Our First Christmas Together

Here it is, our first Christmas together as a family of 8!!! Amazingly enough, we are ready! The shopping is done, most of the wrapping is finished, and we have just two more items to assemble before the big day! In most ways, this is like any other year. We have made gingerbread houses, cookies and other goodies. The Elf has been moving from one hiding spot to another every day. The countdown calendars have been changing daily as the kids count down to presents! And the presents have been slowly appearing under the tree.

But this year there is a different feeling of excitement in the house. The kids are excited about presents, of course. But the new kiddos have an uncertainty of what to expect. They have asked questions like, “So just how many presents will we get?” They will tell us stories of Christmas’ past and study our reactions to see what we will say. And then there is the littlest one who picked up his present from under the tree and started hugging it and kissing it as if it were the best wrapped present he had ever seen.

Clearly we have no idea how their Christmas mornings have been in the past. There may have been a sea of presents under the tree or just a couple. But one thing we do know, this Christmas they have something that they have not had in the past- the understanding of the true meaning of Christmas. That really is the best gift of all.

Let us always remember that Christmas is not about the presents and the gifts, but about God sending His very own Son into this world to be our Savior. What an incredible thing it would be if we would worry less about the presents under the tree and more about sharing God’s love with others!

Matthew 1:18-23

Merry Christmas to you and your families!

Julie

Party of 8*

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Thankful Everyday!

Each year in November I read post after post on social media about people giving thanks for various things in their life. They call it, “30 Days of Thanks.” I participated one year and really enjoyed thinking about the things I am truly thankful for on a daily basis. The hardest thing about participating was remembering to post something everyday. Sometimes life gets busy and we don’t feel like we have time to get everything done. But oh how important it is to take some time everyday and be thankful!

Have you ever given something to your child and been frustrated by their lack of appreciation? It is annoying when they act as if they deserve what you are giving them rather than being thankful for what they receive. Sometimes it even makes us feel like not giving them anymore than what they already have at the time. It is the entitlement factor. The kids just expect it. And it is never enough, they just want more and more.

I wonder if our Heavenly Father feels disappointed when we aren’t grateful for what He has given to us. I wonder if He gets frustrated when we don’t take the time to say thank you for the many blessings in our lives. I am certain there is reason the Bible tells us again and again to be thankful and to praise the Lord for His goodness. We are to praise Him and thank Him even when times are hard. So how much more should we be praising Him and thanking Him when things are great?

This Thanksgiving let’s take time to tell our loved ones how much we love and appreciate them. And let’s set aside some time to thank God for everything He has given us. We are so blessed. Let’s not sit back and act entitled as if we deserve all the good things in our lives. But instead let’s truly thank God for each and everything He has done and continues to do for us.

Because what if we woke up tomorrow with only the things we thanked God for today???

Hebrews 12:28 “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude…”

I Chronicles 16:34 “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; his love endures forever.”

Psalm 100:4 “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.”

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, my friends and family. I thank God for your friendship and love. God has blessed my family by placing each of you in our lives.

Be Blessed,

Julie.

*Party of 8*

Thanksgiving Non-traditional Style

The holidays are upon us and I find myself reminiscing of Thanksgivings past. When I was younger we would eat at my Grandmother’s house and there was always more food then we could fit on the table. Then there was a football game on the television for me to sleep through. And at some point in the afternoon I would find something fun to do outside right around the time for the dishes to be done. This was our tradition, or at least as I remember it. But when I turned 14, my Thanksgiving would change and never be the same.

That particular Thanksgiving I remember my parents telling my brother and I that we would not be having a traditional dinner, but we would instead be serving meals to the less fortunate. I was annoyed with the idea of not having the big glorious meal that we had grown accustomed to in the past. We awoke early to pick up the trays of food from a local restaurant. We went and set up a huge tent with tables and chairs and a really long serving table. We were in an area where crops were being grown and migrant workers lived with their families. They came by the hundreds and it seemed that I couldn’t scoop the green beans fast enough. I remember the looks on their faces, it was of pure gratitude and love. They were so thankful for someone to take the time from their traditional family day and serve others. I was only 14, but it touched my heart.

The next Thanksgiving we were in Guatemala and had all of the missionary families over to our house for dinner. I remember it being comical that we couldn’t find the traditional dishes there in the supermarkets. But it was a fun day of stories and laughter. Although we weren’t with our family, we were surrounded with friends and it was a nice way to spend the day.

The next several Thanksgivings would prove to be the hardest. I moved back to the States just before turning 17 and several months before Thanksgiving. My brother was in college a few hours away from where I was living at the time. Our parents were still overseas and our grandmother was no longer able to cook for us. So instead we would go pick up Grandma and take her to lunch somewhere. Morrisons, Piccadilly, and The Clock Restaurant became our destinations for our little family Thanksgiving. It was the best we could do and made us feel like we had enjoyed the traditional meal even if we didn’t have the big gathering that so many enjoyed.

One year some friends from school invited my brother and I over for Thanksgiving. I remember their mom served a gravy that looked unusual with boiled egg swimming in it. As a picky eater, I was very worried about the whole meal. But to my surprise the meal was wonderful, and the gravy was my all time favorite. The best part was listening to their family as they told us stories and laughing along with them as if we were a part of their family all along. These friends of ours didn’t realize what that meal meant to us at the time, but I will always remember the sacrifices they made to include us.

When I met my husband, he automatically began inviting me to his family gatherings since my family was still out of the country. The first Thanksgiving I attended with him was in a church fellowship hall. There were maybe 70 of his family members present. It was an all day affair. There was enough food to feed an army. There were games to play, football and basketball, a nursery for the babies to nap and more food to eat when the fullness began to wear off. It was fantastic. I remember my husband (boyfriend at the time) apologizing for his big family get together. Little did he know that it was exactly what I needed to fill the void that I had previously felt because of being away from my own family.

Now 22 Thanksgivings later, we continue to go to my husband’s family for Turkey Day. This year we have 3 additional children to take with us for a day of eating and playing games. And I begin to think about these 3 precious lives who have probably had their own share of unusual Thanksgivings. This year they will spend the day with their new forever family. The food may be different than what they are accustomed to eating. The games may be new and require some learning. But the group of people they will be with will share stories of their daddy’s past and make them feel like they were there and a part of things all along. Then when they spend time with my family over Christmas, they will experience the same crazy fun family activities.

This Thanksgiving let’s all think about the foster families who will be making memories with new children each year. Let’s remember the college kids who sometimes can’t go home. Let’s pray for the widows and widowers who no longer have their spouse to spend the day with. Let’s reach out and ask if anyone would want to join us. We so often get so caught up in our own traditions that we over look those hurting and lonely around us.

As a mom of 6, I make large meals on a daily basis. It is never a big deal to make a little more if we are having more people with us. So our table is always open for more. It is the very least I could do after having so many great people open their homes for me. But I have to admit that I get caught up in all the busy and forget to look around and see if there are those around me that need a home to come to for dinner or a holiday. I pray that God would help us all to be more aware of those around us who could use our help or even just some family time this season.

Deuteronomy 10:18- 19, “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner among you, giving them food and clothing. AND YOU ARE TO LOVE THOSE WHO ARE FOREIGNERS, for you yourself were foreigners in Egypt.”

Enjoy this Thanksgiving Week, no matter where you may be!

Be Blessed!

Julie.

*Party of 8*

Moving back to the States

My last blog was about the day I moved to Guatemala so I felt it was only fitting to also write about my return. When my parents broke the news to me that we would be moving to Guatemala, they mentioned that I could return for my senior year of high school if it worked out to do so. I worked diligently, well semi-diligently, at my schooling to finish two years in one and graduate a year early. But mid-year I decided that I really did want to come back to my hometown and do my senior year of high school with my friends. My parents kept their promise and arrangements were made for me to live with some friends from church.

The day came for me to fly home. I remember that I flew back to the states with a team that was returning the same day. I will never forget reaching into my bag and finding a letter that my mother had written to me. I pulled it out of my bag while sitting on the plane and started to read it. I got through just a few sentences and started tearing up. I decided the letter would have to wait until I was alone and would be able to read through it. My mom had written me the sweetest words about being proud of me and how she and dad would be praying for me. The letter truly touched my heart. I would miss my parents dearly. I was only 16 (ok- a month shy of 17) when I moved out of my parents house and into a whole new world without them by my side.

I never truly appreciated the sacrifice my parent’s made by letting me come back home until recently. As a parent now I understand wanting to please my children. And as a parent in the ministry there are definitely times I reward my kids for doing things that are above and beyond. I completely understand why my parents agreed to let me come home. But now I understand the heartache that they would have experienced when letting me go. My daughter is now several months shy of 17. She is one of my very best friends. Every night she tells me about her day and her stories are lengthy and detailed, but one of the highlights of my day. She laughs about things that occurred through the day and when she smiles her face lights up and her eyes twinkle. She is beautiful. How would it feel for me to drive her to the airport, load her onto a plane, and know that it would be months until I saw her again? Wow.

The Bible says in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” My parents laid down their own desires and allowed me to pursue my dreams. They chose to let me follow the path that God was leading me down. I know it was difficult. I know it was heart wrenching. I know it was LOVE. God’s love is what enables us to put others before ourselves. I will forever be grateful for the sacrifice my parents made that day. What an incredible example of trusting God and loving others.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for putting my dreams and desires ahead of your own. I will forever be thankful for your love that was always felt even thousands of miles away! I love you!

Be Blessed Ya’ll

Julie

*Party of 8*

The day I moved to Guatemala

So as I have mentioned in a previous blog, I moved to Guatemala at the age of 15 in the summer before my junior year. I remember feeling devastated at the idea of not only moving, but actually moving out of the country and out of reach from all of my friends. The day we moved was overwhelming. We didn’t just have a friend take us to the airport. We had several friends take us. It was like a going away party that traveled all the way to airport gate with us. I still remember what I wore that day and can picture what I looked like from the photographs that were taken. It was a hard day, a day that will always be remembered.

When we went through the airport we carried luggage filled with our whole world. We had clothing as well as personal belongings. I remember my parents divvying up the suitcases. There was one case that they asked me to carry that I assumed was because of it’s smaller size. But when we reached the X-ray belt I realized they had given me my mom’s cpr training baby. It literally looked as if I had a baby inside my suitcase. Of course, after opening the case they saw that it was nothing of concern and we were on our way.

The flights were not lengthy. The travel part was fairly simple. I am not sure what time we left the house in the morning, but I remember clearly that it was dark when we arrived. I remember the missionary who picked us up from the airport in this weird looking mini van that smelled like a diesel truck. The first thing he asked was if we were hungry. Well, of course I was hungry, but I had this sort of condition. As a matter of fact, I still suffer from this same condition today as an adult. It is called PICKINESS!!! I do not eat any condiments; no ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise. I do not eat any dressings or sauces. I do not eat many veggies. It is not that I don’t care for these items, I physically can’t eat them. I will gag like a elementary-aged child. So when the missionary asked if we were hungry, I immediately thought of vegetables and insects. I mean, what do you eat way over there in Guatemala? To my incredible surprise, we pulled up to the drive through window at the biggest two-story Wendy’s that I have ever seen. Life was going to be ok. I was going to live. And honestly, that was probably the best plain chicken sandwich and fries that I have ever eaten in my life!

God is so good to me, to us. He knew the heartbreak that I had gone through leaving my friends and family. He knew how nervous I was about moving. He knew my concerns about being in a foreign country in a place where I didn’t speak the language. I knew when I saw that fast food restaurant that God would still take care of me. I know it sounds silly, but I felt that heavenly fried dinner was a gift! It was a reminder that God cares about me, even the smallest details.

I Peter 5:7 “Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you.”

Be Blessed,

Julie.

*Party of 8*

How did we get here? (The third and final part)

As a young mom, my focus was definitely on my family and my career. I didn’t have much time for anything more than that (or so I thought). But God opened the doors for my husband and I to start serving in our children’s church. We had never done children’s ministry and were completely unaware of what lied ahead of us. The next several years were both challenging and extremely rewarding. We watched God do some amazing things in the ministries in which we were blessed to be a part. I had no idea, but my husband had this incredible gift of making props, building stages, painting backdrops, and making up super fun games. We instantly fell in love with doing Christmas programs, Easter egg hunts, fall festivals and kid’s crusades. God continued to bless the programs and made it apparent to us that we were to love on His children. After spending several years at a couple different churches doing children’s church and all of the other events, God began to deal with us about the unchurched children. One of the reasons we loved the big events was for the opportunities for the new families and kids to accept Jesus as their Savior. God continued to place the idea of getting outside the four walls of the church into our hearts.

I will never forget one afternoon when I was driving home from work, I was praying to God for His guidance. As I was praying, I felt God was placing the word outreach with in my heart. I was asking God how and where we would do outreaches. I was crying as I prayed and my phone started ringing. I remember pulling myself together and answering the phone to hear a voice of a gentleman from church. I knew him only because we had met and exchanged hellos a few times. I am not sure how he got my number. But he began telling me that he had recently been asked to help with outreaches and the person who wanted the help specifically needed help with ministry to children. For real, I couldn’t believe it either. But God had just specifically answered my prayer. I couldn’t wait to get home to tell my husband about what God had done and was doing in our ministry. The really cool part was this man who was doing outreach ministry was someone I graduated with from high school. Our families were instant friends. The outreach team was called, “Soul Chasers.” Soul Chasers would give out groceries, clothing, ice cream, cotton candy, sno cones, candy bars and anything else we could get our hands on. We learned early on that when we offered something to people they were more willing to listen to what we had to say. We were seeing people come to know Jesus out on the streets. We did community outreaches where churches would give away food, groceries, clothing, cash prizes and bicycles. We would see crowds in the hundreds come and pray with the team. Some of these outreaches would take place in big open fields where we would bring in a huge flatbed trailer to use as a stage. We would do a children’s message and give-a-ways as well as songs and messages for the adults. It was pretty much one of the best experiences of my life. I say this because it was like getting a chance to take my whole family on a missions trip right in my own community. I watched my children overcome their fear of talking to other kids about Jesus. I saw them play with children who were unkept, poor mannered, and filthy. Instead of complaining or refusing, they actually fell in love with outreach. It was amazing to see them get so involved. God was so gracious to allow my children to be on board with what we were doing. Soul Chasers ministry came to an end as our dear friends moved north. But we continued to do similar ministries with our church. We began working with a homeless ministry serving meals and handing out clothes and toiletries. We continued to do occasional small outreaches in the community around our church.

One evening my husband and I met a couple from our church who foster children and have adopted several. We spent a couple hours talking to them. They told us their story and all about their amazing children. On our way home we started talking about how fostering children was like the ultimate outreach ministry. We began to discuss it on a regular basis. We spoke about opening our home and allowing foster children to be a part of our family. Then we started talking about the option of adopting as well. It was almost six months later when we decided we preferred to adopt and felt like that was what God would have for our family. We immediately knew we were interested in a sibling group because of their difficulty being placed and because we knew we would always want our own children to stay together. We were quickly matched to three beautiful children. I will not share their names or details, but they are wonderful. When they moved in, they had never been to church before. They thought it cost money to go to church. They were even surprised to hear that we had church year round and not just during the school year. The children now know of a loving Savior who died for them. They sing Bible songs and quote scripture. It is truly amazing to see how they have just soaked up God’s Word as if they are little sponges who were longing for someone to share it with them.

The testimony of our adoption story is incredible all on it’s own. So I will share about that separately sometime. But I have to say that God is so good. He taught us so much through the years doing children’s ministry and outreach ministry. He was preparing us for what is our current everyday ministry, our family. And what is even more special is that He was also preparing our three biological children for this ministry as well. We had no idea that one day we would be loving on children who were once a part of the very different world that we were ministering to only years ago. God is just so amazing. He knows every intricate detail of our lives. He has it all planned out for us. We are nothing without Him. My family is nothing special, we are not doing anything more than what He simply asked us to do. We are not perfect. We are still learning everyday as God leads us through our newfound craziness. But we love it because we know it is what He had in mind for us from the very beginning. We will continue to pray for His guidance and appreciate your prayers as well.

And this is how we got here, to our current PARTY OF 8!

Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Now you know how we got here. So I guess the next question is, “Where do we go from here?”

Julie

*Party of 8*

How did we get here? (Part two)

Just shy of my 17th birthday, I moved back to the US to go back to my high school and graduate with my friends. Although I had taken two years in one to graduate early, I really wanted to have the senior year experience. My parents worked out the details and I lived with friends of the family. I enjoyed another year of cheering. I enjoyed my last year of high school. But I felt like an outsider looking in on a life I no longer understood. My friends had changed and moved on without me. My closest friends and I remained close but there was something different. I had changed. I had spent a year in full time ministry. We did mobile medical clinics and I translated for doctors and dispensed medications in the pharmacy. We did children’s ministries and I did puppets and wore a clown suit. We had construction teams and I helped with meals and preparations. I even worked with a dental team and they let hold the suction and even clean teeth (now I am a dental hygienist)!!! I did things that my 16 year old friends had never, and most of them will never do in their life time. How could I explain to them how it felt to be in a place where people are so appreciative of what you do that they go a day without eating to afford to serve you a meal as a thank you? How could I explain the way the mothers would look into my eyes and thank me for giving their child a dollar store toy and a sucker? How could I give them a sense of the beautiful scenery with volcanoes and lakes? Or a sense of the smells of black beans and tortillas? It was beyond my ability to communicate to those around me of my experiences that year. I grew distant to most of those I had been close to previously. And as time went on, I settled back into a new norm. I married and started a family, all while my parents continued to serve overseas. My love for missions quieted by the busyness of every day life.

Although I had visited my parents several times through the years, it was actually 13 years from when I moved home until I went on my next missions trip. In 2005, I went to Russia with the dentists that I worked with at the time. We did dentistry in an orphanage. It was amazing and cold! We were there for two weeks. The first week we did dentistry for child and adult orphans in Saint Petersburg. The second week we went to Moscow and visited a pastor and his wife and did some site seeing. I became miserable the second week as I missed my children so much. I was beginning to get frustrated with my choice to stay on the second week as I felt my contribution was completed after the dental portion of the trip was finished. But the second week became a time of growth and change for me as God continued a work in my life that He had started so many years prior. The pastor and his wife had a 6 year old daughter who was drawn to me, I don’t know why. She followed me everywhere I went. It was comforting to a point since I missed my own children who were 3 and 4 at the time. But it was also strange to me that this child would be so clingy to me. Then I started remembering how it was for me when I lived in Guatemala with my parents. The best times were when we had teams of people come down from the States. They would bring us gifts, like Jif creamy peanut butter and Hershey’s chocolate syrup. They would play with me and love on me. They were my friends when I otherwise had none. Each team member sowing into my life in a different way. As I sat and thought about this time in my life, God revealed to me an incredible opportunity ahead of me. I began to play with this child and be silly and laugh with her. Her parents were so excited for her new found friendship. I was in awe of God’s ability to use me in a way that seemed so insignificant to me. But God reminded me that there is nothing insignificant about showing God’s love to others.

Romans 12:10, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”

More to come….

Julie

*Party of 8*

…and how did SHE get here???

So when I was 15 and my family moved to Guatemala, I met someone who would become a very important part of my life. She was two and a half at the time. She wore her hair in these adorable pig tail type braids that met on top of her head and connected together. She wore these jelly shoes that you could hear as she ran through the room. She spoke only a few words and they were in Ixil, a Mayan Indian dialect. Thankfully, she understood our broken Spanish. And when we met, she spoke one glorious word in English- it was my name! She would run through the hallways of the malnutrition center where she lived just yelling my name, Julie, at the top of her lungs! It was my favorite sound. It wasn’t long after we met that I wanted to bring her home with me. She crawled up in my dad’s lap and proclaimed that he was her poppy and the rest was history! She was my new baby sister. She was my world. I showed her off to everyone I met. She was beautiful with these big dark eyes that would melt my heart. She came into our lives and changed it for the better in so many ways. That was many years ago and this precious little one will celebrate her 29th birthday tomorrow. My baby sister is all grown up. She will always be my baby sister though. She makes fun of my middle aged blunders. She teases about my old person music preferences. She laughs at me and pokes fun! She is my sister. Somewhere in the middle of it all, she also became my friend. I love her sense of humor and her laughter. I love her smile and her dimple in the end of her nose. And although I don’t tell her often enough, she is one of my absolute favorite people on this planet and I love her with my whole heart! Happy Birthday, Stusta!!!

How did we get here??? (Part one)

Welcome to my first ever blog! For quite some time I have felt that God wants me to share with others through the spoken and written word. I have decided to start blogging as one of the ways to share of His incredible timing and love. I hope to write a new blog every week to two weeks or as time allows. I hope you will follow my blog and you will be encouraged and reminded of God’s goodness.

So how did we get here? As I look back on my life up to this point I am in awe of God’s timing. From the beginning, God had a plan in place for my life. My testimony is not one of deliverance from darkness or miraculous changes. My testimony is all about God’s timing from one point in my life to the next. I feel in order to truly explain who I am and what God has brought me to and through in my life, I have to start at the beginning.

I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior when I was five years old. It was nothing dramatic, a simple prayer beside my bed, and I was a Christian. I grew up in church. We went every time the doors were open. My parents were involved in every ministry the church offered. It was what I would have considered to be a typical Christian family. That is, until my parents went on their first missions trip overseas. I think it was Guatemala. They came back with what seemed like some kind of strange addiction. Serving overseas was like their new favorite past time. I was fourteen when I went on my first trip, it was to Venezuela. It was incredible. I loved every minute of it. It was certainly a life changing trip that I will never forget. But months later when my parents told me that they felt God was calling them to move overseas for full time ministry, I was devastated. I was fifteen and captain of my cheerleading squad. I had friends, a boyfriend, and a life that I wasn’t prepared to leave behind. It was one of the hardest things I had ever done. I spent the next year in Guatemala with my parents in full time missions ministry. (I have lots of stories from that year to blog about later!) That year I experienced so many things that I would later realize were all stepping stones in the ministry that God was preparing me for as an adult. One thing that still stands out in my mind was a week we spent with children hosting an Olympics. There were hundreds of kids. We would play with the kids during the day and help them as they competed in different categories. In the evenings we had church. We would do skits and mimes. I don’t remember the skits we did or the songs we sang. What I do remember is that one night the children were told about Jesus and His love for them and how He died on the cross to save them. They were told to find someone to pray with them. Two young girls approached me. They were girls I had played with all week. They told me they wanted me to pray with them to ask Jesus into their hearts. I remember that I felt so nervous to pray in Spanish as it was something I had never done. But after praying that prayer of salvation with those two girls, I felt like I had somehow changed too. It was like something awakened inside of me. God had used me for something amazing, and I was only sixteen. There is certainly more to my story, but I feel this is a good breaking point for now. Let me leave you with the verse God gave to me for that particular time in my life. It has continued to be one of my favorites throughout the years.

I Timothy 4:12, “Let no one despise or think less of you because of your youth, but be an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” (AMP)

Be Blessed,

Julie.

*Party of 8*