Tag Archives: visits and vacations


I always come back from our annual trip to the Zielke cabins in Wisconsin feeling more in love with my family (immediate and extended) and in awe of the beauty of God’s creation.  And as much as I hate to admit it, more rested from being unplugged from technology (though we did use Dad Z’s phone as a hotspot for WiFi this year!)

And I always come back feeling more appreciative of indoor plumbing.

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The Great Scott Hodge says: “Change of Pace + Change of Place= Change of Perspective.”

I have to agree.

Recently I was gifted a [rare] day of relaxation-at the spa-with no children. :)  I was so excited for the time of pampering, but if I’m going to be honest, most of all a day free from whining, tattle telling, and baby butt wiping.  I arrived at the spa the minute it opened and stayed to closing.  I brought my journal and Bible and was eager to soak up some time alone and time with God.  I climbed into the pool and stared up at the sky and something unfamiliar happened- it was still and quiet. It felt odd!

This is what I journaled:   “I’m sitting here in the pool- there is no splashing, no whining- no one needing my help… This is how it will be 20 years from now…to forever.   Don’t wish these hard stages away.  They are temporary.”  I sat and pondered that for a while.  So often (very often) I rush through the day just to check things off my list.  How often do I talk with my children, not just talk at them?  How often do I think “if only they were a few years older, then ____ would be so much easier”….(hello grocery shopping and fine dining!)

It was convicting.  I was so thankful for my time away to be rejuvenated, but God helped me appreciate the chaotic little voices in my normal day to day life much more.  This stage of life is hard, and I don’t want to pretend that it is not, but I AM going to be more intentional about being present in the chaos- not five steps ahead in the future.

I kept looking at the sky at the clouds and watched them move (I HAD TIME TO WATCH THE CLOUDS MOVE- perhaps I was overly zealous with my newly found “me” time) :) and I pondered them.  And I noticed, clouds don’t just collide, they absorb each other.  So I thought about that more…How do I let God absorb me or where do I collide with Him?  How do I let Michael absorb me? My kids?  My ministry?  I wrote: “Yes, I need to replenish myself with time alone with God, food and sleep.  But other than that, I need to be willing to sacrifice myself wherever there is a selfish desire- I need to give myself away. ”

I still am going to seek time away from Michael and my children, still going to watch Netflix at night and still share with my girlfriends how the mundane wife/mother duties make me want to punch someone at times.  But, this cherished time by myself gave me new perspective.  This stage is hard, but every stage is hard and every season is a new opportunity for growth and to know my God in a deeper way. I’m going to try and pay attention to the small moments each day, and be less focused on the bullet points that get me to the next milestone.

Change of Pace + Change of Place= Change of Perspective.

Swollen Meninges

Just as the boys and I were boarding the plane on December 26th I thought, “Wow, that was relatively painless!  What will I ever blog about if I don’t have a crazy airport story to tell?”

Apparently, God took me seriously and gave me an even bigger story to tell.

I delivered my three cherubs to my parents and Aunt Elli in San Antonio before I jetted to Austin.  I had the honor of staying with Christina and Tyler for the week as Super Aunt.  I got to help take care of my sweet 2 week old nephew Cayden, and help Chritina and Tyler in any way I could.  It was wonderful.  I got to cuddle all day with the sweet little jellyBin, but not have to do any nighttime feedings. :)  It was bliss!  I had so much fun being on the other side of the newborn care= not the weepy new mom. :)  Christina was a pro right from the beginning though- she far surpassed me in my first days as a mom.  She is easygoing and worry free, none of which describe me.

Towards the end of my stay I woke up in the middle of the night with a throbbing headache. Like a bowling ball was sitting on top of my head.  All day I tried different kinds of medicine, but nothing would even touch it.  I thought maybe I was having a migraine and I just needed to sleep it off.  But when the pain continued into the next day, I was getting nervous.  Christina and I drove back to San Antonio on New Years Eve.  When we arrived at my parents’ house I still didn’t feel right. Then the vomiting started.  I was in so much pain and very fearful.  My mom convinced me I needed to go to the hospital (I was still worried they would just laugh at me because it was just a migraine).  The car ride was terrible and I could barely make it in the front doors.

When they got me in the stretcher and pumped Morphine and Zofran through my IV it was bliss.  Finally some relief!  The Doctor said she wanted to do a CT scan of my brain to check for tumors or an aneurysm.  Not sure if it was the drugs or my emotional heart, but I was convinced I was on my death bed.  I started pouring out tearful soliloquies to my mom about life lessons I’ve learned.  When I got to the part about how I wanted her to make sure my boys always remember me and how much I love them, she took my head in her hands and said something to the effect of , “Jen, you are not dying.  God is not finished with you yet-your boys need you still and the Lord knows that.  But I promise you, whatever happens, I will make sure everyday that your boys know how much you love them.”

After the CT scan the Doctor came in and said my sinus cavities were inflamed.  I told my mom to please not tell that to Michael yet- I didn’t want him to get the expensive ER bill because I had a sinus infection!  I felt so dumb that I went to the emergency room for a sinus infection.  The Doctor said she was going to do a spinal tap because of my neck pain, but it was probably nothing because of the sinus infection.  I remember her exact words, “I guess I’ll go ahead and do the spinal tap to be on the safe side, but I wouldn’t get too worried.”

After the spinal tap, (which, ladies, if you have had an epidural- you can do a spinal tap relatively painlessly) my mom and I talked about what we were going to do when we got home.  It was nearly 3 am, and we knew Simon would be up in two hours, so we discussed who would get up with him, etc.  We had to wait an hour for the results, but thought they’d be clear and we would be heading home.  My tears were gone, I was embarrassed I just had a boring sinus infection that ruined New Years Eve.

At 4 am the Doctor walked in and said, “Well I’m so glad I did the spinal tap because you tested positive for meningitis.”

Well, back to my death bed.  Hysterical tears ensued. I had only heard of (bacterial) meningitis- the one you can get in college dorms that you die from. “I was just with my two week old nephew all week, and I have 3 young boys- what do we do to keep them safe?  Do they need to come in?  Are they going to survive?”  I really was not worried about me- I had made my peace with death a few hours earlier.  I was only concerned about Cayden, Trevor, Elliott, and Simon.

Immediately they put a mask on me and whisked me on my stretcher to the third floor.  It felt very Grey’s Anatomy.  Everyone that came into my room had to wear a mask, gown and gloves.  Definitely added to the frightfulness of this deadly disease I thought I was dying from.

A new Doctor, my favorite the whole stay, came in and asked me if I had questions.  My tears increased and I said all I wanted to know was if my two week old nephew was going to be okay.  She bent down near my face and looked me in my eyes.  I will not forget her compassion.  She explained to me that there are two kinds of meningitis- viral and bacterial.  She said my cultures were presenting as viral.  She told me 98% of my cells were the viral kind, with only 2% of the dangerous bacterial kind.  She said viral meningitis was not contagious, so all 4 boys would be fine.  I felt a flood of relief when I heard those words.  She even said worse case scenario, if my cultures started to say bacterial, that everyone I came in contact with would get antibiotics and would be fine. It was now 4 am and I was feeling a little less on my death bed, but more uncomfortable.  With some fresh morphine and zofran I was able to rest.

That was 25 days ago.  I didn’t even know what meninges were before this excitement.  Now I feel well educated on all things brain and spine.  Viral Meningitis can last 7-10 days for some, 3-4 months for others.  Two of my friends that have had told me it took months to feel like themselves again.  Sometimes I say, Lord- meningitis, seriously?!  Seriously.

I’m not good at resting.  I’m not good at letting other people care for me.  I’m not good at not being in control.  But I know God has purpose in everything.  I must be that stubborn that I had to get meningitis to learn to REST.

Lamentations 2:5

My Lord has become like an enemy.
He devoured Israel;
he devoured all her palaces; he made ruins of her city walls.
In Daughter Judah
he multiplied mourning
along with more mourning!

“Notice that God started to be like Israel’s enemy. The writer knows that, in fact, God wants the best for his people. He does not say, “My Lord has become an enemy,” but “My Lord has become like an enemy.” Thus, Lamentations 2:5 models, on the one hand, the kind of stunning bluntness that we have already seen in this biblical book. Yet, on the other hand, this verse gives evidence of faith, embattled faith, struggling faith, but faith that God is not really the enemy. Most Christians will go through seasons of life when God feels like anything but a friend. Perhaps we’ll wonder if God has simply turned his back on us. Maybe we’ll suffer so much that we’ll begin to feel as if God were our enemy. Lamentations urges us not to hide these feelings or pretend that they don’t exist. At the same time, this book encourages us to hang onto the truth about God, to trust that he is who he has revealed himself to be, even if we can’t make sense of his actions or inactions.”  -Mark Roberts

I refuse to give up.  I refuse to let these circumstances swallow me up.  My hope is in the Lord, and I trust Him even in my sickness. I am thankful for the rest (that I usually fight), and all the people that have surrounded us with prayer, meals, groceries, cards, childcare, and encouragement. I am learning what it is to be part of the body of Christ, and to truly carry one another’s heavy load in life. So here I am lying in my bed, which I’m pretty certain is not my death bed, trying to soak in all these lessons.  I get it Lord, thank you for the meningitis, but I’m ready for you to take it away now. :)

Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.  Psalm 100:1-5


Apparently when my family is in town we eat lots of meals!

(I love the sequence of faces in these first few…haha!)

Four generations of Birkeneder!
Grandpa Al, Grandma Collette, Dad, and Aunt Susie
Papa Roger, Mom, Grandma Sharon, and Dad

And then these last three aren’t of us eating (can you believe it?) but they melt my heart so they had to join the post!

The boys went fishing with my dad at the lake behind our house and caught TWELVE fish! Last year my dad got them all their fishing gear and they were pumped to go fishing…and caught nothing. But their fishing joy was not diminished and they trekked out this year to try again! BAM- 12 fish!! :)

I love this picture of my dad and Simon more than words can even express.

The Wedding

Christina and Tyler had an absolutely gorgeous wedding and I was honored to be a part of it.  It was at a beautiful country club out in the hill country of Texas.  I loved all the unique things- outdoor seating at fireplaces, not the typical banquet room-but lots of open rooms, the rustic Christmas ambiance, and food stations such as a pasta bar, guacamole bar, and potato bar with my favorite- sweet potatoes in martini glasses complete with all the toppings.  Everything was simply amazing!

I can’t wait to see the professional pictures because I didn’t capture very much.  The pictures of the ceremony on my camera are terrible.  I gave it to Sarah who took great pictures, but I had the settings on my camera all wrong so they’re really poor quality. I’ll be sure to post the professional ones later if Christina gives me permission. :)  Which, P.S., the photographer was our good friend Catherine, who is from Germany AND was 4 weeks away from her due date for her second baby!  She was a pregnant photographer superstar!  I’m pretty sure I complained my whole last month of pregnancy and you would never catch me photographing anything let alone an entire wedding day.  Catherine, you’re my hero. :)

The highlight of the wedding was when Christina and my dad did their choreographed Daddy/Daughter dance.  Did I mention how crazy I am about my family?  They are my favorite people ever. :)  Needless to say, the dance was a hit!  If I can wrangle a copy of the video I’ll post it for sure!

Emily, our neighbor growing up in Elburn (Elliott loved her :) )
The cutest Ring Bearer and Jr. Groomsman ever!

Beautiful Elli!
Limo ride!
Christina and Tyler's moms :)
needing a snack break...
Trevor had two jobs: to escort my mom, then walk back by himself to meet Dakota, and escort the flowergirl and stand up at the front...
both jobs he did SO well! We were very proud, and so was he :)

I love this picture for so many reasons...Dad, Bin, AND Cinne Binne in the background!!

Almost wedding…

I love this series of pictures.  What a great fun bridal party!  Love all these girls so much and I only know them through Christina :)  Look at Michael the photographer just snapping away, capturing the moment!  I love it!

Best Sisters Forever :) "BSF" haha!

I’m so glad I caught this candid moment of Dr. Chuck with Trevor and Dakota!  Priceless!

Two of Elliott’s loves: Bailey and Presley :)

My best friend since 6th grade…I’m so glad she came to the wedding.  She did 15+ girls’ hair!  Hairdresser superstar!!


Last year, our pastor Scott Hodge did a series called “Inked” at our church The Orchard.  The tagline was “life beneath the surface” and the whole series dug into deep life subjects.  Each week a new person would be profiled in a video clip, explaining their tattoo and it’s signifigance to their life.  The idea was that our lives are “tattooed” all over the place with things God has done.  There are signifigant changes and monumental moments that make a mark we won’t forget.  When we look at that moment, we think of all God has done/is doing.  The same went for these people’s tattoos- it was a reminder of a signifigant “God moment” in their life.

Tattoos are a hot topic among Christians, some think they are wrong, and I respect their view…however, I encourage you to read this article which sums up my perspective.   Tattoo and The Bible/ Sacred Ink

This past year God has brought me on such a profound heart journey.  I’m so thankful for the work He continues to do in my heart. I guess my theme for this year would be “letting go of my plan, and embracing God’s best”.  One way I’ve done this is by embracing my role as a wife and mother of three sons.  I know this is a huge responsibility, and I take it very seriously.

My friend Miranda, my Aunt Debbie, and my sister Elli, and I decided we all wanted to go together to get our tattoos.  The whole experience fills my heart with SO much joy.

#1  I was engraving my signifigant God moment on my body, to represent what God had already engraved on my heart.

#2  I spent time with (and loved) a group of people at the tattoo parlor that I’m sure the “religious” people would have avoided

#3 the artists were the nicest people ever, and loved Simon.  They said, sure bring him in!  We all have kids!

#4 even at 3 weeks old, Simon witnessed me embracing diversity and loving as Jesus does.

See how I'm gripping my finger so tight...it hurt just a bit :)
Simon was totally alert the whole time. My Aunt Debbie said, "He's found his calling!" haha!
Michael Trevor Elliott Simon, "MTES" engraved on my heart, soul, mind, AND body

Countdown to wedding

We did lots of fun things while in Texas- but really, when do we not have fun when with my family?  Nothing less than stories galore, laughter every minute, and sisterly bonding.  I love imagining what my boys will be like when they get together as adults.  If they are anything like my sisters and me, they will have very full hearts!

While we were there Trevor reached a milestone- he lost teeth!  Not one, but two teeth!  Normally I am grossed out by wiggly teeth, but his were pretty much bloodless.  They just kind of fell right out.  No pain involved!  That’s my kind of way to lose teeth. :)  The tooth fairy was a little confused, maybe he has a rookie tooth fairy assigned to him?  Or it could be the fact that we were on vacation and Trevor “bed-hopped” which resulted in multiple tooth fairy deposits.  :)

As usual, we spent lots of meals at Taco Cabana.  (Remember the homework ABC book?  “T”: Taco Cabana…oh, and “M”: Missing tooth)

Trevor was super excited that the hotel gave him his very own key card.  (He called it his credit card…)  “H”: Hotel key

Whenever we visit TX, Michael has a “food list” of places we HAVE to visit for at least one meal.  One place is Rudy’s BBQ. (ABC alert, “R”: “Rudy’s)  Yumm-O! :)

I just had to post this one...I knew my sister Elli would love it :)

Obviously, Simon was a HUGE hit this trip!  He was one popular little fellow.  Can you blame him though?  He’s just so darn cute!

Simon's Great Aunt Kathy
Simon's Great Uncle Tom
Simon and Laura
Simon and Sarah
Landon holding Simon and saying "Oh! I almost pulled his head off!" :)

I just happened to be a part of the most GORGEOUS wedding party ever- oh yes, then there is me- the pale faced, mom of 3, 2 weeks postpartum chubby one. But let me tell you, for being moms, Sarah and I still hung with those girls at the Bachelorette party! So what if we had to come home 3 hours before the rest of them to feed a newborn, we still participated in the festivities. And that impressed me. :) This is the morning after the Bachelorette party. See what I mean? It’s the makeup free morning after and each one of these girls are drop dead gorgeous. I’m honored I got to tag along. :)

pedicure bride :)
only Simon would be the two week old getting held at the nail salon...actually it would be hard to get him away from Bailey if I tried!

More to come… :)

The Elkins

Josh and Jessica are some of our best friends. We were with them probably every day when we lived in Texas.

They also happen to be the couple we chose to be Elliott’s Godparents (spiritual prayer warriors/mentors for his life).

with Jessica May 2008
with Josh May 2008

We spent the afternoon with them and remembered why we love them SO much!  They are the greatest- and their family has grown by 2, we love you Shelby and Hayden! :)

This picture is terrible, but I had to post it! It's symbolic really, since Chick-fil-A is so central to our relationship.