Shep’s First Day of School

I stayed up late one night last week to pin down some memories from Sheppy’s first day of school, and thought I’d share them with you today.

That’s right, I said Sheppy.

My little buddy who was born yesterday.

The one who still feels eternally toddlerish.

He started school last week.

We did our little rite-of-passage “walk” that morning after breakfast, where the new Kindergartner gets to put a first backpack ‘round the shoulders, says goodbye to Mom, walks out the backdoor with the other school-aged siblings, and comes to the front door where the doorbell is ceremoniously rang, and the door is opened by the homeschool teacher…who, by the way, is still Mom.

When my firstborn took his walk back in 2012, I said goodbye to him with my hair in a messy bun and my body wrapped up in a big, terrycloth robe and, as he made his way from the back door to the front door, I dropped the robe, slipped on some heels, and took down my hair, answering the door wearing the brand-new schoolmarmish dress I’d had hidden under the robe.

“So…how DID you do that?” he whispered to me as his little brother got ready for school. “I’ve never been able to figure that out. You looked one way when I went out the backdoor, and completely different when I came to the front door.”

He’s 11. Still stumped.

Sheppy had a similar look of stunned wonder on his face over the whole ordeal…before he’d even taken his “walk”!…and because I know him, I knew he had absolutely no idea what was going on, even as we tried to explain it. And so I just hugged him goodbye, handed him an apple for “his teacher”, and instructed him to follow his siblings.

I don’t have as much time for introspective sentimentality as I used to, and so there were no tears, but as I waved goodbye to him, the question did flit through my brain…

How are we here so quickly?

It took fifteen years for his big brother to grow to the Kindergarten stage.

How did it take Shep fifteen seconds?

I’d better start ordering Baby Jack’s school supplies, I guess.

With the last backpack disappearing around the corner of the house, I shut the door behind my precious little line of people, took down my hair and scrambled around to find a cardigan to throw on over my shirt as I walked to the front door. So my tradition has been adapted a little bit. Not a high heel in sight.

“Ding dong!” said the doorbell.

“Hellooooo!!” I smiled, throwing wide the door. “Welcome to your new year of school, children!!!”

I adore the following photo. Just ignore the sleepy lady with her hair under her cardigan in the shadows and focus on those dearhearts on the porch!! A man asked me last week, when he found out I have five children, “What’s wrong with you??”

“I’m just such a fan!” I told him.

I mean, he obviously hasn’t seen this crew. Then he wouldn’t think of asking such silly questions.

The expression on Shep’s face was exactly how it had been the last time I had seen him, wonder-filled and clueless, but he continued to follow the instructions of his siblings, coming inside and handing his apple to his new “teacher”.

“I like pretending!” he confided in me as I reached down to accept his gift.

“I do, too,” I confided back, feeling like the luckiest woman on the planet.

And just like that, the tradition was fulfilled, and we plunged straight into our first day of homeschooling four children. We’ve decided, with my so-not-Type-A personality and a proclivity for losing track of schedules, that Mr. Gore should take a more prominent role in our home academy, overseeing everyone’s daily schedule from a handy app on his phone and, more specifically, taking on the schooling of the big two while I school the little two and, of course, keep the baby from eating toilet paper and Legos.

I still teach the big kids history and grammar and whatnot, I still read aloud to them, I still run Poetry Teatime, and I still choose and order our curriculum, but he is their “homeroom teacher”, if you will.

And that leaves me free to pour as much attention on my 2nd grader and Kindergartner as I did on their big siblings, and I am SO GRATEFUL. The younger grades, I have found, delight me endlessly, and I think I could spend my whole life teaching different youngsters…one or two at a time, of course…to read and to count and to love Mother Goose as much as she deserves to be loved.

Anyhow, back to our first day of school. Baby Jack played along nicely, volunteering for his nap at 10:00 sharp, and as the big three holed up in the schoolroom with their papa for a science lesson, I sat down with my new Kindergartner for our first lesson together at our long dining table.

True to his precious nature, he called me “Teacher” with every sentence he spoke.

“Teacher, what book are we going to do next?”

“Can I open my new scissors, Teacher?”

“I like this room, Teacher!”

And as he cut out some snakes that he had immediately and spontaneously started coloring on a piece of white paper when he sat down…which shows you how much I’ve grown as a homeschooler! His big brother had to follow the curriculum and only the curriculum, haha!…he told me all about his morning thus far.

“I didn’t have to go very far to get to school today, Teacher,” he said. “I just went out my door, and went past the dogs, and then I was in this house right by my house, Teacher. I like your school, Teacher.”

Oh, my word. I LIKE MY SCHOOL, TOO, SHEPHERD!!! Especially with you in it! Delights every other second up in here, but then, that’s how life has been with this fourth-born. He’s like a children’s book come to life and, I feel like you know this by now, I really, really love children’s books!

The two of us sailed happily through all of our activities for the capital letter “A”, and then I had to swallow down a hundred giggles when our new Teacher’s Helper from the All About Reading program, a hand puppet named Ziggy the Zebra, came out to help Sheppy learn about rhyming.

A bit of backstory, when Shep was a very little guy, we discovered that he was really enamored with shadow puppets, and so every night when he was in his little bed next to ours, a shadow puppet shaped like a duck would appear on the wall beside him.

He named him “Guck Guck”, and the two of them had long conversations every night.

And over Shep’s shoulder, his papa and I would be melting into the floor because he had no idea that the puppet was really his papa’s hand. It was too sweet to be real, but…IT WAS SO REAL. Shep never looked our way, and only had eyes for Guck Guck as he told him all about his day. And this little bedtime preciousness went on for a couple of years. 

Cut to the first day of Kindergarten when Shep was staring straight into Ziggy’s face, talking to him about school.

Now, according to our curriculum instructions, Ziggy is a forgetful fellow who has trouble keeping his words straight, giving the student plenty of opportunities to correct him.

But where we ran into a problem right off the bat is that Shepherd ALSO has trouble keeping his words straight!

And as I followed Ziggy’s script in the teacher’s manual, pointing out different body parts on Shepherd to introduce the concept of rhyming, the following conversation unfolded:

“This is your holder,” Ziggy said, pointing at Shep’s shoulder.

“No, Ziggy!!!” he laughed. “That’s my SHIRT!”

“Uhhhh…” said Ziggy, immediately stumped. “No, the thing under your shirt, right here!”

Shep blinked at Ziggy.

“Shep!” I whispered, getting him to look at me. “I think he means your ‘shoulder’…”

“Oh!!” Shep said. “That’s my SHOULDER!”

“Then this is your land,” said Ziggy, pointing to Shep’s hand.

“Ziggy!!!” he belly laughed. “That’s my HAND!”

“Oh, your hand!” said Ziggy, moving on to point at Shep’s finger. “Then this is your linger?”

“That’s my finger, Ziggy!!!” he cracked up.

“But this is your south?” said Ziggy, pointing at Shep’s mouth.

“Ziggy!!! That’s my FACE!!”

“Your mouth…” I whispered. “Mouth rhymes with south, get it?”

Shep nodded, still staring a Ziggy like he was the best thing since Guck Guck.

“Well this is your farm?…” said Ziggy, pointing at his arm.

“No…” he laughed. “That’s my…uhhhh…I forget what that’s called!…”

“Your arm!” I whispered.

He also forgot the name of his toe. And the name of his chin. And when he and Ziggy started talking about Shep’s fidget spinner that he got at the dentist, things really went crazy. Ziggy called it a “finish spitter” and Shep laughed at him and said “ZIGGY!! It’s a SPINACH FINNER!!!”

Now tell me, how is a Kindergarten teacher supposed to keep a straight face as she navigates back and forth between two amnesiacs, one of whom is furry zebra puppet attached to her farm…I mean, her arm?

And that was just one little snippet of sweet hilarity from a day at homeschool that I pray I never forget.

“I loved pretend school…” Sheppy sighed when we were finished. “I wish I could do it forever.”

“That wasn’t pretend school, Shep,” I told him. “You are really in school now! And you do get to do it every day, for a long time!…”

“No,” he laughed, as if he were talking to Ziggy again. “It was pretend!”

“No, it really wasn’t,” I insisted. “It was really real.”

“No…” he laughed, absolutely positive that I was pulling his leg.

“It IS real!” I said, laughing in return and stopping down to cradle his face in my hands. “You just went to SCHOOL, Shep! You are really learning your letters and how to read! Like a big boy!”

“But I didn’t go anywhere,” he said.

“Because you are in homeschool, Buddy,” I explained. “Remember?…”

“OHHHH!!!!” he said. “Homeschool! I FORGOT!!! Because it starts with ‘home’!!!…”

Yes. It starts with home.

And home is exactly where I could stay, with this Kindergartner, at this table, for the rest of my life.

Ziggy is welcome to join us.

That Summer I Ate the New Testament – Part Two

In my last post, I shared a broad view of my experience reading the New Testament this summer.

Today, I want to share some specific nuggets I discovered along the way.

And if you want to know how determined I am to get this testimony out there before the next Bible Reading Challenge begins, I am typing up this post as our family of seven (+ my mom) drives home from a week at Branson wherein all of my sensories have been engaged to maximum capacity.

And now it’s drizzling outside, the kids are all quietly occupied in their seats in the car…this is prime nap opportunity, people.

I’m not asking you to thank me so much as I’m asking you to forgive me if the following sentencing is gobbledeegookish, and to be okay with quick, bulleted points instead of a flowing masterpiece of wordsmithery.

Okay, and maybe I’m asking you to thank me.

But just a little.

Let us begin with the nuggets:

  1. The Word of God is meant to be read.

My husband has been telling me this for years, but the knowledge is now mine to understand and share. The Word of God is meant to be read. Like a book. Because it is…a book. For most of us, our personal at-home experience with the Bible is a fortune cookie line here, a graphic design there, or the italicized heading at the top of the page from the latest devotional book we’re reading. In fact, it was shocking to me the first time my husband informed me that the best way a person could read the Bible is to actually sit down and read an entire book in one sitting. I’m sorry, WHAT? High standards, much? What am I, a PhD or somethin’??…

But as it turns out, the reason that seemed so outlandish to me is simply because I was not accustomed to using my Bible-reading muscles. Biblical language is different, and to be frank, a lot of us are just weenies about it. (I’d like to point out that, yes, yes I did just use the words “frank” and “weenie” in the same sentence. And here we thought my post would be gobbledygookish. If a lady can still make hot dog puns, her sensories must not be TOO overloaded…) Once, however, I submitted my heart to coming to this table of God’s Word, my love for it grew, my reading picked up speed, the phrases began to make more sense, and the language became so dear that, by the end of the summer, I was able to read Psalm 119 and actually identify with every word the psalmist spoke about the great riches found in God’s law.

And listen, by the last day of the Summer Reading Challenge, getting through four chapters of the Bible a day was easier than I ever dreamed it could be; it literally takes up such a tiny amount of my time that it is laughable how intimidated I was by it before.

I mean, get this! My husband was given a poster for his office for Christmas that has the word “Romans” emblazoned across it, and if you stand right next to it, you will see that the poster’s background is filled up with little words, and if you read those little words from start to finish, guess what you’ll have read? The entire book of Romans. It all fits on a POSTER. Surely we can read a poster, right? Unless we are what? Weenies.

  1. The Word of God is meant to be read…by you!

With the above in mind, I found that reading the Bible this way – in large sections at a time – is a unique experience with the Word than any I’ve had before. I mentioned in my last post that, if you had asked me before June if I loved the Bible, I would have said YES! Because I did! I loved to hear it read, I loved to hear it exposited, I loved reading it to my kids, and I believed it to be absolutely true and profitable and amazing and wonderful. But I was missing out on a truly beautiful experience by not reading it cover to cover at home. It’s different. You glean things, even from the most rudimentary reading, that you have never noticed before, and God just USES it. I have anecdotes coming out of my ears from this summer’s readings and how they were fleshed out in my daily life.

  1. The Word of God doesn’t need you to be worried about it.

You know those tiny little sections of the Bible that you are sometimes tempted to hide from others, as if they are that room in your house where you throw all the things when company is coming? Turns out, when you actually read the Bible, those things clear themselves up. Those last tiny issues I have secretly harbored toward the Bible were resolved when I read it with a humble heart. And what I understand now that I didn’t understand in May is that what might have embarrassed me before had less to do with the Word of God not being absolutely perfect and more to do with my own worldiness. I came across these words from John Piper this summer and they continue to pound in my heart:

“Getting ready to feast on all God’s word is not first an intellectual challenge; it is first a moral challenge. If you want to eat the solid food of the word, you must exercise your spiritual senses so as to develop a mind that discerns between good and evil (Hebrews 5:14). This is a moral challenge, not just intellectual.

The startling truth is that, if you stumble over understanding Melchizedek in Genesis and Hebrews, it may be because you watch questionable TV programs. If you stumble over the doctrine of election, it may be because you still use some shady business practices. If you stumble over the God-centered work of Christ on the cross, it may be because you love money and spend too much and give too little.

The pathway to maturity and to solid biblical food is not first becoming an intelligent person, but becoming an obedient person. What you do with alcohol and sex and money and leisure and food and computers, and the way you treat other people, has more to do with your capacity for solid food than where you go to school or what books you read.

This is so important because in our highly technological society we are prone to think that education — especially intellectual development — is the key to maturity. There are many Ph.D.’s who choke in their spiritual immaturity on the things of God. And there are many less-educated saints who are deeply mature and can feed with pleasure and profit on the deepest things of God’s word.”

So are there things in the Bible that don’t sit well with you? Are there sections of it that cause you to squirm because they seem a little archaic or outlandish? Don’t shy away from them. Dig in and read and read and read and the words won’t change, but you will. And your affections will grow Godward, and the “things of earth will grow strangely dim”, and the problems will resolve themselves in a blink.

  1. The Word of God is healing.

It is not God’s will for us to be anxious. It is not God’s will for us to harbor unbelief. It is not His will for us to be bitter. This summer, I found that my battles against these horrific foes became a thousand times more effective when I was eating the Word every day.

Not to be crude, but I was like a person who discovered for the first time how much better it is to flush the toilet several times a day instead of a couple of times a week.

Because that’s exactly what reading the Word does. By the power of the Holy Spirit, it flushes out the bad and replaces it with good, in the most Philippians 4:8 way possible.

Being a Bible-devouring person on Sunday is a great place to start, submitting to the leadership of your pastors and eating up every word they deliver to you and meditating on it all week long…but being a Bible-devouring person every day of the week will just shoot your spiritual life into a whole new category. Eat your own meals straight from the source and just see what God will do. I am a different person than I was at the beginning of the summer and I could tell you all the specific stories, but instead I’ll just tell you this: twice this summer, after very stressful moments, my husband commended me for handling the situation with maturity and good humor and wisdom. This is a big deal, my friends. The matriarch of the Gore family is growing less faint, and all God’s people said AMEN.

  1. The Word of God is a weapon.

Okay, I’ll tell you one story. Mr. Gore was recently in Africa for two weeks, and there was one moment when one of the children and I found ourselves going head-to-head over an issue. Emotions began to mount, and both of us were being selfish, and I missed my husband SO much, and in my past, I would probably have excused myself, had a good cry, prayed for wisdom, tried to think of a good verse to meditate on for my situation, and sat in a quiet room until I felt controlled enough to return and handle the situation. On this day, however…I did the same thing. Except I also took my Bible with me. Oh, and I didn’t cry. I just sat on the toilet lid, quickly read two chapters of the day’s reading, prayed, and walked calmly back into the living room. The child and I immediately reconciled and moved on with our day, no dramatics required. And what I realized in that moment was this: all of those times in my life when I had felt “overwhelmed”…”frazzled”…”frustrated”…”doubtful”…I had been using the wrong words. Turns out, maybe I was just “hungry”. And I needed to eat and fill up my mind with something more substantial than my own emotions.

When I feel faint in my physical life, the first thing I think is “I need a hamburger”. That simplicity has reached my spiritual life now, as well. “I’m hungry. I need to read.” It’s amazing how easy it is to rise up and do what you need to do when you have the Word to fuel you.

It really is a weapon, and I have found that “picking it up” can be more literal than I ever allowed it to be. Next time you’re on your way to your “panic room”, grab your Bible, pick up from where you left off, and read. Then go fight your battles.

  1. The Word of God is not picky.

We touched on this a little bit in the last post, but one of the most fruitful things I gleaned from the Bible Reading Challenge was a familiarity with God’s Word, one that enabled me to approach the Bible less like the leather-bound first edition that everyone in the family is afraid to touch and more like the paperback version of my favorite book that I have read over and over again.

What that means is that I learned to read it this summer, anywhere and everywhere. Sometimes I read all four chapters in one sitting in my favorite chair with coffee nearby. Sometimes I read one chapter sitting, one chapter standing, one chapter bathing, and one chapter drying my hair. Sometimes I listened to the chapters on audio while I cleaned the kitchen. Sometimes I read them out loud to the kids while they colored and made potholders. Sometimes I read them in the car while my husband was driving us to music class. And one night, I laid my Bible in the playpen next to my crying baby and read the last chapter while I patted his back until he fell asleep.

This book became MY book, my favorite book, and I am no longer under the misconception that the Bible demands a quiet room and a concrete forty minutes of solitude before it will allow me learn something. The Bible is not picky and it is not fussy, and found no trouble fitting in to our loud, messy, spirited household where the only thing on schedule is the baby’s hunger.

  1. The Word of God will be awesome enough for both of you.

I could go on and on for days, but the last thing I’d like to share before I sign off is to encourage you to do whatever it takes to make reading your Bible a habit. When I started off in June, I kept a very loose grip on this challenge and the only thing I brought to the table was a prayerful determination to read. I didn’t put any pressure on myself to get something amazing out of it, I didn’t choose a verse to meditate on, I didn’t choose any verses to memorize. In fact, I told one of my friends that I approached this entire challenge like one would approach a deer in the forest. I tiptoed. I didn’t make eye contact with myself. I didn’t make any noise at church or on Facebook about how important Bible reading was. I just read my chapters and allowed myself to learn to love it. And it was a beautiful and memorable summer. I brought very little to the table, and God and His amazing book worked wonders in my heart.

I pray the same for you, and that as our love and dependence on the Word grows, we will add more and more to the feast. Memorization, cross-referencing, the WORKS!

So what do you say? Join me tomorrow morning for this new challenge? Whatever-time-you-can sharp!!

~

Find the Bible Reading Challenge here.

Join the Facebook group here.

And read a GREAT new article by Rachel Jankovic at Desiring God here.

That Summer I Ate the New Testament

As I sit down to write this blog post, I feel a bit like a woman who has gone around the world in 80 days and now has 1000 words or less with which to describe the wonders she has seen. Is it possible?

Nay, friend.

But, like our brothers in the fourth chapter of Acts, I cannot help speaking about the things I have seen and heard.

I’ll do my best to keep it short. Medium-short. How about medium? Oh, who cares? This is going to be long.

So on June 4th, I opened up a book.

And through the encouragement of a thriving group of godly women in Idaho, I read a portion of that book every day this summer.

The book was the Bible, and the invitation from the Christ Church Ladies Fellowship was simple: we are reading through the New Testament this summer and we are following this daily plan. Join us. Oh! And by the way, don’t make this more difficult than it needs to be. And if you get behind, don’t stress out about catching up. Just jump in on the next day’s reading. “You aren’t behind if you are reading your Bible today…”

And, just like that, a woman who has struggled her entire Christian life to have “a daily quiet time” discovered that there really is gold in them thar pages.

There are a couple of reasons this “Summer Bible Reading Challenge” worked so well for me.

First, I think the Lord sovereignly bestowed this grace upon me at this specific time. I remember several years back, when my firstborn was probably a Kindergartener, I let out a sigh that caught his attention.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“I’m just frustrated,” I told him. “I’ve always wanted to read my Bible every day and I just wish I could do better.”

“Maybe God’s not ready for you to do that yet,” he said.

His statement struck me, not because it was perfectly right…God wants us to love and read His Word TODAY…but it wasn’t exactly wrong, either; there are certainly times in the Christian life when the growth we long for doesn’t come right away.

And so of course that does not take away any of my culpability for not being a woman who loved the Word so much that she picked it up every day.

But it DOES make it so that, when the desire finally did come to fruition this June, there was no one to credit but God and His goodness. Years of failure and shame to humble me, there is no doubt in my mind that, this summer, He “was ready” for me to make this stride, and He enabled me to do it. I am so grateful.

Secondly, and on the shoulders of this sovereignly-timed and Spirit-given bit of awakening, was the verbage surrounding the Bible Reading Challenge that was used by the Lord to break through those barriers that had tripped me up for decades.

The ringleader of the Bible Reading Challenge, Rachel Jankovic, worded it this way and, as she states in the first sentence, this was, indeed, the ‘real meat and potatoes of change’ for me:

“This is a super practical aspect to this challenge, and for many women where the real meat and potatoes of change happened. You are going to miss days, you might get substantially behind, and you will read your New Testament this summer like a real person with a real life and not an imaginary person in an imaginary life. We want to be learning to come faithfully to the Word in our normal lives! So take a minute to think about what might be an obstacle to you. You may need to try all kinds of different methods in your life to make this happen.

You might need to forget about mythical quiet times and learn to read in the middle of the kids playing. You might learn to listen whenever you clean the kitchen or drive in the car. You might need to take a minute to think about what it might really look like in your real life, and how you will prepare yourself and not be discouraged when you find yourself facing very real obstacles to your reading.

You probably won’t feel like it some days. You will probably think it is doing nothing for you some days. You will probably have headaches and be tired and be oh so normal. And this is the life that you need the Word of God in – not your imaginary perfect life, but this one, here, now.

The reality is that there are really only three things standing between you and consistent Bible reading. The world, the flesh, and the devil. The world will distract you, the flesh will be weak, and the devil will accuse. Be ready for all of those things! And remember that God is for us. He wants you in His Word! Rely on Him to resist all of the temptations we will all face – for it is certainly true that if God is for us, who then can be against us?

“Mythical quiet times”, yes, yes, and AMEN. When I was a young teen, the “daily quiet time” was presented to me, and I have had trouble keeping up since; but with the debunking of that myth in the above instruction, I received a freedom to approach the Word in a way that worked for me, and I quickly learned that Rachel was exactly right, and that many of us have made Bible-reading a thousand times more complicated than it needs to be.

We just need to eat.

The Word is a feast laid out for our nourishment and enjoyment, and so many of us are starving as we wait for the perfect opportunity to materialize by which we can calmly sit down, put a napkin in our lap, and slowly chew each morsel in a thoughtful and uninterrupted manner.

All of which is great and good…who wouldn’t love to have that moment?…but sometimes we need to get over the quiet time dream and mimic the actual lunch that we often have to consume as we are clearing the table, stuffing the peanut butter and jelly crusts into our mouth and eating the funky looking grapes that the kids left at the bottom of the colander.

Because that’s what hungry people do.

They eat.

Every day.

Sometimes on the go.

Sometimes snacking every hour.

Sometimes having that calm and uninterrupted sit-down.

But eating, day in and day out, as if this food is a life-source.

And here is what I found as I “ate”: once you submit yourself to actually reading the Bible as it was written and to stop thinking about what you are providing to the equation by way of quiet and highlighters and coffee and an uncluttered heart, soul, mind, and living room, you fall so stinking in love with the text that, all of a sudden, YOU NEED A HIGHLIGHTER.

In other words, I’ve realized that the cart was always in front of the horse for me, as I bore this heavy idea that I should sit down with brimming devotion to have an emotionally-charged and meaningful time with God every morning, even though, with so many little children in the house, there WAS no morning. And I could never get there, in a practical way, and I also could never get there in a spiritual way, because I never got around to picking up the Book with my own hands and reading it cover to cover.

Therefore, as it turns out, the really crucial step I needed to take all these years in coming to the Word of God was…well, coming to the Word of God.

And that’s when a whole new world opened up before me.

I recently came across these words in John Piper’s “21 Servants of Sovereign Joy”, and I thought they highlighted the point I’m trying to make perfectly. Referencing Augustine, Piper says, “Even his ability — and his hearers’ ability — to see the truth of Scripture was governed partially by the delight he took in what he found there. He would always tell his readers that they must ‘look into the Scriptures [with] the eyes of their heart on its heart.’ This means that one must look with love on what one only partially sees: ‘It is impossible to love what is entirely unknown, but when what is known, if even so little, is loved, this very capacity for love makes it better and more fully known.’ In other words, loving, or delighting in, what we know of God in Scripture will be the key that opens Scripture further.”

And that’s why I wanted to write this blog post today. I want to encourage you, fellow traveler.

Maybe you are just like me, a congregant who eats up every word of the sermon, who reads great articles by great theologians like they are candy, who “loves the Word”, who loves theology, who loves good, biblical doctrine…

but your relationship with the Bible, though reverent, though passionate, has always been from someone else’s feast. As the ladies in the Bible Challenge would describe it, you’ve been living on the “crumbs” from what another believer has been enjoying at the table of God’s Word.

Let that love that you already have, “if even so little”, entice you to pick up your Bible and, no matter what is going on in your crazy house full of little people or your schedule full of to-do’s, to read it.

Read it sitting. Read it standing. Read it aloud to your kids. Read a chapter while the coffee brews and one after lunch and one on the porch and one before bed. Read it with a fox. Read it in a box.

I promise you, just like John Piper said, this love of what you already know “of God in Scripture will be the key that opens Scripture further.”

And what wonders you will find once that key is turned!

Jeepers. I have so much more I want to say, and perhaps I will do so in a follow-up blog post, but I want to end this here so I can get to the really good news.

With the Summer Bible Challenge now concluded — that’s right! Mrs. Gore read THE ENTIRE NEW TESTAMENT THIS SUMMER LIKE A REAL CHRISTIAN LADY, WOOHOO!!! — the ladies of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, are about to kick-off a brand new Challenge, starting September 11th. And we are all invited!

September 2018. What a great month to become a person of the Word. And, trust me, that can happen overnight.

You can find everything you need to know (including beautiful printables!) here. 

You can join a super-encouraging FB group here.

And, if you want to hear the talk that really broke through my thick skull and set me on this path in the first place, listen to this interview that Rachel Jankovic did with Sheologians. It’s powerful and eye-opening and inspiring.

I promise I’ll try to get that follow-up post written, because I have so much to share from this summer. But, until then, if you’d like to hear dailyish stories and snippets about family and the Christian life, join me on Facebook! And let me know in the comments if you did the Summer Bible Reading Challenge and how it enriched your life – I’d love to hear from you!

An Evergreen Christmas (Part Two)

Hello, good reader! If you’ve just stumbled upon this page, you can find the first part of today’s story here. Once you’ve read that, you will then be allowed to proceed to the story below. Okay, so you can see the story below no matter what, but…just read part one. You’ll almost for sure not regret it.

~

I hadn’t given up on our evergreen tree painting, really.

I had just sort of shelved it, that’s all, hoping that someday…somehow…it would happen.

“Someday and somehow” can mean so many things, can it not?

In the worst case, it can mean NEVER.

In the not-great-but-not-the-worst case it can mean 80 years.

In the BEST case, it can mean exactly NOW.

(But that’s not really good for your character, is it?)

And then, in a really-g0od-I’ve-got-no-reason-to-complain case, it can mean…let’s see…approximately two or three months.

Which is, as I’m sure you’ve guessed already, just when my “someday and somehow” came along!

I was mindlessly scrolling through Instagram of a morning, when an illustration caught my eye.

It was actually the cover of a book that Story Warren was recommending, and though the book itself sounded pretty amazing, it was the artwork that stole my breath. Here it is, just so you’ll know I’m not being dramatic (this time)…

See what I mean?

Breathtaking!

I left a comment about it, and next thing I knew, S.D. Smith (the author of the Green Ember series and the founder of Story Warren) had sent me a message introducing me to Jamin Still, the artist behind the illustration.

By the way, this is just another reason you should be a subscriber to Story Warren; when they say that they are your “allies in imagination” and are on your side, they really mean it.

Anyhow, I immediately hopped over to Jamin’s Instagram page and, once a follower of his work, found myself repeatedly impressed by the magic he was able to bring to life with a paintbrush.

“If Tolkien or Lewis had used paints rather than words”…I thought, delighting in the vibrant and imaginative creations that filled up his Instagram feed.

And I cannot seem to recall what triggered it (pregnancy brain, much?), but I eventually saw something in Jamin’s work that caused the memory of Hosea to resurface, and with it, the painting my husband and I had hoped for.

It was a total lightbulb moment, and this bolt of hope shot through me…

but it was a hope that I quickly squelched.

Because there was no way, right?

Artists have their own stuff going on in their heads, right?

They’ve got things to do and people to see, right?

And you especially can’t just up and ask someone who has beautiful illustrations on the cover of a book to paint a TREE for you, right? Right???

Or…can you?

This is the internet, you know. Magical things happen!!!

With this in mind, not feeling SO very optimistic but determined to at least give it a try, I shot Jamin an email asking if he ever did custom paintings.

Imagine my surprise when he messaged me back, completely open to the idea!

And long story short (because this blog story hasn’t been long at ALL), we started discussing my husband’s journey with Hosea, and the probability that a painting of our favorite passage was actually something that could happen before Christmas 2017.

Turns out, it was very probable. 

In fact, the entire process came about with such ease and such success that I couldn’t help but feel that the Lord was directing this, and had been all along.

Does God only concern himself with the big things, like our health scares, or who we marry?

Is He confined to a pattern with which to declare His glory and power?

Is He limited in the ways He chooses to care for His children?

HA!! Excuse me while I quote my friend, Cher Horowitz.

Pity the Christian who believes that God is too big for the small stuff; in fact, I think He delights in the small stuff, even, by golly, over the paintings we have on our walls! And when we invite him into the minutiae of our lives, He is more than capable of displaying His glory in every single corner of our hearts and homes.

The most touching thing to me about this part of the process was that Jamin, once entrusted with this gift, took it upon himself to really understand the story we wanted to tell.

Stunning in his professionalism, he listened to my husband’s sermon, and with his tools, he brought it to life.

When he sent me a picture of the painting for my approval, tears burned my eyes.

There it was…

our evergreen tree.

And not just any evergreen tree, but one whose life flowed out rather than in. The greenness of the tree in the painting was extending, taking over the dry, cracked ground of the barren wilderness surrounding it, and, well, we KNOW that greenness very well, don’t we? Because it has spread and it has spread and it has spread until it has crossed oceans, finding us and redeeming us and making us green, too.

Us! The people who were NEVER green!

And this greenness will continue to spread until every tribe, tongue, and nation will know of its life-giving fame.

So the painting felt living to me, in a way. This was no inanimate gift that I had retrieved from the mailbox and had hiding in my closet. It was a story, throbbing from behind cardboard packaging with memories of a church changed by the Word and through the Spirit, with Christian brotherhood that reaches across miles and Instagram accounts, and with wild affection for a husband who loves the Scriptures more than life.

Ah! It’s no wonder that I had a hard time waiting to give my husband this gift! It was basically begging me to every time I walked by its hiding place between my boxes of boots in the closet!

But the wait was totally worth it.

For the most amazing thing happened on Christmas Eve.

Gathering our children around him before bed, he opened up the Bible to read to them one of his favorite Christmas passages, not from the book of Luke, but from the book of Isaiah, where God promises to judge the proud.

How exciting this decree of doom must have been to the Israelites. Finally, the Assyrians were going to GET it! God was going to destroy all their enemies!

But then, in what must have been a horrifying twist, those words of judgement swing right back around to the Israelites, themselves. Their own idolatry and pride had found them out, and a great purging was on their horizon: “Behold, the Lord God of hosts will lop the boughs with terrifying power; the great in height will be hewn down, and the lofty will be brought low. He will cut down the thickets of the forest with an axe, and Lebanon will fall by the Majestic One.”

Israel’s deserved future was a landscape of stumps, dead, lifeless, and hopeless. 

Sounds like someone we know, doesn’t it?

(cough, cough, GOMER)

“But wait…” my husband told the kids. “There is good news!”

He then took them to the next chapter of Isaiah, where the story takes a truly amazing turn: from one of those dead old stumps, “the stump of Jesse”, to be exact, a shoot was going to spring forth! And this tree…this tree that was dead…this tree that was a STUMP…it would bear fruit.

What a beautiful prelude to the Christmas story!

And what a beautiful way to start our own Christmas that evening; if you find it striking that my husband was talking about TREES two hours before I was going to give him our TREE PAINTING, you are not alone.

I was struck.

But wait, it gets better. For he then proceeded to sum it all up with these exact words to our family…

 “And the tree that grows forth from that stump? It’s going to be EVERGREEN! For a people like us who are never green…Jesus, the promised Savior, will be evergreen

My friends, I was just quietly sitting across the room from him with our baby asleep on my lap, and I was thinking that I might could just die on the spot.

Is this really happening?” I thought.

I mean, it had been such a long time since he had mentioned that tree!

And now with the painting in the box under the wrapping paper right there next to us he’s basically quoting his sermon from Hosea?

Coincidence??

NUH-UH, DUDE.

And so the belated Christmas gift that I want to send your way this January morning is a testimony from a pastor’s wife in Oklahoma who has done more faith wrestling than she cares to admit: God is real.

And this God who is real declares His glory in millions of ways in millions of homes every single day, and the testimonies of His work could stack up and reach the sky where His glory is already declared ‘round the clock.

Was this painting really a gift for my husband, then?

Or was it a gift for me?

Funny how that all gets blurry sometimes.

Our Christmas Eve devotional concluded and, sending the children off to bed, we began getting the house and presents ready for the next morning. And as we worked, my heart was thumping in anticipation, along with a fair amount of trepidation.

I thought the painting was perfect, but what if it didn’t translate to my husband? What if he had wanted something different? What if he didn’t know what it was?

But when the time finally came and we were sitting by the light of the Christmas tree and he tore off the wrapping paper and he pulled out that small but mighty painting, his eyes landed on the tree, and he looked immediately over at me in speechless wonder…

“This is Hosea…” he whispered.

If I had worried before that the gift wouldn’t be as special to him as I hoped, I’d wasted my time, and if I had wondered at all whether this gift truly was Spirit-led or not, I’d been wondering in vain. Our living room, so often a scene of disorder and Cheerios and video games, had turned sacred all of a sudden, and the man that I love held the painting that we’d wanted and he stared at it, shaking his head in amazement.

I don’t have any compunction at ALL saying out loud that God wanted us to have this painting.

He wanted this tree to be on our wall.

And I don’t know how He will use it or how it will impact our family, but I do know without a doubt that one of the best things that happened to me this Christmas was seeing first-hand YET AGAIN, in this world full of sin and suffering that can reduce faith to a flicker, that God is near.

That He cares.

That He writes our desires and hears our prayers for them, even the smallest ones about paintings of trees that make us think of Him.

Ah, He truly is evergreen.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget that now.

But if I do…

~

I can’t thank you enough for sticking around to hear my Christmas story! I thank God for you. And I also thank God for the brothers He used in this story. If you’d like to see more of Jamin’s work (which is truly incredible – I already have my eye on another painting for my eldest’s upcoming birthday!), follow him on Instagram and then be sure to check out his website. You’ll get lost there, in a good way. And if you’d like to find an amazing new resource for your family, look no further than Story Warren (and follow them on Facebook and Instagram, too!). I could write a completely different two-part blog post about the ways they have impacted our family, but I guess I’ll have to save that for another day. Lastly, if you’ve not read the Green Ember series by S.D. Smith, you are missing out! Find them at Amazon here (affiliated link), and keep up with Sam and his family on Facebook and Instagram; they are sure to bless you! 

An Evergreen Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas…

and all I could think about was the gift I had waiting for him under the tree.

It had been in my possession for months, and I’d almost cheated and given it to him on a couple of those occasions when, as a doting wife, my sentiments were especially high.

But we had somehow arrived at Christmas with the intended surprise still intact, and I was so glad that I’d mustered up the self-control to wait. Our own gift exchange was tentatively scheduled for midnight, after the kids were asleep and the Christmas morning preparations were completed, and as the time drew nearer, my antsiness grew, this long-awaited surprise bubbling up inside of me like the coffee in my percolator.

And when I say “long-awaited”, I really mean it. The story of this gift actually began the previous year, in the summer of 2016…

and, well, you know the drill around here. I’m going to need to tell you the whole story.

It’s what I DO.

(And you are so sweet about listening!)

So my husband is an expository preacher, and the choosing of a book to preach through is quite a big deal to him; once he begins expositing a new book, he’s more or less committed to finishing it so that our congregation can understand the entirety of the message as it was written, in context.

We’ve been through the Psalms together…almost all of them!…we’ve been through Habakkuk, we’ve been through John, we’ve been through 1st and 2nd Corinthians…

and after much prayer and discussion with our other pastor, he had settled on our next book, which just so happened to be one of his favorite books, the book of Hosea.

After the practicality of Corinthians, rife with applicable instruction for how to live and how to treat one another, the book of Hosea was quite a departure. Hosea is a heavy book. It’s a grave book. But he insisted from the get-go that it is one of the most beautiful books in the Bible, and our congregation soon found this to be true. As we labored through the pages of that ancient text, studying the story of the prophet Hosea and his unfaithful wife, Gomer, our understanding quickly grew of the gravity of our sin and the depravity that we would choose to live in were it not for the astounding grace of God.

For we all know it, don’t we? Without His keeping, “Gomer” we would most certainly be, not just prone to wander and leave the God we love, but prone to happily return to the filth and vomit from which we were rescued.

It’s sickening and sobering and sad.

But wait!…

then you get to the REALLY GOOD news.

After months and months and months of highlighting the despicable whoredom of the Israelites and the much-deserved consequences they were facing for their sin, we finally reached the beautiful and shocking climax of the book found in chapter 14, made all the more beautiful and shocking by all that time we’d spent walking through the gutter.

Rather than trying to explain this climax in my own words, I’m just going to pop over to my husband’s podcast, if you don’t mind, and type out the final words he shared with us from the pulpit that day:

“…And I love how (Hosea) ends.

‘I am like a evergreen cypress, from me comes your fruit.’

Listen, if there’s a section in Hosea that you can memorize to know what Hosea is about, it would be Hosea 2:14-23.

But if there was a verse to remember what Hosea teaches us about God in Hosea, it would be this one — ‘I am like an evergreen cypress, from me comes your fruit.’

God has remained ever faithful, ever green, to a people who have been faithless over and over.

He has been evergreen to a people that have been never green.

And what does this evergreen provide?

From me comes your fruit.’

Israel fell when they forgot where their fruit came from…but not anymore. They will know that from God alone comes their fruit.

So look again at the picture of what God is going to do as he fulfills what he said in Hosea 2: Israel is going to sit in a wasteland, sit in a desert, and yet, in the midst of that wilderness there will stand one tree, and it will still be green.

Imagine how shocking that would be…how stark…to be in a desert and find a tree, and not just any tree, but to find, like, a pine tree!…to find a tree that is always green! It’s like something out of the Chronicles of Narnia here! And what is even more shocking isn’t that this tree is green so that it survives. What’s shocking is that it is a tree that is so flourishing in the midst of the desert that it doesn’t just survive…it provides. ‘I am a tree that is evergreen and a tree that can still give you fruit.’

God is not just an evergreen tree, he is an evergreen tree for us.

And again, I can’t help but see how this would point us to Christ.

Our life is like that of Hosea 13 and 14: The weight of our sin dragging us to death, the wrath of God looming over us. Our lives are JUST like that desert…hopeless…empty…and in the desert of this world, what hope would a bunch of sinners like us have?

But in the midst of our desert, we hear this whisper.

Repent.

Return.

Return to me.

And when we lift up our eyes to that whisper, in the midst of our desert, we see there, on a hill shaped like a skull, such a tree.

A tree that will ever be green, a tree that is alive and that will give us life.

~

Yes!! Did you hear that, Gomers of the world? There is hope for you yet! There is hope for us.

Our church rejoiced that Sunday as we contemplated this incredible grace that would bring miraculous, undeserved LIFE to a people who had nothing but the shame they had heaped upon their own heads.

And our pastor…my husband…rejoiced alongside us.

He’d spent so many hours that year pouring over the words of Hosea, researching them, praying over them, and asking God to help him clearly exposite the text, and as he worked, that good news of the cypress tree rooted itself deeper into his heart than ever before; this beautiful portrait of God had reached him, and it had changed him, just like it was changing our church body.

In fact, it was all so very impactful that, somehow, both of us came to a rather surprising conclusion that day.

We needed a painting of this tree.

Which is sort of weird, right? I mean, we’ve heard a lot of touching sermons in our day, and never once have we both decided that we needed a painting of said sermon.

And yet that’s exactly what happened after this finale of Hosea.

“I’d like to have a painting done of that tree,” he mentioned out of the blue. “An evergreen tree that would be common to our area like the cypress tree was to those hearing Hosea’s message…”

“I’ve been thinking this exact same thing!” I gasped.

We looked at each other in a “curiouser and curiouser” sort of way, and then, probably because we live in a lively house where grown-up conversations are interrupted before they can even really get started, we didn’t speak of it again.

I didn’t forget it, though.

Occasionally, I would search through the seemingly endless annals of Etsy, looking for an artist or a graphic designer, even, who could bring this passage to life for us.

But it was a totally overwhelming quest. I didn’t even know where to start, really!

That’s perfectly okay, though, because I learned something important this year…

the God who creates artists (and we know He does that from the book of Exodus) is more than able to help you find the one you need.

~

Oh golly, I love Christmas surprises, don’t you? Thank you for reading today, and please come back tomorrow to hear the conclusion of this special story. Did we find an artist? Did we get a painting of that cypress tree? Will I show it to you??? Stay tuned…

 

(and until then, you can always find us at Facebook where I tell most of our stories!)

 

 

 

Kids and Pets and The Day Zac Died

I have a special Christmas post just about finished and ready to publish, but first I had to share this conclusion to a post I started writing in…oh my…October. What can I say? I’ve been busy cooking up a baby. If you need a refresher to Part One , click here.

~

I woke up one morning a couple of weeks ago to the sound of a normally chipper (albeit hungry) household in the throes of a great and raucous mourning.

And it was a mourning that seemed to be spreading with each pitter and each patter of newly awakened feet upon the staircase.

There was weeping.

There was wailing!!

And all of it was gradually mounting in both participation and volume.

It was like Jairus’s daughter all OVER again.

My husband opened up our bedroom door and sat gently on the bed beside me, a chagrined look upon his face.

“Well…” he said, “I want to preface this by first saying I am NOT talking about our friend, Zac, but the FISH, Zac…Zac died.

That husband of mine is a smart man, knowing instinctively that waking up his addle-brained, sleeps-like-the-dead wife with the words “Zac died” would probably send me into a true conniption.

“Oh no…” I croaked, tuning my ear to take in the specific words and lamentations of each of the children who were wailing in the next set of rooms.

I heard things like “Nooo!!!!” and “Why?!?” and “HE WAS THE BEST FISH EVER!!!!!”

Okay, so let me tell you a little something about the Gore children.

Someone…I don’t know who, but someone very morbid and sentimental…might have inordinately passed down a wee little character trait to each of the children in this house that manifests itself quite glowingly on days like this.

And really, I don’t know if I…er, that person…really passed it down to ALL of the children or just to the FIRST child, who then commenced to influence the siblings who have followed behind said first child.

But regardless of  who, what, or how, the Gore children are just insanely loyal to…

well, to pretty much everything.

For instance, to our house (we can never move). To the nursery upstairs (we can never insert a wall up there to divide it into its two intended rooms, never). To the tiny and completely unfunctioning and unused back porch that we will probably cover over when we build on our schoolroom (they sat on it and cried when they heard this news. “This is our favorite part of the entire house!!!” they bawled). To our former minivans (“If the van is going, I’m going with it! I’ll LIVE in it!” one of our more dramatic children wept). To old toys. To broken dishes. To drawings or crafts of any kind. To paper airplanes. To socks. To taco shells. To Frosted Mini-Wheats that are stuck together in interesting ways. To tiny blueberries. To “lucky sausages”. That’s right. I said lucky sausages.

TO EVERYTHING.

And, most recently, to our new goldfish.

The goldfish that was now floating, dead, in a big jar of water in the kitchen.

God, be near.

“What happened to him??” I asked my husband.

“I told the kids that he died of old age,” he replied. “I mean, that stinking fish lived for two weeks! Who would have guessed that?…”

That much was true. We never thought he would survive the trip home from the fair.

But then he leaned in conspiratorially.

“But if I was really going to name what happened…”

I looked at him, wide-eyed.

“…I think it might have been Chloe.”

Oh.

You mean this cat?

Yeah, that might have had something to do with it.

“I think she tortured him all night and he had a heart attack,” he whispered.

“Oh my…” I replied in matched tones.

What a dismal day at Gore House.

I put on my glasses, waddled to the bathroom, and joined my grieving family as quickly as I could. They initially fell into me, those sobbing children, longing for comfort, but in my arms they simply could not stay; they needed to pace, bless their little hearts, to put motion to their grief, and though it might seem silly to big persons to see these sorts of theatrics…

well, it’s not totally theatrics, is it?

It’s also true sadness.

A first taste of loss.

A slap-in-the-face reminder that death is real and that it takes something precious away from us.

There was a part of me that wanted to laugh at the entire scene…

this stupid goldfish from the stupid fair!!

But there was also a part of me that understood and that empathized and that throbbed a little at what my little ones were experiencing.

Which leads me to a real topic that I want to discuss today.

I would not consider myself a real animal-loving person, and each of our pets house specific characteristics that absolutely DRIVE ME CRAZY…

but it’s a headache that I have come to believe is completely worthwhile.

Animals and children go together quite well, don’t they? I mean, we have a bottle of “Kids and Pets” stain and odor remover in our laundry room. Because “kids” and “pets” are, without contest, a darling duo.

They’re messy. They’re stinky, without intervention. They are full of energy and playfulness and, in most cases, unconditional love. And, oh yes, we cannot forget their LOYALTY.

Our pets have taught our children, right here in the safety of our home, to look out for the little guy (or the Basset Hound who gets her head stuck in the picket fence). To rescue the perishing (or the tiny and starving kitten hiding out in the neighbor’s engine). To protect the weak (or the bunnies who need extra hay in winter and frozen water bottles in summer). To reward the good deeds of the deserving (or the Golden Retriever who learns and listens to commands).

And, obviously, they’ve taught them to love, till death do them part.

Our kids LOVE their animals. They dote upon them like a mother dotes upon her children. They want to take pictures of them anytime they’re doing something cute or funny. They call themselves “Chloe’s Mama” or “Grace’s Mama” or “Jake’s Papa” (consequently, I am “Chloe’s Grandmother” and Sheppy is “Chloe’s Uncle” and so on and so forth). They rush to see them the minute we walk through the door after being out, even for a short amount of time.

And you know what?

Love that big and pure comes at a cost.

For when it is lost, we feel lost.

And so I didn’t laugh at my kids during Zac’s toilet funeral, and I didn’t tell them to toughen up, even as I secretly rejoiced that we could get that giant fish bowl out of our too-small-for-giant-fish-bowls kitchen.

Which was stupid of me.

I should have known that my “loyal” kids would find a way to keep Zac’s memory alive.

You see, minutes after the conclusions of his funeral, grief still fresh, they replaced him with a plastic goldfish we had in the toy bin.

So now Zac can be with us, in our kitchen, FOREVER.

And ever.

And ever.

Yay for pets…

~

Thank you so much for reading today! If you’d like to hear our stories on an almost-daily basis, follow along on Facebook. And for more photos of plastic fish and childhood antics, join us on Instagram! Now, really, stay tuned for a Christmas story that has my heart all aglow. Coming up, this week!! (and I mean it this time…I think.)

 

A Veritable Smorgasbord (or the time the Gore Family went to the fair)

My mom asked me a couple of weeks ago if I’m ready for the baby to get here.

“I am…” I said, instinctively placing my hand to my belly.

“Has it really even sunk in yet?” she asked, guessing the direction of my thoughts.

“It HASN’T!” I exclaimed, glad to know she understood. I went on to explain to her how numb and dumb I have felt this entire year. “It’s like nothing in sinking in anymore,” I said. “And I don’t just mean the baby. I mean NOTHING. And it all feels so funny, like I’ve found myself in a story and I’m just watching it all happen with no real comprehension of what’s going on…”

And I have the perfect example to help display what I’m talking about.

We went to the fair the other day.

All of us.

My mom.

My dad.

My husband.

Our four kids.

Our wagon and our trusty insulated food hamper.

And, most notably, ME.

At the time, almost 8 months pregnant.

Going to the FAIR.

Did you know that, with my heightened senses and a proneness to anxiety attacks, I have been mostly avoiding crowded places during this pregnancy? And I’ve tried to not put myself in situations where there is a lot of speed and a lot of traffic? And I’ve tried to stay away from venues that are very, very noisy?

Until the day we decided to go to the FAIR.

During rush hour.

In the middle of downtown Tulsa.

With all the people and all the animals and all the noise IN Tulsa.

In all honesty, I only said ‘yes’, at all, because my dad is the one who first brought it up. Even more of a homebody than I am, it is a rarity for him to want to go anywhere besides church or work or the farm; however, about once a decade, he has this inexplicable itch to go to the fair…of all places!…and though the “why” is beyond us, we wouldn’t miss going with him for anything.

For when he is at the fair, the man transforms into a totally different person. Mr. Hates Crowds, Mr. Hates Loud Restaurants, Mr. Grumbles at the Prices and Just Wants to Go Back Home and Eat my Mom’s Good Cookin’ turns into this dollar-dropping, fun-having, food-tasting phenomenon that just cracks. us. up.

What’s that? Chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick? Let’s try it! Who wants a footlong corndog? Here, have two! The FERRIS WHEEL?? I’ve got to get in on that action, pronto!

It’s like landing in some sort of bizarro land, and when Mr. Gore and I accompanied him…seriously, almost a decade ago!…with our little firstborn in tow and watched in shock as he morphed into this fair-loving eccentric, we knew we’d stumbled upon something truly remarkable, something that should be observed and remembered and nurtured.

So, yeah, there really was no question about going or not.

I mean, who CARES if I’m starting to waddle and I have to take bathroom breaks every fifteen minutes? My dad’s going to the FAIR and I need to be there to watch him eat cotton candy like it’s his last day on earth!!!!

And then there’s my mom, who loves to go to places other than church or the farm, and is always up for a trip to well…anywhere! The more noise, the more people to watch, the more excitement, the more music, the better!

I wanted to go to the fair with her, too!

And then, of course, there’s that thing I already told you about where things just aren’t sinking in quite so much. I’m numb. I’m dumb. I have absolutely lost control of all the thinking and the reasoning and the logic-ing, not that I ever had much of any of those to begin with.

So, yes, from all possible sides, my reaction was just…

Sure thing! Let’s go to the fair! Thumbs UP!

Mostly because I HAVE NO IDEA WHERE I AM, ANYWAY.

WHY, by the way, is my belly so big??

Where did all my normal pants go?…

Why am I going to the doctor every month and peeing in a cup?

WHAT is HAPPENING, you guys?!?!

I don’t even KNOW.

Anyhow, our kids were 100% super duper excited about this news.

Still at a young enough age where things are awesomely fresh and new, they’re mostly unspoiled about outings, and our house was completely abuzz for days leading up to our fair trip.

And I have to admit, I was a tiny bit abuzz, too. This is what happens when you’re a mom…even if something is out of your wheelhouse, even if you would rather stay home and watch British crime dramas, even if you could think of a hundred things you’d personally rather do than go to the fair…you’re happy. Because they’re happy.

Well, Fair Day arrived before we knew it, and to make the trip extra fun and memorable, we decided we should all ride together in the minivan. It felt like a real slice of Americana, loading up with all my kids and my husband and my parents to drive to the big city and see all the latest inventions from big cities like Chicag-y and Kansas City and Paree. I couldn’t WAIT to taste all the homemade pies and pickles and take a picture with a real bearded lady!

(Or…something like that…)

But it was about twenty minutes into our drive when something deep inside of me started shaking its head most vehemently about this whole adventure and saying “no…no…no…this is not a good idea…go HOME, Mrs. Gore. Go home to your chair! Go home to your silence! Go home to your air conditioning!”

But…then again…there were all those smiling faces in the seats behind me…I could see them in the rearview mirror looking like a smiling scene out of “Meet Me in St. Louis”!…and we’d already packed the kids’ sandwiches and insulated water bottles…

it was really “Fair or Bust” by this point.

And so I did what is totally normal and acceptable and run-of-the-mill in our car these days, I put my fingers in my ears, slumped down in my seat, and squeezed my eyes shut so I could pretend like we weren’t on a busy highway with a bunch of insane city people who were either desperate to get home after a long work day or were, like us, desperate to get to the fair. So they could trample us in line and shock us with their immodesty and make us remember why we only leave our house for places like Silver Dollar City and Colonial Williamsburg.

Do I sound grumpy? I do, don’t I? I’m sorry. The fair will do that to ya when you’re almost eight months pregnant.

But THEN, my friends, we saw it…

The World’s Exposition.

Or, as most folks call it, the Tulsa State Fair.

Wow. There IS something kind of magical about it, is there not? That giant ferris wheel…the carnival music…the smell of a thousand unhealthy foods??

I couldn’t help myself. I started grinning like the rest of them.

And then we got out of our van.

What’s that noise?!” our four-year old whimpered from his wagon, his hands over his ears as he took in the distant screams of fair-goers on carnival rides.

“That’s the sound of people dying, Shep,” his big brother soberly replied.

Ah, I do so love taking my little morbid family to town.

Now, before we really get started with the night’s activities, I have to show you the man who squired us about during our evening at the fair.

Mr. Gore bought this shirt especially FOR the fair a few years ago when he was going to attend with friends, and he wears it to most ‘Merica-type gatherings. We are a patriotic family, no doubt, but this was a tongue-in-cheek purchase what with the George Washington and the gun and the eagle with laser eyes and the fire and the whatnot. It’s just a true spectacle. That doesn’t mean, however, that he doesn’t receive loads of compliments on it…

especially when he wears it to the fair.

I have no words.

For our first stop of the evening, we went straight to the animal birthing center.

Of all the things we saw and did, I think this attraction was the most amazing. There was this long row of animals who had either given birth since the fair began, or who were “due” any minute. Our kids loved seeing the fresh-out-of-the-oven farm babies with their mamas, and I used the opportunity to share lots of commiserating glances with the poor dears who were still waiting for their labor and delivery to happen, while also thanking God that I wasn’t in a pen at the fair for educational research. How embarrassing.

But look at these cute babies!!

After getting our fill of farm life and petting zoos, we exited that building and starting immediately scoping out the food.

Want to see my dad in action?

The signs boasted popcorn, cotton candy, and chocolate-covered cheesecake-on-a-stick, and we had all three of them. And this was only the first stop in what would be dozens. I realized in this moment how fortuitous it truly is to bring a big group of people to the fair, because you really can try everything, and everyone can get a taste or two of the goodness.

Shep decided right off the bat that he really likes the fair. Almost as much as Granddaddy.

This girl liked it, too.

And look at these two being darling.

Oh! Here goes Dad again…

Foot long corndogs for everybody!

And indulge me for a sec while I share a great picture of my parents. I love these two. I’ve told my mom that they both look so eternally young that it has tricked me into thinking they’re still in their fifties and that, when they die of old age, I will be totally shocked. “What happened???” I’ll ask, assuming it was a terrible tragedy. “They were 99 years old, dear,” the doctor will tell me.

And this is when things got serious.

Introducing the bacon bomb burger, this year’s #1 new food at the Tulsa State Fair.

It was good.

It was really, really good.

We all liked that burger.

See? It made us happy.

We also all shared some fries, since we were sitting there with nothin’ else to do.

And a $6 Coca-Cola with $3 refills.

The fair is evil.

So after getting our tummies a little bit full (HA!), we moved on to the things the kids had been asking about since we pulled into the parking lot.

Shep was dead-set on doing this “jumping thing”.

Seven dollars.

Evil.

But he got a ten-cent medal from Oriental Trading Company for participating, so that’s good.

Next up…

THE FERRIS WHEEL!!!!

How beautiful.

But also HOW TERRIFYING!!

Let me ask you fair fans a question about fair rides…

ARE YOU INSANE?!?!

I spent most of our time in this section of the fair ducking, flinching, and feeling responsible for the lives of all you crazies who were loading up into sky-high instruments of death that had just been set up yesterday.

These feelings only intensified when my most precious loved ones were in a creaking metal basket at the top of that monstrosity of a ferris wheel.

It was at this point in our fair excursion that I felt most inclined to have one of those anxiety attacks. The walls…even though there WERE no walls…started closing in on me and the noises got noisier and the people were bumping into my pregnancy girth and the ferris wheel started growing taller and taller in my imagination and…I just had to get out of dodge.

Retreating quickly to a picnic table far away from the rides, I took deep breaths and looked down at the concrete while telling myself that my dad and my husband and my two eldest children and my dearest, darlingest four-year old were not about to crash to their untimely deaths on the concrete floor of the Tulsa State Fair.

Gulp.

But they were so high up in the air!!!

OH the horror!!!

Thankfully, I had one child too afraid to ride this ride.

At least I’d still have her.

Two nice ladies had asked if they could give her this blue dog thing that they had won and didn’t want, and, being so distracted and sickened by the ferris wheel, I said “Sure!”, not even giving myself time to worry if it had drugs or needles in it.

That stuffed animal was the highlight of her night!

And THAT, my friends, is why you shouldn’t ride ferris wheels.

You get free stuffed animals, and you get to live.

By the way, my mom had also chosen survival over the ferris wheel, and that brought me another bit of comfort.

Once the funerals were over, the three of us would move to Nantucket and start a new life. Nantucket probably doesn’t have fairs, and if they do, their rides probably wouldn’t break because Martha Stewart would have designed them, so…we’d be safe there. And maybe eventually happy.

Ahhh!! Look! They’re all waving at me! And they’re close to the ground again! PHEW!!

Maybe my life as I knew it could go on, after all.

And here they are! The brave (reckless) five!

I asked my firstborn (usually a landlubber, himself) how he liked it, and this was his response.

That last picture means “not a thumbs down, totally, but NOT a thumbs up.”

I’m glad at least one of that group had some sense!

And now comes my very favorite memory from our night at the fair.

While my husband rode the merry-go-round with the little ones (this was little sister’s much safer ride of choice)…

my mom said “Hey, why don’t you let me take the big kids walking around for just a little bit so they don’t have to stand here and wait?”

“That would be great!” I said, thankful they’d have a diversion.

And the next thing I heard, slicing through the thousands of fair sounds that were surrounding us, were the familiar happy shrieks of my eldest daughter when she is about-to-lose-her-mind excited.

I wheeled around in curiosity and…

this is what I saw.

I stared at my mom in disbelief.

“How did?…What did you?…Who dee what?…IS THAT A GOLDFISH???”

She flashed her most endearing shrug/smile combo and had to stop right there to put her hands on her knees and start helplessly laughing.

“I never thought she’d WIN!” she explained. “Her ping pong ball just went straight into the first cup!”

I stared at this fishy new family member, wreathed all around by the smiles and exclamations of our oldest kids, and I just tried to imagine how my husband would react to this…er…turn of events. With our two bunnies, our two dogs, and our rescue cat under his delegation, I couldn’t imagine him being thrilled to add another animal to the line-up.

Yeah, I was right.

He was initially not the happiest, and the kids knew it.

I feel like the events and emotions summed up in the following photo are a true rite of passage in the life of an American family…

“Of ALL the games?…” he laughed to my mom, “with ALL the prizes you could win…you picked the GOLDFISH game??”

She shrugged/smiled/laughed again in response.

“But it’s really okay, Papa!” our eldest daughter assured him, “the man said we could buy a bowl for him right here, and it’s only $12!!!”

The fair.

It’s EVIL!

“That fish isn’t even going to survive the drive HOME!” Mr. Gore informed our children.

But then…

being the major softy that he is…

and seeing the dejected looks on our children’s faces…

he quickly changed his tune…

and said, “You know what guys? It’ll be fine! We’ll make it work. This will be FUN! WE WON A GOLDFISH!!!!”

And just like that, the fair was a magical place once more.

A goldfish. You just never know what a day is going to bring, do you? After this most amazing and chortle-worthy experience, we took in a few more attractions…

enjoyed one more “ride”…

and did one last round of fooding.

You’ve got yer Dip n Dots…

You’ve got yer funnel cake parfaits…

You’ve got your…succotash?!…(Weird, right? But actually my favorite food of the night!)…

And then you’ve got ONE more corndog, for everyone to share…

and then…

the GRAND finale…

you’ve got yer deep-fried bacon-wrapped pecan pie.

Yeah.

I feel the same way as my daughter there.

Not because it wasn’t delicious…it was!…but because I’M FULL!!!

My stomach’s full of food, my feet are full of walkin’, my ears are full of noises, my senses are full of total overload, my heart is full of family and fair and fun, and, yes, my fish tank is very full of a FISH.

A goldfish.

The kids named him Zac after our other pastor.

Would you BELIEVE that crazy fish has lived for a full two weeks?

Well, it WAS living…

More on that soon. Stay tuned!

The Rescue Cat that Rescued Us (from getting a Dog) – Part Two

Continued from Part One

~

It was just a random weekday.

I doubt I had any plans for even our meals that day, let alone rescuing someone.

But that’s the thing about rescues.

They’re not really planned.

It’s just that someone needs saving and…whatdoyaknow?…you’re nearby.

Early that afternoon, our neighbor shared a photo on Facebook of the tiniest kitten that had stumbled its way onto her back porch. “Anyone know whose kitten this is?” she asked. It was starving and scared and, since she is very allergic to cats, she was hoping to find its home quickly or get it to a place where someone could care for it without sneezing all the way to their death.

Seeing that tiny little furball on my screen, I dashed out of my chair like a lunatic, thinking…

what?

What WAS I thinking?

I don’t even know.

It was something like…

“KITTEN!!!”

Looking back, it’s like the 6-year old girl in me took over, even though, if you had me in an interrogating room with a lie-detector test today, it would probably come out that I don’t reallllly like cats.

That 6-year old girl in me, however?

KITTENS!!!

She loves them.

And so, if you’ll remember, does my 6-year old daughter.

And speaking of her, I immediately called out her name…again, I don’t know WHY…with a mixture of panic and excitement in my voice.

“Get your shoes on!!” I urged her.

“Why?” she asked.

“I just need you!!” I said. “Hurry!!!!

Frantically throwing shoes on our feet, we dashed onto the front porch where my husband was visiting with a friend. Leaning down to where he was sitting in the rocking chair, I murmured something in his ear, explaining where we were going and why.

Do you know what I said?

I said “KITTEN!!!”

I just wanted to see it, really. To let my kitten-loving daughter see it. We’d just look at it and maybe…well, there was no maybe, because there was no PLAN. We were just going, blindingly, toward KITTEN.

My husband seemed to interpret my thoughts…he’s really good at that…and gave me to the go-ahead to see what we could do to help. At the very least, we could bring the little baby over to our non-cat-allergic house and take care of it until its owner could be found.

We were quickly met with a big problem, though.

When our neighbor went out onto the back porch with us to show us the kitten…

the kitten was no longer there.

“KITTEN!” I inwardly yelled. “Where are you??”

“I can’t believe this,” she said. “It’s been meowing back here since 6:00 this morning! I mean, it was just here! But it was extremely skittish, it might be hiding somewhere…”

We started snooping around the porch and backyard, but to no avail.

“Kitten” was GONE.

My girl and I shrugged in disappointment and had just picked up the turtle we found on our way over to head back home (did I forget to mention a turtle? We also brought home a turtle that day…) when our neighbor, miracle of miracles, spotted a flash of fur in one of their ricks of wood.

Putting the turtle back down, the three of us surrounded the wood pile, trying to coax the kitten to come out.

And our brave friend was just sticking her hand into the wood pile to snatch it when her husband yelled at us from the garage across the yard, “Hey!!! The cat’s over here!!!”

We all slowly looked at each other with wide eyes.

We STILL don’t know what sort of animal she was about to drag out of the woodpile, but we don’t really care to know!

Leaving that mystery critter behind, we high-tailed it to the garage only to discover that the kitten was…oh the drama and excitement!!…in the hood of their car!!

Now we were in a real predicament.

I had to call in the troops.

I waved down my husband and his friend, and soon, our entire family was over there. Have you ever been surrounded by five adults and four children who are about to save a kitten? It is VERY exciting. And also very loud, what with all the ideas and opinions about how to save the kitten and “can we keep the kitten??” and so on and so forth.

Carefully, so as not to frighten the skittish kitten away, the menfolk opened the hood of the SUV, and there she was. The most frightened little kitten you ever did see.

SO frightened, in fact, that when my husband tried to slowly reach for her, she lunged deeper into the engine.

But quick as a whip, our visiting friend caught her by one paw.

The surrounding congregation broke out into cheers! We had a foot!

He dragged her gently out, and soon she was clawing onto his hand like…

well, like a scaredy-cat.

The rest, my friends, is a TOTAL blur.

I don’t know how…

I don’t know when…

I don’t know WHY…

I don’t know what was said and who agreed to what…

but by nightfall…

this was pretty much OUR cat.

Well, HER cat.

Said cat lives in our house now.

Her name is Chloe.

And she has a giant litter box in our tiny laundry room.

And a special, magical trashcan for cat poo.

And toys and jingly balls and tiny stuffed animals and all KINDS of stuff that I never really planned on having in my house.

But our kids are obsessed with her. And she’s insanely weird and hilarious. And, somehow, even though she drives me mad when I’m trying to clean the house, she reminds me of this beautiful picture of being helpless and marching hopelessly toward death and having someone big and kind and powerful reach down and pluck you up and give you a home where you are safe and loved. It’s kind of really, really beautiful to behold.

But mostly…

she’s not a dog.

So that’s really, really good.

~

Ah, cats. I have more Chloe stories to tell, and hope to do so soon. Until then, find us on Facebook and Instagram!

The Rescue Cat that Rescued Us (from getting a dog)

When our firstborn son turned six years old, we got him a dog.

It was a sentimental affair, for sure. I was pregnant and I was emotional and I ended up making it into a “moment” like no other. Sniffle sniffle. (See for yourself by clicking on the picture below.)

 

Then when our eldest daughter was six years old, for Christmas, we got her a dog.

Because we obviously weren’t thinking.

“Not thinking” is what happens when you are in love with tiny people who grow up so fast. All you know…all you can manage to think about, sometimes…is that time is flying by and you’ve got this window of life to do all the things that you want to do for them. Like, FOR INSTANCE, surprising them with a puppy on Christmas morning even though you just GOT a puppy two years ago.

Our little girl is a true dog fanatic, and a Basset Hound had been the dream of her little heart “for her whole LIFE”, she’d been telling us.

So I turned off my brain for the months of November and December and I made and sold buckets of granola to make sure we had that dog under the tree on the 25th.

I’m not gonna lie. It was a “moment”, too, also like no other.

I love it. “Can I sleep with it??” and then my favorite line from little sister, “Aww, why didn’t I get one?!” Precious, sweet, darling memories, even if we had to deal with a puppy after the moment had passed.

Well, as you know, we have four kids (outside of the womb, that is), and when two of those kids got a dog when they were six years old, rumors started swirling ’round these parts, namely, in the upstairs nursery.

For example, that getting a DOG when you’re SIX is the way we DO things, for all time, for every person.

Gulp.

Well, guess what?

Our third child turned six in May.

Did you know that, as you have more and more children, they turn six faster and faster? It’s true.

And for the entire year leading up to this most recent 6th birthday, the sibling group had been discussing what kind of dog the soon-to-be-six-year-old would be getting.

Not “if”.

“When”.

They’d even poured over books about dogs, researching the perfect breed.

And all the while, I quietly listened…

and also I inwardly panicked.

We can’t have THREE dogs!!!

Where are we going to put another dog?!

How much dog food are we committing to here??

We don’t have a three dog yard!!! And I don’t even think I have a three dog heart!!

Sometimes, when I wasn’t panicking, I was just a’thinkin’…

WHY are we even talking about dogs when her favorite animal is a CAT?

Does she even LIKE dogs?

Why don’t we get a kitten?

She has a kitten purse, kitten stuffed animals, kitten t-shirts…

She has no dogs!!! Just cats!

Finally, I broached the subject to my eldest daughter, earlier in the year.

“Can we talk about something and keep it a secret?” I asked her. “How do you think your sister would feel if we surprised her with a kitten and not a dog sometime this year?”

“Well…” she replied, “kittens ARE her favorite animal. But we’ve been talking about a dog so much that I don’t know…”

Ha! MY PROBLEM EXACTLY!!!!

Since that day, we whispered about this possibility behind the birthday girl’s back, mostly because my then 7-year old loves to whisper about secret things.

I wasn’t too worried about it yet, honestly. We’d had some major events on the horizon that had consumed my thought life (like a pregnancy and a husband going to Africa) and I figured that, once those upcoming hurdles were crossed, we’d get to the pet issue.

After all, the big kids didn’t get their first pet ON their sixth birthday, just sometime during their sixth year.

In other words, we had pleeeeenty time to figure it all out.

Or so I thought…

~

Stay tuned for Part Two, coming soon!!! 🙂

Mrs. Gore’s Hot-off-the-Press Guide to Silver Dollar City

After spending four days at Branson’s Silver Dollar City a couple of weeks ago, I feel the need, not only to jot down some things for us to remember next time we go, but to pass on my newfound expertise for those of you who have never been before.

These sorts of blog posts make all the difference when you’re planning for a trip. I know so because the blogs I read beforehand about how to navigate Silver Dollar City made a HUGE difference in the success of ours!

Thus, without further wordage, I present to you Mrs. Gore’s Hot-off-the-Press Guide to Silver Dollar City (as written in June 2017):

The packing and planning stages:

  • Call ahead (or swing by the day before you go) to talk to someone about all your options during the week of your trip, or ask for an up-to-date newspaper. You need to be armed with all the available info about special deals that might apply to your stay!
  • Likewise, order your tickets ahead of time and look into whether or not getting season passes will be a good deal for you. More on that later.
  • Download the Silver Dollar City app, where you can easily pull up a map, check showtimes, and find special attractions.
  • Study the map the night before and have a game plan. We circled ALL the things we wanted to do on the newspaper map before we went. You don’t want to be standing around trying to figure out where you want to go while everyone else is zipping by you to the fun. Be ready! This is game day, baby!
  • Take your packing really seriously so you’ll have everything you need. If you’re going to be at the park for a long amount of time and have small children…I’d even say children aged 6 and under…some sort of stroller or wagon is essential. There are some crazy hills at SDC and LOTS of walking. This is the collapsible wagon we have and we are superfans. It folds up so easily, it converts into a bench, and we love it. Click on any of the pictures of products below to be taken to the affiliated link at Amazon!
  • If you’re going during the warm months and plan on riding water rides (which you SHOULD, they were our favorite!), make sure everyone has quick-drying clothes and shoes. Our boys wore trunks and short-sleeved rash guards, our girls wore swim dresses from Hanna Andersson, and everyone had a sturdy pair of swim shoes like these. (cheaper versions of this sort of perforated tennis shoe can be found at Gap and other stores).

  • Speaking of shoes, many rides don’t allow flip flops! We took extra flip flops with us in case anyone got blisters, but we were so glad those weren’t the only shoes we brought.
  • Pack your own food and drinks. SDC can become a budget buster if you don’t plan ahead in this department. We saved so much money by taking our own!
  • So you want to pack well, but you also want to pack succinctly. We took two bags with us, both of which stacked perfectly in our wagon, leaving room for two little kids to sit side-by-side. Everyone’s hands were free, except for my husband who was pulling the wagon like an ox.
  • Bag #1 was a small cooler-on-wheels, like this (ours was a red-and-white gingham version of this same bag, but the print is no longer available at Amazon!) 
  • We filled up Bag #1 with frozen Capri Suns (that kept our other drinks cold, but thawed by afternoon for the kids to enjoy), lots of bottles of water, and little cans of Sprite. This bag had mesh pockets on the side that we could quickly slip our electronics into when we weren’t taking pictures.
  • Bag #2 was this medium-size insulated picnic hamper (also red-and-white gingham, also no longer available, but I love this blue version, too!):
  • We put ALL of our other essentials in Bag #2, including a Ziploc of various sunscreens, a Ziploc with hairties and a brush, a small first aid pouch filled with Band-aids (in the case of blisters or any falls and scrapes on the concrete), a Ziploc of medicine for motion sickness or headaches, a small bottle of baby powder (because after four days of water rides and walking, some of our family members had chapping problems, ouch!), my wrist purse, my husband’s wallet, and our kids’ lunch, which included apple juice pouches, Clementine oranges, apples, boxes of raisins, boxes of yogurt raisins, packets of peanut butter crackers (both plain and cheddar crackers), granola bars, and a variety of small bags of chips. Nothing squishy and nothing spillable. Every night before we left, I lined all these goodies up on the counter and let each kid choose which kind of flavors they wanted of everything so we didn’t have any confusion or sadness at lunchtime, plus I’d throw in a couple more of each item just in case.
  • So that was the KID’S lunch. The adults…because we’re adults and we have such fancy tastebuds…got to sample the fare at SDC. Not that we were totally stingy, the kids got to taste pretty much everything we bought without us having to spend our life savings on meals in the park. It worked perfectly, everyone was happy, and it left us with some spending money for afternoon treats like Dippin’ Dots or funnel cakes.
  • Other than that, I packed each of our insulated water bottles, stocked with fresh ice water every morning. When we’d stop for a bathroom break or lunch, I’d refill everyone’s bottle with the extra water we packed in our cooler. This is my own water bottle I bought for the trip. I have the white enamel and I got my mom the copper version because she loves copper and I love her. Another plus, our wagon had two cupholders that held our bottles perfectly! The rest of our family’s insulated bottles snuggled in nicely between our bags and the edge of the wagon.

  • Lay everything out…including the kids clothes and shoes…the night before, pack your hamper, and have all drinks ready in the fridge. Every good pastor’s wife knows that if you want to make it to church on time, you’ve got to start getting ready the night before. The same is true at SDC, people!

Getting to the park:

  • We had heard about the magic of the season pass before we went, but now we’re believers. If you are planning on going to SDC for more than one day, a season pass is a must. With it, we went to the park for two full days of our trip, and then we decided to go ahead and go every morning the rest of the week until the park got busy. It was season pass early hours week (SCORE!), so we would be IN line by 8:30 each morning, ride all the rides we wanted (with no lines!), go and enjoy one of the little children’s sections for about an hour (with hardly any other people there), and be pretty full up on fun before the park started getting even the slightest bit busy. Then we’d be on our way out by noon, just when the lines were started to get long. It was…AMAZING!!! We’d go every single day if we lived closer, and with a season pass, you could actually DO that. If you purchase your passes before a new season starts in March, you can also get free guest vouchers! We missed that deal, but it is ON our radar for next time! Season passes are just a great deal, all around.
  • If you have a season pass, you can also purchase preferred parking for $7/day. Worth it. My husband would drop us and our stuff off at the door (anything to save little feet and pregnant feet from more walking), then park the car in the adjoining lot nearby. It made the trip that much more dreamy, and we never had to wait on the trolley to pick us up from the more remote parking areas.

IN the park:

  • If you get there early…and it’s a thousand times worth it to do that (even if that means you all wake up at 6:30 every day of your trip to start getting ready!)…do all of the popular roller coasters that you want first. The lines will be minimal to nonexistent.
  • After that, do the water rides, *especially* the Lost River of the Ozarks. This ride will have a HUGE line by lunchtime, sometimes over 45 minutes. By following our routine, we rode this ride (our family favorite) four or five times in a ROW without ever waiting in a line. We usually didn’t even have to get out of our boat! After you’ve had your fill of Lost River, hit the American Plunge (a classic log ride) a few times. Family members can watch from a viewing stand, which is fun, and this ride has pretty fun pictures available for purchase at a hut nearby. If you’re going to buy a souvenir at SDC, I think this is  a pretty good one. This is our little guy, Shep, and his friend, Daniel, who also happened to be at the park that day. They loved it, I promise: 
  • After enjoying the big roller coasters and those two water rides, if you have little kids (ours range in age from 3 to 10), go to either The Grand Exposition or Fireman’s Landing. These are both very large kid-friendly areas that have a ton of fun little rides. Our family especially liked Fireman’s Landing which, aside from a collection of rides that our children loved most, also had a little splash pad and one of the most amazing playhouses ever. I liked to sit on a rock in the sun to dry off after getting drenched at Lost River and just let my kids run amok. The playhouse alone kept them busy and thrilled for nearly an hour every day. And it’s all so clean! And beautiful!
  • Now that you’ve gotten your fill of rides and play areas, let the rest of the folks deal with the growing lines while you go catch some shows! We got to watch an amazing Dog Tricks show one day, the Harlem Globetrotters the next day, a couple of good concerts, etc…it’s a nice way to rest, usually in an air-conditioned room, after racing up and down those hills to get to your favorite rides all morning. These shows change with the different festivals of the year, so be sure to check your paper or the app to find out what’s available to you!
  • Scope out a perfect spot for your lunch as you meander around. We found a little bench outside of The Opera House where we ate our lunch every day. It was covered in shade, very private, and gave the kids room to mill around while they ate. An added bonus to that Radio Flyer wagon is that the side zips down to convert the wagon into a little bench, giving us two places for kids to comfortably sit.
  • SDC has clean restrooms (and several nursing stations!) in every major area of the park. Be smart about your bathroom breaks! Make everyone go when you get to the park, make everyone go when you stop for lunch, make everyone go before you go into a show…otherwise, you’ll be taking someone to the bathroom all day, every day. It’s all about coordination. 😉
  • If you have big kids and little kids, it’s just a good idea to split up, at times. My mom and I would take the two littles to one of the kid-friendly areas while my husband did rides with the big kids, and if you need a place to take your littles in the afternoon when The Grand Exposition and Fireman’s Landing are packed with people, I can’t recommend Half Dollar Holler enough. Our littles went through this play area on repeat, for a good hour, while my mom and I sat and rested in the shade. 
  • You cannot go to SDC and miss out on Grandpa’s Mansion!! It’s a classic staple that must be enjoyed by the whole family.
  • The train is a neat feature that should also be enjoyed once (and once is enough, I recommend going in the afternoon), but be warned that there is a little show in the middle of it that could get long for tiny kids. Ours did okay with it, and so I’m glad we went. It’s especially neat to see the outskirts of the park and get an idea of the land that SDC was built on. It’s in the woods, basically! Amazing!
  • The BEST things we ate all week…the hot dog wrapped in a long spiral of fried potatoes, the funnel cakes (one a day, baby! Sometimes two…), the kids loved the Dippin’ Dots, and NOTHING BEAT the warm cinnamon bread. I thought it sounded good, but it was REALLY GOOD. If you go early, get you some coffee and a loaf of this bread and think of me.
  • Before you leave, have some fun at Tom and Huck’s River Blast, either riding on the boats or shooting at the riders from the sidelines. It was one of my son’s favorite things to do there, and the lines aren’t long here, even during the busier parts of the day. You will get pretty wet on the other rides, you will get DRENCHED on this one. It’s the perfect way to cool off at the end of your day.
  • If you’re a mom of littles and your little park-goers fall asleep in the wagon (ours did, every day), there is a great seating area in the shade near the front of the park. I got to sit in a big Adirondack chair under an umbrella every afternoon and make friends with elderly people while my family enjoyed the park. Being pregnant, this was a dream come true for me. And sometimes a loving family member would deliver a funnel cake to me, so, hallelujah.
  • Finally, as you are meandering your way out of the park, take some time to check our the artisan booths and houses, which are full of educational opportunities for your family. You could even pick a few a day to focus on. We didn’t do so great in this department this go round, but if we went to the park during a time of year when the water rides weren’t open, I think we’d take better advantage of them.
  • Oops, I have one more “finally” to your meandering…Marvel Cave. You’ll need to get the whole scoop on this experience from someone who works at the park, but we heard this hour-long walking tour through a REAL CAVE underneath SDC was a great way to cool off in the afternoons. It never worked out for us timing-wise, but this would be a perfect afternoon activity for the big kids while babies and toddlers nap. We have a raincheck with Marvel Cave.
  • Let your memories be your souvenirs. You could easily spend a thousand dollars on stuff at SDC…there’s even a toy store there!…but you don’t need to. The park is enough. If you don’t believe me, ask my very happy kids. They didn’t come home with a SDC shirt, or a toy, or a craft, or *anything*…but their hearts are bursting with memories.

So, by the way, is mine.

One last word of encouragement before you leave, while there are so many fun things to do in Branson, if you are on a budget like most young families, let your tickets to Silver Dollar City be your vacation. It has everything that the whole of Branson does…food, shows, crafts, music…so get your money’s worth and stay from opening to closing. I guarantee you won’t run out of things to do, though I can’t promise you won’t run out of energy. They even have an amazing concert at closing time!

Ah, it is easy to underestimate Silver Dollar City if you’ve never been there, but it is a beyond fabulous place to take your family. My husband has been to some of the biggest parks in the U.S., and this place is his all-time favorite. I second that, 100%.

I hope you love it as much as we do! If you have any questions, shout them out in the comments section! And if you have any fun or helpful tips to add to this list, please share! I might just need your advice for my next trip to SDC, which I hope will be sooner rather than later…

I mean, we have season tickets! Maybe we’ll go today!!