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?


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?



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.



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.


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.”


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!


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.


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

Next up…


How beautiful.


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


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.


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.


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 WAS I thinking?

I don’t even know.

It was something like…


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?


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.


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”.


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…”


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!!

With this Nail Polish, I Thee Love

I feel like I have walked through every emotion known to woman – or at least most of them – since becoming a mom, but my very lowest points, when closely examined, all seem to be centered around one common theme:

to be a mom is to be a servant.

You always hear these funny sentiments – probably penned by women whose children are grown and can help with the laundry – about the mom being the “queen of the house” and, while I WILL admit that my children do gaze at me with worshipful eyes some of the time, especially when they are under the age of 6, when I look around our house, I don’t see a throne.

I see a mop and a broom and a line-up of hungry kids who want me to make food out of the ragtag ingredients in our pantry.

Now, I don’t love making the following known, but it’s just a fact: being a servant isn’t something that I came into this world naturally equipped to handle in a gracious and joyful manner.

In fact, I daresay that being a servant goes directly against every fiber of my sin-natured being.

You would quickly figure that out if you could see me on my worst days, in my favorite cry spot on the floor of the master bathroom toilet closet, sobbing my eyes out because…

well, because I spent this entire day doing what I did ALL day yesterday, cleaning up messes I didn’t make, wiping bottoms, changing diapers, making meals and cleaning up the kitchen so we could do it all over again, answering questions, finding lost toys-shoes-socks-pencils-books-notebooks-YOU NAME IT, and what I’ve realized that it all comes down to is not so much the cleaning and the wiping and the changing and the making and the answering and the finding, but the deep-down, crushing weight that a lady can feel when she simply doesn’t want to be a servant today.

My ability to handle it all with ease and optimism comes to a screeching halt when I start resenting my calling and pining for that throne.

But that’s one of the most beneficial things about being a wife and a mother…

it pushes you to be something that might have taken you much longer to become.

You see, when you go from being the star of your own story, a person who can go to Starbucks if she wants and stop by the shoe store to try on some new sandals and then come home and watch girly shows on Netflix, to having your life bound up in another’s…and then another’s…and then another’s…until your life is tied directly to, say, five other people, people who need you, people you are called to love and serve, people you are inextricably yoked to, well, it will CHANGE you from the inside out and back again.

Whether you thought you needed changing or not!

And here is one of the most important things I’ve learned about serving, and it continues to surprise me to this day…

the want-to of serving and the JOY of serving come not before you serve, but AS you serve.

This point came up recently, and it was eye-opening for me.

My little girls had been begging me for days to do their nails.

But here’s the thing. I don’t LIKE doing nails. Especially when they are the size of a tiny button. Painting little girls’ miniature toenails is like being the detail artist for the fine china company!

And…I’m busy!! Did you not just read about the cleaning and the wiping and the changing and the making and the answering and the finding?!

Therefore, my first internal instinct when they ask me to paint their nails is usually something akin to “I don’t WANNA!”

But late Saturday evening, after they came in from the little swimming pool in the front yard (and after I stain-treated their swimming clothes and towels and put them in the washer and then bathed the kids and then clipped their nails and brushed their hair, but who is keeping track?) I got them sat down with their supper at the kitchen island and…

I just did it.

I sat myself down on the floor, I gathered a foot at a time in my hands, and I applied the nail polish to their tiny, little nails.

Did I really want to do this? Not necessarily. Did I have time to do this? It never feels like it. But how God manages to bring reverence and awe in such a moment is proof of how amazing He is and, as I sat there, bringing such simple happiness to the little hearts that love me so, a sort of resounding joy began to well up inside me.

You see, I didn’t necessarily go into the act of service with joy, but AS I served, joy most certainly followed.

It’s another of those incredible paradoxical principles in the Kingdom of God.

We have these opportunities to push ourselves every day of our lives, chances to serve and to not only meet the basic needs of our family, but to nurture them. To show them sacred dignity. To prefer them over ourselves.

It might be painting toenails.

It might be changing that diaper right away rather than putting it off until it’s about to explode.

It might be brushing the tangles out of a little girl’s bed hair and gathering it into braids at first light.

It might be ironing the wrinkles out of a pretty dress for church.

It might be whipping out a favorite recipe for the boy who is hungrier by the day, a recipe that only he likes.

These are the kind of above-and-beyond things my own mom has built an entire life upon.

The kids and I stayed at her house while Mr. Gore was in Africa last month, and I noticed when I went to tuck the kids in every night that she had turned down each of their covers and put a special book and stuffed animal on their pillow.

Do you know who else noticed this simple little gesture?

My 3-year old.

“A BOOK!!!” he would exclaim, every single night, looking in wonder at his neat little bed with the unexpected treasure at its head.

It sank in deep as I watched this display that our acts of kindness and servitude are not at all lost on the littlest among us and that, yes, the time and the effort are absolutely worth it.

And when you are like my mom and have daily practiced this sort of loving service, it just starts to come naturally.

Her ministry oozes out of her rather than being forced, and oh my goodness, it gives me so much hope. Because it’s exactly who and what I want to be for the Kingdom of God.

And so my prayer today is that I’ll just keep choosing to serve, whether the joy is there at the forefront or whether it comes in the act.

Maybe someday, if I keep practicing…if I keep painting those toenails…I’ll find myself at the beds of my grandchildren with a special book and a stuffed animal to leave on their pillow…


Thank you for reading today! If you want to hear more stories about childhood, marriage, pastor’s wifery, family, homemaking, homeschooling and other important things like shopping and British television dramas, find us on Facebook! Or Instagram

The Day Small Elephant Came Out of Retirement

We shared a video on Facebook this week that explained a lot of things like, 1. why I haven’t been writing a lot, 2. why I’ve been tired, hungry and emotional for the past three months, 3. why my kids are so in love with me right now, and 4. why I’m suddenly wearing tents and leggings every day.

Here, if you’re not on social media, you might want to watch it…


Um, WOW, right??

I have to admit, it feels so good to have this news out in the open.

At the same time, though, it has been nice to experience the first trimester of my pregnancy in the old-fashioned way. This secret was between me and my husband for the first month, and then we told the kids, not because I was really ready to let the cat out of the bag, but because I simply couldn’t hide it from them any longer. I was tired all the time, I was crying almost daily, I was sleeping late in the mornings, and I was under this constant cloud of nausea. “It will be better for the whole WORLD to know than to leave them in the dark about what is wrong with me,” I thought. Because I really felt that, once my kids knew, the whole world WOULD know, probably by nightfall.

We’re kind of a boisterous family.

Thus, on a total whim, we decided to tell them one by one, as you saw in the video. I had mentally pictured all the different ways we could break the news to them, but the minute I entertained the thought of telling them individually and really savoring their reaction, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

So I grabbed my camera, got settled on my bed, and Mr. Gore started calling them in, oldest to youngest, locking our bedroom door behind each one as they entered.

Then, after they’d been told the great secret, they had to go hide in our neighboring bathroom until everyone was caught up to speed.

It was so much fun, and I gotta say, the resulting video is one of the greatest treasures I have in my possession. I had no idea how they’d react (although I did assume they’d be happy, they all love babies and have been hoping for one for a long time), but a truer representation of each of their personalities could not have been captured if I’d scripted it.

For instance, our firstborn, who thought for sure he was in trouble, but then hopped straight up to tell the WHOLE WORLD our secret!! (Told ya!) Once we caught him and sent him to the bathroom to wait, I could hear him clapping his hands and just giggling in sheer excitement. It was so dear. I said all of our kids love babies, but no one has a softer spot for the little critters than he does.

And then our eldest daughter, with that pure gaze of hers that melts me, who was so beside herself she could barely contain it. When I get to the part of the video where she says “oh, Mama!” as she stops to hug me on her way to the bathroom, I get a huge lump in my throat, every time.

And then there’s Oh Honey who processes the news with her signature “blink blinks” before fainting in the floor…before getting back up and bouncing like Tigger. So spot on.

And then there’s our little man, be still my heart.

You can hear the poor guy pounding on the door, demanding to be let in, during his sister’s portion of the video. And when we finally sit him in the chair and his papa informs him that I’m going to have a baby, he reacts in his quintessential way that, roughly translated, means “Hi. I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’ve never heard of anyone having a baby. But…I love you…and you’re smiling at me…so…THUMBS UP. I support you 100%.”

I love that kid SO stinkin’ much, and I love all the thumbs up that he has given me over the past year, and I LOVE that he gave me a thumbs up in this video. My husband and I just looked at each other (after I finished laughing my head off) and said something like “did that really just happen?!”

Anyhow, I didn’t really mean to review the video that you literally just watched, but…what can I say? I love my chiddlers.

But there’s actually more to it than that, I think.

You see, by the day we shot this video, I had been walking very silently through some pretty major things. First, the shock of a positive pregnancy test. All the emotions…both high and low…that followed it. The vivid memories of what I was about to go through and how real and raw and hard and beautiful it all is. The understanding that any momentum I had recently gained (such as…we had just put the high chair in the attic, we’d bought our last box of diapers or Pull-ups for the first time in TEN YEARS, our house was staying very tidy, we were killing it at homeschool, and I was waking up at 6:00 a.m. every morning like a BOSS!!) was flying out the window, all of it.

And then, of course, there was the realization that I am ten years older now than when I first began having babies. A lot can happen to a body in ten years! I mean, I have a friend whose hips start hurting when a thunderstorm is coming. We’re getting OLD, y’all!

And so I’ve just been a little more scared this time.

A little less sure of myself and my body’s abilities.

Add to that those long, trying weeks of nausea and fatigue where I had been pretending, even around my closest family and friends, that nothing had changed and that I was fine.

Phew! All that to say, I was SOUL TIRED by the day we made this video. I was lonely, with all kinds of pent up thoughts and emotions. And, again, I was truly scared. What if I couldn’t do this again? What if something bad happened? What if this changed our dynamic in drastic ways?

Enter, my children.

When I let them into my world once more and shared my great secret with them, what I found was such open arms.

Such love.

Such JOY!

Their reaction was a salve to me, and an immediate reminder that, yes, though this was going to be hard and though it might even be dangerous (did you know that being 35 years old makes this a “geriatric pregnancy”?!), it was also such a GOOD THING. It was going to be fun!!

And it was most definitely a blessing.

They just made it obvious to me from the very first second — you can see it so clearly in the video! — that any difficulties I had endured in the weeks leading up to this announcement were 100% worth it, for not only were we housing a precious and sacred new creation in our midst, we had made ALL of our children so, so happy.

Sigh. The four little people in the above video have embraced me so wholly in my current weakness that it has totally blown me away. They check on me constantly. They have zero expectations from me and hold no grudges about my failings (for instance, our two-hours-later-than-normal breakfast). They have fed me and soothed me and petted me and…well, they’ve just WELCOMED me, just as I am.

Even more heart-warming? They seem proud of me.

What a difference their reaction has made for this tired ol’ mama.

This is the kind of world that babies are supposed to enter into. A place where they are greeted with smiles and excitement and wonder and enthusiasm.

Children have got it all figured out, don’t they?

So after we told our kids, we’ve had the joy of telling many of our family and friends the old-fashioned person-to-person way, not all at one time, but slowly, as time and circumstance allowed. First it was my mom. Then my daddy. Then my husband’s parents. Then our best buddy at the nursing home. Then a sibling here, a sibling there, a friend here, a friend there, our neighbors across the street, my manager friend at Anthropologie, the owner of my favorite antique store, our church body…

as the news has spread over the past three months, our secret has gotten smaller and smaller and smaller, and now that we’ve finally made our way back to the internets, it is no more.

You know what? This sits well with me, even though the temptation was to keep things quiet until the baby was actually IN my arms.

Life begins at conception, and I believe that with all my heart. And I can read about my higher risks and I can be scared about the future all the live-long day, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is a human being IN my tummy.

Right now!

Right this minute!

You guys!


and, yes, come what may, I want the whole world to know it!


Sad you missed out on the first trimester adventures of Small Elephant? Worry not, I’ve been jotting down stories as they happen and will round them all up for you soon. Stay tuned!

Are you new here and don’t know who “Small Elephant” is? Oh, boy. You stay tuned, too. This is going to be fun…


Stepping Heavenward with Hormones (and taking your family with you)

I’ve been putting this off and putting this off and I will put it off no more: let’s talk about hormones.

People warn you that marriage will be hard. They warn you that being in the workforce will be hard. They warn you that parenthood will be hard.

Few people warn you about hormones, really.

I mean, I always heard older women joking about them, but it was always this very, very far-away reality that I thought only happened to…well, those women.

Newsflash, Mrs. Gore: you are now one of those women.

I had this crazy urge the other day to gather my kids around me and march us all around the kitchen table whilst chanting (because we like to make big statements whilst marching around the kitchen table):

We’re marching toward the Kingdom, we’re marching toward the Kingdom, even though Mommy is CRAZY!!!!

Because I really want my family to know something…I’m DESPERATE, in fact, for them to know something…that we are still on our pilgrimage, we are still “stepping heavenward”…

even though there is no hiding the fact from these precious children of mine that, at times, their mother is a hot, holy mess.

“Holy” because, even in the midst of the hormonal messes, I am being sanctified, I am growing, I am learning self-control and God is preparing for me a weight of glory (see this message from John Piper). I believe that, and I’m clinging to it. These times are not wasted, these emotions are not wasted, this season is not wasted.

“Hot” because I am having HOT FLASHES.

Like, I’m standing there next to you on a Sunday morning and the day is perfectly normal and, out of nowhere, sweat beads begin to ooze first out of my mustache pores and then the rest of my pores follow suit until I am this clammy, panicking heatbag. I’m suddenly fanning myself with whatever papers I can find, usually a stack of church bulletins, and I’m grasping at my hair to lift if off my neck and I’m feeling a too-strong-for-church urge to shuck my cardigan and then whatever other layers it takes to relieve me from the Hades that has descended upon me.

I realize now that “I’m having a hot flash” doesn’t just mean we need to turn the air down. It means I need to be alone and in a muumuu and under a ceiling fan RIGHT. NOW!!!

And, lastly, “mess” because, at times…often, actually…I’m this huge, confused, dazed, angry MESS.

I’m not kidding. In the three years since my last baby was born, I will just be inexplicably fat all of a sudden. Like, I won’t be one day, and then the very next day, I’m a puffy marshmallow woman.

And don’t say I’m not because, though I might hide it well on most days, and though I might NOT be fat on some days (also inexplicably) I’m the one who buttons my jeans and…yeah. Some days they button. Some days they don’t. 

My brain feels so hopelessly broken, as well. In the thick of hormone-time, I just can’t think. I can’t spell. I can’t process. People will ask me what I have planned for the week and if such-and-such day would be a good day to do such-and-such, and I just stare at them and blink and say bright things like “uhhhhh…I’m not sure…” And they’re like, “you’re not sure what you’re doing tomorrow?” And I’m like “yeah…I think there will be breakfast?…and I will probably read a book to my kids, maybe?…ummm…is it hot in here?!…”

In fact, my brain is SO broken sometimes that I have committed to love my husband and kids and church body and to homeschool and, well, the rest is kind of up in the air. I have just come to grips with the fact that there is no room on my plate not just for more things to do, but even for more things to think about doing. The thinking is broken.

But worse than the hot flashes and the weight fluctuations and the brain slumps are, without a doubt, the mood swings.

I was having a high hormonal day a couple of weeks ago and, I kid you not, I cried for an HOUR and a HALF. Not at one time, mind you, but forty minutes and then a short break followed by forty more minutes (which is so much better).

“I can’t do this!!!” I wailed to my husband from the bathroom floor, trying to hide away from the kids. “I. can’t. do. this.”

“Do what?” he asked me concerned.

“THIS,” I said, gesturing to the air around me. “Clean. Cook. Homeschool. Nurture. I’m the WORST. I can’t do it. I’m not good at this!!!! I’m not good…”

“You are…” he said.

“I’m NOT!” I snotted. “I want to. But I can’t.

“You’ve been doing great, babe. What is it that you feel like you can’t do all of a sudden?…” he asked.

“Well…” I sobbed, “I can’t keep food in the pantry. I mean, I buy it but then it’s gone. And…well…I can’t pick out meat. Like, I have all these recipes I want to make but…there are so many meats and…I don’t know how to buy them!!!…”

“Yeah?…” he said, wearing my favorite bemused expression that tells me he’s trying to listen and trying to understand and REALLY trying not to laugh.

Now, lest you worry about me and begin offering remedies for what ails me, let me assure you that I have been proactive about these demon hormones and, after several visits to professionals, my doctors assure me that I am simply experiencing the fallout of four consecutive pregnancies over the course of 8 years. My body is simply out of whack and we’re doing what we can to whack it back into place through diet and exercise and, hallelujah, I actually feel like I’ve made a HUGE turn for the better in the last few months.

But the really bad thing about these days — and what I am determined to improve — is that I usually forget to plan for them, even though I could easily calculate when they’re coming and lock myself into a vault with Netflix and chips and queso, thereby saving myself — and my family — from these crash-and-burn episodes of frailty.

No, though, I let them sneak up on me and bring the whole lot of us down in sackcloth and agony.

Then, afterward, when I realize why I was in the deepest depths of despair, I go “ohhhhhh…so I’m NOT the worst…and I CAN do this…cool!…”

It’s a good feeling, when you realize that you actually can pick out meat.

But you know what?

Do you know why I am introducing the internet to my hormones? Do you know why I’m even writing this today? Because. Because I am done being bewildered and I am done being the victim, and I am figuring my new and unimproved body out and, most importantly, I’m finally coming to grips with this season of suffering – because, YES, it is suffering – and do you know what? 

I am learning that, simple enough, I can praise God in this.

And if you are suffering alongside me, guess what?

You can, too.

You can fight this. You can endure this. You can love and minister to your family through this. You can pursue holiness in this. You can go to church like this. Why? Because, if you have been called out, God WILL keep you through this. Hormones are not too big for Him. They never have been, and they never will be.

Mrs. Gore is marching to Zion, and I’m taking my hormones and my kids and my husband with me, and I hope you’ll go with us.

I’ll bring the box fan if you’ll bring the tissues.