But, this was a particularly crazy spectacle, as my entire family (that is, my parents, my brother and his wife and 3 kids, and my sister and her husband and 3 kids) would all be staying together in one giant home in the Rocky Mountain tourist capital of the upper west side...Estes Park, Colorado.
It was a grand occasion for celebration, my parent's 40th wedding anniversary, and we all had been planning this trip for months and months ahead of time. Finally, the time had come, and one car ride, two shuttles, a plane, a rental car, and a midnight trip to Sonic later...we finally made it there; screaming babies, two car seats, four suitcases, a partridge in a pear tree, and all.
This was not our first time in Estes, but our last trip there was as a family of six, just after my sister-in-law had joined our clan. Since then, 16 years have passed, 8 grandchildren have been born, and just about everything in our lives has shifted and changed by leaps and bounds. So, it was shocking and reassuring when we entered into the small town surrounded by the majestic Rockies, to see that, in fact, not much had changed since we had last been there.
Don't get me wrong, I'm sure lots of details are different. But, the things that stuck out to my childhood memories (multiple fudge and T-shirt shops, the old theatre on the corner, the grand Stanley hotel on the hillside, the little trout farms, and the giant slides at Fun City) were all perfectly intact, just as the solid as the mountains that painted the backdrop behind them.
Indeed, we were away from home. Thank you to my parents generosity and planning, the house they had rented for the week was truly lovely. To wake up and walk out on the balcony with a yard full of mountain peaks was truly spectacular and nothing short of a daily devotional to my heart. God was really having a creative moment when He decided to put enormous mounds of rock out there, let me tell you.
The week was full of fun moments: celebrating my folks' marriage, eating out, trout fishing with Matilda, sampling fudge, playing games, sipping lattes, watching old home videos and of course - constantly making sure my two precious girls didn't flail themselves down one of those spectacular mountain sides (believe me, I had more than a couple heart stopping moments). Whew. A whirlwind of memory-making, topped off at the end of the week with a talent show (totally "Dan In Real Life" style) and a night out wearing matching T-shirts as an entire 16-person clan, color coordinated by family. (Yes, it was awesome/awkward).
|Circa 1986 (yep, that's me in the middle)|
Family is wonderful. Family is weird. Family is family and there is really no other word for it. And family vacation on this massive scale offered me an extended look into the dynamics that really make up the past, present, and future of what my family is all about.
Every family is unique and imperfect, and mine is no different. And when you shack up 16 people in close quarters for a week, you are bound to see the good (family prayer time), the bad (stop hitting your sister), and the ugly (nobody go in that bathroom for a while)! In anticipation of this week-o-family, I gotta say, it all went entirely better than I may have originally thought. Everyone was on "vacation mode" and feeling pretty chill, so it was wonderful to have pleasant conversations about life and just enjoy the view, and get to see all the little cousins playing together.
We were all happy to be there and congratulatory to my parents on their anniversary (definitely something to be revered and certainly a time to be grateful to God for His sustaining their marriage, especially in a society like we live in). But, (you felt that "but" coming, didn't you?) as the saying goes, "with privilege comes responsibility" and so, having had the privilege to grow up in a relatively normal and happy home, and having had the privilege of actually getting to take a vacation, I don't want to take my responsibility for granted.
What kind of responsibility comes with a happy family? you might be wondering. Ah, well, let me see how I can air this thought out... (Analogy time.)
When Josh and I were looking for which airline to fly for this family vacation, we weighed many options - all of which circumferenced one tiny fact: price. As many of you might be able to relate, we don't necessarily care whether we are in a particular seat or get extra peanuts on the plane - I just want to get there in one piece as cheaply as possible, thank you very much. Well, even though the ticket price was slightly higher, we ended up choosing Southwest Airlines due to the fact that they don't charge extra for your baggage. Not only that, but they let you carry on a bag, a personal item, and check car seats and strollers for free! (Hip hip hooray for them!)
It is pretty shocking today how much airlines are charging just to load and unload your suitcase these days. Some were charging up to $35 per bag per passenger - and, well, traveling with two small children doesn't come cheap when you add up all the necessary gear they require on vacation. That being calculated, Southwest's price made our selection completely worthwhile in the amount we would be saving in baggage charges. They understand that if you are going to board a sky craft to another state, it is reasonable to accept you will most likely need a carryall of sort to stash away things like clean underwear or a toothbrush, per say.
I say this because, in all the glorious photos we see posted today - the happy families on vacation and smiling for the camera and being tweeted and texted out to the universe - don't be jealous of those photos and those families and those picturesque moments that are illusions of only what we want to remember. Love what you have. Love your family. Get to know them, in all their dysfunction, and embrace the chaos that it entails.
My family is relatively normal and happy. We had a great time together (fudge helps). But it doesn't make us any less imperfect than your family.
We're just messed up beings trying to get along and seek approval and not interrupt each other and trying to figure out how we can be friends since we are all adults and having awkward moments and wanting to impress each other and not quite knowing how to ask advice and always wanting to just let each other know we love each other no matter what in an I'm-not-sure-how-to-say-it-so-I-will-side-hug-you sort of way...probably a lot like your family. (And yes, that was the best/worst run-on sentence you will read this year, yeehaw!)
Family is Southwest Airlines. No matter what, you get to bring your baggage for free. Sure, you might be mad cause they didn't serve drinks until 2 hours into the flight. Certainly, you can be ticked off that some bozo left the lavatory stunk up. Absolutely, it is frustrating when you are stuck on the tarmac for 20 minutes after you land.
Family is strange. Family is different. Family is sacred. And, if you weren't born into a clan you can bring your baggage to, I happen to know the perfect travel agent for you. Trust me, if there were ever someone who could make sure you get to the destination you should be going, it's Jesus. God cares that you are surrounded by a community who will not only check your bags for free...but your strollers and car seats too. Not all of my family is flesh and blood. Not all of my family has the same last name. Marriages, adoptions, friendships...sometimes you gotta look a ways to get the best deal, but when you find it, it is always worth the trip.
Family takes effort. And, even in the most ideal of settings, there may be times you feel like a stranger or misunderstood or like you might not fit in. But, you do. And don't be afraid to bring all your baggage every time you see them. Show your family who you are. Open your heart and listen to the stories of your family history. Try and see where and why God placed you into this group of people, and what you can take with you into your own family...your own children, traditions, and future.
It can be tricky to transform into an adult among people who have known you your whole life. It can be tricky to establish yourself as a responsible person when there are people who have seen you faint in a school play or have a potty accident on the playground. But, family reminds us that there are people and relationships that are meant to be long term - life long, in fact - and that it's worth sticking around through the thick and thin to see the entire story. My family is a like a lot of other families out there. I want to continue to get to know them for who they are, I want to show my daughters where they came from, I want to pass on the privilege of being loved no matter what. And I want my girls to always feel like they can bring their baggage for free, anytime, forever. I don't know what the future holds for their lives or who they will become or exactly where they will land, I just know that I want to be there for it all.
Family is history. Family is future. Family is forever.