Hard Goodbye

If you follow me on social media, you know that we said goodbye to our Safe Families little man last Saturday.  At 2:30 in the afternoon.  Pretty sure that moment will be forever burned in my mind.  Elijah Blu had lived in our home for 5 months.  He turned two in our home.  He learned to speak in complete sentences in our home.  He was ours for a time.

Some of you know that our family has done foster care in the past (not the same as Safe Families, but similar).  We had 12 kids in and out of our home before adopting our two youngest boys through the system.  So.  You would think I’d be good at this.  This saying goodbye.

But this time, I’m not.  Good at it, I mean.  This has been my hardest goodbye by far.  I’ve been trying to figure out why.

One: I’m older and wiser this time.  We haven’t done foster care for about 5 years.

Two: Eli’s mom, during those 5 months, at one point left him with us for 5 weeks without any contact.  I’m pretty sure I let myself believe that she was abandoning him, and that he would be mine.  All mine.

Three: My own children are older this time.  Watching them grieve this, has been heartbreaking.

As a “good Safe Families host family”, I’m supposed to say, “This is a success!  I’m so glad he’s back with his momma.  We love reunification!”  But what I’m feeling, and screaming silently in my head is, “I can’t do this!  I’m so angry he’s back there.  In the darkness.  Without Jesus.”  So I’m trying to reconcile both of these voices to come up with something that is real and true at the same time.  It sounds something like this: “I know God sent Eli to us for a reason.  I know God has opened his little soul to the Holy Spirit.”  That’s what I cling to.  That Jesus wanted Eli here, in the light, feeling the love of the Holy Spirit, so that he could someday know that Light.  And even take that light home with him to his momma.

Yes, all of that.

But.  There’s a big empty space where his high chair used to stand.  I folded clothes yesterday, and found a tiny pair of sweatpants I had forgotten to return.  I cried taking his towel out of the kids bathroom, knowing I would have to wash it, and it wouldn’t smell like him anymore.  This is the reality.  I’ve lost a child.  I child I loved and cared for as my own.

But.  This isn’t about me.  It never was.  This is about Eli and his momma…  and Jesus!  We have received the honor of praying for this boy all his life, whether he knows it or not.  And that’s worth it.  I think.  At least that’s what I’ll cling to.

Fresh Start 2015

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I don’t often share home school ideas here. I guess I feel like there’s so much great info online, you can almost always find creative, simple ideas on almost every subject.

On the other hand, I’ve been home schooling now for almost 10 years. It may be time to admit I have some expertise in the area. At least I know what not to do. Basically, don’t do anything that makes you crazy (by the way, this is the same advice I give to new mothers when they ask me about scheduling their babies). For some this means organize everything and stay on a schedule. For others, this may mean going so far as to “unschool”. Either way, I’ve learned that getting my heart in the right place is the single most important thing I do to prepare. Usually this involves time by myself, prayer, talking to other home school moms. Our family has written family contracts for the year in the past. Sometimes my prep work pans out, and whatever we have planned or promised, whatever schedule we’ve set out to follow, it actually works for the semester. More often though, by about week two, I’m switching things up, back on Google, searching for how to fix the disaster I’ve created.

Some of you may be in week two right now. I’m not even going to speak the word “res______”. I feel like the second week of January lends itself to being frustrating and disappointing, just because of the nature of that “R” word. So I thought I’d share what’s working for us. Fairly simple, really. We set goals, wrote them down, laminated them, and hung them up in a public place. I’ll share my files, but really, you could include anything you wish. My older kids and I discussed what we thought should be a part of healthy living (not one kid said anything about food, so diet didn’t go on our list), and then each kid made a time commitment for each area. Sometimes they wrote “minutes per day”, other times it was “9:00 a.m.”, or even “twice per week”. I filled one out right alongside them, which helped my littles. I introduced the idea of “One Little Word” to them. You’ve probably heard talk of this on social media, but if not, you can go to Ali Edward’s site to educate yourself. The last space on their goal sheet was for their OLW, and they had to find a Bible verse to match. Then we hung them up. It took me about an hour of prep time, printing and laminating, and then it only took us about a half hour as a group.

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We also made these lovely daily checklists to keep us accountable to our public goals. I laminated these, so we could use them every week with dry erase markers. Remember that week two warning? Here we are on week two, and I’m thinking we’ll get rid of the checklists. Just having our goals on a wall, and reminding each other to do them all the time is working. The checklist may be causing a couple of my younger kids to be just a bit untruthful. Enjoying checking things off is becoming more like a way to show off how much they’ve accomplished. God knows we do NOT need any more competition up in here!

So, this is my big share for 2015. Have any of you large families done anything similar? How do you set goals as a family? I’d love to hear some other ideas, because by week three, this whole thing may be driving me crazy.

Click on the following for editable copies of my Goal Sheets.  And remember to EDIT them to work for your family!

2015 Goal Setting Worksheet

2015 Daily Goal Accomplishment Checklist

I Would Like to Say I’m Back

But I’m not really sure.  We’ll see.  I just read over some of my blogs (from the DR, and from a year ago), and I was stunned with all the things God brings in front of us, and all the things he’s removed from our vision.  So, with that in mind, I’m challenged to continue to journal our family’s struggle to follow Jesus well.  If for no other reason, than to remind myself about who I am and what I’m about.  Writing in public tends to make you somewhat accountable.

General updates would include a nice list where I mention every kid and my husband and tell what wonderful things we’ve done this year.  Or maybe a top ten list as we’ve done in the past.  Instead, I’m going to just bullet-point the things I think have affected our family the most in the past year.

  • Homeschooling all 7 children: I now teach 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 10th, and 11th grades.  This includes two boys, just over a year apart, one of whom has SPD with autistic tendencies.  Yep, it’s been really awesome, and I’m a supermom, and you just don’t know how I do it.  I know.  Neither do I.  Basically, I do it slowly, and try not to scream at people.
  • Going into counseling, and staying there.  I finally came to grips with the fact that I was raped by a boyfriend when I was a teenager.  I have no idea what I thought had happened all these years.  You can imagine what that did to my relationship with Jesus (I hated Him for most of the summer, it’s ok, I love Him again), my relationship with my husband (see the parentheses about my relationship with Jesus for the details), and my relationship with other women.  It’s been a painful, beautiful year in counseling.
  • I worked as a Safe Families family coach for most of the year.  This involved being on the phone A LOT with a beautiful host family and a broken mom with a wonderful kid.  It involved A LOT of time carting said mother and child all over tarnation.  The mom is caring for her child again, but the host family still loves on them heavily.  A success story.
  • On the other hand, right before Labor Day, we welcomed a little boy from Safe Families into our own home.  Being a host family is A LOT harder than being a family coach, I’ve decided.  You think?  Anyway, he’s 2 years old, his name is Eli, and we’re in love.  His mom just told us that she thinks she’ll be ready to take him home full time in couple of weeks.  We’re trying to cope with that.  It’s hard.  There’s no other way to talk about this.  A success story?  I guess.  We’ve followed God into this ministry, so that’s a success?  Right?

So, I’ve been a little too busy and too raw to be typing things out for all the world to see.  But, like I said, I think I’m ready again.  We’ll see.

Simon Says

Mom, did you know that Abraham Lincoln put his writings in his hat?

Me, laughing, “No, I didn’t know that!”

Simon: I’m kind of like him! Because I put my gloves in my hat!

Another child: What did Abraham Lincoln actually do?

Zach: He let go of the slaveries.

Ruth: And, did Teddy Roosevelt build the Pana Canal?

Gabi: What’s a Panic Now? I thought he was the one that invented teddy bears…. It makes sense, because pandas are bears.

This trite saying comes to mind: I seriously cannot make this stuff up!

Simon Says and a Brief (not so much) Update

First of all, why didn’t I think of this before? The catchy (dorky) title, I mean.

Anyway.

Sitting at the table this morning, homeschooling my girls, waiting for it to be time to put the boy on the bus. He’s quietly coloring in a superheroes coloring book.

“Mom, I can see Hulk’s pimples.”
“Do you mean nipples?”
“No, his pimples, on his chest.”
Okay, sometimes it’s just easier to go with it when it comes to this boy.

Later: “Look what color I made them.” (bright red)

Even later: “Look, I put lipstick on Captain America.” (also, bright red)

In other news, we have a 16-year-old, now. And parenting teenagers is hard. The hardest of all the things. It has involved a driver’s license, a girl, and a closet. Some stories just can’t be shared with all the people.

On the adoption front, we’ve spent the last year investigating, interviewing, being lazy, paying money, and PRAYING about this. We have thought about India, Colombia, Haiti, HIV positive babies, sibling groups. And we have come to the conclusion (I’m sure it’s temporary) that we are generally interested in orphancare, but we specifically don’t need to adopt. Unless we do. Anyway, we have completed training to become a host family through an organization called Safe Families. If you’ve never heard of them, check it out. Also, we’re going to turn in paperwork to become an adoptive household with a local agency. We’ll have to wait and see where all of this takes us.

And, in the interest of New Years resolutions, I will share something that many who know me personally have asked me to share over and over on the blog. Our family contract.

Dial it back to summer 2012. We were getting ready to make reentry into the U.S. after 18 months in the mission field in the Dominican Republic. I was scared to death, and my general nature is fairly controlling (ask my hubby and kids) (I’m working on that with Jesus), so I decided to try to control our behaviors to make them look more third-world-ish.

What ensued was a family discussion(s). We (maybe it was just me, at first) picked a word we thought summed up what we had learned there. It turned out to be “community”. Then we made a list of about 15 “resolutions” (rules) that we thought would help us in the U.S. Things like, “one may not watch TV alone”, “no extracurriculars except 8-4 activities”, “wifi will be turned off from 4-7 every day”, “we will regularly attend and serve in a local church”, and “we will serve once a month with a local charity as a complete family”. We printed and signed and dated it, and hung it on our fridge for the next year.

Just so you know, we did not succeed. We broke almost every single resolution that year. Some were out before the one-month mark. But. That word, community. In that we succeeded. In our family, our church. Even though reentry really made us (me) want to be a hermit, this forced us to do some things.

Summer 2013, I gathered them up and made them, ahem, talked to them, about making another contract. We couldn’t think of a better word than “community”, so we centered ourselves there agin. The list was completely different, and we’ve failed (maybe even worse than the first time) again and again. Still. It forces us to do some things.

So, just a thought. A family contract. It worked (in some weird way) for us.

A Moment

We are loaded up in our 12-passenger van. Snow boots, old jeans, gloves, and hats. We’re headed to Mamaw’s house for the day. Because this is what we do every year.

Mamaw’s tiny farmhouse will be loaded with 10 adults and 18 children. The 50-year-old table in my mother-in-law’s kitchen will be loaded with all the foods that have been here every year. I will supply the sweet potato casserole, a recipe from my Grandma Glynn, who is no longer living, and I will even put it in the same Pfaltzgraff dish I always do. The kids will play in the barn, there will be horse rides, and a long walk to the woods to check for deer tracks. Papaw will fall asleep in his favorite chair, babies will not nap, and it will be a beautiful, chaotic mess.

Tomorrow we will drive to a fancy Christmas tree farm and pick out a tree and cut it down to take home and decorate. My side of the family will meet us there. 8 adults and 13 children will take over the tree farm. We will ride in a hay wagon pulled by a tractor, out to a field filled with beautiful Frasier firs. We will spend an hour watching some of the women try to find the perfect tree. We will visit the live reindeer, and pack into the big barn building for free hot chocolate and candy canes.

How do I know all of this? Because it’s what we’ve done for years now. These are our traditions. And I’m so thankful.

This morning, though, I couldn’t help thinking about our one Thanksgiving spent in the Dominican Republic. Nothing was recognizable. We had live turkeys, which our dogs butchered for us (you can read that story here Happy Thanksgiving!). There were no sweet potatoes available, so I used yucca, hoping for the best, and I certainly did not have any Pfaltzgraff. We had dinner with some dear friends and a bunch of high school boys, from the campus where I was a teacher. It was lovely, and I will never forget it. I was so thankful.

But. It was not home. And I can’t help but think today of all my missionary friends waking up, mostly in Spanish-speaking countries. Not at home. They will make a wonderful memory today, but it will be new and weird and not home. They will walk through a different door, see different faces, eat different food. And they will be so thankful for the beautiful, crazy life God has called them to.

But.

I just wanted to take a moment to thank God for these people who are daily picking up their crosses, denying themselves of faces, food, and football today. And every day. I am thankful for you, my dear missionary friends. Have fun making unforgettable memories today.

From the Mouth of…

This child

This child

So we all went to the movies last night.  No, we did not spend $100.  There’s this horrible wonderful theater near us that has $1.50 Tuesday night movies.

Dave and I were seated next to Simon, who was talking about his day before the movie started.

“We didn’t get to go to recess today.  Because of the snow.”

“Did you play in the gym?”

“No, we watched a movie.”

“What movie did you watch?”

“I don’t know its name.  It has a little blue guy in a tea cup, and then he gets bigger.”

After much confusion, we finally figured out what movie he was talking about.

“Did it have a princess?”  “Yes, I think so.”  “Did it have an elephant, and a bad guy with a beard?”  “Yes, but he was old, like with gray hair.”  “Did it have a magic carpet?”

He turns to us like we are amazing and magic.  Dramatic pause.  “YES!  How did you know that?”

Doesn’t everyone know the movie about the little blue guy in a tea cup?

Why Fall is Kicking my Butt, and How I’m Fighting Back

So yeah, it’s been a while since I last blogged. Not even a Simon Saturday thrown in there. Not to say there haven’t been some things to share.

Me trying to wipe ice cream off his face… over and over without much success.
Simon: Mom, stop! That’s just my beard. Simon proceeds to reach up and pluck a tiny hair from his cheek.

Me: Miriam, I think you might have allergies. Does the roof of your mouth itch? (This actually happens to me during allergy season, but I have since found that this does not happen to anyone else).
Simon: No, that’s just your mustache, Mom!

So anyway, fall is kicking my butt. In one word, it’s school. It’s my own fault, and I love all of our crazy decisions and feel they are right for our family this year… BUT! I have 2 kids in public school, 2 kids who are exclusively homeschooled, and 3 more that attend a private school for home schoolers, but only for two days of the week. The other three days are on me. And did I mention that I teach two classes at the private school? Two sections of the same class, so only one prep, but still!

I counted it up the other day, and I actually have 17 different teachers (not counting myself) teaching the kids in my house. That means 17 different syllabi, classroom management styles, newsletters, etc. Plus my own personal 29 students at the private school, which makes 29 papers times 5 assignments each week to grade, and 29 sets of parents and students sending me emails about who knows what.

Again, I love my job(s), both the paid and the unpaid ones. My God-given gifts include teaching, and I’m so thankful I am permitted to use my gift every day to disciple kids. BUT! Yeah. I’m busy.

So how am I fighting this good fight?

Really, only one word needs to be said (don’t worry, I’ll say more than that) — Jesus. Falling on Him, trusting Him, talking to Him.

But practically, a couple of things have saved me.

One, we don’t do extracurriculars. Yes, take a second to read that again. Nothing. Nobody is on a team. Nobody a takes lessons or has a class. This means when school is over every day, we have sustained family time… almost every day. We eat together. Our weekends are fairly free. Please hear me. We are not against sports. This is just what works for us.

Two, God gifted me with a friend. A woman who never judges me, makes me laugh, doesn’t mind if I don’t return her texts, loves my kids… you get the idea.

Three, I started a little bible study. There’s only three of us, and we do a free online study, but it’s saving me.

So I’m starting to fight back, and I feel like we’ve finally fallen into some semblance of a pattern here. Which should mean more blogging… I hope.

P.S. I know some of you are still contemplating that extracurricular thing. Hopefully, I’ll clarify it soon in another post.

First Day

Today was a day only made possible by living in the burbs.

Here is my life:
8:00. I gather one child up, pick up 4 neighbors (all boys). And, oh yeah, all the homeschoolers come along for the ride because it’s the first day… Of public school, that is. We started homeschool on Monday. Of course, that’s another post for another time. Currently, our district has sporadic bus service. My second grader carpools. Thursdays just happen to be my day to drive.

On the way home, I passed back through my neighborhood. It was a mom convention, except the dress code was pajamas or workout clothes. The ladies had dogs or cups of coffee or strollers in hand, and they were all chatting merrily. I said to my homeschoolers left in the car, “Look at them! They’re all so happy and free.” Simon replied, “I think you have a better kind of free time, Mommy.” Ummmm…

Next, I raced home to get him on the bus. Which was no race… because it was the first day. All those moms who hadn’t joined the convention at 8:15, were now taking pictures and crying at the 9:15 moment, making the bus 10 minutes late (but in another minute, they’d be free…).

So, yeah, then I homeschooled (again, another post) the other five children. Good times.

2:20. We go to Walmart to pick up yet more school supplies I was lacking (how could that be, when I’ve spent every day for the last two weeks dropping by Walmart to get school supplies we had forgotten?), pick up some half-price Sonic slushies, then make it to the carpool line by 3:05.

3:03. I look at my phone, and realize I have been dawdling in Walmart. Easy to do, since my freedom involves those two little boys in public school all day while I homeschool… I decide we have no time to check out, and strategically place the cart, hoping it will still be there if I return. No time for Sonic.

3:10. I see flashing blue lights in my rear view mirror. Seriously. As I pull over, I frantically tell my teenager to call someone, anyone, to get those carpool kids. I was definitely going to be late. The officer took pity, thank you Jesus, and wrote me a very nice warning. I sped to get to the carpool line.

3:30. Still waiting in the carpool line, because… it’s the first day, stupid woman! Finally, all the boys get in the car and listen extremely wide-eyed to my cop story. Wonder how that translated to the other moms tonight.

Rush back to Walmart, where my cart was intact. Flew through the Sonic drive-thru at 4:03 (but somehow still half price). Rushed back to meet the bus at 4:15, and you know it was late! Fancy that, first day and all! When it finally came, Simon was hanging out the window (that’s not an exaggeration, his torso was actually out of the window) waving at us… And that bus just passed right on by without even stopping! Seriously. They forgot to drop off my son.

Don’t worry, he eventually made it home, but I really just thought this ‘first day’ deserved a post.

Joshua

I was recently reading through the book of Joshua with my kids

(For those that are wondering, there was no fancy devotional here.  I just read a chapter, using The Message translation, and I ask questions and we talk about it.  The 6-year-old runs around and talks, usually someone farts or burps.  I just read the Word.)

Anyway, you may know the stories in Joshua fairly well.  Basically, the Israelites start to take the Promised Land, and the wall of Jericho comes tumbling down.  On this night, we were on the story of Rahab.  This is always fun with little kids.  “What’s a harlot?”  And big kids.  “When is it okay to lie?”  The bible comes alive for ages 6-15.  🙂

On this night, somehow we got to discussing the “non-Israeliteness” of Rahab.  The last verse in this chapter states, “…she is still alive and well in Israel, because she hid the agents…”  We started to wonder what her life in Israel might have looked like?  Did they accept her?  She was a liar and a harlot.  Was she now completely forgiven?  Did she start to follow Jewish tradition, live a Jewish-type life?  The passage tells us that she had a place “outside of Israel”.  We decided that maybe she wasn’t completely grafted in.

And then, because we have adopted kids, and this is part of our vocabulary, someone suggested that she was like a foster kid.  Living with the family, enjoying the comforts, but not adopted.  And then we talked about the New Testament, where everyone who isn’t Jewish deserves to be a foster kid, but they (we) actually get adopted in!  Amazing.  God does not just take us along for the ride, let us look in on His chosen people, the Israelites, but never let us truly be a part of His family.  We are not foster kids.  We’re adopted.  “…we have been set free to experience our rightful heritage. You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children…” (Galatians 4)

Okay, enough with the preaching, but I wanted you to understand where Zach was coming from when he uttered his next comment.  Zach is my 7-year-old, adopted into our family when he was 4, but arrived as a foster kid when he was nine months old.  We tell him parts of his story, but fostering and adopting is pretty crazy complicated for a 7-year-old (or almost 40-year-old) to understand.  But on this night, Zach made his connection.

“Guys, so guess what?  I’m double-adopted.  Once when you adopted me to your family, and once when I was adopted because I’m not Jewish.  You are all only single-adopted, but Simon and I are double.”

Yes.  Just yes.

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