Is This for Real?

Life looks so different overnight.  For all of us.  I think we thought it was a fluke.  I know I did.

It’s not a fluke.

We are really here.  This is really happening.

I have run the gamut of emotions.  One minute I am full of faith and ready to stand tall in the face of fear.  And the next minute I feel as though I can’t breathe.  If I see one more outbreak map or curve, or one more picture of all the empty shelves at Walmart, I’m going to flip.  What’s going to happen to my family?  To Sawyer?  To my parents and my grandparents and all the people I love?

Sound familiar?

But in the midst of this trial, this unrecognizable, crazy-cakes Twilight Zone world we are living in: I see so much good.  Parents are spending time with their kids.  Families are eating together.  People are cooking and crafting and making one another laugh.  Churches are rising to the occasion and learning new ways to spread the love and hope of Jesus.  Doctors and nurses are going into battle every day to take care of the masses.  Teachers are bending over backwards to teach parents how to be teachers at home.  

I’ve considered setting up a LiveStream from my house to let all of you see what life is like at my house.  I am sure we could be quite a source of entertainment.  Quarantine with 8 kids and 2 puppies is no joke.  We’ve had some shining moments and some epic fails.  Especially considering we are basically breaking the Law of Less than 10 just by being a family…over here living a life of a fugitive!

I am thankful:

~ for my kids.  Guys, my kids are amazing!  I am so incredibly proud of them.  They have been so flexible and positive this week as we have navigated these uncharted waters.  They have all been eager to “do school,” and have helped one another and helped me all along the way.  Samantha will read with Sawyer, and Gavin will answer math questions with Zoe, while Kora is keeping Tatum K entertained.  Trust me, I recognize that this has been an unusual week, and that the novelty will wear off sooner or later (probably sooner) and it will likely get much harder.  But THIS WEEK, this week they have been such a blessing!IMG_5201IMG_5205IMG_5356IMG_5541

~ for walks.  Fresh air is so healing to me.  To us all. IMG_5177.JPG

~ for timing.  I cannot express how thankful I am that I was able to squeeze all those breakfast dates in with each of my children before the world shut down.  That feels like a lifetime ago.

~ for Sophie the Brave Day, March 19.  It came right on time this year.  What a better time to force myself to think outside the box, think outside these walls, and think about others instead of ourselves.  I haven’t been sleeping at all this week, and the ideas came flooding in at 2-3am Wednesday night.  As soon as we got up, the kids got started making thank you signs and notes while I baked cookies.  We put our video together and then packaged up the treats and headed out to deliver.  To the police station.  To the grocery store.  To our schools.  Dropped off cash at Starbucks with notes about Sophie for the baristas to give out with the coffees.  The roads were quiet and the kids didn’t get to get out and take any pictures with our deliveries, so it was a different kind of day.  But still, they were all so excited to be spreading love and kindness amidst such bleak surroundings.  The world needed some Sophie Love that day.  And I know lots of others were doing similar things around town and beyond as well.  You can see our #DOMOREFORSOPH video here.IMG_5522.JPGIMG_5517.JPGIMG_5519.JPGIMG_5503.JPG

~ for awesome neighbors.

~ for friends who have checked in on us.

~ to hear from some of our HERO families.  Everyone I have spoken with is doing mostly ok.  In this situation, am so thankful for the technology available to stay connected remotely.  We just have to guard our eyes and our hearts as to what we are watching and sharing.

~ for the opportunity to paint and be creative.  I was able to finish and deliver 3 meaningful Giddyup & Whoa signs this week.  A watercolor family tree to a mama who has lost 2 children, a tribute to a beloved son, and a family sign built from gorgeous reclaimed wood salvaged from their father’s store.  What an honor to be entrusted with such special projects.IMG_5004.JPGIMG_5002.JPGIMG_5598.jpg

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Carson Grace has enjoyed getting creative, too!

~ for a fun Saint Patrick’s Day.  We wore green of course, had green oatmeal with green sprinkles, and with our lunch enjoyed green veggie straws and green grapes.  It was nice to have something light-hearted to celebrate.  Isn’t it refreshing to appreciate the simple things?  Thanks for the goodie box, Grandmommy!IMG_5225.JPGIMG_5325.JPG

~ for a new puzzle, and all the time in the world to finish it.  We shall see if we can actually  complete one with ALL the pieces.IMG_5568.JPG

~ for a night around the fire pit roasting hot dogs and eating ice cream. IMG_5464.JPG

~ for the children’s love of music and worship.  We’ve been starting every morning with Bible study and prayer time together, each one in turn reading through the Scriptures, and we are all memorizing 1 Corinthians 13.  They (unlike me) still know what day it is every day, so on Tuesday they got a little sad to realize they were missing Chapel at school.  SO WE DID CHAPEL!  I pulled up some of their favorite kids’ praise videos on YouTube, and we had the best time of singing and praising and dancing!  Like for almost 2 hours!  It.  Was. AWESOME!IMG_5218.JPGIMG_5566.JPGIMG_5227.JPG

~ for our little garden!  It was perfect timing to pick up our vegetable seedlings and seeds and work together to plant.  Some were more horrified than others to learn that we were spreading cow manure in the garden bed.  Tatum K was very confused that her tomato plants did not IMMEDIATELY produce her favorite food. IMG_5372.JPGIMG_5387.JPGIMG_5399.JPGIMG_5454.JPG

~ for coffee.  Lots and lots of coffee.

~ for a keyboard from the church for Carson Grace to borrow for her now-online ETBU music classes.  I love listening to her play. 

~ for greatly improved handwashing hygiene.  Unfortunately, that seems to be directly proportional to the lack of personal hygiene on mom’s part.  It is rare that I get out of my pajamas and even more rare for me to shower.  In fact, when I did shower, dry and style my hair, and put on actual clothes, the kids all stopped in their tracks and asked, “WHERE are YOU going????”  It was good to feel like a human again, even with nowhere to go.

~ for online streaming from our church.  And other churches.  What an awesome opportunity to get to “visit” each others churches in addition to supporting our local body.  I so love that so many people are rising up and problem-solving and finding new ways to encourage one another in the Lord.

~ for homemade banana muffins.  And chocolate ice cream.  And for grilled cheese and tomato soup.  I am praying we can maintain our rationing with all the comfort-food-binging.  The kids are LOVING trying “new” foods.  And by “new,” I mean brand names…they have really never had anything other than store brand groceries their whole lives, so now they are amazed by Yoplait yogurt and Kelloggs Rice Krispies.IMG_5635.JPG

~ for empty playgrounds, duck ponds, and hiking trails right around the corner from our house.  Cooper and Gavin have had fun fishing in the creeks and lakes.IMG_5280.JPG IMG_5639.JPG

~ for the kids’ great attitudes about the “homeschool” I threw together for last week.  In addition to the random “lessons” I gave them, they watched cool livestream videos from zoos all over the country, and then all got to choose an animal to research.  At the end of the week, they each gave a presentation to the family.  We were all amazed at all the new things we learned about crawfish, white tigers, zebras, king cobras, sharks, and llamas.  I was genuinely proud of the time and effort they put into their presentations.  

~ for a much-needed “date night” with my Love.  Josh and I had a date planned weeks ago.  Then Sawyer got sick.  Then Spring Break was busy.  We took for granted that we would get to it eventually.  Then the world as we knew it imploded.  But we still had the gift card we had been saving, and we decided to jump on it while restaurants were still serving carryout food.  So we got the Littles to bed and enjoyed a candlelit steak dinner outside.  The food was perfect, absolutely delicious.  But more than that, we had minute to just BE.  To just be in love and tired and honest and a little scared, but together.  

I don’t think I have any profound or inspiring words tonight.  This is hard.  Scary.  Confusing.  Right now, Josh still has a job, but like so many others, there is no job security, and there seems to be a new development every day.  His is certainly not an “essential” business.  The prospect of being unemployed with 8 kids at home (and the 9th who just lost his job and will have no means to support himself) is daunting to say the very least.  It is scary not to be able to order the groceries that I now realize I had completely taken for granted.  What looks like a stockpile is a normal grocery trip for my family, so the maximum quantities allowed don’t even meet my family’s basic needs.  Sawyer is fine, but his weakened immune system makes him so susceptible to every illness it is hard not to worry.  The rest of the kiddos are doing great, although a couple of our adopted ones are struggling with all the uncertainties and changes to their routine.  I recognized it today when we were having church in our living room.  Wide eyes, shaky hands, tense jaws.  Change has always been challenging for our adopted kids… they have been through so many hard and dramatic changes in their early years, and some of those changes came with lots of pain and loss.  It is scary for them to sense that their world has lost its familiar margins and that even mom and dad aren’t sure what is going to happen next, and that triggers old emotions for them that they don’t understand.  Tomorrow I embark on the uncharted path of homeschooling 6 children.  I am incredibly grateful for the dedication our wonderful school has poured into preparing the material for our kids and formatting it basically overnight into a vehicle that we can deliver.  But obviously I don’t feel prepared for this, and feel completely inadequate as a teacher, especially to so many at once.  But I also know we are all in the same boat, and that we will A) figure it out as we go and B) none of it is critical.  I do have it in perspective.  But all the while I sit here and type about how “in perspective” I have it, I still wrestle with oppressive anxiety about all these details individually and collectively.  Lots of tears when no one is looking.  Lots of deep breaths and giving myself the same reminder that I give Sawyer when he is struggling with his own anxiety….(Breathe in Jesus, slow and deep….breathe out the “yucky thoughts.”)  I hear my voice reassuring my kids, and my voice sounds like it’s coming from somebody else.  

BUT GOD.

He is with us.  He is here.  He will never leave us.  All His promises are true.  He has OVERCOME.  He is ETERNAL, and all the rest of this will pass.  We can trust Him.  We WILL GET THROUGH THIS, one way or the other.  

I don’t know how anyone is getting through this without Jesus.  If you have not trusted Him as your Savior – now is the time!  You have everything to lose without Him AND everything to gain with Him!  DON’T WAIT ANOTHER DAY!  This world has nothing to offer but MORE UNCERTAINTY and confusion.  But when you surrender yourself to the Maker of heaven and earth, you can rest knowing that in Him, you are safe, and loved, and you have a Home for eternity.  He is ready for you, and He loves you so much.

If you are a Believer already – this is our day.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  Do you really trust Him?  Do you believe He is still good when everything around you is falling apart?  What if it gets worse before it gets better?  What will we say about Him then?  People are watching us, watching our reactions.  Are we sharing with others: our faith, our food, our toilet paper?  What is our conduct like in the grocery store?  Do we trust in the government?  In our self sufficiency?  Or is our trust securely anchored where it belongs?

This is what we are going to do this week at Quarantine de Rucker.  We are going to stay home.  We are going to “do school” the best we can.  We are going to spend time in God’s Word and in prayer.  We are going to love on each other even when we are sick of all the togetherness.  And we are going to trust in Jesus and thank Him every day.  And we will continue to wash our hands until all our skin falls off.

I am praying for you.  We will get through this.  Don’t lose heart.  Make it a daily practice to count the blessings around you…they are there if you look.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“The Lord will be kind over the whole earth.  On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.”  (Zechariah 14:9)

““For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.  Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you see me with all your heart.”” (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

Vision

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will never forget that night. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

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

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

Way Maker

I am thankful:

~ for a red-and-pink-and-love-and-sugar-soaked week. We had Valentine’s bags and boxes and treats and cards. Valentine’s party at school and a Valentine’s goody box from Grandmommy, and a very special cake baked by a sweet neighbor.

~ for the glorious sunshine! I can’t believe the amount of rain and dreary days we have had. The sunshine is literally like medicine for my heart.

~ for one of our very favorite nights of the whole year: the Father/Daughter Banquet and Dance at our church. For the first time in the 14 years we have participated, I got to help behind the scenes. I have been up to my eyeballs in streamers and confetti and heart-shaped everything for weeks. It was so neat to see it all come together. The girls get so giddy and excited to get all fancied up for a night out on a date with their daddy. Carson Grace even came home from college to attend. It’s just the cutest thing when they all squeal at the sound of the doorbell. Because I t’s always Dad, dressed in his finest, offering a rose to each of his girls. He’s such an amazing dad, and I know our daughters will always remember these special evenings and how loved they are. And Little Miss Tatum K gets to get dolled up for the pictures, but is still too young to attend. She spend the evening with mom and the boys. We had our own fun: pizza rolls, watched a hilarious movie, and then a late night dash to Dairy Queen for a treat. It was a great night all around.

~ for a real life miracle. A precious missionary from our church who lovingly serves the people of Nicaragua was in a terrible accident in which the other involved party was killed. It was a horrific experience, and he was almost immediately thrown in prison. And people all over the world began to pray. Glory to God, our friend was released. We continue to ask for prayer for the family who lost their loved one, and for all the lives that we believe will be touched through this situation. God will redeem for good what the enemy had planned for evil.

~for tile floor and nail polish remover. I will let the photo speak for itself.

~ for a full week of birthday festivities. This is always a jam-packed week for us, with Kora’s birthday on the 13th and Gavin’s on the 14th. Kora enjoyed cinnamon rolls for breakfast, a mom/dad/Tatum K lunch date of Chick-fil-A for lunch, and macaroni and cheese and Cheetos for dinner. Gavin was treated to heart-shaped pancakes with whipped cream and sprinkles, a McDonald’s lunch, and he helped make his favorite homemade pizza for dinner. We continued the birthday celebration with dad‘s awesome grilled hamburgers and ice cream sandwich cake for dessert. I can’t believe how these two are growing up. I think about how little and broken and confused they were when they barreled through my front door six years ago. We still have plenty that we are working through, but I am so very proud of them and excited to watch as the Lord’s plans for them unfold.

~ for the start of another major DIY home project. Carson Grace‘s room is doubling as my painting studio while she is away, but it will always remain her bedroom as long as she wants to come home. So we are trying to do our best to make the space functional for both purposes. The entire room will get a facelift with fresh paint, but phase 1 is building a Murphy bed. This is a pretty major undertaking, and Josh created his own custom plans, building it from scratch. We had lots of stops and starts and do-overs, some frustrations for sure. But he has made remarkable headway in just two days, and we are so excited! This man’s brain and creativity never cease to amaze me! He sees blueprints in his mind and knows how to bring them to life.

~ for the tender hearts of my kids. At the end of the worship music portion of our service, Brother Joe encouraged us to pray for anyone that we knew had a need. Each one of my Littles immediately bowed their heads and begin to pray, with Sawyer sinking to his knees. I can only imagine what those innocent, heartfelt prayers mean to their Heavenly Father.

I’ve just really been struck this week by the miraculous, incomprehensible works of God. He truly is a Way Maker. (This song really is incredible…give it a listen) He makes a way where there is no way. Everything can look impossible. But God. With God, somehow through the unthinkable, we are able to put one foot in front of the other. Through cancer. Through grieving. Through chronic pain. Through imprisonment. Through brokenness. There is no way three adopted-from-foster-care Littles could overcome trauma and neglect and grow into bright, healthy, and thriving members of a family. No way that a baby dying from cancer and multiple organ failure could survive and live as a NORMAL 6 year old. No way that 2 kids who shacked up and had a child out of wedlock could stay married and continue to fall more in love after 20 years. Whatever looks impossible to our short-sighted human eyes. Impossible that a prodigal will one day decide to turn around and fall in love with Jesus. Impossible to smile again after losing a child. Impossible to forgive someone who isn’t sorry. Impossible to die without fear. But God. He IS a Way Maker. He is doing things just beneath the surface, just beyond our vision, and so far above and below and around us that we can’t even imagine. I don’t think we can ever grasp the depth of His love until the day we finally fall before His Presence. Even so, He’s so gracious… He gives us little glimpses along the way, because he knows we’re gonna want to give up. I see Him in the eyes of my children. I see Him in the way my husband loves me. I believe in miracles because I’ve seen them with my own eyes. I see a miracle every time I look in the mirror. Because I know who I was. Whatever you’re praying for, keep praying. Keep asking. Keep fighting. He is working. He’s working on the things you pray about, and He’s working on you. I needed this reminder this week, and I figured maybe somebody else did too.

Let’s love one another well this week. Don’t stop praying. Don’t stop testifying. He’s worthy.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.” (Revelation 5:11-14)

“Way maker/ Miracle worker

Promise keeper/Light in the darkness

My God/That is who you are”

(Leeland)

God is in the Ring

I am thankful:

~ for a wonderful awesome trip to Dallas to deliver the abundant bounty of toys that you all generously donated to the Gold Network of East Texas Toy Drive! I’ll be completely honest. I didn’t think we were going to even meet last year‘s number. A week before delivery day, we had about 800 toys. And $300 to spend. A number isn’t what it’s about. I know that. And 800 toys is a lot of toys. But I am so amazed at how God worked in so many hearts over the last week. We collected more than 700 more dollars and ended up with over 1600 toys!  Every hour another donation would come in. It just blew my mind!  And I had the neatest experience at the Dollar Tree in Tyler.  I went in with $400 to spend, and found out that since it was our first time registered as a tax exempt nonprofit, we got 10% off our purchase.  So that gave me almost another hundred dollars to spend! It was so fun!  I’ve never bought so much in my life, filled up 3 buggies! The receipt was as long as Samantha is tall!  All the toys just barely managed to fit, crammed into our bus. I was thankful that the 4 “Middles” were able to spend the day with their cousins, because there was literally no room for them in the car!  So I made the trip with just Sawyer and Tatum K.  We were met at valet at Children’s Hospital by 2 child life staff members with giant rolling bins, which we filled to overflowing!  Sawyer delighted in pushing and pulling them to the elevators and then he gleefully assisted in stocking the shelves.  He quickly learned which bins were for which toys, and chattered nonstop as he worked.  It brings me such joy to see him happily giving things away.  He knew none of those toys were for him, that they were all for his friends.  A sweet little girl came to pick out her prize after a hard, exhausting day of chemotherapy. The same age as Sawyer, she was completely bald and it was clear that she felt miserable. She picked out a baby doll, and then Sawyer picked out a second prize for her, which brought a tiny smile.  Seems like yesterday that Sawyer was the one weak and frail. Sawyer has prayed for his little friend Charlie every day since.  A million thanks to everyone who helped with this blessing.

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For the best bonus to an already great day.  We drove around the corner from the hospital and met our precious nurse and now dear friend, Brittney, for lunch. We haven’t seen her in several months because our appointments didn’t line up with her schedule, and now she has an additional job: Mama to a beautiful two-month-old baby boy!  It’s absolutely amazing to see her as a mama. I’ll never forget meeting Brittney and sawyer’s hospital room in the early weeks of his trip treatment. She knelt with me to pray before administering his chemotherapy.  She became my sister immediately and a favorite.  I remember thinking what an she was an expert seasoned nurse she was, and I didn’t find out until years later that she was brand new, and she admitted to being terrified that day.  It’s so beautiful the way the Lord purposely braids people into our lives that will change us forever.

~ for the most incredible neighbors! One day I got a knock on the door and a neighbor had a donation for Gold Network. They had wanted to come to the Gold Run but were crazy busy. So they just wanted to make a donation to support. Another day, another knock on the door. A different neighbor had 4 large Bruno‘s pizza left over from a party they were having!  Have you ever?  We are so blessed in our neighborhood.

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~ for the miraculous power of prayer.  Monday, an article was published by the New York Times regarding an impending shortage of the cornerstone chemotherapy drug for childhood cancer, Vincristine.  Tuesday, social media was buzzing with the news, and a couple local moms contacted the Dallas hospital, and received the report that the shortage was not expected to affect our kids.  But Wednesday.  Wednesday our own sweet Hero, Jase went to Dallas for his routine monthly chemotherapy treatment for leukemia.  And he was not given his scheduled dose of Vincristine.  His family was understandably livid and very concerned.  HOW CAN CRITICAL DRUGS THAT WE DEPEND ON TO SAVE OUR CHILDREN’S LIVES NOT BE AVAILABLE????  So we all used the only 2 tools we knew to use: the power of social media to incite people to apply the greatest power tool of all – the power of PRAYER.  People everywhere were praying.  And at the end of that all-day clinic visit, doctors came back to Jase’s family AND GAVE HIM HIS MEDICINE!!!!!  The very same thing happened with several other patients that day!  And shortly thereafter, a press release was issued stating that the drug company responsible was expediting the production of Vincristine several weeks sooner than previously scheduled.  We are so grateful that Jase received the life-saving medicine that he needed, but we ask for continued prayers that this crisis does not happen again.  Every type of childhood cancer requires Vincristine for treatment.  Our kids MUST have access to the drugs they need to LIVE!

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~ for the remarkable convenience of online grocery shopping! I was skeptical at first, wondering if I would get good produce, or if they would accurately fulfill my shopping list.  But I have been very pleased with the service I’ve received from all 3 grocery stores that I have to use.  Now a task that used to take me all day can be completed in less than two hours.  It’s truly a game changer, especially with a family our size.  

~ for kids who love to help!

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~ for a super productive week of Giddyup & Whoa sign painting.  I cranked out 7 signs for the upcoming Vintage & Co Fall Barn Sale.  If you are local, you MUST come check it out!  They have the most wonderful collection of unique vintage and refurbished items, and beautiful handmade merchandise as well. This year they’ve even added a different food truck each day to make it an even greater experience!  Check them out Wednesday through Saturday!

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~ for a tasty and free food truck lunch hosted by our mortgage company for customer appreciation.  Tatum K entertained the crowd with her street dancing, and the juicy fried fish hit the spot!

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~ for a very special birthday!  Cooper turned 15 this week!  How in the world is my sweet, blue eyed mess of a  Coopy a 15 year old?  We feasted on his menu of choice: biscuits and gravy, scrambled eggs and bacon, and rich chocolate cake.   Love that kid!  (He also played a great football game this week).

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~ for an amazing photographer that bravely and expertly tackled the gargantuan task of capturing a picture of Nana and Pop and ALL 23 GRANDCHILDREN!  We have been adopted into an amazing extended family here in Tyler, and it is one rowdy bunch, ranging from age 20 down to 5 months!  The photographer, Lauren Ashley, not only got the prized whole family picture, but each individual child, every family, and all the couples!  All in one hour!  She is a MACHINE!  I can’t wait to see how the pictures all turned out!  (These pics are just snapshots from my phone)

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More than anything this week, I am thankful for God’s Mighty Hand.  I talked last week about how overwhelming the pace and the pressures of life can be.   Well it’s not letting up.  It’s been a rough week as far as my anxiety goes, and we’ve been hit with brutal punches to the gut from out of nowhere.  That really is what it feels like sometimes.  Like a fighter in a ring getting HAMMERED.  Only there’s no timer, no bell.  No break to let you catch your breath.  Just hit after hit sending you reeling against the ropes.  Sometimes the hit looks like it’s big enough to destroy you.  

But God.  

No matter what is going on, I know He’s with me.  I know He’s fighting the battle for me, in front of me, behind me, and IN ME.  He built me for this battle.  He has prepared me for it.  If I’m in it, it’s because He has a plan for the battle and a plan for me.  He is the God that holds my children.  He holds their hearts and their future.  He has a plan for their lives as they find their way.  And every trial that comes our way will be used for our good and for His glory.  And when things look like they can’t ever be ok, I will turn my eyes to Him.   When I can’t take one more step, He will carry me.  When my heart is broken, He will hold me.  

It’s a big week for Casa Rucker, and we are counting on God to do some incredible things.  Will you please pray for us?  I look forward to sharing many great praise reports in next Sunday’s Gratitude!

Love one another, seek Jesus, and GIVE HIM PRAISE!

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“Be merciful to me, O God, for man would swallow me up; Fighting all day he oppresses me. My enemies would hound me all day, For there are many who fight against me, O Most High. Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me?” Psalms 56:1-4 

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”” Exodus 14:14 

Pure Gold

I’m still taking it all in.  This week was a doozy. The schedule was absolutely relentless.  The tasks, insurmountable.  I needed at least twice as many hours in every day.  BUT GOD. Miracle by miracle , it all got done.  Not a day went by that I didn’t see His Hand orchestrating beauty and life.  Though the generosity of strangers.  Through the kindness of friends.  Through the support of the Body of Christ. 

Tuesday: got to share at Elementary Chapel about how BIG God’s miracles are, and how He used our prayers for Sawyer’s life to multiply into a mission and a ministry to children in our area and around the world. 

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Friday: GCS Go GOLD Football Game

We honored the 9 GCS families (that we know of) directly impacted by Childhood Cancer.  Some have completed treatment, some graduated and off doing well.  Some are with Jesus.  And one is still receiving treatment.  The three current GCS students led the football team onto the field. 

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Saturday: Tyler Gold Run

THANK YOU JESUS FOR PERFECT WEATHER!!!  We had a little rain Friday, and a cool front blew in (“cool” for Texas September).  The setup at the new location was a huge improvement, and the 6am crew of volunteers were hustling from the get go!   By the time the sun was up, we were rocking and rolling, and the park began to fill up with people.  More and more faces: strangers, onlookers, runners, supportive friends and family and classmates, and our honored guests – the Hero families that are the whole reason we were there.  There were inflatable dinosaur costumes and tutus, tiny puppies and big dogs, teams in customized matching t-shirts and a sea of Gold in every direction.  I still can’t believe it was all real.  A literal dream come true.  There were at least 600 in attendance, including more than 300 runners and at least 27 of our Hero families. 27!!!  I still have no idea how much money we raised, but just the awareness raised and the community of support becoming more firmly established as a presence that is NOT GOING AWAY…I truly could not be happier with how it all turned out.  I will never forget watching so many of the miracle children triumphantly crossing the finish line. Or the brave and broken moms and dads who walked or ran in honor of their child whose race was completed at the gates of heaven instead of on the brick streets of Tyler. I could go on for days to list all the different connections I made with people, or that I heard about from others.  The touching stories I heard and wonderful families I met.  God smiled on us that day. IMG_7411 2.jpg

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I can’t help reflect on the progression of the last five years.  In 2015 and 2016, Sawyer was still heavily in the midst of treatment. His immunity was so fragile, he was unable to even attend the race that he inspired.  In 2017, he was stronger, had just completed treatment, and Josh ran the race with him in the stroller.  Last year, he amazed everyone by walking the entire 5K with his teacher and classmates.  What an incredible miracle and testimony of God’s goodness!  This year he told me he didn’t want to do the 5K race.  I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t disappointed. But I wasn’t going to make him do it.  I knew he’d enjoy just being there and seeing all his friends.  But as the morning went on, and as my duties started to ease up, I headed to the finish line to cheer on friends and Heroes as they ran in.  And what I found stopped me in my tracks.  It was my boy.  Smiling at the finish line handing out waters to the runners as they completed their race.  It was almost too much for my heart to handle.  Such a picture of our journeys…. sometimes we are the one in the midst of the battle. The one being served. The one too sick, too weak, too entrenched in the trial to participate.  And that is our season to be still.  Other times the Lord carries us.  He does the heavy lifting, and we are just along for the ride.  And sometimes it’s our turn to walk. To put our own feet on the pavement and carry our own weight. To walk, and keep walking even when we’re tired.  And He is beside us the whole way. And then there are seasons when it’s not our turn. When our job is to be faithful to see the needs of others. To offer a cold drink of water to someone else who is thirsty. To refresh others as we have been refreshed. Nobody told Sawyer to hand out water.  I know he’s just a little kid, and little kids like to help. I know he doesn’t see it as a spiritual thing at all. But I also know that there is something uniquely special about him. And I know that more than just in the physical sense, he knows what it’s like to be thirsty.  I don’t think I have ever been more proud of my son.  

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Saturday night: Tyler Junior College Game

Our Gold Network kids were invited to be honored guests of the TJC Apache football team. We were invited into the locker room where the team chaplain prayed for them and prayed for the team, and then the kids were allowed to run the team out onto the field.  So thankful to have 4 families represented.  It was awesome.

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Sunday: Lone Star Circle of Life Bike Tour

Sawyer was honored as a blood product recipient. Our dear friend and pastor’s wife, Becky is riding across the state of Texas with his name on her back. I know she is thinking of him and praying for him all the way. The opening ceremony at Tyler Christian fellowship this morning was incredibly moving. The stories shared by so many families of organ recipients and organ donors and blood product donors and recipients was just absolutely incredible.  You can watch the video of our portion of the program here.

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The Tyler Gold Run may be over, but September is not. Kids are still being diagnosed every day. Federal research dollars are still at less than 4%. Cancer and the treatment for it continues to take our children before they’ve even had the chance to live. I hope you choose to be inspired to GO GOLD in some small way. Thank y’all for your continued love and support.

And thank you for giving thanks with me.

“A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”  Proverbs 11:25

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…” Matthew 25:35

 

 

Back to School Daze

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

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

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

Ready or not…

I should have expected it. Last week I boldly proclaimed to the world how thankful I am. How thankful I am for my lively mess of a family and the perfectly imperfect.  Why should it surprise me that Monday morning I’d be hit on all sides with utter chaos: squalling siblings, mouthy teens, and a maniacal 2 year old terrorist.  I was attacked full force from every direction.  And man, I fell right smack off my thankful mountain.  I know that’s real life: highs and lows and not-so-pretty-or-poetic emotions.  BUT GOD.  Oh how thankful I am that God doesn’t turn His back on me every time I fail.  And that His goodness is not contingent on my faithfulness.  WHAT A MIGHTY GOD WE SERVE!  

But when all is said and done, He gives me the grace to get back up when I fall on my face.  I get to tell my kids I’m sorry and we all get a do-over.   New mercies every morning.  And every week. 

I am thankful:

~ for more end of school fun.  Our final FINAL day of school was Wednesday!  It is surreal to see Sawyer completing his first year of school.  I don’t take these “firsts and lasts” for granted.  Every time he reaches another milestone, I never fail to see that frail, white little baby.  BUT GOD!  He knew this day was coming even when all we could see was death in every direction.  Thank you Jesus for the last five years!  And we will be thankful for all the rest you will give us!  I pray Sawyer lives to be a strong, healthy, old old man who never tires of telling the story of how Jesus healed-ed him. 

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Our beloved Mrs. Youngblood

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“Mama, what are the other ribbon colors?  I want to pray for God to heal ALL the people with cancer.”

~ for nail polish remover.  I used a whole bottle to clean up Tatum K and the carpet where she painted her “Pretty toes Mama!  I MESSY!”

~ for my 2 kiddos recognized for Perfect Attendance!  Way to go Kora and Gavin!

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~for the remarkable kindness and generosity of friends.

~ for good news.  Our friend Mason got his port removed after completing leukemia treatment, Baby Lucas got wonderful news from his oncologist, and sweet Georgia is home from her latest stay in the hospital.  God, You are so good.  Thank you, faithful prayer warriors, for praying; please keep lifting up all these precious families. 

~ for at least a couple lazy days.  No alarms to set, no plans on the calendar. We enjoyed our walks, kids swam in the icy pool until their lips turn blue, and we laughed as Bear eagerly dove in after them, showing off his swimming skills. 

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~for Carson Grace and the Cougars safe trip down to Houston for their next softball playoff game.  They battled through and played their best, but this time didn’t come away with the win.  But what a great season!

~ for the way all my kids love music.  They are always singing along with the radio behind me in the car, making up songs, or singing on their own at home.  This week a favorite came on, “I’m a Child of God,” and Sawyer said, “Mama!  I just love this song so much!  I just HAVE to Praise Him!”  I can only imagine how this blesses the Father’s heart. 

~ for the eagerly anticipated, fast and furious arrival of my latest BEAUTIFUL NIECE, Josey Dean! What a little sugar!!!

And Saturday was the biggest day; a day of so much joy but also bittersweet tears. My girl, my Carson Grace, my heart.  How can my baby be graduating high school?  I remember picking out her first day of school clothes from the toddler department.  I remember the tiny wooden stool that her teacher had built for her because her little legs dangled from the desk and couldn’t reach the floor. I remember crying as she graduated from Kindergarten, then from 5th grade, then 8th.  I blinked. Tiny crocs and Mary Jane’s were replaced by Vans and impossibly high heels.  My memory hasn’t faded from her baby days, because all I have to do is look at Tatum K, her carbon copy. Saturday, my beautiful girl put on that cap and gown and proudly received her diploma.  She fought for it: high school wasn’t easy for her on any level.  But she did it, and we are so proud.  We even had the excitement of a tornado warning and mandatory evacuation in the middle of the ceremony, but she made it!  We ended the evening with burgers and watermelon and friends crowded in the kitchen, celebrating our girl.  

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~ and then a wonderful baby shower for my precious friends Chris and Lindsay, as they prepare their hearts and home for their baby boy on the way.  They are such treasures, and I am so ready to watch them step into the role they were MADE FOR as Mama and Daddy!

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As you may well imagine, it’s slightly terrifying to face being home with all these kiddos for the summer.  I’m so ridiculously outnumbered.  But thankfully they haven’t figured that out yet.  I am trying to find a balance between high hopes and realistic expectations for the upcoming weeks: lots of swimming, walks, trips to the library, and some good healthy brain exercise.  We’re gonna eat popsicles and ride bikes and Cooper’s going to teach me how to flip on the trampoline.  And I’m gonna love my babies the very best I can.  I’m gonna soak up these last precious weeks of having Carson Grace home before she leaves for college.  I’m going to press into Jesus.  I’m going to pray with my kids and play with my kids.  I’M GONNA FINISH SCRAPING THOSE BEAMS.  It’s going to be a glorious mess, but we are going to do it together. 

Thank you for giving thanks with me. 

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” Psalm 90:1-2 

“Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children. May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands.”  Psalm 90:14-17

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26