Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A new creation

I am a firm believer that God is writing each of my kiddo's story.  Nothing that has happened to them since before they were born has been a result of chance.

I believe that He uses life changes, easy and difficult circumstances, and even decisions that Brad and I make to grow them into the people He wants them to be.  Everything shapes them...from how Brad and I parent them to how they are treated by other kids at school to what interests they have and even whether they are tall or short or can make a jump shot.

Even though I know this in my head, and hold tightly to verses such as Isaiah 40:11 to remind my mama's heart:

"He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young."

It's one thing to know it in my head, it's another to trust God with it in my heart and actually do it each day.

If you were to ask me last January what the hardest thing about our move from Minnesota to Iowa was, I would have said, "shepherding my kids, especially Sammy through the first several weeks of our transition."

I won't share all the details about her struggle here...I do believe it's her story to tell and not mine...but I will share a few of the joys that came as a result of those struggles.  

First, for the first time in her life, she decided, on her own, to read the Bible every day and in one year. Our senior pastor challenged everyone in our church to do the Bible Project on January 1, and Sammy immediately asked if we could download the app on our phones.  It was amazing to watch her as she discovered for herself the riches of the Word of God and how all 66 books fit together to show a beautiful story of God redeeming His children!

Second, we had a front row seat at watching a young girl, who had been told her entire life that God is good, and He is faithful, and He is sovereign, and that everything happens for our good and His glory...wrestle with and decide for herself if that was the truth or not. Brad and I could see daily her internal struggle with trying to reconcile between a good God and a God who seemed to have taken everything away from her.

And last, all of this led her to repent of her sins and call upon the name of Jesus to save her! 

On July 23, at our church's outdoor service...

 Sammy briefly shared her testimony...


(I love this picture of me holding Josiah, reveling in the goodness of God and His work in Sammy's life!)

...and was baptized!

We weren't sure at first whether Brad was going to find somewhere safe enough to baptize her...we weren't able to reserve the swimming beach area at Lake Ahquabi for our church service and where we were was more of a fishing area. But Sammy had her heart SET on being baptized in a lake.  A blow up pool at church just wasn't going to cut it for her.  She was a Minnesotan at heart, and she wasn't going to settle for any other place than a lake!

I LOVE this last picture!  I love the look on Brad's face and the joy on Sammy's!  
I'm grateful for Sammy's testimony of God's goodness, and that God saw fit....almost 12 years ago... to allow us to be her parents!

Monday, October 09, 2017

A time to reflect...part 2

What is the antidote to discouragement?

Change of circumstances?

Getting what you want?

More coffee? (This was a close runner-up! I DO love my coffee!)


As I've been thinking and chewing on a few thoughts this past weekend about discouragement, I first landed on gratitude and the practice of being thankful.  I certainly had an overflowing, thankful heart as I was reflecting on pictures from this past summer, and they unquestionably encouraged me and lifted my spirit.

But there was something more...something more beyond the pictures and memories and the gift of friends and fun places and new adventures.

These people (my children and friends and family) are all gifts. The adventures and exploration are all gifts. Even the sadness and dissatisfaction and heartache are gifts.

But if my focus is solely on the gifts, I lose sight of the Giver of those good gifts.

Nothing that has happened this past year has been by my hand. God has ordained our move to Iowa, the sale of our house in Minneapolis, the purchase of our new home in Indianola, where our kids went to school (last year AND this year), the people we've come into contact with, and so many more things!

I may have been the "party planner" for my family this summer (you should have seen the enormous 4 month calendar I had on my wall chalked FULL of our fun summer plans...some of you have and can attest to this!) but God has been our Guide, our Light, our Good Shepherd.

He has been good. He has been faithful. His love has been constant.

And while His good gifts are very, very good...they are nothing next to knowing and savoring and being satisfied in Him.

Jesus is the antidote to discouragement.

His good gifts are just bonus.

And there may be seasons of fewer good gifts from God. When heartache and pain and despair are more prevalent than laughter and joy. 

In those times, I hope I will remember one of my favorite John Piper's quotes:

"God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them."

So, heart, press on.  Look deeply into the face of the Giver of all good gifts and know...

"that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith-that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." --Ephesians 3:16-19

A time to reflect...part 1.

I am an extreme extrovert.  I yearn for time interacting with people. I like having a calendar filled with outings and adventures with family and friends.

But I also really love quiet times to reflect upon my life...times to celebrate the changes/growth I see in my kids and the house projects that have been completed....and also time to reflect on things I've been misprioritizing and look head on at the same sins that seem to creep back to the surface.

Reflection is healthy and needed for so many reasons, and I have realized that I haven't been doing as much reflection as I really need to do these last 6 months.

There's a sign that hangs outside a professor's office at Simpson College, where Sammy takes viola lessons.  My productive side loves it and embraces it fully.  My procrastinate side likes to ignore and disregard it.  The sign says:

"If it is important to you, you will find a way.  If not, you will find an excuse." 

Ouch!  I seem to be finding all sorts of time to do things that really don't rate as "truly important" in my life.  If quiet reflection is genuinely important to me,  I need to stop making excuses for why I haven't practiced it well.

Life has been full this spring and summer.  Full of really wonderful things!  But...as one thing finished, another one seemed to fill its place.  And so, many months have gone by without a lot of reflection, without a grateful heart for God's continued faithfulness or a pause to honor wonderful accomplishments or celebrations.

Last week I felt compelled to write some letters (actual, hand written letters...remember those?) to a few people that God has brought to my mind. In some of those letters, I included some photographs.

Photographs are a beautiful way to see a moment frozen in time. They remind us of wonderful times. Even of times that were difficult.  For me, as I looked through our 2017 photos recently, they reminded me of how far God has brought our family as we approach the one year mark of being in Indianola. Today is actually ONE YEAR that Brad began working at Grace E Free Church, and I feel compelled to give thanks for God's faithfulness.

So, even though I have lesson plans to finish for Sammy this week, meal planning to do, and a few mounds of clean laundry to fold, I find myself drawn to reflect and share God's work in our lives.

One thing I'm super thankful for is that I get to stay at home full time. I love being at home...learning more each day about how to run a household better, pouring into my older kids, and hanging out with this great, little guy each day.

And OH how my heart fills with joy when I think about the sweet friends God has provided for my kids at church and in our neighborhood.  When Hannah's birthday rolled around in April, she told me she didn't know who to invite because "all" of her friends were in Minnesota. We talked some more and we came up with a fun birthday celebration with her sweet friend from church.  Hannah said it was one of her best birthdays yet!

I'm so grateful for the friends God has given my kids.  These two next pictures may seem pretty normal and generic, but they make me want to cry every time I see them. 

Sammy would NEVER have survived this last year without her best friend, Maggie.  I am so, so, so thankful for Maggie and her family!

And this picture of Caleb playing basketball with some friends...this is what I prayed for him when we moved...a neighborhood filled with boys to shoot hoops with and ride around on bikes.  What a gift!

I'm thankful for Grace E Free! This was our Easter picture....aren't we cute?

And if you EVER visit Iowa, make sure to stop in Pella for the Tulip Festival.  We went there in early May, and it was worth the drive and worth the crowds.  The flowers were AMAZING, the town was very friendly, and OH MAN the bakeries and meat shops! The Dutch letters are delicious! 

Shortly after we visited Pella, my uncle Paul passed away.  Josiah and I drove to Bismarck so we could attend his funeral. It was a difficult time....my dad deeply loved his brother Paul, and I had such great respect for him.  I did get to see most of my dad's siblings and spouses, and that was a blessing.

My dad with his brothers Gerry and Mark and little sister, Agnes. 

A few of their spouses were able to be there as well.

Just three days after I got home, Brad and I loaded the kiddos into the van and headed back up to Bismarck to celebrate my 3 nieces' graduation.  It was a joy to celebrate with them...and oh how I love my Beth!!! 

When I look back at our June pictures, I remember all the house projects we got done....thanks Dan for lending a hand with our new shelves in our garage!


And the short, but very sweet weekend we had in early June when Beth and my parents drove down for Hannah's dance recital. 
Somebody was made to be a little dancer! 

Today, there is MUCH to be thankful for!  A full year of Brad's job at Grace...friends for my kids... much, much milder weather than Minnesota....and a few quiet minutes to reflect as Josiah plays quietly.

I feel like I've been in a bit of a slump the last several weeks, and I'm grateful for pictures that remind me of God's good gifts and a summer exploring a new place, making new friends and new memories.  There are still hard days when unmet expectations reek havoc with my emotions, but I'm getting better at looking closely at my emotions and aligning them with Scripture and with what I know to be true of God's character.

And for that reason, today I CHOOSE JOY!

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Our new life in Iowa...inner musings and what we've been up to!

One week from today will mark our 4th month anniversary of living in Indianola, IA.  I have been reflecting MUCH about these last several months, but I never seem to find any extra hours in the day to write my thoughts down. 

But today, my family has given me the "day off" for my birthday, and I have been exploring Des Moines, eating LOTS of free food and having my free Caribou and Starbucks, and shopping for several items we still need for our new house....

like curtain rods and room darkening curtains for the kids' bedrooms...there's a certain little boy who thinks that anytime after 6:00 am is a fine time to wake up....

"the sun is awake, Mommy!" 

"Yes, but Mommy isn't, sweet child!"

And yes, Josiah is still the cutest little 2 year old around!  

It has been a wonderful, hard, sweet, lonely, and exciting last few months.  I think it was especially hard because the kids had to change schools mid-year, one week before Thanksgiving.  The holidays are usually such a sweet time for our family, but with each new day, there seemed to be something that was hard for at least one of us....missing some of the great Advent activities we did every Christmas in the Twin Cities or missing being able to walk next door and hang out with our neighbors or missing places that were familiar.  

But sprinkled between those hard, first few days and weeks were things that gave us hope....enjoying an evening with other church families at the "Rockin' Around the Square," finding a dance studio for Hannah to take a dance and acrobatic class, meeting other young moms in town and having play dates.  We often were sad about the people, places and things that we missed about Minneapolis, but were so blessed and grateful when we learned of new places to explore and made deeper relationships with friends here.

As I look back now, those early days were filled with more sadness than joy. I liken it to the feelings of grief.  After suffering a great loss, sadness is always hanging right in front of you.  It's all you can see.  Everything else...beauty, joy, gladness...is foggy and in the background.  But, eventually, as time passes and our hearts heal, the sadness fades and you can fully see the beauty again.

I feel like that's how it's been.  Gradually, almost with each new day, the sadness of leaving sweet friends, family, and favorite places has began to diminish and joy has become the reigning emotion.

It's been a hard, but beautiful thing to have walked through this with my each of my kids and reflect on it with Brad as individuals and as a couple. God has done MUCH in tearing down idols of familiarity and comfort for all 6 of us, and He has given us more of Himself in the process.  Very little of our new house, neighborhood, town, church, school has been "just like" those same things in Minneapolis.  It's been difficult shepherding our kids (and shepherding my own heart) through it, but God continually shows us that this is exactly where we are supposed to be. And that has truly put so much joy in our hearts!

So, what have we been up to?

 Well, I'm glad you asked!

We have been enjoying our new home!

We have been integrating into the life of our new, sweet church.
We packed shoe boxes with our church just 2 days after we moved.
We've been exploring our town library and participating in free Monday afternoon Lego building classes and other craft and engineering classes.

We got a membership to the Des Moines Science Center....

There are several great rooms filled with toddler friendly activities for Josiah and fun engineering activities for my "always building and creating something that move or flies or does something cool" Caleb.

And we also got a membership to the Blank Park Zoo....

We've also been able to make a couple quick trips back to the Minneapolis area to see friends from the kids' old school, visit neighbors, and see family in Wisconsin.

Some extra sweet things have been 1) the father/daughter dance at our parks & rec....

...I totally did Hannah's hair, and my girls were SO impressed!

2) My amazing granite countertops and island that held an insane amount of Christmas cookies!

3) Sweet friends for my kids! (And a wonderful violist from the Des Moines Symphony Orchestra who gives Sammy private lessons.)

4) A 11 hour, one way visit from my parents in January.  They drove through mountains of snow to watch our kiddos so Brad and I could go to a pastor's and wives conference.

5) A parks & rec basketball league for Caleb.  This kid LOVES basketball just like his mama!

 6) Sweet dinners, game nights, movie nights and a super bowl party with some pretty cool families from our church.  These meals, fellowship, and fun have been some of my favorite times so far!

Overall, we really are loving our new life in Iowa.  We love the fact that we can get pretty much anywhere in 5 minutes.  We don't miss the traffic AT ALL!!!  We love the slower pace of life.  We love our new church and the wonderful families that God has placed there.  Brad's really enjoying his position, and it really is a good fit for his passions and skills. The kids have slowly adjusted to their new school and have made some new friends.  I LOVE the women that God has given to me here.  I don't know what I'd do without them as I've missed my seminary wives and dear college friends so much! I love our new house (though I miss my laundry chute and large storage room A LOT!). And as our neighbors are slowly coming out of their houses and interacting more with us, I am hopeful that we can build some relationships with the families around us.  

Last Saturday night, as we sat around the bonfire at a neighbor's house eating smores, I thought of that little song...."make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold." God has been gracious to give me, an extreme extrovert and type A personality, wonderful friends and activities in Minneapolis AND here in Indianola.  

And today, on my 40th birthday, I am so grateful for my dear friends here and there, our sweet church, and the promise I have that Christ has gone before us, has been with us every step of the way, has equipped us to serve His church here, and has provided ALL that we have needed.  

"For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,  from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,  that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen."

Ephesians 3:14-21

Thursday, October 13, 2016

What can happen in just a month.

Exactly a month ago, Brad and I were still knee-deep in packing, organizing, staging, and finishing final projects on our Brooklyn Center home.  It took us 9 days from when we first made our list of 60 things we still had to complete/finish/repair/stage until the professional photographer arrived to take pictures of our home.

I can't remember much of it, but I DO remember that I only freaked out/had a panic attack TWICE about how we were going to finish everything in time.

This was a miracle people... a miracle!

I give much of the credit to my lack of "freaking out" to my 4 years as a seminary student's wife.  I was taught and trained in more areas that I can count and experienced more growth in becoming more flexible than I had ever before and really learned to not "worry about the million things that need to get done and just do the next thing."

Yet another sweet gift of seminary life.

Our house hit MLS on the afternoon of Thursday, September 15.  We had 4 showings on Friday, 2 more on Saturday, and by Saturday night we received 2 offers!!!

We officially accepted an offer on Sunday, and there was MUCH rejoicing at my house!!!

I don't know whether the kids or I were more excited about not having to have the house cleaned and spotless!  

Selling our house so quickly was such a gift from the Lord!  I know that He doesn't always work in this specific way for others...I believe He uses the quick sales and the LONG sales both for His glory and our good...but I was grateful for His graciousness to our family. 

About a week and a half later, Brad, Josiah, and I drove to Indianola to look at homes.  We were again amazed at God's sweet provision for us.  As we interviewed Iowa realtors, God led us to a wonderful woman whose passion is finding just the right house for each family.  She loves the challenge of it and loves learning about what specific needs each family has.  After going back to look at a certain house for the second time, we made an offer. After a day or two of negotiations, they accepted our counter offer!

The one tricky part is that we aren't able to close on our Brooklyn Center home until November 16.  Brad and I were really sad that we couldn't close sooner.  We realized that Brad would have to begin working at Grace Evangelical Free Church in Indianola before the rest of the family was able to join him.

Living separately was something we were hoping to avoid. 

But God has continued to be gracious to us.  After talking with the senior pastor and elders and looking at our schedule, we decided that Brad would begin at Grace on October 9 and would leave Minneapolis on Saturday afternoons and return back to Brooklyn Center on Thursday evenings for 5 weeks until we move into our new house on November 17.

It wasn't our first plan, but it is God's plan for us during these last 6 weeks in Minnesota.

We're now almost done with the first week.

I'm super tired.... Josiah got hand, foot and mouth on Sunday...

I'm super emotional...due to missing being a part of forming these new relationships with people in our new church alongside Brad AND realizing how much I will miss my neighbors, friends, and nearby family...

and I'm completely aware of my limitations and how self-sufficient I try to be...I just can't be ALL things at ALL times for 4 kids...no matter how hard I plan or work.

While this may first appear as a hardship, I have been reminded over the last few days that God doesn't waste anything.  These next several weeks are a gift!  The kids and I are able to be with some of our dearest friends and to enjoy "just one more MN fall" and "just one more trip to Chutes and Ladders" and "just one more outing with our WI cousins."

What a gift!

And, even more, God is gently reminding me that while He has given me the personality and gifts to manage a lot of CRAZY, He also is calling me to depend on Him fully and not in myself.

"But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." II Corinthians 12:9-10