The Gifts of 2020

I feel like I could write a book and not cover all that this year has had packed into it. Drew and I started the year off with a bang. January 1st we flew out of the country to head to the mid-debrief of the squad that we were coaching. Debrief was in Chang Mai Thailand. We were the first to arrive and the hostel where we were staying was roped off and closed…they could have been a hint of what the year (and the debrief) had in store for us. Somehow the unknown of how that would turn out and the willingness on our part to lay down our expectations, to accept what came our way, has been a theme that has continued on throughout the year. I wish I could say that I am still embracing my ability to be flexible but like the rest of you I am also growing weary. Just to not leave you hanging – the hostel did open and we all had a place to sleep – even if the workers did seem a bit surprised that we had reservations days before they had planned to reopen.

Thailand in January was a wonderful break from Minnesota, a country we had never been to with some amazing food. Our squad was in the middle of their gap year and there were struggles, but also so much growth. My favorite part of debriefs are the one on ones with the racers – I love hearing how God is showing up in different ways on their journey. This was our second year to coach along with our mentor Deb and her husband Austin. We had no idea that this would be our last debrief with them or with our squad. We enjoyed that season with them so much – and will cherish their friendship for a lifetime.

Since we were in the area (Asia), we flew to visit Ellie in her new home of Qingdao, China. Ellie has an amazing network of support at the International School where she teaches High School English. We got to meet her people and enjoy the celebration for Chinese New Year before her school let out for break. It was January in China and there were not many tourist since it was winter (cold) but we had very little idea of what was brewing – I remember reading about some virus but it didn’t seem like anything to worry about.

Chinese New Year is a big celebration and Ellie had time off from teaching. We flew back to Thailand to explore the southern, touristy part of the country. It was BEAUTIFUL! It was fun to spend hours on the ocean with Ellie. We went on a tour of James Bond Island and the islands near that. We went on a sketchy tour including riding elephants, “bumper” boats and a short zip line…doubtful any of those would have been passed any safety inspection in the States. It was such a relaxing time. Everyday we walked from our Airbnb to get bubble tea, breakfast and find a perfect place to camp out on the ocean for the day. While in Phuket we heard that the first person with Covid-19 had been hospitalized in Phuket, we shrugged it off as strange but still had little concern.

After a week of paradise, Drew and I flew home to Minnesota, Ellie flew back to China, all of us ready to jump back into our normal lives. We arrived back to winter on a Tuesday, Drew left to go winter camping with friends on Thursday – a little bit shocking. Friday of that week I got a call from Ellie asking me to get her from the airport the next morning. Her school paid for any of their teachers to go home before travel bans would be put in place. This is when we first got a glimpse of the seriousness of Covid-19, but at the same time thought it would be a short visit. Ellie was home but continued teaching her students through online teaching/learning…which was difficult with the time difference.

Kyle has been living in Seattle since September 2019 to pursue music. The end of February Convent Bonfires had a concert in downtown Seattle. Chris and Lindsey and Drew and I had made plans to visit, to be part of the many fans to support them that night. Ellie decided to join us, thinking she would be flying back to China soon. The concert was AMAZING! Such a fun show, the energy was vibrant. It was fun to meet Kyle’s people and see the support he has in his life in Seattle. We spent time as tourist learning about the history of Seattle and seeing all the sites, little did we know that this would be our last time traveling for the year. While in Seattle we heard that 6 people had died in an assisted living home in the area we were in from this virus we kept hearing about.

Shortly after returning back to work/life in Minnesota the first shut down happened. Working at Trader Joe’s was difficult as we were trying to stay ahead of the unknown by being safe and creating rules in a place that is known for having no rules. I really appreciate the people that I worked with – they are some of the kindest people – so proud of them. Suddenly grocery workers were essential workers. Drew was back to work as normal – outside, often by himself. While many people were not able to work because of shutdowns we felt very thankful to have jobs that were essential.

Our original plan for coaching was to travel to Nicaragua in May for the final debrief with our squad. In March the borders started closing and AIM had the job of bringing back over 600 of their missionaries home from the field. Our squad ended their 9 month gap year at the 7th month – disappointing for all of us and hard because there was no real closure. One of our squad leaders had no where to go so he came and stayed with us for 6 weeks. During this time churches were closed so our neighbors would meet in our driveway and worship together. It was a sweet time of bonding.

Over the summer our home was a place to gather (outside) as a community. The times were beyond anything any of us had ever experienced and this became a place to connect. We hosted 4 young men from AIM for a month. While they were here George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis and this city was literally up in flames. We joined with many in helping to clean up and bringing hope to the streets. These young men and a few others that hang out at our Riverdale House would tell us of revival that was taking place in the middle of the pain in Minneapolis. Reconciliation was happening even if all we heard from the media was about destruction. I was thankful to have another perception in the middle of some hard, hard days. The racial tension that came to a head over the summer brought us to a place of examining ourselves. Our motto we live by is to” Love God and Love People” and the reality is that we can do better. Shortly after the guys left, we hosted a World Race America team for a couple of weeks. Their whole purpose is to bring the love of Christ to America and the timing couldn’t have been better. It was encouraging to hear the stories that these young people brought to our home as they went out to minister to the many homeless camps and to listen to stories of those who have been hurt by the racial disparity in our country. It’s not a new story. Jesus is near to the broken hearted and this year has been a year like we have not seen in our lifetime.

I ended up out on an injury leave for a while from Trader Joe’s, when I returned the atmosphere felt so divisive as people would come in the store and give push back about wearing masks etc. I started looking for a new job opportunity and also praying that God would expand my world. I started working as a temp at Minneapolis Public Housing Authority – hard work but I really love it! I just found out this week that I will be employed with MPHA beginning in January. I’m learning so much and love the diversity. Ellie finally was able to return to China in October and teach live in her classroom. Thanks to technology she was able to join us for our Christmas morning….even though her package is stuck in customs in China.

Our community events have been paused for a season and I have enjoyed the forced Sabbath rest…I didn’t realize how much I needed it. Christmas ended up being much fuller than I expected too. Levi lives at home and works at Rudy Luther – he is here and we often see his girlfriend Liv. Kyle came back from living in his van in Seattle to spend a few weeks in our home. Once he returns to Seattle he will be working as a Real Estate agent with a brokerage company. Grace ended up going on a gap year program called Global U with the World Race. The plans to leave the country were put on hold until January so she was able to join us for Christmas break too. In January she will be heading to the Dominican Republic – she is still fundraising so if you are looking for an end of he year, tax deductible donation, go to https://gracerobertson.theworldrace.org/

Drew and I got away for a couple of nights to an Airbnb in Hudson Wisconsin to celebrate our 27th wedding anniversary. Everything around us seems shaky – even our church has diminished in size and is a shadow of what it once was – but God is faithful. Even as I grieve the losses, I see so much clearer the things that really matter. My desire is to love mercy, seek justice and to walk humbly with my God (Micah 6:8).

Know that you are loved greatly. Fight for unity and love – it’s worth it!

Wishing you and your family the peace that comes from Jesus.

Merry Christmas from the Petersen family!

Pre-Christmas Letter 2020

Lately when I look in the mirror, the eyes that look back at me are ones of grief and sadness. I know that look, it’s the same one I saw after my Mom died, during an already trying year in 2007. This year is different in that I haven’t had a death of anyone close to me. I can downplay my grief even because I know so many people who are grieving much bigger losses than I am. Why do we do that? I know I am not the only one. Why do we compare our pain? As though somehow I shouldn’t feel pain because the person standing next to me has a greater pain, we stuff our feelings and suffer in silence. Pain is pain, we need to acknowledge and deal with it or it will fester, infecting the other parts of our life that are not in pain.

As I sat down to attempt my 2020 Christmas letter it felt like such a struggle. All I could think of was the loss. Maybe you can relate, it hasn’t been the easiest year for any of us. I feel the weight of grief that is on all of us this year. The losses we have experienced across the world have been massive. Along with a global pandemic there have been multiple hurricane’s causing mass destruction along with other disasters. Life looks different as we have all been asked to take precautions and everything inside us wants to continue on with life as it was. I think deep down we know that life won’t be like it has always been. The division is so deep it is hard to imagine living in unity. Whether the tension is within your home, your politics, your gender, your color, your church, your job -the culture right now is to dig your trench and not give any ground to those of an opposite opinion. Grace is a commodity that is hard to come by these days. I take seriously the command to love God and love people, but boy is it a struggle to love people somedays. I recognize the corruption in my own heart. Most days I resist the unhealthy desire to pull away from everyone, to isolate and distance myself from the tension of people passionate about their rights, their comfort or their views. Even the simple pleasures of shopping are disrupted as stores become a battle ground for people to prove their loyalty to their politics. But other days I remember that we are all in this together and grief can come out sideways at times. There is no one way to grieve so I choose to overlook offenses, even if it takes some time to wrestle within myself first. In the realm of eternity it won’t matter if I wore a mask or not, but it will matter how I treated people.

I’m not sure this went exactly the direction I wanted it to go, but I just wanted to be real about the struggle. I wanted to share because I know I am not the only one feeling this way. I wanted to be real about the ugly part of the year -coming face to face with my own shortcomings when life does not go my way. I am definitely a work in progress! But, this year has been teaching me so much. I am learning to grieve. I am learning to step out in courage and do new things. I am learning that it is ok to be imperfect. I have learned that I need to slow down, to take a Sabbath day of rest every week. I have learned to count the sweet blessings that come unexpectedly and often at just the right time. I am learning to listen. I am learning that I can be wrong sometimes. I am learning more and more the value of people – young, old, unborn, refugees – all made in the image of God. I will continue to examine and hold loosely the things of this world that have no value when all is said and done.

With Christmas just around the corner, I am thankful more than ever for the peace that endures! Thanks for listening to me invite you into my messy heart. I promise my Christmas letter will be my world through my joy filled, eyes of wonder. Honestly, so many amazing good things have been tucked into this year. Grief and Joy would be a good description of 2020.

Jesus was a Man of Sorrows: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief” Isaiah 53:3

Jesus is also called the Prince of Peace: “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given…and He will be called…Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end.”. Isaiah 9:6-7

Hope Eternal

I’ve been thinking a lot about masks lately. The year is 2020 and my feed is full of all the different masks options. My feed is also full of people’s opinions about if masks are a benefit or harmful. I recently discovered that I am a 9 on the enneagram, which means I am one of those people who can see both sides of situations. I can empathize with another perspective even while having an opinion of my own. We are all wired differently but it’s hard to miss the tension that those differing opinions brings. I have tension within myself.

If you have read any of my blogs you know that I am no stranger to masks. I spent a good portion of my life wearing masks just to survive. These weren’t physical masks that you could see but that was the point. I wore masks to cover my shame. I wore masks to try to fit in. I wore masks to get attention. I wore masks to be “loved”. I wore masks to seem righteous. I wore masks to seem strong. I wore masks to cover deep hurts. I wore masks to protect me from hurtful words. I wore the mask of a victim. I wore a mask of false harmony. I wore a mask of fake happiness. I wore a mask of stoicism. I wore a mask of superficiality. I wore my masks because somehow I thought that if you knew who I really was or what I had done you would not accept me. The truth was that I wore so many masks for so long that I really had no idea who I was either.

My story is not all neat and tidy. I didn’t just one day realize I was wearing a mask. It took years of being vulnerable and asking God to show me who I am as His child. The lies that tethered my masks in place had to be met head on and replaced with truth. The removal of each mask was painful because it had been so much of who I was. As I found the courage to face the enemy and choose the freedom of not having to prove myself, I found life. Jesus tells us that the truth will set us free and that is what I discovered first hand as He shone light into the dark corners of my insecure heart. He was there to love me without the harsh criticism I had come to expect from people. I was able to walk through inner healing and forgive people who had hurt me. I was able to grow and change in areas where I had hurt people. I no longer want to be part of a cycle of hurt that causes people to question who they are, in whose image they are made.

I no longer align myself with shame, self righteousness, pride, manipulation, hate or disunity. Those are part of a defense that I no longer need. I have Jesus as my defender. He gives my life meaning that goes far beyond me having a life without struggle or comfort. The love He shows me every day makes me want to love like Him and represent Him in the best way possible. I’m in my 50’s and am still so excited to discover more about Jesus, Holy Spirit and Father God. It’s a pleasure to be part of the family of God. I know I don’t deserve this life I have. Even as I can feel the outward pull of fear, hatred and confusion that the enemy is throwing our way, I have a peace that is only growing deeper every single day. My hope is eternal. I have no control over this world or the people in it. I am called to love God and love people and that is what I will do to the best of my ability until life on this earth is over. When I fail, I can get right back up again because I am dearly loved by the King of Kings!

When I think of the power that these masks that I wore for so long had on my life, I have a hard time understanding the conflict with the paper masks we are asked to wear during this pandemic. When I walk into a public place I can put it on and still walk confidently as a child of God. When I leave I take it off and there is no pain, it’s temporary. The mask itself has no power. I struggle at times to want to wear a mask, I am constantly having to check my heart. I don’t want to give the power of hate or judgement to anyone over if they have a mask on or not. Only God can judge a person’s heart or motives. I have no control over other people in how they respond to me or each other. I only have control over my own self, and even that control is probably a false sense of security. We only have one life and I don’t want to waste it. So if you see me in the grocery store with my mask on, just know that I am smiling at you!

King of My Heart

Minnesota began it’s state wide shutdown last night at midnight in hopes of lowering the number of people getting COVID 19. Grocery is considered essential (obviously) so I am still working. Our store has made changes to make every effort to keep the customers and workers safe. We have fun signs showing how far to stand to be 6 feet from the customer in front of you in line and we are limiting the number of customers in the store at one time, not handling customer bags and being mindful of others. I think we have gone through gallons of sanitizer wiping down carts, registers, phones etc. Most people understand that this is the new normal for a while, but there are those few rebels who could care less about anyone but themselves. You can feel the fear in people, some with panic in their eyes quietly freaking out if someone comes within their 6 foot bubble. My heart goes out to them. This is new to all of us and it will bring out the best and worst of our society. Before this pandemic, I would have thought of fear as loud and visual (screaming and scary images) but this has shown me that fear is silent and invisible. The silence in the stores is eerie. It is almost as if everyone is suspicious of everyone else infecting them and if we speak it will draw us too close to each other. I have given up on hugging strangers (or friends even) but I refuse to stop talking. I want my voice to remind people that they are not alone, we are all in this together. I want them to know that they have value and are worthy of being loved.

The song “King of my Heart” was running through my mind this morning. I love parts of this song but to be honest I avoid singing along to the bridge. The words say “You’re never gonna let me down” – over and over. I’ve watched many young people dancing and rejoicing over these words, enthusiastically proclaiming that God is never going to let them down. Don’t get me wrong, I believe God will never leave me or forsake me (Hebrews 13:5). Maybe because I have lived a few decades more then these young people my perspective knows that life is complicated and we will feel let down at times. We live in a fallen world and God does not say He will keep us from painful things. This morning as this song was running through my mind, I came to this bridge again and a vision of Jesus literally holding me flashed through my brain. God is good, He is a perfect Father. A perfect Father would never leave their child to cross a busy street alone, or throw them in a lake, or leave them in a burning building, or leave them home alone, or face anything beyond their understanding. Their perfect Father would carry them through and tell them to keep their eyes fixed on Him and not the problems around them. (Hebrews 12:2) I want to invite you in this season of uncertainty to picture your Daddy carrying you through to the other side. Ask Him for peace that passes all understanding as you trust Him with your future. As a follower of Jesus Christ, our mission remains the same – Love God and Love People.

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A memory from long ago – child like faith.

Here is a link to the song I mentioned. When you get to the bridge, close your eyes and envision your Daddy holding you through these difficult days. King of My Heart

Lord Jesus, Thank you that You are here with us, that we are not alone. Thank You that You see us, You care for us, You love us and that You are holding us now even when our world seems to be falling apart. Fill us with Your peace. Give us strength for the long haul. Show us how to love. Heal our land, heal Your church, heal our hearts. Thank you that you are right now holding us and You will never let us go!

When Life is out of Control

img_20200313_1917191596457576937139098582.jpgWow!  What a week.  COVID19 has swooped down and changed life as we knew it.  Even if you are like me and tend to downplay things the media hypes up, you cannot deny that we are in a crisis.  I work part time at Trader Joe’s, usually 3 days a week.  A while back they asked if I could work 5 days a week since we were short with vacations and things.  I hesitantly said “Yes.”  Knowing I have other things in my life to keep balanced but figuring it would be fine.  YIKES – last week was about the craziest week I have ever experienced at work.  It was beyond Christmas crazy.  At first it was almost funny – or at least we were trying to laugh instead of cry.  Our shelves were bare, with the exception of a few items that I guess people don’t even want in a pandemic.  We are going onto 2 weeks of this new normal of stocking shelves only to have them empty in hours…or minutes if it’s toilet paper.  Not all shelves are empty, we still have plenty of cheese and if you are not picky you can still find plenty to eat by the end of the day.

I find it hard not to be discouraged with mankind as they come in and empty a whole shelf of pasta or marinara sauce into their cart, move on to soup and fill their cart to the brim with hamburger and frozen veggies.  I get that we are suppose to be self quarantining and social distancing but the amount of food people are buying could feed a family for months.  I’m sure the people who hoard are afraid and want to have control over something, even if it’s just food.  The problem is, when people take more food than they need, the next person doesn’t have what they need.  When the next person comes in and sees empty shelves, they panic and show up the next morning to fill their cart for fear of missing out.  It’s a viscous cycle of fear. We get 2 trucks every morning at our store and seriously if everyone just bought what they need we would be fine.

Meanwhile, while my body is hurting from the extra physical exertion of stocking shelves, my emotions can feel the anxiety of the people coming through our store.  I want to give them courage, all I have to offer is a smile and a listening ear.  One woman, who I learned was from a war torn country in Africa, just smiled and said, “We will be okay.”  We talked for a moment.  Even though these are scary times, most of us have not had to flee a country with only what was on our back, no idea where we will end up, if we will eat or live.  Hearing a bit of her story did not change any of the circumstances or unknowns surrounding us but it did give me a new perspective.  We will be okay.

What do we do in the middle of the mess?  So many people are facing financial hardship, lost jobs or hours.  Schools are closed, sports, plays, graduation ceremonies cancelled. Weddings, events and funerals cancelled. Young people studying abroad or teaching and  missionaries all suddenly having to cut their plans short and return home.  Jails, hospitals and nursing homes on lock down with no visitors to brighten their days.  Churches closing for months.  People isolated and lonely.  The whole world grieving the losses that a pandemic brings.  All new uncharted territory shrouded in fear.

I’m not an expert but as I have been processing through this week, looking ahead to the unknown, these are some things that make sense to me.

  1. Allow yourself to feel all the feelings.  It’s not going to help you move through your grief if you are shoving your feelings down, or numbing them, or eating them away.  God gave us emotions for a reason.  We don’t have to be ruled by our emotions but take some time to talk to Him and tell Him your sad, or mad, or scared.  Then sit in His presence and let the His peace fill you up.
  2. Stay calm!  Panic will do no good.  Resist the urge to hoard far more food then is necessary.  The most loving thing you can do is to think of others.  If you have already bought beyond your needs I would encourage you to give some to a neighbor or food shelf.  There is never a bad time to be generous.
  3. Trust God in the story.  We don’t have to understand why things are happening as they are.  The whole world is struggling with this virus and with it the crashing economy.  It’s easy to get so caught up in the details unfolding that we take our eyes off of the One who can give us courage.  This may be the first pandemic we all have experienced but there have been other tragic events in history.  When I can look at things through the lens of eternity, it loses it’s grip on me.  The reality is that we all have but one life to live.  Jesus has invited us into living a life anchored to Him.  In reading in the book of Mark, as Jesus’s disciples were putting their hope on Jesus rescuing them from persecution by being their KING.  I’m sure it felt like their whole world was falling apart when Jesus was crucified before their very eyes.  What they thought was disaster ended up being the very thing that made Christianity different from any other religion.  Jesus conquered death!  His story is still unfolding over 2000 years later.  We never see the full picture of what God is doing.  I’m not suggesting that God has put this virus out there, but I am definitely saying that He can bring good even from this.  He is a God who sees us and wants to partner with us to bring His Kingdom to those who are seeking.  He doesn’t intend for us to live scared secluded lives.  If each of us turn to God in this time of need we will see mountains move.  Don’t let COVID19 keep you from living a life for Christ.  People need hope.
  4. Love one another.  To me love looks like surrounding myself with people, hugging them and being close….sadly, this does not fit the current protocol.  Love looks a little different now – although I still can’t resist hugging.  Love is a phone call to someone isolated, writing a letter of encouragement, volunteering to deliver/pack meals, pray for people, listening to people process through their fears, reminding people that God loves them, that He is good and faithful, being a friend, doing your part to slow the virus from growing.  Love is washing your hands and staying home when you are sick.  Love is understanding and being patient with people who are scared and reacting.  Love is a choice and with it comes peace.

Probably the hardest news I got this week was learning that our squad that we are coaching was being sent home early from their 9 month mission trip.  They were in Nicaragua, a lovely place called REAP Granada.  This place held so much potential for growth.  We were believing beautiful things were going to happen in and through our racers in their 3 months at this location.  Everything happened fast and was changing by the minute.  At one point we had tickets to fly to meet them in Atlanta for a debrief/closure.  Then rules were made in our country that no longer allowed groups of over 10 to meet.  All plans for a debrief, for a final goodbye were cancelled.  There are about 550 total racers with World Race who have returned to America.  These are young people who carry a love of Jesus that is going to shake this country up.  I’m so proud of them.  Even though they grieve what they have had to abruptly leave, I see them continuing on in the mission to LOVE GOD AND LOVE PEOPLE.  Watch out world, there is something far greater than Covid19 on the move!img_20200317_0722598564744528001982284328.jpg

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Life Interrupted

I have gotten out of the habit of posting but feel a need to catch any of my readers up with life in the Petersen household. Since my Christmas update and day after Christmas meltdown life has been cruising along. Drew and I headed to Thailand to meet our squad for midpoint debrief

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From the moment we were dropped off by our taxi at the end of an alley to what seemed like nowhere, our plans were tossed to and fro like waves. We arrived at our hostel at the end of the alley. We were greeted by a sign and ropes blocking off the entrance telling us it was closed. It was early (7am) and one sign said it was opening that day so we ignored the closure. It felt good to sit down to rest and read so we just made ourselves at home in the outer courtyard. Later we noticed a sign saying they would open 4 days later which did seem a little troublesome since we had over 40 people arriving in the next day or two. It all worked out as workers arrived back from their break and after a moment of panic managed to find space for all of us. It worked out great that most of the websites that booked for this particular hostel had got the memo that they were closed. This meant we had almost the whole place to ourselves for the first few days.

The debrief itself was encouraging in many ways – I love connecting with these young people. As a leadership team we found ourselves having to respond to needs that came up more often then follow the carefully scheduled plans that were made. There were important things to deal with like making sure everyone had the proper visa. It was disappointing to have to let go on topics we wanted to teach or fun that would bond us. In the end, the topics shared were ones that were needed. We did drop the ball on some important things. We also celebrated victories. It wasn’t perfect. Life rarely is. None of this was a surprise to God.

When we left Chiang Mai it felt heavy. We knew that many racers were struggling. It’s a little like watching a movie that is somewhat predictable with what the outcome will be, but you are in the middle of the tension that makes for good movies. We have been around the block a few times so we recognize that wrestling through things is what makes us stronger, compassionate human beings. My hardest seasons have made me who I am today and I wouldn’t omit them from my story. God is writing out the stories of each one of these precious young adults. It seems to me that those with the hardest stories are the same ones who are the most committed on the other side of the fight. Frankly, I get so excited as I pray for them because I can see what they can’t yet. The God who sent His Son to show us love, is right now pouring that love on each one of them.

From Thailand we interrupted our warm weather to head over to Qingdao China to visit our daughter Ellie. At this point the word was just starting to get out about the new Coronavirus and it wasn’t causing the fear that it is right now. We loved seeing Ellie’s city as we bundled back up in our winter coats. We met friends, hiked mountains, ate yummy food, visited her school and experienced a little of Ellie’s world for a short week. There were no set plans so there were no disappointments that expectations weren’t met. Our sole purpose was to see Ellie’s new home, to rest and celebrate this new chapter in our daughter’s life.

We ended our time just as the Chinese New Year celebrations were beginning. Ellie was on break and joined us for the most fabulous vacation week in the southern part of Thailand. We stayed at a simple Airbnb that was a vigorous walk to the beach. Being a first year teacher anywhere, let alone in a foreign land, is a lot of work with long hours. Our main goal for the week was to give Ellie a place to rest and process before returning to her job. We wanted her to be refreshed and encouraged. It was so much fun being together, although she did admit that she didn’t enjoy being an only child. One of our favorite days was spent on an adventure that included elephants, a zipline, river rafting (which we called “Bumper Boats”) and a hike to a pretty waterfall. There were very little instructions, nothing was safe, it may have bordered on foolish but it was exhilarating!!!

After a week in some of the most beautiful land I have ever been in, we said our goodbyes with tears in our eyes. The plan was to be gone for at least another year and a half. We would miss her. The thing was, we saw her wonderful community surrounding her so we felt nothing but joy for her journey. 38 hours later we landed in Minnesota, jumping back in right where we left off, in the middle of winter. Drew went winter camping with some friends and our son Levi. Friday morning I woke up to a call from Ellie asking me to pick her up from the airport Saturday! It all felt very surreal since we had just spent 2 weeks together. Of course I was thrilled to bring her home, especially since it would be a total surprise to her Daddy when he returned from camping.

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Her time here is a surprise, one we are grateful for. I can’t help think of all those in Wuhan whose lives have been interrupted just as abruptly but instead of reunion they are facing loss. Life is constantly throwing us curve balls. What do we do when the call you get isn’t one of good news? Are our plans so concrete that when they start to fall apart we do too? Do we accept the joyful interruptions and feel like God has somehow failed us if the interruptions of life are not to our liking? Do we lose hope when it’s hard to see if the trial we are in will ever end? Do we try to find someone to blame when life doesn’t work out according to plan? Do we just give up because it’s just too hard to try anymore?

I want to say that I would respond well no matter what comes my way. The truth is that until we face a hardship we have no idea of knowing how we would really react or respond. People are having curve balls thrown at them every day – let’s show them compassion. Let’s love the people around us. Let’s resist the urge to criticize or judge people in their struggle. Find community so that when life gets hard you don’t have to do it alone. Make it a practice to not overreact to the small interruptions in life and then when those life changing interruptions come from nowhere you won’t be destroyed. Celebrate the victories, dance with joy that you have breath in your lungs. God will never leave you…but He might just interrupt you on your journey.

John 16:33 (Jesus) “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

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A Struggling Optimist

It’s the day after Christmas and our house is in shambles. Yesterday was a rushed morning of opening gifts before heading off to the next event. We’ve already been to the airport to drop off Kyle, Levi is back at work as well as sleeping in his own place. Flat Ellie hangs by the tree reminding us of how much we miss our girl. Grace is sleeping. The sky is gray and moody, mirroring how I feel.

I can’t help but envision a day when Drew and I will sit here alone surrounded by our “flat” kids. It’s a depressing thought.

Making a “flat” Ellie seemed like a great idea. Actually 3 years ago we had made a “flat” Kyle when he went on the World Race for a gap year. We took pictures including his flat self doing all the things we do as a family. It was fun and let him know that he was loved and missed. It made sense to do the same with Ellie since she would not be joining us for Christmas this year. It has been fun. We have posed her in different pictures and laughed at how weird our family is. But today the fun was over as a wave of grief hit both Drew and I with a vengeance. Flat Ellie needed to be put away. Her hanging by the tree was only drawing out tears instead of the smiles that it was originally intended to create. Truthfully the grief we are feeling has been right below the surface the whole time. Christmas wasn’t the same without her. The busy work days, the celebrations back to back, the planning , preparing – it all has kept us from feeling the pain of love. Love hurts. We have invested years of our lives into loving our kids well. We may not have been perfect parents but they know that they are loved.

I’m so thankful for my relationship with Drew. Earlier he told me that he was thankful to be married to an optimist. I’m actually a struggling optimist at the moment. It hurts to love. Change is hard. I know that God still has plan for us. We can’t make our family togetherness our life goal or an idol. The Kingdom of God is bigger than our family, bigger than our house, bigger than my imagination or desires. I try hard to live in the moment. This moment today feels heavy with grief, empty and lonely. It’s okay to feel this way. Even as I acknowledge these feelings I’m aware that many of my friends are grieving too. It’s a hard season.

It’s time to put the Christmas tree away, pick up the mess. Christmas may be over but the truth of Christ remains. Jesus is our Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, God With Us – Emmanuel! My hands are open – nothing on this earth is mine to keep. What I know is that God will empty me, not to leave me empty but to fill me with Himself. Even as I grieve I know that He is breathing new life into me – into us. He is preparing us to have hearts like His. Jesus knew the pain of loving people who would later reject Him yet He never stops loving. I instinctively want to guard my heart, yet that is not the example I see in the life of Christ. My heart is currently all over the map – literally! I see my kids loving well in their circle of influence. This brings me much joy and courage.

Lord Jesus, Help me to love freely, with no expectations of being loved in return. Help me to be satisfied with Your love alone. Help me to love well the people I encounter today, to hug the people right in front of me. Help me to see the hurting and the weak – to point them to YOU. Thank You for being my comforter, my friend, my joy and my strength. Thank You for meeting me in my grief. Thank You for the gift of today.

Petersen Christmas Letter 2019

It’s time for our annual reflection of life with the Petersen family. The word that would describe 2019 would be transition. I counted over 25 airport shuttle trips from our home to MSP airport this year alone…thankful to have shared those with the other drivers in the house. I really love being in airports though. If you take time to look around, beyond the cool restaurants and decor of the terminal, to see the faces of people all on their journey, it is like a picture of every season we walk through as humans, all in one rushing space. People travel for all kinds of reasons – celebrations, vacations, business, family emergencies, bucket lists, with people or completely alone. I think of how Jesus looked around at the multitude and was moved with compassion. Whatever season you find yourself in – a season of grief, a season of change, a season of joy, a season of new birth, a season of loneliness, a season of adapting, a season of growth, a season of health problems – my prayer is that you feel the compassion of Jesus and know His presence. Drew and I are more aware than ever of God’s presence as we have had to let go of all the amazing memories (both good and bad) of raising young children, to one of watching them move on to their own path. It’s been a season of growth for us and we have really loved seeing that life is not over!

2019 has been a year of adventure for Drew and I. We are still amazed at the life we are living. We finished coaching our first squad of Gap Year World Racers in May.

What a blast to come alongside the leadership team for S squad and witness the growth of these young adults while on their 9 month journey. As coaches we travel to their 3 debriefs and connect one on one with the racers and meet with teams to better understand all that is happening in their world so we know how best to pray for them and encourage them. Our mid point debrief in January was in Ethiopia. Since we were “close”, Drew and I flew to Kenya to visit our friends the Hagmans/Heshima. While in Kenya we celebrated our 25th Anniversary (a little late) on a safari – staying in a bougee tent along a river full of hippos! It was an amazing experience. In May we had our final goodbye with S Squad in Costa Rica.

2 months later we were meeting a new squad at their training camp in Gainesville, GA. Going into our 2nd year has been less intimidating as we at least have a better idea of what to expect. B squad and their leadership has been so welcoming to us. In October we met them in South Africa for their first debrief and got to go on another safari!

We can’t wait to see them again in January when we meet up in Thailand. In addition to our squad, we also have a tribe of young people here in Minnesota that we have opened up our home to offer a place to grow in their faith. I love reminding them that Jesus really is worth living for and life with Him is never dull. Sometimes I feel like we are living the life of the Incredibles (super heroes) – living our day to day life working at Hage Concrete and Trader Joe’s but then we get to jet off to help build up this younger generation in their faith. I have no idea what next year looks like as far as coaching goes but we are thankful for this year and all that it has taught us…PLUS the wonderful new relationships we have with so many Jesus followers. This has been such a gift as we feel the loss of our kids moving on and not needing us in the same way. God is GOOD!

Update of our kids: Chris and Lindsey are still in Big Lake, Minnesota with their 3 dogs – working and going on their own adventures.

Kyle is now living in Seattle as of September. He moved to be close to his band – http://Conventbonfires.com. They are releasing their new album on January 1st so watch for it on Spotify or wherever you listen to your music. He is working as a delivery driver for Amazon. Before he moved out west he spent the summer working with Drew at Hage Concrete and traveling with his brother Levi.

Kyle and Levi went on an epic backpacking/hitchhiking trip through France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Lichtenstein and Italy. It was an incredible time of bonding and making memories to last a lifetime.

Ellie is on her own adventure – she graduated with a Secondary English Education degree in May and moved to Qingdao, China to teach at an International School in the beginning of August. Her summer was spent preparing to leave – she had a training week in upper New York state. Her and I went on a couple of roadtrips – one to see friends and one to visit the Chinese Embassy in Chicago for her visa. Drew and I will be visiting her in just 3 weeks!

Levi left his job at Trader Joe’s and is now working at a lightbulb warehouse. He also moved out shortly after returning from Europe – he is living with a house of young men.

We see him fairly often but miss having his daily hugs. Grace graduated from high school in May – her family came to celebrate from Japan and Texas.

Grace is currently living here while attending Anoka Ramsey Community College as well as working at Trader Joe’s. Her summer was spent with a friend traveling all over Japan and Korea. She is enjoying having the house almost to herself.

My kid’s adventures inspire me to live life without regret. It feels like my heart is scattered all over the place but this is what we raised our kids to do.

Working retail is hectic during this time of year – I find myself drained and completely peopled out. It’s a fight to remind myself that this craziness isn’t what Christmas is about… Jesus came as our Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Emmanuel – GOD WITH US.

Life this year has been moving at a fast pace but Drew and I both would agree that it has been the most fulfilling season of purpose as we point young people to the ONE who gives our life meaning. I’m aware that life can change in an instant – our hope is knowing that God will never leave us. May you find that same comfort no matter what season you find yourself in. Know that you are loved.

Merry Christmas and a Joyful New Year!

With much love,

The Petersens

A Surrendered Life

20190717_172803_film31441646173.jpgI woke up this morning and had a vague recollection of a joke from long ago, the punchline was about a one way ticket to China…for the life of me I cannot imagine why that was funny.  This morning my little girl is boarding a plane with boarding passes to China, a ONE WAY ticket to China.  I know we have talked about this possibility for so long.  There were so many hoops to jump through that it seemed as if it would always be this adventurous idea that would never actually happen.  But I have one determined daughter that persevered through all the paper work and requirements necessary to live in China.  I knew she would get to this point, honestly I just didn’t want to face the fact that it wouldn’t be easy to watch her go.  No amount of comforting myself with food, mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or Facebook or living in the moment (avoiding what was to come) could take away the pain.  When there is a loss, even a good one, grief is not far behind.  That is  not exactly a bad thing.

Parenting is by far the hardest thing that I have ever done.  It’s one of the few things in life that you really don’t get a “do over”.  The pressure of wanting to get it right makes many swing from either being too permissive or too strict.  We try to control the surroundings to keep our children from experiencing pain or hardship.  There is a generation of young adults who are paralyzed when it comes to thinking for themselves or being uncomfortable.  In my early years as a parent, I fell into the camp of pushing “performance”.  I mean, who doesn’t want their kids to get good grades, say all the right things, obey all the rules and look perfect?

Thankfully a wise friend opened up our eyes to what that would actually do to our kids in the end.  If our goal is performance we are just teaching our kids to wear a mask and fit in at all cost.  If our goal is grace, and with that we allow our kids a safe place to fail, we teach our kids how to live a life that isn’t always perfect.  If they learn at an early age that life is full of consequences (good and bad) and they actually can choose what consequences influence them, they will have a life skill that will carry them far.  We didn’t always get it right, we have had to apologize often to our kids over the years.  Here’s the thing – because we were willing to show them grace and forgiveness, they have learned to pass that on to others.

When we started this journey of parenting, we committed to instructing our children in the ways of the Lord Jesus.  Jesus loved people in a radical way.  He would call the people around Him to live a life of love, one that He showed them first hand.  Jesus loved the unlovable, He loved across cultural boundaries and loved despite the brokenness He encountered every day.  He loved enough to die for us.  He never forced people to follow Him and it was never our intent to force our kids to follow Him.  Our kids watched us all these years as we have lived a life in line with the example of Jesus, it has been their choice to follow Him too.  Not because we lived a “perfect” life but because we lived a surrendered life.  A surrendered life is one that gives up our rights.

Raising my kids has been a sweet season, one that I miss greatly at times but usually just remember with fondness.  I’m ready to commit my next season to the only One that brings me peace, who knows my future and holds each moment and tear in His hands.  This same God that I love and live for is holding each one of my children in those very same hands.  My 4 children are not perfect people but I can confidently say that each one of them make this world a better place.  They love well and for that I am proud!

As hard as it was to hug Ellie for the last time before she headed into the winding TSA line, I wouldn’t do a thing differently.  I’m so proud of her surrendered life.  Our dna is going to be poured out in love on a bunch of high school students in China.  If they can grasp the power of that love and pass that on to their sphere of influence, the world will be a little brighter.  God is good!

Verse page

” data-hasqtip=”14″>Luke 9:24

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it”