Monthly Archives: August 2018

Bringing Sunshine


It’s been said:


I have always found this to be the case.

The people I know who are happiest and radiate joy are those who are most earnestly engaged in the spreading of sunshine.

I have been blessed with many sunshine spreaders in my life…

I especially see this in Molly.

Molly is a sunshine spreader.

Nothing brings her more joy then to have an opportunity to deliver a little sunshine to those fighting the darkness that so often threatens to close in on us all.

She was born with a servant’s heart, and that, in combination with a naturally sunny disposition, makes her the most effective sunshine spreader I know.

This summer, as part of her National Honor Society membership, she had to come up with and lead a service project in the community. She decided to pair her project with the young women’s goal setting program at church and make it a NHS/ Personal Progress project that would involve the adult members and her fellow young women at church.

After much consideration, she decided to take on a project that was a bit more personal. Having watched a few close family members battle cancer in the last few years she thought collecting items for chemotherapy care kits would be a nice way to show love and support for patients who are fighting this hard fight.

She began by compiling a list of items she thought would be helpful for those who are undergoing chemotherapy treatments at our local cancer center, and then posted the list of those items around church and on social media.


Her original goal was far surpassed as donations came flooding in from friends, family and church members around the area.

Molly was overwhelmed and touched by the show of generosity!


At a young women sleepover the girls wrote letters of encouragement to be included in the care kits.

A gift card to Dollar General, given by a friend, allowed her to purchase fun, brightly colored bags to hold all the donated items.


This week Molly gathered the donated items and the letters of encouragement and created the care kits.


She was overwhelmed and touched by the generosity of so many and couldn’t believe how many items were donated. The generosity of so many allowed her to assemble twice as many chemotherapy care kits then she originally planned.


Thank you, friends, for the sunshine you spread this month!

It was such a show of love towards Molly, and will be a beautiful show of love and support to those who receive the care kits!

A “Plan B” Birthday




It seems, despite all our best intentions, rarely do “Plan A” days materialize.

I’ve come to realize (and am working on accepting) the fact that we are “Plan B” people.

This isn’t by choice but it does seem to be an ongoing trend, and as a result we have gotten pretty good at rolling with the unexpected and embracing “Plan B” with a smile and a sense of humor.

Tyler’s 12th birthday was a “Plan B” sort of day.

We had such grand plans. After being rained out of our last visit to Kennywood we made plans to take advantage of our raincheck tickets and return for Tyler’s birthday. It seemed a perfect plan. The day prior was Brandon’s placement hearing so we thought it could serve as a celebration of Tyler’s birthday but also of Brandon’s placement. We even made plans to meet up with Tyler and Brandon’s little sister at the park after her half day at school.

Well,  all those grand plans came to a crashing halt when we received the unexpected and disappointing news that Kennywood was closed for the day. The day prior was the last day they were open during the week and they had shifted to “weekend only” hours.

Disappointment spread through the house at this news, but in true McCleery fashion we began brainstorming a “Plan B.” We already had the schedule cleared for the day. Everyone was off school and work and practice. Tutoring and therapy had also been cleared for the day. It has been so long since we had a wide open day ahead of us, with all family members present, and zero commitments, that we decided to take advantage of it and take a little day trip for Tyler’s birthday.

The older kids were already committed to volunteer at Ready Yourself Youth Ranch so we knew we wouldn’t be able to leave the house until 9:30 am. They have been volunteering twice a week for a year, and really enjoy the time they spend at the ranch twice a week caring for the horses, that they aren’t even fazed by the 6:30 am start time. Brandon has begun joining them in this volunteering opportunity and loves it as well.

One of our family’s birthday traditions is to wake the birthday child with the birthday song and a cupcake. The entire family gathers, the candle is lit, and the family bursts into the birthday child’s room in loud and enthusiastic song…

Setting the celebratory tone for the day.

When we told Brandon about this tradition and began preparing the cupcake at 6:00 am (so the kids could participate before going to the horse farm) he looked incredulous.

“So, we are going to purposely wake up Tyler at 6:00 am, sing to him and give him a cupcake…How is this a good idea?!! Why would you choose to do that?”

His facial expression made me laugh, and Toby’s look of “Yep. I’ve been making that point for years,” killed me.

But the smile that comes with this special birthday tradition makes the hours of lost sleep worth it. (Not everyone in the family would agree!)

When the older four kids returned from the horse farm we decided to let Tyler check out his  birthday table:


And open his gifts.

The theme was built around our gift to Tyler. We decided to get him a basketball hoop for the driveway. It was Tyler’s 12th birthday gift but is really a gift for the entire family. We thought it would be a nice bonding activity for the kids, particularly Tyler and Brandon, but also would be another energy-burning coping activity for hard emotions. Some of my kids respond better to increasing energy to burn-off anxious energy rather than calming/quiet activities. The trampoline is our #1 tool for those kids but the basketball hoop will be an awesome alternate coping skill.


He was thrilled!

The kids then took turns giving Tyler their gifts. I always love watching the kids prepare for a sibling’s birthday. Whether it was watching them shop in their own toy boxes when they were little, making homemade gifts as they got older, or using their own hard-earned money now that they are gainfully employed, much love and thought is put into the gifts they give.

It was especially touching watching Brandon work for Toby this week, earning money for his efforts, so that he could buy Tyler an extra special birthday gift. After years of not getting to celebrate his siblings’ birthdays he wanted to get something extra special for Tyler’s birthday. Their shared love of football led him to buy Tyler a football jersey (with some help from me.) He knew exactly what he wanted and purchased the jersey of Tyler’s favorite player.


The other kids did equally well in their gift giving and Tyler was spoiled rotten by his big brothers and sisters.


Perhaps his greatest gift of the day, however, was having Brandon there to share his birthday with him after years apart, and knowing that his biological brother will soon be part of his adoptive family… his forever family.

After gifts were opened we headed out, driving north. We weren’t sure what we were doing, we just decided to head up to Erie and see what adventures we could fine. There was something a bit thrilling about the lack of planning, knowing we had an entire day ahead of us to explore and make memories as a family.

It was a beautiful day…sunny but cooler…a perfect day for a road trip!

When we arrived in Erie our first stop was Sara’s for lunch.


During past visits to Presque Isle we have passed Sara’s and admired this fun, kitchy diner from a distance but had never stopped in. We decided Sara’s was a perfect place to dine for Tyler’s birthday.


We enjoyed the fun atmosphere and delicious food. We will definitely be returning!


After lunch we headed into Presque Isle State Park to enjoy an afternoon of swimming in Lake Erie.


For Brandon, who had never been swimming in waves, and had never visited the ocean, this experience was particularly thrilling.


The waves were about three feet high that day, giving the lake a distinctly ocean-like feel and making us all feel as though we were swimming at an Atlantic beach rather than Lake Erie.


It was a delightful afternoon. Toby and I enjoyed some uninterrupted adult conversation as we lounged on the beach watching the kinds splash in the waves.


The kids enjoyed an afternoon of playing in the sand and body surfing the waves of Lake Erie.

Tyler’s birthday celebration concluded with a trip to Waldameer Park, located just outside Presque Isle on Lake Erie.


This was our first visit to Waldameer Park, but had heard many good things about it from friends who have visited many times.


The park had a charming, old-fashioned feel that reminded me of our family’s favorite amusement park, Idlewild.



The winding paths, tree covered benches, and old-fashioned décor gave the park a fun, vintage feel while still offering modern, thrilling rides for older kids.


The kids had a blast and it was a perfect way to end Tyler’s special day.


The baby of the family is now 12!


The blessing of “Surrender”





Tyler’s entrance into our lives was no coincidence…

It was 100% a “God-incidence!”

The way God delivered him into our arms was nothing short of miraculous.

The process towards adoption is an arduous journey, filled with mounds of paperwork, interviews, inspections and scrutiny. Once approved, a waiting family is given a questionnaire to answer which gives the adoption agency parameters to work within based on what you are looking for in a child and what struggles, behaviors, and special needs you feel equipped to handle.

In our desire to surrender the process to the Lord we filled out the paperwork with the belief that God knew best what child was to be part of our family. We didn’t want to stand in His way by creating a profile with strict parameters, so we said we were open to any sex, age, race, religion, background, disabilities, handicaps, and behaviors, with the exception of 3 struggles we didn’t feel equipped to handle…

And then we gave it to God.

We thought we were surrendering to His will but He soon showed us that when He asks us to surrender and trust in His plan, he asks for TOTAL surrender, not just “mostly surrender,” as we soon discovered.

Once the agency has the list of preferences in hand they use those parameters to match your family with potential children. When an email comes from local county CYS social workers about a child that needs placed, the agency will look through their families’ files for families that match up with that child and his or her particular needs and then an email will be sent out to their potential families. As a waiting family we have the option to say “yes” to having our family’s profile submitted to CYS for consideration or the option of saying “no” if it doesn’t seem right.

Once the county receives a pile of profiles from various adoption agencies they will narrow the large pile of potential families down to a handful of possibilities and then move forward with more extensive interviews.

This process never occurred in Tyler’s placement with our family.

We were never sent his profile by our agency. You see, Tyler’s child profile included those three issues we said we wouldn’t accept in a child so our agency never even contacted us about Tyler as a possible child for our family and never submitted his file to the county…

So, you can imagine our confusion when we received a call out of the blue that we were on the short list of three families being considered for a 6-year-old boy from Pittsburgh. We had no idea who this child was because we had never been sent information on him.

Then the placing social worker called and asked if we could meet the following afternoon and in the meantime sent us Tyler’s child profile. As I read through his child profile the first time I knew that his needs were extreme and although we said we would let God choose our child, this baby boy’s profile contained the three non-negotiables on our list.

The next day I tried calling the CYS caseworker to cancel our meeting. I hated for him to make the long drive out to our house, knowing we were going to have to say “no,” but despite phone call after phone call and numerous voice mail messages I was never able to make contact.

At 5:00 pm he pulled down the driveway and Toby and I prepared to apologize for his wasted trip. He stepped inside, greeted the family, and opened the file in his hand, revealing a picture of Tyler…

And I knew.

In that moment I knew without a shadow of a doubt that the child in that photo was ours.

By the end of our meeting the social worker declared that he was going to cancel his meetings with two other families he had appointments with because he knew he had found Tyler’s family.

From there things moved swiftly and within 3 weeks Tyler was placed in our home and part of our family.

To this day we still have no idea how our profile ended up on the desk of that social worker or why none of our voice mails were received, but it simply testifies all the more loudly that Tyler’s place in our family was heaven-ordained and orchestrated by a loving God that knew better than us what we could handle and what we needed.

Through that experience we learned a powerful lesson on the true meaning of surrender to God’s will…

And the abundant blessings that come with trusting His plan for our lives.

That day occurred 6 years ago and today we celebrate that little boy’s 12th birthday with the addition of his biological brother into our family.

Much like the “God-incidence” that brought Tyler into our lives, Brandon’s placement was not part of our plan, but it was clearly God’s plan.

We weren’t looking to grow our family. Coming on the cusp of a really challenging year, adding another child seemed crazy, not to mention the fact that the child was a 16-year-old boy!

But just like our experience with Tyler (and then Ozzie) we could see God’s hand in the orchestrating of events that soon made it clear that God had big plans for our family and that He was once again asking for our surrender and our faith in His plan.

Brandon has been placed with us. It will be 6 months until we can pursue adoption and making him part of our forever family, but this was the first step. He is now officially and legally placed in our home as a pre-adoptive placement.

Today we also celebrate Tyler’s 12th birthday. When he moved in six years ago we couldn’t even imagine how our life was about to change. We had no idea how challenging, rewarding, and miraculously glorious this journey was going to be…

And we certainly had no idea that for Tyler’s 12th birthday we would be giving him the gift of family.

12th birthdays are a big deal in our family. They represent the transition from primary to the young men’s program at church. With this birthday comes acquiring the priesthood at church and the opportunity to pass the sacrament. He is now old enough to go to scout camp on his own and will be included in the youth activities at church that he has enviously has watched the older kids participate in for years.

12 is a big birthday, one that is remembered and cherished by all my kids…

But probably none more than Tyler,

Who, for his 12th birthday, is receiving the gift of a lost brother found and brought into our family.

Happy 12th birthday, Tyler!

How grateful I am for a loving Heavenly Father that knew better than us what our family needed most:


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Let’s Catch-Up


Tyler is doing amazing.

His growth and progress over the last few years is nothing short of miraculous. Those that were privy to the “inside story” of life with Tyler that first year can testify to his transformation. The explosions and aggressive tantrums are a thing of the past and many of the anxiety provoked “shut-downs” are gone, only rearing their ugly heads during highly emotional moments. The only two remaining times of struggle that we deal with regularly are bedtime and bath time. Knowing his history of trauma and how abuse played out in his biological home it is not surprising that these two places are fear-inducing and feel unsafe despite the safety now in place. There is a distinct difference in being safe and feeling safe, especially for kids who have survived trauma. It is easy for those who haven’t walked their path to dismiss their “illogical” fears as silly, knowing that they are safe, but “felt safety” can be elusive for kids whose early years were anything but safe. Once we wrapped our head around this truth we were better able to navigate these hard times of the day with more compassion and patience.

The bathroom is a scary place for Tyler. It was the location of great hurts as a small child and as a result he fears the same place I find to be a sanctuary. Bath time is always a struggle and I’ve learned the importance of keeping things light and addressing his very real fears in  non-demeaning and creative ways.

I regularly remind myself that the goal is a somewhat clean and better smelling 11-year-old and the means for reaching that goal can be unorthodox. Thus began our most recent tub trick…

To increase Tyler’s feelings of safety we allow him to bath with swim trunks on. He leaves the door open and asks us to sit nearby and talk to him the whole time he is in the bathroom. Sometimes extra coaxing is needed to get him in the water so tub toys, shaving cream, soap crayons, and most recently glow sticks are my greatest tools…

Whatever it takes to achieve “felt safety” while removing some of the grime off my stinky 11-year-old!


The need for regular bathing has increased this month with the start of the football season. After a two year hiatus, Tyler is back on the field and loving it!

I don’t care so much about the sport itself but care deeply about my little player and the fact he finally feels safe and settled enough to play again. I know he missed it and it broke my heart to see him avoiding something he loved simply because the fear was too much to manage.

I think having Brandon around has helped. Somehow having the same big brother present who acted as protector when he was a toddler, has increased his feelings of security. The fact Brandon also plays football has also added to the appeal.

So, now our lives are consumed with football. Each evening is spent at the ballfield watching Tyler and his team practice. There is something peaceful about this ritual. Perhaps because it gives me the excuse to just sit and be still, allowing time to reflect and soak up the last of summer.

The other night I was treated to a spectacular show of sun rays and clouds. The clouds were so pretty that they didn’t look real.


Saturday was Tyler’s first game. He was thrilled to have Brandon there with the family.


The boys were crushed by an incredible opposing team but Tyler was pleased by how well he played personally.


I just enjoyed sitting on the sidelines in such perfect weather. Football season is finicky and each week brings uncertainty in what weather the boys will be facing. It falls at a time of year when a game can bring 90 degree temperatures and intense sun, a heavy downfall of rain, or freezing, blizzard-like conditions. It really is a “luck of the draw” situation. This week we lucked out and couldn’t have asked for more beautiful weather to kick off the season!


I addition to football taking over the month of August, we are trying to wrap up a few more items on the summer bucket list before school begin in two weeks.  One of those projects is a service project Molly is working on. She is putting together chemotherapy care kits do donate to a local cancer center.

After posting information about her project and a list of items she is collecting for the care kits during the month of August, the donations began pouring in at an incredible speed. She has been absolutely overwhelmed by the show of generosity and love. Her initial goal was to be able at assemble at least 10 care kits for patients undergoing the arduous battle of fighting for life, but the generosity of so many (church members, co-op friends, family members, and others) has left her room overflowing with donations and her heart overflowing with gratitude at the selfless love shown by so many…

Thank you ALL for helping Molly be a blessing to others!


Last weekend Ozzie and I enjoyed a fun one-on-one date under the stars.

The Perseid Meteor Showers peaked over the weekend, driving Ozzie and I outside with a blanket to lie under the stars and watch this heavenly display. With everyone else in the family occupied, we had the yard to ourselves and were able to take advantage of some fun one-on-one conversation without sibling interruption.


Ozzie also brought the telescope outside that he received for his 14th birthday and we had fun using an app on my phone to locate various celestial bodies and then find them within the lens of his telescope.

It was a perfect night for star gazing. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the new moon darkened the sky so that the stars, planets, and meteor shower were showcased beautifully!

With the coming of the school year comes the enrollment process as we work to get Brandon settled into school. Because he is still a foster child he will have to attend our local high school for the time being. Following adoption he will be able to choose whether he continues there or would like to switch to cyber schooling like the rest of the family.

Tyler is also undergoing some school changes as we move him from one cyber school to another. The rest of the family attend 21st Century Cyber Charter School and we adore that school but fear the intensity and challenge of their incredible curriculum would be too much for Tyler just yet. We are still working to get him reading at grade level through 4x a week dyslexia tutoring. So, we explored other schooling options and finally decided on PA Cyber, at the glowing recommendation of a friend. We feel like it will be a good transition school from his current school until he is ready to transfer to 21st Century Cyber Charter School down the road.



And they’re off!


After watching her sister and  brother head out on adventures in June and July, Grace’s planned summer trip with her best friend has finally arrived.


Grace and Olivia headed out this week for a week of fun in Dallas, Texas where they will be spending the week with Olivia’s Aunt Peggy and Uncle Steven.


We can’t wait to hear about their adventures!


Coming Home…


It is 5:00 am and I find myself enjoying a moment of peace and quiet before my world shifts and life is never the same again.

I treasure these early morning hours. As much as I enjoy a good “sleep-in,” I have discovered that if I want a quiet moment to hear myself think and hear God speak, I must get up before the natives start wooping and hollering.

This morning’s quiet time is especially necessary. I needed this time to simply be still and reflect on the past few months. It has been a summer unlike any other. So much living has happened in these past 12 weeks that it feels as though 12 months have passed.

Molly expressed it best when she said, “I can’t wait until homeroom when Coach asks us what we did this summer. It is crazy that I can say…’Oh, you know, my summer was filled with things like church camp, international travel, getting a new brother…”

When our summer began we had no idea this was how it was going to end.

Now we find ourselves on the cusp of Brandon’s arrival. I pick him up this morning at 8:00 am and life as we know it will never be the same. In a matter of hours we evolve from a family of 7 to a family of 8 and I become mom to 2- 16 year old boys. With their birthdays only a month apart it will almost be like having twins.

This past week has been spent “nesting.”

Making room for Brandon in our home required a shuffling of rooms and this last week was filled with major room clean-outs, organizing, pitching, painting, assembling and decorating as we pared down the playroom to a closet of toys, moved Grace into what was the playroom and transformed Gracie’s old girly room into a teenage boy pad.

It was a week of hard work but we were blessed with that energy and excitement that comes during the nesting seasons of life, making this enormous family work project a pleasure.

The first step was taking our large playroom and sorting through 20 years of toys to decide what was worth keeping and what could be donated. Our playroom will be divided into a small playroom for young visitors and future grandbabies, with the larger portion of the room becoming Gracie’s new bedroom.


The fall goal is to add a bathroom in her room that will become the girls’ bathroom and then the boys can share the downstairs kids’ bathroom.

The larger space that Grace now calls home has allowed for a seating area, making it feel more like a studio apartment than a bedroom.


She had fun decorating her new digs and loves having the wall space to display her artwork and her hat collection.


Meanwhile across the house Brandon was busy transforming Gracie’s old space into a room of his own.

When I picked him up last Friday we stopped at the store so he could pick out his new bedspread and the paint color for his wall. It was endearing seeing the enthusiasm he showed as he “designed” his dream room.

On Saturday morning we got to work. We began with painting. He chose a blue/grey color for the wall that completely transformed the look of the room. He worked hard all day, putting three coats of paint over Gracie’s previous salmon color.


Once the walls were dry then assembly on the furniture began. Some furniture pieces we had on hand but there were some we needed to buy, so a trip to Ikea was in the cards. We love the creative design of Ikea products but Brandon soon discovered the downside of Ikea furniture…the assembly!


Through the arduous task of taking a box of sticks, bolts, and an allen wrench and creating a finished piece of furniture, I was able to get a glimpse into Brandon’s management of frustration and challenges…

For nothing makes the “real you” transparent like an Ikea project.


But he handled the challenging tasks like a pro, sticking with the project until its completion and not swearing even once… 🙂

An amazing, character-revealing feat if I ever saw one!

After a 12 hour work day, the room was complete and Brandon was thrilled!


He was so excited to have a room of his own that he designed. It was fun seeing the pride he had in his efforts as he showed off his completed room to the other kids. On Saturday night he slept in his new bedroom for the first time and today he moves in permanently.

I am not naïve enough to think the next 6 months will be without trials and challenges. We are experienced enough to know what we are getting into, and much like a mother who has experienced “labor” before, I am bracing for the contractions. I know the process of growing a family is painful. I know that there will be white-knuckle, can’t-catch-my-breath moments. I know there will be screams of pain, and prayers for the labor to come to an end. I know the path we are embarking on will be as laborious as the physical act of giving birth to a baby, maybe even more painful in the long run…

But I also know it will be worth it.

I know the joys and blessings that come after the struggle, after the pain, after the labor season.

I also know God has brought this child to us so we are trusting Him to guide us through it.

Never in my life did I think we would be opening our home to a 16-year-old boy as a pre-adoptive placement. When I look back on where we were 10 years ago, and what our vision for our family was I am humbled by God’s greater plan.

Today we pick up our son, not from the hospital nursery, but from the group home he has resided in for far too long. Today he comes home and becomes part of the family.

Today life changes completely.



Buttermilk Falls




We wrapped up our weekend with Brandon with a jaunt to Buttermilk Falls.

Buttermilk Falls is a magical, hidden treasure of a place, located only minutes from Patchwork Farm. Tucked just off the highway in a grove of trees, it tends to go unnoticed by travelers, unless shared or recommended by locals.


Buttermilk Falls is a plunge waterfall that features a roughly 20-foot drop into the greenish pool below. A train track runs just above the top of the falls.


According to the plaque near the top of the waterfall, the falls was given the name Buttermilk Falls by a group of Civil War Soldiers and their wives in 1870. Raising their buttermilk-filled glasses to toast after their picnic, they named the waterfall Buttermilk Falls. However, since there are so many Buttermilk Falls in Pennsylvania, the waterfall is also commonly referred to as Homewood Falls.


The name Homewood Falls comes from the Homewood sandstone quarry near the waterfall. It was from this area that stones were quarried to be used in nearby tunnels, roadways, and Western Penitentiary in nearby Pittsburgh. The quarry is visible as you make your way to the bottom of the waterfall from the parking area and creates some rather dramatic cliffs along the pathway.
Buttermilk Falls has been a favorite hiking/picnicking spot for our family since we moved to the area, but it wasn’t until a recent Family Based therapy activity at the falls that we were introduced to the fun of swimming at the falls. That experience led to us taking Brandon there for an afternoon of swimming.
Toby and Grace were unable to join us due to work, but the rest of the family spent an afternoon at the falls. A heavy afternoon shower drove away most of the other swimmers, leaving the falls abandoned with the exception of one other couple.
The kids had a delightful time swimming, splashing and playing beneath the falling water…
It was a perfect summer afternoon.


A Visit to the University of Akron



The college quest continues!

This time our search led us out of state,

And this time I had 3 questers with me rather than 1.


On Friday, Rusty and Molly joined me at 6:00 am for an early start to a busy day. We had plans to tour the University of Akron and we were taking Brandon with us.


Next year Brandon and Rusty will be seniors so they are at the age when college visits start happening. Since Molly wanted to tour U of A anyway I thought we could make it a fun bonding experience for the three of them, while giving the kids a chance to see if the University of Akron is a possible future school for them.


We arrived at Brandon’s residential facility at 7:00 am to pick him up then headed due west  into Ohio. Brandon was thrilled that we were headed into Ohio again, having never left the state of Pennsylvania in his 16 years until a recent trip across the border with our family to see a movie in Boardman. You would have thought we were taking him to see the ocean for the first time, or on an African safari, by the way he greeted the news that we were going to Ohio for the day…his second time ever leaving the state. We informed him to expect many more trips to Ohio in the future. It seems to be our second home.

It humbles me to see how little it takes to thrill Brandon. Perhaps that is the nugget of a blessing buried within a hard-lived life… every simple joy feels like a miraculous blessing. It is good for my kids to be exposed to the humble gratitude and awe that exudes from him. It certainly makes us take stock of all we take for granted and fills us with a deeper sense of gratitude for all our blessings.

The more time I spend with Brandon the more I witness the effect of living a life of survival…

The survival needed to live through the early years of abuse.

The emotional survival of enduring the loss of a mother within a year of finally getting a mother.

The physical survival of becoming your own caretaker and parent when your last surviving parent falls sick with cancer.

And the social survival of finding one’s place in the lockdown environment of spending your teenage years living in a group home, instead of the security of being part of a family.

With that “survival mindset” comes a lack of future thinking. All thoughts and choices are based on surviving today. Dreaming of a future beyond this 24 hours is a luxury not possible for kids living in survival mode.

This can be seen in most kids with a similar trauma history…kids whose every thought must be consumed with how to get their basic needs met, how to protect themselves from danger, and how to survive another day.

Kids whose cabinets are empty can’t be bothered to worry about Friday’s math test.

Kids who lay awake at night listening for the slamming of a car door indicating the return home of an abusive father gives no thought to what skills they need to develop for future employment.

Kids who spend their nights laying at their dying mother’s feet, afraid to fall asleep for fear she will die in the night, can’t dream about their future colleges and careers.

These kids don’t have that luxury.

Manners, grooming, social etiquette, punctuality, and grades are secondary to surviving another day, and so these kids, who are often written off by teachers, neighbors and social workers as lazy, non-motivated, worthless teens with no direction and no hope, are simply children who are trying desperately to survive…

Children who have never been given the stability that makes dreaming about a better future a possibility.

I see this absence of future vision in Brandon. He can not fathom a world where life could be good and he could be great.

I see the trepidation and uncertainty in his eyes when I ask him what he’d like to be when he grows up. It is almost as though “growing up” and surviving childhood has seemed so unattainable that he has never allowed himself to consider what he might want his future to look like.

So, when I told him we were going to tour a college so that he and Rusty and Molly could see if they might want to go to college there he was stunned at the thought.

“So is this the only college in Ohio?” he asked.

When I explained there were many, and he could visit any that he might want to attend, he was flabbergasted. All through our tour he kept asking for reconfirmation, “So, maybe I could go here some day?”

As he looked through the literature he was blown away at all the choices of majors and minors.

“I didn’t know there were so many different jobs you could have,” he expressed with awe. “What do you think I could I be when I grow up?”

“Anything you want,” I answered.

He responded with a shy grin, uncertain if I was teasing him, disbelieving he was capable of dreaming those big dreams, yet hoping perhaps there was some truth in my words.

It was a wonderful day. My heart overflowed with gratitude towards my Heavenly Father for allowing me to witness this transforming journey that He is taking Brandon on. There is a rawness, a vulnerability, and a hopefulness in Brandon that humbles me and drives me to do right by this child.

I pray God will use me as He opens a world of hope, healing, unconditional love and the opportunity to dream big dreams and not just survive, to a young man who deserves that and so much more.

It was a delight having these three connect and bond over the experience.


When our tour came to an end we drove over to the Homestead (since we were in the “neighborhood”) which allowed Brandon the chance to see the Homestead and allowed my parents the opportunity to meet our new addition.

It was a blessed day ❤




A Visit to “The Slimy Pebble”


Well, here we are again…


No sooner do we search and find a place the place Grace feels led to continue her post-high school education, before we are back at the starting line with Miss Molly.

We are entering Molly’s senior year and with that comes some BIG life decisions. Molly is already feeling the pressure of “figuring it all out,” despite our council and encouragement that most students graduate with a sense of uncertainty of where the future is taking them.

And with this season of life comes college tours.

Molly has had some experience with college tours thanks to Grace. With some of Gracie’s college visits (particularly those out of state) we simply had Molly and Rusty tag along, knowing their day was coming, and thus killing “our three birds” with one stone.

Now we are being more specific in our search as we spent the last months identifying, researching and booking tours at colleges that align with Molly’s future aspirations. It has been a bit of a challenge finding free time slots in the craziness of all that is involved in getting approval for a placement with only 30 days notice, but we are doing our best to carve out time amid foster placement training, home inspections and court hearings to get in some college visits before the school year begins.

Our first college visit of August was to Slippery Rock University, or “The Slimy Pebble” as Toby calls it. 🙂


We arrived for a 9:00 am appointment, loving the uninterrupted time we had to visit without siblings around.


The tour began with an information session and concluded with a tour of the campus.


Notebook in hand, Molly took abundant notes and on our way home converted them into a comprehensive pro/con list…


The first of many I am sure she will be creating as she strives to discover where it is God is leading her.


Our mother/daughter date to Slippery Rock concluded with a sweet treat from Sheetz.


Loved my special time with this special girl…


And the college wasn’t bad either!


Back in the Saddle


After a 6 week hiatus, Ozzie and Tyler are back in the saddle again.


Both boys receive equine therapy through Glade Run Adventures.

It began with Tyler a year ago and then when Ozzie returned home (after a stay at an inpatient facility) he too began weekly therapy sessions.


These sessions have proved invaluable. There on the backs of Pumpkin and Veronica, the boys have found help and healing that is different than the support they receive in their weekly sessions of family therapy and trauma therapy. There is something freeing about therapeutic work that takes place in an outside arena on the back of the horse that brings another level of healing to my boys who are working so hard to heal from an abusive past.

But despite its value and positive effect on our household we had to opt out of the last session that was offered. The learning sessions are split into 6 week periods and the last 6 week period took place from the middle of June until the end of July, right smack in the middle of the craziest 6 weeks of our lives.

In addition to church camps, international travel, youth conferences, camping trips, etc. we were also preparing for the unexpected life change of adding a 16-year-old boy to our family. To say this summer was our busiest summer ever would be the understatement of the year!

Because of all the extra craziness we had to step away from equine therapy for 6 weeks. This past Saturday horse therapy resumed with Tyler and Ozzie having their first ever therapy session together with their shared therapist, Ashley.

Toby and I took the boys to therapy…together…

A rare occurrence as lately we have adopted a “divide and conquer” parenting model due to the craziness of the family schedule.

The reason we were together was due to the fact that we had set the weekend apart for a getaway.

This a tradition that has been treasured with each of our adopted sons’ arrivals.

In the weeks leading up to their move in date we go away for a weekend. We know how crazy things get after the addition of a foster child placement. For a few months there is no leaving that child home alone until everyone settles in and finds their place in this new family unit. The process of learning the idiosyncrasies, strengths and struggles of a  new child along with the new addition learning the rules and expectations of the household, mean a more highly monitored environment for a season of time.

Knowing that opportunities to sit and be still and connect with each other without interruption will harder in a few weeks, we made plans for a weekend away. Unfortunately the busyness of life make checking out totally an impossibility so we stayed in a local hotel and returned home Saturday afternoon to take the boys to equine therapy lessons and then returned to our weekend date after dropping the boys back off at home.

They had a great lesson. They did well sharing a therapy session and both boys picked right back up with their previously established skills as though their 6 week hiatus never took place.


Summer is rolling to a close rapidly and with the changing of the seasons comes a change of life as we add child #6 to our family and to Glade Run Adventures.

Brandon will soon be joining his brothers in the saddle as he too discovers the healing that can be found on the back of a horse.

Young Women in Pittsburgh




This past week Molly had the opportunity to join the other young women and their leaders from church for an evening of fun in Pittsburgh.


What began as a planned excursion to the point for a picnic evolved into an late evening at the ballfield for a Pirates game.


The girls had fun enjoying the end of summer with a picnic down at the water steps on the North Side,


Exploring the area,


Followed by an evening soaking up the atmosphere at PNC Park.