Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas 2008 Photo and Letter


Shawn here. Wow. Big year. Lots happened, lots has changed. I’ll only hit the highlights to keep this from being a novel. Sorry if the funny quotient is down.

Nessa turned 3 in April. Shortly after that, in the process of having her tested for allergies, we discovered that she has Celiac disease. Three trips to the Mayo Clinic, the second of which included biopsies of her small intestine (I pray you never have to watch your child go under general anesthesia), confirmed the diagnosis. Celiac is an auto-immune disorder where gluten—found in wheat, rye, and barley—attacks the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing nutrients. The only treatment is total gluten avoidance. Sadly, this is not as simple as avoiding wheat, rye or barley in the food she eats, which can be hard enough. Cross-contamination is a real problem, both in the processing of packaged items and with crumbs from the food of others. Gluten can be absorbed through the skin, and even trace amounts are enough to cause a reaction. So Nessa should not touch things with gluten in them, much less eat them. People who have touched gluten should not touch Nessa or her food. It can be a nightmare in large groups with people who aren’t aware. Fortunately, our families and Nessa’s daycare have been educating themselves, and we have a routine down for most things.

The gluten-free diet has led to a remarkable change in Nessa’s health and behavior. We can now tell when she has gotten something she shouldn’t have just based on how she acts. This has led us to eliminate dairy from her diet as well. (Celiacs often have casein intolerance as well.) When her diet is going well, we see our “sweet girl” much more often. On her good days, she can play by herself for hours, and is very imaginative. She often narrates what she is doing, so we can keep tabs on her pretty easily. Only rarely is it true that if she’s been quiet for a while it means she’s getting into trouble. Nessa loves to dance, to play with her dolls, to have tea parties, and to be read to or look at her books herself. A lifelong dream of mine was fulfilled recently when I read to Nessa from the copy of Winnie the Pooh that my parents bought for me when I was her age. She has picked up my habit of singing little improvised ditties as she goes about her day. Occasionally she will sing to me to ask me to stop singing. She has an active intelligence, asks lots of questions, and makes lots of connections. Never assume she isn’t listening, or doesn’t understand what you’re saying! She can now do 24 piece puzzles by herself, but hasn’t yet mastered her tricycle. She loves to go to the playground when the weather permits, and we are looking forward to making snowmen. Nessa went to Vacation Bible School for the first time in August and loved it. That love transferred to Sunday school when Nessa started in September.

Megan is 11 and in 5th grade, but you’d never guess it if you didn’t know her. Megan has matured and blossomed in the last year. She is a young lady now, very confident and sure of herself much of the time, and quite gracious and graceful in most situations. She has a beautiful smile and a fun sense of humor. Only occasionally does she do something that tells you she’s only 11. Megan loves school and the friends she has made there. She does well at almost every subject, but especially at math and reading. Megan started playing trumpet this year, and had her first concert this month. She went to Oregon with Tami’s parents on vacation in July and met relatives she didn’t even know she had. Megan is also a wonderful big sister. She has started teaching Nessa how to do addition, and Nessa loves playing school with Megan. It’s great to hear them laughing and giggling together. Megan also reads to Nessa, which Tami and I love to see. She is very active in 4H, and still raises goats at her dad’s house. She didn’t do as well showing her goats at the Houston County fair this year, but she learned a lot about how to do better next year. Her craft project did well again. She didn’t have any luck either turkey or deer hunting this year, but loves it and will keep trying. Megan has become a good baker, and will often make things all by herself. She also occasionally takes charge of meals for us and does most or all of the preparation herself. Megan is a joy to be around and to have around, and we always look forward to the days she is with us.

Tami is still working for ECi La Crosse as a technical writer. This fall she moved to salaried status from part-time, which was full of mixed emotions. Let’s just say that work isn’t the favorite part of Tami’s life and leave it at that. The favorite part of her life right now is probably food. After years of food issues, Tami has finally found an eating regimen that really works for her. She is at least gluten-intolerant herself, so once we started eating gluten-free around the house she started feeling better. Then her research led her to try green smoothies and a diet consisting almost exclusively of raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. She started this about the time we started getting the weekly box of organic Community Supported Agriculture produce, so with the aid of her new blender and food dehydrator and cookbooks she was able to spend the summer trying all sorts of raw food recipes. Tami has more energy now than she has had since she became pregnant with Nessa, and she is gradually acquiring a new wardrobe…all of her old clothes are too big. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the blog links at the end of the letter. Tami is very active at church, participating in Bible studies and occasionally helping in Nessa’s Sunday school class. She is also on the committee helping to design the new church website.

In January my company, Business Objects, was acquired by SAP, a German company that is one of the four largest software companies in the world, so I now work for a company with 50,000+ employees. It was fun to receive a formal tender offer for my shares of Business Objects stock that I had acquired through the employee purchase plan; it made me feel like a Wall Street player. Work had a lot of ups and downs this year, although currently it’s OK. I continue to be active at church, singing in the choir and lectoring regularly. I’m still on the church council, and in February I became president of the congregation. That sounds grander and more important than it really is, although it has been interesting. As president of the congregation I’m on the Admin/Exec/Finance committee, so I’m seeing all of the inner workings of the church, including a supervisory role over our church daycare, which Nessa attends. In April and May, our interim associate pastor, who didn’t sing, asked me to cantor for her on a couple of occasions. In June I was a delegate from our congregation to the synod assembly, where we elected a new bishop.

As my involvement at church has increased, my interest has increased as well. I have been feeling unfulfilled at work for a few years now, and have been searching for something to fill the empty places. In May, after I had been staring at the idea on my own for a few weeks, I turned to Tami in the car on a trip to her parents:

Shawn: Can I tell you something that may sound crazy? What would you say if I told you I was thinking about the possibility of going to seminary?

Tami: Oh my God! A week or two ago I suddenly had this vision of you as a pastor, but I said to myself “He’d never be interested in that!”

Shawn: So you’d be willing to let me explore the idea?

Tami: Yes.

I’ve been actively exploring the idea ever since, talking with my pastors and select relatives and friends. In October Tami and I visited Luther Seminary in St. Paul, and I came back convinced that I am indeed being called to be a pastor. In November we visited Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, IA, and we came back convinced that is where we belong. I have entered the ELCA candidacy process in our synod, and hope to begin classes at Wartburg seminary in 2010, when Nessa is starting kindergarten, with the goal of becoming an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

There are still days when I think “I can’t believe I’m doing this!”, but it’s not doubt, it’s amazement. Even a year ago I would never have predicted I would even think about seminary, much less apply. But ever since I have made my decision public I have felt a great sense of peace, greater than I have ever known. People I talk to have been very excited and supportive. There is much to accomplish before this process is complete, but we trust that, so long as I do what I need to do on my end, things will fall into place.

In August we were reminded to appreciate everything we have been given and to take nothing for granted when we were involved in a major automobile accident while heading to Rochester. Nessa and I were basically unhurt, while Tami had minor whiplash and some problems with the thumb on her right hand; Megan was not with us. As far as we know, the people in the other car sustained no serious injuries. We pray that they have made a full recovery as well. The front end of our van looked awful, but after three weeks it came out looking as good as new. I was a mental wreck for about a week, thinking about how close I had come to harming my family.

So that was our year—a whirlwind of health questions and life questions and big decisions that really all just seemed the natural thing to do at the time. We feel like we’re in a really good place right now, and hope that it will only get better. We will be having a grand adventure for Christmas, driving to Texas to spend time with my parents and my bother Kevin and his family. We plan to wear our shorts even if the temperature is only sixty. We hope that this blessed season finds you in a place of peace and love, and whatever your beliefs, we hope that the love God sent into the world through his son Jesus Christ will find an expression in your life, and that you may know the joy and comfort of friends and family.

God’s peace be with you.

Shawn, Tami, Megan, and Nessa

As always, you can learn about the changes in our lives as they happen at www.brooksgroth.blogspot.com. If you’re on Facebook, you can find Tami and Shawn for up-to-the-minute updates. You can learn more about the wonders of green smoothies and a raw food diet at both http://www.greensmoothieblog.com and http://learningtoeat.wordpress.com.

1 comment:

Neysa Jensen said...

Thanks for the update, Shawn and Tami. Sounds like life is good for all of you, and thank goodness you were not seriously injured in the car accident. Interestingly enough, one of my brothers decided to become a pastor as well. He has years to go, as he continues working full-time while going through seminary. We wish you well in that journey. I will be posting some updates about our family on facebook.
Love,
Neysa