(Mary Anne holding Bartholomew in his favorite position!)

“When this cat and these dogs are gone, I’m done. No more pets. I want us to be able to take off and go to Wyoming or anywhere else without having to worry about animals.”   Famous last words.

Actually, it’s not my fault, not entirely. After Sammy, our last surviving cat, disappeared last year I had no intention of getting another one. I enjoy cats and there’s nothing better than laying in the recliner with a cat on my chest, snoozing away a lazy Sunday afternoon. That deep-throated purring from a warm, fuzzy body snuggled up on me is about as relaxing an experience as I can imagine. The only thing better was when my babies laid there to nap, but then I was always a little tense, worried I might move wrong and drop the baby. You never really worry about that with a cat, because they usually land on their feet with only an eye roll in your direction at such clumsiness.

But, animals have to be looked after when you travel, so I figured it would lessen my anxiety if there weren’t any to worry about. But every time I would say, “No more pets after these are gone,” my kids would give me the “Right, Mom,” look and go about their business, shaking their heads.

Well, for my birthday in August, Mary Anne took matters into her own hands and brought me a kitten! A pretty tan, lightly striped, male whom I named Bartholomew. I like using Biblical or saint names for pets when I get to do the naming and he came from a family with several boys named after the Apostles, so I thought Bartholomew would be cute. Besides, his meow is so loud that I can say to him, “Bartholo!” and he’ll respond, “Mew!” Pretty cute, huh?

He is now about seven months old and a nice-sized cat. While I write this he is laying on my chest grooming himself with an occasional lick on my chin to make sure I, too, am properly groomed. I don’t know what will happen when the dogs are gone, but I’m pretty sure I’m always going to have a cat!

The Flip Side


Winter here in North Dakota can be (and usually is) quite brutal.  Despite the blizzards and severely sub-zero temperatures, there is beauty to be found.  Whether that beauty comes in the form of the ferocity of the wind or in the delicate artwork of a frosted window, it puts a new perspective on that harshest of seasons: winter.  I feel the same way about my diagnosis.

Although the words “Multiple Sclerosis” can seem very daunting, it is surprising what a relief it is to finally have an answer for so many of the odd things that have happened over the last few years.  To finally be able to lose my embarrassment over the way I need to get out of my car (both feet firmly on the ground first), or the way I will run into a wall.  Although I might sigh, I no longer berate myself for needing to have a death grip on a hand railing going down stairs because I don’t trust my knees to get me safely to the bottom.

Quite often I have felt as though my body was going berserk on me and I’ve chalked it up to being out of shape, overweight, getting older, clumsiness, etc. To stumble, to have my legs start jerking erratically, to have my hand not be able to control a pen properly, to feel exhausted when I have not really done much has been completely baffling. God has blessed me with a sense of humor and so I often will respond with, “That’s why my mother didn’t name me Grace!” but there is still that deep, nagging feeling that things are going crazy or maybe it’s all in my head and I’m just trying to subconsciously get attention. (By the way, it is all in my head! There are lesions on my brain causing this! 😄) So to have someone tell me, at last, that there is actually a reason for what is going on has brought me an incredible sense of relief.

Although this diagnosis has thrown me for a loop, I cannot say that it has been devastating. For one, I am not looking at imminent death. For another, I am not anticipating chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or any of the other horrors that come with a cancer diagnosis. Even if I would have the worst type of MS I would still have a number of years to live before it would take me.

The thought ran through my head one time that at times like this people might ask, “Why me?” However, I have thought for some time that the proper response to some of these things is, “Why not me?” For what reason would I ever believe that somehow I should be exempt from the suffering in this world? There is nothing special nor exceptional about me that would preclude me from this. I also recognize that God has allowed this to happen.

Does that make God cruel? No, it doesn’t. You see, I might struggle with some of the horrible things that happen in this world and wonder why God allows them, but the fact is that those horrors are usually caused by other people. God gives us all free will and our free will can harm others. However, MS is not something self-inflicted nor caused by anyone else. God has allowed this to happen to me and I believe that it is because He’s going to use it in my life and hopefully in the lives of others to bring Him glory and to help me to become the best-version -of-myself that He envisioned when He created me (Romans 5:3-5).

I have many friends and relatives praying for me. Some of them are asking God for complete healing and, if that is His will, I will be glad to have it! However, I realize that He might have a different purpose for it.

Now someone might say, “But, Tracy, you’re not in any real pain. You’re not really suffering very much just yet. How do you know that when the pain truly comes that you will see it this way?” I don’t know. I haven’t been there yet, but I can hope that I will endure whatever suffering this disease might bring with grace and patience with an eye on the eternal.  After all, this disease will not be for eternity, but only for a time.  At some point God is going to call me from this life into the next and whatever I have suffered here on earth will be swallowed up in His love and mercy.  Perhaps, when I’m on that Other Side, He’ll even show me what it all meant here on earth.

Christmas, part 3

UnknownSometimes life can throw us some weird curveballs.  My mother-in-law’s death wasn’t really one because we had anticipated it for years.  Mom suggested one time that perhaps we should celebrate her and Dad’s 45th anniversary since no one could imagine she’d make it their 50th.  Not only did she make it to the 50th, but they celebrated their 60th last August!  Who would have ever guessed?

My DNA results were surprising because I never imagined that I had Jewish blood in me. I think it’s cool that I have connections in both the Old and New Testaments.  The Old as one of Jewish descent (though only partial) and the New as a Christian.  I think that’s pretty special.

But last Thursday, December 28, I got a curveball thrown at me from out-of-the-blue that I didn’t see coming at all.

On December 9th I woke up with the right side of my body experiencing scattered numbness with my right hand and foot tingling.  As I walked it felt as though my sock were bunched up; a very annoying sensation for someone who can’t stand even a grit in her shoe. Ugh!  I’d just been to Grand Forks the week before for an adjustment at the chiropractor and now needed to go back because, obviously, something was “out.”  Since it was a Saturday I’d have to wait until Monday.

By Monday the numb spots were getting more noticeable and the tingling hadn’t stopped, so I trekked back to Grand Forks and had the chiropractor adjust me again.  Except it didn’t work.  As I walked out, I could tell that nothing had changed, but hoped that by the end of the day it would be better.  It wasn’t.  By Friday I knew I had to have this looked at because it was getting very annoying and my right shoulder was numb.

I went to see Ashton, a physician’s assistant, who did a full evaluation, blood tests, and neurological screening.  Nothing added up and the blood tests came back normal.  She said to come back again if there was no improvement within a few days.   That was the 15th and the following Monday (the 18th), Mom Spenst passed away so there was no time to think about going back.  I just hoped it was going to be fine and would go away as a similar experience had two years before.

The funeral and Christmas were bundled up into a whirlwind of people, activity, and severe cold weather.  By the time the 26th came, though, I knew nothing had changed and felt it was actually getting worse.  So, I called to see Ashton again, but she was out of the office.  I saw Dr. Emerson who decided it was time for an MRI.  On Wednesday morning at 8 am, in the bitter cold of -25°F, I was led out to the special semi-truck that comes through our rural community once a week with an MRI machine.  They completed the scans, some with dye for contrast, and I went home to wait for results.

Nolan and John had to leave Thursday morning to get back to work.  After having taken off about a week and a half, they really needed to return.  So, they headed out by noon and I went to work at our local appliance store where I work part-time.  That afternoon the nurse called and said the doctor wanted to go over the MRI results with me.  I was able to get the last appointment of the day at 4:25 PM.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever had these kinds of tests before, but quite often if all is okay the doctor will allow the nurse to tell you that over the phone.  I had a feeling all was not okay.  My oldest two daughters came with me so I wasn’t alone.

We sat down with Dr. Emerson and he said that the MRI had shown results.

“Tracy, it’s MS.”


Merry Christmas to Me! The results are in!


 The ancestryDNA results are back, and on Christmas morning! According to the results, I’m 39% European Jewish, 27% European West, 19% Scandinavian, and 6% Ireland/Scotland/Wales. Although that only adds up to 91%, all the others are just traces with low confidence.

My mom is going to laugh! She’s always said that she thought there must be some Jewish in me somewhere. 🙂

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Personal History


Have you ever had a moment in life that instantly choked you up in tears, completely unexpectedly?

A week ago, on Black Friday, I was cruising Amazon when I discovered that the “ancestry DNA” kit was almost 50% off the regular $100 price. My body froze as I realized this was a rare thing. What should I do? I’ve wanted one of these for so long, but what if someone got it for me for Christmas (I’d mentioned it)? Should I ask? Should I wait? But what if they put together the money and here it was for half that? I decided to ask Nolan.

I explained my dilemma and then asked, “Do you mind if I get it?”

“No, go ahead.”

That was it, just three little words, but I instantly choked up.

How do I explain what it means to me to finally be able to find out where I come from? Although there have been times over the years I’ve thought of finding my birth parents, I’ve never pursued it. First, it’s just too expensive. Second, what level of complication would it bring to their lives and mine? Third, do I really have a good reason or a driving need? I’m not sure. What I am sure about is just simply wanting to know where I come from. What is my heritage? Where do I fit into this big world?

I’m a history and heritage person. People’s stories have fascinated me since I was in the fourth grade and discovered the world of biographies. And being a child of America, where everyone comes from somewhere, the closest I could get was that there was some Danish in me. I clung to that! My ancestors were the Vikings! Hagar the Horrible was one of my favorite comic strips just because they were Vikings. Mom and Pop once bought me a Danish American license plate frame for my first car–I loved it! The only problem was, I had no story to go with it. Even in this melting pot we call America, everyone has a story for their heritage. My niece and nephews adopted from other countries at least know their heritage, something they can claim. Mine is only a piece of my birth mother’s information, I know nothing of my birth father except a description of his looks.

The advantage of that is I could dream up whatever I wanted to about what my connections could be. Could I be a princess? Do I have famous relatives? (Highly unlikely, but tell that to an eight-year old!) What’s funny is that my girls would wonder that about me, too! I guess children are the same no matter what generation they’re in!

And so, my dear husband’s “go ahead” put me in instant emotion as I realized I could, at last, find out. But now comes the difficult part. Nolan went on to tell the experience of a co-worker’s partner who, when she did it, discovered she had a grandchild neither she nor her son knew about. My stomach dropped. What if I’m someone’s unknown grandchild? Or sibling? Could I still end up a complication in someone else’s life? After all these years, could it drag up unwanted memories? Or, could it be a blessing? A healing for someone? The answer to a long ago asked question?

My kit arrived a couple days ago. I guess it’s time to find out.

Because He Can

John has given up sugar for Lent and, once in a while, Joshua will ask, “Why did John give up sugar?” John’s response has been, “Because I can.” (Joshua is still puzzled!) That comment came to mind while I was listening to a talk on Confession and the question was posed, “Why does God forgive us?” The simple answer is, because He can. Because He loves us. Because that is who He is and no matter how much or how little we’ve sinned, He wants to forgive us. He longs to do so and bring healing and wholeness to us once again.

God is in the business of salvation. Salvation is the healing of our souls. Unlike Luther’s idea that we are snow-covered dung, we are truly healed and God seeks to remove as much scarring as we’ll let Him until we are whole, complete, and beautiful just as He intended us to be.

I once met a young man who had every bad thing that had happened to him tattooed onto his body—hypodermic needles, alcohol, a prison number, a friend’s suicide method—all there to remind him of the pain of his life. I was completely taken aback that someone would want to engrave all those reminders onto their very flesh. Yet, quite often we’re like that. We try so hard to remind God of the sins He’s forgiven us by showing Him the scars and telling Him again how we’ve messed up instead of letting Him heal them completely.

Guilt over sin is what God uses to bring us to repentance so that our relationship with Him and with others can be restored. Once we have confessed that sin and received forgiveness, it’s gone forever, never to be brought up again. Shame, however, is of the evil one. Shame comes at us again and again with the accusation, “You are a worthless failure! How could anyone love you? If they knew, really knew, what you are, they would despise you.” That is the moment when we must “speak truth” to that voice of evil and choose God’s healing.

This is particularly true when we have already confessed that sin to a priest and received absolution (John 20:22-23). Scripture says that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9). Those sins are gone forever, removed from us as far as the east is removed from the west (Ps. 103:12). They will never be brought up again by the only One who has a right to do so.

As part of the sacrament of Confession we are given a penance; a way to heal the scar left by the sin. Like an infected wound that has been cleaned out, the sin is gone, but it leaves a scar. If we apply the penance, the scar will heal. Unless, of course, we keep picking off the scab, which is what we do when we keep reminding ourselves (and God) of that sin. Each time we pick off the scab, the healing process is slowed down. Eventually, even if the wound finally heals over, there’s a mark and we look at that and say, “Ah! Remember that!”

Whatever sins we have taken to Confession and humbly said our penance for, even if we think It’s too light (after all, what penance could possibly “fit the crime” anyway?), is forgiven and forgotten by God. We need to do the same, because, after all, we can.

A Week and Half Later…

It’s been a week and half since I deactivated Facebook so I thought I’d do a progress report.

Interestingly, I’ve found the sense of relief of not deciding whether “to share or not to share” stuff has made internet surfing more fun.  I check through the news, but just to keep up with the world without it coming pouring across my screen endlessly.  Although I enjoy watching people’s auditions on the various talent shows, I can enjoy it and go one without feeling on obligation to let the world know how good it was.

Since I’ve not been on FB, those hours have been spent working on projects around the house (the sewing room is almost done!), listening to Joshua read, studying the curriculum I’ll be teaching to our church youth this year, and generally enjoying the  “politics free” environment I’m not living in.  I’ve found I’m feeling more at ease.  This morning as I was driving home from town I thought about how much I haven’t even thought of FB, yet realizing as well how much it had invaded my life.

Now, lest someone think I’m living an un-connected life, let me assure you I have one social media outlet–Instagram!  However, I’ve made it a private account so that I can be very selective and keep it from getting out of hand like FB did.  I have many wonderful friends and acquaintances (let alone family!), but trying to keep up with the 200+ people on FB was a fail and I don’t have any illusions about Instagram being any different.  So, if you follow me on Instagram, don’t be offended if I don’t “follow” you back.  It’s just that there are certain people I want to be sure I don’t miss–like my nieces and nephews whom I love, but live too far away to see often.  Instagram is my picture into their lives and I’m grateful my sister-in-law and oldest niece are so good about posting photos and comments.

The other neat thing about Instagram is that there aren’t any ads–nothing popping up on the sides that makes me cringe or try to aim the screen away from general viewing lest my 9-year old comes into the room.  Today he saw a quick video Steph had posted of Tate.  We watched it several times and then Joshua asked if he could scroll through the other photos.    I realized, with great joy, that I could let him do that!  There would be nothing on there that he couldn’t see.  In fact, he saw a quote posted by the USCCB from Cardinal Sean O’Malley, “The face of God is merciful.  The face of the Church must be merciful.  We must be the face of mercy.”  Joshua’s response?  “Wow!”  It gave him something to think on worth thinking about.

I’m not suggesting Instagram is perfect, but I am glad to have a fun bit of social media I can enjoy without it taking over my life or bringing things into my home I don’t want.  And I’m rather proud of myself for taking this step and doing something concrete about becoming “the best version of myself.”  (Thanks, Matthew Kelley!)