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)

Free

I am thankful:

~ for more STICKERS!! So much fun! Thank you Grandmommy!

~ for two sweet, silly mop dogs. They bring us so much joy. They are crazy about swimming, and they love our garden because they think we are growing balls for them (tomatoes).

~ for Gavin’s very first job: feeding the neighbors’ dog for a few days. He was very responsible and did a great job. With the money he earned, he bought a new skateboard. So proud of him!

~ for a sweet visit with our beloved Miss Lindsay and Baby Coby. How is this beautiful lovebug already 1???

~ for Josh to have the opportunity to visit his big brother Alan on his 50th birthday. We don’t live close enough to visit as often as we like, and there were a lot of reasons why this trip was super special. We did not take the whole Tribe, but thanks to modern technology, we got to join in the fun and sing Happy Birthday.

~ for the most delicious cookies! Served WARM and bigger than Tatum K’s face! Crumbl, you definitely have seven more fans!

~ for the biggest, most glorious elephant ears.

~for our covered patio which allows for the perfect shelter from which to watch and listen to the splendor of a summer thunderstorm. I took these photos this evening.

~ for ANOTHER big week for Sawyer! First, another lost tooth. This time he just ran in from playing outside with a bloody mouth, “MAMA!!!! I PULLED OUT MY TOOTH ALL BY MYSELF!!!!” And then this weekend, he finally showed us that he was ready to swim, like FOR REAL swim without a floatie. It’s so completely stressful for Mom and Dad. You know how all newly swimming kids look in the water – like they are absolutely drowning. It is hard not to panic every time he plunges straight to the bottom, because he has 0% fear. But he just kicks and paddles and thrashes with all his might and pops up like a little cork. You have never seen a kid exploding with more joy and pride. It is truly overwhelming to watch another miracle come out of him every single day. BI can’t even explain it. BUT GOD!

~ for remarkable grace and second chances and third chances… If, for example, I decide I want to learn a new language, I don’t just suddenly wake up and know it, just out of the sheer desire to know it. Change doesn’t just come from desire. It comes from practice, and it’s just like praying for patience: God doesn’t just miraculously gift you with beautiful patience, but instead allows uncomfortable situations that would try any saint. So ASK ME how my week was after making the proclamation that I was going to LOVE LAVISHLY. I think my loving muscles were in need of some exercising.

One morning, the kids were particularly at each other from the moment they got up. They were even bickering during Bible time about whose turn it was to read the Scriptures, or sighing loudly in annoyance if someone missed a word or lost their place. By the end of it, I was pretty much as frustrated as they were. So I talked to them about their murmuring and complaining, just like the Israelites when God was in the midst of leading them to the promised land. I told them, “This is the family He has chosen for you, and we’re GOING TO give thanks instead of gripe.” And I made each one of them pray for each of their siblings. And something BROKE. Whatever was clouding the atmosphere in our home rolled away. The children laid hands on and prayed the most tender, loving, and sincere prayers for their brothers and sisters. They cried, and particularly amazing to me, each one of them prayed for each other to be a good mom or dad. And then, on their own without prompting, they all laid hands on and prayed for me. It was the sweetest, sweetest time that I will never forget.

~ for a fun time celebrating July 4. It admittedly took some concerted effort to redeem the day. Fourth of July has always been such a fun and festive holiday for us. We’ve always traveled to spend the day with family, swimming, grilling, going to a fireworks show or popping our own. The quintessential Americana celebration. Obviously, things are so different this year. No trips. All fireworks cancelled. There has been so much unrest and turmoil going on “out in the world” that the kids know very little about, but they still feel the unease in the air. And they’ve been disappointed by various cancellations and “no’s” over and over since March. But Josh and I had the same mission in mind this weekend: to make the best of our time together and make it fun for them. We got some new pool floats and goggles. Red, white, and blue juice pouches (MAJOR treat). Roasted hotdogs in the fire pit. Spent the whole day in the pool. Baked and decorated a flag cake. Let the Littles stay up way past their bedtime so they could enjoy swimming with the backyard and pool lit up at night. We said “yes” a LOT more than we said “no.” It was truly a wonderful day. Not because we did anything grand. But because we spent it together, living intentionally and loving lavishly.

There’s been so much turmoil and division about literally EVERYTHING lately, it’s like tiptoeing through a minefield to talk about ANYTHING. Many people are concerned and fired up that their rights are being taken away, or that the future holds many injustices and unreasonable controls being imposed on all of us. I’m one of THE LEAST political people you will ever meet, and not a huge fan of any great debate. I’m often on the naive side and I don’t even comprehend a lot of the issues. I’m definitely trying to do the work to educate myself so I can A) know what I believe and B) answer the inevitable hard questions my kids ask. But as unsure as I am about many issues and policies, I am sure of one thing.

I AM FREE.

Christ died to set me free. I am free from my sin and my former broken life. I’m free to love and serve Him and the family He has given me. I’m free to love my enemies and free to forgive just as I have been forgiven. No one can take my rights away if I willingly lay them down to better love my neighbor and to count others more important than myself. And my rights as an heir to Christ live inside me. And that’s where Jesus lives and He will crush the head of anyone who tries to come into His house and try to push Him or His Child around.

So no matter what my eyes see in this world gone mad, I’m gonna rest in that.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? … Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “F OR Y OUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; W E WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31, 35-39)

“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)

Love Lavishly

I am thankful:

~ the most joyous news of all is that Sawyer remains cancer free! Glory hallelujah! We had his quarterly oncology ACE (survivor) visit on Wednesday. You can read my post about clinic day on CaringBridge or Facebook.

~ for such a big week for Sawyer: not only did he go to the hospital and draw his own blood, but he lost his very first tooth! It’s so crazy to me that he faces these giant mountains with such courage, but yet he’s still a normal little boy. He’s just so sweet, he’s been worrying over his loose teeth for months. Sometimes he’s so eager to hurry up and lose them, and other times he has all these little worries, “Will I still be handsome with a hole in my smile? Will I REALLY only be able to eat soup?” But we had a long talk about it one morning with lots of hugs and reassurance, and by the end of that day, that little sucker was ready to come out! I was surprised and impressed that Sawyer was brave and excited and let me pull it out for him. (For the mighty Sawyer the Warrior is as brave as you will ever find when it comes to hospitals and fighting cancer, but he is a standard 6 year old weenie about skinned knees and paper cuts and accidental mustard on his sandwich). But that tooth came right out and you have never seen a boy so proud. He squealed with joy and pride! And now he carries it with him everywhere!

~ for the kindness of our local police officers. We live close to the station, so they regularly frequent our street, and are faithful to stop and say hi and pass out stickers. I love the opportunity for these hardworking servants to be greeted with cheers and smiles. We LOVE our first responder friends!

~ for a stay-at-home date with my Love. Thanks to his Father’s Day giftcard from Colton, we enjoyed a feast from Texas Roadhouse. It was nice to enjoy a treat together, even if I had a little monkey that hung on my neck the whole time AND ate my entire sweet potato.

~ for the bright crimson cardinals that dart across our neighborhood and chatter in our trees.

~ for succulent pork loin slow cooked all day, and the creamiest mashed potatoes made in the instant pot. Anybody have any favorite instant pot recipes to share? I am learning how to use it, but haven’t gotten the hang of it yet.

~ for the over abundant blessing of our home. Josh and I had prayed for the Lord to lead us to the right place for our family 3 years ago, and we have worked hard to transform it to meet the needs of our Tribe. We are so humbled and thankful to have this comfortable, beautiful haven that we love so much. With all that’s going on, this is pretty much where we spend all our time. I really don’t go anywhere, and I’m so thankful to be so safe and more than comfortable, nestled in with my people. Sometimes it’s crowded, but it’s bursting with life and love.

~ for a new puzzle, genuinely challenging, but still conquered by the kids in ONE DAY!

~ for Cooper having an awesome week at camp. We got to see pictures while he was away, and it looks like the most fun ever. He came home bleary-eyed, exhausted, and exhilarated. But man, I had forgotten about the blistering stench of a week’s worth of camp laundry. That is no joke.

~ for online church broadcasts. It is such a blessing to stay connected with our church body even though we are not attending in person. We love our church so much. And I love that both Cooper and Carson Grace have the opportunity and the desire to serve on the audio/visual and the worship teams. Cooper is behind the scenes helping make sure everything looks and sounds great, and the kids are so excited to see their big sister on the screen! They think she’s SO FAMOUS!

~ for fun painting projects. Finished 3 orders this week, and 2 more to go. So grateful to have steady orders coming in.

I even got to paint for myself. The big circle below is a weathered table top I found on the side of the road last year. I knew when I picked it up that one day it would be a showstopper of a sign, but I didn’t know where it would fit or what I was put on it. Quite some time ago, we had heard a sermon where our pastor used the phrase, “love lavishly,” referencing 1 John 3, and that phrase resonated with Josh deeply. He later said he knew that’s what he wanted on our sign.

Ever since sketching the phrase on the sign with chalk, I’ve been chewing on it in my mind. What does that really mean? To love generously, excessively, more than we deserve. We are wayward, rebellious, and self serving, yet the Maker of heaven and earth calls us His daughters and sons. His love knows no bounds. By adorning my wall with these two words, I am issuing a challenge to myself that I will be reminded of daily.

Love beyond the minimum. Love more that is expected or deserved. Love radically, excessively, hilariously, recklessly.

Because God loves me that way. He gave me the love of a husband beyond anything I ever could have wished for. He blessed me with a family larger than any crazy dream I could have come up with. He took me out of the pile of garbage that was my life before I knew Him and made me clean and new and His. Just like I picked up a dirty, broken table, unable to function as it should, cast off on the side of the road, and saw its beauty and potential as something new.

I can’t love like Him. I’m still a mess. I’m FAR too selfish, too short-tempered, too tired. But God. Christ IN ME can love lavishly. Jesus’s Love can pour through the holes in me and love my kids and my husband and my neighbors and my enemies like that.

I’m glad it is painted BIG where I can be reminded every day.

Let’s love lavishly this week.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-2)

“We love, because He first loved us.” (1John 4:19)

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

Raise a Hallelujah

~ for Happy Mail. So fun to open up your very own mail. Especially when it’s full of STICKERS!!! Thank you Miss Linda!

~ for Colton treating me to my very first Freddy’s burger. I’m a fan!

~ for the next step in our ongoing kitchen remodel project. Our tile arrived Wednesday around lunch, Josh got home about 7, and we got right to work! I love knocking projects out with my Love, and we both love putting the sweat equity into our home. Later in the week, our replacement window was installed. Goodbye to the smeary windows that never came clean because of the broken seal between the panes. The new window is bright and giant and so clear it looks like there’s no glass in it! I am absolutely certain that it will never be this clean again, but I will enjoy it while it lasts!

~ for a special day with a really special girl. Kora, Gavin, and Zoe’s biological big sister Grace had her birthday this weekend, and what she wanted most was to see her little siblings. Is that not the sweetest thing? Grace and her family moved several years ago, so visits are few and far between. But what a joy to spend the day with her. We ate lunch, swam, painted rocks together, and baked cookies. It meant the world to all 4 of them. A one day visit is never long enough, so there were lots of tears at “goodbye,” but still, it blesses me to see the genuine love and bond they share. Adoption is so beautiful. But it is inextricably tied up with loss and pain. My babies had a life before me. My motherly instinct is to protect them from the painful parts of their story, and shield them from the hurt. But it’s all part of their story. And by erasing or hiding what I would selfishly and short-sightedly deem the “messy” parts, would also steal from them their own miraculous redemption story and the awesome story of their first big sister that shares their blood. Lord, give me the courage to trust what You are doing and not get in Your way. Pry off my anxiously controlling hands and write their story Your way. BUT GOD!

~ thankfully, our kids didn’t have time to be sad for long, because as soon as Grace drove away with her mom, we had another knock at the door: Uncle Mike and Cousin Kenedy! We enjoyed having them for the weekend!

~ for new goggles. Does anything make kids happier than new goggles?

~ for homemade ice cream. Is there anything better than homemade ice cream???

~ for Cooper’s favorite week of the year: Pine Cove! He loves his time at camp more than anything, and we dropped him off today. Can’t wait to hear about all the fun he has and all that the Lord will do in his heart this week!

~ for a great time celebrating Josh for Father’s Day. We had all his favorites: juicy grilled burgers with sharp cheddar and blue cheese, jalepeno chips, sweet tea, and homemade chocolate ice cream. I love this man so much, and the way he faithfully lives his faith in front of his kids and models to them how to love lavishly. I love how hard he works even when he’s dog tired and always hurting. We don’t call him “Giddyup” for nothing. I love that his favorite part of every project is watching my face when I admire it, because he says his favorite thing to do is make me happy. I will never understand why God has blessed me with a love this big, and I will never stop thanking Him that He did.

Today during worship at church (via the Rucker satellite campus) one of the songs was a favorite of our whole family, “Raise a Hallelujah.” There’s something so soul-stirring about hearing my children’s little voices lifted, singing at the top of their lungs to their Lord, “I’m gonna sing in the middle of the storm. Louder and louder you’re gonna hear my praises roar.”

In that moment, it became my prayer. My prayer over EVERYTHING. Over the divisions about how to handle Covid 19. Over all the injustices and the big and the small polarizing issues people are all raging about. Over all the voices screaming at once about every hot topic. Over my own anxiety. Over my children.

“Sing a little louder, in the presence of my enemies…

Sing a little louder, louder than the unbelief…

Sing a little louder, my weapon is a melody

Sing a little louder, heaven comes to fight for me…”

It sounds silly, but what if we really did that? What if we all raised a hallelujah in the middle of our storms, a hallelujah that became louder than the noise? What if we really believed that praising God is a weapon that will defeat the darkness? What if we really loved others openhandedly, with no agenda, no catch, with the love of Christ? I’m not trying to sound like a Hallmark card, not am I trying to act like I’m doing it right myself. I just believe that it really does make a difference when we make simple but genuine changes in the way we respond to our circumstances. And when it all boils down, the ONLY cause I want to champion is the cause of Christ. Lord, let it be so. Stay my eyes on You, Lord.

Speaking of which, it is Clinic Week for Sawyer. It’s his first time back to the hospital since all the virus outbreaks and sheltering in place, so I won’t pretend it doesn’t cause my heart to pound a little faster. Hospital restrictions will only allow one adult to accompany a patient, so for the first time in as long as I can remember, it will be just Sawyer and I. His appointment is Wednesday, and I will post an update that evening. We are grateful for your prayers that our Warrior Boy remains cancer free.

Will you raise a hallelujah with me this week?

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“The LORD reigns; Let the earth rejoice; Let the multitude of isles be glad! Clouds and darkness surround Him; Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. A fire goes before Him, And burns up His enemies round about. His lightnings light the world; The earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the LORD, At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. The heavens declare His righteousness, And all the peoples see His glory.” (Psalms 97:1-6)

“Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.” (Revelation 19:6)

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10)

A Square

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

“It’s not ok to say nothing.”

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

You should’ve said….

“You have to POST this….”

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

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

Social media was a lose/lose this week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just do the next right thing

Take a step, step again

It is all that I can to do

The next right thing

I won’t look too far ahead

It’s too much for me to take

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

This next choice is one that I can make

So I’ll walk through this night

Stumbling blindly toward the light

And do the next right thing

And, with it done, what comes then?

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

Then I’ll make the choice to hear that voice

And do the next right thing”

(“The Next Right Thing” Kristen Bell)

Because He First Loved Us

I’m just so sad.

I’m overwhelmed with sadness.

I’m sad to hear story after story of hatred and brutality and discord, and watch angry lines be drawn and sides taken.

I’m sad to hear of abuses of power and people who are either too afraid or too numbed to stand up for what is right.

I’m sad to hear people make broad critical judgments about “ALL” of any group of people.

I’m sad thinking about what the future will be like for my children. And for children everywhere.

I’m sad to read more stories of more and more people turning away from their faith, because they don’t understand how a loving God “lets this stuff happen over and over again.”

I am a white, middle aged, middle class Christian female. I am a stay at home mom. I am a mother of nine. I am an adoptive parent. I am a cancer mom. Just because we don’t have any or all of those things in common, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be able to relate to one another. We are humans. We have hopes and dreams and fears for ourselves and our children.

I don’t think any of us are called to be “color blind.” We SHOULD see our world in color. We just need to see all color as beautiful and valuable. I am a Christian. I love Jesus with all my heart, and I believe in the Bible and everything it says. And there are people who disagree with me. And I think we can still be friends. We may not worship together, but we can walk side-by-side. And if you are thirsty, I will share my water with you. And it’s my responsibility to live and act in such a way that you would feel safe to share yours with me.

Love is a verb. Love is a choice. If we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves (which we are), then what hurts my neighbor hurts me. Whether that hurt comes from a cancer diagnosis, the loss of a child, the loss of a job because of Covid 19, or racial inequality.

Thursday morning I sat down with my Littles, and talked to them about the value and beauty of people of every color. About the value of being kind to people we don’t agree with. And about the importance of standing up for what is right, whether or not anyone else will stand up.

I was so blessed when I asked them what they would do if they saw someone was getting picked on or bullied or hurt. They all replied immediately in unison, “PRAY!”

I will try to do everything I can to raise kind humans who will love others with the love of Christ, who will be friends to the lonely, and who will reach out to the kid who is alone at a lunch table or gets picked last on the kickball team. I pray that they will grow up to be peacemakers and bridge builders looking for the common ground instead of picking at differences.

I am sad. But I have hope. BUT GOD.

And because God is worthy of praise regardless of circumstances, I will give thanks.

I am thankful:

~ for perfectly sweet, drip-down-your-chin fresh peaches.

~ for progress in the kitchen. I was super bummed that new countertops will not work with the backsplash I lovingly and painstakingly handpainted 2 years ago. But it’s fine. So thankful for my husband’s remodeling skills.

February 2018
Bye bye backsplash

~ for the sound of my children’s voices worshipping.

~ for my belated-because-of-shipping Mother’s Day gift from Colton.

~ for ice cream.

~ for wonderful neighbors.

~ for tiny but tasty nibbles from our garden to add into our salads.

~ for my sweet kids who rub my hair when I have a headache.

~ for the Vintage & Company Gresham Barn Sale coming up Wednesday through Saturday. Excited to have several Giddyup & Whoa pieces for sale tucked in among the unique and charming vintage finds at the barn. And honored that the Early Bird entrance fees on Wednesday will benefit Gold Network of East Texas. Come check it out if you are local, you’ll be glad you did!

Let’s love one another well this week. Let’s love our neighbors. Let’s not hide behind social media and throw darts that we wouldn’t say face to face. Let’s look for the good and let’s BE THE GOOD. Let’s treat others BETTER THAN WE THINK THEY DESERVE. Let’s love like Jesus. Because if He can love ME, He really MUST love everybody.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4:19-21)

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:9-18)