Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In which we hit the road, Jack! (Packing tips for moms of many.)

girl packing suitcase

Packing makes me crazy.  I become hyper-focused on organization and not forgetting anything to the point that I forget to be excited about exactly why I am putting myself through this.  But, it is finished and here I sit in my jammies while my kids sleep.  As soon as they wake up (well, we'll have to blast the teen out of bed of course!) we are heading out to a lakehouse in the hills of Tennessee with our dearest friends for four days of food, fun, and relaxation!

Anyway, I thought I'd share a few tips on packing for a big family without losing your cool.  Not that I've ever lost my cool.  

But enough about me.

#1.  Invest in a suitcase for each child.  
       They don't have to be expensive, but it helps so much if each kid has their own "space."  Now we have done short trips where I combined two kids' clothes into one suitcase, but that always ends up in confusion and crazy messy hotel rooms as they dig through each other's stuff in an attempt to find their own.  Having their own bag helps contain the explosion...somewhat.

#2.  Teach them to pack themselves.
       DJ and Katie are packing pros and I am still working on fostering that skill in my youngest three.  If I call out a list ("6 pairs of pants, 6 shirts, toothbrush, etc.) to the younger ones I may or may not get out of the house with their necessities.  I once made them mistake of letting Drew pack on his own because he really, really wanted to.   After he pronounced the packing "done" I checked his bag, and it's a good thing I did!  He had 5 pair of socks, 1 pair of underwear, and 3 shirts.  I'm not kidding.  
     This time, instead of having to repack their packing attempts I had them bring their suitcases down to me one child at a time.  Then I sent them upstairs for one type of clothing at a time.   It went like this:  "Drew, bring me 6 pair of long pants.  LONG pants, not shorts.  It's going to be cold."  Up he went.  A few minutes later he came down with the 6 pair of pants.  I showed him how to roll them and we put them in the bag.  "Ok, now go get 6 shirts...socks...underwear...etc."  One item at at time.  It required several trips upstairs for him, but isn't every parent's goal to tire their kids out?  Especially in winter?  
      I went through the same process with Mari and Gracie and it worked perfectly.  They got the thrill of "packing themselves" just like their older siblings, but mama kept control of the inventory.

#3.  Realize you will forget something.
       You will.  You just will.  No matter how much I check and double check something always slips by and we end up at a remote gas station in Nowhereville, TN paying too much for a pair of socks or underwear.  It's just part of the adventure.  

#4.  Don't worry about coordinated outfits.
       Ok, let's be real. I used to plan out all my kids outfits for the perfect public presentation and they were just so cute and put-together.  Now?  I am lucky if their laundry is clean.  Seriously.  I had to get over it and let them choose their stuff (within reason...I do have veto power) to keep from stressing out.  A mama can only control so much.  Their clothes are what they are, mismatched and stained, and I'm ok with the fact that they will grow up and wish they had listened to me when I advised them not to wear the turquoise jeans with the red sequin top.  

#5.  Have fun.
      I admit it is easy to forget this one.  I can get so focused on the task at hand that I lose sight of why we are doing all of this.  In their excitement my kids can get wild.  Then my voice begins to raise and then they are all banished from the room and told to JUST. CALM. DOWN this is not a zoo and since when is it ok to run through the house screaming and making your sister cry??
      They are excited for a reason.  We are going to have a lot of fun!  So bring them in close and talk about what your are going to do when you get there.  Dream a little.  Laugh a lot.  Take a break and look them in the eye and smile because once you are on the road the hard part is behind and you can enjoy their happy chatter (or the blessed silence if you have a DVD player in your vehicle) and look forward to a few days of downtime and fewer distractions....and food.  Thanksgiving food in all it's glory.  
      Yes, my friends, keep your eye on the prize!  

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Friday, November 22, 2013

What's that SMELL?

They piled into the car one by one.  Me, the chauffer of four teenage boys heading to Youth Group.  My big boy and I were making the rounds, picking up his friends.  They chattered amongst themselves...voices deepening, tapping on phones and I-pods, all very cool, or at least trying to appear so.

I smiled as I listened in on their conversations.  School, sports, friends.  Their laughter and friendly ribbing was a welcome sound as I realized the privilege I had been given of being present for this moment, this season, this emerging from boyhood into manhood and all the awkward moments that they will experience in between.

Just as my heart began to wax poetic, I became aware of...

a scent.

Wait.  No, that is not just a scent.  It is an odor.  And it just keeps getting stronger.
Oh my word, what is that?  WHO is that?  Did someone forget to shower?  Or put on deodorant?
And how the heck do they not smell themselves?

I stifle a cry for help and try to decide if it would be rude to roll down the window.

I can hardly breathe now.  I hold my breath as long as I can and when I am forced to inhale I do so through my mouth.


I am nearly gagging now, and the boys are still talking...completely oblivious to the horrid, putrid smell emanating from one of them...
or maybe all of them?

I turn on the air conditioner.  I crank it up to HIGH and try to direct the fresh air toward my face.  I look over at my boy, next to me in the front seat, and wonder if he notices.

Surely he notices and is just being polite, right?

Finally we arrive at the church and they all clamber out, a mass of body odor, AXE body spray (which apparently does not mask aforementioned body odor!), and swag.  I roll down the window and inhale deeply, trying to clear my infected lungs.

And I realize that I am knee deep in a new season of life.

Praise the Lord and pass the Lysol.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


So my sweet Drew is a touchy-feely one.  He loves cuddles and holding hands and long full-body hugs. That makes his mama very happy.
He is growing at an amazing rate these days.  Only 7 years old but the size of your average 9 year old, it is easy to forget that he really is a little boy inside.  Especially because he is freakishly strong!

Tonight I was saying goodnight to the three younger kiddos.  Our bedtime routine is not elaborate at all. With five busy kids and after a full day of homeschooling and chauffering to various activities, I have zero energy for a long, drawn out routine that involves multiple stories, games, etc.  Bedtime in this house is pretty much to the point.  The kids put on jammies, brush their teeth, and get in bed.  Then Daddy and I come up to pray with them, smother sweet faces in kisses, and say good night.
So, anyway, I went into DJ's room (where Drew sleeps.)
Yes, Drew has his own room.
No, he rarely sleeps in it.
DJ has a trundle and the boys like being together, so we just go with it.  I got down on the bed with Drew and wrapped my arms around him, pretending to munch on his delicious chocolatey neck.  He was pretending not to like it and giggling so I snuck a hand into an armpit and tickled him like there was no tomorrow!  He went nuts, laughing so hard he could barely make a sound, kicking and fighting (but not really, because he loves it) and finally yelling "Mercy!"  I stopped, feeling the smile stretch my cheeks as he caught his breath and said emphatically,

"I love you!"

Now let me tell you, this was no ordinary "I love you."  This was the you've-just-filled-up-my-love-tank-and-I-can't-inhale-again-until-I-pour-out-these-words-on-you  I love you.  It was music to my ears and the kisses from my happy boy were plenty as I tucked him in, still breathless.

A while later the big kids headed up.  Katie graced me with hugs and DJ kind of kissed me in a 13 year old boy sort of way.  "I love you," I called up the stairs as their footsteps pounded away.  "I love you, too," they both replied.

Then DJ followed up with "You're young!"

Wait.  What?

I'm not gonna question that one.  I'm just gonna go with it.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

When I Forget...gathering the stones of remembrance.

All of my children have a story unique to them.  Each of them came to us with a story only God could have written.
In one case, there were particular words spoken...words of promise and hope.  A glimpse of God's plan for that child.  In the case of others there were tangible, measurable miraculous interventions of the Lord.  In all of them, He was near and walked the journey to becoming family with us more closely than we could have ever imagined.
And, much like Mary, I treasured these things in my heart.  (Luke 2:19)  Throughout the years I have gathered stones of remembrance as God proved himself faithful over and over.

Much time has passed and motherhood looks very different to me now.  Instead of diapers, formula, sleep issues, tantrums and potty training, my conversations and questions focus on character issues, building relationships, healing wounded hearts, the onslaught of media in the lives of my children, and navigating what it looks like to walk with God as a young person in 2013.

I now realize the toddler years were piece of cake.

As I monitor my big kids' Instagram accounts and check in unannounced while they "chat" with friends, worry rears it's ugly head.  I could throw out the computer, but the problem is more widespread than that. Just think about it.  How in the world does a young man keep his heart pure when the simple act of driving down the road introduces him to the equivalent of soft porn?  How does a young woman see herself the way her Heavenly Father sees her when airbrushed plastic images of women are on every newsstand?  Is it really possible to protect them, to shelter them from the evil storm that rages around them?

The world around us will tell us NO.  "They" will tell us not to expect too much, that most kids are basically incapable of true maturity or spiritual depth until they have "sown their wild oats."  They will tell us not to waste our time raising kids according to "archaic" standards of purity and holiness.  They will tell us to expect the worst and buckle our seatbelts for a rough ride.

Ah, but God.

God is not archaic. He is relevant, real, present, and will always hold the answers we seek as we raise our kids. God, the perfect parent whose children have all rebelled, understands the necessity of looking ahead and seeing the end from the beginning. Isn't that exactly what He did when Adam and Eve disobeyed?  He already had a rescue plan in place.  The wheels had already been set in motion that would usher in the Son of God, the messiah, the One who would make all things new.

So when I worry about my kids growing up in this dark world, I pick up a stone of remembrance and remind myself that they are HIS.  Each of my babies has placed their faith in Jesus at a young age, just as I prayed they would from the time they were born.  They are safe, eternally safe, in His hand.  He sees the end from the beginning and He knows exactly what they must endure, what they must experience in order to become who He created them to be.
I pick up a stone of remembrance and trust the One who came through for me time and time again to do exactly the same for them.

In 1 John 2:12-14 John speaks to God's people.  He speaks to them, to who they are, to who He wants them to be...

I am writing to you, little children,
because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake.
I am writing to you, fathers, 
because you know him
who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, children, because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers, 
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men, 
because you are strong,
and the word of God abides in you, 
and you have overcome the evil one.

Do you see it?  Do you see what God is doing?  I can pray for my children using these very words!  I can tell the Lord that I KNOW my childrens' sins (past, present and future) are forgiven.  I can calm my anxious heart because my babies know him who is from the beginning.  I can pray in faith that they have and will continue to overcome the evil one.
I can remind my babes that they are strong and pray for the strength to be made manifest in their lives.  
For, the truth is, the word of God abides in them and they have overcome the evil one...because of that very Word made Flesh, because of the death of Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection!

Oh, sisters, we must remember this.  We must remember God's promises regarding our children and hold fast to them through the storm.  We must pray in faith, knowing who God is and trusting what He says.  We must look into the face of an angry child and speak WHO THEY ARE, who GOD says they are, who we choose to believe they will become.  

It is no accident that we are the parents chosen by God for these very children.
He knew.  
He knew and equipped us to do this work in His strength, never our own.  
He knew and we must know that He is the author and finisher of not only our faith, but theirs as well.

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Cor. 4:5-7)

Yes, not to us, but to HIM will be the glory as our children grow into adulthood and we watch the Lord do what He does best in their lives.   I will continue to gather the stones, keeping them near when fear threatens my heart and worry steals my joy.  

Saturday, November 16, 2013


So if you know me, you know I have this side of me that has "rock star dreams."  I guess we all do.  I love music, I love to be around musicians, and I enjoy concerts immensely!

This past year, my hubby and I have been on quite the concert-going kick.  We have seen Andrew Peterson, Jars of Clay, Toad the Wet Sprocket (90's shout-out!), I went to the Dove Awards and just last week we saw Ed Kowalcyk (formerly of the band Live...another 90's throwback!).  It is always so fun to actually meet the musicians and, being an extrovert I make sure we do if at all possible!

Now the neat thing about this last concert we saw is that Ed K. is a relatively new Christian.  We heard he has given his life to Jesus and have kept up with his songs and albums over the past few years (though we don't hear them on the radio) and we were excited to have the chance to see him perform!

Talk about talent.  He rocked, literally.  The man performed solo and blew us away.  He sang new songs full of worship, and old ones peppered with new lyrics...celebrating the Lord.  The people in the room who were there for the old songs, who didn't know about his conversion, were probably impressed with his "spirituality."  But we knew...we knew the change that has taken place and we knew to Whom he was singing!
Afterward, we waited in line for the chance to meet him and take a photo.  I knew what I wanted to say and looked for the chance.  The drunk girl in front of us was kind of dominating him...bless him.  He was so nice. She was so...not.  I seriously thought she was going to throw up on him.  Finally she was dragged out by her man friend stumbled out and it was our turn.  He smiled, signed the t-shirt, and my chance was there.
I put my hand on his arm and said, "I love how Jesus has affected your music."

His eyes suddenly brightened and he smiled genuinely as he looked straight at me.  A look of recognition, of realizing that someone "got it."

"I feel it too," he said.

"It is fabulous...amazing."

"Thank you.  Thank you so much."

And I took my hubby's hand and walked out, amazed.


Because I had just spoken with probably one of the biggest rock stars of the 90's, but all I saw when I stood next to him was a fellow believer and God had given me words for him.   How often do we meet new people and instantly recognize Jesus in one another?  Is it not the sweet gift of Grace that connects us all as believers, no matter what walk of life from which we come?  I am just an ordinary girl, a mom who likes to sing in the car and embarrass my kids, and God allowed me to encourage a brother in Christ and tell him that we can SEE, we can see the change and it is good and right and keep it up.

Your message is strong.  When you sang "I believe in you" and looked up to Heaven, we did too.  Don't stop, even amidst drunk groupies and middle-aged fans who think they are still 25 when you sing "The Dolphins Cry," the light of Christ is there.  How I hope more artists and musicians see the Truth for themselves and become Christians, glorifying God with the gifts He has given them!

And knowing people like him will be there makes me even more convinced that Heaven is going to totally rock.  :)

Friday, November 8, 2013

Trusting Him with Them

I longed for a baby for years.
I begged for just one and God gave me five. I loved their little years so much, and I often wish I could do it again...just one more time.  I miss the baby smells and the chubby toddler hands, the kicks and giggles of diaper changes and the late night cuddles with a sleeping bundle of love on my chest.  Those were sweet years.

Now I find myself looking ahead, figuring this teenage thing out as I go along.  Babies never scared me.  I had babysat from the age of 12 and I knew babies.  Heck, I even knew toddlers and our toddler years, though exhausting, were wonderful.  Oh, the stories I could tell!  But I have to admit I have entered this new era of motherhood with trepidation.  The world is so different than it was when my oldest was born.  The pressures on teenagers are on a wholly different spectrum than the ones we faced in the eighties.  The ability to protect our kids has been hampered greatly by social media and Hollywood and I grasp desperately to God's promises regarding my children as we learn to navigate these years.

Attitude, disrespect, dishonesty, anger....yeah, we've dealt with them all.  I have failed epically already. There are times when my kids have seen me lose my temper, yell, stomp out of the room, cry, and generally suck at mothering.  I have forgotten to pray, neglected the life offered in God's word, and tried to do it in my own strength.  Yep, name the parenting mistake and I have probably made it.

But despite all of this, despite the fact that we have no idea how to raise teenagers yet we have one (almost two!) of them, despite the doubt and fear and failures...
God is raising up my babies into young men and women.

He is taking hold of them, shining through them.

When my son tickles his little sister, delighting in her laughter, God shines.  When my daughter washes her sisters' hair and fixes them up like little princesses, God shines.  When my little boy emulates his big brother because he thinks he is the coolest guy in the world, God shines.  When my teenager plays with his mama's hair, affectionately placing his cheek against mine, God shines.  When my daughter talks my ear off, God shines.  When my son trusts me to take him for a major haircut and clearly believes me when I say he is devastatingly handsome, God shines.

When they are embarrased by my, um, comic abilities in front of their friends, God shines.  When they join me in my favorite reading chair and climb onto my lap because they want to cuddle for a minute, God shines. When all five of them sit together, laughing at a movie and sharing popcorn, God shines.  When my children pray for one another with sincere hearts, God shines.

It is all Him.  At all times.  There is nothing I can point to as far as my "awesome" abilities that can explain these kids.  Regardless of the struggles they face, regardless of the hard days and the teen angst, God gently reminds me over and over they they are His.  They always have been.  It is not about me, it is about Him and His plans and purposes for their lives.  They will struggle and suffer and grow and stretch because that is how God molds us into the image of Christ.  Hard days are part of it.  Ann Voskamp refers to the "hard Eucharisteo"...the trials and struggles for which we should and must be thankful...and I see the truth in her words.  I want my sons to grow up to be strong men.  I want my daughters to be strong women.  If I successfully protect them from all harm, all the negative, they will not be strong.  They will be overwhelmed by the flood of the world and drown.  But if, through the power of the Holy Spirit, my children are taught to be light in the darkness and to stand when no one else is willing then they will be powerful in God's Kingdom.

My job is to pray, to trust, to love them, walk with them and gently (gently!) teach them how to navigate the rough waters.  I cannot force their hands or hearts into obedience.  My greatest tool in this phase (and truly, wasn't it my greatest tool in all phases?) of their lives is prayer.

This is where my faith as a mom grows feet.
When my children start to pull away and wrestle with who they are and Whose they are, my faith (or lack thereof) is made crystal clear.  I have to wake up each morning determined to trust the One who placed these gifts in my arms and choose not to freak out when they sin just like every other human being in history. I have to believe the same Holy Spirit who brought me out of the pit is alive and well in my children and can be trusted.

Do I trust Him?  Really?

Do I?

Oh yes, Lord, I do!  I believe!
Now...would You please help my unbelief?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

What if we do this?

An article passed through my newsfeed today.  It was from Focus on the Family and is about how a man prayed for God to shut down various porn shops in his city over the years and every time, every time, it happened.  God answered and came through and shut the doors of these evil places.

I will confess I have passed shops like this many times, but not once did it ever cross my mind to pray for God to close their doors!  Duh!  How many young girls are exploited in places like this?  How many marriages destroyed?  How many strongholds reinforced and hearts grown stone-cold as a result of the filth that is sold in these shops?

So I shared the article on my Facebook page, and it got a response from several of my Christian friends.  I felt like God was challenging me...challenging take this seriously.  What if God's people pray?  What if we take this challenge and stand together?  Why don't we as the body of Christ link arms and hearts and pray the filth out of our neighborhoods and towns? Do we not believe God can do it?  I do!  Today, I choose to believe that my God can do whatever needs to be done to close the doors of the local porn shops and I challenge you to join me!
Share this with everyone you know and then link back here so we can stay connected. Look up the local establishments and start storming Heaven's gates, praying against them by name.


Because I believe that behind every seedy shop, there are daughters and sons.  There are children and young women being used and abused and I guarantee these place are associated with sex trafficking in one way or another.  If the market closes, the traffickers and sex-pushers will be forced to go elsewhere to peddle their wares.  Let's do this.  Share your prayer here and let's join together in expectation of what God IS going to do!  I'm starting with the Body Shop here in the heart of our beautiful downtown:
Lord, shut it down.  Clean it out and replace it with a business that is strengthening to hearts, to bodies, to families, to faith.  Father I pray in the name of Jesus that you will shut the doors of the Body Shop and every house of porn, every hot-bed of prostitution and trafficking and raise up our city in purity and holiness for YOUR glory.


It's your turn, my friends.  Let's start a chain reaction that resonates through the Kingdom of God!  Share your prayers in the comments below.  Let's DO THIS!  

And let's not forget the abortion clinics.  I hope we all get sore knees from praying!  "On Earth as it is in Heaven, Lord!"

Monday, November 4, 2013

Beach Bummin' Days 3 & 4

Daddy arrived Thursday morning, along with a thunderstorm:

The kids and I watched it roll in from the ocean, torn between the awe of witnessing it's arrival (a day early) and the disappointment of knowing the planned kayaking and sandcastle building would most likely not happen.

Nevertheless, his arrival was met with squeals of joy and much wrestling and this mama was so glad to have him there.  

We watched it rain and trekked out onto the sand when it finally cleared up for a while after lunch.  There were treasures everywhere, driftwood, tiny shells, a huge beetle,

and countless jellyfish.  The kids were morbidly fascinated with the shiny globs of weirdness.  I was just grossed out.

We decided to walk down the road to the Blue Mountain Creamery.  Handmade ice cream, sorbets, frozen yogurt, and waffle cones.  Need I say more?  

This, my friends, is a blueberry, cranberry, pomegranate sorbet.
In a still-warm waffle cone.
There are no words.

A little while later the rain began again.  Bummer.  But Drew had a great idea...Scrabble!
Now remember, he is in first grade and not exactly a spelling prodigy.  Daddy and I didn't keep score really even enforce rules, we just let him go at it.  He won.  :)
What you've never heard of a "pugtrain?"
"People of the world, join hands, start a pugtrain...
Well, we thought it was funny.  Drew didn't know why Daddy and I kept laughing.

So the day ended as it began, with rain beating down and kids watching TV.  But we kept the sliding doors cracked open and were lulled to sleep by the rhythm of the waves crashing.  All in all a good way to end the day.

Day 4 promised to be fun, and it was!  Mari has a friend from Ethiopia, TJ and his little sister, whose family has become dear friends to us.  They live in Alabama and we decided to meet up in Pensacola at the Naval Aviation Museum.  Seeing my sweet girl reunited with her friends, the familiarity of them...the memories they share that I will never know...takes me right back to the Transition Home and the hope that these kids would have a home soon.  Little did I know that I would have BOTH of them in my car, laughing with Mari and TJ's arm draped over Drew's shoulder in that beautiful sign of Ethiopian friendship.  My heart was full.

We met them at Whataburger (per my hubby's request...and it was so good!) and escaped before our ten kids dumped ANOTHER drink on the floor.  (My apologies to the girl with such patience.  I hope you make more than minimum wage because you really did your job cheerfully.)

We drove to the Navy base and explored the museum.

It was amazing, it was FREE, and it was a field trip!  Win-win!  If you are ever in the area you must go.  It will remind you why you should be PROUD to be an American.  Our military just makes my heart swell.  Those guys are the cream of the crop in my book and always will be.

And then there was the ride home.

We were on 98, scoping out restaurants for fresh Gulf seafood.  Traffic was very heavy and suddenly came to a standstill.  We stopped, the big pickup truck behind us stopped (barely) and I said, "Whew, I though he was going to hit us."  Katie turned to look back at him and BAM.

Seven car pileup.  We have a dented bumper, the truck behind us had minimal damage, but the lady behind him (who shoved him into us), and the cars behind her were totaled.  Because Katie was turned around during impact her neck was hurt so we got a nice little ride in the ambulance to the local ER.

Thank God she only has whiplash, but it was scary seeing her strapped to a backboard and loaded onto a stretcher.  As we rode in the ambulance I just kept thinking of all the babes whose mamas have watched fight for their lives back there and thanked God that this was only a precaution in my girl's case.  Still, I was relieved when the doctor said everything was intact and she could go home.

By this time it was 9pm and my hubby arrived after three hours at the scene with the other four kids who were now STARVING.
We ended up at Chick-fil-a.  Not exactly seafood but we were so hungry we no longer cared.

The next morning I awakened to this, after two days of cloudy skies the Lord gave me this.

My heart took it as a sweet love note from my savior.  A reminder of redemption and the new mercies of every morning.  Then we drove home and arrived to a Tennessee in full Autumn splendor!

And though I would love a redo of those last two days, sunshine and safe travels, I am thankful.  We had a great week, we witnessed the glory and the power of God in creation, and we were cared for by a wonderful, friendly medical team who joked along with my girl when she mused about the possiblity of this being on "Untold Stories of the ER."

Yep, I figure the mystery will be how this fashionista ended up in their ER!  Oh yeah, and I found selfies on my phone.  She was sending pics of herself in the neck brace to her friends while we waited for X-ray results.

Love. Her.