Mightier

Six years ago tomorrow, I wrote my very first Sunday Gratitude journal entry on Sawyer’s Caringbridge site. We were not quite 3 weeks into his cancer journey.

“Aug 10, 2014

I’d like to copy from a blog I’ve read for a long time….she dedicates her posts on Sundays to giving thanks. Especially in the midst of trials, it is easy to only see the bad things, and start feeling sorry for yourself. I don’t want to fall into that trap. Of course I wish none of this was happening, but this is a part of God’s best for our family, and I want to set my eyes on His goodness that is all around us.

Sunday Gratitude

~Our new room with a nice recliner

~a playmat for the floor so SaSa can crawl around without getting contaminated

~food from “the Outside”, especially homemade pimento cheese

~nurses who love Sawyer so much they come see him when they are not assigned to him

~getting to witness a 9-year-old girl finally get to celebrate going home after 8 months of treatment (her mom bought her a sparkly new dress, she had a panda hat on her bald head, and her daddy surprised her with a limo to drive her home!)

~news of so many people pulling together to bless my family by bringing meals and back-to-school bounty

~Sawyer’s sweet little voice chattering away

~pictures colored by my kids at home for their little brother

Join me in giving thanks!”

Today I find myself in far different circumstances, but in such a similar place of need. Of needing to raise my gaze. Raise my focus. Raise my voice in gratitude.

I have felt like our house is filled with a fog of sad. So many people I love are hurting and there is nothing I can do. I just can’t seem to get my feet under me.

This was a page on my daily calendar this week. Why do I feel like I have never seen this verse before? I read it and reread it and looked it up in several versions.

I love the sound of the ocean’s crashing waves. It’s vastness and power makes me feel so small. The crash is deafening. In this world, doesn’t it seem like there’s just so much deafening noise? All competing. Each voice, a thunderous wave crashing louder and louder, demanding to be heard above the rest. Noise on traditional and social media. Noise from every opinion on every issue. Noise inside me. BUT GOD. He is so far above the noise. He does speak in that Still Small Voice. But His majesty, His magnitude, His presence, His power. Is greater. Mightier than the noise attacking me from the outside and from the inside. Far mightier than the strongest, most powerful waves on any sea.

I am thankful that no matter how low or how NOT THANKFUL I FEEL, my loving Father is so gracious and persistent to show Himself to me even when I am a mess.

I am thankful:

~ for friends who call in lunch when they know it’s been a hard day. Even though they live in Dallas!

~ for the times when social media is a tool used for good, and flooded with kind words and encouragement to those who need it.

~ for a special birthday girl with a fantastic attitude on a quietly celebrated day. Our Zoe turned 9, and though we were unable to GO anywhere or INVITE anyone, we compensated with FOOD. Her brown eyes sparkled when she saw her waffles with sprinkles for breakfast. Daddy brought home a special treat from DQ for her lunch. And as one of our family’s most discerning diners, Miss Zoe selected a decadent menu of packaged Velveeta Shells and Cheese, cheese toast, and chocolate cake with more sprinkles of course. (It was a nice variation from last year’s choice of Kraft macaroni and cheese and Cheezits.) She felt special, and that’s what counts.

~ for the perfect worship song that plays at the perfect moment.

~ for my precious Littles who are so quick to forgive their mama when she’s not as nice or as patient as she should be. And for the genuine prayers they pray for me.

~ for my very best friend to wake up with every morning.

~ for new house numbers and solar lights giving our home a simple but cozy exterior update.

~ for ones who I know pray faithfully, and who alternately offer gentle encouragements and less gentle admonishings to kick out of my funk.

~ for August Tonight and Whataburger malts honoring one of the finest men who ever lived.

~ for a fun puzzle completed.

~ for a tasty night cooking up the fish Josh and the big kids caught on their Galveston Bay fishing trip. We had everyone back together again, and it was good to have fresh laughter around our table. I’ve missed that.

~ for the promise that God is the same yesterday, today, tomorrow, and forever. In the words of one of our Littles’ favorite songs, His love never fails, it never gives up, never runs out on me.

Let’s lift each other up during these strange, uncertain, and unfamiliar times. Whatever you may be feeling or struggling with, it is certain that someone else is struggling with it too. Everyone is dealing with their own personal flavor of hard. It’s ok not to have it all together all the time. It’s ok to be unsure. God knows what He is doing, and His good and perfect plan will be done in the end.

Prayers especially for educators and administrators and support staff who are gearing up for an unprecedented back to school season. And for parents everywhere who are doing their very best to make the very best decisions for their families about schooling. Let’s all be kind to one another. Let’s raise a hallelujah!

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

“The seas have lifted up, Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea— the Lord on high is mighty.” (Psalms 93:3-4)

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)

Training Wheels and Laundry Baskets

I am thankful:

~ for a wonderful day celebrating our beautiful Samantha turning 12!  How in the world is the little fuzzy headed muffin that captured our hearts the moment we laid eyes on her 12?????  Samantha has the biggest and most tender heart.  She is a born little mama, and wears Tatum on her hip constantly.  She is spunky and sassy and quick-witted, and entering the “tween” phase has made her even more ANIMATED.   She enjoyed her menu of choice: Nacho Supreme Hamburger Helper and Cool Ranch Doritos, and she baked her own chocolate cake with tie-dyed icing.  

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~ for a lovely day off school on Martin Luther King, Jr Day.   Carson Grace and one of her roommates came home for a day, so it was a treat to have them here.  

~ for the sweetest photo shoot with my oldest and youngest daughters.  Tatum K is the spitting image of baby Carson Grace, and seeing them together fills my heart with such joy. 

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~for the seasons that I know will not last forever…the seasons where in the middle of my shower, the door opens and a little voice says, “Mama, I want to snuggle wif you.”  Or when that same little voice says, “Mama, pray for the chocolate on my leg!”

~ for a powerful expression of intercessory prayer for a special couple needing healing in our church.  They are pillars of our Body, and beautiful, godly examples of humble leadership, Christ-centered marriage, and quiet strength.  

~ for a crazy week of home makeover DIY projects.  Josh had a week of vacation that he needed to use up, so he had planned a “stay-cation” with a list of several projects to get done around the house.  Why, WHY didn’t I think about what that meant for me?  I’ve been married to this man for a LOOOONG TIME, and HIS projects are almost always OUR projects.  I am AMAZED by all he (and we) got done!  He repainted the trim all the way around our house and both garage doors.  In 2 days!  Ripped out the cumbersome and non-functional built-in cabinet in our laundry room.  Designed and built me 2 reclaimed wood double-bay laundry sorters on casters to my specifications.  Built a shelf from a massive, stunning slab of wood we’ve been saving for years, and installed a galvanized hanging rod.  Ripped out the countertops and replaced them with custom reclaimed wood butcher block. Replaced the broken light fixture.  And I caulked and repainted the laundry room and cabinets, repainted our dingy mudroom and added a fun pop of color on the door.  Our laundry room and mudroom are two of the most hard-working rooms in our home, so it is so awesome to have them updated and more functional for our family.

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~ for the extended quality time with my Love this week. We enjoyed checking out a new place, Jimmy’s Egg. (Gina Sue treated Tatum K and I to breakfast there last week, and it was SO YUMMY that we had to take Dad!)  It was THE BOMB!  And we finished off our FD’s gift certificate with an at home date.  Tatum K crashed both “dates” (and ate half my food both times) but she’s cute enough, we really didn’t mind.  Bear also thought he should be invited…

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~ for an exciting next step… on-camera interviews for a professional promo video we are creating for Gold Network of East Texas.  We have so many dreams and plans stirring in our hearts for GNET in 2020 and the upcoming years.  It still blows my mind that less than 6 years ago, Tyler Gold Run and Gold Network of East Texas didn’t exist!  What a beautiful blessing to have the opportunity to serve East TX childhood cancer community, and to see the network of families leaning on one another.  

~ for a hearty cooked-by-Dad breakfast. 

~ for another thrilling milestone: Sawyer learned to ride his bicycle without training wheels!  He just hopped on and took right off!  Josh talked to him at bedtime about how much he has loved teaching each of his kids how to ride their bike.  That moment of pure joy when the balance kicks in and they soar away on their own. And of course, with Sawyer every new accomplishment is emotional and mind-blowing.  No milestones are small or taken for granted.  We just can’t believe Sawyer is alive and thriving and turning into a big kid in front of our very eyes.  Thank You Jesus!  (We did end the day with the inevitable skinned knee and big tears.  It’s all part of growing up!  Check out that shirt, though!)

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~ for SUNSHINE!!!!  We have had so many days upon days of rain and gloom, I was in desperate need of blue skies and sun!  Do you start to feel your soul get tired during gloomy weather?

It was a great week having Josh home.  He truly is my favorite person to spend time with, my very best friend.  We laughed tonight thinking that it seems like the longest week ever because we packed so much into it.  Parts of the week were surprisingly hard though.  We really are “GIDDYUP” and “WHOA.”  He pushes me.  Challenges me.  All these renovation projects came out of nowhere and really threw me for a loop.  I’m a pack rat, he’s a cleaner-outer.  He pushed me to go through a couple stacks I had sitting around.  (My piles drive him crazy.  And it drives ME crazy when he tosses things out without checking with me.)  He brought up the idea of building the laundry sorters I’d been wanting (which of course I was thrilled about, but I didn’t know anything else was coming), and 5 minutes later he put a caulk gun in my hand and started ripping the cabinet off the wall. (Oh.  So we’re DOING this!? You mean TODAY!?  Like…RIGHT THIS MINUTE.  Ok then.)  The intensity and change of routine actually launched me into a pretty massive anxiety attack over THE STUPIDEST details.  If I remember correctly, it involved chicken sandwiches and some laundry baskets full of crap.  Good.  Grief.  It’s laughable now.  But in the moment, it was real and frustrating and suffocating and lonely.  But God.  I knew it would pass.  And it did.  And now, I look at the freshly updated rooms, especially the laundry room, and it’s just…AWESOME!  It’s so much better than I ever could have envisioned.  It’s more than I asked for.  And Josh worked hard to make it happen, BECAUSE HE LOVES ME.  He doesn’t spend any time in that laundry room.  He didn’t do it because HE wanted it.  He did it to bless ME.  And to get it done, he had to push me a little.  I’m so thankful that God knows what we need better than we do.  He chose Josh for me because he knew my “Whoa” would hold me back from so much in life, and that I NEEDED some “Giddyup.”  (And of course, Josh needs a little “Whoa” from time to time, so he doesn’t fly straight off the rails).  God uses my husband and my kids to teach me about the height and width and depth of His Love.  God loves us so far beyond our self imposed limitations.   He ABSOLUTELY gives us more than we can handle, but never more than He can handle.  Sometimes He pushes us.  And it is ALWAYS for a purpose…  He has things in store for us so far beyond what we have ever asked for or imagined.  Because He LOVES US.  So we have to see past anxiety and laundry baskets and chicken sandwiches that try to rob us of that joy.  And we will never experience the joy that feels like flying if we don’t take off the training wheels.  Even if we skin our knees.  Because flying is worth it.

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  (1 Peter 5: 6-7)

The Biggest Little Things

I am thankful:

~ for HEALING!  The Rucker Tribe has survived the Great Flu of 2019.  Oh, we still have some sniffles, snuffles, and coughs.  And sleep is still hit or miss (mostly miss).  But it is a vast improvement over last week to say the VERY LEAST.  Thank You JESUS!  And thank you to all of you for reaching out with your kind words and encouragements.

~for all the funny little memories at Christmastime.  For the kids’ love of EVERY Christmas song, and how they sing out with all their hearts.   I love that Tatum K doesn’t know who Santa is.  She just points when she sees a picture or an inflatable and says, “look mama! It’s a May-wee Cwis-mas boy!”  We have had fun running errands together, she’s my little buddy while kiddos are at school.  She attracts a lot of attention wherever we go, so stinkin’ cute in her little boots and messy bun.  At this store she found slippers that matched her little sherpa jacket, so she had to give them “a lovey.”  Oh Lord, let her stay my sweet tiny Tater. 

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~ for puzzles.  I forget how fun puzzles are.  

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~ for a wonderfully special occasion worthy of celebration: Grandmommy’s 70th birthday!  Aunt Polly hosted the gathering, and we feasted on brisket and chips and dips and a charming custom purse cake topped with FON-DANT.  We all laughed and made Grandmommy cry, and celebrated the legacy of the lovely, godly lady we all love so much.  

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~ as always, Grandmommy’s birthday also marks the start of the greatly anticipated tradition: 12 Days of Christmas.  Each night we gather and sing the song, and then open our thoughtful treat and take our picture.  The kids absolutely love the whole process, and I am so thankful for all the work that Grandmommy puts into it all.  These are memories that will last forever.  I am a sucker for traditions, and it fills my heart to see the smiles of my babies beside the tree.  Day 1 was sticker page nativities.  And you have never seen such joy as they each diligently worked on decorating their own paper.

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~ for such a fun Christmas party with our small group from church.  The adults had organized a rowdy (and rather cut-throat) white elephant gift exchange.  The kids were very intrigued by the idea (I mean, OBVIOUSLY they saw a bunch of gifts and wanted some) so I quickly gathered items from around our house to put together a white elephant exchange for them. None of them had ever played it before, so it was a little challenging.  Sawyer ended up with the dud gift: a ladies bracelet and a coupon.  He was NOT IMPRESSED.  Nor was he gracious about being disappointed.  There were tears.  Everyone else had fun though.  I’m thankful for such a fun group.  As you can see, I was in a PARTICULARLY FESTIVE mood.

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~ for a new-to-me treat:  baked crescent rolls filled with melted chocolate chips and drizzled with powdered sugar glaze.  Just STOP IT!

~ for last minute Giddyup & Whoa orders.  you can imagine how tight the budget gets with nine kids at Christmas time. Even though our focus is definitely not on spending a lot on extravagant gifts, all the expenses just all add up faster than the deposits.  Every order is truly a blessing, and we are so grateful for the way God provides!  It is such an honor to be trusted with bringing to life special mementos for people.  

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~ for amazing and inspiring connections.  I got a sign order this week from a lady I did not know.  She had taken my card at the show at the Foundry several weeks ago and just now contacted me.  She came to the house to pick up her order, and we had the best conversation!  She is also a mother of 9, and we have several  common friendships.  Such a small world.  The sign she had me do for her was so unique and personal, my very favorite kind of sign to paint.  A saying with personal meaning that you’re just not going to find hanging in Hobby Lobby.  She had asked me to paint “Love is the Tuesdays.”  It’s a lyric from the song, “Tuesday’s,” by Jake Scott, and it was a gift for her husband.  She encouraged Josh and I to listen to the song, which we did later that evening.  The song is advice given by a father to a young man who is asking to marry his daughter.  “No it’s not Hollywood son ’cause troubles will come / But it’s the best decision you’re ever gonna make / And you’ve got my blessing but just hear this lesson / Twenty-seven years and all I’ve got to say / Is it’s not just picture perfect dancing in a white dress / It’s not just rainy days where nothing stops the fighting / It’s not just highs and lows and champagne toasts / I’ve come to know that love’s not only the best days or the worst days / Love is the Tuesdays”

Isn’t that just the truth?  Love is the everyday moments that happen in between the highs and the lows.  So blessed by the song and touched by the sentiment behind the sign order. 

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~ for an amazing accomplishment for my INCREDIBLE HUSBAND!  A few weeks ago he took the step of faith to enroll in an online real estate course, and this week he completed the first class and ACED his first exam!   So proud of this remarkable man of mine and excited to see what doors God will open down the road!

~ for the kids’ DARLING Christmas program at church.   From our Tribe, we had scintillating portrayals of an angel, King Herod, and Caesar Augustus, as well as 2 eloquent narrators.  There is something so pure about seeing the story of Jesus’ birth through the eyes and lips of children.  And even seeing how beautiful and grown up Samantha and Kora are.  Zoe sparkling in her tinsel halo.  Sawyer, serious as can be, sternly barking out his line, and Gavin’s dramatic death on stage.  Even Tatum K’s spontaneous interruptions asking when it would be “cookie time.”  It was just so very special.  

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Before the Children’s Program, Becky the Children’s Pastor, asked the audience to pause.  I LOVED how she said it.  “Let’s just pause a moment to make some room.  We can’t appreciate a gift we are given if we don’t take the time to realize how much we NEED that gift.”  Advent is the season of waiting.  Waiting expectantly for the birth of the King.  Waiting longingly for His Return.  But do we have room?  Are we too busy and distracted by the cares of this world?  By how many friends/followers/likes we can accumulate?  By having the Pinterest-perfect porch display, ugly sweater, or charcuterie board?  By buying the perfect gift to outdo what we gave last year?  

Quieting our heart is hard.  Waiting is hard.  What are you waiting on?  What prayer are you praying that has not yet been answered?  My heart aches with the weight of some of the things I wait for, long for.   But I know God sees me.  I know He cares about the things and the people I’m asking Him for.  He saw the needs of the people of Israel.  He had a plan to meet those needs.  He has a plan to fulfill every need.  But for now, we wait.  Creation is groaning for our Coming King.  We ache for healing, for reconciliation, for restoration.  We cry out to Him for a Breakthrough.  And sometimes every single thing our eyes see looks like failure.  Hopeless.   But the God of Hope is working when we cannot see.  And thankfully, His power is not contingent on our faith.  I thank God for that every day.  Because my faith feels so small and my vision falls so short.  But God.  So whatever it is you are waiting for, don’t lose heart.  

He is working.  

He is coming. 

And He’s always right on time. 

So let’s pause a moment.  And let’s make some room for Jesus in our hearts and our schedules this week.  

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalms 27:13-14)

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed….We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently….And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:18-19, 22-25, 28)

Thank Full

I am thankful:

~ for a wonderful, JAM-PACKED break. Most days the weather was great, and the kids enjoyed running around and playing outside. They raked leaves into piles and delighted in jumping in them. When they found that we didn’t have enough leaves, they were more than happy to visit our neighbors and gather THEIR leaves and bring them to our house!

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~for the absolute best kitchen helpers in all the land.  My sous chefs were raring to go, and what they lacked in expertise they made up for with enthusiasm.

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~for even a little time with my Girl home from college.  Way too short of a visit, but thankful just the same.

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~for sweet moments with my Love.  We have our ups and downs like anybody else, and sometimes we bicker and get on each other‘s nerves.  But most of the time, the love we have is everything you could ask out of a sappy movie.  I love driving down the road, holding my babies hand, singing Garth Brooks’ songs to one another.  It is delightfully nauseating.

~for online shopping.  I just don’t have it in me to get out there and box the crowds for the best deals.  I can’t even express how grateful I am to be able to find what I need while sitting on the couch and have it shipped right to my door.  

~for a wonderful Thanksgiving.  We always drive to Carthage and spend the day with family.  The children cherish all the traditions, and their excitement is so contagious.  This year we had an even larger crowd than usual: I love how everybody feels at liberty to invite more people along…and everyone is TRULY WELCOME.  I don’t think anybody every feels like they are an “extra.”  They just BELONG.  And it’s truly the most fun gathering you can imagine. We are a lively bunch, with our chicken and turkey hats, our pumpkin Olympics complete this year with a reverent and very formal coronation of the Pumpkin Queen, and chicken dancing in the front yard next to the highway (punctuated with frequent honks from passers by).  There’s just  SO.  MUCH.  JOY.  We ate until we were completely uncomfortable, and then we made another plate.  Once that was ram-crammed down into our bellies, then it was time for PIE.  The food was fantastic, but it’s the fellowship that defies explanation.  I’m so grateful to be in the company of so much love.  Such special memories. 

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~ for the soft glow of Christmas lights, a fire in the fireplace, and my snuggly $4.99 blanket from Aldi.

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~ for the very best curbside find yet: the 9 foot Christmas tree (in original box) I picked up on large item trash week earlier this year.   We put up the tree and with just a little finessing, all the original lights are functioning!  Whoever threw this tree away, THANK YOU!  We decked our halls this weekend, and everything is bright and festive.  Josh even built me a custom reclaimed wood tree collar (gotta add a little Giddyup & Whoa, of course!)  The kids love seeing their favorite ornaments and decorations come out of the boxes.  They hear the stories of Grandma Grace’s handpainted nativity and Granny’s Christmas village.   We hung our new ornaments from this summer’s trip to Lark Toys in Minnesota and the Laura Ingalls museum in Wisconsin.  And Tatum K just points at everything and chirps again and again, “May-we Cwis-mas!!!”  (We’ll see how much of it she breaks before the season is over.)

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And today, what I’m most grateful for is a curly headed, blue eyed little boy, because today he turned 6.   Six years old.  I can’t even say it without crying. 

IMG_0639.JPGIt doesn’t matter how normal life is, how long he’s been a happy kindergartener, how normal he looks.  It still takes my breath away when I stop and think about everything Sawyer has been through.  From almost losing his life to organ failure the day he was brought by ambulance to Children’s, to the life and death battle he fought against cancer as a baby, the toxic reaction to meds, narcotic overdose and withdrawal, and then countless unidentified infections and bizarre complications along the way… but you’d NEVER EVEN KNOW IT.   The faint white port scar on his chest and the curly hair that used to be straight are the only physical indicators left behind to hint that he has a medical history.  I don’t know why Sawyer is the way he is, why his light shines so bright and why he loves so big.  I just know he amazes me and that it feels like a tremendous responsibility to shepherd such a child.  I don’t know how old he is going to grow to be, or what he is going to do in his lifetime (my heart still guards itself against looking too far ahead), but I know he is very very special.  And I am thankful for every. single. moment.  And I’m thankful for a very low-key, normal-just-like-every-other-kid-in-the-tribe birthday: no party, just donuts for breakfast and menu of choice for dinner: pizza, mac-and-cheese, and chocolate cake that he helped me bake.  He wasn’t an honored guest of the police department, and nobody surprised him with a trip to Hawaii.  He got Legos and a hot wheels track and some clothes.  Just like a regular kid.  And that’s kind of hard on Mom and Dad, because quite honestly, we think he deserves a parade every day (I mean, DOESN’T HE?)  But what a gift that Sawyer, even after all he has been through, gets to live a normal life and be a normal kid.  Normal maybe.  But nonetheless, an EXCEPTIONAL WALKING MIRACLE.  Glory to God!IMG_0606.JPG

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Happy December.  My mission this month is to keep my eyes on Jesus no matter how busy life gets.  And remember why we have anything to celebrate.   

(And just for the record: I love ALL my kids. Each one of them is incredibly unique and special and I’m in awe that God has entrusted me with stewarding so many of His treasured creations. I’ve said it before, I’m the most blessed Mama in all the world. I will spend my life doing my best to point them all to Jesus and love them all well.)

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  (1Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Seasons

I am thankful:

~ for 2 sweet quick visits with 2 different dear friends before they move away.  It’s so hard to say goodbye to people you love.  But seasons are always changing and you just pray that you can find a way to stay connected regardless of location.  Tatum had a great time playing with a friend, and later having a delicious breakfast of diced tomatoes and chocolate milk!

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~ for the stunning color of the fall leaves.  People say Texas doesn’t really get seasons.  And while the foliage may not be as electric nor the temperatures quite as brisk as in the north and northeast, I think East Texas is beautiful in the fall.  I love the drop in temperatures, pulling out the boots and sweaters, and the crackle of a fire in the evenings.  To me, the autumn season was the ideal choice for scheduling Thanksgiving: leaves change and fall, colder weather makes us want to cuddle closer, we hunger for the warmth of nostalgic comfort foods…it’s a season built for looking around at our surroundings and seeking to give thanks. 

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~ for a extra special week for Kora.  Her class presented the Chapel program, a Tribute to Veteran’s Day.  It was an inspiring and reverent program, and all the students did a beautiful job with their songs and recitations.  Then as a part of her classroom’s weekly Toastmasters presentation, she gave her original speech.  Big week for our girl.  She delights in having her turn in the spotlight, and nothing makes her light up more than seeing Mama and Daddy smiling from the audience.  So proud of her. 

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~ for the rare opportunity to surprise my girl!  Carson Grace invited us to a special event as a part of her music major program, Student-led Night of Worship.  Unfortunately, she invited us about 22 hours before the program.  I let her know we were very proud of her, but told her how difficult it would be to make arrangements to get all the way to Marshall the next evening, especially on a school night.  But as soon as I got off the phone with her, I got to work planning those details.  Even that evening, as we were on the road to Marshall, I continued to text her and tell her that we loved her and were praying that the service would go well (true statements).  When we showed up at the recital hall (you can imagine, a Tribe of Littles is quite a spectacle on a college campus, so we weren’t hard to spot), she saw us and burst into tears.  I’m so thankful we made it a little early so she had time to get herself together before taking the stage with her worship team.   What a blessing to see our beautiful daughter, singing unto the Lord with her peers.  It was just awesome.  After her set was over, she joined us in the audience, and squeezed me so hard…it felt great to know how much it meant to her that we were there.  It was an incredible night worshipping together, and even the Littles totally got into it, clearly blessed by the presence of the Lord. IMG_9530

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~ for lots of progress in preparation for our 2 upcoming Giddyup & Whoa sales: Vintage & Company’s “Christmas in the Country” and The Market.  Josh has been building and building for me, and I paint every chance I get.  The kids love being a part: helping design, paint, and construct; and they are always eager to “model” for me.  So thankful for the opportunity to create together as a family, and hopeful that we are coming into a busy season for the business. 

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~ for successfully surviving the last (and coldest, and WETTEST) JV football game of the season!  Armed with our blankets, scarves, gloves, and hot chocolate, the Littles and I made it to halftime, and left Dad, Colton, and Brooke to cheer Coop on to the bitter end.  I love watching him play, so I’m sad to see the season end, but I WILL NOT miss shivering in the bleachers with 875 whining kids. 

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~ for our furry, floppy muppet dog, Bear, who turned 1 today!  He has been such a fun addition to our crazy Tribe. 

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~ for relaxing evenings, chilling and watching the Cowboys.  Ok fine.  If you know me, I know ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about football. I can barely keep my eyes on Cooper’s jersey to see where he is on the field at his games.  I can get into sports when I know personal stories about the players, but otherwise, it’s hard for me to follow.  BUT. I love my husband.  And my husband loves to watch the Cowboys.  So I love to be near my husband while he watches the Cowboys.  I paint or write, and I cheer when he cheers.  We’ve got a system down. 

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~ for a weekend with our girl home from college.  We enjoyed a RARE laid back weekend devoid of a schedule.  Carson Grace got to sleep in, we ran some errands, ordered some much-needed glasses for both of us, and spend the evening watching Lion King all together. 

~ for unexpected blessings.  One of the reasons Carson Grace came home for the weekend was because she had been invited to be a guest vocalist at the church of one of her professors.  The church was in Athens, and we decided to load up the whole Tribe and go with her.  Carson Grace of course did an absolutely wonderful job sharing her song, and blessed the heart of the Lord and every parishioner in attendance.  But it was clear the moment we got there that the He had a very specific purpose for our family visiting that church.  The pastor (who teaches voice part time at ETBU, and was the one who invited Carson Grace) and his wife have recently taken in 4 foster children.   Recently as in 3 weeks ago.   I looked into that mama’s tired tired eyes and knew exactly what she was feeling.   Oh, how vividly O remember the pain of that season, of those raw first weeks. Josh and I were able to share our foster/adopt story and listen to where they are in theirs.   We could relate to one another on such a strikingly similar level, and there was such hope in that.   After church was over, our 2 families went for pizza, and the adults visited as much as we could while juggling kid plates, refilling cups, wiping noses and wiping spills…  We sat there and told the stories we have told so many times.  Stories of broken beds, and heads cracking through windows.  Stories of getting locked out of the house by 3 toddlers and of the end of life as we then knew it.  BUT GOD.   Because the kids from those stories are gone.  They really are.  I can’t think of a day when I was more proud of my children.  As we were telling those stories with the grownups, OUR kids were loving on THEIR kids.  Our little girls were chatting it up with their girls, and have already declared that they are friends who can’t wait to see each other again.  Their little guy and Sawyer had been in Sunday school class today that morning, so they were tickled to buddy up at lunch.  And Carson Grace and Cooper were kind and conversational with their quiet and reserved 16 year old boy.  It was beautiful.  I’m not even bothering to hold back my tears as I write this tonight, with the images fresh on my mind.  I ache thinking of all that these precious children have gone through, more than anyone even knows about.  They have been shifted around and let down by the ones who they trusted to keep them safe, and so many others after that.  I can only imagine how broken and scared and confused they are.  And I know how shell shocked those foster parents are right now.  Everything about their life has changed overnight.  And they are holding on for dear life, clinging to Jesus, desperately trying to be obedient to whatever He asks them to do.   I’m so grateful that we got to meet this family today, and ask that you would join me in praying for them.  They need it.  And I’m so grateful that the Lord used this day to show me afresh how far our beautiful children have come, and the beauty that shines from the ashes of their story.  Their story is one of brokenness and loss and pain, and a story of love and redemption and healing and hope. And today I got to see them ministering.    Thank You Father for fresh eyes to see the miracle of New Life. 

Whatever season you find yourself in, may you remain securely anchored into Christ.  When things are bad, hang on.  Jesus is holding you, He is fighting for you, and He will never leave you.  And this season won’t last forever.   And if you are in a sweet season, a season of plenty, of peace – set that anchor DEEP.  Study His Word, seek God’s heart, pour into the lives of others.  Invest wisely in eternity during seasons of peace, because that season will end too.  And we never know what’s ahead.  We just know that our best days are still to come.  Which season are you in?  Who can you encourage this week?

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

““Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:3-9)

God is in the Ring

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

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

~ for kids who love to help!

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

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

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

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

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

But God.  

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

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

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

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

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

Letting Go

I am thankful:

~ for the beginning of football season.  Is it really the beginning of football season already?  Well, Cooper started two-a-days this week, so that meant we were up before the sun.  And even though I was in a coma as I drove him, I still appreciated taking in the glorious sunrise.  And I love seeing Cooper with a goal in mind.  That kid loves him some football!

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~for a great time at the Football Moms’ Clinic.  It’s a special time for moms to learn a little more about the game and focus on our boys.  To sit at their football locker and pray over the upcoming season.  To share a meal with other football moms and our sons.  It’s always such a sentimental night for me.  I attended my first Moms’ Clinic 6 years ago when Colton was a freshman, with Sawyer in my belly.  I missed the next year because Sawyer and I were in the hospital, in the critical early stages of his chemotherapy treatment, and the coaches and moms were so kind to us with notes of encouragement.  The next 2 years attending with Colton were super special, and now I’ve had a couple years off with no high school football player.  So to sit beside my Cooper, who gets taller and more handsome daily, as he starts his freshman year of football, I couldn’t be more proud and thankful.  

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~ for the opportunity to give blood in honor of an amazing warrior boy.  Luke’s birthday was Wednesday, but this year he celebrated it in heaven with Jesus.  His family chose to celebrate his life and his memory by encouraging people to donate the gift of life.  You may have heard that there is a nationwide blood shortage.  Kids with cancer require frequent blood transfusions throughout treatment.  Sawyer had dozens.  So I was thankful for the opportunity to participate and tell the techs about Luke and about Sawyer.   If you can, GO DONATE BLOOD!

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~ for a fun, albeit way too short, visit from Uncle Mike and Cousin Kenedy.  We got some great snuggles and lots and lots of giggles.  My favorite was hearing Kenedy ask for “Clipper” (Cooper). 

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~ for those rare moments when God allows us to see purpose past our pain. So often we cling to what we want, not knowing He has something far greater. Sometimes we have to let go of what WE THINK we need so that we can receive His BEST!

~for the most amazing honor!  Our friends from Minnesota, the Franz’s, shared amazing news.  Their 10 year old son, Andrew, participated in the Pinky Swear Foundation Triathlon for childhood cancer, IN SAWYER’S HONOR!  Andrew completed a 100 yard swim, 3 mile bike course, and a half mile run.  We hope he heard us cheering for him all the way from Texas!

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~ for a happy happy birthday for our sweet Zoe Girl.  I still can’t wrap my mind around how much our little Brown-eyed girl has grown up.  I remember meeting her: 18 months old, bitsy tiny, big watering  wide eyes, and absolutely SILENT.  She refused to be put down, and Carson Grace carried her so much she wore a sore on her hip.  Today Zoe is bubbling with life, dancing and singing everywhere she goes.  She is a silly goose and loves to use her imagination.  She loved her waffles with sprinkles and whipped cream for breakfast and chose red velvet cupcakes for her cake.  Happy birthday ZoZo!

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~ for a (hopefully) win-win-win-win situation.  We had friends who needed to find homes for some kittens.  We had another friend who had been wanting a guinea pig.  Our kids really wanted a kitten.  Our Dad was anti-kitten, but EXTREMELY in favor of parting with our guinea pig.  So much so, that he was willing to acquiesce to a kitten if it meant re-homing the pig.  So bottom line, we traded a pig for a kitten.  Meet Miss Stella.  Bear is PASSIONATELY EXCITED about his new “sister.”

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Last night, we were in battle mode.  Last minute list checking and Walmart runs.  Pack?  Keep?  Memory box?  Toss?   We watched Carson Grace’s eternal tornado of a bedroom slowly transform into a stack of boxes and bags and suitcases.   Saying goodnight was different.  I knew it wasn’t going to be her last night to sleep in her room.  But it’s not ever going to be the same.  Most likely, whenever she comes back, it will be for a visit.  Not to stay.  She’ll always have a home to come back to here, but she really may move on and move out for good instead of ever coming back here to stay.  Ever my daughter, she was highly sentimental, and we shared lots of tears and sweet words with one another before we settled to bed.  I will always treasure those moments with my girl.  Today was our hard day.  We knew it was coming, and we have worked hard to get ready for this point.  Josh and I drove Carson Grace to Marshall and got her all set up in her new dorm room.  We rearranged the furniture and mounted her built-to-order Giddyup & Whoa sign over her bed. 

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We hung her clothes and arranged her mountains of shoes.  We set up her coffee bar and had a coffee-making lesson.  It turned out absolutely darling, and she loves her personal little oasis. 

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If this week seems early to start college, it is.  Carson Grace starts her 1 week mini-mester class in the morning, and then she’ll be home one more weekend before school starts for real.  We are so happy for her, and so proud.  We feel great about the environment she’s going to be in, and we know that she never belonged to us, but to God.  But I gotta tell you.  In spite of all those healthy, grounded, mature FACTS THAT WE WHOLE-HEARTEDLY BELIEVE…all that goes out the window when you drive away from the building where you just left your baby girl by herself.  Did we teach her enough?  Is she going to make good friends?   Is she going to work hard?  Is she going to be lonely?   We did the best we could the last 18 years, and we made a ton of mistakes along the way.  But it’s time to let go and release her with our blessing. And now it’s her turn.  To chose.  To stand.   And I know God’s got her, like He always has, and that she’ll be ok through the good choices and the bad, the sweet times and the heartbreaks.  I really do know she’s gonna be ok.  I do.  But tonight….tonight my house is a little too quiet without the sweet whisper of a ukulele and my favorite voice coming from the door at the end of my kitchen.  And my heart feels like a big chunk is gone.  Tonight I’m giving myself permission to be sad and miss my girl.

Please continue your faithful prayers for our dear friends Harold and Lucas and their families. God is, and always will be, bigger than cancer.  Bigger that anything we fear.  Bigger than than anything we face.  

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

“The Lord bless you and keep you;  the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance on you and give you peace.”  Numbers 6:24, 26 

Grace

Grace.  Defined as “the unmerited favor of God toward man.”  It’s the good we get that we don’t deserve.  Oh, how we need grace.  It’s something I’m always begging God for more of, and I’m so thankful that it’s something He never runs out of.  I’m counting on heaping helpings of that grace to get me through this summer with all these kiddos and all the big changes that are coming this fall. 

I am thankful for GRACE. 

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One of my kiddos had a pretty bad day.  Well, pretty much it’s been A BUNCH of bad days piggybacked on top of each other.  And I’ve had to discipline a lot. Like a LOT LOT.  And it left me feeling discouraged and sour and like the World’s Meanest Mommy.  But Saturday morning, I stretched my my arms open, and this child crawled up into my lap. 

I whispered, “I love you,”

and they said, “I love you too. 

And I said, “Do you know I love you even when I get onto you? 

Yes,” 

And do you know WHY I get onto you? 

They replied, “because you love me and so I can learn from my mistakes and do better next time.” 

Deep sigh. Big squeeze.  Tiny tears from mama’s eyes that I tried to hide in their hair as I held them tighter.  Ok, maybe not the ACTUAL meanest mommy in the WHOLE world.  Thankful to my loving father who gives me the grace I need to be a mama to so many.  And the unique grace He gives me to be the exact mama that each ONE CHILD needs at that moment.  God, give me the grace to extend that grace to others, especially my children. 

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~ for my flyswatter.  Anybody else dealing with 834,267,559 flies?  

~ for our cardinal family.  I’ve been captivated by watching their nest and the comings and goings of the parents.  Now there’s a baby bird out of the nest, not yet strong enough to fly.  It hides itself all around our yard and the neighbors’, and the Mama and Daddy cardinals tirelessly tend to it and bring it food. So far our benevolent neighbors have not called the cops on me for climbing my ladder and constantly peering over their fence with my telescopic camera lens.  

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~ for the community of prayer warriors who rise up around a need.  If you follow me on social media, you likely saw my urgent prayer request for our beloved nurse Kelly and her infant son, Lucas.  He has been battling rhabdoid tumors for several months and just recently has started experiencing a decline of appetite and increased pain.  A CT this week indicated a new tumor.  And y’all hit your knees. Kelly was thankful to report that the mass was not attached to his brain, and that the insertion of an NG tube should provide a nutritional boost to increase Lucas‘s strength as he continues his brave fight.  How I wish there was no cancer for him to fight, but today we have the grace to praise God for every piece of encouraging news!  You can follow Lucas’ journey on Caringbridge.

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~ It’s been a big week for our oldest daughter.  Monday Josh, Carson Grace, and I drove to Marshall, TX for New Student Orientation at East Texas Baptist University (ETBU).  It’s such a beautifully manicured campus, and all the staff and other students and families were so friendly.  After the first general welcome session, all students and parents headed to meet with the heads of the major they had chosen, for Carson Grace, that was Communications.  She hasn’t been sure what exactly she’d want to do in that field, but she has some interests and strengths in those areas, so it seemed like a good place to start.  Next was a meeting with the department heads for whatever you want to minor in: Music/Worship Arts.  Carson Grace was eager to meet with these professors and discuss the choirs and worship team. The head of the Worship Arts department begin to ask lots of specific, pointed questions: “So why are you here?“ “What are you passionate about?” After just a few of her responses, he said… “I don’t know, but you sound like a music major to me!”  That was such an unexpected, abrupt shift that caught all of us unaware.  But when he asked her, “Do you like music? Or do you LOVE music?  For me…” he said, “I’m interested in a lot of things, but music is what gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s what makes me tick.”  And her eyes filled with tears as she said, “ I love it.  It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do.”  

And that was that. She’s a music major!  Thank you God for the grace to take a step out in faith.

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~ also this week, Carson Grace had her very first job interview.  After about 25 minutes, she walked out with the job!  

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~ not only that, Carson Grace, our sweet girl, our Princess Peanut, turned 18.  I swear, yesterday she was a baby.  A bitsy, blue-eyed baby, sucking her thumb behind a pink crocheted blanket.  A tiny, sassy toddler shaking her thing to the Wiggles “Pony Song.”  We’ve ridden the predictably unpredictable hormone roller coaster, cried happy tears and tears of frustration, and learned the hard way how to communicate.  Josh says she’s just like me: sometimes that’s a compliment, and sometimes it’s most assuredly NOT.  But as I look at her as a young adult, a young woman, my heart is bursting with so much pride and so much hope for her future that it genuinely feels like pain.  

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Grace was my grandmother.  My dad‘s mom.  She was a farmer, a school bus driver, 4-H leader, and a world traveler.  She knew how to cook and sew and her house was cozy and neat as a pin. 

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I pretty much grew up at her house, at her kitchen table, in her garden, and in her basement.  I spent all my time with her when I was little bitty, but when I grew older, I spent time with her by choice.  I would ride my bicycle 3 miles down the treacherously steep loose gravel road that led from our family farm to her house in the valley.  I loved to be at Grandma’s house.  I played “olden days,” dressing up in her old furs and hats from the 50s and the reading the old primers she had saved from when my dad was a little boy.  I waded and fished in the creeks around her house.  We watched deer and birds and squirrels from her windows, and watched the trees explode into color on the bluffs that rose up around her on every side.  She was feminine, but not girlie, and I never remember seeing her wear a drop of makeup.  She loved me unconditionally and was my biggest fan and supporter through every endeavor.  I loved my Grandma.  And even though I never expected to have a daughter, when I found out that my second baby was going to be a girl, it was a given that I would name her Grace.  Josh and I traveled from Texas back to Minnesota about once a year to visit early in our marriage, and each time it was more heartbreaking to see Grandma’s health decline as Parkinson’s Disease robbed her of her physical strength and independence.  She passed away when Carson Grace was 6.   But I will always treasure the memories I have of her, and I love sharing them with my kids.  I know she would have gotten such a kick out of my crazy oversized Tribe, and they all would have loved her just like I did.  And I’m so proud that my first-born daughter bears the name of such a special lady, one who lived up to the definition of the word. 

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Let’s love lavishly and extend extra measures of grace this week!  Everybody else needs it just as much as you do.

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

“in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”  Ephesians 2:7-9 

“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 4:16 

A Blessed Mess of a Mama

Why do I start every Sunday gratitude with the sentence… “Wow! What a busy week!”????  With a family this size, I think we can rest confidently that it’s usually going to be busy.  I just need to accept that fact.  But whether you have one kid or 21, the end of school season can get wild. So buckle up, this post is about to make you tired…

I am thankful:

~ for 15 Giddyup & Whoa Mother’s Day orders. 

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For “Graces Races,” our GCS end-of-school field day for each grade. Monday 1st grade, Tuesday – 3rd grade, Wednesday – 2nd grade, Thursday – 4th grade.  And I made it to each one.  Granted, a couple in time for the snowcone finale…  But at least my kiddos knew I was there.  They all had such a great time with their friends doing balloon and scooter and gunnysack relays.  The elementary children will have their last day of school this coming Wednesday.  Where did this school year go?

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~ for great softball game/senior night for Carson Grace.  So proud to take the field with our beautiful girl and celebrate the end of her high school career.  Then the Cougar girls played a tremendous game and walked away with their first playoff win! 

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~for a great birthday dinner celebrating Colton.  His schedule last week didn’t permit, but this week we had a tasty meal of his choice: crescent chicken, sweet potato fries, and yellow cake with chocolate icing. 

~for another great choir concert, this time for Cooper and the Junior High.  Such a talented group of students! 

~ Of course the highlight of this week was Wednesday, which was Sawyer‘s quarterly Oncology Clinic visit.  Bloodwork confirmed that he is CANCER FREE! Glory to God!  This was Sawyer‘s first visit on the ACE unit (After Cancer Experience), otherwise known as the Survivors Unit. This is truly a miraculous milestone we never dared dream we would see.  You can read my Caringbridge post with full details from the day here.

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~ I’m thankful for God’s protection on the drive, and I’m very thankful I didn’t know how dangerous the storms were until AFTER I was safely home!  I know I would have panicked.  My back hurt for 2 days from clutching the steering wheel. 

~ for Nurse Appreciation Week.  Our nurses are our family, and we love them passionately.  No amount of words or gifts can measure the impact they make on the lives they touch. We ❤️ Nurses!

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~ for Carson Grace’s Senior Awards Assembly.  How incredible to see 100% of her class has been accepted into various colleges, from Texas to Alabama to Illinois.  The Admissions Counselor from ETBU came from Marshall to present Carson Grace with her Academic and Christian Leadership Scholarships.  And that same day, she took her very last final, and is officially DONE WITH HIGH SCHOOL!  Just unreal.  It was a hard fought battle to get her to this point, and  she’s wrestled through a lot over the past couple years, but she made it, and we are SO PROUD!

If you’re still with me, are you tired yet?  Oh no, we’re not done yet. Not even close!

~ thankful for Cooper’s 8th Grade Year End Assembly.  The students heard from each of their amazing teachers (there really is a unique and passionate breed of teacher who chooses to minister to Jr. High students).  They reminded the kids how loved they are by the Lord, and that they are so valuable to the Kingdom.  The teachers, coaches, and faculty spoke with so much enthusiasm and heart, it was incredibly moving, and I’m freshly reminded how grateful I am that Cooper has been loved so well by this faculty.  I pray for him as he steps into High School next fall, that he will walk confidently in who he is, and stay the bright, one-of-a-kind individual he’s always been.  Oh, and he is THRILLED to be done with school for the year. 

~ for 2 fun end of year parties done.  5 to go.  From trampoline parks to the rock gym, they have a blast with their friends. 

~ for a whirlwind Saturday: Carson Grace traveled with her team to Rockwall for Softball Playoff game, Cougars DOMINATED for another victory, and then turned around and rushed back to Tyler in the rain so the girls could get ready for PROM!  Seriously!!??  What a day!  Thankfully there was just enough time, and Carson Grace transformed in her room from a softball champion, emerging as a stunning vision in her ballgown.  At the country club where the dance was held, the Senior class and their dates gathered to take a group photo, and the emotions got really real.  It seemed like yesterday that all these kids were posing for class pictures on the playground.  Or on a fire truck. Gone are the pigtails and missing teeth and skinned up knees with Disney bandaids.  Instead they were beautiful grown young men and ladies.  They were poised and stunning and were arrayed in their finest. And they took my breath away.  Somebody please stop time.

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And now that I’ve survived this marathon week of mayhem, it’s Mother’s Day.   I’ve earned some stripes this week for sure.  Mother’s Day can stir up such varied emotions for different people:  longing-to-be mothers, first-time mothers, children who have lost their mothers and mothers who have lost their children, mamas with strained relationships, and those who have chosen not to be mothers.   Not everybody gets breakfast in bed and a new candle.  

At this moment at my house, there’s marinated fajita steak on the grill, and ALL MY KIDS ARE HOME.  There are saturated towels, clothes, and shoes strewn all over the patio and three dripping mermaid tails hanging on the fence.  Yelling kids on the trampoline, yelling kids chasing a soggy mess of a dog, kids staring at their phones, kids cracking up over Snapchat filters.  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.

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Oh, and today I got to take a nap in my hammock.

Thank you for giving thanks with me. 

“All your children shall be taught by the LORD, And great shall be the peace of your children.”  Isaiah 54:13