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”