Thursday, December 28, 2017

Merry Christmas from the Harrells!
2017 has flown by for us. In many ways it was a similar year to years past, in some ways very different. We continue to enjoy homeschooling - Sadie is in 5th grade this year, Eli in 3rd, and David in 1st. Mary Jo is home with us too and often does her "schoolwork" while I'm working with one of her siblings. The kids and I all enjoy a weekly bible study and the big three go to homeschool classes on Fridays. We are still very involved in our church and even though we are small we are very blessed by the fellowship and teaching there. Steven continues to preach most every Sunday morning at nearby churches, the kids and I usually travel with him, then we go to our home church every Sunday night. Steven is staying as busy as ever with his work, both his financial business as well as the growing real estate business. We went to Honduras again in March and had our usual summer of camps, conferences, and beach weeks. Our kids love their cousin time - and I am thankful to be involved in all of my niece's and nephew's lives.
Starting our foster care journey was the biggest change for us this year. I'm pretty sure my last blog post was about our first foster baby so I don't want to be redundant....but it has been an exciting journey thus far. We have had 2 placements this year and 2 respite cases. Our first placement was little Z, who was with us for 4 months. He went to live with a family member who is doing a great job with him. We've been able to remain in his life and had him come stay with us three times this fall. Just last weekend we kept him for 2 nights and got to have a little mini Christmas with him. He definitely has a place in our hearts and we are hopeful to stay in his life for as long as we can. Our other placement was in October, a little newborn we had for about a month. He also went to live with a family member but unfortunately we didn't get to meet them and haven't had any contact with baby "A". In August we kept a toddler for about 5 days, a sweetheart, and he has now transitioned back to his Dad. It's great to hear about the cases where the family is able to get their kids back, sadly it doesn't happen often. The last respite case we had was an adorable 18 month old - we kept him for the weekend while his foster parents went on a marriage retreat. He was on a special diet so it kept me on my toes but little "G" would run to us and throw his arms around our necks after just a couple hours.  He is still living with his foster family and a newborn sister is expected to join him at his foster home in the next month or so. When I start to wonder about the next phone call, next placement, next little life that might enter our home I've learned to just empty my heart out to the Lord. The unknown future gets to me at times but has challenged me to practically use one of my favorite verses "The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You." Isaiah 26.3. As in most things in life - keeping my mind on the eternal purpose of this calling is absolutely necessary to stay in the game, otherwise the frustration of the "broken system" and this sinful world would discourage me greatly. However these 4 little lives that we've had the privilege to know, even briefly, have blessed us immensely, so I'm excited to see what He has in store for us next. 
As one of my friends said in her Christmas letter this year, "a picture is worth a thousand words" here are some highlights from this year.

Mary Jo turns 4!

Homeschooling at Krispy Kreme....

Our first real life Rodeo with some sweet friends.

Back to Honduras!

It really is beautiful.

Love the color!

Steven preaching.

Sweet cousin time!

Florida trip in April 

They all 4 tried soccer this Fall...even this one!

Our sweet little church.

Eli turns 8!

Loves being silly.

Thankful for 4 healthy grandparents!

Museum fun.

Jeep rides!

Happy Birthday David! 6 years old.

Sadie turned 10 and learns how to take selfies.

The first of our summer trip - this one with the Harrell clan.

Sibling love.

Love the knights!

Sweet friends.

Sharing milkshakes at Skyland Bible Conference.

A sweet time with my girls and nieces.

Jr. Boys.

Hilton Head.

Church Branch time.

Bringing Baby "A" home!

Thankful for this sweet great Grandma.

Baseball became a part of our lives this fall.

As did 3 legged races??

Nash cousins.

Sadie had her first big role in the musical this Christmas - she did great. 
I know Christmas is past.... so Happy New Year! 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Are You My Mother?

Are You My Mother is one of my favorite children's books and I have read it to my own kids countless times. It's the simple story of a little bird who hatches while his mother goes looking for something for him to eat. He falls out of the nest and proceeds to walk around looking at various animals and things to try and find his mother, asking each one if they are his mother. Eventually he is put back in his nest and she arrives right at that moment, and he knows that he has found her.
We finished the process and got licensed as foster parents in February. We took a trip to Honduras in March, very similar to last year, and about a week after we got back we got the first call. The next morning we were on our way to the next town over to pick up this little 12 month old from daycare to bring him home. It was a bit surreal looking in the playground at several little toddlers thinking to ourselves "is that him?, or is it that one?" Little Z was the last one and after very little instruction and his bottle of milk he came right with us with no tears. We had enlisted many of our family and friends to pray for the transition and the Lord answered that prayer abundantly. Even though he was a happy, easy baby it was still an adjustment having a 12 month old in the house again. It didn't help that we had him only 10 days before we left for a trip to Florida - thankfully we found a sweet family we knew from MAPP classes that provided respite care (took him in for the 5 days we were gone). Steven was asked to preach at a church in Orlando, Florida, so of course we couldn't go all that way and not visit some parks! We ended up renting a big van and taking my Mom, two of our  nephews, and a sweet young friend of ours from Virginia who met a sweet young friend of hers down in Florida. Those two "friends" are now getting married in November. :)
Sadie told Steven before he preached that he "better make it good" so we'd get invited back. Ha! No need to mince words, I guess!
We got Z back when we got home and after he finally got over a bad cold he started to really enjoy our family. He went to lots of soccer games, playdates, children's museums, and parks. This summer he loved the pool and the two trips he got to take with us. He is very lovable and quickly found his way in our hearts. In June we found out that he would be leaving us to go live with a family member. He left in July, exactly 4 months after he came. Foster care is definitely a roller coaster of emotions. Lots of unknowns.  I took him in knowing we weren't going to keep him and prepared my children's hearts accordingly. What I wasn't expecting was just how attached he was going to be to us, and that I couldn't explain to him why one night I would read his favorite books and sing Amazing Grace, as normal, then the next he'd be in a strange environment without the people he loved. That beloved book hit me hard, thinking of little Z, like that little bird, confused and alone. Again, as many times before, I had to simply pray and leave it in the Lord's hands. Should I have not loved him? Not cared for him? Of course not. It is the one reason I hear most about why people can't do foster care - "I would just get too attached!" Well, we all did. And that's ok. My hope is that the attachment he had with us, the love he felt in our family, that the Lord will use in a good way in his life. That ultimately Z will come to know Jesus and find fulfillment in the Lord and not his broken little life. And that God would get the glory. In the meantime we wait for another call, another life, another adventure...trusting the Lord each step of the way.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Hark the Harrell Angels Sing

A belated Merry Christmas from the Harrells! A few weeks ago the kids were in Sunday School while their Dad was preaching at a sweet church nearby. The teacher was talking about the famous Christmas carol, "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," and David tried to claim that we were the angels. They are, after all, "herald" angels. :)
I realized before I began this update that there have only been 2 posts since last Christmas - but I'm not a quitter.....just not a great blogger. 2016 has been a year of firsts. All 6 of us traveled to Honduras in March, the kid's first airplane ride they could remember. Shortly after we got back one of my fears came true. My climber and jumper finally met his match - monkey bars at the park. In April I was pushing Mary Jo on the swing and chatting with one of my friends and Eli came running up to us with a visibly broken arm. You would assume since I work in healthcare that I might be able to keep my composure but no, my friend had to look me in the eye and say "Yes, you need to go to the" He was such a trooper and held it together really well on the 30 minute drive to the hospital - unlike his Mom. While trying to figure out what made him fall, since I wasn't right there, I finally got the answer from him "Well Sadie can skip two bars so I was trying to do it" Thankfully he healed well, despite continuing to climb things.

My first this year was coaching 4 year old soccer. The 4 year old teams were short coaches and I figured I couldn't mess them up too bad. I've actually never played soccer so practices were interesting....Steven thought it was hilarious that I had them practice high fives and finish every practice with a fun game of "duck-duck-goose," but at least the kids liked me.
We already have a whirlwind summer but this year decided to add yet another week vacation and drove to a sweet place called Greenwood Hills. Some of our friends from Virginia go to a family camp every summer there so we decided to try it out - my best friend from Charlotte and her family came as well so it was a fun time. The only complication is that we left Hilton Head, SC, and drove to Pennsylvania - a mere 10 hour drive! which Steven did like a champ. The 30 minutes I contributed to the drive I managed to pull through the truck weigh station instead of the exit - oops! The times of spiritual refreshment at two different conferences this summer were great - as was the family time we had at the beach. Another first for Eli was being a camper at summer camp - he's been every year of his life but this year got to stay in the cabin with the other campers. Steven was his counselor and I was just 100 feet away in the nurse's room so I handled it very well. Mary Jo missed him as she is still very attached to Eli...and her cousins that were also Jr Boys! As you can tell she's doted on like a princess around here!
Sadie is growing up and turned 9 this summer. For her birthday we let her get her ears pierced. She's in the 4th grade and had a speaking and singing part in her Christmas program this year. She's started to take horseback riding lessons again and of course thinks the next logical step is to buy a horse. We did finally give in to her pleading and let her get a hermit crab. Eli got one, too. She was beyond excited but has, as predicted, grown quite indifferent to her pets. I'm hoping this will prolong the time I have to continue procrastinating on buying another animal. Oh, she's growing up, time slow down please!
Mary Jo started preschool this year and David started Kindergarten at home. He and the older two all take some classes on Friday's at a church nearby. My babies are growing up too fast but we're enjoying the ride.

I'm finishing this post just a few minutes before 2017 starts. I have pajamas on and a sick little one next to me in bed. I remember 17 years ago standing on an overlook in Boone, NC, waiting anxiously for the highly anticipated Y2K, with Steven and some friends. It was our first New Years together and it was a fun time. I wouldn't trade it though for this time, even though it seems mundane. This is where the Lord has me right now and I'm thankful for it. Whatever 2017 throws our way I know in Whom I trust. And it's not Donald Trump..... although it will be slightly entertaining to see what he does in office. I'm praying for this country, for our church (which the Lord has immensely blessed in 2016 - I'll write another post about that soon), and for our marriage, family, and ministry.  May the Lord be honored by our lives as we daily strive to grow closer to Him. Hoping your New Year is Jesus-filled and blessed (you can't truly have the latter without the first!). Goodnight!

Friday, September 16, 2016

My New Student!

Well, summer has come and gone all too quickly. As usual we packed up and did our crazy VBS/camp/bible conference/beach schedule....adding in just one new vacation. This new one happened to be in PA, a mere 10 hour drive from Hilton Head (the place we were driving from...only in my mind does it "make sense" to do the trip anyways). It was well worth it, however, for we got to spend the week at a beautiful camp with good friends sitting under great teaching from the Word of God. Who needs anything else in a vacation? I do love our summers, they're kind of exhausting and not necessarily relaxing but it's usually a lot of family time - which happens to be my favorite.
So August was nearing to a close and it was that time of year again....
At home, that is.
And I now have my 3rd student attending!
My new student is not the ridiculously large stuffed animal strapped into my van. I promise this is  not a normal thing for me, a true lapse in clear thinking on my part. I really do tell my kids "No" when they ask for things, almost all of the time. For some reason I couldn't say no to "Mr. Snuggles" He is very cuddly.

Here is my new student! It's a mystery. He likes clothes, soccer, super-heroes, and being cool. He is all of those things, and officially a Kindergartener at my house. 

Here's my guy participating in a Science Olympics challenge (the 2nd time, the first time he quit while Sadie and Eli finished...then he decided to try again). While he's been very excited about doing his schoolwork he is proving to be quite needy and demanding. Apparently 1:3 is too high of a ratio for him, he would rather be an only child when it comes to school. I think patience is definitely on the list for the character training needed for this guy. And his Mom. But he sure is cute, and like the others, I count it a privilege to be able to spend the (sometimes long) days at home with him, watching him learn and play and run. Homeschooling truly is a blessing to me.

I can't forget to mention my littlest!! We decided to cut her long hair and I have to say I'm partial to the bob. And definitely loving the ease of brushing it out. She started preschool this year, just twice a week for a few hours, but her presence is definitely missed! We try to work really hard on our schoolwork while she's playing at preschool. She has had a few tears with the separation (as have I) but she seems to really like being there. Her precious teacher has taught all my others, so thankful for her and the sweet little environment she's in. 

I gave in to peer pressure and took this sometime during our first day of school. The boys had to run find shirts first and then we had to crop the picture as I think Mary Jo was in the background in pajamas, but it looks like some learnin' will take place, right? Let's hope, and pray, so. Most importantly I hope we learn how to love Jesus and each other better, with a few other things along the way.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


DISCLAIMER - this post is long.....sorry! It was a 10 day trip that imprinted me greatly....hard to leave things out! 
In March our family had an awesome opportunity to travel to Honduras. Back in the September Steven spoke at a Hispanic retreat with another fellow named Mark. He and his wife had been missionaries in Spain and were both bilingual. Mark has taken two previous trips to Honduras to preach and over the weekend he encouraged Steven to do the same. He also, a little surprisingly, thought it was a good idea for the kids and I to go along. So, 4 new passports later, we did! 
Here we are at the airport, at 5am! All smiles....except the 3 year old. Kind of prophetic. 

The kids had never traveled by plane (except a couple as babies and Sadie as a toddler in my uncle's small plane) so the new experiences that flying brought with it were exciting enough. It helped calm my nerves a little to see their enthusiasm for everything on the flight- the tray table is what's lighting up Sadie's face in the next picture. 

Of course Mary Jo had to make sure her baby was buckled in right beside her. 

Never forget that first time you can see earth getting smaller and smaller! It was super early in the morning but they were happy and excited. No sleeping until I made Mary Jo ride in a baby carrier in the Atlanta airport. I looked down to ask her what she wanted to eat at McDonald's and she was passed out on my chest. 

Thankfully the next flight had complimentary earphones and a personal screen, since we had a medical emergency (someone had a seizure) and literally had to turn the plane around over the Gulf and land in Tampa to drop the passenger off. We were on that 2nd plane for 6 hours, like I said, thankful for screens! We arrived in Honduras and had a 2 hour trip to Tela, where we stayed most of the trip. One of the main assemblies there had an old folk's home and a vacant apartment (I think missionaries used to live there full time) so we were able to stay there. It was simple but very adequate and met all of our needs. Steven only had a few minutes once he arrived and he was off to preach his first meeting. The kids and I stayed back with Angie, Mark's wife, to get settled. She quickly became my best friend on the trip - so thankful to have her there! In every way encouraging to me. 

The next morning, bright and early, we were picked up by a brother in Christ who took us in his (wonderfully air-conditioned) car to a meeting about 2 hours away. I thought when we turned on the dirt road we had to be very close.....but, no, it was lots and lots of dirt road and bumpy travel before we arrived. There were several churches that joined this one for this special Saturday conference (they do this every month!), some traveled in a bus, a lot walked, and some came in the back of trucks. For 150 people there were only about a dozen cars. Not like the US! Above is a picture of my littlest kids right after they met the local children. 

They served 2 meals and snacks from this primitive outdoor kitchen and cool stove. 

Mary Jo was quite popular, she was often swarmed with children wanting to play with her or hold her. Here is one my favorite little girls from that first day - she is such a beauty! 

Here's my hot (literally, guys) hubby, in between preaching, eating his lunch on a cinder block. So many people they had run out of chairs! 

Hammocks are a way of life in Honduras. It goes hand in hand with the simplicity. 

My kids quickly jumped on Steven's habit of drinking a cold Coke whenever possible. I couldn't complain too much, I knew they were hot. 

The short walk from the little store back to the church. He had calmed down but earlier David had really scraped his hand, it was kind of deep and rugged. The sweet local ladies swarmed around him as he ran crying to find me and with the best of intentions scared him to death by rubbing coffee grounds in the wound then washing with (clean?) water. The nurse in me was chanting "Don't get some strange infection on the first day!!" but I stayed calm, trying to get him to stop screaming. When we got back to our apartment later that afternoon it was a good excuse to walk the 2 blocks to the ocean and dip his injured hand in the salty water. Thankfully the following day the daughter of one of the elders was a doctor and she had some stuff at her house to appropriately clean the wound. I didn't worry after that. :)

That night we went back to another, smaller church. Here's Steven with his interpreter. Our Spanish is not very good, although I did get better with basic communication. I got to where I fooled people just enough (and not intentionally) that I would greet him or her and they would immediately reply with way more Spanish than I knew. It's amazing how much you can communicate if you really try, though!

4 wheelers don't need interpretation. 

One of our sweet new friends. The Honduran kids were so good to mine, it was precious to see.

"Maria Jose, why you so grumpy?" One of my favorite quotes from our beloved Walter - the young man that most often drove us around and translated for us. He loved my kids but Mary Jo was not too quick to warm up!

On Sunday night (day 3) Steven spoke at this beautiful building, which we found out was the first service they had held in it! It was our third trip and church of the day so we were pooped. 
Mary Jo did warm up sweetly to this little girl. I looked over at them and they were playing patty-cake. So sweet. 

Steven tried hard to make friends with the young guys and talk soccer. When they pulled out their phones and found us on FB we felt like we'd bonded. :)

After a night of vomiting for poor Mary Jo, Monday was a much needed respite day. We had told our hosts that if we could find a swimming pool for the kids that they would really enjoy that. We weren't expecting anything this nice but Walter knew about this resort and took us...and we didn't complain! It was a little pricey but we stayed all day and swam, ate lunch, and just acted like we were on vacation. I felt guilty, but it was a nice day.

They had a swim up bar, which the kids don't really understand the true purpose of - for them it was just a cool place to swim up and get a free slushie. :)

(Gasp!) Our mode of transportation,...if traveling a short distance. 

Sweet Gabby. She is Walter's sister-in-law. She doesn't speak Spanish and is deaf (talk about hard to communicate with) but was so good to the kids and I. She and Sadie especially bonded and she braided Sadie's hair so cute!

This was the usual mode of transportation. We were all buckled in case any pediatricians or concerned grandparents are reading this. 

Steven walked down to the church on Tuesday night and witnessed this sweet scene  - it was just a ladies prayer meeting but yet another humbling reminder that these people just seem to be a little ahead of us in the godly department. They literally have 4 meetings a week (and this was an extra!)

Our bedroom in the apartment was the only one with a/ needless to say we often ended up with a kid or two in bed with us!

Again, the hammocks were very entertaining!

The Honduran children loved it when I brought out the coloring books. They were so appreciative of anything, really. 

Preach it, baby!

The sweet congregation (that David just threw up in the middle of, mind you). I barely got him out of there before I saw in my peripheral vision some sweet saint walking back in with a mop to clean it up. Another lady literally pulled the headcovering off of her head for me to wipe his face with. Just remembering the gracious spirit of the people there makes me want to go back......

On Thursday morning we left early to travel a few hours south to Santa Cruz. There was another meeting there that was having a special youth conference. I had no idea where we were staying, had just been told it was a hotel. Well, it was adorable. And air conditioned! The owners spoke some English and were really sweet.

And there was a pool, praise the Lord! Pool = happy kids.

The following day we got to visit one of the elder's "Vacas" (cow) farms. I unwittingly dressed both my boys in red shirts and David got paranoid (I did too, truthfully, when the bull seemed to be staring David down). 

The landscape in that country is just beautiful!

The next day before leaving Santa Cruz Walter and a friend took us to the zoo. It was amazing!

She wasn't old enough for the horseback rides.

But these three were! $5/kid for a 15 minute ride (out of our sight!)

This zoo was like our old school books we used to read. Literally cages, and the animal is RIGHT there. Like this one, staring you down! I took a couple steps back, that wire was not very thick!

Love these littles. 

Sadie took this cool picture.

Before we left the zoo Steven wanted to see the lions again....and while there he and the boys got to witness an incredibly loud ROAR....from 5 feet away. I think they all jumped back several feet!

Another pic of the kitchens....I just couldn't believe they could feed 100+ people this way. So impressive. There would always be several ladies out of the meeting preparing food.....but no worries there was a (rudimentary, but loud) speaker for them to also hear the message. Unfortunately it only was the translated version so I couldn't understand it. 

Thankfully this "boy-friend" is thousands of miles away. :)

One of my favorite one liners from D "They just keep talking to me and I can't understand them!" 
They did understand how to play soccer together, though! 

Sweaty MJ, being grumpy. 

Saturday night we came back to the apartment and on Sunday went to a different local meeting in Tela. They have bus ministries at all the big churches and just bring in loads and loads of children. Sweet Angie had given my children "friendship gifts," a brilliant idea, of little cars, pencils, cute erasers, and pencil sharpeners. Sadie brought the bag nearly everywhere we went and gladly oversaw the giving away of the goods. By this last day we were down to just pencil sharpeners, and Sadie couldn't imagine just giving those away. I convinced her to do it anyways and I wish I could've captured the looks on their sweet faces as they proudly held their pencil sharpeners. (I guess I did!)  

A coke and a snack cross any line. 

Steven preached about 20 messages while we were there, at several different churches. Mark preached many more than that. Sometimes we traveled together, sometimes apart. It was so precious to me, on the last day, to read in my bible from Romans 15 (verse 6) "that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." I sat there singing along the best I could in English (if I knew the tune) as they worshiped the same God in Spanish. Even though coming out of our mouths it sounded different, it's all a sweet smelling aroma to our Heavenly Father. What a privilege to hear the sincere prayers and feel the unity, despite the language barrier. 

The people treated our kids like mini-celebrities, but the cuteness of these children was overwhelming to me! I would've taken any of them home if I could. Unfortunately for me most of them had loving parents and homes. 

These guys are two young men, brothers, that translated for Steven - Jorge and Obed. 

And here's our driver for the trip back to the airport, a son of another elder there, named Hector. And on the right is our beloved Walter. I was sad when he left us at the airport. Life is just better with Walter in it!

Just so you know, the baby made it all the way to Honduras and safely back. I believe she and MJ are discussing their plans for when they get back to PG. 

It's seriously an obsession.....but a cute one! 

Sorry for the lengthy post, but it was a lot to write. I started this blog as a way to remember things in our lives and the details I shared here are ones I want to remember. I promise the next time I blog it will be refreshingly short! (if you made it this long, that is).