That is the word God has been whispering to my heart this week.
It has been in my devotional readings everyday. It has popped up in several Facebook posts. It was the theme running through our College Midweek service. It was even written in glowing Christmas lights on my neighbor’s yard when I drove home last night! (I’m not kidding…talk about a sign!)
It is the first week of Advent in the Christian calendar, and the focus for this week is hope. As I think back on the beginning of the Christmas story, I am reminded that God’s people had been waiting for what must have seemed like forever for the promised Messiah to appear. Hundreds of years, nearly a thousand, had gone by since the prophets proclaimed God’s message of the One who was to come. Their land had been torn apart by savages, their government overthrown, their people scattered among the nations. So much time had gone by that the stories of old were just that… ancient stories, passed down through generations, of a time long before when God had favored their people. But it was clear that God had changed His mind and turned His back.
Their great-great-great-great (you get it) grandparents had let Him down one too many times, trading long-term loyalty for a fast-food faith, and they were left living the repercussions. Sure, even in the midst of their betrayal, the Father had promised the Messiah, the One who would change everything. How they longed for Him to come!
But that was a long time ago…
Perhaps they forgot what it was like to hope.
Jeff and I were married for 5 years before we had our oldest daughter, Sarah. We spent three of those years trying to have a baby. At first, we waited pretty patiently, trusting in God’s timing and continuing on with life as usual. After awhile, though, we knew something wasn’t right. We read all the articles, counted the days on the calendar, met with the doctors, ran all the tests. It was in God’s hands, we knew; still, our hearts broke a little with every negative test result. At the same time, it seemed like every other young couple in our little church plant chose that moment to start having babies. I remember buying hooded bath towels and lavender bath wash, smiling through all the baby showers and joking about not drinking the water, only to hide my tears in the bathroom where no one could see. The days turned into weeks, which turned into months, which turned into years.
I remember what it was like to long for someone I wasn’t sure would ever come.
I, too, almost forgot how to hope.
But then one day, out of the blue, when everyone was just going about their business as usual, an angel appeared to a teenage girl, and the message he delivered breathed HOPE back into the world once again! God had heard His people and He would no longer turn away. It was time. There would be a baby!
Wait, a baby?
Yes. That baby changed everything.
Our baby changed everything too. I was so in shock when the test was positive, I ran straight to Jeff’s study and handed him the pee stick. No cute t-shirt or video announcement for us! No, we just sat cross-legged on the kitchen floor and cried at God’s faithfulness. We were so busy having faith that we hadn’t even realized we had lost hope, until suddenly our hearts were flooded with it once again! I think I took at least 4 more tests after that just to be sure! It’s amazing what a little hope can do. God could have chosen to answer our prayer in a different way, and that would have been okay, truly. Our hope came in the form of two lines on a stick that day, but ultimately our hope came in the promise fulfilled all those years ago, when Love chose to put on skin and dwell among us. Emmanuel. God was with us! We were not alone. That is our hope.
And so, as we begin this season of Advent, I want to remember what it was like to wait so long that I almost lost hope, to be afraid to be expectant after so much disappointment. I have been there. Some of you are still there, I know.
“But we cannot lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
We must remember God’s unfailing faithfulness…
A Promise made.
A Baby given.
A Savior sent.
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess,
for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23
Let us remember… and hope.
“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” –Romans 15:4
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” –Romans 15:13
Well friends, the adventure continues! After several days visiting friends and family in Colorado, we loaded up our rental vehicle and headed towards our next destination:
Travel Day 6: Moab, Utah
It was a beautiful drive; we couldn’t get over the beauty of the snow-capped mountains in the middle of June! We kept an eye out for various wildlife as we traveled through ski-resort towns, and were rewarded with glimpsing a bald eagle and a few antelope./We were hoping to see some bighorn sheep, too, but no such luck. Still, I found myself taking an abundance of photos as the scenery continued to change around us.
Several hours later, we made it to Canyonlands National Park. We decided to do some hiking before checking into our hotel since CNP was on the way. That turned out to be a great decision! Canyonlands is HUGE, and we only had a few hours to spend there, so we chose to spend it at Islands in the Sky. We made a quick stop by the Visitor Center to use the restrooms and get a map before driving to the end of the road to Grand View Point, a 2-ish mile hike that led us around the top of a ridge with canyon views as far as we could see. It was unlike anything we had seen before! The boys loved it because there were lots of rocks to climb on, and the girls loved it because the hike was pretty flat and the views were amazing. There were small towers of rocks, called cairns, marking the trail, which the boys enjoyed scouting to ensure we were still on the right path. We hiked for just under an hour, before we saw the thunderstorm rolling in. We hurried back around the edge of the canyon towards our car, stopping only to take a quick photo of the beautiful double rainbow that arched across the sky.
Next, we made our way to another small trail leading up to the Mesa arch. We didn’t realize it at the time, but this was our first of MANY encounters with arches in the coming weeks (which continues to be a family joke: I get texts from my girls in random places, “Look Mom, another arch!”) The short hike was fun and there were only a few other people on the trail (probably because of that previously mentioned thunderstorm!). When we got to the arch, we asked another hiker to take a photo of our family, and he obviously knew what he was doing. He suggested we turn around and look out through the arch while he took our photo from behind. It turned out to be one of my favorites from the trip! So, thank you, kind stranger! The kids took a few minutes to scamper up the nearest pile of rocks, and then we raced back to the car just before the rain began. Since it was getting close to sundown, we decided to head on to the hotel, even though we had only seen a small fraction of what Canyonlands has to offer. Next time!
In Moab, we stayed at the Homewood Suites. We had reserved a “1 King Bed Studio with 2 twin bunk beds” room so we would all be in one room, and I had no idea what to expect. It was fantastic! There was plenty of room for all of us, and we could have stayed there comfortably for much longer than 2 nights. The bunk beds were tucked away in a little nook, so they didn’t take up any extra room. There was a sitting area with a fold-out couch, which is where the boys slept. There was also a little kitchenette with a full-size fridge. On top of that, breakfast was included, and it was delicious, with lots of options for everyone, including Texas-shaped waffles! There is a guest laundromat available for those who need to wash clothes, which came in handy for us. I cannot recommend this hotel enough!
After fueling up with a yummy breakfast at the hotel, we made a quick stop by Sweet Cravings Bakery to pick up some sandwiches for a picnic lunch in the park. There was a short line, and you can actually order online and then pick it up, which I would recommend. However, the servers were very friendly and our order came out surprisingly quickly; more on that later…
It only takes a few minutes to drive from Moab to the entrance of Arches National Park. However, be prepared for a really long line to get through the gate! I think it took us about 20 minutes, which we spent making family karaoke videos in the car. Once inside the park, guests can stop by the Visitor’s Center to get a map, visit the bathroom and gift shop, fill up water bottles, and talk to a ranger. We picked up a Junior Ranger booklet for Noah and the staff helped us select a few hikes that would be good for our various age ranges. Our first stop was at several rock formations with fitting titles: Three Gossips, the Courthouse, etc. There was an area for cars to pull off, so we jumped out and the boys immediately took off towards the other hikers who were climbing around the base of the formations. To our surprise, an older park ranger approached us and informed us that although there was an area for cars to pull off, we were not actually allowed to access those particular formations due to the nature of the fragile soil surrounding the rocks. We quickly called the boys back over and climbed back in the car, resuming our quest for arches. But I must admit, while we totally understand the need to protect and preserve the Park, we spent a lot of time giggling and cautioning each other about the “fragile soil” over the next couple weeks! The park seemed pretty busy that day- all the parking areas were full at the first few formations, so we decided to drive out to our farthest hiking destination (parked at Devil’s Garden Trailhead) and then work our way back in. This worked out much better for us, so I would recommend that, unless you are trying to hit a specific arch at a specific time for photos.
Our first hike was to the Landscape Arch, which I loved! The trail was very easy and the way the arch framed the natural landscape behind it made it look like a picture frame. From there, we started hiking to the Double O arch, but this trail was much more difficult and required a lot of steep rock climbing. Our boys were super excited about that, but for time’s sake we decided to turn around and make our way to some of the other arches. If you’re wondering how our boys reacted to that news, a picture paints a thousand words… it’s one of my favorite photos from our trip!
After that, most of the arches were only a short walk from the road, so we stopped by Skyline Arch and Broken Arch, Fiery Furnace Viewpoint (which is supposed to be spectacular at sunset), the Delicate Arch viewpoints, Balanced Rock, and the Windows Section. If you are passing through and only have an hour or two at Arches, the Windows Section is a great place to see several different arches and rock formations in a short amount of time. It is an easy walk to the arches, and then you can climb up into them if you want. The views were so beautiful and just so different from what we see in the Southeast, and our little monkeys were in heaven with all the climbing. At some point, we pulled out our lunch, only to find that the reason our order came out so quickly was because they had given us someone else’s lunch! Since we were starving and there is no place in the park to get food, we just made the best of it and shared whatever happened to be in the bag, which turned out to be a ham and cheese sandwich, a veggie wrap, and a bagel. Fortunately, the sandwich was loaded with ham, so we spread it out among the other sandwiches, and when we added a few cookies from our car-stash, everyone had just enough to keep us going!
Once we made the round of all the arches, we drove back to the Visitor’s Center so Noah could turn in his booklet and be sworn in as a Junior Ranger. Participating in the Junior Ranger programs was one of the highlights of his trip! After that, we headed back into town and found someplace to eat dinner. There are a lot of great local restaurants in Moab. We ended up eating at Eddie McStiff’s just because it was close to where we parked (and we were SO hungry after our shared lunch meal). The food was good, but not exceptional. There were several other places we passed later that I think we would have enjoyed more. After stopping in a few of the little shops on main street, we stopped at The Garagefor some ice cream- it was a super cute venue and the ice cream was yummy! Everyone was pretty worn out from a long day, so we went back to the hotel and played a little Uno before going to bed.
The next morning we enjoyed another great breakfast, loaded up the car, and stopped back by Sweet Cravings Bakery before leaving town. When Jeff walked in, the cashier remembered him from the day before and told him they had tried to track us down, even posting on their Facebook page once they realized their mistake! They offered us free sandwiches for the road (which were absolutely delicious and definitely came in handy) and threw in some free baked goods when Jeff insisted on paying for at least a few of them. Everyone makes mistakes; but how they handled the situation was fantastic customer service, and their food was definitely worth a second visit. If you find yourself in Moab, make sure to stop by and pick something up!
We really enjoyed our time in Moab, and hope to go back someday. But it was time to set off on our next adventure…
I have had moments all through the day today when I could have made time to write. I didn’t though; I wasn’t ready. I kept tossing around different ideas in my head, waiting to see which one would stick. I could be practical and write about the details of how I will accomplish my writing challenge each day. I could be productive and work on my travel blog from this summer. I could be inspirational and write about how the power of our words is simply a reflection of Jesus, The Word made flesh. Or I could just write about how much I absolutely adore teenagers.
So many thoughts elbowing their way through my mind, fighting to be the one I choose.
But I can’t choose.
Which topic is the right one? Which one is going to make a difference in the world? Which one needs to be heard by someone today? Oh good grief, woman. Just sit down and write!
I wonder how much of our lives we spend waiting for perfect. The perfect job, the perfect house, the perfect church, the perfect spouse, the perfect kid, the perfect friend, the perfect body… always waiting and never quite finding what we’re looking for. How many books are left unwritten and songs are left unsung, waiting for perfect? How many things get lost on the road of good intentions, waiting for perfect, and never find their way to completion?
Perhaps it’s time to embrace where we are, to be thankful for what’s been given instead of waiting for what hasn’t. Maybe it’s time to alter our expectations and accept that just living this life is enough; that apart from Jesus, there is no such thing as perfect. There is just the next thing, done with purpose and intention, or at the very least, a sense of duty. And that’s enough. Perhaps it’s time to just sit down and write.
So there is no perfect topic for today, no life-changing content desperate to be read. There is a new advent calendar hanging on the window, the names of Jesus waiting to be flipped over and discussed. A completed math assignment is lying on the counter after creating quite the conversation on Facebook (Are you smarter than a 6th grader?). There is an updated rehearsal schedule ready to be emailed out to parents and a pile of dishes waiting to be washed. The puppy is stretched out on the rug in front of the fireplace, and the children are tucked in under their covers upstairs. My honey is calling me to come downstairs so we can watch our show, and I tell him I’ll be there in a minute.
I have 50 more words to write.
But after all this, am I really going to miss out on what’s most important because I’m waiting for perfect?
Well friends, yesterday I wrote about why I started this writing challenge; today I will tackle the questions of “What?” I had not planned to share this post, but decided to publish it so those of you who follow me will know what to expect and can hold me accountable (or ignore your notifications! Ha!).
My natural tendency has been to write when I happen to feel particularly inspired and actually have time to transfer that inspiration into words on a page. Unfortunately, neither of those things happen very often! I should clarify that I write in a prayer journal almost daily. However, to me that is not really writing, but a conversation with Jesus… It is private and gut-level honest and not intended to ever be read by any other eyes except mine. In this challenge, though, I want to work on writing with the potential for an audience. That is difficult for me!
For the sake of transparency, I must confess that I struggle with feeling it is prideful to think I have anything worth saying that matters. I know, I would find that idea ridiculous if someone else shared it with me. I would remind them that God gives us stories and wisdom so that we can share them with others! But I never want to write anything just for the sake of hearing my own voice. My hope is that God will use whatever He is teaching me to also teach and encourage others. Writing about random things often seems just that to me- Random. I want to make sure my writing has a purpose so that it is beneficial to those who may happen to read it and not just a waste of time. I have dozens of partial blog posts in a file that have never been published because I didn’t think they were worth reading. I’m hoping that being more disciplined in my writing will also help me be more purposeful and effective.
For the sake of this writing challenge, I have a few goals on what to write. First, since it is Advent, I am trying to be intentional about keeping my heart focused on Jesus, lest I get distracted by the noise of Christmas and miss the Christ child altogether. I plan to write about some of the things I am reflecting on during this Advent season, the things I am pondering in my heart as Mary did all those years ago (Luke 2:19). I am also working on some tips and tools for our Senior Small Group girls as we prepare to launch them into college/adulthood next Fall, so I will hopefully be able to include some of those topics. I just finished reading a book by Robert Benson, Dancing on the Head of a Pen, in which he included a list of his all-time favorite books. I love that idea, so I hope to make time to comprise my own list. And finally, I really need to finish blogging about our trip out West this summer. As the months go by, it seems less and less relevant to write about, but it was a trip we often find ourselves commenting on and returning to, and I know the details can be helpful to many of my friends who want to plan a trip of their own. Thus, I need to be disciplined enough to finish what I started. It wouldn’t hurt to blog about my recent trip to New York with my girls, either!
Look at that… I am over 500 words! Not exactly exciting to read, but purposeful nonetheless. 🙂
(P.S. Part of this writing challenge is not revising and editing my thoughts before I share them. That is very difficult for me. I like to revise as I go, which is likely one of the reasons I don’t often finish. So please be gracious with me… this is a work in progress! I also get bogged down with all the other stuff that goes with a blog- photos, links, etc., so I am not worrying about any of that right now. My goal is to just write!)
I know, I know… tomorrow begins the busiest season of the year, and most of us are still in a turkey coma from Thanksgiving dinner. There are trees to trim, gifts to buy, cookies to make, and carols to sing. The calendar is overflowing with Christmas parties and various events of the Season, on top of all the ordinary madness that comes with a family of six. So who in their right mind would add in an extra item on the daily to-do list when there is already so much waiting to be done?
Me, that’s who!
You see, I’ve been in kind of a funk lately. I am so very blessed… I have an amazing husband, really great kids, good health, financial provision, faithful friends, opportunities to serve- more blessings than I can even put into words! I am grateful for each of them, and I do not take them for granted. So why have I been in a funk? I am not really sure. It just happens sometimes, I guess.
For whatever reason, I have felt kind of disconnected from myself, like I’m looking at my life through a window from the outside instead of living it from the inside. I am nostalgic for old times and old friends. I flip through old journals and photos and wonder where the time has gone. I find myself trying to freeze the moments we share as a family before our oldest daughter leaves for college next year and this season of life morphs into something new. My life is flashing before my eyes and slipping through my fingers all at the same time, and all I can do is watch it happen!
So I made some time to walk this week, to be outside by myself, alone with God and my thoughts. I saw my life reflected in the transition of the seasons- the vibrant colored leaves beside the bare tree branches, the brown leaves crunching underfoot while ducking under the bright red holly berries, the stillness of the lake amidst the scattering of flustered birds… it was nice to move and to breathe and to soak it all in. I realized there is not enough quiet in my life these days. It is a busy season- not just Christmas, but having 4 children at the ages they are, plus ministry life and making dinner and doing laundry and homeschool days… there is a lot of NOISE. Good noise, blessed noise, sacred even, all of it a gift!
But sometimes my soul thirsts for quiet.
And for whatever reason, my heart and mind find quiet in writing. It is an emptying process, one that fills me and centers me and reminds me who I am (and Whose I am). But with all the noise of these days, I do not find time for it often enough- no, I do not MAKE time for it.
Enter the challenge.
I have joined a challenge to write at least 500 words every day for the next month. I do not expect them to be words worth reading, only words worth writing. In the busyness of these days, I fear I sometimes lose my real voice, and I’m hoping that writing consistently will help my find it. I do not think I am brave enough to post all my random ponderings, but I will include some, for accountability to myself if nothing else. If you happen to take the time to read this or anything else I write, thank you! Feel free to comment or ask me if I’m writing; comments and suggestions will be appreciated, as I have no idea what to say after today! But if no one reads this but me, that’s okay.
My heart is open to an audience of One, and that’s who I write for anyway.
Well, this second blog post in this series has taken much longer than I hoped. I actually had it almost finished before I published the first one, but I have been having some computer issues and somehow it disappeared. At first, I just lost part of it, but now the entire file is nowhere to be found. Ugh!! So I shall begin again…
PART 2: COLORADO
Day 1: Travel Day
Day 1 started out with us flying from Atlanta to Denver, Colorado. Since we do not usually fly anywhere (3 of the 4 kids have only flown once!), even the plane ride was a somewhat new adventure. The boys were super excited to be able to play games and watch movies on the plane, and the girls were glad they brought their own headphones because apparently they work much better than the complimentary ones provided by Delta. Ha! So after parking our car at Peachy Airport Parking and then navigating the airport security lines, we boarded the plane. We had no idea that our “adventures” would start so soon… due to a very large hailstorm over Colorado, our plane was diverted to Salt Lake City, Utah. The kids were actually super excited about this because they had asked me multiple times to add Salt Lake City to our itinerary for the sole purpose of visiting East High, the high school where the High School Musical movies were filmed. The girls quickly informed us that we were only 10 miles from East High, and we seriously considered getting an uber just to take some pictures! Unfortunately, our layover was less than an hour, so we were not able to make it happen. However, we did get an unplanned aerial view of the Great Salt Lake, so that was pretty cool!
We arrived in Denver late that night and made our way over to Avis to collect our rental car. Thankfully, we had signed up as “preferred members” online before making our reservation; this ended up saving us some money on insurance “extras” that were included for preferred members, as well as helping us secure a 2019 Yukon XL for our extended road trip, versus whatever vehicle the customer representative had initially selected for us. The process was very smooth and easy (especially once he realized we were “preferred” customers), and we were on the road to Colorado Springs in no time. It was an easy drive that late at night, and we were grateful to be settled in by midnight!
Colorado was the longest portion of our trip and the most time we spent in one place. My younger brother, Sonny, and his sweet wife, Courtney, live in Colorado Springs with their 2 children, and so do Courtney’s parents, so our lodging was taken care of for this part of our trip. However, if you are looking for a unique place to stay in Colorado Springs, check out this Country Cottage I found on airbnb. The owners are super nice and very easy to work with, and it looks like a great place for a family to spend a few days! In addition to my brother’s family, we have some close family friends who live in the Springs, so our goal was to spend as much time with all of them as possible while experiencing some of the many fun things to do in Colorado Springs. Mission accomplished!
Days 2 & 3: Reconnecting with Family & Friends, Garden of the Gods
Our 2nd day brought some rainy weather, and since we were pretty tired from our late night travel adventure, we spent most of the day relaxing at home and enjoying time with our family and friends. Jeff was able to play some golf with Sue (Courtney’s mom) while the rest of us chatted, worked on a Lego space shuttle, and played some football in the yard. It was fun to be reunited with our friends after several years apart and for the boys to get to play with their cousins!
On Day 3, we headed over to explore Garden of the Gods with my brother’s family. First, we rode around the big loop looking at all the different rock formations. Parking along the loop was extremely limited, so we made our way to the Trading Post for a map and some ice cream! It was delicious… I highly recommend the Pikes Peak flavor, because, well, how often do you find Pikes Peak flavored ice cream in Georgia? For our first adventure, we decided to trek over to the Balanced Rock area, which was a quick, easy walk from the Trading Post. We spent an hour there and everyone loved it! The boys were in heaven, climbing and scampering over the rocks like little monkeys, while the girls found it to be a great spot for some Instagram pics. As we were finishing up with our group photos and deciding where to hike next, the clouds rolled in, along with the thunder.
Fortunately, we made it back to the Trading Post just as the downpour began! We used it as an opportunity to try out their café menu and browse the enormous gift shop. By the time the rain stopped, we decided to make a quick stop by the Visitor’s Center for some great rooftop photos with the rocks, and a stroll through the museum. The highlight was definitely the “Poop Quiz” (which I aced, by the way. Apparently, I’m an expert on various types of poop. Who knew?). We spent the evening with our friends, the Locke family, eating a yummy dinner and reminiscing about old times. What a blessing to watch our kids, who first became friends many years ago in preschool, all back together again, now as teenagers! They ended the night collapsed on the floor in a pile of laughter, so I’d say they had a good time (and no one is a better Magical Harp than Jessie, just saying)!
Day 4: Cave of the Winds, Manitou Springs Cliff Dwellings, Edelweiss Restaurant
This was our boys’ favorite day in Colorado. We spent the whole day with their cousins, which meant it would be fun no matter what! Our first stop was Cave of the Winds, near Manitou Springs. This place was awesome! We started with a Discovery Tour of the cave, which took about an hour and was super fun. Our guide, Tatiana, had a great sense of humor and really made it enjoyable for all ages. I think the teens and adults would have definitely enjoyed the Lantern tour, but with younger children, the basic tour was perfect. When we finished, there was a large seating area with picnic tables and beautiful views where we sat to eat lunch. Sonny and Courtney had packed lunches for all of us, but there was also a snack bar available for those who wanted to purchase food. After lunch, we purchased the “Pioneer Package” for all the kids, which included the Wind Walker Challenge Course (high ropes course on the edge of Williams Canyon), Cliffhanger Climbing Wall, Geronimo’s Leap, Bat-a-pault, and Magic Lantern Theater (Virtual Reality rides). They spent most of their time on the Challenge Course and Climbing Wall, but once the girls found the virtual reality theater, they all spent the last half hour there. We had planned to spend about an hour at Cave of the Winds and then make the drive up to Pike’s Peak, but since the kids were having so much fun (and we weren’t sure the high altitude and long drive were going to be worth our time on this trip), we decided to stay and let them enjoy it. We definitely got our money’s worth out of it, and it was an overall trip highlight for the boys!
Since we didn’t go to Pikes Peak, we had an hour or two to kill before our dinner reservations, and Courtney suggested we stop by the Cliff Dwellings in Manitou Springs. I am so glad we did! I had originally planned for us to make a stop in Mesa Verde on the way to the Grand Canyon, but ultimately decided that was a lot of extra driving just for some cliff dwellings, so this was perfect! We all had a great time exploring all the different rooms and marveling at the architecture and history of a simpler time. The museum part of the gift shop had some really interesting photos and history as well, so if you go there, make sure to spend a few minutes inside. After the obligatory photo by the teepees, we headed to Edelweiss for dinner, a German restaurant Sonny and Courtney really like. Since our family lived in Germany when we were growing up, they thought we would enjoy it, and they were right! My sweet college friend, Michelle, and her boys were able to join us, which made it extra special. The food was authentic and amazing, and our boys all became fast friends. It was a great ending to a wonderful day!
Day 5: USAFA, Teen hike, Laundry & Packing, Birthday Dinner
Our last day in Colorado was a special treat. Both my dad and Sonny graduated from the Air Force Academy, and my dad taught there for a few years when I was a child, so it was definitely something I wanted our kids to experience. Courtney’s father, Gary, was one of my dad’s best friends when they were at the Academy together and while we were growing up, so it was a real treat to have him give us a tour. He was able to show us the chapel, which is soon to be renovated, as well as various other buildings around campus. Gary shared details and stories of all the planes scattered around the quad; the kids favorite story was about the hot-shot pilot who flew his plane over the quad, hitting the speed of sound just a smidge too early, causing ALL THE GLASS on the windows to suck in and then shatter outwards onto everyone marching to the Mess Hall! While they all enjoyed the tour, I’m not sure they realize yet what a privilege it was to have a former astronaut for a tour guide… to him, he’s just their “Uncle Snake”/“Grandpa”!
While the rest of us headed home to do laundry and pack, the teens headed out for a fun afternoon together, climbing some big rock (this turned out to be a theme of our trip!) and seeing where Carson and Jess spend their days. I know they treasure the chance to reconnect with their friends!
Sonny and Courtney were kind enough to host all of us at their house that night for dinner, and we were excited to be together to celebrate Courtney’s and Gary’s birthdays. We had a fantastic time and soaked up every minute of being together! Unfortunately, Joe & Erin’s youngest son, Garrett, was at camp for the week, so our boys missed out on seeing their buddy. We’ll make sure they catch up next time! Overall, our time in Colorado was everything we had hoped, and our Western Adventure was off to a great start!
STAY TUNED FOR PART 3… (if you’re lucky, it will be out by Christmas! LOL!)
Our East-coast family of six just returned from a 17 day trip out West, which included 3 plane rides, 2,000 driving miles, 5 states, 4 hotels (plus 3 relatives’ homes), 3 National Parks, 2 theme parks, 1 elk, and lots of hiking. Whew!! As our oldest daughter begins her Senior year of high school, I cannot express how thankful I am for this time together. Yes, there were a few squabbles along the way, as you can imagine with 4 kids in tight quarters! But, overall, everyone kept a great attitude and we created life-long memories that we already cherish.
Several friends have asked about our itinerary. Since I know firsthand how much planning and preparation goes into a trip like this, I decided to share some details from our trip in the hopes that it may help some of you plan your own adventure! So this first post will be about how we went about planning our trip. Over the next couple weeks, I will share details from each portion of our trip for those of you who are interested!
PART 1: The Planning Process
This trip has actually been in the works for more than 5 years. What I mean by that is that we have talked about “going out West” for much of our married life (22 years), and more intentionally over the last 5 years as our boys got older and our girls approached high school. Jeff and I both knew this was a trip we wanted to take all together as a family, but to be honest, the logistics of planning a trip like this scared and overwhelmed me. There were so many unknowns; I wasn’t even sure where to start! So every year we would sit down and dream about what we wanted to see and how we wanted to see it, and I would write it all down. I would google a few things, get overwhelmed, and walk away. Sounds like a great planning process, right? Ha! So take heart- this trip does not require 5 years of planning! It just requires making the decision to actually do it.
Last Fall, as Sarah began her Junior year of high school, Jeff and I knew it was now or never, so I got serious about planning. We had been told you need to reserve lodging at the Grand Canyon a year in advance, which is where I usually got derailed. So this time I was determined to make a plan and stick to it!
Stage 1: Dream
Our first step was to dream of everything we wanted to see and how we wanted to see it. This stage for us began with our “5 years of planning” and gradually evolved into what you will see on our itinerary. Our original dream was to rent an RV and travel from Georgia out West, seeing everything we could possibly see along the way. The idea of living together in a small space for a long time was both exciting and terrifying. Can’t you just picture us as the Griswalds? LOL!
We made a bucket list of everything we wanted to experience along the way: The St. Louis Arch, Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, Salt Lake City, Lake Tahoe, the Grand Canyon, Colorado, Cliff Dwellings, Las Vegas, Disneyland… the list went on and on. It only took a little research for me to determine that our dream trip would require at least 3 months for us to accomplish if we wanted to see everything! Wow!! So if you are interested in this trip, sit down together and start your list. Ask questions like: What do we want to see and do? Do we want to camp or stay in hotels? Do we want to drive or fly? Do we have friends or family we want to visit along the way? Don’t be afraid to dream big! Write it all down, even if you doubt you will include it. It may be part of a future trip!
Stage 2: Funnel
Next, I began research on the RV. After talking to a few friends who had taken RV trips, we quickly determined that we liked the IDEA of a long RV trip better than we would like the actual trip. Originally we were thinking it would be more cost effective, but once you figure in the overall rental plus gas, mileage, and site rentals, that was not the case. Also, with as much as we wanted to see, the slower travel involved would be counter-productive for us. I still think an RV trip would be really fun! But for this particular trip, we decided to just drive our own car.
From there, we began to funnel down our “dream list” and cross things off until we were a little more centrally focused. This was one of the most difficult processes for me (because I want to see everything!!) and took a lot of time and research. I decided to pull out a map and start with the family and friends we hoped to visit along the way. Since my brother lives in Colorado Springs, along with a few other very close friends, Colorado became a priority destination for us. (If you have no reason to go to Colorado, I would recommend possibly starting in Arizona instead). I also have an aunt and uncle in St. George, Utah that we hoped to visit along the way. With those 2 stops on the map, it just made sense for us to focus on the Grand Canyon as our primary destination and plan our other adventures around it. That decision alone eliminated nearly half of our dream list… so we will save those adventures for another time!
In this stage, you should take out a map and prioritize your dream list. Make sure to ask questions like: How long can we realistically be gone? What is our budget? Do we want to see as many places as possible or spend quality time at just a few? What makes the most sense for us?
Stage 3: Focus
At this point, I began researching other things to see and do near the Grand Canyon and stumbled upon “The Grand Circle.” I am embarrassed to admit I had no idea there are so many National Parks in that area! Pinterest was my friend, as I found details of what the Grand Circle was, which hikes to take, what other families had enjoyed and recommended, etc. Even this part required narrowing things down, as we were trying to keep our trip to about 2 weeks. Since we would be driving to the Grand Canyon from Colorado Springs, we added Moab, UT as a stopping point so we could visit Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. My relatives live close to both Zion and Bryce National Parks, so those went on the itinerary as well. And if you know my husband at all, you know there is no way we could be within driving distance of a Disney park and not end up there, so Disneyland became a required destination as well. When I put it all down on the map, Las Vegas (and the Hoover Dam) was a natural stop along the way. We had a trip! However, with driving out and back from Georgia, our trip was still going to have to be at least 3 weeks. Because it’s so expensive for a family of 6 to fly, we decided to fly out one way, rent a car for our trip and drive home. But eventually we determined we would rather use those travel days visiting people and enjoying our adventure, so we decided to bite the bullet and fly both ways.
Once you have narrowed down your prioritized destinations, do a little research to see what other things are close by or on the way that you may not know about. If your family is like ours, we have several different ages and both genders represented and not everyone enjoys the same things, so be sure to include something fun for everyone along the way!
Stage 4: Finalize
Now that we had a basic travel itinerary, it was time to finalize our plans! This also took some research, but was more fun. I basically started with lodging at the Grand Canyon, and planned the rest of our trip around that. Lodging options are extremely limited at the North Rim, and fill up quickly at the South Rim, so make this part your priority. We were about 9 months out when I started planning, and at first I was unable to find anything to accommodate our family of 6. There are some really cool packages that include lodging and meals in Williams, AZ and a 2 hour train ride to the South Rim, so this was my back up plan. Eventually, though, I was able to find 2 nights at the Yavapai Lodge in a family suite (2 queen beds and a bunk bed), so I planned the rest of our trips around that. Frontier and Southwest offer some really good flight deals out West (make sure you read their policies on luggage), but I booked our flights on Delta during a Thanksgiving sale. We actually added 3 days to our trip based on cheaper flights on specific days, and I am so glad!
Here are some of my overall travel tips when planning a family trip out West:
If travelling to the Grand Canyon or other National Park, reserve your lodging there first, and plan around that. Their websites recommend booking 1 year in advance. If you can’t find anything at first, keep checking back.
Use tripadvisor.com as a resource for your other destinations, lodging, and activities. I added Moab to our itinerary based on reviews from this site, and also booked our sunset tour at the Grand Canyon after reading recommendations. It was pricey and I wasn’t sure it would be worth it, but it was one of our kids’ favorite parts of the whole trip!
If you have points through a certain hotel chain, use those hotels and/or points. My husband is a Hilton Honors member due to business travel, so we found hotels in the Hilton family whenever possible. And because we are DVC members, we used points to stay at Dinseyland, so the lodging for that part of our trip was free (or at least already paid for, ha!).
Since you’re planning in advance, you have time to watch for deals on your actual travel arrangements. There are several apps and websites that will alert you for airline deals. If you need to rent a car, we rented ours through Avis and had a great experience. You can become a “premiere member” online before making your reservations- this came in handy for us when we picked up our car and made the process much smoother. Someone had recommended it on tripadvisor.com, and I would definitely recommend it as well!
Make yourself a spreadsheet to keep track of all the details- destination, lodging, confirmation number, details, price, etc. This will come in very handy along the way!
Our finalized Itinerary looked like this:
Fly to Denver, rent car & drive to Colorado Springs
Colorado Springs: Garden of the Gods, Cave of the Winds, Manitou Springs Cliff Dwelligns, USAFA tour (and time with family & friends)
Drive to Moab, UT and hike in Canyonlands National Park
Arches National Park, dinner in Moab
Drive to Grand Canyon’s South Rim (AZ)- Desert Watchtower, Hummer Sunset Tour
(Grand Canyon) South Kaibab hike (Ooh Aah Point), Biking along rim
Drive to St. George, UT (visit with family)
Zion National Park (*we ended up not going to Zion because half the family was tired of hiking… so a few of us hiked in Snow Canyon State Park instead. Then we toured the local country club, which happens to be where High School Musical 2 was filmed- an unplanned highlight of the trip for our kids!)
Drive to Hoover Dam, then on to Las Vegas
Drive to Anaheim, CA (Disneyland)
Disneyland & California Advneture, possible trip into L.A. or to Huntington Beach
So, that’s pretty much how I went about planning our trip! I am working on more blog posts with details on each of our destinations, so if you want more info, check back soon! We are definitely hoping to do more family trips like this. If you have any tips or suggestions, I would love to hear them. Thanks for reading!
Last weekend, my husband and I took our oldest daughter to visit Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky (but that’s another blogpost entirely!). Before we left, we stopped by the campus bookstore and I purchased a devotional book, This Day with the Master, written by Dr. Dennis Kinlaw. He was president of Asbury (then) College many years ago when Jeff was attending Seminary across the street, and Jeff has often mentioned the influence he had on him both personally and spiritually, so I figured it would be a good buy. I have not been disappointed!
As we begin the Advent season, I thought I’d share some thoughts from my prayer journal yesterday, inspired by the December 5 entry in this book. The Scripture reading was 2 Chronicles Chapter 30, in which King Hezekiah decided to honor God by inviting all the scattered people of Israel to celebrate the Passover Feast in the temple of Jerusalem even though they were a month late. This is the part that really stood out to me:
“Since many of the people had not purified (or prepared) themselves, the Levites had to slaughter their Passover Lamb for them, to set them apart for the Lord…” But King Hezekiah prayed for them and they were allowed to eat the Passover meal anyway, even though this was contrary to the Law. He said, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God— the Lord, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary. And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.” (2 Chronicles 30:17-20, partially paraphrased)
What a beautiful passage, Lord! Your people turning back to You and You receiving them, “even though they were not properly cleansed.” The motives of their hearts were pure and that was enough for You to accept the sacrifice made on their behalf. A gift of grace before the coming of the greatest Gift of Grace!
Dr. Kinlaw’s devotion uses this passage to talk about the importance of “Holy Moments” which change lives— and the world— forever. This passage is a reminder of how preparing our hearts before our recurring holy moments can make them even more impactful. When I go on a trip or host a party, there is so much involved in the preparation: planning, organizing, cleaning, packing, decorating, etc.
How little I prepare for spiritual moments compared to how much I prepare for everything else!
Forgive me, Lord.
How can I prepare my heart to receive You in a new way this Christmas?
First, I need to make room for You in the “Inn.” Not cast you off into the leftover rooms, but clear out space for You so You have the place of honor in my life. Practically, this means making my time with You each day a top priority— getting up earlier if necessary, allowing enough time to really listen to You, choosing this time with You over other things. And not just “having God Time,” but coming expectantly, ready to see You and hear You and learn from Your Word. With our crazy schedule and chaotic life, this is more of a challenge than I would like it to be! But I know that is where my preparation begins.
It also may require some cleaning up and decluttering of my heart, mind, and schedule.
Lord, help me get rid of the things I store inside that really don’t belong there, things that just take up space and distract me from what matters. Some of these things are harmful—bitterness, unforgiveness, discontentment. Most, however, are simply “good” clutter that must be intentionally removed if I want to make room for the coming of the Christ Child.
Oh, what peace is ushered in with the creation of holy space!
As I prepare my heart to receive You this Christmas, my heart sings out, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!” God with us.
You may not know this about me, but when I was in college and my early twenties, I wrestled with a call to full-time mission work. After serving on several short-term mission teams in a few different countries, I had fallen in love with the people and cultures of Jamaica and Venezuela. I loved the food, the slower pace of life, the smiles and laughter of the children, and the true joy and sincerity of faith that comes from truly depending on Jesus because there is little else to depend on. I did not wrestle with whether or not I could leave my family and the comforts of home; no, I already felt at home there and would have gladly “left my nets” to follow Jesus.
Instead, I wrestled with whether or not my heart’s desire was actually His desire for me or simply my own. So, just as Abraham placed Isaac on the altar, I laid my dreams of mission work at my Father’s feet, trusting Him to do whatever was best with them. After much prayer (and honestly, to my great surprise- I mean, how could mission work NOT be His will??) I had my answer. The Lord clearly closed those doors and soon led me in a different direction… a wonderful life as a “pastor’s wife” while I continued in youth ministry, then helping Jeff plant a church, and eventually being a stay at home mom, homeschooling our four children. Still mission work, really, just an entirely different kind than I expected.
I am grateful for every step of the path my Father has chosen for me. No, it is not the sort of Elisabeth Elliot life that inspires future generations, and it doesn’t exactly look impressive or life-changing on social media, like the stories of so many others who are changing lives in Africa and around the world. Instead, my faith has been walked out in mundane, everyday, ordinary ways. I will be honest and tell you that sometimes that has been a challenge for my prideful heart. My heart’s desire has always been to offer all that I am and all that I have to Jesus, and for Him to use me in BIG ways for His glory.
Apparently, His desire is to use me in small ways for His glory.
Wiping noses and cooking dinner and helping with schoolwork and praying Scripture over my children does not always seem like very much to offer Him. In fact, it seems rather small and useless most of the time! But as I look at our children now, who are growing up to be kind, thoughtful, Jesus-loving people, the so-called “small ways” have become big in their own way. My prayer has changed- not that I would DO big things, but that my faithfulness in the small things would enable BIG things for His Kingdom, and I am grateful they have.
And that is why this week was such a gift to me…
This week our family had the privilege of joining some friends on a Family mission trip to North Carolina. We served a small Hispanic mission church by putting on a Vacation Bible School for the children of their community. The pastor borrowed buses from larger churches in Ashville and then drove down the poorer streets in nearby towns, knocking on doors and inviting the children to get on the bus and come to VBS for the day. Children (as young as 4 years old) through teenagers climbed aboard, most of them for the first time, not really even knowing where they were going or what to expect. The buses arrived at the church by 8:30 each morning and departed around 2:00 each afternoon. During the hours in between, the children were fed breakfast, participated in a worship time with music, skits, Bible stories, and prayer time, and then went down by the river for snacks, games, crafts, lunch, and free play with our team. The meals were important, since many of them would not have eaten because school is not in session. For five and a half hours, we were able to love on these children and shower them with the joy that comes from knowing Jesus. We were able to serve side by side with several Hispanic families from the church (most who did not speak any English), and plant seeds in the hearts of children who had never even heard of Jesus. It was powerful and precious and exhausting and inspiring.
Above all, it was holy ground.
I watched my husband step out of his comfort zone and, after decades of leading adults, joyfully lead worship and share Bible Stories with a room full of children from a completely different culture. I watched as our Eli overcame his shyness and made friends with the Hispanic children by playing soccer. There wasn’t a single moment that our Abby didn’t have a child hanging on her back or climbing in her lap, laughing with glee at the smile on her face and the love in her heart. Our oldest daughter, Sarah, gladly used her gifts in helping lead worship, and then chose to serve behind the scenes by entertaining the babies and toddlers for the Hispanic mamas as they prepared lunch for the group. And our little Noah, at 8 years old, was quite possibly the greatest evangelist we had, praying for the entire group whenever a volunteer was asked for, helping the other kids catch fish in the river and talking to them about Jesus calling us to be Fishers of Men (among the many other “lessons” he taught as he played). The rest of our teammates, mostly teenagers we have grown to love as our own, were just as involved and inspiring. It was beautiful!
And in the midst of watching God use my family for His glory, a little 4 year-old boy named Joel decided he liked me. With all those fun, spunky teenagers to choose from, for some reason, Joel chose me. He wanted ME to throw the ball with him and play soccer with him and find treasure with him. He wanted ME to take him in the river and help him catch fish and tell him stories. He wanted ME to eat lunch with him and hold him in my lap and pray over him (well, I’m not sure he wanted that last part but I did it anyway!!). It was like I was twenty again, in a far away land, loving this child in the name of Jesus. Jeff commented that it was beautiful watching me be totally in my element, which I was. It was an unexpected gift; manna for this momma’s heart. I am grateful.
Next week, we will be back at home.
I will continue to pray for little Joel and all our other new friends as I sort through curriculum and school supplies and get us ready for school to start back. I will be cooking dinner and folding laundry and lots of other “ordinary” things for the people I love most; all to the glory of God in the place He has called me. I will encourage my husband and love my children and lead my small group girls, joyfully watching as He uses my small acts of faithfulness for a greater impact. And I will be grateful, for I know beyond a doubt that God’s plan is the best plan, and I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. Yes, next week I will jump back into my everyday, “ordinary” life.
We had beautiful weather for the last week or so here in North Georgia. Sunshine, 80 degree temps, and beautiful blue skies have us all aching for summer to arrive and school to be out. But a few days ago, after another beautiful almost-summer day, I headed off to baseball practice with our boys, and within minutes something changed.
The sky darkened, the clouds rolled in, and out of nowhere the heavens opened up and pelted us with rain. Instead of sitting on the bleachers cheering on my boys, I found myself covering my head (why do we do that anyway? It accomplishes nothing. But I digress.) and running for the shelter of my car. We were all left shaking our heads, exclaiming, “Where in the world did that come from?”
Yeah, grief is sneaky like that, too.
Maybe you have had a broken relationship or a broken heart. Perhaps you’ve lost a close friendship or a loved one. Death, divorce, disease, disaster… they all leave us holding a handful of broken pieces that somehow must be dealt with. It takes awhile to sort through them- some pieces fit back together rather seamlessly, while others require a little more effort. And some pieces need to be put away for awhile, possibly buried, or even thrown away. A lot of this sorting happens pretty quickly, but the “odd” pieces take a little more time. Eventually new pieces find their way into our hands, and our hearts are slowly mended into something a little more whole. Not perfect, not the same- never the same– but a heart nonetheless. Joy, hope, and love gradually find their way back to us, and our hearts begin to beat again.
And then, from out of nowhere, lightning strikes.
Perhaps it’s a song on the radio or a favorite food or an activity you shared together. Whatever it is, something happens and suddenly your heart aches and your eyes burn and you find yourself covering your head and running for shelter, fighting the tears as you flee. Grief pops up in unexpected places and unexpected ways.
My sweet friend, Diana, recently went HOME to be with Jesus after a long, painful battle with cancer that ravaged her body but strengthened her soul. She taught our oldest daughter piano for many years, and mentored her in life and faith, as well as music. We did much of our grieving throughout her illness, which made her death more a culmination of the grieving process for us rather than the beginning of it. I have a total peace that she is in Heaven, and have even experienced great joy knowing she is finally completely FREE of the sickness that was consuming her body. Before she died, she wrote precious words encouraging her family and friends not to mourn her with sadness, but to celebrate her with joy by moving forward with love and laughter, and we have done our best to honor her in that way.
But last week, our daughter scored really well in a piano competition, and without thinking I pulled out my phone to text Diana the news like I always do. Only I couldn’t. (The sky grows dark.)
This week we are preparing for Sarah’s year-end piano recital. She texted me today to remind me to send her new teacher the “dedication” sentences for the program and to ask my help in wording it because she just can’t bring herself to write “in memory of Diana” herself. (Lightning flashes.)
Mother’s Day was this weekend, and as I was searching for ways to celebrate the “moms” in my life, I suddenly realized her precious girls have no one to give their gifts to this year. (The rain pours down, pelting me in the face.)
And then, a photo of Sarah and Diana popped up in my “memories” on Facebook from last year’s recital. Curse you, Facebook! And yet, thank you, Facebook.
Yes, the clouds rolled in quickly, seemingly from out of nowhere, and surprised me each time with an unexpected downpour of emotions when I least expected them. There was no way to prepare and no way to hide. I had to just embrace the tears, open my arms to the moment, and then…
Let it pass.
Because that’s the thing about a pop-up storm. It surprises us and it soaks us, but it usually doesn’t last long or cause very much damage. It just gets everything really wet, and then moves on. If we really want to, we can chase after it, desperate for the rain, aching for the darkness.
Or we can let it go.
We can open our arms and lift our face to the sky (because, again, what is the point of covering our head?). We can feel the rain as it soaks us and embrace the grief for a few minutes as the memories flood our hearts. And then, we can wipe our eyes, dry ourselves off, and allow the clouds to pass.
The funny thing about pop-up storms is that within minutes, the sky is usually blue once again, and the sun shines just as brightly as before. Everything is refreshed, greener somehow, ready for whatever is to come next.
Grief doesn’t always feel so sunny afterwards. But if we lift our face to the SON, there is hope and peace and even joy to warm us.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains- where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, The Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2