interview by Jill Pearson
What brought Debby Saethre and her husband, John, to Rochester from California last July was not our stellar weather and sandy beaches. The decision happened after a Zoom call with their three daughters, who were offering them a special and unexpected gift.
Debby and John raised five children while moving often with John’s work as an Air Force chaplain. For the last twenty years, John had been a chaplain at the VA and Debby had worked as a nurse in a Christian crisis pregnancy center, which she loved. Moving to Minnesota was not on their radar, but following God’s will for their lives always has been.
Kjersten Jimison is their oldest child, is married to Ryan, and has lived in Rochester for the last 5 years. They moved from Phoenix with their two sons, Caeden (16) and Bennett (12), when Kjersten was hired by Mayo as a recruiter. Both families are new to Calvary, and I met Kjersten and Debby at a recent Calvary event, Lattes and Life, where they shared this story around our table and graciously agreed to be interviewed about it for the blog.
The gift I’m referring to centers around Kjersten’s disabled younger brother, Karl, who is 31. For the first months of his life, Karl was a happy baby, progressing normally, but at nine months, he became very angry and agitated. At 18 months, he had a grand mal seizure while Debby was changing his diaper. Kjersten, who was 8 at the time, remembers calling 911. He was diagnosed with a seizure disorder and would later be diagnosed with a learning disorder that prevents him from being able to function on his own, and leads him to make unwise and dangerous decisions.
Kjersten and her siblings were concerned about Karl, especially after he shocked them by announcing his sudden marital engagement (which was eventually broken off.) This prompted sibling calls regarding what to do about Karl.
Debby shared about her turmoil during that time. “How do you bring up the subject? How do you ask your children to take responsibility for their disabled brother when we get to a point that we can’t handle it anymore?”
It turned out that they did not have to broach the subject. Kjersten and her siblings came up with a plan to make sure her parents and her brother’s needs were taken care of. They decided to divide the financial and medical responsibilities for the parents at the point when they required help, and Kjersten and Ryan volunteered for the most significant role…taking over conservatorship of Karl.
“We are at a stage in our lives where it makes sense. My sisters are still raising young children and my brother, Peder, just got married. My boys love their Uncle Karl because he enjoys what they enjoy,” Kjersten commented.
One day, Kjersten, Jonna, and Karin zoomed their parents with the news, which brought great comfort and relief to Debby and John. However, the distance between Minnesota and California did not lend itself to transferring conservatorship. This is when Debby had an epiphany. “We need to move to Minnesota!” High on her priority list was getting recommendations from Kjersten of clothing she would need to stay warm!
Now that they are settled in a home in Rochester, with a closet full of flannels and warm coats and boots, they are looking for a group home for Karl, so he can have both independence and assistance. Transferring the conservatorship to Kjersten and Ryan will be a process over the next few years, but already this gift is providing peace of mind for the whole family.
As we highlight the spirit of giving this month in the blog, I can’t think of a more beautiful gift than children coming together to make sure their family’s needs are provided for. Jesus placed a high priority on protecting the vulnerable, even at a personal cost. His birth, life, death, and resurrection were examples of sacrificial love, and this family’s story is a reflection of that supreme value.
Welcome to Calvary, Debby and Kjersten, and thank you for sharing your story.
Jill Pearson is co-editor of The Stir, wife to Dave, and mom to three young adults who have flown the nest but are easily lured back with an offer of dinner. She owns and operates Riverwood Studio, an art education business, and finds creative ways to serve at Calvary.