The year after Sten and I were married, Sten had the opportunity to complete his masters degree in accounting at Montana State University in Bozeman. This meant that I would live in the land of his youth, the land that is woven into his being. For two years I soaked in Montana but we always knew it was a temporary home and that we would move because of the experience in public accounting Sten wanted to gain that would necessitate living somewhere like Portland or Seattle. Some years later, however, I realized that my husbands spirit would be overjoyed to live in Montana again. I sneered in my heart as I said, “I’m never moving to Montana unless God changes my heart.” I was pretty sure God wouldn’t change my heart because I had no intention of leaving my homeland of Washington. In our banter, I have always claimed Washington as more beautiful. Then one day my friend, Sam, sent an email with the power point entitled, “Shift Happens.” It’s primarily lots of amazing statistics about how fast and dramatically the world is changing. For example, one weeks worth of the New York Times contains more information than a person in the 18th century would have been exposed to in a lifetime. As I contemplated these staggering changes, I wondered how in the world I could help prepare my children for a future I can hardly imagine. I realized quickly that there is no way that I can prepare them for very many of the specific challenges ahead, but perhaps I might do my best to support the formation of their little spirits and their character. I had always reviled the idea of “sheltering” my children but came to conclude that there might be abundant worth in providing a unique time and space in which the core of my children’s little beings had a chance to thrive and grown and gain strength and resiliency.
Ever since the character Anne, in Anne of Green Gables, became entwined with my own self as a child, I have been a firm believer in the incalculable value of the imagination; of creativity. I am entranced by the miracle of being able to use your eyes to see black shapes on a page and transform them into other magical and fantastic worlds or the life of someone else from another time and place, of taking a stick and standing on a big rock and how the mind can enter a reality not confined by the finite that are the tools of imagination. I remember vividly lying down on the moist mossy floor of the forest and looking up at the sunlight filtering through the tangle of ferns that were the roof of my newly constructed home. I remember how the ditch that ran with rain water in front of our house was ever the land the Star Wars guys loved the best, where they explored the raging river. My mind is no longer able to not see the world in this light. Every hike, every foray into the woods, reveals yet again a magical world of possibility. As I contemplated what I hoped for my own children’s childhoods I wondered how to determine the value the stars have had on my soul. I wondered how seeing that the night sky has depth, and seeing the most infinite finite thing I know of – seeing mountains day after day, what does this do to your being? Memory after memory rose up in my mind and in no intentional or orderly way I came to realize that if I had the opportunity to give my own children such an opportunity to race through the woods day after day, that I would. I thought about the kids who get off the bus in front of our house, whose faces are lowered down, glued to their cell phones and iPods. I thought about video games and so very many things that only enhance our natural impatience. I remember talking with the man at the needlepoint store and how he told me there are very few young people that come in any more – that it is a dying art. I thought of the many forms of art that are being lost because we are so attuned to demanding the instant, the immediate. As a culture we are moving in a direction that is less and less willing to produce something that takes tremendous time and effort. Everything is disposable, expendable. And I wonder, has this not already found its way into our relationships with one another? Haven’t we become ever so much less willing to endure with one another, to patiently love one another? Are we not tempted to view the very people in our lives as expendable. Ultimately, what does this do to my view of God, of a God whose view is as broad as all of time and whose plan for the world is on such a scale. All these questions and more began to rise up. I do not recall the exact order or timing, but at some point in this process I was taken aback to discover that God had changed my heart about Montana.
But why Montana? Why not here in Washington? Why not some other place all together? When Sten and I lived in Montana, we lived in Family Graduate Housing. The best thing about FGH was not the $280 rent per month, nor the lilacs planted on either side of the front door, nor the view of the Bridger Mountains from the kitchen window, though all were wonderful. No, the very best thing, a reality I will always cherish, was the fact that Peder and Jess, (Sten’s older brother and our sister-in-law), lived just down the road around the corner; 60 seconds away if you ran. To be that close to family who are also beloved friends, was incredible. It provided ample opportunity for the hard and the wonderful. My relationship with Jess grew immensely that year, because we saw each other very regularly. This relationship is one of the single most cherished things in my life and it has been able to preserver in large part because of those significant years. At the same time we were only about 15 minutes from Sten’s parents. Again, it was joy and privilege to gain two more parents, two people who have walked the road of life ahead of us and who love us and are utterly committed to our well-being. In Montana are two treasures bound together: close proximity to both wilderness and family; both are readily accessible and thus more likely to be incorporated as a daily part of life. God had turned my heart toward Montana, and from that point on, as the years passed and we visited each October, January and July, my prayers and longing before God increased as I asked over and over if He would provide a way for Montana to be our home. Since those early years of yearning, the tug has only strengthened as Sten’s younger brother Jens married Jo and they too made their home in Bozeman. In just the past year, we have had the joy of having the last hole in our family filled with Bjorn’s wife, Jessica. They also live in Bozeman.
I know that Montana and Bozeman are no guarantee of the sort of people Solveig and Allistaire will turn out to be, but as a parent I want to continue to seek to provide for them the best I can. As I wrote last year, I had to lay Montana down before God, acknowledge that I had idolized it and submit it and my future and the future of my children to the Lord who is the only one able to craft them into the sort of beautiful glorious women folk He is calling them to be. I had to lay down Montana as my hope for rest and look up into the eyes of God and know that He is the only source of true rest and that His rest can carry me wherever I dwell in the world.
As I look back over the years and how God has used Montana to work in my heart and to reveal significant truths to me, I see how He even used Montana to prepare me for these very days I live now. I longed for a place to be hope for myself and hope for my children and came to discover that the land of promise is dwelling with Christ. Slowly, slowly, in a most tender and gracious way, God brought me to December 1st when it seemed the very ground beneath me was slipping away as the reality that faced Allistaire began to grow clear. I believe that though I found myself falling down into blackness and terror, God had already been creating the grip that would hold me. He had already begun the work of forging a new path in my heart, a path that is the very Lord Himself that was allowing me to see that God is able to accomplish His will even in the face of seemingly overwhelming circumstance and because of this I can rest. He is able. Slowly the Lord has claimed, bit by bit, the territory of my heart. He is able to form the hearts of my children, of myself, of my husband. He is able to bring us to Montana or do something else all together. He is able to heal Allistaire. He is able to hold me fast even if my darkest fears come true.
The night before I took Allistaire to the pediatrician and first heard the word Leukemia linked to Allistaire, Sten was offered a job in Bozeman, Montana; a job that combined the skills and experience he has worked so hard to gain over the years and the heart he has for the land, for wilderness and the beauty of the earth. For years, Sten has scanned the Bozeman Daily Chronicle for job opportunities. A few years ago he discovered Beartooth Capital, an investment company based in Bozeman which restores distressed ranch lands. At that time he submitted a resume, despite knowing he could not apply for the part-time position they had open. This past October, as I literally walked in the door from driving back from a visit in Bozeman with Solveig and Allistaire, Sten handed me a job description for a position at Beartooth. The gleam of joy sparkled in his eyes, and if you know Sten, you know that’s like jumping up and down excited for him. He applied for the job and received an email some weeks later saying that they had had an overwhelming response and requested that he complete an additional questionnaire to aid their attempt to narrow down a candidate. Another chunk of time passed and one evening a security guard hit Sten as he was driving downtown on his way home from work. The amount we would get to fix the car was more than the car was worth but we weren’t quite ready to buy a new car so Sten’s parents generously loaned us their Subaru. Sten flew to Bozeman late on a Thursday night in early November and had called Beartooth to let them know he was going to be in town in case they’d like to meet with him. They agreed to meet with him but made it clear that this was not an official interview. He met with Beartooth on a Friday, drove home on Sunday and by the end of the following week had 3 phone interviews. Then he flew to Bozeman for a day-long interview where he met all the members of the firm and had a great chance to really see what they do. Each part of this process only grew Sten’s excitement for the job and the opportunity to return to his homeland of Montana.
As I drove home that Thursday morning, December 1, 2011, I strove to contain my flood of tears and I called to tell Sten he should let Beartooth know they would need to hold off in contacting his supervisor at his current job. In the days that followed we eventually learned what was really going on for Allistaire and what possibilities lay ahead. On the afternoon of December 9th, we were told they had found cancer cells in Allistaire’s bone marrow. Only a week or so before, we had been on the cusp of having everything we had hoped for, and now it felt like it had all been swept away in a flash. Sten called Beartooth and told them that sadly, he could not accept the job, but that if they could hold it for six months, he might be able to take it. In the weeks that followed our whole focus was on the frightening new world of cancer and the hope that Allistaire’s life would be spared. The folks at Sten’s firm, Freestone Capital Management, were incredible in their swift willingness and generosity to help. They found numerous tangible ways to support us for which we are so very thankful. A parking spot in Sten’s building so he could go back and forth from the hospital easily, money, food, flexibility and a place to stay at night were some of the amazing ways that they showed us tremendous love.
We had not forgotten about Beartooth and Montana but tried to only let it linger at the far edges of our consciousness. When you are fearing for your child’s life, you feel miserable about being sad you can’t take a sweet job or live in a beautiful place. Then it came to pass on January 17th, the evening before the results of Allistaire’s first bone marrow test since she’d begun her treatment, Beartooth contacted Sten and said that they’d still really like for him to do the job and that they were open to being creative in finding a way to make things work for both parties. We were joyously surprised by this turn of events and cautious about our unknown future. We knew we had to stay here at Seattle Children’s for Allistaire’s treatment, the question was, how long would this be and what was reasonable. The very next day we got the news that Allistaire’s bone marrow was looking healthy and beautiful and there was no detectable evidence of cancer. We decided that if we had one more 0% bone marrow result we could take the risk to move to Montana and away from Seattle Children’s. We essentially decided that one more good test would give us hope that Allistaire would not need a bone marrow transplant and that if her cancer someday came back and she needed a transplant, we would deal with that reality when it came.
I have mentioned before how risk averse I am and thus these were exceptionally weighty decisions. How do you weigh the pros and cons when you have to take in consideration so many unknowns of the future? Again, I can see how God has been at work in my heart to prepare me for these days. Over the previous year I went through a lengthy and challenging process of examining some of the key choices I made in the past that have had significant impact on my present realities. I grappled with how my choices work with God’s sovereignty. I grappled with the way hindsight can call into question the wisdom of choices. I am not and have never been without sin and I wondered how my own sin and my simple finiteness impacted my decisions. It was a really hard year in many respects but it was a year that eventually brought peace and rest because I came to see and believe that somehow, in the tangled story of my life, God is at work accomplishing His will and continuing His work of creation and redemption. I can’t tell you how it is that God’s perfect will, my brokenness and the brokenness of the world and my faith all work together. I still don’t know. All I can say is that I feel content to keep seeking the Lord, as I have done in varying degrees in the past, and entrust the outcome and my future days to Him. It is all that I can do and He has shown Himself good over and over so I stake my hope in that.
On February 27th we received joyous news that Allistaire’s 2nd bone marrow test since treatment began, came back 0% with the Flow Cytometry test. Sten contacted Beartooth to relay the good news and to discuss the next steps. Once the logistics were worked out, it was determined that Sten could start with Beartooth as late as April 16th which was precisely what we had requested in order to have Solveig and Sten be able to be home with us in Kent during our out-patient time of Round 3. Those four weeks were a wonderful time at home and full of lots of work getting the house ready to be put up on the market. I spent five afternoons alone pressure washing the front and back patio and driveway. We packed boxes and I cleaned blinds and windowsills and we painted and replaced the kitchen sink faucet, etc. The most amusing item on our to-do list was to buy 1 or 2 cars. We were down to one car with 190,000 miles. One Sunday evening, while Sten was home working busily on contract work for Beartooth, I loaded Solveig and Allistaire up in the car, planning to cruise the used-car lots of Burien. I know – classy. Since Allistaire’s ANC was low and she couldn’t be exposed to the public, I simply drove into a car lot, motioned to speak to someone and asked if they had a 2007 or newer Suburban. On the fourth try, at Burien Chevrolet, we happened upon a 2008 Suburban with 49,000 miles. By the next evening the deal was done and we could cross that item off the list. Finally everything was done and just in time to start Allistaire’s fourth and final round of chemo.
So here we are at the end of many things. The days preceding coming back to the hospital were hard days for me. We had our very last day together in our house and together as a family for a long time. Sten and I went to sleep and woke up in our room together at our house for the last time. Tomorrow is Sten’s last day of work at Freestone and on Friday, he and Solveig drive I-90 the 690 miles to Bozeman. Sten starts his new job at Beartooth next Monday, 4/16. For the next several months Sten and Solveig will be living with Sten’s parents until the Meadow House, the house we get to live in, is empty of renters. Allistaire is likely to be done mid-May with everything. We’re not sure whether or not she and I will go directly to Bozeman or stick around here in Seattle for a while. I imagine this will be largely determined with how our home sale is going.
Thanks for your patience as I relayed such a lengthy and detailed story. But it is the way in which the story has been long and entwined with other elements in our life and the details that really show the Lord at work. This is not the way I imagined I would hopefully one day move to Montana. These are not the circumstances I would have ever chosen. This is the Lords story and it is not done, but this is where we are in the narrative. I’m excited to move but I can hardly ponder the reality of it. There is still so much that must take place in the next few months. But I do look forward to a warm August day when I can sit on the steps of the deck at Meadow House and look out over the hills, down to the Gallatin Valley and yonder to the Spanish Peaks and have time to take it all in.
wow. what an amazing story. it’s so awesome to hear how God is working in your life, as it encourages me for how he is at work in mine. what a great God we serve that He provides for us even when we don’t know what we need!! i feel like there are a lot of parallels between your story and ours… we were trying to move to texas for over a year, wanting to live by family and in someplace that was warmer. ed was interviewing for a job right before i found out i had melanoma. if he had gotten the job i told myself i was going to cancel my appt with the dermatologist and deal with it later, which meant i wouldn’t have found the cancer. he didn’t get the job, and we were so glad looking back! i could go into longer details, but it was so obvious to us that God worked out the timing of us being here and in only ways that he could have. we had to sell our house as well… short-sell it as it was $100,000 under what we paid for it when we purchased it 4 1/2 years ago! it is scheduled to close this week and we even ended up getting $3,000 in relocation expenses through a government program for short-sales! amazing to look back and see God’s hand in everything, even when we couldn’t see what was going on.
i also decided that we need to have a play-date in july:) i am coming for sweet pea, but ed can’t take a bunch of time off of work, so i’m going to fly up with the kids for at least 2 weeks before then so we can have some care-free montana time! i’d love to hang out if it works:) so excited for you guys and this new chapter of your lives. praying for little Allistaire and your family:)
God does work in mysterious ways!!!!!!!!!!
A very hard decision, a soul searching decision …. I know that the family will be very very happy to have ALL of you back in Bozeman!
Clear blue skies, crisp mornings and nights … much less congestion and being able to chase a dream … what is better than that! We love you all … Roger & Tera
I told Steve “Sten got his dream job.” He said “Swimming the breast stroke for the men’s Olympic swim team? Or lead singer for Pantera?” I gave him the “seriously” look. Then he laughed and said “I know he is going to crunch numbers for a big company in Montana.” I was pleasantly surprised that he was able to hit it on the head. We are happy for you all and over the moon that Allistaire is doing well. We are getting a trailer in the next couple of months, so be sure that one morning you might wake up to the Pera clan on the door step of Meadow House. 🙂
I hope everything works out for you in Montanta. What a great place to live. With moving around the country with Mike in the Navy, I have always felt God put us where we needed to be and when we needed to be there. There was a time that we sold our house before Mike was due to transfer so the kids and I moved back to Ohio to stay with family. During that time my 16 year old nephew was killed in a car accident. I thank God everyday that I was in Ohio with my family when this happened. I had just seen my newphew two days earlier and it gives me great peace to know I was there for my family. I know you have a strong faith but always belief God will always have you where you belong. We also moved back to Ohio after Mike retired and six months later by brother started a 16 year batle with cancer which I was able to be a part of helping him and his family survive through it. He was lucky and had 14 great years of good health inbetween. We still pray everyday for Allistaire and that you will get to leave the hospital soon and enjoy life in Montana.
Jai, your writing always brings tears to my eyes as you allow me to feel what is in your heart… I am so thankful for your honest transparency and your willingness to submit your desires to the Lord. I am so glad this opportunity has opened up for your family–and super glad you will get to live close to Jess. She is a treasure. I would love to come visit you in Montana some day and catch up face to face. 🙂 Still praying for you all!!
Jai, I love reading about how well Allistaire is doing and how God is at work moving you guys to Montana!
I read this a few days ago and I’m still chewing on both the pain and the beauty of all that God is leading you through. Praising God for his sovereignty and his perfect providence.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! Romans 11:33