Thursday, August 10, 2017

First Day of School + A Product Review

The first day of school snuck up on us!

So...this week my kids headed back to school. We were not really ready. And by that I mean, I was scrambling to get everything together, labeled etc. And by that I also mean, I did not have lunch planned (they pack 5 days/week - 4 kids - that's 20 lunches a week) and did not have breakfasts in the freezer yet which is basically a lifeline for me. Needless to say, I'm a little stressed and flying by the seat of my pants which has made it kind of a brutal week, but we will adjust and next week has to better, right?

My youngest is in 1st grade and I'm not quite sure what to do with that. It seems just yesterday she was 2. The older two are both in 7th grade - I don't feel old enough for that! And our third born is a 3rd grader which is equally unbelievable. They were all nervous and excited and I was a teeny bit tearful as I prayed for them on the way to school. "Stop crying, mom. Seriously." I'm not crying, you're crying. We managed to make it on time and I didn't completely embarass them. I guess that's a win.

My four on their first day of school which was actually unseasonably chilly.

One thing that was awesome about my week is these amazing STEMSFX organizers. So many different sizes, so many great uses, and so many beautiful colors. They inspire organization.

STEMSFX Organizers
Think of all the uses for these organizers! I love the variety of sizes!

I'm using the zipper pouches to store the encouraging love notes I write ahead and sometimes stick in lunchboxes. I have plenty of sizes of heavy duty plastic envelopes for filing my menu plans, transporting reports to school, organizing medical records, and keeping track of receipts - really the uses are endless. These products are so durable and did I mention the gorgeous colors because they make me so happy. You could easily color coordinate for different uses - by child, by type of thing organized, by priority... I'm using a pretty purple one for all of my continuing education certificates for this license cycle.

They offer many other products to meet your business and home organization needs. I think they would be perfect for homeschooling, too! Check out their website. I'm curious - have you used these products before?

Have your kids headed back to school yet? Hope your first week was more organized than mine! Lots of grace for all.

Disclaimer: STEMSFX sent me these products free in exchange for my honest review. This review and opinions of the products are all my own. 

Monday, June 19, 2017


To my four beautiful, wonderful, amazing kids who work extra hard, deal with so much, and so long for healing peace, I love you. You fill me with joy, drive me to my knees, cause my heart to similtaneously ache and burst with pride, and make each day an adventure. I wouldn't want to do life with any other kids. I pray for you, I celebrate you, I hurt with you, I honor you, and I'm proud of you. We are in this together. You have my heart. 

I sat in church on Mother's Day this year with tears streaming down my face. It was unexpected. I couldn't stop. I wasn't prepared. Familiar images played across the screen as the words spoken by the woman portrayed made my heart ache. It was meant to be a testimony, a mission success, an example of grace...but for me, it released emotions I didn't even realize were so close to the surface. How could anyone know that the mother sitting towards the back was all too familiar with the sights, sounds, and emotions of this reality? How could they know that her journey of parenthood had begun in this very country with children not unlike this young woman? 

My sons. My heart. Orphans no more and yet orphans who once lived in an orphanage. They did not age out like this young woman. They were not told that their worth was only to be a prostitute like this young woman was told. But that could have been them and that is the reality of many of the children they once shared a crib with, a room with, an institution with. And I sobbed. The words and memories she openly shared and the images of her orphanage were overwhelming to me. In that moment, I could see and smell all that I know too well - the babies we met plus the older kids when I returned. The institutional hierarchy, the abuse, the was too familiar. 

My sons deal with the effects of being institutionalized for even the relatively short time they resided in their baby houses - scars and wounds and brain changes that should never be a part of any child's history. My heart couldn't handle the pain. The tears stopped, but my heart still aches. It probably always will. The reminders. The triggers. The reality. It is a pain that it is so hard to explore and yet ever present. It changed me forever. On an already complicated day one month ago, I wept. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

On Navigating Hard

I've mentioned before that we parent some pretty tough emotions and situations in our home. As much as we wish we could change our children's past, we cannot. Love does not heal and fix everything; I wish it did because if it did, we would be golden. Instead, love helps to navigate this life journey, gives room for healing, helps with maturing and growth, works through complicated feelings, and provides a safe a place to be honest. At least in our house that's the goal.

Recently we had a challenging night. A night that hurts and makes you mad - sometimes it's easy to stay with those emotions and just lecture. But this night, we stopped to listen to the heart, the hurt that motivated the breaking of trust. What we heard was not new, but that doesn't make it easier. Pain surrounding abandonment, feelings of loss, desire for knowledge...these motivated a bad decision. While those things don't excuse the wrong, it did bring a different response. We talked and slogged through a difficult conversation which involved tears and emotional vulnerability. We prayed and we acknowledged hurt. We affirmed and hugged and reassured.

In the end, he came back to us and said, "I'm really sorry I did that." And as we were beginning to forgive him, he said, "I really don't think you should forgive me. What I did was really bad." There in lies the truth - none of us deserve forgiveness, but it is given freely. We told him that we forgive him - ALWAYS - and love him unconditionally and nothing changes that. We parallaled it to the forgiveness and love that the Lord offers. There was peace, restoration, and another round of hugs. All of us the better for it.

These teachable moments don't just teach our children, they teach us, too. We learn more about God and who He is, we learn more about ourselves, and we understand our children better. While I don't wish any of the pain or hurt on my kids, I am incredibly thankful to walk this life journey with them. I wouldn't trade it for the world.

I realized during our talk that it was exactly ten years ago this day that our lives were completely changed. We entered those orphanages so far away and met our first two sons. Our lives will never ever be the same...not just because we became parents, but because we can never unsee or unsmell or unknow what an orphanage life means. I'm thankful for that and I'm thankful for the kids who call me Mom. We are grateful to be their forever family.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Book Review + Giveaway!

GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED - Karen is the winner! Congrats! The book will be on it's way from the publisher. Everyone else, thanks for entering and please go pre-order! 

Falling Free is a must-read! Giveaway at the bottom!

There are few books that I am interested in helping to launch, but when I learned that Shannan Martin was writing a book...I wanted in. Her words on her blog and social media resonate with me. Her life experience feels somewhat parallel to mine (I mean, we both have sons who came to us through adoption that we named Calvin and both of our families have gone through some hard shifting of dreams) and yet different - I wanted to know more. 

Falling Free is a well-written, convicting, faith-growing book. Shannan Martin carefully tells her story and the story of her family and God's incredible work in shifting their circumstances and ultimately changing their direction and dreams. Shannan's words show gentleness with unrelenting conviction that God has more for our lives than living the "American Dream." She masterfully (and with humor!) shares her experiences of moving to the "wrong side of the tracks" from their dream home in the country, to parenting a child in prison, to career changes and so much more.

Her chapter on hospitality left me convicted and encouraged. It's an area God has been not so subtly nudging me to grow in. "Real hospitality is more like the widow’s mite than Solomon’s purple robes. It’s the sharing of manna—that ordinary miracle— and the faith to believe we can love big with just a little." (Falling Free, Chapter 7) How can I not be changed by her humble example and challenging words? 

Shannan's strong faith and gospel commitment are clear. I appreciate how she honestly shares her heart with grace.  She challenges the reader to a deeper walk with the Lord, a better understanding of community, and a real view how the Gospel is lived out.

Mostly, I have an overwhelming desire to drive to Shannan's house and chat with her over chips and homemade salsa. To me, that is the sign of an excellent book. 

I encourage you to check out Shannan's book and blog! Both are well worth your time. Be challenged, convicted, and changed! 

I have two pieces of good news:
1) You can pre-order this title & receive some awesome free gifts! (I ordered my copy!)

2) I am GIVING AWAY a copy! The publisher has graciously offered me a copy for one of you lucky readers! 

TO ENTER: Please leave a comment with a way to contact you! That's it! I will close the entries on Thursday night at 10 p.m. and draw a winner. I will contact the winner and you will receive the book directly from the publisher. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

End and Beginning

Peace comes unexpectedly sometimes. I'm thankful for that. Our family journey is a journey of hope and healing, pain and redemption, hard and beautiful, loss and joy. A mix of all of that - often on a daily basis. 

In about two weeks, our homeschool journey will come to an end - at least for now. It's bittersweet. I have been so privileged to be at home with our children every day - teaching them and being taught by them. And yet it's time for them to go elsewhere for their education and for me to focus on being just mom. In many ways, I will always be their teacher and I cherish that, but juggling the full-time teacher/Mom role has not been easy. 

Spring Break Vacation to NC!

We searched and visited schools and thought we had found the school for us only to realize it just wasn't the right fit. No peace came with that initial decision. I lost many hours of sleep and agonized. So, we searched some more and when we left the school we chose, I knew. It was right. I had tears in my eyes because I knew that this school would provide the love, support, structure, discipline, and learning environment we needed.

All four of our sweet kids did their placement testing and interviews and were accepted. And with that, a new journey begins. We have had so many confirmations along the way which have made this decision easier. The older two shadowed for a day of school and came home excited which was such a relief. We will have two in 6th grade, one in 2nd grade, and one in Kindergarten. (As an aside - WHAT?! How do we have kids all in school and that old?!)

It's funny, really...I never ever thought I would homeschool and yet it was exactly what God called us to for several years. So here I am - losing an identity and community that I have enjoyed tremendously. It's weird and surreal. I know we will create new community and find our spot, but you know how new relationships are - awkward, hesitant.

I find myself excited for the kids (and me) and yet nervous - are they prepared? Thrilled for the change and yet dreading it - I will miss them!

This summer you might find me quietly weeping in the corner while soaking up every wonderful moment of summer. The transition is going to be tough for us all, but we are family and we will do this hard and joyful thing together.

I have peace.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

We Are Family

I so want to blog more, but life feels unblogworthy. We are weary. Parenting trauma kids is HARD. Progress is there, but it's two steps forward and 1-2 steps back. We celebrate the progress, we grieve the hard, and we pray - a lot.

Education choices, parenting dilemmas, and emotional challenges are just a few of the things that are overwhelming us right now. We have a another ear surgery coming up in March. We need wisdom and patience and grace.

When I look into the sweet faces of the kids I have the privilege of calling mine, I am filled with love. They are precious to us. As they seek comfort, curl up with us for a book, talk about their hopes and dreams, accomplish new tasks, conquer fears, and make progress on tasks that come so easily to many, I just feel blessed. They are ours - we may not be the neat and tidy, fit in a box family, but we are a family - faults, challenges, and all. We are my favorite.

I have found tremendous grace and encouragement in unexpected places and I'm so grateful. There is  much joy in our lives along with the heartache. I would never, ever, ever trade my children or our way of becoming parents for the world. As we muddle through the difficult, and the ugly, and the painful, we see redemption and love and acceptance. I can never pretend to understand fully the path my children have had to walk. One of them said to me recently, "Mom, I just wish you had been there the minute I was born." And all I can say is, "Me, too, buddy, Me, too." Sometimes we cry as we acknowledge the hard and sometimes we get mad, but we are glad that the current path is ours to walk together.

We had SUCH a blast with a family fun day just after the new year - the kids have mentioned it several times and are hoping for another big family fun day!

We took selfies at each of our fun stops - a day full of adventure!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

How is it possible that Christmas is next week? I blinked and this year is nearly finished. As I worked on our annual holiday card, I reflected on what this year has been. It's been full of heartache, challenge, joy, and blessing. There were moments when I was pretty sure we wouldn't make it, but God... He has led us, sustained us, taught us, and encouraged us. We have come to this December full of gratitude.

We moved this year. We moved for a lot of reasons - we needed another bedroom, we had a home equity line of credit for adoption that we were ready to be done with, and we wanted a basement. And so, we moved. It was more of a lateral move - we weren't looking to increase our mortgage or our square footage, but we did want to increase our yard. We accomplished all three. We moved into the house my parents owned for 19 years in a quiet neighborhood with large lots. I lived there for a few years, but it was not my childhood home. We are working to make it our own. It's completely different from the open floor plan of our home of 12 years. We have lots of plans for it, but for now it's working and we are thankful. It's been an adjustment - mostly good, some hard. We miss aspects of our old home and neighborhood, but mainly we just feel that this is right for us.

From surgeries, to job change, to school challenges, to life challenges, it's been quite the year.

Change. Not a particularly easy thing for us. And it's been a year of change.

One constant...these four...the best thing ever.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

True Confessions: Ice, Ice, Baby

I'm not talking about the diamond kind. I'm really talking about the frozen water. It's my favorite. I'm totally obsessed with it and have been for years. And I know better. It's horrible for your teeth. Don't even talk to me about vitamin deficiencies or iron deficiencies... I LOVE ICE.

I'm convinced it's somewhat genetic - several women on my mom's side crave crunchy things. That's totally me. At least ice doesn't have calories - right?! But it's annoying and I totally know it! I have to make myself not do it when I'm with people, but I forget...lots of times...because it's a habit and I can't help it. Oh and those restaurants who are all classy and "we don't do ice in our awesome water?" Not cool.

I also love temperature extremes. One of my brother-in-laws was horrified to learn that I ordered fancy coffee drinks extra hot. I don't anymore because I had one too many that had scalded milk issues - his point precisely.  But I digress..

Ugh! Guys, this is a real thing. My husband even gives me a coupon for store-bought ice in my stocking - he totally know this makes my year! It's unnatural and a little weird and a lot awful. I've tried to break the habit, but the cold and crunch is totally my thing. I can't even explain how happy a glass of ice water makes me. And I am somewhat of an ice connoisseur if I do say so myself. All ice is NOT created equal.

Anyway, to sum up: I'm sorry if I crunch ice near you (except you,'re stuck with me), it takes every bit of self control for me to concentrate on not crunching it - so, it was an accident. I'm only a little sorry, though because ice and cold is awesome.

Did I mention my husband orders light ice in everything and does not like temperature extremes? We're compatible like that.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Sleeping Bag

He was there. Dirty, disheveled, dejected. Surrounded by what appeared to be all of his earthly
possessions, he sat on the median in front of the shopping center.

She parked and walked toward him with a large red object. A red sleeping bag, I soon realized. It was a brisk fall morning in October, one of the first marking the coming cool weather. I sat at the red light watching the scene before me - intrigued.

The middle aged woman in sweats and a ponytail crossed to the median and knelt in front of the man with a gentle and compassionate smile. She gave him the sleeping bag and spoke to him, looking him squarely in the eye. He received the sleeping bag, shuffled his belongings and turned back to her. To my surprise, I watched him wipe his eyes - tears evident even from a distance.

She continued to kneel at his level, kindly speaking to him, and finally joining him in tears. Tears filled my own eyes as I witnessed this humble moment. His pain so evident, her compassion so apparent.

The light changed and I reluctantly continued on my way as tears continued to roll down my cheeks. In that moment I realized, my life had been changed. It was, in fact, one of the most beautiful things I have witnessed.

This simple act profoundly impacted my thinking on mercy ministry and on seeing people. She could have rolled down her window and passed the sleeping bag out to him, she could have easily driven by without doing anything, she could  have walked over and handed it to him and walked away, but that's not what she did. She KNELT at his level, acknowledged him as a person, looked him in the eye, spoke words of kindness, listened to him, wept with him, and met a basic need he clearly had.

It was obvious she did not do this for recognition or glory. She saw him. She saw a need. I'm certain it was not convenient or even comfortable and yet she met it anyway.

The compassion that poured from her face and through her actions spoke to my heart. I haven't stopped thinking about it. The hands and feet of Jesus, the heart of the Gospel, a part of the mission of the church were all wrapped into that moment for me.

I wept. I pondered. I shared. I made a plan to be more prepared to serve people in need in my city.

Compassion. The Gospel. Mercy. Loving People.