Mercy Multiplied – Nashville, TN…

When we left the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area, we headed to Nashville, TN. It was so sad seeing so much tornado devastation as we were driving into Nashville. I have personally experienced the destruction of a tornado, as a tree came crashing into my bedroom as a child, but I have never seen damage as bad as we saw in Nashville.

my childhood home
my childhood bedroom

I got out of bed, grabbed my pillow and walked a few steps away from my bed when I heard the crash. I turned and watched my wall cave in. A pointed board from the ceiling jabbed into the bed where my head had just been.

We absolutely love Nashville, and it is a place I personally cherish. When I was 20 years old, I was stuck in a pit of hopelessness and despair. About 5 years earlier, I developed an eating disorder. As an addiction, it took control of my life. No matter how much I wanted, prayed and pleaded to be free from the eating disorder, I couldn’t seem to find the way out. The longer I lived with the eating disorder, the more guilt and shame I felt, and the more depressed I became. At my lowest, rock bottom, I heard of a place called Mercy Ministries (now called Mercy Multiplied). At the time, it was known as a home for troubled girls. I thought, “I just have this eating disorder I need help with, but I am not a troubled girl.” Ha. Oh, how little did I know or understand.

I promised a friend I’d pray about going, so I did. I prayed, “God, I am not going. If you want me to go, please change my mind.” I spent the next couple hours searching every bit of Mercy’s website, and by the end of my search, I was determined to go. I read testimony after testimony of girls and women being set free from addictions, childhood trauma and other things. I just knew in my gut that if I got to go to this place, God would set me free.

I went through the application process, was accepted and was placed on a waiting list. Mercy Multiplied is a free-of-charge residential counseling program that helps young women ages 13-32 break free from life-controlling issues and situations. It was hard waiting, but after four months I got a call that there was a spot for me.

I walked through the doors of Mercy’s beautiful Nashville home a very insecure, depressed, broken down girl. I spent the next most impactful six months of my life there. I learned that eating disorders have roots and that I had to deal with the root in order to overcome it. We all have childhood pain that is so easy to carry into adulthood in various ways if not recognized. I fearfully and vulnerably opened up my life, my past, my present and my pain. I let God heal me. I realized that I was a very troubled girl AND that I was a very loved girl. In my darkest places, in my pain, in my own regretful poor decisions and in my hopelessness, God loved me. ME. Even me. As much as I already knew He loved me, this really blew my mind and wrecked my heart in the best kind of way.

I spent those six months learning what God thinks of me, how to renew my mind, how to go to God with my pain rather than addiction, why it’s important to forgive, how to receive healing…and then doing those things. I got to know some of the most precious women, many of who I still consider dear friends today. I began experiencing so much joy during that season, I could hardly contain it. I loved life and living. And I had hope. A deep-rooted hope.

I walked out of the doors of Mercy a bold, free, healed and whole woman. The theme of my heart at that time was 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” And still, this is the theme of my life and the song of my heart.

As I’ve lived more life, I have needed more healing and wholeness along the way. I have experienced the pain of life – pain inflicted by others, pain over choices I wish I’d made differently, pain of loss, pain of unfulfilled dreams. But that deep-rooted hope God instilled in me during my time at Mercy has remained, and I’m so thankful to have tools to use for moving forward through difficult situations. Not that it’s ever easy, but I am forever grateful nonetheless.

While we were in Nashville, we visited Mercy Multiplied. We just love Nancy Alcorn, the founder of Mercy Multiplied. I was so happy to see her and introduce her to our kids she had not yet met. Of course, she was especially excited to meet our 6-year-old daughter, Mercy, who I was pregnant with last time we visited.

We toured the corporate office and the home where I lived over 16 years ago. The memories of freedom, healing and discovering how deeply loved by God I am flooded me and brought great joy to my soul. We got to meet some of the current residents, and I couldn’t help but smile so big knowing the beauty they’d experience and the great hope each has for her present and future.

Mercy Multiplied is so near and dear to my heart, and I love that the mercy I experienced at Mercy Multiplied gets to be multiplied right before my eyes everyday in my children. ♥️

Liberty turns 9 during the coronavirus social distancing…

Well, we decided to head back to Texas during this time of lockdowns and social distancing. It was hard deciding if we should just stay put for awhile in Tennessee or if we should head back to Texas. We did not want to catch or spread the corona virus, and ultimately we decided it may be best to stay with Lolli and Pop, my parents, for awhile. We made it back to Texas on Sunday, and we are enjoying spending time with Lolli and Pop. We do plan to travel again – when the time seems right. For now, I will blog about some of our adventures we had before we got here, and I will blog about some of our daily life while we stay put. I hope you are safe, provided for and have or find peace during this uncertain time! ♥️

Yesterday we celebrated Liberty’s 9th birthday! She has been waiting and waiting for her 9th birthday, the day she had planned to get her ears pierced.

I warned her about a week ago that malls would likely be closed down and that she may have to wait awhile to get her ears pierced. She embraced the situation with a great attitude and had a very fun day at Lolli & Pop’s.

We started the morning by making biscuits and doing a biscuit stack rather than our traditional donut stack. Liberty loved helping make the biscuits, and she thought they were a yummy alternative to donuts.

After breakfast, Liberty read what each of us wrote her in her journal, and she opened gifts. We gave her a collection of things we had snuck and purchased along the way while traveling.

Liberty and I went on a walk, where I asked her tons of questions like, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”, “What kind of guy do you hope to marry?”, “If you could add color to your hair, what color would you pick?” Then, Liberty and I played a card game, Five Crowns.

Lolli gave Liberty a choice of what she wanted her to cook for dinner. Liberty chose wings, fries and salad. And we had iced butterfly cookies for dessert… a perfect representation of Liberty.

Yesterday evening we played a really fun card game called Scum. It is a great game for a large number of players.

Liberty had a great birthday, and we had a great day celebrating her!

Happy 9th birthday, Liberty Pearl! You have such a great personality. You are funny and fun. You easily entertain, and you are able to cause almost anyone to burst into laughter. You are very diligent and disciplined in school, chores and tasks. You motivate others to stick to a routine and to get things done that they planned to do. You are a dreamer and a doer. I often find you hanging out in the loft reading a book or memorizing bible verses. You are brave and secure. I love hearing you sing solo the first verse of “You Say” boldly in front of people. For so long you hoped and wished to be old enough to tote a baby sister around on your hip. Finally, we have let you do that with Bravely. You absolutely love holding her and caretaking her, and you are great at it. You are a sweet, fun little sister and friend to your older sisters and brothers. And you are a fun, entertaining big sister to your little sisters. You are a really good friend, and you have quite the slew of best friends. You add cheer and laughter everywhere you go. You are easy to parent, you are cheerfully obedient and you set a great example of having a good attitude no matter your circumstances. I sure do love you, and I am so very happy you are my girl! 💜

Manning – our first teenager…

On Wednesday, our firstborn son, Manning, turned 13!

It is hard to believe this cute little baby boy I birthed is now a teenager. I adored him then, and I adore him now!

Our friends, Mel and Debbie, met up with us again in their RV. Manning and Debbie share a birthday, so we had fun celebrating both of them.

We started the morning with our traditional donut stack with candles. Then we each took turns saying things we liked about both Manning and Debbie.

We gave Manning his journal so he could read what each of us wrote in it for his birthday. And we gave him some meaningful gifts, which he loved.

Manning and I went on a morning walk, and he, Liberty and I played Ticket to Ride that afternoon. We all went to Cracker Barrel that evening, likely our last time in a restaurant for awhile due to COVID-19. It was a fun day of celebrating!

Becoming a teenager is a big deal, so we planned some extra-special things in addition to celebrating on Manning’s birthday. Manning and I were planning to go on an awesome date this weekend, but we are rescheduling it as most places are now closed. And Ryan and Manning are going to do a daddy/son camp out one night soon.

I am not sure there is a photo that depicts being in a large family better than this one. Haha! Manning is the really cool big brother of this whole bunch, and we all just love him so much!

Happy 13th birthday, Manning! You are a teenager! My first teenager. I can hardly believe it. The day I found out I was pregnant with you I was shaking in both fear and excitement. Fear because I had no idea how to be a mom, and I really wanted to be a good one to you and for you. Excitement because I knew immediately that you were and would be one of the greatest joys of my life. And that’s so true…you were then and you are now one of the absolute greatest joys of my life. You were the most precious baby boy. I loved dressing you in awesome shoes and cute little bowties. You were a sweet little boy, always sensitive and loving to your little sisters. You loved doing fun stuff with your daddy, and you loved cuddling and having conversations with your mommy. You’ve grown into a young man, still sweet, sensitive, loving, fun and a great conversationalist. I still love having conversations with you. You melt my heart with your singing. You are such a great big brother, and you are a good friend to anyone. If I had to pick what my firstborn son would be like, it would be you. I wouldn’t change a thing. I love you more than I could ever express, and you’ll always be my boy! 💙

Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Tennessee…

Sunday we went to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the most visited national park in the United States.

There are several hiking trails. We chose to hike the Cataract Falls Trail first. It’s not stroller friendly, but it is an easy hike with small children. It’s a little less than a mile long, and the trail starts near the Sugarlands Visitor Center.

There’s a flowing stream that runs close by the trail, and ultimately the trail leads to a waterfall.

We met a couple along the trail from Texas, Paul and Rachel. Rachel is the baby out of ten siblings. It was really fun to meet and chat with them. As a mom of ten, I am so happy when I meet an adult who had a lot of siblings and loved it.

After we finished hiking the Cataract Falls Trail, we drove our van a short distance to parking for the Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail.

This trail is stroller friendly and an easy walk. There is a stream flowing through, which we loved seeing and hearing.

There are a couple of old chimneys standing that are left from houses of early settlers. These were neat to see.

Bravely loved riding in the carrier on her daddy’s back. And she especially loved when I gave her little bites of a fruit bar. This is the smile she gave after each bite.

We loved exploring and hiking at another national park. The Great Smoky Mountains is a beautiful one, and it is easy to navigate to and through.

Dolly Pardon’s Stampede, Christ in the Smokies & The Comedy Barn – Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg, TN…

We’ve had a pretty full but laid back week here in Tennessee. I was ordered no hiking and to take it easy with physical activity by my doctor until my stent was removed. We would have loved to go to Dollywood this week, but it is still closed for winter. We decided that was probably best since I was supposed to take it easy.

We decided to go to the Dolly Pardon Stampede, a popular dinner show, Tuesday evening. It was pretty pricey, but we thought it was worth the splurge. Our kids loved getting their own miniature rotisserie chickens, and we all absolutely loved the show. It was entertaining and exciting for all ages.

Wednesday evening we drove to Morristown and enjoyed visiting my cousin, Jason, and his family.

Thursday I got my stent removed, we ran some errands and then the kids played on the really fun playground at our RV park. I happily went for a walk since I was stent free.

Friday afternoon we went to Christ in the Smokies Museum & Gardens.

Adult tickets are $14 each and kids ages 12 and under get in free. The museum was neat. We walked through viewing different wax figure bible scenes and hearing audibly about each. We all really liked it.

Friday evening we went to our favorite show we went to years ago, The Comedy Barn. We did a combo deal purchasing these tickets the same time we purchased tickets for Dolly’s Stampede. Our whole family got in for $125. We were very happy with that price.

The Comedy Barn is the funniest show. The type of humor gets adults and kids of all ages laughing. We laughed so hard. I think Ryan almost cracked a rib. He laughed until he cried.

We bought a few buckets of popcorn and passed those around. We all had an absolute blast.

The Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area is one of our favorites. If you’ve never been, it’s definitely worth adding to your dream vacation list. We have been here twice and haven’t experienced even a quarter of all that is offered. I imagine we will come back again…and again.

Old Time Family Photos – Pigeon Forge, TN…

We really love the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area, and we have been enjoying our time here this week!

Our favorite vacation we took in the past was to Gatlinburg when we had 5 kids and I was pregnant with Mercy. One of the things we did on that trip was get an old time family photo taken.

We decided to get updated old time family photos done this week, and we had way too much fun dressing up and posing for these shots.

The girls loved dressing up as southern belles. Mercy keeps talking about how much she loves the princess dress she got to wear. Bravely wasn’t so sure about getting dressed up until she was given pearls. She kept saying, “pretty”, about her pearl necklace. And when we put a headband on her, she said, “Awwwww!”

The boys loved the guns, of coarse. They had a blast acting out different scenes the photographer suggested.

I wasn’t expecting individual photos of our children, but we absolutely love how cute these turned out and are so glad to have these.


Kidney stone update: Remember how the urologist left a string on my stent for me to pull out myself? Yeah…well, the string broke. 😳 I laughed so hard because, as inconvenient as it was, it was pretty funny. I, then, had to call around and find a urologist nearby who’d be willing to remove my stent for me. I ended up at a urologist in Knoxville, TN who agreed to remove my stent after getting an x-ray done. It is out now, and all is well!

Friends, rockets & blasting a kidney stone to bits – Huntsville, AL…

We spent most of the week in and near Huntsville, AL. Our friends, Mel & Debbie, came in their RV and were our neighbors for the week. We were so excited to spend time with them!

Playground, basketball, dog-walking, Chinese-food, Walmart run, miniature golf, s’mores and pancakes. Lots of great conversations, laughs, hugs and cuddles – we had the best time!

Our little girls are typically terrified of dogs. I was so happy to see them warm up to Paisley and Paxton. Our kids just loved taking turns walking the dogs.

It’s fun having friends with us at places like Walmart. They get to see what our normal is. Right after we walked into Walmart someone asked if our kids were all ours and then said, “Y’all are crazy.” Haha. That’s just a typical part of our everyday life.

All our kids wanted Mr. Mel as their buggy driver. He made it like a theme park right there in Walmart.

This miniature golf course was at the RV park. It was a lot of fun watching the kids play. And I happily announce to you…I beat my husband. We have played miniature golf many, many times, and I don’t recall ever beating him. He is a really good golfer. Most of my golfing is dependent on luck rather than skill. Ha.

We grilled hamburgers and hotdogs and roasted marshmallows for s’mores.

Doesn’t get much better then sitting around a campfire telling stories with friends.

One morning Debbie came over to our RV and made pancakes. Our kids were so excited. 99% of the time we eat protein bars for breakfast. Watching the pancakes be made, helping make them and eating them – our kids loved the whole experience!

On Thursday we went the the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL.

It was awesome seeing the big rockets, and our kids had a great time learning and exploring.

In the midst of all this fun, I knew I had a kidney stone that needed to be laser blasted. Last Sunday night/Monday morning, I woke up with terrible pain in my lower right abdomen, side and back. I have a pretty high pain tolerance, so I felt sure it was either my appendix or a kidney stone. I drove myself to the emergency room in Georgia. There I found out I had a 1cm kidney stone stuck in my right ureter. I was pacing the hospital room in pain even after being given morphine by IV. I was in pain!

Once we moved on to Alabama, I saw a urologist. He didn’t see how I’d pass a kidney stone that large on my own, so he suggested he break it up and put in a stent. We extended our time in Alabama one day so that I could get the surgery done. Mel & Debbie stayed two extra days to be there with us and for us. We cannot express how thankful we are that they were there and chose to stay with us! It’s amazing how God aligns things to work out, even in hard times. I had the surgery done on Friday, and I was in so much pain after I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to drive the next day or not. After resting all day, I did feel well enough to drive the next, though.

I am on the mend and expect to be feeling better and better each day. On a funny note…when the urologist scheduled the surgery, he said I’d need to come back in a week to have the stent removed. I explained that we are traveling and asked if it is possible to get the stent taken out by another doctor in a different location. He responded, “Oh, I’ll just leave a string on it for you and you can pull it out.” Thinking he was joking, I laughed and said, “Seriously?” He said, “Yeah, you can do it.” Alrightythen. Ha!

It’s been quite the week! Hard and so, so good. We are looking forward to more RV adventures with Mel and Debbie in the future – ideally without kidney stones!