Monday, May 30, 2016

Love gift

It's here.  The end of our Minnesota years.  The end of residency.  The end of a beautiful chapter.  I began packing my boxes today!  All day I have asked myself "donate or keep?"
Donate or keep?
(Nora, 10 months)
Seven years ago I moved to Rochester, Minnesota and started this blog.  Blogging for me has been sporadic at best but today is a day to write.

It is not quick or easy to pull yourself up from a place that you feel deeply rooted.  Good-bye is gradual and hard.  I began my good-byes several weeks ago when I gave my going-away talk (or love gift) to Side By Side, my medical wives Bible study.  I shared what God has done in my life during my time in Rochester.  

This is my love gift:

Great Expectations

You Might Live in Minnesota  if…. (from Twin Cities Daily Planet)

You have worn shorts and a parka at the same time

Down south to you means Iowa

You have ever refused to buy something because it’s “too spendy”

You find 0 degrees F “a little chilly”

Your local Dairy Queen is closed from November through March

Someone in a store offers you assistance, and they don’t work there

The word, “Vacation” means going up north past Brainerd for the weekend

You can drive 65 mph through 2 feet of snow during a raging blizzard, without flinching

You see people wearing hunting clothes at social events

You design your kid’s Halloween costume to fit over a snowsuit

Seven years ago I moved from Arkansas to Rochester and I didn’t understand any of those things.  I had never known a Minnesotan, never seen a snow blower, never used the term "hot dish" and never heard of Side By Side.  But I had great expectations and ideas of what I was getting into.  I was prepared for the reality that I would be stranded on the side of the road in a snowstorm with no mom, dad or husband to call.  I would have to sustain my children on breast milk alone and make a flag with my red underwear and car antenna to wave until a friendly native came to our rescue.  I looked forward to darling furry hats and awesome winter boots and hoped for a new crop of super awesome quirky northern friends. 

Will was beginning his 7-year residency in neurosurgery.  And moving to Minnesota with our two babies, two cats and a dog was the biggest and bravest thing that we had ever done as a married couple.  He had just finished medical school at the University of Arkansas and we had a 2 year old and a four month old.  We left everything familiar in Little Rock – our home, our church, both of our families and our friends.  That’s the same story for many of you. 

Will and I grew up together in Little Rock, Arkansas and dated through high school.  We were both raised in Christian homes and had been largely sheltered in a Bible bubble most of our lives.  My daddy was a conservative preacher and made church-life the highest priority in our family. 

We got married our junior year of college and we were babies.  As a baby married person I had lots of expectations.  I expected that we would be the cool married couple of our college friends, I expected lots of sex, I expected that Will would be a nerdy doctor, I expected he would make good money, I expected that we would have lots of babies, I expected to take those babies on a blowout trip to Disney World after residency. 

Within the first month of moving to Rochester we attended a neurosurgery department dinner and one of the resident wives, Lori Daugherty, gave me a card with information about this Bible study for doctor’s wives.  Yes, SO in, no hesitation.  I was on a hunt for friends and I felt like this could be the beginning. 

And it truly was.  My first friends were in the summer study I attended that year.  Those first years require so much help and encouragement as you gain your bearings in a new place.  Thank you so much to Cari Ekbom, Steph Schmitt and Mary Beth Hoover for taking the time to lead and encourage us that year. 

I’ll never forget filling out the paper work for Side By Side and putting down 2016 as my graduating year.  I had the latest graduation date of all the newcomers that year and I couldn’t fully wrap my head around the 7 years that we were going to spend in Minnesota.  We had purchased our first house a few months before and also purchased a mini-van.  In those first few months I was thinking, what in the world is happening?  All of this is so very grown-up and adult.  I was a mother of two people, with a mortgage and a mini-van living in Minnesota.  I thought I had just graduated from college.  All of my senses were completely confused.  And then it snowed in October.  It took me a good two winters to get my feet under me.  It was truly a culture-shock experience. 

Now I want to devote a portion of my love gift to Robin Morgenthaler.  What an instrumental part you have been to my time here.  In February of my first year here Robin called me and asked me to meet her for coffee.  I did not know her but I said ok.  She invited me to be a part of the Side By Side Executive Board as the Southern Regional Director.  They needed someone from the south to represent the south.  I was from the south and the pickins’ up here are slim when it comes to southern girls so I ended up with the job.  Truthfully, I wasn’t sure I was the right person for the job, and I’m still not sure I’m the right person for the job.  I felt small and ill-equipped in comparison to the leaders I was standing by – Robin, Heidi Sems, and Deb Zeldenrust at the time. But Robin, you have pushed me and encouraged me year after year and I am so grateful for your friendship.

God has used Side By Side to bring about major change in my life.  I mean He really turned things upside down. And I want to try to share briefly how that happened…

During my fourth year here, my small group was studying Radical by David Platt.  I wasn’t really liking the book.  The author was kind of in my face and it bugged me.  I had just had my fourth baby and I just didn’t want to think as hard as he was asking me to think.  We were studying in the book of Matthew chapter 19 where a rich man comes to Jesus and says I’ve done all these things right in my life, now what must I do to have eternal life? and Jesus says sell everything you have and follow me.  Our group was discussing this passage and David Platt’s book was challenging us to think about what it really means to use our money to honor God.  And it was a difficult discussion to have because money is a tricky and uncomfortable thing to talk about. 

I had read this part of Matthew before but that day it was like I was seeing it with new eyes.  The Spirit struck me with the reality of how much I was like the rich man – willing to do all the churchy things but still remaining in control of my own life, blinded by my pride, looking good on the outside but not truly following the footsteps of Jesus.  Without actually saying it, I was saying look God, I go to church every week, look God I went on mission trips in college, look God I was a virgin when I got married, look God I don’t drink or swear, look God I read the Bible every day.  I’m doing all these Christian things! What more could you want from me? Why do I feel like I always come up short? I was ashamed and repulsed by the idea of being like the rich man. I was so much like him and so little like Jesus. My life centered around me.  Enough, I thought.

Later that year Robin invited me to the Devoted Hearts women’s conference hosted here at Autumn Ridge.  Jen Hatmaker spoke and it rocked my world.  She talked about the wealth we live in compared to 98% of the rest of the world.  And as a resident, I needed to be reminded that I had so much.  It’s easy to get stuck on what I don’t have.  And Jen’s words that stuck in my head were “do something”. Quit waiting around for your “calling” and do something.  In other words, start truly following Jesus now.  Love the way he loves.  Care about what he cares about. 

Will and I had already been talking about what would be the next move for us after residency.  We were both hoping to go somewhere warmer and closer to family. But all of this stuff that was stirring inside my head and heart I was dumping on Will and it began to shift our thinking about what was next.  The option of going overseas to a mission hospital came up.  I can only explain it by the Holy Spirit’s work in my heart and leading me to the point of saying, “God, whatever you ask, I’m in. Follow you? Seek you first? Love you with all my heart, soul, mind and strength? Yes absolutely.  I’m all in.”

And there was urgency about it.  So immediately after the Devoted Hearts conference the opportunity came up to start a new church in downtown Rochester called the Gathering.  We had attended Calvary Evangelical Free Church for four years and they needed a team of people to plant this church so we jumped in wondering what in the world we were doing.  But God has moved and worked in ways there I could never have planned.

So in the Spring of  2014 Will went to Tenwek hospital in Kenya and God opened his eyes to the opportunity there and the possibility of our family moving there.  He came home from that trip so excited to share with me what he had learned and experienced – the need for a neurosurgeon there, the opportunities to serve, the importance of the work that was being done at Tenwek.  At some point a switch flipped and Will and I both realized that God was asking us to serve him in medical missions.  He was asking us, “Are you willing? Are you willing?” Not are you good enough, not are you tough enough, not are you spiritual enough but are you willing.

We went to Tenwek as a family this past spring.  It was a whirlwind experience with our family of six, and it affirmed that that indeed was our next step after residency.  I think I was more gung ho about moving there before I ever visited.  Now that I know what to expect I’m thinking oh my goodness… are you sure God?  I can think of a lot of other people that would be better at this than me.  Homeschooling makes me want to cuss.  My sister is a homeschooling, breadbaking kind of person.  Send her God!  But truthfully all these doubts come from my own insecurities.  The God that is leading me is unwavering.  He continues to ask me, “are you willing?” and the simple answer is yes, I am willing.  I am willing.

So now I see that moving to Minnesota was all in preparation for what was to come. We are getting ready to move again – somewhere warmer but definitely not closer to home.  Our family has grown from 4 to 7 while in Rochester.  We have Liam who’s 8, Hayden is 6, Harper 4, Charley 3 and Nora 5 months.  In the summer we will all move to Tenwek Hospital in a town in Kenya called Bomet.  We will be part of the 2-year post-residency program with Samaritan’s Purse.   I still can’t believe that I am saying these words.  I have said before that I would never live overseas.  And I have also said that I would never homeschool.  The little list of expectations I moved here with 7 years ago has been revamped.   I still think that someday we will take that trip to Disney World but for now God has set us on a new path that we couldn’t have dreamed up for ourselves.

There are so many people here that I love dearly.  You have seen me through this whole story and loved me through it.  You have walked with me through a long list of highs and lows – my father being diagnosed with cancer, the birth of 3 of my babies, the loss of one baby and post-partum depression.  You have cooked me meals, written me notes, shoveled my driveway, jumped my car, hosted my showers, prayed for me, held me accountable, babysat my kids and so much more.  You know I’m a hot mess much of the time and that I am an unlikely missionary but I have received nothing but encouragement and support from you.  I am extending a formal invitation to you to come visit me in Kenya.  My door is always open.  


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  2. this is such a beautiful story! thank you so much for sharing this. I sincerely hope when you need a break you will get on a very easy and short flight and come see us on the coast. we will have rooms ready for your whole clan. love you!

    1. I hope so too!! I would love that! Very easy and short I can do. :) Will you message me your best advice for my first year in Kenya sometime? Teach me your wisdom, cousin!! :)

  3. So excited to see what God has planned for your family. Just be faithful. Go with God!
    -Erin Mitchell

    1. Thanks Erin! So appreciate all your encouragement!

  4. :) Keep Nora, donate the winter coats... ;) Wish I was there to help play with the kids and pack some boxes! So excited for you all and love God's light shining through you!

    1. Oh Brooke I wish you were here too!! We celebrated Liam's birthday today and I always miss the Fermin's on birthdays! You were our go to peeps to celebrate with!!