A year worth celebrating

One of the best days of our lives!

A year.

365 days.

It seems so big yet so small.

A year ago today we legally adopted Sylvia and Nici, although in our hearts they were already ours.

I’d like to tell you that from that day forward, everything was sunshine and rainbows. Is life ever all sunshine and rainbows?

To be very honest, the next 6 weeks after adoption day were rough. Thanksgiving was the following week, and with it brought a lot of memories and mixed emotions. I started a new full-time job, which kept me away from home more than the kids were used to in the past. I got really sick around Christmas. The girls struggled to feel at home. It was all a lot.

As if that wasn’t enough, we were contacted about adopting the girls’ younger brother. We weren’t sure if that was the right thing for our family, but we also didn’t want to keep the girls away from their sibling. It was weeks of a roller coaster of emotions. Ultimately, we were not chosen as his adoptive family.

That was a difficult time, but also a blessing. Even though I never met the boy, I loved him very much because he was part of my family. I took the rejection pretty hard at first. Sylvia would tell me later that it opened her eyes to how much we could love someone we didn’t know. It let her see a glimpse of what we went through and how loved she and Nici were before we even knew their names or saw their faces.

A decade as one

Left: John and I on our wedding day, Aug. 8, 2019. Right: John and I late last year.

My mid-20s were filled with adventure and hard work. When I graduated from college I moved to Southeast Alaska on my own. A few years later I moved to the Texas Panhandle to run a community newspaper. I was ambitious and dedicated to my work. However, something was missing. I wanted to be a wife. I wanted to be a mother. I met some people online. Usually it didn’t amount to much. I didn’t like it when I’d write a nice, long email and get back a two word answer. I met a guy from another state, and that went OK for a while, but it ended very badly. After that experience I decided meeting someone online wasn’t for me.

One day a longtime friend called me. She told me she wanted me to create another online profile and try again. I said no. She went on to say she just had a feeling and she didn’t want me to miss out on something wonderful because of a bad experience. I told her I would create a profile and do it for one month, but that was it. I searched for various dating sites and decided to create a free profile on one in which I had never heard of in the past. If I had never heard of it, others probably hadn’t either. The chances of meeting someone were slim.

So I thought.

My dating profile photo.

I received a message one day from a guy. He said he wasn’t the person on the profile, but saw me and had to say hi. I wasn’t impressed. Since you can create a profile for free I thought it was pretty lazy to send me a message from another person’s account. I never replied.

A few days later, I receive a message from another profile. This time the guy said he was the same from the other message, but he created an account so I could learn about him. We went on to email back and four for a month. When we finally met in person, it was the first time I knew what he looked like, as he didn’t know how to upload a photo. However, I really fooled him with my profile photo. I didn’t post a cute one because I really wanted to avoid attention. I posted a photo of the 0ne and only time I went to salmon fishing in Alaska. He was excited because he thought I liked the outdoors. I fooled him!

Fast forward and we are now celebrating our 10 year wedding anniversary. We don’t have a big, elaborate engagement story. We talked and decided to get married. A few weeks later, John gave me a beautiful ring to make it official. I give him a hard time about it, but I actually really like it because it shows how we work best. We talk and work so well as a team.

Our friends Brad and Elizabeth made us an awesome video for our 10-year anniversary. Thank you! We enjoy it so much, and have watched it several times.

Life with John has been full of surprises. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but he always makes me calm down and laugh. He goes along with my crazy ideas, but will tell me when I need to stop. There is so much I could say about my darling husband. Instead, I’m going to list 10 reasons why I love him. I’ll go the cheesy route since it’s been a decade. These are in no particular order.

  1. John can cook very well. From polenta to brisket, John has some skills in the kitchen. He is getting a reputation at our church for his culinary skills, as well. He has won first place for brisket at our church barbecue cook-off, and people loved the food he made to fee VBS volunteers.
  2. He loves his family so well. He treated my parents like his own. John always showed up when my mom or dad needed him. One of my favorite stories of John was one my mom told me just weeks before she died. My mom had a gift certificate for a pedicure. She really wanted to go get one and was driving again, although she was prone to falls. She went to get a pedicure and about 20 minutes later, John walked in. He came to say hi and make sure she was doing OK. She just gushed over that moment because she knew John did it on his own and because he cared for her so very much. He’s always been such a solid, stable force for Sydney and me. He has been for our other girls, as well. When I told him I wanted to adopt an older child out of foster care, he didn’t make me feel even a little crazy. He simply said “I know that’s been on your mind, I was just waiting for you to ask me.”
  3. He is steady in my storms. I deal with anxiety and have my entire life. However, it grew to a nearly unmanageable level a few years ago. I still struggle with it, but it’s better than it was. John tries really hard to step up in small ways so that I don’t spiral. He sees me having a hard time, and he steps in and up.
  4. John’s love language is acts of service. He is always so willing to do simple things for me, as well as others. He will bring me lunch to work or run an errand for me. Once he left a dollar beside my purse before he went to work. I called him about it and he told me that he knew I liked to stop at the local convenience store for their coffee, which is only 86 cents, but I was trying to save money. He had a dollar in his pocket and knew I wouldn’t get coffee on my own. He thought that was silly since it was so cheap, so he left the dollar for my coffee. It was so simple, but the fact that he thought of me and wanted me to “treat” myself was so sweet.
  5. He’s great with kids. When I first met John, I knew he was a person of good character because everywhere we went babies and dogs flocked to him. It was the funniest thing. He is always so patient and kind with kids. He took a week’s vacation to lead eight second-grade boys at church camp. He also talked me into serving with him at church by co-teaching the kindergarten and first grade class at church. He loves our kids so well, but he also pours his energy into the children of the church.
  6. Speaking of church, John has really grown in his Christian faith. He has put in the work to study the Bible and be active at church. He has really led our family so well. He is now a deacon and takes that very seriously, helping out at church and in the children’s ministry however he can. He has helped our girls find their faith. I am so proud of him and the work he does to be a true man of faith.
  7. John is a very hard worker. Sometimes I try to tell him to just rest. He has worked very hard throughout our marriage to move up in his company and provide for his family. Not only that, but he works hard at home and in serving others. He always finds a way to provide for us, and never complains.
  8. He does housework! When my mom died I was severely overwhelmed. I was thrown into caring for my disabled dad, as well as dealing with grief and the exhaustion that goes with it. John didn’t make me feel bad about that. He just picked up the slack. It’s not unusual for him to clean up the house to do the dishes on his day off. He knows when I need help and he quietly steps in and does it.
  9. John puts me in my place. He knows when he needs to be blunt with me. If I’m discouraged or upset, he knows when to just tell me how it is. I know it’s done in love, and honestly, I need that a lot. He has a way of making me stop, look around and come to my senses. This doesn’t just apply to a situation involving others. If I am doubting myself or putting myself down, he is quick to correct me and point out the good.
  10. Has an open mind and heart. John is very loving and caring. He loves his people well and fiercely. As I mentioned earlier, he was very open to the idea of adopting older children. He also doesn’t let a person’s background or situations get in the way of him caring for them. He doesn’t care where you come from. He only cares who you are. If you are in his circle, you have an advocate and friend. He will fight for you, and protect you. You are one of his. It’s such a beautiful thing to witness.
Our family – including a sweet friend who is like family – enjoying a family
night at the local water park. Things sure have changed over 10 years,
but it’s so very awesome.

Finding hope in ‘home’

A couple of years ago I found myself longing for “home.” Although I’ve lived in my current town for a combined total of 15 years, I needed connection to the area where I was raised. It had been a tumultuous few years, and I felt this sense of longing for the familiarity of my childhood.

I had just come through a long, difficult journey of taking care of my ill parents and ultimately burying them. My mom was diagnosed with Stage IV kidney cancer, only to die 6 weeks later. My dad was already very sick with kidney disease and on dialysis. We spent the next 14 months working with him, making sure he had what he needed. He tried to do well, but his grief and pain was so extensive that it caused a lot of hurtful words and feelings. When he died it was a sense of grief and relief. We were so sad to see him go, but so relieved that he was no longer in such pain, both emotionally and physically.

So eight months after his passing, I was left with this longing for the home I once knew. This wasn’t necessarily my actual house, but the place that shaped me. Sydney had a few days off school in October, so I decided we would travel to the Oklahoma Panhandle, where I spent my first 18 years.

The road “home.”

We spent the night with the parents of my longest friend. It was so lovely to be in their home again, remembering so many moments I had been there in the past. We visited another longtime friend of my family’s, as well as my kindergarten teacher. It was all so wonderful and brought a sense of home back to my heart. We drove by my childhood home, as well. It was a whirlwind 24 hours, but I was so grateful that I went.

The thing that really tugged at my heart was such an unexpected stop in our trip. It was a grain elevator in the town I called home. The population is probably less than 200, and it’s not much to see. However, there was a grain elevator that became quite popular. It was very old – built in 1929, but was officially condemned as it started to lean. It would even shift with the direction of the wind.

Gilbert and his hardware store.

Since we were there, I wanted to see the grain elevator. I didn’t know how long it would be there, and I wanted to get a glimpse. It was across the street from a hardware store, which the owner still opens twice a day for coffee and sodas, or basically to chat with other community members. Everything in his store was exactly the same. It was as if I had stepped into a time machine. When I told him who I was, he remembered me. My grandma lived in that community for many years, and I spent countless days at her house and riding my bike to the hardware store for a soda in a glass bottle. It was the stuff of which nostalgic movies are made.

We then stepped outside to look at the grain elevator. The rain had just subsided, and the sky was beautiful. The Oklahoma Panhandle hosts some of the most magnificent skies, by the way. The grain elevator was more amazing in person, as I could hear all the creaking and moaning as it kept its balance to stay upright, despite its huge leaning. The way it stood just awed me. It really said a lot about where I grew up and the people who made me. I felt blessed to have called this tiny town and community home.

The leaning grain elevator of Oklahoma.

It truly spoke to my heart in a strong way. We may go through mighty storms and winds, but God holds us up. With God by our sides, we may lean or sway, but we don’t fall. We may endure what we feel are the worst of times, but those times will strengthen us to endure. Others may just be watching and waiting for us to fall and crumble. We may be forever changed, but we still stand. The outside may look damaged, but our core and our faith keep us from completely toppling over.

I know it was just a grain elevator, but in that moment, it was what I needed to start my grief journey from years of hardship and grief. The road “home” truly led to healing.

I’m so glad I went to that little spot in the middle of the Oklahoma Panhandle when I did. The grain elevator was later burned down and demolished because of safety concerns. That happens in life, as well. Sometimes there are things that were once beneficial to us that we need to put behind us. What was once helpful can become harmful. So that leaning grain elevator in a town nearly forgotten by most continues to teach me.

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.