Bright Spots 2017: The Anderson Christmas Letter

Fidgety and restless tonight I sorted through Christmas cards, bills, and a folded up letter by someone I barely know. Their words were tastefully selected and perfectly honest in a way that soothed my weary eyes and calmed my anxious heart. I barely know them, and yet the picture she painted of her year in words was both honest, and in turn, absolutely beautiful and it stirred me to open my laptop, after nearly a year, and try my own.

My Christmas card this year was short and sweet. A photo and a couple of vague lines.

“Our year has been full of bright spots: watching Hallyn (10 mo) grow, watching Afton (4)  grow into a wonderful big sister and watching Jesus, our Lord, present us with opportunities to grow in our understanding of who He is.”

I knew they were vague as I typed them, yet I couldn’t bring myself to say more because, I really don’t know how. It was one of those years–is one of those seasons– where I prefer to do more listening than sharing. Where when I open my mouth to try to answer a question about how we’re “really doing”, words fall flat and I’m not even sure I’m making sense to myself. Since a full night of sleep is foreign these days, sometimes everything is a blur.

So here’s a preface to this truthful letter:

This year was hard. And maybe harder than I thought it would be. Moving was hard. Adding another member to our family after 3.5 years was hard and me (Autumn) dealing with postpartum panic disorder for the past year has been one of the hardest things we’ve ever experienced.

Change is and always will be hard for me. I’m sentimental and type A.  But remember how I said that some of the changes of the past year seemed uniquely designed (by God) to break us? It’s true. There is so much about us that God is showing us and gently chipping away at to make us more like Him. That might be the hardest and best thing about this year, all at the same time.

So you see, the few lines on our Christmas card are totally true. It’s been a year of growth- physically for our kids, and spiritually for us. And spiritual growth isn’t meant to stop. So, the story continues, read along if you want!

Here are some of bright spots to 2017:

Hallyn Tate:  Hallyn (pronounced Holland without the d) was born just one day after her due date, February 2nd, 2017. If you follow us at all on the gram, Hallyn has developed  just a few nicknames this year as we’ve gotten to know her. –  Happy Hallyn, BabyBird, Hallyn Bird, Birdy,  Baby Tate, H and Baby H. She is a cheerful, sweet, yet fierce and persistent little lioness. She does not laugh as easily as Afton, and we laugh at the way she stares at people while they pull out all the stops, sacrificing so often their  composure, just to get the smallest grin. At home though, we merely look at her and she erupts into contagious giggles. She is very expressive, raises her eye brows and opens her mouth wide in surprise when she does something that surprises everyone, herself included, like standing alone in the middle of the room or making a loud unexpected noise. She doesn’t seem to know how young she is compared to her big sister and gets extremely frustrated when she can’t keep up with her (she’s only 10 mo vs. Afton’s 4.5 years). She’s preferred her independence from about 3 months but can definitely get used to the spoiling of older cousins, aunties and uncles on her daddy’s side. Example: this weekend she is totally eating up her role as the youngest grandchild on both sides.

Afton Rose, “big sister extraordinar”: Afton started preschool this year at a church less than a mile from our home. She enjoys the 6 other kids in her class and the big girl time away that she gets. She is gone 2.5 hours 4 times a week. She is very smart academically, as well as amazingly emotionally intelligent and sensitive. There is almost always something that she is thinking about, trying to process or feeling deeply. The Lord has gifted us with an amazing first born, and we, many times this year have asked the Lord for wisdom in raising such a unique and  precious girl. Her favorite past times include “leading worship” with her little guitar and microphone, and playing “Laura and Mary”  (Little House on the Prairie) or acting out almost any bible story or scenario that she’s experienced and is trying to process. She takes after Daddy in that her arms are wide open to serve the world around her and she thinks very little of herself. She takes after her mommy in her OCD and perfectionistic tendencies.

Example: She can’t wait to “serve in the nursery on Christmas Eve and frequently asks “how can I bless you?” but she had a meltdown this week as daddy horribly wrapped a white elephant gift. “IT’S NOT FUNNY! IT LOOKS TERRIBLE! I CAN’T EVEN LOOK AT IT!”

She has her own library card this year and is learning to recognize sight words so I’m convinced there is only a little time left before  a whole new world opens to her!

John and Autumn: Though adventuring tends to slow down a bit with a new baby, we continue to believe that adventure is out there, and Johnny continually takes upon the challenge of helping me find it, amidst the sometimes mundane day to day of stay at home mommyhood. He’s wonderful at finding things to celebrate and never holds back from showing each of us how special we are to him. He loves being a daddy to two daughters, and he’s absolutely the right guy for the job. He celebrated 1 year at Bethel, I celebrated 1 year as a stay-at-home mom,  and together we celebrated 7 years of marriage by adventuring to the North Shore with our two littles in tow. In a few days I get to celebrate him turning 31 by taking him on a ski trip- our first trip no kids since Baby H! Can’t wait to celebrate this hardworking man.

We hope that this letter finds you and your family cozy and well maybe amidst chaos, or maybe amidst the picture perfect Christmastime scene, but either way, with the understanding that things don’t have to be Pinterest Perfect,  to be beautiful and in that regard, it’s been a really beautiful year for the Andersons.

❤ John, Autumn, Afton (4.5) and Hallyn (10 mo)





Meal Prep Mondays: Freezer Meals

Nesting has begun and along with it some stocking of the freezer we were gifted with this fall. One of the best things I did the last time around the pregnancy/child-birth clock was prepping meals for our freezer. The worst thing I did was staying up to all hours of the night doing it. But those breakfast burritos were a hit!

Whether you are pregnant like me or not, freezer meals are great to have any time of the year for your own family, to offer to a family in need or to pull out if you have surprise guests! I’ve always wanted to be one of those moms who could just grab something from the freezer on a busy day. My dream freezer grab would be frozen dough that I could just whip into a yummy loaf of fresh bread, but I’m not there yet. I do however want to share some of the tastiest recipes I’ve prepped so far! Today’s Meal Prep Monday will be focused on the frozen meal recipes I’ve gathered from one of my new favorite blogs- Happy Money Saver.

It all started when one day I googled “freezing chicken noodle soup.” (Helpful tip: If you plan on freezing any amount, don’t add the noodles until you actually plan on enjoying it, or substitute noodles for beans or rice. They get a little sloppy otherwise, which my hubby says is not a deal breaker, for him, but I wouldn’t serve it to guests! ) I started wondering what else I could freeze and started with loads of soup like Chilis, spicy sausage and kale, chicken enchilada, etc. They all turned out great thawed, so I started looking into other types of freezer meals and I stumbled across this wonderful website. Here’s some of the recipes I’ve tried from her site that I wanted to share!

Honey Lime Chicken Freezer Meal

Darn Good Chili (Crock Pot and Freezer Meal)

Homemade Cheesy Broccoli Soup 

No Bake Chewy Granola Bars 

Slow Cooker French Dip Freezer Meal

Make Ahead Green Smoothies 


Where the Blacktop Ends: Moving from suburbs to small town

“It’s an adjustment…”

A friend who moved recently, following her husband in ministry, described her calling as “uniquely designed to break me” and that phrase has crossed my mind once or twice as I’ve mulled over this big life change of moving.

Let me start by saying I know without a shadow of a doubt that our family was called here and I willingly followed my pastor husband, because we both want to be in the center of God’s will. But along with moving often comes a culture shift or “shock”, and that’s what this post is about. I love our home, our church family and  everyone we’ve had the pleasure of meeting, but wrapping my mind around the culture of a small town has been challenging for me. (Note: I did grow up in a small town, but it’s been years since I lived there and it turns out that visiting a home town during the holidays where everybody knows your name is far different than relocating to a small town as an adult).

I found a tea, coffee/ wine bar this weekend  that I think will be my saving grace  for introvert time, and my new writing spot. The word “Hide” is in the name and they sell my favorite tea that I can’t find in grocery stores here.  After stumbling upon it with an old co-worker this weekend, I dragged Johnny there so we could enjoy at least one last date before baby #2.

While we drank tea and ate biscotti he thoughtfully asked me to list  three things I love and three things  I don’t love about our new location. It wasn’t hard to list the many conveniences I miss about the suburbs: the friends, the neighbors, the shopping,  and the various community involvements, but as I started to talk about those missing pieces, I realized that a lot of those voids are starting to hold a special place in my heart for  the way they are helping me grow and and helping us become a healthier family.

“It’s a slower pace…”

We slowed down when we moved here, and it was painful at first, because I felt emotions I was used to running away from- to my job, to the mall, or to a friend- but suddenly all those things were gone, and I had to figure out how to process things in a healthier way.I had to embrace the slow and give myself time I never had before to unpack emotions that had been pushed away.

“It’s (too) quiet…”

It’s quieter, there is less stuff happening, and while that makes me sad sometimes, when I just want to get out of the house with my kiddo, it encourages me to seek out genuine community with other people, to practice hospitality and to practice vulnerability. When there is less going on, it turns out, it’s a lot easier to find time to get together with people! Doing life along side of others is such an integral part of ministry and I’m so blessed that God has brought us to a season in our lives where we have that margin to be able to offer dinner without advanced notice and to ask people to just stop by if they’re in the neighborhood. This is new for me, but it’s a new that I love. It’s a piece that’s been missing.

“It’s simple.”

It’s a simple terrain. Fields, farm land, houses and businesses. Nothing that really draws the eyes or the heart. There’s a little  downtown with a few local businesses and eateries and there are some nice parks within walking distance, and you know what that has taught me? Beauty is not just found in the space  we surround ourselves with. Beauty is found in moments we spend with the faces and bodies we share space with. I’m thankful for the simple space because I’m drawn more to look at these faces, I’m less intrigued by the big and pretty sights to see and more intrigued by the people I meet and the stories they have to tell, because everybody has one and they aren’t all the same.



Picking Up the Pieces (Part 4)

And then it was June. Avery’s due month, and coincidentally, the month I would find out if there was another child’s heartbeat where his had vanished.

I had taken a pregnancy test weeks earlier and couldn’t believe it was positive.I fell to my knees and cried in a bathroom at work. I had said I would try to wait until I got home, but I had to know in case I lost this one before I knew he or she was even there.

We had started trying again in February and each month that I didn’t conceive was emotional, but since it had taken awhile to conceive Avery, I knew I shouldn’t be surprised.

The dates lined up in such a way where my first ultra sound was scheduled the day before Avery’s actual due date. A huge work event to celebrate the life of the unborn was scheduled on his actual due date, so to say it was an emotional weekend is only skimming the surface.

My sister in law came the day of the ultra sound, but the appointment was moved to the evening, so she had gone, and Afton would have to come with us to the appointment.

Post traumatic stress was increasing and I knew I couldn’t be alone again  in that little room where they had told me Avery had no heart beat months ago. So we sat Afton down criss-cross-applesauce in the middle of the living room. Wise dear husband, Johnny explained to Afton that we were going to the doctor so they could tell us if there was a baby in my tummy.

“If there is one, they will show us a picture on the TV. ”

Her eyes lit up. “Ok! Let’s go!”

Weeks earlier she had told me she was looking for her baby sister or brother because she had asked God to put one in my tummy and she believed that He had. She began to cry and said in the same sentence that she was missing baby Avery. How did she know this would have been the time we would have met him?

I breathed silent prayers all the way to the ultra sound room preparing for bad news but begging God for good news if only for my sweet innocent little girl who just wanted the sibling she’d been asking Him for a year of her 3 year old life.

The tech instantly flashed the sonogram onto the screen of a tiny beating heart. I breathed. Not happy, not all is right, not everything is replaced or back to the way it should be. Just that for the moment, relief,  that my daughter saw the life she hoped for on the screen and my body had not let anyone down today.

Guilt is a confusing emotion isn’t it? It steals your joy, it robs you of moments that could be enjoyed and replaces them with thoughts of ‘shoulds’ and ‘if only’s’ along with that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach and sometimes your head. And somehow, guilt overcame me to the point that I struggled to celebrate that new little life, because I should have been grieving another.

But I couldn’t have had one without the other. Someone recently sent me an article where the writer outlined her conversation with her longed for child on her birthday. Her 3 year old asked, “Mommy, you had to wait a long time for me didn’t you?”

“Yes, honey, I did.”

“Mommy do you know why you had to wait so long?”


“Because God was making me!” 

My heart caught in my throat as I read this. Up until that moment, I wasn’t sure how to be joyful about this baby because every time I thought of being pregnant, I thought of how I wouldn’t be if things had gone “the way they were supposed to” the first time.”

But without this horrible loss, I wouldn’t ever know this growing child. I don’t know why God chose to do things the way he did, and my human mind can only grasp and accept so much, but this was eye opening for me, and I began for the first time, to see what I’m guessing is a small glimpse, of a perfect plan that my God is unfolding.

It is a step towards healing, a step towards acceptance and a step toward learning to give things in every circumstance.

But here’s the thing I don’t want any reader who is grieving the loss of an unborn child to take from this series.

I’m healed because I’m pregnant again.

This healing process is a work of Jesus in my life- not the bandaid of another child growing in my womb. The loss of Avery will always be a scar I carry, but it’s a beautiful scar and not an open wound, because I have chosen to seek the Lord for answers where I have had questions, I have turned to him in anger when I have been confused, and I have listened to truth when I didn’t know what I could hold to. And His truth has begun a healing process that a year ago this week (11/6/2015) I never thought possible.

Wherever you are in the grieving process dear friend, I pray that you will not be afraid to pour out your heart to the Maker of Heaven and earth, who knows you by name, who knows each unborn child by name and loves them more than you and I ever could imagine. Let Him be the Healer he promises to be.

Climb on-

❤ autumn

Picking Up the Pieces (Part 3): Speaking Life

The Lifers. There are the people, and then the select few that just speak into your life like no one else can. One of them is Dr. Rivard. I met him the day I signed up for classes at Crown College in  summer of 2006. He sat down with me as I tried to make sense of the charts I was looking at and what classes I needed to take. I was nearly in tears sitting there already feeling overwhelmed, when he stopped the whole conversation and said, “Let’s pray that God will lead us as I advise you.” And He did from that day on. He was only my advisor academically as I studied music, but when I changed my major, he continued to be a light that shone in the darkness of my mind and my heart throughout my journey with the Lord. An accountability. An encourager. A mentor, a prayer warrior and a spiritual director.

“I still pray for you every week my beloved friend,” he said sitting across from me at Tucci Benuch, an italian restaurant we had eaten in 4 years ago almost to the date when I’d moved back to Minnesota, excited about God’s call to ministry in the city of St. Paul.

And then the impending question that had always brought tears to my eyes, because I knew he really meant it: “How is Autumn?”

I stared at my bread as I dipped it in oil and vinegar. I hated this question lately, because I was so out of touch with how I was doing. I wanted to be spiritual and mature, but I knew that I was so empty inside. So I covered by talking about accomplishments at work, a feeling of calling to a new location (though we didn’t know where) and a host of other seemingly important topics that I knew were only a distraction.

He’s moving in 2 weeks and I ‘m talking about NOTHING! Is this really how I want my last precious time with him to be?

“Do you like coffee?” He asked, as we left, doggie bags in hand. Our time was not complete. We would get coffee and sit and He would ask how he could pray for me and then maybe I’d have an answer.

He did. I said, “I don’t know how to open my Bible, but I’m so empty inside. I want to, but I can’t. I’m angry and I’m hurting and I’m hungry and I know the only hope is Jesus but I can’t bear to see myself in front of Him right now.”

He sipped his coffee and began to recite scripture, first in english, then in french. I caught my breath. There it was. The beauty I searched for. The beautiful moment we shared. God close to me again, speaking through my friend, to me.

He interrupted my thoughts with a desire for me to read the Psalms knowing that I seek beauty. That’s why I write about my child, that’s what I’m drawn to mountains, and water and creation. I want to be close to beauty because  I want to be close to God.

“The Psalmist was the same. Read them again slowly and you will see the beauty all around you that he speaks of too. It will help you to be thankful in the midst of uncertainty.”

And then we prayed. We prayed for the longed for child, for my aching heart, for my confusion and lack of direction in terms of where God was calling me and our family. I left with a renewed sense of calm, peace and thanksgiving in my heart. Everything wasn’t perfect, but I felt ready to approach the one who knew just what I needed, and I felt prepared to accept what He would choose to give, or not to give.

“The Lord is my Shepherd I have everything I need. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. Even though I walk through valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear for He is with me. His rod and His staff comfort me.” Psalm 23:1-4


Picking up the Pieces (Part 2): Grieving with People

The people. The hardest part about losing an unborn child in the first trimester is the fact that it feels like a secret. When people don’t know your joy, how can they understand your sorrow? That’s why we decided not to keep it a secret. We shared and I instantly felt physically and emotionally the hands of so many on my shoulders telling me, “You’ll get through this. It will change your life, but God is at work,” Or, “I’ll never forget my experience with miscarriage.” Knowing the pain isn’t something you have to try to explain  or rationalize is life giving! The greatest comfort I could have received.

The worst and hardest things I heard were,

“How are you doing since you’re ‘little mishap.’ – as if what happened was somehow related to something that could have been helped.

“I know exactly how you feel.”- even if they had experienced a miscarriage, I doubt anyone had the exact same experience.

“You’ll have another one soon enough. We had 5 kids and 3 miscarriages and they didn’t slow us down a bit.” – as if the only thing I’m grieving is a slow down in my family planning.

“You’ll have to just move on because it’s all you can do.” -Unless you know how to move on and can give me a step by step process of how to do that in a healthy manner, I don’t want to hear about having to do that.

The worst… saying nothing at all, when I knew full well they knew. It was like acting like the life that had been there and bled out of me never even existed or wasn’t worth mentioning. It hurt so bad.

I get it though. It’s hard to say anything right to a hurting person. I’ve been on that end too. I just had to get these out somewhere for fear that one of these sentences will cross your mind when you’re talking with a grieving mama- I want you to remember the italicized feelings that follow.

But the people that listened, that took time for a grieving woman, that wanted to know the horrible details of what I’d experienced and didn’t claim to know what it was like, just let me have the sacred space to feel and to share, they blessed me and many of them were my church.

My church wasn’t perfect. There were people that looked like it, but we would call that an imperfect church wouldn’t we? It wasn’t made of all the greatest saints by any stretch, but it was made of people that knew how to do life together, and that is a true statement. When I looked out at that group of imperfect people, I knew love, acceptance and care- not perfection, but a group of people that I loved. My community.

If there is one thing I learned and accepted in the early days of loss, it was that I learned to lean on my church more vulnerably, I learned that they weren’t perfect, and I learned that I could love that.


Picking Up the Pieces: Introduction

Sometimes I find myself as a mother of 1 saying “my kids.” It’s slightly embarrassing but mortifying when someone says “Oh how many?” And then you say, “one” and they call you out on saying “kids” and you don’t want to make them feel awkward but stutter out something about having one in heaven…to a stranger you barely know….Because once that little baby comes and goes, you can’t shake the truth that there should be one more…

It was never my intent to invoke pitty with my writing on the topic of miscarriage, but awareness, always awareness. Until it  happened to me, I didn’t know how common it was. I just remember sitting in that quiet dark room waiting for the call from my midwife to tell me what I already had seen on the screen: there was no heartbeat. I was handed a packet of information on grief and loss similar to those I’d prepared for others, but never envisioned receiving myself. I’m now one of the statistics, I thought. And it hurts so so bad.

This is the story (in several parts) of our journey through the grief and loss of a sweet child who came and went  almost one year ago: Avery Arlin. (Avery means comfort and Arlin means promise). God has laid it on my heart to share this story because I truly believe from the bottom of my heart, and knew even as I sat waiting for the formalities of that horrible appointment to be over, that Avery’s life was not lived in vain and that someday my wading through this journey with God would serve as a comfort to someone else.

In honor of October, International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, I’m writing a series called  Picking Up the Pieces, where I’ll unpack some of the events that followed my experience with miscarriage.#Gopinkandblue

Here’s our story:

baby 2.1I woke up to find the contents of a packet I’d never imagined receiving poured out on the floor with used kleenex scattered about: a reminder that what I hoped was a nightmare was a very real yesterday.

“His mercies are new …” I tried to say.

“Rejoice when you face trials and tribulations…”

But I couldn’t breath to finish either sentence.

I tried to find anger hoping maybe by now I’d stepped into the next stage of grief, one step closer to the end of the huge ache I can’t explain, but I’m not mad. I’m just sad in the saddest way.

The sweet little life we’d  hoped to announce in these coming weeks is gone, over night.

Four weeks ago, urged by my grandma to make sure I wasn’t describing  pregnancy symptoms while I insisted that my TSH levels needed to be checked,I took a pregnancy test. After being disappointed a few times, I really didn’t feel ready to take it but we decided I would. I was distracted before I could look at the result so John broke the news after stumbling upon a clear blue “Pregnant” test result waiting in the  bathroom as I was putting Afton to bed.

We’d both hoped, prayed, waited and now wondered how we’d ever keep such good news a secret, especially from sweet Afton, who prays daily for a baby brother.

The next morning, Afton asked me if God had put a baby in my tummy. I told her that he had and her reaction was priceless. Wide eyed she gasped and said, “In YOUR tummy? Our baby? Can I see!?”

It was everything and more that I could have hoped to see in her sweet face. Better than Christmas. Better than a puppy or a popsicle. Pure delight. God had answered her prayer and she knew it.

The coming weeks I felt great, other than easily distracted, forgetful and tired. Every pregnancy symptom that came was exciting. Symptoms I was never excited about in my first pregnancy were reasons for celebration this time. We were so “ready.”

Then other symptoms came. The ones I never had with Afton. I moved my ultra sound up a few days to make sure everything was ok. And it appeared that it was. I watched the screen hopeful and immediately saw the flicker of a beating heart. I listened to multiple professionals tell me how good a sign that was. I left the hospital that morning with a desire to have a renewed hope and comfort but it never came. Only more questions and reasons to phone people on-call.

The next day I sat in the same rooms where I heard the heartbeat the first time and saw an active little body wiggling on the screen, but this time there were none of those things.

I knew the U/S tech couldn’t tell me anything, so I watched the screen myself and when I didn’t see what I hoped I would, tears ran down my face and I tried to breath. She didn’t have to say anything.  She rubbed my tummy, handed me the kleenex and said over and over, “I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I know that’s not what you wanted to see.”

I sat in a dark room waiting for the procedural phone call to confirm what I already knew to be true.  I was handed a packet of information with the words, miscarriage, grief and loss, and support groups riddled throughout. A packet I would have never expected to receive.

But it happened. And there is no rhyme or reason.

“Nothing you could have done…. For reasons we don’t understand…”

When I found out that I was pregnant with Afton, I was surprised because she was conceived unexpectedly and by the world’s standards, we weren’t “ready”. As scary as it was, it was comforting, because we knew without a shadow of a doubt, that God decided we were ready and that he had given her to us on HIS time table.

With this little one, I was more than “ready”. I was “ready” months ago. . Yet in the strangest way, it’s comforting to know that this baby’s life was on God’s time table too. I felt His peace in a very real and strong way as I lay there alone with a stranger, searching for life.

“Do not fear for I am with you. Do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

I know that not everyone who has miscarried talks about it. I’m not sure I’m ready to either, but I do know that  if I were to continue through today as if nothing had happened yesterday, I would not be honoring the precious life I carried for 2 months. I would not get to share with you the joy of finding out we had, for a short time, a second child.

It truly is the hardest story I’ve had to tell but it’s one that I believe God is carrying us through.

And if I wasn’t excited enough about the promise of heaven, I really am now!

Climb on-

❤ autumn

15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
    as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed.

17 How precious are your thoughts about me,[b] O God.
    They cannot be numbered!
18 I can’t even count them;
    they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
    you are still with me!

Psalm 119:15-18