Tag Archives: RTF

Counting Our Blessings

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This Thanksgiving was untraditional in a lot of ways. As a family we are navigating some uniquely stressful and triggering challenges that we are unable to share with others for the time being. This Thanksgiving was reflective of that. We were not in a position that traveling to visit family was an option. The fact that Molly was unable to come home for the holiday, Grace was now a married woman, and Ozzie was only being given a 24 hour home pass meant that Thanksgiving would be different this year.

Rather than mourn the loss of what couldn’t be, or focus on the struggles of this season, we chose to embrace the weekend in an untraditional way, with new traditions this year.

Our holiday weekend began when we picked up Ozzie on Wednesday night. Because he would only be home for one night, we decided to make the most of his time at home and fit in as much fun as possible. We began with a trip to the movies.

Ozzie’s “gotcha day” falls on November 22nd. This is the anniversary of his adoption day, and like the other two boys, we celebrate “gotcha days” by allowing the adoptee to pick an activity that allows us to celebrate this special day in our family’s story. Ozzie was not at home this year on his “gotcha day” so we delayed his celebration a week and celebrated Wednesday night with a trip to the movies.

We went to see Ford vs Ferrari. 

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This movie has been on Ozzie’s wish list ever since seeing the ads for it. Anyone who knows Oz knows that he is obsessed with all things car and NASCAR related, so this movie was right up his alley! Needless to say, he was thrilled when he found out the plans for the evening. I knew Ozzie would love the movie but was surprised how much the rest of us enjoyed it. It was an amazing movie!

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Ozzie declared it the best movie he had ever seen.

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The following morning we woke up and began Thanksgiving preparations. Zach picked up Braden and Tyler for some Turkey Bowl football fun with the guys from church. Toby headed out for a morning of metal detecting at our local park, and Ozzie and Rusty stayed behind with me to help bake while we watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

This year we weren’t eating Thanksgiving dinner with family or at home. Instead we were joining forces with Gracie’s in-laws and others for a Thanksgiving celebration at church. This ended up being a great blessing. The complete diversion from our traditional celebration made the situation bearable and even blessed. The food was wonderful (There was so much of it!) and the company even better! We were so busy feasting, fellowshipping and playing board games that I never captured a photo of the festivities…

A sure sign everyone was enjoying themselves.

At the end of the meal Toby and I made the five-hour, round trip trek to return Ozzie to his RTF and ourselves back home to bed.

Molly was also experiencing a different sort of Thanksgiving. Since a plane trip home for a long weekend wasn’t realistic, she was invited to spend Thanksgiving with a roommate’s family. Katrina is one of Molly’s eight roommates and her “bestie” out in Idaho. She invited Molly to join her family in Utah for Thanksgiving and Molly gratefully accepted. We were glad that Molly had someplace to spend the holiday and we were so thankful to Katrina’s family for being Molly’s holiday parents in our absence.

Molly had a wonderful Thanksgiving and sent us photos of her adventures in Utah, including:

A Thanksgiving 5K run,

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Baking pies with Katrina,

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A snowy trip to the temple,

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A BYU basketball game,

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And lots of fun, family/friend time!

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It was tough having Molly away for Thanksgiving but good preparation for the next adventure that is in store for Miss Molly. She has prayerfully decided to take a sabbatical from school and serve a mission for the Lord that will take her far from home for 18 months. She sent us this screen shot of her completed application and now we wait and see where the Lord will send our sweet girl.

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Oh, there is so much happening in and to our family and I find myself reeling a bit from the whiplash of so many changes occurring at once. I have to remind myself to keep on breathing and trusting God’s hand and plan in our life story.

We may not know how this chapter will end but we know how our story will end…

He had already penned the final paragraph,

and with God as the divine author, it promises to be a perfect ending.

 

 

 

Molly’s Last Week at Home

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 (Please excuse this longer than normal post…It has been quite the week!)

This week marked Molly’s last week at home before we drive her out to her school in Idaho. It has been 12 weeks since Molly graduated from highschool and it feels as though we squeezed 3 years of life into those 3 months. This past week was no exception. Our “clown car week” was two dozen experiences squeezed into a mini cooper time frame! We all had our own agenda of “one last ___” that we wanted to fit into the week, along with all the normal life busyness. Molly had her own list of things she wanted to do before leaving, and visits she wanted to fit in with friends before venturing west. 

Somehow we managed to fit it all in. It was a crazy week filled with immeasurable blessings and special memories to tide us all over until Molly’s return home.

Some of the events from the last five days include:

1. A Visit to the Homestead!

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On Sunday we drove out to Ohio for a visit with my parents and grandmother so everyone could say good-bye to Molly. Zach joined us and while there my parents presented Grace and Zach with their wedding gift.

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They received a beautiful, antique desk. They were given it early so they could take it back to their apartment and set it up.

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They weren’t the only ones to be gifted with presents of love. My parents also put together a care package for our college-bound girl. Knowing her love for their homemade salsa, they put together a basket for a salsa night with her roommates.

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While we were there we also celebrated the birthdays that fell in the last two months: Tyler and Pop Pop.

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They opened their gifts and everyone had fun trying out Tyler’s new Connect Four game.

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We enjoyed lunch in the barn and the board games that followed. All too soon it was time to say good-bye. The sadness was eased by the knowledge that we would all be reunited in a month for Gracie and Zach’s reception.

2. Everyone headed back to school!

Tuesday marked the first day of school for Tyler as a 7th grader at PA Cyber. Although the older boys were in their second week of school at 21st Century Cyber School, and Grace had returned to CCAC two weeks prior, for the sake of traditional back to school fun, we marked Tuesday as the day for pictures and treats.

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In the morning, following daily devotionals, everyone received their back to school goody bags. They were filled with new school supplies and treats to enjoy during the first week of school.

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For breakfast everyone enjoyed cinnamon rolls…the treat I used to soften everyone up to be cheerfully compliant about first day of school pictures! 🙂

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It has been a great first week of school. Braden and Rusty are getting used to their daily 5:30 am wake-up for early morning seminary and are both becoming accustomed to their new schools. (This is Braden’s first year cyber schooling and Rusty’s first year of college classes at our local community college as part of a duel enrollment.)

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In two weeks Molly and I will begin our BYU-I classes. She will be a campus student and I will be online. Although I didn’t do a back to school photo, I did receive this letter of love in the mail from my parents after sharing that I received all A’s for my first year returning to college. As a child we would receive a dollar for every “A” we brought home on our report card. In keeping up this tradition, and as a way to celebrate my success, I received this sweet card and report card money in the mail. Oh, how I love my parents and appreciate their constant encouragement and sideline cheers as I navigate the game of life. I am blessed!

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3. Seeing how everyone measures up!

In the hallway of our home we have a cherished record of our children’s growth in the form of marked lines on the wall. It has been a tradition since moving into our home to mark our kids’ heights every Valentine’s Day. This year we were away for Valentine’s Day and missed following through with this tradition. Then life, with all its challenges began to unfold, leaving us focused on more important things and bigger issues. Six months past and we kept forgetting to make our annual marks on the growth wall.

On the first day of school we decided to “get-r-done!” After first day of school photos, everyone was measured against the wall. Grace’s line continues to remain static, as it has been for the last 3 years and Molly only grew a smidge. Rusty had an 1 1/2 inch jump this year which is impressive given he will be 18 next month, And Braden got his first mark on the family growth wall.

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This year Tyler won for the biggest growth spurt with a solid 6+ inch jump in his height!

4. Enjoying stolen moments with my silly partners in crime!

My most treasured moments of Molly’s last week at home were just the normal living moments..

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Those pockets of time filled with normalcy, visiting, time spent together, and laughter…lots and lots of laughter!

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5. Molly bidding her best friends good-bye.

For the last two weeks Molly had tried to make a point of fitting in a final visit with her nearest and dearest friends. Her final good-byes this week just happened to be with some of her dearest friends…Caleigh, Tatum and Irvin.

On Friday, an hour before we took to the road, she stopped by Geneva College where her friend Caleigh is attending school. They were able to have a good visit and Caleigh was able to show Molly around her new stomping grounds. It was a sweet opportunity for them to catch up and say good-bye before Molly is gone for the semester.

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For her visit with Tatum she drove down to Pittsburgh where Tatum is attending Carlow to get her degree in nursing. Molly was able to see Tatum’s dorm, stroll with her through campus and meet Tatum’s new friends. It was bittersweet as they said good-bye, but Molly came home with a heart full of happiness for the blessing of seeing her best friend happy and thriving in her new role.

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Her other best friend is Irvin. Irvin lives out near Gettysburg, a few hours from us. The two of them met through school and soon developed a deep and meaningful friendship through regular pen pal correspondence. It was Irvin who took her to prom and surprised her (with Tatum) with a birthday she’ll never forget. As the summer came to a close they made plans to get together before Molly headed out to Idaho for school and Irvin headed to Japan for 6 months abroad.

He called and asked permission to take Molly out on a date and then on Tuesday drove here from across the state with special plans for a special day.

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The date started with a thrift store challenge. They each picked out the tackiest combination of clothing articles they could find for the other to wear on the date.

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Then they headed to lunch where Irvin introduced Molly to sushi.

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Their afternoon was spent talking and laughing as they widow shopped at local stores before they sat down to reminisce on their friendship journey from acquaintances to soul-deep friends.

They each brought their stack of letters written over the course of their friendship, and beginning with their first words penned and ending with their most recent correspondence, they read their words aloud to each other.

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Irvin has been such a blessing in Molly’s life and I am so grateful for his example and the influence he has had on our daughter.

6. A Visit with Ozzie

On Wednesday we made our weekly trek up to Erie to visit Ozzie. Knowing this was Molly’s last week at home, I felt it important that they have one last visit before she heads off to school.

After our weekly family therapy session, we took Ozzie out for lunch. His choice was Five Guys, where we enjoyed a lunch of hamburgers and fries.

After lunch we headed over to a kitschy little attraction I read about online called Schaefer’s Auto Art.

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Here a local artist has put on display his personal works of art. These roadside sculptures are all created from old car parts, and I thought Ozzie, our resident car enthusiast, would eat this up!

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It was pretty cool and Molly’s artistic eye appreciated the photographic appeal, but Ozzie felt it was a shame that cars has to be destroyed for the sake of art. 🙂

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7. Temple trip to Palmyra

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Following our visit with Ozzie, we continued our travel north to Palmyra, New York. At the start of summer, when our weekly family therapy sessions with Ozzie began, I set the goal of pairing each visit with Ozzie with a trip to the temple, thus making that weekly experience a compounded blessing.

These weekly sessions can be emotionally trying and draining, as we dig into the ugliness of Ozzie’s past trauma. I found that finding refuge in the house of the Lord, following these weekly appointments, was a way to gain solace and take a hard, weekly commitment and make it an even bigger blessing.

It became my routine to drive 2 1/2 hours every Wednesday at 8:00 am for Ozzie’s 10:30 am family therapy session. This appointment was followed by a social visit with Ozzie where we would spend an hour or two playing board games and catching up, while Ozzie enjoyed the treats I packed. Now that he is approved for off-grounds passes, our time is spent enjoying each other’s company while experiencing Erie.

After dropping him back at the RTF at 1:00 pm, I then continue my trek north. It takes an additional 3 hours to reach the temple. I typically depart the temple by 8:00pm, making it home sometime between 1:00 am and 2:00 am Thursday morning.

It has become a weekly appointment that I look forward to and a commitment that has blessed my life immensely this summer. For the last month, my girls have been accompanying me (as their schedule allows), making it an even more precious experience. This week Molly joined me and we were blessed to enjoy an hour of stillness and contemplation in the Sacred Grove before making our 6:00 scheduled temple appointments.

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It was a beautiful evening with my beautiful daughter at a beautiful place!

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8. And a stop at Niagara Falls:

On our way home, we found ourselves more exhausted than usual. Not surprising, given the craziness of the previous two weeks. I questioned our ability to safely make it home and ended up booking a last-minute hotel for the night after 2 1/2 hours of driving. The promise of a soft bed for only $50.00 was too much to resist.

Our hotel was located just minutes from Niagara Falls, so before we checked into our hotel, we made a quick detour over to the falls that Molly hadn’t seen since her visit as a child.

It was as awe-inspiring and breathtaking as I remembered,

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And it was a treat getting to experience it again with Molly!

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9. Many Appointments!

A few final appointments filled the free moments of our week as we squeezed in trips to the eye doctor, dentist, therapist, etc. among other things. The biggest and most important errand of the week was completed by Grace and Zach. On Friday they headed to the courthouse to get their marriage license.  Now it is feeling real! We are six weeks away until the big day!!

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10. Packing the car…

Thursday was Molly’s final night at home. The sisters enjoyed a slumber party together and we went through Molly’s ever-growing pile of college supplies, loading everything in the car in anticipation for Friday’s departure. Amazingly it all fit and she even left room for the suitcases of the three of us who will be escorting her out to school.

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We plan on making a road trip out of the journey, revisiting some of our favorite northern stops from our bus trip three years ago, so Braden can experience a piece of what he missed out on, having not been a part of the family at the time.

Wish us luck!

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Westward Ho!

 

A Visit to Oz

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We were overly dressed for the zoo due to our plans to head to the Palmyra LDS temple following our visit. Ozzie just wanted to dress up for the occasion. The result: A sweet Amish family stopping us at the zoo to inquire if we were Mennonites. 🙂 

Last Wednesday was our first off-grounds visit with Ozzie since his placement at Harborcreek Residential Treatment Facility back in May. This is his second stay there and it has been an immense blessing. The facility is astounding and Ozzie thrives under the structure, care, and therapies offered there. In an ideal world we would be able to meet Ozzie’s extreme therapeutic needs at home through outpatient services, but his history of extreme abuse and neglect prior to adoption, coupled with his multiple diagnoses, make the level of therapeutic care needed for healing unrealistic in an outpatient form. Our hope is that an extended stay at this RTF, with its many forms of therapy and its superb staff, will facilitate a level of healing that his therapist at home can’t achieve in two hours a week.

At Harborcreek Ozzie is eagerly involved and engaged in multiple therapeutic groups daily in addition to art therapy, music therapy, trauma release yoga, EMDR therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma therapy and family therapy weekly. He also attends school on campus for a half day and participates in work release program at the carpentry workshop a few days a week where he has the opportunity to learn carpentry skills. With other boys that qualify for this privilege, he is learning to build picnic benches which are then sold to local businesses and organizations. He loves his time with the work release team.

Every Wednesday I drive 2 1/2 hours up to Erie to have a family session with Ozzie. This is not required. In fact most parents participate in these weekly therapy sessions over the phone, as families are scattered across the state of Pennsylvania,  but I have found Ozzie makes more progress in his healing with one-on-one, face-to-face support and accountability. We have turned these family therapy days into weekly social visits. Rather than taking advantage of open visiting hours for family every Sunday from 1-4 pm (which is what we did each week during his last stay there,) I piggyback a social visit following these weekly family therapy sessions. It has worked out well, as it was always a challenge to fit in church and get up to Erie before visiting hours were over. It made Sundays stressful and took us away from our other kids on the one day of the week we have everyone home together for family time. With this new routine I am able to focus on Ozzie that day and enjoy an extended visit with him following therapy where our time is spent playing the board games I bring with me.

Now that he has been at Harborcreek for three months, and is doing so well there, the next step is transitioning those skills to the home environment. This is especially important for Ozzie, as his ability to self manage is far more challenging when he is around family and is being shown love than it is for him in an institutionalized setting that is more structured, disconnected and impersonal. The first step in this transition process (which will probably occur over the course of six months) is to begin introducing short off campus visits with siblings. These short visits give everyone a chance at reconnection while also allowing us to increase Ozzie’s emotional discomfort and observe his reaction to emotional triggers so that when he returns back to Harborcreek at the conclusion of the off-grounds visit he can process through the experience (and the resulting behaviors) with his trauma therapist and come up with strategies to implement next visit.

It was decided that for his first off-grounds visit with siblings we would just bring Molly and Grace. Both girls are well versed in how to manage Ozzie in an emotionally healthy way without being triggered themselves, so we thought it best to set everyone up for success and just bring the girls. It was especially important for Molly to attend as she will be leaving for school in Idaho in two weeks and I felt it important that she and Ozzie have a visit before an extended separation. There were hurts that needed healing in their relationship with Molly being one of Ozzie’s primary targets before he was admitted to the RTF. We were granted a two-hour off-grounds visit and we chose to head to the Erie Zoo.

The zoo was the perfect choice for the girls’ first visit with Ozzie since seeing him in his dysregulated state last spring. I could tell both were apprehensive and a bit nervous, but hopeful that healing was possible. I felt a visit to the zoo would be a good environment for their first visit together. My thought was that at the zoo wee would have the benefit of being able to move around as we talked and have plenty of conversation starters as we experience the zoo. Also, I have found that animals have an emotionally calming/therapeutic effect on all my kids, so I figured it would increase the likelihood of everyone staying regulated, thus ensuring a positive visit among siblings.

We arrived at the zoo following a family therapy session that included all of us and Ozzie’s trauma therapist. We started our visit with a picnic lunch that we packed and brought along with us.

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Once everyone’s bellies were full we started our exploration of the zoo.

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The charm of the Erie zoo is found in its historic roots. Opened in 1929 it has a charm that isn’t seen in modern zoos. It is on the smaller size which made it perfect for the amount of time allotted for our visit with Ozzie, and there were just enough exhibits to entertain us during those two hours.

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We all enjoyed strolling through the zoo looking at the animals and watching them interact with each other.

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The Orangutans were especially charming as they had a little one in the group who was a delight to watch. I could have spent all day at that exhibit!

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Ozzie’s favorite animal was of course the donkey. He has a thing for donkeys!

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He also loved the train display set up in the center courtyard.

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As we walked around the zoo he was able to point out some of the picnic tables they make in the Harborcreek carpentry shop and sell to the Erie Zoo. He was quite proud to claim some ownership in finished project.

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It was a beautiful day and everyone had a good time. The interactions were positive and the kids enjoyed getting time together.

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We are one step further down the road to healing past hurts.

Hanging on for Dear Life!

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And then in the midst of it all, life keeps rolling on…

A never-slowing train, speeding down the track.

As we hold on tightly, trying to enjoy the scenic vistas as they fly past.

Rusty now makes child #4 in the “gainfully employed club” at Patchwork Farm. He has joined Braden as an ice cream scooper at Handel’s and is loving the experience. The increased cash flow, coupled by the free sweet treats, has made this a dream job for our gentle giant.

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With 4 children employed, and Ozzie currently residing at a residential facility, we have found ourselves left with only Tyler home a lot of the time. It is so weird to look around and have only one child lounging in the living room, instead of six. The experience has given us an sneak peek into life in the future when Tyler will be the last child at home. I think he is feeling a bit lost in it all, but I keep telling him we just need to hang in there for a few more years and once we can kick everyone out we will be able to have some awesome adventures with the extra disposable income that will result from a decreased family food budget! 😉

Ozzie has been transferred from the acute facility where he was being stabilized to the long-term facility where he will be for the next 6-12 months for more intensive, in-patient trauma therapy. We feel incredibly blessed to be able to get him admitted to the same RTF where he was so successful prior. Located in Erie, Harborcreek Youth Services provided an amazing blend of physical, emotional and spiritual care that allowed Ozzie to safely face the traumas of his past that are so destructive to his current relationships and result in poor choices and dangerous behaviors.

The sheer quantity and variety of therapeutic work that can be offered in a week-long period (family therapy, trauma therapy, EMDR therapy, group sessions, anger management, art therapy, animal therapy, trauma releasing yoga and music therapy) gives Ozzie a highly submersible experience that yields amazing results for him.

We hate that he has to be sent away to get the help he needs, but we are so grateful for the loving care he receives from amazing staff who act as interim parents in our absence, supporting Ozzie as he focuses on his own healing journey.

Gracie just finished out another semester of school and one of the art electives she chose to take this past semester was a pottery class. Beginning with basic pinch pots and working up to creating pieces on the wheel, Grace had the opportunity to design, create, paint and fire a variety of pottery pieces. This week she brought home her finished creations. Some of her finished pieces include:

A large flower vase that she made as a gift for her Momma:

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A model of our school bus turned RV:

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A wall vase to hang on the wall of her room and fill with fresh flowers:

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And a set of mugs that she creatively designed with a pocket to hold the used tea bag when making a cup of tea:

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This is just a sampling of the completed projects she brought home. She loved the class and we loved being the benefactors of her talent and generosity!

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With the conclusion of May comes many end of the year/graduation celebrations for Miss Molly. The first acknowledgement that this was really happening and that our little girls were all grown up occurred at our end of the year co-op picnic. We joined with other co-op families to celebrate another successful year of teaching our children at home. As part of our picnic, Miss Lana brought a celebratory cake for our four graduating seniors.

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I still can’t wrap my brain around the fact that four women stand before me where four little girls with mismatched socks once stood.

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Four sweet girls! Caleigh’s curlers are in preparation for that night’s performance of “Little Women” at Mohawk High School.

On the heels of one graduation celebration came another. On Sunday we celebrated Molly’s graduation from seminary, a scripture study course offered to the high school students of our church. For the last four years she has chosen to add an additional 60 minutes of work to her weekday schedule to study the teachings of Christ and apply those teachings to her life as a disciple of Christ. We are so glad she chose to participate, as we have seen first hand the great growth that happens when our children are actively pursuing a relationship with Jesus Christ through daily prayer and scripture study.

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As part of the graduation ceremony, we heard from a few of the graduating seniors and then enjoyed a beautiful musical number as Hailey and Heather sang “Be Still my Soul” while Molly interpreted the song through American Sign Language.

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Following the ceremony there was a reception in the cultural hall where guests could enjoy desserts while strolling around, reading the graduation posters, and signing their well wishes to all the graduating seniors.

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So proud of you, Miss Molly!

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Another celebration of Molly’s upcoming graduation from high school came in the form of a senior trip. Molly and Tatum were invited by Irvin and his family to stay at their home in Gettysburg for two days.

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After years of friendship, Irvin wanted to have the girls come and visit his home town and meet his parents. The family set up their pottery studio/store as a B & B for the girls, spoiling them rotten with homemade meals, story telling, chocolates on their pillows, site seeing around Gettysburg and even gifted them with one of their handcrafted mugs as a parting gift of hospitality.

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On Friday, the girls joined Irvin for a trip to Knoebels, the amusement park that was chosen as the site for this year’s senior day. There they met up with other 21st Century seniors and teachers for a day of riding rides and having fun…

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Ending the day with ice cream.

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It was a fun adventure for Molly and Tatum to share before they get pulled into the vortex of college life…

And it was all made possible thanks to the kindness and hospitality of the Young family.

It is an exciting time for Miss Molly and we couldn’t be happier for our walking ray of sunshine!

Fighting for the GREATEST Cause

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We find ourselves in the trenches once more.

I share the quote above because it powerfully puts into words the reality of our journey and petitions for the prayers we stand in need of.

Adoption is a war, but not the war it appears to be through the eyes of those on the outside looking in. To the casual observer it would seem that we were fighting a losing battle against our kids from hard places. The defiance, rebellion, and dangerous manifestations of anger that burst forth in the form of running away, physically assaulting siblings, property destruction, chronic lying, suicidal ideation, manipulation, and relationship sabotage smack of “us verses them.” If someone would step into our home in the midst of one of our daily battles, the screams of, “I hate you! You are not my mom!” coupled with flying projectiles would definitely lead you to believe the warfare playing out is familial, but that is simply not the case. Our war is not with our children. It is a battle we are fighting side by side with our children, against the trauma of their past. Though they do not always see it that way.

The reality of adopting kids with a trauma history is that as a family you are choosing to open your door and invite inside a battle of epic proportion. You are choosing to fight for the soul of a child and Satan doesn’t fight fair. By choosing to adopt children that the world has seen fit to abandon and give up on, you are agreeing to walk into the fire and expose your home, your children, your marriage, your friendships and your extended family to a whole new level of spiritual warfare.

And I’m here to say that we can’t do it alone.

We need our prayer warriors to surround us with an armor of fortification because our ragtag battalion is growing weary and our wounds are extensive.

Sometimes I look on my family, especially on the heels of one of those intense and destructive battles, and I see in them the faces of the famous Howard Pyle painting, “The Nation Makers.” This iconic piece of artwork is a powerful depiction of the War for Independence. It depicts a line of soldiers in tattered clothing and bandages marching forward through a field of grass and wild flowers. They push forward with a purpose and a drive that trump all obstacles. Bloodied and bruised, they do not hesitate.

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And bloodied and bruised my family pushes forward, fighting for a cause even greater than independence. We are fighting for salvation; reclaiming a soul from the brink of destruction.

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But that doesn’t always mean that soul wants to be saved. Satan’s greatest weapon in his spiritual warfare arsenal is to whisper into the vulnerable ears of my sons that they are not worthy of our love or God’s love. With those lies, he plants seeds of hopelessness that leads to behaviors only seen in those who have nothing left to lose.

I could draw a vivid picture of our life through my words but it wouldn’t even begin to sufficiently illustrate our reality, and even if my words didn’t fail me, you would have a hard time accepting that it is truth. Our “normal” has reached a new level of dysfunction.

This heightened level of warfare has led to us calling in reinforcements. After multiple trips to the emergency room in the last month, which has led to multiple acute stabilization programs, Ozzie’s doctor has deemed him unsafe to return home at present. She feels he in unsafe with himself and fears for the safety of the other children in the house. Once again we find ourselves in a place where to best love this child, we must surrender this child to God’s plan for him. That plan will involve intensive, inpatient treatment at a residential facility.

We are all heartbroken, hurting, and weary. My older kids are feeling beat up, both emotionally and physically, and Tyler and Braden have been significantly triggered by the events of the last months, setting us back a million miles in their therapeutic journeys.

We all want to curl up and cry.

This walk is so very hard, and I often count my blessings that I didn’t know how hard it would be prior to stepping into the fire, because I fear that I wouldn’t have had the courage to say yes to God’s call.

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We are now trying to find some level of stabilization, both individually and as a family unit, for the injuries are severe after this latest round of battles. I look at my family and I am seeing the effect of living a life in crisis, and sympathize with the fact that everyone is trying to continue navigating “normal” life and everyday commitments while destruction and great loss play out behind closed doors.

In the past I have likened this way of living to pitching a tent on the battlefield. War rages on, and you can hear the whistle of bullets as they pass dangerously close, but you try to continue carving out a life amid the destruction.

Just last week, as Ozzie lay in an emergency room bed raging over the fact that I wrestled the handful of pills out of his mouth, thus preventing him from ending his life, I sat trying to submit my last college assignments for the week through my cell phone before the 1:00am deadline. It is crazy and absurd that this has become our “normal.”

I share this because without an understanding of the chaos that is driving our world, life may appear “fine” to the untrained eye, and it is because of this lack of awareness that expectations placed upon Toby and I and our children result in “final straw” moments of emotional collapse.

As a family we need more empathy and support and less judgement.

So, please be tender with my troops.

They have been fighting a war most of you will never have to experience. They are choosing to step on the battlefield day after day, to fight for the future of a child who has walked through hell and feels undeserving of anything more.

Please pray for us.

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A Time to Heal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Swimming in the hotel pool,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forgiveness isn’t easy.

Letting go of past hurts is hard.

Trusting those who have disappointed you requires faith,

And moving forward requires a certain level of selfless surrender…

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

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

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

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I know this to be true…

I’m watching it happen.

A Thank You Note

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

The End of Winter

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This winter had been a weird one in Western Pennsylvania…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all have.

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

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

That is where I find myself today.

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

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

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

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

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

I fully believe he is ready to return home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the storms be over.

May the sun come out.

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Please pray for us.

Erie Art Museum

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Last Friday we had our second field trip of the year to Erie with 21st Century Cyber Charter School. Like the field trip to the Erie Zoo in February, we planned to pick up Ozzie and take him with us. We also had Tatum joining us for the day.

Our day began bright and early with everyone rolling out of bed at 5:30 am. The field trip was scheduled to begin at 9:30 am but we had a 2 hour drive ahead of us and a family therapy session scheduled with Ozzie for 8:00 am, which meant an early morning! I figured if we were already making the trek up north we ought to fit in a family session at his RTF while we were in the area. He is scheduled to be discharged this weekend (more on that in an upcoming post) so we wanted to fit in one more family session with the other kids before he came home.

We arrived at the Erie Art museum right on time, following a successful family therapy session with Ozzie and the rest of the kiddos.  In addition to our group of 7, there were two other students, two other parents, and two teachers signed up for the tour.

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I wasn’t sure how the day was going to play out. I knew the three girls would enjoy the art museum but wasn’t sure how much this particular field trip would appeal to the three boys. I assumed we would simply be walking through the museum and looking at art, but soon discovered there was much more to this outing than meets the eye, and it ended up being one of the coolest outings we have attended in a long time.

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We were blessed with an exceptional tour guide, a sweet girl who was both knowledgeable and engaging, drawing everyone into the experience, even the younger boys.

We began our day on the first floor, in a room showcasing large canvases with the shared theme of “art that tricks your eye.” As we walked around the room we discussed the techniques each artists used to create the optical illusions that played out on the wall before us.

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Then we all had the opportunity to create our own eye-tricking work of art.

Using two circles of paper, we drew two different parts of the same picture on the two circles. For example: a fish bowl on one paper and the fish on the other.

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By gluing the two circles to either side of a wooden dowel we created a spinning toy that became a moving work of art. Like a child’s flip-book, the motion of spinning the dowel merged the two drawings and the eye would then register the two images as one.

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It was very neat and all the kids had fun with this art project.

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From there we moved upstairs to an exhibit of prints made with engravings.

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Once again after learning about this art medium, we had the opportunity to create our own work of art. We were each given a piece of Styrofoam and were encouraged to walk around the room, be inspired, and create our own engraving on the Styrofoam that we would use to create a print.

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After everyone had finished their engraving we moved to a workroom where we learned how to use our engraved “plates” to make prints.

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Gracie’s print.

The finished results were delightful!

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After a 30 minute lunch break we reconvened for the second half of the outing which was a scavenger hunt through the museum. We were split into two teams and were each given a scavenger hunt list of exhibits to visit and tasks to perform at each stop.

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It was an awesome way to help the kids really engage with the exhibits, making learning about the art fun and impactful.

I was on a team with Rusty, Grace and Ozzie, while Tyler, Molly, and Tatum joined the other team.

Some of our scavenger hunt tasks included:

1.Choose one piece of art in the Sharon Kerry-Harlan exhibit and write a haiku poem about the piece.

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2. In the Frenzel Gallery take a look at Schabacker’s animal fabric collages and choose one of the animals from the gallery to sculpt out of clay.

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3. In the Bacon Gallery find the self portrait wall in James McMarray’s exhibit. Spend a few minutes looking at the collection of self portraits.

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Go to the end of the gallery and find the self portrait station and create a self portrait.

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4. Step inside the Gary Spinosa exhibit and spend a few minutes viewing the sculptures . What adjectives would you use to describe this exhibit?

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At the end of our scavenger hunt we joined the other team back at the starting point to compare notes. What a fun way to engage visitors in the art!

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It was an awesome field trip and I can’t say enough positive things about the Erie Art Museum and its staff.

This outing earned two thumbs up!

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Ozzie turns 14!

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I can hardly believe it, but Ozzie is 14!

Last Friday we woke up and it felt weird not sneaking into his room with the traditional cupcake and birthday song. It is at times like this that I struggle most with him being away from home, despite the fact I know he is where he needs to be to have the life he deserves to have.

He didn’t have to wait to long for his birthday song and celebratory cupcake, however. By 8:00 am Grace. Molly, Tyler and I were on the road to pick Ozzie up for his birthday celebration. Because of President’s Day weekend he had Friday and Monday off school, allowing for an extra long weekend at home to celebrate his special day.

We arrived at his facility at 10:30, with cupcakes in hand. We were scheduled for a family session with his therapist that included all the kids. This was the first time they had participated in one of Ozzie’s weekly family sessions and is the next big step in his permanent transition home. Knowing that there was healing work to be done in Ozzie’s relationships with siblings, while also recognizing that we didn’t want to dig too deep or do anything too intense given the heightened emotions of the day, Halle planned a series of fun, team-building challenges using balloons. It was ideal. It resulted in a lot of positive connection, communication, and laughter. It was a great kick-off to future family sessions with the kids, and a nice way to start the weekend.

I entered this weekend with a bit of trepidation. It had a lot of factors working against it. Toby and Rusty were on their way to Florida, leaving Tyler feeling anxious and unsafe (and leaving me without four extra hands.) It was also Ozzie’s birthday… a day that stirs up a lot of hard emotions for Ozzie, emotions that have bubbled to the surface in the form of hurting behaviors in the past. Add to that the fact we were going to be spending the weekend at Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park, which meant sleeping in unfamiliar beds, being out of a routine, and a lot of extra stimuli, and you can see why I was a tad nervous.

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Splash Lagoon was Ozzie’s birthday request and after looking into deals online (and a lot of discussion with Toby, Tina (Tyler’s therapist) and Halle (Ozzie’s therapist) we felt that this was a doable request and a great litmus test to see where we are it in everyone’s therapeutic journey towards healing. It had the added benefit of being only 10 minutes away from Ozzie’s facility where we could find support if Ozzie was struggling too much. The fact that I was even entertaining the idea was a HUGE testament to how far we have come in the last year. 12 months ago I felt incapable of managing something as simple as taking Tyler and Ozzie to the store together without Toby to help, and now a year later we are spending the weekend at a waterpark without Toby or Rusty. God is so gracious!

This weekend has been a powerful reminder that the dark seasons of life don’t last forever. When we are struggling with the night we need to remember that the dawn always comes…

ALWAYS!

 And down the road we will look back on that darkness and see it for what it was: a short stretch of time on our eternal timeline.

After our family session we stopped for a quick lunch at Burger King (Ozzie’s request) and then headed to the Comfort Inn at Splash Lagoon to check in for the night. When looking for deals for Splash Lagoon we soon discovered the package deals, offered to lure in visitors, were far more economical (½ the price) than purchasing 5 2-day passes…

And a lot more fun!

I mean, what kid doesn’t love staying at a hotel overnight, especially a hotel with a pool and a free continental breakfast. In addition to our overnight stay, our package deal came with 2- day passes for everyone, a $30.00 arcade card, tickets for free ice cream cones for everyone, and a $25.00 gift card to Quaker Steak and Lube.

Once we checked into our room we put on our swim suits and headed to the water park. It was such a treat to be able to walk through indoor hallways to get to the water park, rather than braving the frigid temperatures outside. February is a great time to visit an indoor water park. I found the hot air and pools of water were all the more appreciated with the freezing temperatures outside!

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Once inside Splash Lagoon our first stop was the Aqua Tumbler. This new addition came with an additional cost, but because of the fact it was a special day I paid for Ozzie and Tyler to each take a ride. (The girls opted to pass on this one.)

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The Aqua Tumbler is a giant inflatable ball that the rider climbs inside. Once “zipped in” the ride begins. The ball spins while the rider tumbles around inside. The spinning and the addition of a small amount of water inside the ball makes getting a foothold or handhold impossible. That is what makes it so much fun to ride… And even more fun to watch!

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Both boys LOVED it!

The remainder of the day was spent enjoying all the fun Splash Lagoon had to offer:

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Both boys did awesome.

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They paired up with the girls and rode slides,

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played basketball,

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rode waves,

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floated down the lazy river,

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ALL WHILE

playing well with each other,

 transitioning from activity to activity easily and without argument,

and verbalizing their needs easily.

 It couldn’t have gone any better and I was so very proud of both of them.

I was also incredibly proud of my girls who were so good, and patient, and selfless with their younger brothers.

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At 7:00 pm we called it a day. We still had dinner and a birthday party on the agenda before we could call it a day, so we headed back to our room, changed into warm, dry clothes, and ordered Quaker Steak and Lube wings for dinner. It was such a treat to have dinner delivered to our room and to be able to offset the cost of dinner a bit with our complimentary gift card.

While we waited for dinner to arrive Ozzie took the seat of honor and opened the pile of gifts we had been accruing over the last few weeks as packages and cards arrived in the mail from family and friends.

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Much thought and a great deal of love was put into the gifts given. All were so reflective of Ozzie and his interests. From loved ones he received a tornado simulator, a few new Lego City sets, Harry Potter playing cards and favorite treats.

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His gift from the family was a telescope and a book of 50 things to find in the night sky with a beginner telescope.

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He was over the moon! (Pun intended) 🙂

We didn’t open it up that night but on Sunday night the clouds cleared and he was able to do a little star gazing with his new scope.

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Around the time he had finished opening his gifts our dinner arrived and we enjoyed a wonderfully relaxed evening eating wings in our hotel room while watching the new Disney movie, Zombies. While he watched, Ozzie had fun building his new Lego set from my parents.

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It was a joyful birthday!

By 10:30 eyelids were heavy and little boys were all worn out from their day of swimming, so it was lights out. Everyone needed to be rested for our 2nd day of play at Splash Lagoon.

Happy Birthday, dear Ozzie.

 How blessed we are to call you our son.

May your 14th year be one of growth, healing, hope, and happiness.

We love you to the moon and back.

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