Livin’ the dream & putting in the work

Life just keeps on going. It’s on my list to be better about updating this blog. My hope is once a week, but that’s a long term goal. Right now there are other priorities. I keep my Facebook and Instagram going.

My mom & me.

School started in the fall for all three schools at different schools – elementary, junior high and high school. Then I started school, too! It’s been a dream of mine to earn a master’s degree since I was a small child. I know that sounds silly. People look at me strangely when I say that. It’s true though. When I was a toddler my mom and I lived in a camper behind her friend’s house while she got her master’s degree. I really don’t remember it. My dad worked in oil and gas so he traveled a lot. When he had time, he’d visit us or stay with his in-laws. When my mom agreed to marry my dad it was on the condition that he not hamper her from getting her master’s degree. So he worked hard and made it possible for her to do that, even with a small child.

I always admired that story. I remember in kindergarten being asked what I wanted to do when I grew up. I replied that I wanted my master’s degree. That’s it. I don’t think I even knew what I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted that extra degree.

When I was in fifth grade, my dad got laid off from his job. After giving him about six weeks to contemplate his next step, my mom told him he had to figure out what he was going to do next. He replied that he never wanted a job where he was required to wear a hard hat or steel toed boots. So, he decided he needed some higher education. For two years he went to a community college that was a 2-hour drive from our home. He’d leave on Monday and return home on Thursday or Friday, depending on his schedule. For two years my mom provided for us. She’d tell me it was because she had that master’s degree. I know things were tight and my grandparents helped out from time to time with things like my braces. Still, to me, my mom was a super hero because of that master’s degree.

Visiting with Gov. Sarah Palin in the Alaska Governor’s House for a Christmas celebration.

When I graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in 2005, I was all set to go to graduate school. I had been accepted and was ready to go. Then, I got the job offer of a lifetime. Instead of staying in one place and going to graduate school, I packed up my car to the brim and headed north – to Alaska. I had the opportunity to run a community weekly paper that was disbursed to more than 20 small communities in Southeast Alaska. I lived in the capital city of Juneau for nearly three years. I grew up so much, and got to experience even more. I took a plane flying lesson, went down the longest continuous zip line in the world, went salmon fishing and even interviewed then Gov. Sarah Palin a few times before anyone in the Lower 48 had ever heard of her.

When I moved back to Texas, in the community where I had graduated from college, the thought of going to graduate school was always there. However, the cost did not match the benefits. It would be very costly and not impact my salary at all. So for a decade I just lived my life, as anyone would. I got married, had a child, changed jobs, lost my parents and adopted two more children.

Then I went back to full time work at the very university that I called my alma mater. With a master’s degree allowing me to be promoted at work and financial assistance for being an employee, I finally had my window to get that graduate degree.

Sydney working on a puzzle while I work on research papers.

So here I am, more than halfway through my first semester of graduate school in communication. It hasn’t been easy. That first week I was completely deflated. My kids had to sacrifice time and activities. I felt old and dumb. However, our family has found a new routine. The kids are so great at making sure I have the time I need to get my work done. They are my biggest cheerleaders, as is my husband, John. I’ve also realized I’m not too old or dumb at all. I find the rigorous work a challenge and a delight. Learning has been amazing, and opened up that part of me that was dormant for so long. My age and experience has been a blessing. Instead of going through graduate school because it was the next logical step, it really has more meaning. My research is in foster care, which I feel will help me be a better advocate. The long writing assignments don’t scare me because I’ve found my vast writing experience is very useful.

While it’s not without its challenges, I’m loving going to graduate school. I’ve found that I tend to downplay it or just complain. I had a brief but important talk with my dear friend yesterday before church. I realized I need to celebrate this time in my life. I need to tell people that while this isn’t easy, for me, it’s worth every step.

My students at the college I are inspiring, as well. They boost me up. They leave me sweet notes of encouragement. They make sure I know I am cared for as much as I care for each of them.

I don’t get to do all the things I want, and I’m even missing out on things I want to do with my kids. That stings the most. However, my kids are watching me live out my dream. They are proud of me. My husband is proud of me. I’m proud of me too!

So, if this site isn’t updated often, know it isn’t for a lack of caring. It’s so I can do the hard work to make it better. I’m out there learning the things I need to be a better advocate for foster care and adoptions.

Angels Among Us

I never thought much about school supplies. Sydney has been in elementary school for a few years, and while the list grows with each year, we could handle it. Only buying school supplies for one person also made it easy. So when two junior high aged girls became part of our family, all of a sudden things were different. Our finances were all over the place that summer all ready. We hadn’t originally planned on taking in two children, and the needs added up quickly.

Shortly after the girls were placed in our home, we heard about a local event for foster families. We live in the Texas Panhandle so the local chapter of National Angels for us is Amarillo Angels. I was already familiar with the organization, as our church life group had been part of their Love Box program. This event was a nice of fun at the Discovery Center, as well as receiving free school supplies. I knew we’d only do foster care a very short time, so I thought we should utilize the resources available to us while we could.

When I told the girls where we were going, Sylvia was not impressed. She felt that people who did things for foster care kids didn’t truly care – that they were simply trying to make themselves feel better. She also figured the school supplies would be cheap, generic and not age appropriate.

Discovery Center – July 2018

We had a nice time at the Discovery Center and were met with warm smiles and greetings. When we left, we stopped to pick up our school supplies. We were given six large bags filled to the brim. It took all of us to carry them to the car. Once we got home, we took inventory of the supplies. We had name brand items that were great for junior high kids – binders, highlighters, pens. There were also things for Sydney going into second grade – markers, glue and facial tissues. We had to supplement the supplies, but that generous gift saved us hundreds of dollars at a time things were already financially tight.

A few weeks later I was going through the bags of supplies and noticed something I hadn’t previously seen. There were five notes – each one individually addressed to a person in our family. John and I read our notes and gave the girls theirs. Sydney brought hers to me to read with her since it was in cursive handwriting. It was a lovely note thanking her for sharing her parents with her new sisters and encouraging her. The note also read that God sometimes gives us big, hard things, but turns them into blessings. She smiled from ear to ear as I read each word. She then got some tape and placed the note on her mirror in her bedroom. A year later and the note is still attached to the mirror. She says she likes to read it when she’s having a difficult day. To her it’s a reminder that she is seen, heard and loved. Although she was never in foster care, someone took a moment to make sure she felt just as special as the kids who were new to our family.

That’s what I so cherish about National Angels, although I’ve obviously bias toward Amarillo Angels. They focus on supporting the entire foster family.

Pumpkin Carving – October 2018

A few months later Amarillo Angels helped us again. A local church life group wanted to hold a pumpkin carving day for a few foster families. John had to work that day so I took the three girls to the park for some fall fun. There were only three families at the event in order to keep it fun and manageable. The families in the church group supplied the pumpkins, carving materials and snacks. It may have seemed like a small thing to them, but it meant so much to me. I had wanted the kids to carve pumpkins, but was apprehensive. The pumpkins and supplies can add up fast when there are three kids. Plus, with John working on the weekends, supervision would be solely up to me. I wasn’t super excited about overseeing three kids with sharp objects. I’m also not known for my graceful knife skills. The hour and a half we spent at the park that cool, fall afternoon, were priceless. It was so comforting to me personally to have the support of this church group. It was a treasure to see the families love on my girls and offer me some support as a parent.

Nearly five months after that original trip to the Discovery Center was adoption day for Sylvia and Nici. As we were being interviewed by a local news station, Sylvia was very quiet. The last question the reporter asked was, “What is something you learned in your experience that you would like to tell older kids in foster care?” Sylvia spoke up quickly. She said that she wanted other kids, especially teens, to know that people actually care about the well-being of others and genuinely want to help. I teared up as I thought about how the simple love and support of Amarillo Angels, as well as others, had changed her heart.

You will often see things about National Angels and Amarillo Angels on my blog and social media. Because I’ve been on both sides of what they do, I have a very special connection for them.

Blessed by the unexpected

VBS 2019 – Princess and Pirates Night

I’m a person who remembers a lot of dates. Some are just ridiculous. Some I wish I couldn’t remember at all – like those tiny little dates when my mom went to hospice or I learned that my uncle died. I think I sometimes drive my family crazy by mentioning little dates. Over the past year, I’ve brought up small things like when we applied for foster care and when we received our license.

Last night my oldest, Sylvia, brought up a date. It really is a big point in our journey as a family. I hope that each year we can quietly reflect on it with joy. It was your typical summer activity – Vacation Bible School (VBS). However, it was the biggest surprise for me last year.

See, when we were getting near finalizing our foster license, I had one daunting thought in mind – VBS. The VBS at our church is large and hectic. It’s a lovely time of fun and fellowship, but it takes a lot of dedicated volunteers. When it looked like we would get our foster license in May, I literally prayed to ask not to get a placement until after VBS. I just didn’t understand how we could possibly take on all of the responsibilities. Not only would John and I be volunteering, but Sydney would be attending with a friend each night, and it ends pretty late. How would be possibly incorporate one or two more people? On top of that, these people wouldn’t know us well at all.

We met Sylvia and Nici toward the end of May. We had a few individual meetings with them to do fun things like bowling or manicures. They had come to the house a few times for dinner. The weekend before VBS they were coming to spend the night. When they heard us talking about VBS, they really wanted to see what it was like. They were too old to participate in the activities but could volunteer. We got permission for them to spend Monday night with us so that they could come to VBS and go home with us. We’d bring them back to their foster mom’s home on Tuesday.

Vacation Bible School 2018 – Our family, plus a few friends.

It was an interesting evening. It went really well! The girls didn’t know anyone, except for one boy from their school. They were quiet but did what was asked. They seemed to really enjoy their time. The next day, they asked if they could volunteer all week. John called to ask their foster mom and she agreed. We voluntarily had them stay with us all week for VBS. (Be careful about what you pray!)

Rogers craft crew 2018

Throughout that week we got to know each other in a way that we most likely would not have otherwise. We got to share stories and preferences. We got to work together and rely on one another for something that was beyond our family. John even helped in crafts when he could, so the four of us were often working together during some pretty chaotic situations.

We came out of it with an appreciation and knowledge for each other we had previously had. Also, the girls got to know other people in the church. I saw men and women devote time and energy to my girls during a week that already requires so very much. They talked to the girls about hair products, movies, pop culture, and faith. It all had a place in gaining trust and reputability with the girls.

At the end of the week, Sylvia and Nici went back to their foster mom’s home. They moved in with us five days later. I remember how natural it felt because we’d already spent a week together – a week that was one of the most hectic and demanding of the year. We already had a relationship and knew some quirks about each of us.

Last night, as we sat in the activities room of the church waiting for VBS to start, Sylvia came into the room. She sat next to me and said: “that was so weird.” I asked her what she was referring to. She had gone to one of the back offices to leave something for my friend. When she was there, she saw several people she knew and they all greeted her with excitement. She said that a year ago for VBS she knew no one, and now she’s a very familiar face. The four of us split up for volunteering this year. As we sat in the living room after VBS, we all agreed it was weird not to be together. Imagine that. Such a sense of regret that we didn’t do “our tradition” when we’d only done it once anyway.

It’s amazing what some time will do. Things that seem daunting and impossible, can be our greatest memories. God will find a way to make it work for the good. That’s certainly what He did for us.

Reverence in unexpected respite

As I sit here, I can’t help but think about how oddly funny this situation is. You know those moments when you just look around and giggle to yourself? That’s how I’m feeling at this moment.

It’s rare I get much time to myself. I had to come to town today for an appointment with my counselor. I had told my husband that I wanted to try to go somewhere afterward with my computer to write and gather my thoughts. He encouraged me to do so. After a great appointment with my counselor, who also thought I needed some quiet, alone time to write, I went looking for a place to go. Nothing were also venues where I just didn’t feel like I fit in there. I know that’s just my own anxiety getting to me, but since this was for me to relax, I respected those feelings. As I sat in a full parking lot, try to decide to and go home or find a place to eat, relax and write, I had a thought.

So here I sit in the cafeteria of one of the local hospitals. Why does it seem oddly funny to me? Because I’ve spent a lot of time here, but never to give myself a relaxing afternoon.

My youngest daughter was born in this hospital. She was in the NICU for 12 days. Those days were filled with lots of emotion, recovery for myself and hours at the hospital. I would come to the cafeteria in between visitations to try to get some nutrition in an attempt to be able to provide her milk. My body had been ravaged, she was born five weeks early and that milk never came. However, I persisted in my efforts, eating a salad or sandwich when the last thing I wanted to do was to eat.

I returned four years later, when my mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer in the ER. I brought my dad and my daughter for a meal or a snack just to get them out of her room for a moment. We’d sit together over crab salad – a favorite of my dad and my daughter – and talk about what the future would look like without my mom in it. We returned a few times before she died six weeks after her diagnosis. The food and conversation was different each time, but the heartache and grief were the same.

Throughout the next 17 months, I’d return to this place. My dad, who was battling diabetes, severe nerve damage to his back, arthritis and kidney disease, had been on dialysis years before my mom died. Once she passed away, I honestly expected him to shortly follow. He fought. He worked so hard to carry on with his life. He did his treatments, went to appointments and even saw a counselor. Life was rocky. My mom was gone and no one could replace her. My brother was going through a drug addiction and lived with my dad, would caused much stress and worry. Still, my dad worked hard to be his best for my youngest daughter. They were very close, and he’d also promised my mom he wouldn’t just give up when she died. For those 17 months, he was in and out of the hospital for a large variety of issues. Still, when he called one day to tell me he needed me to meet the ambulance at the hospital, I knew our time was coming to an end. He spent more than a week here – some in ICU and some in a regular room. He would hardly eat, but if I got him crab salad from the cafeteria and my daughter brought it to him, he’d eat it. After a week, he was moved to hospice. That last day at the hospital I remember going to the cafeteria, drinking a Diet Dr Pepper and looking out the window, noticing the hospice where he was about to be transported. It was the same place where my mom had gone. I also remember leaving that day and thinking I hoped I never went back to that cafeteria.

Enjoying a soda, sandwich and time alone in a place I never expected.

Here I am – the hospital cafeteria. I chose it because it was a place where I was comfortable, I could sit as long I wanted and it had good food. It’s also a place I feel my parents with me. Odd, maybe, but the truth. We had a lot of hard conversations here, but we laughed some, as well. I feel like even though so much has changed since they died, so much has remained the same. The food selection, the decor, the location is all just how I remember it. I wish I could sit here with them and talk about all that has changed. I wish we could talk about how I now have three kids, making the only grandchild they knew the youngest in our family because I adopted teenagers. By the way, my parents would have rocked at being grandparents in our situation. If two people were suited for supporting us during a foster care and adoption situation of two teen girls, it would be my parents. I tried to buy my youngest daughter some crab salad, but the cafeteria was out today. I look around and realize I’m probably the only or at least one of the few who have chosen to be here today. I seen families having hard conversations. I see tired parents of grown children. I see a family near the window laughing between saw moments of silence. I see a small boy running to the window to look out at the city, seemingly unaware of the gravity of this place.

So here I sit, relaxing, enjoying some time alone and reflecting in the most unexpected place of reverence.

More than a name

I first came up with the name Honeycomb Grace when I saw Proverbs 16:24,

“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

I had a health page for a while because of my weight loss journey. When we started our foster care journey, that dissolved. I like this verse and this title because I hope to share sweet and healing words that offer grace.

Thank you for joining me here. I hope you find it to be encouraging and sweet to the soul.

A bit about us

Photo by Pirtle Photography
Our family – John, Nici, Sydney, Syliva and Amanda.

Hi and welcome my website/blog! This is new for me. I’ve had a personal blog for years, but it was mostly a scrapbook of our lives for my family.

This is different.

First, I want to start by telling you a little bit about myself. My name is Amanda, and I’ve been married to John for nearly 10 years. We have three daughters, Sylvia, 14, Nici, 13, and Sydney, 8. However, Sydney came to our family first. When John and I got married we were told we would have a very difficult chance of having our own children. We were pleasantly surprised when we found out we were expecting Sydney. She arrived early and very tiny, but so mighty. We were and are so thankful for that miracle we call Sydney.

After a few years, we hadn’t gotten another miracle. We decided to look into adopting a small child through foster care. We went to a few classes, but the timing wasn’t great. I was not feeling well, but we didn’t know why. My mom was also in poor health. Later we found out I had a huge kidney stone, which was the cause of my health issues. My mom’s diagnosis wasn’t so simple. She had Stage 4 kidney cancer. She died about six weeks after the diagnosis. Not only was that a huge blow to our family, but my dad was disabled and required much care. The thought of more children was no longer even an issue. When my dad died 17 months after my mom, it was the first time in a while we could focus on ourselves. We enjoyed the time. We went on a couple of trips and just really enjoyed one another.

That fall things shifted. I feel like the word “called” is so overused and abused, but that’s truly what it was. The leader of a local chapter of National Angels made a presentation at our small group from church. She was talking about the need for support for foster families. When she started to talk about the statistics for older kids aging out of foster care, there was a strong pull at my heart. The one that got me the most was that within a year of aging out of the system, 66% of children will be incarcerated, trafficked, homeless or dead. That devastated me. It made me think that if we were to attempt to adopt through the foster care system, maybe an older child would be best.

That thought kept occurring to me. It was brought up time and time again through various avenues. It just felt to be a consistent message in my life. I finally got up the courage to ask my husband about it. We were sitting in the car and I told him I wanted to adopt through foster care and I wanted it to be a girl who was over 10 and who would most likely age out of foster care if she was not adopted. I just knew he’d think I was crazy. He simply looked at me and said “I know that’s what you want. I’ve just been waiting for you to ask me. Yes, let’s do it.”

Over the course of the next few months, we worked with a placement agency to get our foster license. It seemed to take so long. Those periods of simply waiting were the most difficult. When there were no more classes to take or forms to submit or anything to actively do, it was hard. During that time “Wreckless Love” by Cory Asbury was new. It was a popular song at our church. My dear, dear friend, who also happens to be our church worship pastor, would sing it with such conviction. She knew our hopes and our burdens. I’d listen to her, feel the Holy Spirit on my heart and uncontrollably cry. I’d think about all I had come through in my life and how God always brought me through. I thought about our possible future daughter and how much she must have endured. I thought about how maybe she was waiting for a forever family, scared that she may never get one. That song was my foundation for many months.

Then, it happened. Our agency knew of two girls – sisters ages 12 and 13. While two wasn’t the original plan, we’d recently decided that a sibling set might be best for us. We met them a week later. After a few weeks of hanging out with them, together and individually, they spent the night at our house a few times. They moved in a month after our original meeting.

There will be plenty of time for me to fill in all of the details, but for now I’ll keep it brief. We got two more miracles! The girls were adopted about 5 months later. It wasn’t always easy. In fact there were times it wasn’t remotely easy. However, it was right. It was more than right. They are ours and we are theirs. We now have three miracles, although not in the way we originally planned. God’s way was better, as it always is.

We are now a family of five! We have issues as any family would, but we are so grateful to have one another. In many ways it feels as if we’ve always been together. We all know we were a family designed by God. When I hear “Reckless Love” on the radio, I can’t help but feel such gratitude and love. God knew what we needed – every single one of us. He led and way and we were obedient. His reckless love took over our lives and made us new.