Happy Reunion

Now, more than ever, time with cousins is savored. With the way travel has changed in the last few months, it’s not certain when we might all be together again. It’s also been great to reflect on the changes of age and the increased level of independence of not just my kids but my niece and nephews. After a beautiful drive through Blackhawk, we settled in for more outdoor living.

Exploring the outdoors allows for so much learning. Parker takes a tumble on his bike and is left with a road rash reminder of the effects of gravity. All of the kids take on the hills and the altitude of the Colorado landscape. As fun as riding on a bike downhill can be, going up is far harder.

Remnants of animals who have traveled through create anticipation they might show again. The harsh reality of life and death surfaces in the eerie shadows of the aspens making known the circle of life. Parker asks about heaven and I feel stumped in my answer. This world tells us very little about the next because there will be no more pain, no more sorrow…that alone is hard to imagine but my belief is it will be true.

Small mountain showers dust us twice but they don’t keep us from hiking. Mountain blue birds dart across the landscape and an immature bald eagle soars over the lake. Even the faint lines of a rainbow appear briefly, bringing the promise of hope and better days ahead.

We spend the evening taking in the flight of the hummingbird diving for bugs, feeding its small and tiny self all day to keep up the beat of its wings. I was able to capture this moment of rest.

We feed our tired selves too and call it a day.

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I couldn’t resist using the word of 2020 for this caption. We have all been bracing ourselves for more changes and it’s nearly impossible to keep up. Disappointment is about the only thing I can expect right now. If I could write the next version of Alanis Morrissette’s song Ironic , I lived it yesterday. Like the candy paid for that hung in the metal clip of the vending machine even after lots of banging, yesterday was not adding up in my favor.

The rain and cold didn’t lift. Wilson reminisced the moment of poor parenting and near hypothermia trying to swim to the big rock a few years back. Despite the signs saying wildlife was in the area, we never spotted them after three hours of driving. We didn’t make the hike to our family spot on Jenny Lake for our family photo. The day felt heavy as the clouds hung suspended over us.

We made a fast decision to hit the road for warmer weather and get into a new space. On the way out of Jackson Hole, I ran the rental into a concrete post. Unlucky in every way. Some days it just feels like the universe is against us. Or if I’m being truly honest, I’m not paying attention to the right things.

The effects of Covid-19 certainly hasn’t been any kinder or made our lives much easier. If anything, I know it’s exacerbating my emotions. I ache for my kids who have to rewrite weekly their expectations for summer, fall and winter. There is still so much uncertainty as it relates to connecting to friends, if and when school will start, or how athletics will be impacted. It’s easy to feel the rug is being pulled out from under us or that we are being stripped from some of the simple pleasures we’ve always enjoyed.

I was on a call with our school early on when schools moved online before the school year ended. The questions centered around managing screen time and I recall the advice from our administrator …it was to flip the script. Instead of managing the screens in a way that causes frustration and discord, determine what your family goals are for the day or the week and manage those desired outcomes. It feels far more freeing to me to operate with this mindset. It’s a daily mantra now for me to put in the right energy to get out the right energy. That’s where the balance can be found and the colors come to life.

It’s far easier to me to set small goals of time to connect…over dinner, watching a movie, taking a hike, playing a game, or having an important conversation. It may mean one family member gets more of me than the other on any given stretch. There is a ten years spread between the oldest and youngest so there are different needs on different days. The point is to make the time matter, however short it might be.

I’ve often said I don’t want to parent out of control, but out of conversation. I think ultimately it helps my kids become thinkers and doers for themselves. I’m a believer in natural consequences. You binge watch a show all night, you are going to be tired the next day. You eat too much of anything, you will have an upset stomach. I don’t have to say it for it to be true. They are finding a lot of things out on their own, whether I want them to or not.

If I purposely set this time as sacred, I can go to bed knowing I’ve had meaningful time with my family even if only in short bursts. I’ve found that it creates the space for my kids to crave the next trip and make up their own type of fun.

I’ve always said the time on the road has been the key to our family connecting in better ways than we do in our normal routines at home. We can be more spontaneous but we are also more intentional about what we are doing. The hard decisions, the distractions, the disappointments…they will always be there.

I want them to know I will be there too.

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Fully Charged

We are riding in hot, so to speak, as we move quickly across Colorado, through Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and back to Tennessee. We take a route home uncharted to us before closing the gap on our two weeks stint Out West. When we pull into Memphis we will have logged 3,781 miles in our rig.

We whet our appetites for more national parks and spend hours looking at routes to Glacier, Guadalupe and Black Gunnison. All close enough by our standards if we had more time on the road. We also consider the newly designated Indiana Dunes National Park outside of Lake Michigan as an option for when we launch from Memphis. Canada is what we thought we’d be exploring this summer but Covid-19 changed our course.

It’s a big world out there. We have so much more to see and time is not on our side at the moment to extend our trip. On the way home it’s fun to think about where we will go next. Some trips will require lots of planning and plenty of days and others may be quick strikes or long weekends. There are limitless options. Although we added a few new stickers to our map, we have a lot more to collect.

If you ask the kids about what they loved most, it would be the animal sightings. Despite the road signs often telling us to be alert, we would never see them. When we did, they were so unexpected. It felt special and unique to witness nature in full view, untainted.

Not only did we take in the wild stomping of a protective mama moose and her baby, we watched a mama coyote keep a watchful eye on her pups. We saw elk carefully cross together over a busy road. We witnessed a nursing bison and her hungry calf demand her milk with a big shove underneath. We saw several bear, mostly foraging for food. I spotted one while driving over a mountain pass and Tommy pulled over on an incline to let us stop and find it. She was a beauty and kept her eyes on us too.

They were all wild encounters. I hope each of them sparked the interest and love for animals for our kids, while also understanding the need to preserve their natural habitats…not just for our life time but far beyond it.

I want this trip to be the charge we each need to connect the dots. Nature speaks a harsh truth: survival of the fittest is on display daily. Not every animal is able to weather the changing seasons or navigate the elevations to find the sustenance necessary to sustain its body’s needs. Some choose to travel in packs while others are wired for isolation. Lives get compromised with the fight or flight instincts.We are a different breed. We are a people designed completely to have everything within us to work brilliantly and collectively for good. (Yes we are a broken people, but He who works within us does a good work in us – Philippians 2:13). Like the crack in this mirror stretching across the glass, we can easily destroy ourselves and hurt others and shatter in a million pieces.

Or, we can start the necessary repair or even entire replacement and start anew. We have the resources, the energy, the capital, the compassion, brain power and the gravitas to do exactly the opposite of wild animals. We can’t be pressed to conform to anything else.

We have a community of support within arms reach to tackle life’s toughest issues. We have the power.

We just have to use it for good because all of our lives depend on it.

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If you have been following along, I was in a mood for the last 48 hours. Partly charged by bad attitudes and lack of appreciation for all the effort T and I put in to make a day right and partly because the world kind of sucks right now.

Yesterday was uneventful and frustrating on so many levels. I actually want to appreciate our country’s history so I was proud we opted to take our kids to Mesa Verde National Park. Upon arrival, it appeared we rented the park out all to ourselves.

Our crew approached it with the enthusiasm of a turtle crossing the road…slow, unaware, disinterested, and possibly willing to die for no real reason. The one hour drive to the first site, Far Views, was a series of turns and hills that hung on the edge of the valley. The boys played the Xbox throughout the drive. At the visitor’s center, it didn’t help that I paid little attention to the informational brochures and bought them in Deutsch, French and American. At least the place we planned to hit was in English.

It seems the world (and my family) is less interested in the past than I had expected. We arrived at Far View and we didn’t know what we were looking for. It turns out our rig was too big for the driveway to explore Far View so we trekked another 5 miles down the road and parked in an empty parking lot.

The only walkable site with no ticket required, Spruce Tree Lodge, was closed for viewing. Out tiny window into the Pueblo people was less than exhilarating and sadly didn’t inspire anyone in my family to learn more. Our only walk about ended in two of my kids being yelled out from across the valley “to get back on the trails!” This is all Wilson will remember from this brief moment. Not that hundreds of years ago a resourceful people worked hard to build their dwellings and lived a hard, meaningful life creating tools from bone and rock and made spectacular pottery that stood the test of time. She will remember a park ranger yelling across a valley that she broke the rules when the signs marking the pathway weren’t very clear in the first place.

We made it out of Mesa Verde likely never to return as a family. I’m not proud of this, it’s just the facts of how the trip happened for us. It felt like a long ride to our next destination. Going to the Great Sand Dunes National Park is a bucket list spot for Wilson, and we rallied to find a path home to make it happen.

I told my family I was ready to hit the reset button. I was done feeling irritated and I knew we all needed a shift. At check in, I discovered the spot we were staying in had a grill on site. I ordered dinner for the whole family. Fried comfort. No cooking. No cleaning. Food comas for all.

Reset can mean all sorts of things. Like a hard drive sometimes needs a full shutdown and reboot, we do too. It’s important to reset priorities, attitudes, ideas, and goals when the wirings of our thoughts are overloaded. We have to find what that reset looks like for us and do it.

We raced out the next morning with our sand boards and a skip in our step as we walked across the hot sand. We created the first steps of the day across the dune we claimed. A new mindset to try something new. A reset.

We found out sand boarding was a whole lot harder than we expected. We stopped and started. We fell a lot. We expended more energy and effort than we had in a while. We loved every minute of it. We celebrated the little victories of sliding partly down and the big victories of Wilson conquering the stand up board. Tommy helped Parker learn about getting back up, one step at a time.

We had a blast. We were in a place we have never been. It was worth finding sand in every crevice. It was just the day we needed to reset our time together, especially knowing we have the long drive home.

On the day centered around freedom, we felt it here. Nothing has felt more patriotic than hitting 6 National Parks in two weeks. It’s a beautiful country we live in and it’s a beautiful freedom to be able to explore it.

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Hot or Cold

We bolted out of Jackson Hole because we had enough of the cold. It was summer and the temperatures fell in the thirties. I love a cool crisp night with a fire but those temperatures were asking a lot of us and put a damper on our sense of adventure. We found the heat in Utah. A full 60 degree swing to the 90s and in less than 24 hours we all wondered why we couldn’t take the cold as we sweated our way to set up camp in our new spot.

I remember growing up wishing I had curly hair like mom and my sister. I went as far as to get a semi-perm in 6th grade, back when there was a chemical option to create loose curls but not full blown curls. I had never been so disappointed with the results. For all of the wishing and wanting, I wanted my straight hair back. It was going to be a minute for that to happen.

That’s how life happens. We spend a lot of time thinking we want something else. Order envy maybe. We think we want a new home, a new job, a new car, a new style …you fill in the blank. It’s so easy to think something is better or will provide more satisfaction if only you could make it happen. So we fixate on how we will get there and stop enjoying what’s sitting right in front of us. With social media at our fingertips, we all look so content in our posts and it drives a dangerous story line. Like the pixels that make up the picture, they are fragmented images pieced together. It is not the full truth.

It is merely an angle. A small window into a moment.

If you know me, you know I have big emotions. Some days I’m rocking the new normal, matching my mask to my outfit and pumping my hand sanitizer like I won’t run out. Some days I just want to rewind the clock before Covid, hit the spa, put on a fancy dress, and have a nice meal I didn’t cook.

Hot or cold.

We set up camp outside Arches National Park and I wanted the night to fall in place. The kids who had logged all of the changes and long drives were restless in their own ways. I felt my temperature rising and it wasn’t just the heat outside. I don’t always follow along with their humor or their sarcasm and I had enough for the day. We’ve been together every day; quite literally for over 5 months and counting. As much as I love my crew, a little moment to pamper myself seems far away. . . and no, I don’t count closing the bathroom door anymore as a getaway.

T and I ate date night style on the picnic table while the kids took to avoid my bad mood indoors on their own. I decided to focus the rest of the evening studying the stars. I knew these night skies along our trips could produce magic, but wow. It was a perfect way to bring a level of calm to my brain that was in overdrive.

I focused on learning the big constellations in the order I found them…Leo, Big Ursa, Little Ursa, Cassiopeia, Cignus, Hercules, and the planet Jupiter beaming brightly. It would take me a second night to make the full round to Sagittarius, Libra, Virgo and others.

It was grounding to think that the stars and the moon have been in place for hundreds of thousands of years and have not changed. Whether seeing them from the hot sandy rocks of Utah or the cold mountainous ridge of Wyoming, they hold tight to their positions, owning their place and knowing they help hold the balance of all the others.

You may be like me…emotions all over the map, but the stars and moon are not. They were placed in space by design and so are we. We could take a few notes about holding our place for the sake of others. Maybe, I can learn to be okay with all that is in me and around me and just shine brightly.

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Anything for Love

It’s quite uncanny the lengths we will go for the ones we love. I am writing this from a motor home in a campground so that is sufficient evidence for my love for the man I married but I took it a step further today.

It’s been a surprisingly cold and rainy few days in Jackson Hole. The first day we relished in a game drive and afternoon nap. The kids woke ready to rally for a bike ride since the rain had cleared. Tommy was hesitant. After a lot of pushing, he agreed and we were confused about his response and laughing at his resistance. Cycling is the one thing he truly loves to do daily and he had the four people he loves begging to go on a ride with him. He’s conquered Leadville and had plans to rock the challenge called LeadBoat (back to back races in Leadville, CO and Steamboat Springs, CO) but of course, the coronavirus has changed all of this. He was even genius to realize he could cycle to the rental car center and pick up our car at our Rocky Mountain campground. The boy loves to bike.

An hour or so later after our begging to make the most of the rest of the afternoon, he was a sweaty mess. He fixed the tire that busted while driving down the road, lubed the chains of all five bikes, swapped a seat cushion, and more. It was all a big effort and none of us know enough about bikes to help. We just wanted to enjoy the ride. He knew all that would be needed to go into it. It gave us all a bigger appreciation and it made us want to make the most of the ride together. Thankfully, it was well worth his big effort it and we had a muddy blast.

The following day the kids were invited to drive over to Yellowstone to see Old Faithful with their cousins. Tommy and I had a whole day to call our own. Of all of the things we could do, we saddled up on our bikes in the cold spitting rain and rode into town. I felt fierce after logging the 17 mile ride in my Orvis fishing jacket and yoga pants. He was pumped I was up for it. It was a big expression of love for me because of my willingness to lean into something he loves and try to understand it a little better.

This is the thing about love. It’s one of the greatest gifts but it is also some of the hardest work we will do. Most of us are likely familiar with the famous chapter in I Corinthians 13 that shares how love is patient and love is kind and all of the great expressions we expect from our partner. What struck me as I reflected the on the chapter today is the last part tucked in before the final verse: Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Love is learning to know yourself fully and knowing someone you love fully. It’s seeing the shadows of weakness and exploring them. It’s sitting with the truth that stretches between the two of you and honoring it, no matter how difficult it might be. It’s choosing to go through the unknown and stand with each other. It’s bracing for impact and coming out stronger. This seems far easier to do as a parent. There is a responsibility felt in creating a little being and taking ownership for your creation. You almost have to love your little monsters despite their bad behaviors.

It can become far harder to apply in marriage because of the perceived choice you made to connect …which then may allow for the possibility of disconnect. It’s humbling to take the time to explore yourself. Love begins with loving yourself and accepting all the parts you find. It’s pretty clear in I Corinthians 13:2: And if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

There is a new normal stirring and the quaranteam you had may be shifting because of it. Re-entry is hard enough when you are alone in your opinions but coming out of the safe space together can be harder because there are so many different points of view to consider. Baby steps can take you a long way. Make the small adjustments necessary. Start with finding ways to love yourself. Then take the time to look at those around you and understand what you might need to appreciate their choices. Put in the work to be known and to know. It may feel like a long road ahead some days, but when you believe you are in it for the long haul, the road opens up to far more possibilities than you could ever imagine.

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Reality Check

Transparency is important to me. I do my best to answer honestly if asked. I was raised to believe your name is your word. You can build an entire business by it. So this is the moment I share some of the fun realities of traveling in an RV and give insights and tips. For those who are just catching up, it took years to come around to this way of traveling. I was raised in the hotel industry and I now travel with a bedroom loaded up on my own rig. It is what it is. I realized despite my history, I can be my own person and own my future forward. I’ve always felt different and I’m working to own it.

Since we upgraded to more space in this rig, there is less potty talk, thank the good Lord. In our new space we have two full bathrooms and far more privacy. We worked our way into the larger model after using our travel trailer for almost 10 years, but having a bathroom on board has been crucial. I can’t recall the last public restroom I’ve been in on a trip and that’s a gift in and of itself.

Believe it or not, this rig has a washing machine and dryer. Bad luck is we can’t get the washer to work properly and we didn’t have time to call in the repair before hitting the road. Laundry has piled up but we packed enough clothes we should be ashamed. I even brought my fuzzy slippers for comfort.

We run a generator for power when we don’t get full hook ups and we have a 90 gallon water tank this go round so running out of fresh water would be a challenge. The real challenge is watching the grey and black tanks but we are pros pretty much now. We have mostly hot showers, and a bed full of pillows to have a good night’s sleep. It’s cozy as can be.

We have ample technology on board. Despite my hope to unplug while spending time together, we landed in a campground with enough service to download fortnite…and use the Xbox for a few other games. The giggles and sense of competition make me feel the time on screens is worth it.

Rainy days are for playing poker and watching old movies like Tommy Boy and A Devil Wears Prada. Parenting skills at their finest.

If we weren’t dealing with the the effects of Covid-19, we’d be fine to stay in remote places since our refrigerator/freezer holds more food than we could possibly eat and we stocked it heavily. We love to grill and I love be in the kitchen. The views aren’t too shabby most of the time.

However, we like to hit some favorite spots in Jackson Hole and happy to take all precautions because we want to be coming back for years to come (PinkyGs, Cowboy Coffee, Pearl’s Bagel and Cafe Genevieve to name a few) We want to support local in the places we love…we just opt for carry out this year.

Campgrounds have all sorts of layouts and not all campgrounds are the same. We look for wider lots and creek views when we can. We’ve learned through the years to choose the campgrounds wisely, but even then we don’t always get to pick our neighbors or our view. Despite this, we’ve found people to be extra friendly and we scored extra firewood from a family headed back to TN.

I’ve learned to take photos to feel as if we are in a space all of our own, but that’s just the art of photography. This year at our most favorite campground Gros Ventre, we had to camp out for a spot because our first night in was completely full. We were more than grateful to be allowed to camp in the overnight lot. T woke early to be the first in line to ensure we could stay for the stretch we wanted. Of course I’m grateful, but we landed a center spot next to the restrooms. Not my favorite, but it will do.

The bonus is the next rainy morning a moose was walking out by the creek and the front window of our rig was a perfect viewing point. Along with a double rainbow. Perspective.

This is the thing about camping. It’s about the thrill of sight-seeing, hiking the trails, the campfires and the family connection. It’s a shirtless wonder.

It’s throwing the manual out and winging it. Go big or go home. Laugh hard and laugh loud. That means expect the use of duct tape on mirrors falling out of place, bikes busting along the bumpy roads, and outside showers not running hot. There are a whole lot of headaches that come with the unknown but being on the road means you know what is ahead.

All that matters for this moment, is this: when you take on the unknown with the people who know you the best, you can take on anything.

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Continental Divide

In order to make our way to Wyoming, we cross the Continental Divide. It makes me think about how divided we are in this country and across the world. This divide follows along mountainous peaks of the Rocky Mountains and it seems insurmountable to approach. It stretches all the way from the Straits of Magellan to to the Bering Strait. It’s purpose is to direct the flow of water.

Much like what we are going through as a country, there are histories and maps and truths written through experience that help mark this territory as the Great Divide. Hundreds of thousands of travelers are made aware by the signs on the road. Likely many may never research or understand the landscape, it’s purpose, or it’s significance. It’s their loss. Yet, it’s my hope we can use the markings to talk about the divides that exist in relationships and how we manage the flow of communication, especially when we feel we are moving in opposite directions. My prayer is we can find we have more in common than we could have imagined. We are all more broken than we allow most people to see. Like the long lines building outside the entrance to explore the parks, what if we were all lined up to explore our hearts?

Like these sea gulls who are a long ways from water, we might feel lost too. It’s not too late to change directions or ask for help to find our way back to a space of understanding.

You may be carrying a burden that feels too heavy to bear any more. It could be bitterness, hatred, hurt, anger, pride or any number of emotions related to your own experiences. Maybe it stretches across your life and has created a divide between you, someone you love, or worse… between a community of people. Maybe you have carried the burden around so long you don’t even realize how heavy and deep it goes and how it affects you and those around you.

It’s time to acknowledge what’s keeping us from being loved or from loving others well. Let the waters flow over you, examine you and carry you in the right direction. Feel the freedom you were meant to know. Do all you can every day to understand you are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) to reflect One image…not a divided self. So is every person around you. Let the great divide be what brings us together to go forward in love.

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All In

When you think about how Covid hit without a lot of warning, it makes me think about who you have to hang with, stay in place with and ultimately quarantine with should it be necessary. We certainly weren’t prepared for the downfall of the world changing, but we were in it together from the beginning so we have been riding it out as best we can, all in, all together.

This doesn’t mean we are always in the same place emotionally. Sometimes you need the forced time to rewrite the script of coming together. If we had been bracing for a normal summer, we would have been a family divided by camps and practices and likely a dozen other interruptions. We have always carved out two weeks together for a family trip but this year feels both heavy and significant.

I continue to push myself to understand where my kids are in all of this. With so many unknowns on the horizon, I love that we are learning about the unpredictability of what happens next in our game drives. Sightings are not expected at the National parks. It’s a hope, an anticipation, a curiosity that fuels the drive but you cannot get your park pass money back if you see nothing. It’s a gamble. The time spent pursuing the outcome is worthy in and of itself. We hike big hikes and see big skies and if we stumble on something super special like a bear or moose, we count it as a gift. Being present is the present.

It’s been a great stretch at Rocky Mountain National Park and we climb in to bed exhausted in all of the best ways.

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Showing Up

It’s interesting for the recent celebration of Father’s Day and all that dads do to make the world go round, the day in nature following this special day was all about mamas. We spend the morning on the lower lake watching the kids paddle board and joke around in the cold waters. The wind picks up occasionally and a few tumble in beneath the surface, coming up breathless from the frigid surprise. The sun warms us all up and birds continue to soar above. After lunch, we hike all through the aspen groves searching for elk sheds but instead come home with a beautiful piece of quartz. It’s a perfect Monday.

Our hopes were met later in the day when we came across baby coyotes and a mama nearby. In a scene feeling a bit like Out of Africa, we watch and study the grassland for movements. It’s remarkable how the young creatures have been coached to stay below the surface in their den while the mama goes out hunting. If only coaching kids to stay put could be so easy.

We head out to a patch of land to watch the sunset and take our group pictures, absorbing in the fun we’ve had all being together. A nearby woodpecker is dodging into the small hole of an aspen as a chorus of chirps crank up as she enters, feeding her babies.

Just as we rise from the picnic tables to circle up the boys for a photo, the quick hush from my brother in law signals the scene behind. A mother moose and her baby are running just behind us in a mad sprint. She’s thrashing and stomping and although we don’t know what has her so upset, it’s a sight to see. She seems to be in full protection mode. After sprinting into the lake, her baby doesn’t follow so she hurries her baby across the dry field and they tuck into the woods just behind us. It’s clear she’s using us as a buffer from the other mama coyote and her pups. Later in the evening, the kids will see two more coyotes so we feel certain the mama was scared for their safety.

It’s nature’s way. The need to teach our young, to protect our young. Our instincts for survival are strong. We do whatever it takes to keep harm from happening even under clear blue skies.

The most striking is the position in which we each find ourselves. Three types of mamas out in the fields protecting their people. Parker was convinced we were in harms way. Despite my reassurance, he felt we were putting too much at risk by standing and taking in the views. I’m sure the other babies were watching their mamas for cues to understand their safety.

Nothing I can say any of my children can really be for certain. I’d like to say you will not get hurt under my watch, but I know that’s not something I can promise. All I know to do is to show up and be there. . .to promise I will do my absolute best to protect them. Whether I have to act crazy mad or stow myself away for a little while, I’m always thinking of their safety.

As I head to bed at the end of the epic day and think about being a mama, it does take me back to the Father of all Fathers who is our ultimate protector. The skies are my reminder that our God is always watching and looking for ways to provide and protect us.

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