Tag Archives: FHE

How are you Spending your Time?




One of the classes I am taking as part of the Pathway program through BYU-Idaho, as I work toward my goal of obtaining my college degree, is a General Studies class. I have really enjoyed this class that focuses on strengthening study skills but also life skills. Some of the topics we have covered weekly have included goal setting, money management and time management. As part of our commitment to attend a weekly gathering with students participating in the same program, we are required to sign up to teach a class during the semester as the lead student. A few weeks ago it was my week to teach and my topic was “time management,” something I am personally passionate about.

After teaching the lesson I prepared to my Pathway peers, I decided I might as well take advantage of the time I had invested in preparing the lesson and get a “round 2” out of the lesson. On Sunday night we had  our weekly family home evening lesson on the topic of being good stewards of our time.

I began my lesson with an object lesson.

I had a large bowl of jelly beans.

I passed around the bowl of jelly beans with a stack of cups and asked each person to fill their cup with as many jelly beans as they wanted. There were only two rules…

  1. They had to take at least 1 jelly bean.
  2.  They couldn’t eat any of their jelly beans until the end of the lesson.

And then I showed this video:

As everyone shared their feeling about the video, I used a “How many days have I been alive?” calculator online to let everyone know how many of their jelly beans they have used so far.

I then asked everyone to count the jelly beans in the cup and consider what they would do if the number of jelly beans in their cups actually represented the number of days they had left on the earth…

Would that have an effect on how they spent their time?

As they pondered that question, I shared the following quote by Neal A. Maxwell:

“The time we have been given here on earth is only a very small part of our existence. We must understand our time here in the eternal context of the Plan of Salvation. The way we use our time will only change when the way we feel about our time changes. As children of God we are stewards of time and we will be held accountable for how we use it. The way we use our time will determine what we become in this life and in eternity. We can choose to spend our time or invest our time. By keeping the commandments and our covenants we invest our time in the promises God has given us. This investment will bring eternal rewards.

“Time is, for all of us, a gift from God. It is given to us as a part of our mortal stewardship”

With this quote serving as the foundation for the next part of the lesson, we had a mini financial lesson of the effects of spending vs investing. The kids reached the conclusion that money spent was money lost. It couldn’t be retrieved again. While money invested was money that kept paying dividends well into the future.

I then gave each family member an index card and asked them to count the jelly beans in their cup and write that number at the top of their index card, representing the number of days they have left here in earth. I then asked them, if that were true, how would they use the days they have left? Each family member was asked to thoughtfully create a list of how they would use their remaining days on earth.

The room fell silent as everyone began writing their thoughts on paper. It was a thought-provoking and powerful activity.

When everyone was done writing we went around the room and shared our thoughts.

Some of the items included on various lists were:

Spend time with family, travel, be easier on myself, serve others, face my fears, help people, apologize, give away my things to the needy, leave letters for loved ones, and pray.

We then analyzed our lists and weighed their value, pondering whether each item on our list was a way to “spend time” or an “investment” of our time. As we looked at the things we each wrote down, all were investments of time…activities that produced long term/ eternal dividends.

We ended our family night lesson with a game. Each player used the jellybeans in their cup, along with a stack of toothpicks, to build a tower. The rule was they had a set amount of time to build their tower, but didn’t know when their time would end. The goal was to build the tallest tower that could stand up independently…


Then the race began.


It was interesting to see each kid’s strategies, with some focused of making sure they had a firm foundation before trying to move upward, while others, in a panic of not knowing when the timer might “bing,” began building upward without having established a secure base…



A decision they soon regretted.

As they built their jelly bean towers we discussed the spiritual lessons to be found within the object lesson.


Rusty ended up the winner of the jelly bean race, but all  enjoyed the fruits of their labors. (There was a chocolate treat for those who weren’t allowed jelly beans due to braces.)


The lesson was a powerful reminder that our time on earth is finite.

We have no idea when we will reach the last jelly bean in our cup, so it is important that we invest the gift of time that the Lord has given us into those activities that have eternal value, rather than simply spending the minutes of our day on things that have no value…

For one day we will all stand before our Maker, and we will account for the way we used the time He blessed us with. Let us all take inventory of the way we are spending our time, and as we enter this holiday season may we prioritize the “important” over what some may consider “the urgent” tasks of the holiday season,

And invest in the things that matter most.


Happy First Day of School!


With the start of a new school year comes our annual Back-to-School family night.

This is an eagerly anticipated event as it creates a buzz of excitement and positive anticipation for the start of school. The table is decorated, a fun, celebratory dinner is planned, and new school supplies are distributed.

Our back to school night began with a lesson.


As an object lesson I paired physical school supplies needed for a successful school year with character traits we all need to “pack” in our “backpack” for a successful school year. One by one the physical items were pulled from the backpack and we read and discussed the pun that was taped to each item and talked about that character trait/choice and why it is needed for a successful school year.


Then each of the kids were given a copy of our theme for the new school year. Each year we pick a scripture or quote to focus on in the upcoming year. The new quote is framed and put on display in each of the kids bedrooms so that they can refer to it throughout the school year. It is with much thoughtful consideration that we choose our yearly theme. This year I felt compelled to reinforce the truth that the deciding force that drives the direction of our lives is not the big decisions but rather the small choices we make each day to try a little harder and do a little better than the day before. I found this quote while searching for our school theme and knew it was exactly the message my family needed most:


I love the artwork that accompanied this printout of the quote by David A. Bednar. The visual of the ladder spoke to the message of the quote. Rather than give each of the kids their quote already framed, I opted to frame them after they personalized their papers. Each of the kids considered what they wanted to work on doing a little better. Each came up with a handful of goals and wrote them in the white edging around the quote.


Then everyone was given their new school supplies and we concluded our evening with back to school blessings and root beer floats.


We are now ready for the school year to commence!

Grace began school 2 weeks ago, the day after returning home from Texas. She is now a sophomore (and a half) having completed 3 semesters of school so far. She is halfway through her sign language interpreting program.  At the completion of that program she plans to transfer to a 4 year college to get a bachelor’s degree in special education as an enhancement to her sign language interpreting certification.


She is still loving school. She is a gal on the run, stopping at home to sleep and eat but gone a good portion of the day between school classes, clubs, church activities and two jobs.

The Monday following Gracie’s first week of the fall semester was the official start date for my kids that are 21st Century Cyber Charter School students. This includes:

Molly, who is a senior this year. EEK, how did that happen?!


Rusty, who is a junior.


Ozzie, who is an 8th grader this year.


All three are excited to see what this year will hold and are glad to be entering another year of cyber education with 21st Century.

The Tuesday following Labor Day was our 3rd “first day of school” for the year for:

Tyler, who is entering his 6th grade year.


Tyler is embarking on a new path this year. Like the older kids he will still be cyber schooled but the impending start of middle school pushed us to explore other cyber school options. What was a good fit for us a few years ago is no longer an ideal fit. Tyler is ready for a more challenging curriculum and more independence in his school work. After spending a good amount of the summer speaking to different cyber schools and praying for wisdom in choosing the right school, we have landed on PA Cyber.


We feel this will be a good fit for Tyler for his 6th grade year. The long term goal is for him to end up at 21st Century Cyber Charter School with the other kids but this is the best fit for him this year as we focus on further closing the gap between the functioning school level and actual grade level.

Brandon rounds out our motley crew of 6, as junior #2!


Like Rusty, he is entering his 11th year of school, but unlike Rusty, Brandon will be leaving the house each day for school. He will be attending our local high school (Beaver Falls) each day.


Last week was spent touring his new school, getting acquainted with teachers and school policies, and getting him settled into football. He is so excited to have the opportunity to play sports again…something he’s greatly missed. Like Tyler, sports are in his blood. He has a natural gift for athletics and loves the thrill of competition.


This past week was filled to the brim with appointments for Brandon as we attempted to get him settled before the start of school. He was in desperate need of clothes, having arrived at our home with just a few ripped outfits. Our week was spent school shopping, buying gear needed for football, setting up appointments, getting him a photo id and opening up a savings account for him, etc.

Sometimes feel as though I’m racing the clock with Brandon, trying to get all the support in place to give him a chance at a happy future. He was dealt a crappy set of cards in this game of life, and we are doing everything we can to turn his hand around and give him the best chance we can at a happy, healthy, successful future.

Our life is “fuller” than it has ever been, both with tasks and commitments but also with blessings…great, great blessings.

The sheer number of activities, weekly appointments, therapies, school lessons, and tutoring has led to the need for a color-coded master schedule to keep it all straight.



Hopefully this larger than life visual aid hanging on the wall will assist us all in making sure none of our commitments fall through the cracks and no child accidently gets left at a ball field waiting for a ride home.

And in final news…

September 17th marks the fourth “First Day of School” for our family, as yours truly experiences her first “first day of school” (as student, not teacher) IN 20 YEARS!

This summer…prior to us having any idea we would be adding a 16-year-old boy to the family…I felt God’s nudge. Despite having a solid 6 more years of home schooling ahead of me, I have felt God starting the preparation process for the next chapter of the journey, and God’s plan for the next chapter of my life requires a degree.

Over the last few years God has slowly revealed the purpose behind the unique challenges we have navigated as parents of adopted children who have endured unspeakable trauma. The mission of advocating and helping hurt children heal has become the center of our life as a family and I now see that God has a plan to use those struggles to be a blessing to other children and other families on a professional level.

All of this leads to this momma of 6 going back to school. The goal is to take a couple classes each semester with the hopes that by the time Tyler graduates high school those years of schooling will add up to a degree that will open the door to the chapter that follows this one.

It was to this end that God led me to BYU Idaho’s Pathway program which will allow me to work toward that degree in a manageable and affordable way.

I am still not sure how I am going to fit college studies into an already packed schedule but, like the addition of Brandon to the family, I know this is the Lord’s plan for me so I’m trusting Him to bless and multiple the minutes of my day as He did in the miracle of the loaves and fishes.

This year promises to be the fullest of our lives.

Hang on…

It is sure to be an exciting ride!

God is good


The Enabling Power of Prayer


I recently stumbled across a quote that had an effect on my week and left me pondering its words for days after reading it. The quote was:


As my children grow older and get closer to launching themselves from the nest I find myself taking inventory of what lessons have been sufficiently taught and what areas might still be lacking. This mental inventory covers everything from school concepts, to life skills, coping strategies, emotional stability,and spiritual tenacity. For their entire childhood I have had this long running list mentally laid next to a clock that is ticking down, forever calculating how much more time I have to teach all the needed life lessons that I want my children armed with before they take flight and face the world independently.

It is easy to fall victim to the sin of control, pride, or fear as I weigh what items have been crossed off the proverbial parenting checklist, while facing down the daunting number of tasks that remain.

I find this “one step forward, two step back,” “flight of the bumblebee” dance to become all the more frantic when you have adopted an older child. The list of lessons you want to teach are the same, but the time you have to teach those lessons is inevitably cut in half when a child enters your life at age 6, age 10 or age 14. Add to that the fact that so many of these lessons can’t even be addressed until there is a level of trust, connection, and stability, and you will find the hands on that already ticking clock moving at light speed.

It is easy to fall victim to the same plight as Peter in Matthew 14…

Peter was willing to put it all on the line. He and the other disciples had been straining against the waves and wind all night long when Jesus appeared to them, walking on the water. Wanting to prove his courage to Jesus, he made an amazing statement: “ Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.”. These were rough seas, and Peter was willing to literally step onto them because He was looking at Jesus. That gave him confidence and courage.

It went well for awhile until Peter started to sink. And why did he sink? Because he took his eyes off Jesus and put them on other things.

When my eyes are focused on the list and not on God, I sink. I am consumed with fear and scramble frantically to regain my footing, but the more I scramble the more quickly I sink.

BUT if I turn my eyes back to the Savior I rise above the pull of the waves. I rise above the worries, the stresses, the fear, and the need for control. I am untouched by the crashing waves even as the storm rages around me.

This is the dialog that has been playing out in my head as I look at my older children perched at the edge of the nest, ready to spread their wing and soar. As I consider what lessons have been sufficiently taught and what lessons God is calling me to teach in this final season of their childhood, I am working to keep my eyes on Christ and not fall victim to the sins of control, pride, or fear, but rather allow Him to guide the parental “to do” list of lessons to be taught.

When I stumbled across the quote above I was affected. Its message left me considering how effectively we have taught our children the power of prayer, not just the habit of prayer. I have a testimony of prayer’s power and hope that my testimony has been shared sufficiently with my children through my words, but also through the way that  I live my life…

But this lesson is much too important to hang on “hope” or leave to chance.

Because, of all the lessons taught at my knee, the most important one of all is this one. If my children leave my home with no other skill, no other life tool, no other testimony, I pray it would be this one…the knowledge they are loved by a Heavenly Father, they can have a powerful and intimate relationship with a loving Savior, and by keeping their eyes trained on Jesus through a relationship built on prayer, they can rise above the pull of the waves regardless of the storm raging about them.

This is the topic I felt compelled to revisit, especially in light of a recent trend I have seen playing out around our dinner table.

I’m sure none of you can relate to this but when Toby asks who would like to offer the prayer over the meal crickets can often be heard chirping. There is a noticeable lack of eagerness to pray, and while that doesn’t directly mean anything definitive, I want to make sure that it isn’t reflective of something more…

In addition to the crickets chirping I have also noticed a routine approach to praying that I find even more concerning. All of our prayers recently seem modeled after the same manner. They lack the depth and personal nature that should be seen in a conversation with Heavenly Father.  Add to that the fact that Tyler has recently refused to pray out loud, something that is definitely fear driven, the source of that fear yet unknown, I knew it was time to revisit the topic of prayer as a family.

With all this going on under our roof I was affected in a powerful way by this quote and felt compelled to make it the theme of this week’s Family Home Evening lesson. It was time to get back to the basics and look at how we could each individually strengthen our relationship with God through our prayers to Him.

I began by searching out resources that would teach the lesson that I was feeling called to present, in an engaging and safe way for Tyler so he didn’t shut down or walk out when he heard the topic for the night’s lesson.

I decided to use a lesson I found online that compared prayer to building a sandwich. It gave a great visual that I knew Tyler would respond to. As I prepared the lesson of making a prayer sandwich my mind kept pulling up the image of the cartoon character, Dagwood Bumstead from the old Blondie cartoon strip. He had a love for sandwiches and was well known for his culinary creations…

sandwich 3

Huge, multi-layer sandwiches that he created with creativity and consumed with enthusiasm.

sandwich2As I thought about the iconic Dagwood sandwich I thought to myself, “Now that is what I want my family’s approach to prayer to look like. I want us to eagerly anticipate the opportunity we have to build that sandwich,  meaningfully building layer after layer, and consuming it with pure delight”.

THAT is what I want my prayer sandwich to look like!

Using this model of prayer we went back to the basics. This was primarily for Tyler’s sake but was a good refresher for all of us. I handed out 5×7 “prayer sandwiches” cards, framed in glass, and white board markers and let everyone build their own prayer sandwich. We then each took turns praying, using our sandwich as a guide to our prayer.

IMG_7579 (2)

We talked about how, like a sandwich, we all have the same top and bottom slice of bread. The top slice is our greeting to God and our bottom slice of bread is the closing of, “In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”

IMG_7578 (2)

But the filling differs for each of us. I

explained that if we were having sandwiches for dinner and I laid out all the fixings…different meats and cheeses, mayo, mustard, lettuce, onion, tomato, etc. we would all make different sandwiches based on what we liked and what our body was craving. In the same way our prayers differ based on what our experiences were that day, what worries are on our hearts, and what we feel compelled to petition God about.

IMG_7588 (2)

I took it one step further and pointed out that just as Tyler’s prayer will differ from Rusty’s, our personal prayer should differ day to day. Just like you wouldn’t want to eat the same sandwich for every meal, your prayer shouldn’t be the same rote words uttered day after day. They should be thoughtful, meaningful, personal and relevant to what is going on in your life.

I compared speaking to God that way to talking to their best friend on the phone…

“What would your friend think if every day you called him or her and had the exact same conversation…

“Hi Jane, How are you? What is your favorite color? Do you have a brother?  Thank you for my Christmas gift.  Talk to you tomorrow. Goodbye.”

I am guessing you wouldn’t have a real meaningful friendship. In the same way our relationship with our Heavenly Father can’t grow deeper if our communication is limited to:

Dear God, Thank you for this day. Thank you for my family. Please bless this food. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”

Now granted, I think God is happy to hear from us in any form, even if it is that sort of  “text message of a prayer,” but if we are going to benefit from all that a relationship with a loving, personal God has to offer, we must really talk to him.


 For the activity part of the evening we took this idea one step further by making prayer sticks. Using tongue depressors decorated with washi tape everyone wrote on the back of 5 sticks people or concerns we want to pray for more regularly and then we placed them in a jar in the living room.

IMG_7576 (2)

For family prayer time the family member that is offering the prayer will randomly pick 5 sticks and add those prayer requests to their personal prayer requests. These prayer sticks can be added to or changed over time.

IMG_7584 (2)

All of these activities will hopefully help us all to reevaluate our own approach to prayer and help us all to gain a stronger testimony of prayer and its power in our lives:


We ended the night with a treat of gummy sandwiches…

IMG_7594 (2)

Because nothing says, “We are having a family night lesson on prayer!” like a bag of KRABBY PATTIES! 😉

IMG_7595 (2)

Oh, Crap!!


oh crap

The first clue that perhaps all was not right with the world was the smell.

Rusty and Grace were at home, alone, when they caught the first whiff. A quick glance around the room for 4-legged suspects revealed that the most likely instigators of the smell were curled up on couches elsewhere. They decided they better investigate.

Their keen sense of smell led them to the basement door. As they opened the door to investigate they were hit with a putrid wave of foreboding. Hesitantly and with great apprehension they began descending down the stairs only to step into a nightmare-inducing horror film. A pipe above their head was showering down feces in a most spectacular fashion, while the contents of our septic tank bubbled up from the drains on the floor.

Being McCleery’s, these kids have been better trained for the worst sorts of disaster scenarios than most government FEMA workers. Rather than running from the horror that lay before them they jumped into this crappy scenario with both feet (after donning rubber boots) and set to work trying to save what they could.

Racing through the sewage bubbling up beneath their feet and raining down on them from above, they hurried to move boxes out of the path of destruction.

When they finally felt that things were safe enough to run upstairs for the phone they called Toby and asked what they should do. After confirming that there was nothing else that could be done until he made it home from work, they called me at tutoring to give me a heads up of what I would be coming home to.

In typical Gracie  efficiency, she ended the conversation with a breezy, “Don’t feel like you have to hurry home. We’ve got things under control here.”

When Tyler was done with tutoring we drove home. As we stepped into the front door we were hit with the unique smell combination of sewage layered with ocean breeze air freshener, AXE cologne, and a variety of Bath and Body Works body sprays. I’m not sure if the AXE cologne helped or hurt the situation but the kids insisted that things smelled significantly better with the added scents.

Toby arrived home and headed downstairs only to emerge a little while later with the unfortunate news that there was nothing to be done until septic companies opened the following morning. In the meantime we just had to endure the smell and not use any water. That meant no showers, no dishes, no laundry, and especially NO FLUSHING until we figured out why our basement was filling with sewage.

The next day angels in rubber gloves pulled into our driveway.


For three hours they worked to remedy our situation. Thankfully they discovered the blockage and was able to fix it, and while they were here we also had them pump our septic tank. One septic emergency was enough for this lifetime so we chose to be proactive while we had the truck here.

Once the problem was solved and the shower of crap had ceased, it was time to brave the horror downstairs and clean up the mess. All I can say is, “Kuddos to these kiddos who without comment or complaint, pulled on their rubber boots and rubber gloves, grabbed a shovel and began scooping.”


What troopers they were. No strangers to crappy situations, they just dove into this unpleasant task with steely resolve and a good sense of humor and within a few hours had turned our septic swamp back into a basement.

While most teenagers would have been bemoaning this unforeseen change in our Family Night plans, Molly, with typical optimism, cheerful commented as she shoveled poop into trash bags, ” Well, this is one Family Night we will NEVER forget!”

Once everything had been scooped and scrubbed, we doused the basement in bleach to kill any residual germs. As we stumbled upstairs, weary and ready for showers, Tyler took a huge sniff. “Our house doesn’t smell like poop anymore,” he observed, “Now it smells like Kalahari!” The smell of bleach did give the impression we had just walked into an indoor water park. 🙂

All was well that ended well…or so we thought.

The real damage done by this unexpected circumstance had nothing to do with the pile of ruined storage that got carried outside. No, the real damage was far more devastating…

Beginning on Monday night, the night the septic tank back up into our basement, we noticed a concerning change in Tyler. Out of nowhere he developed a pronounced facial tic. It was bizarre. It came on quickly and increased in severity within the first 24 hours. My first thought was that he was having a seizure, as it was disconcerting to see his facial muscles rapidly clench and release as his eyes rapidly blinked. What was even more disconcerting was the fact that he was unaware he was even doing it.

As the week progressed I spent countless hours researching possible causes and set up appointments with his doctor, therapist, and psychiatrist, uncertain if the cause was neurological, medication driven, or rooted in trauma. I had a theory but it wasn’t until we met with his therapist and his psychiatrist that my theory was confirmed. They agreed that what we were seeing was a regression that came as a result of the smell of feces in the house. The sense of smell is the strongest memory trigger we have and they both suspect that when Tyler was exposed to a smell that was so pronounced in the deplorable conditions of his birth home where atrocious abuse took place, he was hit with terrifying flashbacks. Unable to express or vent the horrors playing out in his head, his body responded to that fear and stress physiologically in the form of these new facial tics.

We are still ruling out other possible medical causes but his doctors are fairly certain that this regression is trauma driven, and although the smell is long gone, the flashbacks remain and the feelings of not being safe at home are driving these new symptoms. My heart breaks for him. Not only because of the looks he is now getting from others, but because of the horrors that he must have endured to cause his little body to have such a visceral reaction to a smell.

This entire week has been a profound reminder of the difference between the frustrations and the bothersome inconveniences of life that we perhaps view as trials, and the real trials of life that so many are burdened with this Christmas season. Yes, a basement full of sewage was not fun, but really, was it anything more that a frustration or irritation. How blessed we are to have only endured that situation for 24 hours when there are children around the globe living in such squalor every day. It was a wake-up call for me…a powerful reminder this Christmas season of how blessed we are, but also wake up call of how little we are doing to help those whose trials are so much greater than ours.

Lord, help me to not lose sight of that admonition…

Not only this Christmas season, but all year long.


So Much to Be Thankful For!


Last Wednesday was a big day at Patchwork Farm. It marked the 3-year anniversary of Ozzie’s adoption and was also the day of Ozzie’s anticipated arrival home after almost two months away. It was sweet serendipity that these two events coincided in such a blessed way.

Typically, we celebrate Tyler and Ozzie’s “Gotcha Days” with an activity of their choosing but since we had celebrated Ozzie’s “Gotcha Day” before he left for his inpatient stay we decided to stay home and let him pick the dinner of his choice for his special day.

At noon I began the two-hour trek to the facility where Ozzie is receiving inpatient trauma therapy. We had a family therapy session scheduled for 2:00pm. These sessions which occur weekly have be held in person or by telephone depending on scheduling. My trek to pick up Ozzie provided a perfect opportunity to have an in-person session.

I walked in and Ozzie was on his feet immediately, propelling himself through the air, into my arms. To say he was excited to come home for Thanksgiving weekend would be the understatement of the year! Our therapy session was focused on establishing a contract for expectations during Ozzie’s time at home and coming up with a crisis plan. Our goal was, first and foremost, safety for each member of the family. Much of this groundwork had already been laid at home prior to picking up Ozzie. Earlier in the week I had scheduled a family session with Tina (Tyler and Ozzie’s outpatient therapist) so the other kids could voice their concerns and process the muddy mix of emotions they were all feeling with Ozzie’s visit drawing nearer.

All the prep work being done on our end and on Ozzie’s end was to help facilitate a happy, healthy, safe reunion at home.

Our therapy session was speedy. Ozzie was eager to get on the road and once his therapist was made aware of all the precautions that had been put in place at home and all the prep work we had been doing in anticipation for Ozzie’s visit, she felt confident sending us on our way.

Ozzie was buzzing with excitement and anxious anticipation.

As we neared home and he began seeing the familiar landmarks of home he could hardly sit still. We pulled into the driveway and he was out of the van before I had it in park, with his weekend bag in hand, eager to see the kids, greet the dogs, and see his bedroom.

IMG_3933 (2)

For dinner Ozzie had requested pumpkin chili. This is his favorite dish I make, and it was a perfect meal for a cold, November evening. It was so nice to sit around the dining room table and have all my chicks present.

After dinner we had Family Night. Since we weren’t going anywhere for Ozzie’s “Gotcha Day” I thought it would be fun to postpone our Sunday Family Night activities for Wednesday night so Ozzie could join us.

The focus of the lesson and activities I planned were “gratitude.” In honor of Thanksgiving, Ozzie’s “Gotcha Day,” and having the family reunited, I couldn’t think of a better theme for our night.

We began our evening with an object lesson that I had used recently for a class I taught at church. Each person was given a pebble to place in their shoe and a piece of chocolate to place in their mouth and then were instructed to walk around the house. When they had returned I asked how their stroll was. It was interesting to see how different family members responded. Some were quick to complain of the pain they endured while walking around with a sharp pebble in their shoe, while others praised the sweetness of the chocolate in their mouth. I likened the experience to life and pointed out the fact that our lives are filled with both pebbles and chocolates, but it is easy to become so focused on the pebbles in our shoes that we forget all the sweet blessings we enjoy.

IMG_3948 (2)

This object lesson led into our discussion of the Bible story of the ten lepers. We read the story and then discussed what lessons we could take away from the story and apply to our lives.

IMG_3955 (2)

With a stronger conviction of the importance of expressing gratitude to our Heavenly Father impressed on us all, I gave each person an A B C gratitude sheet and challenged them to come up with blessings they were grateful for that start with each letter of the alphabet.

IMG_3960 (2)

We then went around the room and read our answers. I was impressed with the creativity and specific blessings everyone came up with. I then posed the question, “If you woke up tomorrow with only those items on your list that you have thanked Heavenly Father for in the past what blessings would remain?”

IMG_3965 (2)

It gave us all pause to consider the many blessings we have never expressed gratitude for…blessings that we perhaps take for granted.

We ended our evening of gratitude with some Minute-to-Win-It games that were Thanksgiving themed.

IMG_3987 (2)IMG_3992 (2)

We split into two teams and competed in a series of fun, 60-second challenges that revolved around the theme of gratitude.

IMG_3977 (2)IMG_4019 (2)IMG_3984 (2)

It was a fun way to conclude Family Night and a perfect lead in to a weekend of THANKS.

IMG_3994IMG_4011 (2)IMG_4007 (2)IMG_3996 (2)IMG_4014 (2)

I don’t know when my heart has been more filled with gratitude and love and awe at God’s loving mercy than it was that evening with all my children gathered around me, my husband smiling from across the room, and laughter filling the house.

Oh, the difference a couple months can make.

God is good, indeed. ❤

Spiritual Crocodiles


This past week for family night we focused on a spiritual lesson…

One that is pertinent to all of us despite the different stages of life we find ourselves in.

The lesson was on spiritual crocodiles.

spiritual crocodiles

We began our evening with one of the kids’ favorite childhood books, “The Big Wide- Mouthed Frog.” In this cute children’s book a sassy frog approaches different animals asking them what they eat. By the end of the story the frog meets his match when he approaches a crocodile and asks, “Big bumpy brown log, what do you eat?” Only to hear the response, “I am a crocodile and I eat big, wide-mouthed frogs!”

IMG_2867 (2)

This cute story led into our lesson for the evening on the danger of spiritual crocodiles in our lives.

We began our lesson with this video:

After watching the video we discussed the analogy of how certain choices and sins could be likened to the danger of crocodiles, and what can be learned from the story of the Englishman who chose to challenge the limitations he felt the fence placed on his life, only to put himself in greater danger.

We talked about the slippery slope of sin and how playing with boundaries can place us in a position to be snapped up by the jaws of certain spiritual crocodiles, thus finding ourselves struggling to escape their grasp.

Then the kids went on a crocodile hunt. Earlier in the evening Toby hid pictures of crocodiles around the room.

IMG_2865 (2)

The kids raced to find them all. Once all the crocodiles had been found, they took turns reading the different scenarios written on the crocodile cards and discussing the dangers of getting too close to that particular crocodile.

IMG_2880 (2)IMG_2875 (2)IMG_2884 (2)IMG_2883

It led to some great discussion and allowed all of us to reflect on our own tendency to tempt danger and dip our toes in the muddy waters of sin.


We ended our lesson with big, wide mouth frogs…YUM!

IMG_2890 (2)


“Remember the Sabbath Day”



Our Sundays are no longer the restful Sabbath Sundays they once were.

Like the rest of our week, it seems that day, too, is filled to the brim.

 This is due in part to the reality of our life right now. The hospital that Ozzie is at right now only has family visiting hours on Sundays from 1-4. When we found this out we weren’t sure how this would work. Grace is now driving down to Pittsburgh on Sundays for church and Sunday services for us are three hours long, ending at 1:00pm. We figured out that if we could leave a few minutes early we could make the two-hour drive to see Ozzie, arrive by 3:00, and have a full hour to visit before family visiting time is over.

It has been a blessing to watch the Lord maneuver the many moving puzzle pieces of our life and make it all fit in a beautiful, wonderful way. This is exactly what has happened with our Sundays. The Lord brought all those moving pieces (that had me so anxious and stressed) together and matched them seamlessly into what is now our Sabbath Day.

We head in different directions in the morning with Grace driving down to Pittsburgh and the other kids joining Toby and I for church closer to home. Slipping out a bit early from the 14/15-year-old young women’s class that I teach, Toby and I begin the two-hour drive to see Ozzie while the kids go home with friends for lunch while waiting for Grace to get out of church and pick them up to take them home.

On our 4-hour “Sunday drive,” Toby and I enjoy a “date” and get to talk uninterrupted while enjoying the beautiful fall scenery and eating a picnic lunch in the car that I pack for us the night before.

We arrive by 3:00 and get an hour with Ozzie before they shoo all the families out. Usually I pack fun snacks and treats for Ozzie, and board games for us to play, while we visit and catch-up. It has become such a blessed time and one of the highlights of my week. Ozzie is doing awesome and I continue to be amazed at how he is healing and thriving under this higher level of therapeutic care.

This week he was thrilled to share the news that following church services that morning he had his final dirt bike lesson and certification test. At this residential facility they offer dirt bike certification for the boys who would like to be able to use the facility’s bike trails and take a dirt bike out on the weekend under the supervision of staff. To qualify for the program the boys have to be receiving high marks in school and in their behavior reports, and then they can take a course where they learn the mechanics of the bike, how to safely ride. If they pass they then get to take the bikes out on the trails. Well now Ozzie is certified to ride and was THRILLED to report the good news to us.

We also had some exciting news for him. The results of his and Tyler’s genealogy DNA test had arrived. We purchased these tests when they went on sale online. Before Ozzie left we had a family night activity where we swabbed the boys’ cheeks and sent their DNA to Texas where it was analyzed. Six weeks later the results ended up in our mailbox.

Because Tyler and Ozzie were adopted we have found many holes in the story of their past. I can fill in some of those holes for them based on the information in their child profile but there are many holes that I can’t fill in, and that is hard for them. Their sense of identity…who they are based on where they came from…leave them feeling a bit like orphans. There are so many questions I wish I could answer for them that I simply don’t know, but this was something I could give them. The results of these tests don’t give them the details of their family history but I hoped the results would give them a sense of identity and maybe answer some of the questions they have had.

Here is what we learned…

Ozzie’s results didn’t surprise me too much:

IMG_2672 (2).JPG

He was thrilled to find out his heritage!


Tyler’s background was a bit muddier and a whole lot more surprising:

IMG_2671 (2).JPG

We were especially surprised by that 1% of Kenyan.

He too was thrilled to have his questions answered.

IMG_2870 (2)

After our visit with Ozzie we say good-bye for another week and get back on the road for our ride home.

Sundays have now become our Family Home Evening night. With Monday nights (and all other evenings) being booked with Gracie’s college classes and the girls’ work schedules, Sunday night is now the night we have set aside for family time. It is the only night we have guaranteed to have everyone home.  It is during this time that we sit down and have our weekly planning meeting, going over schedules, goal, concerns, and plans for the week. This is also when everyone sits down to write their weekly letter to Ozzie. Following those tasks, we have a lesson and activity of some sort for Family Night. This week we were focusing on service. The plan was to make cookies as a family that everyone could bag to give someone as a token of gratitude.

As I was searching for a yummy new cookie recipe I came across this recipe for scripture cookies on Pinterest.


“Perfect!” I thought. We would be able to work on navigating our scriptures while also blessing others with an act of service.

We began by giving everyone a recipe page with key ingredient information missing. Using their Bibles, they looked up the scripture passages to find the missing words.


It became a race as we tried to be the first to find the correct page, passage, and word missing from the recipe.


Once our recipes were complete we began cooking.


It was a very fun family night activity and everyone enjoyed getting to sample the fruits of our labors…

20171015_194035 (1)20171015_194103

Scripture cookies (aka: peanut butter blossoms.)



So, there you go. The new “normal” we have embraced in this season of our life.

It isn’t the Sabbath Day of our past, but it is good. In a lot of ways, it holds a depth and a spirituality and meaningfulness that Sundays in the past were lacking.

I do sometimes wish there was a bit more rest in my “Day of Rest.”

Yeah, I really miss Sunday naps… 😉

But I have discovered a holiness in the what our Sabbath Days have become. At the heart of our Sabbath Day of worship is love of God, love of family, and love of others,

And really, isn’t that what the 4th commandment is all about?

This and That


Sometimes I find that the focus of my blog tends to revolve around the big news and events sprinkled throughout our weeks, but every now and then I feel compelled to pen a “catch up” sort of blog that shares more of the day to day happenings in our life. Since none of these small happenings justify an entire blog entry I tend to  lump them together in a “this and that” blog.  The big breakthrough sort of moments of life may determine the course of our journey but it is the small day to day happenings that are the building blocks of our life.

Here is a look into the day to day moments that make up our life:

We have taken this time of respite, while Ozzie is getting some much needed and effective therapy to address his history of trauma, to really focus on the needs of the other children. Part of our plan to reconnect and assess everyone’s wellbeing has been for Toby and I to schedule a one-on-one date with each of the kids so that they can share their hearts with us in an uninterrupted setting. It has been a blessing and good for everyone. We schedule our dates following a visit to see Ozzie. We have taken the kids to visit him one at a time so that they can have one on one time with Ozzie. This has been good for Ozzie as it encourages deeper attachment with each sibling individually, but also good for the kids to see where Ozzie is at and see the work he is doing. The experience has made them more understanding and empathetic of Ozzie’s struggles as they gain insight into the hurt and trauma behind the behaviors.

Following our visit with Ozzie, Toby and I take that child out on a special date to the restaurant of their choosing (something more financially feasible when you are paying for 3 meals as opposed to 7.) It has been fun to see what everyone’s picks have been. Molly chose Five Guys, Grace chose Chipotle, and Rusty chose Dynasty Chinese buffet. Tyler has his date night coming up and I suspect McDonalds is in our future.

As part of Gracie’s date we stopped so she could get her haircut. This task is significantly easier and more enjoyable without little brothers tagging along.

Here is her before and after:

The kids have been busy with school as their 3rd quarter comes to a close. Rusty has been studying DNA which means he had a fun assignment in science. His teacher sent all the students the candy and supplies for an online class to make DNA chains using sweet treats. I must say Rusty was even more engaged in the lesson than usual, knowing that at the completion of the lesson he would get to eat the “fruits of his labors.”

Grace is still involved in mural club, with Molly and Rusty joining her occasionally for a mural they are interested in learning to paint. Two weeks ago they were learning to paint roses. Grace decided to veer off from the teacher’s sample and create a stain glass version of a rose. (Can you see how excited she is for the new Beauty and the Beast movie that is going to be released soon?!) She was on a role and followed that art project with a craft project of her own by making the enchanted rose from the West Wing. Here are her finished projects:


This summer my three oldest kids will be going on Trek. Those that have been following our blog for a while will remember when Grace participated in a pioneer trek four years ago with other youth in our church. They spent 3 days trekking through the rolling hills of Virginia, pulling handcarts and cooking over a fire so as to gain an appreciation for the sacrifices made by the pioneers who trekked westward. This year Grace, Molly and Rusty will be able to experience this together and I am so thrilled for them!

A few Sundays ago we attended the kick-off fireside that inspired, instructed, and got the excitement going for this upcoming July event. Grace is on the youth committee that is helping adult leadership with the planning of the event and was given the responsibility of creating a short, fun video to help the youth get ideas of how to easily and inexpensively put together the outfits they will wear on trek.


She did a great job!

This Wednesday was a theme day at co-op. In honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday we had Wacky Wednesday…and this is what the kids came up with. I think Rusty wins!


In preparation for Family Night Grace donned her apron to create a Disney World copycat recipe of raspberry macaroons. Yes, they were as delicious as they look!

For our family night message we had a lesson on the life of Job. As we read about Job’s trials and likened them to our own we were humbled by all he had to endure and how faithfully and graciously he endured them. It gave me cause for reflection as I considered my own earthly journey and the challenges in my life, which seem so shallow in comparison, but more striking was the comparison between how Job endured compared to the way I have endured certain seasons of life. It made me desire a deeper and more faithful relationship with my Heavenly Father so that I might handle the trials that come my way more humbly, graciously and faithfully.

This lesson was followed by a Pixar short entitled, “Paperman,” that led us into the hands-on portion of my lesson.


I began by giving everyone a sheet of paper and asked them to see who could make that flat piece of paper soar across the room. With much laughter and taunting we found none were able to get their flat piece of paper to travel more than a foot or two.


I asked what we could do to make our paper fly better, to which the kids suggested we fold them into paper airplanes.

Using some YouTube tutorials we created all sorts of magnificent paper airplanes.


We then lined up and tried again. This time those pieces of papers soared gracefully across the room.


I asked the kids what had changed.

They replied, “We had to fold it into the right shape so that it could fly.”

I then brought home the point of the lesson,

In order to fly, that untouched, pristine, piece of paper had to be bent, folded, and torn to be molded into an object that could soar above the pull of the world.

And so it is with us.

It is the trials and challenges that we live through that we learn the most from. An untouched piece of paper doesn’t fly, and life of ease doesn’t help us soar. We need the creases and the folds to fly, and we need to allow God to use the lessons we learn during those hard times to mold us into someone that soars beyond the pull of this world.

I prepared the lesson for my children, but it was I that really needed to be reminded of the truth. God is using this season of life to work mighty changes in me so that I might fly higher and closer to Him.


IKEA adventures


This past week was a blessed one with much rest, renewal, family time, holiday traditions, and grateful hearts as we celebrated the gift of our Savior during the week leading up to Easter.

Our full week began on Monday with a trip to IKEA for family night.

For those who are not familiar with IKEA stores, here is a brief overview:

“Ikea is a Swedish company known for its affordable, modern furniture. The company specializes in compact styles, usually assembled by the purchaser at home. With nearly 300 stores worldwide, the store has gained a faithful following of budget-hunting customers, and even entered pop culture.

In the 1940s, the company sold small home accessories and trinkets throughout Sweden. Eventually, the business expanded to furniture making, originally sold by mail order. In 1963, the first store opened outside of Sweden. The brand quickly spread throughout Scandinavia, with stores in Denmark and Norway. Over the next few decades, the store became popular throughout Europe, and opened locations in America in 1985.

As of 2008, the company had stores in 36 countries. Germany has the most locations, with 43 stores throughout the country, while the United States is close behind with 34. With its bold, blue and yellow mega-stores, Ikea has flourished for a variety of reasons, including price, style, and sheer volume of products.

The typical layout of an Ikea store includes one or more showroom floors for large pieces of furniture and various room sets. Small departments, such as lighting and textiles, are scattered throughout the departments. The bottom floor of most stores includes a large warehouse section where boxes of the displayed furniture are available for customer selection. The lower floor also features check-out lines and a section of Swedish imported food available for purchase.”

We are lucky enough to have an IKEA in Pittsburgh and as a newly married couple it was our go-to place for inexpensive, creative solutions for furnishing our home. What I like about IKEA’s products, in addition to exceptional prices, is the creative design elements. Much of their inventory is multifunctional and is designed for smaller spaces,offering creative solutions for organization…

Thus making it a perfect place for our school bus conversion project!

(As well as a perfect place for the little boys to release some pent up energy!)


Toby has now finished many of the cabinets in the bus, including the kitchen (he just needs to add doors) so now is the time to start shopping for organizational tools for small space living.


The kitchen is going in.


The kitchen sits across from the boys’ bunk bed.

 The space available in a converted school bus for 7 people to live comfortably for a month is limited. We need to be creative as we figure out where we will store clothes for 7 people, food, school supplies and books (since we will be homeschooling on the road.)

Even problems like:

“Where will toothbrushes go?”

“Where will shoes be stored when taken off?”

“Where do we hang 7 wet towels?”

“Where do we store the girls’ futon bedding during the day?”

and “Where do we fit a dirty laundry basket or a trash can?”

are some of the problems we are seeking solutions for,

so it was a perfect time to spend the evening at IKEA to get some ideas.

The big kids hadn’t been to IKEA in years and the little boys had never been. It was a grand adventure for all involved. Toby pushed me in the wheelchair, while the big kids took turns pulling our rolling shopping bag,


The little boys ran from showroom to showroom, pretending it was their “home.”



Trying out chairs!


“Daddy, come find me!”


Tyler found his favorite chair!


Everyone picked out their future dream rooms as we walked around looking for items for the bus.


Gracie’s dream bedroom.


Rusty’s dream bedroom.


We had great success. We found some great organizational items, hardware for hanging the bus curtains and the curtains that will hang across each of the bunk beds, a TINY sink for the bus bathroom, among other things. It was a successful visit!

And a perfect adventure for family night!


What Language do you Speak?



This was the topic of discussion at our Family Night activity this week. Not being a bilingual family the languages we were speaking of were not languages of verbal expression but rather ones of emotional expression.

We were talking about Love Languages.

Many years ago I discovered a book entitled, The 5 Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. The concept was enlightening and the content was live changing for our marriage. The entire idea of each one of us having a certain love language we use to express our love to others was insightful. As soon as I began reading I had a “Ah-ha” light bulb appear above my head, and as a young wife I felt like I was receiving marriage-changing…marriage-blessing council.


By taking the quiz in the book I soon discovered my love language was Acts of Service. This meant I showed my love for others not through words, or hugs, or gifts, but by serving them. My love is shown through meals cooked, babysitting, volunteering to plan parties or coming to the aid of others. My family often jokes that I don’t know the word “No” when it comes to being asked to do things (and while that might be a little true) my primary motivation in saying “Yes” comes from love, and my desire to make others feel loved by lightening their burden,

because that is how I feel most loved.

Through this quiz we learned that Toby’s primary love language was Physical Touch. He felt most loved when his shoulders were rubbed, or when I held his hand while we were out shopping, or when I sat next to him on the couch while watching TV.

There lay our issue. Both of us were trying so hard to make the other feel loved but we were speaking two different languages. I was trying to make Toby feel loved and cared for by making sure there were no dishes in the sink or baby toys on the floor. While I spent the evenings showing my love by making our house a home for him all he wanted was for me to sit with him and watch a game on TV. He, on the other hand, was trying to show love to me in the way he likes to receive it by telling me to sit down so he could rub my shoulders,

when I wanted to say, “If you really loved me you’d quit telling me to sit down and you’d help me get these dishes done so I can relax.”

Both of us we trying so hard to show our love but since we were speaking two different love languages we both felt more frustrated than loved. 🙂

This book was such a blessing to our marriage.

Recently I was talking with girlfriends about this book and thought to myself, “We really out to have the kids take the quiz (They have one geared toward kids and teens on the website) and see what love languages our children speak so that we can better express our love to them in a language they will understand.

On Monday night we told the kids what we were doing. They were fascinated by the idea that we each speak different love languages. Each of them took the quiz online, revealing their scores and their love language.


The results were enlightening, although not completely surprising. I can look at the way my children show love to others and gain insight into how they feel most loved.


Here were the results of our 5 Love Languages quiz:

Physical Touch: Toby

Acts of Service: Katie

Gifts: nobody

Quality Time: Grace, Rusty, and Tyler

Words of Affirmation: Molly and Ozzie

After discovering what love language we each speak, we talked about the importance of showing love in the language of the person you are expressing love to and then went over what each of those love languages looks like, in a practical sense.

Love Languages chart

This led to a great discussion as we shared how we feel the most loved and what acts and kindnesses touch us the most, as well as what acts of love we need more of.


As the kids shared their hearts with Toby and I (as well as with their siblings) we realized that it is sometimes easiest to show love to those who share your love language and as a result there is often a special bond between those family members or friends, but regardless of how challenging it can be we must make an effort to learn and speak each others’ love languages…

Because that it what family is all about.

What language do you speak?