Big News: Faithful-Minded Planner Pre-Release!

Last summer, my friend Kayla and I sat in her back yard with our collection of eight children running and laughing around us. We had been bandying around an idea: what if we built a faith-strengthening tool that was part devotional, part planner? It would be aimed at encouraging the generation of young women we loved working with at our church. We wanted to see them live their faith out in an others-minded, service-oriented, God-honoring way. Kayla was a whiz at layout and design. I loved playing with words. It seemed doable, right?

In between tying shoes and unwrapping freeze pops, I remember tapping my pen against my notebook, saying Yes, YES, YES. Let’s DO this.

I started scrawling thoughts about my bible reading in a notebook that July. As fall progressed, and my son played happily with his Legos while his sisters were in school, I kept “writing down the bones”, as author Natalie Goldberg puts it. Bone after bone connected into a topical collection, organized by month. These devotional thoughts, built on teaching from the Bible, spanned into enough content for nine months. Kayla filled in content for the other three, and then worked her design magic to create the planner, complete with weekly calendars, health, activity, and social media trackers, and notes pages to encourage thought journaling. Meanwhile, our friend Rebecca ( on IG) created some amazing original coloring and doodle pages to include in the content.

It sounds so easy, laid out like that. 😉

A couple of months ago, Kayla unexpectedly plopped two copies of a book in my hands. It was our planner in real life, complete with glossy cover, paper pages, and that magical, new book smell. A small team of friends read through the proof, poured over edits, and worked to make it stronger.

And somehow, here we are! The Faithful-Minded planner, published and sold by Joyful and Free Paperie, releases July 1, 2020. It’s an academic planner, meant to follow high school, college, and young adult women through their daily, weekly, and monthly rhythms. As a collaborative team, we hope this tool helps young women create God-centered habits and routines, recognize their abilities to love and serve others, and take initiative to grow in their faith.

The Faithful-Minded planner is available for pre-order now through July 1st for $18. After the official release on July 1, the regular price will be $22. Secure purchases can be made through the Joyful and Free Paperie site via PayPal.

This planner has been a joy to write for and collaborate on, and I’m so excited to see it released into your hands. Please feel free to share this post, send it to anyone who might be interested, and follow @joyfulandfree_paperie on Instagram for more encouraging content!


Surviving social distance: Start with what you know


This morning, I opened the curtains to my favorite morning view. The sun was just pulling itself up the horizon, all pink cheeked and warm from sleep, and it all looked so… normal outside.

Unfortunately, we all know the world is anything but normal right now. Self quarantine, social distancing, no school, no church, no restaurants, no gatherings, every activity cancelled. I’ll spare you my commentary. It’s nothing you haven’t heard before.

What I *hadn’t* heard before was this.

“So, Mrs. Riebe, what are we doing for school tomorrow?”

My daughter, in all her earnest, goofy seriousness jumped to the next idea quickly when I told her the governor cancelled school in Minnesota for the next two weeks, with likely more to come.

“We’ll figure that out, sweetheart.”

That’s what we’re all doing, after all. Figuring this out, one day at a time. Taking in the news. Staying home. Surveying our pantries. Watching out toilet paper supplies diminish. Trying to reassure ourselves that this moment in time will not last forever.

In the last few days, I’ve spent copious amounts of screen time reading the news and going around in circles with home school options and activities. Sunday night, I surveyed a few online day planner schedules, wrote out a slap-dash version of one I thought would work, and collected our workbooks and learning activities.

Game on, home learning.

I started with something I knew. Bread. Sweetbread vs. Pizza dough, to be exact. One has sugar, one doesn’t. One gets crazy puffy, one goes dormant in the fridge. (Until tonight, when it’s PIZZA NIGHT!) It’s not rocket science, but it doesn’t have to be. I had everything on hand, it did double duty as snack and meal prep, and it was a fun, interactive way to get four kids doing the same thing.

So friend, here’s the part where you ask yourself, “What do I know? What favorite memory do I have of working alongside someone? What skills do I have that my kids/spouse/fiancee/friends not know about yet?”

Start there. 

Now if you’re in the same boat as me, and this is at all helpful, here’s a quick recap of where we started with a preschooler, two kindergartners, and a second grader for our first day of school.

  1. Devotional lesson and art project on producing the Fruit of the Spirit, found in Galatians 5:22-24. If we’re going to be in close contact at home, we need some solid reminders of how to love another and what that love looks like.
  2. Math time: worksheets for my second grader, shapes review with my kindergartners, and some random adding/subtracting game I made up with playing cards.
  3. Phonics: Letter flashcards for the preschooler, read out loud time for kindergartners and second grader.
  5. Cooking/Science Time: Making bread in a bag. This website, Little Bins for Little Hands was a huge help. We talked through their questions, wrote observation sheets, and learned about how yeast eats and what it produces. Bonus. We had bread for afternoon snack. (This was our main guided activity for the day.)

  1. Lunch
  2. Outdoor play time
  3. Naps/Quiet Reading to self
  4. Music time
  5. Art projects

There are people out there who make some pretty awesome graphic printables and seem to have this whole thing figured out. I’m not one of them. Sorry folks. But what I need to remind myself of is this: we are operating in emergency mode. It doesn’t have to be perfect. One day we might start school at 7:30, another we might start at 10:00. One day might feel calm and manageable, and the next might start with a storm of emotions. We’re going to do it right, and we’re going to do it wrong. And that’s something we’re going to have to accept, gracefully, and keep on going because we have no choice.

The good news is,  we’re in this together. Separate, but together. And if ever a world was equipped to handle physical social distance, it’s this one. Last night we Google duo’d and Facebook videoed and Marco polo’d for a good hour, checking in with friends, sending messages, laughing at silly faces, and generally trying remind ourselves that we are not alone, even though it feels that way.

Today is a new day. And if you’re not sure where to start, that’s OK. Take some time to plan. (Heaven knows we have ALL THE TIME right now!) Brainstorm with your family members about things you can do together. Make lists. Figure out what they want to learn. Make a schedule. Break it whenever you want. Eat pantry staples and get over not having the perfect ingredients for every recipe. Do basic. Find the teachable moments in legos, in chores, in crafting, in outdoor exploration. Make up games. Love one another in ways that show honor and respect.

Power up, friends. We can do this.



#coronavirus #homeschoolschedule #homelearning #makingbread #breadscience #scienceprojects #socialisolation #socialdistancing #freeplay #momlife #parenting #encouragement #



Let Go or Be Dragged

Art Print Credit: Mary Engelbreit 

It was a Thursday night, which was not our usual time for violin lessons, and my four children knew it. Our day was as overloaded as the spring ditch creek at the end of our driveway – group play date, library, and tumbling, all falling back-to-back. We landed at music lessons tired, overstimulated, and hungry for anything else besides the box of atomic yellow flavor blasted goldfish we’d been sticking out hands into all day.

While my eldest attempted to follow her teacher’s instructions, my youngest threw books on the floor while his sisters lolled over my shoulders and pulled at my purse, disconsolately asking whether or not I had any mints, or new snacks, and if it was time to go home yet. The scratch of violin scales doggedly began. Heat started to collect under my arms and along my temples.

My eyes desperately traversed the now-familiar classroom. The black and white clock stonily stated we had fourteen minutes remaining. The sun glinted off the warped and dirty snowbanks quietly melting outside the south window. And then I noticed it, a little sign taped to a file cabinet. It was a picture of a child haphazardly holding on to a bunch of helium balloons that were dragging him backwards across the grass.

The cheery lettering at the top read, “Let go or be dragged.”

I read it again, no longer noticing the child pulling at my jeans, or the frenetic whisper play of the twins going on behind me. The violin noise faded, and I inhaled slowly.

Let go or be dragged.

Somehow, this seemed like a startling new revelation regarding a number of circumstances I was doggedly working through in my personal life. Potty training. Tantrums. Financial puzzles. Interpersonal connection. Hurt. Faith questions. Exhaustion. The ever-constant need to clean and organize.

Let go or be dragged.


Take potty training, for instance.

Potty training a boy (after training three girls) is proving to be an animal with different stripes. I was warned this would most likely be the case, but by the end of the second week, our success was limited to me remembering to haul my son to the bathroom at the appropriate elimination time. He maintained a very laisse fair approach to the whole affair, going when he was prompted, but with increasing resentment and hesitation.

Meanwhile, we burned through an entire bag of miniature colored marshmallow treats (given out in magnanimous handfuls by his helpful sisters), a bottle of Clorox wipes, and a bag of overpriced Cars-themed pull-ups.

One night after I recounted yet another exhausting toileting mishap to my husband, he gently suggested that it might be time to take a break.

Inside, I rebelled at his words. We had made some hard-fought advances, after all. Our son was staying dry at night and during naps, and rarely had accidents during the day. He successfully held it in the car, and had only had one public accident.

I saw my days of careful vigilance and bleached training pants and bathroom floor reading time swirling down the drain, and it hurt my pride to admit defeat. But this was not about my pride.

It was about my son.

Let go, the little boy in the picture whispered. He’s not ready yet. Don’t push it. You’re being dragged. I didn’t want to agree, but I knew it was true.

The next morning, we went back to diapers.


The events of life, it seems, are hell-bent on getting their hooks in us. A meaningless jest. A bad meeting. A temperamental car battery. A child’s lost library book. These things are outside of our control, but often fall just close enough within our purview that we can’t stop thinking about them.

Letting go doesn’t usually occur to us.

We lump around like an arthritic dog, imperfectly guarding our territory. We mull over our thoughts, chewing over conversations, shortcomings, mistakes, and concerns like a well-worn bone.

It isn’t often we give ourselves permission to simply let go.

That seems too easy, our brains say.

That’s giving up. It’s letting someone else win, the world says.

Or is it?

In the act of letting go, of giving in to circumstances outside of our control, what it we are better able to practice the little celebrated art of surrender?

Definition-wise, surrender means: to cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority, to yield to the power, control, or possession of another upon compulsion or demand, or to give up completely or agree to forgo especially in favor of another.

Spiritually, surrender looks like what Jesus taught in Matthew 11.

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

What if we have to start by getting over ourselves, and then seek out wisdom from the source?

Humility may not be many people’s favorite virtues, but that doesn’t make it any less important as a part of our daily lives– particularly when we need to let go of something and try another way. Humble surrender (as opposed to angrily giving in and then stomping around like a temperamental two-year-old) allows us to assess our circumstances and accept our position.

And if we’re lucky, it affords us the opportunity to pick ourselves up from the dust and either try again or walk away, this time with more clarity and perhaps, a deeper wisdom.


A few days ago morning, after our full return to diapers, my son grabbed at his pants and quietly mumbled that he needed to go potty. The deed was done successfully and with no cajoling, and I stood in the kitchen afterward in dumbfounded amazement.

I’m too old to pedal the old idea that if you let something go, it’ll come back to you if it’s meant to be. Life is too uncertain for platitudes.

But it is also, undoubtedly, too short to be threatened by thoughts that want to drag me, kicking and screaming, to somewhere I don’t want to go. Had I not stepped back from constantly directing my son to go potty (and thoughts of my own failure as a mother), he never would have had the space to determine his own urge.

Humility and gentle surrender will do far more good for a soul than clinging to failure and hurt.

Hanging on to words, worries, and fears and allowing them to direct our thoughts and emotions is dead weight, better to be cut loose from than strangled by.

Let go, or be dragged.

15 Family Snow Day Activities to Keep Everyone Sane

15 family snow day activities

Yesterday we got word that here in our corner of Minnesota, school is cancelled for the next two days due to the extreme cold, windchill, and continuing snow. In other words, winter has decided it’s time to start acting like winter.

First off, I don’t have a frame of reference for how cold -50 is, so I’m thankful that now we won’t have to leave the house to do anything other than the usual farm chores of hauling wood and feeding the animals. Even those two things will be questionable the next few days.

But across the Midwest, I’m guessing mothers like me are a mixed bag of YAY! SNOWDAYS! and CRAP! WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO TO STAY SANE?!

I’ve been brainstorming what we’re going to do with our kids (ages 7, 5, 5, & 2), and with no further ado, here are a few things we’ll probably be up to in our next couple days of hygge.

  1. Indoor exercise

This one’s for you, parents. Exercise is important, and endorphins are a must on days like these. So, got a treadmill? Or are you a Pinterest workout pinner? Or how about live streaming video workouts? Now is a great time to shred your abs, bump your booty, or tackle any other ridiculously named set of exercises. If you need a place to start, here’s a link to my favorite 10 minute ab workout.

A quick note: your kids may want to join you. In the spirit of family togetherness, let them! Now’s a great time to teach them how to plank, do a proper bicep curl, or master the jump squat. I mean, what else are you doing today?

  1. Exercise for the kids

Little bodies need to move too. Did you know you can stream how-to beginner lessons in ballet, taekwondo, and other activities from Youtube? Just cast them from your phone/computer to your TV and turn your living room into a miniature gym – no membership required.

If your kids are smaller, there’s also a fun TV show on Netflix called Bo on the Go. The main character Bo invites viewers to accompany her on missions and move their bodies in the process. It’s a great way to get them off the couch but still stay generally contained in their activity.

  1. Get a head start on Valentine’s Day

Full disclosure: This is totally an original idea from my preschoolers, so don’t go thinking I’ve suddenly become good at planning ahead. The twins are making homemade valentines for their classmates today. They are coloring hearts, cutting them out, and writing names on them. It’s a great activity in dexterity, counting, writing, coloring, and spelling, and they have been at it for the last hour and a half. Frankly, I’m amazed.

  1. Snow Tray play

Got a fresh pile of snow but don’t feel like bundling up in 80 bajillion layers to go play in it? Me either. Enter, the snow tray. Grab a bowl, gingerly step outside far enough to fill it with snow, and then slam on the door on that madness and get back inside. Dump said snow on rimmed baking trays and let your kids make miniature snowmen, or race tracks for cars, or tiny snowballs. Bonus points if you put towels under the trays so they can periodically wipe their hands.

  1. Compromise on music time

I love listening to calm, mellow music during the day… but my 7 and 5-year-olds do not. We compromise by listening to their music for an hour, then my music for an hour, then daddy’s music for an hour, etc. Music has the power to change all sorts of cranky attitudes and spur on spontaneous dance parties, so be ready.

Now might also be a good time to introduce your kids to audio books or podcasts. We’ve had varying results with these, because they have to be pretty closely matched to your children’s interest and attention span, but you can find them on streaming music sites like Google Play and Spotify.

  1. Go ahead. Marie Kondo the toy room.

Last weekend I headed downstairs to watch a play the kids were putting on. Two hours later, I emerged victorious with two bags of garbage, a fully organized play room, and a great haul of stuff to give away. No need to be judicious here. If the game doesn’t have the pieces anymore, it goes. If the plastic McDonalds toys aren’t bringing anyone joy, dump them in the recycling. If no one has touched the giant bin of Little People toys in the last year, contact your local gym or church nursery and see they if they need any donations.

  1. Plan an extravagant meal

You know. The one you never make because you don’t have time. Check out your local grocery pick up service, order online, and don’t get out of that car whatever you do because staying alive in this freezer is basically your JOB now. Better yet, poke around in your pantry and use what you have. Remind yourself that you always wanted to try making homemade gnocchi, or roasted chicken, or someone’s Nona’s five hour tomato sauce. Then go for it. Involve the family to the extent they can successfully contribute. Set the table. Light the candles. Use fancy glasses. Let them make a centerpiece out of legos, dragons, etc. Bon Appetit!

  1. Bake something

Anything. Cookies. Bread. Sweet potatoes. Granola. Firing up that oven will bump up the temp in your kitchen just that much more, and most kids love a special kitchen project (and the promise that they get to lick the beater.)

Not into baking? Let the kids make their own snacks. Turn bananas into mice with chocolate chips and spaghetti whiskers. Make marshmallow snowmen with mallows, stick pretzels, and raisins. Let them make faces in their yogurt bowl using trail mix, fruit, or whatever else is on hand.

  1. Pull out the puzzles

We are just arriving at the stage where ¾’s of our family can handle doing a 300 piece puzzle. The collaboration, patience, and victory is mostly worth the accompanying whining, misplaced elbowing, and frustration. *Mostly*

  1. Have a reading competition

See who can read (or digest the pictures if you have pre-readers in the house) the most pages in one day. You can go all crazy and make a chart online, or just draw a few columns on a piece of paper and write in books as you go. Winner gets any manner of positive reinforcement you’re in the mood to offer up. Mom and dad should play too.

  1. Skype with family

When was the last time you did a virtual video call with grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins? Never? Or just yesterday? Whatever your schedule of video chatting, setting aside some time to talk with family can be a great way to offer a new activity. Google Hangouts and Facebook Video Calls are two pretty reliable and free platforms to try.

Feeling less techy? Try reviving the lost art of writing letters. That’s right. Use STAMPS. Put actual envelopes in the MAILBOX. Teach your kids what the little flag on the side of the box is meant for. I know. It’s crazy, but it just might work.

  1. Embrace the mess

Kids love using props to be creative. In the spirit of fostering that, don’t hem and haw about getting out the Halloween costumes, or gag when the Legos go skittering across the floor. Toys are meant to be played with, messes are easily cleaned, and the hour or two of probable entertainment is worth the chaos. Just remind them that cleanup afterwards is mandatory, and make sure it actually happens.

  1. Allow boredom

We’ve all heard the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention”, right? Oftentimes, we don’t allow our kids to be bored because they pester us to no end in the process. However, boredom is a necessary step in getting the brain to think of something new to do. So go ahead. Endure the whining, or make them whine in their rooms until suddenly, they’re quiet and somehow engaged in something new. It’s worth it. I promise.

  1. Look at family pictures or videos together

Our kids LOVE watching videos of themselves when they were younger, and it can be incredibly cozy to sit together at the computer and remember how much fun you all had together last summer, or when the kids were babies, or when they took that special road trip. Go ahead. Pop some popcorn and watch family movies like Clark in the Griswold Family Christmas, minus getting locked in the attic.

  1. Enjoy being close

As families we often spend our days doing things apart. Make this time special by consciously sitting together, snuggling, giving backrubs, braiding hair, painting nails, or laying close to one another while you read, journal, watch a movie, etc. Extra credit for involving blankets to further ward off the chill

Whatever you do to survive the great Midwestern chill of January 2019, be intentional about loving your people the best way that they receive love, and take advantage of the opportunity to grow a little closer as a family. Also, if you want to close the curtains and pretend that -50 and the outside world just doesn’t exist for the next two days, no judgments here.

Leaning into Loss at Christmas

Thomas O'Malley

We had an accident on the farm this morning.

I started the van a bit early in order to warm it up and brush the snow off. My husband had warned me that the roads were slippery and to take extra time.

The kids went running and laughing out into the snow, followed by their furry array of outdoor feline companions. I ushered everyone into the van, did buckles, and shifted into reverse.

I didn’t see Thomas O’Malley, our much-beloved kitten.


We all cried on the way to school except for Griffin, who just kept repeating, “it’s okay Sissies, it’s okay.”

We cancelled our plans for the gym and a stop at a friend’s house in lieu of Tommy and came home to figure out next steps. The girls ran in and started drawing “I love you Thomas” cards at the kitchen table. I took a box out of the recycling and gently put our little friend inside.

All I could hear was Ellie’s voice from earlier. “Mom, I don’t want things like this to happen at Christmas.”

Me either, sweet girl. Me either.

Because while I know that we are mourning a pet, others are mourning a parent, or a sibling, or a child.  Others are separated from those they love, physically or emotionally. Still others find themselves mired in worry, turning over anxieties like snowflakes in the wind.

We all carry deep wounds, some fresh, some faded.

And this is precisely why Christmas comes.

Trappings and traditions aside, Christmas was the ultimate act of giving on behalf of a Father who wanted to ease the suffering of his children.

God saw our pain. Our sadness. Our hurt. Our darkness.

And mystery of all mysteries, he knew that sending Jesus could offer us peace if we chose to know his heart. Peace that could sit quietly beside us in our grief. Peace that could settle over our shoulders after we wiped off our faces.

Loss cannot be prevented. That is the nature of our humanity.

But it doesn’t have to overtake us.

The hope that Jesus offers reaches into every part of our lives. It is the calming antidote to our anxiety, the presence in our despair, the steadfastness in our seasons of change.

And maybe He came in the form of an ordinary-looking baby born in a barn to remind us that He is holy enough to set His holiness aside and meet us where we are. In our looming bills and imperfect gifts and broken cookies and car repairs. In our eye bags and wrinkles and ill-fitting clothes. In our coughs and aches and hidden pains.

Humanity hurts.

But it doesn’t have to remain in hurt forever.


Soon we will have a memorial for our kitten. There will be a homemade cross and a pile of crayoned pictures scrawled on blank sheets of 8×12 office paper. We will say thank you to Jesus for sharing Thomas with us for a few months, and we will cry because we won’t ever see him putting his paws up on the window screen begging to be let in again. And then someone will want a snack. Someone will holler that the bathroom needs more toilet paper.

Life will go on, and we will go with it, secure because of a divine gift we didn’t ask for – because on our own, we never would have thought such a thing would be possible.


Understanding Relational Mission Work


It is a strange sensation, returning home after a travel experience.

Yesterday I went through the motions, willing my body to adjust to its regular timezone and 7 hour jump. My children were gracious, having been away themselves, and we all took the day slowly. Meals were simple, naps were welcomed, and requests to read stories (aka sit together on the couch) were granted freely.

My main concern with traveling was being away from my family. My son and I have never been separated for that long, and it’s been a while since I was away from the girls for any length of time. Thankfully, with the help of a crew of true champions (Daddy, Grandparents), each one of them did great (a true testimony of many of you praying.)

But even as our home wrapped me in the wide comfort of American familiarity and the glory of a having bathroom I could a.) find easily and b.) not have to pay for returned, I felt somehow split between physical locations.


Mission trips have a way of doing that. They marry new experience with eternal purpose. It’s an intoxicating combination.

Upon return, you realize you aren’t who you were when you left just a week or so ago. The mold of your life feels tight in some places and looser in others, as though God has taken hold and stretched the reach of your arms, the speed of your step, the capacity of your heart.

It’s not that home doesn’t fit. It’s that you’ve grown in your ability to interact with it. You have new ideas. Questions. A broader sense of courage for what you are capable of doing.


Paris is a beautiful city in every sense: architecturally, aesthetically, gastronomically. And ever since my college days of working at Paris Flea Market in Edina (a shop where the owner imported French antiques and other goods), I have always wanted to go there.  But the work of Envision in that city is what reached into my heart. They function as a true family. They apprentice residents and interns. They shepherd short-term teams. They serve and encourage their local churches. They build community for new friends.

They are teaching love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control as it pertains to their context in the city of Paris, allowing it to influence their humanity and daily interactions. Or in the words of one of the full-time international workers living there, they are introducing people to the family of God before introducing them to God himself.

It’s relief work in the familiar sense of recognizing a need and filling it – but instead of that need being food, shelter, or clothing, it runs on the emotional wavelength. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs outlines that after our basic needs (physiological, security) are met, we seek after our psychological needs: friendship, intimacy, family.


This is the mission of connection. It is friendship. It is availability. It is asking hard questions and really, truly listening for the answers. It is recognizing difference and respecting it. It is humbly sharing what we own – stories of brokenness, hurt, exhaustion, shame, and fear, and how Jesus speaks into those places, restoring us to wholeness.

Most importantly, it’s an effort that is translatable anywhere we live. This level of the human condition needs tending at every level of society: within our families, within our friendships, in our social media networks, at the workplace, in sports teams, even at the checkout line at the grocery store.

In John 13, Jesus taught his friends a new concept, one that probably seemed a little strange the first time they heard it:

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

For all it’s overuse as a catchphrase, to love and be loved will always be a central need, as basic a fact as that the Eiffel tower is in France. And realizing that meeting that need in others is equally as important as any of my daily pursuits is a gift I will never forget receiving on this trip.












Ready, set, GO!


I stand in the travel section aisle of Walmart at 10:47 pm, weighing tiny bottles of green and white shampoo in my hands. I read the labels without really reading them, my mind already wandering to what the shower will look like at our apartment in Paris. Ever since our team meeting Friday night, I’ve felt a strange sense of alertness, as though my brain has switched energy levels from battery-saving mode to full power.

It’s not fear or worry; I’m just… ready.

Earlier in the day, I was talking with a friend about skydiving last summer, and how right before the jump, I had to shut off the part of my brain that wouldn’t stop feeding me anxious thoughts. Instead, I made myself focus on trivial matters at hand, like making sure my shoes were tied. After all, the big things were already taken care of: the plane, the parachute, the guide, the gear. All I had to do was jump.

Somehow, helping lead a mission trip of six students to Paris feels a little like skydiving. There are so many things to plan, to prepare for, and to overthink. Yet at this point, the morning of our leaving, all the work is done. The flights are booked. The schedule is made. Our partners at Envision are ready and waiting. All we have to do is go.

My mind is at an impasse with no new information to process. It travels down the same well-worn paths: how will my family do when I’m gone, will everything at home run smoothly, how will communication work since the only French phrase I’ve truly mastered is “Je sui un Americain stupide. Parlez vous Anglaise?

I have prayed over, under, around and through these concerns often the past six months, and asked others to do the same. I’ve also managed to pray less self-focused prayers, for things like strong listening skills, team bonding, opportunities to be of service, conversations to be Holy Spirit-led, and for grace to break us all wide open as we experience God’s presence and purpose for our lives in a completely new context.

We go on this mission trip with hands that are both expectant and uncertain. We know the basics: learn about the local Christian and Missionary Alliance church’s efforts in Paris, offer English conversation skills to their classes, encourage connections, share our own faith stories, help refugee efforts, be of service.

What actually happens between those black and white lines will change lives.

I end up scrapping the pre-packaged shampoo and buy a few empty bottles that I can fill at home. The rest of the cart slowly fills with family needs. Six pounds of apples. Ground beef. Trail mix. I walk from aisle to aisle, buying groceries I won’t eat, and tentatively let myself day dream about beignets and Parisian coffee and new friends.

It is strange, straddling this point between two very different life experiences. But a familiar and favorite verse keeps pinging in my brain:

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8

No fear. No worry. Just readiness. Or in the fledgling words of my 2 year old son, ready, set, GOOOOOOOOO!

Here I am Lord. Send me.


Want to stay in tune with our team’s adventures with Envision Paris? Follow our team blog over at ACV Student Ministries – Team Send for *hopefully* daily updates and pictures from the group. 


How to be a Bad Blogger

IMG_20171229_125018Greetings from no-man’s land, that strange and glorious stretch between Christmas and New Years. I have made it out of the house precisely twice since Monday: once for an epic double date with our dear friends, and last night for an emergency milk and cat food run with all four children to Walmart, during which all three girls insisted on pushing a cart, but since I trust exactly *none* of them to safely escort their baby brother around the store, we made a giant four-cart train through the aisles, much to the smiles/consternation of other shoppers.

Such is life with four kids, which brings me to my next point. I’ve been terrible at blogging this year. Capital T terrible. I apologize. It’s not for lack of writing on my part – it’s simply that my writing time is being pulled in other directions, which leaves approximately zero luxury time for sitting at the computer sorting out my thoughts, which you all have been so gracious to read and share.

Now since it’s almost the New Year, and the role of mistakes and mishaps in life is to learn from them, I decided I’d pen down a few ways NOT to be a good blogger in hopes that maybe I can trick my brain into some sort of reverse psychology and get my creative butt back in gear. Or maybe I just found an extra hour today and felt like writing. Either way, let’s begin.

1. Go four months between blog postskid shenanigans self haircut

Yes, that’s right. Process none of the wonderful, thought-provoking, difficult, epic, and laughable things that happened in your life during the past four months. Especially don’t mention the time you found a few goodly chunks of hair (previous owner unknown) floating gently in your toilet, accompanied by a little light reading and the assumed weapon of choice. Let it all breeze by with the occasional picture on IG/FB, and just keep rocking the daily grind. Tell yourself you’ll write about it later. If you’re lucky, you might remember to… or not.

2. Forget all attempts to recap party planning hacks

Every year, we throw a big informal Friendsgiving bash complete with half eaten side dishes, glorious pies, Jason’s epic smoked turkey, and the delicious gravy I *may* have borrowed from my wonderful mother-in-law post Thanksgiving. Some pretty awesome pictures of cute children and smiling grownups were taken from this event, but I didn’t manage to write or share about any of it. My hopes of starting a holiday gathering journal with notes about seating, numbers, favorite dishes the kids ate, and easy hacks? Never happened. Maybe next year…

3.  Post pictures of delicious food, but forget to write down the actual recipe

This fall, I threw together one of the best salmon chowders I’ve ever eaten. Seriously. I still think about it. Except that I did it in the fever of getting supper on the table one night and used whatever I had laying around in the fridge, which apparently was the perfect combination… but now I can’t recall what I did or what herbs I had on hand or just, exactly, what my method was in the first place. All I know is that I have a small serving of frozen smoked salmon just begging to be used for the same purpose, and I have no way of recreating my previous kitchen miracle.


4. Enjoy freelance work so much you allow personal projects to lapse.

It’s been a great year for new endeavors, and I’m totally grateful for it (especially since one of them helped us purchase a new stove since our finally died). I did some content editing (WHICH I LOVE!), website writing, and specialty writing for a marriage and family therapist, and I contributed to my first actual published BOOK – a faith meditation and devotional project that I’ll tell you more about once it’s back from the publishers. I even managed an afternoon of solitude and reading and writing at our state park for that one, and I had to take a picture because the moment was so quietly…amazing. However, that meant my windows of writing time were spoken for, and my personal projects got set aside. C’est la vie in this current season.

solitude writer state park vistor center

5. Relish that all your tiny humans sleep through the night. Sleep more accordingly.

We are in a beautiful state of sleeping homeostasis right now. All four children go to bed between 7:30 and 8:00 pm, sleep solidly through the night, and wake up anywhere from 6:30-8:00 am. I can hardly believe it. In celebration, I have abandoned all habits of waking early (which was easier when I was ushered into being awake during the wee hours by nursing, or fixing blankets, or finding nuks, etc.) and am taking full advantage of getting a solid 7-8 hours of sleep a night. It’s magical. And unproductive. And magical.

And there you have it. If you too want to ignore any lovely little endeavor (be it blog, or personal business, craft project, or exercise regimen) you started a few years back when you were stumbling through a life circumstance and needed an new outlet, you have my full permission. To everything a season. Meanwhile, I’ll write when I can, and stop wasting time feeling bad about it. I hope you give yourself enough grace to do the same wherever you need.

Happy 2018!




One Mom’s Response to the Tragedy in Las Vegas

Untitled designThe sky was alternating between a light and dark blue-gray and the air felt cool with rain, but Griff and I hopped out of the van and threw on the pack anyway. Every fall I make it a point to spend as much time as I can out at Wild River, the state park that’s just a couple of miles down the road from our house.

Today we took the easy trail through the oak savannah, in part because of the pending rain and me breaking in new boots, but also because I needed an autopilot sort of walk. Earlier, on our way to school, I had turned on MPR and heard the news about the Las Vegas mass shooting. The rest of the drive back, my mind felt numb.

There’s no one response to hearing news of violence and chaos, the gunshots ricocheting like harmless firecrackers on the radio. Here in the northern Midwest, I felt the strange combination of being far-removed yet somehow still close to the tragedy, as though some smarmy stranger had entered my home unannounced and left his greasy business card on the kitchen counter.

Tragedy is invasive. It is a reminder that safety is relative, and the world is not as friendly as I want to teach my children it is. It casually drips fear into the normalcy of our daily lives, discoloring our thoughts and leaving us upset, uncomfortable, and confused.

It also makes me never want to be in a mass gathering of people ever again. (If you need me, I’ll just be holed up in my kitchen, thank you very much.)

My son and I walked along the paved trail, and I pointed out the different colored leaves, the trees, the moss, the puddles. He bantered along in one-year-old babble, occasionally uttering something that sounded close to the word I was repeating. It felt good to focus on something near, pushing the senselessness out and away as I worked on expanding my son’s vocabulary.

Right after I heard the news, I Voxed a friend, recording a jumble of messy emotions that basically boiled down to, “this is horrible and I’m upset and I have no idea what to do.” There was nothing to do, of course (which is my normal route – when in doubt, make a meal, bake a pie, buy a gift, clean a kitchen, send a card, just don’t. sit. still.).

But sometimes our restless hands have to be stuck, still – caught in the needs of our daily life and those who depend on us – while we feel our way through the event, our emotions running from shock to anger, to sadness, to fear, to worry.

I’m learning, lately, that it’s important to listen to each of those emotions as they come, allowing them to sit in my cupped and shaking hands. Being true to myself also means being vulnerable, expressing my confusion and darkness and fear, because those are the places I am most likely to connect with others and find solace. Or in the words of Matthew 5 and the beatitudes, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Friends, I have nothing profound to say about today’s shooting. I’m just here in my little blue office, surrounded by legos and drawings and bills and an embarrassing amount of empty coffee mugs, and I’m sad. I hurt for the parents who sent their son or daughter off to their first concert, not knowing their children would come home with a new understanding of hate. I hurt for the couple who went to hear their favorite musician but can’t get the sound of gunshots and screams out of their heads. I hurt for the friends having a girls’ night out who are now scared to open their apartment doors. I hurt for the hotel employees and policemen and EMTs who looked into face after face of pain and shock and terror. I hurt for the loved ones on the other end of the phone line, receiving the darkest, hardest words.

I hurt because I am human, and even though I teach my children that humans should not harm one another, I know it still happens.

I hurt because this is a broken world, a fallen world, and hope can be a hard hand to grasp.

Nevertheless, I have found that hope is somehow always present, reaching through the panic and pain, not as a quick fix or a religious pill, but steady as a Father’s heart beating for His children. It is this heart and hope that I choose to stake my faith in, even on days like this.

So today I hurt, and today I hope.

And tomorrow I’ll get up, spend time praying comfort over those affected by the shooting, and then go about my work teaching my children to love, respect, and protect one another and the world around them.

It seems a small consolation, given the size of the loss. I know that. But it is something, and if we all did the same, choosing hope instead of hopelessness, action instead of anger, the next generation could only be better for it.






Onward: Kindergarten, Apples, and Hope

Honeycrisp apple treeThe fall that we moved to our hobby farm, my husband planted a small orchard of Honeycrisp apple trees in the front yard. The following year, we had twin babies, an active toddler, and one of the worst winters in memory. Newscasters kept calling it a polar vortex; I called it a one-way ticket to stay-at-home-mom insanity.

In the spring, (the late, late spring that year), a few of the apple trees barely leafed out. Some developed a blackish type of rot, and others just withered. Every so often, my husband would stalk across the yard carrying an uprooted sapling and add it to the burn pile. Meanwhile, he carefully tended to the rest of the trees: pruning, fertilizing, fencing, weeding, waiting.

Last year, seemingly out of nowhere, a few small, red apples dotted the branches. Jason hid the biggest one on the top shelf of the fridge, a ruby red trophy, and we marveled at it every day for a couple of weeks, waiting for just the right moment to cut into it.

Meanwhile, apple alchemy was working its magic in the little orchard.

This year, five of our most gangly, teenage-looking trees produced an incredible show of nicely sized, bright red, juicy apples. Afraid for the young branches and the weight they were carrying, we decided to pick last week, though I’m sure it may have been a little early. (Remember, it’s amateur farm hour here. We’re learning by… experience.) The girls joined me in carefully twisting off all the apples they could reach, and I couldn’t help but remember driving past the orchard that polar vortex winter, wondering how on earth those trees were going to make it.


Four years ago, we were in the thick of raising babies. My eldest was two, and our twin daughters were two months. For better or for worse, our life was about small, concentric circles; we moved around the house in reliable patterns – meals, naps, laundry, baths. Taking an outing required a ridiculous amount of prep work: diapers, clean clothes, snacks, wipes, extra clothes, socks, shoes, toys, etc. and so most days we stayed home, managing best we could.

I want to say, “fast forward a few years”, the way people do when they scroll through vacation pictures and only remember the highlights (conveniently forgetting all incidents of puke, sleeplessness, and wardrobe malfunctions), but the truth of the matter is this: those early years of raising little ones did not go fast. They were full of wonder and challenge, failure and growth. And like the apple trees, there were times I wasn’t sure just how we were going to make it through.

first day of kindergartenBut two weeks ago, I watched my eldest hang her backpack in her locker and walk into her cheery kindergarten classroom. We stayed for a minute, processing her emotions and getting her settled in before turning around and navigating back down the hallway full of eager and nervous students.  The following week, I watched the twins walk confidently through the preschool entrance and line up by the door. And just like that, my minivan was overcome with silence (Griff isn’t a big talker yet).

I drove a few blocks, parked, and pulled out the baby carrier. Griff and I commenced to take on a beautiful, albeit sweaty hike through the woods in Taylors Falls. (Twenty-five pounds of baby and carrier adds a new level to any exercise these days.)

For a majority of my walk, I kept thinking back to two things – apples (namely, the giant bags in the pantry needing to be processed) and waiting, an action I’ve struggled with all my life.

You see, I had to wait for those wimpy little trees to do something, anything.

I waited through those long, wintery days when my daughters tested every ounce of patience I could muster, and it felt like we’d never be able to open the front door without a mountain of snow spilling into the entryway.

I waited while I mowed in circles around the apple fences and weed-whipped around the trees, keeping them clear of intruding vines.

I waited through seasons of discipline when I sat my eldest firmly down on the stairs over and over, talking through actions and consequences.

I waited in the smoke of bonfires, watching the dry leaves of another failed tree darken and curl into ash.

I waited through shopping trips of horror where my daughters took the liberty to climb like monkeys out of the cart, eat Chapstick, tear tags off items for sale, land us in the bathroom multiple times during one trip, and demand to be fed every eight seconds.

I waited because I had the promise of something else to come alongside me through the difficulty.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4

I had hope. Firm, anchoring hope, a Hebrews 6:19 hope, that what God promised me through his recorded words was going to come true.

I wasn’t muscling my way through the daily grind without reason. I was waking up day after day, pouring bowl after bowl of cereal, mediating argument after argument, reading story after story, because I had faith that eventually my children would learn to do those things for themselves…and that my perseverance in teaching them the small things would prepare me in maturity to teach them the bigger lessons later on.

And then it struck me that here, in this season, some of the things I’ve been waiting FOR just climbed into the passenger seat next to me like it was no big deal. It’s like when you see your child make their own toast and pour their own milk and you feel like THE WORLD has opened wide up with progress.

We survived that first awful winter, and the ones after it, with a little bit of pluck and gumption. The toddlers that tried my patience are now talking about helping others on the playground and raising their hands in class. The apple trees are thickening their limbs, digging down deep to produce the richness they were meant to.

Our daily life, which used to feel so small, is now moving forward, not at breakneck speed, but with a steady, constant pace that I have grown to appreciate as I deepen my understanding of things like faithfulness, and patience, and hope.