Plains, continued

I am thankful:

~ for the most surprisingly simple way to bring joy to my children and instantly elevate my mom status to superhero. I wish someone had told me sooner: all I have to do is pick my kids up from school blasting the soundtrack from “The Greatest Showman.” You would have thought I had delivered ice cream and puppies for all! They sparkled and sang and clapped all the way home! It was GLORIOUS! Sawyer even said, “When I grow up and get married and have children, I want this to be the FIRST movie they watch. Cuz I just love it so much.” There really is something magic about that movie.

~ for the refreshingly crisp drop in temperatures. It actually feels like fall, even for Texas.

~ for a delicious feast of zesty fried gulf shrimp and fries from our favorite little secret local spot.

~ for one more successful door-slamming tooth pull. Love that proud toothless grin!

Before…isn’t that dangly tooth just painful to look at?

~ for a productive Giddyup & Whoa week. Lots of new designs getting cranked out and delivered. One sweet lady was so tickled with her sign she asked if she could hug me! So awesome to have the privilege to create something special for someone’s home. Plenty more work to do to get ready for the Barn Sale in a week and a half!

~ for a full week of GCS Homecoming festivities. Sam and Kora enjoyed dressing up for their first Spirit Week in Middle School (and of course I didn’t get a single picture). Littles enjoyed Crazy Sock Day. In between painting signs, I was up to my eyeballs in hot glue and ribbon to make a Homecoming mum, and Cooper enjoyed the pep rally, football game, and Homecoming dance.

~ for a fun day spent visiting with a dear sister that I have missed dearly.

~ for a long overdue trip for the Tribe to the dentist, which amazingly yielded zero cavities!

~ for a great afternoon for Josh and Colton who worked together to build a reclaimed wood coffee table and 2 end tables for his new house. (Again, NO PICTURES!!! I’m really off my game this week!) But really, I’m thankful for the tremendous blessing of a renewed and refreshed relationship with Colton. We’ve been through some really rough, painful seasons, and there was a season when none of us desired to spend much time together. It’s just so awesome that now we value each other so much, and he CHOSES to call and/or come over ALMOST EVERY DAY! What a gift! Glory to the Lord!

~ for the blessing of being back in physical church. As much as it stirs up my anxieties, it is a such a blessing to be in my church home building, surrounded by believers that I know and love, raising our voices together and receiving the word of God. Even if it looks like this…

~ for the kids favorite Sunday afternoon comfort food: pigs in a blanket.

~ for the sweetest toothless baking assistant of all time.

I’m very late posting due to a VERY LONG EVENING. (I guess it’s more of a Monday Gratitude this week). Can I just make a revolutionary observation?

Parenting is HARD.

That is all.

P.S. BUT GOD. I am thankful for new mercies every morning, and that His love never fails, it never gives up, and never runs out on me. And I’m thankful that while I know I have a very important job to do, at the end of the day, God is God and I am not. Glory hallelujah.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“The LORD will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O LORD, endures forever; Do not forsake the works of Your hands.” (Psalms 138:8)

“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)

“‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.” 2 Chronicles‬ ‭20:15‬ ‭

Peace

I am thankful:

~ for a GOLDEN start to the month! Custom license plates in. ✔️

Go GOLD window clings✔️

Wreath and yard sign up✔️

Gold swag for the Tribe✔️

Bling bling mask✔️

New mask and decals gifted from another cancer mom ✔️

So very blessed by seeing how many people have changed their profile and Gone Gold In various ways, both locally and across the nation. And the INCREDIBLE HISTORICAL MILESTONE – the official national proclamation naming September Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and the FIRST TIME EVER lighting of the White House GOLD!!!!! Childhood cancer advocates have been begging for this show of support for YEARS, and to FINALLY see our precious children honored in this was a truly monumental victory.

Please consider Going Gold by registering for Virtual Tyler Gold Run. Just two weeks left to register. You can run or walk anytime, wherever you are. Or you can just consider it a donation to a great cause. When you support Gold Network of East Texas, you are truly making a difference in the lives of brave kids fighting cancer, and the valiant families supporting them. Click HERE to register.

~ for Sawyer to have the opportunity to have his Warrior buddy, Jase in the same 1st grade class this year. Jase was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in 2017, and is preparing to finish treatment NEXT MONTH!!! GLORY TO THE LORD!!! I love that these two brave boys have each other for support and encouragement. Well I had the opportunity to come to their classroom and ask the other students, “Did you know that you have TWO SUPERHEROES in your class?” I shared briefly that they were both cancer warriors, and the kids were all quite impressed. Then Sawyer and Jase passed out gold ribbons to wear, gold ribbon stickers, and “Go GOLD”fish crackers. So fun!

~ for some really fun and unique Giddyup & Whoa projects. We are so grateful for steady orders coming in. And grateful for good helpers!

~ for cute brothers who love to dress alike.

~ for Vogmask, our very favorite premium N99 masks that we have used since Sawyer was a baby. We have recommended them to other cancer families for years. As you can imagine, the pandemic has had a major impact on their business, and it has been hard for them to keep up with the increasing demand. Despite this challenge, Vogmask sent me a most generous shipment of masks to be donated to our Gold Network HERO kids! We have spoken with the company founder, and have officially made Vogmask the Official Mask of Gold Network of East Texas!

~ for our very favorite tangy and refreshing lemon icebox pie.

~ for a great weekend having Uncle Mike and Kenedy staying with us. And for one evening we had our whole bunch: the oldest two with each of their sweethearts, Cooper with a friend over, and all the Little people. It was loud and chaotic and loud and LOUD. But it was great.

~ and for the blessing of celebrating 21 years of marriage to my Love. This year was a far cry from last year’s Mexico getaway. It’s been a challenging season, one of sanding, of sacrifice, of bearing up under one another. For our marriage, it’s been a workboots and overalls year instead of a slacks and sequins year. Work. But I don’t mean that in a negative way at all! Work is not bad! Marriages are built and strengthened and anchored and fortified with WORK and SWEAT and calloused hands. I’m thankful that after 21 years, it doesn’t matter where we are or what we do…whatever it is, we are together. So very thankful.

Happy anniversary dinner

And for a much needed reminder. That peace, “shalom,” is not the absence of strife or conflict. Instead the Hebrew word means fullness or completeness. I think about how often I find myself seeking “peace” in the wrong way, fleeing from something instead of coming to the Father and letting Him fill me. That peace that really does pass all understanding. Lord, may my FIRST RESPONSE to stress be to turn toward You instead of away. Not to try to numb or mask or cram full all the margins with STUFF, but leave breathing room BE STILL and fill my thirsty lungs with LIFE. Set a guard over my lips and let me listen twice as much as I talk. “He must become greater; I must become less.”” (John 3:30)

As always, I’m so grateful to anyone who takes the time to read these words. God opened this door for a purpose, and I pray I am able to stay out of the way enough for Him to be glorified. May we allow ourselves to drink deeply of His faithfulness, and be filled to overflowing with the fullness of His peace.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:6-8)

Tiptoe

I have to be honest and say that I still feel very alone. But I feel very surrounded by the Lord. He has wrapped me in so much kindness. I don’t feel like anyone can relate to my particular physical or emotional circumstances, but that’s ok. God knows me intimately, He loves me unfailingly, and He walks with me tirelessly.

Tiptoeing outside the quarantine bubble for the first time this week was very hard. Things were familiar and eerily unfamiliar at the same time. Faces of friends, parents, and teachers we have loved for years were now behind a mask or a face shield. Hallways were quieter than usual but still closer contact than we’ve had for months. BUT GOD.

We met and conquered each mountain. Sophomore Ipad training, 6th grade locker day and Middle School tour,5th grade locker day and Middle School tour, Elementary Meet the Teacher and supply drop off for grades 1, 3, and 4. Time after time in the middle of conversations, my raw emotions would rise up, and I could feel my muffled voice begin to quiver, and my eyes above my mask begin to well up with tears. And every time, my poorly concealed weakness was met with such kindness.

More than anything, what pushed me to move forward the most was the enthusiasm and complete lack of fear or reservation of all my kids. They were just straight up so excited to get back to school (and I am NOT entertaining the thought that any percentage of that excitement desire to get away from me.) All day Tuesday, Sawyer kept asking what time it was. “I want it to be bedtime, so I can go to bed and then when I wake up it will be SCHOOL!” They miss their friends. They miss their activities. They miss NORMAL. Don’t we all?

So we did all the things. Labeled all 7,463,726 supplies. Packed all the lunches (with surprise Lunchables). Hung out all the backpacks. Laid out the new clothes and shiny new tennis shoes and masks. Favorite Martha White blueberry muffins for breakfast.

I posted this picture on the first day of school. My friend Melissa from Laurel & Cotton had released her BOLD lion T-shirt design about a month ago, and I messaged her right away, “I want that one!” But the more I thought about it, the less bold I felt, and I couldn’t really imagine myself wearing the shirt. But suddenly I knew I DID need that shirt – for Sawyer. I don’t know anybody more bold than him.

So I ordered the BOLD lion shirt for Sawyer and “Overwhelmed by Jesus” for me. Never has their been a more appropriate pairing of shirts for an occasion as those two for the first day of school. (And for the record, when I showed Sawyer his new shirt, he was SO EXCITED about it, he chose it for his first day of school outfit without any prompting from me.)

I’m definitely ok but not ok. But it doesn’t matter if I am ok. God is FAITHFUL. He sees me as I really am: broken and held together with paper clips and chewing gum, and doesn’t turn away. I dropped off my babies (after we all had our foreheads scanned in the parking lot). And as we drove away, Tatum K patiently waited for me to stop bawling. She and I had a donut date at our favorite spot, and then we went to Home Depot to buy a new plant. Several thoughtful friends called and texted to check on me, which was so kind. Tater and I spent the day cuddling and crying and praying and watching the clock. I’ve never appreciated a quiet house less.

But when 3 o’clock FINALLY arrived, I’ve never been so ready to get my hands on my kids. They had all had a great day, and all shared every detail all at the same time. They told all their stories over cups of Andy’s Frozen Custard, and then they all washed and sanitized and changed clothes and got ready to do it all again the next day.

God was so faithful and kind to LOVE SO LAVISHLY this week.

~ Carson Grace had a great first week, acing a couple quizzes, auditioning for and MAKING the ETBU Chapel Praise Team, as well as being chosen for a paid position on the Worship team at Oakland Heights Baptist Church.

~ Colton is loving his new job and learning a TON. His business cards came in so he feels “official.” He came over this weekend before he heads back out of town for his next project. Grateful to be in this season where he is choosing to come spend time with us and share his life with us when he doesn’t HAVE to.

~ for the FINAL PIECE of the kitchen remodel: our light fixture that has been back-ordered since April. I had my heart set on it, and I’m so glad I waited. I love how it completes the kitchen transformation! Thankful it is DONE! (Now what project to start on next???)

~ for a restaurant-inspired recipe that I tried to recreate: roasted poblano peppers stuffed with creamy cheese, succulent shrimp, asparagus, and grilled corn. Not your grandma’s stuffed peppers. UNBELIEVABLE!

~ for the sweetest neighborhood kids (not just mine) who held a lemonade stand for charity, and chose to donate to Gold Network! They sat in the sweltering heat and even went door to door to invite “customers” (vital since we all live at THE VERY END of a DEAD END street!) And then my sweet neighbor sat with them and gave them a lesson an stewardship and accountability when raising money for a charity, and the kids all prayed over the money before they counted it. They raised $80! What a blessing!

~ for continued support of Gold Network of East Texas as we have made the difficult decision to convert this year’s Tyler Gold Run to a Virtual Race. We just have to err on the side of caution as we face the unknown, especially as we serve immune compromised kids. The BEST part about the run being Virtual, is that ANYONE can participate from ANYWHERE! If you are local, we will have a pickup to give out medals and T-shirts, but if you are farther away, we can mail it to you! I encourage you to prayerfully consider registering, because our HERO kids and their families need your help more than ever. Unfortunately, #cancerisntcanceled. Every 3 minutes another family hears the life-shattering words “your child has cancer.” Kids all over East Texas and the world are taking chemotherapy every day, spending their childhood in and out of hospitals, and dealing with long term side effects from the toxic treatments used to save their lives. And 1 out of every 5 children diagnosed with cancer will not survive, leaving a gaping hole in a family that will never ever be the same. That’s why we created Gold Network of East Texas: to support families impacted by childhood cancer during their darkest days and then every day afterward. Once a hero, always a hero. You can register or donate at www.tylergoldrun.com

Today I am grateful for a successful three days of school down, and for a peaceful weekend with my Loves back home. It did feel good to have some of the old familiar routines that added margin to each day, and for the first time in as long as I can remember, a weekend that actually felt like a weekend. I am grateful that I don’t have to have all the answers, because I am held by the One Who Does.

Wherever you are, whatever highs or lows you are walking through, He is there. May we rest in that. May we rest in Him.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” (Psalms 94:18-19)

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

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

Tipping Point

I am thankful:  

~ For class zoom meetings.  The kids love getting to see their teachers and their classmates.  This week Kora enjoyed dressing up for an early celebration of Cinco de Mayo with her Spanish teacher (and feast on delicious leftover tacos from Colton), and Sawyer got to share his pets with his friends.   Zoe proudly demonstrated her science experiment about surface tension.IMG_E4B4AAF3EE53-1.jpegIMG_7B81D204E6D0-1.jpegIMG_6AA1BC39A9E3-1.jpeg

~ for peace that passes understanding, especially when delivered as a profound lesson taught by my child.  This week one of the school chapel songs was a favorite of the kids.  As it began to play, Sawyer said excitedly, “I love this song!  We’re gonna sing it at my graduation!”  Then the realization hit (which I wasn’t sure if he actually knew or not) and he said quietly, “Oh…but I’m not even gonna have my graduation.”  I instantly felt hot tears welling in my eyes.  Oh, how it hurts this Mama’s heart that he should miss out on this milestone that we never dared to dream he should reach.  But almost in the same breath, I heard Sawyer (and all his brothers and sisters) boldly belting out the opening lyrics of the song, “This is the day, that You have made.  Whatever comes, I won’t complain.  For all my hope is in Your Name, and now Your joy awaits my praise.  I give thanks for all You have done.  And I will sing of Your mercy and Your love.  Your love is unfailing, Lord I am grateful!”  His attitude is so much better than mine!  He too, is experiencing disappointment, but it is not crippling his JOY!  He has proudly memorized Psalm 23 and his little speaking part for a video the school is putting together.  When he got all doodled up for the video for his teacher, he was so excited, he never wanted to change out of his “fancy” clothes.  How cute was my little pupil working in his bow tie!?  He also had the MOST THRILLING visit this week, from his BELOVED teacher, Mrs. Key!  She brought him Starbust for being a “STAR” student, and a yard sign that we have proudly displayed in our front yard.  Thank You Father for your unspeakable grace.IMG_7930.jpgIMG_58D645B67240-1.jpegIMG_8284.jpg

~ for the gift of music.  Kora has been memorizing a passage from 1 Thessalonians, and the words brought to mind a song written by a dear friend.  I was able to play it for her, and her eyes just sparkled when she heard God’s Word brought to life in such a fresh new way that she understood so much better.  The song is a jubilant anthem looking toward the day when we Believers will all join together with Jesus in the sky.  It has been playing in my heart all week.

~ for the sweetest and most thoughtful “teacher appreciation” care package I received in the mail.  Thank you to all who have prayed over our story problems.  They are still a problem, but I think we will all live to tell the story.

~ for the most unique spring concert experience for Samantha and Kora.  Obviously, quarantine and social distancing has made many spring traditions difficult or impossible. But our school creatively found a way for fourth and fifth graders to gather in the parking lot at a safe distance and lift their voices and recorders to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.  Memorable to be sure. IMG_232D4AA19024-1.jpegIMG_FDF0662D192B-1.jpegIMG_8492.jpg~ for gorgeous weather. Friday we worked hard to get all schoolwork done before lunch, and we headed to the park around the corner from our house.  It is a tucked away spot, and rarely have we run into anyone else there.  We spread out our blanket in the shade, and I read to the kids while they ate their picnic.  Then it was playground time, and picking wildflowers, and climbing trees.  It was a lovely afternoon.IMG_8229.jpgIMG_8230.jpgIMG_1D96DA29674F-1.jpeg

~ for a very special birthday.  Colton, our firstborn, the one who made me a Mama, turned 21.  When I had Colton, I was so young and naive.  He was literally the first baby I ever held, and I was absolutely terrified.  I never thought I’d be a mom, but now that I was, I wanted so badly to do it well.  I loved him fiercely.  Being a mom was the first thing I absolutely knew I could not do on my own, and that brokenness and desperation was what ultimately led me to recognize my need for a Savior.  Josh and I have always said that Colton led 2 people to the Lord as a baby, so we have always known God had a special plan for this beautiful boy.    He was always a challenging child: strong-willed, always with 2 toes over the boundary lines.  We weren’t sure if we (or he) would survive his teen years.  We went through some pretty ugly seasons, and more sleepless nights than I can even count.  BUT GOD.  My boy is growing into a man, and he is finding his way as a respectful, compassionate individual who actually CHOOSES to spend time with him mom and dad.  I honestly wasn’t sure we’d ever get there.  Now I am freshly convinced that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion…” God is always wooing and drawing and working through and behind what we see in front of our eyes.  I am so grateful.   He came over to hang out and have dinner 4 nights this week, played wiffleball and swam, and watch a movie.  We celebrated on his birthday with crescent chicken, sweet potato fries with homemade ranch, and his oh-so-sophisticated dessert choice: confetti cake.  Loved celebrating him, celebrating all that God has done, and all that God has in store.IMG_DE754189AD7A-1.jpegIMG_9A3247EFBB61-1.jpeg

~ for Facebook live concert from Garth Brooks and Tricia Yearwood. And for dancing to “To Make You Feel My Love” with my husband in the kitchen.  We never do that.  But in that moment, it was perfect. 

~ for gorgeous weather for wiffleball, snake-free walks, and swimming.IMG_6419D20D9B02-1.jpegIMG_427A57E9C74C-1.jpegIMG_868D9D739B3B-1.jpegIMG_65F88F250CE7-1.jpegIMG_8363.jpg

~ for a refreshing change of pace.  Josh brought home a new puzzle, just 199 pieces.  At first I was disappointed, knowing it was way too easy.  But the fact that it was a Frozen 2 puzzle meant it would be an instant hit with the Little People, and it was probably time for some quick satisfaction.  During nap time I decided to challenge myself, and set a timer.  50 minutes and 38 seconds.  Not bad.  I think I find puzzles so satisfying in this season because they are a manageable challenge with a clear beginning and end.  It is a task that can be concretely completed.  The feeling of success.  The kids were as thrilled as expected, and finished it almost as quickly as I did.  They were sweet and took out the last 3 pieces after they were done, and left them for baby sister.  She was so tickled.IMG_ABACC42F08EF-1.jpegIMG_772E84380C7E-1.jpeg

Mental health is not a joke.  I’ve never hopped on the “self-care“ bandwagon… It usually seems like a license to grossly self indulge, overspend, and let “me time” push to top priority at the expense of others.  This is not Jesus’ way, and it shouldn’t be ours.  I don’t “need” time with my girlfriends, or to shop, or pamper myself.  Any of those things are enjoyable, a great treat, and something to look forward to.  But I’ve never seen them as a “need.”  

But I got to a tipping point this week.  It might sound funny, likely sounds relatable, but it’s just unfiltered truth.  I couldn’t remember when I had last showered.  I was wearing the same clothes for daytime, to bed, and again the next day, (because WHY NOT?)  I glimpsed myself in the mirror (quite by accident, because WHY?) and I hardly recognized myself.  I hadn’t bothered to style my hair in days (because WHY?) so my natural not-exactly-straight-not-exactly-wavy-frizzy-and-stylistically-confused hair with it’s unintentional hombre of blonde/brown/silver was taking on a somewhat Einstein-esque quality.  I didn’t look like someone who should be caring for children. Let alone someone who should be responsible for anyone’s education.  

I am not and was not depressed.  But I also realized: I was not ok.  I was sleepwalking through my unrecognizable life, even though I was still (mostly) successfully checking all the boxes: morning Bible study✔️ frequent private and shared prayer throughout the day✔️reading aloud to the kids every morning✔️ faithfully keeping kids on the task of completing their daily schoolwork ✔️keeping my house reasonably clean✔️maintaining the illusion to the “outside” that I “had it all together” and that the Ruckers were “ROCKING THE QUARANTINE.”✔️  Another parent said something similar, “We’ve been doing pretty well.  But this week, WE HIT A WALL.”

That night after the kids were in bed, I took a bath.  I turned on my favorite soft worship playlist and soaked the day off in the hot water and the music.  The next day I did my hair and put on a little makeup and changed out of pajamas and put on clothes.  (OK so it was actually just changing from one set of loungewear to a nearly identical set of loungewear.  A purely lateral move, but at least it was the physical act of changing clothes.)  Just putting in the minimal effort to feel like a human.  Even something so small and seemingly trivial, I realized how much I had missed the daily reminder of putting on my beautiful handmade gold bracelet inscribed with “it is well.”  That afternoon, I took my paints out to a semi-shaded spot in the driveway and worked on a sign while listening to the birds with a gentle breeze on my face.IMG_76E835B132EE-1.jpegIMG_15564004710C-1.jpeg

It wasn’t magic.  I still stink at math.  In fact, one of my ANONYMOUS “students” shouted disdainfully at me this week after checking a problem, “HA!  You were WRONG!”  And other told me, “You’re not THAT bad, you just need a little help from a REAL teacher.”  BUT…the slight shift of my focus to putting a little effort into myself was a mood lifter.  It also made my husband smile.  And maybe if I wasn’t a BETTER teacher, at least I didn’t look like such a scary one.

Wherever you are, however you are handling your situation and your trials, God sees you.  He has promised not to leave you or forsake you. You are not alone.  He may not take the fire away, but He will stand in it with you. It’s ok to take care of yourself, and give yourself grace.  If you are slipping, call out to Jesus.  Call out to a friend.  And it’s ok to admit that you’re not ok. If your faith is in yourself, it was in the wrong place anyway. Remember who you are and more importantly, WHOSE you are.  We are all in this together.  And then look for the blessings around you. They are there.

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 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 1:3-6)

“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)

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a shout, and the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will be the first ones to rise to meet the Lord. Then we who are alive will be looking to the skies. And we’ll be caught up there  with our brothers in the clouds.  I just wish it were now.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, paraphrased by Randy Skiles)

Pearls

I am thankful:

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

~ for sweet moments in the midst of school.

IMG_2B40F7C00236-1.jpegIMG_7891IMG_DE36FC32CCD8-1.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for giving thanks with me.

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

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

A Blessed Mess of a Mama

Why do I start every Sunday gratitude with the sentence… “Wow! What a busy week!”????  With a family this size, I think we can rest confidently that it’s usually going to be busy.  I just need to accept that fact.  But whether you have one kid or 21, the end of school season can get wild. So buckle up, this post is about to make you tired…

I am thankful:

~ for 15 Giddyup & Whoa Mother’s Day orders. 

IMG_0228B751A00A-CC7A-40BF-BC1B-FD11F96F833F

For “Graces Races,” our GCS end-of-school field day for each grade. Monday 1st grade, Tuesday – 3rd grade, Wednesday – 2nd grade, Thursday – 4th grade.  And I made it to each one.  Granted, a couple in time for the snowcone finale…  But at least my kiddos knew I was there.  They all had such a great time with their friends doing balloon and scooter and gunnysack relays.  The elementary children will have their last day of school this coming Wednesday.  Where did this school year go?

IMG_0052IMG_0118IMG_0165IMG_0214

~ for great softball game/senior night for Carson Grace.  So proud to take the field with our beautiful girl and celebrate the end of her high school career.  Then the Cougar girls played a tremendous game and walked away with their first playoff win! 

IMG_1945IMG_0395IMG_0396IMG_0397

~for a great birthday dinner celebrating Colton.  His schedule last week didn’t permit, but this week we had a tasty meal of his choice: crescent chicken, sweet potato fries, and yellow cake with chocolate icing. 

~for another great choir concert, this time for Cooper and the Junior High.  Such a talented group of students! 

~ Of course the highlight of this week was Wednesday, which was Sawyer‘s quarterly Oncology Clinic visit.  Bloodwork confirmed that he is CANCER FREE! Glory to God!  This was Sawyer‘s first visit on the ACE unit (After Cancer Experience), otherwise known as the Survivors Unit. This is truly a miraculous milestone we never dared dream we would see.  You can read my Caringbridge post with full details from the day here.

IMG_0151 2

~ I’m thankful for God’s protection on the drive, and I’m very thankful I didn’t know how dangerous the storms were until AFTER I was safely home!  I know I would have panicked.  My back hurt for 2 days from clutching the steering wheel. 

~ for Nurse Appreciation Week.  Our nurses are our family, and we love them passionately.  No amount of words or gifts can measure the impact they make on the lives they touch. We ❤️ Nurses!

IMG_0125IMG_0146 2

~ for Carson Grace’s Senior Awards Assembly.  How incredible to see 100% of her class has been accepted into various colleges, from Texas to Alabama to Illinois.  The Admissions Counselor from ETBU came from Marshall to present Carson Grace with her Academic and Christian Leadership Scholarships.  And that same day, she took her very last final, and is officially DONE WITH HIGH SCHOOL!  Just unreal.  It was a hard fought battle to get her to this point, and  she’s wrestled through a lot over the past couple years, but she made it, and we are SO PROUD!

If you’re still with me, are you tired yet?  Oh no, we’re not done yet. Not even close!

~ thankful for Cooper’s 8th Grade Year End Assembly.  The students heard from each of their amazing teachers (there really is a unique and passionate breed of teacher who chooses to minister to Jr. High students).  They reminded the kids how loved they are by the Lord, and that they are so valuable to the Kingdom.  The teachers, coaches, and faculty spoke with so much enthusiasm and heart, it was incredibly moving, and I’m freshly reminded how grateful I am that Cooper has been loved so well by this faculty.  I pray for him as he steps into High School next fall, that he will walk confidently in who he is, and stay the bright, one-of-a-kind individual he’s always been.  Oh, and he is THRILLED to be done with school for the year. 

~ for 2 fun end of year parties done.  5 to go.  From trampoline parks to the rock gym, they have a blast with their friends. 

~ for a whirlwind Saturday: Carson Grace traveled with her team to Rockwall for Softball Playoff game, Cougars DOMINATED for another victory, and then turned around and rushed back to Tyler in the rain so the girls could get ready for PROM!  Seriously!!??  What a day!  Thankfully there was just enough time, and Carson Grace transformed in her room from a softball champion, emerging as a stunning vision in her ballgown.  At the country club where the dance was held, the Senior class and their dates gathered to take a group photo, and the emotions got really real.  It seemed like yesterday that all these kids were posing for class pictures on the playground.  Or on a fire truck. Gone are the pigtails and missing teeth and skinned up knees with Disney bandaids.  Instead they were beautiful grown young men and ladies.  They were poised and stunning and were arrayed in their finest. And they took my breath away.  Somebody please stop time.

IMG_0328IMG_0329IMG_0347

And now that I’ve survived this marathon week of mayhem, it’s Mother’s Day.   I’ve earned some stripes this week for sure.  Mother’s Day can stir up such varied emotions for different people:  longing-to-be mothers, first-time mothers, children who have lost their mothers and mothers who have lost their children, mamas with strained relationships, and those who have chosen not to be mothers.   Not everybody gets breakfast in bed and a new candle.  

At this moment at my house, there’s marinated fajita steak on the grill, and ALL MY KIDS ARE HOME.  There are saturated towels, clothes, and shoes strewn all over the patio and three dripping mermaid tails hanging on the fence.  Yelling kids on the trampoline, yelling kids chasing a soggy mess of a dog, kids staring at their phones, kids cracking up over Snapchat filters.  My legs need shaving, my grey needs colored, my floor needs mopped, and my bed’s not made.  And I will be 100% honest and say I usually don’t fully appreciate my life.  I am short-tempered  and impatient and overwhelmed.  Too many questions, too much laundry, too many squabbles and the sippy cup is always lost.  But today.  Today I have been so thankful.  Yes, my plate is full, but I see my cup that overflows with blessing.  My house is a mess, but it’s bursting at the seams with the people I love.  I have no idea why God has given me so many hearts to be responsible for, and most days the task completely terrifies me.  I am VASTLY UNQUALIFIED. But I know that the confidence in myself that is lacking is ECLIPSED by the confidence I have in Him.  He gave me all these babies.  I don’t know why I am so blessed, but all I can do is thank Him and do my best every day.  And when my best isn’t good enough, His grace will meet me there.  I’m pretty much the most blessed mama on the planet.

IMG_0421IMG_0456

Oh, and today I got to take a nap in my hammock.

Thank you for giving thanks with me. 

“All your children shall be taught by the LORD, And great shall be the peace of your children.”  Isaiah 54:13

Spring Season

I am thankful:

~ for one of my favorite weeks of the year:  Bulky Trash Pickup Week.  For years it’s  been one of my greatest joys to cruise the streets of Tyler checking out the piles of castoffs, looking for “treasure” amidst the broke toilets and soggy mattresses.  I love the oddities I come across: the 8 foot headless toy soldier, Captain Mike pedal car, and sometimes what looks like an entire household emptied out.  But there were also a few great finds: some good frames, darling rattan chairs, an awesome tabletop that will make a fabulous sign, and a terrific study little table.  Josh is the best sport in the world – he HATES this week because of all the crap I drag home, but he puts up with me, even picking up the pieces I can’t fit into the bus (if I BEG).  But some items don’t pass his inspection and end right back on our curb.  But I love the thrill of the hunt, and the Littles all help by scanning the curbs for “treasure piles.”

IMG_9671IMG_9619IMG_9600

~I’m thankful for the rain. It seems like we’re getting way too much rain, flooding, not enough sunshine…but the fact is, God is sending us rain.  So I guess that means we need rain.  And I’m trying to learn to be thankful for whatever He gives me. Even if what He gives doesn’t make sense to me.  So I’m choosing to be thankful for the rain.  My babies help me appreciate it because they find such joy.

IMG_0303IMG_9858IMG_9875

IMG_9868

~ for a surreal milestone.  My baby boy, the one who made me a mama, turned 20 this week.  I still can’t wrap my mind around Colton being 20. years. old.  I will never forget his traumatic delivery or how terrified Josh and I were to bring him home.  We had NO CLUE what we were doing, and I think we have continued to feel like that for most of the last 20 years.  But we all survived it all, we all learned through it all, and we love each other like crazy.  Happy birthday Colton, can’t wait to see where God takes you!

IMG_7166

~for growth opportunities, even the uncomfortable ones, the embarrassing ones.  I’m thankful for the traffic that never moves more slowly than when I’m in a hurry.  I’m thankful for the accidents that I don’t know about that He has shielded me from time and time again.  I’m thankful for the things I wasn’t able to hurry up and get to.  And I’m so thankful that One Greater than me is in charge.

~for parking lot picnics in between activities at the school.  And I’m thankful that even if they don’t actually love it, my kids will eat a sandwich for dinner without complaining.

IMG_1403

~ for teachers.  It’s been teacher appreciation week at GCS and many other schools across the nation.  And our teachers are outstanding!  These dedicated servants love on my kids.  They disciple my kids.  They pray for my kids.  All the kids. They are overworked and under paid.  I’m so thankful for all the teachers we’ve had over the years, and the pieces of the puzzle they have been in the development of my children. Thank you, Jesus for our teachers!

~for a really special visit with a dear friend.  Miss Robyn moved away about a year ago, and we have missed our spirited dinners and cultural outings that she has extended to our family over the years.  So even a brief time of catching up over a meal was delightful! We love you Miss Robyn!

~ for a great two weeks of Football Spring Training for Cooper.  He loves playing football and is PUMPED to play in High School next year!

~ for another bittersweet last with my girl: her last choir concert.  As always, the talent and performances were unmatched.  But everything feels different when it’s the last time.  Hearing the beautifully melodious blending of voices as they sang, “The Lord bless you and keep you.  The Lord lift His countenance upon you and give you peace…”  I’ve heard Carson Grace and her choir-mates sing that more times than I can count over the years.  But this time they were singing a prayer over one another.  Praying a blessing over friends who are about to go their separate ways.  Another hard season change.  Enjoy the video here.

IMG_8125 3

~ for my new birthday hammock, finally hung!  We had to repaint our frame and clear out an overgrown tree before we could put it out, but now it is up and it’s SO CHARMING!  I look forward to seeing kiddos snuggled up in it from my kitchen window, and maybe I’ll even get to lay in it myself one day!

IMG_0038

~for the most fun birthday party!  Sawyer was invited to the party of one of his sweet classmates at Half-pint Ponies and Petting Zoo!  (Where he had his Make A Wish “You’re-Going-to-Hawaii” party).  It was so awesome: sheep and goats to pet and brush; the fluffiest, softest bunny; tiny newborn baby pigs, and a “real life” unicorn to ride!  Tatum K came along, and that girl was in her heyday!  She marched around that barnyard in her cowboots, loving on all the animals and greeting them with, “Hi honey!”  They had the best time!

IMG_9903IMG_9914IMG_9924IMG_9926

~ for ONE. MORE. BEAM. DONE!!!  (Only 5 more to go.)  Just keep scraping, just keep scraping….

IMG_0037

So it’s finally really Spring.  I love Spring. Lots of rain, lots of green, fresh flowers everywhere.  Such a busy season.  Mercy Mama, is Spring a busy season at our house with the end of the year activities in full spring.  Changing seasons is always bittersweet.  In the middle of winter we long for the temperatures to rise and the green to emerge from its slumber.  But when the heat sets in, and we are no longer enamored by the sweat on our brow (and the back of our neck and everywhere else), we look back longingly to the crisp cool of winter.  So it is with the seasons of our lives. When we are raising babies, it feels like the sleepless nights will never end.  Endless diapers, spit up rags, and too many days upon days without a shower.  When our two-year-old is screaming for another cookie, our hearts yearn for tender baby snuggles.  No matter what season we are in, we are usually looking wistfully backward or longingly forward.  I have the unique opportunity to span so many seasons at once just within my Tribe: no babies any more, but I’ve got toddler, little kids, middle kids, preteens, teens, young adults.  I should have a great perspective, mature and seasoned, and a realistic appreciation for each respective season.  But man, I really don’t.  I haven’t learned to appreciate each season, or that every season is going to be hard, and NO SEASON will not be busy.  I STILL find myself simultaneously longing backward with some and straining forward with others.  I know it’s the dance we do.  I just want to learn from it all and be able to soak up the moments, the good with the hard, and EMBRACE them.  Lord, help me stay in today.  Hope for tomorrow, learn from yesterday, but LIVE IN TODAY. 

Please keep praying for Georgia.  She spiked a fever, had her first on-treatment ER visit, and is currently in-patient at Children’s, waiting for her counts to come back up.  Thank you for covering this precious little girl and her family.

Happy Spring, friends.  I pray you can embrace whatever season/seasons you are in.

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”  Romans 12:12

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”  Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Generosity

What. A. Week.  I am utterly spent, and my heart is full.  Generosity is definitely the word ringing in my heart this week.

I am thankful:

~ for one of the very best GCS elementary Spring Concerts I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a couple).  The 4th and 5th graders (including our Samantha) sang worship songs in several languages, played melodiously on their recorders (insert winky face here), and played instruments as well as used sign language.  I was so moved by their clear, young voices lifted in praise, and I was struck by how much I knew they were blessing their Heavenly Father’s heart.  I can’t express how grateful I am that our children have had the privilege of growing up in the community of GCS.  There’s no such thing as a perfect school: there are highs and lows, strengths and weaknesses.  And our kids are far from perfect.  But I know that they are getting SOAKED IN JESUS, at home, at school, at church…and I know that I know that I KNOW that the years my babies have spent at GCS, engulfed in the faithful partnership of prayers, instruction, and encouragement, are shaping their tender hearts for their future.  And God continues to make a way where there is no way, through His unparalleled and unexplainable generosity.  There are no words. 

IMG_9359

~ for a rip-roaring good time for my little cowgirl!  Zoe had a blast at 1st grade Rodeo Day with her classmates: roping steers, scooping cow patties, barrel racing.  She chowed down on delicious homemade chili and dirt pudding.  Such a fun day.

IMG_9374

~ for a special rite of passage this week: Tatum K’s very first Sunday School class.  Our beloved Miss Linda has taught every one of our babies at the age of 2, and her gentle hugs and tender instruction have welcomed each of them into her classroom.  Absolutely surreal to see little Tatum K with the flag and her stickers and her little crown.  My heart. 

IMG_9568IMG_9573IMG_9580

~ and then for the event we have been eagerly anticipating and planning for for months: the Children’s Cancer Fund Gala and fashion show!  It was quite a production to gather all the kiddos from the ends of the earth, and pack the bus with all their gear.  (We can’t even make it to CHURCH on time…we had to make it to Dallas by 3 o’clock.  The struggle is REAL!)  By some miracle, we made it, checked into our complementary room at the palatial Hilton Anatole hotel, and took Sawyer to the check-in area.  The cancer kids are the VIPs of the event, and all the real action takes place backstage, where parents are NOT ALLOWED.  Instead, they are each assigned to a “buddy,” a staff member from Children’s Hospital.  How thrilled was this mama to find out that SaSa was going to be in the capable hands of our beloved Nurse Brittney!  It’s always hard for me to let him go, but I trust her COMPLETELY.  Sawyer had the time of his life backstage with Brittney: he played games, got new toys, and made crafts. He met some pretty cool celebrities: Chuck E. Cheese, Spider-Man, Batman, and Wonder Woman.  Oh, and Troy Aikman, Roger Staubach, and Tony Romo were there too, but they were not nearly as exciting as the superheroes. 

IMG_9394

IMG_9598IMG_9597

IMG_9510
Out in the ballroom, Josh and I had the rest of the Tribe, all doodled up in our finest.  Incredible silent auction items, including the original paintings created by each fashion show child, filled the lavishly decorated atrium, and beautiful people were everywhere.  No detail was left overlooked for this “Evening in the Garden,” from the stunning floral wall backdrop for 3-D pictures; the intricately embossed programs, menus, and auction paddles; to the wisps of smoke hanging on the massive runway, flanked with impressive cascades of flowers suspended from the ceiling overhead.  Our children’s eyes could not get any bigger!  (Nor could mine!)  One of the highlights of the evening for Josh and I was watching our children get their first taste of fine cuisine. The menu was over the top. Our kids are in no way picky eaters, they are very adventurous and great sports. But this was definitely quite a stretch for them… 2 year old Tatum K loves salad, and she dove right into her plate like a big girl with a big fork! She stabbed a juicy red beet and popped it in her mouth.  But it immediately came right back out!  I think she thought it was a tomato, her favorite.  Beets apparently are not as palatable.  Zoe wasn’t too sure about the peppery watercress. Tatum DEVOURED the juicy filet mignon once I diced it for her, while the other Littles were very entertaining in their attempts to saw off hunks of steak and then laboriously chew and chew and chew and chew it.  Kora’s face wore every variety of disgust as she sampled each course, from the goat cheese in the salad to the roasted brussel sprouts and finally the edible flowers on the panna cotta dessert.  Gavin, Big Kids, and Mom and Dad on the other hand, happily chowed down every decadent course with gusto.  The Littles managed to get by on dinner rolls and the bits of fruit garnishing the dessert.

IMG_9499

IMG_9504

57801629600__06851A3C-0DB6-4EB0-8F21-4D0A1BA90814

It was awesome to watch each of the models, kids of all ages in various stages on and off treatment, walking with celebrities and superheroes and community helpers down the runway. Some were shy, and some worked the stage with confidence and swag.  Sawyer came out with his escorts, members of the Dallas Fire and Rescue team.  Click here to check out the video of his runway walk…he owned that stage with long strides and tipped his hat to the crowd like a pro. It was priceless.  I hope you can hear the announcer, who quoted Sawyer, “I have no more cancer, because Jesus healed-ed me!”  The wonderful folks at CCF even had that phrase embroidered on a blanket for him!  

IMG_955857807439239__4C45E0B8-1910-4DCB-B6B2-9ED59117CD89IMG_9533

But no matter the setting, the beauty of the decorations, the grandeur of the hotel surroundings or the prestige of the celebrities in the room…the inescapable fact was that we were here because of childhood cancer.  Our family never could have afforded the tickets to attend the event, even just to watch Sawyer.  Our attendance was made possible because of the personal kindness of the Executive Director and the generosity of another cancer family who had lost their daughter to cancer several years ago.  This night wasn’t just a high society event for entertainment, but Children’s Cancer Fund is committed to the mission of funding cutting-edge childhood cancer research, staffing Dallas Children’s with top notch Child Life Specialists, and they have been supporting families battling childhood cancer for 31 years!  Initial reports show that more than $1 million was raised at the Gala!  Just astounding.  It was a very special, truly unforgettable evening for our family. 

IMG_9527

~Saturday morning was ANOTHER special event, the 8th Annual Collin Boyd Strikeout 4 Cancer Baseball Tournament.  Collin is a 2x childhood cancer survivor here in Tyler, and his dedicated family hosts the tournament every year to raise funds to support other newly diagnosed families in East Texas.  Like us, they have become passionate about bringing beauty and outreach out of the ashes of their personal pain, and they work tirelessly to involve the community in this incredible event. This year’s beneficiary was sweet Georgia Crim.  In one day, the tournament, home run derby, food sales, and silent auction raised more than $30,000 which is directly gifted to the Crim family!  GLORY TO GOD!  Please continue to pray for Georgia.  She had a successful surgery to implant her port and her first round of chemotherapy this past Tuesday.  Miraculously, she was able to attend the tournament on Saturday, and was mostly smiles (she and Sawyer are such sweet buddies).  But it’s a long road ahead.  And please also be in prayer for Baby Lucas, who goes in for his 4th infusion tomorrow.  Jesus, we ask for HEALING for these precious babies!

IMG_9544IMG_9542

People hint vaguely sometimes, not necessarily with ill intent, that families with terminally or chronically ill children “sure get to do some amazing things.”  And yes, sometimes that’s true.  Sawyer has met sports stars, gotten autographs and tremendous gifts, had VIP treatment, and our family was given a free trip to Hawaii.  Unbelievable.  Ask me if 1% of these “side benefits” are worth holding my son down while a 1 inch needle is pierced in his chest ONCE.  Let alone monthly or weekly for 3 years.  The countless nights in the hospital, the dreadful drugs and side effects, the PTSD and strain on marriage and family….ask any parent of a medically fragile child if it’s worth a fast pass at Disneyland or a backstage meet-and-greet with Taylor Swift.  There are no “perks” that come with a sick child.  Don’t get me wrong, we are genuinely grateful for the unique opportunities we have experienced because of the compassion and generosity of others.  But it’s not a fair trade for a healthy child.  Not by a long shot. 

Let’s love one another GENEROUSLY this week.  Everyone is walking through something.  Everyone can benefit from an extra measure of grace and compassion.  Maybe you are the answer to someone’s prayers. 

Thank you for giving thanks with me. 

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

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever!  Amen.”  Ephesians 3:20-21