Wednesday, July 11, 2018

South Dakota

We road tripped it to South Dakota for a vacation! 

I actually had someone ask me why we would go to South Dakota. 
Uh, super easy answer..... 
There's people that we love there!

So, the bulk of our trip was about spending time with Adam's mom and stepdad.
Kevin grew up there and they've owned a place there for years, but they officially retired and moved out there about 2 years ago. The boys had never gone out there. Adam and I last went 13(!)(What?! Time flies!) years ago.

We took a few trips with them to some amazing sights on a few different days, but we also spent a fare amount of time just enjoying time at their place together.
On the route there, we stopped at Wall Drug for dinner.
I'm hoping they boys will re-enact this photo in 20 years for me. 
Hanging out at Mt.Rushmore.

Sylvan Lake

This was our favorite wildlife on the Wildlife Loop at Custer State Park.
The rest of the animals were hiding.
Devil's Tower (Wyoming)
People climb this thing!

Spearfish Canyon

And dinner at a biker bar in Sturgis

 We also enjoyed hanging out together at thier house.

Eating at Grandma's counter.

The boys got lessons in slingshots.

Setting up targets in the backyard.

And the older two boys got lessons in shooting guns. And don't ask Adam who won in a shooting contest between him and I. (IT WAS ME!!!) 

Grandma is pretty famous for her Schleich animal collection. The boys love playing with them.

I've requested being considered to have this named to me in their will.

The neighbors showing up to bale the frontyard.

A tub of water entertained these boys for HOURS on a couple of hot days!
And a neighbor happens to own some animals that were fun to see:

Please don't decide to ram our truck! Pretty please! 

Adam and I even got to have a hiking date one morning and hiked to the top of Bear Butte 
(the boys thought it was more fun to call it Bare Butt). 

The boys had a fun treasure hunt at Mt.Rushmore. My brother and his family had visited this site last month on their vacation adventures. He created a map for them and buried a treasure off of the trail a little ways for them to locate! They thought it was quite fun! 

And a few other pictures to remember:
We went to multiple locations where there were fun rocks to climb on. This is the boys getting a talk about how they need to be careful if they don't want to fall and get hurt/die!

Tate really wanted to find an abandoned deer antler out in the abundance of acreage. And he did! Tate is easily our biggest nature/outdoors/rocks/water/creatures lover. He's already asked if he can come back and stay for a month.
 And special times with grandma and grandpa:

Overall, it was such a nice time away as a family and we made some good memories! The boys can now fully picture what grandma and grandpa's house looks like....too bad it's a 15-hr car drive away! Plus, we saw some BEAUTIFUL sights and locations and enjoyed having some slower days of relaxing. This girl would nearly always choose mountains, scenery, and a slower pace over busyness, cities, and commercialization. 

Monday, July 09, 2018

Take me out to the ballgame.....

This may be the only season in which all 3 boys are playing the same sport. Granted, none of them were on the same team, but still....we just had one type of equipment to gather and keep track of.

Heath played t-ball. It was nice that they introduced coach pitch as the season went on. They'd get 3 pitches and if they didn't hit it, they'd still get to hit off the tee. There was never any outs. They would go through the batting order twice. It was nearly always a bit comical and adorable.  
His coach gave all of the kids nicknames at the end of the season.....Heath "One Pitch" Willis. 
(Every single time he'd hit that first pitch from the coach....
thought I might need to explain it for some :) )

Tate played at a machine-pitch level. He enjoyed it and the coaches were really great at teaching and engaging the boys. His favorite parts were hitting and playing catcher. I found his games the most fun to watch. There were still some nail-biters, but it wasn't super intense. His team ended up coming in 2nd place for the season and he was pretty impressed that he was the first boy in the family to bring home a trophy! 

Landon didn't really want to play baseball...he would have much rather played soccer, but we encouraged made him give it a try, telling him it would be good to get more acquainted with the sport so that when middle school PE rolls around he knows how to better catch and throw. And we figure it's always good to do things out of your comfort zone every now and then. He was at the kid-pitch level. This level is considerably more intense than the level Tate was at. Some of these boys really knew what they were doing and some of these parents took it much more seriously! He's usually a pretty joyful and easygoing kid. It was hard to watch him not enjoying himself and being uncomfortable. He struggled with having a good attitude and we had to spend a lot of time encouraging him.....but his team was one of the better in the league and they ended up winning their tournament and bringing home a trophy. That made it a little better.

Sports are great for a number of things, but we are determined to not let it become "everything" to our boys. Sports played pretty significant roles for both Adam and I and gave us so many positive lessons and avenues. But it has become so intense these days and there is an insane pressure to groom your kid to be able to even play at the high school level.  It's just not what we want to be about. We do hope they have fun, learn to be a part of a team, challenge themselves, strategize, respect their coaches, find ways to be active, and....have fun. So far, so good.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

What's up next for us.....

An update is probably overdue. We've been busy with typical end-of-the-school-year stuff, spring sports, etc.. And honestly, it's mostly just been a season of waiting, patience, discernment, and trusting. I wasn't really in the mood to attempt to give hopeful updates of...."I don't know where we're going" and "Not sure where we'll be living" and "These kids keep asking difficult, deep questions about our circumstances" and "I'm registering boys at two schools in two different states" and "I trust God, but I don't know what's going on" and "We're taking this one step, but we're not sure what the next one after that is" and lots of other non-eventful and ambiguous activity. 

But finally.....we are finding ourselves at a spot where multiple things have fallen into place and appropriate for public sharing. And it's probably more than what most really need to know. But I am wordy and type fast. :) 

Adam has been working carpentry/remodeling alongside of someone for the past several months. God led these two guys together. A friend texted me that her dental hygienist's husband was looking for someone to help him out with his business. She gave me his contact info and I thanked her for looking out for us. Annnddddd.....I'm pretty sure I never even thought to tell Adam about it. Seemed odd to cold-call a guy we didn't know when we weren't desperate for work yet. Adam was looking and applying for some other jobs. Then a few weeks later, a friend from high school reached out to me online based on the blog I shared. She had shared our story with her dad. Her dad wanted to reach out to Adam to encourage him and literally lived around the corner from us. They met up and talked. He wanted to introduce Adam to a friend of his who was looking for some help. They meet. Adam starts working. Come to find out, THIS IS THE SAME GUY MY OTHER FRIEND HAD TEXTED ME ABOUT! I know we don't live in New York City or any place super big, but we were blown away at how these 2 different people who did not know each other or are in any way connected were both trying to get Adam and this guy connected. Once we discovered that, we knew God's hand was at work providing an opportunity for Adam to work. And physically, Adam is a stubborn beast, and he has handled it extremely well. He enjoys the guy he's working with and he feels like he's really been able to lend his skills to help. 

The big decision we felt weighing on us was whether or not we stay in this area or head back to Grand Rapids....or someplace else....once the boys finished the school year. We knew we had a housing option in GR because a family member had a rental house we could get into easily and Adam had way more contacts in GR to help find work. And if I wasn't ready for us to be in another church ministry position (which I wasn't) that just meant we had to "bide our time" somewhere for awhile if Adam still felt called to it. Being a girl who grew up in the same small community her entire life until she went away to college, I was feeling conflicted on what multiple moves for our boys would do to them. Honestly, it seemed much, much easier to heal if we moved away. But our boys were doing well and had enjoyed their school for the past 2 years. And this is the closest we've ever lived to my parents and they are not getting any younger. Yet, we wanted to go where God wanted just wasn't seeming real clear on where that was. So....we looked for a house in this area. We really didn't want to rent. The housing market is pretty crazy for buyers just about anywhere you go. We had been looking at houses for well over a year, but we weren't desperate then. Now, we had a definite timetable to work with to find something. A friend told us of some people selling in her neighborhood - a neighborhood that is in our elementary school's boundary lines (which honestly is not all that big). They were hoping to sell by owner, rather than list it. I think we were the only ones that had even walked through it. We decided to agree to buy it. Wasn't our "dream" home....but it was in a good neighborhood and it had a large basement we could finish ourselves. Now the tricky part of obtaining a mortgage when you are currently technically self-employed (mortgage companies want 2 years worth of tax statements when you are self-employed, likely to prove that you have a stable income to pay them back....uh, we've been doing this for less than 2 months). There was waiting. Requests for more documentation of various things. And even an agreement with God that if this didn't go through, we would willingly head back to Grand Rapids. But, it all went through. We closed smoothly and have been moving in over the past month. I did lots of painting, but otherwise it was a fairly new, gently-lived in home that didn't need any immediate work. 

And then we had to figure out health insurance. With Adam's job, we no longer had access to health benefits. There are some good affordable options out there for Medi-Share, Liberty, etc. and I received mostly favorable reviews from people on them. The boys probably could have qualified for discounted coverage through Medicaid type programs based on our income, but again, the self-employed aspect made all of that super tricky to apply for and report on every month. So, being a responsible person like I am....I decided it was possibly time for me to consider working full-time somewhere so we could have health insurance through my job. I didn't go crazy applying at multiple things, but I did apply for a full-time position at the University of Notre Dame (I've been working at ND for 10 hours/week in a different department). The position I applied for was full-time, but only 10 months of the year. I could still have June/July off to be home with the boys. Seemed appealing to me. Made it to the final round of interviewing, but they chose they other candidate. The relief I felt in not being offered the position far outweighed the disappointment! It wasn't that I didn't like the job....I was so NOT ready to get home at 5:30+pm every day. My heart was still very much in nurturing and being as present as possible with these boys of ours. They need a whole lot of guidance still! The process of seriously considering working full-time showed me that I'm not ready. I'm willing if it became absolutely essential, but I'd rather live frugally for a few more years if it means I can be more present at home. So, when out-of-the-blue another department called me the next week asking me to interview for their open position because my name had been passed along to them, it felt fairly easy to turn down the opportunity. But.....we still needed health insurance.

And well, God was working and we just had to be patient and trust Him. Adam was now in multiple rounds of interviewing for a full-time High School Bible teaching position at a local Christian school. And we're super happy to share that he has been offered the position and will begin August 1! This is a K-12 school that is growing and has been established for 45 years. He still gets to work in the lives of students! Being in an academic setting will be a new thing for him, but I don't doubt for a second that he will thrive and be well utilized in this school. He has so many giftings and capabilities that he will certainly be an asset for them to have (I might be biased...but in this case, I'm right).

We've found our way to a church that has been really great for us (and coincidentally, it is connected to and supports the Christian school where Adam got a job....which has nothing to do with why we started going there). Smaller than where we had been, which we probably prefer. We basically chose it from a list of churches that we created. We decided we didn't want to "shop" around since we didn't even know if we were even staying in the area. We at least wanted to give our boys a consistent place to worship on Sunday mornings during this interim time. Our only initial criteria for our first week of testing was if they preached God's Word well. And they easily passed. They also had men's and women's Bible studies starting up that next week with childcare provided. They took place on Wednesday nights which we figured would be a great way for us to spend our Wednesday nights rather than watching out the house windows as cars came and went from church student ministry activities that we were no longer a part of. We're slowly getting more connected and eager to be a part of this community. We're both helping out with VBS this week. Adam is driving the bus to take their mission team to the airport in a few weeks. And we're considering what other ways we can serve and be involved moving forward. 

Plus, I came across another opportunity that piqued my interest. With no longer being so involved with student ministry at church, I knew I would start to get antsy for doing something regular that was "people-y" and purposeful. I applied for a position as a relief House Mom at a local faith-based maternity home. It was only slated for two 24-hour shifts a month with potential opportunity to cover some other shifts. I knew they received a lot of responses of interest in this position, but very recently God has opened the doors for me to serve in it! I'll start next month! I'm excited! (This will be in addition to my current position at ND) (Plus, a few months ago, I did quite a few hours of transcription work for interviews about entrepreneurial Christians in business) (Why, yes. Yes, I am a girl that has worked a number of random side jobs over the years....I prefer to look at it as being a true Renaissance, interested in, and gifted at a wide variety of things) (And more so, God provides). 

So....with that lengthy update....the conclusion of this post is that: 
God is good. He is faithful. He loves us and has His hand on us. Always has and always will.

We strive to keep our eyes and hearts fixed on Him which enables us to live each day in step with Him as we grow in our faith and in our capacity to love others.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

A Year of Dates

Life gets busy. We all know this.

We’ve tried to make sure we are being intentional about doing things that help foster connections with one another as a family. That our boys feel seen, known, and valued. It can be hard when there are multiple kids and multiple jobs and multiple extra activities to easily fit in time to do that sometimes. We try to be intentional about taking those moments when we can and giving them each some one-on-one time with us, but we’ve also found a beautiful thing in actually planning for and setting aside time to do so.

For the past two years for Christmas, we’ve given our boys a box of “A Year of Dates.” Part of it was an effort to cut back on the “stuff” and the culture of having a mountain of gifts. And part of it was wanting to focus on relationships and experiences together. After the first year of doing it, I wasn’t 100% sure that they loved it, but as Christmas approached all three boys separately asked me if we would get to do it again because they loved it so much and said it was their favorite gift.

In advance, we simply plan out a date for each boy for each month of the year. I make a spreadsheet on my computer (because I really am quite fond of spreadsheets). The dates bounce back and forth from time with mom and time with dad. And we even slip in 2-3 “family dates” of doing something extra special. I make a card for each month and put it in a sealed envelope. And then they each have a box of these cards. On the first of each month, they pull out that month’s card and we open them all together to reveal what each of their dates are for that month.

Some of them involve a cost. Some of them don’t. Biking date with dad. Breakfast date with mom. Bowling date with dad. Hiking date with mom. Family date to see a movie in the theater. Service/volunteering date with mom. Donut date with dad. Library date with mom. Dinner date with dad.

It is a tradition that I am determined to carry on. I already have pockets of so many wonderful memories. A chance to take a break from corralling 3 boys… really getting to observe and spend time with just 1 boy, pouring into them and understanding them better. To have a conversation, listen to him without interruption, give him some say in what we do together.

I have no doubt that we will look back and value many of our ordinary moments: bedtime routines and devotions, time around the dinner table, playing games together, etc. But I really think we will look back and value these moments of being intentional about spending time together also.

This month was a larger cost item for a family date. We took the boys to an indoor waterpark/hotel overnight. We did this a few years ago and they have repeatedly asked when we would be doing it again. So, there was great excitement when they opened up this month’s cards to reveal their “dates.”

Heath asked me not to scream so much on the big waterslides.
I told him that it was more fun if you scream.

So much concentration. Our stay included 8 hours to play in the arcade.
Who needs to play arcade games for that long?! I feel that's a bit unhealthy.
But the guys all thought it was awesome. (No, they didn't actually use up all that time)
And this is what I do while they play arcade games.

And conveniently, it was close to another great destination.
Bonus points if you can guess where this is! 

Evidence of a succesful trip.

For 2017, I had made a “Year of Dates” for Adam also. We, admittedly, do not always set aside time to get away together frequently enough. Over the years, we’ve taken a few trips together without kids. We spend many nights together after boys are in bed. But I knew we needed to take it up a step in making sure we were spending intentional time together. I did really good for half the year. Unfortunately, I didn’t make a handful of the dates happen as it was difficult to fit some of them in during extra busy months or the cost bothered my budget-conscious mind. Fortunately, I married an incredibly gracious man. And in an effort to take the pressure off of me, he made a “Year of Dates” box for me in 2018. He is typically much better than me at executing a plan, keeping things secret, and following through. I’m discovering that he made some of them to be with him…..and he’s set me up on dates for some of the others. In February, I had a date with 2 of my girlfriends. And this month, I had a date with my mom. He knows how much I value time with women.

Anyways. Just wanted to share how our family is being intentional about how we spend our time with one another and how we make it special. Hope others are finding ways that fit their family. The goal is really to make sure we are valuing one another and allowing time for those important relationships in our lives to not take a backseat to all of the other busyness.