myrtle beach.

We hit the beach for a couple nights this week to join David’s parents and meet up with his brother, wife, and family from Pittsburgh. Gabe and Noah got to meet uncle Joe and aunt Lindsay and cousin Lucas. We haven’t spent much time in Myrtle Beach, and had a wonderful stay.

We loved our hotel, which had a spacious suite for us and Steve and Linda with a full kitchen, and was right on the beach. The main attraction for the kids though was the hotel’s water park, and we especially appreciated that half the water park was indoors so we could take breaks from the sun.

A great time was had by all!

IMG_0126

IMG_0332

IMG_0331

IMG_0333

IMG_0295

IMG_0186

IMG_0181

IMG_0262

IMG_0280

IMG_0254

IMG_0285

IMG_0328



2 months.

Our little boys have been home for two months now. Here are 20 ways that my life has changed since April:

1. One word: laundry.

2. Another word: dishes.

3. I forgot how physical life with small children is, with all the carrying and dressing and wrestling into carseats and putting to bed. Consequently, I feel wrinkled and dirty all the time. I now see why many moms look frumpy. And I’m too tired to care.

4. Our family can easily put away a 9X13 casserole in one sitting.

5. I’m hard-pressed to be able to finish a complete thought, much less a sentence.

6. I forget things. A lot. (see above)

7. I’m more refreshed by a much smaller amount of alone time.

8. I am hungry. Constantly.

9. I still read books, but not nearly as fast.

10. You probably already figured this out, but I have even less margin for clutter. For instance, I recently cleared out and dropped three big bags of books off at the thrift store (books, people! my most-prized possessions!), for no other reason than I felt claustrophobic in our living room.

11. I rarely listen to background music, either at home or in the car anymore. I canceled my Pandora One subscription. My introverted brain can only take so much noise at one time.

12. I love and appreciate my husband even more than I did three months ago. He was an amazing father of two but he’s an even better father of four. After 11 years, this is the sweetest season in our marriage.

13. I forsake my to-do list quicker and play with my children more.

14. I stay home more. I finally have time for things like making homemade kefir and a sourdough starter and puttering around in the garden each morning. Life with small children is both busier and also delightfully slower.

15. I feel so out of it with church relationships and ministry. I used to be the one who knew everyone and what was going on in their lives, and now I have to look to others to do it (and they’re doing wonderfully, I might add)!

16. Along the same lines, I’ve transitioned to a new role at CPC: that of receiving. Our church family has generously and joyfully served us in the past months and it’s been beautiful (and very humbling).

17.  I now drive a minivan. And I love it!

18. I treasure one-on-one time with any of my children so much. Having just two at a time feels like a vacation. I love the ability to have real conversations with my big kids. Also they suddenly seem so old.

19. I’m simultaneously more tired and have more energy.

20. I can hardly believe I was scared of adoption because of how hard it would be and how much I’d have to give up. Of course it’s hard. Of course we’ve had to give things up. But the joy of knowing these two precious human beings and the way they’ve changed our life makes everything else pale in comparison.

We’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.

IMG_8563



six on friday.

IMG_8591

Judah. The pool is his happy place.

 

IMG_8542

Amelie. Exuberant lover of animals.

 

IMG_8649

Gabriel. This boy is officially potty-trained and we’re so proud!

 

IMG_8659

Noah. Mr. Expressive.

 

IMG_8729

Daddy. The pool is so much more fun with him.

 

IMG_8763

Mommy. It’s the happiest summer.



fitting in our house.

So now we have four kids. There are six of us, living in a 1,475 square foot house with three bedrooms, tiny closets, and one bathroom.

A question we get asked these days is, “Are you guys going to move?”

In fact, the week we adopted Gabe and Noah, our realtor (who’s also our friend) sent us a “Congrats!” email along with a list of 10 houses to look at. She wasn’t totally off-base; she knows that we’ve been casually looking for a bigger house ever since we started the adoption process last spring. And by “casually” I mean that we have seen pretty much every house on Zillow within a three-mile radius — some of them over and over — and have walked through a couple in person (that’s the furthest distance we’re willing to move).

It’s funny that we’ve been doing that all while investing time and money into our current house, putting down roots here and making improvements. What all of this comes down to is: we really, really don’t want to move. We’ve seen dozens of houses online and while we’ve found some with great features, nothing has come close to the precise combination of what we have here.

We love our house! We love our yard! Neither is perfect, but they’re ours. They’ve provided such a peaceful retreat and have given us many happy memories in two short years.

We really like our neighborhood and find it just the right balance of being downtown, but a couple miles north so it’s also a little quieter, with bigger yards. Our street has almost zero through-traffic, and we like all our neighbors and feel safe here. Of course our favorite feature of the neighborhood is the quick walk to David’s parents house around the corner.

When we bought this place two years ago we decided to choose a smaller house with a bigger yard (although then we weren’t planning on growing our family). We got an incredible deal on our house, so we could immediately start on improvements like fencing in our backyard, and also consider an addition in the future. Even though it seems to make sense to consider a bigger house for our growing family, it’s hard to think of losing some great things we enjoy now (travel, a monthly house cleaner) in favor of a larger mortgage payment and utilities.

So that’s where we’ve settled. Our five-year plan involves first a kitchen renovation and then a master suite addition, both of which we’re excited about. We’ve actually worked with a designer this past month and love the plans she gave us.

But none of that will happen immediately.

So that means a lot of my energy is going into making sure the six of us can fit here, right now.

I’ve been enjoying watching micro-home shows like Tiny House Nation and Tiny House Hunting. Micro-homes are all the rage right now and I think they seem so fun, but I’m realizing that it’s way sexier to daydream about living in a 400-square-foot house than to just be content in the mid-sized 1,500-2,500 square feet homes that most of us own. I watch a family downsize to a tiny house on TV but then look around our three-bedroom home and think, We can’t possibly make this work!

Well, the truth is, we can. Most of the rest of the world lives in way, way smaller homes and apartments than Americans do — and even Americans living in big cities are used to living smaller. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a big house, but there’s also nothing wrong with making a medium-sized house work for my family, if that’s what’s best for us right now.

We don’t need two bathrooms. My mom grew up in a house with six kids and one bathroom. Our two oldest kids don’t have to have their own rooms right now. I loved reading Gabrielle Stanley Blair’s book, Design Mom: How to Live with Kids. She has six children — one who just graduated from high school — and said her kids always share bedrooms, across ages, and across genders, and they do just fine.

Even so, I’ll be honest: I spent the last few weeks very frustrated about our house. The closets were bursting and bookshelves were messy and we were tripping over one another in our one tiny bathroom and most of all I could not find anywhere to put our homeschooling stuff, and I thought, We just can’t do this! We can’t all live here!

But I’ve come full circle this past week. I’ll write another post about how David and I have been purging, room by room and closet by closet, and what’s working for us. But the most important thing that helped me was to stop saying, “We can’t,” and start saying, “We can!”

It sounds silly but when you get it into your head that you absolutely can’t do something it’s very hard to be positive about the situation, whatever it may be. Just changing the words in my head turned our house into a challenge for me to overcome. And now I’m having fun with it.

So yes, we are fitting in our house just fine!



friday.

Hello friends! I didn’t make it to “four on friday” this week but here’s a little peak into what we’ve been up to:

1. Summer hair cuts! Gabe and Noah loved their first head shaves from Daddy and it makes these 104-degree days marginally more bearable (I’m thinking of getting one myself).

IMG_0005

 

2. Classical Conversations practicum. Our homeschool group puts on a three-day practicum in the summers. Moms receive training and encouragement, and kids can be part of CC day camp. Judah went to “Geography-Art camp” and Amie went to “Play camp.” The little guys spent the days with Mum-mum and they went to “Library camp” each morning.

The three days felt like a vacation for me: all four of my kids were having fun (away from me!) and I got to sit and listen to insightful lectures and talk with some really great people. Judah and Amie loved their camps and I promised Gabe that he can go next year too. I loved walking into the dining room yesterday morning while Judah was teaching Noah the continents and oceans.

IMG_0017

 

3. Organizing. I’m in another “wewillfitintothishousedarnit” phase, and have been on a purging/organizing streak. David jumped in and helped on his day off today and I feel so much better already. More on how we’re making life work in our wonderful, little house soon.

IMG_0006

 

4. Swimming! We hung out with some good friends this afternoon at the pool. It was so relaxing and Gabe and Noah did great — every time they get in the water they seem to enjoy it more. Also pizza never hurts!

IMG_0044

IMG_0045

Happy weekend!!!



nsb 2015.

Both our husbands were traveling for work this week, so Shari and I hit the road on our own Monday for a few days at New Smyrna Beach in Florida. Our longtime friends, the Phillips, have been so kind to share their family’s beach house with us for 20 years of vacations now. I’ve loved introducing each of my children to this McWilliams tradition, and this year was two-for-one with Gabe and Noah!

After my sob-story post last week you may have been a little nervous about me taking yet another road trip, but let me tell you what: this week was exactly what I needed. It was what we all needed.

I sat in the sand on Monday afternoon, the warm Florida waves splashing my toes, my big kids shrieking happily in the water with their cousins, Gabe shoveling sand onto my legs, and Noah sitting next to me singing and inspecting shells and I thought, Yes, this is it. This is being a mom.

Of course it is all the other things too: the hard work and routine and consistency and discipline. But it’s also the quiet pleasure of just being with your children. The joy you feel in watching their joy. It’s the lifetime of sweet memories, which temper the hard times. And because I just met Gabriel and Noah eight weeks ago, we have such a small amount of those memories. We’re starting from scratch.

But the beach this week added to the store house. It was the spark of hope I needed to see that the store house will keep growing.

I’m thankful for our family and for Tricia, who love all four of my children and helped make this week possible for us. I’m thankful for long, oft-interrupted chats with Shari in the van. I’m thankful for the beach, which never fails to make us all happy. I’m thankful that Gabe and Noah instantly loved it as much as the rest of us do, for a visit from my cousin Allison and her family and from my uncle Mark, for Dad’s homemade ice cream, and kids who slept through the night, for episodes of Tiny House Hunting with my mom and Shari, and a minivan that somehow squeezed in all 8 of us and our stuff.

It was a lovely week.

 

IMG_9978

IMG_9977

IMG_9975

IMG_9972

IMG_9976

IMG_9969

IMG_9974

IMG_9971

IMG_9970

IMG_9968

IMG_9966

IMG_9967

IMG_9979



four on friday.

IMG_8456

Judah. I love this smart, quirky, funny guy so much my heart hurts.

 

IMG_8441

Amelie. The parts of her personality that I once thought were challenging have become a breath of fresh air in our house full of boys.

 

IMG_8467

Gabriel. This boy is a sponge, hungrily soaking in every new experience and person and word. He just can’t get enough. I love his enthusiasm for life.

 

IMG_8429

Noah. I have yet to see a person who doesn’t break into a smile at this grin.



sunday.

IMG_9576

It’s Sunday. The re-set day. The day I look forward to all week.

Of all the challenges right now, God has preserved Sunday morning as a joyful time for me. Each of my four children loves church so much and I don’t take that for granted. Not one bit.

It’s nothing short of a blessing, because I need to be there so badly. My soul is hungry.

I’m neck-deep in my own sin these days, folks.

I can’t tell you about any one thing that’s so dreadful. Everyone is sleeping through the night. Friends and family are helpful. I’m getting time out by myself on Friday afternoons. None of our children is biting people or screaming nonstop or destroying the house.

It’s just still.so.hard.

It’s hard.

I hate being a complainer. This is the life I chose. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But I’m still here, gasping for breath. Showing up at church on the verge of tears after a morning of sibling squabbles and discipline and just trying to get everyone dressed and out the door. It takes one well-meaning person to hug me and ask how I’m doing and I just break down and cry. And then we sit and sing our worship songs and I cry some more.

But it’s not a bad kind of crying, I don’t think. I just feel so very needy, and being with my church family is like a sigh of relief, a place to relax and be myself, tears and all. The service gives me a place to repent, with everyone else in the room, of my sins of anger and impatience and pride. It gives me space to receive forgiveness. It gives me the food I need to start another relentless week, a week which begins the moment the benediction ends and little people are clamoring around me.

I reach back three years in my memory and know I felt this same way when we lived overseas in South Asia. The struggles were different, but it was the same experience of knowing I was exactly where I was supposed to be, but also being stretched to my absolute limits.

I’m so thankful to the Lord because I’m not struggling with depression. It’s more having a giant puzzle to solve, all the time, that makes my body tired and my brain ache. Sometimes it’s complaining too much to anyone who will listen, sometimes forgetting to recognize the progress that’s being made in my own heart and in my children, and choosing to dwell on what’s going wrong. And sometimes forgetting to keep my thankful list — and, let’s be honest, not really wanting to.

I don’t exactly know why I’m telling you all this except to say that this is what adoption (or just parenting?) looks like for me right now. I don’t have any horror stories to make you feel sorry for me. The kids are all doing well. God couldn’t have given us two sweeter little boys. They’re making progress, all four of them.

But every day I deal with an embarrassing amount of anger and frustration and selfishness for two reasons: 1. I feel like I can’t do everything well, and 2. I just want to be left alone.

I recognize that I am wholly, utterly inadequate for this calling, and that’s very humbling. I feel the enormous weight of raising and shepherding four precious, unique souls. I feel an undercurrent of fear about attachment and helping heal wounds and loving unconditionally.

And beyond those things, how on earth to teach them all what they need to know? Good manners and how to play with other kids and eat healthy food and take responsibility for their things and how to respect authority? How to teach them about Jesus and read lots of books to stretch their imagination and vocabulary and to be generous and serve other people? How to do all of this with kindness and consistency and not crush their spirits?

I don’t just want to do crowd control here. I want to empathize and listen and point to Jesus.

I have no simple answers for this overwhelming place I’m in, except that I need to keep walking through it, one day at a time. And there is just no way I will do it all well. I will let balls drop. I will get angry and need to say I’m sorry. There will be glaring holes in our child-rearing. There will be brokenness in our family.

And yet, God is big enough for that. If He’s called us to this, He will be faithful. He’s promised to use every trial to make me more like Jesus, and so I rest in Him.

When I stop and think about it I feel grateful for this overwhelming place because I open my Bible each morning needing to hear from God. Sure, I could probably go through the motions of this new life on my own. But I can’t deal with my selfish heart on my own. I’m thankful for Jesus, who puts my sin as far as the east is from the west, who gives me new mercies each morning.

I’m thankful to surrender to Him.

And so, I am ready for another week.

 

IMG_9584



four on friday.

Play Doh edition . . .

IMG_8288

Judah. All concentration.

 

IMG_8355

Amelie. Play Doh is a full-body experience.

 

IMG_8350

Gabriel. Our blue-eyed kid.

 

IMG_8328

Noah. “A ‘nake!”



first road trip.

IMG_9317

We’ve had my cousin Bekah’s wedding on the calendar for quite awhile, but right after bringing the boys home I thought, There is no way we can go. It was in Franklin, Tennessee, about a 7-hour drive away. I could not even imagine trying to navigate travel and mostly a wedding with our two toddler boys.

But Amie was supposed to be a flower girl, and you know I love any chance to be with my extended family. David couldn’t go but my mom offered to make the trip with us and help out. What followed was a month of a roller coaster of indecision, and if you rode that roller coaster with me, I’m sorry!

A couple weeks before the wedding I called Bekah’s mom, my Aunt Donna, and had a heart-to-heart with her. I said, “I want to come so badly, but please be honest: am I crazy for trying this?” I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone with my brood of children. And she herself is a mother of four, so I knew she’d understand my hesitation.

I share all of this to tell you why I love my family. She said, “Julie, please come! We will all help with the boys. We’d love to have you guys!” I love that my family cares more about people and being together than having everything perfect.

IMG_9320

So we went! We left first thing Friday morning, our five-week anniversary of having Gabe and Noah. And I very quickly remembered how different car rides are with toddlers and preschoolers! Poor Mom was turning around in her seat every 30 seconds to fetch toys and juice and snacks. We finally laid some ground rules which helped.

Want to know our two secrets to those long car rides? Prepare to be impressed: Movies and McDonalds. Yep, that’s right. We used the DVD player almost the entire trip and also stopped at McDonald’s for lunch both rides. I wept a little on the inside, but all four kids were delighted with their cheeseburgers and Happy Meal toys and those kept them busy on and off the whole weekend. Gabe and Noah don’t care much about watching TV, but it was a special treat for the big kids. We arrived at our hotel 8 hours later with surprisingly few melt-downs.

IMG_9334

Our hotel had a pool! So we got a quick swim in before the rehearsal and everyone was much happier with fresh air and exercise. The church was absolutely perfect. A couple miles from our hotel, it was cute and small and had nursery rooms with toys, but best of all, had this fenced-in playground. We spent hours on that playground over the two days.

IMG_9350

Judah’s whole face lit up seeing his second-cousins Tristan and Gavin from Florida. They played Pokemon during the rehearsal. They ran around the playground like crazy. They ate cheesecake. They generally laughed and goofed off. It’s been a long five weeks for my big boy, and this was the happiest I’d seen him in awhile. I literally teared up every time I watched him with his cousins. My family has been so healing for me over the past few years, and it warms my heart to see them have that same effect on my children.

IMG_9530

Judah had a sleepover with his cousins which helped since we were sharing a little hotel room. My uncle Ken and Aunt Susan rented a cabin in the woods for their kids and grandkids, which was a lifesaver since they shared it with us! We got up Saturday morning (G and N slept through the night in the hotel both nights!), fed the kids with the free hotel breakfast, grabbed an Einstein bagel and some Starbucks for the road for the grown-ups, and drove 30 pretty miles to the cabin (I love Tennessee).

IMG_9372

It was truly perfect. Shady and spacious and so quiet. There was a big back porch and a creek. We spent that entire day outside. The kids waded in the creek, threw rocks, caught crawfish. The above photo makes me laugh because the big kids were laying wriggling crawfish on paper and trying to trace them with a pen (there are so many reasons that didn’t work out).

IMG_9380

I already knew that God made Gabriel and Noah for our family, but this trip only further confirmed it. The fact that our family travels often was one of the things their birth mom loved most when first looking at our family photo book. That’s something that she specifically wanted for her boys.

And she knows them well. They loved our trip. Not necessarily the long hours in the car, but even then, they did amazingly well for it being so unfamiliar. They loved the hotel and the pool. They greeted every new place and all the new people with big smiles. They loved our family. At lunch on Saturday Gabriel went around the big farm table trying to memorize everyone’s names. They got tired but did well with later nights. They even napped Saturday afternoon at the cabin and gave us some quiet moments to visit with the family.

IMG_9387

IMG_9393

My mom generously kept the boys during the ceremony and I stayed out in the lobby helping the two flower girls get ready to walk down the aisle. Amie said, “Mom, people are asking to take my picture so I think I must be famous.” I’m sad I didn’t get a photo of my cousin Bekah but she looked beautiful. Thank you, Nina, for bringing a tote bag filled with kids’ activities for emergency situations, like when it started raining outside.

IMG_9399

We may have discovered some leftover pizza in the bridesmaids’ dressing room and decided to feed the boys their dinner then and there. They were delighted.

IMG_9419

We had the boys in and out of the reception. My sweet Mom and aunt Sally let me sit down and eat a full dinner and visit awhile, then they brought the boys in for cupcakes and dancing.

IMG_9422

Gabriel loved the dancing! I think Noah was a little overwhelmed at that point, but he still wanted to be held on the dance floor. A fun time was had by all!

We hit the road first thing Sunday morning, and somehow it was a loooong trip home. Nine hours later we arrived at our front door, exhausted, but no worse for the wear.

Of course it was a very different trip for me. I’d reached an age with Judah and Amie where they just run off and play and I get to more or less relax and visit with people. That happened a little but not as much as in the past. But I went in with those expectations so I didn’t mind. One day we’ll get there again!

I got so much delight out of seeing my four kids enjoying themselves to the fullest, watching my family envelope my new sons with hugs and love and acceptance, being served by them as they pitched in and helped with the boys. My cousin Lindsey had brought a big bag of hand-me-down clothes and puzzles and cute little backpacks for them. My mom was wonderful about embracing the chaos and adventure, respecting my rules for the kids, and helping out in every possible way.

Yes, we’ve all been tired this week back at home. Melt-downs have been a little more frequent and Mommy’s patience has been a little thin. But there’s rest in resuming our routine and normal meals and bedtimes. And I love that Gabe is still talking about “the river house” and “Ga-bin and Tristan.”

Was our road trip worth it? Yes!!!

IMG_9423