Why We Should Laugh With Our Kids

Last night we had pizza and movie night with Eby and Wogayu. The girls were gone for the evening, so it was only four of us; it felt so odd!

I didn’t love Despicable Me 3 (I’m not sure I even liked it), but the scene of the “dance fight” struck me as very funny. When the movie ended I challenged Wogayu¬†to a dance fight – he thought I was kidding, but then I started doing a goofy dance and he looked at me like I was crazy. We all started laughing and somehow I got even sillier and dancing got – well, worse.

Russ pulled me close¬†saying, “It makes me happy to see you like this.”

I looked at his eyes and felt a rush of love – it’s possible for us to feel happy. Our hearts are capable of being light.


With kids from “hard places,” we often feel the weight of our lives. We tend to be focused on the challenges and what needs to happen next. And as parents who have lost a child, sadness always swims around us.

More than three years ago I wrote, Smile More. Hug More. Be a Little Silly.

This morning I read it again and remembered the importance of this for our children. They need to feel our delight over them, especially when it may seem our attention is focused on instruction and correction.

It may not seem like much, but having pizza and watching a movie each Friday is a small step toward lightening up. I’m also trying to be more playful, which doesn’t come naturally to me. I bought Suspend¬†and Banagrams¬†because they require¬†minimal setup and can be played quickly – my kind of games.

The thing about joy is we need to want it.

Don’t choose to stay in darkness under a¬†blanket of grief; look for glimpses of light.

Our kids need us to seek joy and lead them to it.

They also need to know we enjoy them and they are “fun to be around,” which is one of our goals for the younger set.

Sometimes (not often enough) we watch goofy YouTube videos just to enjoy laughing side-by-side.  Like this one [caution: sexual references at about 5:00 if you want to mute.]

Or maybe this will do the trick.

With parental censorship, there is no end to the humor you’ll find on YouTube.

Let’s lighten up and laugh with our kids.

There is a time for everything…¬†a time to weep and a time to laugh,¬†a time to mourn and a time to dance… Ecclesiastes 3

We’ve done a lot of weeping and mourning; let’s laugh and dance with our families.

I send you my love this morning, along with joy and hope for the journey.


A Few Things For You!

Happy weekend, friends! I have a new post coming Monday morning, but I want to share three things with you now.

1.| My friend Mike Berry, has a book coming out! For the next 16 days you can pre-order Confessions of an Adoptive Parent and get all kinds of bonus content. I had the honor of reading an early copy and writing an endorsement for the book.

2.| I sent a friends-letter this morning to¬†my¬†inner circle of readers. If you would enjoy a more personal email in your inbox every few weeks, it’s easy to subscribe. It only takes a minute or two to read and it’s content you won’t find anywhere else.

3.| I have a new video on Facebook. It’s a longer conversation about marriage and I answer questions from viewers about managing our home. You can find it, and other videos, on my One Thankful Mom Facebook page, or you can view it here:

If you missed it, this shorter video on giving choices to children has been viewed many times and you may like it!

I’m still figuring things out and making mistakes, like the big one in this video, but overall, it’s a very authentic way to communicate and I’m enjoying it.

All for today, have a great weekend, my friend.

Encourage one another,


Finding, Loving, Trusting

One week ago our son disappeared in the city of St. Louis.

He was on his way to a friend’s house and didn’t arrive.

Fear filled my heart and mind. Where could he be in such a big city? Where could he be in such a big world? Would we find him, and if we did, what would we find?

I prayed, breathed, answered calls and texts – all the while trying to think clearly enough to pack and stay calm enough to say goodbye to my younger kids without alerting them to the crisis.

Monday morning at 3:15 I woke to my alarm and checked my phone. No words of assurance and relief were found. An hour later I was at the airport.

As we started down the runway I put my phone in airplane mode, praying that when I landed in Seattle there would be a text saying he was found.

We landed and I quickly turned off airplane mode. Nothing.

On my second flight, I put my phone in airplane mode telling myself there would be news when I landed. I avoided talking to anyone in order to keep from crying.

We landed – still nothing. In that huge Dallas airport, I began to cry. I had no plan except to arrive and be picked up by kind, generous, new-to-me friends who opened their home.

Isaiah has given his heart and energy to the Ferguson Resistance and the racial liberation movement, and I came to learn that they are family to one another. Family enough to let him live with them, family enough to take me in, family enough to drive me all over St. Louis.

When I landed for the final time, he had been missing more than 24 hours. A friend in the Movement asked my permission to create a missing persons¬†“poster” for Facebook and I agreed. When I clicked “post” and shared it,¬† I knew I was opening my heart and our family to the world. This story was no longer unfolding in privacy but on Facebook where many of you saw it.

The post was shared thousands of times and met with words of love and concern.

The next morning we got a call telling us he was found and in the hospital. Gratitude and relief flooded me. When I saw him, I hugged him tight, kissed his cheeks, and cried.

One week later, I’m still in STL with Isaiah.

I can only share my story, not Isaiah’s, so I won’t go into detail now, but he is doing much better and I’m holding on to hope.

Fear is quite possibly the greatest enemy of parenting. Looking too far into the future only makes my mind a swirling mess.

Being the mother of young adults is a delicate balancing act. We love them fiercely yet have to hold them with open hands.

I pray the Serenity Prayer – “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” I ask God to help me walk in faith, to show me a clear path, to be ruled by his peace and not my fear.

This I know – there is no fear in love, perfect love (God’s love), casts out fear – fear of condemnation, fear of the future, fear of doing it all wrong, fear of being exposed to scrutiny, fear of falling too far into a lonely place.

Shame wants me to be silent.  Wanting to present ourselves as a family that has it all together Рor maybe a little bit together is so tempting. But moments ago I read my own words, When Shame Holds Us Back, and I cried because although I wrote them, they spoke truth to me.

Sometimes I really hate that.

My words:

When we suffer, our compassion grows. Our ability to step into someone else’s story and feel their sorrow, regret, anger, fear, becomes possible because we know what it is to feel sorrow, regret, anger and fear.

And –

My family is not perfect. We are messy and broken, but we press on loving each other fiercely.

And –

God doesn’t expect us to be perfect parents. He only asks that we do our best to love him with all our heart, soul, and strength, and love our neighbor (our children) as ourselves. That is a big enough task for all of us.

I will take today one moment at a time, not being able to plan or control, asking God for wisdom and peace. I yearn to be home and hope it won’t be long before I can be in Russ’ arms and hug my youngest kids close.

My hopes and plans may also be God’s hopes and plans – and if not, I will still trust him for Isaiah’s future and for our family.

With courage and hope for the journey – and much love,



Two Ways to Plan for Advent (and a Giveaway)


You know I love Advent and it will be here before we know it – next Sunday!

I’m a firm believer in keeping life simple. Honestly, all you need is a candle and a match. You can even find a Bible online, or with an app on your phone.

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

If you want Advent candles in the traditional, symbolic colors, and you don’t want to run all over town trying to find them, I ordered this simple set on Amazon.:

I’ve written many posts, including Four Simple Advent Traditions for Everyone, which is loaded with links to resources for everyone from your children to adults.

If you’ve never observed Advent, and think of it as something only “religious” people do, or only people who are formal in their worship, you are missing out. It is a sweet way to anticipate and prepare for Christmas when we celebrate Jesus coming to earth to be with us, to be one of us.

It’s a very profound thing, so deeply meaningful – He loved us that much. He became fully God and fully man.

If you have children, you can keep it very simple and read just a few verses of the Bible each day. Celebrate Advent Season is a great free resource. You may need to go to this sign up page to get it.

If you’re ready for something a little more advanced, I’ve loved walking my children through the stories of people of great faith leading up to the birth of Jesus using a Jesse Tree. We’ve used Ann Voskamp’s book, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, for several years as a framework for our readings, adapting it to suit our style and timeframe.

That’s my quick – don’t forget, Advent is coming post. If you would like to read more, take a look at these posts:

Advent: Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

Preparing for Advent

Also, if you haven’t subscribed to my Friends-letter, this is a great day to do it. Now through the end of the month all subscribers will be automatically entered to win the necklace of your choice from the new collections in my Etsy Shop. You can read more details in the post, New for the Holidays.¬†¬†Thank you so much for trusting me with your time and inbox – I will never share your email address:

I’m unexpectedly traveling today and writing this just before boarding a flight. I will try to update Instagram and my OTM Facebook page this week. I would be very grateful for your prayers as I travel.

With hope and courage for the journey,


How Understanding the Brain Helps Parents and Teens

Want to know what can bring about a fight, flight, or freeze response in even the calmest parent?

Being in the passenger seat as your child practices driving.

Not long ago a friend of Claire’s was very upset because her mother “lost it” when the teen made an error while driving. She’ll be the first to admit, it was a pretty darn big error which involved a near collision, multiple cars, and horns honking.

A fair amount of freaking out ensued – driver, mom, younger siblings.

Hearts were pounding as adrenaline rushed through veins. We’ve all been in that kind of panic at some time in our lives.

Words were spoken – the kind that fly out of your mouth before you can even think. Those words were followed by another exchange of words. Which were followed by some very hurtful words – the kind you wish could pull back into your mouth and away from the ears of the one who heard them.

Thankfully, nobody was hurt and the teen was able to pull the car off the busy street and into a parking lot where she promptly got out of the car and refused to get back in. Remember, flight is one response to a stressful or traumatic situation.

I can’t blame her.

Understanding the Brain (and Trauma) 

When she told me the story, she was very angry with her mom. I asked questions, and the additional details gave me a better picture of what had happened.

It was clear that some basic miscommunication had led to a very stressful moment.

We talked about how she might have been feeling as a young driver – how frightening it must have been. I asked if she felt embarrassed about her error and maybe even ashamed. It’s very vulnerable, and a little scary, learning to drive.

Then I gently talked about what her mom might have been feeling. This led to a simple explanation of the brain and how we all react to trauma. I even shared the hand model and how we “flip our lids” in stressful moments.

In times of stress, our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that allows us to think clearly and have self-control (the “upstairs brain”), can “flip,” or no longer be in charge. Then we are no longer thinking clearly as our brain is taken over by the more primitive part of our brain (the “downstairs brain”). We drop down to our basic stress responses of fight, flight, or freeze. Our emotions rule us. We lose our filters and self-control.

Here is Dan Siegel, author of several of my favorite parenting books, including The Whole-Brain Child, describing this in a video:

Understanding the Brain Helps Us Understand Each Other.

When we understand even the most basic aspects of how the brain responds to stress, we increase compassion for one another.

It turns out, this teen’s mom had a traumatic car accident years ago and was particularly triggered by the event. Understandably, her stress responses were even more reactive than normal.

I encouraged her to talk with her mom and try to reconnect. I mentioned that moms are completely imperfect – I should know.

This simple way of understanding the brain and how it functions is useful for all ages, from very young children to adults. This mom didn’t hate her daughter or think she was stupid. She was flooded with stress chemicals, her brain was overwhelmed, and she reacted.

What Can We Learn?

The next time you’re driving with your teen, or in a similarly stressful situation, make a hand model of the brain (don’t worry, nobody will even notice).

When you feel yourself starting to stress and you feel like you could “flip your lid,” hold those fingers down over your thumb.

Give calm instructions. Take slow deep breaths. Say a little prayer.

And above all else, remember you love this amazing kid.


How Routines Can Keep You Happy (and sane)

I don’t like making decisions. The fewer decisions I need to make in a day, the more energy I have to focus on people and productive work.

Routines are part of my answer to this conundrum.

In the midst of our busy lives, simple routines and systems make life so much easier.

Simple Routines/Systems

These are a few of the routines/systems I’ve created (or recreated) in the past week:

1 | Two-week rotating menu with a master grocery list

Dinner happens every single day, so why does it feel so hard to manage? It’s not that I hate cooking, it’s just that it keeps happening – you know what I mean? I generally follow a menu, but I get bored, or fall out of routine, or the season changes. With the start of the school year, football and swim season, along with extra work in my schedule, I decided to simplify even more than usual.

I made a two-week menu, which means every other Monday we’ll eat the same thing for dinner. Honestly, my family won’t even notice. By only choosing 14 dinners, I hit the highlights of their basic favorites. I also made a list of substitutes I can switch in when I feel inspired.

Once I figured out the menu, I made a master grocery list with every ingredient necessary for those 14 dinners. I can glance through the list and add the needed items to my weekly list without much thought or time required.

That’s the way I like it.

Of course, we have birthdays, special events, and (thank the Lord) leftovers on occasion. I also like to cook double recipes and freeze the second meal giving me a night off here and there. But overall, if I check my menu the night before, or even that morning, and simply obey myself, we manage to have a good dinner each night.

2| Chore charts

I have two chore charts – one with daily chores and one with Saturday chores. The daily chores are simple done-in-five-minute chores the kids do before they leave for school. Chores like emptying the dishwasher, laundry (they throw in their laundry before they leave in the morning), vacuuming the family and living room, etc. are on this chart.

I shared it above, complete in its unfancy handwritten pencil glory. I write it in pencil so I can tweak it in the first few weeks. It’s not much to look at, but that’s kind of my point. It doesn’t have to look amazing to make your life easier. Sometimes we put so much effort into creating a perfect routine/system that we end up with nothing at all.

The Saturday chore chart has a short list for each child and includes things like mopping floors, thoroughly cleaning the bathroom, and cleaning their own room.

Annarose and Beza both moved out this fall, so I needed to rewrite the chore charts to reflect the four kids still at home – four, that is so strange to even write! It’s quite a change from the days when we had 11, or even seven.

3 | Planner

I have a new planner I’m using to organize my work and my life. I’m a planner person and have always used one, even alongside my online calendar. Well known author and blogger, Michael Hyatt, recently developed a planner that combining concepts I learned from reading Stephen Covey’s books years ago with his own research on productivity to create the Full Focus Planner. It’s expensive, but using my time well and accomplishing my goals is worth a lot to me. If you’re interested and you purchase it¬†using this referral link, you’ll get 15% off your order.

In addition to daily tasks, the planner helps me set weekly and quarterly goals. I’m also taking a good look at my morning routines, work routines, end of day routines and more. Michael Hyatt leaves no stone unturned when it comes to productivity.

4 | Google Calendar

I’ve devoted serious time since school started adding events to my Google Calendar. Each family member has their own color, which helps me see what is happening at a glance, especially after school and in the evenings. Teens are very busy. Foster care adds another whole layer of busy with multiple family visits each week and other appointments.

Add driving to sports practices and other activities and I have a hard time staying on top of everything that happens between 3:00 and 7:00. Having the calendar in my phone saves me. I also set multiple alarms as reminders of the next event.

One last tip, I use the free Tiny Calendar app on my phone which makes Google Calendar even easier to use.

January may be the start of the new year, and it is the time I do a lot of self-reflection, but fall is when I evaluate and reorganize my family routines and systems.

How about you? Are you creating new routines for your family? What works for you? What doesn’t?

I would love to hear from you. Thank you for letting me share a little bit of your life and for sharing mine.

If you would like to receive a more personal note from me in your inbox every other week or so, sign up for my friends-letter. It’s short and sweet, I promise, and includes links to recent posts, so they’re easy for you to find.

Encourage one another,