Yes I Will

Some weeks we have to dig a little deeper to find the blessings.  

But they are ALWAYS there. 

Last week, we had an ambiguous “extra week” of Spring Break, we “played” school to stay busy, and learned new words like “pandemic” and “social distancing.”  

This week, Virtual Learning was officially launched by our school.  Effective immediately.  Duration, indefinitely.  At my house, that means I now teach Kindergarten, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th grade, and 9th grade, ALL subjects ranging from phonics to Algebra, Spanish, Latin, world geography, literature, Bible, and history.  By the end of the week, the mayor issued the “Shelter in Place” order, and we are now pretty much on lockdown.  Carson Grace received word from ETBU that on campus classes will not reconvene this school year. 

Life feels like it is on perpetual pause. Groundhog Day over and over again.  What day is it?  Who knows?  Does it even matter?

People have asked how I am managing with 8 kids, homeschooling, not leaving the house, and my anxiety.   The most honest response I can give is, I’m glad there are no witnesses.  It’s been ok.  We’ve had rough moments.  And sweet ones.  I’ve had kids snuggled in my lap while I read to them, we have played together, we have danced together, and we have worshipped.  On the other hand, I have lost my cool.  I’ve yelled.  I’ve cried.  I’ve laid awake for hours at night.  I’ve eaten more sweets than I will ever admit to. 

But more than ever, I GENUINELY BELIEVE this season is about putting our faith into practice.  Of course it SHOULD always be that way. But let’s get real.  We are finding out if we really believe the things we used to say so casually…. “God is good all the time and all the time, God is good!” 

We have a choice.  

I am thankful:

~ for new mercies every morning.  I need to go back over my Sunday Gratitudes (how can it be that I have been writing every Sunday for almost 6 years now???) and see how many times I have been thankful for new morning mercies.   That is nothing new.  But boy, I am so grateful as I collapse into bed every night that the day is OVER and I get to start fresh the next day.   Every day is a do-over. IMG_5886.jpg

~ for the hard work our teachers and administration has done to transfer all of their curriculum into an online format for us.  I HAVE NEVER APPRECIATED OUR WONDERFUL TEACHERS SO MUCH!  Wow!  The things we realize we have under-appreciated or taken for granted!  They have done a TREMENDOUS JOB of making this switch happen basically overnight.  I am completely in awe of their giftings: their knowledge, their patience, and their love for all our kids that kept them coming back to their jobs day after day.   Oh how I miss my kids’ teachers!  (I bet not HALF as much as my KIDS miss their teachers!  Their new teacher is SO MEAN!  And never goes away!)IMG_5705 2.JPGIMG_5729 2.JPGIMG_5682.JPGIMG_5664 2.JPGIMG_5837.JPG

~ for generous help from loved ones to supplement the groceries we can’t stock up on for our jumbo-sized clan. 

~ for my kids OUTSTANDING attitudes.  They’ve had a few bumps (mostly in response to my own volatile moods), but so far they are still eager to get to their school work, and enjoying the material, and very forgiving of their grumpy teacher.  I’m truly the most blessed mama in all the world. IMG_5782 2.JPG

~ for another successful out-of-my-comfort-zone first.  The physical Laurel & Cotton Spring Sale was obviously cancelled, but the feisty shop owner, Melissa, undeterred, launched a virtual sale via Facebook LIVE.  That meant a crash course in camera-work and social media for each vendor.  It was nerve-wracking and felt completely awkward to talk to my phone (check out my CLASSY, PRO-FESSIONAL tripod!) IMG_2652.JPGand imagine an invisible audience in my living room (while my Littles were banished into hiding upstairs).  Amazingly enough, it went well, I had several kind viewers and comments, and I actually sold a bunch of Giddyup & Whoa signs, including more after the LIVE sale ended!  I was thrilled!  Not only that, but Melissa sold raffle tickets and designed an exclusive Go GOLD t-shirt, and raised $665 for Gold Network of East Texas!  What an awesome blessing!IMG_5960.JPG IMG_6007.jpg

~ for Josh’s job.  There seem to be new developments every day, and we know we cannot take anything for granted anymore.  The actual store is closed, so his interaction with the public is pretty minimal.  He had to lay off some employees this week, which was really hard on him.  He never EVER complains, although I know the gravity of the times and all that he is responsible for weighs heavily on his heart.  And he never fails to check on how I am doing, and to encourage me.  I’m grateful we can be raw and real and honest with one another.  No filter. 

~ for technology.  To accomplish virtual learning, we use a desktop computer, wireless printer, 2 laptops, 2 iPads, and a phone.  Thus far our router has held up to the massive usage, and I’ve been shocked and thoroughly impressed at how minimal the technical issues have been.  And we also had the opportunity to FaceTime with friends we hardly ever get to see.  This forced slower pace and social distancing is causing us to be more intentional. 

~ for coffee.  3 to 4 pots a day.

~ for our safe and comfortable home, and having everything we need.  We have kind, loving neighbors, a beautiful, quiet street.  Cooper has been organizing baseball tournaments and lizard hunts with the Littles.  We are not suffering in our quarantine. IMG_5759.JPGIMG_5966.JPGIMG_5995.JPGIMG_5996.JPG 

~ for laughs.  We’ve had some good late nights with our bigger kids, watching tv and funny videos together.  Carson Grace even badgered mom and dad and the whole Tribe into filming a TikTok video with her for a contest for school.  She choreographed a routine with us, and we provided live entertainment for our neighborhood from our front yard.  It was pretty hysterical how we all got into it.IMG_5975 2IMG_5981

~ for virtual church service from our living room.  It brought such comfort to see our pastors’ faces and to worship together with THE CHURCH.  We all even put on REAL CLOTHES for the occasion, and took the Lord’s Supper together.  It was simple, intimate, and very special.  I love that my kids are learning firsthand that the CHURCH has nothing to do with a building. IMG_5991.JPG

Hamburger bun and solo cups have never been so sanctified

~ for thoughtful care packages filled with love. 

~ for glorious sunshine.  Perfect for walks, PE, picnic lunches, and art class. IMG_A2A1A0208098-1.jpegIMG_5860.JPG

~ for “Live Meets” for each kiddo with their teacher and classmates.  It was so good for their hearts to get to see and hear from their friends.  And we got calls from several of our teachers, just checking in on us.  I’m so blessed and thankful for our GCS community. IMG_5838.JPG

~ for the people “out in the world” that continue to go to work to keep the world running.  First responders, healthcare workers, supermarket personnel, banks, truck drivers, sanitation workers…we will be grateful forever.  

One of the things I’m going to treasure the most from this season is my time with the kids right after breakfast each morning before we start school.  We snuggle up on the couch and each read verse by verse the Psalm and Proverb of the day, and then I’m reading to them from Hind’s Feet on High Places.  What a perfect book for the season.  The conversations with the children have been priceless.  We have walked with Much Afraid as she faced Pride, Resentment, and Self-Pity, along the Sea of Loneliness and now into the Forests of Danger and Tribulation.   How I want to respond as Acceptance With Joy, “He (the Shepherd) has brought me here when I did not want to come, for His own purpose.  I, too, will look up into His face and say, ‘Behold me! I am your little handmaiden, Acceptance-with-Joy.’”  

I’m not going to lie and say that’s where I’m at.  But it is my prayer.  I know that this is an opportunity for us to be refined and sifted by our LOVING FATHER.  I know that my hope is IN HIM, and that this world is not my home.  And I don’t want to miss the hidden blessings.  God WILL REDEEM FOR GOOD what the enemy intends for evil.  The immediate blessing of having extra quality time with my kids is just the beginning.  I pray for a deep and lasting heart change and genuine appreciation to be birthed around the world.  

So friends, let’s love one another well this week.  We may not be able to gather together physically, but we can call and check in one one another.  Write a letter.  Send a text.  Film a video. Get creative. I’m not sure how much energy I’ll have left to be creative after my packed days of homeschooling, but I’m going to do my best.  It’s ok to be honest about how we feel. Everything is different, and oftentimes “different” = hard and scary. But we can’t be RULED by how we FEEL. Let’s give each other lots of grace and remember that kindness is contagious.  It’s also ok to stay in stretchy pants. (But I personally AM making a commitment to shower more regularly this week.)

This song has really ministered to me this week, and the lyrics are especially appropriate for the season we are in. I hope it encourages you.

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Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:9-10)

“God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn.” (Psalms 46:1-7)

But God

I am thankful:

~for cute/sweet conversations overheard….

Sawyer, “Mama!  Tatum is jumping on me and squashing me and I can’t breathe!”

Tatum K “I sowwy Sasa.”

Sawyer, “It’s ok Tatum.  I’ll always love you.”

~ for a couple beautiful days of sunshine!  It was so refreshing to get outside and breathe deep in the crisp air and take a walk again!

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~ for a great excuse for a sweet treat.  February 18 is International Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day, a day set aside to raise awareness for childhood cancer.  Often during cancer treatment, kids lose their appetite. The chemo makes food taste terrible and kids day nauseated day in and day out. Sometimes the only thing that sounds good or might bring a smile is some ice cream. So why not ice cream for breakfast? We join in to encourage kids who are fighting cancer, to celebrate with kids who have completed their treatment, and to remember the friends who were taken from us too soon.  What a blessing to have friends from all over who joined in and shared their pictures with us.   Thank you all so much. 

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~ for yet another birthday at our house – mine!   I had a great day, lots of sweet messages from friends and family, homemade cards from the sweetest kids on the planet, a heavenly breakfast date with my sweetheart (and Tatum K of course), and a surprise coffee date with Colton!   I was blessed beyond measure.   Oh, and one of my highlights was getting the GOLD sneakers I’ve been dreaming of for a LONG TIME!!!  And a new gold coffee cup!  (Is there a theme here?)IMG_4005.JPG

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~ for the kindness of Grace Community School.  The GCS HOSA Club (Health Occupations Students of America, or Future Health Professionals) recently held a drive at the high school to collect the items we give in our New Diagnosis Survival Kits.  We are so thankful for the HOSA students for organizing and the students for donating!

HOSA Leadership - Gold Network of East Texas

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~ for amazing progress on Carson Grace’s room/my studio.  The Murphy bed turned out great, and we (after 79,358 problems and equipment malfunctions) got the whole room sprayed a fresh, bright Alabaster white.   I got inspired and started playing around with some stain colors and ended up loving the way the headboard turned out; and Josh did an amazing job on the reclaimed wood countertop.  It’s so fun working on a new project together, and we are reminded of how much we enjoy the process of dreaming up a design and then knocking it out.  

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~for a beautiful opportunity for our girls to give a praise offering to the Lord. Samantha and Kora are a part of the Psalm 149 Dance Team at church, preteen girls learning the art of worship dance.  The team is even taught by a young teenager who once danced in this group when she was younger.  It was an honest and sweet outpouring of love for the Lord, and their performance at church this morning was so beautiful. 

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~ for 15 years of memories.   We sorrowfully said goodbye to a precious member of our family this week, our 15-year-old pug, Cricket.  He’s been the best dog and has been through it all with us.  He was our first family dog when we just had three kids.  He survived the great Rucker Population Explosion of 2013, and was a bright source of joy for us throughout the journey of cancer.   He has rapidly deteriorated over the past few months, and I began to think the only thing keeping him alive was his sheer hatred of our new-er dog, Bear.  We are thankful that he is no longer suffering, and we will lovingly remember him always, but there is a stinky, snuffy-nosed, Cricket-shaped place that hurts in all our hearts right now. 

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The words from the song I shared last week still resonate in my head… “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.  You never stop, You never stop working.”  No matter what’s going on, there are ALWAYS blessings to count.  That’s what Sunday Gratitude is about.  

 But this week has been one blow after another.

A dear friend got a devastating health news.   

Another friend had troubling findings on her sonogram.  

A suffering mother anxiously longs for her healing by graduation to heaven. 

Not one, but TWO new children were diagnosed with cancer here in Tyler.   

And another family got the only news worse than “your child has cancer.”  The words, “There’s nothing more we can do.”

 BUT GOD.I say that a lot, both here on the blog and in real life.What does that even mean anyway? BUT GOD. It means He really IS the answer to every question. 

Father God, I am out of pretty words.  My heart is broken and bleeding and sad.   I am hurting for my friends.  I don’t understand.  I don’t understand why babies have to get sick and suffer.  I hate cancer.   Oh, how I hate cancer.  I don’t understand why some people get healed on this earth and some people don’t.   But I do know with everything inside me that You are FULLY GOOD.   I believe that You have a good plan that is better than mine.  And I believe that You hold me when I’m sad and mad and confused and anxious and furious and falling apart.  AND I BELIEVE THAT THIS WORLD IS PASSING AWAY AND WE WILL ONE DAY LIVE A GLORIOUS LIFE WITH YOU IN HEAVEN!  And there will be NO MORE SORROW AND NO MORE PAIN!  How I long for that day!  Until then, Father God, please hold my friends close.  Give them Your supernatural peace that defies all logic.  Give them grace breath by breath to walk through their circumstances.  Surround them with friends who bring Your comfort.  Show us how to help them in real life, practical ways.  If it’s Your will to heal on this earth – HEAL!!!!  To You be all the glory!!!!  And if it’s Your will to heal them in heaven, let it be bathed in Your infinite mercy, and help us to trust in Your timing.  Jesus COME!

Please pray for the hurting people all around you.  

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

““For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”    (Romans 8:37-39)

Thankful for a Faithful God

I am thankful:

~ first and foremost, for a WONDERFUL clinic appointment on Wednesday, and the report that Sawyer REMAINS CANCER FREE!   GLORY TO THE LORD!!!  HE IS FAITHFUL!  The fear never ever goes away, there is always a heaviness that comes with the appointment as we wait for the best or the worst news.  This was the second time for Sawyer to be seen by the ACE unit (After Cancer Experience).  The new doctor we see, Dr. Cindy, is great.  She still getting to know us and has been so wonderful and patient putting up with our, (or shall I say MY) fears and hangups.  But best of all is seeing Dr. Winick.  Oh how we love that woman!  I met her the very first day in the ER the day Sawyer was diagnosed.  I will never forget her kind, gravely serious face.  When you connect with someone in the midst of the darkest day of your life, it is not a bond that is easily broken.  Ever since that first day, she was the one I would look for.  She was the one I wanted to get results from.  She was the one I trusted the most.  And when she says everything is all right with SaSa, I believe her.  And I love that she REALLY LOVES Sawyer.  He’s not just a patient – she truly delights in him.  She loves his huge personality; she marvels at his wit and his intelligence.  And that makes me love her all the more…

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~ and for Sawyer’s incredible attitude and bravery.  When I told him he wasn’t going to school, he jumped up and down and asked, “do I have a CLINIC APPOINTMENT!?!?”  Who DOES THAT?   And not only did he have to have his blood drawn, he actually had to have it drawn a SECOND TIME.  He just hopped right in that chair like it was nothing.  If you missed the Caringbridge update I posted Wednesday, you can read it here. 

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~ AND for the great news that the IGG levels they tested came back NORMAL!  Sawyer’s body is making antibodies like God designed it to do, despite all he endured when he was a baby.  BUT GOD!

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~ thankful for Gina Sue.  Gina started as my sister-in-law, and now she’s just plain MY SISTER.  She has been my copilot, my “ride-or-die,” for most of the last two years.  In the early days of Sawyer’s treatment, I used to do 90% of the clinic trips by myself.  I had a routine and we were a well-oiled machine.  But when I was about seven months pregnant with Tatum K, experiencing regular contractions while barreling down the interstate, it became pretty clear to me that it was no longer wise for me to do the traveling solo.  Various friends made the trip with me, but it was usually Gina.  I’ve never known someone more dedicated. Coming from Carthage, she gets up well before 3 AM to be ready to be at my house to leave at 6.  And she will tell you herself – she is NOT a morning person!  She handles Tatum K’s moods (and MINE) and has a backpack crammed with all the best snacks.  And then after long day in Dallas, and doing ALL the driving there and back, she drives another hour back home.   I am so grateful for her help and fantastic company.  I always come away encouraged. 

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~I’m also thankful that Carson Grace got a good, fresh dose of that Gina-flavored-encouragement this weekend (with a healthy helping of Justin and Grandmommy thrown in)!  She left school for the weekend to spend the night in Carthage, and then went to Potlatch, Carthage’s annual fall city festival where Justin was showing his pristinely restored classic Ford truck.  Not only did she enjoy the fellowship, BBQ, and the car show – she was asked to be the Trophy Girl, got to present Uncle Justin with a trophy, AND was awarded a trophy HERSELF at the end!  Such a fun day full of great memories!

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~ for a fun, easy makeover from my Trash Week treasures.  Could my salvaged chairs have turned out any cuter??

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~ for a perfect day to have Cousin Emmett!  The weather this week has been GLORIOUS, and we had a beautiful fall walk. 

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~ for a fun Homecoming week. The Littles enjoyed their part of the festivities, Crazy Sock Day.

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And Cooper had a great time all week.  I was thankful to SURVIVE the making of the Homecoming mum (seriously people. I’m from the North. I had never seen anything like the phenomenon that is Texas football season/Homecoming/mums!  It is like another planet!  This was SO NOT my thing, but I figured it out, THANKFULLY!).   Coop had a great time at the football game, and then on Saturday, he and his date were just the cutest.  They are just great friends, and went with a group of friends, so there was absolutely no pressure.  Just a fun evening of food, friends, and dancing.  How is my Coopy a Freshman going to a DANCE WITH A GIRL!?!?!

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~ for a fresh batch of new Giddyup & Whoa sign builds for next week’s Vintage and Co’s Fall Gresham Barn Sale!  I was so blessed to be invited back, and I have a ton of ideas for signs!  The sale is October 23-26; check them out on Facebook and if you are local, it’s a sale you WON’T WANT TO MISS!!!

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~ for a remarkable last-minute surge of donations for the Children’s Hospital Prize Closet.  Last week I was so disappointed. We were way WAY behind from last year‘s donations, and even though I knew we had lots of toys that would be a blessing, I just always hope to keep growing, bigger and better.  But, I kept begging on social media, and y’all responded in a big way!  Another amazing GNET Hero, Aileen, a sophomore in high school, saved money she received at her quinceanera to purchase toys for the closet!!  I’m so proud of her!!! IMG_8123 3.jpg

Thanks to your overwhelming generosity, we received more than $700 in donations JUST THIS WEEK, and Paula and I had a blast spending all of it on prizes for the most deserving kids in the world!   Every time we got more money donated: another trip to the store!   Tomorrow is delivery day, so I will reveal the grand total then.  Be watching on Facebook and Instagram!  (Blog followers will have to wait until next Sunday!)

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Life continues, fast and furious.  There’s never time to catch my breath.  How can a quarter of the school year already be over!?  My babies grow up more every single day, and I see a face I scarcely recognize looking back at my from the mirror.  Mercy.  But I’m so reminded, GOD IS FAITHFUL.  HE WAS.  HE IS.  AND HE WILL BE.  Everything around me seems to change at lightning speed.  But my Father is constant and sure.  His Word is alive and His promises are true.  And no matter what my anxiety tells me, no matter what I FEEL LIKE…no matter my fears or control issues or insecurities… I know that I know that I know that He’s never going to let go of me and that His plan for me is good.  And His plan for you is good, too.   I hope that encourages someone this week.  I need to remind myself every single day.  Don’t lose heart.  He sees you.  

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

“She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”” Genesis 16:13 NIV

“The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does. The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”  Psalms 145:13-18 NIV

Overshadowed

I am thankful:

~ for the Rucker bus.  Most of you know we have 9 kids and drive a 12 passenger van.  We love it. It is a big spectacle, we get lots of stares, and we’ve been told it looks like a “dad’bern giant toaster.”  But it is so comfortable for our family, and has been a terrific vehicle for 6 years now.  A little over a week ago, the rear AC stopped working.  In Texas, even in October, you can’t drive a dad’bern giant toaster full of children with no AC.   They get crispy quick!  So we took it to the dealership for repair.  That left me with no other options but a 6- seater truck to drive 7 kids around (7 kids PLUS ME).  Thankfully, we had no issues, and no onlookers did a head count and called CPS.  The bus was in the shop for a full week, but now it’s back and climate control restored.  It was a good exercise for all of us on FAMILY CLOSENESS.  And now we have RENEWED APPRECIATION for our spacious bus!

~ Bear is most especially grateful that the bus is fixed.  With so many kiddos illegally crammed in a sardine can, there was most definitely no room for a giant, hairy muppet!  He missed out on his rides to and from school, and is glad to be my co-pilot once more. IMG_7875 2.JPG

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~ for a special Kindergarten Special Kid week.  This is always the highlight of any Kindergartener at GCS.  And this was Sawyer’s turn.  He has talked about it “coming up” for at least 2 weeks, counting down the days with such anticipation.  THIS KID WAS EXCITED!!!  Each day was a different fun thing: Monday, he brought his poster. 02075194-03F2-41DC-9E3F-29653DF53B7C.JPG

Tuesday, a favorite toy.  Wednesday, Mama read his favorite book to the class, “Dr. Seuss ABC book.” IMG_2473.jpeg

Thursday was “bring-a-special-snack-and-an-award.  So that meant fudgy brownies and Beads of Courage.  It’s more and more remarkable to see Sawyer growing up into himself as he boldly and openly shares his story in front of his peers.  “I had cancer in my blood when I was a baby.  I had to take chemo and all my hair falled out.”  His classmates asked several questions about the beads, amazed at the number of white chemo beads and green hospital stay beads.  Sawyer showed them the black beads representing all the pokes, shots, and port accesses he had over the years.  He laughed, “some of my medicines made me get big chubby cheeks.”  It was a very impactful presentation by a remarkable boy. IMG_2477.jpeg

Friday was “Family Day,” and as many of us as were able gathered in the tiny chairs at the front of his classroom to share what we love about him.   Another simple day that we have celebrated with each of our kiddos, that now has so much more meaning, because we didn’t know if he would be here. 

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~ for crispy BBQ chicken legs fresh off the grill. 

~ for Cooper’s team coming back from Gilmer with a win!  Go Cougars!  

~ for friends who have donated for the Children’s Hospital Prize Closet Toy Drive.  Our friend, warrior Mama, and eloquent advocate and writer Shelby (also known as Sophie the Brave’s mom, and now Baby Connor’s Mom) shared the request on her FB page, and we had a great response of donations in Sophie’s honor.  We are definitely still in need. We’ve got a week left and we are definitely behind from last year’s toy donation.  There’s still time to drop of toys in Tyler or Carthage (contact me!) or you can donate via www.goldnetworkoet.com/donate and we will shop for you!  Thank you so much for all who have already given so generously. 

~ for one of the most epically successful hauls in my Large Item Trash Pickup weeks of all time!  I found table legs, finials, a vintage film box, a coffee table top that will make a perfect sign, 2 dining chairs (that we needed to replace 2 broken ones), a great stack of wide plank reclaimed wood, several great baskets, and a beautiful 9 foot Christmas tree!   Oh how I love treasure week!

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~ for a successful oral surgery for Josh.  He has had chronic tooth issues over the years, and undergone multiple root canals, surgeries, and an implant.  His mouth has been flaring up again, causing headaches and jaw pain, so it was time for yet another surgery to remove an infected tooth, as well as some bone grafting to prepare for an eventual new crown.  Josh made it through the surgery well, and was pleasantly surprised with the custom retainer he was fitted with to disguise the missing tooth while his mouth heals.  I got to be his nurse for the day, and I will enthusiastically present him with the Worst Patient of All Time Award.  But we both survived it, and are glad he is on the path toward a healthier mouth. 

~ for 2 fantastic nights at CityFest!  We’ve been hearing about CityFest for nearly 2 years, praying for it and it’s impact on our city.  But as it actually approached, I had increasing second thoughts about attending.  I knew it would be H-O-T.  I knew there would be about a bazillion people there.  It just sounded like a big ‘ole  hassle.  But Cooper really wanted to go, and he worked on me until I gave in.  We loaded everybody up, picked Dad up from work, and hoped for the best.  A bazillion people was about right!  The massive stage spanned all the way across Broadway, with jumbotrons on each side.  People were EVERYWHERE. IMG_8011 4.JPG

But we found  a good spot in the middle of the street, and settled in. The atmosphere was loud and lively.  The kids were excited even though they had no idea what was going on.  The concerts were top notch, Blanca, Ryan Stevenson, and Newsboys DID NOT DISAPPOINT!  It was such a great show, and the kids were all thrilled to see the artists in REAL LIFE singing songs they sing along with on the radio.  They sang and danced their hearts out!  Amazing to have such an epic event, TOTALLY FREE!  Even more amazing, it was incredible to see so many people of every color and walk of life gathered together for an openly Christian gathering.  Evangelist Andrew Palau shared his personal testimony and an encouraging message of hope.  We caught the fever, and there was no question that we would come back for the second night.  We had a great time watching Pat Barrett, Neil McCoy, and Lacrae.  What a fantastic show!  I know that hearts were touched and lives were changed at Cityfest, and I’m so thankful we got to be a part of it.

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My heart is heavy with a devastating loss in our Gold Network family.  We met the Reed family in 2015 at Children’s Hospital.  Micah, a vibrant 11 year old, had just relapsed with leukemia.  He fought bravely until God eventually healed him by taking him to heaven on September 11, the day before the first Tyler Gold Run.  Micah’s mom, Sandy, continued to honor her son’s memory by pouring into others and advocating for hurting families.  Friday night, on the way home from a football game, was killed in a horrific traffic accident.  Her sister was killed also, and son Jacob and a niece were severely injured but survived.  When a dear friend notified me of the tragedy, my first thought was, “No God, WHY???!!!”  And my second thought was of the glorious reunion between Micah and his sweet Mama.  But what a hole of hurt and pain left here on earth for all the people who love her.  The Reed family’s hometown is Sulphur Springs, and this small East Texas town has risen up in a BIG WAY to rally support.  Tomorrow they are encouraging people to wear gold and blue to honor Sandy and her family. And I will include the link to a wonderful article about the community support, and how you can donate if you feel led. 

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Josh’s tooth trouble has gotten me thinking this week…isn’t it so strange how one tiny festering tooth can cripple you?  It takes over everything.  It’s such a nagging, aggravating pain that you can’t get away from.  One little tooth.  That’s how my week has been. It’s been a great week, full of blessings.  But I’ve been distracted by something personal, one nagging thing crippling my joy.  So my joy didn’t feel as joyful, it tasted a little flat.  The pounding of pain and worry worked its way in front of everything else, and overshadowed the beauty God tried to show me each day.  BUT GOD.  That nag, even though I did allow it to dominate, it did press me in to the Lord.  Oh the hours I spent in prayer.  I prayed when I woke up in the night, and prayers of thanksgiving were the first thing on my lips each morning.  Not because I’m so spiritual. But because I was SO DRY AND SO DESPERATE.  So what the enemy intended for evil, a nag to overshadow my joy and distract me from my blessings…God redeemed for good.  I struggled hard this week.  But I’m so thankful to say that He has already done a mighty Work in the midst of the trial, and I’m praying it was a spiritual breakthrough.  It doesn’t always work that way.  I know we have all been through trials that have persisted a whole lot longer than a week.  Sometimes we go years without seeing breakthrough. And sometimes it looks nothing like what we expected or hoped or asked for.  I am just ABSOLUTELY CONFIDENT that our Good Good Father is always at work, and never ceases the refining process when we give Him full access to our lives.  The nagging pain of trial is often a symptom of a developing habit or stronghold or stumbling block that He wants to set us free from.  What do we need to lay down?  Pride?  Anxiety?  Control?  Fear of man’s opinion?  (Pride is pretty much the root of all that, when you boil it down).   Anyway, I am ready for the week ahead.  Armed with Scripture and the protected by Armor  of God, I feel geared up, encouraged, and ready to kick the devil in the face when (not if) he comes at me.  Not this week Satan.  I will let Mighty God, the Maker of heaven and earth, overshadow me, not my circumstances.

Let’s love one another well this week.  Lift up someone who is hurting.  Life is too short to walk past someone who needs a minute of your time.  You ARE the answer to someone’s prayers. 

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!”” Psalms 91:1-2

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 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. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Ephesians 6:10-13 

Back to School Daze

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

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

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

Sanctification

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

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

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

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