Bloom

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

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

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

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

Focus

I am thankful:

~ for the smell after the rain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The whole Tribe!

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

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

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

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

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

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

Blessed to be a Blessing

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sawyer the Warrior and Bristell Brave

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

But God.

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

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

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

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

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

The Joy of the Lord is my Strength

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

~ for last minute G&W holiday projects.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

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

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

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

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

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Parties, Programs, and PUPPIES, oh my!

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

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

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

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

Traditions

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you spot Bear and Birdie?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank You Jesus for the promised joy that is coming.

PS. No puppies yet! Stay tuned…

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

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

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

Wonder

I am thankful:

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

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

Fire extinguisher at the ready

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

Pumpkin Olympics
Chicken Dance

~ for pumpkin pie for breakfast.

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

~ for coconut cream pie for breakfast.

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

~ for cherry pie for breakfast.

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

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

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

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

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

I want to step back into the wonder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

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

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

Right On Time

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For walks at sunset.

For fun finds at Goodwill.

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

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

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

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

Thank You, Jesus, for walking with me.

And thanks for giving thanks with me.

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

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

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

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

Marinating

I am thankful:

~ for Snow Much Fun! The “blizzard” on Sunday led to a Snow Day on Monday for most of East Texas, and it was GLORIOUS! The snow lingered most of the day, the sun was shining, and the rare sight of the white blanketed Texas countryside was just beautiful. The kids bundled up from head to toe and made more snowballs and played with neighbors and rolled around in it until they were soaked through. I did as much laundry in those 2 days as I do in a week! (and believe me, that is saying a lot!) But it was the perfect opportunity to come inside and snuggle up by the fire with some hot cocoa. It will be a story we will tell for years to come.

~ for my hardworking husband. He works all day at his “real” job, and then comes home ready to work on projects. We have lots of home improvement plans to do when he takes a week of vacation next month, but MR. GIDDYUP just can’t wait that long. So far he has replaced two ceiling fans, installed a pendant light, replaced two non-functional lights with SUPER-FUNCTIONAL track lighting, built and modified the barstools that I ordered that were the wrong size, and replaced all the lightbulbs that needed to be updated to LED. Sometimes the “giddyup” in him drives me crazy, but I’m so grateful for how hard he works to take care of us.

2017 – realtor.com pictures of our master bedroom when we bought our home
Mistakingly ordered BARSTOOL height instead of COUNTER height…
Mr. Giddyup was undeterred
And now they are perfect!

~ that our supersized bus for our supersized family can also be converted to use as a cargo van. The seating is completely modular and can be removed as needed to utilize the space. While the kiddos were at school, we loaded up on all the materials we will need for our upcoming projects.

Tatum K had a big time at Home Depot. It made me think of all the times I would go to hardware and farm implement stores with my Dad when I was little. I thought it was the most amazing place on the planet. So much to see, and I had no idea what any of it was. But I knew my dad knew, and I knew he would take care of me, so I was as carefree as can be!

~ for the official close of the puppy chapter for now. Our very last puppy, Red Boy, now named Oakley, finally went home to his forever family yesterday. It was very hard to say goodbye, as we have all fallen in love with the little fella.

But it made us feel great to know that two boys got the best surprise of their life yesterday afternoon. Our puppy families have been so kind to share pictures and videos of their babies with us. They are all so loved.

~ for one spicy little girl who FINALLY pooped on the potty for the first time. I don’t want to celebrate a victory of the war just yet, but I will revel in finally winning one battle.

~ for a yummier-than-expected healthy dinner, a loaded homemade cauliflower crust pizza and fresh salad.

~ for a fun, if way-too-short visit with Aunt Gina. Whenever we get the chance, we catch up on each others’ news, have some good laughs, and she always blesses me with friendship bread and Starbucks. So thankful for my sister.

~ for an amazing donation! Josh’s company, Aaron’s Inc, has a corporate donation program, and this year made a MOST GENEROUS donation of $5000 to Gold Network of East Texas. It was an honor for Paula and I to meet for a check presentation at Josh’s store this week.

~ for our first Sunday back to in person church service. Our little fellowship was hit hard with COVID-19 over the last couple months, and nearly everyone in leadership fell ill and was forced to quarantine. What a blessing to be back in the building together joined in worship. I know that the church is not a building, and I know God doesn’t live only there. But there’s nothing like it when we gather together in His name.

~ for Tiny Uno. Seriously, is anything cuter than Tiny Uno?

~ for friends to pray for and for friends who pray. And for the edification that comes when we testify to one another.

~ for good football (Go Chiefs!) and mouthwatering marinated chicken and carne asada fajitas with cilantro lime rice and fresh homemade salsa.

I remember writing about this once a long time ago, but it came to mind again tonight. Marinating. We use a marinade to tenderize meat or to add flavor. The longer something sits in a marinade, the more it absorbs it and the more it changes. It takes on the flavor of the marinade’s ingredients and in some cases the acidity of a marinade actually cooks the meat. We take on the flavor of what we soak ourselves in. The longer we marinate, the more we are changed. What are you marinating in? Are you spending your time soaking in social media? How many hours a day do you find yourself steeping in the barrage of headlines from your favorite news broadcaster or podcast? Or are you immersing yourself in God’s Word? Reveling in worship? Are you surrounding yourself with believers who testify of His faithfulness and spur one another on in good works? If you look at the ingredients of your marinade, are they what you want to taste like? Are they what you want to become? These are the thoughts that have been cycling through my mind as I try to pull away from old bad habits and try to establish new ones. What am I marinating in, and what am I becoming? And how does what I am becoming impact others, especially my husband and my children? Am I becoming better or bitter? I want to soak myself in Jesus, abide in Him, and be transformed to become a little more like Him every day. Imagine what would happen if we turned off the news and turned on our praise music and just worshipped instead of worried. I know it’s not really that simple. Or is it? All I know is it couldn’t hurt. I don’t want bitterness. Or fear. Or comparison. Or selfishness. Or divisions. I want more Jesus. So I need to spend more time with Him. And that’s the bottom line. Let’s encourage one another this week. And marinate in the goodness of God.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2)

“Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.””(Luke 10:38-42)

“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (IICorinthians 3:17-18)

Steadfast

I am thankful:

~ that I was only halfway to school when I heard Sawyer’s voice come from behind my shoulder in the car, “Um, mama… I forgot my shoes.”

~ for our Birdie girl’s birthday. What a year she has had! She joined our family, got married, and had 11 babies before turning 1!

~ for the blessing of tasty AND healthy options this week. We enjoyed delicious lean steaks (ok maybe cooked in some butter) and my favorite homemade healthy vegetable dip.

~ for the freshness that comes from putting away the Christmas decor and doing the first deep clean of the year. Everything looks brighter. Maybe a little bare at first, but it’s like a welcome pause after the constant overstimulation of the senses during the holidays. At first I always feel a little sad when I take down our favorite festive decorations, when all the nativities and the ornaments and stockings and the sparkle have been wrapped up and stored away until next year. But there is a fresh beauty in the spaces between. I’m always inspired to mix things up a little, to try a different arrangement, update a few pieces. Replacing a mattress that’s had a hole for…I-don’t-even-know-how-long. Changing up an old mirror with a little spray paint. Trading out a space age, rattling ceiling fan. January is the start of PROJECT TIME at Casa Rucker! We have some exciting projects planned for the next few months.

~ for a fun family movie night and the most hilarious Tatum K lookalike. (Check out Sophie on Rise of the Guardians.)

~ for a fun week with our temporary puppy. Red Boy, as we call him, referencing his color-coded id collar, is a sweetheart. He plays hard with the big dogs (we wonder if he has the concept that they are his parents), and has done a remarkable job with potty training. He has a most unusual favorite spot in the house. We will enjoy loving on him for one more week.

~ for a self proclaimed “best day of my life” for Sawyer. It suddenly dawned on me this week as he was struggling to buckle himself into his car seat with his bulky puffer coat. HE. IS. SEVEN. And is still riding in a high back car seat with a 5 point harness (the exact same seat Tatum K rides in). It was time, and I just hadn’t realized it. So while kids were at school, I purchased a new booster, and traded it for his old one. When he got in the car at pickup, you would have thought I had handed him tickets to Disneyland. “A booster seat! Mama! Thank you SO MUCH! This is the favorite gift I’ve ever gotten!” Immediately after school, he was invited to a laser tag birthday party at a local park. When I picked him up from the party, he was a tired, disheveled, frozen and oh-so-happy boy. Brown and green war paint smeared on his cheeks, a nose red from the cold, and tongue stained blue from Gatorade, he hopped into his new seat with a wide grin and said, “this is the best day of my LIFE! Well, the 2nd. The BEST day was the day I was done with cancer.” Oh my heart. Thank You God for the life of this beautiful shining light of a boy!

~ for the most glorious SNOW DAY! Here in Texas this is a highly accoladed event! I’m pretty sure we haven’t had any measurable snow in about 3 years. When the kids spotted the faintest hint of a flurry out the window this morning during our virtual church broadcast, they were beside themselves, and soon they were cheering at the meager white dust on our yard. The snowfall got heavier and steadier, and even to this Minnesota girl, it was magical. Huge white flakes falling and blanketing every surface – the kids say it looks like Narnia! Today they have built snowmen, had snowball fights, made snow angels, and did all the snow things you can pack into one afternoon.

Neighbors played outside, we snuggled with cocoa by the fire, we took breaks to warm up and dry out the sopping wet clothes, and then went back out for another round. Snow in the south is such a delightful oxymoron. Several times throughout the day we had to clean the snow off our palm trees to keep them from snapping. The kids were haphazardly bundled in multiple layers of pajamas and soggy hats and gloves that didn’t fit. And the initial jubilation of playing in the long-awaited snow lasted about as long as it took a snowflake to melt on their little Texas noses, quickly turning to whiny pink cheeked popsicles asking, “how do you know if you have frostbite?”

Dad and the big kids tried their hand at sledding down the snowy street on a cookie sheet: failed miserably, but hilarious to watch. Coop topped off our evening with a Polar Plunge into our pool!

Today was definitely my favorite day of the year. (As of 11 pm, it’s STILL coming down in giant flakes, we have gotten about 5 inches, and school is unsurprisingly cancelled tomorrow.)

The climate of our nation is insane. The devastating events on Wednesday were heartbreaking, and there is so much uncertainty about what may come next. It’s not hard to fall into the taps of anger, bitterness, division, and fear. But I’ve been so settled in my spirit. I mean, don’t misunderstand, I’m sad. I’m shocked. But I just know that God knew all this was coming, and that you and I were MADE for such a time as this. We, the Church, have been warned that trials were coming. That we will be targeted. That a day will come when we will be called to rise up in defense of the Gospel to a degree we have never experienced before. It’s time to dig deep and make a decision who we really are and what we really believe. Not what our parents told us to believe. Not what our preachers, or our Bible study teachers, or the social media influencers told us to believe. It’s time to get into God’s Word and read what HE SAID. IT’S TIME TO PRAY. It’s time to build our house on the Rock and set our anchors deep, because the STORMS ARE COMING. It’s time to ready ourselves. It’s time to teach our children to read their Bibles and that they can talk to God FOR REAL – ANY TIME, ABOUT ANYTHING, and that He hears them. It’s time to teach them to be kind to the lonely and to stand up for truth. It’s time to love our neighbors, especially the ones who are different from us. It’s time to pray for our enemies. It’s time to forgive. It’s time to WAKE UP BECAUSE IT’S FIXIN’ TO GET REAL.

During at-home worship, this song pounded into my heart.

“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!”

I’ve been open about it. I’m prone to anxiety. I worry. I think about cancer EVERY DAY. BUT GOD. I don’t want to puff up and act like I’ve got all the answers. I don’t know what I’m going to feel like tomorrow. But all I know is that TODAY…today my heart is steadfast. Many things are uncertain. But I KNOW what’s coming.

JESUS IS COMING.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

““Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” (Matthew 7:24-29)

““I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”” (John 16:33)