Marinating

I am thankful:

~ for Snow Much Fun! The “blizzard” on Sunday led to a Snow Day on Monday for most of East Texas, and it was GLORIOUS! The snow lingered most of the day, the sun was shining, and the rare sight of the white blanketed Texas countryside was just beautiful. The kids bundled up from head to toe and made more snowballs and played with neighbors and rolled around in it until they were soaked through. I did as much laundry in those 2 days as I do in a week! (and believe me, that is saying a lot!) But it was the perfect opportunity to come inside and snuggle up by the fire with some hot cocoa. It will be a story we will tell for years to come.

~ for my hardworking husband. He works all day at his “real” job, and then comes home ready to work on projects. We have lots of home improvement plans to do when he takes a week of vacation next month, but MR. GIDDYUP just can’t wait that long. So far he has replaced two ceiling fans, installed a pendant light, replaced two non-functional lights with SUPER-FUNCTIONAL track lighting, built and modified the barstools that I ordered that were the wrong size, and replaced all the lightbulbs that needed to be updated to LED. Sometimes the “giddyup” in him drives me crazy, but I’m so grateful for how hard he works to take care of us.

2017 – realtor.com pictures of our master bedroom when we bought our home
Mistakingly ordered BARSTOOL height instead of COUNTER height…
Mr. Giddyup was undeterred
And now they are perfect!

~ that our supersized bus for our supersized family can also be converted to use as a cargo van. The seating is completely modular and can be removed as needed to utilize the space. While the kiddos were at school, we loaded up on all the materials we will need for our upcoming projects.

Tatum K had a big time at Home Depot. It made me think of all the times I would go to hardware and farm implement stores with my Dad when I was little. I thought it was the most amazing place on the planet. So much to see, and I had no idea what any of it was. But I knew my dad knew, and I knew he would take care of me, so I was as carefree as can be!

~ for the official close of the puppy chapter for now. Our very last puppy, Red Boy, now named Oakley, finally went home to his forever family yesterday. It was very hard to say goodbye, as we have all fallen in love with the little fella.

But it made us feel great to know that two boys got the best surprise of their life yesterday afternoon. Our puppy families have been so kind to share pictures and videos of their babies with us. They are all so loved.

~ for one spicy little girl who FINALLY pooped on the potty for the first time. I don’t want to celebrate a victory of the war just yet, but I will revel in finally winning one battle.

~ for a yummier-than-expected healthy dinner, a loaded homemade cauliflower crust pizza and fresh salad.

~ for a fun, if way-too-short visit with Aunt Gina. Whenever we get the chance, we catch up on each others’ news, have some good laughs, and she always blesses me with friendship bread and Starbucks. So thankful for my sister.

~ for an amazing donation! Josh’s company, Aaron’s Inc, has a corporate donation program, and this year made a MOST GENEROUS donation of $5000 to Gold Network of East Texas. It was an honor for Paula and I to meet for a check presentation at Josh’s store this week.

~ for our first Sunday back to in person church service. Our little fellowship was hit hard with COVID-19 over the last couple months, and nearly everyone in leadership fell ill and was forced to quarantine. What a blessing to be back in the building together joined in worship. I know that the church is not a building, and I know God doesn’t live only there. But there’s nothing like it when we gather together in His name.

~ for Tiny Uno. Seriously, is anything cuter than Tiny Uno?

~ for friends to pray for and for friends who pray. And for the edification that comes when we testify to one another.

~ for good football (Go Chiefs!) and mouthwatering marinated chicken and carne asada fajitas with cilantro lime rice and fresh homemade salsa.

I remember writing about this once a long time ago, but it came to mind again tonight. Marinating. We use a marinade to tenderize meat or to add flavor. The longer something sits in a marinade, the more it absorbs it and the more it changes. It takes on the flavor of the marinade’s ingredients and in some cases the acidity of a marinade actually cooks the meat. We take on the flavor of what we soak ourselves in. The longer we marinate, the more we are changed. What are you marinating in? Are you spending your time soaking in social media? How many hours a day do you find yourself steeping in the barrage of headlines from your favorite news broadcaster or podcast? Or are you immersing yourself in God’s Word? Reveling in worship? Are you surrounding yourself with believers who testify of His faithfulness and spur one another on in good works? If you look at the ingredients of your marinade, are they what you want to taste like? Are they what you want to become? These are the thoughts that have been cycling through my mind as I try to pull away from old bad habits and try to establish new ones. What am I marinating in, and what am I becoming? And how does what I am becoming impact others, especially my husband and my children? Am I becoming better or bitter? I want to soak myself in Jesus, abide in Him, and be transformed to become a little more like Him every day. Imagine what would happen if we turned off the news and turned on our praise music and just worshipped instead of worried. I know it’s not really that simple. Or is it? All I know is it couldn’t hurt. I don’t want bitterness. Or fear. Or comparison. Or selfishness. Or divisions. I want more Jesus. So I need to spend more time with Him. And that’s the bottom line. Let’s encourage one another this week. And marinate in the goodness of God.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2)

“Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.””(Luke 10:38-42)

“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (IICorinthians 3:17-18)

Steadfast

I am thankful:

~ that I was only halfway to school when I heard Sawyer’s voice come from behind my shoulder in the car, “Um, mama… I forgot my shoes.”

~ for our Birdie girl’s birthday. What a year she has had! She joined our family, got married, and had 11 babies before turning 1!

~ for the blessing of tasty AND healthy options this week. We enjoyed delicious lean steaks (ok maybe cooked in some butter) and my favorite homemade healthy vegetable dip.

~ for the freshness that comes from putting away the Christmas decor and doing the first deep clean of the year. Everything looks brighter. Maybe a little bare at first, but it’s like a welcome pause after the constant overstimulation of the senses during the holidays. At first I always feel a little sad when I take down our favorite festive decorations, when all the nativities and the ornaments and stockings and the sparkle have been wrapped up and stored away until next year. But there is a fresh beauty in the spaces between. I’m always inspired to mix things up a little, to try a different arrangement, update a few pieces. Replacing a mattress that’s had a hole for…I-don’t-even-know-how-long. Changing up an old mirror with a little spray paint. Trading out a space age, rattling ceiling fan. January is the start of PROJECT TIME at Casa Rucker! We have some exciting projects planned for the next few months.

~ for a fun family movie night and the most hilarious Tatum K lookalike. (Check out Sophie on Rise of the Guardians.)

~ for a fun week with our temporary puppy. Red Boy, as we call him, referencing his color-coded id collar, is a sweetheart. He plays hard with the big dogs (we wonder if he has the concept that they are his parents), and has done a remarkable job with potty training. He has a most unusual favorite spot in the house. We will enjoy loving on him for one more week.

~ for a self proclaimed “best day of my life” for Sawyer. It suddenly dawned on me this week as he was struggling to buckle himself into his car seat with his bulky puffer coat. HE. IS. SEVEN. And is still riding in a high back car seat with a 5 point harness (the exact same seat Tatum K rides in). It was time, and I just hadn’t realized it. So while kids were at school, I purchased a new booster, and traded it for his old one. When he got in the car at pickup, you would have thought I had handed him tickets to Disneyland. “A booster seat! Mama! Thank you SO MUCH! This is the favorite gift I’ve ever gotten!” Immediately after school, he was invited to a laser tag birthday party at a local park. When I picked him up from the party, he was a tired, disheveled, frozen and oh-so-happy boy. Brown and green war paint smeared on his cheeks, a nose red from the cold, and tongue stained blue from Gatorade, he hopped into his new seat with a wide grin and said, “this is the best day of my LIFE! Well, the 2nd. The BEST day was the day I was done with cancer.” Oh my heart. Thank You God for the life of this beautiful shining light of a boy!

~ for the most glorious SNOW DAY! Here in Texas this is a highly accoladed event! I’m pretty sure we haven’t had any measurable snow in about 3 years. When the kids spotted the faintest hint of a flurry out the window this morning during our virtual church broadcast, they were beside themselves, and soon they were cheering at the meager white dust on our yard. The snowfall got heavier and steadier, and even to this Minnesota girl, it was magical. Huge white flakes falling and blanketing every surface – the kids say it looks like Narnia! Today they have built snowmen, had snowball fights, made snow angels, and did all the snow things you can pack into one afternoon.

Neighbors played outside, we snuggled with cocoa by the fire, we took breaks to warm up and dry out the sopping wet clothes, and then went back out for another round. Snow in the south is such a delightful oxymoron. Several times throughout the day we had to clean the snow off our palm trees to keep them from snapping. The kids were haphazardly bundled in multiple layers of pajamas and soggy hats and gloves that didn’t fit. And the initial jubilation of playing in the long-awaited snow lasted about as long as it took a snowflake to melt on their little Texas noses, quickly turning to whiny pink cheeked popsicles asking, “how do you know if you have frostbite?”

Dad and the big kids tried their hand at sledding down the snowy street on a cookie sheet: failed miserably, but hilarious to watch. Coop topped off our evening with a Polar Plunge into our pool!

Today was definitely my favorite day of the year. (As of 11 pm, it’s STILL coming down in giant flakes, we have gotten about 5 inches, and school is unsurprisingly cancelled tomorrow.)

The climate of our nation is insane. The devastating events on Wednesday were heartbreaking, and there is so much uncertainty about what may come next. It’s not hard to fall into the taps of anger, bitterness, division, and fear. But I’ve been so settled in my spirit. I mean, don’t misunderstand, I’m sad. I’m shocked. But I just know that God knew all this was coming, and that you and I were MADE for such a time as this. We, the Church, have been warned that trials were coming. That we will be targeted. That a day will come when we will be called to rise up in defense of the Gospel to a degree we have never experienced before. It’s time to dig deep and make a decision who we really are and what we really believe. Not what our parents told us to believe. Not what our preachers, or our Bible study teachers, or the social media influencers told us to believe. It’s time to get into God’s Word and read what HE SAID. IT’S TIME TO PRAY. It’s time to build our house on the Rock and set our anchors deep, because the STORMS ARE COMING. It’s time to ready ourselves. It’s time to teach our children to read their Bibles and that they can talk to God FOR REAL – ANY TIME, ABOUT ANYTHING, and that He hears them. It’s time to teach them to be kind to the lonely and to stand up for truth. It’s time to love our neighbors, especially the ones who are different from us. It’s time to pray for our enemies. It’s time to forgive. It’s time to WAKE UP BECAUSE IT’S FIXIN’ TO GET REAL.

During at-home worship, this song pounded into my heart.

“I will build my life upon Your love, it is a firm foundation. I will put my trust in You alone and I will not be shaken!”

I’ve been open about it. I’m prone to anxiety. I worry. I think about cancer EVERY DAY. BUT GOD. I don’t want to puff up and act like I’ve got all the answers. I don’t know what I’m going to feel like tomorrow. But all I know is that TODAY…today my heart is steadfast. Many things are uncertain. But I KNOW what’s coming.

JESUS IS COMING.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

““Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” (Matthew 7:24-29)

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

Welcome New Year

I am thankful:

~ for a fun trip to our favorite Tex-Mex spot, Papacitas. We pretty much go out to eat as a WHOLE FAMILY about once a year, so it’s a pretty big deal. Even though I wish it was something we could do more often, mostly I’m thankful that it’s such a treat for our kids, one they don’t take for granted because we do it all the time.

~ and I had forgotten to show my super cute Bear and Birdie Christmas ornaments that are a favorite on our tree.

~ for the after-Christmas buzz of new paints and trampoline tricks and hoverboards and puzzles and games. We had beautiful weather days and cabin-fever yucky days. And not many pictures because we were just living life with both hands AND because Mama was busy picking up puppy poop.

~ for the wonderful day of celebration when our dear leukemia warrior friend Jase aka “Hulk Strong” had his port removal surgery this week! His surgery was uneventful, and he has recovered well at home. This is such a major milestone marking the official end of treatment for a cancer survivor, fraught with lots of BIG mixed emotions. So thankful Jase has done so well, and praying that he can move past this chapter and have the carefree childhood his family has dreamed of. BUT GOD!

~ for the end of an era. This puppy pillow was a birthday gift for Sawyer when he turned 2.

In the thick of cancer treatment, it traveled back and forth to overnight hospital stays, and at home, it was used in his bed – a twin mattress on the floor in our master bedroom. Sawyer NEVER ONCE slept through the night until he turned 4, and most nights I slept with him. On the floor. With the puppy pillow. I was surprised to find that the puppy pillow was actually a pretty terrific shape for neck support. 5 years have gone by, and I have used that silly pillow every night. Well, this week we got new bedding: hotel quality sheets and quilt that feel like heaven! I’m SO EXCITED. And I got a new neck support pillow that prompted me to retire the puppy pillow once and for all. Now if only I could ACTUALLY SLEEP…

~ for a rollicking New Year’s Eve at Casa Rucker. We ate chicken strips, had a very serious gingerbread house decorating contest (judged by Dad and Cooper),

and then an intense Trouble tournament.

Our sweet friend Miss Karen brought us a delicious white chocolate raspberry Nothing Bundt Cake.

We played with sparklers in the driveway (which is still a bit of a battle for me…growing up in Minnesota where fireworks are illegal, I had ever been around them. Fireworks displays were put on strictly by firemen on July 4, and that was it. So the concept of letting teenagers fire off bottle rockets and giving sparklers to babies is a little unsettling for me, even after 20 years in Texas.) But the kids had a blast and it was such a fun end to this crazy year. We even made it to midnight.

~ for our tasty Southern traditional New Year’s Day meal of sweet buttered cornbread, savory roasted cabbage, and blackeyed peas.

~ for 11 puppy baths! Those little stinkers were ready for one! What an event that was!

Today was puppy pickup day. All day, every 30 minutes we had another thrilled/nervous/or-combo-of-both family show up at the door to pick up their new baby. I will replay those “awwws” and squeals of excitement over and over. The first in-person meeting for many. The first hold. First hug. First puppy snuggle and wet puppy kisses. So many sweet moments. Billy, Nola, Mango, Julie, Rambo, Dexter, Maddie, Bo, Dugan, and Charlie went to their homes amid lots of smiles and wagging tails.

But definitely heart wrenching for us to say 10 goodbyes one after another. It was hard on the kids, but we had lots of great talks about how loved the puppies will be at their new homes and what a blessing it is for us to share in their joy. AND we get to enjoy a little extension of the joy for a couple more weeks: we are puppy-sitting for 2 weeks while the last little pup’s family is on vacation. It will be fun to experience ONE puppy for a little while, even though we know that goodbye will be even harder. We LOVE BIG in this house. Just can’t help it.

Sawyer has spent most of the day in the kennel with this pup

I have to admit I have a new sense of optimism. Freshness. Excitement. Maybe that’s the thrill of hope of a weary world rejoicing that the song talks about? Even if January 1 is just a turn of a calendar page, and just another day, it’s still a fresh start to a new year. I’m up for all the clichés this year. I’ve RE-started my diet and fitness plans. I’ve RE-started my read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year program. I want to try to be more organized. More transparent. A better communicator. Goals are good, and January is as good a time to start as any. And I know lots of my good intentions will fizzle or flop. But I also know that’s not where my worth lies. Jesus will meet me in my successes and my failures, and neither will make Him love me any more or any less. My number 1 goal is that I would look more like Jesus in 363 days than I do today. I have lots of hopes and dreams for Gold Network of East Texas. And some exciting prospects and possibilities for Giddyup & Whoa. Josh and I have numerous home projects planned, trips in mind, and hopefully even MORE PUPPIES (after a good LONG break). But we hold all of these things in open hands, knowing that God’s plans, however unpredictable, are ALWAYS so much better than ours. We just want what He wants, for our family, for our marriage, for our future. Whatever comes, we will do it WITH HIM, FOR HIM, IN HIM.

2020 has been a complicated year. Lots of loss, lots of pain, lots of conflict. But God is a master of bringing beauty from ashes. I hope we learn from our own and others’ mistakes, hope we appreciate more the things we used to take for granted, and that we value relationships more than ever before. I hope we glean the blessings that have come along the way, life a little slower, or at least a little more intentional. And that we take those lessons into this new year having grown in both wisdom and compassion. I know I have had time with my kids that I never would have had any other way. I learned that I will never fulfill my dream of being a math teacher or story problem writer. And I have learned afresh that there is always, always, ALWAYS something to be thankful for.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19)

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 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 6:31-34)

“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this:”(Psalms 37:5)

“Many plans are in a man’s heart, But the counsel of the LORD will stand.” (Proverbs 19:21)

Merry Real and Imperfect Christmas

I am thankful:

for a wonderful Christmas.

I will never forget what it was like to be in a hospital at Christmas with my baby. Away from my husband and the rest of our kids. And he was so sick, running fever for unknown reasons, nurses coming in and out all through the night monitoring him. Countless tests being run to try to find a potential source of infection. I don’t think at the time I understood how precarious his health really was. At his point in his cancer treatment, babies could take a turn and things could spiral in an instant. Every year at Christmas, I am taken back to those moments.

Christmas at Children’s Hospital 2014
Christmas morning on C6

BUT GOD.

This year we did ALL THE THINGS. Baked. Decorated cookies. Passed out treats to the neighbors.

Loved on puppies. Watched all our favorite Christmas movies. Wore matching pajamas. Stayed up too late cooking and baking and stuffing stockings on Christmas Eve.

We read Luke 2 on Christmas morning. Feasted on all our favorite foods: spicy crawfish chowder, pumpkin pie, gooey caramel monkey bread, sausage bread, and deep fried turkey. Opened more gifts than we needed.

The “Purple Girl with the Pink Hair” from The Greatest Showman
Big brother Colton teaching Gavin and Sawyer how to set up their new baseball card collections
Lots of new puzzles this year, including a custom 1000 piece of our family beach photo

It was more than I could have ever dreamed.

Trust me, it wasn’t perfect. Kids fought. Puppies pooped more than one would think possible. Tatum K hardly slept. Birdie ate half Jesus’ birthday cake.

I wiped out on one of the boy’s hoverboards on the driveway and cracked my skull so bad I almost knocked myself out. We missed people who weren’t with us. And plenty of people who we love were hurting. Really hurting. Our pictures make it look like our life is perfect. It’s not. Remember, what is shared here is a snapshot, a highlight reel. Christmas isn’t always magical, for us and for anyone else, and that’s something that’s always heavy on my heart.

But God.

Emmanuel, God with us. With us in our joy. With us in our pain. With us always us if we allow him to be. It’s ok to not love every moment of Christmas. It’s ok to admit that the chaos and the togetherness and the unrealistic expectations make us anxious. It’s ok if be honest when there is some raw pain mixed in with our joy. And it’s ok to allow ourselves to experience joy even when we are hurting. Joy and pain can and often do coexist. It’s ok to be real. The King of Kings came to earth in a lowly stable. He was Glorious, the Answer, the Savior, welcomed by angels. But I bet the barn still stank.

Gold Network of East Texas had the awesome privilege of donating $10,000 to Dr. Sam John of Childrens Health/UT Southwestern to help fund his groundbreaking pediatric cancer research. Even more meaningful because Dr. John was one of Sawyer’s doctors all throughout his treatment.

We were disappointed not to be able to do an in-person check presentation, but grateful for Dr. John and Sawyer to be reunited via Zoom.

He told us that inspiring survival stories like Sawyer’s are a huge driving force behind the research his team does. We also missed our beloved tradition of delivering a home cooked meal to our oncology nurses on Christmas Eve due to COVID regulations. But we compromised by catering a nice Mexican fiesta for them on Christmas Day. We will always be grateful to these angels on earth for pouring their lives out for children battling cancer, even sacrificing their own family time to serve these hurting families.

We were tickled to receive pics and videos from some of our families who surprised their kiddos with a Christmas puppy. They had their first vet visit on Christmas Eve, and they all got a clean bill of health. One more week until they go to their fur-ever homes.

First vet visit for 11 pups
Puppy surprise
Puppy surprise

I’m thankful and exhausted. I have a painful knot on the back of my head from my fall, and I’m pretty sure there’s still some puppy poop on my leg. I’m thankful that this crazy year is almost over, and I’m thankful to know that no matter what highs and lows are ahead, that Emmanuel will meet me there.

Thanks for giving thanks with me. And Merry Christmas. The real and imperfect kind.

“I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”” (Lamentations 3:20-24)

Weary but Rejoicing

Iam thankful:

~ for my incredibly thoughtful husband! When he warns me, “I’m setting my tools up in the garage, and you CAN’T COME OUT HERE!” I always know it’s gonna be something good. This time it was the most awesome, Mr. Giddyup original paint caddy! I teased him that he built it for himself, because he’s sick of my brushes and paint laying EVERYWHERE. Either way, it’s a win-win!

~ for an amazing night of high school football playoffs. So exciting to see TWO teams we love competing (not against each other, different divisions) for the top title. We cheered on the Carthage Bulldogs to their historic 8th State Championship, and then cheered for our beloved Coach Chris and the Lindale Eagles. Lindale may not have come away with the top score on the official scoreboard, but they had a triumphantly victorious and inspiring season. So incredibly proud of the Eagles and their fearless leader!

~ for sweet Zoe’s 3rd Grade Christmas Play. She sang a beautiful solo and the whole play was absolutely adorable!

~ for the fastest, least painful family Christmas photo in Rucker history. My Big kids LOATHE taking pictures. It generally takes bribery, coercion, and threats of bodily harm to get it done. They tolerate it, because they know they don’t have a choice, but it’s never a very pleasant occasion. This week’s attempt was a MOST UNLIKELY scenario. There was only ONE DAY that Carson Grace didn’t have to work. It HAPPENED to be a rainy day so Colton could drive in from his job. We met at 4 o’clock when the kiddos all got out of school. Sounds perfect, right? EXCEPT, Cooper had to be at his job (up Broadway Ave. in bumper to bumper Christmas traffic) at 4:30!! The kids all quickly changed their clothes, dashed to their spots, and I snapped the picture! Just like that! We were done at 4:06! It was historic! (Tune in next week for the winning shot!)

~ for p-p-pajama day at school.

~ for Cooper crushing his finals and treating mom to a Bahama Bucks date.

~ for donuts + The Grinch for breakfast, just because.

~ for beautiful heavenly glories spotted by the kids on the way home.

~ for Gavin doing a fantastic job as the Toastmaster in his 4th Grade class. So proud of him!

~ for a pedal-to-the-medal, paint-til-your-fingers-fall-off, a LOT more Giddyup-than-Whoa week! I completed 6 signs this week (including the big whopper I mentioned last week), and I only have ONE MORE project to complete before Christmas! Grateful for a busy season, and grateful for a rest!

~ for a special visit with our Kilgore-Hallsville-Carthage-Houston family. It was a different location this year, but the love and the good food and the warm fellowship was the same! Such a blessing to gather and love on one another.

~ and for a fun surprise visit from Uncle Mike and Kenedy!! We have had fun coloring and playing dress up and looking at Christmas lights. It is always so special to have them with us.

~ the puppies are growing and changing and getting cuter every day. They. Are. SO. BIG! It looks completely absurd when they tackle poor Mama Birdie to nurse…it looks like that are devouring her! They are now consuming 13 pounds of puppy food a week, and producing roughly 496 pounds of poo each day. Keeping the pups and their pen clean is a nonstop endeavor. Just two more weeks til they go to their forever families. I can’t deny looking forward to the reprieve, but I’ve already shed some tears when I think about saying goodbye. They truly have 11 large pieces of my heart.

The pace has been relentless, between the painting and the puppies and the poop, and I’m not going to lie, I am WEARY. My emotions have been more fragile and raw than usual. I never know what is going to be a trigger. Missing loved ones, looking at decorations that I used when we were in the hospital, the birthdays of two grandmothers who never met, but shared a birthday and both made a lasting imprint on our family and my heart. I’m overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with all I have on my plate. Overwhelmed by the weight of so many needs and struggles and hurts in the lives of people that I love. Overwhelmed by the goodness of God and the love He lavishes on me every single day, even when I fall on my face.

I am weary. But I rejoice. The joys and the sorrows and the precarious tension between them are present all year round, but something about Christmas brings all these things to the forefront and shines a spotlight on them. Maybe the season of Advent, the waiting season of preparation for the birth of Savior is an annual appointment for us to reevaluate and sift through what His coming really means to us. It means we have great expectations, yet He always comes in the most unexpected way. It means that waiting, even the most excruciating waiting, is critical to our transformation from death to life.

We are weary. Yet we rejoice. We wait. He is coming. Emmanuel, God with us. He is here.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.”(Romans 8:19)

““Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.”(Revelation 21:4-7)

God With Us

I am thankful:

~ for my favorite view…a bazillion stockings on the fireplace, soft, twinkling lights on the tree and new mantel decor this year. I spy a refurbished treasure salvaged from my roadside adventures.

October “Treasure Week”

~ for how excited the kids are to draw each other‘s names for our sibling “Secret Christmas Buddy” gift exchange.

~ for Carson Grace starting her new job this week, as a sales lead at Aeropostale. How crazy for my girl to start a job in retail clothing just like I did at her age. She’s learning a lot: retail at Christmas is no joke.

~ for the cutest puppies in all the land.

They are doing great. We learned how to feed them their transitional semi-liquid food by trial and LOTS OF ERROR. Josh upgraded his feeding center, and they are finally getting the hang of it.

Some have it more figured out than others

They are visibly growing and changing every day. I can’t believe they are 4 weeks old today, and that THEY ALL HAVE HOMES! It makes me so happy to think of how much joy they will bring to so many families. For now we are enjoying all the sweet puppy breath and snuggles.

~ for all the help when putting a project together. ALLLLLL the help.

~ for exhilarating high school football playoffs. Even though a televised game is a weak substitute for the in-person electric energy of a brightly lit roaring stadium on a Friday night, the necessity of these broadcasts now enables so many more people to get to watch games they would not be able to attend (including us!). This week we were excited to see the Carthage Bulldogs secure ANOTHER trip to the state championship in their division. AND we were beside ourselves as we watched the nailbiting comeback of the Lindale Eagles, as they soared in for a victory and ticket to their state championship. Coach Chris Cochran and his wife Lindsay and sweet Coby Tate are family to us, and we could not be more proud of this well-deserved victory for them and their boys.

~ for Samantha’s very first acting gig! She and her 6th Grade Drama class presented the play, “Too Wrapped up for Christmas,” and did a fantastic job. While Sam said acting “isn’t really her ‘THING,’” she said she had a great time. How are these babies growing up so fast!?

~ for SO MANY PROJECTS underway for Giddyup & Whoa! I have continued to get new orders daily, and I’m painting and wood burning as fast as my little fingers can go! It’s always such a blessing to meet another customer and see them pleased with their sign. I still have many projects to complete for Christmas gifts, so I am HUSTLING. I have one particularly intimidating order…a MASSIVE 7 footer. I call this part of the season “the Christmas Crunch.”

~ for all our favorite memory-laden Christmas decorations. Grandma Grace’s nativity and handmade felt ornaments.

The well-loved Fisher Price nativity, that never seems to have all its pieces at one time (it’s usually missing Mary, and several times we have lost Baby Jesus. We replaced the angel one year, but we are still short 2 wisemen.) This little snowman and puppy combo was a Hallmark classic. Our sweet Granny Lucy bought it when Cooper was a baby, 16 years ago. We have loved pulling it out every year and listening to its cheery jingle bark song.

It traveled with me to Dallas when Sawyer was in the hospital at Christmastime two years in a row.

One year it stopped working, and I researched how to clean battery connections, and then painstakingly swabbed the connectors with white vinegar. By some miracle it worked, resurrecting the Christmas cheer. And now Tatum K loves it. It reminds me of Granny and always makes me smile.

Another favorite tradition is celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas with Grandmommy. She spends so much time and thought putting together gifts for the children, and we love the excitement of singing each verse of the song and opening a gift each night.

Traditions mean so much to me. Always have. I think back on spending Christmas at Grandma Grace’s house…the ornaments and nativity that I loved so much when I was little, and the sparkling Christmas tree made from her jewelry that would mesmerize me for hours. I remember her card table set up with the poinsettia tablecloth, serving up orange 7up punch with her pretty crystal cups, mixed nuts, homemade Chex mix, and ALWAYS a little tray of Andes mints. At my other grandparents house, we would celebrate on Christmas Eve in their cozy basement, with a big spread of food, including my favorite peanut clusters, and often we would have a White Elephant gift exchange. I remember the year I was so greedy that I chose THE BIGGEST present, and it ended up being a huge and hideous velvet painting of an ocean, and my 8 year old self was DEVASTATED.

I hope one day my grown kids will tell their families about reading Luke Chapter 2 and eating monkey bread and sausage bread. I hope they explain all the stories attached to each of the ornaments they got each Christmas Eve, and how EVERY YEAR I would pretend to surprise them with “opening ONE present early” – always new Christmas pajamas. I hope they love pulling out Granny’s singing snowman and Aunt Dinah’s Christmas village. And I hope they’ll find their own special traditions that will become meaningful to their families.

Is Jesus at the center? It sounds like such a cliché, but do we have room for Him? Is there room in the busy-ness, between the Amazon orders and the holiday baking and the Christmas party-ing, is there any margin in our lives to sit at His feet? We pray and ask Him all year long to use us, but when it comes down to it, do we leave any room for what He actually intended to use us for: to listen to a friend who is lonely, to give to a stranger who is hurting, to forgive that family member who has hurt us?

I feel like most of us have gone through a lot this year, and we are all processing things differently. We may not be celebrating all our same traditions in the same way this year, but the Most Important Thing is still the same, and can’t be taken away by national mandates or quarantines. Emmanuel. God With Us. Wherever we are, He is there if we leave room for Him.

Let’s not lose Jesus this year.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)

““Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”” (Matthew 1:23)

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”(Isaiah 41:10)

Less but More

I am thankful:

~ for the astounding miracle of Sawyer turning 7! Seven. It takes my breath away.

I just never ever let myself picture him as a 7 year old. I didn’t dare. Sawyer’s doctors didn’t expect him to survive THE DAY on the day he was diagnosed with leukemia at 7 months old. BUT GOD. He had a less than 40% chance of surviving to age 5. BUT GOD. I can’t even type these words without the tears taking over. Now this miracle boy is 7! He is bright and active and doing all the things the doctors warned us he likely would not be able to do. BUT GOD! It’s so hard for me to treat him like a “normal kid.” To let go and let him be in germy, “virus-y” crowds, let him ride his bike and scooter in the street, and climb trees… And equally hard for me to get onto him like a normal kid: to not let him get away with murder, to not overlook whining or pouting, and to not favor him over his siblings. I can’t even explain how hard that is. I think about how much he has been through and how many times we almost lost him, and the rules and my resolve flies out the window. But I know overindulgence is the worst thing for him, and I remind myself that God didn’t deliver Sawyer only for him to grow up to become an entitled, spoiled-rotten little punk. He had a great birthday: donuts for breakfast, a mom/dad/Tatum K lunch date at school, and his menu-of-choice for dinner was homemade French bread pizzas, homemade mac and cheese, and chocolate cake with orange (colored, not flavored) buttercream icing. Thank You Jesus for allowing me to love Your boy for seven whole years!

~ for a wonderful and unexpected blessing. A local homeschool coop did a raffle ticket fundraiser and chose Gold Network of East Texas as the charity beneficiary. I was blessed to receive the donation of $122.25! And even better, I got to receive the donation from my sweet friend/sister!

~ for a long-overdue visit from sweet Aunt Dinah! She treated us to yummy Braum’s ice cream, and got her fill of kiddo hugs and puppy snuggles.

~ for Cooper’s first week of work at Chick-fil-A! Doesn’t he look so handsome?! So far he is loving it and learning more each shift. So proud of him.

~ for Gavin’s 4th grade Colonial Trades Day presentation. His group represented Colonial wheelwrights. He did a great job researching and reciting his part. He is such a bright boy. And he looked so handsome in his many-times-recycled costume. Over the last 10 years, the same embroidered vest and flouncy old lady blouse from Goodwill has been the attire for a Colonial merchant, missionary Hudson Taylor, Colonial barrel maker, and now a wheelwright!

~ for the hilarious pics I discover when I wake up from an accidental nap to realize that Sawyer has taken my phone. Nothing like taking selfies with your mom when she’s asleep.

~ for the blessing of a continued BUSY season for Giddyup & Whoa. We had a successful Barn Sale, and I got to participate in a home bazaar with some friends this weekend. Orders have continued to steadily pour in almost every day, keeping Josh and I hustling at the saw and paintbrushes. We are so excited and grateful that our small family business is growing. We love getting our kids involved. And we love bringing life to the vision our customers request! I can’t wait to eventually share pictures of some of the AWESOME Christmas gifts I’m working on!

~ for THE MOST WONDERFUL evening with my Love. For the first time in about 13 million years, we were able to slip away to do some Christmas shopping and go out to dinner. Like a REAL DATE! No kids. No puppies. It. Was. AWESOME! We got lots of our shopping done, and then OVER-indulged in a dinner at Lone Star Steakhouse! I thought I’d have to be rolled out of the restaurant in a wheelbarrow, but I did not regret one bite!

Another week of puppy-ing under our belt. Sweet pups are now 3 weeks old, and growing and changing every day. Eyes are all open, they are all walking, and trying to find their little puppy barks. And they are LOUD!

The Golden Girls
The Golden Doods

Today was Day 1 of introducing puréed solid food. What a slop-fest! Josh built an adorable feeding station with little bowls, but man, those pups were all over the place! They walked through the food, ate it off their feet and off each other! It was quite a sight!

It’s so fun to see their personalities develop as they start to play with one another, and we have LOVED seeing several families fall in love with their puppy-to-be. It’s more work than we ever dreamed, but still so much fun. I apologize in advance if I bump into you in person and am wearing a questionable odor…I am trying hard not to look/smell like the zookeeper I FEEL LIKE! Josh got to work one day this week after being home for lunch, and it was a few hours before he realized that he was wearing a PUPPY SURPRISE on his pants! **Just a few pups still available.

As always, December has the potential for a month overflowing with too much of everything: an overburdened calendar, an aching bank account, and complete and utter exhaustion. Completely lacking in joy. What a tragedy to get so distracted by a counterfeit Christmas and completely miss the presence of Christ. I wrestle with it every year. Complicated emotions, emotional baggage, unrealistic expectations of others and of myself…it’s not hard to end up in the weeds. Maybe it’s the added element of the puppies and/or sign orders, but I have definitely felt a pull this year to SIMPLIFY. I want to DO LESS activities, but instead do things that MEAN MORE. I want to really get into the presence of the Lord. Get close to His heart. And share that with my kids. I want to soak in the beauty and wonder that comes from really grasping what Christ has done for us. And I just really want to love on my people.

Lord, fix my wandering eyes on You. Don’t let my get so distracted by empty busy-ness that I miss YOU.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

““Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:31-33)

“And Mary said, “My soul magnifies and exalts the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has looked [with loving care] on the humble state of His maidservant; For behold, from now on all generations will count me blessed and happy and favored by God! For He who is mighty has done great things for me; And holy is His name [to be worshiped in His purity, majesty, and glory].” (Luke 1:46-49 AMP)

BUCKLE UP!

Well it’s been a monumentous week at Casa Rucker.

We DO have so much to be thankful for!”

I am thankful:

~ for beautiful weather for a successful grocery shopping day, at ALL THREE STORES!

Store #1
Store #2
Store #3

~ for Gavin and his class performing an moving and inspiring Veterans Day program at chapel. Obviously it was more meaningful this year than ever before. Listening to the patriotic words of our forefathers who pioneered the way for freedom highlighted our need today to press in through prayer and faith so we don’t lose those freedoms that were so hard fought for. And Gavin also had a solo which was just beautiful. You can watch the program here.

~ for the awesome opportunity to attend an amazing event. Long time Texas Rangers fans, our family are big-time fans of Derek Holland, the former star Rangers pitcher. I had the chance to meet him years ago during Sawyer’s treatment when the team visited Children’s Hospital.

Around that time, Derek made a special connection with another childhood cancer warrior and created his own nonprofit organization… The 60 Foot 6 Foundation, named for the distance from the pitchers mound to the plate. The young boy bravely battled cancer, and rallied back after several close calls, but did eventually pass away. Over the years Derek has raised funds and generously supported the childhood cancer community. Earlier this year, I connected with the executive director of his foundation, and she invited our family to be guests of Derek to his fundraising concert in Fort Worth this week. What an amazing night! We enjoyed fantastic music from the über talented Fort Worth artist Josh Weathers, got to meet some other childhood cancer families, and hear Derek’s moving personal testimony of the life-changing impact his young friend had on him. And of course, we got to meet Derek! Like REALLY meet him. He and Sawyer bonded quickly, with Derek saying, “this kid is the cutest!”

We so enjoyed his down-to-earth demeanor, and his charge to the crowd to “not wait until this (childhood cancer) affects you personally…Do something NOW to support these kids!” I also loved this exhortation, “We need to stop spending so much time comparing ourselves to each other and start comparing ourselves to what we did yesterday.” There were some unbelievable silent auction items and prize drawings, and although we did not win anything, another attendee who DID win gave his prize to Sawyer! An engraved Ian Kinsler bat!

Sawyer was over the moon, and has hardly put it down since. He has proclaimed that he wants it mounted “in a frame with glass” in his room! It was such a special, memorable night, and my hope and dream is that it COULD be a door that God could open for Gold Network of East Texas and 60 Feet 6 Foundation to collaborate on more projects in the future. We’ll see!

And the news of the day: last Sunday’s shotgun wedding was just in time! Birdie had her puppies this morning!

Not 3.

Not 5.

Not 8.

ELEVEN PUPPIES!!!!

Mama and pups are all doing well. Birdie has been an amazingly attentive mother, and I’m telling you, they are THE CUTEST things you’ve ever seen. A first litter of eleven is pretty much unheard of, and we have never done this before, so it is definitely a daunting undertaking. I was up with Birdie all night as she labored, and have stayed by her side pretty much all day to make sure nobody gets stepped on, crushed, or misses a feeding. I am continually counting little heads over and over – reminds me of taking Littles to the pool. And we are also supplementing with bottles just to be sure all the puppies get enough nutrition. OVERWHELMING? Maybe just a tad. Are we INSANE? Probably. But the kids are all thrilled, and I know they’ll all pitch in. Colton spent the day helping any way he could, including cooking dinner! These are the kind of memories I’m thankful to be making with them all. And we’re not afraid of hard work. (Ok, I might be a TINY BIT AFRAID THIS TIME.)

Soooo, that being said…anybody want to give a pretty amazing Christmas gift? These sweet babies are all for sale and will be ready for their forever homes just after the first of January. We’ve had a lot of interest in them already, but we definitely had more than we were expecting! (Miniature goldendoodles are a WONDERFUL breed, hypoallergenic, non-shedding, and fantastic with kids.) Bear and Birdie are the BEST DOGS!

So this week, in between school Thanksgiving feasts, 5th grade wax museum, and the regular tasks of our Jumbotron Tribe, I have “Christmas in the Country” at the Gresham Barn Sale for Giddyup & Whoa to get ready for (November 18-21),

and 11 puppies to tend to (and feed every 2 hours round the clock!) JESUS HELP!

I cannot believe I have 9 kids and 13 dogs. I have become THAT LADY.

My hands are full, but my heart is FULLER. Ain’t nobody got time for grammar with this much going on!

Thanks for giving thanks with me. BUT GOD!!

“The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”
‭‭(Psalms‬ ‭126:3‬)

“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.” (2 Corinthians‬ ‭12:9‬)

Come Together

WHAT A WEEK, HUH?

I don’t know about you, but I am EXHAUSTED. But, in times of trial, in times of questioning, it’s more important than ever that we CHOOSE GRATITUDE. Training our eyes to seek out and focus on the simplest blessings around us makes all the difference.

I am thankful:

~ For Taco Tuesdays and steaming hot charro beans fresh from the instant pot.

~ For quiet mornings at home on repeat: Tatum K + dogs + paints + The Greatest Showman.

~ for fun neighbors to hike and explore with.

~ For sweet helpers in the kitchen.

~ For Carson Grace having a spontaneous weekend road trip with her roommates to do some hiking in the beautiful hills of Oklahoma.

~ For an exciting week for Cooper. He has been super into music for about 3 years, and has been producing his own beats and songs on software on our home computer. He has created a makeshift (almost) soundproof recording studio in the pool bathroom, and spends hours editing his songs. He recently purchased a self-production media kit, and this week he released his first single on YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify, and Apple Music. His artist name is Davvec, and the single is “Reminiscing.” It may not be your taste in music, but we are so proud of Cooper, of his drive, his talent, and his commitment to becoming an artist. He created every element from scratch on his own! Give him a listen! https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/davvec/reminiscing

~ For Colton taking his little sisters out to dinner. This special time with their big brother was off-the-charts exciting for the girls, and they all had a blast. I love that he wanted to spend time with them.

~ For exciting news that we have been anxiously awaiting to announce. We had an intimate backyard wedding this week. To be honest, it was a shotgun wedding. The newlyweds are expecting their first litter any day now.

Look at those smiles!

~ For a special time at church this morning sharing part of our fostering and adoption testimony for National Adoption Month. It was a meaningful and encouraging service, highlighting the various ways people can make a difference in the lives of the innumerable children in the foster care system. I’m so thankful the Lord opened our eyes and our hearts to adoption, and for the family He hand picked for us, a family I far too often take for granted. You can find more information on how you can help at http://bethelightetx.com

For many of us, it’s been a long, stressful roller coaster of a week. I know that I know that I know that God is in control. He is high above all earthly authority and supersedes every government. He is Lord and King of all. And I know He is sovereignly on His throne and not rattled by all that goes on around us. I know all this. I’m confident of all this. But somehow, as I sat and watched the election coverage, watching the states turning colors and the consultants making their predictions and speculations…my heart began to pound. I could hear it in my ears. I could feel it in my forehead. Peoples’ angry reactions and insults and tantrums were making me physically sick. I’ve never been affected this way by politics before, and it just really sent my anxiety off the charts. So much hate and ugliness attacking from both sides, I just felt so grieved that our nation had come to this. And even as I could physically feel my peace being sucked out of me, it was like I couldn’t tear myself away from it. BUT GOD. Thankfully I have a wonderful husband who guards my heart when I don’t do it myself, and he encouraged me and turned off the television and tucked us into bed. And as the drama dragged out day after day, I would feel the tension rise up again, but I was reminded over and over of God’s sovereignty and His faithfulness. He has a plan for our nation, and He WILL BE GLORIFIED. I love this picture I took on the morning of November 3 of Gavin and his classmates.

Four innocent 10-year-olds with no agenda, who love their country just because it is THEIR country, raising and saluting our nation’s flag just because it is the right thing to do. At this point, it doesn’t really matter who we voted for. It’s time to come together to honor and pray for our nation, to honor and pray for our president, to honor and pray for each other. It’s time to stop throwing stones and taking sides and start coming together so we can be a nation that our children can continue to be proud of. And for those who have claimed Jesus as Lord, it’s rubber-meets-the-road time…to walk out with our feet the trust in Him we have proclaimed from our mouths, and to conduct ourselves in a way that honors Him (speaking to myself here).

GOD IS FAITHFUL.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, The people He has chosen as His own inheritance. The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men….Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in Him, Because we have trusted in His holy name. Let Your mercy, O LORD, be upon us, Just as we hope in You.” (Psalms 33:12-13, 20-22)

“if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (II Chronicles 7:14)

Awake

I am thankful:

~ for the first cozy fire of the season. We LOVE a fire! And fresh baked pumpkin muffins.

~ for my first Burger Warehouse burger. What a treat!

~ for the joy in my kids’ voices when they run inside calling, “Mama! You HAVE to come look at the sky!!” May I never take for granted the privilege of seeing the wonder of God’s creation through their eyes.

~ for Colton’s first groundbreaking ceremony for a new commercial construction project with his company.

Colton, second from the left

~ for the opportunity to attend Gavin’s 4th grade Toastmasters speech. He told the story of crashing his big brother’s bike and earning 7 stitches. Gavin was a natural in front of his class, speaking clearly and confidently. So proud of him.

~ for the perfect autumn weather for an evening stroll.

~ for HOPE: a first tiny step in the right direction for a long-standing prayer request.

~ for God’s care and provision over every detail. Monday at lunch, I asked God for work for Giddyup & Whoa. We had gotten caught up on orders, and our schedule was open. (Which is NOT a good thing for a small business.) WITHIN THE HOUR, I got an order through our website for 12 handpainted ornaments. An hour later, an order for 9 more. And this week I got additional orders for 10 more signs! Glory to the Lord! If you need me, I’ll be in the studio! And if you need a unique and meaningful gift for Christmas, Josh and I would love to create a special piece for you. But get your order in early! Thank you for supporting small businesses. Target and Amazon don’t care about your order, but the small shops you support DO! It genuinely makes a difference for our families.

~ for the cool blessing of seeing our oldest work with his dad to help us get all these signs built.

~ for 20+ years of friendship. When Josh and I came to the Lord, it was such a season of firsts. New marriage, new faith, new baby. And we had the incredible blessing of going through all those firsts with some really special couples. Further along in their faith, they discipled us and ministered to us, answered our questions, and taught us about Jesus just by living their lives openly and inviting us along. We were all growing our families for the first time in that season, and it was the most awesome time of fellowship and eating together and staying up way too late with a room full of pack-and-plays full of not-really-sleeping babies in the next room. Our kids all had built-in best friends from birth. Then life had twists and turns and changes. Job changes, more kids, address changes, blessings, and tragedies. We don’t hang out every weekend anymore, haven’t for years. But the love is the same, we treasure the memories, and we give thanks when we have the opportunity to get together again.

2004 – I remember thinking that this group was a TON of kids! But it’s actually LESS CHILDREN than I have in my family alone now! Since this picture, we have collectively added 9 more children to our families.

~ for my favorite fall tradition: the Thankful Game! Our family has a giant group email thread for sharing big and small thankful thoughts each day. I don’t know how many years we have been doing it, but as long as I can remember. I love hearing everyone else’s perspectives, and the feeling of connection regardless of location. And the kids LOVE to participate, and it’s so fun to hear what they thank God for. It helps us get back to an attitude of gratitude.

I’ve been really convicted this week of my own laziness. It’s so easy to get into a routine and set the auto pilot. Get up each day, do all the things, lather, rinse, repeat. Check all the boxes. Looking busy instead of looking for Jesus. Skimming on the surface without going deep. But God. This week I feel as if I’ve been shaken awake from being half asleep. I heard my voice giving someone counsel that I was needing to hear myself. It’s time to wake up. Eyes up. Off my worries. OFF MYSELF. No more sleepwalking. No more tuning out. More of Jesus, less of me.

Are YOU awake?

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“He must become greater; I must become less.”” (John 3:30)

“This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Ephesians 5:14-17)