The After

My thoughts this week are a little different, so bear with me…

September is over. It is truly the busiest season of my life. As you may well imagine, life with 9 crazy kids, 2 rowdy dogs, a nonprofit, and a small business is going to be busy year round. But Gold Network’s pivotal events in September and the daily seeking out of opportunities to promote Childhood Cancer Awareness Month have turned into a full time job.

And then, all of a sudden, the calendar page turns and September is over.

So many ask me, “Are you recovering? Getting rest finally? Are you glad it’s all finally done so your life can go back to normal?” And the answer is an unequivocal “YES!”

For many reasons, this September was exceptionally hard for me. It hit me this week how this whole abrupt halt after a season of intensity is such a mirror of the perceived “end” of our cancer journey.

During treatment, there is no letup. Clinic, port access, labs, chemo &/or radiation, therapies, in the car, fevers, ER, back in the car, isolation, neutropenia, lose the hair, regrow the hair, lose the hair again, spinal taps, scans, bone marrow biopsies, nausea, steroid rage, pain, insomnia, more fevers, more ER visits, more hospital stays, more chemo, another 200 miles on the interstate…. Lather, rinse, repeat. That’s just what life looks like for the months or years on treatment.

People observe from the outside, “That looks really intense.“ “I don’t know how you do it.“ We don’t know either. But we don’t have a choice. (Although I DO actually know how we do it…His Name is JESUS.)

And for some, the cycle never ends. Some children have chronic or recurrent cancers that never go away. They stay on chemo indefinitely, and are closely monitored by specialists. Others have significant impairment from their cancer (or more often, their treatment) and they must endure life-altering long term therapies, surgeries, and/or disabilities.

And then there are the friends we’ve lost.

That pain never goes away. The loss never goes away. The hole never goes away.

But for many of us, cancer treatment comes to an end. There’s a party at the hospital, a bell is rung, and people change our label from “warrior” to “survivor.” Ding-dong-DONE! Everybody celebrates a hard-fought victory, and now we can all get on with our lives.

But is it really that simple? As simple as the turn of a calendar page?

I can only speak for myself. It wasn’t (and still isn’t) that simple for me. Treatment felt like being on a terrifying tightrope for three years, surrounded by a coaches and trainers and safety harnesses and a net on every side. And when treatment is over, all the safety gear and nets are packed up and put away and everyone goes home from the circus, but you’re left up there on the tight rope. Alone.

Some of “your people” aren’t your people anymore. There’s no more meal train, no more T-shirts, no more support bracelets. Everyone else’s life has moved on, and honestly, you’re GLAD for them! You wouldn’t wish this journey on anyone, and you’re glad they can’t understand the silent screaming that still wakes you up at night. What if the cancer comes back? What if the doctors missed something? Where did that bruise come from? How do you know if his platelets are low? Does he look pale? You’re supposed to be trusting God, but you feel helpless and terrified. Not to mention how the most random “nothing” can send you spiraling and gasping for breath.

And what of the other casualties from this war that’s over-except-that-it’s-not? What’s the condition of your extended family? Your marriage? Your other kids? How are your finances? Did you take care of yourself while you were fighting for the life of your child?

All I’m trying to say is that it’s never really over. We march on because we have to. We turn the page of the calendar and put our yard signs back in the garage. The polka dots come off the bus, and the gold shoes go back on the shelf until next year.

Everybody’s walking through something. Everyone goes through their own personal refining fire and comes out changed. Not everybody walks with a limp that you can see. Some people suffer inside and you would never know it. So we have to be kind to one another. It’s OK if their healing process doesn’t look like yours. Not everybody can just “get over it”(whatever their “IT” is). Extend more grace than you think they deserve. Ask good questions. And then LISTEN. Instead of telling someone you’re going to pray for them, PRAY FOR THEM! Everyone is looking for the right place to take their broken pieces.

Love people well. Your people and other people’s people. And let’s help one another carry our broken pieces to Jesus.

I will give thanks to the Lord as long as I have breath in my lungs. He has never left me. In the crisis. In my questions. In my wrestling. In the waiting. In the after. He is FAITHFUL.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalms 34:17-18)

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Behind the Scenes

The week after Tyler Gold Run is a recovery week. Like a blood sugar crash after a sugar overdose. I’m so grateful for another great event, and for the world’s best team of volunteers. I’m also tremendously grateful that it’s DONE! This week has been thank you notes, social media posts, sorting event photos, closing out invoices, picking up race signs… Still BUSY, but behind-the-scenes busy. All the stuff that has to get done, but the stuff that no one else really knows about.

Everybody has their own personal behind-the-scenes.

The private prayer request you don’t share.

The little issues that add up, the inner struggles, the embarrassing circumstances, the pain that you can’t put into words. Maybe you feel awkward, alone, ashamed.

We all have our own STUFF we don’t bring up in general conversation.

BUT GOD…

One morning this week I sat in the wee hours with just my coffee and the Lord. My behind-the-scenes were weighing heavily on me, and I was talking to Him about it when finally I raised my head. I’m never up that early, and I couldn’t remember ever seeing the world so black. But piercing the darkness, were more stars than I’ve ever seen, certainly right here in town. Tiny flashes of light, too many to number. I was reminded, “He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.” (Psalms 147:4)

And I knew that morning, at that moment, those stars were for me. I needed a physical picture of how infinite He is, of His majesty, of the vastness of His creation. I simultaneously felt so small and insignificant yet so very SEEN.

He made all those stars. But He also made me.

He is God of the universe and the God of my details.

He knows my needs and cares, even (and especially) the ones I can’t bring my lips to say out loud.

I don’t have a lot to say this week; I’m just overwhelmingly grateful to my sovereign Father who loves perfectly, in the big things and the small.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.” (Psalms 147:5)

“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.” (Psalms 139:1-5)

Light

I am thankful:

~ for an low key uneventful Labor Day.

~ for a cute Homecoming “ask.”

~ for a great time sharing with the GCS 2nd graders. It’s so awesome that TWO SUPERHEROES, Sawyer and his HERO buddy Jase, are in the same grade and class, and the 2nd grade teachers are collaborating on a class project making posters to support their classmates and promote Tyler Gold Run. So proud of them all!

~ for a great volleyball week for Samantha. She got to play in Thursday’s games and they came away with a victory! Then this weekend was her first tournament. Although I was not able to attend, I had several moms taking pictures for me, and keeping me posted on how the team was doing. Sam had her first opportunity to serve, and did a great job! After a full day of play, GCS took second place in the tournament. She had a blast! So proud, and so glad she’s enjoying herself. It doesn’t seem like she should be this grown-up.

~ for the best helpers in the land. I love that my kids just jump right in on Gold Run activities. They all love to help and they know this is just what our family does in September. They have helped sort metals, carry boxes, model T-shirts, fill race bags… I pray no one reports me for breaking child labor laws.

This became a new favorite photo shoot location

~ for continued traction as we prepare for Tyler Gold Run ON SATURDAY!! I have canvassed the city, putting up signs and posters, asking for donations, and finishing up all the details. My mind is a frantically flashing ticker tape of items to check off my lists.

Numbers aren’t where I’d like them to be, but I know God is Lord of all, and we trust Him with the details and the outcome. It’s all His anyway! There’s still time to register and to spread the word, and we have many opportunities for volunteers as well. It’s going to be a wonderful day to remember, and you won’t be sorry you chose to be a part. www.tylergoldrun.com

~ thankful for faithful friends who pray. This week I have had multiple people reach out and encourage and/or pray for me. I’m thankful for the God who sees me, and the faithful saints who listen and obey His promptings. You never know but that you might be the answer to someone’s prayer today. Give us ears to hear, Lord.

~ thankful to have my WHOLE TRIBE together for dinner and for church. It’s been too long.

I’ve been running on low fuel this week. Low on energy. Low on grace. Anxious. Discouraged. My eyes on circumstances instead of the Savior.

That’s a good indication that my focus is off, and that I’m operating (poorly) in my own strength instead of trusting Jesus.

I needed to be reminded.

He is good.

He is RIGHT.

He is faithful.

His way is better than mine.

He is working when I can’t see.

He sees me.

He sees the ones I worry about.

And no matter what happens, all the above statements are STILL TRUE.

I sat with my coffee this morning and took this picture.

What a beautiful visual of light breaking through. It always does and it always will. Darkness comes back, even blots out the light. But inevitably, Light will always pierce the darkness and overtake it.

I can’t do everything. I can’t make everything go ok. I can’t fix all the problems or ensure good outcomes. But God.

He knows. He sees. He loves. HE WINS.

Whatever you’re walking through, whatever you’re asking for…don’t lose heart.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”(II Corinthians 4:6)

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

““I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Ready…Set…Go GOLD!

I am thankful:

~ for signing bookmarks, lost lunches, forgotten water bottles, and jeans that are too small overnight. For bug collections , memory verses, book covers, and pungent PE uniforms. We are in full swing!

~ for Tatum K’s long, beautiful hair that has never known a trim. I will admit, it’s getting a little hard to manage. This week after a particularly harrowing encounter with the hairbrush, she informed me, “Mama, I want a haircut. But ONLY cut it from the BOTTOM!” (Daddy said no.)

~ for sweet Samantha who is now a proud member of the 7th grade volleyball team! She’s so excited.

~ for little fun moments and activities sprinkled throughout our days.

Doesn’t everybody have a Chia Chewbacca?

~ for so much fun doing school with Tatum K. I have been so surprised by how eager she is to learn! Every day when she gets up, she asks what we are going to learn today, and runs to get a Bible so we can start there. And I’m learning how to give myself grace and that with a 4 year old, learning can be organic and unstructured. We count our food, we find letters on the mail, and sing songs and read books. I’m so proud of my little student!

~ for some really wonderful Giddyup & Whoa signs coming out of the shop. It’s been pretty quiet for a while, but all of a sudden we got BUSY! Including a first for me: 2 signs in Spanish for a classroom! It was a fun challenge, but I was terrified I would misspell something because I had no idea what they said!

It is GOLD SEASON. And it’s been 2 years since we’ve had any in-person events, so I feel like I’ve forgotten how to do everything. BUT GOD. He has given me energy and grace that are not my own. And I look at all the pictures of these amazing kids, and it gives me the strength I need to press on through. The bus is sporting her festive gold polka dots, gold purse out and ready, and gold apparel ready for the next 30 days. Ready, set, GOLD!

I’m so excited about our event on the Square August 31. Go Gold Tyler is our kickoff event for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. We have booked a live jazz trio, food trucks, and a wonderful evening for our HERO families and their supporters. Please join us if you are local. August 31, 6:30-8:30 pm on the Tyler Downtown Square.

I’m in a season where I am CONSTANTLY reminded that nothing is within my control.

Nothing.

I mean yes, I am responsible for my behavior, my words, my conduct, my actions.

But the things I worry about? No control. And I guess I’m supposed to know that already, but if I ever did know that, I’ve long since forgotten.

BUT GOD.

He sees. He sees the horrors taking place all across our world. He sees innocent lives lost, and unspeakable injustices, and genuine evil.

He sees the things that keep me awake at night, the things that rattle me to my core. And this week, in the midst of trial and frustration and heartbreak, He has reminded me that nothing escapes His attention. He cares about me. He cares about people all over the world. He hears my prayers, whether I can force the broken words from my lips or not.

AND HE IS MOVING.

He is working in the dark. He is drawing hearts to Himself. He is mending broken hearts. He is building His Kingdom living stone by living stone.

And I will remind myself every day: “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

Don’t lose heart friends. Keep praying.

And thanks for giving thanks with me.

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? … But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.” (Psalms 13:1-2, 5-6)

“P” is for Perspective

I am thankful:

~ for a good, crazy week. We made it through locker days and meet the teacher days and 18 more trips to Office Depot and orientations and back to school parties. And that was just Monday and Tuesday! I’ve got 2 at new campuses this year, so we toured and made sure they could find their way and understand their schedules.

Then it was finally time for the first day of school. New shoes, favorite outfits, bulging backpacks, and sleepy smiles. We got our traditional first day picture on the porch, but back a little bit, because the rain was absolutely pouring. (It overflowed our pool!)

As I got Tatum K dressed to take the kids to school in her new favorite jumper (wif a pocket!) and then watched Samantha do her hair in long pigtails, I was inspired for her first day of Pre-K. The letter “P” of course! God gave us lots of Puddles to Play in. We visited the Police station, where she gave the letter P a hug, and then had a Princess Picnic with all P foods. We had so much fun together.

No problem officer … we are just hugging the letter “P”

Before all the “P-Party” began, we started our day at the feet of Jesus. I told Tatum K that we need to always start with the most important part. We read the story of Creation from the Jesus Storybook Bible, and by the end, she could answer all my questions.

“In the beginning, what was there?”

“Nuffing. But God was there.”

“And what did He say?”

“Let there be light!”

“And then what did He make?”

“The sand and the sea and the trees and birds and all the animals and EVERYTHING!”

“And He made 2 people, what were their names?”

“Adam and Even.”

It was a Perfect first day.

Everyone had a great first day. We celebrated with a special snack and burgers for dinner. I assured the kids that we wouldn’t be maintaining this grand lifestyle every day. But first days are extra special.

~ for such kindness from the Lord on such an emotionally charged day. Even if I am, to a certain degree, glad to send the kids back to school, it’s still genuinely hard to let them go. They are growing up before my very eyes and I can feel the time slipping away. And as we all know, the world’s gone mad. So letting go of my most precious gifts is so so hard. Wednesday morning I got up extra early and when I opened up my Bible app, I was so encouraged.

I was even more encouraged because I knew what shirt Sawyer had chosen and laid out for himself to wear for his first day.

And look above his head❤️

In that moment, I felt so seen and held and loved by my Heavenly Father. I already knew, but I needed reminding: He’s got my babies.

~ for continued “P” fun with Tatum K during the rest of the week.

~ for my special bracelets.

I wear my “it is well” bracelet every day. It is hand stamped brass, made by a childhood cancer mama who lost her beautiful girl only 12 days after her leukemia diagnosis. It reminds me to not lose heart on my hard days. God is always good, and always faithful. And if that broken mama can still say “it is well,” then so can I. And I recently was given one of the original “Praying for Baby Sawyer Rucker” bracelets. There aren’t many left, and the only one left in our house is broken. So when a sweet boy offered to give me his, I broke. I didn’t even try to stop the tears that came flooding. And the 3rd is a handmade leather bracelet from my mom. All three meaningful and beautiful in different ways.

~ for excitement brewing about our upcoming Gold Network ETX events coming up. Go GOLD Tyler is in just over a week, and Tyler Gold Run, 1 month. It’s CRUNCH TIME! Phone calls, emails, bookings, appointments, supplies…it’s NON STOP. So very thankful for the people helping behind the scenes.

~ for one of our most important, most critically needed events: CONNECT. Every few months, we host a gathering in our home for cancer moms and dads. To talk, to share, to laugh and cry together. We always cater in a delicious meal (this time Stanley’s World Famous BBQ!) and just spend time sharing our stories and leaning on one another. I love these families with my whole heart, and seeing them CONNECTING WITH EACH OTHER brings me so much joy.

I did hit a snag this week (several actually, but I’m just going to share about one.)

Every year we share a video featuring all our amazing warrior children from across East Texas. It is so emotional for everyone, but also very special. I can’t even tell you how many hours I put into this thing. I am NOT a tech savvy person, but I have (with MUCH trial and EVEN MORE error) taught myself how to build websites and graphics and videos for Gold Network, Tyler Gold Run, and Giddyup and Whoa. I originally created this video for the very first Go GOLD Tyler back in 2016, and I’ve updated and added to it each year. So, it’s time to start working on it this year, with so many new families to add.

The video is gone.

Sure, its on YouTube. I can WATCH it. But the editable file I’ve used to update is is gone. I’ve looked EVERYWHERE.

I began to panic, thinking of the hours and weeks of work it has taken over 6 collective years. How could I possibly start from scratch and have it done?

I frantically searched file after file and location after location on our computer. Then I looked at my bracelet. “it is well.” And I took a deep breath and began gathering pictures and starting a brand new project.

I have a million pictures of these children. And millionS of pictures of my own child.

I started finding picture after picture after picture. And as I looked at them, really looked at them: children in the hospital, some bald, some healthy, and some who have gone to be with Jesus…my perspective began to shift. I looked at these brave beautiful warriors smiling through their pain. And I have a second grader who wasn’t supposed to be here. BUT GOD! And I was freshly reminded that a stupid video is just a stupid video. What matters is fighting for these precious ones.

I still hope I get it done. I hope we line out all our details and that the events are successful. But none of that really matters. What matters is that our eyes and our anchors are fixed in Jesus. And that we love on all these families wherever they are in their journey.

Let’s love one another well, friends, and focus on the things that really matter. And those AREN’T THINGS!

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Back to School CRAY

I am thankful:

~ first and foremost, SO THANKFUL to report that Sawyer the Warrior remains CANCER FREE!!! GLORY TO THE LORD! Wednesday Sawyer, aka the Bravest Boy in the Whole Wide World, had his 6 month follow up appointment with his Oncologist and his ACE (After Cancer Experience) doctor in Dallas. It’s always an emotionally charged and exhausting day. So many triggers attached to going to the hospital down the all too familiar highway, and each time the same uneasy feelings build up as we prepare for either the best day or the worst day of our lives. But Sawyer never ever sees it that way. He’s THRILLED to go to the hospital.

One day he will be so embarrassed that he played on this like it was a dump truck

He loves to see so many of his favorite people (and his story so well known, it’s like he’s the little mayor of Children’s Hospital!)

Dr. Winick taught Sawyer how to use an ophthalmoscope, and then let him examine her

He knows he gets one on one time, extra snacks, gets McDonalds for breakfast and Whataburger for lunch (EVERY. TIME. His choice.)

And he knows he gets to go home with a toy. He doesn’t see the day as scary or stressful at all. What an amazing gift from God! As usual, he hopped right up in the phlebotomist’s chair, chatted and laughed with Miss Sharon as she placed the needle in his arm, and then cheerfully drew his own blood! I will never stop being amazed at the maturity and bravery of my 7 year old. It just blows my mind.

It is always such a blessing to see the wonderful doctors and nurses who so lovingly cared for Sawyer, and many of them hugged him (and me) especially tight this visit.

They have such an unbelievably hard job, and it has been a rough season of many hardships for them. Several of them took a deep breath and said, “I needed this dose of hope today.” Sawyer is a healthy 7 year old against all odds. No one thought he’d survive, let alone be THRIVING. BUT GOD.

I will never ever ever stop praising Him for the countless miracles He has done in Sawyer’s life. I do pray that one day I will not feel so overwhelmed with dread every time we go back. But I do know that Jesus will meet me with grace in those moments, no matter how I handle them.

~ thankful for our sweet Aunt Gina who finally got to join us for Sawyer’s appointment!

Hospital policy has limited us to only one caretaker, so I’ve been making the trip alone the last few times. Gina Sue had gone with me almost EVERY APPOINTMENT since about my 3rd trimester with Tatum K (when I realized that having contractions while barreling down the interstate at 75 miles an hour was probably not the best idea.) She has been a faithful prayer warrior, chauffeur, encourager, and the provider of the bottomless bag of snacks for almost 5 years now, rising at an appallingly early hour to drive FROM CARTHAGE TO TYLER, pick us up, and THEN DRIVE FROM TYLER TO DALLAS. AND BACK AGAIN. She’s such a blessing and a wonderful help and support. She knows I’m weary and that the day is always hard for me, and she goes out of her way to take care of me. I’m so thankful she’s my sister.

~ and thankful for this bag.

At our house, this bag can only mean one thing.

Aunt Gina makes the yummiest friendship bread, and it’s the kids’ favorite breakfast. They always know what’s in the bag when they see it. And it ain’t soap!

~ thankful for Colton being back from Albuquerque and spending his few days off with us. He was super helpful during my back-to-school-supplies-madness, and helped me divide up the list and track down every orange folder with pockets and brads, white polymer eraser, and broad tipped yellow and blue highlighter on the supply lists. And then we tried out a great new coffee spot in town, Crema. DELICIOUS!

~ for “decent” store-bought pimento cheese turned FAB with a few ingredients at home to jazz it up. I’m very particular when it comes to pimento cheese.

~ for a super fun day swimming with sweet school friends.

~ for Whataburger chocolate malts to celebrate August Tonight.

~ for this year’s sharp new Tyler Gold Run t-shirt design created by our graphic artist. I’m so excited for a different look this year.

Our Gold Network of East Texas events are coming up so quickly, it’s making my head spin. With no in-person events last year, I feel a little rusty at remembering what all I have to do! It is SO BUSY!!! Go GOLD Tyler, our event on the Downtown Square to kickoff Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is coming up August 31.

It’s such a special event, honoring all our families: on treatment, completed treatment, or who have lost a child to cancer. Our HERO wall with all our kids’ pictures grows every year, which is so heartbreaking. But watching the kids and their families walk the gold carpet is so inspiring, and the still over the crowd as the families release balloons for their loves who were taken too soon is a powerful reminder of why we do what we do. Read more about Go GOLD Tyler here.

And Tyler Gold Run is just 5 short weeks away! Where did summer go!!?? We are praying all goes as planned to have our race in person this year, and we are just so excited about this year’s 10k•5k run! Registration is open at tylergoldrun.com And if you are out of state or not a runner, we have the GoldDreamer option, to donate and be a part of our event right where you are. You even get the tshirt! I hope you’ll join us.

~ thankful that our pool toy box isn’t any deeper.

~ thankful for a really awesome visit with some really awesome friends. Some friends are just truly LIFE-GIVING. You know, the kind that you leave feeling so refreshed and lifted up. Find you some friends like that. And better yet, try to BE that kind of friend to somebody.

The kids start back to school on Wednesday. And the pre-crazy is in full swing. We have meet the teacher/locker day/orientation/swim parties back to back to back. 11th grade, 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th, and 2nd, across 4 campuses.

As much as we all love summer, we are ALL ready for this season to change. I’m always so happy to have the kids come home for summer. And I’m equally happy to send them back to school. To everything there is a season. But believe it or not, I will miss them when my house is quiet. But I just may enjoy a little quiet too. And I’ll still have my spicy Tater home for one more year. I want to soak up every minute with my girl, and not rush her off to grow up and away. She is excited to start “Pre-skoo wif my mama.”

Time continues to run away, and there’s no stopping it. My goal for this school year is to take it all in, not sweat the small stuff, press through even when I’m overwhelmed, and be my kids’ biggest cheerleader. I know these years are hard, but they are the moments I will never get back again. And I’m reminded that “hard” doesn’t always mean “bad.” We are all learning and growing and God is at work. I’m so thankful for His perfect grace and redeeming love. May we all look more like Him next May than we do today.

Even in the midst of all the crazy, thanks for giving thanks with me.

“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, But a good word makes it glad.” (Proverbs 12:25)

““Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me; O Lord, be my helper.” You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness, That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.” (Psalms 30:10-12)

“But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.” (Psalms 13:5-6)

Patience

I am thankful:

~ for a beautiful birthday for our beautiful Zoe girl. She turned 10 this week – DOUBLE DIGITS BABY!!! Zoe is such a sunshine girl. She usually stays pretty quiet, but her brown eyes sparkle with joy bubbling on the inside. She had a great day starting out with blueberry waffles with whipped cream and sprinkles, friends over to swim, pizza for lunch, and family birthday dinner with her menu of choice: taco salad and chocolate cake with white icing and yellow sprinkles.

~ for friends who pray. Like REALLY PRAY. And for steps, even baby steps, in the right direction. And the right direction is ALWAYS TOWARD YOU, JESUS.

~ for Sam’s Club Fried Pickles and Ranch dip. Haven’t tried it? Go. NOW!

~ for one of my very favorite salads: avocados and fresh tomatoes tossed in olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic salt. Simple and delicious.

~ for possibly the best “find” of my life. I stumbled upon this vintage map cabinet on Facebook Marketplace, and my heart jumped out of my chest. I am a sucker for anything with lots of drawers or cubbies, and I have had my eye out for a piece like this for years, but they were always WAY out of budget. This piece was a steal because it was in rough shape and the owner clearly just wanted it gone.

As soon as she arrived, I got started on her transformation. I lost track of how many coats of stripper I used to cut through slate blue, red, orange, black, and olive green paint.

The green was really beautiful, and I almost stopped at that point.

But I just couldn’t let it go. I just had to see the original wood. So another couple layers of stripper, a light sanding, and a couple coats of straight commercial bleach, and we were blown away!

We replaced the top (a piece of brightly painted plywood depicting a portion of the 12 days of Christmas) with reclaimed pine shelving that I alternately sanded and bleached repeatedly, added industrial casters, and repaired one side’s damaged veneer.

And now she is a SHOW STOPPER! I’m in LOVE! And the hours and hours of sweat equity make it all the more special. What BEAUTY was hidden beneath all those layers! It was a lot of work, and so so messy, but so so worth it.

~ for our first Sunday family dinner with EVERYONE HOME in a very, VERY long time. Colton is back from his month-long work assignment in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Carson Grace was home, Cooper finally didn’t have a schedule conflict…our Tribe, all together, around our giant table, breaking bread together. We didn’t even interrupt our fellowship to take a picture. Thank You Jesus for these moments that I used to take for granted when they were small.

~ for a Holy Spirit inspired, anointed Word preached in obedience, and as always, right on time. We went to church this morning, just like we always do. The message is always great, our pastor and guest preachers are always terrific, and are faithful to share Truth based in Scripture. But this morning, from the opening slide, it hit me right between the eyes, and pierced straight to my heart.

Patience.

The concept of patience isn’t new, isn’t revolutionary, and is a pretty expected theme for most of us. It’s always needed, and almost everyone wishes they were better at it. As Christians, we joke about how we have learned the hard way to STOP PRAYING FOR PATIENCE, because we know God cultivates and refines our patience through exasperating situations that require a level of patience that can only come by practice.

But where I’m at personally right this moment, I recognized the voice of my Father in those words. I have certain situations that have been the focus of my most fervent daily prayers. And, as I referenced last week with my very late blog post, there was a breakthrough. A REAL BREAKTHROUGH! Glory to God! He made a way where there was no way. He birthed a stream in the desert. But I was reminded that this first step, this miraculous breakthrough, is just the beginning of a very long road. And it’s so easy to look at with my own eyes and be completely discouraged before we even start. BUT GOD. NOTHING is too hard for Him. And He NEVER feels weak or discouraged. I have to be patient with the process and trust His plan and His timing, and remember that that waiting is one very important piece that cannot be bypassed or left out.

And, maybe even more importantly, the Lord reminded me that I have to be patient with myself. He’s still working on me. Still refining me. I guess I still need a few more coats of stripper and some sanding. I see my countless areas of weakness, of selfishness, of laziness, of pride. I hate my flaws. I am supposed to be strong, and people THINK I AM. I am embarrassed by the weakness of anxiety. And sometimes I even think, “If I’m honest about it, and humble myself publicly, surely I’ll be delivered from it.” But instant healing hasn’t come. And isn’t it an amazingly complicated trap that weakness and pride can become so woven together. I know it’s a process, and I know how I would encourage anyone else in my shoes. But somehow it’s so hard to extend that grace to myself. But I’m not refining myself, that’s Jesus. I’m not healing myself, that’s Jesus. And His healing, refining, restorative work is taking place in His perfect timing. And like a beautiful piece of music, the rests and pauses are as integral to the piece as the notes themselves. A story with no punctuation or a paper with no margins would be unintelligible. I MUST BE PATIENT WITH MYSELF AND WITH GOD’S PROCESS. There is beauty beneath the layers. It’s a lot of work, and so so messy, but so so worth it.

He is faithful. And I am encouraged.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)

“Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” (Psalms 62:1-2)

I Still Know

I am thankful:

~ for morning Bible time with my kids. I love their open hearts, and how they honestly pray for the people they care about. They never stop asking.

~ for two days in a row of short-but-sweet visits with Aunt Gina. This pic is of her being entertained by a Tatum K Original Song.

~ for YouTube videos. I’m grateful that so often I can look up the answers to my random questions. This week learned how to repair my crumbled blush compact with rubbing alcohol. Isn’t that handy?

~ for the opportunity to mail out Christmas in July gifts from Gold Network of East Texas to our on-treatment families. We have more families than ever before, having added 11 newly diagnosed kids this past year. It is heartbreaking every time we hear of another diagnosis. But I am more THANKFUL THAN EVER before that THE NETWORK IS WORKING! People know who to reach out to when they hear the news. And nurses and cancer families are reaching out to get these families connected immediately! It’s the worst club that no one would ever want to be a part of, but I am so incredibly grateful that we can ensure that no one will walk it alone. This week Sawyer helped me put Christmas stickers on our cards and get them ready to go out to the families, and together we prayed over each one. It fills my heart to see him have the opportunity to serve his “friends.”

~ for a fun painting birthday party for the girls to attend with friends. They had so much fun. I love that they jump at any chance to create and be creative. And they are all so talented!

~ for our latest, super-challenging puzzle, a bald eagle from the National Eagle Center in MN, gifted by Great Grandma. It was so hard, I did 93% of it by myself. The challenge eclipsed my time, taunting me to be completed. I spend WAY too much time on it this week, but FINALLY I was victorious.

But the victory was hollow, as somehow we are MISSING ONE PIECE. What a kick in the gut.

How you taunt me, o elusive missing piece

~ for a productive week of accomplishing our first round of back-to-school preparations. I’ve been sifting through the mountains of new and old school emails, tracking down summer math and reading assignments for each of the kids, and checking off each box that they complete. We made another trip to the library for the books we still needed, and we are almost done with everything! Only 17 more days of summer! Where did it gooooo?????

~ and for one more box checked, this one a fun one! New shoes all around! Does anything inspire more joy than spanking new school shoes? We had multiple fashion shows to celebrate the occasion. And man these kids are getting some BIG OLE FEET!!

~ for my new shirt, which I hope to make my new motto.

~ that I know God hears. Even in those times when I can’t even make my mouth form the words. He hears the cry of my heart. Because He’s my dad.

I woke up this morning knowing that it was August 1 and that July was finally over. That sounds so dumb and dramatic, but it’s just been such a battle. all. stinking. month. And I know it really doesn’t have a thing to do with the calendar. But I’ve just been in such a stuck funk that I haven’t been able to shake. Anxiety is such a trendy buzzword these days, and it feels like such a copout to throw it out there as an excuse. But it’s a real thing, and it doesn’t play fair. But God.

I still believe. And I still know.

And even though it has nothing to do with the calendar, I’m going to remember August 1, 2021. I’m going to remember why Sunday Gratitude didn’t get finished until the wee hours on Monday.

Because God cracked open my stifling, fog-filled vault and showed me a glimmer of hope. A literal breakthrough.

“Since when has ‘impossible’ ever stopped You? This is the sound of dry bones rattling… This is the praise makes a dead man walk again…”

Whatever it is that you’re asking Him for. Keep waiting. Keep trusting. He’s coming.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalms 42:1-5)

“The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace…. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” (Romans‬ ‭8:6, 11‬)

Not Finished

I am thankful:

~ to be home. We had a great trip and it was awesome getting to see so many of our family and friends. But after more than 40 hours of perpetual family togetherness in the car, we are OVER traveling.

~ for a bushel of juicy red ripe tomatoes waiting for us when we got home. We have been living off BLTs.

~ for waking up our first morning back home to one of my favorite sounds: the gentle rumble of a Texas thunderstorm.

~ that I am finally caught up on my laundry after no less than 7 loads of vacation laundry.

~ for crisp buttered toast with my Grandma’s blueberry rhubarb jam.

~ for a pic and a text from a friend saying that Cooper is great at his job.

~ for an experiment that paid off. We love love LOVE the brick floors that we painstakingly laid ourselves 2 years ago, but we have found them hard to clean. Josh had the bright idea of bringing in his pressure washer with the spinner brush attachment. We knew it would either be a success or an epic failure and flood. After a couple test spots and the addition of a mountain of towels and the shop vac, Josh got a good system going. It was A LOT of water, but the floors look amazing again! Great job, babe!

~ for the humbling honor and privilege of sharing my testimony at an intimate gathering of young moms at a pregnancy resource center. I’ve gotten more and more comfortable sharing about our childhood cancer nonprofit, about our personal journey through childhood cancer with Sawyer, and about our family’s adoption experiences. But it’s been a long time since I’ve shared with a group my raw personal experience as a lost, scared single girl faced with an unplanned pregnancy.

It was very emotional. But such an incredible story of God’s sovereign, redemptive Hand. I was thankful to share my story of hope with these young ladies, each with their own backgrounds, their own trials, their own stories. But each one of us the SAME: loved and valued and seen by our Heavenly Father.

That testimony just took place earlier this evening, and it was the perfect way to end an emotionally taxing week. I still hate July because we always get sick every year and because of losing Alan and missing him and because Cancerversary doesn’t seem to be getting any easier. Don’t get me wrong, I look at Sawyer and am completely overwhelmed with gratitude that he is healthy and well and cancer free. He is truly a miracle in every way, and I thank God for him every single day.

You can read my Facebook Cancerversary post here.

But looking back on that terrible day still has a shocking, staggering weight to it. This year it was the days leading up to July 23rd that were the worst. I couldn’t stop thinking about the days before we first heard the word “cancer.”

I always say we never saw the freight train coming. Those were the last days before we were branded forever with the identity of “cancer parents.” When the anxiety starts to rage, it begins with a heaviness in my chest. Like a deep dull burning ember. A heavy heavy weight in my heart muscle that crushes, suffocates, until I physically remind my lungs to breathe because they seem to have forgotten how to work. Then a sharp stab. Between my ribs, piercing, twisting, paralyzing my entire chest. Can’t breathe, can’t move, can’t think.

But then the guilt comes. I don’t get to fall apart: my child is healthy. We are not in the hospital. He survived. We are a success story. We got our miracle. Get over it and move on. Nobody wants to hear about your anxiety. I mean come on, it’s been 7 years for heaven’s sake.

I recently found a new Facebook page, “Off Treatment, Now What?” The moment I started reading, I was met by entry after entry, “I don’t know where I fit…“ “I don’t know how to talk to my friends who have lost a child…” “Why do I have such a hard time sleeping?…” “Why am I still struggling? Does it ever get any better?”

I resonated with all these people, but why didn’t it encourage me? Why did my stomach start to turn and my breathing suddenly speed up so fast? Why did I just want to run away?

I know that I always tell other cancer moms be kind to themselves. I’m trying to be kind to myself, but it’s hard. I’m tired of falling apart. I’m tired of feeling stuck, and like I am held together with chewing gum, scotch tape, and paper clips. I don’t know if reading these other stories made me acknowledge that I’m not as healed as I like to think I am? BUT GOD.

When I find myself in the midst of a breakdown, when I feel that downward spiral tugging, I remind myself that my anchor is set. God is faithful, and He won’t let go. I know He has a purpose for every single detail, every piece of our testimony, from the earliest days with Colton to all the things we struggle with today. Our story is still being written. And it’s for our good and for His glory. As much as I wish I was past all my hang ups, I’m thankful that I know that I know that I KNOW He’s not finished with me yet.

Whatever your story, whatever your struggles, He’s there.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;” (Philippians 1:6)

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
‭‭(Psalms‬ ‭73:26‬)

Testify

I am thankful:

~for a bountiful garden. The change in soil fixed our problem, and our garden is going crazy! We literally have hundreds of tomatoes on our plants ripening, and I cannot wait to eat them all! Sunflowers stretching up, baby strawberries, baby bell peppers, and vines growing and crawling everywhere!

~ for a fresh new palm tree on the patio. Let’s see if I can keep this one alive…

~ for catching sweet sister moments.

~ for a colorful plate of happiness.

~ for a victoriously completed puzzle with, by-nothing-short-of-a-miracle, no missing pieces!

~ for another section of fence painting ALMOST completed. Loving the updated look, but the blazing Texas sun is brutal.

~ for a bright fresh coat of paint on the pool deck. It’s a beat down to do, but makes such a difference!

~ after nearly painting myself to death this week (at one point, I literally PRIED the paintbrush from my hand, and my cramped fingers STAYED IN THE POSITION from holding the brush!) I was thankful for a quiet and relaxing soak in a fragrant eucalyptus bubble bath. At least for a few minutes it was relaxing…

Ahhhh, a relaxing bath in the peace and quiet
But then I got company

~ for the kids having a truly wonderful week at VBS. All the volunteers did an amazing job, and the kids had the best time. It was Tatum K’s first experience with “PTS,” and she was a lot more timid than I expected. Lots of tears and clinging to Mama.

But she made it, and somehow wanted to go back each day. I nominated myself “VBS BUS” of the neighborhood, and most of our neighbor kids went with us each evening. Our family even won a prize for bringing the most guests. Such a fun and exhausting week for the kids.

It was strange not working at VBS. One evening I helped with serving dinner, but otherwise I just dropped the kids off each night. I wrestled with feeling guilty over it, but God had something else planned for me this week during my nightly 2 hours without kids. I had random but very purposely-appointed, God-ordained get togethers each evening. I know this timing was no accident. Last week and starting off this week, I was not in a very good place. As much as I purposed myself to refocus my eyes and heart from my circumstances to my Savior, I was failing. I wasn’t sleeping. Anxiety was fierce and persistent. I felt hollow and alone.

BUT GOD.

One night was the refining gift of back-breaking labor with my Love, ripping out our now-dilapidated planter boxes/poles that we built for our backyard string lights when we first moved here. They were cute as a bug when we built them, and we LOVE our string lights, but the boxes did not weather well,

2018

so Josh came up with a better plan to replace them with aluminum poles behind our fence. Unfortunately, that meant re-stringing the lights and hauling off the 250 pound blocks of solid concrete we had set them with. No small task.

But we got it done and rewarded ourselves with a decadent steak dinner at Longhorn Steakhouse. I can’t remember the last time we had an ACTUAL date. This was a good week for that one-on-one time.

Anyway, on my other evenings with my various activities, it was interesting that each time, I was put in a position to share parts of my testimony. Over and over, I was asked questions. How and where I grew up. How I met Jesus. How Josh and I did everything out of order in our relationship. Our adoptions. Cancer. So many stories.

So many amazing stories of God’s faithfulness and perfect timing.

It was no accident that God had perfectly timed these appointments on a week when I was feeling empty and low and defeated. I could have filled my time serving at VBS and had a great time, distracted from those feelings. OR, I could have had a peacefully child-free quiet home to sit in, and I would have squandered that precious time either mindlessly staring at Netflix or maybe wrapping myself up in my hurt and letting my anxiety completely wreak me.

BUT GOD didn’t let me.

A timely gift from a dear friend

Instead, He got me out of my comfort zone and asked me to tell my story. He asked me to TESTIFY. He knew that I needed to be reminded afresh of all He has done. TRUE MIRACLES. And not just a couple miracles. MIRACLE AFTER MIRACLE AFTER MIRACLE. As I told my stories, I felt as if I were hearing them for the first time. Hearing with brand new ears the things God had told me. The things He had taught me. The times when He gently held me, spared me, protected me. The times when He lovingly challenged me, stretched me, broke me and tenderly put me back together.

I was amazed.

And encouraged.

And refreshed.

WE HAVE TO TELL OUR STORIES. We know that we as Believers are called to testify: to glorify the Lord and to encourage others, but it encourages US TOO! It reminds us of where we once were, and how amazing our Father is. Oh, that we would not forget. Help us remember that no matter how small our mustard seed of faith, He made that mustard seed and planted it. And He planted it TO GROW. To be buried in the earth looks and feels and smells like death. But God BIRTHS LIFE!

What story can you share to remind yourself that God knows what He’s doing?

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’ ” Then the people bowed down and worshiped.” (Exodus 12:25-27)

“and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”” (Joshua 4:5-7)

“I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”” (Psalms 77:11-12)

“I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works. I will be glad and rejoice in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.” (Psalms 9:1-2)