Tag Archives: blessings

The Gift of Friends

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It is not easy being the new kid.

I know this from personal experience.

As the child of an Army officer, my first 18 years of life were spend relocating to a new school, new town, new state, (and even occasionally a new country) every few years. I know the feeling of anxiety that accompanies walking into a new school, uncertain of what this new chapter will hold, just praying for one kind face that will invite you to sit at their lunch table.

Being the “new kid” is never easy, but despite the initial anxiety that accompanied every move, I loved the Army lifestyle. It wasn’t until I had to move between 10th and 11th grade that I really struggled, for as hard as it is to be the “new kid” at work, at church, or in the neighborhood, nothing is quite so scary as walking into a new high school and trying to find your place in the teenage hierarchy.

As I have watched Brandon adjust to life with us, he astounds me with his cheerful acceptance of a very hard life transition.

For as challenging as every move was when I was a child, his is far more challenging. When I moved to a new state I at least had the security of family and the familiar possessions that created a consistent feeling of HOME, wherever we were transplanted.

He, on the other hand, moved in with little to nothing of his own, leaving behind the familiar and stepping into the role of “new kid,” at home, at church and in a new high school.

And he did so with no complaint, with abundant gratitude, and astounding grace.

He made the transition with no complaint about the challenges of starting over once again, but simply gratitude for the opportunity to start again…

In a new home with his brother.

He is no stranger to new beginnings or heartbreaking endings. After he was removed from his biological home at age 7 he was shuffled through 15-20 foster placements. Adoption at the age of 12 was followed by the death of his new adoptive mom and then the declining heath of his adoptive Dad that then led to multiple group home placements.

He is no stranger to the feelings of being the “new kid,” and yet he never complains about the challenges that have come with it,

But I know it isn’t easy.

I’ve been there.

Which makes me all the more grateful for the families and youth at church who have opened their hearts to our newest addition and made him feel as though he belongs and is wanted. Their kindness to my son touches my heart in a way they will never truly understand.

Last Saturday we had a birthday party for Brandon. He had expressed that he had never had a birthday party with friends before, so we made plans to invite all the youth from church over for a bonfire.

Brandon was so excited!

The day was spent preparing for the party as we cleaned up the yard, cut wood for the bonfire, and bought and prepared food.

Brandon’s plans for the evening included eating, hanging out around the fire, and playing night games for hours with his new friends.

At 7:00 the first car pulled in and many more followed. I was touched by the showing of youth who came out on a very cold night to play in the dark and make Brandon feel welcome and loved. I know it was a sacrifice for many who had other things they could have been doing in the warmth of their homes,

but their sacrifice makes it all the more meaningful.

They wrapped Brandon in the warmth of their friendship, making him feel special rather than like another “new kid” who will eventually leave again.

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They demonstrated Christ-like love and it touched my heart.

After everyone left, and we were carrying in the food and trash, Brandon stopped us in the kitchen to give Toby and I a hug.

“Thank you for my party,” he said.

“I love you.”

There in the kitchen of our home our newest addition spoke those precious words for the first time, not by automatic response, nor out of obligation, but from his heart with sincerity and conviction.

And that ended up being the greatest gift of the night.

Time to Catch-up!

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Finally, after two months, I feel like I have found my footing. Autumn came in like a tornado with our scheduled stretched thinner than it ever has been before. The addition of another family member and all the appointments and obligations that come with that, in addition to deciding to go back to school to start working towards my degree, coupled with two boys in football,

Well, I never thought we’d be able to manage the chaos…

But life is balancing and we have found our new “normal.” Routines are established and I no longer feel as though I am sinking beneath the waves, which is why there has been a renewed influx of action on the blog. Football season has come to a close and I finally have found the missing moments needed to write and it is so good to be back.

Blogging is my lifeline. It is my therapy. It is the selfish indulgence that grounds me and gives me clarity, and I have missed it.

Here are some of the moments lived this last month.

“Exercising our Right to Vote!”

November 6th was Brandon’s 17th birthday as well as being election day! Miss Molly, having turned 18 this year, was able to exercise her right to have a voice and vote in her first election.

I was so proud of her. She took this responsibility seriously and spent hours researching the different candidates running for various offices, taking notes, making pro/con lists about their platforms, and then choosing the candidates that best reflected her beliefs. For her one-on-one time last week, I was able to join her as she researched candidates and we were able to have a meaningful discussion about how to choose a candidate. As a result of her example and effort I found myself walking into the voting booth better informed that I probably ever have been in past elections.

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Grace, Molly and I went to vote together. What a special experience it was for me to exercise the blessed right to have a voice, with my two daughters.

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“Big Bessie Bit the Dust”

Our big, beautiful 12 passenger van began to show distinct signs of a slipping transmission. Rather than wait for the inevitable, we decided to bite the bullet and begin vehicle shopping, something that is considered a dream evening for Ozzie and a living nightmare for me.

The death of Bessie required us to reevaluate our needs and priorities in a vehicle. As much as I love the space Bessie afforded us, She was killing us in gas consumption. It was finally decided that with the amount of driving I do weekly and the impending winter, that we would sacrifice room to stretch out for all wheel drive and improved gas mileage.

I let Toby take on the car search, with Brandon’s help, happy to remain at home and avoid the wheeling and dealing that comes with car shopping. I assured him that all I needed was a car with an engine, a radio, and a cup holder, and the gift of NOT having to pick out the car would ensure I was grateful for WHATEVER vehicle he brought home.

On a Friday evening after school, Toby and Brandon headed to Ohio to chase down a deal Toby found online. The vehicle was 3 years old, had only 9,000 miles, all wheel drive, got 20 miles to the gallon (compared to Big Bessie’s 10 miles/gallon), and it was an 8 seater. It sounded perfect and it was…

Meet our newest addition…name still to be decided! ūüôā

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¬†“A Spooky Date with Tyler”

A few weeks before Halloween I received an invitation to join some of Tyler’s buddies from church and their mothers for a mother/son date to Freddy’s Haunts.

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“Freddy‚Äôs haunts is a family owned and operated haunted trail that was originally opened in 1993 under the name skull mountain haunted trail.¬†

We are an immersive, all enclosed haunted trail that is filled with the monsters from your worst nightmares. Our old-school haunted trail operates rain or moonshine with an enclosed waiting area so that you don‚Äôt have to endure the elements along with your worst fears.”

 

I had my reservations, given Tyler’s history of heightened fearfulness and my history of being a weenie, but Tyler begged to go and I thought it sounded like it could be an awesome bonding opportunity for Tyler and I, as well as a fun memory made with friends. I was glad our friends suggested it because I would have never considered it on my own, but it ended up being a blast!

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I think next year we will try to talk the entire family into braving Freddy’s!

“Flying High…Drone Style!”

Rusty has been having a blast with his 17th birthday gift…

A high-flyin’ drone!

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Our acreage makes for a perfect flying zone. With each flight Rusty gets stronger and stronger in his skills as a drone pilot and it is fun watching the footage of what he catches on film as the drone flies high above our heads.

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“Hocus Pocus”

As a family we dressed at the gang from Peter Pan for Halloween, but Grace also had a Halloween party to attend, independently, with her YSA group. Feeling that her Halloween costume wasn’t strong enough to stand alone, apart from the rest of Peter Pan’s crew, she began exploring options for a second Halloween costume.

She and two girlfriends ended up creating their own group costume and going as the three witches from the classic Halloween flick, ” Hocus Pocus.”

Grace dove into the family dress-up box of past Halloween costumes and emerged as Winifred Sanders:

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“Photo Fun!”

This past month we had the opportunity to capture the beautiful faces of some of our favorite seniors on film. Following Molly’s senior photo shoot we were asked by a few of Molly’s friends if we could take their senior photos as well. October provided the perfect backdrop and Grace, Molly and I have had fun playing “photographers” to these beautiful girls. At one photo shoot Molly couldn’t help but jump in front of the camera for some pictures with one of her best buddies!

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“Saying Farewell to Family Based Therapy”

Well, after nine months of weekly visits, our family based team is saying “good-bye.” Family Based therapy was put in place when Ozzie exited residential care, as an extra layer of support for his transition home. We were blessed with two awesome ladies as our “team.” They quickly became part of our life as they spent hours in our home and many hours sitting beside me in the ER when Ozzie was in crisis.

For nine months their primary objective was to work with our family on goals of increased safety and sibling connection, while our trauma therapist focused on EMDR therapy with Ozzie. This double layer of therapeutic care proved to be just the ticket and we have seen great growth in Ozzie these last 9 months.

Yesterday was our final session. It was with mixed feelings we closed out our file and said good-bye to these gals with a pizza party and celebratory gifts. They have been so good to us and this final session was no different. They brought the family pizza and gifted the kids with their own game of, “Whoonu,”

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A game that became a favorite in our therapy sessions!

They also generously gifted me with a gift certificate for a massage at a local spa with a reminder to continue making self care a priority.

What a blessing Lisa and Val have been to our family. I have come to realize, through this challenging walk of adopting kids from hard places, that angels do walk the earth today, and many are simply known as “therapists.”

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The blessing of “Surrender”

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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:

You!

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Frying Pan Farm Park

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In planning for our trip to Virginia for Rusty’s five day Envision camp, I began searching out things Tyler and Ozzie could do during the day while Rusty was at camp. Since I was flying solo for the week I was looking for things that would be engaging to the two boys, things that were free or cheap, and preferably that could be accessed without having to jump back on the DC beltway.

Staying just outside Washington D.C. led me to consider sites within the city. There is certainly much to see and do (for free) within the heart of D.C, but concern about travel time and making it back to Rusty by 4:00 each day led me to shy away from the Metro for this visit and instead we explored sites around Fairfax county.

Our first day of fun led us to Frying Pan Farm, a Fairfax County Park.¬† It was Tyler’s “Gotcha Day” and a day at the farm was a perfect way to celebrate the 5 year anniversary of his adoption. Tyler is my animal lover and Frying Pan Farm was just the sort of place that Tyler loves. Admission was free and it was only 20 minutes from George Mason University where Rusty was spending the day.

It was a win-win!

“Frying Pan Park preserves a reminder of Fairfax County’s rural heritage from 1920 to 1940 at Kidwell Farm. Visitors can see or pet draft horses, pigs, goats, cows, sheep, rabbits, chickens and peacocks.

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The four-room schoolhouse built in 1911 is a hub of arts and crafts, fitness, children’s classes and summer camp programs. The Moffett Blacksmith Shop contains the smithy’s original equipment. The Country Store housed a shop and classroom for vocational agriculture from 1919 to about 1930. The Frying Pan Spring Meeting House was built in 1791 and is designated a “Virginia Landmark.”

Pigs, cows, horses, turkeys, peacocks‚ÄĒthese aren‚Äôt the usual beltway suspects when you think of visiting D.C. but if you’re looking¬† afternoon away from the hustle and bustle, pack up some sandwiches and hit the road for Frying Pan Park. My boys had a ball petting the sheep, checking out the pigs, and playing on the tractors. Since it‚Äôs a working farm, you‚Äôll probably hear mooing, bleating, and baaing. We found it to be a nice respite from all the honking we heard on the beltway.

We began our visit at the visitor‚Äôs center where we grabbed some info on the farm before swinging by¬†the barns. In the visitor’s center guests can get brochures, use the bathrooms, and grab a map that will guide you around the farm.¬†

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Within the Visitor’s Center is also a small museum that introduces guests to life on the farm with fun interactive exhibits and comparisons of farm life on a 1940’s dairy farm to a dairy farm today.

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From there we headed down a beautiful fence lined path to the 1940’s farm. This park reminded me a lot of Round Hill Park in Elizabeth, Pa where my kids spent a lot of time as littles when they visited my parents.

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The boys went udderly crazy for this part of Frying Pan Park.

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Cows, draft horses, sows, goats, lambs, and more were on display for the kids to gawk at and even pet.

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We had the place to ourselves with only a few other souls wandering among the stalls and pens.

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My mini farm hands fell in love with all the critters.

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A good scratch behind their ears, and these four legged babies were in hog heaven.

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We got to see the male peacock in all his splendor and the turkey that the president  pardoned at Thanksgiving that lives right next door to the peacocks.

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The ducks were found hanging out in the tub around the corner. 

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A stop to see the large work horses and flock of sheep grazing in the field made us feel as though we had stepped into a pastural painting.

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The barns,and pens at Frying Pan Farm not only house the animals, but they let kids see what life is like on a farm.

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From milking pens, to hay lofts, and equipment used to move things around, the barns are more than just home to the livestock ‚Äď

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Enjoying a cold sarsparilla at the country store.

They’re a glimpse into a farmer’s life, and what it would have been like to work on a farm in Fairfax County in the early 20th century.

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It was a precious way to celebrate Tyler’s special day. When he officially became a McCleery 5 years ago we had no idea the ride he would take us on. That adoption journey changed us all and molded us into better people as we learned some of the greatest lessons life has to offer…

Adoption is not always the easiest path to walk, but is a holy walk full of unexpected joys and blessings.

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The End of an Era

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It began 13 years ago. We were attending a start of the school year picnic. It was our second year 0f cyber schooling and I finally felt I had enough of a handle on the ins and outs of schooling at home that we were beginning to search out additional enrichment opportunities.

It was that need for socialization and adult company that pushed me to leave my home on a Friday afternoon and drive to a picnic an hour away with a 3, 5, and 7 year old in tow.

Tarina was the first to approach me. She introduced herself and told me that her and another mom were starting a learning cooperative group in New Castle and if I thought I might be interested she could take my name and number. Who knew that the decision to show up at that first co-op meeting would change our lives forever and bring an abundance of blessings to our home-schooling experience.

Tarina has since passed away. I often think of her, reflecting on the great blessing she was in my life, not only in the friendship I enjoyed with her and her family, but in the way she has blessed our life (and so many others) because of her decision to start our little co-op.

This past week marked the end of an era.

Our co-op has gone through its share of transitions. It has called two different churches, “home.” It has evolved from being a group heavy with preschoolers and elementary aged kids to being mostly high school students. It began with all the families being PA Virtual families and using the k12 curriculum to now being a hodgepodge of cyber schools and curriculums.

As the years have passed our numbers have ebbed and flowed as new families joined and founding families moved on, with so many dear friends made along the way.

We watched as students graduated and others moved away, all while trying to hold what was left of our little co-op together. This year, however, the decision was made to disband what has been an integral part of our week for 13 years and a huge part of our schooling experience.

We have simply “out-grown” its original vision and original purpose.

In those early years it was an enormous blessing, as it allowed our kids to be taught by someone other than mom, socialize with friends, participate in traditional school experiences like holiday parties and talent shows, all while accomplishing a HUGE amount of work in those four hours every week.

By teaching science, history, art and music together we were able to leave co-op with 12 lessons done for the week (per child) and an emotionally-filled bucket after getting in some much needed friend and mommy time.

Now our co-op looks much different.

We now only have one grade level that functions in the traditional way developed by our co-op, with all other students working independently in a study hall setting. We no longer come to co-op to get lessons done, but rather to feed our souls as we connect with our “tribe.” Because of this evident shift in our co-op, a decision was made to retire the New Castle Star Co-op and instead meet our families’ evolving needs (which are primarily social rather than academic) in a different way. We will still be getting together with this group we love but it will be less frequent, less structured, and more of an enrichment group rather than an academic co-op.

Wednesday, May 9th was our last co-op ever. I spent the day trying to keep things light and not drown under the emotions of loss and finality I was feeling. The kids handled it better than I. They understood that we weren’t saying good-bye to this group of special people. They know we will still see each other, but for me the knowledge that we won’t be returning to this building that created so many memories for my family left me feeling sad.

We were the last to leave the building after taking some final photos for this year’s yearbook.

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I walked from room to room, checking to make sure nothing had been left behind and making sure all the lights had been turned off, and I allowed myself a moment to reminisce and reflect on the memories created in each room…

Memories of Miss Tauni sparking Ozzie’s love of history.

Memories of Tyler and Simon’s first class where more time was spent trying to lure those wild 6-year-olds out from under the table than actually teaching. ūüôā

Memories of Rusty working with Miss Julie to learn sign language as a little boy so he could communicate with others during his struggle with Selective Mutism.

I remembered with fondness the class of students I worked with year after year, teaching Rusty, James, and Katie science through hands on experiments.

Then there we memories of Miss Molly’s class as they connected in a special way over Miss Kathy’s science experiments, Miss Corrina’s history lessons, and art with Miss Lana.

As I stood in the doorway of Gracie’s classroom (which has since evolved into the study hall room) I couldn’t help but think of the special people that had taught my oldest daughter and what special friends they became to me. Love you Ginger and Wendy!

I walked into the gym and visions of so many wonderful memories flashed before my eyes…

Memories of trick-or-treating, Christmas parties, Minute-to-Win-It games, our Valentine’s day glow stick party, our walk to raise money for Miss Tarina’s battle with cancer and years of bake sales held to raise money for The Make-A-Wish foundation.

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Rusty walked in, smirking at my sentimentality.

I know it is just a place but it is the place where my children grew up and discovered who they are, and for that reason a piece of my heart will always belong to the New Castle Star Co-op.

Thank You for the memories, dear friends…

Its been a beautiful season of life!

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A Date with Sister

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Like Tyler, Ozzie doesn’t live with his biological sibling. Ozzie has one younger sister who was placed in a different adoptive home by the courts¬†three years ago. Just like with Tyler’s story, we have made a concerted effort to maintain and even build their relationship through frequent phone calls and regular visits.

Eight months ago things began to spiral downward at an alarming rate. Events were taking place in both kids’ lives that were affecting them emotionally. Both were being haunted by new memories of old abuse at the hands of their bio parents. Ozzie was experiencing flashbacks that involved Zoey and muddied his emotions as we tried to help him process and make sense (but who can really make sense of parents hurting their children) of what happened. As a result our monthly dates with Zoey were put on hold per Ozzie’s request. A few months later we revisited the idea¬†but by then Zoey was working through her own struggles with past trauma involving Ozzie and didn’t feel emotionally ready to see him. This went on for months as both kiddos rode the roller coaster of ups and downs¬†while processing past trauma.

Ozzie has been spiraling downward at an alarming rate, to the point that we are actively seeking out intensive trauma therapy options. His treatment team has recommended an inpatient program that will take him away from home for a few months where he will receive¬† more¬†specialized therapy for his¬† past trauma and abuse…therapy than can’t be done in an outpatient therapist’s office. It is such a heartbreaking journey we have been on, but we have seen God’s hand as we move toward this possibility.

The possibility of being away for a few months spurred Ozzie to want a visit with Zoey. He asked if they could have a date, and I happily made it happen. On Saturday we met Zoey (and her adoptive mom) at Eat-n-Park for a breakfast date.

Ozzie brought Zoey’s gift. Zoey’s birthday was months ago but Ozzie didn’t feel emotionally ready to give her the gift he picked out until now.

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In the small bag was a series of get to know you questions.

I recognized a key factor in this get together going well, was¬†going to be¬†facilitating conversation between Zoey and Ozzie that was light, fun, and superficial. Neither were in an emotionally healthy¬†position to discuss their struggles, their past choices, or trauma memories. They had both gone through a lot in the last few months. They hadn’t seen each other for six months. Both were nervous about the encounter. We needed to keep things silly and non-threatening.

So, as we sat and enjoyed a breakfast date, Ozzie and Zoey took turns pulling questions out of the bag and asking each other questions like:

“If you could visit any place in the world, where would you go?”

“If you could dye your hair any color what color would you pick?”

“If you were invisible for a day what would you do?”

“What is your favorite smell?”

“If you could have any animal as a pet what would you choose?”

The questions worked beautifully. They broke the ice and allowed the two of them to become reacquainted in a fun, non-threatening way. They talked and laughed with ease. And everyone left the restaurant feeling as though the date was a success.

God’s mercy enveloped those two children on Saturday morning. He gave them the beautiful gift of reconnection and love. It was a blessed morning.

God is good…

Always good!

 

A different sort of Mother’s Day

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I recently revisited a book I first picked up in high school. It is funny how two decades and a boatload of life experiences can alter a piece of literature. The words on the page may remain static and unchanging, but the interpretation and affect of those words are as varied as the hands that pick it up to read it.

The book I am reading is called, “A Child Called IT,” by Dave Pelzer. I don’t remember¬†which friend¬†first recommended it, but I remember the first time I read it. I was enthralled and horrified, as well as a bit skeptical. Surely, there is a sprinkling of fiction in this author’s recounting of a childhood riddled with the most horrific of abuse, I thought to myself. ¬†Surely it wasn’t as bad as he recounts on paper. I thought there must have been some level of sensationalism added to sell the book. I couldn’t fathom the idea that a mother would hurt a child…so horrifically…so intentionally.

Last Saturday, while spending the day in Wooster with my mother for Mother’s Day, we stopped in her local bookstore and I saw this same book sitting on the shelf. I picked it up and found myself adding it to my pile of books to purchase. I felt compelled to revisit the story again. I began reading it two days later and devoured it in a day.

I still find the story of abuse horrifying, but far more believable than I did at age 17. What’s more, I found myself reading the account through new eyes. Not only did I believe its truth, but I found myself paralleling the story of young David with the stories of my boys and their own journey through neglect and abuse on their road to safety. As the author spoke the thoughts, worries, and reasons for his¬†behaviors through the mindset of a little boy in survival mode, I felt like I was listening into the thoughts of my own adopted sons, who while now in a safe and secure home, still¬†live with¬†a survival mindset and struggle with survival behaviors.

When we chose to adopt our lives were changed forever. There is not one aspect of our lives that has remain the same. God has used this journey to mold all of us into beings far different than who we were five years ago. It has been the hardest journey of our lives but by far the most affecting. God has expanded our hearts, revealed our flaws, given us a depth of character and capacity for compassion that can only come from Him and His work.

I have learned so many life lessons along the way. Too many to count…too many to name. But one of the greatest lessons I have learned about myself is how na√Įve I was about the reality of life for so many, and how easy it is to judge the path of those who chose differently than us¬†because of life circumstances far darker than any I’ve ever had to navigate.

When I was little and we¬†would hear the story of another’s struggle or burden or misguided choice, my mother would wisely pull us away from the path of judgement and lead us towards the path of compassion with a single phrase:

“There but for the grace of God, go I.”

Oh, the power in that simple phrase.

It is a humbling reminder that all that I am, all that I have, all that I have accomplished, is because of God’s good grace.

Who is to say how my life would have played out had I been dealt a different set of cards.

I recognize that¬†a huge part of my blessings come from having been blessed with a good mother and father…healthy parents, who learned from generations of good, healthy, capable, loving¬†parents before them. I used to take this blessing for granted. A loving mother was all I have ever known and I assumed all were blessed in the same way. My perception changed when we began reading the files of children in foster care and we got a small peek into what reality looks like for millions of children. It humbled me and made me realize that all that I am, and all that¬†is good in my life, is not because of anything I did or didn’t do. I didn’t make the right choice because I am awesome. I was able to make healthy life choices because it had been modeled for me my loving parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

We are currently fully immersed in the TBRI world of Karyn Purvis, as we relearn how to parent children from hard places. Our journey began a little over a month ago with the Empowered to Connect conference we attended. Oh, how it has changed our world, and our perception of our boys and their stories. It has made me realize the great, intrinsic value the relationship between mother and child has on every aspect of a child, from their brain chemistry, to their relationships with others, to how they perceive their world. What it takes to grow a healthy human being begins with the simplest ritual of holding a baby when it cries and meeting a baby’s most basic needs. The result of that not occurring as it should¬†is horrific and heart breaking and life affecting for that child and everyone that attempts to attach to them. I am better understanding the great, divine role of mothers in God’s plan and how a disruption in God’s plan causes chaos and destruction. I also now better understand that a mother’s inability to meet these most basic needs in her child is usually a result of a history of unhealthy relationships perpetuating over time. A “bad” mother isn’t made, she is taught.

As I celebrated Mother’s Day this year my heart was in a different place. It meant something different this year. It meant something more. It was less about my role as a mother and more about reflecting on how blessed I have been to learn from the best. I come from a long line of women who have been loved and nurtured and as result have loved and nurtured me. This is a gift I don’t know that I fully acknowledged before. Toby comes from a long line of women who were loved and nurtured, and thus were capable of loving and nurturing him. The result is being able to raise healthy, happy, stable, loved children. And we can take no credit for their goodness, for who knows who we would be and what our life would look like had we been dealt different cards.

“There but for the Grace of God, go I.”

I also find myself remembering the women who gave birth to my adopted sons. I am grateful for their gift of life to two of the most important people in my life. Women who parented the only way they knew how. My connection with them is complicated and wrought with mixed emotions. I hate the hurt they inflicted on my boys, and I hate the hurt that they must have endured to make the choices they did.

“There but for the Grace of God, go I”

Mother’s Day is a hard holiday in my home. My boys struggle through that day dedicated to the celebration of the role of mothers and all the emotional baggage and great feelings of loss¬†that brings it¬†with it, but that said, this was the healthiest and happiest Mother’s Day we have had in the last 4 years, due in part to the TBRI principles we are applying and a lot of upfront prevention we¬†invested in¬†the day.

To begin we went into the holiday with a new approach. I began by putting myself in a good place emotionally. Past Mother’s Days have been hard. Ozzie struggles with such anger and feelings of hurt¬†towards his biological mother that Mother’s Day has been a day full of sabotage and hurts directed at me. Prior to the Empowered to Connect conference I struggled with understanding the complex, over-the-top emotions that drive¬†his behaviors on special holidays, and as a result didn’t approach the day with the level of compassion I should have.

I have learned better and now can do better.

This year I hedged my bets for having a more loving and compassionate response to his sabotage efforts by celebrating Mother’s Day on Saturday with my own Mom. I drove out to Ohio to spend the day, one-on-one, with my own mommy and by doing so filled her love tank and had mine filled in return. We shopped, had a fun lunch, and celebrated motherhood together.

And in doing so was able to return home Saturday night filled with love and peaceful acceptance for however Sunday would play out. I met my own emotional needs so that I could better meet Ozzie’s emotional needs.

While I was gone, the big kids and Toby hedged their bets too. They wanted me to have a special day, but knew all too well how most holidays play out in our home, so they were proactive and invested a huge amount of love and time into surprising me Saturday night with a beautiful yard.

While I was gone they went shopping at Home Depot, bought mulch and flowers, and mowed, trimmed, weeded, and planted their love into my heart. They spoke to me in my love language of service, and made me feel so loved and valued for Mother’s Day.

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I am so grateful for my kids and their big hearts!

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Tyler made my Mother’s Day sign.

 

The scope of Gracie’s love acts spread even further when she took Tyler shopping for ingredients for my Mother’s Day dinner. She had the lovely idea of buying a¬†dozen roses and then letting Tyler hand them out, a rose at a time, while they grocery shopped, to mothers with children.

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I felt like this was a gift to me too, as she¬†(with her own sacrifice of time and money)¬†taught the valuable¬†lesson of¬†“love of service¬†to Tyler” and¬†showed him that the greatest joy in life comes from giving to others.

We were also proactive this year in choosing to not attend church for Mother’s Day, but worship at home. I knew Ozzie was unstable with all the emotions connected to Mother’s Day and I recognized that the kindest, healthiest way to help him through the day would be to hibernate at home, away from the Mother’s Day talks and lessons about loving mothers and gratitude for mothers, all which tear new wounds into an already fragile soul. I knew we needed to just lock the doors, and connect as a family, without external stimuli, so that is what we did.

And the love of God permeated our home.

The kids gave me their gifts of love and heartfelt, homemade cards, and we just hugged, loved, and prayed our way through the most difficult day of the year.

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Gracie gifted me with a manicure date with her and Molly this coming Friday. I was so touched!

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Fancy Bath and Body Works hand soaps from Molly.

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Molly’s words of love.

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A new paper towel holder from Rusty.

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And the cutest cookie jar ever from Tyler!!

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Tyler made his card all by himself this year. The portrait of the two of us melts my heart. He loves my eyes! ūüôā

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Candles from Ozzie.

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Oh, those words. ‚̧

 

That day we felt the strengthening love of God as we celebrated mothers…The birth mothers that bore them, the foster mothers who raised them, and this mother who tries daily to live worthy of calling them her forever sons.

God is here.

God is healing.

God is Good!

A “Perfect” Tree

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I think one of the greatest battles for a mother during the Christmas season is the  battle that rages within against unrealistic expectations.

As mothers we feel a pressure to bring the magic of Christmas to our homes. Somehow the responsibility of living up to the “Hallmark¬†Holiday Television Special”¬†standard of Christmas is placed squarely on the mother’s shoulders.

Very rarely do I see a husband stressing about Christmas cards, matching PJs, ¬†or finding the perfect gift for his mother. No, it is the woman that carries that burden, knowing that if she doesn’t execute all¬†parts of the holiday production¬†with Martha Stewart grace, there will be a price to pay… with guilt¬†being the universal currency.

And what is even more ironic in this tale is that the expectations and the guilt is rarely laid on us by someone else. Instead it is placed squarely on our shoulders by self. I have spent this month pondering what deficiency in myself or what human frailty drives this need for Christmas perfection.

Perhaps I was spoiled in childhood by parents who made Christmas so magical and made the magic look so effortless. That is a hard act to follow when you become a mother yourself.

Maybe it is the saturation of possibilities that bombard us on social media (aka: Pinterest,) making everything we do seem “not enough” when compared to all we could do at Christmastime.

Perhaps it is simply the plague of “oldest child syndrome” that comes with a certain drive for pleasing others and performing perfectly that I never can quite shake.

I try to kill the beast within but it is an ongoing battle that leaves me swinging from unrealistic expectations, to fatigue, to guilt and back again.

The Lord knows this sin I struggle with. He knows how the holidays feed this beast within and only make it grow. He knows my fear of losing control and disappointing others only serves as a chasm in our relationship that drives me away from Him rather than draws me closer, so often He will step in to protect me from myself, and allow situations that are bigger than me and my power of control, to realign my focus.

And when that happens, as much as I might fight it, I find that I gain my footing and am able to exhale.

This December was one of those seasons of surrender.

This month we were faced with challenges and obstacles bigger than us. And during most of those challenges Toby was out of town and I was struggling to manage them on my own. Add to the challenges we were facing as a family, the pressures and unrealistic expectations that come with the Christmas season, and I found myself at a crossroads. I had to willingly make a choice to LET GO of my vision for the holidays and LET GOD lead.

This meant my itinerary, my plans, my traditional parties, activities, and ways of bringing Christmas magic that I was holding onto so tightly had to be let go so as to open my hands and heart for the type of Christmas that God had planned for us.

I shared some of that transformation in a previous post, but God continues to work on me. He is helping me to refocus, slow down and see the Christmas season in a different way. And in the process He is bringing a depth and closeness to our family and a greater appreciation for the true gifts of Christmas in the process.

Lately it seems the theme for this Christmas is: I plan and God laughs… and then He provides something better.

That theme continued with¬†Toby’s homecoming¬†and our plan to get the perfect Christmas tree.

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We have been eagerly counting down the days for Toby to come home so that we could go get our tree and start enjoying those traditions that we didn’t want to¬†do without Toby.¬†. Going to get our Christmas tree was at the top of the list. We usually drive to a “you pick” Christmas tree farm and cut down our own tree. I love everything about the experience from the tromping through the woods, to the debate over the best tree, to the¬†towing the tree home on the trailer.

 It is my favorite part of Christmas.

So when Toby arrived home and we made plans to go out Saturday afternoon to cut down our tree, we were all very excited. It felt like Christmas had finally arrived. Daddy was home, the tree was going up, and now, 7 days before Christmas, the holidays could begin. All was right with the world.

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Daddy’s home!

 

It was right about then God started laughing.

You see, the night before had brought an ice storm that left our steep driveway encrusted in a beautiful, but treacherous, layer of ice.

My van was parked at the bottom with no hope of climbing the slick drive, but we were surprised to find out that Toby’s truck, that ALWAYS makes it up the driveway, even in the worst driving conditions, couldn’t make it up.

In fact not only could he not make it up, he actually ended up being pulled backwards down the driveway,  losing his trailer that was attached to his truck, over the edge of the hill.

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Our plans to take his truck and trailer to the tree farm were stalled as we called for a tow. Assuming we would just have to postpone our plans for a  couple of hours we started working the phones, only to find out that NO tow company wanted to have anything to do with our driveway and our predicament.

So we moved onto plan B. We would take the van and deal with the truck and trailer later. The van was already at the bottom so we would take it and simply strap the Christmas tree to the top. Nothing was going to stand in the way of going Christmas tree hunting.

And then God laughed.

We climbed in the van all bundled up in gear and proceeded to spin in place. For an hour we dug, we laid gravel and salt, we pushed and we pulled, but that van wouldn’t budge.

So now it was Saturday afternoon and we were stuck.

It was the last Saturday before Christmas to get our tree and we had one truck with no brakes (remember Gracie’s crash,) one truck perched precariously on the edge of an icy driveway, and a van parked on an ice skating rink. We weren’t going anywhere until the spring thaw.

I was frustrated and discouraged. Once again my plans were not God’s plans.

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Then He planted a seed of an idea. The day need not be discarded as failure. After all we lived on 53 acres of land. “Why not,” the thought came to us, “go Christmas tree hunting on our own property.” If we can’t drive to the trees why not shop at home, so that is what we did. And it was the most special Christmas tree hunting experience we have ever enjoyed as a family. It was an experience we would have never enjoyed had everything “gone right” and played out as I wanted it to.

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The kids were sold on the idea immediately. With hand saw in hand (the chain saw was trapped in the back of the jack-knifed trailer) we headed out. The three dogs joined us as we tromped through the snowy woods.

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Our Christmas tree options were limited.

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While much of our land is forest, it is filled primarily with deciduous trees and not evergreens. This added to the challenge of the hunt and a whole lot of laughter as we pondered the possibilities which seemed to come down to  30 foot or 3 foot pines, with not too many options in between.

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The dogs loved this unique adventure and raced around our legs, chomping on the snow, as we worked our way from one corner of the property to the other.

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We finally stumbled across a possibility.

It was definitely “airier” (that is¬†the kind way to say¬†it was¬†sparse) than a commercial tree, but it had a pretty shape and a country charm about it.

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Tyler had his heart set on another tree that we had to veto for the simple fact it was too small and delicate to hold any ornaments. I could tell Tyler was frustrated that we couldn’t see the possibilities in his tree, that he viewed as perfect, so he did what anyone else might do in the same situation:

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He ripped it out by its roots and carried it home to put in the corner of his bedroom, root ball and all. ūüôā

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Toby then pulled out his hand saw and dropped our mighty tree….TIMBER!

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It looked even bigger when it was laying across the road.

We ended up having to “trim” half of it off to make it fit in the 14 foot tall¬†corner of our living room.

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The hilarity of the situation continued as we tried to drag this enormous tree up our icy driveway and get it into position in the living room.

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Stay tuned for part two of our tree adventure…decorating Goliath.

Thanksgiving Blessings

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Toby is still working up in Michigan at my sister’s house. He knew he wouldn‚Äôt be done with their newly built garage and the addition to their home by Thanksgiving, so discussion soon turned to what the plan was for this upcoming holiday.

As we saw it we had three options: He could return home for a few days to celebrate Thanksgiving with us, we could celebrate the holiday apart so as to speed up his return home, or we could bravely venture north to spend Thanksgiving with him and my sister’s family in northern Michigan.

We always eagerly look forward to our visits to my sister’s home. Our families enjoy each other and meld beautifully, with cousins picking back up, after their time apart, as though no time has passed.

This was the first time, however, that we have visited during the snowy Michigan months. Most of our visits occur in late spring and summer time.

That made me a bit nervous.

Add to the winter travel challenge the fact¬†the kids and I¬†were doing it without Toby and with the three dogs…

Well,  I was feeling a little anxious when I pulled out of the driveway on Wednesday morning.

The GPS said the trip would take us 7 hours. It ended up being closer to 13 hours.

The first quarter of the trip was easy and uneventful as we moved through Ohio. During the second quarter of our trip we slowed down considerably as we hit Thanksgiving travel traffic around Toledo and Detroit. We crawled along for 3 hours. Once through holiday gridlock, our third quarter of the trip was filled with torrential downpours. As one who hates driving in the rain I thought things couldn’t get more nerve racking, but that is because I wasn’t far enough north yet…

The last quarter of our trip took hours. As we drove north the temperature dropped below freezing and all that rain soon turned to  ice and snow. That stretch of road from Saginaw, MI to Gaylord, MI was the most treacherous driving of my life. There was a group of around 50 cars moving together through the dark, creeping along the ice and snow covered highway at 20 miles per hour. SUVs and trucks far more capable and built for Michigan roads were spinning off the highway in front of us as I crawled along the snow-covered ice in my 12-passenger van that was not built for Michigan snows.

We made it and my heart was filled with Thanksgiving for safety and family.

I peeled by fingers from the steering wheel and we were greeted by barking dogs, excited niece and nephews, and the loving embrace of my husband. It was wonderful to see Kelly and Tom and their five kiddos, as well as see all the incredible work Toby has been doing on their home as he transforms their garage into a mudroom, bedroom and gorgeous family room.

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My sister also has a new addition…a silver lab puppy named Finn.

Finn and Olive were adopted into our families weeks apart. It was fun to compare Olive and Finn. Olive is a month older but significantly larger. She towered over him and he soon discovered that he could easily maneuver between her legs as they played.

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Later¬†during our visit, while on a grocery run to Meijer’s,¬†Kelly and I¬†spotted dog outfits for sale. We couldn‚Äôt resist the urge to turn¬†our puppies into winter stuffies, with Olive transforming into a penguin and Finn dressed as a polar bear, reminiscent of Kelly‚Äôs favorite childhood stuffed animal, Snow Bear.

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Thanksgiving Day was wonderfully relaxing. We spent the day catching up, eating delicious food, playing games, counting our blessings, and enjoying this incredible view:

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The snow appears a lot prettier when viewed from the living room window rather than through the van’s windshield!

The kids took advantage of the sticky snow and headed outside for some snow fun.

It was perfect snow for a snowball battle!

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It was a beautiful Thanksgiving Day and a perfect start to our Thanksgiving weekend in Michigan!

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(Stay turned for more Michigan fun)

On the road again

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Self employment is a mixed bag of blessings.

When Toby was laid off (8 years ago), as a result of his boss selling the company that Toby had worked for as foreman for the last decade, we panicked a bit. It was during a season of our life when the prospect of unemployment was nerve-wracking. We were at the tail end of building our dream home, and carrying a significant construction loan that would need to be rolled into a mortgage. Approaching our bank, while unemployed, with only one month to complete the construction on our home, was daunting.

But God knew what He was doing and great blessings came from that scary season of life. Having Toby home allowed him to work on our home full time for the next six weeks, thus completing the task before our contract expired.

When the house was done the priority¬†became finding a job. Toby began his job search and eventually felt led to the path of self employment. I bucked that idea for a long time out of fear. The thought of living week to week, unsure of when the next job would come and the next paycheck would arrive, terrified me. It was with a lot of prayer and a leap of faith that I followed Toby’s leading, trusting that the world of self employment was the road God was calling¬†us to walk.

It has been a road of ups and downs…with far more highs than lows. This month has been one of those¬†times when I have been incredibly grateful Toby chose this road 8 years ago.

March has¬†provided a lull between jobs for Toby. After completing a big renovation job in February and waiting to begin a big deck job in April, March has been slower paced. He has used that lighter schedule to fit in a lot of small/ one day jobs, as well as accomplish things around the house…

Like progress on our school bus conversion. The boys bunk beds are now built!

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With my health struggles, having Toby around has been a huge blessing, and once again I see God’s hand in the timing.

A month ago Gracie was invited to speak at her school’s National Honor Society induction ceremony (the same place we went last year to see her inducted.) The plan was for me to drive Grace out (with Molly and Rusty) while the little boys stayed home with Toby.

A week or so later Toby suggested we all go and make a mini vacation out of it and do a little site seeing in Old Philadelphia¬† while we were visiting the eastern side of the state. What a blessing! Had things not worked out this way I don’t know how I would have managed this trip with my double vision and weakness. So on Tuesday we packed our bags and headed out,

“On the road again.”

Before we left a package arrive on our doorstep from Florida. My grandma’s neighbor (who lives behind her in their retirement village) surprised my boys with a special gift. As a boy he and his friends made up a baseball dice game. He decided to recreate it for my boys that he has heard so much about from G.G. It arrived in the mail, complete with a box he decorated to hold the dice, pieces, instructions and¬†game board¬†he made. We were so touched by his thoughtfulness! We packed it in the car to take with us to play at the hotel.

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We got on the turnpike and headed east, making a quick stop along the way at a medical supply store to rent a wheel chair for the week to help facilitate the extra steps required with site seeing. (Have I mention that I am married to the most loving, caring man ever!)

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We drove all afternoon and then stopped for a late dinner at a Cracker Barrel outside Philly for dinner.

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We had a gift card we wanted to use. Our family loves Cracker Barrel. Toby loves the home style type food and the antiques on display,

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the girls and I love browsing the cute gift shop, and all the kids love the games that are set out to play with while waiting on dinner to arrive.

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It was nice to get out of the car, stretch our legs and fill our bellies before resuming our trip.

Then we arrived…

Hotel sweet Hotel,

for a good night’s sleep before the fun begins tomorrow.

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