The day I got married, one of my closest friends looked me in the eye and said "God has many wild and wonderful things ahead for you and Jeremy."

Being called mom by 7 kids is definitely wild. Each day I look for the wonder in it all...and give thanks.

Partnering with my husband in life, parenting, work and serving is definitely wonderful. He is my favorite.

Monday, June 25, 2018

How she got here

Last January I was looking ahead to June and thinking, “What the heck is Emily going to do when she graduates?”  We really did not have a plan.  But that changed in a few short weeks.

In February, we had a planning meeting with teachers and faculty at school and we learned about the PATHS Program at Texas A&M.  I devoured the info on the website and showed Emily with much excitement.  She did not quite match my excitement. 

I made her apply anyway.

Emily was invited for an interview in March and our hope was for her to at least have an open mind to the program, and NOT sabotage the interview.  If you look at the info online, you will find that this is an incredible opportunity for adults with disabilities.  I am super impressed with what Texas A&M is doing in this area!  

But there was just one problem….
Emily did not want to have her disability.  
She just wanted to be “normal.”

We have never shied away from the word “Autism” but we also didn’t focus on the label either.  In ARD meetings, we talked about Emily’s strengths and weaknesses and where she needed support.  The word “disability” was just not used.

When you graduate high school, the language really starts to change for a person who receives special services.  Whether we walk into Lone Star Community College, PATHS Program at A&M, or the TWC to apply for vocational services, the word “disability” is not only visible on the walls with “ADA” but it is used frequently in conversation.  This was shocking and set us back a bit. 

We walked through a couple hard months with Emily grieving all over again.  She didn’t want her disability.  She didn’t want a special program.  She didn’t want to have needs.  She didn’t want to have to depend on other people to help meet her needs.  All of this—she communicated to us.  I have to say how proud I am of her for being able to identify and communicate her thoughts in the midst of a really hard time.  

I wish I could do that as well as she did.

So how did she make it through the interview and get accepted into the PATHS Program?  The coolest thing happened the night before her interview.  All the times we brought up the PATHS Program, Emily would get upset and did not want to go or even talk about it.  When I say upset, I mean she was vehemently opposed to it.   It would always end in tears.

In an attempt to avoid her sabotaging the interview, Jeremy talked to her one more time the night before we went.  It started off rough again, but out of the blue, Emily brought up the story of Jonah.  Do you know the story of Jonah from the Bible?  It’s a short book (maybe shorter than this blog post)--I highly recommend you read it for yourself.

Emily began retelling an abbreviated version of the story and how God even used a big fish to get Jonah where he needed to be, and all of a sudden, we hear her say, “So if the PATHS Program is where God wants me, then I need to go.”

Right in front of our eyes, we saw how God used His living and active Word to soften the heart of Emily and give her a willingness to be open to whatever He has for her.  This too was a comfort for me—if God can speak to my daughter and change her mind about the PATHS Program, then I can trust Him with whatever is next.

When we got the news of her acceptance, we were excited!  

Mom and Dad might have been more excited than Emily, but by the time she left June 24, Emily was ready.  She was nervous and excited--like any normal college student leaving home for the first time.  
Drop off was hard as expected, but God is good and we got through it.  And later that night, when we were 140 miles away, we got a sweet reminder of just how much HE HAS GOT THIS.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Ready or not, here we go!

Here we are again, about to take the second to college, and it is NO EXAGGERATION to confess that I did not prepare for this launch.  Not this soon.  Not with this girl.

Emily is my firstborn.  However, when we adopted our kids from Colombia, Emily became the 2nd oldest.  I did not realize how much that would impact her.  I was sensitive to birth order and we discussed it with friends, family and our social worker before we adopted.  But I thought it would be okay because I already knew that Emily would not be the first to date, first to drive, nor the first to leave the nest.  What I didn’t fully prepare for was Emily’s own realization and grief with not being the first.

When we got Emily’s diagnosis of Pervasive Development Disorder—Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) at age 7 (a diagnosis that now just falls under the Autism Spectrum Disorder), there was much about her future that became uncertain.  We grieved over future losses—would she ever really be able to learn as her peers, would she have meaningful friendships, would she go to college, get married, have children?

Our own future plans of being empty-nesters by age 50 were interrupted with this diagnosis. (By the way, I AM SO GLAD THAT PLAN WAS INTERRUPTED!!!)  BUT having a diagnosis helped us know how to help Emily.  We found resources and awesome teachers AND we accepted the idea of Emily living with us the rest of our lives if needed.

You know what I didn’t know when she was 7?  I didn’t know she would become one of the most courageous, strong, and perceptive among our family.

Emily is uncomfortable in social situations.  Emily sees things differently—thinks about things differently.  She and I can finish each other’s sentences, but she doesn’t finish my sentences the same way I would, and I don’t finish hers like she would. J

What does courage and strength look like in Emily?  Courage looks like walking into an uncomfortable situation when all you want to do is isolate in your safe room.  

Anxiety arises and you go anyway.
That's courage.

Strength looks like walking out the door again and again when you know you could say the “wrong” thing and get those looks from people around you that make you feel stupid.  You have no immediate escape so you stay and endure, and walk out the door again the next day.

Walking out the door again the next day.
That's strength.

One common characteristic of Autism that can present itself is not reading people’s facial expressions and understanding their feelings, and not being able to adequately communicate your own feelings.  Not true for Emily.  When we have a conversation, I observe how keenly aware she is of my response and facial expression after every thing she says.  She glances at her audience whether it’s just one, two or three people in the room to read what their response is and if what she just said will gain approval…acceptance….or not.  

It’s a beautiful yet difficult gift to have. 

It’s difficult when what you say makes you feel unaccepted.  Yet it’s beautiful when it allows you the gift to recognize people’s hurts and show them empathy and compassion.  Emily’s perceptiveness goes beyond reading facial expressions.  She has an ability to describe people’s true intentions and motivation that has been remarkably accurate.

These qualities about Emily—courage, strength, perceptiveness—comfort me a little as we…guess what…..drop her off at college!
Tomorrow!  We are taking Emily to Texas A&M and moving her into a dorm on campus where she will be for the next 4 weeks.  If she successfully completes the 4 weeks, Emily will be eligible to complete the next 2 semesters at A&M as a student in the PATHS Program.  The 2 semesters consist of course work and an internship that will give her the opportunity to complete a certification as a Paraprofessional.

Tomorrow is a new beginning for Emily that we never expected to happen.  I can trust God with her because she is His anyway.  And how He got her to this point is nothing short of amazing.  Telling that part of the story will be a delight and comfort to me as I let her go and need to be reminded that He has got this.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

49 weeks

forgiveness feels like freedom.  a weight lifted.  i have not felt it quite like that until this week.  you see 49 weeks ago i hurt one of my best friends.  i betrayed her with my judgement and accusation.  and what is most painful for me is that i thought i was doing the right thing. 

i need much forgiveness.

49 weeks is a long time when you lose a friend like her.  we have known each other for almost 2 decades.  we have shared dinners, girls weekends, burdens, gifts, prayers, our families.  she was with me the day i found out my second born was a boy.  she was with me as we prayed for the children we did not know yet would become ours. if you browse my family photo albums you will find members of her family in our pictures.

the loss the past 49 weeks has been deep.  many would think, including myself, that there is not much hope for redemption after a hurt like that.  afterall, we were just friends....not family.  we could move on.  we have lots of good friends.  our lives are busy so we could just keep our minds on other people and other things.

but the truth is we can't ignore that loss.  it's too deep.  our relationships intersect. our kids intersect.  and ignoring our pain does not make it go away.  even though we do not share the same dna nor last names, she is family. we love and serve the same God.  we both have been rescued.  we both live in the forgiveness of Jesus. 

and perhaps i needed to understand that truth more.  i sin and ask for forgiveness as if i don't really hurt anybody.  the past 49 weeks i have been well aware of how my sin hurts.  how much i lose.  how much i need a savior.

and today that Savior made a way for us to be restored to one another again. 

sin abounds--i mess up even when i try to do the right thing
but t.h.a.n.k.f.u.l.l.y His grace abounds more.  

forgiveness is freedom

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

When a hurricane feels more like a whirlwind

When Hurricane Harvey was on the radar, we did not anticipate the devastation it would cause in our area.  I was expecting some rain and strong winds but nothing catastrophic.  It wasn't until they cancelled school for the Friday and Monday BEFORE Harvey even hit, that we decided to leave town.
The Ngogas had just gotten to Texas a few days before and I was not about to introduce my East African friends who spent the last 2 years in the desert in California to a hurricane!  And the thought of being cooped up in the house with 14 people, including a kid and a dog who are terrified of thunderstorms, for 4 DAYS with possibly no power, was not gonna happen.
So we gathered ourselves and secured the cats we left behind and drove off into the beautiful sunset of Blanco, Texas.
As Harvey poured on Houston we got comfortable at Aunt Jan's ranch for the weekend.  Surprisingly, bands of rain and cooler temps followed us to Blanco but it did not stop the kids from enjoying the pool while we were there.

Traveling with this many people could be overwhelming.  I don't even plan vacations for my party of 9 much less a party of 14.  Unpredictable days, being out of routine, and anxiety over what's happening back at home are a recipe for disaster for some of my crew.

But again, what could have been awful
turned out to be awesome.

Taking one day at a time, cooking together...
eating together...

spending time playing and resting...

...away from home was actually just the right thing for our families to bond as we were all new to one another.

The weekend passed and news showed terrible flooding all across the Houston area.  We had family and friends checking on the cats and the house and thankfully water was not getting close.  Not sure we would be able to get home, and hearing school was cancelled the rest of the week, we decided to take our party north that Monday.  

We headed to Dallas but not without making a stop along the way.  We stopped in to see Katerin who had just started classes a few days before at UMHB.  AND turns out Christine had friends in Belton too -- a family from Rwanda!  We met Bernadette and her family and found out Bernadette was also attending UMHB and had a class with Katerin.
Katerin meets the Ngogas

New friends in Belton

It's no small task to host our families, and if you tell me "come visit" you need to be prepared because we might take you up on it.  It's too expensive to get hotel rooms and eat out much with this many so if we travel, it is usually to see family or friends.  
As we headed to friends in Dallas, we learned that the Ngogas had more friends close to our destination--Another family that had moved from California as well, so to make it easier on our hosts, some of the kids went with Christine and some of the kids went with us.  All this time, Christine's husband is stranded in California trying to get the rest of their things moved.  

Thankfully, we were well taken care of!

touring Dallas

We love the Curry's!

Jeremy turned 40 something while we were gone

KFC on our way home!
Hurricane Harvey felt more like a whirlwind for us as we stayed away for a few days....watching the news, getting to know one another, depending on friends to help us.  We were very grateful to come home to a dry house, but that was not so for many living close to us.   
We met one more family that week that were friends of the Ngogas.  This family was just 20 minutes away and had also moved to Texas from California.  Their house flooded during Harvey and some of our kids were able to help clean out their house during the days school was cancelled. 


One thing I am so grateful for through this whirlwind is friends.  Friends to travel with, friends that stayed and checked on the cats, friends that generously hosted our families--some new and some old.  This could have been a terrible, horrible, no good very bad trip, but because of our friends, we got through it with smiles.
And because of Harvey, we began sharing suppers every night with the Ngogas.  The first days the Ngogas were in Texas, we were both trying to be careful to give each other their space.  But it felt kind of awkward and hard to discern.  After Harvey and sharing EVERY meal together those days we traveled, it just happened naturally that we continued to come together for supper.  And we are glad for that! 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

National Siblings Day

Last week I saw friends posting pictures of their siblings and I did not get to it on time. National Siblings Day came and went and I didn't post anything about mine--but neither did they so we are cool.  :)
Don't get me wrong, I love my siblings...but instead of digging up an old photo of us as kids, I want to tell you about my sister Christine

Christmas Day 2017
Christine and her family live in our barn.  Well, we call it the barn but it is our old garage transformed into a small apartment.  We started transforming it about a year ago and at the same time, Christine contacted me to tell me they were moving to Texas and were looking for a place to rent. 

We insisted they stay with us.

So this beautiful family of 7 moved into the barn August 17th just a few days before Hurricane Harvey.  (How we endured, or rather, escaped Harvey will be another post!)
I am grateful for how we share our lives, families, meals, carpool, walks, prayers, and faith with each other. Christine, you are a gift. 

Our friendship began almost 8 years ago in Rwanda...
Rwanda 2010

Christine was our translator on our mission trips to Rwanda in 2010 and 2011.  She has quite a story to tell of how her family came to the States and all the adventures they have had the past 6 years, and maybe she will do that one day here.

For now I want to share how our lives intersect.

Some people wonder how we are doing with our families living so closely, so the truth is....we are abundantly blessed. 

It is awesome!

I don't take that for granted.  I know this could be really bad.  But by God's grace our families are better because of one another.  Isn't that amazing?  4 adults and 12 kids--different cultures, different colors, different backgrounds, yet we live in community with one another, sharing, learning, and helping each other.

By God's grace our families are better because of one another.  

Maybe it's because her kids are not annoying.  Haha!  You know if you opened your home to friends you would fear the same thing!  They are actually quite sweet, respectful, kind and loving.  I know this would be much harder if our kids did not get along, and if I had to worry about how they behaved or what they talked about.  But I love how her kids are rubbing off on all of us.  We could all use a good dose of kindness.

Supper--I think I have hinted on my blog how dinner time can be difficult.  With picky eaters, some getting easily annoyed, some dominating the conversation, we would not make sitting together at the table a priority.  It kinda ruined the rest of my night.
But with the Ngogas, we share suppers every night.  Christine takes 3 or 4 meals a week and I take 3 or 4 meals a week.  What I love is that I can enjoy dinner at the table again.  My kids may not appreciate our meals together for years but I believe this is the kind of thing that is impacting us in some ways we don't know yet.

I don't know how long we will get to live like we do--together--but I am grateful for each day we have.  I am learning some lessons from my East African sister that I don't want to forget--a few I will share here in the coming days/weeks.  And the memories we are making are changing us.  

Thursday, December 14, 2017

My Honest Christmas Card

The joys and tears through the years—
here are some we will share with you…

Adopting an older child from another country brings us joy and laughter. Sometimes lots of laughter. Especially when they speak English as a second language and they can't get all the sounds right. One particular difficult sound is the TH sound. It just comes out as a T sound. So if you are ever in third place it really stinks. (it’s ok to laugh, we all do)

We go through lots of everything pretty fast. Toilet paper, food, laundry detergent. But the best (or worst) time was when we ran out of bandaids. Well not totally, but we only had the tiny ones that are good for basically nothing. PERFECT for when my kid shows me a scratch I can't see and they need a bandaid.

But this one night MOM needed a bandaid. I had gauged the back of my ankle pretty deep and the only thing I found was an overnight extra-large size maxi pad. The good news is that I could wrap it all the way around my ankle and put the purple wrapper back around it to keep the sticky side from sticking to the bed. (Can you believe I said maxi pad in my Christmas letter?? I can’t either!)

Just like any normal family, our kids can get pretty annoyed with each other. On one particular hot and bothered ride in the van (our 15 passenger we affectionately call Big Blue), one kid wants to sing along to the song on the radio. Uh oh. Oh no you di'nt. There is a revolt and all singing along is successfully halted for the remainder of the drive. Which was on the way to church....where we joined 400 other people singing along to songs.

God has grown our family in the most unexpected way. Jeremy is the king of weekend projects except his weekend project usually turns into a 6 month project--not because he procrastinates, but more so because he decides to build a "barn" that turns into an apartment that is now housing a family of 7. Not even kidding.
The whole family helped in some ways to build this barn but we all know that Dad and Saimon did most of the work.  One afternoon we were installing the metal roof and Jeremy looks at Saimon and says to me, "You know there are not many other 11-year-olds who would do what he is doing." To which I replied, "There are not many other parents who would let their 11-year-old sit at the edge of the roof, 20 feet from the ground, with a drill."
We all survived the "barn raising" and enjoy sharing it with the Ngoga family.

Ngoga Family

Dad and Saimon working on the roof

Marian and Saimon

Even some friends came to help
(look closely and you'll see the hammock)

Tearing out the old garage

Having a larger family can create some problems but it can also solve some problems too. Like we never have to discuss where we are going to eat or what we are going to watch. We eat at home and we don't have cable. And most kids have something small and rectangular in their hands they can stare at. (Ugh screens).  But some of my favorite times are when we go where the wifi signal is low and we play Nerts, enjoy friends and eat good food.

Through the years we have shed some tears but we have also shared in laughter.  

And in 2017 we have laughed more.

Wishing you joy in the gifts God has given you.
And may you have more laughter than tears in the coming year.
Merry Christmas from the Evermons

Monday, October 9, 2017

Come on in

Welcome. Come in. You may use the front door to my house the first time you come over but after that you'll know everyone comes through the side door.

When you enter my house through the side door, you see pieces of our lives all over that first room.  We call it the "front room" although I have no idea why.  It's walls include the front and back of my house.  It used to be a garage for previous owners, but it was closed into the house long before we got here.

The front room holds unorganized lockers for my kids, desks filled with papers to sign or save or just be recycled, an extra refrigerator, a wall full of artwork and projects from my young artists, recycle bins (that also hold artwork at times), and a large dining table and chairs on a beautiful rug.  The dining table and rug do not seem to fit in this cluttered room, but then again they do.

Wow look how clean that table is.  It was Christmas.
Welcome.  Come in through the side door and pass through our clutter and stay a while.  This is how we live.  We invite you in.  We give you access to our lives, our imperfect lives, and hope that by gathering we may grow more.

Grow more like Jesus.

This is not how we live just at home, but this is how we serve.  In everything we do--whether it's work or ministry or parenting.  We don't know how to do it any other way.  We are not perfect.  We are not always equipped.  We can even bumble our way through sometimes pretty bad.  But when we bumble, we ask for forgiveness and we pray and we try again.
We have recently opened our home like never before--welcoming a family to come live with us.  We are learning a lot and have only entered kindergarten in the school of "Doing Life Together."  You may be wondering how we all fit now that there are 15 (YES even 16 when Katerin comes home) of us together.  That's for another post.