Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Room at the Table

A room clean and ready for "A" to move in!

A little over a week ago, we welcomed a fourth boy into the Liddell house. "A" is thirteen and in seventh grade. At this point, he has no immediate physical need (towels, room stuff, etc); however, if that changes, I will let you friends of the ranch know. He is adjusting to a new place with new rules and expectations, so please be praying for him as he is transitioning to life at Willow Springs.

I might have the best backyard view in Oklahoma.

Thanksgiving is in just a few weeks (didn't school start back just three seconds ago?), so I've started planning our family Thanksgiving before all the boys leave for home visits. I've also started planning the Advent calendar, because if Thanksgiving is already almost here, Christmas will be here before I blink. All of this holiday planning means a lot of thinking back to last year, and all that has changed since then, and a lot of staring at our dining room table.

Since Blake and I started as house parents almost two years ago, "A" makes a total of ten boys that have come through our doors (and that's just in our house). Sometimes, I try to imagine what life would be like if all ten of those boys were sitting down for dinner at our long table with us each night, and all kinds of emotions fill me. Obviously it is the most ideal situation in my daydreams, but thinking of all ten of our boys sitting around us, safe and successful, sends this bleeding heart into a weepy tailspin. I've had people ask me if it is impossibly difficult to emotionally handle when a boy leaves. The answer is yes. But you handle it anyway, because there are still the boys who haven't left who need us, and need Willow Springs. And there are boys yet to come who will need it, whether it be for a few months or until they graduate.

All of this to say, there is still room at our table. There is physical room for more boys at our table, and the identical table in the Mac house next door, waiting to welcome boys to a safe space and a warm, home-cooked meal. And, despite all of the heartache that can often come with it, by the grace of God there is still emotional room at the table, too. Some days I am absolutely sure that there is no more room in my heart for potential heartache should a boy turn his back on the Willow Springs opportunity, but then I remember that I can't operate out of my own heart, but the heart of Christ. When I ask him to show me His heart for each boy that moves in, He makes the room in mine. I empty my heart of worry and heartache to Him, and as we prepare a room for each boy, the Holy Spirit prepares the room in my heart for him.

Friends of Willow Springs, please consider praying for us all at WSBR, and helping us as we make room at the table. Pray for others to rise up who have room at their table for the guys God knows that we don't yet. Pray for the boys who are searching for a place at the table. Thank you for the constant support and sense of community that you give us.

The picture is not great quality, but this is one of our guys holding Addie during youth group campfire worship.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Semi-monthly Update

The last time I wrote anything, it was about my toddler's ER trip. I can say (thankfully) that nothing quite that eventful has happened since then, but there are some things I feel the need to address.

Many of you who know our family and know Willow Springs are aware that we have three boys instead of four now. One of our guys has taken residence with another family in Chandler. Sometimes boys leave well, and sometimes they don't; but, we love them wherever they live. We still hope and pray for their success, and pray for God to follow them where we can't. I could go into more detail, but for the sake of his privacy as well as for the sake of me honestly being tired of peeling the scab off of the wound, I'm going to leave the explanation at that. Please, keep praying for him.

Now that I have the heaviness out of the way, I want to move on to an issue that has suddenly crept up on me today: how quickly the holiday season is approaching. Y'all, don't roll your eyes at me. If you're like me and need a physical planner with your own handwriting and not the fancy Googly Cloud calendar or whatever, just flip through it and you'll see exactly what I mean. I was writing in some things we have coming up in the next couple of weeks and I couldn't believe how few pages away Thanksgiving and Christmas are. I mean, good grief, yesterday school had just started and I was begging for colder weather to get here. And, while cold weather still proves to be an elusive mistress, the month that brings it has arrived so quickly I still have whiplash. One of our boys keeps talking about how much he can't wait for Christmas and I'm like, "Bro, don't put that on me. DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT HOLIDAYS ARE LIKE FOR ADULTS?" Not that I don't love Christmas or any other holidays, craziness and all, I am just still trying to figure out what happened to September. So, I'm going to try and remember.

In September, Blake, Adeline, and I got to go on a week long vacation to Boulder, CO. While I would NEVER EVER IN A MILLION YEARS trade our days of watching Adeline grow alongside our guys, as a mommy to a toddler, I loved having the time to slow down and appreciate every moment with her being this little, especially after the scariness and adrenaline-pumping of the ER trip finally leaving my bloodstream. I am so thankful to have our relief houseparents, Jamey and Stephanie, who are so great at their job and so committed to our guys and to Willow Springs, so that we can go on a week-long vacation and know that nothing is going to derail while we are gone. All of my coworkers and co-laborers are unbelievably amazing. I wonder often if anyone else could possibly love, appreciate, and admire their coworkers as much as I do. I'm not exaggerating.

I promise that at some point I am going to write more, but for now I am doing a lot of work for the Women's Retreat put on by FBC Chandler (if you're a female, please consider attending. Ages 16+ welcome. Go to for FAQ's and in order to register), and obviously, four kids we're raising. If you've been praying for Willow Springs, or would like to, here are some things you can be praying for:
  • Applicants for Willow Springs: i.e., which boys we take in and when. Be in prayer for those out there who visit our website every day and wonder if this is a valid option for their family; who keep dialing the number but debating on whether or not to hit "call;" and who may be holding the application and wrestling with a choice to make. 
  • The McClendon house is in final stages of renovation. Thank you to those who have donated money, time, and sweat to give this house its awesome facelift. Please be in prayer for it to be a house of peace when it opens, where boys find a home in which they can thrive. 
  • SPEAKING of holidays, please be in prayer for our guys as the holidays roll around. Considering our guys backgrounds, the holidays can be a very painful time for them. Pray for them to feel God's love and nearness especially this time of year, and to have a chance to feel all of the warm fuzzies within our Willow Springs family context.
Thank you all for your prayers and support. We especially feel it in the broken times, and in the healing times. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The ER Debacle.

Today, Blake and I went through one of those scary parenting ordeals that is the stuff of nightmarish articles that anxiety ridden moms share on Facebook. In the literal one to two minutes that Adeline was out of Blake and I's sight, she managed to climb onto a countertop and open a "child-proof" bottle of medicine and took about fifteen to twenty pills. Poison control instructed us to drive to the nearest emergency room, which was 30-40 minutes away in Shawnee (you probably don't want to know how quickly Blake got us there). First, let me start off with that she is totally fine now, she's just going to probably sleep the rest of the day and keep me awake all night. I totally don't care about pulling an all-nighter with my toddler after today. We are going to party and praise Jesus that the worst thing happening from this is drowsiness after an appropriate amount of vomiting.

I'm going to spare you the details of when it happened, freaked out phone calls, and all of the drama. The important thing is that she is okay, and honestly way tougher than any adult or almost adult I have ever seen in an emergency room. Seriously, she was amazing. Instead, I want to take this moment to decompress and brag on the community I work with at Willow Springs.

The doctors and nurses said she would probably feel too nauseated to eat anything, then she woke up and ate most of my lunch. 

Labor Day weekend was stressful for us. We had some things happen, including our AC quitting and, since it was labor day weekend, no way of getting it fixed until today: it was happily humming for us when we got home from the hospital (praaaaaise). Once it happened, we first called our family doctor's office. The nurses  called Poison Control right away and let me know they were praying for us and to call them if we needed anything else, and the man calling me from Poison Control was so calm and supportive, and called me a couple of times even after we had checked in at the hospital just to see if we were all okay. Our nurses at St. Anthony's were so reassuring and kind and compassionate. In just a matter of a few phone calls, our relief parents were able to take care of the guys getting rides from school. I was supposed to go grocery shopping today, but with this happening, I was trying to figure out what/when the guys would eat dinner, but our counselor offered to take them out to dinner and hang out with them until later this evening.

All this to say, in the moment, everything was chaotic and frightening. Once things settled down, though, I had a community of people around me who cared enough to be available and to help, which gave me the opportunity to do nothing but take care of Addie. Dear reader, I hope if you ever feel lonely that you can stop and look around and notice the community surrounding you. If you feel that you don't have one, start building it.

At one point today I jokingly told Blake that this wasn't a story we should tell anyone considering the vacant house parent position for the Mac House. But the more I thought about it, I realized this was the perfect story. The amazing thing about being a part of Willow Springs is not that things aren't ever going to go wrong, but that you're a part of a team that immediately leaps into action to work together when things do go wrong. No one complained about how inconvenient this was. No one left us to wade through the fear alone. Our community was happily and readily available to work together.

I shared a verse in another post earlier this year. " we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well." I Thessalonians 2:8 (NIV) As much as this verse has been true for our family in our decision to be house parents, it is also so true of the community at Willow Springs. If you are praying about becoming house parents, know that you are not only entering into a ministry in which much will be required of you, but so much will be given.

Thank you, friends of Willow Springs, and thank you Willow Springs. We thank our God upon each remembrance of you.

We were supposed to stay for 10 hours, but she was doing so well that we got to go home four hours early. I have the best husband and the best kid ever. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What Back To School Is Like With Four Teen Boys

Week before school:

"We start school next week? When are we getting our school supplies?!"
"Maybe I should do"
"Oh yeah I have band camp starting tomorrow."
"Wait, what day does school start again?"
"I can't even remember what classes I'm taking."
"Wait, what day does school start again?"

Three days before school:
Me: "Guys, remember to write down what your teacher says you need for class, I'm getting everything on Wednesday."
All guys: "Yeah, totally, we will remember all the things. Also...when does school start again?"

Day Before School:
Me: "I have it all in this binder prepared, along with a sentimental back to school note from Dad and me, and a daily/weekly/monthly planner that you will probably destroy in about three minutes."
Them: "Yup, but it's really awesome thank you!"

First Day of School:
All guys: "Oh, our teachers didn't tell us we needed x, y, and z until today."
Me: "It's okay, we'll just have a million receipts this month and spend an obscene amount of gas money driving a fifteen passenger van twenty minutes to WalMart for the third time this week."

Blake: *takes guys to school and everywhere else plus completes his color-coded list of tasks for each day flawlessly*
Me: *feeds and cleans Addie and tries to complete not very organized to do list and consequently forgets to clean and feed myself and picks up guys from extracurricular activities and silently thanks Jesus over two thousand times for crock pots as I serve dinner to the family*
Us: "Oh, hey, spouse I love, I haven't seen you all day, how's it going?"
Guys: *walk in the door and immediately ask twenty questions that all relate to food*

Okay, so this has been the quick, comical, slightly exaggerated and obviously not remotely spiritual version of how back to school has gone for us. This is not how the entire school year is going to go, but the first couple of weeks involves a lot of teamwork and survival instinct. I have tried to sit down and write this several times, but we have been so busy. Also, I have no idea what day it is.

It's Wednesday, August 26. Good grief, where has August gone?

First of all, I want to thank anyone and everyone who interceded in prayer for us for any amount of time over the summer, because I want you to know that it was a truly great summer. Though not without struggle, it was a definite season of growth for our guys. As with any human being, not just at-risk teenage boys, we don't miraculously drop all of our sins and burdens in one afternoon and skip through the rest of our lives; but God has been so faithful. Even in the sucky parts of the summer--which were, thankfully, few--good things were definitely happening. And I don't mean "good" like "pleasant" or "enjoyable," but "good" as in "clearly God's doing and not mine." I saw hearts that were once completely hardened start to soften under the steady current of grace that flows through Willow Springs. I have watched the boys go from edgy and defensive toward each other to showing more genuine care and concern for each other than most of the guys in my high school ever had toward each other. God has been so good to our family and has placed a spirit of peace and safety over it, and I am so, so thankful. We feel your prayers and support, friends of Willow Springs. We are so grateful.

As for attitudes with school starting, the guys have done really well. I think they are too tired to bring any drama they might encounter at school home. Each of our guys have something going on after school, so they get home around dinner time and we all just sit around and be worn out together. Basically, like any of you with kids in school. You know exactly what I mean. As exhausted as we may be, though, I cherish the after dinner lull. We laugh together and have great conversations and "watch" a movie together (we talk through half of it, usually).

I'm just so proud of them. Even when they mess up (like we all do all the time every day), they have grown so much the past few months and have risen so well to the challenges those of us at Willow Springs have given them. Being a parent is so much more than setting and enforcing boundaries (though this is obviously important), it is about discipling your kids. It's about being vulnerable and honest and wearing all of the things Christ has done for you and all of the grace He gives out on your sleeves, where it is real, sincere, and effective. Transparency shouldn't negate respect, it should reinforce it. As a parent I could sit here and list all of the characteristics of a good man that I still want them to work on and grow into, and how I wish they would make better choices regarding whatever, but I also want to take the time to be excited about all the good they have done, and all of the good they are already doing. My focus right now is to work on what their hearts are bent toward--if their hearts truly bend toward Christ, the other stuff fixes itself. If they struggle to seek Him even in the midst of the voices and temptations that try to win their focus, that is more than most adults are doing today. Nothing in the world would make me more proud and feel more content as their house mom than for each of our guys to trust Christ and follow him as best as they could. I want that stability for them.

Intercessors, please pray for this. Pray that Blake and I have the grace and discernment to seize every opportunity to pour the gospel into them--this definitely is, and always has been, our goal. A few other things you can be praying for include:

  • The Mac House continues to be worked on, and is coming along so well. The sooner it is finished, the sooner we can get another set of house parents and more boys into the house. Please be praying for the completion of the house, the filling of the house parents position, and whatever boys God leads here. 
  • In addition to praying for the needs for the completion of the house, please also be praying for God's provision to fund the additional staff and residents. Not necessarily the if, because we believe God will--but for the who and the how
  • Having one boy with a license and one with a permit and car shopping is making me a nervous wreck. Please join me in praying that they would be safe and wise behind the wheel--and also for everyone in the high school parking lot, because I still remember my own high school parking lot too well.
  • For the love of all things bright and beautiful, let's pray for all of our teenagers to miraculously block out all of the pressure making them feel like they need a significant other to be worth something. Have a crush and get a Sonic drink, don't declare your undying love for someone who doesn't even know what they want to eat for breakfast. /end rant 

We are so humbled and thankful to be a part of what God is doing at Willow Springs. In the midst of ministry, we have been ministered to abundantly. Thank you, friends of WSBR!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Secret, Not-So-Secret Beast

This is a PSA to warn all of you of a beast who, though dormant in many ways for a long time, has become more and more prevalent as social media has become more widespread in our culture. This is a beast that has all kinds of camouflage; reproduces as quickly and is as annoying as lice; as destructive as a wildfire; as cunning as a serpent; as unassuming as an insect, but deadly. Sometimes it attacks quickly and suddenly, and sometimes it slowly wears down its prey over time.

This beast is called insecurity. While each person may have a different beast that wreaks havoc in their lives, I have seen firsthand the devastation wrought by insecurity, and it is one that seems to have attacked all of us at least once (but usually daily). I have been affected by others' battles with insecurity, but I have mostly wrestled with my own. Sometimes it oozes out of my phone or laptop screen. Sometimes I hear its whispers in the fitting room or in front of my bathroom mirror. Sometimes I feel it stalking me at church, or pretty much anywhere in public. I have even felt its presence make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when my husband safely holds me. Insecurity often functions as a parasite, using a human host to give it strength, making it even more difficult to completely eradicate. The moment you think you have thwarted it in your own heart and home, it enters into your brain through your ears, riding on the ill-chosen words of another. You may even be surprised that insecurity is often known by another name that seems to be the complete opposite, but is actually another disguise, another head of the same beast  pride. Pride and insecurity are often two ends of the same spectrum. Even Adam and Eve came to ruin because pride made them want to be like God, and insecurity made them wonder if God really had their best interests at heart.

Dearest reader, this beast throws us into a cycle that feels impossible to escape. Maybe even now you feel it creeping in as you read this, and you are now feeling insecure of your own insecurity. How do we escape the thought trap? How do we sever ourselves from this devastating demon?

First, I think we have to be realistic about what our insecurities are. I think we pray, and we talk to someone we trust who doesn't make us feel threatened, and show enough humility to lay those insecurities out on the table and deal with them. We evaluate them and ask ourselves if and why these things matter to us. We go to God and ask him to teach us to trust him, because our insecurities often thrive on our attempt to deal with them ourselves. And when God shows you what those insecurities are, we don't just try to put a band-aid over them, but completely remove the infected area. If there are buzzer topics that immediately send you into an insecurity downward spiral, change the subject. Be realistic about others' intentions, and remind yourself that whatever is going on in their lives isn't necessarily a reflection of what's missing in your own life. Or, remove the person's Facebook feed/Instagram or Twitter account from your timeline that you know makes you think destructively. Or, if you find yourself wanting to broadcast your day on social media in a way that makes you look more awesome than you are, that's insecurity, too (or, just get rid of Facebook/Instagram/Twitter, if you must). Pride and insecurity are as common but as varying as each individual, and it requires a constant and intimate dialogue with the Holy Spirit to truly deal with it.

When the words of others, whether purposeful or not, stick into my thought pattern, I have to replace it with God's Word. If I feel convicted, and it's about something from Scripture, then there is obviously something there that I need to confront. But when insecurity follows you like a shadow, that's not from Christ. Here are some words I have tried to tuck away, a light to keep away the darkness and expose what lingers in its corners:

"He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." Ephesians 4:10-16

Insecurity divides and isolates. When the love of Christ permeates everything in us and around us, there's no room for it. Christ has given us all special gifts and talents that were given to us to be united in him, and for Christ to use this unity as a tool to further unite all people in him. God is in the business of redemption, and there is nothing redemptive about pride or insecurity.

"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God." Romans 5:1-2

How can we be prideful knowing that our peace is only through Christ? How can we be insecure knowing that our hope is in the glory of God, knowing that is by his grace alone--unchanging and unwavering--we are saved? Shouldn't that take some pressure off of us?

"Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls." James 1:19-21

Sometimes anger is a mask that insecurity wears. Sure, there is righteous anger, but too many times anger is driving with insecurity in the passenger seat.

"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Hebrews 4:12

Insecurity usually operates as a lingering malady. Conviction operates differently. It is swift and to the point. Insecurity makes us wonder if there is something wrong with us. Conviction makes us sure of what is wrong with us, and how to deal with it and move past it.

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." John 10:10

Insecurity serves no purpose other than to destroy. Conviction is there to discipline, to help us live a life of joy and abundance. Christ didn't come to make you feel good about yourself, but he also didn't come to remind you every day of how short you fall. He took care of it when he took the punishment for our sins. The awareness and conviction is step one. Following Christ and letting him change us--redemption and hope--is the next. The redemption of all things will reach its finality when Christ comes back. Insecurity is aimless, Christ is not.

"You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything." 2 Timothy 2:1-7

There are lots of great things here, but what stood out to me was "no soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him." How often are our insecurities wrapped up in something that ultimately has nothing to do with the calling Christ has given us? What does my pant size have to do with sharing the gospel? How does comparing myself to the SuperChristianGlutenFreeMom next to me help me share the gospel? If a person I know has mentioned to a common friend that they aren't fond of me, does that person not liking me keep me from sharing the gospel? For the sake of unity I will absolutely do what I can to restore a relationship with that person that builds us both up, but if they just don't like hanging out with me, it doesn't have to define my day. Being imperfect often means making a lot of apologies and recognizing the areas that we fall short, but it doesn't mean we live there, or force others to live there with us.

The insecurity beast is one that has taken over my day far too many times. It is a beast that I constantly pray for the Spirit to expose and remove in me. I see it in myself and so many other women around me making us afraid to reach out to each other, and making us far too quick to condemn each other. Please know that if you are in Christ, insecurity should not be hovering over everything you do. If Christ isn't there, you shouldn't be either. If you struggle with insecurity and you are not a Christian, please know that there is freedom in Christ. There is nothing more stable than Him. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Mountain View

What do you do when it's a rainy day and the guys and Blake all go to Frontier City with the youth group? You catch up on your bloggin' and make pumpkin waffles for brunch with your toddler.

Yes, you read that right, pumpkin waffles. And before you roll your eyes at my impatience for fall, be honest and ask how I'm supposed to help myself when it's all rainy like it is today, and school is starting in nine days. It's like fall is calling to me and running to me with arms open wide. Yes. Bring it in, fall. You're awesome.


Of course, summer has been great. It's not that I'm not thankful for all of the things it has given us, especially last Saturday. I had my first piano recital with my first piano students. Somewhere my piano teachers must be cosmically connected in their uproarious laughter at the thought of me teaching piano--not for my lack of ability, but for my obvious distaste for practicing piano. My high school choir teacher is also probably joining in the joke at the remembrance of me telling her I "never want to teach music" when she asked what I was interested in doing with my music degree. I know, I know. The irony is almost too much to take.

 It started with me really wanting the guys to try music. Even if they hated it, I could live with it, as long as they tried. Though I have met people who don't have much musical talent, I don't think I have ever met anyone who has said they hate music. Everyone has some kind of music that resonates with them, even if it would drive me crazy (example: Rihanna. One Direction. Iggy Azalea. Etc.). So many people have found healing through music, and I thought maybe having even a little bit of an understanding of it would be good for them. The recital was a way for them to proudly show off what they had learned--on their part, however, it was mostly them doing something that was important to me.

All of my students did so well at the recital. They make it look like I taught them a lot, but mostly they are brilliant. Most of the time when I sat down to teach, they blew through whatever I was going to go over at that lesson in the first ten minutes, and the next twenty was me trying to figure out who is going to have to replace me when they outlearn my teaching abilities. And all of them, even when they messed up, performed so well. They held it together perfectly, as if no mistakes were made. Ugh, I am oozing pride and I can't stop. Sorry, not sorry.

These four guys have had a great, great summer. I'm so proud of them. They make our job easy.

I love this picture because I told everyone to pretend that the person closest to them has just said something hilarious. And Adeline was so not in on the joke.

After participating in a recital mostly out of the kindness in their hearts, the guys also hung out in the humid Oklahoma heat for almost an hour taking family pictures, which was also at least 93% for me. They didn't complain even one time. Not even with their eyes. Saturday felt like a day where all my family and friends just filled my love tank full, with no complaints and no hesitation. I can't express how much this meant to me, and how happy I am to have photographic evidence of this day. 

I'm really glad that Blake isn't too cool to do stuff like this with me.

My favorite thing about this picture is how skinny my arm looks. I wish I had like, a "before" arm picture and "after" from last summer to this summer.

I happened to find Adeline's precious little romper on sale at Target. I'm so glad we took these pictures with her in it because I think it's only going to fit her for about three days. Homegirl is growing like crazy.
She only managed to get a few knicks out of the apple, but it was pretty cute for picture taking. <3

I can't say that this awesome Saturday had absolutely no interest for the boys--they also knew that when all was said and done there were ribs waiting for them at home. Pinterest gave me another winner, y'all. That recipe is the bomb. 

 As awesome as my piano students are, and as awesome as the guys are, the truth is none of this amazing day or my life full of happiness would hold together without Blake. He takes my lofty dreams and my bleeding heart and helps me translate these things into real-life, attainable goals. Every day I am blown away by how great of a dad he is. Most dads our age (and some older ones) constantly have terror and uncertainty in their eyes, but not Blake. His faith and trust in Christ, and his devotion to Adeline, to our guys, and to our marriage, and his unsurpassable work ethic make him solid as a rock. Several times a day I just stare at him and think, "this man is just too good to be true." And he is. And he's mine. And I'm bragging because I am giddy at how much I don't deserve him.

So, as I stand here on my good-life mountain, I look back at the valleys that were and wonder at the valleys to come. I wonder at the "hows" of what God will do, but have no "ifs" in my mind. I don't wonder "if" God will keep coming through, but I wonder how He will keep doing it. This has been a difficult season for many Christians who look at what is happening in our broken world and wonder how to sort through it all, but I hope and pray you will find yourself in a place soon where you have a perfect view of the hope we have in Christ, despite the bruises and scars that happen along the way. From here, I have the courage to face the valleys in anticipation of God's faithfulness rather than fear of the trials that lead through it, and I am thankful.

Our family portraits were done by Hannah Melson Photography, to help raise money for a family in our church who is adopting a little girl. You can learn about other ways to support this sweet family here

Monday, July 27, 2015

Paula Kaye's Famous Street Tacos

Okay, I am not going to be that mommy blogger that posts a thousand recipes on her blogs, but you need this one. YOU NEED THIS ONE. It's so easy. It's so delicious. It is super budget friendly. AND, bonus, it's gluten free. You're welcome, gluten-conscious people of America.

I know I am the worst food photographer ever; but I could only last about three seconds before inhaling these street tacos. Which I made for myself. At eleven o'clock at night.

I have had these beauties a handful of time at the Compton's house, but the last time we had them Paula Kaye walked me through her discovery of them. She had a friend who had been a missionary (to Spain? Brazil? I can't remember), and would buy "street tacos" from the vendors. Once you learn about them, you will never need to actually look at the recipe again, because your heart will have it memorized, and treasured forever.

Small white corn tortillas (the brand with the Mexican Flag on it is best and costs the same as the Great Value brand) (I have a family of six and we still haven't finished off one entire package of these tortillas, and we have had these for dinner one night, then some of us for lunch the past two days, each of us having at least three at a time. So...yeah one should be enough)
Shredded chicken (you can boil it in chicken broth and delicious spices, but if it's a last minute thing you could get rotisserie chicken from Walmart, which is also really tasty)
Fiesta blend shredded cheese
Your preferred brand of hot sauce
Cilantro (fresh is better in my opinion, but the dried kind in the shaker is good, too)
*Lime Juice
*Refried Beans or Spanish Rice
*Sour Cream
*Ranch dressing

1. Heat a large skillet or pan on medium - high heat, depending on if you like your tacos kind of crispy. No grease or oil or butter or whatever necessary.
2. Arrange your toppings onto the tortilla in this order: refried beans if you choose, then cheese, then shredded chicken, then hot sauce (less is more, people), then cilantro. If you would like lime juice on your taco, squeeze a little on there, too. Don't overdo the toppings too much, because the tortillas are small. You could put less toppings on there, but eat like, fifteen of them. Or three, if you're a more reasonable person.
3. Place taco flat on pan until the cheese has melted.
4a. Carefully fold taco over and press just enough for it to shut.
4b. Here you can slightly unfold the taco to stuff in the extra toppings you want.
5. Serve and devour so quickly you basically burn the roof of your mouth beyond repair because YUM.

Alternative cooking method:
Ignore step one, place tacos on plate and microwave for about one minute. They're a little messier, but still really good and it's fast.

*indicates optional but mouth-watering additions to the original recipe

I made sure each of the guys learned this one because it is such a cheap, easy, fast recipe that will be perfect for their bachelor pads some day. Or when they're young, poor newlyweds. Or filthy rich, who cares? These things are so good. The guys have decided this needs to be a weekly meal, so it's going to be our Wednesday night meal before church. The conversation went like this:

Me: "Would you guys get sick of these if we had them once a week?"
The guys: "We could have these three times a week and not get tired of them."

I also made some kick-butt homemade salsa from veggies at the fruit stand at the end of the dirt road.

I'm assuming you're going to go to Walmart tonight and buy these ingredients. Know that food has connected us across space and time, dear reader, as I also assemble and eat mine sometime after ten o'clock.

*Recipe Update*

I made crockpot pulled pork the other day, and we still had a ton left so I thought hey, I'll use some of this to make street tacos for myself (because yes it is 10:30pm and if you must eat you may as well eat something with sustenance so you stay full instead of eating 800 cups of cereal).

 And I did. And YOU GUYS. You're welcome for more leftover ideas that don't taste like leftovers. #streettacosforpresident 

Monday, July 13, 2015

What's a House Mom?

I think I am probably overdue for a bit of a DTR ("define the relationship"). Now, I know this post isn't going to keep anyone from asking me the same questions over and over, but it can't hurt to have a FAQ post for those who will take the time to read it.

To begin, I'm going to give a very general explanation of what a house parent does. As a house parent at Willow Springs Boys Ranch, it is my responsibility to care for our boys exactly the way any normal parent cares for their child. We disciple them, go to church as a family, schedule doctors appointments, drive them to school, take them clothes shopping, feed them, give them ibuprofen for their headache, teach them how to grow up into responsible adults, have them clean their rooms and then clean their rooms again according to the correct definition of a clean room, help them resolve conflicts with their ranch brothers, coach them in social interactions/reactions, etc. All the things one would do for a child, we do for our children--because they are our children. The main job of a house parent is to parent.

Now, a little more specifically, what does a house mom do? When we applied to work at Willow Springs, the instructions were, for the most part, pretty general:

  • Do the things a mom does that these boys have likely not experienced. This includes home-cooked meals as often as possible, so that they see a mom putting love and care into their food (think about how much emotion is involved when you're eating food prepared with love and care. Now multiply that times about 100 for boys with complicated backgrounds). 
  • Be a cheerleader. When they get a good grade on their test, voice your pride. If they are really good at something, nourish that and support it. 
  • Be quick to listen. Think about how often teenage boys open up: not often. Any time they do come to you with their feelings or concerns, be quick to listen and slow to respond. If you respond too quickly, they may be hesitant to open up again.
  • Be available. If you're doing dishes or cooking dinner or whatever, be prepared to multi-task. Our guys need to know that I'm here for them, even if that means they are talking to me while I cut up 1,000 potatoes. Above all else, don't become detached from what is going on in the home and with the boys.

Some specific things I do that fall in line with these expectations, as well as things that I have found to be healthy and encourage the family atmosphere include:

  • I must accept the fact that food is a BIG DEAL to them. I work really hard to find a balance of healthy meals that still meet their emotional needs. We make them try everything at the table, even the vegetables. If they don't get seconds, hey, more for me (I love veggies). We don't eat dessert all the time or have pop in the house except for on special occasions, and by doing this, it actually feels special and they can learn healthier relationships with food. The balance of healthy food and comfort food has worked really well in our house, because they love the comfort food so much that they trust me to make the healthy food taste just as great. There's no apologizing for meals (unless something on Pinterest turned out, like...really bad. But that rarely happens), and we eat dinner as a family. Setting the table and not having the TV going makes a huge difference. 
  • I let them see Blake and I being affectionate toward one another. It matters for them to see a husband and wife who love each other and treat each other respectfully, and to know what that looks like in real life. We hold hands when we're driving. Blake will hug me and kiss me on the cheek while I'm making dinner. Blake kisses me good-bye every time he leaves. If Blake and I disagree on something, unless it is a very serious or private matter, they usually see us work it out respectfully and quickly. 
  • Obviously, we don't spank our boys. However, we are not against spanking, and there are times when we have to spank Adeline. It's important that they see spanking done in a way that isn't fueled by anger and is done calmly and not excessively. 
  • Consistency. If we tell them doing a certain thing is going to lead to a certain consequence, we make sure that consequence happens, and it is going to match whatever the offense was. If two of our boys can't stop arguing to the point that we send them to their rooms, we aren't going to make them stay there all day, just for however long it takes for their temper to level off. When the consequence is over, it's over. When the incident is resolved, it's resolved. 

That was a smidge longer than I anticipated. Now, let's move on to the FAQ's.


So, do you have another job besides being a house mom?
Nope. Being a house parent is my full time job.

Are they horrible to you?
I'm not saying that hasn't been or never will be part of the job, but no. Our boys are generally very respectful. Part of that is due to our guys' personalities, and the other part due to the tone we have set for this house; Blake has worked especially hard to make sure that respect is the norm. Blake is really awesome.

Are you ever scared to have your daughter around them?

Good grief, no. She adores them and they love her. They interact so gently and appropriately with her, and most nights while I am cooking dinner they are playing legos with her or coloring in her Hello Kitty coloring book with her. They always help me get her in and out of her car seat. They stay about a million miles away from dirty diapers, though. She knows all of their names and is equally excited about running up and hugging any of them. Obviously as her mom and considering she is a toddler, it's not like she has free reign from any supervision. While our guys are great and super helpful and loving, they aren't her parents, so either Blake or I am always around to keep an eye on her if the other is busy.

Do they actually live in the house with you?
Yes. Our house can hold up to eight boys total, and we have four right now. Two have their own room and two are sharing. Family couldn't really happen if we didn't live in the same house.

Is your life completely hectic?
Sometimes, but most parents' lives are pretty hectic. If what you're really asking is if our job is hard, then the answer is yes. But just because the job is hard doesn't mean it isn't great.

Wait...if I'm talking to you and Blake...but your kids aren't with you...who is watching the boys?!?!?!
Sometimes we just leave them at the house completely unsupervised, I mean, they're practically adults, right? I'm being sarcastic. We have amazing relief houseparents who live on the property who come over one full day a week (as in overnight) and one weekend a month. They come with their three little ones to stay at the house with the guys and cook them dinner and relieve for us so we can get the break we need to regroup and do our job well. In the family dynamic, they're like the house aunt and uncle. They are also the ones to cover for Blake and I when we go on vacation.  

Are any of your boys special needs or anything like that?
Sometimes this question is meant specifically for special needs such as autism or down syndrome, and no, we typically don't take in boys with special needs, because we don't have the means necessary to do so. 

Are they all boys who have gotten into trouble, like, are they all "bad kids?"
No. Willow Springs is for boys who need an opportunity for success that they haven't had a chance at in the past. Sometimes they have gotten into some trouble, but a lot of times they just need a place to go. We don't have a contract with DHS for placements, so many of the boys who are here do have parents or guardians, but for whatever reason that parent or guardian needs help raising them. 

I hope this blog has helped answer some of your burning questions regarding our ministry at Willow Springs. Please, if you have any more questions about what a house parent/house mom specifically does, you can leave a comment below or you can message me on Facebook or tweet me on Twitter or however you choose to contact me. I would love to tell you more about what God is doing at Willow Springs and in my life as a house mom!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Marriage: Three Lies and a Truth

Christmas Picture 2012

Today is our fourth wedding anniversary. Four years ago, right now, Blake and I were eating an oven baked pizza in our house in Shawnee because we had been way too nervous to eat before our wedding at 2pm that afternoon. Or maybe that's when we were walking out of Family Video with a couple of rented movies to watch. My timeline is a little fuzzy. 

For a blog post in honor of four years of marriage, Blake suggested I do a "two truths and a lie" post, where I say two true things and one false thing we have learned in our four years of marriage. Then I said it has to be three truths and a lie so that it adds to four, because that's cuter. We started brainstorming some of the marriage advice we received while we were engaged and reached an interesting conclusion: either we heard more (or remember many more) false statements about marriage than true ones. I think this could be due to the fact that when you are married and living life and someone suddenly asks you to give them marriage advice, you just regurgitate something you heard that you think could possibly be true for them. Also, we received some advice that was kind of depressing, either because whoever gave it was a Debbie downer or thought it would help us be "realistic" or something. All this to say, it is necessary for this little game to be "three lies and a truth." 

OKAY! So, let's play.

  • Marriage is 50/50; it's all about give and take.
  • Sometimes husbands and wives just don't get each other, and that's okay. That's what girlfriends/bros are for.
  • Kids won't strengthen your marriage, they will strain it.
  • Marriage is hard, but it is also really fun.
Don't read ahead just yet! See if you can guess. Read them a couple more times. Find the true one (or the one Blake and I find to be true).

Okay, now for the big reveal!

LIE #1: Marriage is 50/50. It's all about give and take.

Thankfully, Blake and I covered this one in marriage counseling with Odus, so we didn't learn this was a lie the hard way. Marriage is not 50/50. It is 100/100, as in, you are both giving 100% all the time. If at any time you decide, "Hey, I've been giving a lot lately, it's about time my spouse matched my giving," then you need to check yourself before you wreck yourself. Plus, if both of you are giving your 100%, you might be exhausted, but you won't be bitter. You will be thankful for each other and for the ability to communicate and work together as a team. I would way rather lay in bed with Blake at the end of the day completely worn out than for one of us to feel okay and the other to be perturbed because they were pulling most of the weight all day. Also, instead of constantly wishing your spouse would be more romantic or complementary or whatever your "love language" is, focus on pouring out whatever love language they speak, and typically they will pour out your love language right back. I'm going to assume that whoever you married likes when you feel loved; if you don't feel loved, don't try to force them to show it. Lavish love on them, and it will elicit a response. Focusing on giving instead of entitlement changes everything, marriages included.

LIE #2: Sometimes husbands and wives just don't get each other, and that's okay. That's what girlfriends/bros are for.

Be wary of any advice that separates husbands and wives. Marriage is about unity, and while men and women may seem to think differently at times, it is no excuse for driving a wedge between a husband and wife. I realize this may not be true for every couple out there, but Blake knows more about me than anyone. I trust his advice more than anyone else's, and I trust him with my feelings more than anyone else. If I seek out someone to talk to, it isn't because I think Blake wouldn't understand, but because whoever I vent to might happen to be more readily available to listen at that moment. 

Now, I'm not saying there isn't a need for wives to have their girlfriends and husbands to have their guy friends. People need community and that is part of it. However, the idea that Blake should just accept that I'm not going to get how his mind works or that I should just accept the fact that I'm on a different emotional plane than he is seems lazy and disrespectful. Accepting this negates the need to learn how to effectively communicate, and seems to segregate a part of your heart away from your spouse, which isn't unifying at all. Working through this isn't always going to be easy. Sometimes it will force the two of you to sit on your bed for hours talking, take five minutes to cool down and keep from yelling, resort to creative ways to explain yourselves (imagery, charts, who knows?), and all kinds of tedious conversation; but on the other side, you will understand each other, you will respect each other, and you will have something that a girlfriend or bro just can't give you.

LIE #3: Kids won't strengthen your marriage, they will strain it.

Yeah, look at all that strain I'm holding in my uterus.

At least the graduation gown helped hide my planetary belly.

Yeah...Addie didn't strain my marriage so much as she strained my stomach and my ability to breathe. And hold in pee.

I think we strained Addie's patience with our silliness infinitely more than she ever strained our marriage as an infant. 

Look, I know where people are coming from with this. Having kids is really, really hard, and it will completely change your life. When you have a newborn, everything is strained because you aren't getting any sleep. Children do not strain your marriage. You strain your marriage. Pregnancy doesn't strain your marriage. If you choose to be a husband that just looks at your wife and thinks "you are not my wife, you are crazy," you are going to strain your marriage as well as the possibility that you are going to live past tomorrow. If you are a pregnant wife who looks at your husband and thinks, "he has no idea what I am going through," even if that's true, you are straining yourself and your marriage. Help each other. Listen to each other. Be on each other's side. Husbands, tell your wife that she is still beautiful when she has Cheerios in her hair. Wives, don't get mad when your husbands can't read your mind because they are trying really hard to do so. Husbands, when you can see that your wife is losing it, instead of rolling your eyes, just relieve her of her duties. If Blake can tell my patience is wearing thin, he stops me in the middle of my third load of dirty dishes for the day and says "I'll clean up, go sit down for a while," and I accept his help. If I can tell that Blake is getting wound up, I go to him and say, "Is there anything I could do for you on your to-do list that will take some pressure off of you?" and he will let me know how I can help him. Wives, don't assume that your husband doesn't care. He might not be super intuitive, but that doesn't mean he doesn't care. 

Ultimately, if anything, kids may be a distraction from effective communication, but only if you let them. If you find yourself resenting your spouse, it probably isn't your child's fault. Take a good, hard, honest look at how you think about your spouse, and ask yourself whose fault that really is.

TRUTH: Marriage is hard, but it is also really fun.

When you try to FaceTime your brother but he won't answer so you send a screenshot of your disapproval.

Going on adventures when you're married is the funnest.

In four years, Blake and I have already seen a lot of the difficulties life can throw at you when you are married. We have been at odds with friends. We have struggled through painful conversations. We have dealt with the pain of miscarriage. We have been really poor. We have heard troubling news from doctors. We have said goodbye to loved ones until we see them again in heaven. We have held each other and cried and waited for God. There is going to be a lot of this and so much more of it during our marriage. 

We have also traveled to different countries and cultures together. We got our degrees at OBU together. We have five awesome kids (one we made, four we gained, plus other guys who have come through our house in the past). We have an awesome job with amazing co-laborers. We have been a part of amazing ministries and have had opportunities to share the gospel that we never could have done apart from each other. We laugh all the time. We binge watch Netflix and yell at imaginary characters together. We are complete foodies and we eat everything. We text each other ridiculous things while the other is in the bathroom. We have fun and we are so not sorry about it. 

Look, it's baby Blake and Michelle taking kissy pictures in their college library! Awh.

Some honorable mentions for this post:

LIE: You won't like each other as much later as you do now.
We still think we're awesome.

LIE: Sex will be really great your first year of marriage or until you have kids, but then it's going to be kind of "meh."
Just. Nope.

LIE: No matter how long you have been married, there will still be secrets you keep from your spouse or things you won't do in front of each other.
Leave the door unlocked because sometimes there is just too much going on for you to poop in peace. 

LIE: It's hard to find time for each other after you have kids.
Napping together is still time for each other. You can find time for each other even if you're not doing anything.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Summer Update

I have been a house mom getting stuff done today.

I woke up, poured my (obviously EOTE) cup of joe, and: rescheduled my doctor's appointment; did some prep for a class on purity Blake and I will be teaching in a couple of weeks; scheduled senior panel pictures for one of our guys who is going to be a senior this year (#whatislife?); got dinner in the crockpot for tonight (what would my family eat if not for Pinterest and crockpots?); ordered a piano book with some easy arrangements of works by Beethoven, Mozart, and others that one of my guys has been begging to be able to play; worked through the calendar to begin scheduling and planning a summer recital for my piano students; and made everyone lunch...except myself. I'll eat something later. I'll also shower later. Everyone knows when you're a mom you basically have to choose two of the three: 1. Everyone getting fed 2. Getting everything on your list done 3. Showering and feeding yourself.

Let me tell you, readers, this summer has been crazy. Two of our guys are working full time summer jobs, we had VBS last week (or the week before? I have no idea what day it is), everyone wants to go do different summer activities at the absolute last second, and if you aren't already feeling like this summer is flying, let me remind you that in one month and ten days, school is starting. That means we are about half way through the summer.

We celebrated three birthdays in the month of June, and we have two birthdays to celebrate during July, as well as our fourth anniversary. Two of our guys are going on home visits this weekend, and the other two are going to stick around and get to do fun fourth of July activities with my side of the family. Most of these activities involve eating. Thanks again, Pinterest! We are also taking the guys out for a day on the lake, where we will get to rent a boat and do tubing and water skiing all day. After going to Florida for a week last year, this is going to be our "family vacation" for this year. I can't wait to tell you all about it, it's going to be a blast and the guys cannot stop talking about it.

A chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and mini chocolate chips for our 16-year-old, and an orange creme cake for the hot 24-year-old. I forgot to buy candles before we had cake so they each only got one. Oops.

A way-easier-than-it-looks ice cream cake for our 15-year-old.

As far as needs around Willow Springs, first I want to thank anyone and everyone who has been involved with the renovations at the Mac house next door. We have all of the funds needed for the renovation! All we need now are volunteers who can get it done, and the funds needed to reopen and support house parents and boys living there. We tend to find that whenever the means necessary are there, God brings applicants to fill the houses. God has provided, and He will continue to provide what everyone needs. Please keep praying for us, and if you feel God leading you to give, know that God is moving in the lives of the boys at Willow Springs, and whatever boys end up at Willow Springs.

Please keep praying for our guys. Even in the short time since school ended, I can see them changing and growing, and can see evidence of God moving in their hearts. It can be a tough process with teenagers to see if and when they are hearing God or paying attention to ways He is moving in their lives, and sometimes it feels a little fruitless, but it isn't. It is happening; it is unique and different for each young man in our house, but it is definitely happening.

If you have been involved with and investing in the lives of these young men, please know that we notice and we appreciate it. It takes a village to raise a child, right? Please continue to pray for all of us at Willow Springs who fight for the success of these young men, and thank you for all that you do to support us!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Re-entering the Twittersphere

That's right, everyone. This house mom is ups with the times.

As I have been logged on to Twitter, I am overwhelmed by the amount of people tweeting. Each account you see is probably run by someone who has at least three other accounts. It seems that Twitter is the place where you can be a little snarkier and creative than you can be on your Facebook feed where Grandma can see it, which isn't so different from how I remember it. Also, I think stalking on Twitter isn't as creepy as stalking on Facebook. Is that right? I think that's right.

There was a time when I was like, the Twitter queen. That's a little overstated, maybe the Twitter...door greeter. When Blake and I were in college at OBU, we decided to forgo all social media outlets. It helped us concentrate on our work more, and stare at our phones less. If the world wasn't so enraptured by social media, I must be honest, it would appeal to me about as much as sushi appeals to my five guys: glad you like it, but nope, none for me, thanks.

To be completely real with you, there are a lot of people I can connect to on Twitter that I don't connect with on Facebook. Also, it turns out that these days, if you want to be a real writer, you get a Twitter following. Blake had a Twitter once upon a time with the best bio ever: "Is, {don't follow me, follow Jesus} a Jesus juke?" Follow Jesus, but also, please follow me on Twitter. We can tweet all the things together, you and I.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Best Parenting Advice I Ever Received, Ever, That I Haven't Found in a Book (Yet)

VBS: Vacation Bible School, otherwise known as Very Busy Season. As you can probably tell from the plethora of silly pictures and videos on Facebook, Blake and I, along with three awesome girls from the youth group, were in charge of music for Vacation Bible School this year. We did the music for the worship rally, Blake and I did a skit for the worship rally every day, and we taught all of the kids the motions to the songs all week. Also, because Falls Creek was cancelled for week four, there was a church out at Jacob's Ladder who needed worship leaders for their evening devotion, so we did that as well. When we got home from the VBS family night tonight, our entire family was wiped. We all agreed that we didn't care what we did this evening as long as it didn't involve moving. So, movies and blogging it was.

When we got home this afternoon from the last morning of VBS, Blake--voiceless and exhausted--walked into the door and looked around our house and said, "Our house looks awful."
"Well, we haven't been home to clean it, really."
"I know."
"Do you want to take a shower while I make lunch for everybody?"
"Yes. Then after you make lunch I'm going to clean."
" would rather clean then nap?"
He then proceeded to spend three hours cleaning, and I got to take an hour and a half nap. Ladies, this is the  kind of man you should be holding out for, okay? Don't worry, though, Blake still got to take a nap.

A pretty accurate picture of what most of Blake's week looked like.

I am still thinking through what my next blog post regarding our guys and life at the ranch is going to look like, not because our guys have been difficult or anything, but because summer is just a whole different beast from the school year. However, I still want to keep writing consistently, and being surrounded by children and teenagers all week has made me think about parenting almost constantly. I've had several people ask me questions about what parenting teenagers is like at my age, and if it affects how I parent Adeline. First of all, let me stop you there for a second. Parenting is parenting. Sure, there are different nuances that come into play with different ages, but if I try to segregate parenting our guys and parenting Adeline, it just doesn't work. Whether with my seventeen-year-old or two-year-old, I have the same parenting goals on the forefront of my brain: showing them Christ and teaching them to follow Him, raising them up to be responsible, successful, servant-hearted, kind, welcoming, and honest, all while making sure they feel loved, cared for, listened to, and supported. It might take five minutes to have a guy pick up after himself, and it might take twenty minutes to coach Adeline through picking up her messes, but the same basic principle is being taught. Granted, the guys we work with come from all kinds of backgrounds, and there are things that we have to take into account when we parent them, but we have found for both them and for Adeline that consistency is a big deal and it makes a big difference.

As for some of the best parenting advice ever, there is one book I have read that came to me at literally the perfect season. It's not a Christian book, and I didn't agree with ALL of it, but each page I would just stop and think, "That makes perfect sense." It's called Bringing Up Bebe; it is hilarious and a super fast read. A lot of it applied to Addie, and it still applies to my teenagers. I'm telling you, it's awesome. Also, there's a really easy and delicious recipe for a cake in there.

The best parenting advice I ever received, right after I had Addie--you know, right around that time where everyone is giving you advice whether you ask for it or not--was actually from none other than my father-in-law. It wasn't anything super philosophical or scientific or controversial. This is advice for any parent, whether you are pro- or anti-vaccination, whether sugar is the devil or Happy Meals are your best friend, and applies to little girls, boys, teenage girls, teenage boys--all of the parenting scenarios.

It's a little song you sing to yourself or think really hard while your child is losing it: "I'm more patient than you."

I know, I know, it sounds absurd at first. But I am telling you, when you are sleep deprived and your child is refusing to fall asleep and is screaming to the point where they look like their face is going to pop like a balloon, and you are about to burst into tears, sing the song in your head. The tune doesn't matter. It's the mantra that matters. "I'm more patient than you, I'm more patient than you, I'm more patient than you..." When your teenager is acting like you're the dumbest person on the planet and you need to hold your ground, give yourself a few quick mental repetitions of "I'm more patient than you" before you go all Beyonce on them like, "YOU MUST NOT KNOW 'BOUT ME." In most cases, when you start thinking of the song, you do not feel even a little bit patient. Forcing yourself to think "I'm more patient than you," though, makes you realize it's true. You are the parent. You are in control. You are the one who decides where this conversation (or lack thereof?) is going. This isn't for the sake of parental tyranny, but parental consistency. If Adeline throws a big tantrum and I react either by giving into the tantrum or, on the other side, having a tantrum of my own, she is in control of that situation. But, if I am to the point of exhaustion that I feel I am going to swing one way or the other, I sing it (even to her sometimes), and react appropriately. As the parent, I keep control and she is a better person for it.

Now, there is a ton of advice I have received and practiced, and a ton that I decided, "Yeah...I don't need that one." There is an overwhelming amount of parenting resources that any parent can have access to at the click of a Google search. I say this is the best advice ever not because it changed anything drastic in my parenting beliefs, but because it is something I use all the time, especially on the days when I might wake up and feel completely incapable of parenting that day. On days when I am sick, or exhausted, or really needing a break, kids aren't aware of that, and their need to be parented doesn't change.

There are no perfect people, and especially no perfect parents. We can't be completely composed or patient all of the time. We can't know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we make all of the right parenting decisions. We can focus, however, on being the best parent we can be one day at a time, and this is a trick that seems to help me do so.

Well, everyone, that's all I have for my semi-weekly blog writing. I leave you with some of my favorite pictures by our church photographer from VBS this week.

Everyone's favorite ridiculous character from our skits, Seymour. Seymour is now a cultural phenomenon, I'm pretty sure.

The song we were singing had nothing to do with rabbits. I can see why our faces would be misleading.

Go ahead and take a guess which child is mine. Oh, the one proudly showing off her belly button. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

We Have a Problem.

Hi, I'm Michelle. I'm twenty-three years old. I have six kids. I have a Sonic problem.

Now, Sonic isn't always a problem. In fact, it's mostly a problem from June to August. Any other time of the year all I want is coffee. All the coffee. Way too much coffee.

The problem probably started as soon as some of my friends in high school could drive. Being poor teenagers and having parents who (reasonably) only allowed us a minimum amount of hang out time without supervision, summer days were spent wasting all of our money on the gas money it took to drag Main Street with the windows down, which was done by whipping through the Sonic parking lot as our turn-around point. And if dragging Main isn't cool enough on its own, it is so much cooler with a big ol' Sonic drink in your hand. The cultural phenomenon of today is to have a grande or venti Starbucks cup in hand, as part of your ensemble, as a fashion accessory (don't believe me? Check out any "outfit inspiration board" on Pinterest). Strutting into whatever place you went during the summer with your cup in hand and being asked "what you're drinking," as if you might as well be delicately swooshing wine in a glass, was the stuff of summer vacation. If you had more than two flavors in your drink, though, you were gross. No one actually likes that, you're just trying to get attention.

I have had the same signature drink since I was fifteen. I have deviated for a time to make sure I didn't get burnt out on my signature drink, and though some were good, they were not the same as my drink. I have gone through seasons of vanilla Coke, vanilla Sprite, raspberry vanilla Sprite (this is a close second to my first choice), and cranberry vanilla Sprite if I had somehow worn myself out on coffee around Christmas time. When I was pregnant I CRAVED vanilla Coke like crazy (but didn't drink it often...if I did, it was usually because it was a better option than clawing someone's eyes out). Green apple vanilla sprite was decently okay when I tried it.

My signature drink is vanilla Dr. Pepper. I am getting to an age when I don't want pop very often, especially something as sweet as Dr. Pepper. Adding the vanilla to it seems crazy, I know. But something about it is just...luxurious.

When my husband got in the car with me today, he said, "...did you buy another Sonic drink?"
"You have a problem. Really. No more pop."

And the unfortunate truth is that he's right. Not just because pop is terrible for you (I have watched a million documentaries about how horrible sugar is and ESPECIALLY soda), because while it has dramatically lessened my general soda consumption, it hasn't stopped it all together. Honestly, Sonic drinks are a luxury that help me pretend my day is better than it is. It's a little filter I can put on my thoughts just like a filter on an Instagram picture.

I need to be honest with you all. The truth is, I didn't write this post because I care deeply about my Sonic drinks. I wrote this post because it was easier to write about then what has happened in Charleston, and McKinney, and all over our country. There have been so many articles and Facebook posts and what not that are so eloquently written that I have "liked," but haven't been able to come close to even trying to echo.

For nine months I raised a black child and couldn't believe the blatant racism I encountered. It wasn't as news-worthy as open firing on a black church, but it shocked me. Maybe we are all still trying to find the line where racism starts and ignorance ends, but I think Jen Hatmaker said it perfectly on her Facebook page: "...when we see evil racism in front of us, we name it, we expose it, we condemn it." We can't sweep it under rugs or ignore it where it grows into the senseless violence we have been seeing.

I'm not going to pretend as if I know the answers to this world's racism problem, and especially this country's racism problem. There are days when I look at the world and just think, "Please, come, Lord Jesus," because it is truly beyond fixing, at least by us. I am also aware that if me, a privileged white lady, can see the problem, how much more have my brothers and sisters without the benefit of white skin seen? When are we going to start seeing the value of people in spite of color, gender, or culture?

I have read a million Facebook statuses (stati?), blog posts, Buzzfeed lists, etc. I know this post may just feel like one more to read. In less than 48 hours, the Charleston shooting is probably starting to feel like old news, and the McKinney pool incident was like, forever ago, right? No. It was last week.

I do have a Sonic problem; but, really, I have a filter problem. Most of us do. We want to believe racism isn't something we encounter, and we shake our heads at the racism we see online as if it is distant. I wish it were distant, but I know it's not now. I'm not sure that adding my voice will make a noticeable difference in the racism problem, but adding our voices will change our personal worlds--our communities, our children. God has given us stewardship over this world, and as long as we silently watch his people being abused and mistreated, we aren't taking our responsibility seriously.