Nairobi, Kenya: Serving with Missions of Hope International

The joy of the Lord radiated from her. She welcomed us into her home with anticipation and so much excitement. Her smile was contagious as we worked to squeeze five extra people in the door. Her home was approximately a 10 x 10 space located in the slums of Pangani, packed with random items piled all around leaving only a small space to stand. kenya2019-30Her name is Naomi and she is the mother of three children, with the youngest being in college. She loves the Lord and her prayer request was for the community around her that does not embrace Christ. We were able to pray over her for strength and perseverance, for the light of Christ to shine brightly through the darkness in her surrounding community, and for the health of her children. She shared that Matthew 25 was what the Lord placed on her heart that morning. She shared how her desire was to be faithful to give back what God had given her and even though it was a small amount, she knew God could fill in the rest–that He could bring more.

Naomi’s faith, pride, and joy made an impression on my heart. I witnessed what it truly looks like to experience the joy of the Lord, and the abundance this brings to one’s life even when we have little to the eyes of the world. I experienced true hospitality that came straight from her heart, out of the love of Christ, and this is something I pray I can emulate in my own life.


While this experience was eye-opening because of the living conditions we were seeing, meeting in Naomi’s home and hearing her share her love for the Lord opened my heart to what was to come over the next two weeks and I was ready for whatever might be ahead as we served with Missions of Hope International.

kenya2019-49kenya2019-17kenya-500Thanks to my friend, Randall, for capturing this picture. The kids were looking at pictures I took of them on my camera.

Some of us were able to spend time at the Skills Center at Kariobangi. The center had a sewing class, knitting, plumbing & welding, bead-working, computers, a beauty school, and a production center that produces backpacks and uniforms for all of the 18,000+ students attending the various MOHI schools. kenya2019-174kenyab4kenya2019-84

kenya2019-163I happily sat in on a bead-working class around a table with the teacher, her 3 students and a few of my team members. They were able to share their skills with us and taught us with great patience. They gave of their own time to create and prepare for exams in order to help us learn to create beautiful bracelets.

I loved listening to the teacher, Francisca, tell of her days as a social worker and how she saw a need to help women provide a way for their children to be educated. She saw her bead-working skills as a gift from God to which she said, “When God gives you a gift, it is meant to be shared and given away, not kept to yourself.” Francisca was able to pass on her bead-working skills to the women in these communities, whose husbands were failing to provide and care for their families. These women learned new skills and were able to start making income that allowed them to put their children in school, as well as pass their new skills onto other women in their community. I appreciated how Francisca used and still uses the gifts God has given her and how she works diligently to empower other women. kenya2019-164kenyab2When we arrived to our second day of bead-working class, Francisca placed the most beautiful bracelets on each of our wrists. The night before, she spent time making a bracelet specifically for each one of us. A few minutes later, each of her students handed each us a bracelet they had made for us as well. I was working with Patricia who was a mother of 3 and very quiet. It was fun to watch her open up to me and the rest of the team over the 48 hours we had together. She made me a beautiful white and blue bracelet. I was overcome with emotion for the generosity of these women. They made us feel so incredibly loved. I thoroughly enjoyed learning from these women and sitting quietly around a table, chatting, singing hymns, and creating. When the time came to say good-bye, I was overcome with emotion.kenya-800


Attached to the skills center was the Kariobangi primary school through grade 4. Every class welcomed us with singing and smiling faces.


Over the weekend we were able to visit the rural part of Kenya and tour Ndiovani, the boys boarding school, and spend time talking to the students as well as playing volleyball and soccer (football). Likewise, we were able to tour Joska, the girls boarding school, and set up a craft my friend Joni put together for them to enjoy. Watching the joy on their faces while they worked on their craft was priceless. 

kenya2019-188kenya2019-207kenya2019-227kenya2019-193kenya2019-192kenya2019-228(They wash and dry their mattresses every Saturday.)kenya2019-238kenya2019-235kenya2019-231kenya-501kenya-502kenya-503kenya-504

At church on Sunday, we experienced very energetic praise and worship and my face hurt by the end of the service from smiling the entire time. Different student groups performed for us and I was able to hold the sweetest baby girl named Joy. At the end of the service, Joy’s beautiful mother, Esther, asked me about the blue and white bracelet on my wrist. I was able to tell her about the bead-working class and about Patricia who made it for me. Esther showed me the bracelet on her wrist which was made with the colors of Kenya. She put her fingers around my wrist, as if she was measuring, and then proceeded to remove her bracelet and place it on my wrist. She told me I was to wear it and remember them every time I looked at it. Again, I was overcome with emotion from the generosity and love shown to me.kenya-506

Over the next three days we worked at the Korogocho Nyayo school to put on a VBS for students grade preschool-7th grade. Myself and two other team members were in charge of the music portion of VBS. Our theme verse for the week was from Philippians 4:13,

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

We taught them a song which recited this verse and sang it each day of VBS. To hear the students sing it out warmed my heart.

kenyab1 kenya-600kenya-601kenya-603kenya-602(Two Christmases ago, our church held a shoe drive to purchase shoes for the students at the Nyayo school. Our pastor and his wife were then able to visit the school and distribute the shoes to these students.)

Throughout the three days, the students heard stories having to do with courage. The three stories included Esther, Jesus walking on water, and David and Goliath. They did crafts, sang songs, and participated in outdoor field activities that went along with these stories as well. The three days flew by and I can still see the smiling faces and hear their beautiful voices singing praises to God. We all wished we had more time at Korogocho Nyayo.kenya-604kenya-608kenya-607kenya-606kenya-609kenya-605

I was able to sponsor a child while we were there, which allowed me to meet him and give him a gift. I cannot wait to return and see how he has grown. There are just under 100 students at the Nyayo school alone who need sponsorship, which helps to cover their education, uniform, and food. Please check out the MOHI website to see how you might be able to help. Our church, South Side Christian Church, also partners with Korogocho Nyayo, so if your church is looking for an international mission partner, please consider checking out what MOHI is all about and how you can partner with a school in Kenya.kenyab7

We also went into the community for home visits to share the gospel story, as well as educate on HIV. The particular homes I visited belonged to parents of students at Nyayo, who all had a relationship with the Lord. They welcomed us into their homes with grace and shared prayer requests with us. One repeated prayer request was for a bible. It struck me how in America we can own several different bibles, in our favorite color or design, translation, ones for coloring and journaling, you name it. We have them readily available and at our fingertips on our phones, yet how often do we hunger for God’s word? I sat before brothers and sisters who loved the Lord and did not have access to a Bible and it wrecked me. They hungered to have God’s word at their fingertips to read over for encouragement in their lives.

Later when we visited the MOHI gift shop, we discovered we could order Swahili bibles. Our team took up our own collection of money and were able to purchase 25 bibles. That may not seem like a lot, but it was a start. To see our team come together to make it happen made made me so proud. What a privilege it is to serve alongside such generous people.kenyab8

As we were loading to leave Korogocho Nyayo on the last day, a big group of students were waiting for us as we boarded the bus. We exchanged high fives and hugs. As I got to the bus, students started singing the theme song from the week. I loaded the bus with tears in my eyes. My heart was full hearing the words I knew would be ringing in their hearts and minds long after we left them. What a privilege to be able to share passions, talents, and the love of Christ with others and what a gift it is to be the recipient of appreciation and gratitude.kenya-700

Our team headed to the Masai Mara for a few days to decompress and that is just what we did. I loved taking in the big expanse of God’s creation and thinking back on two weeks full of amazing people, new friendships, and absolutely wonderful experiences. God is shining His light brightly in our brothers and sisters in Kenya. It was a privilege to be able to serve alongside them and hopefully provide some encouragement for all they are doing in the lives and communities they are impacting. kenya2019-375


Road Trippin Out West {Our 2017 Summer Vacation to Mount Rushmore}

In less than two weeks we are headed out for our 2nd annual family road trip. I thought maybe I should blog our trip that started all the fun. Last year we decided we really wanted to take the kids to see Mount Rushmore and ended up planning a 2 week road trip out west. We loved it so much, we decided we might just make road tripping a yearly thing.

Here is a recap of our trip that took place last summer from May 28th to June 9th, 2017.

We headed out with the longest stretch of our trip from Springfield, IL to Omaha, NE. Downtown Omaha was adorable and we enjoyed the big metal slides and exploring down by the riverfront the first night we got into town. The next day we were up early to beat the crowd at the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.  After a long day at the zoo, we enjoyed dinner in an old train car at the Old Market Spaghetti Works. The place was fun for the kids and they ate free because it was a Monday. Score! This fun telephone booth was outside so of course we had to take pictures. Untitled

We continued walking around downtown and tried out Ted and Wally’s Ice Cream. The line for ice cream was quite long, but there were so many fun origami cranes in celebration of the Peace Crane Project to enjoy as we passed the time.

vaca2017-007vaca2017-008After ice cream we spent a good amount of time exploring Hollywood Candy. The trinkets and areas to explore are endless.vaca2017-027hcvaca2017-013

The next morning we headed off to Sioux Falls, SD. Our first adventure was to find the re-creations of Michelangelo’s David and Moses around town. We then headed to Falls Park where we spent most of our time. We got to catch tadpoles, climb, and enjoy the waterfalls.


Before heading out of town we stopped and did a self-guided tour of St. Joseph Cathedral It was beautiful.vaca2017-083stjoe

Our next destination was a hotel halfway between Sioux Falls and The Badlands. We made a quick stop at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D. It was a fun little stop, but certainly don’t go out of your way to visit. 😉

One of the highlights of our trip was our adventure at Badlands National Park. The Badlands are breathtaking and you can hike the easiest to most challenging of trails. I also had one of my first panic attacks as I watched my husband and children walk to the edge of a cliff while I stayed back to photograph. I had a hard time letting them out of my reach for the rest of the day.


And no adventure to the Badlands is complete without a pit stop at Wall Drugwalldrug

We rented an Airbnb for the next few days in Keystone, SD. We loved the location as well as having a washer/dryer and kitchen in the middle of our trip. The Wild Wild West Experience was a the perfect place for us to settle in for a bit and get a good view of the nighttime stars.

While we were in the area we visited Mount Rushmore National Park. I highly recommend going to during the day to hike around, trying some of Thomas Jefferson’s ice cream and going back at night for the light show. vaca2017-230-lowresvaca2017-238-lowresvaca2017-239-lowresvaca2017-243-lowresvaca2017-249-lowres

Custer State Park was probably my favorite experience while staying in Keystone because I loved all the wildlife. The kids loved all the prairie dogs! Also, we highly recommend Black Hills Burger & Bun Co. for delicious burgers in Custer, S.D. Order the Hot Granny–you will not be disappointed.

vaca2017-251-lowresvaca2017-259-lowresvaca2017-264-lowresvaca2017-268-lowresvaca2017-271-lowresvaca2017-280-lowresvaca2017-285-lowresvaca2017-288-lowresvaca2017-292-lowresvaca2017-294-lowresvaca2017-297-lowresvaca2017-335-lowresvaca2017-345-lowresvaca2017-353-lowresvaca2017-356-lowresvaca2017-357-lowresvaca2017-364-lowresvaca2017-369-lowresWe went at sunset on two different occasions and the scenic drive was so peaceful. The only thing we regret is not planning for more time to swim and explore the area more. Sylvan Lake is a beautiful swimming, kayaking and picnicking spot.

Because we were so close to Wyoming, we decided to take a day to drive over to Devil’s Tower. We loved watching the landscape change as we drove into Wyoming. I don’t have a lot of pictures from Devil’s Tower because it was hot and I did not want to lug a bunch of stuff while we were hiking. On our way home we stopped to see the falls at Spearfish Canyon and ate gourmet liquid nitrogen ice cream from Get the Scoop food truck in Deadwood.devilstvaca2017-329-lowres

Wind Cave National Park and Reptile Gardens were two other fun stops the kids really enjoyed. The crocodile show at the Reptile Gardens was our favorite show from our visit.

vaca2017-309-lowresvaca2017-310-lowres*Tip: If you have a 4th grader, you should definitely check out the jr. ranger program, which helps get you into almost any national park for free.

Also, it might not look like much, but we absolutely loved stopping at dusk for the bison crossing.


Some other highlights from our 4 days in the Keystone area: Downton Rapid City Splash Pad, Dinosaur Park, Rushmore Tramway Adventures Alpine Slides, Storybook Island, and Indian Tacos (they are made on fry bread and it’s a lot of food so we recommend sharing).

On our way home we stopped at Chadron State Park and went horseback riding and took a dip in the pool. We then headed on toward North Platte, NE with a stop at Carhenge in Alliance, and then enjoyed dinner at Penny’s Diner before tucking in for the night.

The next morning we headed to Lincoln, NE and enjoyed a picnic lunch at Pioneer Park Nature Center, viewing the exhibits, as well as some bison and an elk. We also managed to get a tick crawling on Nolan’s leg before it decided to dig in. In the evening we enjoyed a delicious dinner at Honest Abe’s Burgers & Freedom and then headed to the Sunken Gardens...where Jonathan found a tick on himself. Yes, I was paranoid after two ticks in one day. We closed out our day and the trip with a dip in the hotel pool before heading back to Springfield. This trip taught us that:

  1. Two weeks is a great amount of time for vacation.
  2. Our kids are great car riders.
  3. There are so many beautiful places to explore in the U.S.
  4. We can’t wait for another Road Trip!

What are your favorite Road Trips or family destinations within the United States? Stay tuned for our Road Trip South East coming in the next couple of weeks. If you made it this far in the blog post, thanks for reading and to see our daily adventures follow along on Instagram.

Happy Adventuring!




The Jett Pack Adoption Campaign|2 Adoption stories in 1

Today’s post is by my friend, Tandra. We work together at Black Hawk Elementary and she is an incredible teacher. We share a love for Jesus and I know without a doubt our paths were meant to cross. Today she is sharing her story of how God lead her to adoption in more than one way. Because adoption is so expensive, I would love for us to come together to help her raise the $22,545 to bring home her next baby.  At the end of her story, I will share a couple links of ways in which you all can help.


Tandra’s story:

Being a mother is one of the highest callings in life.   Even as a young girl, I knew that I wanted to be a mother when I grew up.  

Like many young women, I thought that I would find someone, get married and have children during or soon after graduating from college.  Around the age of 31, I realized that marriage may not be in my future and started considering the possibility of adoption.  I felt that my single status should not hinder my chances of becoming a mother.  At that time in my life, it was something that I was considering, but not actively pursuing, because I still thought that I would have time to have children.  


Four years later, as a result of a medical issue, I learned that I would not be able to have biological children.  I was devastated, and angry with God for not giving me the desires that I had wanted all of my life.  In my eyes, I felt like my life was over or simply a waste. What good was I as a woman if I could not have children?  I scoured the Bible for answers and prayed relentlessly that God would miraculously heal my body and this would all just be a bad nightmare that wouldn’t last forever.  

Physical healing never came, but God pressed even harder on my heart that adoption was no longer just a thought that I should be entertaining.  It was His will for my life, and became my desire.

I was nervous to tell my family about my plans, and secretly looked on line at different agencies and different adoption possibilities.  I knew my parents and siblings would support me in any decision that I made, but speaking it out loud would make everything so real and also meant that I had to admit to myself that conventionally becoming a mother was no longer an option for me.

There were many sleepless nights filled with prayer, scripture reading, searching the internet, and mostly crying.  Something led me to one particular agency that specialized in connecting birth mothers with prospective families.  The name of the company also helped.

Angel Adoptions Inc. was a very selective company that only chose 5 new prospective adoptive families a month.  When I applied, it was already near the end of the month and I was told that there was only one more spot left to fill.   

Three days seemed like an eternity, but I was confident that this was where God was leading me.  I was elated when I received the call that I was selected to be the final prospective parent, out of over 200 applicants, that was allowed into the program that month.

As the first 2-3 months passed, I excitedly waited for that call that would change my life forever.  I carefully watched the website, decorated and set up a nursery.  I even made my new favorite verse into a decal and stuck it on my future child’s wall.

1 Samuel 1:27:  For this child I have prayed, and God has granted the desires of my heart.


I knew that if God had granted Hannah’s desire, He would also grant mine.  I had so much to offer. I just knew that a birthmother would pick me.  In my mind, I had great answers to my profile questions. I picked only the best pictures of me that showed what a fun and loving mother I would be.  Angel Adoptions Inc. had such a great success rate in placing babies with adoptive parents.  I knew that it wouldn’t be long before I too would be chosen.  

Boy, was I WRONG!  A few months turned into half a year.  Half a year turned into a year.  A year turned into a year and a half.  I only had a two year contract with the agency before I would have to reapply and pay that mountain of fees all over again.  The mountain of fees that both my parents and I had taken out loans to pay for.  Meanwhile, I watched the monthly newsletters that came out celebrating the new families that were created from the sacrifice of birthmothers.

What was wrong with me?  What did these people have that I didn’t?  What made them a better pick than me?  Once again, I spiraled down into a pity party. All the while, watching my sister bring a new baby into her family, a sister-in-law bring a baby into theirs, and two cousins bring new babies into our ever growing extended family.  I wondered if maybe I had only thought I had heard God’s voice telling me that I would become a mother through adoption.

It wasn’t until late August of 2014, that I finally got my call.  A birthmother had picked me and wanted to talk to me.  I immediately called her back, and once again felt God reassuring me that becoming a mother was still one of His many plans for me.


After many conversations, I learned that originally, the birthmother as well as the birthfather, did not want to look at any profiles that did not include both a mother and a father.  A single parent was out of the question for this baby.  She took her stack of prospective parents and started separating them into 2 piles.  A pile of “two parent” homes, and a pile of “single parent” homes that would not be read.  She told me she didn’t know why, but when my profile came up, she put it in the same pile as the two- parent homes.  She saw something in my picture and, on a whim, decided to keep my profile.  It was placed on the top of the stack and left to be read later.   When she finally returned to the stack, my profile was still on top and she decided to read it.  That was it for her.  After reading my profile, she knew definitely that I was to be the mother of this baby.  She did not read any other profiles.  The birthfather also agreed.  That circumstance couldn’t be anything other than the hand of God.

I knew that God had planned this child for me.  She had been designed to be my daughter from the very start, even before she was thought into being.  

The next few months were not the smooth sailing, “little to no worries” months that some mothers experience through their pregnancies.  It was full of ups and downs, doubts and fears that many adoptive parents experience.  One such time was when we learned that the baby, that was soon to be my child, was a girl.  I was excited!  My sister had three girls and I could imagine all of the fun things we would do together with our daughters.  My daughter’s birthmother had a completely different emotion.  Hers was one of pain and doubt.  She was already a mother to two boys and had always wanted a daughter.  She had gone back and forth with her decision several times, while I lived in a constant state of fear, before finally deciding to go ahead and proceed with the adoption.

On April 7, 2015, my daughter, Katelynn was born, three days late.  She was already showing me her stubborn and independent character.  God had finally given me the chance to become a mother.  A mother to a daughter who has the same personality and defiant streak I had as a child.  A daughter whose face lights up when I walk in the door from being at work all day.  A constant source of the words, “I love you, Mommy.”  Those are the 4 most precious words that I will never tire of hearing.


Being a mother has been one of the most fulfilling jobs I have ever had.  My daughter is the light of my world.  For the 2 ½ years that she has been a part of my life she has been my world.


Recently, this past summer, I once again felt the strong desire to have another child.  I didn’t want Katelynn to grow up an only child.  I loved having siblings and I wanted Katelynn to have that same experience.  Deep down I told myself that another child would not be a possibility for me.  I would never have enough money to pay for Angel Adoptions services again, plus the agency in Texas, as well as the agency here in Illinois.  Every time the thought would enter my mind, I would suck back the pain and tell God that she was enough.  And she is.  She is everything I ever wanted, but that still didn’t stop the nagging feelings that I wanted her to grow up and have a brother or sister to fight with, learn valuable lessons with, and to lean on for support when life gets hard.  Everything I had with my siblings.  It never entered my mind that I would have the real possibility and opportunity to become a mother again.  It was impossible!

By now, I should know that nothing is impossible with God.

Once again in late August of this year, I got an email from the adoption agency in Texas. Katelynn’s birthmother was pregnant again and wanted to know if I wanted this child. She asked them to ask me first before pursuing other prospective parents.  I leaped at the chance!  My impossibility had become possible.  Katelynn could have a sibling.  A real, full biological sibling.

Many would think that this adoption would be so much easier having already gone through an adoption and with the same birthmother.  Boy, would they be wrong!  There have still been many obstacles and hurdles that I’ve had to jump over.  For instance, would I be able to get another loan while still paying off the loan from Katelynn’s adoption?  If I did get a loan, would it be enough to pay for all of the new expenses?

God has shown me in so many ways that this baby has also been planned for my life.  He has used a deep desire in my heart, a stranger with a wooden cross outside of the credit union, and a friend who has felt God telling her to pray for and help a family adopt a baby, without evening knowing my situation, as a confirmation that I am indeed to be this baby’s mother.

Once again, Hannah’s words from  1 Samuel echo in my mind:  “For this child I have prayed, and God has granted the desires of my heart.”jettgirls-231Ways YOU can help!

  1. If you would like to follow along with Tandra’s story you can do so over at the Jett Pack Adoption Facebook Page.
  2. For the months of October and November, a portion from every family session booked with jclaytor photography will go toward the Jett Pack adoption.
  3. Support this adoption by purchasing a Jett Pack shirt. Our goal is to sell 100 shirts by October 21, 2017.
  4. Give Financially at Go Fund Me.
  5. Pray- Pray for the funds to cover this adoption, for the health of the and baby and for the whole Jett family as they anxiously await the newest member of their family.
  6. Share this post, so that others may here Tandra’s story and urge others to help where they can.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for taking the time to read my friend’s story and for helping where you can.





Stuck in the 50’s: Johnny’s Diner with Friends

My friends and I have really enjoyed some fun stylized shoots with our kids. The girl’s lemonade stand started it all and then the boys wanted a shoot just for them, so the baseball idea was born. Then my friend Mandy had the idea to do a 50’s shoot for the boys and girls. She was so excited when she found Johnny’s Diner. I can’t imagine a more perfect setting for what we were envisioning. Johnny was incredibly gracious to let us use his diner and we are so thankful to have these images. These kids were friends from the time they were in our wombs-they are more like cousins really. We have made some incredible memories and I’m certain we will make many more in the years to come. Now, enjoy a little trip back in time:)johnnysdiner-124-lowresjohnnysdiner-126-lowresjohnnysdiner-301-lowres123johnnysdiner-212-lowresjohnnysdiner-122-lowresjohnnysdiner-121-lowresjohnnysdiner-091-lowres8johnnysdiner-158-lowresjohnnysdiner-114-lowres

The boys aren’t quite sure what to do when you ask them to show their muscles…


The girls on the other hand know just what to do in front of the camera;)


Let’s try the muscle pic again.



This last pic is pretty special to me. My friends, Melanie and Mandy, are basically family to me. We became friends very early on after Jonathan and I moved to Ohio. Though it wasn’t planned, the girls talking in the background behind us is just perfect because it reminds me of how their friendship is a reflection of ours. These ladies are precious to me. We have been through a lot together and raising our kids up together during the past 8 years has included some of my fondest memories. Now we get to look forward to future vacations together to make more memories:)


San Jose, Costa Rica: My time at Roblealto

One of the most amazing weeks of my life was spent on a mission trip to Costa Rica this past February. A team from the Stow Campus of Christ Community Chapel travelled to San Jose to serve at Roblealto’s Bible Home. Someone from our team described Roblealto as a place that radiated God’s love. I felt it all week long. Every time I reflect back on the week I feel like I was given glimpses of heaven.

The land  Roblealto owns and lives off of is breathtaking, but the people we spent the week with reminded me more of heaven than anything. The staff at Roblealto are nothing short of amazing and selflessly serve all the children that come through their gates. Roblealto Child Care Association is run extremely well. (Click on Roblealto to learn more about who they are and what they do) The staff is showing Christ’s love every day to these children so that they know a love like any other.

Some of these children are coming from homes where they are neglected or even abused, while other’s parents are working so hard to make ends meet, they may not have enough money to feed their children. Roblealto provides a safe home full of love and all the necessities the children need. They do all of this because they want to restore these families and change their futures.

These first set of images are from my first morning on the grounds at Roblealto. I was able to wake up early before the sun rose and sit on top of a hill to watch the clouds roll in. The red roofed building below are the chicken coops. Roblealto has a fully functioning farm that not only feeds the staff and children, but also provides jobs and helps to fund Roblealto.


The kids headed to school in the morning right before we would start work at the construction site. This particular morning happened to be laundry day, so those are the black bags you see some of them carrying down on their way to school.


While the kids were at school we worked on the Eden house. Roblealto currently has 9 functioning  homes and when the Eden house is complete, they will be able to take in 10 more children bringing them to full capacity with 100 children. We worked alongside a local construction team to help frame, drywall and gravel the house.


The kids were getting out of school just before our work day ended and then we got to hang out with them for a couple hours. Most of this time was spent playing soccer (better known as futbol).


In the evening we got to spend time with the kids in the different houses we were assigned to. We had activities that we would do with them and every night before we left our house we circled up to pray together. We were fortunate enough to have someone in the house who spoke english and could translate what the boys were saying. One night hit me hard when one of the boys prayed for his mom to come visit him. I had to swallow back some tears. But it really reminded me of why I was there.

These boys were hugging us and pulling us all over their house asking us questions from the first moment we walked through their front door. I couldn’t help think of my children who would have hid behind me if someone new walked through the door. These boys knew why we were there. They knew we loved the same God and this same BIG God loves them so much he sends all sorts of people into their lives at Roblealto to help remind them of this. Some of those people include their house family. They are as loving and selfless as anyone I have ever met. They give up their own family time to love on these boys and help raise them up and their love and sacrifice and they had such an impact on me.


The next two pictures fill  my heart with joy to remember how the boys and family interacted in the Arco Iris house. They laughed and hugged a lot and made each other feel important and loved.


When you meet these kids you want to be a part of their life. It is not easy to say good-bye to them. Fortunately, we can keep in touch through letters and we have the opportunity to sponsor a child as well. You can too if you want! Some of the coolest moments were getting to see the children as they were introduced to someone on the team who would be sponsoring them. How often do you get to actually meet a child you sponsor?!


My friend went on the last trip the church took to Roblealto and was able to send a letter and gift for the boy she decided to sponsor. He was so excited when he was told she sent him a letter and I loved watching him read it. You can become family even from a distance.


By the end of the week we made a lot of progress on the Eden house. I can’t wait hear when it is finished and know there are 10 more children that will be blessed by this place.


The sunset was beautiful the last night we were there. I ran all the way up and down those hills trying to capture it before it went down.


We had a great team. We worked hard, laughed hard and cried hard. For weeks after the trip I was trying to process through all the emotions, not just from leaving Costa Rica, but we literally moved from Ohio to Illinois one week after I returned from this trip. I love how God uses so many people in our lives to connect us and teach us new things about Him. I learned something from each of the individuals in the photo above, as well as the wonderful people we met in Costa Rica.

Two weekends ago I was sitting with my new church family listening to a sermon on Revelations 7:9-17:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice,“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these,clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

15  “Therefore they are before the throne of God,

and serve him day and night in his temple;

and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.

16  They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;

the sun shall not strike them,

nor any scorching heat.

17  For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,

and he will guide them to springs of living water,

and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

YES! This is what it felt like to serve alongside my fellow brothers and sisters in Costa Rica. Something resonated with me as I sat and listened to my Pastor speak on this group of people in white robes all shouting together, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” One day, people of all tribes, from all nations will come together and proclaim this very truth. I got a glimpse of this while I was in Costa Rica and I’m forever grateful for that experience.

Oh Christmas Tree

This year I wanted to do things as simple as possible and I was thinking we weren’t going to get a tree. But when we got home from Thanksgiving, we all agreed we needed one. I sent a picture of our tree to my mom today and she told me I’m so predictable. She knew all along I was just talk. Most likely she knows me better than I know myself:)

In past years we have gone to Lowes. We walk up and down the three or four aisles of trees until my husband just gives in me gets the tree I want. Seldom do we agree on Christmas trees;) This year I wanted the experience and today was really a pretty gorgeous day, so we tried out Shawnee Trail Tree Farm in Hudson, Ohio. We knew it was the place to be when we drove up to a completely full parking lot. In the first five minutes we found a tree that the hubby and I immediately agreed upon and then had fun perusing the rest of the time. Bonus,we ran into good friends who offered to take a picture of the four of us!

I’m sold. A tree farm is the way to go! And now that I finished all my Christmas shopping on the way home from Illinois (thank you, Amazon) and our tree is up, I’m ready to enjoy all the fun activities of the season with people I truly love.

Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree…



Backyard Birthday Party: Elise is 7

My sweet girl turned 7 years old on June 19 and we had such a great day celebrating her.  Our kids know they get a birthday party with friends every other year and Elise was more than ready for her turn.  Between friends she has been with since birth, church friends and school friends, she is surrounded by some of the sweetest girls. When I tucked Elise into bed later that night I asked her how her birthday was.  She responded with, “The best day EVER!” Nothing could have made my heart happier.


Our First Decade Together

This morning I woke up picturing how I woke up on our wedding day with the sun shining through the window and excited to marry my best friend. Today I am even more excited to be married to this man and I understand what it means even more to call him my best friend. God has brought us a long way in 10 years of marriage and I look forward to where he takes us in this next decade of life together.

We are heading to California next week for our first kid-free vacation to celebrate our anniversary!  If you want to follow our trip from L.A. to San Francisco, I post most of our life on Instagram (@jenclaytor) these days, so follow along if you want:)



A month or so ago my husband and I watched the movie Boyhood. All three hours of it. The movie followed a boy growing up during a span of 12 years. While it was a fictional movie, it was loosely influenced by the director’s life. The movie was sad to me. The boy’s mom was in and out of bad relationships.  The kids were drug through every one of them and one turned out to be very abusive. The one thing that stuck out to me the most during this movie was the lack of joy from just about every character. At the end when the boy goes off to college, the mother melts down questioning what the whole purpose of her life was. I felt her heart in that moment. I know when I’m faced with the reality of an empty nest it will be tough, but I also pray that my heart will be full and that I can smile knowing I did one of the most important jobs…raising happy individuals who will contribute something special to this world.

All of this made me think about our children and how quickly life will pass us by. These moments at home with them seem like such long, exhausting days at times, but in no time we will be sitting alone at home wanting those days back.


Now that I’m in the slowest season for photography, I have been so excited to sit and just play with Nolan while Elise is at school.  And some days he actually lets me take pictures of him.  Most days of the week Nolan is in pajamas because he refuses to get dressed, but one day he asked to wear stripes so he could be a tiger.  He specifically wanted to be a blue tiger…blue is his favorite color.



Watching him run around the circle in our house or watching him morph into whatever character he chooses to be puts a smile on my face.


Looking at these pictures from the last couple of months reminds me to really enjoy each stage of my children’s life.  I love these pictures of Nolan waiting for Elise to get home from school   because I know that someday both children will be off on their own exploring this big world and I will be the one standing alone behind the door waiting…pining.

Go hug your kids, snuggle under a blanket and know these moments don’t last forever.  Savor them:)

Stay warm,


Hot Cocoa in the Snow

My friend, Mandy and I are always coming up with photo shoot ideas for our kids, like the Lemonade stand we did with the girls a few years ago and the Baseball shoot we did with the boys this past fall.  We have been wanting to do something with hot cocoa for quite some time, but decided to wait for some snow.  I’m glad we did because I love the way all their bright colors pop against the white!  213Take notice of how upset Nolan is to be holding hot chocolate and how his mood changes when he gets a cookie instead.46789