When your Campfire isn’t Perfect

I was able to sit by a fire and roast a marshmallow with a dear friend of mine this past Sunday.  

Only, it wasn’t just the two of us. It was us… and our husbands… and our kids… and some more kids… and those kids’ parents… and, gosh, whoever else wanted to be at the regional-park-sponsored public event that night. 

Second Sunday Campfire
credit: EBRPD

Sometimes the “campfire” moments—those times when we can really connect with others and hear their stories—are extended and serene, but sometimes they are crowded and quick. 

I typically wish every heart conversation would be the extended and serene variety, but in my current stage of raising three boys, it’s often not an option. And so, I have an option. I could chose to focus on the negative and wish that things were different, or I could use the opportunities given to me to the best of my ability.

We each have a choice: be greedy or be grateful.

This is true when it comes to how many s’mores we get to make around the fire, and it’s true when it comes to the people that God puts in our lives. 

I often fall into the “greedy” category when it comes to my relationships. I want my visits with extended family to be just a few days longer. I want the date night with my husband to be just a little more perfect. I want the time spent snuggling with my boys before bed to be just a little more meaningful. I want my conversations with my friends to last just a little longer. Greedy, greedy, greedy.

Sunday night by the fire, my son, Zeke, asked if he could make himself another s’more at the park. And as I checked his heart with the familiar question, “Are you being greedy or grateful?,” I realized that my own heart probably needed a check, too. Was I being greedy or grateful in this time with my friend and her family?

Earlier that evening, the two of us had easily fallen into comfortable conversation while our kids were busy getting their hands sandy in a science experiment. We shared stories; we asked questions; I encouraged her and the journey she has been walking these last handful of years; she invited me to make plans for our families spend some extended time together. Grateful, grateful, grateful.

I walked away so grateful for her and for the friendship that God has blessed us with. And I am {hoping} to stay thankful for my “campfires” this week, no matter what shape they take.

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.  For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. Ephesians 5:1-2, 8-9

And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Colossians 3:15

Lessons Learned from #theGreatMonsterRoadTrip

As I type this, there’s coffee and ice water in the cupholders, my husband at the wheel, three boys and a dog in the back, and a cooler and lots of sleeping bags in the carrier on top of our Mazda CX-9. Our vehicle probably smells like old Cheetos and baked sweet and sour sauce, but I am so used to it that I can’t be certain. It’s quiet right now because the boys are enjoying their screen time. The landscape out the windows is green and flat, sections of trees alternating with sections of cleared ranching land, dotted by buildings here and there. We are somewhere in Texas.

This is Day 25 of our road trip.  Yes, you read that right.  We left home 25 days ago, and we have been hanging out in places that aren’t like California at all. We attended a wedding in Indiana, cheered at a White Sox game in Chicago, caught fireflies near St. Louis, sat around a fire pit in central Missouri, went pond fishing near Tulsa, navigated the maze of highways in Dallas (to see friends and family), and went for walks after dark in Austin. 

I can’t even tell you how many members of our extended family we got to see.

I CAN tell you that we’ve put almost 5000 miles on our car, that we’ve gotten plenty of mosquito bites, that we’ve been annoyed with each other, that we’ve laughed together, that we’ve gone swimming as often as possible and that we’ve eaten ice cream just about every day.

It’s a funny thing being away from home for so long.  I have learned things about myself and about my boys. I have a new appreciation for all the work my husband does when we visit my side of the family. I have been amazed at the boys’ ability to be in different cities and homes and around different people, handling all the change with a tenacity that’s surprised me. I’ve learned that rest stops take longer with a dog, that KOA cabins do the trick for a quick overnight stop, that the audiobook of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is really fun, that 4-year-olds need more activities than you could possibly prepare for, and that a playful attitude is essential to sanity.

But as I sit down to write this today, the one idea that keeps floating to the top is not “baby wipe hacks” or a “best stops list.” It is a phrase I heard from an acquaintance named Tomas a few weeks ago:

“God sounds the same everywhere.”

Even though things are so different from our normal while we’ve been on vacation, I have loved seeing how God continues to make himself known to me, no matter where we are. 

His love is in the eyes of the least of these. It has been a great gift to me to be exposed to the idea of blessing bags. Our church sometimes puts these together to distribute to people who are homeless in our community. The bags are simple: bottled water, snacks, new socks, toothbrushes, and notes. We began our trip with four bags, which we gave away in our first few days on the road. When we arrived in Chicagoland, we realized that we needed more blessing bags, and went shopping for supplies to fill more bags. As we learn the names of these people—Terry, Emmanuel, Michael, and others—and as I looked into their eyes, I saw a depth of heart that I rarely saw otherwise. It was at once intimidating and comforting, and I often felt the presence of the Lord.

There is always room to grow in faith. Many times on this trip, we have faced [figurative] bumps in the road. And it seems with each one, from feeling carsick to being afraid of fireworks, my four-year-old Simon has suggested that we say a quick prayer. It seems to be one of his first lines of defense. And it always brings me to my knees, amazed that I have so much room to grow in my trust in the power and goodness of the Lord.

He hears our prayers. Simon gets carsick. Really carsick. We have asked people back home to be praying for Simon. We have been praying for Simon. And he’s only gotten sick once in these 5000 miles.  It is incredible. I have prayed about where to stop, and we have experienced the friendliest, most helpful people I’ve ever seen working in fast food or at gas stations. It is incredible. We have prayed for peace, love, joy, and we have looked back at our day and seen where there was peace, love, joy. It is incredible. We prayed for a place to stay in Chicago, and a friend in Chicago prayed for their house to be a blessing while they were on vacation. We were the answer to their prayer and they were the answer to ours. It is incredible. 

He is faithful and generous. I have seen his hand of provision in the homes of our family members. I have seen his love through the hospitality of friends. I have seen the way he has walked with my parents, my brothers, my nieces, my nephews, my sisters-in-law, through so many years and how he continues to provide for their every need (and give them sweet “bonus gifts” besides). He is so, so good.

Believe it or not, these are the same messages I had been hearing back in California, and God found a way to teach them to me again 2,000 miles from home.

God sounds the same everywhere. 

I encourage you to listen to him on your next trip, be it 3 days long… or 25.

Growing to Love

Do you have something in your life that you do now that you didn’t used to do?

My family of five sat around the dinner table last night, eating fajitas and quesadillas and salad.  I also put a bowl of strawberries and blueberries and some snap peas and ranch dressing on the table, since two of my boys won’t touch salad. My middle son, Zeke, tried the salad, loved it, and asked for more.  In response, my oldest son, Noah, said, “I’ve never liked salad.” True fact.

Dave, my husband, replied, “Ya know, I didn’t used to like fruits and veggies either, before I met your mom. And now, look at this.” Dave had a mound of salad on his plate and was shoveling in strawberries and blueberries by the serving-spoon-full.

It was a good reminder that we are all malleable, if only we are open to the change.

I can’t help thinking about the way in which God has been changing me. You see, a handful of years ago, I somewhat reluctantly enrolled in a continuing education cohort with my husband. It was geared to pastors and their spouses, and, to my surprise, really helped me grow in how I lived out my faith in the day-to-day. One cohort led to two, and now we are learning how to help lead other cohorts. 

Much like Noah’s repulse to salad, I used to say, “I don’t like reaching out to people who don’t know God” (not out loud, of course, because that’s not what you’re supposed to say, but that was how I lived my life).

But God has been changing this in me. 

I became aware that God could use me in my neighborhood (since ours was one of the only cars leaving home on Sunday mornings). And, kinda like a 9-year-old, vegetable-adverse boy looking at a big salad, I knew reaching out in my neighborhood was good for me, but I didn’t have an appetite for it.

So, I started asking God to help me love my neighbors across the street. And love looked like walking over to chat in their driveway after a long day. It looked like starting to pray for their health in our family prayers.

Our next “bite” was putting our fire pit in our front yard on Halloween night and inviting a few of the neighbors we knew to join us around the fire.  (Campfires are great, aren’t they?) A few showed up.


We learned a few more neighbors’ names and were intentional about welcoming people who moved in to houses on our court.  The next Halloween, we made flyers and invited more people to come sit around the fire. And I found in my heart that I actually wanted them to come—God had grown my love for these people who used to just be strangers who happened to live in the same area of town I did. We heard on that Halloween night how “we should do this more often” and “this was really great.” Other people in our neighborhood were getting a taste of the goodness of gathering in community.

I assumed we had a green light to move forward, so a few months later, I made a flyer for a Valentine’s party at our house, where we would play The Not-So-Newlywed Game. We would have good food and fun and get to know our married neighbors in an even deeper way.  I was still a bit timid, passing out fliers, but I was ready for my next bite in my journey of reaching out to my neighbors.

The only problem was that no one showed up. Not one neighbor came to ate pasta.  Not one neighbor stopped by to join in the laughter of playing a silly game.

Our Valentine’s Party minus people

That bite did not taste so good.

It made me wonder if there was any point in reaching out to my neighborhood at all.  If they did not want to be reached, should I keep trying to extend my arm?

I prayed for weeks. I asked God to show me how to move forward. Should we move, if no one on our block connected with what we were trying to do? Should I be focusing my energies elsewhere?

When the spring rains finally let up, I mustered up the courage to approach a couple down the street about the possibility of praying together, like they had suggested months before. Would this be like the Valentine’s Party, where they sound interested, but never actually show up? I wondered. They said they would come over the next day, sometime after 4:00.  Sure enough, 4:30 hit the next day and they were knocking on my front door. 

I let the boys have bonus screen time and my neighbors and I sat on folding chairs on my back porch and prayed for our neighborhood. We prayed for specific concerns we knew of and we prayed in general that Jesus’ light would shine through us to the darkness around us.

And then they suggested hosting a neighborhood barbecue. They would make the fliers and cook the meat. I would bring some side dishes and talk to the neighbors closest to me. We would do it in less than two weeks.

The barbecue will be this Saturday. Last night, my sons and I passed out fliers to each house on our block, getting to talk to individuals from every household except for two. And as I went from house to house, I was surprised to find that I knew many of their names, and some of their stories. I was surprised that I wasn’t as apprehensive as I had been in previous years—quite possibly because I knew that at least one other couple would show up for the event.

I rejoiced that an outreach-apprehensive person like myself could grow into a person who reached out to her neighbors in love… kinda like learning how to love salad.


We’d love to hear from you around the fire this week: what is your thing that you are growing to love?


I live in a boy house. They are loud and competitive and dirty. They’d rather wrestle than sit and they’d rather make burping noises than eat. They run and yell and like to hit as hard as they can. They often need reminders about using their words (not their bodies) and using a tissue (not their fingers/shirt/blanket). Some days, it feels nonstop–their idea of a good time constantly butting up against my idea of a peaceful home.

I grew up in a boy house (the only girl among five brothers), so I thought I was surely prepared for these testosterone-filled little gifts from the Lord. But being a mom is a lot different from being a sister, and being in charge is a lot different than being able to escape to the woods whenever I wanted. Keeping a rhythm of rest and work in my role as mom has proven vital to sustaining light and love in my soul.

Recently, I was not only a boy-mom, but a boys-who-are-sick-mom. It was more peaceful around these parts, for sure. We all (except for my very cautious I-can’t-get-sick-before-Easter husband) came down with this terrible virus that knocked us flat on the couch with extreme aches and fevers that hung out for days. It was honestly a welcome change of pace: to just fill up waters and cover with blankets and sit next to them on the couch and rub little feet and backs. It was welcome… for a while. But once I hit the 8-day mark of serving and giving out of love, I realized that I was tired. I was tired of not having our normal rhythm. I was tired of feeling foreheads. I was tired of de-germing things in our house. I was tired of hearing the coughing, coughing, coughing that seemed to come in such great fits that I wondered if it would ever stop. I was tired of not being able to join in any sort of community. And I was tired of being needed.


And then, like these things always do, the sickness started to clear up. The foreheads I was feeling were not red-hot anymore. The coughing spells were becoming more infrequent. I was able to run to the store with my son and not be worried that he would contaminate everything within 10 feet. All the boys were finally healthy enough to go to school and I got to return to some sense of rhythm and care for my own heart.


Something else happened during the same time: spring showed up. Every year, after the winter rains and foggy days, there is this beautiful season of yellow flowers here. Mustard flowers, daffodils and other yellow flowers I don’t even know spring up out of the tall green grasses, and all at once, there is yellow everywhere. These little sprigs of sunlight rise up to meet the warmth of clear blue skies.

Little yellow surprises even spring up in our own backyard, which is usually characterized by patches of dirt, broken toys, and grass that’s trying its hardest to grow. Little yellow sunshines. They pop up so effortlessly–no sowing of seed, no fertilizing, no watering schedule. Just sweet gifts from a good Creator.

And without fail, every spring, I have three little boys who collect yellow flowers and bring them in as prized gifts for their mama. I don’t know who started it, why or when. It always surprises me a bit, and at first I felt like I needed to put their little gifts in small containers of water more out of pity than anything else, like, “If I don’t act like this is the greatest gift ever, his little heart might ache for days.”

This year was different, though. I’m not sure if it’s because I was on the heels of feeling emotionally drained from taking care of them, or if it’s because my oldest boy is now eight, and capable of being genuinely considerate. Whatever it was, it was different.


These flowers were a sweet, sweet gift that filled my heart to the brim! Noah had taken the time to gather, arrange, and even tape them all together and write his name on the tiny-skinny stem of one of the flowers (of course–something a boy would think of)! They graced my kitchen table for the next few meals, bringing warmth and beauty to each gathering we had there.

yellow flowers

One of my favorite characteristics about these flowers–the BEST PART– is their almost unseen rhythm. Each evening, even after they are cut and brought inside, their little petals curl up into tiny tubes, hiding all of the beauty and wrapping it up safe inside where it rests for the night. Then, each morning, after the sun comes up, the petals begin to open, gradually and without a whisper. They display their beauty still and perfect for as long as eyes will look on them.

They remind me of the wisdom of my Creator. Just like I needed some resting space after caring for my sick boys, these flowers, too, were designed to rest at night after sharing their beauty during the day. We are all made to have rhythms of opening up ourselves {and our beauty} to the world around us, and then winding down and having a safe place where we can be all wrapped up for a time. What a grace-filled rhythm. What a sweet, sweet gift.