Back to School Daze

I am thankful:

~ to be DONE BACK TO SCHOOL SHOPPING.  It only took me 3,647,447,262 trips to 78,226 stores to get what everyone needed. 

~ for our wonderful, kind teachers at Grace Community School, and how thrilled each of the children are with the classroom they were placed in.  I love the aroma of eagerness and hope at the beginning of the school year.  There is just so much promise: new friends, new skills, new adventures.  There are few things that thrill my kids more than strapping on a brand spankin’ new pair of tennis shoes and a 86 pound bulging backpack to go see friends they have missed all summer and meet their teachers.  

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~ for a good first day of school.  Everyone popped out of bed with a grin, gobbled up fresh baked banana muffins for breakfast, and doodled up in their favorite outfit to start off their new year.  (I may have chosen Sawyer’s shirt…)  We read our morning devotional, like always, and prayed over our day and our family and our teachers, like always.  Josh headed off to take Cooper to his first day of high school while I walked into the elementary school with 6 of my babies.  And walked out with just one.  I’m infinitely grateful for a school filled with people who love Jesus and love our family, and who give a whole lot of grace to this mama who has a very hard time letting go.  But God.  

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~ and as if that were not enough, Wednesday was the day to drive Carson Grace back to ETBU, this time for good.  Tatum K and I made the drive with her, and when we arrived, the dorm was HOPPING!  When we moved her into her dorm before her mini-mester 2 weeks ago, there were just a handful of students on campus.  But this week was Tiger Camp, ETBU’s Freshman Welcome Week.  All of Carson Grace’s suite-mates were there, and it was great to meet them and their parents.   I can already tell they are a really special group.  We did the few last updates to her room, went on a quick grocery run, and a hurried Subway lunch, as I had to rush back to Tyler in time to pick up Littles from school.  This meant I didn’t get to participate in the parent part of Tiger Camp, attending the first Chapel service of the year with Carson Grace.  But I know God’s timing is better than mine, and I trust that it was best for me to get on the road when I did.  Oh, it was so hard to drive away.  I could tell though, that she was excited and ready.  Much more so than the first time we dropped her off, all alone in the dorm.  This time her room and the campus were already familiar, and she was surrounded by classmates ready to dive in right beside her.  Hard hard for Mama, not so much for my girl.  And that’s how it’s supposed to be, praise God. IMG_5764.jpg

She has sent lots of pictures since Wednesday: scavenger hunts, team challenges, and community service projects.  She’s making lots of friends and looks like she’s loving it.  She and her camp group went to a local church this morning together, and classes start bright and early in the morning.  Proud of her.  But I sure do miss my girl.  I’ve spent a lot of time in her room this week, thinking about her, praying for her.  (I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying….)

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~ for traditions.  If you know me, you know I’m big on traditions.  Every year on the first day of school, we go to our very favorite snow cone shack in Tyler, Shivers.  Tatum K shared her piña colada snow cone with me…she loved her “pink-alada”!

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~ for kind friends.  Thoughtful friends.  For old and new friends.  For truth-telling-even-when-it-hurts friends.  For tried-and-true, gone-through-the-ringer, here-for-the-mountains-and-the-valleys friends.  

~ for steady Giddy up & Whoa work.  I truly love to paint, and our little home business is such a blessing to our family.  And I needed the diversion.  Thursday was even harder than Wednesday with the kids gone.  On the first day, taking Carson Grace to Marshall took the whole day.  I was too busy to think about anything. (WHICH WAS MERCY).  Thursday was a different story.  It was a different kind of quiet.  Not a TRUE quiet, because Tatum K is a wild little fireball and a constant chatterbox.  I know this year will be a sweet time with just my Tater Tot at home.  But for now, the empty house is echoey.  Too much space.  As much as my Tribe drives me crazy and I’m always exhausted with their questions and their squabbles and their needs…they are MY PEOPLE.  And I miss them when they’re gone.  So anyway, it was a blessing to have 5 sign orders that needed my attention during Tatum’s naptime.  And I’m pleased to say I got them all done!

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~ for a good evening and meal with Colton.  The Littles were thrilled to swim with him and climb all over him.  Always good to spend some time with my boy. 

~ for a nice start to our Gold Network Toy Drive for the prize closet at Children’s Hospital.  A group of sweet ladies all went out and purchased nearly 100 toys and donated them in honor of one of their friend’s birthdays!  What a great idea!  Last year we donated more than 1400 toys to Children’s.  We are collecting toys through the month of September.  

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~ for excitement brewing over all our upcoming Gold Network events.  August 29 is Go Gold Tyler, our annual Childhood Cancer Awareness night on the Tyler Downtown Square.  I’ve been reaching out to our cancer families and have been thrilled by the overwhelmingly positive response!  It is so special to have all these Hero families together.  And then Tyler Gold Run is coming up September 21.  For our big 5 year celebration (how can it be 5 years!?) we are thrilled to have added a 10k route and moved to a new, larger park.  I am always amazed at how our friends and family and the community rise up in support of all these brave kids and their families.  Please consider being a part of these special events, or donating toward the cause. 

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IMG_5513.jpg~and this is just INCREDIBLE!  One of our Hero families has a cousin who is an amazing artist.  She created an original watercolor painting and has DONATED IT FOR AUCTION TO GOLD NETWORK!!!  This priceless painting takes my breath away.  Please check out the auction and bid or donate if you feel led.  The auction is open until August 29.  Click here for details.

~for good baseball memories with my Love.  Josh is one of the biggest Texas Rangers fans that has ever lived, and he has passed this passion on to his family.  I learned early in our marriage that if I was going to have any quality time with my husband from April until October, I needed to learn to speak baseball.  So I asked a few questions, and it was his greatest delight to teach me the ins and the outs of the game.  So this week, it was very special to glue ourselves to the TV screen to watch a momentous milestone for our all time favorite player, Josh Hamilton, as he was inducted into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame.  Josh is one of the greatest talents to have ever played the game, but we love him because of his story.  He has battled drug and alcohol addiction for his entire career, and although he found salvation in Jesus Christ, he has continued to fall back into those self-destructive patterns.  But seeing him back on the field, hugging his old teammates, and hearing his bold and honest speech that gave all glory to the God who continued/continues to love him in the midst of his failures….we cried our eyes out.  It. Was. Awesome.  He closed his 14 minute speech with these words of encouragement for when we get knocked down, “Don’t you dare stay down. The God of the universe sent His Son to die so that we have the right to GET BACK UP IN JESUS!”

Our friend Harold needs your prayers.  He was allowed to go home from the hospital Wednesday, only to have hydrocephalus symptoms return Thursday, causing his parents to rush Harold back to Dallas for his FIFTH surgery.  Please pray for healing and wisdom for the team of doctors treating him.  And for grace and strength for his precious family.  Thank you for continuing to lift up the parents and family of sweet Lucas, who went to heaven last week.  Someone I love is recovering from a dreadful injury, and 3 family members are battling cancer.  So many people hurting.  Oh how I hate cancer.  Jesus come….

Friends, life is hard. It is hard and good and beautiful and horrible and excruciating and glorious.  Live well.  Love large.  Give freely.  Forgive.  See people.  Pray for one another.  Share Jesus.  

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

““A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.””  John 13:34-35

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  Hebrews 4:14-16 NIV

Sanctification

I am thankful:

~ for creative get-out-of-bed excuses.  “Ma-a-a-ma, I need to ask you something?  Do chickens fly?”

~for Giddyup & Whoa orders that come right on time.  Every single order is a blessing of provision.

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~for decadent French toast with orange zest and a crispy crust of cinnamon sugar.  I had a new recipe, and it was a resounding hit with the Tribe.

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~for the tender hearts of my children. We did not tell them about the senseless tragedies of last weekend.   But they are incredibly observant and quickly noticed all the flags lowered to half-staff.  When I briefly told them what had happened, they were aghast and IMMEDIATELY asked if we could pray aloud together in the car.  First they prayed for the grieving families of the victims, and then began to pray that God would touch the hearts of the shooters, “that they would come to know You Lord, and that they would be sorry for what they have done.”

~for such a special surprise: my sweet friend Meredith blessed Sawyer with one of her impeccably hand-sewn minky puppies!  Check out the gold childhood cancer ribbon!  If you haven’t checked out My Minky Co, you need to!  Thank you Meredith!

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~for back-to-school shopping.  It’s hard for me to say I’m thankful for this.  Not gonna lie. School supplies, shoes, and clothes for six in school is no joke.  Just the magnitude this year’s number is intimidating, but sometimes brave is what you are when you don’t have a choice. We tackled the stores as a wild and boisterous unit.  My kids opened every shoebox in every store.  They showed me every pencil that was ever made.  They were pretty good about not “asking” (they had been severely warned) but instead they just exclaimed over and over, “look at this one Mama!  Isn’t this one cute? Isn’t this one sweet?  This one is awesome!  I love this!”  I had warned them, don’t ask for everything you see. However, I had forgotten to specify, “don’t show me and describe every detail of everything you see.”  School starts Wednesday…I’d estimate that I am 68% done with the supply shopping.  And that I am 143% READY to be done.  It’s not that I want my kiddos out of the house, it’s just the progression of the season.  They are all ready to be done at home and back to their friends.  Instinctively they crave the structure and margin of the school setting, even if the appreciation won’t stay with them long.  

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~for grace for new seasons.  I don’t think I can express to you how different my life is going to be with Carson Grace gone to college.  She’s my babysitter.  My ONLY babysitter.  And I have become accustomed to running my errands by myself.  I just don’t take my people into stores.  I just don’t.  A couple of my children have literally been in a store, ANY store, like three times in their lives.  It’s just one of those things, that if I didn’t have to go with an entourage, I didn’t.  Well now, that luxury is over for the most part.  Six little people at the grocery store.  Six little people shopping for shoes.  Six little people in the return line at Walmart.  It’s just a different season.  But you know what… WE SURVIVED!  I’m not trying to say it was relaxing and poetic and my favorite way to spend my time.  But nobody backflipped off the shelves, and I didn’t lose any of them.  So I’m going to call it a win.  I think I’m going to be getting a lot of use out of my “big girl panties” this year.

~thankful to have my girl back, even if it’s only briefly.  Carson Grace finished up her mini-mester class at ETBU, and I drove with the Tribe to pick her up on Friday. Everyone was thrilled to see her, and excited to get to check out her new room at the dorm.  She goes back for real on Wednesday.  I’m thankful for the Lord’s kindness to allow us to have a more gradual “letting go.”

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She even sent me a “First Day of School” picture!

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~for a fun night at Meet the Cougars.  At this yearly fall school event, each high school athletic team is highlighted to get people hyped for the school year.  Very excited to see Cooper’s #19 jersey come out of the football tunnel.  He’s so excited about his freshman year.  Can’t wait to watch him play!

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~for Sawyer’s fun time at his Kindergarten picnic.  He got to see old friends and meet some new ones, and went on a scavenger hunt on the school playground.  So proud of my brave boy and how excited he is for kindergarten. Here come the tears again.  I don’t know what I’m gonna do without him every day. He just makes life so bright.  I hope I never outgrow the utter awe I feel when I look at him, knowing all he has overcome. 

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~for God’s Word spoken straight to the heart.  Sometimes it just pierces in such a powerful way.  The message this morning was on sanctification.  Being redeemed, made holy, and set apart.  Brother Alvin, our dear friend and visiting missionary from Honduras, referenced offering someone a cup of water in a filthy glass.  I long to be set apart for God.  Sanctified by His blood so that He can use me for His purposes.  But how often I come as a dirty vessel.  With unforgiveness.  With my own agenda.  With short-sighted expectations of my Father’s ability.  I long to set an example for my children of being set apart.  Called higher.  Called to be in the world but not of it.  To love with the sacrificial supernatural love of Christ.  How much more useful we are when we do it God‘s way.  And what a stumbling block we are when we insist on our own way.  The message hit me right between the eyes today.  Lord, cleanse me and sanctify me as a vessel of honor. 

Friends, sweet Lucas went to be with Jesus yesterday.  Now he is whole and healed and forever free from cancer.  And now his family is broken-hearted to have to live without him.  His suffering is over, and theirs has intensified.  Please, please pray.  Our lives will go on…theirs will never EVER be the same again.  And while they do have the blessed assurance that they will see their boy again one day, today…today there is unspeakable pain. 

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Love one another well.  Hold tight to your people and don’t skip the extra story and the 14th snuggle.  Forgive when you don’t think you should have to, and give more than you think is necessary.  Life is a vapor. You won’t regret it. 

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

“Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 20:7

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”  John 17:15-19

Letting Go

I am thankful:

~ for the beginning of football season.  Is it really the beginning of football season already?  Well, Cooper started two-a-days this week, so that meant we were up before the sun.  And even though I was in a coma as I drove him, I still appreciated taking in the glorious sunrise.  And I love seeing Cooper with a goal in mind.  That kid loves him some football!

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~for a great time at the Football Moms’ Clinic.  It’s a special time for moms to learn a little more about the game and focus on our boys.  To sit at their football locker and pray over the upcoming season.  To share a meal with other football moms and our sons.  It’s always such a sentimental night for me.  I attended my first Moms’ Clinic 6 years ago when Colton was a freshman, with Sawyer in my belly.  I missed the next year because Sawyer and I were in the hospital, in the critical early stages of his chemotherapy treatment, and the coaches and moms were so kind to us with notes of encouragement.  The next 2 years attending with Colton were super special, and now I’ve had a couple years off with no high school football player.  So to sit beside my Cooper, who gets taller and more handsome daily, as he starts his freshman year of football, I couldn’t be more proud and thankful.  

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~ for the opportunity to give blood in honor of an amazing warrior boy.  Luke’s birthday was Wednesday, but this year he celebrated it in heaven with Jesus.  His family chose to celebrate his life and his memory by encouraging people to donate the gift of life.  You may have heard that there is a nationwide blood shortage.  Kids with cancer require frequent blood transfusions throughout treatment.  Sawyer had dozens.  So I was thankful for the opportunity to participate and tell the techs about Luke and about Sawyer.   If you can, GO DONATE BLOOD!

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~ for a fun, albeit way too short, visit from Uncle Mike and Cousin Kenedy.  We got some great snuggles and lots and lots of giggles.  My favorite was hearing Kenedy ask for “Clipper” (Cooper). 

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~ for those rare moments when God allows us to see purpose past our pain. So often we cling to what we want, not knowing He has something far greater. Sometimes we have to let go of what WE THINK we need so that we can receive His BEST!

~for the most amazing honor!  Our friends from Minnesota, the Franz’s, shared amazing news.  Their 10 year old son, Andrew, participated in the Pinky Swear Foundation Triathlon for childhood cancer, IN SAWYER’S HONOR!  Andrew completed a 100 yard swim, 3 mile bike course, and a half mile run.  We hope he heard us cheering for him all the way from Texas!

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~ for a happy happy birthday for our sweet Zoe Girl.  I still can’t wrap my mind around how much our little Brown-eyed girl has grown up.  I remember meeting her: 18 months old, bitsy tiny, big watering  wide eyes, and absolutely SILENT.  She refused to be put down, and Carson Grace carried her so much she wore a sore on her hip.  Today Zoe is bubbling with life, dancing and singing everywhere she goes.  She is a silly goose and loves to use her imagination.  She loved her waffles with sprinkles and whipped cream for breakfast and chose red velvet cupcakes for her cake.  Happy birthday ZoZo!

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~ for a (hopefully) win-win-win-win situation.  We had friends who needed to find homes for some kittens.  We had another friend who had been wanting a guinea pig.  Our kids really wanted a kitten.  Our Dad was anti-kitten, but EXTREMELY in favor of parting with our guinea pig.  So much so, that he was willing to acquiesce to a kitten if it meant re-homing the pig.  So bottom line, we traded a pig for a kitten.  Meet Miss Stella.  Bear is PASSIONATELY EXCITED about his new “sister.”

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Last night, we were in battle mode.  Last minute list checking and Walmart runs.  Pack?  Keep?  Memory box?  Toss?   We watched Carson Grace’s eternal tornado of a bedroom slowly transform into a stack of boxes and bags and suitcases.   Saying goodnight was different.  I knew it wasn’t going to be her last night to sleep in her room.  But it’s not ever going to be the same.  Most likely, whenever she comes back, it will be for a visit.  Not to stay.  She’ll always have a home to come back to here, but she really may move on and move out for good instead of ever coming back here to stay.  Ever my daughter, she was highly sentimental, and we shared lots of tears and sweet words with one another before we settled to bed.  I will always treasure those moments with my girl.  Today was our hard day.  We knew it was coming, and we have worked hard to get ready for this point.  Josh and I drove Carson Grace to Marshall and got her all set up in her new dorm room.  We rearranged the furniture and mounted her built-to-order Giddyup & Whoa sign over her bed. 

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We hung her clothes and arranged her mountains of shoes.  We set up her coffee bar and had a coffee-making lesson.  It turned out absolutely darling, and she loves her personal little oasis. 

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If this week seems early to start college, it is.  Carson Grace starts her 1 week mini-mester class in the morning, and then she’ll be home one more weekend before school starts for real.  We are so happy for her, and so proud.  We feel great about the environment she’s going to be in, and we know that she never belonged to us, but to God.  But I gotta tell you.  In spite of all those healthy, grounded, mature FACTS THAT WE WHOLE-HEARTEDLY BELIEVE…all that goes out the window when you drive away from the building where you just left your baby girl by herself.  Did we teach her enough?  Is she going to make good friends?   Is she going to work hard?  Is she going to be lonely?   We did the best we could the last 18 years, and we made a ton of mistakes along the way.  But it’s time to let go and release her with our blessing. And now it’s her turn.  To chose.  To stand.   And I know God’s got her, like He always has, and that she’ll be ok through the good choices and the bad, the sweet times and the heartbreaks.  I really do know she’s gonna be ok.  I do.  But tonight….tonight my house is a little too quiet without the sweet whisper of a ukulele and my favorite voice coming from the door at the end of my kitchen.  And my heart feels like a big chunk is gone.  Tonight I’m giving myself permission to be sad and miss my girl.

Please continue your faithful prayers for our dear friends Harold and Lucas and their families. God is, and always will be, bigger than cancer.  Bigger that anything we fear.  Bigger than than anything we face.  

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

“The Lord bless you and keep you;  the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance on you and give you peace.”  Numbers 6:24, 26 

Home Sweet Home

I am thankful:

~to be HOME! We had such a wonderful trip to the North, and made so many incredible memories, but there is truly NO PLACE LIKE HOME!

~to be out of the car!!!!!! Mercy, 40+ hours is a loooooong time! It was a long drive to Kansas City and then on to Winona, MN over two days. Then we spent a minimum of an hour each day in the car visiting various family members or attractions. 3 hours further North to the cabin in Wisconsin. And then, after such a tiring, jam-packed week of activities, the drive home was TORTURE. It seemed like we would never get to Texas, and once we did, the miles just went on forever. So thankful to be back to our home, our bed, our pets, and our coffee pot!

~for both old and new memories. I truly can’t put into words how meaningful it was for me to revisit places from my early life, and especially to do so with the people I love the most. To show my kids where I went to elementary school and high school. They have seen the pictures of their mama with big 80’s hair as a cheerleader, so it actually meant something to them. It meant something to Josh to see the beautiful surroundings of Decorah, Iowa where I went to college, the dorm where I met my friend Katie. Especially with our own daughter leaving for college soon. (Their running joke all week was that I had rebelled from an Amish heritage and gone to Corn College.) I showed them the treacherous winding gravel road that I rode my bicycle down to Grandma Grace’s house, road with them in the fields where I first learned to drive my Grandpa’s antique tractor, and introduced them to the delicacy of fresh and deep fried CHEESE CURDS! Many of these places also hold memories that are not at all sweet and warm. But to walk the old paths, now as an adult, and to see through the eyes of a new creation in Christ, AND to do it with my family…it was emotional and healing and beautiful. Josh and I even recreated a picture we had taken the first time I brought him to Minnesota to meet my family, 21 years ago. My how we have changed – I scarcely recognize those kids. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

~ for priceless connections with the kids with their cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and great grandparents.

~ for Chick-Fil-A!!! Oh how we missed you! We hit Sulphur Springs on the way home just in time for dinner, and the car erupted in cheers when we pulled up! Tatum K was SO DONE with the car at that point, but she perked up for chicken and french fries!

~ for the best neighbors on the planet. Our sweet friends across the street lovingly tended to our menagerie all week: 2 dogs, cat, guinea pig, and tank of lake fish. Another friend mowed our yard just because. Another maintained our pool so that it was clear and sparkling when we returned. This weekend, Josh was working on a faulty sprinkler in the yard and a neighbor came over with a shovel and spare parts and jumped right in to help! What a blessing to live side by side with such caring folks.

~ for new Dekalb Heublein Seeds hats for all! The kids hardly ever take them off. I took a picture to show my dad, and Sawyer insisted that I take one of him “wif this fing in my mouf, like a REAL FARMER.”

~ for unexpected, unbelievable generosity.

~ for the eager, loving hearts of my kids. “Mom! Come look! There is a beautiful Heavenly Glory outside! Come take a picture!” They are faithful and dedicated prayer warriors for any need, from a tummy ache to cancer. They love to help and cook and they give tremendous foot rubs. And they worship Jesus at the top of their lungs! Our trip served as a powerful reminder of how very special and unique and loving they are.

~ for reaching Sawyer’s 5 year “Cancerversary.” If you follow my Facebook or Instagram, you already read my post on July 23. If not, here you go:

“Cancerversary. So much has become hinged on this day. BC – Before Cancer. AD – After Diagnosis. 5 years ago life as we knew it ended. “Your baby has cancer.” The words fell into the hushed ER room, and time stopped. From that moment on, every single day was lived knowing it could quite literally be the last. I stopped making plans. I lived in a strained tension between the faith I clung to and the grim reality that slapped me in the face every time I walked the halls of the Oncology floor. Fast forward through 3 years of blood transfusions and spinal taps, bone marrow biopsies and adult chemotherapy, of administering shots in our bathroom and my baby taking his first steps in a blow up pool at the hospital.  Port placement. Port removal. A near fatal drug overdose/reaction. 2 Christmases in the hospital. Dozens of ER visits and hundreds of trips from Tyler to Dallas.  But also relationships built, lives changed, prayers answered. A front row seat to see the Body of Christ rising up and meeting the needs of the broken.  We’ve clung to each other and clung to Him for every breath.  And God has shown off. His Glory has surrounded us, overwhelmed us, overshadowed us. And today Sawyer is beautiful and bright and strong and healthy. If you didn’t know, you’d never dream he had fought this battle his whole little life. He is proud of his scar on his chest, announcing, “I don’t need a port anymore. Jesus healed-ed me, and NO MORE CANCER!” The doctors said he would experience developmental delays. But God. The  doctors gave him 24 hours to live. But God. BUT GOD!!!!”

The end of summer countdown has begun. 2.5 weeks until Littles go back to school. Which means 2.5 weeks until Sawyer will go to school EVERY DAY (as opposed to MWF last year). He’s so excited, so ready. I wish it wasn’t so hard for me to let him go. I’m so proud of him, and so thankful to God for allowing him to grow up to be so healthy and bright. He is truly a warrior, an overcomer. Lord, help me to trust You with his life today the way I did when he was a frail, sick baby. Help me to be as brave as Sawyer.

Brave indeed. Next Sunday we will load up and move Carson Grace to Marshall to start her journey at East Texas Baptist University. She is going early to take a week-long mini-mester as a part of her Music Major requirements. My heart isn’t ready to let her go either. I have cried about every 7 minutes all week. I know it’s time, I know she’s ready, and I’m so proud. But she’s my baby girl. Lord, help me to remember that she is Yours, not mine.

Please continue your prayers for sweet Lucas and his family.

And I’m sad to share ANOTHER new diagnosis in East Texas, 3 year old Harold, with an aggressive malignant brain tumor. Little Harold has already endured 2 brain surgeries this month, with a 3rd expected this week. Please lift these precious families to the Lord, for healing and for comfort in the midst of their worst nightmare.

Hug tightly the ones you love. Life can change in an instant. You are faithful Lord, and You are good.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” Psalm 121:1-8

My Old Stomping Grounds…and more

I am thankful:

I have to be honest. I was not super excited about this trip. Of course I couldn’t wait to see all my family. But we all love going to the beach so much, and that’s been our tradition for as long as I can remember. So to spend more than 40 hours in the car with the kids and NOT go to the beach was tough to swallow. I braced myself for lots of whining and complaining.

BUT GOD.

I could not have been more wrong.

God showed out this week. His plans were so much bigger, so much greater, so much grander than mine could ever have been.

We started off traveling through Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, and then back to Missouri to spend our first stopover in a Kansas City hotel. The next day was Missouri to Iowa and then to our primary hotel in Winona, Minnesota, close to where I grew up. Over the next several days we bounced back and forth between Minnesota and Wisconsin, visiting family and friends. We packed in more activity than I could have imagined possible, visiting my old stomping grounds and places I had never been. Everything was new to the kids, and my eyes were freshly opened on a whole new level:

*”TOTALLY PLANNED” quick stop at the iconic Blue Whale of Catoosa on Route 66

*Driving through Decorah, Iowa to show the kids Luther College, where I went to school, with a stop at the local ice cream hangout

*feasted on authentic Kansas City barbecue

*Swimming at hotel

*Playing at the world-renowned Lark Toys in Kellogg, MN

*Riding the intricately hand-carved carousel

*Mini golf

*4-wheeler/ranger riding on Grandpa’s farm

*Farm tour and tractor rides

*visit to iconic Winona landmark, Sugarloaf and Garvin Heights scenic outlook

*tour of the charming riverside community of Alma, Wisconsin

*Rock hunting and re-hiding

Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and Cabin at her birthplace in Pepin, Wisconsin

*Family reunion with aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and great grandparents; complete with water balloons and piñata

*up close train watching and observing the process of boats traveling through the lock and dam on the Mississippi River

*and CHEESE BALLS of course!

stop at gravesite of my Grandpa Henry and Grandma Grace, where I left cherries for the birds like I used to when I was a little girl.

*HARROWING ATV trip down the side of a bluff to creek fish for brown trout in the lush Southern MN countryside

*incredible meal of fresh bratwurst and angus burgers straight from Grandpa’s farm

And that was only Sunday through Thursday.

Thursday we drove 3 more hours North to Spooner/Danbury, Wisconsin to share a lakeshore cabin with my dear college friend Katie and her family. We fished bluegill, black crappie, largemouth bass, and Northern pike.

We boated and tubed, kayaked, paddle-boated, and paddle-boarded.

We spotted deer, loons, geese, and bald eagles, but were disappointed not to see any much-hoped-for bears. We sat in awe beneath the clearest glittering display of the Milky Way I have ever seen. Our families blended well and the kids played until they collapsed in exhaustion, and grownups stayed up all hours of the night talking about anything and everything.

Every. Single. One. of our children said it was the best trip they’ve ever been on. BETTER THAN HAWAII.

Now, they may or may not really mean that. But it doesn’t matter. God blessed this trip every step of the way. Parts that could have been really hard were either fine or better than fine. Every part of our trip exceeded our expectations. And we did so many different things in so many different places with so many different people that it feels like we’ve been gone for a month! And never have I been so remarkably proud of my kids. They were FANTASTIC!

At the moment, we are pressing on through fatigue and rain showers after 13 hours of driving to get to our midway destination of Kansas City, Missouri. We are READY TO GET OUT OF THE CAR!

***UPDATE: we made it to our hotel at midnight, after delays from construction, dead battery, rain, and wrong GPS. ROUGH DRIVE.***

On a very different note, sweet baby Lucas went in for his scans on Thursday. That evening his mama, our beloved nurse Kelly sent me a one word text: “hospice.” Friends, please pray.

Thank you for giving thanks with me.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.” Psalm 46:1-5 NIV

Cheese Balls

I am thankful:

~for the sweet, sweet time reading to my kids. We have so been enjoying the little Laura Ingalls Wilder series. We just finally finished “On the Banks of Plum Creek.” And already as we began the next book, “By the Shores of Silver Lake,” I love how engaged the children are with the characters. They gasped to learn of Mary’s blindness caused by scarlet fever. And we all cried together when Jack, the beloved bulldog, died.

~for our morning walk/stroll/bike ride. 2 miles every morning. I think we are the neighborhood entertainment.

~for those moments when my kids inspire me. Sweet 11-year-old Samantha has the most amazing hair you can imagine. Thick and lustrous, healthy and long. She has been growing it out for a long, long time with a very specific goal in mind. She knew she wanted to donate her hair to Locks of Love. I’m always amazed at how each of the children have been impacted by Sawyer‘s battle with cancer. Their hearts are just so compassionate. So we’ve been measuring Samantha‘s hair, waiting for it to get long enough to still leave her with a cute haircut. I asked her over and over if she was sure, and she never wavered. When we finally agreed that it was long enough she told me, “Mama, I prayed over my hair in the shower. That it would be a blessing to whoever it goes to.“ My heart exploded. She is donating six 12 inch ponytails! Isn’t she just so beautiful? And even more beautiful on the inside. It’s like instantly she just grew up before my eyes. So proud of your heart Sam!

~for God’s Grace that is always right on time. I can cry out in my moment of need, and He’s there with me. Anxiety has been big and ugly this week, and it doesn’t play nice. But prayer warriors lifted my arms when I could not, armed me with Scripture, and the Lord fought for me. I don’t say this because I feel victorious or that I mastered my anxieties. On the contrary. I feel like a whooped dog. But I know those are just my feelings. I made it through each battle, and anxiety didn’t win. And I’m stronger and cling more tightly to the Lord because of it.

~ for ice cold, juicy watermelon. Can there be ANYTHING more refreshing on a hot Texas day?

~ and for homemade dill pickles, straight from our garden. Cooper liked them so much, he followed my recipe and made his own batch! DELICIOUS!

~for the beautiful and undeniable presence of God when we have eyes to see. Last week, a friend shared a Scripture that she had been meditating on, and she knew it would encourage me. She had no idea it was the Scripture I was painting for my latest Giddyup & Whoa sign order. And the friend who had ordered that sign had been praying this same scripture over herself and a coworker. This verse has been referenced to me again at least twice THIS week. An accident? I don’t believe it for a second. I believe in the alive and active and proceeding Word of God that speaks to us through the Bible and through his people. And when He repeats Himself, that means He’s making an important point that He doesn’t want us to miss. I’m hearing Him loud and clear.

~for a fresh haircut. I honestly don’t think I’ve had a haircut since last September, so to say it was long overdue is an understatement. I can’t be the only one who feels like a new person when they get their haircut? Anyway, thank you Laura! You made my day so happy!

~ for the wonderful team that supports Gold Network of East Texas. We met at Panera for a meal (and a decadent cinnamon roll) to hash out plans and goals for the upcoming events this fall: Go GOLD Tyler (August 29) and Tyler Gold Run (September 21). I am blessed with the absolute best team. This is our 5 year anniversary of the race (how can that be?) and we are so excited about our new location at Bergfeld Park and the addition of a 10K route. It’s gonna be so great! Register for the race or make a donation at www.tylergoldrun.com We are so sad each time we learn of another East Texas child diagnosed with cancer. But we also know we can help!

~ for the privilege to pray for our friends when they need it. Will you please join me in lifting up Baby Lucas and his family? Their battle has been intense and wearying, and they need us to intercede for them. He has scans on the 18th, and we are asking for a miracle. You can sign up for updates on Lucas or drop a note of encouragement to his family on Caringbridge.

~ and lastly, I’m thankful for CHEESE BALLS!

At the Rucker household, the giant Sam’s Club barrel of cheese balls is only purchased one time a year, and their presence can ONLY MEAN ONE THING.

CHEESE BALLS = VACATION!

(Strange? Maybe so. But it’s been our family tradition for at least 6 years). There is nothing like the collective jubilant cheers that erupt when the cheese balls make their appearance. We even found them last summer in Hawaii!

It suddenly dawned on me what a milestone this is for us. This is our first trip since Sawyer’s cancer diagnosis in 2015 that HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH CANCER! We have made 2 trips to Florida for wonderful cancer retreats at the beach, and then last year was Sawyer’s unforgettable Make-a-Wish trip to Hawaii. But this trip, this is just a trip for our family. A regular family vacation. What a gift.

So I’m going to sign off for now, we are hunkered down for the night, and another big travel day tomorrow. But I’ll leave you with just one little hint until the full update next week….

Have a great week friends. Let’s love one another well. Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,”. Hebrews 10:23-24

“be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Ephesians 5:18b-20

Freedom

~ for simple days that are the best days. We’ve been missing Colton lately, he’s been busy, all grown up you know.  He finally had a free day and came home for lunch.  We chatted.  Looked at pictures.  Sat on the kitchen floor with the dogs and got caught up on each other’s lives.  We sat on the back patio, turned on some good tunes, and played round after round of Uno with the Littles.  Then while I started dinner, he played Monopoly with them (their favorite edition, Canadian!).  I honestly can’t even remember the last time we just had an easy, no-particular-occasion, “nothing” kind of day all together.  It was true treasure. 

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~ for the best little biscuit baking assistant. 

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~ for joy in the unexpected.  I thrilled 2 of my pre-teens by taking them shopping.  What did I buy that excited them so much?  Toys?  Ice cream?  New shoes?  Nope.  Their first DEODORANT.  I’m glad they are excited about their hygiene. 

~ for iron-sharpening friends.  The kind you can spill your “junk” to and they don’t freak out.  The kind of friends that aren’t looking for a dismissive, polite answer when they ask how you are, and who aren’t afraid to dive in deep past the shallow. 

~ for a GLORIOUS praise report from Georgia’s family: the pathology came back from the latest brain surgery that ALL CANCER IS GONE!  In fact, what was removed in this surgery was scar tissue, meaning the cancer was removed in her first surgery!  This has her in the best possible position for the next step of her treatment, proton radiation.  In the words of her mama, Jessica, “we have the mightiest physician healing Georgia. Jesus had and still has his protection and healing power over her and we pray and believe He will be the reason for her lifelong cure!  Jehovah Rapha” Please keep praying for this precious family. Proton radiation therapy begins TOMORROW (July 8).

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~ for such a fun July 4th.  A beautiful day, great music, the best brisket in all the land, ooey gooey brownies and decadent ice cream cake, and everybody’s favorite soggy swimming dog. 

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~ for the cutest, bitsiest, tiniest baby lizard any of us have ever seen!

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~ for the mouth-watering tingle inside your cheeks at the taste of fresh homemade dill pickles from our garden. 

~ for the kindest dentist in all the land. 

~ for a wonderful day trip to Carthage for a SECOND Independence Day celebration.  Got some much needed hugs from fam we don’t see nearly enough.  Fun souvenirs from Grandmommy’s latest adventures.  Great food, lots of laughs, just a perfect day.  Even caught a glimpse of some fireworks on our way home.  

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~ for 6 Giddyup & Whoa deliveries this week.  

~ for the sweet moments of daydreaming with my Love…only the Lord knows the plans He has for us, and we only want the future He has planned….but I love that we are still dreaming together.  

~ and this week on Chef Daddy’s Sunday Dinners: gourmet panko crusted tuna casserole. 

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With the holiday, everyone’s been talking a lot about FREEDOM.  We are reminded that freedom isn’t free: it was (and remains) hard-fought by brave men and women who lay their lives down for their country.  Freedom means so many different things to different people.  The freedom to do whatever you want.  Say whatever you want.  Love whoever you want.  I personally think a lot of people take these “freedoms” too far…at others’ expense.  People stomp all over other people under the guise of “freedom.”  As Christ-followers, we believe that Jesus too laid down His life for our freedom.  He died that we may no longer live as slaves to sin.  Not necessarily free TO do whatever we want, but free FROM the grip of vices and addictions and entrapments that so easily entangle us.  I know I’m free, but I still long for greater freedom: freedom from fear, from anxiety, from comparison, from anger.  It’s not a one-and-done, but rather a continual and gradual refining.  

And I got to thinking about the words we often use interchangeably: freedom and independence.  See, while I know Christ came to set us FREE, He never intended for us to be INDEPENDENT.  In this society of selfies, self care, and self worship, we aren’t supposed to NEED anyone.  We weren’t created to be slaves, but we also were not created to be autonomous, hedonistic loners.  We were built for community.  “It is not good for man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18)  But more importantly than needing one another, we have a desperate need to be DEPENDENT upon our Savior.   I trip myself up over and over again when I try to operate in my own strength.  I am completely incapable of what is expected of me.  Serving my husband.  Loving, shepherding, and caring for 9 kids.  Forgiving.  Living a life of faith over fear.  Putting others before myself.  Every single one of those ideals are contrary to my character.  BUT GOD.  He gives me life and joy and purpose that is not my own, and the more I lean on Him, the more He fills me up and heals my brokenness. 

I’m not as free as I want to be.  But I will be.  I’m trusting that as long as I’m breathing, God’s not done.  

Thanks for giving thanks with me!

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”             (2 Corinthians 3:17)

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

“being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 1:6)