Dough Day

The baking day was a success. We made two different variations of a cool-whip cookies, strawberry bread and granola from scratch. We invited over a dear friend, Heather, and her toddler son to join in our day. The kids enjoyed stirring and pouring and making a royal mess with complete delight. How else are they going to learn? And who can judge them? I’m a messy cook too.

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In the naptime quiet, I baked some strawberry breads and made some more cookie batters. Then Heather returned, exchanging her toddler son for her teenaged daughter, to finish up our work. We froze the cookie dough in individual family servings (which for us is 6 cookies) between parchment paper and wax paper so that come cookie baking time we could simply peal the wax paper off and throw the parchment paper and cookies onto a tray for quick baking.

We also froze away some pumpkin bread batters for another winter day treat.

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In all it was a fun baking morning/afternoon where everyone could help at their initiative and talk/play with friends. Definitely a repeat kind of day!

Project Satisfaction: The Dining Room Table

She has a gimp leg bandaged in metal bandages. I remember sliding her over, the beastly thing. She’s sure solid wood that’s for sure! And then I looked down at the crack. Her leg was splintering off. Hmmm, pretty sure that’s a problem. I thought. I remember Daddy coming to the rescue one time when they were in town. A trip down to the hardware store, a few L brackets, wood glue, and some piping fasteners later and she was strong again. Not gorgeous. Not increased in monetary delight. But back to being fully functional.

She has bubbles in her polyurethane finish. And usually some playdough in her cracks. Sometimes I’ll sit there with a butter knife and clean out the sand and glitter from kid projects. She has a little piece of magnet superglued to one area. Oops. I’ve got to scrape that off some day.

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Her chairs are mismatched. I love how it’s a combination of the old and the new. I remember those chairs with the knobs from our first apartment together. Just you and me, Love. And Cheddar. My fat orange and white baby. Remember how the chairs were nice wood and the table …not so much? Wasn’t it funny how big that four seater table felt in our one bedroom apartment? And we had such high hopes of sliding that extension in to bust out a whopping six chairs.

Now we have ten. And we fill six of them. And the four empty remind us to invite someone over for dinner regularly. The empty ones remind us to keep our table open for family, widows, and orphans coming through the foster system. It reminds us to be on the lookout for those needing a friend. Even just for a season. Someone to share a meal with. To remind them of their value. It reminds us to be ready. And open.

I love how there’s those big captain’s chairs for the ends. Only one is replaced by the littlest’s highchair booster on a regular chair. That highchair doesn’t really fit up as close as I ever want it to fit. Maybe it’s that the table sags low. Maybe it’s that extra 1 by 4 that hangs under the edges of the table on the ends. Still not sure why that’s there. Or maybe it’s just that the chairs are too tall. But I love that she can sit there with us. No one is too small to be a part of the family meal. Even when you can’t quite hold your head up.

She has some marks on her. Most are washable. Straying markers imagining artwork. The occasional crayon jetting off the Math mazes. The occasional pencil scratches or pen mark from immature overly-concentrated penmanship of beginning letters and numbers. Homeschooling evidence gives her such character. And love.

Sometimes there are grease spots from time-out foreheads. Spilled milk still in her crevasses from toddlers learning from “big girl cups”. Worn sections on her chairs where this Mommy sat to nurse her baby while balancing eating lunch or correcting a pattern worksheet… or both. Chair rungs reglued in from rocked chairs while learning to read. Motion can help so much when the brain is focusing so, so hard. Or sometimes it’s just hard to sit there and wait. And wait. And wait to be dismissed from dinner. It can feel like an eternity those five minutes! Just ask the toddler with an empty bowl of ice cream and a full belly. Not everyone is served at the same time. Patience training wears on her chairs.And oh those hard chairs. They give no support to the tired bones. Fulfilling their purpose of keeping a tired Mommy awake after long nights of broken sleep because the open Bible is more important than napping so many times.

It feels like a lifetime of memories is stored up in that loved piece of wood.

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Someday I’d like to refinish it. I’d like to wash away the old stain. Maybe sand some of the needed places. And sit with my older girls and restain our beloved table. Teach them the value of hard work. And the delight of the end project while we recall old memories at that very table.

She’s simple. A wonderful hand-me-down to us. A hodgepodge of two tables’ worth of chairs. Some faded stains. Some scratches and scuffs. One gimp leg.

But she’s wonderful. And she’s treasured. Even with those ridiculously heavy chairs that tend to smash preschooler toes when used as prep chef stepstools. And those crevasse that hoard all things sticky, glittery and grainy, refusing to release them from her clutches.

She’s still wonderful.

And we are thankful, grateful and blessed.

God is so good to us.

Let Wisdom Take Hold

Maybe I’m just getting older. In age and in the faith. Priorities are changing in my heart. Simple is taking hold. Home has more. Not more requirements, but more opportunities. The opportunity to just sit and read the Chronicles of Narnia into the quiet of sponge block play at my feet. To just sit with the girls and find every opportunity I can to complement their intentionality in their school work. “That O looks wonderful, Abi.” “What a beautifully curved eight, Rachael. Your eights have gotten so nice.” Just to see that smirk of pride. Just to see that confidence flair in the twinkle of their eyes. To crawl like kitties down the hallway with my toddler en route to her naptime bed. Just because she squeals when I climb into her converted crib and pretend to circle around to nap too. To just sit and see how many times I can get the tiniest to smile. Studying those inquisitive eyes. Or play peek-a-boo while she wiggles in the Johnny Jumper to the hum of the washing machine. Undistracted. Not multitasking. But fully present.

I’ve been convicted to put down my phone lately. It now lives in my Monica coffee cup in the same place on the counter. I wasn’t always on it for a bad reason. There was Christmas shopping and connecting to distant family and friends. But one day I looked up and saw their eyes. I had lost track of how long I’d been on the phone. Those eyes that said, “We miss you.” God spoke to me through those eyes. The very technology that was connecting me to others left me disconnected from those standing before me.

I went to the grocery store tonight by myself. The girls were quietly in their beds. The toddler long gone to dreamland. Matt was settling in to play a computer game against the silence of the rain falling outside. Tomorrow’s a baking day with a dear friend and her sweet little guy. A day full of sticky fingers, flour and play. Counting out cup-fulls of ingredients that I’m sure will find spills on the dining room carpet as four little ones anxiously await their prep chef turn. So I found myself wandering the aisles of our closest grocery and thinking: What are my priorities? What investment legacies will I leave from this upcoming week?

Pumpkin puree in hand, I thought of my children and their delight at helping. I thought of my friend and how much I desire to be an encourager and supporter in her life. It’s simple really. It’s the careful selecting of fruitful ingredients for the Kingdom work.

God has been molding me. Shaping me. Poking and prodding hurtful sores I’ve allowed to take hold in my life. He’s healing me into a new form of healthy. A stronger jaw set on hard work and quietness. He has caught my attention with a whisper in a crowded room of distraction. A whisper that penetrates to the depths of my soul. “Awake,” it stirs the creation trapped behind excuses and selfishness. What do I deserve, really? Is not all that I need right before me? It’s an awakening that stirs my heart to work. An outpouring of worship played through the intentionality of my soul. Live quietly. Work hard unto the Lord.

And in crawls cloth diapering back to the mix. Funny how my hands need hard work to keep my mind focused. And while I’m working the Word slips back into my mind, “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.” (Prov 10:4) And suddenly I realize we’re not just talking about financial prosperity here.

Suddenly the laundry becomes more manageable and I am able to “find time” to help with the dishes and do other house chores. As the burdens of housework feel lighter so does my heart. And my children begin memorizing more worship songs as they sing along to my cleaning soundtracks. I become interruptible to teach lessons that live in a world far deeper than the homeschooling file cabinet.

You know, hard work looks different for all of us. And I’ve found that having many children does not mean you work hard. It’s easy to have many children and be discontented. And lazy. And selfish. It’s easy to start thinking you deserve things. And time. And even acknowledgement. It’s easy to get lost in the world of “what can make my life easier” as if I really have it hard here in America with a roof over my head, and clean water, and food on the table and an encouraging family. As if it’s some hardship to get the choice of what to cook for dinner from the myriad of options. Even when we do have to go to the grocery store, our cupboards are still so full.

I dusted off their old clocks. Replaced the batteries. It’s time for our sponsor kids to be brought back to the dinner table conversations again. It’s time to look at their pictures in the compilation binder or artwork and contacts over the years. Put our hands on their handprints in their yearly health reports. It’s time to stop pretending that sending them a check is enough to teach my children – and really my own heart- that we are blessed to give. We ARE changed by giving.

I don’t have to sleep through the night. I don’t have to have the best carseat. The name brand, new stroller. I don’t even need to read all the kid articles on how to raise thankful kids. I don’t have to feel guilty for eating food with preservatives. Or putting a paper diaper on my toddler at nighttime. Or having dust on my pictures. It’s all distractions. There are so many arguments and tunnels that take us away from shedding light on the real thing.

I need to live unto the Lord. And sometimes that looks like crooked pictures because I let the toddler help me dust. Sometimes that looks like a silenced cell phone because I am not reachable during homeschooling unless it’s an emergency. Because it can wait. I’m teaching value in my children by whom I give my full attention. Sometimes it looks like going to bed early, because waking up at sunrise helps me serve my Lord better and that trickles down into how I find contentment.

I will forever be changed by a story from my dear missionary friend. While serving our Lord in Namibia, Africa with her husband, she had the privilege of investing in a young girl’s life through her education center. As she got to know the little girl she learned that this girl only had one pair of socks and therefore she went home daily and washed them, scrubbing them with soap and a rock and hanging them to dry before going to bed. She then got up early to dress for school and walked the great distance to school. My sweet Theresa vocalized the same thing we would all think upon seeing that situation. Poor child, let’s get her a second pair of socks so she doesn’t have to work that hard. She’s already cooking and cleaning for her whole household alongside her mother and trying desperately to be diligent in her studies as well. And Theresa’s African helper spoke the wisdom of God when she said, “No, we must not give her another pair of socks, lest she become lazy.”

At first that truth didn’t make sense to me. Become lazy?! Doesn’t she deserve to become lazy? Hasn’t she worked two days’ worth of work in one single day? Doesn’t she deserve a carefree childhood? Doesn’t she deserve toys? And her favorite meals? And a bicycle for easier transportation? And… and… and…

And yet Theresa knew it in her heart, as I have learned in my own, through the Lord’s prompting: she was happy. The little girl was happy. Always smiling. Ever so thankful.

When my hands work at those cloth diapers, at that stained kitchen floor, at those scratched walls, I AM thankful. I AM happy. I am not thinking of what more I can add to my home to take away the work. I am not thinking of hiring a maid. And before I realize it I see some little hands grab a sponge beside me and wipe away scuffs on the walls. I see little hands sorting laundry. I see little feet running to grab a rag and “skate” on the kitchen floor. And their smiles. Oh, their beautiful smiles. That’s a joy I can’t buy with ease. That’s a lesson I can’t fabricate without sharing in the sore arms and backs. Life IS work. But oh how there can be JOY in the workload.

We’ve weeded down some of our things so we can take care of our toys, clothes, shoes, dishes, etc. without the workload overtaking us. And when we live more simply, it keeps us working hard. But that is what our souls need. For the harvest IS plentiful, so we need to train to be good laborers. To be ready. In heart. And soul. And mind.

Lord, please use this conditioning back, shoulders, arms and mind. For I am seeing the beauty of the workload. I am understanding more of the honor You receive in humble, simple and focused living. Help me to live a “tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:2). Lord, I am learning to live as Your Word speaks of internal adornment being “the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:4). Lord, these aren’t mere suggestions, but they are words of great wisdom and refreshment for the soul. Help me to find a simple and quiet living of hard work and honest investment in my husband, children, friends, family, and Your work for me. Please, Lord, help me not to be lost in the distractions that so easily entangle my time and my thoughts. For dissatisfaction robs You of the glory and the honor that my joy in blessing attributes You. Please, Lord, help me to pave the way for more Christlikeness in this home that You have given me. May it outpour in encouragement of others’ homes. That more would know You, Lord, and give You the praise and honor You are beyond due.

  • To God be the glory.

Project Satisfaction: Intro

I enjoy Pinterest. Who doesn’t right? Where else can you be bombarded with 400 posts a day from complete strangers who have a similar interest in Type A organized craft rooms using only recyclables, underwater photography or even DIY personal hygiene? (Does that topic not scare anyone else out there?) I love looking at “never gonna happen” rooms in imaginary houses just as much as the next person. It reminds me of walking through the Ikea set-ups with my kiddos and imagining living in that exact home… all 500 square feet with my four kids. We enjoy laughing about taking rotations sleeping in the one kid bed and then go get our free Tuesday kid lunches. (Cha-ching!)

I have enjoyed Pinterest and its delightful ideas in homeschooling, housecleaning tips, organization and inspiration. I love being able to serve my family better with a new way of caring for what we already have. A new way of organizing, sorting and decluttering so we can better use all that we have been blessed with and release some of that blessing to others. And if you step foot in our home you’ll see the footprints of Pinterest around little corners and in my cabinets. Pinterest has really benefitted our lives in so many ways.

But there is a danger in Pinterest as well. No, not a stalker hazard signs; though it does seem a bit odd and borderline creepy that a complete stranger could design your dream home, know your whole history of favorite childhood memories, or know your exact child’s favorites without ever having met you. But that aside, the more pressing danger in Pinterest speaks to a far deeper level: Satisfaction.

Do we make changes because we’re unsatisfied with what we have or because it’s fun to have a refresher?

I’m guilty. I will admit it freely. I can easily be caught red-handedly rearranging the furniture when my husband is away on a trip. I get antsy. I like the new. The fresh. A changed perspective. Why do I make changes when Matt’s gone? Simply because I have more time on my hands in the evening. And he can almost expect whenever he’s gone, or sick, or at a conference, that at least one thing will be different when he returns. It’s fun to make improvements. But I must be careful not to let unsatisfaction drive those changes.

So I’m starting Project Satisfaction (insert: fanfare). I’m going to highlight things in my home that may not scream “You know you want one just like me,” but indeed are great blessings, some more hidden blessings than others, in our home. Nope, they’re not the antiques or the heirlooms. They’re not the expensives or the impressives for that matter. But there is great value in liking and even loving what you have. Because, dear friends, I’m going to let you in on a little secret that will change your life: Gratitude turns what you have into more than enough.

- God is so good to us.

HAPPY 4th BIRTHDAY, ABI!!!

Four Fantastic years ago this little nugget joined our family in the middle of our VBS (Vacation Bible School) week. On Tuesday I was walking the stairs to our third floor< sixth grade classroom and on Wednesday I was induced and we welcomed Abi to the world.

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Abi Grace! My goodness how the world would be a sad place without our crazy Abi.

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We adore you! You are so unpredictably fun. We never know when you’re going to photobomb a picture or cheese it up.

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You have this life and energy in you that is enviable. Oh and that smile…. it’s always been there… your utter abandonment to joy… with that twinkle in your eyes…

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You and your crazy hair (especially first thing in the morning and post-nap).

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You and your crazy delight.

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You and the randomly and hilariously crazy things you say with such a straight face. My goodness, I’ve added years to my life in laughter.  [Like this morning when you asked for breakfast to be “Cookie cereal and a tomato.” “A tomato?!” I responded and you said with the most straight face, “Yeah, I’ve never had that together before.”]

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And those expressions. I swear I’m seeing  a glimpse of your teenagehood trapped in your now four year old body. HA!

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Abi you are a hoot! You add such spice to life. You are our perfect middle.

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And YES, today FINALLY is your birthday. And YES, today we are FINALLY going to Chuck-E-Cheese (how dare we say ‘no’ when you have been harboring pictures you’ve drawn Chuck-E for weeks).

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So from your Mommy, Daddy, and the rest of your cohort we wish our crazy, hilarious, dramatic, comedian, rambunctious, irresistible, passionate, delightful, spunky Abi Grace the happiest Fourth Birthday EVER!

 

- Love you so!

To My Abi

*** Sometimes I just want to single her out and share words I wish she could fully understand. But even if she can’t understand fully, my heart still needs to say these words.

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My Dearest Abi Grace,

Oh my flighty, strong-willed, adorable little girl. I have watched you spring out of your toddlerhood into a flourishing little girl. Oh you still need the strict boundaries, they help your passions from flying out of reality. You still need someone to come alongside of you and remind you to break out of your bubble of musical numbers and dance breaks. There is a whole world going on that sometimes you miss in exchange for another rendition of a Frozen song. But how I know your heart loves to express the very depths of those climactic moments brought to song. I love that too. It’s fun to get lost in a song.

My dear Abi, I delight in you. The very world we try to break you out of sometimes is the very world Daddy and I love to see you wholeheartedly in. We love your innocence. I love that you have this whole level of imaginative play that encompasses you. You just get so overwhelmed by your world of play that it outpours into an enviable and beautiful joy. You glow sometimes with such beautiful brightness that we just want to be a part of it. My heart can’t stand not being a part of that happiness you have created.

But you know, I think we butt heads the most because I see a little version of my immature self in you. I forget sometimes how long it took to learn the lessons of maturity when it feels like I have to remind you for the hundredth time that day that you are required to share – even though it was a musical number’s prop your toddler sister touched. I forget the hours of me testing my mother when you I am tired from walking through a hard expression moment with you. I forget how intensely that need for justice burned inside of me until I found an outlet, the very outlet you are searching for. I forget how the passion would well up inside of me and I didn’t know how to direct it or guide it so it would just overflow in tears or a jumble of words that never seemed to express what I really felt. But when I remember all that about the constant and gentle shaping of my wild little heart by a wonderful Father, I do remember one face of reason in my life: my mother. How patiently she walked beside me, teaching me the hard lessons, but I knew full well it was because she was invested in my person, the very core of me. And suddenly I see you as the little girl you are, the little girl struggling to learn how to harness the depth of the character God has knitted together within her. What beauty He has created in you. I can’t wait to see how He uses it, should you allow Him.

Abi, you are a boundary tester at heart. It makes me chuckle to see your little “spirited” side. Sure many times it’s wrapped in selfish motives. You haven’t quite learned how big the world is yet. I’m trying to help you see outside of you. But that sight takes a long time to perfect. It takes intentional training. But it’s worth the investment. I see that little rebellion creep into your smirk as you pretend not to hear your name being called. It makes me chuckle. I tried to get away with that too. You will learn. But even more than you learning to obey, I want you to learn the delight in obedience. The desire to feel that closeness of relationship. That harmony and beauty that comes not out of a broken, crushed-down submission, but to see the fruit of obedience’s harmony and then desire to seek it yourself. First thing’s first, “listen and obey” is your least favorite reminder hat tumbles from my lips – not through pursed lips (many times) but with time and maturity you will learn that I am more invested in your person, than I am your fleeting happiness in that particular moment. It’ll take some time and distance for you to learn that. It has taken that for us all.

Abi, you’ll always be my baby. I know you don’t want to hear that right now because you’re trying so hard to be “big”. You’re trying so hard to learn how to flex your wings and discover what you like and express those likes. Yep, I’m going to correct you. Sometimes those expressions are rooted in greed. And sometimes it’s merely the need to learn how to appropriately communicate your preference without bucking authority. Yeah, that one takes time and practice too. But I want you to feel safe to try. I want you to feel the love and trust that encourage you to make mistakes, even big ones, and then be able to learn from them. It’s a hard, vulnerable place to be to truly learn from another. It’s a pride-crushing blow sometimes. I want you to feel it’s worth the risk. And I want you to hear our cheering squad at your efforts.

My little Abi girl, you are beautiful. And I want you to know I have been and will always fight for you. Sometimes you won’t see it. Sometimes it’ll be behind the scenes. It’s those little conversations I have with others who desire your greatest welfare, where I share some secrets on how to encourage your obedience. ;) Sometimes it’s holding out my arms to your running tears, and holding you through your explosion of injustice and your hurt. And sometimes its watching you make bumps and bruises and then helping you to learn how to repair relationships. It’s a delicate balance, baby, but I will always fight for you… the best and truest form of you that you can be. In your flaws and your delights…. you are a wonderful investment. Soar, baby!

 

I just wanted to take a moment to write you a letter. I know sometimes you can feel lost in the business of a bunch of sisters, or the business of being a part of a ministry family. I know sometimes you just want some extra snuggle time. You just want Daddy or my full attention. And we try to give it to you. I try to hear your heart, even when it comes out a little jumbled and sin-pricked. You’ve never been “just the middle” to me. I still see the baby I carried around on my hip for over a year because you just needed that security. You are worth every adjustment to what I thought parenting was and is. You are worth the 4 a.m. wake-ups when I just can’t stop thinking about how to teach you a particular lesson. You are worth the extra time it takes to focus in on intentionally teaching you healthy boundaries in a way that you can understand. You are worth the moments of inconvenience when I have to apologize for snapping at you because I was focused more on a behavior than a life lesson. You are my one. My only. My Abi Grace. I love you, Abinov. My Abean-o. I love you so much that I make up little nicknames to catch your attention so you know that you’re on my mind. And just to make you smile.

I am so thankful to get the chance to be your Mommy.

Love you so, sweet girl.

Love you so.

 

From the deep,

Your Mommy

 

One of Those Days

We’re over an hour late to start homeschooling. Today has been one of those days.

One of those days where I’ve heard an abundance of invitations to come play among sisters.

One of those days where they’ve found a way for all three of them to participate.

One of those days when toys cover the floor because they’re building a house set-up together, complete with decorated rooms.

One of those days when Hannah’s toddler self isn’t a disruption of play but a welcome addition.

One of those days when Abi’s preschool imagination is overflowing with kitty behavior ideas and an adventurous storyline is being scripted.

One of those days when Kindergartener Rachael is absorbing Abi’s imagination with a passion and dancing along to care for her “baby Hannah” and “kitty Abi”.

One of those days when they have just meshed and play has taken off in a beautiful enjoyment for all.

 

We’re an hour late. And we may be an hour and a half or two hours late before it’s all said and done.

 

See, today homeschooling is more about sisterhood than academics. Homeschooling is more about building an investment into each other that isn’t stemming from Mommy’s initiative, but their own desire to just be together. Homeschooling is about building memories of wonderful sister play that they’ll reflect on as “childhood” in years to come.

 

It’s wonderful to watch God knit them together… to witness their love grow and develop and mature as He intertwines their worlds.

 

- What a wonderful day. =)

 

Wordless Wednesday: Home

It doesn’t matter how far apart we may live… these people will always be home to me. [And Matt and Nayt you belong in there too it’s just that the couch wasn’t big enough in that moment. =) ]

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- Thankful, grateful and blessed.

The Continuation of the Back-Story

(Insert the pre-read of: The Beginning of the Back-Story)

… And there in that daily environment, God blessed us with our first child.

The tomboy in my popped out, I wanted a boy. A son to play in the dirt with, run around outside with and bring to soccer or baseball practice. Cute little polo shirts and striped navy pants. Easy button, comfy clothes. SURPRISE! We caught the eyes of our sweet little Rachael Elizabeth on the ultrasound screen. I still remember taking a walk with a dear friend and just crying. I was so disappointed. What am I going to do with a girl? I don’t know the least thing about how to raise a girl. A girl was my lowest level of confidence… with the hairdos and the pink…. and fluffiness. And then there was the whole make-up and self-esteem issues. I was overwhelmed.

I started to get used to the idea as the pregnancy went on. Something about pregnancy sacrifices that bonded me to this little person inside. And then I met her one January 5th. Her beautiful browns. The way she turned into my neck when I sang to her. She knew my voice. She needed me. And I found a world of girl clothes that didn’t have to be pink. And the frills started to grow on me a bit.

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I was happy to see my dreams come true as Rachael neared 11 months. I was finally going to get to come home just to be with her. I wouldn’t carry the heartache of raising any more children before I got the chance to raise my own. And the hope of meeting our next one 6 months later, despite the 4.5 months of morning/afternoon/evening and night nausea and sickness, hit me with such joy as I drove away from the office for the last time. The pendulum was swinging back to investing in those God was giving us, instead of asking for their sacrifice alone.  (This is not to imply that working Moms are somehow bad Moms, this is just God’s life journey for Matt and I).

And we learned again that I was having another girl. This time it wasn’t too horrible of a shock. I didn’t need a counseling session walk with a friend. Hehe   I had grown in my confidence, especially since we hadn’t royally screwed up Rachael…yet.

Abi Grace joined us on a wonderful June 16th evening. And while her pregnancy left me wondering if we’d have any more…. EVER, her blond curls and baby blues stole my heart. Two girls… for this tomboy to raise. God sure had a sense of humor.

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God further opened Matt and my eyes to His beloved orphans a handful of months after Abi started sleeping through the night.. you know when we could actually start thinking again, as opposed to the basic survival mode of a newborn. While Abi was more clingy and more “Mommy only” than Rachael had ever been, God opened our eyes to those all over the world that didn’t have that opportunity to attach so strongly or consistently to anyone. Those forgotten. The ones that didn’t cry because they knew no one would come.

I remember calling my Mother after a session at the orphan summit weekend. “Hold Abi close for me, Mom,” I asked her. “There are so many that don’t live to be a year old in this world.” My little eleven month old Abi. I couldn’t get her out of my mind as I filled bags full of life-sustaining food for weak and perishing children’s mouths. Somebody’s baby. …. somebody’s baby…

 

Shortly after that conference and the continued praying we had done through that time in our lives, God opened our eyes to fostering. I honestly can tell you that I never once thought I’d be a foster mom. I saw the other side of the system. How little you can sometimes know about a kid placed in your home. The frustrations and the challenges and the strains. And Matt was not stained, but not naive to the hurts and the challenges and the trials of having a foster sibling. Matt had never pushed. We are a family. Our own family. So we would make decisions about what was best for our family, under God’s will’s umbrella.

Hannah Joy was added to our family shortly after we had finally jumped through all the foster care pre-trainings and the homestudy process hoops. We were certified… and had a newborn. A girl, naturally, because God knows what I need. And God knows what He is doing.

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The boys came to us one Friday, four hours after a phone call we had our two new responsibilities. Two little strangers to get to know and learn to love. I finally got some boys. Only these ones were different. They weren’t mine. … Or maybe they would be in the future. … Or maybe not. The challenges were great: lice off/on for 8 weeks, hospitalization of our unfamiliar 3 month old struggler and a 30 day illness following the hospital stay which would untrain our night-sleeper Hannah and send us all into a sleep-needing coma for 6 weeks of coughing, phlegm sucking and respirators. We were figuring out twins, Hannah and Little Man being 6 weeks apart. And working through the pains of growing from a family of 2 kids to a  family of 5 kids within a 5 month time frame. Our “middlest” Abi was now a SUPER middlest child, adding some new behaviors. Our oldest, Big Guy, was now adding some interesting habits to the mix. And somewhere along the 11 month journey we figured out how to operate as a team. There were beautiful peeks and forging valleys as the boys went through family confusion. And while we wanted “just our three back” in the really hard moments, we also didn’t want the boys to go home to anything but the best home possible. It was a weekly roller coaster at some points of the 11 months and I can tell you now that it was the most stress to date that we have had to figure out. My Matthew showed up with flying teamwork colors. I have never seen us work together so well. We were a well oiled machine of diapers, formula, kid schedules, diaper bags…. people, we could get out of the house in 30 minutes flat going from 5 undressed kids to all ready to go for an afternoon. We were constantly running schedules, play by plays and walkie-talkie like communications by each other to get everyone’s needs met from  medicines to wiped noses to clipped finger and toe nails. It was like an assembly line.

And while I wouldn’t give that time back for the world, Matt and I realized in that time that while we were able to live like that… it wasn’t our desire to always live like that. 5 kids age 5 and under was too much to sustain for years on end. So there was much joy and some hurt empty space when the boys went home the week of Christmas. An odd void in wondering how quickly our investment would deteriorate, and old, bad habits would return. And yet how much their hearts were full going back to Mom’s arms. And how proud we were and still are of how far Mom came to make healthy adjustments and sacrifices for her babies.

And we settled back into 3… almost in shock at how easy 3 was. Our house was so quiet. And orderly. And our #4 crept quietly into the end of our chaos and just grew…. and grew in the newfound normal.

Eden Rose. Girl #4 will be joining us this summer. And you know what? I prayed that we’d have another girl. I’ve seen how our Abi and Rachael are dear friends. How they’ve blessed my ears in their giggles over the baby monitor. Their little imaginary worlds exploding with fairy princess tales and rescue missions down the hallway. They are such dear friends, the two of them. And they will be bunk mates for who knows how long.

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And then there came our busy little Hannah, flocking to Rachael’s nurturing and butting heads with our drama queen, Abi, while following her around the house in awe. Hannah doesn’t quite understand that her bunk mate is coming soon, but she’ll figure it out that Mommy’s still going to call her baby and rock her even when little Eden shows up on the scene.  They each have moved over and shared with the next one in line. Some taking longer than others. But each learning a new level of kindness, compassion and nurturing.

 

Our orphan care dreams still find their ways into conversations. Funny how you can’t hide your heart. And every Saturday morning Matt and I pray for how our family will be involved in adoption. We continue to do research and await God’s next whisper of direction. International, domestic, fostering to adopt…. we’re just waiting to hear what He’d have for us next.

 

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So that brings us all the way to tonight. And the little story I wanted to share. See knowing the back-story helps to fully understand how far God can grow a Mom…. this Mom. How He knows us far better than we ever thought we knew ourselves.  And how His love changes us… changes me.

Hannah was down to bed. Littlest goes down earlier than everyone else since she needs more sleep. Rachael and Abi snuggled their little almost four (in a few weeks) and five year old selves into our family reading time on the couch. Teeth freshly brushed. Pottying finished. Hair being taken out of the day’s hairdos (see, I have gotten better… slowly). Abi’s little hand came over to feel Eden move. Poor Abi’s too impatient to really get a good kick but she seems content regardless.

Rachael joined in the fun, partially to stall out bedtime and the other half of her nurturing kicking in. I played along… bonding starts before they meet face to face. This late in the pregnancy game my shirts don’t fit quite so great
(can I get a witness?!). It’s easy to see my belly hanging out. But when it’s just family I don’t care.

See… my girls are learning to define beauty. I already know the media’s message they will have to struggle with in due time. But I want them to remember me as different than the culture. Real. And unashamed. God defines beauty. I want them to wonder why we defined beauty in such a different way than Hollywood ever did. I want it to point them to Jesus.

Abi commented on my belly being fat. It doesn’t bother me anymore. I carry big and low. And she’s not criticizing. Just observing.

“Yep, Abi, Eden’s getting bigger,” I usually answer back with no shame. We want her to get big. And continue to be so healthy – even if she’s already a  pound over the average weight for her gestation week.

Abi poked my stretch marks.

“Do those hurt?” Rachael’s compassion kicked in.

“Sometimes they’re uncomfortable,” I was honest as I exposed my baby bump, “but lotion helps them feel more comfortable. It’s just my skin growing and stretching to fit Eden as she grows bigger. Some were from Hannah,” they touched a few. “And some were from you, Abi.” Abi shot an excited smile.

“And some,” I pointed to the really deep ones, “were from you, Rachael. All the way back when you were a baby,” since my five year old is ‘so big’ now.

And then we chit-chatted about the blue veins on my stomach and how they bring blood to Eden so she can keep growing big and strong. And how veins help bring blood all the way down to my toes and all the way up to my head. Abi enjoyed poking my veins and I smirked at being a living science experiment.

“Did you know blood is blue?!” I asked my blondie.

“What?!” said Rachael.

“Yep, it’s blue, but when it comes out of our bodies it turns red. That’s why my veins are blue.”

Abi jumped off the couch and pointed to my spider veins. “Here’s some more!”  came her innocence.

“Yep, those are spider veins, don’t they look like spider legs?” I asked her as she poked me again.

“I like these ones,” she said with a smile.

“And here’s my huge long vein,” I pointed to my varicose vein as Rachael helped trace it down my leg.

“This one has a LOT of blood traveling inside.” I explained.

Eden began moving again and we giggled about what part of her body she could be moving.

“How is she laying in there?” Rachael asked. “Is this her head?” She patted an Eden bulge.

Eden squirmed a bit.

“I don’t know, I can’t see in. But when we got to see in with the pictures two weeks ago her bottom was here and her head pointing down with her feet up by her head.”

They giggled at how silly that sounded.

“Is this her bottom?” Abi lost it in hysterics poking at some hard section of Eden.

“Maybe.” We giggled.

“Did you know Daddy used to lay his head on my belly with each and every one of you and try to get kicked in the head?!” I shared.

Then of course after the giggles swept through Abi and Rachael had to try it.

“Now this is the only time it’s okay to let Eden kick you in the head,” I laughed, “Only when she’s inside my belly.”

It was getting late and they were getting a little overly silly. But before they scampered off to their beds, Rachael and Abi both gave Eden a goodnight hug… loving on my belly. And Abi gave my road-map of stretch marks a little kiss. “Goodnight Eden,” came their sweet little voices.

 

 

I have tried to make it a point to be honest with my girls. I don’t want to share too much for their little worlds to grasp, but I do want to filter to them real beauty. Beauty not defined by concealer, dieting, or a constant desire to physically look better.  Beauty not disguised as idolatry or wrapped in manipulation or a power status. A beauty that strives to be healthy, but embraces motherhood and being a wife in its raw and vulnerable moments. A beauty defined in God’s definition of worth, love and grace.

I see curiosity in their young eyes, but know that self-worth doubt will most likely fumble in through the awkward Jr. High years. And desire to be like everyone else, a carbon copy of culture’s definition of beauty, even if it’s defined in the Christian culture community. may very well be a High School challenge. Outward appearance will drive a message of highest importance, leaving many ladies struggling with self-image for the rest of their lives.

But I want to outwardly embrace my laughing lines… it’s evidence that I laughed. When I’m old I want to have gray hair. It’s evidence that I have been gifted a long life. I want to have crows feet on the sides of my eyes…. fruit of smiling at others. And I am so blessed to have a husband who treasures my “honor marks” left by my wonderful girls. And my stomach will probably never have a six-pack of abs…. my skin will probably never go completely back to what it once was before my big, healthy girls… but I wouldn’t exchange it for the world. Sure I’m going to strive to be healthy and maintain a level of fitness to be able to play with my kids at the park, and chase grandkids eventually, if we are so blessed. I want to be fit enough to walk some flights of stairs without dying for breath and encourage my family through self-sacrifice and self-determination to overcome future 5k’s on a decently regular basis. My body is a temple of the Living God and I want to be healthy and fit enough to do His work that He has for us. But I am not ashamed of my love handles. They are a reminder of carrying little kickers and being a part of the miracle of new life.

I want my girls to learn about that kind of beauty. A beauty defined in My Father’s eyes.

 

… and maybe that’s why He keeps on giving us girls to raise.

 

 

- Thankful, grateful and overwhelmingly blessed.

The Beginning of the Back-Story

Growing up I didn’t really give much thought to the genders of the kids I wanted to have. I started out wanting to have 16 of them at about age 3 or 4 years old. Then the number dropped to 12 for a while going through elementary school and fell into the back burner of Jr. High and High School’s shadows. In college I knew I wanted to have a good number of kids. I have always adored them and find it quite natural to be in their world. I surrounded myself with kids growing up from helping Moms to play in the other room with their kiddos so they could accomplish tasks independent of kid needs when I was too young to babysit at 9 and 10 years old to babysitting, nannying, going on a few vacations with families and even running church nurseries.

When the idea of a career field came into my world, I naturally gravitated toward an early childhood education teacher. I had helped in teaching environments from the home to Vacation Bible School to even a few tutoring environments. I just love kids. They’re my normal.

In college my early childhood education window opened as God opened my worldview to His heart for “the least of these”. It began in the form of foster care, one branch of forgotten children. Suddenly He taught me how teaching goes so far beyond the classroom and even the very basics of worth, love, and trust need to be taught before a child can move on to enjoying and asserting themselves in Math or Reading or being vulnerable in a challenging subject. I suddenly had a heart change, resulting in a change of my major to Social Work. I began t see my fringe kids in the daycare in which I worked in a totally different light. No, not every case is a social work case, but my eyes were opened to those foster children coming through my afternoon Kindergarten classroom that were “a little more rough around the edges”. I enjoyed being a “secret weapon” substituting in more challenging classrooms. “Who’s name do I need to know?” I would ask the lead teacher of the classroom and then try not to single those kids out for poor behavior problems, but provide structure, consistency and special love to those children. It was cool to see their behaviors change a bit. Nope, I’m no miracle worker, but loving structure goes a very long way in a child’s chaos.

When I met my husband he was one of seven kids, now one of eight with two adopted siblings. He ate, slept and breathed kids, bring the second in the pecking order. Granted, he was one of those kids for the longest, but with parents who consistently ministered to children through foster care since almost as far back as he can remember, his heart and arms were just open. That’s one of the things that drew me to him. See, some can call that being a “family person” but I believe God made my “family man” into so much more through walking with others in their deep hurts and struggles. Barb and Rodger, my in-laws, did a wonderful job of sheltering their children’s innocence while also coming alongside of these really hurt little children in the foster care system. They protected their own blessing while also taking on some pretty tough cases. Their family motto? Christ is more than enough. And that was tested. And it was challenging. And they lost a lot of sleep. And walked in a lot of hard pairs of shoes. And they still have no idea of the impact they had in some of the children’s lives that came through their home for the 18+ years of foster care their family offered.

I joked with Matt that I wanted to have eight kids of our own when we were dating and engaged. His eyes nearly bugged out of his head a few times when he realized I kept repeating the same number… and it wasn’t a joke. He reminded me of how nice four sounded. Hehe. I told my friend and sis-in-law, Ellen, one time that I planned on starting at 8 so we could compromise at 6 kids. We both laughed since Ellen kept talking about a dozen children to her, at the time, new husband. Poor Ron and Matt. Our providers. They must have lost some serious sleep over the thought of feeding so many little mouths on a single salary – you know, since Ellen and I had plans of being stay at home moms. Don’t we sound awful? Hehe.

I worked as a foster care and independent living (transition program from foster care for older teens) case manager as my internship and for a year of my launching board off of college. I wanted to have a baby, but God wanted me to raise a few other kids first. When my car died from all the case management driving, I knew I couldn’t sustain at case management 40+ minutes from the office. The hours were long many days. Too long to start a family. Matt was doing his internship for school. I missed seeing him.  It was our first year of marriage.

I switched to individual and group therapy at a program designed for children who had failed out of multiple preschool/daycare settings due to behaviors. We saw every kind of case there from the lack of parenting to the product of broken homes to foster care cases. I had chairs thrown at me, was called everything under the sun, and had so many scratch marks and even a few bite marks while being spit on. Some of these kids entered our program with utter wild in their eyes. They had all the authority. Many of their parents had given up or they had failed out of multiple, multiple foster homes… and they were only 4. I had the group kids who were older. 4 years old until 6 years old when they aged out of our program. Some of the things these kids had been through would bring even the hardest heart to tears. Such innocence stripped. And all was left was a hurt, hurt frail child who hid behind aggression.

 

And there in that daily environment, God blessed us with our first child.

 

(Continue on to: The Continuation of the Back-Story)