She said “Yes!”

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It’s with hearts overflowing with gratitude that we share the news that our family is once again growing by “two feet.”

This time, however, it is not by way of adoption, but by the sacred road of marriage that we are gaining a son.

This afternoon, Zach took Gracie to a place that holds a special place in her heart and asked her to be his bride. Standing at the base of Buttermilk Falls he declared his love and devotion, presenting her with a treasured token of his love: a family heirloom, his great grandmother’s ring.

And Grace responded with a resounding, “YES!”

Their courtship has been a sweet blessing in the midst of some challenging months, and it was with great joy and unwavering assurance that we gave Zach our blessing when he approached us to ask if he could have our oldest daughter’s hand in marriage.

Grace didn’t know today was going to be one for the memory books, but we did! Zach included us in the blessed event as secret photographers of the proposal. It was such a gift of love to be allowed to be part of that experience and it was a joy to share that moment with both Molly and Sherrie, her soon-to-be second mother.

Grace couldn’t have saved her heart for a better man, and as a result is blessed to be gaining an incredible family.

Our hearts are so full that we find our eyes leaking with the joy of it all.

Blessings of love and eternal happiness to the bride-to-be and the man she loves.

God has blessed them both!

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“Seize the Day!”

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In April, Miss Molly turned 19, and for her birthday gift we surprised her with tickets to see the musical “Newsies.” Molly is a huge fan of musical theater and her love for this facet of the arts was born from her early childhood exposure to Disney’s film version of “Newsies.” When we heard that it was playing in Pittsburgh, only weeks after her birthday, we decided it would be a perfect birthday gift for our sweet girl.

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After considering different possibilities, based on the cost of tickets and the budget we had planned, it was decided we would all attend but would split into two groups with Grace and Molly enjoying a better view of the production with more expensive tickets, while the rest of us enjoyed the show from a distance. It seemed this was the perfect solution for our large family to share a special experience for Molly’s birthday, while making it feasible for our wallet.

When Saturday rolled around we prepared to go. The event took place in the week leading up to Mother’s Day so my vision of what the night would be, wasn’t exactly how it was. We were down one family member due to Ozzie being hospitalized, and other kiddos, while there in a physical sense were not there in an emotional sense. Determined to not allow another child’s birthday to be sabotaged and ruined by the effects of past trauma, we pushed forward with a blind eye and gracious tolerance to the struggles of our less enthusiastic guests.

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What began as a decision made based on financial merit, turned out to be a blessing in disguise as Molly was spared from the struggles of younger brothers by her and Gracie sitting separately from the family. She was able to enjoy her birthday gift with no awareness of the struggle playing out 30 rows behind her. God’s hand was definitely in the details.

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Molly was over-the-moon excited to watch one of her favorite musicals come to life on the stage in front of her. We arrived at the theater, took some photos outside, before being made aware that cameras are not allowed inside the theater for this production…(a double standard I can not wrap my brain around in this day and age of cell phone cameras.)

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Dressed for the theme!

With Toby graciously offering to run my camera back to the car, we headed into the lobby to wait for his return. While there Molly received the unexpected gift of running into one of her best friends, Anna, whom she hadn’t seen in months. It was wonderful catching up with the Decker family while we waited for Toby to return.

By the time he made it back from the parking garage it was time to take our seats. We split ways with the girls as they took their seats in the front row of the balcony and we headed to our seats near the back of the theater.

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For those less familiar with Disney’s Newsies, it is a story that takes place in July, 1899 when Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst raise the distribution price one-tenth of a cent per paper, ten cents per hundred, the newsboys, poor enough already, are outraged. Inspired by the strike put on by the trolley workers, Jack “Cowboy” Kelly organizes a newsboys’ strike. With David Jacobs  as the brains of the new union, and Jack as the voice, the weak and oppressed found the strength to band together and challenge the powerful.

It was so good!

And when the show was over Molly had the opportunity to get in line to meet some of the amazing actors that brought the story to life.

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She decided to turn the Newsies t-shirt, that she received as part of her birthday gift, into a special memento of the experience, by having the lead actors from the show sign her shirt. She was over-the-moon excited!

It was a magical ending to a very special birthday celebration for a very special girl.

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Miss Molly, we hope that you will always choose to “Seize the Day!”

Mother’s Day…a blessing or a curse?

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Mother’s Day is a tough holiday in our home…and I would venture to guess, many people’s homes.

Wrought with high emotions and feelings of anger and grief, that stand in stark contrast to commercialized expectations, Mother’s Day has evolved from my favorite Sunday of the year, to my most dreaded.

As Mother’s Day approached, my feelings of joyful anticipation of having all my kids home with me on this holiday that celebrates the role I cherish most, soon morphed into solid dread. The signs of impending doom rolled in, much like a dark and threatening thunder head. Weeks before the actual holiday arrived, my adoption treasures began to escalate in anticipation of the holiday that celebrates the greatest source of hurt and heartbreak in their lives.

Seeing the escalation led me to suggest that we simply cancel Mother’s Day this year. It was clear that the mixed emotions tied to the day were too much for some of my kids to handle. Parenting biological children with no trauma history, while raising adopted children with severe trauma histories, is a challenging balance. And while I found myself leaning toward scrapping the day completely, Toby and the three oldest kids argued that they had  things planned and wanted to be able to express their love and celebrate my role as mom. When the other kids insisted that “they were fine,” we proceeded, but it was with a knot in my stomach that I stepped into Mother’s Day weekend.

The attacks began days before the actual holiday, as my adoption treasures began trying to push me away with their words and actions. I became mortal enemy #1 as feelings of grief and guilt ate away at their hurting hearts. Being told by Hallmark that they needed to love me and show me that love, only heightened their resentment and anger about the word “mother” and all the heartbreak tied to that word.

Much of their knee-jerk response to the impending holiday was instinctual and not a direct attack on me as a person. Rather, it was an attack on the role I hold and the threat that role represents to their traumatized inner child. Amid the directed and seemingly personal attacks of anger and hate, I had to keep reminding myself that this was not about me, I was simply a living representation of the greatest heartbreak of their life.

But when the attacks are so direct, and targeted, and seemingly personal, it is hard to not feel hurt and even a bit resentful.

I had to keep reminding myself that each angry declaration of “I hate you,” was actually a hurt child fearfully asking, “Are you the next mom who will leave me?”

With each item of property destroyed in a fit of anger, there was a child telling me through his actions, “The grief within me is tearing me apart.”

And the choice to flee, as one child ran away and his choice resulted in a six hour search for him on Mother’s Day, came the unexpressed question of, “Do you love me enough and want me enough to come after me?”

It was a hard, hard day…and a fitting conclusion to a month of hell, but we did our best to navigate it. We opted to stay home and avoid the triggers we anticipated at church, knowing that talks about the blessings and love of mothers would be too much for some of our kiddos to handle.

We hunkered down and rode out the storm…

And what a destructive storm it was.

We made it through the day, exhausted, battered, bruised, and weary…but we made it. And the next day we emerged from the destruction ready to begin clean-up; both physical and emotional.

Much like the devastation that follows a category 5 hurricane, the clean-up will take time, but we are seasoned pros at storm clean-up. We will pull on our work boots and heavy gloves and get to work. We are restoration specialists and cleaning up messes is our calling.

But the day was not without some sunshine. Before things derailed, the kids sat me down to give me my Mother’s Day gifts. The boys bought me earrings and made me cards.

Toby, knowing my #1 coping skill is to recharge my emotional batteries in a bubble bath, bought me bath supplies and chocolate to indulge in.

Molly, my words of affirmation child, expressed her love in the form of a beautiful and touching framed poem.

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And Grace put her talents to use with a beautiful painting.

This painting is special because it is the manifestation of a conversation we had months ago. While carpooling to our Thursday night college classes, I shared with Grace an image that I had in my head that illustrated how I was feeling emotionally. I told her, that I saw myself from the back, standing in front of a dam. And behind that dam was a lake. As I stood there, the dam began to spring a leak, then a second, then a third…

I described the image in my head of me trying to hold back the flood of destruction by plugging the holes that were leaking. I explained to her the physical excursion I displayed as I reached, and stretched to plug each leak, using every digit of my hands and feet. With my face pressed against the hard, rough surface of the crumbling dam, even my nose was utilized to hold back the water.

Grace remembered that conversation and used that image I described to paint a picture as a Mother’s Day tribute. I was moved to tears to see the image I described, so beautifully illustrated on the canvas, especially when she began to explain the artistic license she took in changing my described image to account for her perception of my efforts.

She explained that she painted me in a dress, posed like a dancer, while plugging the leaks in the dam, to illustrate the grace she feels I show as I fight to hold back the destruction that threatens to burst forth.

She also added cracks in the wall where the water was dripping free, painting flowers beneath those cracks to represent the beauty God can create, even amid chaos and destruction.

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Her gift of love is a treasure beyond all measure and a powerful reminder of what this journey is all about.

Happy Mother’s Day, to all the women I love.

A Trip to the Homestead

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Two weeks ago we had the opportunity to drive out to the Homestead for a visit. Nestled between two hard weeks, it was just the reprieve we all stood in need of. We don’t get out to Ohio nearly enough, and just like all our relationships, this one too has been neglected recently due to living in crisis mode. When the windows of heaven opened enough to carve out an open afternoon, we took advantage of a rare opportunity to take hold of some much needed respite from life. Ozzie was hospitalized and the other two boys were regulated enough to handle an excursion, so off to Ohio we went to visit my parents at the Homestead.

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When life is hard and you are feeling broken, nothing comforts the soul like a visit home, and what better place to find respite and lick our wounds than among those who know me and love me best…my momma and my papa.

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Under their tender loving care we enjoyed the solace of the Homestead. Our bellies and spirits were fed and we enjoyed a day full of good food, good conversation, games and laughter.

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With us we had an extra tag-a-long. Gracie had invited her boyfriend, Zach, to join us, wanting my parents and grandma to get to know this boy who has stolen her heart, and introduce him to all the family and animals that call Wooster home.

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It was a relaxed day and the peace we found among the rolling hills of Ohio was just what the doctor ordered.

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How grateful I am for this tribe of people God has blessed me with.

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There is nothing better than family.

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Fighting for the GREATEST Cause

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We find ourselves in the trenches once more.

I share the quote above because it powerfully puts into words the reality of our journey and petitions for the prayers we stand in need of.

Adoption is a war, but not the war it appears to be through the eyes of those on the outside looking in. To the casual observer it would seem that we were fighting a losing battle against our kids from hard places. The defiance, rebellion, and dangerous manifestations of anger that burst forth in the form of running away, physically assaulting siblings, property destruction, chronic lying, suicidal ideation, manipulation, and relationship sabotage smack of “us verses them.” If someone would step into our home in the midst of one of our daily battles, the screams of, “I hate you! You are not my mom!” coupled with flying projectiles would definitely lead you to believe the warfare playing out is familial, but that is simply not the case. Our war is not with our children. It is a battle we are fighting side by side with our children, against the trauma of their past. Though they do not always see it that way.

The reality of adopting kids with a trauma history is that as a family you are choosing to open your door and invite inside a battle of epic proportion. You are choosing to fight for the soul of a child and Satan doesn’t fight fair. By choosing to adopt children that the world has seen fit to abandon and give up on, you are agreeing to walk into the fire and expose your home, your children, your marriage, your friendships and your extended family to a whole new level of spiritual warfare.

And I’m here to say that we can’t do it alone.

We need our prayer warriors to surround us with an armor of fortification because our ragtag battalion is growing weary and our wounds are extensive.

Sometimes I look on my family, especially on the heels of one of those intense and destructive battles, and I see in them the faces of the famous Howard Pyle painting, “The Nation Makers.” This iconic piece of artwork is a powerful depiction of the War for Independence. It depicts a line of soldiers in tattered clothing and bandages marching forward through a field of grass and wild flowers. They push forward with a purpose and a drive that trump all obstacles. Bloodied and bruised, they do not hesitate.

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And bloodied and bruised my family pushes forward, fighting for a cause even greater than independence. We are fighting for salvation; reclaiming a soul from the brink of destruction.

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But that doesn’t always mean that soul wants to be saved. Satan’s greatest weapon in his spiritual warfare arsenal is to whisper into the vulnerable ears of my sons that they are not worthy of our love or God’s love. With those lies, he plants seeds of hopelessness that leads to behaviors only seen in those who have nothing left to lose.

I could draw a vivid picture of our life through my words but it wouldn’t even begin to sufficiently illustrate our reality, and even if my words didn’t fail me, you would have a hard time accepting that it is truth. Our “normal” has reached a new level of dysfunction.

This heightened level of warfare has led to us calling in reinforcements. After multiple trips to the emergency room in the last month, which has led to multiple acute stabilization programs, Ozzie’s doctor has deemed him unsafe to return home at present. She feels he in unsafe with himself and fears for the safety of the other children in the house. Once again we find ourselves in a place where to best love this child, we must surrender this child to God’s plan for him. That plan will involve intensive, inpatient treatment at a residential facility.

We are all heartbroken, hurting, and weary. My older kids are feeling beat up, both emotionally and physically, and Tyler and Braden have been significantly triggered by the events of the last months, setting us back a million miles in their therapeutic journeys.

We all want to curl up and cry.

This walk is so very hard, and I often count my blessings that I didn’t know how hard it would be prior to stepping into the fire, because I fear that I wouldn’t have had the courage to say yes to God’s call.

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We are now trying to find some level of stabilization, both individually and as a family unit, for the injuries are severe after this latest round of battles. I look at my family and I am seeing the effect of living a life in crisis, and sympathize with the fact that everyone is trying to continue navigating “normal” life and everyday commitments while destruction and great loss play out behind closed doors.

In the past I have likened this way of living to pitching a tent on the battlefield. War rages on, and you can hear the whistle of bullets as they pass dangerously close, but you try to continue carving out a life amid the destruction.

Just last week, as Ozzie lay in an emergency room bed raging over the fact that I wrestled the handful of pills out of his mouth, thus preventing him from ending his life, I sat trying to submit my last college assignments for the week through my cell phone before the 1:00am deadline. It is crazy and absurd that this has become our “normal.”

I share this because without an understanding of the chaos that is driving our world, life may appear “fine” to the untrained eye, and it is because of this lack of awareness that expectations placed upon Toby and I and our children result in “final straw” moments of emotional collapse.

As a family we need more empathy and support and less judgement.

So, please be tender with my troops.

They have been fighting a war most of you will never have to experience. They are choosing to step on the battlefield day after day, to fight for the future of a child who has walked through hell and feels undeserving of anything more.

Please pray for us.

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Working Hard!

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The last few months has brought about many changes, on many fronts, and one of those areas has been in the area of employment.

Three of our kids have embarked on new adventures in employment.

A few months ago Molly came to us looking for guidance as she considered her financial status as she moves into college mode. It is her goal to follow Gracie’s example and avoid debt while pursuing higher education, and as such has been putting money aside for college since she began working.

Recently the situation at Subway has resulted in a decrease in the hours being offered to Grace and Molly, causing both of them to look at other possibilities. Both of them love working at Subway, and have loved working with each other, but recognize that they can’t finance their college education on the wages they are earning at Subway.

So, a month ago, Molly donned her Subway gear for the last time and hung up her hat as “sandwich artist.”

For her last shift she was scheduled to work with Grace, ending their time working together after years of working side by side, first at the Philly Pretzel Factory and then at Subway.

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I couldn’t resist stopping by and capturing the bittersweet ending of a blessed season with some “Subway sister” photos.

Molly now is employed as a waitress at Eat’n Park. She is excited about this new challenge and has loved the fast-paced action of working the floor. Her sunny disposition is sure to help her find success as a waitress. This week she will finish her training and will move from shadowing a more seasoned waitress to working her own section of tables herself.

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Last night we slipped away for a long overdue date night. With only Rusty and Tyler at home, we could leave for a few hours knowing all would be well in our absence. That is a luxury we haven’t enjoyed for the last six months and we treasured those minutes of rest away from the chaos that has consumed our lives lately.

While enjoying dinner at Eat’n Park we caught a glimpse of Molly in action. We weren’t seated in her section but we were able to watch from a distance as she rose to this new challenge she has undertaken.

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Hopefully this new line of work will bring her the enjoyment and increased cash flow she is hoping for, as she saves for college.

Grace, too, has found she is pinching and scraping to meet her monthly tuition bill. Her education had been funded through grants, scholarships and a lot of hard work on Gracie’s part. She set a personal goal for herself to pay cash for her college education and avoid debt. The limited hours she has been getting at Subway has made reaching that goal more and more challenging, which led Grace to explore different employment options. Her hope was to find a job working in the area she hopes to arrive in after she is done with school, which for Grace is working with children in some capacity.

At our suggestion, she reached out to a dear friend at church who owns a daycare, to ask if they were hiring. They were and she was hired. For the last month she has been working at Pitter Patter Place and loving it. She rotates through the different rooms: infants, toddlers, and pre-school, with her favorite area being the toddler room.

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It has been such a great change for her. She loves the work, loves the kids, loves the women she works with and is getting the hours she needs to pay for her schooling. The schedule is ideal as the daycare is open during traditional school hours while Gracie’s ASL courses all take place in the evening.

She also decided to continue working at Subway on Friday and Saturday evenings, at least for the time being.

This full schedule means she leaves the house most mornings at 6:30 am, working until 4:30 pm, and then she drives to school an hour away to attend her 6:00 pm classes three days a week, returning home at 10:00 most evenings. It is a full schedule but Grace is managing to keep all her plates spinning, as she works hard to achieve the goals she has set for herself. We are proud of her work ethic and the diligence she has shown as she pursues her future dreams with maturity and grace.

Located just across the street from the Eat’n Park where Molly now waitresses, you will find Braden working most evenings. He gainfully employed at Handel’s, our local ice cream joint. He was hired a few weeks ago and has enjoyed the added cash flow of being a member of the working world.

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He is loving the work he gets paid to do as he mixes milkshakes, scoops ice cream and makes sundaes…

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He especially loves the perk of free shakes and the occasional tip…

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And Toby and I are enjoying the perks as well!

Following our date night dinner at Eat n Park, where we benefited from the family discount of having a daughter employed there, we drove across the street for dessert at Handel’s where Braden treated us to a milkshake.

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I think we are going to enjoy this set-up!

Rusty is our last child who is actively pursuing employment. He has applications sprinkled around town and he is hoping to join the ranks of the gainfully employed very soon.

What a busy and blessed life we live.

Easter Blessings

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Easter weekend arrived on the heels of a hard week, proving to be anything but “typical” when a series of unexpected trauma triggers rewrote the script we planned for Easter Sunday.

It was with heavy hearts and weary spirits that we moved into the Easter weekend.

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It began with a not-so-Good Friday when we found ourselves at the emergency room with Ozzie in crisis.

An evaluation brought awareness that hospitalization was necessary. We arrived midafternoon and I spent the night sitting up in a chair while an open bed at a pediatric mental health hospital was sought out for Oz. Seven hours later a bed was secured and at 8:30am the ambulance arrived to transport him. The sun was already up when I dragged myself back to the parking lot for the heavy-hearted and painful drive home. I was physically exhausted from sitting up all night with Ozzie and emotionally weary from this long, lonely, rollercoaster ride we can’t seem to stop. After a few hours of sleep I rolled out of bed. Toby and I were both tapped dry but we had to rally. We couldn’t let the choices of one child steal the joy of the Easter holiday from the other children. Too many sacrifices have already made for the sake of the higher-needs children in the home and we weren’t going to allow the discouragement that weighed down our hearts, darken the joy of the day. So, Toby and I, exhausted and empty, headed out shopping for Easter baskets and egg coloring supplies. I found myself moving in a fog as I tried to figure out what to put into Easter baskets. I don’t know if it was bone-deep fatigue or the heaviness of grief over another unplanned detour in our family’s journey, but I felt like I couldn’t put together a complete thought, much less a creative plan.

It took us twice as long as it should have but Toby and I finally came up with a plan for Easter baskets and purchased the remaining ingredients needed for egg decorating and for the side dishes we were assigned to bring to Easter dinner.

We battled the crowds and the long lines associated with putting off holiday shopping until the day before, and eventually made it home.

In the hours that followed the eggs were hard boiled and colored, baskets were secretly assembled, Molly’s talk for Easter Sunday was printed out, Sunday clothes were washed and ironed, and soon it was time for bed. With everyone home and tucked into bed, and Ozzie safely cared for at Western Psych, I could finally sleep.

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We awoke at 4:00 am to the harsh ring of the alarm clock.

We crawled from bed to do our Easter duty, going through the motions of childhood traditions, allowing the kids to be kids for another year.

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While we don’t have any “bunny believers” left in our home, the “Easter Bunny” returned for another year. His arrival was especially critical this year, as we shared the joy of our Easter traditions with Braden who missed out on many of these special traditions as a child. He didn’t have a childhood filled with memories of colored eggs and Easter baskets, so we knew that it was important that his first Easter with us contain those beloved traditions. He needed an Easter basket. It was essential. He needed to be given a piece of our shared Easter memories, and needed the opportunity to be experience the joyful anticipation of being that 5-year-old little boy who exits his room in anticipation of baskets and brightly colored eggs hidden around the house. I know it sounds silly and indulgent given the crisis situation we were in. An Easter basket for a 17-year-old boy may not seem as urgent as other needs playing out in our home, but it was incredibly important, and I would even argue that it was essential.

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And the effects of our efforts…our display of tender love and parental care… were priceless.

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The joy of Easter morning moved into the joy of Easter worship as we celebrated the reason for the day, giving thanks for the atoning sacrifice that is the source of our hope and our strength.

After church we headed to Aunt Beth’s house for Easter dinner with Toby’s side of the family.

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We were joined by Zach, Gracie’s boyfriend, who had Easter lunch with our family at 2:00 before Grace joined Zach at his family’s Easter dinner at 5:00.

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We enjoyed good food and fun times with family, celebrating all of our blessings, but especially the blessing a God’s love, Christ’s atonement, forgiveness, do-overs, love-driven endurance, unconditional love, and forever families.

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Sweet Cousins 

We are blessed.

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The darkest days and the most heartbreaking, hopeless Fridays are always followed by the renewing promise and hopeful gift of Easter morning.

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God is good…

Always good.

 

Scrapbooking: Cheaper than a Therapist!

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Easter week was one of those muddied, happy/sad weeks where joyful, celebratory moments roll in on the heels of heartbreak and vice versa, leaving us all with emotional whiplash. These are the very hardest weeks for me to navigate as my desire for a life of black and white living meld into a perpetually grey existence. Gone are the days that can clearly be labeled a success or a failure. Instead we find ourselves riding the rollercoaster of trauma-affected parenting that take us on a ride filled with breathtaking views at the top followed by stomach-flipping drops to the bottom. This up and down thrill ride doesn’t occur over the course of a month, or even a week, but often in the space of mere minutes.

And to say that sort of frequent change in altitude (and attitude) is draining, would be the understatement of the year!

As I type this I can clearly picture the faces of family and friends who are nodding their assent to my depiction, as they, too, are on a similar roller coaster that never slows down and never allows riders to disembark. What got you on the ride might be circumstances far different than mine, but if you are “crisis living” and navigating life currently in survival mode, I know you get what I’m saying.

This week was one of those happy/sad weeks filled with many happy/sad hours of emotional whiplash as I celebrated joyful highs and heartbreaking lows,

And it all started with a girls’ week away.

This past week I joined four of my nearest and dearest friends at JB’s Retreat for a few days of cropping.

Every year I run away from home for a few days. This annual escape began over a decade ago when my big kids were little tykes. This annual getaway began when a friend who sold Creative Memories started organizing a scrapbooking getaway for her customers at a local Bible college. For 2 1/2 days, and for minimal cost, we would be blessed with the opportunity to spread out our paper and pictures (with no fear of little fingers touching), work uninterrupted (without having to break for diaper changes or meal preparations), and just scrap without interruption. It was a lovely and always a very productive reprieve from responsibility. It became something I look forward to each year. I was able to enjoy a mini vacation for a few days, but could do so without feeling any guilt because while I was away, I was using my time to bless my family by recording our family’s history

I love to scrapbook. I find it to be a delightful melding of photography, storytelling, and creative expression…3 things that bring me great joy. Scrapbooking has been an important creative outlet for me over the years (although less so now that I have the blog that meets some of that need.) I also have an inner drive and passionate desire to record my family’s story. Since I was a young girl, I have been a journal writer. Through scrapbooking I have been able to combine the need to record our life’s journey with my love of photography. Unfortunately, being a wife and Momma doesn’t allow me as much time as I’d like or need to stay on top of keeping everyone’s scrapbooks current. This is another reason why these annual scrapbooking weekends have become such a blessing. Over the course of a few days I can scrap a year’s worth of memories.

My conviction about the importance of having a recording of our stories and capturing the moments of our lives through photographs has only increased since we entered the world of adoption. I see how the lack of personal history in the form of scrapbooks or pictures hurt my boys, making me all the more determined that their current story be recorded and recorded well.

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This annual scrapbook weekend also serves the added purpose of being a time of rest and renewal. I am able to step away from the busyness of life that consumes my days and focus on self-care, stillness, laughter, and creativity…all balms to my soul. And I can do it without feeling that nagging momma guilt, because my time away is gifting my family with something special and important.

Over time that weekend retreat evolved as some friends moved on and new friends were gained. It went from being Becky’s planned excursion at a bible college to something a group of us co-op moms picked up when that era ended.

For the last few years we have gone away scrapbooking for 3-4 days. The first few years were spent at Scraphappy, a charming little house rented out to scrapbooking groups like ours, but a few years ago when we went to book it, we discovered it had closed without notice. There was a moment of panic, as all of us really live for this creative retreat, but then we rallied and began searching for an alternative location.

That is when we stumbled across Red Door Retreat.  This getaway was located near Sandusky, Ohio. It was a beautiful place, and it worked for that year, but the drive and the set-up of the house wasn’t ideal so we kept searching.

Two years ago, we tried a new place, one that Lana and Tauni discovered. It is called JB’s Retreat and its affordable price, beautiful views, and close proximity to home made it practically perfect!

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I left Tuesday morning with a van full of papers, photos, gifts, stickers, and enough food to feed a small nation. Typically, I ride with Lana and Tauni, but this year I drove separately. This was because we had some extra guests this year, and in the end, it was a blessing I had driven separately because in my absence things imploded at home, requiring me to take my leave a day early.

Our extra guests were three teenage girls.

Three of us scrapbooking veterans have daughters graduating this year.

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And these three graduates also happen to be best friends, just like their mommas, so we decided to open our getaway to our graduating girls when they volunteered to be our kitchen staff for the week.

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It sounded like a great deal to us, as we wouldn’t have to break from our creative pursuits to cook meals,

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And the girls were excited to get a mini vacation with much free time to play, interrupted only by their responsibilities at meal times.

Their presence was a blessing. It was fun to have that special bonding time with the girls and they truly did bless us by taking on the responsibility of cooking and clean-up.

When they weren’t in the kitchen cooking the girls spent their time doing school work, watching movies, enjoying the farm animals that call J.B’s Retreat home,

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Participating in a fun sewing project with Miss Wendy,

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And pampering themselves with the thank you gifts they received from the moms.

They soon discovered why our annual scrapbooking retreat is the highlight of my year…

Between the gifts of love exchanged between friends,

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The late-night hours filled with belly-aching laughter,

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The opportunity to emotionally recharge through good conversation, yummy food, and restful sleep,

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All while getting to indulge in creative pursuits…

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Who could ask for anything more?!

This year my creative project was to scrapbook our February vacation to Disney World and Universal Studios, and I did pretty well, getting 124 scrapbook pages finished before a late-night call on Wednesday evening that resulted in an abrupt end to my vacation.

This trip really clarified the emotional state of my hurting children. It soon became clear how dependent they are (in their current state) on my help to co-regulate them when they are struggling.

I ended up leaving Molly at the retreat, in the loving arms of my friends that are like “Aunties” to my kids, and they wrapped Molly up in their loving care while I went home to deal with the crisis at home. It was a good call. Molly was able to enjoy some extra, much-needed respite, and I was able to help Toby diffuse things at home. The next 24 hours were filled with huge safety issues that resulted in a trip to the emergency room and hospitalization for Ozzie after a series of dangerous behaviors that climaxed with a failed suicide attempt.

It wasn’t the week-long retreat I had hoped for, but I’m grateful for the hours of respite I was able to grab hold of while I could. It was a gift to step out of the storm for a few days, rest, be encouraged by dear friends, focus on some long-overdue self-care, all while enjoying some bonding time with Molly.

It wasn’t a perfect week. I probably wouldn’t even call it a “good” week (there was too much heartache mixed in),  but there were blessings to be found, and those blessings were a gift!

Here’s to recording the moments of our lives…

The good, the bad, and the ugly!

Rusty’s NHS Induction Ceremony

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We couldn’t be prouder of child #3.

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Rusty has joined Molly and Grace as the third child to be inducted into National Honor Society.

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The induction ceremony took place on Wednesday evening, following our sweet day of fun. We arrived back at our hotel with an hour to spare before we needed to leave for the ceremony. We got all gussied up and left for the banquet which was being held at St. Anthony’s Lodge, a local restaurant/banquet hall.

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When we arrived, we quickly found our assigned table and discovered we had lucked out with seats up front, which pleased this picture-taking Momma! We were seated with Mr. Winterode, Molly’s learning coach, as well as a few other favorite teachers.

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The evening began with a buffet dinner. As we ate we had fun socializing with teachers that we don’t typically get to see face to face.

Then it was time for the induction ceremony to begin.

Rusty and the other nominees were called out of the room to get lined up and receive last minute instructions before they filed into the banquet hall.

We watched with pride as Rusty took part in the inductee procession, taking his seat in the front of the room.

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Then it was Molly’s turn to take the stage. Molly is 21st Century Cyber School’s National Honor Society president this year, so she was asked to speak at the induction ceremony. She chose to speak on one of the four pillars of NHS…the pillar of character.

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Here is what she shared with the new inductees:

“Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.”

– H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Think for a second about what you do when no one is watching. What type of character do you have? What experiences have molded you into the person you are today? Which people around you have influenced you to have the character you have?

Character is defined as “The mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual,” which basically means that character makes us individuals. Our character helps us to be distinctive compared to the person sitting beside us, and the world needs that. Communities need individuals who have strong character to be an improving generation. Colleges look for individuals who show strongmcharacter traits and who have been shaped into outstanding students like you! It is your good character that is going to make the biggest impact in the world, both in the big moments but also the simplest times.

We all have opportunities and experiences to better learn our potential every day. My biggest experience of learning and gaining a stronger character came through a personal experience last summer.

I was accepted into The Global Leadership Adventure program. I spent 10 days in Costa Rica working with sea turtle conservation. It was a powerful experience for me because it was at that time that I learned I loved animal conservation, I love helping people and the environment, I enjoy travel, I can do hard things and I want to make a positive change in the world. Those ten days were powerful then, but every day since then I count my blessings of personal character growth that I gained from that trip.

Gaining character doesn’t have to involve traveling to a different country. It could be in the people we meet, the trials we go through, a school year, or even the everyday moments. It is all about finding our potential, worth, and individuality in the world, and then using that knowledge to bless the lives of others.

“Watch your thoughts; they lead to attitudes. Watch your attitudes; they lead to words. Watch your words; they lead to actions. Watch your actions; they lead to habits. Watch your habits; they form your character. Watch your character; it determines your destiny.”

I love the comment of how character determines your destiny. Tody I reflect on how NHS has shaped me to become the person I am today through the service opportunities I have had, leadership I’ve experienced, how much I’ve learned from other NHS members, and the opportunity I have had to be part of something bigger then myself.

What a privilege and blessing it is to be part of NHS and I proudly and gladly welcome you, new NHS members, with open arms. You, too, get the amazing opportunity to have your character shaped and molded through the experiences and service opportunities that come from NHS.

Cherish this time in NHS, because the world needs you. The world needs your strong character and outstanding personalities…

For your character defines you.

Your character can change the world.

Your character determines your destiny.

So, what will your legacy be?

The power lies in your hands.”

She did a wonderful job and it was so special that she, as NHS president, got to welcome her little brother into the NHS family in the same way Gracie, as NHS president 2 years ago, welcomed Molly into NHS as a new inductee.

Then it was time for the enlightenment ceremony; the ceremonial lighting of the inductee’s lantern of knowledge.

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This was followed by the induction pledge and the pin ceremony.

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It was such a special day and my heart was filled with gratitude that Molly and I were able to have that special time with Rusty and celebrate his hard work and his great effort in joining the ranks of students who qualified for the privledge of being a member of National Honor Society.

It was nice getting that special time with my third child, and it was good for Rusty to be able to shine and receive recognition for the exceptional young man he is. Rusty is my quiet gentleman, content to step back and let others shine, but I often worry that, in a home filled with big personalities and extreme needs, he feels unseen. This trip gave us the opportunity to allow him the chance to shine, as we celebrated him for the incredible young man he has become.

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We are so proud of you, Rusty, and love you so much!

A Sweet Day!

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Some weeks I feel as though life is slipping away at a pace so frantic and unyielding that I can’t seem to breathe. My lack of presence on the blog serves as a sure indication of the chaos reigning at home. The last two weeks have been filled with crisis after crisis and we have found ourselves emotionally overwhelmed with the tasks of putting out fires. Daily routines have been lost to the task of keeping everyone well, stable and safe. I find myself moving through the day in a fog of exhaustion as one all-nighter at the emergency room with a suicidal child is followed by a 3 hour search for a runaway sibling the following day. In the midst of this surreal reality we find ourselves navigating, we strive to carve out the time for engaged interaction with our children who aren’t in crisis, trying valiantly to not let the milestones of their young adulthood years get lost to the squeaky wheels in the family. I find myself racked with guilt as I watch the trauma of the boys’ past dictate the way the minutes of our life play out. I battle anger towards the birth parents that destroyed my boys’ lives. I battle resentment that my days are having to be filled with cleaning up their mess. But mostly I battle guilt…guilt when my response is unconnected and not as compassionate as it ought to be, guilt that my other kids are getting lost in the wake of crisis living, and guilt that I can’t be enough of a friend, daughter, sister, daughter-in-law, wife and mother to all those who need me, because there simply aren’t enough minutes in my day. I find myself running on empty and fantasizing about changing my name and taking off for Vegas to become a blackjack dealer named Sally…

But this too shall pass.

In the meantime I will share some happy moments from the weeks leading up to “hell week,” beginning with our trip to Downingtown for Rusty’s National Honor Society induction ceremony.

  I think it would be fair to say that Wednesday, April 10th was a very sweet day…

Like, cavity-inducing sweet!

On Tuesday, Rusty, Molly and I left on a road trip across the state to the Downingtown office of 21st Century Cyber Charter School.

Rusty had been accepted into National Honor Society and asked that he be able to attend the Downingtown office induction ceremony, instead of the Murrysville ceremony, so that he could have the same special excursion his sisters enjoyed as part of joining NHS. Since Rusty rarely asks for anything, and is my kiddo often lost in the shadows of our higher-needs children, we decided to take the opportunity to celebrate Rusty in a special way.

Molly also had a role in the ceremony. As president of the school’s National Honor Society, she was one of the speakers, so she joined Rusty on our little road trip.

It was such a gift to enjoy a few days of one-on-one time with Molly and Rusty, and fun for them to enjoy that time together. Molly and Rusty are not two of my kids that naturally pair off together so this event gave them an excuse for some special brother/sister bonding.

The NHS induction ceremony was scheduled for Wednesday night at 7:00 pm, so when we woke up in our hotel room on Wednesday morning, we had the whole day ahead of us for playing and enjoying the sites of the area. Since it was Rusty’s special day we let him choose how we would spend the day.

Being a teenage boy, he chose two sweet experiences that involved food.

Our first activity was the Turkey Hill Experience. Located in Lancaster County, the Turkey Hill Experience is a hands-on museum that walks visitors through the production process of Turkey Hill ice cream.

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The Turkey Hill Experience is housed in a beautiful, old brick warehouse.

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As we walked in, we were greeted by a giant cow…a whimsical clue to what the experience would hold.

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The experience is set up to take visitors through each step of the ice cream creation process.

The tour began with a short video about the history of Turkey Hill Ice Cream and an introduction to the ice cream making process.

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Then we stepped into the world of ice cream creation…

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Step 1: It all begins with the cow!

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Step 2: Making sure the milk meets the standards of Turkey Hill.

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“Watch out, Molly! Rusty is behind the wheel!”

Step 3: Getting creative…the “Create Your own Ice Cream Flavor” station.

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Step 4: Measuring and Mixing.

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Step 5: Designing the packaging for our new ice cream flavors.

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Step 6: Filming a commercial for our newly developed flavors.

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The climax of the experience came at the end with the tasting café where we were invited to taste different Turkey Hill ice cream flavors. There was no limit to the samples we could enjoy and there was no additional fee.

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We ended our tour of the ice cream making process by opting to upcharge our experience with some hands-on application in the taste lab.

For a slightly higher entrance fee visitors can try their hand at creating their own unique ice cream flavor in the lab.

We were excited to get our hands sticky and dig into this sweet experience.

With the help of a lab technician who led us through the steps of creating a new ice cream flavor, we began the creative process.

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First, we chose our base. We had the option on picking a vanilla or chocolate base.

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Then we created our flavor using flavor extracts.

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Next, we added our inclusions…those delicious chunks found in the very best ice creams!

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We had our choice of dozens of different types of inclusions.

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Once our inclusions were mixed in, we added our swirl of flavor.

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The results were AMAZING!

And the process was so much fun!

When we were done at Turkey Hill, we drove 45 minutes north, to Hershey, Pennsylvania…

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To visit Chocolate World!

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We began our visit at the “Create your own Candy Bar” experience, where we put on hair nets and aprons.

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The experience took us through the steps of creating our own chocolate bars from start to finish.

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We began the development process by picking the type of chocolate we wanted and the “inclusions” we wanted to add to the bar.

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From there we moved to the factory line where we watched the creation of our candy bars.

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After the candy bars were assembled, we moved into the design studio to create our packaging while the chocolate bars cooled.

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It was fun to watch our chocolate bars come to fruition and then get packed in our creative, personalized labels.

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Finally, we picked up our completed candy bars.

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By the time we were done creating our candy bars it was time to head back to the hotel to get gussied up for Rusty’s NHS induction ceremony.

We couldn’t have asked for a“Sweeter” Day!