Tiny Little Moments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

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

“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

Romans 12:10-13 NIV

Thankful for a Faithful God

I am thankful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

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

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

Back to School Daze

I am thankful:

~ to be DONE BACK TO SCHOOL SHOPPING.  It only took me 3,647,447,262 trips to 78,226 stores to get what everyone needed. 

~ for our wonderful, kind teachers at Grace Community School, and how thrilled each of the children are with the classroom they were placed in.  I love the aroma of eagerness and hope at the beginning of the school year.  There is just so much promise: new friends, new skills, new adventures.  There are few things that thrill my kids more than strapping on a brand spankin’ new pair of tennis shoes and a 86 pound bulging backpack to go see friends they have missed all summer and meet their teachers.  

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~ for a good first day of school.  Everyone popped out of bed with a grin, gobbled up fresh baked banana muffins for breakfast, and doodled up in their favorite outfit to start off their new year.  (I may have chosen Sawyer’s shirt…)  We read our morning devotional, like always, and prayed over our day and our family and our teachers, like always.  Josh headed off to take Cooper to his first day of high school while I walked into the elementary school with 6 of my babies.  And walked out with just one.  I’m infinitely grateful for a school filled with people who love Jesus and love our family, and who give a whole lot of grace to this mama who has a very hard time letting go.  But God.  

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~ and as if that were not enough, Wednesday was the day to drive Carson Grace back to ETBU, this time for good.  Tatum K and I made the drive with her, and when we arrived, the dorm was HOPPING!  When we moved her into her dorm before her mini-mester 2 weeks ago, there were just a handful of students on campus.  But this week was Tiger Camp, ETBU’s Freshman Welcome Week.  All of Carson Grace’s suite-mates were there, and it was great to meet them and their parents.   I can already tell they are a really special group.  We did the few last updates to her room, went on a quick grocery run, and a hurried Subway lunch, as I had to rush back to Tyler in time to pick up Littles from school.  This meant I didn’t get to participate in the parent part of Tiger Camp, attending the first Chapel service of the year with Carson Grace.  But I know God’s timing is better than mine, and I trust that it was best for me to get on the road when I did.  Oh, it was so hard to drive away.  I could tell though, that she was excited and ready.  Much more so than the first time we dropped her off, all alone in the dorm.  This time her room and the campus were already familiar, and she was surrounded by classmates ready to dive in right beside her.  Hard hard for Mama, not so much for my girl.  And that’s how it’s supposed to be, praise God. IMG_5764.jpg

She has sent lots of pictures since Wednesday: scavenger hunts, team challenges, and community service projects.  She’s making lots of friends and looks like she’s loving it.  She and her camp group went to a local church this morning together, and classes start bright and early in the morning.  Proud of her.  But I sure do miss my girl.  I’ve spent a lot of time in her room this week, thinking about her, praying for her.  (I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying….)

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~ for traditions.  If you know me, you know I’m big on traditions.  Every year on the first day of school, we go to our very favorite snow cone shack in Tyler, Shivers.  Tatum K shared her piña colada snow cone with me…she loved her “pink-alada”!

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~ for kind friends.  Thoughtful friends.  For old and new friends.  For truth-telling-even-when-it-hurts friends.  For tried-and-true, gone-through-the-ringer, here-for-the-mountains-and-the-valleys friends.  

~ for steady Giddy up & Whoa work.  I truly love to paint, and our little home business is such a blessing to our family.  And I needed the diversion.  Thursday was even harder than Wednesday with the kids gone.  On the first day, taking Carson Grace to Marshall took the whole day.  I was too busy to think about anything. (WHICH WAS MERCY).  Thursday was a different story.  It was a different kind of quiet.  Not a TRUE quiet, because Tatum K is a wild little fireball and a constant chatterbox.  I know this year will be a sweet time with just my Tater Tot at home.  But for now, the empty house is echoey.  Too much space.  As much as my Tribe drives me crazy and I’m always exhausted with their questions and their squabbles and their needs…they are MY PEOPLE.  And I miss them when they’re gone.  So anyway, it was a blessing to have 5 sign orders that needed my attention during Tatum’s naptime.  And I’m pleased to say I got them all done!

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~ for a good evening and meal with Colton.  The Littles were thrilled to swim with him and climb all over him.  Always good to spend some time with my boy. 

~ for a nice start to our Gold Network Toy Drive for the prize closet at Children’s Hospital.  A group of sweet ladies all went out and purchased nearly 100 toys and donated them in honor of one of their friend’s birthdays!  What a great idea!  Last year we donated more than 1400 toys to Children’s.  We are collecting toys through the month of September.  

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~ for excitement brewing over all our upcoming Gold Network events.  August 29 is Go Gold Tyler, our annual Childhood Cancer Awareness night on the Tyler Downtown Square.  I’ve been reaching out to our cancer families and have been thrilled by the overwhelmingly positive response!  It is so special to have all these Hero families together.  And then Tyler Gold Run is coming up September 21.  For our big 5 year celebration (how can it be 5 years!?) we are thrilled to have added a 10k route and moved to a new, larger park.  I am always amazed at how our friends and family and the community rise up in support of all these brave kids and their families.  Please consider being a part of these special events, or donating toward the cause. 

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IMG_5513.jpg~and this is just INCREDIBLE!  One of our Hero families has a cousin who is an amazing artist.  She created an original watercolor painting and has DONATED IT FOR AUCTION TO GOLD NETWORK!!!  This priceless painting takes my breath away.  Please check out the auction and bid or donate if you feel led.  The auction is open until August 29.  Click here for details.

~for good baseball memories with my Love.  Josh is one of the biggest Texas Rangers fans that has ever lived, and he has passed this passion on to his family.  I learned early in our marriage that if I was going to have any quality time with my husband from April until October, I needed to learn to speak baseball.  So I asked a few questions, and it was his greatest delight to teach me the ins and the outs of the game.  So this week, it was very special to glue ourselves to the TV screen to watch a momentous milestone for our all time favorite player, Josh Hamilton, as he was inducted into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame.  Josh is one of the greatest talents to have ever played the game, but we love him because of his story.  He has battled drug and alcohol addiction for his entire career, and although he found salvation in Jesus Christ, he has continued to fall back into those self-destructive patterns.  But seeing him back on the field, hugging his old teammates, and hearing his bold and honest speech that gave all glory to the God who continued/continues to love him in the midst of his failures….we cried our eyes out.  It. Was. Awesome.  He closed his 14 minute speech with these words of encouragement for when we get knocked down, “Don’t you dare stay down. The God of the universe sent His Son to die so that we have the right to GET BACK UP IN JESUS!”

Our friend Harold needs your prayers.  He was allowed to go home from the hospital Wednesday, only to have hydrocephalus symptoms return Thursday, causing his parents to rush Harold back to Dallas for his FIFTH surgery.  Please pray for healing and wisdom for the team of doctors treating him.  And for grace and strength for his precious family.  Thank you for continuing to lift up the parents and family of sweet Lucas, who went to heaven last week.  Someone I love is recovering from a dreadful injury, and 3 family members are battling cancer.  So many people hurting.  Oh how I hate cancer.  Jesus come….

Friends, life is hard. It is hard and good and beautiful and horrible and excruciating and glorious.  Live well.  Love large.  Give freely.  Forgive.  See people.  Pray for one another.  Share Jesus.  

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

““A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.””  John 13:34-35

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  Hebrews 4:14-16 NIV

Sanctification

I am thankful:

~ for creative get-out-of-bed excuses.  “Ma-a-a-ma, I need to ask you something?  Do chickens fly?”

~for Giddyup & Whoa orders that come right on time.  Every single order is a blessing of provision.

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~for decadent French toast with orange zest and a crispy crust of cinnamon sugar.  I had a new recipe, and it was a resounding hit with the Tribe.

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~for the tender hearts of my children. We did not tell them about the senseless tragedies of last weekend.   But they are incredibly observant and quickly noticed all the flags lowered to half-staff.  When I briefly told them what had happened, they were aghast and IMMEDIATELY asked if we could pray aloud together in the car.  First they prayed for the grieving families of the victims, and then began to pray that God would touch the hearts of the shooters, “that they would come to know You Lord, and that they would be sorry for what they have done.”

~for such a special surprise: my sweet friend Meredith blessed Sawyer with one of her impeccably hand-sewn minky puppies!  Check out the gold childhood cancer ribbon!  If you haven’t checked out My Minky Co, you need to!  Thank you Meredith!

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~for back-to-school shopping.  It’s hard for me to say I’m thankful for this.  Not gonna lie. School supplies, shoes, and clothes for six in school is no joke.  Just the magnitude this year’s number is intimidating, but sometimes brave is what you are when you don’t have a choice. We tackled the stores as a wild and boisterous unit.  My kids opened every shoebox in every store.  They showed me every pencil that was ever made.  They were pretty good about not “asking” (they had been severely warned) but instead they just exclaimed over and over, “look at this one Mama!  Isn’t this one cute? Isn’t this one sweet?  This one is awesome!  I love this!”  I had warned them, don’t ask for everything you see. However, I had forgotten to specify, “don’t show me and describe every detail of everything you see.”  School starts Wednesday…I’d estimate that I am 68% done with the supply shopping.  And that I am 143% READY to be done.  It’s not that I want my kiddos out of the house, it’s just the progression of the season.  They are all ready to be done at home and back to their friends.  Instinctively they crave the structure and margin of the school setting, even if the appreciation won’t stay with them long.  

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~for grace for new seasons.  I don’t think I can express to you how different my life is going to be with Carson Grace gone to college.  She’s my babysitter.  My ONLY babysitter.  And I have become accustomed to running my errands by myself.  I just don’t take my people into stores.  I just don’t.  A couple of my children have literally been in a store, ANY store, like three times in their lives.  It’s just one of those things, that if I didn’t have to go with an entourage, I didn’t.  Well now, that luxury is over for the most part.  Six little people at the grocery store.  Six little people shopping for shoes.  Six little people in the return line at Walmart.  It’s just a different season.  But you know what… WE SURVIVED!  I’m not trying to say it was relaxing and poetic and my favorite way to spend my time.  But nobody backflipped off the shelves, and I didn’t lose any of them.  So I’m going to call it a win.  I think I’m going to be getting a lot of use out of my “big girl panties” this year.

~thankful to have my girl back, even if it’s only briefly.  Carson Grace finished up her mini-mester class at ETBU, and I drove with the Tribe to pick her up on Friday. Everyone was thrilled to see her, and excited to get to check out her new room at the dorm.  She goes back for real on Wednesday.  I’m thankful for the Lord’s kindness to allow us to have a more gradual “letting go.”

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She even sent me a “First Day of School” picture!

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~for a fun night at Meet the Cougars.  At this yearly fall school event, each high school athletic team is highlighted to get people hyped for the school year.  Very excited to see Cooper’s #19 jersey come out of the football tunnel.  He’s so excited about his freshman year.  Can’t wait to watch him play!

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~for Sawyer’s fun time at his Kindergarten picnic.  He got to see old friends and meet some new ones, and went on a scavenger hunt on the school playground.  So proud of my brave boy and how excited he is for kindergarten. Here come the tears again.  I don’t know what I’m gonna do without him every day. He just makes life so bright.  I hope I never outgrow the utter awe I feel when I look at him, knowing all he has overcome. 

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~for God’s Word spoken straight to the heart.  Sometimes it just pierces in such a powerful way.  The message this morning was on sanctification.  Being redeemed, made holy, and set apart.  Brother Alvin, our dear friend and visiting missionary from Honduras, referenced offering someone a cup of water in a filthy glass.  I long to be set apart for God.  Sanctified by His blood so that He can use me for His purposes.  But how often I come as a dirty vessel.  With unforgiveness.  With my own agenda.  With short-sighted expectations of my Father’s ability.  I long to set an example for my children of being set apart.  Called higher.  Called to be in the world but not of it.  To love with the sacrificial supernatural love of Christ.  How much more useful we are when we do it God‘s way.  And what a stumbling block we are when we insist on our own way.  The message hit me right between the eyes today.  Lord, cleanse me and sanctify me as a vessel of honor. 

Friends, sweet Lucas went to be with Jesus yesterday.  Now he is whole and healed and forever free from cancer.  And now his family is broken-hearted to have to live without him.  His suffering is over, and theirs has intensified.  Please, please pray.  Our lives will go on…theirs will never EVER be the same again.  And while they do have the blessed assurance that they will see their boy again one day, today…today there is unspeakable pain. 

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Love one another well.  Hold tight to your people and don’t skip the extra story and the 14th snuggle.  Forgive when you don’t think you should have to, and give more than you think is necessary.  Life is a vapor. You won’t regret it. 

Thanks for giving thanks with me. 

“Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 20:7

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”  John 17:15-19

Home Sweet Home

I am thankful:

~to be HOME! We had such a wonderful trip to the North, and made so many incredible memories, but there is truly NO PLACE LIKE HOME!

~to be out of the car!!!!!! Mercy, 40+ hours is a loooooong time! It was a long drive to Kansas City and then on to Winona, MN over two days. Then we spent a minimum of an hour each day in the car visiting various family members or attractions. 3 hours further North to the cabin in Wisconsin. And then, after such a tiring, jam-packed week of activities, the drive home was TORTURE. It seemed like we would never get to Texas, and once we did, the miles just went on forever. So thankful to be back to our home, our bed, our pets, and our coffee pot!

~for both old and new memories. I truly can’t put into words how meaningful it was for me to revisit places from my early life, and especially to do so with the people I love the most. To show my kids where I went to elementary school and high school. They have seen the pictures of their mama with big 80’s hair as a cheerleader, so it actually meant something to them. It meant something to Josh to see the beautiful surroundings of Decorah, Iowa where I went to college, the dorm where I met my friend Katie. Especially with our own daughter leaving for college soon. (Their running joke all week was that I had rebelled from an Amish heritage and gone to Corn College.) I showed them the treacherous winding gravel road that I rode my bicycle down to Grandma Grace’s house, road with them in the fields where I first learned to drive my Grandpa’s antique tractor, and introduced them to the delicacy of fresh and deep fried CHEESE CURDS! Many of these places also hold memories that are not at all sweet and warm. But to walk the old paths, now as an adult, and to see through the eyes of a new creation in Christ, AND to do it with my family…it was emotional and healing and beautiful. Josh and I even recreated a picture we had taken the first time I brought him to Minnesota to meet my family, 21 years ago. My how we have changed – I scarcely recognize those kids. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

~ for priceless connections with the kids with their cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and great grandparents.

~ for Chick-Fil-A!!! Oh how we missed you! We hit Sulphur Springs on the way home just in time for dinner, and the car erupted in cheers when we pulled up! Tatum K was SO DONE with the car at that point, but she perked up for chicken and french fries!

~ for the best neighbors on the planet. Our sweet friends across the street lovingly tended to our menagerie all week: 2 dogs, cat, guinea pig, and tank of lake fish. Another friend mowed our yard just because. Another maintained our pool so that it was clear and sparkling when we returned. This weekend, Josh was working on a faulty sprinkler in the yard and a neighbor came over with a shovel and spare parts and jumped right in to help! What a blessing to live side by side with such caring folks.

~ for new Dekalb Heublein Seeds hats for all! The kids hardly ever take them off. I took a picture to show my dad, and Sawyer insisted that I take one of him “wif this fing in my mouf, like a REAL FARMER.”

~ for unexpected, unbelievable generosity.

~ for the eager, loving hearts of my kids. “Mom! Come look! There is a beautiful Heavenly Glory outside! Come take a picture!” They are faithful and dedicated prayer warriors for any need, from a tummy ache to cancer. They love to help and cook and they give tremendous foot rubs. And they worship Jesus at the top of their lungs! Our trip served as a powerful reminder of how very special and unique and loving they are.

~ for reaching Sawyer’s 5 year “Cancerversary.” If you follow my Facebook or Instagram, you already read my post on July 23. If not, here you go:

“Cancerversary. So much has become hinged on this day. BC – Before Cancer. AD – After Diagnosis. 5 years ago life as we knew it ended. “Your baby has cancer.” The words fell into the hushed ER room, and time stopped. From that moment on, every single day was lived knowing it could quite literally be the last. I stopped making plans. I lived in a strained tension between the faith I clung to and the grim reality that slapped me in the face every time I walked the halls of the Oncology floor. Fast forward through 3 years of blood transfusions and spinal taps, bone marrow biopsies and adult chemotherapy, of administering shots in our bathroom and my baby taking his first steps in a blow up pool at the hospital.  Port placement. Port removal. A near fatal drug overdose/reaction. 2 Christmases in the hospital. Dozens of ER visits and hundreds of trips from Tyler to Dallas.  But also relationships built, lives changed, prayers answered. A front row seat to see the Body of Christ rising up and meeting the needs of the broken.  We’ve clung to each other and clung to Him for every breath.  And God has shown off. His Glory has surrounded us, overwhelmed us, overshadowed us. And today Sawyer is beautiful and bright and strong and healthy. If you didn’t know, you’d never dream he had fought this battle his whole little life. He is proud of his scar on his chest, announcing, “I don’t need a port anymore. Jesus healed-ed me, and NO MORE CANCER!” The doctors said he would experience developmental delays. But God. The  doctors gave him 24 hours to live. But God. BUT GOD!!!!”

The end of summer countdown has begun. 2.5 weeks until Littles go back to school. Which means 2.5 weeks until Sawyer will go to school EVERY DAY (as opposed to MWF last year). He’s so excited, so ready. I wish it wasn’t so hard for me to let him go. I’m so proud of him, and so thankful to God for allowing him to grow up to be so healthy and bright. He is truly a warrior, an overcomer. Lord, help me to trust You with his life today the way I did when he was a frail, sick baby. Help me to be as brave as Sawyer.

Brave indeed. Next Sunday we will load up and move Carson Grace to Marshall to start her journey at East Texas Baptist University. She is going early to take a week-long mini-mester as a part of her Music Major requirements. My heart isn’t ready to let her go either. I have cried about every 7 minutes all week. I know it’s time, I know she’s ready, and I’m so proud. But she’s my baby girl. Lord, help me to remember that she is Yours, not mine.

Please continue your prayers for sweet Lucas and his family.

And I’m sad to share ANOTHER new diagnosis in East Texas, 3 year old Harold, with an aggressive malignant brain tumor. Little Harold has already endured 2 brain surgeries this month, with a 3rd expected this week. Please lift these precious families to the Lord, for healing and for comfort in the midst of their worst nightmare.

Hug tightly the ones you love. Life can change in an instant. You are faithful Lord, and You are good.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” Psalm 121:1-8

My Old Stomping Grounds…and more

I am thankful:

I have to be honest. I was not super excited about this trip. Of course I couldn’t wait to see all my family. But we all love going to the beach so much, and that’s been our tradition for as long as I can remember. So to spend more than 40 hours in the car with the kids and NOT go to the beach was tough to swallow. I braced myself for lots of whining and complaining.

BUT GOD.

I could not have been more wrong.

God showed out this week. His plans were so much bigger, so much greater, so much grander than mine could ever have been.

We started off traveling through Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, and then back to Missouri to spend our first stopover in a Kansas City hotel. The next day was Missouri to Iowa and then to our primary hotel in Winona, Minnesota, close to where I grew up. Over the next several days we bounced back and forth between Minnesota and Wisconsin, visiting family and friends. We packed in more activity than I could have imagined possible, visiting my old stomping grounds and places I had never been. Everything was new to the kids, and my eyes were freshly opened on a whole new level:

*”TOTALLY PLANNED” quick stop at the iconic Blue Whale of Catoosa on Route 66

*Driving through Decorah, Iowa to show the kids Luther College, where I went to school, with a stop at the local ice cream hangout

*feasted on authentic Kansas City barbecue

*Swimming at hotel

*Playing at the world-renowned Lark Toys in Kellogg, MN

*Riding the intricately hand-carved carousel

*Mini golf

*4-wheeler/ranger riding on Grandpa’s farm

*Farm tour and tractor rides

*visit to iconic Winona landmark, Sugarloaf and Garvin Heights scenic outlook

*tour of the charming riverside community of Alma, Wisconsin

*Rock hunting and re-hiding

Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and Cabin at her birthplace in Pepin, Wisconsin

*Family reunion with aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and great grandparents; complete with water balloons and piñata

*up close train watching and observing the process of boats traveling through the lock and dam on the Mississippi River

*and CHEESE BALLS of course!

stop at gravesite of my Grandpa Henry and Grandma Grace, where I left cherries for the birds like I used to when I was a little girl.

*HARROWING ATV trip down the side of a bluff to creek fish for brown trout in the lush Southern MN countryside

*incredible meal of fresh bratwurst and angus burgers straight from Grandpa’s farm

And that was only Sunday through Thursday.

Thursday we drove 3 more hours North to Spooner/Danbury, Wisconsin to share a lakeshore cabin with my dear college friend Katie and her family. We fished bluegill, black crappie, largemouth bass, and Northern pike.

We boated and tubed, kayaked, paddle-boated, and paddle-boarded.

We spotted deer, loons, geese, and bald eagles, but were disappointed not to see any much-hoped-for bears. We sat in awe beneath the clearest glittering display of the Milky Way I have ever seen. Our families blended well and the kids played until they collapsed in exhaustion, and grownups stayed up all hours of the night talking about anything and everything.

Every. Single. One. of our children said it was the best trip they’ve ever been on. BETTER THAN HAWAII.

Now, they may or may not really mean that. But it doesn’t matter. God blessed this trip every step of the way. Parts that could have been really hard were either fine or better than fine. Every part of our trip exceeded our expectations. And we did so many different things in so many different places with so many different people that it feels like we’ve been gone for a month! And never have I been so remarkably proud of my kids. They were FANTASTIC!

At the moment, we are pressing on through fatigue and rain showers after 13 hours of driving to get to our midway destination of Kansas City, Missouri. We are READY TO GET OUT OF THE CAR!

***UPDATE: we made it to our hotel at midnight, after delays from construction, dead battery, rain, and wrong GPS. ROUGH DRIVE.***

On a very different note, sweet baby Lucas went in for his scans on Thursday. That evening his mama, our beloved nurse Kelly sent me a one word text: “hospice.” Friends, please pray.

Thank you for giving thanks with me.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.” Psalm 46:1-5 NIV

Cheese Balls

I am thankful:

~for the sweet, sweet time reading to my kids. We have so been enjoying the little Laura Ingalls Wilder series. We just finally finished “On the Banks of Plum Creek.” And already as we began the next book, “By the Shores of Silver Lake,” I love how engaged the children are with the characters. They gasped to learn of Mary’s blindness caused by scarlet fever. And we all cried together when Jack, the beloved bulldog, died.

~for our morning walk/stroll/bike ride. 2 miles every morning. I think we are the neighborhood entertainment.

~for those moments when my kids inspire me. Sweet 11-year-old Samantha has the most amazing hair you can imagine. Thick and lustrous, healthy and long. She has been growing it out for a long, long time with a very specific goal in mind. She knew she wanted to donate her hair to Locks of Love. I’m always amazed at how each of the children have been impacted by Sawyer‘s battle with cancer. Their hearts are just so compassionate. So we’ve been measuring Samantha‘s hair, waiting for it to get long enough to still leave her with a cute haircut. I asked her over and over if she was sure, and she never wavered. When we finally agreed that it was long enough she told me, “Mama, I prayed over my hair in the shower. That it would be a blessing to whoever it goes to.“ My heart exploded. She is donating six 12 inch ponytails! Isn’t she just so beautiful? And even more beautiful on the inside. It’s like instantly she just grew up before my eyes. So proud of your heart Sam!

~for God’s Grace that is always right on time. I can cry out in my moment of need, and He’s there with me. Anxiety has been big and ugly this week, and it doesn’t play nice. But prayer warriors lifted my arms when I could not, armed me with Scripture, and the Lord fought for me. I don’t say this because I feel victorious or that I mastered my anxieties. On the contrary. I feel like a whooped dog. But I know those are just my feelings. I made it through each battle, and anxiety didn’t win. And I’m stronger and cling more tightly to the Lord because of it.

~ for ice cold, juicy watermelon. Can there be ANYTHING more refreshing on a hot Texas day?

~ and for homemade dill pickles, straight from our garden. Cooper liked them so much, he followed my recipe and made his own batch! DELICIOUS!

~for the beautiful and undeniable presence of God when we have eyes to see. Last week, a friend shared a Scripture that she had been meditating on, and she knew it would encourage me. She had no idea it was the Scripture I was painting for my latest Giddyup & Whoa sign order. And the friend who had ordered that sign had been praying this same scripture over herself and a coworker. This verse has been referenced to me again at least twice THIS week. An accident? I don’t believe it for a second. I believe in the alive and active and proceeding Word of God that speaks to us through the Bible and through his people. And when He repeats Himself, that means He’s making an important point that He doesn’t want us to miss. I’m hearing Him loud and clear.

~for a fresh haircut. I honestly don’t think I’ve had a haircut since last September, so to say it was long overdue is an understatement. I can’t be the only one who feels like a new person when they get their haircut? Anyway, thank you Laura! You made my day so happy!

~ for the wonderful team that supports Gold Network of East Texas. We met at Panera for a meal (and a decadent cinnamon roll) to hash out plans and goals for the upcoming events this fall: Go GOLD Tyler (August 29) and Tyler Gold Run (September 21). I am blessed with the absolute best team. This is our 5 year anniversary of the race (how can that be?) and we are so excited about our new location at Bergfeld Park and the addition of a 10K route. It’s gonna be so great! Register for the race or make a donation at www.tylergoldrun.com We are so sad each time we learn of another East Texas child diagnosed with cancer. But we also know we can help!

~ for the privilege to pray for our friends when they need it. Will you please join me in lifting up Baby Lucas and his family? Their battle has been intense and wearying, and they need us to intercede for them. He has scans on the 18th, and we are asking for a miracle. You can sign up for updates on Lucas or drop a note of encouragement to his family on Caringbridge.

~ and lastly, I’m thankful for CHEESE BALLS!

At the Rucker household, the giant Sam’s Club barrel of cheese balls is only purchased one time a year, and their presence can ONLY MEAN ONE THING.

CHEESE BALLS = VACATION!

(Strange? Maybe so. But it’s been our family tradition for at least 6 years). There is nothing like the collective jubilant cheers that erupt when the cheese balls make their appearance. We even found them last summer in Hawaii!

It suddenly dawned on me what a milestone this is for us. This is our first trip since Sawyer’s cancer diagnosis in 2015 that HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH CANCER! We have made 2 trips to Florida for wonderful cancer retreats at the beach, and then last year was Sawyer’s unforgettable Make-a-Wish trip to Hawaii. But this trip, this is just a trip for our family. A regular family vacation. What a gift.

So I’m going to sign off for now, we are hunkered down for the night, and another big travel day tomorrow. But I’ll leave you with just one little hint until the full update next week….

Have a great week friends. Let’s love one another well. Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,”. Hebrews 10:23-24

“be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Ephesians 5:18b-20