Friday, June 24, 2016


Eight years ago today, I said goodbye to Julie. She was leaving on a hiking/camping trip with a group of students through Angel Tree ministries.

What I didn't know is that I was saying goodbye to Julie for a lot longer than a long weekend. The trip was cut short when Julie and one of the students were taken by the currents of the Temperance River.

It's funny how memory works. How selective it is, leaving seemingly random bits of the story to be recalled. I remember what I was wearing that last time I saw her. I walked outside where she was walking in from the parking lot and the wind caught the skirt I was wearing and she said something about it being like Marilyn Monroe over the air vents in that iconic photo.

I remember seeing the whole team of adults who were going on the trip standing inside the church, holding hands in a circle and praying.

I remember my phone ringing two mornings later, earlier than I usually got phone calls. And Julia's voice on the other end telling me what had happened. And saying, "Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh," over and over because it was all too unbelievable. Unimaginable.

I remember walking into church that morning and glancing over at the receptionist's desk. Her desk. I'd glance in that direction every time I walked in the door for a long time, always half expecting to see her face. Always crushed when the reality hit me that I never would again.

I remember the whole staff sitting in a big circle in the chapel. Telling Julie stories. Crying together. I remember walking through the planning of her funeral. A task I'd completed a few other times because it was my job, but never like this. Never for a friend.

I remember seeing her face in the casket at her funeral. And thinking, "That's not Julie. Julie isn't really here." Because everything that made her Julie was gone. The life, the personality, the grace. Her shell was left, but it wasn't her.

And now it's eight years later, and she's still not here. But we remember. I remember the sweet young woman who made me laugh. Her passion for photography and American Idol, for good food and deep friendships. And how she wouldn't drink out of a water bottle because she read it could give you smoker's lips. See? She's still making me smile.

Julie Steiskal
July 28, 1978 - June 25, 2008

Friday, June 17, 2016

June Top 5

I decided to lighten things up around here, at least once a month, and give a little list of things I'm enjoying at the moment. So without further ado, here are my top five things for this month.

1) Starbucks Iced Passion Tea

We Minnesotans endure some long, cold winters. So when summer comes and the weather gets nice and warm, I crave cold things. Popsicles, ice cream, anything frozen and sweet. Now if my waistline and pocketbook didn't protest, I'd enjoy a frappuccino/cooler/frappe every day. Instead I indulge in those about once a month and reach for THIS AMAZINGNESS in between. I'm not a coffee drinker, so this past winter I discovered a love of hot herbal tea, including Passion Tango tea at Starbucks. And LO AND BEHOLD, they also make it iced and it is SO GOOD.

2) Love Beyond Reason by John Ortberg

A few weeks ago, I was searching online about books about God's love and decided to go with this one because I've loved Ortberg's stuff in the past. And I have not been disappointed. He's a very easy author to read, and the content is fantastic.
An excerpt from the first chapter:
"We are all of us rag dolls. Flawed and wounded, broken and bent. Ever since the Fall, every member of the human race has lived on the ragged edge. Partly our raggedness is something that happens to us. Our genes may set us up for certain weaknesses. Our parents may let us down when we need them most. But that's not the whole story. We each make our own deposits into the ragged account of the human race. We choose to deceive when the truth begs to be spoken. We grumble when a little generous praise is called for. We deliberately betray when we're bound by oaths of loyalty. Like a splash of ink in a glass of water, this raggedness permeates our whole being. Our words and thoughts are never entirely free of it. We are rag dolls, all right.
But we are God's rag dolls. He knows all about our raggedness, and He loves us anyhow. Our raggedness is no longer the most important thing about us."

3) Grey's Anatomy

I had never watched this show until I binge-watched it this past school year during Will's naps. I'd sit and crochet and get sucked into their world. The most recent season comes out on Netflix TOMORROW and I will try to make it last longer than a week. ;) And then I'll be all caught up and have a new show to watch in the fall!

4) This Good Word Podcast

I'm a workout DVD junkie, but by the time the snow has melted and the sun is up nice and early, I am dying to get outside. So I've been walking in the mornings before Will wakes up and it's one of my favorite things ever. I have a pathetic lack of music on my phone, so I've started listening to podcasts while I walk. I decided to start with my friend Steve's podcast "This Good Word" and I've enjoyed every single episode. Some are just him, but he also has some awesome interviews (Sarah Bessey and Seth Haines were two of my favorites). I'm almost caught up (he posts a new episode once a week), so I'll have to expand my podcast world pretty soon.

5) Avocado toast

It took me a while to jump on this bandwagon, but now this is one of my favorite quick lunches. I'm the only person in my house who likes avocados, so I often have half of an avocado in the fridge. Sometimes I also have leftover bacon, which takes avocado toast to a whole other level. :)

Friday, June 10, 2016


The Belmont Stakes horse race is on tomorrow night. I've talked before about how that event transports me back to the year we lost Charlie.

When I cleaned up my blog a few weeks ago, I changed my "profile picture" over in the righthand column. For almost four years, that photo was this:

And while that seems like a happy enough picture, I can still remember the behind-the-scenes well enough to know that it wasn't. I mean, sure. I was eating Punch Pizza and celebrating Dan's birthday. But that's about as far as the smiling went.

That woman was mere days post-miscarriage. Still in shock, still angry, still physically wrecked.

That woman was certain she was broken. Surely two post-first trimester losses in a row meant something was seriously wrong with her. Babies don't just die. At some point in a pregnancy, you should be safe. Except they do. And you never are. Broken. Convinced her first two healthy children were complete flukes and coming to terms with the fact that another living child might not be in the cards for her family.

That woman was embarking on what she'd later affectionately refer to as the summer from hell. Her marriage was kind of a mess. She'd "celebrate" her 10th anniversary a month later, but there wasn't much celebrating past the over-priced dinner and the "happy" Facebook posts.

But that woman was a mother, both to her living children and to her sweet babies in heaven. She was a daughter. She was a wife and a friend. And those truths, those identities, would carry her through that summer and beyond.

Four years ago tonight, I was empty. Physically and emotionally empty. No more baby. No more tears. No energy. No life. No hope.

But the night became morning. The summer from hell didn't last. The empty places were filled. Filled with love and light. Filled with hope. Eventually filled with new life.

So to my sweet boy, no more than an ounce in the palm of my hand, your tiny, brief life still had weight. Your name will be spoken by this family for years. Because you're ours. You'll always be ours.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

This is the work

In looking for some verses for my gallery walls a few months ago, I ended up knee-deep in "inspirational quote art" on etsy. And while I can stomach few, most of them annoy me. I'll take a funny meme over an inspirational quote any day.

I mean, come on. That's funny.

Maybe it's just that I'd rather laugh at inane internet stuff than make my brain think about anything deeper than what I should eat for lunch.

One such "inspirational quote" floating around right now is this:

It's nice, right? It's one of those quotes that makes you stop and go, "Oh, yes. So true," and then you magically appreciate the little minions in your home just a little bit more. Or not.

I think what gives me pause with this particular quote is that it's hard for me to believe. I know my children are important and I love them all to pieces, but what I do day in and day out doesn't always feel like important work.

I was a teacher until I had Jackson. After a couple other jobs, I decided to stay home after I had Leah. And I'm so glad I did. But sometimes there's a little part of me that is pretty sure I left the more important work in the classroom. Or that I could be doing so much more somewhere else--anywhere but my own kitchen or living room.

But that's a lie. I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be, doing the most important work of all.

And moms? So are you.

The mom working the full-time job AND holding down the fort at home? So is she.

The stay-at-home mom entertaining toddlers for hours on end and washing dishes in her spare time? So is she.

The single mom working two jobs and still giving whatever she has left to her littles? So is she.

The homeschooling mother of seven, taking on the roll of mother, teacher, housekeeper, chef, and more every single day? So is she.

We're doing things that don't always feel important. Packing lunches, cleaning bathrooms, driving kids to baseball practice, nursing a newborn every two hours around the clock.

This is the work.

Rocking babies to sleep, patching holes in jeans, baking cookies, reading books.

This is the work.

Flipping pancakes, watering the seedlings that came home from school last week, sweeping the crumbs off the dining room floor for the third time today, making beds.

This is the work.

Buying end-of-the-year teacher gifts, bathing toddlers, cooking macaroni and cheese.

This is the work.

And someday we'll miss this work. We'll be back in the workplace or adjusting to life as an empty-nester. Because...

See? There's an inspirational quote for just about anything! But really--before you know it, you'll be hosting your son's graduation open house and reminiscing about the fact that he was JUST starting kindergarten.

So take heart, moms. We're doing the most important work. Right this very minute. Don't believe the lie that these little lives are distracting us from anything more important.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

To the stranger at Target

I know exactly what you saw.

You saw what seemed like a mother distracted by her cell phone, ignoring the toddler tapping her leg asking her to "c'mere!" And you made a snap judgment about my mothering. And honestly, I probably would have had the same thought if I'd walked by someone else in my shoes. But I would have kept my judgmental thoughts inside my head.

You didn't.

"Oh my gosh. Just talk to your kid!"

I whipped my head around to see you, but you were gone. You could have been any of the handful of women walking away from me. I said "Seriously?" in your general direction, knowing full well that you had every right to question my ability to pay attention to my child.

Except that you didn't have every right. Because you don't know me at all. You decided to judge me based on the three seconds of my day you happened to witness. You decided you were seeing the whole story. Shockingly, you weren't.

What you didn't see is that my toddler had my full attention for the entire shopping trip until that point. You see, in his 2-year-old wisdom, he has deemed himself much too mature to ride in the cart, which puts me on full alert of his whereabouts down every aisle and around every turn. He has opinions about everything that we walk by, so our trip is a constant conversation about what we're buying and what we aren't.

What you didn't see is that I had to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy, all while watching my little guy test the limits, getting farther and farther away. Checking out all the fancy kids' toothpaste and telling me all the characters he sees. And finally finding a spot to sit on a bench near where I was.

What you didn't see is that the very helpful pharmacy tech asked if I would like to enroll in text message reminders for picking up my prescription each month. Since I had unsuccessfully attempted to enroll in this service last month, I decided to give it another try. He had me text a random automated number and follow the prompts. "Text the blue 7 digit Rx number on your bottle." Will came back over to me, pointing to where he wanted to go next. I told him he had to wait just a minute while I finished something. He went back to his bench. I continued the enrolling. "Please text your 4 digit year of birth." Will came back to plead with me again. "Just a second, buddy. I'm almost done." The automated texts kept coming. "Please text the 10 digit pharmacy phone # located on your Rx." Dear Lord, what a process. This better be worth it. I'm locating the phone number and making sure I enter it correctly when Will comes back, taps on my leg and begs for me to "c'mere!"

And that's when you walked by and decided I was a terrible mother for not paying attention to my child. And my heart stopped for half a beat. And I fought the tears stinging behind my eyes. I felt so misunderstood. So attacked. "Seriously?"

I finished enrolling, double checked with the pharmacy tech that I had done it correctly, and proceeded on with the rest of my shopping. By the grace of God, I had saved the pharmacy stop for last, so I just had to grab a couple more items and make it to the check-out lanes and then I could leave. I made it through the check-out process (but not without my dear boy reorganizing all of the snacks on the shelf while I unloaded my groceries and paid), made it to my car, and burst into tears. I texted my husband about you. About how you'd ruined my day. How you'd stolen my joy.

But then I drove home, and God calmly reminded me that no one, least of all a perfect stranger that knows nothing about me or my child, has the power to do that. You don't have the power to ruin my day. You don't have the power to steal my joy. In that moment of your snap judgment, I gave you far more power than you deserved.

So, don't mind me, but I'm taking it back.

For a few minutes, I believed what you thought about me. But it's not the truth. I know that I am a good mother. Heck, I'm a fantastic mother to three amazing children. I'm nurturing and helpful and compassionate. I listen and comfort and teach. My kids know that I love them. And that matters more than what you think you know.

So thanks for making me think. About the truth, about my kids, about myself and my own tendency to judge. But next time, stick around for the whole story. Maybe you could listen to my toddler's toothpaste reviews while I pay for my prescription.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

One piece

My dad loves jigsaw puzzles. I didn't know this about him until a handful of years ago on vacation. Our family spends a week in a cabin on Lake Mille Lacs every summer, and this particular year, my dad found a cabinet full of games and puzzles and decided that we needed to put one of the puzzles together. And it's become a tradition--every year we complete a puzzle. (I use "we" pretty loosely. This photo is a little more accurate--it's pretty much just my dad and brother).

While jigsaw puzzles aren't necessarily on my list of relaxing vacation activities, I do find them fascinating. I love that I can reach into a box of puzzle pieces and pull one out and (without looking at the picture on the box) that one piece tells me absolutely nothing about what the final product is going to look like. It might be blue. I could guess that it's part of the sky or water or maybe a pick-up truck or someone's shirt. But I would only be guessing. The only thing that one piece tells me is that 1/1000th of that puzzle is blue.

One of the biggest gifts God gave me when Hannah died was the overwhelming peace and understanding that we were only seeing the tiniest part of a much bigger picture, and that He was the only one who could see the whole thing. I can actually picture where I was sitting in my midwife's office when this happened. We had found out Hannah was no longer alive, and we were scheduling induction for the next morning. We were devastated. Nothing was happening the way we thought it would. But in our grief, God was saying, "I know this doesn't make sense. But trust me."

A friend was in the hospital after Hannah was born and we got to talking about this idea that we all have a list of questions to ask God when we get to heaven. Why do bad things happen? Why do babies die? We want answers. We want things to make sense in our finite, limited human brains. And my friend said, "I think we're going to get to heaven, be face-to-face with our Creator and think, 'Well. I feel like I had something to ask you. But I don't think I do anymore.'" Because in that moment, everything will make sense. We will finally be seeing the whole picture. The completed puzzle. We will see all of our pieces and where they all fit together. Our questions will be answered before they're even asked.

Four and a half years later, my "Hannah died" puzzle piece isn't all alone anymore. It is surrounded by a few more pieces and sometimes I can tell they're starting to take shape. It's as if my single blue puzzle piece from earlier is now surrounded by other blue pieces and I can tell it's going to be a sailboat. The whole sailboat isn't put together yet, and I certainly don't know where the sailboat fits into the rest of the picture, but it's getting there.

And that's what grief looks like right now. I still hate that that piece has to be there, but my puzzle wouldn't be complete without it. And I'm called to trust the One who holds the rest of the pieces and knows where they all belong.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Gallery Walls

When we moved into this house almost three years ago, I was very pregnant with Will and it was all I could do to just get sheets on beds and clothes in closets. I did eventually hang a few photos on the walls, but for the most part, I didn't care enough about decor to make my crazy pregnant self even crazier.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago. I decided to do some major purging throughout our house, and one area I had to tackle was a storage area downstairs. In that area, there were three boxes full of framed photos that had all been displayed in our old house. A good portion of the frames went to Goodwill, but I did keep quite a few to repurpose on some focus walls that I'd wanted to create.

One wall is in our living room. In the midst of the purging, we also rearranged a couple of pieces in this room, leaving an empty wall looking even more bleak. Enter gallery wall #1!

My favorite frame is the big collage one that holds square Instagram photos. We also used a few family photos that our friend Alissa took, as well as the kids' school pictures, a wedding photo, and the picture of Hannah's footprints. The printable on the lower left is available here on etsy, the ceramic cross was from Hobby Lobby, and I made the Minnesota piece.

Gallery wall #2 has been a while in the making. Almost five years ago, our family of four took a very memorable trip to Duluth and Dan got some awesome photos, including one of Jack, Leah, and me. For about a year, we've had that photo and one of the lighthouse in Canal Park above our bed. I loved having Dan's photography displayed, but they were small for the wall and their placement was definitely temporary. :) When we went to Duluth in November, we recreated the shot of me with the kids (since there are three of them now!) and he also got a great shot of the lift bridge. So now I knew I wanted to stick with the Duluth/Lake Superior theme for this wall. And I love the final product!

The three photos are all Dan's. Thanks, honey. ;)

This is one of my favorite pieces! It's a water color of Lake Superior and is available from The Big Lake on etsy. Please check out her shop (and her Instagram feed)--she has some really great stuff!

These were a really fun find. It was a pack of 18 vintage postcards from the North Shore. The shop is called Bursts of Creativity and they have all sorts of sweet vintage stuff. :)

This driftwood anchor was also an awesome find on etsy from Simple Beach Signs. And I made the sign next to it with a piece of wood from Michaels.

I love how much just having art on my walls makes this house feel more like home, even after almost three years of living here!

Also, if you're looking for gallery wall inspiration, Pinterest is your friend. :)