A Family Code of Ethics: Why It’s a Good Idea

A Family Code of Ethics: Why It’s a Good Idea

Corporations have them. Professional organizations have them. Sports teams have them. A code of ethics is a list of standards and expectations for the daily behavior and morals of a group of people working together.

Like any team, a family needs a set of standards for what is acceptable and what is not. I’m not talking about rules, but more about a set of guiding principles that everyone–parents included–sticks to. Your own ethics have probably grown out of a set of standards you have internalized throughout your life.

Having a family code of ethics, written and agreed upon by the family working as a team, helps our children make sense of the why of things. It gives them a filter by which they can judge their decisions and interpret the moral rightness of them.

How to write a family code of ethics

What topics should you include? Here are some general ideas to get you started. You know what your values are and what you want your children to learn:

  • Respect (for ourselves and others)
  • Stewardship (taking care of resources, maintaining possessions, etc.)
  • Trustworthiness
  • Responsibility
  • Perseverance
  • Kindness
  • Service to others
  • Fair play
  • Teamwork

First, have a family meeting, during which you talk about the definition of a code of ethics, and begin to brainstorm some ideas of what it should include. Write down every idea, without editing them. All ideas are welcome.

Give everybody time, a few days to a week, to mull over the list from the brainstorming session.

Get back together to narrow down the list. You may have to combine items, remove some, or make some suggestions more general.

Finalize the list. Stick to fewer than 10 items. Try to state each principle in one sentence, if possible [ Ex.–We have respect for ourselves and other people.]

Post the list in a prominent place, like the refrigerator door, where everyone can see it.

Refer to the list when conflicts or questions come up. Talk about how an issue or decision fits the family’s code of ethics. Talking about it can lead to better decision-making skills.


Remember that it’s a standard of behavior for everyone, not a rule book to hold over each other’s heads. The rules for proper behavior in your family should–and probably will–grow out of this code. The bigger picture is that it will help grow in your family an understanding of the importance of being true to what they know is right.

As it says in Micah 6:8

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Grace is real–


Parenting a Prodigal: When Everything Seems Hopeless

Parenting a Prodigal: When Everything Seems Hopeless

I have a moisturizing cream I use every day. It’s called “Renewed Hope in a Jar.” I love this cream. I love it because every time I pick up that jar and read the label, it reminds me that my hope is not in a jar of face cream. My hope is in the Lord.

If you have an adolescent or young adult in your life who has turned from home and family to a life of sin, recklessness, excess, or even outright crime, then you are the parent of a prodigal.

Today, I won’t be discussing the guilt, the anger, the regret, or even the financial damage of your situation. You probably don’t need to go over all that again in your mind, anyway.

Today, let’s re-discover hope.

I have been at the very bottom of the hope barrel more than once in my life, and I’m here to give you some Truth from Scripture, and from other believers, to help you keep your focus where it needs to be.

Hope is not dreams and aspirations.

My son, Ricky, was never an “easy” child. Handsome, lovable, charming, smart–all those things–but never, ever, “easy”. He had a talent for drawing and graphic art, and he was a natural athlete, but he was rarely recognized for those gifts. Every parent conference was 90% about behavior and 10% about academics.

All parents have dreams for their children. Ours was that he would eventually settle down, find his niche, and live up to his potential. After he was asked to leave every school he ever attended, however, those dreams began to fade.

I am a lifelong believer in Christ, and in God’s sacrifice of His only son to set us free from sin. As any Christian mom would, I prayed for my son. So did our family, our friends, and our small, closely-knit church. I had never dug too deeply into what hope really meant though, until one night in the woods of North Carolina.

We had, after prayerful consideration, placed Ricky in a boys’ wilderness camp operated by Baptist Children’s Homes. At fourteen years old and nearly six feet tall, he needed strong structure. Challenging physical activity and large doses of Scripture, we believed, could finally turn him around.

One night, the camp director called us. Ricky was in a behavioral crisis and they needed to have a group meeting with us and his counselors. The camp rarely called these meetings, so we drove an hour and a half in the middle of the night to get there, praying all the way.

We sat around the conference table in the camp office with Ricky, his social worker, two of his counselors, and the head of the camp (a man of great wisdom and patience). As we talked, it became clear to all of us that Ricky was trying every bad behavior he could think of to get himself thrown out of the camp.

“Why don’t you guys just give up on me?” He cried.

One of the counselors, Brian, turned to Ricky with an expression of surprise and compassion. “Don’t you know?” he said. “God doesn’t give up on people, and neither do we.”

Those words went through me like a lightning bolt. Why had I never looked at it this way? For me, it had always been about making everybody help Ricky “get better” so I could move ahead with my dreams for him. I had never even thought about the faithfulness of God in His plan for Ricky’s life.

Ricky wasn’t finished with his downward spiral, but I began to have a new understanding of what it meant to hope.

Hope is Tangible

Scripture tells us that our hope isn’t pie-in-the-sky, but a real gift that comes to us when we commit to following Jesus Christ.

In Hebrews 10:23, Paul writes: Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. [Emphasis added]

We have a sure hope to which we can cling because God does not change. He will not turn away from His people. He will not give up on them because He promised not to, over and over again. We may not keep our promises, but God keeps His. If you don’t believe me, read any book in the Old Testament.

Hope does not mean that you should keep chasing after your child, trying to plead with them to come to their senses. Consider the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32): When the prodigal son demanded his portion of his inheritance, his father gave it to him.

When the prodigal left home to embark on his reckless journey, his father did not run after him. He let his prodigal son go, placing the consequences where they belonged. As painful as it must have been, he saw that his son was hell-bent to do what he would do, and we later read that the father had even considered his son dead.

One of the many lessons we can take from this passage is that God does the same with us, and with our prodigal children. A pastor friend of mine puts it this way, “Sometimes God has to let them get a bellyful [of their sin].” God in his infinite wisdom knows just how far this will go. God is not helpless or frustrated by your child’s situation.

‘Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.
–Jeremiah 32:17

Remember, Christians, we worship the God who is sovereign over all things. God is the only One who has seen everything in your child’s heart. He is not shocked. He is not intimidated. He is in charge of every circumstance. Remember that God walks beside you, too, and He hears your prayers for your prodigal child.

Your child may seem trapped by the consequences of their choices. Remember Joseph? He was dumped in a well, sold into slavery, wrongly accused and imprisoned. And yet he was able to say–to the brothers who started it all–that what they had intended for evil, God used for good. (Genesis 50:20) Never doubt that your child’s current circumstances could be the refining fire that God intends to use to burn away the evil from their heart.

God has his own purposes for you and for your prodigal, so be patient. After all, Joshua waited 40 years to lead God’s people to the Promised Land. Waiting on God is hard, I know. Here are some ways to be proactive.

What to Do While You’re Waiting on God

  • Feed yourself on Scripture. Search for all the evidence of God’s faithfulness. Comfort yourself with the Psalms. Just read the Bible. Every day.
  • There are beautiful devotionals written for families who have prodigal children. Add one to your prayer time. It could be a great source of encouragement.
  • My Pastor, Gabe, is fond of saying that not everyone in your church family is going crazy at the same time. That means that there are people in your church who can be sources of wisdom, strength, and support to you. Please ask for help.
  • Get on with your life. Don’t allow yourself to be paralyzed with fear, or to run around in circles looking for the solution to this. Live your life, enjoy your family. Keep taking one day at a time, allowing God to do His work.
  • Last, but most important, Pray. Be in regular prayer for your prodigal child and for your own endurance. It’s okay to pray that your child gets caught and sent to jail. It’s okay to pray that your child would hit rock bottom. Pray for God’s will to be done, without being fearful for what that might mean.

Final Instructions from God

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Joshua 1:9 | ESV |

Grace is real–


Parenting a Prodigal: Nine Signs You Are an Enabler

Parenting a Prodigal: Nine Signs You Are an Enabler

I am a recovering enabler. Enablers, as you may or may not know, are people who make something possible. In my case, I made my child’s bad behavior possible.

Briefly put, I made many mistakes in parenting, even though I knew better. The result? A parent’s worst nightmare—a kid in prison.

During Lent one year, weary from the burden I carried, I decided to give up my enabling behavior. I took every one of those forty days to dig into my mistakes, take responsibility, and let go of the guilt. In the process, I learned a lot about myself and my Prodigal. If you are filling a painful role as Parent to a Prodigal, I can help you avoid the mistakes I made.

Don’t substitute my advice for one-on-one help from a mental health professional or a church counselor. I’m just a default mom giving you a wake-up call.

Enabling–It’s Actually a Real Thing

Lots of people, usually those who have no idea what they’re talking about, will throw around words like “co-dependent” and “enabler”. I’ve checked my sources and compiled a legit list of the real signs of enabling behavior–and what happens when you refuse to recognize it in yourself. By the way, enabling has two evil henchmen–Guilt and Denial. I know because all three of them, Enabling, Guilt, and Denial, lived at my house for many, many years. None of them are polite houseguests

Here are nine signs of enabling:

  1. No logical consequences. In other words, you bail out, pay damages, or get between your child and the teacher, counselor, cop, or angry neighbor. You’ll do anything to shield him/her from the logical consequences of his/her own behavior. When my Prodigal wrecked someone else’s car, I paid for the damages–$6,000. I told myself it was to avoid a lawsuit. When my Prodigal went to jail, I bailed him out. Right. His behavior, my consequences.
  2. Covering up or minimizing the behavior, or hiding it from others. You know what this looks like. Your Prodigal is never the “instigator”. S/he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Minimizing is also a popular method of enabling. As in, “S/he didn’t actually steal that candy bar. S/he just forgot to pay for it. Here’s the money.”
  3. Acting from Fear: Your enabling can also be motivated by fear. You may be afraid of confrontation or afraid of “losing” your child. Sometimes, you’re afraid that if your Prodigal suffers, it will be your fault (and that would make you feel guilty).
  4. Putting the Prodigal’s needs above your own. Did you put off paying the electricity bill so you could buy your Prodigal a new pair of Nikes? Did you upgrade your wi-fi or cell phone data plan so your Prodigal could play games faster? Seriously, are you losing time, money, or self-respect in the mistaken interest of pleasing your Prodigal Child? Some parents have actually taken second jobs due to their Prodigal’s drain on finances.
  5. Blaming others or blaming circumstances. “That other guy started the fight.” “S/he has ADD.” “S/he was bullied in second grade.” In my case, I blamed my son’s traumatic history before I adopted him. That absolved both of us from responsibility. I saw him as a victim and myself as his rescuer, and I was doing the best I could.
  6. Making excuses for your inaction. “I can’t just put my child out on the street.” “S/he’s really been acting much better…this week.” “It’s really not that bad.” It really is that bad. Ask your friends, your Prodigal’s siblings, or your outspoken sister-in-law. They will give you a clear picture.
  7. Feeding the behavior. Cigarette money or drug money? If you give your Prodigal money, it will be used to support an addiction: smoking, drugs (including weed), alcohol, even gaming or gambling. Also, lock up your valuables and take your guns to someone else’s house. I’m not kidding. Giving your Prodigal money is giving him/her the means to feed the addiction. Long story short, your money is helping your Prodigal harm him/herself.
  8. Trying to control or fix your Prodigal – even by “taking care” of him/her. This includes physically cleaning up after your Prodigal, as well as getting him/her a job, or giving him/her rides to sketchy places. By hovering and nagging, you’re showing your child that s/he really can’t cope with life. Taking care of your Prodigal will not fix him or her. That’s God’s job.
  9. No follow-through. How many times have you made an ultimatum or given a threat and then found yourself unwilling to carry it out? Whether it’s taking the cell phone or throwing their clothes out on the front lawn, if you say it–be prepared to do it.

The journey I made to figuring all this out was incredibly painful. I strongly urge you to look–really examine–the ways you may be enabling your Prodigal’s bad behavior under the guise of nurturing. PLEASE see a counselor, meet with your pastor, talk this over with a trusted friend. Learn how to remove yourself from the mix of influences that are doing more harm than good.

Finally and most importantly, put your faith in God. The Rev. Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth Bell Graham, once said, “Mothers must take care of the possible and trust God for the impossible. We are to love and affirm, encourage, teach, listen and care for the physical needs of the family. We cannot convict of sin, create hunger or thirst after God, or convert. Those are miracles and miracles are not in our department.”

Grace is real–


Your Terrific Toddler

Your Terrific Toddler

Who I Am and Why I Love Toddlers

In addition to my duties as a Default Mom to my own family, I spent 35+ years as a Montessori directress (teacher). While I worked with children from 18 months to 12 years old, two-thirds of my career was spent with the youngest members of the school community. I directed (taught) a class of twelve Toddlers (18 months to 3 years old). It was my calling and my joy.

Fun in the planter box

When asked to direct a Toddler environment (class), my first thought was, “Uh-oh! Diapers!” My second thought was, “At last! A chance to get in on the ground floor of child development.” The first three years of life are where the foundations are laid for the future, and I loved the idea of supporting these little ones during their most formative time when everything is new.

An important part of my job was to help, guide, and counsel parents.I learned that moms of toddlers often feel isolated. In the day-to-day-ness of parenting a young child, you have no time to interact with other moms of toddlers. Small issues become big, but you don’t have anyone to tell you if what is happening is normal.

Help has arrived. I have created a series of posts, which will show up on a regular basis, to help you in your life with your Terrific Toddler.

Today’s Topic: Routines and Rituals

Imagine you suddenly find yourself in the middle of the hottest new dance club on a busy night. The lights, the sounds, the strangers pushing around you, everyone moving to a rhythm they understand–but you don’t.

This is what daily life is like for a toddler. Toddlers are on sensory overload all the time. Life comes at them at full volume and they have no way to control any of it. Sometimes it gets to be too much.

The best thing to give your toddler is a daily routine, so your child knows what’s happening next. I’m not talking about a rigidly-structured schedule. I’m talking about a predictable sequence of events. Here’s an example of a predictable routine, from a toddler’s point of view:

Every morning when I wake up, I go to Mommy and Daddy’s room to snuggle with them. Then we change my diaper. Then we get dressed. Then we brush my teeth. Then I eat breakfast. Then I go play with my friends at the gym while Mommy works out., etc.

What I’m emphasizing here is the “this-happens-then-this-happens” nature of the routines. Toddlers need to know what is going to happen next. Change is not something exciting to them. Each day needs to follow a general pattern, a rhythm.

But What About Change?

Life is unpredictable, but most of us follow a general routine in our days. If your child is going to have a change in routine, take the time to prepare your child for it. For example, “After you play today, we’re going to Nana’s house to eat lunch. Nana told me she got strawberries just for you.” If you are calm and confident about new events and changes, your child will be, too. As long as you stick to a regular rhythm, your child will learn to be confident when change happens.

What are Rituals?

Remember my daily routine example? It included a ritual in it–the morning snuggle. Toddlers really love a ritual.

Typical rituals toddlers enjoy are those around the big routines, like nap time, bedtime and bath time. At nap time, your child might need to follow a ritual:

Mommy closes the blinds and puts on my nap music, I get my lovey and get in bed, then I kiss Mommy. Then Mommy says, “sweet dreams!” and closes the door almost all the way. The ritual and details need to be the same every time.

The Bonus for Parents

The upside of rituals and routines for parents is that they make your toddler feel confident, and a confident toddler is usually a happy toddler. Knowing what’s going to happen next reduces anxiety and makes the entire day much smoother for all concerned.

You can do this!


Don’t Do As I Did!

Don’t Do As I Did!

Hello, my name is Judy, and I am a hypocrite.

For almost 40 years, I have been raising other people’s children (as a stepmother), teaching in Montessori schools, and advising parents on discipline and childrearing. I am a Christian woman who is in church every time the doors open. I am the go-to person for parenting advice among my church family and friends.

I am also the enabling parent of a son who has been in and out of jail and prison since he was about 13.

How did I get here? How did he get there?

For the simple reason that I am a bossy know-it-all who wouldn’t do what I was telling other people to do.

You know, it is very easy for me to parent other people’s children. Consistency, limit-setting, and expectations all look very different when you’re standing on the other side of the parent boundary. I can toilet-train a toddler with one hand tied behind my back, take away a teenager’s cell phone for a month, or make a 10-year-old go to bed when “everyone else’s parents” are letting them stay up late. It was all well and good…until it applied to my youngest son, Ricky. My Achilles’ Heel.

Take advantage of our experience

As painful as our life has been, Ricky and I both want to share what we learned on our journey so that other people can avoid the drama and trauma we’ve dealt with for nearly thirty years.

In my first blog, I put together a list of things I wish I had known and advice I should have followed. I’ll be addressing each of these topics individually in the future, with the aim of making a difference in your life and your relationship with your son or daughter. Ricky will be chiming in from time to time with his perspective as well.

Please join us as we embark on this venture. I am praying that you will see how our life lessons apply to you, and that you will use them to dodge a major life bullet.

Grace is real–


Essential Qualities for Great Parenting

Essential Qualities for Great Parenting

What makes someone a great parent? Is it a matter of knowledge, common sense, or endless patience? Is it a certain style or form of discipline? Does it depend on the right books, the right schools, the right activities? Not necessarily.

After years of observing parents in their natural habitat, I have had some interesting revelations: Great parents come from all walks of life. Whether you are a pro athlete, a single parent struggling to make ends meet, a stay-at-home parent or the CEO of a major corporation, you have the qualities to become a great parent.

What Makes a Great Parent Great?

As I talked to, observed, and interacted with scores of parents throughout my life, I noticed some characteristics that were common to them all, in one way or another:

First, a great parent has an open heart. This seems obvious, doesn’t it? An open heart means that you can accept the fact that your child’s interests, talents, and capabilities lie in areas completely different from your own. It means that your child can feel comfortable telling you s/he doesn’t really want to play tennis, no matter how much tennis means to you.

Second, a great parent a clear set of values. You should have a solid belief system that serves as a framework for your life.  Transmit those ethics to your children. For example, the simple phrase “we treat others with respect, because…” can cover a multitude of situations, from taking others’ toys to inappropriate tweeting.

Third, you have a well-thought-out discipline plan. You and your co-parent have a set of boundaries and consequences, and you both feel comfortable with them. If someone else is providing childcare for you, be sure that their discipline style is compatible with yours.

Many parents struggle with this one: Consistency. Consistency applies to routines as well as discipline. Your children need a consistent routine. For younger children, bedtimes and nap times follow a regular schedule; curfews for teenagers are consistent and reasonably enforced. Also, consequences should be predictable (If I leave my bike out in the driveway, I won’t be allowed to ride it tomorrow). Predictable outcomes make your child feel more secure.

Finally, you must have a sense of humor. I was lecturing my teenaged daughters about their misbehavior one evening. While I presided over the dinner table at our favorite taco stand, my eldest teenager was playing with a packet of taco sauce. Just as I made a particularly stern proclamation,  the packet of sauce exploded into my face and all over my shirt. It was classic! My girls and I still fall out laughing over that episode. I must have looked ridiculous, and not just because of the sauce!

There’s a popular meme going around that says something like, “no matter how big you are, when a 2-year-old hands you a toy telephone, you answer it.” You have it in you to be a great parent, and all you really need to do now is follow your best instincts.

God Bless You,


How to Keep Your Child Out of Jail

How to Keep Your Child Out of Jail

A brief disclaimer: The use of the pronoun “he” is not intended to offend anyone. I’m just old-school. Future blogs will use non-gender and female pronouns.

It’s 3 am and you’re awake and worried. Your child crossed a line today, you didn’t handle it well, and now you are convinced he’s headed for career-criminal status. You picture yourself talking to him through a shatterproof glass window. Orange jumpsuits. Handcuffs. Mug shots.

I know the feeling. I know because, well, my child DID go to prison–at the age of 17. The sleepless nights we spent after the fact were all about coming to terms with how this happened, although we should have seen it coming before we did.

I’ve written this blog to give you a quick distillation of the best practical advice I’ve learned from my experience, from “experts”, and from actual prisoners. Print this guide, laminate it, tattoo it on your arm, carve it in stone or write it in chalk on one of those cute slates from Michael’s. Trust me. You’ll need it.

One last message before the list. This advice comes with no guarantee. Anyone’s child can take a sudden left turn into trouble, despite our best efforts. This list is only meant to show you how to minimize your risks. No matter the age, from 18 months to 18 years, these rules can–and should–be applied.

Default Mom’s Rules for Parents

  • Stick to your guns. Your child relies on the boundaries you set, even if he pushes against them. The same behavior should always get the same response.
  • Speaking of guns, keep them locked up. Don’t think your child doesn’t know where they are.
  • Say “no”–and MEAN IT!!
  • Remain calm when your child acts up. If you have a “what if” plan in advance, it will keep you from temporary insanity.
  • Most lessons in life are caught, not taught. Let your child learn ethical behavior from your example: make no excuses, own up to your responsibilities, and don’t shift blame to others.
  • As Dr. Phil says, “Never reward bad behavior.” Sorry, bribing is only a temporary fix. If you get your knickers in a twist over a small misbehavior, that is also, in effect, rewarding bad behavior.
  • If you smoke or vape, quit. See the “caught, not taught” example above.
  • If you’re not sober enough to drive a car, you’re not sober enough to take care of your child.
  • Be consistent. Both parents (even if they don’t live in the same house) should always present a united front to their children. The same response should come from both of you. Argue about it later–not in front of your child.
  • Teaching your child appropriate behavior requires patience. Accidents and carelessness are very different from deliberate destruction. Respond appropriately. In other words, don’t yell over spilled milk, especially if you haven’t taught them how to carry a glass.
  • Find a church, mosque, temple or synagogue where your family feels comfortable and go there regularly. Let your children see how you live out your faith, and how it applies to everyday life.
  • If you are a single parent: NO overnight “dates” when children are present. Also, don’t ask your significant other to babysit your underage children alone.
  • Command (don’t DEMAND) respect, and be worthy of it. Show respect for authority, including law enforcement, teachers, the elderly, those who serve you (waiters, retail clerks, etc.), and above all, your spouse and children. Teach your children to treat others with dignity and respect.
  • Know where your child is at all times, and don’t be afraid to verify what he tells you.
  • Teachers don’t give out bad grades to be vindictive. They don’t have time to single out your child in that way, and they would welcome your partnership in helping your child succeed.
  • Defensiveness gets in your way. One the most difficult tasks any teacher or caregiver has is to report misbehavior to a child’s parents. Stay calm and ask questions to get all the facts.
  • No one over 4 should be having a temper tantrum. Period. That includes YOU. Giving in to tantrums or responding to them with anger will only reinforce the behavior. As annoying as a tantrum is in a two-year-old, it is just plain ugly in a teenager.
  • Asking your child why he has misbehaved is unhelpful. Your child has no idea why he does what he does. Work on solutions instead.
  • Allow your child to “face the music” when he’s done something irresponsible. Give him the courage to admit mistakes.
  • NEVER do your child’s homework for him, but ALWAYS be available to help when he’s doing it. The only way your child’s teacher can assess a student’s progress is to see his work–not yours.
  • Include your child in household chores, for which he should not expect payment. Start young. Click on this link for a printable list of age-appropriate chores: http://www.themodestmomblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/child_chore_list.pdf
  • If your child wants to earn extra money, have a list of “extra” chores he can do to earn money. A word to the wise: Don’t pay in advance, or by the hour!
  • If your child forgets his homework/lunch/sports uniform, bring it to him the first time with a warning. After that, he will need to take responsibility for his own belongings. If this is a chronic issue, work with him to figure out a strategy for organization. You are teaching him how to be an adult.
  • The first fifteen minutes you spend with your child when he gets home from anywhere should be a time for re-connecting. Like all of us, your child needs some de-compression time at the end of his day.
  • When your child is hurting or struggling with something, help him help himself. As parents, we instinctively want to rush in and “make it all better.” Instead, gently help him try to figure out solutions to his problems. Give him the tools to cope with the ups and downs of life.
  • When your child breaks a major rule, don’t blow up at him the moment you see him. Let him “stew in his own juice” for awhile, and give yourself time to calm down and consider his consequences. Tell him you will discuss them with him when YOU are calm and ready.
  • Always be ready to drive carpool to school, to practice, to youth group. This is your opportunity to be a passive observer of your child’s social interactions, and to see him in relation to his peers.

The Bottom Line

Our children are bombarded with conflicting influences the moment they look at a screen or step out the front door. You can only control so much of that influence, so make the most of every interaction. Most of all, be sure your children know they are loved.

God bless!