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.

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.

Waiting for Hope

Hope.

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

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!!

Waiting for Perfect

Writing Challenge Day 3

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? 

I think 485 is close enough.

Coming, hon!

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!)

Heath Fam Goes West!

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:

Day 1Fly to Denver, rent car & drive to Colorado Springs
Days 2-5Colorado Springs: Garden of the Gods, Cave of the Winds, Manitou Springs Cliff Dwelligns, USAFA tour (and time with family & friends)
Day 6Drive to Moab, UT and hike in Canyonlands National Park
Day 7Arches National Park, dinner in Moab
Day 8Drive to Grand Canyon’s South Rim (AZ)- Desert Watchtower, Hummer Sunset Tour
Day 9(Grand Canyon) South Kaibab hike (Ooh Aah Point), Biking along rim
Day 10Drive to St. George, UT (visit with family)
Day 11Zion 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!)
Day 12Drive to Hoover Dam, then on to Las Vegas
Day 13Drive to Anaheim, CA (Disneyland)
Days 14-16Disneyland & California Advneture, possible trip into L.A. or to Huntington Beach
Day 17Fly HOME!!

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!

An Unexpected Fan

I take it back.

All those bad things I have said from the first second I heard about “fidget spinners,” I take them all back.

Well, okay, not all of them. In fact, not even most of them. I still think they are horribly distracting and have no place in a classroom or group setting, and accomplish exactly the opposite of what they were created to do. So there’s that.

However

I also must give credit where it is due, and recently my child had his life dramatically changed for the better by none other than- you guessed it- a fidget spinner. But probably not in the way you think.

You see, I made a horrible mom mistake. I ALWAYS check out movies before we watch them. I am that crazy, over-protective mom who believes we need to be extra careful what our kids are watching, particularly when they are young, and so we almost never watch a movie unless Jeff or I have seen it. At the very least, I do a thorough search on commonsensemedia.org to make sure it is age (and values)-appropriate for our family.

But last week, in the midst of about a thousand other things we had going on, our older son’s 3rd grade class decided to go see a movie as an end of the year celebration. It was the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie, and while I wasn’t thrilled with the choice, my daughter had seen the first movie and assured me it would be fine for the boys. Two very dear, respected friends have sons in the same class and we all decided to join in (without any of us checking reviews, btw. That NEVER happens!!).

I stayed and watched the movie with the group, and while I don’t intend to do a movie review here, some knowledge of the movie is imperative to this story. To be fair, there were actually several parts that made me laugh, as they were portraying the crazy, unplanned things that inevitably happen anytime a family attempts to bond via a family road trip. (And it really wasn’t a bad movie; it just turned out to not be so great for my kid). But scattered throughout the movie, as I should have expected, were multiple episodes of gross “boy humor” involving every type of bodily function imaginable. While the bathroom scenes were pretty disgusting, the worst part was definitely when the older brother climbs aboard the spinning ride at the county fair after eating several helpings of “fried butter on a stick.” You can imagine what happened next… only the movie didn’t leave it to our imaginations. Let’s just say it was a very descriptive vomit scene and leave it at that. (Coincidentally, I rode that same ride in images.jpeghigh school at our local fair in an attempt to impress some boy, and I hurled as soon as I got off. I don’t even remember who the boy was, but I am pretty certain he was not impressed.) Anyway, the whole thing was gross enough that neither of my boys really liked the movie at all. Just call me mother of the year…

Fast forward a couple hours, and our youngest son started complaining that his tummy hurt and that he couldn’t stop thinking about the movie. He actually made himself sick several times in a row right before bedtime because the images kept replaying in his head! He was fine once he went to sleep, but the next afternoon at a birthday party he asked to go home, again complaining of a tummy ache, but when we left the party he cried and said he just couldn’t stop thinking about that movie. Poor boy! (It just goes to show how powerful our thought life can be and how important it is for us to guard our minds; but that is a blog post for another day.)

I did everything I could to calm him down. We sang silly songs, I told him a story, we talked about the party, but he remained completely distraught. I realized then that this had the potential to turn into an anxiety-inducing trigger, and so we prayed together that God would remove those images from his mind and replace them with good, happy, peaceful thoughts (Philippians 4:6-8). That seemed to calm him down, and he decided to return to the party. Within a few minutes, though, he was back at my side, near tears, visibly distraught, which is so unlike him. I let him watch a video on my phone (which I NEVER do) just to try to distract his mind, and even that was only sporadically successful. Then, as I desperately began to pray that God would show me how to help my son, the birthday boy’s mom started handing out the party favors to all the kids.

It was a fidget spinner.

My first thought as I groaned inwardly was, “Seriously?? You’re giving my kid a fidget spinner??” (Sorry, Steph!!)

But y’all.

One look at my boy, and I knew.

God had answered my prayer through a fidget spinner.

He quickly tore it out of the packaging, ran off with his friends, and came back only to show me his new tricks he was learning. He didn’t bring up the movie again for the rest of the night. With each spin of the gadget, his fear began to flee and joy filled its place, and I was so grateful! He has mentioned the movie maybe twice since then (again, a blog post for another time), but overcoming it that night with the fidget spinner has given him the power to master his thoughts now when they do return.

And so, with my deepest apologies to my wonderful teacher friends (because I know these blasted things must make trying to teach in an already over-stimulating environment absolutely impossible!), I make my confession to the world:

I am now a fan of the fidget spinner.

And a firm believer that God often answers prayer in mysterious ways.

Real Life Interrupted

*Note: This was written 2 years ago during the last week of school

This was not exactly how I had planned for the last week of school to go. The kids had already completed several subjects, so their lesson plans were much lighter than usual. Noah had lots of fun activities planned for his last week of preschool, leading up to his graduation on Friday. My goal was to finish our school work, and then use our extra time to organize our work from the year, pack away our books, and clean up our schooling areas. With any luck, I’d get caught up on laundry and start packing for the beach as well!

Instead, as I was in the middle of securing Abby’s bun for her dance pictures, Noah came running in complaining of a tummy ache. Fortunately, the trash can was near by and little man made it just in time. Needless to say, Abby didn’t make it to her pictures. After a turn on the potty and with his tummy still hurting, little Noah climbed into bed, where he slept through dinner and didn’t wake up until 6:45 the next morning.

The next few days left little time for any of the things I had planned.

The laundry piled up. And up. And up.

Lesson plans were half-heartedly completed.

The year’s school work lay scattered in piles around the house.

The books remained unorganized and desks remained cluttered.

Packing? Yeah, right.

All my efforts were focused on trying to get Noah well enough to participate in his graduation ceremony. After all, he’s our baby! I couldn’t let this milestone pass us by. By Friday morning he was up and running around again (Thank You, Jesus!). So, with the house a disaster and my to-do list a mile long, we loaded the whole family in the car and watched tearfully as our little man closed the door on the Preschool chapter of10464015_10206909151271494_3834277550112502004_n our lives and stepped confidently (and a bit comically) into the world of School-Age children. Wasn’t he just born yesterday? How did we get here??

I decided to take Friday afternoon off. After all, I was emotionally drained from watching my baby grow up before my eyes that morning! Yes, the house looked like a tornado had torn through it and the there was much that needed to be done before we could leave for the beach, but this momma needed a break. So I ran some errands, snuck in a quick dinner date with my hubby (a huge advantage of having a Pre-teen daughter!), and went to bed with prayer for good sleep and a list in my head of all that needed to be accomplished the next day…This morning, however, I was awakened by Eli complaining of a tummy ache, and well… Round 2 has begun. Will it ever stop? Will life ever go as planned? Being a mom has got to be the most unpredictable, interruption-filled job there is!

Oddly enough, I read a C.S. Lewis quote on Sunday night that prepared my heart for what was to come:

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life — the life God is sending one day by day.”

C.S. Lewis, The Collected Works of C.S. Lewis

Thank You, Lord, for this crazy, messy, unpredictable, exhausting, real life.

Now, I’m off to do some laundry…