Giving Thanks and Looking Forward to Advent

Thanksgiving week, and I have so much to be thankful for – so much, yet I woke yesterday morning wondering how I will push myself to plan a holiday dinner and carry the weight of creating a special time for my family.

I have fond memories of Thanksgivings spent with cousins and my Nana, playing cards for hours, the dads watching football in the basement, olives on our fingers as we waited for dinner. And the food – so much good food.

fall grasses centerpiece

I miss my enthusiasm and sense of direction. Will it come back? I hope so – I think so.

Grief is a wild beast; an unpredictable, heavy weight pressing on me.

My spirits were lifted yesterday when Noah and Katie, together with Katie’s sister, Molly, came for family dinner. Russ and Claire were at a 4H fundraiser and I didn’t feel like cooking a big dinner, but when three big kids showed up, willing to help cook and keep me company in the kitchen, I got motivated. It was fun being together and by the time they left, I felt much better about Thanksgiving.

Best of all, Advent is coming this Sunday. Although sorrow weighs on our hearts, we look toward the coming of Jesus, our savior who came to be with us in the midst of it.

In our accident, in the crashing of metal and crushing of our bodies, Jesus was there. In the ambulance and hospital, Jesus was there. In the unimaginable moments of the funeral home and gathering later with hundreds of friends and family to celebrate Kalkidan, Jesus was there. In the months of recovery and healing my wounded body, and in the nearly two years of healing our broken hearts, Jesus is still with us.

My friend, Sarah, reminded me of these words from the Christmas hymn, Good Christian Men Rejoice,

Christ was born for this
Christ was born for this

Indeed, He was born for this; He came to be with us, to join us in our brokenness and bring us to wholeness.

We’re slowly finding our way, and this Thanksgiving is one more step in our journey. We’ll miss Hannah in Minnesota, Isaiah in St. Louis, and of course, Kalkidan.

We’ll gather close with the ones we love right here – and give thanks.

In happy news, we’ve added Create Your Own necklaces to the Thankful Moms Etsy store. You choose a word bar with the phrase that means the most to you, then add charms and beads, to create a one-of-a-kind necklace. I can’t wait to see what people create!

We’ve also added two new phrases for cuffs and bracelets: “wholehearted,” and “in Christ alone.”

You might like my recent post, Four Simple Advent Traditions for Everyone. I share simple ideas and free resources for celebrating Advent as well as many books I’ve used over the years.  Yesterday I added a link to the free download for the Jesse tree ornaments I use with my family.

jesse-tree-ornaments edit


I don’t know if there will be time to write another post this week, but I’ll be sure to post on my Thankful Moms Facebook page, and maybe even on Instagram.

I love watching for deals on Amazon to share with you – especially on Black Friday. You won’t find me in the stores, I’ll be home in comfy clothes hanging out with my family, eating pie for breakfast (why yes, we will) and shopping for bargains at the same time.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, friends. I wish you could stop over for pie and coffee.



Completion and Restoration for Our Marriage and Family in 2017| Part 2

Part 2 of my thoughts on the coming year and our theme of Completion and Restoration.

2017 completion and restoration image

Don’t miss Completion and Restoration for our Marriage and Family in 2017 | Part 1

Last week I wrote about the theme of Completion for the coming year.

What about Restoration?

With so much upheaval in our lives, relationships have also been neglected. We’ve been working so hard, for so long, we haven’t taken time to enjoy the people we love.

We plan to change that in 2017.

The most important relationship is our marriage.

I love Russ with all my heart, and I need to make sure he knows it, every day. I need to love him more than I love myself, which is easy to say, but not so easy to live.

Every morning before the kids leave for school, we pray,

Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
And love your neighbor as yourself.

Those words have sunk deep into me – do I love my neighbor as myself? Do I love my husband as myself? When a task is inconvenient, will I do it anyway to make his life a little easier or better? Do I make sacrifices for him the way I want him to make them for me?

In addition to our marriage, we’re thinking about our kids, especially our older children.

We need to figure out new ways to love our adult kids and grow our relationships with them.

2016 brought many changes with our big kids and we expect 2017 to bring more.

This fall, both Samuel and Isaiah moved away, Isaiah to St. Louis, and Samuel to Portland. These were not, “I’m moving away for a year and I’ll be back,” moves, these were grown-up moves. They won’t live in our little town again. Mimi may be on the verge of moving away too.

Soon we will only have our youngest five living near, which bring us to a new season of life. We need to think about our big kids, how to connect with them, how to spend time with them.

We lost many years while pouring ourselves into their younger siblings. Those can’t be reclaimed, but we can intentionally build something new. It’s tempting to look back with regret, but we won’t gain a thing; we can only look forward and find a new way that brings something better.

Many other relationships were also set aside during those years. We want to restore some of those as well, as time allows, but first, our marriage and our children.

What else will the Lord lead us to restore? Our health, faith, traditions, joy? We don’t know yet, we only know this is our plan for 2017, and honestly, the glimpse we have right now feels full.

We’ll be praying over the long list of incomplete projects/dreams/tasks/commitments, asking God for wisdom about what to complete in all realms of our lives: personal, professional, family, home – everything.

I’m guessing a good number of tasks will be permanently crossed off our lists. We’ll likely wrestle through the remainder, asking each other good questions, prioritizing, figuring out how to help one another.

I will be Russ’ biggest supporter and assistant as he works to complete and restore in 2017, and my most restrained self as I hold back from beginning too many new things and focus on completing what I’ve begun (dare I whisper the word “book?”).

We’ll keep walking through trauma and grief. I met with our counselor yesterday and he told me we’re right where we should be in the grief process. Good to know, because I often feel I’m not handling it well at all.

Russ and I are doing this together – loving each other – trading ashes for beauty, and sorrow for joy, incomplete for complete, and broken for restored.

Lord, have mercy on us. Give us clarity of mind, grace for one another, hearts overflowing with love, and strength to complete the unfinished and restore the broken. Amen.


[This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.]


Completion and Restoration for Our Marriage and Family in 2017 | Part 1

As we enter the last two months of 2016, I’m looking toward 2017 with hope for completion and restoration.

2017 completion and restoration image

In a moment of solitude, I was praying and thinking about Russ, our marriage, and the coming year. I was wondering how I could love and serve him better – how I could nurture our marriage more.

This wasn’t coming from a holy, “I’m an amazing, perfect, always thinking of my husband first” place, although I wish it had been. It was coming from a desperate, “We could have lost our marriage; now we’re coming out of a dark pit and want to heal and never go back there again” place.

These last years have been incredibly hard. I wrote about the challenges in my post, Can a Really Good Marriage Have a Really Hard Year?

I’ve seen multiple marriages crumble under the weight of parenting kids from “hard places,” and it’s widely accepted that traumatically losing a child is a tremendous stress on marriage as well.

We’re doing both.

Thankfully, we had twenty-three years of marriage before we entered the world of therapeutic parenting, and thirty years of marriage before we lost our daughter. We had a strong foundation.

We also aren’t recovering from the pain of addiction or unfaithfulness, both of which break hearts and lives. I can think of four marriages among my friends that have survived a spouse being unfaithful – it can be done. It takes a huge amount of forgiveness and determination to rebuild, and in some cases, the wounds cannot be healed.

By the grace and kindness of God, prayers of good friends, our own desperation, and the strength of the promises we made all those years ago, we’re beating back the darkness in our own hearts and asking Jesus to enter in. We’re clinging to each other.

There’s a whole story of the beautiful way Jesus broke through to us, which I’ll save for another day, but since that time, we’ve been very tender to each other. We’re turning toward each other and not away, even in the most stressful moments.

But I digress, let me get back to the coming year.

I was sitting in a beautiful house last month, looking out the window at choppy waves, and two words came to me very clearly: completion and restoration.

2017 is a year for Completion and Restoration.

I wrote these words in my journal and sat looking at them for a long time. What does God have in mind?

I like to get things done, so I often plow my way through projects, or drag Russ into my big ideas.

Russ is an engineer – an engineering professor, no less. You women who are married to engineers know what I’m talking about. He is detail-oriented, research-minded, and meticulous.

I, on the other hand, like to see quick results and check projects off my list, even if the results aren’t quite perfect, which means this is a source of pretty significant conflict for us.

We had been tripping over this stumbling block for many years when we met our ultimate challenge.

Ten years ago, we adopted four children in sixteen months and our world fell apart.

All at once we had eleven children, three of whom had significant needs. Within a short time, their trauma resulted in trauma for the rest of our children, giving us a family of traumatized children.

We were shaken to our core, knocked to our knees in desperation, crying out to God for help.

The next years were consumed with seeking healing for our children. If you’ve been reading long, you know we spent two years traveling to Seattle every other week for therapy for kids. We traveled to Nebraska and Montana. Russ and I completed TBRI training and spent a week in Texas taking classes with Dr. Karyn Purvis and David Cross at TCU.

We’ve been all in – giving it everything we have; now life is changing and opening up a little. We’re breathing a little more easily.

We’re still doing therapy with a couple of our kids and pursuing educational support. We’re immersed in sports because it’s so good for them.

And we’re working our way through grief, which is a long, winding road for our family.

All that to say, there are many unfinished projects in our lives, some of them going back many years.

I’m not only talking about home projects, although there are plenty of those, but all kinds of important things that have been left undone, like updating our will (why yes, we do have more than six children, we have eleven, but, oh wait it’s been so long that only four of them are now under 18).

There are projects we started before the kids came home that have been left undone ever since. We need to decide if we should return to them. Perhaps they are dreams from a former life that no longer fit who we are and what matters to us now.

There is a lot to talk and pray about.

And that leads me to the next part of what I think God is speaking to us – Restoration, which I’ll write about Wednesday.

If you are in a hard season in your marriage, please hold on. Get help. Marriage can be hard – and you can do hard things.

Find a long-married couple to mentor you. Seek out a good counselor. One reader told me Relationship Lifeline save her marriage. Check it out.

There are many good books available.

[This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.]

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work was recommended by our counselor. I recently heard an interview with the author of Very Married and enjoyed her candor and thoughts on marriage. It’s on my list. Lastly, the authors of How We Love offered a pre-conference workshop at the Refresh Conference a couple of years ago. Their book is also used by Relationship Lifeline.


What do you hear the Lord speaking to you about 2017?

Friends, thank you for reading; I hope my words serve and bless you.

Completion and Restoration for Our Marriage and Family in 2017 | Part 2



Welcome, November

I loved October.

The maple trees in our yard were spectacular, football and swimming were great for my athletes, lots of good things happened. October also ended with Kalkidan’s birthday, which is a hard day for our family.

Welcome, November.

Last week Russ traveled to Colorado for the first ever adoptive/foster dad’s retreat, Road Trip: Colorado. He didn’t have time to go, and we hadn’t planned for it in our budget, but we made time and God provided the finances.

Kalkidan remembering

Adoption and foster care put unique stresses on dads most people can’t understand. Being with guys who “get it” is very rare. Russ had time alone in the mountains and conversations with guys he appreciates. It was worth every minute away and every dollar. Friends, encourage your husbands to go next year!

Kalkidan’s birthday was last Saturday. I was afraid to face the day without Russ; his flight got in that evening. I was also worried about managing two football games, a swim meet, and life without him. In the end, the day was packed, but good, and while I had some tearful moments, including a bit of crying in the bathroom of the football stadium, there wasn’t time to dwell on sadness.

Happy Birthday to Our Kalkidan

kalkidan locs and sunshine

Happy Birthday to our beautiful girl.

Kalkidan Ella Qualls. Loved. Remembered. Celebrated.

We’re wearing orange today 10/29, and tomorrow to celebrate Kalkidan.

Russ has been in Colorado with other foster and adoptive dads and is on his way home today. We’ll be together tomorrow as a family, wearing orange, eating something spicy, and remembering the gift of Kalkidan.

If you are celebrating Kalkidan with us, we invite you to share a picture of yourself wearing something orange, or with something orange in the picture. Orange was Kalkidan’s favorite color and truly represented her bright spirit. If you have photos of her, please share those as well.

Please upload your photo(s) to Facebook (and tag me so I see it), Instagram, or Twitter. Hashtag your photo #rememberingkalkidan 

Our family will see your photos and know that you are remembering Kalkidan with us.

If there is one thing I fear, it’s that our spicy, vibrant girl will be forgotten.

Please share this with anyone who might like to celebrate with us.

Kalkidan changed our lives forever – our daughter, sister, friend, and teacher. We will never be the same.

In our sadness, which honestly is still very deep, we are sure of God’s promises – Kalkidan is more alive than ever and she knows only love. We’ll see her again and it will be a joyful reunion.

Much love from our family to you,

Lisa – for all the Qualls

kalkidan mom dad ahope

The Most Unexpected Reminder of Kalkidan’s Birthday

I don’t have to tell you I’m kind of hanging by a thread this week as Kalkidan’s birthday approaches. So many emotions are swirling in my heart and mind.

In the spirit of not sinking into depression, yesterday I took a good walk and today – don’t laugh now – I did yoga for the second time ever using our old Wii Fit.

Yes, we have a Wii Fit that still works. It was quite the ordeal getting it up and running last month.

If you aren’t familiar, when you log on, the Wii Fit greets you with chatty messages about how long it’s been since you’ve exercised, how much weight you’ve gained, or with a message to remind a family member to get back into their exercise routine.

Imagine my surprise when I got this message today. I nearly had to sit down.


I stood staring at the screen – not sure if I wanted to move past it or leave it there for a long time. Finally, I moved on, and this was the next screen.