Saturday, December 20, 2014

Merry Christmas!

2014 has been a hard year. We almost didn’t write a Christmas letter, fearing it would only be discouraging for us and for those who would read it. But the Holy Spirit gently reminded us that suffering is an opportunity to share His comfort, to tell of His faithfulness and His gift of joy amongst sorrow. And in that telling, we’re reminded of exactly what we’re thankful for, why we persevere, and why we have hope. And the coming of Christ is surely the Hope of all hopes.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing!

The year began with the joyful news of expecting our fourth child, due to arrive in October. In May we took a 10 year anniversary trip to Cozumel to celebrate our marriage. Ashley’s mom Carol came to stay with the three kiddos on her own! (Evan (6), Hazel (3) and Arden (1)). Shortly after returning from our trip, at 18 weeks along, we lost our son Jamie. We had a memorial service for him at our home, with many friends and Jon’s parents, Steve and Connie, attending.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
No thorns infest the ground.
He comes to make His blessings known
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found!

We traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska in July to celebrate Ashley’s Dad’s 80th birthday with extended family and many of Dad’s old time friends. It was wonderful to have everyone in one place – highlights being the rap of the “Carlsons” (Carl’s-sons) with each sibling contributing a verse, and a skit put on by the cousins featuring Carl-mishaps, all with good humor :)

This fall Ashley decided to finish her PhD in Social Psychology. Much progress has been made in a few months – she was readmitted to the program, and only has a few credits left to take if everything goes smoothly with the Graduate College. Getting back into the psychology frame of mind was a bit brain-stretching, but rewarding. Her dissertation will involve developing an instrument to assess aggressive driving motivations, which will put her stats knowledge to good use!

Ashley also continues to homeschool Evan, our first grader. He’s reading well above grade level and loves doing hands on math and science projects, and drawing lots of dragons. Hazel loves to dress up and do pretending games with her brother, and Arden is our singer – she always has a tune on her lips spouting lyrics no under 2 year old should be able to pronounce – “Oppressed so hard they could not stand” and “Shepherds why this jubilee, why your joyous strains prolong?” She must have absorbed her verbal ability from her precocious sister ;)

In October, Jon left Allied after working there for 10 (!) years in claims to become an insurance agent. He joined Fortress Wealth Management working for our good friend Tim Hibbing. What a blessing to work for someone we respect and admire so much! And Jon is no longer commuting to Des Moines, so our schedule is much more flexible, making it feasible for Ashley to finish her degree. Jon is currently a Staff Sergeant in the Nebraska National Guard. He continues to enjoy playing his horn and making music with his fellow soldiers (one of whom is his brother Andrew) and now has 12 years in with the 43rd Army Band.

In October we also had to say goodbye to our dearest furry pal, Coda. She had a tumor in her heart and lungs, but we’re thankful she didn’t have to suffer very long. The house is much emptier without her; she was a source of comfort and love all the 8 years we knew her. A sweeter, gentler dog we couldn’t have asked for.

So yes, it’s been a hard year, but God has been with us through our grieving and has provided for us in a myriad of ways. Meals for Ashley and kids while Jon was away at guard. Flowers and notes, prayers sent and said, hugs given - all tangible reminders of God’s love and care for us. A new job for Jon. A new direction for Ashley. Recovering health for Ashley’s Dad after major heart surgery. Healthy kids.

Coming into the Christmas season having experienced profound grief has amplified the message of the gift of the Son. Never before have we so longed for the end of sin and suffering. And never before have we so rejoiced in the gift of salvation.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders of His love!

With Love,

Jon, Ashley, Evan, Hazel & Arden

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Worthy Motivations

My resolutions in the past have almost always been born of guilt.

Resolutions in general seem to be a trap. Somehow if I just have enough will power, I should be able to change myself? I just don't buy it. Guilt may propel me to a quick start, but it has no endurance to motivate. Just try harder? Even when aimed at spiritual disciplines, guilt only gets me so far.

Instead of trying to change myself, this year I want to focus on this truth:

He loved me and gave Himself for me.  Gal 2:20

He loves me. Therefore I will ask Him, the Giver of all things good, for what I need. And what God has impressed upon me recently is that I need humility.

Humility will lead me to read the Word and to pray because I will see my need. Humility will lead me to confess my sin and ask for forgiveness (James 5:16). Humility will enable me to remember I make the same mistakes and bad choices as my loved ones, and to cover my judgment and their sins with love (Phil 2:3, 1 Pet 4:8). Humility will enable me to experience a greater width, length, height and depth of God's magnificent love (Eph 3:17-19). Humility will lead me to submit to the Spirit, producing thankfulness, patience, compassion, generosity, and selflessness (Gal 5:22-23).

So this is my prayer for 2014. Lord, grant me humility, that I may walk in a way more pleasing to You.

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  Eph 5:1-2

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.  James 4:10

Monday, July 15, 2013

Perfect Parenting?

This article is a short testimony I recently wrote for Stonebrook Community Church's e-newsletter.

As I sit down to write about how God’s working in my life, it’s been a long day of blow-out diapers, a baby who refuses to nap, a 5 year old’s incessant questions and 2 year old tantrums. God has been using this intense season in my life as a pressure cooker for my character, turning up the heat to reveal the sin. I can get discouraged by what comes out of my mouth and heart, and though I know I’m forgiven, it’s not the kind of mom I want to be.

In my ideal world when my children leave my home someday, I would love them to remember me as a patient, kind, cheerful, loving mom who never lost her temper, always had time for one more game of Uno, and was always up for trying that crazy science experiment. I want to be a mom who says “yes” when she’d rather read her own book. A mom who sings one more song, gets one more snack, gives one more hug and kiss, all with a smile on her face. A mom who humbles herself and apologizes. Sometimes I succeed in these things. Many times I fail. Praise God for His mercy, I sure do need a lot of it.

Yet the other day I was thinking about what would be most beneficial for my kids to see and remember as they are out in the world walking with God – should they remember an ideal, perfect mom, an impossible model to follow? Or should they see a mom who falls short but is growing in her walk, bit by bit? 

I realized what I really want my kids to see in my life is the gospel at work. Repentance. Forgiveness. Pursuing God. And the work of the Holy Spirit growing me to be more like Christ, day by day. God has promised to do this for me - For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 (NASB) I am not perfect, but I am being perfected. I can trust that He WILL grow me and I pray that my kids will witness it and have a valuable model to follow in their own walk.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

I have nothing to prove

"The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less. I don't need to notice myself - how I'm doing, how I'm being regarded - so often."

-- Tim Keller, The Reason for God 

I have a new life, and it all started with this: I have nothing to prove.

This, I believe, is the essence of justification. I am justified. Before the judgment seat of God, the case is closed, I don't have to prove anything to anyone, to myself, or even to God, because Jesus' atonement is sufficient to declare me not guilty. I don't have to prove I am a good person, or a smart one. Because I'm not. I've known this fact for quite some time, but for some reason I kept trying to prove that I was good. I thought, well, I'm forgiven, I trust Jesus for my salvation, I have the Holy Spirit inside me, so now with God's help I can finally be the good person He wants me to be. I knew all of these verses:

Rom 4:4-5  Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 

Mat 11:28-30  "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."  

Gal 5:1  For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 

Col 2:6-7  Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

2Co 12:9-10  But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I knew these verses, and I understood them, partially. I knew that my sanctification was by faith, just as I had first accepted Christ, not by my effort. I knew I was supposed to be able to rest in God's work. But it didn't penetrate my heart. I was endlessly frustrated with myself. I am my own worst critic. Every time I failed I would feel horrible about myself and beg God to change me. Not that asking Him to change me was wrong, but the guilt, the guilt! It followed me around constantly! I knew I was supposed to be free of it, and that just made me feel more guilty!

I combated the guilt with truth - that sin was paid for, Jesus died for that too, I'm forgiven - but the relief was only temporary. The guilt was always there, waiting to pounce. I had a profound dislike of myself. I hate my sin. I hate my flawed nature. Therefore, I hate my self.

The problem was that my identity was still based on being a good person. I wanted to be good with all of my heart. And whenever that identity was threatened, boy howdy, I had an internal meltdown! Or question my intelligence, and my insecurity skyrocketed.

So how did this idea of having nothing to prove finally penetrate my deceived heart? I realized that my identity cannot be based on my ability to follow Jesus. My worth isn't based on my ability to be moral or having true knowledge of God. My forgiveness isn't based on or inhibited by my tendency for legalism and self-righteousness. That's what finally broke down the wall - I realized I was not just forgiven for every sinful act I have ever or will ever commit. I'm forgiven for the flawed nature that I hate in myself that leads me to those sins. Jesus paid the price to fix my broken soul. And not only fix, but give me new life in Him. This is what it means to have my identity in Christ! When I trust fully in what He did on the cross to cover my worst flaws, I have nothing to prove. I am free from trying to be moral - and I can't do it anyway! I knew I couldn't, but I kept trying to justify my identity. Now I can lay that down and just rest. I am justified. I have nothing to prove.

What about obedience? What about spiritual growth? I think I finally have the right motivation to obey, which will grow me in ways I never could before. If I know I have nothing to prove, my only motivation for obeying is love. My motivation is thankfulness and gratitude. Knowledge of being able to rest and not justify myself will lead me to greater, truer obedience and growth, because I will obey out of a right heart, not to make myself better.

And the incredible gift I've received: the guilt is gone! The weight is lifted, I feel like I can breathe. For the first time I genuinely feel forgiven. I feel clean.

How precious is Your blood, Lord!

Romans 11:33-36
Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

And the song that has been constantly running through my inner ear:
All this guilt disturbs my peace, I find no release.
Who can save me from my crime? I'm helpless.
Behold I fall before Your face in need of grace.
You speak to me in a gentle voice and in Your mercies I rejoice!
For only Your blood is enough to cover my sin,
Only Your blood is enough to cover me!

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Prayer for Japan

You have shaken the land and torn it open;
mend its fractures, for it is quaking.

You have shown your people desperate times;
you have given us wine that makes us stagger.

But for those who fear you, you have raised a banner
to be unfurled against the bow.

Save us and help us with your right hand
that those you love may be delivered.

Psalm 60:2-5

Friday, January 7, 2011


This seems like an auspicious day to re-enter the blogging world.

Today we found out we are expecting a little girl!

Why did I wait so long to come back to this?

Fear. There was a lot of fear in getting pregnant immediately after losing a second baby. My emotions weren't coherent enough to put down on paper, at least not for anyone else to read them. The peace God had given me after losing that baby didn't seem to apply to this new situation - I had to relearn that lesson. But He was faithful to teach it to me a second time. I'm pretty sure you never graduate from that class, so I'll continue to relearn it in other situations.

In Genesis 15, Abram was still afraid that he would never have the heir that God has promised. But God reassured him, "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward." God knew Abram's fear even before he confessed it. God directly addressed his fear a few verses later, but first He says to Abram, "I am your shield, your very great reward."

God is our shield from fear. He protects our minds, hearts, and souls when we trust Him to be faithful. I know that He will never make a decision for my life that is outside of His extravagant love for me. I can bank on that.

God is also my ultimate reward. I've discovered through this journey that the greatest reward is not having my prayers answered, though that is wonderful. It's not even the knowledge God has given me through these trials or the growth I've seen. It's that He's brought me closer to Himself, the source of true happiness and joy. He knew what He was doing all along - His plan for my ultimate fulfillment in Him.

And now, off to Hobby Lobby so I can make something pink!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Boasting in Weakness

I've been thinking about self-disclosure lately. I seem to be on the high end of the scale. Not that I tell random people the intimate details of my life (wait, does blogging count?), but with friends it doesn't take much for me to spill my guts. But what about the hard stuff? Sins I'm still struggling with? Things I'm not trusting God for? What I'm being lazy in, or disobedient?

After listing numerous ways that he has suffered for God, Paul disdains all that might be admired, things that could be boasted in, in favor of boasting in that which does not highlight his own strength.
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
2 Corinthians 11:30
Paul gives a call to be real, to be vulnerable. It's a call away from pride and self-protectiveness. Showing trusted others our weaknesses can bring God glory because it reveals His power in us. 
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:9
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
2 Corinthians 4:7
I want to see God's power at work, in my life and the lives of my brothers and sisters. I want to see how each of us are being transformed into Christ's likeness, because when God's power is revealed He is glorified. To quote Beth Moore, "God's glory is the way He makes Himself known or shows Himself mighty...God's glory is how He shows who He is." Isaiah declares that we were created to glorify God (43:7), and Beth reasons that He uses us for His glory in two ways: by making Himself recognizable to us and making Himself recognizable through us.

But in order for God to be glorified by us becoming a display of His power, we must be honest about where we're really at. We need to let each other see that we are fragile jars of clay.

I recently read this article by John Piper which I think gives some worthy insight. When we are vulnerable enough to share our true needs and struggles with each other, God can pour out His mercy through the spiritual gifts He's given to the body. And using us to minister to each other in our vulnerability will surely bring Him glory.

So I'm left to ponder, how can I give God glory by boasting in my weakness?

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Why are we so tempted to compare? I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this one of the biggest problems women deal with in their walk. I know it's true for me. I compare my successes, my failures, my trials, my blessings. I fight this temptation constantly because I know it is the enemy of contentment.

I'm reminded of what Jesus said to Peter about comparing:
Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go." (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, "Follow me."
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said, "Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?"
When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, "Lord, what about this man?"
Jesus said to him, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!"
John 21:18-22 
I was encouraged to realize afresh this morning that my walk with God is absolutely unique. God is molding each one of us like clay in His hands. We will all become beautiful works of art, slowly being transformed into Christ's likeness from glory to glory. How He accomplishes that in each person is different. Imagine how boring it would be to share our testimonies in heaven if they were all the same story! I for one am grateful to know my testimony is special to God because it is unique. Each of us can bring irreplaceable glory to God, and we can rejoice in that!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A new kind of pain

Yesterday I experienced a something I wasn't prepared for. One of my dear friends told me she was expecting.
I didn't have the same reaction as I'd had in months past. There was still pain, but this was different. This was shaking in my boots, help me I can't breathe grief. My throat caught, but I didn't sob. I walked around in a daze for about an hour. I think it was just the shock that I still had this pain inside me that really shook me up. But why shouldn't I feel grief? It's only been two weeks for heaven's sake!
But the key thing that was missing was the "sock me in the gut" feeling. The "not me" feeling. The jealousy. This was purely grief for the baby I lost. And I can be thankful for that.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The End of Waiting

Three weeks ago I found out I was pregnant. Eighteen months of "No"s and finally a "Yes!".

I thought my long wait was over. But let me back up...

I had a really hard time in June, struggling with my emotions as many new babies were being born at church and more on the way. I was ashamed of the ugliness of my heart that was being dredged to the surface by my circumstances. I dug myself a hiding-out hole, read some wonderfully depressing books, and pulled away from life. I was in the pit.

In July, I decided I didn't ever want to go back to that pit again. I had laid myself down in torment, by my own choice. I knew this would be a constant temptation for me, because there's a part of me that actually likes being down there in the pit. That realization struck me in my gut. How can I hate this part of me, and yet want to wallow in it at the same time?

I met with a good friend in early August who had struggled to conceive for a very long time, but now has a precious 2 month old baby boy. She lent me the book "Inconceivable" and I proceeded to devour it in one sitting.

God used this book to convict me that my desire for another child had become idolatry. I was willing to give God everything, or so I thought, but in the back of my mind I kept saying, "But not this. This I will keep for myself. You can't have it." I had let the desire to be pregnant consume my thoughts. I worshiped it. I held it behind my back, a treasured possession that I was going to keep all for myself. I loved it more than God, and I was ashamed. I had thought for so many months that it was just my depression that needed dealt with, but no, now I found that it was the source of the depression that was the source of my sin. Why was I depressed? Because life wasn't going according to my plan. I wanted something, above all other things. Well, guess what, I'm not in charge of my life. I gave up being in charge nine years ago.

I repented.

I took my dream of a large family and laid it on the altar. I gave God all authority.

I told Jon that I was okay with having a one child family, if that was God's plan. And I wanted him to hold me accountable for my heart attitude. He agreed.

I told God that I wanted to want Him more than anything else. He answered that prayer, but not in the way I expected.

Two days later, surprise! A positive pregnancy test??? Are you KIDDING me? Now? After I just laid this on the altar? I was in shock for a few days, and then fear took hold. I asked myself, "Hey, you just gave God authority to do whatever He wants with your fertility and had immense peace from that decision. Why are you not transferring the lesson you just learned to this new situation?" I fought my fear the best I could - clinging to promises from scripture and sharing our good news with close friends and family. I wanted to rejoice. But I had symptoms that were nagging me that something wasn't right.

Another u-turn was in store. I went in for an early ultrasound due to my history of ectopic pregnancy. I was having cramping only on my right side.

There wasn't a baby in my womb. But there was a "mass" in my right fallopian tube.

It had happened again. My fears were realized. This was reality.

Why would God allow this? I thought this was my "YES!" What is this?

The first few days I went about my regular routine in a daze, still acting like life is normal. But I could feel the darkness beckoning behind me; I only had to turn around and embrace it and I would descend deep into the pit. I constantly combated the lies in my mind that were waiting to pounce at the first sign of weakness. "This is your fault, you didn't get it the first time around, you don't deserve another child." I can confidently say the enemy didn't win that battle. I stuck to truth. I preached it to myself even though my heart didn't agree with my own preaching.

Then the grief came. And I had to be okay with that. This child deserves my grief. My friends loved me enough to keep asking me how I was doing. They brought meals. They called and emailed. They prayed. I didn't go through it alone. My beautiful two-year old came to me and wiped away the tears from my eyes. And I prayed for God to restore my joy. Slowly the fear of succumbing to overwhelming depression disappeared.

How? I found myself cherishing every little smile that my son brought to my face. I chose to believe that God would not withhold good from me. I chose to believe that He cannot make a choice for my life that is inconsistent with His unfailing love.

These were choices. I chose to believe everything I knew about God's character to be true even though my heart felt dead. I chose to believe even though it didn't feel true. God is the God of the Resurrection. I knew He could resurrect my heart.

And God fulfilled this promise from Psalm 40:
"I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD."
I sang songs of praise. He began to heal my heart. He showed me the good that had already come of this trial. My faith had deepened through this pain. This was the worst life had thrown at me to date, but God sustained me through it. My faith did not fail, by His grace.

And something inexplicable happened. I have peace. By surrendering yet again to God's authority, my peace is like a river.

And something else. I have often struggled in feeling assured of God's love for me. But I have a greater conviction of God's love for me now after He's allowed this painful trial and loss than when life was easier. What a beautiful paradoxical fruit of suffering. Logically it would seem that an assurance of God's love would come from blessing, but God chose to bless and answer my deepest heart need through adversity.

I told God that I wanted to want Him more than anything else, and He made that a reality.

Because God is sovereign.