Tag Archives: RAD

The Blessing of Blogging

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Isn’t it a beautiful thing to watch God work…

Taking our vision and transforming it into something so much greater than anything we could have planned ourselves.

How grateful I am for the journey God has taken me on these last 5 years. When we opened the door to the world of adoption we had no idea the wild ride we were boarding. We didn’t anticipate the twists, turns, sharp drops, and stomach flips. We also didn’t anticipate the magnificent peaks, thrilling climbs and heavenly views.

Perhaps that is why God opens doors an inch at a time. Had he swung the door wide open revealing the entire ride I don’t know that I would have been brave enough to climb on. Rather He has revealed it a turn, a hill, a twist at a time, allowing us to grow in our ability to trust that as the ride conductor He won’t push us past our limit. Through the journey He taught us that if we simply lean into the wind and trust the creator of the ride we find ourselves buckled into then there is no need to fear the tracks ahead, regardless of what the next turn brings.

Often in the midst of a journey we struggle to see past the climb we find ourselves on. We can easily lose sight of where we began and how far we have come. I think this is revealing of the shortsightedness we as human beings struggle with.

In the scriptures the word “Remember” appears in various forms over 300 times. The significance of this word is revealed in the frequency God commands us to “remember.” Our Father in Heaven knows us. He created us. He is aware of our shortcomings and our shortsightedness. History has revealed men’s propensity for forgetfulness especially when it comes to remembering lessons revealed to us during the strain of an upward climb when we then find ourselves coasting on a straightaway.

One month after Tyler moved in with us I was prompted to embark on a different journey, one well outside my comfort zone. I felt called to record the journey we were just beginning by way of a blog. I knew nothing about blogging, was pretty much absent on social media, preferred my privacy, and was downright frightened of putting our journey out there for everyone to observe and perhaps judge, but for every reason I found to not move forward with this prompting three more reasons why I needed to take this leap were revealed.

This blog began as an act of obedience. I didn’t know what, if anything, would come of my efforts. When I began it was painfully laborious as each blog entry took hours to complete. As time passed I became more comfortable with the medium, more adept at typing, and more at peace with the transparency that comes with recording my life in this way. What was initiated by a prompting became a source of joy. This blog became my gift to my kids as I recorded the story of our journey for them to have when they are older. It became a way to connect with, offer support, and glean support from others who are walking their own hard road. It became my therapy, my safe place to work through my own emotions and find a resolution and peace that I could only seem to find through words. By sharing with others, I found a piece of myself that I didn’t know existed, a voice that up until then had been silent. As we rode this ride of adoption the purpose and blessings of this blog evolved as we evolved, and in this journey I found my own calling.

 

This week I typed my 1000th blog and I have reflected on all that we have experienced together. While the purpose that drives me to sit before the keyboard has evolved over the last five years, the joy I have found in sharing our story continues to be one of the greatest blessings in my life.

How grateful I am for this journey.

In trauma therapy with Tyler we continue to lay the groundwork for EMDR, a needed next step in healing from PTSD. Unfortunately, we can’t get anywhere near the past before Tyler shuts down. It is far too big and scary for Tyler to face. Knowing we need to get him comfortable with looking backwards in time we decided to start small and safe, moving from his early years with us, prior to his adoption, backwards through time.

The goal is to help him feel safe remembering good times so that he will eventually feel safe looking at the scary stuff, so he then can begin to heal from the scary stuff.

This is where the blog comes in. Originally intended to be a scrapbook of Tyler’s life, something for him to hold onto and treasure as an adult, it has now become a powerful therapy tool. I have had past years of blog entries printed up into “digital scrapbooks.” We have been using these blog books in therapy to look back and REMEMBER, so that Tyler might become less afraid of looking to the past.

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Every night Toby reads a few blog entries to Tyler as his bedtime story. Tyler now looks forward to this special time of getting to hear stories in which he is the lead character.

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We also bring these book to therapy with Miss Tina and read some entries with her, helping Tyler to become more comfortable with remembering, working on identifying emotions felt in those moments from his past, and utilizing those entries to start building a life book for Tyler, something he currently does not have.

When I began blogging 1000 entries ago I had no idea the magnificent journey we were embarking on. I had no idea what God’s purpose was behind the prompting. I had no idea what a lifeline this virtual conversation with all of you would be for me. I especially had no idea that these words, penned for another purpose…

To encourage others and be encouraged, to serve as a form of therapy for myself, to record our story of hope and healing for future reflection…

Would end up being the very tool needed to help Tyler heal.

It is beautiful how God is using Tyler’s own journey, his own story, his own reflections, to heal him from the trauma of his past. It is so divinely perfect and beyond anything I could have planned or orchestrated myself. This daily practice has also blessed us in another way. It has helped us to “Remember.” Remember the struggles, the climb, the self doubt, the worries, the fear…all so distant now. By rereading the stories from that first year of our adoption journey I remember how hard it was and am humbled by how far God have taken us, and the miraculous work He has performed in all of us, refining us and making us better than we were before. 

When God cracks open a door and asks us to step inside without seeing exactly what we are walking into we can trust that is we simply obey and take a step of faith He will take us on an incredible journey, a journey that’s purpose is often unseen until years down the road.

Thank you for walking with us through these last 1000 blogs. We couldn’t ask for better traveling companions as we reflect on and “Remember” God’s goodness in our life.

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!

Finding Peace and Joy this Christmas Season

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Well, Christmas Eve has finally arrived. After weeks of preparations leading up to this day, it has finally arrived, and I am enjoying a few minutes of silence, peace, and reflection before the craziness begins.

This has been a blessed Christmas season as we have found ourselves in a place of immunity, flying above many of the struggles and trials of last Christmas season. This time of rest has been appreciated, especially as we reflect on the last 12 months and all the heartache we endured. 2017 was a hard, hard year…one of the hardest of my life. There is a sense of relief that we will soon be closing this chapter and stepping into a new year filled with hopeful possibilities. But as we find ourselves in a more peaceful place this Christmas season so many others are enduring their own personal hell. I can’t even count the number of calls and conversations I’ve had this month with friends that are enduring the hardest experiences life has to offer. The sheer number of conversations I have had with friends who are finding themselves in the midst of the most tragic life circumstances are staggering. These stories of heartache have kept me awake into the night and play in a continual loop in my mind as I move mindlessly through the menial tasks of everyday life. As I fold my laundry I am haunted by the loss of one family’s child just days before Christmas. As I wash dishes I play back stories told through the tears of friends who are dealing with the ugly affects of trauma…effects that seem to rear its ugly head during the holiday season. As I wrap packages in the festive paper of the season I play back the phone conversations with friends who have shared their tears and stories of heartache with me in the last few weeks.

And in the midst of all this I have struggled to reconcile the great heartache playing out around me with the merriment that permeates all facets of our world this time of year. How does one find joy in the season when drowning under the sadness of their own personal hard season of life? This is the question that has consumed my thoughts for the last few weeks. As I pray for those I love…for those burdened more heavily that usual this time of year…I consider the question, “How do we find the merriment the world says is synonymous with the Christmas season when all we can feel is heartache?” I ask this question not only on behalf of friends enduring personal tragedy but also on behalf of my boys. Coming from a place of indescribable trauma, the holidays represent something different than they might for a child who has only joyful memories to look back on. For a child with trauma, this time of year is a heartbreaking trigger…a reminder of hurt, loss, and scary or sad memories. In past years I have struggled to find the merriment of Christmas amid the behaviors that rear their ugly head this time of year. What was once a season of pure delight has evolved into a season of struggle, heartbreak, and enduring till December 26th as I watch my boys struggle under the added burden of the holidays…and I know they are not alone. I have witnessed it all month long in the lives of so many who are simply trying to make it through this time of year in one piece.

As I have pondered on the question, “How do we find merriment in this Christmas season when all we feel is heartache?” the answer came to me. There during the early hours of morning as I sat in the darkened living room, lit only by the colored lights of the tree, I heard the Spirit whisper the answer I was so desperately seeking…

While the merriment of Christmas may seem beyond reach, the peace and joy of this Christmas season are not.

You see, merriment is circumstantial. It is trivial. It is shallow. It is of the world…

But peace and joy are not.

The peace and joy of Christmas have nothing to do with what is happening around you, rather, they are driven by what is happening within you.

They are a gift from God, freely given this time of year and all year long.

They can be found in the darkest of days, in the hardest of trials, at the heart of the greatest tragedies, because they aren’t born from this world. True Christmas peace and joy are gifts from heaven. They are not driven by circumstance. They can’t be purchased. They are gifts that quietly fall from the sky like snowflakes settling on our shoulders.

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We witness this heavenly Christmas gift being bestowed the first time as we read the account of the first Christmas. Circumstances certainly didn’t justify merriment. We had a poor, young couple traveling with minimal belongings. We had a woman heavy with child, uncomfortable and probably a bit frightened. We had a young husband desperate to find a place for his weary wife to rest…a safe place for her child to be born. There on that Christmas day they experienced homelessness, rejection, and uncertainty. There was a distinct lack of merriment, but oh, the abundance of peace and joy that permeated that Holy night!

We need only to reflect on that first Christmas season to find the answer to the question that has plagued me this holiday season. It isn’t about what we need to “do” to change the course of this hard time of year. It isn’t about “doing” anything. It is simply about being still and allowing the peace and joy of Christmas to settle quietly upon our shoulders. It is a heavenly gift with no strings attached…a gift that is freely and graciously given regardless of what burdens you find yourself carrying this Christmas season. And all that must be done to receive it is to loosen the iron clad grip we have on the worries of this world, open our palms, and turn them Heavenward to accept the peace and joy Heavenly Father is offering each and every one of us.

My prayer for this Christmas season is that each and every one of you might be showered with the peace and joy of Christ.

Merry Christmas, my friends.

Reindeer, and Rabbits, and Robin…Oh My!

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We all have our own favorite holiday traditions.

In fact, it sometimes feels as though the Christmas season doesn’t last nearly long enough to fit in everyone’s favorite holiday activities amid the busyness of everyday life that continues to march on through the month of December…

despite everyone’s wish that we could just “play” all month long.

We have learned that we must prioritize.

We begin the Christmas season with a family meeting where we discuss the family’s vision for the upcoming month and each family member gets to weigh in on what family traditions are most important to them. Using this “Top 7” list we begin to pencil in some of the activities on the December page of the calendar. Many of these traditions take place at our weekly Family Night when everyone is home together. Because of Ozzie’s absence this holiday season we have worked hard to reformulate the way we do some of these beloved traditions so that he wouldn’t have to miss out. It isn’t the same as him being home, but it is the next best thing.

Christmas time is about unconditional love, service, sacrifice, giving of oneself, and family, and we have tried to bring those key values into our visits with Ozzie.

Sunday was our cookie decorating day. Having baked 4 dozen sugar cookies on Saturday, Sunday was freed up to enjoy the fun part of the project which was the decorating. Knowing how much Ozzie loves this particular Christmas tradition we brought to our weekly visit a container of homemade sugar cookies, icing, and lots of sprinkles and glitter so he could decorate, share, and of course eat his fill of cut-out cookies.

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When we returned home (after a great visit with Ozzie) we proceeded to do it all over again with the other four kids. Supplies were gathered and spread across the plastic tablecloth as everyone took their seats around the dining room table.

But someone was missing.

Tyler was hiding once again.

These last two weeks have been fraught with high anxiety and hard emotions. I think the combination of the holiday season, and all the hard emotions that come with the holidays when you have had the past that Tyler has, as well as the realization that Ozzie is coming home in a few days (which brings with it feelings of excitement and joy but also feelings of anxiety and fear) has led to an increase in his already noticeable facial tics ,as well as an increase in his tendency to hide in closets or small spaces…a regression that occurs when he is afraid.

I knew he was struggling and knew it was better to not push, so we began decorating cookies with Tyler hiding behind the Christmas boxes in the corner. My hope was that as he listened to the lightness and laughter of our activity his anxiety would decrease and he would emerge when he was ready…

And he did.

Eventually everyone was seated at the table enjoying this favorite Christmas tradition.

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I loved the creativity shown as family members took traditionally shaped cut-out cookies and found within the familiar lines less familiar objects…

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Gingerbread men were turned into reindeer:

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Stockings transformed into bunnies:

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Trees became clocks:

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Presents were turned into snow globes:

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Tyler turned his gingerbread boy into Batman’s sidekick, Robin:

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And Toby took a deformed stocking and found within its distorted lines the Statue of Liberty:

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The end result was 3 platters of the most creative Christmas cookies EVER,

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And a night filled with special family memories.

Oh, Crap!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not only this Christmas season, but all year long.

 

So, What’s New with You?

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It is a question asked often enough, especially with the status of our life currently. Our family is more scattered than it used to be, with everyone moving in separate directions. Often activities posted on the blog only highlight the one or two children that were able to attend that event, so this posting is meant to catch everyone up on the comings and goings of everyone at Patchwork Farm.

Fall has arrived in Pennsylvania and for the last few weeks the leaves have been at the height of color. I feel so blessed to live in an area that experiences seasons and does so in such a showy way. Here are some photos Grace took one day on her drive down our road. It has been a beautiful fall!

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It seems Grace has been in the car more than in the house lately. She has taken the plunge face-first into adulthood and has discovered that it consists of a whole lot of running and very little sleep. Although it has been an adjustment, she has risen to the challenge beautifully and is loving life as a college student. Her days are filled with school, work, and fun activities through her church group. At school she had joined a few clubs including the World Cultures club and the ASL club and is secretary of the library club. As part of that office she was busy this week helping to lead a series of fun Halloween activities offered around campus, including trick or treating and pumpkin painting.

As a member of the Young Adult ward (the congregation of 18-30 year olds) in Pittsburgh she has had fun making new friends, participating in a religion class on Wednesday nights, church on Sunday, and social activities on the weekend.

Two weekends ago they had a temple trip to Washington D.C.,

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And last Friday, in honor of Halloween, the  young ladies had a Harry Potter party. Grace invited Olivia to come and said that the gal who was in charge of the event went all out in her attention to details. Everyone got to make their own wand, using objects like “dragon heartstring” and “unicorn hair.” There were cheat sheets describing the properties of the different choices you had in creating your wand so that each person could make a wand that was reflective of their personality.

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There were also Harry Potter decorations,

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And Harry Potter treats to snack on.

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The girls had a lot of fun!

Molly and Rusty have grown closer as a result of Gracie’s absence. Still in the youth program at church and in the same cyber school for high school, Rusty and Molly are involved in all the same activities and have grown closer as a result. It was hard for Molly to be “left behind” by Grace, who is her best friend, but has found a renewed camaraderie with Rusty who was her best friend when they were little.

Here they are all decked out for a glow in the dark party:

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They also have enjoyed their time volunteering at Ready Yourself Youth Ranch a few mornings a week. It has worked out nicely. Due to the early hour that they volunteer, Grace is free to join them and drive them back and forth before she has to leave for school. They spend their mornings there mucking stalls, moving the horses in and out, feeding everyone and sometimes grooming. This week they learned to drive the tractor used for moving big bales of hay into the different paddocks.

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Molly also has been active in a variety of school activities and clubs, including a new school club that she and Tatum have started this year. In an effort to stretch herself without Grace around, Molly decided to head up a school club with her friend Tatum. They are leading an American Sign Language club that will meet every other week. In this club they will be preparing bi-monthly lessons and activities to teach the club members the basics of ASL. Many don’t realize that although Grace is going to school to become an ASL interpreter, sign language is also a passion of Molly’s as well. I know she was a bit intimidated to put herself in a leadership position without Grace by her side but she pushed through her anxiety and has risen to the challenge beautifully. Tatum and Molly had their first club meeting on Monday and it was a smashing success!

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My kids all enjoy getting mail and when their birthdays near they are all the more diligent about checking the mailbox. This week they were all thrilled to receive Halloween cards from Mimi and Pop Pop in the mailbox, and Rusty received a birthday gift from Aunt Krista and Uncle Travis. He was thrilled with his new graphic novel, funny stress-ball cat with bulging eyes, and DOG PILE puzzle game!

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With seven people in our family the kids have learned the importance of marking things that you don’t want taken. This is particularly true for leftovers in the fridge or the last few cookies in a package. It is not unusual to open our fridge and see Tupperware containers labeled with names and threats of “Do not eat, or else!” much like a dorm fridge. Tyler however took this paranoia to a whole new level recently when I found this piece of leftover 2×4 on the porch. He clearly thought it was a prime piece of wood and feared someone else snatching it, so he did what we do in situations like that:

He labeled it, clearly marking it as his. 🙂

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We have had many inquiring about Ozzie. My heart is full of joy to report he is doing awesome. Under this higher level of therapeutic care he is delving into the trauma and abuse of his past and working through the hard emotions he finds himself drowning under thanks to EMDR therapy. While there we have seen a huge shift in his behaviors. He won star student of the month for October, has joined the choir, and has passed the certification program that allows him to ride the school’s dirt bikes.

For Halloween the facility holds a huge fall festival for the boys. Because it isn’t possible to allow them to go trick or treating, they plan a fall party for the kids instead. On Halloween they were dismissed from school early and enjoyed an afternoon of games, activities, treats, and fun food to celebrate the holiday. Knowing Ozzie was going to miss getting to trick or treat with the family I sent him a glow in the dark skeleton t-shirt to wear to his Halloween party and make Halloween hands stuffed with candy for him to hand out to all the boys in his unit.

We found out this week that Ozzie  has earned a pass home for the Thanksgiving holiday, something that isn’t normally allowed this early in treatment, because of his exceptional effort and good behaviors. This has truly been God-driven placement with miraculous results. Thank you for all the prayers!

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So there you go…a short recap of “What’s New?” with us.

What is new with you?

 

It’s NOT just about the KNOTS

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It is funny how certain conversations stick in your mind. Words of advice brushed off in the moment because of their lack of significance to your life at that time come rushing back as a wave of insight years later when suddenly those sage words are significant and affecting.

Now that we are parenting older children (teens and young adults) many of the words of advice I quickly disregarded from friends that were walking slightly ahead of me on the road of life, have come back to the forefront of my mind. One particular conversation has been playing in a loop for the last week as I have pondered on this friend’s wisdom and how applicable her insight is on this season of life I find myself in.

The conversation took place on the floor of her living room as Grace, Molly, and Rusty played  with her three youngest. I was at the beginning of my parenting journey, so young and so naïve. She was further along in her journey with the oldest of her  eight children in the bowels of teenage angst. I remember her expressing deep gratitude for the adult leaders in her teenagers’ lives…good men and women that they connected with. She shared her thoughts about the significance of strong, caring, invested youth leaders in the lives of teenagers; for when a child is beginning to seek out their identity, pull away from parents, and  flounder their way into adulthood and independence, the greatest peace of mind you can have as a parent is knowing that there is a safety net of adults in place who love your child, who your child respects and listens to, and who shares similar standards and expectations for your child.

As a young mom I really didn’t get it. I couldn’t understand why my children would ever need any more love or support or guidance than the attention I offered them. Now, 10 years later, I understand the profound effect a loving village can have on the raising of children…

And I am so grateful for our village.

Between extended family, our therapeutic team, our co-op group, and our church family, my children are surrounded by powerful examples of virtue, diligence, charity, leadership, and Christ-like love. How grateful we are as parents to see the love so freely given to our children by the village God placed us in.

This last year has been the hardest of our lives. The struggles and heartache that we were drowning under was far more devastating than anyone around us knew. But although the degree of suffering was unknown, those around us could see our struggle and rallied in a beautiful way, pouring out love, support and prayers on our behalf.  I was never more grateful for loving leaders that embraced my hurting children and gave them a safe place to just be kids, away from the struggles at home, then I was at that time. My kids found refuge and loving support from the parents of friends and the adult leaders at church. In that hard season of life, when Toby and I were focused solely on everyone’s safety and survival, I finally understood what my dear friend was saying all those years ago. I got it.

 I finally understood the purpose of a village.

One of the areas Rusty really found refuge this past year was with his Boy Scout troop. This incredible group of young men and awesome leaders has been a source of great growth for Rusty. These men, who invest so much of themselves to helping the boys learn skills and develop attributes that will mold them into men of value and men of virtue, deserve accolades beyond what they receive as Boy Scout leaders. They are touching lives and molding young men into future leaders and I, as a mom of one of those young men, am incredibly grateful for their effort.

This past Wednesday we celebrated the troop’s achievement with a Court of Honor. The families of the scouts gathered together to acknowledge all they had accomplished in the last few months and celebrate the boys.

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The work put in by the leaders and the young men were evident by the pile of merit badges to be handed out. There were almost 100 merit badges earned since the last Court of Honor, which has to be a record for our troop.

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 The evening began with the flag ceremony, led by the cub scouts. They were adorable!

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Then we enjoyed some comic relief in the form of funny stories from Scout Camp and a slide show of some of the summer fun the troop enjoyed.

 

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Then it was time to distribute the earned merit badges. The boys were called up one by one to receive the rewards of their efforts and have their rank advancements acknowledged.

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Rusty had earned 14 merit badges.

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I see a whole lot of sewing in my future. 🙂

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The night ended with refreshments and a chance to socialize.

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It was a great evening.

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How grateful I am for the scouting program, the men who lead my boys, the village that surrounds and supports us, and especially these two young men who are rising to the example of their father!

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We are blessed.

 

A Monthly Update

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Often in my focus to report on the “big” events of life I procure a pile of photographs documenting the smaller moments that add up to life here on Patchwork Farm. This blog is dedicated to that collection of captured moments. Here’s to the moments that make up our ordinary, extraordinary life!

Searching for Buried Treasure

Toby is a member of a local metal detecting club. The Beaver County Metal Detecting Club is comprised of 20+ men and women who gather monthly to compare notes and swap stories of their best treasure finds over the last month, as well as organize formal hunts a few times a year.

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A few Saturdays ago was the annual fall hunt with the club…something Toby always looks forward to. The hunt keeps him out of the house all day as club members participate in a series of hunts, searching out buried treasure hidden by members of the club earlier in the day. Toby always returns home a bit sore from all the up and down movement that comes with an all day hunt, but with a smile on his face, eager to show off his haul.

Tyler is always first in line to help Daddy sort and count his loot.

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Great Blessings

We would just like to thank you all for the outpouring of love and support you have shown our family and Ozzie during this hard season of life. We have felt the sustaining and strengthening power of many prayers and are happy to report Ozzie is doing better than we ever imagined. He is thriving. The results of the therapeutic support he is receiving is nothing short of miraculous and we are so proud of him and the hard work he is doing to heal. He will be starting EMDR therapy this week with a licensed EMDR therapist and I firmly believe this therapy, used with patients suffering from PTSD, will be the answer we have been seeking to unlock the memories of abuse at the hands of Ozzie’s birth mother and birth father, and open the door to begin healing from that trauma.

Family-Based Rocks!

Because Ozzie will be away for a few months, our Family-Based services are coming to a close. Family-Based is another layer of therapeutic support we implemented in hopes of helping Ozzie stabilize and heal at home. That was not God’s plan for Ozzie and our time working with Family-Based was short lived, but it served a purpose. I can now look back and see why God opened a door that closed so quickly after entering it. Our time with Lisa and Valerie was short but they provided support and resources that were key in helping our family heal…particularly in meeting the needs of the older kids who were dealing with their own trauma…trauma that comes as a result of adopting a child who had been abused and suffers from Reactive Attachment Disorder. It was Valerie that introduced my older kids to the Ready Yourself Youth Ranch that they now volunteer at two mornings a week, helping with horses and learning the skills they need to become mentors at the ranch.

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Last week was our last home visit from our Family-Based team. They brought cupcakes to celebrate and a craft project for the kids to do while they talked and helped the kids process the muddy mix of emotions everyone is struggling with since Ozzie left.

They painted river rocks together. In our area there is a fun movement taking place that involves painting rocks, tagging them with #beavercountyrocks, sealing them and then hiding them around the county. Once found you can follow the travels of your rocks on Facebook as seekers take photos of your rock, post it, and then hide it in a new location.

The kids had fun painting their river rocks to get into the #beavercountyrocks game.

The results were fun and creative!

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Now, where to hide our rocks?!

Ukulele Adventures

For Molly’s birthday she received a ukulele from my parents. She has been toting it back and forth to co-op each week where her friend, Caleigh, has been giving her lessons. With all the toting back and forth Molly decided a case was in order. She found one online and used some of her hard earned money to purchase this charming panda themed case. Molly is thrilled!

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PSATs…BLAH!

Last Wednesday Molly and Rusty had their PSAT test. This test…preparation for next year’s SAT test, is just a sad testament to how old my babies are getting. I look at Rusty and Molly and can’t wrap my brain around the fact that we are creeping closer to college searches. Neither were particularly thrilled with taking the PSAT but were excited that they were able to test at our school’s new Pittsburgh location and see their Pittsburgh based teachers.

Tatum and Annaliese, two of Molly co-op friends, were also signed up for testing, so we volunteered to load up Big Bessie and take everyone down on Wednesday morning. Rather than have everyone drop off kids off at 6:30 in the morning, we just had the girls spend the night. It worked out well. They managed to take something they were all dreading and make it fun.

Earlier in the day Molly prepped the bus for their sleepover. She thought it would be fun to camp out in the bus, and I was thrilled to see the bus getting used after a summer of sitting dormant. Molly made the beds, carried out movies they could watch on the TV, and filled the fridge with snacks and drinks.

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I think the girls had fun,

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And everyone survived testing, although I think they would all say they are glad it is done and over with!

Rusty on the Road

Rusty is slowly and hesitantly embracing his role as a new driver. Being the third child I have taught to drive, I find it interesting how personalities shine forth in each child’s driving style. Rusty, who has always been extremely careful and conscientious, is a slow and steady driver. There is no speeding, law bending, or bone breaking moves with him behind the wheel.

Tyler must disagree, as he has taken to wearing safety gear when Rusty is behind the wheel. 🙂

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I fear the day it is Tyler’s turn to get behind the wheel. I think I may have to borrow that helmet!!

My Mini-Me

Grace is now a red head and I think she plans to stay that way. After years of bemoaning the fact that I ended up with three blondies, I finally have a redhead… thanks to L’Oreal!

I don’t know if it is the red hair or if the genetic connection has become more pronounced but I feel as though I now have a younger (and much cuter)  mini-me!

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My Buddy

Tyler is now my buddy. With Ozzie away and the older kids engaged in school, social activities, and work, it feels as though it is often just Tyler and I hanging out. Between therapy and tutoring appointments 5 days a week, we spend a lot of time on the road together or at the table together doing school. After a decade of juggling the teaching of 3-5 children their lessons every day, it is bizarre to have hours to spend working with just one. The older kids are so independent now that they only come to me when they need clarification or help with a question, which frees me up to work with Tyler all day…

and I must admit I’ve loved.

We have had a lot of fun delving deeper into subjects that interest him, seeking out fun science experiments and art projects to enhance his online school lessons, and having the time for weekly trips to the library. Here are some of his recent projects:

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The Monster Under the Bed

All of the one-on-one attention has been a blessing in other ways too. Tyler is struggling with monster sized fears, fears we are working to address in therapy. These fears are driven by the abuse he suffered as a small child and while he struggles to express the thoughts consuming him in his head I have been able to piece together the fact that they are trauma driven simply by where and when they are most prevalent. His PTSD seems to rear its ugly head after the sun goes down. Nighttime is scary time and his bedroom and the bathroom are the places he fears most. From his child profile I know that dark, closed places and the family bathroom are where most of the abuse took place, so it make sense that those are the places he fears most.

Miss Tina, our therapist, has been working with Tyler to help counteract the negative emotions connected to those locations with positive ones. We do this by making happy, light, funny memories in those locations. We play family board games on his bedroom floor, we have shaving cream battles in the bathroom….whatever we can think of to bring light and peace and laughter to a place that is dark and scary in Tyler’s mind.

One way we have done this is with the use of bathtub crayons in the shower. Bathtime is a nightmare with Tyler. He is terrified to shower or bathe. And knowing what was done to him in his birth family’s bathroom, I understand that. But we have to help him overcome that fear, so we bought some bath crayons, and enlisting the help of the other kids our shower wall has now become a message board for the kids. Tyler’s curiosity of what funny photos, messages and game boards have been drawn on the shower wall since his last bath has surpassed the fear of bathing (as long as we do daytime showers.) And I have LOVED reading the dialog back and forth. What an awesome way to battle a fear, encourage writing, and strengthen bonds between siblings, all in one swoop!

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Healing bonds via Snail Mail

Strengthening bonds has been a focus in all our family’s relationships this past month. We have all felt the polarizing affects of RAD and trauma after the last 8 months of being in crisis mode. This ongoing, escalated state has a huge effect on relationships and the family dynamic. Now that everyone is stable we are trying to begin healing the damage. One way we are facilitating that healing is through weekly letters between Ozzie and the other kids. Every Sunday they write him a letter which are then mailed out through the week. Ozzie then can write back and the kids can begin reconnecting again.

This week we did something different. We each did a handprint on paper using paint. When our handprints had dried we flipped them over and everyone wrote something they love or admire about Ozzie, using the line, “A high five for…”

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I then laminated our handprints and connected them with a metal ring as a special momento for Ozzie, allowing him to reach out and touch our hands whenever he feels lonely.

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Well, there you go…

A small snapshot of our ordinary, extraordinary life.

God is good!

 

What a Weekend!!

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What a full weekend we had. It was packed to the gills with projects, places to go, and things to do. It was a crazy weekend, but a productive weekend…and boy did we all sleep well Sunday night!

Here is a peek into all the craziness we crammed into a 48-hour period…

Saturday began at 7:00 am. Rusty had a bike ride scheduled with the other young men from church. They planned to meet up at 7:45 and would be gone most of the morning. The plan was to conclude their excursion at the comic book store where an annual basement blowout was being held, offering thousands of comics for only $1.oo/each.

Rusty “rolled” back home around noon, tired and happy, eager to show off his comic book finds.

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The big task of the day was canning. A friend from church found a great deal on apples that we couldn’t pass up. We bought two bushels and the plan was to spend the day turning our bushels of apples into applesauce and apple pie filling. When these plans were made I thought I’d have a whole crew of helpers in the kitchen with me for the day, but soon other opportunities began to trump canning, leaving me in the kitchen with a revolving door of helpers coming and going through the day.

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My first helper of the day was Tyler. He had a few hours until he needed to leave the house and eagerly jumped on the task of coring and peeling apples for applesauce.

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At 10:00 am he had to leave with Toby and the girls jumped into his place as second and third in command.

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Tyler and Toby were off to Pittsburgh for some unexpected fun. The previous night, while out with friends, we were offered two free tickets to a Pitt football game at Heinz field. It was decided that Toby would take Tyler. Tyler is by far the biggest football fan in the family and we knew he could use some Daddy/son time after the unsettling week he had had seeing Ozzie leave.

It was just what they both needed. They were able to escape for a few hours and enjoy some mindless fun and male bonding over football and popcorn, and they had a perfect day for it. The weather was beautiful!

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At 11:00 am I lost Grace and Molly as canning helpers when they left for an event at Gracie’s school. As part of Gracie’s American Sign Language classes, she must attend a certain number of deaf events each semester. This is something Grace looks forward to and on this particular Saturday her ASL club was hosting a tie-dye activity at the school. Grace decided to invite Molly along. Molly has struggled a bit with the life changes that have occurred in our home lately. The absence of Ozzie and seeing less of Grace due to Gracie’s busy school and work schedule, has left her feeling a bit lost. Noticing this, Grace invited Molly out for a sister date. They made plans to attend the tie-dye activity and then go to Rita’s for an Italian ice after the event was over.

Both girls had a wonderful time. The ASL club had a good turn out and everyone enjoyed getting messy. The club supplied socks for everyone to tie-dye, but participants could bring other items to tie-dye as well. Grace and Molly each brought a pillowcase to color. It was a fun activity for them to share. Molly enjoyed getting to know some of Gracie’s college friends, and enjoyed getting to use some of her ASL skills.

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At noon Rusty returned home, thanks to a kind young men’s leader who dropped him off on our doorstop, and then Rusty jumped into the fray of apple canning. At this point I was onto apple pie filling and Rusty helped me peel, core, and slice apples for the pie filling. He was a great help and my efficiency increased significantly with another set of hands in the kitchen.

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We also made a large batch of oven dried cinnamon apple slices to enjoy as snacks. As the slices slowly dried in the warm ovens the entire house took on the delicious smell of autumn.

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Around this same time Toby was heading back out of Pittsburgh to pick up the girls (after they dropped off Mimi Joy’s car that she graciously lent them for the day) and head up north for Tyler’s equine therapy.

He had another wonderful session on his horse, Smokey, and he enjoyed sharing his experience with Toby and the girls. He is a natural on the horse and we are finding the lessons to be hugely therapeutic.

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After lessons Toby and the kids made a quick stop at Baldingers Candy Shop for some sweet treats.

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It was now 3:00 pm and things were winding down in the kitchen. The apple slices were dried and the canning was complete. My legs ached and I was covered in dried, sticky, apple juice…but what a satisfying feeling it was to gaze upon the fruits of our labors!

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It also happened to be General Conference weekend, a twice annual event in our church where we have the opportunity to hear from leadership in the form of a worldwide broadcast. It is a special weekend comprised of 4 two-hour sessions that we can watch from the comfort of our own home and receive counsel, guidance and uplifting messages from inspired speakers. We try to make it an extra special experience with a fun breakfast, activities, and booklets to help the kids take notes and stay engaged.

On Sunday morning, Rusty volunteered to be in charge of breakfast. He stumbled across a recipe online that he wanted to try. It was peanut butter and jelly French toast…and it was delicious!

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While Rusty cooked breakfast, everyone else sat down to write a letter to Ozzie. This will become a regular Sunday task. My plan is to help facilitate connection between the kids through pen pal letters. There is healing that needs to occur and written letters seem a good way to foster a renewed connection in a safe and non-threatening way. The stack of letters will then be mailed one at a time through the week, creating a steady influx of mail for Ozzie, hopefully making him feel of our love and letting him know he is not forgotten.

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For General Conference, I printed out our traditional bingo game and filled a bowl with our “prizes,” as well as created note taking doodle packets for the kids to use as they watched.

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It was wonderful to spend that time as a family and receive inspired guidance and direction.

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Sunday afternoon we also had a visit with Ozzie. It couldn’t have gone any better. He is doing beautifully and this Momma’s heart overflowed with gratitude to see him so at peace. It was a joy to get that time with him to catch up and reconnect.

Sunday night we enjoyed a game night for our Family Night activity. Friends from co-op, who also are avid board gamers, lent us an escape room game they purchased. We love these sorts of games and this one was no exception. We had a blast racing the clock and working as a team to solve the puzzles needed to win the game.

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We were successful!

It truly was a non-stop, crazy weekend…

Filled to the brim with busyness…

Filled to the brim with blessings!

Halloween came early this year…

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Tyler…our resident goof ball!

 

(I’m still a week behind in my blogging. Here is my final blog about last weekend’s festivities…)

This past weekend was a tough one. The knowledge that Ozzie was leaving on Monday morning and would be gone for four months left everyone feeling unsettled and emotional. We tried to move through the days as normally as possible, but it was challenging with that big grey cloud hanging over our heads.

Everyone was dealing with a muddy mess of emotions. We were grateful that Ozzie was accepted to this awesome facility where he will finally get the intensive therapeutic help he needs to heal from past trauma, but were also mourning this upcoming shift in our life, upset and grieving that this step needs to happen.

My mother summed it up beautifully when I shared the news with her. She said, “It is like finding out someone you love has cancer, and the prognosis is not good. And then soon after, receiving the news that your loved one has secured the last bed at the Cancer Treatment Center of America and will be working with the best doctor in that field.”

You don’t know whether to be angry that treatment is needed or grateful that treatment is available for a once hopeless diagnoses.

It is hard to verbalize the hard mix of emotions that come with this journey. I know I struggle to filter through the jumble of thoughts and feelings that knot in my stomach, so I can appreciate the struggles Ozzie and the other children are suffering though during this hard season.

This weekend was particularly hard. We knew what was coming, and with that knowledge there were feelings of relief and great grief. It felt like the weekend was a series of good-byes to life as we knew it. It was painful on so many levels and I didn’t know whether to wish for time to stand still, so as to avoid the inevitable, or to pray for time to speed up so we could rip this band-aid off and begin facing our new normal. Mostly I just felt numb, like a shell of my real self, moving through the motions of living but weirdly detached.

We packed up Ozzie’s bag, filling it with clothes, winter gear, books, comfort items, therapy tools, and photos…everything he could possibly need for the next four months.

We cleaned his room. Preparing it for his absence so that when he returns home it would be ready for him.

Then we tried to fit in some fun and family bonding. Our weekend was filled with horseback riding lessons, “Gotcha Day” fun, and lots of low key, quiet moments as a family.

One of Ozzie’s primary disappointments about going away was his concern about missing out on holiday traditions. He will most likely be able to return home for holidays but is sad to miss out on our families traditions leading up to holidays…like pumpkin carving for Halloween. I couldn’t address all his worries, but that was a concern I could address, and did so gladly.

On Saturday we went pumpkin shopping, allowing each of the kids to pick out a pumpkin for carving and then came home and carved Jack-O-Lanterns a month early.

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Everyone got into the spirit of the evening, seeking out creative carving ideas and jumping into the task of gutting their pumpkins.

The result was an evening of fun for Ozzie and the rest of the family. We were all taking part in a cherished family tradition. Who cares if it was 90 degrees outside while we were doing it. Yes, the finished results will probably wither and mold by next Saturday, but this activity wasn’t about the finished results. Like so many aspects of our life it is not about the ending, it is about the journey.

The kids are now all old enough to be left to their own devices as they turn a pumpkin into something more magical, allowing Toby and I to just sit back and watch the fun.

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I did spend time digging through their pumpkin guts as the kids carved, picking out pumpkin seeds to roast. I found a recipe for dill pickle flavored roasted pumpkin seeds that I wanted to try. The results were delicious!

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The kids all came up with creative creations this year.

Rusty went with a tongue-in-cheek math joke:  Rusty’s pumpkin “Pi”

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Grace created the “Fly Away to Neverland “scene from Peter Pan:

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Ozzie went traditional with an awesome pumpkin face:

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Molly carved a Harry Potter pumpkin:

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And Tyler did a dollar sign face:

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Once everyone was done carving we took their pumpkins out to the porch.

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We lit them, turned off the lights, and watched them glow, enjoying the magic of the moment. It meant a lot to Ozzie that he was able to participate in this beloved family tradition and it meant the world to this Momma to have all my chicks with me on that beautiful September night, as we stood beneath the stars watching their pumpkins glow bright.

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We ended Family Night with the movie, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” while we munched on pumpkin seeds and enjoyed our last evening together for a while.

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This hard transition is a blessing,

but it still hurts like crazy…