If you are anywhere near my age, you remember, or at least have heard of a day when after a certain time of night, the TV screen turned dark and was covered with various colored lines… when all the streets were still, the stores were closed… When dinner was served sometime around 6pm and after about 10pm, there was nothing left to do but sleep…
I’m not quite sure when exactly it began, but somewhere along the timeline in the last few years, stores and restaurants began staying open until 10/11pm, TV and all other forms of media stayed on all night and cellphones allowed people a 24-hour all access pass to anything and anyone… WOW!!!! Times have surely changed. Seems like a total maximization of 24 hours!!!! Sounds AMAZING right????
Last month, I celebrated my 42nd birthday (HEEEEEEEEEY!!!! 😊). Because it falls on the Christmas holiday, my family and I were on our Christmas family vacation in Phoenix. What a BEAUTIFUL place, during an AMAZING time of year, with my FAVORITE people on the planet!!! We had a wonderful time together. However, my birthday was EXTRA SPECIAL. My husband took me to the Grand Canyon. And though we had lived in Arizona a few years back, I had never been. I guess I just never had the desire to see a giant hole in the earth?????? Nevertheless, we grabbed our coats, put on our sweats and hiking shoes and made the 3 ½ hour drive to Flagstaff.
The ride itself was BEAUTIFUL!!! But I must say, when I arrived at the Canyon, I WAS SPEECHLESS. The sight of it literally took my breath away. I was overcome by awe and cried instantly. What an unbelievable wonder to behold!!! Every step I took allowed for a different view of this monument of gloriousness!!! But what was equally as amazing as the sight, was the nothingness that happened during our time there…
It was EVERYTHING!!!! My husband and I did what we do often in our moments like these. We vision casted. We reflected. We reminisced. We laughed. We held hands. We talked. And talked. We were present in every moment together and we weren’t distracted by calls or text messages or agendas or requests or social media or ANYTHING!!!! It was MAGICAL!!!
I find that though I am present and active as a mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend, neighbor, volunteer, mentor etc. I have to be intentional about making time to go “offline.” This time that my husband and I spent was SO necessary. It was a perfect time to reflect on all that happened in 2018 and our goals and dreams for 2019. It was great to laugh at our mistakes yet reflect on God’s goodness. There were even moments of silence, when we just inhaled and rested in bliss.
I could go on and on about my short time at the Canyon a few days ago. It was truly one of the best days of my life. However, I have to be honest, after 42 years of life, I have come to understand how necessary these experiences are. I, on purpose, make plans to regularly dwell in places where I have no reception. If only for a couple hours a week or even for an hour a day, I retreat. I unplug. I “out of office.” Of course, it is not always at the amazing Grand Canyon, but perhaps on other hikes, or baths, or quiet drives, or star gazes, or the library or lake or whatever. I find it so therapeutic to take time to turn off the noise. To cancel the “all access pass” for a little while.
This year, I will be even more intentional about insuring a bit of quiet time. Though our days have been filled with what seems to be maximum productivity, we need to unwind. To unplug. To turn it off. I am SO much more productive when I get that period of peace. I hear God’s voice SO clearly. I am less agitated and so much more creative. I pray that while you are out conquering all the amazing adventures put before you, that you take time to exhale. That you embrace moments of beauty, rest and solitude. That you take time to dwell in places with no reception. During these moments, may your peace, joy and love be renewed and restored… HAPPY 2019 TO YOU!!!!
Ok. Before I get started, let me tell you what this is NOT. This is not some amazing philanthropic endeavor, or way to feed 10,000 families in a starving land. Honestly, I wish I was sharing that kind of news, but this is a much simpler idea I’d like to share to help spread the art of giving right in the four walls of your own home.
If your family is like mine, Christmas goes a little something like this: Mom pays careful attention to amazing details of her children. She has listened and taken stock of the desires of her family’s heart for the last 2-6 months. By the time the holidays roll around, she has an amazing list of all the great things she plans to buy. She then tells the hubby, who nods in appreciation and acceptance of these great ideas and after her thoughtful hunt and purchase, she then finds great wrapping paper, stockings and gift bags to present these lovely trinkets on Christmas day. Meanwhile, the kids are ESTATIC with anticipation for yet another joyful season of GETTING!!!! Christmas Day rolls around and Mom sits back and watches her successful gathering session pay off with excitement and happiness for a day where each member of the family feels like someone took the time to consider EXACTLY what THEY wanted, and made those wishes come true. Some amazing moms even yield the credit to a big man in a red suit as the benefactor of this great extravaganza… 🎅🏼🎅🏼🎅🏼
WELL… after watching that scene for the last 17 years, our family has agreed to switch things up a bit. First of all, I have really been into the idea of enjoying experiences vs. THINGS. As I get older, I have come to realize how short-lived the happiness of obtaining items can really be. It is a plight that sends many into debt and even depression after realizing once you get “IT”, there is always a desire for MORE… “IT” is never enough… and “IT” never gives the lasting high created by memories or experiences that leave a lasting impression, a lifelong memory or moments for reflection and growth. Over the years, I have come to replace high ticket items, technology, and great trinkets, with opportunities of adventure and togetherness.
While our family will take another trip this holiday season, we will still attempt to give them the “gift under the tree” experience, but this year it will be with a bit of a twist. This year we have set a spending budget of $400. Each member of our family will pull a name from our family of four. They will keep that name a secret. For the next several days THEY will conduct research on their person. They will study them. Listen to them. Consider the desires of their heart. On December 15th, we will wake up early and venture out to the mall. Each family member will get $100 in cash. They will then be responsible for searching for great gifts for their selected family member. As the mom, I will be on hand for advice or guidance if necessary, but it is up to them to make this a memorable experience for their person to enjoy on Christmas day.
I love this idea because it does several things:
- It allows EVERY member of the family to appreciate the art of GIVING as well as receiving. I SOOOO love to give. Though our family is a family of givers, I hope our children will see how great the entire giving experience is and make it a part of everyday life.
- It helps everyone appreciate and understand the importance of a budget. Though we would LOVE to give a lot more, we must spend according to what we have. Apple can’t determine that amount, we must. There is no joy in giving when you have to pay for it for the next several months. I love that we can share this experience together. Look for deals! Find the sales… Make that money stretch!
- It requires everyone to consider another’s desires over their own. They will have to conduct the necessary research in order to be successful in their experience. Too many times we are so wrapped up in our own wishes, we fail to consider anyone else’s.
- It takes the weight off one person producing for everyone. Though I thoroughly enjoy the Christmas hunt, purchase, wrap and presentation session, it is a joy I would like my family to practice as well. Especially as my kids are getting older, it will be imperative for them to learn the art of giving for their current and future relationships.
- It is a reminder that we all get things throughout the year… All the time!!! We can’t possibly buy EVERYthing for EVERYbody in one month… (Whoever came up with such an idea??? 🤔🤔🤔 lol!)
- It helps highlight the idea that the family trip is our true Christmas present. Our undivided time together and the adventures we will share will supersede any thing we could wrap and place under a tree.
As a country, the secularization of Christmas has created a “get” mentality in many of us. A lot of our giving is out of obligation vs. the genuine desire to share. Many of us go into debt to meet unrealistic expectations and fail to see the true beauty in what this amazing time of year is all about. While we will still decorate the tree and enjoy the lights and holiday music, I am hopeful to help create experiences that spread love, joy, peace and the true beauty of cheerful giving, (within a budget of course) that will help produce memories that last a lifetime. Happy Holidays to you and your family. Here’s to all the wonderful ways you choose to celebrate God’s love this holiday season! 😊😊😊😊😘😘😘
When I was in 6th grade, I remember our middle school having a big dance. Though it was held in our gymnasium, and the teachers were our chaperones, somehow, to us, it was considered a MAJOR event. I knew most of the kids in my grade and even the upper classmen. We had been going to school together since elementary. I was actually considered decently popular (if there is such a thing in 6th grade… 😊) And though the DJ was BLASTING some of that year’s greatest JAMS, it did not stop my tremendous fear of getting on the dance floor. I literally sat there the entire time watching all the kids dance wishing I had the guts to get out there and jam right along with them. Instead, I played it safe, and stayed my butt on the wall the entire night overcome with great envy and fear. I was so disappointed in myself. Over time I matured. I gained a bit of confidence and by the time I was in the 8th grade, I was not only helping to organize the dances, but I had choreographed routines to Bobby Brown and Janet Jackson’s greatest hits in order to show off my dance skills with my friends!!! Lol!
Speed this up to 2018, 30+ years later, recently, I have been listening to Michael Jackson’s awesome hit song, “Off the Wall.” If you get a chance you should check it out. But the lyrics made me remember that 6th grade experience. I wonder how many of us get stuck in that same “wall” rut. We get caught up in our mundane routines of life. At one time they may have seemed thrilling, but as we get up, go to work, take the kids to school, come home, eat, sleep, and then repeat… we find ourselves slipping into a bit of boredom and even despair. We are frustrated with the monotony, but don’t really know any other way. The kids HAVE to go to practice. We HAVE to work, do laundry, cook, clean, etc… and it becomes too easy to lean up against that wall and watch everyone else enjoying themselves. Because, for us, the thrill is gone…Yep. I get it.
HOWEVER. There is SO much more to life than a job. Than taking kids back and forth to practice. Than sitting in traffic. Than living that predictable, controlled, mundane life. Life is supposed to be ENJOYED!!! Full of adventure and love and zest and FUN!!!!!! It can seem a bit intimidating to step outside our comfort zones and try new ideas, travel new terrain, explore unfamiliar scenes. I mean, who has time or energy or even money for all that???? But getting off the wall doesn’t mean we have to go do a solo dance routine. Doesn’t mean we have to purchase a tuxedo and meet with a dance instructor or to audition for Julliard…
It could mean getting up and watching the sunrise. Committing to a new hiking destination once a month. Making a dish inspired by various countries all over the world. Road tripping twice a year. Getting that new pixie cut you’ve been too scared to try, renting a convertible for the weekend, buying silver boots to wear to the concert of your favorite band, learning a new language online, saving up to see a new country each year. Renting a pontoon for the family vacay. Taking dance lessons. You get the idea. Whatever the case, YOU GOT TO GET OFF THAT WALL!!!! The safe route is a road that leads to stagnation. Boredom. And Despair. Yes, you have a job. You have to be a responsible adult, spouse, parent, employee, homeowner etc… But we MUST commit to doing things on a REGULAR basis that, though may be uncomfortable, or cost a little money, or require a little planning, force us to get off the wall and enjoy this life.
As it stands right now, I have two teenagers, a husband and a dog. All of them require my time, energy, love and commitment. I am FULLY devoted to them. However, I understand that in order to live a balanced life, in order to be 100% for them, I HAVE TO do things that stimulate my joy, stir up my excitement, put thrill back on the scene. Some of the things I do/have done in the past have been simple, free, inexpensive, or sometimes not so much, but I am committed to doing something carefree and fun at least once a week and if possible once a day!
It is so cliché’ to say life is short, but it is so true. When we leave this beautiful place, we can’t take our jobs, our cars, our houses or clothing with us. It won’t matter what items or titles we’ve acquired. What will matter, are the experiences we enjoyed and how much LIFE we lived and the amazing memories and lessons we gained along the way. We must be intentional about squeezing every drip drop of this awesome journey.
I pray that you don’t get on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc… and look at everyone else on the dance floor. That you don’t scroll through their pictures of trips to the ocean, but that right where you are, you make those moments for yourself. Get so good at living off the wall, you have choreographed dance numbers for every song that is played. You are jammin’ so hard, you inspire others to jam as well… And in the words of the great Michael Jackson, you will be sure to find, “Life ain’t so bad at all… if you live it off the wall!!!!” 😊
Let me start this blog off by saying this: by no means is my son an Olympic athlete. He started running cross-country a couple years ago as a means to stay active and be a part of a team. Last week he had his first meet of the season. Up until then, he had regular practice each day and even ran some in the summer. He also grew quite a bit over the last few months and was excited about his new “man” strength! 😊 But somehow for the first time, before the race, I saw fear in his eyes. He was so nervous and spoke of pain in his ankle and shin, and just lacked confidence. Nonetheless, as always, we were on the sidelines cheering him on expecting a successful run.
After his race, he was near tears. He was so disappointed in his performance. He was passed by some of his underclassman teammates, finished with a lower time than his previous year and placed 56th overall. He was devastated. We of course, cheered him up, encouraged him and helped him refocus his attention toward the upcoming races as best as we could.
That next week went on like a typical week. The kids went to school, practice, church, and we had our normal family time each day. Oh yeah, we also had a little Labor Day get-together at our house, but other than that, the week was normal. Hindsight, I’ve come to reflect, that our week was anything but normal.
That Sunday, our pastor preached a message about the power of the Spirit. He talked about telling your body and your mind to line up with what God says about you. That Monday during our get-together, one of his great mentors went on a run with him, while some of the other fellas sat on the porch with him and watched a couple of his favorite shows. They spoke life to him and just treated him like the awesome young man he is. On Wednesday, he went to youth Bible study, where the pastor talked about “believing”/ having faith over fear and doubt.
By Thursday of this week, it was time for another race. On the way to school we gave him the typical pep talk, prayed and encouraged him to do his best. Later that day, as he stood at the starting line with 100+ young men, we weren’t sure what to expect, but we were hoping for the best. As always, I made the 1-hour drive to be on the sidelines, while his dad got permission to leave an hour early from work to be there as well. When the gun went off to start the race, I saw a difference in him. I saw a confidence. A determination. As he fought his way to get toward the front of the pack, I was excited about how this race could go.
For the next several minutes, I watched him run through the woods, up and down the hills, and on the track with boldness. It was nearly 90 degrees outside, the terrain was steep, rugged and rough. He reflected later that on his toughest hill, we wanted to take a break and just speed walk a bit. But he remembered what he learned that week. He simply “believed.” He commanded his body and mind to line up. He listened to the cheers of his teammates and his parents. He realized that for the first time in his cross-country career, he was the lead runner of his team. It propelled him further. He gained momentum. At the last few meters of his race, I saw the fierceness in his eyes. He flew across that finish line with the fastest time he’d ever run, the highest ranking he’d ever had and the proudest he’d ever been.
He later recounted all the small things that pushed him to be great. And though I’d like to think he has an awesome team at home, I fully understand that, as parents we couldn’t possibly do this journey alone. That it is not just the training, love, wisdom, discipline he gets inside the four walls of our house, but it is the weekly Word he gets on a continual basis from our awesome pastor. It is the pep talk he gets from his loving Aunt when he sees her in the summertime, or the love he gets from his Grandmother that cares for him in our absence, or the visit from his Grandfather and Uncle, the beautiful people he sees at church that impart love and affirmation, the teammates that cheer him on from the sidelines, the ladies that served in the nursery and youth department, the teachers that encouraged him to be great, my colleague who drives 3 hours to cheer from the stands, the babysitters that cared for him with love, the positive TV shows that line up with the things we teach him at home… are all forces working hand and hand toward his success.
As parents, we are called to the beautiful yet sometimes challenging task of loving and training our children to become all God has called them to be. It is indeed a journey that lasts a lifetime, however, we also need to remember that it is a collection of the amazing people who surround them, who impart knowledge, wisdom and love that will aide in that journey as well. As graduation draws near, I am beyond grateful for the AMAZING people who have loved on our children past, present and future. I see the fruit of their seed come to life daily. I am also intentional about putting these type of people in their path from birth throughout.
If you are privileged enough to be a teacher, coach, aunt, uncle, mentor, pastor, or any position of influence over children, never doubt the power of your influence. My son still has the trophy given to him by his 2nd grade teacher. He remembers the $100 his uncle sent for his fundraiser, or the encouraging card his Godmother sends each birthday. He remembers when his mentor came to his chess meets, or when his Uncle took the time to read his comic book. You have more power than you know. Your words and acts of love STICK.
Parents, I pray you SUMERGE your children with love and encouragement inside and outside the home. Recognize that this is not a task you can do alone. That every single fabric of their life will leave some sort of imprint. May their journey be filled with people, places and things that bring hope, inspiration and love. In the meantime, thank you so much to all the amazing people all over the country, past and present who have left a beautiful imprint on my son and daughter’s life. You mean more to us than you know. You truly have made a difference in their life and ultimately are the hands and feet of God.
Cover photo: Quotesnew.com
Text photo: Jenni Dixon
My husband and I celebrated 19 years of marriage last weekend!!! It was truly a major milestone!! Both of us come from single parent homes and are really figuring this all out as we go. Nevertheless, over the years, I’ve had many people say they look to us (and other couples) and see their #marriagegoals, an awesome union, the perfect little family… I mean, I work from home, my husband has a great job, we live in a cute little house in the mountains, we have two awesome kids, we’re all healthy, we live debt-free, and we love God… I mean, we kayak on the weekends and eat at the dinner table together every night for goodness sake!!!! WHAT AN AWESOME LIFE, RIGHT????
I have to admit, though all those things are true, this year was probably one of our toughest. It shook our marriage to its very foundation and had us considering some hard-core questions. It wasn’t because any THING happened. Nobody cheated, nobody lost their job, we didn’t file for bankruptcy or suffer from some major illness. It wasn’t that at all. Honestly, I can’t attribute this wall we hit to anything specific. Perhaps a build up of a ton of tiny little things, or even small transitions over time. Perhaps the fact that we have two teenagers in our home, or that we live two hours away from most of our affiliations, maybe that we were both growing at two different speeds and… I DON’T EVEN KNOW!!!! But whatever the case, the tension was mounting, we couldn’t see eye to eye on anything and the opportunities for disagreement seemed to abound.
This was heartbreaking, because, my husband and I have been best friends since I was 18 years old!!! Our connection has been so genuine and so rare. We do EVERYTHING together. We have SO much fun. We have an amazing history, and more importantly, what we have built and accomplished together is incredible.
Nonetheless, the devastation of our divergence took a toll on everything. It seemed like a dark cloud followed us everywhere we went. The fact that we knew the Word, that we had super friends, ministers and pastors we could turn to, we couldn’t even identify a problem to fix! I imagine this being the part in a person’s life where hopelessness sets in. Where you just say, “We grew apart,” “We just fell out of love,” “We decided to go our separate ways.” And though I admit, I was SOOOOOOOO frustrated and overwhelmed by the tension and stress, if you know me, you KNOW, I was NOT about to give up!!!!
19 YEARS!!!! 19 years of building life together. Making memories. Working through all other MAJOR obstacles. Building and growing. And most importantly, the kids. They were watching us. They were counting on us to step our game up and work this Word. To help them believe in the love we teach and preach about every day. NO SIR!!!! We could not let them down!
For the last several months I committed to doing my part in getting myself together. I read books and devotionals, talked to AMAZING friends, listened to teachings, filled my social media feed with encouragement and even created some alone time to focus on my own personal growth. I took the magnifying glass off my husband and put it on God. During this time, we still had disagreements. We still had rough days, but by now, my faith was so strong, I was confident that relief was on the way.
About that time, I saw an ad for a marriage conference come across my screen. It was called SPARK and it was being hosted by Joel Osteen in Houston, Texas. It just so happened to fall on our anniversary weekend. Though we had bought books to read together, committed to a marriage challenge and were both doing our own individual growth plans, we knew we needed something BIG to get us the proper tune-up. We both knew this conference was IT!!!!
My husband took care of all the accommodations and last week we flew to Houston for a life changing experience. We were in an auditorium with thousands of other couples. Newlyweds on up to people married for 50+ years. The atmosphere alone was inspiring, not to mention the amazing speakers and the wisdom they shared with all of us. My husband and I gleaned so much. It was EVERYTHING we needed to get us back on track. We spent a couple extra days there just talking and refocusing. We got our first couple’s massage and did some of our old favorite things like walking on the beach, going out to eat, shopping, and just spending uninterrupted time alone to recharge and restore.
I considered how many couples experience hardships that cut deep, that shake the core of their marriage. Some of them have had affairs, suffered job loss, illness or even just hit a wall on their journey. It seems SOOOOOO much easier to quit. Like starting over would wipe away the deep pain they experience on a regular basis. “It’s not fair!” “I don’t deserve this!” “I can do better all by myself!” I get it!!! But quitting is NOT an option!!!! You have to FIGHT for your marriage! You made a promise before God and all the other witnesses that you would love each other for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer. Now I know today contracts/covenants don’t hold the weight they once did, but that doesn’t make them any less weighty. What is the boundary on your “worse?” Does your “sickness” have a limit? Does “poorer” not include being unemployed for 6 months? We have to go the distance. We have to be committed to doing whatever is necessary to make this partnership work. No matter what.
Interestingly, when our brakes go out on our car, we don’t throw the entire car away. Most of us take it to the shop upon the first squeak. Some of us wait until the light grind, but we never just let the brakes go all the way out; and we don’t leave the car abandoned and go out and buy a new car, with new brakes. Yet too many times at the first sign of discomfort we are ready to trade in the old for “better.” Instead, we must be willing to do the regular maintenance necessary to keeping the car in tip-top shape. When it needs a tune up, tune it up. When it needs a small repair, do it. New cars are great, but their brakes wear down as well. They will need tune-ups as well.
People ask all the time how we made it 19 years. They see us and think we don’t have any real problems. We got it made. I have a GREAT husband, he has a GREAT wife. We don’t know struggle. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. We have our tough times. We have persevered through some MAJOR adversities. The difference is we have made a commitment to NEVER quit. We will take this baby to the shop over and over again. We will perform repairs and continual tune-ups over and over again. We will get up and fight every day to have the happy marriage we always dreamed about.
When times get tough, remember to give each other grace. Read a book, seek counsel, go to a conference, whatever is necessary to keep your marriage healthy and happy. Give your spouse the insurance policy that if he/she gains a few pounds, goes through menopause/post-partum depression, loses their job, gets sick, grows at a different pace, YOU will be right there fighting for them. Believing the best. Helping them win…TOGETHER, through the good and the bad.
No matter how tough it gets, there is grace for us to conquer our storms. And no matter what, quitting is NEVER an option!!!! As for me and my husband, we are going ALL THE WAY!!!! I am so grateful for 19 years and I am SO looking forward to the next 19!!! Here’s to you and your Happily Ever After…with your no- quittin’ self!!!
I just had another birthday a few weeks back. Traditionally, I use this time to capitalize on a super travel experience with my husband, at which he and I whisk away to a fun destination and enjoy a few kid-less days of rest, rejuvenation, and reflection in preparation for another awesome year. We set a budget and GO!!!! Though I generally enjoy this time IMMENSELY, this year, I kinda didn’t want to be away from the kids!!! WHAAAATTTTT????!!!! Turn down a once a year getaway??!!!!!… I KNOW… I KNOW!!! They are getting older so fast… and I kinda just wanted to be with them. SO, I forfeited my 2 person trip, and turned it into a 4 person trip. HOWEVER, I STILL had to stick with the same budget. YIKES!! This made things kind of tricky. I had to stretch this budget, yet still come up with an AWESOME vacation plan.
After careful consideration and research, I decided DENVER would be the PERFECT spot. Neither of us had ever been there, and we’ve seen and heard amazing things about it. The only problem was, the flight from Atlanta to Denver x 4 consumed 90% of the budget. So, I had to again get creative… And that’s when the family road trip idea was born.
The trip would be 1400 miles which would take about approximately 21 hours by car one way!!! WHAAATTT!!!???!! That’s a total of 40+ hours on the road (not even including the driving once we got there)!!!! YIKES!!! We’ve done a 4-6 hour trip before and even broken up a 10 hour trip over 2 days… but 21 HOURS!!! OMG!!! I talked it over with my husband and then carefully presented it to the kids. They were BEYOND thrilled to not only be considered for the trip, but SO up for the ride!!!!! YAAAY!!! It was settled.
Over the next several days, we calculated gas, time, places to stop (on the way there and on the way back), and of course our anchor spot in Denver. We decided to drive our own car vs. renting one, which created so much wiggle room in the budget and gave us tons of financial flexibility. We stayed in great hotels, ate super food, shopped at great malls and boutiques, explored new terrain and enjoyed awesome adventures. We bonded. Talked. Read. Thought. Slept. And sometimes just sat in silence. Overall, we had the time of our lives. Here are some pics and details of our 10-day cross country family road trip from Georgia to Denver and all the great stops in between.
Day 1: Friday December 22, 2017: Today was the kids’ last day of school and my daughter had a basketball game that evening, so we planned to leave at night and make the most of the trip while everyone was sleeping. After the game, we shut down and secured the house, loaded up the truck, said our family prayer, and FINALLY, at nearly 11:00pm, we took off for the first 12 hours of driving.
Day 2: Saturday December 23, 2017: After 10 hours of driving, we made it to our first stop: St. Louis, Missouri. The kids woke up, we all stretched our legs and ate a nice breakfast before our 4 hour drive to Kansas City, where we stayed for the night.
Day 3: Sunday December 24, 2017: We woke up the next morning and enjoyed a nice (free) breakfast at the hotel, and a quick family walk. We then picked up some snacks, filled up the tank, and grabbed a souvenir Starbucks mug to add to my collection before starting our next 9 hours on the road. The drive was beautiful. We talked, laughed, listened to music, and reflected on the birth of Christ on our Christmas Eve drive. The kids read their books and even watched a couple Redbox movies to help the time fly by. We stopped at a Chinese Buffet to stretch our legs and fill our bellies before all the restaurants shut down for the holiday. We FINALLY made it to Denver that evening. WE WERE THRILLED the room and the area was as beautiful as it was online when we booked it. ANOTHER SCORE!!!
Day 4: Monday December 25, 2017… CHRISTMAS DAY!!!!! What a great day it was. Of course we began the day with reflection on the birth of Christ. We then enjoyed another great free breakfast and relaxing time around the hotel.
Day 5: Tuesday December 26, 2017: Today was our first real day out in Colorado. After recommendations from some of the locals, we decided to make the 30 minute trip to Boulder. We had an AWESOME time.
Day 6: Wednesday December 27, 2017… MY 41st BIRTHDAY!!!! Today, we decided to paint the town RED!!! We didn’t have a set agenda (which sometimes is the best) but we knew we were going to take the 1 1/2 ride to Breckenridge. What a super day!
Day 7: Thursday December 28, 2017: This was our last full day in Colorado and probably my FAVORITE day of the entire trip. We ventured back to Boulder to hike the Flatirons, which is are huge rock formations just east of the Rocky Mountains. The trails have the most BEAUTIFUL views of the city and are surrounded by mountains.
Day 8: Friday December 29, 2017: We packed up the truck and began the 12 hour drive to Branson, Missouri. Though it may have been a little tough to leave this awesome place, I was full from the rich experiences we had while here and happy that though we were departing, we still had a few goodies left on our journey.
Day 9: Saturday December 30, 2017: Today is officially our last day of fun off the road. We ate a super breakfast, let the kids swim a bit, and even went on a small hike while checking out the sites in Branson. It was a lite day, in preparation for an amazing night…
Day 10: Sunday December 31, 2017: It was the last day of the year and the last day on the road. We woke up early the next morning and headed back for Atlanta. I know this was a super long post, but I can’t reflect enough on the amazing time we had together. Over the years we have done the theme parks, visited beaches, lakes and mountains, voyaged on cruises, and other super destinations, however, I have to say this may just be my absolute favorite trip of them all. We bonded. We loved. We adventured. Many people that knew of our trip asked if we had family in Denver? Was there a reason for such extensive travel? The answer is no. We had a desire to see new terrain, a plan and a budget. We were fueled by the excitement of the unknown and we have memories to last a lifetime. My kids are getting older. I want to take every opportunity possible to make these moments count. While I love the idea of giving gifts and buying presents, I will cherish this amazing experience, it was my greatest gift of all…
Ok, so it has been a couple months since I posted. I wish I could tell you it was because I was out enjoying my journey to the fullest. But if I can be honest with you, it was actually just the opposite. I was in the dumps, overcoming the blues… my peace was under attack and I have to tell you, it was a major struggle. Though it took just about 2 months, now that I have come to see the light, so to speak, now that I am back, I want to share what I have learned from my experience. Because let’s face it, we all have our rough patches, walk through valleys, experience pain and drama and let downs. And though I consider myself one tough cookie, and a pretty happy person, sometimes, these occurrences/circumstances/ordeals/setbacks/rough patches can indeed try to steal our joy. Sometimes these situations are devastating and a mere “suck it up buttercup” just won’t do.
For an example, surely you can have a bad day at work, or a heated exchange with your spouse, or leave your favorite scarf at the restaurant, or your kid gets a bad grade on his report card and this can be super frustrating. However, you can make a few adjustments, take a few deep breaths and bounce back soon after. But what about the more devastating experiences???? The big blows that throw you off your rocker, that shake your entire world. Like a death of a loved one, a CONTINUAL exchange with your spouse, a child who is perpetually in trouble, a job loss, a bad medical report, etc… How can we overcome the devastation that comes with these situations, especially when there is minimal evidence the circumstance will change?
Well without going into the details of my ordeal, I will confide some of the ways I was able to get my joy back and how I plan to maintain it. First of all, I realized quickly that my mind was completely filled with sadness, frustration, and even anger. Once that happened, there was no room for me to see anything with the right perspective. EVERYTHING seemed wrong. Everyone was bad. My efforts were worthless. Nothing had value to me. There was a fog clouding my mind and because of it, my vision was blurred. My perspective was off. Regardless of the fact that I otherwise had a pretty great existence, I literally could not see that. I was consumed by my grief. Overwhelmed by my doubt. Immersed with fear and frustration. I WAS going to church, I WAS reading the bible, I was doing all that blah, blah, blah. But my situation was there every day looking at me in the face like a huge dark cloud of reality and all I could do was roll around in it with self-pity assuming it would never get better.
So, let’s start there. Let’s assume that your situation doesn’t get better. Maybe that child won’t come to his senses for 5 more years, the bankruptcy has left you with bad credit for 7 years, your spouse won’t get the job he’s been believing for for another 5 months… how can you keep your spirits up? I submit that though those situations can bring devastation to you and your need for control, your peace and joy cannot be contingent upon them getting better. Once I came to that realization, operation Get My Joy Back, was in full swing!!! Here are the four steps I took to help me stop, drop and roll out of my gloom.
- Eliminate the waste/Take out the trash: In order to get rid of my stinkin’ thinkin’ I had to get rid of the negative influences that were clouding my vision. It wasn’t deep. I mean, I don’t hang around or have regular exposure to negative people, but I had to eliminate the subtle contact. Like the images on social media, some of the TV shows, the songs, news, and even the conversations with people who were regularly complaining about their own drama. It was too much. Some of those songs will have you ready to jump off the mountain you are supposed to be moving!!!! They will subliminally fill your head with images and ideas that are not related to you. For example, some of the regular commercials on TV will make you think EVERYONE is depressed, EVERYONE has cancer, EVERYONE’S man cheats on them!!!! SOOOOO NOT TRUE!!!! TURN IT ALL OFFFFFF!!!!! TUNE IT ALLLLL OUT!!!! Those images will only hinder your path to mental clarity and set you back miles on your journey.
- On the contrary, immerse your mind with positive: Pretend your mind is a cup. As much as you possibly can, overload that cup with positive images, messages, thoughts, words, ideas and people. During my time in the valley, I ordered 4 new books, read great magazines, followed several sites that uploaded positive quotes and images, watched a series of faith-based movies, listened to Joel Osteen every time I got in the car, listened to uplifting music and conversed with positive people. It is SOOO easy to want to call your best buddy and unload your issue on them. Often times they will even help you sit in your stew. But I connected with a friend of mine who challenged me. Who encouraged me. She helped me lift my spirits and help me get my eyes on what was important. Surround yourself with positivity. Great sources that will help center your focus upward.
- Minister to yourself: I know this is so cliché, but I was on a plane recently and the flight attendant went through the whole spiel about “securing your oxygen mask FIRST before trying to take care of others’…” That really spoke to me. It is SOOOOO important that we minister to ourselves, not only during the tough times, but REGULARLY. I dare say, EVERY DAY!!!! During my frustration, I went to the movies, went on long walks, had some quiet book reading in the coffee shop, took long hot baths, went window shopping, baked, and even went on a weekend getaway with just myself. Whatever you enjoy doing, which more than likely, you have somehow forfeited… DO IT!!!! It is therapeutic. It is necessary. These are the things that help you ENJOY life and should not take a back seat to busyness. Furthermore, intentionally doing some of these things on a regular basis, is a great way to stay out of the rough patch.
- SEEK THE LORD: Jesus is the ultimate supplier of joy! Seek Him first thing every single day! I personally don’t answer a text, a call, open social media, exchange with humans at all until AFTER I pray and read the Word/devotional each morning. If you don’t have a daily regimen or don’t know where to start, Pray in the shower. Download the Bible App on your phone. Read a chapter of the bible a day. Find a devotional that ministers to you. Get a good bible based book. Whatever the case, I have found that no person, no thing, no idea, no quote, no method can renew my strength, feed my spirit, restore my joy like Jesus. No house, no spouse, no clothing, no weight loss, no achievement, no surgery, no drug, no degree, or pursuit can provide the lasting joy like a relationship with Christ. Once I surrendered my worry, doubt, frustration, fear, anger and sadness over to Him. Once I took my hands off the wheel and released the need for control, I was able to allow His peace, hope, joy, faith, and love to fill my heart completely. And the best part is, He was right there all along. When He has preeminence in your life, it is difficult for outside forces to get in…
Now. Does that mean that we will never experience a rough patch ever again? Of course not. But I am confident that as I used these steps to recover my joy, if I make them a regular practice, I can use them to maintain my joy, regardless what the circumstances are around me. No doubt life can be tough. We have a TON going on and so many things coming at us each day. However, joy is a choice. It is contingent upon nothing other than our decision to activate it… Here’s to getting back out there and making the decision to ENJOY EVERY DAY OF YOUR JOURNEY!!!! As for me… I CHOOSE JOY.
Photo cred: Stephanie Archer
I was watering my bushes a few days ago. I noticed that after a year and a half of planting and watering just about every day, some of the bushes were beginning to grow and the buds were actually blossoming! I was THRILLED at the SIGHT of life, because up until now, though I was diligent with their care, my flowers seemed pretty unresponsive. The new blooms motivated me to water more. I even watered the couple with the biggest blossoms a bit longer because they had become my prize. I then looked over to the four that were not blooming and I grew frustrated. I didn’t even want to waste my time watering them. Something must be wrong with them if they couldn’t produce the same results after the same care! THE NERVE!!!! I mean, they have given no evidence of even THINKING of blooming!!! I even considered uprooting them and planting something more “suitable” for success.
At that moment, the Lord showed me the correlation between my frustration about the non-budding bushes with how often times we as a society can become toward others that behave in a similar manner. Think about it. How easy is it to write a person off, to become offended, to hold a grudge or withhold mercy on a person who acts in an unbecoming manner that may be different from otherwise attractive behaviors. How often are we repelled by a co-worker, a neighbor, a child, even a spouse who seems to have missed the mark on seemingly obvious objectives. ESPECIALLY when you have gone out of your way to extend an extra amount of mercy toward them… THE NERVE!!!!!
I remember my last year teaching, I had a student in 1st period named “John.” Since I actually loved teaching and even more so, LOVED the students, I never had many discipline problems. My students could see my sincere care and determination for their success, it created a mutual relationship of love and respect. However, “John” was one of the toughest in all my career. He showed up late just about every day, he sat in the front row and attempted to sleep regularly; when he WAS awake, he sat there, unprepared and unmotivated to do ANYTHING, and often times became a MAJOR distraction. Though I had to continually redirect him, something in me could not give up on “John.” This kid challenged me to my CORE, but I knew he was capable of fulfilling the tasks put before him. It was his senior year, he had made it this far, and I was NOT about to let him FAIL. He required EVERY drip drop of my patience, but I wouldn’t accept less than his best and I encouraged him to get through.
I realize extending this kind of grace takes an enormous amount of tolerance, perseverance, and strength. People can be super- extra difficult at times! It is SO easy to just throw our hands up and quit. I mean, even if “John” MAKES it out of high school, even if those plants do get a little stronger, it is so much easier to devote the energy to a person/plant that appreciates the love, or at least shows PROMISE of success.
I remember my students asking me that same question… “Mrs. Harper, why do you keep working with “John,” you know he’s not even going to graduate! He doesn’t even care!” What they didn’t know, and what I didn’t even know until later, was that John’s dad walked out on their family the year prior. It had a devastating impact on them emotionally and financially. His mother had a to carry a weight that was too much for her. They lost their home, and were forced into some very unbearable living conditions. This certainly took its toll on “John” and he began to act out, lose interest in school and everything else.
From somewhere deep inside, without knowing this prior, I was devoted to seeing “John” win. I remember explaining to the class that if we all treated John the way he deserved to be treated based on his behavior, he would see frustration and annoyance from his teachers, his mother, his classmates, his family and everyone in his life. How would that make him feel? How could he POSSIBLY blossom in that case? But what if we treated him like we hoped he would be. What we wanted him to become? What if we loved on him. What if when he acted out, we didn’t retaliate with anger, but redirected him with compassion? Considering how challenging his behavior was, this seemed a near impossible task. But I was up for the mission and was sure to model it in front of my students.
I know this is not easy. I know. But what I have come to appreciate is the one who is the most challenging, the one who is the most unloveable, the one with the threat of failure, is the very one that needs love the most. We simply cannot give up on people who don’t have it all together, who present a challenge, even those who act out. That is the expected response. That is what they are used to. That won’t help promote a change or motivate them to rise higher. We must reach deep into our hearts… DEEP (lol) and find that compassion. Extend that mercy. Overlook that offense. I am convinced that love never fails. I am settled that if we rise to a higher place, we can win over the hardest of hearts. We can inspire that tough individual to overcome.
I will never forget graduation 2014. I sat on the field during the commencement as a proud teacher of the graduates. We were to sit with them, help supervise, and escort them off the field after the ceremony. One of the proudest moments of my teaching career happened at the end as the graduates engaged in a procession off the field. “John” came up to me with tears streaming down his face, beaming with pride and gratitude. He looked me in my eyes, and with all sincerity told me, there was no way he would have made it to this moment without me. He apologized for being so difficult to handle and concluded his message with, “thanks for never giving up on me!!!” It was the last class of my career, but that lesson was one of the greatest of them all.
Though you may put forth great effort, though you may not always understand, though that difficult spirit may push you to your limit, somehow go to that place deep down in your heart and activate that compassion, extend that mercy, muster up that hope, water those plants and love the seemingly unloveable. It may just be the very ingredient necessary for them not to fail…
Ok, so both my kids are in high school!!!!! 😲😲😔 WHAATTT???!!! This blew me away!!! I mean, it seems like YESTERDAY I was nursing them and teaching them how to use the bathroom!!!! I remember waking up in the middle of the night to feed them, or getting them bundled in alllll their layers of clothing in order to weather the cold, and carrying them in their car seat and wondering “how in the world was I going to get through this????” I mean, it seemed SOOOOO hard and because they were only 19 months apart, it seemed there was no relief. Something as simple as getting ready for bed meant individual baths, and getting them dressed and keeping one entertained while the other was being attended to… it was literally EXHAUSTING!!!!
I remember some of the elders, (ie. WISE, BRILLIANT people we tend to ignore because they just don’t understand our specific situation) used to tell me, “enjoy these moments because they fly right by…” I remember WISHING they would… 😂😂lolol!!! Now that those beautiful babies have grown into amazing 14/16-year old’s right before my eyes, I’ve learned that time does indeed FLY by and I have come to appreciate allllll those tough times as fond moments in this AMAZING journey. Because I have come to value each phase of parenthood, I have also learned how to seize the moments and literally slow down the time.
How in the world can you slow down time, you say? It is actually quite simple: Make each moment count. BE PRESENT. Adjust your perspective and see the joy in that perfect place of the journey. Especially you new moms, or moms of toddlers, or moms of those goofy pre-teens, and OMG… MOMS OF TEENAGERS!!!! YIKES!!! Know that each phase brings about a new terrain. It can be tough, especially when you haven’t tread that path before. It completely sucks when they learn the word “no”, or when they THINK about talking back, driving, dating, or wanting to go on field trips, or getting a new cell phone, or starting HIGH SCHOOL!!!! OMG!!!! IT’S A LOT I KNOW!!!! Each phase brings new challenges indeed, but they are times you will never get back. Ask any empty-nester what they wouldn’t give to put that perfect part in their daughter’s hair with pigtails for the first day of school. How they wish they could sit through just ONE more basketball game. How they wish they could watch one more Disney movie together…
I remember my daughter being rushed to the hospital because her appendix ruptured. We had no idea, but it actually ruptured days before she was admitted, which put her in a critical position. Infection had spread through her body and we were in the hospital for several days. I was still working during that time. I remember actually wrestling with the idea that I had 150 final exams to grade and report cards to post while my daughter had a tube sticking out the middle of her stomach!!! 😦😦😦 It dawned on me then, that my job was taking WAAAAY too much of my attention. That it hindered me from fully focusing on the monumental moments of my children’s lives. I considered how much of my attention COULDN’T be on them, because I was trying to be excellent at my career. That was my last year of teaching. We downsized our lives, I retired from my job and am at home to fully serve my family. Now, I am by NO means suggesting anyone quit their job. For me, I HAD to, and it has made all the difference. But there is surely a way you can slow down the time in your life right now. Whatever way God leads you specifically to enjoy your journey, be sure to adhere. Realize that though we have our entire lives to indulge, chase after dreams, seek promotion, gain advanced education, get overtime hours, one thing we can’t get back is the time that passes and the events that happen throughout. Figure out how YOU can be present for your kids and get to it ASAP.
It doesn’t even have to be super deep. Being present in the moment looks like this: Attuning fully when they show you their 7,456th completed page from their coloring book, listening like you are at a concert when they ask you to hear that song they learned on the flute in band class today, sitting with them while they struggle through that English project, putting your phone down and talking to them in the car on the way to EVERY WHERE, turning off the TV and listening to them during dinner, helping them make that sign for their student council election and the like.
Parents have a tough job. We seem to constantly need relief from the weight it bears. However, if we adjust our perspective a bit and see each phase as a once in a lifetime moment on an amazing journey, we are sure to savor the time. When we purpose to enjoy each day of their childhood, we will never have to answer that horrible question, “Where did the time go?” Because we were right there in the middle of each one of those precious moments with them. Today is tomorrow’s “good old days…” so get out there and Carpe Diem!!!!
Today I celebrate my 18th wedding anniversary!!!! WOWZERS!!!! It’s hard to believe it has been that long, but what an INCREDIBLE adventure indeed. Especially jumping into marriage at 22, my husband and I grew up together. We have raised 2 children, traveled the world, bought and sold property, developed businesses, paid off debt, overcome challenges and setbacks, and learned SOOOOO much along the way. The best part about it, is that we did it all TOGETHER!!!!! And more importantly, with God at the forefront the entire time. We are by no means perfect, sooooo far from it. We have DEFINITLY had our challenges, but we are committed to growing and getting better and better as we go. Over the years many people ask, how do we stay together? How do we keep the love alive? Well, I truly believe that the secret sauce to a successful marriage is doing it according to the bible. Marriage is created by God. It is a sacred covenant between you and Him and when done in line with His Word, it can be the greatest journey of our lives. In honor of 18 years, I reflected on 18 specific things that I believe has kept our marriage blissful.
- Seek Godly/professional counsel during the tough times. Sometimes you just need a 3rd party who can shed light/Godly wisdom on an issue that neither of you can seem to agree on. We have sought counsel on several occasions during our marriage and it helped us regain our focus.
- Travel/ride through beautiful neighborhoods/test drive nice cars/connect with people you admire/try new foods… DREAM BIG!!!! It sets the tone for “the possible.” We are not called to settle and be stagnant. Step outside your comfort zone and dream/vision cast together. We do this ALLLLL the time. It is so much fun to explore the AMAZING possibilities that await.
- Do as many things as you can TOGETHER. Pretty much, if you see me, you see my husband and/or the kids. We are always together. We LOVE being TOGETHER. We grocery shop, walk, ride, go to basketball games, read, eat, worship, do yard work, etc. TOGETHER. We are a team. It makes EVERYTHING enjoyable.
- Divide chores and tasks evenly among each other. Because we are all stakeholders in this estate, we work together to help it run smoothly. He has strengths and so do I. We use them daily to help take care of the needs of our home/family in a balanced way so that no one is overloaded.
- Build your budget on one salary. Even though for a while we had 2 incomes coming in, it made it that much easier to transition into me stepping away from my job (both times) because we ALWAYS set our budget and spending on his salary. This takes the pressure off when babies come into the equation or any other demands that will require one of you to reduce work or step away from the job.
- Get out of debt and stay out. We eliminate the main area of contention when we don’t have enormous amounts of debt lingering over our heads. It takes such a load off and allows for great freedom to not have to use every dollar we make paying a bill. SOOO worth the sacrifice.
- Take vacation time. We go on at least 1 major trip and several weekend getaways each year. We enjoy the time SO much and it helps us recalibrate for all the great adventures ahead.
- Go on a date regularly. We go out at least once a week. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but just getting dressed and out keeps the party pumpin’!!!
- Put the kids to bed!!! Many people allow the kids to stay up late, sleep in their bed etc. We never did that. The kids have a bed time. We spend a TON of time with them every day. But when it is bedtime, they go to bed. That leaves time for us to have some time each day as well.
- You build your family, let God build your enterprises. Though we have goals and dreams, we are careful not to rush them at the expense of our marriage and/or family. Enterprise and businesses will come. However, these precious moments to raise our kids and build a strong foundation takes time, effort and dedication. It is our #1 priority. We leave the work at the office…
- Pray together daily. Though we pray and have our time with God each day independently, we also pray together as a family each day. It sets the standard in our home that God is the head. It helps us keep our hearts on him FIRST.
- See and celebrate each other’s differences as additions/bonuses to what you lack individually. Though I am super outgoing and passionate, Mike is laid back and calm. This helps complete the package vs. creating a source of division. Differences are assets.
- Keep a thankful journal. I write in a thankful journal every night. Often times when I get frustrated or FORGET how great my husband is, or how great things are in our life, I can look back on years of great things that have happened to me EVERY SINGLE DAY and it INSTANTLY gets my mind right back into perspective.
- Take a MILLION pictures, keep records, make playlists of moments during the journey that you can regularly reflect upon. It goes SO fast and there are SO many monumental adventures to cherish. They will help keep a smile in your heart.
- Build your foundation on the Word. Avoid TV shows, movies, songs, examples of marriages that don’t line up with the Bible. This thing IS NOT miserable. Instead, it is SOOOOO much fun, when done God’s way. (ie. Love is patient, kind… does not dishonor others… is not easily angered… keeps no record of wrongs… etc) Look in the right places for wisdom and examples of marriage.
- Look good for each other, KEEP IT TIGHT!!! Lol!!! Put on your make-up, workout, dress nicely, be sexy for him/her as much as possible. Reinvent your game and stay SPICY!!!
- Spend time growing spiritually, mentally, emotionally, etc. as an individual to offer your best to the union. Read books, attend conferences, invest in yourself regularly in you can be a strong and healthy teammate.
- Last but CERTAINLY not least: Acknowledge that DIVORCE IS NOT AN OPTION. I KNOW times get tough. I mean TOUGH. But (with the exception of infidelity/abuse), it can be worked out. If you fight for your marriage, and don’t give any outside force a foothold, together you and your husband can put 10,000 to flight. Love never fails. I am thoroughly convinced!!!
Whew!!!! Aren’t you glad we haven’t been married 40 years!!! Lol!!! You would be reading forever!!! Lol!!!! I am thrilled to share this awesome ride with my best friend. We are having a BLAST!!! We have built something SO special and I am committed to seeing it through to forever. I hope some of the items on this list are a blessing to you. It was a fun reflection for me. Thanks for reading it!!! May you experience all the joys of an awesome union!!! Here’s to Happily Ever After…