Friday, January 30, 2015

Mommy, where are they?

At nearly the end of 2013, an event took place in the lives of our neighbors and dear friends
which had a profound impact on our family.

So profound, in fact, that it changed us very deeply.
Watching it all happen was very difficult and a great burden for me.
So difficult, in fact, that it moved me to a very quiet place in my heart.

I could not find the words to write about it.
All words seemed incredibly shallow and unable to fully express the horror of what we watched unfold.
I stopped writing all together.  It was easier to get caught up in the tsunami of life.

But now, nearly 14 months later, I want to share.  To remember.
I want others to know what is happening in our country.

What could possibly happen to your neighbor.
To you.

On a quiet morning in November 2013, I was at my dining table, with my mother-in-law, homeschooling my children.
We had just finished up breakfast, and reading through another chapter in a storybook, when I heard a rapping on my front door.
Before I could even get to my door, I seem to remember my friend, Christina, just step inside my living room in a bit of a panic.
"This is an emergency.  CPS has just taken all my children away."
I still get the chills when I think back on that moment.
"What?!" I gasped.
"They just came to my door and said I had to let them go.  They shuffled all the children into police cars and they are gone!"  she said waving her arms and fighting back tears.
I instinctively threw my arms around her neck and hung on, I think more for me than for her, honestly.
"Go!!"  I said.  "Go after, them.  Do you need anything?  What can I do?"
"My phone needs to be charged," she said hurrying back to her van.
"I'm going to call Trevor!" (her husband)
And with that, she jumped in her vehicle and was gone.
And with that, her 7 children were gone.
For the next month and half.
They missed Thanksgiving and Christmas and the New Year together.
One child they haven't seen again.
Another child still remains in foster care.
STILL to this day.

But let me back up to when the children were taken.
You must understand the back-story.
It is not an easy one to sort out.
There are lots of facets to it.
Of course, one would ask, "What did they do that CPS would take all the children?"
Time does not permit me to go into all the details.
But the Texas Homeschool Coalition was notified and they stepped up and went to bat for this family in a BIG way.
You can read the facts of the Tutt case here.

When Christina left to go after her babies that morning, my heart broke.
These were friends of my children.
My children had played in her home, and her children in mine.
The oldest girl is so much like my own 10-year old and they love to play together.
She is so brilliant and responsible, and loves her family.
She doesn't fear much of anything, and is willing to try most anything new.
But she knows how "the system" works.
Because her family has always (for her entire life anyway) helped under privileged children or children in crisis, Emma is very aware of CPS and how things work with them.
It was a nightmare for me to think how frightened this child was to be snatched from her home and not allowed to see her mother for several weeks, and to be put into the very "system" that her family preferred to keep children out of, yet had worked amicably with for years.
And how terrifying for Christina to know that all these children would be biasedly questioned, and put in the homes of complete strangers who know nothing about the likes and dislikes of her children and would be subjected to all sorts of intrusive physical exams and educational testing.
We all knew that.
But there was absolutely nothing we could do.
And we were all horrified by that thought as well.
What had begun as a simple welfare check on a wandering autistic child, quickly turned into an attack on and stripping of their parental rights in Nazi-like fashion.

To be continued.......

To read more about this selfless family and their background, go here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Happy 7th Birthday!!

Yesterday we celebrated our first birthday of this new year.

I confess that I had mixed feelings about this birthday.
7 seems like the age that little ones really move away from being so little and needy.
For some, it's more like 6, but in the first grade, they are reading better and gaining more overall independence.
Some of the anxieties associated with childhood fears lessen in intensity, and there is less noticeable childhood illnesses.
They are getting bigger and stronger overall.
They are able to understand more complex concepts.
Last year, in March, this little precious trusted Jesus and accepted Him as her Savior.
We talked about this decision for many weeks before she fully understood her need to ask Jesus to forgive her sins and to receive His free gift of salvation.
She is becoming more sensitive about living in such a way that pleases Jesus.

Because we are involved in a brand new schooling program this year, we took a big 'ol cake
to share with all our new friends at our break time!!

My other 3 girls had their ears pierced by 7 at the latest, so I asked Aryn if she would like to get her ears pierced this year for her birthday.
We had talked to her about that possibility last year, so she had quite awhile to think about it,
and she unhesitatingly responded with an enthusiastic YES!!
All my other girls had a friend go with them, so we made that arrangement for a friend to go this time as well!!

After opening a few more small presents at home and sharing a light dinner together, it was time for some homemade cupcakes and our favorite ice cream!!!

We are so thankful to celebrate yet another year of life with this precious, vivacious, sparkly little girl!!  What a joy and privilege it has been to watch God work in her life, and to watch her love for the Lord grow and develop.  I can't wait to see what God has in store for her life!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Learning to serve together: The Union Gospel Mission

This last Thanksgiving my husband had to work all day.
I had a lovely friend in town visiting us, and I wanted to do something fun with my children.
Because we had been talking about gratefulness and being thankful for all we have,
I wanted them to have a real-life activity for them to live that out.
A place where they could see beyond their own little bubbles to a culture that is hurting and in desperate need.
So I began looking for shelters or soup kitchens that we could serve at.
It took me three tries, but I finally found an opening at the Union Gospel Mission in Dallas.
They serve meals to homeless men and offer emergency shelter for the night.
We went and served Thanksgiving dinner to over 100 men and my children LOVED it!!
They begged to do it again on Christmas Day.
When I called to get our names on the list, he told me they had more than enough volunteers for Christmas Day, but they could really use help on Christmas Eve.
So after opening our own gifts earlier that day, we piled back into our van and headed over to Dallas for an evening of fun and service!!

Because my husband had to work very early on Christmas Day, he stayed home with our two youngest who really are too young for the kind of work we were doing.
Our four oldest really enjoyed the challenge of loading the trays quickly and working in assembly line fashion.
They also got a kick out of the guys who work in the kitchen full-time.
On Thanksgiving, we all served the trays to the men who came in, and the girls helped make sandwiches for their sack lunches the following day.

It's quite sobering seeing the faces of the men as they trudge into the dining area.
Some of them look very frightened (particularly the young ones), some very haggard, and some very distant.  They come there from another organization downtown for an evening of emergency shelter with the caveat that they sit and listen to a presentation of the gospel first.  They are given a choice to respond and receive Christ, but it is not required.  They just must be willing to hear.
They receive a hot, wholesome meal, one of 500 clean beds, an opportunity for a hot shower, breakfast at 6 am, and a sack lunch to take with them when they go back to the other organization at 6:30 am.
I haven't been able to think of a better way for my children to learn to appreciate what they have, feel useful in serving those who need help, and to live out the purpose of Jesus coming to earth in the first place in bringing grace to all mankind.

"For I was an hungered, and you gave me meat:
I was thirsty, and you gave me drink:
I was a stranger, and you took me in:
Naked, and you clothed me:  I was sick and you visited me:
I was in prison, and you came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying,
'Lord, when did we see you an hungered, and fed you?
or thirsty, and gave you drink?
When did we see you a stranger, and took you in?
or naked, and clothed you?'
And the King shall answer and say unto them,
Verily I say unto you,
In as much as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brothers,
you have done it unto me."
Matthew 25: 35-40

"What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works?
Can that faith save him?
If a brother or sister is without clothing and is in need of daily food,
and one of you says to them,
'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,'
and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body,
what use is that?
Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead."
being by itself.' "
James 2:14-17

Friday, January 16, 2015

Christmas 2014: Christmas Eve Celebration

Ever since my husband began working as a police officer nearly 9 years ago, he has never had to miss Christmas Day with us.
Until this year.
We were sad that we couldn't celebrate together on December 25th, but decided the next best
thing would be to enjoy Christmas on Christmas Eve.
So we piled everything into our vehicles and traveled 3 minutes to my MIL's Senior Living Apartments.  They have several lovely, big rooms available for parties.
We reserved one last year, and it worked so perfectly that we decided to have our festivities there again this year.
I went over a bit early to get tables moved and our brunch food warmed and plated, so I took the opportunity to snap a couple impromptu pictures.

We are hooked on "Hot Chocolate Bars" now, and set up our drink station complete with some amazing Sparkling Apple Cider!

Before we exchange gifts with each other, we always have a short devotional time where we walk through some Scripture passages that climax what we've been reading and experiencing the entire month, and remind us of the Greatest Gift ever given.  We review that material gifts are not our reason for celebrating and that we should be ever so grateful for whatever we receive!!

This year, instead of each child buying a gift for each of their 5 siblings, we put them in groups of two and they exchanged gifts with each other.  I chose the sibling groups based on who I felt needed a chance to do something kind for the other......those who had particularly struggled throughout the year to really get along.

Now that our children are getting older, we are experiencing some really fun moments with them.  They understand our humor better and throw out some real zingers themselves.  This year, we played a new game (Buzzword) together and really belly laughed at some of the answers these kids came up with!
We had so much fun together this year, and the memories of it will be those I will cherish for many years.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The First Christmas Fine Arts Recital

In the midst of all the other activity of December, 
it was decided in the late fall that our little school program 
would be having Christmas Fine Arts Recital/Open House.
This was something my children had never participated in before, and it really was fun to plan.
Our family has always loved making chocolate covered Christmas goodies to give as gifts,
and we were able to incorporate this tradition into this event.
Not only was each child going to have something to perform,
 but each family got to bring in a favorite Christmas treat to share after the recital.
As we were brainstorming ideas for this, Ashlyn decided she wanted to be in charge of a "Hot Chocolate Bar!"
We spent many hours preparing for this, and it we all loved the collaborative effort.

My drama students were asked to prepare some pieces for presentation, and Ashlyn was part of duo-acting scene.  She worked very hard memorizing her lines and pulling together a simple costume.

Lexi has started taking piano lessons again and this was her first Christmas recital in many years.

There was a Group Bible Speaking performance....... well as the Duo-Acting Team performing a scene from The Gift of the Magi.

After the recital was over, we enjoyed checking out the collection of art projects that each student had completed in their art class over the course of the first semester.

Yummy refreshments!!

This was such a great way to expose all the parents, grandparents, friends, and neighbors to the wonderful gift that this school program has been to all the families involved!