July, Part 2

Remember how I said I hated July? And how we prayed for no more bad news?

I hate July.

Right before we were headed for vacation we got a FaceTime call from Josh’s big brother Alan in Houston. Alan had battled the past few years through a heart attack, surgical complications, extended infection, and then cancer. Which then metastasized. He called to tell us that his doctors were now giving him 6 months to a year to live. We cried together on the phone, and told each other how much we loved one another, and made grand plans to seize life and live big while there was time.

Two weeks later Alan got pneumonia while we were at the beach. It quickly worsened and he was put on a ventilator. And then, all of a sudden, he was just gone. July 28, Alan woke up healed in the arms of Jesus.

That very same day, our Cooper started running 101.7° fever. And again the next day. We isolated him to his room, and felt it was time to take him to be tested for COVID 19. The real life possibility of having the dreaded coronavirus in our home, infecting our children, potentially forcing Josh to miss 14 days of work, and the fear of how the virus could affect Sawyer is one that I had not let myself face. Cleaning and sanitizing supplies are still unavailable in the stores, and wearing masks and self-isolating inside our home triggered my heart back to the terrifying days of trying to keep Sawyer safe when he had a nonexistent immune system. Especially yet again in July, when grief scars are aching and emotions are already raw and ragged.

But the immediate real life reality was almost more than we could bear.

Due to the possibility of coronavirus exposure, none of us could attend Alan’s funeral.

Losing someone you love so much and not having the opportunity to say goodbye is a different kind of pain. We missed out on the comfort that comes from gathering together, mourning together, and celebrating together. We know that one of Satan’s favorite tactics is to isolate us from the safety of a flock so he can attack. He is very good at this.

Grief + fear + anxiety + anger + isolation is a rough combo. I will admit that I don’t think we have handled it very gracefully.

The funeral was a beautiful celebration of Alan’s life and the goodness of God. Josh had sent in a video testimonial that was played at the service in addition to many heartfelt tributes from family and friends, and we were sent a video of the whole thing so we could watch it together at home.

After 5 days of continuous fevers, we got Cooper’s test result back this morning, and it was NEGATIVE! Of course we are so thankful. However, we are still required to continue our quarantine because of the possibility of a false negative. So we just feel stuck.

Stuck in quarantine.

Stuck in isolation.

Stuck in grief.

Somewhat relieved but not completely.

It’s better but not better.

I don’t share this to garner a bunch of sympathy for myself. We are beyond blessed. But this is just where I’m at, I’m working my way through it, and I have promised that this blog would be a place of honesty and transparency, a picture of real life and not just a one-sided highlight reel. And I also know I’m not the only one who feels like this. Our circumstances may be different, but I’m certain many can relate to feeling stuck, disappointed, uncertain, and overwhelmed during this strange season of life.

Even in my current state of feeling stuck and disappointed and sad, I remain 100% confident of God’s sovereignty and His goodness. I am thankful for my marriage and my family and my kids. I am thankful for the perfect cup of coffee and the nest of baby birds on my back porch. I’m thankful that I had Alan as a brother by marriage and a brother in Christ, and that this world is not the end. I’m thankful that no matter what it feels like or how bad this life gets, there is unspeakable joy ahead.

And the funny thing about July…it was Alan’s favorite. His birthday was July 3. And NOBODY loved his birthday more than Alan. He demanded celebration and accolades of epic proportions, and proclaimed that all the festivities of July 4 were just an extension of his birthday party. See Alan was a MASTER of loving lavishly, and you couldn’t help to love him back. And July 28, he exited this broken world and entered the VERY BEST DAY OF HIS LIFE when he stepped into Glory. So it isn’t really fair for me to hold on to that grudge. Because I know it’s not about me or how I feel. It’s all about Jesus.

Please join me in prayer for Alan’s wife, his children, his Momma, and all the people who loved him so much. He was a big man with a big laugh and big love, and there is a big hole here without him.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

Wheelbarrow 40th birthday parade
Stealing Aunt Gina’s camera and taking silly selfies was Alan’s specialty
Chicken dancing at Thanksgiving

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.” (Revelation 21:1-7)

The Wind and the Waves Bow Before Him

What a wonderful week away. Our beach house was in a great location, very quiet. We had packed enough food, snacks, and treats for an army, so much so that my army CHEERED when they saw the stocked fridge and pantry. The temperatures were perfect, punctuated with intermittent rain showers and thunderstorms that cooled the air, but still plenty of bright sunshine glistening on the waves. And we were all together.

We played. WE ATE CHEESE BALLS. Josh took the Bigs bay finishing. We spent an afternoon crabbing. We cooked a feast of fresh gulf shrimp and snapper. We cooked sea trout Colton caught in front of our beach house. We played games (you’ve got to try “Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza!) and built sand castles and fed sea gulls and counted pelicans. We ordered takeout: fine seafood and Happy Meals.

Finished our GALVESTON city puzzle by Tuesday! Fun to see many of our favorite places represented on the puzzle!

Cancerversary day was harder on me than I was prepared for. No matter how fiercely I fight to focus my heart on celebrating the joy of Sawyer being alive and thriving 6 years after the worst day of our lives, I’m hounded by a hollow, sickened feeling in the pit of my stomach. Compounded by feeling like I have no right to grieve ANYTHING because my beautiful son is healthy and alive while so many of my friends have lost their precious children and would give anything to be in my shoes. Flashes of every detail of that day swirl around me and I can’t escape, especially back on the very same beach with the same sounds and the same smells from the last place we were before our world was turned upside down. I remember how happy we were. We never knew the freight train was around the corner heading straight for us.

BUT GOD.

And even though all those things take me back to those terrible, terrible moments leading up to Sawyer’s diagnosis, the incomparable beauty and vastness of the ocean proclaims the majestic omnipotence of God and His infinite power. The wind and the waves bow before Him. He is the author and the finisher. He held me then and He holds me now. He is bigger than all the things I will never understand. I can stand on that shore and stare into the waves and feel how small I am. And know that His thoughts toward me outnumber those grains of sand. I hate that I still struggle, but I’m so grateful for His lovingkindness that meets me in my brokenness and never runs out.

We enjoyed our last full day at the beach on Friday playing in powerful, thundering waves that were much closer to the shore than usual. Turns out those waves and accompanying strong winds were an advance warning of Hurricane Hanna making her way toward the coast. We headed out of town Saturday just in time as flooding was beginning to affect areas around us. Humbly grateful the Lord allowed us to enjoy our trip and make it safely back home. Josh and I did our best to fulfill our goal to Love Lavishly, and we came home feeling Lavishly Loved.

Tonight, I’m thankful to be safely tucked in back at my own home, with a cancer-free curly-headed jabber box snuggled up beside me because he can’t get to sleep, and 2 fluffy muppet dogs at my feet. I’m thankful for memories made with all my Loves this week, and that when I close my eyes I can still see the sun sparkling where the ocean met the horizon, and taste salty air mixed with slightly stale cheese balls, and hear gulls and my kids laughter over the crashing waves. Times like these freshly remind me how shattered my heart has been, and I’m much more aware of the holes that are still there, and the duct tape and paper clips and purple glue sticks holding it together.

But it’s so full.

Thank you for praying for us. Thank you for reading this blog and entering into our story.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“Who is like you, Lord God Almighty? You, Lord, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you. You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them.” (Psalms 89:8-9)

“Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.” (Psalms 107:28-31)

“Who am I, that the voice that calmed the sea / Would call out through the rain / And calm the storm in me?” (“Who Am I?” Casting Crowns)

July

I am thankful:

~ for Aldi groceries delivered right to my front steps. Game changer.

~ for refreshing Kona Ice on a sweltering hot day.

~ for a huge undertaking that will be well worth it in the long run. We have amassed a fortune in other peoples’ trash, i.e. reclaimed wood from the side of the road. Panels upon panels upon panels of barnwood and fencing stacked up along the side of our house. Every time we have an order, step one is the beat down of deconstructing and prepping the wood for building. This week Josh and I and the kids took on the task of stripping ALL the panels apart and removing all of the old rusty nails, creating a much better system for organizing and storing this beautiful wood. Now it is ready to go whenever we have a sign order. It was a backbreaking job in 100° weather and blazing sun, but after six hours, it was complete!

~ for good old fashioned hard work with our kids. They have their daily chores, and usually are eager to jump in and help mom and dad with whatever other projects we have going on. But we also have some really good laughs along the way. Near the end of the wood project, Sawyer was wilting, and started asking, “Can I just skip THIS ONE nail, Dad? Do we have to do ALL these boards?” Josh replied quickly and firmly, “Son, do you know what your last name is? When your last name’s Rucker, you work hard, you do it right, and you don’t quit until the job’s done.” A little bit later Sawyer piped in again, “Hey Dad. Maybe we could change our last name…”

~ for fresh haircuts. Thankfully, the “Home Salon” is our norm anyway. Dad has always cut the boys and mom cuts the girls.

~ for surprisingly tasty homemade cauliflower crust pizza.

~ for sweet, compassionate Sawyer who spent 30 minutes protecting a tiny ant from the dogs so it could safely carry a piece of food “home to its family.”

~ for a lovely tea party with Tatum K and Birdie. Birdie adored her princess dress, and happily gobbled down all the party treats. They both need to work a bit on their formal table manners.

~ for CHEESE BALLS. That’s right, if you have followed along on our journey, you know that cheese balls can only mean one thing…

VACATION! We literally buy cheese balls only once a year, and the kids know exactly what it means when they see them come through the door. We have a trip planned to a beach house in Galveston next week. It’s been hard to get excited about it because I’ve been guarding my heart just in case it gets canceled (like everything else has all year.) But as of now, everything looks to be a go. Our plans are just to drive down and continue our self quarantine at the house…but at least it will be a change of scenery, and at least it will be ON THE BEACH!

I have to confess. I have a problem with July. Six years ago in July, sitting in an ER at Children’s Hospital with my baby in my arms, I heard the word CANCER for the first time. The following July, Sawyer developed severe complications from a combination of viruses that landed him in the hospital for weeks. The next July we were at the Lighthouse Family Retreat in Florida when I got the call from my doctor that pathology reports came back confirming that I had malignant melanoma.

July is not my favorite. My flesh and my enemy know it, and the fiery darts have my name on them at the very turn of the calendar page. I find myself emotional at the drop of a hat, ultra irritable, attacked by unpredictable anxiety, not to mention battling constant headaches and chronic pain. Anxiety and fear don’t play fair. They want me to focus on the panic that rises up every year on these hard anniversaries. They want to cripple me with the pain of reliving the past and distort my outlook on both the promises of the future and the present joys of today. And the current dismal scenery of rioting and injustice and sickness and death everywhere is NOT HELPING me.

I wish I had wise words about it. I wish I had a victorious story of how healthy and faith-filled I am. Truth is, I’m a mess. I have totally blown it with each of my kids over the past few days, and I’ve been a ball of grouchiness and nerves. I’m annoyed, frustrated, and embarrassed at feeling stuck in this trap. AGAIN.

BUT GOD.

I may be back in this stupid trap, but my Father is with me. He loves me and He encourages me – LITERALLY FILLS ME WITH COURAGE – and He holds me when I cry in the dark. And every time I fall and disappoint myself again, He reaches His mighty right hand to me and says, “Let’s try again baby girl.”

I know He is growing me, allowing me to be pressed and sanded for my good and for His glory. I know it will pass. I know He’s holding me close and He won’t ever leave me. I know He will birth something beautiful from the ashes of all the shattered July’s that have come and gone.

I pray for a wonderful salty, sand-kissed week away with my Loves next week (I could pray for “relaxing”, but with 9 kids, that’s a not really even a goal). I pray that Sawyer’s Cancerversary and the days leading up to it will come and go with more thanksgiving than anxiety. I pray for health and safety for our Tribe as we venture out for the first time in months. I pray for no more bad news this July. But if not, He is still good.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

Here’s a song that really ministered to me this week. I hope it blesses you. https://youtu.be/R8oxVCFGsgY

“The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.” (Psalms 37:23-24)

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms….In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Ephesians 6:11-12, 16)

Raise a Hallelujah

~ for Happy Mail. So fun to open up your very own mail. Especially when it’s full of STICKERS!!! Thank you Miss Linda!

~ for Colton treating me to my very first Freddy’s burger. I’m a fan!

~ for the next step in our ongoing kitchen remodel project. Our tile arrived Wednesday around lunch, Josh got home about 7, and we got right to work! I love knocking projects out with my Love, and we both love putting the sweat equity into our home. Later in the week, our replacement window was installed. Goodbye to the smeary windows that never came clean because of the broken seal between the panes. The new window is bright and giant and so clear it looks like there’s no glass in it! I am absolutely certain that it will never be this clean again, but I will enjoy it while it lasts!

~ for a special day with a really special girl. Kora, Gavin, and Zoe’s biological big sister Grace had her birthday this weekend, and what she wanted most was to see her little siblings. Is that not the sweetest thing? Grace and her family moved several years ago, so visits are few and far between. But what a joy to spend the day with her. We ate lunch, swam, painted rocks together, and baked cookies. It meant the world to all 4 of them. A one day visit is never long enough, so there were lots of tears at “goodbye,” but still, it blesses me to see the genuine love and bond they share. Adoption is so beautiful. But it is inextricably tied up with loss and pain. My babies had a life before me. My motherly instinct is to protect them from the painful parts of their story, and shield them from the hurt. But it’s all part of their story. And by erasing or hiding what I would selfishly and short-sightedly deem the “messy” parts, would also steal from them their own miraculous redemption story and the awesome story of their first big sister that shares their blood. Lord, give me the courage to trust what You are doing and not get in Your way. Pry off my anxiously controlling hands and write their story Your way. BUT GOD!

~ thankfully, our kids didn’t have time to be sad for long, because as soon as Grace drove away with her mom, we had another knock at the door: Uncle Mike and Cousin Kenedy! We enjoyed having them for the weekend!

~ for new goggles. Does anything make kids happier than new goggles?

~ for homemade ice cream. Is there anything better than homemade ice cream???

~ for Cooper’s favorite week of the year: Pine Cove! He loves his time at camp more than anything, and we dropped him off today. Can’t wait to hear about all the fun he has and all that the Lord will do in his heart this week!

~ for a great time celebrating Josh for Father’s Day. We had all his favorites: juicy grilled burgers with sharp cheddar and blue cheese, jalepeno chips, sweet tea, and homemade chocolate ice cream. I love this man so much, and the way he faithfully lives his faith in front of his kids and models to them how to love lavishly. I love how hard he works even when he’s dog tired and always hurting. We don’t call him “Giddyup” for nothing. I love that his favorite part of every project is watching my face when I admire it, because he says his favorite thing to do is make me happy. I will never understand why God has blessed me with a love this big, and I will never stop thanking Him that He did.

Today during worship at church (via the Rucker satellite campus) one of the songs was a favorite of our whole family, “Raise a Hallelujah.” There’s something so soul-stirring about hearing my children’s little voices lifted, singing at the top of their lungs to their Lord, “I’m gonna sing in the middle of the storm. Louder and louder you’re gonna hear my praises roar.”

In that moment, it became my prayer. My prayer over EVERYTHING. Over the divisions about how to handle Covid 19. Over all the injustices and the big and the small polarizing issues people are all raging about. Over all the voices screaming at once about every hot topic. Over my own anxiety. Over my children.

“Sing a little louder, in the presence of my enemies…

Sing a little louder, louder than the unbelief…

Sing a little louder, my weapon is a melody

Sing a little louder, heaven comes to fight for me…”

It sounds silly, but what if we really did that? What if we all raised a hallelujah in the middle of our storms, a hallelujah that became louder than the noise? What if we really believed that praising God is a weapon that will defeat the darkness? What if we really loved others openhandedly, with no agenda, no catch, with the love of Christ? I’m not trying to sound like a Hallmark card, not am I trying to act like I’m doing it right myself. I just believe that it really does make a difference when we make simple but genuine changes in the way we respond to our circumstances. And when it all boils down, the ONLY cause I want to champion is the cause of Christ. Lord, let it be so. Stay my eyes on You, Lord.

Speaking of which, it is Clinic Week for Sawyer. It’s his first time back to the hospital since all the virus outbreaks and sheltering in place, so I won’t pretend it doesn’t cause my heart to pound a little faster. Hospital restrictions will only allow one adult to accompany a patient, so for the first time in as long as I can remember, it will be just Sawyer and I. His appointment is Wednesday, and I will post an update that evening. We are grateful for your prayers that our Warrior Boy remains cancer free.

Will you raise a hallelujah with me this week?

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“The LORD reigns; Let the earth rejoice; Let the multitude of isles be glad! Clouds and darkness surround Him; Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. A fire goes before Him, And burns up His enemies round about. His lightnings light the world; The earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the LORD, At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. The heavens declare His righteousness, And all the peoples see His glory.” (Psalms 97:1-6)

“Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.” (Revelation 19:6)

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10)

A Square

Has anyone else felt completely confused and/or defeated this week?

“It’s not ok to say nothing.”

If you DID say (or post) something, somebody might have told you it was the wrong thing.

You should’ve said….

“You have to POST this….”

Then, if you did, “WHY did you do THAT? What are you trying to PROVE?”

Posting Scripture was often met with the response that it was a misuse of the context or else it was twisted into something negative.

Social media was a lose/lose this week.

I felt bullied. I felt like every single thing I did/said/posted/didn’t post needed an explanation and/or disclaimer.

Am I defined by a square? By crafting the perfect caption that sums up my beliefs and everything I stand for?

Part of me felt like it was just hopeless. The hate. The hurt. The injustice. The division. The name calling. It’s never gonna end. There is no RIGHT answer.

But there is. The right answer is always Jesus! The right answer is always that I must decrease so that He may increase. The right answer is always to love your neighbor as yourself, whoever that neighbor may be. The right answer is always that Light casts out darkness. And one glorious day it IS going to end.

I think some of the wisest words I’ve heard (outside Scripture) came from Anna on Frozen 2. “Just do the next right thing.”

And I want to try to do more of that. Whether it shows up on social media or not.

I am thankful:

~ for the Lord’s protection. Gavin and Sawyer were playing outside, and Sawyer was about to go potty “country boy style” outside when Gavin noticed something at his feet. At first, Sawyer didn’t believe it was real, but Gavin convinced him and the two boys ran screaming inside. “Snake!” Mama had to get brave with my rubber boots and long shovel, and put an end to the snake, which turned out to be a 2 foot long copperhead! I’ve never killed a snake before. I felt a little bit like She-Ra Warrior Princess and a little bit like passing out. When I think about what could have happened if Gavin hadn’t noticed it, or if Sawyer had reached down to grab it… BUT GOD.

~ for Dairy Queen chocolate dipped cones. Isn’t that just the flavor of summer?

~ for a great, HOT week at the Barn Sale. Wednesday was Early Bird Day, and the admission fees were donated to Gold Network of East TX, so I worked at the table selling admission tickets and sharing about our programs. I met some fabulous people, and so many were kind and super generous. The sale went on through Saturday, and I was thrilled to sell more than half the Giddyup & Whoa signs I had painted! Double blessing!

~ for Carson Grace turning 19. How? How can my Princess Peanut be 19 years old??? She had a great time being celebrated by her friends, and she squeezed in a window for us to have her birthday dinner. We all love her birthday, because she has such great taste: BBQ chicken legs, pickled cucumber and tomato salad, sweet potato fries with homemade ranch, and ice cream cake. Her meal was a celebration in itself! But in all seriousness, I am excited to see what the Lord opens up for and in her this year. She is such a bright light, I know she has so much shining to do for Him!

~ for cool, refreshingly sweet and tart lemon icebox pie. It didn’t last long.

~ for a few more treats from our garden, including a teensy bitsy carrot.

~ for successful completion of the next, highly stressful stage of our gradual kitchen reno. We busted up and ripped out the final slab of dark granite from our island. The next day, a freighter dropped off its replacement: a 500 pound 8 foot long maple butcher block. The driver asked how long it would take for us to get it inside and installed. Josh confidently assured him it would be in place that night. We enlisted the help of a neighbor, and josh and I and Cooper CAREFULLY slid the massive slab onto a flat dolly, wheeled it into the house, and hoisted all 500 pounds of it onto the island. That process went much more smoothly than I had envisioned in my mind. But then came the real challenge. To measure, re-measure, and measure AGAIN to confirm the opening Josh would have to CUT out of that beautiful butcher block for our range. No do-overs. No margin for error. Man, we were calling out to Jesus for sure! But as always, Josh was meticulous and BOLD, and he cut the hole perfectly in one shot. So happy with how it turned out.

Let’s love one another well this week. Less time staring at screens and more time looking into the actual eyes of actual people. Let’s not throw darts or dodgeballs, but engage in active listening and compassion. Let’s admit when we’re wrong and forgive when we’re wronged. And pray for the healing that our nation so desperately needs to start in our own homes and in our hearts.

Thanks for giving thanks with me. Y’all are truly such a blessing.

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-7)

“Just do the next right thing

Take a step, step again

It is all that I can to do

The next right thing

I won’t look too far ahead

It’s too much for me to take

But break it down to this next breath, this next step

This next choice is one that I can make

So I’ll walk through this night

Stumbling blindly toward the light

And do the next right thing

And, with it done, what comes then?

When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again

Then I’ll make the choice to hear that voice

And do the next right thing”

(“The Next Right Thing” Kristen Bell)

Be Still

I am thankful:

~ for Sawyer’s thrill of chatting with one of his real life heroes. We live very close to a police station, so we regularly have patrol cars on our street. This week, Officer Long stopped to chat, and Sawyer proudly informed her that he was going to be a police officer when he grows up, then excitedly dashed back to the house and drove out of the garage in his little motorized police car. Later it was neat to see his picture shared on the KLTV Instagram page !

~ for Kora’s first job (at 11 years old). After seeing her creative chalk art doodles on our driveway, a neighbor hired Kora to chalk a giant Happy Birthday card for a grandson down our street. What a fun “job!” And my sweet girl used her hard-earned wages to treat us all to Shivers snocones!

~ for hot, delicious elotés, roasted corn ears seasoned with mayonnaise, spices, and cotija cheese. I had never had it before, and I am now a FAN!

~ for our next DIY home project underway. Josh and I love tackling remodeling projects together, and have gradually transformed our kitchen into the kitchen of our dreams over the last 2 1/2 years. The next step is updating the dingy countertops, stained sink, and leaky faucet. Demo has begun! So thankful for such great helpers!

~ for an excellent BIG BOX, and the endless possibilities it contains.

~ for fresh homemade salsa. Just wish we didn’t devour it in 2 hours every time I make it.

~ for a really special NEW PUZZLE! After each puzzle we have completed, the kids have asked if we could frame it. But none of them have been anything we would particularly care to frame. So this time Josh and I put a lot of thought into our next puzzle, and came up with the perfect, meaningful scene. The Texas Rangers stadium, Globe Life Park. Our family loves baseball and love love LOVE the Texas Rangers. We have been to numerous ball games over the last 20 years, and Josh and I experienced our first Rangers game together on one of our first dates. For those of you who are not Texans, a new baseball stadium has recently been built for the Rangers, and while we are thankful that Globe Life Park was not demolished, we will never see another ball game played there. We are so thankful that we were able to take in one last game before the end of the season last year. All that to say, we are excited to have successfully completed this latest puzzle (zero missing pieces!), and look forward to framing and displaying it. (And Mama is DEFINITELY a puzzle hog master.)

~ for a perfect quiet afternoon of yardwork and snow cones & sign builds and puddle jumping.

It’s been a challenging week of parenting. Instead of the jubilant end of school crescendo followed by the thrill of a new blissfully open schedule of free time, there was a strangely anticlimactic transition from “SCHOOLING at home” to “just STAYING home” with more of the same 4 walls and the same 10 faces. Finally after 2 months of wrestling, we had found a schedule that was manageable, and now it too was gone. This has led to “the grumpies” for all of us. During our virtual learning season, I definitely felt much less equipped as a teacher than a mom. And this week I have seriously questioned my capabilities on the mom side as well. How am I supposed to be a loving, godly example to my kids when I am constantly exhausted and pulling my hair out???

BUT GOD.

As He is so faithful to do, Jesus came to my rescue. He spoke to me in His Word, confirmed it in my prayer time, and then reaffirmed His lovingkindness through the encouragement of others.

I am His child. My kids are His children. He loves me like crazy and He loves them like crazy. He’s got a plan for each one of us collectively and individually. And I don’t get to know the plan, and I just have to make peace with that and trust Him with it all.

I DON’T HAVE TO BE THE PERFECT MOTHER. (Insert: WIFE / PERSON / CHRISTIAN / ANYTHING).

I read this reference this week and it has reverberated in my head and my heart. We all know Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” But in the NASB, “Be still” is translated as “Cease striving.” That is SO my natural response to stress and conflict – Striving. Struggling. Fighting. Exerting all my energy to get to a resolution. Doing whatever it takes to get it all done and get to the bottom of every issue.

“Cease striving and know that I am God.”

This stuff is hard. I always say “Capital ‘H’ Hard.” But He designed it that way, or we wouldn’t need Him. If it was even CLOSE to doable, we would just get it done BY STRIVING, and then walk away knowing we were capable in our our strength. Satisfied with being a great parent. Confident in being the perfect spouse. Great teacher. Full of faith.

This pressure is on purpose. It changes us on the inside and the outside. And it brings us to the excruciating and beautiful place of surrendering our own strength and relying on Jesus.

I don’t have to be enough. Because He is enough. I can cease striving and know that He is God.

And He is good at being God.

I thought just maybe somebody besides me needed that reminder this week.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

““Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalms 46:10 NASB)

“We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10)

“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)

Blessed Mama

Made it through another week.  Another week of virtual school.  Another week of quarantine.  Another week that looked a whole lot like the weeks before it. 

But just like all the weeks before it, God has been faithful. 

I am thankful:

~ for the coffee that greets me every morning.   

~ for morning Bible time to start each day.   No matter what comes, at least I know we started with the first thing first.  

~ for all my Indians. IMG_AFD2E107346C-1.jpeg

~ for the faithful dedication of all our teachers and the school to provide our curriculum.  I can’t even imagine how much extra work and out of their comfort zone it has been for them to create all this material and videos and links for their classes.  What a strange and memorable year.  I will be forever grateful for the way they have loved on my children.  IMG_8651.JPG

~ for a kind friend who delivered farm fresh eggs right to my front door.  And how nice to see a sweet smile that I have missed so much.  Thank you Miss Debbie!  And for tasty avocado egg toast!IMG_8844 2.JPG

~ for the pool.  Absolutely NOT a need.  I know we are abundantly blessed above and beyond to have this luxury right in our backyard.  What an incomparable blessing for the kids to be able to just run out there and burn off steam.  They can get their energy out and get plenty of vitamin D after their schoolwork is done.  It’s also a powerful bargaining tool for mom.  Not done with your work?  Then you ain’t swimmin.  Grateful for gorgeous sunny afternoons. IMG_237B5ECA0EFB-1.jpeg

~ for Mexican toilet paper.  (We seriously can’t find any normal toilet paper anywhere!)IMG_9025 2.JPG

~ for kind people during this strange season.  How surreal it is to drive around and see people everywhere with masks and gloves.  You can’t gauge much about the countenance of a person with half their face covered. But I’ve seen so many kind eyes. I’m so thankful for people who are going above and beyond to keep others safe while doing their jobs.

~ for our neighbor’s sunflower and how happy it makes my little sunshine girl.IMG_8673.jpgIMG_8693.jpgIMG_8694.JPG

~ for a fun afternoon of Minute to Win It Challenges with the kids.  Daily challenges had been provided by our school, but I saved them up for one big Rucker Tribe Challenge.  We all had a ball.  You can watch the full video here. IMG_9062.jpgIMG_9065.jpgIMG_14DF729D55B6-1.jpeg

~ for perfectly chilled coconut cream pie made with LOVE.

IMG_9026 2.JPG

~ for photos to forever commemorate Tatum K’s first time through the car wash.  Sheer terror followed by complete joy when it was over.  Shame on us for laughing at that poor baby.

IMG_9027IMG_9030 2IMG_9032

It’s been a good Mother’s Day.  Home church, fresh bagels, and sunshine set the tone.  We ended the day with all 9 kids home for a meal of colorful grilled kabobs and wild rice, and will finish with me eating ANOTHER perfect piece of coconut pie in my bed.

IMG_9D7B51AE815A-1.jpegIMG_536B94E94727-1.jpeg

I looked back at what I wrote on the blog last Mother’s Day, and it makes me laugh how true it rings again this year (and last year there was NO PANDEMIC going on!)

“My legs need shaving, my grey needs colored, my floor needs mopped, and my bed’s not made.  And I will be 100% honest and say I usually don’t fully appreciate my life.  I am short-tempered  and impatient and overwhelmed.  Too many questions, too much laundry, too many squabbles and the sippy cup is always lost.  But today.  Today I have been so thankful.  Yes, my plate is full, but I see my cup that overflows with blessing.  My house is a mess, but it’s bursting at the seams with the people I love.  I have no idea why God has given me so many hearts to be responsible for, and most days the task completely terrifies me.  I am VASTLY UNQUALIFIED.  But I know that the confidence in myself that is lacking is ECLIPSED by the confidence I have in Him.  He gave me all these babies.  I don’t know why I am so blessed, but all I can do is thank Him and do my best every day.  And when my best isn’t good enough, His grace will meet me there.  I’m pretty much the most blessed mama on the planet.”

Thinking of all the different kinds of moms today.   Most moms don’t have the picture perfect day and the picture perfect family.  Every mama I know is broken in some way.  Longing for a child.  Lost a child.  Lost their mother.  Strained relationships.  Complicated emotions that are hard to talk about. Things just not going how they imagined, or just so much harder than they expected.  It’s ok if you don’t feel like a great mom.   Most moms don’t.  But whatever season we are in, we need to stop measuring ourselves against one another, or against some externally constructed idol of how our lives should be.  And none of us are alone – someone else out there is struggling too.

Be where you are.  And be there as well as you can.  Trust that God knows what He’s doing.  And be kind to one another and to yourself. 

And this morning, on Mother’s Day of all days, one of our beautiful little Gold Network Heroes, after a long and hard-fought battle, went home to be with Jesus.  PLEASE PRAY for his mama and family, today and every day.  I hate cancer.

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

“But certainly God has heard; He has given heed to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, Who has not turned away my prayer Nor His lovingkindness from me.”  (Psalms 66:19-20)

“Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”  (Psalms 61:1-2)

Tipping Point

I am thankful:  

~ For class zoom meetings.  The kids love getting to see their teachers and their classmates.  This week Kora enjoyed dressing up for an early celebration of Cinco de Mayo with her Spanish teacher (and feast on delicious leftover tacos from Colton), and Sawyer got to share his pets with his friends.   Zoe proudly demonstrated her science experiment about surface tension.IMG_E4B4AAF3EE53-1.jpegIMG_7B81D204E6D0-1.jpegIMG_6AA1BC39A9E3-1.jpeg

~ for peace that passes understanding, especially when delivered as a profound lesson taught by my child.  This week one of the school chapel songs was a favorite of the kids.  As it began to play, Sawyer said excitedly, “I love this song!  We’re gonna sing it at my graduation!”  Then the realization hit (which I wasn’t sure if he actually knew or not) and he said quietly, “Oh…but I’m not even gonna have my graduation.”  I instantly felt hot tears welling in my eyes.  Oh, how it hurts this Mama’s heart that he should miss out on this milestone that we never dared to dream he should reach.  But almost in the same breath, I heard Sawyer (and all his brothers and sisters) boldly belting out the opening lyrics of the song, “This is the day, that You have made.  Whatever comes, I won’t complain.  For all my hope is in Your Name, and now Your joy awaits my praise.  I give thanks for all You have done.  And I will sing of Your mercy and Your love.  Your love is unfailing, Lord I am grateful!”  His attitude is so much better than mine!  He too, is experiencing disappointment, but it is not crippling his JOY!  He has proudly memorized Psalm 23 and his little speaking part for a video the school is putting together.  When he got all doodled up for the video for his teacher, he was so excited, he never wanted to change out of his “fancy” clothes.  How cute was my little pupil working in his bow tie!?  He also had the MOST THRILLING visit this week, from his BELOVED teacher, Mrs. Key!  She brought him Starbust for being a “STAR” student, and a yard sign that we have proudly displayed in our front yard.  Thank You Father for your unspeakable grace.IMG_7930.jpgIMG_58D645B67240-1.jpegIMG_8284.jpg

~ for the gift of music.  Kora has been memorizing a passage from 1 Thessalonians, and the words brought to mind a song written by a dear friend.  I was able to play it for her, and her eyes just sparkled when she heard God’s Word brought to life in such a fresh new way that she understood so much better.  The song is a jubilant anthem looking toward the day when we Believers will all join together with Jesus in the sky.  It has been playing in my heart all week.

~ for the sweetest and most thoughtful “teacher appreciation” care package I received in the mail.  Thank you to all who have prayed over our story problems.  They are still a problem, but I think we will all live to tell the story.

~ for the most unique spring concert experience for Samantha and Kora.  Obviously, quarantine and social distancing has made many spring traditions difficult or impossible. But our school creatively found a way for fourth and fifth graders to gather in the parking lot at a safe distance and lift their voices and recorders to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.  Memorable to be sure. IMG_232D4AA19024-1.jpegIMG_FDF0662D192B-1.jpegIMG_8492.jpg~ for gorgeous weather. Friday we worked hard to get all schoolwork done before lunch, and we headed to the park around the corner from our house.  It is a tucked away spot, and rarely have we run into anyone else there.  We spread out our blanket in the shade, and I read to the kids while they ate their picnic.  Then it was playground time, and picking wildflowers, and climbing trees.  It was a lovely afternoon.IMG_8229.jpgIMG_8230.jpgIMG_1D96DA29674F-1.jpeg

~ for a very special birthday.  Colton, our firstborn, the one who made me a Mama, turned 21.  When I had Colton, I was so young and naive.  He was literally the first baby I ever held, and I was absolutely terrified.  I never thought I’d be a mom, but now that I was, I wanted so badly to do it well.  I loved him fiercely.  Being a mom was the first thing I absolutely knew I could not do on my own, and that brokenness and desperation was what ultimately led me to recognize my need for a Savior.  Josh and I have always said that Colton led 2 people to the Lord as a baby, so we have always known God had a special plan for this beautiful boy.    He was always a challenging child: strong-willed, always with 2 toes over the boundary lines.  We weren’t sure if we (or he) would survive his teen years.  We went through some pretty ugly seasons, and more sleepless nights than I can even count.  BUT GOD.  My boy is growing into a man, and he is finding his way as a respectful, compassionate individual who actually CHOOSES to spend time with him mom and dad.  I honestly wasn’t sure we’d ever get there.  Now I am freshly convinced that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion…” God is always wooing and drawing and working through and behind what we see in front of our eyes.  I am so grateful.   He came over to hang out and have dinner 4 nights this week, played wiffleball and swam, and watch a movie.  We celebrated on his birthday with crescent chicken, sweet potato fries with homemade ranch, and his oh-so-sophisticated dessert choice: confetti cake.  Loved celebrating him, celebrating all that God has done, and all that God has in store.IMG_DE754189AD7A-1.jpegIMG_9A3247EFBB61-1.jpeg

~ for Facebook live concert from Garth Brooks and Tricia Yearwood. And for dancing to “To Make You Feel My Love” with my husband in the kitchen.  We never do that.  But in that moment, it was perfect. 

~ for gorgeous weather for wiffleball, snake-free walks, and swimming.IMG_6419D20D9B02-1.jpegIMG_427A57E9C74C-1.jpegIMG_868D9D739B3B-1.jpegIMG_65F88F250CE7-1.jpegIMG_8363.jpg

~ for a refreshing change of pace.  Josh brought home a new puzzle, just 199 pieces.  At first I was disappointed, knowing it was way too easy.  But the fact that it was a Frozen 2 puzzle meant it would be an instant hit with the Little People, and it was probably time for some quick satisfaction.  During nap time I decided to challenge myself, and set a timer.  50 minutes and 38 seconds.  Not bad.  I think I find puzzles so satisfying in this season because they are a manageable challenge with a clear beginning and end.  It is a task that can be concretely completed.  The feeling of success.  The kids were as thrilled as expected, and finished it almost as quickly as I did.  They were sweet and took out the last 3 pieces after they were done, and left them for baby sister.  She was so tickled.IMG_ABACC42F08EF-1.jpegIMG_772E84380C7E-1.jpeg

Mental health is not a joke.  I’ve never hopped on the “self-care“ bandwagon… It usually seems like a license to grossly self indulge, overspend, and let “me time” push to top priority at the expense of others.  This is not Jesus’ way, and it shouldn’t be ours.  I don’t “need” time with my girlfriends, or to shop, or pamper myself.  Any of those things are enjoyable, a great treat, and something to look forward to.  But I’ve never seen them as a “need.”  

But I got to a tipping point this week.  It might sound funny, likely sounds relatable, but it’s just unfiltered truth.  I couldn’t remember when I had last showered.  I was wearing the same clothes for daytime, to bed, and again the next day, (because WHY NOT?)  I glimpsed myself in the mirror (quite by accident, because WHY?) and I hardly recognized myself.  I hadn’t bothered to style my hair in days (because WHY?) so my natural not-exactly-straight-not-exactly-wavy-frizzy-and-stylistically-confused hair with it’s unintentional hombre of blonde/brown/silver was taking on a somewhat Einstein-esque quality.  I didn’t look like someone who should be caring for children. Let alone someone who should be responsible for anyone’s education.  

I am not and was not depressed.  But I also realized: I was not ok.  I was sleepwalking through my unrecognizable life, even though I was still (mostly) successfully checking all the boxes: morning Bible study✔️ frequent private and shared prayer throughout the day✔️reading aloud to the kids every morning✔️ faithfully keeping kids on the task of completing their daily schoolwork ✔️keeping my house reasonably clean✔️maintaining the illusion to the “outside” that I “had it all together” and that the Ruckers were “ROCKING THE QUARANTINE.”✔️  Another parent said something similar, “We’ve been doing pretty well.  But this week, WE HIT A WALL.”

That night after the kids were in bed, I took a bath.  I turned on my favorite soft worship playlist and soaked the day off in the hot water and the music.  The next day I did my hair and put on a little makeup and changed out of pajamas and put on clothes.  (OK so it was actually just changing from one set of loungewear to a nearly identical set of loungewear.  A purely lateral move, but at least it was the physical act of changing clothes.)  Just putting in the minimal effort to feel like a human.  Even something so small and seemingly trivial, I realized how much I had missed the daily reminder of putting on my beautiful handmade gold bracelet inscribed with “it is well.”  That afternoon, I took my paints out to a semi-shaded spot in the driveway and worked on a sign while listening to the birds with a gentle breeze on my face.IMG_76E835B132EE-1.jpegIMG_15564004710C-1.jpeg

It wasn’t magic.  I still stink at math.  In fact, one of my ANONYMOUS “students” shouted disdainfully at me this week after checking a problem, “HA!  You were WRONG!”  And other told me, “You’re not THAT bad, you just need a little help from a REAL teacher.”  BUT…the slight shift of my focus to putting a little effort into myself was a mood lifter.  It also made my husband smile.  And maybe if I wasn’t a BETTER teacher, at least I didn’t look like such a scary one.

Wherever you are, however you are handling your situation and your trials, God sees you.  He has promised not to leave you or forsake you. You are not alone.  He may not take the fire away, but He will stand in it with you. It’s ok to take care of yourself, and give yourself grace.  If you are slipping, call out to Jesus.  Call out to a friend.  And it’s ok to admit that you’re not ok. If your faith is in yourself, it was in the wrong place anyway. Remember who you are and more importantly, WHOSE you are.  We are all in this together.  And then look for the blessings around you. They are there.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 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 1:3-6)

“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)

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a shout, and the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will be the first ones to rise to meet the Lord. Then we who are alive will be looking to the skies. And we’ll be caught up there  with our brothers in the clouds.  I just wish it were now.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, paraphrased by Randy Skiles)

Pearls

I am thankful:

~ for a fun surprises.  Our Children’s pastor popped by to say hello and drop off bubbles for all the kids.  Then another friend dropped off a box of hand-me-downs for Tatum K.  And we had another porch drop-off, a handmade large scale Yatzee game (“Yard-zee”) with the sweetest note!  I am so blessed by how thoughtful and kind people have been to come up with ways to be an encouragement during this season.IMG_7309.jpgIMG_59868D58ED9C-1.jpeg~ for the Lord’s protection.  The kids and I had our daily walk, down to the end of our road and back.  On our way back, the kids rode on ahead of me, and I thought I saw something on the road.  As I got closer, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing was real: a MASSIVE snake, no less than 6 feet long, stretched out right where we had walked minutes before.  My knees immediately started shaking, but I quickly passed it with Tatum K in her stroller (not before snapping a quick picture of it first of course!)IMG_7456.jpg 

~ for sweet moments in the midst of school.

IMG_2B40F7C00236-1.jpegIMG_7891IMG_DE36FC32CCD8-1.jpeg

~ for the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Wednesday, Tatum K suddenly came down with a fever, and said “her feelings hurted.”  My mind didn’t go anywhere completely crazy.  We’ve been quarantined faithfully, I actually wasn’t worried about “IT.”  But I did not relish the thought of a house full of sick kids on lockdown.  We established a quarantine within our quarantine in our bedroom for her, and kept her away from all the other children.   Changed my clothes EVERY time I held her, and re-washed ALL the bed linens every day.  IMG_6ECB7AF1E2AB-1.jpegIMG_7741On day three, as I was getting her ready for bed, I noticed a faint rash across her back and groin area, and my stomach dropped.  I immediately made arrangements to take her in to Dr. Everett the next day.  We had our first experience with an outdoor pediatrician appointment.  IMG_97F4A4E420A4-1.jpegAnd sure enough: strep throat + scarlet fever, just like Sawyer had almost 2 months ago.  We can’t imagine how she got it.  I can’t believe it could still be living on a surface from that long ago, especially with how much sanitizing I’ve been doing.  It’s baffling.  But so thankful that we caught it quickly.   Already after just a couple doses of antibiotics, she is fully recovered.  Her “feelings are betta now” and she is back to her spunky, sassy self.IMG_7607~for our very first FULLY INTACT, completed 1000 piece puzzle!  It was glorious!  Now, there was some mischievous tomfoolery surrounding the last couple days of completion… a couple of my smarty-pants kids thought it would be funny to steal a piece or two.  But eventually they were all recovered.  It was a thrilling victory. IMG_7682

~ for our pups.  Whether they are at my side when I paint, crowding their way on the hammock when I am trying to have a quiet moment, or chasing each other around and over the furniture, they keep us smiling.52C4AD9A-05D2-4DDD-B620-2783568DF2D5IMG_7433.jpgIMG_AA46211B7BD9-1.jpegIMG_DADC55B13268-1.jpeg

~ for the deep sigh of relief after I make it through another of the kids’ math problems.  Seriously though.  Who invented story problems?  I don’t think he was a very nice guy.  The best part of every day is the moment when I no longer have to be a math teacher. 

~for three kids who were able to receive their Superior Cougar Fitness awards via an online meeting with their teacher and receive a printable copy of their certificates.  I’m so grateful that the school is doing everything they can to accommodate for special memories for the students during this strange time of separation.IMG_7864

~ again for wonderful and good-natured neighbors.  One morning the kids came in from outside shrieking, “We found a turtle!“  They were thrilled and instantly began creating a turtle habitat. The next day, they were eager to show it off to our neighbors, who promptly exclaimed, “That’s OUR turtle! We found it yesterday!”  And so, the turtle was returned to his rightful “finder keepers.“  But after some chatting back-and-forth, it seems that they have all agreed to shared custody. Poor little fella.  He sure wandered into the wrong yard! TWICE!IMG_78CA873E3CCA-1.jpegIMG_ED2341D7B04E-1.jpeg

~ for the most gorgeous weather!  The kids have swam a couple of times – it’s really NOT warm enough for swimming, but they don’t really care.  It’s been perfect weather for our walks, wiffle ball tournaments, for washing the car, and daily picnics.IMG_233CBCE2669C-1.jpegIMG_6C2635C5779F-1.jpeg

~ for a wonderful day of celebration. One of our Gold Network of East Texas heroes celebrated her last chemotherapy this week after two years of treatment for leukemia. To celebrate, her family arranged for a drive-through celebration.  What a joyful day! GLORY TO THE LORD!IMG_7831IMG_7809IMG_7810IMG_0238C4F01D87-1.jpeg

~ for 90% completion of the DIY project from last week.  We had painted the mudroom not long ago with a homemade mix of some leftover paint we had on hand, and we never loved it.  And the paint we had used on the mudroom door had never cured.   So we gave the room a fresh coat of soft gray paint (replacing the wanna-be-grey-but-actually-more-like-baby-blue color) and the door was first peeled, then primed, then painted navy, then white (in 18 hours) before we finally landed on the right shade of medium warm gray.  IMG_7894IMG_4C5C9A3B7B43-1.jpegIMG_8C8AE80D6451-1.jpegJosh ripped out some non-functional builtins from our mudroom and replaced them with new lockers that I then antiqued to look like a vintage find!

IMG_B97F834411FD-1.jpegIt was a fun, lightning-fast project, and we love the way it turned out!   We still have a bit of touch up to do, and I have a new idea I want to try out, but it’s almost done.  I have loved transforming this space into one of the most practical and hard-working rooms in our home.

~ for an ABSOLUTE FEAST!  Colton came over and cooked for us!  He has learned how to cook his favorite authentic Mexican tacos, and gave his ole’ Mom a cooking lesson!  They were without a doubt, the MOST DELICIOUS tacos I have ever eaten!  I could not have been more impressed.  Both by the tasty meal my son prepared and the joy on his face as we cooked in the kitchen side by side.  Love him so much and so thankful for the growth and healing in our relationship.IMG_7887 

Anyone else exhausted?  Just raw?  Like a blister that rubs and rubs and rubs and never gets a chance to heal.  It’s exhausting being brave all the time. Exhausting walking the same path in the same walls with the same people every single day.  This morning I was rubbed raw.  Everything was frustrating.  We overslept.  We had technical difficulties with online church, like we have EVERY WEEK.  For some reason, even after six weeks, we just never can quite get it figured out.  So I sat on the couch, wrestling with myself, feeling how none of this is how it’s supposed to be.  But once worship started, I saw our sweet worship pastor on the screen with his guitar, flanked by his kids on the keyboard and the cajon.  What a blessing to see faces of people that I love and miss so much.  And I purposed in my heart as they begin to play, that my flesh would not hinder me from worshiping my Creator.  He is WORTHY.  My circumstances will not dictate my ability and MY RESPONSIBILITY to worship Him as He is due.  So we stood together as a family and begin to sing.  And as is so often the case, the song prepared in advance and pre-recorded by the worship pastor was the song that God knew would meet me in that moment.   “Lord I run into Your arms unashamed because of mercy.  I’m overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed by You.”  And there in my living room, in my robe and slippers, with tears streaming down my face, I stood in the presence of the Lord, experiencing some of the purest moments of fellowship with my Heavenly Father that I have ever had in my life.  As the next song began, the room was filled with the voices of my children, “Waymaker, Miracle Worker, Promise Keeper, Light in the darkness.  My God, that is who You are.“   

He is good.  All the time.  “Even when I don’t see it, You’re working.  Even when I don’t feel it, You’re working.  You never stop, You never stop working.”  There is purpose in this season.  Part of that purpose is for us to look for AND TESTIFY OF the blessings that we find.  In a time when we are forced to be apart, we need each other more than ever!  We must encourage each other, spur each other on, take turns lifting one another and then being carried.  I DO NOT WANT TO BE A MATH TEACHER!  But I DO want to be a Mama that can patiently sit by my child while they work through a concept, for as long as it takes, and then can celebrate their accomplishment when they finally master it.  I never would have tried had it not been for this season.  My kids have seen me cry more in the last 6 weeks of quarantine than they did during 3 years of cancer.  But that’s because I am with them EVERY MOMENT, and there is so much good in that.  And after they’ve seen me cry, they’ve heard me reassure them that I’m ok, and we’ve had some great conversations and some of the very best hugs.  I have great hope for lasting fruit to come from these trying days. IMG_7900.jpg Pearls are formed from painful, sandy discomfort that we can’t get rid of, no matter how hard we try.  Lord, make pearls in us.  Out of us.  And when we look upon the unique beauty of a pearl, let us give thanks for the irritation that caused it to be born. I look forward to draping myself in garlands of story-problem-shaped pearls one day.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

 “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalms 51:10-12)

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46)

Sweet Moments Along the Way

IMG_7214I didn’t share much about our Easter last week, because I wanted to spend less time documenting it and more time LIVING IT.  But it was truly such a special weekend.  We made cards and baked goodies and stuffed eggs and did a little “Joy Run” around town on Saturday afternoon, delivering treats and just saying “hi.”  Often the best remedy for the Self-Pity Blues is to do something nice for somebody else.  It was great to get out of the house for a change of scenery and to see some of the people we have missed so much.  

Saturday evening we had a sweet time with the kids with an Easter basket devotional I had seen online.  They went around the yard and gathered rocks in their baskets.  We sat down and discussed how heavy they were, and how hard they were to carry.  I told them that the rocks were like sin in our life, and that we were never meant to carry all of that heaviness.  IMG_1C9103E8FC95-1.jpegIMG_111820C362D7-1.jpegIMG_A86AEBAF3E96-1.jpegWe covered all the baskets with a big red blanket, representing Jesus’ blood covering all our sins.  IMG_26F035543AC7-1.jpegIn the morning, they were thrilled to see that all the heavy rocks were gone, and their baskets were filled with sweets and prizes (and a new swimsuit for the summer!).  They thanked Jesus for taking away their sins, and for exchanging their burdens with blessings and joy!  

After our unexpected tornado-warning-sheltering at dawn, and our traditional Easter breakfast of Resurrection Rolls, Colton joined us for online church.  Then we feasted on brown sugar glazed ham, mashed potatoes, roasted green beans, and sugar cookies.  The threatening storms gave way to a perfectly BEAUTIFUL day to celebrate our Risen Savior.  We watched movies and had an egg hunt in the front yard, some of the kids swam, and we did our chalk art.  IMG_6750 2.jpgI think we all watched ANOTHER movie after all that.  At dinner, Josh surprised us all by making a very uncharacteristic speech.  “This year Easter is a lot different.  We are missing some of the things we usually do, and the family we usually see.  It’s kind of strange not being allowed to go places and do the things we are used to.  Lots of things are different.  But it’s not all bad.  In fact, I LIKE a lot about this season.  This is probably my favorite Easter I can ever remember.”  

I wish I could tell you I hold that Christ-centered positive attitude all week long.  Y’all, it is a CONSTANT STRUGGLE to keep my head up and my spirits up.  I know I’m not alone in that.  The official mandate closing schools for the rest of the year was another disappointment.  So hard not to focus on all the fun things the kids won’t get to do.  The temptation to fall into self pity, distraction, frustration, and fear is relentless.  Each day looks like the day before it, stuck in the hamster ball of sheltering in place and virtual schooling.  Schooling my babies is kicking my tail, and no matter how exhausted I am at the end of each carbon-copied day, I can’t ever seem to turn my mind off and get any rest.  Grumpy, overtired teachers that teach 6 grades at once in a one room school house are THE VERY BEST TEACHERS!  One morning, Tatum K crawled up into my lap and buried her head in my neck, “Mama, I no want you be a cheacha (teacher)… I want you be a MAMA!”  Oh my heart.  My baby misses her mom.  I miss her mom too.

But I am so thankful for sweet moments along the way.

~ for the moments when I do just get to be a Mama.  And I get to snuggle with my Loves on the couch.  We’ve had some great times reading together, lots of picnics, and some scintillating UNO games.IMG_DD5BA75ED389-1.jpegIMG_7E5163028963-1.jpegIMG_10E6BED7E783-1.jpeg

~ for buttery sweet homemade cinnamon rolls fresh from the oven.  I haven’t made them in 15 years.  Anybody else eating their feelings these days?IMG_E090DF140E7D-1.jpeg

~ for my AMAZING personal shopper that did my online grocery order.  She actually REMEMBERED ME from “the days before quarantine,” and knew that we have a supersized family, not a hoarding problem.  She and the Aldi management allowed me to get our 10 loaves of bread and 12 gallons of milk! Just like the good old days!

~ for progress on our puzzle, which has now officially replaced our last puzzle as THE HARDEST PUZZLE ON THE PLANET.  The kids have put in like 12 pieces, and I have done about 698.  Only 9,845,873,458 to go.IMG_7292.jpg

~ for GCS Spirit Day.  More than ever before, we are grateful for our WONDERFUL school and our WONDERFUL teachers and the WONDERFUL community we have there.  IMG_7110

~ for kind neighbors.  So thankful we can call on one another when we need something.  It was fun to leave a thank you note.IMG_2C63BFB777F6-1.jpeg

~ for another fun Giddyup and Whoa project.  We are so grateful for the opportunity to continue to create.  IMG_9064E86B6EE6-1.jpeg

~ for another new reno project….  Any guesses?IMG_F55FBED7D21D-1.jpeg

~ for all the sweet moments along the way… moments that I would miss if I wasn’t home teaching my kids.  Sawyer reading his books to Gavin.  Zoe’s eyes lighting up when she gets all her spelling words right.  For the joy of witnessing their creativity firsthand instead of seeing it come home in a folder.IMG_5A5BA75C4DEC-1.jpegIMG_748E21188692-1.jpegIMG_30833FFB6B54-1.jpegIMG_7287.jpgIMG_B2083FBD0C6F-1.jpeg

I remember well another season of social distancing.  When Sawyer was going through chemotherapy as a baby, his immune system was treacherously fragile.  We had no visitors.  Sawyer ALWAYS stayed home.  The kids immediately changed their clothes and washed hands after school, and sometimes I even sprayed them down with Lysol.  It was completely normal for Sawyer to wear a certified N99 mask anytime he was in public, and we all wore masks around him if we had so much as a sniffle.  IMG_3E5FCFA24659-1.jpegIMG_09A47A81094E-1.jpegHand sanitizer was by every door, on every keychain, in every vehicle, along with the hospital grade sanitizing wipes that I carried with me everywhere, wiping down any surface Sawyer would come in contact with.  I lived on high alert.  FOR YEARS.IMG_488819AC8854-1.jpegIMG_33B053D82F50-1.jpegIMG_EEE79091CCA3-1.jpegIt was a scary season in so many ways.  BUT GOD.  Thinking back on those days, I look at how different life is today, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude.  Sawyer is here.  We are all healthy.  We made it through the Valley to the other side.IMG_6503

But I know this season, with its similar themes of fear, separation, and high alert, is being used by God in such an important way.  Another season of being set apart.

He is changing us.

I want to be changed for the better.  I want to learn what junk is still in my heart, and let Him cleanse it out.  I want to see what areas I am still not fully trusting Him with, so I can lay them down.  I want my kids to look back on these days when they are grown with fondness, and remember how much time they spent beating Mom at UNO and how many stories we read together instead of how stressed out we all were.

I’m not all the way there yet.  But I’m trying.  And God is faithful.  Let’s love one another well this week.  And give yourself grace if you don’t have it all together.  98% of the people on your Zoom meeting aren’t wearing pants either.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 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.” (Phil 1:4-6)

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.”  (Isaiah 26:3-4)