Hallenewyear, Amen.

I have started and deleted this post 3 times.

First, trying to play it cool, I wrote a line about how I don’t know what is expected in these end-of-the-year blog posts that everyone writes, but here goes…

Then I made a joke about how we barely made it across the finish line of 2013, parched, panting and digging our nails into the ground as we crawled to January 1st, 2014…

but, you know, that was just me being lazy, trying to come up with something to say; my second attempt, especially, was a borrowed and regurgitated sentiment, one that rolled off my tongue without truly capturing what is on my heart…

so let’s start again, shall we?

From an objective standpoint, I suppose you could say that this past year has been the most challenging we’ve ever faced. There were days when I didn’t know how we were going to juggle everything, how we were going to afford everything, and honestly, how we were going to survive and still be allowed to call ourselves Christians; 2013 will forever be branded upon my brain as the year of the puppy, the baby and the back surgery.

Actually, that’s not true. My brain no longer has the capacity to have anything branded upon it. By the year of 2015, someone will ask me when Baby Shepherd was born or when Mr. Gore had his spinal fusion and I’ll stare at them blankly and blink rapidly while I will myself to remember…anything. My name…my political affiliation…what’s for supper…who’s Jake?…

But you get what I’m saying.

2013 was intense.

But sitting here in my room on New Year’s night, and looking back in reflection, it feels less like a difficult year that stands out in a series of not-so-difficult years…

and more like…

another year full of grace-for-each-moment.

Just like 2012.

And 2011.

And 2010…

and every year that we have been held firmly in the hand of the Lord.

Which, if I understand the theologies correctly, encompasses eternity past, present and future. Brother Spurgeon, am I right, or am I right?

Our struggles in 2013 might have been unique compared to any we have walked through before, but that in no way changed the fact that God worked every detail of life for our good and for His glory. The days were incomprehensibly challenging, but He handed them to us very gently, and love and peace and joy were around every corner, even in the hallways of the hospital…

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I guess what I’m trying to say is that, in my ever-increasing age, I am beginning to realize that life is a series of days is a series of moments, and every year has its share of struggles and suffering, just as every year is interlaced with beautiful, abundant graces. And at the heart of all of it is a Creator who is much more involved in the minutia of our daily life than we ever give Him credit for. He measures our blessings and our sufferings so expertly, you’d think He was the God of the Universe or somethin’.

That, my friends, was the most roundabout way ever to say this: our God is good.

Even in 2013.

Especially in 2013.

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~

Happy New Year!

The Internet is Alive with the Sound of Critics (and it hurts my ears)

Last night, our family of six sat down in the living room, bowls of popcorn and leftover Halloween candy flanking us, to watch something rather extraordinary on our television set.

We were a day late, and so I had already seen the reviews. Most were positive and the show had been very well-received, especially by Oklahomans. But true to the cultural norm, the negative comments also abounded: “Panned” by critics (or the two critics listed in the article), repeatedly compared to the 1965 Julie Andrews film, and nit-picked on nearly every corner of the internet (I’m looking at you, facebook and Twitter); if you wanted to hear an opinion on The Sound of Music live television event, you didn’t have to look far.

Still yet, I remained unfazed in my determination to enjoy this night. I knew going in to this that Carrie Underwood was an unseasoned actress. I knew that this was a live musical, not a movie. I knew there would be possible hiccups, or lighting problems, or sound issues…

in fact, all of those things actually added to my excitement! Would one of the nun’s candles accidentally blow out? Would Carrie stumble? Would her voice break? Would one of the children forget their lines? Would a spotlight fall from the rafters and crash onto the stage?

Truth be told, I knew none of the above had happened or I would have read about it online before the movie had even ended. But still…I couldn’t help but be nervous.

But even greater than my nervousness was admiration.

Admiration for a television network planning something that the entire family could actually sit down and watch together; I have been a mom for 6 1/2 years and this is the first time we were able to sit with our kids in the living room and watch something on primetime television with no fear of profanity, adult humor, violence or lasciviousness.

Admiration for an entire cast and crew who were willing to stick out their necks to try something daring and different, knowing that the critics would be ready to pounce.

And most of all, admiration for an Oklahoma girl who must have bit down thousands and thousands of stomach butterflies, pushing herself in ways she had never done before, to bring the magic of Rodgers and Hammerstein to a new generation of viewers.

As I watched Carrie Underwood perform, I thought of all the little girls across the nation who would be tuning in to see their favorite country singer on air for 3 whole hours. And what brought tears to my eyes was imagining that they arrived to NBC that night for the name of Carrie Underwood…

but left with a beautiful redemptive story in their hearts and a new playlist of songs that will serve them for a lifetime.

Yes, indeed, the tears were flowing over here.

Several times.

And as the touching story of the Von Trapp family played in this new format before my eyes, I wasn’t thinking about Carrie’s acting, or shadows on the set, or who had the best singing voice. I wasn’t thinking about who could have played Maria or any of the other parts better. I wasn’t even thinking about Julie Andrews or the movie that first stole my heart many, many years ago.

I was swept away, thinking of my blessings, living in a land where I don’t have to kowtow to a dictator.

I was thinking of the beauty of music that brings families together.

I was praying that my daughters would have hearts like Maria.

I was thinking about Carrie Underwood’s mama and how proud she must be.

I was thinking about my children, and thanking God that, while it would be a huge deal for all six of us to scrape together enough money to attend a live musical, we had been given the opportunity to watch one of the best for free without ever leaving our home.

And I am convinced that, regardless of how much money they brought in or how good it was for ratings, NBC gave us a gift this first week of December.

Thus, today’s blog post isn’t really about my heartfelt endorsement of The Sound of Music. I don’t need for every person in America to love the same things I love. In fact, one of my favorite things about living here is that we are free to have an opinion and are free to talk about it on the corners of the street if we want to…

but what I do crave in our entertainment-saturated culture is a little more kindness.

A little more gratitude.

A little more wonder…

And I’m not just talking about the professional critics.

I’m talking about all of us, who have been blessed by so much culture and so many different venues of entertainment that we have become underwhelmed and critical about every. single. thing.

With great blessing comes great responsibility, and we would all do well to take a step back, to contemplate what life could be like, to remember what life used to be like, and to reclaim some of the more admirable attitudes that should surround events like this week’s live television event.

Thankfulness that great music and great stories are being passed down to our children.

Camaraderie with our countrymen that encourages one of our own for doing something incredibly brave and applauds them for their extraordinary talent.

Humility that abhors pretention and doesn’t even care if we know everything about everything.

Kindness that, if it cannot say something nice, says nothing.

Wisdom that discerns when opinions are needed and when they are superfluous and indulgent.

Simplicity that gets excited when entertainers put on a show for us to watch.

And awareness that those on the screens we glue our eyes to are real people, with real feelings and with mamas who have internet access.

Again, I don’t really care if you loved The Sound of Music and I don’t need for you to be a fan of Carrie Underwood.

I just want you to be nice.

You know, like Maria.

~

As ever, my first concern is for my readers. All comments will be read by me, but only those that are edifying and do not lead to further debate will be published. Thanks for understanding!

Dear Beautiful

Dear Beautiful, a letter to my daughters about being pretty

To my beloved daughters, aged 4 and 2,

I remember when I was quite young and my Mama would tell me what made a girl pretty…

her smile. She said a happy smile was the prettiest thing in the world.

And she always told me that it was what was on the inside that counted.

“Inner beauty”.

I listened.

I tried to take it in.

But I didn’t really believe her.

Because I had seen what beautiful was…

She-Ra. She had long, blonde, flowing hair and a white mini dress. (and a unicorn with rainbow wings).

Miss America. The ballgowns, the swimsuits, the sparkly crowns, the perfect smiles.

Barbie. Big boobies. Big, big boobies.

Paula Abdul. I don’t know. I just loved her. Did you know she used to be a Laker Girl? I did, because I read her biography. In the 3rd grade.

As a little girl, I looked, wide-eyed, upon the outward features that made something beautiful to me – a certain type of hair, a beguiling turn of the eye, a fancy schmancy body – and I dreamed of attaining that level of pretty.

And the more I admired what was beautiful to me, the more my mom’s definition of “pretty” seem kind of hokey and like something people said to make sure that every girl at least felt pretty, whether she was or not; inner beauty was a good thing, and I wanted it, but it seemed to have little bearing on whether I was perceived as a beautiful person or not. And I wanted to be jaw-droppingly beautiful.

I spent years, even my outwardly-prettiest years, shrugging off her compliments. “You’re my Mom,” I would say, “of course you think my hair looks good like this.”

“You’re my Mom,” I’d laugh, “only you would think this dress looked nice on me.”

“You’re my Mom. You have to say that.”

But, little girl, then I had you.

They placed you on my chest, squalling and crying and covered in birthing stuff, and everything she ever taught me about beauty made perfect sense.

You were alive and breathing and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

And every morning when you walk down the stairs and I see that you are still alive and still breathing…beautiful.

I finally get it now: the prettiest thing about a girl, any girl, is that she is fearfully and wonderfully made by God. She is alive. She is a person. She has a soul.

Do you understand how fantastic that is? God made you! I know He did, because you weren’t there, and then you were there.

I didn’t make you (minus that one night with your Papa, wink wink, nudge nudge).

Fate didn’t.

A coincidental twist in an evolutionary cycle didn’t.

God did.

I like to think about Him crafting you, weaving all of your different features together into a unique and breath-taking work of art.

Your hair? It’s so amazing. It was made by God.

For you, Rebekah, He chose golden hair, with a natural side part that suits your face just right. It is straight and silky, with a slight bend at the end; sunlight runs to dance among your strands, crowning you like a glowing halo. God gave you a gift when He crafted your locks.

And Betsie Fair, yours is light brown and wild, a perfect match to your carefree and joyful childhood. When you wake up in the morning, your mane is as big as your eyes, ready to take on the world, ready to catch syrup and dirt, ready to make a most fitting frame to your precious, ornery little face.

Your hair is beautiful.

Your bodies? They were made by God, so different, but equally lovely.

Rebekah, my love, your body is like your spirit: strong, sturdy, and precious to behold. When I hold you in my arms, my heart is full and soothed.

And Betsie, your slinky, skinny body is so fun to watch. You run and hop and leap and dance uninhibited, and I marvel at the way you move, like an instrument that proclaims with every step that God is singing over us.

Your bodies are beautiful.

Your eyes? God made them, giving me windows into your sweet, sweet souls.

Your cornflower blue eyes burn holes into my heart, Rebekah Sunday…

and Betsie, your naïve glances cause me to melt.

Your eyes are beautiful.

Your hands? God made them. They’re beautiful.

Your feet? Your toes?

Made by God.

Beautiful.

Your nose? Your mouth? Your lips? Your teeth?

God, God, God, God.

So beautiful.

And oh, those smiles.

Your Grandmother was right. When you smile and your eyes perk up with twinkles of happiness, you are the essence of beauty. And when you throw back your head and laugh, the trees tip their hats and the mountains bow in reverence to this pinnacle of God’s creation.

Yes. Your smiles are beautiful.

So, please, my darling daughters…

Don’t spend a day feeling miserable and fat.

Don’t look with covetous eyes at the hair that was given to another girl.

Don’t wish for blue eyes when yours are green.

This world is not your mirror, a reflection of what you are lacking or what you should look like.

It is your playground.

Live here, freely, happily, and unhindered by the chains and lies of a worldview that says some people have beauty and some don’t, that some have perfect bodies and some don’t, that some are made for magazines and the big-screen and some are not…

because that’s about the stupidest and most shallow thing a girl can believe.

You were created for richer feasts.

When you gaze at your reflection, do your Mama a favor and admire the handiwork of God. And then…

walk away.

Run and play.

Sing.

Laugh.

Dance.

Love.

Tell your friends how beautiful they are.

And, through the grace of the God who made you, work every day to purify your soul and mortify your sin, leaving a beauty inside of you that will dazzle this sad and captive world with the light of Jesus Christ.

They will never know what hit them.

Falling on Grace

The following was written the night before Mr. Gore’s spinal fusion and I’ve just gotten around to finishing it up. Thanks for waiting. Even though you didn’t know you were waiting.

~

Betsie fell down the stairs this morning.

I was walking a few steps behind her, a hamper full of random stuff on my right hip, when I saw her foot slip just past the landing before she tumbled down…

down…

down.

My eyes were fixed on her slender little neck the entire time, willing it to remain untouched, prayers of “Oh, Lord!” and “Oh, God!” bouncing off of my tongue in panicked tones.

Her shoulder.

Her knee.

Her arm.

As she was rolled and tossed about by stair after stair, seemingly every part of her body made contact with the floor, except for her neck.

Finally, she landed with a “splat!” on her belly in the kitchen and I shot down to retrieve her, the hamper that I dropped in my distress tumbling down behind me, leaving a slew of toys and clothes on the stairs as it fell.

She was screaming.

I was sobbing.

And as we sat on the bottom step and rocked back and forth, our tears flowing, my heart racing, I could tangibly feel the grace of God in my arms.

In the body of my little girl who was alive and unbroken.

In her beating heart and her breathing nostrils.

Within minutes, her tears were spent.

But mine were just beginning.

“It’s okay, Mama…” she soothed me with her halting and precious toddler vocabulary. “You need some…toilet…paper?”

I nodded, and away she scampered, soon returning with a tiny piece of tissue that she used to pat my face and neck.

You know you’ve cried a river when your neck is wet.

It was awful, terrible, horrible and every other word in the thesaurus for “really super duper bad”.

But it was also interesting…

once my initial distress had subsided and I could think and say something besides “are you okay?” and “oh, Betsie” and “thank you, God!!”, and once my tears finally stopped flowing and my hands stopped shaking, I felt a surprising amount of gratitude for what I had just gone through.

For one, Mr. Gore’s surgery was tomorrow and I’d been needing to cry about it. Two birds. One horrifying stone.

And secondly, with that pending surgery in mind, my apprehensive heart needed to be reminded of the seen and unseen grace of God that guides our every step.

My husband has led me in this truth for years. A naturally fearful person, my anxiety began to climax when I first became a mom, and I found myself drowning in worst-case-scenarios and constant thoughts of what-could-happen…

Mr. Gore never indulged or babied these thoughts, but faithfully used the Sword of Truth to slice through my sin and lead me to a renewed mind, always pointing out that I was ignoring the million ways that God had taken care of me to focus on one scary situation (at a time) that hadn’t happened to me.

When he put it that way, I slowly began to see my fears for what they were: silly. Senseless. Illogical. Ungrounded. Totally unnecessary.

But even though I’ve grown, I still struggle sometimes.

Especially the day before my husband will be heavily sedated and having his spine tinkered with.

And for all these reasons, although it scared the living daylights out of  me, seeing Betsie tumble down the stairs and walk away unscathed made me feel loads better about…well, everything.

It brought to mind all the times we’ve gone up and down the stairs and haven’t fallen. All the drives we’ve taken without crashing. All the sicknesses we’ve endured for a day or two before getting completely better. All the food we’ve eaten without choking…

all the millions of seconds and the countless moments where grace has sustained us and kept us safe and kept us from stumbling and kept us from sin and we never even had a clue.

I’m not promised health and life on any given day this side of heaven, and no amount of positive thinking can buy me that sort of security; but whether we live or die, are sick or healthy, are rich or poor, the grace of God is as sure on surgery day as it is on going up-and-down-the-stairs day. And whether Mr. Gore is working in the garden or going under the knife, his story is written and his life is firmly held in the hand of a most-wonderful Creator.

These are hard truths to comprehend, but they are comforting.

Rebekah asked me one day if I loved God more than I loved her…

I was about to pop out a textbook “of course I do!” but the words lodged themselves in the middle of my throat; I know my heart, and on my worst day, in the words of John Calvin, I am “an idol-making factory”, doting more on things seen than unseen. I might be redeemed, and I might even be devout, but my penchant for blindness and stupidity knows no bounds.

But the reason her question really stumped me was because, even on my best day, my love for God feels so different than my love for my family…

the two are all bound up together in a thick cord of awe and affection and gratitude, and if I am being very honest, it is hard to separate and categorize them sometimes.

Thus, my answer to what I wish was a simple question went something like this: “When I say ‘I love God’ it doesn’t feel like the same love I have for you, Rebekah. My love for you is different. But one thing I am really sure of…my love for you leads me to God. I can’t look at you and love you without thinking about God and loving Him more…”

I love my husband. I love my kids. They are walking reminders to me of the greatness of God, who can so intricately design specific personalities for specific purposes at very specific times; I am continually astounded and filled with wonder by the scope of His craftsmanship and I have a houseful of His handiwork to study. To me, their very presence shouts of “God!” It is like living among the stars…

But that love runs so deeply and throbs so intensely, and if I don’t guard myself, my worship can turn towards the created over the Creator. And questions plague me.

Would I still love God if Betsie had broken her neck today?

Would I still love Him if Mr. Gore doesn’t wake up from his surgery tomorrow? If he wakes up paralyzed?

Would I still be faithful if one of my worst-case-scenarios comes true?…

Oh, how I tremble in the wake of these accusatory questions, and there is only one thing that causes the trembling to stop.

Grace.

The grace that tumbled down the stairs alongside my baby girl this morning.

The grace that will be with us tomorrow as Mr. Gore is wheeled into a surgery room.

The grace that has kept, is keeping, and WILL keep my feet from walking away from the faith, come what may.

The grace that has been there, since day one, before I even knew it existed.

While I Sit in Bed With Hurting Skin

There is always a silver lining…

when I finally stopped to contemplate a nagging source of discomfort this morning and found that I felt positively achy all over and had come down with some sort of sickness, I thought I was in for an awful, horrible day.

Not so much. I took a much-needed nap and now, while I sit here in bed and try not to think about how bad my skin hurts (you know what I mean? When your skin hurts and even your clothes feel bothersome?), I have the time and freedom to try to gather some of the whirling and swirling thoughts that I’ve been longing to capture for the past couple of weeks.

As I shared on my facebook page the other day…

SO much to say. Too tired to say it.

Right now, though? Not too tired. The only loser in this situation is you, dear reader, who will have to try to keep up with the following stream-of-consciousness that is far too random and varied to gather up neatly into anything very intelligible.

1. I love Baby Shepherd (whom we have dubbed “Little Shep” for reasons I will explain someday). It sounds utterly ridiculous to the ear, but the more kids you have, the easier this all gets. I have never been more laidback with an infant in the house, which means that I have never enjoyed a first month like this. There are three reasons for this phenomenon: 1. I finally grasp the notion that “this too shall pass” and know from experience that these sleepless nights and sleepy days will be over in a jiffy, which, roughly translated, means that I am not FREAKING OUT like I normally am when my sleep receives any kind of interference. 2. I have a TON of help (more on that later), and 3. I’m even deader than I was when I wrote about being “pecked to death“, and have truly become a bit of a hippy. The sound of a baby crying used to send me spiraling into panic mode. Today, I finish my cup of coffee and say “quit yer yappin’ you cute little booger!”

2. I know how everyone loves to hear from new moms who fit into their old pants right after having a baby. So I am very excited to announce to you all that only one month after giving birth to my fourth child, I am ROCKIN’ my pre-pregnancy pants. Everything but my belly and my lovehandles and my muffin top fit into them. Oh…and they’re not really “jeans” so much as they are cropped sweatpants with an elastic waistband.

And they are so, so, so uncomfortable. I shall chuck them tomorrow and reintroduce my beloved maternity leggings. I can still wear those because I’m a hippy now. Aaand because I still look pregnant.

3. I mentioned this on facebook the other day, but I need to expound. If you ever need to know what to get for a big family who just brought home another munchkin, take a cue from my friend, Chrissy, and all the ladies at our church, who brought us food for the entire MONTH of September. The day we brought home Little Shep, Chrissy and her husband, Zac, brought us soup, homemade Irish soda bread (Lord, have mercy) and my favorite brownies, along with a calendar showing me what nights to expect meals. She and the ladies at church had been communicating via facebook what they would be cooking so we would have a varied menu, and with about 3 huge meals per week from them, we were easily able to cover the other nights with leftovers. HEAVENLY doesn’t even begin to describe that gift, and I will never forget it! p.s. Consequently, October 1st was the worst day of my life, a new page on the calendar with no meal plan already written on it. Wahhhh!

4. My husband is having a pretty major back surgery next Wednesday. Which means that I will be completely in charge of this joint and will be taking out the trash for the next 6 months. Thankfully, I am still high on labor fumes and feel like a cross between a pioneer woman and a soldier, and so I am READY. Let’s do this thingy.

5. Speaking of being high on labor fumes, there is something brewing in the heart of me that I have had trouble articulating. Not being pregnant anymore + this upcoming surgery that has me feeling very sentimental + the work of the Spirit + my new and improved hippy soul + the truth of the Word = a speechless and “incandescently happy” Mrs. Gore. I am seeing life with fresh eyes and new joy which means that my prayers have even been speechless. Seriously. I was so full of joy the other night that I asked my husband if we could pray, but when it came time to put words to my heart, I couldn’t. Instead I just used my CareBear stare to send a beam of happiness and love to my Creator. He is so good. Life is so beautiful!!! And not for any of the reasons we expect it to be. It is beautiful because He is beautiful. And that’s enough to cover over all the ugliness this world has to offer.

6. Speaking of beautiful, I splurged on the most awesome carpet bag from Anthropologie, telling myself that I could use it as a “diaper bag”, but the longer I had it hanging on the doorknob, the more glaringly obvious it became that my “bag” was a pretty giant piece of luggage. Even Mary Kate and Ashley couldn’t have pulled this bag off as a purse. It was basically a suitcase with handles. And so I returned it. Sniffle, sniffle. Did I just say that life is beautiful? Because life is the worst.

7. I just repositioned myself on the bed and my skin definitely still hurts. Which means I can keep writing.

8. Get this. You would think that starting a new year of homeschool 5 days after giving birth would be a case of ill-timed horror, but it has been exactly the opposite, simply because I was forced to rearrange any bad, third-trimester habits, and fast! As a result, unless I am feeding the baby, I don’t spend any time of the computer until well after lunch. The same goes for the kids’ television viewing, if they have any at all. And oh, friends. This has been revolutionary, and I have discovered that drinking my coffee while water-coloring with my kids is a million times more fun and satisfactory than drinking my coffee with facebook. We’re having a ball.

9. Remember up there where I said I would expound on all the help I have? Part of the reason I sound like a chipper Pollyanna today is because I have not had to walk this path alone. My Mom has come to my house almost every morning since before my due date and we have tag-teamed this entire operation. The two of us zip all over this house, tidying up, reading books aloudto the kids, doing laundry, soothing criers, fixing meals, teaching devotionals and phonics, and yes, drinking coffee on the front porch. I make lists and she picks up and delivers my groceries for me. All that to say, without her, I would be a haggard mess of a woman, and I thank God for His provision. The same goes for my husband, who often takes the big kids to work with him in the afternoons so I can rest or write or clean, who puts the upstairs kids to bed at night and who chips in with housework, even though he is down in the back. And the best part of all of this? Between the three of us hardworking adults, the house is still a wreck and nothing is ever completely done; I will remember this in the future when I’m frustrated that I alone can’t get everything done! ‘Tis impossible, truly.

10. And one last thing, before this becomes a 1500-worder. I was home alone with my girls the other night, and we fixed each other’s hair and played with lipgloss. And then I died from sheer bliss. Call me crazy, but I could stand to have another daughter or two.

And that about sums up September…

did I mention that my skin hurts?

What A Day That Will Be

As my 2-year old Betsie would say, “Oh derr…”

Things are about to get all sentimental up in here.

The baby has left my tummy, and though it might make me sound a bit dramatic, I am already reconnecting to the old Mrs. Gore…

the one who really likes people and loves life and enjoys playing with my children and also the one who cries at beautiful things.

Not to be confused with Small Elephant who just cries at…things.

Like, seriously. Inanimate objects. Scents. Plants. Anything.

And my heart is light with relief, and delightfully heavy with an awareness of what I’ve been given, not just for this vapor of a life, but for eternity. Because He is good, I am so sure that God will save my children, and though my prayers for them are desperate, they are also confident. I think I will be with them forever, in the Eden we could have/should have/would have lived in were our hearts not so wicked and prone to wander…

and I rejoice in this knowledge.

But I live in a pilgrim’s body, with a pilgrim’s heart and a pilgrim’s understanding, and the dying part of me acutely feels the passing of each day we have on this earth together…

Even though I hope and believe in eternity, I long for it as if it doesn’t exist. And when I hold my newborn baby boy, a part of me praises God for the forever Kingdom we will be a part of, while another part of me mourns for this transient and blink-of-an-eye life that I can so tangibly feel in my arms and see with my eyes.

It passes so quickly, and the joys and beautiful moments and triumphs from which I would drink so deeply slip by as I scramble, wide-eyed, trying to hold on, trying to remember, trying to cling to the shadow rather than to the hope, and I am reminded over and over again that I am far too sinful and far too stupid to properly understand this great, big, mysterious, overwhelming life.

Holding Baby Shepherd…

it’s like holding Baby Gideon all over again.

6 and 1/2 years since the day my eldest and I were born into a mother/son relationship, 6 1/2 years since my soul was awakened to the nurturing fire of motherhood, 6 1/2 years since my feet were set on a path to dying more and loving more and feeling more and wanting less…

and as I breathe deeply of the sweetly indescribable scent of new life and baby lotion and as I feel once more that velvety soft baby skin underneath my chin, those 6 1/2 years of memories dance wildly about in my mind, causing me to cry, causing me to laugh, causing me to pray.

There are no words, really. Just silent meditations. Wordless pleas. Whispers of thanks. And maternal cries for help to survive the heartbreak of seeing them grow.

Gideon…

Rebekah…

Betsie…

and now Shepherd.

I would hold each of you just as you are for an eternity.

I would go back to any day in our history and stay there forever.

I would journey with you to our future and never leave your side.

And so I entrust us all to God, for safekeeping, knowing that one day our faith really will be made sight. The pilgrim will be gone. The citizen will be born. The mysteries will be revealed.

And we will rest in the place that our hearts have longed for since the day we first met.

“What a day, glorious day that will be…”

A Friday Afternoon with Nurse Sunday

I could hear my Mom talking quietly to Gideon in the kitchen.

“Don’t say anything. Just let me work this out so Rebekah won’t be sad…” she murmured.

She then joined me and my middle child in the master bedroom, where I was resting on the bed and Rebekah Sunday was playing nearby.

“Rebekah…” she hedged, a proposition in her voice, “I need your help. I have to go home for a meeting with our insurance lady, and I need Gideon to go help me. But I really need for someone to stay here and help take care of Mommy. I’m going to give you a dollar and I want you to be her nurse for the rest of the day.”

Betsie was asleep upstairs and, with only days until my due date, Mom was doing her best to help me have a peaceful afternoon; she couldn’t take Gideon and Rebekah home with her, because she really did have that meeting.

I observed Rebekah from my perch on the bed, not quite sure how she would respond; as much as she loves her home, she can’t stand it when anyone goes anywhere without her.

But I had underestimated her. Apparently, the combination of cash and spending the afternoon playing nurse was enticement enough, and her eyes lit up as she eagerly nodded her head. I think her tongue was even hanging out like that of an eager puppy. It was a deal!

I really shouldn’t have been surprised.

You see, Rebekah, from the day she started being able to communicate, has had one major ambition: taking care of people.

I’ve mentioned this in the past, but I’ll never forget the night, just past her 1st birthday, when I suddenly became ill and ran to the powder bathroom to empty my stomach. My baby girl was right on my heels, observing me with her unblinking gaze, and placed a tiny, soothing hand on my shoulder until I was finished. Then she reached up and quickly flushed the toilet. I stared over at her in wonder, and bizarrely, the look in her eyes was one of compassion and understanding. It was rather shocking to be ministered to by a baby, and it was the first of many such occasions where she has seemed more like the caregiver than the child.

But lest you think she is an angel sent from heaven, you should know the rest of the story. Neck-and-neck with her compassion and servant’s heart is a plucky determination and steely persistence that will just bowl you over. This girl doesn’t mince words, and she has an answer for everything

To give you an example, last week as I was observing myself in the mirror, turning this way and that, I said “Rebekah can you BELIEVE how big this baby is making my belly?”

“I don’t think it’s the baby making your belly big,” she replied in her no-nonsense manner, “I think it’s the food.”

It was a simple yes-or-no question and I don’t remember soliciting an opinion, but like I said, Rebekah doesn’t wait until you ask her what she thinks.

Nor does she wait for you to seek out her help…

Every night, sometime before daybreak, our eldest kids wind up in bed with us, and I usually enjoy cuddling with them more than anything. But being pregnant has changed things, and when I wake up flanked by two hot children, I sometimes want to bust out of bed like Lazarus out of the tomb. One night, just seeking the tiniest bit of relief, I turned sideways a little,  moved my left leg around Rebekah, and stuck it out of the covers…

My faithful nurse, not knowing I was hot, sat immediately up and covered my leg, patting the blanket when she was finished.

A few minutes later, hoping she was asleep, I stuck my leg back out.

She sat back up and covered it.

I stuck it back out.

“Here,” she whispered, before draping her entire body over my leg and foot, “I’ll help keep your leg warm.”

“Oh…uh…” I stammered, trying to gently explain that I needed some space.

“Shhhhhh…” she interrupted me. “You’re warm now. Go to sleep.”

I laid back down and inwardly whimpered, right before I passed out from a heat stroke and acute claustrophobia.

So you now get it now. She’s so thoughtful, and a born nurse at heart, but she’s also super…insistant. Persuasive. Authoritative. Schoolmarmish.

Still yet, all this considered, I was really pleased that Mom’s bribery had panned out and that Gideon would get to spend some time playing outdoors at Grandmother’s house, while Rebekah would stay home and play nursemaid….

until she came back into my bedroom with a washcloth, some vapor rub, and a box of Band-aids.

“I’m ready to be your nurse!” she sing-songed.

My eyes widened in fear and amusement and my inner voice screamed “SOMEBODY HELP ME!!!”

So much for a “peaceful” afternoon.

The next hour or so was spent being “ministered to” by Nurse Sunday, doing my best to encourage her natural maternal gifts while narrowly avoiding a head-to-toe Vick’s rub-down.

In fact, the first thing we did was put the Vapor Rub back in the cabinet.

Then, returning to the bed, Rebekah pulled out a wet wipe.

“What’s that for?” I nervously asked.

“To wipe you with!” she responded.

“Uhhh…” I said, a bit speechless.

I can’t tell you how relieved I was when she started wiping down my arms and neck with the wipe.

Then she started scrubbing my face with it.

I tried not to recoil. Old habits of fearing break-outs are difficult to shake.

“Thank you…” I feebly said.

She smiled, squinting her eyes at me.

“Now I need to give you some Band-aids,” she said, scanning my arms and hands. “Do you have any hurts?”

“Hmmm…” I said, looking as well, “I actually don’t think I do. Maybe I don’t need a Band-aid?”

She looked at me patronizingly, and the message in her eyes was clear: You’re getting a Band-aid, fool.

That’s when I remembered the mosquito bite on my leg. I pointed it out to her.

Big mistake.

“Oh, Mama…” she said, in the tsk-tsk manner. “Look at ALL these bites!”

I looked to where she was pointing and saw the faint leftovers from a bevy of little gnat bites I received one steamy day on the porch.

“Oh, those aren’t -”

“Shhhh…” she interrupted. “Let me fix them.”

She squirted some baby lotion on her hand and started rubbing each spot down with her index finger.

“Doesn’t that lotion feel so good?” she quietly asked, looking over at me and raising her eyebrows up and down.

I giggled. “Yes, it does,” I had to admit.

“That will help the Band-aids to not hurt when we take them off,” she confidently explained.

She wiped the leftover lotion on the bedsheets and then on her striped tights. I bit my lip so I wouldn’t laugh and embarrass her, even as I tried not to cringe at what she had just done to my bedding.

Then, opening three very large Band-aids with aplomb, she began applying them to various parts of my leg, her brow faintly furrowed in concentration.

Finishing, she abruptly clapped her hands three times.

“Now I need to get rid of all this trash!” she exclaimed, gathering up the Band-aid papers and wadding them quickly and efficiently into a ball. She flopped onto her back, rolled to her left and stuck a gymnast’s landing on the floor before running to the bathroom trashcan, her little shoulders hunched in my most favorite way.

“Don’t go anywhere!” she called out, “it’s time for me to lotion the rest of you!”

Oh dear… I thought, for I knew what was coming…

Watching her Grandmother lotion my feet near the end of this pregnancy has inspired her to do not just the same, but to lotion every uncovered inch of me. She asks to do so nearly every day, and the only problem with this is, she prefers “the pink lotion”…

Johnson’s baby lotion…

so that, by the time she is finished slathering me up, I smell like a big, giant, overgrown BABY.

It can be downright nauseating, but here’s where you need to know something about Mrs. Gore…

I’m a pathetic person. And even though I am 31 years old and am in charge of lots of humans, I love to be seen to. I don’t care if it is getting my hair brushed, my back rubbed, my back scratched, my head rubbed, my feet rubbed, my hands massaged, or my blackheads extracted, being tended to is one of my favorite things, and it doesn’t matter how long you minister to me, I still pout a little when you’re done.

I had a dear friend in high school who brushed my hair for TWO hours one night, and I was still sad when she stopped.

Therefore, I have seriously weighed the cost, and decided that smelling like a giant baby is a small price to pay to have Rebekah’s little, soft hands rub my feet for ten seconds apiece.

She got started right away, first rubbing down my left arm.

Then my right.

Then, humming absentmindedly, she smacked a huge dollop of lotion on my neck and starting rubbing it in, all over my neck, under my chin, at the top of my chest, and even on my black tank top.

“Oh my…” she muttered, seeing the mess. “We need to get you another wet wipe.”

Resuming her humming, she whipped out another wipe and started cleaning off the excess lotion, whipping it around like she’s been doing this kind of thing for decades.

“La la la la la…hmmm, hmmm, hmmm…duh dah duh dee…”

Then it was back to the lotion, first my left foot and left leg, followed by my right.

As the smell of baby lotion invaded my nostrils, my mind wandered and I pictured myself in an adult diaper with a Ring Pop pacifier in my mouth. Which made me think of my poor Mom, whom Rebekah has singled out as her future full-time occupation…

“When I grow up, I’m going to be Grandmother’s Mommy,” she says, “and when she is old and little, I’m going to put her in a baby crib and give her baths and put her hair in ponytails.” My Mom listens to her aspirations with an expression of terror mingled with adoration, and in my present predicament, I knew exactly how she felt…

happy to be loved and considered, but somehow, feeling younger and more vulnerable than a 4-year old.

Nurse Sunday rolled off the bed like a gymnast again and threw the wet wipe away before sticking her head out of the bathroom door. “I need your help, Mom,” she chirped. “Can you get down the First Aid box?”

“No…no.” I stammered. “I don’t need anything out of there.”

“You do.” she insisted.

“No…really, I don’t.” I insisted.

“Oh yes, you do…” she sang.

“No.” I repeated.

“Then how about some eyedrops?” she asked, holding up the bottle of Saline solution.

“No…” I pleaded, “I don’t need eyedrops.”

“Just one?” she begged. “One for each eye?”

“No. I don’t need eyedrops today. Really. No eyedrops…” I persisted.

“Okay, then, I’ll brush your hair,” she said, and joining me once more on the bed where I was laid back against the wall, started brushing strands of my hair down into my face.

She was humming again.

“Thanks Rebekah…” I said, blowing the hair away from my mouth.

“You’re welcome!” she said, “Is your nurse making you feel better?” she asked.

“Actually…” I said, “she really is.”

She smiled contentedly, and I knew in that moment that this had been time very well spent.

After a thorough hair-brushing and a short backrub, my eyelids grew too heavy to hold open and I humbly asked if I might take a nap. She approved, and curling up on my side, I cuddled up next to my Nurse Sunday, who sat up quietly looking at books.

Our “hospital” room was very quiet, and just like my Mom hoped, extremely peaceful. I reveled in the moment, studying the features of this daughter I love so dearly, already reminiscing fondly over the time we had just shared, regardless of the fact that I was covered with lotion and bandages and my hair was bushy and frizzy. I said a quick prayer that I wouldn’t go into labor before I could deal with all the side effects of an afternoon spent with Nurse Sunday…

Eventually, her posture began to droop and, laying her book aside, she laid down next to me. Our eyes met, and I took in once more that unblinking, blue-eyed gaze that has been captivating me for four beautiful years.

Sure, she might be pushy sometimes.

She might be bossy.

She might be opinionated.

She might misinterpret my needs and force me to cover up when I’m hot…

But as far as I am concerned, Nurse Sunday is exactly what the doctor ordered.

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A Ride Through the Country with Baby Betsie on my Lap

With brother and sister buckled up in the back, you crawled onto on my lap next to Granddaddy in his electric mule and we went for a ride in the country.

The entire world lay before us, waiting to be discovered.

And away from the stacks of dirty dishes, the crumb-scattered floor, the unnecessary projects that seem so necessary, and the temptation of empty and screen-centric entertainment, I connected once more with my purpose as I felt your warm body sinking into mine, and I knew in my heart that there is no place on earth I would rather be.

It is easy to be a mama when there is nothing standing between me and you, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t trade a million dollars for the joy of holding you on this night.

Nature must have known we were coming, and put on quite the show for us. There was so much to see. So much to feel. So much to enjoy…

Huge, white birds, taking flight as we drove by, swooping and soaring in the sky above us…

The flooded lake, hiding familiar landmarks and stretching as far as our eyes could see…

Interesting and unusual flowers, evidence that we are experiencing one of the most beautiful summers Oklahoma has known for years…

Puddles of water on the path, splashing around the tires as we plunged into their depths, threatening to muddy our feet…

You pointed and made childish remarks at the masterpiece before us, and I prayed that God was quickening your little heart within you to know and worship the only One who could create such beauty.

And then we entered into the dark, damp forest, towering trees on either side of our path…

I could see your face in the rearview mirror, the gentle breeze causing you to squint your eyes as you laid your head against my chest. Overwhelmed by this part of our drive, you were wearing your scared face, and you were finding strength in my embrace.

How is it that you find comfort and safety in my arms?

You don’t see them, but I still have so many quiet fears swirling around inside of me…

But I would be so brave for you.

You kept your head close to my heart for the rest of our drive and I lowered my own head closer; with one hand securely holding your cheek and my own cheek resting on your head, we communed with one another through whispers and murmurs, and I willed this night to never end.

A skunk in the soybeans made us giggle.

Deer tracks leading through the mud intrigued us.

And finally, deep in the woods, standing majestically against a backdrop of trees, we saw a deer. You sat up, your fears forgotten, and excitedly pointed out that you, though so little and so tiny, could see it, too!

I rejoiced with you, and using your limited and simple vocabulary, we conversed about what we had seen.

But my chest felt cold and empty where your head had been resting, and I wistfully wondered…

Would you lay back against me after this latest thrill?

You did.

And my heart heaved a great sigh of contentment and gratitude as I held you once more, deep rivers of powerful mama love pulsing through my veins and wrapping you up in the truest embrace I had to offer.

My precious toddler girl, you will probably have no memory of this night. And if I didn’t sit down and write about it, I probably wouldn’t either. Nights and days, no matter how beautiful or striking, have a way of fading into the years, and, though we intend to remember them forever, slip out of our grasp to join the arsenal of vague and dateless experiences that cause us to cherish life as a beautiful thing.

I’ve only been a mother for 6 1/2 years, but I know how quickly the time goes by, and I know that, next August, you will probably be buckled up in the back of the mule with your brother and sister, singing made-up songs and begging to get out and play in the mud.

And so I know that this night was a blessing.

A gift.

A memorial…

To us.

To our two years of living and loving.

To the beauty of family.

To the goodness of God.

A Night to Remember (to Forget)

Friday night I had a long series of Braxton Hicks contractions that caused me to sleep fitfully, to say the least.

Saturday night I woke up so uncomfortably squished between my eldest children, I had to flee the premises and start my Sunday morning routine two hours earlier than usual.

Sunday’s afternoon nap was a bust.

And then there was Sunday night.

At 3:30 a.m. Rebekah was crying because she couldn’t find her stuffed sheep, and it was the only thing that would help her go back to sleep and now she would “never, ever be able to find it again!”

Gideon was crying because he had diarrhea.

Jake was barking because he is a puppy and he doesn’t like his crate.

Mr. Gore was helping Gideon.

I was probably whimpering and pouting as I tried to pretend like none of the above was happening.

And Betsie…what do you know? Betsie was asleep. It was obviously Opposites Day, because most usually, she is the one waking up in the middle of the night to throw the house into chaos.

And here’s how the rest of the night went:

Jake stops barking, hallelujer.

Rebekah decides Mama is just as good as sheep and snuggles into my side.

Gideon settles in next to Papa.

Five minutes pass.

Gideon starts wriggling.

Two minutes pass.

Gideon starts scratching at his mosquito bites.

Three minutes pass.

Gideon starts clawing at his mosquito bites.

Two more minutes pass.

Gideon starts tossing and turning while clawing and scratching at his mosquito bites.

One minute passes.

Gideon starts to cry because he is so itchy and he can’t sleep.

Mr. Gore whisks Gideon away to treat his mosquito bites.

Rebekah and I settle back in.

Rebekah whispers to me “Am I a good girl because I’m not crying like Gideon?”

Her breath smells like a gut-wagon.

I whisper back that Gideon is just having a hard time and to remember that she was just crying thirteen minutes ago.

Gideon and Mr. Gore return.

Everyone settles down again.

The instrumental theme song from “Castle” begins playing repeatedly in my head as images of back-to-back murder victims from the show flash through my memory.

I try to mentally change the subject.

I can’t.

I toss.

I turn.

I plump up my pillows and try to get comfortable.

Three hours go by. Or at least it feels like it. We are all still awake. The restlessness is palpable.

Mr. Gore escapes from the room to presumably sleep on the couch.

Gideon asks where Papa went.

“Why are you still awake?!” my head screams.

“He’ll be back…” I whisper.

A flash of light hits my eyes. Gideon has turned the lamp on and then off very quickly.

“Gideon!” I bark. “What are you doing?!”

“I’m sorry…” he says, starting to cry again. “I need Papa…”

I have to get some air.

I grab my pillow and my glasses and shuffle from the room.

“I’ll go find him. I’ll be right back…” I mutter as I leave the room.

Mr. Gore is hidden under twenty pillows on the couch.

I go to the bathroom next to the living room.

I sit on the tiny settee near the couch.

I lay down on the tiny settee.

This is very uncomfortable.

I sit back up and put my head in my hands.

Mr. Gore emerges from his pillow mountain to ask what I’m doing and insists I sleep on the couch.

I assure him that I’m just taking a break before returning to bed.

I hear Gideon crying now.

I shuffle back to our room.

Gideon is beside himself, asking for Papa and saying he “can’t breathe!!”

I plop down between him and Rebekah.

I try to comfort Gideon.

“I need someone to help me! I can’t breath!” he wails, “I need you to fan me! Quick!”

(The backstory to this madness would take too long to explain…)

Jake starts barking again.

“You just woke up Jake!” I accuse him.

Miraculously, he can breathe again and stops crying.

Rebekah says “Gideon, if you need help, you should ask without crying, because when you cry, you wake everybody up.”

I remind her that she did the same thing fifteen hours and thirteen minutes ago.

I gather them both up and we all cuddle together in a big mass of bodies.

When did our king-sized bed get so small?…

“Rebekah,” Gideon whispers, “Guess what?”

“What?” she asks.

“I have a pull-up on.” he replies.

They both burst into giggles.

Rebekah confides that she has a pull-up on, too.

I am SO confused by this, but I don’t even ask.

Rebekah makes a joke about poop.

They both burst into giggles.

“Okay, you guys, it is REALLY time to go to sleep…” I remind them.

We all settle down again.

Gideon starts breathing heavily.

Gideon starts snoring.

I mentally punch myself in the face.

I start writing a children’s book in my mind.

I force myself to stop because I have no way to write it down.

The baby in my tummy starts kicking, probably to remind me that tonight’s lack of sleep is nothin’ compared to what he/she has in store for me at the end of August.

Two hours go by. Or at least it feels like it.

I need some air again.

I grab my pillow and glasses and shuffle from the room.

“Mama?!” Rebekah says when I open the door…

“Why are you still awake?!” my head screams.

“I’ll be back…” I whisper.

I go to the bathroom again.

I’m hungry.

I stealthily fix a bowl of Sugar Smacks cereal, being careful not to wake up Jake in the sunroom, Mr. Gore in the living room, Betsie upstairs, and Gideon and Rebekah in our room. That leaves one room.

The office.

I sit in the creaky chair, turn down the computer brightness and get on facebook.

Funny. Nothing has happened since midnight.

I check the news.

Even worldwide, nothing has happened since midnight.

I scroll through Pinterest and finish my cereal.

Three pictures have been pinned since midnight.

I’m still hungry.

I pour another bowl of cereal.

I pull up a Desiring God article titled “The Family: God’s Litmus Test of Applied Grace”.

The words are too big and intelligent for the middle of the night.

I decide to read it in the morning.

I’m thirsty.

I fumble around in the dark kitchen until I remember the water bottle in my purse.

I find it and take a couple of swigs.

It tastes hot and old.

I want my Mommy.

I go to the bathroom again.

I lay on the settee again.

The settee seems even tinier than ever.

I sit up and rearrange the pillows so I am perfectly propped up.

The settee still seems tiny.

I mentally laugh, thinking that if I so much as sneeze, I will probably roll right off the settee and onto the floor like the meatball on top of spaghetti.

I start singing “On Top of Spaghetti” in my head.

I hate that song.

My right hand is going numb and tingly again (one of my favorite pregnancy side-effects), so I try to find the perfect position to make it come to life again.

It stops tingling.

That’s when I realize the top of my ribcage is on fire, another of my favorite pregnancy side-effects.

I cannot get comfortable.

My mind replaces “On Top of Spaghetti” with Alecia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” now, but instead of singing “this girl is on fire” I’m singing “my ribs are on fire…my ribs are on fi-err-er-er-er-er-errrr…” over and over again.

I start to manically laugh in my head and decide this night is blogworthy and that I should mentally catalogue all that has taken place since 3:30 a.m. so I won’t forget it.

I hold my glasses up to my face and squint at the VCR clock.

That’s right, I said VCR.

5:30 a.m.

“Please, God…” I beg, “I can’t be up for the day. I just can’t…”

I lay back down and tightly close my eyes.

I fall in and out of sleep, my back killing me on the tiny settee, until I hear Mr. Gore rise from the couch to take care of our barking puppy. It is 6:30 now and I know he is up for the day.

I immediately move to the couch.

I prop seven feather pillows up in the perfect position and sink down in comfort…

I close my eyes.

I open them.

I put on my glasses and squint at the clock on the VCR.

9:30 a.m.

Coffee is brewing.

Family is whispering and tiptoeing around.

Puppy is outside.

I somehow feel rested and happy.

Huh. Joy really does come in the morning!

Mostly because the night…

is finally…

over.

Mrs. Gore’s Random Thoughts on Dog Ownership

Here it is, one week into our new lives as pet people, and I am feeling the need to gather my thoughts on all things puppy.

In no particular oder.

Oops. “In no particular order” I meant to say.

1. But, speaking of oder…er, odor…puppies stink! I suppose it has something to do with my hypersensitive pregnancy nose, but gosh a’mighty, everything in our house smells like a puppy now. The puppy’s sunroom (which will ONLY be the case until said puppy is mature enough to live safely in the great outdoors ), my children, my children’s clothes, my children’s hands, my children’s hair, my sunroom curtains, my tiny nostril hairs, and, of course, the puppy.

2. A week before Jake was ready to join us, his owner said that she would be working on his whining at night. I reassured her not to worry, that he would fit in perfectly around this joint. As if he could get a word – or bark – in edgewise. And I was right – he fit right into the chaos that was already here.

3. It was fascinating to observe the initial reactions from each of my family members concerning Jake the Pup. Mr. Gore was like a kid at Christmas, finally reunited with one of his true loves, dog ownership. Gideon (the “master” of the dog) was just dazed with happiness and disbelief. May he never forget that day! Betsie was sort of manically excited and standoffish at the same time, petting him and running from him in the the same 5 seconds. And then there was Miss Sunday. Talking nonstop. Making lists of what we need for the dog (including a brush for his hair). Deciding when the dog will be ready to go hunting. And basically knowing everything there is to know about what it takes to bring up a puppy in this world. And me? As Betsie would say, I was “skerred”. Please, God, keep this puppy safe for us and don’t let it poop on my floor, Amen.

 4. Five minutes after we presented Gideon with his “life day” puppy, I turned to Mr. Gore and jokingly said, “Okay, I got my pictures and had my moment. We can get rid of the puppy now!” Because it was at exactly that moment that the doubts set in. “What were we thinking?!”… 

5. And so I was EXTREMELY relieved to wake up the next morning to a word of encouragement from one of my sweet readers: “Others may have said this already, but you need to know one thing about getting a puppy: for the first couple weeks you will think it was a huge mistake. You’ll second guess it and think “what have we done?!” But believe me, once that phase passes, and it will, you’ll recognize that you’ve been blessed beyond what you ever hoped for by the love and companionship of this most wonderful little creature. Trust me.” For the record, no one had yet told me that, but I needed to hear it. I get it now! It’s just like bringing home a baby.

6. Speaking of baby, I think the puppy might be stealing some of my mommy instincts that should be reserved for the infant who will be joining us in the very near future. I’m sleeping lightly, I’m paranoid that something will happen to him, I tiptoe through the house when he is napping, and I can’t tell you how many times I have peered into the sunroom to make sure little Jakey-poo is still breathing. And then I have to remind myself…this is a dog. Not the baby. Baby isn’t here yet.

7. If you are having trouble making it through the long “dog days of summer” (sorry…couldn’t resist!) without allowing your children to watch endless television, invest in a puppy. We’ve not only had the TV off for nearly a week, I have barely seen my kids since Jake joined our family. They are obsessed.

8. Except for Betsie, who has gone from manically excited by the dog to terrified. The poor girl doesn’t realize that he singles her out because she is so low to the ground. She was sitting down on the floor the other day and he came to inspect her…she was SO frightened, she couldn’t even spare the time to stand up and started crawling as fast as she could, screaming bloody murder. Which only made the puppy run alongside her, causing her to somehow scream louder and just freeze up in trembling terror…but I have to admit, my humor was at odds with my compassion. Sad, yes. Funny? Also yes. He’s so little! But then, I guess, so is our skinny Pinky girl.

9. Forgive me, but I’m not really an animal lover. I admire them, I think they’re pretty, I see the handiwork of God when I look at them, but they’ve never really gone beyond my mind and reached down into my heart like, say, a person does. We always had dogs and cats growing up, but they sort of blended in with our outdoor country scene, and, though sad when they died, I didn’t really weep or allow their respective deaths to interfere with my appetite. But Jake the puppy? He belongs to my firstborn son. And if you lay a finger on him, I will cut you.

10. You won’t believe this, but I finally found a use for my teensy-tiny Lodge mini skillets. They are just Jake’s size. So I’m super glad that my Christmas gift last year is being spent on a dog

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(but I have to admit, that’s awfully cute).

11. Lastly…a week has passed, and though it has set me back in my preparations for homeschool and bringing home a new baby, the words of encouragement from the above reader are ringing true already. Jake has been worth it. I shared the following on my Facebook page last week:

So I spent the entire morning keeping our puppy alive. He COMPLETELY keeps the kids distracted and happy, but I’m too afraid to leave him alone with them just yet…

Thus the house is a WRECK and I just took 10 steps backwards in any progress I’ve made to prepare our home for baby #4.

But on the other hand, from my kids’ point of view, this is what childhood is supposed to look like, right? Running through the house, barefoot, with a puppy on your heels? Spending hours on the front porch with your family, making the acquaintance of your newest member?

I may not have things as I would personally prefer them at the moment (i.e. clean and tidy), but I’m thinking Norman Rockwell would find plenty of beauty and inspiration in our chaos…

and so I will too.

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Now if you’ll excuse me, while Jake is resting on the front porch and the kids are with their Papa, I’m going to go mop and disinfect my sunroom.

(Again).