As I write this, our house is nearly silent, and the lights are low.
Daniel, Joshua, Laura, Jane and Josie are probably eating supper right now after frisbee night with their friends. Pretty soon, they’ll come bursting through the doors talking exuberantly about their evening.
John Michael, Peter, James and Stephen are chatting quietly together in their beds as they drift off.
Katie, Verity, Benjamin, and Nathaniel have been sound asleep for a couple of hours.
We arrived home late Saturday night from one of the best vacation weeks we’ve ever had. This one wasn’t about rest, it was about fitting as much adventure into the week as we could, and my goodness, what fun adventures we had! You have a profusion of photos to look forward to!
When I go anywhere with Katie, I usually end up telling her story to someone at least once. This trip was no exception. At one point, I found myself speaking about Katie and Verity with the mom of a beautiful twenty-seven-year-old woman with Down syndrome. As I explained that Katie will always be like a toddler due to the neglect she suffered for so many years, her brow wrinkled in sympathy, and she exclaimed, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that!”
I couldn’t get the words out fast enough…
We knew ahead of time that Katie was severely delayed, and that was okay with us. What was not okay with us was leaving her in her bed for the rest of her life.
Some of you know my valiant friend Julia Nalle, who for years has been eloquently advocating for orphans with special needs on her blog Micah Six Eight.
Julia is currently hosting a giveaway fundraiser for five children, and I hope that many of you will go read THIS BLOG POST and join in before it ends AUGUST 1ST.
Four of the children are being adopted by the Bloom family. The Blooms have already adopted four older children with disabilities. These four kiddos have thrived since coming home in 2014, and the Blooms find that they have room in their hearts and lives for four more. They know the children they are adopting will always have delays, and that is okay with them. What’s not okay with the Blooms is leaving these children to exist in institutions for the rest of their lives. Not if there is something God allows them to do about it!
The fifth child Julia is fundraising for is a precious older boy, small for his age. His name is Otto and he was recently transferred to an adult mental institution–NOT a fit place for anyone, let alone a tiny, vulnerable guy like Otto, turning nine years old this year.
Otto does not yet have a family, so when you donate to his fund, could you please pray that God will have mercy on him and quickly send a daddy and mama to scoop him up from that adult mental institution and bring him home as their son?
I’m writing this post with the fervent hope and prayer that God will stir up every person who reads it to participate in Julia’s giveaway fundraiser before August 1st!
“For Christianity is a fighting religion. It thinks God made the world–that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colours and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God ‘made up out of His head’ as a man makes up a story. But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made, and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.”
-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
[NOTE: We have Mindy Walls to thank for the photos in this post, as she took nearly all of them. Thank you, Mindy!]
This first group of photos is from the 10th annual Big Families and Friends picnic. Mindy captured some great shots of other people besides our family, but as always, I’m uncomfortable featuring them here on our blog. I’d like my friends to relax around me and not wonder whether they’ll appear here before the multitudes.
The down side of that approach is that our blog looks like we’re all about us; however, in real life it’s deeply satisfying to gather a bunch of people together who enjoy being with each other whether I’m present or not. Creating happiness brings happiness.
Maybe it’s how a chef feels to see others enjoying a feast he prepared; he doesn’t have to eat it himself to find fulfillment in the making of it.
This picnic is one of the highlights of the year for many families. Every year, I hear parents telling me their kids can’t wait until next year’s picnic. And that’s enough to keep us going year after year.
We never know who else will show up because we don’t ask anyone to RSVP. We have no formal agenda other than eating.
The kids do, however! The favored sport used to be baseball. Within the past five years, ultimate frisbee has become the favorite.
Several years back, our oldest son Joseph organized an informal ultimate frisbee night for any young people we know who want to play. That still happens every Wednesday night during the season of long daylight hours; sometimes Josie likes to tag along with her older siblings on Wednesday evenings. Most Sundays after church, you would find a mixed-age group of kids out playing in a nearby grassy stretch. Our oldest four and many of their friends also form a team in an area ultimate frisbee league and play most Friday nights year ’round. They did take a break during one season last fall and early winter, as Daniel decided their help was needed to work on the addition every available evening.
The kids jumped right into playing shortly after the first several families arrived at the picnic.
Daniel is on the left in the blue shirt; Joshua on the right in green.
Every year when January rolls around, we breathe a sigh of relief when “our” pavilion at this gorgeous park is again available to be reserved for Memorial Day Saturday.
A great bunch of kids who know how to work hard and play hard~
One of the reasons our favorite way to show hospitality is to organize and provide a venue for others to meet and connect–Joe and I are usually very occupied with the needs of one or more of our children. We don’t assume we’ll get a chance to sit and chat with friends if all our children are with us, but we’re pleased and grateful when it happens.
So happy Mindy captured this shot of Superdaddy in action. Believe me, friends, this family would go nowhere fast without some serious teamwork. It is a privilege to do life with this man wherever God calls us to go.
Joshua turned nineteen this past spring. He works very hard and is a valued employee at two jobs–one in animal husbandry for Sight and Sound Theatres and one as a landscaper for Tree of Life Services.
Laura and Joshua watching some of the kids play sand volleyball. These two both spent a week in South Carolina last month for a Totally His youth conference with some of their friends in our church fellowship. This was Laura’s first year to be part of the conference.
Joseph is on the left in the lime green. Caleb is the guy in the middle with the red shirt; our families met for the first time in 2007 at the very first big picnic, and their friendship has enriched our lives ever since.
We have the park until the sun sets.
One young woman brings her dog every year; I wish I had photos of Katie interacting with it! We’d like to get another puppy someday, but not until we have an airtight system in place to keep it from running onto the road in front of our house.
Mindy shot this photo of Nathaniel with her cell phone the Sunday we invited our church fellowship here for a picnic. That made her decide to go get her good camera out, and I’m so glad she did!
We realized that this baby probably thinks Mindy is one of his older sisters.
Daniel and Jane throwing a frisbee around before the picnic. Joseph told me that Jane is very good at this game; they’re eager for her to turn sixteen in a year and a half so she can join the league and add her considerable skill to their team.
Big brother, little brother. Joshua and seven-year-old Stephen~
The little kids enjoyed the swing while waiting for our friends to arrive, haha!
You can generally find Josie wherever the action is! We got her this “Rainbow is my favorite flavor” shirt, because…remember the girl who has a different favorite color every day?
Ben is a verbally precocious three who reminds us of Joseph at the same age.
There is always a small army of boys when our church fellowship gets together.
Here they’re off to conquer the woods behind our house. This year we have the added advantages of a giant dirt mountain on our property and a small pool for water battles when it’s time to cool off. Nine-year-old James is on the left in the bright blue.
Daniel is turning twenty-one in a couple of months. He’s been spending a lot of time recently with a certain lovely young lady and her family, and so far, all parties are pleased with this turn of events.
He’s gradually been taking over more and more of the family carpentry business, Musser Carpentry, LLC, and plans to be its sole owner some day. He also worked some evening and Saturday hours for Joe’s CPA brother during tax season this year.
Not really enough people for a proper game, but they managed to have a lot of fun!
Joe’s uncle and aunt live next door and have a large yard in front of their house. They often urge our kids to use their yard whenever they want to, and it does come in handy for ultimate frisbee!
These two young ladies walked down the road to visit the neighboring alpacas and horses. They ended up being joined by a large crowd of their friends.
Our sidewalk often boasts an entire map laid out in sidewalk chalk. Ten-year-old John Michael is in the middle of this photo, perched on the railing. Nine-year-old Peter is on the right wearing the Race Against Racism t-shirt.
Their buddy Kyle is on the left; his oldest sister Lindsay married our oldest son Joseph. Kyle’s talented mom Deanna blogs regularly from her lovely and warmly welcoming Creekside Cottage; she was an unfailing source of inspiration and encouragement to me in my unfamiliar task of designing the decor and choosing the furnishings for our addition.
Lindsay doesn’t play ultimate frisbee any more due to a past knee injury and surgery. She and Josie hung out on the sidelines where they could chat together and cheer the teams on. Lindsay often seeks Josie out and spends time connecting with her.
A great swell of thankfulness rises in my heart every time I think about what God did in bringing Joseph and Lindsay together and see the close friendship they share. She is one of the most pleasant, unflappable, down-to-earth and unassuming people I have ever met, truly a gift to our intense son and the rest of our family. The other day, we were putting some dates on the calendar together, and I warned her that since Verity had a minor surgery scheduled for one of the dates, I was unsure what state they’d find the household in when they arrived for supper. She said breezily, “We don’t mind chaos.”
The weather was perfect–not too humid and hot enough to make the shade desirable.
Peter is a very loyal guy and often comes to check in with his friend Josie.
Speaking of enjoying the shade…
Joshua ended up with one blue leg and one red…goofy kids…
Nathaniel is six months old now. He marked this momentous occasion by cutting his first tooth.
Our new favorite hang-out place. We eat lunch out here almost every day. It’s an amazing experience to live in a space that was just a vision on paper a year ago.
We asked a hardscaping contractor to come by to give us an estimate for that retaining wall. He could tell that $20K was a rather shocking number for us to hear, I guess. He turned out to be a really decent guy. When he heard the purpose of this addition, he not only helped us brainstorm an alternative plan for a wall that should cost about half that amount, but he inquired about some available donated funds on our behalf, and called later to tell us that a local church will be donating $5K toward the project.
Another couple donated a large sum to cover the remaining amount we owed our builder (so he can pay the rest of his sub-contractors) and included some extra to help toward finishing the septic. That was a blessing, as that debt was weighing heavily both on us and on our builder. God has not left us hanging; He is continuing to provide as we knew He would.
You may remember he started out as Baby Ben, but somewhere along the line he turned into Ben Bean, which is usually shortened to Bean or Beans.
On the hottest days, we’re happy for a spot of cold water.
We’ve realized that Josie has the priceless gift of seeing through outward appearances to what is most important.
I used to question whether she would be disappointed with our little old messy house that’s full of noisy people and usually has dirty floors and dishes waiting in the sink.
We can’t compete with greater incomes to go all around to fewer people, and we don’t even try. I thought she might look down on these imperfections, but they don’t even register with her.
She doesn’t judge people for their very secondhand clothes, very used cars or very lived-in houses because she doesn’t care about these things.
What she sees is what’s really here, and that’s the love.
I recently told her that this way of seeing the world is a priceless gift and I hope she never loses it.
These pool photos were taken the week Laura was in South Carolina. At different times, Jane wanted to help Josie do something fun, and this was one of those times.
Jane told me afterward, “I think Josie had a good time.”
Then she added, “She’s not nearly as heavy as I thought she would be. She’s so fun to help!”
Josie was ready to come in and dry off. Perhaps I’ve already mentioned that sometimes she chooses to change to pajamas before supper so she doesn’t miss out on any of the after-supper family fun. Here she is trying on my flip-flops. Isn’t she adorable?
She loves helping in the kitchen.
We had no dishwasher for a couple of weeks, so here we are washing dishes together.
Meanwhile, some of the other kids put soap in the pool and washed it out. We try to have the pool clean and filled once or twice each week during the hot weeks. Josie and the younger kids play in it as long as they want to, then the monkeys tend to finish it off.
Some of our kids would live outdoors all summer if we’d let them. They often choose to sleep in their tents up in the woods. Laura just carries Josie down the hill in the morning when her aide comes to start her routine.
The second home health agency we added is turning out to be a big blessing to us. It can be tough to find someone willing to come for just two hours first thing in the morning. We prayed for just the right person, and God sent her. She lives ten minutes away and her next job doesn’t start until afternoon. Once Josie is through her morning routine, we can take it from there. Morning is just that super jam-packed time of day when a lot of our kids require help and/or supervision at the same time.
Mike and Jenny, our pastor and his wife, were given two buy-one-admission-get-one-admission-free tickets to a local kid place and decided to invite the four monkeys out for a fun evening.
They treated them to supper and ice cream, made sure they had a good time, and brought them back deliciously late.
What a very brave as well as kind thing for a childless upper-middle-aged couple to do!
The boys slept well that night, and we’re pretty sure Mike and Jenny did, too!
I told the boys that God might have showered our family with lots of children rather than lots of money, but He loves to provide extras in one way or another!
This year, we celebrated the Fourth on the Third because the weather forecast was calling for thunderstorms on the Fourth. Joseph and Lindsay were coming over both nights, anyway, so we just switched plans. They came again the next night for walking tacos, ice cream jello and a funny movie.
It began innocently enough…
Okay kids, on your mark, get ready…
The hazards of being a close bystander~
They were laughing at a video of John Michael doing an impressive flying leap and belly flop into the pool from where he stood on top of the sandbox frame.
I’m soaked to the skin, anyway; might as well jump in!
Some of us stayed a sensible distance from the action!
Wait, is that…?
Yes, Joshua is really taking Mom for a wagon ride. He’s strong as a horse and ended up taking us on a two mile round trip.
Setting up by flashlight. Wonder what those Amish cows think of our shenanigans, heh heh.
Joseph gave him this t-shirt for Father’s Day. “One dad to rule them all,” it says.
Many times recently it has come to my mind that if God lets Joe and me live to old age, we’re going to look back on these days as some of the happiest of our life together.
Those were my thoughts as I sat in our dark front yard with deep contentment in my heart and watched our annual Independence Day celebration unfold, savoring the traditional root beer float while nursing my snuggly littlest under a cozy blanket, smiling at Katie’s enormous delight in the fireworks, laughing helplessly at the quick-witted banter of our oldest kids.
It was fun seeing these photos later; I missed this part of the evening, as I was in the house putting our four littlest ones to bed.
People like to tell me, “I don’t know how you do it all.”
You know what? I don’t even come close to doing it all, and that’s just how God wants it to be.
If I had unlimited resources at my disposal, and if God hadn’t come along and interrupted our vision for our family and replaced it with His, I would have wasted my life futilely trying to make our family fit my former idea of perfect.
He had to stretch me so far beyond what grown-ups consider prudent (prudence is overrated!), so far beyond my ability to control processes and outcomes, to move me and my small-minded vision out of the way and accomplish His.
His vision for our family was to become a haven where His kind of love rules and His kind of healing can take place.
“I want readers to see how we commit idolatry when we try to take on attributes that are not ours to possess.”
“For example, once we recognize our desire for limitlessness as destructive, we are better able to willingly and joyfully submit to our God-given limits.”
“Human limitations predate the Fall. Adam and Eve were created to be limited and needy, to be dependent on their Creator. We are not designed for limitlessness, and we are crushed under its demands when we pursue it. Recognizing that limits are for our good (and for God’s glory) helps us work with rather than against them.”
She goes on to say, “Rather than posing as self-sufficient, we can embrace our neediness as evidence that God’s grace is our only hope.”
As a mom of many children, I have many limitations. Additionally, as a mom of kids with special needs, I have taken their disabilities onto myself, bringing further limitations into my life.
Every single limitation in my life is a gift from my Maker custom-designed to move my strong-willed self aside so I can see Him work. A gift indeed!
Therefore I will not just “try to accept” but will embrace my human limitations, my frailties, my inability to get it all together, and my tendency to flub things up all the more gladly, so that Christ’s power may rest on me and work through me.
Christ’s power working through our weakness. That about sums up our family.
P.S. Photos above were taken by fond older sisters. <smile>
We’ve accumulated a large number of photos so far this summer, thanks almost entirely to Mindy. Hoping to plunk them into a post over the next several days so that we’re caught up here on the blog before we go on our big road trip to northern Michigan.