Category Archives: travel

“This is NOT home.”

airplane over cochabamba, bolivia, january 2015

Our little mob of weary wanderers rounded the final corner of our 36 hour journey. Mama and Papa caught each others’ eyes and puffed out a breath to prepare for impact.

“You ready for this?” they asked.

“Nope,” they answered.

“Here we go,” they said.

All the kids, with baggage to drag, followed the plod of their parents up the ramp from the airplane to the airport. I saw my parents before they saw us. My mom, my dad, my youngest brother, and my youngest sister came out that chilly Saturday afternoon in January to gather us. You might tell me that was only four days ago; it feels like a lifetime ago.

We left Bolivia. To quote a friend, “It is not so weird that you left, what’s weird is that you are not coming back.” Oh the sting.

The impact of the separation has not yet hit me. I am sure the ones we left back in Bolivia are feeling it. I have been the one left behind, it is excruciating. I can see on the faces of some of my kids the sadness and loneliness. Others beam with relief and renewal. The colors of our emotional profile burn bright like a sunset on fire. Or is it the sunrise?

The transition material tells me that a new beginning starts with an ending. The rites of passage of ancient cultures teach us to face the end, embrace the grief, and move through to the new. Denial, slap a happy-face emoticon on it, fake-it-’til-you-make-it, just won’t do. Honest tears help wash the soul.

It hurts so much, though. And there are so many people so very happy to have us here. And we don’t want to disappoint people. But it is not fair to them if we are dishonest with our “glee” in the hopes to manage their emotions. No. This is not what we want to do. So we sit broken, together. Yet, there does exist happiness in all the grief. Sparks of hope of what will be flare up and our faces make genuine smiles.

Oh yes, I was talking about the airport.

We walked into view. My mom burst with shouts and ran to catch me. My sister cried and wrapped my kids in her arms. My brother said with pride and joy, “My sister!” My dad laughed as he welcomed us all. What was left of my mascara ran down my cheeks. I felt like my heart would explode.

Then I looked around at my children. My oldest stood off to the side, away from the huddle of hugs. I moved over to her. The anger and helplessness radiated from her reddened eyes as she met me with an indictment. Through gritted teeth and a cracking voice she whispered a gruff, “This is NOT home.”

I wrapped her in affirmation and understanding. Yes, I told her, you are right, this is not home. We cried. I told her we would talk later. She nodded.

We grabbed our 12 checked bags off the conveyor belt. I unzipped a few and snatched out sweaters and jackets for all of us. No matter how many layers and hats and scarves and gloves I put on I couldn’t cut the chill. We loaded up the people and the stuff and drove to our borrowed residence. The rest of the day rushed by as we set up beds, tended to the kitchen and bathrooms, and sorted the bags into the rooms.

When just the Washingtons remained in the home warmed by the wonder of heat blown through vents I called Raimy to my side. She initiated the conversation. Her countenance was calmed yet fatigued, and she said, “About what I said… this is not home, yet.”

Yes. That’s right baby.

Love. Be loved.

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One Week Ago We Didn’t Even Have Tickets

Can you believe that? One week ago we didn’t even have plane tickets for our family to travel to the U.S.A.. Now, we are here, have a great place to stay while we find a place of our own, and OWN a 7 passenger van (which is a whole story for a separate, dedicated blog post). A small army has been working to gather stuff for our new home. My sister and brother-in-law collected from tons of people: some beds, bedding, dressers, towels, toiletries, some groceries, coats, hats, scarves, toys, games, some kitchen items, laundry soap, a laundry basket, Target gift cards, and a coffee maker. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of a friend who set up a facebook page to organize people, a few churches helping out, and many people networking, we feel very loved and cared for.

My parents, one of my brothers, and one of my sisters met us at the airport. There were hugs, happy tears, and lots of loud. It was great! They helped us get into the house of my brother-in-law’s father, who happens to be away on a golfing vacation and graciously opened his vacant home for us to stay in for free. WOW! I am so grateful for the generosity from someone I have never even met.

Before dawn Friday morning dear, dear friends came and collected us from the missionary housing where we were staying in Cochabamba. We said tearful goodbyes and started the 36 hour journey back to the city where both DaRonn and I were born and raised. The kids are amazing travelers! There were lots of talks about our move down to Bolivia way back in 2001. We compared, contrasted, and reminisced.

Ahead of us now in the coming days are: finding a house, filling it, and settling in. Please pray for us, as I know you already have been. Things seem to be falling into place. I am so grateful.

The kids have said some amusing things these first few days. The laughter has been helpful to break up the fatigue and tension.

— — — — — —

Me: Tyler, when you go to the bathroom you can put your toilet paper in the toilet and flush it down.

Tyler: [look of utter disgust] That is so gross!

Me: Yep, your pee, your poop, and the paper all together.

Timothy: [from the other room, singing loudly] We will all go together when we go down!

Cultural orientation – – – in Bolivia the plumbing systems are different and the used toilet paper is thrown into the trash can beside the toilet. Here in the U.S. the used paper is flushed.

— — — — — —

Can I go drink from the water fountain! (Five children RUN through the airport to quench their thirst.)

— — — — — —

Look, a mailbox! Oh look, there’s another one!

— — — — — —

These houses are so beautiful! (In one of the more simple parts of town.)

— — — — — —

There are SO MANY  [you name it on the shelves in the stores]  to choose from!

— — — — — —

This pizza is SO GOOD!

— — — — — —

It is SO COLD! (The locals are in lightweight shirts and no jackets. We are in layers, coats, hats, and scarves.)

— — — — — —

You can drink the water from the faucet. WHAT? Yes, from the faucet.

— — — — — —

Timothy on day 2: I still feel weird drinking water from the faucet. I mean, it tastes fine, but I am thinking in my head the whole time, “I am drinking bugs!”

— — — — — —

on the wall of the house we are staying at
on the wall of the house where we are staying

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Greetings from Limboland

We walked through the lobby of the Real Audiencia hotel in Sucre, Bolivia with our kids. Displayed by the front counter stands a full suit of armor from the days of knights and castles. They said, “Wow!” too many times to count in awe of the ancient artifact. We walked down the corridor of red carpet and through the arch ways draped in flowering vines. We rolled our luggage over the bumpy tiles by the pool, complete with statues of voluptuous Grecian ladies preparing to bathe. The spiral staircase took us to our suites overlooking the courtyard. My oldest threw her hands up in the air and proclaimed, “Imma freakin’ princess!” 

Those sprawling beds were ones of about a half dozen upon which we have laid our heads in the past weeks. Favorite bed thus far during transition? The ones we are in now because they have down comforters which are very cozy during this drippy rainy season. Worst bed thus far? The reclining chairs in the bus on the way back from our royal vacation because I was puked on by my daughter in the first hour of a ten hour ride. You better believe those windows were pried open no matter how cold and wet the night was.

Current tally of observations people have made about our present living conditions:

  • Vagabonds
  • Homeless
  • Nomads
  • Travelers
  • Visitors
  • Guests
  • Drifters
  • House-sitters

We have been living out of suitcases for almost a month now. This will continue for the foreseeable future in the coming weeks.

Our 13 years of life in Bolivia has been whittled down to 13 bags. 

Sometimes the thought of scaling back so much makes me want to cry. Other times I would just like to flick a lit match at the remaining piles of crap as it is tiring to lug it all around. What would be really cool is to have Merlin’s magic from the classic animated Sword in the Stone (my all time favorite Disney movie, by the way) to be able to shrink everything to fit into a dusty old bag with only a song and a dance. Imagine the look on the TSA agent’s face as he rakes his hand through hundreds of teeny tiny objects to determine if miniatures pose a threat to national security.

In the midst of mobility we have been meeting with people and doing the last rites. Last Sunday at church. Last night of youth group. Last visit from out-of-town friends. Last cook out with the ladies group. Last coffee out with friends. Last stroll through the Saturday market. The litany of lasts lasts and lasts.

Every once in a while I let myself be happy anticipating the upcoming flurry of firsts. New weather. New friends. New home. New vehicle. New schools. New clothes. New relative relations. New realities in a new culture. Soon we will trade the now for the new; until then we will wallow in Limboland.

Speaking of mobility and new things… I started my new job on January 5th. Pictured below is my “office” contained in a comfy backpack. Give me electricity and an internet connection and I am working to empower the rescue of victims of human trafficking through the diffusion of truth by way of social media and communications with The Exodus Road. I still have to pinch myself every time I get to work my hours with such an amazing group of people doing such important work.

my office

The kindness and generosity of people towards our family during this transitional season astounds and humbles me. Provision has come in such unexpected, unsolicited, and amazing ways. Yes, there are still lingering details and staggering logistics. Yes, the emotions are too numerous to name. Yet, sparks of goodness illuminate the path in the middle of the darkness.

I’ll leave you with some lyrical loveliness so you can hum along with me:

“I get by with a little help from my friends…”

“It’s the end of the world as we know it… and I feel fine…”

“Abra, cabra, dabra, nack… Shrink in size very small… We’ve got to save enough room for all… Higitus, figitus, migitus, mum… Prestidigitorium!”

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Life is Hard

helen keller quote

We tried really hard to be good missionaries in Bolivia. For thirteen years we tried so very hard. It started even before that when in my youth the passion for mission life burned in my heart. DaRonn and I met as teenagers and found commonality of desire for ministry, for setting out to change the world, for making our lives count for something. We rushed our young family off to a foreign land with such a sense of urgency.

Missionary life has many hardships. It’s hard to wrangle the tongue and make it make new sounds. It’s hard to ask people for money all the time. It’s hard to live amongst socioeconomic extremes whilst examining our own lifestyle choices. It’s hard being away from the comfort and acceptance of family. It’s hard reminding ourselves of why we are struggling with sickness in our bodies and maladies of the soul. It’s hard being misunderstood, judged, and criticized by those we are serving as well as those who are supposed to be on our team. It’s hard weighing the sacrifices we require of ourselves, our kids, and our family back home for perfect strangers. It’s hard when perfect strangers become dear friends and true family then we have to say goodbye.

We gladly assumed those hardships for the sake of the mission. We viewed the discomforts as necessary in order to win the lost. We pushed and pulled, we strove and struggled, we gave everything we had and took only loads of responsibility. We overextended ourselves. And then we broke.

Now we are leaving Bolivia worn down physically, mentally, and emotionally. Our finances are suffering. Our family is in need of restoration. Life got way too hard.

If things are hard it is because we care about something. The hardship is indication of a set of values. The definition of our standards determine how hard (or not hard) something is going to be. Indifference about the outcome makes it not so hard because we would not give it any effort.

Sometimes hardship or hard times are imposed upon us. The desired outcome differs from the present reality. If the hardship came, and we didn’t care about what happened as a result, then that thing would not be hard because we would not be putting forth any effort towards changing that reality.

When things just kept getting harder and harder I began to ask some hard questions:

Is this hardship a necessary part of reaching what is hoped for? Do we know for certain what we hope for? Do we know for certain that the hard parts in our life correlate with that hope? What do I need to do differently?

Those kind of questions led to an overhaul of our lives. Granted, not all missionary careers follow the pattern ours took. Our unique path led us face to face with some realities we know need to change.

The ability to voice our values is helpful because then we can determine if the effort is worth it. We can look at what we seem to care about so deeply that is requiring this great force of effort from us and we can decide if this is actually where we want to put our energies. We assign worth to the outcome thus justifying the effort required of us to reach that place.

If we don’t think it is worth it, we’re not going to work for it.

If we do think it is worth it, we will work for it, we’ll assign creative energy towards it, and we will suffer hardship for it.

We determined that a clearer definition of our hopes is needed. Our efforts need to align more closely with our hopes. We need to set aside one set of hardships (the ones that don’t match our hopes) and take up a different set of hardships (ones that will carry us to our hopes).

We began in Bolivia with the greatest intentions. Over the years we have done amazing, wonderful, and fabulous things that have altered eternity, I am sure of it. The adventure of it all has been spectacular. Somewhere along the way, though, we chipped away too much, compromised, and became crippled.

Life is hard. We’ve heard that saying so many times. But why is it hard? Because we care. And because we care we will put forth hard efforts.

It’s hard to break destructive habits like overeating, smoking, laziness, etc. But the hardship is worth the efforts expended to attain a healthier lifestyle. It’s hard to acquire the relationship skills to overcome harmful patterns such as anger, blame, victim mentality, etc. But the end goal of a more peaceful existence with society gives us the motivation to do the hard work to learn a new way of relating to people. It’s hard to admit when things are not working and then start the even harder process of finding out why, what to do about it, and where to find help.

This decision to move our family to Omaha, Nebraska in the United States was reached after more than a year of deliberation. It is a hard, hard, hard choice. The implementation of this change is proving to be one of the hardest things we have ever done in our lives.

My Hopes:

  • I hope this move will remove some of the pressing obligations so that we can find a more livable rhythm
  • I hope this move will allow us to see more clearly where we want to invest ourselves
  • I hope we can find some healing of body and soul since there are more resources readily available in the States
  • I hope to be able to give our kids some really great opportunities, and that they will be able to connect with their heritage
  • I hope that we are not so far gone that this is “too little, too late”, that things can be better

One thing has been made clear through this all: we cannot do this alone!

Please join the facebook group a dear friend set up for us: Welcome Back Washingtons

There will be updates of practical needs you can help us with. I am so grateful that already a group of people has gathered around us to help us with this transition.

Please keep praying for us and for Bolivia.

Peace.

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Eternal Spring

Cochabamba, Bolivia proudly carries the illustrious title: City of Eternal Spring. Here in Bolivia we know how to celebrate important days. Today was the doozy of a day!

September 21st in Bolivia is:

  1. The Day of Love
  2. The Day of the Student
  3. The Day of the Doctor
  4. The Day of the Photographer
  5. The First Day of Spring
  6. The International Day of Peace

Wow!

So if you are a peaceful doctor who is studying and happen to be taking a photo of the person you love in the city of eternal spring, you have celebrated this day to the utmost perfection.

Friday the kids had parties in the parks with their classmates, instead of regular instruction. Today on the streets people sold all kinds of lovely cards and fun, cute gifts. The shops and restaurants are all decorated with flowers and spring colors.

The celebrations don’t stop. Monday my kids are in a parade to remember the founding of the city of Tiquipaya, where our school is. Gabrielle is playing the tambourine in the marching band. Then they have the day free from classes on Tuesday, the actual anniversary of Tiquipaya. Do we know how to party, or what?

Though I am only an amateur photographer I wanted to finish this blog post by sharing some pics from my trip to La Paz to visit my friends, the Bakers. They were super hospitable and kind. I had a great time!

la paz 07 la paz 08 la paz 09 la paz 13 la paz 15

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Whilst in Chile…

My dearest Bolivian friend, Alejandra, moved to Chile with her husband and their three kids last year. I told her I would visit her. So for my 37th birthday present I made the day long bus ride from Cochabamba to Iquique to spend just over a week with her and her family. I am really having a wonderful time. So glad I have an understanding and supportive husband to allow me to do this. So glad my kids are big enough to handle things around the house in my absence.

- in Chile with Ale -
– in Chile with Ale –

 

Whilst we go to the beach, the mall, the plaza, the docks, the restaurants, and para-sailing (fingers crossed it works out to do this) the online world carries on. A while back I wrote an article for A Life Overseas and it got published today. Check it out if you want to. Oh, and I am posting all myvacation photos and blurbs on facebook, instagram, and twitter if you want to find me in those places. Thanks!

Link to article: “My Kid Can Cuss in Two Languages” In which I say:

It’s only fair to blame Bolivia for this child’s special knack, right? The romantic tongue of this Latin people makes allowances for explicit descriptions and colorful expletives. I should expect complete cultural assimilation from my children, right? Oh that blessed blame game… like those songs that never end, they just go on and on my friend…

My kid can cuss in two languages. Not an ideal bumper sticker. Although, it could be plastered right next to the one about honor roll. My kid is on the honor roll, too. Somehow that balance doesn’t soothe me, though.

http://www.alifeoverseas.com/my-kid-can-cuss-in-two-languages/

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A Call from Gracia Burnham

What about the paparazzi and the fan mob? That was my first thought when I got over the shock of:

#1 the fact that Gracia Burnham had called me, me!?!, on the phone

#2 she was squeezing me into her schedule for next week even though her website says her calendar is jam packed until June of 2014

and

# 3 she suggested IHOP!

Last year her publishers made the extended version of Gracia’s book ‘In the Presence of My Enemies’ available for free for a limited time on Kindle to commemorate the 10 year anniversary of the events that transpired in the Philippine jungles. I got it. Then I proceeded to recommend it to all my friends. The book tells the experience of the Burnham’s year long captivity which ended with the loss of Martin’s life.  After 16 years of missionary service Gracia was left a widow with three children to raise amidst tragedy. The book takes a candid look at God’s calling, God’s grace, and our choice of how to respond to Him.

After reading the book I found out that Gracia lives in the Wichita area. Knowing that I would be spending some time with my family, who also live in Wichita, during our trip to the U.S. I made a shot in the dark and contacted Gracia through the form on her website, asking if I could buy her a coffee so we could chat a little.

After I got into Wichita I called their offices and left a few messages on the machine. When she called and set up a time for breakfast I caught myself before talking about the paparazzi, in case she changed her mind thinking I was some crazy stalker person. Regaining my composure I said instead, “I am so honored. Thank you very much!”

I arrived at the restaurant way too early and waited in the foyer early Wednesday morning.  Part of me still expected her to show up with an entourage.  A driver and bodyguard at least!  She is that much of a rock star to me.

And she was so much more wonderful in real life than I had imagined in my mind. Can you believe it? So sweet, kind, humble, gentle, smiley, and peaceful. And very short!

We talked about missionary stuff, family, Wichita, Bolivia, her books, my blogs, and the passing of Chavez. I asked her if I could post a little write up on my blog. She said that was fine. I whipped out my Moleskine wherein I had prepared a few questions. I picked one.

You can find the conversation at A Life Overseas here: Breakfast with Gracia Burnham.

From start to finish I feel like this was a treat form God just for me. I was surprised to know she has visited Cochabamba, Bolivia with New Tribes Missions. Also, her son-in-law spent a bit of his growing up years in Bolivia as a missionary kid. So I told her that next time she is in town she needs to look me up. She said she would. Wow!

Gracia Burnham and me at IHOP conveniently standing in front of the globe
Gracia Burnham and me at IHOP conveniently standing in front of the globe

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How has the U.S. changed in the last 6 years?

kids may 2007

The last time my kids were in the States…

  • It was 2007
  • There were 4 of them, now there are 5
  • They were: 8 months, 6 yrs, 8 yrs, and 10 yrs old
  • This time they’re: 5 yrs, 6 yrs, 11 yrs, 13 yrs and turning 15 yrs while we are there
  • We stayed for 6 weeks, this time we are doubling that

The short stay cities this time around are: Fort Dodge, Iowa; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Omaha, Nebraska; and Atlanta, Georgia.

We will be spending a month in Wichita, Kansas and a month in Saint Joseph, Missouri. The other cities will be spread out over the entirety of the three months we will be in the States. DaRonn will be with us the first 10 days and the last 10 days of travel. The rest of the time he will be back in Bolivia while the kids and I will be in the States.

Things they are looking forward to…

  • Snow
  • Fun food
  • Going to a mall
  • Airplanes
  • Going to other fun places
  • And, more than anything, spending time with family

Things I am looking forward to…

  • Spending time with family and friends
  • Showing my kids wonderful things
  • Driving
  • Wandering through libraries and book stores
  • Taking my kids to quality performances in the theater
  • Soft pretzels with mustard
  • Jogging in the lowlands

Things I need to prepare my kids for…

  • Flushing their toilet paper instead of depositing it into the waste basket beside the toilet
  • Drinking water from some of the taps
  • Airplane and Greyhound etiquette
  • Car seats for the little ones and seat belt for the big ones
  • Doing home school lessons with me
  • Not kissing people to greet them
  • Questions from strangers about: Bolivia, adoption, missionary stuff, race, and a million unknowns… graciousness in the face of curiosity
  • Speaking Spanish on demand

It’s gonna be good! We leave Bolivia the last week of January and will be back after 12 weeks, at the end of April.

kids oct 2012

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Trail Mix

Now on with the crunchy, munchy, mixed-up life I lead…

  • We got Kaitlynn’s Visa! Which means the U.S. government has seen our compliance with the mandatory 2 years of her living with us in order to grant her the permission step foot on U.S. soil. Such benevolence towards her parents who just happen to be born and bred citizens of those grand United States. When asked the reasoning behind the 2 years they said, “It’s to prevent child trafficking. Also, it is to ensure that people follow the legal process of finishing the adoption in Bolivia. And, that’s just the way it is.” As the agent looks at her shoes and shuffles papers. Bah. Enough cynicism about a system I have no control over. Just glad she has the visa now. Yeah!

 

  • Now we are planning a three-month family trip to the United States! The children haven’t been back in 6 1/2 years. Wow. If you want to help with expenses of this trip just let me know. The goal is to leave January 21st.

 

 

  • I am back to jogging. Glory be! I injured my ankle late October. Thought I let it heal good a few weeks and eased back into the exercise. Was doing great jogging 3 or 4 times a week until the first part of December. The ankle flared up again. The orthopedic surgeon ordered x-rays. He prescribed physical therapy sessions for ligament realignment. After a couple weeks of electrode-therapeutic-shock, heat wraps, ultrasonic ray treatment, baby oil massages, and special strengthening calisthenics I was cleared to go back to jogging. 10 minutes the first day. 12 minutes the next. 15 the following. And so on and so forth. Tomorrow I get to go for a full 20 minutes. Nice!

 

  • The rainy season has finally cooled off our Southern Hemisphere Summer. The Bolivian tardiness of fashionably late applies to weather as well, it appears.

 

  • Re-reading “Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver. How I adore this book! What are you reading these days?

 

  • My devout readers (the whole dozen of you – thank you for your patronage – smiley face emoticon) will remember my post of the cards. So far I feel that we are down to two: A. The church. B. Homemaking. C. The orphanage. and D. Writing. These two  finalists might actually co-habituate quite nicely, in fact.

 

  • I admire these people that are posting highlights from their year by way of “top-posts”, photos, or other such well thought out media publications. Bravo all! I don’t think that I really want to do that at this moment. How about this? How about you leave me a link of your most favorite online moment this year? Maybe it’s from your blog. Maybe someone else’s. Maybe from youtube, or twitter, or instagram. That would be fun to see what you remember from ALL of 2012 as your favorite on the interwebs.

 

  • Finally, some Angie randomness… oh wait, that’s been this whole post. Well, then, onward with the randomness. Two very funny t.v. shows that I have been enjoying: ‘The Neighbors’ and ‘Miranda’. Bless you comedy writers! “So shines a good deed in a weary world.” Shakespeare or Wonka … whichever Willy you prefer to attribute the quote to. Humor was a much needed ray of light for this December of mine.

 

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Look Back, Look Forward, Look Now

You hear it all the time. The old axiom for finding contentment in life: enjoy the journey. Here’s a little tip for learning how to do just that.

At one of our fancy buffet breakfasts at the hotel I asked my kids some questions. I did this on a middle day of the vacation. We had done some fun stuff and we still had fun stuff to do.

#1: What has been your favorite part of the vacation so far? (I tried to use the term “kodak moment” to describe this. Fail.) So they talked. Their voices raised as they remembered fun moments. We rehearsed lines from the Avengers movie in unison. Arms flailed describing the comical encounter with the sloth. We laughed together recalling chattering teeth as we swam in the rain.

#2: What do you miss about home? Our pets came at the top of the list; unanimous. Raimy missed her keyboard. Timothy had some video games awaiting him. Gabrielle wanted to hug her huge stuffed animals. Tyler craved gaming with his brother. Kaitlynn kept with the pets talking of our dog and birds. I missed my gourmet coffees and the specialized coffee brewers in my kitchen.

#3: Is there anything you have done everyday, including today? This rounded the conservation out and brought them back to the present. Their answers came from the buffet table. Everyone shared a food they ate everyday: cereal, salami, pastries, juice, etc. Thus my segway to talk about that day’s activities.

I learned a similar technique during the debriefing sessions of my short-term mission years. These talks took place at the end of the trip. I just felt like I wanted to do it with my kids at the middle of the trip.

An interesting thing took place. After the ten hour bus trip from Santa Cruz we awoke to a bright orange sunrise behind the statue of Christ in Cochabamba. From the bus terminal we took a cramped taxi ride to our home. Timothy led the discussion. His happy voice recounted almost word for word the deliberate discussion we had that middle-morning at breakfast. Instead of grumbling about returning to exams and the mundane, their minds sprouted seeds of good thoughts.

This can work at any stage in life. Take a moment to look back and be happy about good moments. Then remember the good in the daily routines of your life. After that, focus on the goodness awaiting you in the day given to you right now.

Look back…

          Look forward…

                      Look now…