Feb 18, 2017

sharing memories at the breakast bar

(looking out over the city where my daughter lived in China) 

One of the things I love about our house is the breakfast bar in the kitchen. There is a long counter with tall chairs. Four people can sit there comfortably. We call it Judkins Cafe. There is something about sitting at that counter that makes people relax. I have no idea how that dynamic works but when someone sits there they start sharing their hearts. It is made of a beautiful wood with a fun story. The orginal owner of the house told us the wood was supposed to be made into guitars.  He bought it and gave it a new purpose. It really is gorgeous and I struggled when we first moved in to let the children sit there to eat fearing they would destroy the wood.

During the school year, the kids eat in shifts due to their different schedules. It makes breakfast at our house last for about two hours. Some days I have the time to just sit at the table with each group, but other days just do not allow it.  A few weeks ago, I needed to prep dinner while some of the children were eating their breakfast. That day I particularly feeling the need to also connect more with them and then the idea hit me.

Let them eat their breakfast at the counter.

I hesitated thinking of my youngest three eating there and the mess they would make and the possibility they would damage the counter.... but i decided to try it anyway. Their faces beamed with delight. As they began to eat and I began to prep facing them, their hearts began to open. I cannot remember what made the story begin but my girls started sharing about their lives before they came home.  My oldest daughter officially became a part of our team just a few days after turning five years old. We are now almost five years home and on this special morning she remembered things she had never shared with us before. Due to a myriad of reason, her short and long term memory have gaps. Over the years we have moments where clarity comes, something triggers a memory and we get a glimpse into her life in China. Some are funny, some are sweet and some are painful... but all are a gift to my heart. I believe I will grieve forever not being there with her from the moment she took her first breath.  But these brief unveilings help me to be a part of her past and understand her more intimately. It is an honor that she shares her memories with me. And it is a bittersweet gift that somehow her brain captured so many of them at the young age of four.

I imagine years from now that counter will have many stains and marks and gouges.... and i will lovingly cherish every single one.

Nov 23, 2016

home school anniversary

This week we will celebrate Thanksgiving.  We will also celebrate one year of home school.  Last year Elie came home at Thanksgiving break and just stayed. This fall when the boys left for public school, Faith started her journey at home with us too. For this season of life I spend every day with these three beautiful girls. The four of us learning together... not just about academics but about who we are individually and who we are together.

I did not have any intention of homeschooling. Ever. I liked my kids going to public school.  There are many great things about being a part of a school.  We loved being connected to our community through our children's school and seeing them grow in knowledge and character through the relationships and challenges offered to them.  And up until a year ago, it was working for us.  I guess, honestly, the wheels started falling off earlier but I refused to acknowledge it.  I am not a trained educator. I enjoyed being mom without the responsibility of also being teacher. I enjoyed the individual time provided with the younger children while the older ones were away. And I was a little fearful to take on this huge commitment.

But last November, I decided to take the plunge.  I would love to say..."and never looked back", but that would be a lie.  Because I do look back and wonder about choices made. When they were in school there was always this lingering thought, "maybe I should home school them."  And now that they are home it is the same worry just in reverse..."maybe I should put them back into school."  Motherhood is like that though. Every decision we make for our children effects who they are and their life story.  We are an integral part of every chapter. When we understand that reality our choices for them can seem monumental.

People always ask me how long I will home school each of the big girls, will I home school London, and will I bring the boys home.  All I know is the chapter I am currently in and for this chapter, in my core, I believe we are on the right path.  Every child is right where they should be. Spending all this time with the girls allows me to truly know their strengths and weaknesses. When we are having a good day then we can press on in our studies and when they just having a day filled with struggles then we can change our plans. We can learn together and I can adapt the lessons in ways that challenge each of them to their unique giftings. We can spend a longer time on things of interest to them or things that need more study.  I love having the flexibility to work on a concept until it is mastered, instead of having to shove them forward just to keep up with their peers.

The other question I am often asked is, "what is your schedule?".  Once a week the girls attend a co-op with other home schooled children.  The rest of the the week does not have a set schedule.  I know that would drive some people crazy, but it works well for us.  Some days we get so many things accomplished and then there are days when they are not in any mood to learn or I am struggling myself and so we don't do school at all.  I am learning to give grace not just to them, but to myself. This has been one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Home schooling two children with learning challenges while managing an intense three year old can make your feel like you are going crazy.  Trying to still care for the responsibilities of the house, my business, my marriage and my other children can get exhausting. I have learned that I am not a homebody and definitely an extrovert that starts to die inside if I go for too long without interaction with friends. There are many days where I feel like a complete failure and the weight of the responsibility of their education seems too much. But the truth is they are learning and growing and happy and we are seeing huge progress and healing....in all of us. So this Thanksgiving I am thankful for the opportunity to home school. Even though it is not easy, I believe with all my  heart when I am old I will look back on these years as some of the best of my life.

Nov 9, 2016

Sausage and Garbanzo Bean Soup

I love fall.  I love the changing leaves that invite you to be outside. And nothing tastes better after a fall day than soup. Soup is easy and affordable and that makes this mama happy.  Two things that help when you are feeding a table full every night. This is one of our recent favorites.  I am trying to use dried beans in my cooking now instead of grabbing the can.  It definitely takes more planning but I keep telling myself that it is worth it... not just in cost but also in nutrition and safety.  I have found bringing the beans to a boil prior to the overnight soaking is key.  We like our beans a little more on the mushy side so I usually cook them longer than instructed on the bag. The sweet potatoes are already made.  I like to bake two 9x13 pans full at the beginning of the week and then use them in different recipes.  Sweet potatoes make a great addition to any soup or chili. This soup comes to life with the incredible organic chicken sausage from Wegmans.  Any recipe you put this sausage into immediately becomes amazing.  Seriously, it's that good.  I love sausage and bacon because a little bit can flavor an entire pot of soup.  I cut the pieces up small so everyone feels like they are still getting some sausage in their bowl.... because a bowl without a piece of sausage will cause a revolt at my table. I hope you enjoy this meal as much as we do.  Please share your reviews. 

Sausage and Garbanzo Bean Soup

6 oz. super greens mix (kale, spinach, chard)
4 -5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 T olive oil
6 cups chicken stock
1 lb dried garbanzo beans, cooked
1 lb organic chicken sausage, cut into small bite size pieces
3 sweet potatoes, cooked, peeled and chopped

Brown sausage in a large soup pot with a little bit of bacon fat (or another cooking oil). Add in remaining ingredients. Heat to boiling and then simmer for 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Enjoy!

Nov 3, 2016


November is Adoption Awareness month. As I think back over the past eight years, my mind is overwhelmed with memories and my heart full of thankfulness. I have met some of the most amazing families on this journey. Families who have given their entire lives and resources for caring for orphans. Over and over and over again. In our culture, you are not supposed to say that you "saved" a child. But there are so many cases where that really is the truth. Children who would be dead if their adoptive families had not brought them home in time. Children who would have never had access to medical care or an education or resources to begin healing from all their trauma.

I have been in this "world" long enough to know that adoption is not all smiling happy families like you see in the agency catalog.  And not every story has a happy ending. And for those families this month can be challenging. Our own family story is not one without some difficult seasons. Babies are created to go from the womb to the breast of their birth mother. They are designed to be loved and cared for by a father and a mother from whose bodies their own was created. Unfortunately this is not every child's story.  Yes I said unfortunately because I have witnessed first hand the effects from these broken relationships. Adoption is hard.

Adoption can also be incredibly beautiful at the same time. I will forever be humbled that I was chosen to mother my two precious daughters. I will forever be thankful that I chose to say yes.

There is a hashtag on Instagram this month to post pictures about what you would have missed if you had not adopted. We don't go there often. To the what ifs. Anytime we start down that trail it is too painful to continue. But this hashtag definitely gets you thinking. What would have happened to our girls if we had not adopted them? What would our family be like? What would I be like? I don't like any of the answers that I come up with.

So here is my challenge to you. What are you missing out on right now? Not everyone is called to adopt a child but I believe at least one person reading this is. Don't wait. There will never be a perfect time to start.


Oct 9, 2016

the life and legacy of Ruby Jean

Ruby Jean (Gee) Briles  1926 - 2016

I have heard it said that in life what you do with the "dash" is what is most important.  In November of 1926 a beautiful soul took her first breath and entered the world to forever change it.  In the middle of the night on Friday, she took her last breath on this earth.  She may be absent physically from this world but her legacy will never be forgotten.  She ran her race well.  I would have loved to be a part of the scene when she met our Father God face to face. Although I am confident of what took place as he looked upon her and said, "well done my good and faithful daughter, welcome home!"

When I think of my grandmother, I think of strawberry pie and hanging clothes on the line in the yard. I think of drinking sweet tea on the dock of their house on the lake. I think of hundreds of cards and homemade treasures she sent to me while we lived an ocean apart and throughout highschool and college. I think of the many months she cared for me each time my dad was reassigned to a new base. I think of sitting on the front hump seat in between her and my Papa of that blue car with the air conditioning blowing right in my face. I think of hundreds of card games and stories and playing dolls. I think of cooking the fresh fish that we had just caught that day in the lake. I think of daily prayers and bible reading and watching her write down prayer requests as loved ones called to share them with the woman they knew would pray for them. I think of listening to her teach the Bible to generation after generation at her church Sunday school class. I think about her love for the poem "The Touch of the Master's Hand". I think of  her paintings like this one..... the one that became my entire world for months while i was so sick, unable to get out of bed, when I was pregnant with London.

And I think about Proverbs 31.

"A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land."
My grandmother, Ruby Jean, a valuable gem to her husband worth more than her namesake. I love my Papa with all my heart and he was an incredible man who loved God, but he could also be very stubborn and difficult sometimes. My grandmother's love and support of him, even in hard times, was always unwavering. She was his greatest cheerleader and helper. And he knew it and cherished that relationship. They had a beautiful love and dedication to one another. As a team they were stronger than on their own.

"She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.  She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks."
In a time when most women did not work outside the home, my grandmother worked as a grade school teacher. She got up early to make sure her home and her children were ready for the day, spent her working hours pouring into the lives of hundreds of children over the years and then went home to spend her remaining waking hours pouring into the lives of the children in her home, her church and her community. She worked hard to provide for her family and also to make sure they were never neglected and always felt loved. I have heard many stories over the years from her past students and know that she made a huge impact on many, many lives.

"In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes."
In the midst of working full time, caring for her children and home, and volunteering at church, my grandmother somehow also found the time to create beautiful garments for her children. She was very creative and sewed, crocheted, painted and crafted needlepoint. I am blessed to have some of her artwork to cherish for generations to come. One of my favorite items is this beautiful tablecloth that she and my great grandmother made together for my wedding.

"She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy."
My grandmother was a very generous woman. There was always room for one more around her table or in her home. She and my Papa gave a large portion of their resources to helping the rest of the family, their church and to communities all over the world. If there was a need, her immediate response was to see how she could help. Dependable. Trustworthy. Compassionate.

"She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness."
My grandmother was full of joy in all circumstances because her joy was in the Lord. She was full of peace because she knew the Prince of Peace. When her mouth opened wisdom poured out because she was dedicated to studying the wisdom of God. Whether she was teaching a class or speaking one on one she allowed the Holy Spirit to speak His Truth. She worked diligently and faithfully but she also knew how to stop working and sit and listen. You always felt loved and valued when you where with her.

"Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her; Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all."
It is not just her children who arise and call her blessed, not just her husband, but her grandchildren, her great grandchildren and all who have known her. If you were blessed to know my grandmother, you were truly given a priceless gift. She was never famous. In fact by the standards of our culture she may not even be perceived as successful. She lived a simple life of working hard, caring for family, and living modestly. But when you take away the fame and fortune of this world and look instead an the invaluable riches of faith, love, humility, devotion, character.... in that she was a millionaire.

"Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate."
My grandmother's last years were difficult ones. Her body failed and she became a prisoner in her own skin. Her mind didn't always know exactly what was going on but her soul continued to praise the name of Jesus. Some of her last words spoken were of her love and dependence on her Savior. She is now completely restored and dancing in heaven with Papa and Ma and Pa and Moses and David and Her Savior Jesus Christ. She needed to go, it was time for her to go. We will greatly miss her physical presence in our lives but rejoice in knowing that she has joined the "great cloud of witnesses" in heaven cheering us on. And her legacy on earth will not die.  Her three children and seven grandchildren and eleven great grandchildren are committed to continuing on in her example. 

"For the LORD is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations." ~ Psalm 100:5

Aug 15, 2016

what do you see when you think of God?

Close your eyes.  What do you see when you think of God?

Years ago, I was asked this question at a women's retreat.  Everyone around me had a vision.  I had nothing.  I sat for a long time and absolutely nothing.  There was a wall and that was it.  A big black wall. My friends prayed over me.  They prayed for that wall to come down and for me to see God.  And that moment changed me.

I am a bit of a perfectionist and never measuring up to my own expectations on myself.  I really don't remember a time in life when this was not true.  Even as a young child, I would become completely overwhelmed with emotion convinced that I had not measured up somehow.  These lies became the filter for everything in life... including how I saw God.  It was hard for me to accept the truths found in Scripture about His love for me.  His love that was not dependent upon any of my accomplishments but truly unconditional.  

If you had asked me about God's unconditional love, I could give you an entire sermon complete with references.  I had the knowledge of Truth but I had allowed lies from the enemy to cloud my vision of how this Truth applied to my own life.  I could not completely accept the freedom that God offered to me through His Son Jesus Christ.  It is not enough just to gain knowledge if that knowledge does not transform our hearts and our minds. 

Are you unsure if you have allowed your knowledge of God to transform you?  Take a look at your inner thought life.  Consider what comes from you when life's trials put your under pressure. Evaluate your priorities and your passions.  Ask those who know you best for their view as sometimes they can provide a perspective that we just cannot see ourselves. Are you living in freedom or are you still in bondage to your fears and insecurities and your sins?  Freedom.  Jesus came to bring us life, to bring us freedom and it all starts now. 

When that black wall fell down, I was standing in the most beautiful evening sun.  It was that time of day when all of creations looks its best.  The grass fields around me gently swayed in a cool breeze and everything seemed to glow.  I looked up into the eyes of my Father.  He took my hands and then swung me around in a dance.  A child and her Daddy.  No fear. No condemnation. No guilt. No failure. Just love. I was completely undone by His incredible love for me. Come to that place with me friends. Taste and see His sweet, unending love for you. 

"See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are"   1 John 3:1

Aug 5, 2016

Summer Garden Zucchini Boats

These zucchini boats are a great way to celebrate your summer garden... or the summer garden found at your local farmer's market.  This recipe has become a family favorite for our summer.  Tonight I set these on the dinner table and my picky eater actually said, "Yes! I love zucchini boats!"  They are that good.

Summer Garden Zucchini Boats

3 large zucchini
Basting oil with herbs and garlic (I use Wegman's Basting Oil)
16 oz plain hummus
1 drop dill essential oil
2 drops lemon essential oil
2 T pesto (if you don't have fresh pesto, the basil pesto sauce from Wegman's is fantastic)
1 pt cherry tomato
3 T goat cheese

Cut zucchini in half lengthwise.  Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and discard (or save for the compost pile).  Cover the cut side of each zucchini with basting oil.  Place cut side down on medium grill.  Grill for about 6 to 8 minutes or until slightly charred and soft.  While zucchini is grilling, gather the other ingredients and bring everything out to the grill.  Combine the hummus and essential oils and stir to mix together. Make it easy by putting everything on one tray = one trip outside. Turn over the zucchini boats and start to fill.  I fill them right on the grill, but you can also remove if you are more sensitive to heat.  I have been cooking for so long that the heat doesn't really bother me anymore.  Fill the boats with the hummus, equally divided between each boat. Next drizzle the pesto sauce.  Top with cherry tomatoes and goat cheese.  Grill another 6 to 8 minutes or until filling is bubbling.  Enjoy!