July

I am thankful:

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

~ for refreshing Kona Ice on a sweltering hot day.

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

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

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

~ for surprisingly tasty homemade cauliflower crust pizza.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUT GOD.

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

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

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

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

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

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

A Square

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

“It’s not ok to say nothing.”

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

You should’ve said….

“You have to POST this….”

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

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

Social media was a lose/lose this week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just do the next right thing

Take a step, step again

It is all that I can to do

The next right thing

I won’t look too far ahead

It’s too much for me to take

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

This next choice is one that I can make

So I’ll walk through this night

Stumbling blindly toward the light

And do the next right thing

And, with it done, what comes then?

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

Then I’ll make the choice to hear that voice

And do the next right thing”

(“The Next Right Thing” Kristen Bell)

Seasons

I am thankful:

~ for 2 sweet quick visits with 2 different dear friends before they move away.  It’s so hard to say goodbye to people you love.  But seasons are always changing and you just pray that you can find a way to stay connected regardless of location.  Tatum had a great time playing with a friend, and later having a delicious breakfast of diced tomatoes and chocolate milk!

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~ for the stunning color of the fall leaves.  People say Texas doesn’t really get seasons.  And while the foliage may not be as electric nor the temperatures quite as brisk as in the north and northeast, I think East Texas is beautiful in the fall.  I love the drop in temperatures, pulling out the boots and sweaters, and the crackle of a fire in the evenings.  To me, the autumn season was the ideal choice for scheduling Thanksgiving: leaves change and fall, colder weather makes us want to cuddle closer, we hunger for the warmth of nostalgic comfort foods…it’s a season built for looking around at our surroundings and seeking to give thanks. 

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~ for a extra special week for Kora.  Her class presented the Chapel program, a Tribute to Veteran’s Day.  It was an inspiring and reverent program, and all the students did a beautiful job with their songs and recitations.  Then as a part of her classroom’s weekly Toastmasters presentation, she gave her original speech.  Big week for our girl.  She delights in having her turn in the spotlight, and nothing makes her light up more than seeing Mama and Daddy smiling from the audience.  So proud of her. 

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~ for the rare opportunity to surprise my girl!  Carson Grace invited us to a special event as a part of her music major program, Student-led Night of Worship.  Unfortunately, she invited us about 22 hours before the program.  I let her know we were very proud of her, but told her how difficult it would be to make arrangements to get all the way to Marshall the next evening, especially on a school night.  But as soon as I got off the phone with her, I got to work planning those details.  Even that evening, as we were on the road to Marshall, I continued to text her and tell her that we loved her and were praying that the service would go well (true statements).  When we showed up at the recital hall (you can imagine, a Tribe of Littles is quite a spectacle on a college campus, so we weren’t hard to spot), she saw us and burst into tears.  I’m so thankful we made it a little early so she had time to get herself together before taking the stage with her worship team.   What a blessing to see our beautiful daughter, singing unto the Lord with her peers.  It was just awesome.  After her set was over, she joined us in the audience, and squeezed me so hard…it felt great to know how much it meant to her that we were there.  It was an incredible night worshipping together, and even the Littles totally got into it, clearly blessed by the presence of the Lord. IMG_9530

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~ for lots of progress in preparation for our 2 upcoming Giddyup & Whoa sales: Vintage & Company’s “Christmas in the Country” and The Market.  Josh has been building and building for me, and I paint every chance I get.  The kids love being a part: helping design, paint, and construct; and they are always eager to “model” for me.  So thankful for the opportunity to create together as a family, and hopeful that we are coming into a busy season for the business. 

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~ for successfully surviving the last (and coldest, and WETTEST) JV football game of the season!  Armed with our blankets, scarves, gloves, and hot chocolate, the Littles and I made it to halftime, and left Dad, Colton, and Brooke to cheer Coop on to the bitter end.  I love watching him play, so I’m sad to see the season end, but I WILL NOT miss shivering in the bleachers with 875 whining kids. 

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~ for our furry, floppy muppet dog, Bear, who turned 1 today!  He has been such a fun addition to our crazy Tribe. 

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~ for relaxing evenings, chilling and watching the Cowboys.  Ok fine.  If you know me, I know ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about football. I can barely keep my eyes on Cooper’s jersey to see where he is on the field at his games.  I can get into sports when I know personal stories about the players, but otherwise, it’s hard for me to follow.  BUT. I love my husband.  And my husband loves to watch the Cowboys.  So I love to be near my husband while he watches the Cowboys.  I paint or write, and I cheer when he cheers.  We’ve got a system down. 

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~ for a weekend with our girl home from college.  We enjoyed a RARE laid back weekend devoid of a schedule.  Carson Grace got to sleep in, we ran some errands, ordered some much-needed glasses for both of us, and spend the evening watching Lion King all together. 

~ for unexpected blessings.  One of the reasons Carson Grace came home for the weekend was because she had been invited to be a guest vocalist at the church of one of her professors.  The church was in Athens, and we decided to load up the whole Tribe and go with her.  Carson Grace of course did an absolutely wonderful job sharing her song, and blessed the heart of the Lord and every parishioner in attendance.  But it was clear the moment we got there that the He had a very specific purpose for our family visiting that church.  The pastor (who teaches voice part time at ETBU, and was the one who invited Carson Grace) and his wife have recently taken in 4 foster children.   Recently as in 3 weeks ago.   I looked into that mama’s tired tired eyes and knew exactly what she was feeling.   Oh, how vividly O remember the pain of that season, of those raw first weeks. Josh and I were able to share our foster/adopt story and listen to where they are in theirs.   We could relate to one another on such a strikingly similar level, and there was such hope in that.   After church was over, our 2 families went for pizza, and the adults visited as much as we could while juggling kid plates, refilling cups, wiping noses and wiping spills…  We sat there and told the stories we have told so many times.  Stories of broken beds, and heads cracking through windows.  Stories of getting locked out of the house by 3 toddlers and of the end of life as we then knew it.  BUT GOD.   Because the kids from those stories are gone.  They really are.  I can’t think of a day when I was more proud of my children.  As we were telling those stories with the grownups, OUR kids were loving on THEIR kids.  Our little girls were chatting it up with their girls, and have already declared that they are friends who can’t wait to see each other again.  Their little guy and Sawyer had been in Sunday school class today that morning, so they were tickled to buddy up at lunch.  And Carson Grace and Cooper were kind and conversational with their quiet and reserved 16 year old boy.  It was beautiful.  I’m not even bothering to hold back my tears as I write this tonight, with the images fresh on my mind.  I ache thinking of all that these precious children have gone through, more than anyone even knows about.  They have been shifted around and let down by the ones who they trusted to keep them safe, and so many others after that.  I can only imagine how broken and scared and confused they are.  And I know how shell shocked those foster parents are right now.  Everything about their life has changed overnight.  And they are holding on for dear life, clinging to Jesus, desperately trying to be obedient to whatever He asks them to do.   I’m so grateful that we got to meet this family today, and ask that you would join me in praying for them.  They need it.  And I’m so grateful that the Lord used this day to show me afresh how far our beautiful children have come, and the beauty that shines from the ashes of their story.  Their story is one of brokenness and loss and pain, and a story of love and redemption and healing and hope. And today I got to see them ministering.    Thank You Father for fresh eyes to see the miracle of New Life. 

Whatever season you find yourself in, may you remain securely anchored into Christ.  When things are bad, hang on.  Jesus is holding you, He is fighting for you, and He will never leave you.  And this season won’t last forever.   And if you are in a sweet season, a season of plenty, of peace – set that anchor DEEP.  Study His Word, seek God’s heart, pour into the lives of others.  Invest wisely in eternity during seasons of peace, because that season will end too.  And we never know what’s ahead.  We just know that our best days are still to come.  Which season are you in?  Who can you encourage this week?

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

““Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:3-9)

The Investment

So…this week we did a thing.  I asked you to pray for our big week, and it’s clear that you did!  

Monday morning, Josh and I said “goodbye” to our babies.  And drove to Dallas.  And got on an airplane.  And by that afternoon, we were sitting on a beach in Mexico. 

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Last month we celebrated 20 years of marriage, and we made a commitment that we couldn’t let that milestone pass by without a special trip.  (But we had to make it through our busy September first!)  During the first half of our marriage, we dated regularly and we took several trips to the Caribbean.  A white sand beach has always been our favorite place.  The last time we took a trip together, just us two, was 10 years and 5 kids ago.  Life happened.  A miscarriage, 3 adoptions, and a pregnancy happened all inside 13 months.  Then cancer happened.  The day our marriage turned 15, we weren’t even in the same city.  Josh was home with 7 kids and I was in the hospital fighting for our baby’s life.  Within the last 5 years we have launched a non-profit, a 5K race, and a small business.  Taking a trip to the beach has not been on our radar for a decade. 

So this week we took 5 whole days just to ourselves.  We sat on the glistening sand and listened to the crash of the waves.  We snorkeled every day in crystal clear water with literally hundreds of fish.  We drank the best lattes we have ever had under the lush cover of giant palms.  We held hands.  We got up when we wanted to and didn’t watch the clock all day.  We LAUGHED. We prayed together on the beach and thanked God for our marriage and for blessing us with so many incredible children and the most remarkable life.  We told our story to young couples and old couples.  And we kissed a lot. 

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Oh, and we went deep sea fishing and caught some giant fish and I got sick as a dog and puked my guts out for hours.  It wasn’t ALL poetry. 

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Meanwhile, Aunt Gina Sue, resident fearless superhero, was commander in chief at the homestead.  Who accepts the challenge of 5 days of caring for 7 kids????  (For those reading who don’t know us personally, there ARE actually 9 kids, but 2 are grown and out of the house).  Gina did an amazing job.  (Understatement of the year). The house ran like a well-oiled machine, AND everyone had fun!  She took them on outings and treated with fun snacks every day… I think it was a vacation for them from Mom and Dad!  (Maybe not so much of a vacation for Gina herself.  We are hoping she still speaks to us by Thanksgiving.)  Seriously, she did the impossible, and no matter what challenges she encountered, she did it with such grace, with the unflinching support of Uncle Justin.  We could not be more grateful.  (We also are VERY AWARE of the focused fervent prayers they both prayed for our safe return!)IMG_9116 2.jpg

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Sawyer celebrated the 50th Day of School with Coke floats and a sock hop!

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Marriage is hard.  Raising kids is hard.  Life. Is. HARD.  There’s never a good time to get away.  There’s never enough money.  But God.  He makes a way when there is no way.  He brings beauty out of ashes and streams in the desert.    Josh and I can both say in all honesty that our marriage is better now than it was a decade ago, or even at the very beginning.  We have been through hell.  We have screwed up and hurt one another and let each other down.  We have argued about big things and about nothing.  We have wasted time over absolute garbage.  And then we have picked up the pieces and moved on.  We have apologized and we have forgiven.  We have picked at each other and laughed until we cried.  We are best friends that get on each other’s nerves but we would choose each other every time.  

Friends, I beg of you: Invest.  Invest where it counts.  This world is scary and life is short.  Josh and I have learned that everything can change in an instant.  Every THING you love can be taken away.  And there’s ALWAYS going to be another crisis.  We have to invest in our marriages.  Invest in our kids.  Invest in the lives of others.  These investments are truly ACTS OF WORSHIP.  I could never begin to thank the countless people who have invested in Josh and I over the years, pouring into us with love and encouragement and TIME.  I also know that we are blessed beyond measure, and that not everyone can take a trip to Mexico.  Trust me, it was a great stretch and a sacrifice for us.  My anxiety tried to ruin the trip before it ever began, and 101 things came up that could have squashed the whole plan.  But God.  I know it was so important for us.  An INVESTMENT.  So even if you just go on a walk together; or if it means staying up an extra 30 minutes after the kids go to bed to spend time alone on the couch….it’s WORTH IT.  When life gets hard (and stays hard), sometimes we wrap up in our hurt, and we believe that lie that “no one else understands.”  Or that we shouldn’t “bother” anyone with “our junk” because “they have enough of their own stuff going on.” (Sound familiar?)  THAT IS SUCH A CROCK!  That is satan’s tool to try to keep us trapped in shame and loneliness, isolated and disconnected from one another.  We are STRONGER WHEN WE ARE CONNECTED!  And we are UNSTOPPABLE when that connection is ROOTED IN CHRIST!  We have to pull together instead of pulling away.  See the needs of others instead of focusing on ourselves.  That goes for our marriages and all our other relationships.  The more we pour into one another, the greater the return.  59372532050__FA4ED520-2905-4A5B-985B-E20243DEE656.JPGIMG_9114 2.JPGIMG_9097.jpg

So I am thankful for :

White sand, great coffee, and time with my best friend.  I’m thankful for impossibly blue skies and impossibly clear water.  I’m thankful for God’s limitless creativity in nature.  I’m thankful for tears cried on the beach while asking God for BIG things for my husband and for my family.  Thankful for the sound of the waves crashing that I tried my best to memorize, and for technology that allowed me to video it so I can play it any time I want to transport myself to our place for a moment.  For people who love my kids as they were their own, even though there’s a million of them.  For the sweetest kids in the whole world that blanketed our bed with “welcome home” cards.  And I’m thankful to be home on American soil with my babies underfoot, my own bed, unlimited safe drinking water, and the ability to eat dinner without using a can of OFF.  I am thankful that stuffed iguanas are WAY cuter than real ones. I have renewed appreciation for my mountains of laundry and my big brown bus full of noisy kids and my shaggy dog and 87,000 things going on and the sound of LAUGHTER.   I am freshly reminded that even though it’s relentlessly, exhaustingly HARD, I LOVE MY LIFE and I wouldn’t trade it.   Lord, keep me in the place of humble gratitude for all you have entrusted to me. 

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Thanks for giving thanks with me!

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”  (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”  (2 Corinthians 9:6-8 )