No Filter.

Those family portraits with the perfect hair and matchy-matchy outfits?  We know it took 100 takes to get the one you posted on Facebook that you casually referred to as a "snapshot."  Because otherwise it would look like, say, this one: 

Like with one kid pouting because we didn't let her hold the baby, one kid acting absolutely insane because she's so tired but past the point of getting a nap sporting hair that's doing who-knows-what, one cranky toddler who sat still for 10 solid seconds but protested loudly the whole time, one baby who desperately wants her mama, and two big kids who basically rock (at least in this particular shot). 

I think that's why this is one of my favorites of late.  Because this is real life.  Personalities galore.  No filter.  Unedited.  Authentic.  My herd.  

Maybe it's weird to pick a word on October 14th, but I'm doing it.  My word for the limited remainder of 2016 is Authentic.

I can feel the burden of expectations lifting right off my shoulders.  I'm free to be me.  We're free to be us.  It's a lesson I want my very unique children to learn much sooner than their slow mother. 
Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day.  It's about the choice to show up and be real.  The choice to be honest.  The choice to let our true selves be seen. ~Brene Brown

South of the Rio Grande

Sometimes we go on little adventures.

My favorite adventure recently was at the tail end of a six-week cross-continental trek, way at the bottom of the country.  We landed at a hotel in Fort Stockton, Texas the night before with three sick kids.  The bottom three children were all vomiting, and while that was sad and awful for them, I selfishly worried that our biggest, most exciting adventure was not going to happen the next day if they didn't get better.  In a hurry.  We fixed chicken and rice in the hotel room, did some much-needed laundry, called it an early night, and prayed for speedy recoveries.

The next morning we loaded up the van for our trek south to Big Bend National Park and, what I anxiously anticipated, Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico.

After a quick stop at the Visitor's Center in the park for a stamp in our kids' national park passport book, we wasted no time getting to the border crossing.  I loaded up our bookbags with water bottles, sunglasses, diapers, wipes, and a few spare clothes (because, you know, all of the vomiting the day prior).  When we checked inside at the building, the ranger gave us a quick rundown of what we could expect when we go down to the river to cross, what's in the town, and what the weather was like (15 degrees hotter across the river for some unknown reason).  Given that the day was sunny and hot, the ranger looked at our less than tan skin and recommended hats for everyone in the party.  (We're embarrassingly pale.)

We planned to spend enough time in Boquillas to eat lunch, look around, and grab a souvenir or two.  We walked the path down to the river.  As we cleared the vegetation on the U.S. side of the river, we saw a man in a flat-bottomed boat shove off from the Mexico side to meet us.

We were a little concerned because no one in our 8-person party speaks a word of Spanish, but that didn't matter.  The Boquillas residents were well-versed in English, and we were easily able to communicate.  For a fee, we opted to hop in the boat rather than wade across the deep river (which is a viable option for some).  The boat operator insisted that we all get in together and he quickly and ably rowed us across.  (Kudos, that was no small load.)  On the other side, we had the option of riding a burro, riding a horse, riding a pickup truck, or walking.  The first 3 incur a fee.  It's free to walk.  Given the fact that it was hot as Hades (even for these GA folks) and we felt like we were there on borrowed time, we opted for the pickup.  Once again, the driver insisted that we could all ride together, inside the truck, so we packed in - 4 (including the driver) in the front, 5 in the back.  I read somewhere that the National Park on the Mexican side of the river requires that a guide stay with all visitors, so even if you decline their services, they kind of shadow you while you are in the town.  Our guide, Esteban, rode in the back of the truck.  As we bumped along the dried-up creekbed in the pickup, I noted the "social roads" that the park ranger had warned about, places off the beaten path where locals tried selling their wares without permission.  When we reached the town, Esteban escorted us into the Mexican customs office where we told them our intentions and received a temporary visa for the day.  Note: This was the only air conditioned location in Boquillas.

Esteban lobbied hard for us to go to Boquillas Restaurant at the end of the road, but we opted for the closer (more famous) Falcon's Restaurant.  Jose Falcon opened the restaurant in 1973 at the height of tourism in Boquillas.  It used to be no big deal for anyone to cross the river back and forth between Mexico and the U.S.  The events of September 11th changed everything.  When the border was closed, the town of Boquillas was cut off.  The nearest Mexican town is hours away via terrible roads.  The U.S. crossing was their lifeblood. 
The events of September 11, 2001, destroyed Boquillas del Carmen's traditional way of life. In May 2002, the border crossing from Big Bend National Park to Boquillas was closed indefinitely. As of October 2006, only 19 families of around 90 to 100 residents remained in Boquillas. Most of the town's residents had been forced to move away by the closure of the tourist crossing and destruction of the town's traditional economy.
On January 7, 2011, the US National Park Service announced plans to reopen the crossing using a ferry and a passport control center planned to open in the spring of 2012.  After multiple delays, the new Boquillas Port of Entry was finally officially opened on 10 April 2013. -from Wikipedia
Today, the daughter of Jose Falcon operates her father's restaurant in his memory (he died in 2000). We enjoyed chips with salsa, pickled jalapenos, and cheese dip.  The kids enjoyed their typical chicken & cheese quesadillas, I order beef tacos, and Sam got green chili chicken enchiladas.  The highlight for everyone on the hot day was the refreshing Mexican Coca-Cola (and Fanta) with real sugar.  The meal was fantastic, and the people won us over with their sincere gratitude for our patronage. 

(Random funny of the day:  Leah smuggled the yellow toy from our doctor kit into Mexico.  For some unknown reason.)

After lunch we walked down the staircase to get a better look at the river (okay, lies, we were hunting a geocache which is not easy to do with Esteban looking over your shoulder, but we did get it!). 

There is a gorgeous gazebo overlooking the river with a view of the mountains.  We were sweating too much to really enjoy it.  According to Esteban, the weather was not unusual for the end of September, which made me feel even more love for the ever-hot residents of Boquillas.

Full family shot courtesy of, you guessed it, Esteban.  (He was precious.)

We did a little shopping in the curio shop, where each child picked up a token to remember Mexico by and then we went on our sweaty but merry way. After we turned our visa back in at the customs office, we tipped our guide who had radioed back to the pickup truck who was waiting to take us back to the "international ferry."  He politely offered us some steeply discounted, homemade trinkets, and how could we refuse?  We left with a bracelet for each kid and a super-cool wire scorpion.  As we handed the money over, I almost wanted to cry.  He was so unbelievably grateful.  As we loaded into the truck, he shouted, "Goodbye, nice family!  Please come back and see us!"

I just kept praying that Hannah, who was strapped into the Ergo on me, would not throw up in the sweet driver's truck.

When we reached U.S. soil, we had to check back in at the border crossing.  This time, we presented our passports via a scanner to a remote border patrol officer in El Paso to whom we communicated via phonecall.  I'm sure I looked like a noob, but we were allowed to re-enter without any hiccups.  Our day in Mexico was complete.

It was awesome.  Worth every effort.  And every penny.  The residents of Boquillas were sincerely grateful for our visit and showed the greatest hospitality.  I want to go back and buy up all of their trinkets.  And give them hugs.  Maybe when it's not 100 degrees.

And that...just barely scratched the surface of the treasures at Big Bend.

Choose wisely.

I preach to my kids a lot.  I'm sure they'd testify both to the accuracy of that statement and to the fact that preaching isn't necessarily effective.  This is, however, my parenting style, despite my best efforts to simply let my no be no and my yes be yes.  I always feel there is more I can explain or teach or clarify.  I'm sure it comes as a big surprise to you that I have lots of thoughts and words.  (Hence, this blog.)

One of the things I tell them pretty regularly is that their attitude determines the outcome.  If you think badly about something, it's probably not going to go well.  Granted, I am one of the world's foremost pessimists (ahem, realists) who always imagines the worst case scenario and then almost always finds myself pleasantly surprised when things don't go as badly as I suspected.  However, I am painfully aware that when you enter a situation with dread, fear, anxiety, and hesitance, it robs you of the fullness of the experience, not to mention the time spent worrying about it in the first place.  I would love to save my children the time it has taken me to learn this lesson. 

And yet, I still haven't learned it myself. 

I'm not sure if you've noticed, but this world's a hot mess.  And, because I'm a pessimist, I don't have a ton of hope that it's going to improve a whole lot.  I spend a lot of time lying in my bed at night, staring at the ceiling, trying to solve the world's problems.  I think about all of it.  All of the things. 

Turns out, I have the solution for pretty much all of the conflicts in our world.  It all comes back to one thing.  We just need to love each other.

So simple. 

And yet...

It's not. 

I don't know how to say this delicately, but we don't know what love is.  It's not a flutter in the stomach or a pitter-patter in the heart.  It's not sunshine and roses and putting on a happy face.  Love is not an emotion or a feeling.  It's not neat and tidy. 

Love is action.  It's messy and uncomfortable.  Ultimately, love is a choice.

I'll repeat that part because it's what I want to stick. 

Love is a choice.

This is best illustrated for me by imagining that one person.  You have one too, I'm sure.  That one person who just makes you insane.  (If you don't have that person, let me know.  You're probably more qualified to write a blog post about love.)  I think of this person that irks me so badly I want to break stuff after our interactions.  You know the easiest way to react?  Write them off.  Ignore them.  Seethe about them.  Send snarky texts about them to your besties.  You know what's harder?  Being kind.  Being patient.  Choosing to love them.  You know why we should?  That's what Jesus did.  That's what Jesus does.

You know what would have been easier for Jesus than dying on the cross for the sins of millions of people who would scoff at, deny, and rebuke him for generations?  Not dying for our sins.  You know why he did?  He chose to love us.

What is love?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

It's work.  It's a conscious, kicks-you-in-the-butt choice.  It's hard.

I can tell you that patience, kindness, and humility do not come naturally to me.  If I had to pick a character on Inside Out to represent my default emotion, it would most definitely be anger.  And my memory for wrongdoings against me is long.  Ask Sam how regularly I refer to wrongs I "suffered" in my childhood.  (Hint: It's A LOT.)  It is because of these facts I know that love is a choice.  It's not a natural tendency.  It takes work.

So, practically speaking, how can I love others?

I can listen more and react less.
I can try to understand the "why" behind other people's thoughts and actions.
I can stop holding minor offenses against people and being offended by every little thing.
I can regard others more highly than myself.
I can keep my mouth shut when the situation warrants.
I can say the hard things when the situation warrants.
I can persevere.
I can pray.  For the lost, the downtrodden, the irritating, the displaced, the elected.  By name.
I can remind myself that Jesus loves each and every one of them enough to die for them, the same as me.  
I can let my attitude determine the outcome by deciding to love. 

I can choose to love. 

Perfectly Imperfect Day

One of the perks of living in a world full of chaos and turmoil is that it causes one to evaluate what is really important in life.  Or maybe it's the sudden clarity, how I can look at things from a slightly different perspective - a sort of silver lining effect.

It's the reason I was okay with lazily slapping some thawed out Thanksgiving pumpkin roll from the depths of our freezer on the table and calling it breakfast.  "See, kids?  It's pumpkin cake.  What a treat!"

It's how, after completing a math lesson a piece with each of my girls (from last school year, mind you), we opted to just throw some of those stigmatic Lunchables and Lance crackers in a cooler and head for one last midday-weekday hurrah at the pool/splash pad before they move to weekend-only hours for the rest of the season.

As the day wore on, after swimming in the pool, splashing around, dining on "fancy" picnic tables in the hot, afternoon sunshine, we collected our things and traipsed back to the giant van where I realized that I'd only brought enough dry clothes for half of the family, but decided - It's cool.  We're only going to be strapped in carseats on the way to drop Ben at church for a quick youth event anyway.  No big deal!  This is not a real problem in the grand scheme of life.  We've got diapers for the little ones.  Dry clothes, be darned.  Two mostly-naked babies, one girl sitting on a towel in a wet bathing suit, two dried girls, and one completely-dressed near-teenager ought to get us to our ultimate destination.  We dropped the biggest kid at the very-short youth event during which I planned to make a happy hour Dunkin' coffee run.

Except, on the way to feeding my coffee addiction...the entire 24oz bottle of water consumed at the pool went straight through our chronic, habitual pee-er.  And with not-clothed babies and a mom wearing "dry clothes" (loosely interpreted as last night's pajamas now soaked through from the wet bathing suit underneath), stopping at a public restroom was not really an option.  As I weighed the possibilities ("Sit tight!  We can make it back to church.  They don't expect anything differently of us there.  They know we're a hot mess!"), the problem-solving child took matters into her own hands, procured the largest diaper in the diaper bag and relieved herself in the backseat of the van.

I almost died.

Of laughter.

This child has been potty trained for quite some time.  We're talking...years.

And yet, the problem was no longer a problem.  Well done?

That still left us with about 30 minutes to waste as we pulled back into the church parking lot.  It was about 2:30pm, and, I assure you, well beyond naptime.  We eyed the mostly-shaded playground and decided to go for it.  After combing my van for the third time hoping some spare clothes would magically appear, I came across a pair of shorts for Noah.

We filed out of the giant blue van with fully-dressed nine and seven year old girls, a four year old girl in a bathing suit and flip-flops, a two year old boy in just shorts, an infant in last night's pajamas, and me, also in last night's now-wet pajamas.  I put my sunglasses on to shield me from the glare of Noah's neon white belly.  I shrugged.  They played.  It was surprisingly lovely.  Even more surprising was how compliantly they filed back into the van at 2:57pm.  (Just kidding, I had to wrestle Noah into his seat.  There may have been karate chopping involved.)  We picked Ben up, got home, and I promptly put Hannah in her crib, and laid down next to a beyond-tired Noah for his way-late nap.

As is the custom at naptime, I read him a (very short) book.  Then I sang him the ABC's.  Immediately following the alphabet song, he screamed, quite belligerently, "JESUS!!!!"  That, of course, meant that he wanted me to sing Jesus Loves Me, and given his current state, using polite manners was not a battle I was picking at that particular moment.  It was also not lost on me the irony of how angrily he asked me to sing him such a sweet song about our Lord and Savior, but I obliged the request and he sweetly pretended to try to go to sleep while I sang it.

I tiptoed out of his room to take a much-needed shower.  When I emerged from the bathroom thirty minutes later, I discovered Noah.  Not sleeping at all.  Watching Leah play a Kindle underneath one of four very-elaborate blanket forts that sprang up in my living room yesterday.  And what's that sound?  Oh, it's Hannah.  Also not sleeping.  On the bright side, no naps means earlier bedtime.  See?  Silver lining.

Was it well-planned?  Perfectly executed?  Without flaw?  Manicured and coiffed?  Not even a little.  But it was enjoyable.  Hilarious.  Well-lived.  And most of all, not taken for granted.

Don't be sad. Be kind.

This world, man.

Things seem to be unraveling pretty quickly, am I right?  Of course my parents have been thinking that for years.  And their parents before them too.  As it turns out things have been pretty bad for a long time.  Well, actually, since practically the very beginning.  Of man.

So, while I'm here wringing my hands and staying awake at night solving all of the world's problems instead of drifting off to sleep, I have to remind myself that I cannot solve all of the world's problems.  I cannot.

Abortion, racial injustice, presidential candidates, poverty, parent-less children, terrorism, natural disasters, gun violence.

It's daunting.  It's depressing.

I can't fix it.

But you know what I can do?

I can hold the door for the person behind me.
I can write an encouraging note to a friend who's down in the dumps.
I can smile at the person holding up the line at the checkout instead of frowning.
I can call my server by name.
I can get to know a stranger.
I can send a text just to check in.
I can stop being afraid.
I can pray.  All day long.
I can learn as much as I can about as much as I can.
I can try to understand a different perspective.
I can high-five.
I can tell my representatives how I feel about it.
I can stop hoarding and share.
I can laugh with those who need to hear a joke.
I can listen to those who need an ear.
I can cry with those who have nothing left but tears.
I can withhold judgment and refrain from jumping to conclusions.
I can respond with grace instead of anger.
(And then...) I can apologize when I don't.
I can deliver a meal.  Or at the very least, chocolate chip cookies.
I can stop to help.  Or chat.  Or dance to the Smokey Joe's Cafe soundtrack in my living room.
I can stop looking at "the big picture" and bring it down to a personal level so that it's not just "an issue" anymore.  Instead it becomes the story of an individual, just like me, who is in the midst of very real, very serious, very unpleasant circumstances with some super hard choices.

I have a tendency to view situations as all or nothing.  If I can't be all in and I can't do it to completion with an A+ result, I'm out.  Forget it.  But real life isn't like that.  Sometimes you just have to dip your toes in.  Do the first thing before the next thing.  Intentions are great, but actually doing it is better.  I get so distracted by the big picture that I forget that details matter.  Small things can make a profound difference.  It's probably best to start there.
How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world.
~William Shakespeare, Merchant at Venice
Here's to being a candle.  However small.

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