The many smells of Christmas

When I think about my Olson family Christ­mas celebrations, many smells accompany those memories. The dessert table, for instance, gently mixes aromas of Spritz cookies, peanut-butter balls and pies. You can smell turkey baking before opening the door to the house. Fresh rolls and rye bread accompany the mix.

And then, right before meal time, another smell circulates. Honestly, it’s one that makes me want to cower with a cloth over my nose. Lutefisk. A nod to my Swed­ish heritage, lutefisk is a bowl of soupy goop made with white fish. It’s lumpy, stinky and unfriendly to my humanity.

Despite that, I have recently come to appreciate it. Not in the “yes, I will put that into my body” sense, but in the sense of “yes, the reason for this is clear.” My dad and aunts like to put a bowl of lutefisk on the table because it reminds them of their dad. I do not remember Grandpa Kenneth. But obviously, he was wonderfully loved by his children. And serving lutefisk reconnects them every Christmas.

It’s like me and coffee. I used to lovingly call it sludge. I couldn’t imagine ever liking it, but I wanted to. Why? Because of my dad. Morning or evening, I remember him holding a coffee mug. After I grew up and moved away, I had coffee on hand just for him, even though I didn’t partake.

Enter baby No. 3 and my coffee worldview shifted. It went from being made on special occasions to made daily. And surprise of surprises, I liked the sludge, albeit mixed heavily with creamer. (Sorry Dad, I still can’t handle it black!)

Though I started drinking coffee for the extra caffeine, that’s no longer my pull. I love holding a warm mug as I begin my day. It’s comforting. And it’s also an emotional connection to my dad.

As I grow older, I think of him more and more fondly. And thanks to a joy-filled realization I had over the past year, that fondness grew leaps and bounds.

You might recall that for the past several years, I have picked a word of the year rather than a New Year’s resolution. In 2016, my word was claim. I had my own assumptions of what God with do with the journey, but per usual, it was more than I could ask or imagine.

Several months ago, I was struck by something in my story that I’d never realized. You see, I used to look on my past with sadness. It’s not that there weren’t good things, but I was seeing it through ungrounded emotions that made my vision largely skewed. The truth is, my story gives me a taste of something much bigger and worthy of my attention.

To make a long story much shorter, when I was a young toddler, my biological father left my mom and me. Eventually he signed away his rights to me. In my emotion I used to think, “If my own dad didn’t want me, why would anyone else?” I worked to earn approval from that broken place. Through a combination of help and hard work, God has brought me a long way from there. Which brings me to the epiphany of Project: Claim.

Dad. The man who made a decision for me.

As a general rule, parents don’t choose their biological children. But in adopting me, my dad did. I was old enough to have a personality. I was old enough to display a temperament. I was old enough for him to look at me and say no way. But he didn’t. He picked me. He gave me his name. He claimed me.

And that act speaks volumes of the love my God has for me. My earthly adoption is a picture of my heavenly adoption. God said, you have a personality, a temperament, a wayward tendency, but you are mine. I give you my name. I CLAIM you!

And to that I say yes. I wholeheartedly choose to claim my new names, looking at my dad’s decision to take me and make me an Olson as not only a blessing, but a picture with heavenly implications. I also say yes to claiming my standing as child of God.

As this year rolls into the next, I hold my coffee mug in wonder, bravely face the lutefisk and ponder this:

“But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, ‘Abba, Father.’ Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.” (Gal. 4:4-7)

Merry Christmas from one adopted heir to another!

Malinda Just has been writing her monthly column for the Free Press since 2008. She can be reached at