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A photo of Karen Tryggestad is part of a memorial display during the Heritage Church of Christ’s 20th anniversary.
Insight
Photo by Erik Tryggestad

Anniversary brings to mind my Heritage of faith

The Christian Chronicle CEO reflects on what it means to have a church family.

FRANKLIN, Tenn. Dad got a little choked up during the Lord’s Supper.

I think it had more to do with allergies than emotions. He is, after all, from South Dakota, where the state motto is “Don’t make a fuss.”

He cleared his throat several times as he led prayers for the bread that represents Christ’s body and the cup that represents his blood.

The Tryggestad family — Tom, Karen, Erik and Amy — on a visit to Rugby, Tenn., circa 1976.

The Tryggestad family — Tom, Karen, Erik and Amy — on a visit to Rugby, Tenn., circa 1976.

I was sitting on the second pew — which was mostly vacant, in true Church of Christ fashion, despite the higher-than-average turnout for the Heritage congregation’s 20th anniversary service. As Dad sat down on the front pew, I leaned forward and whispered, “You could’ve tapped out. I would’ve pinch hit for you on the offering prayer. You taught me how.” Then I felt a tap on my shoulder. From the pew behind me, sister Patty Keith handed me a lozenge to pass to Dad.

Actually, I was the one getting a bit choked up (probably a result of Mom’s East Tennessee genes) as I watched Dad talk to our heavenly Father. At 79, he’s looking more and more like my grandpa, Irvin Orville Tryggestad, the son of immigrants Ole and Suzie Tryggestad, who moved to the U.S. from Norway in 1910.

Forget Chris Hemsworth’s Thor. Ole was dark-haired and — according to his Certificate of Naturalization, which I had framed a while back — he stood all of 5 feet, 7 inches. Dad says that grandpa Ole was “rounding up” to reach even that lofty height.

Dad grew up in Sioux Falls — nominally Lutheran, like so many Scandinavians. Then he enlisted during Vietnam. Instead of sending him to fight, the Air Force sent him to Texas A&M to get a graduate degree in computer science.

In College Station, Dad’s roommate, Joe Gentry, and his department chair, Dan Drew, were members of the Church of Christ. After graduation, the Air Force sent Dad to Washington, where he met Karen Puckett. She had moved from the little town of Rugby, Tenn., to work in the office of the Secretary of the Navy. Jim and Harriet Kilpatrick, members of the Church of Christ in Alexandria, Va., had taken her in as an adopted daughter.

Tom Tryggestad leads communion.

Tom Tryggestad leads communion.

Dad studied the Bible with Jim and Harriet while he and Mom dated. Dad got baptized, married Mom and had two kids — me and then Amy.

Dad got a job with the Office of Personnel Management at its data processing facility in Macon, Ga. We worshiped with the Southside Church of Christ. The first time I remember Dad getting choked up (non-allergy related) was when he stood before the congregation and accepted the role of elder.

Two decades ago, while he was sick with multiple myeloma, Dad and Mom moved to Middle Tennessee to be closer to Vanderbilt health care and to Amy and her family. Finding a church was surprisingly difficult for them. One congregation was too progressive. Another spent its whole Bible class talking about how the church down the street was too progressive.

Finally, they found the Heritage Church of Christ, a new congregation meeting in an elementary school cafeteria. They loved it. On our phone calls they talked about the church with excitement — and about elder Doug Poling and his wife, Donna, their new best friends.

Mom served in cradle roll and became a beloved teacher of the church’s children. Meanwhile, Amy married Lamar Bowman and I married Jeanie Jacks. Dad was bald from chemo at my wedding. Then doctors at Vanderbilt found medicine to get his blood cancer under control. He got better and resumed teaching adult classes. Soon, he was an elder again.

A photo of Karen Tryggestad is part of a memorial display during the Heritage Church of Christ’s 20th anniversary.

A photo of Karen Tryggestad is part of a memorial display during the Heritage Church of Christ’s 20th anniversary.

Then Mom got sick. It was pancreatic cancer, stage four. We had five months to say goodbye. She died at 64 in January 2013. Our younger daughter, Lucy, was born eight months later.

Mom’s picture was part of a display in the foyer of the Heritage church, honoring the many members who have gone on to glory in the past two decades. Someone, who said Mom was their son’s first Bible teacher, attached a note: “She loved all our babies so well.”

The Heritage family mourned with us and walked with Dad as he adjusted to a new world without Mom. The loss of a spouse, the loss of a mother changes you. Dad isn’t the same person he was a decade ago. None of us are.

Mom’s picture was part of a display in the foyer of the Heritage church, honoring the many members who have gone on to glory in the past two decades. Someone, who said Mom was their son’s first Bible teacher, attached a note: “She loved all our babies so well.”

Dad’s church family helped to support him and build him up so that he can now serve as a support for others. Back in April, we lost Donna Poling. She and Doug were married for 53 years. Doug, despite having surgery recently, was at Heritage for the 20th anniversary. Dad sat next to him.

When I think about Dad, the most vivid image that comes to mind is him sitting at the head of our dining room table in Macon every Saturday afternoon, without fail, working on his lesson plan for Bible class. It’s a tradition I carry on, and I pray that my girls see in me the example I saw in him.

I’m so thankful that he and Mom found a church family that they could serve and be served by.

Someday, not too long from now, Maggie and Lucy will be off on the adventures God has planned for them. When that day arrives, I pray that Jeanie and I will still be part of a church family like the one Dad found at Heritage.

I pray for brothers and sisters I can love and support as they support me — no matter what chokes me up, whether it requires a sympathizing tear or a throat lozenge.

ERIK TRYGGESTAD is president and CEO of The Christian Chronicle. Contact [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @eriktryggestad.

Filed under: Cancer church family Churches of Christ grief Heritage Church of Christ Insight Insight Opinion Perspective Top Stories

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