An Open Letter From My 42 Year-Old Self To My 28 Year Old Self Who Is About to Begin Homeschooling

Dear Much Younger Me,

How I wish we could sit for a while with a cup of coffee and chat about this homeschooling journey you are about to begin! That won’t work though because you are me – 14 years ago – and for some strange reason, you don’t like coffee yet. I do not understand this.

If it was possible, I would love to tell you a few things. First this:

You really, really need to chill out. I mean, your uber thorough lesson plans are adorable, but take a look at that baby’s face and realize that hello?! He’s five. I know he seems old to you because the others are so much smaller. But he’s not big – he’s little. He does not need to sit still for that long and workbooks for boys are almost always a disaster. I know you’ll figure this out by boy number 2, so God bless the oldest child. But really. Long school days with all the subjects and all the books and all the projects – they are too much. Your stress isn’t blessing your children. Keep plugging along for the next 13 years of his schooling, and I guarantee that while there will be holes in his education because there always are for every single kid in the entire whole wide everywhere, he is going to be prepared for adulthood. History is history, so if he doesn’t catch it now, he will catch it eventually because you teach it over and over, year after year. The same goes for science – and pretty much everything else you teach from K to 12. He’ll get it. In the meantime, if you could just reeeeeeeelaaaaaaaaaaax.

Now this one is important, so listen up real hard: The “ideal” almost never happens. In fact, what you can pretty much count on is that at the very moment you have gathered your chicks around you on the floor to learn something fabulous about the Bible or about the weather or about the water cycle…someone will have to poop. Please stop being angry about this and trying to figure out what you are doing wrong with your schedule. Poop happens and toddlers melt down and phones ring and UPS men knock on the door (usually all at the same time but it is okay because when you are weak, then you are strong).

It’s mostly best to stop listening to what everyone else is doing. Every once in a while, what you hear or see inspires you. But most of the time, it stabs you with guilt over everything you’re not doing. (Don’t even get me started about the Pinterest of the future.) The boys don’t need to do what everyone else is doing. They need to do what you – their mama – decides they need to do. Seek God’s direction and listen only to His voice.

You will love every single moment of homeschooling…except for all the moments that you don’t. You’ll feel bad for not loving all of it. I sure wish you wouldn’t. I wish you could see that all the stuff you consider to be a failure each day is really a big part of your kids’ success. This is what real life is made of. So when the day doesn’t go perfectly, recognize that you are teaching your kids to be normal adults who face and handle normal life situations. This…is success.

Most of what you think is important now really isn’t. Godly discipleship and training matters 10,000 times more than memorizing dates on a timeline. Of course you will often think you are failing at the boys’ spiritual training even more than their schooling, but remember God’s bigness. As long as you are in communion with your Savior and seeking his guidance, forgiveness, and recognizing His grace – oh dear one. That’s all you need to be doing. The kids will learn to seek Him too. Keep bringing Him into the conversation often – in the car, when talking about situations with friends, when shopping, when teaching, when cooking, when cleaning – all of it. Make God a part of every part.

You know how you’ve watched other families serve with their kids? Do that. The school work will get done because you are diligent and you understand the importance of self-discipline in learning and education. But truly, let service to others trump the rest of the to-do list. Keep teaching the boys to love God and love others.

They are going to grow up and become young men with weaknesses. Do not despair at this. Understand the power of God at work in their lives. Through their weaknesses, God will be at work in ways you can’t even imagine right now since they are so little. When they are teenagers you will watch in amazement at how God is growing them to become leaders for Him. You’ll see more than ever that God loves these boys and that your job is to trust Him. Like, really trust Him. Stop thinking that you must be perfect, or else. They are His – and His ways are perfect.

14 years from today, you will move your oldest into his dorm room with joy and tears. You will hug him and tell him you love him, and he has grown so tall that he has to practically stoop to his knees to hug you back. You will be amazed. You will watch in wonder at all God has done to grow your family. You will love this. Just you wait.

In the meantime, breathe in the faces of those babies, Mama. Take a lot of pictures. They are precious. While you can’t fathom it, your love for these boys will grow even more fierce. Yes, it is actually possible.

Enjoy your homeschooling journey, Mama. These days are rich and exhausting, delightful and baffling, overwhelming and glorious. Breathe deeply and keep God first. You are going to survive this beautifully, because God equips and prepares His children. Trust Him.

Freely enjoy peace in Jesus.

Love,
Your 42 Year-Old Self

P.S. Maybe I shouldn’t spoil the surprise, but your future grocery bill is going to blow your mind. Enjoy the fact that they can all now share one apple for a snack and be full. This will make you laugh out loud in a few years (we call that lol, but I don’t have time to go into all of that).

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Some Of Our Favorite Books

This post was originally posted in October, 2013. Our kids are older now but this list of books is still our favorite!

Books, books, the magical fruit. The more you read, the more you…

Oh wait. Wrong poem.  Sometimes I get confused. Although I’m sure if I threw that poem starter out to my boys, they’d be sure to finish it with something creative. And by creative, I mean gross.

I am excited to share that all four of our boys are now all independent readers. It was a little slow in coming for our youngest, who is now a 3rd grader. But late this summer, it all clicked for him. He now loves reading! Last week he said, “I can’t believe math used to be my favorite. Now reading is so much fun!”  Awesome – just what I love to hear. (Although you still have to do your math, Buddy.)

malachi_reading

Here are some of the books currently at the top of our reading list for the year:

Boxcar Children Books
These books were some of my favorites when I was little. (You know I had my very own boxcar, right? Okay, it wasn’t my very own.  I shared it with my cousins.)  All of our boys have loved the Boxcar Children books, and now I am reading them to Malachi (age 8). Elias (age 11) has already read most of these books, but sits in to listen when he can, because who can resist?

boxcar_children

Ralph Moody Books

We read through most of the books in this series (as a family) a year ago, and now I’m having my two older boys read the last few on their own. What I love most about these books is that they show how important it is to be a hard worker, how much fun it can be to work together as a family, and how if you put your mind to it – you can always find a way to provide. I am so inspired by these books, and my boys love the adventure aspect they include.

Books by Clyde Robert Bulla

These are the first chapter books our boys have read. We have about eight of them on Malachi’s shelf this year – and he’s made his way through two of them already. I love that Clyde Robert Bulla keeps his vocabulary simple and easy to read – all while teaching history and making his books fun and intriguing.  When I pulled these books out for Malachi, all three of his brothers said, “Oh, he gets to read those this year? Malachi, you will love them.”  I love hearing the boys talk together about books they’ve all read.

clyde_robert_bulla

Ramona the Pest Series

Malachi pulled his first Ramona book off the shelf this year, too. So far he’s loving it, just like his brothers did. I read this series several times when I was younger. It’s so much fun re-reading these books with my kids.

ramona_2

Christian Heroes Books

I can’t say enough good about all of the Christian Heroes: Then and Now books by Janet and Geoff Benge. We’ve actually decided to use about 15 of these books this year to go along with our History/Geography studies with Justus, Elias, and Malachi. What better way to study the culture and history of a country than to learn about missionaries who worked there? These books are so well written and inspiring!

I also have to share that as we reach the end of each book, Justus (age 13) likes to point out, “You know Mom, this is the chapter when the missionary dies and you cry.”  Pshaw.  Okay, fine. So I cry at the end of all of these (and the Ralph Moody Books, and just about every other book I read aloud to the boys). I can’t help it.

benge

In addition to these sets of books, our three older boys are all reading lots of books from the Sonlight reading lists for their grade level. Asa (a junior in high school) is reading some Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis, The Hiding Place (you MUST read this!), and quite a few others Sonlight recommends.

What books are you and your kids reading these days?  I know I’m not the only mom who cries at the end of a good book. Help me out here – do you get choked up when you’re reading books to your kids?

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So…What Are the Cake Boys Up to Now?

Remember the Cake Boys? That series of videos, started by our little boys, was the beginning of what has become a passion of theirs: video and music creation.

cake boys

In fact, Asa (who is now 18) plans to make a career of videography. His chosen college major is Business Communication, which will guide him in the right direction for pursuing his own business as a videographer. He continues to learn, experiment, and develop his talent. He researched and used some of his savings to purchase a very nice camera as well as professional video editing software. The guy is well on his way. He even has his first professional video job later this summer (filming and editing a wedding video). Skies are the limit with how he can use his creativity in videography.

And Justus? He’s 15 now and while he also loves creating videos, he has also discovered a bigger passion and talent for music. He is taking both piano and guitar lessons, and he loves singing. Even more, he is gifted with the ability to compose music sound tracks on FL Studio – music creation software Matt found and invested in for the boys a few years ago.

Elias (13) and Malachi (10) join in with both music and video creation from time to time. We are anxious to see how God continues to grow all of the boys and develop their talents.

So Cake Boys videos have given way to several varieties of videos – both fun and serious. It amazes me. I cry like I’m their mom every time I watch something they create.

Here are two of their recent “Ace Video” productions, now being shown in Asa’s YouTube account.

NOTE TO PARENTS: The first video below, called “Refresh” was created with kids in our youth group to encourage and refresh a large gathering of teens we hosted for a youth rally at our church back in January. The struggles addressed in this video are real to life and important. However, some of the content is a little bit heavy for young viewers, so please use discretion. Matt and I are actually featured in this video (oh my) and you can be assured that nothing is actually being smoked. Video editing software is amazing, which makes the cigs look very real (oh my). I told you you’d need to use discretion. The video is powerful and had a huge impact at the youth rally. Note the sound track, as it was created completely by Justus, specifically to fit this video.

Refresh

Below is the boys’ most recent video in which they took four of their favorite songs and recreated them into a music video “mashup.” No viewer discretion needed on this one! It’s awesome, music fun!

Brothas C Mashup

I’m offering you this show-and-tell for two reasons:

1. Many have asked about the Cake Boys. Sniff (and rejoice) along with me that the little boys in those videos are not little boys any more, but are instead becoming young men working for the Lord and following His leading. We get quite a kick out of watching the boys’ first video attempts – hearing their young boy voices that are now such deep manly voices. Now you know what the Cake Boys are up to these days!

2. I want to encourage you to be excited – as we are – to watch God develop the talents in your children as they grow. Not sure what your kids’ talents are? Pray. Ask God to bring them to light in His time, then watch Him do His work. You will be amazed at what our Father will do. Be prepared to foster your child’s talents, but most of all – be at peace, resting in the truth that the Lord will do His work.

Happy Gratituesday, by the way! I’d love for you to leave a comment to share what God is doing in your life – specifically in the lives of your children if you are a parent.

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How I Plan To Keep My Kids Reading This Summer

All four of our boys enjoy reading. However, we often find that summertime lends itself to a more flexible or on-the-go schedule which sometimes makes us forget about important activities like reading books (and combing hair).

Last summer we tried offering a fun reading challenge that worked amazingly well. Why wouldn’t it? There were rewards involved.

How did it work? We kept it simple. For every five hours each child read, they received a reward. These were inexpensive and sometimes even free. But they are rare treats for our kids – so they picked up a book frequently.

This summer, our three older boys will be gone more than they are home (mission trip, church camp, church camp, and church camp). During the few weeks they are home, they will be more than welcome to take part in this. However, it is our 10 year-old that is really diving in and taking the challenge. Summer Reading Challenge

I created a fun chart for Malachi – which he promptly put on the fridge. (Again, the other boys will take part too – they just don’t have enough weeks during the summer to warrant a chart.)

Here are some of the rewards we’re offering for 5 hours of reading time:

  • Pick a movie from Redbox.
  • Get an ice cream cone from Runza (89¢ – yes, I can handle that
  • Pick something from the dollar store
  • Go to Captain Red Beard’s with Mom (this is our local coffee shop)
  • Lego surprise ($4.00 mini-figure) You wouldn’t believe how much this motivates Malachi to get to the 5th week of reading 5 hours (25 hours total).
  • Choose a meal for Mom or Dad to make
  • Choose a dessert for Mom or Dad to make
  • Choose a board game (from our stash) for a family game night

If by chance Malachi reads more than five hours in a week, he will be allowed to move on to “the next week.” This chart is flexible because our summer is flexible.

I created two “open” charts for you to download, print, and fill in with rewards that will motivate your own kids if you like.

Summer Reading Challenge Printable Download and Print Summer Reading Challenge Printable 1

Summer Reading Challenge Printable 2

Download and Print Summer Reading Challenge Printable 2

Below is a chart without the “weeks” filled in so that you can make it work to meet your needs:

Summer Reading Challenge Blank 2

Download and Print Summer Reading Challenge Blank Printable

How do your kids do with reading in the summertime? Do they need extra motivation or do they naturally pick up a book and go for it?

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6 (Dozen) Ways I’m Going to Keep My Kids Busy This Summer

We usually begin our school year the first week of August and finish the final week of April. Do you know what this means? This means our family has only one week of school left for this year! Summer break, here we come!

schools out

Raise your hand if you feel like I do: Summer break is really for mothers and teachers. The kids think it’s for them. They have no idea.  #lovehomeschooling #needabreather

Our older boys have big plans for several weeks this summer to go on a state-side mission trip and then to attend several weeks of church camp. We’ll go swimming as much as possible (hello, sunshine, I love you so much ~ xoxoxo). We have a family reunion around the 4th of July. We have friends visiting from out of state part of June/July. How is there any time free to do anything other than be on the run (and in the sun ~ xoxoxo)?

Oh trust me. There’s time. See, it’s my 10 year old and my 13 year old that have more downtime than the others. They spend time with friends and help out around the house, but I find it beneficial to…shall we say…put a little routine and creativity into their downtime. Otherwise my 13 year old who shall remain nameless would either:

  • find ways to torture his 10 year old brother which will thus torture me or
  • try to get away with sitting in a chair with his iPod playing games all the live long day.

The summer break rule is: No electronics until after 3pm and then there is a time limit (which varies depending on the day). What’s to keep the boys from getting on each other’s nerves? Oh just look at the ways…

6 Dozen Ways I Plan to Keep My Kids Busy This Summer

1. Summer Reading Challenge

We did this last summer and the boys loved it. Prizes for reading? What’s not to love? I’m working on another blog post to share all the (very inexpensive) details of this fun challenge. Stay tuned.

2. Service Challenge

With school work set aside, there are more opportunities to look outward. The boys will be serving at church camp with us later this summer, but while we’re home I plan to have them jot ideas and be on the look-out for ways they can help others. Will there be prizes for this like in our Reading Challenge? No. But sometimes “coming up with and executing as many ideas as we can” is incentive enough for my competitive boys. Hey, whatever helps them learn to see other people’s needs.

I got the idea when looking through the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle to have my 10 year old serve by putting together some of the pre-school printable activities for a 3 year-old buddy of his. Since we won’t be using these particular bundle items for ourselves, it’s just fine for us to share them with one friend. My favorites included in the bundle for this are:

  • Preschool Alphabet Packet
  • Pocket Chart Calendar Bundle
  • Animal ABCs Bundle

You can check out the specifics of each of those here. Why not have Malachi print, cut, package, and prepare these fun games and activities for his buddy? Besides, this mama might be a little nostalgic since there are no little boys left in this house to use those great items. So this is a way I could still get my hands on them. (Look at me – making service projects all about myself.)

kids service

3. Host Friends

I love that the boys are old enough to make plans with friends and execute the plans without much help from me. They can come up with activities like Movie Nights, Cook Outs, Flag Football, Watermelon Feed, Blow Up a Bunch of Money in our Yard (otherwise known as come over after church on Wednesday night during 4th of July week and bring whatever fireworks you want to shoot off) – the ideas are endless. We love it when the boys invite their friends over. The more, the merrier. Just keep the door closed so the mosquitoes won’t come in.

4. Get Creative in the Kitchen

I have found that summer break is the perfect time to let my boys tinker around with fun recipe ideas. It’s not always food, either. Sometimes they make non-edibles like homemade modeling clay or flubber. Or they make funky popsicles. Or they do something weird with chocolate bars or cheese sticks. Whatever gets them creative and keeps them busy.

Since I got so many neat new recipe and food eBooks in this year’s Ultimate Homemaking Bundle (available for only three more days, by the way), I’m printing some out that I know they’ll really like. My top three right now are:

  • Coffee Filters to Cheese Graters
    I am in love with this book. I’m learning tons of tricks for how to creatively use my muffin tins and cookie scoops (and many other kitchen gadgets too). Talk about creative, fun, and easy. Brownie Pops with a cookie scoop? Yes, my boys are going to love this book.
  • Not Just Tacos
    The beauty of this book is that it not only includes many authentic Latin American recipes, it has beautiful pictures and wonderfully laid out and fun to read facts about Latin American countries. My 13 year old loves reading facts like this, and he likes recipes. This book is a win-win for him.
  • Supercharged Food for Kids
    This one has great recipes kids will love. And if your kids are older like mine, they can make many of the recipes on their own.

kids kitchen

5. Craft Projects

My 13 year-old is very much not into making crafts. However, my 10 year-old very much is – crafts of the boy variety, that is. He tinkers with scraps of wood or cardboard, makes gadgets with clay or pipecleaners – he just likes to build and create. This is why the free Green Kid Crafts kit we got in the homemaking bundle is so perfect for him (and for girls, too). We are considering continuing the subscription if he works through this first one and we feel it is worth it. Beyond that, I’ll keep throwing out the popsicle sticks an duct tape as needed. :)

I may consider starting my 13 year-old on the Craftsy Photography class we got free with the bundle (instead of saving it for the next school year). You should know that you can also pick a cake decorating class, a sewing class, a card making class, a knitting class, and many others you and your kids may be more interested in.

6. Board Games

Our family loves games and has shelves full of them. During the school year, it’s hard to find time to play. I cannot wait to pull out our favorites and make up for lost time.

game6

As you can see, the ideas within each of the ideas are limitless. And if boredom still creeps in, there are always windows to wash and gardens to hoe.

(The bundle sale is over now. If you want to be sure to be informed of other sales and great deals in the future, sign up to receive our free daily newsletter~)

How are you planning to keep your kids busy and productive this summer?

This post contains affiliate links.

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Malachi’s Lego Party On the Cheap

How to Host a Lego Party (on the cheap!)

Malachi has been planning and dreaming of a Lego party with his friends for no less than two years now. We didn’t schedule it in though, because I figure, why act in haste? Also, there is the fact that planning and throwing parties is really not my gift and I very much do not enjoy it. As a result, every few hours during the past 730 days, Malachi would throw out a new Lego party idea to which I would respond with a look on my face as if he had just suggested we go lick the spoons of people who were currently running high fevers.

Poor kid. Such great ideas. Such a boring, non-party type mom. 714 days after Malachi’s party planning brainstorming began, I finally got over myself. He and I sat down, looked on Pinterest, found some fun ideas, and got to work. Surely there would be a way to make a Lego party fun, but keep it simple and inexpensive. Yes, indeed. (For the record, there are also many ways to make it complicated, elaborate, and spendy – just in case you feel like the 8 and 9 year old boys in your life will appreciate all the time you spent coloring individual, personalized placemats and notice all the tiny details on a cake which you have carved and decorated into a replica of a life-size Lego spaceship.)

One of Malachi’s biggest desires for his party was that we have a piñata. We agreed to fill the piñata with some of the Legos from his collection that could be played with together once the piñata broke open. Cost? Free. (Okay fine. Already paid for.)  We also agreed that it was a wise idea to put the Lego pieces into a ziplock bag so that they wouldn’t fly all over the yard with the final blow of the piñata.

Did you know that it’s very possible to make a Lego-looking piñata out of one shoe box, 8 bottle lids, and three pieces of tissue paper? Malachi decided I was a genius for thinking of this. I had to agree (with great humility.)

lego party 3

Who doesn’t love putting on a blind fold and swinging at air? Every boy got exactly two turns each, and then…

lego party 8

…the rope I had strung through it popped out and the piñata flew into the grass. Did you know that if you blind fold a child, give him a wooden sword, and set him lose in the yard, he will eventually make his way to said piñata and give it a whack? We thought that was perhaps a better plan that having Asa hold the piñata in the air while the kids swung the sword. (You’re welcome, Asa.)

lego party 9

We spent a few dollars on colored sacks, cups, and plates. My artistic ability is very limited, but drawing Lego people faces on cups I managed to pull off well enough.

lego party 1

lego party 5

I am well aware that little boys at parties are not super interested in “come on to the table, children, and let’s make a craft!”  Still – Malachi and I thought it would be fun for everyone to make a personalized container for their Lego projects at home. 94¢ per container, plus some stickers and contact paper? No problem.

lego party 2

The boys had lots of fun and turned out great Lego storage containers. I’m very sure that now that they have these, they will each and every one do a very good job picking up all of their Legos after working on a project so no one in their households will ever step on a Lego. Again. Ever.

lego party 10

Party food included popcorn served out of a very thoroughly washed Lego bucket, and pieces of pizza that tried very hard to look like 1 by 2 Lego blocks.

lego party 11

See the jar full of Legos below? Each kid wrote down guesses as to how many Legos he thought filled the jar. The boy who guessed the closest got to take the first swing at the piñata. In case you ever need to know the following recipe conversion:  128 Legos equals 1 quart.

lego party 4

And possibly my favorite free game/activity:  Malachi gathered all of the pieces of two small Lego sets. He divided them evenly into 10 plastic eggs. Our older boys hid the eggs around the yard, then the party goers got to enjoy participating in a L-egg-o Hunt. It was super fun!  Once all the L-egg-o’s had been found, the boys worked together to put the sets together.

lego party 7

Malachi was flying high the entire week. Planning, creating, and executing the party was so much fun for him. I’m so thankful we were able to do this together. Maybe I shouldn’t wait so many hundreds of days next time to work with him on a fun project like this?

lego party 6

But wouldn’t you know it. Our party guests had been gone precisely 3.75 minutes when Malachi, gleam in his eye, asked, “So when should we have the next Lego party?”

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Asa’s First Few Days in Ecuador

I mentioned a few days ago that our oldest son, Asa, is in Ecuador on a mission trip right now. It’s been fun to check our church Facebook page to see updates of the group’s work in Ecuador. Here are some pictures I grabbed to share…

This is the entire group of teens and sponsors. Asa is on the back row in a purple shirt.

asa ecuador 1

The first day, the men all worked to clear out brush and debris. Here’s Asa all decked out in work gear and eye protection, using what appears to be a machete. :)

asa ecuador 2

They seem to be quite proud of their work:

asa ecuador 4

Ah yes, now this is what I’m used to seeing:

asa ecuador 3

I loved seeing this next picture. Two of the girls are loving on some Ecuador children. If you look in the background, you’ll see Asa playing soccer with other kids. This was one of the activities he was really looking forward to doing while he was there. It was fun to see him in the midst of futbol with Ecuador children!

asa ecuador 5

If you care to pray for Asa and this group while they serve in Ecuador, we appreciate it. It’s great to see God at work in the lives of our teens!

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I Give Up. I’m Just Going to Sit Here and Cry.

I love my kids so fiercely, sometimes I can’t inhale air.

Parenting our four boys is the most difficult, gut-wrenching, frustrating, exhausting, awesome, joyful, incredible, amazing gift. Watching our boys create music and movies together, play pick-up games of soccer or basketball together, laugh at inside jokes together, work outside with their dad together – really. I fear that I might explode with love and happiness right here in my chair.

There’s all the other stuff too, so don’t think that I don’t hate every minute of puke and sibling arguments and disobedience. Daily I have to get on my knees, giving my boys’ future over to God, knowing that as a human parent, I alone do not have what it takes – not even a little bit – to create in their hearts an attitude of Christ. I hang onto the promise that God has a plan for our kids, and He will work out in them His perfect plan. In spite of me, with me, without me, on behalf of me – God is working in our kids’ hearts.

I’ll take every bit of the “did I not just tell you three times to put your shoes in the closet?” and endure all the rounds of “mom he keeps touching me but he touched me first please make him stop touching me” and persevere through the “he said this to me I was just kidding no you weren’t” stuff. If only they would always be magically perfect and work outside with their dad so that watching their precious actions would steal away my breath and overtake my heart with joy. There’s all that and then there’s all the mud smeared into the rug that nobody claims. But I’ll take it. I’ll take it all, and I’ll even appreciate being right here, right now, doing this thing with its grass stains and question marks.

Because here’s the deal. The six of us? Matt and me and our four boys in this house? We’ve spent so many years of our lives together working and schooling and living and laughing and arguing and learning and problem solving and crying and traveling and reading and tripping over shoes that still didn’t get put into the closet. Our oldest turns 17 in one week. In the fall? He will be a senior in high school.

I am full of joy, excitement, and hope for what God has for Asa and all of our family after next year. I realize life doesn’t end when our oldest graduates. But the truth is that life as the six of us – the way it is now – changes. It’ll never be the same, because it’s not supposed to be. This is all part of the journey.

Today, that makes me cry. The recent graduation parties we’ve attended for friends has put into perspective that this will be us next year. Then this morning, I got up at 3:30 to see Asa and 14 others off at the airport as they head to Ecuador to do 10 days of mission work. Watching his grown up self smile and wave as he went through that gate pretty much did me in.

Here’s our 4:45 am picture, right before he went inside to check on his luggage. Yes, he does keep getting taller. No, I did not brush my hair this morning.

asa leaving for ecuador

I’m so proud of that kid, I could cry. Oh wait.  I am crying. I decided to give up on holding it in, and just sit here and feel it for a while. Feel the pride, love, wonder, amazement, excitement, joy…and sadness. At the same time.

Tears. They are good. God.  He is very good. Because of that, I truly can feel peace about the future of my kids and our family, however it looks.

But when I need to cry, I’m going to cry. Praise God for tears. And Kleenex.

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The Boy Who Saved Christmas

After having three baby boys within four years, Matt and I ceased to have the ability to finish sentences or call our children by their given names. Our little fellas became accustomed to answering to “A-Jus-El-um-um-COME-HERE-BUDDY!”  Having more than three children didn’t seem to make sense to us since obviously, we were no longer making sense.

When those three little boys were ages 5, 2, and 6 months – my mom was diagnosed with ALS. Thus began a journey in our lives that was filled with grief, pain, and hardship as we traveled back and forth to Kansas to be with Mom as often as we could during the next 22 months. If I couldn’t get my act together before, I certainly couldn’t even find my act during this time.

I remember crying out to God during one of my lowest points, just a few months before she died. It had been a year and a half since her diagnosis, and she was failing quickly. Knowing that we were soon going to lose her, I fell on my knees and asked God to help me find joy again. He listened. He heard. And He answered. Just a few weeks later, we were shocked to find out that we were expecting baby number four. Now that was a surprise we had not anticipated! Indeed, we were filled with joy.

We were able to share the news with Mom (who was convinced that we would surely have a girl this time). Suddenly all of us – my dad, my brother, all of us – had a reason to smile. We had something to look forward to! God is so much fun. Little did we know how this baby would continue to be the perfect blessing we would all need during the coming months.

When I was about four months into the pregnancy, Mom finished her race. We were relieved, sad, grateful, devastated, and exhausted. We all began a new journey of life without her – enduring that year of “firsts” that families experience when they lose someone. The first birthday without her. The first Mother’s Day. The first Thanksgiving. The first Christmas.

Oh, Christmas. Mom loved Christmas. How would we ever have Christmas without her? Should we try to carry on the same traditions she loved? Should we plan the same menu? Should we have Christmas at Dad’s or would it be too painful and empty without her there?

As it turns out, the new baby we were expecting answered all the questions for us. On December 20 (nine years ago today), our fourth baby boy was born. It was decided that all of the family would come to Nebraska to meet him and to celebrate Christmas in our home. We would eat whatever we found in my freezer and we would keep the holiday simple. That sweet baby boy was just what we all needed to be able to smile through our tears as we shared our first Christmas without Mom.

Happy 9th Birthday, Malachi Mark! God gifted you to us, bringing us tremendous joy and hope. May you always allow yourself to be used by God to be a blessing to others.

malachi_age_9

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Our Family’s Favorite Games

It happened again tonight when Justus (our 13 year old) was eating his potato soup. I started giggling for no reason. This happens to me occasionally when my family is around the table playing games. Tonight, we had to head out the door after dinner, so we were finishing our game and eating at the same time. Justus took a bite of soup, and it was outrageously funny. Except that it really wasn’t, even a little bit.

I admit it. I was getting loopy. We had been playing Settlers of Catan, the Cities and Knights version for way too long. We started it last night after church, took a turn at breakfast this morning, played a few more rounds after lunch, and by dinner, my brain was fried. The game is awesome, but it takes some thinking skills. And we had been playing in and around our regular day of school and work and life. Thus, the potato soup eating hilarity.

Ah, but this is what memories are made of. As our boys get older and are now able to gather around the table for “big kid games” we take advantage of every spare moment we have to spend time playing together. Their schedules are busy, so we have to be intentional to make it happen. Here are some of our favorite games:

Settlers of Catan, especially the Cities and Knights version

ticket to ride

Ticket to Ride

bohnanza

Bohnanza

Apples to Apples and Apples to Apples Junior

Manhattan

Uno Attack

 

Sequence

Farkle

 

Pass the Pigs

Disney Scene It

blink

Blink

headbandz

Headbandz

Don’t tell, but here’s the new one we’re getting this year for Christmas.

Now tell me about the games you and your family love to play!  (And do you ever get loopy after playing games just a little bit too long?!)

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