Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Mommy and Me {#iluvbondingtime}

Last week I shared my thoughts on the importance of putting first things first.  

I shared a graphic of a target which helps me focus on keeping my life in balance. 

This post is how I began rebuilding the circle in my target with me and the kids. 

Before school ended last year our children’s therapist suggested that I begin taking the kids on one-on-one overnight “vacations” to rebuild a bond with them after all the trauma our family has endured.   She believed it would be extremely healing for them and was hoping it would be for me as well. 

I agreed to give it a try.  My husband set up five weeks of hotel reservations for one night each weekend.  The rest was up to me.

I took our middle child first.   He counted down the days and hours until we left on our adventure for weeks.  Each child had their name on the calendar and they couldn’t hide their excitement waiting for their turn. 

This was our selfie that I shared on Instagram right before we left our home.   His smile and two thumbs up speak volumes of what was happening in his heart knowing he had me all to himself for 24 hours.   My smile speaks of joy for him and a pleading with God to make it all he hopes it will be. 



My thoughts went something like this for the entire day before I picked the kids up from school:

“Please God, don’t let me mess it up.  Please help me to keep the conversation going.  Please help me to be sincerely interested in all that he wants to do and share with me.   Please give me a deep joy that overflows into his little heart.”

It was soooo much easier to bond with him before all the trials we faced.  I could snuggle him up in my arms and keep him safe.  Don’t mind my scary over zealous smile in the next photo.  It was taken moments after he officially became our son.  I was pretty excited after years of waiting for our adoptions to happen.




This next photo is when we landed back at home late in the evening almost 10 years ago.   Our family has lived an entire lifetime in those ten years.  We have walked through great joy and deep sorrow. 




Here we were a few weeks after being home with him.  Goodness look at the sweet face.   I can’t believe our daughter in the photo below will be thirteen next week.  Sigh, time sure flies by!




But I digress. 

We began our time with a quick errand and us finding the perfect game to play while we were together.   We went out for dinner and he ate an entire gluten free pizza from California Pizza Kitchen and talked the entire meal.  By the time we returned to the hotel he was getting sleepy and it was almost bed time.  We played a few rounds of the new card game we bought and then I tucked him into bed with his very own story.   He was flying to a private island on the biggest bird chasing rainbow.   I’d say our first few hours were a complete success.  Thank you God!


After he fell asleep I sat quietly soaking in this view and my heart felt relief and joy all at the same time.   I was thankful for the time we had so far.   Oh yeah, I take my diffuser everywhere I go.   Cleans the air and kills any yucky stuff in the room. It is a must for me.  :-D


As he slept I watched the sunset come and go, while the city came alive beneath us.   Here were my thoughts that I posted with this photo on instagram…

This view. This night. This moment. Perfection. #iluvbondingtime and how it is opening my eyes to see. Truly

#thankful for my precious husband who is supporting this idea and allowing me to get away with each of our children. Climbing into their world without the stress at home is refreshing and encouraging. #blessed #makingmemories and choosing to cherish every moment! #noregrets #momentliver #righthererightnow #buildingalegacy takes time.

The next morning we woke up early and went to Mass.  When we were heading back to the hotel for breakfast we noticed a car show was in the parking lot next to us.  He couldn’t wait to see all the cool cars and little did he know I used to love them when I was a little older then him now.   We ate quickly and off we went to car show. 



He pointed out his favorite cars and I was able to show him mine from the year I was born.  It is right behind us on the bottom left.  I always wanted one growing up.    Funny, how life changes your wants and priorities.   I could care less about the car I drive and don’t want anything that takes my eyes off what is most important.  My relationship with God, my husband and children.

What you will see below is the next four weeks of me learning to reconnect heart and soul with each of our children.  Some wanted to swim at the hotel, and others wanted to go exploring with me.  But they all wanted to eat and eat and eat.  Our kids love food!  It’s NO joke around here.





I realized I had lost my joy in what is my greatest calling:  motherhood.  The years of trauma had broken me in ways I didn’t quite understand were as far reaching and painful to everyone in my life.  I needed more than just one-on-one time with them.  I needed to completely surrender to my calling and most important vocation:  mother.  I needed to completely allow them into my heart and risk everything to help them heal as well.  It is not an overnight experience or get-away.  It is a constant choice that I am making every single day.  Some days it is very hard and totally overwhelming.  But God, who does all things well.  Is providing me with all that I need to do this His way every step I take towards Him and them.  He is pouring grace into my heart now that I’m doing this in faith.  I’m not trying to control the outcome or hoping to fix them.  I’m 100% relying on Him to do it now.  That was a HUGE lesson for me this summer.   I had to give up ALL control.  I couldn’t worry about their bad choices or behavior.  I had to let it all go and press in during those moments and stay connected to them.  Not shut down.  Not push them away.  Not desire to run away.  Not react.  Not my will, but THY will had to be done.   I had to discipline them but in a new way.  





Ladies, I can’t stress this enough.   We are not in control.  No matter how much we fight.  No matter how much we convince ourselves that we are.  We are not.  We believe that lie that we can fix and even force our children into what we hope for them to be.  But that is not the truth.  That is a lie from the greatest liar of our soul.  He wants us to be in direct opposition of God.  He wants us to believe we can handle this parenting thing on our own, while trying to be a good wife, daughter, sister, and friend.  We simply can’t do it on our own.  It’s impossible.  He is the only one that makes all things possible. 


I also realized this summer that I must take care of me spiritually, emotionally, and physically.  I eat very healthy and exercise daily.  So that part for me is easy (which means I’m not relying on God for it).   God, pointed out that I was trying to take care of my spiritual and emotional health too.  I believed I was OK.  Then week by week my life felt completely broken and my heart felt it couldn’t bare another day like this.  My life was caving in on me and I couldn’t hold up the walls another second.  I felt overwhelmed by the pain in our lives and home.  I felt trapped by the very calling of motherhood to this many children who have been broken first by adoption and then the things we faced together.  I felt heartsick that God was still not showing up like I wanted or believed I needed.  

Which led me to cry out to God for a break.  Please Father, “help me find myself in all of this and You!”

I’ve been friends with my bestie for over twenty years.  She knew all last Spring that I needed time alone with her.  She could hear it in my voice and text messages that I was beyond lonely.  She knew I needed a true friend who I could just be me with and allow my broken parts to spill all over the place with.  So our husbands flew us to North Carolina for a long weekend.   Let’s just say time with her is one of my favorite things to do on this Earth and is always a healing balm to my soul.  It is so hard living almost seven hours away from one another.   She is a part of me.  She is my Sister in Christ and walked with me every step of the way to my conversion.  She never judged me along the way and trust me she had good reason to do so a few times over the years.  Instead, she loved me.  She has been the hands and feet of Jesus to me way too many times to even count.  She has shown me what grace, mercy, and love really look like.  I was so blind along the way to recognize it.  But not now.  I am forever grateful for this precious woman and my friend for all eternity. 




I came home from that trip refreshed and missing her more then ever before.  She tried to convince me to move back to Pennsylvania.  But that wouldn’t really solve anything except for us to be closer together.  Wonderful, but not the answer or putting first things first in my life.

I had to work through all that my heart was feeling and the spiritual battle raging around me as I tried to figure this all out.  The more I sought God, the more I felt the enemy was putting a choke hold on me and the progress I so desperately wanted to make with developing a deep bond with each of our children.   Every day felt like I was going up and down a never ending escalator.  I was becoming hopeless.   I found myself going to bed in a puddle of tears and waking up in them knowing I had to face another day just like yesterday.   I was living the literal ground hogs day, or at least that is what it felt like.  

On top of all of that, deeply traumatic memories were revealed to me about my own childhood.  I didn’t understand why I needed to know them now.  But looking back with a clear mind today it all makes sense.  I needed to heal from my own pain by being what I was never given to me back then, for our children today.   This time I wasn’t walking through it alone.  I had Jesus there with me every step of the way.  He wanted to go straight into my deepest pain and walk me through the cross so that He could then carry it for me forever.   He took it all upon Him the moment He said, “not my will but Thy will be done, Father.”  It was finished for all of us upon The Cross.   Not one single thing we have or will endure has not passed through that cross at the moment He gave his life for all mankind.   

Some days that is too big and hard for me to wrap my mind around.  Some days it doesn’t even make sense.  But I have learned not to ask, “why?” and instead ask, “what?”.   What do You want me to learn from this life experience?  What do You want me to learn from this pain?  What do You want me to learn from this suffering all around me and my own personal brokenness because of it? 

I would love to say that He answers those questions immediately when I ask.  But He has been faithful to use my husband, our children, and many people from our parish family, especially our priests to bring me peace in seeking the answers.  

In putting first things first with Him, the answers don’t seem to matter as much anymore.  I’m learning to surrender more of myself from all that once held me in bondage of seeking control.   I’m learning that the letting go and let God thing is not simply a cliché or wise words to through around when trials come.   They are the very breath of life and peace that surpasses all understanding.    Letting go and letting God is how we walk upon the water and reach out into our communities.  It is how we love those hardest to love.  It is how we have eyes to see and hands to do the hard things in life.  It is how we are able to carry on no matter what we face.   Because He does the impossible.  He makes ALL things new.

But here is the catch friends, it’s in His timing and His way.  

That is how I’m keeping the bond alive with our children.  They aren’t any easier now then they were six months ago.  They haven’t really changed.  I’m consciously choosing to change and allowing the grace God is giving me to pass onto them.  I’m not doing this whole motherhood thing the way I was taught or believed would work.  I’m completely letting go and letting God.   And when I begin to mess up, instead of going down a long rabbit trail…I quickly recognize old habits and surrender them over to God.   That is when I receive an immediate answer. 

In an instant I can feel my breathing change and slowing down.  I can feel my body relax and embrace the moment to let grace flow in me and through me.  But it’s a daily and moment by moment choice.   Every day He offers us new mercies.  Every single person receives the same offer.  We have to be willing to accept them and then use them.   We all get twenty-four hours to work with. 

We can either live our entire life feeling deep regrets or we can come alive with His love empowering us to become who He created us to be.  The choice is ours.

The only question is, what legacy are your building with your husband and children? 

Will your children remember you as an unhappy mother, who served but never enjoyed it and grumbled the entire time?  Will they remember a mother who did the laundry, cooked, and cleaned, but complained about how they don’t appreciate it?  Will they remember a mother who drove them to school and their events, but spent the entire time talking to others on the phone?  Will they remember a mother who spent more time with friends and hobbies over them?  Will they remember a mother who spent so much time on their phone, that they choose to misbehave just to get your attention?  Will they remember a mother who put everything else before them?

Sadly, if I didn’t change many of those questions would have been answered with a yes from our children.   I allowed my own selfish needs and pain to be more important than them.   But not anymore.  I brushed myself off.  I took a really hard look in the mirror and made the choice to fully engage in my life and own it.  All of it.  The parts I hate and everything in between.  It’s not easy.  But it’s His will.  It’s why I’m here.  It’s what I was created for and nothing should ever stop me from doing all that I can with the help of His grace to do it well!

This next graphic is my daily reminder.  If I truly want to live out my calling and ensure my target stays in total balance, then I am without excuse in doing so. 




It’s my privilege and honor to serve them.   And the more I live that out the greater the amount of grace that is poured deep into my own hurts and heart cries.  That is just how wonderful and faithful our God is. 

As I enter into raising our next teenager, I covet your prayers.  Know that I am praying for all of you too.  This is not easy, but any worth doing and having never is.  My eyes are set on Kingdom life and that takes living out my true heritage.  I’m an heir to the throne and a daughter of the King of Kings.  I’m not working for that title, I’m living from it!  AMEN? 

Now it’s me looking forward to the next round of mommy and me #iluvbondingtime with the kids over the next few months!

May God bless each of you and give you the grace to fully embrace your calling no matter what it is!


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Putting First Things First



Let’s face it ladies, putting ourselves and our marriages first doesn’t come naturally to us once we have children. 

We often forget that we are still a woman with real needs and the only way they can truly be met is by putting first things first.

Anyone who has been reading my blog since it first began will remember me teaching on this next graphic…that clearly puts things in their proper order.





In order for me to keep first things first, I must keep this target at the forefront of my mind daily.   When things are getting out of balance all I need to do is remember He must be first.   Next my focus has to be on maintaining the sacrament of our marriage and pour into it daily.   Our children can’t grow into the adults God desires when I put them above Him or our marriage.  They won’t ever understand the worth of a God honoring marriage and the grace given to it when He is NOT kept right in the middle. 

An unbalanced life becomes what we teach our children if we are not careful with keeping first things first. 

That my friends is what I’ve been doing all summer long.  I’ve been relearning the worth of a God honoring marriage and what it meant the day we renewed our vows back in February.   Fr. Mario has played an integral part in both of our conversions to CatholicismYou can read more about my personal journey right here.  





To my left is my dearest and best friend of over 20 years Maria and to my husbands right is his best friend James who have walked us both through this journey with such grace and love!   Having them stand by our side during our vow renewal was a HUGE blessing on many levels.  They truly remind us both keep first things first.








Hold on, next was my turn and I couldn’t get his ring back on.  I had to really keep it together and not burst out laughing (or cry). 


I did it!  Thank You GOD!





That was the sweetest kiss of my entire life!   It truly healed so much brokenness within me and our marriage.  I still struggle for words, but trust as time goes on I will begin to share the depth of what this moment began in our family!



Everyone needs at least one Maria and James in their lives! 


You see because we put our marriage first and renewed our vows (convalidated) in the Catholic church our children had a clear image of what it looks like to put God first in everything.  They also saw that nothing comes before our commitment to one another.  For children who have endured deep loss through adoption, that became a defining moment in their lives.  One none of us will ever forget. 

Don’t mind us all huddled together in this next photo it was maybe 35 degrees outside.  Brrrrrr! 








These three girls are my heart and remind me daily to never stop striving to become a woman of virtue.

LundyPhoto_JS2-13 LundyPhoto_JS2-14

They hold a HUGE piece of their daddy’s heart.  They are truly adored and loved!



Oh these boys!  Ha!  My laugh is 100% genuine here and they bring it out of me a thousand different ways!


But it is when I watch my husband train our boys to become men of integrity, honor, and valor I am weak in the knees! He is an incredible father to our sons and they are blessed beyond measure to have a father who always lives out his faith.  He never forgets to put first things first.  What an incredible lesson for each of us to watch daily!


And that is how we began putting first things first in our marriage.  

Our marriage is now a sacrament.  It is a way for grace to flow in us and through us.  

Now queue in the LOUD screech sound.  

Because sadly, this didn’t help me keep first things first.   I got wrapped right back up into a spiritual battle as I was being prepared to enter the Catholic church.  Then once I did things seemed to keep getting harder for me spiritually and I was unable to focus on putting anything first outside of getting through the day.   I had my eyes so focused on the mess in my life and that it wasn’t going how I wanted that everything was falling out of place.  Especially the beauty of the sacrament I said “yes” to with my full heart only a few months ago.  

Did you notice all the “I’s” in that paragraph?   I was in the way of any grace coming to me and through me.  OUCH!

Each day I went to Mass hoping to feel something changing in me.  But nothing was.   I was begging God for help.  And meanwhile, God was trying to show me how far off the mark I had allowed myself and life to get.  

It took many sleepless nights, and months of feeling completely alone on this journey before I was able to see and hear clearly what had really happened. 

I forgot what it looked like to put and keep first things first.  It took hearing this several times in two weeks from our priests during their homilies for my heart to get the message loud and clear.  Then it took me humbling myself before God in a way that felt real and hit my core for things to begin to change in me.

Friends, my life has been filled with deep hurts.  I have walked some really tough roads.  I have put myself on some of them.   I have allowed them to define me for way too long.  I was unwilling to see how damaging that was in my life and growth as a child of God.   Not to mention how hurtful that was to my family.

It all came to a head two weeks ago.  Like a tidal wave in my soul and all the wretchedness within me came flying out in a deep cry for God’s help.  He not only heard my cries and prayers, He delivered me.  The power of His Spirit swept over me and in me.  For the first time in my life, my mind was clear and the voices that seemed to never shut off were gone. 

Which allowed me to hear the soft whisper of God’s voice leading me back to putting first things first. 

As the weeks go on I will share many stories of how this all fell into place and what it looks like for me to seek Him first before all else.

If you have not listened to this song, (FIRST) then click on it and allow it to minister to your heart.


Photo credit for all vow renewal images – Lundy Photography

PS You might also like this post on forgiveness.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hi! I’m Back With A Very Full Heart


welcome back banner


Wow!  It feels so strange sitting here at my desk once again with a blank page staring back at me. 

Yet, it feels like the sweetest welcome home ever.  

Over the next few weeks I will get back into the swing of things around here and re-introduce myself to all of you.

I don’t even know if anyone reads my blog anymore, but I have been told it is time to begin sharing my journey once again.

The kids are back in school and loving it!  Huge praise for their wonderful new (to us) school!

Our oldest began her senior year at college.  Um how did that happen?  I’m surely not old enough to have a 21 year old daughter.  Shhhhhh!

And I’m homeschooling our daughter who begins high school this year.   We are both thrilled to have one on one time each day and work together for her to have the best year yet!

So lots of big changes around here and I’m ready to find a new normal with it all.

I’ll leave you with my favorite photo from our family session with Lundy Photography (who we adore by the way and took our vow renewal photos and my blog headshots) a few months ago.  I’ll share more over the next few weeks too!



I can’t wait to catch up with all of you and hear what God has been doing in your life the last three months too. 

Until then, know that I’m praying for each of you and thankful to have this place to share our hearts.



© Jill Samter -No images or content may be used without permission.