Back to School: Honor Your Teacher

Back to school around here means I start thinking of ways we can honor our teachers. This year, especially, I feel like they’re going above and beyond for our kiddos.

I have done a teacher questionnaire in the past, and it has been such a great way to ensure we are gifting things the boy’s teachers (and nurse) love.

I didn’t have to do much updating this year because I felt like last year’s questions served us well. I updated a font I wasn’t happy with, and that’s it!

Click here to print and send to school or upload and email. The teachers are always more than pleased to return it to us.

Feel free to pin or share!

Just Add Water

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We moved into this home in October of 2015. (When my hair was still brown–dark, dark brown.)

Once the weather started to warm up that spring, I started dreaming of adding a pool to our backyard. Granted, we had just built a home, and creating a backyard pool oasis wasn’t really in the budget.

I scoured the internet for pool ideas that didn’t cost as much as a car. That’s the first I had seen of the stock tank pools that were being created to meet the similar needs of other families. My husband wasn’t as impressed with the idea as I was.

Enter quarantine and the closing (and possible not opening) of many of the public pools we frequent. Some friends began their own stock tank pool. And that was all it took!

Mr. Gray kindly hopped behind my idea, and away we went.

I read and researched several places, but Stock Tank Pool and The Joneses (can’t beat the fact that she correctly made their tricky last name plural) have been my main resources.

I ordered all the “pool” parts, purchased the tank at our local feed store (shop local when you can, but Tractor Supply has them as well), and now we wait. Amazon shipping times to our little town are a bit off in this pandemic, but that didn’t stop me from filling it up last night to take a test dip!

Fill your cart to get started:
Plunger valve
Jet replacement kit (currently out of stock on Amazon; I purchased this one)
Chlorine tabs
Chlorine dispenser
Test kit
We did not order the tool and fitting to cut the holes in the tank because we already had that, but you’ll need it, too.

I’ll be back with an update and maybe some how-to’s once we get it all settled and situated!

Hays’ Type One-Derful Journey

Shortly after the boy left the hospital with a diagnosis of Type One Diabetes, he began writing a book. (Remember, he was five at that time.)

He wanted to share his story with others in hopes that they wouldn’t feel alone in their own diagnosis.

It’s taken us some time, but they’re finally finished! The story has grown and changed, just like he has, and today, he unboxed the final product:

You can order your copy via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or let us know you’d like a signed copy via Facebook. (some affiliate links used; thank you for supporting our site)

We couldn’t be more proud of this boy and all that he does to advocate for himself and help others.

Full Circle Faith

I shared on social media a few weeks ago that we had taken a step in a new direction regarding our impending adoption.

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So, this week we took a step. It was unexpected and not the way we thought we were going, but we have felt 100% at peace about it since. • We have felt for years that we were supposed to wait on a phone call and adopt privately. Lately, though, several opportunities have arisen that we felt the need to check into. We never wanted to look back and feel like we missed steps we had been led to while waiting. After checking out one avenue, Mr. Gray and I both felt very clearly that it wasn’t the way for us. When we got home, I sent an email to an agency we had been interested in for several years. Previously, they had a waitlist for families and we took that as a sign we were not to pursue it. This time, they didn’t. They were updating some of their processes and told me they’d get back with me when the new information was ready to roll. I considered that a probably not and went on my way. Within days, I received another email from them with the new information. We took that as our go-ahead and officially submitted our information this week. • We still don’t know anything about timing or place or any details, but we know this felt right. So, here we are. One step down a different path and still waiting.

A post shared by Jolie Gray | The Gray Matters (@the_graymatters) on

We were excited, but not quite convinced this would be the ultimate path to our baby. I mean, we don’t know what the path to our baby is, or we would have already taken it. Basically, we pray through any option that is presented and then decide whether to step forward or continue holding. In this instance, we stepped forward. We found out Friday that we were not going to be moving forward with that agency, and while it wasn’t surprising, it still kind of sucked. ( I don’t have a better way to say that; it did.)

This morning at church, when Pastor started the message, I knew exactly where he was going with it: 1 Kings 18. I started nudging Mr. Gray and tapping him on the shoulder before the scripture was ever up on the screen. While still taking today’s notes, I was scrambling to notes from several months ago. (This is all going to get a bit choppy here; hang in there with me.)

You see, one Sunday several months ago, I was at church by myself (it may or may not have been raining–I’m not 100% on my memory there), and Pastor wrapped up a sermon on having faith with a piece of the story of Elijah sending his servant to look for rain seven times. That morning, there in the front row, it had never been more clear to me that we were looking for that rain cloud.

‘Go and look toward the sea,’ he told his servant. And he went up and looked.
‘There is nothing here,’ he said.
Seven times Elijah said, ‘Go back.’
The seventh time the servant reported, ‘A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.’
So Elijah said, ‘Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.””

I started listing off the times we had been approached about adoption and it had never been right. Before taking the time to do that, I likely would have told you the number was astronomical. It seems like so many missed connections. But. It was just under seven–an encouraging number below seven. A place where we could see that even if seven wasn’t the end-all-be-all magic number, that God was with us. He saw us. He knew we were there in the wait and trying to lean in and listen. So, for the past few months, as I have seen Elijah references pop up, my ears have perked up. It’s been worth the time and the listen to see what God’s got in this.

As he started in on it this morning, I got my old notes and re-read while I listened. I flipped back to my new notes and kept jotting. The sermon series we are in is titled Coming out of Your Drought. It was pouring down rain this morning, which seemed fitting. This time, instead of simply talking about sending the servant seven times to check for rain, Pastor was more focused on what Elijah was doing in this time. He was on his knees, with his face between his knees. He couldn’t see what was going on around him, he was removing himself from all the distractions and focusing on his faith. He knew the rain would come. But he didn’t know when. As Pastor illustrated that with a few moments of awkward silence, it was resonating so much. That awkward silence is where I feel like I’m sitting sometimes. Just me and God in a quiet room, with nothing to do but hold on to the faith that I know we will someday have another child to call ours. We talked about seeing things in faith and using  that to build our hope. To hang onto what we know is planted, even when we can’t yet see. There in my notes from today, I wrote as I heard, “The drought is about to be broken.”

Tears streamed down my face as I wrote that. On the heels of what could have been discouraging news Friday, God was using this message to remind me that He is still good. He still keeps His promises. (Did I mention we saw three rainbows in two days last week as well?) What the devil would use to discourage us and bring us down, we can see as just another stepping stone in our path.

As we served second service, the worship leader began one song with a reference to Elisha (new prophet here–the apprentice of Elijah–part of the story in Greater). And it took me back–to a time where I was broken, hurting, and grieving in the late summer, early fall of 2012. In August of 2012, my brother-in-law passed away. It was a tough kind of grief for me to process–different than anything I had been through. That week, as prayed, read, and journaled, I read Steven Furtick’s Sun Stand Still. The week of his birthday (just under a month later, still in 2012) I had the opportunity to go to a conference in South Carolina with other leaders from our church. While there, I received such a word of God and a ton of peace. In a room of thousands, it was as though God was speaking directly to me.  (Steven Furtick, Perry Noble, Craig Groeschel, Judah Smith, and others were there.)

Back to 2018. Today. When I was flipping through my notes from church after we got home, I also flipped to 1 Kings 17 and started from when Elijah announced the drought. I read through to 1 Kings 19 where Elisha burns his plows. As I read, I remembered Sun Stand Still. Over my shoulder, I asked, “Hey, did you read Sun Stand Still after I did?”

“Yes, why?” But I didn’t respond. I was piecing.

Once I finished the passage, I headed for the highlights in my copy (albeit electronic) of Sun Stand Still. (It should also be noted I almost never make highlights in books.) I read through them all. I only needed additional context for a few.

One in particular stood out:

And it illustrates a fundamental principle of audacious faith: when what you see around you doesn’t match up with what God has spoken inside you, you’ve got to hold on to what you’ve heard. Paul said it more plainly in 2 Corinthians 5:7: ‘We live by faith, not by sight.'”

Mr. Gray was in the chair watching football when I sat down on the couch to lay it all out. I started out a little all over the place, but I finally got there. (I’m going to jump around on you one more time.)

I said, “Do you remember when we said we would wait until the boy was two to make a decision about whether we were going to have another biological child or adopt?” He did. (And for what it’s worth, it was like so much with us, we always knew we would adopt; we just needed a timeframe in which to go forward.)

So basically, the long and short of it is this. In a time of major grief and processing, we both read a book with the story of Elijah and Elisha. That same fall, just about a month later, is when we “officially” decided we would adopt. Now, within the span of less than a year, two different messages about Elijah have given me a little more clarity into the journey we are on. The boy will turn eight this month, so to say this path has been long (or short) is relative. I don’t know the end of the story. I don’t know when we’ll get an opportunity to move forward “officially” with an adoption. But I know it’s worth the wait.

Giving Good Gifts: Teacher Edition

Every year around Christmas, I realize I don’t know my child’s teachers as well as I would like and that makes gift-giving a little harder than it should be. (Some years we just keep it simple; I try to avoid anything that will just sit around, though.)

I’m a big fan of giving good gifts (and the boy is quickly following suit–he loves to give). Last year, about the time Teacher Appreciation Week rolled around, I realized I needed a questionnaire of some sort to give to each of his teachers (you can see some of what we went with for this year here). That brings me to today, when I finally had time to create such a thing.

I’ll probably let the new-ness of the year settle down, with all the filing and paperwork that comes with it. Then I’ll stick this in his folder for each of his teachers to fill out and return. I know some will be uncomfortable with the idea of it, but we really do want to honor them and show our appreciation.

Print a copy of the questionnaire here.  Feel free to pin or share as well!


Summer Checklist (Sanity Saver!)

As much as I love lazy summer days and the spontaneity of it all, I also crave a little structure. (I know, you’re surprised, aren’t you?) I started the summer with a devotional for the boy and some intentionality, but I needed a little more. I got an email this morning from Mary at Trusty Chucks with their summer checklist, and it inspired me to create one that works for our needs.

It’s pretty simple, and that’s by-design.

My biggest goal with it is to hold myself accountable. I can set out all these ideas for the boy, but ultimately, if I don’t follow through and check on his progress, it’s a wasted effort. This puts us both on the same page. He has tasks to complete, and I have to check the completion. (Our current system requires him to complete the task while I just ask if it was completed; I don’t check that it is completed how I intended or model what I’m asking about. It’s flawed on my end.)

So we’ll start here and make adjustments as needed. Everything on the list is already something that’s expected of him. It’s also the bare-minimum. This is acting as a jumping off point to move from. I don’t want to run a jail or take away the lazy days of summer, but I need a little more structure to keep myself from getting mad at things I expected but never asked for.

How do you structure chores? What is expected for your children each day in the summer?


Weep with Those Who Weep

Today is our twelfth wedding anniversary, and in anniversaries past, I have come to this space to profess my undying love for my husband as well as my appreciation for all he does for the boy and me. Those things are still true today, but today something is weighing on my heart much heavier.

As we sat down to our anniversary lunch date earlier–no phones, no child, no distractions, we began talking about life, love, death, infidelity, growing, and on and on. The more we talked, the more weepy I grew. I wasn’t necessarily sad. I was just weepy. I’m a cry-er. Thinking of broken marriages, broken spirits, broken hearts, and broken homes hurts me to my core. While those are not things I experience in my own life, they are things that I often find myself in a place of “I cannot imagine.”

If you have been around this place for any period of time, you know that we are advocates for strong marriages. You know that we prioritize each other, date night, and our marriage above other earthly relationships. As we talked through that this afternoon, we got around to depression, suicide, and mental illness in general.

Our anniversary is shared with the birthday of my cousin who died by suicide when I was eight. My cousin posted a beautiful tribute to her this morning that segued into a bit talk about depression and suicide in light of the week’s events. I feel like I only bring it up in this space when it’s a hot topic, but it’s more because that’s when it hits me the heaviest.

See, when by brother-in-law died, it was a kind of grief I have never known. It was different than any other thing I have felt. I shared a little after the death of Robin Williams, but again, the timing was only coincidental to how I was feeling in light of the news. It’s not something you can even understand or really explain without having been there. This morning, I told Mr. Gray (as I was crying for the umpteenth time) that I didn’t feel like I could share as much about the way the death of his brother impacted me because it wasn’t my story. He refuted; telling me that the impact on my was still mine, regardless of who it was or the circumstances. So, while I have that validation, I still don’t quite have words–other than that it’s hard. It’s a kind of hard I have never known before. Just like with any other grief, everyone processes it differently, but for me, it was incomparable to anything else. It’s sudden and out of nowhere. It’s difficult to navigate. It’s an act that is permanent, even when you don’t want it to define the life someone lived.

As I was reading this week, someone posted a comment regarding suicide stating that it wasn’t a tragedy, but a valiant fight. An effort to be commended. While I don’t disagree completely, I do still think it’s a tragedy that the battle has to end that way. Many people who are struggling through depression are fighting a battle I can’t even begin to fathom every single day. Years ago, I read that it was a struggle similar to those who jumped out of the burning buildings on 9-11. The options were to take a chance in the building or take a chance by jumping; they weren’t jumping to their death but to what might have been a better option. Y’all, that breaks my heart. Absolutely shatters it. So, while it’s a commendable battle, it’s still a tragedy to me that they feel like it’s one or the other. They feel as though that’s all they’ve got.

I don’t have a call to action or a beautiful epiphany to end this on. I just have a heart that’s broken for those that’s hurting and a call to love people where they are. That will look different for everyone, but it can be as simple as a cup of coffee or a text message. Be kind. Be mindful of others. Check in with your friends. Love people like Jesus would.




He has been part of our lives for over eleven years.

He went everywhere with us for quite some while: trips, tailgates, the store, basically anywhere they would let him come with me. I remember crying most of the weekend the first time we boarded him. I cried the first time he was groomed, too–they butchered the top of his head!

He had a Houdini stint (which I actually wrote about six years ago to the day yesterday) that ended in lots of drives home due to our doggie door we thought we had done so great by purchasing.

The day we unpacked the pack ‘n play for the boy, Rooster barked his head off at the musical light that attached to the corner of it. (There’s a video somewhere, but I’m not exactly sure where that might be at this point. I can see it so clearly in my head.) The first time we laid that boy in it and he heard him cry, though, Rooster knew that was his boy.

I wish I had a video of our boy calling, “Doo-stah! Doooooooooo-stah!” in his tiny toddler voice. I hadn’t thought of it in years until this week, but now I can hear it plain as day.


I think I said it all best this morning:

Shortly after that post, he made his way out on his own terms, just as he always had when there was a gun shot, a vacuum cleaner, or a power tool making more noise than he cared for. As my sweet husband dug a hole for him this afternoon under the tree outside our bedroom window, it started to rain. “Remember how he would always run away in the rain and come home completely wet and muddy?” I asked. He did. We laughed.

I’m not sure how long it’ll be before I stop seeing him out of the corner of my eye or wondering why I don’t hear his tags jingling toward whatever room we’re gathered in. I know I’m grateful for the years we had, the memories made, and the time he was ours.

Fitzgerald’s Blue Eyed Rooster
June 16, 2006-January 19, 2018

Our Twist on Elf on the Shelf

Every year, people ask me why we have an Elf on the Shelf if we are trying to focus on Christ in Christmas rather than Santa. Well, first of all, it was gifted to me many years ago. Second of all, why not? Just tie in the values you’re wanting to focus on and use it to emphasize your goals for the season. (My original thoughts on this subject are here, and they’re basically the same today.)

Our elf, Teddy, comes to share joy and generosity as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth. He reminds us to focus on things we might otherwise overlook in the busy-ness of the season–while being cute and fun in the process.

When I was working from home and the boy was only in school two days a week, we had many more assignments than we do now that he is in school everyday and I am at work as well. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Make it work for your family. Last year, my husband locked the elf up in a bird cage with a Ninjago ninja, and that’s how he stayed until he returned safely to the North Pole Christmas Eve.

Each year, Teddy leads with the Christmas Story (via the Bible app, an open Bible, or, if my sweet husband happens to be helping out, a YouTube clip of “the boy who was going to shoot his eye out”) and follows up with pajamas, lists for children in need, teacher gift ideas, donation ideas, and more. I usually create a list in my phone that plans out the month so I know I have enough of what I need when we get to it. Obviously, it’s not set in stone, but it does help to have it planned out a little.

Teddy comes with a note each year:

Hi, my name is Teddy;
You might not remember.
I’m here to help you spread
Christ’s love all through December.

Each day I will come
And share something new
To spread holiday cheer
So Christ’s love shines through you!

God loves you so much
He sent Jesus our way,
And that’s what we celebrate
On Christmas day!

Teddy sometimes shows up in the morning; other times, he arrives out of no where during the afternoon or evening. Don’t let the details be what distracts you if you’re wanting to try it.

Some of our favorite Teddy activities:

  • Read the Christmas Story together (Teddy has the iPad app or Bible open)
  • Write or make cards for friends and family (Teddy brings cards, markers, etc.)
  • Send a video sharing Christmas cheer to someone you love (Teddy has the iPad ready)
  • Make (or purchase) teacher gifts to take to school (Teddy brings supplies)
  • Share treats with friends (Teddy brings supplies) 
  • Shop for a child in need (Teddy brings the list) 
  • Make treats for postal workers, other community helpers (Teddy brings supplies) 
  • Treat someone to coffee (Teddy brings mug, gift card, etc.)
  • Share glow sticks with friends for light parade (Teddy brings glow sticks and toys)
  • On Christmas Eve, Teddy drops off pajamas, the plate for Santa’s cookies, and a note that he has gone back to the North Pole until next year.

You can find a full thread of Teddy’s activities (they change a little every year) on Instagram or around the site on the Teddy thread.

Does your family have an elf? What are your traditions?