DWITS #10 – Chapter 7, An Over-the-Top Life

Those who know me and my family well, understand our crazy good life. Spectators wonder, and sometimes negatively judge, who we are and what we do. In a book addressing death, there also is an important need to discuss life, especially living it well because our tomorrows are not promised. Yesterday, a very thrilling thing happened — our family’s first grandchild was born! My oldest daughter, Hayley, and her husband, Andrew, welcomed their first daughter, Harley Cary, 18″ long, weighing 6lbs, 3oz. I arrived in their hometown in Virginia today to spend the next five weeks helping them get settled in, to hold Harley, and to cherish the life God is so good to bring as a gift to me and my kids after years of sorrowful loss. Oh, how I wish my late husband Cary could be here to hold and cherish this next generation of McMinn-Ellis offspring!

One day old, Harley Cary Ellis, 10.23.20202

Here now is an excerpt from the beginning of Chapter 7, from Death, Where is Thy Sting? Recovery from the Loss of Our Loved Ones and Preparation for Our Own Final Days, which details some backstory of our unique family.


Our large family life on our remote farm was like an amusement park roller coaster ride, often seemingly out-of-control, sometimes nearly careening off the tracks. We had the progression of feelings one gets when approaching the highest mark of the thrilling yet scary ride — the point where the car makes a clickety-clack sound as it slows almost to a standstill. You hold on tight, take a deep breath, look anxiously at your seat mate, then with fear and trepidation you both look down the steep, frightful-looking track. At last, you scream and laugh simultaneously as you plunge into the unknown!

Oh, how we loved living life full throttle! When we had six birth children, then adopted — first a pair, then a trio of siblings — it was just above managed chaos most of the time. We were happy. We were tired. We were blessed to be doing the Lord’s work. It was not always easy. Truthfully, it was super-hard and stressful for every family member from the oldest parent to the youngest child!

In fact, most days were very challenging to get through. A lot of sibling rivalry, a lot of survival acting-out behavior by our adopted children, some rebellion (even near mutiny!) by our biological children, and the typical first-world family problems of living within our means, paying bills on-time, and not losing a kid somewhere out in public! We homeschooled, homesteaded, and lived modestly with few frills or breaks from our demanding routine. In hindsight, it was a lot to take on, but Cary and I had no regrets, even on our worst days. He was in his element of being the world’s greatest dad. I loved being his sidekick in our grand adventure of raising a big family in the middle of nowhere. We both would have done it all over again!

We drove a 15-passenger van with nine kids aboard — including three in car seats — the rear bench seat removed to make space for groceries and livestock feed. We had a daily routine we tried to stick with but remained flexible for kids melting down and teens needing our assistance with their increasing personal growth opportunities.

We limited our outside activities to the essentials. We combined trips to town to save on gas money. We were able to maintain a homeschool daily routine by being at home more days than we were away. We enjoyed 4-H as our main extracurricular family activity, belonged to a great homeschool support group, and went to the local public library on piano lesson day.

We drove a long way each Sunday to a family integrated church — for our children to sit between us as bookends in a long pew during the main worship service, instead of attending separate children’s church — because we needed to closely supervise our new, younger kids. I spent a lot of Sunday mornings walking the parking lot and playground with an out-of-control, emotionally delayed child so my husband could gain wisdom from the sermon. Mother’s Day always seemed to be the worst! It was mind-numbing and exhausting, but we were together and loved each other enough to make all the required personal sacrifices.

Our top priority was showing the unconditional love of Christ every day to each family member. We often failed. The second priority was maintaining our daily routine for stability. Livestock chores, breakfast, individual homeschool lessons, lunch, group homeschool lessons with the older kids while the younger ones napped, free-time for creative play for a couple of hours (outside if at all possible), livestock chores, supper, perhaps a family movie, bedtime routine with story time, then lights out for littles at 9 pm, with teens and parents at 10 pm. We often failed that, too. If we could just all get to bed on-time, each new morning brought tender mercies (starting at 7 am!) from the Lord who watched over us all. He never failed!

(Chapter continues in book.)

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