Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Are We Teaching Our Kids To Enjoy The Journey?


“Enjoy the journey!”
The number of times my husband and I regurgitated this phrase in response to “Are we there yet?” during our road trip to and from Sky Ranch Family Camps in Colorado, I don’t even know. It’s a life lesson we’ve been learning ourselves the last few years, and one we chose to adopt as a theme for this summer’s family vacation.

Rather than tackling the 14-hour drive home from Lake City, Colorado in one day like we’ve done in years past, we chose to divide the trip into two days so we could visit the Great San Dunes in route. Much to our chagrin, due to heavy rains, the Dunes were too wet to sled, but that didn’t stop us from having a great time.
 
After a few hours of fun and some surprisingly good Mexican food at a gas station in Raton, New Mexico, we snuggled up in our beds at the Holiday Inn Express for a movie and early shut-eye.
Our plan for Day Two was to drive the remaining 9 hours home, stopping for lunch and an ice cream treat along the way. But as we pulled into Capulin, New Mexico, the same volcano that’s been the source of many family conversations as we’ve passed it on the right going to Colorado, peeked my husband’s curiosity as we passed it on the left coming home.

He wanted to hike the rim.
A resounding, “NO!” came in unison from the back seats. With shoes off, pillows perfectly positioned, snacks in hand, and a family favorite playing on the big screen, the peanut gallery wanted no part of this unexpected adventure. In fact, the amount of whining and protesting we endured on the road to that volcano was exactly what we would expect if we’d hung them by their toes outside the window of a 10-story building.

But it was no match for my husband’s determination.
This man -- who admittedly struggles to enjoy the journey when we travel -- knew there was a lesson for our family waiting on the rim.

He’s so wise.
He led us down into the crater first, which caused all whining and protesting to stop. After all, we were moving downhill, and we saw some interesting wildlife along the way. Our boys were also fascinated by the lava rocks (as later evidenced by at least half of the Capulin crater which ended up in our dryer.)
 
 

But then it came time to tackle the summit. It’s only a 1-mile hike round trip, but the incline is pretty steep. We had conquered all of 500 yards when the whining and protesting resumed, particularly from our youngest.
I stood uphill from him with my back to the summit, debating whether to push him to the top or take him to the car. It was an internal struggle, and I’ll admit the car almost won. But deep within my gut, I knew the greater lesson would be learned if I pushed him to the top.

So we hiked 200 feet and stopped. Hiked 200 feet and stopped. Hiked 200 feet and stopped, each time, distracting him with the views, the vegetation, and the wildlife as we paused.
Before I knew it, the whining had ceased.

When we caught up with the rest of our family at the top, we prayed together, thanking God for the beauty of His creation, put our hands in the huddle, and on the count of three, gave Capulin Volcano our loudest “Best Family Ever!”
Then we headed downhill, their attitudes improving with each descending step.
 
 
 
When we got back to the car, we shared with our kids what God has been teaching us these last few years.

Life is a series of journeys strung together by a few summit-like experiences. Some of the journeys are difficult, like our hike to the summit, and some come with more pleasure and ease, like our hike back down. But either way, the journeys are where we’ll spend most of our time. Our time on the summit is but a blip.
We can spend our journeying wishing for the next summit or we can choose to journey with joy, finding God’s gifts for us along the way. The gifts are there. They’re always there.

In Romans 5:4, Paul writes:
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”

No question our children are guaranteed to face many a journey uphill as they navigate their way into adulthood under our leadership. The question is: Will we teach them to enjoy the journey? Or will we take them to the car?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Camp Hair, Don't Care!


A few weeks ago, I dropped my baby off for a full week of overnight camp.  While she hardly considers herself a “baby” (because she is 6 whole years old and has completed kindergarten, for goodness sake), to me she will always be the baby. Over her “6 whole years,” she has watched her siblings head off to Sky Ranch for weeks of awesomeness, knowing that, eventually, her day would arrive. 
 
As we shopped for her trunk and fun camp supplies, it suddenly dawned on me that this little cutie had never washed her hair on her own.  And now I was sending her off for 6 whole nights – swimming pools, campfires, sweat, and lake water – completely ill-equipped to manage that lovely long, dark, easily-tangled hair.

So, I decided to do what I normally do in these situations – make a plan of attack to solve the problem before it became a problem.  But somewhere in the middle of one of the many hair-washing practice sessions that week, the thought struck me loud and clear:
Who Cares? 
Why was I spending so much time concerned with whether she could wash her hair when I should have been concerned with the state of her heart?  Was she ready to receive all God had for her during the week of Bible study?  Was she equipped and confident enough to start conversations and make new friends?  Had I taught her how to lean into the Father when faced with things that seemed scary and unfamiliar? 
Immediately convicted and face-to-face with my own insecurities, I had a long conversation with my Father.   I reminded Him that I want to be a good mom. I want to teach my children all they need to know, and personal hygiene is part of that teaching. 

But He reminded me of His Word:
"Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." Proverbs 31:30. 
As a team member at Sky Ranch, I have the awesome privilege and unique perspective of watching campers and counselors, day after day, in the amazing environment that is Summer Camp.  Crazy, mismatched clothes and wild hair are the norm.  Glitter, face paint, and tutus with dirty tennis shoes are standard camp attire.
When my boys were younger and packing for camp, my main concern was whether they would brush their teeth.  Gym shorts and tee shirts always go together, and I sent the ones that were about to be moved out of rotation, knowing they would get stinky and dirty and could easily be tossed out. 

With my girls, however, I became a different kind of camp mom -- buying cute matchy-matchy outfits and fun pj’s -- and making sure the bedding matched the towels that matched the trunk that was over-loaded with coordinating glitter stickers and rhinestones. 
Don’t get me wrong.
I am all about the fun that is preparing for camp, and sending kids away for a week with the “stuff” that helps them have fun and explore their uniqueness is part of the experience.  But freaking out about whether my daughter would have “camp hair” in the online photos was pushing things past what my grown-up, spiritually mature self could swallow. 
So I told her. 
In the best way that I could explain it to an incoming first grade girl, I broke down I Peter 3:3-4:
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.  Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”
Camp is one of the greatest places on earth. A place where kids are free from the trappings and expectations that surround them every day. 
 
Camp should be a place to focus on relationships with God and others, and to spend time having crazy, wild fun, learning about what it truly means to be a child of God. 
 
Camp should be a place where joy overcomes the junk the world puts on our children, where space exists for our children to be who they are – "camp hair" and all.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Are We On The Road To Building Strong Family Identity?


 
There’s a long stretch of straight and narrow highway between Dumas, Texas and the New Mexico border. We’ve driven it at least ten times as a family on our way to and from annual summer vacations in Colorado.
 
 
Along the horizon, where the blue sky meets the green grass of farmlands, a single wind turbine sprouts out of the ground. It’s a stand out because, usually, wind turbines exist in pods.
 
Our kids eagerly look for the “lone windmill” every year on the second leg of our road trip. This year, they decided to name it Larry. The alliteration in their choice made their writer-mama proud!
It’s just one example of all the memories that exist for our family between Plano, Texas and Lake City, Colorado where we attend family camp each summer. To name others, there’s the hotel in Dumas where we eat pizza and swim after a long first leg of driving, the sign in Clayton where we stop for a family selfie, the Loves gas station near Alamosa that has some of the best unsweetened ice tea, and the discussion we always have about which roadside hill is Capulin Volcano (there are several, and our kids can’t ever remember).
 
These are simple things, but they conjure up a strong sense of something special in our car as we travel the same path year over year, recalling memories of the past and checking traditions off our list.
That something special is family identity. It’s an area in which we were encouraged to do a lot of work when we became parents. Because strong family identity will serve our kids well as they grow into the teen years when we can’t always hold their hands.
Why is it that memory-making and traditions are so powerful in shaping a family’s identity?
It turns out, there are psychological reasons for the impact they have, as confirmed by a friend of mine who is a school guidance counselor.
She explained that making memories and practicing family traditions help establish the importance of the family unit. This creates a strong sense of belonging for each member of the family and communicates to children that they are valued members of the family.
They also allow children important opportunities to observe members of the family living fully into their roles within the family. Because, let’s face it. We live in such a busy culture that, often, our children do not see their parents working as a team, but rather passing like ships in the night.
Memory making and family traditions also provide opportunities to reinforce family values and to pass down important nuggets of heritage. As a result, “Team Smith” takes on rich meaning. This serves families well as children enter the teen years, and their peers become more influential.  

But what I love most is that memory making and family traditions reinforce “home base,” no matter where we are. This helps children understand that “home” isn’t so much about where we live but about with whom we’re doing life. What a wonderful way to teach into the idea that life is about relationships rather than stuff!

Every family is different. So making memories and establishing family traditions will look different for every family. It’s not so much about how we slice the pie, but rather about whether we’re willing to pull up to the table.

Your family may not have the freedom or desire to take two-week-long road trips in the summer. But there are things that make you tick in ways that communicate the importance of family and define your family’s values and heritage. Lean into those things and help your family find its own Larry the Lone Windmill along the way!