Archive for the ‘Family Life’ Category

  • Knowing You Can Do More

    Date: 2019.06.07 | Category: Faith, Family Life, Food for Thought Friday

    In March 2018, I wrote a blog post called Thriving Not Just Surviving.  I poured my heart out about why we were moving and what I wanted to happen.  It’s one of the best blogs I have ever written and no one will ever read it.  Well, my mother-in-law and my grown kids have read it, but that will be it.  I can’t post it.

    Why?

    Because it didn’t come true.  I mean we moved but what I planned didn’t happen.  The reasons we moved were sound.  I did tons and tons of research.  I planned who would move to what room.  I planned what we would take with us.  I reused everything we had and I donated everything we wouldn’t need.   We worked hard fixing up our old house to sell and fixing up the new smaller house to move into.  My brother and his family were a huge help!   We moved one room at a time and went through everything in each and every room.

    I was horrified…

    At how much stuff we could give away.

    How much stuff we really truly didn’t need.

    How much stuff we had accumulated over the years.

    How much money we had spent collecting this stuff. 

    I kept thinking about those articles that show people around the world standing with all that they own in their front yards.  What would my yard look like?  Just google Americans and what they own.  There are 1,000’s of articles talking about how we are drowning in stuff.  That’s how I felt.  I felt like I was drowning in things that didn’t matter.  It felt good to purge it.  To simplify.  So we moved. 

    BUT then, for many reasons that I won’t go into, we moved back to our old home and none of what I wrote could ever be said.

    It’s really strange to say that I feel sad living in a big house.  I mean most people would be ecstatic to have 7 bedrooms and 3 baths and an extra 800 feet of living space (an apartment) in the garage.  Most people don’t understand how a big, beautiful house could make you sad.  I mean isn’t that what we all want? 

    More. 

    More house. 

    More room. 

    More things.

    I used to feel that way, but not any more.

    I wanted to spend less money every month so we could give more away.  Since I was a little girl I have wanted to be a philanthropist.  I have always wanted to anonymously give and do big things.  I didn’t want to be famous for it.  I just loved the thought of stepping in when people needed something and being God’s hands and feet.  

    I wanted to stop stressing about a house that I can never seem to make look like the big, beautiful house that it is.  It looked beautiful when we didn’t live in it, but it’s stressful trying to make it look put together.  I fail daily at that.

    13 kids are messy.  4 kids in wheelchairs and 2 kids with severe delays and extreme messy tendencies make for more than I can keep up with.  Well, I can’t keep up with making it look like a magazine ad.  I will admit that I have always had a bit of OCD when it comes to my house.  It’s hard to tell amidst the mess but I like organized.  I like a place for everything and everything in it’s place.  I really, really like that.  I mean really like that!  My kids, however, do not share this same passion. 

    We moved back to the bigger house for many reasons.  Reasons that everyone else had.  I can agree with most of the reasons but I still dealt with sadness.  Sadness that I couldn’t make the smaller house work.  Sadness because I felt like my dream died.   I feel guilt along with that sadness.

    I don’t know what to do with this guilt that I feel.  And before anyone starts to comment about guilt, I want you to know that I think we should all have some of this guilt.   Even years ago when we were struggling with money, we still had so much.  I see that now.   Maybe it’s wisdom that comes with age or maybe it’s because Love Without Boundaries has opened my eyes to the need all over the world, but there is such need everywhere.  I have so much so how could I not I feel some guilt?

    Guilt that I get to live in America where I can order anything I want at any time. Guilt that I can order food at any drive through I want or grab a cart full of whatever pleases me at the local grocery store.  Guilt that I own so much that I really don’t need.   Guilt that happens when I open up my inbox and read e-mails about trafficked children and children digging through the dump to find plastic to sell to get one meal a day and children who die because they need the simplest of medical care that we take for granted.  When I read about mothers walking hours to try to find someone to help their baby or families that sell everything they own trying to get the medical care their child needs.  Children who never get to go to school or have to drop out to work  when they hit the 3rd grade.  Children as young as 6 caring for their younger siblings while their families work.  My list could go on and on.   I feel guilt because I know the truth.

    I don’t deserve any of this.   It’s luck of the draw that I was born here, in this time, in this country.  Granted Dan worked hard to get through school and it took 15 years of our life to get through schooling and training, I am not downplaying hard work and working for success.   I believe in working hard for what you have.   I don’t want to take that for granted, but when God gives us much we should do more.  That’s what I want to do. MORE!

    Here’s what our move has taught me.  We can always do more.  We made a way for two house payments during all of this.  Granted I pushed our budget to the MAX and we had to borrow BUT it showed me there was wiggle room for doing more.  We all think we don’t have enough.  We all think we will do it later or someone else will do it.   But is that true?  Why do we hold on so tight to what we have?   Why are we so ready to spend our money on things that really don’t matter? 

    I mean I’m constantly looking at crowdfunding stuff that gets blown out of this world while people are trying to buy the next BIG thing that hasn’t been made yet.

    And yet at Love Without Boundaries we share these stories of hurting kids and families in need, and although we have the best supporters,

    and this bears repeating…THE VERY BEST SUPPORTERS,

    and have had them for a long time, we can’t quite get to the next level.  Some children never get funded.  Some stories just don’t tug on people’s heartstrings.  Some kids just wait.  We always seem to find a way to help but still there’s so much need that we have to say no to.  Why do kids wait for surgery?  Shouldn’t we all be lining up to do the right thing? 

    To help children who are trafficked. 

    To help fund a surgery so parents can stay with their child. 

    To help the mother who needs just a little help to feed her children. 

    To help a child get schooling so they can get out of this cycle of poverty. 

    To give someone a hot meal and an encouraging word.

    There’s so much to do and yet…

    Why does a new fangled watch that needs 100’s of 1,000’s of dollars get funded in 24 hours and a child who needs help sits waiting for someone to step up?

    Why? 

    Why don’t we step up?

    Why don’t we want to do more?

    My heart is so heavy.

    I don’t know what God has planned but my dream that I had last April is gone.  I wasn’t going to share my feelings.  It’s hard to be uncomfortable.  It’s hard to make yourself vulnerable.  It’s hard to share your thoughts and your feelings.  It’s hard to put yourself out there.  It’s easier to stay in our bubble of comfort and pretend that there aren’t hurting people in the world.  I saw this post and it helped…

    I can’t mess up God’s plan, I’m not that important.

    I was bogged down in feeling sad that I couldn’t do what I thought was the right way to do more, but I know God always provides a way.  I’ve seen it happen time and time again.  God knows the need.  He’s the answer, not me.  I’m but a small drop in a big ocean.  Now I’m just waiting for Him to show me what is next because there’s so much to do and I don’t know where to start.

    So much of my life went by while I was striving for the American dream and I realize that it was all a lie.  I don’t know why it took so long for my eyes to be opened, but now that they are…

    I want to open everyone’s eyes because we are striving for the wrong things.  We don’t need 10 blankets if we already have 8 and only use 5.  We need to share.  We need to comfort others.  We need to do more.  We need to step up and get out of our comfort zone.   Francis Chan said it best…

    “Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that really don’t matter.”

    I don’t want to strive for things that really don’t matter any more.  I don’t want to be afraid to speak up worrying about what people will say.  I don’t want to be quiet any more. 

    I guess that’s what has made me the saddest about our move not working.  I wanted to be able to say, “See we did with less and you can too.”  It’s hard to preach about giving more to people when you live in a big, beautiful house.   They look at you and say, “Well, it’s easy for you to give.  You have so much.”  But I am saying we can all give more. 

    More of our time.

    More of our love.

    More of everything.

    We can all do that.   It’s not necessarily about money.  It’s about being there.  It’s about being invested.  It’s about caring.  It’s about sharing something as simple as a smile or an encouraging word.  It’s about making life not about you but about others. 

    Step out of your comfort zone and be the something that someone else needs today.  Don’t wait! 

  • J.J.’s Make A Wish (part 2)

    Date: 2019.03.08 | Category: Family Life, Jessica

    When we started this process, we had heard that wishes can sometimes take a while to be fulfilled.  We were prepared to wait for months but everything seemed to just fall into place.

    In December we agreed that her physicians could nominate J.J. for a wish.  In January we heard that her wish had been granted.  At the end of January, Brooke and Marcy visited and went over all the paperwork and figured out what J.J.’s wish was.  We had the reveal party on the 14th of February and were prepared to wait until the end of March or so for the install.  Imagine our surprise when Anna, from Make-A-Wish, called to ask if they could do the install this week.

    A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!!

    When J.J. decided on her wish we agreed that we would use the sunroom for her playplace. The room has lots of windows and is sunny and bright.   It also has a peaked 18 foot ceiling.  It’s a narrow room but it’s where the kids love to play.  We hired a great guy to put french doors in the two big entry ways leading to the living room and dining room, and to put in a door to close off the back end of the room so it could be a contained space for everyone to safely play.

    When we were discussing the plans with Brooke and Marcy, Dan mentioned how much J.J. wishes she could play on the playplaces at restaurants.  J.J. is very small and she scoots around on the floor. It’s hard for her when bigger kids are running over her.  Her immunosuppression makes everything more difficult too.  We try to keep her away from anyone who is sick.

    Honestly, unless you meet her in person, it’s hard to even imagine how small she is when she is sitting and scooting.  As you can see she’s a tiny girl.  I had made this picture when we were trying to show her size to the grant committee.  J.J. is 11, Maisey is 8, and Evie is 7 in this picture.

    Dan mentioned again how it would be wonderful if we could make something like this happen for her.  I couldn’t even let my mind go there.  I know that those playplaces are expensive and thought there was no way something that awesome could come true.  Dan told me to just see what God has planned for J.J. and not limit what we think they can do.

    Imagine my surprise when they sent the original plans.

    We taped the dimensions off in the room and showed the kids where it would go.   We thought we had a clue.

    HOWEVER, we did not…

    These two guys have been at our house for three days, patiently answering questions and having little eyes sneak peeks around the corner at them, while they were installing this beast.

    I don’t know what to say.  We are feeling overwhelmingly blessed.

    They made a dream come true for a little girl, who has been through more than any child should ever have to endure, and her very, very, very excited siblings.

    The laughter and fun that this will bring to her life is absolutely…

    PRICELESS!

    No more boring recesses at the Ellsbury home school.

    I wish I could share with you the squeals of delight we heard for hours tonight.

    Don’t let Max’s face fool you.  He had more fun on the playground than anyone else.  He ran and ran and ran through the tunnels and down the slide and across the monkey bars.  He just never, ever smiles in pictures.

    They will all sleep well tonight.

    J.J. is beyond thrilled and so very happy.

    I think her smile says it all..

    Thank you Make A Wish Iowa  and  Go Play Systems for making our little girl’s dream come true!!!

     

     

  • Make A Wish J.J. (part 1)

    Date: 2019.03.08 | Category: Family Life, Jessica

    In January 2018, J.J. received a new kidney through a transplant.  While J.J. was in the hospital recovering, her doctor informed us that she could be granted a wish from the Make A Wish Foundation.

    We gave it much thought, and for many different reasons had decided not to proceed with the wish.  Every month or so we would have an appointment and they would ask us if we had considered J.J. getting a wish.   We would politely say that we didn’t wish to proceed.  One day J.J.’s doctor asked us why we weren’t proceeding with the wish.  We told her our reasons and she simply said, “It isn’t about the gift as much as it’s about making J.J. feel special.”  Her doctor then asked, “Doesn’t J.J. deserve to feel extra special with all that she’s been through?  If you feel guilty about the cost, just donate it back to Make A Wish at a later date.”

    We went home and thought about it some more.  We weren’t even sure J.J. would understand what being granted a wish meant.  We didn’t try to explain Make A Wish (MAW) to J.J. but we did ask her what she would do if she could have any wish she wanted.  Her answers were so sweet, but we couldn’t make any of them come true.  I wrote about this conversation on Facebook.  Here is that post from October 2018.

    When I put the kids to bed at night I like to ask a random question just to hear everyone’s thoughts. Tonight I asked Maisey, Evie, JJ, Elyse and Grace the question “What would you wish for?”
    Elyse – No more orphanages.
    J.J. – A family for every kid.
    Maisey – No more mean people.
    Evie – I would wish to be a genie so I could make everyone happy.
    Me – No, I mean a wish you could actually make happen.
    Elyse – To Travel the world and save a million souls.
    JJ – No more stealing little girls.
    Elyse – Yes, no more slavery of any kind.
    JJ – To adopt a baby.
    Evie – To have a pet zebra that I could hug every day.
    Maisey – To be tiny so I could ride a butterfly.
    Me – Does anyone have any wish that could actually come true?
    Elyse – An underground playplace where Grace and I can secretly hang with our friends.
    Me – That’s a little closer to something that could actually happen.
    Maisey – I am gonna be a ninja.
    Evie – I am just gonna make people happy myself I guess.
    Grace – A car would be nice. I can drive in 3 years.
    JJ – But mama I don’t need anything.

    Over the next month we would randomly talk about wishes.  I explained to Grace what was going on and she would just say to J.J., “No, a wish that could come true. You know like when I wished for a car.”

    In December her team at the hospital informed us that if we were going to do a wish, then we would have to proceed soon.  J.J. needed to be nominated within the first year of her transplant and we were fast approaching the one year mark on January 1st. We decided to let them nominate J.J. and see if she would even be granted a wish.

    After we received the letter granting J.J.’s wish, we decided to be honest with J.J. and ask her about specific wishes.  Make A Wish sends out a book and paperwork that you can ask the child questions about.  We asked her about celebrities she wanted to meet – there weren’t any.  We asked her about traveling – she said, “I’ve already been to Disney.  I didn’t like it very much.”   We asked her to consider if there was anything that she could think of that she really wanted.  It could be a big wish.  She just had to let us know and she could draw a picture if she wanted to.

    She came to us first asking about helping orphans.  We told her that we loved her heart but this needed to be a wish that could be granted and that we, as a family, would always do what we could to help orphans.

    She came back to us with the idea for an indoor playground.   She drew out her pictures and told us what she wanted and why she wanted it.

    REASONS WHY SHE WANTS AN INDOOR PLAYPLACE:

    • Big play places have big kids that run her over and scare her.
    • She is supposed to try to not get sick.
    • Her brothers and sisters would love it.
    • She wants to surprise her brothers & sisters.
    • It’s cold like half the time here.
    • She likes to play with her brothers & sisters.

    WHAT SHE WOULD LIKE IT TO HAVE:

    • Low monkey bars that her and Elyse can do.
    • Rock climbing wall with one of those soft things you can fall on for Maisey.
    • A swing.
    • A lookout tower to see the tall windows.
    • A slide.
    • Tiny play house

    Her request was just so sweet and well thought out.  It was hard to say no after that.  Dan and I thought long and hard and decided to let her have her dream.   Well, honestly it didn’t take long to make the decision after seeing her sweet face excitedly tell us all about her plans.

    The best part of all of this is that she wanted it to be a surprise.  She has been so cute keeping her secret. I have to admit that it has been almost as much fun watching her plan her secret as when she was granted the wish.  Brooke and Marcy, volunteers with MAW, came out to our house to ask J.J. questions.  J.J. told them what she wanted and why she wanted it and they were so excited for her. My favorite part of them asking her questions was her answer to how do you see your wish playing out?   J.J.’s answer was so sweet.  She said she could see her brothers and sisters saying, “Wow J.J.!  You are really good at keeping secrets.  This is amazing!  You are the best!”  She could hardly contain her excitement.

    Brooke and Marcy told her that they were unsure if they could make that wish come true but that they would really try hard.  It wasn’t a wish that they had ever had before.  They asked her for a second option in case they couldn’t make the first wish come true.  J.J.’s request for her second wish was to adopt a baby.  Brooke and Marcy told her that they couldn’t make the second wish come true.  They asked her if there was anything else and J.J. told them no.

    Marcy and Brooke talked to J.J. about what they would do when they told her siblings.  They came up with a plan to have a reveal party so that J.J. could surprise her brothers and sisters with the plans.  Marcy and Brooke asked her if she wanted a pizza party, or cake, or cookies?  J.J. asked if she could have a Slim Jim and Pepsi party.  That was a first for them I think.  lol

    What can I say the girl really likes Slim Jims…

    We had been told that wishes can take a long time to be planned.  That they would let us know when they heard anything.  We were so surprised when just a few weeks later MAW called and said that they found a company willing to work with them and they had a plan they were sending our way.   It was amazing!  We couldn’t wait to show J.J.

    Marcy and Brooke emailed and said that we could have a reveal party.  I told them our son and family would be home from Wisconsin next weekend and asked them if that was too soon to have the party.  They were beyond kind and agreed to having a party on very short notice.  We decided not to tell J.J. about the party so that she could be surprised too.  We would have her play down in the basement with her siblings and then Grace, who was in on the secret, would bring her up and we would surprise J.J. and then we would bring up everyone else and she could surprise them.  Marcy came up with a great idea where everyone got an envelope and inside the envelope was a picture of the playground.   J.J. had them hand out the envelopes and then she counted to three and had them open the envelopes.

    In hindsight I realize that we probably shouldn’t have surprised her.  She needs time to adjust to things. I remember when we gave her her first wheelchair.  She sat in the chair and cried for an hour because she was so overwhelmed with the gift.

    She was very quiet during her party.  She was happy but I could tell something wasn’t quite right.  After it was all said and done I asked her what was wrong.  She told me that she was just so happy that she was having a hard time not crying and she didn’t want Marcy and Brooke to see her tears and think she didn’t like her party.

    So now we wait for the very special date when they will install her playground. We have heard that it could be as soon as next month.  I still can’t believe this is happening but this is one gift that will be used over and over again.  In the plans, J.J. got her low-to-the-ground monkey bars, a covered slide, and a tunnel to hide out in.

    J.J. picked the perfect gift.  She has such a sweet heart.  Dan and I LOVE the way she included everyone in her idea.  I can’t wait to watch them play and hear their laughter while they enjoy J.J.’s gift.   We are going to call it “J’s Play Place” so everyone remembers to be thankful to their sister who included them in her dream.

    Thank you  Make-A-Wish Iowa for making one very special little girl’s dream come true.

     

  • National Sibling Day

    Date: 2018.04.11 | Category: Adoption, Family Life

    Once upon a time I wanted a very large family.  I thought 12 kids would be so much fun.   I’m not sure I ever told Dan this when we were dating.  I probably figured I would scare him away.

    Our first two babies were such an exciting time.  Dan and I found out we were having twins.  All was right with the world.  We were over the moon excited

    And then life happened…

     

    Codey – 2 pounds 7 ounces

    3 pounds 8 ounces – Kyle

    And then the world just seemed to stop as we buried Kyle and spent 14 months in the hospital with Codey.

    I absolutely guarantee you I was NEVER going to get pregnant again.

    But God had different and much better plans.

    We found out we were expecting when we were still in the hospital with Codey.

    What a gracious and good God we have.  Zach was such a wonderful sibling for Codey.

    Playing with Zach!

    And I was done!

    But then Dan said, “You’ve always wanted a little girl, Lisa.”  And I started to dream…

    And we had sweet Cassie and our family was complete.

    But then Dan heard about a little girl who needed a family and we decided to proceed with Hope’s adoption.

    And our family seemed complete again.

    I’m seeing a pattern here…

    And

    And then came baby Gracie.

    And once again our family was complete.

    Until Dan thought we should adopt again and after my reluctant foot dragging, I agreed.

    And then we adopted Ben and Maisey…

    And we knew that we were done growing our family.

    But after seeing all the little hearts waiting for families, we knew our family was not complete.

    So we added Jasmine, Lainey, Evie and Eli.

    This brought our children to that magic number 12.  We were so happy

    and said we were SO done.

    Until we set out to adopt another older girl because Jasmine dreamed we could do more.

    And Max and Elyse joined our family.

    The magic number 14.  2 sets of 7 and 7 means completion, perfection.

    We were done!

    But God and Elyse and Gracie had different plans.

    Liam and JJ brought us to number 16.

    15 children here on earth who get to care for each other, pray for each other, play with each other.

    We try hard to cultivate a feeling of belonging and connection.  We want them to have a safe place to grow and learn and find out who they are and what their purpose is.

    Praying that they are always there for each other no matter what.

    I know I won’t always be around but I love the fact that they will always have each other.

    Happy National Sibling Day!

     

  • The Year of the Dog

    Date: 2018.02.18 | Category: Family Life

    Our children love to celebrate Lunar New Year, which is the Chinese New Year!  We make all their favorites – chicken feet, steamed buns, potstickers, rice, noodles, and many other spicy dishes.  They look forward to this holiday and it is fun decorating our house and learning more about their birth country.

    This year is the “Year of the Dog” and our family set out to do it right.  Ok, not really, none of this was really planned.   Here is how the story played out.

    This past fall we set out to get a puppy.  One of our older dogs had a stroke and we had to let him go.  Everyone was sad that Sammi was gone.  Snickers, our other eight year old dog, seemed very sad and alone.   Snickers is a cockapoo and one of the best dogs around.   Dan and I had never been big fans of indoor or small dogs, but Snickers won us over.  We initially got him for Hope when she was about 12.  We had hoped that as she entered her teenage years she would come to understand what it meant to care for something else and be responsible for the care of this animal.

    Snickers and Hope have a sweet bond.  Snickers is seriously the best dog.  He knows who needs hugs.  He knows who is getting sick.  You can always find him sleeping next to the person who needs him most.  So when we set out to get another puppy we looked for a cockapoo and hoped for find one with the same personality as Snickers.  We found this sweet puppy and fell in love.

    She is a blue merle cockapoo puppy that is bouncy and ready to please everyone.  Gracie is who she has bonded with and Max and Lainey help to care for this sweet, smart puppy.

    As we were deciding to purchase Doodle, Dan asked if J.J. could hold the little white teddy bear puppy.  The teddy bear puppy climbed on J.J.’s lap, licked J.J.’s face a couple of times and fell asleep in J.J.’s arms.  Suddenly it looked as though we were purchasing two puppies.  I mean how do you say no to this?

    Lily is her name and she is a sweet, little puppy.

    Evie Faith and J.J. take care of Lily and make sure she gets lots and lots of love.

    After being home for a few days, we noticed that Doodle was going to Gracie and Lily was definitely J.J.’s puppy which left Elyse, who also shared a room with the girls, without a puppy.   Dan and I watched Elyse and could tell she was feeling left out even though she never said anything.  Dan started searching for another puppy.  I mean at this point one more puppy wasn’t going to make a lot of difference.  Right? Hahaha

    Dan brought up the idea of another puppy.  Elyse was talking about how she loves golden doodles and she loves their curly, apricot hair.  Elyse is very active and loves to go fast in her wheelchair.  We knew Elyse needed a puppy that was playful and could keep up with her.   Dan found this pretty little girl and we made plans to go get her.

    Elyse named her puppy Noodle.  Maisey and Elyse love Noodle, who is very laid back and eager to please.

    While I was looking at the site, I noticed there was one more puppy available.  The little brother to Noodle.  I asked the owner about him and she said there were a couple of people trying to decide if he was the right puppy for them.  I loved his sweet face.  The owner told me about his sweet disposition.  She even mentioned that he would make a great therapy puppy.   I tried to talk Elyse into getting this little guy but she was set on her puppy.  I guess I looked like I needed a puppy too because Dan told me to tell the owner that we would take both puppies.

    So now I have a puppy too.  His name is Paladin and everyone loves him.  He is mellower than mellow.  He truly is such a sweet puppy.  He is just the right puppy for Jasmine to hold on her lap.  She isn’t able to hang on to much, but he is so chill he just calmly sits on her lap.

    Ben and Liam help in caring for Paladin.  The truth is everyone LOVES Pali.   He’s just a sweet puppy.

    While we were picking up Paladin and Noodle we noticed a little beagle puppy that the owner was holding.  She said this beagle pup was the runt of the litter and they had to keep him separated.  I told Dan to hold the puppy but he refused.  He was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to say “No” to this face if he actually held the puppy.  We already had four puppies and we certainly didn’t need anymore.

    But as you can see that didn’t last long…

    Dan has wanted a beagle puppy since he was little.  Hope started talking about having a puppy too and how she would take care of it.  We were worried about the puppy getting along with the other dogs and whether he would be a howler or not.  We talked to the owner and she said that this puppy was sweet and was known to whine for attention but wasn’t a big howler.  Hope convinced Dan that if the puppy didn’t get along with the others that she would take him to her apartment when she moved out in May.

    And Ripley came home with us the next week.   Hope and Eli LOVE their beagle pup.

    All the puppies get along great.  Someone asked how we get children and puppies to get along.  I wish I had some great advice, but I don’t.   It just seems to happen.

    Here is how they sleep.

    The puppies have brought a little more chaos into the home but a whole lot more love too.  Watching the kids and puppies play together is so dang cute.  They chase each other in circles around the house.   The puppies even snuggle up next to Lainey and give her some love.

    The puppies hang out with the kids during school time.

    And they even like to go for rides in the bus.

    Our puppies certainly give new meaning to the “Year of the Dog” but all in all it’s been a wonderful adventure and I wouldn’t change a thing.   Five puppies isn’t really as crazy as it seems when there is this much love to go around.

    Happy New Year everyone!

    May peace and love fill your heart, beauty fill your world, and contentment and joy fill your days!

     

  • It’s Cute How I Think I’m in Control

    Date: 2018.01.15 | Category: Faith, Family Life

    I have always had an issue with control.  Bad things happened to me as a kid and I thought I could control it by keeping everything around me “just so”.  Rooms had to be cleaned in a specific order before I went to bed.  Lights could only be turned off in certain order.  It wasn’t really OCD, I could not do it, but I just needed to feel as if I had some semblance of control.

    I let go of most of that when Codey and Kyle were born.  There’s nothing better to make you put things in perspective and to let you know you have no control then having your children born 12 weeks early.  Kyle’s death and Codey’s subsequent 14 months in the hospital were a constant reminder that I was not in control.  I learned very quickly what was important and it was no longer the order in which I cleaned a room or whether or not everything was put back where it belonged.

    On this journey, I have learned how to trust God and turn it all over to Him time and time again.  But that hasn’t really stopped me from thinking that if I work hard enough I can control my little corner of the world.

    December 30 and 31st of 2017 found me making plans and lots and lots of lists.  I cleaned out the kitchen.  I got rid of anything that I hadn’t used in a year.  I put together two storage cubbies with wheels so I could put my rice cooker, pressure cooker and other gadgets on so they weren’t on my counters.  My counters were going to look like a magazine – a minimalist magazine.   My counters were no longer going to look as if 13 small children still lived in my home.  My cupboards were going to be organized.  There was going to be a place for everything and everything in it’s place.  I was once and for all going to get it together.

    I typed up my exercise plan.  I worked out my Keto diet which I had lost weight on and had mostly stopped over the holidays. I made my grocery list.  I looked up a few more recipes.  2018 and was going to be fabulous.  I was going to rock this.  I had already proven I could lose weight on this plan so instead of beating myself up over not losing all 60 in one year, I was going to dust myself off, congratulate myself on the first half gone, and move on to the last half.  That weight didn’t stand a chance.

    I made my list of the rooms to clean and what needed to be done in each room.   I picked a room to do during each and every day of the first week of January.  I was NOT going to wait for spring to spring clean.  I was going to do it now so when we started school again, everything was going to run like clockwork.  I was already so proud of myself.  Look at these lists.  I had thought of everything.

    I wrote my resolution list on the kitchen window.   I have found that I spend a lot of time at that window.  During the past two months I had used a wet erase marker and wrote the things I needed to see during the day for encouragement.   It already said 90 days without pop and listed my 27 pound weight loss.   Now it was going to say:   Less cussing, stick to a budget, lose 30 more pounds, and give more.

    I wanted to be a better person.  I want to live more frugally so that we can give more away.  Our work with Love Without Boundaries has shown me over and over again what it is like to live in a third world country and what so many people go through.  My heart breaks and I know for a fact that our family can do more and this was the year to do it.

    Dude I was rocking this.   It wasn’t even the first and I had the first room done.  My counters sparkled.  Everything had a place.  I had gone through all my cupboards.  I was the donation, recycling, garbage master.

    But then January 1st came.  I slept in so I was well rested.  Heck, I might even do two rooms today, that’s how good I was feeling.  I was ready to go.  The kids knew the plan.  We were going to do a room a day and be completely organized.  They were ready.  I was ready.

    And then we got the call.

    Would you accept this kidney for Jessica?

    And again I learned who cares if the house is spotless?  Who cares if I’m completely organized?  Who cares if I don’t have it all together?  Who cares about lists?  Who cares?

    J.J. has a chance at new health.  J.J. has a chance to not only grow but to maybe grow old.

    What a gift.

    It makes me wonder if God was watching me frantically typing out my lists over the weekend, so proud of myself.  Look what I am going to do.  Look what I am going to accomplish.  Saying to himself, “Oh sweet child, you have no idea.  Do you think He turns to the angel next to him and says,  “It’s so cute how she thinks she’s in control isn’t it?”

    So technically none of my list got done.  You could even say I failed cause I cussed when they called, I spent money not in our budget while we were in the hospital and I gained two pounds.  Technically I messed up 3 of the 4 resolutions all ready.  I had better find my checkbook quick.

    But oh how good God is.  I’m pretty sure it was me who said, “I think I’ve already learned this lesson.”, but maybe just maybe I still have a ways to go.   Good thing God is patient and extends lots and lots of grace.

    2018 is going to be an incredible year and it has absolutely nothing to do with what I will accomplish and everything to do with what He has already done!

    I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.  Psalm 104:33

     

     

  • A Most Extraordinary Life

    Date: 2018.01.08 | Category: Adoption, Faith, Family Life

    I read this verse this morning in my devotional and it made me think about Dan and my life together.

    Ephesians 3:20 says, “Glory be to God, who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of — infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes” (TLB).

    Whenever we are in the hospital, people say all the time that we are amazing.  It makes us both uncomfortable.  It’s not a pretending to be humble thing.   As Dan said the other day, it’s like being thanked for breathing.   Let me assure you that we are not amazing.  We are human.  We make mistakes.  We haven’t done anything amazing.  We just decided to be obedient when God called, stepped out in faith, and trusted God with everything.

    We didn’t set out to have twins early or to deal with all the complications that they had, or to bury a child. In fact, presented with those options, I’m pretty sure our 23 year old selves would have said “NO!”

    We didn’t set out to adopt a little girl with a major heart defect, but when face to face with a little girl who was alone and just needed a family to love her, what else could we do?

    When we did set out to adopt again, we were just going to do one more adoption. It made sense to add the second child when China made the option available. Hope really wanted to adopt a little boy with a heart defect and we would be able to do that. God lead again and we followed.

    When we went to adopt, our hearts were broken by what we saw in the orphanage and by how Ben and Maisey reacted to us.  They just wanted love and they soaked our love in.  I will never forget watching Ben cling to Dan from the moment he met Dan.  Ben loved Dan from the beginning.  Ben clinged to Dan.  When we visited the orphanage Ben had lived in for almost 4 years, Ben absolutely refused to go to any of his previous caregivers.  Instead Ben buried his head in Dan’s neck and held on for dear life.  My heart would never be the same again.  Our hearts were forever broken for the children who wait.  We said, “God use us.  We will follow!”   We knew we could do more so we said “Use us!”

    It’s easy to pray to God to use you when those are just words that you are uttering.  The hard part begins when He starts to show you what He wishes for you to do.  You doubt yourself.  Satan uses the world to whisper in your ear that you are not enough.  You will never be enough.   Dan and I are only human.  So because of those doubts and fears, we put limitations on our obedience.  We said we wouldn’t adopt an older child. We wouldn’t adopt a child who had severe mental delays.  We felt that this would put an undue burden on our older children.  If something happened to us, they would already be caring for Codey. How Could we ask them to do more?

    The very next year God lead us to 4 children, an almost 14 year old girl and a severely delayed little girl, plus two little heart kiddos.  I won’t go in to details here, because I’ve written about it a lot in past blogs, but that year was an amazing year of God showing up and making miracle after miracle happen.  We didn’t set out to adopt 4, but we heard Him loud and clear saying “put 4 on the homestudy” when we started.  We had no idea what it meant.  Then we set out to follow where He lead.

    We ended up adopting two more the following year.  We knew we were probably done.  14 children, 11 of them with significant needs seemed like a good place to stop.  Then my friend sent me JJ’s picture and said “Doesn’t she look like an Ellsbury?” and my heart was stolen by this sweet face so we agreed to advocate for her.

    When Elyse and Grace started talking about JJ being their sister, it was hard.  Obviously we would love to help every child but know we can’t so we drug our feet.  Elyse and Grace were insistent  that she was their sister.  They had every child in our house praying for JJ at every meal.  They would talk about her as if she already lived with us. And when Elyse, who was lying in her bed after getting ready to go to sleep said, “If she dies in China, I will never be able to forgive myself.”, Dan and I knew we had to seriously look at whether it was right for our family to adopt her.

    Truth-be-told Dan and I knew instantly that she was our daughter but we did everything in our power to justify that we had done enough.  But God didn’t let up on our hearts.  Our hearts grew heavier and heavier for JJ.  We see lots of children being advocated for.  We pray for many children who have touched our hearts.  Our hearts are touched for those children but it is more than that when you know that this is a child you should adopt.   It’s almost impossible to explain.  Your heart is heavy.  You look at their picture constantly.  You pray for them.  You wake up in the middle of the night to pray and look at their picture again.  I never heard God’s voice directly but I knew without a doubt that we were to proceed.

    Which leads me back to the verse above.

    “Glory be to God”, (not Dan or I or our family)

    “who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of”   We could have never in a million years dreamed up this beautiful life we get to live.  I would have never dared ask for so many miracles or to be given such blessings.  I believed I was too old.  I believed it couldn’t be done.  I limited myself by what the world told me could be done.

    BUT NOT GOD…

    — infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes”   We’ve been through countless surgeries, seen miracles in our healed children, and been given so much more than we will ever give them.  I sometimes feel like we’ve used up too much of the good that God gives, as if God has a limit on the good that He bestows to His children.

    We are not amazing or stronger or braver than most, but we did choose to be obedient.  We have seen God show up time and time again.  We trust that He is perfect.  We trust that His plan is good.  We trust that He can make good come out of the bad.   So when God called us to move out of the comfortable, we chose to move forward in faith and get more than a little uncomfortable and because we did this, we get the privilege of living a most extraordinary life.

    “But God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.” – Francis Chan

  • RE-Adoption Day

    Date: 2017.07.01 | Category: Adoption, Family Life

    Five years ago we started our adoptions in China.  Gotcha Day or Family Day, as people refer to them, happen the day you meet your child.  Most of the time you travel to the Registration Office or some other official building.  Once we met a child in our hotel room.  Sometimes we were alone and sometimes we waited with many other families.  It’s a nerve wracking time as you wait for them to show up with your children.  You anxiously wait for your child to walk in the door.  You see the face you’ve been staring at in pictures for months and you wait for them to bring your child to you.   I can not watch a video of those moments without tearing up.  It instantly makes my heart race and I feel just like I was there.  It’s an amazing feeling for the parents who meet their children.  This is the end of their adoption journey to their child.

    But for the child it is exactly the opposite.  Sometimes the child has only just heard about you because the orphanage director wanted to protect their hearts because sometimes parents stop the adoption process right before the travel.   Sometimes they were too young to understand.  Sometimes they have been prepared as well as can be expected.  Sometimes the children were thrown at you like they didn’t even matter.  Sometimes they were handed over carefully.

    Those moments are a blur for us and the most scary time of their lives for the children.  They walk into a building with people that have cared for them for years and they leave with perfect strangers.   Sometimes there was crying, sometimes there was total shutdown, sometimes with the older kids there was nervous laughter or no words at all.  After you sign all your paperwork, you head to the hotel room and get to know your new child. You have 24 hours to decide if you want to complete the adoption.  Can you imagine what this is like for them?

    24 hours later you go back to the same room to sign your official papers.  If the child hasn’t been prepared or isn’t old enough to understand, they may think you are taking them back.

    Landing at home after the couple weeks in China was another eye-opening moment.  I have to admit that I have taken for granted what it means to be an American.  What it means to be free.  Those moments when you get off the plane and your children are granted citizenship are a beautiful thing.  It made citizenship more dear for me.  The way our older girls acted when receiving their Certificate of Citizenship is something I will never forget.   I will never take being a citizen for granted again.

    In honor of their citizenship and how proud they are of it, we put in a flag pole and let them raise it on Adoption Day.

    As the years went by we realized that looking back on the pictures of their scared little faces on those first days was a good/bad memory.  We wanted them to have a happy day to celebrate. Now they know what family means.  Now they can yell their “yeses” to the world that they do want a mama and daddy.   So we set out to readopt as a family.  We talked about it and prayed about it.  We picked Hope’s Adoption Day so they would all share the same day.

    The morning of Adoption Day I sat them all in front of me and read them their story.  With our older kids, I would write them a poem each year on their birthday.  They also had a journal, a calendar of their first year, and more pictures than you can even imagine.  I realized how sad it is for our kids to not have these things.  They don’t have the happy stories of their birth or any of the information of our bio kids.

    For our older kiddos, they don’t have the stories of when they first walked, or when they lost their first tooth.  There is so much information missing.  So I decided to make them a book about how we fell in love with them and what it was like before we traveled and included any pictures that we had of them before.  They love their stories and ask to hear them over and over again.  Now they will have them in print to read whenever they want.

    We had pictures taken at the courthouse by our friend Rachel.  She can always get them to smile.

    We entered the courtroom with a few extended family members and waited for the judge.

    All the kiddos were on the front row looking dapper in their red/white/blue American colors that they chose to wear.

    Our lawyer and friend, Marcy, brought them the sweetest gifts.  Hats for the boys and flowers for the girl’s hair.  There were red/white/blue mustaches and light up toys and bracelets.

    My brother Tim and his family were all decked out too.  Tim had the best outfit.

    It was really very simple.  The judge walked in.  We all stood.  Marcy told them about all the paperwork that had been filed.  He said no testimony was necessary and pronounced them all adopted.  We took a picture with the judge and that was that. I’m sure Rachel will have a better picture but this was the only one I had.  🙂

    As they left the courtroom the court room assistant let them each pick out a beanie baby.  They were tickled with their new gifts.

    We went home to prepare for our party.  We invited a few friends and family over to help celebrate with the kids.  It was a beautiful evening.

    This day was everything we had hoped it would be.  The day was full of happy memories.  They had so much fun with their friends and family.

    Thank you to everyone who was there in thought and those who were able to show up.  Thank you to all our friends who prayed for and with us during these trips.  Thank you so much.  We truly appreciate it.

  • Family Mission Statement

    Date: 2017.04.01 | Category: Faith, Family Life

    mis-sion state-ment (noun)     A formal summary of the aims and values of a company, organization, or individual.

    A written declaration of a company’s or individual’s core purpose and focus that normally remains unchanged over time.  Properly crafted mission statements:

    1.  Serve to separate what is important and what is not,
    2. Clearly state what you believe, and
    3. Communicate a sense of intended direction.

    We have been working on our family’s mission statement for a while now.  We wanted something that shows our children what we believe in, what we are striving for, and what our family considers important.  It’s pretty easy, or at least it should be, for children who grow up in your house from birth to know what your family considers important.

    Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Deuteronomy 11:19

    It’s a little harder when the children come to you much later in their lives.  The language issues can make it difficult for quite a while.  It takes years for them to have deep conversations about what matters.  It takes a long time for them to understand what is important to your family.

    We wanted our children to be able to say that they were an “Ellsbury” and this is what their family stands for.  Because so many children have special needs and medical issues, we wanted them to be able to say they were strong and brave in times of trouble.   We wanted them to understand that we strive to help other children and families.  We want them to be generous of their time, their gifts, and the money God gives them.  We want them to be trustworthy and kind.  We want them to have a great foundation of faith to build their lives on.  We want them to trust God and His plan.  We want them to know that even though we can not help every child, we can help children one at a time.

    I have a thing for quotes and Bible verses. Anyone who knows me well can attest to this fact.   I especially like them out where I can see them.  Being an imperfect human being, I like daily reminders of how I am supposed to live my life.

    Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.  Deuteronomy 6:9

    I wanted our statement to be something that we would see every day.

    I thought about having it done in vinyl…

     

    Or printed out on a peel and stick sheet…

    Or done in metal…

    Or put on a canvas like these that I purchased from Glory Haus…

    I thought about having it framed.

    But I just couldn’t make up my mind.

    Then one day on Facebook another mama posted her family’s statement on this really cool board.  I asked her where she purchased it and she said Mary and Martha.  You can order this board that comes with four song verses on chalkboard tiles that you interchange ($120) BUT you can also personalize your own chalkboard tiles for $18 for the set of 7 boards.

    I absolutely LOVE the way it turned out.

    Now it is front and center in our living room.

    If you haven’t already put what your personal or family’s mission statement is on paper, I highly recommend it.  Otherwise we waste years of our lives striving for things that aren’t really important to us or aren’t what we want our lives to stand for.

    Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” –
    Francis Chan

     

     

     

     

     

  • Grace’s Story

    Date: 2017.03.23 | Category: Family Life, Grace

    GRACE /ɡrās/noun

    (in Christian belief) the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.

    12 years ago the sweetest little girl was born.  Grace’s birth was emergent and everyone who congratulated us, after they heard the story of her birth, said, “By the grace of God”.  Dan had already been calling her Grace so her name seemed very appropriate.  Grace, after the grace of God, and Elizabeth Lynne as a middle name because both Cassie and Hope wanted Grace to share their middle names.

    I had been thinking that I would love to be pregnant again.  My heart was filled with thoughts about another child. Maybe this time I would have an easy pregnancy.  Maybe this time everything would go okay.   I heard God saying “trust me” over and over again.  I kept thinking I might just be crazy but I prayed and prayed that if God wanted me to proceed with this then He would talk to Dan’s heart.  I refused to say anything about it.  One day, out of the blue, Dan came to me and said, “If we ever want to have another baby, we best be doing it.  We aren’t getting any younger.”

    God answered my prayers.

    God’s grace!

    It didn’t make any sense for me to have a tubal reversal.   We had already adopted.  We loved adoption but we heard God saying “trust me” so we did.  It had been 11 years since I had been pregnant.  11 years since my tubes had been tied.  I was 40 years old.

    We were told that the odds were slim to none and yet I got pregnant the very first month.

    God’s grace!

    Because of my age we were required to go to weekly ultrasounds after a certain point in my pregnancy.   While our wood floors were finished being stained, Dan and I had just spent the weekend in a hotel.  Grandma had the other kids.  We were relaxed and enjoying life.

    I walked into that routine appointment as happy as can be.  I was feeling no pain, no twinges, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.  I left that appointment being rushed to the hospital for an emergency c-section.    Had we not had that appointment, I would have never known that there was something going on, and Grace wouldn’t have survived.

    God’s AMAZING grace!

    Tons of blood was found.  It seemed a vessel had ruptured.  As they prepared me for the c-section, I tried my hardest to trust His plan, but it made no sense.  We had heard God loud and clear.  Why would He take her now?

    After the c-section, our doctor, who knew we wanted to try to have more children, asked me if I wanted to try again.  I said, “No. I’ve had enough.  We’ve had complications with too many pregnancies.”    He replied, “Good thing.  I have no idea how you got pregnant in the first place.  One side is completely scarred and the other doesn’t even look like it’s hooked up.”

    God’s grace!

    Dan took Grace to the nursery.  Grace needed oxygen,  but she was stable.   The high risk o.b. came to check on Grace.  He informed Dan that “That was the most blood I have ever seen in a delivery and have the baby survive.”

    God’s grace!

    Grace did remarkably well and avoided the NICU.   Grace’s very own neonatologist (daddy) stood by her side and watched her very, very closely.

    Grace came home and was doing very well.   Grace hit every milestone on time.  Grace was sweet and adorable and such a joy.  We felt so very blessed.  Grace’s older siblings adored her.

    Then when Grace was six, she was sick on and off for months.  There was nothing that seemed too serious – a cold, a sore throat, a temperature.   Grace would get better and then it would be back.  Grace was tired and couldn’t seem to kick it.  We were thinking strep throat or mono that day when we took Grace to our pediatricians.

    I knew by the look on the doctor’s face that it wasn’t good.  They said, “We think Grace has leukemia.  Appointments have been scheduled this afternoon with oncology.“     I sat there unemotional.  We’ve been through bad medical problems before.  I refused to fall apart in front of Grace before we knew for sure.   We would take this one step at a time.  I drove home to pick up Dan.  We were prepared to confront one of our worst nightmares.

    We showed up at the oncologists and they scheduled a bone marrow biopsy for Grace right away.  There were trying to get everything done before Thanksgiving so we didn’t have to wait too long for the results.

    They ruled out leukemia, but no one knew for sure what Grace had.  There was more blood drawn.  We were sent home with our little girl, relieved that it wasn’t leukemia, but worried because we still had no answers.

    Then the rash appeared.

    Dan had just left for a trip.  His plane landed and I called him and sent him the picture text.  He said, “It’s lupus.”  I’ll be right home.

    Dan came home.  He pressed for more testing.  He argued about waiting until after the first of the year for an appointment at our children’s hospital.  He asked for them to do a urine test.  He fought all weekend to get this testing done.  They finally allowed it and we received the call.  “Be at the Children’s Hospital bright and early tomorrow morning.  There are issues with Grace’s kidneys.”

    We arrived at the hospital and a kidney biopsy was scheduled right away.  Grade 4/5 glomerulonephritis was found.  Had we waited until after January for Grace’s appointment – Grace would have lost her kidneys.  Thank God for daddy’s who have the knowledge to keep pushing.

    God’s grace.

    Grace handled it all with such graceGrace was strong.  Grace trusted God’s plan.   When hair loss was mentioned, Grace donated her hair.  When she was feeling sad, Grace raised money for Love Without Boundaries.  Grace raised awareness for NEGUGrace prayed.  Grace told me to trust God.

    Here’s a quote from Grace (7) in a previous blog post.

    Last night as I was tucking Grace in she told me that she didn’t like having to wait until the sun went down to swim, that she was really kind of tired of medicine and she wasn’t happy that she would need another pulse of steroids on Wednesday with her chemo.  Grace told me that she didn’t think lupus was very nice.  Grace said she understood that God is perfect and His plan is perfect so He must have some reason for all this so she would try her best to be happy.   Grace then said, “Sometimes happy takes work but it’s worth it.”

    Grace is an old, old soul in a six year old’s body.

    We had to decide what to do.  We were set to travel with our adoptions sometime in the spring, most likely March.  Grace needed chemotherapy.  Grace needed blood tests and was taking a ton of meds.  Could we proceed?  Should we proceed?   Would Grace be okay if we left?

    “Of course we should!”  Grace said.  “Why would we question God’s plan now mama?   We can’t leave my brother and sister in China.”

    So we scheduled our travel around her treatments.  We traveled and we returned to a very happy girl.  Our adoption worked out perfectly and we arrived home the night before Grace’s 7th birthday.

    God’s perfect timing!

    God’s grace!

    Throughout these adoptions Grace has been one of our biggest cheerleaders.  Grace readily gave up her place as baby of the home.  Not one, not two, but nine children are younger than her.

    Grace shares her room.   Grace is my extra set of hands.  Grace is so much like me.  Grace LOVES adoption!!!  Grace has a heart that is SO big!  Grace is the legs for her three sisters in wheelchairs.

    When we worried about adopting JJ, it was Grace who reminded us over and over again that kidney issues are scary but doable.  When we were adopting Elyse, it was Grace who couldn’t wait to share her room and her clothes.

    God knew what He was doing when He placed Grace on my heart all those years ago.  God was so very wise.  It made NO sense and now I can’t imagine doing this without her.

    And yet, when I wrote my recent article for No Hands But Ours, I forgot to mention my sweet girl by name.  We mentioned how many children we had, but I didn’t mention Grace by name.  I try so hard not to do that. I’ve made that mistake before with Zach and Cassie.  It hurts their feelings, even though they understand so I try hard not to.  Our bio kids are amazing.  They have made this adoption journey possible.  They aren’t a footnote in our adoption journey.  They are the title page and I hate when because I’m writing about adoption or special needs that they don’t get the credit they deserve.

    Grace is an important part of all of our adoptions.  Grace has had such faith throughout it all.  Grace has trusted God with an amazing faith that most adults don’t have.

    I asked Grace what I could do to make it up to her and Grace laughed and said, “You can say my name 77 times in my birthday post.”

    And so I have.   I LOVE Grace!   Grace is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!!

    My life has been forever changed by a little girl named Grace.  Every day I look into her face and I think about every miracle that brought her to my life.    Grace Elizabeth Lynne you are an amazing girl and mama is so proud to call you my little girl.  Praying God’s blessings continue to surround your life and lead you on the rest of your amazing journey.

    Happy birthday Grace!