How to Travel With Kids Without Losing Your Mind (a guest post by Anna Hargett)

6/22/16

Shannon here! Today I'm excited to introduce you guys to my friend Anna Hargett.  Anna's blog, This Perfect Mess, is one that I go to when I'm looking for marriage and family inspiration that's actually enjoyable to read.  I love her writing style and her sense of humor is my love language.  Today's post is true Anna form- both useful and hilarious.  I'll be carting it around in the back of my mind come July when we attempt our first big family vacation. With a newborn.  Because we so sane, y'all.  Give it up for Anna and be ready to smile.


Family trips sound good on paper and look precious in the photos, but somewhere in the reality of the actual vacation it becomes clear that even though you would not hesitate to throw your body in front of a moving train for these people, if you have to be in a room with them for one more minute you just might die.

Obviously there are sweet moments too: the look on your child's face the first time he sees the ocean or the can't-catch-your-breath-from-laughing card game around Grandma's dining table. We travel with our kids to make memories, to escape our routine and to connect with them through new experiences. 

It won't all be perfect, but there are some things we can do to ensure we come home with the same number of brain cells we left with.


1. Lower Your Expectations
Your family trip to Disney World is not going to look like the family on the commercial taking a trip to Disney World. Commercial Family is a little too happy, way too clean and none of their children are shoplifting or licking all the exhibits, so obviously that is not real life. It doesn't mean that Disney is not a magical place, it's just not a magical place 100% of the time. A good tactic is to approach a family trip the way you would a new Star Wars movie: if you go in expecting it to be terrible, chances are you will leave pleasantly surprised.

2. Communicate
Remember that first trip to the beach you took with your 10 month-old and you were so excited to sleep in each morning while your husband got up with the baby? And then, of course, you'd take a long family stroll down to the pier and eat at that quaint little cafe? Except you forgot to mention any of your plans to your husband and unfortunately he is not a mind reader, so he was quite baffled as to why you threw a flip-flop at his face when he decided to spend 3 hours by himself at the gym. Ahhh, fun times.

Everyone has their own idea of what family vacation looks like and if these ideas are not discussed, a full-blown flip-flop war might erupt. Really think through the details of each day and communicate your expectations with each other before the trip. Some questions to consider:

Who is going to wake up with the baby? Who will make the kids breakfast? What are we doing for mealtimes? What is our budget for eating out? What will naptimes look like? What special activities are you hoping to fit in? Are you expecting any alone time? What will the bedtime routine look like?

If you are traveling with/visiting extended family members, make sure to include them in the discussion as well. Sometimes people unaccustomed to dealing with the whims of toddlers on a regular basis may forget the importance of putting breakables up high or that an 8:00pm dinner reservation will result in heavy sobs (and the 2-year-old won't be happy either).

3. Be Prepared, but Flexible

There are a million tips and tricks to make traveling with kids less stressful; I won't go into detail here because that is what Pinterest is for. It's important to be prepared, but don't stress yourself out. You might spend several hours and many dollars putting together individualized travel packs to entertain your kiddos and then find they prefer to pass the time playing I Spy. You may pack 18 different outfits for your 4-year-old and then have him insist on wearing his Batman costume every single day as well as on the flight. When I had my first child I made darn sure I had a fully stocked toddler travel bag or three; now, after three children, I generally just throw handfuls of Cheerios towards the backseat and hope for the best. Turns out, we manage to get there either way.

4. Find the Blessing in the UnexpectedThere has never been a family trip in the history of family trips that has gone completely according to plan. Things will go awry because being on vacation does not make you immune to life. There will be sunburns and traffic jams and the awful realization that you forgot to pack that one swimsuit that makes you look super skinny.

However, just as in life, you can choose your attitude about the inconveniences. You can scream "I told you so!" at your blistered kid who ignored your sunscreen instructions, or you can show grace and spend some time inside together.

You can beat your head on the steering wheel, muttering curse words under your breath or you can say a prayer with your kids for those involved in the accident causing the backup.

You can mourn the loss of your skinny suit or...take a deep breath, this one's a toughie...get in the pool anyway!! Play with your kids! They'll remember you, not your cellulite.

There will be unexpected bumps in the road, but in the grand scheme of things are they really a big deal? Our purpose as parents is not to take our kids on fabulous trips and craft perfect memories. Our purpose as parents, I think, is to demonstrate to our children how to love God and love others. Our attitude about the unexpected will reflect what's in our hearts. It's easy to be happy on good days, it's a choice we have to make when our day takes a turn for the worse.


Let's take our kids somewhere this summer: to the mountains, to Grandma's house, to the fro-yo shop down the street.

There will be good moments and there will be bad moments. The good moments will become great memories and the bad moments, well, they'll make great stories. Eventually. ;)

//

Follow Anna at her blog, This Perfect Mess, and on Instagram (she rocks a mean Insta game).

Write Love on Your Walls (a giveaway with Just Love Prints!)

6/17/16

I'm still taking some time off from writing to adjust to the throes of newborndom, but I wanted to pop in and let you guys know about a giveaway I'm running on Instagram!

When Lindsay at Just Love Prints offered to send me a print of my choosing, I knew I'd be looking for something special to hang on the rather naked walls of Taavi's nursery.  I did NOT expect to have such a hard time choosing! So many great designs and her taste in quotes is right up my alley.  I mean, have you perused her Etsy shop?! Swoon.

Ultimately I decided to choose this one because, well, please:


To illustrate why I chose this particular print for a baby's room, allow me to copy and paste the text of my Instagram post.  Because it got the job done.
May we be parents who call forth the image of God our children uniquely bear, rather than the image we once expected them to. May we send them out in ways and callings that we ourselves weren't made for, rather than demand they be little replicas of ourselves. May we ourselves be free enough to offer freedom to our sons and daughters. Yes, if anything, may it be that: may we be freedom-birthers.
Taavi had a lot of opinions on the matter...


... clearly.

And because Just Love Prints believes in scattering love, I get the great pleasure of gifting one of you with another 8x10 print!  I chose this one with you guys specifically in mind, since the common thread of my inspiring readership is the desire to promote peace and justice in the world. I really hope you love it as much as I do.


This prayer of St. Francis of Assisi simply must be one of the greatest pieces of historical Christian thought. It is just so very, very good.

Once more with a verbatim quote from my IG, because why reinvent the wheel?
We will not give way to cynicism and fear. We ourselves will be the change we wish to see in the world (Ghandi). Where hate is sown, we will love all the more. Maybe this prayer of St. Francis is where we start.
All it takes to enter is leaving a comment on my Instagram post!  Easy peesey.  Tagging a friend gets you an extra entry but is totally optional.  So head on over, and while you're in the neighborhood, check out Just Love's account as well!

(Giveaway ends Sat. 6/18 at 7 p.m. CST)

Good luck and happy weekend to you!
S

Taavi's Birth Story

6/13/16

It may not come across in print, but those who know me best will tell you I have something of a stubborn streak.  I'm working on it.  But it often rears its ugly head in situations that actually do not matter at all, for example my own estimated due date differing from the midwife's by a few days.  In both my pregnancies it has happened and both times I have clung vehemently to my own calculations.  Because obviously four or five days really matters.  Eye roll.  Yet I can't let it go.

So in case you wondered, the following account of Taavi's birth happened two days after my own estimated due date and one day before the date on my medical records.  Not that you or anyone cares, except I simply don't know what to say when people ask if he was early or late.  "Well... both."


But when you're that cute, who really cares?

And now, without further ado:

After two weeks of cramps, back pain, Braxton Hicks, loss of mucus plug, and general crabbiness, I woke up at 4 a.m. on May 20th thinking, "hmm... but probably not".  I half-heartedly began timing anyway, my third early morning that week to do so.  Not much seemed different: no notable intervals and no real strength behind the sensations.

I noticed Eric's side of the bed was empty (a regular occurrence, insomnia be damned) so after awhile I shuffled my beluga body downstairs to deliver the non-report.  "I thought maybe labor was starting, but looks like it's nothing.  I'm filling you in anyway because I know how deeply it pains you to not be informed of every single discomfort I experience."

He said something appropriately sympathetic and I shuffled back to bed.  Almost immediately, my inner antennae perked up.  Now that was something.

When Eric came back to bed about 15 minutes later I let him lay down, unsuspecting, for a moment before I softly whispered the exciting news that this was indeed the real thing.  We reveled in the sweetness of it together and talked about names one last time.  At this point the other front runners were Toviel {'my God is goodness', Hebrew of Tobias- whose story is so beautiful!}, Nico {'victory of the people' + I've always loved saucy St. Nicholas}, and Theodore {'gracious gift'}.  But yes, we agreed once and for all, Taavi is his name because more than anything we want his identity to be "dearly loved".

As contractions started to ramp up Eric began making phone calls to our parents, who were both in hotels, and to the hospital.  By the time my parents arrived at our house to stay with the boys we were just gathering the last of our things and my contractions were about 4 minutes apart and increasing in strength.  Because I felt confident about the support at our hospital for intervention-free births, we decided to go ahead and head up there rather than labor longer at home.  It was about 5:30 a.m.


My dad snapped this photo before driving us the few blocks to the hospital, and what on earth is wrong with my eyes?  Am I in labor or did I get stung by a bee? I don't even know.

After the initial intake was said and done my midwife checked me at about 7 a.m. and declared me to be 6.5 cm dilated! Woo-hoo we were rollin'.  Still, I knew based on my extensive birthing experience (ahem. once.) that dilation would go slowly and we had hours ahead of us yet.  So in between contractions Eric and I settled in to feather our nest: setting up the lavender oil diffuser, unpacking heating pads, me dreaming about the point at which I would slither into the warm tub (with jets!) and reminding myself to request a birthing ball at some point.  

In recent months I had felt the need/desire to prepare for labor differently this time around, so I had had my nose in Ina May's Guide to Childbirth for the 6 weeks prior.  So during contractions I focused on relaxing my body and letting the contractions do their work rather than allow my tension to slow it down. In particular, I intentionally relaxed my jaw which in turn relaxes the other sphincters as well. I also found it super helpful to wrap my arms around Eric's neck and hang on him through contractions: it forced my body into a relaxed posture and made the sensations so much more bearable.  


Moses had been face-up, so his labor and been almost entirely in my back with none of the relief of the ebb and flow of uterine contractions.  It was pretty much just constant pain after a certain point.  So THIS! Pain for 1 minute and then a 3 minute break?! That felt like the greatest of luxuries in comparison.  

Not long after she had checked me, I vomited.  I was thrilled, not just because I felt much better, but because I knew it meant I was transitioning.  As the contractions picked up intensity, Eric pulled out the list of names I had tucked in to our hospital bag: women I love who are facing infertility, secondary infertility, miscarriage, and infant loss.  During times of pain, he stood by my side and quietly read their names out loud. I let my body be a prayer for these women I love, asked my Lord to let my suffering somehow alleviate their own.  

The next time she checked me (around 8 a.m.) she declared me to be over 9.5 cm.  One more contraction should do it, she said, and after that I could just push when I felt ready.

Eric and I looked at each other and -scout's honor!- laughed. After the long and agonizing labor two years ago (when I'm pretty sure Eric had begun to wonder if he had accidentally married Gollum), we had fervently hoped that this one would be different. And I had felt optimistic about that because not only did I now have a notch in my birthing belt, but I felt better about the way I had prepared for it. But still.  It's childbirth.  How often are you really surprised by the mildness of it?


My water had still not broken, so my midwife broke it right before I began pushing.  It took me awhile to really feel a groove with the pushing, but once things ramped up I was hoping against hope that it would be one of those "just two pushes and he was out!" stories.  The pushing stage of Moses' birth was by far the most discouraging part for me (sunny side up + oddly angled resulting in 3.5 hours of effort and ending in an episiotomy), and I soon came to realize that I had some major mental hang-ups from it.

One thing I knew I wanted to do differently in this birth was to try different positions for pushing. I briefly thought about trying a squat as I had planned but instinctively knew that didn't feel right.  I got on my hands and knees for a bit but that position created a pain in my hips that was unbearable.  I had Eric push on my hips with all his strength during contractions, which helped a lot, and baby did lower during that time, but the midwife suggested that a back position would alleviate the pain.  She was right, so I ended up delivering him in a sit/lay angle with my knees pulled up.

And I have now lost the two males who were attempting to read this.

Anyway, after over an hour I started in on a quasi-panic.  I can't do it. I can't push him out on my own, I need an episiotomy.  It wasn't true, of course, but how much of childbirth is a battle against our minds?  He was actually in a great position and was making progress downward with every push.  But the pain and the passing time were trying to convince me otherwise.  Eric remembered that I had wanted a mirror to see our baby enter the world, so the nurse quickly found one in the room and he held it up for me.  My wonderful midwife gently asked if I would like to feel his head, which I did.  I still think being able to see and feel how very close I was to holding my child was what gave me the strength to get him out.

But I'm ahead of myself.  First I touched the brink of despair, my body burning for what seemed like half an hour as his head stubbornly refused to emerge and I stubbornly refused to let it retreat.  I put words to my fears, said them out loud to the midwife, to the (precious) nurse, to my husband, to myself.  I'm afraid I can't do it on my own. He's stuck, he's stuck just like Moses, I know it.  They wouldn't hear of it, wouldn't let me believe it for a second.  The midwife explained that the scar tissue was simply not as stretchy as normal skin would be, but that progress was constantly being made with every push.  Just get him out! I begged at one point.  My midwife laughed, "you get him out!".

So finally, I did.


9:52 a.m., about 5.5 hours after contractions began.  Not bad, little buddy.

They put him on me immediately and let us snuggle for as long as our hearts desired.  When they finally weighed him: 9 pounds, 6 ounces.  Holy smokes, I've never felt so validated.

Taavi Ross Evans, you are so very very loved. Thanks for coming out.
And P.S. - I'm so glad you're a boy.  You are exactly what was missing.

//

If you like this kind of thing, you can read Moses' birth story here.  I'll be adding Alyosha's adoption story some time this summer too!

The Weight of Mercy (A Guest Post by Colleen C. Mitchell)

6/8/16

(Shannon here!) You guys are in for a treat today.  Colleen Mitchell is a fiery Jesus-lover and justice-seeker, and basically the Christian I want to be when I grow up.  She and her family are missionaries in Costa Rica, providing safe birthing, medical care, and health education to indigenous mothers in their St. Francis Emmaus Center.  Look for Colleen's book, Who Does He Say You Are?, being released this August.  Today's post brought tears to my eyes, and I'm honored that she would share these words here.  Please welcome Colleen Mitchell!


//

I have a confession to make.

When I first heard that Pope Francis had announced a Jubilee Year of Mercy, I was less than enthused.

Actually, I was a little irritated.

My internal (and occasionally external) dialogue went something like this, “I mean it’s lovely and all. But do Christians really need a Jubilee year to remind them that mercy is the thing. I mean, c’mon. This is exactly the problem with the Church today and no Jubilee Year is going to fix willful ignorance.”

But maybe, just maybe, it can cure a bit of pride? Because clearly, ahem, someone needed some curing.

Surprisingly, I happened to find myself in Rome for the opening of the Jubilee Year and in one of the first groups of pilgrims to walk through the Holy Doors of St. Peter’s. My husband and I were accompanied by our spiritual director, who reminded us this was a time to beg to recognize our own need for mercy more deeply and the grace to dispose our hearts even more fully to that mercy so that we could then offer that mercy to others more effectively.


The experience opened my heart to the key message of this Jubilee Year, which is not, as many have reduced it, to feeding the hungry or being more generous to the poor, but recognizing the desperate need each and every one of us has for God and his goodness. 

Then we returned to our home on the mission field, and a crazy thing happened to me in the first few months of 2016. I was daily bombarded by overwhelming need, injustice, and my own inadequacies in our ministry to indigenous mothers. 

I attended the births of babies whose mothers had barely turned 14 years old, then sent them off to the mountains, babies with babies in their arms. I helped a mom through the end of pregnancy who explained that she had had a C-section for her first baby because her husband beat her in the stomach regularly to try to make her lose the baby he did not want.


A mom with 4 littles 5 and under who lives in the most extreme poverty arrived to stay with us while her husband underwent surgery after surgery from injuries sustained from being bucked by a horse. He survived, but will be permanently disabled and unable to work.

God, there were days I could barely breathe for the weight of it all. I nearly succumbed to exhaustion and despair. About a month ago, I reached the point where I did not want to get out of bed.

People kept trying to remind me how important the work we did for these women was, but all I could see was what it could never fix, never do or undo. And I was tired from carrying the weight of that.

Tired from carrying the weight of mercy.

And in my exhaustion, the lesson of this year became all too clear. See, I was looking to the mercy I could give as never enough and despairing, while I had forgotten to look to the mercy I receive, to God’s mercy which pours out and says “my grace is enough for you”. 

I forgot that the saving wasn’t my job, and faithfulness was. I nearly gave up on mercy because I mistakenly let myself believe that the important part was what I had to give when the truth is, there is only one thing, and it is what I have been given.


If I am not constantly immersing myself over and over again in his mercy and love for me, then I spend my days bearing a burden that is too heavy for me, and I will fall or give up or give in to despair eventually.

I began to understand that this may be why so many Christians seem to have turned off the “mercy switch” in their hearts. It is not that they are unaware of the need. It is not that they are cold-hearted, selfish, or uncompassionate.

It is that they have counted the cost, felt the weight of mercy on their hearts, and declared themselves incapable.

It is that they, like me, have mistakenly measured themselves rather than throwing their weakness into the unending sea of God’s goodness and letting the waves carry them.

They have extended their hands and found them emptied too fast, while forgetting that Jesus’ scarred hands stand open with wounds of mercy from which flow unending grace.


The Jubilee Year can serve as a reminder to each of us that the weight of mercy is in fact too heavy if we try to carry it in spite of our own desperate need for God. 

But if instead, we take that need, march it through the doorway of God’s heart and hand it over to him, where he freely offers his mercy in return, we might just find ourselves overflowing a bit.

And in that overflow, mercy runs freely to us, through us and from us to the people we desire to love. 

Mercy becomes a river rather than a weight. And the strength of the flow is what carries it.

I have been humbled by the truth about mercy this year. I nearly buckled under its weight, and then have found my way back to his goodness riding the current of that same mercy. 


And I am beginning to feel like just maybe I finally understand. 

The weight of mercy is heavy, but the love of God can carry it, if only we let him carry us first.

Is mercy hard for you? Are you turning away because you feel too tired, too poor, too busy, or not enough to offer mercy? Where do you need to recognize the worthiness of your own need first and let God fill you so his grace carries the weight of mercy for you?

Let him, friend.

Then celebrate with joy the Jubilee.


//

(Follow Colleen's journey ministering in Costa Rica at her blog or on Facebook.)

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