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It’s been about 2 1/2 years since we left Ohio for Arkansas. I really wish I would have kept up with my blogging during that period, but maybe it’s best that I didn’t. While I loved living in Arkansas and so many good things came out of it, I have to admit that the period we were there was one of the hardest times in my life.

There were so many changes that occurred during that time, as well as painful lessons, trials, loss, and revelation. Scott’s sister and her children moved in with us briefly as she and her husband attempted to save their marriage. First, it was just her teen son as she arranged for him to fly in and get settled first as she finished up last minute arrangements back home. That was an adjustment period itself and I regret that my kids struggled with some of the influence he had on all of us, as well as the leniency we showed him because we were trying to make the changes he was going through a bit easier to adjust to. I think our kids felt that we were making too many exceptions for him while holding them to a different standard, and I think they were right. We later learned that they had been exposed to some things they shouldn’t have been exposed to when we weren’t around. It wasn’t until he was gone they felt okay to talk to us about some of their experiences. It really got to me to think that my own children didn’t feel that they could talk to me about their concerns.

Finally, my sister-in-law made it in, and her husband promised to help get the family business settled back home and then he and the other three kids would join her and her oldest son. At that time, we were going to a smaller church we’d found and were just beginning to get involved in, but when my sister-in-law expressed that she was not happy there, we agreed to try to find a church that we could all agree on and go to together. And then we ended up not really going to church at all.

Later, when it was clear that my sister-in-law’s husband wasn’t really devoted to making the changes he needed to make in order to save their relationship, and when it was obvious he wasn’t going to move down to Arkansas as promised, a divorce followed and we all said goodbye to our hopes that they would make it, to each other as his sister and kids moved back, and to the hopes that our family could all finally live in the same town and settle down.

Scott and I really struggled during all this as we went through some major trials ourselves that tested our relationship and shook us both up a bit. Scott ended up taking on two separate roles with the company he works for – that is two full-time careers – and ended up in a near zombie-like state. That was miserable for both of us because even when he was physically present, he really wasn’t even there during a time when our entire family needed him as we went through other issues and hardships. When he asked his boss for help, he was promised resolution and assistance but nothing ever happened. Months followed and nothing changed. He and I both tried to deal with this and other issues on our own and in our own way, and that only made things worse. I think we both ended up hurting each other and ourselves in the process.

On top of that, I was already vulnerable due to other things going on, and ended up dealing with major self-worth and body image issues. I was fed a few lies about myself, and because I tend to believe the lies a lot easier than I do the truth, I lost myself. I was miserable inside, and couldn’t help but think that he was comparing me to every other woman out there. I suddenly only noticed every physical feature other women had that I didn’t and felt that there was no way my husband could be happy with me – with all my flaws. My scarred, stretched belly, and broken down body was ugly after having his children. How could he NOT want other women after looking at me? What was I? I was a stay-at-home mom…a housewife. What could I possibly have to offer him that was so great? Suddenly, I found myself striving too hard for my husband’s approval, affection, and interest. I noticed I was spending more time on my make-up, hair, etc.

Next, I contemplated plastic surgery. I even called and made an appointment to see a plastic surgeon for a consult – twice. But deep down inside I knew I would hate myself for trying to cover up the damage with a superficial bandaid of sorts. So I cancelled the appointments both times knowing it wasn’t the answer for me. I knew my problem wasn’t going to be fixed with surgery. I’d still look in the mirror and be the same insecure and lost woman trying to grasp hold of whatever it was I needed in order to feel whole and valued. I didn’t need to fix my body, I need to fix my head and needed healing in my heart and broken spirit.

So instead, I ended up going to counseling.

During this time, Patrick went to counseling too. We discovered he too, was struggling with his own issues. As we took a step back and really looked at the situation, we realized that our whole family was falling apart in a sense, and we couldn’t keep it together on our own. We realized we were relying too much on our own strength to make it through the hard times, and we really weren’t strong enough to make it on our own. We realized we’d kind of put God up on the back shelf and stopped seeking and relying on Him to guide us through the darkness.

The darkness – it was so, SO dark. Even as I read this, I can feel the darkness, the desperation, the helplessness, the sadness, the emptiness – all of it, attempting to creep back in.  I never ever want to go back to that dark place again.

But somehow, by His patience and grace, we made it through as truth was revealed and healing set in.  We learned a lot. Our dependence on God has grown as we realized how easily we slipped into a state of self-reliance. We now realize how He truly is the only one holding our family together.  It is not us!

We are weak without Him, and we will never make it if we try to do this on our own. It’s humbling and inspiring at the same time, because through all of the darkness, we’ve had a taste of His goodness.  He didn’t let us down, even when we were letting Him and each other down.

So here we are now, just as life was finally starting to get back to “normal.”  Just as I was finding myself again.  Just as I was truly establishing relationships and just as we were enjoying life even through the craziness…we suddenly are called to move back to Ohio.

And as I type all this out and reflect on the last couple of years, I am thankful that God had the patience and grace to work even in the darkness to reveal His truth to us.

It’s funny too, because it seems that God wants to make sure I don’t forget.  He seems to be speaking to me through my 3-year-old a lot lately.  Just last night she asked me a very serious question as she was coloring in her book, “Mom? Do you need Jesus?”

“Yes, America! I DO need Jesus!”

“Yes you do!” she replied enthusiastically.

The truth is, we all do.

YOU DO.

He is not just a free ticket to Heaven, He is so much more.  He is a loving God who wants us to be free from the things that hold us captive in our lives.  We do not have to be slaves to our sin, our past, our pain, nor weaknesses.  Where we are weak, HE is STRONG.  If we are willing to give ourselves to Him and totally rely on Him and walk in obedience, He will rescue us!  But we have to be willing to rely on Him to meet all of our needs.

He truly is a good and loving God, and I need Him!

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SundayDecember 14 
Gift:  Bibles/Bible Studies
Theme:  God’s word is a valuable gift and resource that we should not take for granted! 
Notes:  We are going to give each child either their very own Bibles, or if they already have one, a new Bible Study.  On that day we are going to talk about how His word is a gift to us, and how important it is to read His word. 
Verses:  Ps. 119:105, Psalm 119:11, Tim. 3:16-17, Ps. 37:31
Monday – December 15
Gift:  Sports Bottles –
Theme:  Living Water
Notes:  Jesus is our living water.  We can go to Him and ask him to fill us up so that we will never thirst again.  (Our kids will get to drink water as we talk about this with them).
Verses:  John 4:10,-14
Tuesday – December 16
Gift:  Socks, Underwear, Slippers, Gloves, Robes, P.J.’s (Whatever clothing item your kids may need)
Theme:  Putting on the Armor of God
Notes:  We will discuss how to put on the armor of God, keeping ourselves covered in His protection throughout our daily battles in life. 
Verse:  Ephesians 6:13
Wednesday – December 17
Gift:  Bread/Jam
Theme:  He is the Bread of Life
Notes:  I will make some home made bread ahead of time, and then we will give each kid their own little jars of jam or jelly.  While they spread their sweet jelly/jam on their bread, we will discuss how Christ is the Bread of Life, talk about the last supper, communion, and  also how man cannot live by bread alone. 
Verse:  Luke 22, John 6:47-48, John 6:35,51,
Thursday – December 18
Gift:  Pillows
Theme:  Peace and Resting in Him
Notes:  We will talk to the children about trusting in God, not worrying about tomorrow, and talk about the manger…how even Jesus was able to rest in the craziest circumstances!
Verse: Isaiah 26:3, John 14:27, John 16:33, Ps.91
Friday – December 19
Gift:  Art supplies (Markers, Crayons, Colored Pencils, and Paper)
Theme:  Symbols and Family
Notes:  We are going to create our own family crest!  Each child will draw something to symbolize our family.  We will talk about the different symbols representing Christ.  The cross, nails, the manger, etc.  Scott and I will put the symbols together to create a family crest, and then when we sit down to discuss our adoption story with Kelly, we are going to distribute family rings with our crest on it.  (Note:  We are doing the rings as a symbol/reminder to her that God put our family together, however, families could also make a flag with their family crest on it)!
Verse:  Matt. 13, Matt. 27:40, John 15:5, 1Cor. 1:17, (All see scriptures on Living Water and Bread of Life),
Saturday – December 20
Gift:  Various ingredients and/or cooking utensils needed to make a yummy treat – such as rice crispy treats. 
Theme:  “Share the goodness!”
Notes:  God often gives us something special we can share.  What happens when we put those things together?  If we all bring the good things we have and put them together we can make something even better.  We are the body of Christ, each part has an important role in His plan. 
(Be sure to give the younger kids something they won’t mind sharing.  For example, I’ll give my 2 year old butter, not the marshmallows! 
Verses:  Romans 12:5-6, 1 Corinthians 12,
Sunday – December 21
Gift:  Scrapbook supplies (Foam boards, hole punch, glue, scissors)
Theme:  Always Remember
Notes:  We should always remember what God has done for us.  What things can we do to help us remember?  We can also remember special memories w/ friends and family by creating a scrapbook/memory book.  We will let the kids create their own scrapbook with Foamboards and construction paper!
Verses:   Ps. 20:7, Ps. 22:27, Ps. 77:11,
Monday – December 22
Gift:  Mugs w/ Picture
Theme:  You are valued and loved
Notes:  We are each unique and different and loved very much.  We will fill our kids cups with hot cocoa and talk about how much God loves us, how sweet His love is, and how remembering His love will keep us warm inside when the world treats us coldly.
Verse: Psalm 139, Romans 8:38-39, Jeremiah 29:11
Tuesday – December 23
Gift:  Plant/Seeds
Theme:  We need to grow and nourish our spirits by planting God’s word within us. 
Notes: 
Verse:  Matthew 13:3, Prov. 30:5, Matt. 4:4, Luke 11:28, 1 Cor. 16:20, Ps. 119:11
Wednesday – December 24
Gift:  The kids will exchange gifts with each other.
Theme:  It is more blessed to give than to receive. 
Notes:  As the kids watch each other open their presents from each other, have them explain how it makes them feel to see their brother or sister smile when they open the gift they got for them.  Talk about other ways to give to each other and to others.
Verse:  Acts 20:35, 2 C0r. 9:7
Thursday – December 25 CHRISTMAS DAY!
Gift:  One Big Gift.
Theme:  God wants to give us good things/the desires of our hearts.
Notes:  We are going to get each of the kids one thing they really want (It doesn’t have to be an expensive gift, just something you know they would really like to have).   We are also going to take Communion together and reflect on everything we learned over the last 12 days!
Verses:  Matthew 7:11, Luke 11:13, Ps. 37:4-5

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Ladies,

I have a question for those of you who are done having babies.  How did you know you were done?  Did you feel your family was complete?  Did you ever have moments where you were unsure? 

I feel I am being pulled back and forth on this one.  I do NOT feel that we are complete (yet).  But I’m not necessarily sure that that feeling necessarily means I’m supposed to have another baby.  I’m torn and confused…and last night’s dream makes me wonder even more…but I’ll blog about that one tomorrow. 

Until then…please comment and let me know your thoughts on this one.  Scott has an appointment in a couple weeks, and I guess I just want to make sure that we are doing the right thing.

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I took Patrick to the pediatrician yesterday.  He ended up referring Patrick to a neurologist.  So, I’m going to call and set up another appointment since it might take a couple of months to get him in.  I think his doctor is thinking it’s Tourettes.

I have to say I was a little frustrated with the pediatrician yesterday because he was asking me “which kids are yours?” 

I freaking HATE that question! 

Sure, I understand he was digging for a little medical history, but don’t you think that if these doctors are smart enough to earn a medical degree, shouldn’t they be smart enough in how they approach such sensitive issues, ESPECIALLY if children are involved???

What makes it worse is that 4 of my 5 children were sitting there listening to him ask me that and I kept trying to skirt around the question because I really didn’t know how to answer that in front of them, especialy Kelly.  They are all mine (which is what I should have said, but I was just so shocked he asked me that way!) 

Even when I tried to tell him which ones I gave birth to, he still pushed me to say which ones were adopted, and which one was my “stepson.”

When people ask me that question, I feel like they are trying to separate out my family.  Like, these are YOURS, and then these other ones over here are the outsiders – the stepkids, the adopted.  The ones who aren’t “really” yours.

Kelly doesn’t know that she’s adopted yet, so having to answer that question in front of the doctor was just very hard.  He obviously either didn’t get or didn’t care that his question made me uncomfortable, nor did he consider that we haven’t talked to all of our children about it yet.

And I know we need to tell Kelly, but now is the worst time of all to tell her.  We are about to have a baby.  I don’t want her to feel like “these kids are mine, and you are just adopted.”  I don’t want her to feel like an outsider.  I want her to understand and know her story is special, she is special, and that God brought her to us. 

Lately Kelly has been asking a lot of questions about when she was a baby.  Fortunately, her foster moms created a beautiful scrapbook with pics from birth up to the point where I was able to come get her in Washington when she was 15 months old.  I am almost finished with her adoption story and will read it to her when the time is right.

Until then, I show her the pictures, and share my experiences with her – how stinky her diapers were, how she wouldn’t take a pacifier, and her favorite – how she tried to “run away from home” before she was even two years old.  She thinks that story is hilarious!

Scott and I agreed that we should wait until after the baby is born and we’ve all adjusted before talking to her about her adoption.  I don’t believe it’s something we need to hold back or hide from her, but it most certainly should be the right timing!

That experience along with a few others just reconfirmed to me that this pediatric office isn’t the best one for our family.  I’m hoping the one that is opening up by the Children’s hospital by our house will be a little more sensitive to our needs, especially considering how much business we’ve been bringing into them! 

It also made me realize I need to stop cowering down to people, and stop feeling obligated to explain things, when they ask such an insensitive question.  Yes, the doctor needs to know as much as he can about the child’s medical history in order to provide him with the best medical care, but I do not believe that this doctor was being sensitive to the fact that we may not have discussed everything with our children yet.  (And this isn’t the first time this has happened with this particular doctor). 

I understand they want to understand our history, but there is a way to ask without separating my children into categories or making some of them feel isolated from the rest.  There is also a time to ask, and doing so right in front of all of the children is not the time to do it!  I also need to accept the fact that acquaintances don’t have the right to know our entire personal history. 

So lesson learned.  From now on, that’s my answer.  THEY ARE ALL MINE.  Because they are.  God gave them to me, one way or another, and how they got to me is not nearly as important as the fact that they are mine, that God chose me to be their mom, and God chose them to be my children.  God’s love made us a family.  Nothing can separate that!

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Sweetness!

Sweetness is finding out that the book your VBAC instructor recommends for your class next week was already sent to you by a dear friend who cares.  (Thanks, Jen!)

Self-Discovery is finding out you really do have the power to resist punching your smart-ass teenager in the face.

Exhaustion is looking at your busy calendar and realizing you haven’t even put everything on it yet.

Intimacy is turning the t.v. off and talking to your spouse, without interruption, because all the kids are fast asleep.

Sneakiness is trying to hide your icecream cone from your 1 year old because you just don’t want to share…and succeeding until you bite into the cone, which triggers your little toddler to whip her little head around and instinctively say, “I want a bite!” before she even sees what you are eating.

Irony is thinking that your kids are good to go after having faced just about every flu, virus, and bug passed around this winter, and then watching as two of your kids wind up with fevers and ear/headaches a few hours later!  (Joshua reached 103.1 under his arm!)

Maturity is talking with your hubby about all the stupid stuff you did as a teenager and knowing you’d never do something like that again…

And then realizing you haven’t completely grown up because you just took a picture of your hubby’s butt crack with your smart-ass teenager’s cell phone and saved the picture as his wallpaper…

And you thought it was hilarious…

Hope is praying your son doesn’t do something stupid with the picture – something that could get him expelled 3 weeks before school lets out!

Sweetness – real sweetness – is sparing you all the picture I took! 

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Here’s the Tinkerbell cake I attempted to make for Kelly’s party two weekends ago.  I ran out of time and Scott ran to the store and bought a cake while I ran upstairs and got dressed before the guests got here!

Here’s a cute pic of Scott and Joshua and Madison at my niece’s birthday party.  It was such a beautiful day that day!

I was there too, stuffing my face with cake, of course!

Do you think she was having fun?

Madison actually slid down with her cousin!  She’s getting brave!

Waiting for Scott and his sis to freakin’ come downstairs so we can go eat already!  😉 

See?  We really were hungry!

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So after the craziest week of UTI’s and lots of puking, (oh, and did I mention the allergic reaction to the antiobiotics prescribed to me for my UTI?  My skin around my mouth turned red and started peeling.  It was fun!).  Anyway, after the craziness, we ended up leaving Sunday evening.  It felt so good to be getting out of there!  As we drove, the kids watched movies while Scott and I talked about everything going on in our lives.  After a couple of hours, Madison started fussing.  I turned around to see what was wrong when she puked all over herself, her coat, her clothes, and her carseat.  And just to top it off, at exactly the same time it started snowing!  Not just a little snow.  No, this snow got so thick that you couldn’t see more than 100 feet in front of you.  I turned to Scott and said, “Get me out of here!”

We drove through the snow and on down to Nashville, thankfully without anymore puking, and got to our hotel around midnight.  We were tired and got settled in quickly.  Ahhhhhhhh…sleep!

Yeah.  Sleep maybe for an hour!  Patrick woke up and started the puking ritual we’d come to know so well over the week.  He was up all night getting up every 30 – 45 minutes to throw up in the bathroom.  I was awake too, because I could hear him making these moaning noises every time he was about to throw up and had to tell him, “Patrick, go to the bathroom!”  I didn’t want him puking all over the hotel room we were sharing!

 So, about 9:00, he’d finally slowed down on the puking a bit and we asked him if he wanted to just go home or keep going to our destination, Mobile, Alabama.  He said he wanted to keep going.  We loaded everyone up in the car and gave Patrick several bags, which he most definitely used!  He probably puked another 4 times in the car before we made it to the hotel.

I have to admit that there were a couple of moments when Scott and I wondered if we’d made the right decision.  But making it to the South was exactly what we needed.  We hung out for the rest of the day at the hotel, just enjoying being in a state where the snow wasn’t falling and the sky was sunny and blue! 

Patrick was feeling better by the next day, so we ate breakfast at Cracker Barrel, got directions to the beach, then went to Wal-Mart to pick up some beach necessities.  Finally we headed on down to the first beach we planned on visiting.  (It was our goal to visit 3 beaches in 3 different states during Spring Break.)  Beach number 1 was in Pensacola Florida.  

 

Needless to say, it was starting to look like leaving Ohio for the week was actually a good idea! 

 

The beach was beautiful, the sky was sunny, and even though the water was still a bit cool, the kids enjoyed playing in the sand and getting their feet (some up to their waists) wet.  We were all so happy to be there!

Nooooo!  Dad!  What are you doing to me!

Relax, Dwight!  Just adding on some muscles!

Oh, what’s wrong, Dwight?  Can’t dig yourself out of the sand?

Hey, look!  I’m a Merman!

Wait a minute!  Mermen don’t have THOSE!

Here, Bubba, let me help you out with that!  NOW you look like a merman!

We left Pensacola Beach in the afternoon, picked up lunch to eat on the way back (Whataburger!  YUM!), and took the kids to the Dollar General store where they each got to spend $2 on a treat(s) of their choice brefore heading back to the hotel to watch a movie.  Dwight, of course, found the cheapest, 100% sugary candy he could find, for 25 cents a piece, and gorged on all of it that night. 

That night was a little scary for me because my stomach started to hurt and I became a bit nausious.  I did not want to get this stomach bug.  I stayed up a bit after everyone else went to sleep and watched tv, too paranoid to actually fall asleep (as if falling asleep would bring on the puking!).  Finally, I drug my nauseated butt to bed and prayed I wouldn’t have to make a mad dash for the bathroom.  I woke up feeling mostly better the next morning.

But the question of the day was this: Was it all the candy or was it the stomach flu that made Dwight sick Wednesday morning?  He never did puke, but he was pale and obviously ill.  The plan was to go see the battleship and then head to the next beach, but when Dwight wouldn’t eat breakfast, I asked him if he wanted us to take him back to the hotel.  He nodded with tears in his eyes.  I told him we’d go do something else that day since he really wanted to see the battleship and that made him feel a little better about his decision. 

So after dropping Dwight off at the hotel, we went on down to Mississippi.  

 

We decided to check out the alligator farm, which the kids really enjoyed.

Baby Gators.  They actually all turned around a faced us with jaws wide open as if to say, “Come on in, we’d love to eat you!”

Gator head anyone?  They’re only $20!

After that, we went to our next beach.  The Gulf Shores in Alabama.   

Since we got there later that afternoon, it was a bit cooler, so the kids really didn’t get wet.  But we still enjoyed the sun and the beach for a while before Madison said she was “Ready to go.” and then turned to the ocean and said, “Bye, water!”

By Wednesday evening, we were exhausted, and unfortunately, Scott was dealing with a little bit of an upset stomach.  So we didn’t do much that night.  Poor Scott didn’t do as well as I did.  He ended up nearly puking his stomach out, but it was only one violent trip to the bathroom for him and he was able to control his urges to vomit the rest of the day Thursday.  Of course, with him feeling bad, we didn’t get to hit beach number 3 Thursday.  So, we decided to extend our stay one more full day and not leave on Friday as planned. 

That worked out for me because I was able to get caught up on laundry.  Do you know how much easier it is to get caught up on laundry when you have four washers and four dryers to use at the same time?  It was awesome!  I figured it was the time to take advantage of this opportunity since our dryer at home was broken!

Friday morning, we went to a drive thru for breakfast and then headed for downtown Mobile, where we got to visit Fort Conde.  It was free to tour the place, so definitely worth the trip! 

Maybe I should have left them there!

We went on down to our final beach that day too, in Biloxi, Mississippi. 

The trip to this beach was a real eye-opener for me.  They are still recovering from all the damage from hurricane Katrina.  It’s hard to imagine what kind of impact a storm like that can make, but seeing where they are now after all this time, it hit me just how devastating it must have been.  Driving along the shoreline, we saw the sandy beach to our left, and to our right were hundreds of empty lots where houses, hotels & casinos, and restaurants used to entertain their many guests.  Our GPS still listed all the restaurants that used to be there, but we were only able to find two.  The rest had been blown away! 

And although the beach wasn’t as clean (there was still debris being washed ashore), Friday was the warmest day of all at 82 degrees.  (We actually happened to pick the beach that wasn’t hit by rain that day too!)  The water was warm enough for us to get into and play (okay, most of us – Maddison and I stayed out of the water).  And the kids really enjoyed themselves.  We headed back that afternoon…

with sleepy kids…

And when we got back to the hotel, we did our last two loads of laundry and packed our bags. 

The plan was to hit the U.S.S. Alabama in the morning and then drive half way home.  But when we woke up late, we decided it might be best if we head on home…and drive straight home.  So we struck a deal with the kids.  We skip the battleship and go home, and within the next two weeks, we’d go to the flight museum in Ohio.  They agreed, so we drove home last night. 

And of course hit rain and traffic making our 11 hour drive a 13 hour drive.  But we made it home without anyone throwing up and got to sleep in our own beds last night.  I slept so deep, I had all sorts of wild dreams.  But it was so good to sleep so deeply. 

So we’re back.  It’s 48 degrees and raining.  I already miss the South, but at least I have the memories (and pictures) to remember our week away from the cold.  And soon enough it will warm up here too.  (Thank God!)  Let’s just hope we can avoid any further illnesses while we wait for the warmer weather!

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