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Family Roadtrip

What It’s Really Like To Live In A 200-square-foot Travel Trailer With Our Three Boys And A Dog

August 29, 2017

 

I can hear them cling-clanging against each other in his pockets as he runs down that trail: the seashells he has spoken of collecting for three months now. The darkness begins to envelope him, but only for so long before the sun sneaks through a crack in the trees, those trees dripping with moss that I have dreamt of introducing my boys to for years. They stand a million times taller than the boys’ small frames. They duck in and out of this natural playground, running wild among ferns and Cedars more majestic than any tree they have ever seen. It is day five on the road. Day five of two months that we will spend living squished together in a travel trailer exploring the Pacific Northwest.

 

That first week was full of anticipation and discovery and a hefty dose of doubt. Selling our 1,400 square foot home and moving into a 200 square foot home on wheels—with my husband, three boys, my own pregnant belly, and our dog—has proven to be more of an adjustment than I anticipated. It took us a full week to really begin figuring things out–to start figuring each other out.

So, what does this new life of ours really look like? Here is a sneak peek from my journal of our first week!

Newport, Oregon. August 18 – 21

 

We saw gray whales on our very first day at Yaquina Bay and Depoe Bay.

Willy learned sand. Dipped his bare toes into those tiny grains and never looked back. Sat on the beach at Seal Rock as the boys ran wild among the waves. I watched Ellis wander that shore all by himself, lost in his own little world. Or maybe not lost, but finally right where he has dreamt of being.

Zeke had his finger hugged by a sea urchin at the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

The Total Eclipse took my breath away—one of the most stunning experiences of my life. Zeke called it “incredible”. Ellis asked, “How does God do something like that?”

Currently reading:

The Journals Of Lewis and Clark

Wild and Free

My Side of the Mountain with the boys

What We’re Eating:

Quinoa “oatmeal” in the Instant Pot

Granola, yogurt, fresh berries

Grilled salmon, home fries, and sracha ketchup at Newport Café

Way too much takeout because of limited propane in the RV…

 

What We’re Learning:

We need to be fair to each other. This is a huge transition for all of us. When the boys would talk each other to sleep at home, we had half a living room, a kitchen, a hallway, and a door separating us. Now we have twelve feet and a curtain. We need to be patient, and wise with our discipline.

I cannot write later what I do not see now. Stop writing. Start seeing.

Don’t leave your RV canopy out on a windy day at the shore. You might just come home to your canopy ripped in half.

Questions Of The Week:

Zeke:  “Do skunks have belly buttons?”

Ellis: “What’s a ‘hy-pop-i-sis’ (hypothesis)?”

 

Columbia River Gorge. August 21 – 24

 

Ran into Eclipse traffic—everyone trying to get back to work and life. So glad our trip has only just begun! We cut East to leave the traffic behind. Saying goodbye to the ocean for a few days to go search for some waterfalls.

Stopped at a river pull-off. Baby’s (and my) first time cliff jumping!

Snagged the last campsite available. Time to stay put for a few days.

Learned how salmon use fish ladders at the Bonneville Dam. Grayson came here as a boy.

Picked blackberries with Zeke. He told me we don’t need to eat the food in the camper—we can find all of our food instead. Quite the little forager. Tried making crisp only to discover the oven in the camper does not work. Learned how to make berry crisp in the Instant Pot! It is delicious.

Saw our first huge waterfall.

Went into the city for a day, to which Zeke says: “All this noise is freaking me out!”

Portland had me thinking about stories. Who are all of these people and what brought them here?

Finally did laundry.

Zeke made friends with the campground host. She invited him to come do the morning round with her to check on all the guests.

What we are eating (So good to have propane and RV hookups!) :

Homemade macaroni and cheese

Berry crisp with foraged black berries

Crab boil in the Instant Pot!

Best ever pulled pork hash at the Hazel Room in Portland

 

Glad we brought our:

Instant Pot!

What we are learning:

If the internet is spotty, don’t fight it in the name of work. Give up and go read a book.

Check your gray water tank level before it overflows into the bathtub….

 

Zeke’s favorite from the Gorge stay:  Watching salmon at the Bonneville dam

Ellis: The displays at the dam museum with the buttons.

 

So, how was our first week?

The truth is that among all these adventures of our first week—amidst all of the dream-come-true moments, there were a whole lot of ugly ones. Cranky kids and even crankier parents made for some very rough mornings. And yet so much of our dreams are made up of struggle—it really could not be any other way. The struggle it takes to reach a dream makes the arrival so much more sweet—like when we pulled up and caught our first glimpse of the Pacific just in time for sunset, after a long few days of travel and trials. Dreams just wouldn’t be nearly as beautiful without the hard parts.

After that first week which involved 1,700 miles on the road and five different camp spots—we were feeling very ready to settle down for a bit. It seemed funny, this desire to “settle down” while in the midst of a two-month road trip. But it was exactly what we needed. And that is exactly what we would find when we arrived at the Puget Sound the following week…

Chasing Dreams Family

It Was An Eclipse Of Trips And A Life Lesson On Time

August 23, 2017

I called it the Eclipse of Trips, because we never actually intended to chase the Great American Total Eclipse. It was never a part of the plan, back three months ago when we decided to list our home for sale and hit the road in a travel trailer for two months. It is a trip we have always dreamt of, taking our family on an extended road trip to the Pacific Northwest, where my husband spent three years as a young boy, and where he took me to on our honeymoon.

We were shocked when our realtor gave us a number on a home. We knew the Colorado market was thriving, but this was truly a gift from God, an opportunity to move closer to our church—but only after we took advantage of another opportunity—our dream trip.

Never before have we not been tied down by a mortgage or a job, as my husband left his work and transitioned to self employment earlier this year. We knew we couldn’t pass this opportunity up. We would leave early July. Only that date came and went, and we remained nowhere near the ocean. Our house contract fell through two days before the sale, and my heart sunk with the thought that our trip might not happen.

But then the Colorado housing market came through for us again (And God, of course), and we were under contract within a few days. We set a new date for our departure—August 16. It was the soonest we could leave. Ironically, it fell within the same few days of what the country was calling “The largest migration in our nation’s history”. While we packed up our life, bought a travel trailer, and set our eyes to the ocean—over a million others were hitting the road also, with the same destination in mind, to catch the Solar Eclipse of a lifetime. An Eclipse of Trips, indeed.

Timing is a funny thing, isn’t it? It constantly leaves me in a curious state, as to why things happen at certain times. Why delays and detours in plans and setbacks occur. Some, I’m sure, are happen chance. Others, I’m convinced, hold a very important job in our life story. Even if we never learn what that job was. I trust delays and changes of plan often hold a purpose.

For two days we traveled before pulling into our resting place—an organic farm owned by dear friends of ours. After a blur of days and so much change—selling our home, moving into a 100-square foot space with our three children, our car breaking down in the fast lane of the highway somewhere in the middle of Idaho, and too many meals on the road, we were ready to rest and visit for a day. And it was sweet. But time was ticking and people were hitting the road. We had to, also, if we wanted any chance of getting ahead of the countless Eclipse Seekers,

We were excited to be on our last long stretch of driving for a while, and even more excited to run into very little traffic as we made our approach upon the Pacific. After fifteen hundred miles of sage brush and stocky pine, we finally came upon moss-covered trees reaching high to the heavens. The ones my husband grew up playing beneath, and the ones we have longed to introduce our children to. Four days after leaving home, we pulled up to the shore of the Pacific just in time for sunset.

If this trip has taught me one thing already in the first week, it is to not waste angst on concerns of timing. Preparing for our journey, my worries stemmed from the unknowns of how time would work out the details of our trip, or if it would. I think I do this a lot in life. I think a lot of us do. We seek to control time, when ultimately it is out of our hands, and that’s ok. Because it is in the hands of the Author of time, and He cares deeply about the details of our stories, and the desires of our hearts. He created time, and us to fill it.

The truth is, wherever we found ourselves on August 21st, whether set up in our trailer next to the Pacific, or in a Walmart parking lot, the sun would be shining. And then covered. And then brilliant again. We would make it to the ocean. And we would experience it all together. I began this trip seeing the Total Eclipse as a bit of a nuisance–a snag in our plans that we had been making for months–dreaming of for years. And yet, as we stood as a family upon a hill top next o the Pacific ocean, and watched the moon float completely over the sun for a few miraculous moments–it was one of the most stunning experiences of my life. In fact, it froze time for me, for one minute and forty-five seconds, this grand display of perfect timing by the Maker of the heavens.

Faith Family Parenting

When He Asked Me If God Made Us Like Puppets

March 29, 2017

One busied himself sweeping a paintbrush coated in deep teal paint across the makeshift doorframe of their wood-and-tarp firefighter house. The other swung through the air next to him on his tree swing. I watched them, hot tea in hand and sunglasses perched atop my head, from a chair out in the back yard.

“Mom, is Mary dead?” The oldest one was asking for his little brother, who had just posed the question to him. It took me a moment to gather what they were asking. Right. Mary. Mary mother of Jesus. Got it.

“No Love, she is with Jesus in Heaven.”

My oldest, five-year-old Zeke, thought for a moment before posing his follow-up question. “So, is she dead in Heaven?”

This was getting harder.

“No….” I began precariously, “she lived a long time ago. She died here on the world, and  now she is alive with Jesus in Heaven.”

Both boys nodded and went on with their play. I took a triumphant sip of my tea. I felt pretty good about our discussion. They have been getting harder recently. Yet as the questions dancing on the tips of my boys’ tongues become deeper, and my answers hold more weight, I find that my heart discovers so much purpose in these conversations. The big questions wave casually into our everyday, catching me off guard, as if the boys have been thinking on them for hours, and suddenly they pop into our car, or in the grocery store aisle, or at the coffee drive-thru line.

This happened a few weeks ago as we were driving through the mountains. My husband and I chatted, and the back seat had been quite silent. Then suddenly Zeke asked, “Hey, did God make it so that we can talk? Or did He make us like puppets?”

My husband and I glanced at each other wide-eyed.

We attended the same Bible college, my husband and me. And so we had both been through the same classes on God’s sovereignty, and had immersed ourselves in the same types of discussions about how much God controls, and what type of free will He has given us.

But Bible school never prepared us for explaining Calvinism vs Arminianism, and what God causes versus what He allows, in five-year-old vocabulary.

“God made it so that we can choose what to say, Love. He wants us to be able to make decisions, so that we can decide to love Him.”

The silence from the backseat told me that my answer was satisfactory.

They have been coming more and more frequently, these questions. Most of the time they catch me off guard. But sometimes I see them, working their way through my little guy’s mind. He grows silent, and I see the gears turning. I see that question sitting in his mind right amidst wonderings of how airplanes glide through the sky, or how caterpillars transform to butterflies.

It is easy to become overwhelmed by this task. As parents, we hold the responsibility on our shoulders of helping our children navigate these questions. We feel as though we are teetering on the edge of Well Done! and Well, You Screwed That Up! depending on the answers we give. We place incredible weight into each word, questioning ourselves the whole time on whether we’re explaining things right.

At least, I know that this is how I have felt. As though their future and eternity rests in the words I choose to craft my answers from.

It feels terribly delicate.

But then, just the other day as we were pulling onto our street, I overheard our middle guy nearly four years old, chattering away. He spouted off something about “God running away”, and Zeke didn’t miss a beat. “Ellison,” He began, seriousness dripping from his voice, “God does not run away. He loves us.”

And that’s when I saw it—or heard it, rather. Child-like faith.

He may not understand the intricacies of God’s sovereignty, but then again, neither do I. Yet sometimes I think that this child’s faith is actually bigger than my own.

It ends up that my answers are not quite as weighty as I place them on my shoulders to be. Rather, our kids come to understand faith and Jesus and love and beauty through what we show them every single day.

They see the grace of God every time I forgive them, and every time I ask them for their forgiveness. They see God’s beauty every time we take them out for a hike or a walk through the park. They see God’s creativity every time we sit next to them and splash paint on paper, speaking about how God is creative, and made us to be the same. They see God’s power every time we as parents stop relying on our own power to do things or say things just right, and instead trust God to work through us.

This is how our children come to know their Maker. Yes, we are called to be intentional with our words. We need to pay attention to the opportunities spun into everyday conversations to explain to them just how great and beautiful and loving our God is.

But we also need to stop placing all of the weight of their eternities into our perfectly manicured answers. We need to trust that God chose us as their parents for a reason. And we need to trust that He will work powerfully through our words throughout our everyday conversations.

“So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders.  Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that as long as the sky remains above the earth, you and your children may flourish in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors.” Deuteronomy 11:19-21

936Pennies Family Living With Intention

We Choose It For Our Child, And It Will Impact The Rest Of Their Life

March 3, 2017

My teeth clench and my foot braces hard against the floor of this shaking machine. All at once the conversations surrounding us are hushed by the droning of the wind against metal. My heart beats harder. I have always been a nervous flyer.

My stomach drops as the aircraft lifts sharply, wheels bidding farewell to the airstrip. The plane tilts left, and I see them like never before. “We’re going to fly right over our house.” My husband leans over me to glimpse what I cannot take my eyes off of: our mountains.

They stretch out before us without end, an infinite expanse of wilderness and wonder. I have never seen them like this before. At least, not since they became our own. Within minutes he spots it. “There! Do you see that curve in the road? Right next to it, there is our neighborhood.” And I do see it. I picture at once our three boys running across the living room, keeping my brave mom, who flew in the night before to stay with them, on her feet. They are a stone throw away, but 10,000 feet out of reach.

My husband points out rivers, lakes, mountain peaks, and canyons. I know them all by name, by smell, by tastes of picnic lunches, and hikes along their trails. I see day drives, afternoons spent tossing rocks into riverbeds, and where we hiked into the forest to cut down our Christmas tree. All of these places—our places— are laid out as if bark on a tree, rising and falling, with lines of river and trail snaking their way throughout. Home. And it is. We have made it to be, and we know it intimately.

Not a half hour later, the summits calm and taper into flatter land, then rise steep again into a wilderness I do not know. Our boys are now a range away. I turn to my husband, “Hey, happy One Year In Colorado.”

We are flying away from the new backdrop of our lives, and toward the backdrop of my husband’s childhood. For four years of his boyhood he called the moss-covered trees and cloud-covered mountains of Washington “Home”. And I could hardly wait to see these places that I had pictured so many times from his stories.

That week I would stand in awe of the 286-foot Snoqualmie Waterfall, maze my way through forests of 100-foot trees and beds of ferns, and see the creek where my husband and his brother used to spend entire days rope swinging and creek jumping. And as I did, I could picture our own boys, and it made me wonder about the backdrop we are choosing for their own childhood.

It’s incredible just how much the backdrop that we choose for our kids shapes their futures. It is something that our kids get little to no say in. We choose it, and it will shape them profoundly. This was a realization that weighed heavily into our decision to move to Colorado one year ago. However, it doesn’t take the majesty of the Rocky Mountains to color a beautiful backdrop. Nor does it require sandy beaches with ocean breeze, or a quaint farmhouse among golden fields. The backdrop of our child’s life is made up of so many details.

A backdrop is made up not only of the things that we see day-to-day. It is pace, and flavor, and music, and scent, and words, and embrace. It is the tiniest of details that make all of the difference in a home.

Our move to the mountains was not a fix-all. I would be naive, and sorely disappointed, if I expected it to produce the perfect pace of life. Yes, it has helped us to embrace wonder. But it did little to slow us down. That takes more than a move; it takes intentional choices every single day. Even among all of this awe and wonder, we can still become lost in the rush of life, and we often do. We still find harsh words on our lips, and our minds too busy to offer a listening ear.

Location does not change these things.

Choosing a backdrop is not often a dramatic move, but a continuous string of small, intentional moves; moves we make every single day. Moves like these:

  • Reserving a campsite for a few weekends throughout the summer
  • Looking up nearby nature trails, and choosing one to explore each weekend
  • Playing music throughout the day in your home. (Our favorite Pandora stations are Caedmon’s Call, JJ Heller, Nickel Creek, and Rend Collective Experiment)
  • Lighting candles in the house
  • Diffusing lavender oil
  • Sitting down (with your spouse if you are married), looking over your calendar for the month, and choosing two activities to cross off. Go on a family date instead.
  • Choosing books, crafts, play, and time outside over screens in the morning hours
  • Reserving one evening a week for Family Game Night
  • Packing sandwiches and snacks for a picnic in the park
  • Visiting the library once a week, and coming home with a new stack of books
  • Sitting to enjoy a cup of tea with a book, or just while sitting with your kids

These small moves add up quickly. They hold the power to change the whole culture of a home, and the backdrop of our children’s lives.

We chose these mountains because they remind us every day to slow down and listen. They challenge us to this, but they don’t do it for us. We must heed their reminder to keep our hearts focused on beauty, and living a life in line with our values. That is what creating a backdrop is made of: intentional choices that line up with our values in life. Choices to take walks and pursue wonder and create beauty and speak kindness until all of these things engrain themselves into the culture of our home. Until they all add their own color to the backdrop of our kids’ childhoods.

Faith Family Motherhood

When I Run Out Of Compassion For My Children

February 3, 2017

I felt him climbing ever so precariously across the bed towards me; each small movement pulling me further out of my sleep. He laid down across my stomach, face centimeters from mine, his little boy morning breath warm against my skin. I opened my eyes to just a squint and found them peering into his soft baby blues. “Mom.” He began, ever so matter of factly, “You are not making me breakfast.”

And so my day began.

As do many of them, right here in the beautiful mayhem of raising three small children. It seems as though most mornings, the boys roll out of bed right along with their constant stream of requests, ready to meet me before the dawn of the day, or any chance at that first cup of coffee.

Motherhood, at its very core, is a demanding call. It requires that we serve and serve and serve some more, and then wake to do it all over again tomorrow. It is sweet and humbling and wonderful—and depleting. And sometimes, if I am honest, I just don’t feel like giving any more. Or, I feel as though there is nothing left to give even if I tried. I’m guessing you’ve been there, too. Maybe you are right now.

It was in one of those extra demanding seasons, when I was feeling suffocated under projects and deadlines and baskets of dirty laundry and endless requests for more snacks or another episode of Thomas The Train that I glimpsed something within myself. And when I did, it stopped me in my tracks.

It was a recent morning while studying a passage with a room full of other mothers that I saw it. Or rather Him. Jesus— and His disciples, anchoring their boat along the shore, exhausted and hungry and anticipating rest and dinner. It came after a long shift of serving and healing and performing miracles and teaching. They were weary, and ready for a break. Much like I feel every single afternoon.

“And He (Jesus) said to them, Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest a while. (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) And they went away in a boat to a lonely place by themselves.)” Mark 6: 30-32

In all of the serving, they didn’t even find time to eat. Sound familiar? The anticipation of a break was palpable. But then…

“The people saw them going, and many recognized them, and they ran there together on foot from all the cities, and got there ahead of them.”

Their break— hijacked. I know the feeling; the disappointment, the frustration. When you lay your head down on the pillow and close your eyes, and then you hear that little voice calling your name from the other room. When you manage to wake earlier than the kids for a few moments and a cup of coffee to yourself, and they choose that morning to wake extra early, stealing that time away. Or when you lay them down for a nap, retreat to your desk, open the laptop to catch up on work, and he comes out asking if nap time is over yet. Your whole body aches for that little bit of rest. So much so that you can hardly even enjoy it when it comes, unsure of how long it will last. You’re afraid to drift into that sleepful state, lest a tiny voice yank you out of it, asking for another drink before bed.

And when those interruptions come, it becomes all too easy to overact; to voice my rights—what I feel I deserve after all of my serving. But then I look to that shore where Jesus and His disciples had just landed their boat, licking their lips at the thought of grilled fish and breathing deep at the anticipation of a good night sleep. And I see Jesus’ reaction.

“And when He went ashore, He saw a great multitude, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things.”

I have serious doubts that those “many things” Jesus began to teach the people were of His need for rest and their selfish actions to interrupt said rest. No, He showed compassion; without beating an eye or groaning under His breath. He laid aside His rights, and what He very much deserved, and He chose love.

Of course, He is Jesus. I, on the other hand, am a flawed Mom. Weary, tired, and often times selfish. But then, the Word says that He took on flesh. And, standing there on that shore teaching the multitudes—He certainly had. Flesh and blood and heavy eyes. Just as He would soon know the very real sensation of whips ripping apart His flesh before His crucifixion, I am willing to bet that He felt the very real sensation of fatigue after a very long week of serving.

He has been there, and He meets us there today, too, in our very desperate places. When we want to give up. When we don’t know how to keep giving. When we feel a little lost in this calling of motherhood. And He shows compassion to us, too. He meets us in our weakest places.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

The same compassion poured out over the multitude who chased them down and hijacked their rest—poured out over us in our most weary moments. It is a beautiful thing, to embrace His strength within us. To believe in it, live in it, claim it as true, and see it produce a new sort of compassion within us—one born of His grace, unfazed by the circumstances surrounding us.

And in those times when we do just need rest or a few moments of quiet, and the interruptions come—may our voices be laced in compassion when we explain to our children, “Mama just needs a few moments.” Or to our husband, “I really could use a couple hours by myself this weekend.” May compassion wind its way around our hearts, and through our actions and words.

Let’s embrace that kind of compassion today; the compassion Christ offers to each one of us, the kind that lifts us out of our tired, emptied state, and up to new heights. This compassion that overflows in us, out to our children, and can change the entire culture of our homes, and the legacy of our family. That kind of compassion that only Christ can create within us, when we run to Him on that shore, hungry for truth.

“but those who hope in the Lord

    will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

    they will run and not grow weary,

    they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31

Family Parenting

The One Question Us Parents Are Asking But No One Is Talking About

November 11, 2016

question6

I paused as I considered my next box to pack. Our move date was fast approaching; within a couple of short weeks we would relocate our young family from Missouri to our new home in Colorado. Most of the house was already stuffed and taped into cardboard boxes. But there was still that pile of clothes and a few garments hanging in the closet, the ones with elastic waist bands and stretched out mid-sections.

I could no longer avoid the decision. Do I pack these, or list them on Craigslist? It was crux of the crossroad we couldn’t move beyond. To do so we would have to answer that question us parents seem to encounter around every conversation with a new friend, or a stranger at the library. You know the one—the, “So, are you done?” question.

question5

I find it ironic that even with the question hovering around our conversations, we’re not actually talking about it. We offer a short, “Oh we’re not sure yet,” or “I think so, but maybe not”. Yet these short, trite answers speak nothing of our heart’s agony over this decision.

We’re not talking about how emotional and heart-wrenching this decision is. We’re not talking about the finality of it that haunts us, freezing us in our tracks.

I listed those clothes. Laid them out piece by piece on our bed, a flood of memories washing over me with each fold. I could picture my hand rubbing the red knit sweater over my belly swollen with our third boy. The electronic shutter of our camera sounded, wiping the memories from my mind as I pulled out the camera card and slipped it into my laptop.

question2

In the coming weeks, I’d receive a few emails of interest, but no bites. In the rush of last minute packing, I shoved the clothes into a plastic bin and loaded them into our moving trailer. It would be a month later when I would think about that bin of clothes again, and why they had made their way across the vast expanse of Kansas and into our new homeland of the mountains. With a faint second line and a burst of shock and hope, I found the purpose for holding onto that bin of clothing.

We were going to need them again.

question3

I wondered if that was the plan all along, why the interested emails never turned into a sale. Some divine intervention sparing us from having to purchase a whole new maternity wear wardrobe.

But then two days passed. That faint line grew fainter, and with it my hope. When the blood appeared, I knew that those clothes were not going to get unpacked with the dishes and photo frames. They would remain in their bin. I began to wonder why, again, they had made this trip with us.

Our miscarriage brought everything back into question. All those conversations where we had circled around and around and around again, with no conclusive answer. “Are we done?” We had been, I thought. We were, I thought. But carrying another baby, if only for a couple of weeks, unraveled any previous reasoning.

question4

And now I don’t know. Do any of us, really? I hear of parents who know for certain when they are done. No questions asked. But I have to wonder, did doubts or questions or uncertainties cloud their decision, if only but for a moment? Was there ever that uncertainty of, “What if we change our minds?”

If there is one thing about parenthood that has completely shocked me it is this:  the decision of when to “be done” having babies is far, far more difficult than I ever anticipated. It’s a question we circle around and around and around again, unwilling to stop at a certain conclusion. Because, “What if?”

question7

The one thing I do know is this:  We’re not talking about it enough. Just as I discovered with our miscarriage, this is a difficult area of parenthood that many of us are suffocating under the weight of, without leaning on one another.

I’m not saying let’s bring up all of our family planning woes and intimacies at the next church potluck. I am only suggesting that if you’re struggling under the weight of this question, that it’s likely that one of your close friends are, too. And perhaps they just need a hug and a “Hey, me too.”

question1

Maybe all they need today is a conversation over coffee, and to hear that they’re not the only one who could just keep on having babies, while not knowing if you can handle more kids. Maybe they need to hear that they’re not crazy, and that it’s ok to be in a place where you just can’t make that choice. Not yet. And really-that’s ok.

I don’t have an answer to this one. There’s no equation for determining when to “be done”. But one thing I am certain of is that in the midst of these most difficult and emotional decisions, we need to know that we are neither desolate nor deserted in our struggle.

So if this is you tonight, hemming and hawing and avoiding and discussing and praying and standing paralyzed in your uncertainty—I’m there too. You’re not alone. Neither am I. And often the greatest comfort is found in the realization that you’re not alone.

936Pennies Family Motherhood

When Parents Turn The Humdrum Ordinary Into Legacy

October 11, 2016

gems6

“Do you have any collections, Hammy?” With uncanny agility, he moved his little body from rock to rock as we made our way down the riverbed. The evening before, when we had picked my mom up from the airport, he counted it of utmost importance to tell her first of his two collections. “I have a roots collection. And I have a dead bug collection. It has three bees in it.” Now as we skipped stones and counted ducks along the river, he asked his grandma of her own collections.

She thought for a few long moments, stringing suspense in the air as he awaited her answer. “I like to collect seeds from my plants.” She told him. I could picture her bending low to gather seeds in one of her many gardens. I could see the large rubber tires she had spray painted in bright colors and turned into raised beds.

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My boy keeps his collections in a place of honor on his desk; mason jars displaying bugs and plants that have caught his fancy. Once in a while he asks me of my own collection jars. Masons sitting side-by-side on a shelf for us to see often, and consider their copper contents. “The pennies remind us to spend our time well with you.” I explain to him. My heart rests at that, knowing that one day he will understand, when he cradles his own babe for the first time.

One day he’ll understand that it’s not about a jar of pennies, but rather a collection of memories. Each coin marking how we’ve invested it in memory making endeavors.

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There’s a song by Leslie Feist with a line that has stuck with me ever since I first heard it. She sings, “We’ll collect the moments one by one, I guess that’s how the future’s done.” I see this collection of memories as so much more than happy moments to look back upon. They serve as building blocks in the foundation that our childrens’ futures rest upon. I want to give my children a storehouse of “Hey, remember when…!” moments that will bring a smile to their face and hope to their hearts years from now; memories to anchor them when the seas of life swell with wild waves.

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Parents face this overwhelming pressure to make every moment matter. To cherish every second of this journey. But I don’t believe that this paints a fair picture of our calling. Rather than trying to force significance or fabricate meaning, I believe that our job is to open our eyes wide and spot it where it already exists. Our job is to put our hands to the plow and unearth the life beneath the soil of normal humdrum days; to discover the roots that dig deep and anchor us to our purpose as parents. Our job is to hold the common experiences with awe, and turn them over as dog ears in our child’s story.

When she interrupts your work and asks you to push her on the swing, or he insists that you come and see his latest block tower construction, or she asks for your opinion on a situation with her friends at school—these are gem moments. They shine brightly out from among the ordinary of life, but only if we give them the attention they’re due. They become beacons of light only when we choose to pick them up from among the rocks, polish them with our affection, and set them in a place of honor by naming them as significant. This is when the ordinary transforms from overlooked, to holy.

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I have a few of these gem moments displayed on my writing desk, between half finished writing projects, half read books, and art projects from our boys. One is from that day at the duck pond when Zeke taught my mom how to rock hop, and asked her of her own collections. They are stones we’ve collected from our explorations. To anyone else, they might still look ordinary, but I know them to be gems.

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They have been carefully chosen from among thousands like them, but then given dignitary treatment. They’re rinsed in the river, marked by permanent marker with a date and a memory—“Hike with Zeke”, “From Ellis on Devil’s Backbone Hike”, “Duck pond with Mom”, and then set in a place of tribute on my desk. Thrown back into the river, they would be just another stone. Yet sitting on my desk, they serve as a collection of memories, ones that stand out along my motherhood journey as those gem moments to carry me through the difficult days, and remind me exactly what this job is about.

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936Pennies Adventure Family Giveaway RedeemThe205

Family Adventure Pack Giveaway! Capture Time And Make It Count With Family Adventures

August 16, 2016

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Besides a few other families and the occasional hiker descending from Mt. Quandary’s 14,265 foot peak, we were alone at the lake. In fact, we had spotted more mountain goats, gracefully bounding down the steep slopes, than we had seen people.

I returned from a short hike to the car, back to our spot next to the water nestled between mountain peaks. The lake was clear as the day. I set down the tackle box, then the snack bag, which the boys made an immediate beeline for. Our oldest, Zeke, took a little bit longer, as he had a rocky ridge to clamor down.

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“He made it all the way up there by himself.” my husband explained, pointing to a natural seat cut into the rock face high above my head. “I just turned around, and he was way up there. Then we had a little talk”, he added with a smirk. Zeke leapt from a rock a few feet from the ground, and joined his little brothers at the snack bag.

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Nut butter bar in hand, our youngest boy settled down into my lap, and we sat staring at the water together, his whole weight resting against me. I leaned in to kiss the top of his head; his hair as soft and white as the mountain goat hair we had found hanging from the bushes we’d hiked through to get here. He turned to look up at me, his eyes as deep and indigo blue as the lake.

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Out here, as the marshmallow white clouds travel across the sky, they do not speak of time passing. Rather they give testimony to time captured and savored, because we’ve chose to stop and watch.

Here surrounded by rock and respite is not where time stands still. As a parent, I have surrendered to the fact that we cannot stop time. Rather, here is where time finds its rightful place. Here is where time becomes bigger.

In the rush and hustle and routine and often chaos of our day-to-day, time shrinks. It becomes small and insignificant, slipping through our hands. And one day we stop only to realize that a week has passed. Perhaps a month. A year. An entire childhood. And where did the time go?

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This is precisely why we take these family adventures. Why they have become an essential fiber woven into our family, holding us that much more tightly together. These adventures were the heartbeat behind our decision to move to the mountains.

But the thing is, you don’t have to have access to the mountains, the ocean, or the forest to take family adventures. Family in itself is an adventure. But wherever we live, and whether or not we as parents have a passion for the outdoors, we owe it to our kids to give them that chance. They deserve the opportunity to fall head over heels in love with the artistry created by the One who crafted them.

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Whether it’s a nature hike deep within the Rocky Mountains, or an after-school stroll along the river that runs through town, there is adventure to be found. And we must encourage that thirst for beauty and discovery in their hearts.

It hit me as I sat and inhaled the scent of my boy’s hair mingling with the aroma of pine. Out here, children lose all sense of time. There is no schedule or agenda; only rocks, sticks, wildflowers, and mystery. And here, as we watch them, fully captivated only by what’s in front of them, we find permission to redefine time also. Time no longer slips away, it lingers. It appreciates. It savors. It chisels itself as memories on our souls. It is no longer menace nor taunter nor burden, but gift.

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All the time as parents we hear it; we feel it, that time is fleeting. But my family is discovering that these adventures are one of the greatest tools we have to slow time down, and to focus on what–and who– is truly important to us in life. When we make time for these adventures, we show our kids a whole new set of priorities. As we wander, we inspire wonder. As we hike and run and stroll and climb and appreciate and respect and watch in awe—we hand them the keys for slowing time and making it matter.

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Giveaway Has Now Ended. Thank You To All Who Participated!

936Pennies Family RedeemThe205

Dear Parents Who Feel Powerless In The Screen Time Battle

July 17, 2016

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Dear Parents Who Feel Powerless In The Screen Time Battle,

Let me begin by assuring you that I understand. I get it. Because I am there.

I’m exhausted, you see. This parenting gig is not for the faint of heart. And when you haven’t yet had your cup of coffee, and the dishes are stacked high, and the cat threw up on the carpet, and bills haven’t been paid, and the eggs haven’t been scrambled, and a whole sack of burden weighs heavy on your shoulders….and then they ask to watch TV….or just grab for the remote themselves….there is little fight left within you.

I know.

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Let me also say, that because I am right there with you, I will be the first to share that I believe that a bit of screen time has its proper place.

I, like any other parent, know that there is a time and a place for media. Life is full of seasons that ebb and flow with various needs. When a new baby is on the way, or one has just arrived. Or during a move to a new house. Or when a parent is sick. Or when mom needs an hour to regroup and rest. These are all times that I have allowed my kids a little bit extra screen time.

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But there is a fine and disastrous line that when crossed, children and families suffer. In today’s world where screens rule and media is here to stay, we as parents must stand guard. We must protect our families. And we must train our children to know that media is a tool, not a master.

I have waded in those waters of guilt. I have allowed the TV to become habit, my default go-to for keeping the kids occupied. I have sighed in exasperation as I clicked “Play” on just one more episode. Or maybe two. Because I just can’t parent anymore today.

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And then that nagging guilt settles on my shoulders. The last thing that us parents need is more guilt.

So can I lift that burden, if just for a moment? Can I offer you a little bit of hope?

Parents— we are not powerless in this battle.

We have the final say.

And it may be ugly for a little while. There may be wailing and gnashing of teeth. There may be hard glares and slammed doors. There may be toddler tantrums and teenage….well…tantrums.

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But I bet you this:  the storm will roll through and come to pass. And you just might be surprised at how your children adjust to a less screen-saturated routine.

Oh, it will be hard work, and demand hard resolve. You’ll probably fail a time or two. Or ten. You’ll probably go back to old ways, then restart. And restart again.

But each time you make that intentional decision to turn off the screens and claim back power over your kid’s childhood—your family will be better for it.

You see, this screen time battle is not an all-or-nothing matter. Rather, it is a step-by-step journey towards a more fulfilled family, and a more abundant life. It’s a process which there is plenty of grace for.

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When we hear that kids, on average, spend 205 waking weeks in front of a screen before they turn eighteen, it is overwhelming. We are up against a beast. Really, we are up against society. And we must be brave enough to do things differently. We must be driven enough to save our families, protect our legacies, and reclaim childhoods.

This is done one hour at a time. One family walk at a time. One game of Monopoly at a time. One tea party at a time. One forest hike at a time. One picnic at a time. One morning on the beach at a time.

One choice at a time.

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We’re in this together. So let’s not judge each other. After all, only you can decide how much screen time is appropriate for your family. No one else decides that for you. Instead, let’s cheer each other on, one day at a time, as we walk towards a life that really matters. Let’s collaborate in this mission together.

Let’s schedule more play dates at the park, group hikes, and backyard bonfires. After all, every one of us parents desires for our children to have a bright future; one illuminated not by screens, but by “Hey, remember when….” moments. So let’s create more of those moments together, and redeem those 205 weeks to make them into all they can be. Our families depend on it.

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This post is part of the #RedeemThe205 campaign, aimed at inspiring families to reclaim the 205 waking weeks on average that a child spends in front of a screen. It’s time to redeem childhoods and protect our families.

Join The Journey by subscribing below for inspiration, hope, practical ideas, and giveaways. It’s time to #RedeemThe205

936Pennies Family RedeemThe205 Video

Parents, It Is Time To Redeem The 205

July 15, 2016

We have 936 weeks with our children from when they are born until they turn 18. How we spend each of those weeks will shape their future.

We read the blogs, articles, statists, and research. The numbers are alarming, to say the very least.

Research shows that between nine months old and two years, children spend 912 hours in front of a screen. That’s nearly 5 and a half waking weeks.

From 3 to 7 years old, they spend nearly 37 waking weeks with a digital device.

From 8 to 12 years old, they spend 10,950 hours, that’s 65 waking weeks, staring at a screen.

And then from 13 years old until 18, they spend an additional 98 waking weeks transfixed on a screen.

It all adds up to 205 waking weeks with our children that we are giving away. Rather, that we are throwing away.

The numbers are alarming. Yet reading them, I come time and time again to this one thought:  The last thing any of us parents need is guilt.

Rather, we need hope. And inspiration. And practical ideas for reclaiming this time. We need to know that we are not powerless.

Screens are stealing childhoods. They are robbing us of our legacies. And they are threatening our families. And we are the ones lowering our guard and giving them the upper hand in this battle. But not any more.

As Gary Chapman puts it in his book, Growing Up Social:

“It takes effort to switch from the convenience of screen time to an interactive or tactile activity for a child. But the benefits of your son’s or daughter’s development are well worth it. You will be pleasantly surprised at how quickly your child adjusts to new screen-free routines.”

Inconvenience is a small price to pay when it comes to redeeming childhoods and protecting families. I’d say a few temper tantrums or meltdowns is well worth the victory in this battle.

Join my family in coming weeks as we share practical ideas through our own stories and video blogs, as well as giveaways, to help spread hope and inspiration for reclaiming the 205 weeks before they are gone.

It’s not too late. Are you ready? It’s time to #RedeemThe205