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)

Right On Time

I am thankful:

I’m thankful for a little spicy three-year-old in my lap snuggling and making faces and asking me to tickle her leg.

For lots of Giddyup & Whoa creations built, in process, and delivered.

For the sweet families that send us updates about Birdie and Bear’s puppies. They are growing up so fast, and are just the cutest dogs you’ve ever seen!

For my newest cute little plant, a dainty creeping wire vine. Who knew you could ORDER PLANTS OFF ETSY!?

For Cooper’s new obsession with “Chay-moe-ME-lay” tea.

For a full house for the first time in over a year. It seems like forever since we’ve hosted a small group for church. Small groups have been home to us over the last 20 years. It’s where we’ve been discipled, been fed physically and spiritually, where we’ve built relationships. We have worshipped together, prayed together, laughed together. We’ve worked through conflict and wrestled through questions together. The groups have changed so many times over the years, from 5 or 6 families to 1 or 2, to the mega group that numbered 50+ attendees, with 29 kids under 12. Last night we had 4 families with our collective 20 kids. Not even gonna lie: it was overwhelming. It was loud, kids were insane, and sensory overload for my anxiety. But it was so good. It’s why God gave us this home: to have a space of open doors and open hearts for loving on people. Kingdom investment. We are excited for this new season of stretching. We knew it was time.

For hand-me-downs. Thank you hand-me-downs for keeping me from having naked kids.

For walks at sunset.

For fun finds at Goodwill.

For my sweet boy I found hiding in the warm towels fresh out of the dryer.

For a sweet movie that the kids and I stumbled upon by accident: “Safety,” inspired by the true story of Clemson University football player Ray McElrathbey, who became legal guardian of his little brother while still in college. It was a perfectly timed, God-ordained opportunity to talk through some questions a couple of our children had about foster care. As they grow into their tween and teen years, there have been more questions…deeper questions, the kind of questions that make my stomach hurt. Lord Jesus, help me tell my babies the truth with the right words given to me by only You. Help me to be a safe place for them, and give them the courage to ask their questions instead of stuffing them down inside. And fill them so completely with Your Love that they don’t have to doubt that they belong. I trust that the moment they need You the most, You will be right there.

This week a sweet friend asked how they could pray for me, and I said “that I would not lose heart and not grow weary trying to pour into all my kids.” It’s a daunting responsibility. Impossible really. BUT GOD. In myself, I don’t have a chance. But I have to remind myself – DAILY, if not multiple times a day – that HE saw fit to entrust Josh and I with each one of these incredible blessings, and that His grace is enough. And I’m not always going to get it right, but I’m never going to quit trying to get it right-er than the time before. And what I want to remember about that day, the day my friend asked how she could pray for me, was that that day my kids REALLY needed me. We talked through some really hard stuff, we had some extra hugs after a big owie, we prayed some really raw prayers. Had some looong talks. Any one of their needs would have been big enough to overwhelm a day. But stacked together and multiplied? WAY too much. BUT GOD! God knew what was coming THAT DAY, and He put me on my friend’s heart. And He knew she’d be faithful, both to reach out to me, AND to ACTUALLY FOLLOW THROUGH AND PRAY.

HE. IS. FAITHFUL. And He is ALWAYS RIGHT. ON. TIME.

Thank You, Jesus, for walking with me.

And thanks for giving thanks with me.

“Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found; surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach them. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” (Psalms 32:6-8)

“God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.””
‭‭(Hebrews‬ ‭13:5‬)

“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”
‭‭(Galatians‬ ‭6:9‬)

“I’m changed by Your mercy Covered by Your peace I’m living out the victory Doesn’t mean I won’t feel the heat You’ve walked me through fires Pulled me from flames If You’re in this with me I won’t be afraid When the smoke billows higher, oh and higher, and it feels like I can barely breathe I’ll walk through these fires ‘Cause You’re walking with me”“Fires” by Jordan St. Cyr

Welcome New Year

I am thankful:

~ for a fun trip to our favorite Tex-Mex spot, Papacitas. We pretty much go out to eat as a WHOLE FAMILY about once a year, so it’s a pretty big deal. Even though I wish it was something we could do more often, mostly I’m thankful that it’s such a treat for our kids, one they don’t take for granted because we do it all the time.

~ and I had forgotten to show my super cute Bear and Birdie Christmas ornaments that are a favorite on our tree.

~ for the after-Christmas buzz of new paints and trampoline tricks and hoverboards and puzzles and games. We had beautiful weather days and cabin-fever yucky days. And not many pictures because we were just living life with both hands AND because Mama was busy picking up puppy poop.

~ for the wonderful day of celebration when our dear leukemia warrior friend Jase aka “Hulk Strong” had his port removal surgery this week! His surgery was uneventful, and he has recovered well at home. This is such a major milestone marking the official end of treatment for a cancer survivor, fraught with lots of BIG mixed emotions. So thankful Jase has done so well, and praying that he can move past this chapter and have the carefree childhood his family has dreamed of. BUT GOD!

~ for the end of an era. This puppy pillow was a birthday gift for Sawyer when he turned 2.

In the thick of cancer treatment, it traveled back and forth to overnight hospital stays, and at home, it was used in his bed – a twin mattress on the floor in our master bedroom. Sawyer NEVER ONCE slept through the night until he turned 4, and most nights I slept with him. On the floor. With the puppy pillow. I was surprised to find that the puppy pillow was actually a pretty terrific shape for neck support. 5 years have gone by, and I have used that silly pillow every night. Well, this week we got new bedding: hotel quality sheets and quilt that feel like heaven! I’m SO EXCITED. And I got a new neck support pillow that prompted me to retire the puppy pillow once and for all. Now if only I could ACTUALLY SLEEP…

~ for a rollicking New Year’s Eve at Casa Rucker. We ate chicken strips, had a very serious gingerbread house decorating contest (judged by Dad and Cooper),

and then an intense Trouble tournament.

Our sweet friend Miss Karen brought us a delicious white chocolate raspberry Nothing Bundt Cake.

We played with sparklers in the driveway (which is still a bit of a battle for me…growing up in Minnesota where fireworks are illegal, I had ever been around them. Fireworks displays were put on strictly by firemen on July 4, and that was it. So the concept of letting teenagers fire off bottle rockets and giving sparklers to babies is a little unsettling for me, even after 20 years in Texas.) But the kids had a blast and it was such a fun end to this crazy year. We even made it to midnight.

~ for our tasty Southern traditional New Year’s Day meal of sweet buttered cornbread, savory roasted cabbage, and blackeyed peas.

~ for 11 puppy baths! Those little stinkers were ready for one! What an event that was!

Today was puppy pickup day. All day, every 30 minutes we had another thrilled/nervous/or-combo-of-both family show up at the door to pick up their new baby. I will replay those “awwws” and squeals of excitement over and over. The first in-person meeting for many. The first hold. First hug. First puppy snuggle and wet puppy kisses. So many sweet moments. Billy, Nola, Mango, Julie, Rambo, Dexter, Maddie, Bo, Dugan, and Charlie went to their homes amid lots of smiles and wagging tails.

But definitely heart wrenching for us to say 10 goodbyes one after another. It was hard on the kids, but we had lots of great talks about how loved the puppies will be at their new homes and what a blessing it is for us to share in their joy. AND we get to enjoy a little extension of the joy for a couple more weeks: we are puppy-sitting for 2 weeks while the last little pup’s family is on vacation. It will be fun to experience ONE puppy for a little while, even though we know that goodbye will be even harder. We LOVE BIG in this house. Just can’t help it.

Sawyer has spent most of the day in the kennel with this pup

I have to admit I have a new sense of optimism. Freshness. Excitement. Maybe that’s the thrill of hope of a weary world rejoicing that the song talks about? Even if January 1 is just a turn of a calendar page, and just another day, it’s still a fresh start to a new year. I’m up for all the clichés this year. I’ve RE-started my diet and fitness plans. I’ve RE-started my read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year program. I want to try to be more organized. More transparent. A better communicator. Goals are good, and January is as good a time to start as any. And I know lots of my good intentions will fizzle or flop. But I also know that’s not where my worth lies. Jesus will meet me in my successes and my failures, and neither will make Him love me any more or any less. My number 1 goal is that I would look more like Jesus in 363 days than I do today. I have lots of hopes and dreams for Gold Network of East Texas. And some exciting prospects and possibilities for Giddyup & Whoa. Josh and I have numerous home projects planned, trips in mind, and hopefully even MORE PUPPIES (after a good LONG break). But we hold all of these things in open hands, knowing that God’s plans, however unpredictable, are ALWAYS so much better than ours. We just want what He wants, for our family, for our marriage, for our future. Whatever comes, we will do it WITH HIM, FOR HIM, IN HIM.

2020 has been a complicated year. Lots of loss, lots of pain, lots of conflict. But God is a master of bringing beauty from ashes. I hope we learn from our own and others’ mistakes, hope we appreciate more the things we used to take for granted, and that we value relationships more than ever before. I hope we glean the blessings that have come along the way, life a little slower, or at least a little more intentional. And that we take those lessons into this new year having grown in both wisdom and compassion. I know I have had time with my kids that I never would have had any other way. I learned that I will never fulfill my dream of being a math teacher or story problem writer. And I have learned afresh that there is always, always, ALWAYS something to be thankful for.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“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 43:19)

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:31-34)

“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this:”(Psalms 37:5)

“Many plans are in a man’s heart, But the counsel of the LORD will stand.” (Proverbs 19:21)

Less but More

I am thankful:

~ for the astounding miracle of Sawyer turning 7! Seven. It takes my breath away.

I just never ever let myself picture him as a 7 year old. I didn’t dare. Sawyer’s doctors didn’t expect him to survive THE DAY on the day he was diagnosed with leukemia at 7 months old. BUT GOD. He had a less than 40% chance of surviving to age 5. BUT GOD. I can’t even type these words without the tears taking over. Now this miracle boy is 7! He is bright and active and doing all the things the doctors warned us he likely would not be able to do. BUT GOD! It’s so hard for me to treat him like a “normal kid.” To let go and let him be in germy, “virus-y” crowds, let him ride his bike and scooter in the street, and climb trees… And equally hard for me to get onto him like a normal kid: to not let him get away with murder, to not overlook whining or pouting, and to not favor him over his siblings. I can’t even explain how hard that is. I think about how much he has been through and how many times we almost lost him, and the rules and my resolve flies out the window. But I know overindulgence is the worst thing for him, and I remind myself that God didn’t deliver Sawyer only for him to grow up to become an entitled, spoiled-rotten little punk. He had a great birthday: donuts for breakfast, a mom/dad/Tatum K lunch date at school, and his menu-of-choice for dinner was homemade French bread pizzas, homemade mac and cheese, and chocolate cake with orange (colored, not flavored) buttercream icing. Thank You Jesus for allowing me to love Your boy for seven whole years!

~ for a wonderful and unexpected blessing. A local homeschool coop did a raffle ticket fundraiser and chose Gold Network of East Texas as the charity beneficiary. I was blessed to receive the donation of $122.25! And even better, I got to receive the donation from my sweet friend/sister!

~ for a long-overdue visit from sweet Aunt Dinah! She treated us to yummy Braum’s ice cream, and got her fill of kiddo hugs and puppy snuggles.

~ for Cooper’s first week of work at Chick-fil-A! Doesn’t he look so handsome?! So far he is loving it and learning more each shift. So proud of him.

~ for Gavin’s 4th grade Colonial Trades Day presentation. His group represented Colonial wheelwrights. He did a great job researching and reciting his part. He is such a bright boy. And he looked so handsome in his many-times-recycled costume. Over the last 10 years, the same embroidered vest and flouncy old lady blouse from Goodwill has been the attire for a Colonial merchant, missionary Hudson Taylor, Colonial barrel maker, and now a wheelwright!

~ for the hilarious pics I discover when I wake up from an accidental nap to realize that Sawyer has taken my phone. Nothing like taking selfies with your mom when she’s asleep.

~ for the blessing of a continued BUSY season for Giddyup & Whoa. We had a successful Barn Sale, and I got to participate in a home bazaar with some friends this weekend. Orders have continued to steadily pour in almost every day, keeping Josh and I hustling at the saw and paintbrushes. We are so excited and grateful that our small family business is growing. We love getting our kids involved. And we love bringing life to the vision our customers request! I can’t wait to eventually share pictures of some of the AWESOME Christmas gifts I’m working on!

~ for THE MOST WONDERFUL evening with my Love. For the first time in about 13 million years, we were able to slip away to do some Christmas shopping and go out to dinner. Like a REAL DATE! No kids. No puppies. It. Was. AWESOME! We got lots of our shopping done, and then OVER-indulged in a dinner at Lone Star Steakhouse! I thought I’d have to be rolled out of the restaurant in a wheelbarrow, but I did not regret one bite!

Another week of puppy-ing under our belt. Sweet pups are now 3 weeks old, and growing and changing every day. Eyes are all open, they are all walking, and trying to find their little puppy barks. And they are LOUD!

The Golden Girls
The Golden Doods

Today was Day 1 of introducing puréed solid food. What a slop-fest! Josh built an adorable feeding station with little bowls, but man, those pups were all over the place! They walked through the food, ate it off their feet and off each other! It was quite a sight!

It’s so fun to see their personalities develop as they start to play with one another, and we have LOVED seeing several families fall in love with their puppy-to-be. It’s more work than we ever dreamed, but still so much fun. I apologize in advance if I bump into you in person and am wearing a questionable odor…I am trying hard not to look/smell like the zookeeper I FEEL LIKE! Josh got to work one day this week after being home for lunch, and it was a few hours before he realized that he was wearing a PUPPY SURPRISE on his pants! **Just a few pups still available.

As always, December has the potential for a month overflowing with too much of everything: an overburdened calendar, an aching bank account, and complete and utter exhaustion. Completely lacking in joy. What a tragedy to get so distracted by a counterfeit Christmas and completely miss the presence of Christ. I wrestle with it every year. Complicated emotions, emotional baggage, unrealistic expectations of others and of myself…it’s not hard to end up in the weeds. Maybe it’s the added element of the puppies and/or sign orders, but I have definitely felt a pull this year to SIMPLIFY. I want to DO LESS activities, but instead do things that MEAN MORE. I want to really get into the presence of the Lord. Get close to His heart. And share that with my kids. I want to soak in the beauty and wonder that comes from really grasping what Christ has done for us. And I just really want to love on my people.

Lord, fix my wandering eyes on You. Don’t let my get so distracted by empty busy-ness that I miss YOU.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

““Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:31-33)

“And Mary said, “My soul magnifies and exalts the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has looked [with loving care] on the humble state of His maidservant; For behold, from now on all generations will count me blessed and happy and favored by God! For He who is mighty has done great things for me; And holy is His name [to be worshiped in His purity, majesty, and glory].” (Luke 1:46-49 AMP)

BUCKLE UP!

Well it’s been a monumentous week at Casa Rucker.

We DO have so much to be thankful for!”

I am thankful:

~ for beautiful weather for a successful grocery shopping day, at ALL THREE STORES!

Store #1
Store #2
Store #3

~ for Gavin and his class performing an moving and inspiring Veterans Day program at chapel. Obviously it was more meaningful this year than ever before. Listening to the patriotic words of our forefathers who pioneered the way for freedom highlighted our need today to press in through prayer and faith so we don’t lose those freedoms that were so hard fought for. And Gavin also had a solo which was just beautiful. You can watch the program here.

~ for the awesome opportunity to attend an amazing event. Long time Texas Rangers fans, our family are big-time fans of Derek Holland, the former star Rangers pitcher. I had the chance to meet him years ago during Sawyer’s treatment when the team visited Children’s Hospital.

Around that time, Derek made a special connection with another childhood cancer warrior and created his own nonprofit organization… The 60 Foot 6 Foundation, named for the distance from the pitchers mound to the plate. The young boy bravely battled cancer, and rallied back after several close calls, but did eventually pass away. Over the years Derek has raised funds and generously supported the childhood cancer community. Earlier this year, I connected with the executive director of his foundation, and she invited our family to be guests of Derek to his fundraising concert in Fort Worth this week. What an amazing night! We enjoyed fantastic music from the über talented Fort Worth artist Josh Weathers, got to meet some other childhood cancer families, and hear Derek’s moving personal testimony of the life-changing impact his young friend had on him. And of course, we got to meet Derek! Like REALLY meet him. He and Sawyer bonded quickly, with Derek saying, “this kid is the cutest!”

We so enjoyed his down-to-earth demeanor, and his charge to the crowd to “not wait until this (childhood cancer) affects you personally…Do something NOW to support these kids!” I also loved this exhortation, “We need to stop spending so much time comparing ourselves to each other and start comparing ourselves to what we did yesterday.” There were some unbelievable silent auction items and prize drawings, and although we did not win anything, another attendee who DID win gave his prize to Sawyer! An engraved Ian Kinsler bat!

Sawyer was over the moon, and has hardly put it down since. He has proclaimed that he wants it mounted “in a frame with glass” in his room! It was such a special, memorable night, and my hope and dream is that it COULD be a door that God could open for Gold Network of East Texas and 60 Feet 6 Foundation to collaborate on more projects in the future. We’ll see!

And the news of the day: last Sunday’s shotgun wedding was just in time! Birdie had her puppies this morning!

Not 3.

Not 5.

Not 8.

ELEVEN PUPPIES!!!!

Mama and pups are all doing well. Birdie has been an amazingly attentive mother, and I’m telling you, they are THE CUTEST things you’ve ever seen. A first litter of eleven is pretty much unheard of, and we have never done this before, so it is definitely a daunting undertaking. I was up with Birdie all night as she labored, and have stayed by her side pretty much all day to make sure nobody gets stepped on, crushed, or misses a feeding. I am continually counting little heads over and over – reminds me of taking Littles to the pool. And we are also supplementing with bottles just to be sure all the puppies get enough nutrition. OVERWHELMING? Maybe just a tad. Are we INSANE? Probably. But the kids are all thrilled, and I know they’ll all pitch in. Colton spent the day helping any way he could, including cooking dinner! These are the kind of memories I’m thankful to be making with them all. And we’re not afraid of hard work. (Ok, I might be a TINY BIT AFRAID THIS TIME.)

Soooo, that being said…anybody want to give a pretty amazing Christmas gift? These sweet babies are all for sale and will be ready for their forever homes just after the first of January. We’ve had a lot of interest in them already, but we definitely had more than we were expecting! (Miniature goldendoodles are a WONDERFUL breed, hypoallergenic, non-shedding, and fantastic with kids.) Bear and Birdie are the BEST DOGS!

So this week, in between school Thanksgiving feasts, 5th grade wax museum, and the regular tasks of our Jumbotron Tribe, I have “Christmas in the Country” at the Gresham Barn Sale for Giddyup & Whoa to get ready for (November 18-21),

and 11 puppies to tend to (and feed every 2 hours round the clock!) JESUS HELP!

I cannot believe I have 9 kids and 13 dogs. I have become THAT LADY.

My hands are full, but my heart is FULLER. Ain’t nobody got time for grammar with this much going on!

Thanks for giving thanks with me. BUT GOD!!

“The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”
‭‭(Psalms‬ ‭126:3‬)

“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.” (2 Corinthians‬ ‭12:9‬)

Come Together

WHAT A WEEK, HUH?

I don’t know about you, but I am EXHAUSTED. But, in times of trial, in times of questioning, it’s more important than ever that we CHOOSE GRATITUDE. Training our eyes to seek out and focus on the simplest blessings around us makes all the difference.

I am thankful:

~ For Taco Tuesdays and steaming hot charro beans fresh from the instant pot.

~ For quiet mornings at home on repeat: Tatum K + dogs + paints + The Greatest Showman.

~ for fun neighbors to hike and explore with.

~ For sweet helpers in the kitchen.

~ For Carson Grace having a spontaneous weekend road trip with her roommates to do some hiking in the beautiful hills of Oklahoma.

~ For an exciting week for Cooper. He has been super into music for about 3 years, and has been producing his own beats and songs on software on our home computer. He has created a makeshift (almost) soundproof recording studio in the pool bathroom, and spends hours editing his songs. He recently purchased a self-production media kit, and this week he released his first single on YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify, and Apple Music. His artist name is Davvec, and the single is “Reminiscing.” It may not be your taste in music, but we are so proud of Cooper, of his drive, his talent, and his commitment to becoming an artist. He created every element from scratch on his own! Give him a listen! https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/davvec/reminiscing

~ For Colton taking his little sisters out to dinner. This special time with their big brother was off-the-charts exciting for the girls, and they all had a blast. I love that he wanted to spend time with them.

~ For exciting news that we have been anxiously awaiting to announce. We had an intimate backyard wedding this week. To be honest, it was a shotgun wedding. The newlyweds are expecting their first litter any day now.

Look at those smiles!

~ For a special time at church this morning sharing part of our fostering and adoption testimony for National Adoption Month. It was a meaningful and encouraging service, highlighting the various ways people can make a difference in the lives of the innumerable children in the foster care system. I’m so thankful the Lord opened our eyes and our hearts to adoption, and for the family He hand picked for us, a family I far too often take for granted. You can find more information on how you can help at http://bethelightetx.com

For many of us, it’s been a long, stressful roller coaster of a week. I know that I know that I know that God is in control. He is high above all earthly authority and supersedes every government. He is Lord and King of all. And I know He is sovereignly on His throne and not rattled by all that goes on around us. I know all this. I’m confident of all this. But somehow, as I sat and watched the election coverage, watching the states turning colors and the consultants making their predictions and speculations…my heart began to pound. I could hear it in my ears. I could feel it in my forehead. Peoples’ angry reactions and insults and tantrums were making me physically sick. I’ve never been affected this way by politics before, and it just really sent my anxiety off the charts. So much hate and ugliness attacking from both sides, I just felt so grieved that our nation had come to this. And even as I could physically feel my peace being sucked out of me, it was like I couldn’t tear myself away from it. BUT GOD. Thankfully I have a wonderful husband who guards my heart when I don’t do it myself, and he encouraged me and turned off the television and tucked us into bed. And as the drama dragged out day after day, I would feel the tension rise up again, but I was reminded over and over of God’s sovereignty and His faithfulness. He has a plan for our nation, and He WILL BE GLORIFIED. I love this picture I took on the morning of November 3 of Gavin and his classmates.

Four innocent 10-year-olds with no agenda, who love their country just because it is THEIR country, raising and saluting our nation’s flag just because it is the right thing to do. At this point, it doesn’t really matter who we voted for. It’s time to come together to honor and pray for our nation, to honor and pray for our president, to honor and pray for each other. It’s time to stop throwing stones and taking sides and start coming together so we can be a nation that our children can continue to be proud of. And for those who have claimed Jesus as Lord, it’s rubber-meets-the-road time…to walk out with our feet the trust in Him we have proclaimed from our mouths, and to conduct ourselves in a way that honors Him (speaking to myself here).

GOD IS FAITHFUL.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, The people He has chosen as His own inheritance. The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men….Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in Him, Because we have trusted in His holy name. Let Your mercy, O LORD, be upon us, Just as we hope in You.” (Psalms 33:12-13, 20-22)

“if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (II Chronicles 7:14)

Golden

I am thankful:

~ for good laughs from the littlest Littles. One morning Tatum K was particularly snuggly and was all curled up in my lap. I whispered in her ear, “I love you.” She turned my face toward her mouth and whispered into my ear, “I love donuts.” Honesty is good, my dear.

And Sawyer asked his dad in all seriousness, “Dad, is it TRUE that safe drivers save 40%?”

~ for a long-awaited dream come true. I have wanted to deck out our family bus for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month for a long time. I’ve even looked into having a wrap put on it. (Josh said no). So a good compromise that I could still get excited about, I decked it out in custom magnetic gold polka dots! I was so tickled when they came in the mail, and I was able to surprise Josh and the kids. Makes a statement to be sure! GO GOLD!!

~ for my new throw pillows. Maybe a silly thing to be thankful for, but 40 days ago I thought I was making a simple Etsy purchase. I didn’t realize the Etsy shop was in Guiyang, China. I have watched the tracking on these BLESSED pillows twice a day for FORTY DAYS. I did a little happy jig when they arrived this week.

But then I did have to laugh. You know those annoying “extra” Instagram people who match their pets to their house? I looked at my pillows and had to just shake my head. This was NOT intentional.

~ for the sweetest support from the kiddos. You know your kids are all in on the mission of going gold when you find these all over the house.

~ for the kids and my first Sunday back at in-person church. I can’t say it was easy for me. I struggle with social anxiety anyway, and quarantine and isolation have only amplified my tendency to withdraw. But I’m thankful for the loving leadership of my husband. It was time. It was good to be back in God’s house worshipping with His people. And as a double blessing, (don’t you just love a double blessing?) the church was hosting a blood drive. So Josh and I both got to donate blood. Giving blood means a lot to us. Sawyer received more blood transfusions than I can count. So often it ALMOST wasn’t even a big deal any more. But I will never forget the time Sawyer needed platelets, so we took him to the hospital for a transfusion. But they didn’t have the specific blood he so desperately needed. (The platelets were eventually located and flown in from out of state). It was a terrifying feeling to realize that I could not take for granted that my baby would always be able get the life-saving transfusion he needed. So today I t felt good to give.

~ for a fun night hosting 30 teenagers for our church youth swim party. For good burgers and hotdogs and yummy junk food and for kids that did not mind that the pool was NOT WARM!

~ for the sweetest time with Samantha at a 6th grade Mother/Daughter Tea. We got all doodled up and had fancy girlie snacks while encouragement was shared about growing up, letting go, friendships, and being set apart for God’s purposes. Each girl was given their own fine china plate inscribed with 2 Timothy 2:21,“Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” How is this beautiful girl turning into a lovely young lady before my very eyes? Someone turn back the clock…

~ and most of all, I’m thankful for a very different, very special Virtual Tyler Gold Run. It was so difficult to be forced to make the decision to not have an in-person event. It’s our largest event, our largest fundraiser, and last year’s race was SO EPICALLY AWESOME! But obviously this year has been a crazy one of taking steps back and slowing down and trusting God when we don’t understand. But can I just say that the support we saw for this year’s virtual event KNOCKED MY SOCKS OFF!!! You registered! You donated!!! Every day the numbers went up, and I was freshly amazed, encouraged, and humbled that you believe in the mission and ministry of Gold Network of East Texas. The week was a different kind of busy leading up to Saturday, fielding phone calls and emails, 6 social media postings a day, and 5 tv/web interviews. For a virtual event, it sure took a lot of real-life in-person WORK! BUT GOD!

We love the support from favorite local new anchor Blake Holland from KLTV. After our interview, he asked for a sign to put in his yard.

Saturday came, and the weather was PERFECT: bright, crisp, and refreshing. Sawyer and Jase’s 1st grade class walked together to honor them, and the Lord had put it on my heart to walk for ALL our Gold Network HEROES. So I wrote their names all on race bibs that we either wore or had displayed on our wagon. It was so special to have them all with us, and to know that we were honoring their lives and their fights no matter what. Nobody can take that away from us.

We had a great turnout for our little group at the park, and the sweetest time of prayer over Sawyer and over Jase, who will compete his 3 year course of treatment for leukemia next month. Although I missed EVERYTHING about in-person Tyler Gold Run: the crowd, the volunteers, the HEROES and their families, the hundreds of people in our shirts and race bibs, the pounding of the drum line and the electric excitement in the air…there was a special sweetness about our quiet walk. And what a blessing that for the first time in 6 years, I got to participate!

SuperHEROES Sawyer and Jase with their SUPER teacher, Ms. Benscoter
Co-founder, right hand, and dear friend, Paula Kimmey
The first time I have gotten to actually participate

And it was also awesome to know that Virtual Tyler Gold Runs were taking place all over Tyler! And not just Tyler: Jacksonville, Bullard, Lindale, Longview, Sulphur Springs, even in Colorado and Tennessee!

Blake and his fiancé Erika did their 10k at the park
Tyler Gold Run for Sophie the Brave in Downtown Tyler
Tyler Gold Run in Carthage
Tyler Gold Run in Colorado
Tyler Gold Run in Dallas

I’ve said from the very beginning, before we did ONE THING, that the only way any of this could happen is if God breathed life into it. AND HE HAS!!! Over and over again! And we have to continue to believe (and to walk out that belief in real life) that God has a plan ordained for Gold Network of East Texas, and lay down our woefully incomplete plans in exchange for His perfect one. As long as He continues to provide the grace, and as long as East Texas families need our support, we are going to continue raising funds and raising our voices for the childhood cancer community! Thank you for GOING GOLD with us. We can’t wait to see what God opens up for us in the coming year!!! If you missed your chance to register, you can make a donation any time at www.goldnetworkoet.com/donate

Click here to enjoy a video of SOME of Virtual Tyler Gold Run 2020. (Be sure to to tag us if you share any other pictures on social media #tylergoldrun2020)

Thanks for giving thanks with me!

“When a man’s ways please the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. Better is a little with righteousness, Than vast revenues without justice. A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.(Proverbs 16:7-9)

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

Free

I am thankful:

~ for more STICKERS!! So much fun! Thank you Grandmommy!

~ for two sweet, silly mop dogs. They bring us so much joy. They are crazy about swimming, and they love our garden because they think we are growing balls for them (tomatoes).

~ for Gavin’s very first job: feeding the neighbors’ dog for a few days. He was very responsible and did a great job. With the money he earned, he bought a new skateboard. So proud of him!

~ for a sweet visit with our beloved Miss Lindsay and Baby Coby. How is this beautiful lovebug already 1???

~ for Josh to have the opportunity to visit his big brother Alan on his 50th birthday. We don’t live close enough to visit as often as we like, and there were a lot of reasons why this trip was super special. We did not take the whole Tribe, but thanks to modern technology, we got to join in the fun and sing Happy Birthday.

~ for the most delicious cookies! Served WARM and bigger than Tatum K’s face! Crumbl, you definitely have seven more fans!

~ for the biggest, most glorious elephant ears.

~for our covered patio which allows for the perfect shelter from which to watch and listen to the splendor of a summer thunderstorm. I took these photos this evening.

~ for ANOTHER big week for Sawyer! First, another lost tooth. This time he just ran in from playing outside with a bloody mouth, “MAMA!!!! I PULLED OUT MY TOOTH ALL BY MYSELF!!!!” And then this weekend, he finally showed us that he was ready to swim, like FOR REAL swim without a floatie. It’s so completely stressful for Mom and Dad. You know how all newly swimming kids look in the water – like they are absolutely drowning. It is hard not to panic every time he plunges straight to the bottom, because he has 0% fear. But he just kicks and paddles and thrashes with all his might and pops up like a little cork. You have never seen a kid exploding with more joy and pride. It is truly overwhelming to watch another miracle come out of him every single day. BI can’t even explain it. BUT GOD!

~ for remarkable grace and second chances and third chances… If, for example, I decide I want to learn a new language, I don’t just suddenly wake up and know it, just out of the sheer desire to know it. Change doesn’t just come from desire. It comes from practice, and it’s just like praying for patience: God doesn’t just miraculously gift you with beautiful patience, but instead allows uncomfortable situations that would try any saint. So ASK ME how my week was after making the proclamation that I was going to LOVE LAVISHLY. I think my loving muscles were in need of some exercising.

One morning, the kids were particularly at each other from the moment they got up. They were even bickering during Bible time about whose turn it was to read the Scriptures, or sighing loudly in annoyance if someone missed a word or lost their place. By the end of it, I was pretty much as frustrated as they were. So I talked to them about their murmuring and complaining, just like the Israelites when God was in the midst of leading them to the promised land. I told them, “This is the family He has chosen for you, and we’re GOING TO give thanks instead of gripe.” And I made each one of them pray for each of their siblings. And something BROKE. Whatever was clouding the atmosphere in our home rolled away. The children laid hands on and prayed the most tender, loving, and sincere prayers for their brothers and sisters. They cried, and particularly amazing to me, each one of them prayed for each other to be a good mom or dad. And then, on their own without prompting, they all laid hands on and prayed for me. It was the sweetest, sweetest time that I will never forget.

~ for a fun time celebrating July 4. It admittedly took some concerted effort to redeem the day. Fourth of July has always been such a fun and festive holiday for us. We’ve always traveled to spend the day with family, swimming, grilling, going to a fireworks show or popping our own. The quintessential Americana celebration. Obviously, things are so different this year. No trips. All fireworks cancelled. There has been so much unrest and turmoil going on “out in the world” that the kids know very little about, but they still feel the unease in the air. And they’ve been disappointed by various cancellations and “no’s” over and over since March. But Josh and I had the same mission in mind this weekend: to make the best of our time together and make it fun for them. We got some new pool floats and goggles. Red, white, and blue juice pouches (MAJOR treat). Roasted hotdogs in the fire pit. Spent the whole day in the pool. Baked and decorated a flag cake. Let the Littles stay up way past their bedtime so they could enjoy swimming with the backyard and pool lit up at night. We said “yes” a LOT more than we said “no.” It was truly a wonderful day. Not because we did anything grand. But because we spent it together, living intentionally and loving lavishly.

There’s been so much turmoil and division about literally EVERYTHING lately, it’s like tiptoeing through a minefield to talk about ANYTHING. Many people are concerned and fired up that their rights are being taken away, or that the future holds many injustices and unreasonable controls being imposed on all of us. I’m one of THE LEAST political people you will ever meet, and not a huge fan of any great debate. I’m often on the naive side and I don’t even comprehend a lot of the issues. I’m definitely trying to do the work to educate myself so I can A) know what I believe and B) answer the inevitable hard questions my kids ask. But as unsure as I am about many issues and policies, I am sure of one thing.

I AM FREE.

Christ died to set me free. I am free from my sin and my former broken life. I’m free to love and serve Him and the family He has given me. I’m free to love my enemies and free to forgive just as I have been forgiven. No one can take my rights away if I willingly lay them down to better love my neighbor and to count others more important than myself. And my rights as an heir to Christ live inside me. And that’s where Jesus lives and He will crush the head of anyone who tries to come into His house and try to push Him or His Child around.

So no matter what my eyes see in this world gone mad, I’m gonna rest in that.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? … Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “F OR Y OUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; W E WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31, 35-39)

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

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)