Happy 21st Birthday, Post-Season Playoffs, and “Adulting” Lessons

Our youngest turned 21 at 11:23 pm last Tuesday night. Soooo glad Michael was born–and just 23 minutes after we arrived at the hospital. That delay was not because the OB had said “take your time,” (we remembered all too well that our first baby was born within one hour), but because we were watching the exciting, Seattle Mariners, playoff game against the NY Yankees. Apparently, the OB took her own advice, because she saw the end of that playoff game, while we did not. Ken thought he might have to deliver Michael in the car. A Resident delivered the babe, and only after Ken grabbed his shirt and said, “Do not leave this room. This baby is coming soon!”

My sister gave back to me a treasure trove of the photos I’d sent to her over the years.

Michael was in a hurry to get into the world, yes, but in a vampire way of preferring the dark of midnight. He’s grown into the night-est of all night prowlers I’ve ever met, with a huge adjustment from late-night, college life to day-time, working life this fall. I really do think a gap year can be helpful to students’ living into all this painful learning called “Adulting.” And the best news to me is: his supervisor is now responsible for teaching those life lessons about being on time and not over sleeping. I promise I tried my best for 20 years: witness any of the 17 times his sophomore fall that he missed the high school bus and had to pay us for a ride through unpleasant chores, or call an Uber, or run the 4 miles. (BTW, did you know that Uber doesn’t let kids under 18 order rides?)

Speaking of 21st birthdays, today Michael and Ken were running all over Palatine trying to get papers notarized to transfer his custodial bank account into his name, now that he’s a major. Thank you, Grandma Gail for starting a sweet little account 20 years ago “to help buy your first car.” A car now necessitated by totalling “Kate,”, his 15-year-old, phantom-blue bomber that we provided four years ago and which reached 140,000 miles to-from the quad cities, home, and the lake. (Thankful no one was hurt; R.I.P. Kate.)

As E.T. would say, “Ouch.”

Michael’s actually an excellent driver–and one with ADHD. We always encouraged him as a kid that we knew he’d grow up to be a safe driver, a good husband and dad, a follower of Jesus, and a good citizen. Positive vision-casting doesn’t prevent negative experiences from hitting hard. With a loud crunch.

Life lessons with our adult kids have included: how to budget your paycheck (hint: take-home pay is what remains after tax is deducted); understanding and paying for car insurance (a story problem: if someone’s car insurance rate increases $70 per month from getting a speeding ticket, how much will it increase when you total one?); researching and buying a used car; and planning a cross-country move. Plus refresher lessons on being a good roommate to your parents, recovering from messy breakups, changing a pothole-damaged tire, that credit cards charge a late fee AND interest, and dealing with cranky bosses. I told my therapist that one of Michael’s shining moments was successfully learning to do his own laundry in FIRST grade. I still revel in the fact that laundry was NEVER my problem as mom; only he dealt with finding a clean uniform for the big game in any sport. We take any parenting victories we can get.

The vanity plates I gave Ken for his 60th. Get it? Genesis 1:10…. I know, dumb pastor humor!

“Adulting” is truly exhausting for each of us. And we all learn life lessons best in real time, but usually only after we blow it. Why does it take so much time and effort to “Adult?” And why am I still learning how after my own 21st birthday’s 34th anniversary? Today I sent the guys on a goose chase, not knowing the difference between getting a medallion signature and a notarized one for that account transfer.

Really, all I need to say is: we are proud of Michael, we love the man he’s become, we cheer him on as a great preschool teacher, we pray for him daily and hourly, and we’ll try our best to coach him more than tell him how to “Adult.” And Ken’s shining parenting moment? The morning after Michael’s crash, Ken threw him the keys to his beloved, Genesis coupe and announced, to Michael’s surprise, “Take my car to work. I believe in you.” That’s all any of us need to hear.


What would you do with 3+ weeks off? How do I chose?

  • Celebrate being done by seeing the musical Wicked for the first time, with Ken.
  • No, don’t take a Sunday off yet–fill in for a pastor friend with COVID-19.
  • Join in a pastors’ retreat — my awesome clergy group + great pastors from Chicago Presbytery.
  • Visit my favorite person on the planet, my big sis Tami + her grandkids.
  • Begin that book proposal. Yep, that one that you’ve been putting off.
  • Check the updated Church Leadership Connection daily for new openings.
  • Start a workout regime. Detox from sugar.
  • Fly to the Bay Area to see our darling daughter & her partner.
  • Sip wine in Napa with Ken & my cousins. And hike.
  • Take walks as often as possible with the silliest person I love: my lil’ bro Troy.
  • Eat meals with my wonderful folks.
  • Embark on a Disney Cruise with a girlfriend. Snorkeling in Tortugas!

This is my first day in-between transitional minister positions. Transitioning as a transitional, you might say. October is an odd time of year to jump from one church to another, so it may take some time. But it was well worth it to stay at Knox Naperville as Acting Head of Staff for the summer. A God thing, to slide me into place well before I knew I would be needed in that role. And then to pull me out early, when co-pastors Becca & Dave Bruner were ready for the job. It was truly my delight.

So what’s next? Now my options seem endless.

What would you do?

Learning to create, learning to unlie

When was the last time you tried something new? Or retried something you had already decided you were bad at? I am just now learning to paint with watercolors. What sparked my interest was a gift of innovative watercolor markers. No mixing paints required. No cup of water. Just jump in and shape bold objects with each colorful stroke. Pretty sappy outcomes at first, by trying to paint the expected–flowers and sunsets, and water reflecting sunsets. Sugary even. I needed to expand my imagination. I started looking through travel magazines and online photos by my favorite floral artists and photographers.

Painting may also involve sketching as a base. Each time I begin, I have to talk myself into trying it “just this once”, into putting pencil to paper “even though.” I’ve often joked about my being able to draw fantastic stick figures. At each pediatric doctor check-up, I would cartoon on the examining table paper for my kids to color while waiting and waiting for the doc–they were sure I only figures I knew how to draw were puppies and rabbits, race cars, and “beautiful girls wearing beautiful dresses.” And I was sure that was my repertoire, too. The stories we tell ourselves sometimes lie. I’m actually not so bad, not so limited. Who knew?

Stories we tell ourselves sometimes lie.

Painting is captivating, all-engrossing for me. I cannot think of one person who bugs me while I sketch and paint. For a high-functioning, always-planning leader, that’s a win–and it helps with COVID anxieties we all carry. Yesterday, even though I was sitting at my favorite lake spot, I was restless, perseverating on what ifs and whethers and whens… until I looked out the window and really saw the view before me. An amazingly, ordinary display of light and shadow, color and shape reflected on a lake. I agreed with myself to “just try” to paint it.

Two hours zipped by. I felt calmer than I had in two days, entering into God’s creation in a fresh way. More aware. Spotting a favorite shade of purple hiding in plain sight in the world. Noticing the play of shapes and sunlight, water pooling, squiggling in the wind and reflecting.

Daughter + lake = the best day!

My physicist niece explained to me recently that water atoms don’t really move across the entire lake one by one. They cohere. I look out in wonder at what I hardly understand. I pay attention to light and shading, pondering how one would impossibly capture it on paper. If I am barely beginning see the world to paint it, how did God create it? Each atom linked in a spectacular design, connected with each other atom in a wonder of purpose.

I had to pull over to watch this sunset! Not able to paint it yet.

I am discovering new ways that I am a creator also, working out of the image of God. This “seeing” leads me to praising and thanking God for the incredible gifts right before me. It leads straight to joy. I “unlie”–I tell a new truth–about who I am as a creator. And I get caught up in possibility.

What about you? What new thing might you try or try again “anyway”? What do you need to “unlie” about?

Gorillas on the Couch

“Every one of us has a gorilla on our couch.” It one of the funny phrases my mom says. I’m guessing her “gorilla” is my dad—or maybe me? Nah, what she actually means is every one of us is dealing with a big issue that dominates our living space—or our brains space–whether acknowledged aloud by us or not.

Ten years ago, I remember visiting long-time friends in Seattle, a city where we last lived 23 years ago. Along with great memories, we returned home with a long list of prayer requests. More than that, my eyes were opened to the possibility that most families I meet are also dealing with an ongoing struggle or issue in their lives. And most of us are doing the best we can at coping and carrying on in the midst of struggle. For many the “gorilla” lives within their own skin or within a child’s–and is named cancer, or depression, or alcoholism, or a dream deferred, or chronic illness, or ADHD, or gender identity, or dyslexia, or dementia, or lost hope, or teenage rebellion, or midlife crisis, or….

Last week we joyfully revisited Seattle after a five-year absence. With most dear friends, we picked up right where we had left off. We laughed and talked 100-miles-an-hour to catch up. These great conversations happened in extraordinary pacific northwest settings such as on a sailboat, a kayak, a golf course, a seaside deck, a fishing boat, an NFL game, a picnic table in the forest, or at a local pub.

Even though we hadn’t spoken often in recent months, we knew the questions to ask one another: about our kids, of course, about job changes, about future plans, and about that “gorilla.” In talking it out, we learned from one another.

In these conversations, at some point it dawned on me that it really isn’t accurate to name each struggle a “gorilla.” Perhaps the “gorilla” on the couch could better be called a surprise “visitor” or a “roommate”—because it brings change along with challenge, diverse thinking, differently-abled possibilities, or necessary progress. A “visitor” who offers a fresh perspective on life, points out new paths, and maybe, just maybe, opens up our minds, hearts, and arms for good.

“Who is your “gorilla” on the couch? Your 500-pound, surprise “visitor”? Your 20-year “roommate”? Might we offer a listening ear? Sit with you in silence? Pray with you? We are this holy struggle together and we’re each doing the best we can. I’m hopeful we do better together.


Paddleboarding a Wisconsin lake on a still, sun-sparkled, summer’s day. I realize as I look down to dip my paddle that it appears I am sailing through the clouds.  Enchanted, I splash through the reflected clouds, loving the idea. What would it be like to surf the sky?  I switch to a kayak to play with clouds and water. Skyaking.

Cloud surfing. A thrilling shift of perspective. I have spent hours afloat each summer,  paddled on this lake for decades. Why have I never paddled through whimsy, never experienced the entrancing possibilities?

After sailing the sky for a half hour, the wind picks up; ripples overtake the clouds. I wonder if most days I am too intent on traveling across these waters, zipping along toward my next destination. So much so that I never see the glorious sky-water moment.

What options do I miss out on when my eyes are on the horizon? A sabbatical Friday, overflowing with stillness and hope, opened up the sky to me.




“Godfidence” and Growing Young

In baptizing baby Magnolia last week, I asked her parents, “Relying on God’s grace, do you promise to live the Christian faith and to teach that faith to your child?”


Our first babe’s baptism.

They responded, “We do.” Then I asked the congregation, “Will you, the people of this congregation, nurture and love her, and assist her to be a faithful disciple?  They answered, “We will.”IMG_20180216_185704974


And they may… or they may not. This congregation has lost the vision, energy and will to do so. I  share with you the sermon I shared with them on how families can become a priority to the Church, based on the book Growing Young.


Scripture reading 1: Mark 10 :13-16  (NIV) 13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

Scripture reading 2:  1 John 2: 8-14 (NIV) 8 I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in Jesus and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. 9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them. 12 I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. 14 I write to you, dear children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

Kara Powell writes,

We follow Jesus’ lead when we prioritize the young. When Jesus took a child in his arms, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in  my name welcomes me, and whomever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:17)  The Disciples struggled with this—Could Jesus really have meant that welcoming children is a way to welcome Jesus– and the Father? [1]

Yep. He did.

“WHAT? Jesus is alive? Why didn’t anyone tell me that before? He is risen from the dead? That’s totally cool!” — Alexandra, grade 3

Look again at the gospel story from Mark 10. Powell explains,

This day wasn’t turning out quite like the Disciples hoped. Jesus’s Disciples were accustomed to crowds, long days of teaching and healing and demands from the most unlikely people seeking out Jesus. But children? Jesus eagerly welcomed young people to gather in close to him, at the expense of the adults who thought they should get Jesus’ full attention. We don’t know if the Disciples just didn’t understand Jesus or didn’t believe him, but on this day they acted in a way that crossed the line. Mark 10 says “People were bring little children to Jesus and the Disciples said ,“NO! No more children!” They thought Jesus needed space, not to touch the children and bless them. The Disciples thought Jesus need to attend to more important matters, more important people so the Disciples “rebuked the parents-“- The NRSV reads “Spoke sternly to them.” That got Jesus’ attention, didn’t it?  He said, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Then Jesus not only says to welcome children, but to become like children! This command sounds like an invitation to Grow Young,

This is a goal we’re exploring together at this church. In our Winter Warmth Series, we’ve been looking at the Growing Young book and research done by Fuller Youth Institute about churches that actively engage young adults,  ages 18-29. The Study is called CEYP –Churches Engaging Young People—and is a study of what churches are doing RIGHT to engage young adults actively in congregations.

We’ve explored five Growing Young findings: showing empathy, taking Jesus’ message seriously, fueling a warm community, and being the best neighbors. Today we wrap up by looking at prioritizing families and youth everywhere, both in our families and in our church. And how wonderful that today we have the privilege of baptizing Magnolia during our service as well. She’s an example to us all. As Powell continues:,

Jesus says to welcome children, but also to become like children! Jesus wasn’t suggesting we revert to immaturity. He was making it clear that not only are children eligible to receive the kingdom of God, but they are great examples of what it means to do so.

My favorite role at any church has been storyteller for VBS. I was telling my favorite story of the empty tomb and Mary’s excitement over meeting the risen Christ. She runs to tell everyone she meets the good news….3rd grader Alexandra, family new to church—  Alexandra heard this, and shouted out “What, Jesus is alive? Why didn’t anyone tell me before? He is risen from the dead? That’s totally cool!” Then she asked for a Bible to read Jesus’ stories for herself.

Our church is missing out, isn’t it? We know it, but don’t know what to do about it. Change and growth begins in the mind and the will, and overflow into good leadership and tangible action. What are we willing to do at this point? What are we willing to give? What are we willing to learn from our youth & young adults who have new ideas to lead us forward? Any good future for a church that grows young needs to engage children.

Powell writes,

I think it is children’s sincerity, willingness to trust, and dependence that make them examples to us. Theologian Karl Rahner writes, children model to the entire community an “infinite openness” to the infinite.( GY 219-220) So theologically, we stand on solid ground when we prioritize young people everywhere in our congregations. Jesus led the way for us in his shocking attention to children and his reorienting the community around them.

What are some ideas of what it might look like when a family and a Growing Young church take Jesus’ same approach to children teens and young adults?

First, no more kids table—you know, at a family gathering where only the kids  and a weird uncle or two sit.Instead, let’s welcome everyone to the BIG table—where we share in ideas and conversation, listening and talking together across generations.

JDMs 80th Silly Family

In my family, everyone belongs at the kids’ table.

In a family or at school, this approach is called “scaffolding,” when we deliberately support a child to help them learn a skill or task through adult encouragement & coaching. When we engage with him or her to listen and learn what matters most— what gives him or her the spark of life and joy. To tell stories to each other. To teach how to do chores and life tasks and how to serve others. To worship and pray together. These are powerful intergenerational actions.


Secondly, at a church level, when we think up a new outreach ministry or events, Growing Young churches ask as simple question—how can young people be a part of this? (GY 222) How can generations work and serve alongside each other?

In our families, sometimes we adults place our own goals, wishes, convenience or ease ahead of the benefit to a child, especially in the area of committing to regular church attendance—choosing relaxation or even playing sports on Sundays. Sometimes we don’t have the energy to fight the Sunday morning battle. How many have been there? As a family pastor I watched families drag in to the building late as if just came from a  war zone.  And I congratulated the parents and told them it was worth it because our children learn what matters most through our consistent actions and role-modeling. The most powerful way a child can learn faith is through “catching his or her parent in the act of praying and reading his or her Bible.” Research shows it’s especially powerful to see a father pray and act on his faith.Engaging in worship and serving alongside us are 2 ways our kids can “catch faith.”

That’s what the Scripture from 1 John talks about, when we act in ways that show:

  • we as God’s children are “grateful that our sins our forgiven,”
  • when fathers demonstrate that “you know him who is from the beginning.”
  • When “young men & women support one another to overcome the evil one.”
  • When we encourage one another in Christ to bestrong, and let the word of God live in us.”
  • Then we are being the body of Christ together across all generations, and we are supporting one another on our faith journeys.
  • Then we agree to prioritize families and young people everywhere

Churches can encourage these actions by offering solid discipleship for all ages to build faith that lasts a lifetime. These are good ways to Grow Young.

Another way churches grow young is by addressing family pain and brokenness through support. It can be through small groups, mentors, Sunday School teachers, but Growing Young churches empathize with the realities of parenting by partnering with parents through the rough terrain of toddlerhood and teen years. And walking alongside children & teens’ growing to find their way in faith. Growing Young churches can show this by being flexible to care for kids of divorce and by flexing with today’s families’ busy schedules (GY 223).

Growing Young churches involve youth in leading worship or in leading SS every week in big and small ways. Here at FPDG youth lead us forward to embrace technology. I am thrilled to see how the tech crew includes, embraces, and trains young adults. It’s a significant role in the life of the church! What other areas can become intergenerational?

Lastly, we adults may need to sacrifice personal preferences to welcome & prioritize young people. We likely do this all the time for our own kids & grandkids. But what about the children of the church? In baptism, we covenant to nurture and teach a baby in the Christian faith.

When children in a family or in the church know with certainty that they are loved, it is more believable when we share with them that God loves them. That the God of the universe loves us each of us like crazy. We belong to God and to each other.

I’ve often said one of the most important jobs in a church is rocking the babies in the nursery. I think of Andy & Audrey Pelham at my first church who rocked the babies faithfully each Sunday. When healthy, caring adults give love to children, when children in a family or in the church know with certainty that they are loved, it is more believable when we share with them that God loves them. That the God of the universe created them good and the God of the universe loves them like crazy. That we each belong to God and to God’s family. That we matter to God and to each other.

I think it’s a good step  that this church is holding confirmation for 5 students this year—special thanks go out to20160515_122507_001 the leaders & parents. My last church paired each confirmation student with a mentor to get to know one another, to share faith stories together, and to help the students write their own faith statements. Ideas to consider.

I also think it’s a good step that we continue on with blended worship and include a praise band.  I have a great view of y’all from up here—I love to see you give over your hearts and minds to God as we sing God’s praises and give God glory together. I’ve heard amazing stories of the priority of children teens & young adults, which used to be strong here at FPDG—in Sunday school, VBS and pioneer clubs.

The question is will we look beyond ourselves and our needs again to prioritize children, teens, and young adults? This can happen—though it will look different from before—it may occur in surprising ways: through agreeing to form a union with another healthy church so that we may become stronger together. Or by dreaming up new outreach to a new generation. A healthy church draws 10-20% of its attendees from children.  Our two task forces are at work exploring these options, but they need solid support including funding for their future plans. They need our prayers and confidence that God can do a new thing.

Dale Hudson calls this “Godfidence.” As a result, churches that prioritize families, “care about unreached kids and families in their community…a lot. They keep their focus outward and are heavily involved in the community outside the four walls.  Families in the church build relationships and bring people to church on a regular basis.” [2]

Having good intentions, sharing stories of past glory, and smiling at the youth we see on Sundays just aren’t enough. Growing Young churches vote to back up their good intentions with actions. We, too, have the opportunity vote each Sunday to Growing Young

After all, we live in  Chicago, where people vote early and often—soooo we have the opportunity vote each Sunday to prioritize the next generation:

  • To vote with our knees, to pray for kids and young adults by name,
  • To vote with our wallets to give $ to support children, teens and young adults
  • To vote with our feet by choosing to lead and serve and teach children, teens, and young adults.

When Growing Young churches vote together, they agree to be intentional to reach the net generation, to give priority to children, teens and young adults (GY 229-230). Just like Jesus does. Jesus welcomes the children and teaches us that when we welcome the children, we welcome Jesus and the one who sent him. Let’s follow Jesus by welcoming families– children, teens, & young adults — and in the process, we all may grow young by making families a priority. 

[1]Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, Brad Griffin, Growing Young, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016), p. 196ff.

[2] http://www.relevantchildrensministry.com/2013/09/10-keys-to-explosive-growth-in.html (accessed 2-9-18).

JoySorrow and HOPE, bright hope

Christmas celebrations can’t be over in just one day.


Over each meal, we light the advent candlesIMG_20171224_175501039.jpg, last night with my extended family who have been arriving for New Years. While we enjoy hugs, reuniting, and good meals, there are two noticeable absences: my rambunctious, brother-in-law Ozzie died suddenly in May and my older brother and his wife have split.

We acknowledge Ozzie with stories. “He’d totally make fun of you, Troy, for wearing a hat and jacket inside, ‘Ready for an expedition, Nanook?'” I wish we could imitate his laugh. We look at videos from his grandkids, from the moments he would have loved: Davis’ big wipeout while tubing off a jump and Lincoln’s first bday pics.

unnamed-4.jpgunnamed-1.jpg unnamed-2.jpg

Our brave friend Lara Hauser, who is a young widow and wonderful mom of four, calls life’s ongoing mix of joy and grief “JoySorrow.” So we tell JoySorrow stories and laugh and cry: at Ozzie’s favorite strategy for staying warm nicknamed “three violent jerks,”  at what Christmas has felt like without him for Tam.

We brainstorm a strategy together for introducing 6-year-old Brantley from Florida to snow in the frigid week ahead, “Snow is fun. Cold means fun.” Then cousin Mark calls in from Minnesota, “Toughen him up. Tell him there are no whiners in the North.” If only that was true! We are ready to embrace “BBob”–as the teenaged cousins call him–and his dad in the week ahead with warm love amidst subzero wind chillsand subzero life chills.

This month as I led a congregation through Advent, we realized that God’s big plan to save the world begins with a knocked-up teen and her finance’s considering divorce. With Jesus, born in animal shed, who became a refugee. With foreigners and shepherds who pay attention and look up to see what God is doing through stars and angelic announcements. God works through all these out-of-the-way people in out-of-the-way places to “bring good news of great joy that shall be for all people.” The gospel story certainly relates to life today in our topsy-turvy times.  Cary Nieuwhof writes,

“What if your  imperfect Christmas is actually a front row seat to God’s grace?….The surprise of Christmas is this: it speaks to us in our weakness even more than it speaks to us in our strength.”

This is how our family life looks right now. This is how our ongoing celebration of Christmas seeps into its grief and reality with hope and love.

As a gift, I give you the words our family has said together since the kids were small as we light our advent candles:

Light the 1st Candle—Purple:

Jesus is our HOPE. Bright HOPE. Stars in the darkness.

Light the 2nd Candle—Blue:

Jesus is our HOPE for PEACE, Kind PEACE. Bridges over broken places.

Light the 3rd Candle—Pink:

Jesus is our JOY. Great JOY. Good news that changes lives.

Light the 4th Candle—Purple:

Jesus is our LOVE. LOVE for everybody. LOVE. There is nothing greater.


Jesus shines in the darkness, Making it LIGHT. Showing us the way to new life, the greatest gift of all.

Daring prayers and unexpected miracles

Last month we prayed daring prayers for every cell in Bill’s body to come alive with God’s glory and heal.  We asked our faith communities to pray daring prayers along with our family.

Faithful believers by the thousands from around the world joined our voices asking God for miracle after miracle for my brother-in-law Bill Ostlund. For five days we all prayed without ceasing for “Ozzie” after an unholy storm of complications from minor cancer, chemo, and norovirus caused him to crash and suffer two heart attacks. We thank you.

At the Sisters of Mercy Convent in St. Louis, a sign reads, “Worry is like praying for what you don’t want to happen.” We visualized and prayed for God’s healing power to be at work and for Ozzie to walk out of that hospital to play with his grandkids. Were those prayers wasted?

Turns out our daring prayers for a miracle were already answered, though we did not know it, and not as we pictured. Bill was already alive to God’s glory, already in God’s presence in eternity. God is mysterious in His mercies, which are new every morning, a constant surprise to us. We were the ones who had to catch up. To sob together. To let go. To open our eyes to the unwished-for miracles.

Bill’s favorite movie was Miracle on Ice. He loved spouting forth Herb Brook’s locker room speech. Bill was a bundle of action and energy, of love for Jesus, and joy and fun that grabbed ahold of anyone nearby. Devastating to us, Bill didn’t get the win we hoped for. He got a different miracle. Over time, maybe we will see the miracle that we, too, have been given through our showing up for Bill’s last days.

Maybe the miracle after miracle is how Bill and Tami’s best friends drew together, to hope and pray, and then grieve together. Maybe the miracle is what Bill’s incredible nurse Greta told us on behalf of the staff, “We’ve never seen such love.” Maybe the miracle is in bonding across our family generations, by rocking baby Lincoln to sleep and doing a hundred “hokey pokeys” with two-year-old Davis and checking in with their parents. Maybe the miracle is in the 800+ people gathered to celebrate Bill’s life, many college-aged or millennial who knew him through Young Life. Maybe the miracle is how Bill’s kids Ellen and Mark spoke bravely and with gratitude of the impact their dad had on them. Maybe the miracle is how all who came listened attentively to the Gospel, hearing one more challenge from this joyful, goofy hockey player, husband, dad, brother-in-law, and friend: “Keep it simple. Show up. Go to the hard places. Be joyful and play. Love Jesus. Love people.”

Maybe the miracle was watching my grieving sister Tami walk around the reception afterwards, bringing grace-filled messages of love and encouragement to so many, telling them how much they meant to Bill. He had a huge capacity to love and bring out the best in people. No one was too far away from Ozzie’s winsome outreach or contagious, “possibilities” thinking. Dang it if Oz didn’t propose that I start up a new church during our last conversation. “Make something happen, Tass. No sitting on the sidelines.”

Maybe the miracle is how Bill joined our family when I was 12. Oz was the epicenter of nearly every fun, crazy, adventurous shenanigan we have ever done in love. We grew up together, and somehow Oz stayed a kid at heart. Bill wasn’t afraid of conflict or the “hard places.” He modeled following Jesus to me. Always.

We met surgeon Tom Blee at Bill’s bedside in the ICU at Regions Hospital in St Paul. Dr. Tom urged us to pray fervently for Bill even though his situation was dire and growing worse day by day. Tom encouraged us that he had seen incredible miracles take place in that hospital and that the staff would join us in praying. My family began to look for God’s hope in new ways, even as Bill died. We do rejoice in his healing in heaven even as we grieve deeply. Words can’t touch how we miss him.

Dr. Tom gave us his book How to Save a Surgeon: Stories of Impossible Healing. He writes,

When God gets involved, healing moves beyond what we could orchestrate. It can be surprising, even weird. [God] says “Your sick family member will be healed I guarantee it. She might have to die first. But no matter what, I’ve got her. And I promise no more tears, no more pain. No more grief.” Our ultimate healing might have to wait until eternity, but still God gives us these surprises, these ripples of healing that touch everyone near…family members… nurses. The healing in these lives will ripple out, touching dozens, passing through families and communities until hundreds are made more whole. Impossible healing may not be on our timeline and it might not be the sound and light show we expect, but it will often expand out into something bigger—and more glorious-—than we would have ever imagined.[1]

We are still awaiting the stories to come of those healing ripples. The next day, Tami’s dear friend Debbie Burns posted on facebook,

unspecified“Day 1 of the Bill “Ozzie” Ostlund challenge for the rest of your life:

  1. Love Jesus
  2. Love people

It IS that simple, people. Billy O. modeled this every day of his full, but too brief, time with us. Let’s strive to follow his lead❤️ ”


In another unexpected twist, one of my best friends Sarah was diagnosed with breast cancer last month, while praying for Ozzie and for my family. She told me she has these words from Tim Keller written in her Bible, “Worry is not trusting God to get it right. Bitterness is deciding God got it wrong.”

So we wait, hoping to get a glimpse at how God “gets it right” in this tragedy–and in all our tragedies, really. Instead of worrying, we can continue to pray daring prayers for those around us. However God’s unexpected miracles unfold–for my family, for Sarah, for you in your life–we will have front row seats to see what God is gonna do next.

“Keep it simple. Show up. Go to the hard places. Be joyful and play. Love Jesus. Love people.”–Bill Ostlund

I close with same words we used to close out Bill’s funeral: the benediction always given by the former Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, Richard Halverson,

You go nowhere by accident.
Wherever you go,
God is sending you.
Wherever you are,
God has put you there.
God has a purpose
in your being there.
Christ lives in you
and has something
he wants to do
through you where you are.
Believe this and go in the
grace and love and
power of Jesus Christ.





[1] Tom Blee, How to Save a Surgeon: Stories of Impossible Healing, (Minneapolis, MN: 9Foot Voice, 2016), p. 45-46.

Freezing Frogs and Sunday Hope

In oversize puddles and wetlands, my sister and I stalked amphibians to see if we could spot with our own eyes what was chirping the oversize chorus. Nope. Each time we got close to water’s edge, one frog stopped singing and another started just a few feet further away, playing hide and seek with us while singing an impressive chorus. We imagined their creature-from-the-black-lagoon plotting, “I think I can take the shorty, but the ginger target looks tastier.”  Wonder and giggles make good stress relievers.

Don’t we all need a place to go, to run or walk out our thoughts in our mixed-up, “manic Monday” world? To pace out our problems on our worst days, “Yeah, it’s finally Friday, but–dang it–I didn’t solve that yet. And I didn’t even come close to meeting my goals for the week.” Stress, stress, stress might tempt us to spend even more time at our computers. Nope. Add arrows to your Bullet Journal to move the task to next week. Not all change depends on you or your own efforts. Head outside!

“Don’t believe things can change? Just look at Palm Sunday — to Good Friday — to Resurrection Sunday. Always believe, always keep hoping — things can change.”

–Ann Voskamp

IMG_20170314_143618495When I’m frustrated, I walk the 3 1/2-mile Deer Grove East prairie path, several times a week. Sometimes with my brother and his bite-sized dog Samson. Always windy, rarely crowded, a great place to watch clouds and view the whole horizon. (Translation: no hills … or any feature, really … to distract from the sky and my steps.)

It seems I walk much faster on a warm March day (inspired by the name of the month?), but it’s in contrast with whistling headwinds that slow me down in blustery February.

Friday I walked with my sister Tami. We hashed over our family’s issues along the way, and lost–and found–her glove, but no solutions. And we stalked frogs as tiny as a fingertip. Visiting from Minnesota, she kept commenting on the uninterrupted green-grass vista and buds on the trees. Not spring in Minnesota yet.

Walking on a Friday brings me hope even when there’s no real reason. Nothing’s actually gotten better … yet. But I stop my striving and put the week to rest. I walk my way into weekend mode. I look forward to Sunday.

Monday I walked again,  alone this time, hurrying to complete my lap before a hailstorm rolled in. Almost back to the car, I nearly missed it — and it changed everything. How? “Pop,”a tree burst into full white bloom. Spring hope, there before me.


Lovely tree along my walk route that burst into flower between Friday and Monday.

In the midst of the still winter-bare woods, a tree dressed fully in spring splendor.  Over the weekend, life found a way. While I was resting, watching movies, cheering at 12 PHS volleyball games, talking with two friends in marriage crunches. While I was worshiping and waving palm branches at church, God was re-creating his world. And hopefully, recreating me.

That Friday my sister and I talked through my ministry optionw. My dining table was piled with 50+index cards listing my transferable skills in sharpie-blue. It’s uplifting as spring to have a sister you trust and who loves you look at your bold bucket of skills and say, “Yes! You’d be great at this            !”

Even without my sister to cheer me on, Monday felt better, with Sunday’s lingering hope. Monday brought morning sun and lemon daffodils popping open in the backyard, but quickly turned to holy hailstones crashing down from the heavens. During the storm, I boldly sent out my revamped, skill-focused resumes. Talked with a potential church employer about a fresh ministry area. Wrote a new article assigned to me by a magazine editor. Sunday hope carried over into my manic Monday.

I finally googled those crazy, chirping amphibians my sister and I had chased. “Chorus frogs”, they are called: locally, Western chorus frogs, and where I used to live, Northeast spring peepers.

The amazing thing I learned is these tiny hoppers can survive being frozen alive. These daring frogs come out of hibernation early, and when the temperature drops again, no problem. When the first ice crystals form, their livers quickly rush sugary anti-freeze throughout their bodies to protect their organs.

It all looks impossible on Friday, doesn’t it? With the chanting crowds, the darkened sky, and and Jesus’ being nailed to a cross?

It looks impossibly bad, yet we call it “good,” for God’s actions that Friday change everything. God means us to live in close relationship with Jesus and with others. Forgiven and forgiving. Redeemed and freed from “the sin that so easily entangles.” Jesus’ Friday death on that cross and his Sunday resurrection change everything. Jesus saves us. Unfreezes us. Brings hope and Spring to our wintery souls.

Turns out that none of what we need most depends on us, on any day of the week. hqdefault.jpgIt all depends on Jesus, on a cross, on an empty tomb. That’s Sunday hope on a Friday.



Thanks for inspiration to Jon Acuff’s helpfully entertaining book Do-Over.

Aatish Bhatia, “What’s making this strange chirping noise?” https://www.wired.com/2014/04/spring-peeper/ (accessed 4/11/17).

Ann Voskamp, “When you’re kinda struggling through holy week–and don’t feel holy at all” http://archive.mlgn2ca.com/u=fb5ead1fd337d4ac2581b075b6244ad1&id=360d7273&e=1d0e0720 (accessed 4/11/17).













Kids + Life = Surprise!

Anything shock you lately? Surprise your socks off? Blue hair might fall in that category….

Before we were even dating, my husband Ken asked me to throw him a surprise 30th birthday party. “Um, if you’re expecting the party, how do I surprise … oh, never mind. Sounds like a fun challenge.” It turned out to be a great gathering of friends. He’s asked me to throw him a surprise party every 5th year since: a tacky tourist party, a micro-brew hangout, a 70’s bash, a family scavenger hunt, and a church-wide mission project. Each an extrovert’s delight.

Not all kid surprises equal good parental surprises though. Like the baby blowouts that necessitated “Mr. Clean” Ken’s changing Carlina’s clothes three times in a row in his first hour of singlehandedly caring for her. An unshakeable father-daughter bond formed that messy summer. While Ken was relieved and delighted to start teaching again in fall, he wouldn’t trade those early months together for anything. Such love surprised him. Bad beginning, good ending, paying dividends for the last eighteen years and counting.  All of which paved the way for our recently-applauded, “chill response” to Carlina’s post-Christmas, blue hair. Surprise!

It doesn’t always work that way. In our house with two students flexing their independence and two parents dealing with new jobs, right now there are not enough “chill responses” to go around. Exhaustion. Impatience. Anger. Fear. Stress. Change. Overwork. These factors eat fun for lunch–or dinner–no matter what age your kids are.

Even the good intentions of a surprise–a mother’s day dinner out–predictably went awry with our two and six-year-old, devolving into an overpriced whine-fest. (p.s. Don’t ever recap such an event by saying, “No biggie; I’ve finally lowered my expectations enough, so I thought it was a good Mother’s day anyway.” Do not speak such exhausted mama-truth to your earnest husband. Don’t even think it loudly.)  I frequently say the wrong thing at the right time.

John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you when you’re on your way to somewhere else.” Kids+ Life = “Surprise!” What about receiving the late night phone call every parent of a teen driver dreads? Finding a wadded-up, lousy report card? Discovering your kid is being bullied by classmates … or doing the bullying? Rushing to the ER, triggering a chain of medical treatments? Facing student depression and/or struggling with disorders?

Anytime a kid starts a pronouncement, “I’ve got something to tell you, Mom. Don’t get mad, but _____,” what comes next will in all likelihood be life-changing: “I lost my _____.” Or, “I missed the _____, but hit a _____.” Or,”I’m _____.”Or, I tried my best, but _____.” Or, meet my new _____.” Surprise!

As a family minister, my conversations often begin when your difficult family conversations end. Though it seems students never put down their devices, our kids are watching us sideways and listening closely to how we respond to “Surprise!”

And I’m not talking about blue hair here, which obviously grows out. I’m thinking about the biggies. In fact, such disasters and follow-up conversations are so predictable with teens that a wise parent brainstorms or role-plays in advance how to respond–sidestepping anger and reaching up for God’s love, mercy, and  grace. With discipline as needed. But not until the next day.

Our words matter. Most of us are not good at thinking on our feet and responding quickly with kindness or love. Then we replay these hard conversations over and over in the middle of the night. I know I need practice being calm & gracious, how about you?

Truth be told, these conversations with students never really end. They just begin a new series of discussions. A student recently tweeted, “The problem lies not in what we say, but in what we do not say.” Can we plan ahead for what we might say–and what we promise ourselves and those we love we will not say?

At Families@Five, a worship service for young families at Second Church Indy, we prayed a simple prayer together to confess our sins every week, followed by our assurance of pardon, “Turn and look someone in the eye and say to them, ‘Jesus loves you no matter what.'”

How can we say that in the face of “Surprise?” How can we respond with God’s-no-matter-what-love, “Nothing you can do can make us love you more and nothing you can do can make us love you less. Your life might get harder, but we’ll love you through it.”

Revelation 21:3-6 gives us a clear, beautiful picture of Jesus as our starting–and ending–point in conflict and in tough situations.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

If Jesus is with us, if we are his people, and if God himself is with us as our God, then Jesus has got this surprise covered. If Jesus can handle even this surprise from beginning to end,  if Jesus will wipe away every tear and all this pain,if Jesus will make all things new, then we will be ok. More than ok. This situation and we will become new.

“Sure,” you might say, “But what about right now, when life sucks?” What about the time before heaven, this in-between-time, when we have to live the reality of stupid choices, when there’s danger or fall-out, when our kids face tough consequences and life-altering decisions, when we pour out tears and regret?

Or when we’re not ready to move through it yet, but mired in denial, anger, conflict, or stubbornness, and kids are stoney in rebellion or headstrong persistence, a long way from repentance?

Jesus’ promise isn’t for just someday. Jesus is making all things new right now.

Jesus doesn’t give up when it gets hard, or when we mess up, or when we stink at forgiving, or when we say the worst possible things at the worst possible time. Jesus doesn’t wait on us to parent well or to get our stuff together to begin working in the situation, and Jesus doesn’t wait for our kids to realize the error of their ways. Jesus’ work in us and in our kids is not over when we fail. Hear Philippians 1:6, “[I am] confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Even in the now, we can ask for the Spirit to help us love with Jesus’ love, in small ways immediately. We can take one step toward giving mercy with Jesus’ mercy and forgiving with Jesus’ forgiveness. We can be ready for the new, even when it is painful in the now and in the days to come. Jesus has already redeemed us and already redeemed even this situation. It is already accomplished, not by us, but by God. It begins and ends with Jesus: “These words are trustworthy and true. And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

We can respond to our kids with what we all long to hear,”We love you. We’re in this together. And God is in this. God is for you.” Surprise!


For excellent ideas on praying for your family, see Cindi McMenamin’s article http://www.crosswalk.com/family/parenting/7-ways-to-pray-when-your-child-goes-astray.html (accessed 1/27/17).