A small, wooden cross sits in the front of our sanctuary. We don’t have anything too ornate in the worship space. This cross is as close as it gets. It was cut and carved from a single piece of oak by an artist from Colorado. A friend of mine, Leona Anderson, the owner of Little Scandinavia, in downtown Elkhorn gave it to the church before we opened our building. Leona died on December 12th.
She was a wonderful woman. She opened the store in 2006. I’ve been going there the whole time. Stocking up on cloudberries and kringles. Buying books for the boys, eating gingersnap cookies, and meeting new friends. I signed copies of my book there one day in the spring of 2017. I learned something about her I guess I should have realized all along—her store was a ministry. I’ll always remember many things about her.
Everybody was greeted with a smile. Coffee and cookies were always on the house. She learned people’s names. She loved when Benjamin and David came with me and she treated them like her grandchildren. Anybody who walked in through the big door felt welcome. Jesus said: “When you welcome a stranger, you welcome me.” Hospitality is one of the things Jesus had in mind when He told us to love others as He loved us.
Benjamin and David never left the store empty handed. Never. Some piece of chocolate always ended up in their hands. Or some keepsake. And then the cross. This is not an inexpensive piece of wood. Jesus said it was more blessed to give than to receive. Leona was blessed by living this out. She was a blessing too.
The day I signed books, dozens of people came in. Leona didn’t see them as customers, but as human beings with a story. She was an encourager. Her concern was as genuine as her smile. She was genuinely interested in people and their stories. I have discovered in life—the most interested people are the most interesting people.
She was keenly aware that God was the source of joy. And she had it. Sometimes I went to the store and didn’t need lingonberries or lefse. I needed a little joy. Joy is more contagious than any disease. During the meal that would be the last one Jesus would have a mouth to speak, he talked about joy so that His joy would be in us and our joy will be full. Ask for it. Keep asking for it. And experience it. The stuff works.
I remember talking to her about cancer. I have had way too many of those talks over the years. But this one was different. If I could describe the conversation in one word the word would be “faith”. Not that things were going to be easy, but that our God is bigger than our problems.
So when you see the cross, now you get to remember the woman who gave it to us. The same woman who pointed so many to the one who died on the cross.