Unexpected Joy

Trips are an adventure.

I plan. I research.

And yet…anything could happen. In the not knowing moments, the unplanned, I feel the most alive.

I often don’t do enough research to understand that I should be afraid. Such as driving to Whitefish, Montana for a family Christmas ski holiday with friends. Whiteout conditions forced us to spend extra days in a hotel. There was dog sledding, snowmobile driving, and skiing Whitefish Mountain. Those activities seemed tame. Checking off the boxes. The drive itself was the adventure. Funniest was the holiday mix-up where I didn’t receive a gift. Names had been drawn. Presents packed for the trip. Obviously, someone forgot they had my name and thought they had someone else. Life is funny like that sometimes. Hands you an unexpected letdown and how will you respond? For me, an opportunity to be gracious and see the humor in the unexpected all while moving through a range of emotions.

Our family has made many trips to Guatemala. I planned the paintball outing in the mountains but not the deep circular bruise in the middle of my forehead. I forgot to research protective gear and the speed of paintballs. On this same trip, to disembark from a boat in a squall, I threw myself on a swaying homemade dock in the pelting rain when the a lancha got near. That’s how you arrive in port in a secluded Mayan village. I’ll never forget that. I’ll also remember my son reaching his hand out time and time again to help me climb the mountain above Santa Cruz La Laguna to reach the next village. He became a man that day, looking after his mother.

I plan. I research. Yet, sometimes, I’m not even aware of the task I’m taking on. I just go forth. Bringing my family with me.

Backing our rented 32 ft. RV into the driveway after arriving home from the Grand Canyon, I thought to myself, “What chutzpah Jody and I have.” To think we could rent an RV and drive it to the Grand Canyon having never driven anything bigger than an SUV. This feeling of triumph trumped the planned Grand Canyon helicopter tour and mule trip down the canyon.

I certainly didn’t research the driving fear factor on our trip to Mount Rainier National Park and Crystal Mountain Resort. The drive required us to drive at a height of 6,681 ft. with no guardrails. While driving, I came to view our RV as a weapon that could kill us all with one wrong move. Later, one of our dogs tumbled down a cliff. This was unplanned. When we figured out he was going after rocks that were being kicked off the hiking path, we walked more carefully.

Our five-week stay in Florida brought me unexpected deep joy. When I was in Tonga in the South Pacific for the Peace Corps, the ocean scared me. I couldn’t figure out how that tiny island stayed afloat. I was familiar with the solid earth of Wisconsin cornfields. I never did get comfortable in Tonga. But in Florida, I stared for hours at the ocean, losing myself in the sound and strength of the water.

Our family has an upcoming trip to Yellowstone and to Maui.

I’ll research. I’ll plan.

It’s the unexpected that will touch me.

Peace Corps Volunteer. Tonga, South Pacific

Entitlement

8 years old.

Entitlement is not a disease that I suffer from. In 1970, I was one of the kids who in middle school stood in the principal’s office amidst a tangle of classmates wondering why I was there. I was no stranger to the principal’s office. However, as I looked around at the others gathered, I wondered what our connection was. The Principal explained that a free lunch program started, and the ones gathered would be receivers of this new subsidy for low income families. Sweeping the small room with my eyes, I took stock. Two students were my siblings, the other seven were from families in our small town and farming community. We all knew each other. We were the ones on the fringes. It wasn’t difficult in our small community to know where you were on the economic ladder.

There wasn’t any money for a letterman’s jacket, yearbook, or class pictures. You knew what you could and couldn’t ask for at Christmas time. I never expected any inheritance from my parents. They simply didn’t have the money.

Jody and I feel blessed and fortunate for what we have. We truly are the lucky ones who have enough in this world.

Our teenage children also have enough. They don’t lack for anything. As well as having jobs, they have parents who like to give to them.

They have the letterman jackets, the yearbooks, the mopeds, and spending money.

Sometimes they feel entitled. They want for more.

This is when we stop. Give pause. In a way that isn’t too overbearing, too apparent, or overt, we seek to bring to their attention what they have. We want them to feel fortunate and blessed like we do. The best way we have found is to say, “No”. Or, “Use your own money from your job”. Or, “Write a letter what you are grateful for”. Or, “Fill a bag with toys, clothes, or whatever you are asking for to give away before we buy anything new”. Or, “Look around at others in your school and your community and notice the disparity”.

Our 4 trips to Guatemala, their birth country, have helped. We don’t need to say anything. They see what we see. As soon as we leave the airport, all of us are shocked into another reality.

This past Christmas, instead of opening presents on Christmas Eve, we played a grateful game. Though that isn’t what we called it. It was simply a game. The four of us joined together for a round robin of what we received during the year without it being on our birthday or holiday. Jody and I wanted the children to acknowledge all that they are blessed with. There was plenty.

Spring vacation Florida trip, South Dakota summer vacation, mopeds, helicopter rides, hot air balloon rides, Everglades airboat ride, jet ski rides, letterman jacket, updates to our house, etc.

Prior to our round robin, we did open one gift. A family values lazy susan. Words of wisdom, love and encouragement are colorfully displayed on this decorative table centerpiece. It would be great if this simple reminder would leave the teens feeling full of gratitude all year long. I doubt it.

That’s when we can pause. Stop. And, start counting our blessings.