around our house at the end of summer, 2016.

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If you’ve been following this blog for awhile you know that I like to do a little house tour every summer, because first of all: it’s fun! And also in order to chronicle the way our home evolves, bit by bit. I forget the little details if I don’t take pictures, and while this is my favorite it’s ever looked, there are memories in each of it’s stages, things that make me smile (and sometimes groan).

Mostly things that make me thankful that this is where we wound up putting down roots.

We’ve owned a home for three years. Wow. Sometimes I still can’t believe we’ve managed to stick in one place this long. If you’re wondering why that’s an accomplishment, our track record was 10 homes in our first 9 years of marriage.

The outside looks exactly the same, and is patiently awaiting it’s new roof and it’s master bedroom addition (if only the rest of us were as patient). You know that our single Big Project this summer was Judah and Amelie’s bedroom makeover, which you can see here. Below is a photo to show you the way the room looks often these days:

 

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And for my second piece of disclosure: this is what my kids were doing while I scurried around snapping photos, and this is why the house looks particularly neat. Yep, we’ve discovered the PBS Kids app on the iPad and we love it.

 

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I’ve done virtually nothing to our living room this year except purge books, buy books, add a couple of house plants, and, mostly importantly, buy throw pillows! I waited quite awhile for this luxury, because: 1. For awhile I couldn’t find what I liked, and then, 2. We adopted two little boys and I knew any decorative pillows/blankets would end up a jumble on the floor.

But finally, this is the summer of new pillows (all from Target), and while they sometimes do still end up in a jumble, they also make our living room feel just a bit more cozy.

 

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You can see the door to our current master bedroom off the living room, and one day I felt compelled to switch the furniture around so that the bed is against the far wall. Here’s how our bedroom looked last year:

 

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And here’s how it looks today:

 

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Not only does the room feel much bigger now, but David corrected one of my DIY fails this summer. When I bought and painted the unfinished pine IKEA dresser I didn’t realize I needed to seal the knots first, and they all bled through the white paint almost immediately. So David sanded everything down, added a coat of Kilz, and gave it all a couple fresh coats of paint. My brother Danny found me that Pepsi crate from an antique store and I think it’s so fun.

We do miss our string lights in the reading nook and I keep meaning to put them up again.

This bedroom will eventually be Amie’s, and she loves to roam around and notify me of the changes she plans to make and the things she wants to stay the same (hint: she wants the wardrobes and the gold chair).

 

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Our kitchen and dining room are almost the same too; I just like to declutter and shift things around.

 

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My school supplies for this year included a new set of curtains, lamp, and clock for the dining room. I log many hours in here and now it’s a space that feels bright, peaceful, and pretty.

Dining room before:

 

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And after:

 

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Judah and I found the brass unicorn at our favorite thrift store, His House, one day, and just had to have it because, well, it’s a brass unicorn.

Finally, the little boys’ room. Poor Noah slept in a crib until he was nearly three and a half. He was a good sport about it, and since it’s our last crib ever, I wasn’t in a hurry to transition. But when we did Judah and Amelie’s bedroom makeover, the boys got the bunk beds.

On my to-do list for that weekend was to post the crib and boys’ changing table dresser to Craigslist, but David asked me if it would be easier if we just set them on the side of the road. It felt blissfully easier. They were picked up within two hours.

Here’s the boys’ room last summer:

 

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And here it is now:

 

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They love their bunk beds so much, and just as with the big kids, I did away with top sheets and gave them a duvet. It makes laundry and bed-making simpler.

They also got Judah and Amie’s dresser, which matches all the pine in the room. What can I say? We buy a lot of IKEA pine furniture. It’s so durable and makes wear-and-tear virtually invisible. Sometimes I think of painting it, and then I feel like I need to go take a nap.

A note about knotted curtains: I love big, tall, sweeping curtains that brush the floor, but we have such small bedrooms in our house. When I washed them this summer, I tried knotting them instead and love the more open feel (I also love that they aren’t perpetually dusty from the floor).

I’d like to move the robots down at least 12 inches or find some different wall art, but all our original paint was ruined in last fall’s flood. This means there will be no more touch-ups. I guess I’ll wait until we repaint the room.

 

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And that concludes this year’s glance around our house. Just for fun, here’s what it looked like right after we moved in.

Now, I’m ready for a break. I’ll tweak things I’m sure, but my mind needs a rest from new ideas and all my design blogs, and I just want to spend the fall living in our house. We have some plans for the front and back yard as the weather gets nicer, and I can’t wait to be outside more.

Happy Sunday!





august.

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Hello friends!

Can you believe that we’re in the second week of August?

We officially started school last Monday. We attempted to start back in July. I wanted to try my hand at more of a year-round-schooling schedule because I fancy myself to be one of those mothers for whom the world is a classroom and life is our education and every walk outside fosters a love of nature. Why would we take a man-made break from learning for two whole months?

Well, after about two days, we quit viewing the world as our classroom. The little boys loved it because they crave more structure, but the big kids weren’t ready. More importantly, perhaps, I wasn’t ready. I suddenly began to adore the idea of a man-made break.

So we took a few more weeks off and tried again on August 1st, and we all felt much better about the arrangement. We still started a bit early because we’re taking a week-long vacation in September, and I want to be able to leave the school books at home, guilt-free.

I know I wrote an inspiring homeschool post earlier this summer, and last week I was as organized as could be, but the truth is, it’s hard to get excited about homeschooling right now. I feel tired, and I’m still trying to coordinate exactly how to homeschool three grades now that Gabe is starting kindergarten.

But you know what I realized?

I don’t think I’m so much tired because of homeschooling, I think I’m tired because of parenting. I think it’s the natural state for parents of young children to be tired, and also it’s the natural state of people to be discontent. It’s easy to look at my public or private school friends or even my working mom friends and feel that the grass is greener on their side. But I know that just isn’t true. Life generally isn’t smooth sailing for any of us; we just have different stresses, amiright?

Tired as I am, I feel at peace with forging ahead in our homeschool journey this year. Coffee helps.

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Speaking of which, I’m drinking coffee again, even though in the past I’ve quit because of anxiety. But I’m taking a heftier dose of medication and so I just need it. For now, at least. Come to think of it, maybe the medication is another reason I feel tired?

The good news is, my spirits are better and I’m cautiously optimistic that my anxiety is lessening. I’ve had a couple really good days, and at the moment I don’t live in fear of the next social situation. Thanks for your prayers.

But back to school. By God’s grace, even with the other stresses in life, our start of a new school year truly couldn’t have been smoother. I noticed a marked improvement in the little boys’ behavior from the very first day. I realized once again that our normal routine is restful for them. They know exactly what to expect and the world is as it should be. Gabe is beside himself with joy to start kindergarten.

Now I can’t say that the big kids have the same attitude. I know they struggle to get in the rhythm of school before Classical Conversations starts, and that makes sense to me, so I’m trying to give them some space. What this means is we’re doing a lot of school-in-PJ’s.

I’m thankful for a good schedule for this year, and trusting God that we’ll get all our work in. I’m thankful that David will be teaching Judah third grade math, which takes a huge load off my shoulders and makes Judah happy. I’m thankful for lots of fun books to read aloud together. I’m thankful for the blossoming relationships among my children; this past month Judah and Gabe have been connecting in a way they just didn’t before. I love watching them go out to the trampoline together to battle.

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What else have we been up to?

We’ve been trying our hand at some new recipes. David made carnitas last week, and we made our first ever homemade corn tortillas. They were delicious! And then our tortilla press broke. Ah well.

He also tried grilling pizza, and, believe it or not, we made waffles last night for the first time in our married life.

David’s parents babysat Saturday morning so the two of us could go tubing on the Saluda River. We used a company that shuttled us up to the zoo, and we floated/paddled back down to the Gervais Street Bridge. It was so fun! David of course splashed around in the water and jumped off rocks, and I mostly stuck to the tube. We saw wildlife. We chatted. The water felt amazingly cold against the heat of the day, and thankfully we went early enough to avoid getting sunburned.

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We’re on a two-week break from swim team, and still very thankful to be swimming often at my brother’s pool. It’s been a lovely haven for me this summer, to be outside and with our family.

Are you watching the Olympics?

If you aren’t, please watch a bit just to see Rio! It’s probably my favorite Olympic venue ever, and I want to be there so badly! I just finished my first Ann Patchett novel, State of Wonder, which I loved, and takes place in Brazil.

I’m a HUGE Olympics fan, have been all my life. This is my favorite year to watch since we’ve had kids because they really get into it too. We have lots of little gymnasts and hurdlers around here, and I’m positive something in our house will be broken before the two weeks’ are over (hopefully it’s not a bone).

All in all, I’d say our month is off to a great start.

Happy August!



how to survive the summer with anxiety.

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This is a hard post for me to write, because I’m still very much in the thick of my anxiety issues.

I wish I could tell you I’m doing better — actually, I take that back. I am doing better, I think.

I have more good days than bad days. It’s just a slower journey than I’d like. If you’ve traveled the path of trying different or more medication, you yourself know that it’s a slow and laborious process. I wish I could write these reflections from closer to the mountain-top. But I’m picking my way over roots and rocks, sweating up the incline.

I love the blog Design Mom, and recently Gabrielle Blair mentioned that, in the midst of her family’s lovely summer in France, she’s been battling depression. It’s an ever-present cloud darkening the otherwise clear horizon. It helped me to read that because I know exactly how she feels. I know how a person can be having a good summer in many ways, yet under-girding it all is this darkness that makes it also a hard summer in many ways.

And so that’s the first way to survive a summer with depression or anxiety:

1. Find the good things.
This is very hard to do. Because mental illness is so distressing, it’s easy to make it the Giant, to think, My whole life is falling apart.

I have to discipline myself to say, “That’s not true. This one part of my life is falling apart, maybe, but not the whole thing.” And then I make myself list the things that are going fine — great, even. Call it a thankful list, call it what you want.

So today I say:

I got out of bed this morning.

I am not having panicky, racing, self-destructive thoughts about having to walk out of a group of people yesterday.

I have energy to make Sunday morning oatmeal for my family.

I can go to church, even if I sit outside in the lobby during the service.

I can meet a new person.

I hate talking about my anxiety, but because I do, there are lots of people who love me, who are praying for me and who are on my team. I can read their texts on my phone when I start to doubt it.

Perhaps my biggest Good Thing, though, is that I do not have panic attacks around David and my kids. I don’t. Am I stressed sometimes? Yes. Could the stress of my current life with four children be perhaps adding to the overall anxiety problem? Maybe, yes. But the fact that I got out of bed today, the fact that I’m functional with my family, that I can talk to them and read them books and make meals and even have dance parties, is a gift that I do not take for granted.

 

2. Face the pain.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, friends, that it is worth it to face your pain.

I’ve had years of counseling to help me work through my issues. At the beginning it was just awful. It made me feel way worse to expose myself like that, give voice to fears and hurts that had such a big hold on my heart. It was raw and humiliating, especially since the mantra I constantly told myself is, I shouldn’t be here. So many people have been through much worse than I have. Why can’t I just get over this?

I couldn’t find one good thing it was accomplishing and I just wanted to quit.

But gradually, it got easier, just as most things do with practice. And as it got easier, it became very helpful, even healing. Counseling not only allowed me to work through my struggles with a wise, trusted person, but it schooled me in a way of life: that we face the hard feelings and we talk about the hard things.

I don’t currently have a therapist, although I’m working on connecting with one who was recently recommended to me. But the counseling I’ve had in the past has put me in the habit of relating to the people around me in an open, honest way. I find people I trust and I keep talking about the hard things. I ask for prayer. I ask for their wisdom. And in it, I find that I am not alone.

If you need any further encouragement to bring your hard places into the light, I will tell you that because of all this work, living with my anxiety and depression today is easier than it was, say, five years ago — even two years ago. I’m able to disconnect it a little more from my core identity. I do not need to numb and distract myself from the pain. I can sit with myself in the silent moments and talk to God about those scary feelings. I wouldn’t have been able to write this blog post from the thick of the struggle five years ago.

 

3. Grow things.
I made a goal of putting a house plant (or two) in every room of our home this summer. That’s because the little snatch of green symbolizes “thriving” to me. Even if I’m not thriving in some areas, I can thrive in others. I can take care of myself. I can be thankful. I can find things that I enjoy to do. I can create a little beauty around me. I can keep a plant alive (I hope).

My sweet family has been sharing with me and giving me plant cuttings, and I’ve visited the clearance rack at Lowe’s (succulents for $1!). My little army is growing, and David said he’s fine with all this greenery but will draw the line if our house begins to look like a jungle.

Yesterday I had to walk outside in the middle of my beloved Book and Tea Club meeting, shaking and gulping for air. I sat and cried because I felt so lonely and because I feel like a stranger to myself. My friends comforted me. And then as we said our goodbyes, one of them, who was hosting us, put a lovely African violet in my hands. She doesn’t even know about my plant thing; she just did it because that’s the kind of person she is.

And it was like a little gift from the God who says, “I see you.”

 

4. Read the Psalms.
A month or so ago I remembered how much good the Psalms were to my soul during our adoption wait. And so I started back at the beginning. I decided to memorize Psalm 16, one of my all-time favorites, because it felt like a small constructive thing I can do.

I’ve also learned that sometimes less is better. This summer I have learned a few one-phrase prayers from the Psalms that I pull out and repeat during the days when I simply have no words of my own:

– Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.

– The Lord is king forever and ever

– I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God

– I love you, O Lord my strength

– the Lord my God lightens my darkness

–  This God — his way is perfect

In the Psalms, I sit with God and learn that he sits with me. He is near to the brokenhearted. Whether I feel it or not, goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.

The Psalms are a dear companion in this wearying journey of anxiety and depression.

 

5. Accept help.
This looks like different things for different people. Like I said I’m for the most part blessedly functional in my everyday life, so for me it’s looked like relying on others to serve in areas that I’ve been serving.

This is tremendously difficult for me to do; both because I like to be the one in the serving position — I take a measure of pride in it, to be quite honest — and because I don’t want to burden people.

One example: I haven’t even been to my Life Group — the group that I started and that I lead — all summer, much less led it.

And so this baby group of women, most of whom didn’t know each other 8 months ago, has had to grow up fast to compensate for my weakness. They completely astound me. They are kind, compassionate, fun, and have never once made me feel like I’m letting them down. They’re becoming genuine friends with each other, pursuing one another and me too outside of our meeting time. Last week a woman who is both new-ish to our church and a new mom offered to lead the group discussion. She could’ve found a dozen reasons that “now isn’t a good time.” She was nervous to do it, and that meant even more to me. She said, “Julie, never worry about having to be here or to lead. We’re all happy to help you.”

My weakness has made our group strong, because I need them. I’m letting them lead too and so we’re doing it together, sharing both the load and the joy.

God has seen fit to make me a pastor’s wife who needs other people. I feel myself longing to rise up and be strong, and He makes me weak. I don’t understand exactly why. But I love the gifts He’s given me through accepting help from and being ministered to by other people.

 

6. Find what you can do, and give thanks.
I bookend this little list with something like what I said in the beginning, because truly, you have to fight for joy. You have to get yourself in the habit of naming things to be joyful about, and you pray to God for the feelings to one day follow.

Honestly, it’s taken me all summer to get to the place of simply accepting my anxiety (and some moments I still don’t). I’ve spent most of it either blaming myself or wrestling with God. It feels incredibly inefficient of Him. There’s so much more I could do for Him if I wasn’t panicked by being around people.

It’s taking a long, long time for me to learn that my value is not measured by what I do. It’s taking a long time to learn not to live to please people and work to earn God’s approval. It’s taking a long time for me to learn to open my hands and let go of control a little.

Living with anxiety is forcing me to learn some of those things.

A sad truth about me is that I most naturally define “ministry” as what I do outside of my home (or what I do in my home for people outside of my family). In this season of being confined to mostly just my family, God is asking me, “Do you see them as your ministry, Julie? If you aren’t growing in patience and kindness with David and your kids first, then you’ll never be truly patient and kind with other people. If you aren’t practicing the art of sitting and turning your attention on your kids or husband and being a good listener to them, then you aren’t really a good listener. The rest is just a show.”

This is one of the lessons my anxiety is teaching me.

And it’s something to give thanks for.

While my value is not in what I do, it is still important to find ways that I can serve other people, right here and now, both in my family and out. Because serving is what gets me outside of my own head, it helps me see the people around me and learn that they have struggles too. It helps me move toward them in compassion. It keeps me from feeling paralyzed by giving me small goals and small victories.

So maybe I can’t have people over for dinner, but I can make a meal for a family who just had a baby.

I can’t go out for coffee with someone, but I can send a card in the mail.

I can’t sit in the church service, but I can meet people beforehand and make them feel welcome (oddly, this is one thing that doesn’t cause me anxiety right now, and I’m very grateful for it).

I can’t speak in front of a group, but I can write a blog post.

I can help in the nursery once a month and run around after two-year-olds.

I can listen to David and help him process his job and brainstorm for sermons and meetings. I can make his breakfast smoothies and iron his shirts and watch the CrossFit Games with him, and try to make his life at home just a little more joyful.

I can pray.

I cling to these few things, and I try to do them well and let the others go right now. I trust God to use other people to help do what I can’t. I cling to hope that one day I’ll be myself again and find joy in the things that used to bring me joy.

If you are someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, then I pray the same for you.



the veggie box.

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One of our favorite things to do together, both as a couple and as a family, is to cook and bake.

For several years now, we’ve been trying to move in the direction of a healthy, whole-foods based diet. This doesn’t mean we’re health nuts, and it doesn’t even mean we buy everything organic. You’ll find cereal and store-bought bread in the pantry, and the kids have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch most days.

David’s good at helping me be inspired to make and eat healthy food but not let it take over my life. I had a friend once advise me, “Instead of obsessing about what to cut out of your diet to make it healthier, just focus on adding good, whole foods, bit by bit.” So thanks to her inspiration we now have green smoothies for breakfast and we make salads for lunch. We make the kids smoothies and they eat veggies or fruit as a side at most meals and often for snacks.

Of course it’s our job to see that they eat a relatively balanced diet, but what I really want to do is inspire my kids to enjoy good food. This is hard. Often I’m discouraged at the dinner table when I make a fresh, healthy meal and the kids labor through it (they don’t have to like it, but can’t make rude comments. so we hear a lot of, “I don’t really prefer quinoa”).

I’d say David and I are pretty healthy eaters, but it’s hard to man-handle our kids into being healthy eaters. We keep junk food out of the house for the most part and they have to eat some of everything we serve for dinner.

But I understand what it’s like to be a kid and want sandwiches and cereal and ice-cream. I don’t want to have anxiety over food, and I definitely don’t want my children to.

All of this to say, I hope that our kids see David and me buying and enjoying good food, and learning to be creative with eating it. I hope they see that we love to cook together. I hope they taste lots of different foods — multiple times. I understand that their taste buds will grow and change over time. I hope that as they help their grandparents with the chickens and help us grow a small amount of what we eat, they’ll develop an appreciation for where our food comes from and feel part of the process.

I hope to continue to grow on this journey myself.

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And so enter: the veggie box, which is quickly becoming a Soda City Farmer’s Market sensation. For 10 dollars you can fill a cardboard box with as many fruits and veggies as you’re able to — just look for the stand with the long line of people snaking around the block.

Not all the vegetables and fruit are local to South Carolina; I try to ask questions and keep my eye out for the obvious exceptions (pineapple, bananas). I still buy those things at the supermarket, but want as much as possible to save room for the local, in-season stuff in our box.

The above photo is two boxes’ worth of food. We found that one box wasn’t quite enough the week before for a family of six. I wanted to see if we actually ate all the contents of two boxes in one week, and for a couple of the things it was closer to two weeks. But they kept in the vegetable crisper, and we did it! We ate everything and didn’t throw any of it away. Now we buy one or two boxes depending on what our week looks like, what we’re getting from our own garden (not much in this 100-degree weather), and how many meals we will be eating at home.

I’m always looking for healthy food ideas from my friends, so thought it might be fun/helpful to list out for you what we did with all of it.

1. 2 heads of kale – morning green smoothies (recipe below)

2. Spinach – mixed with lettuce for salads, green smoothies

3. Radishes – salads

4. Mushrooms – Frittata with mushrooms, bell pepper, grated Parmesan, and fresh parsley

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5. Corn on the cob – side dish for dinner

6. Cherries – gobbled up for snacks

7. Blueberries – snacks, smoothies, topping for granola

8. Carrots – side for lunch, snacks with hummus

9. Romaine lettuce – Lunchtime salads!

10. Sweet potatoes – baked , topped with butter and cinnamon and served as a side dish

11. Broccoli – side dish with dinner (and all the kids’ favorite vegetable)

12. Peaches – Peach cobbler! Also snacks

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13. Bell peppers – Frittata, pizza, salad toppings (we’re getting peppers from our garden now too)

14. Zucchini and squash – the amount you see above made a side for two dinners, sauteed with butter, salt and pepper, leftover corn cut from the cob, topped with chopped fresh basil (sadly all my kids’ least favorite veggie. and they really hate mushrooms. (although not a veggie))

15. Tomatoes – sliced on David’s homemade pizza

We’ve loved our weekly box of produce. I enjoy seeing the kids help choose it and discover new fruit, like cherries.

What I don’t like is the overwhelming crowds of people at the market (although I love how well it’s doing!), and was happy to find out through my MIL that our veggie stand opens at 7:00am. If we arrive between 8 and 8:30 the line isn’t too long yet, so we can zip in and zip out. Some mornings we linger and buy coffee at Indah and snow cones and an enormous cinnamon roll. There are so many delicious things to eat at Soda City that have nothing to do with our veggie box! 🙂

Here’s to everything in moderation!

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Smoothie recipe (adapted from Thrive, by Brendan Brazier)

Makes 2 large glasses (these are rough estimates, we eyeball the proportions):

– 2 cups ice and water
– 1 banana
– 1 apple
– big scoop raw hemp powder
– scoop raw cacao powder
– spoonful tahini
– 2 cups kale or spinach
– handful of berries if we have them
– splash of unsweetened almond milk
– if it’s not sweet enough or we need more volume we add a couple of pitted dates or another banana
– Blend well



annie comes to columbia.

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Hi friends! I hope you’re finding ways to stay cool and hydrated in this sweltering heat. David’s cousin Annie left behind her mild 70-degree weather and flew out from Seattle for a week. We had a wonderful visit with her.

She’s a rising high school senior, and so we’re thankful for extra time with her before she becomes a super-busy college student. Annie’s adopted, and is one of the big inspirations for our wanting to adopt children ever since we got married. I’m so thankful for the special bond she’ll always share with Gabe and Noah, and for the way Judah and Amie adore her too.

She stayed at Steve and Linda’s, and spent lots of time over here too. We did so many fun things together during our stay. Here are a few of them!

I recently invested in my first ever flat-iron and had absolutely no idea what to do with it, so Annie gave us a tutorial on how to make “beachy waves”:

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We went to Richland Mall to watch Judah and Steve play table-tennis. They play with a group there an evening or two a week. Judah loves going, and has learned so much:

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Steve and Annie got into mischief, like target practice with the BB gun, and figuring out Pokemon GO:

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David slow-cooked a Boston butt on the Big Green Egg and made his own mustard-based BBQ sauce so that Annie could get a taste of the south:

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We spent a day at Folly Beach, and were thankful to be able to spread out in the shade of the pier. It wasn’t too crowded, the water felt amazing, and no one got sunburned. I’d say it was a successful day!

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The girls did a sewing project over at Steve and Linda’s. Annie is very talented at sewing, and has made Ams AG doll dresses in the past. This week she made bags for each of Amie’s dolls.

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We took her to Chick-fil-A for the first time!

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A friend of ours works at USC and gave Annie a campus tour (our attempt to lure her south for college). Along the way they saw this very interesting, very tall plant.

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It was a full, very fun week for everyone. We miss you already, Annie!

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adoption reflections: 15 months in.

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So it’s been 15 months since we adopted our boys. I’ve sat down maybe half a dozen times this summer to start this blog post, but I always end up feeling cotton-brained. Perhaps that’s a reflection in and of itself.

But here I am today, finally, with a few thoughts from someone who’s very much still in the thick of it all:

We’ve come a long way.
I just cannot believe how different things were in our home, even a year ago today. We were smack in the middle of The Crazy, and I wish so badly that I could comfort that momma and tell her, “It’s going to get so much better, I promise. You will survive this. Your husband will survive it. Your kids will survive it. There will be moments of peace in your house again.”

It’s actually a comfort to think there’s a good chance that the me of next year may look back on today and say the same thing. Because even though we’ve come a long way, it’s still really hard sometimes.

I remember tucking one of the boys in bed after a particularly difficult day and praying, “God, please change this child’s hard heart.” And suddenly the thought struck me, almost like an audible voice: “Julie, what about your heart? Yes he’s a sinner and he’s wounded on top of that, but his acting out is producing all manner of rage and impatience and self-righteousness in you.”

I felt immediately convicted and repentant. It’s true.

And so now instead I pray, to paraphrase a Ray Cortese sermon I heard once, “Father, please change the hardest heart in my family: mine.”

Thanks be to God, I’d say that we’re growing in the right direction, all of us.

 

Shared memories are priceless.
The very best part of reaching our one-year mark as a family of six was knowing that Gabe and Noah had experienced a full year of holidays and traditions and travel with us. It became exhausting to try and prepare them for every new experience, mostly because I know they recognized they were the odd ones out, who didn’t know about the particular person or place or experience, and that caused them anxiety.

By now it’s impossible to overemphasize the power in simple comments we hear, like, “Noah, last year I got to put the star on the Christmas tree, but next year it’s your turn,” or “I don’t want to go back on the big green water slide at the church retreat,” or “Daddy, will you buy lots of fireworks for 4th of July this time?”

I can tell Gabe still holds some of that anxiety, because every plan or errand of the day is peppered with, “Have I been there before?” or “Have I seen that before?” But as he sees, again and again during our week, that yes, he has been there and seen that before, I pray it gives him a sense of settledness and place in our family.

 

Love grows. So does trust.
It takes time to grow love and trust. If there was one thing I could tell parents who are adopting older children, it would be, “It’s okay if you don’t immediately feel love for this child. Don’t panic. It will grow with time.”

Our social worker told us that adoption is like an arranged marriage; you make the lifetime commitment first; then you let the affections follow. I guess I’d tack on that, like any marriage, arranged or not, you can’t sit idly by and just wait for the warm fuzzies; you have to fight for them. You have to move in the direction of love — move toward this other person — even on the days you don’t feel a bit of it (perhaps especially on the days you don’t feel it).

So I guess it requires this mixture of waiting and work that I’m still scratching my head to get right.

I remember sitting on the sofa next to Gabe on the first day that he and Noah were in our house, watching cartoons and asking, “Can I hold you?” I carefully reached for him, and when he didn’t resist, I pulled him onto my lap. He didn’t even turn to meet my eyes, just gingerly perched right on the edge of my knees, eyes glued to the TV screen. It felt surreal to have to make a conscious decision to sit and hold my child on my lap for the first time. But we were strangers to each other.

In our first weeks with the boys, they allowed us to hold them, yet their bodies were rigid. We peer at photographs from those days and see them in our arms yet twisting away from our bodies.  Not only that; they would let anyone hold them. I was gripped with fear and jealousy when Noah ran away from me at the playground, arms held up, to the first mommy he found who had a snack.

In the beginning I felt like they showed affection to everyone but David and me. And of course it makes sense: we were the scary ones, the ones who wanted to get close. The ones who set boundaries and made them eat healthy food and carried out consequences when they disobeyed.

And yet, sure enough, love and trust were being built up, like the colored wooden blocks of a child’s tower, in millions of small moments. In some mysterious way those moments even include discipline and the setting of boundaries. Many times I’ve wanted to speed up the process, for all of us. But that’s not the way humans work, especially humans who’ve had trust broken.

One day last week I asked Gabe if he wanted to lay down on my bed and take a nap with me. He’s done it before, and was happy for extra attention from Mommy; and so we stretched out on my bed in the slanting afternoon sunlight and I spread the green woven blanket over us. He lay there, very still next to me, for a couple minutes. I peeked over at him and smiled, and his whole face softened as he reached out for me. In the same moment that I pulled him close, he wrapped his limbs up in mine, even our fingers interlaced, and fell fast asleep.

It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. And it was beautiful because I had to wait for it, because of the tears and hurts and his often prickly exterior towards me. It was beautiful because I didn’t ask for it.

 

Grief is cyclical, not linear.

I should’ve known this one. Isn’t it true for adults? We’re caught by surprise when we think we’ve worked through something and moved on to a place of healing, only to have a song, a smell, a photo jolt us back to that hard place and cover us in waves of grief.

That’s how it is with our boys. We work through issues and think we’ve found a new normal, and then one moment something jerks them back to the pain and loss. It’s that much harder because they don’t have words to fully express what hurts. A lot of times it just looks like anger and acting out.

I long to be the kind of mother who lets my kids move through grief in their own time and their own way. I don’t want to pressure them, but I do want to talk about it. Honestly, sometimes it’s easier not to talk about it, especially when a child wants to pretend it didn’t happen. But I know that down the road of silence lies secrecy and shame. Emotions grow bigger if you stuff them, until one day they’re so terrifying you shut down to keep from facing them. And if you shut yourself down to the hard stuff, you shut yourself down to the good stuff too.

We are a family who talks about the hard stuff. Sometimes we just sit and cry and don’t talk at all.

I need so, so much wisdom for this process. Wisdom that I don’t have but I’m begging God for.

Of course we’ll be alert to the possibility of therapy in the future, but for now, we’re so thankful to see good fruit from grieving. We’re thankful that those moments are now the minority and the boys are growing happy and silly and affectionate.

 

The kids are alright.
Probably the question I am asked most often right now is how Judah and Amelie are doing, one-year post adoption. Of course it was a huge shock to their system, adding two rambunctious little brothers to our relatively quiet home. There have been tears and anger and struggle.

That’s a big reason that we chose to hunker down and focus on the boys’ behavior and obedience right away; we wanted to pave the way for good sibling relationships. The only way I know to do that is for mutual respect in a household. We don’t allow name-calling or put-downs. Our house is a safe place. I didn’t want the boys to have the reputation as the wild little brats who constantly terrorize their siblings. I knew that with love and consistency they could rise to the challenge.

And they have! Of course they’re still little boys, and Judah and Amie have had to change too — to become more flexible and open-handed with their things and (hardest of all) with their parents. It’s been infinitely valuable for them to have their world stretched by their two little brothers.

Today I say with gratitude that they have good relationships with both their brothers, and are still growing even closer. Gabe and Noah are learning to be kind and considerate. Judah and Amie are learning to use gracious words with their brothers and not expect the worst from them, but to give them a chance to show they’re growing and changing.

I’d say their struggles at this point are just normal sibling frustrations, as differing ages and a couple of wildly different personalities clash. Even with those normal battles, one of my greatest joys in life right now is seeing all four my kids grow in friendship with each other.

 

I love my life.
David was eating lunch with a friend and they talked about kids. His friend said, “I’m a two-kid person and my wife is a six-kid person, so I guess we compromised by having four kids.” He asked David about him and me and David said, “I actually think Julie and I are both two-kid people who suddenly found ourselves with four kids.”

That made me laugh because it’s so true.

We’re both of us introverts and can be fussy and particular and easily-annoyed. We are control freaks who like a clean house and quiet mornings to sip coffee and read. Two kids was awesome. Four kids is kind of nuts.

Four kids is not clean and quite. Four kids pushes and pulls and chafes against all our quirks. Four kids does not make for quiet mornings to sit and sip coffee. Four kids raises our blood-pressure.

In short, four kids is probably the best thing God could’ve done for us.

And you know what? We love our life.

Okay, not in every moment. But in big, broad strokes, we love our life and we want our life. Two two-kid people followed God and were pushed beyond what they thought they could bear and came out the other end with this life that’s loud and colorful and messy and so very rich with people.

I hope and pray that all of these children make us a little less fussy and particular and easily-annoyed.

We’re growing to be four-kid people. And we’re happy about it.



mnm camp.

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Last week my mom, my mother-in-law, and my brother’s mother-in-law joined forces to put on a cousins camp for our kids. My parents live in Blythewood, just a few miles outside of Columbia. David’s folks live around the corner from us. And as of this year, my sister-in-law’s mom, Barb, lives in Kenny and Shari’s neighborhood. Thus, the three grandmothers plotted a week of fun for the six cousins.

Shari’s mom is “Mimi,” my mom is “Nina,” and David’s mom is “Mum-Mum,” and so they very cleverly created “MNM Camp.” We kicked off the week with the 4th of July cook-out at Steve and Linda’s, and for the next four mornings, the kids gathered at one of the grandma’s houses.

They had a camp theme: The Three Little Pigs. They did story time, crafts and games, a song, made t’shirts, and memorized a Bible verse. On Friday afternoon, we all gathered at Mimi’s house for their final production, which included a play called The Fourth Little Pig.

The kids all had a blast at MNM Camp, and could hardly wait to wake up and go back each day. And of course the moms had a blast too! We soaked up our free mornings.

Thanks, Mum-Mum, Nina, and Mimi, for giving our kiddos (and us!) such a special week!

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amelie turns 7!

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We had a wonderful time celebrating Amie’s birthday last weekend. Her request, instead of a party, was to go to the American Girl store in Charlotte. Our family watched the three boys on Saturday morning so that David and I could take her.

First, we had to stop for breakfast at Amelie’s French Bakery in Rock Hill. Their pastries are divine and Amie got a complimentary eclair for being a birthday girl (and yes, everyone loved that her name is Amelie)!

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We’re so proud of Amie for saving her allowance all year; in addition she asked for birthday money from family so that she could buy a new doll. She perused her AG catalog for weeks and decided on “Julie” before we went. I thought for sure she might change her mind when we arrived and she saw all the options, but she stuck to her decision. She loved circling the store multiple times though to check out every piece of merchandise. David was a great sport to follow her around the girliest store imaginable.

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We had such a fun time together! She did a great job of not asking for anything else. After she made her final choice, David walked in the mall with her so that I could add a couple little things from us and her brothers to open on Sunday, her actual birthday.

We celebrated with the family Sunday afternoon with swimming and cupcakes.

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Amie is a mature, thoughtful girl. I’m amazed by her generosity, compassion for others, and ability to read and respond to people’s moods. She’s the peacemaker of our four kids. She’s very shy when meeting people or around people she doesn’t know well, but becomes quite the outgoing talker with close friends and family.

She loves to cuddle, sing, and play pretend. She’s an extrovert and we’ve always struggled to teach her to self-entertain, but recently she’s made herself a secret “fort” in our front yard. She likes to go out there by herself and collect nuts and seeds and make fairy picnics. It makes me so happy to see her growing into herself and being at peace with being alone.

She desperately wishes she was a “good reader like Judah,” even though I tell her over and over that reading comes at different ages for different people. She doesn’t always enjoy school work, so I changed some things in her homeschool curriculum for this year, to try and help motivate her. When she finds something she loves she’s a hard worker.

She’s creative and loves fashion (and makes lots of “fashion girls” from a new art set she got for her birthday), drawing and painting, and wants so badly to learn to sew. She adores animals.

We’re very, very thankful for our girl!

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