Make America Christian again

If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be nation gone under.” – Ronald Reagan

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”– John Adams

The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.”- George Washington

“The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity.” John Adams

While there is debate on whether America was truly founded upon the Christian faith it does not take much digging up to find quotes and speeches like this that, at the least, point to the reality that some of our founding fathers and early presidents held to some sort of belief in God, faith, and morality. Many of which explicitly linking those roots in Christianity. Knowing that America, to at least some extent if not great extent, was shaped from Christian principles and standards, where does that leave us as Christians, today? What political party might that put us in? What does this mean for us as another election season approaches? What place do patriotism and nationalism hold in our lives? What kind of America should we be fighting for?

I am in no way equipped to give hard and fast answers to such complex and crucial questions. My hope in this blog is to simply let you in on some of what I continue to wrestle with as an American Christian. An “American Christian” who is seeking to be first a “Christian American”.

These thoughts are what I hope to be both solid and fluid at the same time. Wrought with the sort of conviction and critical thought that ever roots them yet changing with the softness of heart and openness of mind that ever grows them.

Why I fight for a “Christian America”

I think when it comes to laws and regulations those who are not Christians can become annoyed and resistant to Christians who are voting in such a way that “imposes their beliefs on us all.” I get that. It’s a tough balance, not neglecting someone else’s values while voting based off of your own.

In the end though, it seems as if we’re really all claiming that our convictions are what should shape the choices of other fellow citizens. At what point those decisions infringe upon personal freedom is a topic we should give thought to. Because some promotions or prohibitions bring into question rights or equalities or freedoms. But at some level, we are all fighting for our own idea of what is best for society. Derived from somewhere or someone. We are all fighting for the common good, whatever we deem good. Yet in some way or another that good is going to inevitably be at odds with someone else’s definition of good.

It may feel that Christians are just trying to impose onto others a set of regulations based on their own religious rule book that others don’t want play by. But the goal should be something else all together. If Christians believe what God says is genuinely best for not only us but everyone around us too, we must vote and act in a way that is in keeping with that.

We believe that there are general principles established by God, like many laid out in the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, that give us rough guidelines for how to live in a way that will “go well” for us. We also believe there are more specific life-changing guidelines, known as commands, that God has laid out that will bring benefits when obeyed and consequences when disobeyed. Lastly, we believe there is a soul-changing gospel that gives us new hearts and is the motivation by which we obey God’s commands and welcome God’s rule in our life and nation.

I believe that the same God who knows how to make a dead heart come alive also knows the way a nation ought to function in order to thrive.

So as a Christian, I will vote as one. Not because of a check mark in a religious affiliation box but because of the deepest convictions that lie in my heart. The ones that have been shaped and informed by God’s Word. Not a Word that creates borders and boundaries for the purpose of withholding and imposing. But a Word that gives life and love for the purpose of protecting and blessing. It is out of both duty and delight I desire a nation that is “under God.”

Therefore we pray in a way that those purposes might be fulfilled and act in a way that those purposes may be accomplished.

While the church I am a part of by no means does this perfectly, I’m thankful that it seeks to do this faithfully in word and deed. One way this is lived out is by my pastor’s weekly prayer. He rotates which government official he is praying for, but there is not a week that goes by that a person placed in office does not get prayed for. It doesn’t matter who they are or what position they hold, he prays that they would realize their authority comes from God alone and that they would act for the good of the American people and not their own selfish gain. The Bible tells us to pray for our political leaders, and so as Christians, we should. And we should be involved in politics in a way that rightly reflects the prayers coming from our pulpits and pews.

Where we got it wrong

The sad reality is that while we trust God’s way is best for us and those around us, somewhere along the way we confused some of our forefathers values that were imparted upon us with God’s promise that was guaranteed to us. We were never promised to live in a comfortable nation, whether here or there, that caters to our Christianity. Maybe we have grown so used to being the majority that we thought anything other than that was a direct violation against our God given rights as Americans.

As an American, I believe it is noble to fight for the country we want to be in. And as a Christian, I believe it is noble to long for the country we know will be.

I think as American Christians we are all too quick to link blessing primarily to freedom of religion and less so to freedom from our sins. One is a beautiful gift we may be given for a time and the other is a powerful promise that can never be taken. We are too quick to seek rest in who we ourselves have seated in congress for a few years rather than who God has seated on the Throne for eternity.

Living life with an “overseas mentality”

If my husband and I moved our family to another country, which we consider doing someday, we would never send our kids to a public school there expecting for them to get a “Christian education.” We would not go with the ultimate aim of seeing a change in the laws of their country but rather to see a change in the hearts of our neighbors.  We would not go expecting for our family to be the majority, in really any sense of the word. We would go in just knowing that our race and our religion would likely not be the norm. The majority. We would be different. And that would be okay. It would be very expected.

Why is it that as Christians we can go overseas with the expectation of religious adversity and opposition, and we might even go there for that very reason; yet we can’t stand living with it when we’re in America.

 

Exiles and sojourners

While the majority of Christians will never experience the expectation that comes along with living overseas and being “foreigners,” is that not who we were told we would be? Even right here in the United States. Were we not told, along with our brothers and sisters around the rest of the world, that we were exiles and foreigners and sojourners? That we were only passing through?

There were many parts that I left out of my pastors weekly prayer mentioned above. One of them, following the request for America’s good as defined by God, is for America’s salvation as found in Jesus. He prays that our nation’s ultimate good would come not primarily by a Christian president enacting Christian laws but rather the Christian church proclaiming the Christian gospel. The gospel that brings hope as we walk through this foreign land and brings peace as we await our heavenly home. The gospel that glorifies the blood on a cross more than it glorifies the blood on a battle field.

America has never been our true home. Our final destination. But maybe part of the problem is that it has felt a little too much like what we thought of home and of heaven, that we have settled in here. That we are no longer pitching our tents on the portion of land that we are passing through but rather building our houses on the lot that we are devoting our lives to. What if we could still fight for justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God by the way we vote as Christians? What if we longed for society around us to get a better taste of what we believe eternity will be, and enacted policies that would promote that? But what if we continue to stand firm in these things while also finally knowing what it feels like to fall under the weight of a nation that is not ultimately our own. That doesn’t cater to us and comfort us in the same ways it used to.

What if we are at a unique, and needed, time in American Christian history where we get to say along with men and women of our faith “for here we have no lasting city, but we seek that city that is to come.” And what if we get to better identify with the man who is our faith who said, “my kingdom is not an earthly kingdom.”

Christian, let us fight for a good America while we long for better Jerusalem.

Adult friendships: are they worth the work and the weirdness?

Have you ever walked away feeling awkward and off after an oddly flowing conversation, even with someone you’ve known for a long time?

Have you ever laid in bed at night mulling over the same words that someone said that maybe you were reading too much into… or just maybe they meant something by? Or worrying about the words you said that someone else might have misunderstood?

Have you ever left a crowded event still feeling unknown and alone?

Have you ever felt like it’s high school all over again as you longingly watch the cool posse laugh and walk by?

Have you ever been nervous to put yourself out there and initiate a friendship, only to find that when you finally reach out you were met with rejection?

Have you ever felt yourself resenting the person who “just got to town” and already has more friends than you have made in the past 2 years since arriving?

Have you ever missed what you used to have with the same person you still see all the time and wonder why things had to change?

Have you ever spent years getting close to someone and in the end had to tell them good bye? And then you were left feeling like you had to start all over again with someone new?

Then you’ve made it.

We’ve made it.

Made it to the place they used to always talk about. The place where “life gets more complicated and relationships don’t come easy.” So here we are. Adult friendships.

These relationships that can be so noticeably clunky and complex. Full of tendencies that can annoy us. Personalities that can confuse us. Sins that can hurt us. Plans get cancelled. You always show up late. They always leave early. They expect too much. You give too little. They always forget what you said. You always make the drive. Work is busy. That struggle is isolating. Schedules don’t line up. The kids will have melt downs and they interrupt grown up conversation every other sentence. Actually, forget it, you’re just going to spend the majority of the time chasing them around anyway.

It can be plain hard.

And as a 27 year old mom of 2 my friendship challenges may look different than your friendship challenges. But at the end of the day we’re pretty much all out here saying that friendship is harder and weirder than we thought it might be. Even more so though, we’re all still saying that we want it. And need it. And it’s worth it.

We were made for relationships.

We become our stronger and softer selves, because of them. Community life, filled with sometimes funny-feeling friendships, has a way of growing us into our fuller potential. Of chipping away at our edges and filling in some of our gaps. Of teaching us a new kind of resilience and endurance. Of giving us greater understanding and deeper compassion. Of simply bringing us enjoyment and laughter.

So how do we fight for it? How can we dig deep roots of friendship that will eventually produce some of the sweetest and rarest of fruits?

I do not have all the answers. Obviously. But, I have studied the way other’s around me live life with one another. I have leaned an ear into the voice of those who do it well and sought to follow in their footsteps. I have taken tidbits (or ton-bits) of practical application from podcasts and nuggets of wisdom from break out sessions and books.

In my own words I’ve compiled (that’s a nicer word than stolen) a list. It’s been spoken and lived out mostly by others first.

7 ways to approach and walk in healthy adult friendships:

1. Keep pressing on

I’ve heard the phrase “failing forward.” I like it. To me it paints an accurate picture of what real life relationships look like. While it might sometimes feel like friendships are a constant dance of 1 step forward and 2 steps back, the good news is, you’re still going in the right direction.  Just because you’re stumbling, it doesn’t mean you’re not moving. One day we might just look a few steps ahead of our stumbling-selves and find that something pretty cool has been, and is being, built. So keep doing it. Keep texting first. Keep asking the questions. Keep pressing through uncomfortable pauses. Keep inviting them over even when your house isn’t perfect. Keep giving the benefit of the doubt. Keep accepting that you’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. And keep showing up as you. Where ever you said you would be, whenever you said you would be there. In all your Monday-morning messiness. Again and again and again.

2. Let go of your idealized version of friendship

Remember when you were a kid on the playground and making a friend meant swinging next to someone and saying hi? Or when you joined that club or team in High School and quickly found your niche? Or when you got to college and instantly became friends with a handful of people who were coming in and out of your dorm room on the daily?

Maybe your experiences of friendship haven’t been quite that easy or simple. But most likely we all have had at least one period of time in our lives that friendships were fluid and fun. Where they were just a given. And they lightened our load and rarely seemed to add to it. Or maybe your idealized version is something you’ve seen in a movie or read in a book or seen in other’s lives, but never quite experienced it yourself. Whatever your version may be, I believe it’s something we have to let go of. We have to realize 2:00 AM study dates are a season and a sort of friendship. They aren’t the prototype. And if we’re too busy waiting around for friendships to look that way or another, we may miss the unique ones that are right in front of us. In the words of Meg Tietz, stop waiting around for your best friend soulmate.

3. Allow friendships to be what they are

This is an idea that I heard recently shared in a podcast and I thought it was so enlightening and freeing. Don’t force something out of a friendship that it just isn’t going to give. Let it morph and grow and don’t box it in, but also just let it be. Don’t expect someone who never knows where their phone is to text you every day. Don’t expect someone who is quiet to shower you with all the words that you want to hear. Don’t go on a play date “for” your kids and expect it to actually be a mom date “for” you. We don’t have to put all of our friendship eggs in one basket. Actually, we shouldn’t. Because no one person can be everything we need them to be. They can not meet all of our friendship needs. And that’s a good thing. It allows us to have various friends who fill us in various ways and not have one friend who fulfills us in all the ways. Because they just can’t. This approach creates the room for us to make more friends and for those that are already our friends to make more of their own, too.

If you found your up-for-anything friend, have fun with them. If you found your honest friend, ask them the hard things you need to know the truth about. If you found your empathizing friend, cry to them. If you found your group friend, one on one time might not be your best bet with them. If you found your fix-it friend, call them when your pipe is leaking. Appreciate your friends for who they are and what they uniquely bring. And when maybe you get the chance to find a “freezer friend” (again shout out to Meg Tietz with Sorta Awesome) who knows every single thing in your freezer; aka knows every detail of your day and wants to… rejoice in the rarity and hold on tight to them. But acknowledge that this type of friendship is simply not everyone’s norm.

4. Share experiences

I recently heard someone say (once again, my written words and someone else’s ideas) that they realized about themselves that they rarely ever sat across the table from someone and felt an instant friendship-connection. They rarely “hit it off” with people. Rather they kept gathering around the same things at the same times, and formed something sweet. This can look like weekly coffee shop meets or biweekly play dates or monthly pizza nights or annual camping trips. Friendships can be forged and kept by the very things we mark on our calendars again and again. The routines that we build into our rhythms of life. Friendship isn’t confined to the spoken word only. It can be cultivated and kept by common interests and shared experiences. Turn up the music and make pizza together. Sit on the couch and cry at This Is Us together. Pant and sweat while you hike together. Be captivated by the flames of the campfire together.

Create together. Rest together. Play together. Watch together. Cheer together. Find the things that unite you, and keep capitalizing on those things and gathering around those things. They will be the very things you tell past stories about and create current memories in.

5. Sit in the sadness

I have found that, at least from my own personal experience, something that keeps me running from relationships is the fear of not knowing what to say. I’m afraid of walking through a situation with someone that I know absolutely nothing about. I’m afraid to say too much, offer too little, or flat out say the wrong thing. I’m afraid of the things that feel foreign to me and then I write myself off as having nothing to offer. Yet because we’re all human, pain and sorrow and suffering are no strangers to any of us. They may come in varying forms and degrees, but we are all acquainted with them. And so we can choose to be human with our friends. We can acknowledge that we have no idea what to say or no advice to give. But we can offer ourselves. We can give our quiet and caring and un-rushed presence. We can give the sacrificial gift of bearing one another’s burdens by simply sitting in them. We can take some of the tears by crying them too. We can take some of the sting by letting it pierce us too. Hearing the silence and feeling the pain might be all we have to offer, and it may be all they ever actually wanted us to give.

6. Have hands that help

I have never seen such a raw and beautiful picture of helping hands as when I joined a local church. This came to life to me when I covenanted to a body of believers. A group of people who saw themselves not only theologically but also practically as just that- a body. A body with moving and functioning and active parts. Doing their job. Imperfectly but faithfully. While my taste of this “hands on” friendship has been primarily in the context of my church, what new mom in your play group would pass up a meal being brought to her door? What car-less coworker wouldn’t want a ride to the office? What new house owner wouldn’t welcome able-bodies to help move some boxes? What single parent wouldn’t take you up on a night of free childcare?

Sometimes we can’t come up with the words to say. And sometimes we don’t have the chance to just sit and feel with them. But we can always say “I’m ordering” or “I’m doing” or “I’m bringing.” These soothing words and these kind actions have made me feel known and cared for in a way that almost nothing else ever has. Maybe it’s because we’re adults and we have so much on our plates that lightening our load is our new love language. Or maybe it’s because we’re human and we desperately need each other to make it through this thing that we’re all in together called life.

7.  Have lips that celebrate

Be a friend that mourns quietly and helps practically and cheers loudly. Throw their party. Buy their ice cream. Watch their kids. Send the text that says “good job!” Make the call that says “you did it!” True friends challenge us but they also cheer for us. See the good. Call out the growth. Emphasize the victories. Choose to be a friend that is quick to honor and root and uphold. The joy in your life will multiply as their celebrations become your celebrations, their wins become your wins, and their happy days become your happy days. Even in the midst of your own complaints and loses and sad days. Sometimes friendship is letting someone else ignore the brightness of their own day to sit in the darkness of your hard day. And other times friendship is choking back your sad tears to rejoice in someone else’s happy tears.

There are enough hard days and harsh voices. We all could use that friend, and be that friend, that celebrates proudly and embarrassingly and often. It’s not an expensive gift to give but it’s a priceless one to receive.

Take heart and keep fighting the friendship fight.

Embrace it in all of its weirdness and wonder and work. Oh, and don’t forget to look around and see that you’re among the 99% of people who are wanting the exact same thing as you.

A friend.

 

 

 

 

 

When your life isn’t what you thought

I have come to find that sometimes the hardest time to write about something can be when we’re smack dab in the middle of it. Often it feels safer to be a few steps ahead of something before sitting down to write about it. But God doesn’t just meet us in the aftermath. In the solutions. In the recoveries. He meets us right where we are at: in the thick and tangled up mess. In the processing. In the wrestling. He doesn’t always provide a boat for us to ride above the waters. Instead, He may keep us inside the turning currents but give us goggles to see some treasures while we’re there. And the best part of all is that He doesn’t just throw us the googles, He jumps into the waters with us.

Now don’t let me mislead you, there are no storms of suffering surrounding me like they may be you. But there is a different kind of storm and it is going on inside of me. Side note, one embarrassing thing about writing in the midst of something is that our perspective is usually skewed. Everything looks and feels much bigger than reality. So we tend to be a bit dramatic. But, I digress. In my own little self-sized internal storm these big intimidating waves taunt me, “WHO ARE YOU EVEN? AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE?” Yeah self… who are you?

3 years after the real life version of “getting a gift I did not desire” (ie having my daughter) I have come to further realize that my struggles were more than the initial news of an unexpected gift. I was aware of this, but as always, there is more going on inside of us than what is on the surface. The surface-level is an expression of what is below it. Often it takes some digging and unveiling. So here I am, 3 years later. And on this side of it, I can tell you two things. I can unashamedly proclaim that I love my kids in a way that has totally exploded my heart and life. I can also, more ashamedly, confess that I don’t always love being a mom. More seriously, I can still deeply resent it. Big deal, right? Who doesn’t feel that way from time to time. But what I didn’t realize at the time was that motherhood wasn’t, and still isn’t, just a threat to my own plans and timelines. It was a threat to my very own self-made identity.

So, maybe you’re reading this and you’re in a totally different place in life than me. Maybe you find yourself being depended on in ways you never expected. Maybe you’re dependent on someone else in ways you never imagined or wished for. Maybe you’re sitting at that same desk or pulling up to that same apartment or looking down at that same bare finger, all for years longer than expected. Maybe your life has been uprooted and replanted in a brand new place surrounded by brand new people. Maybe that degree, or job, or trip, is being put on hold. Maybe you are experiencing the excruciating pain of longing or loss. Or maybe it’s (whatever your it is) here and you weren’t expecting it to come when and how it did.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

It wasn’t supposed to feel like this.

Who am I?

Wherever you find yourself in life, I hope my raw, flawed, zoomed in, goggle-sort-of-view of these things I’m learning brings some grace and understanding and truth to you.

“You aren’t alone”

As I have shared some of my personal wrestling with my own identity and worth, I have been met with empathy and a real sense of comradery. That’s a sweet gift you can receive and give to someone, y’all. It can be one of the most comforting things. But I would be less than honest if I didn’t say it can also be sobering. It’s comforting because we see that we aren’t left to deal with things on our own. It’s comforting because we aren’t strange for being the only one to go through something. But it’s sobering because we don’t get to throw ourselves an ongoing pity party. Because we don’t get to wear a badge for being the only one to struggle a certain way. You are one in a million, but you are also one of a million. So do yourself a humbling and helpful favor, and give people permission to tell you they have been there, or are there, too.

Stripped identities can be scary and sacred ground

The very things I was unknowingly clutching onto to form my identity did not only feel imposed upon by motherhood, they felt at odds with it. Where I wanted to be free spirited, I felt motherhood told me I must be restricted. Where I wanted to be adventurous, I thought motherhood meant I must be rigid. The list goes on. It felt like some painful sort of self death would have to happen in order for another life to be born in me. I deeply resented this death of self. But what I often fail to realize is that this sort of self death will be both beautifully true and foolishly false for the rest of my life. It is a constant and necessary losing of self and finding of self all at once.

When we realize our identities- be they a title, role, ability, relationship, desire, dream or so much more- are in some form being taken from us, it’s really terrifying. When the thing that we have let label us and define us for so long is somehow no longer a part of us, it can feel kind of like being exposed and having nothing to hide behind. It’s uncomfortable and scary. But don’t miss this, it’s also sacred and soft ground here. It’s an opportunity to be rebuilt, remade, and redefined. Or maybe just reminded of who we already are that we may have forgotten about.

Identify identity

The dictionary definition of identity is: “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.” And while there could be many ways to define it biblically, I think Christian identity can be summed up in this verse found in Corinthians, “whoever is in Christ is a new creation, the old has passed and the new has come.” Identity is a buzz word in many Christian circles. And while it may not be a specific word used outside of these circles, the idea of identity is a big deal to us all. I think this new world of self branding and self promotion through social media reveals our intrinsic identity-chase.

Now the tricky part I’ve found in this whole identifying our truest self thing is that identity is both fundamental and functional. Fundamentally, I believe myself to be a human being created in the image of God who has been recreated in Christ. But functionally I currently find myself flailing around in a perceived state of crises, instead of resting securely in the one who’s undeserved and totally willing self death birthed my new life. I find my identity-naked self being exposed, instead of hiding behind the rock of ages. So how do we bridge the fundamental to the functional? We preach the gospel to our very own heart and mind and soul. Until the day we die. The gospel wasn’t just a thing of the past, it is the very essence of who we are now and it is to permeate into all we think and do and say and are, today.

Breaking borders

There is a subtle yet major difference between contentment and settling. Settling says “this” is all I am, can be, or going to be. Settling suppresses God given passions and gifts and desires and dreams. Settling usually plants seeds of bitterness and self pity. Contentment gladly embraces what God has seen fit to give to us in His own good time. Contentment is not afraid to strive while also being deeply settled. Contentment usually breeds thankfulness and joy. We are whole beings who are capable of functioning in more ways than we often give ourselves credit for. We often sell ourselves short in claiming only our primary occupation as who we are. We let this thoroughly define us. Instead, carve into your calendar an enjoyable hobby, make space for that creative outlet, pursue your passions, and explore what makes you feel like, you.

Being you, right where you’re at

The potential danger in pursuing what may feel a little out of our borders is that in turn we might miss what is right in front of us. This has hit me like a ton of bricks in my discontentment lately. No, I’m not only a mom, but yes I am a mom. So instead of seeing my passions and personality and gifts and goals as something I must put into some sort of outside source, I should seek to channel these things into motherhood. If you’re creative, bring creativity into your work place. If you’re merciful, show mercy to your children. If you’re driven, be diligent in your studies. Bring your adventure and structure and knowledge and compassion and your craftsmanship into the very spheres you are already in, if you believe you are supposed to be there. It would be a shame if in the constant chase for something more, we waste what has already been given to us.

Bringing it (to your own) home

I’ve heard it said that good desires make bad masters. As do good callings make bad identities. So how do we know when our misplaced identity has turned into idolatry? How do we know where our true identity lies? I think one helpful gauge is by recognizing the way we respond when something is taken from us or given to us. Does the loss lead us to normal disappointment or to total despair? Does the gain lead us to a healthy sort of happiness or an awaited sense of wholeness? Does it have the power to make us or break us?

I will not soon forget the wise counselor who looked into my misty eyes and kindly urged me not to think that shifting my identity into motherhood is my new ticket to fulfillment. Instead, they said, being a Christian is your identity. It is at the center. Everything else for the rest of your life is just an avenue off of it.

So friend, our heavy ladened souls searching for worth and value can find rest in who we currently are and always will be, in Jesus. It’s settled and secure. No matter where we go or what we do or who we become, we are in Him. And it’s all from Him and for Him and to Him, forevermore.

Saying goodbye to the church I’ve grown to love

Eight and a half years ago I moved to Louisville KY as a bright eyed college student ready to find the church of my own choosing. I hadn’t thought about the specifics, but I knew I wanted something fresh. I was leery of what I thought “traditional” meant: stale and cold and rote. To put it plainly and honestly, I set out to find a really “cool” church. But as God would have it, I walked in the doors of Third Avenue Baptist Church.

At the time the carpet was red and the baptistery had matching curtains. There were pews and suits and lots of ESV Bibles. There was standing up and sitting down. There were hymns. There was somberness. There were 4 singers lined up off to the side of the stage and hidden behind them was instruments and their players. Everyone, including those singers up front, were looking down at the words of their bulletins as they sang. The pastor wore a suit and a tie. Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly the rockin’ church I expected. I wasn’t blown away. I wasn’t immediately wowed. It wasn’t love at first sight. But for some reason, I kept going back. And at the time I couldn’t even tell you why; especially when my 3am Saturday night paper writing self kept nodding off during the longest sermons I had ever sat through in my life.

But now I see it more clearly. It wasn’t about stylistic preferences or aesthetics or the fuzzy feelings I left with. I think ever so slowly and subtly it was the people. They are what kept bringing me back. The people who saw the invisible line I was drawing between me and the exit door and who stood in the middle of it. The people who held out a hand and introduced themselves. The people who invited me to Sunday lunch down the road. The people whose lives were so clearly intertwined with one another already, yet still welcomed me, a mere stranger. They were like a family. But not the closed off kind. So as cliche as it sounds, their love won me over. And I wanted in on it. So I kept going back.

And now, hundreds of introductions and invites and (wakeful) sermons later, I am saying goodbye as my family and I move out of state. And in the bittersweet process of leaving I’m reflecting on what this place, no really these people, have forever impressed upon my understanding of what a healthy church is.

Intentionality doesn’t have to mean originality

While the family like feel of this church slowly started to warm my heart, the evident intentionality behind why they did what they did quickly eased my mind. It also corrected it. It exposed the equation my mind had made that repetition and liturgy meant disingenuous. I quickly saw that nothing at Third Avenue was done a certain way just because “it’s the way it’s always been.” Everything, from the singers on the side of the stage to the timing of each pause between transitions, was done with a purpose. Actions that were born out of purposes and purposes that were born out core values and commitments and covenants. Overall, it was all done in order to lift up feeble and weary and longing eyes to the reigning King of Kings.

The body is broken and beautiful

It didn’t take long for me to become proud to call this church my own. The intentionality, the solid teaching, the intellectual depth, the out-working of love for each other and for neighbors and for the nations. But it took many years for me to see that I was still referring to this church in terms of “they” and not so much in terms of “we.” I felt a little more like an admirer from afar and not a family member from within. But then. It was then that I decided to dig in deep. To be close enough to really find out and really be found out. To know and be known. Turns out, this really extraordinary place was made up of pretty ordinary people. Flawed and quirky and struggling and sinful human beings all fumbling to the cross, together. But it was more beautiful than I ever could have seen from staying on the outside. The exterior was polished and pretty but the interior was full of a kind of beauty and wonder that was other-worldly. It was rich and messy and hard, and so very glorious.

Worship isn’t only personal

Something seemingly very strange that stood out to me from the beginning was that if people were not looking down at their bulletins while singing, they were looking around at one another. I came to find out that these people weren’t looking around because they were distracted or because they were trying to find the person who they were saving a seat for or because they were just plain strange. They were looking around as if to say “come on church, sing it with me.” As if to declare that we are in the waiting and working and worshipping, together. As if to scan the room and catch a glorious glimpse and tiny taste of the kind of diversity that will all be gathered around the throne some day with unhindered voices. I’ve grown in understanding that while the Christian life is intimately personal it is also intensely corporate. Whether on a Sunday morning gathered or a weekday evening scattered, we sing songs loudly and we fight sin seriously and we pursue spiritual disciplines gladly, both with one another and for one another. Because one single ligament affects the whole body.

The Word speaks for itself

Matt Smethurst says “I don’t remember 99% of the meals I’ve eaten, but they’ve kept me alive. God uses faithful, forgettable sermons to beautify his bride.” While so many of pastor Greg’s abrupt motions and rich realities and simple sub points will not be easily forgotten, this statement by Matt expresses so well what I believe has happened inside of me as I’ve sat under the preached Word of God. What may have been momentarily forgettable in my mind has made an eternal impact in my soul. In my most unbiased opinion, Greg Gilbert is an exceptionally gifted preacher. But my time at Third hasn’t left me more reliant on him. It’s left me more reliant on Gods Word. Because that’s all he’s done time and time and time again: open up ancient and active Words and let them do their job. The job of convicting and comforting and saving and sustaining. I’ve witnessed how the gospel being preached from the pulpit brings a dead heart to life. My pastors haven’t done anything fancy but they’ve done something that is faithful. And by the grace of God, I have once again been a recipient of this powerful and precious thing called faithful preaching. And I will never be the same because of it.

Unity is a gift that is graciously given and fiercely fought for

I will not quickly forget the picture my pastor once laid out about the enemy planting grumbling and gossiping bombs all around us and among us. All it takes is a slanderous whisper, a biting comeback, an unchecked assumption, or an intentionally exclusive invite for little explosions to lie in wait. Slowly cracking and corroding and corrupting Jesus’ blood bought unity. So we pray for God to grant it and we work hard to protect it. I’ve witnessed firsthand how unity doesn’t mean we check all the same political or theological or life station boxes but it means that we all set aside our preferences and differences to bow down before the cross of Christ. And it is there, at the foot of the cross, that our unity is created and found and kept.

Serving is not for me

My once needed-and-noticed pastors daughter self sat in a Third Avenue members interview being asked if I, along with all other men and women in the church, would volunteer in the nursery and join a home group. Uhh. That’s it? That’s your serving opportunities? Yet it was through this process I learned the valuable distinction between being important and being indispensable. I learned that I could freely love those in my circle while also knowing that the whole of my church would carry on without a slight hinge when I left it. I became painfully aware that far too often I wanted to give with the subtle desire to gain. Be it public recognition or personal satisfaction. This drove me to see the beauty in serving quietly and averagely and ordinarily in a church that didn’t really “need” me. At least not in all the ways I wanted to be needed. Because the reality is that where there are people, there are needs. There are kids to be watched and meals to be delivered and houses to practice hospitality in and sufferers to sit with. It was so very good for me to learn how to serve in the shadows by simply showing up.

Love welcomes in and sends out

When I joined Third Avenue eight years ago I had no intention of sticking around for so long. Yet many years later when we settled in and started raising a family I had no idea we would leave so quickly. So much has happened in these eight years yet it feels like we’ve just barely gotten started. We never thought we’d stay, but once we stayed, we never really thought we’d leave. And now here we are. Along with so many others in this uniquely transient church. In a church where people are stayers longer than planned and goers more quickly than expected. Along with missionaries and pastors and planters being flung out all around the globe. Along with those moving back to be closer to family. Along with those joining up with other churches. It can be hard to love by letting people in. It can be even harder to love by letting them leave. This church, my church, has taught me how to embrace the coming and the going. How to latch on and how to let go.

And now, the hands that brought us in gently are the same hands that send us out gladly. So we go. With this piece of Third Avenue DNA that we will always carry with us. That we will always seek to insert and implant where we can.

Not because she is a flawless bride but because she clings to a faithful Christ.

6 years, 6 lessons

1. Protect each other’s limits

Something Kyle and I have been learning over the years is that we have different limits than others, including one another. This year particularly we have grown in applying that knowledge of each other’s limits. In not only acknowledging them but moving into an acceptance of them and then acting in a way that promotes and protects them. In letting our spouse draw their own boundaries and then helping to keep them.

More personally, for me to lovingly respect Kyle’s limits often means gladly and graciously cutting off a show to make sure he gets the sleep he needs. Or recognizing his signs of word fatigue and being willing to cut off a conversation and pick it up again later. For Kyle to loving respect my limits it often means gladly and graciously cutting work hours to make sure I get the rest and reprieve I need from home life. Or recognizing my signs of social fatigue and being willing to say no to a get together with friends and planning one for another time. We all have different capacities. And they matter. We have grown in seeing how failing to respect and protect those capacities can produce burn out and break down. Yet on the other hand, how fighting to respect and protect those capacities can produce health and wholeness.

2. Push each other’s limits

While we have seen the necessity of protecting limits we have also seen the benefit of pushing them. Like in all of marriage, promoting and protecting can create the kind of trust that is required for pushing. We are more likely to allow those who selflessly serve us to also stretch us. Serving does not shove. It does not obtrude or insist. It sees what is good for the other and it gently nudges and urges towards that end. It even reaches out a hand and walks to it together. We are finding, often by failure, that there is a way to serve your spouse based off the knowledge of how they are naturally wired to be yet also a way to push them based off who you know they can be and are still becoming.

Practically put, based off of my above examples, I sometimes stay at things longer than I want to and Kyle sometimes sleeps less than he prefers to. I’m in go-go mode more than is comfortable and he listens for longer than is natural. Sometimes we ask this limit pushing of one another with our words and other times we require it of one another with our actions. This kind of stretching and strengthening is being produced in us slowly and subtly. It is kindly and carefully pushing the line of our limit outward. It is increasing our capacity. It is helping us to flex a weak muscle. It is changing us and challenging us in ways we wouldn’t have been. And we are better because of it.

3. Don’t forget to look

I wrote a whole blog on this a few years ago so I’m just going to quote a part of it because after this year with more work hours, more commitments, and more kids this has never been more pertinent —

“There are three words that have the potential and power to bring some meaning in the mundane and some calm in the chaos. And mostly they have a way of re-connecting two people who are already one, but may feel miles apart… I see you. Behind the work clothes you put on every morning and behind that spit up filled t-shirt. I see you. Underneath loads of laundry and stacked up dishes. I see you. With a greeting at the door after a long day. I see you. When you watch with pride or cower in fear. I see you. Having a dance party in the kitchen or disciplining in the back room. I see you. With tired or tear filled eyes. With stretched or scarred skin. With a heavy or happy heart. I see you. Not just the ways you give and the things you do. But you. A person. My person.”

We are ever learning that marriage is about making the choice to re-see each other again and again and again.

4. Put it plainly

Even after many years with a person, it can feel uncomfortable to point blank say what we want. To quite literally spell it out. As in “I really want to spend intentional time with you tonight,” or “it would mean a lot if you would comment on my appearance more” or “it seems like you’re not pulling your weight around the house as much.” I may or may not have been known to even say “THE NOTE (you know that theoretical one that will be real some day) CAN LITERALLY SAY ‘I LOVE YOU, HAVE A GOOD DAY.’ THATS IT. THATS ALL.”

Sometimes spelling it out makes us feel pathetic. Pathetic that we care so much about seven actual words being written to us on a page and left before work but also pathetic that at this point I might as well have just done it for you and pretended it was from you. But the truth is that sometimes the best way to get from where we are to where we want to be is just to lay out the path plainly. Vague hint dropping doesn’t tend to build the best bridges. That doesn’t mean our spouse didn’t care enough to see what was on the other side, it just might mean that they didn’t quite know how to get you there on their own. Prompting and planning do not have to make things disingenuous. Therefore we can still gratefully and graciously receive them for what they are.

5. Schedule the things that matter

Kyle and I both tend to balk at the idea of being planners. As if being described as one is somehow an insult. But we’ve learned the hard way that whether it’s a date night out or a game night in, life doesn’t tend to do us the courtesy of interrupting itself to present a magical moment of deep marital connection. Moments, ones of investing and enjoying and resting, mostly seem to come from carving out time and then committing to it. From sinking calendars together and setting reminders. This boring and rigid thing called planning actually ends up producing an eager anticipation for the weekly routines and the monthly rhythms and the yearly traditions. For the late Friday nights and the slow Saturday mornings. For the folding of laundry together and the texts that say “let’s sit down tonight and check in with each other.” This year particularly it has looked like sitting down every Sunday night to talk about each day of the upcoming week. To try and pencil plans in according to priorities. And oh how I’ve come to look forward to those beautifully boring Sunday nights of planning and praying with my husband.

I think overall what I’m trying to say is that we’re still learning that relationships are just not as glamorous or spontaneous or romanticized as we like to think they are or should be. That it really takes ordinary people doing ordinary things. It’s mundane and adultish and slightly disappointing. But maybe extraordinary marriages are really just made up of lots of little ordinaries through the years. The little ordinaries that become extra ordinaries.

6. Time really is a good teacher

Recently a quote was shared with Kyle that says, “in marriage there are good years and bad years. This was a very good year.” As I’ve been thinking about the tension of time, particularly as it collides with marriage, I thought there really wasn’t an easier or better way to state it. Marriage is up and down, back and forth, round and round. It is not so much a steady climb or upward trajectory. After all, nothing in life is always and only moving in one set direction.

Yet I think there is another element to time that comes into play. It’s the reality that, in general, time really does change things. And us. I’ve always found it a bit disheartening when people offer advice and encouragement in the form of “it just takes time.” But I get. Because it’s true. Time does have its own unique way of helping and healing and strengthening. Time takes… time. We cannot speed it up. But on our 6th Anniversary I can say that Kyle and I have already been married for long enough to at least begin seeing that life together is full of reoccurrences. Reoccurrences that allow us to keep revising and keep messing up and then keep trying again.

Whether it’s painting a room, hosting a guest, having a baby, or planning for a birthday party… the more times we do something the easier it typically becomes. The twentieth time may not seem as exhilarating as the first, but it usually seems to feel richer and go smoother. Because time teaches some tricks of the trade. It allows us to see where we can bend and where they might break. It shows us how to come out next time and play better as a team. It reminds us what really matters. It allows us to step back and see how much we’ve grown and how far we’ve come. And then it gives us hope for how far we have yet to go.

Because time really does change things.

Navigating differences, diversity, and disabilities with our kids

1. Education and preparation

I always imagined the distinction between kids being raised “in the home” and kids being sent “into the world” to be a much cleaner break. Much more defined and separated. But the reality is that from a very early age, children are ever coming and going. A healthy child’s life is an ongoing intermingling of being carefully sheltered and abruptly exposed, intentionally equipped and utterly unprepared, knowing the answers and coming with all the questions. Because of this, we will never fully prep our kids for all they will encounter.

So while we know there is no possible way to teach our kids every facet of “different” that they may interface with, it is always worth finding ways to intentionally educate them and strategically prepare them to the best of our ability. Because it starts as an innocently curious toddler in the grocery store asking an all too loud question and one day turns into a teenage clique of clones giving those on the outside an all too condescending sneer.

Education and preparation can start at a young age. It can be naturally incorporated into the books that lean on our shelves, the toys that fill up our boxes, the movies that play through our screens, and the food that sits on our plates. As they grow we are the ones who can fill their eyes with all sorts of colors and capabilities, flood their ears with varying accents and impediments, and stuff their tummies with differing cultures and communities. We can go to stores in different parts of town for the sake of exposure and we can visit hospitals and nursing homes for the sake of interaction. We can learn by going outside of our homes and we can also learn by bringing differences and diversity into our homes. As much as we can help it, we shouldn’t let our kids most teachable moments be forced out of us by their own stopping and staring and shouting out questions. But sometimes that’s the way education will unavoidably come, and that’s okay too.

2. Distinguish rudeness vs awareness

Even with an adequate amount of information and preparation, the truth is that kids are uncomfortably curious. They are loudly observant. They are unashamedly honest. And it doesn’t take long to realize that these things can lead to humorous comments but that they can also produce really hurtful ones too.

This is where we can decide what kind of momentary reaction is appropriate to give and what kind of follow up response we may need to bring back up later. When a child makes a remark that is unkind the result can be and should be, correction. Here we can simply and sternly tell them no. Here is where it is right to whisper that we will talk about it later. Where it is necessary to set a rule or a standard or an expected consequence. Where, depending on the context, an apology may be required for their hurtful words. Some examples of what might fall into this category are words like weird, dumb, ugly, or fat. Under no condition can these words possibly be kind, and therefore they are always worthy of correlated correction.

Certain words and descriptions should be locked and linked to sadness and shame. They always only cause sadness and shame in other people and lead to sadness and shame in ourselves. Curiosity, on the other hand, should be welcomed. It should be listened to. It should be answered. There is a place for teaching appropriate voice volume and informing where the best context for curiosity might be. But when neither are applied very well in the moment (particularly at a more unaware age), we should not resort to ignoring and dismissing. We should not react big. Our eyes do have to bug out and our feet do not have to scurry off.

3. Acknowledge differences

In these experiences that feel uncomfortable and awkward, we can choose to take a deep breath and embrace a teachable moment. We can exemplify before our children what it means to stay. It might be appropriate to explain to the other person that our child isn’t very familiar with whatever is probing their curiosity. It might be genuinely welcomed that we ask themselves to explain to our child what something is called or how it works or what their experience has been like in their own body and skin. Or it might be best for ourselves just to confidently answer out loud in a way that is true and positive and informative. For all parties involved, even by standers, to be reminded that acknowledging differences isn’t mean or embarrassing or shameful.

We can use these circumstances to show our kids that mean words lead to isolation but that acknowledging our differences can actually bring us together. It can help us be more aware of others and how they function in the world, and what they uniquely bring to it. They can learn to appreciate what is different and connect in what is the same, if we take the time to let them do so. Kids who see adults run from other people’s differences turn into adults who run away too. We have to teach our kids that differences aren’t dirty. It’s not something they should be taught to avoid or ignore or fear. Of course a person is more than merely what makes them different. But they are also no less than. Differences are not defining, but they are distinguishing.

As Amy Web (author of When Charlie Met Emma) says “different isn’t bad, sad, or strange– different is just different and different is okay!”

4. Celebrate differences

Trillia Newbell, who wrote my favorite kid’s book on diversity, is notable for emphasizing that differences aren’t just something we should acknowledge as true, they are something we should celebrate as good. This is not to dismiss that some differences are indeed marred by sickness and suffering and sorrow, and will one day be wiped away. This is not to naively heroicize or over glamorize the trials and challenges some may have endured due to what makes them different. But it is to ultimately remember that differences are deliberate and therefore differences should be delighted in. The fact that not all variety and variance will be done away with in heaven shows that differences are not a punishment for what we’ve done but that they are a proclamation of who God is. They are, as Trillia so simply and beautifully states, God’s Very Good Idea.

“We live in God’s world. We are all different, and we are also all the same. They might look different or speak different or play different. But they are all made in God’s image, and so they are all valuable. …This is God’s very good idea: lots of different people enjoying loving him and loving each other. God made it. People ruined it. He rescued it. He will finish it.”

And even today, we can begin celebrating it. We can stay and acknowledge differences in front of our kids, and then we can stop and verbally celebrate them. Our kids should hear us say things like “isn’t that cool they were made like that!” Or “yes! God is uniquely reflected in them just like He is in you!”

5. Emphasize asking not assuming

Amy Web who is quoted above (who is also the mind behind 90% of this conglomeration I pieced together) writes that “the line between pity and empathy is razor thin. My general rule to differentiate between the two is that empathy stems from listening to another person’s perspective and reacting accordingly. Pity, however, assumes. Assuming that a person with a disability automatically has a harder, sadder life because of their disability.”

Once again some differences are hard, emotionally or relationally or physically, for the person embodying those differences. But instead of pitying or assuming, we should teach our kids to listen and to learn and to empathize. To respond based on another persons actual experiences and not what our child perceives those experiences to be. We can teach our kids to see others not as just “disabled” but “differently-abled.” We can teach our kids, whether as a child in the store or a middle schooler on the bus, to ask good and kind and clarifying questions. To engage. To listen. And to learn. To not dismiss the differences of others but also not to define them solely by those differences. To know when to say “I don’t know what that’s like, maybe you can help me understand.” And to also know when to say “yeah, I feel that way sometimes too.” We can teach our kids that others may enjoy the same exact things that they do, they just might have to go about enjoying them a little differently. But they can enjoy them differently, together.

6. Teach more than kindness

Amy also so powerfully points out that the goal we are aiming to teach our kids is about more than kindness. It is about friendship and inclusion. Kindness smiles, nods a head, and keeps passing by. Friendship walks towards, puts out a hand, and invites in.

When our kids see us grit our teeth and hear us threateningly whisper to “be kind” they begin to see that person as someone they must obligatorily sacrifice a minute of their time for. Pay their dues to. Check off their nice-things-I-did-today list. When the base line requirement is quick kindness we teach them that they are the only one who has something to give. And we beg of them to give it, if even only for a moment. Of course we do not want our kids to shout at someone shamefully or ignore someone intentionally. But in the end is it really so much better to instruct them to pity someone politely? Who really wants to be othered and ostracized, even if it’s done “kindly” or belittled and bemoaned even if it’s attempted at “sweetly.”

But this is where we must do more than just insist and instruct. We must exemplify. We must show that we are willing to act on the sometimes scary and often vulnerable initiative that inclusion takes. We have to show our kids the lengths that we ourselves will go to, to include and invest and invite. So we call the mom. We admit that we don’t exactly know what the play date or party could look like for them to be included, yet we emphasize that we want their child’s presence and participation, in whatever way might be. We humbly open ourselves up to not having the answers but wanting to work alongside another parent who will work hard to get the answers with us and for us. The same parent who has always worked hard to modify and make ways for their child to be included and befriended. If we are not willing to include and invite, how can we expect our children to?

The results of not teaching them, both by word and by action, how to do this touches us all. As parents, as children, as teachers, and as care givers, we are only robbing ourselves and the world of the unique kind of beauty and joy that being in relationships with those that are different than us can bring. We are choosing to let our kids buck against a way in which they were created to live and to love and to learn.

And in the end it is likely our own child who will miss out on the fruit of inclusion that often bears fun and formative and long lasting, friendship. The real kind. The kind we all need.

Year 29: mottos and mantras

For my birthday this year I decided to jot down some mottos and mantras that I want to mark, at least in part, year 29. This is not intended to be a list of the deepest or truest things about me. Rather it is a small sampling of go-to phrases that I have or do seek to speak into existence in my own life. Some are old, some are new, some are borrowed… and none are really blue. But maybe they will resonate with you too. Or spur you on to come up with your own.

Thanks, friends, for another year of journeying with me and for counting the words I write as valuable of your time and brain space. There are so many voices.. thank you for listening to mine. It’s a humbling gift so many of you have chosen to give me through the years. And I don’t take it lightly.

YEAR 29 HERE WE GOOO.

I do not have to bow down to my feelings nor kick them to the side

It’s true that sometimes emotions need a reset. A walk, a talk, or simply a really good night of sleep. It’s a wonder how emotions can look so different on the other side of them. Often, momentary emotion does not have the best depth perception or offer the most accurate vantage point. But, on the flip side, I’ve realized the harmful mentality of I am/you are “just being emotional.” As if emotions are categorically irrational or misguided. Sure they can result in irrationality or misguidance, but they themselves, are not. Therefore they are not to be discarded as inferiority or weakness.

29 year old Natalie wants to do better about saying things to myself and to others like “yes I’m feeling really emotional about this, but it doesn’t mean what I’m saying isn’t accurate or valid or necessary.” Boiling blood can lead to battle. Sorrow can lead to empathy. Grief can lead to depth. Exuberant happiness can lead to lifting and lightening spirits.

My emotions aren’t “too much.” They are dreadful masters, but they are powerful guides. And they should know their place, and then take it.

I am a joyful wife and mom

I heard this mantra recently and it resonated with me immediately. Not because I always am, but because I want to be. Because I want to change some deeply rooted projections and perceptions of myself as a sort of “kill joy” mom or wife. And rewrite them. I all too often see myself as an uptight and impatient mom. Or a nagging and neglectful wife. I want to be a wife and a mom who spreads smiles. Who is playful. Who laughs without fear of the future. Who enjoys. Who embraces. Who is simply a pleasant presence. Who is grateful. Who is deeply rooted in peace which finds its expression in joy. I am these things, and want to become them more.

My 29 year old self will continue to speak into who I want to be “Nat, you are a joyful wife and mom.” To write it in my journal every morning. To pep talk it to myself in the mirror. To sticky note it above my sink. To ask the presence of Jesus and his unshakable joy to permeate all I am and all I do. Won’t He do it.

Good for her, not for me

I also heard this one a while ago and am claiming it as my own. This isn’t a snarky “good for her” or an ashamed “not for me.” It is a realization that some things work for others that don’t work the same for us. It is a reckoning with the reality that their good isn’t always the same as my good. It is being able to genuinely cheer others on while simultaneously having security in the way we ourselves choose to do something. It’s a claim that declares that self worth is not decreased or elevated by comparison to another person.

29 year old me is striving to look at another woman’s life, choices, successes and set up and humbly yet confidently say “good for her, not for me.”

Jesus cares about them, or that, more than I do

Although I would never flat out say that I’m “better” than God at anything, I sure can live like it and think like it. I can let myself believe that I am somehow filling in the gaps of His own lack. Maybe I proclaim that holistically he is “more than” me, but in the day to day I can live like justice will not prevail, mercy will not win, and compassion will not be extended, if I myself do not do it. But I’ve been humbly reminded again and again this past year that His heart is the pure original and mine is but a pale reflection. He is all good things in their fullest form. He made good things have their form and he himself is their form.

My 29 year old self will fight to remember that I am called to carry out the heart of God. To be hands and feet. But by no means do I myself make up the heart of God. His heart, in pale and part, is made up in me. And I will preach the gospel to myself that the very heart of God is what sent his innocent son and the savior king to be crucified on a cross as a criminal. I can never weep more longingly, exact justice more perfectly, be moved more sacrificially, or love more fully, than the one who died for me. And for the whole world.

No matter what happens today, a tall frosted glass of milk and a beautiful piece of chocolate will congratulate you on the other side of it

Milk and chocolate do not talk back. They change not. They fail not. They judge not. Most beautifully put, “chocolate is comfort without words.” And dang it sometimes we’re worded out. But never comforted-out.

So me as a 29 year old will wisely listen to the words of Tom and Donna on Parks and Rec to TREAT YO SELF. And for every single day that makes up another year of this life that I have been given- before my head hits the pillow to pray or to plan or to cry or to crash- I will indeed TREAT MYSELF. Because the days are too long, and our life is too short, not to. My heart needs unshakable truth and my soul needs unchanging chocolate.

6 tips on vacationing with kids

1. Stop calling it a vacation

I’ve heard it said that vacationing with kids is really just normal life picked up and put in a different location. And I would add with potentially more tantrums and tiredness. Parents included.

Despite all our hopes and dreams, kids do not hear the word vacation and decide to put their own needs aside for a few days so that their beloved mom and dad can get some rest and rejuvenation from all the hard work they do day in and day out. Yeah, pretty inconsiderate.

While changing the word “vacation” to something like “trip” clearly hasn’t and couldn’t change everything, it can definitely begin the work of eliminating the potential for so many unspoken assumptions and unmet expectations. Personally, it has helped me to see that my glamorized version of vacation is not the only way to have fun and to make memories. And that vacations can be reserved for my peaceful kids-out-of-the-house future, where I’m on a carefree cruise with no earthly idea of what time it is because there are zero schedules to keep (or arguing with my husband about directions to the resort, either way) instead of toting 7 large beach bags towards the water and yelling at small humans to stop complaining about the hot sand and hurry up because we don’t have long before nap time.

2. Give grace

Often as parents we shame or punish our kids for feeling the exact things we do, but dealing with them in their own child-like way. We resent them for not handling change and stress and overload in the very adult and mature ways that we ourselves are not even handling it all in. Family trips can be fun, but they can also bring on a lot of new emotions. And kids feelings are no exception to this.

My own mom reminds me faithfully, in word and in action, that mamatudes are contagious. We can think we are being silent and subtle, but our expressions and demeanor are potent and powerful. When we are snappy and stressed or anxious and insecure, it spreads. Knowing this reality can lead to a lot of pressure to appear perfect in front of our kids. So that our families then look perfect. Especially on what is supposed to be a care free family vacation. But the surprisingly freeing news is that there will never be a perfect trip enjoyed by perfect people. So instead of setting tense tones or plastering on a fake smile, we can acknowledge to our kids and spouses “we’re all feeling lots of things, and we all need to show each other extra understanding and grace right now. Mom needs it too.”

3. Chill out and let it be

I don’t know about you, but having someone tell me to “chill” is just about the surest way to make me throw off every last chill that was still hanging on. But finding ways to whisper to myself that “it really is fine” is often that small but vital shift in perspective that I need. While life doesn’t stop when you leave town for a getaway with your family, it undoubtedly looks different. Life outside of our home, or town, is never going to look exactly like life inside of it does. It sounds obvious but I think we forget that. I know I do. Things are just simply going to look and feel and be, different.

Maybe recognizing that location change lends itself towards all sorts of other change will help us to relax a little. Maybe it will help us stop pushing against the inevitable. Maybe we will be prone to say yes a little more. To later nights and to sleeping in (or to waking up earlier to get going on the fun). To bigger feelings. To different screen time usage and more treat consumption. To risks. To stretching ourselves. Maybe we can restrict a little less and fudge a little more. Maybe we can prioritize fun over formality, for a short time.

We can take from trips what they have to offer each time. This time it may be adventure and laughter. Next time it could be quality time and growth. It might even give moments of rest and nuggets of rejuvenation. It could be utterly exhausting. Whatever it offers though, it’s a blip on the radar of a life filled with ruts and routines. We can learn to take it for what it is instead of projecting all of life onto it. Our kids aren’t ruined. Their teeth aren’t falling out. Their attitude isn’t locked in forever. Bed time isn’t eternally shot. We can chill out a little.

4. Don’t forgo all boundaries

While I’ve learned the importance of “loosening up” when traveling with kids, I’ve also equally learned the importance of setting and keeping clear limits. My own personality prefers a very slow transition from one thing to the next. I, to an annoying extent, get disjointed when I feel like I am abruptly throwing myself from one thing to the next. I crave time to mentally prepare before something and time to decompress/debrief after something. My husband has to lovingly remind me to die small deaths to myself by being more ready and flexible. But, we’ve also together learned the importance of “naming what matters” to us before we go into any given situation. Especially big ones. Like family trips. To verbalize our expectations, our hesitations, and our goals. Even as simple or silly as they might be sometimes.

I think we all need this sort of prep-work to some extent. Especially kids. They need to be told explicitly what is expected of them and reminded plainly what will happen if they do not meet that expectation. We have found that it works best for us all when we set some sort of rule or requirement and follow up with some sort of if/then statement. As in, “if you choose not to show gratefulness while we’re at the water park today then you will sit out for a while.” Etc.

Family trips should have a noticeable separation from normal life but they cannot be totally divorced from it. We have seen that when kids lose all sense of boundaries they lose a sense of safety and stability. And that they actually deep down crave it. Even during, and maybe especially during, the most unordinary times.

5. Check in with each other

Each trip has its own pace and so sometimes regrouping as a family just means turning natural down-time moments into more intentional ones together. Other times though, it takes creatively carving time out of a busy day to separate from other people or activities and check in with yourselves.

As our kids get older we have begun to see the touchy yet necessary balance of “sending out” and “reigning in.” Our kids want to feel independent and free, especially when they have new options of what to play with and who to sit beside. But they also need to be reminded who their home base is. And to have some sort of semblance of regrouping. That could be as small as asking them to run over and give you hugs or high fives. Or all praying together first thing in the morning or singing together last thing before bed. It could also be bigger, like sneaking away for a few hours as a family to make a memory. Or sitting across each other at a table and asking how everyone is doing and what each person is feeling. Checking in. Getting on the same page. Reunifying.

There are many ways to accomplish it, but I think the most important thing is communicating to our kids a family value that will prove to stand firm in the midst of everything else being out of whack: you belong. It will remind them that they are not just to behave like one of us, but that they belong as one of us. This is about reminding them where authority lies, but also who their main team is and always will be. In good times and in bad, whether they like it (or us) or not, we are each other’s. Given by God.

6. Enjoy yourself

As moms especially, I think it’s easy to be so busy trying to make everyone else happy that we forget that time away, whether in a cabin or on a boat or at an amusement park, is ours too. We, too, can adventure and rest and laugh and play. We can make and take time, too. We can allow ourselves to take a step away and breath or to take a step back and observe or to take a step in and experience.

We want to be able to look back at pictures of a happy mama. Not an exhausted one who was busy trying to force everyone else to smile. But one who couldn’t help but smile herself, as she chose to embrace and enjoy the chaotic and imperfect beauty that was all around her.

Our family, not so, vacation.