Immeasurably More

It’s a Monday morning in October, just over two years ago. My husband, Andrew, and I had just submitted the final paperwork to become licensed foster parents in the state of Texas the night before. We had been working with a wonderful agency in Austin for the past few months and though the process was tedious, the agency staff had navigated us through everything seamlessly. We had finally completed all the necessary steps and were ready to welcome children into our home. I remember being both excited and nervous to start this new adventure and I was certain our family would end up adopting from the foster care system. Not only that, but I had seen the children we would adopt; two precious, black, identical twin girls. I had envisioned their beautiful faces for almost a year and prayed for these children I didn’t even know yet. They filled my dreams, playing and laughing with our other children. It was all so vivid and clear to me – they were meant to be part of our family.

But as Andrew and I were getting ready to go to work that October morning, I suddenly had a strange feeling. What if I’m pregnant? Before we started the foster care journey, we had talked about conceiving a third baby but it wasn’t part of our plan anymore. We knew we couldn’t effectively care for a newborn, our two boys and fragile children being separated from their family and placed in a strange new environment. I couldn’t be pregnant, I thought. Or could I? I found an old pregnancy test under the sink and in 3 minutes my initial thoughts were confirmed. I was pregnant. What a strange feeling that was. I was incredibly happy but at the same time my heart longed for those two twin girls. But we knew fostering while bringing a new baby into this world would be too much for our family, so we called our agency and gave them the news. The day we made that call, we had no idea how tough the next year would be for our family.

We had our daughter, Storie, the following June. She was perfect in every way and we all fell madly in love with her. I left my job of ten years to stay home with our kids and began homeschooling the boys as well. We went from a family of four with two incomes to a family of five with one income. Needless to say it was a strain financially but it also took a lot of time for me to just adjust to my new role. Navigating homeschool curriculum with a newborn constantly attached to me was a little overwhelming and at times just plain lonely. If that wasn’t enough, about a month into our school year, Andrew lost his job and was faced with some pretty serious health issues. What was exposed through these tough experiences was that our relationship was extremely fragile and we needed to do something about that fast. We were forced to take a hard look at ourselves and our relationship and worked tirelessly reevaluating priorities, praying together and pushing through tough conversations to save the marriage that was so precious to us both.

That time in our lives seems like a lifetime ago. Last month Andrew had his one year anniversary with a new job that has been a financial blessing to our family, his health has never been better and our marriage, while certainly not perfect, has become a supremely sacred relationship we both treasure. The kids and I have also found our own unique way of homeschooling and have met so many wonderful friends along the way. I’m just amazed at how far we all have come.

My friend Susan was one of the people who walked through that difficult time with our family. She is one of my dearest friends but sadly last year, we just didn’t connect that much. She had a baby and was busy growing her non-profit, Austin Angels. I was busy homeschooling and just running our household. So when she asked me to meet her and the kids for a play date last week, I was so excited. While our kids played, we talked about our lives and how much they have changed in the last year. She filled me in on her hopes and dreams and for some reason I felt compelled to tell her about the twin girls I thought we were supposed to adopt. In the last three years, I had never told anyone about the girls except Andrew. I confessed to her that I still thought often about the girls and dreamed that they would be part of our family one day. As soon as I said this out loud, I was immediately embarrassed. It just sounded so silly to say it out loud. But then Susan said something I’ll never forget.

“I know those girls,” she said, “and they need you.”

See, a foster mom of two twin girls had applied a few months earlier to be part of a Love Box program through Austin Angels, Susan’s non-profit. Austin Angels helps facilitate Love Box teams that sponsor individual foster families to provide them with love, support and much needed supplies. It’s a beautiful program that helps care for families walking in the margins with extremely vulnerable children who often times have experienced neglect and abuse. The impact of a friend visiting regularly each month that cares about the children and is interested in what they are doing is incredible. I truly believe Love Box teams are changing the course of many foster kid’s lives.

Susan told me the twins’ foster mom had been put on a waiting list because she lived farther from Austin than most people were willing to drive. In addition to this, she was the girls’ mother’s godmother so she was not financially compensated for caring for the girls and she was struggling, really struggling, to make ends meet. At that moment I knew this was what God had been preparing my heart for. It all made sense now.

Less than a week later, I met the 9 month old twin girls. They were just as I had imagined them; gorgeous, black, twin girls. It was surreal. What’s more, I also met their incredibly brave and selfless foster mom, whose hope is that ultimately her goddaughter will one day be able to care for these precious girls. The foster mom is an absolute gift to the twins and I’m so grateful to be waking alongside her and witnessing the girls flourish the way God intended. I must admit this story doesn’t look quite like I imagined but I have a feeling it’s going to be so much better.

And these words my husband and I clung to desperately two years ago just continue to astound us:

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.

Immeasurably more friends.

New Year Intentions – A Family Affair

It’s 10am on January 1st and I’m sitting in a yoga studio waiting for class to start. I’m feeling good, like I’m starting the year off strong when my instructor throws a curveball. Instead of starting class with the typical breathing exercise or meditation, she asks us all to go around the room and share our intentions for the new year. 

Now I’ve been talking with our boys about their 2017 goals since the day after Christmas. Each of them has a list of things they want to accomplish and are planning to create vision boards to hang in their room. The lists are filled with things like “earn my red belt in karate” and “learn how to read independently.” They are all specific, attainable goals that the boys are both excited to achieve. But, the only thing Andrew and I have made time to talk about so far is saving more money. We don’t have a plan, except we want to spend less and save more. Really good plan, right? So I share this with the class and my yoga instructor very sweetly says it is a good goal. But as I sit listening to others share and have time to think about it, our goal is not specific, it’s not measurable and it’s not trackable, which doesn’t give me much confidence in our ability to achieve it. As class goes on I keep going back to my yoga instructor’s word intention. She used this word instead of goal or resolution and it really began to resonate with me.  

When I got home, I revisited this topic with Andrew and our children and we reframed the goal setting conversation. Some questions I asked were – What are the most important things to us? Are they even things? What do we want to be intentional about? Why do we want to save money? Are there certain behaviors we want to change? And from the answers we narrowed down two areas in our life where we felt we needed to be more intentional – with our money and our time. In order to really dig in and make significant change, we are focusing on one intention at a time. The past few weeks we have focused on our finances and I thought I would share a bit of our journey with you. 

Our family of five lives in a modest size home just over 1600 square feet. We really adore our small house and have enjoyed coming up with creative space saving and storage solutions (I’ll try and share those in a future post) but looking to the future, we would like to have a bit more space for our growing family. Not more house per say, just more land – untouched land with trees, a space to grow a garden and room for our kids to explore unrestricted. But land like this in Austin doesn’t come cheap. In addition to this big dream of ours, there is also a voice speaking loudly to both of us to give more of our money. 

So now we have to figure out how to do both of these things. Neither Andrew or I have ever been good at financial planning. We’ve talked about it but never set a budget of any kind (Sorry Dad, I know you have been telling me to set a budget since I moved out 20 years ago). It’s a little embarrassing to say but we’re kind of going into this blind. Currently, we’re reading a book recommended by Andrew’s mentor called Smart Couples Finish Rich by David Bach. I promise it’s way less superficial than it sounds. What I love about the book is that Bach starts by asking couples to take an honest look at their core values and goals and share this with their partner. This, he says, is the starting point to setting specific financial goals. It is an easy book to read, not boring at all and has really resonated with us. I highly recommend it although we are not quite halfway through yet. By the way, reading a book together has been really fun. When we are finished with this one, we’ll most likely read something else together. Picture me reading aloud to the both of us – it’s not much different than my read alouds with the kids. Recently I was reading aloud while Andrew was driving the family to the gym and Bach was giving examples of how very little money could turn into a million with the right investment strategy. An example he used was, if a seven year old boy invested $1/day at 15% interest, he would be a millionaire by the age of 47. Well that certainly sparked our 7 year old’s attention and suddenly the kids became part of our financial conversation. 

We have set budgets for both boys depending on their age and allowance allocation. They each get a set allowance at the end of the week if they complete each chore on their list. We also discussed how they would like to allocate their money and decided they would put 1/3 into savings, 1/3 will be donated and 1/3 is theirs to do with what they wish. We created their budget worksheets from a simple Excel template and they now have these hanging on their bedroom door by their completed vision boards. 

Recently, we made the decision as a family to sponsor a precious foster mom through Austin Angels‘ Love Box program. As I’m writing this, we are about leave to meet the mom and her 9 month old twin foster daughters for the first time. The foster mom is fostering through the kinship program and gets no government assistance for the girls. We have been talking about and praying for the twins and their foster mom as a family but I was completely blown away when both of the boys asked to give their monthly donation money to help buy formula and diapers for the twins. It’s one of those moments I will treasure forever. 

As for the boys’ savings, we will be opening accounts for them that may soon be transferred to stocks (to earn more interest) as we learn more about investing. Draven is pumped to be saving for his first car and Cullen has dreams of buying spy gear with his spending money. Needless to say, they are both happy to be on this journey with us and I’m just thankful to be able to give them the gift of a financial education. 

I should also mention that Andrew has been listening to Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace on Audible on his commute to work. We are currently working on a budget and will be trying Ramsey’s envelope system to keep us in track with some of our monthly expenses like food, spending money and gas. As a family of five, food is one of our biggest expenses but we were both appalled at the money we could be saving if we were simply more intentional about meal planning and avoiding incidental food purchases. Last week we decided to not spend any money except on groceries and gas and it was actually a really fun challenge. Surprisingly, meal planning has also been fun for me – it’s kind of like putting together pieces of a puzzle. We both love a good challenge and I think as long as we’re in this together, we are going to succeed. 

It’s been quite exciting to take control of this part of our life we haven’t been very intentional about. What started as a vague goal of saving money has transformed into us redefining our financial future. I hope to share our plan to be more intentional with our time with you soon and would love to hear about your new year intentions! 

A Children’s Book Club Party

“This must be a simply enormous wardrobe!” thought Lucy, going still further in and pushing the soft folds of the coats aside to make room for her. Then she noticed that there was something crunching under her feet. “I wonder is that more moth balls?” she thought, stooping down to feel it with her hands. But instead of feeling the hard, smooth wood of the floor of the wardrobe, she felt something soft and powdery and extremely cold. “This is very queer,” she said, and went on a step or two further. 

I distinctly remember reading this passage from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a young girl. C.S. Lewis transported me right beside Lucy, traveling through the wardrobe into a magical, snowy world. It’s one of my most vivid memories as a child. So when the kids had the opportunity to join a book club this year through our homeschool co-op, I was overjoyed that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the first book choice. 

Before the party, each family read the book together. My only concern was that the book might not keep the attention of a wiggly 4 year old. I couldn’t have been more wrong – they were both captivated throughout the story, as was I.

The kids talked about the party for weeks leading up to it and planned out which characters they wanted to be. Draven knew immediately that he wanted to be Peter, the oldest of the children who is very brave. Cullen decided he would be Mr. Beaver, a character who lives in Narnia and helps the children find Aslan, the king of Narnia. I loved seeing all the children in their costumes embodying the characters. They were so into it. 

Two of my amazing friends had a vision for the party and completely transformed a neighborhood park into a winter wonderland. Each family pitched in and brought food or decorations. We hung paper snowflakes the children had made and set a table for tea. There was a beautiful wardrobe created from kraft paper with coats behind it at the entrance of the park that the children walked through. 

On the other side, Narnia awaited them. They had tea, like Lucy did with Mr. Tumnis, while discussing the book. After tea they made snowflake sugar cookies, had snowball fights, ate Turkish Delight and just played. It was all simply magical. 

I hope it’s a memory they will treasure. 
I’m already dreaming of our spring book club party. I have it on good authority that we will be reading Anne of Green Gables. Be still my heart. 
I’d love to know some of your favorite books you read as a child. We are always looking for good ones to add to our reading list.