orlando trip.

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One of my mom’s great-aunts passed away recently, and she wanted to go to Florida for the memorial service. The kids and I jumped at the chance to take a road trip and see our family, so my mom took a couple more days off work to help turn it into a little vacation.

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We spent the first two nights in a little guest condo at Good Samaritan Retirement Village, in Kissimmee, which is where we attended my Grandma’s memorial service last year. A retirement village full of golf carts and double-wide mobile homes and a sprawling nursing home may seem like a strange spot for a vacation, but both sets of my grandparents logged years living there, and the place is brimming with memories.

I miss all four of them so much, and it feels like one small way I can share them with my children, who never had the privilege of knowing their great-grandparents well. We rented a golf cart for the two days, which the kids loved, and I showed them once again the different places my grandparents and their siblings lived, the bedroom I slept in when visiting my mom’s parents as a kid. We told them stories that they’ve heard lots of times.

Life slows down traveling around in a golf cart and we loved moss-hung trees and the cranes and ducks and turtles, the tropical flowers so bright they almost hurt your eyes. Even the daily rolling summer thunder storms felt cozy.

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I sat through the memorial service for a great-aunt that I did not know well, but who’s part of my big family. I was reminded that God’s faithfulness to me has extended generations before I was born. It’s a gift that my four children are swept up into that story, and I felt my heart welling up with gratitude for the love that is all around us.

We ate lunch with my mom’s sister and her husband who drove up from Tampa for the service, and enjoyed catching up with them.

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On Friday we drove to meet family at Disney Springs. It’s an outdoor shopping center that’s part of Disney but doesn’t charge admission. We packed a lunch to eat in the parking garage, and spent several hours roaming around. There are so many fun things for kids to do . . . if you’re in Orlando, I highly recommend it.

Our kids haven’t been to Disney World and we have no plans to take them any time soon (we’re currently saving our money for a trip to the Grand Canyon). The only time this bothers them is when they hear of friends going, but for the most part they don’t seem to mind. They loved the huge Lego store at Disney Springs, the Disney Store, free samples at Ghirardelli Chocolate.

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There’s also a couple of splash pads and a Dino Dig.

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We planned to buy ice cream there, but when a huge rainstorm hit, we opted to head for our cars and find a less expensive ice cream place in Orlando. I love how we’re all on the same page with saving money!

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We spent the next two nights in Orlando. The three youngest kids and I stayed at my Uncle Ralph and Aunt Valerie’s house, and Judah spent one night with his cousins, Tristan and Gavin, and one night with my mom at my Uncle Ken and Aunt Susan’s house a few miles away.

David told me later, “One thing I love about your family is that when anyone comes to town, they drop everything and are ready to celebrate!”

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It’s true. They always make us feel special. We all gathered for burgers at Uncle Ralph’s the first night, and taco’s at Uncle Ken’s the second night.

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Judah said, “Mom, I love when we have memorial services and weddings because it’s so much fun getting to see our family.”

My whole big extended family isn’t perfect and would never ever claim to be, but they are a gift. It makes my heart happy to see my children recognize that gift and get to know their second-cousins and great-aunts and uncles.

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They did lots of swimming in Uncle Ralph’s pool and Zach and Allison’s neighborhood pool. They played Settlers of Catan and Mexican Train and caught lizards. They adored Uncle Ralph and Aunt Valerie’s golden retrievers, Sam and Sophie, and fed turtles in the pond.

I chatted with my aunts and uncles and cousins and drank lots of decaf coffee. When we got home I was definitely in need of introvert time, but it was well worth it!

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Thanks to my Mom for making the trek with a van full of kiddos and helping me make it a really fun week. We brought a small bin of toys and books, but also stocked up twice at the Dollar store, for sticker books and coloring books and marbles (marbles=endless entertainment for little boys).

On a long trip David and I let the kids watch one movie, usually something we find at Redbox, and then we have them play or read books, and we listen to lots of music. On this trip we listened to all of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz on audiobook, which was a delight. Amelie said, “Mom! This is my new favorite story!” Anne Hathaway narrated and was incredible.

We packed grocery store snacks and fruit, and stopped for treats at Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts.

And my sweet husband hired our former house-cleaner to deep clean our house while I was gone (which I still hadn’t gotten around to doing after the addition). It was lovely to walk into a clean house at the end of it all.

I’m a person who has always loved travel, but I spent a long two years after adopting the boys where travel of any kind felt sort of like torture. It’s very fun to begin to discover that part of myself once again — where a road trip feels like an adventure.

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interview with judah: summer camp.

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Tell me about your camp. What kind of camp was it?

A Christian camp

How many boys were in your cabin? How many counselors did you have?

Ten boys and two counselors

What major did you choose for the week?

Outdoor survival

What’s one thing you learned about outdoor survival?

That clay can be used as a bug spray

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What other activities did you get to try?

Archery, climbing, GaGa ball, zipline, jump on the Blob, kayaking, water games in the lake

What did you do during chapel?

Talk about Jesus being the Vine

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What did you do to celebrate 4th of July?

Big fireworks on lake

What’s something that surprised you about camp?

That everyone was so nice

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Did you get homesick?

Yes

What was the hardest thing about your week?

The showers weren’t very clean

What was your favorite part of your day?

I liked it all

Do you want to go back next year?

Yes!

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Was the lasagna as good as your mom’s?

Not quite as good

What would you say to someone who’s thinking about going next year?

It’s very fun and there’s nothing to worry about

Is there anything else you want to tell us about?

Not too much, I would if I felt better

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And there you have it, folks! Poor Judah has been sick ever since he got home Saturday and wasn’t quiet up to this interview. We’re headed to the doctor this afternoon to see if he has strep throat. He still insists, “It was worth it!’

I felt like he came home about a year older and a foot taller. He is just growing up so much.

The senior counselor pulled David aside Saturday when he picked Judah up and said, “I want to tell you what an amazing kid you have. He was so nice to everybody and so respectful. We love Judah!”

Thanks to Bethel Christian Camp for an awesome first camp experience!!!



judah goes to camp.

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Yesterday evening we dropped Judah off for 6 nights at Bethel Christian Camp in Gaston, about 30 minutes away from Columbia. It’s a camp we’ve known and loved for a long time. We’ve met the director, and have seen lots of friends attend over the years.

I can’t imagine a better first camp experience for our boy; still I can hardly believe he’s gone.

He’ll turn 10 in September, which is the age I was when I started going to camp, but it still feels young somehow. I was delighted that we were allowed to settle him into his cabin and see the bunk he chose and meet his senior counselor. He was so excited. I reigned in my emotions and put my big girls pants on and said good-bye with a clear voice and a big smile.

The five of us made a forlorn trek back to our van, and cheered ourselves up with a stop at Pelican’s Snowcones before we headed home.

We gave Amelie the option to go to camp this week too, but she said, “No way! I’ll miss you too much!”

She regretted her choice when we dropped Judah and she got swept up in the excitement of chattering kids and rustic cabins and the lake. Still, she’s not even 8 yet, and I’m not sorry she decided to wait. Next year will be soon enough.

And so this week we find ourselves one kid short. It’s the quietest kid we’re missing, yet still the house feels a little bereft today.

I know I’m being sentimental, but to me this feels like the first big milestone of my kids growing up. Bit by bit they’re gaining independence, making memories apart from us.

I felt sad in the months leading up to this week, but even though I miss my boy like crazy, I suddenly find myself so very happy for him. This week away at camp is good and right; such a fun, valuable part of childhood. I love that he’s living his own story. It’s a gift to be a big part of that story, but I’m okay with letting go a little. I love the boy he’s becoming.

We get to send Judah emails throughout the week which are printed and given to him at lunch time. Here’s Noah’s message from today:

Dear Judah,

I can play Hobbit with you and play special toys with you. And I can play with the big Lego set too, and I can do Hobbit Hole reading with you. And I miss you really and I like you to sleep there because you had a good, good night. Obey your teacher and your class. Let’s sit in the chair together and read a book.

Love Noah

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anniversary backpacking trip.

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Here’s the story of our first ever backpacking trip:

David was in charge of finding a location and rounding up camping gear, and I was in charge of food.

He decided on a 12-mile stretch of the Foothills Trail, which starts in Caesar’s Head State Park, SC (near Greenville), and extends 76-miles up into Western North Carolina. A couple of our friends had just spent two nights and three days backpacking there and told him that it was great: very quiet and scenic.

David’s done some car camping with the kids on and off and camped on a couple guy adventures, so we’ve collected gear here and there over the past few years. Most recently, he purchased a great two-person backpacking tent on sale at REI, and a second backpack. The backpack is a youth size, so it can be adjusted to either fit me or Judah. The rest we were able to borrow.

I had so much fun planning out our food! Pinterest was my friend.

I found a couple of great posts about portion sizes for backpackers, and this one about using Trader Joe’s for backpacking. A big thanks to the people who shared ideas and made our trip better!

A couple of you have asked specifically what we ate, so here you go:

Lunch (both days): Triscuit crackers, salami, cheese stick (salami and cheese can keep for up to 5 days in a backpack if it’s not too hot out)

Snacks: nuts, Snickers bar, Clif Bar, Turkey Jerky, dark chocolate covered espresso beans (a small handful did the trick for the afternoon slump)

[If you want a real treat, our two favorite Clif bar flavors ever are the coconut chocolate chip and the nut butter]

Dinner: we split one box of couscous and added olive oil and a pack of tuna

If you camp you probably know about the pocket rocket stove, which we’ve used for awhile. This is probably our favorite camping item. You can still build that romantic campfire, but can also cook your dinner at the same time. We used it for morning coffee as well.

Breakfast: dry granola and TJ’s dried pineapple, coffee (we didn’t want to drink instant coffee, so we brought our small plastic Melitta drip cone and a filter)

Okay!

Like I said, I carefully portioned out the food so it wouldn’t be too heavy. We ate a big brunch in Greenville before we began hiking, and a late lunch Friday after we finished. We had almost the perfect amount of food: neither of us ate our turkey jerky or nuts, but they were certainly nice to have.

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Do you know what the absolute hardest part of the whole trip was?

Getting ready.

Oh my goodness, I almost lost my mind Wednesday afternoon after taking four kids to Wal-Mart for last-minute supplies, writing out babysitting details for Linda, trying to portion food and choose the clothes I needed, all with four little people clamoring around me, wanting to burrow in the sleeping bag and try on the backpacks.

Yep. That was the craziest, most stressful part.

But not to worry: it was all worth it!

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David’s mom kept the kids Thursday and chauffeured them to swim practice and a birthday party for the oldest two, then to their cousins’ house for a sleepover. Shari kept them until Friday mid-morning, then Linda picked them up. They had pizza with their grandparents Friday evening and then came home.

Thank you, thank you to our family for taking on four kids to make this trip possible.

It was the first time David and I have been away just the two of us since we adopted the boys two years ago. It was much-needed.

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The trail was 2 1/2 hours from our house. We left at 7:00 a.m. Thursday and drove to Greenville first for breakfast at Biscuithead. Please try this place if you’re in Greenville or Asheville. It’s delicious!

We hit the trail by about 11:00 a.m. and hiked 12 miles in 6 hours.

Was I nervous about this trip and the hike?

Well, yes, I was.

I’ve never in my life camped at all — not car camping, not backpacking — and I haven’t hiked more than about 6 or 7 miles at once. I know, it’s kind of embarrassing how un-outdoorsy I’ve been until this point in my life. But it’s never too late to change, right?

And like I mentioned, this trip was my anniversary gift to David, and he was certain I could do it.

So I channeled my inner Cheryl Strayed and told myself, “I got this.”

It sounds silly, but just thinking that helped me a ton. I never once let myself say, “I don’t think I can do it,” even when I was tired and achey and scared of bears.

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The trail was just beautiful. It was so quiet that in two days we saw only two other campsites. That’s it.

The weather was perfect but I don’t think we’d go back much after mid-June. The mosquitoes were okay, but the gnats were a thick cloud in the afternoons. Probably better to go in April or May — or in the fall.

So, can I just say that it’s one thing to hike 24 miles in two days, but it’s another to do it with a 25-lb backpack!

That thing took some getting used to. We each had a Camelbak hydration system, which is great for any kind of hike (we always take at least one on our family hikes too). I love drinking water as often as I want and never feeling dehydrated. We borrowed a water purifier from a friend and used creek water to refill.

We hiked past two waterfalls and our campsite was along a creek just a few yards from a lovely lake.

It was really, really fun to cross the border into North Carolina on foot.

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I loved our little campsite. There are so many great campsites on the Foothills Trail. It’s very remote, but the trail is well-marked and cleared. There are campsites at regular intervals cleared with make-shift fire pits. This was nice to discover because we’d like to take Judah backpacking there but not hike quite so far.

Just beyond our tent was the river, which made the perfect background noise.

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We arrived at the site a little after 5:00. Because David is nothing if not an over-achiever, he felt the need to then go ahead and run “Heartbreak Ridge,” a fantastically steep stretch of a mile or two just beyond our campsite.

I felt the need to take off my shoes and socks and plop my sore feet into the river.

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You guys, backpacking is a sweaty, dirty business.

There’s nothing that says “true love” quite like cozying up to someone who reeks of body odor as much as you do. Wet wipes help take the edge off.

But I just have to say that it was perfect. It was so quiet. I mean, we were the only two human beings for miles. There was the sound of the rushing water and a slight cool breeze to the air and David off trying his best to start us a campfire with piles of damp wood.

The peace was all around us, and for someone who has struggled greatly with social anxiety in the past couple of years,  I couldn’t help thinking, “Now this is a vacation.” All I’ve wanted so many times was to be completely, utterly alone, and suddenly we were.

My heart rate slowed down just a few notches.

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We ate our little dinner sitting on a log by the fire, then walked to the lake to listen to the bullfrogs.

As dusk fell, we sat by the fire with peppermint tea and read from a slim volume of Wendell Berry poems I found at a used book sale years ago.

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Here’s what I was most scared of about camping:

1. Bears

2. Having to pee outside our tent in the middle of the night

David (for some reason) read an except from his Foothills Trail guide that let us know our particular grove of hemlock trees makes a pleasant campsite, but seems to attract bears.

We packed our food carefully into one pack and hooked it to a (very un-sturdy looking) tree branch, and hoped for the best. We got settled in our tent and took turns reading from the book of John until we felt drowsy.

Still, I had some wide-eyed moments in the dark after he drifted off to sleep, thinking, What the heck have I agreed to!? I lay there conjuring up Reader’s Digest articles involving bears and campers, trying to plan an escape strategy (didn’t all the people in those articles end up maimed or worse?)

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But somehow, magically, I slept!

We both did!

We actually slept from 9:30-7:00 am, if you can believe it. It was blissful. Yes, I had to pee at one point, and yes, I survived it.

David made us coffee and I packed up the tent and we ate a quick breakfast.

Then we hit the trail for home.

My whole body ached, but it wasn’t terrible. It actually felt much easier waking up first thing in the morning and hiking rather than after a road trip and big lunch the day before.

I’m not in bad shape, but not in great shape either. I’ve gotten sloppy about running — just a mile or two once or twice a week — and that is no good. Honestly, it was good to have a wake-up call like this, to realize, “This experience could be so much better if I would build up some more endurance and do a little strength-training.”

The last hour was very rough. I tweaked my knee on all the steep downhills and David carried my pack a couple of times. Thankfully I didn’t get blisters until the second day. I love my hiking shoes, but next time I’ll invest in some Smartwool socks for better support.

But I did it!!!

We reached the parking lot in 5 1/2 hours. I’ve never been so happy to see our little gray Civic. Oh man, we were so dirty and sweaty. Have I mentioned that already?

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It was 2:00 pm by the time we drove 30 minutes to Traveler’s Rest, just outside of Greenville, and we tried to eat a celebratory lunch at Tandem, which as you know is one of our favorite places ever, but it was closed, so someone directed us to Upcountry Provisions, just a couple of blocks away. We had delicious sandwiches, but the sandwich cookie desserts were to die for.

We pulled in our driveway at 4:30, and I could barely walk to the house. But those hot showers sure felt amazing.

You guys, I’m so, so happy we took this trip.

To many people it will seem a small thing (my friend Martha did the same hike with her sister and then went on to hike 20 miles the second day), but it felt like a victory for me. I’m not an adventurer.

Well, I can be with travel but not really with nature. To illustrate the difference between the two of us, here is an actual conversation we had in India:

David: “Let’s plan a camping trip!”

Julie: “Absolutely not. We live in India. This is camping.”

David: “Come on babe, it’s our one chance to camp in the wild with white tigers and elephants.”

Yep, that’s the person I married (he then went on to take that camping trip with some friends. And yes, they saw tigers in the wild).

David always pushes me. Sometimes it creates strain between us (okay more than sometimes). But I feel like he knows things I’m capable of that I don’t believe I can do. In that way, he has forced me to be a stronger, better person.

This trip was one small example.

It felt really, really good to take on a small challenge and overcome it, to say, “Hey, I’m stronger than I thought I was.”

I want to be the kind of person who sets that example for my kids. I want to teach them, “There are many struggles in life that are worth experiencing. Pushing yourself to do hard things can be so healthy and rewarding.” I think it also gives us a glimpse into the truth that even hardships we didn’t choose can build up our character and make us resilient and strong inside, if we let them.

I loved our backpacking trip and can’t wait to go again.

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rim of the gap.

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By David

A few weeks ago I grabbed Judah and Amie and headed to one of my favorite places, Jones Gap State Park, a stone’s throw from the North Carolina border and a million miles from distracted days in Columbia.

Weighted down with snacks, books, stuffed animals, and a thermos of coffee, we chatted on and off on during the two-hour drive.  At one point I asked Judah to read aloud from Romans 10.  Amie had asked the night before how someone could be sure they were a Christian.  And so we talked about what it means to confess and believe.

I think that both our older kids are born again, both with very different expressions – Amie loud, confessional, eager; Judah quiet, steady, willing.  I’ve seen Amie sob over sin.  I’ve heard Judah say very simply, “I know God is real because he’s helped me in hard places.”  I have learned so much from both of them.

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Our first stop was Tandem Creperie in Traveler’s Rest, my favorite breakfast in the universe.  If I ever land on death row, I’ll be choosing my last supper between a pimento cheese burger from the Whig bar in Columbia and a Tandem lumberjack crepe.  We loaded up on carbs and more coffee and basked in a glutinous stupor.

Thirty minutes later, we pulled into the park and headed to the ranger’s station.  I’d hiked most of the trails there on my own or with friends but somehow missed the Rim of the Gap trail, touted as one of the top five hardest hikes in South Carolina.  The ranger took one look at Judah and Amie and said, “You know, I don’t see too many kids that age do this trail.  Actually any.  Why don’t you try the waterfall?”

Judah and Amie must have smelled the condescending tone.  Or else they misheard him.  We came for Rim of the Gap and we were going to do Rim of the Gap.  Or bleed trying.  Which we did.

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The weather was overcast and cool, the river water high.  We saw all kinds of animals: turkey, chipmunk, butterflies, salmon, snakes, salamanders.  We walked, jogged, scrambled up and over eight miles of rugged terrain.  I held Amie a few times.  We stopped every thirty minutes or so for a breather.  From parking lot to parking lot we were on the trail for five hours.

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My general rule of thumb is that I like to be hiking slightly longer than I spent driving to get there and back.  We did that and then some.  I couldn’t be more proud.

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There’s something to be said about quantity time over quality time, long hours in each other’s company, with nature unfurling before us one step at a time.  Breathing hard, single file, without a word between us is it’s own kind of intimacy.  I cherish these memories and can’t wait to share them with Gabe and Noah.

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florida trip.

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The kids and I had a wonderful time in Florida celebrating my grandma this weekend. David wasn’t able to get away, so I’m very thankful to my parents for making it possible for us to be there. We couldn’t leave until Friday morning, and while my mom drove down with Betsy on Thursday, my dad stayed behind and arrived at our house at 5:00 am Friday to drive us so that we could all sleep in the car. We arrived in Kissimmee (just south of Orlando) at 2:00 pm for the 3:00 service — just in time to freshen up and change clothes! We stayed near my parents so that they could help out with the kids, which was perfect.

I really, really wanted the kids to be there for the memorial service. We had some hard questions and tears from the kids and especially the little boys as they processed their first death and what that means. I hoped the trip and the service would demystify all of it a bit for them, and it did exactly that. It brought closure for all of us, especially since I was in India when my Granddaddy died.

It was a lovely memorial service, every part was meaningful. I could not believe all four of my kids sat through it after a 9-hour car ride, but I think it was a testament to how much they love their family and how engaging and comfortable the service was. Some people were dressed in suits and some wore jeans. We laughed at parts and we cried at parts — sometimes at the same time.

I told David that one of the best parts was that no one attempted to put my Grandma on a pedestal or paint her as larger than life; we just shared about her as a wonderful yet ordinary person, who loved Jesus and loved other people. We sang her favorite hymns. I think she would’ve been delighted.

I can’t help but think that as much as she would’ve enjoyed the service, she would’ve been really tickled pink at seeing so many people she loves enjoy each other’s company afterward. Laugh, cry, eat together, share hugs and memories.

In case you’re wondering, my grandma was one of 8 children. She had 6 kids and 17 grandchildren — there are 29 of us when you add in spouses. So far she and my granddaddy have 19 great-grandchildren. Her life was full of people. She loved well and she was well loved.

The best story I heard about my grandparents this weekend was from my aunt June, who married into my family. When she met my grandparents they asked about her family and she shared that her father had passed away when she was a child. Without missing a beat my granddaddy said, “Well I’m your daddy now.” And he was, until his dying day. Their love just wrapped people up and held them close, no questions asked. I want to be like that.

I saw friends and family I haven’t seen in years. The kids all had so much fun that they were very sad to leave on Sunday. Some of our family got to meet Gabe and Noah for the very first time. I loved seeing all of my kids swept up into the love of so many people, as you can see from the photos, I hardly had to lift a finger from the moment I got there.

Thanks to those of you who prayed for us! I’ll cherish these memories always.

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in memory.

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My mom’s mother passed away last Monday after a 10 year battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. Our family gathered in Florida this weekend to celebrate her life. I had the joy of gathering memories from the grandchildren, which my cousin Lindsey read at the service, and I thought I’d share it below in case you want to get a glimpse into the kind of person my grandma was.

 

Our Grandma was a lover of children. First she had six of her own and in the blink of an eye it seemed, she had 17 grandkids too. Her life was filled up to the brim and overflowing with children. Our earliest memories include the delight she felt for us, the way she pulled us in tight for hugs and made us feel special every single time we saw her. Our Grandma was a safe haven.

She welcomed us with joy, always. She was strict and made us behave and we loved her all the more for it, for seeing that dignity tucked deep inside us, under all the layers of naughtiness, and helping us rise to the occasion and obey. She was also known to indulge us though, dispensing treats, sneaking us some of Granddaddy’s peanut M&M’s. More than one of us girls, found guilty of getting into Grandma’s jewelry cabinet, were joined by her at the vanity, as she helped us pick out clip-on earrings to try on.

Our grandma had a special closet in each of her homes, overflowing with toys, thrown open whenever we walked in the door. She thought of us at church rummage sales, picked out the most colorful clothes she found from the missionary bin for us to play dress-up. She always had us on her mind.

She made her life available to us. She raised us to know and love stories of our family—of her parents and siblings and Grandaddy’s.  She didn’t just tell the good stories, she told the really sad ones too, even the ones where she sinned. In doing so she pointed us to God and His faithfulness and forgiveness, rather than to the idol of family.

Time and time again she snuggled with us on the sofa to page through stacks of photo albums, of us and our parents and their parents. She raised us to know with confidence where we came from, who we were in our family, and therefore who we were in the world.

She loved to cook and give treats. I don’t think one person in our big family can sit down to a Thanksgiving dinner without tasting Grandma’s mashed potatoes and gravy and her sweet potato soufflé.

As if piles of kids and grandkids weren’t enough, Grandma worked for years in a school for severely disabled children. When we went there to visit her it was scary sometimes, and yet even as very small children we swelled with pride that our Grandma loved people that others didn’t love—and often pretended not to notice.

She wasn’t just a lover of children; she was a defender of them.

For most of our growing up years, Grandma lived in neighborhoods with other retired people. Many of her neighbors were kind to us, but some of our fondest memories were the times the “old folks” had her up in arms for scolding the children — any children. She shook her head when they shot us dirty looks in the swimming pool for being too noisy. She said, “Oh don’t you worry about them, you all are just fine.”

She was a strong woman like that, we’d like to say a feminist in the very truest sense of the word. Grandma knew who she was and she didn’t need a fancy job title or a long list of credentials to prove it. She trusted that God loved her and created her for a purpose, and she was at peace with that purpose.

Some people would look on her simple, quiet life and pronounce it oppressive, even stifling, but Grandma understood the truth: She didn’t settle for her life as as a wife and a mom of six and a teacher; she chose it. She knew the secret that many people search the world over and miss: that in order to find your life, you need to give it up.

She lived the joy of that knowledge, even in the hard years.

Grandma was feisty! She didn’t pretend to be perfect and got frustrated; sometimes with us, sometimes with Granddaddy. When we played Yahtzee or Mexican train, she invited the littlest ones to be on her team so they’d win, and her competitive spirit made her a sassy player.

When Allison was a teenager and went to give blood at the American Red Cross, she was turned away for being a pound too light. Grandma told her, “Sweetie, you need to fill your pockets up with rocks and turn around and go right back in there. They need your blood!”

Though Grandma had many opinions, she was also one who loved without judgment. Both our grandparents were like that. More than once they opened their arms and their affections to someone who’d messed up, whose choices they disagreed with. Despite whispers of, “Don’t you know what they did!?” Grandma and Granddaddy chose the path of grace. Theirs was a love that bore all things, believed all things, hoped all things, and endured all things, for one another and for other people.

Over the last ten years, our beloved Grandma got more and more sick with Alzheimer’s Disease. Sadly, for some of us grandchildren, the majority of our memories of her are of visits to the nursing home’s Memory Care Unit, with its kind staff and sunny butterfly garden. They’re of a grandma who increasingly slipped away from us as she grew unable to recognize her own family.

And yet, we remember that she loved us. Her face lit up when she saw us, even if she didn’t know our faces anymore. She never, ever stopped inviting the little children to come to her. She hugged us. She held our own kids on her lap, cuddling them close, nuzzling their soft heads with her face.

On one visit, when Alden walked in the room to see her, he knew in his gut that this time she didn’t recognize him. After her warm greeting, he decided to ask her, “How’s your grandson, Alden?” and was treated to a gush of loving words. “He’s doing well! He’s doing great in school and starting to get into sports.” Alden said, “And how old is he now?” and without hesitating she said, “He’s seven!”

Grandma’s love was so true that it could bridge the gap of all the years of illness and fading memory and tell 22-year-old Alden, “I know you. I love you.”

We miss her so, so much. The memories of growing up in her love are the greatest gift she left us. We are very thankful God made us her grandchildren, and we’re thankful that today she is with Jesus.



a lesson from vacation.

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Hello, friends!

We arrived home from our vacation on Friday afternoon sun-tanned, rested, and happy. An entire week away was good for our very souls. Best of all, we actually wanted to come home again.

Our house felt dear and cozy, imperfections and all, our yard a wide green respite after eight days in a high-rise, and our life in Columbia a gift, even the hard parts.

The very best thing our vacation did for us, I think, was invite us to live in the present.

Have you ever noticed how innately good kids are at it? Of course they can be as restless as the rest of us at times, but in their finer, truer moments they have a knack of becoming wholly absorbed in the tower of blocks that they’re building, or the spider meandering across the picnic table, or the weeds that have sprouted up between the house and the driveway — so much so that it often drives us fast-paced grown-ups crazy.

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I’m learning to slow down on the outside, but the tendency of my mind is still to race around and dwell anywhere but the present. I think part of this is my anxiety disorder, part is being an adult — having to be responsible and a planner  — and part is just bad habits.

On vacation I took social media off my phone. I kept my phone in my bedside table and my laptop closed and hardly checked either. I didn’t do it because those things are bad, simply because I know myself and I wanted to disconnect from anything that threatens to pull me out of the present moment. In short, I wanted to rest, on the outside and on the inside.

And you know what? It worked!

I did not think about homeschooling curriculum or swim team or friendship dynamics or New Members Class.

David remarked at the end of the week, “Can you believe we didn’t talk about church one single time?”

We didn’t even have to discipline ourselves not to, we were just far away and unplugged, so absorbed in the world right in front of us that included nothing more pressing than digging a very deep hole in the sand, choosing embroidery floss colors for a friendship bracelet, or figuring out how to sear the swordfish steaks we bought for dinner.

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That, my friends, is the magic of a week-long vacation.

And it’s something I hope I’ve brought home.

Lately I see myself with new eyes.

I notice the way I so often pull my kids — even David — out of the joy or concentration in their present moment — even with the best of intentions. I tell them we’re planning to go to the zoo later, or to meet up with their friends, or to order pizza for dinner. I ask David what our weekend plan should be. I talk about the things I want to move around in our house or buy for the back porch.

Heck, I pull myself out of the present with a load of worries and deep thoughts and responsibilities.

It’s hard to be grateful for the right here and right now when my mind isn’t in the here and now.

It’s hard not to be a pessimist and a worry-wart when my mind is racing a dozen different directions.

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Of course, like I said, being an adult requires a certain amount of living beyond the present. If the gift of childhood is dwelling in this moment, then surely the gift of adulthood is a bigger perspective of the world, of cause-and-effect. And so at home I open my computer and write on the blog, I answer texts and think about what to cook for New Members Class this Sunday night, and shop for groceries.

But in the other moments (and there are many other moments), I want to be right here. I want to kneel in the grass and pull weeds and think about nothing other than the way the soil crumbles in my hands. I want to sit at the table during school time and ask questions about the water cycle with my third grader. I want to read Mary Poppins and laugh as hard as my kids do at the idea of a tea party that brushes the ceiling. I want to watch that spider march across the picnic table.

There are gifts I can give my family that don’t include new shoes or a pack of gum or a Sonic milkshake. One of them is to let them live in their present.

If my children are peacefully playing Lego’s, I stop myself before I begin talking about our library trip later that afternoon. If David is digging up the back yard bed and drinking a beer, I don’t mention the difficult situation at church. Instead I can watch them and ask a blessing, that they find joy in their present.

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I realized this week that that’s a gift Jesus offers me too.

I feel that for too long I’ve equated spirituality with responsibility, with making plans and taking care of people and preparing myself for every possible outcome. I’ve made sure that I’m a good Southern girl, that people like me, that I don’t offend, and that I’m towing my end of the line.

And somehow in doing so I’m dwelling in this inner world in my head of obligations and fears and cares stacked taller than Wyndham Resort Tower 4.

Is that really being spiritual? Is it really obedience to Christ?

Jesus says, “Be anxious for nothing.” “Give thanks for everything.” “Cast your cares upon me.” “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

He says I need to become like a child.

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Browsing the grocery aisle on vacation, Gabe said, “Remember when we drank juice during school-time and sat on the couch and read books? Can we do that again sometime?”

And so I came home and quit our twice-weekly swim class for the little boys. It was fun for several months and we loved the people and they learned a ton about swimming, but our mornings felt so rushed. We no longer had time for sitting and drinking juice cuddled up on the couch together with a stack of picture books because we were racing to finish worksheets.  I don’t like who I became herding my four kids up and out the door and back again two mornings a week. Somehow I couldn’t come home and shake myself out of the rut of rushing, both in body and spirit.

Gabe and Noah are five and three years old. If they want mornings at home to read books, then I’ll be right there with them, getting lost in the story.

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Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that the only way to be at rest is to homeschool or be a stay-at-home mom.

I guess what I’m saying that I’m learning is that there is busyness of the body and of the schedule, and busyness of the spirit. It seems that God is peeling back the layers of my anxiety, helping me to quiet my schedule a bit, but also showing me what’s beneath, that my calendar can have plenty of white space, but my mind can be striving and anxious and mistrustful that He’s taking care of things.

I came home from the beach deciding to be a recovering control-freak and worry-wart.

I can’t change this way of life in a week or even in a year. But I can take notice and decide, by faith, to change direction.

I can try a little bit every day to stop what I’m doing and to look my family in the eye when they speak to me, to show them by my facial expression and body language that there’s nothing more important to me in this minute than what they have to say.

I can thank God for this moment, right here and right now, sitting with my laptop and a cup of steaming tea, instead of wondering if there are likes on my Instagram or texts on my phone, whether we spent enough time on CC memory work today, and fret about how my anxiety will be during that zoo play date in two hours.

I can choose to stop before I say that negative thing and instead say something positive, something thankful.

I can ask God to help me be very, very patient with my children when they’re restless and discontent and complaining because only He knows the scars my own heart bears from those very sins.

I can believe with all my might in forgiveness, in second chances.

I can choose to live a life of childlike absorption, which is to say, a life of wonder.

It promises to be a bumpy journey, my friends, but I believe that herein lies the path to joy.

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