Back to School CRAY

I am thankful:

~ first and foremost, SO THANKFUL to report that Sawyer the Warrior remains CANCER FREE!!! GLORY TO THE LORD! Wednesday Sawyer, aka the Bravest Boy in the Whole Wide World, had his 6 month follow up appointment with his Oncologist and his ACE (After Cancer Experience) doctor in Dallas. It’s always an emotionally charged and exhausting day. So many triggers attached to going to the hospital down the all too familiar highway, and each time the same uneasy feelings build up as we prepare for either the best day or the worst day of our lives. But Sawyer never ever sees it that way. He’s THRILLED to go to the hospital.

One day he will be so embarrassed that he played on this like it was a dump truck

He loves to see so many of his favorite people (and his story so well known, it’s like he’s the little mayor of Children’s Hospital!)

Dr. Winick taught Sawyer how to use an ophthalmoscope, and then let him examine her

He knows he gets one on one time, extra snacks, gets McDonalds for breakfast and Whataburger for lunch (EVERY. TIME. His choice.)

And he knows he gets to go home with a toy. He doesn’t see the day as scary or stressful at all. What an amazing gift from God! As usual, he hopped right up in the phlebotomist’s chair, chatted and laughed with Miss Sharon as she placed the needle in his arm, and then cheerfully drew his own blood! I will never stop being amazed at the maturity and bravery of my 7 year old. It just blows my mind.

It is always such a blessing to see the wonderful doctors and nurses who so lovingly cared for Sawyer, and many of them hugged him (and me) especially tight this visit.

They have such an unbelievably hard job, and it has been a rough season of many hardships for them. Several of them took a deep breath and said, “I needed this dose of hope today.” Sawyer is a healthy 7 year old against all odds. No one thought he’d survive, let alone be THRIVING. BUT GOD.

I will never ever ever stop praising Him for the countless miracles He has done in Sawyer’s life. I do pray that one day I will not feel so overwhelmed with dread every time we go back. But I do know that Jesus will meet me with grace in those moments, no matter how I handle them.

~ thankful for our sweet Aunt Gina who finally got to join us for Sawyer’s appointment!

Hospital policy has limited us to only one caretaker, so I’ve been making the trip alone the last few times. Gina Sue had gone with me almost EVERY APPOINTMENT since about my 3rd trimester with Tatum K (when I realized that having contractions while barreling down the interstate at 75 miles an hour was probably not the best idea.) She has been a faithful prayer warrior, chauffeur, encourager, and the provider of the bottomless bag of snacks for almost 5 years now, rising at an appallingly early hour to drive FROM CARTHAGE TO TYLER, pick us up, and THEN DRIVE FROM TYLER TO DALLAS. AND BACK AGAIN. She’s such a blessing and a wonderful help and support. She knows I’m weary and that the day is always hard for me, and she goes out of her way to take care of me. I’m so thankful she’s my sister.

~ and thankful for this bag.

At our house, this bag can only mean one thing.

Aunt Gina makes the yummiest friendship bread, and it’s the kids’ favorite breakfast. They always know what’s in the bag when they see it. And it ain’t soap!

~ thankful for Colton being back from Albuquerque and spending his few days off with us. He was super helpful during my back-to-school-supplies-madness, and helped me divide up the list and track down every orange folder with pockets and brads, white polymer eraser, and broad tipped yellow and blue highlighter on the supply lists. And then we tried out a great new coffee spot in town, Crema. DELICIOUS!

~ for “decent” store-bought pimento cheese turned FAB with a few ingredients at home to jazz it up. I’m very particular when it comes to pimento cheese.

~ for a super fun day swimming with sweet school friends.

~ for Whataburger chocolate malts to celebrate August Tonight.

~ for this year’s sharp new Tyler Gold Run t-shirt design created by our graphic artist. I’m so excited for a different look this year.

Our Gold Network of East Texas events are coming up so quickly, it’s making my head spin. With no in-person events last year, I feel a little rusty at remembering what all I have to do! It is SO BUSY!!! Go GOLD Tyler, our event on the Downtown Square to kickoff Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is coming up August 31.

It’s such a special event, honoring all our families: on treatment, completed treatment, or who have lost a child to cancer. Our HERO wall with all our kids’ pictures grows every year, which is so heartbreaking. But watching the kids and their families walk the gold carpet is so inspiring, and the still over the crowd as the families release balloons for their loves who were taken too soon is a powerful reminder of why we do what we do. Read more about Go GOLD Tyler here.

And Tyler Gold Run is just 5 short weeks away! Where did summer go!!?? We are praying all goes as planned to have our race in person this year, and we are just so excited about this year’s 10k•5k run! Registration is open at tylergoldrun.com And if you are out of state or not a runner, we have the GoldDreamer option, to donate and be a part of our event right where you are. You even get the tshirt! I hope you’ll join us.

~ thankful that our pool toy box isn’t any deeper.

~ thankful for a really awesome visit with some really awesome friends. Some friends are just truly LIFE-GIVING. You know, the kind that you leave feeling so refreshed and lifted up. Find you some friends like that. And better yet, try to BE that kind of friend to somebody.

The kids start back to school on Wednesday. And the pre-crazy is in full swing. We have meet the teacher/locker day/orientation/swim parties back to back to back. 11th grade, 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th, and 2nd, across 4 campuses.

As much as we all love summer, we are ALL ready for this season to change. I’m always so happy to have the kids come home for summer. And I’m equally happy to send them back to school. To everything there is a season. But believe it or not, I will miss them when my house is quiet. But I just may enjoy a little quiet too. And I’ll still have my spicy Tater home for one more year. I want to soak up every minute with my girl, and not rush her off to grow up and away. She is excited to start “Pre-skoo wif my mama.”

Time continues to run away, and there’s no stopping it. My goal for this school year is to take it all in, not sweat the small stuff, press through even when I’m overwhelmed, and be my kids’ biggest cheerleader. I know these years are hard, but they are the moments I will never get back again. And I’m reminded that “hard” doesn’t always mean “bad.” We are all learning and growing and God is at work. I’m so thankful for His perfect grace and redeeming love. May we all look more like Him next May than we do today.

Even in the midst of all the crazy, thanks for giving thanks with me.

“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, But a good word makes it glad.” (Proverbs 12:25)

““Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me; O Lord, be my helper.” You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness, That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.” (Psalms 30:10-12)

“But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.” (Psalms 13:5-6)

Patience

I am thankful:

~ for a beautiful birthday for our beautiful Zoe girl. She turned 10 this week – DOUBLE DIGITS BABY!!! Zoe is such a sunshine girl. She usually stays pretty quiet, but her brown eyes sparkle with joy bubbling on the inside. She had a great day starting out with blueberry waffles with whipped cream and sprinkles, friends over to swim, pizza for lunch, and family birthday dinner with her menu of choice: taco salad and chocolate cake with white icing and yellow sprinkles.

~ for friends who pray. Like REALLY PRAY. And for steps, even baby steps, in the right direction. And the right direction is ALWAYS TOWARD YOU, JESUS.

~ for Sam’s Club Fried Pickles and Ranch dip. Haven’t tried it? Go. NOW!

~ for one of my very favorite salads: avocados and fresh tomatoes tossed in olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic salt. Simple and delicious.

~ for possibly the best “find” of my life. I stumbled upon this vintage map cabinet on Facebook Marketplace, and my heart jumped out of my chest. I am a sucker for anything with lots of drawers or cubbies, and I have had my eye out for a piece like this for years, but they were always WAY out of budget. This piece was a steal because it was in rough shape and the owner clearly just wanted it gone.

As soon as she arrived, I got started on her transformation. I lost track of how many coats of stripper I used to cut through slate blue, red, orange, black, and olive green paint.

The green was really beautiful, and I almost stopped at that point.

But I just couldn’t let it go. I just had to see the original wood. So another couple layers of stripper, a light sanding, and a couple coats of straight commercial bleach, and we were blown away!

We replaced the top (a piece of brightly painted plywood depicting a portion of the 12 days of Christmas) with reclaimed pine shelving that I alternately sanded and bleached repeatedly, added industrial casters, and repaired one side’s damaged veneer.

And now she is a SHOW STOPPER! I’m in LOVE! And the hours and hours of sweat equity make it all the more special. What BEAUTY was hidden beneath all those layers! It was a lot of work, and so so messy, but so so worth it.

~ for our first Sunday family dinner with EVERYONE HOME in a very, VERY long time. Colton is back from his month-long work assignment in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Carson Grace was home, Cooper finally didn’t have a schedule conflict…our Tribe, all together, around our giant table, breaking bread together. We didn’t even interrupt our fellowship to take a picture. Thank You Jesus for these moments that I used to take for granted when they were small.

~ for a Holy Spirit inspired, anointed Word preached in obedience, and as always, right on time. We went to church this morning, just like we always do. The message is always great, our pastor and guest preachers are always terrific, and are faithful to share Truth based in Scripture. But this morning, from the opening slide, it hit me right between the eyes, and pierced straight to my heart.

Patience.

The concept of patience isn’t new, isn’t revolutionary, and is a pretty expected theme for most of us. It’s always needed, and almost everyone wishes they were better at it. As Christians, we joke about how we have learned the hard way to STOP PRAYING FOR PATIENCE, because we know God cultivates and refines our patience through exasperating situations that require a level of patience that can only come by practice.

But where I’m at personally right this moment, I recognized the voice of my Father in those words. I have certain situations that have been the focus of my most fervent daily prayers. And, as I referenced last week with my very late blog post, there was a breakthrough. A REAL BREAKTHROUGH! Glory to God! He made a way where there was no way. He birthed a stream in the desert. But I was reminded that this first step, this miraculous breakthrough, is just the beginning of a very long road. And it’s so easy to look at with my own eyes and be completely discouraged before we even start. BUT GOD. NOTHING is too hard for Him. And He NEVER feels weak or discouraged. I have to be patient with the process and trust His plan and His timing, and remember that that waiting is one very important piece that cannot be bypassed or left out.

And, maybe even more importantly, the Lord reminded me that I have to be patient with myself. He’s still working on me. Still refining me. I guess I still need a few more coats of stripper and some sanding. I see my countless areas of weakness, of selfishness, of laziness, of pride. I hate my flaws. I am supposed to be strong, and people THINK I AM. I am embarrassed by the weakness of anxiety. And sometimes I even think, “If I’m honest about it, and humble myself publicly, surely I’ll be delivered from it.” But instant healing hasn’t come. And isn’t it an amazingly complicated trap that weakness and pride can become so woven together. I know it’s a process, and I know how I would encourage anyone else in my shoes. But somehow it’s so hard to extend that grace to myself. But I’m not refining myself, that’s Jesus. I’m not healing myself, that’s Jesus. And His healing, refining, restorative work is taking place in His perfect timing. And like a beautiful piece of music, the rests and pauses are as integral to the piece as the notes themselves. A story with no punctuation or a paper with no margins would be unintelligible. I MUST BE PATIENT WITH MYSELF AND WITH GOD’S PROCESS. There is beauty beneath the layers. It’s a lot of work, and so so messy, but so so worth it.

He is faithful. And I am encouraged.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“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)

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)

“Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” (Psalms 62:1-2)

I Still Know

I am thankful:

~ for morning Bible time with my kids. I love their open hearts, and how they honestly pray for the people they care about. They never stop asking.

~ for two days in a row of short-but-sweet visits with Aunt Gina. This pic is of her being entertained by a Tatum K Original Song.

~ for YouTube videos. I’m grateful that so often I can look up the answers to my random questions. This week learned how to repair my crumbled blush compact with rubbing alcohol. Isn’t that handy?

~ for the opportunity to mail out Christmas in July gifts from Gold Network of East Texas to our on-treatment families. We have more families than ever before, having added 11 newly diagnosed kids this past year. It is heartbreaking every time we hear of another diagnosis. But I am more THANKFUL THAN EVER before that THE NETWORK IS WORKING! People know who to reach out to when they hear the news. And nurses and cancer families are reaching out to get these families connected immediately! It’s the worst club that no one would ever want to be a part of, but I am so incredibly grateful that we can ensure that no one will walk it alone. This week Sawyer helped me put Christmas stickers on our cards and get them ready to go out to the families, and together we prayed over each one. It fills my heart to see him have the opportunity to serve his “friends.”

~ for a fun painting birthday party for the girls to attend with friends. They had so much fun. I love that they jump at any chance to create and be creative. And they are all so talented!

~ for our latest, super-challenging puzzle, a bald eagle from the National Eagle Center in MN, gifted by Great Grandma. It was so hard, I did 93% of it by myself. The challenge eclipsed my time, taunting me to be completed. I spend WAY too much time on it this week, but FINALLY I was victorious.

But the victory was hollow, as somehow we are MISSING ONE PIECE. What a kick in the gut.

How you taunt me, o elusive missing piece

~ for a productive week of accomplishing our first round of back-to-school preparations. I’ve been sifting through the mountains of new and old school emails, tracking down summer math and reading assignments for each of the kids, and checking off each box that they complete. We made another trip to the library for the books we still needed, and we are almost done with everything! Only 17 more days of summer! Where did it gooooo?????

~ and for one more box checked, this one a fun one! New shoes all around! Does anything inspire more joy than spanking new school shoes? We had multiple fashion shows to celebrate the occasion. And man these kids are getting some BIG OLE FEET!!

~ for my new shirt, which I hope to make my new motto.

~ that I know God hears. Even in those times when I can’t even make my mouth form the words. He hears the cry of my heart. Because He’s my dad.

I woke up this morning knowing that it was August 1 and that July was finally over. That sounds so dumb and dramatic, but it’s just been such a battle. all. stinking. month. And I know it really doesn’t have a thing to do with the calendar. But I’ve just been in such a stuck funk that I haven’t been able to shake. Anxiety is such a trendy buzzword these days, and it feels like such a copout to throw it out there as an excuse. But it’s a real thing, and it doesn’t play fair. But God.

I still believe. And I still know.

And even though it has nothing to do with the calendar, I’m going to remember August 1, 2021. I’m going to remember why Sunday Gratitude didn’t get finished until the wee hours on Monday.

Because God cracked open my stifling, fog-filled vault and showed me a glimmer of hope. A literal breakthrough.

“Since when has ‘impossible’ ever stopped You? This is the sound of dry bones rattling… This is the praise makes a dead man walk again…”

Whatever it is that you’re asking Him for. Keep waiting. Keep trusting. He’s coming.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

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

“The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace…. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” (Romans‬ ‭8:6, 11‬)

Testify

I am thankful:

~for a bountiful garden. The change in soil fixed our problem, and our garden is going crazy! We literally have hundreds of tomatoes on our plants ripening, and I cannot wait to eat them all! Sunflowers stretching up, baby strawberries, baby bell peppers, and vines growing and crawling everywhere!

~ for a fresh new palm tree on the patio. Let’s see if I can keep this one alive…

~ for catching sweet sister moments.

~ for a colorful plate of happiness.

~ for a victoriously completed puzzle with, by-nothing-short-of-a-miracle, no missing pieces!

~ for another section of fence painting ALMOST completed. Loving the updated look, but the blazing Texas sun is brutal.

~ for a bright fresh coat of paint on the pool deck. It’s a beat down to do, but makes such a difference!

~ after nearly painting myself to death this week (at one point, I literally PRIED the paintbrush from my hand, and my cramped fingers STAYED IN THE POSITION from holding the brush!) I was thankful for a quiet and relaxing soak in a fragrant eucalyptus bubble bath. At least for a few minutes it was relaxing…

Ahhhh, a relaxing bath in the peace and quiet
But then I got company

~ for the kids having a truly wonderful week at VBS. All the volunteers did an amazing job, and the kids had the best time. It was Tatum K’s first experience with “PTS,” and she was a lot more timid than I expected. Lots of tears and clinging to Mama.

But she made it, and somehow wanted to go back each day. I nominated myself “VBS BUS” of the neighborhood, and most of our neighbor kids went with us each evening. Our family even won a prize for bringing the most guests. Such a fun and exhausting week for the kids.

It was strange not working at VBS. One evening I helped with serving dinner, but otherwise I just dropped the kids off each night. I wrestled with feeling guilty over it, but God had something else planned for me this week during my nightly 2 hours without kids. I had random but very purposely-appointed, God-ordained get togethers each evening. I know this timing was no accident. Last week and starting off this week, I was not in a very good place. As much as I purposed myself to refocus my eyes and heart from my circumstances to my Savior, I was failing. I wasn’t sleeping. Anxiety was fierce and persistent. I felt hollow and alone.

BUT GOD.

One night was the refining gift of back-breaking labor with my Love, ripping out our now-dilapidated planter boxes/poles that we built for our backyard string lights when we first moved here. They were cute as a bug when we built them, and we LOVE our string lights, but the boxes did not weather well,

2018

so Josh came up with a better plan to replace them with aluminum poles behind our fence. Unfortunately, that meant re-stringing the lights and hauling off the 250 pound blocks of solid concrete we had set them with. No small task.

But we got it done and rewarded ourselves with a decadent steak dinner at Longhorn Steakhouse. I can’t remember the last time we had an ACTUAL date. This was a good week for that one-on-one time.

Anyway, on my other evenings with my various activities, it was interesting that each time, I was put in a position to share parts of my testimony. Over and over, I was asked questions. How and where I grew up. How I met Jesus. How Josh and I did everything out of order in our relationship. Our adoptions. Cancer. So many stories.

So many amazing stories of God’s faithfulness and perfect timing.

It was no accident that God had perfectly timed these appointments on a week when I was feeling empty and low and defeated. I could have filled my time serving at VBS and had a great time, distracted from those feelings. OR, I could have had a peacefully child-free quiet home to sit in, and I would have squandered that precious time either mindlessly staring at Netflix or maybe wrapping myself up in my hurt and letting my anxiety completely wreak me.

BUT GOD didn’t let me.

A timely gift from a dear friend

Instead, He got me out of my comfort zone and asked me to tell my story. He asked me to TESTIFY. He knew that I needed to be reminded afresh of all He has done. TRUE MIRACLES. And not just a couple miracles. MIRACLE AFTER MIRACLE AFTER MIRACLE. As I told my stories, I felt as if I were hearing them for the first time. Hearing with brand new ears the things God had told me. The things He had taught me. The times when He gently held me, spared me, protected me. The times when He lovingly challenged me, stretched me, broke me and tenderly put me back together.

I was amazed.

And encouraged.

And refreshed.

WE HAVE TO TELL OUR STORIES. We know that we as Believers are called to testify: to glorify the Lord and to encourage others, but it encourages US TOO! It reminds us of where we once were, and how amazing our Father is. Oh, that we would not forget. Help us remember that no matter how small our mustard seed of faith, He made that mustard seed and planted it. And He planted it TO GROW. To be buried in the earth looks and feels and smells like death. But God BIRTHS LIFE!

What story can you share to remind yourself that God knows what He’s doing?

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’ ” Then the people bowed down and worshiped.” (Exodus 12:25-27)

“and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”” (Joshua 4:5-7)

“I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”” (Psalms 77:11-12)

“I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works. I will be glad and rejoice in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.” (Psalms 9:1-2)

Ready or Not

I am thankful:

~ for God’s mercy. I limped to Him last week (and every day since then) and He has lovingly held me and encouraged me and let me just be His child without all (or ANY of) the answers.

~ for an exciting new adventure for Colton. After years of working in the food service industry, this week he started his first “grown up job,” as a superintendent for a commercial construction company. He’s got a new uniform, his own business cards, and has already started traveling out of town for a large project. He has already learned so much in his first week, and has been eager to share details from his days with us. He is so excited about this big step, and we are so proud of him!

~ and a big next step for Carson Grace as well: we moved her back to ETBU for her sophomore year of college. New apartment-style dorm, new roommates, and a fresh new enthusiasm for her classes after the abrupt end of her freshman year. We got her stuff all moved in despite a sudden downpour, and her room is cozy and organized. As always, it was hard to say goodbye, but we know she’s right where she needs to be. Since she left, we have chatted every day, and this morning we all enjoyed watching her lead worship with one of her professors at his church via a LIVE broadcast. She is excited for her first day of classes tomorrow!

~ the mixed blessing of having Carson Grace back at school means I once again have my beautiful work space (her now empty bedroom) for Giddyup & Whoa painting. I love that room, the crisp white walls and gleaming natural light. It’s just a space that inspires me. We’ve had some lovely pieces to work on lately. All the kids have taken turns painting in there with me, as well as some rousing games of UNO and charades.

~ for a succulent roasted sheet pan dinner: BBQ chicken, quartered potatoes, and green beans.

~ for the great honor and privilege of Gold Network of East Texas being chosen as a charity beneficiary of the Fresh 15. The race took place back in March the week before the country shut down, and Brookshire’s Grocery Company held a Virtual Check Presentation this week. So thankful to be in the company of the finest and most respected nonprofits in our area.

~ for the perfect mouthwateringly tart sweetness of a cherry sour candy.

~ for 99.9% school supplies ready to go for all 6 kids. Especially considering A) as of Monday I had not purchased ONE ITEM and B) I did not have to set one foot in a store. Online shopping, I love you!

~ for the kindest people that the Lord has braided into our lives. It is no secret that the question facing nearly every family in America is whether or not to send their children to school. And Josh and I have wrestled day and night over our options. We have prayed. We have made lists of pros and cons. We have prayed. We have sought council. We have prayed. We have been still. We have prayed. And prayed and prayed and prayed. Ultimately, FOR US (and the most important distinction I want to stress is that EVERY FAMILY is doing their VERY BEST to make the best choice for THEIR CHILDREN…and that will mean something different to each of them. NO JUDGMENT!) we have made the decision to send our kids back to their school. And let me tell you, our kids are EXCITED! They are chomping at the bit to get back to their school and their teachers and classmates. Their eagerness and loyalty to their school has helped soothe our uncertainties at least a little. But it still is a weighty decision that I have continued to struggle with. BUT GOD. One day this week, our principal called to check in on our decision. I heard the words came out of my mouth, “We are planning to send them in person,” (as opposed to doing virtual learning from home). As soon as I spoke, I realized it was the first time I had spoken those words aloud, and I burst into tears on the phone. At that moment, our principal, my friend, became to pray for me right then. She prayed for God’s peace and grace to flood my heart, for protection for each of our children, and for wisdom to make the best decisions we can for our family. Her kindness and grace met me in that moment, and my weary heart was encouraged. I can’t say I’m past my concerns, or even that I am confident that we’ve made the right choice. I don’t even know that I can single out a particular ACTUAL FEAR that is plaguing me. Just that nothing feels safe or “normal” or familiar or easy. But I am freshly reminded of why we LOVE the community that has been our home for 16 years. They know us. They know our kids. They’ve seen us through fostering, through adopting, through cancer. They have rallied around us and prayed for us when we were tossed from one storm to the next. I am NOT thrilled with the prospect of sending my kids back out into a group setting with so many unknowns, but I AM CONFIDENT that they are going into an environment where they are loved and seen and that everyone on every level is covering every aspect with prayer.

This is a big week of dropping off supplies, meeting teachers, and for Kora and Samantha, touring a brand new school. Tomorrow is the first time tiptoeing out of the quarantine bubble as we start the precursory steps. The official first day of school is Wednesday. Since March, we have been home. Together. With the exception of an hour here or there, I haven’t been away from my kids. And believe it or not, I’m not impatiently waiting to boot them out of the house for some “peace and quiet.” After months of keeping them safely at arms’ reach, I can’t even wrap my mind around dropping all my babies off and driving away. Especially after daily temperature scans and with masks as a normal school supply. Ok, I’m starting to hyperventilate again, need to refocus my heart. It’s a big week and the kids are excited to meet their teachers and see their friends. I am excited to see God’s hand at work in the midst of chaos and uncertainty.

And what in the world am I going to do with Hurricane Tatum K?

Thank you for all who have been praying for us. And for all of you moms, dads, cancer families, educators, administrators, doctors, nurses, first responders…I am praying for you, too. Lord, help guide us to the best choices for each of our families and also help us to respond to people who think similarly AND differently WITH KINDNESS AND GRACE. We all just want to get through this season the best we can. God is still on His throne where He has always been. His plan is still good, and I trust Him with my life and the lives of my children.

I’m back to praying two prayers over and over:

“Not my will, but Yours, Lord.” And “Jesus come.”

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“The LORD your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”” (Zephaniah 3:17)

“Your love is deep, Your love is high. Your love is long, Your love is wide. Your love is deeper than my view of grace Higher than this worldly place. Longer than this road I travel. Wider than the gap You fill…” “Your Love is Deep” by Jami Smith

“Waymaker, miracle worker Promise keeper, light in the darkness My God, that is who You are” “Waymaker” by Sinach

Mightier

Six years ago tomorrow, I wrote my very first Sunday Gratitude journal entry on Sawyer’s Caringbridge site. We were not quite 3 weeks into his cancer journey.

“Aug 10, 2014

I’d like to copy from a blog I’ve read for a long time….she dedicates her posts on Sundays to giving thanks. Especially in the midst of trials, it is easy to only see the bad things, and start feeling sorry for yourself. I don’t want to fall into that trap. Of course I wish none of this was happening, but this is a part of God’s best for our family, and I want to set my eyes on His goodness that is all around us.

Sunday Gratitude

~Our new room with a nice recliner

~a playmat for the floor so SaSa can crawl around without getting contaminated

~food from “the Outside”, especially homemade pimento cheese

~nurses who love Sawyer so much they come see him when they are not assigned to him

~getting to witness a 9-year-old girl finally get to celebrate going home after 8 months of treatment (her mom bought her a sparkly new dress, she had a panda hat on her bald head, and her daddy surprised her with a limo to drive her home!)

~news of so many people pulling together to bless my family by bringing meals and back-to-school bounty

~Sawyer’s sweet little voice chattering away

~pictures colored by my kids at home for their little brother

Join me in giving thanks!”

Today I find myself in far different circumstances, but in such a similar place of need. Of needing to raise my gaze. Raise my focus. Raise my voice in gratitude.

I have felt like our house is filled with a fog of sad. So many people I love are hurting and there is nothing I can do. I just can’t seem to get my feet under me.

This was a page on my daily calendar this week. Why do I feel like I have never seen this verse before? I read it and reread it and looked it up in several versions.

I love the sound of the ocean’s crashing waves. It’s vastness and power makes me feel so small. The crash is deafening. In this world, doesn’t it seem like there’s just so much deafening noise? All competing. Each voice, a thunderous wave crashing louder and louder, demanding to be heard above the rest. Noise on traditional and social media. Noise from every opinion on every issue. Noise inside me. BUT GOD. He is so far above the noise. He does speak in that Still Small Voice. But His majesty, His magnitude, His presence, His power. Is greater. Mightier than the noise attacking me from the outside and from the inside. Far mightier than the strongest, most powerful waves on any sea.

I am thankful that no matter how low or how NOT THANKFUL I FEEL, my loving Father is so gracious and persistent to show Himself to me even when I am a mess.

I am thankful:

~ for friends who call in lunch when they know it’s been a hard day. Even though they live in Dallas!

~ for the times when social media is a tool used for good, and flooded with kind words and encouragement to those who need it.

~ for a special birthday girl with a fantastic attitude on a quietly celebrated day. Our Zoe turned 9, and though we were unable to GO anywhere or INVITE anyone, we compensated with FOOD. Her brown eyes sparkled when she saw her waffles with sprinkles for breakfast. Daddy brought home a special treat from DQ for her lunch. And as one of our family’s most discerning diners, Miss Zoe selected a decadent menu of packaged Velveeta Shells and Cheese, cheese toast, and chocolate cake with more sprinkles of course. (It was a nice variation from last year’s choice of Kraft macaroni and cheese and Cheezits.) She felt special, and that’s what counts.

~ for the perfect worship song that plays at the perfect moment.

~ for my precious Littles who are so quick to forgive their mama when she’s not as nice or as patient as she should be. And for the genuine prayers they pray for me.

~ for my very best friend to wake up with every morning.

~ for new house numbers and solar lights giving our home a simple but cozy exterior update.

~ for ones who I know pray faithfully, and who alternately offer gentle encouragements and less gentle admonishings to kick out of my funk.

~ for August Tonight and Whataburger malts honoring one of the finest men who ever lived.

~ for a fun puzzle completed.

~ for a tasty night cooking up the fish Josh and the big kids caught on their Galveston Bay fishing trip. We had everyone back together again, and it was good to have fresh laughter around our table. I’ve missed that.

~ for the promise that God is the same yesterday, today, tomorrow, and forever. In the words of one of our Littles’ favorite songs, His love never fails, it never gives up, never runs out on me.

Let’s lift each other up during these strange, uncertain, and unfamiliar times. Whatever you may be feeling or struggling with, it is certain that someone else is struggling with it too. Everyone is dealing with their own personal flavor of hard. It’s ok not to have it all together all the time. It’s ok to be unsure. God knows what He is doing, and His good and perfect plan will be done in the end.

Prayers especially for educators and administrators and support staff who are gearing up for an unprecedented back to school season. And for parents everywhere who are doing their very best to make the very best decisions for their families about schooling. Let’s all be kind to one another. Let’s raise a hallelujah!

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

“The seas have lifted up, Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea— the Lord on high is mighty.” (Psalms 93:3-4)

The Wind and the Waves Bow Before Him

What a wonderful week away. Our beach house was in a great location, very quiet. We had packed enough food, snacks, and treats for an army, so much so that my army CHEERED when they saw the stocked fridge and pantry. The temperatures were perfect, punctuated with intermittent rain showers and thunderstorms that cooled the air, but still plenty of bright sunshine glistening on the waves. And we were all together.

We played. WE ATE CHEESE BALLS. Josh took the Bigs bay finishing. We spent an afternoon crabbing. We cooked a feast of fresh gulf shrimp and snapper. We cooked sea trout Colton caught in front of our beach house. We played games (you’ve got to try “Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza!) and built sand castles and fed sea gulls and counted pelicans. We ordered takeout: fine seafood and Happy Meals.

Finished our GALVESTON city puzzle by Tuesday! Fun to see many of our favorite places represented on the puzzle!

Cancerversary day was harder on me than I was prepared for. No matter how fiercely I fight to focus my heart on celebrating the joy of Sawyer being alive and thriving 6 years after the worst day of our lives, I’m hounded by a hollow, sickened feeling in the pit of my stomach. Compounded by feeling like I have no right to grieve ANYTHING because my beautiful son is healthy and alive while so many of my friends have lost their precious children and would give anything to be in my shoes. Flashes of every detail of that day swirl around me and I can’t escape, especially back on the very same beach with the same sounds and the same smells from the last place we were before our world was turned upside down. I remember how happy we were. We never knew the freight train was around the corner heading straight for us.

BUT GOD.

And even though all those things take me back to those terrible, terrible moments leading up to Sawyer’s diagnosis, the incomparable beauty and vastness of the ocean proclaims the majestic omnipotence of God and His infinite power. The wind and the waves bow before Him. He is the author and the finisher. He held me then and He holds me now. He is bigger than all the things I will never understand. I can stand on that shore and stare into the waves and feel how small I am. And know that His thoughts toward me outnumber those grains of sand. I hate that I still struggle, but I’m so grateful for His lovingkindness that meets me in my brokenness and never runs out.

We enjoyed our last full day at the beach on Friday playing in powerful, thundering waves that were much closer to the shore than usual. Turns out those waves and accompanying strong winds were an advance warning of Hurricane Hanna making her way toward the coast. We headed out of town Saturday just in time as flooding was beginning to affect areas around us. Humbly grateful the Lord allowed us to enjoy our trip and make it safely back home. Josh and I did our best to fulfill our goal to Love Lavishly, and we came home feeling Lavishly Loved.

Tonight, I’m thankful to be safely tucked in back at my own home, with a cancer-free curly-headed jabber box snuggled up beside me because he can’t get to sleep, and 2 fluffy muppet dogs at my feet. I’m thankful for memories made with all my Loves this week, and that when I close my eyes I can still see the sun sparkling where the ocean met the horizon, and taste salty air mixed with slightly stale cheese balls, and hear gulls and my kids laughter over the crashing waves. Times like these freshly remind me how shattered my heart has been, and I’m much more aware of the holes that are still there, and the duct tape and paper clips and purple glue sticks holding it together.

But it’s so full.

Thank you for praying for us. Thank you for reading this blog and entering into our story.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“Who is like you, Lord God Almighty? You, Lord, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you. You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them.” (Psalms 89:8-9)

“Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.” (Psalms 107:28-31)

“Who am I, that the voice that calmed the sea / Would call out through the rain / And calm the storm in me?” (“Who Am I?” Casting Crowns)

Salty Air

I am thankful.

So thankful.

Our ENTIRE Tribe made it safely to the beach this afternoon. We have transferred our quarantine residence to a private beach house and we are ready to soak up some family time in the sun and the sand. Tatum K is “so exciting to be on a-cation!” Ready to fill this week that holds so many painful anniversaries with fresh memories of God’s goodness and great grace. We are most grateful for your continued prayers.

Josh and I have named a theme for this trip, “Love lavishly.”

“The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” (Psalms 126:3)

July

I am thankful:

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

~ for refreshing Kona Ice on a sweltering hot day.

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

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

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

~ for surprisingly tasty homemade cauliflower crust pizza.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUT GOD.

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

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

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

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

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

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