Monthly Archives: May 2019

Bridal Showers and Showers of Blessings


On the morning before Zach’s marriage proposal to Gracie, we celebrated another sweet couple. It was the bridal shower of Zach’s sister, Stephanie. Grace has been best friends with Stephanie since we moved here 10+ years ago. Grace was touched when Stephanie asked her to stand beside her as her maid of honor. Who knew that a year later Grace would be on a journey of becoming a sister-in-law to her sister-in-love!

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Four best friends and soon-to-be sisters!

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It was a beautiful celebration of a beautiful bride and we had a wonderful time celebrating with friends.

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Later that day Zach bent down on one knee to declare his love to Grace and invite her to officially become a Tame.

Only a few days passed before the happy couple had set a date and we found ourselves jumping into wedding plans.

Grace will be an October bride.

Knowing that our local craft supply store, Pat Catans, was going out of business, I suggested we take a drive over there to see if we could find any needed supplies while everything was 50% off. After Braden was dropped of for school, and Rusty and Tyler were settled into their online classes, the girls and I headed out for a girls-only excursion.

Before we left for the day we prayed for a fruitful day full of emotional healing and mother/daughter bonding, as well as inexpensive finds for Gracie’s upcoming nuptials.

God was beyond gracious and the day was filled to overflowing with His blessings! It was a day full of tender mercies.

What began as a trip to Pat Catan’s wedding aisle with the hope of some good finds, became a day of retail therapy, long overdue bonding with my girls, God leading us to unbelievable deals, and a huge chunk of wedding shopping taken care of.

We started at Pat Catans and soon discovered that the wedding aisle was not where we were going to find decorations for the reception. The the crystals and white silks did not align with Gracie’s vision of her wedding reception. Once we exited that section of the store, however, we discovered treasures galore and 2 hours of shopping (and four full shopping carts later) we had 90% of the reception decor purchased and loaded in the car.


Our next stop was Salvation Army where God’s grace continued to rain down upon us in the form of reception decor, a graduation dress for Molly, as well as her shoes for prom.

By this point in the day the hour was drawing near for us to return home to meet Braden’s school bus. On a spur on the moment, last minute decision we decided to make one last, quick stop at a dress shop we were passing that advertised all their wedding dresses for $100, as part of their going out of business sale.


We went inside just for the fun of it, not expecting to find anything. There were 10 wedding dresses left on the rack. Grace picked four to try on, and lo and behold, found her wedding dress. It wasn’t anything like the dress she had imagined liking but as soon as she put in on we all knew that it was the one. Alterations will need to be made but we couldn’t believe we were walking out of the wedding boutique with a $1200 dress for only $100.

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A sneak peek of the wedding dress!

Molly also found her maid of honor dress while we were there. It is perfectly Molly, and only cost $20, marked down from $250.

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For an investment of $550 God blessed us with an abundance of wedding shopping done and taken care of, in preparation for Grace and Zach’s big day!

It was a day full of blessings on many fronts and I came home feeling lighter…

No, it wasn’t just the result of a lighter wallet!

My to-do list was shorter, the heaviness of worry I have been shouldering was lifted, and my spirit was lighter thanks to the day filled with laughter and joyful creativity that I got to share with my daughters.

With just four hours of retail therapy with my girls and I had recaptured the joy of this season of life that has escaped me these last few weeks.

Here’s to all the beautiful brides-to-be!


A 21st Century Adventure!


This post is weeks overdue, but the craziness of life has left me scrambling for an hour of solitude and silence to sit and blog. In the absence of either, I find myself stealing free moments, a bite at time, so as to try and catch up on recording the events of our life that occurred weeks ago.

In the week leading up to Mother’s day we had our annual all-school field trip with 21st Century Cyber Charter School. Despite the million reasons why we shouldn’t attend this year (ie: multiple kids in crisis) we decided to press forward , especially for Molly’s sake, given this is her senior year and final 21CCCS field trip.

Our cyber school offers multiple field trips and outings throughout the school year and across the state for their students that are spread all the way from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, but the event of the year rolls around every May when everyone comes together for one huge, school-wide adventure. Past trips have included the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Annapolis, Mt. Vernon, Gettysburg, etc. This year’s end of the year field trip was to Washington D.C. Buses were sent to the four corners of the state to pick up 21cccs families and shuttle them to D.C. for the day.

We had originally reserved eight spots on the Pittsburgh bus, but on Thursday morning we found our numbers down to four. Rather than miss out when some of the kids weren’t able to come, Toby decided to stay home with those who weren’t up for the trip and I enjoyed a rare, easy-breezy day with the O3- Grace, Molly and Rusty.

And it was a gift….

Such a gift!

We left the house at 3:30 am to drive to Monroeville and catch the chartered bus to Washington D.C. with the other 21cccs families.

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The size of our group warranted 2 buses and we found ourselves traveling with our good friends, the Hudaks.

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The day ended up being my Mother’s Day gift to me.

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We loved the t-shirts for this year’s field trip!

It was a treat having some special one-on-one time with my “non-squeaky wheels”…those kids who find themselves setting aside their wants for the more pressing needs of our hurting kids.


For 18 hours they had me all to themselves and I reveled in the treat of being able to enjoy the joys of motherhood with none of the work. It truly was like a day off from real life as I enjoyed the company of my oldest kids and our dear friends, had hours of quiet reflection, looking out the window as someone else drove us the 5 hours there and back to Washington D.C., and a day of fun in one of my all-time favorite cities.

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Our large school group was split into two groups. We were visiting two Smithsonian museums with half the group beginning at the Air and Space Museum and half visiting the National Building Museum.

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We started our day at the Air and Space Museum:

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At noon all the 21st Century families and staff came together on the grass of the Mall and enjoyed a picnic lunch.

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Molly enjoyed catching up with friends from across the state,

As well as getting to spend some time with her learning coach, Mr. Winterode… an all-time favorite teacher of both my girls!

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After lunch on the Mall we walked over to our second location,

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The National Building Museum:

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It was a LONG day, but in a season of many LONG days, it was a gift to have an easy/fun/non-drama sort of long day!

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I love our cyber school!

She said “Yes!”


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!”



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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Mother’s Day…a blessing or a curse?


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.


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.


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


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



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.


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.


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.


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.




Working Hard!


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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.