Wednesday, December 11, 2019

I have not forgotten you

by Alanna

My kids pull books out of the bookcases often. Sometimes to look at, sometimes to "take on trips", but generally they end up strewn about the house. So I came across "Visualize Haiti" again. A big coffee table size of book, filled with pictures of that beautiful country. With photos of those suffering people. I had glanced through it a few months ago, when I first found it upstairs and brought it down. But this night I really looked. I read for the first time the preface, the author's reason for putting it together. The death of a child, an orphan, waiting for her new mom and dad to come for her. This night those pictures took hold of my heart. I only made it halfway through the book and the tears flowed freely and I wondered at how my heart could be so pulled to those people and places I knew so long ago.

Eleven and a half years ago I went to Haiti. A year after that, South Africa. Before that, Mexico and the Philippines. After South Africa, South Africa again. My heart was pulled to the hurting as long as I can remember knowing there was hurting in the world. As long as I can remember knowing Jesus, I can remember wanting to be a missionary. As long as I remember the word orphan, I remember feeling that's what I was meant to do with my life. In Mexico and in the Philippines I felt that confirmation in my spirit, but it was in Haiti that I first lost my heart.

The memory that still haunts me most from there is holding a little boy named Djemy. He cried for water but vomited all over me every time I gave him a sip. I felt his bones in my arms and his big tummy pressed against me but he wasn't lying peaceful; he cried in a most pitiful way and asked over and over again for a drink. He missed his dad I think, the one who loved him enough to bring him there for help. I remember being back at home not long after, sitting in my front yard in a thunderstorm, crying out to God and wrestling so hard with their suffering. The children of Haiti. I know that God answered in my heart that night, but tonight I can't remember how or what truth I held onto. I do know that He answered my prayers though. Djemy lived through that long night. He lived for months and years afterward, adopted into another family who loved him and had food to give him.

Others didn't though. I remember Berlancia, and when I close my eyes I can picture her beautiful little face. But she isn't there anymore. She died of a disease that she should have been taking medicine for. I weep for her tonight as I weeped for her then. I remember Benedict, and the sheer unfairness of the shortness of his life. I remember Magdala and the way her eyes looked so devoid of life and affection. How it took weeks to see her smile. I remember the sounds of that nursery, and those babies sleeping two and three to a crib, all those cribs. I remember tiny Kavin and how happy I was for each little bit he drank. I remember taking a walk with Richarlson. I remember one's night terrors and the way the other turned her head back and forth and rocked her body, her eyes unseeing. I remember my own little one and the miracles God wrought.

Tonight I don't have answers for why or how or when. Tonight I just remember and shed tears for them.  I don't claim to know how God is writing my story, or why He has burdened my heart with things I can do nothing about.  I ache to trust Him here in this place. I ache to see eternity here in my own children's eyes, to see this all as kingdom work. But tonight I remember.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

seen at burger king

by Alanna

Yesterday I left the house just after 3 p.m., planning to take the kids to the Dr just for shots, then pick up some elderberry syrup and stop at 2 stores quick on the way home. Thought we'd be home for a late dinner. There was soup in the crockpot and bread in the breadmaker, and my husband was working til late.  I have been having some anxiety lately with driving, feeling like I'm going to crash or my car is suddenly going to fall apart. Anyway, shortly after I got on the highway I noticed that my car windows were fogging up. I tried defrost, and though it blew air out, it didn't seem to  help with the fog. The dr. took so much longer than I thought it would, and by the time we came out it was almost 5 p.m. and pitch black out. Then I got lost trying to find the elderberry syrup ladies house, and it was so late by the time we were done there. All the time my windows were so foggy. My google maps said it would take 44 minutes to get home, not counting store stops.  The baby was crying so much from all his shots and being hungry, and Isabella asked if we were going to go to a restaurant instead of home.  I told her if we saw one we'd stop, and if not we'd press on. But coming out of the neighborhood there was a Burger King on the corner! I traipsed in there with my foursome. I carried the baby and my oldest and third walked stiff-legged from their shots. Samuel hadn't gotten any, but he was sick with a pretty high fever, and it wasn't long til he was laying on the bench at our table. I was so thankful to find they had dollar hamburgers, and bought us all some. But I was wrestling a little, fighting with these thoughts that I am a failure because I am buying my kids unhealthy fast food when there is healthy soup sitting at home untouched. Maybe I should've gone home right away when I saw my windows were foggy. I had no idea how we were going to make it home in the dark, and we were far from home. I shouldn't have taken my feverish son out on errands. 
I feel like God gave me lots of grace to fight those thoughts and to trust Him, but it was a battle. Then halfway through our dinner, just after my one year old finished throwing a temper tantrum because I made him finish his meat before he had more bun, a lady walked over to me. She pressed two twenty dollar bills into my hand and whispered, "My husband wants to pay for your dinner." Then they left together, smiling and wishing us happy holidays. I was so taken aback by their generosity, and most of all so amazed at God's love for me in that moment. It was His reassurance to me that He knew right where I was. We were not alone, God was always providing, always caring for us. He would see us through. After we ordered more food for the third time, the employee threw in an extra 10 chicken nuggets for us  too. God lavished His grace on us. I praised God that He saw us, and that He reminded me that He sees. 

Long story short, we made it home 3 and a half hours after we'd left the house. Thanks to advice from my dad, gas station paper towels, paper towels from another store, and several stops to wipe down the inside of the car windows, we were back in our warm house just in time for bedtime. Yonas got off work earlier than I thought and got home 10 minutes after us, just in time to help roll sleepy kids into bed. 

Here's to evidences of His grace.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Jesus' authority and my days

by Alanna

Reading slowly through Matthew recently reminded me of the authority that Jesus really demonstrated when He was on earth. He blatantly shows His authority to the Pharisees when He heals a paralytic after first forgiving his sins. He has power over all kinds of sickness and disease, over demons, over all of natural creation, over death itself. Authority to forgive sins, to effectively call people to follow Him.  He speaks with authority.

I want to rest in that in my days. I worry so much about the impact (or usually lack thereof) that I am making in the world and in my own small space. Maybe I am just a mom with a million daily decisions to make, or maybe I am losing my mind. But this week I have felt particularly acutely the rising panic that maybe I should be doing something different than what I am doing. Maybe I am missing whoever God wants me to minister to today. Maybe I should be reading the kids books instead of doing the dishes. Maybe we should be staying home and resting instead of driving to the grocery store. Maybe I should just be buying tortillas instead of making them at home today. Maybe I should somehow be making better use of this time that God has given me. Maybe all of it is pointless anyway. This line of thinking is frightening and leaves me feeling guilty at best. Guilty for whatever I'm doing or not doing or could be doing better.

There are probably a myriad of reasons why I struggle this way. But one thing I want to hold on to and rest in tonight is the authority of Jesus. He is my LORD. I don't really know what that looks like or what He wants me to do most of the time, but I do believe that somehow He's in control of all of this. He has authority over any sickness that might plague me, any evil spirits that might wage warfare against me. He has authority over the weather, the snow and the cold and even raining ice. He has authority over our family, over our children. Authority to calm these storms with just a word.

I have to believe that this compassionate King is not ridiculing me each time I fall. Is not questioning and pouring guilt on me when I decide to make taco salad instead of burritos for dinner. It seems so dumb and insignificant, but somehow it gives me a great peace to know that He is the authority. He, so often "moved with pity" for the frailty of man.  I want to make decisions from this place.  Freedom and not guilt. Knowing that He is ultimately in charge. I want to rest in that tonight.      

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Valley of Baca

by Alanna

 I forgave fall for heralding winter. I didn't want to enjoy anything like the end of summer, but autumn was so beautiful here it took my breath away. In the few weeks that our tree was brilliant red, before its leaves fell one night, I stared at it each day out of my kitchen window and whispered thanks to my Father for such beauty. I have loved fall. Loved stomping through leaves, loved collecting them with the kids, loved raking them up. Loved each drive because everywhere is bursting with color. Maybe I can store up some of this color in my heart and mind's eyes for the grey days to come.

 I haven't forgiven winter yet. Snow may be beautiful, but barren trees and dark days are still not my thing. I read Psalm 84 recently before breakfast to the kids. On the next day Isa said "mom, you read this one yesterday," and I knew but told her it was a good one so I wanted to hear it again.  It has all these beautiful statements in it, cries that echo my heart's cries.  "My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD" (2) And then how the birds find nests "...where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts" (3) But most of all, verses 5-7.

"Blessed are those whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.  They go from strength to strength, each one appears before God in Zion."

Our strength is in Him, not us. The highways to Zion in our hearts, not in our surroundings or our circumstances. This Valley of Baca, this place of weeping, MADE INTO a place of springs. A place filled with pools, us going from strength to strength. The imagery is so beautiful. And I want it.

I know that winter is just a season. That SAD isn't the worst thing a person can struggle with. That this valley isn't unique. That my family isn't an ocean way but just a one night drive. But there are none the less valleys that I walk through, that we all walk through. And I want to turn this one into a place of springs.

I want our home and our family and my heart to be a place of beauty this winter. A place of pools where people feel like they are nourished and cared for.  I want our home to be a haven of warmth and light and beauty when harsh winds blow outside. I want to lead my children by example in gratitude and rejoicing and intentional hospitality. I'm not sure what that looks like, but I want to trust that God knows and He has a plan if only my heart will rest here and stop whining for something different.

"For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor.  No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in You!"

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

To my eldest

by Alanna

Dear Isabella,

Happy Birthday! You are five years old today, and for some reason that feels to me like a huge milestone of parenting. In some ways I don't feel equipped to parent "school-age" kids, but since we've been doing Kindergarten for nearly two months already, I suppose that's irrelevant. I'm so thankful that God put you into our family. I'm especially thankful that you are our oldest, because you are mature and responsible in so many ways.

You are so helpful with your little brothers. You can get the baby a snack, bring clothes for him, keep him entertained. Twice lately, of your own initiative, I've noticed you successfully redirecting him when I was on the phone.  Recently you've started helping so much more in the kitchen too- making sandwiches, measuring out the spices and mixing up the ranch, helping to frost your own birthday cake. Recently I was carrying a bunch of things out the door, and you were walking near me. "Mom!" you exclaimed. "Why are you carrying all those things? Let me help you." You have a gift for noticing what people need and are a born caretaker. Sometimes this comes with an unhealthy desire for control, but we are both working on that one you and me.

I see God working in your heart, lately in giving you a more tender conscience that confesses sin. I pray He maintains that in you, and ultimately gives you a new heart that loves Him. You have asked so many questions this past year, about death and heaven and hell and Jesus' death and what it really means. You have said that you are trying to trust God, and I pray that He gives you that faith. I don't think you are quite there yet, but I see your hunger to know and I praise God for it. 

You still love Mr. Snow, whom you affectionately call "Mitty." You love collecting things, especially in bags or on shelves. You like to plan elaborate games, wrap presents up for people, make crafts on your own. You won't eat peanut butter, or almond butter, or sunflower butter; I finally acquiesced this year and started feeding you jam and cheese sandwiches. You still love all fruit, some vegetables, burritos and pizza. You discovered the pleasure of chewing gum a few weeks ago!  

You are reading most every 3 letter word and some bigger ones quite easily already. You don't always like to be told what to do for school, but you do like doing "school pages" and coloring. You still are not a big fan of walks, but don't mind so much riding your scooter. You love to hang out with older kids, and usually gravitate most to the oldest girl in a family.

I love so many things about you. Your laugh, the way you incite your brothers to laugh hysterically with you. The way you care for people, your obedience, the way you love to learn and make new things, your generous heart.  For your birthday today, you wrapped up "presents" in tissue paper for all of your guests and brothers. And didn't expect or receive anything from them in return. 

Most of all, my beautiful daughter, I love you. I praise God for every single day of these 5 years He has given us together. You are a precious gift to me.

Monday, October 14, 2019


by Alanna

Kids are so often a miniature of us. Our sin we try so hard to hide, all spat out ugly. My four year old oldest sighed after dinner one day recently and said (I paraphrase) "Mom, I'm just having a really hard day. First I was whining because I didn't want to give away that hat, and then I was whining because I didn't want to take a walk. And then we had a dinner that I didn't like, and then my throat started to hurt." She wasn't confessing sin, just explaining how she was having a bad day. I tried to help her see that the only actual bad part of her day was her own sin, and a sore throat at the end of it (maybe from all the whining?)

But I couldn't believe the mirror I saw in her. What do I say at the end of my days? Is it all complaints? And aren't my days usually made hard by the simple fact that I am whining about things that don't deserve whining about? To be sure, mine would be lots more mature and would go something like this. "First I was whining because it took so long to get hats and coats on everybody. Then I was whining because nobody took a nap and I wanted a break. Then nobody like the dinner I cooked and then....blah blah blah."

I am praying, over and over again, for gratitude. For a heart that doesn't murmur. For thanksgiving. And I will practice thanksgiving too. Because it's not just our hearts that determine our words, it's our words that shape our hearts.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

wisconsin and rest

by Alanna

   We got the chance this past week to retreat as a family to a beautiful "cabin" in the middle of nowhere, Wisconsin. Just an hour and a half drive from our house in the city, but it felt like a whole world away.  My husband and I had our struggles and our arguments, but I'm so thankful because some of those hard conversations help us to understand each other better. One thing we fought about has to do with my vacation attitude.  I am not very good at resting. Sitting and doing nothing makes me anxious and I start to struggle with my identity and fear that I am wasting my life away.  Thankfully I have a kind husband who encourages me to rest and is patient with me when I cry about it. Maybe I'll blog another day about some truth God reminded me of through those struggles this week.

  I'm so thankful that God gave us this time away. No neighbors nearby, forests stretching as far as you could see, dirt roads, fields, farms, hills. Lots of deer, lots of birds. Quiet 6 a.m. mornings with two of my boys on the front porch, watching the sun rise, singing to Jesus and reading Psalms out loud. I wanted this week to be a time of thanksgiving. To not ask God for so many things, but just to remember the good that He has done. To praise Him, to rejoice and to rest in His love.  One thing I was reminded of is the beautiful family that God has given me. These four incredible children and this husband who still acts like my boyfriend 6 years past the day we exchanged rings.  Here are some pictures. With every one I breathe thanksgiving to God, through His Son Jesus. I am in awe at His goodness.

Nehemiah loved this place

 Climbing up the triple bunkbed

 Baby getting kisses
 Out on the dock by the pond

Isabella on the canoe with Papa

 Emmanuel on the canoe!
 Samuel choosing to be brave too
 Both boys with their dad
 This nest of four baby birds was right above the front door
A deer right off of the front porch

Breakfast on the front porch.

We decided to try a 3 mile loop our last morning

And they made it!
Taking turns in the stroller, with the little boys mostly in carriers

Praise the Lord!

Sunday, June 2, 2019

celebrating you

by Alanna

Dear son of my heart,

I am finally getting a chance to sit down and write for your birthday. We celebrated you on your special day, nearly two weeks ago now. Such a big day for you- 10 years old! In August it will be 10 years since I first laid eyes on you, a tiny baby wrapped up in a blanket, in the arms of another nursery volunteer. Ten years since that lurch in my heart, when my whole world changed. So many years of praying for you and loving you, most of them from far away, most of them with no knowledge of what your life looks like now. I love you still. I pray that you come to know Jesus, still. I pray that you seek truth, and that God puts friends and family and teachers into your life who will point you to that Truth.

I rejoiced on your birthday. Because I thank God for your life, for creating you. For all the beautiful plans that He has had for you and has for you still. I rejoiced that I got to be a part of it. I'm thankful for every day, every moment God gave me with you. I'm thankful too for the gifts He's given me here. My youngest son is 10 months. Representative of the total time I had on the same continent as you. On your birthday I opened my eyes and looked at my four children here. Looked at my husband. Looked at the family that God has given me. Thanked God for the family He has given you. I chased my boys around the backyard and laughed hard with them, and didn't take those moments for granted.  We ate ice cream and thanked God for you. I love you.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019


by Alanna

Dear Emmanuel,

Happy 2nd birthday! You bring life to our home more than I can express in words typed up tonight. I think you touch everyone you meet, with joy and love. Strangers sitting behind us in church a few months ago expressed that you had touched their hearts with your joy. You are friendly to everyone; you love to smile and show affection. You love to laugh. This morning when we told you happy birthday, you smiled and softly said "Happy birthday" right back. You are a gift to us from God, a persistent reminder of your name, "God with us."

You have reached a lot of milestones in these past months. Talking in full sentences, singing songs, trying to read books to yourself, creating dramas with your dinner food as characters in the story. You have become so adept at expressing yourself- your needs, wants, and who it was that said mean words to you when mom was out of the room. Everytime you fall, even after total wipeouts on ice, you first announce "I fell!" and then cry if you need to afterward. You fight with your siblings sometimes, because you have ideas now about the toys you want to play with and how the games should go. You also try to irritate them on purpose sometimes, trying the excuse of "I just a baby!" when I come to reprimand you. You use the potty whenever you feel like it, on average about 5 times per week. I still don't think you know your colors, but you can count to ten and memorize Bible verses. You can walk all the way around our 1/2 mile track by the pond with no complaining. You believe the back of your hand is called your bottom, and refer to it that way. You love to repeat nearly everything we tell you, usually preceded by an "oh!" or succeeded by a "sweetie" or "baby" depending on how I had referred to you. You love to run and climb and jump and try to do anything your big brother does. You and him love to play together. You love animals and love the outdoors.  You like trucks and construction sites. You eat so much food at every mealtime, we wonder where you put it all.

I hope for you that your joy never dims. That you discover the One who created you, that He fills your heart with His joy and plants all your happiness deep in Himself. I pray that in this way your joy will never be shaken.

I am so in awe that God let me be your mom. You are a reminder to me of His goodness and that He is trustworthy in the way He is putting our family together. You are a gift. We love you always.


Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Quiet and stillness

By Mary

It's been a while since I've really experienced seasons, since South Carolina's seasons are mostly just categorized as "hot" and "hotter". Gorgeous azaleas bursting into bloom and a thick layer of green pollen coating every outdoor thing mark spring, the lovebug swarms announce the arrival of summer just before the even more sweltering days make their appearance, and the marshes turn a certain shade of green that I'll always remember as the temperature drops just a tad when autumn comes along. Winter means not sweating when you dare to wear jeans-and maybe occasionally a jacket can be added to your outfit.  
While our area of Washington is really rather temperate, it's seasons are far more distinctive. I suppose that may be the reason why I've spent much of this winter reflecting on the seasons and how they reflect the seasons that our spirits experience. That they need.
Spring is such a bright time, lively in every way, new and fresh and clean. It mellows out to the sweetness of summer where you want to soak up each moment. And when the weather begins to turn crisp, the trees blaze out in a flame of glorious color. There's an energy in the air when the fall days begin...and then slowly, the leaves begin to brown and then drop to the ground, leaving their branches bare. Compared to the warmth, the bright, the color, winter can feel so dead and dreary...and limiting. You can feel shut in, shut off. But it's a necessary thing. Those bare trees, the grasses and flowers, they are all quietly waiting, drawing strength, growing and preparing for all that lies ahead.
With our second winter in Washington drawing to a close, these thoughts have been lingering in my mind. The first is from a book I read recently, that Jesus is the Lord of the fast as well as the feast. We need both, however nice it may feel just to bask in the glorious feasting. And the second, straight from the Bible.
"...In quietness and trust is your strength..."-Isaiah 30:15

Friday, January 18, 2019

Dove chocolate wisdom

By Mary

I've been mulling over a little nugget from a chocolate wrapper, so I thought I'd share :)
often lead to

Monday, January 14, 2019

January days

by Alanna

We spent Christmas in Colorado again this year- three weeks of glorious sunshine and lots of laughter with our family. Playing 500 with my parents, soccer with friends, basketball in flip-flops. Driving back to Minnesota is always hard, but each time we feel a little more confident that this is where God wants us to be, and a little more content with that. Able to open wide my hands and receive that beautiful gift of Colorado, and then say goodbye to it and go back to the place He has called us to.

Grey days here though, end on end, require discipline to do the things that are good for my mind and soul. They also require creativity. I'm so thankful for warm days lately- 20s and even 30s! that have turned our backyard into an ice rink instead of a snow bank. Here's some pictures documenting my gratitude- for my children, for getting outdoors, for gray and white and brown and ugly. I'm so thankful that Spring is going to come! My heart is already super excited for it.