Monday, December 26, 2011

Peace, Joy, Hope and Love

Christmas Eve morning was a little hard for Charlie.  His sisters were coming to our house for a few hours and his anxiety was showing.  He has become very protective of his space in our home, both literally and emotionally.  After a small meltdown, I sat down and talked to him about it.  I explained that we might be a little unsure about how the day would go, but it was Christmas and we should do our best to make it a good day.

At church the kids were given an Advent wreath, candles and the banners to color that say Hope, Joy, Peace and Love.

So I asked him "What does Christmas mean?"  He looked at me rather puzzled.  "Peace - what does Peace mean?"

"Try to get along" he said.

Me:  "Joy, what does Joy mean?"

Charlie:  "Be happy"

Me:  "Love - what does Love mean?" 

Charlie:  "Be nice to each other"

Me:  "What does Hope mean?"

Charlie:  "Hope we have a good day"

In the beautifully simple terms of a child, we wish you and yours Peace, Joy, Love and Hope this season.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Stephanie and Randy
Mr. Thornton, Marquel, Annie, Charlie and Chip

Friday, December 2, 2011

Time to Give Thanks

This year has gone by so fast, and there is so much to be thankful for:

Marquel is in 8th grade, on the A-B honor roll, and loves her sports.  She has a Big Sister, which is so awesome, as it gives her someone she can talk to and look up to.

Annie is doing much better in school this year, and she is so proud.  She loves to read and always has a list of books that she wants, which we try very hard to provide for her.  Both girls are more involved in their neighborhood church, leading in the singing, which is great for their self esteem.

Since we don't see the girls as often as we used to, we are surprised how tall they are getting, and how fast they are growing up.  After some difficult times and decisions for us, we are pleased that the girls are doing better and developing a closer bond with their step father.

Charlie loves school, friends and sports.  His football team made it to the playoffs, and he was really proud.

Chip is almost as tall as Charlie now.  We have him most weekends and the most important thing is X-Box and computer games! Every morning he is at our house he asks "Do we go to church today?"  He LOVES church!

Mr. Thornton turned 75 this year (which he really doesn't want anyone to know!)  It has been a very hard year with the loss of his son and we can see the emotional and physical toll it has taken on  him.  Not being able to work is very difficult for him.  It seems very unfair that SSI denies him the right to do any kind of work.

When Mr. Thornton agreed to take in his wife's kids, we told him we would help out as best we could.  This is a life-long mission and we can't thank all of you enough for your help and assistance.

With Christmas approaching, we are mindful of the on-going needs of the family.  We would like to provide Mr. Thornton with the following:
  • Paper products such as toilet paper,  napkins, paper towels
  • Cleaning supplies 
  • Soaps - laundry soap, dish soap and hand soap
The girls are growing, Marquel is now wearing a size 10/12 ladies.  Because she is harder to fit it means she need to try clothes on before purchasing. It is also important for he to start learning to shop wisely.

If you would like to help - here are some choices:
  • Visa Gift Card (or cash) - so that they can use at store of their choice
  • Tax Deductible contributions can be made to St. John Lutheran Church (please indicate Thornton Family Fund on your check)
  • Gifts can be purchased for Mr. Thornton and/or the kids.  Email me if you would like a wish list.
We often remind ourselves where these kids would be if Mr. Thornton had not been willing to take them in.  Thanks to all of you who have supported this family in so many different ways, they are thriving.  While Mr. Thornton is not accustomed to relying on others, and it is hard for him to show his appreciation, please know that he is very thankful for all you have done for him and the kids.

Happy Holidays to you and your families!

Until next time. . .

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"It's just stuff"

Today on my facebook, in response to a friend's post, someone commented on the fires in Bastrop.  The post said, "It is hard to remember that stuff is just stuff".

Well, that is true, however. . . it tells me that this person has never lost everything they owned nor have they been there with others to see the devastating effects that a disaster leaves behind.  The trauma is only beginning for those affected by this disaster.

For many, insurance is a luxury (and in some disasters, insurance won't help anyway).  Sure, the mundane things of life can be replace;  a fingernail clipper, scissors, pens and pencils, all those things we use every day that we don't even think about.

It is a precious things that are missed - a picture of mom, a memento of the past, those things to which we attach fond memories - those are the things that cannot be replaced.  When Mr. Thornton is reminiscing he often starts to get up and then gets a strange look on his face as he says "oh that's right, I don't have it any more".

For the first time in his life Charlie has a bed that is all his own.  He is very attached to his bed, his pillow and his blankets.  For a little boy to lose his bed would be trauma that we couldn't imagine, to say nothing about the toys and games that he protects fiercely.

Since we have had fires all around us, I am packing a suitcase just in case.  I am making sure all the important documents have been returned to the fire safe box and wondering what other important things I should put in a box ready to go at a moment's notice.

No matter how we perceive ourselves - richer, smarter or more prepared for the unexpected, we can all say
"There but for the grace of God go I"

Until next time. . .

Monday, August 29, 2011

FEMA - 6 Years Later!

It has been six years since Hurricane Katrina.

Last week Mr. Thornton received a letter from FEMA stating that they had "overpaid" him in the amount of $2,000.00!  No explanation, no proof of any kind, simply a request for him to pay it back.

Since we helped Mr. Thornton through the mountains of confusing paperwork, we know exactly what he had received.  Are they referring to the $2,000.00 initial payment given to citizens following their evacuation from affected areas?  Now they want it back???  They didn't tell him it was a loan!

After all he went through with FEMA, filling out stacks of forms to discover weeks later that they were lost, being denied benefits, and reapplying, this all seems just a bit incredulous.

He can write a letter of "explanation for accepting this overpayment", or he can appeal their request for repayment.  Since he has no idea why they think he was overpaid, how can he write a letter of explanation?

So we will write a letter of appeal and point out a few facts:

Mr. Thornton lost his home.

He lost all his 68 years of accumulated possessions (much of which was stolen when he was denied access to his home in New Orleans).

He lost his source of income.

He lost his close-knit family support system.

Unable to return to his damaged home, he now has to pay twice the price in rent without his grown children who lived with him to contribute to household costs.

He lost his wife to her alcoholism, and she abandoned 4 small children with him.

A serious injury forced him to accept Social Security Disability, but ironically, that denies him the right of having any income, even for a job that he could physically do.

So we helped him write the Appeal letter, explained that Mr. Thornton accepted what they gave him, did not attempt in any way to defraud them, and hope they drop it!

Will the trauma never end?

Keep him in your prayers . . .

Until next time. . .

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Great Summer

It has been a busy and eventful summer.  The kids have been ready to go back to school for about a month!

Charlie finally got to go to camp.  He went to TBarM Camp in New Braunfels, a Christian day camp.  He enjoyed it thoroughly and made friends with a boy who was adopted from the Ukraine.  We found it  fascinating that he chose a boy with a similar background to his own.

Chip was able to spend about half the summer with us.  He LOVED his swimming lessons!  Thank you to the sponsors of the swimming lessons, they were thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated.  These lessons have been high on our priority list each year as it not only gives them a life skill, hopefully it helped them overcome their fear of water and floods.

Marquel was able to go to church camp thanks to the great people at St. John Lutheran Church.  From what we hear it was a meaningful experience for her.  She has spent time with her new Big Sister from the Big Sister/Big Brother program.  Her Big Sister asked coworkers to donate school supplies for the kids and was very proud to bring the kids everything that they needed.

We have Annie signed up for a Big Sister as well.  Hopefully this will give the girls a friend that they can look up to and talk to.  We are working to get Annie tested and qualified for some extra help at school.  Her early childhood has left her stuck at about a 6 year old emotional state.  This results in difficulty with her school work as she is still learning like a 6 year old and we fear that 6th grade work will be unmanageable for her as we have seen her grades decline over the past few years.  Please pray that we can get her the help she needs.

Charlie is back at football, and loving it.  We can see how much improvement he has made in a year's time.  He has progressed from not eating at all to eating TWO fruits and TWO vegetables every day!  This summer he has learned to eat 3 full meals a day and sometimes even 4.  He still makes funny faces when he has to chew his fruits and vegetables, but he at least gets them down.  Regular early bedtime, better nutrition and a better state of mind has made a big difference for him.

They are always excited for school to get started, and they LOVE getting their new shoes.  We find that good quality shoes might be a little more expensive but they last several times as long as the cheaper ones.

A big huge Thank You for all who helped the kids have a great summer, new school shoes and uniforms, and experiences that they will not forget.

Throughout the summer we have had some big ups and downs.  Once again we learned how much it means to us to have the love and support of all of you.

Until next time. . .

Be sure to check out our Sister Blog which is a little more "anonymous"

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

New Sister Blog

Due to the fact that "Our Kids" are getting older, I felt that it would be good to start a "sister blog" that will allow discussion without violating the privacy of the kids. 

I will not send an email when there is a new post ~ please use the "Follow by Email" link if you are interested in receiving an email each time a new post is added.  The new blog is  "Our Kids" by Choice

My hope is that in a more anonymous way you will be able to learn more about the issues that come with kids who have been abused and neglected.

I will continue to post on this blog also, and because my email list is getting so long, I encourage you to use the "Follow by Email" on this blog as well.

Events of the last weeks have shown us once again that the love and support you all show to us is so valuable.  We could not do this without all of you!

Until next time . . .

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Lessons in Freedom

This morning I asked the kids "Monday is a holiday, what holiday is it?"
"Independence Day!"  shouted Annie.
"What does that mean?  Independence from what?"  I asked.
"From Spain!"  Annie shouted again.

Well, I guess they don't teach that until at least 6th grade???  Of course when I said "England" and Randy said "Great Britain", that compounded the confusion.

When Randy starts a story by saying "When I was a child . . ."  it elicits unanimous groans from the kids.  Occasionally Charlie will ask if we can trap a wild bird and keep it in a cage as a pet.  Then Randy starts in ~ "When I was a child . . . my dad and I caught a couple of sparrows and kept them in a cage for a few days.  One day I decided it was not right to keep them in the cage, so I let them go.  Those two little birds did not fly away, instead they flew up in the sky over my head, chirping, singing and putting on an acrobatic show that I have never seen birds do before or since." 

This incident made such an impression on Randy ~ what true freedom means.  I wish I had a recording of "O America" that Randy sang in church this morning - but here is one of my favorite links for this song:

Happy 4th ~ and thank you to all who work for our freedoms.
Until next time. . .

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hard Lessons and Sweet Rewards

Occasionally there is a really big Red-Letter kind of day! 

A few weeks ago Randy had business in Houston, so Randy's sister and I took advantage of the opportunity to take Charlie to NASA Space Center.  Charlie was elated to have Miss Debbie visiting, and to be able to spend the night at a hotel with a pool!  And oh yes, Miss Debbie took him to a real live baseball game because her favorite team, the Cardinals was playing.

The Space Center was awesome, with games and rides and tours and movies and a museum.  Some of the games utilized little Nerf type balls and they were scattered around outside some of the game areas.  Charlie picked one up and carried it around for a while - but I did not realize until we got home that it came home with us. 

I was tempted to think "it is just a little ball", but it was not right for him to take it, after all.  So we sat down and Charlie wrote a letter apologizing for taking the ball and we mailed it back (oh yes, the postage had to come out of his little cup of change that he earns for doing chores).

A week or so later Charlie got a letter from the Space Center thanking him for returning the ball.  It was very nice that they took the time to thank him for doing the right thing.  I hoped Charlie got the message.

Today there was a package in the mailbox addressed to "Charles and Family".  Inside was a very nice letter and a book.  The letter was from a David Cisco and the book he wrote titled  "Full Circle".  (Click on the book title to visit his website).  The letter commended Charlie for his honesty, admonished him to always listen to his mom, and invited him to come visit the Space Center again as his guest!

Randy pointed out that Mr. Cisco's email address was at the bottom of the letter and suggested that Charlie could email him a thank you note.  "His phone number is here too - I'm going to call him!"  and Charlie was off to find the phone.  He left a nice message (he's learning!) and no more than hit the Off button on the phone than it rang.  Mr. Cisco had called him back!

We will begin reading the book tonight - - especially the story Mr. Cisco pointed out and highlighted about a similar incident when he was a young boy.  From a quick glance through the book, I think it will be a great book to read to Charlie.  It seems Mr. Cisco worked very hard to overcome adversities in his life, and maybe it will encourage Charlie to work hard as well.

Charlie will now be proud to tell his friends he has a new friend who is a real live astronaut!  Think he will remember this little lesson?

Photo:  Some of the planets Charlie and I made for science project - note the shuttle and space module!

Until next time. . .

Monday, June 20, 2011

Let Go and Let God . . .

It has been a while since I posted.  The last year has been difficult and it is hard to write when the mind and heart can't get together.  With the help of dear friends and family, we have been able to see more clearly, once again proving that this mission is not ours alone, but takes the love and support of many.

As we look back over the last 5 years it is easier to see in hindsight things that we did not understand at the time.  Marquel (now 14) had (and still has) a very strong loyalty to her mom.  Although her mom left her in charge of the younger kids often, Marquel wanted a relationship with her mom and vacillated between being disgusted by her mom's behavior and desperately trying to win her love and attention.

This conflict within Marquel caused her to hold me at arm's length and push me away if she felt we were too close, resisting any type of relationship.  As she pushed me further away and became more and more insolent, she resorted to accusing me of being mean and nasty to her, giving her an excuse to to make the wall between us thicker and stronger.  By the time she turned 13 we had no relationship to hold us together through her turbulent times.

Annie suffers a great deal due to the neglect and abuse from her mom.  She looks to Marquel as the mother figure, which makes it difficult for her to have a good relationship with me.  Her desire for affection is often expressed in inappropriate ways and her social skills are severely lacking.

When the kids mom took them back to New Orleans and subsequently asked us to come get them, we promised Turk we would help him in any way that we could.  Initially their household was in huge turmoil as they struggled to build a family together.  We began taking the kids to counseling in the hopes that they could come to terms with their new life and learn to live together as a happy family.  The girls seem to have bonded with Turk, and that was our goal.  Now we have to find the strength to give them space so that they can build a strong family unit.

We miss the girls a lot, they filled the house with their laughter as they played.

Randy and I have often been asked if the girls resent the fact that we "chose" Charlie to live with us.  This is not what transpired.  At a time when the girls were pushing us away, we saw Charlie floundering.  He was made the scapegoat from all sides.  His ADHD made it hard for him to control himself, and he was striking out, which caused more trouble.  Marquel, as the "mom" in the home, found herself unable to control him, and often resorted to malicious tactics.  We saw a little boy with so much potential, but at a point where he was going down the wrong path that would lead to a miserable future, and a house in chaos.  While the girls held us at arms length, Charlie was willing to let us be surrogate parents.

When we approached Turk with the idea of Charlie coming to live with us, he did not resist.  He knew that he could not deal with Charlie, and we knew that he had no understanding of the ADHD or the problems resulting from the neglect, abandonment and abuse from his mom. 

The first few months with Charlie were extremely difficult, but he did far better in school that we anticipated.  Over the past few weeks of summer vacation we have heard him laugh in a genuine way.  While he misses his siblings, he does not want to go back there to live.  He is figuring out ways to play by himself, which is good for him, and he is smart enough and has the desire to learn to live in a way that won't cause him to be in constant trouble.  He is developing a sense of humor and we have lots of laughs together.

The hardest part of letting go of the girls is the realization that we may not be allowed to see Chip as often as we see the girls manipulate this into our rejection of them.  The cultural divide has become deeper and more apparent and it breaks our heart that they will not allow us to give them so much of what the world has to offer.  We hope that we have been able to give them at least a small foundation to build on, and that as they mature, they will realize we had their best interest at heart.

As we are allowed access to the girls, I will keep you updated as time goes on, but I hope this will help you understand why it may seem a little slanted towards Charlie and his accomplishments.  Here is what we know. . .

Marquel has finished 7th grade and was on the A-B Honor Roll, received awards for her involvement in sports, and really enjoys school.  We enrolled her in the Big Brother-Big Sister program, and she now has a new friend, someone who will be impartial and hopefully be a good role model for her.

Annie really struggled in school this year, but due to restrictive Texas laws, we probably won't be able to get her any additional help. We are trying to get the school to step up and provide her with the extra help she needs. 

Chip is a smart little cookie, and as cute as can be.  We see some of the same characteristics that lead up to Charlie's ADHD diagnosis, but we hope that with maturity he will either outgrow or overcome these behavior problems.

We can see the toll that the death of Turk's son, Randy (age 26) has had on him.  He seems to have aged a lot over the past month.  Please keep him in your prayers that he will be able to stay healthy enough to take care of these kids.  Without him, they would be living on the streets of New Orleans with their mom, and then what chance would they have.

As one very wise friend said, "we can only do the best we can and then we have to let God do the rest".  Thank you Janet for the wisdom!

Until next time. . .

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Last weekend we had "church" at home with the kids.  Since they had been learning about the Beatitudes at Sunday School, we continued on that theme.

As we read and discussed, I realized how timely the subject matter was.  We are dealing with kids who have "issues" on top of  "issues" on top of trauma after trauma.  For Annie and Marquel it is the pre-teen and teen "issues" on top of the already big pile of stuff they have to deal with.

We are taking advantage of spring break to help Annie with her math, but it is a struggle.  When she gets tired or frustrated the big old pout comes out and it is hard to refocus on learning.  Then it becomes frustrating for us as we try to help.  Sometimes we try to tease her out of her "attitude" by calling her Tudy.

Later in the day Chip came to me in the office and said with a twinkle in his eye and a hopeful look on his face, "Can Annie play now - she has a Happy - Tude".

Hope you have a Happy-tude day!

Until next time . . .

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Give Your Kids Teacher a Hug Today!

This morning I told Charlie that I would pick him up a little early from school to take him to see his doctor.  His response was, "No - don't pick me up early!"  I am so thankful that Charlie likes school so much that he doesn't want to miss any time there. 

Before school started last fall Randy and I met with Charlie's teacher and principal to explain his background and to solicit their help and understanding in guiding Charlie through this first year at a new school.  The first few months were a little rocky, but he is now doing very well and we seldom hear of a problem with his behavior.

While we hoped that Charlie could learn to behave in a manner that was respectful to both teachers and the other kids, we are simply astounded at his progress.  At one planning meeting with his teacher and the Behavior Specialist, his teacher got tears in her eyes as she expressed her care and concern for Charlie. 

At this school when there is a problem with behavior, the child is sent to the Behavior Specialist's room where she and her aides work with the child to help them understand why their behavior was wrong and how to make better choices in the future.  Their love for Charlie and the other kids can be felt the minute you open the door to that room.  The first few months of school, Charlie visited this room often and he is very proud of the fact that he hasn't had to go to STARS (as they call it) for quite some time. 

Unfortunately, this program will probably be cut with the budget shortfalls.  We are SO thankful that Charlie had the benefit of this program.  It goes a lot further when other adults are telling him the same things that we are trying to teach him at home.

A couple weeks ago while picking up Chip and Annie at their school on a Friday afternoon, Chip's Kindergarten teacher asked me to please help Chip learn rhyming words.  After visiting with her I realized I had no idea how important it was for a child to learn rhyming words.  When I tried to explain to Mr. Thornton how to help Chip, it was quite apparent that the concept was way over his head, and the teacher knew that as well.

When Charlie came to live with us a year ago he had gone through so much trauma that I did not think it was wise to put him in a new school at this time of year and add trauma on top of trauma.  I hoped I could figure out enough of his school work to help him through the end of the year, hopefully catching him up to where he should be.  I quickly learned that it was very hard work to home school.  I spent hours searching for appropriate lesson plans, only to discover how little I knew about learning theories, teaching strategies and methodology.  I prayed that Charlie would be ready emotionally to go to school in the fall.  I knew that I would not be able to give him what trained teachers could.
My day "begins" when Charlie gets home from school.  With his ADHD he requires lots of supervision with homework, and I hope that he will get better at it before he gets into grades where it is harder for me to help him. 

As in any profession, there are those who are better at what they do.  We are so fortunate to have the best teachers for Charlie, a teacher for Chip who cares enough to ask for our help and teachers who volunteer to stay after school to tutor Annie - and even give her a ride home!  And all the teachers who took Marquel from failing to receiving the award of "Most Improved Student" in her school (she now stays on the A-B Honor Roll).

Give your kid's teacher a hug today - tell them how much you appreciate what they do for your child.

Until next time . . .

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Time Flies By . . .

It has been a while - please pardon the long absence.  We had a great Christmas with the kids on our annual trip to Nebraska to spend the holidays with Aunt Debbie and Uncle Bryce.  We even had a chance to visit friends and relatives.  The roads were good, but the absence of snow left the kids a little bewildered.  One night we had a little freezing rain, so the next morning the kids had great fun sledding on the slick grass.

Thank you to all who helped provide a very nice Christmas for the kids.

It is already the end of the semester at school. 

Chip is doing better in Kindergarten.  He has the same teacher that Charlie had, and she loves Chip.  He is learning to follow rules and is realizing that being good at school gets him rewards.

Charlie is doing better than we expected this year.  His teachers are working really hard for him.  The lowest grade on his report card was an 87.  He is doing his homework without throwing a temper tantrum.  Each Friday in assembly students receive awards for having the best week in their class.  This week Charlie got the award!!! 

Annie is doing better, and her grades are improving.  We think an issue with some bullying in her class was affecting her grades.  Now that we have resolved that, she seems much more relaxed.  She is on the honor roll for the semester.

Marquel keeps her grades up, and is now on the volleyball team.  We don't see much of her now.  At 13 she prefers to spend weekends with her friends.  We miss her, and we hope she is making wise decisions.

We have to remind ourselves that as the kids get older, they will begin making their own choices.  We hope that we have been able to provide them with a good foundation.  We try to keep in mind that 5 days a week they live in a very different world than we do, and it is probably difficult for them to switch gears for 2 days a week to live in our world.

The simple fact that these kids have the opportunity to go to school, have a bed to sleep in, and enough food and clothes, is a far cry from where they could be.  Mr. Thornton told me again yesterday how he first found these kids, visiting their mom in the projects where she had an apartment with a box spring mattress on the floor, an old coat as a blanket, and the kids running around with little or no clothes.  Marquel would have been about 5 years old when he took them in, certainly old enough to remember these conditions. 

Because Mr. Thornton loves these kids so much that he is willing to do his best to raise them, and because all of you care enough to help him do that, these kids have a chance "not only to survive, but to thrive" in the words of our very wise Pastor Schulte.

Until next time . . .