Home (again)

The past year has been a series of ups and downs. Cliché to be sure, but true nonetheless. The perfect job turned out to be less than that. The resort/ministry dream died a thousand deaths and was resurrected a thousand plus one. We’ve lived in three places. We are grateful, we are tired. This ‘following God’s leading’ thing has built us up and broken us open (some more). And sometimes all the shaking up and twists and turns are just the thing to offer you some perspective.

And so, it is with tired, grateful hearts that we feel things coming full circle and can whisper of our return (sort of) to Rochester. It is unfathomable to us that we get to have the best of both worlds, that this dream-come-true resort/ministry each summer and our people, our community, our home the rest of the year would be a thing. But so it would seem.

The road was/is winding and unpredictable. When we left Rochester just over a year ago, we thought it was forever. Like big-ugly-cry forever.  And then *poof* here we are 12 months later lying in the dark just knowing *knowing* it’s time to go home.  And we can. And when you have people and home, and it is all so apparent, you just do it. We gave it to Him, and He has given it back. I’m not even sure how to make sense of it quite yet.

It’s a little complex. We will move (again) and figure out how to split our life into two pieces that are intricately connected. But the decision also seems simple.

Thank you for your love, support, and prayers. To our Bemidji friends, we are forever grateful for your being the tangible love of God to us during this wild year. So glad it’s not the end, but the beginning. Rochester friends, we’ll see you soon.

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Gluten-free Pancakes

We love a hot breakfast at our house. So being gluten-free means we must find a good gluten-free pancake recipe! Here is the best I have found…it’s pretty darn close to the real thing!

  • 3 cups GF flour mix (I recommend  my personal blend ( recipe below**) or Bob’s Red Mill or King Arthur)
  • 1/2 C dry buttermilk powder (Optional- this will give you fluffier pancakes, but can be eliminated if you need to be dairy-free. Just add 1/2 C less water.)
  • 2 Tbsp sweetener – I like to use coconut palm sugar. Any sugar (or honey or maple syrup) works.
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum (IMPORTANT!! If you use a pre-made blend, check the label to see if it already contains xanthan gum. If it does, do not add this xanthan gum!! Your pancakes will be gummy!)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/3 C oil
  • 4 C Water (or 3 1/2 C if you didn’t use buttermilk).

Mix all dry ingredients until thoroughly blended. Add eggs and oil. Add water a cup at a time until all the flour mixture is incorporated and wet. Grease your pan/griddle well and cook on medium heat. Makes about twenty 4-5 inch pancakes. I like to serve them with almond butter on top for extra protein (for the kids that will eat them that way). We also sometimes mix maple syrup with frozen blueberries in the food processor to make a tasty blueberry syrup. Enjoy!

**Gluten Free Flour Blend:

  • 2 C Brown Rice Flour
  • 1/3 C Tapioca Flour/Starch (same thing)
  • 2/3 C Potato Starch (NOT Potato Flour)


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White Chicken Chili

So, sometimes in life we glean Big Things; other times we just come across a recipe.

The Big Things have been a little too big, and I’ve struggled to find all the words lately. But, a recipe, I can do.

White Chicken Chili

1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced (don’t let this panic you; just throw in a couple teaspoons of garlic           powder if need be)
2 Cups cooked chicken (pretty much 2 chicken breasts; I usually use the leftover meat                 from a whole chicken
1 4oz can of mild green chiles
1/2- 1 Tbsp diced jalapenos (depending on preference or leave out if you want less spice)
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
3 Cups chicken broth
1 can Great Northern beans
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt

1 1/2 Cups shredded cheese (something white, Monterey Jack or whatever)
1/2 Cup sour cream

Sautee onion and garlic. Add all other ingredients except cheese and sour cream. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Add cheese and sour cream over low heat just until melted. ~8 servings, feeds our family of six with a little leftovers. Super easily doubled. 🙂



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Month in Review: February ’14

My friend Anne has been showing her week in pictures for over a year, and it is just so darn neat. I was thinking about what a bad scrapbooker/keeper of memories/posterity preserver I am and decided I would try to capture some of my languishing phone pictures here on the blog.

Plus, since I don’t have many recordable gleanings lately, I figured I may as well post some life. Here is our entire month of February, because I want to start fresh in March. We spent a lot of February sick and stuck in the house, so there aren’t that many interesting pictures, but I was able to pull out a few nuggets.

2014-02-02 16.14.31

We ended up with two sick kids the day of the Super Bowl, a day when we normally go to a large celebration with friends. The kids were ‘super’ <ahem> disappointed, but we made food and had prizes and except for the wretched game, redeemed the night. This is Todd and I gearing up for the game. Little did we know we were also gearing up for a month of sickness.

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This is what selfies look like with a six year old after a week two months of being stuck in the house.

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Things were looking up by Valentine’s Day when these two handsome fellas were my date(s). I was helping out at the theater where the big three were busy rehearsing for a play (see below), and Todd called to have me meet him for dinner. How cute is Henry in the plaid shirt and striped tie? Lucky lady.

2014-02-17 08.17.04 2014-02-17 09.18.27

By the time we had a little stretch of fresh snow and warmer(ish) weather, the kids were busting at the seams, particularly Sam. The first pic was taken before 8am. The next, a few hours later when he was clearly tired, but wanted to remain outside. Sam shares my love of/need for/addiction to the outdoors. The extreme cold and inability to get outside much this winter has been especially hard on the two of us. We’re petitioning the rest of the family for a move south or west or anywhere that doesn’t trap us in the house. You never know.

2014-02-20 17.42.28

Of course a move would mean leaving our home sweet home. I love our house. I really do. It looks picturesque in the snow. So it stands to reason that more snow would make it more picturesque. Not so much…too much of a good thing and all that.

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James helped Henry get dressed. He does this a lot, but there was something special about this picture. They were singing a song, too. That sounds really sweet, but in reality I told James to sing because Henry kept saying inappropriate things and James kept scolding him. It was driving me nuts, all the bickering. So I said, “Just sing a song, for pete’s sake!” And then I turned and looked, and I realized how tender they both are. Also, the tissues stacked in the corner are still sitting there as I type this. I think it’s a nice addition to our décor.

2014-02-22 17.31.24  2014-02-22 21.31.48

The three big kids were in their first play last weekend. The top photo encapsulates well the general chaos of 30+ kids under 10 being in a play together. I don’t know why Sam is crossing his eyes or why my picture is orange. Anyway,  the show was really great and, more importantly, it was a fantastic first experience for them. They went into it with varying levels of enthusiasm, but all ended their time asking when the next play starts. Good times. They all got flowers for their performance.

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I closed this month with a walk out in the snow that was falling earlier tonight. It did my soul good to breathe fresh air and stomp through the fresh stuff and climb on the little mound in the background just because I felt like it.

And there you have it. Life.


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Four months ago. That’s when we stepped back onto American soil. When we stumbled through customs in a haze. When we drank 5-Hour energy to make the trip home from Chicago, alternately opening the windows to flood the van with fresh air and cranking up the music to conquer our urge to give in to sleep. Four months since we got home, and were humbled and blessed by the love and welcome and practical helps of you sweet friends. Has it really been four months?!

And finally, finally, I think I can write. I think I might be able to communicate a little bit what is going on over here. I think I can tell you now that our hearts are fragile up in these parts. But we might be at the itty-bitty baby beginning of a break-through, so it’s time to tiptoe in and start to share.

I share because it’s therapeutic and a few of you are curious, but mostly I share because He deserves the glory and I want to declare it. God was good and faithful to us.

I wanted to come back home on fire, charging forward with clarity, sure of our next steps, able to articulate to everyone here just exactly what needs to be communicated from over there. And the truth is, none of those things apply. I’m subdued, cautious, confused, and reflective. I’m struggling to maintain our daily routines, much less be a force for change. I spend a lot of time just telling myself to put one foot in front of the other, and do the next thing, and just keep going.

I know that’s not what some may want to hear from a “missionary,” but it’s the reality of where we are at. God allowed us to blaze our trail, only to be quietly offering a cool patch of grass to lie in when we returned. Never have I had a clearer understanding of the meaning of, “Be still, and know that I AM God.”

Our time in Thailand broke our will and our hearts and the hardest parts of ourselves. It enriched us. It exhausted us. It taught us. It amazed us. There were people that stole our hearts, and we wrestle with how you love well from the other side of the world. Our kids are impacted, imprinted, a different version of themselves altogether. This was not an addendum to their lives, but a total transformation. The lens through which they view the world is altered. They ask tender questions and miss friends and familiarity to which they grew accustomed, because it was 1/66th of my life, but 1/6 or 1/10 or 1/16 or 1/20 of theirs, and I need to honor that.

I’m a little bit paralyzed by my “doing the next thing” mode. I am not sure what God wants from us for the first time in a long time. I look back with fondness on the days when we were sure we were doing what He was asking of us, looking toward a step of faith and obedience. And now, on the other side of that, we are worn and weary, waiting to hear from Him so clearly again.

I don’t like this place. I don’t. Since I’m being all uncomfortably honest with you, I might as well say, I’ve been a little bit angry or depressed or in a funk. I’ve felt far from the God I love and long to serve.  And I’m not sure how to break it.

And just this week, just in the last few days, I’ve sensed relief, an easing of the heaviness that has parked itself on me for many months. It has come gently in the form of gratitude. And I shouldn’t be surprised. That all there is between me and God is my posture. I approach with thanks rather than fist-shaking frustration. He has not moved, but I have. I am quietly reflecting on all the places he touched during our months in Thailand, on all the places where I see a mark that could only have been left by Him. Friendships, joy, turning away from fear and idols, reconciliation, breakthroughs, peace, healing. He is so big and so good, big enough and good enough to handle my frustration, big enough and good enough to lead me out of my frustration and into wide open spaces.

So in this month when the trendy thing to do is proclaim your gratitude, I will join in. Because I really don’t know what else to do. I don’t know anything else that will lead me back to Him in quite the same way. I know He is waiting, not because He longs to be thanked for the sake of being thanked, but because He desires our freedom. And with gratitude, comes freedom. I’ve learned this lesson again and again.


1. A brother-in-law and sister-in-law who love my kids enough to take them for a whole weekend.

2. A husband who makes me laugh multiple times a day (and keeps going even when I roll my eyes).

3. Great books and the people brilliant enough to write them.

Nov. 2

4. A perfect hike on a perfect hiking day.

5. Sleeping in for no reason for the first time in two years.

6. Seeing a glimpse of the nap-free next stage of family life with kids at 3, 6, 8, and 10.

Nov. 3

7. Good chocolate cake.

8. Gluten-free options.

9. The anticipation of a birthday through the eyes of my child.

Nov. 4

10. The smell of goat hanging on the coat of a giddy 6-year-old animal-lover.

11. Learning history with my children. (Not that I didn’t know about the Battle of Hastings before. Pffft.)

12. Hearing my son declare his concern for the underdog and imagining what life paths it will take him down.

Would love to hear what you are thankful for, friends.

With gratitude,


Posted in Family Life, Human Trafficking, Spiritual Growth, Thailand | 11 Comments

To the Fantastic Four…

As we end our time in Thailand, we are blessed to spend time on the beach, reconnecting as a family, doing family-ish things, and enjoying the natural beauty this amazing country offers. I’m doing lots of reflecting, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad, and often meanders through several points and lands on my children.

I remember reading something a friend had sent me about a mom who had written her kids a letter (to be read at a later time) explaining their time overseas. I think that’s smart, so here is my own version to my children. Feel free to snoop. 😉

James, Sam, Amelia, and Henry,

What an adventure we have had! I am so proud of you all for the courage, flexibility, and love you have shown over the last 6 months. You have strengthened muscles you never knew you had, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and even physically (think of how much we rode our bikes!).

We have told you since the beginning of this crazy adventure that this was not only mom and dad’s “calling,” but yours as well. The Johnsons are a six-pack and God knew exactly who was included. And kiddos, you lived it. We watched you say good-bye, get sick on the airplane, meet oodles of new people, open your heart to those people, walk into a school for the first time in your life with teachers who didn’t look like you and greeted you with a funny bow. And you gathered your courage, and bowed back, and made friends and made up the words to the songs when you had no idea what they were singing about. You were brave. And more importantly, you showed faith. God is good and He is great, kiddos. And you learned that lesson hands-on. Sometimes he leads us places that are warm and fuzzy, and sometimes places that are really hard, but usually places that are some of each. No matter what, He is always in it.

You saw mom and dad at our best, and probably more often at our worst, and you watched us humbled before Him, completely dependent. We don’t like the ugly, but since it’s reality in this world, we want you to see Who can handle your ugly by showing you Who we trust with ours. God can handle it. Not only can He handle it, He embraces us through it. His love endures forever. Not hangs by a shoe-string, not limps along, not begrudgingly puts up with, but endures, presses on no matter how ugly.

You have learned at such a tender age that people are all people, which sounds really simple, but kiddos, I tell you we grown-ups screw that up all the time. But you all just got it. You ran with your friends and played games, whether in the village or the city or the slum. And it didn’t even matter that you spoke different languages, because playing soccer and badminton and having races requires hardly any words at all. And you figured out that smiles and joy don’t need translation.

So if you wonder why we took you on such a crazy adventure, well…this. All of this. Because we wanted you to know all of these things about God. Not know them because we told you, but because you saw them and felt them yourselves. This is what it means, sweet ones. This is who He is. When you look in people’s eyes, remember they have a story and they were made in His image and how on the other side of the world, people were just exactly the same as us, just different. Same, same…but different.  And it will be the same with everyone you ever meet.

I hope this time in your life settles deep down inside of you, and you can’t ever get it out, because then you will know God better and depend on Him more. And THAT was the point. That is always the point. Love you to bits.


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Thailand 038

Bua braiding Amelia’s hair.



I’ve shared before about my struggles with fear. I struggle with putting what I write “out there.”  But it’s a nuanced issue with a lot of layers, some legitimate. As I’ve gotten to know the people of Thailand, I find myself hesitant to write, because my story here is really their story, and I don’t want to be flippant about someone else’s story. I don’t want to gloss over the fact that these are whole people, families, villages, cultures in the interest of getting my point across. It’s my perspective, of course. But still, I think there is a certain amount of caution needing to be exercised when you are involving the real lives of others in what you write. So I’ve decided to try to spend a bit of time introducing you to all these beautiful people in the hope that along the way you will also learn about our time here, rather than the other way around.

The picture at the beginning of the post is obviously Amelia, but braiding her hair is Bua. Bua was  the first Thai person we “met” officially. She was our house-helper in Chiang Mai, and she blessed us every day by coming and doing our laundry and dishes. She also blessed us with her sense of humor and no-nonsense attitude that came through loud and clear despite the language barrier.

Bua taught me my first thrilling Thai phrases: “cut the pinapple” and “close the window.” She had a sweet relationship with our children, and they were excited to greet her each morning, which generally involved Heny running out in his underwear to “wai” (bow to) her.

Though she now lives in Chiang Mai, Bua’s people are “hill tribe people.” She grew up in a small village out in the hills surrounding Chiang Mai and often returns to care for/visit family members there. Generally hill tribes would be living in more primitive conditions such as outhouse squatty-potties, open fires for cooking, etc. We wonder what she must think of our modest, yet modernized home with bathrooms, an A/C unit, and a washing machine. Her husband is the male equivalent of a house-helper, doing outdoor/maintenance work. They have one grown son and two grandchildren.

Bua knows we are Christians and knows why we have come to Thailand. We wrote her a letter before we left Chiang Mai about how much we care about her and hope to see her during the two weeks we will be back in Chiang Mai in late June. We’d love it if you’d pray for her and our opportunity to see her one more time before we leave.

In other news, we are now living in the city of Kalasin in Isaan province. We have been here a month and will stay a couple more weeks before going back to Chiang Mai for our final couple weeks. We are loving our time in this place, and I can’t wait to introduce you to the incredible people we get to call our friends.

Thankful for all of you.







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