Thursday, August 27, 2009

J as a guest blogger!

My hubby wrote this last week when M left for school, I had to share his awesome writing!

“Weeds…Or Rose Stems?”

If a tiny sparrow cannot fall without His knowledge, nor an empire be raised without His aid, then who do we think we are? What an arrogant lot we have become.

Today epitomized the phrase, “bitter sweet”, as we sent one of our own out into the world. Much like a mother bird nudges her fledglings out of the nest for the first time, we are putting the strength of this child’s wings to the test. It was as if we were the police escort in a parade, peeling off onto a side street, forcing…allowing this child to continue the route of life’s parade alone. My wife and I moved a daughter into college today.

Truth be told, I wasn’t quite ready, nor prepared for this day. For several days, I had been asking myself, “Is she ready? Have I done my part, and all that I could do to prepare her for this journey?” I wasn’t ready for this because the answer to that question was “no”. Therefore, this self evaluation I was working through was causing me to have feelings of fear and doubt. Little did I know God was going to set me straight soon enough.

After tight, longer than normal hugs of sadness and well wishes from the other children, all trying to hold in their emotions, we headed Northward on our two hour journey. During the drive, my wife and daughter in the car ahead of me, my van remained silent and void of any phone conversations, radio talk shows, upbeat Christian music and the like. I use the term “silent” loosely as the thoughts that pounded my brain seemed as loud and as deafening as a late summer thunder storm. Nonetheless, I was left alone with my feelings and emotions as well as the difficult task of composing myself for the rapidly approaching time when we would actually drive away, leaving her there alone. I was resolute in the quest of not allowing myself to become overly emotional for fear of upsetting her and making a very happy and joyful experience something negative or sad.

As I drove, up into the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains, any feelings of sadness were overshadowed by one thought that kept ringing in my head…”I can’t believe this. Look how far this child has come.” With each curve in the road I rounded and each mile marker I put behind me, I became increasing amazed at the significance and truly wonderful experience we were engaged in. So wonderful because there was a time when I wasn’t sure this dream we had for her would actually come to fruition.

Seven years ago on Christmas Eve, only the second night we had slept in our new home, we welcomed this child into our family and committed to God that we would raise her as our own. Little did we know that the nervous excitement we felt those first few months would turn to fear, anger, confusion, desperation, uncertainty and grief in the years to come. Even worse, there came a time when the situation was so serious that the future of our family as well as her place in it was in question. Hence the reason for the flood of deep, heartfelt emotions and the shear amazement at the day’s coming events. On several occasions, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and the sheepish grin that seemed to be fixed on my face…and I was pleased.

Upon arrival at the college, we all busied ourselves with unloading, unpacking and the general tasks that accompany “getting settled in”. When the work began to lessen and come to an end, I felt a lump forming in my throat. To avoid shedding a tear or two, I promptly offered to head to Walmart for several forgotten necessities and to get her stocked up on a few food items to fill her new mini-fridge. She appreciated the thought, so off I went.

After laboring to climb the seemingly endless hill behind her dorm and the half mile trek that lay between me and where I had parked, I received one of the most significant whisperings from the Lord I had ever received.

Pulling out of the parking lot, I began feeling really good about what we had done to get this child where she was. I was so proud we had not given up when that seemed the most logical option and was more than willing to accept any praise or credit, if you will, for the blessed situation we found ourselves in. I thought to myself, “Wow! We did it. Look what a great job we did with her. It was tough, but we are some seriously talented and gifted parents. She was so lucky to have us.” It was at that moment that my perspective on parenting was forever changed.

At the height of my joy and self glorification session, the Lord spoke to me in that still, small, yet very powerful and clear voice. It was as if I audibly heard Him say, “How much do you think you really had to do with all of this? Do you actually believe this accomplishment and growth in her life was due to your abilities as a Father? Have you become so prideful and caught up in what you think you can do that you don’t recognize or won’t acknowledge what I am doing? I am the one who makes all things new!” I was stunned…frozen. I instantly thought of the scripture, “he who exalts himself will be humbled; he who humbles himself will be exalted”. There was no doubt, nor wiggle room now…I was indeed being humbled.

It was then that all the questions, concerns and frustrations about parenting became extremely clear to me. These children are not mine. They are but a gift from God, who has blessed us with their lives and entrusted us with their care. Of course, I knew all of this already and probably couldn’t count the times I had uttered those truths to other parents, thinking I was showering them with such wise council from me, the professional father that I am. However, now, I really got it!

All the prideful happiness I had been feeling quickly turned to guilt as I realized how selfish and ungodly my thoughts had been. Thankfully, while the guilt never completely disappeared, the happiness returned, as did my sheepish smile. Just enough of the guilt remained to keep me humble and by the time I arrived back at the college, I was once again amazed and happy, only this time, I was more consumed with praise and thanksgiving. As a selfish, sinful man, I had neglected to give God the glory for all He had done in our lives. I was giving myself the glory that was without question, due Him.

When the time we had all been dreading was finally at hand, we gave her a hug, told her how much we loved her and how proud we were of her and headed quickly for the door. With that, in a brief moment, our lives as well as our family, were changed forever.

Much like our morning jaunt, the drive home was understandably still, somewhat bitter sweet. I kept torturing myself by looking at a picture I had taken on my phone just before we left. While the picture shows an eighteen-year-old young lady, sitting on her clean, neatly made bed, beside her little desk not yet cluttered with semester outlines, campus parking tickets or unfinished term papers, with a smile on her face, ready to write the next chapter in her book of life…I couldn’t help but see something else. I saw one of my little girls, sitting on a bed I could no longer tell her to make, beside a desk I could not go through to make sure her homework was done, with a very frightened and fake smile on her face, not at all ready to face this big bad world without her dad. However, giving it a second glance, I now see a beautiful young lady God had blessed us to know and love, growing in her faith in Christ, safe in her true father’s embrace, standing at the doorway of whatever life she chooses to lead, who was never mine to keep. A precious life in which God had allowed me to be His hands and feet and most of all, a reason to glorify Him.

In life and especially in the context of parenting, depending on our focus and perspective, we really do have the ability to see what we want to see. Often times, we look at what lies before us and we see weeds. Weeds that are unsightly, out of control and that we are going to have to weave, chop and mow our way through. That is if we are looking straight ahead and from our earthly perspective. We see weeds that WE are going to have to deal with and that WE are going to have to get under control. If you can relate to this analogy, I urge you to give this a try.

Turn you gaze towards heaven. Let go of the idea that you are in control and realize your insignificance when you stand alone. Focus your eyes, your thoughts, your actions on Christ. For when you do this…when you look up…your view will indeed change. For what you thought were weeds were never really weeds at all. They are rose stems, crowned with the most beautiful, amazing, colorful roses you could ever imagine. Roses so incredible, you could never hope to grow or produce them on your own.

Train your children in the way they should go and don’t try to claim them as your own. Accept, acknowledge and take very seriously the blessing of being their parent. Realize what a true gift they are, especially when the “blessing” seems more of a “burden”. Don’t think for a moment you know better than their creator as to what’s best for them. Understand that the struggles only build strength they will one day need. Know that you are not alone. Present them to the Lord and let Him ensure that your “weeds” are indeed “rose stems”…just as they were all along.

written by : JKW

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Back into Real Life!

I have to say having the kids back in school has been nice, quiet, and a breath of fresh air. BUT it was hard getting them there. I actually started buying school supplies last May once they got out of school in an attempt to be ahead with a new baby on the way. We knew our beach trip would coinside with school starting back up, so we had all school supplies ready for delivery before we left. That also meant a trip to the Uniform store an hour away before the beach as well. We still need to make a trip to the shoe store this weekend for new shoes for everyone. . . as I was thinking of all we have done since we have been home from the beach. . it made me want to go back. . then I realized, I haven't even posted about our trip! So here goes:

Two days before our departure I received a phone call from one of the moms in our organization. She called to report that the house we were to stay in, they were to have stayed in it the week before us but didn't because it was infested with a snake in the master bedroom somewhere hiding, some sort of rodent droppings, AND flying ants? So. . . I knew immediately that wouldn't do, so after a few immediate phone calls and conversations. . we had been given permission to stay in a larger house a little further away from the beach. . none of the families from our organization had ever been allowed to stay there, needless to say, my kids were not allowed to touch anything! We were very careful and took very good care of this house! We did not want to blow it.

Our time away was actually one of the better vacations we have taken with ALL the kids. There were no major arguments, we accomplished the celebration of Little T's bday, had only one head injury that might could have used stitches, but thanks to Dr. Aunt Kelly it turned out alright, we enjoyed lots of walks on the beach to the ice cream truck, and had great quality time with cousins. . . we missed you Pops and Memom!

We warned the kids our journey to the beach south of Daytona would take the normal 9-10 hours with stops and with a newborn maybe longer. J hit an all time record by getting us there in a mere 8 hrs. and 37 minutes. We only made 3 stops, crazy, but Ann Claire picked that day as her sleepiest day ever, so we only stopped for one meal and potty breaks.

It takes an army to get us to the beach as well as a uhaul!

(this is how we roll!)

But our time there was a great success: Relaxation, rest, and FUN were our themes!

J sporting a fish he and R caught off of our back dock. We had a gorgeous freshwater lake that was home to an alligator!
Little T turned 10 during our vacation!

Ann Claire in her "beach" outfit. She never even saw the sand, but I couldn't resist the tiny flip flops!

This was taken just after sunrise as R was reeling in his first saltwater "catch".

R's first saltwater prize!

The girls in all their sunbathing glory!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Another one leaves the nest!

Today was another hard one! M has left our nest. Today we took her to college, and watched as she quickly grew up in literally what seems like a day. Just this past month, she passed her driver's test, purchased her own car bought and paid for, secured her own car insurance, bought her own laptop, and flew away from home.

M moved in one day after we did in 2002. It was Christmas Eve, and J drove to Blue Ridge to meet the family that had been keeping M and her sister for two months while our house was being completed. Once it was complete and we had moved in, we got the girl's immediately. There was no way I was spending that first Christmas without them. M was wiry, hyper, and fun! She was very talkative and told us about EVERYTHING! She enjoyed life, loved to help, and LOVED to follow the rules and tell us she followed the rules. (gosh, I love overachievers!)

(This was our first family photo, M was just a mere 11 years old and still wore hairbows. We laugh and laugh about this!)

Over the years, Mary has grown, changed, learned, had ups and downs, but most of all has bonded with a family. Two of our youngest J and ME watched as she left and I could see in their faces, they thought she would never come back. That's the hard part of what we do. Little ones don't understand college. In regular families, most siblings are only a few years younger than those leaving, and understand why they can't be at home. Our little ones don't get it. At. All. M promised she would be home in one month for Ann Claire's baptism, so they were content with that.

(This was just taken just last week at the beach, what a beauty!)

Today was her first day to even drive somewhere two hours away. I rode with her and helped navigate her journey. We talked and chatted about lots of things, and I tried to keep her company hoping our chattiness would keep away the tears. But the inevitable has come, she is not here, she is sleeping under another roof tonight, and her life is forever changed. . . she has grown up!

I have held it together all day, and I tried my hardest not to cry in front of her. I definitely felt myself holding on a little tighter when we hugged as we said our goodbyes. It was back in the North Georgia mountains where we once picked her up, that we left in her again today. And now. . .life goes on, she will have new challenges to face, and I can only hope she will come to us for help, questions, and answers. Praying hard for her tonight and thanking God for the past years we have had with her!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A quick post from yet another vacation. . .

Greetings from Florida. We have traveled south for a quick summer swan song with ALL the kids. To protect our security, I of course will not reveal our exact location, but let me at least explain our change of plans. I, by nature, am not a change the plans kind of girl. I would like to say I can be flexible, and with this many kids, I have definitely bent the plans from time to time. BUT this past Friday, I got a call that the house we always stay in had been infested with a snake siting in the master bedroom as well as rodent droppings. Now. . given that Ann Claire was on deck to sleep in the room with us, I didn't feel quite safe letting her stay in there. (or myself for that matter, J probably would have been fine!) So, the wheels began turning and a new plan was put in motion, as we were hours from departure.

We literally brought a uhaul trailer plus the entire big van was packed with 11 kids, two parents, 3 DVD players, and a total of 8 ipods! We were ready to go! The back up plan was to stay at a larger house along with my extended family that would be here at the same time. That would be a total of 23 people in one house, so luckily our benefactor that owns these homes allowed us to have another house for overflow from the first house.

I must say, now that we are here and settled things are great. Ann Claire has settled into a routine as well as the other kids. However, we are miles from any beach or ocean, (not complaining), it is just different. We do have a pool on one side of the house, and a freshwater lake on the other to fish in. J even spotted our own pet alligator. The kids have enjoyed searching for him each morning. We have managed to eat out once and enjoy take out another night. Who knows what this evening will hold. We are currently enjoying a big summer, Florida thunderstorm after a morning of swimming. We plan to pack it all up and head to the beach tomorrow. We might as well take the kitchen sink with us, because I just don't know how this will work with an 8 week old?

I will post pictures once we get home! Enjoy these last days of summer!