Honesty, HOPE, Parenting, Raising Warriors, Self-Care, Simplifying

The Gift of Observation

As I look back on photos and google/social media memories from 2020, I see a theme. It helps to look back over a year and see it from a slightly distant perspective, doesn’t it? I mean, I never seem to notice my kids growing until I get away from them for a weekend and I return to notice all the little changes that take place with a few extra inches, but this past year that changed for me.

Looking at all the photo reminders, I notice how much time we spent outdoors & deep in creation over the last 12 months and I’m so thankful! It may just be viewing our own highlights without showing all of the nitty gritty in-between moments, but as I look back at 2020 in history books someday, I want to remember these times above anything else. I want to remember that we took the time to observe everything!

I see the family walks and trips to Lake Michigan and working in the garden. I see so many trees, trails, flowers and sunsets, I see smiles and goofy faces {and a few angry glares from those not wanting to be photographed}. It takes me back to all those times that our family walked and talked and made memories out of the stillness – the unforeseen lack of structure, schedule and hurriedness that we experienced. Sure, it originally came as a shock, but as we settled, we spent hours and hours watching spring arrive, then burst into summer and fade into fall. I appreciate that our lives slowed down enough to notice the little things and I don’t want that to end.

My photos seem to transform from taking in the larger view of each hiking experience to focusing in on snapshots of tiny changes. We walked the same trails almost weekly for a season and happened to notice when the moss actually bloomed {did you know it does that!?}. We saw every leaf bud on it’s branch, grow into a vibrant green canopy and eventually burst into colors with time. It takes focused, detail-oriented observation to see all of that – no cell phone scrolling or daydreaming, just being present and observing. That practice was a true gift.

*little sprouting moss before it flowers*

It was a gift for me to notice the things my kids noticed. I am not usually very focused and I tend to want to get things done, so it took some intentionality for me to slow down my walk and stop thinking about raising my hear rate. I had to practice listening when the kids chatted on and on about another brown stick but then I noticed they’re not actually all the same. I don’t mind stopping to wait for a child, but entering in with them when they observed water trickling over rocks was a bit more difficult. I’ll tell you it helped when I crouched down to their eye level to see what they were pointing at. Sometimes I asked them a question to encourage them to keep talking and they started to light up. I learned a little bit more about what makes them tick as pre-adults forming their own opinions.

It was a gift to me to notice the little things God thought of when creating this planet. I marveled at God’s creativity when I finally noticed new little nuances that make nature so unique. Did you know worms don’t have lungs or stomachs, they have a gizzard and breathe through their skin! Did you know Cow Birds lay their eggs in other bird’s nests and let them raise their young until they can fly off? I wouldn’t have known if we didn’t keep finding nests with an odd colored egg inside. Did you know there are over 20 types of Pine cones, but only 5 types can be found in Michigan? That’s all so seriously creative.

It was a gift to me to see my husband flourish in teaching us all the things about the trails and the trees and the animals that come and go. It blessed my heart to join him in his hobbies, not just our family’s. One aspect I am still working on is entering into my husband’s world and considering WITH HIM all the things he is thinking about and learning. I appreciate my husband so much, but I tend to get wrapped up in the busyness of responsibility and trading off parental duties. If we sit down, it’s to talk strategy or even dream, but seldom is it me entering into the conversation just to listen. The kids do it so well, and I’m learning.

So I did a little search in the Bible for the word OBSERVE and I love how it’s paired with other actions:

  • Observe and have reverence {Leviticus 19:30/26:2}
  • Observe and obey {Deuteronomy 5:12, 8:6}
  • Consider and observe {Psalm 37:37}
  • Observe and you will see {Psalm 91:8}
  • Observe and celebrate {Exodus 31:16, Deuteronomy 16:1}

Seems like a mixture of instruction and promise, am I right?

I love Deuteronomy 26 which describes the Old Testament laws of being a good neighbor and putting others before ourselves. Then verse 16 says: “The Lord your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; CAREFULLY OBSERVE THEM WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL.” Can you imagine what it takes to observe ANYthing with ALL of your heart and soul? That’s a lot of intentionality, a lot of slowing down and getting on the right eye-level to truly see what’s before you. And then a few verses later is one of my all-time favorite promises which I read over my children again and again: “And the Lord has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possession as he promised…” When we pay attention to God’s instruction, we are promised He will treasure us, His children. I don’t know how that makes you feel, but that’s a beautiful gift!

You are treasured.

As the good Dad that he is, he sets this amazing example for us:

“Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.”
Ephesians 5:1‭-‬2 {MSG}

I don’t know about you, but I want to love like that. Love is what this life is about. We are here to love God and love others and I want to love extravagantly, not in order to get something but to GIVE. I’m spending time each day with my Father so I can observe and practice receiving his love… it’s so much better than my own!

There are so many valuable things to notice in this world, it’s worth every possible repercussion to slow down and practice observing it all. I promise, it’s absolutely worth the later bedtime to walk the neighborhood after dinner. It’s worth losing sleep to get up while it’s quiet and sit in God’s company. It’s worth the drive to find a good trail. It’s worth pursuing the ones you love even if they’re difficult to be with. It’s worth the sacrifice of the first few family walks full of poking and prodding and arguing to get to the fun ones of connecting, noticing and playing TOGETHER.

So is there something you wish you had time to observe? How can you slow down? What needs to be cleared off the schedule so there’s room to take a drive or walk? What can we do to change our perspective and see from someone else point of view? Perhaps from God’s point of view? How do you already take time for observation? What’s the best thing you’ve noticed lately?

Adoption, Community, Fostering, Raising Warriors, Self-Care

How to expand your family without going crazy (aka: receiving a child well)-For adoptive/foster families and their support systems!

(Whether you’re a parent, an adoptive parent, a foster parent or you know of such crazy folks, please take the time to read this!  It takes a village to raise a child and some kiddos just naturally require a bigger village. Please be the village for someone else!)

So you have a new kiddo on the way. Congrats! I’ve mentioned how difficult it is to make the HUGE decision to say yes or no to a phone call, so yay you! You’ve made one giant leap of faith into the unknown- or if it’s not your first rodeo: the slightly known with millions of variables!

If you are fostering, you most likely have minutes to prepare. If you’re lucky, you have a few hours to wrap your mind (& household!) around the transitions that are about to take place. If you’re adopting, you may have years to anticipate yet it still seems to catch you by surprise that the time is now. I’ve felt the eagerness to meet and love and protect a sweet soul while at the same time fearing my own limits and inability to “do it all.”

Friends, I’d like to propose to you that YOU CAN ASK FOR HELP. And here’s how!

How many people have told you “Let me know if there’s anything I can do”?? And you respond with a blank stare thinking “I’m not even sure I know what to do, but if I ever have the capacity to multitask AND delegate, I’ll let you know!” Well, here’s a few options for you to respond with:

1. “We eat food. Can you make food? Fine, can you order food?”
Now, I know you can do this yourself, BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO! No matter who comes into your family (age, number, gender, length of stay) you & your family will still need to eat. This is one big thing off your to-do list when you have no idea what each day or moment will look like. Ask a friend to make a meal-train, let your mom/grandma/neighbor bring freezer meals, suggest that anyone- no EVERYONE- could order you take-out.

2. “Can I have your ID and Social Security Number?”
Are these kind folks free of a criminal background? Do they truly care about you and your kiddos? Every parent/couple needs a break once in a while – a moment to get away and take deep breaths or just to take another kid somewhere without siblings. Jump on the fact that this person just offered their help, send in some quick paperwork to the caseworker and TAKE ADVANTAGE of an extra set of hands… even if you’re not tired…yet. No doubt they would love to sit in your house during naptime and let you walk (or run!) around the block. Or perhaps you could drop your chilins’ off for an hour or two of grocery shopping WITHOUT HELP! If your placement is too old for a babysitter, a sort of mentor-ship or “godparent” relationship could be in order. They could spend time cooking or playing a sport or learning a trade together. I’m not above asking a friend to take my bio kids on a one-on-one date so they can refill their buckets, too. What if you even let a friend hang at your place for dinner & a movie with the fam and you stole a date night with the hubs!? *Gasp!* Put these kind folks on your respite caregivers list and refill your bucket before you reach dire straights.

3. “My stockpile is dwindling”
Foster or expecting parents often have the any-minute-a-kid-could-come-and-I-want-to-be-ready stash. At the last minute, you know the age & gender & hopefully most of the needs of your kiddo, but generally speaking I can always use a refill of toothbrushes, shampoo, Tylenol, water bottles/sippy cups, soft blankets, pre-packaged snacks, and miscellaneous clothes & shoes. These are tiny comforts I want to offer a child as a introductory peace-offering of sorts. If a kid can find some small sense of security just from having their own necessities right away, I want to bring it! Don’t hesitate to ask for these trivial purchases or more specific items if you can. I bet a friend wouldn’t think twice of grabbing a few extras next time they’re out and it will save you a midnight run!

4. “My family needs two of me, think you could be a clone?” or quite possibly: “Don’t leave me alone!”
There are plenty of days any parent feels isolated and half-crazed from overwhelming tasks and limited hours in the day. “Why do all of my kids need to talk all day and then still want stories at bedtime?” All the while the toilet is plugged and the sink is overflowing and by the way, “Kids, we’re having Pajama Day tomorrow since 2/3’s of you don’t have any clothes left.” (Let’s not even question why my darling boy hasn’t run out of underwear yet… or EVER.) How about some community in this moment!? How much could it hurt to have a friend wash dishes WITH you and then fold laundry. And what if we cooked dinner together or even ate together in the midst of our crazy? Honestly, the odds are that this friend wants to love you well but is feeling their own version of “half-baked” at the same time. Let’s DO life together!!

5. “I need encouragement.”
This may be the hardest one! Who wants to admit that they can’t do it all? It’s so hard to confess to someone that you may want to quit loving because it hurts or that you can’t face one more tantrum and come out the winner. PLEASE use this response with A FEW (more than one!) trusted friends/family members! You need someone who will see you crying in the back row at church and deliver a Venti Latte with a hug the next day! You need someone who will send a love note via snail mail that gets lost and finally arrives on JUST the day you need a pick-me-up. WE ALL need calls and texts saying we are being prayed over and believed in without prompting. We need to know our arms are being lifted when we can’t hold them up a moment longer.

Soooooo… You’re probably thinking of someone who’s asked this exact question recently. Go back and get them. Let them help! Really & truly. You’re allowing them the blessing of being a part of something miraculous and fulfilling in a way they maybe never would have been able to. Not everyone is able to welcome a precious child into their family right now but everyone IS called to love the orphan and the widow in their own way (James 1:27).

Honesty, Parenting, Raising Warriors, Self-Care, Simplifying

The Single Greatest Parenting Question to Ask Yourself

Ok, I’ve got some kids… {You know how I hate to count them since our definition of family is far from normal!} But either way, parent guilt is for real. For every great decision we parents make, there are 10 other ways you could have done it and 100 other people who did it better and posted it on Instagram for you to see. Then there are 1,000 ways your kids will ruin the momentary celebration you considered for your own greatness and give you reason for yet another difficult decision.

I had the genius idea to have my kids compliment each other as a “consequence” for offending each other. Seems innocent enough (and difficult enough for some!) but of course after a day or so I had to start adding rules: #1. No repeat compliments #2. Compliment CHARACTER not just appearances (for the love!) #3. Say it like you mean it (with eye contact) You know how it goes… Now there are days where I bribe them to compliment each other before the arguing even starts! (Do a facebook search for “compliment cookies.” Yep, my name comes up. I. Am. Unashamed.)

These two get to give lots of compliments!

As for mom-guilt, Moms know there is always someone looking for our attention. Or even worse… hiding from it! {You KNOW when someone tries to stay off your mom-radar, it’s no good.} We have lists upon lists of things that we keep meaning to get to and goals we’ve set for ourselves or our family. We fiercely love the people around us and have all sorts of good intentions to live life with them well and show them the love we all know is there but lies dormant due to “schedules.” Ug… SO much to feel guilty about!

Confession: This may be TMI, but I also have a problem closing bathroom doors. {Hold on, I promise this will all tie together in a minute!} When I take the 5 seconds I need to run in and run out, there will inevitably be blood or tears or a scream from the farthest corner of the house that the dogs got out and are headed for the road. It just can’t wait 3 more seconds for me to turn the knob, amIright!? Plus, there is nothing worse than thinking you have a moment of alone time and being jolted back to reality with a vengeance and a door bursting open, so why even try? I resign myself from the start and leave that door wide open.

Well, this is a problem, my friends. When the mom-guilt precedes everyday necessities, it’s an all-time low. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say HERE’S YOUR SIGN! {Any Jeff Foxworthy fans in the room?} Time to say “Uncle” and change the way I’m thinking. Time to prioritize. No more needlessly sacrificing my own self-care. I say “No!” to the comparison-trap. No more second-guessing my gifts. Enough of the emotional overload of all the nothingness I allow into my brain space that will NEVER make a difference for eternity or the Kingdom of God. Ain’t nobody got time for all that!

It is at these moments that I catch myself and ask the greatest question I’ve ever asked myself as a parent:

What do I want my kids to think is true when they grow up?

What will be their “normal” view of adulting/parenting? Do I want them to give up their own incredible selves to care for others until they have nothing left to give? Do I want them to be enslaved to my grandkids? Do I want them to have UTI’s because they can’t take a minute to pee?🤣 Do I want my kids to think “normal” parents don’t read because they don’t have time or to never take a moment (or a weekend!) for peace and rest? Do I want my kids to think it’s ok to sacrifice themselves at every turn because that’s what their Mom did? NO!

Now I don’t know my grandkids yet… And I’m pretty sure I will be the one wrapped around their sticky fingers and swayed by their chubby-cheeked smiles. But I am certain I will always love MY kids more. Perhaps because I will always have known them longer, perhaps because I was the one praying them into the Schuiteboer family. Whatever the reason, I will want my children to put on their own oxygen mask before helping with anyone else’s!

These are the faces that hold me most accountable!

I want the people I’m responsible for to know it’s ok to take a break from the needs of their families so they can come back refreshed and refilled. I want my kids to invest in their marriages and pursue their spouses instead of the whims of childhood accomplishment for their tiny protege’s. I want my kids to know the wonder of God and all that they can conquer because making time with Jesus is priority #1. And I want them to know these things because they see it in me! I want it to be their “normal”.

Two of my little Schuiteboers are morning people. As soon as my breathing shifts in the am, they will hear me rise no matter the hour of dawn and come to find me. No matter what room I’m in, whether I’m using a lamp or flashlight, whether I dared to make tea or painstakingly skipped every creaky floorboard in an attempt to fool them, SOMEHOW they know I’m up and they want to start the day with chatter. Honestly, as frustrated as I get with my early risers interrupting my “quiet time” in the morning, that not-so-quiet time is a valuable lesson that they are not more important to me than God. They get sent back to bed or set up with books and crayons {while constantly being shushed} and they learn what’s “normal” in our family. They see for themselves that 1. Time with God is a priority and 2. Mommas need a few minutes of quiet so they can be sweet the rest of the day.

These are my “Grace” earrings from Trades of Hope. When the little muffin in the back seat is talking and talking {or let’s be honest: screaming and shouting} and I struggle to give her my full attention, they remind me to give myself grace. I’m growing and learning just like my little lady. I {usually} have grace for her when she’s wrong, why don’t I have that grace for myself? My own self-talk will become the voice in her head someday. It’s a proven fact. I want my girlie to have grace for herself and her Momma! I want her to speak positively to others and herself and so I do the same.

I love being practical and I love lists so here is a list I made of things I value and I want my life to show it! I want my kids to have no doubts about what is important in life and so I am practicing SHOWING them how much I value these things:

  1. God is important {so having quality time in His word and prayer is the FIRST thing I do each day.}
  2. Reading causes growth for everyone {I actually try to read when my kiddos are around so they visibly see me read. I also joined the library summer program with them!}
  3. Our marriage is the most important relationship in the house {He gets first dibs on my time & attention}
  4. Exercise and fresh air are vital to our physical/emotional/spiritual health {we spend time outside DAILY together}
  5. God says to love others and be aware of those in need {We pray together for people in our city and across oceans and we volunteer together to show others love}

I’m curious. What would your list look like? What are your priorities? Do your kids know what they are? Have you sat down with pen and paper (and spouse) to decide whats most important in your heart/life/family? Our church offers this amazing experience called a “Marriage Vision Retreat” where you get away with your spouse for a weekend at a B&B on Lake Michigan to discuss all of these foundational questions. It’s really not difficult to do on your own. Get out a calendar and get away for 48 hours to talk, dig deep and set your values. When the kids were younger and I lost my identity between diapers, sleepless nights and playdates, I intentionally got out of town with friends to create my own personal vision too! It was so life-giving. Once you have values & vision in place all other decisions become easier: Does ________ line up with #1-5? Does it compromise any of the other values? Then you know it’s right/wrong for this season of your life.

Guys, these are the things our kids will value. We need to be intentional! They will think these priorities are “normal” and here’s to praying that their grown-up lives will reflect the same values some day. ❤

Parenting, Raising Warriors

Speaking My Kids ACTUAL Love Languages (Not Quite As Lovely As Gary Chapman’s!)

I don’t know about you folks, but my kids don’t quite fit the categories often given by authors of well-meaning books for parenting. Now I love to read parenting books because there is ALWAYS something I can take away. Quite often it’s a train of thought that began with their writing, but many times it’s a tool or story that they shared that gets rolling inside of my brain and won’t get out.

The 5 Love Languages is definitely one of those books. I’ve read the original, the marriage version, the parenting version and the kid version. They have certainly shaped the relationships in my life to be more others-focused and SO much more understanding of how people give and receive love. If you haven’t read anything by Gary Chapman, his idea is that people have a universal 5 “languages” that they give and receive love with. Often times we get our wires crossed and express love to others in our own language and therefore are often misunderstood or left feeling unappreciated. The five languages he explains in great detail but the quick list is: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Giving/Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch.

Your mind will present such a lovely picture as you read through Gary’s wise words and stories of success. It really is a great theory, and I do use this information in my every day life… it’s just that things get a little warped in our family… slightly left of the pretty pictures I hear others live. I’m sure it’s just us. There’s no way other people are this wierd, right!?

Ok, so in reality here is what I have discovered with my kiddos: Carter’s love language is physical touch. I could scratch his back allllllll day and when I say goodnight, he needs a full body dog-pile from myself , Collin, AND a dog to feel at rest. Well, somehow I don’t get back scratches when he’s feeling love toward me. And his sisters sure do not get loving hugs with a pat on the back. No way! They get poked and prodded and chased around the kitchen with shoes he stole right off their feet. When I experience love from my boy, it means I get absolutely ZERO personal space and our best conversations happen when we are nose to nose and he is grabbing my hand or stealing MY shoe. Now that’s real love.

Makenna is full of powerful words and powerful thoughts, so words of affirmation would be her love language. One time we made a name acrostic at a mother/daughter bible study. Well she has had it posted on her door for YEARS and loves to read it to me while I’m cooking dinner. (I don’t need to think about measuring, I’ve got brainspace to spare, right!?) Well when she’s got *feelings* for me, more signs appear on her door – and not always happy feelings… Please notice below that I was allowed in her room ONLY for my craft bin (at least I had that!) but after another few hours of stewing, even my name got crossed out. Ouch!

Well my girlie with the words also has unspoken words of affirmation and these hold so much value for her. It took me a while to realize the importance of them, and then even longer to figure them out! Just the other day I had a mind-blowing moment: I looked around for my fave water cup. When I finally found it, it was empty…AGAIN. This {obviously} isn’t a big issue but I knew why it was moved and empty: Makenna. She will choose my water glass over hers any day of the week. If both cups are placed equally *within reach* for her, she will grab mine when she’s thirsty. It irks me. But then I had this thought: Maybe it’s a little way they she feels connected to me. Maybe it’s a way that she feels we have a little something between the two of us that we share even when ALL my attention is going elsewhere. Makenna is not the kid who will ever ask for attention or time or help, she is the one always giving as much or MORE than I am to everyone else! So my water is a connection that she treasures. It’s her own secret love language. And she’s even become to bold as to ask me not to ever put coffee in my new water glass because it “ruins it for the rest of us!”

I love becoming a student of the people I love. Ya’ll know my new year’s resolution to LISTEN. By listening to my family, I get to understand them in such deep, lovely ways that no one else does! The things I hear become a gift that I treasure often – knowing my people and being known by them! It really works both ways.

This practice almost our own family language that only we understand about each other and the meaning of these occurrences becomes so precious. We can communicate in ways others won’t understand unless they live in our house. {Genesis 10 actually says that as Noah’s sons dispersed after the flood, they “developed each in it’s own place by family, each with its own language”. So it’s biblical. How cool!?}

So I just got away for a weekend of refreshing at the Woven Conference (Foster/Adoptive momma’s you have GOT TO KNOW about this! Find Woven By Love on IG or Facebook and FOLLOW❤). Well before I took off, I left notes around the house for my people to find. I laughed a lot as I wrote jokes and movie quotes and love notes and stuck them in strange spots hoping someone would discover them soon. Unbeknownst to me, it became a treasure hunt that the whole family got in on! They LoVeD it! And when I returned home, the house was decorated like a birthday party (which is my FAVORITE thing). My stash of streamers had been ransacked and pretty colors were everywhere. Fresh flowers were in all of my water pitchers and the girls had even made me some homemade “Christmas lights” (seriously, Christmas lights are a love language all their own!). I have never felt so welcomed or missed.

Very Christmassy indeed! Wouldn’t you say!?

Now I could go on and on because I’ve got a variety of kids with quirks. (Not me, just them…I’m so normal.) I bet your families have quirks too. But I also know we’ve got limited time here together, so I want to hear from you! What things happen in your house that seem strange or meaningless- even annoying!? And what could they really mean? Do you havce a family love language? What ways do you show love to your family/kiddos that might encourage others to try something new?

Seriously, who else has to share their water glass and overcome a little germ-phobia!?

Fostering, Hearing from God, Honesty, Prayer, Raising Warriors, Self-Care, Simplifying

Defining the Season You’re In

I don’t know about you, but I often think of life as divided into ever-changing seasons just like my beloved Michigan. I love LoVe LOVE having all four seasons in *almost* equal parts. I love to see the new growth in spring with the hopes of warm weather and something {ANYthing} green. Summer and it’s sunshine blow me away with endless opportunities to be outdoors and do life with the people around me. Fall brings on the cozy, soul-food, fall sports weather and glorious colors. Then winter inspires me to be more whimsical and playful as the whole world turns white and crisp and enchanting with each snowfall.

Yet somehow, as much as I love change I also have a little trouble with it. I kinda don’t want where I am to end. I enjoy something new. I even seek it out- like anticipating the changes in weather every few months or calling my girl Marilee for spur-of-the-moment hair makeover. But when it comes to actually walking through a life change, I flounder. I look for affirmation that I’m moving in the right direction. Then I hold out for one more *something* from my previous season like a last summer bouquet in the fall… just in case. Am I alone here?

Here’s my real-life example of difficult change: Our family was a licensed foster family for several years. When our family closed our foster license it was a huge change in seasons. We had been working towards our license or taking placements for so many years! It was a vision that became a mission that became our everything. We ate, slept {or in our case DIDN’T sleep!} and breathed advocating for children in their hour of need. It was a trying, beautiful, and soul-shaping season for our whole family. Then it stopped. It was our decision, but that didn’t change the fact that I woke up wondering what I was going to do that day since I wasn’t “changing the world for one” anymore.

Obviously, we still had kiddos in our lives that needed us to change the world each day- both biological and adopted. And honestly, I still carry each one of those foster kiddos with me in my heart every single day! But the season had changed without me putting into words a vision for the next season.

Wishing it was Summer in South Haven but it’s Mid-December?

My dearest friend Megan tells me “The way you end one season is how you start another” and that’s true! We ended foster care stunned and aimless so we entered our season of rest {as we’ve now defined it!} the same way.

To say that we all floundered for a bit is an understatement. But after a little while, we were able to celebrate the accomplishment of that amazing season. We took a little trip and told each other “well-done!” We had set out to change the world for one and ended up with 6! Six kiddos that we got to love and hold and tuck in at night and pray for for the rest of our lives whether we ever see them again or not. Each of us also grew personally and in relationship with each other and with God. Those are pretty good reasons to celebrate! We let loose and got goofy and adventured in the wilderness all while eating really good food… and that was a true Schuiteboer-style party.

Our celebration was a turning point. We needed it to find closure and while we put our feet in post-summer Lake Superior, hiked the UP and camped without a toilet, we laughed and made new memories to build on. We redefined our idea of family from an open-door concept of inviting everyone in to a protective stance of caring for ourselves and letting God heal our hearts with lots of quiet and empty space. It’s not going to be that way forever, but for us and for a season, it was just right.

Each week after our original shift in seasons, our family would realize we needed to pull back from another commitment and that added boundaries and definition to our season. We trusted God to lead our decisions because we constantly put ourselves in His hands and offered Him our everything {and our nothing too}. At first guilt persistently knocked on my door and then comparison: “No one else seems to need rest.” “Look at all the fun they’re having.” “Everyone else is still changing the world.” {Lies! All lies!}

When I realized that what I NEEDED was rest -as essentially as the air I was breathing- and what my family needed was rest, it suddenly seemed permissible to do “nothing”. When I wrote a letter to school saying I couldn’t help in the classroom this year and we quit volunteering at church and I said no to every invite under the sun, we took all that time to breath and nap and connect with each other and do nothing. We had all sorts of space for our minds to wander and think. And we started to heal. It seemed like every time I took a step toward rest, God showed me so much more was possible! We slowly sank into a rhythm of relaxing and restoring and the season became even more sweet.

We all know change is necessary, but we still need help to do it. Supportive friends, healthy boundaries, and journaling words of definition help me to view these ever-changing seasons of life as beautiful. It also helps to look to my community to help answer the hard questions: What has my life looked like from the outside? What are my strengths & weaknesses? Do you see a theme in my life recently?

Of course no season lasts forever. It may feel like it at times, but it’s still a season and by definition must change. I think the key is to keep talking to God and then listening. Keep asking questions and hearing when He sends you answers – sometimes through a friend, a verse, an inkling or even the weather. That still, small voice that you hear in the back of your mind, it has power! God speaks specifically and strategically. He knows what we need and He knows how to communicate that need to us so we can live the journey He set before us.

The treasured perfectly shaped red leaf!

So how about you? Can you name the season you’re in? Ask God to talk to you about it and then share with us! I want to hear where you’re at and how God is moving ❤

50 States Before Graduation, Party for a Birthday!, Raising Warriors, Traveling the US

An Adventure to the Dakotas – Told in Photos! {Part Two}

Quick disclaimer: I just want ya’ll to know my heart here: I wanted to share this trip as inspiration and celebration. In NO WAY do I aim to brag or flaunt our ability to take this trip. I am beyond thankful for the time our family got to travel together and experience so much of our amazing country. I hope and pray that what you gather from this post is a sense of adventure and a desire to make memories with the people you love! That being said: Here is the second half of Makenna’s adventure!

Oooooh the Black Hills of South Dakota! They were SO serenely different from the landscape we just left in North Dakota. The pine trees and craggy rocks were so refreshing and we instantly wanted to get out to explore. It was a weighty decision to choose between Deadwood and Spearfish on our way south to Hill City SD, but time was of the essence so we couldn’t do both. The almost unanimous vote was Spearfish due to all the hiking possibilities and it was the perfect choice! We followed the most peaceful creek up into the mountains and fell upon the lovely Bridal Veil waterfall on our way. It was energizing to hike and run and climb mountains like wild goats and of course the grand finale of our chosen trail held another glorious waterfall!

Finally we arrived at Mount Rushmore and Makenna’s beloved Avenue of Flags. She was a happy girl! Flags of every US state were lining the walkway as we entered and the faces of four amazing presidents stood out in the background. We found our dear MI flag and read about several other states’ history and when they joined the US plus lots of bonus facts about each. The hike around the park was definitely worth it, there was information at every turn and different angles to view each president. The artist’s studio was a great source of hands on history and even had a live talk by the park ranger who was a wealth of knowledge and answered endless questions about all things geology, president and artist related. We absolutely came back at night to see the famed Illumination Ceremony (which was cool, but probably not as incredible as we were led to believe, haha) and enjoyed a second view of the mountain and flags (totally worth a second look!)

Day 2 in South Dakota: we drove to another beautiful mountainous hike which was much more strenuous than the first. I’ll suffice it to say that we felt pretty good about ourselves after getting back to the starting point and realizing there were warning labels posted at the trailhead and a hiker sign-in so the rangers knew who had entered the trail in case they didn’t return!

One other point of interest in Hill City was our campground. I know it’s just a place to sleep and by this point in the trip, we had seen a vast array of grass and cement to park a camper on, but this one was pretty incredible. We stayed at Crooked Creek Campground and the sounds of the babbling water were so invigorating and peaceful all at once! It just so happened that we got the primo spot by the bend in the river and this was our view:

We had another day of horseback riding for our 10 year old to top off the cake of our adventure! High Country Guest Ranch has endless horseback riding options, but we stuck with the trail ride through the Black Hills. And at this ranch, even the “littles” got to ride on real horses (with a guide holding the reigns)!

Eastward Ho! We finally headed back East toward home. Allllll the way across the state of South Dakota. The obvious best part was our southern detour off the main road to see the South Dakota Badlands – which are incredibly different from North Dakota’s Badlands! Both had the lovely striations and buttes that the badlands are known for, but the South Dakota Badlands lifted up from the prairies into wild peaks. The vibrancy of the sky and clouds made it all come to life as we drove through with our mouths gaping at all the beautiful differences. This park is a drive through- not a loop- so it hardly added any time to our trip, but it did not have the same hiking opportunities and there were no lovely creeks or rivers. The wildlife was so different as well – we loved the big horned sheep! Definitely glad we saw both badlands on the same trip.

A quick stop at the world-renowned Wall Drug where water is always free (an attraction during the great depression!) and coffee has been 5 cents since they opened in 1931. It was a fast and crazy mememto-shopping/donut-eating whirlwind and we made it back on the road.

Laura Ingalls Wilder has many wonderful & nostalgic stops across the mid-west. Again, for time restraints, we chose just one (as a launching point for future trips, I hope!) and we were not disappointed with our one stop. In DeSmet SD, the Ingalls Homestead has many original and recreated buildings including a school house, 2 sod houses, the church, multiple barns, Ma’s house, and actual covered wagons you can sleep in for a night! The workers amazed us with their knowledge of every book Laura ever wrote and told Laura’s stories as we made jump ropes, corn husk dolls, hay sticks and whirligigs. EVERYTHING was hands on and focused on educating kiddos about life in 1800’s Dakota Territory. There was so much to do and only 24 hours to do it in, but we SO enjoyed every minute on Laura’s beloved prairie – even in the rain 🙂 We reserved our spot early and spent the night hearing the peace and quiet and crickets while watching the sun go down over the prairie. **An unexpected bonus was exploring the gardens and sod houses before & after hours while there were no crowds!

I’ll admit that after this many days of travel and all the excitement we’ve experienced, our brains and our hearts were full! It was time to book it home and see our pups again, haha! We traveled quickly through Iowa with only a brief stop at Blue Bunny in Les Mars Iowa: the Ice Cream Capitol of the World – VERY high on the list of Makenna’s bday stops. Then we blew through Illinois and Indiana stopping only at state parks to sleep and finally reached our home sweet home.

Farewell to the West! May we meet again soon ❤❤❤

Now please, pretty please tell me how very inspired you are to travel and where you’re headed next summer! Tell me your fave vacation destination: past or future, near or far! I want to hear some more ideas for adventure and exploration!! ❤

50 States Before Graduation, Party for a Birthday!, Raising Warriors, Traveling the US

An Adventure to the Dakotas – Told in Photos! {Part One}

If you’ve been following along, you know that our Sweet Makenna got to plan her 10 year old adventure this year! She spent a minimum of 12 months planning and dreaming and reading Laura Ingalls Wilder to prepare and it was definitely a trip that celebrated the very core of who our girl is and who she is becoming!

So how do you share a two-week adventure of a lifetime in one post!? (OK, you don’t. I just started a part two!!!!) But honestly, I could easily write every day for two weeks about each place that we stopped and all that we did on our trip to the Dakotas but photos & highlights, I suppose, is the best way to start!

Makenna’s goals were simple: Avenue of Flags (aka: Mount Rushmore) and camping. Makenna was born on flag day and has owned that persona her whole life! Patriotism and red, white & blue flow through her veins. Also, Makenna loves her family something fierce and camping is how we do family time. So our extended family (all 13 of us!) loaded up/rented campers and we headed west.

Our first stop was at the Wisconsin Dells aka: Water Park Capitol of the World. We thoroughly enjoyed the scenic Upper Dells River Boat Tour which included a magical hike through Witches Gulch and endless glorious formations of sandstone and glacial carving. Then of course, on the actual day of Makenna’s “1-0” we went to America’s largest water park: Noah’s Ark. (It was totally worth all the hype and we had NO LINES since we were early in the season!)

Next we drove into Minnesota where we saw an extremely authentic replica of a sod house. It was incredibly hand’s on. The sod-house replica is a family run operation in the backyard of the creator’s farmhouse. The creator was a man who had a dream of recreating an authentic prairie and sod house with is wife and kids. He successfully did so, learned the hard way how to do it better, and made another even better sod house… then a barn, outhouse and trapper’s cabin all on the same authentically restored prairie. The kids loved signing the guest book alongside people from all over the world as well as the dress up costumes & variety of historic toys all ready to be played with and enjoyed.

Traveling North through Minnesota was uneventful except for the GIANT roadside art we always seem to find thanks to Roadtrippers “points of interest” map!

Two nights were spent in Minnesota’s lovely state parks – both of which had newly renovated bathrooms (yay!). Our favorite by far was Buffalo River State Park in the Northwest corner of MN. They had miles and miles and miles of trails through forests, prairies, and along the winding Buffalo River with lots of signs pointing out different historic spots, as well as plant and animal life to look for. Miss Makenna is a treasure hunter in any and every situation, so this fueled us onward and her love of seeking out beauty was so highlighted to my Momma heart ❤

Buffalo River State Park was also close to the N Dakota border where the National Buffalo Museum is. The Museum was super educational – telling the life of a buffalo and their significance in US history with beautiful exhibits and life-sized replicas – but it is also a whole western TOWN with stage coaches, the World’s Largest Buffalo statue, and tons of shops & historic buildings to visit. We could have spent a whole day if we’d only known!

Heading west into North Dakota felt freeing as the sky opened up to it’s glorious unending bright blue. I soaked up every minute of the drive with my eyes wide open and sippin’ on my Cuppa Joe – Aaaaaaah sweet bliss! The kids on the other hand enjoyed an audio book since the view “never changed” and there was “nothing to see…” Ridiculous Notions!

And then we saw it. The glorious Painted Canyon is like a southern gateway into Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It is so breathtaking, you almost have to stop to take it all in or die craning your neck and not watching the road. The ground just drops off into this spectacular view with striations of every color, the rise and fall of buttes and mesas with a sprinkling of grasses and scrub brush. (My photos simply do it no justice.)

On Day 4, we officially arrived at my new favorite place ever: Theodore Roosevelt National Park (the south unit). “Teddy’s Park” as we’ll call it is over 70,000 acres of preserved land. It is full of history and beauty and herds of every kind of prairie and western animal. We went from one jaw-dropping moment to another as we ran into animals so close we could touch them and then hiked trails that led to incredible vistas. My silly, crazy girl was stunned to silence when a herd of wild horses visited us over and over as we drove through the park- it felt like a little smile from God on our birthday girl. And the history buff in both of us was completely fulfilled by a visit to the Visitor Center where we learned a TON about ranching in the early days and Teddy Roosevelt himself! I have thousands of photos and just as many comments about our time in Teddy’s Park, but I promise you, if you visit, you will NOT be disappointed!

While in Medora N Dakota, we stayed at the Medora Campground which was clean as a whistle and had super cheap (& clean) laundry facilities (phew!) Here is our jaw-dropping view straight out the front door of our camper:

Just down the road from our campground, we visited Medora Stables where the Horses have FREE REIGN of acres and acres of Badlands to roam all night and miles of trails to ride all day. Makenna’s tender heart was so happy seeing how spoiled these horses were and the ranch hands even got to bring their dogs to work… which filled up the void in our lives without our own four-legged family members!

One more quirky Schuiteboer-style stop was a day trip down the Enchanted Highway. If you want to feel lost in the expanse of North Dakota countryside this is your journey! Some members of the family *might* have felt a little panicky at the aimless meandering through the countryside… The kids and I, however loved the adventure of not knowing what was ahead or how far the endless country road would take us! So the idea of the Enchanted Highway is that at various points along the road, a dozen or more giant roadside masterpieces are placed in fields and pastures with play structures & picnic shelters built right in for the family. I was in awe of the creativity and the stories behind each piece of art. They were inspired by a local man wanting to draw tourists to his home town and everyone in town chipped in to help. Now it’s a lovely jaunt into the town of Regent where there is an “Enchanted” Castle/Hotel & Tavern as the grand finale. The passion of all people involved was so fun to experience and the owner of the Castle was happy to give a full-on tour to our dragon-loving boy!

Our halfway point of the trip was a gloriously delicious and surprisingly exciting stop at The Mercantile in Crow Buttes, just over the border into South Dakota. It is a diner/convenience store/gas station on the side of the highway run by a husband and wife. Our fun for the day was the fact that our group of 13 and another camper-full from Medora stopped for lunch at the same time while one of the owners had run out for a gallon of milk to feed the kittens they found on the morning hay-delivery wagon. The sweet wife took down 25+ orders and went to work in the kitchen all by herself while we shopped and laughed and harassed the poor husband when he finally showed up with the milk. We laughed for the rest of the day over the things that spin our normal hum-drum lives into chaos- like surprise kittens in a hay wagon!

Well, this has to be the pause button for now, I have more incredible stops to share with you, but I’m sure you have a real life calling and so do I. To be continued, my friends! And for now, I’m praying you feel inspired to plan your own epic adventure. Let’s make a point to get out there and see our crazy planet. It’s full of beauty and inspiration. Which stop do you think you’ll add to your own bucket list??

50 States Before Graduation, Party for a Birthday!, Raising Warriors, Traveling the US

Double Digit Birthdays : Celebrating who our kids are and who they are becoming

This post contains affiliate links.

Have you read Bob Goff’s <a href="http://Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World""“>Love Does!? If not, BUY IT NOW! (Better yet, read it with a group and use the Study Guide  and read it to your kids with Love Does for Kids!) It’s an inspiring read. His whole book is truly easy to read, full of laughter and so thought-provoking. It caused me to re-look at my life and evaluate the intentionality of my actions. One big take-away that Collin and I implemented after reading Love Does was planning a 10 year old adventure for our kids.

Bob Goff’s version of the 10 year old adventure was a one-on-one trip with his kiddos when they turned 10. It was an opportunity to celebrate their childhood and encourage them to become more of who they were already. I just love that! First of all, I love to celebrate. (period.) Don’t get me started on birthdays… But to celebrate who my children are!? I can definitely do that! After reading Love Does, I wanted to celebrate each of my kids and the things that make them unique: where they’ve been and how they’ve gotten to where they are. I also wanted to help direct their future selves to become confident and brave and adventurous.

Now we’ve had the goal of visiting all 50 states with our kids since our very first kiddo was born. (To be overly honest, we decided to visit all the “boring states” first – the breadbasket- and found out that they are not nearly as lame as we thought!) And as our firstborn enters 7th grade this year, I can happily say we’ve visited 27 states- we’re over half way – woot woot! I say all of this to give you the understanding that Schuiteboers are always up for an adventure as well as the fact that I have ulterior motives to letting my kids plan a roadtrip, haha!

And soooooo: the Schuiteboer Family’s version of the 10 Year Old Adventure began!

Our first adventure was Carter’s and it was a perfect celebration of him. He’s a Pixar Cars kid all the way. This boy wore Lightning McQueen shoes until the tires fell off quite literally! (And then I taped them in his baby journal to remember forever because he just has my heart.) He lives and breathes speed and humor and friendships all at once. Naturally, his adventure took us down Route 66, he’s such a sweet old soul in a “Generation Z” body. This trip perfectly set the precedence to find quirky things that make us laugh and celebrate every stop of the journey. (You can also read that sentence as “This is the trip that made us fall in love with random roadside attractions! See exhibit A) It also taught us so much about celebrating the good ol’ American roadtrip! If you’re interested, I can post the trip itinerary sometime because it was EPIC!

{Exhibit A : The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville, IL}

Now this year was Makenna’s turn. She turned 10 in June and the girl KNEW what she wanted. Our Makenna Mae is patriotism to the core. Her birthday happens to also be flag day and she has owned that fact since she learned of it – Red, White and Blue are her favorite colors, flag are her favorite decoration, and history is her favorite subject in school (thank you Mrs Janke!!). Makenna’s big trip destination was the little known “Avenue of Flags” located at a destination other people might actually aim for: Mount Rushmore. She wanted to walk that lane and admire, read about, and watch the flags of our 50 magnificent states fly.

So here’s how we do this thing: The 10 year old picks a destination meaningful to them, then I use the amazing Roadtrippers App to find the best route and/or points of interest along the way and the child chooses from that list the places they want to stop. This sort of defines the length of our trip and places we will stay. Mommas, you know some of their stops may need to be “adjusted” (for the love!) but the planning of the trip is all them and me. We do every bit of it together. I’ve loved the process of dreaming and researching with my kids. It has brought about so many fun conversations and we’ve learned a ton about our country along the way! (Some days I think planning may even be the best part, shhhh don’t tell!)

Man oh man, did Makenna plan an awesome trip. I have a photo itinerary I’ll post next, but if I could sit down with every single one of you and tell you the stories, I’d do my best to convince you to take this exact trip. It was full of breathtaking views and endless vistas. Honestly, once you get west of Chicago and into the open prairies of the breadbasket, a girl can BREATHE! I felt the same way as we headed into Texas on Route 66, aaaaahhhhhhh…

Laura Ingalls Homestead: Desmet, South Dakota

One thing I love most about our 10 year old adventures is when something is epic. A view that takes our breath away or the end of a crazy long but amazing day and we’re all sitting around the dinner table/campfire sighing with joy and exhaustion and someone looks at the 10-year-old to say “Good choice! I can’t believe you found that gem.” The pride on their face is priceless! The ownership they take in that success is a foundation stone for future leadership. This kid has led a group of family members (truly similar to a herd of cats!) and created joyful memories for everyone for years to come. Whoa.

I also love pouring into my kids throughout all of the decision making and planning. I see so much of their passion/interests come forth! Then with the execution of those plans, I see what an incredible adult they will become someday. Those little glimpses into the future give me direction as I pray over their future, too. We learn each others weaknesses and strengths, we learn how to work as a team, we have certainly experienced failure and setback and moved through it as a family. (Hello, car break-in in St Louis!) But where else can my kids learn these IMPERATIVE life skills in such a safe way? To me, this is invaluable! And all along the way, I can speak life into the heart of my family. The strengths I see, get called out; where there is weakness, we can all come together to declare the opposite and Collin & I can coach them in how to change. We pray over the trip together, make crazy family rules and plan special stops to honor each other or an upcoming holiday. And of course, the quantity of time away from “the daily grind” is also so healing and unifying.

You guys: TAKE A FAMILY VACATION! 10 year old or not, find a reason to celebrate and GO!

What milestones do you celebrate with your family? How do you make it big and wonderful? What memories do you want to make with your kiddos before they move out? What is it about each of your kiddos that you would like to celebrate? Maybe start with what you love most about them and find inspiration from there.

Adoption, Community, Raising Warriors

Every girl needs her momma… or two… or three

My sweet Makenna is growing up. (Insert ugly-cry-mixed-with-celebration-and-awe here.) She’s on the brink of those tween/teen years and all the hormones and decisions that go with it. I think she’s maybe a little excited and a little scared but so am I! It takes guts to become a teenager. It takes even more guts to parent a teenager.

But it makes think “What did I need as a girl-growing-up? Isn’t middle school really the point in all of our lives when we begin to wonder who we are and who we want to become? And isn’t that when we flounder? or experiment? or do REALLY strange things that no one in their right mind would actually ever do, but we’re just running on emotion and FEELING and the world tells us that that’s what we should base our decisions on? {I know I did.} So how do I help my girls lead a different story?” These are my wonderings.

And then there’s this beautiful TRUTH from Shauna Niequist:

(I don’t even know if this is legal, but READ IT!)
Thanks for sharing, Shauna!

This is something akin to adopting family members, but kind of the opposite. This is being adopted by others… and adopting them as well, I suppose. We all need a few voices to speak over us and show us how it’s done. Our kids need to see different forms of truthful living for when hormones hit and MOM IS ALWAYS WRONG.

I am truly blessed when it comes to moms, because my own mom & mother-in-law love Jesus and love me and are a beautiful and consistent part of our family’s lives. I make a point to invite them into our daily lives and to pour into my kids and I because they have SO MUCH wisdom to share! Still, I came to a place about two years ago where I realized I was facing things my own moms had not faced and I needed wisdom and experience specific to the trial I was facing. God graciously sent me the gentlest Air B&B Host who shared her house and heart and Jesus in all the right ways to restore my faith and breath new life into my burdened heart.

{God literally blew fresh wind into my sails by surrounding me with “Momma Bev” AND these glorious windmills along the NW Michigan lakeshore. I could watch them spin for hours.}

In that season, I realized how glorious it is to have more than one Momma, so I came home and sought out more! I knew so many beautiful women who exemplified traits that I desired – women who were changing the world in some lovely way that was unique to them. And I asked them to “adopt” me! I asked for their prayers and their time (to meet somewhat regularly) and their covering over my life. THEN I did it for my daughters! I want to have women of faith and joy in place to speak to my girls WITH me and repeat the truths they need to hear. I want them to see Jesus from all sides and how He changes us all in different ways.

So here are your takeaways:

  1. Pursue the women in your life who are living out an image of who you want to become. Ask them to meet for coffee. Ask them for prayer! Make them a consistent part of your life.
  2. The women in your life who are already blowing fresh wind in your sails? Send them a thank you. They have lives too, but it’s so much more rewarding to share ❤
  3. Seek out women to pray/speak with you over your daughters. Maybe they’re the same women as the above #1, Maybe they’re different. I have one “Momma” for my girl who asked me to be her mentor/prayer covering years ago! Now she gets to repay the favor.

Family is just another word for living in REAL community. It’s all the same.
We’re sharing family, sharing homes, sharing dinner tables, sharing faith.

Who’s a Momma in your life that you’d like to send a shout out??