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Susan Wanderer has worked with families in kids ministry for 20 years, with the last ten years serving as Kids Minister at Mount Ararat Church in Stafford. Susan and her husband Ed reside in Fredericksburg and have three amazing kids who joined their family in 2011 and who fill their days with adventure. Come join the conversation over at 

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My Stomping Grounds

Christmas Kindness Day

A few weeks ago I asked one of my daughters what she wanted for Christmas. In an effort to jog her memory, I asked about her favorite gift from the previous year.  She stared at me blankly.

Ummmmm, well… uhhhhhh… let’s see….

I assumed because all the gifts were just-so-incredibly-fabulous that she was having a hard time deciding.


Well, what DO you remember about last Christmas?

All of her memories of our holiday centered around events and people. And it was beautiful to hear her recollections. However, she also insisted with wide-eyes that she still wanted and needed a few toys. 

I mean of course, who doesn’t?

I sat on that little exchange with my daughter for a couple of days.

I kinda celebrated inside that she can’t remember a gift. It proves to my Mama-heart that the focus needs to be elsewhere.

I want my kids to know the importance of loving and serving others. In our church and home, we honor this truth: We give because God gave.

Susan Christmas

This year, in an effort to live this out, my kids and I created Christmas Kindness Day.

A few days before Christmas, we will gather with some of our girlfriends and their daughters and have a day of spreading Christmas Kindness around Fredericksburg and Stafford.

Our goals:

  1. Serve People in our Community
  2. Show Christmas Kindness
  3. Celebrate Christmas Together

I was having a hard time coming up with some ideas to execute this day… and then I remembered my BFF, Google.

Here are a few ideas of we will be doing:

  1. Assemble kits to give out to the homeless in Fredericksburg. Contents: warm socks, toothbrush, toothpaste, cereal bars, Kleenex packs, gloves, hat, etc…
  2. Create cards for the hospital residents in Mary Washington, Spotsylvania Medical Center, Stafford Hospital or any assisted livingcCenter.  These folks are unable to get out and truly enjoy the holidays right now, so we will bring some Christmas Kindness to them!
  3. Take Christmas goodies and cards to our first responder units in Fredericksburg and Stafford. 

There are so many more ideas on Pinterest!  Search till your heart is content!

At the conclusion of our evening we will gather for a dinner to share our experience and talk through the importance of serving others, not just at Christmas, but all year long. A big meal makes everything an event to remember! It doesn’t have to be an expensive moment AT ALL.  Go pot-luck at a friend’s house or many restaurants have private dining areas where they would give you the space for free… or smores around a fire pit is super festive too!  The meal creates an atmosphere for moms and kids to enjoy this season together after a full day of serving others.

Perhaps the greatest gift you can give your kiddos this Christmas is a day of kindness with their friends. Grab a few of your girlfriends and their kiddos and go create memories of service.

This reason for this season is so worthy of the excitement we put around it. Go enjoy every moment with your families!

If you do decide to have Christmas Kindness Day... post it on Faceboook, Twitter or Instagram with #ChristmasKindnessDay.  We would love to celebrate with you!

Merry Christmas, Parents!

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An Adoptee's Point Of View

November is National Adoption Month. All three of our kids became our family through this textured and tender journey called adoption.

Instead of me rambling about my own appreciation of adoption, I asked my son if I could interview him for an Adoptee-Point-Of-View.  He agreed and his words are so very sincere and authentic.

First, a bit about my son.  Joshua joined our family at fourteen years of age. He is the most courageous young man I know. His heart is kind and his love for people soars past the challenging moments of this life.  I am so humbled that he calls me Mom. The complexity of adoption is not lost on me. Moments of tragedy mixed with moments of surprising joy.

Joshua is a gift beyond a gift. He loves playing soccer, running cross country, playing guitar in our worship band at Mount Ararat Baptist Church, leading kids in worship and in small groups, watching movies and filling our house with incredible guitar and drum sounds. He is hilarious and witty. Joshua is epic at being a teenager in today’s world. 

Too much? Can you tell I am proud of my boy?

He’s been mine for only four years but I hold all 1580 of those days so dear. This boy of mine is going to continue to impact this world in great ways. 

A brief interview with Joshua Wanderer:

Susan and Joshua

Q: What are some memories you have of Ethiopia that you enjoy thinking about?

A: When I was little, I loved playing outside with my friends.  We played soccer and hide and seek. I loved that. I also enjoyed the holidays: we would buy an animal, like a sheep or a hen, and cook it up and have a nice party.  We would eat our meals off of one large plate together. Those are good memories together.

Q: How was your adjustment to America?

A: I had to get used to the language.  As a teenager, I also had to figure out the cultural differences between America and Ethiopia. American kids do things differently than Ethiopian kids. I had to watch and learn. Also, the food… it’s a very different style in America.

Q: Talk a bit about your view of your adoption. 

A: The hardest part in my adoption was leaving my birth dad.  But the really good thing though, was getting a new start in my life.  And that brought me peace.

Q: What would you say to a family that is thinking of starting the adoption journey?

A: I would say to them it’s not easy. But, you should adopt because you are giving that child another home and another family. When you adopt it gives you a chance to impact that child’s life and then the child will also impact the life of their new family too.

Q: Name something unique about your personal adoption story.

A: While I was in the Transition Home in Ethiopia, I hoped that God would put my best friend and I in families near each other in America. We were hoping we would be a few states near each other. I then found out that my best friend would only be 20 minutes from my new family. That is amazing. God answered me. I will never forget that He did that for me.

Q: What is your definition of adoption?

A: Adoption is a new beginning.

Adoption is indeed just as my son described: A New Beginning. Adoption is the complex joining of two cultures, two families and two communities into one unique blend. It is sorrowful, joyful, exhilarating, sad, exciting, chaotic and peaceful.  It is beautiful and hard. It is every emotion turned into every other emotion.

And in the complexity of it all, a family does uniquely and beautifully form. 

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Creating a Circle of Influence


We mamas adore other adults pouring, speaking, encouraging, loving, engaging and spurring on our kids. Additional adults who speak truth over our babies are as sweet as nectar and as valuable as fine gold or an evening of binge-watching Netflix without disruption (now THAT is a rare gem).

The few pre-selected folk that we eagerly allow our children to be engaged with reach far beyond one moment.

These individuals say the same things we are saying, but they say it differently/cooler/more non-parent and without the nag of a mom or dad. 

  • Mrs. Cole, Kindergarten Teacher –   She selflessly drives carpool for us each morning to our school.  She invests in them.  “Mom, Mrs. Cole says this…. Mrs. Cole says that…”  Yes, I LOVE IT. She is exactly right!
  • Taihlor, Small Group Leader at Church – “Mom, Taihlor says we should make the wise choice!”  Yep! I Agree… lets do what Taihlor says!
  • Mr. Brent, Friend – “Mom, Mr. Brent is a hard worker… it is good to really work hard and help people.”  Yes!  I Agree!

Parents… with all the outside influences that bombard our kiddos, let’s intentionally find adults who can provide great, positive, like-minded wisdom for them.

As moms and dads we can’t provide everything for our little cherubs during their developmental years. That’s why life is done best in community.

Preschoolers think moms and dads are the bees knees… by middle school all moms should be wearing a name tag with “I’m Mom, SERIOUSLY??!” (complete with dramatic eye-roll)

Make a list. Who are some like-minded, incredible adults who can invest in the physical, social and spiritual development of your child?  It doesn’t have to be a long list.  But during the elementary years of inquisitiveness, middle school years of drama and high school years of independence… other adults speaking wisdom over our kids can be so very helpful.

I have found in 19 years of working with families, moms and dads who create this circle of influence are able to weather a storm a bit better when hard seasons arrive. Community matters.

Parenting does have difficult seasons. It is a good thing to have a plan and reinforcements. 

Friends, family, teachers, churches, coaches, etc… these people are your reinforcements.  They can help carry the load of parenting by creating a circle of influence around your kids. And their words will be life-giving and they will provide a beautiful partnership for the success of your child.

So, who is on your list?

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Caution: Teen Driver In Car!

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I have a new driver in the home. He is absolutely ecstatic.  I am a wee-bit giddy.  As soon as we complete this permit phase, I will be in the never-ending land of milk and honey (and lunch-box-bread). There is now one more person to help navigate the errands in this Wanderer – Home. Hallelujah! 

There is also a new hat on my head: Driver-Educator.  I want a cool charcoal v-neck-t-shirt with the hashtag: #drivereducatormom. It’ll be all the rage with Moms of Teens. 

We will start a club, put ace bandages on our sore knees (from all the unnecessary stomp-breaking on the passenger floorboard), and wear Fitbits to track our steps… since we force our kids to park at the VERY end of the parking lot. (parking is NO JOKE, man)

The club will also teach us how to delicately and accurately engage in the following conversations:

Speed Navigation: Son… sllllllooooooowwwwww yourself down. Now… seriously, slow down, now. Like right here. Right. Here. In. This. Spot. Slow. Down. Can you hear me talking out loud?

A Declaration for The Obvious: Hey buddy, do you see that Stop Sign? It’s coming. In like five feet. Stop completely. You know what, just stop now. (At this point, I feel the need to activate my inner-Fred-Flinstone and stop the car myself)

Reminders: Blinkers on the left. Windshield Wipers on the Right.

(at the next Stop Light) Blinkers on the left. Windshield Wipers on the Right.

(at the next intersection) It’s not raining, buddy… Blinkers on the left. Windshield Wipers on the right. 

His Reminder to Me: Yes, Son, I realize there are no brakes on this passenger side of the car. Yes, I know! I can’t help it, OKAY?! I’m a bit stressed. I need chocolate.

Driving as a Driver-Educator is a whole lot different than driving as a Mere-Passenger. I was not aware of the amount of alertness or the required explanation that would be needed to get from one stop sign to the next. It’s a whole new level of consciousness.

I need to take an entire course on “Instructions”. Perhaps an entire Masters Degree. My mind has limits and I now realize this is one of them.

When my son asks to go to the store and I know it will require a major intersection, my brain turns into a mix of Google Maps, Mapquest and Waze.

Moms of Driving Teens, I declare to you: we WILL maneuver through this phase and throw off the control that somewhat strangles us. We WILL enjoy spending quality time with our teen and embrace their excitement for independence. 

Because here is the complete truth: While I recognize this driving permit is code for independence I also know this time is a gift. While there are certain moments of YIKES because, we are driving a massive piece of metal moving at a rapid-rate-of-speed… there are more moments of absolute joy.

These moments of connectedness are life-giving… and for that I am completely grateful.

Because, after this big season of life, there will not be too many more seasons where he will say, “Mom, can you help me with this?”

Let’s embrace this season, moms and dads.


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Back to School

Four years ago on a hot, beautiful day on a cozy front porch in Ethiopia, I became mom to three incredibly beautiful kids. From the moment I heard my children say "Mommmeeee!" in their delicious Amharic-Accent, I knew I was ALL IN and completely in love.

This week my kids stepped their toes into the first week of first grade, fourth grade and tenth grade.

Five years ago, I had no clue about the many emotions that arrive during this back-to-school season. Before my kids arrived home in America, I saw parents walk through the Target-Back-To-School Section with glazed-over-eyes, zombie-ish in their pursuit of fresh-smelling-school-supplies. As I sipped my Starbucks Chai, while pushing my red basket, I curiously watched them. I didn't understand the very real panic that nestled its way into the nerves of these moms and dads.

Now I know. Now I believe. Now I understand the turmoil.
"Where are the two pocket folders with brads? This folder only has brads and no pockets! What will I do? Will the teacher even allow my child in the classroom if I can't find these pockets that they INSIST exist? Marbled-only composition notebooks? I only see solid colors. What is so special about the marble?!"

Four years later, I am in my own annual state of Parental-Emotional-Frenzy. One moment I'm cheering with my flabby-woman-arms that my cherubs are heading back to school (hallelujah!), and the next moment I'm teary eyed that they are growing up too fast. When mid-August arrives, I honestly feel like I need medication and a good counselor.

For a moment I thought it was just us adoptive-mamas that fall apart like this: "My kids are growing up too fast and they haven't even been in my home that long... I've only got a few more years with them and before I know it they'll be GONE and I'll FORGET WHAT THEY EVEN SOUND LIKE." (all-said-in-one-emotional-slightly-sobbing-breath)

Then I noticed, while in the Back-To-School-Section, a sweet-looking mom who was a hot mess about college ruled vs. wide ruled. "I'm going to blink and you will need COLLEGE RULED PAPER!" She then gathered herself together and placed her wide-ruled paper gently in her cart while exhaling a comforting breath toward her fifth grade daughter. Her daughter, as If on cue, rolled her eyes and exhaled: "Oh good grief, MOM."

They're growing up, moms and dads. And while summer was a blast of excitement, non-scheduled fun, vacations, sunburns, chlorine and lazy days of not knowing what time it is... this new season has made room for routines, number 2 pencils, field trips, sports-mom-swag, homework, tests, book reports, projects, early-morning-wake-ups and parent/teacher conferences. I may just go burn a mulled-spice candle and hang a fall wreath on my door simply because the nostalgia of the moment is JUST THAT THICK in the air.

We have arrived to another new season, parents! We can make it through another glorious year of elementary school inquisitiveness, middle school drama and high school independence!

Grab your chai and embrace the nostalgia.

Emotions, school supplies and all.

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Pouches' Community Corner

Pouches is ready to kayak on the beautiful Rappahannock River. She’s also ready to learn more about how she can protect the river’s health using the Friends of the Rappahannock new River Report Card, sponsored by a surprise grant from the Community Foundation of the Rappahannock River Region (CFRRR).

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