Training Wheels and Laundry Baskets

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ for a hearty cooked-by-Dad breakfast. 

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

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

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

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

Happy “New Day”

I am thankful:

~ for a staggering honor and privilege: I wrote a check from Gold Network of ETX for TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS!  We donated $10,000 to Dr. Ted Laetsch at Children’s Hospital to support his cutting edge research projects for improved cures and therapies for childhood cancer.  Dr. Laetsch was on Sawyer’s oncology team, so the donation is even more meaningful.  We are so grateful for the funds raised through Tyler Gold Run and and generous donations from the community to help Gold Network do what we do.  Our primary focus will remain local family support, but we will always donate toward childhood cancer research in hopes that one day our GNET mission will become obsolete!  Until then, we press on.  We have exciting new dreams brewing for the upcoming year…more information coming soon!

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~ for laid back schedule-free days on break.  The kids have painted, baked cookies, learned new tricks on the trampoline, decorated a gingerbread house, and we have made a TINY dent in the HARDEST PUZZLE IN THE WORLD. IMG_1986.JPG

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~ for a manageably fun-enough New Years.  We stayed home.  Ate chili.  “Nice Mom” showed up and let the kids stay up until 10 and played with  sparklers in their pjs.  Then mom, dad, and Bigs stayed up to watch the ball drop just to say we did.   But it felt really important to me that the first thing we did in 2020 was to pray together as a family.  It was simple, sweet, and I will treasure it always. 

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~ for traditional black eyed peas, buttery roasted cabbage, and steaming hot sweet cornbread on New Year’s Day.  

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~ for a Starbucks gift card and a Starbucks right around the corner from our house!  Bear was glad he rode along, they gave him a “Pup-puccino!!”

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~ for a fun overnight sleepover for Gavin to Uncle Justin and Aunt Gina’s.  He had the feast of his dreams and had 24 blissful hours as an only child!  A trip to Kilgore to explore the East Texas Oil Museum and a mile-high loaded cheeseburger were the perfect fit for our inquisitive boy.

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~ for a joyful dream-come-true for dear friends.  Before brave 10 year old cancer warrior Luke went to be with Jesus in 2018, his dream was for his beautiful husky Scout to become a therapy dog.   This week, that dream came true!  Scout went through the rigorous testing to become certified, and PASSED!   Now Scout will be able to bring joy and smiles to kids in the hospital and continue sharing Luke’s legacy, bringing glimmers of beauty from the unspeakable pain his mom and dad and brother are walking through.  You can read more about Luke and his family’s unshakable faith and generosity here. https://lukestrong.org/

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~ for an exciting new venture for G&W: we launched our new website, www.giddyupandwhoa.com!  We’ve been praying about this for a while, and decided to make the leap in hopes of growing our business.  We also were super blessed with a new connection for old wood.  We have had our eye on a large section of damaged fence for months, and this week I worked up the courage to stop by the house and ask for it.  I was met by the sweetest gentleman who was delighted to have the fence hauled off, even taking my card for when he tears more of it down! Finds like those are the best! IMG_6067.JPEG

Josh has created some beautiful new reclaimed wood decor pieces in addition to a fresh batch of signs, so we are ready for a great year!  It’s amazing to me that we started this journey by tiptoeing onto social media last year at Thanksgiving.  Excited to see where the Lord takes us.  We even included a link to Sunday Gratitude on the G&W website.  Amazing to see different pieces of our dreams begin to braid together. 

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~ for the opportunity to reflect on the past decade.  I always get a little moony at the turn of the new year…to me it’s just natural to look back and take stock, and that process always proves emotional for me.  Looking back not just a year but a decade was pretty staggering.  I’ll spare you the in-depth play by play, but 10 years ago we only had 4 children, were going through the process of our first adoption, and Josh was self employed, remodeling and flipping houses.  We often look back and say that that was the season we thought we could tie a bow on our picture perfect little family with our beautifully God-ordained adoption story as the crescendo of our testimony.  BUT GOD.  In the infinite wisdom of our Father, we had no idea what was coming.   We never dreamed of car wrecks and ATV wrecks and fostering.  Never dreamed Josh and I would go from completely disagreeing about whether or not to grow our family to getting on the same page, only to walk through the heartbreak of losing a baby, then adopt 3 and have 2 more!  We would never have imagined cancer.  Cancer changed EVERYTHING.  I don’t even recognize that family from 10 years ago.  But out of the wreckage also came beauty.  A front row seat for miracles.  For excruciating grace.  So many wonderful, life-changing relationships born in and outside the hospital.  The Gold Run and Gold Network, opening doors to share hope with people all over.   And God has entrusted us with the stewardship of all these remarkable children in our family… gifts that I didn’t even ask for because I couldn’t have dreamed them up…  And even if New Year’s resolutions are hokey and empty, I appreciate the crisp, fresh air that comes with the turn of the calendar page, like the warmth of sunrise after a dark night.  My Father’s arms are always open.  And with renewed passion, I will seek to love Him with more of my heart this year.  And serve Him more and myself less.  Oh Lord, the cry of my heart is to let go and trust You.  So if I WAS going to have a resolution, that would be it.   But I think that has to be more of a New Day’s Resolution.  EVERY DAY.

Let’s love one another well this week.  

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:33-34)

“We love because he first loved us.”  (1 John 4:19)

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalms 139:23-24)

“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.” (Psalms 51:10-12)

 

The Biggest Little Things

I am thankful:

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

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

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~ for puzzles.  I forget how fun puzzles are.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is working.  

He is coming. 

And He’s always right on time. 

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

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

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

Not Qualified

~ for a week full of dreams.  Josh and I are dreaming big dreams about a lot of things.  I have no idea what the Lord has in store, but I LOVE having this wonderful man to dream with. 

~for a great Giddyup & Whoa week. Our Christmas items did well at the Barn Sale, and I participated in my first artisan mini market.  It’s one thing to drop my things off at the barn, quite a different thing to set up a display and man it for five hours.  Josh built the perfect rustic display panels, I got a credit card swiper, a receipt book for taking orders, printed me up some cute shopping bags…  For the first time ever, I actually felt like a little store!  It was surreal and terrifying.  But once we got it all put together, it was great.  It was so fun. The market was outside, 42°, and completely in the shade all day… So I was a Giddyup-and-Whoa-sicle by the end of it.  I met some terrific people, sold several signs and lots of ornaments, got a bunch of custom orders, and lots of people took my card. I feel like it was good exposure and hopefully it will lead to more work.  Even though I’ve been painting for years, today marks exactly one year since we launched our Instagram account and took the step out in faith to put our business dream out there.  It has truly been a blessing to our family to have steady orders coming in.  We pray God continues to bless it and open doors for us to grow!  Keep us in mind when you are finishing up your Christmas shopping!

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~ for warm, fluffy spiced ginger bread right from the oven.

~ for such a fun morning attending Samantha’s 5th Grade History Wax Museum.  Each student had to choose a historical figure, read a biography about them, and then dress up as that person and pose. Samantha chose Marie Antoinette. (I personally think she chose it because she knew her prop could be a cake.)  I ordered a tall coiffed white wig, but it did not arrive in time.  So at the last minute, we had to improvise: I ratted her hair and fashioned it around a washcloth to give her a giant bouffant updo.  We powdered her face and added a mole… She looked lovely!

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~ for Sawyer’s “Fanksgiving” Feast!  This boy has been is so excited that his feast was coming up, it’s all he has talked about.  His class had prepared a darling program with scriptures and songs and of course, the CUTEST pilgrim and Indian costumes.  Each child was given an Indian name, and Sawyer’s was “Brave Warrior.”  He proudly donned our family’s traditional Fanksgiving Feast attire – the handmade costume I made for Colton’s Feast (hastily crafted the night before that feast, mind you!)  Never did I dream we would still be using it 15 years and 8 kids later!  I also wonder exactly how many times I have heard the song, “Super Turkey” over the years…

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Friends, I have to tell you…sometimes writing these journals is such a battle.  I always ask the Lord to show me what to share, to help me see the blessings.  I truly desire for this blog to be a vessel of encouragement, and an offering of worship to the Lord.  Because He is worthy.  But sometimes…sometimes I’m just stuck.  Or I’m right in the middle of learning a hard, very personal lesson, and it’s difficult to put words to it.  This has been one of those weeks.  I’ve been hit hard with discouragement.  I’ve been freshly reminded how unqualified I am in so many ways.  How in the world am I raising NINE CHILDREN?  I don’t know if I’m qualified to raise a CAT.  I have no qualifications to run a nonprofit organization.  Or a small business.  Or to sit here and write a blog to encourage anyone.  I mean, who am I?  I know where I have come from.  I’ve been a mess.  A liar.  A thief.  A harlot.  A drunkard.  Selfish. Guilty.  Empty.  Ashamed.  Lost. 

BUT GOD. 

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I don’t need to be reminded who I once was.  I know EXACTLY what I’ve done.  And so does Jesus.  He has loved me since before He created me, before He laid the foundations of the earth.  He has forgiven me and redeemed me and called me His own.  He has washed me white as snow and given me a new identity and a new name.  I am UNASHAMED.  And that will never be taken from me.  And all that is not to say that I am SOMEBODY….but I am somebody’S.  I AM HIS.  So when attacks come, I will hold fast to the promises that I know are true.  That “Therefore, there is now NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has SET YOU FREE from the law of sin and death.”  And when I feel my flesh quake, and I start to doubt, I can call out, both to Jesus Himself and to faithful saints in Christ, and they will pray for me and speak words of life and truth to me, reminding my head what my heart already knows.  I am who He says I am.

I hope you know this for yourself.  It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, or where you’ve been.  There is NOTHING that the Lord doesn’t long to forgive you for and free you from.  The price Jesus Christ paid on the cross was enough.  Enough to cover EVERY SIN.  

Maybe I’m not qualified.  But I am a Child of the King, and He is faithfully refining me every single day.  And even if I’m not where I hope one day to be, I’m thankful that I’m not where I used to be.  And I can live with that. 

May each of you have a joyful, grace-soaked Thanksgiving this week, however it is you will spend it.  I’m very conscious that the holidays can be very hard for some people.  Broken relationships, missing loved ones, difficult memories.  I encourage you to reach out to someone you know may be hurting this week.  An encouraging word goes a long way. 

Let’s love one another well this week.  Let our words bring life and healing instead of tearing down.  

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

“so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”  (Colossians 1:10-14)

“I am chosen, not forsaken.  I am who You say I am.  You are for me, not against me.  I am who You say I am.  I am who You say I am.  Who the Son sets free, oh is free indeed.  I’m a child of God, yes I am!”  (Who You Say I Am, Hillsong Worship)

Seasons

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

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

Tiny Little Moments

~ thankful that I’ve learned at least a couple of lessons over the 20+ years of parenting.  For some unforeseeable reason,  I thought it was a great idea to potty train Tatum this week. She talks about going on the potty and seemed super interested. She’s so bright, I figured that she was ready.  In case you think that my 20 year experience of parenting resulted in a successful potty training session, let me quickly correct you.  After two days of trying, I my experience let me know that this child is not going to be potty trained anytime soon.  The only thing that ended up in the potty was Daddy Pig. 

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~ for the raw beauty of the brilliantly colored fall leaves Kora collected for me.  

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~ for the simple, graceful sight of a family of deer beside the road.  And of course, thankful that they did not run in front of my car!

~ for the AWESOME NEWS that our beloved Uncle Alan has successfully completed his treatment for throat cancer, and that he got to triumphantly RING THAT BELL!  We rejoice in the past, present, and future healing by the Lord!  BUT GOD!!

~ for a wonderful evening with our small group from church.  We are such a diverse group…but everyone is just real and kind and we have the best time sharing life with each other.  And this week we truly had a feast: a smorgasbord of breakfast treats!  At the end of the evening, I’m not sure which was more full, my heart or my belly.

~ for Sawyer’s unbridled delight in creating his Super Turkey for his kindergarten class project.  Each child has to “disguise“ their turkey so it doesn’t get eaten for Thanksgiving.

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~ for my new basket wall.  I’ve had the plan brewing for a long time now, and been building a collection of round baskets for months.  On large item pickup week, I was thrilled to score a stack of exactly the baskets I had been looking for, and then this week I found the last few I needed.  So fun to add a fresh design element to a space. 

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~ for such an exciting season for Giddyup & Whoa. We had a good showing at the Vintage & Co Fall Barn Sale last week, and we have two more shows coming up in the next few weeks.  I’ve been painting my little hands off, and Josh has built me another big stack to work on.  And ornaments on top of that!  Can you believe it’s only 50 days until Christmas?  Keep us in mind as you plan for those meaningful one-of-a-kind gifts.

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~ for warm coats, cozy hats, and an insulated gallon jug of hot chocolate to get us through the 33° temps at Cooper’s football game.  We shivered through all 4 quarters, and although the Cougars didn’t come out with the win, we were thankful to get to cheer them on. 

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~ for the comforting crackle of the fireplace.  Oh how we all love a fire in the fireplace!

~ for irreplaceable moments dreaming together with my husband and asking God for big things. 

~ for unexpectedly encouraging words from a kind friend.   It’s so easy to focus on powering through the tasks of the day without so much as glancing up or around.  Do you ever get to the end of your day and realize you never SAW anyone else.  Even if you were surrounded, did you truly SEE anyone?  Or did you wonder if anybody saw YOU?  Think of what a difference it could make if we each took the time to SEE (REALLY SEE) at least one person around us and speak a kind word to them.  A simple complement.  A blessing. Ask about their day and actually listen to their answer.  Sometimes people cross our paths unexpectedly, and what a blessing when they choose to take the time to spread some light around.  I want to challenge myself to do that more.  

~ for grocery day.  So thankful to have my fridges full, mostly of milk.

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~ for November 1!  November 1 is one of my favorite days of the year for two reasons. Number one, because it means Halloween is finally over.  I’m sorry to be a party pooper, but I cannot stand Halloween (sorry not sorry).  And I’m always so grateful when that stuff is out of the stores and off all of the Netflix lineups.  Secondly, it’s the first day of a favorite family tradition: the Thankful Game.  We have a huge group email comprised of family and friends who have become family, and we each  share our gratitudes for each day.  I love getting to hear what’s on each of my children’s hearts, and to hear what everyone else is thankful for.  It’s such an encouragement.   Thank you Grandmommy, for starting, cultivating, and expanding this wonderful tradition!

~ for a wonderful and encouraging meeting with dear friends regarding the future of Gold Network of East Texas.  We have exciting new vision about expanding our team and reaching more families impacted by the nightmare of Childhood Cancer.  It still blows me away that the Network has grown from 3 families to more than 60.  I never could have dreamed that my baby would have cancer.  But that from the worst days of our lives would be born a ministry and organization that could make a difference to so many people. And I’m so humbled and grateful that the Lord has moved on so many hearts to help us continue to reach out.  Great is Thy Faithfulness. 

~ for the most mind-blowingly delicious meal: a succulent roasted chili relleno stuffed with gulf shrimp, Monterey Jack cheese, street roasted corn, mushrooms, and asparagus on a bed of cilantro lime rice.  WOWZA!  

~ for awesome family pictures from the photo shoot a couple weeks ago!  Lauren did the most amazing job and we are all thrilled!  

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~ for tiny little moments.  Josh and I say regularly how we have learned not to take for granted ORDINARY LIFE.  That’s what Sunday Gratitude is about. Finding beauty in the tiny and mundane things of life that we sometimes overlook.  I looked in the rearview mirror at Tatum K in her car seat on our way to pick up kids after school.  She was bleary-eyed were half closed from being awakened from her nap, hair a fuzzy, tousled mess, and just the faintest hint of a smile.  She took my breath away.  How did God know I needed this baby girl?  I’m grateful for the everyday: looking at dozens of kids’ worksheets, listening to their reading.  Being greeted every morning with half a dozen hugs and a big hairy dog.  The times when my teen actually tells me about his day and then asks me about mine, or when my grown kids take the time to text or FaceTime.  The tiny little moments are when life happens.  No matter what’s going on, no matter what we’re worried about or scrambling for…we are so rich.  We are so blessed.  

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I just hope to encourage you to look around for the tiny little moments that you are thankful for instead of the 1001 nagging frustrations that crowd their way to the front.  Looking at life through a lens of gratitude truly has the potential to change everything.  And most of the big things we give thanks for…are made up of a million tiny little moments.  God is always at work, in the tiny things and the big ones, and when we finally begin to acknowledge WHERE OUR BLESSINGS COME FROM, we can truly begin to understand how deep and how long and how wide is His Love for us.

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

“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.”

Romans 12:10-13 NIV

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 )