As I sit here on this beautiful evening gazing out our large front window, I see my children fervently playing with their very best friends here in Decorah. I realize that I am seeing before me the epitome of childhood innocence and imagination. I am not certain what world they are creating right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Star Wars fits in somewhere. The leaves are on the branches. The flowers are in full bloom in the garden down the street. The fireflies have begun to flicker about as the sun sets. We are entering my absolute favorite time of year in this town we call home. But, as I revel in the glories of this night I realize that we will soon be leaving all of this behind.
For those who have followed this blog since its inception, you know that I have stretched the whole gardening metaphor to its limits. Please allow me yet another comparison.
We often hear the phrase, “Grow where you are planted.” In other words, when God has led you to a new place–or a new “garden” if you will–let your roots grow deep. Make sure you welcome both the sunshine and the rain….and flourish. As I contemplate and reminisce about our time in this small town in the upper east corner of Iowa, I believe we have done just that. Every member of our little family has grown in one way or another. Our girls have…well…grown taller. Rosebud was 4 when we moved here, and Sunshine was barely 1.
My oh my, how they have grown.
God has used so many people and circumstances to grow and change us. I want to take a few moments to share a few specifics of how this quaint little town and more importantly, the people in it have transformed us.
1) I have a whole new appreciation for the beauty of God’s creation
If I was given a dollar every time I uttered the sentence, “It is SO beautiful here,” I’d be a pretty wealthy gal. Every season here pours forth exquisite beauty. It is a feast for the senses.
In winter, the snow sparkles like a billion glittering diamonds. Christmas really feels like Christmas! In spring, the crocuses and daffodils bring true joy with them as they break forth from the earth. In summer, the weather isn’t too hot (by Texas standards anyway), the bluffs are a stunning green, and the fireflies fill the fragrant air with a glow like fireworks. The autumn months reveal all of God’s beauty in reds, oranges, yellows, and browns. Halloween is like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Friends gather together (thank you for some outstanding Halloween parties Carlson family), thousands of pumpkins are carved, and children of all ages are donned in every kind of costume you can imagine.
I leave this place having had many encounters with my Creator. This alone has been such a wonderful blessing. I am going to miss the breathtaking views, the peaceful walks by the river…and so much more.
2) We now grow our own food AND preserve it!
We transitioned from a city where everyone had a pool in their back yard to a place where everyone has a garden! I never would have dreamed that I would become a passionate canner of homegrown produce. For this, I thank my dear friends Shirley and Claire, whose passion for gardening and preserving just spilled over into my life. In fact, just this evening I finished canning enough strawberry preserves to last through the next year. I already plan to come for a June visit in 2017 to pick and can again.
I have also determined that we will have a garden (and maybe a pool too) in our backyard in Texas.
3) We walk just about everywhere.
There is a vibrant walking, hiking, and biking culture in this town and we have thoroughly enjoyed our walks to and from school (Grouws family, you are the ones who inspired us to join the walking school bus–thank you!), the Co-op, farmer’s market, coffee houses, parks, Luther…the list goes on and on.
I knew I was in a unique place when it was January, 10 degrees BELOW zero and dog owners were walking by our home, briskly following behind their canine companions.
Speaking of 10 degrees below…
4) Weather, shmeather.
Our southern grandmas would shudder at the thought of my daughters playing outside in 15 degree weather. When it reaches 35-40 degrees in March, all of Decorah emerges in short sleeves and capri pants (for a few days anyway). The Luther students take it even further and throw on a pair of flip flops. In 50 degree weather, my girls play outside with no shoes! We have learned to get outside and enjoy God’s creation…no matter what the season. We have frolicked in snow over a foot deep, rolled in the crisp brown leaves from the maple trees in our front yard, and taken a dip in the community pool when its 70 degrees outside. Thank you to our neighbors who have taught us that being outside is always a better option. I guess I should also warn our future neighbors that my children will be playing at the neighborhood park in the middle of January. We will however, wear our shoes.
(True Confession: The picture below was taken our first Halloween night in 2010, when it was a mere 40 degrees. Little did I know that I was going to experience below zero temperatures for the first time in my life that winter!)
5) Vikings are cool, Norwegian bunads are beautiful, and owning a Nisse is a must.
Before Anna and Elsa, there was The Vesterheim. Take a short walk from our house and you find the national Norwegian-American Museum, which boasts wonderful Norwegian art, artifacts, and hands-on demonstrations. We have had so much fun learning about the Norse, celebrating their festivals, and proudly displaying our very own Nisse out our front window. He will be coming with us to Texas and will cause all sorts of mischief, I’m sure. Uff-da! In our homeschool history for this year, we will be studying the middle ages. We are already excited to be able to re-visit viking stories and traditions while we remember with fondness how we have experienced a taste of that culture first hand.
6) Just because you live in a small town doesn’t mean you can’t experience a thriving art culture
This little town of about 8,000 people would give a city ten times its size a run for its money when it comes to opportunities for encountering the fine and performing arts. We have had the privilege of experiencing music making at its best (thanks to the amazing music faculty at Luther College). It has been such a treat to take the girls to live theater performances given by the New Minowa Players, and for Sunshine to participate in the DHS musical theater production this last fall. Our kids have been able to partake in music, painting, print making, pottery, mixed media, theatre and dancing classes. Thank you Art Haus, Clay Studio, Crave Dance, Decorah Youth Choirs, and SODA Club for proving that participation in the arts is an integral facet of the human experience. You contribute so much to the lives of Decorah families.
7) Your church is your family
Okay. I’m going to start tearing up now as I type this. Our little clan has been a part of some amazing congregations throughout the years. There are so many people that we hold near and dear to our hearts. But when you are a two day drive from the state where your biological family dwells, you need a midwest family. Your family loves you no matter what. They see the good and the bad. Your family walks with you through the laughter and the tears. They show up when you need help, and in turn you help them. We pray for one another, share meals together, and hold one another accountable. We watch one another’s kids, dive into God’s Word, and share life over a cup of coffee at Java John’s. The gracious people of our Covenant Church have become our family–and I almost can’t face the fact that we are going to have to say goodbye very soon. I think I have cried during every Sunday service the past few weeks. How can you keep a straight face when one of your best friends is leading worship, and another best friend is singing beautiful harmonies right behind you? And, the children of your other best friends are lifting their sweet voices in praise all around you! Oh how I wish you could all experience what I experience on a typical Sunday morning. It is a piece of heaven.
The beauty of it all is that as believers, we know our goodbye isn’t for good. I can recount several church events where I grinned from ear to ear as I was reminded that these are some of the people I get to spend eternity with. Ours is a forever friendship: an eternal brotherhood, and sisterhood.
Decorah Covenant Church, thank you for your authenticity and vulnerability. Thank you for your grace and unconditional love. Thank you for holding to Truth, and for growing us. Thank you for giving us opportunities to learn about true servanthood. Thank you. We will miss you terribly.
8) Everyone needs accountability
For the past two years, I have had the opportunity to be a part of a small group of women that meets weekly for Bible study, prayer, and accountability. Let me just say that I am already fervently praying that God will lead me to another group such as this in our new church. These women help keep me on the right track, with the right focus. There are times when we have gathered and the tears have flowed freely. Other times the laughter fills the room. We can look one another in the eye and offer a challenge, a word of encouragement, a gentle rebuke, a scripture–all of the things one might hope for in a group such as this. We have prayed the scary, leap of faith kind of prayers together. We have had moments where we don’t know what to say or pray. Sometimes we have more questions than answers. We have walked through life’s lowest valleys and soared over the highest mountain tops.
My gratitude to God for this unexpected blessing runs very deep. It is one of the touchstones of my life and I am forever changed by these sisters in Christ. My prayer is that these kinds of groups will only multiply in our neighborhoods and churches.
“Encourage one another day after day, as long as it is called “today”so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin,” Hebrews 3:13.
9) You take the seeds you’ve been given and plant them in a new garden
I am certain that God has not given our family these gifts to treasure up in our hearts and keep for ourselves only. They are seeds that are meant to be planted anew. Maybe a better metaphor would be that we have been given “runners” (i.e. part of a strawberry plant that is removed) to re-plant in a new planter box. Yes, we are moving far away from this little corner in Iowa. Not only that but we are moving to a big, sprawling area of Texas. More people. More traffic. More…everything! The thought of this can feel a little overwhelming at times, even though we have lived in large cities before. But I am confident that God will lead us to just the right people. People who will impact our lives and people for whom we will pour out our own lives. We will again grow roots. We will share the sunshine and the rain and grow. But those we have left behind will still be with us in many ways. What we have learned we will take with us. The experiences we have shared will be both fond memories and present realities.
Right before we moved here, we were scoping out the Luther website and found this song entitled “Hey there Decorah” (after Hey There Delilah). A Luther student parodied the original as a tribute to this special place. It intrigued us and throughout our time here, we have watched it again and again. It just gives us that nostalgic feeling about the town we’ve called home for six years. If you want to take a listen, go here.
So, to all our Decorah friends, neighbors, teachers, fellow sojourners…we love you. We will never forget you.
And….as a Texan would say….we’ll see y’all later!