Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Oliver - Our Aspiring Ice Cream Man

Oliver, who has an interest in commercial ice cream production using pasteurized milk from our farm's organic dairy, attended the country's most highly acclaimed ice cream course in early January.
Held at Penn State, this intense, week-long course had over 125 attendees from the United States as well as 12 foreign countries.

Sheridan and I (Joy) served as Oliver's traveling buddies so between classes, Oliver would fill my ears with talk of sampling dozens of ice creams to cultivate the students' ability to discern quality ingredients. This, however, was just about the only thing I understood when he'd share what he had learned. The classes were primarily about chemistry, science, microbiology, and lots of math formulas. Oliver would come back to the room and spend all night just working on math formulas involving ingredient ratios.

The class concluded with a 3 hour exam where his knowledge was measured against those from other countries that Oliver said, "were much better mathematicians than their U.S. classmates."

We were absolutely thrilled to have recently received an email from Oliver's instructors
that said,

"Your final rank was, NO KIDDING, 11th."

We're super proud of Oliver's hard work and glad to be enjoying the fruit (cream) of his labor as he makes one yummy batch of ice cream after another.

Sheridan and I enjoyed spending the week just sitting around the hotel, reading, sewing, and playing. This is a "quilt" Sheridan sewed especially for the cheerful hotel employee who served at the continental breakfast each morning.

We're excited to see what doors the Lord might open for Oliver as he pursues this possible career path.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Calendar

For many years now, the choosing of the wall calendar is a task I take quite seriously. I begin considering in December what I believe the vision for the year should be.
Often it's something I feel I should focus on myself.
I remember the first year that I chose a farm-themed calendar in hopes of my own personal embracing of farm life.
Another year I picked a calendar with Bible verses because I felt my greatest need was wisdom and encouragement from God's word.
After the farm began, a calendar with peaceful porch scenes graced our wall as I hoped to return to a more relaxed existence.
2010 held the vision of a fixed-up, rehabilitated farm in which hosting a wedding might be possible by year's end. (It's a good thing someone had the vision because a wedding would surely take place in December of that year!)

A challenge though has always been in establishing the vision for the approaching year while the calendar selection is still good in the mall, but waiting until after the first of January to buy the calendar at half price.

This year, the first ever, I never had a vision for the year ahead. I'd stand and stare at the calendar displays and wonder what my focus should be as we entered the new year. It never came. Finally, as the calendars dropped to half price, then a quarter of the price, I knew I had better make my move or I'd be tracking dates and appointments on little yellow sticky notes throughout the house.
So I picked something - anything.

The older kids asked, "What's the vision for the year? What are you embracing this year?" I told them I just had to buy an "anything" calendar.

An incident that further compounded the mystery of the vision-less year took place just weeks after I had laboriously entered all the year's "not-to-forget" dates on my new generic calendar.
I had the calendar, along with notes of many new appointments needing to be recorded on the pages, spread across my workspace on the family room floor.
I was multi-tasking by looking up conferences and other events online while answering farm emails - only breaking long enough to make a pot of hot cocoa for the kids.

Not knowing that a stomach virus was about to make its rounds in our house, Sheridan gulped down her hot cocoa only minutes before standing over my multi-tasking work station and announcing that she felt sick. Sparing the reader unnecessary details, my vision-less calendar was ruined by a sudden and unexpected shower of cocoa.

So, this year is doubly vision-less as I had to buy a calendar from the local office supply - the only folks still selling calendars in late January.
I can't help but wonder if there is any significance to it all. I am reminded, whenever I look at the very generic calendar, to maintain a posture of submission to whatever God would like to do this year in my life and the life of my family - as it's doubly "anything" year.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Organizing Projects

I absolutely love organizing things. I can spend more time on a storage bin aisle at the store than in an entire mall. I stand gazing and dreaming about the various things I could organize if I had this bin or that.

When I see someone leaving the store with a shopping cart filled with bins, I'm tempted to excitedly run up to them and ask what neat project they're working on. I always refrain but smile as I imagine the fun that awaits them back at home.
I know it's a little strange.

One of my favorite uses of storage bins is for our fold up clothes. Since we have moved so many times and had to fit in a variety of homes, it has been much easier to use storage bins as "drawers" under our beds than to find space for chests of drawers in each bedroom. It's also easier for the younger kids to put away their own clothes and keep them neat when their "drawers" are easily accessible. As an added benefit, instead of packing when we go on vacation, we simply snap the lids on our boxes, load them in the van, and go!

A couple of years ago I was at a new friend's house and as we toured her home she showed me the boys' playroom that had the most amazing system for organizing Legos that I had ever seen. The Lego pieces were separated into bins according to color or function. The mom commented on how much more her boys enjoyed their Legos once the organization had been done.

With 4 boys in our family, our Lego collection had grown to enormous proportions and was contained in several mega-bins. The boys spent as much time searching for the pieces they needed as they did actually building creations.

Inspired by my friend and motivated by my love of organizing, I challenged Sullivan and Harrison to a "Lego Organization." I figured it would take a couple of hours but it was much harder than I imagined. Before it was over, I was begging all the other family members to join us in the mission by taking a shift in what had become a Lego Land nightmare.

But once it was done, it looked great. Of course, the true test of any organizational project is time. If things don't maintain their organized state, the project is not a success. So, I'm happy to report that the Lego organization is celebrating it's 2 year birthday this month! My boys (and now even Sheridan) spend hours upon hours creating with their Legos. Thanks, Jackie, for introducing us to this great way of organizing everyone's favorite plastic building brick!

Our bins are the rolling type so the boys can move them to the middle of their floor when they're working on big creations. Some of the bins were purchased new but it's more exciting to find them at thrift stores for a fraction of the cost.

Another organization project was motivated by a lack of drawer space in the old farmhouse kitchen. Looking through a Country Living magazine one day, I saw an article about kitchen islands and noticed how terribly expensive they were: hundreds or even one thousand dollars! Studying the pictures closely, I realized how much some of the islands resembled old chests of drawers. I decided I'd put the piece of furniture on my "Thrift Store Search List."

You can imagine my excitement when I found this solid wood chest of drawers in a thrift store for about $30.

This mother hen was spying my project before I began working on it in the yard.

At first I didn't know what to do with the back that had writing on it and was not the same, nice wood as the front of the piece.

I spray painted everything except the top. One of the drawer knobs was missing so I switched them around a bit and bought two new pulls for the top drawers. The small drawers are great for serving utensils and the other drawers are deep enough for my frying pans, food processor, griddle, and popcorn popper - helping keep my kitchen counter tops a bit less cluttered.

I decided to paint the back with chalkboard paint. We put messages on it from time to time but when I first finished it, I made this fake menu for the week to demonstrate the new island's chalkboard feature that I knew would meet with scrutiny from my male family members who don't have any appreciation for these crafty projects of mine.

Making my pretend menu more believable, I wrote the verse from Proverbs, "She gets up while it is still dark and provides food for her family." We all snickered when a new friend happened to be visiting and he stared in amazement at the menu and said, "Whoa! I'm eating with y'all this week!"

This organizational project is celebrating its one year anniversary and continues to serve its purpose really well.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Letter to Kaleigh

At the funeral of a dear friend, we were asked to write a letter to her toddler granddaughter so that a scrapbook might be compiled. Although the funeral was more than three months ago, I am only now able to finish the letter I began then.

It seems the writing of the letter would be used by God to speak to my heart about underlying issues needing addressing.

During the months surrounding the funeral, God sent several scriptures across my path that have caused me to do some reflecting. I hope the circumstances will be used to shape me into the girl God wants me to be.


Dear Kayleigh,

I first met your grandmother, Melissa, when she visited our organic farm in the summer of 2009. Her cancer was in remission and she was searching for raw milk to aid in her continued recovery. She was full of life and hope. In talking with her I realized she was incredibly knowledgeable about natural resources for fighting disease and I looked forward to learning a lot from her.

Although she had just finished a fierce battle for her life, she reached out to encourage me as I was struggling in my new role as a farm wife. We had just moved into an abandoned, one-hundred-year-old house on a rented farm so that we could continue to grow and meet the demands of the families who were searching for real milk.

She was so desirous that I have something of beauty in the old house that she dried a bouquet of hydrangeas from her garden and gave them to me. Her testimony and appreciation for life had a profound effect on me that summer. I never look at the bouquet that I don't remember her kindness to reach out to me when truly she was the one deserving of encouragement.

As your grandmother's strength continued to increase, she used her days wisely as she diligently sought to educate others about the importance of wholesome, chemical-free foods to fight disease. Only a decade older than myself, she had the energy of a youth, and organized a well-attended seminar with a renowned doctor and also founded a support group for the health-conscious community in which she served.

When I told her our oldest daughter was engaged, she was so excited and quickly offered to help with the wedding flowers since she had enjoyed making bouquets for brides in the past. What an incredibly gifted floral designer she was! She made a bouquet for Meredith's wedding with one hundred live stephanotis flowers where she laboriously removed the inner stem and replaced each one with a pearl. It was truly breathtaking. We later learned that a purchased similar bouquet would have cost $700. Yet, she lovingly prepared the exquisite bouquet in exchange for milk.

When our younger daughter, at age three, was missing her big sister in the weeks following the wedding, your grandmother emailed often to check on our little Sheridan. At Christmas, your grandmother gave Meredith and Sheridan matching ornaments so they'd always have "sister ornaments" to unite them.

Your grandmother was also a gifted photographer and it seemed that you were her most favorite subject to capture in photos. Kayleigh, you've been on my refrigerator a whole year as your grandmother gave me the most beautiful picture that she took of you on the beach during a family vacation. What a treasure you were to her.

As your grandmother continued to enjoy making healthy recipes with the milk, she asked if she could come spend the day with me sometime to learn how to make cheeses. Although I told her yes, my thoughts immediately turned to the reality of what a day is like on the farm and I felt hesitant to schedule a cheese-making day together.

She didn't know that my days are dictated minute by minute by the demands of the farm. Any given task of my day was ordinarily interrupted with customers' phone calls, corralling kids to get their farm chores done, hanging out one load of laundry after another, washing one load of milk jars after another, answering the farm's business emails that had accumulated over the last couple of hours, and at times almost running through the house to try hard to get all the work done that day.

Cheese-making fit in between the many, many interruptions. "No," I figured, "Melissa doesn't want to enter into this chaos simply to learn to make cheese." So I never put a date on the calendar.

Not long after that conversation, your grandmother asked me to pray because she wasn't feeling well.

We were so hopeful. I just knew she'd surely rally once again and be victorious as she had in the first round of the battle. Your grandmother was filled with determination that she'd emerge a conqueror as she had before. I didn't doubt her for a minute.

I realized I would be having a short break in my otherwise hectic schedule because my younger kids would be visiting with grandparents and I imagined the visit with your grandmother that had never taken place earlier.

I thought I'd call and we could meet somewhere to just enjoy a cup of tea. But as the monstrous weight of farm responsibilities pulled me down those days, I found myself turning fifty gallons of milk into butter so the extra milk that the cows had produced wouldn't go to waste.

The day I had hoped would offer a chance to break away for a visit turned into just another day of chaotic, fast-paced farm work.

Within days I left for Georgia to spend time with our oldest daughter who was now expecting a baby. I heard that your grandmother wasn't doing well at all. I talked with several friends and family and they said your grandmother would not survive the battle this time.

Oh how I cried. Knowing that I traded my recent chance to visit with her for making butter grieved my heart so badly. I begged God to please let her live until I got back home.

She sent me a late night email soon after and asked me to call. As we talked I told her how she had shaped my life by her testimony. I told her that she had such a powerful influence in the direction of the farm as we continued to implement organic practices we learned because of her.

I assured her I'd come see her just as soon as I got home. She asked that I bring Sheridan as well as pictures of Meredith's soon-to-arrive new baby.

We left Georgia on a Monday evening and drove through the night so we wouldn't waste daylight, working hours on driving. My thoughts were on your grandmother so often. In the quiet hours of the night drive, I'd think, then pray, then think some more, then pray again. I was so hopeful that I'd get to see your grandmother one more time.

When I got home Tuesday morning, September 20th, after having been gone for three weeks, my house looked more like the outdoors than the indoors. The hard weeks of baling hay for the guys who stayed behind, left a trail of what seemed like a grassy forest in my home. I quickly began straightening but kept my eye on the clock, waiting for what I figured was a decent hour to call your grandmother's house to see if I could come for a visit.

But I was too late. She had passed away while I was driving home. She was gone.

Oh Kayleigh, I am struggling with regret. I traded my last chance to see her for butter. Oh how heavy my heart is.

You looked like a little angel at the funeral. She loved you so much. You brought so much happiness into your grandmother's life.

May you be like she was, Kayleigh - one who prioritizes service to others, friendship, thoughtfulness, and kindness. May your life be a continuation of hers as you spread joy to all those who know you. May your life be characterized by loving others in such a way that you have no regrets.

Much love,

Joy Alexander


"Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint." Proverbs 23:4

"...Don't live to make a good impression on others..." Philippians 2:3a

The Lord used these verses and Melissa's death, along with other circumstances, to speak to my heart about the fast-paced, super busy work schedule I keep. I realize that although I don't work hard in hopes of becoming rich, I work hard for other reasons and it produces the same bad results. Sometimes I work extra hard because I can't bear to see something go to waste, sometimes it's because I want the challenge of turning nothing into something, sometimes it's to make a good impression on others. What has this obsession with productivity cost me? What will I lose if I don't change? What have I already lost? I desperately want the Lord to change me so I won't have a future filled with regrets.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Christmas Letters

When Timmy and I were newly married and celebrating our first Christmas together, a little neighbor girl was selling a variety of things to help her school raise money so I purchased a small nativity scene. It had a Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. I set it on a coffee table that first year and after Christmas carefully wrapped it up in the tissue paper and box in which it had arrived. Just before I closed the box though, I scribbled a little note on the tissue paper. The next year, I did the same. And the year after that and the next until the tissue paper was ragged and crumpled. I finally added another piece of paper to the little box and began scribbling notes on it. Since the papers are approaching 30 years old, I thought I would record the words here in our family scrapbook blog so that they would not be lost.

January 1, 1985
I hope that next year when you set these same ornaments out that you're just as happy being married to Timmy as you are right now!

December 26, 1985
I am even happier this year! We're taking the tree down early this year so we can move into our new home! We're so happy and excited! Marriage just keeps getting better and better.

January 3, 1987
Our third Christmas together! It was as happy as ever! Our relationship has such a deep love. Sometimes I feel like it's only the two of us in the world. Timmy makes me so happy. He's just what I dreamed the perfect husband would be!

January 7, 1988
Wow, what a Christmas! This year we had a brand new baby girl to celebrate with. Meredith has made us happier than ever. We're so lucky. What a wonderful life we have!

December 29, 1988
This has been the roughest year I can remember. We've been so happy to have a wonderful baby girl who is so good and brings us such happiness but I think I expect so much of Tim now that we have a baby and he always seems unhappy - with me and himself. I wish I could write something terrific, but it's been such a bad year.

January 3, 1990
What a beautiful and happy Christmas...a snowy morning and the first Christmas that our Meredith was so excited about all the toys. This year has been a good year - we're both really working at a terrific marriage and our precious baby is more than ever "the light of our lives."

December 31, 1990
Truly the best Christmas of the best year of our lives. We've come such a far way in developing a strong marriage. Timmy and I are so content with each other. I've grown so in love with him this year. Although it was our worst year financially (Tim was a full-time student), God met our every need. We learned how to be content with each other and thankful to God. Our three year old is a sweet little girl, not a baby anymore. And in March, we're expecting another baby. What a terrific year!

January 4, 1992
This was the first year that Meredith really understood why were celebrating Christmas. She is a big four year old and was excited to give to our less-fortunate neighbor as if she were giving to Jesus. Elliott is a precious baby boy - a nine month old with a wonderful, cheerful personality! I've concluded though that a "new baby year" is a rough year. So much tension and stress in our marriage. I hope Timmy and I will be close again very soon.

January 1, 1993
What a wonderful Christmas. I enjoyed our little family so much this year. We had a very conservative Christmas and emphasized what we gave for Christ's birthday instead of what we received. We went to an elderly home and sang as one of our gifts to Jesus. I enjoy teaching these little children so much. I'm so very blessed to be in this family. Timmy is so dear to me - a precious jewel. I fall more in love with him each year. Elliott is a sweet baby. (As I wrote that he came and gave me a kiss for no reason.) Meredith is the perfect daughter. She is growing into a beautiful person on the inside and out. The maternity shop has been a horrible struggle this year. I don't know if it will make it. God is faithful though. He is such a wonderful Friend and has given me peace in this storm. He is so good to me and my precious family. He has blessed us with happiness and contentment this year.

December 27, 1993
So much happened this year. We have a new baby boy - Oliver! He's just four weeks old and is simply terrific! What a precious gift to our family. God did something else really wonderful this year, too. Our retail/rental maternity shop is gone! Through a meaningful walk with God, He lovingly took away the horrible burden in April of providing for Expecting Style. It was a tough summer thinking we would lose our house to the shop debts, but God graciously provided. I don't ever recall such contentment as I have now. I am so grateful to God, so totally fulfilled as a mom, and so thankful and appreciative of my sweet Timmy. He has been incredibly helpful since Oliver arrived. This year, more than ever, I have so much to be thankful for. God is so good to me!

January 10, 1995
Although we took down the tree a week ago, things have been so hectic I'm just now getting time to pack away the manger scene. This has been a miraculous year. We have worked so hard to pull ourselves out of debt from the shop and did paper route most of the year. Now we have all the debts paid that were pressing on us, have consistently lived on a budget, and even have money in a savings account. God has blessed our efforts tremendously. Another terrific year as a wife and mother. Timmy is working long hours and really hoping for another job soon. Meredith accepted Christ this year. Elliott has become such a sweet boy. Oliver is a precious one year old. I am definitely the most blessed person I know!

January 1, 1996
Who would ever believe how God has worked in our lives this year? Just an average family with ordinary lives but I have (for years) begged God for something more. I have prayed that God would draw Timmy closer to Himself and in the process draw us closer as a family. There are no words to describe the change in Timmy. We were asked to think about becoming houseparents at Hope Haven Children's Home and without hesitation Timmy said we would consider it. On August 4th, our eleventh wedding anniversary, we moved to the children's home. Sometimes I don't even recognize the man God is making with Timmy. It has been a tough adjustment for me to embrace the cross and obediently follow God through paths that lead to the answers to prayers I've prayed. Of all the many things I used to pray for Timmy, God has answered every request except that Timmy have a job where he can be challenged and grow in the Lord. I am looking for the answer to that prayer this year. I have incredible peace knowing that I followed God and am in the center of His will. We had an exciting Christmas with our three precious children, Nikki, and John and Ronnie (2 children we're caring for at Hope Haven). God is teaching us how to serve Him.

January 9, 1997
This year I watched my last big prayer get answered. Timmy left his job of ten years and came on staff at Hope Haven. I love how we see each other all the time. Our marriage is beautiful - like a fairy tale. Our service to the Lord has been so challenging this year. I get so discouraged sometimes. I'm still trying to adjust. Timmy is everything I ever prayed for, but much more than I could even imagine. God has done an unbelievable work in his life. Elliott and Oliver are doing well. I worry about Mere. This is a tough time for her.

January 2, 1998
It occurred to me as I tried to un-crumple a new piece of tissue paper in the manger scene box that maybe I should just write on a piece of paper. I had no idea how precious these yearly comments would be when I first began thirteen years ago. What can I say this year that summarizes these last twelve months in a few short sentences? This was the most difficult year of our lives. This was the most victorious year of our lives. After two years at Hope Haven and more struggling, sadness, and despair than I've ever experienced, we left. Through all the pain came unimaginable growth - as parents, as a married couple, and as children of God. Words cannot express what God has done in our lives. Obediently following Him, contentment is found! Timmy is a husband and daddy that most of the women in this world long for. He is the most precious gift I've ever received. What a caring and loving daddy he has become. Our home is heaven on earth. We are all so thankful to just be a family again. I don't know that the celebration of Jesus' birth has ever been any sweeter than this year. God has been so good to us. He is a faithful Friend and our victorious Provider.

January 3, 1999
How ironic that the best word to describe this year is "calm" when it began at a lovely home in Stonegate (after having left Hope Haven in September and moving to a Virginia Beach condo for two months), then on to Williamsburg to be near Timmy's work for three months (what a mission field God sent us to there!), then on to Charlestown Lakes (a wrecked auction house that has become a real blessing). We're on the move but are experiencing such peace. We enjoy being a family so much. God had blessed our buying and selling auction houses this year. We're having so much fun. Every one of us gets involved and this project has drawn us even closer together. The new Timmy is the normal Timmy. The man he became through the trials at Hope Haven has been the man he is every day. He is a precious, godly man and terrific daddy. I'm living in heaven on earth with him. The children continue to be the thrill of our lives and imagine - the Lord is blessing us with another in July! We're so excited and so happy!

January 1, 2000
Can life get any better than this? We are such a happy family. What a great Christmas. Our precious newborn, Sullivan, was with us and we headed out to West Virginia for a Christmas ski trip. We enjoyed each other so much. I don't know a family more blessed than ours. This year was uneventful - I'm so glad. Even though we continue to move often, we're enjoying the challenge and excitement. We are all so in love with little Sullivan. What an incredible gift to our family from the Lord. I can't imagine life any better this side of heaven. Timmy is an unbelievably terrific daddy. He's so good with the baby. I'm so glad he's my husband. Life is so good.

January 2, 2001
The Lord is faithful through the good times and the bad. Lots of opportunities to lean on God this year. In March we learned Oma had breast cancer. Things went incredibly well with the treatment and the whole ordeal is remembered mostly by the many visits we enjoyed with Tabby, Opa, and Oma. After an incredible week-long seminar (Bill Gothard's Basic Principles of Life) we gave control of our family size to the Lord. In July we miscarried our seven week old growing baby. The Lord held us so close during that experience. In August Granddaddy Palos died. We moved to a hotel in July when we sold our Riverwalk house. Then moved to a fixer-upper in Greenbrier in September - just two days after Opa was hospitalized. He spent one very difficult month in and out of the hospital then came home and passed away on October 14th. The depth of the darkness and fear I felt during those last weeks has been difficult to really address as of yet. I have such contentment to know Opa is with the Lord and we will all join him so soon. Our lives really are a vapor. A daily walk with God is the most important thing in this world. We are now expecting another baby - 16 weeks along, due June 14th. We thought it best to spend Christmas a little differently this year and our family, along with Oma met the Hershbergers at Snowshoe, West Virginia for a ski trip. We had such a good time and Oma seemed very content. Through each trial God has taught us more about how truly good He is and how much He loves us. In the midst of the ups and downs I have been more blessed than ever by my precious Timmy - what an incredible friend. This year, more than any other, Timmy has grown as a friend and an outstanding father. our children are so fortunate to call this dear man "Daddy". The joy I find in being a wife to Timmy and mother to our wonderful children is beyond words. I am so blessed. God has been so good to me.

January 1, 2002
Wow! What a lot of changes in our lives this year. Our wonderful new baby Harrison joined our family on June 23rd. What a blessing! In October we moved to Roper, NC where Timmy is building bridges for the next two to three years. So much has changed. We have left our fast-paced city life for a quiet, remote, desolate little town that allows time for playing in the woods, preparing home-cooked meals, and enjoying each other. We are adjusting to the many things we left behind though - a great church, the Growing Kids God's Way ministry, weekly Bible study, homeschool support groups, sports, friends, teaching childbirth classes, mall and thrift store shopping, .... We know God has brought us here for His purposes and we want Him to find us faithful to trust Him even when we don't know His plan. We are blessed with good health, a comfortable place to live, and a deep peace and contentment that only God can give.

December 31, 2002
Deuteronomy 28:3 "You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country." How true! What a wonderful year our family enjoyed. We've adjusted so well to our slow-paced, family-centered life here in NC that we now hope we'll never have to return to the city. We didn't fully realize how hectic city life was or the way it stole from the quality of our family relationships until there weren't so many activities in which to participate. Although Timmy's bridges are coming along nicely, this is definitely a huge job and responsibility with great potential for creating a lot of "take-home stress." Asking Timmy why he seems to have less stress about his job than ever before, he stated it was because of our relaxed, non-rushed family life. We've also enjoyed an incredibly healthy year avoiding virtually all the colds and flus common to families with several kids. We know this is just some wonderful, unmerited gift from the Lord. The greatest blessing and sorrow has been the addition of two more babies to our family that we won't meet till we get to Heaven. Miscarriages in April and August were very sad but we're focused on trusting our loving Lord's plans for our lives and theirs. The Lord has done immeasurably more than we've ever asked or imagined in our family this year.

January 4, 2004
This last year could best be summed up in one word: WORK! We began building a house in Hertford, NC last spring and continue to spend every evening and all day Friday and Saturday working together. Although it has been much harder than we expected, it has been an absolutely wonderful way to spend lots of time together as a family as well as teach the children invaluable skills for their futures. We had hoped we would complete the house and spend a couple of years in it, but it looks like we may be moving to Amelia, VA while Timmy builds bridges there. It was disappointing at first but as we recall the great things God has so faithfully done in our family with each of our moves, we have almost come to look forward to what He'll do this time. God added two more babies to our heavenly home this year. We miscarried one baby in May and just found out a couple of weeks ago that the baby we've carried for almost fifteen weeks died around eight weeks and will miscarry soon. We have an amazing sense of peace. We have accepted that God is surely receiving greater glory through these sad losses and we have chosen to continue to trust Him with this area of our lives. "So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good." 1 Peter 4:19 God has been so good to us this year. We have much to be thankful for. "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." Psalm 147:3

January 26, 2005
I've never written this late but these past few months could best be summed up: PLAY! We just returned from a fantastic sixteen day trip to Colorado. What an unimaginable treat to travel across the U.S. as a family. In August we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary with a cruise to the Bahamas and in September we enjoyed a terrific trip to Disney World. The Lord has blessed us with sweet relationships, good health, and financial resources to enjoy so much fun as a family. Tim's job in Amelia, VA (Fort Pickett) provides for us nicely along with the huge blessing of Sullivan's Tractor Service. This year we have worked hard and played hard. I feel we are the most blessed family in the world. Our greatest sorrow was the completed miscarriage in February of the baby who died in late 2003, as well as another dear baby who miscarried in November. In our trials God has been our closest Companion and continues to heal our hurting hearts. The pain has served to bind our hearts closely to one another and to our Lord. God makes us feel so complete, so content. I love this moment of our lives and wish I could freeze it here forever. Cheerful teens, precious younger ones, a fulfilling marriage - thank you, God. You are so to good to us.

January 2, 2006
We begin 2006 with so much uncertainty on the horizon. For some time we have felt God's leading for Timmy to leave Mid Eastern Builders and begin a home building business where he can better teach and disciple the children. However, posturing ourselves for that huge step has been both confusing and frightening. It seems we're constantly before the Lord begging for guidance. We moved from Amelia to Tyner, NC and are comfortably living in a small trailer (less than 1500 square feet) that was a true blessing from the Lord. As Tim's job finished up, we decided we should move closer to his new job location in Smithfield, VA. We searched so hard for housing but nothing opened up, so we moved to our Kempsville (Virginia Beach) rental, praying all along that God would rescue us from what we feel is not the best place to raise the children. We were so happy to have been given this trailer. Life is so good in the country. We had several memorable events this year: Timmy and I both turned 40 and Meredith turned 18! We also added another baby to our heavenly home on May 16, 2005. At times this feels like an unbearable sorrow. How we would love to welcome more children into our family. We continue to trust God and have confidence that He loves us and is only allowing what is best. May this year bring us "happiness in proportion to our former misery." Ps. 90:15 I wish I could take a peek at January 2007 to see how this year turns out.

December 27,2006
I'm writing early this year so we can take down the tree and pack up the ornaments. In our tiny trailer with the make-shift garage (a pull-behind work trailer borrowed from Timmy's company) there is much rearranging that must be done when bringing in the tree. This year we're eager to get everything back in its proper place so we can bring in the cradle and prepare for a miracle: the anticipated arrival of a baby girl! We all stand in utter amazement that God would allow us to join Him once again in the awesome privilege of raising another soul for His glory! After adding seven babies to our heavenly home through miscarriages, we never thought we'd know the joy of welcoming a baby into our family again. We are so grateful!
It has been another year of deep searching as we try to follow God's leading in our desire for Timmy to leave MEB. It has also been a year of much growth as we've gone through the life-changing seminars as a family: "The Institute in Basic Life Principles" (for the second time) and "The Financial Freedom Seminar." God is revealing so much as we obey. It has been difficult though peaceful. We desire more than ever to finally settle down, but are completely dependent on God to make a way. God is good.

January 1, 2008
What an indescribable year of blessing this has been! God gave us a gift of immeasurable worth on February 19, 2007 - Sheridan Anna Claire! She has brought an enormous amount of happiness into our lives. A baby, a precious baby - there is no greater gift given to families. A few weeks after her birth, a family looked at and put a contract on the trailer. It was sold fifteen days later. This opened a long-awaited door for Tim to leave his job and work from home around us full time. He celebrated his last day at MEB and his 42nd birthday on April 20th. We moved back to Amelia to focus on selling our investment properties but because of the very slow real estate market, we began a farming (small dairy) venture. Although we are very thankful for its success, our biggest priority continues to be getting out of debt. God sold our lot on the water so we only have the Hertford and Amelia houses left with mortgages. What a year. A baby, a dad coming home, and an exciting, new farming business, to say nothing of the unexplainable good health we're enjoying (an undeserved, gracious gift from God). God has blessed us tremendously, beyond words, beyond measure. God is so, so good.

February 1, 2009
I don't think I've ever written so late but we are unimaginably busy with all the demands of a farming business. We've never worked so hard. More often than not, the days start early, end late, and don't offer even a short break in between. We began the year with many health concerns as sicknesses and ailments came as unwelcome visitors. Most grieving was the miscarriage of another baby June 5th. While God has shown Himself so incredibly faithful to our family this year, we, never-the-less experienced the greatest financial stress we've ever known. We continue to carry the burden of unsold properties though God has faithfully helped us week by week, month by month. During this most difficult year, the farming/cow share program has grown beyond our wildest dreams. We have begun this new year with our needs not only being met, but even exceeded. The sun of our financial situation is beginning to peek through the clouds. It is so very welcome. Even though this was a hard year, God has been so unspeakably good to allow us the absolute joy of spending our days together as a family. The children bring us so very much happiness. I am blessed beyond measure to enjoy a husband of almost 25 years, a hard working 21 year old daughter, a tender-hearted 17 year old son, a most cheerful 15 year old son, a brilliant, bubbly 9 year old son, a creative, inventive 7 year old son, and an absolutely miraculous 23 month old baby girl.

December 27, 2009
Writing the annual update on December 27th?! Hopefully this is a sign of a more manageable year ahead. It has been our very busiest year ever, this last year. The farm has grown so much and is meeting our needs very well. However the growth has made it feel completely overwhelming at times, like a wild monster. We are trying hard to streamline so it won't be so stressful next year. The farm is an amazing gift of provision from God and we are very thankful for it. We celebrated our 25th anniversary in February with a wonderful two week trip to Colorado for skiing and then we went to California to board a cruise ship headed to Mexico. What a fun trip. We also celebrated Elliott's graduation with a wonderful pig-pickin' and square dance. After much prayer regarding the growing farm and limited pasture, God opened a door for us to rent land and an abandoned, one hundred year old house. We moved on June 20th - what an overwhelming task. We are so very thankful for God's provision though. We were sad to miscarry for the ninth time on October 1st. God is faithful though and we are only drawn closer to Him through the trials. We have so much hope as we look to the future. God has been so good to us.

February 27, 2011
Have I ever written the year-end review so late? I suppose last year's early entry was no indication of an easier year ahead. I can't believe how much has happened in this last year. God sent a godly young man for Meredith and she and Stephen were married December 11, 2010. What an unimaginably busy year. We all worked so hard to prepare for the wedding in a Richmond church and reception at the farm for over 400 guests. Then Mere and Stephen moved to Oxford in England. God has already blessed them with a pregnancy but Mere has been in the hospital for a week from severe dehydration and vomiting. I had no idea how much we'd miss her. It feels like the best years of our lives just ended. From this point, will we always look back and miss what used to be? It's such a big adjustment.