Dinnertime conversations:
Victoria: Mommy, I tooted in my mouth!
Me: Do you mean you burped?
Victoria: Yeah, I burped.

I’m so flattered:
Liam: Mom, we think you’re the second best draw-er in the house.
Me: Thanks!
Liam: Well, we used to think you were the worst…

We have room for improvement:
Bill: Everyone needs to go clean up the mess downstairs.
Liam: Is it cleaning day or is someone coming over?

For several months, Miriam told me I was pretty no matter what I looked like. Then this happened:
Miriam: Do you know why I always tell you you’re pretty?
Me: No.
Miriam: Because I think if I didn’t say that, I might get in trouble.

Is there a DeLorean around here?
Miriam: We watched “Back to the Future”!
Us (not knowing where or when they would have seen it): What!?
Miriam: It was something like that.
Ariana (trying to help): I know. That’s “Robin Hood”!
Us (baffled and speechless as to how Robin Hood and Back to the Future have anything to do with each other): …
Liam: Do you mean “Meet the Robinsons”?
Miriam and Ariana: Yes!

She’s always right:
Lindsay (V’s speech therapist, pointing to a picture of Olaf from “Frozen”): Is that Olaf?
Victoria: No, dat’s a sno-ma (snowman).
Lindsay: Isn’t his name Olaf?
Victoria: No, he’s sno-ma.

Why All the Lent Haters?

Growing up in a church in the restoration movement, there was no liturgical calendar to follow. No Advent, no Epiphany, no Lent, no Good Friday. In fact, we didn’t even really acknowledge Christmas and Easter. “Them dern Catholics makin’ up special days and seasons that ain’t in the Bible…”

But in years since, I’ve found some benefit from the liturgical patterns. Not as ritual or sacrament, but as a way to focus on important historical/redemptive events in our home. The seasons and holidays serve as a great way to talk about what God has done and rejoice over it together. This seems to take the spirit of Old Testament celebrations and remembrances of God’s mighty acts (like the Passover) as a family event–without the law-driven requirement to do so.

One season we’ve found particular joy in using as an annual reminder of God’s intervention in history is Advent heading into Christmas. We use the Advent season as a time to learn the story leading up to the birth of Jesus. And then Christmas is a day where we celebrate and sing and dance and praise Jesus. All day. It’s pretty great.

Lent3But I find myself disappointed as we enter Lent (which starts today, if you’re not up on these things) because in scouring the internet I can find a gazillion books and resources and traditions on Advent for families, but a search for Lent ideas brings up…pretty much nothing. I find it disturbing because Easter is far more important than Christmas. I don’t mean the days themselves, but the events commemorated on those days–Christmas as the celebration of God-with-us, Easter of our Lord’s resurrection. Of course, you can’t have Easter without Christmas (theologically speaking), but Christmas without Easter is just a nice story with a cute baby, cuddly animals, and a pretty star.

And it bothers me that my kids can tell me far more about the shepherds and the angels and the magi and the manger than they can about the guards and the garden and the thieves and the tomb. “If Christ has not been raised, then our faith is in vain.” I want my kids seeing Easter as far more thrilling and celebratory than Christmas.

So with a lack of good resources out there, I’ve been pushed more into doing my own thing with Lent. But I really don’t have the time (nor the discipline!) to create something from scratch. And I’ve found that something daily, pre-written, and that has some hands-on portions for the kids go best for us.

So, here’s the great Lent/Easter experiment for 2014. We’re going to use this (free!) daily reading and devotional from NT Wright. Over the next 53 days, we’ll read through the entire gospel according to Matthew. Wright follows each reading with short devotionals which are insightful and engaging. We’ll also use blank 3 x 5 notecards and take turns drawing pictures of the events we just read about. Then we’ll tape those to the wall in order, a visual representation of the life of Jesus for the kids to see and reference throughout Lent. On Sundays, we’ll use six candles that will all be lit on the first Sunday of Lent and each following week will have one less candle lit (kind of an anti-Advent wreath) until Good Friday, when they’ll all be out. Then, as you probably guessed, they’ll all be lit (with even more candles all around too) the entire day of Easter to celebrate that the Light of World has burst forth from the grave.

I’m kinda thrilled.

So, that’s what we’re gonna do. I’ll keep you all updated on how it’s going and post some pictures of our magnificent artwork.

What do you do for Lent, if anything?

An Open Letter to the Foster System

Dear Foster System,

Nine years ago, my husband and I didn’t like children. We thought they were obnoxious, rude, gross, loud, and total inconveniences. Six children later, we’ve discovered our preconceived notions were dead on. That actually only scratches the surface of how unpleasant they can be.

But that isn’t all we’ve discovered. We’ve also learned that they are sweet, silly, forgiving, beautiful, snuggly, and wise. We see in them the people we want to be. More than that, we’ve seen that their bad qualities don’t hold a light to our own.

So our hearts changed. We went from disliking children to craving a house full of them. Several years ago, that craving began to expand to children who wouldn’t come from my womb. To children who, for whatever reason, didn’t have a home to call their own.

We live in inner-city Indianapolis. A place where the need for children to have someone who takes time out for them is huge but largely unfulfilled. One of our main reasons to move here was for those children. To give them a second home where they can feel safe, loved, even though they’re just passing through for the day. Our neighborhood “family” is special to us. We get to deeply love children who aren’t ours. So the foster system seemed like a logical direction for us, to get to call a child who needs a new family “mine.”

As we began the process, we soon found out that door was absolutely closed. Our family was too big. Five children (including the children in foster care) is the max to have in your home at a time in Indiana. Oh.

So we explored other options and discovered we could adopt from the SNAP program, the children whose parents’ rights had already been revoked and were “hard to place.” We dove in head first and were certified within six weeks.

Then we began to hear whispers. Whispers that we were still too big, not on paper, but in the opinion of the “people in charge,” people who have never met us. “Six kids is too many,” they say. “You won’t be able to properly care for these children because you’re too busy,” they say.

We also discovered it’s difficult to have a child placed in your home for adoption if you haven’t been a foster parent before. See paragraph five to know why this throws another wrench in for us.

So what we hear is, “Because your hearts are wide open for children, since you’ve loved so many, you’re not really a candidate to love our children well.”

Then we see articles, ads, flyers all over the place speaking of the need for more to step up to the plate for foster care and adoption. And inside we scream, “We want you! We see your scars, inside and out, and we want you! It will be messy, and we want you! You may hate us, and we want you! You may be obnoxious, rude, gross, loud, total inconvenience, and we STILL want you!”

But we can’t have you. Because we have too many children already. Because someone somewhere decided that the magic number was five. Because there must be something written that describes why having five children is doable but six is too many.

So can we plead with you? Will you be bold and erase your preconceived notions about us? Will you stop seeing us as a number and look, really look at our family to see if we’re the kind of home that fosters love, laughter, forgiveness, structure, vulnerability, open hearts?

The woman who did our home study did. At the end of the study, she confessed to us that she was ready to disapprove us because we already had six children. But she said, “You’ve changed my mind about big families. This is the exact kind of home where children need to be placed.”

You do a fantastic job trying to help the world see that these children aren’t outcasts but beautiful people worthy of love. However, you’ve made us into outcasts, believing we’re not good enough to love others.

So we ask you to change the system. We ask you to take off the number limit. I know that’s messier and harder, but this is a messy process anyway. We ask you to instead look at each family dynamic. Yes, yes, I know that’s what you SAY you do, but I’m asking you to really do it. Don’t even allow yourself to know how many children are already in the house until the very end. Look at the parents, at their capabilities, their personalities, see if you become cheerleaders for them as parents and want nothing more than to place children in their home. THEN look to see the amount of children already there. If, for the sake of the specific child being placed, it truly wouldn’t be a good fit, then don’t move forward. If, though, you simply think that’s too many and we won’t be able to give the attention we need, look back at how you felt about us before the number. Then look to see our history with the six, how we have a whole lot of crazy in our house and are still crazy enough to want more. Look at the dynamics in our home in spite of being “too big.” We ask you to see that if a parent is begging you to place a child in their home because they feel as if their hearts are bursting, they might be able to handle it.

Our family is exceptionally imperfect. We wrong each other every day, we say things we shouldn’t, we get frustrated and angry, and by God’s grace we keep being spurred on to love each other in spite of it all. It’s messy, every family is regardless of size, and we’ve grown to love messy. Will you allow us to get messier, to love those children you’re pleading with the world to love? Don’t your ads on TV encourage parents they don’t have to be perfect to foster/adopt? Will you see us as the Bells instead of a family of eight? Will you take a chance?

Courtney and Bill Bell

*Additional note: This is a letter to the foster system. Because we made it public, we realize it may come across we don’t support this system. We absolutely do! We believe the men and women who work for these children do so tirelessly with little thanks and little pay, and they do so because they truly care for the children. The number limit is there because they believe it’s in the best interest of the children, not because they’re trying to make things more difficult. We’re simply asking that the system judges families on more of an individual basis instead of disqualifying us simply based on family size. We desire to partner with the system and go to bat for these kids. 


Talking about her younger sibling:

Miriam: I like Josiah a lot, and I like Victoria a little.

Right after Miriam farted:

Liam: That was Miriam and that was cool!

While decorating for Christmas:

Miriam: Do we have any hooks to hang our stockings with?

Bill: No.

Miriam: Well what do we do? Do we call the police? Or are they only for catching bad guys?

During breakfast:

Liam: Too much syrup is bad for you. You should have powdered sugar instead.


Miriam: Liam is eight which means he’s almost twelve.

Babies: The Most Important Thing You Can Know About Raising Them

I have a hard truth to tell you about raising babies–you’re going to be terrible at it. No, really, I mean it. Not trying to tear you down here (some of you before you’ve even started), but I can’t do you any better favor than to tell you this truth. You’re in good company, though, because NO ONE has ever been any better than horrific at it. So hooray for fitting in!

Yes, yes, yes, there are many parents full of wisdom who have had much success with how their children turned out. Biographies upon biographies have been written by children about their amazing parents. But I promise you every single one of those parents have done multiple things that should have royally jacked up their children forever, sentencing them to a lifetime of therapy.

So why in the world were they successful?! One word–grace. Just grace. For some of them, it’s common grace given by God to all who are created in his image. For others, it’s grace through the work of his son, Jesus. This one is far more powerful and lasting. Either way, grace is the answer.

Some of you may be tempted to feel defeated by this truth. I, for one, am a control freak. I like earning everything that’s good for me. I don’t accept handouts well.

But this grace isn’t binding. It’s freeing. Freeing to know when we’re so sleep deprived we stop liking our baby for a while, when we yell at our spouse because we think everything’s their fault, when we leave our babies screaming in their crib longer than we should because we don’t feel like we can take it anymore, when we’re sure our child isn’t hitting milestones because we’re not giving them enough individual attention. In those moments, grace frees us. In those times of absolute weakness and horrific parenting, God looks at followers of Jesus as though we’re perfect parents because Christ was perfect for us and died in our place. Our verdict is “not guilty.”

If you believe you are a good parent or are going to be a good parent, this whole series will be a total waste of your time. There’s nothing I can offer you. For the rest of us, the ones who spend far too much time reflecting on how badly we fail, read on. There’s still hope.

Chicken Dude Tea Party

As I’ve mentioned before, Court does a killer job planning fun family activities for our family. This past Sunday, it was a family tea party based on ideas from the Fancy Nancy Tea Parties book. Court made lollipop placecards, tissue paper flowers, raspberry and orange swirls,

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strawberries supreme,

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ladybug cookies–and, of course, tea.

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The kids cut out and decorated placemats and paper doilies; folded special napkin shapes; and decorated utensils.

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Here’s the full spread:

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And of course, being a fancy tea party, we had to dress up!

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The kids had a blast making all of the tableware and loved the food. SUGAR!!! It’s by far the fanciest tea party we’ve ever had.

Afterward, the guys and girls split up to have a chick night and a dude night. The girls watched “The Parent Trap” while painting their nails. The dudes played LEGO Star Wars on Wii (well, Josiah watched while Liam and I played). We’d been telling the kids all day that it was coming, but when the girls heard us saying, “chick and dude night” they heard “chicken dude night”.

Not exactly what we were going for…

Candid Parenting

Recently when we were out, our oldest daughter asked to take a picture of Court and me. This is the final result: 


But that was actually the second take. Right before the first picture was snapped, another child starting throwing a fit. And the camera was timed just right to catch our candid parental reactions:


I think Courtney’s face says it all…

Raising Babies

After eight years and six babies, I’ve finally realized something. I don’t know much about raising babies. Therefore, I’m starting a series of blog posts about how to raise them.

I figure this is better than writing posts about how to raise eight year olds, cause I’m in the middle of doing that for the first time and haven’t realized yet that I don’t know what I’m doing. So babies it is!

These posts will include the good, bad, and ugly, probably with the heaviest weight being on the ugly, but I hope to be real. Real in a way that encourages all of you currently in the trenches of parenthood or about to enter the trenches. Real that goes past perfect Facebook statuses, “follow these six easy steps” how-to books, or controversial topics. Just real father/motherhood with screaming, cuddly, puking, non-verbal, non-mobile babes. Parenting for moms and dads who realize they’re completely weak.

So read on during middle of the night feedings when reading isn’t really possible, during the kids’ nap times when we all know you’ll be too exhausted to even sleep, or right in front of them when all hell is breaking loose but you’re choosing to ignore it. I pray it brings you at least a teeny bit of encouragement.

How Do You Have the Energy to Do All This?!

Among the two or three dozen questions I get asked regularly, the title of this post is certainly one of the more frequent. I have a love/hate relationship with the question. I hate it because I sometimes get treated like I’m some sort of super woman since I have six small children. While I don’t claim my life is rosy, I certainly don’t have it any harder than most people in this country, and it’s way more cush than most of the world. So questions like these can make me feel silly and pressured, like I’d better prove them right or be a huge disappointment. But I also love the question because it’s an open door for me to illustrate the gospel.

The simple answer to the question is: I don’t. It’s rare for me to have much energy, and when I do wake up feeling energized, it’s even more rare for it to last all day. Along with having so many little ones, I’m overweight and have Crohn’s disease, zapping the last ounces of energy I have. I live most days feeling pretty darn sluggish. And all of this in spite of the fact that I’m also an active person with fairly healthy habits. I. Love. Exercise. And God’s been freeing me from my relationship with food over the last few years. I don’t typically obsess much with what I eat while still tracking my intake. I work hard to get good sleep each night, and I evaluate often to make sure I’m not doing too much.

But I’m still tired. Because I want to be able to serve my family and friends better, I’m always shaking things up, researching to find the next thing that’s going to give me a shred of energy–diets, different exercises, fresh air, vitamins. But those things rarely help, and I find myself down because of it, thinking I must be doing something wrong because I have friends all over the place who are finding more energy.

Then something struck me. I worship energy. Why? Because I want to feel good. Energy is my means to the end of feeling good. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. I would imagine most North American Christians struggle with the same god to some degree or another. Overall, we’re a wealthy, healthy country. And I praise God for that! It’s certainly a blessing, one that’s been given to us because it’s part of God’s perfect plan. And we shouldn’t feel guilt for being born into it. But along with this life comes less physical suffering (for the most part!) than others around the world encounter. So now we’re in a war on pain and suffering–but it’s a battle that can’t be won through medicine and science.

We live in a community that screams, “Comfort!” And I need you to hear me if you’re going to understand the point of this post. There is nothing wrong with having comfort. Nothing. Any comfort we have is granted by God, and we’re never called to SEEK the uncomfortable. BUT sometimes I think we fight too hard to get out of the uncomfortable when it comes. Sometimes I think we deceive ourselves to believe some type of Utopian heaven will happen in this life. But scripture teaches the opposite. All of creation is in “bondage to decay.” This world is fallen, broken. Everything in it, our bodies included, are deteriorating. We can do everything right– eat a Paleo diet, get 150 minutes of exercise a week, have regular examines, take the right supplements, get 7-8 hours of sleep a night–and there will still be days, weeks, years we may not feel good. Then there’s aging in general. Eventually our bodies will stop the fight no matter how we’ve lived our previous years, and the suffering will certainly come then.

But if we fight so hard for comfort, how do we handle it when things just stay uncomfortable? When life is too hard? There’s nothing to do but lose the battle. We let life be hard. There’s a false saying that God will never give us more than we can handle. That verse (1 Cor 10:13) is about temptation, not suffering. Instead, we’re told that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

I developed Crohn’s disease 12 years ago. Before that time, I was very healthy. Now there are no pain free days, and few days without fairly severe pain. Between that and birthing six babes, I don’t notice most of the pain in my body anymore. Pain is such a part of my daily life that I have a harder time noticing cricks in my neck, joint pains, stomach aches, or cramps during my cycle. Twelve years ago I was aware of every single itch. Sometimes pain is necessary to help work through pain. And sometimes the pain is what pushes us to look to Jesus: “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

So I’ve been reflecting on this, beginning to understand how much I need to stop trying so hard to make this life easier and instead rest in God’s mercy to fight the good fight anyway. When I seek comfort, I miss Jesus. When I seek Jesus, I find the only rest that matters. Jesus promises, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” I’m learning to keep pressing on no matter how much pain, no matter how tired, no matter how much is on my plate. Fighting because the battle’s already been won in the empty tomb. Fighting to the end knowing this isn’t my forever body, knowing one day I’ll see him face to face and all pain, fatigue, stress, and heartache will be gone. “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

That day is really coming, and the fight here is so, so temporary.