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Photo by Joey Contreras Jr., September, 2008.

I have a dear friend, Sonya, who is an amazing mother to eight boys, as well as a great writer. Some of you may be familiar with her and her family--she has written several poems and an article that I published in The Mother's Companion.

Sonya and her husband, Joey, have been very special friends of ours since 1987. Our friendship is based on mutual love, trust, respect and loyalty; characteristics of great relationships. So rare. So precious. Gerald and I thank God for bringing Sonya and Joey into our lives.

It has been my privilege to be a mentor to Sonya over the years. I am very proud of her and her wonderful family!

Whenever we would visit, she would come with pages of questions about mothering. A few years back she stopped bringing her lists of questions. When I asked her why she said, ''I'm too tired to ask the questions anymore."

Sonya and I are also "kind of" related because her oldest son, Joey, married our youngest daughter, Rachel, in December of 2012.

Each Christmas Sonya writes a Christmas letter that brings us to tears of laughter as well as tears of conviction as we read it together as a family. I just had to begin sharing her annual letter with you and Sonya has graciously granted me permission to do so.

This is not your normal run-of-the-mill Christmas letter. How many woman do you know with eight boys?! Fasten your seat belts, and enjoy! Over time I hope to post all of her Christmas letters, and also some of Sonya's beautiful poetry.

(Sonya's oldest son, Joey Jr., is a great photographer. You will see some of his photos throughout these pages, as well as in my "Correspondence" section. Both Sonya and Joey Jr. retain copyright of their work; permission is required to use either Sonya's writing, and Joey Jr's. photos.)

Sonya and her husband, Dec. 2012.

Sonya now has her own website where you can read her latest family Christmas letters, starting with her 2013 update.

Sonya Contreras

December, 2012
Dear Friends and Family,

If I could describe this past year in one word, it would be “FOREVER.”

If I could share what I have learned, it would take a book. So, I hope you have some time.

Joey left for his deployment in October of 2011. He took my heart, my confidence and my reassurance with him. So at home, we were working to survive the year, the eternal, forever year.

Friends loaned us the DVD’s Facing the Giants, Fire Proof, and Courageous. I sent them to Joey along with companion books with the movies---Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs and The Love Dare. I thought that he could use them with his talks with other soldiers. He got them and asked if we had a problem. (Good Man.)

As problems at home came, he counseled me that the issues involved respecting the boys. I found that I wasn’t even sure what respect meant. The boys had grown up to be men and I had to relate to them as men---not as a protective, nurturing Mom. Does letting go ever become easier?

Eggerich from his book states, ”‘respect is the key to motivating a husband.’ Leaders motivated their troops through unconditional honor. …When a general respects his men and believes in them more than they believe in themselves, these soldiers want to… fulfill that potential this general sees in them. Such men want to serve….to fight and die for honor.”(p. 50) The “prince goes into battle for the princess, not vice versa. She yearns to be honored, valued, and prized as a precious equal. As prince, the husband is to be considered … first to provide, to protect….” (p. 53). “When he honors her as first in importance and she respects him as first among equals, their marriage works.” (p. 54)

Joey asked the boys, “Would you rather never be loved or never be respected?” Even our thirteen year old replied that he would rather never be loved. I really need to know what it means to respect and how to show respect to our boys. With that in mind, allow me to share this year’s learnings.

“As the husband, he ties his self-image into who he is in the field—that is, in work, in accomplishments, in conquests. The wife, however, ties her self-worth into who she is in the family” (p. 176). “Women see careers as a freedom of choice issue…they want the freedom to choose full-time mothering and/or a career. Most men feel that work is not an option….women have all kinds of choices. Men have one; ‘work or go to jail.’ If the wife is out there doing the providing, bringing home the money while he stays home, her insecurity goes up not down….A man always feels the call to the field.” (p. 199-200). Respect involves appreciating his provisions.

The boys provided much this year through the animals.

Jonathan (17) took complete ownership of the twelve pigs this year. He tried a bulk food that cost much less, but he found didn’t pay, when low protein content caused some problems and one death. We had one escapee pig, who daily enjoyed rubbing against the front and back doors of the house. One day, I chased it out of my house after eating Jacob’s home-made, hand-dipped candles, with Dixie (his dog) sitting behind it watching it. Two days later, the dogs were inside choking on the same candles….I really need to keep my back door locked at all times.

The boys asked to purchase goats. Each one being told that they had to ask Dad. When he said “yes” to all, and then asked “How many goats are you getting, two?” I had to wonder if he remembered all of the asking. I told him that he had told everyone they could get one---Michael (6), Josh (8), James (11), Jacob (13) and Jonas (15). We bought six (one extra for mishaps)—four-day olds, requiring bottle-feeding for almost two months. Michael didn’t get the man-thing about providing, when he would ‘disappear’, so he wouldn’t have to bottle feed his goat or move his goat to pasture. His brothers ‘encouraged’ him to do the man-thing and pull his share. Jonas managed them well, both the goats and his brothers. After bottles, the boys worked hard to provide for their goats—without requiring any feed or hay purchases. They staked them and cut neighbors’ grass for months to provide for their food daily. They even swept feed store hay areas to collect the extra scraps. After Jonas castrated one goat by himself, he decided to wait for the vet who allowed him to assist the remaining four (one was a female).

We had several mishaps. Two cases of bloat didn’t make it. A third case, nursed to wellness by making needle-sized holes in its gut to release the gas, did make it. Another time, a goat found the neighbor’s poison and we were ready to put it down during a seizure, when he jumped up and revived. We coaxed it along, and it survived----and continued to be the biggest pain of all the animals, escaping from the kennel, pen and where ever he was put. The boys counted down the days until the chevon jerky was ready. Providing is a challenge.

James (11) continues to provide for his chickens. He raised Partridge Cochins from one-day old. After several shipments---they just weren’t living beyond a week; he had his flock under wing, and provided for their every need. When it came time for butchering half of his flock, he was out there with his brothers doing the work. Jacob (13) especially liked tracking down one escapee rooster who ran the entire five acres. He shot it and laughed as it fell into a hole in front of it. Jonas (15) commented rather sarcastically, “That was just what I dreamed about when I think of butchering---chasing a chicken around five acres.” (Maybe that’s why our meat is rather tough.) Jacob came into the house, leaving the door open, I told him to shut the door. He gave me this look, and said “Sure Mom.” Until I saw his hands covered in butchering guts, he laughed when I told him “never mind.” Persistent trials brought final provisions.

James also took forty eggs and incubated them to increase his laying flock. After a poor hatching rate, I was ready to cry. He wanted to try again. Maybe that has something to do with the challenge a man needs. Later, he allowed one broody hen to hatch and raise eight chicks to replace some non-laying hens. He was told that some customer had fifty hens and chicks. He said wistfully “That would be like being in heaven.” His passion brought provisions.

Jonas enjoys his cows. He took it as his challenge to ask neighbors for grazing, faithfully moving the cows around daily to where they needed to be. He milks our Dexter, Lolly, as well as our beef cow, Bonnie Lass who freshened Barney several months ago. He records the gallons with businesslike pleasure. He kept us with milk and made cheese upon request. We butchered two of his cows this year, Henry and Ginger---He has been the man to provide. He also took our bull to auction while Josiah was home on break from school to help.

During my sister’s visit, Steph told the boys at the table that she did not want to hear talk about dead, dying, names of who we were eating, or even the birth of animals. Later Jonathan commented that no one got to talk to me like she did. I responded, “That’s because we have to get along.” She added, “Until I die.” Jonathan then said, “Then we couldn’t talk about you at the table,” (because she would be dead.) We definitely don’t think in terms of women’s wishes for table manners---as much as I request it, even as we eat what they work to provide.

Jonas sold one of Josiah’s horses, Smokey, and worked on training a friend’s horse for a time. We still have two---that Josiah and he find time to ride. Cutting back on what we need.

Jonas and James purchased three pounds of honey bees and a queen in the spring, after trying last year to attract a swarm on their own with pheromones. The rewards of honey have been wonderful. While checking to make sure the bees were ready for winter, Jonas was stung twice in the face. A few hours later his face was swollen beyond recognition. The following day, even his eye was swollen closed. His brothers, nurturing as they are, laughed at him. Providing pays.

Jacob (13) was invited to hunt doves. He came home with ten, his quota. He later went duck hunting and brought one to the table. Don’t enjoy providing too much.

Jonathan cleared and cut a pasture area for a neighbor and provided us with firewood---as well as a means of income for himself. He also does the maintenance for the vehicles. As I would ‘remind’ him of maintenance, I would explain to him, that I wasn’t reminding him for his benefit, especially when I would ask him several times. It was more for my reassurance that everything with the car was going to be fine. My history with cars and oil hasn’t been real good---one time we put in five quarts of oil (it holds six)another time we put in two gallons of antifreeze….so I tried to explain the paranoia had nothing to do with his ability to do the job well, or of his knowledge of how to do the job---it was more my need for reassurance. Jonathan is not the reassuring type; he likes to provide the life of risk.

The boys picked cherries, apples, grapes and black walnuts. They provided the pitting, peeling and husking to prepare for canning, drying and freezing. James even did some of the actual canning. We are ready for winter.

The garden provided the vegetables needed. Josiah did the planning even while at Shasta Bible College for the year. Jonas would tell us, “We need to plant the beans this week, Josiah says.” And made sure the ground was ready and that we did. During one weeding session, Jonas said, “I’d better pick my quota before I am tarred and feathered.” James questioned, “You’re a retarded feather?” Another time, after a lapse in required chores, Jonas told Josiah before I got up, “The whip is going to crack today.” Unbeknownst to me, I woke to inform them that they had their break, but today we’d get back to working. Jonas does make me laugh. His ‘slave labor’ is greatly appreciated.

We’ve had discussions over how they will NOT provide. Josiah commented about his math teacher only had ten minutes between teaching two classes of math. Jonas responded, “What a life going from one math class to another.” Guess he won’t be teaching any math classes.

Jonathan loves to run big equipment. If he can do a job sitting behind a powerful machine or doing it by hand, he will find a way to borrow or rent the equipment. Someone called for a job that they said required ‘some tractor work’. When he returned from the job, I asked how it was, he said, ‘it wasn’t tractor work, it was a lawn mower and trailer and I moved barn waste to their pasture.” How disappointing! Other jobs revealed that they are not what they seemed, especially when people cannot be pleased. He is learning that not all jobs are worth the hassle.

All this goes without telling how Joey provided, as always. I was concerned how we would pay our bills without him home…and me trying to do it. His faith and reassurances of God’s miraculous provisions saw us through each month and through the year. Joey’s faith in God helps provide for all of us.

Respect involves acknowledging his need to protect.

“A man…will serve his wife and even die for her. There is no expectation of the wife to die for her husband” (p. 51).

Joey John brought Rachel, his fiancé, home for the Christmas Holiday, 2011. Protect was definitely what Joey John had to do with Rachel, with a house-full of guys whose first response is not nurturing. She was thrust into our normal events of the Cookie Exchange with the neighbors, visiting the Sequoias and meeting part of the family in Monterey, and our Christmas customs—very different from hers. She needed reassurance, as I did: I, because, my son was spreading his wings to leave the nest. Joey John purchased and presented her with THE RING, while here. “Keep me close to yourself like the ring on your finger.” (Song of Solomon 8:6). The wedding ring is a symbol of loyalty. Some of his brothers had difficulty understanding the change in Joey John, how he would ‘esteem’ Rachel over them sometimes.

After a particularly windy storm, my gazebo on the back deck was missing. I looked down at the garage and against the fence line to find it. I finally sent Jacob out to look. I saw him turn around and look up and smile. It had blown to our roof and was all bent up and crushed. He enjoyed getting it down with Jonas.

Once Joey returned home, I had carpel tunnel surgery on both my hands, not at the same time. The boys were quite attentive to my need not to lift anything, even a gallon of milk, and helped to do all the dishes. I did find that a houseful of men cannot put a barrette in my hair. After several attempts by a few, Jonathan said, “What can be so hard?” After his attempt, he laughed, but had trouble acknowledging defeat. James was able to put small barrettes to keep my hair out of my eyes. Sheltering and protecting….my household of men.

After Dixie, our black lab, had four puppies, Jacob felt the need to strut and protect, strut and brag, strut and did I say strut? This was after I said “No more animals.” He’s doing a fine job protecting his own.

“Correcting and mothering her husband are not good ways to approach him.” (p. 76) We have had these discussions, especially with Jonathan. He’s asked, “Why do you always tell me to ‘be careful’?” Because that’s what mom’s do. The balance is hard to achieve when they have grown up and don’t need the constant supervision of a mom….Can a mom ever not be a mom? Joey tells him, “I still call my mom when I return from trips.” We need reassurance that you will remember to ‘be careful.’

“The male feels a deep need to be involved in adventure and conquest. This is not an option for him; it is a deep-seated trait” (p. 196). “…natural inborn desire of the man to go out and conquer the challenges of this world.” (p. 193). Respecting involves acknowledging (different from understanding) his need for challenge.

We went to Josiah’s graduation in Redding from Shasta Bible College. We stayed with friends that he had met that quickly became the entire family’s friends. Josiah and Jonathan have on several occasions returned to help work various projects with them. The family has become a mentor for Josiah challenging him to stay focused on his goals and desires.

While in Redding, we explored a cave. Michael and I waited in the ‘lobby’ of the cave while the others explored the cave. This was after walking a mile over an open water sluiceway. I know that they need a challenge, but I certainly don’t.

Jonas went to Canada in March to help his uncle with calving his herd of cattle. My challenge was to make sure he was warm enough; his was to finish enough school to allow a three week break. I was not in the ‘he’s a man-mode’ when I took him to the airport. On his return, the airline didn’t allow him to enter the plane---he was underage, but he had already gone through security and my sister’s family was already heading toward the Canada’s border. The airline personnel kept him until my sister and brother-in-law returned, spent the night, and paid for another ticket with an escort between each gate change. Jonas commented that all his escorts were tiny women shoulder-height to him. Do we try to keep boys from becoming men on purpose?

Jonathan also went to Canada. When Jonathan attempted to cross into Canada, the border patrol wouldn’t let him because he was ‘taking someone’s job.’ He would have gone without payment, just to run the combiner, the trucks, and the big equipment. He returned home the next day. Later when time for harvesting, we had learned that he was going to ‘visit family.’ The challenge is just to get them to the place of work.

Baseball season arrived. Jonathan helped coach Josh and James’ team. Jonas and Jacob umped games. They allowed Josh (8) to play in the 10-12 year old league. The coach asked if I would mind if Josh pitched. I cautioned Josh that the return balls came flying so much faster from the bat and that he should be ready to get hit by the ball. He told me, “If I place my feet like this and throw like that, I will be in position to catch any ball that comes back at me.” I just prayed that he didn’t have to experience it to make sure he was standing properly. Jonas found too much enjoyment behind the plate bossing people around. He said during one discussion, “You have to tell them that they are wrong, but respectfully.” Dinner time conversation centers on baseball plays, rules, and performances. During one discussion, Michael interjected, “Instead of being a giraffe when I grow up, I think that I’ll be a lion.” Well, at least he gives us a different challenge to conquer.

Jonathan plays softball in Fresno. It’s twice a week, with no practices---makes for saving some fuel money. I know it’s not much of a challenge for him but he does enjoy it.

I don’t think challenge is the right word for this activity, but for lack of a nice word…I’ll concede to challenge. The boys, all but Josh, Jacob, and Joey John went to the Sequoia’s and proceeded to walk two and a half miles in bare feet on a trail. They came home limping and sore---they ‘didn’t realize how hot and pokey the trail would get.’ Like I said, I don’t have to understand their need to be challenged, just know that it exists.

We went fishing. Actually, I sat on the beach and let them figure it out. Mostly it’s the kind people that invite us fishing who help them. Jacob went with one friend who took him on his boat. He came back with some whoppers, both in stories and in fish. Jacob said, ‘fishing from shore will never be the same.’ Another family invited us to fish with them. Michael caught ten—with a borrowed Mickey Mouse rod. Some of the others were trying hard to catch just one. After fishing for hours, Josh talked about getting all these bites….I thought that he was talking bug bites---shows how much I’m paying attention to their challenges.

Trying to keep the boys challenged at all levels, I planned a canoe trip. The anticipation and planning caused more grief than the actual trip---when we finally did it---borrowing one canoe, one kayak, and inflating and attaching one floating raft, and using our own canoe. We recruited our neighbor last minute to come also. We all thought it was worth doing again. The timing was crucial, for the river height (one week later and it would have been too high and fast), the crowd on the river (early is best) and duration (not enough drinking water). Jonathan would have liked more rapids, I couldn’t ask for enough calm water….challenges….

When Joey returned in September, he took Jacob and Jonathan to an edged weapons course. It was more on self-defense and going home when someone approaches you with a fight. Now we know how to disable someone so we can run away. Now we can make someone unconscious while they are attacking us….things we need to know??

Jacob continues to enjoy his taxidermy. He’s recruited James. I’m not sure if James started so that he can not only have his chickens outside the house, but inside the house as well. He stuffed his hen and rooster. Jacob completed a variety of things including a squirrel, a woodpecker, and a grouse. I think that he enjoys the comrade ire as much as the accomplishment.

Sometimes I’m not sure that I’d classify ‘events’ as challenges, they seem more like “what if’s” that really shouldn’t be experimented to find the real answer. Like, what if I burn a dog biscuit?... It smells like cigars for hours (Jacob’s question). What if I wing this plastic bag with cat litter as high as I can throw?...It wraps high in a tree for us to see every time we enter our property (James’ experiment). What if I don’t ever obey, I won’t have to do school. (Michael’s conclusion). What if I ask Mom when she’s real busy, as if it’s an emergency, if I could bring a dog home?…. (Jonathan’s attempt). Then I ask myself out loud, “Do I just have sucker across my forehead?” Only to have my five year old answer, “Yes.” What if I build a halter to harness two goats together to pull a sled big enough for our neighbor’s son to ride? (Jonas and James) This is just a few of the questions that I have heard, not to mention those that I haven’t found yet….challenges, they need them.

Joey John (21) has found plenty of challenges with finding a job and an apartment in Milwaukee, and learning to cook, especially rice. He’s stayed there through the summer. He is in his third year and prepared for Rachel to come after their wedding in December. He’s entered life’s challenges without our shelter.

Josiah has attended Reedley College for his undergraduate work in animal science. It is nice to have him home, although he stays at friends of ours during the week to save one and a half hours a day of travel time. He enjoys the people and socialization, but studying continues as his hardest challenge.

“Another aspect of respect involves his authority. Guard against slowly ‘taking over.’”(p. 213). “If you are judging your husband with contempt, you are hurting God’s heart. Your convictions can please God, but your contempt can also grieve Him. A contemptuous, critical spirit is not the way to win over your ‘disobedient’ husband to your convictions.” (p. 232). “…stop being your husband’s Holy Spirit….self-righteousness can deceive you more than any other sin. If you see yourself as far better than your husband, especially in the spiritual realm, he will back away from you spiritually and probably in many other ways….as the years pass, your husband will stop giving advice at almost every level. What can he say to a person who is always right and righteous….You don’t have to ‘think’ for both of us.” (p. 235). Respect allows him to lead.

I’ve tried to let the boys’ problem solve. Guidance, tools and materials are what I add to the situation---along with encouragement. I try to ask them during a project,” how would you do this?”….and then we’d try it together. Now, most of the boys don’t want me around when they are solving their problems. They’ll say, ‘I got this, Mom.’ In other words, go inside the house and let me do it…. Before it was so much easier….to be the mom.

Joey’s good about giving each boy a chance to be in charge of a project, so that each one has practice leading. He has cultivated a house full of leaders. That was part of the problem when Joey was gone. Sometimes decisions were made by the boys without consulting everyone’s schedule. This made it hard to coordinate everyone’s needs. I would consult with Joey to see---Am I overstepping my mom boundaries to request, i.e. they tell me where they are going?

Unfortunately, or not, by teaching them to think for themselves, I have to stay several steps in front of them. Jonathan starting asking questions that would require the answer, “I’ll have to run that by Dad.”

It seemed that he had already planned his future four years down the road…I was just trying to survive today. He asked to graduate early….which would mean doing two years of work in one. Okay, we’ll see what classwork Dad will require for completion. He asked to go to Reedley College for their two year CAT program, for running and repairing CAT machines. He asked to test out of school to finish school now….I felt like I was unprepared for today, let alone for his future. Other questions resulted that I would have to sift through my thoughts over a few days, and he seemed already moving on to the next question….My talking with him seemed more like a confrontation and I had to learn to say my piece then keep my mouth shut.

I recently read a book, not recommended reading, Shut Your Mouth and Wear Beige. It’s about the mother-of-the-groom and the wedding plans. I catch myself talking to one of the boys, but then think; they don’t need me to tell them that….Joey reminds me ‘they’ll figure it out.’ Oftentimes they don’t want me to advise them, they just want me to approve of what they have already decided. Letting go, letting them leave, and allowing them to grow up….Breaks a mom’s heart.

Respect involves Relationship.

Men are energized merely by their wives’ presence. ‘This is how men communicate, by sharing experiences.’(p. 240). Why do men like this shoulder-to-shoulder silence from their wives? I don’t know.” (p. 241).

Joey works to do this with all the boys. Find their interests and spend time with them. I think that was the hardest for the boys this year while he was gone. I was at a loss, and so were the boys. We are very glad Joey is back. It’s been nice when he first came home to have him working with the younger boys on fence repair, preparing for winter, cleaning the garage. It makes a big difference in the peace that flows in the house.

“Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Ephesians 5:33

The other side of the verse: ‘to love our wife, you’ll have to wait for Joey to write his version. He continues to treat me like a queen. The boys have learned from him. This year I’ve seen evidence of his training and modeling ‘how to love your wife.’

“Because a woman is an integrated personality, she is like a teakettle—she collects all the things that have happened to her over the day and there is a buildup (p. 151). Men are compartmentalized. You can stuff things away and not have to talk about them. Women also need to talk to realize their feelings. Men usually know what they are feeling, and they will talk about it if they think it is necessary. Women, on the other hand, can be feeling a lot of things but not know exactly what they are. As they begin to talk about what happened through the day, they can work back to the problem that they can’t seem to put their finger on. (p. 152). She is not trying to provoke you…when she gets historical (returning to previous ‘discussions’), she is trying to reconcile with you…She wants to be sure you aren’t angry with her so that she can feel loved.” (p. 159). He doesn’t try to solve her problems, he just listens.

Both Joey John and Josiah called me every week from college to encourage and to listen to whatever I had to say. Joey made time to call regularly even when he was eleven hours ahead of us. One time I texted him to call me before he went to bed. He called three nights later, at 2 AM our time saying he had just received the text. I was glad to hear from him, regardless of the time, but glad that it wasn’t an emergency with the boys. Another time, when he had gotten back into the country, I received a text saying, “Here safe. Call our moms tell them I’m okay. Love you.” Within 15 minutes he called. I told him that I got his text. He said that he didn’t text me. It was the text that he had sent back in October 2011 when he got to his deployed country. His phone didn’t send it until he returned back to the States this year and his phone worked again. His calls were my lifeline to sanity and reassurance but sometimes it took a while to feel it.

“Live with your wife in ‘an understanding way’ doesn’t mean understand her,” Joey explains to the boys.

I have been looking for a dress to wear to the wedding for a year. Finally, I thought the time had come to really search all the thrift stores and find one. The boys questioned me when I told them that I was looking for a wedding dress. Two of them asked, “You need a wedding dress, like in white….” As I was explaining that Rachel’s colors were blue, silver and white. My dress needed to match, their ties were going to match, and we all needed to match. Jonathan said, “You mean they tell you what to wear?” I inadequately explained how the pictures needed to coordinate…. This was her special day. In describing it to Joey John, he said, “I’m learning the same thing.”

Michael somehow heard that the dress that I had found was going to be worn by Jonathan. He was having his own conversation about “Jonathan wearing this wedding dress. He was going to look great in it. He couldn’t wait to see him in it…this was going to be GREAT.” Sometimes I don’t know how he makes the connections that he does. The disadvantages of no sisters….

Our Christmas letter was delayed to include Joey John and Rachel’s wedding. We all drove back to Illinois to attend their wedding. The boys experienced how to live in ‘an understanding way,’ and I had another chance to learn to let go ad to hide my tears. The bride was beautiful, the wedding went smoothly and the boys saw how Joey John esteemed his bride. When I asked Joey John if he had butterflies, he responded descriptively, “no, big eagles.” Many came from Wisconsin where his school is, along with some of my family from Indiana and even a family from California. We appreciated all who traveled to witness their promise and pledge for life. Memories made and lessons learned.

Rachel (Aardsma), Joey's bride, Dec. 2012.

Understanding may not be what we all experienced in the trip driving to and from IL---we made it home in 33 driving hours, with stopping for gas, and eating breaks. The excursion rolls on. The boys behaved well, we are thankful that Jonathan and Josiah shared the driving load with Joey to keep us moving toward the goal. Challenges met.

“Your wife, however, ties her self-worth into who she is in the family.” (p. 176).

Joey has modeled and trained the boys to thank me for the meal. They know, if I burnt the rice or threw together left-overs, that I still appreciate their thanks. When they give details like, “I like the way you fixed the potatoes,” or “Good, I like the rice fixed that way,” that makes me want to make it again. While preserving the cherries, Josiah said, “Cherry pie would be good.” Jonathan tried the same technique with apples, saying, “We all need to get out of the kitchen, so Mom can make apple dumplings.” They both received what they wanted.

Albee, Joey’s brother, visited several times while Joey was gone and encouraged the boys in their jobs and chores. He described what he found while coaching girls’ softball versus boys’, “Girls have to FEEL GOOD to DO GOOD; whereas, boys had to DO GOOD to FEEL GOOD.”

I opened this letter with the key to motivating a man was through respect; I shared the key to motivating a woman is through love. The combined respect and love showed how God motivates. Yet it wasn’t just a means to motivate, but the way God used to restore man’s relationship to Him. God asked in Malachi 1:6 “A son honors his father and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect, due me? Says the Lord Almighty.”

This relationship with God was broken in the Garden of Eden by our choice to sin and perpetuated every generation since, by our desire to do ‘what is right in our own eyes.’ This relationship couldn’t be reconciled until the perfect Sacrifice was made. “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His One and Only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love; not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (I John 4:9).

His death made restitution possible for our wrong. Like the respect He commands wives to show their husbands, He desires the relationship of our presence with Him and our respect for Him. Like the love He commands husbands to show to their wives, He commands us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37). He desires our respect and our love.

At Christmas time, we remember the Divine Baby sent by love to be one with us. But His motive wasn’t just love; it was restoration of His created people to give Him the respect due Him as Creator, Provider, Protector, Challenger, Leader and Savior. Ultimately He desired our relationship.

May this next year find you, not only returning the love He gives but developing the relationship He desires, as Hosea 12:6 said, “But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.” And Deuteronomy 4:9, “Be very careful never to forget what you have seen the Lord do for you. Do not let these things escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren.”

May we all seek to love and respect the One to Whom it is due,


P.S. Many of you have asked how Joey John and Rachel have met. Below is the story Rachel wrote for the wedding program that will address that subject. As you see the Hand of God directing their lives, may it remind you to pray for them and their future.

This story begins a long time ago, when a college student became friends with her academic advisor and his wife. The college student got married to another student, and they had a little boy. Some time later, the advisor and his wife had a little girl, just in time to move most of the way across the country. When the little girl was eight and the little boy was eleven, they met for the first time that they were old enough to remember. The girl thought the boy was something special from the very beginning, while the boy was entirely unaware of the girl’s existence.

Over six years and a few more family visits, the girl continued to think that the boy was something special (although she denied thinking about him at all). Then in September 2008 they saw each other again, and the boy finally became aware of the girl, at least enough to send her a random email for no good reason two months later. A very excited girl sent a response and simultaneously began planning their happy future as husband and wife.

What began as a random email blossomed into a thoroughly enjoyed daily correspondence. And somewhere along the way it went from acquaintance to friendship to love, and the girl wasn’t the only one thinking somebody was something special anymore. In the fall of 2010 the boy headed off to college (conveniently located 4 hours from the girl), and the daily emails came to an end and were replaced with daily phone calls and visits about every three months…which was way better. During one ordinary phone call the boy told the girl of his plans to formally begin dating her when he visited for Thanksgiving 2010, which was just a few weeks away. The excitement on both sides was so intense that it was 1 am before they were calm enough to stop talking and go to sleep.

A long-distance relationship began. It consisted of lots of long phone calls, loneliness, short visits separated by months of absence, and tearful goodbyes. Somehow through it all they managed to fall more in love every day, and finally, in late December 2011, the boy asked the girl to marry him in a quiet pasture at sunset. She said yes.

And today, in the culmination of a ten year love story… they are getting married.

Rachel (Aardsma) joins the Contreras Family, Dec. 2012.

December, 2010
Dear Friends and Family,

This year started when Jacob (11 years) asked me, “Why don’t we have any adventures?” After I finished choking, I asked him what more of an adventure he wanted. I discussed his comment with the other boys. Joey John (19 years) said, “That’s just what Josiah and I were discussing last night.” After gasping for breath and wondering who had really gone mad, I said, “What kind of adventure are you looking for?” He said, “You would think with eight boys that we would have more….adventure.” I again thought, “what are thinking?” I asked Joey, who said that he had been thinking the exact same thing a week before.

ADVENTURE….I thought that I had enough just preparing for their activities, tagging behind their projects, and praying through their ideas…. Someone gave us Wild at Heart by John Eldredge to read that helped articulate this adventure that the boys had in mind. “In the heart of every man is a desperate desire for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.” (p. 9) “Aggression is a part of the masculine design; (they) are hardwired for it. If we believe that man is made in the image of God, then we would do well to remember that ‘the Lord is a warrior; the Lord is His name.” (Ex 15:3) (p. 10)

Sonya's adventuresome family!

Because the boys somehow have forgotten the adventures of this year, allow me to remind them. We started the year giving our seven pigs shots every day for five days. Have you ever seen the picture of a flying pig over a pond? (It is authentic---according to our findings.) Our pigs could fly—over bales of straw, over doorways, anything to avoid that shot. Josiah (17 years) administered them while the rest of us tried to corral and to restrain them. Each morning those pigs were ready for us with new tactics. We lost the needles from the syringes (finding a needle in the haystack takes new significance when you actually have to find it). After that, Jacob said, “Now THAT was an adventure.” We might just be catching on….

Jonas (13 years), Jonathan (15 years), and Josiah continue taking horse reigning lessons. Josiah was bucked off an unbroken filly. He broke his right wrist. The instructor said, “If you haven’t gotten bucked off, you haven’t ridden long enough.” The orthopedic surgeon had to reset manually the displaced bone. Glad that adventure included Dad and not me. Try keeping Josiah from his adventures. He chopped with a hoe one-handed to prepare his expanded garden beds for planting. I guess nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight.

After a good rainstorm, our wall by our kitchen was wet---not a good sign. I sent two of the boys to the attic to find the leak. Joey and the boys were up on the roof in the middle of a rainstorm that night putting a tarp over it to hold us until some day. Another one of those praying for the least risk involved.

The same day, my washer broke (it had not been a good day). Try keeping boys from getting muddy in the rain, especially after a week of it. The bigger boys were not immune from mud either since they mended fences, or rode dirt bikes through the streambed and around the pond. (If I recall, I was not the one who asked for an adventure….)

Photo by Helen E. Aardsma, Summer 2010.

I was busy helping Jacob with a test when I heard Joshua (6) screaming. It was the real cry scream. When I went to check, Josh showed me his finger that he “could not bend.” Joey John (19) pulled a two-inch fiberglass splinter from his finger that kept him from ‘bending’ it. He had used his marshmallow bow with a regular arrow and it had splintered as it left the bow. “The boy is a warrior; the boy is his name.” (p. 11)

Joey removed a pre-melanoma mole from Josiah. “Yes, a man is a dangerous thing. So is a scalpel. It can wound or it can save your life. You don’t make it safe by making it dull; you put it in the hands of someone who knows what he’s doing.” (p. 83). I feel the safety because; I know Who holds the scalpel.

Mike (4 years) was playing on the fence (not allowed) when he flipped upside down and was just hanging by his shoelace for six seconds. “We are made to depend on God.” (p. 121) If Mike does not make me run to God, nothing will. Jacob wanted to breed rabbits. He enjoyed the process of preparing them for meals, but not the daily duty of care. After several baby rabbits did not make it, Josh wondered to me, “What does it feel like to be dead?” What a teachable moment to explain how our lives go on—with God or without God. It ended with his request for God to allow him to cleanse him now and to live with God when he ‘dies.’ “The most dangerous man on earth is the man who has reckoned with his own death. All men die; few men ever really live.” (p. 169) I was just walking…. Josh was following me and said, “I can’t do that.” As if, he was in admiration of something. I asked him of what. He said, “I can’t walk in a straight line with one foot in front of the other.” We found one of those rare things that he could not do. I proceeded to explain, “Because I am a lady, and God made my hips to allow babies to be born, my legs have to ‘walk’ that way. He had to curtail his adventure to walk like a ‘man.’

We built a chicken coop. Even Josiah informed me that we were not going to use lattice and duct tape. (That is my standard for fixing anything---the fence, a hole, a cage…) How do you arrive at a working plan with three perfectionists who have their own ideas on how to do it and one mom who just wants it done (cheaply)? That adventure took several months to actually complete. Now we have a chicken palace that they all should be proud. “Explore, build, conquer…take risks.” (p. 49)

Joey John, much to his excitement (I will not tell you what it does to me), purchased his own, bigger dirt bike. He had really out-grown the one that we had bought for him three years ago. He went through the process of paying DMV for registering—welcome to the real world of government taxes. “Do whatever brings me back to my heart and the heart of God.” (p. 171)

“Adventure requires something of us, puts us to the test. Though we may fear the test, at the same time we yearn to be tested, to discover that we have what it takes.” (pp. 13-14) The next adventure would make me again depend on God [probably not any more than Jesus who lived in desperate dependence on His Father, the ‘Son could do nothing by himself’ (p. 127)]. Joey John and Jonathan went to compete at the Hollister Dirt Bike Race. To look at Joey John’s face—it was an adventure of a lifetime. After watching several other heats start—and some wipe out in the first turn—I was recognizing even more how dependent upon God I had to be. Joey John started with his heat cautious but keeping up with the rest. I kept looking for him to circle around for the first loop. Finally, when he did circle around outside the loop, I told him that he should be over on the track. He said that the medic told him to circle around there. I looked down to see what was left of his pant leg. He had gone over a cliff to drop ten feet and land on a bike peg of another biker who had gone over the drop. The foot peg took out a chunk of skin two inches deep and three inches wide. Someone offered Vicodin (I should have taken it for me.) Joey asked him, “On a scale of 1-10, what was your pain level?” Joey John responded with, “Oh, maybe three.” We did not want to prevent Jonathan from racing his heat. However, he wisely declined after seeing his tire rim cracked and Joey John’s bike unridable. Joey took Joey John to his office to put 14 outside stitches and eight internal stitches. “A man must have a battle to fight, a great mission to his life that involves and yet transcends even home and family. He must have a cause to which he is devoted even unto death….Your whole life has been preparation.” (p. 141).

Photo by Helen E. Aardsma, Summer 2010.

While outside, I chanced to look up to see this contraption in the top of our tree. Jacob informed me that it was his bola. (A tool used in Swiss Family Robinson. They took a rope and attached stones on both ends. They would swing it around their head then throw it. They could strangle rabbits for their dinner.) Somehow, I do not think a rabbit would be that high in the tree. “The recipe for fun is pretty simple raising boys: Add to any activity an element of danger, stir in a little exploration, add a dash of destruction and you’ve got yourself a winner.” (p. 13)

Oh, and now January is over and we are ready for February –right? And yes, we have no adventure.

Josh, after one mishap, said, “I bent my bone.”

For Jacob’s birthday dinner, he wanted pig stomach. He also wanted to invite people over—he chose some of the guests who had never dined with us before and one that I hadn’t even met. I tried to prepare him that this was not the typical meal to serve to company—but he was not budging from his request. Then I tried to prepare the visitors for our meal---reminded me of the Clampets from Beverley Hillbillies when they offered “possum innards and pickled crow’s feet, mmmm, mmm”. The visitors were very gracious and we survived the adventure—with sowbelly requested for his next birthday. An adventure waits at every meal at our house.

After raising 25 hens to maturity, James (9) had his eggs to sell. He has been quite the entrepreneur, asking everyone how many eggs they would like to purchase from him (not if, but how many and when.) He is thrilled with his chickens, his eggs, and the money that he then spends on other people. His mission in life—starts where he is.

James exercises his chickens’ wings by throwing them in the air. Even our animals must have a sense of adventure to survive the daily tasks. James came to my room to talk and said, “I want to be a chicken.” I thought, “Well, I’d like to be invisible, but that’s not going to happen.” I did not know what to tell him. Several hours later, he again approached me and said the same thing. When I asked him what he meant, he said, “I’d like to breed my chickens.” Oh, well, that I can help him with---now to be a chicken may take something beyond my ability as a mom. We started his project. He raised several families using his banty hens for mothers. Dad gave his blessing for another adventure.

Photo by Helen E. Aardsma, Summer 2010.

James has also been asking me for a cat. I have always had the excuse that our dogs would kill one (which they would). Since our dog died, the excuse no longer existed. We acquired a freshly weaned kitten. James’ responsibilities with his kitten were not duty but devotion. He reminds me of what our devotions with our Lord should be like, ‘the discipline of devotions is never the point. The whole point of a devotional life is connection with God.” (p. 172). We were alarmed one church morning when his little charge sat on a rattlesnake (a baby). Her face puffed up immediately and we could see the fang marks on her face. What a time of waiting, as she hid for the day and we prayed for both James and the cat to survive this ordeal. The next day awoke with her back to normal and James as devoted as ever.

Later, after our cat, Weed, had grown, the boys found a kitten, barely weaned in the boulders of our property. After pursuing an owner, the boys adopted her. Weed fought for her rights in her kingdom. We have tried to maintain peace with two kingdoms: one the house and the other garage. The kitten still gets her fresh milk from the cow and sometimes gets in the house but the cat’s aggressions are not as fierce and the litter box problem is not as noticeable. James is the gentle warrior. Baseball season came with tight schedules to get all five boys where they needed to be with one vehicle. Joey John stayed with Jonathan in Sanger (45 minutes away) to take pictures of other Little League games for them to purchase on-line. He found that he earned $.14/hour—not a money raising experience but we told him an ‘experience’ worth having. Josh (6 years) made two unassisted triple plays. Somehow, I think that he was up for the adventure. James just gives his all and is a joy to watch his expressions of utmost concentration. Jonas was in his element as catcher, directing the fielders and encouraging the pitcher. Jonas and Jacob both pitched. How they get that ball over the plate at that distance with accuracy always amazes me. Jonathan was in his warrior motif when he faced the pitcher as the batter. He caused me more anxiety watching him steal every base to score runs almost every time he got on base. The warrior came out of me when ‘the league’ did not permit Jonathan to finish playing in the All-Star Tournament because of where he lived. Do not get me ready to fight! Baseball season continued for the boys long after the games, as they practiced at home. Mike was again on the fence. ‘Someone’ hit Michael in the chest with the baseball; he flipped over the fence and landed on his feet. Sometimes, adventure is not the word for it….

Our pregnant Highland cow had a delayed delivery. After being shown, Josiah would stick his entire arm inside the heifer to palpate the baby to determine movement. When she had labored several hours without help—we were able to apply chains to its feet to help pull the calf out. The baby was back end first, and like a fuzzy puppy dog (only much bigger). I was greatly relieved that ‘waiting’ adventure was over.

Blossom (our milk cow) delivered her baby, Henry, without adventure. Now it is an adventure to keep Henry from sucking off my hand, if I am outside, while he waits for Jonas to bottle-feed him. Jonas chose to bottle feed Henry hoping that it would make it easier to keep him away from ‘our’ milk. Jonas informed us the other day, “Henry was getting BUFF.”Jonas’s adventure has brought him to own and manage the milk cow and her offspring. He has succeeded in helping the family have enough milk. The ‘adventure’ of painting the house fell on Jonas, Jacob, James, Josh and Michael this time. Michael found himself designated to painting the doghouse with a watercolor paintbrush (it did less damage than a full-size paintbrush). Their enthusiasm waned a bit when I added the barn, but their diligence paid off and the job was completed. The green looks ‘calming.’ I will work on the trim, ‘sometime.’ A rest from that adventure came willingly.

Photo by Rachel Aardsma, Summer 2010.

Josiah, in addition to maintaining his own horses with training, has worked for others to tame or to gentle their WILD horses. He knows by experience the phrase “Master your horse or it will master you.” Most of the boys have taken the three horses to the Sequoias to trail ride. My absence requires me to let go and to pray. Josiah and Jonathan started a lawn care business—involving weed-wacking, mowing, cutting trees, and even fencing. They were busy from April through the summer. The “Be Careful, Drink Plenty of Water, and Make Sure you Look for Snakes” before they left every morning was not old to me—but they would just listen with a knowing smile and a nod of their heads. “If we can reawaken that fierce quality in a man, hook it up to a higher purpose, release the warrior within, then the boy can grow up and become truly masculine.” (p. 140) That requires me, the mom, to let go….but not without caution.

Josiah struggled internally with his lawn care business because he always had to work around the family vehicle. His mission was to obtain his own vehicle. After much searching, and several misleading advertisements, he purchased his first truck. We are all very pleased with his purchase. Sometimes, I think that I use his vehicle more than he does to haul hay, straw, pig food, cement blocks and mortar. His dream became reality—and it has led to other adventures.

Maybe, I should be praying more in my sleep. Josiah went into the kitchen one predawn morning to find a snake stretched out in my kitchen. He swept it outside with the broom and dustpan. This led to the boys ‘wondering’ how many insects we could actually have inside our house. I stopped their wondering---I do not want to know how many nor how they get inside….Did I ask for adventure?

Josiah also was the master gardener for our constant source of produce this year. He planted peas, beans, beets, radishes and carrots. He started from seed peppers, and tomatoes. He added squash, asparagus and potatoes. He planned and planted, but with his lawn care business, he kept us busy picking and ‘putting it by’. We picked more than we had room in the freezer and on shelves for the canning. Josiah had planted a patch of cantaloupes that gave us all delight. I had just told the boys how Joey would eat cantaloupe when he was a boy—“He’d cut it in half and fill the half with ice cream and dig in.”After the ah’s and oh’s , I hastened to add that they should never think that we would ever have enough cantaloupe to do that in our family; we would all have to be happy with sucking off the rinds and taking a quarter of a piece. Well, three weeks later—Josiah brought that adventure to our table: a half of a cantaloupe with ice cream for everyone. What a summer delight!

We went picking apples this fall. The younger boys helped (Michael especially as he sat on a bucket and told me how good the apples tasted.) We were able to can 18 jars of applesauce and 18 jars of apple butter, plus plenty of eating apples. We have all enjoyed the fruit of that adventure. I woke one night to the smell of smoke. I went through the house trying to locate the cause. The smell came from the room where four of the boys were sleeping. I went outside and smelt around to see if I could isolate it. Finally, when I could not settle my thoughts, I woke Joey. He smelled it and went up on the roof to see if it was stronger from the roof vents. We walked around the pond and still smelled it…Joey determined that it was coming from a fire from the forests east of us. Who wanted adventure?

Photo by Helen E. Aardsma, Summer 2010.

I have been procrastinating writing this part of our year, maybe in hopes that it really did not happen…I had been trying to prepare myself for Joey John’s departure for college for at least a year now. Knowing when he leaves, things will not be the same. With his return, he will be different. God will have taken him on his own adventures that we could not share. We could not guard or remind him of all the mishaps. His senior year brought him acceptance to three colleges. He chose Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). Joey and I crammed all our advice and knowledge to prepare him for “life” and school. We wondered how much could possibly sink in, and how much he would just have to learn by experience, the hard way. We flew Joey John to Milwaukee taking Josh and Michael. The other boys stayed behind to work the homestead. The weekend was full of helpful parent and student activities and sessions but nothing prepared our hearts for the emptiness that came when we left. Abandonment is not a strong enough word for it….Joey was quick to encourage me that there was nothing for Joey John at home. He had reached all that he could be where we were. His Lord and God will stretch his life. We had to commit him to His care.

In preparation for our trip, I was anxious about those left behind. Joey had told me that this was what we would do; otherwise, I could not have left them ‘on their own.’ James could not stop talking about how much fun they were going to have. Jonas was excited to move his clothes into Joey John’s room with Josiah. All was in expectation of a wonderful vacation. I was relieved by the many offers to provide dinners (although I had left plenty) that allowed a distraction during our absence. They want adventure with total abandonment.

The hole still exists but we have assurance that Joey John is growing with the Lord and fighting his battles with victories. The weekends were initially difficult for him, since most students went home and the campus took a quiet atmosphere. He has sought out several Bible studies and has found someone to take him to church on Sundays. He is adjusting and finding his class load challenging. He is finding the battle Satan wants to win is in the mind. Discouragement, feelings of loss and disappointments are battles that will be lost or won in his mind. “When you are under attack, we’ve got to hang on to the truth. Jesus stood on truth. Answered with Scripture….Satan throws feelings. Your strength is revealed and even increased—through exercise.”(p. 164) Proverbs 4:23 tell us to “guard our hearts.” “Defend them like a castle the seat of your strength you do not want to give away.” (p. 164). It is easy for me to tell him to fight those battles, but harder to fight them on my end. Satan likes his victories.

I was surprised at how the boys responded to his absence with a subdued, quietness the first couple of weeks and a continued concerned prayer vigil for Joey John’s needs.

Joey John has his ‘beauty’ to come by his side. He has asked Rachel and her parents if he may court her. They have corresponded for about two years.

Roses that Joey Jr. got Rachel.
Photo by Helen E. Aardsma, November, 2010.

Jonathan participated in the Civil War Reenactment complete with battles. Jacob and Josh also dressed the part. Jonathan camped out with the regiment and found comradry with his Confederate Unit. “Man is born into a world at war.” (p. 49). He hopes to participate in several others around the state. We will have to see how much adventure this mom can take. Our fall project has been to prepare the pig house for twelve pigs. This required cementing an area that bogged in the rain. We also constructed the pig house with a cement wall half way up to prevent the pigs from destroying the wood (what they have done in previous years). Once Jonathan laid the cement forms, the younger boys were in charge of this project. Jonas led the way with cheering the boys and showing the responsibility of his years. Now they reap the benefits of an adventure successfully completed.

Once the house was completed, we searched for the pigs. Jonas is our resident businessman, calling the businesses to find the best bargain. When we met one of the businessman in the feed store, he teased Jonas by saying, “He called, asked his questions, then before I could ask about the family, he had hung up.” He suggested, “Try an auction for the pigs.” This would be stretching me beyond…. We were comforted that someone would come with us to help us, each step of the way. Three-fourths of the way to the auction, we received a call from this acquaintance saying he could not make it but we would do ‘just fine.’ Now I was on ‘my own’ and not liking it. He called ahead to ‘warn’ the auctioneer of our presence. Between not understanding what was going on and what the auctioneer was saying, I was confused. The auctioneer finally stopped and asked me, “Lady, do you want these pigs.” Yes, “Then put your sign up.” He then said that we had “just paid top dollar for an education.” If that was not enough, we had to bid again for the remainder of the twelve that we needed. Again, I paid top dollar, trying to figure out what he said and what it meant. Then we had to lug them home in the trailer—never a pleasant adventure for me, even though Josiah does all the driving, backing and hauling. Joey encouraged me that night with “now we have them.” I still get bugs in my gut at the thought of that auction.

Joey’s Dad has dementia. Joey’s Mom took care of him—even when he would not sleep for 36 hours straight and would wander around, sometimes leaving the house and be unable to find his way home. She was exhausted. He was becoming difficult to manage. She took him to a specialist for evaluation. As they were leaving, he had an outbreak that required hospitalization. He has remained there, keeping the interns busy following him around as he ‘re-organizes’ people’s things. The requirement for admission helped alleviate the initial decision to admit him, but it does not fill Mom’s hole in her heart over the loss. Adventure in aging requires more trust in our Lord’s ways.

Our family visited the Ronald Reagan Museum and Library. Patrick Henry College sponsored the event, including the dinner, which the boys are still talking about how good it was. Michael Farris, the speaker, warned us of what he sees in the government activity toward homeschooling and the government’s desire and necessity to control all children through legislature. We are reminded of Whose battle we are fighting, against the powers of the world, and our need to prepare because persecution seems inevitable.

We attended a Draft Horse Auction. The boys were able to watch horse training, drive buggies and observe the auction without the pressure of buying. We did not know why it was so difficult the first time.

When we stopped at Joey’s office afterward, the excursion would not start again. Triple A came for the tow. We had so many “thank you’s” for the timing. Thanks that we were not at home and then have to tow it 50 plus miles. Thanks, that it stopped then and not at my next stop stranding us with no way home and Joey on his way to L.A. Thanks for the extra vehicle, someone from work lent us (big enough to get us home). Adventures with cars are never top on my list, but then again, I did not ask for the adventure, or did I?

Photo by Helen E. Aardsma 2010, Summer 2010.

Josiah called this next adventure a combination of circus and rodeo. The boys started doing chores as it approached darkness. A pig got out of the fence to stick his head into the milk pail. Its head was stuck. We heard this squealing pig stumbling and running through the horse arena, stirring the four horses to kick and run in circles. The clank and rattle told us where it had run into things as it tried to escape. The remainder ten pigs ran out of their pen area to see the excitement and found Blossom (our milk cow) lying upside down exhausted from running from the horses. (We had not had time to evaluate whether she was even alive.) The pigs were jumping on her and around her. Henry was ready for his bottle and following anyone around that looked like Jonas. We finally heard silence as the pail came off the pig’s head. Now we tried to corral all eleven pigs back inside their pen. When half of them were inside the pen, we would turn around and they would be out again through a hole in the fence. Finally, they were contained and we were able to look at Blossom. We were not sure if she had broken bones, especially by the way she was laying. Because of the way she was laying, we positioned ourselves on the downhill side of her to attempt to roll her up hill and onto her feet. Jacob became pinned under her head when she swayed back in an awkward, unexpected position (he still hurts a bit from it). Michael, again on the fence, climbed off to fall in the horse’s water bucket. The rolling of Blossom continued with pulling on her halter until she finally stood. The rain started to fall and the boys now had to complete the chores in the wet darkness. Another evening of chores finally accomplished. I was glad that Joey was home for this adventure. Yes, circus and rodeo all rolled into one. I have not gone into detail with the many adventures Joey has with the Army Reserves. His ongoing orders to jump out of airplanes and helicopters have kept us all hopping. The army dissolved the position for medical civil-affairs officers except the position he holds.

The letter would be amiss without at least saying this warrior rescued ‘his beauty’ and we are living the adventure of our lives together. “You can tell what kind of man you’ve got simply by noting the impact he has on you.” (p. 27) Joey prays for his patients to have peace the night before and the time in the office, knowing that many will be nervous for their procedure. Joey prays for the soldiers as they exit the plane. When he is not home, we miss his peace and calmness. Are there any less battles? Probably not, but with his presence the peace through the battles makes the emphasis not on the battles but on the life.

I guess that we have come full circle to another closing of another year. Did we have adventure? Probably depends upon whom you ask. But as we look at Christmas for the adventure of the Babe in the manger, we are struck with the deed foretold centuries before. “Adventure?” you may ask, “from a babe who lay calmly sleeping in a manager?” Yes, look in Revelations 12:1-13. “A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days. And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth and his angels with him…. He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short. When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.”

That image is not quite the peace in a manger that I usually picture at Christmas time. God made Christmas possible by a war in heaven: a war between God’s best angels and those who wanted their own way. God won the battle of course, and we received the awaited promise. If Jesus’ coming on earth was nothing short of a battle, could we expect anything else on a daily basis. Satan’s time is even shorter; his fury has not lessened. He is still waging war on God’s people—and we need to be equipped and ready to fight the battle God has already enabled us to win. Adventure? You bet. Are you prepared? Get ready. “Do whatever it takes to bring you back to your heart and the heart of God.” (p. 171).

Ready for God’s Adventure,

Joey and Sonya

Joey John, Josiah, Jonathan, Jonas, Jacob, James, Joshua, and Michael

Photo by Helen E. Aardsma, Summer 2010.

December, 2009

Dear Family and Friends,
I have these statements taped on my refrigerator as a daily reminder:

“We are so blessed.”

“There is always, always, always something to be thankful for.”

Not good grammar, but good philosophy in which to live. This year, I read to the boys an old book, "Pollyanna" originally written in 1917. She was a young girl, whose father had been a missionary out west. When they had received the missionary barrel from their supporting church, Pollyanna had wished to receive a doll. Instead she found a crutch. Her father, seeing her disappointment, started a game that would change the way she viewed the world. He taught her the “Glad Game.” “You can be glad that you don’t need this crutch.” He said with tenderness. After his death, and her arrival at an elderly aunt’s house, Pollyanna began teaching those around her of the freedom the game gave to live one’s life ‘gladly.’ An aging gardener was told by the little ray of sunshine, “He could be glad that he stooped so low from rheumatism, because now he wouldn’t have to reach so far to pick the weeds.” The maid was told when she confessed that she didn’t like Mondays, “You can be glad that there is only one Monday a week.” And so the book continued. Pollyanna taught the game to the entire village.
We, in turn, have tried to play “The Glad Game.” Although, we don’t always instinctively play the game, we have found when we do play that an acceptance of sad happenings can make us, indeed, thankful and yes, blessed.
King David must have known the game when he said,

The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad…
Let those who love the Lord hate evil, for He guards the lives of His faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked… Rejoice in the Lord, you who are righteous and praise His Holy Name.
Psalm 97:1, 10, 12

We could start by telling about how the “Glad Game” helped James (8 years). His pet duck was killed by a stray dog. His tender heart would burst into tears in memory of his beloved duck. The “Glad Game” was difficult to play, but led to our purchasing 25 day-old ducks. He tended those ducklings with the care of a mother duck, but one thing or another brought their lives to a short end—(maybe too hot, too cold???) The entire experience made me wish for adult birds. While looking for rabbits for Jacob (10 years), we bought six bantum hens for James. He sits in their coop and they roost on his shoulder or head and peck his teeth (not an image upon which I wish to dwell). He rushes down to the coop before the break of day to help Snow, his rooster crow (so much for all hens). James finds an egg a day from his hens. I would call it a half of an egg, by its size. We just purchased a shipment of 25-day-old laying chickens that we will add to these hens for more eggs. We are so blessed.

Josiah (16 years) was in charge of the garden this year. The boys were having problems ‘being glad’ after three months of squash every night. I made a salad with two cucumbers from the garden. To make them stretch for ten people, I added squash to the cucumber salad. Jonathan (14 years) had seconds saying that he was glad that it wasn’t squash. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that it was squash---until after the salad was gone. I was glad for the abundant and versatile vegetable. Our tomatoes came in a bunch---actually 100 pounds every third day for a week and a half, then petered to a handful at a time. We’ve been pleased with the green peppers that still have blossoms and fruit in middle November. We will rejoice.

Photo by Joey Contreras Jr., September, 2008.

Joey John (18 years) and I took a Spanish class at Reedley College last spring. We, as well as, all the boys who had to babysit, make dinner and keep everyone happy while I was gone, were very glad at the class’s conclusion. Although, I wish that I could remember more than “adios” from all that studying that I did.

Jonas (12 years), Jacob, and James played baseball. Joey John took action photos of the players and sold them to interested parents. Joey even umpired some of their games. Since the league didn’t have Jonathan’s age group, he especially found it hard just to watch. I was probably the only one glad when the season of hectic schedules, a messy house, and throw together meals (before and after each practice and game) was over in a month. The boys are always so glad to play. After a particularly hard time calming the boys to go to sleep after a game, Joshua (6 years) complained about this ache behind his knee. He said, “I think that I’m missing a bone.” Well that warranted having Daddy look at it. I’m glad that he had all his bones and was now able to go sleep.

While visiting my folks in Indianapolis, we went north to Shipshewana Amish Country. We toured a museum of their history and ideology. Several of the boys wished that we could go back to horse and buggy for transportation. We are grateful that God does give freedom to His children to live differently as He directs and know that ‘the Lord reigns, let the earth be glad.’

Joey John, Josiah, and Jonathan went to help our friends in Illinois with their strawberry farm. They were glad for their experiences. While they were gone, their brothers (Jonas, Jacob, James, Josh and Mike) had to tear down our wooden fence to put up a pipe fence. They were ‘glad’ when their brothers returned to do the big jobs. Joey was gone during that time on an army mission. I was glad when everyone made all their connecting flights arriving safely home again. “He guards the lives of His faithful ones.”

We were glad for the new fence, when two of the horses were tied to it. Michael threw a Frisbee at the horses; it went through the fence at them. They both reared back on hind legs and pulled to get free of this flying saucer. They continued rearing for a few LONG moments, until they settled down to watch Michael guardedly. We were glad that the fence held—we were standing behind them. And that He again, ‘guards the lives’.

Mike (when 2 years) was jumping off the couch, something not allowed. He started crying with blood gushing out of his mouth. Joey was home (I was glad) because Mike had chomped across most of his tongue. We were glad that it was still attached on the bottom. It helped him to stop using the bottle (he couldn’t suck without pain). There is so much to be glad about.

I watched Mike grab hold of our rope climbing swing and drag his feet to a dust stirring stop. I suggested to him, because his toe was already bloody from a previous injury that he “find something else to do.” Two minutes later, he was going down one of our steep hills on a tricycle that had no brakes. The bike stopped in a ditch and he flew over the handlebars and landed laughing. I again told him “to find something different to do.” All this is all by himself, with no assistance from any big brothers. He grabbed a skateboard went to another steep hill to sit down on the board to ride down in a cloud of dust---I reminded him to wear his helmet—and I found it a glad thing just to go inside. That was in a short fifteen minute period….I wonder how many guardian angels are worn out on our property? And I can rest assured that because “the Lord reigns…” that “He will guard…His faithful ones.”

I know the guardian angels don’t stay just on our property. Joey John went to Engineering Camp at Cedarville University, Ohio during the summer. It was an introduction to various fields of engineering. He brought back a video clip about a mother concerned for her son. She took him to their doctor. While discussing her concerns, the son is in the background fixing the doctor’s broken machine. She asks with concern, “Will my son be able to live a normal life?” The doctor with the greatest sympathy in his voice responded by saying, “No, he’ll be an engineer.” The mom breaks down and sobs. James, perhaps with concern for my sanity, will say out of the blue, “No, he’ll be an engineer.” and weep into his hands. James makes me more concerned for his own ‘normal’ life than Joey John’s. But we are very glad for the different talents God does give---to all our boys.

Photo by Joey Contreras Jr., September, 2008.

We were glad for God’s protection when I wrecked Joey’s car. I couldn’t see the car coming off the exit ramp from a highway, until he was upon us. I was following Joey at the time; he could see the whole thing. I was glad Joey was there to take care of the issues. We were glad that James and Michael were not injured. We were just----Glad for a lot. We are blessed and will be glad.

Josiah (16 years) has joined the club of drivers. We now have four drivers in the family. For God’s continuing protection—again we are glad. “He guards the lives of His faithful ones.”

The process of purchasing the right trailer was in God’s hands---as we all know. Joey took the older boys to San Diego (a six hour drive, one-way) to buy a trailer. Fifteen minutes from getting to the lady’s house, she called to tell them that she had just sold it. It was a disappointed ‘glad.’ From some advice from a patient, we started looking for a gooseneck trailer. In the process of getting the goose-neck trailer hitch installed, Josh (5 years) suggested since our friends were going to eat their goose, we could use their neck. It was not quite the solid ‘neck’ that we needed. With the ‘right’ gooseneck hitch installed, the trailer was found. The price was too high for us, but we asked the owner to take our number if he should be able to come down to our price. Joey prayed, as did the boys, and that next day the owner called to say that he could not sleep all night and that he would accept our amount. We became the proud owners of a goose-neck three horse slant trailer. Josiah’s especially glad that we can now take his horses for more training where the boys train, as well as, for some hiking trips to the Sequoias. Jonathan finds ‘gladness’ in parking the trailer mere inches from the carport with the truck looking like it is ready to pull it anywhere. I am always glad when we arrive safely home from each outing.

We purchased in May a highland heifer that was to be bred in the fall. The boys were excited to use the trailer to go get her (a 6 hour trip one-way). She is the daintiest cow that I have ever seen—if a cow can be dainty. She has bangs that fall down across her eyes. Her horns are a bit daunting, but she is docile and almost shy with the boys. Her due date is April 15—a reason to be glad for that day.

One of our dogs was seen limping toward our pond. He always liked to swim. After chores the boys went toward the pond and found him drowned. Rather bizarre and unexplained, but one of the boys said that we could be glad that he died before we bought the rabbits and other animals. That dog was not one to get along with the other dogs or animals. It has been quiet without him stirring the other dogs to fight. “The Lord reigns…let the animals be glad.”

Jonas talked of becoming a jockey and a football player when he ‘grew up.’ Jonathan said, “How can you be small and a football player?” We heard of nothing else for awhile until Jonas mentioned that he would like to be a K-9 police officer. “What happened to being a jockey and a football player?” His response after great thought was, “Those were just childish whims.” I’m glad that God doesn’t give us all our childish whims….

Joey John has worked for over a year and a half to get an older dirt bike working. One thing after another caused difficulty, especially since the parts were no longer available. We all celebrated when he was able to complete the project and take it for a ride. We were all glad for him. In regards to his mechanical knowledge, Joey was informing all the boys that they needed to learn how to maintain our vehicles for future needs. James piped up and said, “I won’t be doing such things, my wife will do it,” as he gestured flamboyantly. Joey and I look at each other and wonder who in the world will marry this one? Reminds me of the verse in Proverbs 23:25, “May your father and mother be glad. May she who gave you birth rejoice.”

Speaking of wives, and marriage and such…. James was speaking about how he was made. He said that he came from God and Mommy. Joey was sitting listening to him and asked, “What about me?” He responded quickly by saying, “Well, of course you, too.” I am so glad God knows where we have been and what to do with all of us.

Josh was riding the small dirt bike. I could hear him making his circles around the house. In a moment, I couldn’t hear it any more. I looked out the window to see if all was fine. I watched as the other boys didn’t even get off their horses, but rode quickly to where he was. I knew something was wrong. When I went out there, they were all huddled around him. He had missed his turn around the pond and gone up and over a rock that Jonathan had said, “Even we don’t go over it with our big bikes.” His little bike had gone over the boulder and left him half-way. Glad for helmets, glad for God’s guardian angels (again), glad for my heart still working. Glad again, for He Who guards the lives of His faithful ones.

After a particular long session instructing and correcting Joshua, we could hear him outside yelling, “Someone help me, I’m dying.” I’m so glad that our neighbors know us and know children….I’m also glad the times are getting shorter and the lessons are getting learned, although too slowly for both our sakes.

Photo by Joey Contreras Jr., 2010.

Michael is responding to instruction. Mike is a good little tormenter. I can often hear him from the back room saying, “You baby.” Jonathan will say, “No, I’m not.” Mike will again say, “You, baby.” “No, I’m not.” He can irk all of them…and he does. We should be thankful that he is finally talking---a slow process. Jonas was tired of Michael calling him and everyone else “Mom”, so he painstakingly taught him how to say, “broder” (brother). We’ve since worked on specific names for the ‘broders’---but even I don’t always get that right. But we are glad for his progress.

The conflict between Joshua and Michael continues to arise. Joshua, on one occasion, was heard to tell him, “Obey your elders.” I’m really, really glad that I don’t have twins of two certain young boys. Let everyone be glad.

Joey John has been preparing for the SAT, applying for schools, and taking a few classes at Reedley College in addition to his senior year at home. It has been quite the process for all of us to prepare him for college life. I am more nervous than he at what he will experience there, but I am so glad that the God, who holds our hands at home, can reach toward him where ever He directs him to go.

Joey let me have a taste of the empty nest, when he had a conference in San Francisco and took me with him. The boys seemed to think that it was a great party---alone with seven brothers. I was glad that it was only a weekend. Of course, our good friends kept them busy and entertained. We are glad for good friends.

We went camping for just a weekend. We were thankful for the little things—hot chocolate on a cold morning, stars over head, quiet—when the neighboring campers finally finished their loud music. I was glad for showers when we got home.

Jonas has been learning about the Middle Ages in school. We, as a family, have read Ivanhoe, Men of Iron, and The Three Musketeers. So we prepared him for next year’s subject by attending the Renaissance Fair in Fresno. They had costumed characters of various stations of life. We watched a jousting match where two knights charged each other on horses, colliding with eleven foot solid wood lances that resulted in earth shuddering cracks and splintering wood that flung into the crowd. One knight was knocked from his horse. The boys liked the trebuchet which flung pumpkins and cabbages into a field to be crushed by its impact. Jacob especially enjoyed every sword and knife display. They also saw briefly how long bows were made by patience and perseverance. Jonas is still addressing me with “My Lady.” “Indeed, this is so.” “Aye,” we can be glad to learn.

Josh, after his recent birthday, was thinking he was getting so big. He said that he thought that he had hair growing under his arms. Then he felt his stomach and said he had some there, too. I assured him that he had nothing but peach fuzz and that it was too soon for him to even think that he was that old. I am glad that one of us is still young.

Another family raised chickens for us. We just finished helping them to prepare them for the freezer. Jacob was in his element, digging out the insides and preparing them for packaging. Jonas did well cutting the whole chicken into legs, wings, and parts. We definitely have the boy mentality—at the end of the cutting table, we witnessed headless chicken fights, walking chicken legs (minus the bodies), and other assorted entertainment. I will be glad for the variety of meat and the supplement to our pork that is getting low.

The ‘Glad Game’ has helped us through the good times but more importantly the ‘bad times.’ Fore, it reminds us that our God is in charge of the big things and the little things, good things and bad things and that He indeed does “Let the earth be glad.” It reminds me of the verses in Romans 8:28-32 where it says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose…. If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His Own Son but gave Him up for us all---how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” At this Christmas time, as we look to the Son of God who came to earth, gave His life in order to give us the good, while He took our judgment, we can truly ‘be glad.’ “Be Glad” that the Lord reigns, that the earth can be glad, that He guards the lives of His faithful ones, and that we can rejoice in the Lord for He is righteous and We can indeed praise His Holy Name.”

We hope that you, too, can be glad this year.

Joey, Sonya, Joey John, Josiah, Jonathan, Jonas, Jacob, James, Joshua, and Michael

December, 2008

Dear Friends,

I found this in a magazine and my boys thought it reminded them of someone...and let me quickly add that my mother never said any of these, so I don’t know who they would be talking about...

Things Our Mothers Taught Us

  • 1. My mother taught me TO APPRECIATE A JOB WELL DONE. “If you’re going to kill each other, do it outside. I just finished cleaning.”
  • 2. My mother taught me RELIGION. “You better pray that will come out of the carpet.”
  • 3. My mother taught me about TIME TRAVEL. “If you don’t straighten up, I’m going to knock you into the middle of next week.”
  • 4. My mother taught me LOGIC. “Because I said so, that’s why.”
  • 5. My mother taught me MORE LOGIC. “If you fall out of that swing and break your neck, you’re not going to the store with me.”
  • 6. My mother taught me FORESIGHT. “Make sure you wear clean underwear, in case you’re in an accident.”
  • 7. My mother taught me IRONY. “Keep crying and I’ll give you something to cry about.”
  • 8. My mother taught me about the science of OSMOSIS. “Shut your moth and eat your supper.”
  • 9. My mother taught me about CONTORTIONISM. “Will you look at that dirt on the back of your neck!”
  • 10. My mother taught me about STAMINA. “You’ll sit there until all that spinach is gone.”
  • 11. My mother taught me about WEATHER. “This room of yours looks as if a tornado went through it.”
  • 12. My mother taught me about ANTICIPATION. “JUST WAIT 'TIL WE GET HOME.”
  • 13. My mother taught me about RECEIVING. “You are going to get it when you get home.”
  • 14. My mother taught me MEDICAL SCIENCE. “If you don’t stop crossing your eyes, they are going to stay like that.”
  • 15. My mother taught me ESP. “Put your sweater on; don’t you think I know when you are cold?”
  • 16. My mother taught me HUMOR. “When that lawn mower cuts off your toes, don’t come running to me.”
  • 17. My mother taught me HOW TO BECOME AN ADULT. “If you don’t eat your vegetables, you’ll never grow up.”
  • 18. My mother taught me GENETICS. “You’re just like your father.”
  • 19. My mother taught me about my ROOTS. “Shut the door behind you. Do you think you were born in a barn?”
  • 20. My mother taught me WISDOM. “When you get to be my age, you’ll understand.”
  • 21. My mother taught me about JUSTICE. “One day you’ll have kids and I hope they turn out just like you!”

  • (Author is anonymous)

    Photo by Joey Contreras Jr., September, 2008.

    My boys say that they should write a book of my sayings...maybe it would go something like this:

    Things My Mother Tried to Teach Us About Consequences

    1. My mother taught me HORTICULTURE. “You reap what you sow, unless the rabbits, gophers, cows and horses, dogs and boys’ feet, bikes, bats and balls get it first.” Josiah (15) who is in charge of the garden, with the help of Jonas (11) and James (7), can attest to those obstacles. But they did reap beets, beans, tomatoes, and squash this year. Reaping what you sow: in addition to patience, a bigger fence, a better trap...

    2. My mother taught me DUTY. We acquired guardianship of our niece’s one year old son Michael in February. None of the other family members were up to the demands of his young care. Our boys experience daily how the actions of one can directly affect another. Every day I ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” Michael has progressed from ignoring us completely and living in his own little world, to responding with laughter and sometimes obedience. Consequences of doing one’s duty: knowing in your heart that you have done what is right with no regrets.

    3. My mother taught me METEOROLOGY. Joey wanted us to go snow camping. How do you keep water from freezing at night? Put it in your sleeping bag with you at night along with anything else that shouldn’t freeze. Would eggs burst when frozen? I didn’t try it nor did I put one in my sleeping bag. Most of the boys built snow ‘caves’ in which to sleep. Joey instructed us not to get anything wet. We were settled in our sleeping bags for oh, 3 minutes before Michael needed a bottle. Without using a light, I put the lid on crooked and dumped the milk all over Jonas and Michael. In the morning, those of us in the tent had puddles of milk under our sleeping bags, which explains why we were wet and well, cold. Consequences of not obeying rule number 1---keep dry.

    4. My mother taught me about GRAVITY. “Keep your feet firmly planted on the ground and keep on walking.” But Joey showed them what to do if they weren’t on the ground. Joey has been jumping out of planes for the army for several years now. He has to ‘practice’ monthly. One time, we went to watch Joey float to the ground as an experienced jumper. Some of the boys were ready to leap into the unknown (it doesn’t take much). Reaping careful planning (and much prayer) brings a safe and completed mission.

    Photo by Joey Contreras Jr., September, 2008.

    5. My mother taught me more about GRAVITY. I found a bike in the thrift store for Joshua (4). Within three days, he was showing me how he could do wheelies. He would flip his little pink bike out from under him and wing it into the air with much enthusiasm, or jump over low mounds of dirt ramps. Isn’t staying on the ground a better alternative? Not when he can be air borne. (Wonder where he got that one?) One of these days, the consequences of gravity will hit---and hard.

    6. My mother taught me PHOTOGRAPHY. If Joey John (17) doesn’t have his camera in front of his eye, he is checking his pictures on the computer. We went to the Fresno Zoo specifically for him to take pictures to enter a photo contest. When we visited friends in IL, they took pictures like Joey John; he spent the rest of the year consolidating them and making a slide presentation. Joey and I just provide him with the tools; he does the rest. Memories reaped of good friends and good times.

    7. My mother taught me DOMESTIC MANAGEMENT. People ask me about our grocery bill….To give you an idea of what a family of ten with eight boys (three teenagers) can consume, I will give you a small glimpse. When asked for a snack, I will tell the boys “Eat a pickle.” They will; and a gallon jar of pickles will disappear in a half hour. I buy 10 lbs. of apples; they will be consumed in half the time it takes to drive home. I can give two boxes of oatmeal for breakfast, a jar of jam and three loaves of bread for part of a lunch, or twenty ears of corn plus 2 lbs. of spaghetti with sauce for dinner. I can see twelve gallons of milk drank in a week. For a given month, I purchase 100 lbs. of potatoes, 50 lbs. of flour, 25 lbs. of sugar, 10 lbs. of cheese, 5-10 dozen eggs and 8 lbs. of butter. We butchered two pigs, 220 lbs each. They didn’t last more than four months. Someone asked me about left-overs. “What’s that?” Sometimes after a meal, I feel the boys’ gaze at the empty dishes on the table. Josiah will say, “Don’t worry, Mom, we’ll just eat cereal.” That doesn’t count the dog, cow, horse and pig food that they have eaten between meals. Have teenagers—will eat much. Have toddlers—will eat constantly. Consequences of both result in no food in the house and so much for domestic management.

    8. My mother taught me CONSERVATION OF ENERGY. This year was the year of appliances. Our water heater and dish washer had to be replaced after 20 some years. I used an apartment sized refrigerator (the kind meant for half a person who doesn’t eat at home) for over half a year (try to fit 12 gallons of milk in that), before Joey thought it was time to get a new one. Our second ice maker broke—couldn’t keep up with the demands. Joey bought me another vacuum cleaner after going without for awhile. We oohed and ahhhed over its ability to pick up dirt until like all cleaning devices, it too broke. We live out the Second Law of Thermodynamics (everything goes from order to disorder if no energy is put into it) ---without much effort. Somehow, I think the consequences of disorder come a whole lot faster than what it should at our house.

    9. My mother taught me DOMESTIC RESPONSIBILITY. We have two bathrooms. I have designated one as ‘the boys’ bathroom’—where I don’t venture inside unless absolutely necessary. I have even put up a reminder, “Changing the toilet paper roll does not cause brain damage.” I have requested, demanded and insisted that the second bathroom be ‘mine’---so I don’t have to touch, smell or see any repulsive thing where I try to get clean. One day, Josh was talking about the ‘men’s bathroom’. I said, “Wait a minute, where is this ‘men’s bathroom’?” “Oh, Mom, it’s right there.” He said as he pointed to the ‘boy’s bathroom’. “What men are using that?” I wondered. An image of the future reaped in the ever present now.

    10. My mother introduced me to FEMININE INFLUENCE. We had Destiny (8) and Alexis (6), Michael’s half-sisters, stay with us for a week. What a different set of dynamics to have pink and frills mixed with all the sweat and dirt. The whirlwind kept them all playing before sun-up to sun-down. The influence of girls in your life results in something very different and unpredictable.

    11. My mother chauffeured us into ATHLETIC COMPETITION. Jacob (9) played the coach’s helper---standing on the pitcher’s mound, poised and ready for any action. Jonas and Jonathan (13) were on the older baseball team. Jonathan played pitcher and catcher. During several games, Jonas caught the ball in the out field and threw it to Jonathan for an out. Joey John worked with the coach and kept records. Joey umpired several games. The rest of us ran after Michael and made sure that all the boys had water and snacks. Buy them a ball, expect them to play; results of playing, you better win.

    Photo by Joey Contreras Jr., September, 2008.

    12. My mother taught me HORSEMANSHIP. (Laugh now, I was on their horse once, and I thought the ground never felt so good---goes back to “gravity is good and keep your feet on the ground and keep walking.”) The boys’ trainer gave us a horse for Jonas. Sometimes as I watch Jonas, I think that he’s not so much training, as just having fun on his horse. In his first horse showing, he placed fourth place. When the trainer asked the judge about it, his response was, “He was so little, and looked as green as grass that I gave it to him.” A boy and his horse reap rich rewards.
    Jonathan, after watching Josiah and Jonas ride, thought that he would like to learn. After his first lesson with Josiah, he commented, “It’s harder than it looks.”
    This summer, Josiah spent some weeks working for his instructor on some ‘green horses.’ The rewards of practice, practice, practice fulfilled.
    We visited the largest Civil War Re-enactment this side of the Mississippi. We saw a battle re-played, complete with cannons, and even a horse running away wild. They demonstrated how the cavalry would test their ability and skill. They used sword, dagger, rifle and pistol to shoot targets on and off their horses as they maneuvered through a tight obstacle course. The rewards of practice, practice, practice….perfection.

    13. My mother taught me about POULTRY. Josiah, after hand raising a brood of parakeets, allowed his cockatiels to raise a brood. We were also given several ducks for our pond. We have two good egg layers. James gets up around 5:30 AM to get the eggs before the crows do (They sit on the fence post above the ducks, waiting for them to move.) He will announce to the neighborhood, “An egg, an egg, I have an egg.” Have ducks, will lay—but no guarantee that you’ll get the golden egg. The crows reap more than we do. I’m just waiting for the proverb to come true for those black birds, “he who pursues evil goes to his death.” (Proverbs 11:19)

    14. My mother taught me CONSTRUCTION WORK. Joey worked with the boys this summer laying cement for a bigger deck and foundation for a barn addition. While Joey was gone for three weeks, they built the addition to the barn. Jonas was put in charge of painting the barn. He soon realized that work is, well, work. Jonathan enjoyed getting on the roof to fix holes. Well, maybe he didn’t like fixing holes, but he enjoyed throwing his Frisbee farther than anyone else, because he was allowed on the roof to throw it. He did comment that he definitely didn’t want to be a construction worker. That’s okay; just finish the job anyway…
    Joey John worked for a well-driller and dirt mover this summer. He would be gone by 5 AM and return after 11:30 PM. He learned to drive stick shift, a water truck, and big earth moving dozers. When he would come home, he’d be covered in dirt, but wear a smile on his face. Reaping the joy of a job that you like.

    15. My mother taught me The VALUE OF WORK. Jonathan and Josiah spent several months weed-wacking neighbors’ properties. Jonathan would like to expand the business opportunity next year. Their hot, sweaty work makes a difference. Work reaps a desired end.

    16. My mother taught me HISTORY. We traveled back to Indy where some of my family lives. We visited a Historical park that allowed the children to touch and to try everything. The boys tried their hand at tomahawk throwing, candle making, and water pumping. The people dressed and spoke the part of two villages in 1836 and 1886. We learned where the ‘necessary room’ was. It was better than a year’s worth of explaining life in those times. Learning by doing; sowing deeply.

    17. My mother taught me SENSITIVITY. On our plane ride home, Josh was sitting by himself. An intoxicated man came to sit beside him. The man asked Josh loudly to stop talking for just a moment. The woman beside me commented that it was awful for him to be ‘like that’ so early in the morning. I thought that he was afraid of flying. When the plane took off, Josh kept telling the man to ‘watch out the window,’ ‘wasn’t it great how the plane did the wheelie” and to “look how high the plane was going.” Shortly after we reached proper elevation, the stewardess encouraged the man to move to another seat--- not before Josh had left his impression on the man. Reaping a different perspective on adventure.

    18. My mother taught me The VALUE OF SILENCE. James is my little ‘amen’ corner. I will say something, and he will be in the background saying, “Yes, yes, that is what we will do….” Sometimes, he surprises me with his responses. I’ll ask, “Does anyone have any more songs to sing?” He’ll quickly say, “No, no, we’re done singing. Thank goodness.” Of course we have to sing another song after that. Consequences of expressing oneself too quickly can bring a demand for silence.

    19. My mother taught me SHARING. Joshua has struggled to adjust with Michael. The riot between the two starts as soon as both are awake. Michael came biting—not once, but at least fifteen times a day. Joshua was usually the victim. We still have an occasional attack—but Michael sure looks at me after he does it and cries…. Of course, so does his victim. Learning consequences for one’s actions is a hard lesson…for all of us.

    20. My mother gave me The WISH FOR SOLITUDE. Jacob entered the realm of school on the computer, a big step toward helping me. He loves his little area where he can have no one bother him. Finding a little space to call his own is an ever present problem in a house that could never be big enough for eight boys all trying to flex their wings. (Makes me wish that I could just live on the roof.) Jacob likes to be active, doing something—but not always with someone. I have told him to find somewhere on the five acres away from everyone. He reminds me that Michael will find anyone, anywhere if he is doing something remotely interesting. The consequences of making something look interesting—you get an audience.

    21. My mother taught me PRODUCTIVITY. Our dairy cow, after many years of good service, couldn’t be bred any more. We had to take her to an auction. If you can’t produce, you can’t eat the hay….sorry.

    22. My mother taught me SKINNING and TANNING. Jacob tanned a squirrel this year after shooting him. He also had several chances to skin and tan rattlesnakes. We killed at least six 3-4 1/2 foot rattlesnakes (not counting babies) this year. Consequences of living on our property---you might get shot and skinned if you’re not wanted. [Joey John reminds me that even if you are wanted (i.e. pigs and cows), you might get shot.]

    23. My mother neglected to teach me REPTILIAN EDUCATION. Josiah went out to turn off his water for his garden one night. On the way out the front door, he stepped on “something that felt like a snake.” On his return to the door, he wanted to be sure to step over the snake, ‘because it felt like a big one.’ He stepped on it again. When he turned on the light and checked, he found a three foot racer snake—relief with the creeps.
    We found two snakes (not rattlesnakes) in the house this year. Joey John did the honors of removing them from my bath room and mud room, but not until he held them up to show everyone—except me. They probably followed the great mice population that we have in the house. If I knew how they got in—I’d sure give them some consequences.

    24. My mother taught me INSECT STATISTICS. When our mud room window was broken, and the boys would each kill 100 flies/day. I would say, “Shut the mud room door, do you want all the flies in the world in here?” It also helped when we replaced the front door, so the dog couldn’t just sit against it and open it. Now we actually have one that locks! Open the door, let in flies, shut the door—keeps in flies. Consequences of…..having such a hospitable house?

    Photo by Joey Contreras Jr., September, 2008.

    Joshua seems to have a different perspective on life. One night as he was going to sleep, he said, “Too bad we can’t dream God.” I told him that if we could, then He wouldn’t be God—He’d be lowered to what we could imagine and conceive—something that we made up. Because He was indeed God, He is beyond our comprehension.

    As I thought more about dreaming God, it probably wouldn’t be too bad. We might think twice about what we did or said, if God seemed visually right there. Our sowing may be more in tune with His wishes. “Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life….” (Galatians 6:7-8)

    But God--Who knows we could never stop reaping wrong by ourselves, no matter how hard we try--sent His Son to take our consequences. He ‘offered for all time one sacrifice for sins….He waits for His enemies to be made His footstool, because by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:12-13) He paid our debt, took our consequences and gave those who believe a different future, one without eternal damnation, one with hope and forgiveness. The future reflects Who we know, not what we have done. The Christ, Who came at Christmas, came not to give us Christmas, but to give us eternal life, freedom from our own consequences, peace for the future. It’s not that consequences are swept away. They are already paid by the blood of Christ for those who believe. At this Christmas time, may you come to know the power of Christ’s blood and the peace that follows, knowing the consequences of a lifetime are paid in full.

    May your choices for your lifetime reflect God’s peace in your heart this Christmas,

    The Contreras’s
    Joey, Sonya, Joey John, Josiah, Jonathan, Jonas, Jacob, James Joshua and Michael.

    December, 2007

    Dear Friends and Family,

    Our family found this song at the library that helps to define the boys’ training for this year. It’s called "Cowboy Logic". Feel free to tap your feet and add your own country twang to it—as we have done.

    Cowboy Logic
    There’s a great American hero we all look up to.
    When the times are hard and the chips are down, he knows just what to do.
    Now a cowboy’s got a set of rules he lives by day to day.
    If you ask for his advice, he’d more than likely say,
    “If it’s a fence, mend it.
    If it’s a dollar bill, spend it before it burns a hole down in them jeans.
    If it’s a load, truck it. If it’s a punch, duck it.
    If she’s a lady, treat her like a queen.”

    That’s cowboy logic, and every cowboy’s got it.
    It’s in the way he lives his life and the songs he sings.
    That’s cowboy logic, and every cowboy’s got it.
    He’s got a simple solution to just about anything.

    If it’s a job, do it. Put your back into it.
    ‘Cause a little bit of dirt’s gonna wash off in the rain.
    If it’s a horse, ride it. If it hurts, hide it.
    Dust yourself off and get back on again.

    An old cowboy and young buck-a-roo were working riding fence.
    Old hand was testing the kid on his skill and on his common sense.
    He said, “Son, if you see three men in a pickup dressed alike from boots to hat,
    Can you tell which one is the real cowboy, just by where he sat?”
    Well the kid scratched his head for a little while, then he said,
    “There ain’t no way to know.”
    The old hand grinned and said, “Kid, you still have a ways to go.
    Now the real cowboy is the one in the middle and he ain’t there just by fate.
    ‘Cause first of all, he don’t have to drive and he don’t have to open no gate.”

    I guess that we’ve adopted that ‘logic’ in our family and even added to it. We have a saying that says: “If you open the door, you shut the door. If you make a mess, you clean it up. If you hurt someone, you say you’re sorry. If you empty a jar, you throw it out. If you finish something, you replace it. If you eat from a dish, you wash the dish....” Maybe you could even say that it was “Contreras’s Logic”--although I think that it would more likely be called, "Mommy’s Logic" that is trying to be impressed on some Contreras’s.

    Some other bits of logic that I won’t even admit were mine—-it’s got to be “Contreras’s Logic”--came to my ears. Joshua (3), when asked by his teacher what animals went into Noah’s ark, answered, “Dirt bikes.” James (6) made it fit by adding, “Well, dirt bikes do eat gas and give off exhaust.”

    During a discussion the boys and Joey were having about whether I could still fit into my wedding dress (why this discussion came up, I don’t even remember), James responded “Well, everybody knows that dresses don’t grow! (That settled it for him-—and I guess for me, too.) The logic of a six year old. Just add to the song, “If it don’t fit, don’t wear it.”

    James, living again by his own logic, was told to put Vaseline on his lips. I explained that his lips were rough and the Vaseline would make them smooth so they wouldn’t bleed. A few minutes later he came back to me to ask if I would feel his lips. I did. They were perfectly smooth. I asked him what he had done. His response, “I used sandpaper.” To the logic we add, “If it’s rough, use sandpaper.”

    Three of my sisters and I went to Europe for two weeks. When Joey asked the boys when I was gone, what they thought about me being gone, there was a long silence. Jacob (8) then said, “I don’t have any clean socks.” Joey John (16) was in charge of washing/sorting whites. He said, “Well, you have to put them in the laundry for me to do.” Joey tried again to get a response, “What else have you noticed while Mommy’s been gone?” Long pause. Then James, true to his common sense, said, “Well, I have clean socks.” And to the song, we add, “If it’s dirty, clean it—If it’s not, wear it.”

    I had to laugh at the friends that helped make dinners while I was gone. One said, “I felt like I just got through making Thanksgiving dinner, then I had to make it for the next meal.” Another commented that she was sure that she had made more than enough, but as she saw the boys finish helping after helping, she started digging through her cupboards for anything to fill the gap. And to the logic we add, “If it’s food, eat it.”

    I’ve also added after certain meals, “If it’s burnt, pretend that you like it and always tell the cook ‘thank you.’” I suggested to the boys to vary the words, instead of always saying, "Thanks, Mom, that was good" after every meal. James took the suggestion to heart and will now say, “Mom, that was the most delicious meal, delicious indeed. Thank you. Yes, thank you so much.” (Makes me look at him to see if he is smart-mouthing me, but he is in utmost seriousness.)

    Josiah (14) has been learning reining for a year now. His brothers have been watching him practice at home with his horse. Jonas was always out there with him, lugging the fly spray, or saddle blanket or whatever he needed. Finally, we felt the horse was calm enough for Jonas (10) to learn to ride. Josiah gave him the basics of riding. Now he’s going with Josiah twice a week to lessons. “If it’s a horse, ride it.”

    Josiah thrives on challenges. He asked if he could buy a horse that he could break. After working with the three-year-old filly at the trainer’s place for a few weeks, he was able to bring her home. When he was just getting her gentled, her hoof cracked up to the hair line. The horse shoer didn’t give much hope for recovery, short of 6 months to one year with no riding. Josiah worked with his other horse and did what he could with the filly. In a little over two month’s time, the shoer, to his astonishment, allowed Josiah to ride her again. He had no explanation why her hoof grew back so quickly. “If it’s beyond logic, thank God.”

    Joey John (16) is our resident mechanic. He changes the oil, rotates the tires, which with 35,000 miles/year for just Joey’s car is frequent. When it comes to the boys’ dirt bikes, he disassembles, and then reassembles to ‘check things out'. In the process, sometimes he adds additional parts, like the bigger exhaust pipe which in turn needed a better jet, which in turn needed... which in turn gave him more noise and more power. His ability to check things out has saved us many trips to the mechanic—-as well as, some extra trips to fine-tune and adjust things that he wasn’t able to do. It’s always nice to hear that one of the dirt bikes needed something. The boys ask Joey John to fix it for them—-and he is able to get them back on the dirt again. “If it runs fine, I can make it run better.”

    I had been writing the Christmas program for the AWANA children. We’ve been walking them through the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. I tried to visualize who would make a good Moses-—going before Pharaoh, leading the people, getting the Ten Commandments. We had a preliminary “Moses check” when the children all dressed up like Moses. I had purchased beards for a few of our boys who wanted them; Jonas wanted to be a young Moses who had grown up in Pharaoh’s house and looked like an Egyptian. The Moses that I was looking for came out in Jonathan (12)--authentic character with a flamboyant personality to fit. “If it’s Jonathan, don’t expect the usual.”

    Jacob (8), with his tender heart, is always watching out for me. If I’m carrying something heavy, he will say, “Let me get that for you, Mom.” And he takes it from me to carry. One night before going to sleep, he seemed a bit restless. When I asked him what was wrong, he answered with tears in his voice, “Mom, can you forgive me?” I asked, “Of what?”, thinking, “What did he do now?” He said, “Of everything that I’ve done.” That led to a discussion about Jesus removing our sin when we confess it and forgetting it. We still bear the consequences of those sins, but He remembers them no more. I told him that I try to forget others’ sins—--not holding grudges even when someone doesn’t ask for forgiveness---but that was sometimes hard for me. I needed God to help me forgive, every time that pain comes back. But I assured him that his list of sins weren’t in God’s book, or in mine since he had confessed them---his slate was wiped clean. “If it’s a sin, confess it and God will forgive you.”

    We drove to Arkansas to meet a family that we hadn’t seen in awhile. The older boys and part of their crew with Joey went spelunking (crawling on hands and knees through tight holes in a cave). They came back with muddy smiles. The rest of us walked a saner cave tour minus the bats and mud that still provided interest and memories. It really is beyond my logic, how the muddier the adventure, the greater they enjoy it. (They go around our pond to see how close they can come without getting their bikes stuck in the muck---If you play in the mud, you hose off everything—-outside.) “If it’s adventure, it’s good. If it’s surprise adventure, it’s better. If it’s muddy, surprise adventure, it’s great.”

    We also journeyed to Indy to help my folks move into their new house. My sisters and their families were there to help also. A friend went with us to help prepare their previous house for sale. We found jobs for all the boys to do. “If it’s a job, do it. Put your back into it.”

    It was an almost every-time event-—every time that we loaded up the Excursion, Joshua would start to whine. His car seat was too tight, his car seat was twisted, he was thirsty, someone didn’t help him, or someone helped him when he didn’t want it. He recently turned four. It was like overnight that I would get into the car and be driving down the road and think for sure that I had left someone behind. It was too quiet. I mentioned this to the boys. Jonathan without hesitation said, “We don’t have any three year olds in the car anymore.” Wow, what a difference. “If it’s Josh, scratch your head, and give him slack. And don’t expect a four year old to act like a three year old.”

    Speaking of maturity, Joey John (16) is of course 16. Permit time. How do you cram 25 years of experience into 50 hours of practice driving? After I told Joey that I was finding more nerves that were stretched than I thought possible, he informed me that we had to do this for the next 13 years. (In asking a mother of 5 who is training her 5th to drive, "Does it get any easier?" she responded by saying that it gets worse—-you’re more nervous with the last one because you have seen a lot of mistakes.) “If it’s driving, just ride with the grace of God resting heavy on the car and on the heart.”

    Another sign of growing up came when we purchased shoes for Jonathan (12) and Josiah (14). Jonathan’s shoe size was 5 ˝, while Josiah’s shoe size was 10 ˝ (double the size in two short years). “If the shoe fits, you better wear it while it fits!”

    We recently purchased four pigs to raise. In the process of tying them up to cart home, we asked about some rash one of them had. The seller gave a spray and softly said that it was surface worms and lice. When I questioned him further, he said it could spread to people, other animals, etc. What good would picking out another pig do, if they were all together? The boys had to shower and change every time they went into their pen—-with prayers that we wouldn’t get lice. Every itch sent a prayer that we didn’t have lice. I had more than second doubts regarding the logic of purchasing those animals. “If it’s a pig, feed it and hope that he’s fat soon.”

    Josiah received six cockatiels from a neighbor. He has been busy preparing perches in the aviary and monitoring the temperature for them. Initially, they had come from a crowded cage that didn’t allow them to fly. When he put them into this big cage, they would fall to the cage’s floor and have to beak-walk up to a perch. Or they would fly into the wall and then drop to the floor. It didn’t take them long to strengthen their wings. But not before we had judged them pretty...well...retarded. “If it’s a bird, help it fly, if that’s possible.”

    While I’m on the subject of animals, we still have our dairy cow. She would give me her big soft brown eyes and beg to eat my roses... I would ask the boys, “Are you sure you’re feeding her enough? She acts hungry.” They would say, “Yes” but give her a bit more just to appease me. While a vet was here, she saw that cow and exclaimed, “That cow is 250 pounds overweight!” So much for mercy from me. Helps to know some animal logic or maybe the right word is psychology. I can’t even put fake greenery around the outside gate for Christmas. She sees it and runs down there to eat it. “If it’s a cow, don’t trust it.”

    A large percentage of Joey’s time this year was spent in meetings. He had to make some changes. “If it’s right, do it.”

    We were informed that an identity theft happened with Joey’s information. While attempting to use his card, the individual knew Joey’s SS number, birthday, driver’s license, address, and the three digits on the back of the business credit card. The only thing that stopped the transaction was the $4,500 purchase required previous permission. I spent many hours on hold, getting through to government agencies to make sure that his information is flagged. “If it’s right, do it...that would be a simple solution to just about anything.”

    One has to shake his head and wonder, “Where do people learn their logic?” The thinking of today’s world isn’t based on Christianity. “If it’s right, do it...” It’s more like “If it’s best for me, then I’ll do it.”

    You know, that cowboy logic has a lot of Christian logic behind it.

    There’s One great world-wide Hero that all will some day look up to.
    When the times are hard and the chips are down, we know what He will do.
    Now this Man has got a set of rules He lives by day by day.
    If you ask for His advice, He’d more than likely say,
    “If it’s not your fence, help mend it.
    If it’s a dollar bill, lend it.
    If it’s a load, share it. If it’s a punch, spare it.
    If she’s a lady, she’ll know Who I AM.

    That’s Christ’s logic, and every Christian should have it.
    It should be in the way he lives his life, not just in the songs he sings.
    That’s Christ’s logic, and every Christian should have it.
    He’s got a right solution to, well, everything.

    We live differently because the logic that guides us is different from the world's. God’s Word guides us to do things that most would shake their heads and say, “That ain’t logic”-–like loving someone instead of getting rid of them; like doing what is right, even when it hurts.

    That’s what Christ came to do. He showed us God’s logic by giving His own life for us, the unworthy. His death and resurrection gave us redemption and the only way to make His logic our own. He did this, not for us to have a nice, comfortable life, but rather for us to live a life that shows His logic---that glorifies His Father. Others will see---and say, “That ain’t logical, I won’t get what I need if I do that,” yet we can know “that is what’s right” and Christ will be all we need.

    At this Christmas time, may you reflect on Christ’s logic and come to know the “One great world-wide Hero"---Christ, who has the right solution to, well, everything.

    Joey and Sonya
    Joey John, Josiah, Jonathan, Jonas, Jacob, James, and Joshua


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