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)

Pearls

I am thankful:

~ for a fun surprises.  Our Children’s pastor popped by to say hello and drop off bubbles for all the kids.  Then another friend dropped off a box of hand-me-downs for Tatum K.  And we had another porch drop-off, a handmade large scale Yatzee game (“Yard-zee”) with the sweetest note!  I am so blessed by how thoughtful and kind people have been to come up with ways to be an encouragement during this season.IMG_7309.jpgIMG_59868D58ED9C-1.jpeg~ for the Lord’s protection.  The kids and I had our daily walk, down to the end of our road and back.  On our way back, the kids rode on ahead of me, and I thought I saw something on the road.  As I got closer, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing was real: a MASSIVE snake, no less than 6 feet long, stretched out right where we had walked minutes before.  My knees immediately started shaking, but I quickly passed it with Tatum K in her stroller (not before snapping a quick picture of it first of course!)IMG_7456.jpg 

~ for sweet moments in the midst of school.

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~ for the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Wednesday, Tatum K suddenly came down with a fever, and said “her feelings hurted.”  My mind didn’t go anywhere completely crazy.  We’ve been quarantined faithfully, I actually wasn’t worried about “IT.”  But I did not relish the thought of a house full of sick kids on lockdown.  We established a quarantine within our quarantine in our bedroom for her, and kept her away from all the other children.   Changed my clothes EVERY time I held her, and re-washed ALL the bed linens every day.  IMG_6ECB7AF1E2AB-1.jpegIMG_7741On day three, as I was getting her ready for bed, I noticed a faint rash across her back and groin area, and my stomach dropped.  I immediately made arrangements to take her in to Dr. Everett the next day.  We had our first experience with an outdoor pediatrician appointment.  IMG_97F4A4E420A4-1.jpegAnd sure enough: strep throat + scarlet fever, just like Sawyer had almost 2 months ago.  We can’t imagine how she got it.  I can’t believe it could still be living on a surface from that long ago, especially with how much sanitizing I’ve been doing.  It’s baffling.  But so thankful that we caught it quickly.   Already after just a couple doses of antibiotics, she is fully recovered.  Her “feelings are betta now” and she is back to her spunky, sassy self.IMG_7607~for our very first FULLY INTACT, completed 1000 piece puzzle!  It was glorious!  Now, there was some mischievous tomfoolery surrounding the last couple days of completion… a couple of my smarty-pants kids thought it would be funny to steal a piece or two.  But eventually they were all recovered.  It was a thrilling victory. IMG_7682

~ for our pups.  Whether they are at my side when I paint, crowding their way on the hammock when I am trying to have a quiet moment, or chasing each other around and over the furniture, they keep us smiling.52C4AD9A-05D2-4DDD-B620-2783568DF2D5IMG_7433.jpgIMG_AA46211B7BD9-1.jpegIMG_DADC55B13268-1.jpeg

~ for the deep sigh of relief after I make it through another of the kids’ math problems.  Seriously though.  Who invented story problems?  I don’t think he was a very nice guy.  The best part of every day is the moment when I no longer have to be a math teacher. 

~for three kids who were able to receive their Superior Cougar Fitness awards via an online meeting with their teacher and receive a printable copy of their certificates.  I’m so grateful that the school is doing everything they can to accommodate for special memories for the students during this strange time of separation.IMG_7864

~ again for wonderful and good-natured neighbors.  One morning the kids came in from outside shrieking, “We found a turtle!“  They were thrilled and instantly began creating a turtle habitat. The next day, they were eager to show it off to our neighbors, who promptly exclaimed, “That’s OUR turtle! We found it yesterday!”  And so, the turtle was returned to his rightful “finder keepers.“  But after some chatting back-and-forth, it seems that they have all agreed to shared custody. Poor little fella.  He sure wandered into the wrong yard! TWICE!IMG_78CA873E3CCA-1.jpegIMG_ED2341D7B04E-1.jpeg

~ for the most gorgeous weather!  The kids have swam a couple of times – it’s really NOT warm enough for swimming, but they don’t really care.  It’s been perfect weather for our walks, wiffle ball tournaments, for washing the car, and daily picnics.IMG_233CBCE2669C-1.jpegIMG_6C2635C5779F-1.jpeg

~ for a wonderful day of celebration. One of our Gold Network of East Texas heroes celebrated her last chemotherapy this week after two years of treatment for leukemia. To celebrate, her family arranged for a drive-through celebration.  What a joyful day! GLORY TO THE LORD!IMG_7831IMG_7809IMG_7810IMG_0238C4F01D87-1.jpeg

~ for 90% completion of the DIY project from last week.  We had painted the mudroom not long ago with a homemade mix of some leftover paint we had on hand, and we never loved it.  And the paint we had used on the mudroom door had never cured.   So we gave the room a fresh coat of soft gray paint (replacing the wanna-be-grey-but-actually-more-like-baby-blue color) and the door was first peeled, then primed, then painted navy, then white (in 18 hours) before we finally landed on the right shade of medium warm gray.  IMG_7894IMG_4C5C9A3B7B43-1.jpegIMG_8C8AE80D6451-1.jpegJosh ripped out some non-functional builtins from our mudroom and replaced them with new lockers that I then antiqued to look like a vintage find!

IMG_B97F834411FD-1.jpegIt was a fun, lightning-fast project, and we love the way it turned out!   We still have a bit of touch up to do, and I have a new idea I want to try out, but it’s almost done.  I have loved transforming this space into one of the most practical and hard-working rooms in our home.

~ for an ABSOLUTE FEAST!  Colton came over and cooked for us!  He has learned how to cook his favorite authentic Mexican tacos, and gave his ole’ Mom a cooking lesson!  They were without a doubt, the MOST DELICIOUS tacos I have ever eaten!  I could not have been more impressed.  Both by the tasty meal my son prepared and the joy on his face as we cooked in the kitchen side by side.  Love him so much and so thankful for the growth and healing in our relationship.IMG_7887 

Anyone else exhausted?  Just raw?  Like a blister that rubs and rubs and rubs and never gets a chance to heal.  It’s exhausting being brave all the time. Exhausting walking the same path in the same walls with the same people every single day.  This morning I was rubbed raw.  Everything was frustrating.  We overslept.  We had technical difficulties with online church, like we have EVERY WEEK.  For some reason, even after six weeks, we just never can quite get it figured out.  So I sat on the couch, wrestling with myself, feeling how none of this is how it’s supposed to be.  But once worship started, I saw our sweet worship pastor on the screen with his guitar, flanked by his kids on the keyboard and the cajon.  What a blessing to see faces of people that I love and miss so much.  And I purposed in my heart as they begin to play, that my flesh would not hinder me from worshiping my Creator.  He is WORTHY.  My circumstances will not dictate my ability and MY RESPONSIBILITY to worship Him as He is due.  So we stood together as a family and begin to sing.  And as is so often the case, the song prepared in advance and pre-recorded by the worship pastor was the song that God knew would meet me in that moment.   “Lord I run into Your arms unashamed because of mercy.  I’m overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed by You.”  And there in my living room, in my robe and slippers, with tears streaming down my face, I stood in the presence of the Lord, experiencing some of the purest moments of fellowship with my Heavenly Father that I have ever had in my life.  As the next song began, the room was filled with the voices of my children, “Waymaker, Miracle Worker, Promise Keeper, Light in the darkness.  My God, that is who You are.“   

He is good.  All the time.  “Even when I don’t see it, You’re working.  Even when I don’t feel it, You’re working.  You never stop, You never stop working.”  There is purpose in this season.  Part of that purpose is for us to look for AND TESTIFY OF the blessings that we find.  In a time when we are forced to be apart, we need each other more than ever!  We must encourage each other, spur each other on, take turns lifting one another and then being carried.  I DO NOT WANT TO BE A MATH TEACHER!  But I DO want to be a Mama that can patiently sit by my child while they work through a concept, for as long as it takes, and then can celebrate their accomplishment when they finally master it.  I never would have tried had it not been for this season.  My kids have seen me cry more in the last 6 weeks of quarantine than they did during 3 years of cancer.  But that’s because I am with them EVERY MOMENT, and there is so much good in that.  And after they’ve seen me cry, they’ve heard me reassure them that I’m ok, and we’ve had some great conversations and some of the very best hugs.  I have great hope for lasting fruit to come from these trying days. IMG_7900.jpg Pearls are formed from painful, sandy discomfort that we can’t get rid of, no matter how hard we try.  Lord, make pearls in us.  Out of us.  And when we look upon the unique beauty of a pearl, let us give thanks for the irritation that caused it to be born. I look forward to draping myself in garlands of story-problem-shaped pearls one day.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

 “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalms 51:10-12)

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46)

Clobbered

~ for Josh’s new teeth!  He has had half-done dental work that has left him with 2 missing front teeth for almost 6 months.  Since having his affected teeth removed, he’s had numerous reschedulings, cancellations, and setbacks.  This has been irritating, painful, inconvenient, and humbling.  And with the events of late, we weren’t sure how much longer he was going to have to wait.  THANKFULLY, the dentist agreed completing Josh’s procedure could be classified as an emergency.  And now my handsome husband has his beautiful smile back!  SO THANKFUL!

~ for National Doctor’s Day.  We LOVE our doctors, and are so thankful for the impact they have had on our lives.  I love that this season is causing us to spend more time THANKING these and other Community Helpers, real heroes that are serving us every day.IMG_6159.jpgIMG_6033.JPGIMG_6032.jpgIMG_6224.jpg

~ for more positives with home schooling than negatives.  I am so proud of the kids’ attitudes.  They have obediently and MOSTLY eagerly stayed on track with their work, and it has really not been a battle to keep them engaged.IMG_6225IMG_6150.jpg

~ for second chances.  And third.  And 87th.  I am not a good teacher. Oh, sometimes I am.  I CAN be fun and creative and patient.  But I’m usually not.  Especially when I’m not teaching material that I’m familiar with.  And especially when my student isn’t grasping the concept.  After the 3rd time. Or the 87th time.  So in the middle of a particularly trying lesson…a math lesson, (and believe me when I say that I have NO BUSINESS TEACHING ANYONE MATH), I just laid down with my face on the floor and asked Jesus for help.  We wrestled our way through it, and who knows if any of it actually penetrated the child’s understanding, but at least we got the answer on the assignment solved finally.  And I hugged that sweet one tight and we both cried.  And I made a promise, I said, “We’re gonna get through this.  You’re gonna keep trying and Mama’s gonna keep trying, ok?”  BUT GOD.  Grace upon grace.

~ for steady wifi service.  

~ for groceries in the pantry.  We are stretched and learning to be creative, but we don’t lack for anything we actually NEED.

~ for our morning devotions.  I’m so thankful to start each day with the kids in the Word.  It’s not magic, it doesn’t make everything go great.  But at least I know we are starting in the right place and keeping the first things FIRST.

~ for coffee.  I will forever thank coffee as my official sponsor of 2020.  And I also thank dry shampoo, deodorant, and stretchy pants.

~ for calls from our wonderful GCS family.  They are checking in on us, perhaps a little “mental health triage” and it is so heart-warming to hear those familiar voices of the friends we miss so much.  It’s awesome to KNOW that they are praying for us, as we are praying for them.

~ for the tiny carrot seedlings that have poked their heads from the earth, reminding me that new life is always pushing forth.  Lord, let my heart be fertile ground for the things you want to birth in me.IMG_5985

~ for the jumbo economy bucket of ice cream that we originally bought just because it was cheap, and now we think is the very best-tasting ice cream ever.

~ for family movie and pizza night.  For living room forts and inside picnics.  For cuddling with my husband, and with the children that still want to.  Everything means more now than ever before.IMG_3385.jpgIMG_6206.jpg IMG_6169.jpg

~ for my brave husband.  He has the courage to step out in faith and do what is RIGHT even if it goes against popular opinion or social standards.   I’m so proud of the way he leads our family.

~ for re-starting our online “Thankful Game.”  It’s definitely a good time to spur one another on to giving thanks.  We’ve shared some much-needed laughs too.

~ for multiple online platforms of encouraging sermons this morning, even Children’s Church.  I get excited thinking about how many people who are tiptoeing into churches for the first time in a long time, now that it is accessible right in their homes.IMG_F4B4D3E4EA87-1.jpeg

~ for my hammock.  I do love a hammock.

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~ that our quarantine could never be classified as LONELY or BORING.  Again, this is something I don’t always count as a blessing, but boy I should!

~ for reminders when I need reminding.  I had a strange encounter earlier this week, on the one occasion that I actually left the house to run an errand.  The grocery courtesy clerk counted the stick people across the back of my van. “Wow, is this everybody?” “Yep,” I said, “we’ve got a houseful.”  I couldn’t believe my ears when he said candidly, “Man, I would HATE to be you.”  I shook off my shock and quickly refuted, “No way!  It’s awesome!  It’s more fun than you can even imagine!”  Moments like that are so eye-opening.  Because I DON’T always love having a huge family.  My heart isn’t always thankful for having huge messes and huge grocery bill and driving a huge vehicle.  Especially when we are all on top of each other for who knows how long.  But when I’m reminded of how blessed I am… Man, I’m thankful. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. 

I’m sure most of us are having lots of ups and downs.  Days when we are brave and optimistic and ready to learn what God has for us during this time of being “set apart.”  Days when we feel scared and uncertain and small and trapped.  And days when we just feel unmotivated and schlumpy.  (That’s the technical term.)  I was on the trampoline with the kids this afternoon, trying to be “Fun Mom.”  Everyone was having a good time, weather was perfect, lots of laughs.  And I even took a turn to jump.  One of the kids started jumping at the same time, and we collided in the air, landing in a heap of sharp little knees and elbows.  Hard.  The child, unscathed bounced back up giggling.    I did not.  My wrist and my shin were throbbing from the collision.  And out of nowhere, tears started to well in my eyes.  Before I knew it, they were pouring.  The pain from the fall unlocked a deep well that had been filling and filling somewhere inside me, and once I started, there was no stopping the flood.  I just felt CLOBBERED.  Clobbered by an accident on the trampoline when I was trying to be fun.  Clobbered by the relentless workload of homeschooling 6 kids when I don’t know what I’m doing.  Clobbered by teens who (like all the rest of the world) are irritated by their lack of freedoms and feeling sorry for themselves, without the benefit of perspective, empathy,  or maturity.  Clobbered by the sight of all my kids glued to screens for hours every day, which is contrary to everything I have ever taught them.  Clobbered by the fear- and control-shaped holes in my faith that keep creeping in.  Clobbered by a new, worse headline in the news every day.  Clobbered by weeks upon weeks of little sleep.  Clobbered by the guilt that I don’t have the right to complain because so many others have it so much worse.  Clobbered by the weight of looking brave.  

Maybe you feel like that.  Clobbered.  I just submit to you that that’s ok.  God can handle it, if you’ll just turn to Him.  Even though I feel clobbered, I still know the Truth.  I know that even if it all gets a whole lot worse before it gets better, I know God wins in the end.  And we are all in this together.  Don’t believe the lie that you have to do it in your own strength, or that no one else feels like you, or that all the other Christians are keeping it together except you.  I’m gonna be strong some days, and encourage one of you on your hard day.  And when I can’t get my feet under me, someone is going to leave some sunshine on my doorstep, just because.  IMG_6207.jpgIMG_732165A90CC4-1It’s ok if you don’t teach your kid like the teacher does, or if you don’t know how to check their math.  It’s ok if you take a break or don’t get it all done.  It’s ok if you don’t go on nature walks with your kids every night after dinner and read them a book before you tuck them in to bed.  It’s ok if you don’t alphabetize your closets and learn a new language and do a Pinterest craft every Thursday.  (And it’s ok if you do!)  It’s ok if you only shower once a week and don’t change out of your Sunday clothes until Wednesday (purely hypothetical, of course).  This may be a glorious season of growth for most of us, and I genuinely believe God has that in His plan… but in the midst of all that growth, there’s gonna be pain, and wrestling, and some of it we may not understand for a long time to come.

Be kind to yourself.  When you have a great day, or a great moment – reach out to somebody and share some joy.  And when you blow it: take a deep breath, and give yourself a do-over.  Let’s look for opportunities to love one another well this week, if even from a distance.  It’s Easter Week, the time of year most celebrated by Believers.  We will celebrate that Christ is Risen!  He bravely, willingly, and perfectly endured unbearable suffering and separation from His Father.  And He did it for us.  We DO have so much to be thankful for!  Prepare your heart for the JOY THAT IS COMING!

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“Sing praise to the LORD, you saints of His, And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning.”  (Psalms 30:4-5)

 

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)

Thankful for a Faithful God

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

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

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

Overshadowed

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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~ for crispy BBQ chicken legs fresh off the grill. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

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

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Ephesians 6:10-13