Archive for July 2013
This past week we surprised our children with a secret vacation – destination unknown! All we told them was that they could bring one backpack and needed enough clothes and toys for two days. Yes, they would need a bathing suit. No, they couldn’t bring all their stuffed animals. Needless to say, we had A LOT of nervous energy and excitement leading up to the big reveal!
Our plan was to take the Amtrak train on a Sunday morning to Washington D.C. (an adventure in itself as our youngest child had never been on a train before!) Once there, we would hop on the Metro to get to our hotel and drop off our backpacks. From there we would walk to the National Zoo and spend the rest of the day there. On Monday we would visit the museums then head back home that evening on Amtrak. Sounds pretty simple, right?
(Allow me to pause here to allow time for your laughter.)
Let me remind you… I have three children. One is a shy teenager. Very responsible, but a planner. Has to have things organized and done in order. One is an energetic nine year old. Easily distracted, especially with new things. My youngest is a slightly temperamental three year old. Need I say more? Thankfully I have a husband who runs marathons. Surely he could run after anyone that mistakenly got on the wrong train?
The trip itself was indeed an adventure as expected. We never told the kids where we were going until we got to each destination which made every stop even more memorable. I took hundreds of photographs. We laughed. Ate. Walked. And walked. And walked. We realized the hotel wasn’t “just” off the Metro (more like a half-mile walk) and the walk to the Zoo? Yeah, add another mile to that. In 90+ degree weather. The Zoo visit was fun but excruitiatingly hot, except for the last hour. That was completed in a downpour of rain. Just another notch in our belt of family vacation memories, lol. The good news is we ended the trip with the same three children we started with. Mission Accomplished!
As many of you know, I am always on the lookout for ways I can bless others with Random Acts of Kindness. I realized halfway through the Amtrak ride that I left all my RAK cards at home, so I decided to focus on acts of kindness I noticed in others. You always hear the stereotype that city people are rude and uncaring, but I think comments like these flow from the mouths of individuals whose cups are half empty, not full.
So I started a kindness list. I already had half a page before we even left our town!
- A lady overheard my three year old ask to use the restroom and offered to watch our backpacks and my nine year old so I could take him (I had the two youngest children by myself at the time.)
- The train station doors were locked, so another lady came to me to offer alternative places that might have a restroom.
- The train station operator just happened to come around the corner at this time and opened up the train station doors early. (OK, so maybe this RAK was from God, but it was still a major act of kindness!)
- As we boarded the train and got settled, the lady in front of us offered up her seat so a mom with two small children could sit together.
- My daughter, who was STARVING, shared her breakfast sandwich with both her brothers. She also offered to sit in the same row with them to help out.
As our adventure unfolded, there were countless more RAKs to witness. A man giving directions to a family, obviously lost. The restaurant owner who took time to “chat” with my youngest child as we waited for our meal. My daughter offered to switch tennis shoes with me when I felt a blister starting to form. My son offered to hold the little guy’s hand as we walked through a crowded section of the zoo. A stranger named Leon chatted with me for almost an hour while I sat with a sleeping child in a stroller at the National Air and Space Museum. (Who, by the way, was the friendliest man I met on this trip. I learned so many interesting things about him! He was in town with his family celebrating his daughter’s graduation from high school. If you like country music, you can check out his online magazine!) It really is inspiring to take a step back and SEE all the kindness that surrounds you!
I was especially appreciative to receive a RAK towards the end of our journey. My husband and I had split into separate directions (he went back to the hotel with my daughter to retreive our backbacks; I forged ahead to the train station alone with the two boys.) As I was exiting the Metro with my boys, my youngest decided THAT would be time time to throw a tantrum, as he did NOT want to get on the escalator without his sister by his side. If you can picture a mobbed train station (it was 5pm after all), a tourist mom with a backpack, a zippered lunch cooler, two children AND a stroller… all trying to hop off a Metro train, take 5 steps, and step on a moving escalator. That, my friends, is a recipe for DISASTER!
Thankfully, there are kind people in this world. An older gentleman saw my plight (as my three year old was trying to pull me down in a full-fledged-sit-on-the-floor-no-way-am-I-getting-on-that-thing tantrum) and grabbed my stroller as I lifted my child onto the moving staircase. He smiled and tried to chat with my son (who sadly wasn’t feeling as kind to reciprocate the conversation), then he stayed with me carrying my stroller over the exiting threshold of the escalator until we were safely out of the crowd and off to the side. I thanked him profusely, but he just smiled and said, “No problem! I remember those days. Enjoy your journey!”
I wanted to hug him for all he was worth!
Needless to say, we made it home unscathed; weary but happy. As I started to post vacation photos on Facebook the next day, I saw a message from a sweet friend who was traveling to DC later in the week. She called me to ask how my vacation went and we laughed about the various escapades I enjoyed throughout my visit in the city. As it turned out, her daughter was scheduled to play in a basketball tournament and was a bit leary of the Metro system. “What was your experience like? Be honest.” All I could do was laugh, because my experience was GREAT!
It was just a bit later, after we had ended our call, that I remembered my husband had overpaid on our Metro tickets. (Just a heads up, if you purchase paper tickets, DO NOT LOAD ALL YOUR MONEY ON ONE CARD – each person in your party needs their own Metro card! If you make the error we did, you will NOT receive a refund!) I immediately called my friend back and offered her the extra tickets that still had a remaining balance on them. “Oh thank you so much! How much do I owe you? I can bring some cash when I meet you.” Again, I just laughed. “Just take the tickets! We can’t use them anyway! Be blessed!”
And just like that, I completed Random Act of Kindness #20 without even realizing it.
This RAK is dedicated to Olivia Engel, age 6, who shares the same first name as my cousin and the same middle name as my sister. Olivia was a great helper to her mom, often going out of her way to care for her younger brother, Brayden, who is the same age as my youngest son. She “developed an affinity for all things fun” and I’m sure she would have enjoyed all our adventures on this trip. You can click here to learn more about sweet Oliva.
I hope this time of summer fun is filled with happy memories for you and your family. The Sandy Hook parents are experiencing their first summer vacation with a “new normal.” Be mindful to be present and aware of just how special these moments are in your life!
Be blessed my dear friends!
How do you like to celebrate the 4th of July? Do you go to a cookout? Plan a day at the pool? Spend time with friends and family? We do different things each year to celebrate the national holiday, but one thing we always try to do is watch the fireworks. I love being out with a crowd of people, listening to patriotic music played by a concert band, waiting for darkness to fall and the first firework to light the sky.
This year as we claimed our spot in the open field of Dogwood Dell, we watched as people spread out blankets, played games and chatted, all sharing the same space for the same purpose, a united group of strangers. If you’ve ever waited for fireworks, you know it’s best to claim your spot early, so we were there hours before dusk. As soon as I started to unpack our chairs and bags, I realized we had no games for the kids to play to pass the time. No cards. No UNO. No triominoes. Nothing. Cell service wasn’t that great, so the games we had hoped to play on our phones and iPods quickly became obsolete as our batteries dwindled faster than the evening shade.
It was about this time that we saw a single bubble floating in the sky. One. Single. Bubble. We watched in awe, completely transfixed, as it began its gentle descent across our blanket. >pop< “What…?” “Where…?” “Who…?” The questions tumbled out as everyone tried to figure out who was blowing bubbles. It didn’t take us long to see a girl with long brown hair and a red skirt, standing with a lady who was probably her mom, both blowing bubbles from huge wands dipped in liquid tubes. Before I could answer a single question, the kids were up on their feet, running towards them, as more bubbles came our way.
Oh, to see the joy on my children’s faces! I glanced towards the girl and her mom and both had smiles that would brighten even the darkest of days. Children were laughing, shouting, chasing after bubbles on a warm summer night, oblivious to any cares or worries of this world. It was perfect!
The mom noticed how engaged we were with the bubbles and offered her wand to my son, Daniel. “Would you like to blow some bubbles?” Daniel graciously accepted the mom’s offer and together with the daughter, they blew bubbles for all the children surrounding our blanketed space.
Daniel passed the wand to his Uncle Barry, who then became the Pied Piper of Dogwood Dell, showering the children with bubbles galore.
Not long after the bubble fest, the sun began to set and we were surrounded by twilight. “The glo sticks!” my daughter shouted, as she dug through her purse to reveal four unopened black canisters. “Hurry! It’s getting dark!” She dumped all four tubes into her lap and together as a family we worked together to bend the sticks, releasing their fluorescent glow.
As we were creating bracelets and necklaces connected by small plastic tubes, we noticed a young boy watching us from his parent’s nearby chair. “I wish I had some of those,” we heard him tell his dad. I looked at my daughter and was met with her smile. She had heard him, too. “Would you like to have some? We have plenty.” She then carefully selected one of each color and attached connectors so he could create his own glowing accessories. “Have fun!” she said as she turned back in her chair and continued her task.
Could I possible love my daughter more than in that moment??
Our evening ended with an amazing fireworks show and we left Dogwood Dell with happy hearts. It was a wonderful way to celebrate our country’s independence, surrounded by friends, family, and many strangers. We were blessed by kindness of others and found a way to keep that blessing going to someone else. Who knew something as simple as bubbles and glo sticks could make such a lasting impression?
This Random Act of Kindness is dedicated to Benjamin Wheeler, age 6. According to the Huffington Post, Benjamin was always running, a joyful child, who blew kisses to his family saying, “Catch it and put it in your heart.” His parents were musicians and would write and perform their own music. At Ben’s funeral, they played songs from a CD they had released right before he was born, one which was titled, “Stars in the Sky.” On this night, long after the fireworks show had ended, I looked at the sky as we were walking to our car and thought about all those beautiful stars and all those beautiful children from Sandy Hook Elementary. A lump filled my throat as I looked at my own three children, healthy, happy, still bouncing from the excitement of the evening. It made me realize, yet again, how special EVERY moment should be; how I need to be still and treasure the small moments as well as the big.
If we are not guaranteed tomorrow… what can I do to make a difference for someone today?
Do you know anyone who has gone through the process of adopting a child into their family? Maybe the answer to that question is, “Yes… ME!” Or maybe the answer is, “Not me, but I have a close friend…” or “Well, as a matter of fact, we have a family member who was adopted…”. Adoption is close to my heart for many reasons. No, I am not adopted, nor are any of my children. I don’t have any adopted siblings, but I do have several cousins who were adopted. One cousin, Amy, was adopted by my Aunt Carolyn as a baby. Since her adoption occurred before I was born, I have no recollection of Amy NOT being part of our family. I do, however, remember the day she told me she was adopted.
We were at her house, playing the game of LIFE, and I was about 8 years old. On her next turn to spin, she landed on the space that says “You adopt twin girls.” As she placed two pink plastic sticks in her already packed plastic white car, she turned to me and said in a smug voice, “You know… I’m adopted.” Before I could even process the words she spoke (Adopted? What did THAT mean?!), she added, “That means I am your EX-cousin!” I spent the remainder of the game thoroughly confused, but neither anxious nor despondent. I just figured she was being a smarty-pants because she was two years older than me. But this concept of “ex-cousin” was a phrase that stuck with me and now, more than 30 years later, we still call each other “ex-cousins” even though nothing could be further from the truth!
As we grew up, I came to hear the story of her adoption (as well as her brother, David) and realized this adoption stuff is something really special. Having a baby born of your body is one thing, but having a baby born of your heart is simply spectacular! To be chosen… hand selected to join a family… Wow! What an honor!
After graduating college and starting my married life, I rode shotgun through the adoption journey travelled by my best friend, Lisa, as she and her husband, Gus, adopted little Christina from Guatemala more than 10 years ago. I also remember the frantic phone call she made to me in 2008, describing two pre-teen girls she met from Florida who were visiting as part of a fostering program: “Oh my gosh, I think I just met my next two daughters!!” Not long after, that vision became a reality as Lisa added Jackie and Julia to her expanding family tree.
Adoption seems to be a thread that winds its way through my life. My daughter has told me on more than one occasion that if she doesn’t have a daughter “the natural way”, she will adopt one. A friend from high school shared his adoption joys through Facebook. My sister’s best friend from high school is now engaged to an amazing man adopted from Romania. The pastor who married us 19 years ago had just adopted his first daughter right before my wedding. I love that adoption is not a stigma in our wonderful country… it’s just another way to grow your family!
With that in mind, you can imagine my excitement when I read of another friend’s decision to adopt three children from Africa (to join four very excited siblings waiting and hoping!) Desiree and Matt’s journey is detailed through their blog if you’d like to follow their adventures. One downside to adoption is that it can be VERY expensive, especially if you are adopting overseas. With Desiree and Matt adopting not one child, but THREE children, you can imagine the exorbitant costs involved. They created a unique fundraiser to allow other families and individuals the opportunity to financially contribute to bringing their chosen family together – starting with a puzzle of African animals.
The photo above is of Desiree and Matt’s children after they finished putting together a 500 piece African animal puzzle. They asked friends and loved ones to support their journey by sponsoring a puzzle piece for a suggested donation of $10. Each time they receive a donation, they write the person’s name on the back of a puzzle piece so that when completed, their adopted children will be able to see just how many people worked together to make them a Forever family. What a sweet and special treasure!
As my children and I were enjoying Game Day last week, I was telling them about the puzzle pieces. “We should do that!” my daughter exclaimed, without hesitation. “Maybe Caleb and I can share a piece. I have $5 I can give them!” my son chimed in. It was a sweet moment to see my children excited to not only help someone else, but to share their money so freely. What a gift indeed!
As they brought me their money, I bought one of Katrina cards and wrote a note, explaining our donation. I addressed it to the children waiting in Africa, so they would have a personalized record from one of the many families praying for them.
I dedicated this Random Act of Kindness to Jack Pinto, age 6, who was the same age as Joel, one of the boys they plan to adopt. I even requested that Jack’s name be placed on the puzzle piece instead of my own as a living legacy to his memory.
The day after I mailed my card, Desiree updated her blog to share the good news… in only 10 days, they had over 100 puzzle pieces sponsored by 16 families! Wow! God is so good! Here is a picture sharing their excitement:
I encourage you to listen to the whispers placed on your heart as you go about your day-to-day tasks. Sometimes those whispers are like puzzle pieces themselves, just waiting to be placed a certain way to add clarity and insight to God’s purpose for someone else’s life. You never know if your puzzle piece is the final one needed to complete a masterpiece!
Be blessed, dear friends, and thanks for sharing in my RAK adventures!