved was unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. Always genuine. Always gracious.

Aunt Jill was a blend of Annie Oakley and Betty Crocker.She did. it. all. One minute she was huntin’, fishin’ and the next she was cookin’ and bakin’ – and lovin’ everyday.

Her time on the lake with my uncle (and her kids and grandkids) was something she looked forward to every summer. She loved reeling in fish – Crappies, Walleye, and even Northern (and no one can pronounce those words like Jill could). And a good fish fry was guaranteed. She made killer Eggs McJill, amazing homemade jam from raspberries grown in her garden, and blueberry pie that even the Amish can’t touch, and breakfast scones that put Starbucks to shame.

Just when you think she couldn’t be any more amazing, she also devoted years to playing piano at church every Sunday morning while my uncle led worship. She taught Sunday School and Wednesday night Awana, and led Apples of Gold and numerous Bible Studies.

Then there was the time she spent knitting beautiful sweaters for her grandkids, or mittens for her daughters and nieces.

She’d feed deer in her front yard and shoot squirrels in her back yard (because they were “dirty rats!”). She played Sequence like a cheater – always table talking and dropping hints – “We gots trouble!” or my favorite, this odd onomatopoeia “deet dee dee” (which isn’t actually a natural sound…but it sounded natural coming from her) to signal you during the game. Needless to say, we never played poker.

Her dialect alone sent us into fits of laughter and her animated tales never disappointed.

She’d pop popcorn right after a big dinner and turn on a hockey game so she could yell “hustle, hustle” or “What in the world is he doing!?” She loved watching women’s volleyball with my uncle and knew player’s stats! And it drove her nuts when my uncle flipped through channels to see what else was on. But, oh how she loved laughing when my uncle watched “Home Alone” at Christmas (it’s a beaut).

Truly, Aunt Jill was one in a billion. And she always made you feel like one in a billion, too. No matter what, Jill always believed, always trusted. She shone with so much light that she always wanted to share with others. And she had Hope for tomorrow.

Tomorrow, the literal tomorrow, will be hard. To see family, and to realize that we’re missing her and always will be. But, about a week before she went into the hospital, at the end of September, Aunt Jill sent me a hand written note (in response to my hand written note that I can’t even talk about without bawling). Oh, how I will cherish her words. Her heart poured out to me. A clear reminder of her love for me and promise that she will always believe in His promises for me.

So, that’s how I’ll face this – carrying Jill’s love for me and Hope for tomorrow.

I love you, Aunt Jill.


Watching others experience joy was one of Aunt Jill’s greatest joys. This is how she loved.

Road trips all by myself

I just completed my 6th road trip in the last month, and I have more drives ahead. 

Half of my trips have been as a passenger or second driver – easy co-piloting roles and company to keep me occupied. The solo drives are a different story. 

It’s all about planning and spontaneity-knowing where to stop for gas and gas station snacks, and fully embracing fast food (true story: yesterday, I bought fries and coke at McDonald’s and then went next door to Culver’s for chicken tenders and 2 dipping sauces – because I’m high maintenance – and ate my meal while in Drive–the dipping sauces did not spill). 

It’s about passing college towns and cabin towns – farms, fields, and forests – and enjoying their simply astounding beauty during morning light, full day time sun, and purple skies with orange highlights at dusk. 

It’s about somber drives past cities synonymous with Jacob Wetterling; a story, a boy, so close to our Minnesota hearts and homes.

 It’s seeing signs for towns you’ve never visited but feel like you know because that one kid from college was from there. It’s wishing you could keep driving or stop in a different town. It’s getting to your destination and experiencing its newness all while missing the familiar. It’s watching the seasons go by out your window-yellow sunflowers waving as you pass and green fields turned golden as the summer fades to fall. 

It’s cruise control set at top speeds and only braking for construction and super slow drivers. It’s passing cars on one lane highways and slowing down to 30 mph for small town charm. 

It’s blaring your favorite 90’s tunes and wishing you could go back to those simple years. It’s keeping the car at an ideal cool temperature and utilizing stay-awake-tricks when you feel road weary. 

It’s thinking about people, places, and things from your past, present, and future. It’s wondering what your next move should be and praying for an answer on the side of the road. 

It’s taking that drive time to just be alone. To be ok with aloneness and adventure, and the joy of returning home and appreciating where you’re from. 

Transplant day

I’m the passenger in my parents SUV, sprawled out in the backseat, heading to the hospital. It’s a scene I remember all too well from childhood. Doctor appointments and surgery days. 

This time, I’m not the one heading into surgery. Instead it’s my brother in law and my cousin in law. They’re both having surgery. On the same day. At the same hospital. My brother in law is giving his kidney to my cousin in law. Why? Because we’re family. 

A few months ago, we learned that my cousin’s husband needed a new kidney. Friends and family followed Facebook links to see if we were contenders in the great kidney donation of 2016. And my brother in law won. 

After tests and more tests, he was cleared as the official donor. 

It’s the kind of story you read about online, see on a news special – some Land of 10,000 Lakes story narrated by an award winning journalists, a Today Show special with Matt and Natalie talking about what a great story it is. And it is. But the story didn’t start with the kidney donation. It started when my cousin and my sister chose their husbands. Their love stories are filled with humor – women who didn’t expect to fall in love. And yet, they did. And here they are sending their husbands into surgery. 

Tomorrow will be a long day, filled with lots of waiting, but we are family – lifting these in-laws up in prayer, supporting each other through emails and texts, the way we pull together in every other situation we face. 

We are family.