In It Together: Praying For Those In Ministry

“Pastors are struggling with how to do their jobs of shepherding in this new environment. Their job is social, so face-to-face. This pandemic isn’t. They’re trying to figure out ways to connect with people and to connect them to God’s Word as much as they can in a meaningful way. Trying to make sure people don’t just fall into the habit of not worshiping because this is so different and easy to get to it later.”

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Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a shepherd. You are surrounded by your sheep morning and night, day in and day out. It’s an exhausting job that requires wisdom and diligence, but it’s worth it. You love your sheep. They have unique personalities, and it is a joy to interact with them and lead them.

Now imagine that you find yourself in a position where you are in one pasture, and your sheep are in another. You can see and hear them – they still need you. You are not allowed to cross over to that pasture, but you’re still expected to guide and protect your sheep. Your job, your calling, your responsibility, is those sheep. 

How in the world do you lead a flock from afar?

Such is the quandary of ministry leaders in our current situation. They are called to guide and equip people in their faith…but all of the usual and logical methods have been banned. Churches are closed. Coffee or lunch dates are taboo. Sunday morning services and Bible studies cannot happen. 

It would have been one thing, I imagine, to have several months’ notice to prepare for such an event, but that’s not the way this pandemic panned out. The result has left ministry leaders scrambling to reach their flocks in new and foreign ways. The following quotes relate experiences from friends in different areas of ministry, shared with their permission. (Please note that these conversations took place in mid-March. With the ever-changing pandemic scene, some details may not be accurate as of this posting.)

“The current situation here in France is that we are all quarantined to our own homes for a minimum of 15 days. We are allowed to be outside in our own yards only. There are only a few reasons that anyone can leave their property which includes shopping for grocery items, going to your work if work cannot be done from home, exercise (running only, we cannot go for a walk or a bike ride), or taking a pet out to use the “facilities.”  Also, all of these things can only be done alone, not even with a spouse. On top of that, if we need to do one of these things we have to carry a piece of paper that is from the French government (that we have filled out ourselves) that explains what we are doing out. And we need a different one every day or for every activity. We are trying to continue to learn French despite the situation. Everything has to be done online so it’s a lot of worksheets and not much speaking.” 

“In the Christian camping ministry, it is basically our business to bring people together for shared experiences. Currently, bringing people together is at the top of the world’s “do not do” list. We’ve had to cancel our spring retreat and field trip groups. If things are not under control by the summer, we will not be able to run summer camp. 

The implications of this are huge. Bigger than the people who will be out of work (or at least not be receiving salaries) are all the lives that Jesus impacts while they are at camp. Jesus will still work in people’s lives even if they are not at camp, but knowing just what a powerful ministry happens here, it is hard to accept that it may not happen this summer.”

“It’s difficult finding a solution that checks all the boxes when it comes to meeting our people’s spiritual needs, helping protect community health and honoring the government. The daily change in government mandates presents planning and communication challenges. All that being said, I already see blessings as people realize again how important it is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith in all circumstances.” 

How can we pray for our friends in ministry during this unprecedented world event? Below are some of their requests:

  • Encouragement as they continue language studies to spread the Gospel
  • Wisdom on how to prioritize days with new responsibilities
  • Prayer that God’s purposes will prevail in their lives and those around them
  • That regular supporters would continue to be involved and supportive of their ministry
  • Wisdom in how to best minister to others while church and ministry doors are closed
  • Prayer for the health and safety of ministry staff
  • Strength and patience in our ever-changing world situation
  • Pray that people will get into God’s Word and use the resources ministry leaders have provided to keep families and individuals connected to God and each other

Along with prayer, consider sending your friends in ministry an encouraging text, email or note right now. And to quote the wife of a pastor when I asked how we can encourage on a practical level:

“Milk and bananas on my doorstep! I wouldn’t say ‘no’ to a pizza delivery, either.”

 

In This Together: Praying For Our Teachers

“Even though it hasn’t been easy, teachers don’t give up, ever. If something doesn’t work, we figure out how to make it work.”

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I received this message from a friend late last week. I had checked in on some of my teacher friends to see how they were doing and how we could encourage and pray for them. You guys, their responses were so real, raw and vulnerable – they broke my heart. Today, I’d like to share some of their thoughts, struggles, and prayer requests (with their permission):

“I miss my students. This feels so different and unsettled so it is not like spring break or even summer when you have definitive times when you know you will see them again. I am concerned for my students. Some have home lives that make school a refuge and now their refuge is gone. Some aren’t getting food like they did at school. Many need the social connection that school provides and now that is gone as well.

It is a roller coaster of emotions. Sometimes I’m ready to face the world. Other times I’m missing my family who lives states away. Then I am missing my students. As I prepare to record videos of myself singing songs for my students I am brought to tears thinking how I am not able to share this in person.”

None of us are working in a time or place that we ever thought we would have to deal with. The day that my principal started talking to us about the possibility of having to shut the doors of our school to students who we love so sincerely, I was in denial and then shock…after class ended, I went to the office restroom and cried. I just sobbed, filled with the loss of this school year. I love my students so much and I knew that we wouldn’t really have closure on this school year. I won’t be able to connect with them anymore in a way that feels real and genuine. I mourned the loss of their senior year of high school. Musical, track, baseball, softball, speech, knowledge bowl, prom, math team, choir, band – they all screeched to a halt and all of the kids who were involved in those activities now have more time than they’ve had in years. 

The reality that is online teaching is hard for me to wrap my head around. It isn’t what any classroom teacher signed up for – we are in this for the students, for the personal connections that we can make with them, for the relationships that we build, the laughs, cries, and banter. What we didn’t want is a discussion forum, video chats, and Google everything. But we will do it. Because if we don’t, we won’t be fulfilling our duties as teachers. Teachers adapt. We are fluid and elastic and must contort ourselves in whatever way we have to in order to help our students. Yet, we must also be realistic. We have to have realistic expectations for our students and also for ourselves. We will not solve all of the problems of the world by being amazing online teachers. We will make an impact on our students – even from afar, and even with an overextended internet. Please pray for us. It vacillates between feeling completely okay and completely wrong, and I don’t always know what will trigger tears, sadness, or despair anymore.”

“We had one weekend to figure out how to facilitate remote learning. I’m doing ok, but pray for my students who miss the routine of school and their friends.  Pray for my students’ parents as they try to help at home.”

“A huge part of life coming up will be not only homeschooling my own kids but also completely teaching online. We’re expected to be available online every day from 8-11 am and 12-3 pm. That’s not even supposed to start until Monday, but I’ve already had kids emailing and using Google Hangouts and even video chatting just because school is their stability and normalcy. Mostly, I think prayers will be needed to balance out supporting my own families’ learning while at the same time being academically and emotionally there for up to a hundred and sixty-five of other people’s children.”

“Some of the things others can do to help support our teachers is to keep sending us good thoughts whether it be on social media, text, phone calls or whatever.  Praying for all of us is such a blessing and we all need God’s Word in our lives! As a teacher, my prayer is for parents and caregivers to be loving, patient and supportive for their kids and the teachers.”

These teachers are facing challenges like they’ve never known before. They’re stressed and overwhelmed. But you know what I love most about their messages? Their biggest concern is for their students – and not just their academic well-being, but their social, emotional, and physical well-being. 

Let’s lift up our teachers. Let’s pray for them on a regular basis. Let’s drop them encouraging messages, thanking them for rising to the challenge of suddenly teaching in a completely different environment. Let’s love them the way they continue to love our own children. 

We may be physically separated, but we’re in this together. 

 

Coronavirus Quarantine: Survival Tips From a Homeschool Mom

If your state is like mine, school has either been cancelled due to the coronavirus, or will be soon. Suddenly, we are facing the next few weeks of life spending copious amounts of time with our kids. 

Friends, this is my life. My kids and I have been together 24/7 for the past fifteen years. I don’t say that to elevate myself to the status of perfect parent, martyr or saint. It’s just our reality. I love it…most of the time. 

But if you’re like the millions of parents who either put their kids on the blessed yellow school bus or drop them off at a brick and mortar school each day, the immediate future might appear like some type of slow torture for everyone in your household. 

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Let’s change that. Let’s make the next few weeks filled with fun and memories, without losing our sanity or damaging relationships. Let’s come through this stronger together and better for what we’ve been through.

Here are a few ideas that have served me well over the years:

 

  • Develop a flexible routine. Kids thrive on routine, and it can be especially helpful during unsettling times. Set a routine that will work for your family, but don’t be a drill sergeant! Leave room for life’s unpredictabilities, and throw in a few of your own, just to keep things fun, like backwards dinner (dessert first!), wear pajamas for a day, living room sleepovers, binge watching Dude Perfect, etc.
  • Teach life skills. This is an amazing opportunity to teach kids life skills! Take turns making dinner, or allow your kids to come alongside you and learn some kitchen skills. Teach them how to do laundry (my kids have been doing their own laundry for years, and let me tell you – it’s a game changer!). 
  • Switch out the toys. This was a favorite strategy that I learned from my mom when my girls were little. Divide the toys in half. Leave half of them out, and put the other half away, out of sight. Switch them out every week. It keeps the clutter down and keeps kids from getting tired of their toys!
  • Turn housework into games! We are a game-loving family – and not just board games, but turning life into games. Need to pick up the house? Do it for 15 minutes, and then take a 15 minute video game or reading break, and repeat the cycle until the house is clean. (Okay, I admit, this is the method I still use for myself as an adult!) Mop the kitchen floor wearing damp, old (clean!) socks! Pick up items with one hand behind your back. Work on cleaning up a room together, but you have to keep a balloon airborne at all times. Sure, rooms may not get cleaned to your usual standard, but hey – there’s always tomorrow…for real!
  • And don’t forget the board games! This is a great opportunity to pull some classic games out of the closet. Sometimes I get so caught up in finding the latest and greatest games that I forget about the classics. Pull out chess, checkers, or my personal favorite – Scrabble! Don’t forget Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, Rummikub, SkipBo, Uno…the list is endless. For more ideas of great games, check out one of my favorite lists here
  • Take lots of breaks. My kids have always needed frequent breaks – whether it is brain breaks or activity breaks. It clears their minds and helps them reset their focus for whatever task is next. Our breaks come in many forms – snack breaks, music breaks, breaks to go swing, breaks to do a little online shopping, breaks to play with pets, and breaks to snuggle with a parent. 
  • Above all, implement mandatory down time!!! I cannot stress this enough, as you’re going to be together…A LOT. My mother-in-law shared this nugget of wisdom with me early on in our parenting journey, and it has been the single, best element that we have consistently incorporated into our daily routine over the years. Every day, without fail, we have “rest time.” For an hour and a half, we hang out in our own rooms (I hang out in the living room, normally). During that hour and a half, my kids read for 45 minutes and then play their device for 45 minutes. And during that hour and a half…I REST. It sounds indulgent, maybe, but being with my kids 24/7, I needed (and still need) that daily break. Sometimes I read, sometimes I surf the internet, and sometimes I nap. I try my best, though, to consciously set that time aside for a reset and not use it to catch up on housework. Interestingly, even though my kids are now both teens, they still request this down time every day. They need it just as much as I do. 

Friends, we’ll get through this. Let’s commit to making the next few weeks unforgettable for all the best reasons. Let’s be smart, not create an atmosphere of fear, and set our families up to thrive and make beautiful memories during an unpredictable season of life. 

Lord of the Avocados

Avocados are fickle fruits. 

Combine that with an overtired teenage girl, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

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My youngest daughter had been planning her birthday sleepover for weeks, and her dinner of choice was a taco bar, complete with homemade guacamole. You see, making guacamole is her thing – she takes great pride in mashing the avocados just so, and adding just the right amount of salt and lime juice to create the perfect medley of flavors. To be honest, she has a discerning palate and probably makes it better than me.

Past experience has taught me that it takes about four days for avocados to ripen at our house. Thus, my daughter and I made the trek in sub-zero temperatures and a whipping wind to buy her avocados. 

Four days later, the avocados were still hard as a rock.

I stood in the kitchen the morning of her party, googling different methods for ripening avocados in a hurry. I wrapped them in foil and put them in a warm oven for ten minutes…no improvement. I placed them in a bag with bananas and apples…which I apparently should have done days ago, but I was desperate and was hoping a few hours of co-mingling with other ethylene-producing fruit friends would magically do the trick. No dice.

I began to panic a bit. This guacamole was a huge deal to her – she and her friends had been talking about it for days. There was absolutely no way these avocados were going to be mashable in just a few short hours, and I knew the local grocery stores almost never had ripe avocados on hand around here. And so I breathed a little prayer, “Lord, it would be really amazing if You would provide some perfectly ripe avocados.”

Later in the afternoon, a thorough search of our house revealed that all of my cake and cupcake decorating equipment had gotten lost in our move several months ago. Relieved to have an excuse to leave the house for a few minutes of quiet, I jumped in our car and ran to the nearest grocery store. And can I just take a moment to admit that I wasn’t in the best of moods? The avocados were rock hard, my daughter was overtired and irritable, and all of the prep that she had adamantly insisted on doing herself had been foisted upon me.

And then I walked into the grocery store.

There, prominently displayed just inside the entrance, was a display of avocados. I had never seen avocados in that particular spot at the store before. I approached the display and reached out a tentative hand to gently squeeze them. 

They were ripe. ALL of them. An entire display of avocados, literally ripe for the picking! All I had asked God for, almost in an off-hand manner, was a few stinkin’ ripe avocados to save my sanity, and He provided above and beyond what I could have imagined. 

Sometimes I need those reminders – the reminders that God is in the everyday details of my life. I can do my best to work things out (buying avocados ahead of time, trying various methods to ripen them), but the best thing I did was to invite God into the situation. Granted, He doesn’t always answer in the way I hope, but He does answer in the way that is best for me.

And sometimes He answers with an abundance of ripe avocados.

A Legacy of Courage

Several days ago, in the wee morning hours, I did something that took great courage on my part: I kindly confronted a neighbor…in my pajamas, with my morning hair sticking up in all directions.

The situation left me, quite literally, shaking in my boots for the next half hour.

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Little did I know, my youngest daughter watched the entire scenario from our bathroom window.

At first, I was a little upset that she had witnessed the incident. I wasn’t quite sure how that situation was going to turn out, and if it had gone badly, I wouldn’t have wanted her to see it happen. I didn’t want her worrying about me, either.

But then a thought occurred to me…who in my life had modeled the type of courage that would embolden me to take on such a confrontation? The answer was easy.

My mom.

And her mom.

Unassuming, imperfect, faith-filled women who drew their strength and courage from the Lord.

It takes courage to accept that polio has taken the use of both legs and one hand, and you are now faced with raising six children under the age of seven from a wheelchair.

It takes courage to care for your nearly comatose, brain-damaged little girl for years on end in your own home, and then accept it when Jesus calls her home.

It takes courage to hear the surgeons say that, in order to remove the tumor, they will need to cut your blue-eyed girl’s little head open from ear to ear.

It takes courage to learn that you have cancer, to know in your heart that it is the end, and to face death with acceptance and peace.

It takes courage to be an advocate for your children’s education, fighting for what’s best for each child.

It takes courage to journey through your daughter’s eating disorder with her.

It takes courage to learn of your own cancer diagnosis, knowing that it has already taken the life of your mom and sister.

It takes courage to live your daily life, trying to maintain a semblance of normality, when you are dealing with any of these challenges.

Sometimes, it takes courage just to do a load of laundry when depression has such a grip on you that any task seems insurmountable.

And other days, it takes courage to confront your neighbor in your pajamas.

I’m glad my daughter witnessed the confrontation. It is my privilege to be a member of this courageous lineage, and I pray that I continue in their footsteps – to model a faith-filled, courageous life, drawing my strength from God. And most of all, I pray that I pass this legacy on to my own sweet daughters…and their daughters, too.

 

 

 

A Pi Day Parable

I am flat out terrible at making pie crusts. As a matter of fact, I have one in the oven as I write this, and it looks…well, pathetic. Here it is, in all its glory (family members, look away, lest this preposterous image be burned into your brain):

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Pie crusts are a big deal in our family. My sweet grandma could turn out a perfectly flaky pie crust that would bring a tear to your eye. In turn, that gift was passed down to my aunt, who made the absolute most decadent French silk pie known to man. My mom also inherited the gift of pie crust making, and took it to an entirely new level – Thanksgiving was entirely based around pie. It wasn’t unusual to find her turning out at least a half dozen pies the day before Thanksgiving.

My mom has passed the tradition, filled with tips and tricks, on to her daughters-in-law to fulfill my brothers’ pie cravings. Even my girls were turning out apple pies made from scratch under her tutelage before they reached double digits.

And then there’s me.

I distinctly remember one of my first pie crust tutorial sessions. It was almost Thanksgiving, and I was putting a pie crust together under my mom’s watchful eye, with a friend overseeing the entire affair. Everything was going just right. The water was the perfect temperature, the dough rolled out beautifully, and I carefully placed it in the pan, edges crimped with the utmost care.

I turned around to wash my hands, turned back…and there was a hole in the middle of my crust. My dear friend thought it would be a great joke to cut a piece right out of the middle of the pie crust. I smiled at the joke, but inside, I was seeing red. It was, indeed, a great joke, and easily repaired, but it didn’t hide the fact that I once again had failed to create a perfect pie crust.

Twenty years later, I can laugh at that memory, but it has made me reflect on pie crust as a whole. (Oh…that was almost a pun, there…) What is my deal with pie crust? Why does it bring about such angst, frustration, and make me downright angry at times?

It’s because I had my identity wrapped up in my ability to produce pie crust. In my mind, all true females of our lineage should be able to produce this pie crust. It was a matter of pride, worth, and identity. Because I couldn’t make a decent pie crust to save my life, I was, in a way, unworthy. Below standard. A failure to the family name.

And that’s just plain ridiculous.

As much as we love our families and cherish passing along beloved traditions, our identity is not about how much we are like our relatives in looks, characteristics, or abilities. Our identity, rather, lies in who we are in Christ. We were made in His image, to be people who reflect Him. Our love for Him spurs us on to want to be more like Him – more loving, more giving, and more forgiving.

As with my pie crust skills, I am going to fail. But just as I haven’t given up on pie crust, I am not going to give up on seeking to be more like Him year after year.

Some day, rather than my daughters telling stories about my amazing pies, they will be telling stories about my mind-blowing pie foibles and failures. And we will laugh…a lot! Even more, though, I hope that they will tell stories about how I loved Jesus and lived a life that reflected Him well. I hope and pray that they, too, find their identity in Him and seek to be more like Him.

And I wouldn’t mind if they mastered their pie crust skills along the way, too… 🙂

Happy Pi Day!

The Day My Daughters Learned About My Eating Disorder

It happened as we were pulling into a gas station.

“So…I’ve been learning about something interesting in health this week,” my daughter began as we pulled into the parking lot. Oh boy, I thought to myself, this could be interesting. Please let it be digestion or the chambers of the heart or even excretion. 

“I learned about eating disorders.”

Crap.

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Photo by Dmitry Schemelev on Unsplash

I had been dreading this moment since my first pregnancy 14 years ago. I remember walking through my house, hoping that the little person inside who wouldn’t stop kicking me was an active little boy, because the prospect of raising girls was, quite frankly, terrifying. How in the world could I be expected to raise a girl to have a healthy body image when I had so completely failed in that area my entire life???

And then God gave me not one, but two girls.

Back in the car, I breathed a prayer for help. Lord, I’m going to have to wing this one. Give me the words. Really, that’s all I could ask for – just give me the right words for this situation, because I feel completely unprepared.

And so I dove in.

We talked about what she had learned – that an eating disorder is a type of mental health issue, and why people develop eating disorders. We talked about the different types of eating disorders and what each type entails. And then I took I deep breath.

“So…you actually know someone who had an eating disorder,” I began. I looked in my rear view mirror to see two sets of saucer eyes, followed by them breathing the question, “Who?”

Deep breath.

I simply said, “Me.”

Dead silence in the backseat, as the saucer eyes grew even larger.

“Really?” they asked in disbelief.

And so I began the simple version of my story. I told them that going into my freshman year in college, I knew I was making some decisions that weren’t right for me, and I ended up at a school too far from home. Even though I had plenty of friends at school, for a variety of reasons, I felt more alone and isolated than I had ever felt in my life. In a world that felt completely out of control at the time, I turned to controlling the one thing that I felt was within my grasp: food.

I told them that I was anorexic for about two years, and that it became a situation so out of control that eventually I had to drop out of college and go into day treatment at a local hospital. I knew that what I was doing wasn’t healthy, and I wanted to stop, but was too scared. And eventually, with time and Jesus and meeting my husband, I found my way out.

What I didn’t tell them was the specifics: the morning weigh-ins, where I would punish myself if my weight hadn’t decreased, and how I might celebrate with a half glass of cranberry juice if I had. I didn’t tell them about not being able to sleep at night for the hunger, or feeling unsafe driving because my brain was so foggy from lack of nutrition, or the absolute fear of eating anything outside of the same three meals I had deemed safe to eat every day. I didn’t tell them about the panic of when my period stopped due to being malnourished, or that I made a promise to my mom that I would go into treatment when and if my weight dropped below 90 pounds. (It did.)

I didn’t tell them that the battle isn’t over. I didn’t tell them that the moment I found out I was mom to a baby girl, a new battle began: the battle to develop and live a life that demonstrated a healthy body image. A life where we accept and celebrate the bodies God has given us, in all of their different shapes and sizes. A life where we enjoy food and recreation and eat well to nourish our bodies, rather than punish our bodies with strict diets or taxing workout regimens. A life where we eat our vegetables, and feel no guilt about eating our ice cream, too.

Don’t get me wrong…I often fall short of this goal. Some days I look in the mirror and remind myself that I will gladly carry a few more pounds than I would like if it means that I am instilling a healthy body image in my daughters. Other days I look in the mirror with disgust at the havoc that pregnancies, c-sections, stress, and too much chocolate have wreaked in my body over the years, and turn my head away in shame.

But in those moments I am reminded of this: I earned those scars – the ones I wear on my skin, as well as the ones on my soul. And each of those scars is a reminder that I fought and won the battle against anorexia, and that, with God’s help, I am continuing to fight and win the battle of positive body image for both myself and future generations. It’s an ongoing fight but a worthy battle, my friends. Those precious bodies and souls, created in His image, are absolutely worth it.

This post is in honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 25-March 3, 2019). If you suspect yourself or a loved one of having an eating disorder, please visit https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org for more information and resources to find help.

The Very Awful, Disastrous Vacation of 2017: Part 2

Continued from the last post, aptly named “The Very Awful, Disastrous Vacation of 2017: Part 1”

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As we pulled into the gas station, the dreaded “low tire” light came on in our vehicle. Simultaneously, the heavens opened and rain began to drench the parched Nebraska landscape. A quick look in the rear view mirror showed us what we absolutely did not want to see: a flat tire.

Now, here is the part of the story where things get a little fuzzy, mostly because I choose to know very little about car repair. What I do know is that my wonderful, super hero husband proceeded to lay down in that puddle-filled parking lot, remove the flat tire in the pouring rain, and put the spare tire on – only to discover that there was a broken valve on it and it wouldn’t hold air. I’m not sure what transpired next, but through a combination of divine help and his natural MacGyver inclinations, he managed to get one tire functional enough to limp us along to his parents’ farm.

We arrived later in the evening, wet, tired and hungry, and ever so grateful for a safe, dry spot to lay our heads that night. After all, we needed our rest so that we could hit the road the next morning for our ultimate destination – a secluded camping spot in the mountains of Colorado. A place where the girls could run free, we could hike, and still head down the mountain to explore city life, as well.

A place that was, unbeknownst to us, currently receiving several inches of snow.

Let’s just take a moment to recap. In the last 48 hours, we had dealt with vomit, a plague of mosquitoes, a sweaty night of little sleep and more vomiting, rerouting due to flooding, a deluge of rain, a flat tire…and now snow at our next destination. The cold, rainy front that had been forecast to exit well before our arrival was now parked directly over Nebraska and Colorado, with no signs of budging anytime in the near future.

We were done.

Once again, we called mommy for help.

And once again, my mother-in-law gracefully allowed us to extend our farm stay for a few more days, bless her heart! So we settled in, the girls in my in-laws’ camper, the hubs and I in my parents’ camper. And it rained. And rained. And rained some more, for good measure. The puddles in the driveway became small ponds. The sandy yard became one gooey, mucky mess.

Our dream vacation had come crashing down around us. I had thrown my beautiful, beloved spreadsheet away somewhere in the rolling hills of Iowa. We were stuck in a tiny camper (that had now sprung a leak in the ceiling) on a tiny farm near a tiny town in the Middle of Nowhere, Nebraska.

And we were having a great time.

I had time to read, sleep, drink good coffee (the Middle of Nowhere does boast a pretty great coffee shop), and have some good chats with family. My husband had plenty of time to chill and watch sports with his dad. The girls were having the time of their life, playing with cats, dogs, and spending time with their grandparents.

God knew what we needed: plenty of down time, rest, and time with family. It took a rocky start to get our attention, but His plans prevailed. And it was so much better than anything I could have come up with on my spreadsheet.

We did eventually experience a break in the weather, and high-tailed it to Colorado Springs for a jam-packed day of experiencing all the goodness that area offers. We still refer to it as our Colorado trip, even though we spent a scant six hours or so in the state. We are still more than a little traumatized by parts of that trip, but they are also a reminder of God’s goodness and the wisdom of His plans over ours.

And maybe, just maybe, I am slowly learning to trust the Lord more than my spreadsheets. 🙂

“We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” – Proverbs 16:9

The Very Awful, Disastrous Vacation of 2017: Part One

I have been hit with the annual travel bug.

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It happens every year. Just for a few days, I want to remember what it is like to live in a climate that gets above 50 degrees F, feel some semblance of warmth on my face, and not have to put on Arctic gear to go outside.

That’s not gonna happen.

The next best thing, then, is to start planning our next trip. Trip planning is a team effort in the Long household. My husband is the king of finding hidden gems to visit and quiet, unique places to stay. As for me…it’s time for some serious Excel spreadsheet action, baby.

As you may know from previous posts, I love planning. Figuring out details, creating a stream-lined, flawless family experience…that’s my jam. All those tiny cells filled with important details give me peace of mind…or feed the control freak in me. Take your pick.

This year, however, the hubs and I are unusually ambivalent about planning our trip. Trips have always been a part of our life together. Visiting family in Nebraska, camping in Wyoming, yurting in Iowa…it’s what we do. So why the hesitance this year? It recently dawned on me – we’re still traumatized from THE VERY AWFUL, DISASTROUS VACATION OF 2017. Yes, you should only shout it at people in all caps – it was that bad.

Oh, did I ever create a beautiful spreadsheet for that trip. Each day was meticulously planned…how many miles we would travel, what sights we would see, what we would do for each meal, where we would stay that night, and overall how much we would spend for the day. It was a sight to behold.

It was a bright and sunshiny day, unusually warm for October, but around these parts we don’t complain about things like that. We were poised to embark on the trip of a lifetime – Colorado Springs, CO. Breathe in the fresh mountain air, take in the sights at Focus on the Family, soak in God’s creation all around us, and most of all, enjoy quality time as a family. The bags were packed, the car was loaded, my parents’ Little Guy trailer was firmly affixed to the vehicle – we were ready to rock.

And then my youngest daughter said she had a stomach ache. No worries – I threw a trusty plastic bag-lined ice cream pail in the car, just in case.

“Just in case” turned out to be an hour down the road.

My husband and I sat there, wondering what to do. How long would the bug last? Do we need to go home? This wasn’t on the spreadsheet. I had not scheduled us stopping to take in this particular sight. In the end, the spreadsheet said we would be spending the night in Minnesota, so to Minnesota we went.

After several unscheduled vomit-filled stops, we pulled into our campground in the early evening. It was everything we could have hoped for – beautiful, quiet location, not too busy, lovely new bathrooms…and mosquitoes. It was like something straight out of the Bible – a cloud of mosquitoes descended upon our camp, leaving us running for our tiny trailer. Our tiny trailer with very little ventilation. And a vomiting kid. And it wasn’t supposed to get much cooler than 80 degrees that night.

It was a long, long night.

Morning sprung bright and dewy, and after sprinting through the cloud of mosquitoes to the lovely bathrooms, we were off. Next stop – an actual oasis of a campground in rural Nebraska. A quiet forest of trees amongst the endless rolling hills of nothingness that is my husband’s home state. Today would be our day.

And then the weather warnings starting popping up on my phone – our sweet oasis was about to get slammed with severe thunderstorms and significant flooding. This, too, was not on my spreadsheet. Thus, we did what any self-respecting almost-40-year-old person does…

We called mommy.

Literally.

A consultation with Google Maps showed that if we took a detour and traveled an extra hour, we could spend the night at the sweet, dry, safety of my in-laws’ farm. My in-laws were graciously willing to host us at the drop of a hat, and so, with a sigh of relief, we began the trek toward their farm. All we needed was a quick stop for gas and dinner. Crisis averted…all would be well.

And then, as the skies opened up and let loose a torrential rainstorm, the dreaded “low tire” light came on in our vehicle.

Check back next week for Part Two of this debacle!

 

 

The Dream Job

Late last summer, I had a chance at my dream job. Don’t get me wrong…I love my current gig, but this job was THE DREAM. Working from home, doing what I love for a company that I respected…it was everything I could have ever hoped for in a job.

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The timing seemed perfect, too. My girls were entering a season in their homeschooling where they were mostly independent, and I had serious concerns about how I was going to fill my time. (Oh Katie of six months ago, what a funny, funny girl you were!) This position had the flexibility I needed with being a homeschool mom, but would have filled up those hours I was worried about.

Everything was looking promising. I made it through the first round of interviews, and was chosen as one of the candidates for the second round of interviews. I submitted my carefully written, extensively researched second interview with bated breath. I even found a cute top on clearance at Kohl’s that would be perfect for the final, third round of interviews.

And then, while sitting in the Culver’s parking lot on a date with my husband, I got the email. I hadn’t been selected for the final round of interviews.

Honestly, I was kind of crushed. Okay, I was completely crushed, actually. Even though I had a perfectly great job, this was THE DREAM. It would have been a game changer for my career as well as for our family in some very positive ways. The timing was perfect…why was God saying “no” to this opportunity?

Then the school year started, as did Bible study, Sunday morning commitments, Awana night, and youth group. Multiple trips to the gym needed to be made to fulfill school phys ed requirements each week. Orthodontist appointments kept popping up on the calendar. I was running to town at least twice a day, every day, and when you live at least 20 minutes from town, that time adds up quickly. I was paring down my trips as much as possible, but it was the reality of that life season.

And I was exhausted.

God knew. God knew what was coming, and He knew that there was absolutely no way that I could handle working 16-20 hours per week on top of my family’s needs. He knew that I was potentially biting off more than I could chew. Even though the situation looked like it would have been perfect by my earthly eyes, His heavenly eyes saw the bigger picture.

We are back in the throes of the regular school and life routine again. Remembering what last fall was like and how exhausted I was, I have cut back on my hours at work for the next month or two. Guess how many hours I am working right now? THREE. Right now, in this season, I can handle working THREE hours per week. Can you even imagine what life would be like if I had been committed to working 20 hours per week right now?! It would not have been pretty, I can guarantee that.

Once again, I am reminded of God’s perfect plans over mine. I am a planner by nature, and I can happily spend hours concocting what seems like a perfect plan for our future. A well-executed plan gives me great joy, and sometimes I want to clap my hands and do a little happy dance when those plans come together just so.

But what about when the perfect plan falls apart? In reality, I still need to find joy in that situation, clap my hands and do a happy dance because God protected me from His less than perfect plan for me…which also means that He has an even more perfect plan in mind.

Jeremiah 29:11 sums it up perfectly: “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (NLT)

Amen? Amen.