Thursday, July 27, 2017

Homey Morning

This morning was like, great.
In a very basic, nothing going on, just room to do stuff and do NOTHING kind of way.
My family needs mornings like that.
I need mornings like that.

Usually when I wake up and before I get out of bed (sometimes even the night before) I try to pick a big goal for the day.
Our day needs a focus.
That's my trick for making sure we (my three very young children and I) stay active and productive but in a balanced way.
During colder months, my pool of choices usually include doing all the laundry, visiting the library, getting groceries, going to a fun thing like the children's museum, keeping an appointment, walking to the park, visit with friends, or going to a women's bible study.
During warmer months, I choose from many of those plus swimming, going for a hike, walking to a favorite creek to splash in, picking through yard sales, or spending the day with friends.

I pick one and only one focus to take up the bulk of our day.
While we go about doing whatever I've focused on, we do the daily little necessities and homemaking stuff as I go and as I have the energy/motivation.
Things like picking up, doing the dishes, special projects, organizing, etc.
I follow no cleaning schedule or anything.
Never could seem to stick to one.
But things get done as I notice it and it seems to work for us.

So with all those options, life is so not boring.
And I believe that staying reasonably busy is a blessing to both my kids and me.
It teaches them how to be part of our community, giving me tons of opportunities to teach them how to simply do life.
I'm comfortable taking my kids pretty much anywhere on my own because we all know what to expect from each other.
It's good for me to stay occupied whether it's inside or outside our house because I can tend towards the couch potato life......

But some days like today, it's a treat to get up slow, eat an easy breakfast, stay in pj's, and just be together.

No appointments.
No people.
No expectations.
No car.
No hustling.
No time constraints.

Thank goodness for getting stuff done but thank goodness for cozy-chill-stay-at-home days

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Fulfilling Kind of Busy

How lame would it be for me to open this long delayed post by claiming how BUSY life can be?

Well guess what: I'm just that lame.

It is SO busy.
But like the awesome, wonderful, please-don't-ever-stop type busy.
(Just kidding. I like a coffee break now and again)

Our family and home life is incredibly fulfilling.
Adam and I continue to make a hobby out of updating our cool little house.
The kids are constant sources of fun, silliness, challenges, and joy.
And we as a couple are learning to work as a team and love each other more deeply with every passing year.

Our ministry life continues to be a source of intense blessing and challenge.
God has done much this past year or so to update many physical spaces so they can serve the congregation better.
There have been so many lives touched by intense pain and joy.
Watching God be glorified in their lives despite all circumstances is......out of this world.
Deepening relationships with those we serve alongside is sustaining and a pleasure.
Deepening relationships with those we serve is joyful.

Perfect? No.
Easy? No.
Faultless? Certainly not on my part.

But I can easily, honestly say I am a blessed woman with no complaints.

This summer did dawn though with unexpected needs for our son.
He's had a variety of issues that have just caused him to be quite a bit off the normal track of development for babies.
Given this we've done all we can to provide developmental support  and search for any information to help him including testing, an MRI, therapy, and nutritional support.
We found out that he had cataracts and have spent a large amount of time getting those removed from each eye.
That should all be wrapped up by the end of August.
From there we'll continue to provide developmental support to help our guy be all he can be.

This past month, we were able to achieve termination of parental rights from our son's birth parents.
This means that we are officially on the path towards adopting him.
I keep joking that we are paper pregnant, expecting a nearly 3 year old little boy sometime next year! ha!
Obviously we couldn't be more thrilled.

I highly doubt that this will be the end to our adoption through foster care journey.
We're excited to see what God does with the size of our family.

This fall, we'll also begin our school journey.
Our oldest girly, Larissa will start preschool at our nearby public elementary school.
We can't wait to see what the Lord teaches her there and how He uses her experience to bring Himself honor.

Kenna just turned three.
All she wanted anytime someone asked was two watches :D
I'm looking forward to some more time just with Kenna as Larissa goes off on her own adventure.

Looking forward, I'm just hopeful and excited.
I love watching our days and troubles unfold and seeing God meet our needs in unexpected, delightful ways.
He really makes life where there was none.
Every day brings new emptiness and need.
He just rushes in to meet every need, every sin, every hunger with more love, more wisdom, more truth, more beauty......more of Himself

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Penny Jar

A few weeks ago, Adam and I were talking about some parenting issues we've been having. Especially when it came to motivating the girls to follow through on normal family rules and expectations like putting away their own dirty clothes, putting on/putting away shoes and coats when coming or going, throwing away their own trash, obeying with a happy heart the first time, treating each other with kindness: the normal stuff.

Adam decided it was time to try out a system of rewards and left it to me to figure out exactly what that would look like.

After some thought, I put together what we call our penny jars....

This was a completely free project using only what we already had.

The materials:
A few jars, a handful of pennies, and some labels made out of masking tape + marker and you're in business.
The system:
Each girl has her own jar. As we go though our day and they do good works with a happy heart (obey, follow family rules and routines, do simple chores, are especially kind and considerate....) they get a penny or more in their jar. It also works the other way for times when they are less than kind, consistently disobey, whine and complain..... and they can loose pennies.

I have a written list of ways they can earn and also loose pennies and how much.
A small sample:
+1 put shoes/coat away right when we get home
+2 no time out all day
+1 put dirty clothes in basket
+3 try to make bed (at 3 and 2 yrs old, its not realistic yet to expect them to do it "right" every day)
+1 obey teacher/authority

-2 multiple timeouts
-2 hitting/hurting another person or animal
-1 fight bedtime
-3 lying/deceit

Every 3 or 4 days, they get to cash in their earned pennies for special projects, activities, or even small Dollar Tree prizes.
I have a separate list for these cash in options and each item has its own cost.
Small Sample:
3¢ extra story time
5¢ playdough time
10¢ treat for snack
15¢ pick from prize basket
20¢ trip to the library
30¢ out for ice cream or a smoothie

Their favorite option is picking out a prize from our prize basket :)

We are only a few weeks into using this system.
I've already fixed a few bugs and might still have to change it up to make it work for us.
So far though it's pretty motivational for them and an effective option for me to keep them inline with the family.

I also like that this reward system can grow with them.
We'll be able to use it to teach them how to save up pennies and delay gratification.
It can be used to teach them how to tithe and that they can use their earnings for helping others.
It can be used to teach them that things cost something and don't just magically appear. :)

Their hard work will amount to something and I like reinforcing that instead of only having threats and negative options to depend on.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Leo the Aussie

So this happened last weekend.....

His name is Leo. 
This picture is blurry, as are all the rest of him because like most young things he does not stop moving unless he is asleep. 
He's a 3 month old Australian Shepard. 

Adam and I knew we wanted to have a pet.....someday.
Someday when all of our kids weren't such puppies themselves.

We heard that Adam's aunt had a little Australian Shepard she was watching for a couple who decided they didn't want him back.
That was during Christmas when we first heard about him.
A couple of weeks ago, I heard they still had him and wanted him gone to a new family.

I decided I wanted to be that family.
Adam did not necessarily agree.
After promising to do the work and let him have all the fun 😉 he said yes.

So one weekend trip, a free dog, and several days later I think we are getting the hang of having this guy around.

He's a dork. 
And a spaz at times. 
But he's doin' good.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Real Life Help

Our family has been involved with the foster care system for nearly 3 years.
In that time it has become apparent that the need is great for more support for the foster system.
It can become overwhelming, especially if you already know that yet have no idea where to start.
Can I share a few ideas?

The first few are obvious:

1. Become a foster family. I especially encourage this if you are a Christian and have received the kind of love that only Christ can give. Countless kids and families are in need for that very love. If you feel any pull whatsoever in the direction of being a vein through which that love can flow, go for it and trust God to provide! He will!! I have seen it. I have lived it. I have watched as He has provided for other families who foster stepping out on a prayer, trusting God with the terrifying unknown.

2. Adopt. Make a child who belongs only to the state, belong to you. What an eternal gift for both of you.

If neither of these options will ever really be an option for you, read on....

3. Become a respite provider. In our region, this requires a background check, fingerprinting, and a caseworker coming to your home and conducting a simple interview. Foster families sometimes need to travel and aren't able to bring the foster child along. Other times, a foster family might just need a break from giving 24/7 child care. Respite could be overnight, a couple of weeks, or anything in between. It is a short term situation and often a very high need.

4. Become an approved babysitter. In our region, this requires only an annual background check. It is limited to daytime babysitting meaning the child would not be permitted to stay overnight. This too is insanely helpful. The more support a foster family has, the better chance it will have for success. In our family's case, at one point we only had our youngest child attending family visits and I could not bring our older two along to the drop off. It would have been too emotionally complicated for everyone. So I needed someone to stay with the older two. Sometimes my husband could stay home from work but often that was not possible. Thank goodness for approved babysitters.

5. Become a CASA volunteer. A CASA volunteer advocates for what is in the best interest of an abused or neglected child. They often attend family team meetings, court hearings, review documents, and check in with children placed in foster homes. Our CASA volunteer has become like a surrogate grandfather to our kids. He visits at least once a month for an hour or so. We keep each other up to date on case developments and he has offered our children so much support. He is also involved with other families and I know has been a blessing to each of them. He was at the adoption hearing for our girls to celebrate with us. By becoming a CASA, you are able to care for a specific child directly though not providing day to day care and family life.

6. Make a meal for a family who has had a knew placement. Food is a game changer. We were blessed to have family and a friend or two bring us meals each time a child was placed with us. My mother-in-law even stocked our pantry when we brought home our second daughter. Seeing as how she was a complete surprise without any time to prep, that was an incredible relief. When I brought our third home, though I didn't have to heal from giving birth, I still had two other children (ages 1 and 2) and a very busy husband who's schedule could not slow at the time. It was madness but a free dinner dropped off at our doorstep was God's love incarnate.

7. Support your local foster care agency. Volunteering time is always an option. I do not have to tell you how overworked those people are. The turn over rate is high because it is a hard, thankless job with some high points but many, many low points. You could call to see if there are any practical needs. Car seats are always needed. Diapers, clothing, and basic hygiene items. I've heard of people putting together a journey bag to give to children when they are removed and have nothing. This can look like filling a gently used backpack or duffle bag with some clothes, hygiene items, a book, and a comfort item. This small gesture could provide a world of comfort to a child who's world is spinning out of control.

I think most people are desperate to help but also desperately stuck.
Taking anyone of these steps in an effort to show the love of Christ that you've been shown is powerful.

I am endlessly grateful for the support we have received.
We have some faithful people around us.
It has made all the difference not only to me and my husband, but more importantly to the kids that came into our home needing a group like that to support them.
Not just with good intentions but foot-to-the-pavement type love.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Adoption! That's right. Adoption!

It is currently 12:04 am as I begin writing this post.
It's just one of those nights when I thought I'd be out as soon as my head hit the pillow but no.
Two hours later and my head is swirling.
Among the various conversations with myself, the prominent one is "Oh my gosh. We did it. We adopted our daughters. They're ours for as long as can be. "
So you can imagine.
Not a lot of peace and stillness is flowing from thoughts like that.

More like joy and plans and hopes in a way we had scarcely let ourselves indulge in before.

It was official one whole week ago on December 1st.
We met our family, a friend, our case worker, and our attorney at the court house at 8:30 in the chilly morning.
The girls wore the dresses they had each picked out for this special day.
After a short wait, our whole party was led into the judge's chambers.
Adam, I, and our girls sat in front of the judge with our support system at our back.
A short interview, an oath, the speedy consent of the judge, and it was official!
Just like that!
The friendly judge gave each of our daughters (!) a sucker and put on his roomy black robe for the photo op.

I was a little shell shocked.
It was done.
Adam and I are Larissa Mae's and McKinley Joy's parents forever.
They are Conners!
Praise God.
His generosity is overwhelming.

Larissa hugging our tireless case worker. 

It's too much!
So much joy!
So much rich, complex sweetness.
Countless tender looks have passed between the four of us.
And there is no end in sight.

We will continue to love and work daily for our boy.
Hopefully within the year, he will also have the Conner stamp ;)

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Halloween 2016

This year is the first year our kids were able to get into trick-or-treating.
At ages two and three, they were STOKED about being able to dress up in special costumes (even if they weren't store bought) and getting as much candy as they could.

Girls after my own heart.

Now I've got some pictures to share but I just want it to be known that it is getting SO old that we still cannot share faces yet.
Their faces are the best part!
Little goofy smiles, apple cheeks, and shiney, smiling eyes.....
Just letting you know, you're missing out.
But soon.....very soon.....things will be changing.....

But back to it.

Thumb in mouth from the get-go

All three kids dressed up as care bears.
We went to a friend's baby shower a month ago which was care bear themed.
The girls LOVED it and have been into the cartoon ever since. 
I knew it would be so easy to whip up costumes from things they already had plus a couple inexpensive bits from a second hand shop.
The finishing touch was painting on heart shaped noses on their own noses. 
Sweetums usually led off with "Look at my nose!" at each house. 

Right after dinner, we started off walking around our neighborhood while it was still light out. 
Then we drove around to a couple friends' homes and ended with stopping by my mom's work to see her. 
By then, even though it was only a little after eight o'clock, our little baby bears were beginning to sugar crash from their steady stream of suckers and mm's. 
Pumpkin had wiped out before we even got to see my mom. 
It was time to wrap it up and head home.

Once everyone was tucked in, I took the opportunity to safety check the kids' booty and also maybe skim off my own commission (especially when it was in the form of a KitKat bar mmmmmm).

I loved seeing all my friends' kids on Instagram in their great costumes.
So fun.

I'm not going to get into what a Christian can or cannot do when it comes to Halloween. 
As Christians we are 100% free in Christ.
But not all things are God honoring or even beneficial to ourselves. 
Therefore, I believe what a family does in relation to Halloween is between the family and God. 
I read an article recently that helped me think about it anew.
And that's all I have to say about that. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Taking a Walk

Lately I've been trying to take walks as often as possible.

Sometimes it's alone at 7 in the morning before all the sleepy heads are up.
Sometimes I take a kid or two (one on my back, one in a stroller).
Sometimes I sneak out after dinner with heavy handed hints about how much the kids need a bath like I did tonight...

It's been a nice thing to fit in here and there for a breather.
Time to think, pray, and soak in the changing air.
Sometimes I like listening to a book as I go.

So far I've listened to Give Them Grace (loved it), Steve Martin's Pure Drivel, The Blue Tattoo, Bear Gryll's auto biography Blood, Sweat and Tears (favorite!), The Good, the Bad, and the Grace of God, The Lifegiving Home, several books of the bible, and right now Hands Free Mama.

Blood, Sweat, and Tears by Bear Grylls was my favorite (other than the bible, duh).
I love the adventure and hearing about the stuff he's conquered is fascinating.
He gives all the glory to God.
It's always good to hear people's testimony about what God has accomplished in their lives.
If my life was completely different and I didn't have my beloved husband and cool kids I like to think that I'd be a hiker and do big backpacking trips.
Maybe not on Grylls' level but that kind of life always looks good to me.

But in the life God has blessed me with, for now, I walk.
Usually I walk along the road and pass by the park
Then I circle around and head home the long way through our neighborhood.
I love walking in our neighborhood.
It's an old one with tons of old, original homes built in the early 1900's.
There are a lot of homes that really aren't that big but have tons of style.
I love when there's a ton of charm packed into a small, well-kept house.
Some keep it pretty classic and traditional.
A few are quirky but they make it work.
I never get tired of oogling each one of them as I pass by.

I'm starting to feel the press to get as much walking in as I can before the temps really dive.
Even then, I can see plenty of snow walks in my future. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Sunday Mornings

It's Saturday night and I know I have a Sunday morning to tackle ahead.
Uh duh, Kensie.
Sunday comes after Saturday.....always.

For any family who goes to church but has a parent that works Sundays, you know it can be a beast that needs taming.

My husband is a pastor and is up and out every Sunday morning by 7.
This leaves Mama in charge of getting the three kids up, dressed, fed, in the the car, and in the church building.
I feel pretty good about the routine we've got going but I started looking around tonight for some fresh tips, any new ideas that would make our machine run even a little bit smoother.

You know what I found?
Not much.
I love a good how-to or a new way to step up the game.

Because that's kind of how I think of it: like a game.

(She cute)

So here's our game plan:

Adam is up and out by 7 every Sunday like I said.
He leaves after kissing me which is usually my wake up call (not a bad way to start the day).
I try to really get myself going at this point, take some time to get a cup of coffee and to focus on the Lord, the reason we live this ministry life.
If I'm honest, sometimes I just snooze for another 20 minutes.
(Shame, shame, I know your name)
I get myself totally and completely ready between 7:30 and 8. I never shower in the mornings so that helps.
I use the next 15 minutes to gather everything we'll need for the day and get it into the car.
This includes a very simple breakfast for my girls, a bottle and lunch for my boy. and diaper pouch.
Next, I get my boy up, dressed, and sit him in his highchair with cheerios while I get the girls dressed and groomed.
By 8:30 we are headed to the car.
We get to church a bit before 9 and I sit with them all while the girls eat breakfast and I give my boy his bottle.

So that's it.
I keep it bare-bones to minimize messes that need cleaning up or getting myself frazzled.
Sometimes it doesn't go so smoothly.
Sometimes someone wants to wear tights, someone poops, someone has to use the toilet, someone can't decide between the black heels or the knee high boots (my bad).
But 97% of the time it works.

I think the most important part of this routine though is focusing on the Lord alone in your heart at some point before you walk into corporate worship.
Like I said, every once in while I can slack on making that moment happen.
And sure it may not wreck a Sunday. but I am more in tune with the Lord and feel more secure if I've centered myself on Him.
If you don't keep Him as the priority of the day, it will become just another day full of obligations.
That easily opens you up to bitterness and acting like a martyr. Not cool. I've been there.

I love to see how other families pull off a busy morning with lots of kids and maybe only one grown up in charge.
Please share!
Just hit on the comments link below.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Let's Wrap It Up

I'm coming in a little late on this bit but I want to sum up our summer real quick.
This was such a fun summer!
And precious because as everyone knows, little kids don't stay little.
It was fun to share so many new things with them.
I was bummed to see it go.

We didn't get around to doing every little thing on our list.
But the things we did get to do we enjoyed to the limit.

Taking our girls on vacation with us was really awesome.
Spending time with our family, watching the girls play with their cousins, taking them boating and swimming, hiking every day for a week, relaxing the rules and routine...... such a nice breather.

Of course there was swimming nearly every week.
By the end of the summer, we were all nice and tan.
Thank goodness we never had to deal with any terrible bouts of sunburn. 

I was totally blessed to not only visit our student ministry teams at camp but also to fly there in a tiny little plane with some friends. 

We celebrated this sweet little thing. 
She's growing so well.
She's healthy and strong and silly and smart.

Adam took some time away with our young adult group. (Sweetums and I got to tag along along one day)

And I just got tons of time to get around and have fun with my gang while Adam was working.
We visited the library, went to the park, played at new to us splash pad, looked around a local nature center, went to a yard sale, bought groceries (because even normal stuff is new to a couple of toddlers).
It was just really satisfying.

Ours kids aren't perfect and we have struggles (some of them on-going) but each kid is just so uniquely cool.

I was looking back at some of our pictures before we had any of them and just felt struck at how empty it seems in comparison.
I mean mostly how empty my day to day seemed.
Those years before our family grew were filled with going to school just to get a degree with my name on it and hours working at pointless jobs to help get bills payed.
Many days were gotten through with only will power and not much enjoyment other than my wonderful husband.

These kids though have brought so much weight and meaning to my life.
Sometimes the weight of the responsibility can be nearly crushing!
Like oh my gosh.
What have we done? We are going to mess these kids up so bad.
But within a beat, I just can't imagine life if they were removed from me.
My heart would be a cavern without them.

God has used those three little people to knock down false supports in me, add family living spaces, make more room for another person's need, put up hallways of mirrors so that I'm always having to relook at myself and take stock of what God is really asking me to do and what I am just doing because of dumb pride.

I love being a parent, more specifically a mom.
And it makes me ask God constantly to help me be more like Him.
I want Him to always be teaching me how to lead them like He leads me.
With fun, joy, discipline, grace, coziness, encouragement, honesty, truth, courage, and of course, love.