Thankful Thursday – Road Trippin’ the American West

The longest road trip I remember from childhood took me to Disneyland, which seemed So Far Away, though now I have to admit that the hour-and-a-half drive from San Diego to Anaheim doesn’t truly count.

Guy’s family did real road trips: six weeks coast-to-coast in a Volkswagen Vanagon, a different route each way, every summer.

Our family has been road trippin’ since Guy and I honeymooned, driving from the Washington-Canada border to California’s central coast. We set a precedent on that trip, and most every vacation since has involved a drive (or many) of some length.

So. The Big Kid needed to get to college. With All the Stuff. And we wanted every member of our family of four to participate. Of course we drove.

We made a quick trip out, two days, because Kid needed to just get there. On the way back, we made it a vacation for Lil Bro. We made at least one fun/view stop each day, arriving home with barely enough time to pick up our farmed-out pets, do laundry, and regroup for the start of school.

The first few hours of our trip were beautiful, familiar NorCal roads. Guy and I talked. Kids wore headphones and stared at screens. Once we pulled out of Tahoe/Truckee, I realized we were in unfamiliar territory.

Before we left home, I’d done some reading. Years ago we visited Donner Memorial State Park so our kids knew that story. Our route east took us through historic landscapes, like the 40 Mile Desert, a portion of the Emigrant Trail which saw heavy traffic from 1848-1869. I read the linked article aloud as we drove, a humbling reality as we looked out our windows to the parched landscape.

What surprised me was the beauty. I hear the smack of “boring,” “desolate,” “lonely,” “bleak,” but I appreciated the changes in color and texture. I am so intrigued by the unheard stories of those who live here and there, by circumstance or choice.

Spontaneously, I began taking pictures. Hightailing it down the highway, through my spotty passenger window, click click click. The view, to me, seemed continually remarkable.

The view mesmerized me.

I know, taken via iPhone at speed through a dirty window, that these won’t be great pictures. But they help me remember how much I like road trips, and our country.

The Good Ol’ US of A may be a friggin’ hot mess. But I saw beauty as we drove, and kindness in the smiles and small talk of strangers. Beauty inspires hope. As a people, we are as diverse as our landscape. Others may see us–ahem, we may see each other–as “boring,” “desolate,” “lonely,” “bleak,” [insert your adjective here…]. But we are so much more than labels.

Fallon, NV

Lovelock, NV

Coalville, UT

Fort Bridger, WY

Hannah, WY

Idaho Springs, CO

Rangely, UT – and yes, the “highway” became a dirt road!

Talmadge, UT

Wendover, UT – The Bonneville Salt Flats/Speedway. Snapped as the minivan hit 100mph!

Truckee, CA

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Recreate, Re-Create, Create

Ah, family vacations…! Since my dad traveled for work, our family didn’t take a lot of vacations. At the other extreme, my husband’s family shared annual adventures, each year a new version of the Great American Road Trip. A few years ago we took our kids on a two-week camping road trip–nine states, five national parks and many more state parks, 5,000+ miles–in which we shared experiences much like today’s guest blogger. The power of the family vacation, family recreation, to re-create and re-energize the individual and the family cannot be underestimated. I’m looking forward to our own summer adventures, just days from now.

re:create recess #9: Donna Schweitzer

When this year’s guest blog series topic was announced, I felt a little stumped but jumped on board anyway, knowing I would somehow figure something out. I put Create/Recreate in the back of my mind and kept playing with the words, figuring out how it applied to my life and how I could write about it.

Our family is the typical busy family. With three teenagers, two of whom are in high school and involved in multiple sports and activities, we are continually on the run. Summer doesn’t provide much of a break, either. It seems we are constantly in and out of the house, rarely getting time to sit down together as a family.

We’ve had a rough go of it this year–I had no idea raising teens would be more difficult than parenting toddlers, but that’s the simple truth. The first few months of 2017 were particularly challenging to me as a mother. I had to figure out myself and my children all over again. I felt lost, adrift, untethered. For awhile, I thought I needed to change, become a different mom altogether, but I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. I muddled along, withdrew, stumbled through days and weeks. I talked to friends who have been through this process already. I read books on parenting, something I haven’t done in years. I cried. I yelled. I gave up. I fought on.

Spring Break blessedly arrived in early April. We’d been planning a trip to Utah since fall, so early on a Saturday morning, we loaded the kids into the RV and headed towards Moab–our first stop on this week-long vacation. Originally, other families were going to come along, but it ended up just being the five of us: a blessing, I would realize.

We spent three days at Arches National Park in Moab, then moved on to Bryce Canyon, and finished our week at Zion National Park. Our days were full of hiking and biking. The beauty of Utah exceeded all expectations. We challenged ourselves with scary activities, like climbing up a steep rock and scooting back down (I have a huge fear of heights, particularly of falling off heights). We talked, played board games, cooked together, watched movies every night, made s’mores over fire pits, laughed, and shared experiences.

Yes, we ran out of patience with each other at times. We argued some. We got frustrated, and not everything was perfect, but we had an amazing time. My teens–who, even when they are home, usually are in their rooms or have their faces in screens–hung out with us, and (gasp!) seemed to enjoy it. We added to the fabric that is our family story/history.

It was a healing week for all of us. We reconnected, re-engaged. I discovered I didn’t need to become a new type of mom just because my kids are entering a new phase. I rediscovered myself. I learned a lot about them. We re-created our family through that week of recreation. We created memories we will carry with us always.

We took a LOT of photos during the week, over 500. But I didn’t take all of them myself. Typically behind the lens, on multiple occasions I gave up control of the camera so I’m actually in many of the pictures. I love the perspective gained from seeing what each child chose to photograph; I learned about them just by seeing what they chose to document.

Next month, I will take those pictures on a scrapbooking retreat and will memorialize our trip. I am frequently asked why I don’t just do digital books anymore–so many sites make it so easy to create photo books. I love the process of putting glue to paper, deciding on layouts that best show the selected photos. I relive each day, each memory of each trip, as I scrapbook. I love holding the photos in my hands, the feel of the paper, the texture added by ribbon, tape, stickers, letters, and embellishments. I love holding the finished book, and bringing it home to share with my husband and children. I love watching their faces as they turn the pages, and remember those moments from our trips. I love being able to re-create memories through creating those scrapbooks.

Recreate, Re-Create, and then Create.. It’s been a year of learning, a continual process.

Donna Schweitzer has been married to her husband, Michael, for eighteen years. They reside in San Diego, CA. They have three children, ages 16, 15, and 12, who, along with three dogs and two cats, are affectionately known as The Herd. They travel, watch more sports than is probably healthy, laugh frequently, love much. You can find her blog at threesaherd.com.

One Year Later

alien flowerA year ago today, in our last few hours in Costa Rica, I wrote this post:

How was your summer?

Oh, how to answer that question…? In many ways this summer has been like others:

  • We’ve shopped, cooked, and cleaned
  • We’ve done laundry
  • We’ve paid bills
  • We’ve played with the dog
  • We’ve read, relaxed, and rested
  • We’ve taken day trips and road trips
  • We’ve been to the beach and the mountains
  • We’ve had good days and bad days, boring days and exciting days
  • We’ve laughed together and gotten on each other’s last nerve
  • We have lived out our particular personalities – needs and wants, insecurities and strengths – as well as our particular pattern of family dynamics.

The difference? We’ve done all these things while living in a foreign country, facing the challenges of an unfamiliar language and culture.

toucanTsh Oxenreider writes: “[Travel] strengthens our family bond. Together, we smell smells and see sights collectively that no one else will at that exact moment… When we travel, no matter how near or far, we share moments that shape our family culture. Each exploration, to the next town over or the next flight out of the country, is one more chisel notch in our family’s sculpture.”

Almost three years ago our family participated in an MVPC mission trip to the Dominican Republic. That trip changed us, and we believe it set the precedent for this trip. We saw God at work in the world, in our family, in our lives.

We came to Costa Rica for two months of Dave’s pastoral sabbatical. It has been amazing, long and short, hot and wet, frustrating, lonely, beautiful, intense, interesting, educational, challenging, restful… And we almost can’t believe this adventure is coming to an end. We fly home this evening.CR beach

Culture shock hit us harder than we expected, but we’ve been here long enough to adjust, to learn, to grow, to become comfortable. Embarking on this “God Treasure Hunt” we knew we’d find God in the beauty of His creation, and we have. We knew we would go places and meet people and see God at work – in people caring for creation, in ministries caring for God’s children. We expected to see God at work “in the world” but forgot to expect that God would also desire to work in us. Travel has given us an opportunity as a family to limit distractions and share experiences and conversations about important matters: how we live and how we want to live as people faithful to God and making a difference in the world in His name.

Pura Vida (“pure life”) is CR’s unofficial motto. It’s similar to Aloha – “welcome,” and “until we meet again,” and “all is well and all will be well.” Last night we read in Jesus Calling:

I came to give life – life in all its fullness. John 10:10

“Life is my gift to you – enjoy it! I want every day to be a delight as you live in My Presence and discover My blessings. Choose to enjoy life, and let the world see Me through your Joy!”

slothWe expect to face more culture shock as we return home and see our lives with fresh eyes. It would be all too easy to simply worm ourselves back into the familiar, but we also know that this trip has changed us even though we don’t fully recognize how. We look forward to unwrapping the gifts God has tucked away in our minds and hearts along the journey.

By the way, here’s a short list of what we didn’t do this summer: we didn’t ride horses on the beach or to waterfalls; we didn’t go sport fishing; we didn’t learn to surf; we did not get fabulously tan; we didn’t spend hours (or days or weeks) swinging in beach-side hammocks. And though our Spanish skills have improved, we’ve acquired a nice vocabulary of animal names not likely to come up in everyday conversation (unless you’re anxious to discuss monkeys, snakes, or birds!). We had to leave a few things for the next adventure, right?

*****

So how was this summer? In so many ways, just the same. In one essential way, completely different: we didn’t travel, and my heart aches for missing it. However, the garage is really coming along…

passion flower

Humanity: Lost

Guy spent his childhood summers traveling the United States in a Volkswagen Vanagon with his parents and younger brother. Four to eight weeks most summers, adventuring and creating memories. A few summers ago we took a 9-state, 5-National Parks, 15-day trip of our own. We loaded up our minivan with clothes and food, camping equipment and cots, and got outta Dodge with books on CD as our only on-board entertainment.

More than halfway through the trip, we camped at Farragut State Park outside Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. One late afternoon we hiked to the lake. Kids swam while Guy and I watched, pleased to see Swim Team so obviously paying dividends in Tween’s confidence. Tween eventually got out and wanted me to take him back to our campsite for food and warm clothes. His simple request produced a memorable adventure.

Farragut

The trail we took from campsite to lake had seemed easy enough, straight, then slight left, then hard left. But it hadn’t been clearly marked, and somehow we missed the hard right and slight right that would have dropped us on the straightaway.

I love to hike, one of my favorite ways to spend time with my guys, but they are the outdoors-men, the pathfinders, the Scouts. Here I was in the clear leadership position – Tween was eight that summer – and, while I knew we had missed our intended way, my best guess was to turn right and aim for the road.

It didn’t take too long to get out of the forest, but then we walked for two hours more, winding roads between this campground and another, none of them ours. Tween complained of hunger, thirst, fatigue (after all, he’d been swimming prior to our unexpected hike). I held his hand and did my best to bite down my concern while I encouraged him that we were having our very own adventure, that this would be something we’d talk about for years to come (true!). We told stories and made up jokes and prayed, me distracting him best I could.

My heart held a mixed-bag of emotions: frustration that I’d gotten us into a mess; anger that Guy hadn’t sent out a search party; pride that Guy trusted me and hadn’t sent out a search party; wonder at the beauty surrounding us; joy in the sweet softness of my little guy’s hand in mine.

mother and son holding hands

True confessions: I have an odd habit leftover from my learning-to-type days… I ‘type’ words I see along the roadside by moving in order the fingers that would strike the appropriate keys. So I remembered the street signage because I had ‘typed’ them as we’d driven past the day before. At least I knew we were finally headed in the right direction!

Of course we eventually made it back to the campsite to find Guy and Teen not at all worried (again, an honor or an upset?). They figured we’d enjoyed a detour, or maybe we’d headed to the showers, but either way they knew we’d be fine. And we were, truly, just a little shaken, and colder and hungrier than we had been two hours earlier. I especially felt frazzled around the edges as my strong-for-my-kid exterior crumbled head to toe.

This story works as a metaphor for the human predicament. The path should be simple enough but we’re not equipped or able to find it. We’ve made more than a few wrong turns. We’re lost. We see some signs here and there but the hike is hard work, lonely, stressful. How I would’ve welcomed the help of a ranger! We need someone to show us the way, and Jesus is The Way (more on that next week).

Meanwhile, it helps to recognize that we are lost, to stop pretending that we know exactly where we are and where we’re going. We might as well be honest with ourselves and one another. Faking it will not help us make it. At least in our honesty we can express and experience compassion for fellow lost travelers.

Connect
Reflect on a time when you or someone you love got lost.

Study
Read aloud Romans 3:9-20.
Who is under sin’s power (vv. 9-10, 19-20)?
Jesus calls us to love the Lord our God “with all [our] heart, soul, mind and strength” (Luke 10:27), which covers every aspect of a person’s being. In this passage, note how Paul describes how each of these four aspects of a person is affected by sin.
Which description in vv. 10-18 most stands out to you, and why?
What is the power of the law (vv. 19-20)?

Live
Give some examples of how you see the power of sin over people.
From this passage, how do you respond to someone who says that people are essentially good?
How do we in the church still try to justify ourselves by works of law?
Read Psalm 1:1-3. How do you “delight in the law of the Lord”? How is your daily Bible reading useful in becoming conscious of your sin?
How can a regular practice of confession work as an antibiotic against sin?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that the Spirit will convict you of sin and guide you deeper in relationship with your God.