Thursday, August 30, 2012


     You got it.  Yours truly turned 30 yesterday.  For some reason this is supposed to be the biggest milestone of all time (apart from turning 50, and then 100, of course).  I'm not feeling it, people.  As far as I'm concerned, I'm just that much closer to being taken seriously :).  Truthfully, I didn't know how I would feel about turning 30, but I still feel pretty much like me.  Whew!  That's a relief! :)

I had a wonderful birthday that I actually began celebrating several weeks ago when me and two of my closest friends, Laura Beth and Molly, had a "staycation" at Molly's apartment for three days.  Laura Beth's birthday is in July, mine is in August, and Molly's is in September, so it works perfectly to celebrate together.  We ate whatever and wherever we wanted, we got deluxe pedicures and full body massages (something I had NEVER done - it was so glorious it made me want to cry!), we became true artists (HA!) at Painting with a Twist, we went shopping in a quaint little downtown area that I adored, we watched most of the Molly Ringwald movies known to man, and we caught up on each others' lives (always my favorite part).  It was a restful, wonderful three days, and my husband sent me off to blow through some cash, relax, and thoroughly enjoy myself.  He's kind of Awesome - with a Capital A.

Yesterday, Michael did it again.  He orchestrated all eight of our kiddos with gifts for me, and at my choice, we went to Pei Wei for dinner (my parents and brother met us there), and then to my dad and mom's house for cake, ice cream and presents.  My girls got me "mother/daughter" necklaces and charms, pretty jewelry, beautiful cards that made me cry, scarves, and lots of hugs.  So sweet.  Bennett and Jasper both picked out favorites of mine when Michael asked them to choose something they knew I would like.  Bennett picked Reese's Peanut Butter cups (my favorite candy), and Jasper picked Happy Tracks Blue Bell ice cream.  Let me tell you, if you've never had it, you're missing out!

When we got to my parents' house, there were balloons EVERYwhere, and I noticed there were what looked like pieces of paper inside of all of them.  As it turns out, my mom painstakingly picked out a picture of me from every year of my life and stuffed them in balloons.  She had me pop each balloon, and then the kids had to put them all in order.  It was the coolest thing to watch, and made me feel so special.  I know it took her forever to decorate and orchestrate all of that.

      This year has been the most difficult and the most beautiful of my life.  I love where I am.  I love who I am and who God has called me to be.  I am so thankful for His many blessings.  I am beyond grateful to have a gigantic family to care for and serve who loves and appreciates me.  Life is rich and blessed for this 30-year-old!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Bennett has lost two teeth so far - the two bottom front ones.  His first one came out at the beginning of the summer while he was playing outside, and we had no hope of finding it, but he held on to the one he lost a couple of days ago and put it under his pillow.

(the best photo we got)

Let me just say that the tooth fairy pays out a lot more now than she used to, but I guess we can blame it on the rate of inflation :).  Bennett was SO excited to wake up the next morning and find that his tooth was gone and there was a big shiny coin in its place.  So many milestones this boy of mine is zipping past!

Monday, August 27, 2012


The girls are at their first day of school today.  All of them are riding the bus this year which is SO helpful to my schedule each day, but today I drove them for the first day.  It made me even more thankful for bussing, because I spent 45 minutes in traffic, even though the high school is five minutes away and the middle school is 10 minutes away.  Yuck.

We have three in high school and three in middle school this year.  They were so cute this morning in their new outfits.  We spent the weekend straightening hair and painting fingernails, and this morning I made monkey bread for breakfast.  The middle schoolers and M, who is a freshman this year, were especially nervous, but they were ready to go :).  They asked me to take individual shots along with the group picture, so here they are!


M was baptized yesterday morning at church.  She asked Michael to do it, and he was so excited.  We wrapped her hair up in a plastic bag and shower cap because the sweet ladies who braid her hair spent NINE HOURS the day before on it, and we weren't about to mess it up the day before school started!  Here are some pictures of her special day:

Saturday, August 18, 2012


     I have been avoiding this post, for reasons that will soon become clear, I'm sure.  Here's the truth:  I have had a rough 3-4 months.  Where we are and what we are doing is wonderful and comes with its own set of amazing blessings for our family, but it also brings with it a high level of toxicity that manifests itself through a lot of stress and anxiety.  I didn't realize just how much I was carrying until I began to crumble under the weight of it all back in May.  I have had three emotional breakdowns since then, and until recently have been satisfied with simply keeping my head above water, although that was proving to be more and more difficult.
     Our first nine months here were extremely difficult.  I tried my best to look on the bright side, to find the good, to remember our purpose, etc. etc., but the truth is, when something big - some crisis-level thing - happens once a week, and when a huge change occurs once every 2-4 weeks (like a policy change, a state mandate, getting a new girl or losing one, etc.), and right when you get one big fat mess cleaned up (emotional messes and physical ones!), another one takes its place every. single. time, you start to lose a bit of your sanity.  Especially when you're a perfectionist and you still care way too much about what other people think, like me.  I was trying to do my job everywhere:  with the girls, with my boys, up at the office with our case workers and counselors and directors, and with God and my husband.  My priorities got scrambled over and over again so easily, and there were never enough hours in the day for any of it.
     In the midst of this, I have had to pare down how much outside time I spend with friends and family (something that has always been important to me), and I have struggled with feeling isolated.  I also learned the sad truth that some people are fair-weather friends, and some friends are for keeps.  Also a tough thing to deal with when you're standing in the fire and you need your friends the most.
     Raising eight kids, meeting their physical, emotional and spiritual needs, is quite a bit of crazy all on its own, but add in a lot of dysfunction, a lot of weirdness with contact among bio families, add in having kids who are too high-level to be here, and a lot of other things that I don't have the time to write in, and you've got me:  the emotional, unstable wreck, for pretty much the entirety of the summer.
     I found myself responding to things in ways that I knew were not me - in ways that were just downright ugly, strung tight, and worrisome.
     The good news is, I am much, much better now.  For several weeks I have been feeling like myself again.  The bad news is, I don't know if or when the nasty cycle will start up again.  I know this is a heavy post, and maybe it's too much information for most of you, but I am writing it to hold myself accountable, and so that my genuine friends and family can do the same.  We all go through dark stretches, dark places in life.  We all visit, and sometimes we stay awhile.  But there's a line that just shouldn't be crossed, and if that keeps happening, I think you have to take a hard look at your life and say, "Something's gotta give," and then actually give it up.
     For me, it is truly aligning my priorities in the right order.  I must spend time with the Lord everyday and be in constant prayer.  I must be thankful, and let the Spirit remind me of the meaning and purpose He gives me for His glory.  I must partner with my husband and love him and put him first above any other person in our home.  I must make sure that my boys are doing well, thriving and growing (this one hasn't been a problem for me - I'm pretty fierce when it comes to my sugar babies).  And I absolutely must have boundary lines that cannot be crossed when I am with these girls.  I have to have time for myself - to work and get things done, and also to rest.  If I can't do these things, then I can't be successful here.  I can't be healthy and whole for my family, and that matters more than anything else.
     I have been mentored by a wonderful woman of God who has given me great suggestions and tools to keep my priorities in line, and to replace anxiety and stress with peace and the knowledge of God's sovereignty, no matter what happens while we are here.  I am so thankful for her wisdom and the way she has shared with me.  I believe it is helping me move into a new phase of being here - one where I can better manage the overwhelming world where we are at.  We continue to meet together, and probably will for a very long time.  Michael and my mom have also been so supportive, as well as my closest friends, who call me, text me, and come by (even though it's far away now).  They have all sustained and reminded me to keep my eyes on the prize, and to do what is most important, not what is most convenient or the least confrontational.  God has put all of these people in my life to help me keep on keeping on, and I am so grateful.
     And that's the mama update for you.  If you think of us, please pray for peace and for joy in our hearts, and to remember that God is God, and He is in control.

Friday, August 17, 2012


     Yesterday I took Bennett to his first day of Kindergarten.  He looked precious in his school uniform - both big and so little at the same time.  When we got to his class, he waltzed right over to his cubby to hang up his backpack, then marched right over to his desk and sat down.  I got out my camera to take a picture and he said, "Hey, Mom, do you want me to wink for the picture?"  HA!  He was so happy and excited to be there.  I held back tears until I was back in the car - tears of sadness for the end of a season that will never reappear with my first born, but also tears of thanksgiving and gladness, because he is such a perfect place for him.
     Another teacher saw Bennett in the hallway yesterday morning and told Michael she had never seen a happier Kindergartener; he looked ecstatic to be standing in the line waiting for the water fountain :).  She said he was literally bouncing off of the walls - hee.
     When I picked him up, he told me about all of the things they saw and did, including going to "A.C."  I asked him what A.C. was, and he laughed at himself, then said, "Ohhh!  I mean P.E.!"  Funny boy.
     Today is his first full day of school, his first full day away from home, and I miss him terribly - I've missed him all day - far more than I ever expected.  When I think about how this is the "new normal," there is an ache in my chest and I have to hold back tears.  It's so quiet without him, even with the way Jasper chattered my ear off today :).
     Jasper is talking to me and wanting to play double-time because his best buddy isn't at home.  Two different times today, he has insisted that Bennett is here, he's just in another room.  At lunch time he heard a motorcycle driving by outside and he asked me if it was Bennett coming home.  We both miss our little tornado! :)
     My greatest comfort is of course that God is holding him in His hands, but also that Bennett is loving school so much.  His teacher is wonderful, and she loves Bennett (she already knew our family from my mom and Michael teaching at the same school - both my mom and Michael have taught her two boys in the past).  She is very structured and understands how little boys tick.  I believe this year is going to be fantastic, and I couldn't have asked for better for his very first year of school.

 His backpack, teacher apple, and big day gifts for him and Jasper.

 He's ready for action :).

 Getting ready to go!

 So proud of my little buddy, so happy for him!

Monday, August 13, 2012


     Bennett and Jasper have spent a LOT of time with their daddy this summer, and it has been the biggest, richest blessing for all of us.  Michael has taken a lot of time to train them discipline and respect-wise, and he has spent a TON of time getting in the floor with them, building train tracks, wrestling, building forts and tents, having dance marathons (my favorite to watch! hee :) ), etc.  Have they gotten dressed most days, or made their beds the way Mommy likes?  But goodness, the trade-off was worth it!
     Bennett has grown 1 1/2 inches this summer, and has a tan to make tanning beds jealous from all of the swimming, as usual.  He has really matured into a helpful, sweet big brother, and loves to help around the house.  His creative streak has grown as well - he makes up most of the games he and Jasper play, and when the game doesn't suit him, he just changes the rules :).
     Jasper has really grown into his own personality.  He is our little clown and our little charmer.  Not a day goes by without him saying something like, "I love you so much, Mommy!"  or "You are so very beautiful, Mama." Seriously.  He lays it on thick.  But the fantastic thing is, he is being completely serious and sweet.  Love it.
     I am trying to prepare myself for how different it will be once school starts.  My buddy, my pal of five years, my Benito, won't be around during the day.  I know things will be quiet.  I know things will be a lot more dull.  I know Jasper and I will have to figure out a way to fill the spaces of time and sound without him around.  It makes my heart ache to think about.
     But on the flip side, he will have the exact teacher I have been praying and hoping for at his new school, and there are only 11 kiddos in his class!  Sweet!!  I know Bennett will love school and he will thrive in a learning, exploring environment with a good teacher.  I also know that Jasper will have the chance to be who he is as a little person, rather than brother's shadow, and that is a really good thing as well.  I will be able to give Jasper attention in a way I never have in his whole little life, and that's pretty awesome, too.
     We have had a wonderful summer together, and now we're ready for the next step.  Here's to the next chapter, starting on Thursday!  Exciting times!

Saturday, August 11, 2012


     This was the first vacation for the boys ever, not including trips to Arkansas to see Papa and Nanna, or Christmas time get-togethers.
     I have lived in Texas for so many years put together, and have been on numerous beach vacations, both in Texas and Florida, but I have never been to Galveston.  We wanted to take a quick 2-3 day trip to the beach, and thought it would be a good place to go.  We are also saving up to take the whole big fat family on a beach vacation next summer, and we wanted to see if Galveston would be a nice place to take everyone.
     I will say here that we had an adventure :).  Galveston was not quite what we expected, but the boys didn't know the difference, and we are now looking at Port Aransas or South Padre for next summer, so I'm very glad we went and tried it out.  The water and sand were pretty dirty, and there weren't really any big, nice places to stay, or much of anything extra to do for a longer vacation, so it's not a good fit for next time.  But the four of us being together and doing something for the first time was so much fun!
     I was so surprised and happy to see how much Bennett and Jasper LOVED the ocean.  I have always loved it.  There is something about the beauty and power of it that reminds me so clearly and simply of the majesty and perfection of God, as well as His love.  When I look out over the ocean, I think about how He has made such beautiful things for us to look at and enjoy.  I think of how much pleasure He gets from making us feel this way, from using His creation to draw us closer to Him.  Call me the crazy, emotional woman, but I cry almost every time I sink my feet in the sand and look out over the waves, watching them ebb and flow all the way to the horizon.
     Bennett loved exploring and looking for "treasures" like shells and little crabs.  He loved chasing the seagulls, building sandcastles with his dad and then destroying them.  Jasper LOVED swimming in the ocean itself with his ring.  He could have stayed in the waves, bobbing up and down for hours.  He also  enjoyed walking up and down the beach, feeling the sand between his toes.  Getting dirty and sandy doesn't phase him like it does his mama and his brother :).
     Here are a few pictures of our quick little trip:

P.S. Scroll down for two more posts I added today!


     God has done amazing things this summer with our family, and with the girls in particular.  From the moment they come to this campus and live in our home, they are immersed by spiritual concepts, thoughts, history, scripture, etc.  For all but one of the kids we have had so far, this is a brand new experience.  Some of them come with a sketchy background in the church and a sporadic knowledge of the truth; they have no roots or foundation.  This is what we are trying to provide by taking them to church, having daily scripture time at the dinner table, devotionals at our weekly Family Meeting, service projects, getting them their own bibles, signing them up for camps and retreats, and making sure they are involved and immersed in the youth group at church with various activities.
     I have to pause here to say that our church's youth program is mind-blowing.  The things they offer and the way they support and help our teens is unbelievable.  It was that way when I grew up there, and it is so wonderful to watch our girls experiencing the same blessings of godly, loving adults who are there to mentor and teach and grow followers of Christ.
     This summer our four newest girls went on a middle school youth group camp.  K has history and faith in the Lord because of a woman who invited her into her home several years ago.  She has been an example and has been a peer teacher to our other girls.  When the other three came back from camp, they all said they were ready to give their lives to Jesus.  They acknowledged what God has done for them, they began volunteering to pray, they have written out testimonies, prayers, and desires for a clean slate and a new life in Christ, praise God!
     Michael and I were floored when they came back and had chosen this new path.  A few weeks ago, P was baptized, and A was baptized last week.  M is getting baptized at the end of this month.  They are learning that although life has been so difficult and heart-breaking, so disappointing and unfair, our God is just, and loving, and He has a plan.  They are seeing His fingerprints all over their lives, and for the first time, they have hope for a future.  Beautiful.
     The girls were also able to go to a camp through ACU that was paid for in full by one of our wonderful donors.  They went to New Mexico where they did a wilderness trek of sorts, learning to be still before the Lord and spend time with Him every day.  This was a wonderful faith-building trip as well.  Once I get pictures developed and downloaded of that trip, I'll do another post.
     When I think about where these precious girls have come from, and the hope and future they all have now, in every aspect, my heart sings.  God is so good.  He did not have to let us see the fruit of what we are doing here.  He has brought these girls here because He loves them so much, and He wants good things for them.  I am so thankful to be a small sliver of a part of His magnificent plan for their lives.