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.

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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.

Raining on the Sunny Side

In a stormy situation, my daughter recently asked me to pray for her for the best, most desired outcome, rather than simply for God’s will to be done. She reasoned, “God’s gonna do what God’s gonna do, so we might as well pray on the sunny side.”

When I listen, I learn from Carly. We are different–in all but determination–as her brain moves at lightning speed.  While I chased around this curly-headed toddler, she’d shout gleefully, “Mama, I’m messing with you!”


Mural in Narberth, PA

Then my own sweet mama would try to reassure me,

“You only have to stay a half-step ahead.”

As if I could. Ever.

Now that Carly is studying south of the equator, her view of the world is turned upside-down. In a foreign land, her wisdom and heart are both moving and growing at the speed of light. Mostly without me. Leading our kids, while humbling us, also whacks us upside the head with lessons about leading others.

Richard Hester and Kelli Walker-Jones, in Know your Story and Lead with it, write: “Organizational leaders need to maintain an attitude of ‘relentless optimism,’ the theological view that God is always at work in our stories to bring about God’s kingdom. We need to tell the stories that acknowledge and express problems, but our stories must also reflect God’s ‘persistent, compassionate presence,’ if we are to lead effectively.”

That’s hard to do.  Especially when others suffer and all we can do is listen as they moan. We can’t even begin to fix it. With optimism, loved ones may accuse us of being too cheery. But life becomes even worse if we join in their pity party. What to do?  What about the can-do message Abileen gives the child she cares for in The Help:


Or try this version,

” You are brave.

You are loved.

We are in this together.”

A wise king who faced incredible enemies, suffered betrayal, and failed more than once at leading while he climbed heights of success, wrote, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.  Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” Psalm 37:4-7, NIV 

Back to praying on the sunny side. I think God actually gifts us with many of the desires we have in our hearts as we trust and delight in him. And even when we don’t.


Photos of the Vatican Wind Rose directional markers in St. Peter’s Square. Top of page is Northwest marker depicting the cold, powerful wind that blows storms into our lives. This Southeast marker shows the warm, gentle winds we prefer.

It’s okay to pray for what we desire most.

We’re being honest.

God can handle that,

including our anger at not getting

what we want.




Sometimes when we suffer misadventures or setbacks,


The Grinch who Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss

a Grinchy view of God creeps into our hearts in the middle of the night, ready to steal our joy with empty sacks and a wicked smile. Grinchy God is not biblical. God is not trying to steal all the joy down in Whoville from the big and the small. 

What does the psalmist promise? As I am still, as I trust, as I do not fret, and as I wait, God will act. God will do. God will bring dawn. 


And God can and does make our

“small hearts grow three sizes that day” through the process.

My newest friend Victor from Egypt once asked a student, “Which is faster the speed of sound or the speed of light?” She answered him, “The speed of God.”

God has a light-up the world plan for His good creation that is moving ahead at the speed of God, even when we can’t see a glimmer yet. So what do we have to lose by praying–and leading–on the sunny side?


“May God give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.” Psalm 20:4