Reflections of a College Visit

Nearly eighteen years ago, our first baby was born.

A little girl. 

 Today, we walked from building to building, up and down stairs, all around a campus that, in a few months, will be her new home.

How in the world did we get here?

I remember feeling her move around inside me, pressing her tiny feet against my ribs and bouncing my belly with her hiccups. I remember holding her in my arms for the first time- her perfect little fingers, her head full of black hair. I remember how she cried at bedtime until she was five, how she introduced her baby sister as her “best friend” to her preschool class, how she would build a fort during room-time so she would have somewhere fun to read her books.

I remember so much.

And then, somehow I blinked… and suddenly she’s going off to college.

I know she’s ready. And after today, I know this school is the right choice for her. Her face lit up like a marquis when we drove on campus. It is bursting with both opportunity and purpose, just like my girl! 

Her “circles” have been so small in life- not intentionally, that is just how it has worked out. Her school friends, church friends, and drama friends all overlap in the middle of a Venn diagram. There are benefits to this, of course; it creates a small, cozy cocoon in which a caterpillar can transform into something more.

However, she has also felt the emptiness of the blank space in her circles. While small circles can be both safe and comfortable, they can confine you as well, squeezing a little too tightly when you are trying to spread your wings. 

And our girl is ready to spread her wings!

So we spent the weekend exploring her next home. We saw where she will live, eat, study, and learn. I caught glimpses of her future as a group of smiling students hurried past us on their way to class, and in a table of friends laughing as they discussed homework and weekend plans. We started making a list of what she will need to bring for her dorm room and what clothes she will need to buy so she doesn’t freeze. 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer. 29:11)

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)

**********

My girl is ready, there is no doubt. She is following the will of the Lord. What more can a momma ask for? 

Absolutely nothing.

Still…

I sure am going to miss her.

The Lies We Believe: How Comparison Robs Us of Community

“Don’t compare what you know about yourself to what you don’t know about me.”

These words were spoken over 20 years ago by a prominent speaker at a National Youth Workers Convention I attended. His comments were intended to humanize himself, a reminder to the rest of us that his life was not any easier, nor was his ministry any more effective than ours was. This is a lie we tend to believe- one that often robs us of the community we were created for. 

He mentioned the temptation for us to think he was somehow better than us simply because he was standing on a big stage, when in reality, his students bemoaned his “boring talks” and “stupid programs” just like ours did. Sure, he had wisdom to share, but he wanted to make sure we understood it was gained in the trenches, not by some royal edict or heavenly proclamation. 

He was “wise” because he had learned from his mistakes. He was “seasoned” because he had travelled long, difficult roads and persevered. He was not speaking to us because he was somehow “holier” than us; he was simply more experienced. 

And experience is not something you gain on the sidelines.

I have kept his statement tucked away since that day.  Occasionally, I pull it out to remind myself that “perfect” people (or jobs or children or marriages) are rarely what they seem on the outside, and if I take the time to investigate, I might find that their story isn’t all that different than mine. 

Fast forward to this weekend.

I was talking with a few friends, and one of them shared some struggles she was facing with her daughter. I mentioned that I had gone through a similar struggle with one of my girls a few years ago and would love to have lunch to compare notes. My sweet friend smiled at me a little sadly and said, “Oh, that’s okay. I’m sure this is on a whole different level than what you’re thinking. But thank you for offering.”

Y’all.

That is a lie straight from the enemy, and I told her so. 

I know because I have listened to it many times myself. Satan was telling my friend that what was happening in her family was an anomaly, something unusual and terrible that no one else could possibly understand or relate to. He was trying to isolate her, because once we are isolated, the only voice we tend to hear is his, and his job gets so much easier. That sneaky Deceiver loves to twist and distort the truth, whispering shame and despair straight into our hearts.

But he is a liar.

The truth is, none of us have perfect families. No one around us has a perfect life, a perfect spouse, a perfect job, or a perfect child. And chances are, whatever we are going through, there are people in our circles who have struggled or are currently struggling with similar things; we just don’t know it. 

See, my friend was comparing what she knew about herself to what she didn’t know about me. And as a result, she might have missed out on the very encouragement the Lord was trying to send her! 

That sounds just like the enemy’s work to me. 

Somehow my friend had created an idealized impression of my family. Now, if you don’t know me personally, I am pretty much a hot mess most of the time, and so is our family. I am a pretty open person, though, and I try to be very genuine in my (hot mess) life, as well as in my writing. However, there are things that simply can’t, in good conscience, be put on display for everyone to know. 

For instance, it is impossible to share some of our children’s struggles, who are wrestling with their identity and independence, and not risk compromising their reputations. Likewise, proclaiming our own faults and flaws to people who don’t know us or care about us can limit our credibility and influence, because they have no context in which to apply it.  So when someone’s life looks shinier than ours, even someone who is very genuine, there’s a good chance their laundry stinks just like ours does… they have just chosen not to hang it all out for the whole world to see.

Proverbs 13:3 wisely advises, “Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.” And Proverbs 12:23 says, “The prudent keep their knowledge to themselves, but a fool’s heart blurts out folly.” The Bible is full of such admonitions; it simply isn’t wise for us to bear our souls with just anyone. 

At the same time, God also encourages us to pour out our hearts to Him, for He is our refuge (see Ps 63:5, 8). And 1 Peter 5:7 tells us, “Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” 

The Lord never intends for us to carry our burdens by ourselves. When we are struggling, we must not listen to the whispers of the Deceiver, telling us to hide our challenges behind closed doors, especially from the Holy One. 

Bad things grow in the dark. The best thing to do with our struggles is to bring them into the Light- to those who can offer wisdom and encouragement, and most importantly, into the Presence of the One who makes all things new.

God created us with a need and desire for community– both with Him and other believers- because He knew the burdens would be too much for us to bear alone. I love this passage from Ecclesiastes (Ch. 4, v. 9-12):

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” (NIV)

Friends, if we are tempted to think no one else will understand what we are going through, it’s not true. If you are looking at other people’s lives (especially mine!) and thinking they are perfect, or at least more perfect than yours, you are being deceived. At best, they are a little further down the road. But more likely, they just haven’t put their struggles on display.

I am embarrassed to admit how often I have allowed the fear of what other people might think keep me from reaching out. We cannot let the lies of the enemy or our own insecurities keep us from experiencing the hope and peace Jesus offers us! We need each other!

In what areas are you struggling? What challenge are you facing for which someone else might be able to offer insight or wisdom? Who have you put on a pedestal of perfection without finding out their real story? And who around you might benefit from the difficult lessons the Lord has taught you?

Let’s choose NOT to compare what we know about ourselves to what we don’t know about other people. 

Instead, let’s lean in to the community the Lord has given us, unburdening our hearts and learning from one another, as we share this journey together. 

Snow Day

It doesn’t snow often in Georgia, so when it does, everything shuts down and time seems to stand still. These are just my thoughts about our snow day…

Knees curled beneath me

Warm and cozy in my chair

steaming mug beside me

I look outside.

The sky is falling,

fluttering softly in tiny flakes

gently to the ground.

Gradually, it piles up

color fading to white

Hectic lives

slowing to a stop-

Frozen in this moment.

Anxious children

peeking out windows

Finally, a knock!

Drawers fling open,

clothes fly around the room

searching, finding, layering,

bundling, zipping

bustling out the door!

Children laughing, sledding, screaming

balls of packed powder

find their mark

Bottom, middle, top are rolled

then stacked

Sticks and carrots, scarves and hats

bringing them to life.

And still, the sky drifts down

while time remains frozen.

Back inside, wet clothes dripping

piled up by the door.

Warm blankets, snuggles on the couch

mugs of hot chocolate,

the salty smell of popcorn filling the room.

Minds quieting, hearts slowing

in a contented sigh

of peace.

Out the window

the Winter Wonderland

holds its breath,

melting slowly,

quietly

not wanting to disrupt

this gift of time.

Looking around, I soak it in

the peace, the laughter

all of us together.

I freeze it in my memory

as my heart floods

with gratitude

for this frozen moment.

All We Are is Grace.

Here is a post from our oldest daughter, Sarah, who is a Senior in high school. I am so thankful for how she seeks to follow Jesus and her willingness to share what He is teaching her. I hope this will be a blessing to you today!

All We Are Is Grace.

IMG_5557 The sunrise from the Friday of JTF promising His grace and faithfulness going into that weekend, because I didn’t get a picture of the sunset promise from tonight. 🙂

There’s been a lot of self-reflection happening lately, as I’ve officially moved out of something that’s been a huge part of my life and I am preparing to move to an even bigger, new part of life. The Lord has been so faithful in this season.

This week I met up with some adults who’ve been walking through this year with me specifically to look back at the start of this season, see how far I’ve come, and celebrate His faithfulness. One of them asked me, “What now? What’s your new mountain you need Him to help you climb?” Some struggles with my mentality, how my personality plays into it, and lies I’ve been believing came to mind.

It was the…

View original post 938 more words

12 Ways to Have a Magical Family Christmas at Disney World (Despite the Crowds!)

We just got back from spending a magical family Christmas at Disneyworld, so I thought I’d share a few things we did to make sure we experienced all the magic! 

But first, a disclaimer:  If you have never been to WDW before, in my opinion, Christmas week is not the time to go. It is by far the busiest week of the year. My husband and I both agreed that if it had been our first time there, we would never come back… and that would be such a shame, because it is so much fun at other times in the year! So save yourself some stress (and money) and schedule your trip during a less-crowded time. February and September are ideal, but Spring Break and other months work, too!

Now, since we have established that it will be CROWDED, these are some alternatives we found to the usual, everyday Disney experience. So open your mind to some new possibilities as we did (or ordinary possibilities in a new environment), and let the fun begin!

1. For Rides, Go Early/Go Late.

 If you can’t imagine going to Disney and not riding rides, then there are a few things that will make the Christmas week wait times a little less torturous. Be there for “Rope Drop”– Get up early and arrive at the Park gates before they open. You will have about an hour to squeeze in several rides before the lines stack up, so choose the rides that normally have the longest lines first. Normally, the first 2-3 hours after the Park opens have short lines, but we found this window to be much shorter during Christmas week. The same concept applies in the evening. Arrive at the Park about 2 hours before closing for your best chance at short lines, and skip the fireworks/parade/etc. We love to ride Big Thunder Railroad during the fireworks- you can almost walk right through the line, and nothing is better than viewing the fireworks as you fly around the turns! Plan your Fast Passes to coincide with your arrival times, and then fill the rest of your day with other Disney adventures!

2. Go to the Pool.

Florida weather can be unpredictable in December, but there is a good chance you will have at least one day in the upper 70’s. And if it’s chilly, just jump in the hot tub. Plus, the Vitamin D will boost your immune system!

3. Resort Hop to see the Gingerbread Houses

Several of the resorts feature real houses made of gingerbread and frosting that match the theme of the hotel! You could spend several hours going from place to place taking pictures with each of them, finding the hidden mickeys, etc. 

4. Check out the Gift Shops

While you’re resort hopping, be sure to peek into the various gift shops. We have found that many of the resorts carry different merchandise, so you might find something you love that you won’t find anywhere else!

5.  Eat your way around the world in Epcot.

This ended up being one of our most fun days! We arrived at Epcot around 11am and most of the wait times were already an hour or longer, so we headed for the World Showcase. Since we couldn’t agree on what we wanted to eat, we decided to share a variety of foods throughout the countries. We shared nachos in Mexico, some bubble tea in China, a giant pretzel and some caramel in Germany, and then opted for different desserts- shaved ice from China and gelato from France. We took our time and stopped in a few of the shops that we generally skip over, and just really enjoyed the slower pace. By the time we got past France, we were ready for our next adventure… 

6. Ride the Skyliner.

If you have not been to Disney in awhile, the Skyliner is a new form of transportation which carries people between Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and several resort hotels (Caribbean Beach, French Riviera, and All Star). The cable cars run continuously, and you can hop on at any of the stops and take a ride. It’s a fun way to get a bird’s eye view of different resorts, and it almost feels like a ride in itself! It definitely beats standing in a 2-hour line for Test Track. If you exit Epcot in between France and England, the Skyliner hub is directly on your right after you leave the Park.

7. Indulge in a Holiday Snack Hunt.

Disney rolls out several holiday treats just for the season that you don’t want to miss! Our oldest daughter follows a bunch of Disney bloggers, so she made a list of treats for us to try on our trip, and we checked one off every chance we got. The gingerbread cookie sandwich from Germany was amazing; The peppermint gelato macaroon from France left a lot to be desired. But the fun was in the trying! So google WDW holiday treats before you go, and you’ll know where to find all the goodness.

8. See a movie.

Everyone needs some downtime… maybe it’s been raining all day (or week), or you’re tired of the lines, or whatever. Disney Springs has a movie theater, and there are several other theaters off-property within a short drive. Many of the resorts also show free family-friendly movies in the evening out by the pool. We spent our first day watching the new Star Wars movie to avoid the rain, and it was a great way to start our trip! (PSA- Disney Springs has a bowling alley, too, if that’s more your thing)

9. Resort Dining. 

There are so many great restaurants at the various resorts around property! Use this time when the parks are so busy to try something new. You can view the menus online, so choose something that appeals to your family and be sure to make a reservation. We ate Christmas dinner at Whispering Canyon Café at the Wilderness Lodge, which is one of our favorites. We have eaten at most of the resorts, and have yet to find a restaurant we didn’t like!

10. Magic Kingdom Scavenger Hunts: Sorcerer’s of the Magic Kingdom Quests/A Pirate’s Adventure. 

When we arrived at the Magic Kingdom and saw that the line for It’s a Small World was over an hour, we knew we were not going to be riding any rides. We decided it was the perfect time to try out something we have always wanted to do- an interactive scavenger hunt! We began with the Sorcerer’s Quest (start out at the Fire Station near Main Street) and completed an entire quest, which took us through 4 areas of the park. We made a quick stop in Mickey’s Philharmagic during a rainstorm, and had to get some dole whip when the quest led us to Aloha Isle, but neither pit stop interfered with our adventure. When we finished, our kids did the Pirate’s Adventure without us, and they enjoyed that one even more, as it was more like an interactive clue hunt. I was afraid our kids would think the scavenger hunts were too babyish, but they all really had fun, even the teenagers! Our boys liked the trading cards that came with the first quest, and they were all especially happy to receive a fast pass to Pirates of the Caribbean when they completed their adventure! This turned out to be a fantastic way to spend a rainy, super crowded day at the park. And there are multiple quests, so we will definitely do it again!

11. Candlelight Processional (Dining Package). This was definitely the most magical part of Christmas at Disney for me. We usually spend our Christmas Eve morning visiting a local nursing home with our church family, followed by a candlelight worship service that evening. That is part of what helps our family keep our focus on the real meaning of Christmas, and I was concerned that we would lose that focus being at Disney. But then my sweet husband found out that Steven Curtis Chapman (my fave!) would be narrating the Christmas story at the Epcot Candlelight Processional, and bought us a “Dinner & Show” Package to make sure we would have seats for Christmas Eve. I would definitely recommend pre-purchasing the dining package, as the Processional fills up quickly and you are not likely to get a seat without it, especially on Christmas Eve. We ate hibachi in Japan, hit a few rides, and then got in line to get good seats for the service. The orchestra was amazing! And SCC was a fantastic narrator, so genuine as always. I cannot explain how it felt to be celebrating the birth of Christ (God with us!) with so many other believers in the midst of such a secular place! It definitely made Christmas for me. So a huge shout out to my hubby for making it happen! 

12.  Lastly, Close out a Park on Christmas Eve. This was not something we planned, but it turned out to be truly magical! After the Candlelight Processional, we went back to the Wilderness Lodge and opened our Christmas Eve present (matching Disney pajamas, of course!), and began to settle in for the night. Then someone mentioned that Magic Kingdom didn’t close until midnight, how fun would it be to be there on Christmas Eve? Next thing I knew, all six of us were heading toward the boat, ready for an adventure! It was crowded, but not terribly so, and we were able to ride several of our favorite rides (including Big Thunder during the fireworks! Woot!) and enjoy a Mickey bar before heading back to the resort. With our oldest daughter graduating from high school this May and heading off to college, memories like that with all of us together are not something we take for granted. It was definitely a magical way to celebrate!

Of course, there are lots of other magical things about Christmas at Disney- holiday themed rides, special parades and performances throughout the parks, etc. But these are the top 12 things that made our Disney Christmas so magical this year. If you have other suggestions, I’d love to hear them! Who knows when we might find ourselves there again… (Okay, probably not anytime soon. But still, I still love hearing ideas!)

Investing in Teens, Part 3: Ready to Listen

It never fails.

It’s 3:30 in the afternoon and I realize I have about 30 minutes to myself before I start making dinner. Just as I settle in with my book, my teen plops down on the couch next to me. “Whatcha reading, Mom? Oh, that sounds cool. Hey, did I show you this video I found…”

It’s 11:27 pm and my bed is calling. I finish brushing my teeth and walk into my bedroom, and then hear footsteps in the hallway. “Hey Momma, do you have a minute?” she says…

Why is it my teens never want to talk when I’m ready to listen? It seems like, without fail, they always approach me at the most inconvenient times! 

Oh, that happens to you, too? 

It’s crazy, right?

Last night I listened to a video interview with Craig Groeschel, the pastor of Life.church, on “Raising Biblically Based World Changers.” I already had this blog topic planned, so I perked up when he mentioned how important it is for us to listen to our teens. 

He said, “While young children need our physical presence, teenagers need our emotional presence, but they are not always emotionally available to us. So when they are, we need to drop everything and listen.

He couldn’t be more right.

In the last blog post about listening so teens will talk, I shared some things we can do to ensure that we are actively listening to and communicating with our teens instead of just trying to tell them how much we know. 

Today I want to share a few ways we can make the most of opportunities to get our kids talking, so we’ll be ready to listen when the time comes.

1.  Learn WHEN your teens are most emotionally available so you can listen. 

This may seem silly, but I have found this one thing helps my listening attitude more than anything else. Believe it or not, my patience level at 11:27 p.m. is not super high- I am physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted by that time in the day. The LAST thing I want to do is spend an hour reminding myself of all the things I need to do to be a good parent while my teen pours out her heart- or at least, that’s the last thing I FEEL like doing.

But the truth is, underneath the feeling, there is actually nothing in the world I would rather do more than listen to my teen’s heart. So learning their rhythms has helped me a lot in preparing my own heart to be ready.  

The best way to do this is simply to pay attention. Make a note of when your teen approaches you for conversation, even seemingly insignificant conversation, like sharing a TikTok video or rehashing some terrible call in last week’s game. Before long, you will likely begin to notice a pattern or a rhythm to when they tend to make themselves available to you. For some it’s after school, or right before dinner, but for many- especially older teens- it’s after 11:00 p.m.  Maybe their defenses come down when they’re tired? That’s my theory. Whatever the reason, it’s pretty much universal, so watch for it!

The important thing, though, is to discern your teen’s rhythms so you can prepare and be emotionally available to them.

2. Learn HOW your teens make themselves emotionally available for you to listen.

Some kids spout their innermost thoughts like a gushing fire hydrant, while others wait for you to pry every single word out of their zippered lips. Some kids process externally, while others process internally. Some are comfortable sharing their feelings, and others, not so much. None of these things are right or wrong; they are simply how your teen tends to communicate. Learning these tendencies is kind of like learning to speak our teen’s language, because they show us the best ways to approach conversations with them. 

Does your teen have a hard time expressing their emotions verbally but like to write? Keeping a shared journal is one way you can help them open up to you. One of our daughters tends to hold her feelings inside. She had an especially difficult time expressing anger and frustration towards us or sharing things that she thought we just wouldn’t understand. Using a journal gave her a chance to open up without feeling disrespectful, as she was able to write down things she never would have had the courage to say in person. It also helped her process her thoughts so she had a better grasp of what she was really feeling, and it gave me time to think and process as well so I could respond with grace and truth. Now it is a beautiful record of our relationship over the years, and she can read those pages to be reminded of how very much her dad and I love her! As she has gotten older, we have made an effort to coach her in expressing herself verbally, but the journal was very helpful for a season.

Our other daughter expresses her feelings almost too easily and hates to write, so the journal idea wouldn’t work for her. Instead, we’ve learned (and are still learning!) that when she gets worked up about something, she is not ready for conversation until she releases all her emotions. Since my husband has thick skin and a higher tolerance for confrontation than me, he likes to poke and prod and help her get it all out, so they can deal with whatever is really going on. I, on the other hand, gently tell her I can tell she’s upset, so she needs to go into another room until she feels better and then I’ll be ready to listen. Okay, so my words often sound gentler in my head than they do out loud, and they are rarely received calmly by her- but we are working on it! Once she calms down, we usually have a great conversation about whatever is going on in her world. 

Some teens find it very difficult to express themselves at all! But that doesn’t mean they don’t need to share. It just means they need someone to invest the time in helping them figure out how to open up. Maybe they like to text, or make videos. Maybe watching a TV show or playing a video game together will allow them (or you) opportunities to bring up topics they would otherwise not talk about.

The important thing is to invest time in learning HOW your teens communicate so you can look for opportunities and be ready to listen.

3. Learn WHERE your teens are most emotionally available so you can listen.

Does your teen love Starbucks? Then buy them a latte and sit down for a chat. Does your teen love baseball? Head to the field. Does your kid avoid one on one conversations? Then wait until you have them trapped! 

Actually, I’m not kidding. Some of the best conversations with teens take place in the car. I have found that teen boys, especially, seem to open up better while riding side by side in a vehicle as opposed to sitting down face to face. I don’t suggest this avenue (ha, get it?!) for bringing up super volatile issues, but many awkward or embarrassing topics (which for boys can mean anything slightly emotional) are much more productive if discussed with some sort of distraction. It could be riding in a car or working on a project together or playing golf- anything that works for you, as long as it gives your teen an opportunity to open up without feeling like they are the center of attention.

Remember, it is still important for them to have your full attention, but just in a way that doesn’t make them feel so self-conscious. 

During his interview, Groeschel mentioned that he has found his teen’s friends often open up to him easier than his own kids. Therefore, he has learned to engage his teen’s friends in conversations, and they eventually join in. If your teen doesn’t always respond well when you initiate conversation, try bringing their friends into it and see what happens! Perhaps they will open up more in a group of friends.

4.  Show your kids you’re ready to listen by keeping communication open.

This is probably the most important thing we can do as parents. No matter what your kids tell you, don’t act surprised, shocked, or disappointed. Don’t be overly antagonistic or judgemental towards their friends. There will be time for those insights, but the best thing we can do when our teens are emotionally available is keep them talking. Ask questions, make connections to their feelings, find out what they think about things, anything. As Groeschel said, “the goal is just to keep them talking. We should shoot for 90% listening and 10% talking.” The more we know, the better we are able to express our love to them, to pray for them, and to offer help or advice when they seek it.

Again, just because I know the importance of being ready to listen to my teens, doesn’t mean I always am. The past few days have been filled with failures on my part in this exact area, so I am definitely preaching to the choir! 

But I won’t stop trying. 

As exhausting as parenting can be some days, our time to speak into our teens lives is limited, and we cannot waste it. But before we can speak, we must be intentional about listening, so they know how much we care. 

When our teens are ready to talk, will we be ready to listen?

Teenagers: Our Greatest Investment

I have loved working with teenagers since, well, since I was a teenager myself! When I was a freshman in college, the speaker for our college Bible Study asked me one night if I would be willing to lead a weekly small group for 8th and 9th grade girls at his church. I remember thinking he was crazy… I was barely 18 at the time! But I loved Jesus so much that I said yes, and it turned out to be one of my most favorite experiences in college. They taught me way more than I taught them, that’s for sure! I had the privilege of walking with those girls for the next 4 years, and I am still in touch with most of them today. There is no greater joy than seeing how much they still love Jesus all these years later! 

Being a small group leader soon led to an intern position, which eventually led to a full time Youth Ministry position once I graduated. I will be honest… looking back, I realize I didn’t have a clue what I was doing half the time!

So I spent most of my time mirroring what I saw in the leaders around me.

I am eternally grateful that God gave me the most amazing adult leaders in high school who believed in me, loved me unconditionally, and showed me what it looked like to walk with Jesus. I had rock-solid Youth Ministers in my circles who answered all my questions and modeled servant-ministry as they led with passion and integrity. And most importantly, I just really, really loved Jesus and teenagers, and I believed God was going to work in their lives.

And I prayed.

A LOT.

He did work in their lives, too; sometimes through me, but more often in spite of me. I was simply given a front row seat to watch… It was the best job in the world!

I always wondered if I would “outgrow” my love for teenagers, but so far that hasn’t happened. How I relate to them has certainly changed; I have become a “bonus mom” now, instead of a cool college girl they look up to (okay, who am I kidding? “Cool” was never an adjective one would use to describe me- I was always a big dork! Nonetheless… you get the point)

 In addition to being mom to two beautiful, fun, smart, sassy, Jesus-loving teenage daughters (love you, girls!), I have also had the privilege of leading a small group of (now) Senior girls for the past 3 years. There are no words to describe how much I adore these girls or how grateful I am for the way they have begun to truly seek after Christ! My time with them each week really is a gift.  

As we get closer and closer to graduation, however, I find myself wondering if I have done a good job preparing them for this next phase of their lives.  When they are tempted, will they stand strong or will they fall? When they are lonely and uncertain, will they seek security in Jesus or the world? When they are searching for Truth, will they turn to their friends or to the Bible? Will they remember they are a treasure, and wait for the guys who treat them as such? Will they continue to seek the path God has for them, trusting Him to lead the way? These are the questions I am asking myself. And as a mom of a Senior girl, I question and pray even more.

Oh, how I pray they cling to Jesus! 

 Because I find teenagers so engaging, it makes me sad to hear the way so many parents talk about the teen years, as if they are something to dread.  Yes, they are hard, no doubt. But they are also wonderful and enlightening and soul-searching and fun! As parents, our roles begin to shift from directors (who are pretty much in charge of everything) to coaches and encouragers. I read one time that a good coach, after laying the ground work in practices and playbooks, puts his arm around his players and asks what they think they should do next. He may offer some perspective and insight that the players lack, but otherwise he begins to turn over the decision making process to the players while he steps into the role of encourager. Yes, sometimes they will fail. But oh, how exciting it is when they succeed!

I love this illustration! So I thought for my next few blog posts, I would share some of the important things God has taught me in my many years of serving teens, such as how to really listen, what teens need most from the adults in their lives, and how to pray for your teens. Please do not think for a moment that I have mastered any of these things! Most of them I have learned from consistently doing them wrong. And I will be the first to admit that I am much better at doing these things as a Small Group leader than I am as a parent, which my kids will be more than happy to confirm!  I see the two roles as serving different purposes, which often derails me, but the skill set required truly is (or should be) the same for both. 

So if you are a parent of a teenager, have kids who will eventually be teenagers, or maybe you teach or volunteer with teenagers, I hope you will follow this series.  

Our world needs teenagers who love Jesus and live their convictions.

In order for that to happen, our teenagers need adults who will step into their lives and show them how very much God loves them and what it looks like to walk with Him.

I am grateful for the adults who were willing to do that for me- God used them to change my life in ways they will never know. Jeff and I are beyond grateful for the adults who have stepped into the lives of our daughters, and how God continues to love and grow them through their investment. I pray He will use me in the same way! And I hope that some of the things He continues to teach me will help you make a difference in the lives of teenagers, too. If you have specific questions you would like to see addressed or want to share some insights you have gleaned while investing in teens, feel free to comment! Let’s commit together to letting God teach us how to truly love our teenagers.

Heath Fam Goes West: Part 3

MOAB, UTAH

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!

Day 7: Arches National Park  

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!

Landscape Arch
(*If you can stop looking at the boys’ faces long enough (haha!),
notice the rock behind us… that is a sample of the trail to Double O Arch)

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 Garage for 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… 

Grand Canyon, here we come!!

A New Challenge

I have started a new challenge.

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. 

Heath Fam Goes West: Part 2

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!)