Be Still

I am thankful:

~ for Sawyer’s thrill of chatting with one of his real life heroes. We live very close to a police station, so we regularly have patrol cars on our street. This week, Officer Long stopped to chat, and Sawyer proudly informed her that he was going to be a police officer when he grows up, then excitedly dashed back to the house and drove out of the garage in his little motorized police car. Later it was neat to see his picture shared on the KLTV Instagram page !

~ for Kora’s first job (at 11 years old). After seeing her creative chalk art doodles on our driveway, a neighbor hired Kora to chalk a giant Happy Birthday card for a grandson down our street. What a fun “job!” And my sweet girl used her hard-earned wages to treat us all to Shivers snocones!

~ for hot, delicious elotés, roasted corn ears seasoned with mayonnaise, spices, and cotija cheese. I had never had it before, and I am now a FAN!

~ for our next DIY home project underway. Josh and I love tackling remodeling projects together, and have gradually transformed our kitchen into the kitchen of our dreams over the last 2 1/2 years. The next step is updating the dingy countertops, stained sink, and leaky faucet. Demo has begun! So thankful for such great helpers!

~ for an excellent BIG BOX, and the endless possibilities it contains.

~ for fresh homemade salsa. Just wish we didn’t devour it in 2 hours every time I make it.

~ for a really special NEW PUZZLE! After each puzzle we have completed, the kids have asked if we could frame it. But none of them have been anything we would particularly care to frame. So this time Josh and I put a lot of thought into our next puzzle, and came up with the perfect, meaningful scene. The Texas Rangers stadium, Globe Life Park. Our family loves baseball and love love LOVE the Texas Rangers. We have been to numerous ball games over the last 20 years, and Josh and I experienced our first Rangers game together on one of our first dates. For those of you who are not Texans, a new baseball stadium has recently been built for the Rangers, and while we are thankful that Globe Life Park was not demolished, we will never see another ball game played there. We are so thankful that we were able to take in one last game before the end of the season last year. All that to say, we are excited to have successfully completed this latest puzzle (zero missing pieces!), and look forward to framing and displaying it. (And Mama is DEFINITELY a puzzle hog master.)

~ for a perfect quiet afternoon of yardwork and snow cones & sign builds and puddle jumping.

It’s been a challenging week of parenting. Instead of the jubilant end of school crescendo followed by the thrill of a new blissfully open schedule of free time, there was a strangely anticlimactic transition from “SCHOOLING at home” to “just STAYING home” with more of the same 4 walls and the same 10 faces. Finally after 2 months of wrestling, we had found a schedule that was manageable, and now it too was gone. This has led to “the grumpies” for all of us. During our virtual learning season, I definitely felt much less equipped as a teacher than a mom. And this week I have seriously questioned my capabilities on the mom side as well. How am I supposed to be a loving, godly example to my kids when I am constantly exhausted and pulling my hair out???

BUT GOD.

As He is so faithful to do, Jesus came to my rescue. He spoke to me in His Word, confirmed it in my prayer time, and then reaffirmed His lovingkindness through the encouragement of others.

I am His child. My kids are His children. He loves me like crazy and He loves them like crazy. He’s got a plan for each one of us collectively and individually. And I don’t get to know the plan, and I just have to make peace with that and trust Him with it all.

I DON’T HAVE TO BE THE PERFECT MOTHER. (Insert: WIFE / PERSON / CHRISTIAN / ANYTHING).

I read this reference this week and it has reverberated in my head and my heart. We all know Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” But in the NASB, “Be still” is translated as “Cease striving.” That is SO my natural response to stress and conflict – Striving. Struggling. Fighting. Exerting all my energy to get to a resolution. Doing whatever it takes to get it all done and get to the bottom of every issue.

“Cease striving and know that I am God.”

This stuff is hard. I always say “Capital ‘H’ Hard.” But He designed it that way, or we wouldn’t need Him. If it was even CLOSE to doable, we would just get it done BY STRIVING, and then walk away knowing we were capable in our our strength. Satisfied with being a great parent. Confident in being the perfect spouse. Great teacher. Full of faith.

This pressure is on purpose. It changes us on the inside and the outside. And it brings us to the excruciating and beautiful place of surrendering our own strength and relying on Jesus.

I don’t have to be enough. Because He is enough. I can cease striving and know that He is God.

And He is good at being God.

I thought just maybe somebody besides me needed that reminder this week.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

““Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalms 46:10 NASB)

“We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10)

“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 12:9-10)

Back to Normal

I am thankful:

~ for the highly anticipated tapering off of Virtual Learning here at Rucker Academy. Carson Grace and Cooper officially wrapped up their Freshman year of college and high school last week. Monday was Sawyer’s last day. He celebrated his Virtual Kindergarten Graduation with a drive through ceremony on Tuesday. He had the very best attitude, and it was special and memorable.

Tuesday was Samantha and Kora’s last day, AND their last day of elementary school. 5th grade traditionally “graduates” from elementary, but our school is moving 4th grade to the new Middle School Campus next fall, so it was a transition for Kora as well. 4th graders had a drive through to receive their completion certificates, and then an hour later, 5th graders had their own drive through ceremony to receive Elementary School Diplomas. We all enjoyed a Pokey O’s treat in between the two.

Wednesday was Gavin and Zoe’s last day of school, officially closing out our year. We now have a College Sophomore, High School Sophomore, 6th grader, 5th grader, 4th grader, 3rd grader, and a 1st grader. And what better way to celebrate the end of school?

But with an Aloha Drive Through on Thursday of course!!!! It was fun to see ALL our beloved teachers and support staff, even if we couldn’t give the hugs they so richly deserve! I let our principal know that I WOULD NOT be seeking employment, just in case she had planned to call on me to fill a math teacher position. (I wonder if there is good money in the story problem writing field?)

~ for one blissful day of nothing. No drive throughs. No papers. No zoom meetings. No “Mama, can you check this?” I sat. I drank coffee. They played. It was glorious.

~ for the kindest surprise blessing on my front porch. THANK YOU Jennifer and Janet!

~ for a glorious double rainbow that stretched directly over our house. Oh Lord, thank You for being faithful to remind us of Your promises.

~ for my Laundry Wizard tools: bleach, peroxide, Windex, and a toothbrush; for the times when a little girl scribbles all over her sheets. Or when a big girl sets down her iron on her bed.

~ for the cutest, tiniest little red bell pepper from our garden. And the cutest, tiniest little spicy pepper holding it.

~ for a productive Giddyup & Whoa week. I’ve been trying to keep up with the orders that keep coming in.

Very pleased with these new projects, and excited that the Vintage & Co. Gresham Barn Sale has been RESCHEDULED for June 3-6! Looking SO FORWARD TO IT! And for the most wonderful added blessing, Jodi has chosen Gold Network of East Texas as the local charity beneficiary for their Preview Day!!! We are so honored and grateful. We continue to connect with our families who are traveling to Dallas for chemotherapy or follow up appointments, one almost every day. We are so blessed when people from the community believe in what we do and want to help support these deserving families during the hardest season of their lives.

~ for an awesome afternoon with my Love. We were invited by a friend of a friend of a friend to salvage some gorgeous wood from a demo’ed building. It was a pretty good drive, so we decided to make a date of it. After church, Carson Grace and Cooper watched the Littles and we hit the road. I love this picture.

You know we love our coffee. Well our His and Hers coffee cups haven’t been side by side in a cup holder in a hot minute. We turned on some classic rock, drank our coffee, and held hands. We stopped on our way out of town to pick up THE BEST chicken,

and then just enjoyed being out of the house and ALONE TOGETHER. We got a small truckload of GORGEOUS and PERFECTLY CHIPPY 100 year old reclaimed wood, and then topped the afternoon off with some ice cream. The sun-soaked drive through the picturesque countryside was beautiful and filled up a place in my heart that I didn’t even realize needed filling.

The grip of quarantine is loosening, businesses have begun reopening, and lots of people are chomping at the bit to be back to normal.

Ugh. Just the phrase makes my stomach hurt.

I’m not panicky. I’m not actually afraid of the virus. My anxiety has been surprisingly relatively minimal through all this. I can’t really explain it, I just don’t feel peaceful about everything going back to normal.

And I wrestle with that every day. Because does that mean I don’t have faith? Does that make me controlled by the government? Does that make me a mindless rule follower?

I don’t think it does. I think it means I’m human.

Everyone is different. Everyone processes this stuff differently. And I know that a big part of the reason I feel the way I do is because of what we have walked through with Sawyer.

When you hear the words, “your child has cancer,” there’s a physical reaction. It changed every part of me. It changed my DNA. In a lot of ways, I genuinely believe it changed me for the better in the long run. I love deeper. I see life’s colors brighter. I absolutely KNOW with every fiber in me that God is fully God and fully love and fully good.

But it’s changed me in other less endearing ways. I’m changed because I have held my baby dozens of times while propofol was pumped into his body, causing him to go limp in my arms, and handed him over to doctors, while I left the room for him to have spinal taps and bone marrow biopsies. I have held my baby and watched him unresponsive to a sternal rub, and watch a code team swarm in and set to work to care for him. I have spent weeks in isolation in a hospital room with my son, away from the rest of my family, because of a combination of simple cold viruses. During that season of personal quarantine, I turned down dozens of invitations to gatherings for myself and my children because of concern for Sawyer’s immune system. Social distancing is a lot more lonely and isolating when no one else is doing it. But there was never a question of “would we or wouldn’t we.”

So a highly contagious virus, whether or not it may be “exaggerated by the media,” “just a bad cold, “has a “good survival rate” and “rarely affects children” is something I don’t take lightly. This season of sheltering in place has triggered a protective Mama Bear instinct. I will repeat: I AM NOT AFRAID. I know that God is God and we all have a number of days that we will live, and He is in charge of that, not me. I can’t keep Sawyer (or any of them for that matter) in a bubble or protect them from life. But I just do not have a peace about my family jumping right back into “normal” life and crowds and public contact again just yet.

And it’s OK if you do. I’m not imposing anything about how I feel on anybody else. You do you. And let’s all just be kind.

The “normal” I AM excited about is that I am NOT A MATH TEACHER. I’m excited about popsicles and watermelon and homemade ice cream. I’m excited about sleeping in and floating in the pool and roasting hotdogs and Tuesdays with Tatum K. I’m excited about more drinking coffee and holding hands and dreaming with my Love. I’m excited for the thrill of the hunt, whether it’s “treasure” on the side of the road or the newly elusive treasure, toilet paper. I’m excited for a million zillion loads of laundry and 2 shaggy dogs and a house bursting full of people that simultaneously make me thankful and exhausted.

And I’m excited to discover all the blessings Jesus has prepared for us along the way.

There are a lot of people I love who are really hurting right now. Maybe you are too. Let’s press into our Father and lift up one another. There may not be one single thing we can do to take away somebody’s pain. But we can listen. We can pray. And we can be kind. Let’s be good at that this week.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, That I may declare all Your works.” (Psalms 73:28)

Blessed Mama

Made it through another week.  Another week of virtual school.  Another week of quarantine.  Another week that looked a whole lot like the weeks before it. 

But just like all the weeks before it, God has been faithful. 

I am thankful:

~ for the coffee that greets me every morning.   

~ for morning Bible time to start each day.   No matter what comes, at least I know we started with the first thing first.  

~ for all my Indians. IMG_AFD2E107346C-1.jpeg

~ for the faithful dedication of all our teachers and the school to provide our curriculum.  I can’t even imagine how much extra work and out of their comfort zone it has been for them to create all this material and videos and links for their classes.  What a strange and memorable year.  I will be forever grateful for the way they have loved on my children.  IMG_8651.JPG

~ for a kind friend who delivered farm fresh eggs right to my front door.  And how nice to see a sweet smile that I have missed so much.  Thank you Miss Debbie!  And for tasty avocado egg toast!IMG_8844 2.JPG

~ for the pool.  Absolutely NOT a need.  I know we are abundantly blessed above and beyond to have this luxury right in our backyard.  What an incomparable blessing for the kids to be able to just run out there and burn off steam.  They can get their energy out and get plenty of vitamin D after their schoolwork is done.  It’s also a powerful bargaining tool for mom.  Not done with your work?  Then you ain’t swimmin.  Grateful for gorgeous sunny afternoons. IMG_237B5ECA0EFB-1.jpeg

~ for Mexican toilet paper.  (We seriously can’t find any normal toilet paper anywhere!)IMG_9025 2.JPG

~ for kind people during this strange season.  How surreal it is to drive around and see people everywhere with masks and gloves.  You can’t gauge much about the countenance of a person with half their face covered. But I’ve seen so many kind eyes. I’m so thankful for people who are going above and beyond to keep others safe while doing their jobs.

~ for our neighbor’s sunflower and how happy it makes my little sunshine girl.IMG_8673.jpgIMG_8693.jpgIMG_8694.JPG

~ for a fun afternoon of Minute to Win It Challenges with the kids.  Daily challenges had been provided by our school, but I saved them up for one big Rucker Tribe Challenge.  We all had a ball.  You can watch the full video here. IMG_9062.jpgIMG_9065.jpgIMG_14DF729D55B6-1.jpeg

~ for perfectly chilled coconut cream pie made with LOVE.

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~ for photos to forever commemorate Tatum K’s first time through the car wash.  Sheer terror followed by complete joy when it was over.  Shame on us for laughing at that poor baby.

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It’s been a good Mother’s Day.  Home church, fresh bagels, and sunshine set the tone.  We ended the day with all 9 kids home for a meal of colorful grilled kabobs and wild rice, and will finish with me eating ANOTHER perfect piece of coconut pie in my bed.

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I looked back at what I wrote on the blog last Mother’s Day, and it makes me laugh how true it rings again this year (and last year there was NO PANDEMIC going on!)

“My legs need shaving, my grey needs colored, my floor needs mopped, and my bed’s not made.  And I will be 100% honest and say I usually don’t fully appreciate my life.  I am short-tempered  and impatient and overwhelmed.  Too many questions, too much laundry, too many squabbles and the sippy cup is always lost.  But today.  Today I have been so thankful.  Yes, my plate is full, but I see my cup that overflows with blessing.  My house is a mess, but it’s bursting at the seams with the people I love.  I have no idea why God has given me so many hearts to be responsible for, and most days the task completely terrifies me.  I am VASTLY UNQUALIFIED.  But I know that the confidence in myself that is lacking is ECLIPSED by the confidence I have in Him.  He gave me all these babies.  I don’t know why I am so blessed, but all I can do is thank Him and do my best every day.  And when my best isn’t good enough, His grace will meet me there.  I’m pretty much the most blessed mama on the planet.”

Thinking of all the different kinds of moms today.   Most moms don’t have the picture perfect day and the picture perfect family.  Every mama I know is broken in some way.  Longing for a child.  Lost a child.  Lost their mother.  Strained relationships.  Complicated emotions that are hard to talk about. Things just not going how they imagined, or just so much harder than they expected.  It’s ok if you don’t feel like a great mom.   Most moms don’t.  But whatever season we are in, we need to stop measuring ourselves against one another, or against some externally constructed idol of how our lives should be.  And none of us are alone – someone else out there is struggling too.

Be where you are.  And be there as well as you can.  Trust that God knows what He’s doing.  And be kind to one another and to yourself. 

And this morning, on Mother’s Day of all days, one of our beautiful little Gold Network Heroes, after a long and hard-fought battle, went home to be with Jesus.  PLEASE PRAY for his mama and family, today and every day.  I hate cancer.

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

“But certainly God has heard; He has given heed to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, Who has not turned away my prayer Nor His lovingkindness from me.”  (Psalms 66:19-20)

“Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”  (Psalms 61:1-2)

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)

Sweet Moments Along the Way

IMG_7214I didn’t share much about our Easter last week, because I wanted to spend less time documenting it and more time LIVING IT.  But it was truly such a special weekend.  We made cards and baked goodies and stuffed eggs and did a little “Joy Run” around town on Saturday afternoon, delivering treats and just saying “hi.”  Often the best remedy for the Self-Pity Blues is to do something nice for somebody else.  It was great to get out of the house for a change of scenery and to see some of the people we have missed so much.  

Saturday evening we had a sweet time with the kids with an Easter basket devotional I had seen online.  They went around the yard and gathered rocks in their baskets.  We sat down and discussed how heavy they were, and how hard they were to carry.  I told them that the rocks were like sin in our life, and that we were never meant to carry all of that heaviness.  IMG_1C9103E8FC95-1.jpegIMG_111820C362D7-1.jpegIMG_A86AEBAF3E96-1.jpegWe covered all the baskets with a big red blanket, representing Jesus’ blood covering all our sins.  IMG_26F035543AC7-1.jpegIn the morning, they were thrilled to see that all the heavy rocks were gone, and their baskets were filled with sweets and prizes (and a new swimsuit for the summer!).  They thanked Jesus for taking away their sins, and for exchanging their burdens with blessings and joy!  

After our unexpected tornado-warning-sheltering at dawn, and our traditional Easter breakfast of Resurrection Rolls, Colton joined us for online church.  Then we feasted on brown sugar glazed ham, mashed potatoes, roasted green beans, and sugar cookies.  The threatening storms gave way to a perfectly BEAUTIFUL day to celebrate our Risen Savior.  We watched movies and had an egg hunt in the front yard, some of the kids swam, and we did our chalk art.  IMG_6750 2.jpgI think we all watched ANOTHER movie after all that.  At dinner, Josh surprised us all by making a very uncharacteristic speech.  “This year Easter is a lot different.  We are missing some of the things we usually do, and the family we usually see.  It’s kind of strange not being allowed to go places and do the things we are used to.  Lots of things are different.  But it’s not all bad.  In fact, I LIKE a lot about this season.  This is probably my favorite Easter I can ever remember.”  

I wish I could tell you I hold that Christ-centered positive attitude all week long.  Y’all, it is a CONSTANT STRUGGLE to keep my head up and my spirits up.  I know I’m not alone in that.  The official mandate closing schools for the rest of the year was another disappointment.  So hard not to focus on all the fun things the kids won’t get to do.  The temptation to fall into self pity, distraction, frustration, and fear is relentless.  Each day looks like the day before it, stuck in the hamster ball of sheltering in place and virtual schooling.  Schooling my babies is kicking my tail, and no matter how exhausted I am at the end of each carbon-copied day, I can’t ever seem to turn my mind off and get any rest.  Grumpy, overtired teachers that teach 6 grades at once in a one room school house are THE VERY BEST TEACHERS!  One morning, Tatum K crawled up into my lap and buried her head in my neck, “Mama, I no want you be a cheacha (teacher)… I want you be a MAMA!”  Oh my heart.  My baby misses her mom.  I miss her mom too.

But I am so thankful for sweet moments along the way.

~ for the moments when I do just get to be a Mama.  And I get to snuggle with my Loves on the couch.  We’ve had some great times reading together, lots of picnics, and some scintillating UNO games.IMG_DD5BA75ED389-1.jpegIMG_7E5163028963-1.jpegIMG_10E6BED7E783-1.jpeg

~ for buttery sweet homemade cinnamon rolls fresh from the oven.  I haven’t made them in 15 years.  Anybody else eating their feelings these days?IMG_E090DF140E7D-1.jpeg

~ for my AMAZING personal shopper that did my online grocery order.  She actually REMEMBERED ME from “the days before quarantine,” and knew that we have a supersized family, not a hoarding problem.  She and the Aldi management allowed me to get our 10 loaves of bread and 12 gallons of milk! Just like the good old days!

~ for progress on our puzzle, which has now officially replaced our last puzzle as THE HARDEST PUZZLE ON THE PLANET.  The kids have put in like 12 pieces, and I have done about 698.  Only 9,845,873,458 to go.IMG_7292.jpg

~ for GCS Spirit Day.  More than ever before, we are grateful for our WONDERFUL school and our WONDERFUL teachers and the WONDERFUL community we have there.  IMG_7110

~ for kind neighbors.  So thankful we can call on one another when we need something.  It was fun to leave a thank you note.IMG_2C63BFB777F6-1.jpeg

~ for another fun Giddyup and Whoa project.  We are so grateful for the opportunity to continue to create.  IMG_9064E86B6EE6-1.jpeg

~ for another new reno project….  Any guesses?IMG_F55FBED7D21D-1.jpeg

~ for all the sweet moments along the way… moments that I would miss if I wasn’t home teaching my kids.  Sawyer reading his books to Gavin.  Zoe’s eyes lighting up when she gets all her spelling words right.  For the joy of witnessing their creativity firsthand instead of seeing it come home in a folder.IMG_5A5BA75C4DEC-1.jpegIMG_748E21188692-1.jpegIMG_30833FFB6B54-1.jpegIMG_7287.jpgIMG_B2083FBD0C6F-1.jpeg

I remember well another season of social distancing.  When Sawyer was going through chemotherapy as a baby, his immune system was treacherously fragile.  We had no visitors.  Sawyer ALWAYS stayed home.  The kids immediately changed their clothes and washed hands after school, and sometimes I even sprayed them down with Lysol.  It was completely normal for Sawyer to wear a certified N99 mask anytime he was in public, and we all wore masks around him if we had so much as a sniffle.  IMG_3E5FCFA24659-1.jpegIMG_09A47A81094E-1.jpegHand sanitizer was by every door, on every keychain, in every vehicle, along with the hospital grade sanitizing wipes that I carried with me everywhere, wiping down any surface Sawyer would come in contact with.  I lived on high alert.  FOR YEARS.IMG_488819AC8854-1.jpegIMG_33B053D82F50-1.jpegIMG_EEE79091CCA3-1.jpegIt was a scary season in so many ways.  BUT GOD.  Thinking back on those days, I look at how different life is today, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude.  Sawyer is here.  We are all healthy.  We made it through the Valley to the other side.IMG_6503

But I know this season, with its similar themes of fear, separation, and high alert, is being used by God in such an important way.  Another season of being set apart.

He is changing us.

I want to be changed for the better.  I want to learn what junk is still in my heart, and let Him cleanse it out.  I want to see what areas I am still not fully trusting Him with, so I can lay them down.  I want my kids to look back on these days when they are grown with fondness, and remember how much time they spent beating Mom at UNO and how many stories we read together instead of how stressed out we all were.

I’m not all the way there yet.  But I’m trying.  And God is faithful.  Let’s love one another well this week.  And give yourself grace if you don’t have it all together.  98% of the people on your Zoom meeting aren’t wearing pants either.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“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.” (Phil 1:4-6)

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.”  (Isaiah 26:3-4)

He is Risen!

This has been a week of celebration inside our quarantine.  We celebrated Dad’s birthday and Tatum K’s birthday.  We celebrated surviving another week of virtual schooling.  And today we celebrated our Risen Savior, who took the punishment we deserved to give us Life Everlasting.IMG_B591ECE75F57-1IMG_DFF19E6A157C-1 IMG_6430IMG_6450

I found it a different flavor of hard:  balancing the freedom I think I SHOULD feel with the mandated (and hypothetical) slower pace of life, with the ACTUAL pressure I feel with a million times more on my plate than ever before, compounded by a compulsion to make events MORE special to compensate for what the kids might be missing out on, and to make the most of every opportunity.

I know it’s a trap, but it’s just where I’ve been.

This morning our family was awakened by crashing thunder and screaming sirens.  The 11 of us plus 2 dogs took shelter in the laundry room as violent storms triggered a tornado warning in our neighborhood.  I couldn’t help but think of the skies darkening and the earth shaking as so many years ago when the stone was rolled away revealing the empty tomb that couldn’t hold Jesus.  Today’s storm passed as quickly as it had blown in, and gave way to a brilliantly beautiful and sunny day.  It was a different kind of day.  BUT GOD.  I honestly wouldn’t change a thing.  My heart is full.

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At my wonderful husband’s request, I am going to share pictures of our week and get back to soaking up time with my loves.  Because this is time well spent, and time that I’ll never get back.  

Happy Resurrection Day!  He is Risen!  He is Risen INDEED!

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.”  (Matthew 28:6)

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

“He called my name, and I ran out of that grave.  Out of the darkness, into Your Glorious Day!” (“Glorious Day” by Passion)

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)

 

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.

https://youtu.be/NrTv39-lG4M

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)

Is This for Real?

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

It’s not a fluke.

We are really here.  This is really happening.

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

Sound familiar?

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

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

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

~ for awesome neighbors.

~ for friends who have checked in on us.

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

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

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Carson Grace has enjoyed getting creative, too!

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

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

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

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

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

~ for coffee.  Lots and lots of coffee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUT GOD.

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

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

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

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