What am I doing here?

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.

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Can’t make this stuff up

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…”

These two are just so great for each other:)

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!

We should name her…

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.

Not the splashy huge dealership waiting area … but they were our favs!
Check them out when you need a new used car: TheCarBuyingCenter.com. Ask for Josh or Larry. Tell them the Asker Pastors sent you.

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.

45 degrees and we had to try the nearest playground. You can’t see my warmest hat, double layers of winter coat and wool sweatshirt … oh and mittens. Kids meanwhile biked to said playground.

I don’t know how you’re spending this Lenten season, but I am enjoying watching God show off and show up.

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God Spots

Welcome to Mankato!
Thank God for the snowblower. Thanks Eddie!

How have we ended up moving to Mankato MN in one of the snowiest winters of the century?

There is no way with my iPhone and 5’5″ frame for me to give you the perspective for how much snow there is in our front yard. Let’s just say we haven’t seen the neighbors much!

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.
When you empty your house during the times your friends are free, it means you sleep on the floor one night and at your sister’s who’s not really your sister but feels like one another night. We stayed in Duluth 2 more days after packing the truck/trailer to let the kids have Valentines Day with their friends at school. They ate lots of candy to help fight through the tears while we drove south that night…
  • 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.
These guys are so great. Their youngest is the same age as a neighbor. They took care of the tux in the closet plus the scarf and La Croix I left on the counters when I left:) It was a wonderful blessing to have avoided the showings and the ease of the selling of our great house. But even more to know the Light will still shine on Northfield street.
  • 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….

This guy helped me move to Bemidji at age 5. Then helped move us to Duluth 12 years later. Then flew in from SCOTLAND to help us pack the truck. Too great. I mean Jacob, stop it. You’re going to make me cry…
  • 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\
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If you had asked me a year ago…

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.”

Alex Rahill (national director of church planting for the E Cov), me, Brian and Mike after we found out we passed our assessment. Whew. It was a long 3 days of feeling scrutinized.

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 kids have received going away gifts the last 3 weeks. It is very, very sweet. They are so, so, so sad to leave. Even maybe angry that God is doing this to us. But we are soaking up our friends as much as possible this super cold, stay at home week! What great timing for them!

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.

And this is just one tottering pile of boxes that were in the house and you should have seen the garage!

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.

Stay tuned…

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Minions!

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.”

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Fat Bikes and Privilege

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.

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Training World Changers in Training

Last week our church did a 24/7 prayer event. I had the idea our family would sign up for an hour of prayer, but discovered we had a kid conflict.  Elam said, “Mom, I’ll go pray with you.  Let Dad take care of the other kids.”

How could I refuse him?!

We entered our church’s prayer room that some members had set up.  It was awesome.

There was a Bible study on prayer we did for a while.  There was a map with missionary pictures on it (including Daddy’s!). 

There were tons of prayer requests on the wall.

There was a fill in the blank prayer guide with Scripture to lead the prayers.

I wish I could have videotaped Elam praying for his teachers, his classmates, the pastors at our church (he is praying Pastor Luther, the youth pastor, will still be there when he is a teenage), our neighbors and even a kid he got into trouble with a LOT last year.

We prayed for a leader in our local government who responded to my personal message I sent her earlier in the week.  And she messaged back how blessed she was by our praying for her.  (I sent her the above pic.)

We also had a chance to take communion together, talking through the sacrament and kneeling side by side.

The hour went too quickly.

On the way home, we saw a huge, mangled racoon on the road. “Mom what HAPPENED?!”

“Someone must run over that racoon.”

“Oh Mommy, I hope they are ok! … We should pray for them!” Then muttering to himself, “look at me, I’m so used to this praying thing!”

This was on Monday.  Every day of the week he asked when we could go back.  We took his brother and sister who were eager to do what their brother had done earlier in the week.

It wasn’t so epic (more squirrelly than peaceful) but still worth our time together.


Sunday I had done the first study in our Bible study guide alone.  It included the following verses from Deuteronomy 6:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

What a privilege to follow through on that verse all week.

 

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It’s the most wonderf…

It started around Thanksgiving with the big kids getting sick and keeping us homebound for the 4-day weekend.

Then I seemed to fight off whatever they had…and then 7 days later, deal with some nagging hip pain.  Thursday I spiked a fever and that night, I could barely sleep and then crawled out of bed (literally) unable to stand straight up.

The kids had their awesome Snow Concert that morning.  Sitting felt awful but we managed to smile and wave as the kids desperately sought our faces in the crowd.

I did get to see a PT later that day and had hope that my “psoas” problem was alleviated enough for me to function.  I felt good leaving but the pain and tightness returned after a few hours of resting that day since I still had some flu-like symptoms.

The weekend was a combination of lying flat on my stomach, back or stretching to try to fix myself.  Oh and I developed a cold sore.  Because I could.

Are you bored yet?  I am just reliving it.

True Confession: when I get sick, I look at everything I eat (have I allowed too much sugar?) every exercise and my form, my sleep cycles and pretty much anything in my control.  I feel embarrassed and desperate for an answer and in this case, relief.

When I get injured, I feel the same: embarrassed.  I take great pride in staying healthy and active and when that fails me, I feel like a failure.

Well, let’s just say the weekend was awful.  Brian was home (thank You Jesus) and he took them sledding in frigid weather, swimming on Sunday and enjoyed all of the leftovers in the fridge.

Monday was a new day and I figured some exercise couldn’t hurt.  It didn’t.  I felt great.  Tuesday we did our Christmas-kicking 1000 reps at the Y and I felt slow but managed to finish my 1000 (or was it 900?  1100? I lost count…).

We had dinner with dear friends that night and when all the kids were settled in bed, I looked in the mirror and wow: my eyes were Christmas red.  My throat was getting scratchy and my chest was congested in the matter of 2 hours.  “Could I possibly have pink eye?”

it's the most wonderf...

it’s the most wonderf…

The next morning, eyes crusted over, I texted my personal family practice doc and wiped the goo out.  Then I went to Q Care and my nurse had a “LOVE PINK” sweatshirt.  I told her it was ironic but I wasn’t laughing.

Thanksgiving (see Thank You Plan B) and we have all been grateful for it as we have been sick!  It was understood that this would be everyone’s gift this year.

But Calista peeked under the tree last week and noticed packages with the kids’ names on it.  “Mom, I thought we weren’t getting any more gifts?!”  Bless her heart.

“Oh Mom and Dad have ways to get you things without spending money!”  (We decided to use our Discover Rewards Points on our Amazon account to get them some little gifts.)

As the kids get excited, there might be some of us who are just ready to get Christmas, New Year’s and all of it behind us.  We have dear friends who have lost family members, babies and their marriages recently.  Others have faced health crises, financial stress and infertility.  Or maybe you just have a bum hip which reminds you 24/7 that you’re not 25 anymore.  And you get to wear your glasses all day because you have pink eye.  I never feel awake when I wear my glasses…

at least I got new glasses this fall that stay on my face.  They are nestled in the fruit bowl we received as a gift from our neighbor.

at least I got new glasses this fall that stay on my face. They are nestled in the fruit bowl we received as a gift from our neighbor.

I kept trying to find some humor, redemption and lesson in all of this all weekend.

It never came.

Yesterday as I put my eye drops in, I thought about how Jesus endured pain and suffering when He came to earth.  And Christmas is our nod to Him becoming “flesh and dwelling among us.”  We make it sweet and gentle, “away in a manger” and Mary’s beautiful blue robe and smiling face.  Silent Night, Angels we have heard on high and candlelit midnight services.

There is another view, however.  One where we acknowledge the suffering Mary went through knowing she was pregnant without Joseph’s involvement.  The birthing process which was anything but silent.  The revolutionary declaration of Mary’s Magnificat where she basically calls out Herod and declares her infant to be the future king.  The raw truth that Jesus would be born only to die for all of humankind.

Christmas has teeth baby and it’s sometimes as brutal as Duluth wind chills.

Jesus gave us comfort and power in order to be born through a narrow birth canal, sleep in a manger and be raised by a poor carpenter and his wife.  He maybe never had pink eye, but probably slammed a hammer a few times on his fingers.  He coughed.  He bled.

So, it can be the most wonderful time of the year.  But it can also be painful and pierce our hearts.

I have these blocks my mom made me one year for Christmas.  For fun this week, I have removed the “J.”

oy

Next year I’ll make it say “yo.” It’ll be like Rocky greeting me every morning in my bathroom.

 

Just keeping it real here.

For some of you, Merry Christmas!  Enjoy the wonder of the season, the generosity of others and remembering those who do not have enough this year.

For others of you, may God meet you wherever you are this season.  Regardless of our state of mind, He is always and will always be Immanuel, God with us.

at least there is an emoji for this

at least there is an emoji for this

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Thank you Plan B

My friend’s dad suggested a blog post about my adventures as a novice Turkey Cooker so here goes.

8 days ago, Elam came down with what will forever be known as “the year the kids got sick and we couldn’t travel on Thanksgiving” sickness. He had it off and on for 5-6 days. 4 days in, Calista joined the battle against whatever demon is living inside their little chests, causing a deep, raw cough. There is also a nice fever that rises and falls about as unpredictably as the temps this November.

Monday morning, I started to brace myself that we would be the Asker 5 for Thanksgiving. By Tuesday I was hopeful we might be traveling. By Tuesday night, we were back up in the high fever-land and decided the demons had cooked our goose and we’d be cooking our own turkey.

I have never purchased a large turkey before. They are huge. Trump “huuuuuge.” Of the 20 or so left in the case, there was 1 bird close to 10 lbs so I grabbed it. It was also frozen solid. I was glad I work out, wondering how little old ladies cooking for their families get these beasts out of the frozen section.

It also struck me I had no idea how long these suckers took to thaw! What if we bought the turkey, tried to thaw it only to be forced to wait until Friday to eat the dumb thing… a call to my mom and a bit of logic from the hubs and we set it in water overnight.

Thank God there has been a decent amount of snow lately. The boys had plenty to do while we waited for the food.

Instead of just buying one new plastic, gentle on the deck paint shovel, yesterday Brian got the boys their own shovels (put to good use by clearing the neighbor’s driveway after the plows left about 6′ of slop into the road). Shovel made guitar by our rock star.

he always makes that face. do guitar players have Picasso like features or what is it with that face?!

he always makes that face. do guitar players have Picasso like features or what is it with that face?!

Well I was grateful for the extra time today to clean off the deck and the driveway.  Brian had to take it to the next level.  Literally.

Since our garage damage from the summer storm has not yet been repaired, we have been advised to shovel off the heavy snow... but apparently its safe to walk up there... makes perfect sense to me!

Since our garage damage from the summer storm has not yet been repaired, we have been advised to shovel off the heavy snow… but apparently it’s safe to walk up there… makes perfect sense to me!

The boys clumped on the roof making the reindeer proud, I stuck my hand in a turkey.  Ew.  Covered both with butter.  Ew.

I did read some of the advice I was given.  Some of it seemed simple (rub spices on bird).  Some was too complicated (make brine solution with 12 cups of vegetable or chicken stock in a 5 gallon bucket).  We did a dry rub and had left it overnight, uncovered in the fridge.

I did some reading about the stuffing.  I wasn’t willing to make the real thing, plus always felt like it was unnecessary carbos in addition to potatoes and bread, my favs.  So we did just carrots, celery, onion and a ridiculous about of spices and herbs.

We had decided to cook the turkey in the roaster instead of oven.  I hadn’t made anything ahead of time so the fries (when you have kids…) and bread needed that oven.  Gosh I had all these great cooking food pics and they aren’t loading… PLAN B I guess.

I had one of the tin foil “breastplate” one dude told me to make after cooking the bird for 30 min on 500.  I had one of the bird through a steamy lens — caption “This is how NOT to take a pic while cooking a bird.”

Well, I don’t know what all the fuss is about.  Imagine here pics of fluffy pull apart rolls, fluffy indeed (Rebekah: best bread recipe EVER).  Crispy, browned legs next to deliciously pale, tender, thinly sliced turkey (thanks to my hubs who somehow knows how to wield the electric knife).  We had simple fruit, green beans and I don’t know, some kind of potatoes.  The kids wanted fries so fries I made.

We ate and cleaned up in about 55 minutes.  Boom.

What’s the big deal?  Plan B isn’t THAT difficult.  Buy a turkey, give your ailing child Tylenol every time the thermometer says 101 something and do some dishes.

elam-turkey

Even he knows it’s nothing to sweat over… boom.

 

I did throw out a table cloth and some nice napkins.  That fruit was in a Tupperware tho baby. Calista in her jammies from 3 days ago.  And the sour cream was in a Chinese soup bowl:)  But our glasses matched.  And we were thankful.

I find I can be thankful IN the midst of the plan B.

My friend Chris came by with the turkey bag I ended up not using – that’s a true friend.  But he lost his son April 21.  Remember him?  That guy has had so many plans go awry this past year.  We talked about how it is hard for them to be grateful this year.  “Maybe Paul meant for us not to be grateful for everything that happened to us, but to be grateful IN the struggles.  Not that we are glad Isaac is dead, but for our friends, faith and community who has seen us through it, ” I suggested.

I wasn’t grateful that when I went next door to share our Thanksgiving meal with our widowed, lonely neighbor, she asked me to drive her to the ER.  I didn’t praise God that I got to spend 2-3 hours waiting, driving and then waiting at the pharmacy again… BUT I am so glad we are home today and can help her.  I am glad the pharmacy stays open on Thanksgiving!  And for the sassy nurse who helped us.

I don’t know what hasn’t worked out according to plan for you: the election, the cops being shot, the news coming from ND, the white supremacy talk, the fact Bernie didn’t make it on the ticket or that the election news is just getting too much.  The cancer, the marriage, the job, the stubborn anxiety or the simple fact you never get enough sleep.

But I do know in the midst, somewhere, the Hound of Heaven pursues us.  He shows up at our door when we need to go to the ER.  He gives us friends when our son dies.  He opens up dialogues that didn’t exist before.  He raises up His church when the government fails us.  He gives us hope when the unexplainable happens.  He stands for justice and fairness when those in power don’t.  And He shows up even in the darkest places where we cannot imagine finding anything for which to be grateful

And He gives you extra long workout classes the day after Thanksgiving – at the Y every day after Thanksgiving my favorite Duluth Personal Trainer does a “90 minutes kick your butt and make you cry for mercy but you won’t miss it for the world class.” I can’t wait.

thanksgiving

Note the crispy turkey, the matching glasses and tablecloth!

So our Asker 5 stayed home for Thanksgiving this year. We shoveled. The boys went sledding.  Brian may have taken advantage of a good deal on a TV for our basement (our first TV we have ever bought in our married life!).  I visited the ER.  We may have also started to decorate for Christmas.

Plan B baby.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s My Party…

When I was in 7th grade, most of my small class of 37 people stopped talking to me. I don’t remember all of the details or if I deserved it, but I still get sick to my stomach remembering how hard it was to get up for school every day and face them. I remember fearing that I wouldn’t get a partner in gym class for sit ups (remember how we used to have to sit on each others’ feet? GROSS).

The mercy was a group of 4 girls who didn’t follow the crowd. Tami, Shelly, Tina and Stacey were my friends through it. They stuck with me and held my feet so I didn’t end up with the gym teacher who never let you cheat on those exercises.

The other day XS was feeling sad and left out when his brother was asking him to stop following him. I told him this story and agreed it never feels good to be left out.

The last few weeks I have had numerous hard conversations at work, regarding my husband’s work and at home with my bent 6 year old. We have the lovely election season which also brings some added drama to conversation.

Tonight, I was working really hard to make a social event happen in my basement for my neighborhood. Despite my husband’s surprise information that he couldn’t get home before 9 and the fact that I had 3 kids to get into bed at the same time as the aforementioned social event, I was giving it the ole college try.

We decided to go pick up Brian (in Superior which meant a trip to Aldi [score]) and come home for late bedtimes but still had an extra adult in the house. I put away a ton of groceries and emptied lunch boxes etc… And then the text messages started pouring in with cancellation after cancellation…

What is worse: cramming in the girls’ night when I had a really long day but I was going to make it work? (like this: I noticed as I went to the bathroom for maybe the 3rd time all day that my leggings are SHREDDED in my inner thighs and I’ve had meetings today, took the kids to swim, shopped and even had a meeting with the boss/pastor! EW)

Or going through all of that work and ending up with zero friends who could come?

Well, I didn’t cry, but thought about it.

I said, “I don’t even know what to do.”

Calista said, “Mom, you should play a game with me.” and brought out Candyland.

Other than getting the Gingerbread Man when I was about to win, it was very restful. We laughed. We ate popcorn.

And I was reminded that the world doesn’t hate me. Not even my friends who cancel did so b/c of me, they just were throwing up or had husbands who were also working late. My 8-year old still liked me after I was a very stressed momma tonight.

So, we turned the heat on tonight (first time: BOOM). I did some work emails. Oh and I blogged.

The other day I noticed my friend at the Y help a “new girl” get set up for class. She asked questions, was friendly and I noticed. It was a simple act, but I’ll bet the “new girl” returns and isn’t afraid to come back.

Somehow, can we try to be people who are able to have hard conversations, even about which candidate we are/aren’t going to vote for (even IF we do vote!), what we believe and practice and come to realize our good friends disagree with us, and still be friends?

Many of those kids in my grade who stopped talking to me eventually started to talk to me again. The feeling of being sick to my stomach went away and we all grew up. We share pics of our kids growing up and celebrate when good things happen.

Elam just woke up, called my name and he needed to know I was here.

Don’t we all?

In the times ahead friends, we are going to have so many chances to be the kids who shut others out or the ones who stand up to it or the ones who let the disagreements melt into the past. Or the ones who blog/post on social media about being nice at such a time as this.

So I am going to reschedule my girls’ night and then go to bed early.

“Honor all people. Love the brotherhood/sisterhood. Fear God. Honor the king.” 2 Peter 2:17

And if you’re in the Woodland Neighborhood and want a good girls night out, let me know!

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