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Sunday, November 28, 2010

In alphabetical Order: My kids

Amanda @ 16 years old
 I decided that it might be helpful to share a "little" something about each of my kids, and I don't want there to be hurt feelings, so I am going to go in alphabetical order. And if you happen to also claim one of these children as your own, don't be sad or jealous- just accept that I am also claiming them as my own! In other words- GET OVER IT!

Amanda Kate: Amanda is also known as Amanda Kate, Katie-Cat, Diva, Princess, Mandy, Mander (to John) and big sister to many. Amanda came knocking on my door in 2000 when she was just a little bitty thing at the end of Kindergarten. She had no front teeth, and dirty blond hair cut like a mushroom around her face. She and her first cousin knocked on my door with their skinned knees, dirty fingernails and mismatched clothes. Within days they were eating at my dinner table, playing with Emily's girls, and  by Easter of the next year, Amanda was in regular attendance at all family gatherings. The first time my grandmother, Bunna, laid eyes on her, she said "She is so beautiful. Does she ever smile?" Little Miss Amanda was too mature for her age, having watched her mom go through a rough battle with drug addiction. Family services had placed her with her loving and devoted Grandmother who turned out to be my neighbor two houses down. Amanda's grandma was kind enough to share her little angel with me. I was just twenty two at the time, but God knew I needed that kid. She became my sidekick and little buddy, attending church with me and every family function, always happy for my company, and always thankful for love and attention. Sometime between the ages of eight and nine on a trip to Florida, my aunt Pam asked me "when did she start calling you mom?" I could not recall, it just happened over time, as the trust and love between us developed.  In 2002, I married a man who had struggled on and off with his own drug addiction. Against my better judgment, I married someone who would continue to battle cocaine and alcohol. Amanda was there through all of it- four years, eleven months and twenty-one days, a little girl who KNEW drug addiction and knew what it could do to a relationship. Many times over she saved my life. Many days when I wanted to end my own life, I would think of her and that was one of the main reasons I kept going. I would not and could not hurt or abandon her- I couldn't. She was a ray of sunshine in my life and always will be. We have cried together in heartache and laughed together in good times. Today she is seventeen years old- and I can't believe it. I have photos and memories of this little angel- the "Muffins with Mom" breakfasts at her elementary school, taking her to get her learner's permit, letting her drive my car in church parking lots, playing countless pranks on our church friends, flying to Chicago for my cousin's wedding. Amanda, you have brought me much joy and my life will forever be richer because of you. And I am so glad you found your smile. It's beautiful!

Cody- Cody is one of my newest kids. I only met him early this past summer when he was getting ready for his senior year of high school. My niece Hannah had become his pal at school and soon he was hanging around our house. I noticed right away that Cody loves the Lord and is a hard worker. When Cody came around, it seemed like our household was more complete. He became like an older brother to our boys, and was always setting a good example for them in his conduct and character. Soon after Cody began hanging out with our family, he confided in Hannah how much he enjoyed being with our family, and eating dinner with us. He told her that his family rarely ate dinner together, and he liked that we laugh and cut up and eat meals together. Soon we learned that Cody didn't have a father figure, and could use some more family support. We gladly welcomed him into our flock. I was astonished to learn that such a great kid didn't have a father figure, but I quickly learned that he had respected and listened to coaches and pastors throughout his life and had followed their leading. Cody is always eager to listen to advice from Christian men and women. He has goals and wants to reach those goals, always striving to be better. We were very proud to watch Cody play football this year, and I am always thrilled to help him write a paper for one of his honors classes, (though I think his teachers are a little hard on him!) I honestly look at Cody and think if I could have a son of my own, I would want him to turn out just like this one.

Georgia: What can I say about Georgia?  I would have to start by saying that she has been one of the most delightful parts of my life in Dahlonega. I started dating her Daddy in 2008, and we married within six months. John didn't tell me right away that Georgia was not his biological daughter, he just told me that she was his "daughter." Georgia has red hair and freckles and a cute figure. She is affectionate, kind and genuine. She always tells me how she is feeling and cares about how I feel. At first I was concerned about how she would respond to me, but once we got to know each other, we became inseparable. We laugh at the same jokes, in fact we both find everything pretty hilarious. We sing and dance in the car like a pair who just escaped from a mental hospital. We love to play pranks on other people, and we have more inside jokes than I could ever count. Just a ride to or from church on a Sunday turns into an adventure with my Georgia. And she is turning into quite a fabulous teacher with the kids at church. She is a great role model for them, and is like a second set of hands for me with the boys in our home. I am so proud of Georgia because she has had to overcome many emotional riffs. As if being a teenager isn't hard enough, Georgia has had to face some complicated realities, but she has come out only stronger and better because of each one. She seems to smile brighter, laugh harder, and love deeper because of the challenges she has overcome. I can truthfully say that I look up to her- even though she is shorter than me!

Hannah: Hannah is the lovely daughter of my oldest sister, Emily. Hannah has always been very special to me because she came into my life when I was just fifteen years old. I still remember the day she was born, looking at her in the baby bassinet at the hospital and realizing that I already loved her so much. She has been a feisty little thing ever since she learned to talk, or maybe when she learned to point. When she was little she used to give us all assigned seats at dinner, or at a restaurant. She loves to be in charge of a group, which is natural leadership ability. When she was little, Hannah collected rocks and kept them in a big gawdy-looking box. Every chance she had, she would show off those rocks or plug in a microphone and sing me a song. Six months after John and I married, Hannah came to live with us, in order to try a smaller school system and have a change of scenery. We have gone from an aunt/niece relationship into one that is more like mother and daughter. She has seen my dark side! But in all of this, we have maintained a close bond and I know Hannah loves me as I love her. She is a neat, multi-talented girl with more gifts than I could count. She sings, writes songs, plays guitar, is creative, talented, warm, and articulate. She loves to help with cooking, or with the younger kids. One of the neatest things about Hannah is that she is "multi-denominational" when it comes to church. She attends a Presbyterian church on Sunday mornings, a Methodist church on Sunday nights, and a Baptist church for other events. Many adults are too ignorant or caught up in tradition to ever break out and try something like this! I am very blessed to have her in my home and my life.

Jeremiah- Jeremiah is the adorable five-year old prince who has come into our house and turned our lives upside down. Jeremiah and his biological brother (Peniel) came into our home in June 2010. I laughingly say that Jeremiah's feet never touch the ground because the girls are always toting him around. Jeremiah was four when he moved in with us, and he is a little small for his age. We have loved every minute of caring for this spunky and remarkable little one. He is eager to learn his numbers and letters and he writes on EVERYTHING.  There is even a drawing of an alien on the upholstery of my living room sofa. He talks constantly- in the bathtub, to the dogs, to strangers, to himself, in bed while he is sleeping, or walking along the road. He makes us laugh because he has an amazing sense of humor for a Kindergartner. He sings in the back seat of the car from his car seat until the other boys are irritated beyond words. And he loves with his whole heart and soul, very deeply. You can see the love in those big brown eyes when he holds your hands and says: "I yove you." God knew that I needed a little one at this time in my life. Oh, I love my big kids and teenagers! But God knew that my heart longed to take care of one that will let me pick out his clothes, tie his shoes, cut his sandwich into four sections! He is precious and so much fun!

Kaylyn- I claim Kaylyn even when she won't claim me! She (like Amanda) came into my life when she was very small. She came to the resource room on a Sunday morning complaining of a stomach ache. She didn't have a fever, but sat on my lap talking very quietly until the matter was resolved. You see, it was Mother's Day, and Kaylyn didn't know where her mother was. Her mom had disappeared months before, leaving her and two siblings with their dad. Kaylyn was the youngest, and was obviously very bonded to her mom until meth entered their lives. On that particular Sunday, the children were making Mother's Day cards, and Kaylyn, overcome with emotion, could not think of what to write on her card. "I can't make a card for my mom," she told me, "because I don't know where she is." Kay wasn't ready for a stand-in mom yet, but over the next couple of years, she learned that she could trust me. She and her siblings spent time in my home, and we went out to eat and shopping together. I loved to see the way Amanda ministered to her through this, relating her own stories of a mother's drug addiction. Kaylyn is a remarkable, tough, and forgiving young lady. She has turned her own grief around and learned to help other kids. She has a ready smile and a warm heart. She loves to help others and I proudly display the artwork she has made me that reads: "You would make a great mom."

Mitchell: Mitchell is my oldest step-son. When we first met, he was eight years old. He walked right over to me and tried to pull a mole off the side of my nose. He got as close as he possibly could, and when he realized it wasn't coming off my face, he sat back and stared. Finally he put his mouth up to my ear and whispered loudly: "I'm autistic."  For the next hour and a half, we played "Old Maid" and "Go Fish" and he showed me something strange and wicked that he can do with his finger. We have had a bumpy road, as Mitchell is learning about me, and I am learning about him. He is now almost twelve years old- practically a pre-teen. He teaches me something new every day, even when I'm not in the mood to be educated. He has a huge grin that always makes me wonder what he's up to, or if I should roll down the car windows right away. His mind is brilliant and mysterious - and he has a sweet and tender heart. He loves all animals, and is quick to correct me if I call the dog a "Dufus" or tell the cat to move his furry butt out of my way. Mitchell makes inventions out of all kinds of household objects and they are really fascinating!

Peniel: Peniel is the older of the two boys who joined our family in June 2010. I knew Peniel from my Pre-K launch class two summers before. I had assumed he had an undiagnosed behavior disorder back then, never realizing that a complicated family dynamic was causing him to act out. After he and Jeremiah moved in with us, I learned that Peniel is a warm, caring, thoughtful and very bright child. He went from barely passing the first grade last year to being an honor-roll student in second grade, described by his teacher as one of the best readers in her class. Peniel is full of potential, and it's all right below the surface, just waiting to be tapped into. With a loving home and loving teacher, he is blooming! I am so proud of him. He tells me that one day he wants to be an actor, and I can see that for him. I believe he can do anything he wants to do. One of my favorite things about Peniel is his laugh. When something strikes him as funny, he will break into the most heartfelt, open-mouthed chuckle that melts your heart. I just love to hear his laugh. I wish I could tape-record it and keep it handy for days when I am stressed out or sitting in traffic. His laugh reminds me that we all get a second chance, no matter what has happened to us. Nobody writes our story for us, we write it for ourselves. Peniel is a survivor, and he is teaching me every day what it means to be a winner.

Samuel- Samuel is the youngest of my step-sons, who was recently bumped from his position in the family when we added two more boys! He has handled it like a champ! Samuel is in the gifted program at school and has a vocabulary that makes me think we should already have his college fund in place. Samuel is more than academically bright, he is artistic, creative, and gentle. He sees things in a different way than most people. He has a definite opinion about everything, and won't hesitate to tell you about it. But that is part of Samuel's charm and what makes him special. He can look you in the eye and tell you that your outfit looks terrible, but then turn around and tell you that you are the best cook in the entire world. And he means it! When I first became Samuel's step-mom he was a little guy, so we have had plenty of time to get to know each other, but I know it's not easy to take on a step-mom, especially one with "so many rules. " But Samuel tells me that he loves my sweet tea, and back scratches, and I know he really means it!

Sarah: At the end of the alphabet is cute Miss Sarah Grace- Emily's youngest daughter. Though she doesn't live with me, or call me mom, she is included in the roll call at prayer time in the evenings. She came into this world with a sweet heart and an easy spirit. She has always had a squeaky little voice that makes me laugh, and when she was in preschool and I helped Emily take her to daycare a few times a week, she was so quiet that I would often wonder if she was still back there in her car seat. One day, I looked in the rear-view mirror and asked "Sarah, you still back there?" because she hadn't made a peep in miles. "Yeah," she answered, "I was just thinkin' about trains." And ever since that day, we have teased her about that because you never know what's going through her mind. She has the sweetest disposition, and agreeable personality. She will never ever run out of people who love her.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tomorrow we meet our guardian angel . . .

Many of you know that tomorrow is a big day for us. We will go into juvenile court @ 10 am for a hearing regarding our two little ones. Let me fill you in on all the details in case you don't know what to pray for:

In June of this year, I was contacted by a church member who was trying to place two little boys, ages 4 & 7. John and I had JUST completed the entire cumbersome process of trying to bring a child out of foster care into our home. It was a process that began in September of 2009 and came to a screeching halt the third week of June 2010 when I received a simple phone call from Florida, informing me that Josh (whom we had tried to bring into our family) was to remain in the custody of the state of Florida and would be reunited with his mom when she was finished with her prison sentence in December (next month.) Josh in the meantime was placed with a family friend whom he had known since he was little. I was heartbroken at the time, not knowing why we had spent nearly a year trying to bring Josh into our home. I was also exhausted from the process, one that we had navigated on our own with the help of Josh's guardian ad litem in Tampa. For those who don't know, I have fought a terrible battle with infertility and had two ectopic pregnancies and five female surgeries. I am a person who has cared for children since I was old enough to babysit. I have always dreamed of a big family and longed to be a mother. My husband has three precious children, I have a wonderful niece who lives with me, another awesome niece. and I have a beautiful god-daughter who calls me "mom." As a wise woman once said, "I have not had any children, but I have never been childless."
The phone call about two little ones came into my office just 4 days after I learned that Josh was not coming back to Georgia. My heart still aching for Josh, this was a wonderful opportunity. We entered blindly into an agreement with the little boys' mother, not knowing much at all about their circumstances. We took the boys on June 22 and fell in love with them immediately. While school was out, the boys got to know my step-children and niece and within two weeks were calling John their "daddy." We felt so blessed to have them in our lives, but we didn't know how long the arrangement would last. Originally, we would just have them for a few weeks, while their mother was receiving medical treatment. But the weeks turned into a month, and at the end of July we applied for guardianship with the boys' mother in full support and agreement. The boys didn't have much of a relationship with their dad. He is a resident but not a citizen of this country. He never paid child support or kept up with visits to them while they lived with their mother. It wasn't until AFTER we got guardianship that the boys' dad started harassing us about trying to take them. We had already enrolled them in school and suddenly he wanted to be a dad. He was living in a shelter and unemployed at the time of his first petition to the court. His first and second petitions were dismissed. But by the time he came back with a third petition to terminate our guardianship, he had gotten a job and hired a lawyer. In the meantime, the boys' mother has continued to have health problems, several hospitalizations, has lost her home, and has just about lost everything she ever had. The kids see her regularly, though, and both are doing well. They both made honor roll at school and we have the oldest child seeing a therapist, whom he loves. With this third petition and dad's attempt to take the boys from us, I began getting nervous. I was worried that since we did not have legal representation, we would fall flat on our face and the kids would have to go with a man they hardly know - a man who has a history of domestic violence. Last Monday, I asked everyone I know to pray for this situation. Right away, the prayer request spread and I got emails from Arizona and Texas from people who were praying for us. One email was a typed out prayer right to God from someone I never met before. I started researching child advocates/ family law attorneys. I talked to a wonderful lady with a non-profit organization that finds lawyers to represent children in need. She sent a brief synopsis to each of the members of her organization. Within 24 hours I had four offers from attorneys willing to represent our boys. The first attorney sent me an email that read: "I am coming to court with you next Tuesday." Tears filled my eyes as I read the second email from a woman who offered to postpone her family Thanksgiving trip to represent the kids in court. Two more offers, also very kind and generous. I was overwhelmed. The next day, I explained to the boys that God had provided them with a lawyer. The oldest child understands what is going on but the five year-old not so much! I explained that a wonderful lady had offered to go with us and speak to the judge in court on their behalf. The boys were in the car with me on the way to pick up Georgia from her mock trial meeting at school (imagine the irony.) Georgia got into the passenger seat and said hello to the boys. Jeremiah said: "Georgia . . . do you know I gots a yawyer?"

So, I want to thank everyone who has been praying and I want to ask you to please continue to pray for us, but especially for the boys. God knows what we need- and what they need. He has sent us a guardian angel/ attorney who we will meet tomorrow morning one hour before our hearing. She says we already have everything we need to prove that it's in the children's best interests to remain in our home. We truly love these little boys.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Get out of that Bible and get into my heart!

This afternoon on the way to Respite, I told Peniel that I sent his teacher some photos of his baptism, since she is also a Baptist. This lead to a conversation about baptism, and why people are baptized. Jeremiah piped up from his car seat and asked: "Why did Pepe get baptized?" I allowed Peniel (aka Pepe) to answer his little brother's question, but I prompted him just a little. It went something like this:

Peniel: You get baptized when you get Jesus into your heart.
Jeremiah: I want to get Jesus into my tummy.
Peniel: He doesn't go in your tummy, he goes in your heart.
Jeremiah: (pointing to his heart) but how does he get in my heart?
Peniel: You gotta ask him to get in your heart.
Jeremiah: Okay. (pause) So he gots to get out of that Bible and get into my heart? 

Monday, November 8, 2010

About my house...

My friend Judy once told me that she put up a sign in her house when her two boys were little. The sign read: "If you are coming to see me, just drop by anytime. If you are coming to see my house, please make an appointment." Well, that's turning into my philosophy lately. With four little boys, 2 teenagers, 4 dogs, 3 cats, and a constant flow of friends and "my other kids", there is never a dull moment, and never a moment when I can say "my house is clean." I am abundantly thankful to God for our home, and for the love and even the chaos in every moment. God has given me a beautiful family and He continues to bless us with new kids to love and have fun with. And yet, I have a very real and abiding struggle with the cleanliness of my house. I want to be that Proverbs 31 woman who is always running her household with perfect charm and hospitality, and her family is always squeaky-clean and smelling good. But... that ain't gonna happen, my friends. It's official ... the makers of Febreeze have met their match. Our boys provide us with a daily dose of smells that could easily run the Taliban out of their hiding places. They seem to create messes so quickly and in such inconspicuous places that I am considering it might be some form of witchcraft. Maybe I should enlist a Catholic priest to come over and perform an exorcism on the demons of dirt and do-do? Just the other day, I was cleaning the "boys" bathroom and discovered a black banana peel under the sink in the cabinet. One of my little darlings had smeared do-do along the side of the vanity, and someone's toothbrush was in the trashcan. It's a proverbial war zone in that bathroom, which is probably what lead me to unleash a form of chemical warfare on the tile not too long after I finished scrubbing fecal fingerprints off the wood surface nearest to the toilet. Was that art? Finger-painting? Either way, I came out of the bathroom and went right for the laundry room. I got a gallon on bleach and went back into the war zone, unscrewed the cap and let it pour freely over the tile, toilet, and surrounding surfaces. I may have even cackled while I poured the bleach. The nauseous mixture of urine (ammonia) combined with the bleach and nearly killed me.  John smelled the fumes right away and came across the house to check on me. "What are you doing?" He asked, "Trying to kill us all with mustard gas?" I was coughing, gagging, burying my face in my t-shirt, but I was NOT giving up this battle. I pressed on. I scrubbed, scrubbed, scrubbed through the toxic fumes. "Honey! For Pete's sake, get out of there before you kill yourself!" I kept going, delirium working its way into my mind, beginning to chuckle wildly like a lunatic. "I don't care!" I giggled madly, "I don't care if I pass out! I've got to clean this bathroom! It's so disgusting!" John shook his head and went to the other side of the house, away from the fumes. I continued with my insanity like some crazy third grader sniffing white-out. Eventually I seemed to become immune to the toxic gas. Maybe my sinuses have already been damaged extensively by the boys . . . I'm not sure. But either way, I did not vacate the bathroom until the deed was done. Forty-five minutes in the flames of Hell and I stepped out victorious! Of course, I stepped into the hallway, the place where dog hair dwells. The dog hair battle is a daily one, and reminds me that I was wrong back when I thought hardwood floors were so great. I always thought hardwood (or in our case, laminate hardwood) was the way to go since carpet can get so disgusting and stained. But here is the problem with NOT having carpet: you can't hide the dirt. The dirt (And hair) is EVERYWHERE, Every day, all the time. It NEVER takes the day off. There is NEVER a day when I don't have to choose sweeping or walking on dog hair. Keep in mind we have a 170 pound great Dane (in the house) and also an indoor Rottie who is 80 pounds. Both of these dogs have jet black hair and while we love them, I have honestly thought about shaving them bald.
So, in conclusion, if you should ever decide to drop in and visit, please do not be offended by the little piles of dog hair in every corner, or the funky smells in the boys bathroom. If we had known you were coming,  we would have rolled out the red carpet, shaved the dogs, and filled the house with mustard gas.

Thursday, November 4, 2010



 John has always taken his kids camping, and I've been a camping fanatic since college. We really wanted to take P & J since they have never been. We already had each taken a few days off from work for our anniversary, so we figured we should seize the moment. It was a perfect weekend and it was so great to be able to use our new vehicle- Big Bessie- to take the kids to Tugaloo state park for the weekend. Hannah was stuck at home because she had to work on a school assignment. So it was just me and John, the four boys and Georgia, who fits right in with a bunch of little boys. She belches louder than any of them, in fact. Peniel and Jeremiah were both super-excited about staying in a a tent, having never done that before. I expected they might be a little nervous, but when all was said and done, they did great! We even went on haunted hayride at Victoria Bryant state park on Saturday night, and everyone had a great time. The best part of the hayride was the man wearing a burlap sack over his head, chasing us around with chainsaws. That was the only point when I think Mitchell was a little scared, and Jeremiah asked to change from my "yap" to go sit in John's "yap." I would highly recommend Tugaloo, especially one of the campsites by the water- they are beautiful! The kids had a great time, and we made lots of new memories to cherish for life.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Jeremiah & Monkeys

Tonight Jeremiah wasn't interested in going to sleep. He much prefers talking, as John and I discovered, so we generally put him to bed in our room and move him after he is finally asleep. If we don't do this, he talks to the other three boys until a fight starts or someone is thrown from a top-bunk. Tonight, I was surprised when I went into my bedroom to check on him. He was wide awake with tears in his eyes.
"You didn't come sweep with me!" He said, "And I was crying!" I told him that I had been saying goodnight prayers with the other boys and it took longer than usual. He snuggled up next to me and insisted I read "The Tooth Book" for the third time in a week. I hurried through the book, but he noticed when I tried to skip pages. After the book was over and we had counted all the teeth in the jack-o-lantern's faces, he finally seemed like he would drift off. I kissed his head and told him: "I love you." "I yove you, too." He whispered. I closed my eyes thinking I would hear his little muffled snore in just a moment. Instead, he was fighting sleep with conversation.
"Meyissa?" He asked.
"Do you yike monkeys?"
"Yes, monkeys are nice. Now it's time for sleeping."
"Yes, Jeremiah?"
"Do John yike monkeys?"
"Yes, John likes monkeys."
"Because monkeys are very nice. Now go to sleep."
A few more seconds of silence.
"Do Samuel and Mitchell yike monkeys?"
"Yes. They all like monkeys. Because monkeys are nice."
"Why you always say that? Monkeys are nice..."
"Because that's the reason most people like them. Monkeys are nice and funny. Now, it's time to stop talking and go to sleep."
After a few minutes of steady breathing, I thought we were finally getting somewhere. But I was wrong.
"Meyissa? Do Cody and Daniel yike monkeys?"
"And Garrett? Do Garrett yike monkeys?"
"Yes, they all like monkeys. Now no more talking."
Silence followed for two or three minutes. His eyes fluttered and he turned to me again:
"Do Nana yike monkeys?"
"Yes, Nana likes monkeys. She likes all animals."
Silence. Sweet, peaceful breathing.
"Even yions? Do Nana even yike yions?"

Pepe gets dunked!

Our precious little Peniel, who will be eight years old in December, made a decision to follow Christ as His Savior back in the summer. He recently attended our class for new believers and was baptised by my good friend, Pastor Joe, this past Sunday. Special thanks to Angie for taking these awesome photos!