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!)




My Sweet Home – Christmas 2014

Before 2015 arrives and the Christmas decorations go back to the attic for another year, I tidied up my house and took some photos of what our home has looked and felt like for the past month.

This year was our best Christmas yet, and the peace that permeated my soul this season seemed to spill over and encompass our home in a cozy and life-giving atmosphere.

It wasn’t always perfect, no, not a bit. There were boots and scarves and mittens scattered to high heaven. There were baking days where the kitchen was unrecognizable. There was the aftermath of Christmas morning…

but in between the Christmas merriment, our little home seemed to glow with a sweet holiday ambiance that just pleased and ministered to me so deeply, enough to inspire me to work hard all year long to present my family with such a back-drop, one that puts the soul at rest…

one that shelters and encourages…

one that embodies all of the meaning and emotion behind the word “home”…

Merry Christmas, from Mrs. Gore’s House!






















Christmas on Grandmother’s Porch

Special thanks to Benjamin Grey Photography for capturing this day for us!


Last year, as our Victorian Christmas photo shoot came to a close, I had this fleeting vision of our family tossing on some cozy and festive winter clothes and dragging a Christmas tree on a sled to the open-air pavilion next to the creek on my parent’s property where we would decorate it with strands of popcorn and cranberries, followed by a hot chocolate party next to the fire.

I already knew what coat I would wear and everything, and from that day on, I’ve been gunning for this year’s photo shoot.

(we won’t pause here to discuss that I have serious problems).

Thankfully for my entire family, there are 365 days in a year, and I had ample time to tone things down a notch so that, by the time our annual Christmas picture day arrived last week, I had settled on simply purchasing a small tree for my parent’s front porch and taking some fun pictures there, right next to the heated house. We could still have popcorn and cranberries and hot chocolate, but it would be the easier, quicker, less-involved and long-walky version.

And WOWZERS, did this turn out to be enjoyable!

If I’m being truthful, picture day used to throw me into hysterics, and it thrills me to the core to be able to measure God’s continued work in my heart by how much more relaxed and laid-back I am about this entire unnecessary-but-super-fun tradition. I had FUN this year. Lots and lots of fun. Even the day before when I was packing up half of my house, ironing tiny dresses and bathing kids on non-bath day!

Mostly because it was just a good time to think about my family, to enjoy the beautiful ambiance of the Christmas season and to meditate on all we would be celebrating together in the week to come.

The details of this “photo shoot” were pretty simple to throw together. Candy canes. Plaid. A simple tree with white lights. Leather shoes. Chocolate. Popcorn. Enamelware. Galvanized metal. Cranberries. Flannel.

You know…Christmas stuff!

And, even better, COUNTRY Christmas stuff!

And I’m so happy today, not only to have pictures of my little family at the ages of 33, 33, 7, 5, 3 and 1, but to have us all sitting on the porch where I grew up, attached to the house that contains my history. This is heart stuff, right here, and you guys know how much I love heart stuff.


ready to see the pictures?

Me too! I just wish I would shush already and show them to you!

But I’m feeling very talkative!

Because I love Christmas!!

Okay, seriously. Here are the pictures.

Up first…candy canes! I like candy canes. Always have. Teeth permitting, always will.

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 followed by a medley of marshmallows of traditional white, pink peppermint, and star-shaped-beauties from Williams Sonoma that cost roughly a thousand dollars.

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 First up, we took some group photos out in the pasture.

Can I tell you something? I think I look sassy in this picture, which is funny because I’m not a very sassy person. 

Who knows? Maybe I’m growing sassier in my old age.

I’ll keep you informed.

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 Little Shep, looking all grown up and slightly perplexed. He doesn’t know why his mommy is being sassy. He misses his old, non-sassy, obliging mommy.

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Gideon, shivering from the cold under the wing of his mother who drug him out in it, in the first place. He’s very loyal.

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And Poor Betsie. Those are goosies on her arm. But I couldn’t bear to put a shirt under that glorious puffed sleeve. I made it up to her later with cookies, fruit snacks and tickle fights.

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So, speaking of Betsie, we quickly moved out of the pasture and onto the porch, and here she is, doing a curtsy, in the to-DIE-for vintage baby dress I bought at Vintage Market Days in Tulsa.

Yes, I bought it in October with this photo shoot in mind, and yes, it was the last piece in my photo shoot wardrobe puzzle. Everything else had already been procured.

No, we’re STILL not going to pause to discuss my problem. Leave me alone, okay?

(Gasp! I AM getting sassy!)

p.s. Betsie makes me laugh.

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During this portion of the shoot, we took turns warming up in the house…

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Except for hot-natured Rebekah who had no problem on this outdoor picture day. I’m just really glad she kept her shoes on.

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And here is our crew of littles, the foursome that I get to do life with. I love them to pieces. Seriously. It’s popular these days to say that you should be your kid’s parent and not their friend, but when I’m not busy parenting them and teaching them to be civilized, these are my PEEPS, yo.

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During a brief intermission, Sheppy found some dirt to play in. Typical.

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I’m learning that it is a good idea to keep things hoppin’ when you are photographing littles. For our first porch activity, we strang… strung?…stringeded?…stringalingadingdonged?…some popcorn.

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Then we strang…strung…oh, forget it!…we did the same thing with some cranberries that we did with the popcorn.

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And then while Grandmother heated up some hot chocolate, we just hung out on the porch for a bit.

Sisters…sisters…there were never such (sort of) devoted sisters (they’re getting there, okay??).

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And, oh dear. I honestly, sincerely, really, truly, seriously CANNOT believe how old this child is. Months away from 8, and taller every day, it seems. Stop it, Gideon! Just stop it.

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I’m glad some of us are still 5. I can handle 5.

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3 is even better, especially when they get a boo-boo and need someone to hold them.

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and 1? 1 is PERFECT.

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Moving on.

Next we hung candy canes and our star ornaments on the tree. 

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and to wrap things up, we had hot chocolate and cookies and marshmallows for a treat.

At 9:30 in the morning.

The recipe for these pretty – and quite yummy! – cookies below can be found in Pioneer Woman’s new holiday cookbook. I love her. But you knew that already.

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And now comes my favorite picture of the entire shoot, THE picture of the century, really, wherein our friend, Ben, was able to capture the essence of my happy, hospitable, loving, generous, lovely, servant-hearted mama.

I will treasure this picture for the rest of my life.

She didn’t know she’d be having her picture made on this day OR in this moment. This is just who she is, what she always looks like, and what she always seems to be doing, delivering food or drinks to her family.

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I like it in black and white, too…

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But I REALLY like it in color.

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Finally! Hot chocolate time!

Now, I find the next picture humorous, for several reasons:

1. My husband and I never sit on the porch, just us.

2. My husband and I never sit on the porch, just us, in festive and complete outfits.

3. My husband and I never sit on the porch, just us, in festive and complete outfits and drink hot chocolate.

4. My husband and I never sit on the porch, just us, in festive and complete outfits and drink hot chocolate with a tray of holiday-themed Christmas cookies and treats nearby.

5. My husband and I, not surprisingly, do not look natural in this picture.

6. He looks pained.

7. I do not look sassy, but severe and cold-hearted.

8. But I’m sharing it anyway, because, honestly, my coat is FABULOUS here. We’ve been together for three years now and it still feels right, you know?…

(me and the coat, I mean, not me and Mr. Gore. We’ve been together for fifteen years. And it still feels right, too. Except for when we are having hot chocolate on the porch).

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and you’ll be happy to know that, after this, we just enjoyed our hot chocolate, standing, walking, or however we normally consume our hot beverages on a cold day.

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I hope that your Christmas, too, was full of family, joy, pretty Christmas colors, and maybe a couple of expensive star-shaped marshmallows from Williams Sonoma.

Merry (belated) Christmas and a Happy New Year from the Gore family!

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Thanks for stopping by! To keep up with Mrs. Gore and family and hear funny snippets from our days at home, find us on Facebook!

Our Faux Victorian Christmas

It all started with a dress.

But first, a bit of backtracking.

Every year, regardless of how scant or abundant our wardrobes are, we come up with Christmas and Easter clothes. Sometimes they’re casual. Sometimes they are built around a hair bow or an overcoat we already own. Sometimes they include a few hand-me-downs in the mix…

but every year, we get dressed in our new (or newish) duds and take some family pictures.

We don’t do this for Christmas postcards or even, believe it or not, for the blog…

we do it for me.

Because I wanna.

It might be silly, it might be unnecessary, it might be a TON of work, but…I love it.

Especially the outfits.

Last year’s Christmas clothes were hardy and festive, and even better, practical; thus, my intent this year was to find something similar, something that shouted “Christmas!” but, not exclusively. Something we could wear to church or to the library or even to play outside in, all winter and early-spring and late-fall long.

But then, scrolling through Boden’s summer sale, I saw a dress in the little girls’ section.

It was a satin party dress.

It was so impractical.

Even on sale, it was more expensive than any dress we’ve ever bought for one of our children.

And it was the LAST dress I needed, looking nothing like anything I had pictured for any of our Christmas clothes, ever.

So, obviously, I bought it.

Because the moment I pictured that dress on Rebekah Sunday, I was a goner. My sentimental brain went trotting along ahead of me, dreaming of beautiful Victorian Christmases, and simple and clean scenes of winter whites and creams, until I arrived (four months later) at this year’s “photo shoot” with two things in mind:

1. Memorializing all of our children in their various ages, but especially 4-year old Rebekah. On the cusp of girlhood, this was her year, and since her special dress was almost as beautiful as a wedding gown, I thought it would be fun to take some bridal-inspired photos that we might potentially use on her wedding day, like pictures of us getting ready, tying her sash and fixing her hair. I thought it would also be fun to get pictures of the boys getting ready, buttoning their vests and so on and so forth.

2. Memorializing our home. We all know that, unlike snapshots, professional pictures aren’t really a true representation of life. They are us at our best, with our clothes perfectly pressed and our hair expertly groomed. Well, I wanted pictures of my house like that, too, clean and shiny and all gussied up for picture day.

Alllll that to say, although these pictures almost didn’t happen (if Rebekah looks ethereal it is because she was throwing up for the five days leading up to this), we pulled it off, and I near about died when I saw the finished product…

it is everything I hoped for and more, and I have to brag on my friends Ben and Leslie at Benjamin Grey Photography for their truly amazing talent. I am so happy I paid them with real money this time instead of homemade granola.

I am also so grateful for my husband and my mom, without whom my schemes of whimsicality would never come to fruition.


First, the boys got ready…

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Then Rebekah, the belle of the ball…

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Then Betsie Fair, also the proud recipient of a Boden party dress (it is rare, indeed, for Betsie to get a non-hand-me-down dress, especially one made of velvet!)…

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Now I have to pause for a moment to prep you for the next pictures.

For the past year and a half, 2 1/2 year old Betsie has been obsessed…I mean it, obsessed…with lipstick. Before she could even talk, she would drag people’s purses to them and start puckering up her lips and grunting until they shared some lipgloss or lipstick or chapstick.

I have seen her perform this expression countless times, and I had no idea that Ben had caught it with his camera until I received our photographs.

Some photos are sweet, some are funny, and then some are just gifts.

These photographs are a gift to me. I have titled them “Betsie in a Nutshell”.

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Here’s a few more of Rebekah, sitting in my new favorite chair (more on that later)…

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and we can’t forget Baby Shep…

(goochie goo, you fat wittle bubbey baby!)

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Next, we all moved to the living room for a few photos…

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And we finished up outside…

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On a normal day, our life is anything but Victorian.

But it’s fun to pretend sometimes.

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Thanks for pretending with me. 😉

How Awful Are Thy Branches

~ this post is a revision of one published last Christmas ~

My Dad could easily be misunderstood as a guy who doesn’t love holidays.

But the truth of the matter is, what he really hates…nay, abhors…is going “to town”. A true country boy, he hates the traffic. The noise. The crowds. The dark restaurants. The loud restaurants. The crowded restaurants. The exorbitant costs. The works.

So it’s not so much that he dislikes looking at Christmas lights. He just dislikes going “to town” to look at Christmas lights, waiting in a long line of traffic to do so and then bumping into the five thousand other people who are there looking at Christmas lights, all before paying $50 to buy hot chocolate for his entire family (2 of his 4 children are “in the ministry” – if he doesn’t buy our hot chocolate….nobody gets hot chocolate).

Likewise, he doesn’t hate going to pick out a Christmas tree. He hates having to go “to town” to pick out a Christmas tree.

So a couple of years ago, after hearing my brother, Pete, recount his single favorite Christmas as the one where our family went “out back” to chop down our Christmas tree, my Daddy had a really fun idea: to cut down a tree from the new 9-acre property he purchased in town (our small hometown, not busy Tulsa “town”), that joins up with the acre Mr. Gore and I were building our home on. He drives by the place every morning on the way to work and had spied a whole line-up of potential Christmas trees. The grandkids would love it, he enthused, and the best part? He wouldn’t have to go “to town”.

We’re stupid, so we easily caught his excitement and chose a day for our Christmas tree excursion, and what happened next went down in family history.


Now, I’ve got to preface this story by pointing out that my Dad is the MAN. He can do anything. He can measure things with his bare eyes. He can weld upside-down in a fiery hole. He has drained our lake and built islands in it. He knows how to properly secure a Christmas tree in the stand. And he can usually tell with a single glance whether or not a tree will fit inside of a house. That’s what makes this tree story so bizarre and unbelievable…

So here’s my Dad as he gases up his chainsaw. What is not pictured is the line of expectant family members, all bundled up for our outing. It was a frigid day, one I’ll never forget.

This picture of my niece, Anna Ruth, will give you an idea of exactly how cold it was. The children had on two or three layers of clothing, but nothing could shield us from that biting Oklahoma wind.

But freezing or not, here we go! Let’s do this thingy.

The further away we got from the house, the colder it got.

And right about here is when I started to realize that this might not have been the best idea. I’m carrying a 40-pound toddler against the coldest wind, I feel like we’ve walked about 3 miles already…and we’re only halfway there. But there is no turning back. We are committed to this adventure.

Sadly though, once we arrived, the trees didn’t look nearly as good as they did from the road. We just kind of wandered around in circles, surveying this ragtag group of cedars, some more like bushes, others more like…taller than my house.

Sidenote: I love this little boy and would do anything for him. Even carry him to a cedar wasteland in Antarctica.

“Hey, this one doesn’t look so bad!” my Daddy called out. Whether we truly agreed or were just eager to get this show on the road, it was unanimous – it was perfect!

Funny though, standing in the midst of a small forest, no one seemed to notice that this tree, in particular, was…oh, 16 feet tall?!

But yes! This is it! This is the one! Merry Christmas, one and all! Deck the halls with boughs of holly! God bless us, everyone!

And then came my Daddy’s big moment, the one that Granddaddies probably dream of…

As his grandchildren (and his wife) watched with wonder…

he revved up his chainsaw…

and cut that (and I quote) sucker down!


And there she is.

Our prize.

(Huh. Is that the same tree? Now would be a good time to start noticing that this tree looks kind of totally different in every picture).

Back uphill we tromped, our brand new Christmas tree leading the way…

for about ten seconds. Then Gideon decided he wasn’t taking another step. So guess who got to carry him? His Aunt Amy. (I’m still thanking her for that).

Almost there (thank God!)…

Once back to the work truck, a quick measure showed that this tree might be just the right size for my parent’s house. Keyword: might.

They load ‘er up and drive ‘er to her new home in the country…

Exhausted Gideon slept all the way there.  (Noteworthy: Was he really that little?? And did we actually think this tree adventure would mean anything to him at this age?!)

So anyhow, we got the tree home and set it up in the front yard and…it seems to have expanded a little during its 10-mile trip down the highway. My Daddy stands in the yard and stares at it.

Mr. Gore drags it inside, nonetheless…

and it self-inflates to twice its normal size. This can’t be the same tree that was just standing in the yard. Impossible.

Scratch that…it has tripled in size! And doubled in plain old ugliness.

My Mom just fled the room, laughing until she cried.

Our ridiculous tree not only dwarfed the living room with its majestic girth, but its cedar scent infiltrated every corner of the house, not fresh and invigorating like a Colorado pine, but dank and dirty like it was from…well, a random pasture in Oklahoma. It gagged us one and all.

I initially tried trimming at the branches with some kitchen shears, but they were no match for this “tree” and I had to fetch some weed whackers.

Two whacks in, however, I gave up, afraid to make it worse. (Not to mention the rash that began creeping up my arms the minute they made contact with the tree).

That’s right…I said rash. I couldn’t go near this tree. Thus, Mr. Gore had to decorate it while I looked on from across the room. (I hate to be repetitive, but again…is this really the same tree? Does it not look like it has now cloned itself or given birth to triplets?)

The next day, Daddy tried to revive our Christmas spirit by heroically decorating the rest of the tree, and I so wish I had the pictures to show what happened next: this giant tree, full of breakable ornaments, fell over, smashing into the living room floor with all the gusto of its initial fall in the wilderness. Screaming in shock and terror, I scooped up both children and ran from the room, never once thinking to take just one picture of the aftermath.

I don’t know what was more disturbing…the heirloom ornaments that were shattered that day or the manic and wild nature of this tree that would cause it to just leap from its stand like that. I think it was sending us a message: You should’ve gone “to town”, suckers.

Christmas morning came, and our Giant Christmas Shrub of 2009 was there to greet us.

I will admit, the tree had its moments. At times, I would walk into the room and laugh, but at others, I would marvel at its beauty and admire its pioneer spirit and smell…

but by Christmas morning, it had begun to settle, and was 100% irrefutably…ugly. And kind of crooked.

You know, though, it’s funny…

We’ve had a lot of really beautiful Christmas trees over the years, and this tree is the only one I distinctly remember.

I could pick it out of a line-up.

p.s. That’s not a compliment.

December Party Ideas

I’m going to make this post pretty snappy, because time’s a’wastin’!

We had 2 kid parties last year that were so much fun, and there is still time for you to have one of your own before December zooms by:

1. On 11-11-11, my Mom had all the kids out for a weenie roast in the woods. The components: a) At 11:11 a.m., we threw confetti in the air. b) We took a group picture with printed off (and then framed) number 11’s, and c) Mom gave each child $11.11 to spend on someone else. (11-11-11 also happened to fall on Veteran’s Day, so this party had a patriotic theme to it).

All that to say, there is still time for you to plan a 12-12-12 party at 12:12!! It doesn’t have to be fancy, and could require very little thought, but don’t miss this VERY last opportunity to commemorate all those matching numbers. Why is this so important? I have no idea. It just feels super special.

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2. And about a week-and-a-half before Christmas, Mama had the kids back over for a baking party. I loved this party because she actually let the kids do almost all of the baking and decorating, and she used it to help them learn to serve others. As the cookies were cooling, the children were instructed to decorate paper sacks and write little cards for some of the members of our church. Then we all loaded up into a church van and made cookie deliveries. We also sang “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” at each house. Take a look:












I won’t mention what happened about halfway through our deliveries, but…you can read about how Miss Sunday gruesomely smashed her finger and had to be rushed to the hospital (and later have surgery) here: Mrs. Gore has a DAY

Still…this was a truly special day and one of my favorite parties ever, no bells and whistles and very others-oriented. I want to do more of this with my kids.

Let me know if you decide to try either of these “parties” and how they turn out! And please forgive me if there were any typing or spelling errors in this post – I’m in THAT big of a hurry and had to get this published (without editing) so you would have time to plan your 12-12-12 party. Spit-spot!! Off you go!

Christmas Christmas Time is Here

I was going through pictures and videos the other day and came across a little nugget of Christmas cheer to help you get in the holiday spirit.

Here’s Miss Sunday (last Christmas, 2 1/2 years old), singing her rendition of The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late). Please don’t miss the “Alvin!!!” part at the end.

And please, don’t let the cuteness slay you like it did me. Just kidding. No, I’m not. This is really cute.

Even if this child was not my offspring and did not inherit my amazing singing voice.

Anyhow. Christmas Time is here!!! I, too, can hardly stand the wait.

Merry Christmas, from Mrs. Gore to You

I drove by a house last night that I used to frequently pass on my long drive home from the University of Oklahoma every weekend. It is in the middle of what many would call “nowhere”, but that doesn’t stop its owners from absolutely decking it out with pretty Christmas lights every year. Driving by it used to bring me such cheer in the winter months, adding to the Christmas spirit that cloaked me from head to toe from October to January. (You should understand that in those days, I had little more to do than have Christmas spirit and write hot checks…)

And there it was last night, sparkling and festive as ever on that dark Oklahoma highway.

And my, it took me back…

I was in my early 20’s, devoted enough to my parents and to my home church to drive home every single weekend. I loved that 2-hour drive from school to our quiet home in the woods and I would spend my trip singing at the top of my lungs to my “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” soundtrack or listening to a Harry Potter audio book or practicing my French at the direction of my “French for Dummies” CD. Or sometimes I would just think the entire way home.

Kind of like I was doing last night.

I would think about school and church and family and such, but mostly I would think about the future as I spent countless hours dreaming and planning. Those dreams were pretty lofty back then and were probably extremely misguided, but at the root of them was a deep hope for a bright and happy future. And I’d be lying if I said that I had complete faith that God was going to pull through for me and make that happen.

But He has.

That girl with all those hopes and dreams was completely unaware that her best days were ahead.

She didn’t know then that she was going to marry the young man who was just then stealing her heart. She didn’t know that he would continue to grow into a man greater than any fabrication of her sweetest and biggest dreams, well after her wedding day. She didn’t know there would be a Gideon, and a Rebekah and a Betsie who would turn her selfish world upside down and teach her day by day what it means to love someone else and live for them. She didn’t know about all the precious moments she would continue to share with her parents and her brothers and their wives and their children. She had no idea that God would be faithful to her church and morph it into a fellowship truer and sweeter than she had ever experienced. She didn’t know that He would continue to change her heart in radical ways and that her best days of learning were not behind her but in front of her. She didn’t know that life could possibly grow sweeter and richer and more tender…

As I drove by that house, the mere thought of these many blessings filled up my heart and caused me to revel in the grand quietude of this Christmas season. And I realized for the thousandth time that none of my greatest gifts have been purchased, but rather, crafted and mapped out by the hand of an extremely loving and merciful God.

Beautiful lives start at the manger, where the Savior of the world lay wrapped in swaddling clothes, biding His time until He would bring hope and change to a very dark world. 2000+ years later, I’m driving down the road by a house bedecked with Christmas lights and my heart is shouting “Thank you!”

I hope, with all my heart, that He floods your world with His glorious light this Christmas Day.