Struggle isn’t the same as failure

I had just finished telling Daniel about a conversation several of my homeschooling mommy friends and I had talked through yesterday. We had covered the pros and cons of various curriculums and the challenges and strengths of learning styles and disabilities. It felt like a tiny splash over from a tornado, lots of high winds and chaos and powerful energy, but the wake left me feeling breathless and bone tired.

I took a deep breath and looked into my half-filled coffee cup.
Daniel’s mug was long empty. He always beats me by a long shot, but I sip and savor and pause my way through the cup. But his words caught me off guard.

“I think you need to stop saying you aren’t qualified for this…”

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I held really still, and listened hard.
He rattled off a list of things I AM good at, and how I have this skill and that gifting that is exactly what my children need.
How I have what it takes, to do- and he proceeded to list some of my far-off dreams, that scowl at me in the distance, taunting me at the impossibility of it all.

By the time he was done, I was in tears. Not sad tears. Not really happy ones.
Just tears of awe.

You see, the easiest thing in the world for me is to see my shortcomings.
To feel the raw burn of the struggle, and forget that often I actually pull through.
I overlook again that struggle isn’t equivalent to failure. Every season of life has really hard elements. But just because life is hard doesn’t mean I’m doing it wrong.

This evening my house filled with people popping over, delightfully and some unexpectedly. A wedding is nearby tomorrow, and two of our married siblings stopped in. We were busy this evening building a work-bench in our garage, and so I’d planned on a supper of simple leftovers. As the number of mouths swelled, my pitiful leftovers diminished, and so I quickly threw some spaghetti together. It was the most hodge podgy supper ever, but at least we had piña colada smoothies and coffee to make it feel like a remotely happy meal.

As he scooped another helping of sticky noodles, my brother in law commented,
“You do such a good job at hosting spontaneously.”
I smiled and said something about having a house that hosts well. But really, his words struck that same chord Daniel had hit this morning.

You see, we are each gifted. We each have valuable things to bring to the table, to offer to those around us. Just because I struggle to feel natural at preparing food for hosting doesn’t mean I’m a hosting flop. I DO love having my home full of people.

And just because finding exactly the perfect fit for my different children’s learning styles and abilities is challenging doesn’t mean I’m doing a bad job. I’m stretching and straining through it, but I’m meeting needs and growing in the process.

Long ago I learned to stop apologizing for a messy house, because it makes guests feel uncomfortable. But when someone hands me a compliment, I feel like I’m suddenly holding a hot potato, fresh out of the oven. I juggle it and look around for a safe place to toss it.

Twice today, that warmth reach beyond my hands and touched me deeply. God wants to have the freedom to be my Daddy, and to say, “You are beautiful.”
Just because.

God delights in His children. He wants to shower us with affirmation, not based on our good achievements or hard work, but in who we ARE. In who He made us to be.
True identity lies in who someone IS, and not who they feel like they are.
There is so much joy to be had when we walk in the beauty of being loved.
Unchecked, lavish love.

God delights in you, and the ways you reflect Him.
There is no shame in God’s fingerprint in your life. In His talents seeping through you.

Hold out your hands and close your eyes.
Let God fill you with the joy He sees at the beauty in you.

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Photo by Grettagraphy.com 

Our Red Sea

Our first year was blissfully happy.

We lived in the teeniest farmhouse ever, with leaning doorways and squeaky wooden floors and an infestation of brown recluse spiders. The walls were anything but tight, and when the winter storms blew, my curtains swayed gently in the breeze that found its way through the cracks. Skunks moved in under our porch, and set up home under our master bedroom. Apparently, they had a fight one night, and we woke up coughing, our eyes stinging. Their marital squabble remained in our room for weeks. I scrubbed the ancient stained carpet, only to have more billows of odor fill the house.

We ate on a dime, and enjoyed the swing in the backyard, and sauntered down the lane to feed the landlord’s cows. Life was slow and steady and delightful. We had no money, except what Daniel carefully earned building houses, and we had no debt. We bought an older car from his parents and stretched a $20 bill as far as it could go at the grocery store. Our house was sparsely adorned with second-hand furniture, except for an occasional solid, Amish-crafted gift.

We were so poor, but so rich.
We were drunk on love, delighted with simplicity, grateful just to be together.

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But we had expected to be on the mission field soon. We even opted out of a wedding registry since we were sure we would be packing light and living long overseas. (Ask me now how I would do that differently 😀 ). We were, perhaps, ignorant, but we were earnest.

Finally, the call came.
“Would we go to Honduras to translate for an English-speaking doctor?”
Would we? How could we NOT?!? We were so excited.
And while both of us had lived in 3rd world countries before, and knew it wasn’t all a blissful, romantic prospect, we were thrilled. We were made for this. This was part of the story we had always expected.

As we packed up our few belongings, I remember telling Daniel,
“Somehow I feel like God is taking us down there to teach us, and not so much the Hondurans.”
He looked at me quietly, “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know; I just think God predominantly wants to work deep in our own hearts.”
He nodded.

Little did we know.
Little did we know that our intentions of living in Honduras for years would crumble, that God would ask us to lay down our aspirations and just be broken and needy.
Little did we know that God would allow us to walk through death and betrayal and deep grief while far from my family and our home church.
That we would come back less than two years later, to a church that had branched into several groups, to be with my family as we processed the loss of my brother, and my mother’s only son.

Little did we know that God would ask Daniel to lay down his dreams for medicine and for mission work in Africa and move back to the states.

Sometimes God writes a page in our story, knowing full well the upcoming twists, knowing we could not handle it if we could see it.
He leads us one season at a time, giving dreams and sometimes taking them.

Sometimes God takes dreams.
Sometimes he allows people to die.
Sometimes he says no to our prayers.
Identity and reputation and gold-gilded dreams were buried on that rough windblown hillside where we buried my brother.

When all else has crumbled, and we sit in a pile of ashes, he sits with us.
He never leaves us.
He is not daunted by our grief, disgusted at our processing, or fearful of our uncertainties. God is big enough to handle our hard questions, our angry tears, and our moments of most profound depression.

Even the seasons of silence, when our heart is too numb to breathe a prayer.
God can handle this…

And sometimes he does the unexpected.
Brings back the dreams we thought were shattered and gone.
God delights to be the Redeemer of our places of deepest loss and darkness.

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Daniel’s dreams of pursuing a medical career and serving in West Africa have been revived out of the shards of deferred hopes. Now we are plowing through the world of full-time school and work for Daddy, while I float life at home. With four children, homeschooling three of them, I’ve never felt stretched so paper-thin.

But this fall, Daniel plans to quit his job. His best job ever. With the best boss ever, who fully supports our crazy journey. Daniel needs to have more time for his school and more time for our four energetic children. You can only hold your breath and skip sleep for so long.

We are standing at the edge of a Red Sea. The step forward looks like insanity. It makes no sense. The pressure and demands are cresting the hill behind us, and threaten to cascade us with crushing weight.

We have to remind ourselves of why we are here.
Sometimes God calls us to step into an impossible journey.
Sometimes he needs to take us away from our comfort zone, from our place of ease. Sometimes the very stripping, the standing bare, the absolute vulnerability is precisely what we need. The standing with open empty hands may be richer than when we clutched our worn and hoarded coin purse.

Perhaps Job was richer when he sat in that pile of ashes and broken pottery and shattered dreams than before his health or riches were touched. Perhaps our moments of complete need are the very places where God can finally provide like he has been longing to.

Maybe you are standing face to face with your Red Sea too.
Maybe your heart feels panicked at the physical impossibilities or financial limitations. But quiet your heart.
These are hallowed grounds, the place where God walks.

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This is where God told Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.” Shoulder to shoulder with Moses, we tremble with fear and dare not to look. But God is here. Where his holiness and our need come face to face, it is the perfect stage for his power.

Perhaps today is your first march around your Jericho. Perhaps you will be marching tomorrow too, with no results. Perhaps you have been praying about your Red Sea for years. Just maybe you feel heaven is made of iron and God doesn’t hear.

We know that someday every knee will bow. Every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. And everyone in His presence will join in the chorus, “Holy, Holy, Holy!”

What about now? In the middle of our unanswered questions, in the middle of our hard. Before our prayers are answered, before we see how God will provide.

Even now, before the page turns, we can join in the triumphant cry, and worship. We can worship from the rawness of inadequacy – perhaps even better than when all is well.

Let the salt spray from the Red Sea fill your hair.
Throw your arms wide and let the crashing waves pound the truth deep into your soul.

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The waters will part. The way will open.
Fill your heart with the song of praise that will be sung in heaven, and on the far side of the ocean once you’ve crossed through, dry-shod.

The way may look different than you envisioned. But it is good.
Far better than any of us could have imagined.

He whispers over your ear, “This is the way, walk in it.”
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Photo credits go to grettagraphy.com who is moving to Australia for two years.
If you don’t already, you will not want to miss her journey over there.
She captures beauty well, shares honestly, and inspires me like few others…
My little sister is also my hero.

Words well seasoned

I rounded the corner into the small galley kitchen at our church, bustling with women in aprons. The smell of lasagna and chili surrounded me and I felt very small. I was small, in fact, always lagging in size to my peers. But I held in my hands an apple pie, with fluted edges and a lattice top. The weave was not perfect, and the fluting wobbled a bit on one side. The accomplishment it represented made me feel feet taller than I had ever stood before.

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The nearest lady paused in her marathon to get food out for 125 people and smiled at me with warm eyes. Food was a part of her, as her rounded middle and burly young men who boasted in her sumptuous cooking testified. In fact, she always brought her cakes and pies with a piece taken out, “Got to test it to make sure it’s worth serving to people!” she told us.

I looked down at my pie, thick apple and spice mixture spilling over one corner of the lattice. Mom had coached me through every step, the mixing of the chilled Crisco into the flour and working up the dough without overworking it. The rolling in Xs and +s to get a nice even depth throughout the crust. The cutting and weaving of the lattice and then my favorite step- the fluting. I watched the dough form perfect waves back and forth under her skilled fingers. She wove stories of cooking with her own mother, who I never got to meet but was named after, into each pie. My fingers mimicked her movements, created an elementary version on my crust.

My mom leaned over my shoulder as I placed the pie into the lady’s seasoned hands, “She made it herself!” My face glowed with pride. It wasn’t perfect, but my mom made sure all those seasoned cooks noticed my effort. They raised their eyebrows and smiled encouragingly as if I were badged with a Masterchef white apron. It was almost as if I was one of them. Shoulder to shoulder with women who expressed love through food.

I am sure that I would never have loved to roll out pie crust, or write a story, if it hadn’t been for my mother’s encouragement. Somehow she saw past the inexperienced fingers and the misspells and sloping handwriting and saw potential. Years later, she and I went on to spend months together writing a book, and many years cooking side by side. Her food trumps mine, hands down. She mixes soul and love into her recipes in such a way that I am still peering over her shoulder, desperate to learn how she does it.

But today as I whipped out few pie crusts for fellowship meal on Sunday, my mind flashed back to her words of praise.

“She made it herself!”

So often I just want to do a job quickly, without involving my children, so it will be done well and quickly. Today I had four little ones peering over my shoulder, stealing scraps of dough and forming “donuts.”

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In a couple years, my firstborn will be a teenager. So much of his mindset is being formed now. Do I speak truth and hope to his heart, or agree with the lies of the enemy that say he is a failure? My failures stare me face to face, but I want to follow the example of the woman in Proverbs who speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. To stand with my mother, and those experienced women in the church kitchen that day and saw a noble effort. 

Words seasoned with salt.

Salt alone is nasty, but a pot of soup with no salt is unpalatable. As my children grow, they need direction and guidance. Sometimes they just need someone to laugh with. But in those moments when salt is needed, God wants to use my tongue to show His unconditional love.

Words give life, or squelch it. Look around you. There are people everywhere, whose stories we can only know the faintest shadow of. Everyday we have the opportunity to use our words to tell people,
“You are loved.
You are valuable.
Your story is worth listening to.
You are worth fighting for.”

Your words can change someone’s story. 
Maybe you will hand them the courage they need to stand up and make a difference. 

Maybe the pause in your day, and the looking into their eyes with a smile, will be the taste of heaven they need.

Maybe your child is being downright naughty today. Maybe sharp words aren’t what they need. Pull them close and read a book. Create a diversion where you can laugh together, go enjoy the sunshine or pick a bouquet of wild flowers.

Give life through your words.
No one else has lived your story, and no one can offer exactly the hope you can.

______________________________

Top photo taken by my ten-year-old man who had to pause math to come grab the picture I couldn’t. I think he did a smashing job.

It’s worth being a little crazy to really live

“Are we crazy?” We look at each other at some ridiculous hour of the night, but the light is still on and the textbook open.

I blinked my heavy eyelids and looked deep into my husband’s tired face, just inches from mine. The four little people were finally in bed, and the house was that delicious silent sound that happens only late at night and in the wee hours of the morning.

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“So if I take those classes, it will mean I am only making the trip to campus four times a week…” I nodded and brushed my hair out of my face. The days of all his classes being online seemed to be dwindling, and more and more of his subjects require classroom time. I’m glad for him, honestly, because it feels so much more structured and prepares him for those last two years when online classes are a distant memory. But it means we need to take a deep breath as we plunge into another semester.

He’s been cramming on some really complicated math lately, and for the first time ever, numbers have been outwitting him. That’s what he does for a living- putting numbers precisely in order, writing checks, reconciling accounts… Lots and lots of numbers. And he’s crazy good.

But at midnight, his blue laptop light reflected frustration on his face. He turned the screen my way, “So this is how a quadratic works, but I just can’t get this next step…” I stared blindly at the lines and numbers and dots. Math was never my forte, and I’m delighted to have finally found a homeschool math curriculum for our children that includes lecturing and auto-grading.

I can see and understand how a backflip works, and how a split in the air with the head tossed back makes the toes brush the back of your scalp. I’ve done that, many long moons ago. But polynomials and quadratics are simply Greek to me. But he plows on, day after day, bogging his way through the sludge of mathematical unknowns.

Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry.

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Are we crazy for hanging up a normal life and jumping in with both feet to daddy being in school? To husband juggling more tests and classes and work than realistically possible, but somehow he does them all, and well. To mom solo parenting a lot of the time, homeschooling and embarking on the never-ending job of food, clothes, and home for all? Are we crazy to do this while raising four energetic children? While living in a fixer-upper home, with lots of “character”?

Again and again, I hear women say, “But I’m just so scared about my husband’s new job. How do we know if it will work out, or pay the bills?” Or, “I’m just not sure. I really think we should stick with what has always worked…” What if the price feels too high?

What about the price of a “normal” life, where the fear of failure keeps us from ever trying something new? How can we teach our children to push through hard school concepts if we aren’t willing to push through our own hard places?

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One of the things that attracted me to Daniel was his love for adventure, for blazing trails, for reaching out to people he had never met. It was wild, it was terrifying, but it was enticing.

But now, the most natural thing in the world is to want to sit tight, on my safe little couch where all is familiar and hold my children close. As women, we are created to nurture and care for our little ones. Significant transitions can look terrifying, and we default to the safe and known over the risky undiscovered territories that draw our men and spark something deep inside.


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But our men are wired to conquer. To forge the unknown waters and find what is on the other side. They need to discover, to climb, to break through the dense woods and find the untouched clearing on the other side.

I heard years ago that men often face a mid-life crisis. My ears perked up- I wanted to be prepared. After hearing the sad saga, I shook my head. If and when Daniel stumbled into his, I would jump on and join the ride. Better that then him feeling lost and disconnected in an old and stale world, where not even his wife cared to understand.

When I got married, my mom mentioned “…and you know, if times get tough, you go down with the ship.” We both laughed because we knew Daniel was as steady and anchored as they come, and that we would not go down. But what she meant was, “You are committed. No abandoning ship or emotionally jumping off when times get rough.”

Obviously, we are committed to each other, and so we have hashed this thing out. I sensed this itch in his feet, the need to stretch to new areas. As a person, he needed something, was created for something bigger than building garages and settling accounts. To be honest, I pushed Daniel when he wasn’t even sure he was ready, ’cause I felt he needed it. We needed it.

After all, what is living really, if we aren’t dreaming? How can we grow if not stretched? How can we experience new mountaintops if never willing to leave our comfort zone?

So here we are, two crazies on a wild ride, with four children adding to the chaos. It is a wild, stretching ride. Full of dreams, and late nights, and lots of medical words.

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Don’t be afraid of your hard.
Don’t steal the opportunities from tomorrow because today you aren’t willing to make the jump. Or support your husband as he contemplates a big change.

The fear of failure is a far bigger reality than failure itself.


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Take the chance.
Listen to the dream.
Rest in the Author of your story.
You were made for greatness, even in the little things, and it takes risk.

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Say yes.
It’s worth being a little crazy to really live.

___________________________

These photos were taken at Lake Peyto in Banff, Canada.

Top picture taken by Micah Troyer, (who is exactly the kind of person you want to go trailing along behind on one of his great adventures).

When salsa and emotions and mistakes collide

I turned my heaping cart into the check out line at Aldi, and took a deep breath.
Meat, cheese and produce for freezer meals- check.
Milk and cereal- check.
All four of my children within eyesight: one, two, three, four- check.

I surveyed the cart with a feeling of accomplishment- for once, I had menu planned and even prepared recipes for freezing. I wasn’t on top of the world, but I was certainly clambering closer to the top of the rugged path, instead of sitting at the bottom, under a pile of loose rocks dismally marked “Failure.”
I knew the bill would be fearsome, but considering I hadn’t officially shopped in nearly a month, supplies had to be restored. People must eat, and consequently, I must shop.

A grandmotherly woman behind me in line crooned over Lakelyn, “What a sweet smile!” I always appreciate it when people look past the blurred hurricane that happens when I shop and notice little people in a positive tone.

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Little hands grabbed cereal boxes and shoved them onto the conveyor belt. It becomes a madhouse, this thing of unloading the cart. In the past, I’ve asked the kids to just let me do it, but today, their energy needed to be channeled, to be welcomed.
Ten pounds of ground beef.
Four boxes of cereal.
A bag of onions, which dropped little bits of paper on the clean tile floor. Items piled up at the cashier’s fingertips.

I was bending over the cart, reaching for the sausage when I heard it. That telltale sounds of glass hitting the floor. I whirled around, and my daughter looked up with horror in her eyes.

A jar of salsa, or the remains actually, lay at her feet. Glass shards were five feet away, and chunks of tomatoes and peppers clung to her toes, and oozed between the straps of her sandal.

I knelt and gathered up the largest pieces of glass. The cashier abandoned her post at the register and headed for the cleaning supplies. Silently the line behind me disappeared as another lane opened up for all the horrified customers stuck behind the sudden entertainment at checkout #4.

“How would YOU feel?” I heard the little question in my heart. I looked up at my daughter’s face, a mixture of shame and embarrassment.
“Don’t worry,” I told her, “You were just trying to help.”
She nodded, but tears threatened to spill over. This child IS my right hand, and honestly, she helps keep the house going. I don’t know what I would do without her.

We got the chunky mess all cleaned away, and I finished up paying for groceries.
“Your day can only get better from here!” I looked up to see the kind elderly lady smiling and nodding at the freshly mopped floor. I nodded gratefully.
But mostly, I felt very, very tired.

As the van of exhausted children and trunk bulging with groceries turned homeward, I kept thinking about that question. “How would YOU feel?” As a mom, it is so easy to feel stretched to the max and overwhelmed. Childhood is meant to be a safe place. To be free to learn and play. To live with arms held wide, to squeal on the swing and croon over baby dolls. As a mom, I want to preserve this safe place for my children, to let them live free and happy.

But that means I have to hold myself in check. To choose to control my own stress, and not dump it on them. Because their little hearts are so soft.
And childhood is such a short season.

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(A photo my dear friend Rosalyn took as she braved the store with her littles)

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Today was a big day. My sister gets married next weekend, and there are a million and two things I need to do, and make, and mend. I’ve spent some time texting with a friend who is walking through some very deep, difficult things.

Someone asked a favor of me, and I did it, not checking with anyone else. In retrospect, I see so clearly how it would have been wise to pause from my absolutely crazy day, but I was feeling stretched beyond capability… And it was a big mistake.

All afternoon I’ve been kicking myself for lack of discernment. For being so impulsive. Yes, it was done from a desire to help. But I dropped the ball or the jar of salsa, and I’m still cleaning up shards and sticky bits of tomato off my feet. Or heart.

Just this morning I text my friend,
“Oddly enough, God isn’t asking for perfection, he’s asking for a heart that is genuinely willing to follow him and do what’s right. We are human, and we make mistakes.
I make big ones. But the amazing thing is that Jesus loves me in my mistakes, and loves me enough to help me grow out of them. To learn from them. To become a new person because he is going to help me on this journey.”

I tear up over these words now, that although they were spoken for someone else’s situation, they now directly apply to mine.
God loves me, not because of what I am, but because I am His.

My mistake stings like salt in an open wound. I want so much to exemplify a life of integrity for my children. But perhaps, they learn better as they see me pick myself up from the splattered store floor, and get to my feet again.

He knows the plans He has for us. Plans to prosper us, and not to harm us. Plans to give us hope and a future. Everything we face today is part of the lesson and preparation for that plan.

Next time you see a mom in the grocery store with a bunch of small ones, smile encouragingly.
Next time your child creates a huge mess, be kinder than you feel.
And next time you mess up big, face it honestly and learn from your mistake.
Most of all, remember to take a deep breath and accept Jesus’ forgiveness. Remember that God isn’t asking for perfection, He’s asking for a heart that genuinely is willing to follow Him.

He is the one that takes my hand and helps me up. The shards of glass and splatters of salsa are not forgotten. My daughter will handle glass jars with much more care, and I will slow down and listen more carefully to the wisdom of others.

God is the author of peace. He is the wiper of tears.
He is the granter of forgiveness and second chances.

The day I accidentally spoke “Boy”

Morning light feebly streamed through my nearly closed drapes. After being on the road for 13 days, covering 5,800 miles and 100 hours driving, my own bed felt heavenly. I pried my eyes open and made them focus on the figure standing beside my bed.

“He ate half of it!” My ten year old’s face betrayed the anger he felt.

My barely operating brain sluggishly ran a few channels till I managed to ask.
“Who? What?”

“The groundhog ate the WATERMELON!” The war was on.

This ground hog that’s been feeding gluttonously on our garden while we were away. I had a friend picking whatever she wanted, but the tell tale scratches and gnawed at food told a darker, sinister story. Weston had been observing daily the growth of a promising watermelon before we left and couldn’t wait to eat it.

All morning the fat crook munched away at the edge of the garden, eyeing the house warily and Weston hopped up and down inside in frustrated anticipation.

If his daddy were here, he’d get out the gun and shoot. My only attempt of shooting trespassing wildlife was a comical dance through the yard, me frantically trying to load and reload the gun as I followed a zig zagging skunk.
The skunk survived.
My confidence over figuring out a gun did not.

So today I kept shrugging off the idea of shooting the ground hog. Weston didn’t even ask. He just mourned that his top shot dad was gone. I pushed laundry through and unpacked toiletries. But it nagged me, saucily nibbling and glaring from my garden. Varmint.

Finally I’d had it. I could at least try. After all, Aunt Mary has shot deer from the bedroom window and filled the freezer with meat. I’ve always dreamed of going deer hunting. But this scoundrel ground hog was a poor prize compared to a deer. And I wasn’t born into a hunting family, and neither did I marry into one. My prospects are slim.

Weston carefully brought me the gun and talked me though loading it. Then he followed my strict orders to go inside and make SURE all the girls stayed inside as well. I crept around the house and sidled up against the garage corner. I raised the gun, but man alive, the scope felt a mile away, so I slipped the butt into my armpit and squinted directly into the scope. No coaching whispered in my head, I’m a greenie all the way. But the Texan deep down knew the crosshairs have to be steady over the target. The crosshairs jiggled a bit, and I studied the fat brown ball 50 yards away.

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The second I pulled the trigger, the pow of the bullet and the slam of the scope colliding into my eyebrow left me stunned. But that creature whirled around a couple times and turned and ran under the wood pile.

I guessed I hit it.

Weston came boiling out of the house, “You GOT it!” I think he slapped my shoulder and I knew I’d just spoken a language I had no idea how to speak.

After we dug him out from under the shed, we saw that the lone bullet had found its mark, right at the shoulder. I was thankful it didn’t run or need a second bullet for I was certain I’d have missed a moving mark.

“Good shot, Mom!” Gone was any frustration of the chores of today. I’d just spoken man language to my boy. He patted my back again, not in an “I love you, Mom” tone but “Great job, pal!”

I rubbed my eyebrow. It felt like it might turn black. But I think I’ll wear it with pride. Not for the ground hog, blasted thing. But for the look of pride in my son’s eyes.

7 Tips for Traveling Internationally with Children

Our plane touched down last night close to ten. We gathered the four children, and three carry ons and collected our one check in, and hopped in our van. After six days of driving nearly 1,000 miles in Honduras’ rough roads, the United States’ interstate felt like pure luxury.

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Ever since our oldest was born in Honduras, we like to go back to visit friends and familiar places every couple years or so. Dental work is also a fraction of the price down there, and good clinics with skilled dentists and up to date equipment aren’t as hard to find as some may think. We knew we had a fair amount of work to be done, and when credit card points covered our fare down, we jumped at the opportunity to head down again.

32950821_10213572794546217_7513657070848049152_n.jpgThere were several things that made this trip so much more pleasant for me as a mom of four, and I thought I would share them in case you have an itch in your feet but dread about traveling internationally with children.

1) Start early
I started packing two days before our departure, wanting to insure that clothes we were taking wouldn’t be dirty or lost when I needed to pack them. I was blown away at how relaxed this made the day before our trip feel, especially since I needed to leave our house company ready while we were gone. Generally we pack very light, but since I didn’t think we would have time to do laundry anywhere, I packed an outfit a day. I was still able to get everything in our check in and two carry on suitcases plus my diaper bag. Folding Mari Kondo style made everything very visible and accessible.

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2) Be flexible
Our life has been entirely crazy this last season, with Daniel working full time and studying full time at night. We were so very ready for some time together to rest, reconnect and make memories. Our first flight was delayed three times due to mechanical issues, causing us to miss our connecting flight in Miami by a long shot. The only option was for us to wait 24+ plus hours for the next flight, and while that could have been a massive stress point, we rolled with it.

33106489_10213572829427089_8808614359409360896_nThe airlines provided us with ample vouchers for supper, hotel, breakfast and lunch. Our hotel was amazing: a beautiful suite, lovely pool and hot tub, and breakfast. We ate like kings at the airport and had a huge spread of sushi that we would never have purchased otherwise. While missing our first day and a speaking engagement in Honduras was an inconvenience, we were able to see this delay as a paid for mini vacation straight from God. Perspective makes a huge difference, not just for ourselves, but also for our children. They watch us in a million little moments, and when we show them that being flexible and calm when things go far from our plans pays off big time.

3) Pack smart
While I am a sucker for my leather Urban Southern mini market tote, I left it behind and grabbed my trusty canvas diaper bag with a zippered top and lots of pockets. Zippers are a life saver when needing to haul around a lot of things internationally, but not wanting to risk things falling out.

I had all the girl clothes in one carry on, and Weston’s and mine in the other. I had a bag for dirty laundry, and stowing dirty stuff in there right away made it very easy to know what was still available. I also took a zippered plastic bag to put wet swimming clothes into.
33021172_10213572760105356_392091872304037888_n.jpgHaving four heads of girl hair to do daily, I used my handy little 31 hair bag to store and organize our hair stuff and small things like vitamins. I picked up teeny tiny ziplock bags to have my daily vitamins and hair pins clearly organized and handy at a seconds notice.

In my diaper bag I kept several diapers, baby wipes, a few thin children’s books, two polly pockets, Lake’s tiny doll, perfume and cosmetics, phone charger and ear buds for flight, and snacks.

When traveling with small children, remember that diapers are expensive internationally, and I always prefer to take too many than not enough and be stuck with poor quality or overpriced diapers. Traveler’s stomach can create the need for lots of diapers (charcoal and papaya enzymes can help).

Baby wipes are a life saver, from sticky hands to dirty faces to countless other wiping needs, or moments when you just need to clean up a bit from a dusty walk but a shower isn’t an option. I opted for a ziplock instead of the plastic case so it would slide easily into any small space. I kept these in the outside pocket of my bag, ever handy, ever close. I also kept a small bag of cosmetics and lotion handy, so I could freshen up quickly.

33081642_10213572760425364_6296625195004198912_n.jpgFor flight times, we did a lot of people watching, but I was ever so grateful I had tucked in our two Polly Pockets as the tiny houses and itsy people kept Lakelyn captivated for hours. The books went almost entirely unused until the last day, but I was grateful for them when we had a long wait in the car.

I also stuck a fair amount of snacks in, and was quite grateful I did. I hate paying the inflated prices of airport food, and especially in our long wait to get our missed flight reconnected for the next day, the children were hungry. I pulled out granola bars, goldfish crackers, beef jerky, trail mix and pumpkin seeds at varying parts of our journey. It helped to give them only two options at a time, and save some snacks for later parts of the journey. Trail mix and goldfish crackers do crumble and make a mess, so next time I’d leave them out.

Always take a water bottle or child’s cup along, which you can fill once you are past security. Remember to empty it every time before you go through security or they will make you leave it behind. But having water available for children can be a really big help.

Understanding the emotional toll of traveling with little ones means giving them extra grace. I took Alannah and Lakelyn’s special blankets and was so very grateful I did, even though they did add bulk to our luggage. In each place we stayed as well as on long waits at the airport, they had this familiar cozy blanket to cuddle with and help them calm down. I also stuck in three bath towels, which were very needed our last two nights as we stayed on the beach and had minimal/no hotel towels.

4) Cultural appreciation
Our first full day there was spent doing dental work, and the next connecting with dear friends. After that, we covered a LOT of ground in our amazing rental car, and ended up visiting with more old friends or acquaintances at the clinic and where Daniel grew up. A big part of Central American culture is community based, and that means TIME.

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Several times when I felt pressured by the long drive ahead, Daniel wisely sat back and relaxed and visited. Once, the hosts literally went out and killed the rooster in the yard, and then prepared chicken soup, rice and tortillas. It took SO long, and I felt impatient, but bit my tongue and just tried to embrace it. They were poor, but ever so hospitable, and shared what little they had. In retrospect, when I felt like hurrying, I would have missed important moments and lessons I needed. Being culturally sensitive and stepping back and looking at the moment from a more eternal perspective constantly reminded me to slow down and enjoy the gift of the moment.
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We dove head first into some of the foods we had been wishing for- baleadas, roasted corn, fresh fruit, tortillas and the list goes on and on. Our typical American fare goes on hold when we are down there and we make the most of the delightful things this country offers.

Sometimes accommodations may not be up to your specs. One night, our beds had sheets that were sandy when we got on them. The shower was a bare pipe running out of the wall and we wore shoes into the bathroom. But it had AC and was feet away from the waves and was hands down a far better beach experience than the massively overpriced American approved hotels down the beach. If I wanted a perfect hotel, I can get one in the States. But we wanted relaxed beach memories for the kids, so we sacrificed comfort and a bit of personal expectations. And the moments we experienced here in this little village were epic. I wouldn’t trade them for a four star hotel any day.

5) Smart Transportation
On our previous trips, we have always used public buss transportation. Last trip we bussed with three children and backpacks, and my camera was stolen at some point during our travels. It was extremely stressful and chaotic- smashing children and baggage onto worn out bus seats and trying to make all the right connections and keep everyone together.

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Daniel did a bit of math before we left this time and discovered that a rental car was really quite efficient and so we booked our first reservation with an international rental car. We rode in a comfortable, air conditioned and very economic but powerful SUV. We had a safe place to keep luggage at each stop, there was even third row seating which allowed plenty of space for the children. While driving in another country would not be a good option for everyone, Honduras is Daniel’s second home, and driving there was entirely normal and fun for him. We will definitely be renting a vehicle on our next trip. But, as you may know, always keep tabs on your credit card billings after that, as credit card fraud is not uncommon in places like this. My in laws had someone use their card after a vehicle rental to purchase airline tickets.

6) Embrace the season
On our way home yesterday, we flew over Roatan Honduras where Daniel and I honeymooned 12 years ago. This trip was about as different as possible from that one, with looking after children and making quick potty stops and teaching the children how to greet people in Spanish.

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At the airport we heard the flight for Roatan announced and we sighed and pretended for a second we were going there. But Daniel smiled and said, “Someday, just you and me…” I nodded, remembering leisurely sauntering down the sandy roads of the island, snorkeling over the coral reef, swinging in the hammock looking over the sunset, all hand in hand.

But right now, we are in another season, and we could easily miss the joys of this one if we were pining for the last. This is the amazing man I married, now an incredible daddy to our children. Seasons come and go, we are gonna stick together through them all.

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7) Learn for next time
I remembered the phone and camera chargers and the sunblock but forgot the bug repellent. We are all bearing the marks of that one.

Our last evening in Honduras was spent at the edge of the waves. The local soccer team did a bit of practice on the shore, the goalie diving again and again for the ball- sometimes catching and sometimes missing. More than once he had to wade out into the waves to retrieve the ball. Behind him the sky streaked pinks and oranges. He seemed entirely oblivious to the epic beauty around him, involving him.

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But I looked on, and everything was quiet except the lapping of the waves and the kicking of the ball. He was unaware, but I saw it. I saw these moments of beauty may not always seem beautiful to us. Traveling with children is nitty gritty at times and takes intentionality. But we feel like the life experiences and memories we provide as well as the world perspective of experiencing other cultures is priceless for these little people.

So take the plunge. Choose to invest in your little ones. Step out of your comfort zone and experience the world and diverse cultures with your children. It isn’t cheap and it isn’t easy.

I was reminded again that the stress isn’t worth losing the beauty of the moment. That the pivotal childhood memories are being made here and now. Sometimes we catch the great moments. Sometimes we miss them. But what matters is that we are willing to try. To create opportunities. And always remember that God sees beauty in it all.

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What are your tried and true favorite hacks to making travel easier with little ones?