Because He First Loved Us

I’m just so sad.

I’m overwhelmed with sadness.

I’m sad to hear story after story of hatred and brutality and discord, and watch angry lines be drawn and sides taken.

I’m sad to hear of abuses of power and people who are either too afraid or too numbed to stand up for what is right.

I’m sad to hear people make broad critical judgments about “ALL” of any group of people.

I’m sad thinking about what the future will be like for my children. And for children everywhere.

I’m sad to read more stories of more and more people turning away from their faith, because they don’t understand how a loving God “lets this stuff happen over and over again.”

I am a white, middle aged, middle class Christian female. I am a stay at home mom. I am a mother of nine. I am an adoptive parent. I am a cancer mom. Just because we don’t have any or all of those things in common, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be able to relate to one another. We are humans. We have hopes and dreams and fears for ourselves and our children.

I don’t think any of us are called to be “color blind.” We SHOULD see our world in color. We just need to see all color as beautiful and valuable. I am a Christian. I love Jesus with all my heart, and I believe in the Bible and everything it says. And there are people who disagree with me. And I think we can still be friends. We may not worship together, but we can walk side-by-side. And if you are thirsty, I will share my water with you. And it’s my responsibility to live and act in such a way that you would feel safe to share yours with me.

Love is a verb. Love is a choice. If we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves (which we are), then what hurts my neighbor hurts me. Whether that hurt comes from a cancer diagnosis, the loss of a child, the loss of a job because of Covid 19, or racial inequality.

Thursday morning I sat down with my Littles, and talked to them about the value and beauty of people of every color. About the value of being kind to people we don’t agree with. And about the importance of standing up for what is right, whether or not anyone else will stand up.

I was so blessed when I asked them what they would do if they saw someone was getting picked on or bullied or hurt. They all replied immediately in unison, “PRAY!”

I will try to do everything I can to raise kind humans who will love others with the love of Christ, who will be friends to the lonely, and who will reach out to the kid who is alone at a lunch table or gets picked last on the kickball team. I pray that they will grow up to be peacemakers and bridge builders looking for the common ground instead of picking at differences.

I am sad. But I have hope. BUT GOD.

And because God is worthy of praise regardless of circumstances, I will give thanks.

I am thankful:

~ for perfectly sweet, drip-down-your-chin fresh peaches.

~ for progress in the kitchen. I was super bummed that new countertops will not work with the backsplash I lovingly and painstakingly handpainted 2 years ago. But it’s fine. So thankful for my husband’s remodeling skills.

February 2018
Bye bye backsplash

~ for the sound of my children’s voices worshipping.

~ for my belated-because-of-shipping Mother’s Day gift from Colton.

~ for ice cream.

~ for wonderful neighbors.

~ for tiny but tasty nibbles from our garden to add into our salads.

~ for my sweet kids who rub my hair when I have a headache.

~ for the Vintage & Company Gresham Barn Sale coming up Wednesday through Saturday. Excited to have several Giddyup & Whoa pieces for sale tucked in among the unique and charming vintage finds at the barn. And honored that the Early Bird entrance fees on Wednesday will benefit Gold Network of East Texas. Come check it out if you are local, you’ll be glad you did!

Let’s love one another well this week. Let’s love our neighbors. Let’s not hide behind social media and throw darts that we wouldn’t say face to face. Let’s look for the good and let’s BE THE GOOD. Let’s treat others BETTER THAN WE THINK THEY DESERVE. Let’s love like Jesus. Because if He can love ME, He really MUST love everybody.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4:19-21)

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:9-18)

Be Still

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUT GOD.

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

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

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

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

“Cease striving and know that I am God.”

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

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

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

And He is good at being God.

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

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

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

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Blessed Mama

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

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

I am thankful:

~ for the coffee that greets me every morning.   

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

~ for all my Indians. IMG_AFD2E107346C-1.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ for perfectly chilled coconut cream pie made with LOVE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

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

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

Hope, Joy, and Generosity

What a jam-packed week!  I was just so whupped at the end of last week, really had the wind knocked out of me.  So much heaviness.  And you know what… none of those circumstances have changed. But even those sad, harsh realities are overshadowed by the goodness and faithfulness of God.  He keeps pouring out His goodness.  His mercies really are new every morning. 

I am thankful:

~ the best testimony of all – Sawyer the Warrior had a PERFECT checkup at his quarterly ACE Oncology appointment, and our brave boy remains CANCER FREE!  Thank You Jesus!!!   As usual, Sawyer hopped up in Miss Sharon’s phlebotomy chair all by himself and laughed while she drew his blood. 9016C527-90CE-45D8-8B8F-27A8CBD0826A.JPGBB0774A4-7AD1-450B-8757-8F8CB23820BD.JPG

I am always freshly astounded and in awe of the courage of this incredible boy.  His appointment went smoothly, and once the labs came back with the “all clear,” Josh and I were finally able to breathe again.   That part never gets easier.  Every time they draw his blood, we wait to hear the best news or the worst news.  BUT GOD.  This visit we packed in lots of extra-special visits on top of the clinic appointment.  Josh and I were joined by my friend and Gold Network of East TX co-creator, Paula Kimmey, to present a check from GNET for $10,000 to an acclaimed pediatric oncologist from Children’s Hospital, Dr. Ted Laetsch, to assist funding his groundbreaking CAR-T therapy which uses genetically modified immune cells to treat Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Gold Network Photo 2.JPG9DD02FBC-58F9-4066-BC27-23CCE5E25B5C.JPG

Not only were we THRILLED to present this check to fund research at our own hospital (that’s about as LOCAL as it gets!), but it was even more meaningful because Dr. Laetsch was on the team of oncologists that cared for Sawyer when he was treated for Infant ALL!  What a surreal full-circle moment!   We also delivered a New Diagnosis Survival Kit to one of the new families we learned of last week, and we were introduced by a nurse to YET ANOTHER East Texas family – that makes 3 new diagnoses just last month.  Sawyer was able to meet the girl, several years his senior, and smiled sweetly at her in her hospital bed and told her simply, “Be brave!”  What an ambassador of HOPE! 

~ for a delicious, yet oddly romantic, candlelit lunch at Campisi’s.  We ordered from there several times while in the hospital, but had never been to the restaurant, so it was the perfect place to celebrate a great day.  Their BBQ chicken pizza is THE BOMB!  (Sawyer was not a fan, he stuck with cheese.)58B2E3C1-54CE-440E-8429-90A4879FD2D9.JPG

~ for Aunt Gina, who ran the morning and afternoon Rucker bus route while we were gone to Dallas and spent the day with Hurricane Tatum K.  And for her delicious gift of homemade Amish friendship bread for breakfast!IMG_20200224_112050147_Original.jpgIMG_4064.JPG

~ for a pretty successful first week of Intro-to Potty-Training with TK.  She is excited to use her little potty chair and has had only a couple of unfortunate mishaps in her pink Peppa Pig panties.  She is very proud of herself and never lets me forget her Skittles. IMG_4098.JPGIMG_4119.JPGIMG_4120.JPG

~ for sweet Zoe, who received the “Joyfulness” Award at chapel.  Love to see those brown eyes sparkle.   Her name means “life,” and I pray she always lives a life full of the JOY of the Lord. IMG_4073.JPG

~ for a lovely evening of fellowship prompted by some pretty exciting conversations.  We’ve been talking a lot about heaven lately, and one day last week Sawyer enquired, “What about people who have never heard about Jesus?  Do they get to go to heaven?” What a question!  I explained to him that Jesus is the ONLY way to heaven, and that that’s why it’s so important that we share the gospel with people who haven’t heard it.  And then he replied, “I REALLY want to go to heaven!  But I know it’s important that I really understand before I can ask Jesus into my heart…”

The rest of the conversation went like this

“Well, you have to believe in Jesus”

“I do!”

“You have to want Him to be your boss.”

“I dooo!”

“You have to want to serve Him your whole life.”

“I DOOOOO!”

You can only imagine this mama‘s heart.  We told Sawyer that maybe it would be a good idea for him to think of some more questions and sit down and talk about them with our pastor, Brother Joe.  He immediately hopped up excitedly, “Can we write them in a notebook?  I can’t read… but will you write down my questions for me, Mama?”

So of course I did.  When I told Sawyer that usually people make an appointment to meet Brother Joe at his office to talk, he promptly replied, “Nope!  I want him to come to our house.  For dinner.”  So that’s exactly what we did.  Brother Joe and Miss Becky came over, and we had a great visit.  Sawyer had some incredible questions: “Why did God want to make us?” and “Why doesn’t God make us obey him?”  That night at bedtime, he said it made him happy that Brother Joe and Miss Becky had come over for dinner.  He said “I liked asking him my questions,” and things have been left at that for now.   We will let Sawyer take the lead, and follow up when he brings it up again.  I never want to push or manipulate God’s perfect timing.  I’m excited about all the things that the Lord is stirring up and storing and building in his honest, tender, loving heart.  I can only imagine what the Lord has in store for him.

~ for Brother Joe and Miss Becky being extremely gracious in eating the meal we lovingly prepared for them.  Fried catfish.  Ask me if either Josh or I have ever fried catfish before.  It was on sale so we had wanted to try it.  It’s always a FABULOUS IDEA to cook a dish you’ve never attempted before for guests.  At least the brownies were good.  

~ for a tremendous progress on the refresh in Carson Grace‘s room / my studio.   Josh and I finished the herringbone wood-block backsplash and added some bright pops of color and gold for personality.  We had one wall with some sheet rock damage, so we created a fun and functional galvanized magnet board.  We still have some paint touch up to do, but for all practical purposes, the room is complete!  Carson Grace FaceTimed with me to check it out, and she is excited to get home and see it in person.  I look forward to sharing the space with her.  I love having a creative place to create!IMG_4275.JPGIMG_4282.JPGIMG_4178.JPGIMG_4268.JPGIMG_4269.JPGIMG_4283.jpg

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~ for the wonderful opportunity to attend Generosity Tyler, an event hosted by Jasper Ventures designed to encourage and inspire living generous lives.  I have to admit that I arrived at the event pretty much swallowed up by anxiety.  I felt very out of my element, very inadequate, and very overwhelmed.   I sat in my car in the parking lot for a while, taking my anxieties honestly to the Lord.  He reminded me who I am in Him, and that there is no need to ever be anyone else. It was a lovely event.  Paula and I heard testimonies from people who shared how they have personally been stretched and have experienced a paradigm shift on what it means to be biblically generous.  How the Lord wants us to be so generous WITH OUR LIVES that people find it shocking.  We had some great conversations with the people at our table and ate some delicious food. And at the end of the event, the generous hosts of Generosity Tyler generously gifted us the beautiful floral centerpieces from all the tables for our upcoming event!  I left so amazingly inspired and encouraged. IMG_4179.jpgIMG_4177.jpg

~ for a surprising, y’all-are-going-to-shake-your-heads-and-call-us-insane new addition to our Tribe.  Meet Birdie. IMG_2301.JPGIMG_3792.JPGIMG_4253.jpgIMG_4264.JPG

If you need me this week, I’ll be potty training a puppy and a 2 year old, sending my Freshman off on a camping trip with his class, and prepping for and hosting a Gold Network dinner for 100 guests.   Can’t wait to share all about it.  Thank you for your continued prayers for the hurting people around us: the newly diagnosed, the ones who have lost and are losing loved ones, the ones who may be keeping their pain hidden from anyone.  Let’s walk in joy, hope, and generosity this week!

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)

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9)

We hope

I am thankful:

~ for momentum! One more beam down! It’s tiring, backbreaking work, and such a mess, but I’m (thankfully) still in love with the results, and the end is in sight… (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, read about it here).

~ for the deep, heart to heart conversations with my 2 year old. Tatum, “ mama can I have a snack?

Me “ do you want an orange?

No! I want a snack!

Ok, then what DO you want?

An ORANGE!

~ for cheerful fresh tulips brightening my table.

~ for healing! We have all been taking our turns with THE CRUD over the last couple of weeks…intermittent fevers, coughs, runny noses. Last weekend, Sawyer’s cough intensified, and he woke up Monday with a fever. We don’t mess around with anything when it comes to him, and fevers set this mama on high alert, so we were at the pediatrician’s office at 8:30am.

Dr. Everett definitely suspected that he could be in the early stages of developing pneumonia, but we agreed to just watch him closely before jumping forward to any meds. So he missed 2 days of school, and we had a couple pretty rough nights, but Jesus protected Sawyer, and he got better instead of worse! Glory to the Lord! He’s still a little weak, and tires easily, but I told him if he rests well tonight, he’ll finally be allowed to run at recess again. He is SO READY. He told me he’s been being the soccer goalie at recess, and “I’m so terrible at it Mama.” And I think the rest of us are ALMOST well also.

~ for the opportunity to participate in another Vintage & Co.  Jodi does the most amazing job of curating her collections of beautiful and unique vintage finds. It’s always an honor to be able to add a few Giddyup & Whoa pieces to her sales.

~ for the simple little things that bring such joy to my kids. Like pancakes for dinner. You would have thought it was the finest gourmet cuisine ever cooked. I bet they each thanked me 6 times.

~for my kiddos’ sweet and innocent prayers at midweek service. They prayed for healing for everyone who was sick, prayed for their older siblings to make good choices and to “stay on God’s path,” and one of them prayed simply, ”Dear God, help me to obey and have self control.” How it blesses me to hear them learning to talk to their Heavenly Father, and believe that He hears them.

~ for another fun and simple DIY Goodwill makeover. Love those 99¢ finds!

~ for a great time celebrating a dear friend’s birthday. He was turning 50, so the theme of the party was “OLD.” I love Sawyer’s interpretation…

~ for Carson Grace having the opportunity to sing Beethoven’s 9th with her ETBU Concert Choir this weekend. It was a huge concert, and we weren’t able to be there; but so grateful that Grandmommy, Uncle Justin, and Aunt Gina were able to go support her (and fill her up with some much needed Whataburger.)

~ for the sound of the rain against my window, especially when I’m snug in my bed.

~ for my cuties that just happened to end up looking like little Valentines for church. How are they growing up so fast?

~ for an AWESOME evening at our quarterly Gold Network CONNECT group. The concept was conceived from our trips to Lighthouse Family Retreat, when all the kids would go play and swim, and the parents would gather for a small group time called Common Ground. All these moms and dads from various walks of life, different faith backgrounds, a variety of diagnoses… but all of us had the worst thing in common. We all had a child with cancer. And we pretty much instantly became family. We listened to each other’s stories and we cried and we prayed for one another. And we encouraged one another. And we laughed. The connections were real and deep and unexpected and life-changing. It gave us so much hope. Josh and I had no idea how much we were thirsting for relationships with this specific community of people. And we just knew we had to try to bring something like it in Tyler. Last night we had seven pediatric cancer families around our table. We feasted on food from Oliveto and laughed and talked and ate and cried. And it was pure gold.

Our work with Gold Network of East Texas keeps us pretty entrenched in the childhood cancer world, even though Sawyer is now 3 years off treatment. (That fact is staggering to me). We celebrate all that God has done, and yet we are still continually learning what life-after-cancer means for us. And every day, I am still talking about cancer, and still thinking about cancer. We haven’t left cancer behind. Representing GNET, I am speaking with cancer families daily. I follow their updates and pray for them. I work on Gold Network event planning, manage the website, and almost daily update social media with announcements or post about childhood cancer awareness. It’s always at the forefront of my thoughts and day to day activities. But in such a different context from 3 or 4 or 5 years ago. But all it takes is to listen to one of our GNET parents begin to talk about that terrible, earthshaking moment when everything changed in their life… and I’m right there again. Sitting in a pediatric exam room on a red vinyl cough with a greenish-white baby in my arms, seeing Dr. Everett come in and close the door behind him with a look on his face like someone had kicked him in the stomach with a steel-toed boot. It never goes away. I see all these families and the pained seared in their eyes. Forever changed. Some of them are giving their brave kids toxic meds every day and praying for the cancer to go away. Some of them, like us, have graduated from the treatment routine, and pray against long term side effects and for the cancer to stay away forever. And some of them have said goodbye to their child, and now they wait, and now the hope they pray for is for the day they will be reunited with their child. It never goes away.

EVERYONE is walking through something. The loss of a child. Caring for an aging parent. A strained marriage. A prodigal child. Struggles at work. Chronic pain. Addiction. Loneliness. Anxiety. PTSD. And the world screams at us from 2 camps: either DO MORE! GET YOURS! CRUSH THE COMPETITION! YOU DESERVE TO RISE! Or on the other extreme: SLOW DOWN! TAKE CARE OF YOU! SELF CARE! YOU DESERVE A BREAK!

We all just need Jesus. Because none of us want what we REALLY deserve. We know the mess we truly are inside: the brokenness, the selfishness, the depravity. But He loves us anyway, right where we are. But even though the gift of salvation is FREE, it does have a cost. We have to say “no” to something to say “yes” to Him.

Saying “yes” to Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean our circumstances will change. Sometimes they do. Often they do not. But our PERSPECTIVE changes. And we don’t have to walk alone ever again. Because of Jesus, we are promised that the end of the story is good.

If you’ve made it to the end of this, thanks for reading the thoughts I’m musing tonight. I’ve got a lot on my mind, and there’s heaviness weighing on my heart. BUT GOD. Because of Him, I pray with so much hope. Unspeakable joy is COMING.

Have a good week friends. Reach out to somebody who could use a little hope.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9)

“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

The Investment

So…this week we did a thing.  I asked you to pray for our big week, and it’s clear that you did!  

Monday morning, Josh and I said “goodbye” to our babies.  And drove to Dallas.  And got on an airplane.  And by that afternoon, we were sitting on a beach in Mexico. 

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Last month we celebrated 20 years of marriage, and we made a commitment that we couldn’t let that milestone pass by without a special trip.  (But we had to make it through our busy September first!)  During the first half of our marriage, we dated regularly and we took several trips to the Caribbean.  A white sand beach has always been our favorite place.  The last time we took a trip together, just us two, was 10 years and 5 kids ago.  Life happened.  A miscarriage, 3 adoptions, and a pregnancy happened all inside 13 months.  Then cancer happened.  The day our marriage turned 15, we weren’t even in the same city.  Josh was home with 7 kids and I was in the hospital fighting for our baby’s life.  Within the last 5 years we have launched a non-profit, a 5K race, and a small business.  Taking a trip to the beach has not been on our radar for a decade. 

So this week we took 5 whole days just to ourselves.  We sat on the glistening sand and listened to the crash of the waves.  We snorkeled every day in crystal clear water with literally hundreds of fish.  We drank the best lattes we have ever had under the lush cover of giant palms.  We held hands.  We got up when we wanted to and didn’t watch the clock all day.  We LAUGHED. We prayed together on the beach and thanked God for our marriage and for blessing us with so many incredible children and the most remarkable life.  We told our story to young couples and old couples.  And we kissed a lot. 

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Oh, and we went deep sea fishing and caught some giant fish and I got sick as a dog and puked my guts out for hours.  It wasn’t ALL poetry. 

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Meanwhile, Aunt Gina Sue, resident fearless superhero, was commander in chief at the homestead.  Who accepts the challenge of 5 days of caring for 7 kids????  (For those reading who don’t know us personally, there ARE actually 9 kids, but 2 are grown and out of the house).  Gina did an amazing job.  (Understatement of the year). The house ran like a well-oiled machine, AND everyone had fun!  She took them on outings and treated with fun snacks every day… I think it was a vacation for them from Mom and Dad!  (Maybe not so much of a vacation for Gina herself.  We are hoping she still speaks to us by Thanksgiving.)  Seriously, she did the impossible, and no matter what challenges she encountered, she did it with such grace, with the unflinching support of Uncle Justin.  We could not be more grateful.  (We also are VERY AWARE of the focused fervent prayers they both prayed for our safe return!)IMG_9116 2.jpg

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Sawyer celebrated the 50th Day of School with Coke floats and a sock hop!

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Marriage is hard.  Raising kids is hard.  Life. Is. HARD.  There’s never a good time to get away.  There’s never enough money.  But God.  He makes a way when there is no way.  He brings beauty out of ashes and streams in the desert.    Josh and I can both say in all honesty that our marriage is better now than it was a decade ago, or even at the very beginning.  We have been through hell.  We have screwed up and hurt one another and let each other down.  We have argued about big things and about nothing.  We have wasted time over absolute garbage.  And then we have picked up the pieces and moved on.  We have apologized and we have forgiven.  We have picked at each other and laughed until we cried.  We are best friends that get on each other’s nerves but we would choose each other every time.  

Friends, I beg of you: Invest.  Invest where it counts.  This world is scary and life is short.  Josh and I have learned that everything can change in an instant.  Every THING you love can be taken away.  And there’s ALWAYS going to be another crisis.  We have to invest in our marriages.  Invest in our kids.  Invest in the lives of others.  These investments are truly ACTS OF WORSHIP.  I could never begin to thank the countless people who have invested in Josh and I over the years, pouring into us with love and encouragement and TIME.  I also know that we are blessed beyond measure, and that not everyone can take a trip to Mexico.  Trust me, it was a great stretch and a sacrifice for us.  My anxiety tried to ruin the trip before it ever began, and 101 things came up that could have squashed the whole plan.  But God.  I know it was so important for us.  An INVESTMENT.  So even if you just go on a walk together; or if it means staying up an extra 30 minutes after the kids go to bed to spend time alone on the couch….it’s WORTH IT.  When life gets hard (and stays hard), sometimes we wrap up in our hurt, and we believe that lie that “no one else understands.”  Or that we shouldn’t “bother” anyone with “our junk” because “they have enough of their own stuff going on.” (Sound familiar?)  THAT IS SUCH A CROCK!  That is satan’s tool to try to keep us trapped in shame and loneliness, isolated and disconnected from one another.  We are STRONGER WHEN WE ARE CONNECTED!  And we are UNSTOPPABLE when that connection is ROOTED IN CHRIST!  We have to pull together instead of pulling away.  See the needs of others instead of focusing on ourselves.  That goes for our marriages and all our other relationships.  The more we pour into one another, the greater the return.  59372532050__FA4ED520-2905-4A5B-985B-E20243DEE656.JPGIMG_9114 2.JPGIMG_9097.jpg

So I am thankful for :

White sand, great coffee, and time with my best friend.  I’m thankful for impossibly blue skies and impossibly clear water.  I’m thankful for God’s limitless creativity in nature.  I’m thankful for tears cried on the beach while asking God for BIG things for my husband and for my family.  Thankful for the sound of the waves crashing that I tried my best to memorize, and for technology that allowed me to video it so I can play it any time I want to transport myself to our place for a moment.  For people who love my kids as they were their own, even though there’s a million of them.  For the sweetest kids in the whole world that blanketed our bed with “welcome home” cards.  And I’m thankful to be home on American soil with my babies underfoot, my own bed, unlimited safe drinking water, and the ability to eat dinner without using a can of OFF.  I am thankful that stuffed iguanas are WAY cuter than real ones. I have renewed appreciation for my mountains of laundry and my big brown bus full of noisy kids and my shaggy dog and 87,000 things going on and the sound of LAUGHTER.   I am freshly reminded that even though it’s relentlessly, exhaustingly HARD, I LOVE MY LIFE and I wouldn’t trade it.   Lord, keep me in the place of humble gratitude for all you have entrusted to me. 

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Thanks for giving thanks with me!

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”  (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”  (2 Corinthians 9:6-8 )

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