Three years later

July 31st, 2017


If you ask Me, “Why?” I will not answer that question. Ask Me who I am, and I will always answer that question.




When Tommy was still alive, and we were enduring such unremitting pressure that I didn’t know whether we could survive it, I cried out to God, “Please show me who You are!”




My plea was met with more silence from God, more hardship, and then…the utter devastation that Tommy’s death wrought in every level of my being.




Who knows.

Maybe it was in Tommy’s brief, intense life and traumatic death in our family…

Maybe in the terrifying smashing of my former presuppositions of who God truly is, who I am to Him, and how I relate to Him…





Maybe in the long and disorienting aftermath, when all but a tiny, quavering glimmer of faith was snuffed out…

Maybe in my resultant stubborn refusal to accept any part of faith or belief that I didn’t know was absolutely real…





Maybe in the long, dry waiting time, waiting on Him to decide if and when I would ever again feel close to Him, loved by Him, joy in Him…




Maybe in the rebuilding of His connection with the me who is now a broken failure, malfunctioning, empty, no trace of my former strengths left to hold in my hand as a gift back to Him…




Who knows.

Maybe through this journey, “God is changing the terrain of my soul in a way He couldn’t have” if I were untouched by profound spiritual and emotional trauma.

Maybe if He hadn’t first destroyed my idea of who He is, I would have remained unable to know God as He really is.





Who knows?

Maybe in Tommy’s death, and all the aftermath, was the beginning of God’s answer to my plea, “Show me who You are.”




P.S. This week, a friend who has known me since I was about six years old sent me a card.  To it she attached a note I had sent her twelve years ago.  I don’t even remember whether I was quoting someone else or if these were my original thoughts. 

“To an atheist, the ultimate evil is pain.  A Christian who lives as if this were true is a practical atheist.  This falsehood must be rejected and replaced with the truth.  Pain is one of a myriad of tools our good and loving Creator uses to accomplish a myriad of His purposes.  If I reject pain, I reject the Father’s hand in my life.”





This present joy

July 21st, 2017


Nearly every weekday morning so far this summer, Josie has attended her ESY (Extended School Year) class to keep her math and reading skills fresh.





In Pennsylvania, where we live, home educators are required by law to log 180 school days between July 1st of one year to June 30th of the next year.  I decided with three days’ notice to commence our 2017-18 academic year on Monday, July 3rd.  I had previously removed every possible item from our calendar for the summer to help us transition into life without Laura.  As a result, I’ve only had to leave the house a few times, and we’ve made a satisfyingly strong start to our new school year.

With our current family configuration and logistics, full-fledged intentional learning creates an unparalleled civilizing influence on our middle sons and is therefore my favored defense against otherwise inevitable chaos among the ranks.  A close runner-up is the performing of necessary household chores.  Since we have no communist leanings, all work is duly rewarded with highly desirable Mom Bucks.  Did I mention that these middle sons outnumber me by four, out-energy me by a sight more than that, and are in dire need of intensive civilization?    

I’m taking an unabashed childish delight in the fact that we already have 14 school days down.  Only 166 to go!  Maybe we really will be able to plant a vegetable garden and clean up the property next spring while the three girls are still in school?

Because each one of the four boys is now reading well at his level, we have re-instituted Fridays as Reading Days; the four are assigned an appropriate amount of individual reading in addition to my afternoon read-aloud.  This allows breathing room on Friday mornings for necessary appointments, phone calls, and other tasks.

We’ve collectively read over 60 books since the beginning of the month, counting the 6 books I’ve read aloud to them so far. James is the reading fiend who’s responsible for 36 of those, but the others’ lists are growing respectably.  Last year, in contrast, I managed to read 15 books aloud the entire 9 months of our school year.

One of our first 14 school days consisted of a field trip to Longwood Gardens with Dad.



Between breakfast and lunch, the children accomplish their chores and whatever arithmetic and grammar or logic they’ve been assigned.

These proceedings probably don’t resemble the picture that may have formed in your mind as you read that statement.

The scholars tend to congregate around me as I care for the four little children and keep the necessary household operations running smoothly.  My mornings often feel similar to slogging up a steep mountain during a mudslide.  I remind the boys (and myself) often that accomplishing schoolwork at our house is not going to be easy.  It’s going to be a challenge every moment because of all the obstacles that continually rise before us, so we’re going to have to fight over and over to get back on the path and not to allow the obstacles to make us give up.


Listening to Stephen classify his sentences out loud.  He’s doing several days’ worth of English grammar each day in order to catch up to his grade level.  Stephen is heavily dependent on me at this point in order to stay focused.



Yes, at the same time, I’m listening to Peter classify his sentences aloud.  He’s doing a whole week’s worth of English grammar each day in his ongoing attempt to catch up to his grade level.  He also needs my help often to keep moving along, but he’s now beginning to take his academics seriously, catching on to concepts faster, and making noticeable progress toward becoming an independent learner.



James is highly motivated, focused, and independent in his work.  Here he’s working on Saxon Math 6/5.  He and John Michael both finish their independent work sooner each morning than the other two guys, so they are able to earn some Mom Bucks by accomplishing helpful tasks like reading to the little ones or pushing them on the swings, folding laundry, making lunch, et cetera.



The mental discipline required to focus on math in the midst of four busy little people…and by the way, this little person has suddenly begun getting dressed completely independently without reminders every morning after breakfast.



Keeping an eye on these two.  They spend a lot of time together and are generally peaceable companions but do occasionally engage in minor spats.



Meanwhile, feeding Katie some thickened juice while 18-month-old Nathaniel climbs on and off my lap.  Developmentally, Katie is now the baby of the family.  Such a pretty girl.



Katie has been making noticeable progress toward bonding during the past several months; I could enumerate half a dozen examples of this.  One of them is that she’s jealous of Nathaniel and is miffed when he interrupts my interactions with her.  He’s completely unaware of her feelings about him and unreservedly showers affection on her.  “Ah-ah,” he says while hugging her, unconscious of her visibly unenthusiastic response, ha!



John Michael is a very smart kid, especially with math; as he’s grown older, we’ve noticed more and more that his brain is wired differently than ours are.  We’re in the process of having him evaluated by those with more experience, in order to maximize the help we’re giving him between now and his adulthood.  An introduction to formal logic is already proving to be a great choice to train and discipline his mental processing.



After lunch, the middle kids clean up the kitchen and gather a few activities while I lay a cranky Nathaniel down for a nap then review the alphabet letters and their sounds and play a few thinking games with the other littles before settling them down for a rest/quiet play time.

Then!  Oh, then…!

Thanks to my beloved BiblioPlan curriculum, organized, written and published by my good friend Julia Nalle and her husband Rob through blood, sweat and tears, I have come to adore the teaching of history to my five children.

They’re fond of it, too.  Overheard in the past few days…

“History is my favorite subject!”

“I like history best.”

“Hurray!  I love history!”

“I like to listen to Mom read out loud even if I’ve already read the books, because of all the other conversation.”

“Yeah.  We get at least twice as much out of it if Mom reads it than if we read it ourselves.”


The aforementioned middle sons and Josie.  From left, Stephen, 8 1/2, John Michael, 11 1/2, Peter, 10 1/2, Josie, 14, and James, 10 1/2.



In addition to the basics of history, on any given afternoon these five and I are discussing Bible, religion, philosophy, ethics, apologetics, science, language, culture, vocabulary, geography, government, civics, economics, and more.  I don’t let these kids off the hook; I ask them tough questions and expect them to come back with thoughtful and logical answers.

My cellphone is close by as we read and discuss, so we can look up quick facts like the classification system or where the dividing line is between Europe and Asia, listen to Google Translate pronounce unfamiliar names or words in other languages, compare maps, and even find obscure historical video footage or any number of related demonstrations on YouTube.  After each section, the children label maps related to our week’s history focus, work on their timelines, and answer quiz questions.

The mom I used to be would be focusing on everything we don’t accomplish in the course of each day.  The mom I am now marvels to witness nine young lives learning and growing here every day; how exhilarating that I get to help that happen in this sizable and complicated family.  Not long ago, I wondered whether I would ever again experience the emotion of happiness.  God has granted me the gift of this present joy.  I don’t take it for granted.






Upside Down: A book review

July 14th, 2017

If I could recommend one book to every person who’s close to an adoptive family, this would be that book.

What might attachment problems look like in real life?  What’s behind the counter-intuitive parenting strategies and boundaries adoptive families might set in place around their adopted child?  Shannon Guerra answers these and other questions in her recent book, Upside Down: Understanding and Supporting Attachment in Adoptive Families.  Guerra has a forthright, wryly humorous writing style and includes plenty of quotes from other adoptive parents.

This book hits close to home for me.  I was intrigued by the subject material and requested a free copy in exchange for an honest review. The author and I each have a child who spent those crucial early years in the same infamous orphanage in Pleven, Bulgaria.  Infamous, that is, for depriving its inmates of nearly everything a human being needs to thrive.  Our children were hardwired to relate to other people in pathological ways in order to survive.  Turns out, there’s no simple fix for some kinds of broken.  Progress toward a solid, healthy child-parent bond can be exceedingly slow. “Like watching hair grow,” the author wrote to me.  Every centimeter of ground is hard won and easily lost.

Weighty, scholarly volumes have been and will be written by experts about all aspects of attachment in adoption.  Thing is, most of us will never read those.  Guerra’s book covers the essentials in seventy-five readable pages.

To the adoptive parent, Upside Down says, “You’re not alone.  We’re in this together.”

To the onlooker, the book says, “Here’s the problem; here’s how you can help.”

Do you know an adoptive family who’s dealing with attachment issues?  Do you want to be part of the solution rather than contributing to the problem?  Upside Down.  Buy it.  Read it.  Pass it on.