Category Archives: Faith

An Empty House

Tomorrow morning nearly all of our furniture will be loaded onto a trailer and moved down to Rochester. We have dear friends who just moved back from Ethiopia, so it’s going to a very good home, which makes the parting a bit easier. I’m really not very attached to this furniture. We’ve only had any of it for 15 months. It was all purchased on Craigslist and Wayfair and was only meant to be in our possession for a short time. So no, I’m not attached to the furniture itself. But today, as I get ready for it to be carried out of the house, I realize I am attached to it in a different sort of way.

I love these little pieces of home because of how well they’ve helped make our house a home. First it was our little apartment on London Road a year ago, and now it’s this three bedroom condo over the hill. We’ve all cuddled on the couch watching movies. We’ve gathered around the kitchen table eating meals and doing homework. We’ve fallen asleep, all four of us, on the bottom, twin-size bunk in Ella’s room. These pieces hold memories of the home we’ve made, and now we’re passing them to our friends, who will make new memories with them. That is the sweet part of sending this trailer down the road.

The hard part is what it means to live for the next few weeks in a nearly empty house. It means this transition is real. We’ll soon be boarding a plane, moving between our home here in Duluth and our home-to-be in Kenya. I’ve been dreaming of this move nearly my entire life. Almost everything I’ve done in the last few months has been in preparation for leaving. I’ve packed boxes to be donated, given to friends, put into storage, and loaded into suitcases for Kenya. All the kids clothes have been purchased for the next two years, school has been planned, and new quilts for the kids’ beds have been sewn. I’ve tried to think of every detail, even though I know there are lots of things I can’t possibly think of until we’re actually doing life at Tenwek.

I think having a transition into this wild simplicity a few weeks before our move will be an adventure for us all. We don’t mind the feeling of making things work, and this is no different. Pete and I will share an air mattress, Ella will have her own, and Sam has his toddler mattress on the floor, as usual. Our clothes will be moved into bins and boxes, as will toys and books. We’ll still have our couch until the move, so a whole lot of cuddle time is on the horizon in that spot.

This transition is real. And it is soon. We’ve purchased tickets to fly out of Duluth the morning of Thursday, May 18. We won’t be heading directly to Kenya at that time, though. From Duluth, we’ll be going down to spend three weeks with multiple friends in and near Florida, including a family we grew very close to during our training in Colorado. We’ll take some of that time alone as a family to reconnect, rest, and prepare for our transition into full-time ministry. We’re incredibly thankful to be able to do this following the past seven years of Pete’s intense work schedule after med school. We’re working on finalizing our tickets to Kenya for the weekend of June 10. So the countdown is on!

As I feel these emotions stir – excitement, anticipation, nervousness – I find myself continuously asking God to focus my heart. All of these feelings are good and to be expected, but I want to keep my focus on the One who has called us to East Africa. I want to continue to prepare well, but not at the cost of missing these last weeks in Duluth. I want to dream about being there, but not to the point where I lose sight of what God has right in front of me. I know it’s okay to be nervous, but I don’t want to allow that nervousness to get in the way of fully trusting God every step along the way. Twenty-eight days remaining before we leave this city I so dearly love. Every one of those days, and all the days beyond, have been counted and are surely known by our Father.

Jesus, you called me to this path as a little girl, and I’m ready to go. Just help me with all these emotions in the transition. We’ll be there soon!

 

 


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A Day to Celebrate!

A year ago, Ella asked us if she could be baptized after seeing a baptism at our church. We talked about what baptism means and why people choose to do it. She was very enthusiastic, but we wanted to wait until she was a little older to make sure she fully understood the choice. She continued to ask about her own baptism about once a month through the entire year, and near the end of the summer, we decided it was time. We made sure Pete had the weekend off for it in October and invited Ella’s grandparents and godparents. We were getting ready for a celebration!

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Baptisms are done at our church every few months during the regular service. This particular weekend was especially fun because the incredibly talented group The Neverclaim was in town for a show and led worship the morning of Ella’s baptism.

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When it was time for the baptisms, our lead pastor and good friend, Michael, explained what it means to be baptized and invited those who wished to be baptized to head to the front of the auditorium. Most of them had previously met with a pastor to talk through the scripture behind baptism and to pray.

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A few days before, I had asked if Pete could be a part of baptizing Ella. Watching this scene right here while snapping a few pictures made me cry. How could it not?!

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And this. The moment she came up out of the water. Ella was so excited and the entire auditorium was cheering! You can see Luke & Hannah holding Sam, my dad in the background taking pictures, and the kids’ long-time nanny, Donna, and her husband clapping. Pete’s parents were there, and Ella’s godmother, Kristin. All people who have taught our girl about Jesus, helped guide her, and have been a part of shaping her into the beautiful young woman she is becoming.

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After the service, we went back to the community room in our old condo building for pizza and cake!

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Ella with her grandmas. I so wish I had a picture of the entire group, but I never seem to capture those photos. I need to carry a big, laminated note to all special events reminding me to get group pictures.

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The Friday before, Ella came home from school very excited. She said she got to tell her whole 2nd grade class that she was going to be baptized and what that meant. I just adore this girl’s heart.

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A very special, incredibly memorable day for our Ella!

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The Day We Introduced Our Boy to the World

Four years ago this week I wrote a post that marked a significant turning point for our family. I remember wondering how we would share the unexpected news of our baby boy’s arrival in a way that could include all the beautiful parts of meeting him, the deep love and protection we immediately felt for him and the sincere trust we continued to have in our Heavenly Father. In Sam’s first two days, we called family and close friends to tell them the news. A simple It’s a BOY! message along with his name and stats was posted on Facebook, but no pictures accompanied it. Pete and I both needed time to process. And then, just before leaving the hospital while Sam stayed in the NICU, the words came. Without question, that was the day I was most thankful to have a blog. We could share the full story, all of our thoughts and emotions, along with photos of our beautiful boy. We wouldn’t need to repeat the story over and over and all details would be articulated. With a single click of the publish button, we shared our precious boy with the world.

I will always treasure the words I wrote in the quietness of my hospital room. All the fresh feelings of love and surprise and joy. It was the beginning of a journey I didn’t expect but am now incredibly thankful to be on. I can’t imagine life without the events of that night four years ago.

So again, four years later, I want to share those words along with a few more photos and follow-up notes. These are the words that introduced our Samuel with the world.

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Things first began on Tuesday night (May 22) when I crawled into bed at about 10pm and I began to feel small contractions. They didn’t really catch my attention, though, since I had been feeling Braxton Hicks contractions (a sort of fake contraction) for about 15 weeks. A few of them did wake me during the night, though. On Wednesday morning I decided to go about my regular schedule and see what happened. While shopping at Target for a few last items for my hospital bag, I had to stop multiple times to lean on my cart and let a contraction pass. In the afternoon, Ella & I went to Becky’s to watch Malena & Maira while Becky went to the dentist. At that time, the contractions continued to strengthen and were only about 4 minutes apart. Let me tell you, it was not comfortable having the three little girls crawling all over me while the contractions hit. But it kept me somewhat distracted! After Becky got home, I paged Pete out of surgery, telling him things were getting more intense. I drove the 10 minutes to the hospital (perhaps I should not have been driving at that point, but I wasn’t completely convinced I was in labor) and let Pete drive me home. The beauty of being married to a doctor is that he was able to check my progress while we were home. Much to my relief, he confirmed that I surely was in labor and had made it to about 5cm. Yay! We took our time gathering the last things for the hospital and headed in.

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After a brief stop at the store to pick up a plant (so nice to have in the room during labor) and a magazine (to fill the time during labor before the actual delivery), we arrived at the hospital at 7pm. I was definitely needing to breathe through the contractions at that point and even got to ride in a wheelchair to the OB floor. I dropped off the cupcakes I had made that afternoon for the nurses and settled into my room. I have to tell you that from the very moment I got to the room, I asked if an order could be put in for an epidural. I’ve never felt that I’m a mama who needs to go without meds, and I was worried we would miss the window if we didn’t get going on it. Shortly after that, Pete checked me again and I was between 7 and 8cm. Things were moving fast! Before 9pm…and before I was given an epidural…I hit the complete 10cm and my window for meds was closed. I have to honestly say that I wasn’t excited when I was told I would have to deliver without meds. It scared me, and I really wondered if I would be able to handle the pain. With Ella, I never made it past 6cm and, therefore, never got to push at all. The opportunity for a VBAC had come, and that did make me happy. I wanted to have the experience of pushing and breathing and being coached by Pete. I wanted to have a chance to push a baby into the world the way women have been doing it for years and years and years.

And push I did. For 2 1/2 hours I pushed. Without meds. That was a lot of work! I really focused on putting all of my energy into the pushing, not yelling or crying or cursing out my husband, as I’ve heard can easily happen. Instead, I felt incredibly close to Pete through the whole experience. He was an amazing coach. When I was discouraged, he looked right into my eyes and reassured me. I found a lot of strength in that. I also found myself talking to Jesus between contractions and pushing. I know He was giving me a great deal of strength. Everything looked like it was going well until we reached the 2 1/2 hour mark. Then our little one started to show signs of dropping oxygen levels and my cervix began to swell a great deal, to the point that it looked like it may actually be closing again. Pete & I jointly made the decision to do a c-section for the protection of the baby. I was taken down the elevator on a bed, groaning the entire way as super strong contractions ripped through me.

Though I ended up in another c-section, the entire experience was far different than when I had Ella. This time I completely dilated, pushed for a long time, tried many different positions, and really gave it everything I had. I got to experience everything I wanted to with child birth. It was time to get our baby out while he or she was still doing okay. So that’s what we did.

My mom made it to the hospital just in time to join us in the OR for the section. Pete stood next to me the entire time, looking over the sheet for the moment our little one would enter the world. I felt great peace in those moments before the birth. I was able to pray for the doctors in the room before the section began (most of whom I knew from the residency) and hummed one of my favorite camp songs about seeking Jesus’ face. Everything was perfect as I excitedly awaited the announcement of our little one’s arrival. And then it came! Pete proclaimed, “It’s a boy!” and we were both ecstatic as images of my dear Pete with his long-awaited son filled my head. I announced to all present that our son’s name would be Samuel Thomas Amani Olsen as I held back tears of joy. And then I realized how quiet the room was.

The doctors – our friends – huddled around our Samuel on the warming table while I heard only a small, weak, peep of a cry. It was a tiny sound. Though I felt peace, not concern, I asked one of the doctors to take a small step to the side so I could get my first glimpse of our little one. And that’s when I saw the first sign. His body wasn’t clenched like Ella had been when she was born. Sam’s arms were floppy. I asked Pete to bring him closer so I could see him. I longed for the first real view of my son. When Pete held him close, Samuel opened his eyes and looked right at me. And it was in that tiny instant that I knew it in my heart. Was it my mama instinct? Was it the fact that I had been carrying this beautiful little boy inside me for so many months prior to this moment of introduction? I don’t know, but it was instantly clear to me. Our little Samuel has Down syndrome.

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I was wheeled into the recovery room while Pete and my mom and the other doctors took Sam up to the NICU to give him a complete exam. I don’t know how much time passed before Pete and my doctor, Maria, came through the door, quiet and serious. My thoughts were confirmed in that moment. In an instant, many things changed. But in that same instant, many things were peacefully confirmed within me. God is good. God has a plan. God created our little Samuel, and we were chosen to be his parents. What an honor.

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The last 2 1/2 days have been the beginning of journey down what a doctor recognized yesterday as our “new normal.” Samuel remains in the NICU while he works through the transition from the warm, safe place of my womb to the outside world. His oxygen levels have needed the most time to adjust. He was most comfortable in a warm incubator without much handling the first 24 hours. We haven’t been able to have him in our room. We haven’t changed any of his diapers. And I just got the all-clear to try nursing him. So far he’s been getting my pumped milk through a feeding tube in his nose. Each little step he’s made forward, we’ve celebrated. Late last night, Pete sat with me as I held him on my chest. His sweet little eyes looked up at me a few times, completely melting every ounce of my heart. Pete held him for a little while, too, and Samuel eventually fell asleep cuddled with his daddy. It was so hard to leave him in the NICU to return to our room. There will soon come a time when we won’t have to leave him for a single moment. We’re praying that the time comes very, very soon.

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I’m now packing and getting ready to head home…without my sweet little boy. First we’ll try nursing, though. Pete & I will both be back very often to rock Sammy and I’ll nurse him. Miss Ella is excited to see him, too. We tried having her visit him in the NICU two days ago, but it was all a bit too much for her. We’re praying Samuel will be discharged on Monday or Tuesday, though we have to keep a very open hand about that in case anything unexpected pops up.

Please pray with us for our little Samuel. Pray that his oxygen levels will get to a good place so he can breathe all on his own. Pray that he will quickly adapt to nursing. Pray that he’ll get to be home with us in the next few days. And please pray for Pete and I as we learn what this new beginning will entail and how all of this will draw us forward. Thank you!!

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In the end, Sam spent two full weeks in the NICU. In that time, we continued to try to nurse, but his little jaw just wasn’t strong enough and there were so many distractions from the alarms and cords and other babies. (At that time, the NICU was a large, open space with 18 tiny babies. A year later, Sam & I attended the opening of the brand new, very private, NICU!) After 24 hours breathing successfully on his own, Sam came home. In the peace of his own room, we worked on nursing a little bit every day. A week later, he latched on and at seven weeks he had his first full feeding. After that, he was pretty much an eating champ! That was the first time he showed us his determination on his own timeline. Countless times since then, he has worked and worked and worked on a skill and eventually mastered it with great success. Sitting, clapping, crawling, and now he’s nearly walking. This darling boy has surely changed our pace of parenting and expectations. I think it’s safe to say he was born to be spectacular!

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photo by Sara Montour Photography

 

 


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Moving Toward Minimal

Just over a month ago, Pete told me he felt God was showing him a path that would take us another step toward Kenya and living more simply. This journey has been ongoing for us. We started by getting organized. Then we got a dumpster to clear out junk. Finally, we had an estate sale to sell everything but what we were using regularly. We sold the house and bought a furnished condo on the lake. Then we went down to one vehicle and had a six-month spending freeze. In the year-and-a-half we’ve been in the condo, we’ve tried to keep from accumulating more things, but let me tell you, it’s hard! We don’t intentionally go out to buy random things that will become clutter. In fact, we always have a “to be donated” box in our laundry room that fills faster than I expect it to. Friends and family have bought us experiences as gifts rather than little items, which we have loved and so greatly appreciate. Additionally, I go through nearly everything every couple months to keep our belongings under control. But even with all that, I was not at all surprised when Pete told me we need to pray about another step toward simplicity.

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So pray we did. And in that praying, we felt that the time had arrived to prepare our condo for renters. This is something we didn’t think we’d be doing until we were also packing our bags for Kenya. However, when we looked at the numbers, we realized this plan could cut our monthly budget tremendously by allowing renters to move in and pay our monthly mortgage. Once we felt that this really was something God was putting in front of us, I began looking for inexpensive rentals around town. After a week or two of searching, I found one sweet little rental that feels as though it’s been waiting for us. It has two bedrooms, one bathroom, a small kitchen, and a cozy living room, all in 1,000 square feet. It’s right along the Lakewalk, where we can ride bikes and go on runs and walk the five short blocks to my favorite local coffee shop. We’ll have a yard and a shared garage and the little house sits right along the route of Grandma’s Marathon, one of our favorite events of the year. It is exactly what we were looking for.

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We are leaving our condo furnished for renters, so nearly everything we put into our new place is temporary. I’ve had great luck finding a dresser and a bookshelf and bunk beds on Craigslist (which means Sammy is moving to a big bed!). All other items have come from IKEA, Target, Amazon, thrift stores or are things we don’t need to leave in the condo. It is our main goal to begin living even more minimally with this move. With very little closet space, we will all reduce our wardrobes. The kids already have a fairly small amount of toys and books, which helps. Our kitchen will be stocked only with what we use on a daily basis. Pete and I feel confident that we want to live minimally as we continue forward, and we are excited about it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean this an easy thing to do.

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I do trust that this is what God has for us. My heart feels joyful with the idea of clearing more clutter from our home and our lives. But I love our condo. I love waking every morning and peering out over Lake Superior to discover her always-changing mood. Enormous ships move through her waters and sea planes fly over her surface. We fall asleep to the sound of the waves, even on these bitterly cold nights of winter. Our condo is new and beautifully furnished. We have space to host friends on a regular basis and to let the kids play freely. As much as I adore the space we call home this week, it does not compare with following every step that God puts in front of us. I have lived enough years and followed (or not followed) him enough times that I find it a bit easier, and certainly far more exciting, to follow his path and plan without as much questioning as I once did. So in one week, when Pete is off for the weekend, we will make our official move out of the condo and into our new house. Pete and I often sing to each other, “Home, let me come home // Home is wherever I’m with you.” And we believe that. Where we’re together, celebrating life and living our days, that is where our home is.

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As we get ready for this move, will you please be praying with us? We’re taking the step to move out and allow renters to come in, but we don’t yet have those renters. We’re working with a management company who is very familiar with our building, and we’re praying for the right renters to come in as soon as February 1. I will be working on preparing it for renters while Pete is away in New Mexico the remainder of this month. Also, please pray we settle well in our new home. I love to decorate and make a space cozy, so I’m really looking forward to that part. We first took Ella to the new house before New Years to help her mentally and emotionally begin the transition, and she’s gone shopping with me for her new bedding and such. She seems to be doing well with the idea of the move, and the promise of having the top bunk makes her want to be there already!

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So we’re off on a new adventure! We will surely keep you posted on our progress in the days ahead. I’ve said it before, and I certainly mean it…we are so happy to share this journey with you!

 


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