How I Begin My New Year

I’ll give you a hint, there are NO cliche “resolutions”!

The year 2020. That just sounds cool, doesn’t it? Every new year brings new possibilities, new goals, and new resolutions we get excited about and commit to for the first three weeks of the year. Then reality and routine set in and so many of those good intentions go flying out the window like confetti in Times Square. This was always my story in the past as I tried to use the beginning of each new year as a time to make life changes for the better. 

I always felt like I knew what I needed to do, or change, to live up to that “New Year, New You!” mantra I always hear playing like a broken record come January 1st. Inevitably I would make resolutions like commiting to working out more, eating more healthily, or maybe doing something a little out of my comfort zone for “personal growth”. But again, these were always things I thought were good for ME

Therein lies the problem. This is why so many of my past resolutions lost steam, gave me zero passion, or flat out failed. I thought I knew what was best for ME. Wrong approach.

If you are sick, do you ask yourself for a complete medical diagnosis so you can get better? No, not unless you are actually a doctor. If water is leaking through your ceiling in your living room do you use your massive internal knowledge of plumbing and house construction to fix the leak? No! Not unless you’re a skilled plumber and a fabulous contractor! The same goes for your life. How can you expect to know exactly what you need to live an exciting, productive, and ever growing life? You can’t! And why put that kind of pressure on yourself? 

If you’re trying to figure out what you need to improve upon or change in order to live out your God given purpose while using your specific gifts and talents, stop asking yourself! Instead, ask the One who knows you better than you ever will! Take the pressure off of YOU to figure it all out and put it on the One who created every fiber of your being. 

Take a computer for example, and imagine this scenario. You’re sitting by yourself at a diner having breakfast. A man you’ve never met sits next to you and orders a cup of coffee. Then he proceeds to slowly push a laptop down the counter to rest in front of you and says, “I need you to make two Powerpoint presentations, send five emails, and compile this data into two Excel documents in the next hour. If you complete these tasks I’ll give you a million dollars.” 

Now here’s the catch. Also imagine that you have never SEEN a computer before. What would you do? Other than the obvious reaction of, “Who in the world are you mister, and why are you disturbing my morning with this weird square metal contraption?”, you might actually be intrigued by the challenge and try to complete the task. That hefty reward is a bit enticing for goodness sakes.  

This is where you have two options. You could struggle to figure out this crazy machine you’ve never seen before all by yourself and get extremely frustrated because you don’t know the internal workings of a computer. Or, you could ask the gentleman who charged you with this challenge, for assistance. 

And would it help to know that this man’s name is Bill Gates, a brilliant software programmer and co-founder of Microsoft? Uhh….yea, that would help. Anyone with half a brain would ask the expert, who practically built the computer, how to navigate this challenge instead of winging it with limited to no experience in the field. Right?

So why do we put this pressure on OURSELVES every new year to know what is best for us, where we should focus our efforts, and what areas of our lives we should work on? We shouldn’t! Instead, ask the expert! God!

Once I shifted my mindset from this “me centered” approach to a “God centered” focus, my “New Year planning” took on a whole new look.

It actually began about three years ago when I had just completed my breast cancer treatments and my husband and I were finally able to exhale. The stress and trauma of what a cancer diagnosis puts you and your family through is nothing short of exhausting. We were in dire need of some quiet time together as a couple to recharge, reconnect, and process everything we had just been through, so we decided to get away.   

We cashed in some gift cards we had received to a spa, about an hour away from our home, and booked two nights and a few relaxing massages during the day. Because this difficult trial had brought us so much closer to God we knew that we wanted to dedicate this time to express our gratitude to Him for His many blessings, and seek His will for our lives in this next season of continued healing for me. That dedicated time away, just the two of us, has become a wonderful tradition that we have continued to do every year since. 

It isn’t just the quiet time together that is so nice, it’s what we intentionally do during that time that has become absolutely critical to us each year. 

Here is how we structure our “New Year Retreats”.

  1. Prepare With Prayer. 

A week or two before we go we individually begin praying that God will prepare our hearts and plant seeds of direction in our spirits. We like to choose specific words to be our theme for the year and these words are also something we ask God to start sifting out in our minds. During this prep time Andrew and I are both spending quiet time with God, reading our Bibles and devotions separately, and jotting down anything that sticks out to us, or seems like a nugget we should remember.

Something else we do during this process is fast. For us that means fasting from food or certain foods while we go through this process. This can look different for everyone, but we believe in the power of submitting this basic need to the Lord for a time, and have personally seen how it brings us more in tune with Him.

2. Put Away Distractions

Once we are away, whether it’s a one night “staycation” in a local hotel, or 6 hours of solitude in our own home with kids off at the grandparent’s house, the first order of business is turning off the cell phones. This needs to be a distraction-free zone so we can focus on each other and be free to listen to what God wants to share in His still small voice. 


3. Get Out the Tools

When we begin this yearly session we always bring the necessary tools to the table. A Bible, (preferably a couple of versions; we like the NIV Life Application Bible and the Message Bible), our Jesus Calling Devotional, and a journal. 


4. Set the Stage

Again, beginning everything with prayer is so important. So before we dive in, we thank God for seeing through us another year and ask him to bless this time as we seek His direction for the coming year. We specifically ask Him to show us what to pray for and to guide us in this process. 


5. Reflect

This is where the handy dandy journal comes in. Andrew started recording our prayer requests and goals for the year in his journal, and we have found it to be so enlightening. Looking back on the previous year to see how God has answered prayers is one of our favorite things to do. It’s amazing to be reminded of His goodness in this way. Oftentimes our requests aren’t answered in the manner we THINK they should be, but when we are able to reflect on how God did it HIS way, it’s always better. We also take time to evaluate the goals that we recorded from the previous year, and celebrate the ones we have accomplished. It also gives us the opportunity to discuss the ones we still have to work on. 


6. Generate

Now it’s time to think about the coming year and begin writing down the prayer requests and goals that have come to mind. Andrew and I make a point to sit in silence for a few minutes, listening and waiting for God to impress upon us exactly what those things are. Remember, it’s not about what YOU want those requests and goals to be, it’s what HE wants them to be. Be still, and give Him the space and stillness to tell you.  


7. Determine Your Theme “Words”

This is one of my favorite parts of this process. Giving your new year a theme is super helpful. We like to pick one or two words, or a phrase that will be our anchor for the year. It helps us stay on track with the plan and mindset that God has put on our heart for the next twelve months. Use your Bible to research the words that you choose. If your theme is “Be Bold”, then look up verses in the Bible about being courageous. Meditate on those verses, and write them down as a reference. I will talk more about theme words in an upcoming blog so make sure to check back soon. 


8. Lock, Load, and Let Go

Finally, take all of your dreams, requests, and goals, and release them from your hands. Begin praying…out loud…together…(yes I said that…OUT LOUD) through your list. If praying with your spouse isn’t something you’ve done before, I encourage you to do it. It’s awesome. Andrew usually starts off and then we volley back and forth like a tennis ball, each taking turns praying. Not only is hearing your spouse pray powerful, but the Bible says in Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Make sure to allow plenty of time for this prayer process, and don’t be afraid to cover EVERYTHING, including the kitchen sink, in prayer. Family, work, marriage, country, etc. Nothing should be off the table.


9. Celebrate

This whole process is wonderful and extremely fulfilling, but it can also be a little exhausting so make sure to celebrate when you’re finished. That can look as simple as cooking a great meal together or going for a nice long walk. Celebrate the fact that you are choosing to put God first in your lives. Celebrate that you were willing to sacrifice your most precious commodity, your time, to seek wisdom from the God of the universe. 

Remember! You are submitting and trusting your year to a God who loves you and is FOR YOU!! Now that’s something to raise a glass to as the clock turns midnight and your new year begins!

Happy New Year! 

My Favorite Juicing Recipes

When I was hit with a cancer diagnosis, one of the first things my husband and I wanted to do was change some of our eating habits. When you feel completely out of control of your health, being able to control SOMETHING is super helpful. I wanted to make sure that I was fueling my body with as much awesome goodness as possible to help fight those pesky cancer cells and give me the energy I needed to heal. 

So, my wonderful husband, who loves to do research, found some fantastic juicing recipes from our friend Cortney who is also a warrior super mom and cancer survivor. So I will take ZERO credit for these recipes, but I wanted to share them. If you haven’t checked out Cortney’s blog, anticancermom.com, do so! It’s fantastic!

If you’re interested in juicing go out and invest in a good juicer. I’ll be honest, I didn’t have the energy when we first started this to test out a bunch of them, so my sister-in-law gave us hers which was a huge blessing. It is a Breville Juice Fountain Plus. I’m sure there are a lot of great options out there, but this one has been great for us. 

We have found that setting aside a day of the week, like Sunday afternoon, is great for juicing. It can be a bit of a messy and involved process, so dedicating specific time for it is helpful. We typically make two to three recipes and juice in bulk. 

Make sure you have a bunch of small mason jars that you can freeze your juice in. We typically make approximately 8 ounce individual servings. Fill your jars leaving at least one inch of room at the top so there is space for the juice to expand when it freezes. You don’t want frozen juice and glass carnage all over your freezer after all that hard work! Trust me, you will cry. 

If we pick two recipes and double each one it usually yields around 26 to 30, 8+oz servings.

Once you have your frozen stash of juice you can take one out each morning, place it in a bowl of water and by lunchtime it’s thawed. DO NOT PUT IT IN THE MICROWAVE! You don’t want to kill all that good nutritional gold. 

And that’s it! I love my juices and still enjoy them even after recovering from because they feel like rocket fuel for my body. 

So here’s the good stuff! The recipes! Again, I give all credit to anticancermom.com for these fabulous concoctions. A couple of these may require a little getting used to in the taste department as they are designed to be cancer fighting. But I have grown to really enjoy them. If you are looking for some flavor variety there are also wonderful books out there with more recipes like Crazy Sexy Juice by Kris Carr. I LOVED this book and we made a lot of juices from this resource too. 

Cucumber-Carrot-Kale

(1 cucumber, 8 carrots, 4 kale leaves)

Cucumber-Ginger-Beet

(1 cucumber, 1 medium beet, ¼” piece of peeled ginger)

Carrot-Cabbage-Pineapple

(6-10 carrots, ¼” purple cabbage, pineapple core)

Apple-Carrot-Broccoli-Beet

(1 green apple, 4-6 carrots, 1 broccoli stalk, 1 medium beet)

 Apple-Celery-Carrot-Baby Bok Choy

(1 green apple, 6-8 carrots, 1 bunch baby bok choy)

Enjoy!

My Social Media Break

It’s a new year already? Hold the phone! How did this happen? I feel like I just cleaned up the confetti from last New Years’ Eve party. Okay, who am I kidding? There was no confetti, or a party this year. Andrew and I were in bed by 10 pm like we are most New Year’s Eves. Truth. Not ashamed. But seriously, how did another year fly by like this past one did? 

Last year was an incredible collection of twelve months, and voted one of our favorites by the unofficial “How did this year stack up to the last few?” poll in our household. It was definitely a year of new births, and no, I don’t mean actual babies. Good gravy, that would have sent me over the edge, and we all know my baby ship has sailed. But God birthed some dreams in us over the past 12 months that were pretty awesome. 

I’m sure all you moms can understand and relate; birthing babies and having newborns is a LOT of work! And even though these new dreams and projects are wonderful and exciting, bringing them into existence is exhausting! Please don’t read this as complaining. I am definitely not doing that. In fact, it’s far from it. I am SO grateful for it all, the release of my book, the start of this blog, to name a few of the blessings, but to put it quite simply, by mid-November I was tired. In fact, here is a little snapshot of what my brain was saying on a daily basis….

 “Make it stop, Lord! Make the spinning, the constant spinning of my mind and my anxious thoughts stop! I’m FREAKING out!” 

Yep, it had happened. My brain had officially become a salad spinner. “A what?” you ask. You heard me. A salad spinner. You know, those cute little kitchen gadgets that look like a big bowl with a strainer type thing inside and a plunger pumping mechanism on the top. It’s what cooking savvy people, a.k.a. my husband, use to put rinsed salad greens in. Once they’re tucked safely inside, the plunger is repeatedly pushed down to make the inside strainer basket spin like a crazy tilt-a-whirl at the fair. Those poor unsuspecting lettuce leaves don’t know what’s hit them and before they know it they’ve been whipped into oblivion in order to draw the excess water out of their leaves. If you’ve ever used one of these before you know that even after you stop pressing the plunger, the inside basket continues to spin until you either manually stop it or let it slow on its own. 

Well, my brain had become the epitome of this salad spinner. The pace of the past year and all of the work that went into birthing these dreams was like that plunger constantly pushing up and down on my brain. That consistent pumping was keeping my mind spinning, and fast. Even though all the work and projects were good things, my thoughts were still moving at top speed. Then as November rolled around and the pace of our lives began to slow a bit before the holidays, the “plunger pumping” stopped, but my brain couldn’t stop spinning, just like that crazy salad spinner. 

I found myself unable to concentrate, and I was having a hard time setting aside quiet moments to be with the Lord. Even when I did, I couldn’t focus and I felt anxious. I was beginning to see that social media was keeping my mind in a constant state of stimulation, and I wasn’t allowing it to rest. I was far from the peaceful person I wanted to be, and I didn’t like it. I knew I needed to do something drastic. 

Well okay, not drastic like move to Bali and meditate in a cross-legged position on a beach all day kind of drastic (as lovely as that sounds), but I absolutely needed to make a change in some of my daily habits. As I lay in bed one night trying to quiet my mind so I could go to sleep, I started praying and asking God for help. What I heard was a still small voice in my spirit say, “Give up social media for awhile.” 

Earlier in the year I may have had a slight heart attack at the thought of doing this, but at this moment it felt like a breath of fresh air and permission to unplug. I didn’t realize how much I needed it until now, but I saw how the frequent scrolling, posting, comparing, and pressure I put on myself to “show up” was keeping my mind from finding those much needed quiet moments. 

It was one of the things that was forcing my salad spinner brain to stay in motion and in turn, was keeping out the peace, guidance, and wisdom that God was wanting to let in. So I made a pact with myself that I would put social media to the side and not engage with it as long as I felt God wanted me to. Let me tell you…. 

IT WAS GLORIOUS. 

Like anything, it took a little while before I stopped reaching for my phone in the grocery check-out line, or in the car waiting for my kids at school pick up. That weird need to scroll and kill time was still strong. But like any habit you’re trying to break, the more you work on it the less the desire is there. Anytime I felt an urge to scroll I would change my focus to my Jesus Calling devotional app or my Daily Bread app to be filled with God’s wisdom instead of what someone ate for breakfast that day. 

(Disclaimer: I love a great breakfast idea, and I’m sure I’ll be doing an Insta Story on avocado toast in the near future, so no offense my breakfast posting friends!)

As I began clearing my schedule, putting my phone down, and picking up my Bible more I began to feel the spinning start to slow. My thoughts were becoming more calm and less fractured, and I experienced my brain beginning to reset.

Every morning as I began to wake up and be conscious of my thoughts, I prayed Isaiah 26:3, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” The other verse I frequently meditated on and often still say outloud is Phillipians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” 

I think God shines His light on things in our lives that need a little attention, or a little less attention, as in this case. I don’t feel like He was condemning social media or saying it as a whole is “bad”, but I knew He was telling me I needed to step back to refocus my eyes on Him. Just like Ross and Rachel from Friends, (yes this is dating me), I wasn’t deciding to “break up” with social media. I was simply “on a break!”

As I re-engage into this digital world again, my goal is to live in perfect PEACE and to do that by trusting God in all things, and setting boundaries for myself. These boundaries are going to look like specific times that I am allowing myself to “scroll”, and/or post, and making sure I keep that piece of my life (that I do enjoy) in check. I think simply being aware of it is half the battle and often a great place to start. 

Stopping the spinning was the first thing that needed to happen at the end of 2019 so that I could effectively vision cast and seek God’s will for myself and our family for 2020! I’ll be sharing more soon on the process my husband and I go through to do that each year, and what that looked like for us this year. So stay tuned! 

Be the Red Tree

I love when some of the biggest life lessons happen over a five minute discussion….in the car. Last year, my morning school drop-off routine consisted of driving my oldest daughter to her school, and then a quick five minute drive to drop my youngest to her’s. I love those rare occasions when I get one-on-one time with my girls. It’s definitely a luxury, and I always looked forward to this brief time with Katherine, my youngest. 

Each morning I would try to do a quick check-in with her. Those check-ins typically consisted of short questions like, “How are you feeling today?” “Is there anything exciting happening at school this morning?” Or sometimes we simply recited some of our favorite Bible verses together, to help her prepare for the day, like Phillippians 4:13. “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

Most days, her answers to my questions were peppy retorts and excited responses about the upcoming day’s activities, but this day was different. 

It was a beautiful autumn morning and the changing leaves on the trees were ablaze with color. As we drove the quick route to school, I asked her how she was doing. Instead of her normal, “I’m great, Mommy!”, response, instead she said that she was sad. 

She began to explain that something had happened at school that made her feel different than the other kids. She was struggling with being set apart and she didn’t like it one bit. As a momma, my heart was breaking for her, but I knew that this was going to be a good learning moment. 

Just a few days before she had pointed out a large maple tree at the edge of the playground whose leaves had turned a gorgeous red color. She mentioned that the kids always commented on how pretty that tree was when they ran outside to play for recess each day. Everyone loved the “red tree”, and she was right, it was stunning. 

So as she was pouring out her heart about feeling different, I listened, and then began sharing what started bubbling up in my heart. This is how the conversation went.

Me: “Katherine, you love fall, right?” 

Katherine: “Yes Mommy, I do!” 

Me: “And you love how the trees change color and create this beautiful mix of yellows, oranges, and reds, right? 

Katherine: “Uh, huh.”

Me: “What do you think fall would look like if all the trees turned yellow and there were no other colors?”

Katherine: “It would look pretty boring.”

Me: “You’re right. Fall would look pretty boring and we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the beautiful variation that we see now. And what if the red tree that all the kids love wasn’t there, or if it were the same color as all the other trees around it? How would that make you or your friends feel?”

Katherine: “They would be sad because they would miss the red tree.”

Me: “Honey, I want you to be the red tree. God made you the way He did for a reason just like He made that beautiful red tree for a reason. There are going to be times when you aren’t going to fit in with the rest of the crowd or you may have beliefs that are different than others around you, but you need to be the “red tree”. Don’t be afraid to stand out. There may be times when it’s not an easy thing to do, but without the “red trees” this world would be a dull and boring place. Be proud of the beauty and the potential that is inside of you, no matter what anyone else says.”

By the time we had arrived at her school, her demeanor had completely changed. We pulled into the parking lot and there next to the fence was the gorgeous red tree in all of its glory. I pointed to it and said, “There it is honey. Look at how beautiful it is. Now go and be the red tree today.” 

A smile broke on her face and she slipped out of the car and skipped into school. It was a great reminder for me too, of the importance of being okay with going against the crowd sometimes. God made us all different and special in our own ways. If everyone was the same, how boring this world would be.

Psalm 139:13-14 says, “You alone created my inner being. You knitted me together inside my mother. I will give thanks to you because I have been so amazingly and miraculously made. Your works are miraculous, and my soul is fully aware of this.”

It can be hard feeling like you’re the one fish swimming upstream some days. But just like a fall season with only yellow leaves, if this world didn’t have YOU, and all the uniqueness found in each and everyone of us, it would be a boring place. 

Don’t let the fear of standing out keep you from stepping into your purpose. You are not an accident. God meticulously created you for a reason. You weren’t meant to blend in or get lost in the shadows. Be the “RED TREE” and don’t be afraid to stand out and shine in all your beauty and uniqueness. 

My First Barnes & Noble Book Signing

I love a good bucket list. You know, those things you want to accomplish before you “kick the bucket” and skip through those pearly gates into God’s heavenly bliss. We all have them. I have one too. It’s filled with things like, going on a true sleigh ride while it’s snowing with horses and jingle bells, and touring Vermont at the peak of the fall color. I may or may not have “dance with Derek Hough” on there too. (If anyone knows Derek, put in a good word for the middle-aged ex-dancer mom!) But having a book signing at Barnes and Noble was never on my list. Not because I didn’t think it was a super cool thing to do, but because I never, in a million years, thought it might actually happen. 

But it did. And I’m still kind of freaking out. 

When you’re a newbie author like me, you have no idea how this whole “writing a book” thingy goes. But when you feel called to do it, you just put your head down, strap on your noise canceling headphones, and get to work. That’s what I’ve done this past year. It was almost one year to the day since I began this writing journey to when this baby of a book was born into the world. And I’m finding that I’m just as clueless about what happens after the book is released as I was about the book creating process itself. But again, God is good, and He is walking me through this next phase of the journey gently holding my hand and wowing me in ways only He can. 

Cue the Barnes and Noble opportunity. 

It was the day before my book was to officially launch and my husband sent me a text with a screen shot of a post from our local Barnes and Noble Facebook page. It was a photo of a stack of my books on the information desk of the store with a sweet announcement that the book was available for purchase there. What?!! I hadn’t even reached out to them yet to inquire about having my book there!  All the questions began circling in my head. “How did they get the books?” “Where did they hear about it?” So I did what anyone would do in that situation…..

I squealed, clapped my hands like a four year old, and forwarded the screenshot to my mom. (And then called the store a couple of days later to get the scoop.)

I met with the manager of the store, John, and said he had heard through the grapevine that I had written a book and he loves to support local authors. Then he graciously offered to host a book signing for me! The whole conversation is still a little fuzzy because one side of my brain was focusing on trying to answer his questions intelligently, and the other half was acting like a teenager on too much coffee rapid firing comments and excitement like a crazy person. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening. 

Now I’m sure you’re saying, seriously woman, get a grip. It’s a book signing. In ONE store. In a small town. Yea, I know. You’re right. But to me it felt like that exciting moment at a running race when the athletes are anxiously waiting at the starting line for the gun to go off signally the beginning of their event. They have trained and worked, sweat and toiled to get to the place where they’re ready to release what they have long been preparing to do. And now it’s here. That crack of the starting gun telling the runners it’s “go time”. It’s time to see what all this work was for. 

This book signing felt like my starting gun. 

The day came and I arrived 20 minutes early thinking it would give me time to get settled, gather my thoughts, and pray that maybe one person would show up. Well, those great plans of some prep time didn’t exactly happen. I walked in and there was a handful of people already in line waiting. Uhh…the line for coffee at Starbucks is on the other side of the store people. Are you sure you’re in the right place? They were. Oh my goodness. 

The first person in line laid my book down in front of me open to a specific chapter that spoke to him. He was going through some difficulties in his life, not cancer related, and there was something in those pages that gave him encouragement and hope. I so wish I could remember everything he said, but I was too overwhelmed with the fact that God was using my story to help someone with a situation that I had no knowledge of. 

The next lady in line was a complete stranger who stood clutching my book in her hands with tears streaming down her face. She proceeded to tell me that her daughter had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Unlike the previous gentleman, her words were few and labored so I simply got up from behind the table and hugged her. I could feel her sadness and I tried to reassure her, the best I could, that she wasn’t alone. 

A little later another woman appeared in front of my table with a questioning, yet resolute look on her face. She proceeded to tell me that even though she had a mountain of housework to do, she felt strongly led to leave it all behind, take some time for herself and come to Barnes and Noble. She said, “I have no reason for being here, but I think I’m supposed to get your book.” I happily signed it for her, and said a little prayer to myself that God would bless her right where she needed it that day. 

The flow of the rest of the afternoon consisted of some wonderful friends and family just coming to support me, to a recent breast cancer survivor, looking beautiful in her head covering, who had just finished her treatments. After it was all over, we had sold out of Barnes and Noble’s stock. I packed up my things, went back to my car and took a big, deep breath. 

Wow, that just happened. 

I was so grateful. I was grateful for my incredible friend and publisher, Staci Wallace, for flying all the way from Texas to be there, and beautifully supporting me through this process. I was grateful for John at Barnes and Noble for not only giving me the opportunity, but for making this experience such a wonderful and memorable one. And I was grateful to God for pushing me to tell my story, and for going before me to show me this path. He is faithful and once again, true to His promise to work all things together for good. 

I don’t know what the next leg of this race will look like, but I’m thankful for the start. 

Do You Fear the Future?

Fear of the future. Also known as “your peace stealer”. If you’re a planner like me, you have probably felt those moments of anxiety when things don’t go your way, or worse yet, you’re not sure how your future is going to go altogether. 

So many times have I wished that I owned a crystal ball so I could see five years down the road. I have struggled with “fear of the future”, and also an occasional, innocent curiosity of what is ahead in my life, many times. However when I allow this to creep into my thoughts, it begins to manifest itself as massive anxiety. (Which in turn triggers my menopausal hot flashes, ugly sweating, and mad dashes to the kitchen freezer for relief. It’s not pretty, people.)

However, I have learned that this isn’t God’s plan for us. He has a better one! When I finally understood this concept, it became my chance to actively fight anxiety and reclaim peace in my days. 

I’ll explain. Psalm 119:105 (NIV) says, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”  This life that we are walking out is our “path”. God doesn’t allow us to see the entire road of our future because it would be too much for us to handle. He graciously covers that future in His version of “fog” so we don’t freak out! 

Imagine yourself walking in the dead of night with no stars or moon to light your way. The only source of light you have is a small handheld lamp. That lamp is only going to cast enough light to illuminate your next step. It doesn’t reach all the way down the path to your destination, but it does give enough light for your foot to find a firm and steady foundation as you slowly walk forward. 

God’s word, the Bible, is that light for your path! He is the light that will give you the steady foothold you need for TODAY. We don’t need to know what tomorrow will bring, or the next day, or the next. God loves us so much that He purposely shelters us from that knowledge of the future so we can be engaged and effective in our current moment. If we are so focused on our future, we may miss out what He has for us today. 

Yes, planning is good. I don’t think we are supposed to living continuously flying by the seat of our pants. However, make sure that you are committing those plans to the Lord and holding them loosely in your hands. They are ultimately His plans, and He directs our steps. Psalm 37:5 says, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this:”

It has taken time, and often a few self reminders, but I’ve learned to not worry about my future and instead to stay present in my current moment. Those times when I allow myself to give into that fear, it’s as though I’m telling God that I don’t trust His plans for me. 

To get into this trusting and peaceful mindset each morning, I start by praying scripture. Praying scripture is like pulling out your best weapon in your arsenal and pointing it at the enemy with a steely gaze and rock solid confidence. 

This is what sounds like when I pray using my “weapons”:

“Good morning, Holy Spirit. I give you my day today. Jesus, You say that Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path, so today I ask that You pour your wisdom into my heart this morning as I read your word. Show me what I need to know for this moment. Lord, I know that You determine my steps, and I don’t need to fear my future. I commit my way to You today, Lord, and I trust You in all things!”

Speak God’s promises back to Him in your prayers, confidently acknowledging that you trust Him to come through! 

Taking one day at a time, not focusing on the “what ifs” of my future, and resting in God’s “peace that surpasses all understanding” has helped me be okay with the fog of the unknown. Stay present in THIS moment, and don’t let fear steal your peace!

Creating Peace in My Kids’ Morning Routine

Ahhh!! Where did the summer go? I ask myself this question every year when Labor Day weekend is staring at me in the rearview mirror, mocking my attempts at holding on to summer a little longer. After the flurry of mindless trips to Target wandering the school supply aisles, and the frantic last minute Zappos orders are placed for school shoes, I think about the next big hurdle…

Getting my kids up EARLY. Oh the horror!

The lazy mornings of summer and sleeping in are coming to a screeching halt. And this momma has to have a plan to combat the often challenging transition from summer vacation to school year routine. I also made a decision a couple of years ago that I wanted our mornings to be structured, and as free of stress as possible while trying to get out the door. 

This wasn’t something I just “decided”, however. Because goodness knows, I didn’t get the “Mom Manual” when I left the hospital with my firstborn. So I am figuring this out by making lots of mistakes. I mean GOBS of mistakes. After a couple of early years of crazy, sweaty mornings harping on the girls to move faster, eat their breakfast, and find their backpack, I knew there had to be a better way. I re-evaluated my morning routine and this is what’s currently working for me. 

1. Alarm Clocks

Both of my girls have been using alarm clocks since kindergarten. Honestly, this initially came from my desire to avoid the association of me with that unpleasant moment of being awakened from a deep sleep. I also want them to learn at an early age how to be responsible with getting their day started on their own. 

2.  Know Your Child’s Morning Personality

I have two daughters that couldn’t be more different, and I love that. However, that also means I have to take into consideration their personalities when it comes to getting up in the morning. One flies out of bed when her alarm goes off, ready to start her day, and the other “needs her coffee” before she can function. (Don’t panic, I don’t give my girls coffee. But it’s a great analogy!) She needs to lay on the couch for ten minutes to wake up and process her morning before she hits the ground running. Because I know this about her, I set her alarm 10 minutes earlier so she can have her couch cuddle time. 

3. Set the Mood

Before they come downstairs, I always have the lights in the kitchen and living room dim (I’m obsessed with dimmer switches), a candle lit, and praise and worship music playing softly in the background. I want the first thing that my daughters are exposed to in the morning to be praises to our Lord. I feel that this prepares their hearts for the day and gently awakens both their minds and their spirits. 

After they come downstairs are curled up on the couch for a few minutes listening to the music, I begin slowly turning the room’s lights up from their relaxed, dim stater. I’ve found that this gradual brightening of the room helps them gently wake up and fosters a better mood for both of them.

4. The Checklist

This was probably the best addition to my morning routine. Before the “checklist” I found myself constantly nagging at them to get their teeth brushed, or put their dishes in the dishwasher, blah blah blah! I felt like a drill Sergeant barking orders and calling out commands. “Come on girls! You have five minutes! Let’s go, let’s go!” The mood was far from relaxed and I hated that they were starting their day with me yapping and yelling at them. 

My solution? The checklist. I created a chart of all the things they needed to do before we walked out the door. A few things on the list include, making their beds, getting dressed, brushing their teeth, putting their dishes in the dishwasher, signing reading logs, and filling their water bottles, for a start. This list gets taped on the kitchen wall every Monday morning. 

They know that they have until 7:30 am to complete and check off all of the things on the list. If they compete it on time they can earn a quarter for their piggy banks. 

Mood before the checklist system was put in place…..CHAOS.

Mood after the checklist system….HEAVEN

This was a game changer for me. Instantly, I was no longer the nagging, mean mommy. I was calm, peaceful mommy, holding two shiny quarters in my hand while two little munchkins scurried around getting stuff done! Game changer. 

I continued the reward system for a little while in order to reinforce the routine, but now they just know that this is what is expected. 

5. Set a Schedule

I have found that if I stick to a specific schedule each morning, almost down to the minute, then things run much more smoothly. Here’s how I break it down:

6:25: Alarms go off

6:30-6:45: Lay on the couch and gradually wake up

6:45-7:10: Breakfast

7:10-7:30: Complete the checklist

7:30 Out the door!

This may seem rigid to some, and obviously there are days when it needs to be adjusted, but having these time markers creates structure and structure creates peace. I’ve also found it’s very helpful when I have grandparents watching the girls overnight. It lays out the morning process for them and the girls are so familiar with it that they pretty much run the morning themselves!

6. Car Prayers

These are the last 10 minutes that I will have with my girls before they are in someone else’s hands at school for the next eight hours. So I have made it a priority to pray in the car every morning. We also recite scripture like:

Phillippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,”

Or…

Psalm 118: 24, “This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” 

Getting scripture in their hearts and minds is so important, and giving them the tools to fight what may come their way each day is so important. I have found that showing my girls how to create structure in their day, and incorporating God into those first waking hours through music, scripture, and prayer is the best thing I, as a mom, can do for my kids. 

The Biggest Lesson I Learned on Our Family Trip

I love to travel. Especially with my family. We recently got home from an eight day whirlwind trip to two of our country’s beautiful national parks, Glacier and Yellowstone. This would be the first time that my daughters would experience these incredible expanses of beauty that our nation has thankfully protected out west, and I was as excited as Teddy Roosevelt in a forest. 

As we were planning our trip, the former second grade teacher in me kicked into high gear and I immediately started concocting ways to make sure my girls would absorb as much information, and appreciation, for what they were about to see. As I often do, I put on that heavy “mom hat” called “pressure and perfection”, and started heavily focusing on my role not only as a caregiver, but in this situation, an educator. 

That’s what we’re supposed to do, right? Our job is to make sure that our children are being exposed to new situations, constantly learning, and soaking up absolutely everything that they can about new places and experiences. Well, yes in a perfect world, but after some reflection, following our return home, I realized I had set an unhealthy expectation for not only them, but for myself too.

I wanted them to see EVERY beautiful vista from our van. I YEARNED for them to be well-versed on geysers, fumaroles, and every other geothermal feature that they would see. I ACHED that they would remember each and every fun fact that our tour guides spewed so that their sweet impressionable minds would be blown by the vast and intricate world God so perfectly created. But then reality set in.

Instead of soaking in every gorgeous landscape from our vehicle as we traversed the wide open spaces and jagged mountain passes, I mostly saw them curled up in the back bench in the van, with their noses in a book. (Still a good thing, mind you.) And instead of becoming an instant earth scientist ready to present their dissertation on volcanic energy after our full two days in Yellowstone, they laughed and talked more about the weird, icky, bubbling mud in the ground. 

The best part was, all of this was a far better outcome. 

Years from now this trip will most likely be a faded memory for them, only jogged by the few thousand pictures we took. They won’t remember the facts about pine cones that the park ranger shared at the educational talk. But they will remember that we were together as a family, and the funny moments like watching me “van surf” trying to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while we cruised down the highway to our next location. 

They probably won’t remember all of the specific things that make our national parks so special, but they will know that we as parents, cared enough about these beautiful places and the importance of exploring our world, to make the effort to go. My parents did this for me as a child, and my hope is that this concept will now be rooted in my kids’ DNA as well. And hopefully, the process will continue as they share the wonders of God’s creation with their children someday. 

Our Glacier National Park and Yellowstone Family Road Trip Adventure

This is a trip that I’ve been looking forward to doing with the girls for a long time. Exploring this beautiful country that we have the privilege of living in, and seeing its majestic wonders is a rite of passage for a child, in my mind. With so many incredible options of locations to choose from, Andrew and I landed on Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park for our first attempt at the quintessential “family road trip”. (Cue “Holiday Roooooaaad…”)

Andrew being the consummate travel planner, dove into exploring our options for best experiencing these two beautiful places and landed on a camping hybrid solution that involved living in a van. Yes, you heard that right. A van. I’ll be honest, my first reaction was “Huh?”, but once he explained the benefits of this somewhat non-traditional approach, I was sold. Essentially, to maximize our time in the parks and still get that rustic feeling of camping in nature, Andrew made arrangements to rent a Sprinter van that would act as both our transportation and our “home” for the next eight days. 

These vans are equipped with convertible cots for sleeping, a small kitchenette with a stovetop, refrigerator, and microwave, and importantly a bathroom. Hallelujah. You had me at “toilet”. The really nice thing is that they are smaller than a typical RV and therefore, easier to maneuver, park, and drive. It’s especially nice for this girl who doesn’t exactly love the idea of piloting a vehicle the size of a small apartment building, containing my entire beloved family, down a busy highway at top speed. Nothing against large RV’s, but my nerves and sanity just can’t take that kind of pressure! It’s also great because we didn’t need to pack any camping equipment. The fact that were going to be on the move frequently, and knowing that we wouldn’t have to set up and break down camp each night would be very helpful. 

The Plan

Our plan of attack in terms of our route was to fly to Jackson Hole, WY where we would pick up our van. From there we would drive about six hours to Missoula, Montana the first night, then into Glacier National Park for three days of camping (or should I say “glam”-ping). From there we would drive to Bozeman, MT for one night, then into Yellowstone National Park for two additional nights. Then head back to Jackson Hole, for one last night and day to recover. 

Picking Up Our Digs

We arrived in Jackson Hole on Thursday evening and first thing on Friday morning a very nice gentleman named Brad, dropped off our van. He spent a good hour giving us the download of how to operate the vehicle, including which battery supplied power to what, how to put the benches down to form beds, and most importantly, how to dispose of the lavatory and sink waste after every two to three days. As soon as Brad mentioned “black water” I could see Andrew shiver a bit and we both paid very close attention at this much dreaded, yet necessary piece to van camping. 

He informed us that the company we rented the van from had quite a fleet of these beauties and each was named for ease of recognition by the company owner. We were told that our van was named, Shannon. This small fact immediately endured “her” to the girls. I made a point to secretly let Shannon know she had a big job ahead of her and that she better not let us down!

On the Road

Once we were checked out on the vehicle and our trip odometer was set to zero we were off and running! The girls immediately staked out which parts of the van were theirs and unpacked their books, journals, and stuffed animal companions at lightning speed. We had quite a few miles to cover this first day so as “trip navigator” I mapped out the route and off we went. The girls came up with a game that consisted of Andrew calling out whenever we entered a new town. The first person to spot the name of that town either on a sign or a storefront would yell it out and whoever got it first, won. The game lasted for the first hour or so and then the girls were over it. But it was still a fun way to start the trip and I could tell they were excited about this adventure, which as a parent is pretty awesome. 

With the girls settling into their new living quarters in the back of the van, Andrew and I searched iTunes for the perfect road trippin’ music and landed on Willie Nelson, of course.  After that six-ish hour stretch, with a quick stop for dinner in the itty bitty town of Dillon, MT, we arrived at the campground, just south of Missoula. This is where we would be staying for the evening. It was the Beaverhill Tail State Park campground located on the Clark Fork River. We pulled in around 8 pm having absolutely no idea how this whole campground thing worked. (Don’t get me wrong, we have done plenty of camping before, but never in a vehicle with four to six wheels. So this was all new to us!) Thankfully, we had a reserved spot, but we still stopped at the entrance and looked around like a couple of complete “glam”-ping newbies. A nice couple with a rocking RV set-up, complete with potted plants by their camp chairs, came out and greeted us. They sent us in the right direction of our reserved spot and we carefully backed into our slot. 

It was a beautiful place right along the rushing mountain river and we quickly got to work getting beds put into place and plugging the van into the power source located nearby. The learning curve was steep being this was our first night in the van so there was a lot of checking, double checking, and “Do you remember what Brad said about this?” questions being asked. But once we got it all dialed in, we slept like babies. 

Glacier National Park

Our plan was to get up very early and begin our three hour drive into the west side of Glacier National Park. When the sun started to come over the horizon, we carefully repositioned the girls from their cots toward the front of the van back to our bed so we could turn the front seats around into a driving position. With them tucked back in and comfy we quietly pulled out of the campground with only our parking lights on as to not wake up the other campers. 

There is a beautiful place to camp inside Glacier National Park called Apgar Campground. This is a first come, first serve campground so we didn’t have the luxury of making a reservation. This meant we were relying on the right timing, a little bit of luck, and a lot of prayer to get a site. This campground fills up extremely quickly so we were nervous about our chances. 

At the entrance of the campground, we met a nice park ranger who said that there were a few spots available, but we would have to circle the multiple loops to find one. We slowly made our way down loop B scouring each numbered site for a post that didn’t have an “occupied” tag on it. Our hearts were pounding a bit and we were slightly on edge because we knew that finding a spot was a long-shot. 

As we slowly stalked each campsite, we spotted a post with an empty clip and immediately Andrew jumped out to ask the current inhabitant if they were indeed leaving that morning. A sleepy disheveled twenty-something crawled out of his car and confirmed that he would be vacating in about a half an hour. Thank you, Lord! Andrew quickly filled out the reservation tag and clipped it to the post as the other campers lined up behind us, also looking for spots, continued their search. We felt like we had won the lottery! This was a crucial piece to our planning and if we hadn’t found a site here in the park it would have drastically changed our direction for seeing Glacier.

Home for the next three days.
We found a site!
Breakfast time!

Once our heart rates had decreased and we could breathe a little easier, we headed into the visitor center to get the lay of the land. I always recommend hitting the visitor center first when you arrive at a national park. The rangers are super helpful and if you’re a visual person like me, they have great maps and displays to show you what you can see and do. 

The national parks also have a Junior Ranger program which is a lot of fun for the kids. It consists of an educational activity book with facts about the park. If they fill out a certain number of pages and attend an informative talk given by a park ranger, they can be sworn in as a Junior Ranger and receive a badge or patch. Each park has their own specific booklet and the rangers do a great job making this activity really special for the kids. 

Horseback Riding

Because we had arrived early that morning we were able to book a horseback ride in the park for the afternoon. This was something Lauren desperately wanted to do. This would be the first time for both of the girls to ride a true trail horse, and they were pumped. We drove to the corral and got introduced to our respective horses. Lauren was paired with Red, Katherine was matched with Chester, Andrew had Winchester, and I got the pretty caramel colored, Legend. With a few whoops and “yee-haws” from our true cowgirl trail guides we were off! 

Getting a lesson from a true cowgirl.
Discussing who is going to be boss.

The ride was about two hours and took us through beautiful forests of lodgepole pine trees, over rivers, and past patches of wild huckleberries. We even got a visit from two large bucks with fuzzy antlers that decided to run right by our group. The girls did great. Even little Katherine whose horse Chester had a mind of his own and continually went off the trail. She was very frustrated with him, but did a great job wrangling him back on track the best she could. 

After we arrived back on the stables we all dismounted and waddled back to the van smelling like sweat and horses, but happy. Lauren was officially hooked and for the remainder of the trip persistently asked if we could do it again. 

This was our first night sleeping in this particular campground which unlike our previous one the night before, didn’t have any electrical hookups. Our van was equipped with batteries that were designed to supply power to necessary items, like the refrigerator, throughout the night, but we still hadn’t gotten the hang of how to “do nighttime” in the van off the grid. So, at 5 am we were startled awake by the sound of a loud beeping. We jumped up, disoriented, and fumbled around in the dark trying to figure out what was happening. We were able to discern that it was the CO2 detector that was beeping because the battery that supplies it had run low due to the van not being plugged into a power source the whole night. It was similar to that annoying chirp from your home smoke detector that ALWAYS inconveniently happens in the middle of the night instead of a more manageable mid-afternoon time. 

We were dying inside because the loud beeping was carrying through this quiet campground of other exhausted campers probably trying to sleep and here we were completely disturbing the peace. Ugh! So mortifying! Thankfully, we figured out how to disconnect the main battery to finally stop the beeping. We didn’t feel as bad a few days later when some poor soul set off their car alarm at about the same unruly time in the morning. It was way louder than our annoying beep, and Andrew and I both commented, “At least we weren’t that guy!”

Going to the Sun Road and the Red Bus Tour

This was the one thing in Glacier that I desperately wanted to do. I had heard so much about the beautiful Going to the Sun Road and I wanted to experience it on the famed Red Bus Tour. I’m so glad we did. We boarded the super cool, vintage, 1930’s bus and gazed up at the sky through the open roof. Andrew was particularly geeking out because these vintage buses had been refurbished by Ford Motor Company and being a Ford family, he felt right at home. 

Our seasoned driver began the four hour tour up the mountains to Logan’s Pass and the continental divide. It was absolutely beautiful and honestly, pictures don’t do it all justice. Periodically, our driver would pull off on the side of the road and let us “prairie dog up”, which meant we could stand and stick our bodies out of the top of the bus to get a good photo. We passed waterfalls, weeping rocks, dall sheep, and a lot of nervous drivers creeping along, staring into the steep mountain canyons below. I was in heaven soaking up the beauty. The girls were in heaven because the driver gave them huckleberry licorice. 

Lake McDonald Lodge

IT’S TIME FOR THE DUMP!

I would be remiss if I didn’t at least touch on what I’m sure you all want to know, and that’s “How did the dump go?” By “the dump” I mean the removal of the dreaded van wastewater that I mentioned earlier. Yes, that oh-so fun, necessary task that we knew was coming sooner than later. Being the consummate rule followers, and knowing that we were supposed to empty these tanks every two to three days, we decided that today was the day. (The fact that the gauges read FULL was a slight motivator too.) I think we were more afraid of the potential sanitary repercussions for our living quarters than we were about disobeying Brad’s directions.

So with that we reluctantly drove to the dumping station at the entrance to the campground. We pulled up to the station, which consisted of a few hoses and a couple of holes in the ground covered by small cap and a stick, and I did what few people do. I got out the instruction manual. Yep. You heard that right. We were that desperate. I narrated the steps while Andrew gloved up with the supplied black rubber gloves. Here is how the conversation went. 

Andrew: “Okay, now I open this hatch under here, right?”

Me: “Yes, don’t forget to prop it up so it doesn’t close on you.”

Andrew: “Got it.”

Me: As I’m reading from the manual… “Alright, now pull the hose out of the van and stick the nozzle in the hole.” 

Andrew: (removes the cap and stick from the hole with flies swarming around and looks up at me with nose wrinkled)

Me: “Now open the valve, and I’ll push this red button here on the door. Wait, do you push the button then open the valve, or open the valve, then push the button?”

Andrew: “Brad said to open the valve, then push the button.”

Me: “Okay, open the valve then push the bottom. Got it.” (Pushing button) “Is anything happening?”

Andrew: “I think I hear some gurgling.”

Me: “That’s good, right?”

Andrew: “Yes babe, that’s good.”

Me: “How long do I hold this button?”

Andrew: “Till the gurgling stops, babe.”

Me: “Oh, okay.”

(Andrew is standing with his foot on the end of the hose that’s stuck in the hole so it doesn’t unexpectantly fly out. The hose begins to vibrate and shake as liquid begins traveling through it. The gurgling slows. I’m still pushing the button.)

Andrew: “I think it’s empty and you can stop pushing the button.”

Me: “But are you really SURE it’s empty? I mean, how do you really know?”

Andrew: “Trust me, I think it’s empty.” (He pushes the hose back into the van, closes the hatch and with that same wrinkled nose face gingerly peels off the black latex gloves and discards them.)

Oh my gosh. We did it. We drove away from that little dumping station with grins on our faces and all the satisfying feels one might have if they had just landed a spacecraft on the moon. We were officially seasoned “van campers” and we were ready to take on the world. 

Avalanche Lake Hike

The next day we decided to attempt the hike to Avalanche Lake. We packed our pack with plenty of water, lunches, and snacks, and caught the shuttle from the visitor center up to the Avalanche Lake trailhead. There were plenty of other people with the same idea, so we were definitely not alone. The hike is approximately 4.5 miles round trip and the girls bounded down the boardwalks of the Trail of the Cedars with loads of energy. They bounced from rock to rock as I sounded like the proverbial worried mother, “Careful girls, whoa, hold on, don’t step there, get off of that boulder, you’re too close to the edge…blah, blah, blah…” In between the mini heart attacks I soaked in the gorgeous cedars, massive rock walls, rushing streams, and wild flowers as we ascended the mountain trail. 

Finally, we reached the top and the girls’ energy by this point had significantly waned. The last stretch was a bit steep and the complaining, or should I say whining, was kicking into high gear. I used this moment to get all “mom philosophical” on them and reminded them that life can be hard and paths aren’t always easy, but if you keep putting one foot in front of the other you’ll reach a great reward. (Insert eye rolls, and grunts here.) Keep sowing the seeds, mommas. Even if you don’t think your kids are listening, your words are sinking into those sweet heads and hearts of theirs. 

When we turned the corner at the top, the scene before us opened up and it literally took my breath away for a minute. A turquoise lake surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs covered in trees and waterfalls was a gorgeous site. We found a spot in the shade and ate our lunch with a couple of curious chipmunks. The girls took off their shoes and waded in the glacier fed water as Andrew snapped pictures. I was thoroughly entertained by two, slightly overweight, gentlemen hikers precariously  lounging on a large rock in the water taking pictures of themselves with a long selfie stick. I was secretly hoping one would roll off and find himself drenched in the knee high water. (I know. I’m terrible. But it would have made for a great story, and a good chuckle!)

Once we had taken in our fill of the fantastic view we started back down the trail. I reminded the girls that it’s way easier going down than up, so thankfully the trek wasn’t quite as strenuous this time around. We made it back to our campsite and Andrew cooked a great meal on our van’s two burner stove and we made campfire s’mores for dessert. 

Leaving Glacier

As we left the park the next morning, Andrew made a point to find a poor circling camper looking for a spot. Knowing the stress we went through to insure our coveted campsite, we wanted to bless someone else with our soon to be vacated spot. He noticed a gentleman earlier in a silver truck slowly circling our loop with that familiar worried look in his eye and Andrew stopped him. He chatted briefly and then asked the man if he was a father. He said, “Yes, my wife and kids are still sleeping and I’m trying to find a spot for my family.” Bingo. Andrew told him it was his lucky day and the relief that came over his face was almost comical. We pulled out as he pulled in behind us and both smiled at each other. Good deed for the day….check! 

We left the campsite and drove through a small town outside of the park entrance. Andrew spotted a sign for huckleberry pie so quickly stopped. Everything in this part of the country is “huckleberry” so when in Rome, do as the Romans do! Eat huckleberry pie! It was quite a treat devouring it in the van on the way to the next stop. We headed to the east side of Glacier National Park near the Two Medicine lake. We again stopped and had a picnic lunch, skipped rocks in the lake, and hiked to Running Eagle Falls. Katherine spotted a snake on the trail and came running back to us with wide eyes! We also had a fun encounter with a mountain goat in a parking lot as we were leaving. 

We stopped at the small visitor center and the girls got sworn in as Junior Rangers by Ranger Jake. He went through their completed activity books with them, asked them questions, and had them hold up their right hand and repeat the Junior Ranger oath. I could almost feel the embarrassment exploding out of Lauren as she repeated the words and I think if she could have, she would have crawled under the rangers desk as fast as you could say “endangered species”. The girls were great sports however, and Andrew was beaming and recording every awkward moment for posterity. (And for further embarrassment in their wedding video someday, of course.) It’s actually a really fantastic program and super educational for the kids. I highly recommend encouraging/forcing your children to do it. It completely filled my elementary teacher bucket from my “past life”. 

Bozeman, MT

We jumped back into Shannon (our van if you forgot), and headed toward Bozeman, MT. The drive would be about five hours and the girls’ entertained themselves with the mountains of library books we brought (still haven’t done a book count to see if they all made it home, yikes) and a couple hours of season three of Little House on the Prairie. I figured if I was going to let them watch any TV on this trip, it would be during a long drive stretch and it was going to be something educational with good morals. Thankfully, they are as addicted to Laura Ingals Wilder as I was at that age. 

We didn’t have much time in Bozeman so we grabbed dinner at a restaurant that was a recommendation from friends, and then found our campsite at the Bozeman Hotsprings Campground. This was a completely different feel from our site in Glacier so a good experience for us newbie van-campers. Thankfully, the campground was right next door to the Bozeman Hot Springs so we put our swimsuits on, and tried to keep up with the girls as they ran for the entrance. All we had to say was “pool and hot tub” and they were off like a shot. It felt SO amazing to soak in the naturally heated pools after previous days of hiking, horseback riding, and sleeping in a van. The shower felt extra amazing, and the girls got an education on showering in a public “locker room”. Broadening their horizons, folks. 

Yellowstone National Park

After a good night’s sleep we were up early again to find a Starbucks and get back on the road. Our next stop would be Yellowstone National Park. I had been looking forward to this part of the trip for quite some time. I knew it would be a highlight for the girls and it had been years since I had been to the park myself. 

We arrived at the West Yellowstone and headed straight for the visitor center. We hadn’t officially entered the park yet, but we wanted to get our bearings and figure out the best route to take with the two and a half days that we had. We spoke with a nice ranger that gave us the lay of the land and a suggested route. She asked Lauren what grade in school she was going into. Lauren responded, “Fourth,” at which the ranger replied, “Well, little lady, you qualify for the Every Kid in a Park program! You and your entire family can enjoy the national parks for free!” Oh yeah! Way to go Lauren! I had heard of this program, but I didn’t think she qualified because she wasn’t officially in her fourth grade year of school yet, but evidently she did! She saved us $35 which she continued to remind us of, and then tried to justify reasons for why she thought we owed her money. Hmmm… Nice try kid. 

Because we came in on the west entrance we decided to start heading north toward the upper loop beginning with Norris and the Artist Paintpots. This ended up being a favorite of Lauren’s. The bubbling mud pots were fascinating to all of us and my teacher hat went on again as I tried to explain all of the geological reasons behind what we were seeing. 

Thankfully, before we left on our adventure, we had downloaded a fantastic app called Gypsy Guide that gave us a narrated tour through the entire park. It was not only educational with fun facts and park information, but it also helped us as drivers to navigate which sites were ahead and what the “must see” stops were. I highly recommend downloading this app if you are traveling in any national park. But do it before you enter the park and have access to WiFi. You will not be able to download it once you are in the park. 

We continued to head north toward Mammoth Hot Springs and around the loop through Tower-Roosevelt. This drive was absolutely spectacular and the landscape was vast. I was a little nervous on the narrow and windy roads as we went up in elevation, but Andrew handled the van like a champ. 

As we made our way through this part of the park we came across a large field that was full of bison. Our helpful Gypsy Guide app informed us that August is rutting season for bison and that we may see quite a few at this time. Well, they weren’t kidding. We saw babies, two males forcefully head butting each other, and another right alongside our car. Lauren thought they were “Soooo cuuuuttee!!!”

We also saw a black bear not far off the road with a good handful of “not so smart” tourists out of their cars taking pictures. Really people. Did you not see the umpteen-million signs of sad stick figures flying over the head of a bucking bison that say, “Give the animals their space!”?

The next stop was Canyon Village and the famed Inspiration Point and Artist Falls. This is that picture you always see of the yellow, stone canyon and gorgeous rushing waterfall pouring into the valley. This was definitely a must see. 

Andrew was getting pretty exhausted from all of the driving for the day so thankfully we were near our stop for the night. We stayed at Lake Lodge situated in Lake Village on Lake Yellowstone. The little cabin we found ourselves in was an adorable throwback to the 50’s and to be able to spread out in a real room with two beds with bedside tables was a total treat. We slept great and were ready to continue our adventure in the morning after hitting the cafe and coffee shop in the hotel. 

All we had left to explore, of this amazing place, was the bottom half of the lower loop which consisted of Old Faithful and the Upper, Middle, and Lower Geyser Basins. Since we were staying at Old Faithful that night we drove right past it to hit the geyser basins first. 

A highlight here was of course, the Grand Prismatic Spring. Not only were we completely impressed by the sheer size of this feature, but the colors were just gorgeous. I tried explaining to the girls how the colors were formed by the different bacteria living at different water temperatures, and I think they got it, but they were most disturbed by the rotten egg smell emanating from everywhere the went. In spite of the smell, this beautiful site was a favorite for all of us. 

We made our way through the geyser basins and back toward Old Faithful and the Old Faithful Inn. We were lucky enough to secure a room last minute and I was super excited to stay in this iconic place. I was telling the girls that this building was one of the largest log-style structures in the world and has been around since the early 1900’s. Their response was, “But what about the Disney Wilderness Lodge?” Isn’t that the biggest log building? “Uhh…well…this is the real deal kids.”

The lobby is nothing short of impressive and what got me the most excited was reading the history of the crows nest located at the top of the vaulted ceiling. Many years ago in the heyday of the Inn, orchestras would play in the crows nest to dancing guests in the lobby below. Oh, be still my heart. I would have given up my portion of the huckleberry pie to go back in time to experience that. 

After sucking down some ice cream cones, we went outside to catch the show that everyone was there for. Good “Old Faithful”. And that she was. We were even able to catch it again later that night as a rainstorm blew in complete with a double rainbow. Thank you, Lord! 

The girls completed their new Yellowstone Junior Ranger books and graciously obliged their parents by doing the swearing in, once again, with Ranger Randy. This time he threw in that they would promise to eat their vegetables. Yes. Thank you, Ranger Randy. 

Grand Teton National Park

Our trip was coming to an end and we spent the last day on the road driving south through the beautiful Grand Teton National Park. Our family has always had a thing for Jackson Hole and the Teton Mountain Range so being able to end our trip staring at those massive, snow capped peaks was such a treat. It felt like a fitting way to finish our journey. 

As we pulled into our final stop in Teton Village, we climbed out of our faithful van, Shannon, and wearily unpacked our little mobile abode. We were exhausted, but completely filled with a sense of awe and accomplishment at what we had just done. The logistics of a trip like this are pretty massive, and I was so proud of my husband for pulling it all together. We were a great team, and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience with the dearest three people in my life. 

I Have No Idea

You Don’t Think You Have What it Takes? That’s Good!

Well, I’ve gone and done it. I’ve started a project that I feel completely unqualified to do. What is this project you ask? You’re reading it. Yep, it’s this blog. A few weeks ago I launched this puppy after months of getting it ready for that exact moment. That ultra scary instant when something pretty personal becomes very public.

I’m just now finding a minute to add another post because it’s been a little nutty around the Dahl household. I haven’t been able to do this sooner primarily because that crazy thing called the “summer transition” just happened. You know, that wacky three to four week time frame in May when your kids are finishing up school and your comfortable structured routine gets thrown on its head. Just looking at my Google calendar this past month makes my eyes cross. If I squint, it looks a lot like a colony of ants marching across it from all of the appointments, school concerts, and dance recitals that needed to be squeezed in before that last ding of the bell and my kids were released into the wild.

Needless to say, uninterrupted moments of quiet reflection have been in short supply in my world lately. But the more I kept thinking about my inability to whip out another post in a blink, the more I realized it wasn’t just because I was so busy. It was because I didn’t feel qualified.

With that little act of pressing “share” a few weeks ago, I stepped into the world of blogging. That big, daunting, scary world of information exchange. As soon as my #blogger was out there, I started getting likes from all kinds of other bloggers. This was fun at first because I enjoy seeing other people’s creative expressions and reading their stories and insights. But then I started careening down that slippery slope of, “Oh crap. Who am I to contribute to this world of perfect selfies, and fabulous recipes proven to make the reader a gourmet cook from the three random ingredients left in their pantry?” That is SO not me.

I am completely NOT qualified. I do not have extensive knowledge about clip-in hair extensions, where to invest your money to be the next Warren Buffett, or how to grow prize winning tomatoes next to your perfectly manicured herb garden. Nope. Definitely not this girl. And once again, that little voice of fear and self-doubt started to speak a tad bit louder. But thankfully, when I start toddering on that ledge and am just about ready to throw myself over, God always shows up with an outstretched hand and a loving “side-eye” that says, “Com’ on you goofball. Let me share something with you.”

What always comes next is His simple reminder that it’s not my job to be “qualified” for the task He wants me to do. All He asks is that I show up to work.

I remember a specific time when I was going through my cancer treatments a few years ago that He vividly demonstrated this point. Writing became a way to cope and process the emotions that I was experiencing while going through the trenches of my yuck. During that time I noticed how I would periodically get a gentle prompting from the Holy Spirit to write about something specific and then post it to my Facebook page.

Many times I wouldn’t feel like writing, but the urging was always very strong. Even then, I procrastinated putting the pen to paper, but when I finally did I often had no idea how to start. It was as though my mind was blank except for those couple of words or a topic that I felt I was supposed to write about. One specific time, I was sitting on the porch, very frustrated, with the empty screen of my ipad staring back at me. I started having this conversation with God….

Me: “God, I’ve got nothing. My mind is mush.”

God: (Silence)

Me: “Hello? Anyone there? Don’t you see me struggling down here?”

God: (Silence)

Me: (getting a bit annoyed at this point) “Yep. Still here, and nothing’s coming out. How am I supposed to write about what YOU told me to write about if you don’t give me some help here?”

God: (Silence)

Me: “Really? I can’t do this. I’m out.”

God: “Just start writing.”

Me: “Wait, what?”

God: “Just start writing.”

And that was it. Three quiet words I felt in my heart, “Just start writing.” So without much content to back it up, I simply did just that. What started as a few, (very labored), sentences of rambling began to take shape and the words started to flow with unexpected ease. After I finished, I read what came out and was amazed at what had developed in spite of my brain feeling completely void of anything worthwhile to say. The lesson I learned in this moment was HUGE.

God doesn’t call the EQUIPPED. He EQUIPS the called.

To be “equipped” means to “supply with the necessary items for a particular purpose” or “prepare (someone) mentally for a particular situation or task.” In that moment on my porch feeling like I didn’t have anything to say, God filled in the blanks. In my weakness and in my limited abilities, He equipped me with the words to write that post. That particular post got more comments and positive feedback than any other post I had written up until that point. And more importantly, many of the comments I received from the readers were ones letting me know how those words had helped them. That is what truly matters.

If you look at the Bible, there are so many stories about men and women that God called to a specific purpose that were not “qualified” for the job He laid out before them. Take a gander at Moses. God specifically called Moses to speak to Pharaoh, the most powerful ruler of the time, and to tell him to let the Israelite slaves go from captivity.

Moses was currently living a quiet and peaceful life as a shepherd minding his own business in the hills of Midian. And then God dropped a bomb of a plan on him through a burning bush and Moses pretty much freaked out. His mind went immediately to his inadequacies and perceived inability to do the job set before him. Speak to a ruler? And not only speak, but be confident, eloquent, and persuasive? Hold the phone! Moses even tells God, (in my words) “God, did you forget I have a speech impediment, and I spend my days with sheep? I am definitely not qualified!”

But God reassures Moses that He would be with him and provide all that he needed to carry out His plan. Oh, and did I mention that Moses had lived as a prince in Egypt for 40 years prior to becoming a shepherd? God already knew that these experiences, connections and basic knowledge of the Egyptian culture would help Moses be successful.

And because of all the weaknesses Moses had, God got all the glory! Trust me, He’s pretty smart. If He only called the equipped (the ones who had it all together and can seemingly do it all on their own) then there would be a messy grey area of who gets the credit.

Are you feeling “called” to do something big that you feel completely unqualified for? Or maybe it’s something seemingly small like praying with someone who is hurting. Perhaps you’ve never done that before, and you don’t think you’ll have the words to say, or the eloquent syntax you think is necessary for a “successful” prayer. Stop right there. You don’t need to worry about that part! God only wants you to show up to work! He will equip you with the tools or words that you need to fulfill His purposes.

My favorite part about all of this is that it takes the pressure off of you! You don’t have to perform and rock your dog and pony show. Just come to the table with what you’ve got and give the rest over to the Master Creator who will breathe His life into it.

One of my favorite Bible verses is Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I love the Message translation that puts it this way, “Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.” Yes! Insert clapping emoji here! Whatever ability, experience, or knowledge that you have, whether it be a lot or a little; wherever you are in your life or whatever your circumstances, God will help you through anything!

So please, please remember. God EQUIPS THE CALLED!

Now when I start having freak-out moments about my many weaknesses and inabilities, (which happens daily) I am learning to come to God with an entirely different attitude. Now when He prompts me to do something that feels totally out of my comfort zone I simply agree to show up for work. The rest is up to Him.

I can confidently say, “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING!” So don’t expect brilliant blogging dialogue regarding which iPhone is the best or how to fry bacon without creating a grease apocalypse on your stove. What you can expect is a chick who will be willing to share what’s on her heart and who is desperately praying that God will make it what He wants it to be.

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