Church planting

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.  (Matthew 28:19-20)

Our church sent a team off to a nearby city to plant another church earlier this year.  My brother Ben, sister-in-law Megan, and their sweet baby Emma went with the team.  Family is very, very important to me, and it was hard to say goodbye to the visits we enjoyed every single Sunday when they lived close by and attended Cedarcreek with us.  Instead of licking our wounds, we pulled out our checkbook and got behind the project financially.  It helped a bit.  These photos are for our church family that is "planting" this church - Coulee Rock in Lacrosse, WI - with us.

A panoramic view of the sanctuary (above) and exterior of the church (below).  Click on the photos to enlarge them.

If you have questions about the church planting process and it's purpose, click to read Tim Keller's answers here.

The weekly report

We spent the day today alone as a family.  My glasses came in yesterday, so I am able to drive, and I was just about giddy with the freedom of that when we drove out of the driveway this morning!  Amelia has had some difficulty with seizures in the last few days, so we headed to the pool.

Music and water...the only two things that pull her out of the deep, long partial seizures.  A day in June was happily spent with my good friend Natasha, who gave us an impromptu private session of her wonderful music and motion class.  Her kids tagged along, and Amy had fun initiating a game of "chase" with Max during the banner-waving segment.  Today, we headed to the pool instead.

God went before us, as usual, and we arrived to discover that it was a party day at the pool, complete with Rock 'n' Roll to Go sound system and dance music piped over the water!  What could be more perfect than music AND water for sweet Amy.  She has been "stuck" in a partial for about a day now, and had a very large full-blown seizure on Wednesday night that was anxiety-producing for me.  We were sleeping together during the overnight we spent at Ben and Megan's home in Lacrosse between appointments at Mayo.  Amy woke me up with her twitching, and the seizure lasted at least 7 minutes from the time I woke up (probably a bit more).  I didn't even think to give her the Diastat because I was so busy keeping her airway open and trying to avoid carpet with the two times she vomited during the seizure (I failed at the carpet avoidance but did manage to keep her breathing, thank the Lord!).

It has been trying.  As I went through photos from the past two weeks, and the serenity of this photo that Aaron snapped through our Holga lens was a reprieve from the mental anguish of the past several days.  I stared at it as I prayed this morning, thanking God that the moments of chaos are interspersed so faithfully with moments of peace, humor, and happiness.  As a Facebook friend of mine said yesterday, "God is good. That is all."

A doctor today saw Amy, heard our family story from the past year, and winced.  She commented on how unlucky Amy seems to be.  I jumped in quickly, and told her that my perspective is so me, Amy is one of the "luckiest" (most blessed) girls I know.  She was saved from something that could have easily killed her...and saved almost wholly intact.  What a blessing!  It is so easy, on the difficult days when pain piles on with seizures, to view our life as a glass half empty.  In reality, our cup runneth over.  What I deserve is death...what we all deserve is death (Romans 6:21-23).  For in Him we live and move and exist (Acts 17:28).  Not only has He delivered Amelia from the punishment for her little sins, He spared her very existence on this earth.  For that I praise Him, especially in moments like these - when I see clearly, as she seizes, how different the outcome might have been.

On a side note, I wanted to pass on the great news that the glasses I got completely relieve the double vision! My headaches continue to persist, and they are awful, squint-your-eyes-shut, find a dark room to hole up in type of headaches.  I am going to try out a migraine medication to see if that helps more than the painkillers that simply dull the pain a bit and make it tolerable.  I see a neurologist about them - and the seizure I experienced in the ER right after my encounter with the toilet - next week.  I also see a speech therapist to address ongoing problems with language.  Typing this blog, for instance, has become quite tedious, as I must return to everything and proofread myself.  My brain continues to substitute similar or rhyming words for the word I intend to type, rendering mechanical spell-check tools useless.  I am praying that issue subsides quickly, as I hope to be writing my dissertation proposal in a week or so.  I would appreciate more prayers on that front, for continued healing of this brain of mine.


A newborn baby is a good example to me, a struggling adult.  My little nephew Robbie loves to be held.  He sleeps right through the sometimes rather jostling transitions from one set of arms to the next, puts up with the childlike mistakes as his little cousins pinch his cheeks, pull on his arms and legs, and kiss him roughly.

He's okay with the fact that he has needs.  He doesn't even think about the possibility that someday he'll move beyond those needs...the needs he has for this family he's been planted in.  He just soaks it up.

Maybe it's a little easier for him than me.  After all, he probably lacks any vision of independence, and certainly he doesn't have to wonder whether or not he should ask for help.  The cries come, instinctively, when he is hungry, cold, tired, wet, or uncomfortable.

Earlier this summer, I became intimately aware of my pride when it comes to asking for help.  Someone said, in an offhand manner, that, although I am always willing to help others in my church, it is often me who is asking for help.  That rubbed me the wrong way.  Enough so that I definitely pondered never asking for help again.  Enough so that I have had a lot of emotional angst as I go through another season of needing transportation assistance to even make it to the few doctors appointments that pepper our family schedule.

Here is another example of the faith of a little child. (Luke 18:17)  Robbie is without anxiety over where his next meal or cuddle or dry diaper will come from.  He has no second thoughts when squawking for help when he needs it.  He doesn't worry about repaying his parents and family for all they do for him.  (Come to think of it, how often does that thought even occur to us as adult children?  Do you worry about repaying your parents for the 18 or more years they supported you financially, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically?)

God uses the gentle touch of a great-aunt on fresh-from-the-womb baby skin to speak deep to my soul.  To teach me new humbleness and grace.  To let go of my worry and pride and participate in this big, messy family called church.

Our church is going through the "one another" commands from Scripture this summer, building unity and revitalizing our church after sending a large group of committed members on the church plant this spring.  I found a great list of the "one another" commands here.  The verse that jumped off the screen as I read it:
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves (Philippians 2:3).
I can easily see how that relates to serving others.  But the flip side of this verse is allowing others to serve me.  Is it not selfishness or empty conceit that would propel me to turn down a casserole brought to my door or an offer of babysitting from a friend?  Lord, deliver me from a mindset that sees only how I can serve others, as though I have no needs or am somehow better off or stronger than those I rush in to help!  Let me find a balance between being a washer of feet and sitting humbly in my seat while mine are washed.  Deliver me from pride that drives me toward independence and isolation, and help me allow myself to be held by those who love me and love You.

Lord, deliver me from the desire to be noticed, loved, exalted
Lord, deliver me from the desire to be favored, popular, chosen or acknowledged
Lord, deliver me from the fear of being wrong, forgotten or ignored
Lord, deliver me from the fear of being humiliated or left behind
~ Lord, Deliver Me by SaraBeth Geoghegan ~

Pretty in pink

As far as I know, there haven't been twins in our family for a very long time.  My brother and sister-in-law have struggled with infertility, and were blessed with news of twins quite out of the blue.  Right about the time they had made an appointment, after much trepidation, with a fertility specialist.  We had a wonderful day Saturday showering Jamie with gifts and well wishes as she enters the final, most difficult part of her pregnancy.

My mom, the consummate hostess, put together a stunning Heritage Menu that reflected all the ancestral ties these two little baby girls will share: French, German, English, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Native American, Irish.  The most delicious had to be the homemade Devonshire cream, with it's nutty aroma and cool creaminess.  Melissa, just a few weeks from delivering her son Robbie, aided in the preparations.

It seems rather ironic that my brother Scott - the macho, police officer, hunter, snowmobiler among my brothers - is preparing for two little pink-clad girls.  I simply cannot wait to see how it changes him and brings out the hidden strengths that have lain dormant for years.  He is going to be a great dad.

Please make room on your prayer list for Scott and Jamie, and especially their sweet twins, Kaitlyn Lee and Jessica Jean.  They aren't "due" until October, but will likely be induced sometime in late August or early September because they share a placenta and amniotic sac, putting them at higher risk for late-pregnancy complications.


Windswept.  We spent our last morning on Folly Beach watching the sunrise just a few weeks ago in South Carolina.  The kids in p.j.s, adults hungering for crabcake eggs benedict at the Lost Dog.  I feel the same way...scrubbed clean with exhaustion, soul adrift in a quiet sea, eyes  Headache is through the roof painful, infection seems a bit worse today in my pacer pocket.  The doctor was on the fence but decided it doesn't look "grossly infected", so I can stay home, take my oral antibiotics and avoid a surgical revision of the pacemaker, at least for the moment.  My comprehensive exam has been resubmitted.  If all goes well and I pass the written portion, I will defend sometime the week of August 2 (i.e. next week).  Luckily, I have my defense slideshow pretty much prepared from last time.  But it would definitely be helpful to stay out of the hospital for the intervening days.  I do NOT want to defend in a hospital gown! (but I will if I have to!)

Deliver us from evil

We had an amazing weekend camping with our friends and co-leaders from small group, the Bergs.  They brought swords for all the kids and we had knights and princesses slaying dragons, storming gates, and defeating giants throughout the campsite all weekend long.

In the early morning hours Saturday, the campground was hit with a storm of amazing proportions.  We were awakened by the crack of a tree getting hit by lightening somewhere near by, and huddled in fear and awe as electricity arced over our tent ceiling and we were showered with sparks.  Later, when Katy and I left the relative safety of the tent to use the bathroom, we found that our tent was surrounded by a 3-5" lake of water and a swarm of toads fleeing the monsoon-induced flooding.  Aaron commented that it seemed almost Biblical, this storm we were riding out in a flimsy nylon boat.

We survived the night.  We woke in the morning and heard the news that a truck a mere 50 feet from our bed had been struck and completely destroyed by the lightening bolt.  We toured the paths around our two campsites, and found that the bolt had first hit a tree about 30 feet from the Thul tent, then traveled through the root systems, exploding and burning the roots and leaving eruptions in the earth like an earthquake.  We had felt the static electricity, and it did seem to cause me some trouble with my pacemaker and Amelia a day of clustered seizures.  The neurologist confirmed that abnormal exposure to electricity can briefly worsen seizure disorders.  Luckily, the electrical system of my pacemaker seems to be functioning fine.

We had planned to borrow a metal pop-up camper from a friend, but plans fell through at the last minute.  I wonder now if we would have been hit if we had been connected to the ground with a large metal jackstand.

Despite the odds of being struck, we were.  The fingers of electricity traveled beyond the Berg's tent, between our tents, and beyond our tent.  Three fingers, like claws in a desperate attempt to grasp us.  Defeated - the fingers spread out and our tents slipping through.  Despite the odds of surviving a direct hit, we did.

With every passing day, this string of trials seems all the more absurd and indescribable, even to those of us going through them.  Aaron and I agreed, in the dark of night last night, as we reflected on this weekend: we are glad the Bergs can corroborate our story.  It doesn't seem believable.  Who goes through what we've been through, and then gets struck by lightening?  What is it we are up a church, even as a family...that garners such an uninterrupted and focused attack that comes at us from all angles?  Is there something about our mission, the church plant we've recently taken part in as a church, what we're teaching these children, that doesn't sit well with evil?

As we come out of an amazing and refreshing weekend, we are hit again with more trials and more blessings at home.  My pacemaker incision is infected, and I spent the evening in the ER getting a big dose of IV antibiotics.  Now I am on an oral antibiotic and need to go to the cardiologist again tomorrow to have the incision looked at.  More appointments sucking up time.  Amelia's seizures are still clustering after the lightening strike over the weekend.  Would you pray healing for us?  Would you keep both her and I lifted up in prayer?  I am faced with surgical revision of my pacemaker pocket, living without the pacemaker for a few weeks while I receive antibacterial treatments deep within to treat the pocket in my chest.  In addition, I am at risk for an infection of my heart muscle.  Amelia broke both of her cheekbones in her fall last week, and will need surgery on her nose if she suffers another injury to it.  We need protection.  We need Jesus.

This morning, Caleb accepted Christ - at least, we think he did.  When one of our babes does this so early, we watch for months, not sure whether to believe their belief or not.  So far, not one of the children has surprised us, though.  Katy got saved at almost four; Rosy at three; and Amy and Caleb both at around 2 1/2.   Time will tell.  I praise God for Caleb's sweet words in prayer this morning.  "Dear Lord, thank you for this day.  I sorry I do bad things.  Tank you for sending Jesus to pay for my bad things.  Tank you for saving me from my bad things.  I want you save me, Jesus."

You calm the storms at night
You turn the dark to light
You're everything and that
is who You are

My savior
my healer
that is who You are
my maker
my father
that is who You are


Reading the lyrics of "Wonder" by Natalie Merchant the other day brought me back.  Made me think some things over.  I had to scan a few photos in for another post, photos from my childhood album.  This is my favorite picture in that album.  Whenever I start thinking I might be making some headway in this photography hobby of mine, I look back and I am reminded that I have a long way to go to match my dad's black and white film and Canon A1 with it's old kit lens...a photojournalists camera, his first major purchase as a high school student.

I remember fainting and nearly dying at a friend's wedding when I was in high school.  I remember them thinking I was pregnant and hemorrhaging or something, and how I said a thousand times through gritted teeth that was impossible.  Made some remark about a second virgin birth.  I remember that it felt like an accomplishment to have these graduation pictures graduate.  Already, I was sure of nothing.

There was a day when the tallest of my brothers still fit in my lap.  I remember missing him when I decided to move to campus for my second year of college.  I remember trying to put blush on just prior to this photo so I would look a little less dead.  I look back on that decision, the decision to move out of my childhood home, and it is one of the few I truly regret.  It started an inexorable trajectory that pulled me away from Christ and introduced so much more pain in my life than had to be.

I kept fainting.  I was wheelchair bound for part of my sophomore year.  I lost weight.  I woke up once to a professor giving me mouth to mouth.  I kept taking pictures, trying to learn to be like my dad and mom.  I questioned God and especially Christ.  I didn't understand what it meant to share in His death.

I made new friends and squeezed in a few duets between hospital visits.  I went to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, and they told me I had heart failure and I might need a new heart.  They told me they didn't know exactly what to make of my situation, and put me on six different medications.  It seemed to work pretty well, even though they didn't know what they were doing.  I tried to forget about the God I felt abandoned by.

I kept playing hockey.  I loved it and I was afraid to stop.  I was afraid that stopping anything would mean that I was giving up, that I gave in to dying before I hit 20.  My teammates begged me to take a break after I quit breathing once on the bench and once on a roadtrip home from a tournament.  I ignored them and wore a Medic Alert bracelet.

I graduated from college, even though some said I should never be a nurse because I might put my patients at risk if I fainted while on duty.  I had quit fainting in my junior year and finally got my driving license back for the first time since my freshman year.  I started drinking because I was no longer on cardiac medications.  I gained weight and felt horrible.  I started to wonder if God really was there.  I went to a hundred different churches, temples, tabernacles, home groups, yoga classes, B'hai meetings, and prayer sit-ins.  I couldn't find anything that explained anything.  I accepted, once again, that I did truly believe in the Christian God.  I started to read the Bible every day.  I figured if I could conquer all 1,600 pages of Les Miserables, the Bible should be light reading.  I read straight through and found it surprisingly interesting.

I didn't really know what to do with a new lease on life.  No one could explain why I got sick in the first place, nor why I got better when I did.  Doctors cautioned me that it probably wouldn't last.  I decided taking care of people even sicker than me would be a good start.  I understood what it was like to be a sick kid, so I became a pediatric intensive care nurse.  Some of my patients were on dozens of I.V. medications, each I.V. pump outweighing their tiny bodies.  I worked constantly to drown out the noise in my own head.  I read my Bible every single shift.  Lamentations, I and II Corinthians, and the Proverbs became my favorites.  I wrote notes on almost every verse.  I loved those kids as hard as I could.  I cried with their families when they died.  I kept a book of all the stories I never wanted to forget and someday I planned to write a real book from them.  A little girl named Sissy broke my heart.  I applied to become a medical foster parent so she would have somewhere to go.  She had been abandoned at the hospital to get a heart transplant at age 3 and her parents never could be found until after she died.  She died the day after I submitted my application to become her parent.  I had big questions for God.  I still don't know the answers to some of them.

I kept taking pictures.  I still wasn't as good as my parents.  I spent a lot of my overtime pay on film and film developing.  I broke an engagement.  I tried to get started in a church and failed.  I was afraid to bike some days because I could tell my heart was giving out again.  I prayed that God would rescue me.

He showed me I was redeemed when I held hands with my future husband for the first time during a prayer circle around a dying child's bed.  I didn't know I could ever feel that way about someone in an instant, and I was pretty sure it was divine intervention.  I hoped my future husband wasn't blind to God's will, because my heart was already broken physically and I wasn't sure if it could take another crack.  He wasn't blind to God's will.  He listened to a wise, Godly couple and grew closer to God and got to know me better, just because they said he should (that, and my "algore is a risky scheme" sticker convinced him it was worth a shot).  Somewhere around the time we started dating, my heart stopped again.  Out of the blue.  I was down for 4 minutes and everyone said it was a miracle I wasn't a vegetable.  I signed myself out of the emergency room A.M.A. before they could get a 24 hour hold placed on me.  I didn't follow up with a cardiologist.  I tried to trust God, and failed miserably most of the time.  I told Aaron when he asked me to marry him (well, later on in the evening).  He didn't seem to mind that I might die.  He said everyone does sometime.  We got married.  I was happy for the first time in many, many years, deep down in my core.

We had four kids, even though doctors said neither of us were capable.  They came pretty close together and knocked the socks off the medical world.  I got cancer.  Doctors gave me odds of survival.  I barely listened.  I had a tubal because my heart started to fail again when I was pregnant with Caleb.  It didn't work.  I got pregnant again, and there is another baby waiting for his first hug in heaven.

I still don't know why He put me here.

I still don't know why He kept me here.

I still don't know if it will be my heart that brings me home to heaven, or my cancer.

I do know that nobody has an answer for me, except God.

I do know that it is safer to trust Him than to doubt Him.

I do know that when the day finally comes, and my ticker stops for good, there is a mansion waiting for me on the other shore.