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Feb 28, 2009

Open Season Answers - Kick Your Feet Up, Go to the Bathroom First, Get Something to Drink

I knew the “open season” questions would be interesting and scary. I was right. You’ll probably find out some stuff you didn’t know, and some stuff you don’t want to know.

Let me start with one thing you probably don’t know… I call Michelle, “Maria”. That is her first name. I’m the only one that calls her Maria, so it’s special to me. Sometimes I slip and write “Maria” on the blog or in an email, and I have been privately asked on more than one occasion “who is Maria? Are you having marital problems?” which is always good for a laugh.

Here’s a few from the “things people don’t know about us” department:

  • We play tennis (not much lately). I’ve played competitively for over 20 years, and Maria, my wife not my secret girlfriend, played in college

  • Michelle was a pediatric, and labor & delivery nurse for a long time.

  • I’ve sang in southern gospel groups most of my life (typically male quartets).

  • Michelle’s family maiden name is “Riggs” too. So the first time she took me to her family reunion, I told her “if I run into anyone I know, I’m OUTTA HERE”. We often joke about having three-headed children with twelve fingers (and no I'm not being insensitive to children with defects; can't we all decide its okay to have a sense of humor again?).

  • I was a Drill Sergeant and a Black Belt though you couldn’t tell by looking at me now.

  • Michelle has traveled to and wandered around Guatemala and Ethiopia by herself.

We live in a dinky little town, in a modest house that has six bedrooms but only because they are small and I built on three of them (including the family room) myself; we drive two used cars with a combined 180K miles on them; I rarely wear anything but shorts and t-shirts because I work from home, and if Michelle had a buck for every time someone said “you have to live with him?” we’d drive brand new cars and have a huge expensive house.

Hope that doesn't shatter any preconceived notions about us, but we are about as average and normal as it gets. We purposely live a modest lifestyle as part of our life philosophy and ministry. What you see on the blog is the real "us" in every day life. We don't polish up things for the public. What you see, is what you get no matter how unflattering it may be.

We really do have a lot of laughs almost every day. Humor is a big part of what keeps life enjoyable even when it’s tough. Now on to your questions. You’ll probably end up asking me to NEVER answer personal questions again!

"Live to love and laugh" asked...

So how do you as parents deal or have dealt with the crabbiness or misery of a teenager daughter living at home?

Obviously I can't give a full answer to that here but having the experience with four teenagers, it's not a foreign subject. The difficulty with teenagers is they have the adult ability to have grown up wants and desires, but often lack the maturity to be much more than self-focused and narcissistic (think only of themselves primarily). It is simply part of the growth process and it affects teens to different degrees depending on their personality, background, parenting and spiritual understanding.

One thing I've learned is each kid has to be handled according to their personality. There is no "one size fits all" discipline. One of my kids responded to the "here's how it is, straighten up or else" approach. Another just simply needed mild "correction" and they were good. One of our teens was particularly defiant and rebellious and after trying the "fine, you'll live like you are in prison" for a while, I found out what really worked for them was to allow full privileges and freedom, and then have those to "take away" as part of discipline. They had more of a "what have I got to lose?" mentality, so starting them with zero and making them earn privileges, didn't work. Starting with full privileges and taking some away worked great.

Some of our kids have needed "Drill Sgt Dad", others couldn't handle the pressure of that approach, needing a gentle "guide, direct and monitor" parenting. One of our kids got their behind spanked routinely and another rarely got spanked. Yes, we believe in loving, consistent, properly administered butt busting... I mean spanking. More on that later, but I wish we could back to the old days where we could use colorful descriptions without fear of offending or being labeled. I can't count the number of times I was told "son, you do that again and I'll whip you 'til you can't sit down for month". I knew what that meant: spanking, a good one. It wasn't abuse, it was LIFE. Say that in public now and they'll take your kids from you. Oh wait, I just said it in public. Shhh.... don't tell anybody.

Of course we are only addressing the externals. You can deal with behavior and ignore the heart issues, but that is just "surviving". True parenting involves addressing the selfishness, the sinfulness and the attitudes behind the behavior. That has become more difficult in a world that saturates kids with the belief in "self": self love, self esteem, self happiness, self desire. We (society in general) teach kids their whole life to think of "self" then wonder why they are selfish and self obsessed as teenagers.

I counsel and advise a lot of parents privately about teen difficulties and every day learn something new myself as I continue to parent my own kids. I can't possibly give a full answer here but I hope this gives you something to think about.

Liz asked...

How do your four older children respond to your three younger children's "blog fame?" Do they opt to stay out of the blog light?

In most ways it doesn't really affect them because like most teens and young adults, they have their own friends and life. There is enough age difference that the everyday events with Abby don't have much overlap with their life, particularly the two grown kids who don't live at home.

Overall, I'd say they are happy for Abby, and for us, knowing the whole "blog thing" gives us some needed spiritual and emotional support. I would say there is almost no negative feelings from them except we don't get to do a lot of "normal" or extra things with them for the last several months.

They know things aren't "normal" and we don't pretend to try and make them completely "normal". This is part of life, part of growing up. So we let them experience this with us and do not try to shield them or create a false sense of "normal". To balance , we don't simply ignore "normal" either. We try to balance the reality of dealing with cancer with the need to continue parenting involvement with all the kids as much as possible.

They haven't voiced an opinion one way or another about being on the blog. I have been writing publicly for many years and I don't tell personal stories about the older kids without their permission. I often tell stories about them but do it generically or in third person.

You and Michelle demonstrate an amazing reliance on God during your season of trial. How do your kids respond to this season?

Like most kids, they take their cues from us. We just try to be an example to them. Again, since they are teenagers and have their own friends and activities, the everyday life of dealing with cancer doesn't have a huge affect on them in the sense of depriving them of a "normal" teenage day.

Kathrin asked...

If you could go anywhere in the world (when all of you children are well) where would you go?

We would probably take them to Africa or Guatemala or some struggling country to allow them to see how blessed they are in America and how much opportunity there is for them to help others. It's not unlike most American or Western parents who wish their children had a realistic grasp on how good life really is for them, especially when they are having a pity party.
Do you still have time to have friends over at night for a meal or something?

Not as much as we would like obviously, but occasionally. The hard part is we have to be so careful about sickness and vaccinations around Abby (she can't be around live vaccines for 4 weeks after being administered). When people come over, they have to be comfortable around Abby if she suddenly needs to throw up or is in pain. We have several families of dear friends who are very comfortable with all of this and we love to have them over but it probably only happens once every 2-3 months right now.

Probably the biggest reason is we just don't have time. Several times a week our days are eaten up going to the hospital and caring for Abby. Often we are up all night with Abby, so we are frequently just too tired to want to go anywhere or have anyone over. We've been in the hospital 21 times since July, so you can imagine how much of our life that has taken up. One of us (me or Michelle and the other kids) will get to go to church 2-3 times a month. Abby has only been three times since July.

We do feel pretty isolated much of the time but that is a sacrifice we are willing to make for the gift God gave us to care for (Abby). The blog is a big part of helping us to stay connected and have some interaction with people on a regular basis.

Are you sometimes angry at God?

No, never. And if you've been a reader of our blogs or my writing for very long, you know I would tell you if we were.

We don't have any reason to be mad at God. God has blessed us and cared for us beyond anything we could ever deserve. We've never gone hungry, He brought us together, He gave us three beautiful adopted children and four biological. We have friends who love us and family who care about us.

What is there to be angry about? Because Abby is sick? Sickness is part of the curse of sin. WE did that, not God. Instead of being angry when the curse comes to bite US, we see it as a time to rejoice because unlike those who have no hope, we know God is watching over us every second and the very worse that can ever happen, is we get to go Home to be with Him forever. What is there to be angry about?

Rob and Amy asked...

I remember a few posts back you mentioned not hearing from your oldest daughter for a while. I was just hoping you were able to get in contact with her. Did you hear from her?

Yes, she was just "busy" with her new job and typical twenty year old life. It really wasn't that big a deal. We normally have some sort of interaction several times a week, so it just concerned me when I hadn't heard from her in two weeks especially since her life can sometimes be, shall we say, adventurous.

Sarah asked...

How did you and Michelle meet?

I was hoping nobody would ask but I guess we'll have to answer it some day. eHarmony. Okay? There, now you know.

Michelle and I were both single parents, not by our own choice. We both had friends bugging us to do eHarmony and neither of us had any interest. Her friends badgered her into it, and my friends told me they were going to do it and IMPERSONATE me. So both of us gave in.

We met through the service, and talked for hundreds of hours over several weeks before deciding to meet in person. If there has ever been REAL "love at first sight" it was us simply because the foundation of our relationship was built on hundreds of hours of conversation first. I know that is impractical for most people, but we were pretty much in love before we ever met the first time.

Compare that to the typical dating relationship today. You meet, go on a couple of dates, start making out, get physical... and then your judgment is clouded by your hormones and passion. People "fall in love" because of the physical ecstasy when in reality it's just a tremendous fleshly attraction.

We felt really good and confident about our relationship because it was built on a such a solid original foundation of communication and seriously getting to know each other before meeting. It helped that we lived 2 hours apart too. That forced most of our interaction to be verbal even after meeting.

We are deeply in love and even though it's only been three years together, we have lived a lifetime of experience. We are totally committed to each other and have a marriage built on the Godly love of sacrifice and service to each other.

Michelle doesn't squeeze the toothpaste out correctly, and I still wash my white with my colors, but other than that, we couldn't be happier.

When did you decide she was the one you were going to marry?

We both suspected we would end up getting married by the time we met the first time, unless something remarkably weird happened in person. I'm still amazed that putting my bare feet up on the table in the restaurant didn't bother her.

How did you all come to the decision to adopt?

It was just something we both always wanted to do. I'm a baby fanatic. I love having younger children around the house (yes, I love the older children too, I just want to knock them up side the head while I love them).

Michelle had adopted Abby a couple of months before we met and was starting the process of adopting Landis. This was just another reason I fell in love with her, because of her love for kids.

Of course I fell in love with Abby the instant I saw her. We went to a restaurant, just Abby, Michelle and I. Me and Abby traded licking salsa off tortilla chips and I was hooked. She was about a year old and I can't even imagine not being her Dad.

student101 asked...

Your kids seem SO good! How do you discipline them?

Whew... you guys ask some doozies... It would be hard to encapsulate our parenting in one answer but let me try.

We believe in firm discipline bathed in extravagant affection and love. For the little ones, we believe in a variety of discipline that is appropriate for their age, maturity and personality INCLUDING SPANKING. We are neither embarrassed or equivocating about spanking.

Spanking (defined as paddling them on the butt only, with an object that does not cause injury such as a paddle) done with consistency, in love, for the purpose of teaching is one of the most effective tools parents have for the younger children. It is a national disgrace and tragedy we have brainwashed several generations of parents into believing spanking "teaches violence" and refer to it as "hitting" a child.

It is embarrassing and deceptive to parade horrible parents on TV who jerk up their kid by the arm in frustrated anger, whack them a couple of times with their bare hand, then let them throw a temper tantrum and proclaim, "SEE! SPANKING DOESN'T WORK". What a joke. What a shame.

We spank for three reasons (defiance, disobedience and disrespect) and for the purpose of teaching boundaries and self control. Here is a typical episode of discipline for us:

  • Dad: "Landis, I want you to _______________" Landis follows with a tantrum, direct disobedience or "no!"

  • I take him to his room. I tell him what he did wrong, and what his incorrect behavior was. I tell him he is going to get a spanking and what that spanking will be such as "two swats".

  • I put him over my lap and give him two swats. I stand him up for a few seconds to let the moment sink in. Then I repeat what he did and why it was wrong. Then I ask him "why did Dad give you a spanking?" to which he replies "because I ______."

  • Then I tell him, "okay, give me hugs" which he does and within seconds, things are fine and he goes back to what he was doing.

That's it. No anger. No frustration. No "if I tell you one more time..." for the tenth time. Loving, consistent discipline. The kids know exactly what to expect. They aren't "afraid" because we finally get fed up and blow our tops.

One note here: you should not allow your kids to PUNISH YOU after you discipline them by allowing them to scream, holler, wail, thrash about, run off, etc. It serves no teaching purpose to discipline them and then let them rebel and throw a tantrum. Our kids understand they can CRY all they want after a spanking, but any temper fits because of getting a spanking will only result in another spanking. Once your kids know this, you will end the "after-spanking melodrama".

The key is consistency. Don't do the "15 chances until I lose my temper". Every instance of disobedience, defiance and disrespect should be met with routine, predictable discipline in various forms appropriate to the child's age, maturity and personality. It is not always spanking, but too many parents exclude spanking often with the nice sounding excuse of "my kids really don't need it". Granted, I've seen some kids who never need spanking but they are the exception, while most parents today pretend it is the RULE.

We use spanking, time-outs, extra chores, loss of privileges, talking to, standing in the corner and variety of other creative tactics teach the kids discipline, again, appropriate to age, maturity and personality because there is no "one thing works for all kids".

I will say this, with both honesty and humility, our children are well behaved, polite, respectful and good kids whether at home or out in public. All our friends will testify to that. We have no worries about going out to eat, going to Walmart or attending Church. They have their moments, sure, but overall we are not concerned at all about taking them anywhere, or having people over.

Let me finish this answer by restating our philosophy: firm discipline (expectations, rules, boundaries, self control, respect, obedience appropriate to age, maturity and personality) bathed in extravagant love and affection.

Whew... I probably ran off alot of people right there. My parenting ideas are from the Dark Ages evidently.

Mary (in MN) asked...

What is your occupation Brent?

That's hard to answer because it depends on what I'm doing. So let me see if I can put it in a short explanation:

I've always been an artist. Even when young, it was obvious. I've been doing graphic design for 25 years. The Internet came around and led me to designing websites. Designing websites led me to want to learn how to make websites functional as well as look good. So I tackled programming, database development and systems engineering.

The graphic design led me to clients who needed magazine publishing. So I learned the publishing world which led to the creation of new magazines and a need to develop photography skills which are natural fit for my artistic side anyway.

Being creative, I love to write, even when I was a kid. That writing skill was first used in business then about ten years ago I started writing alot of website material, Bible teaching and books. The sheer act of writing every day for years allowed me to become a prolific writer and I can easily churn out on average several thousand words a day in an hour or so, and well over 10K words if I'm working on a project. This post, which took about three hours to write is over 8500 words, just to give you an example.

Where I'm at professionally right now: I have a full time job, but I also have to do side work of graphic design and web development to pay the bills, and eventually I hope my writing and magazine work will be our full time source of income. My dream is to one day be able to simply say I am an "author" but I won't consider that accomplished until it is truly an adequate and primary source of income.

There is more about my professional background here, if you are lacking a life and want to read it.

I have read on your blog Michelle is a nurse, does she work outside of the home in this occupation?

Michelle is a nurse, but is not working at a hospital. Before we married, we agreed no matter what it took, she would stay at home and be there full time for all our children, and especially the adopted young ones who especially need it.

Taylor asked...

I guess other people have sorta asked this already, but I too was wondering about your other kids. How do they deal with Abby's Leukemia?

The kids understand her cancer. They know how serious it is, except for Landis. Landis know's Abby is "sick". Sami knows full well Abby could die, and she has been a wonderful sister to Abby. She is there by her side constantly caring for her. Sami, Garrett and Christian have all known people who have died from cancer, so they understand the situation.

As I previously stated, the older kids daily routine is not affected much by Abby. They understand her condition and do whatever we ask them to do to help.

Nancy asked...

How did you develop (not sure that is the word I want to use) such a deep faith in God? How do you seem so upbeat when things are so grim especially with Abby? Do you ever wonder why me?

That's simple: God gave it to us, as He will give it to anyone of His children. The depth is dependent on our willingness to accept opportunities for faith (often trials and suffering) and respond to them in faith (trust in and focus on God). As we reach a new level of faith under one set of circumstances, we become ready to go to the next level but we must be willing to do it God's way.

What you describe as "upbeat" is just the joy we get from having an eternal perspective. How can your joy be robbed when you know soon you'll be heaven where all sickness, pain and sorrow will disappear? How you can you not be joyful when you realize this life is but a whisper in time compared to eternity? How can we not be joyful when God has never failed us, never neglected us and never left us without hope? We are "upbeat" because our whole eternity awaits us. Abby might get to go on ahead of us, but pretty soon, we'll be there with her.

Ange~ asked...

I would love to hear more details about your adoptions- we are wanting to adopt, and are looking for places that would be less expensive and take less amount of time...?

Well in a nutshell, Ethiopia is a good choice right now as far as being quicker and less expensive. Guatemala was for a while but not now. Many countries are open but Ethiopia probably fits your criteria the best.

Anonymous asked...

How do you find time for just you and Michelle? How do you keep your marriage alive even after many years? You have so many challenges facing you and yet seem to have such a strong marriage.

We just have to carve out time, and yes, it's hard sometimes. One thing that helps, is I work from home. So rather than leaving in the morning, and coming home at night, I get to see her in little spurts all day long. We are actually together at home almost all the time except when Abby is in the hospital. Often, I can sit next to her on the couch and work. Even though I'm working, we are still getting to be near each other which we really enjoy too.

As for keeping our marriage alive, for us it hasn’t been many years in TIME, but it’s been many years in experience and opportunities to trust God. The "life" in our marriage comes from our commitment to life-long fidelity and loyalty, our commonly shared goals, and our unconditional love for each other.

True story: not long ago, we saw a “stress test” in a magazine, and decided we would have some fun and take it. At the end of the test, we realized in the last three years we’ve experienced most of the top ten or twenty stressful events. The “scoring” scale said: "Over 65 points, you are experiencing an extreme level of stress and may see indications of stress in your life". We scored 435. And that was BEFORE Abby got sick.

No, that is not a joke. It’s not my humor coming out. We scored 435 pre-Leukemia diagnosis… getting married, changing jobs, moving, major disease, death in the family, adoption, medical problems, etc. It seemed like we had simply gone down the checklist and made sure we hit them all. We didn't check off the one about discovering we are really brother and sister, but we haven't ruled it out yet either.

We had the biggest laugh over that stress test: “Over 65 points means you’re experiencing an extreme level of stress.” Hah! What does 435 mean? We should be in a coma by now evidently! It was kind of like "Mr. Johnny Comes Knockin'"... it's just so far past any level of normal it becomes funny.

We certainly feel like God has given us a lot of opportunity for faith. Yes, we feel a strained, and often tired… okay, I admit it, sometimes we even say “I am so stressed out…” but we don’t have any “poor me” feelings. We consider it ALL JOY God has counted us worthy to have so much opportunity to exercise faith in Him. God brought Michelle and I together at just the right time, when we would be the right parents, and the right friends He needed for all of our children, and many other people in our lives that we’ve been blessed to minister to.

4 Little Men and Girly Twins asked...

Oh, these are fun! I'm always amazed at what people wondering... myself included! Can't wait to read the answers!

That response came from Britt, a new friend of ours that will be in the upcoming March issue of Serious.Life Magazine. They are a young, cool, hip family with SIX kids. You’re going to love them.

Anonymous asked...

What about your other kids? You never talk about them or what they do while you are all at the hospital. Who takes care of them and why not any pictures?

Our other kids, starting at the top:

  • Dane is 21; lives in Norman, goes to OU. Works, pays his own way... truly a blessing and someone we are ridiculously proud of.

  • Jordan is almost 20 and lives in Tulsa; works, is totally independent. She is incredibly creative and is our drama queen. She has excellent sales skills and is extremely intelligent.

  • Christian, 17, lives at home with us. He loves athletics and is the most shy of all our kids (maybe the ONLY shy one). He is quiet, is great at working with his hands, and is beginning to show an interest in writing too.

  • Garrett, 16, is our musician. He loves youth group and reading. He is especially close to Abby and is always a very willing help with her, and around the house.

While Abby is at the hospital with Michelle, I am home most of the time taking care of the kids and house. Sami spends a lot of time at the hospital with Abby, and Landis has a couple of families who have quasi-adopted him. Pics? Christian doesn't really like to be in them, Garrett is busy alot with his own activities, Jordan lives in Tulsa and Dane is working and going to school.

Joshua asked...

I was wondering how the oldest of your children feel about all the attention on Abby and her illness. Do they ever feel left out from the parents love? I know you love them, but teens can feel left out even in the best circumstances. Do you as parents find time to get one on one time with each child? What do you do to get a break??

I've pretty much answered most of this already. They have never expressed any feelings of neglect or not being loved. Of course I'm sure they would love for things to be "normal" but part of parenting is to teach them this is all part of what life throws at us.

Michelle and I, once in a while, every few weeks, will get to go out for an evening which is usually dinner and then sitting for a few hours at Barnes & Noble just talking, reading and drinking coffee. It's hard to find times when Abby can be left with someone else, and we only have 2-3 people capable of caring for her. We can't really afford to go out very often either.

DawnS asked...

I would like to know about your adoptions, how old the kids were, what prompted the decisions etc... I know Sami came home last year and really seems to be doing so great.

You know, enough people are asking about the details of the adoptions I'm going to ask Michelle to write a separate post answering the adoption questions in full.

Tim, Sally, and Addison asked...

I have only been reading for a few weeks, but I was wondering when/what made you feel you were called to adopt?

Michelle will answer this in a future post, soon.

Stacey G. asked...

Hello, I was wondering how you make a button? Also, has Abby asked if she is going to die and how do you answer ? Where do your other children live?

I'll do a demo on the button-badge creation soon.

Yes, Abby has asked about dying several different ways, and yes, it just disintegrates our hearts when she does. She asks if she is going to grow up. She asks if other kids are going to die.

I don't know that we have a pat answer, we just answer with Godly perspective in an honest way appropriate for her age. We try to tell her enough to comfort her about the subject of dying and how God cares for her and we will all live with Him someday, but we don't go into detail she cannot understand, nor do we dwell on it. A four year old has about a 3 second attention span, so she doesn't get fixated on it.

Anonymous asked...

Could you maybe do a blog post about your whole family! Even the older kids?

Did you want several generations on both sides up to third cousin? Or all the way back to Noah? :) I think I've answered most of that question, let me know if you have more specific questions about the rest of the family.

Jillian and Crew asked...

Where did you get the spiderman outfits, my kids are drooling over them? We have always tried to send a little money to St Jude's every month-because my parents did when I was growing up and have never really thought about where it goes, does it actually go to help families like you, is there another organization you know of that helps kids with cancer? How do you feel as a Christian and a parent of a child with cancer about stem cell research? How/or do you at all... discipline a child that is sick?

The Spiderman outfits have just come from here and there. Gifts mostly for Christmas and birthday.

Donations to place like St. Jude's help the family in the fact that the child-patient is cared for at no cost if needed, and the overall research helps kids everywhere in any hospital. If you want to help families directly with their personal or medical expenses, you just need to give them money directly.

Stem cell - we disagree with stem cell research made available because of or to normalize abortion. It is an already established fact it is both unnecessary and highly questionable there is any benefit from fetus stem cells. Existing stem cell research is already well developed and effective. We believe this distinction is routinely ignored because this argument is primarily being used to soften people's sensitivity against abortion.

Holly asked...

Do you and Michelle ever get a date night? I think you deserve a few together!

Very rarely as I stated before. Time and money conspire against it happening very often. We are content and blessed.

Anonymous asked...

Is a bone marrow transplant an option for Abby? I've been wondering about that.

Potentially but it will be very difficult to find a donor. The fact that Abby is adopted makes this an issue. We don't know where to find her biological family in Guatemala. Since she is part Mayan Indian and part Latino finding genetic match will be very hard. We might do a bone marrow drive in the future to prepare if the need arises.

Amy R. asked...

I was wondering about your other kiddos. I am new to reading your blog (in the past month) and was wondering their ages. Are Abby, Landis and Sammi the only ones still at home?

Nope, Christian and Garret live at home still too. I think we've covered the rest. Let us know if you want to know more about the other kids.

Sara asked...

How do you make time when the needs of your children are so different, with having such an age gap? Do you ever feel like you don't have enough time to discuss tough and sensitive topics with the older kids? I know it is a struggle for me, having a 9 year old and then the day to day care for a 1 and 4 year old. Also, did you always agree on the number of kids you were going to have?

Okay, this is going to sound trite, but the answer is "we just do". We don't have a system or technique, we just take things one day at a time and do our best every day. Hopefully each day we will learn new lessons and have new experience that will make us better parents the following day.

No, we do not feel like we lack time to have tough or sensitive conversations with the older kids simply because we have those conversations routinely. In fact, for whatever reason, I think the seriousness of all this, and the scarcity of idle time we have causes us to make sure we have substantive conversations routinely with the older kids, including the grown kids out of the house.

Have we always agreed on the number of kids we want? Yes. We both wrote down the same answer on secret ballots. That number? “More”

Seriously, we love kids, we love adopting and we just feel like this is our mission in life. So we are both open to what opportunities God presents to us. We are not casual or impulsive about it. For example, we probably would be adopting again already but we know it would not be fair to them, Abby or our other kids to try to bring someone else in the house while dealing with Leukemia.

DJ Holly Rock asked...

Does it bother you when people refer to your children in adopted and not adopted, as if they are not all part of the same family? Does it bother you when people say "he/she is adopted" instead of "he/she was adopted"? Do people ever ask you if you love your children who were adopted as much as you love your biological children?

We've never been asked if we "love them as much", and it doesn't really bother us for people to refer to them as our "adopted children" because they are. We haven't had many rude comments though we get quite a lot of stares when our little U.N. delegation walks into a restaurant.

I think the only question/comment that really causes us to grit our teeth is when people say, "so these three are adopted, and the other four are your real children." That grates on us pretty good.

Laurel asked...

Please tell us about all of the older children. Where do they live? What are they doing with their lives? Do you feel like you're "one big family", or two separate families?

On the last part of your question, a little of both. In a blended family, you'll always have a some aspects of "separate" but on a daily level, we function and coexist as one big family and really have no turmoil to speak of between the kids because of being a blended family. Christian and Garrett get along fine, and like typical teens, kind of have their own life, friends and actitivities.

The smaller kids, different colors from different countries, could not be more bonded. They are truly one big family.

minime0910 asked...

What kind of camera do you use? Your pictures are beautiful. I am adopting from Kazakhstan this year and want a great camera to take along.

I have a Canon 40D. A Canon Rebel or some equivalent 35mm DSLR would be sufficient. Assuming a camera body of at least that quality, the real trick to great pics is in the lenses. Most people take pics in low light indoors with completely inadequate lenses, then cannot figure out why their photos stink.

It helps to learn some basic rules of framing and composing a photo (I'll do a demo on that). But no matter how good your eye for photography is, if you don't have an appropriate lens, you won't have good pics.

Outdoors, the standards lenses than come with a DSLR (a full size camera that takes standard lenses) are usually fine for outdoor, sunlit photos. But in any kind of low light, you've got have some decent lenses. It's too much to go into all that here, perhaps I'll do a demo about it. You can research it yourself by looking up lenses that go with your camera, and finding out their capabilities. You should also learn some photography basics like exposure, f-stops, shutter speed, etc. "Digital Photography for Dummies" is a great book to start with if you know nothing about it.

I can give you hint about a good low light lens. It must be a low "f-stop" value, typically 1.4-2.0. You'll understand that when you take a few minutes to learn some simple basics about lenses.

Anonymous asked...

What is your love language?

"Hey, baby.... I luv u" You mean like that?

Seriously, I know what you're asking but we tend to take a little different angle. We try to a balance across the board by saying "I love you" routinely, hugging frequently and routinely, just stopping to chill out and sit next to each other sometimes... we speak about love silently as well by our actions and choice to care for each other, and do things for each other. Humor is also a big part of expressing our love for each other. Repeatedly talking about our commitment to our mutual goals and priorities in life reaffirm our love.

Where did you and Michelle go to college?

Michelle went to several colleges. I went to one semester of college in the '80's and saw the future of computer graphics and the Internet (which were still relatively unknown). I left college to pursue and self educate about technology which was the single smartest thing I ever did professionally. I was well ahead of the curve getting into computer graphics and the web. I hold several professional certifications in technology and design, but never went back to college.

katie asked...

You really don't talk about the older 4 often, so how old are they and what are their names? Did you adopt them too? What's the best part of having an adopted child?

I think we've covered all this pretty well at this point. The three younger are adopted, the four older are bio. The best part of having an adopted child is knowing they won't grow up to suffer from my bad looks and hair loss.

Susarah asked...

Can you be my online pastor?

Very cool name, Susarah... love it. I assume that was asked tongue-in-cheek but I get addressed as "Pastor" alot so want to respond.

I'm not a Pastor in the sense of how that word is recognized today in the modern Church. Biblically, "pastor" is the same word as Elder, Shepherd or Overseer. These are spiritually mature men who are gifted to teach and lovingly lead people in their Christian walk. To the degree that God allows and provides opportunity, for many years I have used the Internet as a ministry opportunity to teach, advise, counsel, mentor and guide. In that sense, God has called me to be a shepherd of sorts but I am not, nor will I ever be a "Pastor" in the commonly accepted use of the word though I'm routinely addressed as that especially over on my ministy site.

colefamily asked...

I think I saw you adopted Landis through Eagle's Nest Orphanage. We too adopted our 3 year old from Eagles Nest and am thinkng it was around the same time frame (She was born in Oct. 2005 and we picked her up April 2006). Was Abby at Eagles Nest Orphangage? Just curious?

Landis was at Eagles Nest with your daughter. Abby was not. I'll let Michelle share all those details in her post on the adoptions.

oneblessedlife asked...

My question is about Abby. With her getting so many torturous needles, visits to the hospital, drugs and absolute pain, does she ever just rebel against having things done to her? How do you all help her deal with it all over and over again?

Michelle is with her more than anyone during those times, and her approach is to NEVER lie to Abby. If Abby asks about getting a "poke" Michelle tells her the truth. Even when Abby doesn't ask, Michelle will let her know what to expect so that overall Abby does not have to fear the unknown.

We role play alot of the procedures and teach her the terminology so that the Doctors words are not scary and strange. We work hard to keep things calm and quiet at the hospital and spend a lot of one on one time doing comforting things with Abby.

No, she is not rebellious about the treatment. When she is at her very worse condition, and on scary amounts of pain medicine, she can get to be a little impatient and grouchy. Even still, she is cooperative with the doctors and procedures, and never fights back or refuses what has to be done, no matter how painful.

When Abby first got sick, we committed ourselves to PARENTING her, no matter what. We would not indulge her. She would not be allowed to be demanding or selfish. We constantly teach her to be polite, obedient and respectful no matter what condition she is in. Abby cannot be spanked because of her physical condition, but beyond that, she loses privileges, gets time-outs, stands in the corner, etc.

We hate that she is going through this but we can parent her from self pity as doing so would only hurt her. The security of good parenting and being treated like a normal part of the family helps give her the emotional strength she needs to battle cancer.

This has allowed her to stay happy and feel secure. Of course, this parenting comes with lucrative amounts of patience, comforting, hugs, rocking, caring for her, and doing everything possible to make her comfortable.

It is unfortunate and sad some children are allowed to simply become out of control "self-centered" during the cancer process. I feel sorry for them and their parents who simply feel so sorry for the child, they cannot bring themselves to require any standard of self control from them. Of course, this just makes the whole thing even more unbearable for parent and child. Scared, angry or out of control children get very anxious during procedures and have more difficulty dealing with the discomfort.

Abby knows she is loved and feels "safe" because we treat her just like the other kids when it comes to parenting (with the addition of the care she needs of course). I still laugh every time I picture her standing with her nose in the corner while holding her I.V. pole. Classic... priceless.

maria asked...

Is there anything special my family and I could do for the other older children? Even if it's sending them a card?

Sami sometimes get a present or card since she is younger, Landis too. Abby is good about sharing her gifts with them. The older boys in the house, well, they are teenage boys. While they would be thankful for a card, I'm not sure it would really be all that meaningful to them becaue they don't feel neglected. We have appreciated a couple of times when people have invited them to sporting events or a concert or something. They often get rides from our friends when we are unable to take them somewhere. They both get to do most of the typical things teens do and they understand why Abby is getting alot of gifts in the mail.

Kristine asked...

I've always wondered where you find the time to blog and write and run a publication, and, and, and. :) I have one blog and follow several and I have a HARD TIME finding the time for that!

Here's the best way I can answer WHY I do so much: I have a full time job that doesn't pay all the bills, but does have Abby's insurance. My "side work" (graphics and website development) is needed to make up the rest of the income we need. The magazine, blogs and writing is what I'm wanting my FUTURE to be, so that is why I continue to invest in that effort.

Here's the best way I can answer HOW I do it: Turn off the TV. Prioritize your day. Be extremely focused. Work hard at becoming fast AND good at what you do.

I take no credit for any ability I may have. God alone gives the talent and opportunity. I've been blessed with a prolific writing skill so the blogs and books are FUN, not work. Okay, they are work... but it is fun. I've been doing the graphics and web work for 20+ years so I've become extremely fast at it. Speed has alot to do with being able to be involved in various efforts. Passion for what you do gives you the drive to do it.

Anonymous asked...

Just wondering if your children are home schooled.

Garrett was until last year. Sami is because she didn't know English when she arrived. She'll go to the local school next year. Living in a small town, we don't have many of the "public school" concerns that keep alot of Christian parents from choosing public school for their kids.

Malia'sMama asked...

I am curious as to why you seem to want to "socially network" so much beyond prayers for Abby. It's seems you're always asking for tie ins to your blogs (again, beyond getting Abby's cause known) offering to link others, making up contests and special days to keep people here, asking readers to involve themselves actively, to go to your facebook, twitter etc. I have never come across another blogger who does this (and I am the total opposite), so it's very foreign to me. Care to address my curiousity?

All of the things you list are of course just different ways to harness technology to spread a message and create a community which is our goal concerning Abby. We have received untold amounts of comments, encouragement and contact with people that have helped us through this difficult journey.

Along side that, blogging, writing and teaching are what I do, none of which is very useful without someone to read it. What you don't see behind the scenes, is all our social networking (and the other things you describe) have allowed our path to intersect with countless people we have helped, advised and shared experience with.

Beyond letting people know about Abby, my ministry is to take the life lessons we are learning and communicate them. The vast majority of my writing, teaching and answering questions is, and will remain, absolutely free ministry to people. As I pursue my passion and dream of eventually being a full time author and blogger, I will create and offer books and products for sale that compliment my free content.

I create a "network" of all my blogs, websites and social applications for the exact reason you state: to give people more reason than just Abby's story to want to remain loyal readers. Anyone who has been around my sites/blogs for very long knows I have no hidden agendas or "sales tricks". I was blogging, writing books and creating products YEARS before Abby got sick. It is no different than what someone like James Dobson or Dave Ramsey does. And the "Riggs Family Blog" was the Riggs Family Blog before Abby got sick.

Tony, Lisa and Kendall asked...

It seems as though you are constantly coming up with material to write about. How do you think of it all the time? Are you writing blog and magazine entries days in advance to keep up? Or are you just a pretty creative person?

The ideas just come from life and experience. Again, I take no credit for it. If I get ideas, it's because God blesses me with them, and the creativity that comes with it. It's hard to say HOW I get ideas, they just come to me. There are some common questions and lists you can refer to if you are STUCK for ideas, but that rarely is a problem for me. I've got mountains of lists of ideas I've jotted down over time for things I want to write and can't find time.

No, I do not write in advance. I write on the fly every day.

Anonymous asked...

I know one time you mentioned your income got cut in half after Abby got sick. You don't ever ask for donations on your blog. How are you doing with all the expenses? Could you use help? You might not be comfortable answering publicly, but I thought I would ask since its "open season".

Now this gets into stuff we are least comfortable with. I've been "public" for many years, and I know how quick people are to criticize and question your motives once the issue of money comes up. We get asked this type of question privately on a routine basis and we are just honest when asked.

Yes, due to the recession, my income was cut in half a few months ago. The magazine and my "side work" are my efforts to rebuild that income. I work a full time job as well as what you see me do online. All of it is to support our family and pay the medical expenses.

God has never failed to care for us. We haven't missed a meal, or not been able to pay a bill. Yes, people have stepped up and blessed us on many occassions with financial help. We don't want to pretend the need doesn't exist, nor do we parade it around soliciting help publicly.

So having said that, yes, we accept and appreciate financial blessings for those who feel led in that way. You can give using PayPal by clicking here, or if you want our mailing address, email me:

Nuff said.

Anonymous asked...

How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop?

Landis? One. But more important is this question: What about supralapsarianism and its effects on the social fabric of the emerging church and the contradictory tensions originating from its inevitable collision with the postmodern Darwinian influence on Christian worldview in general?

- - - - - - - - - - -
That's it. I'm questioned out. Hello? Anyone still there? Hello? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

~ Brent


Lisa said...

Aw.. I missed out on the questioning.. just logged on for the day. The first thing that caught my attention was the fact you sang in southern gospel groups. I don't know your age, but the 80's college thing put you where you might know my pastor and asst. pastor. They sang in a group called the "Travelers" about 25 years ago. They are the Dillon Family, Otis, Lil (who has passed on, Otis Lynn, plus many other fill ins over the years. Otis Lynn Dillon sang with the Kingsmen for at least a few years I know, just wondering if you knew them or had heard of them. The Travelers were "small" to "medium" in their day, but they sure got around the south and had a tour bus and some "diesel sniffin'" fans! LOL You just never know, it is a small world, after all.

The Snyder's said...

This was very interesting thing to do... Very interesting how you address each individual.. WoW...
I am continuing to pray for you all.. May God Continue to give you the strength you need in all the days to come...

Kristine said...

Thanks for taking the TIME to write all of those answers!!

It was a great read and I feel I "know" you and your family a little more now. :)

Prayers and hugs for Abby!!

Kelli said...

Great answers to some very thought-provoking questions. I had no idea that you guys were newly married. What a great story. I look forward to the demo on button-links. I will jump in with a question next time you offer.

Laurel said...

Great job, answering all of the questions.

Loved all the details about parenting (discipline, etc...) We are VERY like-minded on all of that. My husband is a middle school teacher, and we have always run our home like he runs his classroom ... "If you play by the rules, we can have a LOT of fun!!!"



Carla said...

Oh my gosh Brent, you had me laughing out loud and held my attention the entire time. Not a lot does that! : ) You guys are an awesome family and I am honored to know all of you. Thank you for sharing your ministry with all of us, it has inspired me and taught me a lot!

My friend just made me a button for my blog yesterday, and the purpose of it is to get people to pray for my almost 4 year old son, Gavin. It is on my blog at the top--I was hoping you wouldn't mind putting it on your sidebar. : ) And praying of course! I know Michelle is a follower on my blog but dont know if she has seen it yet, it has only been up since yesterday.

Have a great weekend....

Keith and Kris said...

This was really cool to read! I'm looking forward to Michelle's adoption post, too. We adopted from Guatemala as well and I never tire of hearing ANYTHING (positive) about this beautiful country.

Praying for Abby,

Blessed Mom of 8 said...

WOW! That was a lot of questions you are right! Great job sticking to them.

Brent and Michelle - Scott and I met via an online dating service almost 9 yrs ago. We did the same thing as you - spoke several times and knew we were falling in love before even meeting! We were kinda nervous at first meeting thinking of my we invested so much time on the phone and I really like her/him what happens if the spark is not there? Well, it was there and we barely spent a day without each other from the first meeting! We got married almost one year later. Three years later God entered our lives and things began to get INTERESTING! Adoptions began and we went from being a family of 4 to 10 in 3 yrs. Amazing grace!

It was neat getting to know so much about you and your family! Thanks for sharing!

Blessings and love to you all!

Wendy said...

My son is Mayan and hispanic, adopted from Guat. I would be happy to have him tested as a marrow donor. Maybe we could do our own marrow drive and build a new wing to the database for all of our adopted children!

Becky said...

Those were great...thanks for taking so much time to answer and for being so willing to share! We've been having a lot of behavior issues as of late so I appreciate the food for thought on that subject.

Anonymous said...

When you do the post on adoption, would you consider sharing your ideas on how to finance an adoption? We believe God is leading us to adopt, though we are still a few years from starting the process. Currently, we have no idea how God might provide financially for the adoption- we're just trusting that He will. We're trying to pray and seek options for anything we might be able to do now in preparation for the adoption. Any suggestions, advice, or stories you might have to share would be helpful. God bless you.

Mary (in MN) said...

I think I would have to agree Brent, the "picture" of Abby standing with her nose in the corner with her I.V. pole has to be cute, but then all I have even seen is cute pictures of her!!

Joshua said...

WOW!!!! What a wonderful story about you and your family!!! Thank you for SHARING!!! I laughed, cryed and Praised God for your writing the above blog!! You mentioned that you were pursuing witing in the future. I have friends who as a result of reading Abby's blog have started to follow your writings, because they love it so much. They are people of various ages and backgrounds. I know that God will open that door for you! "Seek ye first"-that is how I know:) I know that it will be at the right time too:) Again, thank you so much for sharing-I respect how you are all so real!! Angie

Anonymous said...

LOL Bueller?Bueller?Bueller...AWESOME! are your boys single?

Abby Vostad said...

Wow! I already felt like I knew you through Abby's story, but now I really feel like I know you! I continue to pray for you and so do the members of First Baptist in Dell Rapids, SD! Thanks for being real and sharing so much!

Following Him said...

AMAZING post! Yes, I have been reading but not commenting lately! I am so amazed at all of your family unity. It is AMAZING how well you and Michelle work together as a parental unit and as husband and wife!

Live to love and laugh said...

Thanks for your honest answers. It is really a shame in this day and age we need to be cautious of talking about discipline.
I am not talking about daily beatings here but a pat on the rear when listening just isn't there is great "behavior modification" for some children.
We had a three year old (now 12 and no less daring) roof climber that a swat worked great for almost every day at some point due to dangerous behavior. The five other children work well with taking away priveleges.
I remember like it was yesterday when Michelle announced she was getting married on our agency blog.
It is so hard to believe it was three years ago.
God has truly blessed your family.

Al's World said...

Thank you so much for all your answers, for being so open. Personally I am right on with your discipline. You do that because you love your kids so much. Thank you for all you do, we are praying for Abby all the time!

noahandlylasmommi said...

Awesome post. I feel like I know alot more about you all now.

Sarah said...

I'm sorry I was the one who brought up the eHarmony thing. I think it's sweet, though, and can understand how it could have been "love at first sight" in your situation. Several years before I met my husband, I had a great friend that I met through the blogging world, and we talked for a long time before meeting (we lived 7 hours apart). Now that I'm married, we don't really talk but he was a great friend and influenced me a lot in the maturation of my walk with the Lord.

Thanks for answering my adoption question, and I look forward to Michelle's follow up post! Oh, and you got my drooling when you mentioned salsa & tortilla chips. We can't get anything other than Pace around here unless we have someone ship it from the States.

Finally, I tried but could not figure out your question in response to the tootsie pop question, but my husband said to tell you he's not sure it's inevitable.

Anonymous said...

Again you have amazed me at the way you handle your blog/life. I enjoyed reading about all of your children and getting to "know" them better.

I raised my two sons with the same type of discipline you talk about. Now, my 11 grandchildren are being raised the same way. You can take them anywhere and know there won't be problems with behavior.

I applaud your convictions on moms staying at home !!

Thank you for answering the question on stem cell research. This research could help with my disease, but I am against using embryo for the research. You put "my" reasons into well written words.

I have two members of my family (distant members) that met online and married. Hearing that you and Michelle did was funny.

I am hooked onto your sites and look forward to more of your insightful, funny, sad, ordinary life, faith and hope posts.

Ann Stegall
Wake Forest, NC

megan said...

I enjoyed reading all the answers to the questions! It was a great way to get to know you all a bit better...And thank you Michelle for the comment on my blog. BLessings to you all

Dory said...

I was encouraged to read your view on discipline. I wholeheartedly agree and it is good to know that there are others out there doing it this way. Also, my husband and I met on eHarmony :-). I am a reserved person and it made it easier for me to communicate at the beginning although people do seem to find it a little strange :-). Thank you for posting all of these answers. I don't remember how I found your blog, but I always find it encouraging!

Nancy said...

Thank you for your very candid answers and taking the time do do this.

Susie said...

Great post--I enjoy reading every day and have shared your blog with many friends. You are and will continue to be in my family's prayers.

Stephanie (Maya's mommy) said...

Hey Brent. OK...I missed the question"window" but I do have a question about Abby's course of treatent and timelines. I have learned so much about leukemia and cancer from you guys, but by no means know enough! Have the doctors been able to tell you how long they anticipate she will have to have chemo? I know (at least I think) she is still in the middle of the intense chemo that started in January. How long does that last? What follows? When? Is chemo done back to back, or are there ever periods of rest? Will she have to do more rounds of this intensive chemo?

Thanks for helping me understand what is in Abby's immediate and more distant future. I am a believer, and I am totally on board with all you say. It just breaks my heart that she has to suffer as she does. Maya and I are praying for your family- for rest during the days and weeks to come, and for Abby's health- that the side effects would be minimized, that her immune system would stay strong enough to keep the sores away, etc.

Lianna Knight said...

Long post..but so well worth the read. Thank you so much for sharing your life with us...I really enjoy reading about it and hearing how "normal" you and your family really are.

I am looking forward to Michelle's post about the adoption journey.

Anonymous said...

That was a really good read!

Have you considered a weekly question day? You could pick 4 or 5 questions if there's too many, and it seems a lot of people ask the same things anyway. Obviously a lot of us were curious about the "mysterious" older children!


Holly said...

Wow, that was quite amazing! We are all blessed to have have found you and your family. Thank you for being so frank and honest and helpful. I'm sure God is using you (and this sad situation) more than you will know until you meet Jesus face to face. We still pray every day for your sweet Abby. God bless you! (And yes,spankings work, absolutely!) : )

~Issy said...

Loved this post! It was great to learn so much about you and your "Maria". :)

My husband and i are also a 'eharmony' couple...i was his very first 'match' and he was my very last match! We lived almost 4 hours apart so there were VERY large phone bills and so many emails between us--we learned so much about each other during that time. We've been married now for three years and still laugh every time an eharmony commerical comes on and smile at each other. :))

Hugs to Abby...

CHATTY CATHY 1975 said...

YAY! THANK YOU for your comments on spanking. At times we are afraid to own up to doing this - but we DO!!! And it's consistent - and IT WORKS! :-) The bible says "spare the rod - spoil the child". It's sad that someone out there thinks it's wrong and a form of violence. Ironically enough - if MORE parents HAD spanked - there would be MUCH MUCH MUCH less violence!


Kritter Krit said...

That was SUCH a fun read! Very entertaining. (Especially for someone bedridden with a nasty case of food poisoning. YUCK. Man, Taco Bell is on my bad list right now.) You guys are an amazing family - very interesting and inspiring.

The story about how you and Michelle! NO WAY!! If THAT'S not a ringing endorsement for eHarmony, well, I don't know what is! You guys are the ones who need to be in the commercial! =) Not to dabble in "cheese", but, seriously, you two seem like soulmates. You're both so stinkin' SWEET to each other, even in times of excrutiating trial and exhaustion...and you seem so in love, so compatible, so secure in your relationship - it's hard to imagine that you haven't known each other your whole lives. I love your story. It's great.

It's hard not to fall in love with you guys. Your whole family - you're such a special package. Will be praying lots for sweet Abs.

Holly said...

Dear Brent...
I made it all the way through...good thing you didn't use "supralapsarianism" until the end though or I'd have given up!
I'm not even gonna ask....

Tony, Lisa and Kendall said...

Thank you! It was really nice learning even more about you and your family. It's rare that you find someone who will answer such personal questions in the candid way in which you have.

Liz said...

I enjoyed reading these and getting to know you and your family better. We do have something in common though...I met my husband of 8 years on the internet in 2000. He was in Texas and I was in NC, so I TOTALLY understand what you were talking about when you said your relationship was built on a foundation of communication. I can't even count the number of hours my hubby and I talked before we met 30 days later. I am glad that God brought you and Michelle together! Much blessings to you and I pray for Abby daily.

sarah bess said...

You guys are great! Your use of humor and grace to answer some of those personal questions really moved me. Glad to know you!

I love the "Bueler? Bueler?" thing. so funny! Can't believe you put your bare feet on the table at a restaurant!

Feels like we've all been friends for a long time--you do have a gift for that.

Bless you & your work!