Category Archives: Family Life

Settling In

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We have  now been home for over a week and a half, and we are settling in pretty nicely.  Given the adjustment as well as some attachment issues with Daniel in particular, we have been sticking close together and close to home.  Things are going really well.  It’s not necessarily easy, due to the language barrier in large part, but I am so happy that the Daniel and Eden are navigating life in this new environment very well, for the most part.  I’m very thankful for Google Translate, which I use whenever I feel like I really need to explain something to Daniel and Eden.  I am trying to just use English for the most part, because it’s better for them to be immersed in the language and learn through context, tone of voice, or gestures combined with the words.

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Daniel is a little charmer.  He has a really sweet spirit, and I think he genuinely likes people.  He certainly likes attention!  I have taken him out with me a couple of times, and he will say “hi” to everyone he sees.  Today I took him to the grocery store and he was charming lots of people around him with his smiles and greetings.  One of the reasons we feel it is so important to stay closer to home and keep mostly family around is so that Daniel can begin to make healthy attachments to us as his family; Todd and I as his mama and daddy.  Sometimes when we have been out, Daniel has started calling another person “mama” or “baba” (daddy).  A lot of times, he will walk up to someone he doesn’t know and motion for them to hug him or pick him up.  He’s so cute that people often respond by letting him hug them and sometimes even picking him up.  We are “cocooning” to try and help him establish the connections he so deeply wants and needs with us, his mama and baba, and his siblings.  Daniel continues to be very active, but he is really improving daily on responding to correction well and obeying us.   He is even learning how to say, “Yes, ma’am” when I ask him to do or not do something.  Daniel loves to collect little things from all over the house and put them in his backpack.  Sometimes he also will hide things he finds in the house.  It can be a little bit of a problem, depending on what it is.  Most things aren’t that big of a deal, but there are some things that would be a problem to have “hidden” somewhere.   I’m sure that at the orphanage, part of surviving was to hoard things  He has improved a lot about just picking fights with siblings.  Our older kids especially love Daniel, and he enjoys being with them.  Abby just thinks he’s the most adorable thing (he really is super cute and adorable), and she’s sad that she has to move out soon to return to nursing school.  I’m so glad we have so many older kids to model appropriate behavior and to help keep an eye on this active little boy.  Daniel is super smart and very lovable, and we are so happy to be able to be his family.

 

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Eden is a sweet girl.  She is my little shadow, which is really cute.  Eden follows me everywhere and helps out with whatever I am doing.  It’s actually kind of nice.  Every morning and evening, she comes out to do the animal chores with me.  She helps take the feed buckets down for the horses, fill them and hang them back up.  She helps me carry the supplies for milking and watches with delight as the milk comes shooting out from the goat’s udder.  Eden is an excellent kitchen helper as well.  She has helped me make several dinners, and loves to throw away whatever trash we are producing as we go.  All the kids have learned that Eden also enjoys washing dishes.  She will happily wash while the other child loads the dishwasher.  She has even taken pots and pans out of my hands as I was washing them to take over washing for me.  Eden is also learning English words very quickly.  She now can say, “More, please,” “Mama help,” “eat,” “hot”, plus a number of other words.  Eden knows all of her siblings’ names.  She is very careful to watch over the younger kids and let me know if something isn’t right.  She loves Tovi, and is always careful to let me know where he is.  Eden is really good with Daniel.  One night while we were watching a family movie, Daniel fell asleep on Eden’s shoulder, and she kept her arm around him until the movie was over.  It was very sweet.  Sometimes Eden will just randomly repeat everything I’m saying, mostly when I’m on the phone.  I’ll say, “Oh hi!  How are you?” and she will repeat it word for word.  We are so blessed to have Eden in our family as well.

Both children were seen by our pediatrician last week.  It was mostly an appointment for getting all the referrals we will need for them to see specialists.  Eden was referred for an x-ray, and it was confirmed that she has scoliosis.  We will be taking her to Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas to help with her limp as well as the scoliosis.  Both children were referred for eye exams, which I think will have to be read on them by a machine, due to communication and/or behavioral barriers.  Daniel has a variety of things we need to look into, and we are getting started with all of it.  I’m trying to be patient as I wait for all of these appointments.  We know Daniel has Cornelia DeLange Syndrome, which is a genetic syndrome similar to Down Syndrome in that it has specific physical and behavioral markers.  We have been referred to a geneticist, although we believe they are only going to confirm what we already know.  They can’t even see us until March, which is a little frustrating.  However, there are other resources through which we can learn about CDLS so we can better help Daniel. We also took Daniel in to our wonderful dentist for a look at his teeth because he seemed to be really uncomfortable, and kept pointing to his teeth.  He has tons of cavities–I’m sure he has never had anyone consistently help him take care of his teeth, and it’s sad to see how much work is going to be needed to help his teeth and gums become healthy.  The dentist wasn’t able to do much except take a look.  Daniel has so much fear inside of him, and of course, we don’t want to traumatize him further with something like dentists or doctors making him do uncomfortable or painful things.  Yet, he really needs the medical and dental attention.  For the dentist, we will be bringing him back to be put to sleep and have extensive work done, including the x-rays we couldn’t get him to cooperate with (we tried lots of tricks and bribes, but no luck).  We have had some trouble getting Daniel to eat well, which I have learned has a lot to do with digestive issues related to his CDLS.  I also think the discomfort in his mouth plays a part in his eating issues.  He will eat fruit, and I can pretty much always get him to eat Ramen noodles, to which I add eggs (both kids LOVE this).  He will drink Pediasure, which is HUGE.  I’m thankful for that, and hoping we can find some things that will help with the discomfort he has with eating so that this little guy can grow strong and healthy.  He’s already looking better, but it has been a little bit of a struggle.

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I’m trusting God, that He will equip us and give us everything we need to raise these two special children He has added to our family.  They both have had a lot of trauma in their past.  Both have so much fear, and it’s easy to see that they aren’t sure they can trust anyone, which is very natural.  We have so much hope, however, as we can see that both of these sweet children have the potential to bond well and thrive now that they are in a family.  I feel so privileged to be able to give them love and hope for the future.  When I read Daniel’s medical file at the beginning of our adoption process, I saw that his name means “bright and hopeful future.”  I am trusting that God holds His future, and that it will indeed be bright and hopeful. Thanks for your prayers!  We feel them and appreciate them so much.

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Jer. 29:11

HAPPY NEW YEAR!! (Er, Valentine’s Day! Um, St. Patrick’s Day!)

Happy New Year! Happy Valentine’s Day!  Happy St. Patrick’s Day (yeah!)!!  We missed the Holiday Card rush, so now maybe you have time to read our yearly update since you are no longer inundated with Christmas Cards.  🙂

Family Photo 2016

2015 was a great year for the Erdner family.  It seems like there is always something happening around here, and this year was full of changes and surprises.

web-a1085 (1)The biggest change in 2015 was that Abby, who is now 18, graduated from high school!  We are so proud and excited!  We actually successfully educated a child from preK through high school!  It can be done!  Abby, being the oldest, has always been the “experiment.”  We now can answer questions about whether we will homeschool all the way through high school, “Yes!  And we even have an undamaged grown child to prove we have actually done it!”  Abby graduated with a whole year’s worth of college credit under her belt.  She entered Texas State as a sophomore, and is now applying to nursing schools around Texas. Her first choice is Texas State’s nursing school, which is located in Round Rock.  It is through St. David’s hospital and is an excellent program.  She is looking at a couple of other options as well.  Abby has enjoyed her first year of college so much, and is excited to see what is next.  She has been playing intramural soccer and is involved in CRU.  Wherever she goes, she will no longer be on campus at Texas State, as the nursing school is not on the main campus.  So, we are praying that God directs her to the right place, with all the details worked out.

Datiya Nina Boat2Datiya is 17 and a junior in high school.  She is vibrant and fun and a favorite among her younger siblings, whom she spoils by bringing them frozen yogurt from work.  She got a job at TCBY last summer, and she is now a manager at the store in Dripping Springs.  Datiya continues to compete in speech and debate, and has qualified (at the first three tournaments) to Regionals (which will be in May) in 7 speech events and debate, placing 2nd in Biographical Narrative, 6th in Informative, 6th in Original Interpretation, and 4th in Persuasive at the last tournament, among other accomplishments.  She and her debate partner have done well so far.  Datiya is also really busy right now with work and school (home, One Day Academy and ACC), but she has found time to play on a soccer team this year.  She is really enjoying that.

David is 15, a sophomore, and just got his driver’s permit.  So, our The Davids Semifinalstrips to town are once again way more interesting.  So far, every time we make it to our destination, he says, “Well, at least I didn’t crash.”  David is an excellent student, never needing to be nagged about doing his work.  He does well in his classes.  David competes in speech and debate, and recently had a “huge” tournament, placing 1st with his informative, on which he worked very hard.  He made it to finals in Extemporaneous speaking, placing 8th.  He also qualified to Regionals in impromptu.  He and his Team Policy debate partner went to finals (one of two teams to do so) and placed 2nd overall!  It was pretty exciting.  He has developed into an excellent speaker, and it is so exciting to see him excelling in this area. Sometimes, if I can get away from the Timer Table and have an opportunity to hear him speak at a tournament, I can’t believe I’m listening to my David!  He’s so eloquent!  He is, of course, still playing soccer, and is on a Premier team, which means more practices far from our house and more out-of-town games.  It also means that David is getting some good opportunities to possibly get to play in college, which is what he would like to do.  Last summer, he had the opportunity to travel to Sweden with the US Revolution Soccer team (made up of players from all over the US).  David scored 5 out of 6 total goals for his team during the Gothia Cup tournament in Stockholm.   He has been invited to play again with the Revolution this summer.  They will be traveling to Spain to play in a tournament there.  David also continues to excel at piano, and I love hearing his music in our home.

Nina is now 14, but still going on 25.  This girl can’t wait to grow up.  Nina Ellis IO AwardsShe is constantly asking to take classes at ACC, which will happen eventually, but not while she is still in 8th grade.  She has, however, been taking World History and World Literature at One Day Academy, which are 12th grade classes.  And she is doing quite well in those classes.  Nina also competes in speech and debate, and is qualified to Regionals in Illustrated Oratory, Impromptu, Biographical Narrative, and Persuasive.  At a recent tournament, she placed 2nd in Illustrated Oratory (4th at a different tournament).  At another recent tournament, she placed 4th in Persuasive, 4th in Biographical Narrative, and 7th in impromptu.  She and Datiya partnered for Team Policy debate at the last tournament, and they made it to quarter finals and placed 7th! Nina participates in 4H and is still quite the little chef.  I can always depend on her if I need help in the kitchen.  She pretty much makes all the desserts now.  She  is playing soccer again this year, too.  Nina is a funny girl.  This year, she started saying that when she grows up, she wants to be a “trash guy.”  I’m pretty sure she’s kidding.  She keeps us and everyone around her laughing.

Enoch is 12 and in 6th grade.  When he turns 13 this summer, 5 out Enoch and Joseph debateof our 10 children will be teenagers!  He still loves soccer, and is playing select again this year.  This boy is very social and always looking for opportunities to “hang out” with friends.  It is Enoch’s first year competing in speech and debate (as a Senior competitor), and everyone already knows who he is (did I mention that he is very social?).  The fun news about that is that he and Datiya placed 1st at the last tournament with their adorable duo on Peter Pan!  Pretty exciting.  Enoch also made it to finals with his Open Interpretation, and placed 6th!  Not bad for a young first-year competitor.  Enoch is a good student as well, and progressing in school. He began taking martial arts last May along with Simeon and Jed.  He is now a blue belt in Kuk Sool Won, working towards the next belt, which is red belt.

Lillah is 10 (11 in April), and HORSE CRAZY!!  She basically just draws horses, reads about horses, and thinks about horses all the lillah newsletter photo2time.  Lillah reads and reads and reads.  The librarians know her by name, and she insists our local library is going to run out of books she hasn’t read.  I often have to take away whatever book she is reading in order to get her to do her schoolwork.  I guess there could be worse problems.  She is playing basketball with Nina on the same Upward team, which seems crazy given their difference in age and height.  However, Lillah has proven herself to be one of the best scorers for the team!  Lillah has participated in 4H, and won a couple of blue ribbons for her cooking creations.  Lillah wrote two speeches all by herself for Junior competition in speech and debate.  As far as activity level, she keeps up with her brothers, but she is also girly and feminine at the same time.  Don’t let that fool you into thinking she isn’t tough.  With 6 brothers surrounding her, she is definitely tough.  Lillah is bright and sweet and a blessing to our family.

Simeon is 8 and in 3rd grade.  He always gets up and does his school Sim newsletterwithout needing to be reminded.  He is sweet and loving, and always runs to give us hugs and kisses when we leave the house.  Simeon plays soccer and tears up the field with his speed.  He is also currently playing basketball.  He is also taking martial arts with Enoch and Jed and is working towards his red belt.  Simeon wrote an informative about dogs for Junior speech competition without any help from me.  He has been to every tournament so far this year so that he can time rounds and win timer prizes.  Simeon won top timer award at two tournaments and 2nd place at another.  This means he timed 11 or 12 rounds (12 is the maximum they can time) the first two days of the tournaments, which is hours and hours of timing.  It is so good for the kids to be in that activity.  So many great lessons, and it’s great to have the younger ones able to be involved because when they are old enough to compete at the Senior level, they will have some experience.  Simeon loves to encourage others and writes sweet notes to us all the time.  He is the most generous child, often giving all his money to a sibling, parent or grandparent for their birthday or other occasion.  Simeon used all his tickets from Timer Table at the last tournament to buy prizes to bring home to his siblings who didn’t go with us.  He is a delight.

Jed is our spunky little sweetheart at 6 years old.  I love his mischievous little face.  He is a joy and a challenge and gives us lots Jed newsletterof great stories to tell. In fact, Jed has made it into many of the older kids’ speeches and original interpretation pieces for competition.  Because he is hilarious.  He tells great stories, too!   Jed is super busy all the time.  Running here, running there.  He hardly ever slows down.  I do get him to stop and do school with me, and he is very bright.  I’m so so thankful I can homeschool him so he can get the school time he needs with lots of play time and running, jumping on the trampoline, etc. that he needs as an active little boy.  Jed has a sweet and tender side to him that sometimes people miss because of his active personality.  He hugs and kisses and is really sweet with his younger brothers.  Jed plays soccer and basketball and he also takes martial arts, working on his yellow belt.

Hezekiah is 4 years old, and precious as can be.  He has enormous brown eyes that will melt anyone’s heart.  Hezi got a little teddy bear for his birthday, and he named him “Bear Walker.”  I’m not sure HEZI newsletterwhere that came from.  Maybe a Star Wars reference?  But he’s never seen Star Wars.  He says it’s because he walks.  I guess that makes sense.  Bear Walker often joins Hezi at meals, and he asks for milk sometimes.  He will sit with his nose in the top of the cup while Hezi eats.  I love this because none of my other children have had little stuffed animals that they have carried around like this.  Every morning, Hezi comes out into the kitchen and says, “I’m hung-a-ry.”  Most evenings, he can be heard asking Daddy for “tickle time.”  I love still having little ones around.  Hezi can play independently for hours with his cars, in the sand box, etc.  He also loves to play with his brothers.  Hezi is just starting to learn to write his name and show interest in doing a little bit of school.  He is a sweet, happy little boy and a blessing to our family.

Toviel (Tovi) is a delightful, sweet and happy toddler.  I always call him “the baby,” but, sadly, he really isn’t a baby anymore.  Tovi runs Tovi newsletteraround all day, pushing cars and trucks, or kicking a ball.  He already has been indoctrinated by big bro David to KICK the ball, and not really touch it with his hands.  However, I think he may grow up to be a soccer goalie because when he does touch the ball, he drop kicks it.  This kid has killer drop kicking skills.  Tovi usually doesn’t slow down much during the day.  Now he can talk, too.  He says things like, “I outside…. I need the ball….I want the waffle….Tickle Time, Daddy!” He gets his point across.  He also runs around following various siblings saying, “_(insert name of given sibling)__, WAIT!”  We are all completely smitten with him, which basically means he may end up quite spoiled.  I’m trying hard to prevent this, but I can only do so much.

Todd is doing great as rancher/Intel engineer and manager/soccer and basketball toddmichelle newslettercoach/general contractor/best hubby.  I stay very busy, of course, managing the household and teaching the kids at home.  I ran my first half marathon in March 2015, and I loved it!  My goal was just to finish, and I came in 5th place overall, 3rd place overall female, and 1st place female for my age group.  Running is a great outlet for me.  I wouldkuk sool mom and boys kuk sa nym love to train for another half marathon or even a full marathon sometime.  After sitting and watching the boys take martial arts classes for 4 months, I decided to join in on the fun.  It’s a neat way for me to bond with those boys, and I really enjoy it.  I have my yellow belt right now–blue is next.

Another big change for our family was moving my dad here from his home in Florida.  As many of you know, a couple of years ago, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  We moved him into a very nice papi newslettermemory care community about 25 minutes from our home, in Bee Cave.  It’s a great community, and now seeing “Papi” is part of our weekly routine a couple of times per week.  It’s really nice to have him close to one of his daughters and many of his grandchildren.

The biggest news this year is that God has called us to adopt two children from China.  This past summer, we had the opportunity to xiao newslettermeet a sweet little boy who was here being hosted by a family in Lubbock.  We knew he was meant to be our little boy.  A little ways into the process of adopting him, we were led to a young lady, who is 12.  We felt God nudge us that we were to adopt her as well.  ChenYuQing newsletterWe have been gathering all the documents for the last several months, and our dossier was just sent to China!  Timeline can vary, but we should travel to get our son and daughter sometime this summer.  We know there will be many challenges ahead, and we are prepared to walk through those with God.  He has called us to do this, and we will depend fully on Him to equip us and give us strength through it all.

If you are interested in helping support our adoption financially, there are a couple of ways to do so.  We have set up a YouCaring website where you can donate and all the money will go to support our adoption.  The link to our YouCaring fundraising site is: https://www.youcaring.com/my-fundraisers.aspx.  We also have put the t-shirts back online (we are wearing these in the photo above), and if you want a t-shirt, your purchase of one of these awesome t-shirts will donate over $10 per t-shirt to support our adoption.  This is a great way to support us, and if you have any friends who love adoption and want a cute adoption themed t-shirt, you can direct them to the website as well.  The t-shirts will be for sale through March 31st, so be sure to go to the website soon if you would like one.  https://www.bonfirefunds.com/erdner-family-adoption

We enjoyed reading all the updates we received from many of you, and we pray that your 2016 is off to a great start!

Blessings from all of the Erdners,

Todd, Michelle, Abby, Datiya, David, Nina, Enoch, Lillah, Simeon, Jed, Hezi, and Tovi

Days 30 & 31: Overnight Apple Oatmeal and Layered Taco Appetizer PLUS Bonus Recipe!

What a busy few days!  We hit the ground running when we returned from Dallas, taking down our live Christmas tree that held all of our family and personal ornaments.  We also have a new, prelit 15-ft. tall tree that stands in our new living area in our home addition.  It was quite grand, but it will take me a few years to be able to decorate it the way I would like to!  Those large ornaments are expensive!  So, we had about 15 ornaments on that tall tree, three or four of which became victims of little boys throwing soccer balls at the tree.  They say “shatter proof” but that doesn’t mean they won’t break.  Trust me, if it can break, my four little men will figure out how to break it.  But I digress.

With all of the busyness, I decided for my last two days of crock pot cooking (for the blog series) would consist of a yummy breakfast we always enjoy as well as a couple of appetizers I made in the crock pots for our New Year’s Eve party!

Day 30:  Overnight Apple Oatmeal
I’ll say it again: there’s nothing like waking up to your hot breakfast already made and waiting for you.  It’s even better if it’s a delicious breakfast the whole family enjoys!  This recipe is tried and true, and pretty easy to make.  The worst part is peeling the apples, but if you have certain kitchen gadgets to help you (apple peeler, corer and slicer), then it’s not too bad.  I double this, so I have to peel 4 apples.  But if you are making the single recipe, it’s only 2 apples.  So, no big deal.  The rest is just dumping everything in the greased crock pot, setting your crock pot on low, and you will have your reward in the morning!

Ingredients:
4 cups Milk
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
2 T. Melted Butter
1/2 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Cinnamon
2 cups Oats (not quick oats)
2 cups Apples, peeled and chopped
1 cup Dates or Raisins (optional)
Instructions:
1.  Spray a large crock pot with nonstick spray.
2.  Combine and mix well.
3.  Cook on low overnight or 8-9 hours. Stir well before serving.  Serves about 8 (I always double this, and we don’t have any leftovers with our family of 12)
Day 31: Two Appetizers that will be a hit!
We were so happy that all our older kids decided they wanted to stay home and ring in the New Year with us.  They had been talking about going to different friends’ houses, and I was a little bummed.  But in the end, everyone stayed home.  So, we had a few friends over here, and made LOTS of food!  Yay!  There were cheese balls with crackers, desserts dips, and meatballs!  Not to mention what our friends brought.  We played games, set off fireworks, and watched the ball drop at 11 (midnight in New York) and then celebrated at midnight, central time!  It was a blast!  This taco appetizer was really  good.  I think I’ll make it again when there is less food to compete with it.  The final recipe is kind of a “bonus.”  I realized I had posted the same recipe–Calico Beans–twice during my 31-day series.  So, I’m adding another appetizer to make up for it.
Layered Taco Appetizer:
Ingredients:
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. hot Italian sausage
1 large onion, finely chopped
salt to taste
2 tsp. hot pepper sauce, or more or less to taste
2 16-oz. cans refried beans
4-oz. can chopped green chilies, drained
2-3 cups (8-12 oz.) grated Monterey Jack cheese
3/4 cup hot, or mild, taco sauce
tortilla chips or corn chips
garnishes: chopped tomatoes, chopped ripe olives, chopped green onions, smashed ripe avocado, cilantro, sour cream
Instructions:
1. In skillet, saute meats with onion until browned.  Drain off drippings.  Season meat with salt and hot pepper sauce to taste.
2.  Meanwhile, spread refried beans in lightly greased slow cooker.
3.  Spoon browned meat over refried beans.
4.  Top with chopped chilies.
5.  Sprinkle with grated cheese.
6.  Pour taco sauce on top of cheese.  (Do not stir).
7.  Heat in slow cooker for 30-60 minutes on High or until dip is heated through.
8.  Serve with chips and garnishes.
Cranberry Meatballs
My family will eat meat balls with any variety of sauces.  This one has a light, sweet holiday flavor because of the cranberries.  I couldn’t find two bottles of chili sauce (I think everyone else in Austin was making meatballs also), so I found a chili sauce that was a little spicy, but it worked well.  I used one regular and one of that sweet hot chili sauce, and it was really good!  I doubled this to go in my 7-qt. crock pot.
Ingredients:
1 bag frozen meatballs OR make homemade meatballs (see recipes below)
1 can jellied cranberries
12-oz. bottle chili sauce
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp.  lemon juice
Instructions:
1.  Put frozen meatballs into crock pot.
2.  In a saucepan, combine cranberry, chili sauce, brown sugar and lemon juice.  Heat over medium-high heat until jellied sauce and brown sugar melt.  There should be no more chunks in the sauce, and it should be smooth.
3.  Pour sauce over meatballs, and stir to make sure all meatballs are coated in the sauce.
4.  Cover.  Cook on low for 3-4 hours or High for 2 hours.  Keep slow cooker on warm while serving.
Meatball Recipe:
2 lbs. ground beef
1/3 cup parsley flakes
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. minced onion
1 cup cornflake crumbs
2 eggs
1/2 cup ketchup
1.  In  large mixing bowl, combine ingredients until well mixed.
2.  Form into 50-60 meatballs and put in lightly greased 9×13 baking pan.  (You may need to do a couple of batches, or use a couple of pans).
3.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until meatballs are cooked through (cut one open to check).
Variations on meatball and sauce recipe:
1. Use 1 lb. ground beef and 1 lb. ground pork instead of 2 lbs. ground beef.
2.  Use 10 3/4 can condensed tomato soup, mixed with 1 tsp. prepared mustard, instead of chili sauce for sauce.
Turkey Meatball recipe:
2 egg whites
2 lbs. ground turkey
2 green onions with tops, sliced
4 tsp. grated orange peel
2 tsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
Follow the steps for making  and baking meatballs, then add the sauce in crock pot.
If you choose to make your own meatballs, you can cook on Low for 2 hours, or high for 30 min to an hour, or until meatballs are heated through, and sauce is bubbly.
I pray that you all have a happy and healthy 2016!  Check in with me for adoption updates as well as more recipes and other content this year!  Looking forward to an amazing 2016.

Days 24, 25, and 26: Sweet Potato side dish, Western Breakfast Casserole, and Broccoli-Cheese side dish

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!  I hope you all enjoyed a wonderful Christmas, as we did.  What a fun, busy time!  We begin celebrating on Christmas Eve, attending Christmas Eve service and having our nice dinner that evening.  We always open one gift on Christmas Eve as well.  Some of the older kids even go to Midnight Mass with some friends of our family.

This year, with my dad living in Austin in a Memory Care Community, we wanted him to be part of our celebration on Christmas Eve.  We left for Dallas Christmas Day, so we knew it wasn’t going to work for us to go get him that morning and bring him back.  With all of that in mind, we needed to have a really early dinner, so we could eat a relatively relaxing meal with my dad, then head to church, where a few of us would be performing a song.  I had planned for an easy dinner of ham, green bean casserole and a wonderful sweet potato and apple dish that is cooked in the crock pot.  It was an easy meal, but really delicious, too.  Christmas Eve service was beautiful, we survived performing our song, and we were also able to enjoy some time with friends after the service over sweet and salty treats.  I’m so glad we were able to include my dad in these festivities, and give him a Christmas with family.

Sweet Potatoes with Apples (Makes 8-10 servings)
Ingredients:
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 large tart and firm apples peeled, cored, and sliced
1/2-3/4 tsp. salt
1/8-1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. sage
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 Tbsp. butter, melted
1/4 cup maple syrup
Toasted sliced almonds or chopped pecans, optional

Instructions: 
1. Place half the sweet potatoes in slow cooker.  Layer in half the apple slices.
2. Mix together seasonings. Sprinkle half over apples.
3. Mix together butter and maple syrup.  Spoon half over seasonings.
4. Repeat layers.
5. Cover. Cook on low 6-8 hours or until potatoes are soft, stirring occasionally.
6. To add a bit of crunch, sprinkle with toasted almonds or pecans when serving.
7. Serve with pork or poultry.

Every other year, after reading the Christmas story, eating our traditional breakfast foods, and opening gifts at our house, we drive up to Dallas to spend a few days with Todd’s family.  The years in between, we stay at home, and my mom is usually visiting us.  This year is our year to be in Dallas.  So, I wanted to make something in the crock pot that we could eat for breakfast.  We usually have cinnamon rolls (I used to make them homemade, but I abandoned that practice once I had so many little children to manage that it was way to stressful) and crustless breakfast quiche.  These are the breakfast foods our kids want and expect every year.  I decided to add Western Omelet Casserole to the breakfast repertoire.  I thought it was really good, and most of it was eaten up quickly along with the cinnamon rolls.  I was up really late wrapping gifts, so I was able to start this late enough for it to be ready by 7:30.  On a normal night, I would prepare it and set an alarm to start it.

Western Omelet Casserole  (I doubled to feed my crew)
Ingredients: 
32-oz. bag frozen hash brown potatoes, divided
1 lb. cooked ham, cubed, divided
1 medium onion, diced, divided
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
18 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper

Instructions:
1. Layer one-third each of frozen potatoes, ham, onion, and cheese in bottom of slow cooker.  Repeat 2 times.
2. Beat together eggs, milk, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl.  Pour over mixture in slow cooker.
3. Cover.  Cook on Low 4-6 hours.

Yesterday we were at my sister-in-law’s house for the day, so I decided to make a side dish to complement the baked potato bar she was making for dinner.  I made a broccoli casserole that was great as a side dish or served as a topping for the baked potatoes.

Crock Pot Broccoli and Cheese
Ingredients:
6 cups frozen chopped broccoli, partially thawed
1 can (10-3/4 ounces) condensed cream of celery soup, undiluted
1-1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup crushed butter-flavored crackers (about 25)
2 tablespoons butter

Instructions:
1.  In a large bowl, combine the broccoli, soup, 1 cup cheese, onion, Worcestershire sauce and pepper. Pour into a greased 3-qt. slow cooker. Sprinkle crackers on top; dot with butter.
2.  Cover and cook on high for 2-1/2 to 3 hours. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cook 10 minutes longer or until the cheese is melted.

Days 21, 22, & 23: Super Easy Chili, Yummy Hot Cocoa, and Amazing Chicken Tortilla Soup

The busy days of the Holidays are upon us, and I continue to adore using my crock pot to help ease my load when it comes to cooking for my family and making yummy treats to enjoy during this special time.

Day 21: Chili for Twenty

Monday evening, we hosted a White Elephant Christmas party for our speech and debate club.  A fabulous time was had by all.  I made my huge recipe of crock pot chili, and it was good.  This can be a little spicy, but you can easily make it less spicy by cutting down on the chili powder or using mild tomatoes and green chilies instead of original.  It makes a ton, so I always have to use my 7-quart crock pot, with the overflow going into my 4-qt. crock pot.  If you have multiple crock pots, you can divide it up among a couple of medium-sized pots and it works great.

Chili for Twenty
Ingredients:
4 lbs. ground beef
3 onions, finely chopped
3 green peppers, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 16-oz. cans Italian-style tomatoes
4 16-oz. cans kidney beans, drained
1 10-oz. can diced tomatoes and chilies (use mild if you want it less spicy)
2 6-oz. cans tomato paste
1 cup water
1 Tbsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
3 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp. chili powder (or less if you want it less spicy)

Instructions:
1. Brown meat, with onions and pepper, in soup pot on stove top.  Drain.
2. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, Divide among several medium-sized crock pots, or use a very large crock pot (8-quart would probably work).
3.  Cover.  Cook on Low 3-4 hours.

Serve topped with shredded cheddar cheese, if desired.

Day 22: Amazingly Delicious Triple Chocolate Hot Cocoa
Tuesday night we had tons of leftovers, of course, so we ate that for dinner.  We watched a Christmas movie as a family and topped the evening off with a reading from our Advent book along with steamy, yummy scratch-made hot cocoa that had been simmered in our crock pot.  It was perfect!  I doubled this and used my 4-qt. crock pot.  It was a great size for the doubled recipe.  I would use a 2-qt. crock pot for a single recipe.

Makes 6 servings
Ingredients:
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3 cups milk, divided
3/4 tsp. vanilla
1 cup heavy cream
1 square (1 oz.) bittersweet chocolate
1 square (1 oz) white chocolate
3/4 cup whipped topping
6 tsp. mini-chocolate chips, or shaved bittersweet chocolate, for garnish
mini-marshmallows, if desired, for garnish

Instructions:
1. Combine sugar, cocoa powder, salt, and 1/2 cup milk in medium-sized bowl.  Stir until smooth. Pour into slow cooker.
2.  Add remaining 2 1/2 cups milk and vanilla to slow cooker.  Cook on Low 2 hours.
3.  Stir in cream.  Cover.  Cook on Low 10 minutes.
4.  Stir in bittersweet chocolate and white chocolate until melted.
5.  Pour hot chocolate into 6 mugs.  Top each with 2 Tbsp. whipped topping and 1 tsp. mini chocolate chips (or chocolate shavings) and few mini marshmallows.

Day 23:  Delicious Chicken Tortilla Soup
Yesterday, we went to a sweet small-town trail of lights we visit every year.  They have hot dogs to roast over the fire and marshmallows and hot cocoa.  We usually feed everyone there, but many people come home still hungry.  I made this easy Chicken Tortilla Soup to have when we returned for anyone who was still hungry.  We are eating the leftovers for lunch today.  I doubled this and had to put the overflow into a 4-qt. crock pot.

Super Easy Chicken Tortilla Soup
Ingredients:
4 chicken breast halves, uncooked
2 15-oz. cans black beans, undrained
2 15-oz. cans Mexican stewed tomatoes, or Rotel tomatoes (mild for less spicy)
1 cup salsa (mild, medium, or hot, depending on how spicy you like things)
4-oz. can chopped green chilies
1 14 1/2-oz. can tomato sauce
tortilla chips, for serving
2 cups grated cheese, for serving

Instructions:
1. Combine all ingredients except chips and cheese in large slow cooker.
2.  Cover.  Cook on Low 8 hours.
3.  Just before serving, take and knife and shred chicken right in the crock pot.  It is easy to do and less of a pain than taking it out and cutting then replacing.  It took a few minutes to shred this way, but it was so easy.  You could also take two forks and shred the meat that way.  The chicken comes out so tender, it is super easy to shred.
4.  To serve, put a handful of chips into each individual soup bowl.  Ladle soup over the chips.  Top with cheese.

Note:  You can also add sour cream and sliced avocado or guacamole to top it off.

Merry Christmas!  I will  be continuing with my 31 days of crock pot cooking, so stay tuned for posts after Christmas.  I plan to do mostly sides and desserts as we will be traveling to visit family, so those recipes will be posted starting December 26th.  Have a wonderful Christmas!

Days 19 & 20: Festive Holiday Crock Pot Cherry Cobbler and Vanilla Steamer Holiday Drink

We had a garage sale fundraiser on Saturday, so we were busy all day from early morning until late afternoon.  Our friends graciously hosted our sale for us at their house (where there is a lot more traffic than there is here in the country).  That evening, they were also hosting a big dessert party at their house.  We only had a couple of hours in between to clean up and haul all the remnants of the garage sale away.  I wanted to bring a dessert to the party, so I chose this simple dessert.  It was super easy to make, and it was a big hit. It is definitely a cobbler, with a bread-like cake.  The difference is that the spices added give it that holiday flavor.  We served this with vanilla ice cream at the party, and it was delicious.

Holiday Cherry Cobbler
Ingredients:
16-oz. can cherry filling (light or regular)
1 pckg. cake mix for white or yellow layer cake
2 eggs
6 Tbsp. evaporated milk
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)

Instructions:
1. Spray slow cooker with cooking spray.
2.  Spread pie filling in bottom of cooker.
3.  Cover.  Cook on High 30 minutes.
4.  Meanwhile, in a medium-sized mixing bowl mix together cake mix, egg, evaporated milk, cinnamon, and walnuts.
5.  Spoon over hot pie filling.  Do not stir.
6.  Cover.  Cook on Low 2-3 hours, or until toothpick inserted in cake layer comes out clean.

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Last night, we went to a little live nativity that is held just down the street from us every year.  It is really a sweet time, with a hike through the woods on the grounds of a lovely piece of land that has a management training school and a beautiful wedding chapel on the property.  They do a great job of acting and leading people along a “journey” to find the baby Messiah.  Along the way, we encounter an innkeeper, a Centurion, a scribe of King Herod, some Shepherds, and finally, Mary, Joseph and the Baby.  It’s so sweet, and we can literally walk there from our house.  I did make a dinner in the crock pot, but it’s one I’ve shared already.  So, I also made a nice holiday hot drink as an alternative to hot chocolate.  It’s a bit different, and not really sweet, but very soothing.  If you wanted to make this sweeter, I’m sure you could, but I found it very good just the way it is in the recipe.  Everyone seemed to enjoy it. I doubled it so I would have some left over, which can be reheated or used as a coffee creamer (I tried that this morning, and it was good).

Vanilla Steamer (makes 8 servings)
8 cups milk
1/8 tsp. cinnamon, or 2 3″-long cinnamon sticks
3 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. vanilla
pinch of salt
pinch of nutmeg

Ideas for garnish to serve:
whipped topping
sprinkling of ground cinnamon
mini marshmallows
candy cane stirrers
white chocolate shavings

Instructions:
1.  Put all ingredients except whipped topping and sprinkling of ground cinnamon in slow cooker.
2.  Cover.  Cook on Low 2-3 hours, taking care to make sure it doesn’t boil.
3.  Garnish individual servings with whipped topping and a sprinkling if you wish.  Other serving options include mini-marshmallows, candy cane stirrers, white chocolate shavings, etc.

Something Crazy: Announcing Our Adoption Journey

A few weeks ago, I posted about doing something “crazy.”  I wrote that I felt that God would be calling us soon to do something people would think is crazy, something that might seem foolish or even irresponsible to some.  Sometimes, I wrote, God calls us to do the impossible, the unbelievable, the difficult, the stretching, the seemingly irrational, according to human standards.  I think Todd and I have lived a little of that for most of our marriage.  We kept having kids when almost everyone around us was encouraging us to do the “responsible” thing and stop.  We moved out to the country to a raw piece of land with nothing on it, and slowly built our dream, working to be debt-free, and actually achieving that goal through living a bit differently than most Americans choose to live.  We didn’t buy new furniture.  I have to wait until we have the actual money to do something like put in the tile I want in the addition to our house, instead of just charging it or adding it to the mortgage (since we have no mortgage).  I have had a lot of people tell me they couldn’t have the patience that I have with things like these.  Well, I confess that sometimes I wish we just did things the American way.  I want my tile.  I want my finished, beautiful house.  I don’t want to wait.  Really, I don’t.  But the truth is, when you have a conviction about something, you grit your teeth and carry on, even when you really might not feel like it at any given moment.  I remember when all the kids were little, sometimes looking around at my growing family and thinking how I would rather be at the beach.  But I chose to smile and carry on, because I believed then and I still believe now that this is the life to which God has called me.  It isn’t always easy, and it certainly isn’t always perfect, but it’s HIS will for me, and in that I find JOY and peace and the strength to carry on every single day, even when I’m tired and would rather be alone on a deserted beach for a few hours.

So the new “crazy” is here.  Todd and I have plenty of children, yes. We have 10; we know.  That seems to be “enough” (or “more than enough”) to everyone around us.  We have talked about adoption over the years, even with the number of children we had continuing to grow.  We felt that someday, adoption might be something we would want to do.  This isn’t because we felt we would need more children.  No, it is because we know that there are children out there who need us!  A few years ago, our oldest daughter presented a speech for competition about the plight of special needs children in “institutions” in Eastern Europe.  We couldn’t listen to her give that speech and show those pictures without God nudging our hearts.  Could it be that He might call us to take in one of the least of these someday?  But the babies kept coming, and it never seemed like the right time.  I felt in my heart that someday the time would come, and if and when it did, we would know it was time.

A few weeks ago, a friend posted on Facebook the link to a page about a little boy from China who was here in the States with a host program for five weeks, looking for his forever home.  I saw that he had not found a home and would be returning to China in just a couple of days after the last post.  Looking at the photos of that sweet boy, my heart broke for him, and I began to cry.  I shared the page with Todd, and he responded that he would take him if the government allowed.  So, I called the young woman whose family was hosting the little boy, and we spoke on the phone for a while. The next day, they were passing by Austin to head to the airport in Houston to send the boy back to China with the other children from the host program.  We decided we wanted to meet this little boy and then pray about what to do.  We weren’t sure what would happen. The host family drove out of their way to bring Xiao to our home for dinner that Friday night so we could meet him.  He stole our hearts, including every one of the children in our family.  Yes, it seemed crazy, but we felt maybe that kind of crazy was what the LORD was asking of us now.  This may not make sense to some people.  But it makes sense to us, as we follow and listen to God and hear His voice in our lives.  The next day, I sent in an application to the adoption agency.  We would just see if we would even be approved as a preliminary step.  A few days later, we received an email saying we were approved to apply to adopt from China.  But this still wasn’t a sure thing.  We weren’t really ready to tell people yet, as we still had to go through a more formal application to request to adopt Xiao specifically.

FB_IMG_1440386089380It took us about a week to wrap our heads around just how expensive this was all going to be.  It took us about that long to also accept that it was going to be a difficult thing God was calling us to do. We thought about it, and we prayed about it.  God spoke to us and said this is the time, and this is the little boy who belongs in our family.  Todd said that he felt like he couldn’t imagine having to someday stand before the throne of God and explain how when this precious boy needed a family, he was unwilling.  So, about two weeks ago, we signed an agreement with Great Wall China Adoption and wrote a Letter of Intent to apply to lock Xiao in to our application, meaning that he would be officially matched to us, and we would be pursuing him for adoption.  Yesterday, just a little over a week later, we received the pre-approval.  Now begins the journey of gathering paperwork, getting the home study done, waiting for the final approval, and then traveling to China to get our little boy.

Xiao has some special needs.  He has something called Cornelia DeLange Syndrome, which can cause severe mental retardation.  However, Xiao does not seem to be severely retarded, although he has some delays.  He may have hearing impairment, which had led to his speech delays.  He may never speak normally, although he may be able to speak well someday when given the proper medical care, possible hearing aids, speech therapy, etc.  We will find out more when we get him here and are able to take him to the right medical professionals.

Will this be easy?  Uh, probably not.  Will this challenge us?  Most certainly it will.  Does this mean we should not adopt Xiao?  Absolutely not.  Even believers were never promised an easy life.  God calls us to walk the hard road.  Being obedient to His calling won’t always mean a walk in the park.  More often than not, it means we will be challenged and need to rely more on HIS strength.  Are we being irresponsible?  I don’t think so.  Yes, we have other children who need us.  They are all so excited to love this boy and be his family.  There is so much love to go around.

Maybe all of this still sounds crazy to you.  I don’t really care.  God has called us, and we will follow HIM.  My other children will not be neglected.  They will see what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus.  I don’t want to live my life in the comfort zone.  Believe me, I gave up my comfort zone years ago when I gave up control of my family to Him!  Yes, it’s absolutely crazy to think  we can raise 10 children well, let alone add a special needs child to the mix.  But my God is big enough.  I have 10 thriving, happy, amazing children.  It’s not really possible for us to take the credit for that.  I give GOD alone the glory!  Our oldest graduated from high school just a few months ago, homeschooled all the way through.  I’m not sure I really believed we would be able to do it, a few years ago.  Yet, there she is, away at university.  She even graduated with one full year of college credit completed, so she will be able to graduate with her degree in nursing in three years!  “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus!”  (Phil 4:19) HE did it!  Our daughter is a credit to the Lord, not to Todd and me.  We raised her only by HIS strength.  “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:13)

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We have embarked on this journey.  We are excited and nervous at the same time.  We do not know exactly what the future will be like with our new son.  I only look to my God and Father in heaven who is calling us to do this.  I trust HIM!  I obey HIM!  HE will be our strength.  Of course, we appreciate your prayers, and we hope you will follow along on our journey.  Pray for us, that we will prepare ourselves as best we can in order to love and care for Xiao as he needs.  Pray that our other children will thrive as well.  Pray that as we live this out, our children will see what it means to step out in faith, and they will be blessed to go and do the same throughout their own lives.  We want to say “yes” to God.  I want our children to be able to say “yes” to God, too.

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Feel free to share this blog with anyone who may be interested in following our story.  We covet your prayers.  We can’t wait to see this journey unfold.   We are excited to see GOD’S strength in our weakness.

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.   2 Corinthians 12:9-10

A Letter to My Daughter as She Leaves for College

I can’t believe the day is drawing near. The day when my oldest daughter, my little girl (really, she was born just a couple of years ago!), the little ray of sunshine who was the first to call me “Mama,” that little-girl-all-grown-up will be leaving for college in just a few short days. This girl has always wanted to be grown up, ever since her little sister could do anything correctable, my oldest girl wanted to be the adult and call the shots. Well, now the time has come. We have done our job. The bulk of our job—which was to raise a child to adulthood, to be a responsible and positive contributor to society—is finished.  I know that our job as parents will never truly be over, but we have raised our first child, and she is ready to fly.

Over the summer, I have struggled with the idea that this girl of mine will be heading out into the big world, away from me and my protection, away from all of her little siblings, off into the great big world where she can do anything, be anything.  I really am so excited for her! I will get to see the world anew through the eyes of a young lady who is ready for the biggest adventures that lie ahead of her. But I have struggled. I compare how I’ve felt this summer to how I felt when I was just about ready to give birth: I loved being pregnant, so I wasn’t ready to have that part be over. But as the time drew near and I became more uncomfortable, baby grew so big that I had to stand up in order to roll to the other side at night while I was trying to sleep, I knew that the time was right. The restless nights just before a baby’s birth were preparing me for more restless nights with a tiny newborn who wouldn’t know she was supposed to be sleeping during those dark, quiet hours. Even though my heart wanted to hold onto those sweet moments of pregnancy, I knew that it was time for the baby to enter the world and begin the journey of growing up and leaving the nest. That’s what it’s all about really, even from the beginning. We teach our little chicks all the things they will need to know when they finally leave us some day.

This summer, my vibrant oldest girl has been working, taking three summer classes at the community college, and spending as much time as she can outside of studying, with her friends. Some days I have felt like I have hardly seen her! I have been upset about this, and even hurt, and then I realize, it’s kind of like those long restless nights just before the baby enters the world. I am being prepared for life without seeing this child daily anymore. It’s like Braxton Hicks contractions, preparing my heart for that time when this baby—now a woman—will leave our little nest and fly on.

All these eighteen years of her life, I have poured my heart and soul into teaching my precious girl valuable lessons, things she must know how to do, things she must ponder and learn before heading out into a world full of challenges and confusing messages. Over the summer, I have been thinking about what I would like to tell her. I want to send her off with words written from my heart to hers. I want her to be able to look at these words whenever she needs them and hear my voice, reminding her of all the things I have taught her.  So, here it is, what I would like to say as my baby leaves for college.

Dear Abby,
This summer has been preparing me for the day that you head out the door and move on to your big adventure! I have missed seeing you so much every day, and my heart has been forced to grasp the reality that you are all grown up, and the process we began from the beginning—of letting you go, and letting you grow—is now coming to its end as we launch you into the world. I know I’m still your mama, and you will still come to me for advice and to spend time, but this is when everything changes. I am so excited for you, happy for you, even though my heart aches with the marching on of time. I would like to send you off with a few things I want you to remember, words to echo in your mind as you face each adventure and each challenge that is to come.

1. I am proud of you. As a mother, I have always wanted the best for you and from you. Everything I have ever done for you has been because of that truth. Anytime you might have felt that I didn’t approve of something relating to you, it was only because I wanted the very best. Of course, I still do.  But the thing to remember is that I am so proud of you. I always have been, and I always will be. God created you unique and special, for such a time as this (Esther 4:14). I have always seen you shine, and my heart has been full of joy at who you are. So, no matter how hard I may push you to try your best and do better in your classes and with all the standards you may feel we as parents have set for you, I am already so proud. When I see you stand up and talk about your faith, bring smiles to your friends’ faces with your vivacious personality and jokes, hug your little brothers, talk intimately with the little sister who looks up to you so much, I am so proud to have such a wonderful young lady as my daughter. There is absolutely nothing you could do to change that.  You will always be you, and I am proud to call you my daughter.

2. You are important, and God has a special plan for your life. You are about to go to a very large university where you may at times feel very small. You may feel like no one notices you or cares about you. Just remember that you were created to live in this world and this time, and that there is a story written for you where you play a very important role. The Bible says, “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6) Your story is unfolding before you, and I can’t wait to see where it leads you. Wherever that may be, you are going to be doing great things.

3. You will always have a place at our table and a bed to come home to sleep in.  No matter what your sister may say, we are not moving your bed out the day you leave for college! Whenever you want to come home for a talk, for a weekend, for a month or for a short visit, this will always be home. Wherever my heart is, you can call home. Now, I’m not saying that I don’t want you to grow up and have your own life. I am saying that you will always be at home here. When you are married and have your own children, you will always have a place to come with all those precious ones where you can still feel that unconditional love.  And this home will never be the same without you. We will always be so happy to see you, so come back whenever you want.

4. Dream big, and don’t put limits on our BIG God.  You are excited, and are about to enter a world of possibilities.  Always remember that you will only accomplish as much as you believe you can.  When you think ahead into your life, what is it that you hope for and dream about?  When I was your age, I had all kinds of big plans for myself.  I have always been a dreamer, and sometimes going for my big dreams led me to even bigger things I could never have imagined.   You know what?  It’s ok to dream and make big plans only to have those dreams and plans change along the way.  To dream is to have hope.  Hope is what gets us through this life, isn’t it?  God is bigger than anything you can imagine.  When we doubt or fear, we are really saying we don’t believe He can handle things for us.  So always remember our God is the God who can do anything.  “Nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:27) Always hold onto this truth, and then hang on tight for the ride!  Our limitless God, who sees the big picture, will show you amazing things, but you have to trust Him to do so.  You have to step out in faith and believe that He is bigger than any challenge, and your biggest dreams are just the beginning of His big dreams for your life.

5. Remember to always look on the bright side.  One of the best things you can do is to stay positive.  As a Christian, that means to be joyful.  You may not always be in circumstances that make you feel happy and joyful, but you can stay positive and call upon the Lord to give you a joy that isn’t dependent upon what is happening in your life at every moment.  Strive to be a person who sees the glass as half full instead of half empty.  I have always been an optimist, and it has made life much more joyful for me.  There have been many times when I could have gotten down about the challenges and struggles life has thrown at me.  But I always have hope and cling to all the little blessings I can find in each moment, small or big. Looking on the bright side, thinking of the positives, even if they seem tiny, will help you handle any challenge you may face.  “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” (Philippians 4:11)

6.  Always stand strong for what you believe.  We are now living in a time where moral relativism is definitely the norm.  If you have strong convictions, you will be labeled “intolerant” or “fanatic” or many worse things.  It can be tempting to just stay quiet, to stop speaking up for what you believe in.  Sometimes, given enough time, we can even lose our convictions if we aren’t willing to stand up for them.  The truth is, when you stick with your faith and your convictions, often what happens is the naysayers end up wanting to know why you feel so strongly about what you believe, unpopular or unusual as it may seem.  When we were in the midst of having more and more babies, we had so many people advise us to just stop and follow the way of the world and do what everyone else was doing.  We stood strong and ignored the voices around us, and we have been so blessed because of it.  I can’t imagine my life any differently. That is just one example.  Numerous times, I have defended my faith and I have seen fruit as people are drawn to someone who is so sure of what she believes.  The most important thing is that your reward is in heaven, so no matter what happens, when you stand strong in your faith and convictions, you know that in the end, you win!  “He who overcomes will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” (Revelation 3:5)

7.  Don’t be afraid to take risks.  I think you and I both love that country song by Lee Ann Womack, “I Hope You Dance.”  I really think it’s a great song. “When you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.”  That sums up this idea really well.  You may be afraid to do certain things for whatever reasons, but don’t let fear hold you back.  Step out in faith, even if you are the only one doing so.  Close your eyes, jump out of the plane, and sky dive.  If you feel called to go to a far away place and help people in need, don’t stop to worry about the “what if,” or even really, the “how.”  If you are called to it, those things will fall into place.  Step out of your safety zone.  There is growth and LIFE off the beaten path.  You may feel like the only one doing it, but you will never regret taking those risks and following the path that is laid before you, even if it feels a little dangerous at the time.

8.  Stay childlike as long as possible.  When I first met your dad, one of his friends said he was a 10-year-old trapped in a 24-year-old’s body.  I thought that was so funny, but over the years I have realized this quality was one of the things that drew me to your father.  He was a strong, mature man, but had a little twinkle of mischief in those blue eyes that showed he still loved having fun and enjoyed a good joke.  Now, 20 years of marriage later, I love that your dad still has those childlike qualities.  Another side of being childlike is keeping the ability to be “wowed” by life.  When your baby brother sees a kitten or a dog, his little eyes light up and he is full of wonder at the soft fur, the rough tongue, the playful antics.  This is the most amazing thing he has ever seen.  As we grow up and life gets more difficult to navigate, we can lose this sense of awe at the amazing world around us.  So, always have fun and look up from the work at hand long enough to say, “WOW!”  What an amazing world we live in, and what beauty surrounds us every day, if only you take the moments to really see it. Finally, remember to have faith like a child. Children are so willing to believe and to trust.  It is not hard for them to believe that God can work any miracle.  Always strive for and pray for that kind of childlike faith. “”Truly, I tell you , unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 3:18)

9.  Remember JOY: Jesus first, then Others, then Yourself.  Remember when you were a little girl, and we used to repeat this to you over and over?  The truth is, this little acronym is really something to carry with you throughout your entire life.  We live in the culture of “ME FIRST.”  Sadly, most people who live this way end up unfulfilled and unhappy.  Always go to the Lord first when you are faced with anything at all in life where you have to make a decision or choose how you are going to handle something.  Put God first in your life, and everything else will fall into place.  Serving others is next, because when you take the time to look beyond yourself, that is often when you will feel the most fulfilled.  True meaning in life is so often found outside of what we want for ourselves.  You do have to take care of yourself, too, but living life only for yourself will lead to dark and lonely places, away from the wonderful things God has in store for you.

10.  Do hard things.  Walking this life isn’t always easy, especially when you are trying to do the right thing all the time.  We were never promised an easy road, though.  Sometimes you will be the only one who doesn’t want to watch a certain movie or read a certain popular book.  You may be ridiculed or pressured.  Don’t let those things force you do take the easy path, or to give in just because everyone else is doing it.  Choosing the difficult things sometimes is what will build character and grow you into the beautiful creation you were meant to be.  This is a lifelong process.  There are many things to tempt you out there in the big world.  You’ve already seen some of this, but there is so much more out there.  Remember to choose what is excellent, and don’t settle for anything less.  “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

11.  Remember that you will always be my little girl.  I finally understand this idea.  I guess I’ve always known that to my own mother, even though I moved out decades ago, have a (large) family of my own, and navigate my life quite well on my own, I will always be her little girl.  She still worries about me.  She still wants to give me good gifts. She still wants the best for me and from me.  And I have seen that, to me, she will always be my Mami.  She will always be the one I want to call and share good news with.  My Mami will always be the one I want to be proud of me.  I know that no matter what I do, how I fail, how needy I may become or how independent, in my mother’s eyes, I am just the greathang gliderest thing ever.  I understand that more now because I have you.  You are 18 now.  You are on the edge of the cliff, hang glider gripped between sweaty palms, ready to glide into the beauty and adventure that is before you.  I am watching and cheering you on as you go.  I see you now, this beautiful, grown-up young woman, full of life and promise.  I also see you as you were when you were just a toddler, sandy-blond hair framing chubby cheeks and big blue eyes, sucking on your two little fingers.  I can’t believe you’re all grown up.  The truth is, you will always be my little girl.  You can always come sit in my lap, tall as you are, and I will hold you. And, if you want, I will even rub your nose like I used to when you were a little one. Remember this? “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living, My baby you’ll be.” (Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch)

So, go have great adventures, and I’ll be here, watching, cheering you on, praying for you.  I can’t wait to see what God will do in your life.  I love you.

Love,
Mama

After writing that, I am officially in tears.  As I thought about it some more, I decided to include the link to the video and words to the song, “I Hope You Dance” as it goes along nicely with so many of the things I have written in this post.  Listening to that song just made the tears flow even more.  Enjoy, from my heart to yours.

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty-handed
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance
I hope you dance

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin’ might mean takin’ chances, but they’re worth takin’
Lovin’ might be a mistake, but it’s worth makin’
Don’t let some hellbent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to sellin’ out, reconsider
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance
I hope you dance
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along)
I hope you dance
I hope you dance
(Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder, where those years have gone?)

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

Dance
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along)
I hope you dance
I hope you dance
(Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder, where those years have gone?)

“I Hope You Dance”
Performed by Lee Ann Womack
Written by Tia Sillers and Mark Sanders