faith of our fathers :: potatoes and a brain tumor

July 13, 2010

The first memory I have of Auntie Natalie is eating frost she had scraped out of the freezer on the farm in Karlstad, MN, out of a plastic glass with a metal spoon.  Like a naked snow cone.  And listening to a Steve Martin album in her bedroom.  I must have been five or six, maybe.  I remember the album cover had a picture of Steve with an arrow through his head.  Funny.

And I remember the smell of potatoes in the entry of the farmhouse where she and my mom grew up.  Where uncle Justin raises his family right now and farms seed potatoes – the best in the world – in the black dirt that lines the Red River Valley.  Overalls and work boots would be in the entry, and they made the whole place smell like earth and spuds.

Natalie is my mom’s youngest sister.  She was two when my mom and dad started dating.  My sister is named after her.  I remember when she met Jon, too, attending Concordia, Moorhead.  Nice work, Natalie.  He’s a keeper.

Today Natalie is in surgery at Abbot Northwestern.  *Correction: surgery is scheduled for Wednesday morning, July 14… but all the same prayers apply.  On June 3 she was diagnosed with Olfactory Groove Meningioma, which is a tumor of the brain, basically located behind the bridge of the nose, between the frontal lobes of the brain.  It is non-cancerous, and slow growing, but the symptoms (loss of smell, funky eyesight, dizziness) have been creeping, and her doctor said that surgery was necessary, and the need to proceed was urgent.  The tumor is in a sensitive area, pressing against her optic nerve, and there is some risk of damage or stroke following surgery.  But the surgeon is capable and experienced, God is her guardian, and we trust in His love for her.  Right now, as I type this, Auntie Natalie is in the O.R.  Jon is waiting.  My mom is on her way to the hospital from Bemidji.  We hold our breath and pray.

Flash back to last weekend…  July Fourth, as the extended family gathered around Natalie in my Grandma’s home in Bemidji.  The smell of our Sunday brunch was still in the air.  Egg bake, muffins, fruit, coffee, and those glorious cheesy baked hash brown potatoes.  Always potatoes.

This is why faith matters.  We read from the Bible.  Natalie’s sisters taking turns praying.  Her husband, and the cousins, asking God to be strong and present.  Thanking Him in advance for what He is going to do.  My boys laying their hands on her shoulders, listening, and learning the power of generational faith.  Grandma Vernice praying for her daughter.  Natalie herself expressing her thanks and trust to God.  Peace and thanks and love for each other overtaking us.  THAT is worth every dime I have, every ounce of energy, any cost.  Faith that roots a family has a worth that cannot be measured.

The roots of our faith in Jesus run deep.  To the generations before us.  Three, four, deep into the roots of our family tree.  And the practical, right now today effect of that faith is that Natalie does not need to go alone into that operating room.  She has her family praying, and the creator God who loves her bathing her in comfort and protection.  Jon is surrounded and upheld and not alone.  My cousins, Natalie’s kids, are surrounded and comforted by the Holy Spirit.  And as Natalie expressed with confidence in her Caring Bridge journal entry a couple days ago, “I AM GOD’S CHILD AND EVERYTHING HE ASKS ME TO WALK THROUGH IS FOR MY GOOD AND HIS GLORY.  I firmly believe this and as long as He is on the throne (forever), I am safe.”

Without Jesus, fear.  With Him, peace.  The blessings are too many to number.  I want this heritage for my boys more than anything else in this life.

I recognize that a family history of faith like this is unusual, and I never take that for granted.  Most of my believing friends have, at best, a mixed bag in their family.  Maybe some believers, some not.  Sometimes a form of religion, but little personal relationship.  Sometimes, there is open hostility to Jesus Christ.  But each generation has an oportunity to lead.  To raise their kids to love God and love people.  So that their grandkids can see faith alive.  And God can be the center, the bedrock, the protective covering, and the life blood of the family.  Every generation can start a new legacy.  Every father can be that dad.  Every mom can wrap their kids in prayer.

You can be the one.

One thing you can count on in our family, whenever mom and her sisters and brother get together.  Potatoes.  Every meal, in every form.  Potatoes are in our blood.  And, there will always be prayer.  Sometimes, before the potatoes, we’ll gather together around the food and sing it, Lutheran style.  I try not to make eye contact with Grandma, because I’m the “music guy,” so inevitably she’ll look my direction to get it started.  And then we have to decide whether we’ll “strengthend for Thy service be” or “feast in paradise with Thee.”  We’ve feasted more than we’ve been strengthened in the last few years it seems.  And then, in that quiet moment right after the prayer closes with the four part “Amen,” I wait for Grandma Vernice to jump in with a quick critique of the prayer… “Like an angel choir.  Have you ever.”

So today I’m asking for two things from you, if you would be willing.  First, please pray for Auntie Natalie.  And for her family.  She has several hard days ahead.  And second, I’m asking you to consider the benefits of of a faith heritage that permeates and defines a family.  Living faith relationships with Jesus.  It’s what we’re made for.  Maybe your family doesn’t look anything like mine.  Maybe you can’t even imaging praying together like that.  But if not now, when, and if not you, who?

You have a chance to define what your family looks like for your children and your children’s children.  Every family tree has roots.  Mine are thick with faith.  And potatoes.

Isaiah 43:1-3

But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you.  O Israel, the One who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.  I have called you by name; you are mine.  When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.  When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.  When you walk through the fire of opression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.  For I am the Lord, Your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

    

 

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“faith of our fathers :: potaoes and a brain tumor” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Psalm 24:7 & Luke 10:42 >> Like David, and Mary, I'm in pursuit of my one thing. I'm the Pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Montgomery, IL. Pastor, teacher, writer, communicator, designer, and drummer. I definitely got the better deal in my marriage to Amy. And I couldn't be any more proud of my five amazing boys. Deeply grateful.

15 responses to faith of our fathers :: potatoes and a brain tumor

  1. Josh,

    You’re a massive HERO for writing this post. Such a joy to read and encouragement.

    In 2007, I was diagnosed with leukaemia but have since then achieved complete remission and am continuing to live a healthy and Christ-blessed life. BOOM!! 🙂

    I’m SO glad that you and your family continue to delight in Christ throughout all this and you’re all a great example of how a deep faith in Christ can bring peace and joy that “transcends all understanding”.

    My immediately family are not all Christians and my time of illness was a fantastic chance to witness to family, doctors and skeptics. It also continues to be now that it’s over. I hope your family and Aunt are a great witness to the doctors when she’s in hospital.

    Tell your Aunt to keep on staying strong and delighting in Him. She’s onto a winner if she does!

    Look forward to hearing about her progress on here,

    God Bless and PEACE OUT,

    @98rosjon x

    • Hey Jonny! Thanks for checking in, and for your kind words. Praising God with you for your remission – I’m inspired when I hear people like you. When cancer, heart disease, trauma are leveraged for God’s glory… it doesn’t make sense. But it’s so beautiful. God bless you, and thanks a ton for reading (and for your prayers!)

  2. Natalie Skogerboe July 13, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Thanks, Brother, for this glorious piece. I am praying.

  3. Praying now, Josh. This makes me so very grateful for MY faith-rich family heritage AND for one of my highest purposes in life: passing this love of Christ on to my kids. Couldn’t agree more with your sentence, “I want this heritage for my boys more than anything else in this life.”
    God bless you. God bless Natalie. God bless Grandma Vernice and those who taught HER. Wow.

    • Bless you Erika. I know you understand the value of this kind of heritage. Your kids are richly deeply outrageously blessed. Thanks for your prayers and encouragement – always.

  4. Josh – I knew you had many talents- was not aware writing was one of them- awesome and inspiring. I will of course pray for your aunt and continue to try to forge a faithful relationship with God and my family.
    Thanks old friend.

  5. Hi Josh. I am one of Natalies Grand Forks friends. She is very dear to me. We are also potato farmers and have a similar heritage. Thank you for what you shared..the Lord and family entwined together is the greatest blessing anyone could ever have.
    Joyce Folson

    • Thank you Joyce. I have a soft spot in my heart for potato farmers. Good people! 🙂 I think that either we have met, or I have heard your name from Natalie and Jon. You are familiar to me somehow. Thanks for your love and prayers for Natalie. She should be out of surgery now, and I’m waiting to hear how things went. God bless you, and thanks for stopping by to read this. I agree whole heartedly: “the Lord and family entwined together is the greatest blessing anyone could ever have.” AMEN!

  6. Dear Brother Josh – as always, we have so much in common! My family’s faith story runs as deep as yours… and we have also experienced the gathering, laying of hands, and prayer.

    Alas, my mom’s family are not potato people – but we ALWAYS make far more food than is possible to consume for every Stenoien gathering! Usually an amazing smorgasbord of the mixed cultural heritages our family now embraces: Norwegian, Swedish, Iranian/Persian, Indonesian, and most recently, Costa Rican. Potatoes, international smorgasbord – it’s all good!

    Praying with you for your dear Aunt Natalie. Keep us in the loop…

    Much love,
    G.

    • I’ll let y’all know what’s going on. Very cool to hear about your heritage, Gretchen. Very encouraging. Thanks so much for the prayers, and for the encouraging words. Seriously. 🙂 Bless you and your family.

  7. Paul Johnston Sr July 14, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    Josh, We will certainly remember your Aunt and her family during these trying days of surgery and recovery. I also love your style of writing. Each time I read your blog I am blessed. My mother and father, sisters and brother, my wife, our son, and me have all personally accepted Jesus as our Savior and Lord. On a much lesser note we all love a potato in any form. Bottom line, I can well relate to your writing. My late mother never planted a potato in the ground or any other flower or vegetable for that matter without first asking God’s blessing on it. Neighbors said she had a green thumb, I say she had a great prayer life. You have also opened my eyes to an unfounded prejudice. I am a member of another denomination. Previously when I thought of the Lutheran church I thought of a much more ritualistic form of worship with a liberal theology. I can see through your writing that you worship and serve the same Lord Jesus with an honesty and sincerity and knowledge and appreciation of Scriptures no less real than that I feel in my own heart. It is not the denomination but the common denominator of our loving Lord who makes us one body and one church. I am reminded of the Biblical correction of the divisions among the brethren found in !st Corinthians Chapter 1 when we say I am of Paul or I am of Apollos. We all owe a debt of gratitude to our Lord Jesus for Calvary that we can never repay. To summarize it all, I would be proud to claim your family as my family and after all is said and done through Jesus they are! Many blessings to you and yours. Keep writing. You have a talent from the Lord.

    • Paul! I deeply appreciate you and your kind words. I typed out a well-crafted lengthy response and clicked “send” before signing in… so it all was lost. Bummer. Just know that (A) you made my week, (B) I agree – denominations are often poor indicators of individual faith (what really matters is JESUS), and (C) thanks so much for the prayers.

      Quick Wednesday afternoon update: Natalie is out of surgery and the doc said it went without a hitch. Now we pray for a speedy and uneventful recovery.

      God bless, brother. I’m so glad we connected. And I’m praising God right along with you for a family heritage of faith. There’s nothing in this world more valuable.)

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