Tag Archives: loss

Molly’s Missionary Message #4



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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),


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


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!


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.


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.


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!


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


A Tribute to a Life Well-Lived


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This week was a sad one at Patchwork Farm, as we mourned the passing of my grandmother, affectionately dubbed G.G. by her great grandchildren.

It was just last year we were celebrating her 90th birthday in style, as family flew in from all corners of the country.

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It was at that celebration that we gifted G.G. with a scrapbook of photos and letters from family and friends. It was a tribute to a life well lived, allowing her to read the words of loved penned by the many lives she touched.

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Her death came quickly and unexpectedly, which might not make sense given her age, but G.G. has always had a bigger-than-life presence, and it felt as though death would never be able to catch her. Despite her age, her death came as a shock, and the accompanying grief has hit me hard. Her death represented the end of an era, and a closing of my childhood. She was the last of that generation of family. Preceded in death by other great aunts and uncles, my paternal grandfather, and my maternal grandmother and grandfather, she was my last living grandparent.

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I find my heart is aching with this loss.

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G.G. leaves behind her a legacy of love and life lived to the max. From the time I was small, G.G. represented fun. Knowing that she and my grandfather were coming for a visit meant a great adventure was on its way. Life was a party when G.G. was visiting. Daily routines were pushed aside to make room for crafts, day trips, and happy hour.

My childhood memories of visiting her home are some of my greatest childhood treasures.

Here are some of the lessons I learned from G.G.:

From G.G. I learned to love learning. She never tired of acquiring knowledge. She was an avid reader, a lifelong traveler, and never shied away from the newest technology or clever gadgets. She traveled the world with my grandfather’s job, but even after retirement she enjoyed exploring, traveling and seeking out new adventures.

From G.G. I learned the joy of feeding those I love. G.G. was an amazing cook. She appreciated the art of cooking and the delight of good food. Visiting G.G. always meant we’d be fed well. Some of my happiest memories are sitting at her kitchen island watching the women of the household prepare meal after meal for a holiday houseful. The kitchen was always the noisiest and most lively room in the house and usually ended up being the gathering place when G.G. was cooking.

From G.G. I learned the joy of creating. She was incredibly gifted, especially in the area of sewing and quilting. It seemed she was always in the midst of a project and always learning a new artform (that she then soon perfected!) Those she loved benefited from her love of creating beautiful things. In addition to the matching Christmas stockings she sewed for each member of the family, our homes are filled with her creations… from handmade dolls to quilted wall hangings.

From G.G. I learned the value of family. G.G. was fiercely independent and quite happy to be at home and busy working on her own projects, but she loved when family gathered. I have so many happy memories of summer visits to Aunt Marsha and Aunt Gretchen’s cabins on the water, where family would gather. Adults would sit around talking and laughing while the kids ran free. I have so many sweet memories from Christmases spent in Rome, NY and in later years, gatherings at the Homestead. I think that was her favorite thing about her final move to Ohio. She was close to family. She loved when we would all get together for a day of shopping and lunch in Wooster, or a summer cook-out in the barn.

And from G.G. I learned the art of having fun. G.G. was a walking, talking party. Wherever she went, the fun followed. Visits to G.G.’s house offered the promise of happy hour in the late afternoon, when chip and dip were set out on the table, Manhattans were poured, and the kids each got a Shirly Temple with a cherry. Visits with G.G. meant late nights, lots of laughter, and always an impromptu adventure, or two!

Hers was a life well lived, and her absence will be felt by many. How grateful I am to have been blessed by her example and her love. I look forward to the reunion we will enjoy someday. It will be quite the party in Heaven. Talk about the ultimate “happy hour!”


Ann Harmon Real
(1929 –  2020)
On June 20, 2020, Ann H. Real entered into life eternal at her home in Danbury Senior Living, Wooster, OH of natural causes. 

Ann was born on June 14, 1929 in Albany, NY to parents Guy and Nellie (Overacker) Harmon.  On June 19, 1948, she and Dennis A. Real were married.  Ann lived in many places throughout the United States, including Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Panama, New York, Washington, Maine, Michigan, Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Jersey, and Florida.  She made a wonderful home for husband and children wherever they went. 

Ann enjoyed life, laughter and gathering with family and friends.  She had a great sense of humor and an energetic spirit.  She was insatiably curious and therefore a lifelong learner.  She loved people, putting everyone she met at ease with her friendliness.  A talented seamstress, she made beautiful quilts which she shared generously with others.  She enjoyed playing bridge with her group at Danbury.

Retiring to Rome, New York, she moved to Leesburg Florida upon Dennis’s death.  Her final move was to Wooster, Ohio where she lived at Danbury Senior Living where she was shown great love and care and was a member of St. Marys’ Catholic Church.

Ann was preceded in death by her parents, her husband and her sister.  She is survived by her two daughters, Denise Real (Jack Duggan), Jill (Paul) Janke, and her two sons, Michael (Nancy) Real and Andrew Real (Jane Wilson). She is further survived by 9 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild on the way.

The family would like to extend its appreciation to Life Care Hospice for their support and care during this period of loss. They are also thankful to those at Danbury Senior Living for the loving kindness they freely gave to her. 

21st Century’s Covid-19 Graduation Celebration


Well, it was…hands down…the weirdest graduation ceremony I have ever attended.

So unlike the graduation celebrations of years past. This one was one for the history books. It was unorthodox to be sure, but it accomplished its purpose in launching our two graduates out of high school into their futures.

Needless to say, this year’s celebration did NOT take place in an auditorium with hundreds of other graduating seniors and family members.

No, this year’s ceremony took place in the comfort of our own living room.

Molly wasn’t in attendance.

Ozzie wasn’t in attendance.

Even Braden, one of our graduates, was not in attendance.

Life has been a hard for Braden these last few months. He has struggled with the same feelings of loss and despair that so many around the world have been burdened by during this time of lock down. Hopes and plans have been dashed by powers outside his control and that, coupled with all the expected angst and uncertainty that comes with launching into adulthood, has made things challenging for him. Molly leaving on her mission was that proverbial final straw that made life at home unbearable for him. Unable to manage those overwhelming feelings of loss, he chose to take his leave at the start of the week and go stay with his pap for a while. It breaks my heart to see him flee, but I get it. Being at home is a painful reminder of the changes that have occurred in our family these last nine months. For Braden, I think it feels like the rug is being pulled out from under him once again. In his heart this feels like the loss of one more family after a lifetime of losses, and no matter how much proof we offer to the contrary, or how connected we work to remain, he feels the winds of change coming and he is determined to leave us before we can leave him like so many before us have.

Right now the loss of Molly is too new, and the feelings too raw, to process through, so we are giving him what he says he needs: space. How long that period of recovery will be has yet to be determined. He may be staying at his pap’s house for a week or for the entire summer. He is in a safe space, with an adult looking out for him, while he allows his hurting heart to heal a bit from this latest loss in his life. It will all work out. I know that. But it still is heartbreaking and so very hard to navigate the emotional pot holes of trauma and loss.

So, at our graduation celebration we had only one senior: Rusty.

We received news earlier in the month that 21st Century Cyber Charter School had decided on a virtual graduation ceremony. We were told it would be played on YouTube Live. At the end of May seniors were mailed their caps and gowns and were asked to submit a picture of themselves wearing them. Then days before graduation we were emailed the link for the ceremony.

Rusty invited Grace and Zach to come over and watch with us. We set it up so we could watch the ceremony on the living room TV.

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When our IT guy had things all set up, he headed upstairs to put on his cap and gown.

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To make the experience feel more celebratory, Toby picked up pizza on his way home from work and we had a pizza party while we watched Rusty graduate.

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Rusty declared it a perfect set-up for his high school graduation. Covid-19 really gave Rusty the graduation ceremony of his dreams. For our quiet introvert it was a win-win. He got to watch it unfold from “the audience.” He didn’t have to wear shoes or walk across a stage in front of hundreds of people. AND he got to eat pizza through the entire thing. I know many graduates are really mourning the loss of that pivotal life experience, but Rusty wasn’t one of them!

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Although Molly was thousands of miles away in Utah, she was able to call in right before graduation to wish her brothers love. She enjoyed being able to see Rusty in his cap and gown.

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21st Century Cyber Charter School began their graduation ceremony with speeches from alumni and three of the seniors. Then scholarships were handed out. Finally it was time for the presentation of the graduates.

As the names and photos of the graduating class flashed across the screen, I was able to catch a picture of my two favorites:

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The ceremony ended with words of care and advice from the principal before the seniors were invited to move their tassels from right to left.

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It is official…

Braden and Rusty are high school graduates!

BYU-I Good-byes



After a week-long trek across the United States, the day had finally arrived. It was time to get Molly settled into her new home and take our leave. We couldn’t delay the inevitable any longer!


We woke on Friday morning with the mix of emotions evident on each and every face. As we prepared for the day ahead of us I tried to keep things light and focus on the fun and adventure of this new experience, but my efforts were overshadowed by palpable anxiety and the weight of grief. As hard as this day would be for Rusty, Molly and I, it was nothing to the overwhelming feelings of loss Braden was battling.

Despite reassurances that Molly would only be gone until Christmas and then we would get her home for four months until she returned for her spring semester, he still struggled. For him, as illogical as it may seem, this was just another loss in a long line of losing people he loves. It has been his experience that once you open your heart to someone, they will leave you… either to drugs, death, prison, or by simply being pulled from your life by the very system that is there to protect and preserve. Even though this experience was nothing like the losses of his past, the emotions felt all too similar, thus triggering thoughts of previous losses that were all too final.

It was with much prayer, compassion, and tenderness that we moved into the day.

Our first stop of the day was Molly’s new home. Rather than stay in a more traditional apartment style dorm, she opted to rent a room in a cute bungalow just six minutes from campus center.

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She would be sharing this charming home with eight roommates, many of whom we met as we unloaded her gear from the car.

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The boys were a big help as we toted in all Molly’s clothes, books and decorations.

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Molly’s room is a single. For a slightly higher monthly payment Molly opted to pay to have the room to herself. She felt this would be the best for her first semester. This way she can enjoy the comradery of shared living spaces with her eight roommates, but also would have a private space to escape to when she needs to be alone.

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Her room was generously large…far bigger than it seemed in the photos…

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And we soon set to work unpacking her boxes and turning her room into a home, with pictures and personal touches.

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The end result was nothing short of charming!!

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She has a large closet, a dresser, an elevated bed with storage below, a bookcase, and a desk area for studying.

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It is so cute and homey.

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Our next stop was Walmart to stock her kitchen cabinets until she gets into a routine of weekly grocery shopping. We arrived at Walmart to find every parking spot filled with new students and their families. I am not exaggerating when I say it was like Black Friday inside, with aisles filled to capacity and every register manned by a frazzled looking clerk.

We loaded up her cart with student-friendly food and made our way to the other side of the store to pick up a plastic storage tote and a footstool for climbing into bed.

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Then we navigated our way to the front where an employee was guiding customers through a maze of caution tape to the next open line. I am not kidding when I say it was like Black Friday shopping!

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We made it out alive and headed back to her apartment where we unloaded her groceries into her assigned kitchen cabinets…

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Then we headed over to campus to take care of some student tasks.

Our first stop was to check her in at the “Get Connected” tent where she was assigned her student mentors that would guide her through the next two days of activities. Here she also received her welcome booklet that spelled out all the fun being offered over the weekend.

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Then we began working our way through the “to-do” list for new freshman, including getting her student ID and picking up her preordered books from the bookstore.

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Then we split ways for a few hours as she joined up with her mentoring team for some new student activities like a welcome from the university president, a campus tour, meeting with the heads of each department, etc.

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While Molly was busy with the other freshman, Braden, Rusty and I grabbed lunch, perused the University Bookstore, and took advantage of a college tour. One of the primary reasons the boys accompanied Molly and I on this road trip was so they could tour the school and see if they might be interested in attending BYU-I themselves.

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By the time we were done with our campus tour, Molly was done with her scheduled activities. We met up in the Student Commons to get in line for the parent/student luau.

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The plan was to take our leave after a fun luau dinner with Miss Molly. It was a popular event, with the line to get in wrapping all around the commons.

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When it was our turn to go through the buffet line we were blown away by the spread of delicious Hawaiian fare.

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We were then seated in the ballroom to enjoy our meal,

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While being entertained by Polynesian dancers who were AMAZING!!

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At the end of the luau Molly walked with us back to the car to say her good-byes. I thought I was doing a superb job of holding it together until Braden started to cry, a lifetime of past losses written on his face as he had to say good-bye to another person he loves…

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Not quite believing she will return home again.

Oh, how my heart ached as my kids’ faces were dampened with tears. As hard as it was to say good-bye, I couldn’t help but marvel at the great blessing evident in those tears. Those tears are evidence of loving attachment and connection between family members that were strangers just a year ago.

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This is what every adoptive parent prays for, especially when adopting a child with a history of trauma and previous displacements. You open your heart and home hoping one day they will feel safe enough to open their heart to the love you offer. It is a day by day journey toward connection and attachment, and moments like this (as heartbreaking as they are) tell me we are finding some measure of success.

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We took our leave, reminding ourselves that we will see Molly in a month for Gracie’s wedding, and headed back to our hotel room.

After a week’s worth of travel we were out of clean clothes, so I left the boys at the hotel to numb themselves in front of the TV, while I headed to the laundromat down the street.

I didn’t indulge in the luxury of being present in my own grief until that moment. I was far too invested in the well-being of my kids, making sure everyone was successfully navigating their own hard emotions. It wasn’t until I found myself alone that the reality of it all hit and the tears bubbled up.

For two hours I sat alone in a coin operated laundromat, finding solace in the isolation…


Finally able to reflect on the last week…

And the last 19 years that led up to this day.

This is what we raise them for.

As parents we strive to first give them roots…deep, deep roots that will hold them upright through the most turbulent and trying seasons of life.

And then we strive to give them wings…wings strong, and nimble, and capable of flight, so that when they finally take that leap, out of the protective nest we built for them, we can enjoy the breath-stealing sight of watching them soar.

Soar, Miss Molly!

Your are a magnificent sight to behold!

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Adoption is…


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.


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.


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


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.


Adoption is about hope, care, redemption and love…

but it is also about loss.


We must never forget that.



A Visit with Brandon


Some of you may remember Brandon.


Brandon is one of Tyler’s 4 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 taken 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 that 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 his 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 finds himself in limbo as his adoptive father is dying and has only been given months to live. This social worker is working to create a network of support for Brandon. She is seeking out family (both biological and adoptive) that can be a network of support for Brandon, and 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 are currently navigating as Ozzie returns home from residential care and we work 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 is with baby steps we are moving forward as we try and assess what our role in Brandon’s life is supposed to be and try to hear God amidst the noise in my head.

Last Friday Tyler and Brandon had their first visit after almost 3 years apart. I wish I could adequately convey the emotions felt when Tyler saw Brandon pull up with his social worker and climb out of the car. Tyler raced across the playground, enveloping Brandon in rib-crushing bear hug.

I was concerned that Tyler would struggle with the difference in Brandon’s looks from the brother he remembers. At age 16 Brandon looks very different from the 13-year-old Tyler had in his head, but that didn’t deter him at all. They picked up right where they left off and it was as though no time had passed at all.


Brandon fell into the role of big brother seamlessly and it was sweet to watch their interactions.


They spent an hour and a half playing baseball and loved every minute of it.

When it was time for Brandon to leave both boys struggled to say good-bye. I am sure both were wondering if and when they would see each other again. With a history like the one they’ve endured as children of the system, good-byes can feel final, because their history shows them that good-byes often are, but we reassured them that another visit was planned in a week which made leaving the park easier on both of them.


I am not sure what the future holds for Brandon but we petition you for prayers. It seems so unjust that one child should have to endure all the heartbreak Brandon has had to endure in his short 16 years on earth.

Please pray for him.


A different sort of Mother’s Day


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, the power in that simple phrase.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have learned better and now can do better.

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

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

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

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

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

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Tyler made my Mother’s Day sign.


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


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

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

And the love of God permeated our home.

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

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

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Fancy Bath and Body Works hand soaps from Molly.

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Molly’s words of love.

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A new paper towel holder from Rusty.

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And the cutest cookie jar ever from Tyler!!

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

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Candles from Ozzie.

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Oh, those words. ❤


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

God is here.

God is healing.

God is Good!

Happy Mother’s Day


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Mother’s Day has been a favorite holiday since 1998 when I celebrated my first Mother’s Day with a two-month-old perfectly precious baby girl. I had every reason to delight in this spring holiday. I have been blessed abundantly with wonderful, righteous, giving and loving women in my life and I had all the reason in the world to celebrate…

celebrate not only my new role as a mother, but more importantly, celebrate all the women who walked before me who taught me how to be a mother.

Since adopting our two sons from foster care I find that my outlook on Mother’s Day has changed a bit. For the first time in my life I am exposed to the heartache and heartbreak often connected to this holiday. It isn’t a day of joy for everyone. It can be a day of great sadness and grieving.

Mother’s Day has become a hard holiday in our home as we acknowledge the great loss associated with this holiday for our sons who, while celebrating me, are grieving the absence of the woman they loved first…the woman who gave them birth.

With this grieving inevitably comes a mound of messy baggage and tough behaviors on this day that Hallmark totes as a day of ease and spoiling for Momma…haha!

With these tough emotions and behaviors come feelings of frustration and resentment for the older kids as they deal with younger brothers hijacking their efforts to make the day special for Mom.

I also find myself struggling under a mound of mixed emotions as I contemplate the great loss and sadness two particular women are feeling as their sons hand me flowers and homemade cards instead of them.

Mother’s Day has become a glad/sad holiday for me.

While I relish and cherish this role of mother,

Mother’s Day is a tough day.

My children (especially my big kids and Toby) went all out to salvage the day and make me feel loved, despite the struggles of the day.

Here is a look into their acts of love:

The day began with breakfast in bed. Grace and Rusty woke early to make breakfast and then woke the other kids when they were ready to wake me up and surprise me.

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Since we had to get ready for church, and because the kids wanted me to be able to take my time as I opened gifts, they decided to wait until after church to give me my gifts.

At church Molly was one of five youth speaking on the topic of mothers. She did a wonderful job and I was touched by her words and her tribute.

After church Tyler came to find me so that her could give me the Mother’s Day gift he made with his teacher in class. It is always a treat to see what charming homemade gift comes home from primary on Mother’s Day. It is usually the best gift of the day!

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When we arrived home the kids worked together to make lunch. Grace had taken everyone shopping earlier in the week to buy supplies for Mother’s Day gifts and to buy the makings for shish kabobs. Yum!

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While the kabobs cooked on the grill the kids sat me down to present their gifts:

From Tyler I received roses. Grace later informed me that great love and thought went into the gift as Tyler sniffed every bouquet at the store in search of the best bouquet. While Tyler’s flowers were a special gift, Gracie’s angelic patience in taking her little brothers gift shopping was the REAL gift!

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Ozzie bought me a new cup for cold drinks,

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and Rusty bought be a new “Mom” mug for hot drinks. (The boys must think I have a “drinking” problem!) 😉

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Molly made me a picture for my wall.

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and Grace made me homemade soaps.

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Together the girls, knowing how much Momma loves her bubble baths, researched how to make homemade bath bombs, and gifted me with a box of beautiful lavender bath bombs for the ultimate soaking experience.

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The remainder of the day spent managing the hard emotions and behaviors connected to Mother’s Day.

When the little boys were put to bed at the end of the day I finally was able to rest…emotionally rest. I sat with Toby and older three children and we watched National Park videos of the places we are going to visit later this summer. It was a joy to sit and look forward to our fun, family trip and let go of some of the weight of worry I had been shouldering all day.

It was a beautiful day made all the more special by my husband and children…

but I must admit I felt a sense of relief as the day drew to a close. As nice as holidays are, sometimes plain old boring Mondays are easier.

Does that make me a bad mom?

Happy Mother’s Day to all my favorite Moms.

Glad/Sad Days


Have you ever experienced a Glad/ Sad Day?

One of those days that is an emotionally overwhelming mix of happy moments and heartbreaking grief.

While most days are neither completely glad or completely sad, rather a mix of many emotions, there are days are whiplash inducing Glad/Sad days…those days when a perfectly perfect day gets turned on its head by unexpected, devastating news.

Yes, Saturday was one of those days.

The weekend began with a bang. Friday night was filled with running, as the big boys headed in one direction and the big girls headed in another.

Toby, Rusty, and Ozzie had a Boy Scout campout at the Bernard’s house. Ozzie was thrilled, with this being his first official scout campout away from home. On Friday Rusty and Ozzie gathered items on the packing list in preparation for their night away.


When Toby arrived home they headed out and enjoyed a day and a half of scouting fun, including, but not limited to: foil dinners, hikes, playing capture the flag, sleeping in tents, and performing a service project of cutting and stacking firewood.


When the boys left for their fun night the girls and I left with Tyler for a camp meeting in Cranberry. Every summer the girls and I go to girls’camp about two hours away. It is one of my favorite weeks of the year and we are now in the  planning phase for this summer’s camp week. Molly is now a 5th year camper which means she is a youth leader, and Grace is with my group of 7th years as a Junior Camp Director. Because we are all in leadership roles we had a planning meeting to attend. Tyler was stuck tagging along since we were out of big people to babysit. 🙂

I promised him that we would have fun after the meeting though!

Following the camp planning meeting the girls stayed for “Pajamarama,” a fun event for all the 12-18 year old girls in the stake. The leaders had an amazing evening planned for the young women including cupcake decorating, a life size Hungry, Hungry Hippo game, and a spiritual devotional.


The girls all came  their PJs and enjoyed a evening of bonding, friendship and sisterhood.

While the girls were at “Pajamarama” Tyler and I went on a date to the movies. I find those moments of focused one on one attention with a child to be a great gift and a powerful parenting tool. In those moments of undivided attention my children connect and open up to me in a way that rarely happens when we are all together.

For our date night we went to see the new Jungle Book movie.


We had so much fun.

Date night continued (after picking up the girls) with the rare privilege of Tyler being allowed to sleep in Momma and Daddy’s big bed. He was a regular chatterbox as we lay in the dark and he absentmindedly combed my hair that lay across my pillow, with his little boy fingers. In the safety of Momma’s bed and the cover of darkness Tyler poured out his heart and shared in a way that his lack of stillness/quitness rarely allows.

It was 3:00am before his wiggles and chatting stopped but I wouldn’t trade that sharing time for all the lost sleep in the world.


The next morning we rose early for Tyler’s first soccer game of the season. Soccer season has arrived! Unlike football season which brings with it a lot of conflicting thoughts and emotions for this Momma, soccer season is simply a delight. I think the limited commitment (only 2 hours a week), with limited competitiveness (they don’t keep score at Tyler’s age) as well as a different parental dynamic…well it is just delightful. I love the beautiful spring weather, sitting on the sidelines as a family cheering for the kids (wearing both colors of jersey!) and watching Tyler really shine doing what he loves. It does this Momma’s heart good!


Saturday it was just the girls and I cheering Tyler on since the boys were still camping. This year Tyler moved up to the U10 level which means the team is now co-ed. I wasn’t sure how Tyler would do with that. I was concerned he would either be too rough with the girls or be overly cautious playing with girls, but he rolled with the new team dynamic like nothing had changed.


His team had a good game. He was thrilled to see that two of his friends were back on the team and he seems to like his new coach.

It was a happy 12 hours…

then we arrived home and our day turned from glad to sad with the tragic news of a dear friend’s passing.

Wendy, a friend who God brought into my life six years ago and intertwined us through a plethora of large life moments, died in her sleep early Saturday morning. This is the friend who so tragically lost her 24 year old daughter, Amanda, last November…

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whose three little children we have been so involved with.


The situation is heartbreaking, not for Wendy who is enjoying a blessed reunion with her daughter, but for the loved ones who are grieving such unexpected news so soon after Amanda’s tragic death…

In particular we grieve for those three babies who have seen more heartbreak, devastating heartbreak, in their short lives than most will see in their lifetime. Please lift those sweet innocents up in prayer.


My heart is heavy… my eyes have been cried dry… and I find myself unable to fully articulate the weight and mix of emotions that have kept me awake late into the night for days.

When I find myself on the brink of being swept under the waves of guilt, grief and worry I grab hold of the only buoy keeping me afloat:

The knowledge that God’s hand is in this situation and that He works all things for good and for a greater purpose…His purpose.


Yes, it was a Glad/Sad weekend.

Love is Patient. Love is Kind.


This Valentine’s Day wasn’t “typical.”

It wasn’t a romantic holiday for two with the love of my life, filled with candlelight, soft music, and whisperings of sweet nothings,

rather it was a candle-free holiday (yeah, we aren’t crazy!),

with a lot noise, and chaos, and eight extra people to share our Valentine’s Day with. 🙂

It was a hard holiday for the little people in our home. All were struggling with memories and feelings of loss that led to tears and acting out as they struggled to put words to the feelings that were enveloping them.

Tyler spent 2 of the 3 hours at church hiding under a church pew, refusing to come out.

Our three little visitors, that so recently lost their momma, had their share of tears throughout the day.

Ozzie kept escaping to his room to hide, overcome with memories and thoughts that were too big for him.

Not even my big kids were immune to the high emotions of the day.

It was a hard day, but I knew it would be. My goal was to get everyone through the holiday in one piece with as few “fatalities” as possible, all while trying to bring some joy and a lot of LOVE to the people under my roof.

As we worked our way through the day I was reminded time and time again of what true love is. It isn’t the makings of a Hallmark holiday special. It is something so much deeper…so much more significant.

As I watched MY Valentine wrestle with his sons on the floor, lovingly tease his daughters, unclog the toilet for the third time, wash Q’s hair in the tub while I cleaned up dinner, and then play another round of “Disney Scene It” with the kids (when he would have much rather been napping)… I fell more in love with my husband.

He is a living example to me of what LOVE really is…

That love described in 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is Patient. Love is Kind.


How grateful I am to be blessed with such a man,

because that is the sort of love that sticks.

That is the sort of love that lasts through eternity.

Here is a look into our Valentine’s Day celebration:

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The day began in the early morning hours with a visit from the Tooth Fairy. Derek lost a tooth and so our family’s tooth fairy, Florence, paid a visit and left Derek a dollar coin.

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Then it was time to get everyone ready for church. I am proud to report it only took 1 1/2 hours to get the 10 of us ready to go. That has got to be some kind of record!


Our steep driveway is snow covered so we have to park at the bottom and hike in and out. Q asked Rusty to carry him, and Rusty (softy that he is) said “sure.”

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At church I received this adorable Valentine gift from my visiting teachers.

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For lunch we had spaghetti with heart noodles.

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The afternoon was spent trying to keep everyone occupied and happy with family game time. First we played Disney Scene It. Everyone was split into teams of two. Tyler and I were the winners. We know our Disney movies!

Then the kids played twister while I prepared our Valentine dinner and decorated the dining room.

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Roses from my Valentine ❤

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For our Valentine dinner we feasted on ham and cheese sliders, macaroni salad and mixed vegetables. Each diner received a box of Valentine chocolates that they enjoyed for dessert.

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We ended our night with devotional time before bed. After singing, scriptures, prayer and each sharing something we were grateful for that day we read our traditional Valentine’s Day story that we have been reading every Valentine’s Day since Gracie’s 1st grade teacher introduced it to us :

Porcupining:  A Prickly Love Story


Our Valentine’s Day might not have had the makings of  Hollywood romance movie but it was  day filled with much love.

Happy Valentine’s Day from Patchwork Farm!