Our family is moving at a high rate of speed, bumping and rumbling alone in a rented RV somewhere around where Wyoming meets Utah. I’ve personally never met Utah, so surprise awaits us all I am sure. We have just spent an absolutely incredible week in Yellowstone and the Great Tetons.
In one day, I’ve watched the landscape around me change from towering jagged snow capped mountains to rolling green hills and now the greens of Wyoming are slowly giving way to the browns and oranges of Utah.
Driving across the West has taught me a few things about myself, my family, and my Creator.
I am a camping Diva. I never used to mind the “roughing it” part of camping. Now I do.
I like to eat way more than I like to cook. Especially in an RV.
Being in the wide open for so long has brought me great joy. The deep satisfying kind of joy that sticks around for awhile.
I am a noticer. I notice all sorts of things other people pass right by. I used to think I was odd for this. But I’m starting to realize it is a gift.
I could sit and stare at the mountains for hours and never get bored.
We collectively are very funny. There have been more tears of laughter than tears of frustration. This has been good for all of us.
We are better “together”. Wherever we are and whatever we are doing is just so much more awesome because we are all doing it together.
We all have extremely strong opinions about everything. We are learning to share those opinions with grace and compassion.
We all love adventures equally and passionately. We are so grateful for this time we have together doing what we all love to do.
Walking wildflower paths on snow capped mountains, watching my kids swim in a mountain lake, wandering outside at midnight in awe of the sky, so bright with stars, they lit up my eyes, then my heart, I have seen a Great Artist behind it all.
The Great Artist knew we might occasionally feel alone, so he put the stars and the mountain tops and the green green grass right where we could see them so we’d know He’s right there. We are never alone.
In the darkest pit of a cave, no lights at all, my hand invisible in front of my face, His voice moved in my heart, whispering, “I’m here.” Swaying in a hammock from the breeze coming over the mountain, The wind saying, “Shhhh….” through the treetops. “Know I am here.”
We are so, so grateful for every second we get together as a family on this sabbatical. We truly are Better Together.
What happens when we set up a moment and step back and watch…
We took the girls on a walk around Notre Dame last Friday night. It was not a game weekend, so it was eerily quiet on campus, the moon was shining, the breeze was cool and everything just seemed right in the air.
I don’t think any of the girls have ever been in the Sacred Heart Basilica before. The doors were open, so we walked in. A bride and groom were just gathering in the back for a wedding rehearsal; the wedding coordinator gave us a stern look over her glasses, but no one stopped us so we went in and grabbed a pew.
As parents, we have learned that we can’t always control what our kids retain when we try to teach them, but we have also learned that part of our responsibility as parents is setting up moments as best we can in order to help our kids receive a “moment.” After the “set up” we know our job is also to “step back” and watch as they learn something on their own.
We hope and pray that our girls will get a glimpse of holiness, of Jesus, of their Heavenly Father…and sometimes everything just snaps into place and there He is in all his glory, revealing himself to our children in a way only He could.
Friday night was one of those nights. Our girls were enraptured by the sense of wonder and holiness that comes by standing in front of a place like the Grotto at Notre Dame, seeing all those candles lit, representing prayers lifted to Heaven.
Isabelle is just eight years old, but she had a very special moment with Jesus I thought I’d share with you.
At her school, one of the rewards for especially good behavior is a purple “Live Strong” bracelet. She was able to get two of these in the first few weeks of school, which is a pretty big deal when you’re in second grade. She was devastated when she lost one on Thursday. She came home crying and crying, so very sad that it was gone. She is a very tender hearted kid, and it’s hard to console her when something is just “gone” and can’t be replaced.
On Friday when we walked past the “Touchdown Jesus” muriel on the Notre Dame campus, Belle said that she “felt God move around in her heart in a special way”. Then, when we walked in the Sacred Heart Basicilla, she wanted to go over by herself on a pew to pray. She came back over to us with teary eyes, just pouring her heart out to Jesus, in awe of the beauty of that place.
When we walked over to the Grotto, she said that she wanted a few minutes to pray. She knelt down, closed her eyes, and when she opened her eyes, A PURPLE BRACELET WAS ON THE FENCE POST RIGHT IN FRONT OF HER! She could not believe it. The bracelet was almost identical to the one she had lost. She wasn’t ecstatic or anything, just happy. “Look at what God gave to me”, she said with such simple child-like faith.
There was no doubt in her mind God put that bracelet there, just for her.
Moms and Dads can set up moments to teach their kids about the holiness of God, but when we step back, we stand amazed at what God does to teach our children about Himself.
I am in awe. And more in love with my Heavenly Father than ever.
One of the best parts of taking our family on vacation is the incredible honor it is to show our girls things in nature they’ve never seen before. The joy that spread across their faces the first time they saw the wide open ocean, the time Maddie and I came upon a wandering family of sand hill cranes, the excited chatter from the back seat of our van at the first sight of a mountain…
All of these are memories I’ll never forget. Showing off my Father’s world to my kids is one of the coolest things I get to do as a parent.
Here’s a little bit of my Father’s world for you to enjoy:
I bought some expensive jeans this month. Really expensive. I still feel slightly guilty about it, but I waited a long time until I was able to get them on sale. I had a little extra spending money, and I was in desperate need of a new pair – especially a pair with sparkly roses – so I caved in to my inner diva and bought them.
One of my children, who shall remain nameless, saw my jeans and declared them “unfair.” This daughter insisted that she needed the same brand of expensive jeans with sparkly roses on the pockets, too – since every single pair of hers were suddenly too small and outdated.
My answer: No. I waited until I was almost 38 years old to get these jeans. You can wait awhile longer, too.
Both our older girls have been begging us for an iPhone. I tell them repeatedly that I was the last person in the Western hemisphere to get a cell phone. I was 33 years old before I even got one, and 37 before I got an iPhone. The combined ages of all three of my girls don’t even total up to my current age, so again, my answer to their pleas? Wait. A long time.
With all that said, guess what? Our 8-year-old has an iPhone. Not one that works to make phone calls, but it functions as an iPod Touch. I’ll take a step back while you throw rocks and garbage and mock my hypocrisy. Allow me to explain.
Our girls have always enjoyed learning games on various handheld electronic devices. We’ve had all the Leap Frog toys, Nintendo DS’s, DSI’s, V-tech toys, you name it. With each game, we have spent close to $100 per device (or more). These toys always serve an educational purpose, and even more important to my sanity, a distraction device from hitting, biting and punching each other on long car rides to Grandma’s or vacation.
Quickly we found that these toys add up to some serious cash spent. Along with the cash spent, we found the girls outgrowing and outsmarting the games in a few short months. (Being the smart parents that we are, it took us about 10 years to figure that out).
So, this past Christmas, we found an old 3G iPhone on Craigslist for cheaper than an iTouch, and way cheaper than a smart educational toy that we had first considered for Belle. On her new device, she has endless educational games, the ability to take photos like her big sisters, and she can use it to listen to stories before bed. (You can keep throwing rocks and garbage at me; I don’t mind).
When she opened her gift on Christmas morning, she was completely shocked. She kept repeating over and over, “I never thought I would have an iTouch!” Her joy made us all giggle and really made us proud as parents. It was a worthwhile investment for us and has served its purpose well.
Occasionally when we have the money and the situation is right, we might do something crazy and buy an iTouch for an 8-year-old. We say yes because we love our kids.
Wanting nice things is not bad. Wanting to give your kids nice things stems out of our love for them and desire to make them happy. Of course that’s not bad!
Unfortunately, with our best intentions being what they are, the constant act of giving a child what he or she does not have the capacity to appreciate leads to an aloof attitude from the child and almost an attitude of “I deserve this.”
If there is a special item our girls long for, and we know either we cannot afford it or the timing just isn’t right, these are suggestions we offer them:
Work for it
Our front door is a revolving door of children, both our own and random extras, always wanting food and messing up my house. One way I tell my girls they can make some extra money toward their goal is by cleaning up after these blessed friends.
The most despised job across the board at our house is folding socks. With three young girls, myself and my husband, the volume of socks that need to be matched and folded every week is truly astonishing. This is a high-paying job that I’d quickly pay anyone else to do since I despise it so much. There are always extra jobs like these that will pay cold hard cash at our house.
Save for it
From the time our girls could understand the concept of money, we have taught them to save. Each child has a piggy bank with a section for Savings, Spending, and Church. They save 10%, give 10% to church and have 80% of their allowance left to spend as they wish. We emphasize the “Savings” category is to be used for big ticket items such as a designer pair of jeans Mom is never going to buy them.
Wait For It
Your kids should know how awesome you are by now. Haven’t you always surprised them with amazing gifts in the past? I know we have. We’ve purposely hung on to a gift we could give them until the time and the place were right. By making them wait, hopefully our kids have learned to trust us a little with their wishes and dreams.
Waiting also has the positive benefit of finding something at just the right price. We have taught our girls to shop the sales after Christmas or holidays to show them how sometimes by waiting they can make their money go twice as far.
Go For It
There are times that necessitate gifts for no good reason at all. Giving is part of the joy of life, and surprising your kids with extraordinary love wrapped in a gift can be an amazing thing. Go for it. Surprise them from time to time – as long as they don’t learn to expect it. In giving to them, they are learning both the gift of giving and receiving, two very important life lessons.
You are the one in charge. You can do it. Say no when you have to. Your kids might be angry, hurt or upset for a while, but you are older than them and obviously have more life experience. You’ve known them longer than anyone, and you know what’s best for them. Sometimes the best thing is just to say no and leave it at that. You are the adult, and you don’t even need to explain yourself!
My biggest piece of advice after everything I’ve said is this: If you buy yourself an expensive pair of jeans, hide the receipts and do not by any means disclose the price you paid to your children.
This article appears in the June 2012 issue of The Family Magazine of Michiana
There are only FOUR more school wake up days until summer is here! Our family cannot wait, since four out of five of us treasure our pillows and sleep. Apart from sleeping, we have a lot of plans ahead! Here are just a few:
Rob and I will be going on a prayer/reflection retreat in Colorado
Maddie and Whit are at Springhill middle school camp.
Belle gets to go hang out with Grandma’s, Grandpa’s and cousins in Chicago
Ellie the dog gets to hang out with all her dog buddies at her favorite dog hotel in town
Belle is so excited to go to Springhill Day camp at GCC with her best buddies. (she keeps telling them WE GET TO YELL IN THE HALLWAYS AT CHURCH!)
We get a “staycation” at the end of June together as a family
We are pulling the plug on cable on our at home televisions. When I walked in on my girls watching “Kid Killers” the other day, it sealed the deal. Plus, we will save about a hundred dollars a month.
Limiting “Screen Time” for the kiddies overall. One hour of reading gets them an hour on the computer or their iPods.
Maddie is going on a Mission trip to Chicago with GSM and Whit is going on a local mission trip. So proud of them both.
Cash for books–if the girls read “selected” books that Rob and I think would help develop their little minds a bit more than “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books, we pay them per book
We are spending the last week of July at Hilton Head, SC. None of us have ever been there, so we are excited!
Mostly, we are looking forward to the low key days with not much agenda. I love having my kids home in the summer. I am sad by all the parents on Facebook or Twitter that are already complaining about “having kids around” all summer. There is nothing I enjoy more than a houseful of kids. We are jumping in to summer and we can’t wait!
Do you have any plans for this summer? I’d love to hear what they are and where your adventures will take you!
Joy comes in all shapes and sizes. I am constantly reminded of this as each girl in our family contributes joy and happiness in their own unique way. I am so very grateful for their specialness and the way they shine the love and light of God by just being who they are. I’m so blessed. So very thankful.