Which one is it?
Victoria (asking about praying before we ate): Can we pray in our heads?
Me: Yes.
Victoria: Okay. Can you pray for us then?

So, so tired
Victoria (after sitting in my lap for a while in the morning): I’m tired…
Me: Oh, you’re tired? Do you need to go back to bed then?
Victoria: No, I’m tired of sleeping.

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Esther: I smell cookies.
Miriam: I don’t smell anything. All I smell is food.

I’m clearly funnier than you realize
Miriam (after saying something she thought was über-funny): Nobody’s laughing. Why?

Some people call them happy meals
Victoria: Why did you get us laughing meals?

Well, clearly I’m wrong here…
Bill: Come upstairs for a bath.
Victoria: But Daddy, I have nothing on me!

That’s an odd reason
Victoria (telling us why her usual dance teacher wasn’t there): My dance teacher was getting dressed. [She was at a dress rehearsal.]

Best joke ever
Miriam: Why do mommies and daddies say amen? Daddies do because they’re a-MEN.

Almost, but not quite
Game Question: What is the name of our galaxy?
Ariana: Oh, I know—the United States of America!

Talk about stinky
Miriam: I opened the outside trash can and it smelled really bad.
Me: Like your butt?
Miriam: No! It was worse!

No hypocrites allowed
Victoria: Josiah and Aiden were talking at the table when you told them not to.
Me: Oh really? Were you doing anything wrong, like maybe tattling on your brothers?
Victoria: Nope!

Trying to explain medical procedures to a four-year-old
Victoria (referring to Liam’s 2010 spinal surgery she’d just learned about): Liam went to the doctor and the doctor gave him a spinal cord!

Remember Who the Enemy Is

Bill and I watched the final movie of the Hunger Games series last night. In case you’ve been in a hole the past few years and have no idea the premise, here are the basics in one sentence: kids are forced to kill kids each year in a game in order for the president (President Snow) to keep everyone under his thumb. Bet you feel all fuzzy inside now.

One of the themes that comes up in the second book is, “Remember who the enemy is.” In other words, the people you’re killing are slaves just like you. Though you don’t see the enemy (the president), all of this is his doing. So let everything you do be to fight him, not necessarily the other contestants.

All I can think when I hear this is, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

When we woke up this morning and talked to our kids, we found out one child took the opportunity of having babysitters last night to build sin upon sin. And I got ticked. Originally, my anger was directed at my daughter, but when I recalled this passage, my anger became greater.

But not toward my daughter.

Anger at a devil who has been defeated but is raging against Jesus in his final days. Anger that he still has such a hold of my little girl who has already been through more than most adults I know.

So this morning I’ve been praying. Praying for my daughter’s tender heart which is as easily deceived as her mother’s. Praying for Jesus to save her so one day she can cry out, “You put forth your best effort. You thought you had me because of my past, because of my failure, because I deserve nothing better than you. But oh, you fool! You can’t separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus! My salvation doesn’t come from my works but from the grace of God alone through the blood of his Son, and that same Son defeated you already when he was raised from the dead. You’re so pitifully powerless that I mock your effort. I’m his, not yours.”

Our battle isn’t against our children. Let’s pray for our children, who, like us, are so easily swayed by lies of one far worse than President Snow. Don’t forget who the enemy is, and rejoice in the power of the Victor.


Future mathematician:

Essie: 95?! Wow, that’s millions!

Addressing a huge issue:

Essie: Miriam and I are the only ones who fix the playhouse roof. No one else wants to. It’s SUPER serious.

Sometimes we just need a minute:

Essie: Mom…
Me: What is it?
Essie: Hold on, let me get this laugh out.


H: I think I smell pork from a porcupine.

Dressing a toy knight:

Victoria:  It fits the night night guy!

Good idea:

H: I’m just going to be patient and wait until I’m older to die.

Declaration after riding her bike fast down the sidewalk and crashing into the bottom step at full speed over and over:

Miriam: Every time I hit the step, I feel like I have to poop, but I don’t!

Potato Potahto:

Bill: Did you know you set the alarm off this morning?
Miriam: I didn’t set it off. I set it on!

From the mouth of babes:

Ariana: She’s a lot like Mommy, but she doesn’t use as many words. She only talks when she’s supposed to.

At least they aren’t organized criminals:

Bill: What’s the head of the Mafia called?
Liam: Mozzarella

While Liam was dog sitting:

Ariana: You’re going to the dog house!

We’ll think about it:

Victoria: When I finish sleeping can I wake up?

Conversation about her co-op teachers:

Me: It sounds like you have wise teachers.
Miriam: I don’t think I have wise teachers.
Me: What does “wise” mean?
Miriam: It means wise and strong, and I don’t really get this.

Pop cultured:

Bill: What is Bruce Springsteen’s nickname?
Liam: Wait, I know! He’s in Monsters, Inc!

Nailed speech therapy:

Josiah: Es ease!
Bill: Can you say, “Yes, please?”
Josiah: Yes, pease.
Bill: Yes! That was it!
Josiah: (looking proud) I said “es ease”

You Make Life a Song

My Love,

In lieu of the usual paragraph tribute I give to you on Facebook, I want to write something more substantial and permanent than that. But I also want to share it on the interwebs to give others a peek into the inner beauty most see glimpses of but don’t even know exist. And I think this is the closest version of praising my wife in the gates that I can come up with. My adoration of you is so profound that, like Luigi, “I must scream it to the world, my excitement from the top of someplace very high.” So here goes…

Like Daddy Warbucks/Will Stacks sings about Annie, “You’ve made life a song; you’ve made me a singer.” That phrase has been bouncing around in my head for weeks, because it’s truly what you’ve done for me. It’s like (nerd moment coming, love) all my life up to that point had been listening to scratched up LPs with a bad needle when suddenly you came along with digital clarity. I’d heard before, but never really heard. I’d sung before, but never really sung.

How do I even explain this?

Like John Nash’s beautiful mind needed his wife’s sole encouragement to find hope, you have centered the wild musings of my mind into a Jesus-centered focus on forever. Like Christian and Satine, I “never knew I could feel like this, like I’d never seen the sky before.” Like Sun and Jin, time and space and crashing planes and sinking submarines could never keep us apart. Like Darcy’s poorly expressed ardor for Elizabeth: “In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

It’s like all that and more. Far, far more. The song didn’t start until you came. And it wasn’t just enough that you started the song, you somehow roped me into singing along with you.

Worse: you got me to like singing with you, no matter if serious or frivolous or silly or wild or earnest or intense.

More profound than what you did for me is the fact that you do this for the souls you touch. You’ve left behind a trail of grace through your encounters over the years. There’s something about you—a spark, a vivacity—that is irresistibly contagious. What bothers me more than anything is that I find describing it so difficult. Your influence is so subtle, so understated. It’s not that you make people laugh (though you do). It’s not that you’re the life of every party (though you are). It’s that you bring out the hidden trueness of someone without them ever knowing you were doing it. Never have I seen anyone who can draw out even the shyest person like you can. Never have I seen anyone convince other people to do these silly, crazy things like you can. It’s astounding.

This gift from God would, of course, be despicable if you used to for self-seeking gain. You don’t. I don’t think it’s ever even occurred to you to do that. This gift of yours that finds the truest part of a person’s soul and helps them draw it out is also the truest part of your soul, too. Not that you would ever see that. You’re so blinded by failures and missed expectations and ludicrous goals and unrealistic hopes that Superman would have trouble pulling off in one 24-hour period that you don’t see this gift at work in you.

I’ve been watching it for fifteen years. I’ve been on the receiving end of it for fourteen years. I’ve been one flesh with it for twelve years. And I’ve seen it spread to our offspring for ten years.

You make life a song and you make us all singers.

What would life be without music? That’s not really any different than wondering what life would be like without colors. Or soft fleece. Or warm summer days. Or mighty mountains. Life without any of these things would be cold and drab and flat. Life without music , the music of the Creator weaved through our very souls, would be stunted and empty. Your gift to me, to our kids, to so many others has been the gift of song. Your life is a song—shoot, you practically live in a musical. But more deeply, your clear, luminous soprano voice has only ever been an outer reflection of your very soul. I still remember Dr. Black telling me that every singer’s personality leaks into their voice. A whiny person has a peevish voice. A timid person has a feeble voice. But your singing voice has always matched your soul voice: strong, clear, pure, and unafraid.

Your voice matches the song you present to the rest of us, the song you’re always tacitly urging us to sing with you. It’s like you’re walking up to each of us and singing, “My gift is my song; and this one’s for you.” This gift you pass on has been the Spirit’s gift to you. So, lest anyone be confused about the song you give each of us, let me be more explicit.

The songs you give are songs of life, rooted deeply in the gospel of King Jesus. Even the saddest songs from you are gilded with the hope that godly sorrow must always carry intertwining. Your songs are a reflection of the same joy that could look at all of creation after six days and call it very good. The songs you give are filled with jumping dolphins and early morning sunrises and crashing waves. Your songs are ardent greens and luscious purples and bold blues and deep reds. Yours songs are laughter and joy and sadness and togetherness and filledness. Your songs are the closest glimpse I’ll ever have to the cries of “Worthy is the Lamb!” that John heard and saw.

“How do you solve a problem like Maria?” Maria was never a problem—her song was bursting forth and needed a place to burst. You’re more like Maria than you know. I’m probably far more like Captain Von Trapp than I know. You’ve done for me what she did for him.

Fourteen years ago, we were wandering the streets of Rome, jet-lagged and clumsy. I had no idea this gorgeous woman who kept tripping over thousand-year-old cobblestones and who slipped down the Vatican steps would be the beginning of a radical change in my life. Our Father steered us together and showed us a new path he had for both of us. His hand has always been active and powerful, though seemingly in the background of the mundane and the everyday. But he was there then and he’s here now, shaping and molding us into a creation we would never have become without each other.

Today I want nothing more than to praise you for being the singer and the songwriter. For being exactly who God created and called you to be. For being able to laugh at the darkness and sing away every fear. For being the most amazing person I’ve ever had the joy of knowing.

And I want to thank you—again—for saying “Yes”.

Happy anniversary, Courtney Brooke.


Goals for 2015

GoalsIf you ever sit down with me to ask for advice on prioritizing areas of your life, I’ll tell you two things. One, simplify everything. Two, set no more than three goals to work toward at a time.

So for 2015 I thought I’d try something amazing, out of this world, life changing! I decided to actually try that out for myself.

I’m a prideful, impatient woman who believes I’m far more capable on my own than I actually am. I’m a project finisher who likes to get ‘er done, so any time I see a need for change, I reorganize my entire life by coming up with something like 30 things I’m going to change starting tomorrow. Perfect.

This time I started by listing all the roles I now have. I came up with 13 major roles and 57 sub-roles. Simplification is long overdue, can I get an amen!? So I got rid of as many roles as possible and took notes on what was left to see if patterns emerged. Three things popped out at me–I consistently rely on me instead of Jesus, I’m always distracted, and my house is NOT set up for the amount of people who live in it. Looky at that. No more than three things to work on.

As a result, my 2015 goals and sub-goals are as follows:

Gospel Centrality–I’ve lost this. I can talk the talk like nobody’s business, but my heart has forgotten truth. By God’s grace, I’m part of the most gospel-centered church I’ve ever known, which means my friends soak me with the good news of King Jesus. But in the times they aren’t in my face I easily lose my way and drift off into the horrible news of Queen Courtney. By the mercies of God, I want to immerse my mind and heart with Christ’s work, not mine. Most of the following sub-categories have all but disappeared in my life.

  • Regularly study scripture
  • Pray so I can more clearly see God at work
  • Memorize gospel-rich scripture
  • Read gospel-centered books (Bill’s helping me make a good list, and I’ll ask him to post it here in case the list would be beneficial to your soul)
  • Listen to gospel-centered sermons and music

Listen Well–My mind is busy, and I talk far too much. While I’ve tried to crucify my mouth and busyness on many crosses instead of resting in the grace that’s mine, my thoughts and tongue need a break. My ears, however, are flabby and need strength training.

  • One thing at a time when it matters–putting my phone down if the kids are talking to me, stopping school if a neighbor knocks on the door, or cheering with my man (and blessing the heck out of him!) for the Colts instead of knitting and half-watching–the point is to minimize multitasking to help my mind slow down and focus on what’s important
  • Ask questions followed by more questions in most conversations–in other words, be more interested in what others have to say than my own voice
  • Make time for intentional conversations–through both deliberate times (like a coffee date with a friend to just chat) and fun activities/events (like a craft or outing with my kids)

Set Up Home to Work Well for 10+ People–We have an OK size house, but there are many overhauls that need to happen to help it work well for a family our size. In addition to the ten of us, we plan to open our home to a young mom and her baby soon. Plus, we desire to adopt more children if the Lord wills.

  • Follow 52 Weeks to an Organized Home with my amazing friend, Lawana.
  • Use most of our “home improvement” budget on organization rather than beautification
  • Intentionally train the children to help more in this area





Sleeping with Grief


Bill and I have been talking about sleep lately–an area of our lives that either gets too much priority or not enough. We obsess over it, giving up good things in order to get the amount we need to “feel good,” or we pridefully think we can go without. So we committed yesterday morning to hold each other accountable to have a gospel-centered view of sleep.

Less than an hour after we made that commitment, my mother called choking out unbelievable words: “Before you hear it on social media, I wanted to tell you that Michael, Monica, Joshua, and Caleb were killed in a car accident last night.”

A commitment to sleep suddenly felt very stupid.

Cruce_FamilyMichael was the youth director of the church I grew up in. My parents have now been part of that church for 31 years. It’s the kind of church I still call “mine,” the family I still keep in close contact with because I just can’t quite let them go (21 years there, yo), the people I still rejoice and weep with, the ones I still love watching grow in maturity and wisdom and grace.

Bill was part of that church, too, for a couple of years. 15 months of his time, he was the interim music director. Michael was hired on during our last 5 months there before we left for Louisville.

Too short of a time to be around this beautiful family.

Michael always smiled. Always. He bled Jesus. Like you couldn’t get Michael to have a casual conversation without him bringing Christ’s name up. He made you believe Jesus was worth worshiping, and he unintentionally made you realize how you worship everything but.

Monica was quiet, soft spoken, sweet. Everything I’m not. So obviously, I really liked her. I hadn’t had nearly enough conversations with her, but over the past couple of months, God graciously brought her back in my life. They were foster-to-adopt parents. At the times I’ve been most overwhelmed, she’s been there to encourage me and give me wisdom. A woman who barely knows me except through my parents and brief encounters once a year, taking time to build a sister up.

Then the call.

No more. No more conversations with Monica. No more Instagram pictures of eternity-focused verses from Michael. No more youth pictures with him lying on the ground in front of the group, probably covered in mud. No more watching two CRAZY little boys growing into mature, godly men. No more.

Sleep wanted to come, but only tears. Endless, burning, choking tears. Tears that pushed me to obsessively check social media just to feel others’ tears, too, to be back with my family, holding each other up.

Sleep felt wrong. I wanted to feel. But eventually, much earlier than usual, it came. The body can only take so much.

And now, new mercies. A rested body that’s grace from God. And the reminder that the Cruces are sleeping, too.

It is not death for the believer to die. “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14) They’re all four with Jesus, in the most peaceful sleep in the history of ever. And their rising up won’t be just for a day, but for eternity.

They’re not dead, only sleeping.

So tonight, I accept sleep joyfully, reminded my body isn’t strong enough on its own. It has to be recharged, held up only by the love of Christ. And one day, I’ll be alongside the Cruces with the same Christ who energized my body for him all these years. The one in whom my soul rests, waiting for the last sleep and the eternal morning.


Time to go back to the history books
After learning that the first IHOP was opened in 1958, Liam pondered, “Oh, so it looked just like this except they would have used candles instead of electricity?”

Ya gotta be sure about these things
During snack, Liam threw away all his blueberries because they had gone bad and got an apple instead:
Miriam: Can I get an apple, too, because my blueberries were bad?
Court: Yes.
Ariana: But she already ate all her blueberries!
Miriam: I was just seeing if they all tasted good!

I’m a doctor, not a saint
Liam: I learned an important lesson from watching Star Trek: Don’t say half the words the doctor says.

Snips and snails and puppy dogs’ tails
Liam: Why does it always have to be that girls are creative and boys just knock things down?

The trouble with homonyms
Ariana: Am I ever going to use any of my cents?

Bathroom humor
Liam’s first crack at making up his own joke:
Q: What did the man say when his toilet started leaking?
A: Oh, poop!

Ten Weeks of Summer Fun

I’m taking a bit of a different approach this summer. Instead of trying to do bucket lists or planning week by week, I’ve scheduled the whole summer in a calendar!  I loved and used the daily theme ideas from ReMarkable Home:

But I made some minor adjustments to fit our family. We have a weekly Tuesday obligation that keeps us home in the mornings, so I switched Monday and Tuesday. Her titles are way cuter as a result. :) Also each Friday, my kids get to invite a friend over. At least THAT one worked out.

Mobile Mondays

Tinkering Tuesdays

Wet & Wild Wednesdays

Thinking Thursdays

Fresh, Fun, and Friend Fridays

Using those daily themes, I plugged them into handy dandy calendars with links. We’re still doing school this week, but my kids pushed through and finished most of their curriculum already, so the schedule starts today since I know we’ll have some extra time. The days there are no links are either days Bill’s off or a family birthday, meaning we’ll do things differently. You’ll also notice I pushed into an 11th week. That’s mainly to make up for the few days I didn’t schedule anything and to add a couple extra activities/outings I just wanted to do. I intentionally don’t have anything for August because let’s be real. There’s no way we’ll actually do ALL the activities on the day they’re planned (or maybe at all!), so August is basically make-up month until school starts again.

May 2014 Calendar

June 2014 Calendar

July 2014 Calendar

Clothes–The Least Wonderful Times of the Year

I’m happy right now. So happy. Because I’m officially finished switching the kids clothes to spring-wear. That means it will be six whole months before I have to do it again. Does anyone else get this elated about completing that task?

There’s nothing romantic about making sure your children have proper attire each season. If you find it to be so, please don’t speak so that we can still be friends. It’s boring, tedious, confusing, and messy. And sometimes I get jealous that my kids’ clothes are cuter than mine, but whatever. I’m not a fan, BUT through the years I’ve at least gotten the process down to a semi-art, an art that still takes more than a week to complete and has beauty that DEFINITELY is only in the eye of the beholder (namely me), but an art nonetheless.

So here’s the way this goes down with the Bells:

1. Organize your storage simply: We have a large tub for every size and each gender that are labeled with a fancy strip of packing tape and a Sharpie marker. It’s going to be in the basement. No one but you and Better Homes and Gardens cares about beauty here.


2. Have a fashion show: I make my kids try on every. single. garment. As with adults, there is no one-size-fits-all. So even though with one child size 8 shirts are clearly right, there will always be that one that lands somewhere just above the belly button and will be passed down to a child three years younger. Thank you, clothing designers.

3. Keep a good list of exactly what you need for each child: One year, a department store was having a killer sale. Bill and I knew the sizes our kids needed and went crazy. When we got home, we had something like 9 new outfits for our 3rd child (who didn’t need new clothes in the first place) and not enough for others. I also used to make the mistake of knowing how many tops and bottoms they needed. That worked great except for the fact that half of the tops didn’t have a bottom that would go with that doesn’t look like it’s from the 80’s.

Here’s the list we have for spring/summer. Ours is very simple because I love the word “simple” and because we don’t have to get dolled up for anything. In other words, this list isn’t a one-size-fits-all either. I have eight of most things so there’s a spare if one gets dirty (I don’t do extra laundry except by force) and so we avoid a fashion faux pax of wearing the same outfit every Thursday.

  • 8 outfits (that go together–don’t be us)
  • 8 pairs underwear
  • 8 pairs short socks
  • 1 pair tennis shoes (if there’s a good sale, my oldest son gets 2 pair because he prefers them and will need a 2nd pair by the end of the summer anyway)
  • 1 pair casual shoe (if you’ve met us EVER you know this translates into flip flops)
  • 4 pajamas sets (we wear these multiple nights in a row, yes, we do)
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 pair sunglasses
  • 1 rain boot (this is VERY optional for us)
  • 1 rain coat/jacket
  • 1 umbrella to share between two people

4. Shop for what’s needed to finish the list for everyone and nothing more: No comments here about how to do this. If I did comment I might have to confess I never do consignment sales/shops for no reason except I’m lazy and want to get it over with quickly and might tell you I basically get everything from The Children’s Place and try to justify it by bragging about all the great sales I found. There are great blogs out there about saving money. This isn’t one of them.

5. Take pictures of the outfits you brilliantly put together: This is gold for us. We like to get a project done and then never think about it ever again. So when outfits are being decided for the day, we just look at the picture we’ve taped to their closet door. Voila! The kids have freedom to “choose” their own outfits and we don’t have to be ashamed to be seen with them. Win win. Oh, and as you can see, the picture doesn’t have to be pretty. Just good enough for you to know what everything is.


6. Do ALL your laundry: How long this takes is up to you. Sometimes I push to get it done in a day. Sometimes I stick to my usual schedule of one color-group a day. The point is, get it done so you can pull all the old sizes out (from closets and dressers, too), put them in handy dandy plastic tubs, and stick those babies in storage never to be seen again–until the fall…

7. Store a few opposite weather clothes in a handy spot: Since we don’t live in the deep south, we basically get four months of semi-predictable temperatures. The rest of the time we’re at the mercy of super reliant meteorologists to know if we’ll be wearing shorts or thermal underwear in the spring. I own storage tubs that fit under beds, and we fill them with a few articles of clothing for each child that are out of season. That way I don’t have to trek down to the basement to dig through the granddaddy tubs every other day, nor do I have to stuff the kids’ drawers with every article of clothing they own.

So there you have it. Nothing magical, but it works well for us. What magic tricks do you all have up your sleeves with clothes?