Category Archives: This Is How We Do It

I Don’t Know How You Do It

I Don't Know How You Do It

I hear it often: “I don’t know how you do it.”

I hear it almost as often as “Oh, you’ve got your hands full.”

In this 28 minute audio post, I share my thoughts on the comment and what I share with those who make it.

Please excuse my still-raspy voice and the occasional sniffle. I think my body is revolting against the temperatures that drop below 50˚. Living near the equator for years will do that to you.

 

As always, you can listen to it here or download below.


To Be Your Mama

To Be Your Mama

“I’m so glad I get to be your mama.”

It’s a phrase I use often. It’s true. It’s intentional.

Of the things I want most for my children, nearing the top of the list is a feeling — a knowledge — that they are delighted in. That they loved, that they are cherished.

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“Preparing the Soil” wasn’t a name pulled out of nowhere. When I read the parable of the sower with fresh eyes and realized that the seed thrown (the Word) was the same in each of the four stories, I sat staring…realizing even more the incredible power in parenting.

We can throw the Word at our children. We can bring them to church, put them in Christian schools or teach Christian curriculum at home, we can buy them Christian books, send them to Christian camps, and pray for Christian friends.

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But if their hearts (the soil) has not been tended to and is not ready to receive the truth of the gospel’s great love and freedom, our attempts at growing our children up in the Lord will be in vain.

A farmer tends his soil. He waters it. He plows it. He prepares it. Before the first seed is planted, the ground is made ready to receive.

In the same way, we must tend to our children’s hearts.

“I’m so glad I get to be your mama.”

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I say it with words. I say it with actions. I say it with the things I say yes to and the things I say no to. I say it with the food I make, the trips we take, the choices we make. I say it with the tone of my voice and the feel of my touch.

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“You are loved. You are delighted in. You are a blessing in my life. You are not a distraction or a hindrance to my life. You are part of the abundant life God has given me and I’m so glad I get to be your mama.”

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Arches National Park

By the time we got to Arches, we were tired. We had just spent an entire week in Yellowstone and Grand Tetons and we had been on the road for almost a month. Add in the 100˚ temps and we were rendered pretty out of it. We decided that rather to to push hard to make sure we “saw it all,” we would instead do a lot of resting and only a little hiking. This meant that we didn’t see a lot of arches, but it also meant that we got the rest we needed to gear up for the last two weeks of our trip. We knew going into the trip that there would be things that just had to be cut. It was more important that we enjoyed our trip and enjoyed one another rather than checking every single thing off our list.

We had two nights and one day near the park. The campground was full (one of the few National Park campgrounds that allows reservations), and this turned out to be a good thing. After camping at Badlands National Park with temps in the upper 90˚s, I was happy to not tent it. Instead, we found a great place with what they call tent cabins. The cabins have beds and A/C, but no bathroom. Outside there is a picnic table and grill. It was the perfect compromise for a bunch of weary travelers.

(phone photo)

(phone photo)

 

We arrived at about 6pm and I ran to the grocery store to get some food for dinner. The kids (Alaina especially) were THRILLED to find out that the cabin had a TV and got TLC. That meant that she got to watch the season premeire of 19 Kids and Counting. We snacked on veggies and dip and watched.

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The next morning we headed out early for a hike. We knew that if we didn’t get out early, we wouldn’t get out at all. The temperature hovers around 100˚ by late morning and doesn’t relent until the sun goes down. We spent about four hours driving through the park and hiking. It was bright and sunny and was scorching by the time we were done, but we had a great time and we were glad that we got to see the parts of the park we did. We debated about going back later in the evening to see the famous Delicate Arch, but instead opted for and afternoon at the pool and resting. The key to a trip like ours is to know when you need to rest and then to do it. The kids, however, did get to complete the Junior Ranger program, making it their fourth of the trip!

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Grand Teton National Park

In case you missed our big news the other day, you can read all about what’s next for the Phillips right HERE.


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Grand Teton National Park…

I have to say, this is one of the parts of the trip I was most looking forward to. I had seen some beautiful photos by Ashley Ann Photography when they were on their big trip a few weeks prior, and I was blown away with the beauty. I couldn’t wait to see it for myself!

While we enjoyed our tent camping in Badlands National Park, I wasn’t too excited about the thought of camping in Grand Tetons and Yellowstone in what could easily be 30˚ temps. Six kids, 30˚, and a tent (not to mention having to cook in the cold) just wasn’t going to work. After a little research, we found a place near Idaho Falls that rents travel trailers for a really reasonable price. After leaving my parents house in Bozeman, we headed down and picked up our trailer from OK Trailer. It was the perfect way to see the park and stay warm at the same time! It was a 26′ Springdale and it was perfect for us!

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Grand Tetons is much smaller than Yellowstone, but we still had a great time camping, hiking, and driving around. It was so beautiful!

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It's amazing how much time preparing and eating food takes while you are on the road. At least we can have fun with it!

It’s amazing how much time preparing and eating food takes while you are on the road. At least we can have fun with it!

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Future Grand Teton Junior Rangers

Future Grand Teton Junior Rangers

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Rock throwing

Rock throwing

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Pebble rain

Pebble rain

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Popcorn for dinner

Popcorn for dinner

The chipmunks like when we have popcorn

The chipmunks like when we have popcorn

Early morning walk to the lake

Early morning walk to the lake

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This Boy is Loved

This Boy is Loved

Many people wonder how large families make it work.

How is there time for all of the kids?

How is there enough money to feed and clothe them?

How is there enough love for each of them?

Don’t some of the kids feel unloved or ignored?

How do you manage all the sibling squabbles?

These are great questions. I can — obviously — only speak from my own experience of having a larger family, but I know without a doubt that having a big family is worth every single tear, moment of frustration, fear for the future, spilled drink, dirty diaper, and middle-of-the-night wake up. It is is very hard and so very rewarding.

I hope that in the future I can share a little more about the hows and whys of the way we make it work. I know that many people, even in their insensitive (and sometimes downright ludicrous!) comments, are really just curious. They want to know how it works.  I want to share some of that and I hope that in the coming months there will be opportunities (and if you have any specific questions I would be more than happy to try to answer them!)

For today, though, I just want to help set aside the notion that there is not enough love to go around. For some reason people think that baby #6 is in no way capable of receiving the same amount of love as babies #1 and #2. And you know what? That is true.

Baby number six receives SO MUCH MORE.

 

My friends, this boy is LOVED.

He is doted on. He is cared for. He is played with. He is adored. He is photographed.

And not just by his parents (like poor baby #1), but by all of his siblings.

They ADORE him. They want to be with him. They want to get him dressed, get his bottle, and strap him into the car. They play ball with him and they slide down the stairs with him. Just this week, when given the opportunity to go out to lunch with mom, two of the kids decided to stay home to play with Zach (my sweet Aunt Becky was watching him for me).

From the moment they met him, his brothers and sisters have cherished him.

This Boy is Loved | Preparing the Soil

 

And for some recent proof….

Mr. Z looked crazy-adorable on Sunday before church and I wanted a few pictures of him before we got into the car. He isn’t totally steady on his feet yet and I didn’t want him falling in the dirt, so I asked Alaina to hold his hand while he steadied himself. She was happy to oblige.

This Boy is Loved | Preparing the SoilHe finally stood still for a minute or so and I was able to capture his cuteness.

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And then he wanted to walk. Again, not wanting him to fall into the dirt right before church, Alaina and Levi were quick to let him grab a finger or two.

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A lack of love is not a problem in this family.

What Bible Time Looks Like for Me

As promised, I am here to share what my Bible time looks like. This isn’t a prescription for you, but my hope and prayer is that it will give you some insight and ideas as you make the most important resolution.

As you may notice, I don’t call this time in my day my “quiet time.” There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this often-used title, but I choose a different name for two main reasons:

1) “Quiet time” implies that the only time you can do it is when all is quiet. And while that is the ideal, to make that a hard and fast command may rule out spending time with the Lord for for people in a number of different situations. The idea that all has to be perfect before I crack open my Bible is a dangerous mentality. As anyone with small kids knows, the moment of “perfect” will never come.

2) I want my children to know that the time I spend with the Lord is spent reading my Bible. The Bible is the purpose of this time set aside. Take out the Bible and there is no Bible time. Devotional guides, the “quiet time” choice for many women, perhaps have their place. However, thinking that reading about the Bible is the same thing as actually reading the Bible is akin to thinking that participating in movie review committee is the same as actually watching the movie. The discussion and critique of the review committee may be helpful, but without having actually previewed the film, most of the benefit is lost.

D.A. Carson expresses this clearly:

Devotional guides tend to offer short, personal readings from the Bible, sometimes only a verse or two, followed by several paragraphs of edifying exposition. Doubtless they proposed personal help for believers with private needs, fears, and hopes. But they do no provide the framework of what the Bible says—the “plot line” or “story line”—the big picture that makes sense of all the little bits of the Bible. Wrongly used, such devotional guides may ultimately engender the profoundly wrong-headed view that God exists to sort out my problems; they may foster profoundly mistaken interpretations of some Scriptures, simply because the handful of passages they treat are no longer placed within the framework of the big picture, which is gradually fading from our view. Only systematic and repeated reading of the whole Bible can meet these challenges (emphasis mine).

I think some the reasons we gravitate towards devotional guides (or doing nothing at all) rather than immersing ourselves in the Bible itself are that

1) We don’t understand the Bible
2) We find it boring
3) We don’t really know where to begin or what to read
4) We have wrong motives for our reading

My brief comments on those issues are as follows:

1) We will continue to not understand the Bible if we continue to not read it
2) It is boring because of point number one (we don’t understand it) and because of point number four (we have wrong motives).
3) Having a perpetual plan for systematic reading will eliminate the “where do I read” problem (I will share mine below).
4) Our motives can be revealed, I believe, with this question:

Are you reading the Bible to soothe your own heart or are you reading in order to more fully know the heart of God?

 

For most of my life I read for the former: I was looking to Scripture to give me the hope, encouragement, and advice I needed. And Scripture does do that with amazing beauty and grace. However, that’s not why we should read. Instead, our motive should be to know the heart of God. How can we align our heart with His if we don’t seek to know His heart? He has chosen to reveal His heart for His creation, His people, and His plan in His Word.  He wants us know Him, His heart, and His purpose. If we want to truly know Him, we must ingest the entire Word, not simply the “not boring” parts.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

And with that sermonette out of the way, this is what my Bible time looks like, and has looked like, since June 2011.

I get up early. The time has changed over the years, but really early works for me. Like 4 am early. Now I am not implying that you need to get up at 4 am in order to have time with the Lord. But maybe you do. I choose this time for several reasons:

1) I really do need quiet. I am a very sensitive person when it comes to sensory input. I can’t handle a lot before I am overwhelmed (this is why I decorate in simple ways, why I almost never listen to music, and why at potlucks I just choose one or two things to eat). Also, due to living just off the equator where the sun rises at 5 am and thus little eyelids (and mouths) pop open by 5:30, getting up early is a must. There are many days, however, when one or two little ones make it downstairs before I am done. I greet them warmly, ask them how their night was, and let them cuddle in if they so choose. They know, however, that my Bible time is important and it isn’t time for them to chatter, play on the computer, or ask me to do something for them. Through training, they have learned to respect my time.

2) I am a non-functioning person at night. I can’t read, I can barely think, and I am not much of a conversationalist. Morning is when I am sharp. We are to give our first fruits to the Lord and my first hours are my best hours.

3) If I don’t get it done first thing in the morning, there is a good chance it won’t happen at all. We must do what is most important before everything else takes over.

The sheer pace of life affords us many excuses for sacrificing the important on the alter of the urgent.” — D.A. Carson

And with coffee in hand, I read.

First, I start with a Proverb corresponding to the day of the month. 31 Proverbs, 30 or 31 days in the month. After 30 months of continuous reading of Proverbs, I can’t emphasize the benefit of this enough. The practical advice mixed with the heartfelt plea to seek wisdom is life changing.

Second, I read from my beloved Daily Light. After the Bible, nothing has been more beneficial in my walk with Christ. I’ve been reading my Daily Light for almost 15 years and it has, in an amazing way, spoken to me with words that went straight to the heart. Each day is divided up into two readings, one for the morning and one for the evening (though I read them both in the morning). Each reading is a composite of Bible passages centered around a theme. What I like about this is that it take various verses that shine brighter together than when I read them separately.

Third, I read the passages outlined in For the Love of God, Volumes One and Two (from which the above D.A. Carson quotes originate). The Scripture reading plan (that he borrowed from the M’Cheyne plan) lists four chapters to read (from various places in the Bible) each day. Over the course of the year, it guides you through the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice.

Fourth, I read the corresponding commentary for the Bible passages. In Volume One, Carson speaks to one of the first two passages and in Volume Two, to one of the second two passages. His commentary is meant to help the reader grasp how the readings fit within the larger Biblical narrative. His remarks aren’t to tie everything up in a cute little bow and send you on your way with flowery sentiment. Rather, his brief remarks are to help you increase your Biblical understanding. It has been immensely helpful to me. I think I have read through the entire Bible five or six times in my life and I am only now starting to understand the basic narrative. Carson’s comments have answered a lot of questions and have created new ones for me to search out answers to.

During these four parts (all of the books other than my Bible are read on my Kindle, mostly so they will travel easily), I keep my notebook open and write down verses that stood out to me, thoughts that I have, or prayers of my heart. I love looking back through my notebook to see what God was teaching me at the time. Because this plan is a perpetual plan—once you finish December 31 your turn right back to January 1—I read the same things from year to year. But my heart and life are in a different place from year to year and therefore the lessons that grab my attention also differ. It’s truly awe-inspiring to see the Living Word impacting my life in new ways during new times.

After I finish reading (which depending on how much journaling I do can take anywhere from 20-50 minutes), I head out the door. I have never been very good with praying and sitting still (well, I am just not good at sitting still.) So I pray while I walk or run. Every day, I spend about 45 minutes outside, strengthening my body through exercise and strengthening my heart through meditation and prayer.

I get home, eat breakfast, live out the moments of my day, go to bed at 8:30 or 9:00, and get ready to do it all over again the next day.

Let Dad be Dad

I heard Jason calling from downstairs. “Janet, you might want to bring your camera.” Surprised that he was home so soon from his bike ride, I grabbed my  camera and headed downstairs. I peeked out the front door and then I saw it: my two sweet girls, still sitting in the bike trailer, covered in mud.

Ahem.

I promise you: they were clean when they left the house an hour earlier. Seeing Jason sporting the same muddy attire, I dared to ask what happened.

“We went on a bike ride,” he said with his childlike grin cracking through the dried mud on his face.

“The path was muddy,” he said as if somehow that would explain everything.

I looked at my girls, faces filled with smiles and dirt and mud stuck between teeth.

And then I smiled.

A long time ago, perhaps even before we had kids, I was given an amazing piece of advice: Let dad be dad.

I wish I could remember who it was that I was speaking with because I want to thank them for that nugget of wisdom that has served us well these past eleven years. Yes. Let dad be dad.

Back when it was just Alaina and Caleb, I remember getting our first note that commended Jason for who he was as a father. It was thoughtful and kind and we were appreciative. Since that time, we have received more notes, endless comments, and even a few “Wow, can he come watch my kids?” enquiries Despite the small amount of fear people have for the safety of my kids as he throws them around, all of the comments have been positive.

“He’s such a good dad.”

“He’s so good with the kids.”

“You’re so lucky!”

“It’s a amazing that he will stay home and watch six kids by himself!”

And they are right.  He is a good dad. He is great with the kids. I am lucky. It is amazing.

Before I was even interested in Jason, I told my friend, “That guy is going to be an amazing father.” Little did I know that I would get to watch it day after day.

Let dad be dad.

I often wonder what would have happened if someone hadn’t told me to let dad be dad. What if instead of letting him parent the way he knows how, I criticized everything he did? What if I didn’t trust him with the kids? What if I felt the need to write copious notes every time I stepped out the door? What if I didn’t let him draw all over our kids with face paint and let them get covered in mud?

I think he’d want to quit.

Most of us moms want our husbands to be involved. When they try to be, however, we nag and pick and rebuke.

“Oh, he can’t eat that!”

“Don’t let them play with that!”

“He’ll get hurt! Please don’t do that!”

“What are you doing? She can’t possibly try that yet!”

How hard it must be to try to parent with those criticisms flying through the air! The natural response of many men, understandably, is that they stop trying. Would you keep attempting something if another person constantly reminded you (in word and deed) that you are doing it wrong? I wouldn’t.

And so, I let dad be dad. I let him throw the kids in the air and I let him smear their face with whipped cream and I let him take little girls on muddy bike rides. Baths fix a lot of things.

This isn’t to say I haven’t had to express concern a time or two. Us mama bears have keen observation and due to the amount of time we spend with the children, we know their rhythms and routines in a more intimate way. But for the most part, I have to let Jason be himself. I let him be the fun-loving, adventure-seeking, crazy-idea-concocting, cookies-before-dinner, this-is-impossible-and-probably-not-safe dad that he is. And in the absence of my criticism, he just gets better and better.

Our kids are very lucky. And very happy.

And so am I.

 

Pause, Reset, Play…

Maybe it comes from our camping ministry background. Maybe it comes from the awesome car trips all over America that my parents took me on. Maybe it comes from the fact that I love routine and I love breaking routine. Who knows? What I do know is that getting away as a family is a very good thing.

We try to do it every few months. When the beauty of routine starts feeling confining, I know it’s time. It’s time to find another place to lay our heads and new scenery to fix our eyes upon. With just over two months back in Indonesia, the little box of life and routine was starting to suffocate. Add in a sweet boy oh-so-sick with typhoid and there was no way getting around it — we had to get away.

A friend mentioned a hotel in a nearby hill resort town and I was able to get a great deal on it as a last minute booking. It was perfect. A two bedroom apartment with a kitchenette, bathtub, dining table, glass walls, and endless views of tea fields. And all for $80.

Deep breaths of beauty, gratitude, and hope filled my weary soul.

When we get away as a family, whether it is for a night or a week, we are able to do some things that we can’t seem to do at home.

First, we pause. The schedule and the to-do list are set aside and we catch ourselves with nothing to do but embrace the stillness and the  silence (well, mental silence anyway…with six little ones, actual silence doesn’t ever happen). When we pause, we remember why we love each other the way we do and we are intentional about enjoying that love.

Second, we reset. Armed with a remembered and focused love, we are able to remind ourselves of the big things in life. When most of our days revolve around history and math review, making meals, and keeping a two-year-old from destroying the house, the truly important things often get lost along with the shoes and pacifiers. When we get away, however, and remember who we are as a family, what we stand for, and what we want out of life, we are able to reset and make sure our compass is pointed in the right direction.

And third, we return home and push play again, letting our days follow a familiar pattern infused with a renewed commitment to who we are and where we are heading.

I love getting away.

We’re Three Days In

It’s hard to believe that this is year number of five of homeschooling. In all honesty, I often still feel like I am fumbling around, not knowing what I am doing. I still worry that my kids aren’t learning what they need. I still feel inadequate. I still get sidetracked by others and convince myself that I will never measure up. I often wonder if I took a tragic wrong turn the day I withdrew my kids from school.

Alaina, age 10

Taking your children’s education into your own hands — it’s not easy. It’s not without trial and error. It’s not without gaps in learning. It’s not without days dreaming of a yellow bus that will pick the kids up  for eight hours every day.

However, through all the hard bits and the days that I think I may go literally insane for lack of quiet, this is the path we are on. It is one we chose and yet also one we feel called to. We trudge through the valleys and marvel at the peaks. It’s hard work, but I am thankful.

Caleb,age 9

As we begin our firth year of homeschooling, I thought I would share a few things I have learned along the way. I am by no means a homeschooling expert, not do I ever envision myself to be one. I imagine I’ll still be fretting about not doing enough in my 20th year of homeschooling if the Lord keeps us on this path that long. However, I am somewhat of an expert when it comes to homeschooling my children. I have learned what works for us, what doesn’t work for us, what is important to me, what I could take or leave. I have become more convinced and comfortable in the approach we are taking, even if it doesn’t look anything like anyone else’s approach. We’re on our own journey, and some lessons have been learned in the process.

Levi, age 7

Over the next few days, I will some lessons that have helped shape us into the homeschooling family we are. Always keep in mind, though…these are our lessons. This is what we have learned. If it helps you in your journey, great. If not, that’s great too. You might be on a different educational path (homeschool or otherwise.) Each of us have a different route to take to get where we are going. Rather point out how different the road, let us cheer one another on as we seek to do the very best for our kids.

Katie, age 5

I’ll dive into these more over the next few days, but for those overly eager ones, here are ten lessons I am thankful for (in no particular order).

Bethany, age 2

1. The best curriculum is the one that gets done.

2. Every family is unique in its situation, resources, size, personality, time, support, and passions. Because of this, rarely will two homeschooling families look alike.

3. In schools, grade levels serve a purpose. At home, they are just numbers. 

4. In order to feel confident that your children are getting what they need, you need to be convinced in your own mind of what exactly those needs are.

5. You have to be okay with interruptions and imperfection.

6. You have to admit how little you know and be willing to learn alongside your children.

7. The greatest education (both in amount and in importance) happens outside of “school” time.

8. Memorization is a beautiful thing.

9. You have to take the bad days to get the good ones.

10. I am ever-thankful for Philippians 4:13.

Zachary, almost 5 months

FIVE

Each new child brings much more than another body into the home.  A new child means an addition (and shift) in relationships. Welcoming a new baby into our family will mean welcoming seven new two-person relationships as well as a myriad of other multi-person relationships.  It is a beautiful thing to watch.  I have so enjoyed seeing our family dynamics shift over the last two years as Bethany has integrated herself into our life. There is such wonder and beauty in watching how a new little one fits into the picture.  I love seeing the relationships grow and develop. I love seeing the love the kids have for one another and the personalities that emerge as individuals and as a group. I have said it many times: my very favorite part of parenting is watching (and intentionally developing) sibling relationships.  It is beautiful. It is work.  It is so, so worth it.

When we announced that we were expecting number six, someone commented about “that poor youngest kid who will always get picked on.” As a non-confrontational person, I usually just bite my tongue and let people think what they would like.  In this instance, however, the mama bear in me came out and I tried to calmly explain that we do things differently around here.  There is no “picking on” the younger kids.  There is no name calling. There is no teasing.  There is no ganging up against one another. There is no laughing at each other’s faults and quirks. It isn’t that we don’t have fun, because we do, but we refuse to do it at the expense of others.  We have zero tolerance for it.  Instead, we teach and model how to love one another, how to verbally affirm one another, how to serve one another, and how to see the unique ways that we were each created.  We have our sibling spats and we have siblings who would like to be in charge and siblings that get on each other’s nerves— we are far from perfect! — but we are working to create a home environment where everyone feels loved, everyone feels valued, and everyone realizes and understands that their uniqueness makes them a special and valuable member of our family.

And so, as we look to welcoming a new life and a new personality into our family, I wanted to take some time to celebrate our family for what it has been these last two years (Bethany turned two yesterday!) Lord willing, I will only be a mama to five for another week or so. And so I stop now to thank the Lord for the blessing of five.  It’s been amazing.


Number six…we’re ready for you!