July 20, 2014

baby steps of faith

Posted in family, God, life, Miranda Grace at 10:06 pm by alison

I often wonder what paths my children’s faith journeys will take. How will they respond to what we share about what we believe and why?

I’ve been spending a lot of time and energy working with Miranda regarding a couple of character issues that have recently been coming to the surface, as they tend to do in four-year-olds :) That can be draining for both of us, but I also believe that it’s what she needs, and we try to get in a lot of fun and sweet times, as well. Sometimes I wonder if I’m going about this whole mothering thing the right way, and I’m very thankful for a couple of great friends in Chicagoland who are willing to offer solid parenting feedback. Even so, there can be times when I wonder if we’re making any headway.

But every once in a while there seems to be a touchstone moment, and for those I am very grateful. They are such encouragements to me to press on, to be grateful for the hard times – the burners turned down to low while cooking dinner is put on hold or the to-do-list tasks put off. Those moments of character revelation and subsequent discussion really do matter, even if I can’t see the payoff right away.

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Tonight, after some harder moments, we had a long talk about love and how we can continue to love people even when they are being unkind. I talked with her about the Holy Spirit and how He is in our hearts when we are following Jesus, and He can help us to love people even when it’s hard.

After our conversation, Miranda went into the living room to play with CaiQun, and they told me they were going to practice playing together kindly. I reminded them that they could also pray that God would help them do that, and when I walked into the living room a few minutes later, Miranda was sitting off to the side, quietly praying. Moments later, she came over to me and sweetly said, “Mom, I prayed, and I asked God to send the Holy Spirit to my heart, and I prayed such a lovely prayer, and God heard me and said that He would.”

Sweetness :)

I suffer no delusions that my four-year-old daughter has a full understanding of what it means to follow God or that she is capable of making lifelong commitments. However, I also take Jesus at His word when He says, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). I believe He loves little children, and I believe He hears their prayers. It seems to me that right now, in her own way, my little Miranda is taking some baby steps of faith. And who am I to discourage any steps of my little ones toward Him?

July 10, 2014

Baby #3 update

Posted in family, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace at 9:21 pm by alison

Things are progressing here with our Baby #3! You may recall that with this second pregnancy, my baby bump was beginning to make a clear appearance by 12 weeks. It has continued to grow and can be seen here at 14 weeks…

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…and here at just shy of 19 weeks.

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We’re all looking forward to our upcoming morphology ultrasound, when we hope to find out if this little one is a boy or girl! I’ve been feeling him or her moving around for a few weeks now, which is always fun :) My nausea has also been increasingly subsiding, which greatly increases my enjoyment of pregnancy! I’ve had some crazy heartburn this time around, but my doctor had some recommendations that are really helping.

Matt and I are continuing to talk with the girls about what life will be like once our baby makes its appearance. Our friends Jaylyn and Jonah have been super indulgent, letting us visit them and their new baby, Judah, and allowing us to watch him for a couple hours one evening for a reality check to complement our theoretical discussions :)

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Miranda is particularly intent on discussing babies and motherhood with Jaylyn…

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…and likes to see how her baby measures up to baby Judah.

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We of course love baby Judah for himself, as well – he really is a cutie pie :) And it has been so fun over the last few weeks to see him keep his eyes open more and start to make more intentional movements!

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But in addition to enjoying him, we have been greatly blessed by our time hanging out with him and his parents and “practicing” for having a baby around. I think there will be some challenges all around, but overall, we are looking forward to it!

In general, I am far more laid back with this process of adding a third child to the family than I was with either of my first two. Whatever happens, I’m confident that it will all work out :) I just need to make sure I get the car seat out of the attic sometime before our baby arrives…and we need to come up with a girl name in case this little one is going to be adding to the gender imbalance in our family! We’ll find out soon, and we’ll keep you posted :)

July 6, 2014

On Being a Band-Aid Mom

Posted in adoption, family, God, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace at 11:24 pm by alison

We had dinner last night with some sweet friends, another adoptive family from our church. As we chatted that evening, Maureen asked me whether, since CaiQun is doing so well, we still thought of her as a child who had come through trauma or not so much. I think I gave her a brief answer before our conversation was interrupted by one child or another, but I’ve been thinking more about her question since then.

Honestly, I think that very early on in our parenting journey, Matt and I decided that one of the values we wanted to have characterize our parenting was compassion. We wanted to take our kids’ feelings and experiences seriously, even if, to us, they might seem silly. That’s the biggest reason we never used a “cry it out” sleep training method with Miranda.

I think that decision made it easier for us to make some of the transitions in our parenting strategies that being adoptive parents required of us – in many ways, our initial parenting strategies were already similar to those recommended for parenting adopted children.

That doesn’t mean there’s never any room for growth, though. Back in April, Matt and I were blessed to be able to attend an Empowered to Connect conference. It was such a great refresher in so many areas and introduced some new material that we were excited to discuss and incorporate more into our parenting. One of my most vivid memories from that conference is of Dr. Purvis discussing the difference between meeting physical needs and emotional needs. For instance, if a child falls off his bike and scrapes his knee, a parent can clean and bandage his knee (meeting his physical need) and/or offer comfort and reassurance to soothe his fears and encourage him (meeting his emotional need). She later showed a video in which she used band-aids with a group of troubled teens to help them discuss both physical and emotional wounds. Something I realized as I reflected on those aspects of her presentations was that although I want to prioritize meeting emotional needs, my instinct is much more toward meeting physical needs.

One thing I decided to do differently after that weekend was to be far more liberal in dispensing band-aids :) It is a fairly common occurrence in our household for one or the other of my daughters to come running to me, announcing that they have an owie and need a band-aid – I suspect most moms of pre-schoolers can relate :) In the past, my general rule had been that unless there was actual blood, there was no need for a band-aid. However, the reality is that my little girls are coming to me for both physical and emotional care. Sometimes there’s not actually any need for physical treatment, but by offering up a band-aid with a hug and kiss, I can validate their feelings, reassure them, and meet that emotional need. I was happy to read later that other moms and dads have reached similar conclusions :) It probably costs us a few extra dollars each year in our grocery budget, but I think it’s worth it!

Basically, what I’m saying is that I don’t think that I think of Madeleine CaiQun all that frequently as “a child who has experienced trauma.” I recognize that that’s true of her – and I fully expect that we will deal more explicitly with more aspects of her personal experience as she gets older – but at this point, I think of her primarily as my adorable little daughter with whom I am completely in love :)

I think quite often, though, about the type of parent I want to be and the type of parent my children need me to be. I want to be a band-aid mom, and I think my kids – both of them – need me to be that type of mom. Just this past weekend, I spent an hour one night lying in bed with Miranda. It had been an odd out-of-routine few days for us, and she was having a hard time that night, so I snuggled with her until she had calmed. It wasn’t what I had planned to do, and I checked off significantly fewer items from my “to do” list that night than I had been hoping, but that was what she needed, and I’m glad I took the time to be with her. Both of my girls need compassion and need me to be available to help them work through whatever hard stuff they experience in their lives.

This parenting gig can be exhausting…but it’s good :)

July 4, 2014

How We’re Celebrating Independence Day Today

Posted in money at 11:30 am by alison

One big thing we are doing to celebrate Independence Day today is perhaps not typical of 4th of July celebrations occurring around the country.

You see, I’ve been following this blog for a while now. Its initial appeal to me was that its writer shares stories and thoughts about trans-racial adoption. When you don’t have local, in-real-life mentors, you find them where you can, and that often means looking to the Internet!

She also covers other topics, though, and she was recently invited to travel to Southeast Asia to learn about sex trafficking with Exodus Road, an organization working to end sex slavery and free its captives. While there and since she has returned, she has been sharing about she encountered there, what Exodus Road does, the difference between sex trafficking and sex tourism, what the lives of prostitutes are like, and what after-care looks like for victims of sex trafficking.

And today she is inviting us, on this Independence Day, to help bring freedom to those who need it.

Matt and I aren’t rich. I did, after all, marry an artist :) We’re still paying off student loan debt (and a car and a house). We have a new baby on the way (and we’d love to start saving for another adoption soon). And yet we feel like we have money to stop at Starbucks for a coffee, to go out for an occasional date night, and to sign our girls up for gymnastics classes. If we can set aside $35 a month for coffee or going out to eat or other “luxury” goods for ourselves, we feel like we should also be able to set aside $35 a month for work like this.

We’re generally informed and are aware of what signs might be indicators of sex slavery or slavery of other types in America. It’s possible that through that knowledge, we will someday be a part of helping someone in our own country gain his or her freedom, but chances are slim. This is something concrete that we can do that we believe is allowing us to be part of the solution.

Would you consider joining us and others as part of this endeavor, as well? If so, you can go to Kristen’s site and follow the instructions she gives there.

June 30, 2014

Home-School Pre-School Year in Review (2013-2014)

Posted in family, homeschooling, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace at 10:25 pm by alison

We finished up our first year of home-schooling earlier this month, and I can say with 100% certainty that all of us loved it!

For this year, we had 2 major components to our home-schooling curriculum, affectionately known as “reading school,” and “workbook school.” I started out only having Miranda do workbooks, because I didn’t think CaiQun was ready to learn much from them, but she so wanted to have some workbooks of her own that I ended up ordering some cheap ones from Amazon and going through them with her, too. I didn’t particularly care whether she learned anything in particular from them – my biggest goals were to include her in our school experience and to teach her how to hold her pencil correctly – but she enjoyed going through them, and I think we accomplished our goals. Oddly enough, even though they loved almost every story we read for our reading school time, when given the choice, both girls would almost always elect to do workbook school before reading school!

Throughout the course of the year, I think we read virtually every book in our Sonlight P3/4 curriculum multiple times. There were some stories that were favorites at the beginning of the year and others that became favorites toward the end (Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs; Miss Nelson is Missing; and the Virginia Lee Burton stories). There were only a few that were not well received; Sylvester and the Magic Pebble comes to mind. I know it’s considered a classic children’s book, but it contains drawn out explanations of Sylvester’s parents’ search for him and their sadness when they are unable to find him and discusses how Sylvester realizes that it is terribly unlikely anyone will ever find him and, in his deep grief, he begins to sleep more and more. I thought we were going to be reading a light-hearted, entertaining story about a magic pebble, and instead it was a primer on depression for pre-schoolers – not quite what I was expecting! But in general, all three of us absolutely loved the Sonlight books. If I had had the stamina to keep going for that long, I suspect both my girls would have been willing to read for hours on some days. I’ve kept all of the books out on our school book shelf, and I expect we’ll continue to revisit many of them this year.

Miranda worked on her Leapfrog book and then her Rod & Staff workbooks consistently throughout the year, and I think they were really beneficial for her. They were a good introduction to following directions, cutting and gluing different shapes, (occasionally) attempting to color within the lines, and writing letters and numbers. She just has a few pages left in the “E” book, and while I had originally planned to have her go through the whole series, as I’ve looked at our curriculum options for this year (more on that soon!), it has become clear to me that continuing on in this series is not going to be the best choice for her for this year. We’ll probably finish up that “E” book and then just save the rest in case they would work well for another child down the line.

I think some things that worked well for us this year were:

  • having all-in-one curriculum – I am so glad I was not trying to piecemeal a curriculum for us from a bunch of different sources.
  • having a plan but being flexible with scheduling – the default plan was to do all school in the morning, but sometimes it didn’t happen, and that was fine.
  • giving the girls a lot of choice in what we read each day – they loved having that sense of ownership, and they got to enjoy many of their favorite books over and over again.
  • letting both girls learn at their own pace, which varied from day to day – some days we did 4 workbook pages, and other days we did 1.

The thing that worked least well was: my being pregnant for the last couple months of the school year. My energy level was so low that we went from doing school an average of 3-4 days per week to doing school an average of 1-2 days per week and doing less on any given day. There were honestly days when the energy expenditure for me to sit up and read a Bible story and a few books required that I lie down and take a nap immediately thereafter. The end of our school year was less of a triumphant sprint across the finish line and more of a slow crawl. We got out of our routine, and the girls (Miranda in particular) got out of practice with things like writing letters and numbers, and that was really frustrating for her.

I’m hoping to be more strategic this next year in planning for what to do around holidays and the baby’s arrival. We’ll obviously take some breaks, but I don’t want to have them be such long and complete breaks that the girls lose the skills they’ve been working to develop and get frustrated. But we’ll see where we are and cross that bridge when we come to it :)

For now, I’ll leave you with some photos. Here is day 1 of homeschooling.

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And…because I got lame here at the end, I don’t have a photo from our 141st and final day of home-school pre-school for the 2013-2014 school year, but here’s a cute one from a recent day toward the end.

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Note how we all became a bit more relaxed :) Day 1: matching outfits, hair up, posed photo. Day 141-ish: dress-up clothes, blocks, impossible to tell if anyone’s hair has even been brushed yet, and there’s an inflatable cow sitting at the table behind us. Ah, well, as Pete the Cat would say, “It’s all good!”

June 9, 2014

Two Little Gymnasts

Posted in family, homeschooling, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace, money at 11:34 pm by alison

As Miranda would say, the world has two more gymnasts today!

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Matt and I have talked for years about wanting our kids to be involved in some sort of regular activity outside of our home and our family, in part because we’re home-schooling them. We want them to be exposed to other learning environments and other adults and children and to be able to have age-appropriate interactions with other people independent of us.

It has seemed to both of us recently that our girls have reached an age and developmental stage in which it would be appropriate for them to start something along those lines. Plus we have a little bit of wiggle room in our budget that enables us to afford to sign them up for something :) At this point, gymnastics seemed like a natural fit. They both enjoy watching the sport and often pretend to be doing gymnastics at home. Plus it’s a sport that you can start at the ages of 3 and 4 and do year-round, and while I can watch their practices, my active presence is not required. We signed them up last week, and their first class was tonight! They could not have been more excited.

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When we got to the gym they were a bit nervous, one of them in particular, but they handled it alright :) Their teacher seems super sweet and did a great job of helping them to get settled right in even though they were new to the class. Pretty soon they were learning some stretches…

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…and practicing some skills that will help with beginning tumbling!

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CaiQun was disappointed that they didn’t get to do anything on the high beams you can see in the foreground of the above picture or on the uneven bars, but they did get to experience quite a few different activities, and I think they both enjoyed it :) I’m thankful it went so well tonight, and I hope it will continue to be a good learning and growing experience for both of the girls!

 

May 31, 2014

Growing Again!

Posted in family, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace at 12:34 pm by alison

Oh, how I’ve missed this space! It has been almost 2 months since I have written here. There just has not been space for writing, because I’ve been spending as much time as possible sleeping; spending many of my waking hours lying on the couch, attempting to parent our kiddos from there; figuring out how to keep my family well fed without thinking about food, leaving the house, or doing any cooking; and figuring out how to stave off my own nausea by eating something substantial every 90 minutes or so, also without thinking about food or doing any cooking. It has been a challenge!

But it’s all for good reason :) Lord willing, we will be welcoming baby #3 to our family late November or early December!

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Even though our short-term experience of pregnancy has been less than pleasant, Matt and I are very excited to welcome this new little person into our lives :) Both of our girls are excited, as well. Miranda has been thrilled with the idea from the very beginning. Madeleine CaiQun has taken a little bit longer to warm up to it – she has been consistently excited about the idea of being a big sister but less thrilled about the necessity of there actually being a younger sibling in order for that to occur. As the weeks have gone on, though, and we’ve talked more and more about pregnancy and fetal development and babies and what types of things big sisters can do, she’s become increasingly happy about the baby, as well.

Both girls will talk to just about anyone who will listen about the baby in mommy’s womb, and they are also pretending to be pregnant themselves with great frequency. CaiQun usually just has one baby in her belly, occasionally two. Miranda is much more ambitious – she often claims to be pregnant with quintuplets (3 girls, 2 boys) and has occasionally told us that she has as many as 102 babies in her belly. I’ve tried to explain that it doesn’t really work that way- that 5 is rare and very complex, though it does happen, but 102 is really impossible – but she just looks at me as if I am crazy and says, “Mom, that’s just how my womb works.” She can often be heard to remark, though, “These babies are wearing me out!” You’ll never guess where she heard that one :)

While I am still worn out and nauseous, now that we’re at the end of the first trimester, I think we’re starting to see some light. I’m not as exhausted, and if things progress similarly to how they did for me with my pregnancy with Miranda, my nausea should start to decrease some within the next month or so. And we’ve been so blessed by both family and friends during these last couple months. My mom has come 3 times and my dad once, and when Matt was gone for 6 days at a conference, my brother David came to stay with me for the entire time and help out. All of them entertained Miranda and CaiQun, provided food, did some cleaning, and were just generally helpful. I’ve had friends pick up take-out and drop it off and come over and play with my kids. Other friends have delivered meals, and one even cleaned my bathroom after I mentioned that I just was not getting to tasks like that. And of course Matt has completely stepped up to the plate in every way, taking over household tasks and errands that I usually handle (cooking, dishes, grocery store, etc), getting the girls up and dressed most mornings so that I can sleep longer, and generally doing everything he can to be helpful. We’re making it through. And baby is beginning to make his/her presence known, other than just through nausea :)

the baby bump at 12 weeks

the baby bump at 12 weeks

We’re excited that you’re here and can’t wait to meet you, little one :)

March 7, 2014

that time I deleted the Facebook app from my phone

Posted in God, life at 10:53 pm by alison

Wednesday morning I deleted the Facebook app from my phone.

I’d been contemplating doing so for a while and was pretty sure it would be a good idea, but I kept putting it off. The thought had popped into my head that Lent was approaching, and if I didn’t think of something else to give up for Lent prior to its commencement, I could always delete the Facebook app then. That thought was followed pretty quickly by the thought that I should probably think about it more (perhaps try to come up with something else?!), but I remember nothing more from that train of thought – I suspect one of the small people with whom I live and spend every waking moment may have interrupted it at that point :)

So without my giving the matter much more thought, Lent arrived on Wednesday morning, and I decided to take a chance and delete the app.

The two things that stood out to me as about the Lenten season, the 40 days leading up to Easter, during my childhood were: (1) the priest at our Episcopalian church wore purple vestments, and I loved that – so much richer, more beautiful than the standard green; and (2) some of my friends – primarily those raised in the Catholic tradition – had to choose something to give up for Lent. I was glad I didn’t have to do that.

And here I am, years later, committed to a phone-sans-Facebook for the next 37 days.

I don’t feel bound by the traditional practice of giving up something for Lent. But 12+ years into this journey of faith to which I’ve committed myself, living a life of being pulled in multiple directions each day and finding it easy to become distracted from what is truly important, I take comfort in the rhythms of spiritual life in which hundreds and thousands of saints have walked before me. I want to live in light of the reality that Easter Sunday is the climax of the year, the triumph of Life over death, the celebration of Christ’s victory in all and over all…and I want to acknowledge that in more than just planning a menu and outfits for the day itself. I want to be consciously anticipating that day when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and His restoration of the opportunity for us to draw near to God Himself. Honoring the tradition of Lent is one way in which I can do that.

And in my small step toward Him, I am already seeing blessing.

I am less distracted, more present throughout the days with my girls. I am praying more throughout the day. And I am seeing myself more clearly. The first day, I was purely grateful for the blessing of that increased presence with what I was really doing. But yesterday and today? I crave the ability to pull up Facebook on my phone. After I turn off the alarm on my phone that wakes me in the morning, I instinctively reach my finger toward where the Facebook app used to be, and I am annoyed that I cannot scroll through my news feed before I get out of bed or interact with my family. When did a stream of brief updates from several hundred of my closest “friends” become more important than my husband and children? The girls and I return from our marathon morning of grocery shopping, and I find myself, from the bathroom, refereeing their impassioned argument over who would get to use the bench from their toy piano first (no, neither wanted to play with the toy piano, just the bench; yes, we own other actual toys), and I am itching to spend 5 minutes looking at Facebook. That sense of relational connection that comes without any corresponding expectation is so alluring. Since when do I prioritize relational comfortability over the opportunity to help my girls see themselves and their character and take advantage of these opportunities to learn and grow? In all of that, I am reminded of my need for a Savior, of my need for Good Friday and Easter. I look forward to the blessing of these coming weeks and to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection and His triumph over sin and death and evil.

March 2, 2014

Snow (Ice) Day / Homemade Pizza Day!

Posted in family, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace at 10:21 pm by alison

Our little Madeleine CaiQun loves pizza. She even requested it as her birthday meal last year. Unfortunately that attempt to go pseudo-homemade (with store-bought crust and ingredients but assembly at home) was not particularly appetizing. We’ll occasionally pick up a frozen pizza at the grocery store, but it’s very rare that we go out for pizza or order it to have here, so our poor child has primarily done without it for these last months. However, last weekend a friend gave me a pizza stone, and that combined with the realization that pizza dough had to be pretty simple to make in my bread machine (which is seriously one of the best gifts I’ve ever received – thank you again, Danny and Sharon!) was motivation enough for me to ask around and get some recipes and make an attempt at real homemade pizza.

The girls and I picked up some ingredients this week, and today seemed like the perfect day to give it a try. The combination of freezing rain overnight and a thin layer of snow thereafter meant that our church gathering for this morning was canceled. Unlike Wisconsin, where I was born and raised, Missouri possesses a lack of sufficient resources and an utter inability to cope with winter weather, so everything just shuts down. We really didn’t mind a day at home, though :)

We rolled out the dough…

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…and added some of our favorite toppings.

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And once it was finished…

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…we put it into the oven to bake.

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And of course, once it was done in the oven, we got to enjoy eating it together!

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It was definitely a success! I see many more homemade pizzas of different varieties in our future.

Days like today are a blessing. This is the stuff of life. We have grand moments of births and adoptions and other excitement, and those are amazing, but most of life is what happens in the day-to-day. Who we are in those moments is who we really are. How I spend the hours of my days at home, how I interact with my husband and kids – those choices and experiences are key. I’m thankful for days like today that are low-key and full of shared experiences with Matt and the girls.

March 1, 2014

Mama said there’ll be days like this…

Posted in family, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace at 9:05 pm by alison

You may remember that I shared earlier this year that 2014 did not get off to the most auspicious start for us. That trend has, unfortunately, largely continued, though thankfully with nothing serious! Our area of the country seems to have been hard hit by stomach bugs this year, and my poor little Miranda girl attracts them like a magnet. She’s gone down a couple times, and I also had one pretty yucky day. Everyone except me has a cold right now, and with multiple little girls who have yet to learn such social graces as moving away from Mommy’s face if you’re about to explode in a coughing fit, it will be nothing short of miraculous if my body does not succumb, as well! However, the kicker – literally – is this: Matt had been wearing a large walking boot on his sprained ankle for several weeks, taking it off only at bedtime and leaving it near the bed to put on again in the morning. One night he got up to use the bathroom and accidentally kicked the boot…thereby breaking his toe! I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried :)

But the ankle – and the toe – are now healing well, and we are hopeful that we’re approaching the end of cold and flu season, and hopefully we’ll be fully recovered from all of our ailments soon :)

In the meantime, we’re making good use of these stay-at-home, cold-weather days. I’ve been reflecting recently on the blessing that our hours at home have been over the last year, as we’ve been growing together as a family of four. One day this week, I was working in the kitchen and listening to the sounds of my girls playing together in the other room, and as I listened, I knew I needed to wash my hands and grab my phone and go in there and attempt to capture the moment. They had combined blocks and kitchen toys and our chess set and to make up their own little game and were playing together beautifully.

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It’s obviously not the greatest picture, compositionally, but if you look past that, you can see my two girls, strangers to one another just over a year ago, immersed in a world they created for themselves, interacting together and enjoying their play. To this mommy’s eyes, it’s a beautiful sight! And in the midst of a week of runny noses, coughing fits, sleep deprivation for everyone, and some general crabbiness, I was reminded to stop and be thankful. What a blessing these days are – and not just when they’re going well. The hard moments, the moments of weariness and frustration, are stretching each of us, giving us opportunities to grow in grace and patience and understanding, and I’m so thankful for those. Working through those times is the way we get to the sweet times. But it’s such an encouragement to have these moments, too, getting to see evidence of the growth and transformation and hearts being knit together and love being shared.

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