Peace for the Precious

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For instance, the birthday parties.

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The Halloween costumes.

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The earnestness of it all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us begin.

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

Hi. I “get” you.

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

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

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

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it would understandably come across as very showy and nauseating.

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

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

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

But not necessarily to us, right?

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

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

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

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

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

God has wired us all so very differently.

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

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

Do you know what?

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

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

We have special clothes just for the pumpkin patch.

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

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

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

We are precious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there is a balance that keeps me from despair.

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

And that’s where the precious ones can shine.

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

Even if you have themed birthday parties?

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

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

You betcha.

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

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

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

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

Pinterest is counting on us.

~

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

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

A Medieval Birthday Party

I don’t know what you did last weekend, but my son…

my firstborn…

my BABY!!!…

turned 8.

If you’ve been on the internet long, you know that it is a thing for moms to get on Facebook and bemoan the passing of another year of their child’s life and to say cliche things like “Where did the time go??” and “Time flies!!” but, do you know why this is so?

BECAUSE IT’S TRUE.

My baby was…a baby!…just yesterday and then I did ring-around-the-rosies with him three times and when I stood up from “we all fall down” and shook my head around a little bit (I dizzy very easily), he was EIGHT.

I can’t make sense of it, and so I do the only thing I can to help me process the phenomenon, and I throw a ridiculous party.

Birthday parties help my mind to stop for a week or two and memorialize what is passing by me so very quickly; in the blur of moments and days, I thrust my hand forward and I grab my child by the shirt collar and I plop them down at a party table with pictures and candles and all the love my heart can manage to serve up in one measly day.

My kids love their parties, but someday they are going to realize that these parties were actually for ME! 

And although this year’s theme wasn’t my first choice, it turned out to be really special and left me full of all kinds of warm and happy feelings.

You see, Gid has wanted a “knight” party for a couple of years now, and after my husband gave me a little bit of guidance on the subject (I was pulling for a different theme and Gideon was obviously trying to make me happy), I decided to go for it, regardless of the fact that the medieval wasn’t really calling to me.

But that’s okay, because moms are in the business of dying-to-themselves, and I eventually found GREAT JOY in giving Gid this party of his dreams.

Of course, it really helped that he and his cousin, Anna (who will turn 8 on April 2) requested to have this party together, adding a fun “princess” factor to the affair, and more importantly, ensuring that the most important element to ANY party would be by my side, and I speak, of course, of my sister-in-law, Amy.

In one of our many back-and-forth e-mails about this shared celebration, I declared to her that “I am never doing a party without you again” and I’m going to do my best to stand by that statement. Amy did her thing an hour away, I did mine and, as usual, it all merged together at my mom’s house in perfect unison.

And since my “thing” was to brainstorm, make the Pinterest board, and gather up decorations and food, I stopped in at Reasor’s the day before the party and let the grocery store tell me what I needed to buy.

“Speak to me, grocery store,” I said. “Present to me the medieval…”

This was a bad idea, because as we all know, grocery stores just want to make money – they don’t really care about you! – and spend money I did. Not a ton of money, mind you, but enough to make me start sweating just a little.

My list grew bigger and bigger as I shopped, but the GOOD thing about this is that, by the time I left Reasor’s, the majority of our party’s food AND decor had been procured, and it had only taken me about thirty minutes.

When you stick with the rustic side of party-throwing and stay away from birthday party companies where paper products and decorations abound, your party finds a way to come to life through the beauty of simple and timeless components.

Like pewter and radishes.

(Radishes were not initially on my list, but they sort of MADE the party. You’ll see for yourself soon).

Anyhow, I might have gotten a little carried away in the produce aisle, but HOW PRETTY are these colors?

Bam.

Medieval. IMG_3280 Now, before we move on, I feel like it is important for you to see the party site before the party. Which, sorry, leads me to a long story…

Our plan was to have our medieval celebration down at the pavilion by the creek where we have most of our parties. It’s in the woods, it’s beautiful, it makes the perfect backdrop to just about everything, and we all love it there.

But I have VERY BAD BREAKING NEWS.

It was pouring down rain from morning till night on the day of our party.

And it was chilly.

And here’s yet another reason I love Amy: rather than encouraging me to move the party indoors as common sense would dictate, she supported me in my determination to squeeze our big outdoor party onto the only outdoor space that wasn’t wet, which was my parent’s tiny front porch.

“There’s stone and rock in the background,” I told her over the phone, “and more importantly…”

“…good lighting,” Amy finished for me.

Good lighting is everything, especially if you are like us and like to “go” to your own parties well after you’ve hosted them, when children are tucked into bed and your captured memories are waiting to be viewed and edited on your computer.

So here’s the new party site, and you’ll laugh when you see how we had to squish our 9 children into this area. Our five-year-olds, wedged between the table and the rock wall, barely had room to exhale.

Thankfully, they think we’re normal, so they just play right along, even if rain is pouring just past the edge of the porch that shelters them. Rain is quite medieval, you know. Children would have been wet and cold in a real medieval village. We’re just being accurate.

ALLLLL that to say, this is the porch the kids saw when they came to Grandmother’s house earlier that afternoon. IMG_3290 And, presto chango…

bippety boppety boo…

after a couple of movies in Grandmother’s bedroom…

the next time they came outside…

this is what the porch looked like!!! IMG_3310 Squeal! I love parties! I love surprises!

And finally? After a couple of years or snubbing them? I LOVE KNIGHT PARTIES!!! I’ll break down the menu and details in a bit, but here are a few pictures of the set-up… IMG_3314 IMG_3342 IMG_3317 IMG_3312 Now how about some details?

For the main course of our meal, our plan was to have a giant, roasted turkey. My brother, Jerry, is a master at smoking foods on his Big Green Egg, and he agreed to contribute the bird.

HOWEVER.

On the morning of the party, his smoker BROKE.

BEFORE he could cook the turkey.

We didn’t know what to do, but Jerry had the genius idea to pick up some rotisserie chickens at Wal-Mart. I would never have thought of that, and even though it pains me, I have to thank my brother for saving the party.

Even though his smoker was the one that almost ruined it.

Now that I think of it, this might have been his plan all along. IMG_3300 We boiled some little golden potatoes for this dish (some pricey little boogers that called to me at Reasor’s) and, after laying down a bed of radish greens next to the chicken, we surrounded the chicken with potatoes and (raw) radishes, not because this is actually a recipe and not because we actually ate all of it together, but because it looked AWESOME.

If you ever throw a medieval party, please, do yourself a favor and let this be your main course. Too easy! IMG_3293 Did I say that I got carried away in the produce aisle at Reasor’s? Because I also got carried away in the bakery, coming home with two round loaves of pumpernickle, two round loaves of sourdough, a loaf of cranberry walnut bread and twelve, giant wheat rolls. IMG_3294 And pears! Glorious pears!

No one ate the brown pears, but…sigh…don’t they look so medieval? Love. IMG_3299 I also got carried away in the cheese section of the grocery store, but that’s okay, because it all tasted so very Gouda. IMG_3298 Grapes. Lots and lots of grapes. We STILL have grapes. This was just 1/4 of the grapes I bought. IMG_3301 Now, another reason our parties come together easily and for little cost is because my mom has some surprisingly random things on hand, like the red goblets and the silver serving pieces and, I don’t know, six little pewter bowls, perfect for holding grapes!!!

Do you have little, pewter bowls hidden away in some forgotten cabinet?

I don’t.

Mom does. IMG_3296 And this is an idea I got off of Pinterest, Pepperidge Farm’s Chessmen cookies. Brilliant! IMG_3302 For the flowers, I spent a goodly amount of time amongst the selection at Reasor’s, finding a mix of bouquets that would draw all of our colors together. Hot pink, red, lavender and purple did just the trick, and made Anna’s seat of honor especially lovely and fit for a queen. IMG_3305 This next idea was also gathered from Pinterest. If I’m the grocery store part of the party, Amy is the craft part, and she whipped these awesome chair-backers up from felt she already had at her house. IMG_3306 She also made the portcullis you see here, fashioned out of duct tape.

I hate messing with duct tape almost as much as I hate doing crafts. I LOVE Amy, for happily taking on these aspects of party life. (I also love her new baby, Jude). IMG_3515 And now…

NOW…

I present to you the highlight of our party, the pièce de résistance, the “sword in the stone” birthday cake that our friend, Tammy, made IN HER HOME KITCHEN.

Tammy graduated high school with me and lives right down the street in a normal house that does not, as far as I know, have a magical kitchen, and so I can’t fathom how she can do this when I can barely get the icing on a cupcake. She amazes me. Check out this cake!!! IMG_3334 Aside from a couple of bottles of sparkling grape juice (with the labels torn off) and a pewter pitcher of water, this was it!

Easy.

Possibly cost-effective (if you don’t buy enough fruit for a vegetarian army and enough cheese for a ship full of mice).

FUN.

Now let’s send in the clowns! We let Gideon and Anna come outside first. I’ll share more on their costumes later, but right now I just need you to understand that, to get these pictures, Amy and I had to be in the yard, in the rain, sloshing through mud from one side of the porch to the other. I couldn’t stop laughing about the ridiculousness of the entire situation.

But the kids LOVED it and they couldn’t believe the new and improved porch. It was like stepping back in time! IMG_3323 IMG_3324 IMG_3325 IMG_3338 IMG_3340 Now. We couldn’t let Gid and Anna dress up in costumes and have the rest of us in jeans and sneakers, amiright?

There was a time a couple of weeks before the party when I was dreaming big and searching at Amazon for medieval costumes for all of us, but when it came down to it, everything we wore to this party was something we already owned or something the kids decided to buy with their own money.

I was especially proud of the wizard costume my husband came up with when he was at his office on the day of the party. He borrowed a baptism robe from the baptistry, he made a staff out of a big stick and a creepy animal skull that Gid’s Granddaddy gave him one day, he painted streaks on his face with shoe black, and he wore jewels on every finger that he bought himself at Dollar General.

This Papa loves his son, for sure, and I love him all the more for it. IMG_3304 When it came to my outfit for the party, I didn’t know WHAT I was going to wear and kept leaving my closet empty-handed…

until, that is, Gideon requested that I dress as a witch.

Done. If you remember, I happened to have a Darth Vader robe in the attic, and my hair is very bushy, especially in the rain. I took a special spooky picture just for Gid. IMG_3588 My niece, Abigail, used her own money to buy this super-cute wizard costume. IMG_3361 When the party was over, we sneaked outside for a more “organic” wizard picture. This girl is growing up so fast. We’re nearing preteen years, so it thrills me that she still likes our kiddy parties. IMG_3603 My daughter, Rebekah, completely balked on the costume I dug out of dress-up our box for her, the “Brave” Merida costume she got two Christmases ago and a snowy, white cape.

She wanted to wear her very favorite “pink dress”, the one that she has worn to almost every party and holiday since 2013, but I stood firm, and when she saw the pictures, she gasped and said “I DO look like a true princess!”

“And what can you learn from that?” I asked her.

“What?” she asked, confused.

“You need to ALWAYS TRUST MOMMY with your wardrobe” I said.

She laughed.

I wasn’t joking. IMG_3347 IMG_3351 And Betsie.

I can’t even.

She wore her “Frozen” Anna-inspired dress from Little Adventures, plus a velvet cloak that was given to us by a friend, and topped it with my own metal flower headband from Anthropologie.

Looking at the pictures, Rebekah said of her little sister, “She looks just like a little meadow princess!” I agree. IMG_3358

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All the girls felt especially beautiful because their Grandmother gave them LIPSTICK. Oh the glamour! IMG_3356 We failed to get a good picture of my niece, Kate, outside in her princess costume (she spent most of the party squished against a wall), but here’s one from before the party. I’m jealous because I ALWAYS wanted a hat like that when I was a little girl.

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Young Abel made the cutest little knight, donning a tunic that his mommy made out of a pillowcase! He is also wearing a fun dragon cloak that captured the fancy of everyone at the party.

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And then there was the squishiest, cutest dragon in all the kingdom, Little Shep. His costume belonged to Gideon many moons ago, from the after-Halloween sale at Pottery Barn Kids. IMG_3372 Now, let the party begin! You don’t expect me to caption all of the following photos, do you? Good. I knew I liked you. IMG_3365 IMG_3390 IMG_3392 IMG_3396

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IMG_3406 IMG_3411 After everyone had received their drink, my husband came outside to bless the meal. There were some theatrics involved… IMG_3415 but what I especially loved was noticing the little princesses to the right with their hands clasped in prayer.

Mayhap they are praying for the conversion of all of the wizards and witches at the party, which most assuredly happened. ‘Twas the beginning of a great revival. IMG_3422 IMG_3426   IMG_3423 Moving on, would you like to know a little trick I have?

At some point in every party, I tell the kids to laugh so we can take a happy picture. It’s not a FAKE picture, because there HAS been laughter all throughout the party. I’m just making sure that we can prove it! IMG_3443 The next hour or so was dedicated to a leisurely supper outside, pretending to be medieval.

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The young king here was obsessed with blowing this candle out. His mother was obsessed with keeping it lit. IMG_3471 Standing room only on this side of the porch, but Betsie managed to steal a barstool.

If she had tipped back her weight at all, she would have fallen completely off the porch. But the lighting was good, so, there’s that. IMG_3481 Here’s the birthday girl, glowing with girlhood and joy. Methinks she takes my breath away. IMG_3493   Wanna hear something funny?

The day after the party, when I asked Gideon what his favorite thing about the day was, he said, “the radishes”.

I had lost count of how many he ate, but when he burped in my face, I realized that it was exactly twelve.

Kings can be so boorish. IMG_3507 IMG_3517 My nephew, Abel, liked the pears. (I like Abel). IMG_3522 At some point, I got a scary picture of Gid holding his Papa’s weird staff. He thought it was awesome, and I guess I can see his point. If you’re a boy. IMG_3536 Here’s something else funny. Amy told me to peek into the kitchen to see how my daddy was eating. Poor guy.

We took his table.

His chairs.

His peace and quiet.

He’s used to it, I think. :) IMG_3518 After playing around a bit…

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we took a few more staged pictures before moving into the warm house. Here is Gid with the magical cake… IMG_3542 And Anna and the cake… IMG_3551 And finally, the entire merry group. IMG_3576 When the house was fast asleep later that night and I was able to take the time to look at each face in the photo, my throbbing feet did a little happy dance… IMG_3582

I can’t imagine now why I ever had a problem with the idea of hosting a medieval party. Because they’re obviously the BEST.

Happy birthday, Anna and Gideon! I wish you both a future filled with joy and fellowship and feasting.

And lots and lots of radishes.

~

Stay tuned for Part Two, a blog post completely dedicated to the products and costumes featured in this party!

The Late-night Song of a Mother Sparrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then our conversation eventually turned to Him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She nodded, lips pursed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why should I feel discouraged?

Why should the shadows come?

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

When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He

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

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

I sing because I’m happy

I sing because I’m free

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

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

Ah, I am a broken mess of a woman.

So needy. So weak.

So straying. So self-interested.

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

Happy in Jesus.

Free from myself.

~

*His Eye is on the Sparrow by Civilla Martin

~

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

Dear Mama (an open letter to the woman who is considering abortion)

For the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, this previously published blog post has been updated and revised.

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Dear Mama: an open letter to the woman who is considering abortion

I am not known as an earth-shaker.

I’m not a politician.

I’m not too terribly opinionated.

I’m certainly not argumentative.

Most of my words center around the things I see every day. I write about what I love. I write about the ordinary. The simple. The quiet.

But today…

I can’t stop thinking about you.

I don’t know you, but your story is heavy on my heart.

And since I don’t know who you are or where you live, I want to give you my words today and pray that they will find you, wherever you are.

I don’t know what has happened in your life that has brought you to this decision you’re trying to make.

Were you hurt?

Were you taken advantage of?

Were you simply not planning this?

Are you just not ready?

I have no idea, and I will not pretend that I can understand the pain or fear or panic that you are experiencing.

But there is one thing I do know.

Abortion is a lie.

It parades as this harmless act of grace, a helpful service that whispers “we can just pretend like this never happened”, but underneath the sterile facade is a grisly industry that ruthlessly preys on the most innocent and voiceless victims on the planet.

We can’t hear those baby’s cries as their lives are being snuffed out.

We can’t read their thoughts.

We can’t see their pain.

And under this seemingly enlightened guise of “women’s rights” we strip theirs completely away in the most epic display of bullying the world has ever known.

We, a great and liberated nation, who take so much pride in championing tolerance and in protecting freedom…

we throw our inconvenient children away.

I’m not going to share all the pro-life arguments with you in this letter. You’ve probably heard them already. And if you haven’t, you can read them all over the internet.

But here’s what it comes down to for me, today, and I hope it gives you courage…

This was my first baby, Gideon, when he was hidden in my womb…

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This is Gideon today.

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He is seven years old, with an imagination as big as the sky. He loves wearing costumes and drawing pencil sketches and playing tag. His eyes dance when he is happy and his soul is old and complex.

Gideon was real when he was in my tummy and he is real today.

This was Rebekah…

Rebekah

This is Rebekah today.

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She is five, and the world has been a better place since the day of her birth. She cares about people, and she brings light and love to everything she touches. When she grows up she wants to be a nurse and an artist and a farmer.

Rebekah was real when she was in my tummy and she is real today.

This was Betsie…

Betsie

This is Betsie today.

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At the age of three, she is full of joy and energy, and when she laughs, your heart can’t help but smile. I feel like the luckiest person alive to watch her grow up, and I can’t imagine a day when she didn’t exist.

Betsie was real when she was in my tummy and she is real today.

This was Shepherd…

Shep

This is Shepherd today.

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He is 16 months old, and is the sweetest boy I’ve ever known. And when he looks at me, I don’t know that I’ve ever felt more loved in my entire life.

Shepherd was real when he was in my tummy and he is real today.

Before each of these children were born, they were just a fuzzy picture on a sonogram machine…

a “fetus”.

They were hidden in my stomach.

They were nameless and faceless.

They felt like a cramp.

And now, here they are, changing my life and changing the world.

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And the only difference between who they were then and who they are now is that they’ve grown older. Simple as that.

Oh, my. I know you’re scared…

I was scared to have a baby, too.

I know you don’t feel ready…

I honestly wasn’t ready, either.

You might be afraid of what you’re going to lose…

I was terrified to “lose myself”.

And you might simply be ambivalent.

But, regardless of what brought you to this point, you have a baby in your tummy.

A baby who is real. A baby who is alive.

A baby that will someday be a swaddled-up newborn, then a precious toddler, then an imaginative preschooler, then a beautiful big kid who is discovering the world…

a baby who will someday have the voice and the ability to show you that he or she has rights, too.

Until then, Mama, you are the only person on the planet who can protect your child.

Please, don’t believe the lie. There are so many options for you that do not include aborting your baby.

Choose life.

~

Because this is such a controversial and sensitive subject, comments will be tightly monitored.

Feel free to share, with gentleness, and if you are pregnant and need help, message me at my Facebook page. You are not alone, and that’s a promise.

Bath Poo. A True Story.

My baby had an “accident” in the bathtub yesterday, reminding me to finish this true life glimpse into the step-by-step process of recovering from bath poo. Proceed with caution, unless you have personally experienced the horror of bath poo, in which case, I offer you this piece of solidarity, with all my love.

~

When babies poop in the bathtub...

After missing your morning opportunity for a shower before your husband goes to work, you finally send the big kids upstairs to play at 10:00 a.m., you strip your rambunctious 1-year old down and start him a bath, and you quickly get in the walk-in shower right next to him.

During the first shampooing of your hair, right after your hair gets all sudsy and almost ready to rinse, you notice that the baby is being very still and that his face is slightly red.

Then you hear the grunting.

Oh, Lord,” you pray, “please let it be constipation. Just this one time? Just until later this afternoon, maybe? Pretty please??

Trusting that all will be well, you proceed with your sudsing, you begin to daydream a little about what needs to be done that day, and then you realize that your baby has stopped grunting and is playing in the water again.

Perfect,” you muse, happy that your constipation prayers have come true.

And that’s when you see the toy in his hands.

It’s brown.

Last time you checked, all of his bathtub toys were black-and-white penguins from McDonald’s Happy Meals.

“Ack!” you yell, throwing your hands up in panic, berating yourself for being so naively optimistic.

You venture closer to the bathtub and see that the little brown playtoy is one of many brown playtoys, some big, some small, some so exceedingly tiny that you know this is a code red situation. All bath-poops are bad, but some are REALLY bad.

You slick your shampoo-filled hair into a bun to give you a good headstart before the soap starts to drip into your eyes, you turn off your shower and you tiptoe as quickly-yet-carefully as you can to the side of the tub where you immediately grab the baby’s hands before surveying the nightmare.

Your attack plan presents itself without conscious thought and step one is definitely to get the baby out of the water. You grab him by the trunk and lift him out of the water…

now where are you supposed to put the little booger?

Standing right beside the tub will have to do.

“Stay here,” you say, pointing down at him like he is a puppy, knowing full well that he has no idea what you’re saying.

You berate yourself for only knowing how to say “more” and “milk” in baby sign language.

Step two is to go fishing. You grab the big, clear plastic cup that just happens to be nearby (thank you, Lord!) and start scooping the biggest pieces of poo out of the water so you can drain the tub, and the saddest thing, in your mind, is that you have done this before. Many, many times. With four children in your house, you’ve probably fished for poo at least twenty-five times in your life, which is funny because you didn’t know that poo fishing was a thing before you had kids.

Before long, the cup is getting too full of water to catch any more pieces. This is a real predicament.

Meanwhile, the baby has started wandering about on the tile floor behind you and you are so flustered by this and worried over his haphazard slipping and sliding that you just plunge into step three and start grabbing poo with your bare hands and tossing them quickly into the cup.

Now, with the added poo, the cup is really full of water and the only course of action is obviously to proceed to step four by quickly covering the top of the cup with one hand and draining all the excess water back into the tub, like you’re a human colander.

A bundle of poo is resting affectionately on your hand, which is just like you’d think it would be – SHOCKING AND SO GROSS – but soon the water is all gone and you can flip the cup back over.

The big cup of poo and nothing but poo.

(When you bought those pretty plastic cups at Target, you never dreamed they would be used for this purpose).

The shampoo has started to drip down onto your face now and is apparently running into your mouth because you can taste it. You sputter and spit into the tub and wipe the suds off of your forehead with your shoulder, all while holding a cup of poo.

The baby is still wobbling and falling and grinning his face off behind you. He hasn’t had this much fun since the day he emptied a giant bag of miniature M&M’s on the kitchen floor!

You finally get the last big piece of poo out of the water, and scrunching your nose, you plunge your arm into the littered water to pull the plug, sending any last tiny vestiges of ickiness down the drain.

Your baby has fallen on the tile now three times, but he’s still smiling, so you just go with it.

You dash to the cabinet above the bathroom toilet and grab the Lysol wipes.

You zip back to the tub, turn on the hand-held sprayer, and start washing down the sides and bottom of the tub before grabbing a huge wad of Lysol wipes and disinfecting the tub with the vigor of Rosie the Riveter.

During this cleaning frenzy, the baby has made his way to the toilet and is happily splashing in the water, but since you have one eye closed to block shampoo and you are freezing to death, and since you know he is about to receive the scrubbing of his life, and since you are SO close to being finished, you find this rather fortuitous as it is keeping him busy and he is no longer ice skating on the bathroom tile. But you still call out his name and tell him that “that is a no NO!“, just so he’ll know you heartily disapprove of his behavior.

You rinse off the disinfectant and you start a new bath for the baby.

While his bath fills up, you scrub his bottom with wet wipes and you vigorously wash his hands in the sink.

You return him to the bath before turning on the shower so you might rinse out the shampoo that has nearly dried into a meringue on top of your head.

Five seconds into your rinsing, however, the baby pulls the plug out of his bath and you have to hop over to put it back in place, scolding him while he blinks at you with his precious baby eyes.

This is clearly a fun game, and so he does it five more times, and your shower water gets less hot with every trip you make to the bathtub and back.

Finally, panting and frazzled, you finish your shower and while you are hurriedly drying off, you realize the big kids have wandered back downstairs and are hunting you down in the master bedroom.

Your oldest daughter is calling for you to tie the sash on her dress, your youngest daughter is jumping on your bed and you can hear your son’s voice drawing closer to the bathroom. You shriek at him not to come any closer because you’re drying off.

You frantically get dressed, and you realize there is still a big cup of poo sitting in the floor. You grab it, dump the offending contents in the potty, and flush it resolutely away.

Then, because the cup still looks rather disgusting, you rinse the cup in the toilet water to get the excess poo off so you can disinfect it in the sink and then put it in the dishwasher so you can throw it away and then burn it.

But first you have to get the baby out of the bathtub. He has drained the water again and keeps falling in the slippery tub and his lips are tinging blue from the cold. You set the cup down on the counter and turn to fetch him.

You wrap the little stinker in a towel, you take him to your bed, dry him, diaper him and dress him, all while chaos resumes in the master suite, with your entire litter present and talking and wiggling at one time.

And then, in the haze of the mayhem, you absentmindedly hear the sink water running, you hear one of your children say “ahhh…” in thirst-quenching relief, and you hear a plastic cup being set back down on the bathroom counter.

And…

scene. 

~

Photo courtesy of Benjamin Grey Photography

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

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

These years have been as full as our hands.

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

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

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

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

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

Just the Bible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But this night was so very different.

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

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

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

I finished the second chapter and they asked for more. 

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

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

The next night was very much the same.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, oh my.

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

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

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

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

~

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

Halloween Costumes = Family Fun (Part Three)

Here it is, two days before Halloween, and I’m just getting around to posting pictures of last year’s costumes!

I had so much to share last year about our town’s Trunk or Treat and our little family celebration, but I guess I was too busy chasing down The Pioneer Woman (can you believe that was a YEAR ago?? If you don’t know what I’m referencing, click here, straightaway!) and then we moved on to Thanksgiving and Christmas, and now here we are, 365 days later. Time flies.

Anyhow, if you’ve been reading this blog for long, you’ll already know that I am a Halloween enthusiast – my family doesn’t travel much or spend a lot of money on extra-curricular activities – and so it is true that Halloween is one of our biggest days of the year. We spend money on it and everything. Mostly because I am not a maker of costumes, but an unapologetic buyer of them.

We had an awesome plan for last year’s costumes, plans that I have still tucked away for a future Halloween, but then I had a baby and, one month later, my husband had major back surgery, and then, three weeks later, it was the week of Halloween and we just had to scrap our “plan” and make do.

I have no memory of where this idea came from or who to credit it to…was it me? Mr. Gore? My mom? Rebekah? The Holy Spirit? The next-door neighbor? I honestly don’t know…but it turned out to be a super fun theme, and one that was actually quite meaningful and timely for our little family.

My husband’s back surgery (and the year leading up to it) was a huge deal, taking a major toll not just on him and me, but on our family and on our church. Thus, when 0ur small town’s Trunk or Treat turned out to be his very first post-surgery outing, my heart was just going nuts to see him up and walking again, pain-free, as he partook in one of our favorite family holidays.

When he was dealing with chronic pain, unable to sit at the supper table for meals, unable to drive without intense pain, unable to be at rest without heavy medication, I had wondered if our life would ever be normal again.

And now, on October 31st, 2013, it was.

It was a special Halloween, indeed, and I’ll never be able to look at these pictures and just see “Halloween”.

I see relief and victory and hope and love and joy and…

grace. Always grace.

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I was “Doc McFrazzled”, my husband was, you guessed it, a surgery patient, Rebekah was a nurse, Gideon was a medic and little Betsie was a “sick girl”.

We covered our car at the Trunk or Treat with the Red Cross flag we made for Gideon’s birthday party, and it was just so convenient to have Baby Shepherd nearby in his bassinet, portraying a newborn in our little hospital nursery.

Because, you know, he was one. I didn’t even have to dig that nursery tag out of storage – it was still in my bedroom!

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This was the most inexpensive Halloween we’ve ever celebrated! All we had to buy was a couple of rolls of gauze. :)

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The rest was found in our dress-up box and from family and friends who work in the medical field.

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And when we won the costume contest later that night, I almost went into cardiac arrest and had to be toted off to our makeshift hospital. I can’t tell you the last time I won anything, and this was a really great moment for our homeschooled children who don’t have many opportunities to compete or win rewards. They…actually, WE…couldn’t stop talking about our luck that night.

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It was the best Halloween EVER, but then, I’m pretty sure I say that every year. Halloween does that to me.

~

Want to see other Gore family costumes from years past? Click here to find Part One and here to find Part Two.

The Dollhouse Effect

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I was tidying up the playroom at my mom’s house and had sat down for a minute in front of her giant three-story-plus-an-attic dollhouse to put the furniture back where it belonged and straighten up the mess.

“How ironically funny,” I thought to myself. “This is basically what I do all day, every day, but on a teensy-tiny miniature scale…”

Put the chairs back in place. Straighten up the slipcovers. Gather up all the tiny bits and pieces and put them in bins or buckets or baskets. Move the porch swing out of the master bathroom and put it back on the porch…

just kidding. That last thing only happened in the dollhouse and has never taken place in my actual house. Yet. 

But, you know what I was really struck by as I sat on my bottom in front of that precious particle-board construction?

If I’m being completely honest, sometimes I can flip this dollhouse anaIogy around, treating my homemaking duties just like I’m a silly little girl arranging her toys.

Meaning, everything must be in its place and look a very certain way or I will go to bed that night concluding that I am a failure on the housekeeping front. And, sometimes, on my most controlling days, after I deep-clean and tidy everything up “just so”, I will have this desperate urge for us all to just leave the house until bedtime so we won’t mess it up again!

“Let’s go drive around, kids,” I’ll be tempted to say. “We’ll, you know, go…look at stuff?…until it maybe gets dark outside?… and then we’ll order take-out and eat it in the car before going home and going STRAIGHT to bed. Yay! Fun times! Family togetherness!”

All because I have arranged my dollhouse how I want it and I don’t want anyone else to play with it for the rest of the day. 

Now, I don’t know if this is a natural inclination that women have wrestled with for centuries, or if it is a new issue that we have picked up in the age of catalogues, television and, oh yes, you KNOW I’m going to say it, Pinterest, but it really does cause a girl to wonder…

When did we start seeing our homes as dollhouses?

When did the roofs we live under become anything other than a shelter to keep us warm and dry and safe from the outside world?

Did Father Abraham’s wife, Sarah (who ALSO had many sons), get bent out of shape when her tent was messy? Did she stay up late arranging her silk, tasseled floor pillows and dreaming of a day when no one would sit on them and smush them out of shape? Did she think her tent looked its very best when it resembled a showcase tent, or a tent-hotel that no one had checked into yet?

And when it boils down to it, is this a neatfreak issue or a “keeping up with the Jones’s” issue or a materialism issue?…

You know, I honestly don’t know the answers to those questions, but I DO know this. Regardless of its origins or motivation, the dollhouse effect feels so very wrong.

It is one thing to express creativity in our homes and work hard to produce a place of beauty to please our eyes, but we can get so weird about it.

For example, while knowing it isn’t true that houses really look like the ones we see on television, we fight for such a house, anyway. And even though it is obvious to us that the dwellings we admire in magazines are nothing but gussied-up dollhouses that have been “staged” for a photo shoot, we continue to compare our homes to them, allowing a needless root of discontentment to spring up in our hearts at how miserably our own castle holds up.

And before you know it, we’ve gone and modeled every room in our home after houses that somebody else told us we should have…

There should be five perfectly fluffed pillows on the couch and a basket of neatly folded throw blankets nearby, and there should be shoe cubbies that keep all of our footwear organized, and the dining table should be gleaming and featuring some sort of gigantic seasonal centerpiece, and the sink should be glistening with nary a dish in sight, and the laundry baskets should be completely empty, and all the clothes in the closets should be organized by color, and there should be a line-up of bright, shiny rainboots at the backdoor, and the toys in the playroom should all be in labeled bins, and there should be three blankets of varying textures and prints layered on the master bed (along with a gazillion shams and throw pillows artfully arranged at the headboard), and the bathroom should be completely untouched with a shelf boasting a giant glass canister of bath salts that we never use because they make the bathtub feel icky and gooey and another canister holding twenty bars of soap, and oh!, then another one filled to the brim with those natural-looking sponges that look so darn pretty in a jar (even though no one in our family uses sponges!), and…

and…

and in the midst of all this stagery, I think we can somehow forget what the purpose of a house is.

To LIVE in, you dummy.

(Sorry, I was talking to myself there, but feel free to include yourself if it applies).

And all the stuff that is inside a house is supposed to make the living more enjoyable and/or comfortable, not become the source of our insanity and stress.

Now, before I go on, I have to assure you that I am not advocating laziness or carelessness, nor am I bashing home decorating and organizing; I deeply value hard work and I love beauty and I crave order and I believe in taking good care of our things and I want to continually teach my kids to respect their loved ones by helping and doing their part around the home.

But I also never, ever want to forget that my family does not live in dollhouse.

We live in a people house, and we’re kind of supposed to live here. And if houses are for living in, then…

couches, by golly, are for sitting on.

Pillows are for smushing up into a ball to make the small of our back feel more comfortable on the couch.

Throw blankets are for unfolding and curling up in.

Dishes are for eating spaghetti on.

Napkins – even the cloth ones! – are meant for wiping our messy spaghetti mouths on.

Tables are for catching the extra spaghetti that falls off of our plate.

Floors are for walking on (and catching the spaghetti that fell off the table).

Beds are for sleeping in.

Laundry hampers exist to hold dirty clothes; no dirty clothes in the world? No laundry hampers.

Bathrooms were created to be the epicenter wherein every manner of our dirtiness is purged and cleansed.

Closets are for hiding our piles of clothes.

Toys are for playing with!!!

And this precious lil’ white farmhouse we built five years ago and moved into with our budding family? This is our home, one that, for the love of Pete, I want to live in and let my family live in.

Which leads me to what I set out to write about today in the first place. With all these things in mind, by the grace of God, I am learning to see the difference between a lazy mess and a beautiful mess, a dollhouse and a real house. Lazy messes are sickening – they make your stomach turn because you know that you can do better and that your family deserves harder work than that.

But beautiful messes, once you learn to let go of that stinky quest for magazine-quality perfection, cause your heart to quicken inside of you as you realize that this…this!…is the reason you work hard as a homemaker in the first place, to give your family the room and the freedom to live.

Beautiful messes happen around good food and lively conversation.

They happen when siblings are taking a splashy bath together.

They happen over art supplies and blank canvases or an empty table and a couple of jars of Play-doh.

They happen over movies in the living room, throw blankets and pillows and popcorn all over the floor.

They happen in a room full of toys that inspire the imagination to soar, where dinosaurs can play with Calico Critters, even though they don’t match.

They happen in sandpiles and mud puddles and snow-covered yards.

They happen when all the decorative pillows are off the bed and families are cuddled up to sleep together.

They happen when we are living life with the ones we love.

And, sometimes, they happen over afternoon cookies and coffee, inspiring you to sit down and share what you’re learning about homemaking with the world.

Grandmother (or “Mother Bear”, as 3-year old Betsie has dubbed her) had come over for the afternoon, and the three of us had sprawled out in the schoolroom to enjoy a snack together. We talked. We laughed. We read books. We lounged. We made crumbs. We made spills. We lived!…

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It was beautiful.

And it reminded me that this is why I buy pretty decorations and sweep the floors and keep dishes clean and fluff the pillows and wipe off the table, not so our home can look like a dollhouse or the latest issue of the best home decorating magazine…

but that I might make room for the next beautiful mess.

~

p.s. If it makes you feel any better about your life, this is what our shoe cubby looks like. I just don’t know where we’d put that one flip flop if we didn’t have it. I’m super glad we paid money for it.

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~

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A Beautiful Girlhood Birthday Picnic (inspired, of course, by Nanny McPhee Returns) – Part Two

So, like I was saying in yesterday’s very important and explanatory post, on a Tuesday afternoon in early June, Rebekah’s siblings and a handful of beloved cousins departed to a remote and mysterious location, laying down a trail of flowers for her to follow to her picnic party.

Here they are again, in case you forgot how cute they looked. Please excuse my daddy’s ugly trackhoe…and backhoe…and tractor…in the background. They were NOT invited to the party, but they came anyway.

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About fifteen minutes later, my husband and I gave Rebekah her basket and informed her, with great melodrama and gravitas, that there was a trail of flowers for her to collect that would lead her to her party. Once every flower was picked up, not only would she be at her surprise you-know-what (pssst! “picnic”), she would be a “big girl”.

Daggnabit, I’m ’bout to cry again.

Stop looking at me. Here. Look at these pictures instead.

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"The Flower Path to Girlhood" - a rite of passage birthday party

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“The Flower Path to Girlhood”. I might have to frame this one.

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Gasp! I see a picnic up ahead!

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Now, before I show you the rest of our celebration, I’ll show you some pics Amy took of the party set-up before the guests arrived. To have a “Nanny McPhee” inspired picnic, all you really need is a wheat field, some quilts, some baskets, some potted plants, a miniature picnic table, a lot of food, some old furniture, some metal chairs and a thousand antique dishes. That’s all. But especially the wheat field.

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Our menu included fried chicken, biscuits, little mason jars of fruit salad, a basket of Gala apples (Rebekah’s favorite), chocolate pie, miniature apple, strawberry and blackberry pies, and homemade ice cream.

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To wet our whistles, we had lemonade, sweet tea and a little pitcher of water with sliced strawberries.

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Now, a word on these fantastic little drinking vessels. I noticed some very similar to these in the Nanny McPhee Returns movie, and, just happening to have a giftcard burning a hole in my purse, I went posthaste to Anthropologie to buy some of my own. Fortuitously, these glasses in my cabinets will now serve two purposes, 1. to hold thirst-quenching liquids and 2. to remind me of the day my 5-year old became a “big girl”. Oh, great. Now I’m going to cry again. Good thing I have these gorgeous glasses to catch my tears. (Click on the photo to find these glasses at Anthropologie!)

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This is skipping ahead a little, but speaking of drinks, I really liked the contraption my mom came up with the pour the tea into some glass bottles we brought along…

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it’s not every day that you find a lady with an antique enamel funnel laying around.

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Now, a series of food pictures. A bucket o’ glasses o’ fruit salad!

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apples!

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fried chicken!

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biscuits!

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pies!

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pies with hearts in the middle?! (Nice touch, mama).

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But, enough with the still-lifes. Let’s get back to the party! The flowers had all been collected…

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and it was time to par-tay.

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Now I have to interrupt this series of party pictures for a funny announcement. See this little boy eating an apple?

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This one right here?

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He’s about to lose a tooth.

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Ta-da!

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But wait, that’s not all! A couple of minutes later, Gideon’s cousin, Anna, ALSO lost a tooth!

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It must have been all those apples.

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In a funny twist, the apples that helped the big kids lose their teeth brought relief to Baby Shepherd who is GROWING teeth. Apples are hilarious!

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And, while we’re on the subject of apples, here’s my nephew, Abel, enjoying one, too…

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But, enough about them apples. Back to the party!

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After everyone had eaten to their belly’s content, we brought out the pie, Rebekah’s favorite, Grandmother’s chocolate meringue pie. This also happens to be MY favorite pie, so thank you, Rebekah. (And thank you, Grandmother!!)

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I think this next picture is funny because I was so beside myself as we lit the candles, thinking that Rebekah was probably also beside herself with excitement, when actually she was, you know, yawning and messing with her dress. Birthdays schmirthdays.

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Now, may I interrupt this party to tell you a little story about the stuffed piggies who attended our party? The following is from a Facebook status I shared back in June:

“A birthday story…

For Christmas, I impulsively bought a little stuffed pig for Rebekah’s stocking that was at the check-out counter at Pottery Barn Kids. It was on sale, and it was just sitting there looking at me, and Rebekah has this thing for pigs, so…I snatched it up and gave it to her for Christmas.

It turned out to be her favorite gift, and the two have been inseparable. She named her “Oinky” and it is the first thing she wants when she is sad. She LOVES that little piggy!

Last week, Rebekah’s Sunday School teacher approached me and told me that, when she asked her what she’d like for her birthday, Rebekah answered “a mama for Oinky so she’ll have someone to take care of her when I’m gone”.

Long story kind of short, we started looking, and there just so happened to be a mama-sized Oinky available at Amazon. We ordered it, and when Rebekah arrived at her class this morning, it was hiding in a birthday giftbag for her from Miss Linda.

When Rebekah pulled that big ol’ pig out of the bag, her face went through three levels of surprise before she could get a word out! “A mama for Oinky!!” she squealed (NOT like a pig). “I have to show her!!”

Together, we ran to the pew outside her Papa’s office where Oinky was hanging out with Baby Shep in his carseat.

I hid Oinky behind my back.

She hid “Piggy” (aka mama pig) behind her back…

“One…two…three…” we said, and we pulled the piggies out of hiding so they could meet.

I have to say, it was a pretty precious reunion.

Did they hug?

No.

Kiss?

No.

Rebekah grabbed Oinky and immediately settled him in to nurse.

Which, after having four little piglets of my own, is pretty much exactly how those first meetings go.”

All that to say, it was such a joy to have both Piggy and Oinky at our party. They were our honored guests!

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And the rest of our evening was spent just running around, snacking, playing, laughing, eating homemade ice cream, and getting bit by ticks. Simple, country fun, the best there is, and I am so happy that Amy and her kids could be in town on this beautiful afternoon to celebrate with us.

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As the peaceful evening wrapped to a close, Rebekah mozied back to the house with her basketful of flowers in her hand and a memorable rite-of-passage evening in her heart.

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She was a big girl now, and I could finally go to sleep that night feeling that the occasion had been appropriately memorialized.

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Happy Birthday, Rebekah Sunday! May your “beautiful girlhood” be as lovely as your golden hair, your Nanny-McPhee-Returns-inspired picnic and your favorite pink dress. Now quit makin’ me cry, you little stinker! You’re not allowed to turn 5, ever again, and that’s an order.

A Beautiful Girlhood Birthday Picnic (inspired, of course, by Nanny McPhee Returns)

So.

Who is PUMPED for some birthday party posts?!

This is going to be totally out of order, but I can’t wait any longer to share this particular party with you, so it gets to go first. But first, a tiny bit of backtracking…

As my eldest daughter’s 5th birthday approached, I found myself in alternating states of distress and bewilderment.

Still sinking under a lingering postpartum fog, I just could not get it together! My brain was kaput and, two weeks before her June birthday, I still hadn’t nailed down much of anything. State Fair party? Pretty picnic party? Lots of guests? Just the cousins? Meal? Just dessert? Presents? No presents?

I DON’T KNOW!!!!!

I was so heavily annoying myself that I can’t imagine what a bother I was being to my husband, my mom and my party-planning soulmate and sister-in-law, Amy, for not a day went by that I wasn’t discussing and hemming and hawing over what we were or weren’t going to do. It was sincerely obnoxious.

Finally, for the love of Pinterest, after flipping and flopping and switching and swapping, Rebekah’s 5th birthday extravaganza did me a favor and seemingly planned itself for me with a crazy-busy weekend:

On Friday, we attended Abigail’s 10-year old Kit Kittredge party (more on that later!) and stayed the night. Honestly? This would have been enough of a party for Rebekah. We could have put a candle on her piece of cake, sang her the birthday song and called it a day.

On Saturday, we popped over to Grandpa and Grandma’s house in OKC and spent the day swimming. This, too, would have been enough of a party for Rebekah, especially when she saw the giant “Frozen” balloons her Grandma bought as decorations.

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On Sunday morning (her actual birthday), before we left for Sunday School, we had a sweet little breakfast in the sunroom together. Again, this would have been enough of a party.

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On Sunday evening, we celebrated with our church friends after prayer services by sharing the cake Rebekah had been DREAMING of for an entire year: chocolate with chocolate icing, chocolate chips, marshmallows and M&Ms. This was all for her, a true gift from me (making bizarre custom cakes is not my love language), but when she saw it and thanked me over and over again, I had to admit it was completely worth is.

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And SERIOUSLY. I truly could have stopped there and it would have been a fun, blessed family-and-friends-filled weekend of celebratory birthdayness, MORE than enough for anyone, especially a FIVE-year old.

But you guys know me by now.

I needed to have just one more little party, not so much for Rebekah, but for me.

You see, we’d been zipping all over the place all weekend, bookending her birthday around church services, and I just needed to steal another day to celebrate my daughter.

Because, in my heart, birthdays are not just about my children. They’re about commemorating the days when our entire family’s life changed forever. This is big stuff we’re celebrating! And so it is an important personal ritual for me to meditate on the gifts of my children by sweating like a mule while I haul furniture and decorations all over the countryside to host a party that matches up with all the sentimentality of my heart. It’s what I want to do and what I need to do and what I like to do.

And so I did it.

And it turned out to be one of the sweetest days of my life.

The inspiration for this day sprang entirely from one of my favorite movies, “Nanny McPhee Returns”. I am so captivated by the Nanny McPhee movies, but the second one in particular is extremely dear to me. I love the set, the costumes, the scenery, the story, the casting and, did I mention the costumes? I die.

And every time I watched it and observed the family’s celebratory picnic in their wheat field, my heart swelled up with this longing to follow suit.

Well, with a very special birthday to celebrate and the perfect pink dress hanging in our closet, the time was right! Watching the movie once more and taking extra notice of the details, I made a few purchases and, added to a mountain of stuff I gathered from my own house, the perfect scene was set for our own Nanny McPhee picnic.

But, you guys, what really tickled me the most about our evening had to be the “Beautiful Girlhood” theme that sprang upon us at the last minute, adding a sweet rite-of-passage element to this party that nearly bowled me over. I could share all the details of how it came about and how it all centered around a heavily-discounted flower-picking basket that we stumbled upon at Williams Sonoma, but I’ll spare you and just tell you what we did:

After spending much of the day setting up in the surprise (and rather remote) location while the kids played in my parents’ backyard and my mom cooked up a storm, we all started getting gussied up in our Nanny McPhee inspired clothing.

Once everyone was dressed, Mr. Gore, Rebekah and I stayed at the house while the rest walked to the party and dropped a trail of flowers along the way that would lead Rebekah to them.

Twenty minutes later, with the flower-gathering basket on her arm, the three of us prepared to depart down (and go ahead and make fun of me) “THE FLOWER PATH TO GIRLHOOD”. Getting down on my knees, I looked into my 5-year-old daughter’s eyes and told her that, once she collected every flower, she would not only be at her surprise party in the woods, she would be a “big girl”.

Oh, man. Call me silly, call me sentimental, call me melodramatic, I don’t care, for, other than my wedding walk down the aisle, this was one of the sweetest and most meaningful walks I have taken! Not to mention that it fully captured the fancy of our girl who is entering the world of “beautiful girlhood” right before our eyes.

Sniffle, sniffle.

I’m so pleased to share our party with you today and, with it, the reminder that life is beautiful and so worth celebrating.

~

One of the biggest parts of this party was the clothes.

Rebekah’s girlhood has centered so much around this dress, for which I am forever indebted to my sister-in-law, Amy, who gave it to us after we accidentally stole it out of her dress up box. (Long story, but THANK YOU, Amy).

Vintage Gunne Sax, it makes Rebekah feel so beautiful and she wears it about every other day.

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I curled her hair with a curling iron (first time!) and I let her borrow my floral metal headband from Anthropologie…

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There is no doubt that much of her joy on this day had to do with how her dress and hair made her feel pretty and celebratory.

We all need days like that, don’t you think?

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And I was so thrilled by everyone’s clothes! One thing I love about my mom and Amy is that they “get me” and, never making me feel stupid, they just show up in the perfect ensembles to please my silly eyes and heart.

While I put some last-minute things together, Amy took some fun pictures of the kids in front of the corn crop.

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Finally, after a day of hard work and preparation, the hour had arrived.

Whisking Rebekah inside the house, her siblings and cousins fulfilled their task and began laying down the trail of flowers…

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and…

I’ll show you the rest tomorrow. :)