I blame Palo Duro Canyon. Four years ago we took our one and only family vacation with all three boys, and nothing has been the same since. I questioned our sanity to spend a week hiking all the way there. Our boys fought every foot of that 500 mile trip. I vividly remember one kid crying hysterically the last 15 miles because some one had drank the last of his gatorade. But when we drove into that majestic canyon, magic happened. Dueling brothers became best friends, and that mystical canyon wove it's spell around us all. It was one of the best weeks of our lives.
And since that week, we've been seeking adventure in all we do. We visited numerous state and national parks and experienced the beauty of God's creation in so many places. Sunrise to Sunset Days, Wander Wednesdays and Extreme Adventure Saturdays have become a way of life . We barely finish one excursion when I start planning the next. When my husband is driving, I generally start searching for the next fix in the car on the way home!
So as summer approached this year, I knew we needed a solid plan. There aren't many more years left before these boys won't want to hang out with their parents. Pretty soon they will refuse to get up at 5 am for the next great adventure and prefer to spend time with their friends.
Luckily for us, opportunity landed in my lap last month, or rather my inbox, with an email from Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine. I only needed to read the headline to know that we were in: The Great Outdoor Scavenger Hunt.. Honestly, I didn't even read all the info before I signed us up. I certainly didn't run the numbers, as in how many miles we would be driving to accomplish all the challenges. I still haven't. It's too scary to think about.
30 challenges across the great state of Texas sounded perfect for our insatiable quest for adventure. Some of them are easy, like catch a fish or take a pic with any waterfall. Most are sight specific, like go to San Jacinto Monument or Port Isabel Lighthouse. And one returns us to that magical, mystical canyon, the start of all this craziness; our beloved Palo Duro Canyon and the infamous Lighthouse Trail.
Currently we are 12 challenges in, and we have driven 1605 miles. We've resorted to bribery once or twice to get the boys out of bed before dawn and will likely be bribing them a few more times before all this is said and done. We've already experienced intense beauty on new trails at Mother Neff State Park and unique history at Goliad State Park and Seminole Canyon State Park. We've met the kindest and most interesting park rangers in Texas, and we've just had tons of fun.
I guess the question remains...When and If we finish all 30 challenges, what's next????
Most people look at the Texas Thistle and see nothing more than a weed. A particularly obnoxious weed, that once it starts growing is difficult to remove. You can't pull it out by hand; the leafy branches have little prickly, pokey things that hurt your hands. The roots are thick and you get this gooey whitish junk everywhere once you start tearing into them. Most people wear gloves and pull them the minute they make an appearance in their landscape.
But in our house, the Texas Thistle is a magical, mystical plant that brings us much joy every time we see them on the trails. We've even given them a special name, the Purple Puffalump! Every time we see a Purple Puffalump, we are reminded of the fantastic plants in the Dr. Seuss books we read over and over again to our kids.
And upon closer examination, the Purple Puffalump is actually quite beautiful. The leaves are a beautiful, misty green with a special type of shine. And the bud which appears before the Puffalump part emerges is just gorgeous, delicate green and purple. Once the purple, puffy part appears, bees and butterflies flock to it's poofy ball and just hang out; making them even more magical.
You miss all this beauty and magic when you assume it's just a weed and pull it out.
It's so easy to make assumptions about people or situations, without looking more carefully into the person and their heart. Accusations get made and opinions are formed, all without talking it out or asking questions. I've been on the receiving end of some of these false assumptions lately, and it hasn't felt good. Some people think they know things about me or my family and never even ask a single question. Kind of like looking at that thistle and thinking it's weed without waiting for the mystical purple puffalump to appear.
I'm so thankful God looks past the weeds, and He sees the beauty within each of us. He knows our every thought, and we never have to worry about Him making assumptions. And even on those days when we fall short, His love doesn't waiver. He sees each of us just like a field of beautiful purple, puffy balls.
1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."
I'm not sure which request set me over the edge this week. Maybe it was the Sunday night email that we would be having ten days of Holiday Spirit days at school (this is Day 4, by the way), and we hardly had any of the clothing on the list. Perhaps it was another email for another Christmas event, or maybe it was just the pile of gifts that apparently weren't going to wrap themselves. Whatever the last straw may be, I've been wound up tighter than the ball of yarn I cut into pieces to make 80 Christmas trees at next week's holiday party at school. By Wednesday, if one more person asked me for one more thing, I was fairly certain I would lose my mind.
It seems like the Christmexpectations have been piling up and are threatening to take over our entire lives. Each and every request is, in and of itself, a good thing. School events, family parties, cookie baking, decorating contests, white elephant gifts, church activities, and concerts, to name a few. But as they keep adding up, even the good events can seem like too much.
And we are not anti-Christmas. My gosh, our house is so lit up our neighbors have to put up special window coverings in December to avoid the glare. We love gifts and parties and crafts and special holiday shirts. I love our giant Christmas tree more than you can imagine, and sending carefully planned Christmas cards is the highlight of my year.
But my goodness, all the Christmexpectations can be exhausting! And I can't imagine how stressful all these expectations are for single parents and working parents. I'm at home all day and I can barely manage to keep up. Perhaps our standards are getting just a bit too high.
We are trying to balance the craziness with a healthy dose of Jesus each and every day. Some of our favorites are all the Christmas reading plans on the You Version Bible App. The only key to managing the crazy is focusing on the Holy. May this special season be a time of great joy and peace for each of you, and may you always remember the true reason for the Christmas season.
Set your minds on things above,
not on earthly things.
The Imperfect Tree 2018
There is no greater challenge for a recovering Perfectionist than a Christmas tree, and by tree, I mean a real Christmas tree. A needle dropping, branches awkwardly jutting out, water sucking monstrosity that takes up half the free space in our living room.
It all started about six years ago, when we bought our first 'real' Christmas tree. Who knew a tree could have such an impact? Our church youth group was selling them, and our oldest son was in youth so we felt compelled to buy one. No one in our family had ever had a real Christmas tree. I was used to our perfectly symmetrical 7 foot tall fake tree. It was easy to decorate, it required no care at all and all the ornaments fit perfectly in a precise uniform fashion. No surprises. In fact, everything about Christmas at our house was precise, symmetrical and organized. Every single year.
We dragged our whole family to the church tree lot the day after Thanksgiving, where believe it or not, it was sleeting. The poor new youth employee was out there, by himself, surrounded by giant Fraser firs. They were all wrapped up and I had no idea what to expect. I wanted him to open each and every tree until I found the perfect one. But I just couldn't do it to poor Ryan in the foul weather, so we took the first one he took out. It was huge, it was gangly, it did drop needles (but not too many), and I loved that tree more than any Christmas tree in my whole life.
Every morning, I woke up and saw that tree outside my bedroom and smiled. It brought such joy and began a road to changing Christmas in our house that continues today.
We have bought a real, giant, Fraser Fir every year since. And each year, the trees have told a story. The Imperfect Tree always sits in our garage for a day or so, then we drag it in the house. No one is allowed to cut off any branches, except the one time there was one branch blocking our bedroom door and we kept running into it.
And each year we look at the tree and kick my ridiculous standards down a few notches. No more handmade matching wrapping paper or monogramed, matching Christmas pajamas. Who cares if Cooper hangs 5 ornaments on one branch and it's hanging to the floor? And those needles? Last year I did not pick them up off the tree skirt the entire month of December.
This year's ginormous tree, pictured above, did have to be trimmed at the base. Because it was too tall to fit into the house! And it's clumsy, uneven branches have made me happy every time I see them. Especially the ones with too many ornaments.
Christmas is about family and love and most of all, Jesus. The perfect Christmas and the perfect tree is but a myth perpetuated by too many Hallmark movies and tv ads. Perfection is not only unattainable, it's exhausting. I should know, I've lived many years chasing the perfect holiday. Luckily for me, only God is perfect and His perfect love is enough. That and my giant, gawky, imperfect tree.
The fastest way to break the cycle of perfectionism and become a fearless mother is to give up the idea of doing it perfectly- indeed to embrace uncertainty and imperfection... Arianna Huffington
You never know what to expect when you are waiting on God to send you messages from the birds!
Last week I shared all about Kevin, the peacock; the poor bird I called 'a critical symbol in the middle of my mid-life crisis'. How I prayed every day for God to put Kevin in my path, and how all I had seen lately was a few average guinea fowl. And I came to the conclusion that maybe ordinary guinea fowl were the answer after all. Perhaps I just needed to live for moment in the ordinary of the day and not continue to obsess over the more majestic peacock which rarely appeared.
And this week I was fully prepared to accept the ordinary. In fact, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday mornings, I crossed paths with those same two guinea fowl. And on Wednesday morning, for the first time ever, I came across 4 guinea fowl in a single hike! I knew each and every sighting was a direct sign I needed to stop searching for such extravagance in the peacock and just live day to day.
I walked back to my car feeling pretty confident about life and started driving out of the parking lot. And then I saw something so extraordinary, I had to double check I wasn't hallucinating! For the first time ever, Kevin had apparently brought his friends out on his morning stroll and there were 3 peacocks casually cruising right by the road, an abundance of peacocks on a day I wasn't expecting any at all! And I must say, I had no idea what to think... When I told the boys they immediately named to new guys 'Dave' and 'Tres'.
I still don't know what to think of these two new peacocks. I suspect I will start obsessing over them as well. And that I will probably not see them again for six months, if at all! I do know that God continues to reveal Himself to me in unexpected and abundant ways. Who knows what will happen if the swans or chickens that I know live on the same property happen to wander onto my path...
PS... I realize that is a picture of Kevin, minus his friends. They were not standing near each other and by the time I tried to take a pic of all three, they were scattering. Peacocks are not found of having their pics taken!
How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you.
I've spent the past year hiking 4 or 5 days a week at the city park near the boys' school. It's not my first choice, but it's close by and the trails never close even when it's muddy. And then there's the birds.
There is a house on the far side of the park that has all sorts of birds, like ducks, geese, chickens, guinea fowl and the most majestic of all, a peacock. Every so often, some of these birds escape and freely roam the park. I saw the peacock for the first time about a year ago, and somehow it has become a Thing. As in, I obsessively hunt for the peacock every time I enter the park. We've even named it Kevin, after the bird in the Up movie.
Every single morning I pray for God to show me that peacock. There's no explanation for it. And every so often, Kevin magically appears, usually when and where I least expect him.
The past few weeks I've been praying extra hard for Kevin to appear. Probably because we are five weeks into the school year, and I still have no idea what God wants me to do with my life. I don't know if I am expecting an answer to appear on Kevin's back, like get a job or write a book. Perhaps stop wasting so much time and drinking so much coffee. But somehow this poor peacock has become a critical symbol in the middle of my mid-life crisis.
This morning I was praying for Kevin to appear when I almost ran right into these two guys, some of the numerous guinea fowl which appear far more frequently than the solitary peacock. I couldn't help but wonder. Maybe God wants me to stop praying so hard for the mysterious peacock and just accept the slightly out of the ordinary guinea fowl. Perhaps this is the answer after all.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
It's been raining here for weeks. And it's driving me crazy. I spend every morning the same way. I drop the boys off at school, and I head to a park to hike for an hour or two. It's the best way to start my day and nurtures both my body and my soul.
But the past three weeks, rain has been my constant companion. Many of the parks I love to visit have been closed, so I'm stuck at the nearby city park that never closes. The first week I skipped some days, figuring the rain couldn't possibly last. But it has. It has been the rainiest September we have ever had, and after about a week, I just had to give in to the rain. And the mud.
I started hiking those muddy trails two weeks ago and haven't skipped unless there's lightening. I even developed a plan of sorts. I hike 3 or 4 miles in the mud, and I end at the unexpected creek pictured above. Believe it or not, that's actually a sidewalk, covered by rocks and water. I trump through the 'creek' until the bulk of the mud is washed off my shoes, go back to the car, take off my wet hiking shoes and socks and go home.
The plan was working great until some of my friends found out what I was doing. You are going to catch E Coli... warned one of them. Do you know how much bacteria is in the standing water?... Oh my gosh! That's a breeding ground for mosquitoes!
Apparently my friends and family had lots of advice about my shoe washing methods...
It merely reminded me that each of us make so many decisions, every single day; some big, some small and every level in between. And every one of the those decisions have consequences. I find that my decisions tend to work out for the best when I seek His counsel and don't act on my own. When I go to His Word and don't try to control my own destiny.
It's been two weeks of tromping through that rain water, and I don't appear to have foot E Coli yet. I've spent that time praying and asking God to guide me on my path. I'm feeling pretty confident I'm going to be alright with Him by my side.
In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.