Spirit-led Parenting

"The challenge isn't so much in knowing the right and wrong things to do, but in learning to listen to the Spirit in my heart in each moment, and to obey the various pulls and tugs, even when I don't want to."

While it has obviously tied up my writing time, nursing a baby for the past 6 months has not only given me lots of time to play Candy Crush, it has given me lots of time to think, about lots and lots and LOTS of stuff.

But the thing I’ve been ruminating over the most has been so freeing and so life-changing, it sort of begged me to sit down for a bit this afternoon and share the wealth.

Spirit-led parenting.

It is changing everything for me.

Question: how many parenting blogs have you read in the last two months?

Me? Probably 15 or 20.

Make that 25.

At least.

Articles are great. They are easy to read, they address one specific topic, and they give these great daily boosts of encouragement and motivation. I love a good article.

But articles can also be dangerous.

Here’s why…

What you are essentially reading in most articles and blog posts is an author’s personal conviction. Something has come up in that person’s life that has bothered them, and they are turning over a new leaf. Or, like me, they’ve been ruminating on some “stuff” and they sit down to hash it out on their blog.

It is a gift to be let in on these glimpses of personal growth and conviction, and they can be greatly used by the Spirit to promote change and conviction in our own hearts.

But what we, as readers, can sometimes do, is stand up from our daily dose of internet consumption in a fog of guilt-by-comparison.

What?…This lady doesn’t spend time on the internet? I must be a bad mom for loving Facebook so much.

This lady doesn’t tell her kids to ‘hurry up’? I’ve said that at least five times this week! I’m the worst!!

This lady doesn’t buy paper plates anymore? I’m never going to use a paper plate again without feeling like a failure…

And in this rush to heap guilt upon our heads, we make a major mistake, failing to recognize that what we are reading is one snippet from one person’s life that is very specific to their situation.

Let me explain.

I threw in the part about the paper plates because, GASP, I am the lady who doesn’t buy them anymore. After deciding to give them up a couple of years ago, I haven’t bought one. single. package.

I know. I’m incredible.

Now. Imagine if I shared that information in a blog post highlighting tips for cutting down on waste or ideas for improving your monthly budget.

And then imagine that you got that guilty feeling in your stomach because you can’t imagine giving up paper plates. “How is she able to do that?” you ask yourself, “I’m such a loser!!”

But what you wouldn’t realize in that 1000-word blog post (what?! sometimes I keep it to 1000 words) is that, yes, I gave up paper plates, but there is no way in a hundred years that I could give up disposable diapers. Or wet wipes. Or paper towels. Or Hostess donut gems.

It didn’t hurt me much to give up paper plates.

And my real motivation for chucking them in the first place? I wanted extra spending money for fresh flowers.

Because fresh flowers make me happy, and in comparison, paper plates, in my opinion, are kind of…meh.

SO. Obviously, you shouldn’t feel bad about yourself when you read about my paper plate fast.

Now, that was just one example, and a silly one at that, of the misguided comparisons we can make as readers. But now let’s take it to the next level.

What do you do when you read blogs that focus on the very essence of who you are, a wife, a mama, a daughter of God?

Do you unobjectively compare yourself?

And even worse, do you immediately make unfair judgements about yourself followed by sweeping resolutions to make improvements, thinking that if you “do” or “don’t do” these things, you will be more pleasing to God?

The possibilities are clearly endless…

Give up screens for a month.

De-activate your Facebook account indefinitely.

Pull the plug on television. Forever!

Decide that Santa is the worst.

Decide that Santa is okay so long as he is portrayed as St. Nicolas.

Decide that Santa is the BEST.

Do Elf on the Shelf.

Don’t do Elf on the Shelf and think that people who do Elf on the Shelf are ridiculous.

Orchestrate precious birthday parties for your kids.

DON’T orchestrate precious birthday parties because parties are the stupidest, most indulgent thing ever.

I could go on forever, but if we are not careful in our blog perusal, we can tie man-made nooses around our necks, so that the only way we feel successful in the parenting department is if we adhere to this ever-growing list of goals, ideas, resolutions, wars, stances, boycotts, philosophies and even menus.

Our days are spent in guilt because we aren’t sitting in front of our kids, watching every minute of their growth, and because we said this one phrase to this child, and we didn’t throw the party like this one Mom did, and we don’t eat anything organic or we have too much stuff in our house or WE DON’T HAVE ENOUGH STUFF or we….

whew. Can I stop now? I’m exhausted.

The internet (and even this blog!) is RICH in help and advice…

but sometimes our little tummies just can’t handle that level of decadence.

We are one person.

With one story.

And this is why I’ve been so encouraged lately, not only to be a better reader, but to realize that there is a huge difference between listening to another believer’s journey and gleaning wisdom from their story and unjustly comparing myself to them.

There are things that we, as parents, MUST do.

Bible things.

Deutoronomy 6:1-9, I Corinthians 13, Proverbs 22:6, Ephesians 6:4, 2 Timothy 3:15 (and many more).

And then…

well, then there are the other things.

The nonessentials.

The opinions.

The personal convictions.

The things that we’ll find alllllllll over the internet.

And while the advice and journaling from other believers might just change our life for the better, sometimes we are so busy trying to be 100 other people, we forget to listen to the most important voice in our lives…

the voice of the Spirit.

The Helper.

The Comforter.

And here’s what it all comes down to.

I know when I’ve been sitting at the computer too long with my back to the kids. I can feel it in my heart and I can see it on their faces.

(But then, if I’m being honest, I can also recognize those free moments when I can spend some time with my friends and family on Facebook).

I know when I need to put down Candy Crush and just watch my baby nurse and marvel at God’s miraculous provision.

(But then sometimes I feel perfectly allowed to zone out with some chocolate candy balls and stripy candies and exploding candies. Key word: candy. p.s. I will CRUSH you).

I know when I need to allow my daughter to bake with me and learn alongside me.

(But sometimes, after gauging the situation and her countenance, I can send her on her way because I need to hurry so we won’t be late to church).

The challenge isn’t so much in knowing the right and wrong things to do, but in learning to listen to the Spirit in my heart in each moment, and to obey the various pulls and tugs, even when I don’t want to.

All of the above was the most roundabout way ever to say this…

Let’s stop comparing ourselves to every mom and wife and lady on the internet. We don’t know their situations any better than we do Martha Stewart’s or Michelle Obama’s.

But then again, let’s also be very honest about our own situations and focus more on pleasing God with our innermost thoughts and motivations than we are on fulfilling this pipe dream of perfect parenting.

Are you spending too much time on the internet? Only you know that. (but you know you know it).

Do you need to give up something to be financially faithful? (may I suggest paper plates? Just kidding).

Have you assumed that by doing what everyone else is doing that all is well between you and God? You’ll know the answer to that if you simply ask, and it is a really important question.

Are you fulfilling lots of 10-step programs to better housekeeping and homeschooling and parenting but failing to live the gospel out for your kids to see?

It would just be really unnecessary to lose ourselves in a sea of helpful voices only to forget that God Himself is in our homes. Right here. Beside us. In us. Everywhere.

He knows what is best for our family.

He knows how to parent the quirky individuals He crafted for us to bring up.

He knows what we need to add, what we need to give up, where we are excelling and where we are lacking.

He knows our schedule. He knows our hearts.

And He even knows when we should have a big ol’ birthday party or scale things back a bit…

which leads me to my next post, “Mother Hen’s Seventh Birthday”, coming up next week!

~

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Have you snuffed out the voice of God in your preoccupation with looking like the perfect mom?

How is He teaching you and convicting you in your specific situation?

Do tell!

 

 

 

When “I Signed Up For This” Doesn’t Work

My New Year’s resolution of “I Signed Up For This” has done me a lot of good, for several reasons:

1. It has connected me with many new enthusiastic readers, all of whom I love and appreciate dearly. Hi, you’s guys! Welcome to our online community of randomness.

2. It resulted in my first ever magazine article (Yippee!).

3. It has actually worked.

Most days, I feel like a new woman on the motherhood, homemaking and homeschooling front.

Like, you know, a grown-up or somethin’.

And I can’t TELL you the last time I sighed when I loaded the kids up in the car. January 1, at the latest. (Two months may not seem very long for some of you, but for a perpetual sigher, it is like a millennia!)

As far as resolutions go, this one (by the grace and help of God) has seemingly reformed me, through and through.

Oh…

except for that frustrating day last month.

And that horrid afternoon a couple of weeks ago.

And last night, for a spell. 

And, um…all day today.

Even though a “mantra” or a resolution might pull a sinful woman like myself out of habitual and mindless complaining, there are days – lots of them – where I need something more.

Something deeper.

Something higher.

Today was definitely “one of those days”…

A random foot injury caused me to acutely feel every step I took, and in a two-story house with four little ones underfoot (pun intended), that’s too many to count.

Another covering of snow outside our windows was causing me to feel hemmed in and blahhhhhhh.

The children were rabid with cabin fever. I actually think they had foam coming out of their mouths.

I couldn’t think of anything to fix for lunch OR supper.

Rebekah’s hair was a tangled mess and I couldn’t find the hairbrush anywhere.

There were about two thousand tiny pieces of Play-Doh under the kitchen table.

And the list went on and on and on and on…

By 3:00 p.m., I wasn’t only sighing, I was hissing.

What had begun that morning with just a hurt foot continually climaxed to the point that a typical littering of Play-doh in the kitchen made me want to lay in the floor and cry like a baby; my despair had stacked up so high that I was being buried underneath it, and I felt like I was drowning!

I really knew that things were beyond my reach when I told myself “remember, you signed up for this…” and myself responded by saying “shut up, Mrs. Gore!”

Yikes.

Touchy.

On any other day, none of the things I mentioned above would necessarily cause me to want to throw in the dish towel.

Which is my point, exactly.

Rarely are the toughest days circumstantial, usually having more to do with how we are feeling on the inside than what is actually taking place around us.

As this kind of sinkhole frustration can be very common in the “trenches” of motherhood, I thought it would be a good idea to pen my thoughts on a day when I needed more than a New Year’s resolution, in case it might be a help to someone else.

Without further ado…

What do we do when “I Signed Up For This” doesn’t work?

1. The first thing I always try to do when I want to implode is to take a moment to pray.

This doesn’t have to happen in the quiet privacy of my room or in the church sanctuary. In fact, on this day, it took place in our schoolroom with kids running all over the place. I sank down onto the antique steamer trunk that holds all of our curriculum, I put my elbows on my knees, I propped my chin up with my hands, and squishing my cheeks up and down with my fingers, I began to talk to God.

“What is UP with me today?…”

What followed was a good moment of introspection coupled with many minutes of wordless pleas for help, in which I identified that my problem, as usual, had little to do with what I had been handed that day, and more to do with my lack of purpose, discipline and contentment.

Seriously.

I’m not being hard on myself and I’m not heaping unnecessary guilt upon my head; this is just pure, unadulterated truth, that I have a gloriously sweet and blessed life, yet, when left to myself, I will always, always find something to complain about.

Dang.

Talk about sobering.

But while this sort of “digging in” is always painful, I really believe that if I skip this step, I will miss something huge.

Here’s what I mean: imagine if life was composed entirely of comfortable moments. For instance, a morning at the spa followed by a shopping spree followed by a deliciously catered lunch followed by a nap followed by an idyllic walk through the countryside, day after day after day…

Or even in less grandiose terms, imagine if my life as it is was frustration-free. My foot would not be throbbing, my menu would be planned, my children would be so thirsty for knowledge that they would sit on the edge of their seats and drink in my every word, I’d know where the hairbrush was hiding, and I would be constantly aware and accepting of the fact that what I’m doing here is important and eternal.

Sounds dreamy, doesn’t it?

But that’s exactly what it is: a dream.

And while a hiccup-less life is what I sometimes (always) long for, without the hiccups…

I would never grow.

I would never conform into something that looks less like me and more like Christ.

And so, while it might seem like the spilled milk and the beyond-energy-filled 1st grader are random happenstances in the day, they are so much more than that.

Or, rather, they can be.

Being at the end of our rope reminds us of how tiny we are. How fallen. How needy.

They remind us that there is a Care-taker on whom to cast our burdens.

And, as a result, they allow us to pursue holiness when we probably wouldn’t be otherwise motivated to do so.

This is why it is a good thing that “I signed up for this” doesn’t always work.

And this is also why, although I truly adore “me-time”, I never want to run to it first, because doing so would be like applying a band-aid to a mortally gaping wound.

My wounds need antibiotics, not bandaids.

And so I run to my Father, where healing and change are found.

2. After I have asked for help from God and confessed my sin, I feel very free, happy and wise to look for help from outside sources.

In the vein of “I Signed Up For This”, yes, our children and our homes are completely and 100% our own responsibility, and we are not entitled to outside help or relief. We shouldn’t whine about it. We shouldn’t expect it.

But on the other hand, we are not meant to walk this life alone.

Do you feel overwhelmed at the mountain of tasks that lie before you? That’s because there is a mountain of tasks lying before you. You can’t tackle that by yourself.

Do you feel like you just can’t do it all? That’s because you can’t. If you can find me a woman who can cook three meals a day, spend time with the Lord, bathe and groom all of her kids, teach them all their different lessons for the day, bathe and groom herself, nurse a baby every three hours, clean the entire house, buy all the needed groceries and school supplies, do all the laundry, read aloud to each child, and still be sane by 3:00 p.m., I so desperately want to meet her and learn all her secrets.

In my house? It’s just impossible. I need help.

And help can look a thousand different ways…

Sometimes it is enough to simply put a movie on for the kids so I can retreat to my room for some alone time. Television, when used wisely and in moderation, can be a great friend in times of need!

Sometimes my husband takes the big kids to the church in the afternoon while the little ones sleep, giving me a chance to clean or write or nap or simply to cry without an audience.

Sometimes I call my mom and ask if she has a day she can help me deep-clean the house.

Sometimes we all just load up in the van and drive around town counting animals.

Sometimes we retreat to mom’s house for afternoon coffee and snacks.

Sometimes I ask my husband if we can get a pizza for supper.

Sometimes we do a joint supper with friends to brighten up our routine and pull us out of the doldrums.

I could go on and on, but it is less about the particulars, really, and more about the principle: after engaging in combat with the “old woman” that still hangs out in my heart, and after diligently chipping away at the root of sin that my despair has illuminated, I seek to start afresh and give myself a break…

no guilt…

no shame.

Because it is just an incontestable fact that sometimes mommy is broken and needs to depend upon her support system, whether that can be found in a husband, a church family, a mama, a sister, a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or, yes, a 30-minute show on Nick Jr.

~

There is no formula, really, to any of this, and being a mama is no different than any other calling: there are easy moments, there are joyful moments, there are average moments, there are very sad moments, and there are excruciatingly difficult ones…

such is the rhythm of life and sanctification.

But every moment counts, and can be used for God’s glory and for our good.

I’ll try to remember that the next time I’m sitting on a trunk in the schoolroom squishing my cheeks and trying really, really hard to hold it together. I hope you will, too!

I Signed Up For This, Too

I Signed Up For This, Too: receiving the joys (and the triumphs) of motherhood

Last week, I shared a post on the common complaints I’ve been guilty of indulging in as a mom, along with my resolution to (try to) abstain from all the sighing and moaning and groaning that so easily accompanies this life with little ones…

but, thankfully, not every day calls for such resolved action, and, as a lady who truly loves being a stay-at-home wife/mom/homeschooler, I would be remiss to mention all the things I struggle with in the mommyhood department without mentioning the things that bless my slippers off.

Because, thankfully, when you “sign up” for the daily grind that comes with being a parent, you are also the natural beneficiary of a good that far, far, FAR outweighs any bad that might occasionally (daily) weigh you down.

Thus, the next time I find myself being a Debbie Downer about the seeming drudgery of my life, after I read through my handy dandy list of what I signed up for…and then after I thank God that I don’t have to attend two weeks of VBS and then go home to do the canning…I’m going to pop right over and read this list…

a list that will remind me of the beautiful gift I’ve been given, a gift that is better than much fine gold and more sparklier than diamonds.

Let us begin.

1. Children are a heritage and a blessing from the Lord.

This I know because the Bible tells me so (Psalm 127:3). And because I feel it in me bones, to the very depths of my soul.

(I feel like you should know that I just wrote that entire paragraph with a Scottish accent).

Holding my two boys, arms full of blessing…

blessing and heritage

2. Children are forgiving.

Thanks to godly examples who have shared wisdom with me, I have made it a habit to easily apologize to my kids since I became a hormonal and emotional psychopath a mom.

And you know what? The minute I say “I’m sorry” or “I need to do a better job”, I am immediately met with kindness and reassurances from my little people.

“It’s okay, you didn’t mean to.”

Or “You don’t need to do a better job. You’re the best!”

Or “I didn’t think you were being grouchy. And I was being mean, anyway.”

It astounds me every time. Kids don’t even have to think twice about offering their heartfelt forgiveness.

I’m mad at you…

mad

Okay, I forgive you.

forgive

3. Likewise, children don’t hold a grudge.

In my almost 7 years as a parent, I have never once heard one of my kids bring up a fault from my past.

(Scratch that…my son has sort of held it against me for 5 years that I sold some of his toys at a garage sale when he was a toddler…).

But, for the most part, on the important stuff, they not only forgive, they forget. Each day is a new day with them, and yesterday’s hurts and failures are literally forgotten.

Grudge? What’s a grudge?…

grudge

4. Children are funny.

I am a huge fan of humor, and I used to think nothing was more fun than going to see the latest comedy at the movieplex…

until my first niece was born. Since that day almost 10 years ago, our family has been introduced to comedian after comedian; each one is unique, but each one has brought new waves of joy and laughter to us, whether it is in their facial expressions, the way they talk, their mannerisms…

And in my own home, not a day goes by that every single one of my kids doesn’t give me something to get tickled about.

Like this guy and his mustaches…

Gid stache

Or this gal right here…

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Or this little freakshow…

kids on glass

5. Children are little ministers.

This one actually really surprised me. I’ll never forget the first time it happened. My then 3- and 1-year old were sitting with me on the couch watching cartoons and I was mulling over some intense inner turmoil that had been eating me up for days when, out of nowhere, I felt a little hand on my shoulder.

I can’t aptly describe the peace that washed over me from that childish touch, one that had no idea my heart was so heavy, and I couldn’t get over how soothing it was to be sitting there quietly with them, feeling their love. Unbeknownst to my babies, they helped me through that day.

Since then, I have repeatedly been ministered to by my children. Whether I am sick and in need of a nurse, or crying from pregnancy hormones, or feeling overwhelmed or ugly or sad, they treat me gently, running to get me tissues, asking if I’m okay, smothering me with hugs and kisses…

yes, children drain you and they make messes and they test you to your limit, but they also give.

And I’m pretty sure it’s much more than they take.

We take lots of staged pictures around here, but this one was real. Rebekah and her Papa…

children are little ministers

5. Children are easy to please.

Oh my goodness. Give a kid a muffin tin and a pile of coins (or just the coins!) and they can stay occupied for an hour. Put a slice of cold cheese in a bun and they think you’re the best “cooker” ever. Wear a pair of sparkly earrings and they think you look like a princess…

I know now why people are constantly saying that “it doesn’t take much” when it comes to children: because it’s true!

You know what my two-year old nephew, Brett, told the mall Santa he wanted for Christmas? “Some candy”.

In a world that never stops wanting and buying and consuming, the simplicity of childhood is like a beautiful city on a hill.

2-year old Gid, playing with some coins…

easy to please 2

easy to please

6. Children are accepting.

Little ones are just sweet. They don’t notice skin color. They don’t see clothing quality. They don’t care too much if someone is different from them. And if you nurture them in it, they will make friends of all ages.

Yes, they notice blemishes and facial hair and that your belly jiggles when you laugh, but they don’t hold it against you. And even when you are rolling around like a narwhal on the slip n’ slide, they just think you’re fun.

Gideon and our friend, Yoyo, who pushed him all over our church in one of the spare wheelchairs…

Gid and Yoyo

Rebekah and our friend, Kenneth, blowing out his 90th birthday candles in Sunday School…

accepting

7. Children are honest.

Sometimes their honesty is of the brutal variety (“why do you have a beard on your face, Mom?”), but it is so refreshing to daily be among a group of people who tell you what they’re thinking. If my kids are upset, they tell me. If they have a question, they ask it. If they have a compliment, they share it.

There aren’t many hidden thoughts and motives with children (unless they’re trying to pick their nose on the sly), and that is a lovely thing.

And sometimes even their nose-picking is honest…

honest 2

8. Children are loving.

I can’t count the number of unsolicited hugs and kisses I’ve received since becoming a mom.

And even though I find myself scorning the gift sometimes and longing for that elusive “me-time”, the fact of the matter is this: my kids love me and would spend every second of every day with me. And then they want to sleep in my bed at night. And stand by me when I take my bath. And hand me toilet paper when I go to the bathroom. And bump into me when I stop walking.

My gosh, we spend half our lives yearning for someone to love us and want to spend all their time with us…

voila!

Children.

Where I go, they go (and when I’m away from them, I miss the little boogers)…

loving

9. Children make the world seem new.

This has been a surprise for me, as well. I had no idea what joy I would glean, not just from watching my kids experience great things, but from reliving childhood from a different perch.

It is like having the opportunity to start life all over again. The stories and fables, the nursery rhymes, the songs, the holidays, the wonder, the smell of crayons…

it is all back in your life again, and it is so much stinkin’ fun.

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10. Children make you holy.

I don’t think there is one single aspect of parenthood that has not brought me closer to the heart of God.

Whether it includes being at my wit’s end and crying out for grace…

or being so crippled by fear for my children’s salvation, safety, and general well-being that I find myself pleading at His feet and entrusting them to His care…

or being overwhelmed by a love that is so big and pure that it leads me straight to worship…

or digging deep for biblical answers to questions that lead to more questions like “who is God?” and “who made God?” and “why do people sin?” and “why did God create all these animals and not give me any?”…

And that’s just off the top of my head! Parenthood = sanctification. And even though sanctification hurts like the dickens sometimes, it is even more precious than children.

holy

11. Children are wonderful teachers.

And in all of the above, children teach us.

To forgive. To make grudges nonexistent. To laugh. To minister. To live simply. To accept others and withhold petty judgments. To share what’s on our mind. To love someone so much that we are happy just to sit by them and hold their hand. To live. To think about God…

and a lot of times, they can teach us all of this and more without even opening their mouths.

lots of kids

~

Sisters and brothers, may we never lose sight of the treasures that pitter-patter through our houses.

And may we shed our complaints quickly, freeing our hearts to marvel at the joys, bask in the innocence and laugh at the antics that are only in our lives for a painfully short season…

world seem new

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.”

Psalm 127:3-4

~

special thanks to Amy Jackson and Benjamin Grey Photography for photo contributions!

~

Do you have anything to add to this list? How have children (whether your own, your grandchildren, your nephews and nieces, or the children in your church) blessed you?  Share and celebrate with us!

I Signed Up For This

"I Signed Up For This: accepting the call (and the chaos) of motherhood"

It struck me a year or two back that I was getting into a habit of making big deals out of the things that my life was entirely comprised of.

There was lots of sighing and moaning and groaning, to the point where I was beginning to get on my own nerves.

Which is saying a lot, because when it comes to myself…I’m kind of a fan.

And once the annoyance set in, I began to notice a stark difference between myself and those ladies I look up to the most…

ladies who had worked hard their entire lives and didn’t make a big fuss about it….

ladies who weren’t forever groaning about all the stuff they either had done or needed to get done…

ladies who didn’t constantly talk about “me time”…

ladies who didn’t see homemaking and/or motherhood as a giant sacrifice, but a natural progression of life…

I’ll never forget the day in our church kitchen when I was bemoaning the fact that we had made it through “another week of Vacation Bible School”.

By the way, our VBS lasts for 3 hours a day.

5 days.

Oh, and a delicious daily meal is provided for us by our good-cookin’ kitchen committee.

The older ladies around me shared knowing glances before one spoke up. “Girl, this is nothing!” she said. “We used to do VBS for two weeks, and then go home with our kids to do the canning”.

My mouth dropped to the floor.

“You did?!” I gasped, horrified at the very idea.

And here I thought it was hard getting the kids in the car and down the hill to where our hot supper was waiting for us every night…

It was an eye-opener, for sure.

And I knew it was time for a change.

From that day forward, I adopted a homemade mantra of sorts, and I repeat it to myself all the time

I SIGNED UP FOR THIS.

Everything that I was whining about was something I had plunged into with my eyes wide…okay, mostly-wide…open.

I chose to pursue motherhood. I chose to forego a career and become a stay-at-home wife and mom. I chose to homeschool….

So why in the world was I acting surprised everytime my kids ate and the kitchen table was covered with food and sticky fingerprints? Why did I sigh every time we decided to go somewhere and I had to pack diaper bags and load carseats? When was I going to stop talking about how many (or how few) hours of sleep I had received the night before? How long was I planning on exclaiming over how many times a day I had to sweep the kitchen floor?

It is no secret that I was painfully naïve when I said my “I do’s” to Mr. Gore. My picture of marriage and motherhood was anything but realistic, and I somehow really and truly believed that we would be wealthy and have househelp and a guest cottage out back; whether that was going to take place before or after I took on the nannying job for $10/hour, I don’t know, but I was reaching for that rainbow.

But 7 years of marriage and a bunch of kids later, it was time to grow up and move on. Accept my duties and find joy in them. Train myself to love hard work. Say buh-bye to the guest cottage.

And guess what? I’m getting there!

But if I’m being honest, I still struggle, and old habits die hard; for this reason, and in hopes of helping anyone who shares a boat with me, I thought it would be helpful to make a list of the things I signed up for and should therefore no longer complain about.

Even though I didn’t really know I was signing up for them when I did.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Let us begin.

1. Children are messy.

Dirty shoes. Stained clothes. Sticky fingers. Matted hair. Crumbs everywhere. Toybox explosions. Bathtub debris. Poop. Spills. Unidentifiable grossness. Paper scraps. The upstairs stuff is downstairs and the downstairs stuff is upstairs.

I signed up for this and I will deal with it. No more sighing. No more being surprised by it.

(And no more sitting down).

2. Children are expensive.

When our first child was born, we couldn’t believe that a two-night stay at the hospital cost more than both of our cars combined. And that was just the beginning.

Diapers. Clothing. Food. Education. Recreation. Birthday parties. Holidays. Dentists. Doctors. Etc, etc, etc. Most of us simply aren’t going to live like kings and queens during these years, so I’ve decided to buckle down and stop whining about all the things I “can’t afford” (which is another post, entirely).

Why? Because I signed up for this.

3. Children must be taught…everything.

Manners. Hygiene. Theology. Rules. How many quarters are in a dollar. What’s a president? What’s America? 

I’ve decided to stop being shocked that they are impolite when I’m the one who forgot to equip them beforehand. And I’m not going to sigh when they ask me again what “tomorrow” means.

Because teaching them and answering them is my job, and it is one I willingly signed up for.

4. Children don’t sleep.

Okay. So really, I didn’t sign up for this because I had NO IDEA that this was a thing. When I was a kid, I slept like a log, one you could carry from the living room to the bed without ever waking up. But apparently, other less obliging children exist out there (say, like, on the second floor of my house), and no matter how late they go to bed at night, they still wake up at dawn’s early light. And sometimes before then to come and tap you on the shoulder and ask where their green-dinosaur-is-but-not-the-green-and-brown-one-just-the-green-one.

But even though I didn’t necessarily know about this when I asked for children, I know now, and I sign up for it. I guess.

5. Carseats.

It’s the law. And I’m a law-abiding citizen. And if I sign up for America, I’ve got to sign up for carseats, as well. No more moaning and groaning when I have to move those ridiculously heavy pieces of furniture from one car to the other.

6. Children are slow.

It is a well-known fact that if you’re going to go somewhere with kids in tow, you have to start getting ready 2 hours ahead of time. That game where I wake up an hour before go-time and then act all surprised and flustered when it is time to leave and no one can find their shoes and the dry shampoo in my hair is showing?…

no more. I signed up for this gig and I run it like a boss.

(Except for when I don’t. But I’m going to try).

7. Children have to have grown-ups for parents.

For years I tried to figure out how we could have people over like we used to and talk and laugh uninterrupted until 2 a.m. every weekend. I wanted to go to every antique show in the state, every movie that looked entertaining, every conference, every church activity…

but guess what? I have little kids. And little kids have bedtimes. And even before bedtime, they need you to wipe them and stuff. These aren’t the party-like-it’s-Y2K years. These are the you’ve-got-babies-and-you-need-to-raise-them-years.

I signed up for those.

8. Children get sick a lot.

When I used to hear a sniffle or a cough in the church nursery, I would go into panic mode and do everything I could to get my kid out of the door before they caught something; likewise, when one of my children would come down with a fever on a Sunday night, I would berate myself for not seeing the signs, putting everyone in the church nursery at risk.

But then I started noticing something: there was no pattern to this stuff. Sometimes my kids do get sick when their friends are sick…but sometimes they don’t. You never know. I will do my best to be wise, but I will also be brave and kind, knowing that kid vomit, diarrhea, full-body rashes and sore throats are just another’s day work.

Work that I chose to do when I signed up for this job.

9. Children have their own personalities.

There is a fine line between shepherding and controlling, and I’ve been very guilty of attempting to do the latter. But it doesn’t matter how much I love that yellow-and-white checked button-up shirt that hangs in my son’s closet. He doesn’t. And just because the rest of the family loves “Andy Griffith” doesn’t mean our youngest daughter ever will (she used to plant her face on the ground and start bawling every time she heard the theme song).

I will learn to listen. I will let them be people. I will give them room to breathe. I will nurture their weirdness, even if it doesn’t match up to mine.

10. Children are unpredictable.

I can make all manner of plans, whether it is to go on a day-long shopping excursion, deep-clean the house, make a big meal, plant some flowers, or simply watch a TV show after they are tucked in at night; but neither the needs nor the foibles of children are scheduled, and while I must teach them that the world does not revolve around them, I can’t do so while acting like it revolves around me.

Someone has to be the grown-up in these situations. Challenge accepted.

11. “Me-time” is not a right.

Yes. It would be wonderful to take a bath without a toddler coming in and dropping toys into the water. It would be dreamy to leisurely sip my way through two entire cups of coffee without having to reheat it in the microwave. It would be nice to have Friday’s off. Or a guaranteed lunch break. Or a daily siesta.

But guess what? The only job description to being a stay-at-home mom is this: crapshoot. There is rarely a “daily” anything. But I’ve learned one thing…

there will be grace for each moment, even when I feel like I want to beat my head against the wall. And sometimes that grace will include a surprise (or even scheduled!) gift of me-time. I will take it when I can get it, but I won’t act like an entitled brat if I don’t get it.

~

Oh, my. I suspect that this list could go on for days, but the heart of it is this: I don’t want to spend my life frowning over the inevitable.

Motherhood is HARD, yes, but it doesn’t have to be dreary and droopy. Chin up, buttercup. Shoulders back. Turn that frown upside down. Swallow those sorrowful sighs. Choose joy, because even on the hardest days, it is still exactly that: a choice. Laugh at today and all the days to come!

And on those occasions when we are at our gloomiest and least grateful, we can always remember this: we’re not going home to do the canning after TWO WEEKS of Vacation Bible School…

~

Find this list a little too realistic? Read a fun (and  more optimistic) follow-up to this post here: I Signed Up For This, Too

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.

I Haven’t Gotten a Thing Done!

“I haven’t gotten a thing done!” I sighed to myself as my 5-week old baby began to cry again.

I scooped him out of his chair and walked past my unmade bed, lightly bouncing him and patting his bottom as I went.

We walked through the laundry room where four separated loads of clothes awaited my next spare minute.

We skirted around the kitchen island where dirty dishes and leftover ingredients from that morning’s monkey bread remained scattered on the countertops.

We passed the empty sunroom where the puppy sleeps, bits of grass all over the floor and a very puppy-like smell permeating the air.

We went by the schoolroom where crayons littered the table and puzzle pieces dominated the ground.

We padded through the quiet living room where slipcovers needed straightening and stacks of movie cases needed to be reunited with their discs.

We mozied onto the front porch that needed to be swept and took a seat in the rocking chair that needed to be wiped down.

I looked down at the baby who had interrupted my work…

he was asleep. His brow was clear and at rest, his eyes were shut tight, his tears were wiped away, his countenance was sweet and peaceful, his body was snug and warm in my embrace…

Well, looky thar. I got somethin’ done.

"I Haven't Gotten a Thing Done!" by Mrs. Gore.

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 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.

Gideon’s “Life Day” and a Puppy Named Jake (Part One)

We had huge plans for Gideon’s 6th birthday.

I mean, aside from the awesomely vintage Word War II-inspired birthday party we hosted for him…

But as it turns out, building complicated backyard fences and finding the perfect puppy take a little bit of time.

A LOT of time, actually.

So the dog we intended to present to our firstborn on his 6th birthday in March didn’t actually join our family until two nights ago, the last Monday in July, at 7:00 p.m. I’ll tell  you all about it, but first I have to pose a couple of questions…

Do you believe in the sovereignty of God?

Do you believe that God cares about even the smallest details of our lives?

Call me crazy, but I really do.

And, even though this puppy is seemingly joining us at the worst possible time, one month before my due date, one month before homeschool starts and two months before Mr. Gore’s back surgery and 3-month recovery (I’ll explain later…), I can’t help but recognize the hand of God in this entire situation.

If you’ve been a reader at Mrs. Gore’s Diary for very long, you know that I am pretty big on “moments”. Few things are done around here without intention, and while most of our days at home are very simple and boring and nondescript and familiar, the big days are…well, BIG. I dream about them, I pray about them, I plan everything out with painstaking detail, and most importantly, I wait. One of my biggest fears is that I will introduce my kids to every good thing in life before they are cognizant enough to realize, remember, or appreciate it.

Thus, presenting Gideon with his first dog has been something we have anticipated for years. We wanted him to remember this day. We wanted him to be ready for it. We wanted his extremely tender little heart to be in exactly the right place to receive this monumental gift. And we have been praying for a long time that God would intentionally use his first dog to build something substantial in our son’s heart…a deeper love and compassion, a sense of responsibility, a wellspring of gratitude…

but I honestly never dreamed that God would make this moment even sweeter and use our first puppy to teach our son about the sanctity of life. Let me explain…

It has always sort of bugged my husband that mankind, in general, and Christians, in particular, only celebrate the BIRTHday of a baby. “If we really believe that life begins at conception,” he would say, “then why do we ignore those 9 months in the womb? Why do we say a child has been alive for only a year when they have been very much alive for a year and 9 months?”

He mentioned it often, and as these thoughts continued to ruminate in his mind, he finally came to me with a suggestion a few months ago. “Let’s start celebrating our kids ‘life day,’” he said. “Nothing big, and we don’t have to have a party or stop doing regular birthdays, but I just want them to know that we were celebrating and anticipating them from the very beginning…”

You know I loved the idea. Another day of the year for celebrating? Sign me up! And seriously, how amazing would it be for our kids to grow up with an awareness of the fact that, 9 months before they were born, God was already knitting them together, forming their specific features, crafting their unique (and whackadoo, in our case) personalities?

After a little bit of discussion we decided that we could commemorate their “life day” with a really special and thoughtful gift each year… something that would make them feel expressly cherished and special. So get this…

Gideon’s “life day” was in July.

Right about the time we finished our backyard fence.

A couple of weeks before the Golden Retriever puppy our friend found for us on Craigslist would be old enough to come home with us…

And as it began to dawn on me that the presentation of this HUGE surprise to our most beloved boy would coincide with his “life day” and would serve as a testimony to the graciousness of God in crafting his very existence, the tears started flowing.

I couldn’t even think about this day without breaking down, sometimes in the car, sometimes in bed, and one time talking to my husband in the backyard; I just laid my face down on our new fencepost and started sobbing.

But if I’m being completely honest, I think I would have been crying without the added bonus of “life day”. I love my son. I love his tender and complicated heart. And I’ve known for a long time that, while owning a pet would be a special thing for any of our kids, this was going to be a true rite-of-passage for Gideon. The thought of what this puppy would do for his heart did CRAZY things to my own…

And the most exciting thing of all is that Gideon had absolutely NO idea what was coming. Even though we built and painted a huge new fence for him. Even though Grandpa and Grandma delivered a giant kennel to our backyard. Even though there were cans of dog food hidden in the pantry…

he was in for the surprise of his young life!

And because I obviously have a sickness, I decided to just go ahead and make this into a bonafide event, complete with matching clothes, a photographer, and a 4th of July theme, so we would always remember that Gideon’s “life day” was in July. Life isn’t “all about the pictures”, but if you’re going to observe a monumental occasion, and one of your very favorite photographers goes to your church, you might as well take advantage of the blessing, right?…

And believe me, when you see the photos that Benjamin Grey Photography captured for us, you’ll be so glad that I’ve decided to keep my disease for at least the unforeseeable future. I can’t wait to share them with you…

Tomorrow!

~

Want a sneak peek? Alright. You twisted my arm.

To help your children understand the sanctity of life, start celebrating the time of year that God starting knitting them together!  A VERY special family observance.

A Front Porch Song

When I was a child, there weren’t entire television channels devoted to my demographic.

Or if there were, I knew nothing about them. We didn’t have cable.

And neither did my Granny.

When my Mama went back to college when I was 4 years old, I would go to my Granny’s to spend the day, and my memories of her house are so simple. Her toy collection included one or two big bouncy balls and a couple of children’s books.

That’s it.

But it’s so funny. I didn’t even notice the lack of toys or childish entertainment available to me. I would play with her costume jewelry. I’d braid the strands of yarn hanging off of her potted plants. I’d walk laps through their circular house with my Papa (who had emphysema and was on a strict, albeit slow, walking regiment).

But what I remember most is sitting with Granny on her road-facing porch watching the cars drive by, talking, and singing. She’d sing “Old McDonald” with me over and over again, and I never grew tired or bored in our spot on that mint-green glider.

Granny is no longer with us in this world, and her house was sold long ago, but I carry her simplicity in my heart, and it dictates much of what I long for for my own children.

Thus, I couldn’t help but think of her this morning as I sat with my 3 children on our own front porch, watching the trash truck make its rounds, talking about our week and singing songs about God.

On days like this unseasonably cool and rainy July morning, we don’t really need that bucket of toys on the side of the porch. We don’t need Nick Jr. or Disney Jr. or Amazon Prime. We don’t need much of anything, really, but the chairs beneath our bottoms, a few songs in our hearts, and yes, the cup of coffee to my left.

Toys and TV will mean less and less to my children as they grow in wisdom and truth, and though our scene is much (MUCH) more chaotic than the one I enjoyed with my Granny, I pray that my kids will remember these simple and repetitive days with the same fondness and appreciation that I have for my own memories…

Something tells me they will.