Contagious

If EVER there was a time to be reminded that there is always, always, ALWAYS something to be thankful for, I think it is this week. 

I am thankful:

~ for Sawyer’s full and complete recovery from strep throat and scarlet fever!  His salami rash slowly receded and eventually stopped itching, and he is doing great.  Perhaps the greater miracle is that NO ONE ELSE GOT SICK!!!!  Glory to God!!!!

~ for a fun and relaxed Spring Break week before the crazy hit.  It blows my mind to look back through all the pictures I have taken and realize this was all THIS WEEK. 

~ for my favorite Spring Break tradition. Six years ago, we had just had a major life change.  The population explosion of 2013.  That next March we had 8 children, including three newly adopted kids and a four month old.  Spring break plans were out of the question for lots of reasons.  And I was also completely overwhelmed with the question, “How can I give each child the time and attention he/she needs?”  So our Spring Break plan became one-on-one breakfasts with mom.  It was just a tiny thing, but a sweet opportunity to get away with each child.  And that has become our thing.  The kids are chosen at random, no one knows they’re going until they get the tap in their sleep in the morning.  They pick the place, and usually we play a few rounds of 20 questions while we eat.  I absolutely treasure it.IMG_4621IMG_4641IMG_4662IMG_4961 3IMG_4981IMG_5034IMG_5057IMG_5151

~ for lovely weather.  We went on walks,  picnics, went to the park, and to the pond to feed the ducks. IMG_4688IMG_4726IMG_4775IMG_4852IMG_4917IMG_5094 2IMG_5112IMG_5122

~ for movie night.  Finally got to watch Frozen 2, and it was so good.  We love us some Elsa.  

~ for an unexpected quick visit from Aunt Gina and Cousin Jackie. IMG_5192IMG_20200313_103305796_Original

~ for a sweet early St. Patrick’s Day goodie from Grandmommy. IMG_5050.JPG

~ for Pi Day (3.14, March 14). I will take advantage of any opportunity to make AND EAT a pie!  (Thank You Lord, for my pie-loving girl that I can use as an excuse to bake pies!)IMG_5148.JPG

~ for one tiny purple violet smiling in my yard.  Hooray for spring!IMG_5041.JPG

~ for Andy’s Frozen Custard and Rounder’s Pizza.  Love us some local yumminess!IMG_5017.jpgIMG_20200313_125612739_Original.jpgIMG_20200313_130148943_HDR_Original.jpg

~ for the best help for Dad to put together our new fire pit. IMG_5172.JPG

So. We had a lovely, low key Spring Break week.  And then things started to get crazy.  At first we didn’t pay much attention, because it didn’t seem like it had much to do with us.  Then the crazy started taking over.  Headlines.  Social media.  Emails.  Cancellations.  Hysteria and hoarding in the grocery aisles.  

I have plenty of opinions, but they really don’t matter. The fact is, this is what we are living in right now.  I have lived a lifestyle of “social distancing” for more than 3 years.  No crowds.  Masks. Wiping down surfaces with bleach and hospital grade disinfectant.  Militant hand washing and hand sanitizer at every door.  Changing clothes as soon as coming home from school/work.  When you live with someone who is immune-compromised, life looks different.  The “outside world” feels scary, with danger lurking on every surface.  (I can’t relate to the toilet paper frenzy, though…)  I know what it’s like to want people to respect that my son couldn’t fight off “just a virus,” no matter how minor it was.  

I read somewhere that what our kids will remember most about this season is how their parents acted.  We have been very mindful of this with our kids.  Telling them we don’t have to be afraid, but we do have a responsibility to make wise choices to keep ourselves and others healthy.  God is bigger than any virus, and none of this has taken Him by surprise.  That doesn’t mean that if you “have faith” you ignore the warnings and barrel through.  

I have faith.  I know that God is in control.  I know that no matter what happens, I STILL KNOW how the story ultimately ends.  And in the meantime, I plan to do the best I know how to care for my family, and be a compassionate and responsible citizen that is mindful of others.  I also have been open with the fact that I routinely struggle with anxiety, and health concerns really ramp that up for me.  So I walk a very precarious tightrope of faith vs. fear. 

BUT GOD. 

Today was named National Day of Prayer for our country.  Let’s do it again tomorrow.  PRAY!  Pray for the broken-hearted families who have lost loved ones.  For those who are sick.  For those who are scared.  For the first responders and doctors and nurses and healthcare workers who are CHOOSING to work on the front lines and provide care to the masses.  For families with critically ill loved ones in hospitals that fear being exposed.  For the kids who are missing meals because the only time they get to eat is at school.  For the moms and dads who have to choose between keeping their job or caring for their kids at home.  For the businesses and employees who don’t know how they will manage with their loss of income.  For the store managers who are fielding nonstop complaints about the shelves they can’t keep stocked.  For the truck drivers feverishly trying to get those cargos delivered.  For the nursing home residents who are on lockdown.  And for the elderly people and immune-suppressed people for all different reasons who know they are potentially in danger.  For the leaders of our country and our states and cities who have important decisions to make as best they can. 

Let’s look past being irritated and inconvenienced.  Turn off the sources spreading rumors and panic and frustration.  And start SPREADING KINDNESS.  Let’s find the good in a slower paced, more simplified lifestyle.  Let’s spend time with our kids.  Read.  Call people we miss.  Be creative.  Clean.  Take walks.  Pray.  

This Thursday is Sophie the Brave Day.  Sophie Skiles would be turning 5 on March 19, but she will spend it in heaven with Jesus because of cancer.  Her incredible parents, Jonathan and Shelby, have dedicated this day to spreading Christ’s love across the globe in Sophie’s memory.  Do something!  Call a hurting friend.  Drop off a care package to a hospital.  Order from Amazon and have supplies delivered to a nursing home.  Send cards to a shut-in.  There are plenty of ways to #domoreforsoph that don’t violate safe social distancing practices.  

Let our faith be bigger than our fear. 

Kindness is contagious. 

Thanks for giving thanks with me.  (And wash your hands.)

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Hebrews 13:15-16)

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:9-10)

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:12-15)

Vision

I am thankful:

~ for those sweet moments that make me laugh.  Tatum was crying, but was trying to settle herself down when her nose started running. Horrified, she started crying harder, “Mama!!!  Now my NOSE is CRYING!”  That girl keeps me on my toes.IMG_4507.JPG

~ for a better-than-expected first week with new puppy, Birdie.  She is sweet, and Bear is getting used to her…he is alternately playful and annoyed.   She is sleeping much better and more tuned-in to potty training than Bear was when we first got him.  She’s certainly doing better on the potty train than Miss Tatum K.  I guess perhaps Mama is a little more motivated with the dog…the puppy’s accidents aren’t contained by a diaper, and Tatum is at least slightly LESS likely to poop on my rugs….IMG_4313 2IMG_4524

~ for some of the most beautiful wood we’ve ever worked with as Giddyup & Whoa.  It is truly the prettiest, chippiest, most awesome wood, and it’s so special to the family we are making signs for.  Such an honor to be entrusted with their memories. 896D690F-D861-41FC-A14D-00296B1DD3EE.JPGIMG_4631.JPG

~ for Cooper being home safe from an incredible trip to Camp Eagle in West Texas.IMG_4636.JPGIMG_1380 2.JPG 

~ for AWESOME new GO GOLD t-shirts.  Go check out Laurel & Cotton to get yours.  Thank you so much to Melissa Vance for your heart to help our HERO families!IMG_4484.jpg

~ for another new and beautiful dream realized.  Last September after Tyler Gold Run, Josh and I started talking about how badly we want more people to understand the vision of Gold Network of East Texas.  Over the last 5 years, we have focused on reaching every family we could find, and raising funds by asking the local businesses we know to be race sponsors.  But we have come to realize that focusing on Tyler Gold Run is so short-sighted.  MOST people don’t want to hear about a race.  MOST people aren’t interested in being a race sponsor.  But I genuinely BELIEVE that if MOST people hear about these families, about the reality of childhood cancer, and about the incomparable bravery of these kids, that they will get on board with us and we just might change the world.   So we decided we wanted to have a dinner.  We envisioned inviting friends and family and others from the community to our home and just sharing our hearts.  When we started making a list, I told Josh that I thought it MIGHT be too big for our house.  To which he replied, “I don’t care!  I’ll stand on the table and talk!”  But as it all actually began to unfold, we decided to book the Foundry, a downtown coffee shop with additional venue space.  We reserved the middle floor which held 78 people, and we prayed that we weren’t being overly optimistic.   We booked a professional videographer, booked a caterer, booked a cellist, and called it the Vision Dinner.  And a week before the event, we had to move our reservation to the 3rd floor, because we had OUTGROWN  the capacity!   The Vision Dinner was Tuesday evening, and it was SO SPECIAL!  We heard from several of our Hero moms and from brave 8th grader and Ewing’s Sarcoma survivor, Aneesa, who read her inspiring letter to her school principal asking her school to Go Gold.  We shared what GNET had done over the past 5 years and our vision for the future.  I looked out at the crowded room of kind, supportive faces around the carefully decorated gold and black tables and felt as though my heart would burst.  I even had the special blessing of having Colton there: he had lined up several of his friends from work who all VOLUNTEERED their time to be our head servers. GNET received many donations that night, but more importantly, I genuinely believe eyes were opened and hearts were touched. _MDJ6866_Original_MDJ6975_Original_MDJ7030_Original_MDJ7108_Original_MDJ7168_OriginalIMG_20200303_181013276_OriginalIMG_20200303_182059657_Original

I will never forget that night. 

~ for the times when the Lord tells me to trust my gut.  Wednesday evening, Sawyer started complaining of a headache and sore throat.  Thermometer revealed 101° fever.  We gave him some Motrin and tucked him in to bed, fighting the inevitable anxiety that creeps in when he runs fever.  Years of conditioning to head straight to the hospital for a temp higher than 100.4° is hard to let go of.   We know the unlikelihood of fever meaning cancer relapse, and we know viruses come and go, and they just have to run their course.  Next morning, 103°.  I gave lots of fluids and Sawyer did not resist being confined to his bed.  That evening, his fever spiked back up to 104° and a rash began to spread across his chest and back.  Sawyer looked at himself and said, “Mama, I look like salami!”  IMG_4554.jpgI still tried not to overreact.  I know rashes can pop up with fevers.  But I just couldn’t shake my concern.  I was able to get the VERY LAST appointment for Friday afternoon at the pediatrician.   And am I ever grateful that the Lord wouldn’t let me let it go: sweet boy tested positive for strep throat and scarlet fever! IMG_4562.jpgI hate to think how sick he could have gotten if we had waited until after the weekend!  BUT GOD!  With antibiotics, the fever quickly subsided, and after a day he was released from quarantine.  Salami Boy is still pretty spotty and itchy, but the maddening red rash is improving and his sore throat is gone.   And thankfully no one else shows signs of getting sick.  Thank You Jesus! IMG_4609.jpg

~ for gloriously good news for my friend after terrifying news, an agonizing waiting period, and a very serious surgery.   Praying for healing mercies as she turns the page on a scary chapter. 

~ I am thankful for the GOAL of Daylight Savings Time, and I know I will enjoy lighter, brighter evenings this summer.  BUT TONIGHT I AM MISSING THAT HOUR AND I AM SO VERY TIRED. 

~ for the wide open schedule of Spring Break ahead.  Praying for lots of grace and patience and getting along with one another and sunshiny days for playing outside. 

My heart is so sad tonight.  Another innocent child was lost to cancer.  Two in a month.  Two more families that should be watching their babies grow up, and instead, they can only wonder what might’ve been.   And yet another family I love is on a trip to soak up some last memories with their sweet little one before they have to say goodbye.  Father God, I love You and I trust that You are good, even though no part of me can understand.  Help me to fix my eyes on You and not on the chaos and brokenness of my surroundings. 

Hold close the ones you love.  Please visit our newly updated website www.goldnetworkoet.com to see the phenomenal video.  If you are moved to give, please do so.  Or contact me about getting involved.  Childhood cancer is not going away.  Help us do more for families living their worst nightmare. 

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”  (Psalms 90:12)

“For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth;” (Job 19:25)

Hope, Joy, and Generosity

What a jam-packed week!  I was just so whupped at the end of last week, really had the wind knocked out of me.  So much heaviness.  And you know what… none of those circumstances have changed. But even those sad, harsh realities are overshadowed by the goodness and faithfulness of God.  He keeps pouring out His goodness.  His mercies really are new every morning. 

I am thankful:

~ the best testimony of all – Sawyer the Warrior had a PERFECT checkup at his quarterly ACE Oncology appointment, and our brave boy remains CANCER FREE!  Thank You Jesus!!!   As usual, Sawyer hopped up in Miss Sharon’s phlebotomy chair all by himself and laughed while she drew his blood. 9016C527-90CE-45D8-8B8F-27A8CBD0826A.JPGBB0774A4-7AD1-450B-8757-8F8CB23820BD.JPG

I am always freshly astounded and in awe of the courage of this incredible boy.  His appointment went smoothly, and once the labs came back with the “all clear,” Josh and I were finally able to breathe again.   That part never gets easier.  Every time they draw his blood, we wait to hear the best news or the worst news.  BUT GOD.  This visit we packed in lots of extra-special visits on top of the clinic appointment.  Josh and I were joined by my friend and Gold Network of East TX co-creator, Paula Kimmey, to present a check from GNET for $10,000 to an acclaimed pediatric oncologist from Children’s Hospital, Dr. Ted Laetsch, to assist funding his groundbreaking CAR-T therapy which uses genetically modified immune cells to treat Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Gold Network Photo 2.JPG9DD02FBC-58F9-4066-BC27-23CCE5E25B5C.JPG

Not only were we THRILLED to present this check to fund research at our own hospital (that’s about as LOCAL as it gets!), but it was even more meaningful because Dr. Laetsch was on the team of oncologists that cared for Sawyer when he was treated for Infant ALL!  What a surreal full-circle moment!   We also delivered a New Diagnosis Survival Kit to one of the new families we learned of last week, and we were introduced by a nurse to YET ANOTHER East Texas family – that makes 3 new diagnoses just last month.  Sawyer was able to meet the girl, several years his senior, and smiled sweetly at her in her hospital bed and told her simply, “Be brave!”  What an ambassador of HOPE! 

~ for a delicious, yet oddly romantic, candlelit lunch at Campisi’s.  We ordered from there several times while in the hospital, but had never been to the restaurant, so it was the perfect place to celebrate a great day.  Their BBQ chicken pizza is THE BOMB!  (Sawyer was not a fan, he stuck with cheese.)58B2E3C1-54CE-440E-8429-90A4879FD2D9.JPG

~ for Aunt Gina, who ran the morning and afternoon Rucker bus route while we were gone to Dallas and spent the day with Hurricane Tatum K.  And for her delicious gift of homemade Amish friendship bread for breakfast!IMG_20200224_112050147_Original.jpgIMG_4064.JPG

~ for a pretty successful first week of Intro-to Potty-Training with TK.  She is excited to use her little potty chair and has had only a couple of unfortunate mishaps in her pink Peppa Pig panties.  She is very proud of herself and never lets me forget her Skittles. IMG_4098.JPGIMG_4119.JPGIMG_4120.JPG

~ for sweet Zoe, who received the “Joyfulness” Award at chapel.  Love to see those brown eyes sparkle.   Her name means “life,” and I pray she always lives a life full of the JOY of the Lord. IMG_4073.JPG

~ for a lovely evening of fellowship prompted by some pretty exciting conversations.  We’ve been talking a lot about heaven lately, and one day last week Sawyer enquired, “What about people who have never heard about Jesus?  Do they get to go to heaven?” What a question!  I explained to him that Jesus is the ONLY way to heaven, and that that’s why it’s so important that we share the gospel with people who haven’t heard it.  And then he replied, “I REALLY want to go to heaven!  But I know it’s important that I really understand before I can ask Jesus into my heart…”

The rest of the conversation went like this

“Well, you have to believe in Jesus”

“I do!”

“You have to want Him to be your boss.”

“I dooo!”

“You have to want to serve Him your whole life.”

“I DOOOOO!”

You can only imagine this mama‘s heart.  We told Sawyer that maybe it would be a good idea for him to think of some more questions and sit down and talk about them with our pastor, Brother Joe.  He immediately hopped up excitedly, “Can we write them in a notebook?  I can’t read… but will you write down my questions for me, Mama?”

So of course I did.  When I told Sawyer that usually people make an appointment to meet Brother Joe at his office to talk, he promptly replied, “Nope!  I want him to come to our house.  For dinner.”  So that’s exactly what we did.  Brother Joe and Miss Becky came over, and we had a great visit.  Sawyer had some incredible questions: “Why did God want to make us?” and “Why doesn’t God make us obey him?”  That night at bedtime, he said it made him happy that Brother Joe and Miss Becky had come over for dinner.  He said “I liked asking him my questions,” and things have been left at that for now.   We will let Sawyer take the lead, and follow up when he brings it up again.  I never want to push or manipulate God’s perfect timing.  I’m excited about all the things that the Lord is stirring up and storing and building in his honest, tender, loving heart.  I can only imagine what the Lord has in store for him.

~ for Brother Joe and Miss Becky being extremely gracious in eating the meal we lovingly prepared for them.  Fried catfish.  Ask me if either Josh or I have ever fried catfish before.  It was on sale so we had wanted to try it.  It’s always a FABULOUS IDEA to cook a dish you’ve never attempted before for guests.  At least the brownies were good.  

~ for a tremendous progress on the refresh in Carson Grace‘s room / my studio.   Josh and I finished the herringbone wood-block backsplash and added some bright pops of color and gold for personality.  We had one wall with some sheet rock damage, so we created a fun and functional galvanized magnet board.  We still have some paint touch up to do, but for all practical purposes, the room is complete!  Carson Grace FaceTimed with me to check it out, and she is excited to get home and see it in person.  I look forward to sharing the space with her.  I love having a creative place to create!IMG_4275.JPGIMG_4282.JPGIMG_4178.JPGIMG_4268.JPGIMG_4269.JPGIMG_4283.jpg

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~ for the wonderful opportunity to attend Generosity Tyler, an event hosted by Jasper Ventures designed to encourage and inspire living generous lives.  I have to admit that I arrived at the event pretty much swallowed up by anxiety.  I felt very out of my element, very inadequate, and very overwhelmed.   I sat in my car in the parking lot for a while, taking my anxieties honestly to the Lord.  He reminded me who I am in Him, and that there is no need to ever be anyone else. It was a lovely event.  Paula and I heard testimonies from people who shared how they have personally been stretched and have experienced a paradigm shift on what it means to be biblically generous.  How the Lord wants us to be so generous WITH OUR LIVES that people find it shocking.  We had some great conversations with the people at our table and ate some delicious food. And at the end of the event, the generous hosts of Generosity Tyler generously gifted us the beautiful floral centerpieces from all the tables for our upcoming event!  I left so amazingly inspired and encouraged. IMG_4179.jpgIMG_4177.jpg

~ for a surprising, y’all-are-going-to-shake-your-heads-and-call-us-insane new addition to our Tribe.  Meet Birdie. IMG_2301.JPGIMG_3792.JPGIMG_4253.jpgIMG_4264.JPG

If you need me this week, I’ll be potty training a puppy and a 2 year old, sending my Freshman off on a camping trip with his class, and prepping for and hosting a Gold Network dinner for 100 guests.   Can’t wait to share all about it.  Thank you for your continued prayers for the hurting people around us: the newly diagnosed, the ones who have lost and are losing loved ones, the ones who may be keeping their pain hidden from anyone.  Let’s walk in joy, hope, and generosity this week!

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7)

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9)

But God

I am thankful:

~for cute/sweet conversations overheard….

Sawyer, “Mama!  Tatum is jumping on me and squashing me and I can’t breathe!”

Tatum K “I sowwy Sasa.”

Sawyer, “It’s ok Tatum.  I’ll always love you.”

~ for a couple beautiful days of sunshine!  It was so refreshing to get outside and breathe deep in the crisp air and take a walk again!

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~ for a great excuse for a sweet treat.  February 18 is International Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day, a day set aside to raise awareness for childhood cancer.  Often during cancer treatment, kids lose their appetite. The chemo makes food taste terrible and kids day nauseated day in and day out. Sometimes the only thing that sounds good or might bring a smile is some ice cream. So why not ice cream for breakfast? We join in to encourage kids who are fighting cancer, to celebrate with kids who have completed their treatment, and to remember the friends who were taken from us too soon.  What a blessing to have friends from all over who joined in and shared their pictures with us.   Thank you all so much. 

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~ for yet another birthday at our house – mine!   I had a great day, lots of sweet messages from friends and family, homemade cards from the sweetest kids on the planet, a heavenly breakfast date with my sweetheart (and Tatum K of course), and a surprise coffee date with Colton!   I was blessed beyond measure.   Oh, and one of my highlights was getting the GOLD sneakers I’ve been dreaming of for a LONG TIME!!!  And a new gold coffee cup!  (Is there a theme here?)IMG_4005.JPG

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~ for the kindness of Grace Community School.  The GCS HOSA Club (Health Occupations Students of America, or Future Health Professionals) recently held a drive at the high school to collect the items we give in our New Diagnosis Survival Kits.  We are so thankful for the HOSA students for organizing and the students for donating!

HOSA Leadership - Gold Network of East Texas

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~ for amazing progress on Carson Grace’s room/my studio.  The Murphy bed turned out great, and we (after 79,358 problems and equipment malfunctions) got the whole room sprayed a fresh, bright Alabaster white.   I got inspired and started playing around with some stain colors and ended up loving the way the headboard turned out; and Josh did an amazing job on the reclaimed wood countertop.  It’s so fun working on a new project together, and we are reminded of how much we enjoy the process of dreaming up a design and then knocking it out.  

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~for a beautiful opportunity for our girls to give a praise offering to the Lord. Samantha and Kora are a part of the Psalm 149 Dance Team at church, preteen girls learning the art of worship dance.  The team is even taught by a young teenager who once danced in this group when she was younger.  It was an honest and sweet outpouring of love for the Lord, and their performance at church this morning was so beautiful. 

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~ for 15 years of memories.   We sorrowfully said goodbye to a precious member of our family this week, our 15-year-old pug, Cricket.  He’s been the best dog and has been through it all with us.  He was our first family dog when we just had three kids.  He survived the great Rucker Population Explosion of 2013, and was a bright source of joy for us throughout the journey of cancer.   He has rapidly deteriorated over the past few months, and I began to think the only thing keeping him alive was his sheer hatred of our new-er dog, Bear.  We are thankful that he is no longer suffering, and we will lovingly remember him always, but there is a stinky, snuffy-nosed, Cricket-shaped place that hurts in all our hearts right now. 

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The words from the song I shared last week still resonate in my head… “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.  You never stop, You never stop working.”  No matter what’s going on, there are ALWAYS blessings to count.  That’s what Sunday Gratitude is about.  

 But this week has been one blow after another.

A dear friend got a devastating health news.   

Another friend had troubling findings on her sonogram.  

A suffering mother anxiously longs for her healing by graduation to heaven. 

Not one, but TWO new children were diagnosed with cancer here in Tyler.   

And another family got the only news worse than “your child has cancer.”  The words, “There’s nothing more we can do.”

 BUT GOD.I say that a lot, both here on the blog and in real life.What does that even mean anyway? BUT GOD. It means He really IS the answer to every question. 

Father God, I am out of pretty words.  My heart is broken and bleeding and sad.   I am hurting for my friends.  I don’t understand.  I don’t understand why babies have to get sick and suffer.  I hate cancer.   Oh, how I hate cancer.  I don’t understand why some people get healed on this earth and some people don’t.   But I do know with everything inside me that You are FULLY GOOD.   I believe that You have a good plan that is better than mine.  And I believe that You hold me when I’m sad and mad and confused and anxious and furious and falling apart.  AND I BELIEVE THAT THIS WORLD IS PASSING AWAY AND WE WILL ONE DAY LIVE A GLORIOUS LIFE WITH YOU IN HEAVEN!  And there will be NO MORE SORROW AND NO MORE PAIN!  How I long for that day!  Until then, Father God, please hold my friends close.  Give them Your supernatural peace that defies all logic.  Give them grace breath by breath to walk through their circumstances.  Surround them with friends who bring Your comfort.  Show us how to help them in real life, practical ways.  If it’s Your will to heal on this earth – HEAL!!!!  To You be all the glory!!!!  And if it’s Your will to heal them in heaven, let it be bathed in Your infinite mercy, and help us to trust in Your timing.  Jesus COME!

Please pray for the hurting people all around you.  

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

““For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”    (Romans 8:37-39)

The Biggest Little Things

I am thankful:

~ for HEALING!  The Rucker Tribe has survived the Great Flu of 2019.  Oh, we still have some sniffles, snuffles, and coughs.  And sleep is still hit or miss (mostly miss).  But it is a vast improvement over last week to say the VERY LEAST.  Thank You JESUS!  And thank you to all of you for reaching out with your kind words and encouragements.

~for all the funny little memories at Christmastime.  For the kids’ love of EVERY Christmas song, and how they sing out with all their hearts.   I love that Tatum K doesn’t know who Santa is.  She just points when she sees a picture or an inflatable and says, “look mama! It’s a May-wee Cwis-mas boy!”  We have had fun running errands together, she’s my little buddy while kiddos are at school.  She attracts a lot of attention wherever we go, so stinkin’ cute in her little boots and messy bun.  At this store she found slippers that matched her little sherpa jacket, so she had to give them “a lovey.”  Oh Lord, let her stay my sweet tiny Tater. 

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~ for puzzles.  I forget how fun puzzles are.  

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~ for a wonderfully special occasion worthy of celebration: Grandmommy’s 70th birthday!  Aunt Polly hosted the gathering, and we feasted on brisket and chips and dips and a charming custom purse cake topped with FON-DANT.  We all laughed and made Grandmommy cry, and celebrated the legacy of the lovely, godly lady we all love so much.  

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~ as always, Grandmommy’s birthday also marks the start of the greatly anticipated tradition: 12 Days of Christmas.  Each night we gather and sing the song, and then open our thoughtful treat and take our picture.  The kids absolutely love the whole process, and I am so thankful for all the work that Grandmommy puts into it all.  These are memories that will last forever.  I am a sucker for traditions, and it fills my heart to see the smiles of my babies beside the tree.  Day 1 was sticker page nativities.  And you have never seen such joy as they each diligently worked on decorating their own paper.

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~ for such a fun Christmas party with our small group from church.  The adults had organized a rowdy (and rather cut-throat) white elephant gift exchange.  The kids were very intrigued by the idea (I mean, OBVIOUSLY they saw a bunch of gifts and wanted some) so I quickly gathered items from around our house to put together a white elephant exchange for them. None of them had ever played it before, so it was a little challenging.  Sawyer ended up with the dud gift: a ladies bracelet and a coupon.  He was NOT IMPRESSED.  Nor was he gracious about being disappointed.  There were tears.  Everyone else had fun though.  I’m thankful for such a fun group.  As you can see, I was in a PARTICULARLY FESTIVE mood.

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~ for a new-to-me treat:  baked crescent rolls filled with melted chocolate chips and drizzled with powdered sugar glaze.  Just STOP IT!

~ for last minute Giddyup & Whoa orders.  you can imagine how tight the budget gets with nine kids at Christmas time. Even though our focus is definitely not on spending a lot on extravagant gifts, all the expenses just all add up faster than the deposits.  Every order is truly a blessing, and we are so grateful for the way God provides!  It is such an honor to be trusted with bringing to life special mementos for people.  

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~ for amazing and inspiring connections.  I got a sign order this week from a lady I did not know.  She had taken my card at the show at the Foundry several weeks ago and just now contacted me.  She came to the house to pick up her order, and we had the best conversation!  She is also a mother of 9, and we have several  common friendships.  Such a small world.  The sign she had me do for her was so unique and personal, my very favorite kind of sign to paint.  A saying with personal meaning that you’re just not going to find hanging in Hobby Lobby.  She had asked me to paint “Love is the Tuesdays.”  It’s a lyric from the song, “Tuesday’s,” by Jake Scott, and it was a gift for her husband.  She encouraged Josh and I to listen to the song, which we did later that evening.  The song is advice given by a father to a young man who is asking to marry his daughter.  “No it’s not Hollywood son ’cause troubles will come / But it’s the best decision you’re ever gonna make / And you’ve got my blessing but just hear this lesson / Twenty-seven years and all I’ve got to say / Is it’s not just picture perfect dancing in a white dress / It’s not just rainy days where nothing stops the fighting / It’s not just highs and lows and champagne toasts / I’ve come to know that love’s not only the best days or the worst days / Love is the Tuesdays”

Isn’t that just the truth?  Love is the everyday moments that happen in between the highs and the lows.  So blessed by the song and touched by the sentiment behind the sign order. 

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~ for an amazing accomplishment for my INCREDIBLE HUSBAND!  A few weeks ago he took the step of faith to enroll in an online real estate course, and this week he completed the first class and ACED his first exam!   So proud of this remarkable man of mine and excited to see what doors God will open down the road!

~ for the kids’ DARLING Christmas program at church.   From our Tribe, we had scintillating portrayals of an angel, King Herod, and Caesar Augustus, as well as 2 eloquent narrators.  There is something so pure about seeing the story of Jesus’ birth through the eyes and lips of children.  And even seeing how beautiful and grown up Samantha and Kora are.  Zoe sparkling in her tinsel halo.  Sawyer, serious as can be, sternly barking out his line, and Gavin’s dramatic death on stage.  Even Tatum K’s spontaneous interruptions asking when it would be “cookie time.”  It was just so very special.  

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Before the Children’s Program, Becky the Children’s Pastor, asked the audience to pause.  I LOVED how she said it.  “Let’s just pause a moment to make some room.  We can’t appreciate a gift we are given if we don’t take the time to realize how much we NEED that gift.”  Advent is the season of waiting.  Waiting expectantly for the birth of the King.  Waiting longingly for His Return.  But do we have room?  Are we too busy and distracted by the cares of this world?  By how many friends/followers/likes we can accumulate?  By having the Pinterest-perfect porch display, ugly sweater, or charcuterie board?  By buying the perfect gift to outdo what we gave last year?  

Quieting our heart is hard.  Waiting is hard.  What are you waiting on?  What prayer are you praying that has not yet been answered?  My heart aches with the weight of some of the things I wait for, long for.   But I know God sees me.  I know He cares about the things and the people I’m asking Him for.  He saw the needs of the people of Israel.  He had a plan to meet those needs.  He has a plan to fulfill every need.  But for now, we wait.  Creation is groaning for our Coming King.  We ache for healing, for reconciliation, for restoration.  We cry out to Him for a Breakthrough.  And sometimes every single thing our eyes see looks like failure.  Hopeless.   But the God of Hope is working when we cannot see.  And thankfully, His power is not contingent on our faith.  I thank God for that every day.  Because my faith feels so small and my vision falls so short.  But God.  So whatever it is you are waiting for, don’t lose heart.  

He is working.  

He is coming. 

And He’s always right on time. 

So let’s pause a moment.  And let’s make some room for Jesus in our hearts and our schedules this week.  

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalms 27:13-14)

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed….We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently….And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:18-19, 22-25, 28)

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 )