Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Where Does My Help Come From?

It was early in the morning. The sun had risen, but hadn't yet crested over the mountain ledge keeping all the world or at least Uzbekistan in a dark shadow while the sky lit up with color. I had eaten a ko'k samsa for breakfast, a pastry stuffed with mint for Navruz, a Muslim holiday. I had also drunk a piola of black tea, the leaf pieces swirling about the bottom of the cup. I didn't care for tea. Mostly I drank it because it kept my hands warm in the unheated sitting room. With very few words to anyone in my host family, I dressed, ate, drank, and left for my volunteer post as an English teacher. I didn't feel very dressed up for my first day of class; wearing four or five layers of clothes makes one feel frumpy. Not to mention the 10 pounds I had gained in 3 months making me bulge out of my sweater. It had also been a little over two weeks since I last showered. My hair was swept up in a traditional scarf to hide the oil and dirt.

I stepped out onto the road. I could see a black dog wandering the street; I prayed he would cross and not disturb me. I started walking toward Maktab 2, the school where I would be teaching. It was 8 blocks away. Clutching my bag full of books and pamphlets from the Peace Corps, I began shaking my head.

What am I doing? I'm not a teacher! I'm scared to death! Oh Jesus, I just want to go home where I can be loved by my fiance and my family. Where I can be comfortable. Jesus what am I doing here? I am so...lonely. So far away from everyone I love. From everything that I know. Even you God, even you seem different, like a God I don't even know. I'm too far away. Did you come with me? Are you the same God in Uzbekistan that you are in Minnesota?

In an instant I knew. The same God that had thoughtfully carved out the lakes in Minnesota had also lovingly created the mountains I was now gazing upon. These very mountains were touched by the Creator. God, I've never seen these mountains, yet you created them. Have I seen a part of you many have never seen? God's heart for Central Asia. His love for these people. This land. You are with me. But I am afraid...and lonely. I am doing a job I don't know how to do. I am surrounded by people I don't know, who don't know me, and worse, who don't know you. I don't even have familiar food, language, or even bathrooms to make me comfortable. Help me, Lord.

Then a song rose in my heart...

I lift my eyes up to the mountains
Where does my help come from
My help comes from You
Maker of heaven, creator of the earth

Oh how I need You Lord
You are my only hope
You’re my only prayer
So I will wait for You
To come and rescue me

Come and give me life

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Every morning as I stepped out of my family's gate in Gazalkent I sang this song to myself. And the Lord was faithful to strengthen my heart each day. Two months later we were all sent home with many stories to tell and thoughts to process. Many things have I kept fondly in my heart. One of these is how this song and the scripture it is taken from drew me into the bosom of the Lord. Now when I sing it, I see the mountains tinged with pink and purple majesty. I remember how weak I felt. And I recall the faithfulness of the Lord. And I am filled anew with life.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

One of Those Precious Mommy Moments

Sometimes I don't know where she gets it. Abigail has such a sweet spirit, and yesterday she gave an example of a servant's heart.

We've been trying to teach her to "put away" her toys at the end of the day or before naptime to some success. But I've never had her truly clean up after herself. Babies make messes. Alas, she has the motor skills of C-3PO. I certainly don't expect her to be neat and tidy. Well yesterday she exhibited that she is maybe ready for some more challenging helping chores.

Yesterday she brought me her sippy cup of milk and set it down on the footstool. It tipped over and a few drops of milk spilled out onto the footstool. She pointed to the droplets with concern. I nodded gravely, "Yes, you made a mess. But it's ok." It's ok - the footstool is full of milk and peanut butter spots anyway. Abi waddled over to her highchair, climbed onto a nearby chair and reached, reached, reached onto the highchair tray. She grabbed something and climbed down. She started to toddle back to the footstool with a wash cloth in her hand! She placed the wash cloth on the footstool where the spots had been (by this time they'd already soaked in) and gave the stool a few good scrubs. Then she handed me the wash cloth, picked up her sippy cup, and zoomed off to go play! Needless to say she received lots of hugs and kisses for her effort!

That's my girl!!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Someday I, Too, Will Be the Mother of a Pre-Teen Girl

Hey girls, do you remember what it was like to be a pre-teen? I do. I thought it was God's will for me to marry Jonathan Taylor Thomas (or JTT to us teeny-boppers). You remember him? The kid from Home Improvement? Anyway. Everything that went wrong when I was a pre-teen was the END of the WORLD. HOW could LIFE go ON?! Even when I was in the 10th grade, I locked myself in the closet and cried for a half hour after the infamous '98 Vikings lost by a missed field goal to the Falcons in the NFC Championship. Cried for a half hour. In the closet. HOW could LIFE go ON?!?!

Remember last spring when David Cook won American Idol over David Archuleta, the teen heart throb? Maybe you don't; it isn't what I'd call the most thrilling moment of my life...or even the most thrilling moment of that day. But to some pre-teen girls out there, it was the worst day of their young lives. I found a video on YouTube of a group of girls and their reaction to the news that their puppy love had lost American Idol. Watch and laugh, I mean, uh...mourn with them.

I definitely laughed and laughed. And then I realized that someday my little Abi might be throwing a similar fit over something just as trivial. Oh yes. It's inevitable: someday, I, too will be the mother of a pre-teen girl.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thankfulness and Gluttony: Part 1

My family are my best friends. This Thanksgiving, I was thankful to be able to spend a few days spending time with them and laughing with them. Mom always puts together the most diverse and delicious menus, Dad gets on the floor with Abi (playing blanket monster!), and us kids partake in games, snacks, walks, movies, and adventures! This Thanksgiving, Dad packed up his firearms and some ammo and we drove out of town a few miles for some target practice.

Jon, Dad, and Brian loading up the guns.Here were our targets: a pumpkin, a beer cozy, and a Pepsi cup.

Jon starts things off with the 9mm. This is Brian's Beretta from Grandpa Westerbur, the same type of gun Jon had strapped to his leg for 10 months in Iraq. I even had a chance to shoot the Beretta a few times, then I got scared! :)

Brian takes aim with the shot gun. I did not attempt the shot gun.

Dad shows us how it's done.
Jon gives the 357 a try.

Ah, the boys.

Our poor pumpkin.

Sunset over rural Minnesota.

Father-daughter duets! Preparing for Carnegie Hall!

"Let's start eating already, I'm starving!"

The spread is gorgeous! Now let's eat!

Saying grace, being thankful, praising Jesus, and then...


Michelle and Jon and I gave Brian his birthday presents. He is ecstatic about his new argyle socks and Itunes gift card from Michelle! (and YES his Tshirt says "Gustav is my homeboy")

"Oh Abi, thank you! Thank can let go now Abi."

Brian's taking Ancient Greek over J-Term at Gustavus so we got him a Greek-English Interlinear New Testament. Jon picked it out :)

Abi was happy to get a new handbag. naptime.

The Lions were getting creamed by the Titans so we changed the channel.

Oh yes. We watched the dog show. I was rooting for the terrier and the basset hound.

Jon practiced his German.

And Michelle spent lots of time with her new fiance Tristan via text!

That night we picked out some bridesmaid dresses, finished up our game of Hand and Foot (a card game), ate lots of pie, and opened a few windows. Then we tried to get Jon and Brian hooked on a Santa Claus movie starring John Lithgo and Dudley Moore, but they didn't bite. So we watched Home Alone and I cried like always when the neighbor was re-united with his family. We didn't want to leave this morning, it's always so relaxing at mom and dad's. It's like we travel to a different world or at least time slows down out there. I'm so thankful for the time we got to spend together. One more Thanksgiving to go, and then I go on a leafy green diet for a while!

Dressing Up This Fall

Well, fall wouldn't be fall without dressing up for Halloween! Our little Abigail dressed up as a ladybug and we went trick-or-treating with some friends up the street.

Abi loved holding her pumpkin! She wouldn't let me hold it at all!

And here she is sneaking some chocolate. Ah, yes, she is her mother's daughter!

Then we went to visit Jon at work. The family!!

She started counting her candy right away cuz she knew that mommy would sneak all the chocolates out.

Abi wasn't the only one who dressed up! I went as Sarah Palin and Jon went as Joe the Plumber. People told me I was a natural Palin. They also commented that I had nailed the accent. What accent?

Jon also dressed up as a flame-thrower!

Abi loves putting on all her hats from the hats and mittens drawer.

She also loves necklaces and barrettes. Dressing up is one of her favorite things to do!

And between dress-up times she takes cute baths :)

And of course in November, she dresses up WARM to go walking with daddy!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Baby Wrestling

Every other Monday night, Abigail goes to visit her friend Sammy. Sammy's dad Dale took these pictures he titled "Baby Wrestling." Abi's really just trying to hug Sammy, but she's a little aggressive at this point. Dale wrote the greatest captions to them, so I got his permission to re-post them on my blog! Please, enjoy them. This is as good as it gets! (By the way, Sammy is about 3 months older than Abi, so don't feel too sorry for him!)

You know my Dad's a Marine, right?

He taught me how to treat cute boys

With pretty blue eyes

Let them get close

And then squeeze off their carotid artery until they pass out!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Hope: The Lost Election Message

I want to premise this post by saying I will not be endorsing any candidates or amendments or policies here at this time. I'm not George Clooney or Matt Damon so my opinions do not weigh as much (so funny, yet so sad). If you want my opinion, honestly, then I will give it, but not if all you want to do is attack me. I used to be very good at being a pit bull, but it seems mommyhood has made me a bit of a softie and I take things to heart pretty easily. But as the last few months have worn on in campaignville, I've seen and heard some things that need to be addressed. I am here to remind us that there IS hope.

With all the campaign ads for Senators, Representatives, and Presidential candidates, I found myself getting caught up in the "fight for your life" attitude. When an attack ad would come on against my favorite candidate, sometimes I felt like screaming at the TV, "Stupid! He's taking this out of context! What a joke!" Then I would call up one of my comrades and fume with them about how so-and-so had better win the election because I can't believe what kind of mess we'd be in if such-and-such was elected. Please, dear God, in your mercy, don't let it be HIM (or HER as I prayed fervently, fervently). But lately, I've been stepping back and looking at the cost of all this fighting. Even the church is fighting, fighting amongst themselves about who GOD'S choice is. First of all, God's choice would be that GOD would be president. Maybe I should write Him in. (I wonder if He gets many votes?) And second of all, actually, there is no second of all. First of all, God is KING.

"It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes." ~Psalm 118:9

My friends, let me tell you there is hope! After the 2004 elections, if you were to ask any Kerry supporter how they felt, they all answered one and the same: they were despairing, fearful, and angry. Their hope was in a man, and that man had failed them. Many people who voted for Bush in 2004 are feeling the same way. This man they voted for disappointed them. They feel betrayed, despairing, and afraid. This will always, always, always be the outcome when we put our hope in men (and women). Even good men and women. We all fail, we all make mistakes, and we all make choices that make ourselves feel good without thinking about our fellow man from time to time. I can promise you we will be disappointed with our next president, too, in some way at some time. He's going to make a promise he can't keep; he might even make some terrible moral taboo that degrades the office. If our hope and peace come from knowing we have a good leader in a good government, then I'm sorry to say that we will be disappointed all our lives.

I have three groups of people I want to address here, so bear with me. First of all, if you find yourself thinking, “That’s me. I’ve been let down and I’m sick of putting all my hope in one man every four years only to be disappointed time and again,” then I want to encourage you that there is someone you can put your hope in that promises never to fail you. That person is Jesus Christ. He lived a perfect life and allowed himself to be sacrificed. He did this in order that we, as imperfect human beings, could have a chance to be reconciled to a righteous and holy God. Romans 3:23-24 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” All the good things I do still don’t make me righteous and holy. To come to a righteous, holy God, we need to go through a righteous, holy intercessor, Jesus Christ. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” ~ 1 Peter 1:3 Jesus promises never to leave us nor to forsake us. Our hope is secure when it is placed in him.

The second group is a group I myself belong to. It’s the church. Our hope comes from the Lord. But I think we've strayed or forgotten the focus. We as the church have neglected our duty to reassure our fellow citizens of this hope. We aren't sharing this hope with people who are afraid and despairing because they've been let down by our government. Have we become so engrossed in our "evangelical issues" that we've forgotten the most important command from Jesus Christ himself? “Go and make disciples of all nations!” Share the love and hope of Jesus Christ to a world that is hurting, lost, despairing. To a world that is clinging to a few moderately decent men who can really only give them either free health care or some tax cuts. Instead of focusing all our efforts into the campaigns of men who we don’t completely agree with, let’s focus our efforts on the campaign of God whom we serve. Be the peace the world so desperately needs and spread it around. Also, let’s not fall into the trap of vilifying our brothers and sisters in the Lord for their poured-over, prayed-over decision on who to vote for. I know wonderful people who are whole-heartedly serving the Lord on BOTH sides of the political field. Jesus prayed three times for unity in the church. Let’s not do as the world does and so stir up dissension and strife. When all is said and done, someone will be president, and God will still be God.

The third group is those of you who are still waffling over which candidate to vote for. The best you can do is ask God what are the issues on His heart. And what are the issues on God's heart? We read in the Bible that God has always been an advocate for how we treat the poor and the aliens, justice for the innocent, loving our neighbor, making disciples of all nations and baptizing them, praying for peace in Jerusalem...notice that the global economy wasn't on this list, nor were tax increases or big government. As a Christian, I need to pray that God presses on my heart the things that are breaking his. Pray for God to guide you, and know that your conscience will be clean before him.

I believe it is our civic duty to vote and give direction to the nation we live in. What a privilege! It’s a privilege my father and my husband have both fought for, put their lives on the line for. I’m a true patriot and I love my country. That being said, my heart belongs to my Savior, and it’s in Him that I place my hope. I pray for everyone who reads this, that they might choose the same.

In His great HOPE!


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Adventures in the Life of Abigail: My First Camping Trip!

Hi! My name is Abigail and this is my first blog! I'm only one-year-old, but I have lots to say!

This is me!

This is my mommy. Isn't she pretty?

This is my awesome dad!
This weekend I went on my first camping trip with mom and dad to Whitewater State Park by Rochester, MN. I helped Mommy pack the food box. I brought the apples.

Oh yes. This is a good one!

I think I will taste it to make sure it is good enough for my first camping trip. Mmmm!
We took our camper and Papa's truck with all our stuff. I started to get bored in the truck so I cried. But after a while I got bored with crying so I took a nap. Then I felt better!

This is how we play when we are camping. Daddy is tickling my bellybutton! Silly daddy!

Here I am climbing into mommy's chair when she wasn't looking. Aren't I sneaky?

Haha! I did it!

This is our first hike. Daddy carried me on his back because he is so strong! We went up lots of stairs. I helped by singing a special song called, "We are climbing the stairs." No one sang along, so I don't think they know it. I will have to teach it to them.

Mommy kept holding me so I couldn't walk around. I was very frustrated! I just learned how to do this, mom! Give me a chance! That edge looks very interesting. I want to poke it with my finger. Mommy showed me a fuzzypillar and I poked him with my finger instead.

We looked at all the pretty colors! Daddy pointed out reds, oranges, yellows, greens, and browns. I also learned about Ironwood.

Here is my daddy. In a few minutes he will jump over that gap. Wow! I didn't know he could fly! I tried to fly later while getting my diaper changed on the picnic table. And again when I was sitting in mommy's chair. And again when I was napping. I concluded with the same results every time. How did daddy do it without landing on his head and crying?

Here I am napping. Mom and Dad played Texas Hold 'Em and that is mom's unbelievable World Record setting tower of (banana) chips. It was here that I attempted my first flight. I saw my favorite book just out of reach. So I leaned over the duffel bags that mom put around me as a hedge. And I leaned a little more...a little more...and that's when it happened. I tumbled out of bed. But I got my book!

Here we are hiking again! Maybe I am making a present?

Look! Something!

This is an ancient historical site. Daddy told me about how Han Solo drove the Millennium Falcon into the cliff many years ago, and this is all that is left of it.

Aaah, some relative liberty. I chose to quote some Bonhoeffer for us while we rested. Mom and Dad didn't seem to react. Maybe they are unfamiliar with Bonhoeffer. I will try Dante next time. He's a little more mainstream.

This is kind of like flying! Wheee!

And then I climbed this tree! I can't wait until I can climb a tree that is taller than 2 feet!

Here is a beautiful place. This is where I sat in the mud to see what color it would make my pants.

This tree was a mess. Here I am trying to straighten it out. Unfortunately I was unsuccessful. This is just some of the debris left from the big floods that happened down here after I was born.

Look at all the colors!

This is looking a back at the Hall of Kings. My dad and his brothers named it. Like how mommy named the Meadow of Elephant Feet near our house.

Hahahahaha! I caught a daddyfish!


This is where I found a pretty ladybug. He crawled around on my hand and my finger. I was so interested in him, so I tried to talk to him. He told me he wanted to be in my mouth. But mommy took him away before I could do what he asked.

We had lots of good talks and lots of good cuddles. It got so cold at night that mommy slept with me in my blankets. She held me all night and I stayed nice and warm.
Mommy loves milkweed and making the dancing fuzzies float in the air!

I think we should go this way.

Then we climbed 634 steps and got to the top of a bluff. We climbed up 150 more steps to get to the top of the firetower! I rode in the backpack again, but I got a little scared this time. So I sang my song "We are climbing the stairs" and this time Mom and Dad laughed the whole time! Next time I will teach them the words so they can sing along!

That was our trip! Mommy made lots of delicious food and Daddy too! He made potato-eggs this morning which I really liked. Mommy made cocoa, too, but I only got a little sip. I tried to tell her I wanted more, more, MORE! But she didn't give me anymore. Maaaaaaamaaaaaaa! I think I'm tired and need to go to sleep now! Where is my billy goat?