Patience

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patience.

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

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

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

He is faithful. And I am encouraged.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

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

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

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

I Still Know

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How you taunt me, o elusive missing piece

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

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

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

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

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

I still believe. And I still know.

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

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

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

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

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

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

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

Impossible

I am thankful:

~ for this handsome too-grown-up boy and his new haircut.

I hinted at it last week, but it was too new for me to fully process. I know it sounds ridiculous to be so dramatic about a simple haircut…but my cancer mama friends understand. When you’ve had a child that loses their hair during cancer treatment, hair becomes A REALLY BIG DEAL. Sawyer’s fine, straight baby hair grew back super curly and perfectly matched his vibrant personality.

Those soft curls nestled into the crook of my neck every night for years. I stroked those little curls while I waited for him to wake up after every spinal tap and bone marrow biopsy. Those curls would get sweaty when he got fevers, and I would know it was time to pack up and head to the Dallas ER.

I just loved his thick head of hair and everything it represented. It was like another badge of honor he had earned. But he was ready for a new “do” and I knew I had to let go. It was hard to watch. And Josh admitted it was very hard for him to do the haircut. But we are both so proud of him. Isn’t he just the stinkin’ cutest?

His first glimpse of himself…

~ for a fun day trip to Longview to pick up our final load of Toy Drive toys and to visit Aunt Dinah. Although our visits are never long enough, we managed to squeeze in a pizza party, fun in and out of the rain with her sweet neighbors, treasure hunting in her beautifully wooded backyard, and assisted her in testing whether or not her bathroom’s frosted glass window was frosted ENOUGH. We had a great day.

~ for the MOST AWESOMELY EPIC TOY HAUL! Our Annual Gold Network of East Texas Toy Drive was a fabulous success thanks to the many businesses and individuals who gave so generously. Not only did we collect hundreds of toys at each donation location, we were blessed with more than $1100 to go shopping with! Paula and I had a blast shopping for toys and gift cards with the donated funds.

All together, we collected 2,229 toys, a huge growth from last year. THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO GAVE!

We are blown away with your kindness, your support, and your generosity. We took all the seats out of our bus, leaving a spot for Sawyer, and turned it into Toy-Delivery-Mobile.

What a fun job that was! Of course, with current COVID-19 restrictions, we were not allowed to actually physically stock the CCBD Prize Closet like we have in years past, but we were met in front of Children’s Hospital by the Child Life Team. They greeted us with 2 large, industrial rolling bins, and I gleefully advised them, “I think you’re going to need MORE!” We ended up filling 4 bins to overflowing.

The Team was thrilled with the donation, and amazed by the quality of the toys you all collected. And our wonderful social worker, Diane, who has been by our side since Sawyer was diagnosed with leukemia at just 7 months old, was amazed to see him now: tall and handsome, with his new glasses and new haircut. She just couldn’t believe it.

~ thankful for sweet Aunt Gina who chauffeured us for the day, and encouraged me to override Sawyer’s lunch suggestion (Buccees of course). Instead we tried a new-to-us spot, Rodeo Goat, and enjoyed the MOST DELICIOUS burgers and fries.

~ also thankful for these delicious dark chocolate salted caramels. You can see I was not able to restrain myself from opening them even long enough to take a picture (see the empty space at the top of the canister?) Gina Sue gave them to me on Wednesday. And it is POSSIBLE that they MAY HAVE been GONE BY SATURDAY….possibly.

~ for a wildly successful mission yard sale at church last weekend, and a wonderful treasure that was clearly meant for me.

~ for an awesome afternoon at church helping decorate for next week’s upcoming Vacation Bible School. The kids have loved it every summer, and are so excited to be meeting again this summer!

~ for a great first week for Tatum K in her big girl bed! I thought she’d get up 8475 times a night, but amazingly enough, she never has! In fact, it seems that it has not clicked that she is PHYSICALLY ABLE to get out of the bed by herself. Instead, she SCREAMS AT THE TOP OF HER LUNGS, “MAMAAAAAAAAA!!!!!” any time she needs anything or in the morning when she wakes up. Also surprisingly, she hasn’t ever fallen out. So we graduated to the next level, from the mattresses on the floor to her actual bed with a frame. So cute.

I had a good wake up call this week. It can be so tempting to look at the hurts in our lives. To wrap up in a blanket of hurt and surround yourself with your disappointments. Isn’t it funny/sad how our eyes instinctively seek out a flaw. We do that with our lives. We look for the holes. The lack. We see what’s missing instead of what’s there. Let-downs, disappointments, broken relationships, people we miss. People who were never there in the first place. But today I sat in my chair and the Lord lavishly poured His love over me. He showed me all the things He has given me. All the people he has braided into my path. He lovingly reminded me of all the ways He has made up for what I lack. People who have loved abundantly when they didn’t have to. BUT GOD.

What would happen if we consistently focused our eyes on our abundance instead of our lack?

What are you praying for that to you looks unanswered? What looks impossible? I am loving the song “Rattle” by Elevation Worship. “Since when has ‘impossible’ ever stopped You?” I know so many people walking through such hard trials, and they are so beaten down and discouraged. But we, the people of God, believers in Christ, HAVE TO BELIEVE that He is WORKING WHEN WE CAN’T SEE! We shouldn’t be living like the ones who have no hope! Do we really believe it? Do we really believe Him? And do we LIVE LIKE WE BELIEVE HIM? The beat from that song pounded upon my chest, and I could physically feel its resonating in my heart. NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOD. He hears every prayer. He is working, for His glory and for our good. He is working in the dark, working beneath the surface. So much of what He is doing we cannot see. So we foolishly think nothing’s happening. We are so arrogant and impatient with God, second-guessing His ways and His actions (or the appearance of inaction.) I promise you I am preaching to MYSELF here. I have situations that I have worried myself half to death over, and I have begged God over and over to move. But I have to remind myself that He cares more than I care, and He knows more than I know. And His timing is ALWAYS perfect. And the stretching and refining that only comes through waiting is JUST AS important (if not more so) than the answer itself.

What is your “impossible?”

Think again. He’s not done yet...

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.””(Matthew 19:26)

“The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart exults, And with my song I shall thank Him.” (Psalms 28:7)

“The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name.”(Exodus 15:2-3)

“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” (Psalms 31:24)

“My God is able to save and deliver and heal and restore anything that He wants to / Just ask the man who was thrown on the bones of Elisha if there’s anything that He can’t do / Just ask the stone that was rolled at the tomb in the garden what happens when God says to move…”

This is the video for the song, “Rattle.” May it bless you and encourage you as it has me. https://youtu.be/xrAdbH28gIg

What Can it Be?

What a week. I’m sorry for the vague/abrupt post last week with no follow up, but I’ve just genuinely been too overwhelmed/exhausted to post until now. Cooper is doing so much better, glory to the Lord. We are not exactly sure what his long-term recovery will look like, but we are hopeful and filled with great anticipation for all the Lord will do. And overwhelmed with gratitude at the many miracles He has done already. So let me explain how we got here. Settle in, because it’s a long story.

Saturday, our plan was to drive to Carthage to spend the day with family celebrating Mother’s Day. Cooper woke up with a headache, but we didn’t think it was any big deal. We made the drive and sat outside visiting. All was normal.

When we first arrived in Carthage on 5/8/2021

And at some point, Cooper started feeling worse and went and laid down in the guest room. A little bit later, he threw up. Our thought was, “Oh great. We have brought the stomach bug to the whole family. Aren’t we lovely.” In the interest of not spreading any more germs, we set Cooper up in his isolation station: a comfy patch of grass under a shade tree in the front yard. He already said he felt a little better after having thrown up, and said he wondered if it was food poisoning instead of a bug. He had gone out to eat with friends the night before. I periodically checked on him, making sure he had water, making sure he wasn’t getting sicker. And he said he felt back to 90%. But at some point, everything went South. The next time I went out to check on him, he looked up at me and said, “Where are we? None of this looks familiar.” Cooper has a reputation in our family as the funny guy. He’s been a funny guy at home. The funny guy at work. The funny guy at school. He’s got a great sense of humor, but like most young boys, doesn’t always have the discernment on the proper time and place to be funny. So I automatically assumed he was messing with me. I scolded him for concocting a crazy and not-even-slightly-believe-able story. But Cooper wasn’t playing. He didn’t recognize Gina‘s yard, and assured me that he had no memory of how we got to Carthage. As I pressed for more answers, he didn’t remember going out with friends the night before… For that matter, he didn’t seem to have any memory of the last month. Long term memory was intact. He knew everyone in our family, named all his siblings, knew where he worked and all about his music. But everything in the last month was gone. Not only that, he was asking the same questions over and over, “What day is it?” “Where am I?” “Do I keep falling asleep?” “Have I asked this question before?” By the time we could give the answers, he had already forgotten the questions, and would restart the process all over again. His memory seemed to be re-setting every three minutes or so. I can’t explain how baffling and terrifying it was. Could this be caused by extreme dehydration? Had he had a stroke? What if the memory loss was permanent? Did he have a brain tumor? As you can probably surmise, what we have been through with Sawyer had a great impact on how we processed this sudden crisis. We immediately went straight to the worst case scenarios in our mind. We no longer have the luxury of thinking, “cancer could never happen to us.” Instead, our hearts pounded as our minds raced with thoughts that screamed what we couldn’t allow ourselves to speak out loud, “Is this really happening to us AGAIN?”

Josh and Colton raced Cooper back to the Tyler ER. This is Miracle Number 1. I had wanted Colton to ride with us to Carthage. He had errands to run, and decided to drive himself separately. This was a huge blessing in the long run, because Josh and Colton were able to rush Cooper to Tyler immediately without having to wait and gather everyone else up. The rest of the family knew little of what was going on. All they knew was that Cooper wasn’t feeling great and was staying away so as not to get anyone else sick. They had no idea things had taken a turn and that something serious was going on. No one else had witnessed his frightening behavior. And what could I tell them? I had no explanation. As I had done countless times again and again since Sawyer’s diagnosis, I entered into an eerie stillness and quiet peace from the Lord. There was no freaking out. No tears. No panic. I was instantly a quiet soldier taking care of whatever had to be done so I could get to my son. The kids finished eating their dinner, cleaned up the pool toys, loaded the bus, and I got on the road to drive what felt like 10 million miles to get to my boy. And you better believe I turned my music on. The entire way to Tyler, I had one hand on the wheel and one hand raised to heaven. I praised God for who He was and who He is and for whatever He was going to do through this trial. Trust me, that was NOT ME. I am not that full of faith. I was not OK. But God was in control and He held my shattering heart in His hand. Battle mode. It’s indescribable unless you have been there and experienced it. I got the kids settled at home with Carson Grace, and Colton‘s girlfriend Brooke came to the house and drove me. Another blessing. I didn’t have to walk into that hospital alone. By the time I arrived, Cooper had already had a chest X-ray, urinalysis tox screen, lots of bloodwork drawn, EKG, and a head CT. He still was asking the same questions over and over, and repeating the same few things he could remember: “I work at Chick FilA, I make music, I have a studio at my house.” The exact same short conversation more than 200 times. Thankfully, at this point all tests have come back normal. The doctors were mystified. Cooper was admitted to the hospital and transported to a room around 1 AM. Josh went home to be with the children, and I stayed with Cooper. It was surreal settling into another vinyl recliner next to another hospital bed and IV pump with another of my children. BUT GOD.

Sunday morning brought a visit from the on-call pediatrician who, equally mystified, scheduled an EEG, MRI and spinal tap. We had already ruled out several things: tox screen confirmed there were no substances or drugs in his body, EKG had ruled out anything triggered by the heart arrhythmia we already knew he had, x-rays showed no blood clots in his lungs, CT showed no large masses or tumors. An EEG would look for disruptions in brainwave activity, MRI was looking for strokes, smaller tumors, or bleeds, and spinal tap would show anything abnormal in his spinal fluid. By this time Cooper had been pumped full of fluids and his personality was returning.

Thankful to have a sense of humor returning.

He had finally stopped asking the same repeated loop of questions. But his brain was still very foggy and many holes remained in his memory. After five horrific failed attempts at an unsedated spinal tap, I said “ENOUGH,” and Cooper was finally taken to a procedure room where he received general anesthesia and a successful spinal tap. Mama Bear was NOT PLEASED. Watching my son moan and cry out in pain while grinding his face into a pillow and gripping my hands so tightly I thought they might break was unbearable. BUT GOD.

Next came 2 MRIs which came back normal. Even though the spinal taps were excruciating and infuriating, we are truly thankful, because the spinal fluid was what finally yielded an answer.

The doctor thought it was strange that I took a picture. But as soon as Cooper woke up after the final procedure, he asked me, “what did the fluid look like?” I know my boy.

Abnormal lymphocytes found in the fluid. Of course the word “lymphocytes” sent another shock wave of panic through Josh and I, but the doctor quickly assured us that that did not mean cancer. It meant an infection. A virus from who-knows-where that was able to cross the barrier from the blood into the spinal column and cause brain inflammation, which then resulted in Cooper’s altered mental status and short term memory loss. Viral meningoencephalitis. And the treatment? There is none. The virus simply had to run its course. Thankfully, the fluids had done a good job of flushing it out of his system. And of course most importantly, Mighty God had His hand on Cooper. We still spent one more night in the hospital for observation and awaiting an official confirmation of the diagnosis from the neurologist Monday morning. She did confirm it, and that coupled with Cooper’s remarkable improvement bought him a ticket home Monday afternoon.

We couldn’t believe it. So much happened in such a short time. Such a sudden and terrifying onset of symptoms, and yet less than two full days later he seemed like himself. He was very weak, still somewhat foggy and a little confused, and as you can imagine, 6 spinal taps make for one heck of a backache. Looking back now a week later, we realize we overestimated how well he was doing.

He felt terrible all day Tuesday and landed back in the ER that night with an excruciating spinal headache. But a repeat CT showed that everything looked fine, and we were reassured that spinal headaches are common after one spinal tap, let alone six. Since then, Dr. Mom has strictly enforced rest and scheduled pain meds to stay ahead of the pain. I have given him three words each day to remember and recall to me throughout the day (sunflower/elephant/83), to monitor his ability to retain short-term memories. So far so good. He has slowly improved every day. Friday was supposed to be his last day of school, and he really wanted one last chance to see his friends before summer. He assured me he was up for it. With a pounding heart, I left him at the school that morning. After about two hours, he called me to come get him. But I was so proud that he tried, pleasantly surprised that he lasted that long, and pleased that he wasn’t too proud to call me when he’d had enough.

If you’ve hung in there long enough to get to the end of all this, let me close with a precious story that blessed me beyond measure. Cooper had told me weeks ago that he had ordered me a gift for Mother’s Day, but that he was sorry it would not make it on time, “but trust me, you’re gonna LOVE IT.” When we pulled into the driveway Monday afternoon from the hospital, he went straight to the mailbox and cheered, holding up an envelope. (He remembered!) That evening, after all the children gave me their handmade Mother’s Day cards, he presented me with that envelope. Inside was a decal he had custom designed for my gold coffee mug. “but God”

Thankfulness and joy to the Lord washed over my aching heart as I stared at the sticker. God knew. God knew the terrifying dark valley we would walk through with Cooper. And He never left us. He never left Cooper. He never left my shattered PTSD cancer-fearing heart as I sat in a hospital with my child. What a good, good Father. Hallelujah.

Thank you so much to all who called, texted, visited, brought meals, helped with kids, and lifted us in prayer. You have truly been the hands and feet of Jesus. We are all still a bit shell-shocked and exhausted from all that has happened in just a few short days, but we are amazed how, in the midst of the crisis, Josh and I experienced tender moments of bonding and closeness and even unexpected joy and laughter with Cooper and with Colton, who rose up, devotedly never leaving his brother’s side.

We rejoice in Cooper’s recovery, and we give God all the glory for carrying us through.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

Oh, and last Friday Coop dropped a new song. Love how passionate he is about his music. Give it a listen. It’s out on all platforms: Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, SoundCloud. #proudmom https://open.spotify.com/album/2sjGNGO5YL10CNDASgShq4?si=ecqetkZlR42r-t8dpW9v_w

“And He said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.”” (Exodus 33:14)

“I would have lost heart, unless I had believed That I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living. Wait on the LORD; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the LORD!” (Psalms 27:13-14)

““The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name.”(Exodus 15:2-3)

Steadfast

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I will build my life upon Your love, it is a firm foundation. I will put my trust in You alone and I will not be shaken!”

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

JESUS IS COMING.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

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

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

Weary but Rejoicing

Iam thankful:

~ for my incredibly thoughtful husband! When he warns me, “I’m setting my tools up in the garage, and you CAN’T COME OUT HERE!” I always know it’s gonna be something good. This time it was the most awesome, Mr. Giddyup original paint caddy! I teased him that he built it for himself, because he’s sick of my brushes and paint laying EVERYWHERE. Either way, it’s a win-win!

~ for an amazing night of high school football playoffs. So exciting to see TWO teams we love competing (not against each other, different divisions) for the top title. We cheered on the Carthage Bulldogs to their historic 8th State Championship, and then cheered for our beloved Coach Chris and the Lindale Eagles. Lindale may not have come away with the top score on the official scoreboard, but they had a triumphantly victorious and inspiring season. So incredibly proud of the Eagles and their fearless leader!

~ for sweet Zoe’s 3rd Grade Christmas Play. She sang a beautiful solo and the whole play was absolutely adorable!

~ for the fastest, least painful family Christmas photo in Rucker history. My Big kids LOATHE taking pictures. It generally takes bribery, coercion, and threats of bodily harm to get it done. They tolerate it, because they know they don’t have a choice, but it’s never a very pleasant occasion. This week’s attempt was a MOST UNLIKELY scenario. There was only ONE DAY that Carson Grace didn’t have to work. It HAPPENED to be a rainy day so Colton could drive in from his job. We met at 4 o’clock when the kiddos all got out of school. Sounds perfect, right? EXCEPT, Cooper had to be at his job (up Broadway Ave. in bumper to bumper Christmas traffic) at 4:30!! The kids all quickly changed their clothes, dashed to their spots, and I snapped the picture! Just like that! We were done at 4:06! It was historic! (Tune in next week for the winning shot!)

~ for p-p-pajama day at school.

~ for Cooper crushing his finals and treating mom to a Bahama Bucks date.

~ for donuts + The Grinch for breakfast, just because.

~ for beautiful heavenly glories spotted by the kids on the way home.

~ for Gavin doing a fantastic job as the Toastmaster in his 4th Grade class. So proud of him!

~ for a pedal-to-the-medal, paint-til-your-fingers-fall-off, a LOT more Giddyup-than-Whoa week! I completed 6 signs this week (including the big whopper I mentioned last week), and I only have ONE MORE project to complete before Christmas! Grateful for a busy season, and grateful for a rest!

~ for a special visit with our Kilgore-Hallsville-Carthage-Houston family. It was a different location this year, but the love and the good food and the warm fellowship was the same! Such a blessing to gather and love on one another.

~ and for a fun surprise visit from Uncle Mike and Kenedy!! We have had fun coloring and playing dress up and looking at Christmas lights. It is always so special to have them with us.

~ the puppies are growing and changing and getting cuter every day. They. Are. SO. BIG! It looks completely absurd when they tackle poor Mama Birdie to nurse…it looks like that are devouring her! They are now consuming 13 pounds of puppy food a week, and producing roughly 496 pounds of poo each day. Keeping the pups and their pen clean is a nonstop endeavor. Just two more weeks til they go to their forever families. I can’t deny looking forward to the reprieve, but I’ve already shed some tears when I think about saying goodbye. They truly have 11 large pieces of my heart.

The pace has been relentless, between the painting and the puppies and the poop, and I’m not going to lie, I am WEARY. My emotions have been more fragile and raw than usual. I never know what is going to be a trigger. Missing loved ones, looking at decorations that I used when we were in the hospital, the birthdays of two grandmothers who never met, but shared a birthday and both made a lasting imprint on our family and my heart. I’m overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with all I have on my plate. Overwhelmed by the weight of so many needs and struggles and hurts in the lives of people that I love. Overwhelmed by the goodness of God and the love He lavishes on me every single day, even when I fall on my face.

I am weary. But I rejoice. The joys and the sorrows and the precarious tension between them are present all year round, but something about Christmas brings all these things to the forefront and shines a spotlight on them. Maybe the season of Advent, the waiting season of preparation for the birth of Savior is an annual appointment for us to reevaluate and sift through what His coming really means to us. It means we have great expectations, yet He always comes in the most unexpected way. It means that waiting, even the most excruciating waiting, is critical to our transformation from death to life.

We are weary. Yet we rejoice. We wait. He is coming. Emmanuel, God with us. He is here.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.”(Romans 8:19)

““Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.”(Revelation 21:4-7)

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)

Tipping Point

I am thankful:  

~ For class zoom meetings.  The kids love getting to see their teachers and their classmates.  This week Kora enjoyed dressing up for an early celebration of Cinco de Mayo with her Spanish teacher (and feast on delicious leftover tacos from Colton), and Sawyer got to share his pets with his friends.   Zoe proudly demonstrated her science experiment about surface tension.IMG_E4B4AAF3EE53-1.jpegIMG_7B81D204E6D0-1.jpegIMG_6AA1BC39A9E3-1.jpeg

~ for peace that passes understanding, especially when delivered as a profound lesson taught by my child.  This week one of the school chapel songs was a favorite of the kids.  As it began to play, Sawyer said excitedly, “I love this song!  We’re gonna sing it at my graduation!”  Then the realization hit (which I wasn’t sure if he actually knew or not) and he said quietly, “Oh…but I’m not even gonna have my graduation.”  I instantly felt hot tears welling in my eyes.  Oh, how it hurts this Mama’s heart that he should miss out on this milestone that we never dared to dream he should reach.  But almost in the same breath, I heard Sawyer (and all his brothers and sisters) boldly belting out the opening lyrics of the song, “This is the day, that You have made.  Whatever comes, I won’t complain.  For all my hope is in Your Name, and now Your joy awaits my praise.  I give thanks for all You have done.  And I will sing of Your mercy and Your love.  Your love is unfailing, Lord I am grateful!”  His attitude is so much better than mine!  He too, is experiencing disappointment, but it is not crippling his JOY!  He has proudly memorized Psalm 23 and his little speaking part for a video the school is putting together.  When he got all doodled up for the video for his teacher, he was so excited, he never wanted to change out of his “fancy” clothes.  How cute was my little pupil working in his bow tie!?  He also had the MOST THRILLING visit this week, from his BELOVED teacher, Mrs. Key!  She brought him Starbust for being a “STAR” student, and a yard sign that we have proudly displayed in our front yard.  Thank You Father for your unspeakable grace.IMG_7930.jpgIMG_58D645B67240-1.jpegIMG_8284.jpg

~ for the gift of music.  Kora has been memorizing a passage from 1 Thessalonians, and the words brought to mind a song written by a dear friend.  I was able to play it for her, and her eyes just sparkled when she heard God’s Word brought to life in such a fresh new way that she understood so much better.  The song is a jubilant anthem looking toward the day when we Believers will all join together with Jesus in the sky.  It has been playing in my heart all week.

~ for the sweetest and most thoughtful “teacher appreciation” care package I received in the mail.  Thank you to all who have prayed over our story problems.  They are still a problem, but I think we will all live to tell the story.

~ for the most unique spring concert experience for Samantha and Kora.  Obviously, quarantine and social distancing has made many spring traditions difficult or impossible. But our school creatively found a way for fourth and fifth graders to gather in the parking lot at a safe distance and lift their voices and recorders to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.  Memorable to be sure. IMG_232D4AA19024-1.jpegIMG_FDF0662D192B-1.jpegIMG_8492.jpg~ for gorgeous weather. Friday we worked hard to get all schoolwork done before lunch, and we headed to the park around the corner from our house.  It is a tucked away spot, and rarely have we run into anyone else there.  We spread out our blanket in the shade, and I read to the kids while they ate their picnic.  Then it was playground time, and picking wildflowers, and climbing trees.  It was a lovely afternoon.IMG_8229.jpgIMG_8230.jpgIMG_1D96DA29674F-1.jpeg

~ for a very special birthday.  Colton, our firstborn, the one who made me a Mama, turned 21.  When I had Colton, I was so young and naive.  He was literally the first baby I ever held, and I was absolutely terrified.  I never thought I’d be a mom, but now that I was, I wanted so badly to do it well.  I loved him fiercely.  Being a mom was the first thing I absolutely knew I could not do on my own, and that brokenness and desperation was what ultimately led me to recognize my need for a Savior.  Josh and I have always said that Colton led 2 people to the Lord as a baby, so we have always known God had a special plan for this beautiful boy.    He was always a challenging child: strong-willed, always with 2 toes over the boundary lines.  We weren’t sure if we (or he) would survive his teen years.  We went through some pretty ugly seasons, and more sleepless nights than I can even count.  BUT GOD.  My boy is growing into a man, and he is finding his way as a respectful, compassionate individual who actually CHOOSES to spend time with him mom and dad.  I honestly wasn’t sure we’d ever get there.  Now I am freshly convinced that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion…” God is always wooing and drawing and working through and behind what we see in front of our eyes.  I am so grateful.   He came over to hang out and have dinner 4 nights this week, played wiffleball and swam, and watch a movie.  We celebrated on his birthday with crescent chicken, sweet potato fries with homemade ranch, and his oh-so-sophisticated dessert choice: confetti cake.  Loved celebrating him, celebrating all that God has done, and all that God has in store.IMG_DE754189AD7A-1.jpegIMG_9A3247EFBB61-1.jpeg

~ for Facebook live concert from Garth Brooks and Tricia Yearwood. And for dancing to “To Make You Feel My Love” with my husband in the kitchen.  We never do that.  But in that moment, it was perfect. 

~ for gorgeous weather for wiffleball, snake-free walks, and swimming.IMG_6419D20D9B02-1.jpegIMG_427A57E9C74C-1.jpegIMG_868D9D739B3B-1.jpegIMG_65F88F250CE7-1.jpegIMG_8363.jpg

~ for a refreshing change of pace.  Josh brought home a new puzzle, just 199 pieces.  At first I was disappointed, knowing it was way too easy.  But the fact that it was a Frozen 2 puzzle meant it would be an instant hit with the Little People, and it was probably time for some quick satisfaction.  During nap time I decided to challenge myself, and set a timer.  50 minutes and 38 seconds.  Not bad.  I think I find puzzles so satisfying in this season because they are a manageable challenge with a clear beginning and end.  It is a task that can be concretely completed.  The feeling of success.  The kids were as thrilled as expected, and finished it almost as quickly as I did.  They were sweet and took out the last 3 pieces after they were done, and left them for baby sister.  She was so tickled.IMG_ABACC42F08EF-1.jpegIMG_772E84380C7E-1.jpeg

Mental health is not a joke.  I’ve never hopped on the “self-care“ bandwagon… It usually seems like a license to grossly self indulge, overspend, and let “me time” push to top priority at the expense of others.  This is not Jesus’ way, and it shouldn’t be ours.  I don’t “need” time with my girlfriends, or to shop, or pamper myself.  Any of those things are enjoyable, a great treat, and something to look forward to.  But I’ve never seen them as a “need.”  

But I got to a tipping point this week.  It might sound funny, likely sounds relatable, but it’s just unfiltered truth.  I couldn’t remember when I had last showered.  I was wearing the same clothes for daytime, to bed, and again the next day, (because WHY NOT?)  I glimpsed myself in the mirror (quite by accident, because WHY?) and I hardly recognized myself.  I hadn’t bothered to style my hair in days (because WHY?) so my natural not-exactly-straight-not-exactly-wavy-frizzy-and-stylistically-confused hair with it’s unintentional hombre of blonde/brown/silver was taking on a somewhat Einstein-esque quality.  I didn’t look like someone who should be caring for children. Let alone someone who should be responsible for anyone’s education.  

I am not and was not depressed.  But I also realized: I was not ok.  I was sleepwalking through my unrecognizable life, even though I was still (mostly) successfully checking all the boxes: morning Bible study✔️ frequent private and shared prayer throughout the day✔️reading aloud to the kids every morning✔️ faithfully keeping kids on the task of completing their daily schoolwork ✔️keeping my house reasonably clean✔️maintaining the illusion to the “outside” that I “had it all together” and that the Ruckers were “ROCKING THE QUARANTINE.”✔️  Another parent said something similar, “We’ve been doing pretty well.  But this week, WE HIT A WALL.”

That night after the kids were in bed, I took a bath.  I turned on my favorite soft worship playlist and soaked the day off in the hot water and the music.  The next day I did my hair and put on a little makeup and changed out of pajamas and put on clothes.  (OK so it was actually just changing from one set of loungewear to a nearly identical set of loungewear.  A purely lateral move, but at least it was the physical act of changing clothes.)  Just putting in the minimal effort to feel like a human.  Even something so small and seemingly trivial, I realized how much I had missed the daily reminder of putting on my beautiful handmade gold bracelet inscribed with “it is well.”  That afternoon, I took my paints out to a semi-shaded spot in the driveway and worked on a sign while listening to the birds with a gentle breeze on my face.IMG_76E835B132EE-1.jpegIMG_15564004710C-1.jpeg

It wasn’t magic.  I still stink at math.  In fact, one of my ANONYMOUS “students” shouted disdainfully at me this week after checking a problem, “HA!  You were WRONG!”  And other told me, “You’re not THAT bad, you just need a little help from a REAL teacher.”  BUT…the slight shift of my focus to putting a little effort into myself was a mood lifter.  It also made my husband smile.  And maybe if I wasn’t a BETTER teacher, at least I didn’t look like such a scary one.

Wherever you are, however you are handling your situation and your trials, God sees you.  He has promised not to leave you or forsake you. You are not alone.  He may not take the fire away, but He will stand in it with you. It’s ok to take care of yourself, and give yourself grace.  If you are slipping, call out to Jesus.  Call out to a friend.  And it’s ok to admit that you’re not ok. If your faith is in yourself, it was in the wrong place anyway. Remember who you are and more importantly, WHOSE you are.  We are all in this together.  And then look for the blessings around you. They are there.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:3-6)

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

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a shout, and the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will be the first ones to rise to meet the Lord. Then we who are alive will be looking to the skies. And we’ll be caught up there  with our brothers in the clouds.  I just wish it were now.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, paraphrased by Randy Skiles)

Pearls

I am thankful:

~ for a fun surprises.  Our Children’s pastor popped by to say hello and drop off bubbles for all the kids.  Then another friend dropped off a box of hand-me-downs for Tatum K.  And we had another porch drop-off, a handmade large scale Yatzee game (“Yard-zee”) with the sweetest note!  I am so blessed by how thoughtful and kind people have been to come up with ways to be an encouragement during this season.IMG_7309.jpgIMG_59868D58ED9C-1.jpeg~ for the Lord’s protection.  The kids and I had our daily walk, down to the end of our road and back.  On our way back, the kids rode on ahead of me, and I thought I saw something on the road.  As I got closer, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing was real: a MASSIVE snake, no less than 6 feet long, stretched out right where we had walked minutes before.  My knees immediately started shaking, but I quickly passed it with Tatum K in her stroller (not before snapping a quick picture of it first of course!)IMG_7456.jpg 

~ for sweet moments in the midst of school.

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~ for the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Wednesday, Tatum K suddenly came down with a fever, and said “her feelings hurted.”  My mind didn’t go anywhere completely crazy.  We’ve been quarantined faithfully, I actually wasn’t worried about “IT.”  But I did not relish the thought of a house full of sick kids on lockdown.  We established a quarantine within our quarantine in our bedroom for her, and kept her away from all the other children.   Changed my clothes EVERY time I held her, and re-washed ALL the bed linens every day.  IMG_6ECB7AF1E2AB-1.jpegIMG_7741On day three, as I was getting her ready for bed, I noticed a faint rash across her back and groin area, and my stomach dropped.  I immediately made arrangements to take her in to Dr. Everett the next day.  We had our first experience with an outdoor pediatrician appointment.  IMG_97F4A4E420A4-1.jpegAnd sure enough: strep throat + scarlet fever, just like Sawyer had almost 2 months ago.  We can’t imagine how she got it.  I can’t believe it could still be living on a surface from that long ago, especially with how much sanitizing I’ve been doing.  It’s baffling.  But so thankful that we caught it quickly.   Already after just a couple doses of antibiotics, she is fully recovered.  Her “feelings are betta now” and she is back to her spunky, sassy self.IMG_7607~for our very first FULLY INTACT, completed 1000 piece puzzle!  It was glorious!  Now, there was some mischievous tomfoolery surrounding the last couple days of completion… a couple of my smarty-pants kids thought it would be funny to steal a piece or two.  But eventually they were all recovered.  It was a thrilling victory. IMG_7682

~ for our pups.  Whether they are at my side when I paint, crowding their way on the hammock when I am trying to have a quiet moment, or chasing each other around and over the furniture, they keep us smiling.52C4AD9A-05D2-4DDD-B620-2783568DF2D5IMG_7433.jpgIMG_AA46211B7BD9-1.jpegIMG_DADC55B13268-1.jpeg

~ for the deep sigh of relief after I make it through another of the kids’ math problems.  Seriously though.  Who invented story problems?  I don’t think he was a very nice guy.  The best part of every day is the moment when I no longer have to be a math teacher. 

~for three kids who were able to receive their Superior Cougar Fitness awards via an online meeting with their teacher and receive a printable copy of their certificates.  I’m so grateful that the school is doing everything they can to accommodate for special memories for the students during this strange time of separation.IMG_7864

~ again for wonderful and good-natured neighbors.  One morning the kids came in from outside shrieking, “We found a turtle!“  They were thrilled and instantly began creating a turtle habitat. The next day, they were eager to show it off to our neighbors, who promptly exclaimed, “That’s OUR turtle! We found it yesterday!”  And so, the turtle was returned to his rightful “finder keepers.“  But after some chatting back-and-forth, it seems that they have all agreed to shared custody. Poor little fella.  He sure wandered into the wrong yard! TWICE!IMG_78CA873E3CCA-1.jpegIMG_ED2341D7B04E-1.jpeg

~ for the most gorgeous weather!  The kids have swam a couple of times – it’s really NOT warm enough for swimming, but they don’t really care.  It’s been perfect weather for our walks, wiffle ball tournaments, for washing the car, and daily picnics.IMG_233CBCE2669C-1.jpegIMG_6C2635C5779F-1.jpeg

~ for a wonderful day of celebration. One of our Gold Network of East Texas heroes celebrated her last chemotherapy this week after two years of treatment for leukemia. To celebrate, her family arranged for a drive-through celebration.  What a joyful day! GLORY TO THE LORD!IMG_7831IMG_7809IMG_7810IMG_0238C4F01D87-1.jpeg

~ for 90% completion of the DIY project from last week.  We had painted the mudroom not long ago with a homemade mix of some leftover paint we had on hand, and we never loved it.  And the paint we had used on the mudroom door had never cured.   So we gave the room a fresh coat of soft gray paint (replacing the wanna-be-grey-but-actually-more-like-baby-blue color) and the door was first peeled, then primed, then painted navy, then white (in 18 hours) before we finally landed on the right shade of medium warm gray.  IMG_7894IMG_4C5C9A3B7B43-1.jpegIMG_8C8AE80D6451-1.jpegJosh ripped out some non-functional builtins from our mudroom and replaced them with new lockers that I then antiqued to look like a vintage find!

IMG_B97F834411FD-1.jpegIt was a fun, lightning-fast project, and we love the way it turned out!   We still have a bit of touch up to do, and I have a new idea I want to try out, but it’s almost done.  I have loved transforming this space into one of the most practical and hard-working rooms in our home.

~ for an ABSOLUTE FEAST!  Colton came over and cooked for us!  He has learned how to cook his favorite authentic Mexican tacos, and gave his ole’ Mom a cooking lesson!  They were without a doubt, the MOST DELICIOUS tacos I have ever eaten!  I could not have been more impressed.  Both by the tasty meal my son prepared and the joy on his face as we cooked in the kitchen side by side.  Love him so much and so thankful for the growth and healing in our relationship.IMG_7887 

Anyone else exhausted?  Just raw?  Like a blister that rubs and rubs and rubs and never gets a chance to heal.  It’s exhausting being brave all the time. Exhausting walking the same path in the same walls with the same people every single day.  This morning I was rubbed raw.  Everything was frustrating.  We overslept.  We had technical difficulties with online church, like we have EVERY WEEK.  For some reason, even after six weeks, we just never can quite get it figured out.  So I sat on the couch, wrestling with myself, feeling how none of this is how it’s supposed to be.  But once worship started, I saw our sweet worship pastor on the screen with his guitar, flanked by his kids on the keyboard and the cajon.  What a blessing to see faces of people that I love and miss so much.  And I purposed in my heart as they begin to play, that my flesh would not hinder me from worshiping my Creator.  He is WORTHY.  My circumstances will not dictate my ability and MY RESPONSIBILITY to worship Him as He is due.  So we stood together as a family and begin to sing.  And as is so often the case, the song prepared in advance and pre-recorded by the worship pastor was the song that God knew would meet me in that moment.   “Lord I run into Your arms unashamed because of mercy.  I’m overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed by You.”  And there in my living room, in my robe and slippers, with tears streaming down my face, I stood in the presence of the Lord, experiencing some of the purest moments of fellowship with my Heavenly Father that I have ever had in my life.  As the next song began, the room was filled with the voices of my children, “Waymaker, Miracle Worker, Promise Keeper, Light in the darkness.  My God, that is who You are.“   

He is good.  All the time.  “Even when I don’t see it, You’re working.  Even when I don’t feel it, You’re working.  You never stop, You never stop working.”  There is purpose in this season.  Part of that purpose is for us to look for AND TESTIFY OF the blessings that we find.  In a time when we are forced to be apart, we need each other more than ever!  We must encourage each other, spur each other on, take turns lifting one another and then being carried.  I DO NOT WANT TO BE A MATH TEACHER!  But I DO want to be a Mama that can patiently sit by my child while they work through a concept, for as long as it takes, and then can celebrate their accomplishment when they finally master it.  I never would have tried had it not been for this season.  My kids have seen me cry more in the last 6 weeks of quarantine than they did during 3 years of cancer.  But that’s because I am with them EVERY MOMENT, and there is so much good in that.  And after they’ve seen me cry, they’ve heard me reassure them that I’m ok, and we’ve had some great conversations and some of the very best hugs.  I have great hope for lasting fruit to come from these trying days. IMG_7900.jpg Pearls are formed from painful, sandy discomfort that we can’t get rid of, no matter how hard we try.  Lord, make pearls in us.  Out of us.  And when we look upon the unique beauty of a pearl, let us give thanks for the irritation that caused it to be born. I look forward to draping myself in garlands of story-problem-shaped pearls one day.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

 “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalms 51:10-12)

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46)

Clobbered

~ for Josh’s new teeth!  He has had half-done dental work that has left him with 2 missing front teeth for almost 6 months.  Since having his affected teeth removed, he’s had numerous reschedulings, cancellations, and setbacks.  This has been irritating, painful, inconvenient, and humbling.  And with the events of late, we weren’t sure how much longer he was going to have to wait.  THANKFULLY, the dentist agreed completing Josh’s procedure could be classified as an emergency.  And now my handsome husband has his beautiful smile back!  SO THANKFUL!

~ for National Doctor’s Day.  We LOVE our doctors, and are so thankful for the impact they have had on our lives.  I love that this season is causing us to spend more time THANKING these and other Community Helpers, real heroes that are serving us every day.IMG_6159.jpgIMG_6033.JPGIMG_6032.jpgIMG_6224.jpg

~ for more positives with home schooling than negatives.  I am so proud of the kids’ attitudes.  They have obediently and MOSTLY eagerly stayed on track with their work, and it has really not been a battle to keep them engaged.IMG_6225IMG_6150.jpg

~ for second chances.  And third.  And 87th.  I am not a good teacher. Oh, sometimes I am.  I CAN be fun and creative and patient.  But I’m usually not.  Especially when I’m not teaching material that I’m familiar with.  And especially when my student isn’t grasping the concept.  After the 3rd time. Or the 87th time.  So in the middle of a particularly trying lesson…a math lesson, (and believe me when I say that I have NO BUSINESS TEACHING ANYONE MATH), I just laid down with my face on the floor and asked Jesus for help.  We wrestled our way through it, and who knows if any of it actually penetrated the child’s understanding, but at least we got the answer on the assignment solved finally.  And I hugged that sweet one tight and we both cried.  And I made a promise, I said, “We’re gonna get through this.  You’re gonna keep trying and Mama’s gonna keep trying, ok?”  BUT GOD.  Grace upon grace.

~ for steady wifi service.  

~ for groceries in the pantry.  We are stretched and learning to be creative, but we don’t lack for anything we actually NEED.

~ for our morning devotions.  I’m so thankful to start each day with the kids in the Word.  It’s not magic, it doesn’t make everything go great.  But at least I know we are starting in the right place and keeping the first things FIRST.

~ for coffee.  I will forever thank coffee as my official sponsor of 2020.  And I also thank dry shampoo, deodorant, and stretchy pants.

~ for calls from our wonderful GCS family.  They are checking in on us, perhaps a little “mental health triage” and it is so heart-warming to hear those familiar voices of the friends we miss so much.  It’s awesome to KNOW that they are praying for us, as we are praying for them.

~ for the tiny carrot seedlings that have poked their heads from the earth, reminding me that new life is always pushing forth.  Lord, let my heart be fertile ground for the things you want to birth in me.IMG_5985

~ for the jumbo economy bucket of ice cream that we originally bought just because it was cheap, and now we think is the very best-tasting ice cream ever.

~ for family movie and pizza night.  For living room forts and inside picnics.  For cuddling with my husband, and with the children that still want to.  Everything means more now than ever before.IMG_3385.jpgIMG_6206.jpg IMG_6169.jpg

~ for my brave husband.  He has the courage to step out in faith and do what is RIGHT even if it goes against popular opinion or social standards.   I’m so proud of the way he leads our family.

~ for re-starting our online “Thankful Game.”  It’s definitely a good time to spur one another on to giving thanks.  We’ve shared some much-needed laughs too.

~ for multiple online platforms of encouraging sermons this morning, even Children’s Church.  I get excited thinking about how many people who are tiptoeing into churches for the first time in a long time, now that it is accessible right in their homes.IMG_F4B4D3E4EA87-1.jpeg

~ for my hammock.  I do love a hammock.

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~ that our quarantine could never be classified as LONELY or BORING.  Again, this is something I don’t always count as a blessing, but boy I should!

~ for reminders when I need reminding.  I had a strange encounter earlier this week, on the one occasion that I actually left the house to run an errand.  The grocery courtesy clerk counted the stick people across the back of my van. “Wow, is this everybody?” “Yep,” I said, “we’ve got a houseful.”  I couldn’t believe my ears when he said candidly, “Man, I would HATE to be you.”  I shook off my shock and quickly refuted, “No way!  It’s awesome!  It’s more fun than you can even imagine!”  Moments like that are so eye-opening.  Because I DON’T always love having a huge family.  My heart isn’t always thankful for having huge messes and huge grocery bill and driving a huge vehicle.  Especially when we are all on top of each other for who knows how long.  But when I’m reminded of how blessed I am… Man, I’m thankful. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. 

I’m sure most of us are having lots of ups and downs.  Days when we are brave and optimistic and ready to learn what God has for us during this time of being “set apart.”  Days when we feel scared and uncertain and small and trapped.  And days when we just feel unmotivated and schlumpy.  (That’s the technical term.)  I was on the trampoline with the kids this afternoon, trying to be “Fun Mom.”  Everyone was having a good time, weather was perfect, lots of laughs.  And I even took a turn to jump.  One of the kids started jumping at the same time, and we collided in the air, landing in a heap of sharp little knees and elbows.  Hard.  The child, unscathed bounced back up giggling.    I did not.  My wrist and my shin were throbbing from the collision.  And out of nowhere, tears started to well in my eyes.  Before I knew it, they were pouring.  The pain from the fall unlocked a deep well that had been filling and filling somewhere inside me, and once I started, there was no stopping the flood.  I just felt CLOBBERED.  Clobbered by an accident on the trampoline when I was trying to be fun.  Clobbered by the relentless workload of homeschooling 6 kids when I don’t know what I’m doing.  Clobbered by teens who (like all the rest of the world) are irritated by their lack of freedoms and feeling sorry for themselves, without the benefit of perspective, empathy,  or maturity.  Clobbered by the sight of all my kids glued to screens for hours every day, which is contrary to everything I have ever taught them.  Clobbered by the fear- and control-shaped holes in my faith that keep creeping in.  Clobbered by a new, worse headline in the news every day.  Clobbered by weeks upon weeks of little sleep.  Clobbered by the guilt that I don’t have the right to complain because so many others have it so much worse.  Clobbered by the weight of looking brave.  

Maybe you feel like that.  Clobbered.  I just submit to you that that’s ok.  God can handle it, if you’ll just turn to Him.  Even though I feel clobbered, I still know the Truth.  I know that even if it all gets a whole lot worse before it gets better, I know God wins in the end.  And we are all in this together.  Don’t believe the lie that you have to do it in your own strength, or that no one else feels like you, or that all the other Christians are keeping it together except you.  I’m gonna be strong some days, and encourage one of you on your hard day.  And when I can’t get my feet under me, someone is going to leave some sunshine on my doorstep, just because.  IMG_6207.jpgIMG_732165A90CC4-1It’s ok if you don’t teach your kid like the teacher does, or if you don’t know how to check their math.  It’s ok if you take a break or don’t get it all done.  It’s ok if you don’t go on nature walks with your kids every night after dinner and read them a book before you tuck them in to bed.  It’s ok if you don’t alphabetize your closets and learn a new language and do a Pinterest craft every Thursday.  (And it’s ok if you do!)  It’s ok if you only shower once a week and don’t change out of your Sunday clothes until Wednesday (purely hypothetical, of course).  This may be a glorious season of growth for most of us, and I genuinely believe God has that in His plan… but in the midst of all that growth, there’s gonna be pain, and wrestling, and some of it we may not understand for a long time to come.

Be kind to yourself.  When you have a great day, or a great moment – reach out to somebody and share some joy.  And when you blow it: take a deep breath, and give yourself a do-over.  Let’s look for opportunities to love one another well this week, if even from a distance.  It’s Easter Week, the time of year most celebrated by Believers.  We will celebrate that Christ is Risen!  He bravely, willingly, and perfectly endured unbearable suffering and separation from His Father.  And He did it for us.  We DO have so much to be thankful for!  Prepare your heart for the JOY THAT IS COMING!

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“Sing praise to the LORD, you saints of His, And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning.”  (Psalms 30:4-5)