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 

Thankful for a Faithful God

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

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

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

Back to School Daze

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

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

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

Home Sweet Home

I am thankful:

~to be HOME! We had such a wonderful trip to the North, and made so many incredible memories, but there is truly NO PLACE LIKE HOME!

~to be out of the car!!!!!! Mercy, 40+ hours is a loooooong time! It was a long drive to Kansas City and then on to Winona, MN over two days. Then we spent a minimum of an hour each day in the car visiting various family members or attractions. 3 hours further North to the cabin in Wisconsin. And then, after such a tiring, jam-packed week of activities, the drive home was TORTURE. It seemed like we would never get to Texas, and once we did, the miles just went on forever. So thankful to be back to our home, our bed, our pets, and our coffee pot!

~for both old and new memories. I truly can’t put into words how meaningful it was for me to revisit places from my early life, and especially to do so with the people I love the most. To show my kids where I went to elementary school and high school. They have seen the pictures of their mama with big 80’s hair as a cheerleader, so it actually meant something to them. It meant something to Josh to see the beautiful surroundings of Decorah, Iowa where I went to college, the dorm where I met my friend Katie. Especially with our own daughter leaving for college soon. (Their running joke all week was that I had rebelled from an Amish heritage and gone to Corn College.) I showed them the treacherous winding gravel road that I rode my bicycle down to Grandma Grace’s house, road with them in the fields where I first learned to drive my Grandpa’s antique tractor, and introduced them to the delicacy of fresh and deep fried CHEESE CURDS! Many of these places also hold memories that are not at all sweet and warm. But to walk the old paths, now as an adult, and to see through the eyes of a new creation in Christ, AND to do it with my family…it was emotional and healing and beautiful. Josh and I even recreated a picture we had taken the first time I brought him to Minnesota to meet my family, 21 years ago. My how we have changed – I scarcely recognize those kids. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

~ for priceless connections with the kids with their cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and great grandparents.

~ for Chick-Fil-A!!! Oh how we missed you! We hit Sulphur Springs on the way home just in time for dinner, and the car erupted in cheers when we pulled up! Tatum K was SO DONE with the car at that point, but she perked up for chicken and french fries!

~ for the best neighbors on the planet. Our sweet friends across the street lovingly tended to our menagerie all week: 2 dogs, cat, guinea pig, and tank of lake fish. Another friend mowed our yard just because. Another maintained our pool so that it was clear and sparkling when we returned. This weekend, Josh was working on a faulty sprinkler in the yard and a neighbor came over with a shovel and spare parts and jumped right in to help! What a blessing to live side by side with such caring folks.

~ for new Dekalb Heublein Seeds hats for all! The kids hardly ever take them off. I took a picture to show my dad, and Sawyer insisted that I take one of him “wif this fing in my mouf, like a REAL FARMER.”

~ for unexpected, unbelievable generosity.

~ for the eager, loving hearts of my kids. “Mom! Come look! There is a beautiful Heavenly Glory outside! Come take a picture!” They are faithful and dedicated prayer warriors for any need, from a tummy ache to cancer. They love to help and cook and they give tremendous foot rubs. And they worship Jesus at the top of their lungs! Our trip served as a powerful reminder of how very special and unique and loving they are.

~ for reaching Sawyer’s 5 year “Cancerversary.” If you follow my Facebook or Instagram, you already read my post on July 23. If not, here you go:

“Cancerversary. So much has become hinged on this day. BC – Before Cancer. AD – After Diagnosis. 5 years ago life as we knew it ended. “Your baby has cancer.” The words fell into the hushed ER room, and time stopped. From that moment on, every single day was lived knowing it could quite literally be the last. I stopped making plans. I lived in a strained tension between the faith I clung to and the grim reality that slapped me in the face every time I walked the halls of the Oncology floor. Fast forward through 3 years of blood transfusions and spinal taps, bone marrow biopsies and adult chemotherapy, of administering shots in our bathroom and my baby taking his first steps in a blow up pool at the hospital.  Port placement. Port removal. A near fatal drug overdose/reaction. 2 Christmases in the hospital. Dozens of ER visits and hundreds of trips from Tyler to Dallas.  But also relationships built, lives changed, prayers answered. A front row seat to see the Body of Christ rising up and meeting the needs of the broken.  We’ve clung to each other and clung to Him for every breath.  And God has shown off. His Glory has surrounded us, overwhelmed us, overshadowed us. And today Sawyer is beautiful and bright and strong and healthy. If you didn’t know, you’d never dream he had fought this battle his whole little life. He is proud of his scar on his chest, announcing, “I don’t need a port anymore. Jesus healed-ed me, and NO MORE CANCER!” The doctors said he would experience developmental delays. But God. The  doctors gave him 24 hours to live. But God. BUT GOD!!!!”

The end of summer countdown has begun. 2.5 weeks until Littles go back to school. Which means 2.5 weeks until Sawyer will go to school EVERY DAY (as opposed to MWF last year). He’s so excited, so ready. I wish it wasn’t so hard for me to let him go. I’m so proud of him, and so thankful to God for allowing him to grow up to be so healthy and bright. He is truly a warrior, an overcomer. Lord, help me to trust You with his life today the way I did when he was a frail, sick baby. Help me to be as brave as Sawyer.

Brave indeed. Next Sunday we will load up and move Carson Grace to Marshall to start her journey at East Texas Baptist University. She is going early to take a week-long mini-mester as a part of her Music Major requirements. My heart isn’t ready to let her go either. I have cried about every 7 minutes all week. I know it’s time, I know she’s ready, and I’m so proud. But she’s my baby girl. Lord, help me to remember that she is Yours, not mine.

Please continue your prayers for sweet Lucas and his family.

And I’m sad to share ANOTHER new diagnosis in East Texas, 3 year old Harold, with an aggressive malignant brain tumor. Little Harold has already endured 2 brain surgeries this month, with a 3rd expected this week. Please lift these precious families to the Lord, for healing and for comfort in the midst of their worst nightmare.

Hug tightly the ones you love. Life can change in an instant. You are faithful Lord, and You are good.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” Psalm 121:1-8

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

Generosity

What. A. Week.  I am utterly spent, and my heart is full.  Generosity is definitely the word ringing in my heart this week.

I am thankful:

~ for one of the very best GCS elementary Spring Concerts I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a couple).  The 4th and 5th graders (including our Samantha) sang worship songs in several languages, played melodiously on their recorders (insert winky face here), and played instruments as well as used sign language.  I was so moved by their clear, young voices lifted in praise, and I was struck by how much I knew they were blessing their Heavenly Father’s heart.  I can’t express how grateful I am that our children have had the privilege of growing up in the community of GCS.  There’s no such thing as a perfect school: there are highs and lows, strengths and weaknesses.  And our kids are far from perfect.  But I know that they are getting SOAKED IN JESUS, at home, at school, at church…and I know that I know that I KNOW that the years my babies have spent at GCS, engulfed in the faithful partnership of prayers, instruction, and encouragement, are shaping their tender hearts for their future.  And God continues to make a way where there is no way, through His unparalelled and unexplainable generosity.  There are no words. 

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~ for a rip-roaring good time for my little cowgirl!  Zoe had a blast at 1st grade Rodeo Day with her classmates: roping steers, scooping cow patties, barrel racing.  She chowed down on delicious homemade chili and dirt pudding.  Such a fun day.

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~ for a special rite of passage this week: Tatum K’s very first Sunday School class.  Our beloved Miss Linda has taught every one of our babies at the age of 2, and her gentle hugs and tender instruction have welcomed each of them into her classroom.  Absolutely surreal to see little Tatum K with the flag and her stickers and her little crown.  My heart. 

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~ and then for the event we have been eagerly anticipating and planning for for months: the Children’s Cancer Fund Gala and fashion show!  It was quite a production to gather all the kiddos from the ends of the earth, and pack the bus with all their gear.  (We can’t even make it to CHURCH on time…we had to make it to Dallas by 3 o’clock.  The struggle is REAL!)  By some miracle, we made it, checked into our complementary room at the palatial Hilton Anatole hotel, and took Sawyer to the check-in area.  The cancer kids are the VIPs of the event, and all the real action takes place backstage, where parents are NOT ALLOWED.  Instead, they are each assigned to a “buddy,” a staff member from Children’s Hospital.  How thrilled was this mama to find out that SaSa was going to be in the capable hands of our beloved Nurse Brittney!  It’s always hard for me to let him go, but I trust her COMPLETELY.  Sawyer had the time of his life backstage with Brittney: he played games, got new toys, and made crafts. He met some pretty cool celebrities: Chuck E. Cheese, Spider-Man, Batman, and Wonder Woman.  Oh, and Troy Aikman, Roger Staubach, and Tony Romo were there too, but they were not nearly as exciting as the superheroes. 

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Out in the ballroom, Josh and I had the rest of the Tribe, all doodled up in our finest.  Incredible silent auction items, including the original paintings created by each fashion show child, filled the lavishly decorated atrium, and beautiful people were everywhere.  No detail was left overlooked for this “Evening in the Garden,” from the stunning floral wall backdrop for 3-D pictures; the intricately embossed programs, menus, and auction paddles; to the wisps of smoke hanging on the massive runway, flanked with impressive cascades of flowers suspended from the ceiling overhead.  Our children’s eyes could not get any bigger!  (Nor could mine!)  One of the highlights of the evening for Josh and I was watching our children get their first taste of fine cuisine. The menu was over the top. Our kids are in no way picky eaters, they are very adventurous and great sports. But this was definitely quite a stretch for them… 2 year old Tatum K loves salad, and she dove right into her plate like a big girl with a big fork! She stabbed a juicy red beet and popped it in her mouth.  But it immediately came right back out!  I think she thought it was a tomato, her favorite.  Beets apparently are not as palatable.  Zoe wasn’t too sure about the peppery watercress. Tatum DEVOURED the juicy filet mignon once I diced it for her, while the other Littles were very entertaining in their attempts to saw off hunks of steak and then laboriously chew and chew and chew and chew it.  Kora’s face wore every variety of disgust as she sampled each course, from the goat cheese in the salad to the roasted brussel sprouts and finally the edible flowers on the panna cotta dessert.  Gavin, Big Kids, and Mom and Dad on the other hand, happily chowed down every decadent course with gusto.  The Littles managed to get by on dinner rolls and the bits of fruit garnishing the dessert.

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It was awesome to watch each of the models, kids of all ages in various stages on and off treatment, walking with celebrities and superheroes and community helpers down the runway. Some were shy, and some worked the stage with confidence and swag.  Sawyer came out with his escorts, members of the Dallas Fire and Rescue team.  Click here to check out the video of his runway walk…he owned that stage with long strides and tipped his hat to the crowd like a pro. It was priceless.  I hope you can hear the announcer, who quoted Sawyer, “I have no more cancer, because Jesus healed-ed me!”  The wonderful folks at CCF even had that phrase embroidered on a blanket for him!  

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But no matter the setting, the beauty of the decorations, the grandeur of the hotel surroundings or the prestige of the celebrities in the room…the inescapable fact was that we were here because of childhood cancer.  Our family never could have afforded the tickets to attend the event, even just to watch Sawyer.  Our attendance was made possible because of the personal kindness of the Executive Director and the generosity of another cancer family who had lost their daughter to cancer several years ago.  This night wasn’t just a high society event for entertainment, but Children’s Cancer Fund is committed to the mission of funding cutting-edge childhood cancer research, staffing Dallas Children’s with top notch Child Life Specialists, and they have been supporting families battling childhood cancer for 31 years!  Initial reports show that more than $1 million was raised at the Gala!  Just astounding.  It was a very special, truly unforgettable evening for our family. 

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~Saturday morning was ANOTHER special event, the 8th Annual Collin Boyd Strikeout 4 Cancer Baseball Tournament.  Collin is a 2x childhood cancer survivor here in Tyler, and his dedicated family hosts the tournament every year to raise funds to support other newly diagnosed families in East Texas.  Like us, they have become passionate about bringing beauty and outreach out of the ashes of their personal pain, and they work tirelessly to involve the community in this incredible event. This year’s beneficiary was sweet Georgia Crim.  In one day, the tournament, home run derby, food sales, and silent auction raised more than $30,000 which is directly gifted to the Crim family!  GLORY TO GOD!  Please continue to pray for Georgia.  She had a successful surgery to implant her port and her first round of chemotherapy this past Tuesday.  Miraculously, she was able to attend the tournament on Saturday, and was mostly smiles (she and Sawyer are such sweet buddies).  But it’s a long road ahead.  And please also be in prayer for Baby Lucas, who goes in for his 4th infusion tomorrow.  Jesus, we ask for HEALING for these precious babies!

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People hint vaguely sometimes, not necessarily with ill intent, that families with terminally or chronically ill children “sure get to do some amazing things.”  And yes, sometimes that’s true.  Sawyer has met sports stars, gotten autographs and tremendous gifts, had VIP treatment, and our family was given a free trip to Hawaii.  Unbelievable.  Ask me if 1% of these “side benefits” are worth holding my son down while a 1 inch needle is pierced in his chest ONCE.  Let alone monthly or weekly for 3 years.  The countless nights in the hospital, the dreadful drugs and side effects, the PTSD and strain on marriage and family….ask any parent of a medically fragile child if it’s worth a fast pass at Disneyland or a backstage meet-and-greet with Taylor Swift.  There are no “perks” that come with a sick child.  Don’t get me wrong, we are genuinely grateful for the unique opportunities we have experienced because of the compassion and generosity of others.  But it’s not a fair trade for a healthy child.  Not by a long shot. 

Let’s love one another GENEROUSLY this week.  Everyone is walking through something.  Everyone can benefit from an extra measure of grace and compassion.  Maybe you are the answer to someone’s prayers. 

Thank you for giving thanks with me. 

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

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever!  Amen.”  Ephesians 3:20-21

Unexpected

I am thankful:

~ last week I forgot to report the wonderful news that my dear friends from Mississippi who had traveled to Dallas for work and then found themselves TRAPPED in the ICU at Children’s Hospital finally got to GO HOME!  Ian improved enough to be moved from ICU to the general Oncology floor, and then they had the long tedious wait for ANC to rise enough for docs to feel confident that he was well enough to make the 8 hour drive home.  But after a FULL WEEK unexpectedly stuck in an unfamiliar hospital 500 miles away, they made it back safely to the comfort of their home and the rest of their children!  So very thankful for Jesus’ healing, for the supernatural grace He gave them to endure the waiting, and for “my” awesome nurses who (no surprise) went out of their way to love on this family and make their stay as comfortable as possible.  They are the real life Dream Team folks!!!  No nurses better will you find!  

~ this week we had the great privilege of celebrating Sophie the Brave’s 4th birthday with “Do More for Soph Day.”  I wrestled with it a lot more than I anticipated.  It brought up really hard emotions.  Spreading unexpected joy and blessings around was sweet, but was sharply contrasted with the very present reality of wishing she was here for her Mama to hold, here to blow out the candles on her cake and be sassy.  It took my breath away at times.  Sawyer, Tatum K and I had fun picking out little gifts at the store for the ones on our hearts, and we talked about Sophie all day long.  Sawyer said, “I’m so glad Sophie is happy with Jesus, but I know her Mama is sad.”  He also said he thinks she’s on Jesus’ lap having birthday cake.  We made several stops and deliveries, and after picking up kids we did some more!  Honestly, that part was exhilarating.  I’ve never paid for the order of a car behind me in a drive thru before – now THAT was fun!  It was so refreshing to serve.  We get tunnel vision, so conditioned to focus on our mindless mundane routines, that we forget there’s a big world out there full of hurting people. I noticed it when I was at the store later in the week during my bi-weekly grocery haul. Tatum K was in the buggy, happily munching her goldfish and blissfully chirping, “Hi friend,” to everyone she saw.  But everyone else around us just looked…beaten down.  Faces expressionless.  Downtrodden.  Sleepwalking.  Her smile lit up the place.  So often that’s the case, if you smile at someone, they are likely to smile back. BUT SOMEBODY HAS TO SMILE FIRST!!!  You just never know what someone’s going through. I have had plenty of sleepwalker days.  I’ve had many days when I was the one with no smiles to give.    But if you find yourself ABLE to be a light…GO AHEAD AND SHINE!

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~ for God giving me an extra measure of grace on Sophie Day to bless one more person: my son.  Cooper had a track meet (yes, he does baseball AND track!).  I rarely make it to track meets, because they are so long and the events so spread out.  And he is always such a great sport about it. But even though we’d already had a full and utterly exhausting day, I knew how much it would mean to him if I was there.  The weather was perfect, so I packed up our dinner and chairs and headed to the school.  Cooper told me his event would be around 6:45.  Of course, he didn’t end up running until 8:30!!!  It was the longest 2 hours of all time with my whiny, cranky past-their-bedtime entourage.  But he ran, we cheered, and then we headed home (we DID NOT stay for his NEXT race, which ended up being at about 10:25pm).  And on my way home, I received this text from Cooper, “Thanks for coming Momma. It really meant a lot.  I love you.”  That was MY favorite blessing of the day. 

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~ for Free Cone Day at DQ.  Always thankful for those rare unexpected opportunities to come out looking like “Nice Mom.”  She doesn’t show up too often.  

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~ for an unexpected midday knock on the front door. Colton popped in just to say “hi” and have lunch with his mom.

~ so proud of our Sam, who did an outstanding job as ToastMaster in her fourth grade class this week.

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~ for two special Giddyup &Whoa signs completed and delivered this week.

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~ thankful to have survived my marathon Friday. Toastmasters at 8 AM, a long-overdue breakfast date with a friend, three back-to-back grocery stores, mountain of groceries loaded in-car-out-of-car-and-put-away, kids picked up from school at 1pm, three dozen cupcakes baked, dinner-on-the-go cooked and packed up, and finally loaded up the Tribe for a softball game at 5. Don’t get me wrong, they were all blessings, every single one. But this mama was WIPED!  Almost inevitably, the anxiety monster really assaults when my to-do list is longer than my leg.  When I have lots on “my” list to accomplish, it all starts to swarm before my eyes and my mind gets overwhelmed.  So as the thoughts raced out of control and fingers of panic began to squeeze my chest, I just reached out to the Lord and begin to pray aloud in the car.  It’s not magic, I wasn’t just instantly delivered… but He always gives grace upon grace, and He got me through my day (and even most of my list.)

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~ for thrilling news from a dear friend. After a long time of seeking the Lord and waiting, they received a life-changing phone call.  They were chosen as adoptive parents, and their new baby was about to be born!  Not even knowing if they would bring home a boy or a girl, they hopped on a plane and flew across the country.  And that was not the only uncertainty…there is always the chance that the birth mom will change her mind. But God had a plan.  And now their dreams of becoming parents have come true…tonight they are home with their baby girl.  My heart overflows!  Prayers for them as they settle into their new life, and prayers for the unspeakably selfless birth mother who made the hardest choice.  Glory to the Lord!

~ for the blessing of hosting a sweet, sweet baby shower at our home with some of my dear sisters.  What a blessing to come alongside a family and love like Jesus!  That is what my church family is best at!   

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~ for the surreal blessing of Carson Grace being asked to sing her original song for special music at church.  There is no greater blessing than to see your children stepping into their God-ordained gifts. 

As I close this longer-than-usual Sunday Gratitude, I hope you’ve made it this far.  I ask for continued prayer for Baby Lucas, still in the early stages of his cancer treatment.  And this week, a new prayer request.  Another GCS family received the unexpected crushing news that their beautiful daughter had a brain tumor.  She has had her first surgery, which the doctors consider a success, but the road ahead is long and terrifying.  Her name is Georgia, she’s 4 years old, and she is still currently in the Pediatric ICU at Children’s awaiting pathology reports that will dictate the treatment plan.  Friends, let’s carry this family boldly to the throne of the Father, and ask for abundance of grace and healing for their precious baby girl.  I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again.  Oh how I hate cancer, but oh, how I love Jesus. 

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Pray for Georgia

Embrace the unexpected, the good and the bad.  God is the God of all of it.  Unexpected good is treasure.  Unexpected bad… well, we are reminded of our need for a Savior, our need for grace, our need for one another.  

Thank you for giving thanks with me.  

“It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:13-18