Bloom

I am thankful:

~ that all our sweet puppies have found their Forever Families! Raising puppies is so fun; they are so cute and sweet. But it is SO MUCH WORK! The hours, the poop, the feedings, the expense…there is a lot more to it than cuddling puppies and taking cute pictures (although that part is really fun!). But it is truly a side JOB we have undertaken in order to pay off debt, so getting the puppies sold is very, very important. Saying goodbye to the babies will be bittersweet. In just a week and a half, the pups will head to their families, from Chicago to Round Rock, and we know they are all going to bring their families so much joy!

~ for savory ham and muenster sliders on buttery sweet Hawaiian rolls.

~ that I FINISHED. THE. PUZZLE!!!! Josh has issued a mandatory waiting period before I am allowed to start another one. I think he feels a little neglected when I get sucked into a puzzle.

~ for Zoe doing a terrific job in her role as ToastMaster in her 4th grade class. Public speaking does not come naturally for her, so I’m so proud of her courage and hard work to push herself outside her comfort zone.

~ for a great day off with my Sweetheart and my Mini Me. We enjoyed a long over-due breakfast date, trying out Jucy’s for the first time. We were definitely impressed with everything, from their fluffy pancakes and savory sausage to their cold and delicious orange juice.

~ for unexpected treasure. Aunt Dinah found some pictures from a visit back in 2007 that I had never seen. What a blast from the past! I have such photogenic children.

I have this orchid. If you’ve been here at Sunday Gratitude a while, you might remember last March when Josh surprised me with a big “just because” basket of beautiful eucalyptus bath goodies and a stunning orchid.

Now let me tell you something. I love plants. I have been collecting them for a few years now.

And let me tell you something else. I CAN KILL SOME PLANTS. I’ve always had a pretty black thumb. I underwater. I overwater. I leave them in the wrong pot for too long. I’ve killed the plants that are labeled “easy care,” or “hard to kill.” I just don’t really know what I’m doing.

Most of the plants I have had success with are hardy, low light plants like pothos and ivy. So when I received my orchid, I was not very optimistic. Orchids are notorious for being temperamental and hard to care for. And just a week or so, sure enough, all the blooms turned brown and fell off. I knew it. I had committed another murder.

The leaves at the bottom were still green, so I kept the plant. I cut off the long, stately stem that had held the lovely, short-lived blooms, and left it in the window, a daily reminder of my incompetence as a gardener. A month or so later, I noticed a baby leaf peeking out of the pot, and I was so excited! The plant wasn’t dead after all! Even if it never bloomed again, at least it wasn’t a complete loss!

Recently, months later, I noticed a tall green stalk. I hadn’t even noticed it growing, just suddenly saw it one day. No way… could it be? Sure enough, as I continued to inspect the stem day after day, I began to see tiny growths along the top. BUDS!? My orchid was not only ALIVE, it was growing and preparing to BLOOM! From a seemingly dead plant, another failure, to a beautiful symbol of hope and beauty and new LIFE! What joy to watch the gradual transformation and eagerly anticipate the beauty to come.

I have found so much encouragement from watching this resurrecting orchid. How many of us have looked at a situation through eyes of disappointment, discouragement, and defeat? Hopeless. Dead. But what if God is still stirring in places we can’t see? What if life is hidden beneath the surface? What if beauty is waiting to spring forth when we least expect it? I know I have areas in my life where I desperately long to see resurrected LIFE. Things that look hopeless and dead to me. BUT GOD. He is always working, sifting, refining, loving, fighting, redeeming, restoring, healing, forgiving, drawing. Growth takes time. Healing takes time. Restoration takes time. Even if we have a bad track record, He is working in and through us. Even if things look bleak and hopeless, BEAUTY IS COMING. I didn’t grow the orchid because of my wealth of knowledge and careful attendance. GOD grew it IN SPITE OF MY LACK. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve. And God gives both lavishly. What a refreshing reminder. Look for beauty emerging this week…

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

““The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”” (Isaiah 61:1-3)

“The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those who are planted in the house of the Lord Shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bear fruit in old age; They shall be fresh and flourishing,” (Psalms 92:12-14)

“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith? “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Luke 12:27-31)

Focus

I am thankful:

~ for the smell after the rain.

~ for the puzzle. It WILL NOT DEFEAT ME. Lego heads mock me when I close my eyes. But I prevail. “Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear.” (Psalm 27:3)

~ for a great first week back at school. Christmas Break was wonderful, and I loved having everyone home. And now I am quite pleased to have them back at school. Tatum K and I are enjoying our time together, and are back at homeschooling. Her Highness enjoys her breakfast in her playhouse on warm mornings, and dines fireside when it’s cold.

~ for a sweet visit with a friend who always fills my heart up.

~ for this view into my window. We received the Carthage-opoly board game for Christmas, and the kids have enjoyed playing (they are very competitive and fight to be the one to buy Bulldog Stadium). We don’t regularly spend a ton of time all together playing board games, but those moments are so precious to me.

~ for good laughs when I discover that Tatum K has secretly commandeered my phone/camera. I’m always finding gems such as these.

~ for the most delicious Mother Clucker sandwich on jalapeño cheddar sourdough from Stanley’s. There is no picture because I inhaled it the instant it was in my hands.

~ for the cutest, cuddliest puppies in all the land! Pups will turn 5 weeks old this week, and they are at such a fun age, learning to eat, learning to play and wrestle, learning to bark. We were thankful to find homes for 4 more of them this week, and now have 3 babies left. I love seeing families fall in love with their new fur baby.

The whole Tribe!

And I’m so very thankful for how much we learned during our last litter of puppies, especially our feeding system and custom puppy pen Josh designed and built. These handy setups have made raising this litter so much easier in many ways.

Puppies learning to eat semi-solid food
The grid floor Josh built has been a game changer for keeping puppies clean!

~ for some amazing conversations with our amazing kids. Oh Lord, I can’t wrap my mind around what You have in store for each one of them. Thank You for these priceless gifts!

Not gonna lie, its been a hard week. I definitely felt like I was basically losing at life half the time. And yet again here I sit, thankful for the opportunity y’all have given me (via this platform) to glean the blessings out of the mess. One of my girls was talking to me about trying to “work on her attitude,” and she apologized for being snippy and short tempered. I reminded her (and myself) that we become what we focus on. So what are we focusing on? Junk TV? Social media? Stuff? Focused on our problems and what we don’t have? Or are we focused on our blessings? All that we are thankful for? Focused on JESUS? Focus on your problems – you’re gonna be a problem. Focus on your blessings – you’re gonna be a blessing. It really is that simple. It reminded me of a friend who would say you always have a choice to be either “Humbly Grateful” or “Grumbly Hateful,” and it all comes down to your focus. It was such a good lesson that I need to hear. I don’t want to be a problem. I want to be a blessing. And I want to model that for my Loves. So I’m sitting here tonight, counting my blessings. Breathing them in deep. Because He is faithful. And He is enough.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“It is good to praise the Lord and make music to Your Name, O Most High, proclaiming Your love in the morning and Your faithfulness at night,” (Psalms 92:1-2)

““Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3-10)

Blessed to be a Blessing

I am thankful:

~ for a dream come true for Samantha. She has recently fallen in love with all things equestrian: all she wanted for Christmas was cowgirl boots and cowgirl clothes (since she knew we couldn’t get her an actual horse). One of big brother Colton’s friends invited her to his horse farm, and she had the best time of her life! (Zoe got to tag along.)

~ for Tatum K’s darling little playhouse. She loves her cozy new spot, and spends most of her time inside it. You can definitely find her there for breakfast and lunch, listening to the birds!

~ for the great honor and privilege of presenting our beloved Dr. Sam John at Children’s with a check for $10,000 from Gold Network of East Texas to further his ongoing cutting edge pediatric cancer research project. Dr. John holds a special place in our hearts from the earliest days of Sawyer’s cancer treatment, so it means so much to be able to support his research now. Dr. John shared that Sawyer’s successful treatment has been an inspiration for his continued passion for research of infant leukemias, and when presented with the Gold Network check, he said “I know this check is also backed with countless prayers, and that means a lot.” What a blessing for him to get to see Sawyer as a happy, healthy 8 year old!

You can barely see Dr. John in the laptop. We laughed that Sawyer was actually holding HIM for a change!
2014
Dr. John and Sawyer the Warrior, 2016
2018

~ for fire-side puzzling on our nifty new puzzle table. Even if our family Christmas puzzle is apparently too hard for everyone else in the family except me, and I’m pretty much doing it by myself.

~ for a quiet New Year’s Eve with the fam: pizza for kiddos, couch date with Longhorn steakhouse for Mom and Dad. Late night field trip for ice cream sundaes in pjs, and a sparklers in the driveway. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

~ for a traditional tasty start to 2022: savory blackeyed peas, roasted cabbage, brown sugar glazed ham, and buttery sweet cornbread, followed by a trip to the movies with the whole Tribe to see Sing 2 (I highly recommend!)

~ for the cutest, cuddliest puppies in all the land! We are having so much fun watching Bear and Birdie’s babies as they grow each day. They have started eating soft food, and are getting more and more playful. We still have available pups if you know anyone looking.

~ for hilarious virtual reality fun, from the international space station to the mountains of Peru to the gnarliest rollercoasters you can imagine!

~ for 101 ways to play with a stick. Why in the world did we buy toys for Christmas????

Are you a resolution person? People either love them or hate them. I know it’s kind of hokey to put off making necessary changes in your life until a certain day, but what’s the harm? I love the turn of the calendar page, and the fresh feeling that comes with the New Year. A fresh start. Fresh opportunity. Fresh potential. After the constant indulgence and unrelenting pace of the holidays, our overloaded senses crave a reset. The Christmas finery/clutter gets put away, and in the space left behind seems like fresh breathing room. Fresh margin. It may seem silly, but why not give yourself the benefit of the doubt this New Year? A good habit has to start sometime, and January 1 is as good a day as any. Or January 2. Or the 15. Why not just try? How about challenging yourself? Don’t write yourself off as a quitter before you even try. Give yourself some credit AND SOME GRACE!I’ve got lots of goals for this year, lots of dreams and things I want to do better. But mainly I just want to love well and look more like Jesus on December 31 than I do today. We are so blessed. And I know we’ve been blessed so we can be a blessing to others along the way.

Friends, we need your prayers. Our precious HERO friend, Bristell, has relapsed. After bravely battling Infant AML, victoriously surviving a bone marrow transplant, and celebrating almost 3 joyous years of remission, the unthinkable has happened. Four year old Bristell is back at Children’s as her care team creates a treatment plan for this next battle, and her precious mom and dad and new baby sister are reeling with broken hearts as they try to wrap their minds around this unexpected blow. No 4 year old should have to face cancer, let alone a second time. Will you please pray for this dear family, and stand with us as we bear up under this burden beside them? I will link their personal GoFundMe here if you would like to donate directly to Bristell.

Sawyer the Warrior and Bristell Brave

This is the grim reality for parents of a child who has battled cancer. The fear remains. Maybe it’s way in the back of the closet or tucked away in the deepest reaches of consciousness. But somewhere, although no one ever speaks about it, there is the cold pang of dread that hiding in there somewhere, a malignant cell was missed, a dormant trigger that will reawaken, and when we least expect it, our tenuously duct-taped world will suddenly implode again. This is life as a cancer parent.

But God.

In Him we hope. In Him we believe there is still good in the world, and better yet, that this world is not all there is for us. We know that Jesus heals. We have seen it. And more importantly, we have seen HIM.

And because of Him, there is always, always, ALWAYS something to be thankful for.

Thank you for lifting your prayers for Bristell and her family. And thanks for giving thanks with me.

““Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

The Joy of the Lord is my Strength

I am thankful:

~ for the fun annual tradition of 12 Days of Christmas gifts. Grandmommy loves to spend her birthday sharing with others, and it was no accident that God hand-picked it to fall exactly 12 days before Christmas! She goes to such great lengths to come up with creative and thoughtful gifts for everyone to open each night, and we have the best time singing the song, reading Christmas trivia, and taking turns opening gifts each night.

~ for the last round of Christmas concerts, programs, parties, and events. There’s been something every day! Anyone else want to recommend we take half these events and do them in say…April?

Kora’s Middle School Choir Concert
Sawyer’s 2nd Grade Christmas Play

~ for my darling husband, who combed the swarming aisles of Walmart for over an hour to find the last solitary pack of Christmas treat bags in the city for me. That’s a good man.

~ for last minute G&W holiday projects.

~ for our twice a year trip to the dentist successfully completed! Tatum K was terrified last time, but this visit was greatly improved! 7 kids at the dentist in the middle of December is no joke!

~ for Pajama Day/Christmas Party Day/Last Day of School before Christmas Break. Somehow it seems too early, but we are really here, just a week out! Glad to have my loves all home.

~ for round 2 of cranberry bliss bars. They have been such a hit they have definitely been added to the holiday rotation.

~ for a fun day celebrating with family at our annual “Kilgore Christmas Party”…but since hostess-with-the-mostest, Aunt Polly has moved from Kilgore to her newly completed, stunningly beautiful home in Carthage, we had to update the name to “Aunt Polly’s Jolly Holiday.” We feasted on delicious snacks and the warmest fellowship. It’s always hard missing the ones who aren’t with us, but I thing it makes us spend the time loving on each other a little tighter.

Aunt Nikki surprised Josh, gifting one of Uncle Alan’s beloved bass guitars, and brought some, I guess we’d have to call them “vintage,” handheld video games that he’d kept for the kids. So special.

~ for cozy socks, yummy hot chocolate, and rowdy games of spoons.

~ for sweet puppy snuggles. Birdie’s pups are growing every day, and they are just the most precious little things. After 12 days of sleeping with them on the closet floor, I am beyond thankful that they are big enough to graduate to their next stage of care: a pen in our bathroom! That means I get to sleep in my own bed tonight!! Wahoo!!!

It’s still a constant battle to keep eyes on the Savior instead of all the STUFF. I can feel when I start slipping. After a steady diet of donuts, cookies, and candy canes, the maniacal frenzied chorus of “I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” on REPEAT becomes markedly less cute. Especially in the car. After the 7th time. I’m a little less patient with a certain 4 year old who skipped her nap yet AGAIN. But I have really purposed myself this month to do regular heart checks. I’ve been listening to Rend Collective on repeat, “Though the tears may fall, my song will rise My song will rise to You / Though my heart may fail, my song will rise My song will rise to You / While there’s breath in my lungs I will praise you, Lord…The joy of the Lord is my strength The joy of the Lord is my strength In the darkness, I’ll dance In the shadows, I’ll sing The joy of the Lord is my strength”

My joy is not found in, nor is it subject to, my circumstances. My moods come and go, His faithfulness does not. Our family has so much going on, both for public eyes and privately in our hearts, and it would be so easy to give in to the waves that doggedly try to pull me under. BUT GOD. Trust me, I get tired of fighting for peace. Doesn’t that sound like such an oxymoron? Fighting for peace? But that’s exactly what we must do. There’s a constant war, and war is what it wants. Anxiety, division, hatred, fear, unrest, discontentment. But when we fight against those things and instead anchor ourselves to the steady, immovable Father, we can see the irritations and distractions for what they really are. Traps. I’m not trying to say I’ve got it all figured out or that I’m handling things so great right now. But I have a strong sense that I know where I COULD BE emotionally/spiritually right now, compared to where I actually am. And I’m thankful for Jesus’ grace and His leading. This broken world is not my home. This life is not all there is. I truly have strength and joy in His Presence that no one can steal. And I’m hanging onto that for dear life.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalms‬ ‭34:14‬)

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John‬ ‭14:27‬)

“Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”” (Nehemiah 8:10b)

“But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.” (Psalm 59:16)

“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)

Parties, Programs, and PUPPIES, oh my!

I am thankful:

~ for a fun opportunity for Kora and her 6th grade drama/choir classmates, playing the choir in the Jr.High presentation of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.”

~ for Cooper, who is thrilled to be a legally licensed driver! I’m not sure I’m ready for this!

~ for a lovely evening hosting our church Ladies Christmas Party. We had a delicious spread of home baked treats and festive holiday charcuterie, and a sweet time of fellowship with some really special friends. So grateful for the body of believers we are a part of.

~ for a mixed blessing: that I have discovered a copycat recipe for my very favorite Starbucks goodie: the decadent Cranberry Bliss Bar. A sweet, chewy blondie lightly scented with orange zest, studded with dried cranberries and chunks of white chocolate, topped with creamed cheese icing and a white chocolate drizzle, it is just plain delicious. But now that I can make my own…this could be dangerous.

~ for a special afternoon hanging out with Kora, Gavin, and Zoe’s biological big sister. They are all growing up so fast, and it is such an incredible blessing to see the special bond the four of them have. They treasure every moment spent together. It’s been too long.

~ for a fun night for Cooper attending Whitehouse High School Winter Formal. Isn’t he so handsome?

~ for a life-giving visit with a precious sister and mentor, who always refreshes me with her presence and who left me truly encouraged.

~ for the sweetest Christmas program at church, a kid-led Christmas carol sing-a-long. Each of our children had one or more special songs they helped lead, Gavin played percussion on the cajon for the first time, and little Tatum K got to play Mary.

Now, without knowing the backstory, you might think Miss TK, ever the performer, was born for her moment in the spotlight. That could not be farther from the truth. She LOVES to sing and dance and play pretend…privately. As soon as she’s ASKED to sing a song, or recite something…she clams up like a stubborn little goat, and it’s flat out not gonna happen. So when the children’s leaders told me they had her in mind to dress up as Mary for the play, I was dubious. But we told her about the idea, and she said she would like to do it. However, Tatum K warned me, “Mama, I am NOT a “still” person. We tried on the costume and talked about it a bunch, and she seemed excited. I thought…MAYBE…just maybe she’d go through with it. But I prepared for the worst when she had to be physically dragged onto the stage for a practice, after which she spent the rest of the performance with her face buried in his sister’s shoulder. But God! After an afternoon nap and a good pep talk, little Mary was ready for the show! She stood stock still with a glazed smile frozen on her face the whole time. I watched closely fearing she was about to tip right over and pass out. But she made it through the show perfectly, and everyone was equally shocked, tickled, and oh so proud.

~ and for the biggest news: PUPPIES! After days of waiting and watching with baited breath, Birdie FINALLY had her puppies Tuesday night.

9 sweet cuddly miniature goldendoodles. Mama and babies are all doing well, and I am in my full time role of doggie nursemaid. For the first full two weeks I “sleep” on the floor of the closet with them, to make sure no one gets stepped on or smothered, and to ensure each pup gets fed. It’s a wonder to me how much easier 9 puppies is than the 11 we had last time! We will enjoy them for the next 7 weeks until they go to their forever homes.

It’s a crazy season: busy days, endless commitments, and a to-do list as long as the interstate. But I’m thankful for the manna God provides every day. He always meets me. Right where I am. He’s the God of every detail, the Author of my future, the Redeemer of my past. He’s the bright sun shining on me when things are rocking along beautifully. He’s holding me in the dark when anxiety unexpectedly grips my heart for no apparent reason at all. He’s with me on the hard days, when nothing seems to be going right, and when I’m so exhausted I don’t think I can take another step. He knows my anxious thoughts and the secret cries of my heart. I don’t have to know what’s coming, because I know whatever it is, He’s coming with me. He’s always with me, patiently waiting for me to invite Him into whatever I’m doing.

There was no room in the inn for Jesus so long ago. Have you made room for Him in your busy schedule?

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

“Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”” (Nehemiah 8:10b)

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:33-34)

Traditions

I am thankful:

~ for a special birthday. Our miracle boy, Sawyer the Warrior, turned 8!

Every milestone still takes my breath away. We never dared dream he would go to second grade, or excel at school, or LIVE TO BE EIGHT YEARS OLD! BUT GOD! What a blessing and a miracle he is! He had a great day: donuts for breakfast, Slim’s Chicken lunch at school with Mom, Dad, and Tatum K, and his birthday menu – lasagna, pickles, and chocolate cake with orange colored salted caramel buttercream icing. Thank You Jesus for preserving the life of this boy. We will never stop giving You all the glory.

~ for a great Giving Tuesday for Gold Network of East Texas. We were so blessed by generous donations, and received more than $1600 to support our deserving local families impacted by childhood cancer. THANK YOU to all who donated.

~ for a fun week for Cooper: being asked to a dance, and getting chosen at work to be the Chick-Fil-a Cow for a local Christmas parade. He had a blast!

~ for the opportunity to watch Zoe and her classmates at their Colonial Trades Day presentation. Zoe was captivating as a colonial soap maker.

~ for a much-needed visit with a dear friend.

~ for traditions. I finally got the tree lights fixed and ornaments hung.

I love those moments with the kids, as they each delight in finding their special ornaments from each year. We laugh and tell the same stories over again.

Can you spot Bear and Birdie?

I tell of the year when our budget was so tight that Colton, Carson Grace, and Cooper’s only ornaments and gifts came from the Dollar Store, and I had given Josh a construction paper heart with our picture on it.

We talk about the first Christmas in the hospital when Dad drove the bus packed with kids and presents to Dallas so we could be together in the waiting room. So many memories on that tree.

The nostalgic decorations are my favorite. I remember as a child, gazing at the lights and ornaments on Grandma Grace’s tree, her brightly colored hand sewn felt animals and delicately tatted snowflakes.

I was captivated by her 1970s handpainted plaster Nativity and the sparkling Christmas tree created with her vintage costume jewelry mounted on black velvet.

Now I love the red and green metal Tonka dump truck that was my dad’s when he was a boy, and watching Tatum K play with the plush singing snowman from Hallmark that Granny Lou gave Cooper when he was a baby.

I love our matching embroidered stockings that I painstakingly collected over the years, all lined up on our mantle.

And I wonder which traditions my children will remember the most fondly, and which ones they will carry on with their own families. Will they celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas and sing the song each night? Will they treasure my Willow Tree nativity? Will they roll out sugar cookies to deliver to their neighbors and make Grandma Nelson’s peanut clusters and my monkey bread and spicy crawfish corn chowder only once a year?

I hope I get to experience traditions with my grown children and their families one day. I hope we laugh together and tell the same stories over and over. I hope they look back on their childhood with warm memories of a house filled with love and the presence of Jesus.

Christmas isn’t always sweet and magical, and not all the memories are good. Important moments are almost always impacted by the people we miss and those painful memories that have left a stain and a scar. But if we purpose ourselves to focus on the hope that is before us, we can rise above the hurts and disappointments and rest in the love of our Savior. He is making all things new, and the day is coming when the stories of Baby Jesus born in a stable will pale before the Wonderful Counselor, the Prince of Peace Himself.

Thank You Jesus for the promised joy that is coming.

PS. No puppies yet! Stay tuned…

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

“And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his peoples, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God: and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more: the first things are passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

Wonder

I am thankful:

~ for a week full of warm holiday smells: cinnamon and sweet potatoes, cranberries and cedar, cloves and pumpkin.

~ for a successful, if INTENSELY STRESSFUL, first attempt deep frying a turkey. We have heard so many horror stories of fires and explosions, so we had the fire extinguisher at the ready. After a multiple generous injections of creole butter, and a 50 minute bath in boiling peanut oil, we had a gloriously golden brown, crispy skinned bird! It was delicious!

Fire extinguisher at the ready

~ for a lovely Thanksgiving with all my kids together. We enjoyed spending the days laughing and stuffing our faces with family, complete with our favorite traditions, dancing the chicken dance and competing fiercely in the Pumpkin Olympics before the reigning Pumpkin Queen. It was a day of feasting and thanking the Lord for His faithfulness. There were beloved faces missing from around our table, but we did find comfort knowing they were together at the best celebration of all.

Pumpkin Olympics
Chicken Dance

~ for pumpkin pie for breakfast.

~ for Round 2 of the festivities, this time at our house. We pulled out all the leftovers and watched the broadcast of the Carthage Bulldogs playoff game. Sadly they did not come away with the win, but the fellowship was top notch.

~ for coconut cream pie for breakfast.

~ for a wonderfully successful Barn Sale for Giddyup & Whoa this season! I sold out of 2 restocks of ornaments and all but 3 signs. Thank you for supporting our small business!

~ for cherry pie for breakfast.

~ for the start of our holiday decorating. It’s so exciting to pull out the tubs and bags and get out all the Christmas greenery and sparkles. I did a quick little upcycle with two trash finds today. I cut off the top of a rusted old steamer trunk and dry brushed it with some white paint for a “new” tree base.

And then a salvaged headboard became a new sign for our mantle. I don’t often make a sign that I get to keep, so this one is a treasure.

Josh did a fantastic job on the lights on the house, braving yet again his aversion to heights. We’ve got a long way to go, burned out lights, rearranging and ornaments to hang, but it was a good start and is looking cheerful and festive. I’ve always felt like this house was just MADE for Christmas.

Even Bear is ready! Birdie, not so much. She is expecting puppies in the next week or so. Poor girl is tired and uncomfortable.

I love watching the holidays through the eyes of my children. The awe and wonder. The unfiltered joy. I’m not sure when that starts to change, but for most of us, it has at some point. We are impatient with the long lines at the stores and the bumper to bumper traffic. We are irritated when what we want is not in stock or if the shipping isn’t overnight and free. Parties are obligations we’d really rather skip and the preparations seem a hassle instead of a blessing.

I want to step back into the wonder.

I want to delight in the twinkle of the lights and how they are reflected in my kids’ eyes.

I want to look at my Grandma’s decorations and remember them in her home and how special she always made me feel.

I want to prepare my heart for the Advent, and eagerly await the coming of my Lord.

I want to look past the irritations and the stress and and the disappointments and the hard, and hold fast to the unsurpassable JOY that is mine.

Lord, help me find true rest in You, in the joy of Your presence and the freedom of surrender. Let me trust You with it ALL, especially the pieces that I think I can’t let go of.

Thank you for reading, for choosing to follow along with our family’s story. I’m always so encouraged by your kind words.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. You are my strength, I sing praise to you; you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely.” (Psalms 59:16-17)

“pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18)

A Paintbrush in my Hand

I am thankful:

~ for a fun, albeit way too short visit with Aunt Gina.

~ for Sawyer’s Native American clothes pin project for school. Fun to do this project each time I have a second grader.

~ for the Word of God, the comfort and refining it brings every time I open it up.

~ for the joy it brought to hear of one of Gold Network of East Texas’ programs at work. If you’ve been here since Sawyer’s treatment, you may remember that he spent lots of time in an inflatable-pool-turned-playpen at the hospital. It’s where he took his first steps.

Sawyer, 2014

When we created GNET, we began stocking the social worker with pools and portable pumps to distribute to cancer babies in the hospital. “Sawyer’s Just Keep Swimming Program.” I saw this photo on an INTERNATIONAL online support group this week, and I recognized it instantly.

New friend, 2021

Sure enough, when I messaged her, I found that she was in Dallas at Children’s. We quickly connected and exchanged information. A day later, I received this email from our beloved social worker at the hospital.

GLORY TO THE LORD! What a beautiful blessing to be a part of!

~ for a special Happy Birthday for our Bear Boy. We got him a new collar and a new toy.

The toy lasted 1 hour and 14 minutes. Completely destroyed.

I picked up a replacement toy after school. Bear and Birdie ripped it open and ate the squeaker out in about 4 hours, but they are still getting some amusement out of what’s left of it.

~ for a wonderful day off with my Love. He’s off every other Wednesday, and the past few times we have had a breakfast date, trying out various local eateries. This has been a favorite of Tatum K. She loves and frequently asks to visit Jimmy’s Egg, which we visited several weeks ago. The other restaurants were new to her, and she had her own unique names for them: Happy’s Fish House = “Happy Face” and First Watch = “Sky Watch”. After some not-so-good breakfasts (MAJOR understatement), we finally had our PERFECT breakfast at “Sky Watch,” complete with a light and pillowy waffle and decadent, savory candied “Million Dollar Bacon.”

~ for an awesome evening of football for Josh and the boys who traveled to Athens for the first Carthage Bulldogs playoff game.

Us girls had a cozy evening back home with a Hallmark Christmas movie marathon.

~ for the most productive Giddyup & Whoa week I think I’ve ever had! I’ve been behind on my projects because of my hand, so I have a lot of catching up to do. On top of orders, I’ve got the Barn Sale this week AND another sale the first week of December. So Josh and I both buckled down and got to work. He cranked out 15 signs in ONE AFTERNOON,

and I painted or stained the base coat on all of them, and completed 8 Christmas signs plus two custom orders.

Lots of ornaments on deck in the next couple days, and then more custom orders. If you are local, be sure to check out Vintage & Co Christmas in the Country. Jodi and her team curate the most charming and unique collection of vintage holiday decor, gorgeous furniture, and one of a kind finds. It’s such an honor to be a part of her sale.

Christmas in the Country: November 17-20

It felt good to have a brush in my hand. I didn’t realize how much I had missed it. Painting is such a part of me. I really haven’t been doing very well personally. My anxiety has been raging out of control, and I’ve been discouraged, struggling to keep my eyes on Jesus instead of the waves. And I was amazed to see how peaceful I felt as I got back into my zone.

~ thankful for a smooth resolution to a rough afternoon. Tatum K tripped and fell at church, and sliced herself under her lip on a stool. When I got to her, she was hysterical and splattered with blood. Once I got her calmed and cleaned, I was relieved to see that the cut was very superficial. But its location was not good: prime for her to bend her lip and pop it open. Almost 2 hours later it was still oozing down her chin. So to the ER we went. Much to my surprise, we were the only patients in the waiting room, and were seen immediately. We got fantastic care, and the doctor was able to glue Tatum’s wound with no pain or trauma. And little missy was such a trooper…after the glue was applied, she was told to lay perfectly still for 4 minutes. You have never seen a more still little Rapunzel statue in all your life! I was so proud of her. She skipped happily into the house when we got home and showed off her glued lip and her hospital bracelet. So thankful.

I loved the illustration in church today that giving thanks is like a muscle. The more you practice, the stronger you get. I have been feeling really weak in a lot of ways, and I know I need to be strengthening my thankfulness muscles. God is good, y’all. Don’t doubt Him. He knows what He’s doing, and He sees the end result that our perspective can never see. Press on. Press in. Rediscover something that brings you joy. Serve somebody else. Take a walk. Turn your music up loud and SING. And when you fall down, when you screw up, when you lose it and find yourself flat on your face… scrape yourself back up again. And thank Jesus.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thessalonians 5:17-18)

“Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice! Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! Remember the wondrous works that he has done…” (1 Chronicles 16:8-12)

Choose Blessing

I am thankful:

~ for Zoe‘s American History Hall of Fame at school. Each student in the 3rd grade reads several biographies of American historic figures, and they choose one to portray. Zoe chose a family favorite: Laura Ingalls Wilder. She dressed the part of a pioneer girl and delivered her speech eloquently. So proud of her and so fun to watch her program.

~ for the opportunity for the kids to work hard together. They tackled the remaining fence panels as a team, and got rewarded by Dad for being such a great help.

~ for the kickoff of our annual Gold Network of East Texas Toy Drive. We are excited to have several new drop off locations around East Texas: Aaron’s on Broadway in Tyler, Pace Insurance Agency and RDA Pro-Mart in Longview, and Village Salon in Carthage Tx. We are collecting small toys for all ages to stock the Prize Closet at the Dallas Children’s Hospital Oncology Clinic. Kids come to the clinic for procedures, chemotherapy, and checkups, enduring needle sticks and painful and nauseating treatments, and sometimes getting a little trinket at the end of that visit is the only bright spot in their day. We launched the toy drive after Sawyer had gone for an appointment and went to pick a prize out of the nearly empty closet, and the best thing he could find was a roll of craft ribbon. These kids deserve better. Toys will be collected through the end of April, or monetary donations can be made for us to purchase toys at www.goldnetworkoet.com/donate.

~ for a generous and thoughtful donation from my friend Meredith at My Minky Co. She creates top quality handsewn minky puppies, kittens, and elephants, as well as stunningly beautiful baby and adult minky blankets. She donated two huge bags of the stuffed animals for the hospital kids. And a special prize for Tatum K. Many people may not know that Meredith is the only person in Texas I’ve known longer than Josh. When I moved to Tyler to manage the Buckle, she worked for me. How was that 23 years and a lifetime ago? So proud of the way she has grown to use her amazing giftings and talents.

~ for good old fashioned family fun. The kids had more fun being silly and creative with an empty box. Kora worked on her hand embroidery, and Samantha sweetly read books to Tatum K. Why do we even buy toys? It fills my heart up when we find joy in the simple things.

~ for doggy apparel to assist in the FULL TIME JOB of puppy prevention. While we DO intend to raise more litters of miniature goldendoodles, we know it’s in the best interest of Birdie’s health for her to wait awhile between litters. Let me just say, the instinct to procreate is STRONG!

~ for a fun weekend for Samantha, who was invited by friends to attend Fuel, a weekend youth retreat. She spend 2 nights away from home and had a fantastic time of fun, Bible teaching, and fellowship. How is this girl getting so grown up?

~ for a Spring re-fresh! We have added a new raised bed garden for our vegetables this year, and have potted some new plants and cheery red geraniums in the back yard. Come on sunshine!

~ for ANOTHER breakfast date! Tatum K had chosen to go to the donut shop for her Spring Break mom date, but she has been asking and asking to “go to Jimmy’s Egg wif Daddy.” So on Josh’s day off, we did just that!

~ for our first al fresco feast of the season. Dad’s mouthwatering burgers did not disappoint, and buttered, toasted Hawaiian buns took them to the next level. It was so wonderful to gather together in the cool, comfortable evening weather.

Spring is here. The dogwoods and redbuds have exploded into bloom amid the drab, grey, leafless trees. Hints of green are emerging from beneath the desolate frost-burned shrubs, and even a few brilliantly hued azaleas have valiantly burst forth where we thought no life was left. BUT GOD.It’s a picture of HOPE. New life overcoming. It’s so encouraging, a reminder that no matter fiercely a storm ravages, and the devastation it may leave behind, there is ALWAYS HOPE.

I read a devotional a few weeks ago that has resonated in my heart ever since. It’s certainly not a new concept, but it was phrased in a way that spoke to me afresh. We become what we focus on. It’s just the same as the adage “you are what you eat:” eat healthy, be healthy. Eat junk, come junk. Take in garbage (physically, mentally, or spiritually) and you will reap those benefits, and if you take in godly encouragement, worship music, read your Bible, you will be transformed to be more like Jesus. We’ve all heard it a thousand times.

But something about how it was said this time. You become what you focus on. If you focus on your problems, YOU WILL BECOME A PROBLEM. If you focus on your blessings, YOU WILL BECOME A BLESSING. And that’s really what Sunday Gratitude is all about. 7 years ago, when life as I knew it was crumbling, separated from my family, living in the hospital while my baby was fighting for his life, God told me to thank Him. To lift my focus from myself and my circumstances and seek out the blessings sparkling in the rubble. Writing Sunday Gratitude became an exercise in discipline, no matter what was going on. Trust me, there is plenty more going on behind the scenes in our lives that I’m not able to write about. We have had a million more ups and downs since then, but the blessings are ALWAYS THERE. From the high highs to the lowest lows and the everyday in-betweens, Jesus has never left. I just have to be willing to take the time to look for Him. And be willing to testify of His faithfulness. It’s a choice. I choose blessing.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

“It is good to give thanks to the LORD, And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, And Your faithfulness every night,” (Psalms 92:1-2)

Kindness, Eucalyptus, and a Cracked Windshield

I am thankful:

~ that hair grows back. We love our fluffy dogs, but we didn’t do a good job of keeping them brushed. We shaved Birdie after she had her pups, and it was time to get Bear refreshed as well. He is UNRECOGNIZABLE.

Fluffy dogs
Birdie’s trim back in December
Bear on the way to the groomer…
Whose dog is this???

~ for brilliant, caring doctors and answered prayers.

~ for my new favorite Everything Bagel Seasoning, for the ALL TIME BEST avocado toast.

~ for a fun and festive St. Patrick’s Day. The kids, for whatever reason, have been SUPER keyed in to the holiday, so I had fun with it. Lucky Charms cereal for breakfast with green milk, green shamrock sugar cookies tucked in their lunch boxes, and a super fun care package from Grandmommy with shamrock stickers, candy bracelets, and gold coin chocolates! I’m so thankful for the opportunity to celebrate simple little moments of joy that I know the kids will remember.

~ for fun neighbors who heat their pool and share it.

~ for new fences. Because sometimes when somebody gets a new fence, I come across one of the most beautiful sights I can see. I discovered a glorious pile of old weathered fence this week, and when I pulled over and asked for it, the fencing company DELIVERED IT TO MY HOME! What a SCORE!

Not only that, Gavin ASKED if he could dismantle the panels – an arduous task. He spent at least 9 hours prying the aged boards off their posts over the weekend. At one point, Josh and all 4 boys were working together to knock it out. We are thrilled to be STOCKED with beautiful reclaimed wood for Giddyup & Whoa projects!

~ for Cooper having a fantastic weekend at Overdrive, his church youth retreat. Fun activities with friends and powerful Bible teaching made for an exciting 2 days, and Cooper’s participation in his small group led to him being recruited to sharing his thoughts on camera for the event promo video. So proud of him!

~ for a delicious Sunday family dinner. We cooked and grilled together, and I think Dad’s pork chops were a hit!

Friday, March 19 was Sophie‘s birthday. Sophie is our precious friend whom we met through Gold Network when she was diagnosed with lymphoma at just two years old.

Sawyer the Warrior and Sophie the Brave

Sophie has quite an army. Her family loves fiercely, both Jesus and each other. Sophie’s journey was fraught with complications and setbacks, and she went home to be with Jesus just before her third birthday. I’ll never understand it. But her parents have pressed their broken hearts even deeper into the heart of the Father, and they have purposed themselves to pouring into others out of their pain. They continue to volunteer and raise money for childhood cancer awareness and blessing the patients and nurses at Children’s Hospital.

Sophie’s Army’s donation to Children’s Hospital

They tirelessly advocate in their daughter’s honor. And on Sophie’s birthday, they ask people to love bigger. To spread joy. It’s a day to be reminded of the way we SHOULD be living our lives EVERY DAY. It is one of my kids’ favorite days of the year, because they love doing for others so much. But this year’s “Do More for Sophie Day” was a little quieter for some reason. We kept it pretty simple, and there was nothing to take a picture of. I felt led to buy lunch for a homeless gentleman. I drove thru to pick up a meal, and brought it back, praying all the while that he would still be there. He was still there. With about 5 other food bags surrounding him. Maybe they were all from Sophie! Anyway, at least his lunch was covered that day. I painted a sign for a friend who was on my heart and delivered it to her. Paid for the coffee for the person behind me in line. Little acts of kindness that were no big deal. But each of those people got to learn about Sophie. And aren’t those the little kindnesses that encourage us when we don’t think we can take one more step? Or when we think there is no good left in this world? What an inspiration that a family who has gone through the worst tragedy of their life has chosen not to blame God or curse Him or hide away forever, but instead to spend their energy and time and resources spreading the love of Christ as far and wide as they can in memory of their beautiful little girl.

I was the recipient of simple, incredibly thoughtful kindness as well this week. My husband is a smells guy. He loves smells. He can sniff out a bad smell from a million miles away, and he LOVES good smells: good smelling food, a good smelling house, and he’s very particular about his bath products. We got to talking about the bath smells we like, and I FINALLY revealed to him my favorite scents (after 21 years of him guessing…and often missing). I don’t want to smell like a fruit or a flower. I prefer clean: anything labeled “waterfall,” “rain,” “cotton,” and my very favorite is eucalyptus. Well one day this week, I came home to the biggest, most beautiful basket FILLED with every waterfall, rain, and eucalyptus scented bath product ever made! And a stunning, stately orchid! When I asked Josh what in the world it was for, he said simply, “I just wanted to get you what you like.” I took the best shower of my life and I CAN’T STOP SMELLING MYSELF!

My incredibly thoughtful husband granted another wish for me. A couple years ago we took a rock to our bus windshield. It went from a tiny chip to a small crack, and then slowly but surely crept jaggedly across the windshield from the passenger side all the way to the driver’s side.

It. Drove. Me. CRAZY. The crack split directly through my line of vision, and was a constant source of irritation when I drove (which is currently a huge portion of my life). This week we were able to get the windshield replaced! It didn’t bother Josh at all, but he knew how much it bugged me. When I got in the bus, I couldn’t believe it! I compared it to the difference it makes when you first see a high definition TV screen. Everything just looked completely new and in technicolor! I felt like I had a brand new car!

I’m definitely in a season where I feel like the Lord is waking me up, so forgive me if I seem to find a teaching moment in almost every activity these days. (Not sure exactly WHY I feel the need to apologize about that, I’m actually completely grateful that my heart is growing more tuned to receiving from Him anywhere and everywhere). I just never want to come across as somebody who pretends to have it all together or is super spiritual all the time. If you know me personally, which many of you do, you know better! ANYWAY, I just got to thinking about how something that can start so small: a tiny offense, a tiny lie, a seemingly insignificant moral compromise…can slowly but surely – if left unchecked – grow and creep until it takes over. Obscuring and distorting our vision. Lord, show me. If there are things that are in the way, things that keep me from seeing clearly, help me to recognize them. And help me to be diligent to continually be searching my heart and staying close to Yours so we can catch the small “chips” quickly before they have a chance to spread.

Imagine what a world this could be if we all kept clear vision AND spread kindness to others as a regular part of everyday life.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”(Matthew 25:35-40)

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)