Tag Archives: hope

Molly’s Missionary Message #4

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Hello!

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This week honestly has been quite bittersweet.

There have been some great “ups” like:

Sewing up the hole in my pants all by myself! (proud moment… haha),

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Magic syrup…a seasoning we love to cook with daily. (No one knows what is in it, but it tastes like happiness!)

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Visiting the temple grounds often during the week. (This is probably the greatest blessing!) Back at home the closest temple is a few hours away, so the blessing of having three temples in our mission area is the greatest joy!

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Enjoying the beauty of Utah. The other day there was a stunning sunset. My two companions and I went outside and bonded over a photography shoot.

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We have also enjoyed going on hikes. The mountains are breathtaking! They are one of the things that I adore about Utah, besides the great people and this mission.

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There were also some low moments: My trio companion Sister Briones is getting a new companion in the next few days. It is sad that she will be moving out. I adore her. At least we will get to keep giving her rides when we need to say hello!

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Another hard moment came this week when I received the sad news about my great grandmother’s passing… She was that amazing, firecracker, life-of-the-party person that I adore and will greatly miss!

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This week had its ups and downs, but in the end the good will always outweigh the bad. God is good and I know that He knows us personally and individually!

Alma 18:32 says,”Yea, and He looketh down upon all the children of men; and he knows all the thoughts and intents of the heart for by His hand were they all created from the beginning.”

I know God loves us. We are His children. He is aware of our ups and downs and is always with us… always! I love you all and so does our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ!

Here is a poem that I wrote and felt prompted to share:

“Miracles are God’s manifestation of His love in viewable form,
If we aren’t still and quiet, they can blend into the daily norm.
God places people in our path of life for a purpose and a reason,
Be humble and learn all you can, for that due personal season.

During this time on my mission, I have seen so many miracles each day,
I am so grateful and humbled… what more is there to truly say?
Everyday a challenge of some sort may push or stretch you,
But remember God loves you personally, and He sees the big picture too!

Today brought forth a miracle that fills me with the Spirit,
Our message is about Jesus Christ and we invite all to come and hear it.
We speak out of love for Jesus Christ and a true, deep passion,
Everyday we seek to walk in the shoes of Christ, which to the world is so out of fashion.

My invitation to you is to put action to your faith in some way or form this week,
For as we search and ask with a sincere desire, God will provide what we honestly seek.
Modern day revelation is true for this time and day,
I have received loving answers from the humble prayers I say.”

Sending big hugs your way!

– Sister McCleery

 

Sister McCleery- Week 1 at the MTC

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This week was a monumental one for Miss Molly…I mean, Sister McCleery.
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On Wednesday she logged onto her first class at the Missionary Training Center. Rather than attend the MTC in person,  she and all the other missionaries who are scheduled to do their training in Provo, Utah during this time, are now part of online classes.
Her name tag arrived in the mail on Tuesday and on Wednesday morning she emerged from her bedroom as Sister McCleery.
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Her schedule is quite rigorous with 6-8 hours a day spent online, learning, training, and attending devotionals. This is in addition to the time she has set aside in her schedule for personal scripture study and the companion scripture study that she does online with her assigned companion.
She is still able to join the family for meals and during her down time and breaks. It has been a joy watching her MTC experience firsthand and getting to hear about her experiences and the insight she’s gained that day as we gather together each evening for family devotionals.
The biggest challenge has probably been creating an environment of stillness and quiet reflection for Molly to learn in, with seven other people (and many noisy animals) running amuck.
The dogs have especially enjoyed hanging out with Molly at her own personal MTC.
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The other day Olive had to be banished from Molly’s room when she insisted on bring her noisiest squeaky toy into Molly’s room and making a whole lot of noise while Molly was trying to answer questions in class.
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But overall we are navigating this unique situation well. Molly’s faithfulness and service continues to bless our family and we are grateful she is home and safe during this uncertain season. Here are some thoughts she shared with us this week:
MISSIONARY THOUGHT: HAVING A SOFT HEART
I don’t know if I can really put into words all the emotions I am feeling. With all the changes in the world right now I have learned to take my mission step by step and day by day. I am doing the MTC online and had my first class yesterday.
I was assigned and introduced to my companion, Sister Graham, who is the sweetest person ever! I am so excited to learn and teach beside her! I am in a district with two other sets of missionaries. Everyone is very kind and my first class was quite enjoyable.
I could really feel the Spirit during our zone conference as well. We talked about the importance of the work and the blessings of the mission. It takes sacrifice, and it is hard, but the growth and gifts that come forth are endless!
I am also very grateful for being able to do my MTC experience online. The experience has allowed me to spend some more time with my family and share my MTC experience with them. I have learned that this experience is humbling and sacred whether you do it online or in person. You can feel the Spirit testify of that.
This week, as I was reading my scriptures, the Holy Ghost taught me using a metaphor which touched my heart. In the scriptures it often talks about a hardened heart. This made me think of everyday objects that could relate.
A hardened heart is like dry clay. When we are not willing to listen to what God has to say to us, our hearts become hardened, and just like clay, it becomes challenging to work with. Eventually it becomes unable to be molded. It just crumbles. But Jesus Christ, the master potter, doesn’t give up easily on us. We can choose to have a soft heart, one that is willing to listen and to obey what it is He is asking us to do. We can have a heart that desires to serve and to trust in God even during the hard times. That willingness is like adding water to dry clay. As we work with it, it becomes moldable. Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ can use us to fulfill His work and our purpose here on earth. They have the ability to mold us into strong, beautiful and reliable pottery.
Be like soft clay. Have a soft and open heart. Allow Jesus Christ to mold you into something better than you ever thought you could be. You need not fear. He is in control.
“Trust in The Lord with all Thy heart, and lean not unto Thy own understanding. In all Thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct Thy paths.” – Proverbs 3:5-6
Love, Sister McCleery

Scrapbooking: Cheaper than a Therapist!

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

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

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

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

And it all started with a girls’ week away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our extra guests were three teenage girls.

Three of us scrapbooking veterans have daughters graduating this year.

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

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

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

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

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

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Participating in a fun sewing project with Miss Wendy,

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

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

Between the gifts of love exchanged between friends,

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

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

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All while getting to indulge in creative pursuits…

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Who could ask for anything more?!

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to recording the moments of our lives…

The good, the bad, and the ugly!

Adoption is…

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Adoption is caring.

Adoption is giving.

Adoption is hope.

Adoption is redemption.

Adoption is a blessing.

Adoption is LOVE.

But adoption is also heartache, heartbreak and loss.

It is all of those things, and if we don’t acknowledge that truth then we are doing a disservice to those who are embarking on (or are already traveling) the  adoption path.

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Adoption is emotionally messy. Choosing to open your heart and home to a child that has come into your life through loss and tragedy creates a muddy mix of emotions on all ends. With each placement I am better understanding this reality and have adjusted my expectations accordingly.

When Tyler came into our home as a hurting 6-year-old boy, I am ashamed to admit that I really didn’t get it. I viewed what we were offering him to be a loving gift that he should be grateful and excited about. I wanted his emotions to mirror mine. I was feeling excited, blessed, and full of love for my new son but didn’t recognize that his emotions were more complicated.

The reality is…

As much as media wraps the experience in the tagline of: “Adoption is LOVE,”

(Which it is!)

It should equally be acknowledged: “Adoption is Loss.”

If a child comes to you through adoption, whether due to being removed from an abusive home or placed as an infant by a loving birth mother who is sacrificing all for the sake of the child she loves, loss is involved. There needs to be an understanding that while adoption is a beautiful blessing, it is not all joy and gratitude and celebration. There is also a lot of sadness, confusion, fear, anger, and grief connected with this journey.

The past five years have taught me a lot and I feel better equipped to sensitively and kindly navigate this road with Brandon than I was able to with Tyler. God is working on all of us and opening our eyes to the bigger picture and the deeper reality.

Two weeks ago we made a trip down to Washington County so that Brandon could have a visit with his adoptive father (whom he calls “Pap.”) His adoptive Dad is under the care of hospice due to terminal cancer. It is because of a series of heartbreaking losses in Brandon’s life that we find him living in our home. The visit was a good one. It was good for Brandon to see that we would continue to facilitate visits with his Pap and make visits a priority while we still can, but also good for his pap to see Brandon thriving.. giving him a sense of peace about the situation.

When it was time to leave and we were walking out to the car Brandon asked if he could go say “hello” to his dog.

Tied up in the backyard was a beagle that was bouncing with excitement at the sight of his boy. Brandon asked if I would go back with him because he wanted me to meet his dog.

The next 30 minutes were spent sitting in the grass as the pup bounced between us. With that wiggling mass of pure love in his arms, Brandon’s soul opened and the words began to pour out. Sitting beneath the shade of the tree he  started talking; sharing memories of all that had happened in that place. Memories of his dog, of afternoons spent in the woods. He shared memories of learning to cook at his adoptive mom’s side and the struggle of watching her health diminish,

And the crushing loss he felt when she died.

It was as though his reinforced, emotional dam broke loose and the thoughts and feelings of the last few years poured out of him. There in the backyard of his home he purged a lifetime of tears and broken dreams and I sat and listened. It was cathartic and I could see the physical affect that emotional purging had on him.

I held him as he cried.

His overgrown, man-body shook with the tears of a toddler…those tears that wrack the body and wash the soul.

I held him tight until he released his grip, indicating he no longer needed hugged. As he stepped away he turned to say good-bye to a furry friend who has been a loving companion through some of the darkest life experiences a person can endure.

I suggested we take a picture of him with his dog so that we could print it and frame it for his room.

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He eagerly agreed and the pup thought it was a good idea too!

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We left the home of his Pap with the last of his meager worldly possessions packed in a black garbage bag. We will be returning for additional visits, making sure he has as many visits with his Pap as we can before Brandon experiences another horrible loss.

But despite the fact we will return for visits, there was a sad finality in the way he looked over his shoulder as we left, at the place he has called home for the last few years.

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Adoption is about hope, care, redemption and love…

but it is also about loss.

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We must never forget that.

 

 

We are happy to Announce…

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For the last 12 months my three oldest children have been volunteering their time two mornings a week at Ready Yourself Youth Ranch. This non-profit organization takes in abused and neglected horses for rehabilitation while also pairing healed horses with children who have unique needs and challenges. It is an amazing organization and serving at Ready Yourself Youth Ranch has proved to be an enormous blessing for Grace, Molly and Rusty. 

This past week we had Tyler’s 16-year-old biological brother, Brandon, visiting and the older kids invited him to go with them to volunteer at the horse farm… 

 For those who haven’t been following the blog this summer, Brandon is one of Tyler’s four biological siblings.

We met Brandon for the first time 4 years ago when we gathered all of Tyler’s biological siblings together for a reunion at Patchwork Farm. After many years of being separated and losing contact with each other, they were finally reunited.

At that time, Brandon was the last sibling remaining in foster care and the hurt he carried was evident in his countenance. At the time we inquired about Brandon and whether we could be considered a possible placement, only to discover that his foster parents were in the process of adopting Brandon. We were thrilled with this wonderful news. Brandon was finally getting the forever home he deserved to have.

At our next reunion the affect of being chosen and finally having his forever home was evident on his face. He was a different child and the joy radiated from him.

Fast forward 6 months and after months of not hearing from Brandon or his adoptive parents I received the heartbreaking news that Brandon’s adoptive mother (of 9 months) had been stolen from him by cancer. My heart broke for Brandon as I mourned the loss of Tina and wept at the cruelty of this earthly life for a child who waited so long for a mother only to have her snatched away.

Over the next few years we struggled to remain in contact with Brandon. His adoptive father became sick and was in and out of the hospital which led to Brandon being moved frequently through foster homes and residential facilities. We would call and send letters and not get any response. We weren’t sure where Brandon was but Tyler continued to petition us to seek Brandon out.

(Of all Tyler’s siblings Brandon is the one Tyler feels most connected to. I think this is a natural consequence of the two of them being the last of the siblings to be adopted. Years after the other children were settled into their forever homes Tyler and Brandon continued their court-ordered monthly visits as wards of the state.)

Finally, out of the blue, we received a call from a woman who  had been assigned Brandon’s case. Once again Brandon found himself in limbo as his adoptive father is dying and has only been given months to live. (Hospice has now been brought in) This social worker had been working to create a network of support for Brandon. She’s been seeking out family (both biological and adoptive) that could be a network of support for Brandon, and as part of that search Brandon gave her our names. She reached out and asked if we would like to have contact with Brandon, would like to be a source of support, and what we would like that relationship to look like.

I explained our situation to her and shared with her the transition we were currently navigating as Ozzie returned home from residential care and we were working to find stability with this transition. I expressed our desire to have contact with Brandon and work on reconnecting him with Tyler but couldn’t commit to anything more (ie: weekend visits, etc.) until we evaluated where Ozzie and the other children were emotionally following Ozzie’s return home.

It was with baby steps we moved forward trying assess what our role in Brandon’s life was supposed to be and trying to hear God amidst the noise of “what ifs”…

Which leads us to this:

Last Tuesday I was surprised when Brandon enthusiastically jumped at the chance to wake up at 6:00 am and spend 2 hours mucking barns and feeding horses with Grace, Molly and Rusty at Ready Yourself Youth Ranch.

Like my other kids, he came home uplifted and empowered by the experience. He loved the horses and wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty..

Later when sharing his experience with his social worker he expressed in a simple but powerful  way that he found he could relate to those horses he cared for that morning.

He told her, “They are just like me. They were abused and then nobody wanted them.

Yet, just like those horses, who have experienced the cruelest life has to offer and then were given a second chance,

Brandon is getting his long overdue chance at healing, hope and a family…

Here at Patchwork Farm.

Yes, you read that right. The Mccleery clan of seven will soon be a family of eight.

We are choosing to lean into, rather than run from, the discomfort of the unknown,  step out in faith, and rise to the call God has extended to our family…

Trusting that He doesn’t call the qualified but rather qualifies the Called.

And so…

We are happy to announce that our family is growing by 2 feet!!

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Two not-so-little feet!!

Please Pray with Us ❤

 

 

 

 

 

A Time to Heal

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A few weeks ago we received an invitation in the mail to attend a recognition banquet at the Downingtown office of our cyber school. The invitation was for Molly and her family. She was one of the students be honored. We made plans to attend and initially we planned on making it a special mother/daughter trip for just Molly and I.

As Ozzie’s return home neared I watched the kids came to terms with this transition as they individually sorted through the mix of emotions tied to Ozzie’s return home. Molly in particular struggled to reconcile her past hurts and the need to forgive with anxiety that Ozzie would return home unchanged. She had such a desire to forgive and move forward but struggled to let go of the past hurts Ozzie had inflicted and trust that it was safe to emotionally open up to him. I saw the conflict playing out as she worked to forgive and move forward. My heart broke for her and Ozzie and all the other kids because I knew the hard emotional journey before her…before us all.

I also saw the spiritual maturity she showed as she approached those struggles humbly and prayerfully. As her recognition banquet approached she came to me to ask my thoughts on inviting Ozzie to come along on her special mother/daughter weekend. It was with great love she decided to set aside her own selfish desires and invite Ozzie along, hoping that some one-on-one time and special shared experiences might serve as a healing balm to past hurts.

When she extended the invitation to Ozzie he too was touched and motivated by her desire to heal their relationship and move forward, so he reciprocated her efforts with his own and decided to treat Molly to a fun, shared experience.

While he was at Harborcreek RTF Ozzie had the opportunity to earn “allowance” for daily chores and community work. After returning home he received a check in the mail closing his account. He decided to use a portion of that check to do something special for Molly on the trip and make a memory that was just theirs to share.

As a Mom I was touched and moved by both of their desires to forgive, heal and mend their relationship as siblings and the maturity and selflessness they each showed in sacrificing their own selfish desires for something bigger than themselves…

So, on Monday morning we left on a road trip of hope and healing as we headed east to Downingtown.

After a few stops along the way we made it to our hotel. Molly and Ozzie reveled in the fun of staying at a hotel,

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Swimming in the hotel pool,

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And enjoying the most delicious complementary breakfast I have ever seen at a hotel!

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After breakfast we got dolled up and ready to head over to the school for Molly’s recognition banquet and lunch with her teachers.

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The celebration began with a catered lunch of salmon, zucchini patties, chicken and macaroni and cheese. We enjoyed picnicking outside with the Hudak’s who were also there for Tatum’s recognition.

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After lunch we moved inside where a board meeting was taking place.

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There, in front of the board and their families, two dozen students were recognized and honored for achievements apart from their academics.

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It was a delight to see Tatum and Molly celebrated for their charitable endeavors.

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After they received their awards we stuck around long enough to visit with some of their learning coaches and teachers, both past and present.

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Ozzie was over the moon to get to see his learning coach, Halley Scarpignato, who surprised Ozzie with a new 21CCCS t-shirt.

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After saying our good-byes we were on the road, headed back home with a fun stop along the way.

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(In the next blog I will share some of the fun Molly and Ozzie shared these last two days.)

It was two days of healing and connecting for two of my kiddos.

Forgiveness isn’t easy.

Letting go of past hurts is hard.

Trusting those who have disappointed you requires faith,

And moving forward requires a certain level of selfless surrender…

But I know healing can be found in the most torn relationships if you can surrender the pain to the Heavenly Healer…

The same healer who turned water to wine, brought sight to the blind, calmed storms, and raised men from death…

I testify that God can take relationships left in ashes and breathe life into what was destroyed, making it better than before.

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I know this to be true…

I’m watching it happen.

A Small Spark…

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We saw the smoke before we saw the flames.

Driving down our road we were taken by surprise to see smoke rising from the hillside across the street from our home.

As we neared the field we discovered the entire hillside in flames.

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My heart raced as I fumbled to unlock the screen of my cell phone, find the button that allows me to dial (buried within the apps that litter my phone), and dial 911.

It was just Tyler in the car with me. Being my child who is actually extremely competent and calm in emergency situations, he pointed out that the flames were slowly climbing the hillside toward the natural gas well at the top of the hillside. He calmly suggested we finish our phone call from down the street, “You know, just in case everything blows up.”

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The dispatcher informed  us that police and fire fighters would arrive shortly and that they would want to speak with me, so Tyler and I hung out at the end of the driveway, a safe distance away from the flames rolling across the hillside.

A member from the fire department was the first to arrive and the first to question whether we had seen any other vehicles on the road before he took off in his truck to search for the potential arsonist before returning to us to have a longer conversation.

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After being assured that our home wasn’t at risk and there was no risk of explosion we settled in across the street from the fire, well out of the way of the police and firemen who spilled onto the scene, and watched as the fire was brought under control.

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This is the second fire on our road in the last two weeks, but one of many that evidently have been taking place in our township. We told the fireman who was first of the scene that a week prior two mattresses had been dumped on the edge of the road, near the bottom of our driveway, and a few days later were set on fire.

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We were blessed that it had been a wet week because the damage was contained to a small area near the road. Had it been drier or windier we could have lost everything…and everyone…

The thought of all that could have been lost, as a result of someone else’s criminal mischief, is sobering.

This particular fire was also set by someone who had disposed of an old couch on the side of the road a few days prior and then returned Wednesday afternoon to light it on fire. I suspect we missed crossing paths with this individual by only minutes. The couch was still smoldering when we came upon the fire. On that day, however, the elements didn’t work to our advantage. The drier grass and higher winds made the flames spread quickly.

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We were so grateful for the quick response by so many emergency personnel who arrived on the scene and made quick work of subduing a dangerous situation.

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An hour later the ground was no longer burning…no longer smoldering, but the effects of one small spark was evident in the charred ground that had replaced the tall, blowing grasses .

I have been thinking a lot about the power found within a small spark…

Power for destruction or power for good.

A few years ago we had the opportunity to visit Sequoia National Park as part of our cross-country road trip. There are no words that can adequately describe the awe- inducing wonder of standing beside one of these mammoth trees.

Giant sequoias are the world’s largest single tree and largest living thing by volume. Giant sequoias grow to an average height of 164–279 feet and 20–26 feet in diameter. Record trees have been measured to be 311 feet in height.

The oldest known giant sequoia based on ring count is 3,500 years old. Giant sequoias are among the oldest living things  on Earth.

While visiting Sequoia National Park we learned more about these trees and one thing that stood out to me and left an impression was the important role fire plays in the life of a Sequoia tree. While many forests would find destruction at the hands of a forest fire, the Sequoia tree finds life….

“The Giant Sequoia  is truly the most awesome species in the Sierra Nevada ecosystem. As in other living communities, sequoia groves – and the mixed conifer forests that contain them – have evolved with and adapted to natural processes that must continue if the community is to remain healthy. Fire is one of the major processes essential to the health of giant sequoia groves.
In the early 1960s, Dr. Richard Hartesveldt explored the connection between fire and sequoia regeneration. His small-scale prescribed fires followed nearly a century of fire suppression, and resulted in the germination of sequoia seeds and the recruitment of sequoia seedlings – something that had not occurred in the absence of fire.
Since those first experiments, researchers have further shown the benefits to sequoias from fire. Dendrochronology has determined that low intensity surface fires swept through the big trees approximately every 5 to 15 years. Sequoias rely on fire to release most seeds from their cones, to expose bare mineral soil in which seedlings can take root, to recycle nutrients into the soil, and to open holes in the forest canopy through which sunlight can reach young seedlings.” -National Park Service

Not only is the Sequoia tree designed to withstand the destructive power of fire. The tree actually finds life within those very same flames.

It takes the heat of fire to cause the cones of the tree to open and drop its seeds, leading to new life in the Sequoia forests.

What a beautiful analogy for life.

We are all hit with unexpected sparks in life…

Sparks that can turn into raging infernos of destruction.

Quite often these sparks are set by those intending to harm, while other times they are simply a side effect of life here on earth, like the strike of lightning during a summer storm.

Sometimes we are the “fire starters,” making choices that lead to destructive consequences.

Sometimes these sparks can be contained and managed, but often we find ourselves being hit with the hot wind of an out-of-control inferno that is beyond our ability to battle…we simply must ride out the tragedy and wait for the fire to burn out, hoping that the destruction isn’t too great.

 

In the wild fire seasons of life it is easy to become so consumed with survival in the midst of destruction that we don’t even notice the  hardened scales of our conifer cones opening under the heat of adversity, allowing seeds of new life to fall to the blackened ground.

Often it isn’t until the fire storm has passed that we see the bright shoots of green pressing up from the soil around us bringing with it hope, promises of healing, and the gift of new life.

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The same field (10 days later) as life burst forth from the charred soil…

Much like the Giant Sequoias, we have been through the fire and now find ourselves at the other end of this particular inferno. We are seeing the work of God sprouting up from destruction.

We have witnessed God’s promise:

That in life the greatest trials often give birth to the greatest blessings.

I testify this to be true.

 

A Thank You Note

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To the staff at Harborcreek Youth Services,
I just wanted to take a moment to express the gratitude our family has felt for the healing that has been found within the walls of Harborcreek Youth Services. It was with great heartache, but also great prayer, that we considered an RTF as the next needed step to help Ozzie and the rest of the family heal from immeasurable trauma. Ozzie came into our life four years ago through foster care. Upon meeting him for the first time we knew he was meant to be a forever member of our family. We also recognized that the path we were choosing to step on was not going to be smooth or easy. In addition to our three biological children we also had adopted a son with a similar trauma background to Ozzie’s and the same diagnoses of Reactive Attachment Disorder.
We knew the hard journey that lay before us in helping him heal, but we also knew that God equips those He calls.
Harborcreek  has been an integral piece of Ozzie’s healing journey.
The year prior to his stay was fraught with heartbreaking and scary choices as we watched Ozzie spin out of control. Memories of his past abuses overtook any rational thinking and he was consumed with thoughts of hurting himself and others. Each month brought another trip to the emergency room and hospitalization as he was consumed with thoughts of hurting or killing himself to escape the memories of the past that continued to haunt him. Our home became a maximum security facility with cameras installed throughout the house, alarms on bedroom doors and myself acting as Ozzie’s shadow as we moved through the day.
My goal was simple.
I just wanted everyone alive and safe for another day.
My life felt much like I had pitched a tent on a battlefield.
We went through the motions of everyday living; preparing meals, eating dinner as a family, tucking children into bed, all while bullets whistled past our tent. We lived in constant fear that one day one of those threats would hit its mark, so we invested everything we had into helping Ozzie find healing. We soon realized that even with all the services and support we had in place ( trauma therapy, EMDR therapy, equine therapy, medication management, and family based services,) for him to find the healing we wished for him, a higher level of therapeutic support would be needed.
It was with broken hearts we agreed to the next needed level of therapeutic support, which was an RTF.
It was a decision we didn’t make lightly, and while I knew our hands were tied slightly in the decision making process of where the insurance company would approve him to go, I knew that God knew where Ozzie needed to be. After much research and a lot of prayer my hopes lay in Harborcreek Youth Services.
Our first interaction with Harborcreek Youth Services came in the form of an interview with an intake worker at Harborcreek.
He met with us at an Eat n Park, halfway between our home and Erie, and over lunch he got to know us and in turn let us ask questions about the facility. The purpose of the meeting was for him to meet Ozzie in person, recognizing the impossible task of really getting to know a boy through a list of behaviors on paper. He wanted to make sure Ozzie was a good fit for the facility before a bed was offered and that was the first clue that Harborcreek Youth Services was different than other RTFs.
Rather than being driven by a bottom line, he was asking the questions needed to make sure Ozzie would be a good fit with the other boys and that Harborcreek would be the right fit for Ozzie and our family. The motivation was evident. This was not a business motivated by money, but rather motivated by something more divine…helping hurt kids heal.
When we received the call that a bed was available for Ozzie it was with a hard mix of emotions. There was relief and gratitude, but also much sadness that our adoptive journey had strayed so far from where we thought it would take us.
I struggled to hold back the tears on the day we dropped Ozzie off, and it was with great compassion and kindness that the staff helped us with that transition.
The first month was challenging for Ozzie and for the rest of the family as we struggled to find our new “normal,” but we soon saw that this higher level of therapeutic care was exactly what Ozzie needed. We were blown away by all that was offered at Harborcreek. Ozzie’s days were filled with group therapy sessions, music therapy, individual therapy, family therapy, trauma release exercises and EMDR therapy. The fact that Harborcreek offered EMDR therapy was one of the greatest pulls for our family. We have seen how much more effective it is for kids with RAD and PTSD than traditional therapies, and here he was able to really delve into the darkness that haunted him. His therapists worked to help Ozzie strengthen his communication skills, his ability to recognize and name emotions, the ability to feel safe connecting, and thus attaching, to our family.
There is a special spirit at Harborcreek Youth Services.
You can feel it as soon as you step on campus.
It becomes evident that this is a Christian facility from the moment you walk through the doors, and the fact that the kids are offered spiritual feeding, in the form of church services and access to spiritual council, sets this RTF apart from others. I believe this is a key component to why a higher level of healing is found here. Mind, body and spirit are so intertwined that it makes sense that only in a facility that treats all three components would healing be found to this degree.
There are so many elements to life at Harborcreek Youth Services that I appreciated. First and foremost was the staff. I can imagine that in a facility that works with troubled and hurting boys, it would be easy to disconnected and become hardened as a means of self- preservation. I am sure it can be heartbreaking and frustrating to not always see the fruits of your efforts, but I was amazed at how kind, connected, and invested all the staff were.
I was impressed by the level of care put into safety…Elements like house rules and security cameras were used to provide a safe environment for these kids to heal, but just as much effort was put into making sure Ozzie felt safe, not just was safe…a key component to getting the kids out of the fight-or-flight mindset which allows for healing.
Ozzie was placed at Harborcreek to find healing and help but it wasn’t all work. He appreciated his time in the classroom and loved his teacher. He raved about how good the food was…our compliments to the kitchen staff! And the all extras that were part of life at Harborcreek; things like sports, dirt bike classes, and trips off ground were a wonderful way to bring motivation and joy to kids who perhaps have received little of that in their life.
Ozzie spent seven months at Harborcreek Youth Services, and in that time found a level of help and healing that would have been impossible to replicate in an outpatient setting.
Our family is so grateful for all the staff, from the CEO down, who invests so much into this divine calling of helping those boys whom the rest of the world has given up on.
Your facility has the power to change the course of a young man’s life. I have witnessed it myself in my own child and will forever be grateful.
Last night  I stepped outside to find this scene before me.
Ozzie and his younger brother were sitting on a blanket under the stars looking for constellations. They sat side by side, talking and laughing.
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This was a scene I only dreamt of a year ago.
You have brought healing, joy and laughter back into our home.
Thank you for being that blessing!

The End of Winter

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This winter had been a weird one in Western Pennsylvania…

A bit bipolar in its behaviors with a sporadic mix of unseasonably warm days followed by an unexpected 10 inches of snow.

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There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the recent weather patterns and all creatures, great and small, seem anxious and uncertain as to what the day might bring.

Daffodils reach for the sky, teased out by the warmth of the sun, only to be covered in layer of snow hours later.

Birds are waffling in their duties, uncertain as to whether they should begin laying eggs or hunkering down in their nests for a long winter’s nap.

The furnace has had a workout, shifting from air conditioning to heat in a 12 hour span.

And  my 11 year old has given up trying to make any effort in dressing weather-appropriate and has compensated by simply pairing his flip flops with sweaters.

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The uncertainty has left everyone feeling a bit unsettled and I find myself taking note of how reflective our outside environment has been of our internal state.

Ozzie has spent the last 7 months in a residential treatment facility about 2 hours away. It was with tremendous heartache and no shortage of prayer that he was admitted. The year leading up to that decision was unimaginably traumatic for Ozzie and the rest of the family as the demons from his past history of abuse reared their ugly heads in heartbreaking, tragic, and dangerous ways. After exhausting all therapeutic support for Ozzie that could be found in an outpatient setting it became clear that for real healing to take place he would need to be immersed in an environment of intensive therapeutic support. For these last 7 months Ozzie has thrived under this higher level of care. With the sheer volume of therapeutic supports like daily therapies (individual and group,) music therapy, EMDR therapy for his PTSD, and trauma release exercises, he has found hope.

We all have.

I recently had a friend comment that they sometimes found my recordings on this blog to be disingenuous to our reality. Although not intended to be critical, merely taking note of the fact that most recent blogs have been lighter and fluffier than the heavier stuff that was more common a year ago, I have since thought much about that comment. As a mom I walk a shaky line in recording the story of my family. I share not for accolades or attention but for a mix of other reasons. I blog to record our story as a gift for my children in the decades to come. I blog as a therapeutic tool for myself. (The act of telling our story helps me process and make sense of this often hard journey.) But mostly I blog because I feel called to allow others to walk with us in the hopes that our trials and our joys might help you in your journey and that I might testify of God’s goodness in ALL seasons of life. Every blog is penned with prayer…A prayer that God might use this walk to support another in their walk. I don’t share all. Some would argue I share too much, others would say not enough, but every blog entry is prayerfully approached.

Often the struggle of what to write is not a debate of how much to share but rather HOW to share.

That is where I find myself today.

As the snow swirls outside on April 17th, I struggle to put words to the uniquely emotional journey we have been on these last 7 months. I don’t know that I have the words to fully convey the muddy mix of emotions that are connected to this unique journey. Much like the winter we have experienced these last 5 months, our experience with having a child in a residential treatment facility is a constant mix of sunshine and snow, with so many heartbreaks connected to the decision, but also immeasurable blessings. Each day I find myself uncertain of what the emotional forecast of the day will be and whether the hope or the heartache of the situation with reign supreme.

Saying good-bye to Ozzie on day one… leaving him in the care of a stranger… while I drove home… was the hardest day of my life. It was an adjustment for the entire family as we tried to find our new “normal” with Ozzie gone. As time passed the sharp ache dulled a bit, and while each home visit and the returning drive back brought tears, the situation didn’t seem so hopeless. We were seeing the fruits of God’s hand in leading us to this particular facility at this particular time.

We have watched Ozzie blossom under the intensive therapy offered him in an inpatient setting. He has worked so hard in his healing journey, has learned new ways to cope with the demons of his past that will inevitably raise their ugly head again in the future, but once again it is with a muddy mix of emotions that we transition into another new “normal.”

How do I fully articulate the emotions that fill our home this week when we ourselves struggle to name them all?

Ozzie will be discharged this Saturday. He has worked through the program and has experienced a level of success that many boys there never find. He has fought hard in his healing journey. He has faced down fears, memories of abuse, and his own destructive behaviors with the courage of a knight battling a dragon. None of this came easily and each step toward healing was paid for with blood, sweat and tears…on all of our parts.

I fully believe he is ready to return home.

Knowing his discharge date was approaching, my focus has been on preparing for that transition. Outpatient therapies have been put in place. With his return home he will continue EMDR therapy with Miss Tina, Family Based Therapy services have been put in place, and Ozzie will begin equine therapy (horse therapy) next week. Contact has been made with the school, his room has been prepared, and our schedule has been altered to account for Ozzie’s weekly appointments.

Once the logistics of this transition had been figured out it was time to address the emotional impact this transition was going to have on all members of the family.

When Ozzie left in September he was in a heightened state of crisis and his behaviors were threatening and unsafe. These last 7 months brought feelings of felt safety to the other children, feelings of safety they had not experienced in the year prior. With Ozzie’s return home pending, the anxiety in the home has increased significantly as the kids brace for the unexpected…

And while I know Ozzie is returning to us stable and safe, it will take time for the other kids to see that themselves and begin the process of trusting him, forgiving him, and reconnecting with him.

To help them express , process, and work through some of those emotions and concerns, I set up a family therapy session with Miss Tina. Knowing that Rusty and Tyler would be less comfortable/capable of using traditional talk therapy to express the emotions churning within, I suggested we do an art project.

At home we have had a great deal of success with Tyler using markers to express his emotions. When he can’t say what he is feeling he will color an abstract work of art, assigning an emotion to each marker color. The result is incredible. He is able to purge the feelings locked within and I am able to get a powerful visual of what he is feeling, and thus know how to best help him.

I suggested we use this same technique with the other kids at our family therapy session. The day before our appointment we sat down and made a list of emotions that we might all be feeling about Ozzie’s return home and then we made an emotion “key” with Tyler selecting which paint colors would be assigned to each emotion.

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On Thursday we drove to Miss Tina’s office with our paints, brushes and canvases. While the kids painted their emotions we talked through our crisis/ safety plan. When everyone’s paintings were complete we went around and talked about the emotions (and the corresponding thoughts) that went with each brush stroke of color, allowing the kids to comfortably share the muddy mix of emotions they have been feeling. I think it brought a sense of comfort to look around and see that the rest of the family had the same mix of colors/emotions that we had each been feeling individually.

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It is with great joy, gratitude, and relief that we welcome Ozzie back home, but the reality is that there are other emotions that color this transition as well.

Anxiety seems to be the prevailing constant in everyone’s work of art, so as we take this next step in our adoption journey we petition you, our fellow sojourners, to lift our family up in prayer.

We are ready to leave winter behind. We are ready for the new life and hope that comes with spring.

May the storms be over.

May the sun come out.

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Please pray for us.

Welcome, 2018! We are so glad to see you!

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Some years are hard to say good-bye to. Some are not.

There are years of blessings and sweet reprieve and then there are years, much like a guest who has overstayed their welcome, that leave one ready to help them out the door with a boot to the butt.

2017 was one of THOSE years.

It was the hardest year we have lived as a family. There were challenges we never guessed would be part of our family’s story, and trials that exceeded anything I could have fathomed five years ago. This year was an out-of-control, white-knuckle ride that taught us much about surrender and left us looking to our only source of hope: the divine conductor.

It was an unpleasant year of stretching…a dichotomy of great discomfort but also great growth.

Its funny how those two things seem to be attached by an unbreakable string.

The lessons learned this year were essential, even blessed, and now that I have survived the storm I can look back and see that what seemed an out of control nightmare was a divinely orchestrated season of pruning, a needed season before we could bear fruit.

I can look back now and see things more clearly than I could when I was drowning in despair 6 months ago.

I see the purpose.

I see the growth.

I see the blessing and care.

And I see that single set of footprints in the sand left by a loving Lord who carried us through the last 12 months…

But I’d be lying if I said I was sad to see 2017 go.

There is a sense of relief that 2017 has come to a close, as well and profound feelings of hope that next year with hold more laughter than tears.

Welcome, 2018! We are so glad to see you!!

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It has become a annual tradition to join our friends, the Hudaks, in ringing in the New Year…and do so in spectacular fashion!

The evening revolves around food, as all good celebrations do. We make a variety of appetizers to add to the scrumptious feast laid out by our hosts, and together have one heck of a spread!

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We arrived to begin the countdown at 7:00 pm. The night began with eating and visiting. Everyone enjoyed the opportunity to catch up and hear about each other’s Christmases. At 9:00 pm the countdown to New Year’s began.

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For the last few years we have planned fun activities and games to countdown the minutes leading up to the ball dropping in Times Square. The kids never know what is planned so these activities are revealed by popping a balloon every 30 minutes that contain a paper declaring the next activity.

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The planned activities kicked off at 9:00 with some fun 2017 trivia and a “Year in Review” sheet for everyone to fill out. This has become a beloved tradition that I treasure. It is so much fun to see what each of my kids write in their reflections as they look back on the past year, as well as read their goals for the upcoming year. Scrapbooking these sheets allows me to look back on their evolution and growth as they grow from children to young adults.

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At 9:30 the next balloon was popped. This was a game that required some floor space so we moved down to the basement where the kids would have room to spread out in a large circle. For this fun, high adrenaline game the kids took turns rolling two sets of di with the goal of roling a double. When someone rolled a double they got to pick one of the movie theatre candies from the center of the circle OR steal from another player. This twist in the game made for a lot of squeals and groans as the kids acquired their favorite treat only to lose it with the roll of the dice. At the end of 10 minutes everyone got to keep whatever candy was in their possession.

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At 10:00 the kids broke into two teams: boys vs girls, for a “Selfie Scavenger Hunt.” The list they were given instructed them to take selfies with the 15 items on their list, most of which revolved around the Christmas season. It was a delight sitting back and watching the eight of them race and scramble to try and find all the items on their list.

 

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“A selfie with your first ornament”

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“A selfie of you decorating the tree”

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“A selfie with Rudolph”

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“A snow angel”

 

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“A selfie with Rudolph”

 

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“Selfie with a snow angel”

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“Selfie with a gift”

 

At 10:30 we engaged in a little “Hanky Panky”…a game that is as much fun to photograph as it is to play. Everyone gathered in the living room with a fresh box of tissues on their laps. On the count of three everyone began pulling tissues from their box, one at a time, with the goal of being the first to empty their box. We thought the Hudak’s propensity towards allergies would put them at a distinct advantage over the  McCleerys, but Toby (our Dark Horse) pulled off a spectacular win.

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At 11:00 it was time to introduce the Hudak’s to “Speak Out,” a game we enjoyed immensely at our “Mock New Year’s Eve party” two days prior.

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Lucas was hilarious! We laughed until we cried.

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As midnight loomed we had time for one last activity. This one came from the Hudaks. It was time for our traditional launching of the sky lanterns. Decorated with our hopes and dream for the New Year, we stepped outside and launched  our dreams toward Heaven.

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There is something so beautiful about penning our hopes on paper and setting them a flight, both figuratively and in actuality.

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The night was cold and still as we watched our lanterns of light float away.

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By then it was almost midnight.

Bubbly was poured (Non-alcoholic, of course) 😉

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Pay no mind to the drunk behind the curtain

And hats were donned, as we counted down to a New Year.

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We ushered in 2018 with cheers, kisses, and the Hudak tradition of a barefoot run through the snow…BRRRRR!!

 

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Lucas: Mr. “Too cool for School” was unfazed by the experience.

 

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Then enjoyed the warmth of the fire and good company until our carriage turned back to a pumpkin and it was time to return home.

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Happy New Year, from our family to yours!