Last week was momentous for so many reasons. Not primarily, but in some ways the best part, was that I got to wear my bathing suit to church. To my job. My job was to get wet in front of the congregation for the sole purpose of baptizing 4 young men.
It was my first time being a licensed pastor with the Evangelical Covenant Church doing a baptism. I had been asked many times in the past to baptize students as we humbly got to see many students say yes to Jesus for the first time in college. But one of the ways we honored the institution of the Church was to not baptize, unless we had the credentialing. I never was so instead, we could partner with local churches, gather as many students as wanted to, and have a local pastor host a service for us.
Last week, we got to hear from 4 young men about how they believe in Jesus and wanted to take a public step to say they want to follow Him. I knew most of the boys. One was my son’s good friend.
And one I knew quite well.
Elam had been talking about being baptized last year in Duluth but something didn’t sit quite right with him, so he waited. This year he said he “wanted to be dedicated to God.”
And so on November 10, 2019, in front of many new friends and many of our family members who made the trek, it was so.
As I dunked each kid, I was choked up by the honor I had in doing the act of baptism for these families. I was also struck by how the kids literally changed. The water changed their faces: they had to close their eyes and scrunch up their noses. The water altered their hair and slicked it back. Their clothing became heavy and changed colors. As they entered the water, they giggled about how cold it was. One kid practically jumped into the pool he was so eager. Others quickly wrapped up the big, fluffy white towels we provided for them.
Elam and I waddled out to the lobby and to my office afterwards. We left wet, large and small footprints on the carpet. We got inside my office and toweled off, laughing about how funny it was to get soaked at church and how I needed 3 outfits for the day. (I had baptisms in 2 services).
I don’t know exactly happens as a pastor asks 9 year old boys to commit to Jesus and then another pastor dunks them in the water. I don’t know what happens to those watched (well, I do actually: many cried with deep emotion). I don’t know what will happen as these boys grow up.
But I do know it was a magical, mystical, wet, transforming experience for all of us in varying ways. And that John the Baptist, Jesus, the early disciples baptized those who wanted to change directions.
“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Romans 6:4
Do you have those times in your life when you say, “I’ll never…”
“We are NOT moving to Mankato.”
“I am done having kids – tie my tubes Doc!”
“I will never lose my temper like that again.”
“This is my last marathon.”
Well I may never say never again… because after the last race which was a black flag day in Duluth, the worst conditions and many friends who didn’t even finish, I said that. I would never put my body through this pain and agony again. I didn’t eat for 3 days. I would complain about that race… well I still complain about that race!
Soon after that race I ran a trail marathon and said I was converted! Trail races from here on out!
Then we moved to Mankato (note the above “I will never move to Mankato”) and have very limited access to trails and races on trail…(Friends you have great paved biking and walking trails, but where I have been for 20 years we call it a trail if it has big rocks, big roots and dirt. Lots of dirt. No concrete.)
Well as I was celebrating our move, the completion of a hard church history paper and surviving some kind of Influenza B from the bad place where only people who throw garbage out their window on a highway go to… I said to Brian, “What if I ran the Mankato Marathon?”
I texted a new friend who was also going to run it. I considered my health and time availability this summer. And then I clicked on “register” and considered it a way to embrace my new community.
Training went awesome. Other than that one day they were telling people to stay in their AC all day in July and the heat index was deadly and I ran 12 miles… All my miles seemed to go smoothly and I wasn’t injured.
This last week I was anxious about getting enough rest. As I get older my body feels better and better, but man I can sleep like a rock after those long runs.
Thursday night: the most important night according to some, let’s just say I did not sleep enough.
So Friday night I did better and woke up at a restful 6am since the race started at 7:30am about 1.5 miles from my house. I took my Vaseline bath, laced up my trusty purple New Balance shoes and drove my happy self to the starting line while singing Lauren Daigle’s “Rescue” – my fav tune of late.
Team World Vision runners were gathering for prayer and encouragement (people who run races but also raise money for clean water through World Vision). I was listening to them pray and just was overwhelmed.
Over the past 24 hours I had gotten so many texts and Facebook messages of encouragement from my new Mankato community I started to cry. I turned to my new friend Kristin and told her why I was crying and she hugged me. I said, “Kristin, I need to get my crap together. I am about to run a marathon!”
We lined up in drizzle and took off. Immediately shin splints took my breath away and I had to pull over and stretch. I managed to make it to where Brian and our new Network Church launch team was serving water and told everyone to pray for me.
It struck me that sometimes hard things happen right away and you just can’t overcome them.
Like we are trying to find a location for our new church and we haven’t found one yet.
Or sometimes your first year of marriage is NOTHING like a honeymoon
. Or you have a new baby and the kid cries, won’t poop and hates to nap.
Well, thankfully, Brian performed a healing (and all those who prayed!) and I was quickly feeling better.
Pain gone, I started to settle into my 4.5 hour run. I saw friends from church. I told a police officer thank you at an intersection and he responded with a “you betcha!” I met others who had run that ridiculously hot Grandma’s race. I met someone who recognized me from church. I ran with friends for a bit and then was alone for a few miles when my friend Clarice, who had trained with me for a bit, found me on the race course. She was such an encouragement to me while I trained, then there she was on race day!
There was some confusion with the mile markers that literally just about took my mental state to the same bad place where the garbage tossers go… I trucked up a hill and found the 23 mile marker and relaxed. I mean, as much as one who has run 23 miles can relax with 3.2 left…
I knew I had a friend waiting around 25. She has gone through the bad place and back, watched friends and family go through the same and I had been praying for her, her family and her situation for miles. I couldn’t wait to see her.
And then I saw her. Her whole family. New friends. We may become friends more quickly because of this new grief of hers. Isn’t it funny how God works!? I get excited just thinking of how excited I was to see her even now as I type.
Then there were my kids. My husband yelling “You are doing it! You are going to do it!” “Go Mommy!” and my daughter holding our friends’ baby Aurora. Even Aurora was waving at me.
The last few miles I wanted to quit. I thought about quitting in the sense of, “What if I walked it in right now?” But once you run that long, unless you are injured or simply worn out, you get into this place where you realize your heart won’t stop. You will keep breathing. And your legs – the legs just keep going.
I didn’t walk except 2-3 water stops and those shin splint stretched at mile 2. I kept shuffling. I pumped my arms so hard on hills that my biceps hurt today. I started counting my steps (10 steps, 10 times, .1 mile). I told myself I would finish. I would not die. I would finish.
I had a goal of 4:15 but didn’t make it. 4:20. 2+ min faster than my fastest in 2015. I enjoyed the fall colors. My new friends. Students I met 8 days ago who made me a sign to say “yay Sandi!” and posted it on Facebook. I drank my energy drink at just the right time. I was blessed with orange slices at just the right time. The sun came out and warmed me up at just the right time (like when I realized I couldn’t feel my fingers and hadn’t for a while).
I licked my lips a lot and Clarice, you were right, I needed to drink more! I licked my hands. I licked my arms. I licked the rain off my face. I needed every last drop to get me through.
Oh the parallels to real life. But 2 things stick out from this weekend.
I miss my life in Duluth. The trails. The races. Grandma’s. My friends who ran those trails and races. My backyard which must be gorgeous right now with fall colors.
But I am now here in Mankato. And God has given me so many friends in so many unexpected places. And many of them love to run or love that I do!
And secondly, we are all running our own marathons. Of grief. Parenting. Sickness. Parenting a sick child. Tough patch in your marriage. A break up. Loneliness. Lack of faith in humanity. Loss of faith in God. Hopelessness.
We need one another. Race day brings out the best in us and apparently, the best of Mankato. There were teams holding out grapes, Gummy Bears, water and Gaterade in the rain so we who are insane (someone told me that 10 times today at church) could run our race. Community matters. Friends matter when the race is going well or when shin splints sideline us. Or when we feel like we can’t take one more stop. Or when we expect to see mile marker 22 and it says 19.
So let’s be kind to one another. Cheer for one another. Send a letter. Make a meal. There is a good saying right now, “Be kind. We never know what the other person is going through.” And may other people’s hard races bring out our best.
And I am so grateful for all of the people who are helping the Askers who are going through a transition that isn’t life-threatening, but difficult nonetheless.
Brian ran the water stop, got donuts and coffee for his volunteers, coached XS at soccer then got all our kids plus 1 to watch me finish. Then took care of us all weekend so I could rest. He did that so I could run my race. Thank you dear one. I need you to run races and this race of life.
And to all of you who cheered for me thank you!
And to all of you who need cheering as you run, may God meet you and bring you a cowbell or a T-Rex at just the right time.
Oh and don’t worry, I won’t ever say this again: “That was my last marathon.”
I love words. I am an extreme extrovert. I love to write. I love to read. I like to teach my kids what different words mean. I will ask you how to spell your name when I meet you so I can spell it in my head. I often “see” words in my mind as I am speaking or meeting people.
I also hold speaking and preaching in high regard. I want to do both well so I can communicate clearly. I supposed it is so I can be an influence and try to change people’s lives and minds… Or maybe it is simply because I grew up as an only child and words, stories and books kept me company most of my childhood. (not that I didn’t have friends… that’s another post for another day…)
I preached yesterday at our new church. I love the chance to preach and the topic yesterday couldn’t have been more perfect for me. We are going through a series about sharing your faith. I got to finish the series with an encouragement to those listening to share their faith stories with others. I got to tell stories, lots of them. I got to preach on a really good Bible story (Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10). I told our adoption story (complete with Minions and the “shorts”). I told a running story.
Then I encouraged them that God was at work in everyone’s lives. He shows no partiality (it says so right in Acts 10.). And if He is at work everyone, then everyone has a story. And if He is the One at work, then it is really His story. If it is His story, then it has power.
I was cruising. I felt good. I was encouraged. Then I finished the second service’s sermon with this:
“Your power has story.”
And then I gave the benediction.
Ouch. I was so confident I kept going and did not even know I had misspoken until good friends gently told me about it afterwards.
It reminds me of other times I have completely botched a section of a talk.
Once I was speaking into a microphone at an InterVarsity retreat and it was super loud, picking up my every sound. I said, “Wow. I am hot.”
It came across as boastful and I was super embarrassed afterwards. I really did get hot after that.
Another time I was speaking about the power of the Bible and I said, with so much confidence that you could have almost believed me… “The Bible is the best book I have ever written.”
Again, I did not notice what I had said. I kept going confidently, except so many people were laughing that I had to stop. “What did I say?” They told me and it took me a good long time to recover and keep going.
And then just the other week, Brian and I were doing announcements on June 16. I forgot to say it so Brian said, “Hey to all the dad’s out there…” And I jumped in and said, “yes! Happy Anniversary! … I mean HAPPY FATHER’s DAY!” Geesh.
Lastly, during our signing of our agreement for our church residency contract, I was pointing out a small edit on the wording. Then I declared “I have eyes like a vulture.” Our church planting director said, “I think you mean hawk.” Yes, yes that is what I meant. Embarrassed again.
Words matter. Even small letters matter. Perhaps we could even suggest they have power.
We have noticed a few signs in Mankato that are missing essential letters.
Wendy’s have advertised “od fas-ed hambu’s” when we moved here. Today we noticed they still haven’t fixed it.
The local shoe store “Fa.us Ftwr” made us giggle (Famous Footwear).
You may have all seen those silly stories with bulletin mistakes or signs that seem to have glaringly obvious mistakes that haven’t been fixed.
Recently I have been thinking about how our words really matter. I have memories of people telling me things from years ago. Stuck in my mind like it was yesterday.
I remember exactly what Brian said the day he asked me to date him and I asked him what that meant. He said, “Well I’d like to get married but I thought we should date first.”
I remember the first thing I said when I saw XS for the first time, “Well, there you are.”
I can hear Elam looking out the window in the dark and saying, “Momma, da mooon!”
And I can remember when they took Calista out of my body via c-section, hearing the suction-like wet sound and asking “What is it?” Then, “Does she have hair?!”
Sometimes there just really aren’t words to say or enough words.
I am trying to learn in those moments just sit still and be. Or maybe just say “I love you.” or “I am so sorry that happened.” or “I believe you.”
Because words matter. Your words matter. They have power.
We moved to Mankato in mid-February, in the middle of snow storms and the school year. I could talk about all the changes I see. For example, now I am on the Red Jacket Trail (RJT) instead of the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) and instead of shipping reports, we listen to farm reports. Instead of everything being “lakeview” or “Superior” it is not “Riverview” or “Kato”. I could talk about how I have prayed for all 3 kids to be invited to birthday parties by the end of the school year and God answering that prayer two weeks early. Instead I am going to talk about myself.
June 1 is the official start of our church planting adventure. We will be going through a 6-month residency with our sending church, Crossview. We have been attending this spring and I have worked part-time with the Sunday morning, Guest Connections ministry. We signed the papers on Wednesday and will start officially this weekend.
Tomorrow is the start of so many new things; I am frankly having tons of emotions and … well, I am really a poodle. I like to be chill on the outside, self-regulated and calm. But on the inside, I am a poodle. (And I have the right hair so why not…)
I will be working full time for the first time in 12 years. I will be trying to manage my house, health, husband and children with a full time job. Brian and I are super excited to be working together again, but yes, it will be a stretch particularly with family life that includes budding soccer and baseball stars.
I keep thinking: How do people do it? Eat healthy. Keep a clean house. Sleep. Exercise. Listen to the kid tell about that project at school that took them forever and they forgot their water bottle at school again (are you bored yet? Well, as I am trying to type this Brian is trying to tell me a story and I am getting bored…)
Well how do people do it? Maybe the blog from here on will be “Confessions of a Full-time Church Planter, Mom, Chef and Marathon-trainer” (yes I have a race in October I am training for). And I’ll tell you how we are doing it (or what we are NOT doing).
How do we keep the Marie Kondo effect, submit to “Getting Things Done” (current read on our staff team) and eat non-processed meals? How will I get my workouts in to stave off the crazy, sleep enough, keep up with the Twins and practice self-care? How will I be able to spend quality time with community leaders and listen about their hearts for Mankato and get home in time for baseball? Will the boys hate the Y camp they are signed up for? Will I have the right clothes to meet with that CEO? What will we name the new church? Will Brian and I work 24/7 and listen to the kids complain about it?
So what does a poodle do the day before her life is about to change? I biked 18 miles on the Red Jacket Trail. It starts at the Y here and goes through a town called Rapidan, ends “The Dam Store” which is next to a, you guessed it, a dam.
I enjoyed my favorite IHeartRadio station (24 hour Cardio), tried to count the wildflowers (my mom’s habit when she walks), tried not to run over squirrels and goldfinches, learned how to use the gears on Brian’s bike and rode 18 miles on a new (to me) trail.
Nope, it wasn’t the SHT. And I didn’t have my best running friends with me. I wanted to go ask Matt to tune up the bike after a few miles. And see familiar faces as I walked back into the Y for a shower.
But I did have kind men who gave me chilled water from the fridge at the Dam Store (around here it is perfectly acceptable to talk about the Dam Store. Like up north we know what SHT is… it’s just different. Roll with it). I would have used tap water but the man said something like “the county said something about it being contaminated” (should I be worried about that?). They talked up their pies. “Better than Betty’s Pies! Better than Rustic Inn!” I will have to test them. (Another day: I thought riding home with a pie might be tricky.)
And I did calm down. Or just exhausted myself out so I can’t feel anxious anymore. And I maybe my legs will be jelly tomorrow and sitting down will be a challenge (or standing up). But I will be walking as a newly appointed church planter. Stay tuned…
When we came home from vacation, the happiest place on earth, we landed with a thud. Brian since he had spent the majority of our flight from ATL to MSP in the bathroom cursing the turbulence. And likely cursing the wife who had the virus first a few nights back and shared his toothbrush on said vacation.
We landed with a thud, 3 of us recovering from Montezuma’s revenge, El Capitan’s vile threats and El Chapo’s hot bullets of anger. It was Palm Sunday, a day of celebrating Jesus’ entrance to the Holy City. Children rejoiced. People shouted. Jesus said if they hadn’t, even the ROCK would cry out. (Disney could have a field day with that one.)
Yet I sat there, in the church where I have been called to serve, thinking “What am I doing here?” Half of the church emptied when the children rose to grab palms and march around the sanctuary. Hundreds of us looked on and rejoiced with them.
What do they need me for? Look at this place!? It’s doing phenomenal ministry.
But they have a dream for another church. A series of churches that will reach all those enjoying the wonderful weather this weekend but not darkening a door of a church. For all those grieving a loss of faith but don’t know where to turn.
Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. As a victorious king. Even though His work was really only half-complete. The people expected Him to come in and kick some royal tail and change their daily reality. They worshiped Him. They longed for Him.
Yet here we are on Friday. Those same folks (let’s be honest, I’d have been one of them) raising their angry fists and calling for His death. Those same folks walked back home that day, ate their bread and put their heads down, glad to be rid of that joker who came in to town on an ass.
Jesus suffered such things that the movies we cringe at only scratch the surface… Blood and fluids and pain and tears and cries. His mother watching. The disciples, some fled, some stayed. Some in shock. Soldiers inflicting the pain. Others in wonder at what was occurring.
It’s a beautiful day today. GORGEOUS. Green everywhere. Kids don’t have school today. We went to DQ and had ice cream. Saw Calista’s art on display in a gallery…
When I put my head down tonight, what will linger from today? From Holy Week? Before I rise on Easter and put on my blue pastel dress and hide the eggs for the kiddos in the neighborhood? Before I sing the triumphant songs? And eat the bacon wrapped pork loin in the roaster?
What am I doing in Mankato? I am here to worship that Jesus who knew all that was about to happen to Him – and HE STILL LET THEM WORSHIP HIM ON PALM SUNDAY. He still washed the feet of those who would betray Him. He still died on the Cross when He knew so many wouldn’t get it. HE STILL DID IT. And He entered into death, knowing full well so many of us would call Him a fool. Or even worse, not give Him a second thought most days.
HE STILL DID IT.
He pursues me even as I sit here in the sanctuary of my new church, surrounded my new co-workers, praying desperately that my kids make new friends and DQ treats help them until they do… He pursues you who read this. And the millions who won’t.
HE STILL DID IT.
And I get to be a pastor who can point others to this Man who is willing to go through crazy stuff for the sake of the many. The least we can do is move a few hours south and try to build one more church to point to this Man.
From our tub refinishing connection to church planting, old IV friends leading the church planting task force here in Mankato to uncanny devotional reading timings, I keep saying to Brian “you just can’t make this stuff up…”
When we adopted we had a myriad of those stories (Despicable Me forming our decision and then upon meeting XS realizing he was wearing Minion shorts… you can’t make it up!). Here we are again, watching God kind of show off.
Two weeks ago we were in the used car-shopping business. We have had one car for most of our married life (maybe 8 years of it). Public transportation, good friends and rental cars made it possible in Duluth with our jobs. Now we are in a situation where the church is farther away than I can bike and we both felt it was time to get that second car.
Brian decided we should run up to Mpls on the 8th of March to look at a few he found on line. After spending over 2 hours in a flashy, huge dealership, we ate our fill of popcorn and drank water while watching a flipper home improvement show. Brian test drove a car through rush hour, Friday night traffic on 494. There were TV’s, video games for the kids and the huge, movie-theater style popcorn maker to fill.us.up.
We dashed to our second appointment, where a kind man said he’s wait for us (we were very, very late). We walked into a sparsely decorated waiting area where there was a desk, table with a large screen TV perched on it and bookshelf with a bucket of “Pub Mix.” Behind this lovely waiting area was the showroom with about 15 cars in it. As soon as we walked up to this beauty, I was sold. It looked brand new! Less than 73,000 miles on it! Under our budget!
Well, to make a long story short, we felt comfortable buying it on this first visit due to a few things. 1. Gut. It just felt right (plus the facts that the car is in great shape). 2. The man selling it to us was keeping his wife and grandkids waiting so he could serve us. 3. The salesman also shared with us his faith background (Jewish) and the fact that his boss keeps trying to convert him. “It won’t happen,” Larry said. 4. I told Larry I would blog this out and give their business some free advertising and he was all for it. 5. He called his boss, told him our story of why we needed a second car and that we were pastors. “You should be here to talk about the Scriptures!” he said. Then handed the phone to us so we could ask any questions about the car. 6. To seal the deal, there was a palm tree in the corner. Ash Wednesday had just happened and our church practices the traditions of keeping the palms from Palm Sunday the previous year, burning the palms and making the “ash” for the foreheads.
Later that weekend I was driving the “new” car to Duluth for Calista’s field trip with her old 5th grade class. I had planned to rent a car but yay, no need with the second vehicle now! Woot – what freedom you people have had all these years who have 2 cars!!
Well I was praying for our kids and their needs for new friends. I even prayed specifically for them to be invited to a birthday party before the end of the school year. As Calista and I pulled over to eat our picnic dinner about 15 minutes later, I looked at my phone and you’ll never believe it – a friend was inviting Elam to a birthday party. I mean, really people… coincidence? I think not.
Last “you can’t make it up” for this brain tonight. Calista was giving herself a foot bath after playing in wet snow all afternoon. Then she offered to give Elam a foot bath, giving him a book and soaking his feet in sweet smelling water. I sat back, smiling to myself, thinking how John 13 this was. Elam and Calista have had their issues lately. Fed up with one another and likely with this transition we are in… Well, in John 13 we learn that Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. Maybe that sounds like something Jesus would do, but what’s made perfectly clear in John 13 is that Judas was about to betray Jesus and it would lead to the death of the Savior. Jesus knew it. And yet He still got up and wrapped a towel around Himself, got down on His knees and took those stinky, slimy, muddy or at least dirty feet into His hands that would soon be nailed to a tree. Feet that would run away from the sounds of His agony. Feet of disciples which would eventually turn back around and follow this Man until they themselves might die.
Well Calista isn’t always so much like Jesus, but tonight she was. And I was journaling about it. Then I opened my devotional reading for the night and you guessed it, it was on John 13.
I don’t know how you’re spending this Lenten season, but I am enjoying watching God show off and show up.
How have we ended up moving to Mankato MN in one of the snowiest winters of the century?
I’ll try to be brief but there are so many moments where we felt God’s presence along this journey. (And a few pictures along the way…)
The lead person on the search committee is an InterVarsity guy, Steve Baty. We have known him for years!
There is a huge university in town: second largest in the state of MN.
The lead pastor was willing to drive the 4+ hours to visit us. He was in a t-shirt. We were in triple layers I think. He mentioned training for Grandma’s Marathon and that his wife was a personal trainer. (We also talked about equally important spiritual matters that we agreed upon…)
On our first trip to scope out Mankato, our van broke down in Jordan, about 45 miles north of Mankato. The alternator stopped us flat a block off of 169. Immediately a man named Art pulled in behind us, offering help and jumper cables. In front of us, a police officer came to see if we were ok. Art became our angel, allowing us to unload our gear into the back of his extended cab truck and driving us to Mankato. We had a spiritual conversation with him and had a wonderful, comfortable ride the kids and me in the seat for 3. 2 of us shared a seatbelt (shhh).
Well, since we had no van, we had to rely on our hosts for a vehicle. They just happened to have events unfold that cleared their calendar for the weekend and could lend us their SUV for the weekend. This family turned out to be such a blessing. When we returned later for our interviews in December, they took our 3 kids for a long Saturday when they were hosting a family birthday party. It was a blizzard and the kids enjoyed playing in the snow!
On our Mankato visit, we drove around and found fun places like a Ninja Gym (now closed – too sad!) Of course the Y was on my list. And just think: we ran into an IV alumnus, VA, in the parking lot. Well not actually running – she was walking and we were too. (and instead of typing parking lot, Parking “love” came out… we did feel the love VA when we saw you!). VA was one of our students who traveled to Russia with us when we were newly weds of 5 weeks.
We had our bathtub refinished in preparation for selling and as I spoke with the secretary, she asked why we were moving and fixing the tub. I told her. She paused in the coversation and said, “you’re not going to believe this but our husband and I moved down to Mankato to plant a church over 10 years ago.” I mean, really? You just can’t make this stuff up.
Other than our Art story, my last “favorite, huge answer to prayer and can you believe this actually worked out” story is about our house. We got to hire two new pastors at Lakeview Covenant and their families are just so great. One of the families searched for a home all fall to no avail. Somewhere in my head I kept thinking “if the timing of this whole thing works out, they could buy our house!” After we knew that all systems were a go, I was having tea with Laura. We talked about their house hunt and how they had decided to hit the pause button since it was December. At some point, she did tell me she liked my house and I invited her to take a look. Laura, bless your heart, came and listened to every thing that was wrong with that place. By the end of December, we had negotiated and this is us on signing day.
I can’t even begin to tell you all of the stories of our wonderful realtor who was working during Christmas to get us our new home (when I say new, I mean it in every way – it’s brand stinking [actually it smells awesome] and she is a runner and we have a running date planned… the stories of the friends here in Mankato who helped unload our truck in 90 minutes… the babysitter we met from Ghana… the neighbors who have been so kind… the great Y here….
Last but not least, we did have some crazy complications right before moving: we decided we really wanted to spend quality time together in front of our TV and in our beds. Calista started us off with 104 temps and then I followed with chills and fatigue and Elam, not to be outdone kept his temps up to the same measure throughout the weekend before we moved. This is his bag of tissues from about 30 minutes one day… I was glad I hadn’t packed the tissues. We used so so so many. When we moved to Mankato we were still blowing noses so seriously one of our first big purchases and move-in tasks was to have a box in every.single.room. Let’s just say I am grateful we were still able to get moved, had a ton of help and are so glad to be healthy now\
If you had asked me a year ago where I’d be I wouldn’t have seen this coming: a major move and career shift.
It all started …
Well, when Brian and I said yes to Jesus years ago, to do whatever He said, no matter what. And we meant it.
It also started in Brian’s heart years ago when he learned about planting churches during his master’s study back at Wheaton. And then as we drove cross-country, wondering where they needed Covenant Churches.
Then about a year ago, I started feeling this sense that we were about to move and I was being called to something else.
A year ago, I was working as a part-time adult ministries staff at our church. We had gone through 3 staff departures (and would have one more to come). I was able to fill in here and there, having more opportunities to lead, make decisions, meet weekly with our lead pastor and be a part of our church. I had a sense that all of these things would not just be preparing me for Lakeview ministry, but something else. Eventually I had a sense that we would be moving from Duluth, but didn’t share that with many.
This will be one of many blogs (where have you been blog? I’ve missed you!) to come. But here is the quick story about just what in the world the Askers are up to now.
In April last year, Brian and I went to our conference annual gathering. I received my ministry license and Brian renewed his. We were meeting the Church Planting coach, Mike Brown, since he was going to come preach at Lakeview in a month. I wanted to touch base about his visit. Brian had other ideas.
“Hi, I’m wondering if you ever look for people to coach your church planters?” These are not far from Brian’s first words to Mike. I laughed. Mike said something like “And who are you?”
It got better and eventually Mike said, “I have a guy for you to meet. His name is Brad and he lives in Mankato.”
Well as we walked to find Brad, I said to Brian “We are NOT moving to Mankato.”
Oh when we say these things, does Jesus just laugh? Shake His head? Does He say, “oh you think so my dear? Just you wait…”
Well, I don’t know if the sky fell when I said it, but looking back, I do know that when I said it, something shifted in the world and as we have been swept up in this adventure called church planting.
Mike and his lovely wife Julie had lunch with us after preaching on Mother’s Day. They told us their stories of planting churches with kids, with a foster child, in South Dakota and how their family thrived. They told us what church planting coaches look for “We want people with a passion for evangelism, people who can gather a group of people and be good in front of a crowd.”
I looked at Brian and I said, “well, I think that’s me.” We drove home that day (no kids: thanks Finstroms!) and I said to Brian “we are supposed to do this.”
Brad, bless him, was about to go on Sabbatical, but he spent time on the phone with us, drove hours up North (he was in shorts, we were in fleece), ate bad bar food and told us his dreams for 2 hours.
We took the kids to Mankato for a weekend in early June. They hated the idea of moving (of course! we love Duluth! we love our friends!), but by the end of the weekend, we started to think maybe we were supposed to do this.
The green space, the paved trail system, the Y (Thank You Jesus there is a good Y there! No Y might have been a deal breaker!), the campus (MSU-M is the second largest university in the state), the people and finally, Crossview Covenant.
Crossview is 129 years old (our denomination is only 6 years older!). They have an extensive ministry in the city, but have a church in North Mankato. They have a dream to reach the rest of the city with new church plants. God uses new church plants more than any other way in the USA to reach those who don’t know Jesus. We get to start a movement, we pray, to reach not only Mankato, but the nearby rural areas, country folks and other cities surrounding Mankato.
It looks like my hometown of Dawson, MN. I grew up around the rivers, silos and corn fields. The snowy drifts, the blizzards, the hotter summers and the rolling hills look familiar!
So as we went through assessment (that’s another story for another day), Church Planting Class and our interview, we had to keep the news to ourselves. Our mentors and some friends knew of course, but mostly we kept it to ourselves. That was the hardest part! I love to tell people good news and it just about killed me to keep this secret.
We were able to figure out a timeline, tell our church family and Crossview had time to do the same.
We moved Feb 14. There are so many good good stories about how God is providing for our needs (like having our friends buy our house, medical bills and 2.5 year insurance headaches coming to a close 12/31/18 so we could sell our home) but for now, here is the first installment of our story.
We were so sad to leave Duluth! The kids are still going through varying degrees of grief. But we are trusting that there is something else waiting for us which has been prepared for us.
When we were determining our decision regarding adoption, we spent one weekend in particular praying and asking God to give us signs and speak to us. I ran one morning and found a bus stop bench that said, ” YOU CAN ADOPT.” We had orphans and justice verses shared during church. The bench could have sealed the deal, but the most significant message came through a silly movie I had never really heard of – Despicable Me. Brian’s brother wanted to share it with us so we settled in Saturday night. Halfway through, the villain/hero of the movie decides to adopt 3 girls. He also has a host of Minions and they were delightfully funny. It took over 2 years for the process to eventually lead us to travelling to China to meet our son Tobiah Xuan Song Asker. When we received him, we were greeted with this outfit on our boy:
As we have continued life as a family, the Minions have become a nostalgic part of our story.
Fast forward 4 years and we entered a summer of surgery for our boy. We always knew he would need to have one surgery, but lucky us, he has had 2 this summer. First he needed his tonsils out in May. We traveled down to Minneapolis Children’s Hospital for the procedure since few surgeons love to do cleft patients’ tonsillectomies.
August 7 we got to return to Minneapolis Children’s for round 2: bone graft surgery. I told the nurses we had had so much fun last time we were here, we wanted to come back and stay longer this time.
Xuan Song woke up with a smile at 5:15am and it didn’t go away until he literally went lights out with anesthesia at 8am. He got the giggles breathing in his drugs and his dimples moved the mask.
The surgery took about 3 hours. We had a screen with his surgery updates, plus a nurse called every 55-60 minutes (seriously I could plan on it) to give us an update. He was getting a tooth removed so I was able to ask her to save it (ew).
Upon settling into our hospital room which would be our home for the next 24 hours, our nurse Janet was decked out in bright blue scrubs with the word BANANAS! in bright yellow and of course, yellow Minions. I told her our story and she said, “When I was choosing my outfit today I chose correctly I guess!” And I said, “we did too, it was just 4 years ago.”
He woke up well, devoured food (that’s been the hardest part – finding enough foods for him to eat since he’s on a liquid diet for 7 days) and kept me hopping by needing to go to the bathroom about every 2 hours, even overnight. The “bed” for me wasn’t super great but I wasn’t able to sleep much more than 2, 2 hour spans.
The kid really was amazing. Text response for prayer for him included the word “Trooper” more than once to describe him. Yes, I completely agree! His siblings were very eager and happy to see him Wednesday morning. They watched a movie together with hot cocoa. And by noon, we were on our way home.
Side note: Mpls Children’s really has been an amazing place for us! We haven’t had one bad experience in our 4 years of appointments with the Cleft Team, our tonsillectomy and now this surgery.
Another side note: good friends of ours were praying with their toddler, who mostly “repeats” what his family says. So as his dad prayed for a “speedy recovery,” this boy repeated prayers for a “peedy scubbabery for ‘Biah.” Aye, matey. Arg. This made XS laugh in the midst of hip pain and mouth bleeding.
Want to know what to feed your kid after tonsils or bone graft in the face surgery? EGGS (he’s eaten 6 today and it’s only 2:00pm), yogurt, popsicles (Outshine are fairly “healthy” … oh what am I kidding?!), Sherbet and watermelon. Mango, Naked juice, Jell-O (again who cares if it’s healthy!?) and ice cream (I did get the 1/2 fat kind since I could not read any difference in the ingredients list. If one is going to compare and contrast ice cream ingredient lists, I’d suggest setting them down first. By the time I got to check out I was concerned as to my numb hands, until I remembered what I had just been doing.)
The kid has to have a liquid diet for 7 days. Then only soft (think noodles) diet for 14 more days. Oh and no strenuous activity for 20 days. Surgeon suggested not even walking far for 7 days and then slow, peaceful activity for the next 14.
Yeah, that shouldn’t be a problem in August when you’re 7 and have 2 older siblings, it’s 85 degrees and gorgeous according to the forecast for those days…
At least we have AC.
Final side note: make no plans for operating heavy machinery soon after a night in the hospital. After the infernal beeping from a sensitive IV line, finding ice chips and popsicles from nurses at 11, 2:20, 5:50 and 7:00 am all the while measuring every CC of urine my son expelled… which meant I had to go to the bathroom around the corner and down the hall… well, I was just plain off for 2 days. My words got mixed up. I had zero short-term memory (where did I just put my underwear?). I almost killed the librarian today when I couldn’t figure out where our requested books were being held. He was helping me search through the stacks and literally books starting falling and hitting him and I couldn’t catch them. I also have told the big kids they aren’t allowed to complain. For 20 days. (I’m apparently allowed to complain as long as it’s on line and mostly contained in one blog post…)
And for you parents who have had your kids walk through long-term illness, surgeries and health issues: I salute you. And pray God meets you in those moments. I could barely decide what to order from a limited Panera menu for my 5th meal that day.
So thank God for those older siblings who don’t mind playing Legos, reading books (currently Elam is devouring his fav new series) and making slime/playdough/silly putty/what was it supposed to be Calista? Thank God for those asking how I am. For my friends at the Y this morning helping me not just lie down and stretch my glutes and call it a day. For a job to go to and try to adult. For my neighbor who left a gift for XS weeks ago so he’ll have something to do when he gets bored. For the swelling to stay fairly manageable for my chipmunk (see above). And yes, thank God for all you praying for a “peedy scubbabery for ‘Biah.”
Note: in this climate, as a white woman it is a scary thing to try and write about race. If you have comments, would you please send them personally and let’s avoid a social media blitz. The following is part of my own journey as I struggle to speak for justice and love those who might be listening.
I love to run trails. Even in below zero, wind and snow, I layer up and run down the street and into Hartley. Yesterday I raced home from church and got 77 minutes of almost total bliss. Eyelashes frosted. Snot dripping. Yak tracks keeping my feet from slipping. And dodging fat bikes.
When you’re a runner and the fat bikes come at you, you get out of the way. At least I do. They could get off their bike and walk around me in the deep snow… but they never do. Never.
This isn’t a judgment on bikers, but it was impossible not to think of privilege and Martin Luther King Jr as I ran yesterday. Stay with me.
Fat bikes aren’t cheap. Neither are the fancy outfits most bikers wear in the winter while they are racing around the trails. And even if the bikers come from modest means they still never get off their bikes when I’m “sharing” the trail.
True Confession: At some point it is hard to trust the bikers. To say hello. To even like them while I am driving on roads and they are doing nothing to impede my day. And to not wonder if I were a man if it would be any different. Or as a woman I feel like this a lot… but I digress.
Perhaps if one or two of them did treat me differently it would change my attitude.
So as I ran yesterday, amazed by the tiny flakes of snow completely unique from the other billion falling around me. As I struggled to breathe as the weight of 4 layers of clothing kept me from my PR. As I wondered at the pure white snow… and how we love to think white is good and black is dark and bad. And as I dodged fat bikes, I asked for help.
Help in parenting my kids to treat everyone well. Help in continuing my education about how it is to be a minority in Duluth. Help in reading books like Waking up White, biographies written my Muslim women raising children in post 9-11 NYC and Tony Dungy’s experiences in the NFL in the ’70’s and ’80’s as a black coach. Help.
Help us Lord. It’s been 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr was killed. 50 years.
The next generation is watching. I know I was as I grew up in Dawson MN, pop 1626.
This is a picture of my father (center) shaking hands with Martin Luther King Sr at a Chapel meeting in 1972.
My father went to Duke Seminary when it was segregated. He tells stories of what it was like to try to get Duke to open their doors to African Americans. Inviting black pastors to speak at their chapel (which was “allowed”) and extending friendship.
I’ve always wanted a copy of this photo. My dad was an Army chaplain. He believed (still does) that Jesus is our model for how to treat others. And to stand up for what’s right. I’m pretty sure Martin Luther King Jr had a dad like that too. It’s what motivated him and created a movement that changed our country and the world.
I don’t know what the answers are all and I sit in a warm house today educated and well fed. But I do think how we treat one another, the words we use and our parenting will impact the world.
So as the state bleeds purple today, may we not forgot what day it is.