Greatness.

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He stopped by after work today to take Gideon to the pond to work on “the clubhouse”.

They were gone for who knows how long, but it wasn’t long enough.

It never is, and when Gid came back home from a couple of hours with his granddaddy in the great outdoors, he declared, “this is the best day I ever had. I wish it would never end…”

Like his mother, Gideon tends to speak in superlatives to express the triumphs or misery of his heart.

“Worst day ever”.

“BEST day ever…”

And so I know what he was trying to say: “I just had so much fun, and my heart is so happy that he came by…”

And what I find astounding about all of it is not so much that Gideon had “the best day ever”, but that this man, this granddaddy of my children, this daddy of mine, who labors long hours at a grueling job, will stop by on his way home from work to give his grandson the best day he EVER had.

Astounding, but not abnormal.

I’ve lost track of the number of days he has stopped by of an afternoon, taking his heavy and dirt-crusted work boots off on the front porch, or stomping them thoroughly down, at the very least.

Sometimes he brings a snack from the local gas station.

Sometimes he is bearing gifts, a cool rock he found for Gid, an animal skull to add to our random collection, a piece of antique metal he dug up on the job.

And on the many afternoons we find ourselves at his house when the workday ends, the routine is always the same: he takes off his boots, he greets us congenially, he gets a Ginger Ale out of the fridge, he fetches a box of Cheez-its out of the pantry, he rustles up a container of peanuts, and he takes his seat at the head of the table – the same seat he has occupied since the table was purchased four decades ago – where he and the kids start divvying up the snacks, munching and drinking to their heart’s content.

It is so moving for me to see my children digging through the snap-closured pockets of his tan work shirts, the same work shirts he has worn every day for as long as I’ve been alive, and finding the same treasures that I used to play with as a little girl. The tip cleaners. The soapstone chalk.

And the reason I’m watching it all so closely and taking it all in is because it has been ruminating in my heart these past few years, this thirst for real, life-changing truth, this settling down of my ambitions.

I just so wanted to BE something.

To have my name recognized.

To gather up some fanfare.

To make a lasting impact.

I realize now that this is an inherent craving of the human heart and is nothing more than a misplaced hope that masquerades as something praiseworthy. “Leaving behind a legacy” and so on and so forth.

The knowledge that we should live forever, the Romans 1 realization that God is real and that we are without excuse, tries to cover its sight and find relief in a quest for eternity in something other than the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We grasp for recognition or validation in anything other than this call to lose ourselves, thinking that if we can just be somewhere important…on the cover of a magazine, on the dustcover of a book, on the screen of a television…then we’ll count.

We’ll be REAL.

Our name will maybe, somehow, be attached to something that will live on, once we’re gone.

But this is all a mirage, isn’t it?

We should have known it was the minute we first felt ashes in our mouth after a perceived achievement lost its luster and gathered dust in the memories of all who were there to witness it.

Wasn’t I “Most Popular” once in a long forgotten yearbook?

Or…was I?

All of the silly, youthful triumphs are long gone, and in their place a new hunt arises as quickly as the old victory is shelved.

What can fill me up now?

A new accolade? A new title? Another subscriber?

But I’m really and truly starting to see it.

Beyond the spotlights, far removed from the viral, a figure emerges.

He looks like a nobody.

Same jeans, shirt and boots, every single day.

Same lunch in the same lunchbox.

The circle of his influence is miniscule. A couple of work hands he oversees five days a week. The wife he has been married to for forty-four years. Four kids, scattered across Oklahoma. A couple of handfuls of grandkids. A Sunday School class. A small church.

But his life is starting to outshine the elite.

He sins everyday, but his sin grieves him. He shares about his struggles weekly with his Sunday classroom of young adults.

He works tirelessly, in sickness, in snow, in sweltering heat, in overtime.

He daily rises earlier than he has to, to spend time in the Word of God and to study his Sunday School lesson.

He gives his hard-earned money freely, wherever the Spirit leads.

And every single day, he chinks away at the natural man until he looks more and more like the Christ who saved him so many years ago.

His hair is graying.

The wrinkles on his face are deepening.

The frame of his body has grown leaner.

But his godliness increases and his love for self decreases and his ambitions diminish more with every step he takes.

And on his way home from work, he stops by the house of a 7-year old boy to spend time with him, just because he loves him and just because he remembers what an impact his own granddaddy had on him so many years ago.

Do you know what, fame?

I want to be like that man.

Nameless, in the sea of recognizable faces.

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Weathered, among the shiny, the faux and gilded.

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Ordinary, but pointing daily to a greatness that holds up the world.

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I’m continuing to let go of the pursuit and I’m just thinking that, if I can turn out to be the sort of “great” that my daddy is, the sort of great that points directly to the One who made me and who loved me first and who saved me from sin, death, hell and myself, the sort of great that is the ONLY great that actually lasts forever…

that would be so great.

~

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia.

But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

~

Thank you for reading today! Comments are welcomed and cherished. If you are new here and would like to keep up with Mrs. Gore and family on Facebook, find us by clicking here!

 

Peace for the Precious

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Jen Hatmaker posted an article this week about the dangers of “precious” parenting, encouraging moms everywhere to take a page out of the 1970’s parenting manual and let go of the fabricated magic that we are all trying so desperately to create. You can read it by clicking here.

Oh, man. I completely get what she is saying.

Although I have worked through most of the madness by now, there have been birthday parties in years past where I was stressed to the max and antsy for the child I was supposedly celebrating to just get out of the way, already, so I COULD DECORATE AND PUT THE LITTLE CHALKBOARD SIGNS BY EACH PLATE OF FOOD TELLING EVERYONE WHAT THAT FOOD WAS!!!!

Because, honestly, how would my 4-year old guests KNOW that those were cupcakes on the cakestand unless there was a sign next to them that said “cupcakes”???!!!!

Obviously, there were days on the motherhood front when I was a freak whose priorities were totally out of whack. I needed an article like Jen’s to grab me by the shoulders and say “TONE IT DOWN A NOTCH, SISTER!”

Thus, I feel like her latest blog was very timely and needed, for scores of mothers who feel stressed and guilty by today’s parenting trends.

What I ALSO feel, however, is that there could be a lot of mamas out there who need a boost of another kind, and that’s what I am hoping to provide today.

You see, it didn’t take me too long, once I joined the blogosphere, to recognize that my family would most likely be categorized as what Jen calls “precious”.

We are, for better or worse, a family of “snowflakes” and if you HAD to categorize my parenting style as an automobile, it would probably, darn it, be a helicopter.

For instance, the birthday parties.

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The Halloween costumes.

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The earnestness of it all.

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And if I, as a precious mother, am not exceedingly careful in my study of these sorts of personal testimonies and opinions like Jen’s (and VERY exceedingly careful in the comments section!), what can easily happen is that I can take a simple blog post that was meant to encourage or enlighten or entertain and turn it into my own shame.

And that, my precious, is why I want to speak to you today.

Before I move on, I want to make it clear that I am in no way refuting Jen’s article. In fact, I LOVE her take on parenting.

Through her consistent warnings against helicoptering, I have learned to let my kids play in the front yard with me only hovering by the living room windows where they can’t see me instead of the front porch right next to them. I have been reminded to let them make mistakes and to teach them to clean up their own messes. I have been inspired to step back and let them do big things for God when the time comes.

These have been big lessons for me, and I am beyond grateful for the guidance and am ever hungry for more. We need to listen to other moms, moms who are different than us, moms who are the same as us, but most importantly, moms who have actually walked through motherhood. If motherhood is anything, it is a learning process, is it not?

But I am also very sympathetic to those who, with the best intentions, have found themselves feeling lonesome in their zeal.

As a precious mom, there have clearly been days when I needed a voice like Jen’s to help me “snap out of it” and to show me a different path, but then there have been other days when I simply needed someone to lift up my chin and tell me that I’m doing okay.

With the latter days in mind, I want to offer some relief to my fellow snowflakes, and I feel sure that Jen, who is a passionate advocate of sisterhood and who annually takes time out of her crazy life to talk with me about “American Idol” and “So You Think You Can Dance” on Facebook, would approve.

Let us begin.

Are you a Pinterest mom? Are you precious? Are you a snowflake?

Hi. I “get” you.

And while I “get” you, I can also see how the Pinterest circuit can be overwhelming to moms who aren’t wired in those ways and results in mom-guilt galore.

Not a mom on the planet is free from the temptation to compare our weaknesses to the strengths of others, and the strengths of the “precious” are displayed ALL OVER THE INTERNET.

If a non-Pinteresty mom is feeling down about herself and logs onto Facebook to see something like this….

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it would understandably come across as very showy and nauseating.

And who knows? A lot of this stuff might actually BE showy. I don’t know. Every mom is different, and even more complicated, every day is different. I’m sure there have been days where I was being showy, and the next day I wasn’t. I’m a sinner who just happens to have a good camera and a knack for color-coordinating. There are going to be issues.

So, even though it can wound the precious person’s enthusiasm, I understand the distaste.

Bunting? Scrapbooks? Shadow boxes and time capsules? To many, this stuff is TOO MUCH. It’s insanity.

But not necessarily to us, right?

Being “precious” is our wheelhouse. It’s not, on the pure days, something we pursue out of stress or one-upmanship, nor is it something we force ourselves to be. It’s just what we do, yo. It’s natural. It’s how we show love. It’s how we express creativity.

And while I am unfortunately not organized enough for a time capsule or crafty enough to sew or patient enough to make shapes out of food, there are traditions and practices and beliefs in my home that make other moms feel like total losers. I know this is true, because I have heard it o’er and o’er again, most usually after a birthday party.

Likewise, I have often allowed myself to feel like a loser compared to the incredible moms I know. Some can sew. Some make amazing meals for their family. Some are so beautifully health-conscious. Some are the epitome of FUN. Some can decorate cakes. Some are budget queens.

I might live big on birthday party days and catalog the fun for Pinterest, but what about all the days in between when I’m shuffling through the mess and buying chicken bits at the gas station for our supper?!

And I just can’t help but think that what all of us mamas have GOT to start recognizing in the midst of all this learning and growing and blogging and discussing, and what we HAVE to rest in at the end of the day, is this…

God has wired us all so very differently.

It may sound ridiculous, but for some of us weirdos the joy is actually found IN the magical details and the stress comes in feeling like we are alienating others with our decoupage. (I don’t actually know how to decoupage, but still. You know what I mean).

As a thoroughly precious person, I sincerely love making some extra magic for the world. I love whimsy. I LOVE CHILDHOOD. I am a Victorian, at heart, and even though I can learn from their chill vibe and use their strengths to help me be a better parent, I will never, ever be a 1970’s style mama whose kids roam around the neighborhood. I admire those types of moms. I love them. I kind of think they’re hilarious! But they are not me.

Do you know what?

We get excited about birds at our house. Like, we cluster around the living room windows and we count robins, for crying out loud.

We “fly” through the house listening to the score from the 2003 live-action “Peter Pan” movie.

We have special clothes just for the pumpkin patch.

We sing the soundtrack to “Les Miserables” AS A FAMILY, 3-year old included.

We discuss our family Halloween costumes all. year. long.

We even love photo shoot day! Well, most of us, anyway.

We are precious.

But here’s the thing that I have learned to hold onto after going through a very awkward and reclusive phase concerning my mothering skills, and I hope it will encourage you today, whether you are precious or not.

Get ready because, if you are a believer, this is the best news you’ll ever read (post gospel, of course)!…

God gave my kids to the exact type of mama they would need to grow up in the fear and admonition of the Lord.

You see, there is a reason that Gideon, Rebekah, Betsie and Shepherd Gore have been placed under the wings of a precious mother. My influence, my heart, and my wiring is apparently a sovereign part of their story, and there is a great peace that comes with that knowledge.

If you poke me too hard, I will bleed. If you say mean things to me, I will cry. I’m not hard. I am a soft person and my heart aches just from opening my eyes in the morning.

And if you squeeze me, do you know what will happen? A birthday party is going to shoot out of my ears like confetti. It’s just who I am!

And because He is good, I fully believe that God will use all of these things to craft the adults that He intends my children to become.

I don’t want to lazily rest in my preciousness. There is a LOT of room for growth here, and through voices like Jen’s (and, okay, my husband’s), I have learned to not rush in and scoop up a crying child every single time they fall. (Even though I am dying to!). I have learned the difference between celebrating God for creating the child rather than making an idol out of the child. I have learned to very carefully toe the line between raising entitled, narcissistic kids and grateful, God-worshiping kids.

And so I will be the first to admit that, if a snowflake indulges completely in her snowflakiness, she can totally handicap her kids! THIS is the point Jen was making, and I have tucked it away to guide me. Listening to the un-precious ones has kept me from becoming a slave to my natural tendencies.

But there is a balance that keeps me from despair.

There is a place for my sort of oozy tenderness. There is a use for the sentimental creativity. There is maybe even an outlet for time capsules! We need more softness in this scary world, don’t you think?

And that’s where the precious ones can shine.

That was a lot of talking, but I share all of that to say this: if you, as a mama, are being true to the daily leading of the Spirit and are finding your parenting manual in the living and active Word of God, are your kids going to be okay?

Even if you have themed birthday parties?

Even if you still slather your 8-year old in baby lotion after his bath? (What? Did I just say that out loud?)

Even if you do photo shoots and start planning for holiday wardrobes months in advance?

You betcha.

It takes all sorts of mamas to make the world go round, and even if we never line up on the tertiary subjects, we can relax in our common anchor, the most important thing in the motherhood equation, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If we as precious moms have that, if our earnestness is based on a heart that adores children and this magical season of life, if our over-the-topness springs forth from a heart that finds the sanctify of human life something that starts at home, if we are humble enough to listen and grow and change, then we’ve got nothing to worry about.

Let’s listen closely to the wizened voices of the ones who have blazed the path for us and draw from their unique strengths and add their wisdom to our arsenals…

but let’s also never be ashamed to be the sort of precious that God created us to be.

Pinterest is counting on us.

~

Three cheers today for all moms, and I hope this brings relief to any readers who needed it. These motherhood topics can be so very sensitive, so please use extra discretion in your comments! I see all comments, but only those that lead to edification will be published. Thank you for visiting, and if you’d like to receive almost-daily updates and stories from Mrs. Gore and family, find us on Facebook!

If you’ve never commented here and your comments are not going through, I am away from my computer. I’ll try to have everything moderated by tonight! Many thanks!

The Late-night Song of a Mother Sparrow

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“Everyone else is asleep,” Rebekah said, her long, golden ponytail draped over her right shoulder. “Can you come cover me up?”

It had been a special movie night upstairs and, after a long and tiresome day, Gideon and Betsie had fallen asleep early.

Rebekah’s cornflower blue eyes burned a hole in me, and I felt that familiar tug in my heart that I had better move, this time out of my cozy and warm chair, and take an opportunity to minister to one of my children.

How often is it that I have the luxury to love on one child without the others there to ask for reciprocation?

“Do that to me!” and “It’s my turn!” are, after all, some of the most-used phrases in our home.

And besides all that, it had been a rough day. My patience was down to the very last thread by the time my husband came home from work, and I was not proud of the fluctuations that had taken place in my actions throughout a day of testing on the homefront.

And so, ignoring the ache in my feet and the lazy in my bones, I resolutely set aside my computer, I took her by the hand and we walked upstairs together.

A “fresh start”, even though it was nearing ten o’ clock.

I had just remarked to her an hour before how tall she is becoming. She’ll be six in June, but it has been a trademark characteristic of this beloved second child to always seem much older than she is, both in build and manner. She looks seven, all of a sudden! And so it made me very happy, as we made our way upstairs, to note how small her hand still feels in mine.

We padded quietly on bare feet to her bed, being careful not to disrupt her snoozing siblings.

She laid noiselessly down on her pink, floral sheets, and I was picking up her old, threadbare quilt to cover her up when I felt that tug again.

She must have felt it, too, because the words were coming out of her mouth as my heart was already saying “yes”.

“Lay with me?” she asked. “I love it when you lay down with me.”

I smiled and nodded and, lifting the quilt higher, I slid in beside her before letting the blanket fall down over us both.

She immediately claimed my left arm and laid it across her chest.

“Why do I love this arm so much?” she laughed, holding it close like she always does.

I laughed with her, feeling more useful and important than I had the entire day over.

“Will you tell me some stories about when I was little?” she asked, blinking at me pleadingly.

It has become a favorite pasttime for all of our children, backing up the advice I have read in so many parenting and educating books. Children love to hear stories about their families and themselves, the books say, and I am forever racking my brain to come up with one that they haven’t yet heard.

I hesitated, trying to think of a really good one.

“Just talk,” she instructed me. “Tell me…anything! About when I was a baby!”

And so I started at the very beginning. How I felt when I found out she was a girl. How I picked her name one morning in Sunday School class. How she was weeks past her due date. How, from the very beginning, she has brought comfort and help to our family. How she spent her first six months of life, staring at me, waiting for my eyes to see her so she could convey her love through smiles and giggles. How she began to take command at a very young age, keeping everyone, including the grocery store, in order.

“Was I everything you wanted?” she asked, eyes gleaming.

“No,” I told her, honestly. “You were everything I didn’t even know I wanted. You were everything I needed.”

Her expression lit with satisfaction, and I knew she understood the sentiment I was trying to convey. But then…Rebekah has always understood. Before she could speak…before she was “old enough”…I knew that she knew and I knew what she was trying to tell me.

It is a gift of hers, I think, to understand, and one that reaches me in deep places. I think it might even keep me going sometimes.

I told her all the stories I could think of, some that made her smile contentedly, some that made her throw her head back and scrunch up her eyes with my favorite belly laugh.

And then our conversation eventually turned to Him.

“I just hope,” I whispered, “that you will always, always follow God through His Word, Rebekah. This world is so confusing and people have so many ideas about who God is and what is right and wrong, but even when life seems scary and you don’t know what to do or what to believe, you can trust Him.”

“And God always has a plan,” she murmured, gazing right through me with her powerful eyes.

And then the privacy and comfort of the nursery invited us into a sacred conversation.

Secret fears were shared, fears that I didn’t even know she had. I will keep them just for her, safe in my heart and in my prayers, but what had begun as a routine tucking-in was turning into something so beautifully holy and reverent, casting ridicule on my earlier reluctance to rise from my silly chair in front of a screen.

These are the moments worth living for, the ones where you are living for someone else.

Will I ever remember that up-front, without coercion? 

“God will take care of me, won’t He?” she finished, voice quavering.

The Spirit was kind to my speechless brain, and led me quickly to the simple food she needed…

“Do you see the lilies of the field?” I asked. “Does God take care of them?”

She nodded, lips pursed.

“The birds of the air?” I continued. “Does God care for them?”

She nodded again, a tiny smile playing at one corner of her mouth.

“Then how much more will He take care of you?” I smiled, feeling that same truth bringing comfort to my faithless heart. “You can believe that, Rebekah. God doesn’t promise that life will be easy. Sad things might happen, scary things might happen, but you must ALWAYS keep these two things close to your heart: God is in control and God is good.”

She nodded a final time, visibly comforted by the mantra her Papa taught me many years ago. I say it all the time: God is in control and God is good. It answers every question and assuages every fear.

Our arms were intertwined by now as we laid side by side, and I took her left hand in mine.

“I know a song that might help you remember what we talked about tonight,” I said. “Would you like to hear it?”

She nodded, and I began to sing the hymn, long forgotten, but divinely remembered on this special night with my young daughter, and as I sang, I praised my Father who fathers and mothers the ones I love better than I ever could.

With His voice in my ear and by His guidance and grace, I am confident that they will know Him and love Him…

Why should I feel discouraged?

Why should the shadows come?

Why should my heart feel lonely, and long for heaven and home?

When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me

I sing because I’m happy

I sing because I’m free

For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.*

And just like that, before I could even make it to the second verse, her hand grew slack in mine and her heavy breathing told me she had fallen asleep, ushered into slumber by a voice that, forty-five minutes before, felt too tired to make a peep and too comfortable to go upstairs.

Ah, I am a broken mess of a woman.

So needy. So weak.

So straying. So self-interested.

But His eye is on the mother sparrow, too, and by His grace – and His grace ALONE – I sing.

Happy in Jesus.

Free from myself.

~

*His Eye is on the Sparrow by Civilla Martin

~

Thank you for visiting us today! If you would like to keep up with Mrs. Gore and family on Facebook, click here.

The Decision that Led Me Back to Them

We’ve all heard the advice, and many of us have shared it…

Know your limitations.

“No” is the most important word you’ll ever learn to use.

You can do anything but you can’t do everything.

I certainly have.

In fact, I’m really great at being lippy about all the things I will do and won’t do and how I will or won’t do them and how I will stand firm on my resolutions and such as and so forth.

But then, just recently, a real-life opportunity actually arose for me, and I was blinded. Stunned into forgetfulness. Stupefied by the option in front of me.

A wonderful church in my husband’s old stomping ground asked me to come and speak to them. Me! Silly ol’ Mrs. Gore, a stay-at-home nobody in tiny-town Oklahoma.

It was not my first request to speak to a group of women, but it was my first when I was not pregnant, nursing, hot flashing or insane.

In other words, this was one I could actually consider.

And, all of a sudden, in the face of this request, all of my lip service about maintaining my schedule and being content to devote my life to the homefront flew right out the window.

Granted, my immediate reaction was a resounding “NO WAY!”, but this was quickly followed by a nudge to at least pray about it.

And in the weeks that followed, my internal responses were all across the board….

I didn’t want to, not at all.

I wanted to, so much.

I didn’t want to for spiritual reasons.

I did want to for spiritual reasons.

I didn’t want to for sinful reasons.

I did want to for sinful reasons.

There were good things at play, for sure. I wanted to obey God in my decision, first and foremost. I wanted to help the Church, with a passion. I wanted to meet some of the precious readers who have so deeply encouraged me in my writing and in my personal life. I wanted to see some of the faces of sisters that I would be spending eternity with and know their names and hear their stories. Golly, I wanted to have a morning with grown-ups and free food!

But, as ever, in the nuanced heart of a sinful-but-God-loving woman, there were also intentions in motion that, even though I was feeling timid at the thought of public speaking after so many years away from the microphone, frightened me more than stage-fright ever could…

you, see, if I’m being honest, there is this deep and hidden part of me that still sometimes wants to see how far this ship will sail.

If I go, perhaps I can get more blog followers.

It will be good for my chances at publication if I have more “fans”.

And…they want to pay me??? I could make real money for my family without having to make granola??

Maybe I could make a career out of this. Who knows?! The sky’s the limit!

And the only thing that was clear in the face of all of these thoughts and questions is that I did not know what to do.

I so adore Augustine’s famous quotation: “Love God and do as you please”. But sometimes, our hearts are so complicated that we’re not even sure if we’re purely loving God, nor are we sure what would please us!

And so I prayed.

For weeks, I prayed.

And this very week, when I was still squirming from the indecisiveness of my decision, with one day left to give my answer, I used another great tool that God has given the Church and I sought advice from many trusted and God-fearing friends.

Well, God is faithful, and before the night was up, I had my answer.

This time? During this season in my life? I was going to need to decline.

There were many factors that contributed to my decision, but the words that truly sealed the deal actually came from an Ann Voskamp article that was sent to me by a dear friend (to read it, click here).

I clicked on the link, I began to read, and through the words and example of this far-away sister in the faith, all of the swirling and tumbling thoughts that I hadn’t even realized were captivating me began to subside, the fog of all of my hidden and unhidden motivations and desires cleared, and I was set free.

Not free from this church and the opportunity to speak to them – how I LONG, in the purest regions of my heart, to spend a morning with these sisters and talk to them about all the amazing things that God has done in my life!

But free from myself.

Free from my drive and ambition.

Free to be who God has made me to be during this season of my life.

Free to release the pressure of trying to build, trying to maintain, trying to fuel the machine of my own industry and creativity.

Free to rest in the sweet and joyful pursuit of the hearts that have been entrusted to me, for now…

him.

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And him.

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And her.

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And her.

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And him.

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And so I’ve learned something big this month: God is sovereign even over the possibilities. 

How He grew me this month! I found Him in every step of this decision, illuminating aspirations in my heart that I thought were long ago mortified, tweaking my love for the Church, wooing my heart into even considering doing something out of my area of expertise for His glory, using the body to teach and advise me, but most importantly…

before the clock struck midnight on my deadline…

gifting me with a renewed contentment in my personal calling and a fresh purpose concerning what my life needs to be about.

Sometimes you forget how happy you are until something seemingly bigger and better comes ’round the bend. You wrestle with your heart in the dark for a bit, the haze finally lifts and you are reminded that it’s okay to choose the small stuff…

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and you wake up the next morning feeling like you could fly.

~

Shout-out to First Baptist, Choctaw, for extending such a gracious invitation for me to come and speak (even after I told you I might be the worst public speaker ever), and for allowing God to work in my heart through this process. You have been an important part of my sanctification and there will always be a special place in my heart for you!  As I told Daina, should I ever pursue the public speaking realm, you guys are at the top of the list. <3

A Lesson From Bud and June

Their story gripped me from the very beginning.

The headline itself, describing their plight, was full of enough foreboding to leave a pit of sorrow in my stomach for the rest of the day: Elderly Georgia Couple Missing After Trip to Buy Craigslist Car“.

And the minute that click of my mouse took me from headline to news source and my eyes locked upon their picture, a sob escaped from my mouth.

“God, no!” I begged, tears spilling onto my cheeks.

I jumped away from my computer, burned by my heart’s reaction to the faces featured in the photograph.

There was just something about their picture. The way he peered into the camera like many of the men I know and love. The way they were dressed. The kindness in their eyes.

They looked like my sort of people.

They looked like family.

And now that I am better acquainted with their story and who they are and what they believe, I am realizing that “family” is exactly what they are.

Bud and June Runion were devout believers, my brother and my sister in the faith, and I think my heart recognized that from the very start.

But on that first day, I could not bear to even imagine what they were enduring and I quickly walked away from my computer, trying desperately to shut out the sick dread and worry that threatened to overwhelm me on their behalf.

It didn’t work.

Bud and June and their well-being had made an immediate home in my heart and I could not get them out of my mind. Thoughts turned to prayers, and the prayers became a vigil, of sorts, as the weekend dragged by with countless wishes for good news from Georgia.

Therefore, by the time Monday’s sobering story emerged that their bodies had been located, I, a girl who has never even met them, wept in anguish.

The injustice of their end threatened to suffocate me, the empathy was crippling and, judging by the number of people who have been outraged and saddened by this story, I was not alone in my grief.

We hear sad stories about people we don’t know every single day, stories that cause us to stop for a moment and say a prayer for a family far away, stories that remind us this world is not perfect, stories that receive a moment of silence in an otherwise hectic day before we move on and forget…

but Bud and June’s story was different, wasn’t it?

It certainly was for me.

Their story cut deep, inexplicably reaching me at the level where groans reside, so that I can say with certainty that I am a different woman today than I was before I had heard of Bud and June Runion.

Their death changed something in me, flipping a switch that awakened something new in my heart, something so big and so mysterious that I have never fully grasped before, and it is simply this:

We were not made for this world.

This is not a new concept, nor is it one I am unfamiliar with.

I feel the stings from this truth all the time, I KNOW in my brain and from the Word of God that it is so, but here’s the thing, and if you have been a reader here for long, you’ll recognize this as a familiar struggle: if I’m being honest, “not being made for this world” is a reality that I have tried and tried and tried and tried to suppress, for my entire life.

I say I believe it on Sundays and after Bible readings, but then I go out and fall in love with this present world all over again, I stick my fingers in my ears, I put on my rose-colored glasses and I play pretend that I will never die and that my loved ones will never die and that some sort of heaven is surely attainable on this earth if I can just keep us all clustered together, safe, and well, and having pretty birthday parties…

and in this oh-so-human understanding, I continually shut out the eternal aspects of my soul, along with my purpose for even being on this earth in the first place.

It is the worst kind of ignorance, because it is an ignorance that knows better.

But Bud and June’s story has been the straw that finally broke the camel’s back.

These two were good people. Family people. Godly people. And that their life could end in a manner that so causes the sympathetic human heart to writhe in distress leaves me with only one conclusion, obliterating the lies that I have habitually told myself and making the truth so irrefutably clear that I can no longer deny it:

Any attempt I make to set up a kingdom on this passing earth, and any avenue that I pour my life into, and any purpose that I attach my hope to OTHER THAN THE PURE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST is nothing but a fool’s errand.

It will disappoint. It will shatter. It will wither.

And this heaven that I’ve been searching for, this satisfaction that evades, this safety that I crave like one parched and panting will ever and only be found when I line myself completely up in the Word of God and lose myself in a life lived for His glory.

The farce has been exhausting to uphold, and though this journey toward truth has been excruciating on my soul, I can sense that uncharted levels of joy and peace are finally on the horizon.

I believe with all of my heart that God was not missing on the day that Bud and June did not come home.

He is always working, telling stories that we, in our humanness, cannot begin to understand, and though we see through a mirror dimly, stories like Bud and June’s remind us to at least start asking questions and begging for sight.

I have been begging like never before for sight. And I am therefore convinced that if the surveyors of Bud and June’s story walk away from this sad newsweek simply striving to “be more careful” and to avoid entrapment…

or only with a fresh resolve to “cherish each moment” while our time on earth is at hand…

that we are completely missing the point.

The point is that we are dying.

Every single day, we are dying.

And the only hope for salvation is the truth that Bud and June were believing in well before their time on earth was done.

And so I want to ask you the questions today that I’ve been asking myself, questions that we should ask ourselves daily…

Where is your hope?

What are you believing in?

Are your actions and your practices matching meticulously up with your words?

It is time to stop trying to hold this present and seen life together by the flailing tips of our fingers and start asking the big questions, the ones that hurt to have answered, the ones that require hard things of us, the ones that result in a change of direction, a change of lordship.

It is time to look for truth.

I did not know Bud and June Runion on this earth, but I know their God. And as professing believers in Jesus Christ whose lives bore witness to their changed hearts, their faith has been made sight and they understand all things now. They have made it through the labor pains and have forgotten any of the sorrow or sadness that colored their life before (John 16). They realize now the things that are so difficult for us to grasp, that this life is a vapor and a shadow, that what we are experiencing now is a flicker compared to eternity, that the world to come is a million times better than the fallen world we inhabit now.

Knowing this, believing this, even though their story is heartbreakingly sad and incomprehensible, I sincerely don’t think Bud or June would want us to feel pity for them.

I don’t think they would use their last words to warn us about using Craigslist.

I don’t think they would say “live every day to its fullest because it could be your last.”

I don’t even think they would say “hug your family close tonight because you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.”

I think they would say “repent and believe for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

I am believing, with more fervency and resolve than ever before, and I am praying that my life will prove it.

~

To keep up with the family of Bud and June and to learn more about this amazing couple, visit their Facebook page. And if you would like to hear more about the gospel message of Jesus Christ, please click here.

Thank you for reading! With love and hope, Mrs. Gore

Kenneth and Virginia (Part Three).

Continued from Part Two

“When Virginia’s mind began to suffer and Alzheimer’s set in, I felt confused and hurt. ‘Why, God?’ I asked. ‘Why, after all this time and all their faithfulness to you and to each other, does it have to be like this for them in their last days?!’

It made no sense to me, and I was plagued by the questions that often assail me as a woman of weak faith…

Is God good?

Is God even real?

And, as such, are we completely wasting our lives here in this tiny church in this tiny town?

One Sunday afternoon with Kenneth would change everything.”

~

It was the visit of a lifetime.

Standing there in the guest bedroom of the home they had shared for over thirty years, I instinctively knew that I might never hear words like he was speaking again, I might never encourage a Christian brother in such an important way again, I might never be the recipient of such an enriching and humbling experience again…

Virginia had died just yesterday, his wife of 66 years.

In twelve short days, they would have celebrated their 67th.

And here we were in the sacred space where their lives had played out, cradling his heart and his memories with our ears.

The words just poured from his lips, and in every sentence, the love he had for her was palpable.

But then, it always had been.

Kenneth and Virginia.

For six-and-a-half decades, there had been no Virginia without Kenneth, and there had been no Kenneth without Virginia.

Married at a young age and never bearing any children, it had always just been him and her.

And “him and her” was such a beautiful thing to watch.

Approaching their driveway before that Sunday afternoon visit, I had taken a couple of deep breaths as I wondered how I could face one without the other. How long had I dreaded this day, spending many silly moments playing out the different scenarios of how their story on earth would end; as these daydreams always go, the only one that ever brought me any satisfaction was the one where they departed from this world at the exact same time.

But that hadn’t happened, and now, in the breadth of one second and in the rise and fall of one last breath, it was just Kenneth.

He greeted us into his home as cheerfully as he always had, hugging us, patting us on the back, asking about the kids…

but it didn’t take long to see that his world had shifted immeasurably.

Their entire home was a reflection of his devotion to her.

On the kitchen table, he had already neatly laid out everything he needed to take to the funeral home: a portrait of Virginia, the baby doll her mama and daddy had given her when she was two years old, and important papers and family histories.

On the counter nearby lay four notepads in a tidy row, scribbled upon with telephone numbers, dates and notes.

In the living room, her medical supplies were stacked in organized piles next to the wall, ready to return to the home health care nurses who had been stopping by every day for months.

“I’m sorry about this mess,” he apologized, gesturing to the notepads on the counter.

Discreetly, Mr. Gore and I looked at one another with amusement. If this was his idea of a mess, his skin would surely crawl upon entrance to our topsy-turvy house.

And then our conversation naturally turned to Virginia…

“God has just worked everything out perfect in our life,” Kenneth mused in his unique and peppy tone as we stood near the kitchen table. “It wasn’t always what we had planned, you know, but we shouldn’t have had those plans in the first place. Yes sir, He had it all perfect.”

His words, as usual, both put my heart at ease and pricked my ears to attention; the Spirit beckoned me to listen closely and to do whatever I could to follow in this man’s footsteps.

You see, as a wet-behind-the-ears minister’s wife who has spent more than four-fifths of her life petrified of death and all of its distant cousins, I was starving on that day to receive confirmation from my friend that life would go on.

I needed to hear him verify that God’s plan was good, even in his greatest sorrow.

My eyes, as they had been for these last fifteen years, were glued on him, and I was desperate to see that he meant the words he was saying.

And this is the very thing I received from Kenneth on the day after the love of his life departed.

As he recounted to us dear Virginia’s last moments, I was filled with a peace that can only be categorized as supernatural.

“I had her for a moment before she left,” he said, referring to her recent Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Though they had remained one of the most compatible and gentle married couples I have ever been around through her entire sickness, things had become very difficult near the end.

“She was looking at me and she couldn’t talk, you know, but her eyes were following me everywhere I went. I finally walked up close and touched her hair and said ‘Your hair looks real pretty today,’ and she just gave me this little smile. Right there at the corners of her mouth, you know, she smiled right at me. It was real cute”.

Her passing couldn’t have been easier, he said, and he was there beside her to the very end, holding her hand as she took her last breath.

“It was just so peaceful,” he kept saying, “it was perfect”.

“Perfect…” I mused.

That’s exactly what I had hoped to hear.

It was what I needed to hear.

And then we cried together.

God had been so good, but we were going to miss Virginia so very much.

~

And all of these moments and days, all of the sadness and the trials and the comings and the goings, and the church split, and the fallings out, and the hurt feelings, and the continual personal fight against bitterness, and the call to serve our home church, and the life we’ve built here since…

it all seemed to swirl together in a beautiful portrayal of meaning and purpose as I walked beside Kenneth to the front pew of the church we’ve attended together my entire life to lay sweet Virginia to rest.

“Have I been created for this moment?” I thought, my heart flooded with awe as my fingers grasped his arm. “Did God place me here, in this church, married to this pastor, so I might be a friend to this brother during his hour of greatest need?”

It was one of the most awe-inspiring, bowl-me-over instances of clarity I’ve ever experienced in my entire life as everything, finally, made sense. My love for senior citizens. My friendship with Ken and Virginia. My admiration for WWII vets. My obsession with yesteryear. My “old soul”. My marriage to Mr. Gore whom God would call to love the church I loved. My lifelong desire to be a part of this church. All those trips to Cracker Barrel. The parties. The love. The unity.

None of it was me.

None of it was just “my nature”.

None of it was a coincidence.

It had all been God, all along, and all for a beautiful purpose. And so I have seen it with my own eyes: God loves His Church and He takes care of it, even when it is flailing about and broken, even when it seems like a waste of time and effort, and even when it is so small it would never show up on a map.

And, oh! Our tiny, unimportant, unpopular church was abounding in beauty that day. Starting with a potluck lunch where the ladies truly outdid themselves, we feasted with this father of our congregation, filling up his belly with the best food in Oklahoma and filling up his soul with the tangible reminder that he would never be alone. There was laughter and there were memories and, most of all…

there was love.

And friends, it is without contestation that, anything I could have been in this life, any notoriety I might have achieved, any of my childish and fanciful dreams that could have possibly come true…

they paled in a ghostly comparison to my walk down the aisle with Kenneth.

Our brothers and sisters were seated and waiting for us as we stood at the back of the sanctuary with our arms intertwined.

“I hope I don’t fall down,” he confided.

“You’re going to do great,” I assured him.

He was nervous.

I was watchful and so sad and somehow joyful and my eyes were all his.

And then he returned my gaze.

“It’s an honor to have you here with me today. It’s what Virginia would have wanted,” he said. “We always thought of you as a daughter.”

“Believe me,” I quietly replied with a breaking voice, “I feel the exact same way”.

And then the music started to play, and we walked.

~

And here I am, several weeks later, still reeling from that moment.

Virginia’s loss is deeply felt.

While I am so happy to have Kenneth back among us every Sunday morning for worship, when I look at him, I see who is missing. My friend is now a widower, and the woman who defined half of him is no longer with us.

It’s like walking without legs.

Sitting without a chair.

He is handling his loss in his persistently chipper manner and has been a hero in my eyes, packing up his life, selling his house, moving to a retirement community and entering this uncharted chapter with all the pluck that you’d expect from a World War II veteran; in other words, I’ve seen with my own eyes that Kenneth is going to be okay.

But before the world moves on and Virginia’s memory fades like the pink carnations Kenneth gave me at her graveside service, I can’t help but feel compelled to send out a plea on behalf of my beloved friends.

For the churches that are floundering, for the congregations that are immersed in overwhelming conflict, for the members who feel restless and long to start somewhere fresh and new, please, before you take another step, stop for a minute and look around you.

I am by no means an expert on church polity, I am in no way blameless in my church’s messy past, and I would be a fool to pretend that these are simple matters that are easily resolved.

But none of that changes the fact that this body of believers is your life.

This is your family. The people in your pews, the Kenneths and the Virginias, they are as bound to you as your own flesh and blood and should be cherished as the infant who sleeps in the bed next to yours, the child who lives in the bedroom down the hall, the spouse who is curled up beside you, the mother who bore you, the father who raised you, and the brother and the sister who were your dearest and most lifelong companions.

Would we, the called-out ones, leave our flesh-and-blood children to find a family that suited us better?

Would we build a new house and take half of our kids with us and leave the other half with our spouse?

Would we allow tertiary matters of how we spend our free time and the type of music we prefer to rip our home in two, putting asunder what God has sacredly brought together?

Or would we battle it out? Would we compromise? Would we choose to love, even if we had to die in the process?

Would we find a way to make it work?

I don’t have all the answers, but I do know this: we have to start finding a way to make it work.

The American church is in peril and God cannot be amused by the way we have represented His gospel.

Looking back through the tangled maze of years in my home church, I see infinite beauty in our story and I see glorious hope rising out of the ashes, but those things only strengthen my resolve to share what I have had to learn the hard way: the world will know we belong to Christ not by our programs, not by our worship music, not by our doing all the things that we think must be done to be successful or doing away with all the things that we feel harbors our success…

but by our love for one another.

God used a little man and a little woman with snowy white hair to teach me that lesson, and it is my honor to pass it on to you today.

Learn from our mistakes. Weep with us. Pray for us, please. And then join us, in a Church where every life counts and where the family blood pulses through our veins so vibrantly that we would rather die than walk away from each other.

~

Grant Lord, that with Thy direction, “Love each other,” we comply 

Aiming with unfeigned affection thy love to exemplify

Let our mutual love be glowing, thus will all men plainly see,

That we, as on one stem growing, living branches are in Thee.

~

O that such may be our union, as Thine with the Father is,

And not one of our communion e’er forsake the path of bliss;

May our light shine forth with brightness, from Thy light reflected, shine;

Thus the world will bear us witness, That we, Lord are truly Thine.*

~

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Me and Kenneth, after Christmas Eve communion. It was his first Christmas without Virginia, but he was safely and joyously surrounded by family. <3

~

* “Christian Hearts, in Love United” by Nicolaus L. von Zinzendorf

~

Thank you to everyone who has given an ear to the story of Kenneth and Virginia! Your encouragement has blessed me this week, and I cannot thank God enough for the kind audience He has gifted me with at Mrs. Gore’s Diary. I honestly don’t think there is a sweeter readership on the internet!

If you are new here, my blog policy is that all comments are welcomed, but when it comes to sensitive subjects like today’s, extra discretion will be used when moderating. To send a private message, feel free to find me on Facebook! Although I cannot usually respond to messages at this point in my life, I am happy to offer a listening ear.

God bless us all as we strive together to build a Church that glorifies Him!

Kenneth and Virginia (Part Two).

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Continued from Part One

“And while this plea was on the behalf of our entire church, my eyes were still on Kenneth and Virginia.

They had no children?

God, let us be their children.

They had no family?

God, let your Church be their family.”

~

Through these initial prayers, born out of frustration and sadness, God has crafted a beautiful story.

The getting there would be far too long and complicated to tell in a blog setting, but here I am today, 33 years old, married to a pastor, and the longest I have been away from Ken and Virginia and the church that I love so deeply is the year-and-a-half that I spent in Kentucky as my new husband was finishing up his seminary education.

In a merciful and sovereign turn of events following Mr. Gore’s graduation from the masters program, God sent us back to the church body where our hearts had remained, and for nearly seven wonderful years we have had the joy of worshipping and fellowshipping alongside them with my husband serving as pastor.

And what was once a dream and a prayer soon became a blessed ritual.

Every Sunday morning when the weather permitted and she was feeling well, I would stop in to talk to Virginia where she still volunteered in the library. She’d welcome my children as she used to welcome me and she’d tell us all the story again of how I used to check out my books as a little girl.

Then, meeting many other friends along the way, I would resolutely make my way to the other side of the church where Kenneth would be sitting in his regular seat near the entry, greeting every brother and sister who walked through the doors of the fellowship hall.

I would sit next to him and we’d spend a good ten or fifteen minutes discussing the week and the weather; I don’t know what he was feeling when we talked, but not a week went by when I didn’t melt a little on the inside to have this sweet time with him.

And the years sweetly rolled by.

Kenneth played kickball in that room with my son, Gideon, when he was a toddler.

When my daughter, Rebekah, was a baby, she’s toddle up and sift through his shirt pockets, playing with his comb and his pen and his glasses.

And how he laughed last year when, after pointing out that he had forgotten to shine the dust off of his dress shoes, our little Betsie-girl ran and retrieved a wet wipe and started cleaning them until they sparkled!

There have been special occasions, when our church has had the opportunity to step in as Kenneth and Virginia’s children to commemorate and honor their milestones. I’ll never forget their 65th wedding anniversary, when we hosted a special surprise dinner just for them and gave them a big love offering and flowers and a memory-book of photographs. Neither of them could stop thanking us for the gesture for months.

And then there was Kenneth’s birthday party last summer. Leading up to his 90th, I had big plans, but in the fog of pregnancy and the hectic nature of our life with little children, time got away from me.

Late one Saturday night, I remembered in a panic that his birthday was the next day and I had completely forgotten to plan anything. Jumping out of bed, I tore through our house to see if anything festive could be procured.

The end result was meager in my party-loving eyes: three rolls of leftover crepe paper, a few mismathed candles, a giant cinnamon roll cake that my mother-in-law just happened to have dropped off that morning, a handmade card, and a book I had on my shelf that I thought he would enjoy, “The Greatest Generation” by Tom Brokaw.

But it would just have to do.

The next morning, before anyone else had arrived for church, Rebekah and I raced to Kenneth’s Sunday School classroom and, stringing up the crepe paper and writing “Happy Birthday” on the dry erase board, threw together the most unplanned and unscripted party I think I’ve ever orchestrated.

My stomach was a twisted mess of excitement for his surprise, along with regret that I couldn’t have done more, but when he came in and clapped his hands in shock and delight, I felt pleased as punch.

As the church began to arrive for the day, we clustered around our beloved friend to sing to him, but there was someone missing. “Wait, wait, wait!” he interrupted us. “Where’s Virginia? We can’t sing before she gets here!”

We ushered her in from her class down the hall and, with her hand intertwined with his and her smile beaming in his direction, we sang “Happy Birthday, dear Kenneth” before cutting up the cake, pouring some coffee and returning to our classes.

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Do you know what he told me later that day? 1. He couldn’t remember the last time he had blown out candles on a cake and, 2. That was the best birthday party he’d ever had.

He read the book I gave him that very week, and it warms my heart everytime I notice it propped up on their little shelf of knick-knacks when I go to their house.

But my most memorable moments with Ken and Virginia always seemed to take place on our breakfast trips to Cracker Barrel where I sat across from them and listened to their wonderful stories and gleaned as much precious advice as I could before the biscuits and gravy (Kenneth’s favorite) arrived.

It was there that I first heard the story of how they met, at a baseball game. Virginia, seeing Kenneth out on the field, determined that he was “the prettiest thing she ever saw”, and Kenneth, equally smitten with the petite redhead in the stands, was so flustered that he struck out three times. “We lost that game,” he told me, “but I won Virginia’s heart, and that’s all that really mattered.”

It was at Cracker Barrel that they first told me what they did on their honeymoon, going straight from their wedding ceremony to see a picture show. Fresh out of the military and low on funds, that was all the could afford, and though neither could remember what movie it was, they felt sure it was a western, most likely starring Gene Autry or Will Rogers.

It was there that they repeatedly told me the secret to their long and happy marriage: be friends and never go to bed mad.

And it was there that I decided for a fact that these two friends – who, by the way, had manned the guest table at my own wedding – were truly a city on a hill, and that I should pay very close attention to every word they spoke.

Early last year, however, I am so sad to report, our sweet and peaceful season together was met with an abrupt interruption: walking to her Sunday School class one church morning, Virginia fell and seriously injured herself.

I watched, eyes swimming with tears, as the church body that God had crafted for her in her final season gathered around to load her into a car, to hold her hand and to pray for her. And when an ambulance couldn’t arrive quickly enough to ease her pain, I watched my husband jump into the driver’s seat to race her and Kenneth to the hospital and I thought my heart would explode. He was my knight in shining armor that day, and I could not have been more proud or grateful.

Our church is so small now, and so very forgettable, but Virginia? She was seen that day. She was loved.

And I can’t help but think that God was honored.

Her health swiftly declined from there, and I watched in awe and heartache as Kenneth’s love for his “little lady” soared under severe testing and trials. He tended to her so faithfully, so tenderly and so tirelessly, bathing her, sitting up in a chair all night to sleep next to her in the living room, and spending every minute of every day seeing to her comfort and healing.

It was a truly difficult time for both of them, but their love continued to blossom through the storm.

Thus, when Virginia’s mind began to suffer and Alzheimer’s set in, I felt confused and hurt. “Why, God?” I asked. “Why, after all this time and all their faithfulness to you and to each other, does it have to be like this for them in their last days?!”

It made no sense to me, and I was plagued by the questions that often assail me as a woman of weak faith…

Is God good?

Is God even real?

And, as such, are we completely wasting our lives here in this tiny church in this tiny town?

One Sunday afternoon with Kenneth would change everything.

~

To be continued…

(Read Part Three here)

 

A New Wish

January the First, 2015

Before the children were whisked off to bed this New Year evening, we gathered around a chair at the kitchen table and opened the mason jar that had been sitting on our computer desk for 365 days.

The jar’s lid was lightly covered with a year’s worth of dust, and it is really a lucky happenstance that I had seen it hiding behind the computer last week, for its contents had been long forgotten by this addle-brained mama.

Had I really made a card for each person in our family (including my parents and grandmother) and jotted down their favorite part of 2013? And had I asked each person to share a wish for the year to come?? And had I then carefully folded up each card and placed it in the jar that was on our desk???…

Apparently, I had, and my handwriting on each card was enough to prove it.

(But I am in good company. My husband had also completely forgotten this New Year exercise. We’re compatible like that).

And it was like unlocking a short-term time capsule this evening, giving us a surprise glimpse into who we were and what we were thinking a year ago. Our children clustered around me, I screwed off the lid, popped the top, and began to pull out our words from the first day of 2014, one by one.

The children giggled as I read their cards. We had forgotten that Betsie had called my grandmother “Miss Granny Bear” last year and that her wish was to go visit her house in Texas. We couldn’t believe that our dog, Jake – and Gideon’s favorite thing about 2013 – had only been a part of our family for a year and a half. We were chagrined that we had never taken Rebekah ice-skating, her only wish for the year 2014, but assured her that we could make up for that…

and then I opened my card.

My one great wish for 2014?

“I want to have a book published.”

I smiled at my family.

“Well, I’ve almost finished writing my first book, so that’s a good start!” I laughed.

But, in my heart, I was communing silently with my Creator and thanking Him for the changes He has wrought within me since January the First, 2014.

A year ago, it had been a burning passion.

I wanted to see my name on a book. I wanted to accomplish something tangible. I wanted to succeed in the writing biz. I wanted to move from the blogging world to the publishing world.

And I wanted it bad.

But somewhere along the way, after pouring my heart and soul into the book that I have been writing since this summer, after hearing 52 incredible expository sermons from the Word of God, after being sanctified day by day by day by day by day, my desires have shifted in monumental ways so that, before I pulled that year-old wish out of the jar, I had completely lost touch with the woman who wrote those words at the beginning of the year.

I have changed, and until this evening, I didn’t realize how much.

And by the sweet grace of God, the thing I truly cherish the most about 2014 and the thing I long for the most in 2015 has nothing to do with what I will accomplish or how I will succeed or if I will ever be a published author…

but everything to do with how I have known and will know God better.

And with all these things in mind, I wanted to pop in here for a bit to offer up a word of encouragement to each of you for the year we are leaving behind and the one we face ahead…

Do you know what? It really doesn’t matter if you lost the ten pounds that you planned to lose in 2014. It doesn’t matter if you are killing it at your job. It doesn’t matter if you have managed to organize your house. I doesn’t matter if you’ve mastered the art of couponing. It doesn’t matter if you’ve found your way to a better you or gotten all your ducks in a row or have started to experience your “best life now”. It doesn’t even matter if you got your book published (or if you finished writing it!)…

but have you grown kinder?

Have you lost a bit of the zeal you had for your own name?

Have you learned to trust Him more?

Have you become more patient?

Have you learned to love your spouse better?

Have you grown bolder in your witness?

Have you developed a greater love for God’s word?

Have you persevered through difficult relationships within your church body?

Have you been conformed daily to the image of God?

Have you seen – in one or a hundred ways – His continued work in your life?

These.

These are the things that we should measure our years by. These are the things that should cause us to rejoice at the close of one year and inspire us to pray for the opening of another. These are the fruits that we should be pursuing and wishing for. And these are the things that should allow us to close our eyes in relief and to realize that, YES, this has been an enormously successful year!

I know Him better than I did last year. His Word makes more sense to me than it ever has before. I have grown in wisdom and understanding…

I am still His, and I am still loving the one who loved me first.

Oh, friends, what more can we ask for?!

And so there is no doubt. I may not have even finished the book that I was hoping to have published yet, but 2014 turned out to be one of the most successful years I have ever experienced, and my one wish for the year to come, the wish I folded up into our empty mason jar this evening before sending the children to bed, is this…

whether my name is on a book by year’s end, whether my words ever go beyond the space they now occupy, whether the world will ever tip their hat to my accomplishments, may I strive to be an encouragement to anyone who needs it in 2015 and to pour myself out for others.

I have to tell you, I am so excited to open our jar next year and see how God has answered my prayer and granted the wish of my heart.

If, indeed, I remember by that time what that jar is behind our computer.

~

And now I want to leave you with my favorite photos from 2014, which is a prayer in itself.

2014 is the year that I truly became content in my calling, and this captured moment, to me, represents all that I learned and all that I am resting in today. I never want to forget what it felt like to relax and begin freely living in the life He has crafted for me, and these pictures represent that time in a tangible way.

Here is me and Betsie, cuddled up under a blanket watching the rest of our family play in the yard. I’m not wearing make-up and no one knows who I am and my name is not in lights, but this is who I want to be, forever and always. A mama who has found her home, who is rejoicing in her Kingdom work and who is finally content to the tips of her toes.

God is good, to fix our hearts.

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~

Happy New Year from Mrs. Gore to the wonderful friends who have found a home here. You all have been a HUGE part of my sanctification and growth, and I thank God for the gift of this readership every single day. May we bring glory to our God in 2015!

And now I hope you feel free to share! How has He fixed your heart this year? What changes has He wrought? How are you hoping to live for him in the year to come?

The Best Thing I Have Ever, Ever, Ever, Ever, Ever Done with my Kids. Ever.

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Four children have graciously been entrusted to our care thus far, and my husband and I have nearly reached our 8th year of parenthood.

These years have been as full as our hands.

We’ve had themed birthday parties. We’ve started a homeschool. We hold to all the great holiday rituals. There have been “Daddy-Daughter dates” and “Father-and-Son outings” and shopping days for just the girls. There have been “Life Day” celebrations and Field Days and theatrical plays and countless moments of family togetherness.

But nothing we have done or hosted or accomplished or planned in our time as a mother and father has compared to what God has wrought in our midst in the last month.

It began as a stirring, a spontaneous tug, during a typical read-aloud session at school. The book was “Sarah Whitcher’s Story”, and as I read aloud to my two eldest children, my heart experienced a quick pang of yearning when the story highlighted the Whitcher family’s nightly ritual of reading the Bible together.

The children in this story were practically babies, just like ours, and the scene brought to mind all the stories I’ve read over the years of pioneers and Pilgrims, stories of families who had so much less than we do but who treasured the Word of God as their life and breath.

These forefathers and mothers had no picture Bibles. No daily devotional books. No storybook collections of biblical heroes.

Just the Bible.

The thought flitted across my mind as quickly as the turn of a page. “I want this…I NEED this…”

But before I knew it, the plot of the story thickened and I was following Sarah Whitcher through the woods on a big adventure, her family ritual forgotten, and along with it, my desire to follow suit.

And so how could I know possibly know that, later that evening, in an act of true love and kindness, God was going to bring my yearning to fulfillment and bring to pass a MOST surprising turn of events?

After tucking the children into their beds that night, I spontaneously plopped down nearby in my Granny’s old mauve upholstered rocker and opened up my son’s Bible to the first chapter of John.

It was as Spirit-led a moment as I’ve ever experienced, so sacred and poignant and perfectly-timed that it took my breath away, on the spot!

How well I remember the nights in years past when we attempted to have “family worship” in that very same nursery, children rolling all over the place, interruptions galore, tears and fighting and eyes that were glazed over in ambivalence. My husband and I would leave the upstairs nursery after “family worship” and I would feel more frazzled and frustrated than I had been during the children’s bathtime, which is saying quite a lot.

But this night was so very different.

The room was still. Calm. Beautiful. And by the light of the lamp on the corner dresser, I began to read.

The words of John’s witness rolled off of my tongue and landed straight upon my heart where unceasing prayers sprang up for our household. And the children listened, spellbound.

I finished the first chapter and moved to shut the Book, but to my great surprise, they asked for more.

I finished the second chapter and they asked for more. 

I finished the third chapter and they asked for still more.Occasionally, there would be an interruption so a question could be asked. Or one of the children would exclaim, “Hey! I know this story! We read this in our class!!”

By the end of the fourth chapter, two of the three children had fallen fast asleep. I shut the Bible and, after kissing the sleepy straggler goodnight, I tiptoed downstairs with my heart absolutely full of worshipful contentment, amazed beyond belief at what had just taken place on the second floor of our home.

The next night was very much the same.

Teeth brushed, final bathroom runs complete, pajamas on, the eldest children crawled into their beds, I turned on the lamp and, with my 3-year old nestled in my lap, I began to read, picking up from where we had left off the night before.

Once again, they were eager to listen, asking questions, making comments and proving without question that their hearts were ripe for this harvest.

The words of Life, coupled with the intoxicating ambiance of a nursery turned down for bedtime, seemed to calm them and feed them, simultaneously, and it is with this beyond-simple ritual that we now consistently end our day. My youngest daughter falls asleep in my lap, without fail, and most usually her big brother and sister eventually join her in slumber, dictating where we will end that night’s reading. Sometimes we cover four chapters, sometimes we read one, but every night of our Bible reading has been undeniably rich with meaning and satisfaction and familial affection.

And best of all, perhaps, is the nourishment that I, their mother, have received from this practice.

It is no secret to those who know me well that a “daily quiet time” of reading the Word has long evaded my grasp. To my great shame and distress, I have tried and failed for a good twenty years to sit down with my Bible on a faithfully consistent basis to draw strength and wisdom from its depths.

I have cried about this failure, I have heaped guilt upon my head because of this failure, and I have prayed about this failure, begging God to give me a love for His word that I would find irresistible.

And, oh my.

I never dreamed that He would choose to answer these prayers for help in such a perfect way, surrounded by my favorite little children aged 7 and under. As I read to my babies, the Spirit pricks my heart, illuminates mysteries, woos and comforts and convicts. To my children, I am just reading, but in my heart, I am being changed, and I have grown addicted to the daily rhythm of rocking my family to sleep under this spoken cadence of truth.

And as I make my way down the stairs every night, I can feel it from my head to my toes that, of all the things I have done for my children, this one is the most important, by miles.

The Bible was enough for Sarah Whitcher’s family and their counterparts because it was all they had.

And do you know what? It is still enough today.

~

I am passionate about helping young families. If God has used this post to encourage you, or if you know anyone who will benefit from it, I invite you to share! And if you’d like to stay in touch with Mrs. Gore and her family, find us on Facebook!

A Fairytale in the Flesh

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It has been a lifelong theme, for me.

A yearning for “good ol’ days”. An attraction to happy endings. A steady heartbeat of longing for things that cannot be found where we are, no matter where we go.

This world is a hauntingly beautiful song that is being played on a slightly off-tune instrument. One side of it is so lovely that it brings me to my knees in praise and amazement and the other side splits my eardrums in two, tempting me to claw at the dirt in a desperation for escape.

Relics from Eden abound. In love stories. In the laughter of children. In nature. In acts of kindness and self-sacrifice.

But the strains of discord ever threaten, and ruinous vines entangle what should have been perfect. Divorce and adultery shatter families. Children become victims. God’s handiwork is decimated and cluttered by our filth.

And isn’t this why we love good books, inspiring movies, and fairytales? Any story, really, that will carry us away from the reality we try so desperately to ignore?

Craving wells up and reverberates through shed tears as we survey all the tales that should have been fact, tales of redemption, of true love, of peace, of hope. In those pages and on those screens, our broken and searching hearts whisper that “yes! This is what life is supposed to be like! Shouldn’t love last forever? Shouldn’t men should choose to do good, even when it is hard? Cannot even the vilest offender be redeemed and spend his life in beauty??”

And, fueled by the ache within, we labor our lives away, attempting to craft fairytales with our own hands and by our own means.

We pursue love, dreaming with stars in our eyes of how that man or woman will fulfill us and make life the song that we’ve been trying to write since we could pick up a pen.

We pursue a life of comfort, with a couple of healthy kids and a cozy house with all the trimmings.

We pursue fame, attempting to fill up the burning of our hearts with more recognition, more ‘likes’, more followers.

The options for soul satiation are so shiny when they are still on the shelf.

And so we choose an available portion with glittering eyes, greedy with hope that this will be the solution that will finally tame our hunger.

We pick up a spoon, we dig in and we feast with passion…

but as we chew on life, the realization soon settles that every single dish we have chosen to fill up our soul was nothing more than a heap of dry ashes masquerading as fulfillment.

We begin to choke on them.

We can’t swallow.

We drown in a rush of bitterness and disappointment that life, once more, has let us miserably down.

Try as we might, there is just no dodging the truth that every single fairytale this world has to offer is a phony, an illusion that, once tasted, loses its luster and dissolves into dust.

Except, that is, for one.

A mother and father traveled far from their home, and in a borrowed stable, a baby boy was born. They bundled Him up like parents do, but contained in the flesh of His humanity beat the very heart of God.

He lived a perfect life, fully God, but in a body that was fully man. He loved. He had friends. He lost friends. He witnessed death, seeing and feeling the sting that haunts the human race. The wretched sting that haunts us today. And, like us, He wept, tasting the salt of human tears that sprang forth from a heart that felt real human pain.

He was Emmanuel, God in the flesh, and everything He touched was made beautiful. Lame were healed, blind were given sight, sinners were redeemed, and His perfect words of truth and wisdom sliced through the veil that had shrouded centuries.

Bur three years into His public ministry, the time arrived for Him to fulfill what He had come to earth to do. The fall of man needed to be paid for, and He, in the greatest act of love the world has ever known, was going to provide the sacrifice.

His body groaned the night before His crucifixion, and His spirit was violently tested as He submitted to the will of the Father. But still He marched, resolutely, surrendering himself to his enemies and to the cross of a criminal. He was nailed up and tortured, and in unspeakable pain and suffering, He willingly took every last trace of mankind’s punishment as His own…

even as mankind spat upon the gift.

And all those things that plague us? The tragedies, the disappointments, the addictions and the brokenness that leave us raw with pain and longing?

He defeated them on our behalf, annihilating each and every one with a passion that made the earth quake in reverence.

And then He was no more. The debt had been paid in full, His spirit was given up, and His dead, limp body was carried away as His mother and His friends mourned in despair that the Light of the World had been snuffed out.

They buried Him in a borrowed tomb and the next three days were filled with unimaginable darkness. Darkness of soul. Darkness of grief. Darkness of doubt. Yet another fairytale had been dangled before human eyes, only to end in utter disappointment and loss.

But just this one time…

a happy ending was coming…

and it was going to change the world.

Their world.

Our world.

The fairytale came true.

In the exact miracle that He and the prophets of old foretold, three days later, Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Hundreds of witnesses saw Him, talked with Him, touched Him, and a hunkered down and mournful Church rose up, bold and fearless, in belief. They had seen this man die, and now, He was in front of them, the wounds in His hands and side to prove it.

He remained among them for forty days, teaching and ministering, before ascending into heaven where He is preparing a place for all those who believe on His name, even those of us who have yet to see Him with our own eyes.

And in a day that is coming soon, oh glorious day…

He will return to this fallen and disappointing world and He will make all things new for those who put their trust in Him.

Love will become true and eternal, children will be safe, creation will shine in all of its intended glory, and all of those stories that we wish could be REAL, those glimpses of Eden that are so beautiful that they bring us pain…

They will be an every-day, every minute reality, as natural to us as our fears are today. The craving will be satiated. The ache will disappear. The emptiness will be filled up and forgotten.

And all the wrongs will be made right.

Our souls will finally rest.

My heart is irresistibly compelled to believe and to proclaim it, that Jesus Christ is the fairytale we’ve been hunting, the love that will remain, the comfort that is forever, the hope for today, tomorrow and eternity…

but He is no fairytale.

He is real.

I believe.

Do you?

~

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