Sunday, January 14, 2018

When the summit is the valley

Hills.  Summits.   Peaks.  

Valleys.  Trenches.  Rock-Bottoms.



Three years ago tomorrow, January 15, marks the day I hit rock bottom.

Three years ago tomorrow, January 15, marks the day I reached my summit.

Three days ago, exactly, is when I realized that they are the same.

Those of you who have been following my life story over for a while now know more than the basic details, but those who are reading for one of the first times, you might not.  In summary fashion, over the course of the last half of the year 2014, my former husband was fading in and out of the lives of me and our three children, who were then less than a year old, roughly two, and almost 4.  The day before our oldest son turned four, we left the home we had been living in for over two years, to stay with a friend in a small two-bedroom apartment.  She saved us at the time.  You see, when my former husband was leaving us, slowly, painfully, and dramatically, he stopped paying bills and had our only vehicle, which meant that as a stay-at-home-mom to three young children, I was barely contributing selling work from home.  I had been employed full-time prior to the birth of our youngest child, who was a "surprise" to us, and when she was born, he agreed staying home was best for our family financially.  Two weeks prior to moving out of our home, on my birthday, we were served an eviction notice, and the secrets and lies that I had been living amidst unknowingly started unfolding and rearing their ugly heads.

But, for the time being, my friend rescued us, giving us a warm place to live while I found a job and started saving up money.

But it was stressful to all of us, and unfair to her, to have so many young children in small spaces, with opposite work schedules.

January 15, 2015, started as most of the days at that time in my life did, with one exception, that my now former husband allowed me to have use of our only family vehicle, and I drove myself and the children to work on my own.  I worked throughout the day, feeling weighted down with the burden I was imposing upon my friend, knowing she was moving soon anyway and we needed a home when she left.  I had hardly any money saved up as I had been at my new job for 5 weeks, but the stress was mounting, and I was feeling the pressure causing cracks in my life.

At the end of the day, I made a huge decision.  I put down myself, and fell to the bottom.  I jumped into the valley.  I made a phone call to the then new homeless shelter to see if they had room for my children and I.  They did, and they said it wouldn't be available long, so if I wanted a room, I better act.

So, I fed the children, packed up some clothes, a few small toys, baby bottles and sippy cups and a few snacks, and I drove the four of us to the shelter. I sobbed on the way there, regretting my decision and then supporting myself in my decision, switching sides every couple of seconds.  As the recipient of a bachelor's degree in social work, and with experience in a community action agency straight of of college, running a food shelter and various other programs for low income individuals, the gravity and reality of the situation shook me to my core. We had become the people I had been trained to help, and I felt absolutely moronic for being so blind as to let our lives go down this route.

And, with the exception of less than a handful of people, I had made this move in absolute secret.  

I felt like a failure that night.  

It turns out, though, I was a success.

It turns out, though, that when I threw myself into the valley, I unknowingly reached my summit.  

Tomorrow is three years since that day, when the summit and the valley became the same thing.

But as I said, I didn't know that until three days ago.

I've been listening to worship music a lot more than usual lately, and nearly every morning, I wake up with a song stuck in my head.  It usually is not a song I heard recently, which is somewhat surprising to me, but that assures me God put it there and it's not just stuck in my mind because of the radio.  A week ago, I listened to the song "Hills and Valleys" by Tauren Wells, while driving, about six times in succession, belting it out at the top of my lungs as we made our way on the road.  That song has always hit home for me, and I love it just as much today as the first day that I heard it.  I hadn't listened to it once other than a week ago Friday when it looped on the radio for me.

But, three days ago, I woke with it stuck in my head.

I've walked among the shadows
You wiped my tears away
And I've felt the pain of heartbreak
And I've seen the brighter days
And I've prayed prayers to heaven from my lowest place
And I have held the blessings
God, you give and take away
No matter what I have, Your grace is enough
No matter where I am, I'm standing in Your love
On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the one who set me there
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there
When I'm standing on the mountain aft, didn't get there on my own
When I'm walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!
You're God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!
I've watched my dreams get broken
In you I hope again!
No matter what I know
I'm safe inside Your hand
Father, you give and take away
Every joy and every pain
Through it all you will remain
Over it all!

The lyrics are so powerful and perfect for my life.

The first night in the shelter, as I lay awake in the huge, empty room with ceilings that seemed to reach the sky, the noise of my children sleeping echoed, and I stifled my sobs into a pillow.  I knew that I was in my valley.  But, I knew there was only one way to go at that point, because living on the streets wasn't an option.  I knew I was making a choice to stand firm for my children.  I was no longer going to sit and wait on the man who promised to provide.  I was no longer putting my faith in the man I made vows with to help us through hard times.  I was going to do it without him, and in his place, God was going to help me.  I have believed in God for what I recall to be my entire life. I believed in him, but I never threw myself down at His feet like I did in my prayers that night, relying on Him to get us through.

Now, as I play the memories of those days in the shelter through my head, feeling so imprisoned by their rules, feeling so constricted some days I didn't know how to breathe normal or stand straight, hiding it from most everyone, I see that as I threw myself into my personal valley, I was in that exact moment on a summit.  I was at a peak in my faith, and in my life story.

Because that was the day I chose to give my children a better life.  That was a day I chose myself.  That was a day I chose my God.  I didn't see it then, but I see it now.

I stood up, on that mountain, all alone in my darkness, and I took ahold of our lives.

It's overwhelming when you can look back and see the dark valley in this new Light, realizing that even as the lowest point in your life in some ways, it was also the highest point in your life in other ways.  

Over the course of three years, I've accomplished so much, personally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  I don't feel like I'm anything but an ordinary woman and a commonplace  mother at best, but I also know that most days, I don't give myself enough credit for where I've come.  

I have had the same job for over three years, and it's become so much more than a job.  My coworkers who know me well seem to love me and my children.  I let down my guard inside the room where I work and allowed the first new person (followed by others) to see me wholly broken, and allowed them to walk beside me as God healed me again.  We have lived in the same apartment for longer than any home we have ever lived in as a family since my first son was born.   I have taken charge.  I took charge in my failing marriage, and freed myself from the bondage I didn't even know was inside of it.   I found God in ways I have never known Him before.  I have begun to lead my children to God as well.  I have taken on challenges and struggles in parenting I never imagined my life would entail, and I've done it as a single mother.  I've developed my interests, passions, and creativity all over again, and found my way back to my true self.  I've found a church for our family to call our home, and a church family that loves us.  I truly can't wait to go back to church each Sunday morning, as worship has become my favorite and most fulfilling part of each week.

It's liberating.

I'm proud of myself.

There's no way I would be who I am today, my faith in God and my love for myself, my children, and others as strong as it is today, had I not thrown myself into the valley and landed safely on the summit instead.

My first summit.  I know there are higher ones.  I've reached a few since that first one.  Timidly, and with a bit of apprehension, knowing that the struggles are hard and the road is never truly easy, I wait to see which are yet ahead.

And it will all be okay, in the lows and in the highs.  

I know it.  God has been faithful.

God is SO good.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Then came seven.

Spencer, buddy,

Tomorrow, you turn seven.




I don't know why, but this number has thrown me for such a loop. I mused to someone that I think it's because the two syllables make it sound much bigger than it is.   Thinking about that, I have to laugh, because you sure like to point out the number of syllables in words.

Six.  You're still six.  I hear you in your bedroom, not sleeping like you promised me you would be doing.  You're still only one syllable.

Tomorrow, it's two.  But only for a year, then you can back down to one syllable for a couple more years and maybe my heart will be able to handle it a bit better than this milestone.

We've talked lately about how you were the one who made me a mom.  You like to share the credit (rightly so) with your siblings.  But buddy, it was you.  Seven years ago, I hadn't seen your face.  And now, I can't imagine my life without you, your brother, and your sister.  I was born to be a mommy, and I'm so thankful that you are the one who made me so.

Spencer, you've grown, again, so much in the last year.  You've taken the kindness of your heart that has always been there, and somehow multiplied it.  You tell people that you're a "kindness ninja" and it's true.  I've seen it with my own eyes, in how you will run across a grocery store aisle to help an elderly lady pick up a bunch of change she accidentally dropped, without hesitation or anyone asking you.  You pick up change in our home on Sunday mornings and you bring it to church for offering.  You help your sister put on her shoes or socks in the morning if you're ready before she is.  You proclaim that you'll never run out of hugs for people you love.  You love to donate things to people in need.   You willingly, patiently, taught both of your siblings to climb the pine tree outside, and have guided them step by step down and out of it on multiple occasions. It all comes so naturally to you.

Of course, we all have our moments where we might not be so kind, but your kindness far outweighs that side of things.  I'm so proud to call you my son.

I'll be honest... you try my patience in ways I don't always understand... but really, I delight in you.

Over the course of this last year, I think you've somehow touched the lives of even more people.  I have been approached by numerous "new" people this year who have told me they can see Jesus in your heart, see your kindness, and how God has great things in store for you.  I've been told by many that you're a blessing to them.

It makes my heart sing.

I love watching you come into your own and see your personality develop.  I'll be honest, you're at an awkward stage right now, where you're not only getting even taller and lankier, but you're a little socially awkward in some situations, and you have this weird desire to pose like some sort of hip-hop dude from the early 1990s when I want to take photos of you.   You love to wear dress shirts with active wear, you don't care if your pants are too short or your shoes are untied, and you make awkward nonsensical jokes and statements to people when you're nervous, and then laugh at yourself like it's the funniest thing that's ever happened.  It's an interesting time.  I think I love it.  You're also trying to fit in with larger groups of kids your age and older, while still holding onto your innocence and enjoying spending time with children younger than you.  I remember those awkward years and I will say you've got a lot in store for you.  But, you're going to be awesome.

I can't wait to see what is around the bend.  Your love for music and worship is growing, and I believe there's great things in store for you there.  Your desire for reading and science is developing more deeply, and you are so very smart.  You've got great athleticism inside that body, too.  You've so many wonderful facets.

You are a treasure, little man.

I pray that this next year is rich with blessings, laughter, hugs, and fun memories with your family and your friends.  I pray that your heart never hardens, and your love continues to grow.  I pray that you'll be a blessing to even more and touch the lives of countless others.  I pray that you won't lose your love for hugs and cuddles yet, because I'm not ready to let that go.

Happy Birthday, mister man.

You are so deeply loved.

Especially by me.


Monday, October 16, 2017

To me, at the end of thirty-three...

Dear Me,

Here I am, the last day of the last year of my life, once again.  Tomorrow, a new day of a new year begins.

I usually write these letters to my children, hoping someday they'll come across them and read them, and see how much I loved them, my thoughts and feelings about each passing year of their lives, and see the growth and change we've all went through.

This year, instead of avoiding and trying to awkwardly accept birthday greetings, I'm embracing, without sadness or reserve.  Or, at least I'm going to try.  It's decided.

The past couple of days, especially, have been... odd.  I cannot think of a better way to describe them, but I spent many moments wondering if my birthday really had any meaning for myself, whether or not I should tell my children about it, how awkward it is to tell my children about it, whether or not it would be a big deal to them, whether or not they would be upset if my birthday passed and they didn't know about it, whether they'd be upset if they heard others wish me a happy birthday and feel like I was keeping it from them.  I spent time irritated with their father for bailing on us multiple times, and angry with him for leaving me to make all the special occasions special, birthdays meaningful, and so forth.  I was annoyed that he isn't around to tell them about my birthday himself, and help them make cards or gifts or whatever goofy little things their hearts desired, and not wanting to have to do it myself, because it's just so weird.

So I resigned to talking about my birthday with my Bean, and letting them overhear, and her telling them about it and getting them excited, so I wouldn't have to on my own.

So odd. So awkward.

And now, here we are.  The night before the "big day."  The day that I entered this world... 34 years ago.

I've had my share of fun birthdays.  I've definitely had a lot of memorable ones.  But it seems like the past three years were a struggle.

In 2014, after all, my world came crashing down.  It crashed on my birthday.  The man who promised me would come back and fight for his family and work on his marriage after taking "a break," had gotten his unemployed (at his support and urging) wife and his three small children evicted from their home, and refused to really help them find a new one (or even help out with packing or childcare while his wife tried to find a place to live).  It lead to a short stay with a friend (to whom I will forever be grateful), a stay at the homeless shelter, and months in transitional housing, while tracking him down for a divorce after he completely abandoned and disappeared.

I don't sit and dwell on it often, and I certainly try not to let it bog me down.  Today, though, I sat in a dark, silent room, thinking about my upcoming anniversary of birth, and I realized that it's been three years since that birthday that started the real crash and spiral.

As I thought about it, though, I began to feel uplifted.

To quote myself earlier, "Three years ago tomorrow, my world came crashing down, and it felt like my hopes and dreams for my life were all dying. It was the most devastating and overwhelming birthday.

But now, three years later, I look back and see that in that figurative death, it was a day of rebirth. A day to celebrate my birth into this world, but also the day where a new life was birthed for me. This year, I celebrate both of my birth-days, and reflect on how far I've come and the new life I've been living. It's bittersweet, yet incredible. It's amazing to see how God truly turned sorrow into joy."

As I sat thinking about that more and more throughout the day, I decided that maybe this year, being it's my third new birthday, it might be time to write myself a letter.

You see, I have come a long way.  Now, I won't lie and say it's been easy, or that any given day is easy and completely void of any drama, stress, frustration, or tears.  Most days are.  I mean, I do have three children who are still fairly young.

But, I'm no longer traumatized.  Yes, much of the year 2014 traumatized me, and while I would rarely admit until now, today, I see that, and I will state it.  I was traumatized.

Was.  Now, I'm not.  Now, I can sit and reflect with a clearer mind, more stable emotions, and see that not only was I not broken and my life wasn't over, but I was simply crushed and given a new chance.  It wasn't a chance I wanted and still sometimes wish was not my reality.  But, it lead me to such beauty and empowerment.  I've found strength. I've found peace. I've found joy. I've found determination. I've found patience. I've found love. I've found faith.

I've found many victories.

I've seen my children flourish. I've seen them survive trauma, more than once, and seen them grow into loving individuals with bright smiles, joy-filled laughter, and endless hugs.

I have been basically the sole provider for my family of four. I've had some help I will admit.  But, for the most part, I've done it.  And we've lived in the same home for over two years now, which is the longest any of my children ever had a home.

We've had heat.  We've had electricity.  We've had our own address and walls.  We have a church family.  We have a work family.  We have a friend family.  And we still have our blood family beside us.

I've been able to get past triggers, such as my birthday coming up, that would take my breath away and send my mind in a nosedive for darkness.

I'm not perfect.  I'm not even close.  But I'm better than I was before.  I am able to see my flaws and my weaknesses more easily, and embrace them and attempt to change them.  I'm always a work in progress.

I have learned new skills and developed my talents.  I've loved deeply, and lost greatly in the last three years.

I'm a better woman because of it all.

And I've a better life than I had before, even though it's changed drastically, left me longing from time to time for what I once had, and left me in tears of anguish and frustration some days still.  I refuse to lie to myself and say that these days are done. I'm human and I have weaknesses, and I know that I will face days in the future I miss having my husband by my side, and living the life I thought we lived, happily ever after.  But, I also know now, ending 33, that my life is beautiful, and I am beautiful.

So, while tomorrow, I turn 34, my new life turns 4.  It's nice to see my birthday with a renewed sense this year.  Tomorrow will be my first one where I will not allow the past to bring me down.  I'm claiming it.

I thought about sharing a picture that I took of myself to commemorate this evening.  You know, one that looks good because I know my angles or whatever.  Something I found to be "pretty" and wonderful.

Instead, I'm going to show myself a photo or two that are taken by my oldest son, who is almost seven.  Because, instead of seeing who I want to be or what I love about myself, I want to remember what he sees, what he loves, and what he is proud of and wants to share.  Because really, that's the woman I have most genuinely become, I think.

So, Me,
You're weary, you're exhausted, but you're strong and determined.  You're smart, not crazy.  You're a good mom, not a failure.  You're a good employee.  You're a good friend.  You're a good child of God.  You've done amazing things for yourself and your children.  

You've got this. 

Happy Birth and Re-Birth Day Tomorrow.

Love, Me

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Life in few Words

Along with countless others I know, and probably even more people that I don't know, this week engulfed my heart in sorrow and challenged my emotions like no week has in recent past.

The world lost an incredible man.  I've known for years just how incredible this man was.  He had been around my entire memorable life.  I was in his wedding as a toddler, when he joined as one with my dear aunt.

I've known.

Or at least, I thought I knew.

But it turns out, it takes someone being gone forever to realize that what you know isn't all there is to know.  What you know is only the surface, and the depths of what you don't know reach further than you'll ever begin to uncover.

It's overwhelming, really.

As family and friends gathered today to bid our earthly farewell to this incredible man, I realized just how small our words are when it comes to the life of an individual.

Obituaries and eulogies are beautiful, significant, and often poetic, but they too just scratch the surface.

On my return home, I began to dwell on this fact.  It seemed to me, in a way, that obituaries trivialize and marginalize a person's entire existence into a few key facts that are out there for others, so they can get the highlights, if you will, of someone who many held dearly.

They're important.

They're inadequate.

Listening to people talk about my uncle, Gregg Edward DeSmith, born June 12, 1964, to his parents, Dorothy and Edward, who passed away on Saturday, September 9, 2017, it became all to clear to me that the man I knew and loved for my entire life was even more incredible than my small mind could comprehend.   Gregg, the devoted husband of Linda, and beloved father to Sasha (and Kyle), Carissa, who left this earth at age 2, and Hannah (and Dylan), wonderful grandfather to Kalesia, Elijah, and Miles, dear brother to many, uncle to even more, and friend to countless others, was a man of Jesus.  It was evident today, as I heard about his life and saw numerous people whose lives he touched.

It overwhelmed me, as I longed to be able to tell him that I admired that in him.

He and I spoke occasionally on aspects of God.  I never really pressed in, knowing he believed in God and was raised in a Catholic church, the one in which he was baptized, married, and said goodbye to today in the Mass of Christian Burial.  He knew more about my faith journey than I did his, and today, I felt selfish for not knowing more about what he believed to be true.

But, at the same time, I could see in the way he lived.

Gregg had a servant's heart.  He spent countless hours with those in need, in both small and large ways.  He devoted time, energy, love, and so much more to those around him.  He did so with a willing heart. He did so, expecting nothing in return, and often wouldn't accept anything in return.  It wasn't all that long ago that he saved me in a small way, where my van window wouldn't go all the way up, and it was about to rain for my two hour drive home.  He was on it in a flash and had a temporary solution that still enabled me to see, and I made it home safe and dry, so relieved and thankful for the small gift he was delighted to give me.

He went out of his way to take you aside and tell you that he was proud of you.  No matter what you had done, no matter where you had come from, no matter where you were going, or what you had been through, he saw you as you were, a human, full of giving and receiving love, and he let it be known that you were worthy.  He built you up in spirit and mind.  I cannot personally recall an instance I heard him tear someone down.

He loved and served the least of these, just like Jesus did.

His love for his family was unconditional and overwhelming.  He stood faithfully at my aunt's side for 32 glorious years that were no stranger to stress and sorrow, trials and tribulations, but also great joy and blessing.  They were one.  You could see it and you could feel it when you were with them.

Gregg loved spending time with people.  He had a jolly laugh and a great wit.  He wore a smile often.  He loved to tell a joke and hear the laughter of others as well.   Some of my best memories of him were at his farm, where my large family would gather for days on end.  He would go all out to ensure each gathering was phenomenal.  He had such great humble pride in welcoming us all and allowing us to create everlasting, joyful memories.

He was a delightful mix of manly man and teddy bear, who loved fixing things, classic cars (both real and miniature), go carts and his Harley.  He collected countless unique and older things and loved to share them with people around him.  He loved the outdoors and having a great time with family and friends.

He was adored by so many.  Children and adults alike could call him a friend.  My oldest son, who is not quite seven, sobbed this weekend, as he realized just how great a buddy Gregg was to him, and how devastating it was to know that they would not be making memories together anymore.   He told me about how Gregg helped him to be brave, and how cool it was when he finally rode go cart for the first time, and how Gregg told him he was a little man now. Gregg knew when to encourage my kids and when to be silly, and each of the three of them loved him deeply for that reason.

He was a great buddy to most everyone he met, I feel.  I heard so many claim that over the past two days.

He is going to be missed daily, wholly, intensely, by countless people who knew and loved him, who he loved in return.  Knowing that his all-encompassing bear hugs will never be given again leaves my shoulders feeling vulnerable and cold.  I know I'll receive hugs for the rest of my life, but not one will be quite like his.

Gregg loved the phrase "No Regrets." I smiled as I heard that, because long ago, I had coined that phrase for myself.  I didn't live it like he did though, as I sit here tonight, regretting that I hadn't told him one more time that I loved him, thanked him for all he did for us, and for the endless encouragement and support he never ceased to provide for me and my children.  I regret not taking more photos of him with the people he loved and not having photographic proof of the hardest working hands I remember seeing.  Even with life gone from his body, when you saw him this week, you saw the proof that he worked endlessly to provide for his family and his friends, the stain left behind on his fingerprints as a reminder of how much he gave of himself.

I know with all of my heart that he is with our Jesus now, and my children have reminded me multiple times, through tear-riddled eyes, that his soul is in heaven.  I stand firm in my faith and thankful for everlasting life and salvation through Christ, but at the same time, my human heart and limited mind is having a most difficult time envisioning our lives without him.  I see the farm, and it feels emptier knowing he will never be pulling down the driveway in one of his vehicles, never racing around on a go-kart or hauling with a tractor.  He won't be building or bringing new and exciting fun to us all, or helping the children feed the birds.  His spirit will never leave, but his body and his voice will never be with us as we sit in the summer sun.  That realization takes the wind out of my lungs for a moment and burns my eyes with tears.  I know I'm not alone in this space, missing him so much already, being devastated for us left behind, and overjoyed for he who will never again know sadness.

His body is gone, but his light can shine on.  I hope that his loss will encourage others to live a life like his, showing Jesus inside us to others.

I sit here, exhausted and weary, writing away, knowing that although my words are more in number than an obituary or even some eulogies, they do not suffice.  They will also never begin to scratch the surface of the life that Gregg lived. 

No words really will.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

And off they went

Today was another milestone day in our little family's journey. Today was another first day of school.  Today, my oldest son started first grade.  Today, my younger son started kindergarten.

It was a day we had been anticipating for months, after making the decision to register for kindergarten.  That decision in itself was harder than accompanying the boys to school today, because my new kindergartener's birthday was cut-off day.  He attended a couple different pre-kindergarten schooling adventures prior, and both sets of teachers said they thought he was ready, so I registered him and  we began talking and planning for the big day to arrive.

Today was that big day.

This morning began like many others, only it was prefaced with a night of very little sleep for the younger boy, I suspect as he was filled with anxious excitement following a long, busy weekend with extended family.  I woke the children with my special "good morning" song, and dressed them in the outfits they decided on the night before (which isn't always how we do things, but for big days, we plan ahead).  We had a light breakfast and then excitedly hurried out the door for first day photos.

The most emotional one this morning was their little sister, who has been heartbroken for days at the realization that she would not be able to attend kindergarten this year OR next year.  She really, really really, really, really, really wants to go.  She says so herself.  I've tried to explain how awesome it will be to have momma all to herself if I don't have to work some mornings while the boys are at school, but so far... she's not sold.

To keep her in good spirits, or at least the best possible spirits, we decided that we would all accompany her into daycare this morning, so she wouldn't have to watch the boys leave her, rather, they hugged her goodbye, told her they loved her, and hoped she had a good day.

The boys and I then made the short trek to the elementary school.  We arrived early, which was my plan, so that they could play on the playground a bit and get out any nervous energy left over.  We took some photos together, and some of them individually.  When the bell was about to ring, we went searching for their class lines, and I left my oldest with his class and walked the younger to his.  I stood beside him, talking him through the process of the bell ringing, and how when they started to walk into the school, I would not be able to go with him.  He was very calm about it all, and then I ran back to his brother... twice.... to surprise hug him and tell him I was proud of and excited for him.  When the bell rang, the kindergarten class went in first, and Collin turned around, smiled, and waved at me as his class went inside.  As soon as I could no longer see him, I ran once more to Spencer, for one last hug, and watched him smiling and waving as he too went into the school.

And just like that, off they went.

Their days were filled with excitement and some frustration.  First grade was reportedly the most awesome and the teacher was top notch, so says my son.  Kindergarten was a bit of a struggle, but knowing that my kindergartener was literally the youngest in the class and the youngest one could be to be in school that year prepared me for that report.  When I asked him how school was, he reported it was good, and he liked his teacher, and yes, he did get in trouble a some times.  It's a learning curve, and I'm just going to pray he adjusts quickly (because I know he resists change and new authority), and that soon, his days will be as wonderful as his brother claims they are.  I would covet your prayers on the matter, too.

When we got home tonight, the little sister was overjoyed to see her brothers, and that they still all matched.  She asked if she could go to school tomorrow, but she didn't cry when we told her she still had two years to wait.