Back to School CRAY

I am thankful:

~ first and foremost, SO THANKFUL to report that Sawyer the Warrior remains CANCER FREE!!! GLORY TO THE LORD! Wednesday Sawyer, aka the Bravest Boy in the Whole Wide World, had his 6 month follow up appointment with his Oncologist and his ACE (After Cancer Experience) doctor in Dallas. It’s always an emotionally charged and exhausting day. So many triggers attached to going to the hospital down the all too familiar highway, and each time the same uneasy feelings build up as we prepare for either the best day or the worst day of our lives. But Sawyer never ever sees it that way. He’s THRILLED to go to the hospital.

One day he will be so embarrassed that he played on this like it was a dump truck

He loves to see so many of his favorite people (and his story so well known, it’s like he’s the little mayor of Children’s Hospital!)

Dr. Winick taught Sawyer how to use an ophthalmoscope, and then let him examine her

He knows he gets one on one time, extra snacks, gets McDonalds for breakfast and Whataburger for lunch (EVERY. TIME. His choice.)

And he knows he gets to go home with a toy. He doesn’t see the day as scary or stressful at all. What an amazing gift from God! As usual, he hopped right up in the phlebotomist’s chair, chatted and laughed with Miss Sharon as she placed the needle in his arm, and then cheerfully drew his own blood! I will never stop being amazed at the maturity and bravery of my 7 year old. It just blows my mind.

It is always such a blessing to see the wonderful doctors and nurses who so lovingly cared for Sawyer, and many of them hugged him (and me) especially tight this visit.

They have such an unbelievably hard job, and it has been a rough season of many hardships for them. Several of them took a deep breath and said, “I needed this dose of hope today.” Sawyer is a healthy 7 year old against all odds. No one thought he’d survive, let alone be THRIVING. BUT GOD.

I will never ever ever stop praising Him for the countless miracles He has done in Sawyer’s life. I do pray that one day I will not feel so overwhelmed with dread every time we go back. But I do know that Jesus will meet me with grace in those moments, no matter how I handle them.

~ thankful for our sweet Aunt Gina who finally got to join us for Sawyer’s appointment!

Hospital policy has limited us to only one caretaker, so I’ve been making the trip alone the last few times. Gina Sue had gone with me almost EVERY APPOINTMENT since about my 3rd trimester with Tatum K (when I realized that having contractions while barreling down the interstate at 75 miles an hour was probably not the best idea.) She has been a faithful prayer warrior, chauffeur, encourager, and the provider of the bottomless bag of snacks for almost 5 years now, rising at an appallingly early hour to drive FROM CARTHAGE TO TYLER, pick us up, and THEN DRIVE FROM TYLER TO DALLAS. AND BACK AGAIN. She’s such a blessing and a wonderful help and support. She knows I’m weary and that the day is always hard for me, and she goes out of her way to take care of me. I’m so thankful she’s my sister.

~ and thankful for this bag.

At our house, this bag can only mean one thing.

Aunt Gina makes the yummiest friendship bread, and it’s the kids’ favorite breakfast. They always know what’s in the bag when they see it. And it ain’t soap!

~ thankful for Colton being back from Albuquerque and spending his few days off with us. He was super helpful during my back-to-school-supplies-madness, and helped me divide up the list and track down every orange folder with pockets and brads, white polymer eraser, and broad tipped yellow and blue highlighter on the supply lists. And then we tried out a great new coffee spot in town, Crema. DELICIOUS!

~ for “decent” store-bought pimento cheese turned FAB with a few ingredients at home to jazz it up. I’m very particular when it comes to pimento cheese.

~ for a super fun day swimming with sweet school friends.

~ for Whataburger chocolate malts to celebrate August Tonight.

~ for this year’s sharp new Tyler Gold Run t-shirt design created by our graphic artist. I’m so excited for a different look this year.

Our Gold Network of East Texas events are coming up so quickly, it’s making my head spin. With no in-person events last year, I feel a little rusty at remembering what all I have to do! It is SO BUSY!!! Go GOLD Tyler, our event on the Downtown Square to kickoff Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is coming up August 31.

It’s such a special event, honoring all our families: on treatment, completed treatment, or who have lost a child to cancer. Our HERO wall with all our kids’ pictures grows every year, which is so heartbreaking. But watching the kids and their families walk the gold carpet is so inspiring, and the still over the crowd as the families release balloons for their loves who were taken too soon is a powerful reminder of why we do what we do. Read more about Go GOLD Tyler here.

And Tyler Gold Run is just 5 short weeks away! Where did summer go!!?? We are praying all goes as planned to have our race in person this year, and we are just so excited about this year’s 10k•5k run! Registration is open at tylergoldrun.com And if you are out of state or not a runner, we have the GoldDreamer option, to donate and be a part of our event right where you are. You even get the tshirt! I hope you’ll join us.

~ thankful that our pool toy box isn’t any deeper.

~ thankful for a really awesome visit with some really awesome friends. Some friends are just truly LIFE-GIVING. You know, the kind that you leave feeling so refreshed and lifted up. Find you some friends like that. And better yet, try to BE that kind of friend to somebody.

The kids start back to school on Wednesday. And the pre-crazy is in full swing. We have meet the teacher/locker day/orientation/swim parties back to back to back. 11th grade, 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th, and 2nd, across 4 campuses.

As much as we all love summer, we are ALL ready for this season to change. I’m always so happy to have the kids come home for summer. And I’m equally happy to send them back to school. To everything there is a season. But believe it or not, I will miss them when my house is quiet. But I just may enjoy a little quiet too. And I’ll still have my spicy Tater home for one more year. I want to soak up every minute with my girl, and not rush her off to grow up and away. She is excited to start “Pre-skoo wif my mama.”

Time continues to run away, and there’s no stopping it. My goal for this school year is to take it all in, not sweat the small stuff, press through even when I’m overwhelmed, and be my kids’ biggest cheerleader. I know these years are hard, but they are the moments I will never get back again. And I’m reminded that “hard” doesn’t always mean “bad.” We are all learning and growing and God is at work. I’m so thankful for His perfect grace and redeeming love. May we all look more like Him next May than we do today.

Even in the midst of all the crazy, thanks for giving thanks with me.

“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, But a good word makes it glad.” (Proverbs 12:25)

““Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me; O Lord, be my helper.” You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness, That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.” (Psalms 30:10-12)

“But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.” (Psalms 13:5-6)

Patience

I am thankful:

~ for a beautiful birthday for our beautiful Zoe girl. She turned 10 this week – DOUBLE DIGITS BABY!!! Zoe is such a sunshine girl. She usually stays pretty quiet, but her brown eyes sparkle with joy bubbling on the inside. She had a great day starting out with blueberry waffles with whipped cream and sprinkles, friends over to swim, pizza for lunch, and family birthday dinner with her menu of choice: taco salad and chocolate cake with white icing and yellow sprinkles.

~ for friends who pray. Like REALLY PRAY. And for steps, even baby steps, in the right direction. And the right direction is ALWAYS TOWARD YOU, JESUS.

~ for Sam’s Club Fried Pickles and Ranch dip. Haven’t tried it? Go. NOW!

~ for one of my very favorite salads: avocados and fresh tomatoes tossed in olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic salt. Simple and delicious.

~ for possibly the best “find” of my life. I stumbled upon this vintage map cabinet on Facebook Marketplace, and my heart jumped out of my chest. I am a sucker for anything with lots of drawers or cubbies, and I have had my eye out for a piece like this for years, but they were always WAY out of budget. This piece was a steal because it was in rough shape and the owner clearly just wanted it gone.

As soon as she arrived, I got started on her transformation. I lost track of how many coats of stripper I used to cut through slate blue, red, orange, black, and olive green paint.

The green was really beautiful, and I almost stopped at that point.

But I just couldn’t let it go. I just had to see the original wood. So another couple layers of stripper, a light sanding, and a couple coats of straight commercial bleach, and we were blown away!

We replaced the top (a piece of brightly painted plywood depicting a portion of the 12 days of Christmas) with reclaimed pine shelving that I alternately sanded and bleached repeatedly, added industrial casters, and repaired one side’s damaged veneer.

And now she is a SHOW STOPPER! I’m in LOVE! And the hours and hours of sweat equity make it all the more special. What BEAUTY was hidden beneath all those layers! It was a lot of work, and so so messy, but so so worth it.

~ for our first Sunday family dinner with EVERYONE HOME in a very, VERY long time. Colton is back from his month-long work assignment in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Carson Grace was home, Cooper finally didn’t have a schedule conflict…our Tribe, all together, around our giant table, breaking bread together. We didn’t even interrupt our fellowship to take a picture. Thank You Jesus for these moments that I used to take for granted when they were small.

~ for a Holy Spirit inspired, anointed Word preached in obedience, and as always, right on time. We went to church this morning, just like we always do. The message is always great, our pastor and guest preachers are always terrific, and are faithful to share Truth based in Scripture. But this morning, from the opening slide, it hit me right between the eyes, and pierced straight to my heart.

Patience.

The concept of patience isn’t new, isn’t revolutionary, and is a pretty expected theme for most of us. It’s always needed, and almost everyone wishes they were better at it. As Christians, we joke about how we have learned the hard way to STOP PRAYING FOR PATIENCE, because we know God cultivates and refines our patience through exasperating situations that require a level of patience that can only come by practice.

But where I’m at personally right this moment, I recognized the voice of my Father in those words. I have certain situations that have been the focus of my most fervent daily prayers. And, as I referenced last week with my very late blog post, there was a breakthrough. A REAL BREAKTHROUGH! Glory to God! He made a way where there was no way. He birthed a stream in the desert. But I was reminded that this first step, this miraculous breakthrough, is just the beginning of a very long road. And it’s so easy to look at with my own eyes and be completely discouraged before we even start. BUT GOD. NOTHING is too hard for Him. And He NEVER feels weak or discouraged. I have to be patient with the process and trust His plan and His timing, and remember that that waiting is one very important piece that cannot be bypassed or left out.

And, maybe even more importantly, the Lord reminded me that I have to be patient with myself. He’s still working on me. Still refining me. I guess I still need a few more coats of stripper and some sanding. I see my countless areas of weakness, of selfishness, of laziness, of pride. I hate my flaws. I am supposed to be strong, and people THINK I AM. I am embarrassed by the weakness of anxiety. And sometimes I even think, “If I’m honest about it, and humble myself publicly, surely I’ll be delivered from it.” But instant healing hasn’t come. And isn’t it an amazingly complicated trap that weakness and pride can become so woven together. I know it’s a process, and I know how I would encourage anyone else in my shoes. But somehow it’s so hard to extend that grace to myself. But I’m not refining myself, that’s Jesus. I’m not healing myself, that’s Jesus. And His healing, refining, restorative work is taking place in His perfect timing. And like a beautiful piece of music, the rests and pauses are as integral to the piece as the notes themselves. A story with no punctuation or a paper with no margins would be unintelligible. I MUST BE PATIENT WITH MYSELF AND WITH GOD’S PROCESS. There is beauty beneath the layers. It’s a lot of work, and so so messy, but so so worth it.

He is faithful. And I am encouraged.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)

“Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” (Psalms 62:1-2)

I Still Know

I am thankful:

~ for morning Bible time with my kids. I love their open hearts, and how they honestly pray for the people they care about. They never stop asking.

~ for two days in a row of short-but-sweet visits with Aunt Gina. This pic is of her being entertained by a Tatum K Original Song.

~ for YouTube videos. I’m grateful that so often I can look up the answers to my random questions. This week learned how to repair my crumbled blush compact with rubbing alcohol. Isn’t that handy?

~ for the opportunity to mail out Christmas in July gifts from Gold Network of East Texas to our on-treatment families. We have more families than ever before, having added 11 newly diagnosed kids this past year. It is heartbreaking every time we hear of another diagnosis. But I am more THANKFUL THAN EVER before that THE NETWORK IS WORKING! People know who to reach out to when they hear the news. And nurses and cancer families are reaching out to get these families connected immediately! It’s the worst club that no one would ever want to be a part of, but I am so incredibly grateful that we can ensure that no one will walk it alone. This week Sawyer helped me put Christmas stickers on our cards and get them ready to go out to the families, and together we prayed over each one. It fills my heart to see him have the opportunity to serve his “friends.”

~ for a fun painting birthday party for the girls to attend with friends. They had so much fun. I love that they jump at any chance to create and be creative. And they are all so talented!

~ for our latest, super-challenging puzzle, a bald eagle from the National Eagle Center in MN, gifted by Great Grandma. It was so hard, I did 93% of it by myself. The challenge eclipsed my time, taunting me to be completed. I spend WAY too much time on it this week, but FINALLY I was victorious.

But the victory was hollow, as somehow we are MISSING ONE PIECE. What a kick in the gut.

How you taunt me, o elusive missing piece

~ for a productive week of accomplishing our first round of back-to-school preparations. I’ve been sifting through the mountains of new and old school emails, tracking down summer math and reading assignments for each of the kids, and checking off each box that they complete. We made another trip to the library for the books we still needed, and we are almost done with everything! Only 17 more days of summer! Where did it gooooo?????

~ and for one more box checked, this one a fun one! New shoes all around! Does anything inspire more joy than spanking new school shoes? We had multiple fashion shows to celebrate the occasion. And man these kids are getting some BIG OLE FEET!!

~ for my new shirt, which I hope to make my new motto.

~ that I know God hears. Even in those times when I can’t even make my mouth form the words. He hears the cry of my heart. Because He’s my dad.

I woke up this morning knowing that it was August 1 and that July was finally over. That sounds so dumb and dramatic, but it’s just been such a battle. all. stinking. month. And I know it really doesn’t have a thing to do with the calendar. But I’ve just been in such a stuck funk that I haven’t been able to shake. Anxiety is such a trendy buzzword these days, and it feels like such a copout to throw it out there as an excuse. But it’s a real thing, and it doesn’t play fair. But God.

I still believe. And I still know.

And even though it has nothing to do with the calendar, I’m going to remember August 1, 2021. I’m going to remember why Sunday Gratitude didn’t get finished until the wee hours on Monday.

Because God cracked open my stifling, fog-filled vault and showed me a glimmer of hope. A literal breakthrough.

“Since when has ‘impossible’ ever stopped You? This is the sound of dry bones rattling… This is the praise makes a dead man walk again…”

Whatever it is that you’re asking Him for. Keep waiting. Keep trusting. He’s coming.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalms 42:1-5)

“The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace…. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” (Romans‬ ‭8:6, 11‬)

Not Finished

I am thankful:

~ to be home. We had a great trip and it was awesome getting to see so many of our family and friends. But after more than 40 hours of perpetual family togetherness in the car, we are OVER traveling.

~ for a bushel of juicy red ripe tomatoes waiting for us when we got home. We have been living off BLTs.

~ for waking up our first morning back home to one of my favorite sounds: the gentle rumble of a Texas thunderstorm.

~ that I am finally caught up on my laundry after no less than 7 loads of vacation laundry.

~ for crisp buttered toast with my Grandma’s blueberry rhubarb jam.

~ for a pic and a text from a friend saying that Cooper is great at his job.

~ for an experiment that paid off. We love love LOVE the brick floors that we painstakingly laid ourselves 2 years ago, but we have found them hard to clean. Josh had the bright idea of bringing in his pressure washer with the spinner brush attachment. We knew it would either be a success or an epic failure and flood. After a couple test spots and the addition of a mountain of towels and the shop vac, Josh got a good system going. It was A LOT of water, but the floors look amazing again! Great job, babe!

~ for the humbling honor and privilege of sharing my testimony at an intimate gathering of young moms at a pregnancy resource center. I’ve gotten more and more comfortable sharing about our childhood cancer nonprofit, about our personal journey through childhood cancer with Sawyer, and about our family’s adoption experiences. But it’s been a long time since I’ve shared with a group my raw personal experience as a lost, scared single girl faced with an unplanned pregnancy.

It was very emotional. But such an incredible story of God’s sovereign, redemptive Hand. I was thankful to share my story of hope with these young ladies, each with their own backgrounds, their own trials, their own stories. But each one of us the SAME: loved and valued and seen by our Heavenly Father.

That testimony just took place earlier this evening, and it was the perfect way to end an emotionally taxing week. I still hate July because we always get sick every year and because of losing Alan and missing him and because Cancerversary doesn’t seem to be getting any easier. Don’t get me wrong, I look at Sawyer and am completely overwhelmed with gratitude that he is healthy and well and cancer free. He is truly a miracle in every way, and I thank God for him every single day.

You can read my Facebook Cancerversary post here.

But looking back on that terrible day still has a shocking, staggering weight to it. This year it was the days leading up to July 23rd that were the worst. I couldn’t stop thinking about the days before we first heard the word “cancer.”

I always say we never saw the freight train coming. Those were the last days before we were branded forever with the identity of “cancer parents.” When the anxiety starts to rage, it begins with a heaviness in my chest. Like a deep dull burning ember. A heavy heavy weight in my heart muscle that crushes, suffocates, until I physically remind my lungs to breathe because they seem to have forgotten how to work. Then a sharp stab. Between my ribs, piercing, twisting, paralyzing my entire chest. Can’t breathe, can’t move, can’t think.

But then the guilt comes. I don’t get to fall apart: my child is healthy. We are not in the hospital. He survived. We are a success story. We got our miracle. Get over it and move on. Nobody wants to hear about your anxiety. I mean come on, it’s been 7 years for heaven’s sake.

I recently found a new Facebook page, “Off Treatment, Now What?” The moment I started reading, I was met by entry after entry, “I don’t know where I fit…“ “I don’t know how to talk to my friends who have lost a child…” “Why do I have such a hard time sleeping?…” “Why am I still struggling? Does it ever get any better?”

I resonated with all these people, but why didn’t it encourage me? Why did my stomach start to turn and my breathing suddenly speed up so fast? Why did I just want to run away?

I know that I always tell other cancer moms be kind to themselves. I’m trying to be kind to myself, but it’s hard. I’m tired of falling apart. I’m tired of feeling stuck, and like I am held together with chewing gum, scotch tape, and paper clips. I don’t know if reading these other stories made me acknowledge that I’m not as healed as I like to think I am? BUT GOD.

When I find myself in the midst of a breakdown, when I feel that downward spiral tugging, I remind myself that my anchor is set. God is faithful, and He won’t let go. I know He has a purpose for every single detail, every piece of our testimony, from the earliest days with Colton to all the things we struggle with today. Our story is still being written. And it’s for our good and for His glory. As much as I wish I was past all my hang ups, I’m thankful that I know that I know that I KNOW He’s not finished with me yet.

Whatever your story, whatever your struggles, He’s there.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;” (Philippians 1:6)

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

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

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
‭‭(Psalms‬ ‭73:26‬)

In Between

I am thankful:

~ for the joyful celebration of beautiful Coby Tate Cochran. We love our Miss Lindsey and Mr. Chris with all our hearts, and Coby is the most beautiful answered prayer, so celebrating him and them is easy!

Coby is obsessed with cows, so his “Cow Jumped Over the Moon” theme was adorable. We went to an awesome park in Lindale, and the kids had a great time playing and splashing and celebrating Coby turning 2.

~ for our first juicy and delicious red ripe tomatoes fresh from our garden.

~ for the best laughs. Sawyer has taken to wearing a mustache these days. Years ago when he was little, he had “Friend the Mustache.”

2018
The Original “Friend the Mustache” 2018

He proudly donned his new one this week and said, “‘Friend the Mustache’ is back!” He wears it almost every day. He came down and sat beside me and I looked at him and started giggling. “What?” he asked innocently. I just shook my head laughing and reminded him, “Your mustache.” To which he replied without hesitation, “What??? Is it upside down?”

~ for Cooper’s favorite French toast, slightly crunchy with cinnamon sugar and a hint of orange zest, dusted with powdered sugar, dripping with melted butter and warm maple syrup.

~ for Giddyup&Whoa signs to paint. I’ve had the wonderful privilege of painting for my dear friends’ new vet clinic (Faith Veterinary Clinc in Troup if you are looking for a vet), several weddings, and a special anniversary. I love creating something beautiful and meaningful for people I love.

~ for the sweetest concert. Our kids and their friends have been talking for WEEKS about a fundraiser concert they were planning for the neighborhood. For weeks I’ve heard them singing their hearts out at the top of their lungs. For weeks they’ve been borrowing the Alexa to play music and have “Sunshine Sisters” band practice. For weeks I’ve been hearing plans. Last week they had a stack of lumber in the driveway and half of Josh’s tools out. “What in the world is going on here?” we demanded. “We’re building a STAGE!” Thankfully we put an end that, or surely we would have had to get a permit from the HOA. Thursday I was in informed, “The concert is TONIGHT!” I began getting texts from other moms and neighbors, “Is this thing really happening?” And as I watched my children hustling and bustling through the house, setting up tables and gathering chairs and blankets… I soon realized, their plans were VERY real, and “this thing” was REALLY HAPPENING INDEED. When I walked out my front door, there were chairs in rows and a refreshment table. The kids had made signs and knocked on doors, and pretty much the whole neighborhood came out!

The kids sang and danced and told jokes and drew names for prizes. It was absolutely adorable. They even got their audience to participate!They collected $59 in donations for a local foster care support organization. I was blown away by their dedication, creativity, and courage. They had a goal, worked hard, and didn’t back down. And the support shown by our neighborhood was heartwarming.

~ for the bittersweet blessing of dropping two of my babies off at camp. Cooper and Samantha are THRILLED to go to Pine Cove this summer: Cooper’s 4th time(?) and Sam’s first. We have spent the whole week prepping and packing, and this afternoon I loaded up all their gear and made the short drive to the lushly wooded Pine Cove property on Lake Palestine. I know they will have a blast, but we sure will miss them!

~ and it will prove to be a fun week for Sawyer, Zoe, and Gavin, as they attend 4 nights of IGNITE, a VBS-type event at their school campus. Tonight was SuperHero Night. Kora and Tatum K (too old and to young for IGNITE) helped me bake some yummy muffins at home, and I will enjoy some girl time with them with the others are gone.

It was a mish-mosh week of highs and lows and everything in between. Just real life messes. Hoverboards left out in the driveway and half-dog-eaten crayons under the table. Clogged toilets and a pocketful of Kleenex-turned-confetti in the washer. The kind of week that caused me to know there are 52 days of summer left until the first day of school. Sometimes parenting looks like this…

Simple joy

And sometimes it looks like this.

When someone can’t resist sticking their fingers in the THIRD coat of a drywall project

I know that a huge part of parenting (or life in general) is the humbling, the stretching, the reaffirming that we don’t have all the answers. Our shortcomings highlight what a perfect Father we have. In our weakness He is strong. He never gives up, never wears out, never turns His back. I can’t tell you how many times I had to put myself in a time-out this week. I’ve emptied myself, come to my end. I’ve cried myself to sleep and said not-very-Christlike words in my closet. If you had a week that you had to sit and think a moment to come up with what you are thankful for… you are in good company.

But it’s still worth it.

It’s still worth giving thanks for sticky jelly kisses and a warm bed and silly mustaches and an occasional 5 quiet minutes alone with a great cup of coffee. And a reminder to give thanks that none of my babies are in the hospital. To take nothing for granted. The more of me that gets emptied out, the more room there is for Jesus.

Dear Lord, we DO have so much to be thankful for.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“Make me know Your ways, O Lord; Teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; For You I wait all the day.” (Psalms 25:4-5)

“Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you. Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.” (Deuteronomy 8:5-7, 10)

“On the mountains, I will bow my life to the one who set me there In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there When I’m standing on the mountain I didn’t get there on my own When I’m walking through the valley I know I am not alone You’re God of the hills and valleys And I am not alone” (“Hills and Valleys,” Tauren Wells)

Testify

I am thankful:

~for a bountiful garden. The change in soil fixed our problem, and our garden is going crazy! We literally have hundreds of tomatoes on our plants ripening, and I cannot wait to eat them all! Sunflowers stretching up, baby strawberries, baby bell peppers, and vines growing and crawling everywhere!

~ for a fresh new palm tree on the patio. Let’s see if I can keep this one alive…

~ for catching sweet sister moments.

~ for a colorful plate of happiness.

~ for a victoriously completed puzzle with, by-nothing-short-of-a-miracle, no missing pieces!

~ for another section of fence painting ALMOST completed. Loving the updated look, but the blazing Texas sun is brutal.

~ for a bright fresh coat of paint on the pool deck. It’s a beat down to do, but makes such a difference!

~ after nearly painting myself to death this week (at one point, I literally PRIED the paintbrush from my hand, and my cramped fingers STAYED IN THE POSITION from holding the brush!) I was thankful for a quiet and relaxing soak in a fragrant eucalyptus bubble bath. At least for a few minutes it was relaxing…

Ahhhh, a relaxing bath in the peace and quiet
But then I got company

~ for the kids having a truly wonderful week at VBS. All the volunteers did an amazing job, and the kids had the best time. It was Tatum K’s first experience with “PTS,” and she was a lot more timid than I expected. Lots of tears and clinging to Mama.

But she made it, and somehow wanted to go back each day. I nominated myself “VBS BUS” of the neighborhood, and most of our neighbor kids went with us each evening. Our family even won a prize for bringing the most guests. Such a fun and exhausting week for the kids.

It was strange not working at VBS. One evening I helped with serving dinner, but otherwise I just dropped the kids off each night. I wrestled with feeling guilty over it, but God had something else planned for me this week during my nightly 2 hours without kids. I had random but very purposely-appointed, God-ordained get togethers each evening. I know this timing was no accident. Last week and starting off this week, I was not in a very good place. As much as I purposed myself to refocus my eyes and heart from my circumstances to my Savior, I was failing. I wasn’t sleeping. Anxiety was fierce and persistent. I felt hollow and alone.

BUT GOD.

One night was the refining gift of back-breaking labor with my Love, ripping out our now-dilapidated planter boxes/poles that we built for our backyard string lights when we first moved here. They were cute as a bug when we built them, and we LOVE our string lights, but the boxes did not weather well,

2018

so Josh came up with a better plan to replace them with aluminum poles behind our fence. Unfortunately, that meant re-stringing the lights and hauling off the 250 pound blocks of solid concrete we had set them with. No small task.

But we got it done and rewarded ourselves with a decadent steak dinner at Longhorn Steakhouse. I can’t remember the last time we had an ACTUAL date. This was a good week for that one-on-one time.

Anyway, on my other evenings with my various activities, it was interesting that each time, I was put in a position to share parts of my testimony. Over and over, I was asked questions. How and where I grew up. How I met Jesus. How Josh and I did everything out of order in our relationship. Our adoptions. Cancer. So many stories.

So many amazing stories of God’s faithfulness and perfect timing.

It was no accident that God had perfectly timed these appointments on a week when I was feeling empty and low and defeated. I could have filled my time serving at VBS and had a great time, distracted from those feelings. OR, I could have had a peacefully child-free quiet home to sit in, and I would have squandered that precious time either mindlessly staring at Netflix or maybe wrapping myself up in my hurt and letting my anxiety completely wreak me.

BUT GOD didn’t let me.

A timely gift from a dear friend

Instead, He got me out of my comfort zone and asked me to tell my story. He asked me to TESTIFY. He knew that I needed to be reminded afresh of all He has done. TRUE MIRACLES. And not just a couple miracles. MIRACLE AFTER MIRACLE AFTER MIRACLE. As I told my stories, I felt as if I were hearing them for the first time. Hearing with brand new ears the things God had told me. The things He had taught me. The times when He gently held me, spared me, protected me. The times when He lovingly challenged me, stretched me, broke me and tenderly put me back together.

I was amazed.

And encouraged.

And refreshed.

WE HAVE TO TELL OUR STORIES. We know that we as Believers are called to testify: to glorify the Lord and to encourage others, but it encourages US TOO! It reminds us of where we once were, and how amazing our Father is. Oh, that we would not forget. Help us remember that no matter how small our mustard seed of faith, He made that mustard seed and planted it. And He planted it TO GROW. To be buried in the earth looks and feels and smells like death. But God BIRTHS LIFE!

What story can you share to remind yourself that God knows what He’s doing?

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’ ” Then the people bowed down and worshiped.” (Exodus 12:25-27)

“and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”” (Joshua 4:5-7)

“I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”” (Psalms 77:11-12)

“I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works. I will be glad and rejoice in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.” (Psalms 9:1-2)

A Puzzle and a Fence

I am thankful:

~ for the brave men and women who gave their lives serving this country so that we can enjoy so many freedoms today. May we never forget that our freedom isn’t free.

photo by Marvin D. Lynchard

~ for a fun day spent swimming with cousins and stuffing our faces with watermelon and amazing brisket and homemade ice cream. So much fun we didn’t take a single picture!

~ for the kids’ excitement over going to the library. My bunch as a rule are not avid readers, but they love to GO ANYWHERE, and the novelty of so many choices is always fun.

~ for a hard day’s work with my Love. But man, we are not as young as we used to be, and our bodies are literally falling apart.

~ for the gift of hot pizza after a long day.

~ for cool rain on my face and the sound of thunder.

~ for somebody who knows I love Buccees salted caramels.

~ for my littles who aren’t so little anymore, but still snuggle with me. I’m blessed with very affectionate children, and I absolutely adore it.

~ for the most beautiful little nephew who made his entrance this week! Meet Russell!!

~ for the genuine and kind young man Cooper has grown into. Seriously, that kid blows my mind.

~ for a Sunday nap with my dogs.

~ for a freshly painted fence.

Our fence needed a facelift

~ for morning Bible time with the kids. I love starting our day together in the Word. And I got each of them their own journal to write down their thoughts and prayer requests, so they can look back later and reflect on all that God has done from their own point of view.

~ for progress on a really awesome, but REALLY HARD puzzle.

I laughed that this week I spent my “free time” doing the puzzle and painting the fence: 2 measurable tasks that (UNLIKE PARENTING) have a clear ending point, can be successfully COMPLETED, and involve inanimate objects that cannot talk back to me. I needed to spend time with a puzzle and a fence.

It should have come as no surprise after making a bold proclamation ( in last week’s blog) that I would focus on my blessings instead of my lack, and that nothing is too hard for God, that I would be met with fiery darts and a gut check for my faith.

Life. Is. Hard.

And messy.

And loving Jesus does not give me a pass from all the hurt.

But it does give me HOPE. And I’m so thankful that NO MATTER HOW I FEEL, HE IS ALWAYS GOOD AND HE IS ALWAYS WORTHY OF PRAISE.

HIS FAITHFULNESS IS NOT CONTINGENT ON MY FAITH.

Storms come. Hurts. Wounds. Failures. Disappointments. Loss. Life isn’t always easy or kind.

BUT GOD.

He is still good.

I’m weak and empty. HE is GOD.

I’m flawed and selfish. He is HOLY.

My VERY BEST attempts at love are so limited. HE IS LOVE.

I’m out of answers. HE is THE ANSWER.

So today I am spending my energies on thanking Him for all He has done, and all He is doing, and all He is going to do.

Whatever storm or valley you are in the midst of, He is there with you.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

(Romans 8:38-39)

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” (Psalms 139:7-12)

“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”” (Deuteronomy 31:8)

Impossible

I am thankful:

~ for this handsome too-grown-up boy and his new haircut.

I hinted at it last week, but it was too new for me to fully process. I know it sounds ridiculous to be so dramatic about a simple haircut…but my cancer mama friends understand. When you’ve had a child that loses their hair during cancer treatment, hair becomes A REALLY BIG DEAL. Sawyer’s fine, straight baby hair grew back super curly and perfectly matched his vibrant personality.

Those soft curls nestled into the crook of my neck every night for years. I stroked those little curls while I waited for him to wake up after every spinal tap and bone marrow biopsy. Those curls would get sweaty when he got fevers, and I would know it was time to pack up and head to the Dallas ER.

I just loved his thick head of hair and everything it represented. It was like another badge of honor he had earned. But he was ready for a new “do” and I knew I had to let go. It was hard to watch. And Josh admitted it was very hard for him to do the haircut. But we are both so proud of him. Isn’t he just the stinkin’ cutest?

His first glimpse of himself…

~ for a fun day trip to Longview to pick up our final load of Toy Drive toys and to visit Aunt Dinah. Although our visits are never long enough, we managed to squeeze in a pizza party, fun in and out of the rain with her sweet neighbors, treasure hunting in her beautifully wooded backyard, and assisted her in testing whether or not her bathroom’s frosted glass window was frosted ENOUGH. We had a great day.

~ for the MOST AWESOMELY EPIC TOY HAUL! Our Annual Gold Network of East Texas Toy Drive was a fabulous success thanks to the many businesses and individuals who gave so generously. Not only did we collect hundreds of toys at each donation location, we were blessed with more than $1100 to go shopping with! Paula and I had a blast shopping for toys and gift cards with the donated funds.

All together, we collected 2,229 toys, a huge growth from last year. THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO GAVE!

We are blown away with your kindness, your support, and your generosity. We took all the seats out of our bus, leaving a spot for Sawyer, and turned it into Toy-Delivery-Mobile.

What a fun job that was! Of course, with current COVID-19 restrictions, we were not allowed to actually physically stock the CCBD Prize Closet like we have in years past, but we were met in front of Children’s Hospital by the Child Life Team. They greeted us with 2 large, industrial rolling bins, and I gleefully advised them, “I think you’re going to need MORE!” We ended up filling 4 bins to overflowing.

The Team was thrilled with the donation, and amazed by the quality of the toys you all collected. And our wonderful social worker, Diane, who has been by our side since Sawyer was diagnosed with leukemia at just 7 months old, was amazed to see him now: tall and handsome, with his new glasses and new haircut. She just couldn’t believe it.

~ thankful for sweet Aunt Gina who chauffeured us for the day, and encouraged me to override Sawyer’s lunch suggestion (Buccees of course). Instead we tried a new-to-us spot, Rodeo Goat, and enjoyed the MOST DELICIOUS burgers and fries.

~ also thankful for these delicious dark chocolate salted caramels. You can see I was not able to restrain myself from opening them even long enough to take a picture (see the empty space at the top of the canister?) Gina Sue gave them to me on Wednesday. And it is POSSIBLE that they MAY HAVE been GONE BY SATURDAY….possibly.

~ for a wildly successful mission yard sale at church last weekend, and a wonderful treasure that was clearly meant for me.

~ for an awesome afternoon at church helping decorate for next week’s upcoming Vacation Bible School. The kids have loved it every summer, and are so excited to be meeting again this summer!

~ for a great first week for Tatum K in her big girl bed! I thought she’d get up 8475 times a night, but amazingly enough, she never has! In fact, it seems that it has not clicked that she is PHYSICALLY ABLE to get out of the bed by herself. Instead, she SCREAMS AT THE TOP OF HER LUNGS, “MAMAAAAAAAAA!!!!!” any time she needs anything or in the morning when she wakes up. Also surprisingly, she hasn’t ever fallen out. So we graduated to the next level, from the mattresses on the floor to her actual bed with a frame. So cute.

I had a good wake up call this week. It can be so tempting to look at the hurts in our lives. To wrap up in a blanket of hurt and surround yourself with your disappointments. Isn’t it funny/sad how our eyes instinctively seek out a flaw. We do that with our lives. We look for the holes. The lack. We see what’s missing instead of what’s there. Let-downs, disappointments, broken relationships, people we miss. People who were never there in the first place. But today I sat in my chair and the Lord lavishly poured His love over me. He showed me all the things He has given me. All the people he has braided into my path. He lovingly reminded me of all the ways He has made up for what I lack. People who have loved abundantly when they didn’t have to. BUT GOD.

What would happen if we consistently focused our eyes on our abundance instead of our lack?

What are you praying for that to you looks unanswered? What looks impossible? I am loving the song “Rattle” by Elevation Worship. “Since when has ‘impossible’ ever stopped You?” I know so many people walking through such hard trials, and they are so beaten down and discouraged. But we, the people of God, believers in Christ, HAVE TO BELIEVE that He is WORKING WHEN WE CAN’T SEE! We shouldn’t be living like the ones who have no hope! Do we really believe it? Do we really believe Him? And do we LIVE LIKE WE BELIEVE HIM? The beat from that song pounded upon my chest, and I could physically feel its resonating in my heart. NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOD. He hears every prayer. He is working, for His glory and for our good. He is working in the dark, working beneath the surface. So much of what He is doing we cannot see. So we foolishly think nothing’s happening. We are so arrogant and impatient with God, second-guessing His ways and His actions (or the appearance of inaction.) I promise you I am preaching to MYSELF here. I have situations that I have worried myself half to death over, and I have begged God over and over to move. But I have to remind myself that He cares more than I care, and He knows more than I know. And His timing is ALWAYS perfect. And the stretching and refining that only comes through waiting is JUST AS important (if not more so) than the answer itself.

What is your “impossible?”

Think again. He’s not done yet...

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.””(Matthew 19:26)

“The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart exults, And with my song I shall thank Him.” (Psalms 28:7)

“The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name.”(Exodus 15:2-3)

“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” (Psalms 31:24)

“My God is able to save and deliver and heal and restore anything that He wants to / Just ask the man who was thrown on the bones of Elisha if there’s anything that He can’t do / Just ask the stone that was rolled at the tomb in the garden what happens when God says to move…”

This is the video for the song, “Rattle.” May it bless you and encourage you as it has me. https://youtu.be/xrAdbH28gIg

Ready or Not

I am thankful:

~ for God’s mercy. I limped to Him last week (and every day since then) and He has lovingly held me and encouraged me and let me just be His child without all (or ANY of) the answers.

~ for an exciting new adventure for Colton. After years of working in the food service industry, this week he started his first “grown up job,” as a superintendent for a commercial construction company. He’s got a new uniform, his own business cards, and has already started traveling out of town for a large project. He has already learned so much in his first week, and has been eager to share details from his days with us. He is so excited about this big step, and we are so proud of him!

~ and a big next step for Carson Grace as well: we moved her back to ETBU for her sophomore year of college. New apartment-style dorm, new roommates, and a fresh new enthusiasm for her classes after the abrupt end of her freshman year. We got her stuff all moved in despite a sudden downpour, and her room is cozy and organized. As always, it was hard to say goodbye, but we know she’s right where she needs to be. Since she left, we have chatted every day, and this morning we all enjoyed watching her lead worship with one of her professors at his church via a LIVE broadcast. She is excited for her first day of classes tomorrow!

~ the mixed blessing of having Carson Grace back at school means I once again have my beautiful work space (her now empty bedroom) for Giddyup & Whoa painting. I love that room, the crisp white walls and gleaming natural light. It’s just a space that inspires me. We’ve had some lovely pieces to work on lately. All the kids have taken turns painting in there with me, as well as some rousing games of UNO and charades.

~ for a succulent roasted sheet pan dinner: BBQ chicken, quartered potatoes, and green beans.

~ for the great honor and privilege of Gold Network of East Texas being chosen as a charity beneficiary of the Fresh 15. The race took place back in March the week before the country shut down, and Brookshire’s Grocery Company held a Virtual Check Presentation this week. So thankful to be in the company of the finest and most respected nonprofits in our area.

~ for the perfect mouthwateringly tart sweetness of a cherry sour candy.

~ for 99.9% school supplies ready to go for all 6 kids. Especially considering A) as of Monday I had not purchased ONE ITEM and B) I did not have to set one foot in a store. Online shopping, I love you!

~ for the kindest people that the Lord has braided into our lives. It is no secret that the question facing nearly every family in America is whether or not to send their children to school. And Josh and I have wrestled day and night over our options. We have prayed. We have made lists of pros and cons. We have prayed. We have sought council. We have prayed. We have been still. We have prayed. And prayed and prayed and prayed. Ultimately, FOR US (and the most important distinction I want to stress is that EVERY FAMILY is doing their VERY BEST to make the best choice for THEIR CHILDREN…and that will mean something different to each of them. NO JUDGMENT!) we have made the decision to send our kids back to their school. And let me tell you, our kids are EXCITED! They are chomping at the bit to get back to their school and their teachers and classmates. Their eagerness and loyalty to their school has helped soothe our uncertainties at least a little. But it still is a weighty decision that I have continued to struggle with. BUT GOD. One day this week, our principal called to check in on our decision. I heard the words came out of my mouth, “We are planning to send them in person,” (as opposed to doing virtual learning from home). As soon as I spoke, I realized it was the first time I had spoken those words aloud, and I burst into tears on the phone. At that moment, our principal, my friend, became to pray for me right then. She prayed for God’s peace and grace to flood my heart, for protection for each of our children, and for wisdom to make the best decisions we can for our family. Her kindness and grace met me in that moment, and my weary heart was encouraged. I can’t say I’m past my concerns, or even that I am confident that we’ve made the right choice. I don’t even know that I can single out a particular ACTUAL FEAR that is plaguing me. Just that nothing feels safe or “normal” or familiar or easy. But I am freshly reminded of why we LOVE the community that has been our home for 16 years. They know us. They know our kids. They’ve seen us through fostering, through adopting, through cancer. They have rallied around us and prayed for us when we were tossed from one storm to the next. I am NOT thrilled with the prospect of sending my kids back out into a group setting with so many unknowns, but I AM CONFIDENT that they are going into an environment where they are loved and seen and that everyone on every level is covering every aspect with prayer.

This is a big week of dropping off supplies, meeting teachers, and for Kora and Samantha, touring a brand new school. Tomorrow is the first time tiptoeing out of the quarantine bubble as we start the precursory steps. The official first day of school is Wednesday. Since March, we have been home. Together. With the exception of an hour here or there, I haven’t been away from my kids. And believe it or not, I’m not impatiently waiting to boot them out of the house for some “peace and quiet.” After months of keeping them safely at arms’ reach, I can’t even wrap my mind around dropping all my babies off and driving away. Especially after daily temperature scans and with masks as a normal school supply. Ok, I’m starting to hyperventilate again, need to refocus my heart. It’s a big week and the kids are excited to meet their teachers and see their friends. I am excited to see God’s hand at work in the midst of chaos and uncertainty.

And what in the world am I going to do with Hurricane Tatum K?

Thank you for all who have been praying for us. And for all of you moms, dads, cancer families, educators, administrators, doctors, nurses, first responders…I am praying for you, too. Lord, help guide us to the best choices for each of our families and also help us to respond to people who think similarly AND differently WITH KINDNESS AND GRACE. We all just want to get through this season the best we can. God is still on His throne where He has always been. His plan is still good, and I trust Him with my life and the lives of my children.

I’m back to praying two prayers over and over:

“Not my will, but Yours, Lord.” And “Jesus come.”

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“The LORD your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”” (Zephaniah 3:17)

“Your love is deep, Your love is high. Your love is long, Your love is wide. Your love is deeper than my view of grace Higher than this worldly place. Longer than this road I travel. Wider than the gap You fill…” “Your Love is Deep” by Jami Smith

“Waymaker, miracle worker Promise keeper, light in the darkness My God, that is who You are” “Waymaker” by Sinach