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)

Merry Real and Imperfect Christmas

I am thankful:

for a wonderful Christmas.

I will never forget what it was like to be in a hospital at Christmas with my baby. Away from my husband and the rest of our kids. And he was so sick, running fever for unknown reasons, nurses coming in and out all through the night monitoring him. Countless tests being run to try to find a potential source of infection. I don’t think at the time I understood how precarious his health really was. At his point in his cancer treatment, babies could take a turn and things could spiral in an instant. Every year at Christmas, I am taken back to those moments.

Christmas at Children’s Hospital 2014
Christmas morning on C6

BUT GOD.

This year we did ALL THE THINGS. Baked. Decorated cookies. Passed out treats to the neighbors.

Loved on puppies. Watched all our favorite Christmas movies. Wore matching pajamas. Stayed up too late cooking and baking and stuffing stockings on Christmas Eve.

We read Luke 2 on Christmas morning. Feasted on all our favorite foods: spicy crawfish chowder, pumpkin pie, gooey caramel monkey bread, sausage bread, and deep fried turkey. Opened more gifts than we needed.

The “Purple Girl with the Pink Hair” from The Greatest Showman
Big brother Colton teaching Gavin and Sawyer how to set up their new baseball card collections
Lots of new puzzles this year, including a custom 1000 piece of our family beach photo

It was more than I could have ever dreamed.

Trust me, it wasn’t perfect. Kids fought. Puppies pooped more than one would think possible. Tatum K hardly slept. Birdie ate half Jesus’ birthday cake.

I wiped out on one of the boy’s hoverboards on the driveway and cracked my skull so bad I almost knocked myself out. We missed people who weren’t with us. And plenty of people who we love were hurting. Really hurting. Our pictures make it look like our life is perfect. It’s not. Remember, what is shared here is a snapshot, a highlight reel. Christmas isn’t always magical, for us and for anyone else, and that’s something that’s always heavy on my heart.

But God.

Emmanuel, God with us. With us in our joy. With us in our pain. With us always us if we allow him to be. It’s ok to not love every moment of Christmas. It’s ok to admit that the chaos and the togetherness and the unrealistic expectations make us anxious. It’s ok if be honest when there is some raw pain mixed in with our joy. And it’s ok to allow ourselves to experience joy even when we are hurting. Joy and pain can and often do coexist. It’s ok to be real. The King of Kings came to earth in a lowly stable. He was Glorious, the Answer, the Savior, welcomed by angels. But I bet the barn still stank.

Gold Network of East Texas had the awesome privilege of donating $10,000 to Dr. Sam John of Childrens Health/UT Southwestern to help fund his groundbreaking pediatric cancer research. Even more meaningful because Dr. John was one of Sawyer’s doctors all throughout his treatment.

We were disappointed not to be able to do an in-person check presentation, but grateful for Dr. John and Sawyer to be reunited via Zoom.

He told us that inspiring survival stories like Sawyer’s are a huge driving force behind the research his team does. We also missed our beloved tradition of delivering a home cooked meal to our oncology nurses on Christmas Eve due to COVID regulations. But we compromised by catering a nice Mexican fiesta for them on Christmas Day. We will always be grateful to these angels on earth for pouring their lives out for children battling cancer, even sacrificing their own family time to serve these hurting families.

We were tickled to receive pics and videos from some of our families who surprised their kiddos with a Christmas puppy. They had their first vet visit on Christmas Eve, and they all got a clean bill of health. One more week until they go to their fur-ever homes.

First vet visit for 11 pups
Puppy surprise
Puppy surprise

I’m thankful and exhausted. I have a painful knot on the back of my head from my fall, and I’m pretty sure there’s still some puppy poop on my leg. I’m thankful that this crazy year is almost over, and I’m thankful to know that no matter what highs and lows are ahead, that Emmanuel will meet me there.

Thanks for giving thanks with me. And Merry Christmas. The real and imperfect kind.

“I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”” (Lamentations 3:20-24)

Weary but Rejoicing

Iam thankful:

~ for my incredibly thoughtful husband! When he warns me, “I’m setting my tools up in the garage, and you CAN’T COME OUT HERE!” I always know it’s gonna be something good. This time it was the most awesome, Mr. Giddyup original paint caddy! I teased him that he built it for himself, because he’s sick of my brushes and paint laying EVERYWHERE. Either way, it’s a win-win!

~ for an amazing night of high school football playoffs. So exciting to see TWO teams we love competing (not against each other, different divisions) for the top title. We cheered on the Carthage Bulldogs to their historic 8th State Championship, and then cheered for our beloved Coach Chris and the Lindale Eagles. Lindale may not have come away with the top score on the official scoreboard, but they had a triumphantly victorious and inspiring season. So incredibly proud of the Eagles and their fearless leader!

~ for sweet Zoe’s 3rd Grade Christmas Play. She sang a beautiful solo and the whole play was absolutely adorable!

~ for the fastest, least painful family Christmas photo in Rucker history. My Big kids LOATHE taking pictures. It generally takes bribery, coercion, and threats of bodily harm to get it done. They tolerate it, because they know they don’t have a choice, but it’s never a very pleasant occasion. This week’s attempt was a MOST UNLIKELY scenario. There was only ONE DAY that Carson Grace didn’t have to work. It HAPPENED to be a rainy day so Colton could drive in from his job. We met at 4 o’clock when the kiddos all got out of school. Sounds perfect, right? EXCEPT, Cooper had to be at his job (up Broadway Ave. in bumper to bumper Christmas traffic) at 4:30!! The kids all quickly changed their clothes, dashed to their spots, and I snapped the picture! Just like that! We were done at 4:06! It was historic! (Tune in next week for the winning shot!)

~ for p-p-pajama day at school.

~ for Cooper crushing his finals and treating mom to a Bahama Bucks date.

~ for donuts + The Grinch for breakfast, just because.

~ for beautiful heavenly glories spotted by the kids on the way home.

~ for Gavin doing a fantastic job as the Toastmaster in his 4th Grade class. So proud of him!

~ for a pedal-to-the-medal, paint-til-your-fingers-fall-off, a LOT more Giddyup-than-Whoa week! I completed 6 signs this week (including the big whopper I mentioned last week), and I only have ONE MORE project to complete before Christmas! Grateful for a busy season, and grateful for a rest!

~ for a special visit with our Kilgore-Hallsville-Carthage-Houston family. It was a different location this year, but the love and the good food and the warm fellowship was the same! Such a blessing to gather and love on one another.

~ and for a fun surprise visit from Uncle Mike and Kenedy!! We have had fun coloring and playing dress up and looking at Christmas lights. It is always so special to have them with us.

~ the puppies are growing and changing and getting cuter every day. They. Are. SO. BIG! It looks completely absurd when they tackle poor Mama Birdie to nurse…it looks like that are devouring her! They are now consuming 13 pounds of puppy food a week, and producing roughly 496 pounds of poo each day. Keeping the pups and their pen clean is a nonstop endeavor. Just two more weeks til they go to their forever families. I can’t deny looking forward to the reprieve, but I’ve already shed some tears when I think about saying goodbye. They truly have 11 large pieces of my heart.

The pace has been relentless, between the painting and the puppies and the poop, and I’m not going to lie, I am WEARY. My emotions have been more fragile and raw than usual. I never know what is going to be a trigger. Missing loved ones, looking at decorations that I used when we were in the hospital, the birthdays of two grandmothers who never met, but shared a birthday and both made a lasting imprint on our family and my heart. I’m overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with all I have on my plate. Overwhelmed by the weight of so many needs and struggles and hurts in the lives of people that I love. Overwhelmed by the goodness of God and the love He lavishes on me every single day, even when I fall on my face.

I am weary. But I rejoice. The joys and the sorrows and the precarious tension between them are present all year round, but something about Christmas brings all these things to the forefront and shines a spotlight on them. Maybe the season of Advent, the waiting season of preparation for the birth of Savior is an annual appointment for us to reevaluate and sift through what His coming really means to us. It means we have great expectations, yet He always comes in the most unexpected way. It means that waiting, even the most excruciating waiting, is critical to our transformation from death to life.

We are weary. Yet we rejoice. We wait. He is coming. Emmanuel, God with us. He is here.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.”(Romans 8:19)

““Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.”(Revelation 21:4-7)

God With Us

I am thankful:

~ for my favorite view…a bazillion stockings on the fireplace, soft, twinkling lights on the tree and new mantel decor this year. I spy a refurbished treasure salvaged from my roadside adventures.

October “Treasure Week”

~ for how excited the kids are to draw each other‘s names for our sibling “Secret Christmas Buddy” gift exchange.

~ for Carson Grace starting her new job this week, as a sales lead at Aeropostale. How crazy for my girl to start a job in retail clothing just like I did at her age. She’s learning a lot: retail at Christmas is no joke.

~ for the cutest puppies in all the land.

They are doing great. We learned how to feed them their transitional semi-liquid food by trial and LOTS OF ERROR. Josh upgraded his feeding center, and they are finally getting the hang of it.

Some have it more figured out than others

They are visibly growing and changing every day. I can’t believe they are 4 weeks old today, and that THEY ALL HAVE HOMES! It makes me so happy to think of how much joy they will bring to so many families. For now we are enjoying all the sweet puppy breath and snuggles.

~ for all the help when putting a project together. ALLLLLL the help.

~ for exhilarating high school football playoffs. Even though a televised game is a weak substitute for the in-person electric energy of a brightly lit roaring stadium on a Friday night, the necessity of these broadcasts now enables so many more people to get to watch games they would not be able to attend (including us!). This week we were excited to see the Carthage Bulldogs secure ANOTHER trip to the state championship in their division. AND we were beside ourselves as we watched the nailbiting comeback of the Lindale Eagles, as they soared in for a victory and ticket to their state championship. Coach Chris Cochran and his wife Lindsay and sweet Coby Tate are family to us, and we could not be more proud of this well-deserved victory for them and their boys.

~ for Samantha’s very first acting gig! She and her 6th Grade Drama class presented the play, “Too Wrapped up for Christmas,” and did a fantastic job. While Sam said acting “isn’t really her ‘THING,’” she said she had a great time. How are these babies growing up so fast!?

~ for SO MANY PROJECTS underway for Giddyup & Whoa! I have continued to get new orders daily, and I’m painting and wood burning as fast as my little fingers can go! It’s always such a blessing to meet another customer and see them pleased with their sign. I still have many projects to complete for Christmas gifts, so I am HUSTLING. I have one particularly intimidating order…a MASSIVE 7 footer. I call this part of the season “the Christmas Crunch.”

~ for all our favorite memory-laden Christmas decorations. Grandma Grace’s nativity and handmade felt ornaments.

The well-loved Fisher Price nativity, that never seems to have all its pieces at one time (it’s usually missing Mary, and several times we have lost Baby Jesus. We replaced the angel one year, but we are still short 2 wisemen.) This little snowman and puppy combo was a Hallmark classic. Our sweet Granny Lucy bought it when Cooper was a baby, 16 years ago. We have loved pulling it out every year and listening to its cheery jingle bark song.

It traveled with me to Dallas when Sawyer was in the hospital at Christmastime two years in a row.

One year it stopped working, and I researched how to clean battery connections, and then painstakingly swabbed the connectors with white vinegar. By some miracle it worked, resurrecting the Christmas cheer. And now Tatum K loves it. It reminds me of Granny and always makes me smile.

Another favorite tradition is celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas with Grandmommy. She spends so much time and thought putting together gifts for the children, and we love the excitement of singing each verse of the song and opening a gift each night.

Traditions mean so much to me. Always have. I think back on spending Christmas at Grandma Grace’s house…the ornaments and nativity that I loved so much when I was little, and the sparkling Christmas tree made from her jewelry that would mesmerize me for hours. I remember her card table set up with the poinsettia tablecloth, serving up orange 7up punch with her pretty crystal cups, mixed nuts, homemade Chex mix, and ALWAYS a little tray of Andes mints. At my other grandparents house, we would celebrate on Christmas Eve in their cozy basement, with a big spread of food, including my favorite peanut clusters, and often we would have a White Elephant gift exchange. I remember the year I was so greedy that I chose THE BIGGEST present, and it ended up being a huge and hideous velvet painting of an ocean, and my 8 year old self was DEVASTATED.

I hope one day my grown kids will tell their families about reading Luke Chapter 2 and eating monkey bread and sausage bread. I hope they explain all the stories attached to each of the ornaments they got each Christmas Eve, and how EVERY YEAR I would pretend to surprise them with “opening ONE present early” – always new Christmas pajamas. I hope they love pulling out Granny’s singing snowman and Aunt Dinah’s Christmas village. And I hope they’ll find their own special traditions that will become meaningful to their families.

Is Jesus at the center? It sounds like such a cliché, but do we have room for Him? Is there room in the busy-ness, between the Amazon orders and the holiday baking and the Christmas party-ing, is there any margin in our lives to sit at His feet? We pray and ask Him all year long to use us, but when it comes down to it, do we leave any room for what He actually intended to use us for: to listen to a friend who is lonely, to give to a stranger who is hurting, to forgive that family member who has hurt us?

I feel like most of us have gone through a lot this year, and we are all processing things differently. We may not be celebrating all our same traditions in the same way this year, but the Most Important Thing is still the same, and can’t be taken away by national mandates or quarantines. Emmanuel. God With Us. Wherever we are, He is there if we leave room for Him.

Let’s not lose Jesus this year.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)

““Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”” (Matthew 1:23)

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”(Isaiah 41:10)

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)

Awake

I am thankful:

~ for the first cozy fire of the season. We LOVE a fire! And fresh baked pumpkin muffins.

~ for my first Burger Warehouse burger. What a treat!

~ for the joy in my kids’ voices when they run inside calling, “Mama! You HAVE to come look at the sky!!” May I never take for granted the privilege of seeing the wonder of God’s creation through their eyes.

~ for Colton’s first groundbreaking ceremony for a new commercial construction project with his company.

Colton, second from the left

~ for the opportunity to attend Gavin’s 4th grade Toastmasters speech. He told the story of crashing his big brother’s bike and earning 7 stitches. Gavin was a natural in front of his class, speaking clearly and confidently. So proud of him.

~ for the perfect autumn weather for an evening stroll.

~ for HOPE: a first tiny step in the right direction for a long-standing prayer request.

~ for God’s care and provision over every detail. Monday at lunch, I asked God for work for Giddyup & Whoa. We had gotten caught up on orders, and our schedule was open. (Which is NOT a good thing for a small business.) WITHIN THE HOUR, I got an order through our website for 12 handpainted ornaments. An hour later, an order for 9 more. And this week I got additional orders for 10 more signs! Glory to the Lord! If you need me, I’ll be in the studio! And if you need a unique and meaningful gift for Christmas, Josh and I would love to create a special piece for you. But get your order in early! Thank you for supporting small businesses. Target and Amazon don’t care about your order, but the small shops you support DO! It genuinely makes a difference for our families.

~ for the cool blessing of seeing our oldest work with his dad to help us get all these signs built.

~ for 20+ years of friendship. When Josh and I came to the Lord, it was such a season of firsts. New marriage, new faith, new baby. And we had the incredible blessing of going through all those firsts with some really special couples. Further along in their faith, they discipled us and ministered to us, answered our questions, and taught us about Jesus just by living their lives openly and inviting us along. We were all growing our families for the first time in that season, and it was the most awesome time of fellowship and eating together and staying up way too late with a room full of pack-and-plays full of not-really-sleeping babies in the next room. Our kids all had built-in best friends from birth. Then life had twists and turns and changes. Job changes, more kids, address changes, blessings, and tragedies. We don’t hang out every weekend anymore, haven’t for years. But the love is the same, we treasure the memories, and we give thanks when we have the opportunity to get together again.

2004 – I remember thinking that this group was a TON of kids! But it’s actually LESS CHILDREN than I have in my family alone now! Since this picture, we have collectively added 9 more children to our families.

~ for my favorite fall tradition: the Thankful Game! Our family has a giant group email thread for sharing big and small thankful thoughts each day. I don’t know how many years we have been doing it, but as long as I can remember. I love hearing everyone else’s perspectives, and the feeling of connection regardless of location. And the kids LOVE to participate, and it’s so fun to hear what they thank God for. It helps us get back to an attitude of gratitude.

I’ve been really convicted this week of my own laziness. It’s so easy to get into a routine and set the auto pilot. Get up each day, do all the things, lather, rinse, repeat. Check all the boxes. Looking busy instead of looking for Jesus. Skimming on the surface without going deep. But God. This week I feel as if I’ve been shaken awake from being half asleep. I heard my voice giving someone counsel that I was needing to hear myself. It’s time to wake up. Eyes up. Off my worries. OFF MYSELF. No more sleepwalking. No more tuning out. More of Jesus, less of me.

Are YOU awake?

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“He must become greater; I must become less.”” (John 3:30)

“This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Ephesians 5:14-17)

Flattened

I am thankful:

~ for one if my favorite Christmas traditions: our trip to Children’s Hospital on Christmas Eve.   We load our bus with the most delicious home-cooked spread of food and drive to Dallas, to give smiles and thanks to the dedicated nurses caring for the kids who are too sick to be home for Christmas.  Even though it’s been years now, we have promised to never forget those frightening days.  Josh at home with 7 kids missing their mama.  And 12 month old Sawyer and I in the hospital.  We had known we would be in the hospital that Christmas.  He was in a particularly harsh phase of his leukemia treatment, and needed close monitoring.  But Christmas Eve he had taken a turn for the worse, spiking a high fever, and his nurses watched him like a hawk.   I’ll never forget the way they tended to him, and to me all through the night.  I remember watching the clock turn midnight, and crying in the dark room lit by a blinking IV pole as I wished my sick baby Merry Christmas.   BUT GOD.   I couldn’t have done it without those nurses, those angels on this earth.  They lay their lives down and are gone from their own families to take care of hurting children, and they do their very best to bring joy into a scary and sad place.  I love going back (for a quick trip and not to stay) to tell them Sawyer’s story, and give them a fresh breath of Christ-ordained, thriving, 6 year old, curly-headed HOPE. IMG_20191224_144050514_Original.jpgIMG_1498.JPGIMG_1501.JPG 

~ for a quick, fun visit with Aunt Dinah.  Sawyer picked Slims Chicken for lunch, and then she and I visited while I tackled my holiday baking and trashed my kitchen from one end to the other. 

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~ for beautiful weather to deliver baked goodies to our wonderful neighbors.  We are so blessed!IMG_1459.JPG

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~ for a wonderful, messy, overstimulating, joyful, chaotic, noisy Christmas.  For too much delicious food: spicy, cheesy jalapeño crawfish chowder, tart/sweet cherry pie, caramely sweet monkey bread, and chocolate-coffee-salted-caramel birthday cake for Jesus.  For Andes mints that make me think of Grandma Grace.  And Great Grandma Nelson’s peanut clusters that are now my kids’ favorite.  For tums and stretchy pants.  For new Christmas jammies for everyone and a new ornament each.  For the sweetness of each of us reading Luke 2 verse by verse…and how the powerfully tender words feel more tender and more powerful on Christmas morning.  For a second round of too-much-everything and 14 cousins to play with.  It was an extra noisy Christmas with robots and transformers and Elsa microphones and walkie talkies and laser tag.  I’m also thankful that batteries do not live forever. IMG_1544.JPG

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~ for the fullness in my heart at having all my children together.  I learned when Sawyer got sick that I couldn’t take it for granted.  But life moved on, the crisis passed, and I realized that I still did sometimes.  But now comes another paradigm shift: they really are growing up.  Colton’s living on his own, Carson Grace is 18 and in college.  Soon enough they will start having their own families and may not always be around.  How I treasure these fleeting moments with all these faces around my table and piled up on my couch. 

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~ for my husband’s dedication and work ethic.  Even after working 65+ hours a week at his “real job,” then building signs and caring for our home in his “spare time,” AND being Dad to 9 kids….he is grinding out his real estate courses, one after another, even amidst the chaos of our home environment.   So proud of him.   Even squeezed in a much needed date with him this week! 

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~for the signature throaty growl of my daughter’s hauntingly beautiful voice and her guitar coming from her bedroom.  Oh, how I’ve missed her and that sound.  

~ for 4 little and not-so-little girls that still let me dress them alike.  Aren’t they beautiful?

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~ for the fresh grace to keep going even when it’s hard.  Tatum K, while just as cute as she can be, continues to challenge us daily with her fiery temperament.  Her latest challenge is NOT SLEEPING.  She is taking hours to settle down to sleep, most of that spent screaming violently at the top of her lungs, anything from “I want my MAAAAAMAAAAA!” to “I want PIZZZZZZAAAAAAA!” to “Tickle my BAAAAACKKKKK!!!!”  And then sometimes she is waking up and doing it all again for hours in the middle of the night.  Makes for a tired mama, especially after days on end. 

~ for days when I wake up to sweet artwork left beside my bed.  Parenting this many children usually feels a lot like whack-a-mole, and there is many a night that I go to bed feeling like a very defeated worst-and-meanest-mama-in-the-whole-wide-world.  But by some stretch of miracle, my kids don’t seem to think so!  Thank You Father for the NEW MERCIES EVERY MORNING!

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It’s that groggy limbo week between Christmas and New Years.  Everyone I talk to seems drained and wiped out and nobody is sure what day it is.  I find myself with a little bit of the blues…flattened by the steamroller of the packed schedule over the past few weeks.  And emotionally flattened as well.  Just a lot going on in my heart these days.  Anybody else feel flattened?  (FLATTENED, not FATTENED.  Although that certainly feels applicable as well…)

My weary heart dragged me to the church this morning.  Physically and spiritually drained and exhausted, I couldn’t even make my voice form the words of the songs.  So I just sank to my knees and let the worship and the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit wash over me.  

“Worthy of every song we could ever sing

Worthy of all the praise we could ever bring

Worthy of every breath we could ever breathe

We live for you.  We live for you…”

The words and the percussion pounded into my chest, beating the melody into my heart as I sang and prayed and worshipped and wept.  

“I will build my life upon Your Love 

It is a firm foundation.  

I will put my trust in You alone

And I will not be shaken.”  

Lord, I’ve seen You do miracles with my own eyes.  I KNOW and I BELIEVE that NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR YOU.  Help me to trust in You: that You are WORKING, that You are PRESENT, and that You are SOVEREIGN.  Remind me that You care about the needs I bring to you.  Line up my desires with Yours so that I want what You want for me instead of what I want for me.  Help me to remember TRUTH when my circumstances try to trip me up.  Help me unclench my fists and my feeble attempts to take control.  Renew in me a deep love for Your WORD.  Fill me with Your LOVE so I can pour it out. 

Give me endurance for the race You have set before me.  It is the race You made me for.  

Don’t lose heart.  He is FOR YOU.  Let’s love one another well this week.  

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

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

“For with God nothing will be impossible.” Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1:37-38)