Wednesday, December 23, 2015

You are my blinky strand.

The lights are untangled, tested and hung. The big reveal has taken place. The house looks cheery and bright. Then there you are. In the middle of a half mile of lights you appear. The lone, blinky strand. Through some scientific process I don’t claim to understand this strand appears to be like all the others until it has “warmed up” for a bit. 1,000 tiny lights provide a steady glow, framing the house is soft light… but your eyes can’t help but be drawn to the persistent staccato of one, blinky strand.

You, my child, you are my blinky strand.

Unexpected. Bold. Unique. Defiant. Charismatic. Improperly labeled.
Never one to blend in or back down.
You break up the monotony.  
You are just you. Being who you were created to be.
You frustrate and intrigue and inspire me.
You test the limits of human patience.

My life before seemed safe.

But now I’ve seen challenge and danger and sacrifice and abundance.  And there’s no going back.  While you were showing me who you really are, you have shown me who I really am.

"This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine...
Hide it under a bushel? No!
I'm gonna let it shine!
Let it shine!
Let it shine!
Let it shine!"

Monday, December 21, 2015

I feel traumatized by your traumatized kids.

I see you there, foster parent friend.  Offering choices to a flailing child throwing a fit in a restaurant.  Becoming a human spatula to scrape a writhing toddler off the floor of Target.  Cheerily and consistently reminding your preteen that some words and gestures aren't encouraging or appropriate.  Beckoning a child to come out from behind the couch and interact with the guests at their birthday party.    

I see you.  Gritting your teeth, adjusting your tone and offering your thousandth do-over of the week.

And it pains me.  Deeply.  Because I've been there, and [honestly] I don't ever want to go back.  You and your people are a reminder of the valley of the shadow of death we've walked through to arrive at our current place.  Compared to where we've been, today feels like a walk. in. the. park.  

Take heart friend!  This too shall pass!... Or you will get used to it!

That may not be the kind of encouragement people cross-stitch on a pillow, but it's the truth.  If I seem a little flinchy around your difficult kids it's not because I'm judging you.  Or repulsed by their behavior.  It's because seeing you there... I am seeing myself.  Those old feelings of doubt and inadequacy are stirred up again.  Being around your traumatized kids makes me feel traumatized.  But it stirs up something new as well.  Gratefulness.  Maybe even a little pride.  You're a reminder of some impossible days, but you're also a reminder of how far we've come.  You make me want to run give my kids a high five, and a hug, and extra screen time!

Solidarity!  One day all "this" will be in your rearview mirror, friend.  So hug that lanky, tatted teenager tight.  Whisper desperate prayers over your little night-owl who is finally asleep.  And keep fighting the good fight.

"Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning."

Psalm 30:5

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Disney Dozen

Last week we had the pleasure of taking our entire family, along with my parents to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.  It was a magical week watching my children delight in good, clean fun.  Someday I might blog about the time the entire family got on the teacup ride only to realize our toddler was left sitting in a stroller outside the gate, but I feel the most helpful thing I can share at this time is what we learned about taking a dozen people to Disney on a shoestring budget.  This is not a Pinterest-worthy list of a tips and tricks, just a few thoughts about our week and experiences.

Camping at Disney is always in tents: (get it? INTENSE! In tents!? Okay, okay let's move on)
We stayed at the Campsites at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort for the 10 days we were in the Orlando area.  The cost of the campsite is around $90/night for up to 12 guests!  That's pricey for a campsite, but incredibly affordable for a Disney property.  There is also no charge for parking.  Don't expect everything at the campsite to be a steal though.  Bottled cokes are $3.50 at the snack bar and washers in the laundry mat are $3.00 per load.  Speaking of laundry, the laundry facilities are a major plus.  The bathhouses are clean and accessible and the amenities at the resort are first rate (more on this in a bit).  Three major bonuses of staying on a Disney property are the free Disney transportation (adorable boats, reliable buses and the futuristic monorail were like bonus rides to my 2-8 year-old crowd), Magic Hours and Magic Bands.  Magic hours allow resort guests to enter the park early or stay late when the general public cannot enter.  Magic bands are, well, magic!  They allow you access to your cabin, gate at the resort, tickets and fast passes in the parks and can be linked to a credit card for easy payment in the parks and resorts.  Our family stayed in a travel trailer and tent.  The weather (in mid-October) was delightful, but rain could have easily complicated things.  Staff and service at the resort was Disneyrific.  We asked for an additional picnic table to accommodate our large group and one was delivered to our site just 30 minutes later.  Overall I would return to Fort Wilderness in a heartbeat.

Disney by the Dozen: Our goal for the week was for each child to be safe, happy and get to ride/see/experience something they dreamed of.  And we did it!  My parents bought us adorable matching Mickey Mouse shirts to wear the first day.  We soon realized that it was much easier to keep track of our group in the shirts and decided to wash them each night and wear them every day.  It also made getting up and out the door easier, as everyone simply grabbed their clean shirt off the pile for the day.  Wearing matching shirts also alerted others that we were traveling in a group.  It seemed to make people less likely to push through our group when in crowds and helped Disney "cast members" keep our group together on rides.  Our kids had never been to Disney and really didn't know what to expect.  We asked each of them what ONE thing they really wanted to do and made those things a priority.  This list of wishes gave us a loose schedule to follow and we could remind Reuben that he would happily wait in line for Memaw's pick, It's a Small World, because she waited 70 minutes to ride his pick, Pirates of the Caribbean.  We ended up staying together all day, every day.  The only exceptions to this were for a few times when one of us had to sit with the baby while he napped in a stroller or when a few of us wanted to go on a scarier ride*.

*A dear friend gave us a copy of a Disney Vacation Guide book.  This became an incredible resource for first time visitors such as ourselves.  If a child felt nervous about a ride they could read the description in the book and make an informed decision about whether they would like to ride or not.  It also gave them reading material while waiting in lines.

Picnic Power: Dining at Disney parks and resorts can easily cost more than your park admission for the day.  We chose to have leisurely mornings at the campsite eating a hearty breakfast and packing a picnic lunch for later in the day.  Although we ordered pizza one night when we returned home, we usually had something waiting in the crock pot.  We were so exhausted by the time we got home we ate and fell into bed.  Our kids went through incredible amounts of snacks in the park each day, so we made sure to have plenty on hand they could grab from the basket under the stroller without even asking.  This kept my campers happy and my budget under control.  We packed dry roasted peanuts, dried fruit, crackers, apples, cuties, beef jerky and gogurt (freeze gogurt or capri suns the night before and use them to keep your fruit and sippy cups cool in an insulated lunch bag).  We brought in nalgene bottles we kept clipped to the stroller and our belt loops.  Any restaurant with a fountain will give you cups of free ice water, which we transferred to our bottles.  Of course we still splurged on Mickey-shaped ice cream and Dole Whips.

Take a Day Off: If at all possible do not visit parks on consecutive days.  Spend a long day at a park, then spend a day relaxing by the pool and napping.  Our resort offered a dance party by the pool, silly recreation games, sports, heated pool and hot tub and nightly sing-along, campfire and outdoor movie.  Truly, our kids enjoyed relaxing at the resort as much as being in the parks.  This also gives everyone a chance to recharge, regroup, do laundry and grocery shop on a non-park day.

Stimulation is Exhausting: There is so much to see, smell, touch, hear and experience at the parks you may find yourself exhausted just trying to take it all in.  We have a couple of kids who are sensory sensitive and I found that they needed time and space to decompress.  My 8 year old climbed into one of the strollers and pulled the canopy down to make a quiet place for herself.  If your people are wound up take a long ride on the railroad or monorail or find a quiet corner table off the beaten path to rest your eyes and escape the jostling crowds.

Don't Miss the Shows! There are many rides that are a delightful 4 minutes after a 45 minute wait, but shows will definitely give you the most bang for your line-waiting-buck.  Get in line at least 30 minutes before a show begins to get good seats.  For parades and fireworks you may need to stake out your spot at least two hours in advance.  We spread out beach towels to have a clean, cool spot to sit and to help save space for our group.  We never had a hard time finding a few weary volunteers in our group willing to sit and reserve our spots.  We brought umbrellas in case of rain, but they ended up being a nice way to provide shade before the afternoon parade began.  Our favorite shows were Lion King and Finding Nemo at Animal Kingdom.  Don't miss the Festival of Fantasy Parade or Wishes Nighttime Spectacular at Magic Kingdom.  These shows and parades were BY FAR the most magical, memorable parts of our visit.

Fanny Packs: I kid you not, I brought a fanny pack out the first day as a joke and ended up wearing it all week.  It was just big enough for my phone, map, chapstick, snack and bandaids and I could slide it around to the front without taking it off for rides.  When one of our strollers came up missing I was very grateful that I didn't have a purse stashed in the bottom like I often do.  (Google stroller re-parking at Disney if you're wondering how I could misplace a giant stroller)

Getting to the Park is Half the Battle: Save yourself some stress and go ahead and accept that you will spend half of your effort/energy on any day just trying to get everyone up, fed, dressed and to the park.  We thought we would be there for morning Magic Hours every day... but we barely made it the parks by noon most days!  Even if we were out the door by 9:00 am we still had a 5 minute walk to the bus, 10 minute wait for the bus, 5 minute bus ride to the dock, 10 minute wait for the boat, 15 minute boat ride to the monorail... you get the idea.  No amount of barking, dragging, speed walking or line-cutting can save you from this reality.  There's nothing magical about Magic Hours if everyone is a cranky mess by the time you get to the gates.  

Don't Plan Away the Joy: I got really stressed out a week before Disney.  I worried that our fast passes were too late in the day.  That our lack of a "touring plan" would wreck our week and leave us in line-waiting-purgatory.  When we arrived in Orlando we were greeted with a "s'mores kit" a friend had sent to our campsite with a simple note that said "slow down and enjoy the moment".  She works for Disney, so I took her at her word.  So I stopped stressing about the details.  We played Disney charades while waiting in line (and had so much fun that the kids groaned when it was our turn to board the ride).  Instead of marching from attraction to attraction we stopped to listen to the barber shop quartet or cool off in the shade and people watch.  I watched the wonder on my kids' faces by the light of fireworks.  And that was the most magical attraction of all.

Here are a few highlights from our trip:

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The first pang.

Yesterday, as we pulled into Wisconsin, I had my first real pangs of homesickness.  

When we left Dallas in early June I struggled to say goodbye to my loved ones, church family and friends.  Hugging my grandmother goodbye was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.  Even so, there was a heavy aching by my heart to turn the wheels north and set out.  In many ways, small and large, God had affirmed our mission in the weeks leading up to our departure.  The anxiousness and doubt I’d felt just weeks before was washed away by a renewed sense of urgency.  The only vague concern that remained was that I would get 100 miles away and feel the same “buyers remorse” I felt when we laid down cash for our Volkswagen van so many years and children ago (but that’s another blog for another day).

But, just like that, we drove away.  

And it felt so right.  Over the first month I found myself occasionally surprised and delighted that I did NOT feel homesick. And, since I tend to be a huge bit of a worrier, I also made it an item on my daily “to do” list to worry about future homesickness.  

Arkansas came and went.  Being a border state to Texas and sharing similar character and hospitality to the Lone Star State, we felt right at home.  Missouri came and went.  Then Illinois.  Then Wisconsin.  But, the further we headed north the more striking the cultural changes became. 

I realize we’re talking about degrees of difference. I have friends across the globe who've spent years acclimating to life on different continents. Wisconsin is not Uganda.  Wisconsin is not Guatemala.  Wisconsin is not Kyrgyzstan.  

But it’s not Texas either.

I fancy myself a roadtripper.  I love to watch the familiar disappear in my rearview mirror and new, exciting landscapes appear on the horizon ahead.  But this is different.  I feel every mile.  And we’re heading further yet. But today, sitting here in a sweatshirt in July, I'm marveling at the good people we have met, work we have accomplished and adventures we have had.  All because we have come so far.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Finding our footing.

When we lived in a house it seemed like laundry was a never-ending process.  There was always a pile somewhere waiting to be hung up, a dryer beeping in the background, a heap of towels on the laundry room floor.  Life in the camper is very different.  There’s no room for laundry to pile up in a camper.  We also don’t have enough clothing per person to make it more than a few days without getting it done.  Strangely, this has been an incredible blessing.  LAUNDRY is one of my favorite things about living on the road!  In less than 2 hours I can have 4 loads of laundry washed, dried, folded, hung and put away. 

Food prep for our little army has been much the same way.  With a dorm-sized fridge and only a couple of tiny cabinets for food we’ve been forced to stay on top of meal planning.  I’ve found that we’re wasting less food, cooking from scratch for almost all meals and hardly eating out.  We cook 90% of our meals outdoors in a crock pot or on a griddle.  Each week I sit down with one kiddo who gets to select lunches and dinners from a spreadsheet of 80 camper-friendly meals I’ve developed.  We inventory the food we have, create a shopping list, and head into town to buy for the week.  So far it’s working out well.  One concession I’ve had to make is letting go of reusable plates and forks in favor of disposables.  And by “letting go”, I mean that I came back from the store one day to find that Bruce had thrown them all away.  I have to admit that this change significantly cut down our time spent washing dishes.  Dirty pots, pans and spoons are wiped down and tossed into a dishtub where they accumulate all day.  At the end of the day we do one small load of dishes and put them away.

But don’t let me fool you into thinking there hasn’t been total calamity as well.  

It’s rained half of the days we’ve lived in the camper.  The last ten days here in Arkansas have been filled with pounding thunderstorms that leave us, and everything we own, soggy.  Muddy bikes.  Muddy shoes.  Muddy kids.  We’ve even dropped a basket of clean laundry in a mud puddle on the way back from the laundry room.  

This week I decided that an afternoon at the Walmart Children’s Library in Rogers would lift our spirits and give us a little breathing room.  The kids would be occupied idyllically working on a group project on the State of Arkansas and Bruce and I would enjoy several hours to work.  The library is full of interactive learning stations for toddlers, reading nooks, computers, puppet theaters and coloring tables.  But, having scheduled our time there during nap time, my grouchy children melted down almost immediately.  Frazzled after only 30 minutes, we gathered up the kids, ran out to the van in the rain and headed back to be cooped up in the camper.  We arrived back home in time for dinner except, in a rush to make it out the door, I'd forgotten to turn the crockpot on.

Another fun fact about living in a camper, and I won’t go into details, but there is some “business” that cannot be done in our tiny bathroom.  Additionally, in some bizarre natural phenomenon, my children’s digestive systems have aligned with the forces of nature.  As soon as a monsoon begins outside several little people inevitably approach me asking to be escorted to the camp bathrooms. 

Despite these bumps in the road, this little shoebox on wheels is beginning to feel like home.  We’re working out the kinks and finding our footing… even in flip flops in the mud. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

It's all downhill from here...

No shoes, no shirt, no problem.
I'm not a thrill-seeker by nature.  I was always happy to pedal around on my hand-me-down-banana-seat bike on our quiet street while my hot-rodding brother jumped curbs (and an occasional volunteer from the audience) with his BMX bike.

But every once in a while, when the heat and boredom got the best of me, I would head up the hill.

In my memory it was at least a mile high.  So steep I had to walk my bike up because it didn't have low gears like my sister's fancy 10-speed.  My brother kept watch at the bottom and signaled me when traffic was clear.  There was always a last second wave of fear and hesitation before I would gather my courage and push off.  I didn't coast, I HURTLED.  Down the hill and into blinding sunshine at what felt like 100 miles per hour.  Eyes squinting.  Hair blowing in the wind.

Without a helmet.

I'm there again now.
There's just over a month remaining before we set out on the Hometown Tour.
Our home has been leased by another family.
We're sleeping on mattresses on the floor in anticipation of moving into the trailer in a couple weeks.
Training locations have been confirmed in 10 cities for the fall with several more pending.
We've mapped out every move between June and Decemeber.

These last days in our home feel like an eternity because our hearts are already on the move.  Yet a calm has settled over our family that can only be attributed to God's gentle guidance.  I thought I might be scared when we reached this place.  I would tell you if I was.  But we're here, perched on the edge, and I don't feel any hesitation.  I feel a restless urgency.  I feel ready.  And I can almost feel the wind in my hair.

Friday, April 17, 2015

WHERE are the Kendricks?

For many years I've sporadically shared my heart about parenting a large family of foster, adopted and biological children in this blog.  Our life as a family is entering a new and exciting chapter and this blog will reflect this change as well.  We've served in the Dallas area with the Embrace ministry since its founding in 2007, becoming full-time missionaries with Embrace in 2009.  This ministry, was founded to give hope and support to local families caring for abused, neglected and orphaned children, has grown into a thriving effort impacting the nation on behalf of "the Fatherless".

When our children were very small... and there were just 4 of them... my husband Bruce and I have jumped at any opportunity to train churches on ways they can step up and surround foster and adoptive families.  We've traveled the state of Texas and to endless conferences across the nation, often meeting and consulting with individual churches them to meet this urgent need.  Besides racking up 40k miles per year on our family van, the wear and tear of being on the road every other weekend became harder for our family as our children have grown and become more involved in sports and activities.  While our ability to host training on a regular basis became more challenging, the demand continued to grow.  Requests rolled in from around the country for our one-day Parent Support Group Workshop.  We felt torn between the needs of our growing family and the needs of the ministry.  Looking back it's clear that this season of unrest and frustration would be the catalyst for an exciting new approach to multiplying the ministry God had called us to.

While we earnestly believe the work Embrace is doing here on the ground in DFW is incredibly needed, valuable and must continue, we feel an urgency and responsibility to replicate these efforts in other states.  On June 15 of this year we will set out on the Hometown Tour.  This year-long ministry planting effort will bring Embrace's unique Parent Support Group Workshop to 20 cities across the US.  Our family will spend the next 12 months on the road furthering the mission of Embrace and bringing hope to countless communities and children.  Along the way we will also be meeting with individual churches about launching orphan care ministries and promoting our first publication (a guide to help churches host respite events for foster and adoptive families).

We're aware of how extreme this plan is.  But these problems: children lingering in foster care without adoptive families, foster and adoptive parents in crisis due to a lack of support, the lethargy of the church in response to the orphan crisis... these are extreme issues.  There are times we've felt so afraid we became frozen in our steps.  We've felt inadequate and unprepared for what's ahead.  But God has applied a gentle pressure in our hearts.  A yearning to do His will no matter where that takes us.  This may not be my most eloquent post, as these words are hard to type.  And hard to live out.  In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."    I'm weary and anxious just thinking about the year ahead, but I have a peace in my heart knowing we're right where He has asked us to be.  I'm able to give Him my emotional burdens when I'm saddened at the reality of leaving our grandkids, adult children, church family, community and friends behind.  As we continue to check tasks off our now dwindling "to do" list before we depart I've kept my heart focused on the doors God has already flung open ahead of us and joy he will bring our family along the way.  It's a little wink from my heavenly father that he gave me a restless, hippie/gypsy heart then asked me to live in a van with my kids and road trip across the country.

I know that sounds like a nightmare for some people.

In the interest of keeping this post as brief as possible I've compiled some of the most common questions we've been asked and then answered them below:

What about your kids?:  Our youngest 8 children will be on the road with us.  Embrace has always been a ministry that involved our family and almost every aspect of our lives.  Our children are excited, nervous and curious about the year ahead.  They've spent most of their little lives on the frontier of Orphan Care alongside Bruce and I as this journey has taken us to many unexpected places in life.  The kids will attend the prestigious Kendrick Unschool for Mischievous Children while we are traveling and our oldest daughter will be taking college classes online.  I'll share more detail on the kids' education in a future post.

Where will you stay?: Our family recently purchased a bunkhouse-style travel trailer that we will be pulling with our van around the country.  We're taking downsizing to the extreme, going from 3,000 sq feet to just under 300 sq feet!   In some locations, where it's more practical, we will stay in short term rentals or missions housing.  To stay on schedule we'll be moving from one location to the next about every week, parking in a combination of state parks, KOAs and RV parks.  Our home in Melissa is on the market for lease, as well plan to return there (Lord willing) at the end of this year on the road.

What will happen to Embrace's local efforts while you're on the road?:  All the wonderful Embrace programs you've grown to love and count on will continue here in Texas.  Our local calendar is already full of respite events, family picnic, events for foster youth, donation drives, volunteer opportunities, fundraisers, support groups and recruitment efforts.  A combination of our local staff members and dedicated volunteers will help oversee these programs.  While Hometown Tour training sessions require a lot of planning and effort, the majority of our workload will still be dedicated to maintaining and expanding the ministry as a whole and planning for the future.

How can we help?:  We have some specific prayer points we would be grateful for you to join us in lifting up.  Would you pray for the health and safety of our family while on the road?  Would you join us in praying for the hearts of our children who have faced trauma as we make this transition?  Would you pray that God provides reliable renters for our home in Melissa?  Would you pray for endurance for Bruce and I as we enter a season that will demand an incredible amount of energy, patience, perseverance and faith?

I will post updates as we finalize our preparations to depart, then weekly in most cases when we are on the road.  I hope you will follow these updates and keep us covered in prayer.