Thursday, November 28, 2013

In ALL things, give thanks...

I would love to always write about the good stuff and say that life is always happy here, but I’d be lying. It’s no different than anyone else – some days are just HARD. Saturday was one of those days. I think we all must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed (though some beds are pushed up against the wall, so I’m not sure what that means.) I didn’t help anything by letting the girls stay up until 10 the night before (in the hopes that they would sleep in this morning, sleep-in morning.) And of course, they were up by 6:30 and not in the greatest of moods. So, I was already grumpy by the time the guys woke up and came out for breakfast. We had planned to take a trip to Winston-Salem, NC to visit Old Salem Village. But one thing after another kept delaying us. Saturday chores seemed to take half the day and then there were bad attitudes and issues to deal with and I just felt like everything was met with a fight – like everything I did was wrong. UGH! I hate those kinds of days. We ended up not going on our trip, which made everyone grumpy. Then, when we were trying to figure out what to do with our day, we got a phone call from a local lodge group saying they had food they wanted to donate. So I took my girls and a couple of the boys down to pick it up – and it was a TON! Although it wasn’t a big outing or anything, it was enough to break up the day (and break up the bad moods!) During the drive, one of my boys shared with me a little about life leading up to Joy Ranch and it brought things back into focus for me. It made me think less of myself and the things that I was choosing to be grumpy over. It made me thankful to be here, with these boys. When we got back, we all were in better spirits. I don’t know whether to attribute that to getting out of the house for a bit, or the fact that I brought back massive amounts of food to teenage boys…either way, it worked.

 At night, we do Praise & Prayer time after dinner. We keep a notebook and write down any praises and prayer requests from the day and then we pray together. The guys don’t exactly love it, they’re still getting used to the idea. But, it’s part of our devotional time with them. That night, when we did praises, I said I thanked God for bad days. At least three of them got whiplash turning to look at me, like I had 3 heads. “That makes no sense!” they said. I explained that it’s all a part of living together – we have good and bad days. And the bad days remind me how much I need Jesus. I have nothing to give them without Him. I can’t be patient, kind, loving or gentle without Him. I can try awfully hard, but I will fail – and I do. I asked them to forgive me for my bad attitude that morning and they assured me they did. And my prayer request was that God would help me to be more like Him – to have His love, His patience, His kindness and His gentleness. So, yeah…bad days are a bummer, but they are also quite wonderful in a weird way. I need the bad days because I need the One who orders my days. And despite moments of wanting to cry that day, as I sat around the table with our boys that night I realized that the contentment and joy I have is so deep-seated, bad days can’t take that away. When all is said and done, I know we are exactly where God wants us to be and I know that these boys are something special. I’m glad to share the good AND the bad days with them.

Like many Americans, today we celebrated Thanksgiving. Many of our kids are on a home visit, but we have 3 of our boys here. We had a special breakfast this morning with everyone on campus, then we met back together again for a feast of a late lunch. There was SO much food! And we wanted today to be special for the kids that have to be here over the holiday break, so we used fine china and decorated the tables and enjoyed a meal all together. It may not have been the kids' first preference, but I think it was a nice day. Many of them helped serve and clean up and seemed in good spirits. It was a special day. To top it off, we took the kids to see Frozen at the local movie theater. Can I just mention that I have a new favorite kids' movie? :-) Just putting that out there.

With today being Thanksgiving, most of us are thinking about all the reasons we have to be thankful. Like I mentioned above, I'm learning that giving thanks happens on the good days and the bad. We ALWAYS have reasons to be thankful and remembering that takes our focus off our circumstances and directs it to the Giver of good things. Some of our boys are in some miserable circumstances, they often have trouble finding things for which they can give thanks and need some reminding. It is our hope that they realize, like the rest of us, that God is good and gives good gifts all. the. time. And that we all will choose thankfulness every day, not just on this one day a year.

And now, I am choosing to be thankful for the Christmas season which is upon us! YAY! It's not too hard for me to choose thankfulness on that one, seeing as how I've been listening to Christmas music for 2 months already. But now it's socially acceptable. So, bring on the twinkling lights, the smells of evergreen, the sugar cookies and the carols and the sweet celebration of our Savior's birth!

Busy Bees

Life (and the calendar) has been full, as I hear it typically is around here. The weekdays are filled with school, chores, running kids to appointments, youth group, Boy Scouts, Nerf gun wars, and working out/playing basketball at the wellness center. No two days ever look the same. Here are some highlights from the last month:

*Pumpkin Festival – it sounded fun and our girls had a blast, but not too many teenage boys want to sit in a corn kernel pile or go through a haystack maze (that's only 1 hay bale tall, mind you) or shop through the farmer's market. So, we didn't stay long and the rest of the day was pretty low-key.

* Lover's Leap – a local scenic spot in the mountains. We drove out and ate a picnic lunch (despite the cold mountain breeze.) The boys even let me take a picture of all of us together, with a little grumbling, but still...And I'll even let you see it!
Then we took them to a local candy store and let them all pick out a treat. After that, we headed to one of our boy's home church for their Fall Festival. I got to witness my first Cake Walk, which was fun. To the Buxtonites back home, you should totally do this at the next church fellowship event! There was the eat-the-donut-off-the-string competition, which our boys dominated. And the girls loved all the little prizes and candies they got! It was a fun way to spend an afternoon.

* New River Trail – a 57 mile (or something like that) trail along the New River. We did only a mile or two. It's something I'd definitely like to explore some more!

* Leaf Raking – Not all of our weekends are about fun and going on outings. There's work to be done, too, and we want the kids here to understand that life is about more than self. This past weekend, we did some leaf raking at a local church for most of the morning. Then I got the privilege of taking 4 of our boys to get haircuts. It was fun listening to them try to decide what hair cut to get (I mean, really...aren't there only a couple of choices for guys???) When one of the hair stylists there asked me if they were all mine, I sputtered a bit. Not sure what to say, I stammered around for words and finally just explained that we all live at Joy Ranch. She smiled knowingly and said "then yes, those are your boys." I said I'd claim them. I guess I'm going to have to think of a response the next time someone asks me that.

* Our “family” has expanded by 2. We've had a new resident added to our mix. He's not "new" really - he moved over here from another cottage. He knows the ropes around here, so it's not quite the same as if it were a brand new resident, but it still takes some adjusting for everyone, as it does in every situation where a new person is added to the dynamic. Our other newest addition is Tonka, our Boxer/Lab mix puppy. He's the sweetest little guy and is handling this overwhelming environment quite well. He's definitely Jason's dog, though. He follows him around everywhere and whimpers a bit when he leaves. If Jason's not around, Tonka will go pull out some of Jason's clothes and make a little bed out of them. It's the only thing that calms him down. The boys love him, so I think we'll keep him. :-)

* Sports – One of our boys has started the wrestling season and two more will be starting a recreation league basketball team. So, life is busy with running back and forth to practices and will soon be busier as tournaments start and the basketball league begins.

* A night “off” – from cooking, at least. Two of our boys cooked dinner and dessert, giving me the night off from the kitchen. I was very impressed with their commitment to seeing the project through and the taste of their meal. The menu consisted of Taco Soup and Jalapeno Poppers, which are jalapenos filled with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon. I actually tried one of the poppers and am proud to announce I still have a fully functioning mouth, but it was a close call. I thought for sure I burned my tongue and esophagus permanently! The dessert was a cookie dough dip and vanilla wafers. It was a big hit with everyone. We may have to do that again…

* A transition…again. We are in the process of changing leadership. Our director is stepping down to pursue some other things the Lord has for him. He still will live next door and volunteer here, so he’s not leaving, but his role is changing. His wife will continue to be the house parent in the girls’ home until they find a couple to fill that role. One of the reasons for our director’s decision is a new vision Joy Ranch is pursuing. They are working towards becoming a licensed foster agency, which means we could place kids in foster homes, as well is train and license foster parents and provide support for them. This is an exciting venture and I can’t wait to see it unfold! One of the requirements for licensing is that the director have experience in the foster care system and our current director has none. He wants to see the ministry expand in this way, so he has decided to step back in order for things to progress. So, we are currently working to find a new Executive Director who can lead the way in this new endeavor. We have not been here long, but we have so enjoyed working under this director. I’ve never had a boss like him and we will definitely miss his leadership here. At the same time, we have really great people leading the way here, too, so we feel very happy to be a part of what’s going on here.

* Wild West Day – Every year the ministry has a Wild West theme night. We have a big chili cook-off and a band comes in and we square dance the night away. We had a blast! I think Jason danced more here than he did at our wedding! He says he can’t stand that kind of music, but you wouldn’t have known that to watch him. And I couldn’t stop smiling or laughing – I was having a grand old time. It was a fun night, for sure!

 And of course, there are lots of funny moments. One of our boys likes to copy Evy’s signature move: Thumb in mouth, hand on belly button. Let’s just say it’s cuter when the 4 year old does it. And there’s the boy who likes to randomly walk around with his wrestling head gear on. There’s the one who likes to make up random songs about things or people here. In fact, as I write this, he is “playing” guitar and singing a made up song about me liking cheesy Hallmark Christmas movies (which I may or may not have on right now.) There was the moment we drove by a gravel pit and a kid yelled out “MOUNT RUSHMORE!” There are the other staff members who keep things going and know just when to inject some humor because we all need it. (Have I mentioned that our relief house parents are the best?! If not, let me take a minute to tell you – they are fantastic! And they have a killer sense of humor that is just what I need when we make the switch on or off duty – or sometimes in the middle of the week when I just need a laugh to keep things in perspective.)

And there are endearing moments, like when the boys teach our girls new things (except when it involves passing gas or their bathroom phrases – those are not so endearing.) Or when the boys help calm the girls down or distract them from crying, instead of getting frustrated with them. Or when the boys get excited to tell you something, whether it’s about their day or a funny story they heard or the video game they just played. There are the moments when the girls sit next to them on the couch and read a book or get the boys to play tea party with them. Or the moments when you realize the boys “get it.” One resident embroidered his Bible cover with a cross. Inside the cross is a red zig-zag pattern. When he showed to us, he explained that he filled it in that way to symbolize the “messiness” of salvation – that Jesus bled and died and it wasn’t pretty, and neither are we in our sinful state. Wow. And this from a kid who is newly saved.

So, there’s another snapshot of our life here. Never a dull moment. Thanks for following along with us. It blows my mind that so many people are interested in what we’re doing, but we’re thankful to have you along for the ride!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

It's a whirlwind life...

WHEW! I can't believe how the time has flown since I last updated this blog! So much for trying to keep up with it weekly, right?

This is just a short entry tonight, to let you know why it's been so long. As you can imagine, life gets busy here. No two days are ever the same so finding time to write is difficult. Another delay in my blog posting is because I am submitting my entries to some of our administration. I want to be sure I do this the right way and would never want to put our boys in danger in some way, so I make sure that what I post online is approved. It takes a couple of days to have them read it and get back to me, so while I have written a couple blog entries to post, it may be a couple of days before I can actually post them. I do have 2 posts in the works and will hopefully be able to post them this week.

In the meantime, I had a couple of sweet exchanges with my girls this week that I wanted to write down - mostly so I will remember them in the future, so bear with me if this is boring to you! :-)

Yesterday, while helping Evy get dressed for the day, the following conversation took place:
Evy - "Mumma, do you know what's exquisite?"
Me (laughing) - "No, Evy - what?"
Evy - "You are, Mumma!"
I don't know where she ever picked up the word "exquisite" but I was quite impressed. And whose heart wouldn't melt from a comment like that?!

Tonight, while putting the girls to bed and praying with them, this conversation took place:
Ellie - "Did God maked us, Mama?"
Me - "Yes, baby, God made ALL of us."
Ellie - "God maked me and me sister?"
Me - "Yes, NaNa. God made you and your sister and Mommy and Daddy. And you know what's great? He gave us all to each other to be a family. Isn't that great?!"
Ellie - "Yes. And God maked my toothbrush?"
While it made me chuckle, it also made me thank God for her tender little heart and her sensitivity to things of God, even at such a young age. May that always be so.

I find that so much of this blog is about life with the boys. I know that's what many people want to know about and I am happy to share it because I love the boys and our life with them. But, I love our girls and I don't ever want them to get lost in the cracks. The life we have here is chaotic and has been a challenge for them to get used to, as is expected. Having to suddenly share your parents with 7 teenage boys is a lot to take in. They have been AMAZING - I can't say that enough. They are a delight to my heart. It's challenging for us to balance our roles as parents and house parents and we fail at it more often than I'd like. So, I want to be sure to give them room and to let them know they have a big spot- in our hearts and lives and here on this blog. I love my girls and I don't want them to ever doubt that, no matter where the Lord leads us and who He brings into our lives. So, thank you for bearing with me and listening to my mommy heart!

Until next time...