Divine Appointments {Traveling to Ecuador With Compassion International}

When Troy and I first met and dreamed about a life together, we were convinced we’d raise our family overseas. He is a fluent Spanish speaker and I am fluent in Mandarin Chinese, so we figured we could certainly serve God and people in a country where one of those language skills could be used. 

It’s a (long pull up a chair and let me make a pot of coffee while I talk incessantly with my hands) story for another time, but in the end, we were called to doing a few things with our lives we never anticipated…namely: church planting, school founding, raising six boys, and creating what would become my online business, GraceLaced.

God often writes our stories differently than we see or hope to have unfold if we were to have written it ourselves. He doesn’t always give us understanding, but he always calls us to trust Him. God may call someone to circumstances that may feel like sacrifice to one person, and not so to another. For us, the harder thing was not to go, but to stay.

Over the years, the Lord’s graciously given us opportunities to serve for short spells in India (where we took two young ones,) Chile, China, and Zimbabwe…and I have tasted it: Seeing another person’s truth in another world…changes you. And now, after over a decade of my feet planted pretty close to U.S. soil continually, I am grateful the Lord is shaking things up and reminding me that He is at work…beyond my walls, my borders, my own comforts.

I’m so honored to be traveling to Ecuador in two weeks with Compassion International, a Christ-centered organization that works through churches to support children and families living in poverty. I will be traveling with fellow bloggers and dear friends, AshleyShannan, and leader Bri. Ashley, Shannan, and I will each be bringing one of our sons, and I couldn’t be more eager to see the ways in which they will grow from seeing into another’s world.

I’m grateful to travel with Compassion, and more grateful still, to get to do it with my oldest, Caleb. At almost 14, he is already becoming a young man I laugh with, analyze with, work with, and enjoy as a friend. But seeing firsthand the poverty that exists together, and for him to serve Christ by loving with his 13 year old hands and heart…well, that is fulfilling a dream of this mama’s heart.

I’ll be honest: I’m a mess of emotions and scattered thoughts that span everywhere from how to pack for warm weather while I’m currently freezing to what our 3 year old sponsored boy in Ecuador will enjoy from the overabundance of our superstores? What can one full week accomplish? Both not enough, by my own resources…and more than enough, by Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power at work within us. (Ephesians 3:20) The lives we meet, the stories we tell, the children rescued from poverty…they are divine appointments, after all.

You’re invited to follow along this journey as I share what I see, hear, feel, and learn along the way. I’m an imperfect lens and I’ll ask you ahead of time for prayers and patience as I seek to tell a true story that may be hard to hear. I would be so honored if you would join us and pray for us as we go.

Because of grace,

 

Why Family Road Trips Are Worth It

As you know, our family took another cross country road trip this summer. If you have little ones and have taken an extended road trip, you know what a big endeavor a road trip can be. I’m so eager to share more about the meet and greet pop up shoppes, and the special people we’ve made memories with along the way. We’re still on the road (and grateful for my team holding down the fort at GraceLaced Shoppe), but hope to share some pics soon. 

Today, at The Better Mom, I’m sharing about why we choose to take long road trips with our six children, what unexpected blessings can come as a result, and why it’s really quite worth it.  Join me there today

The Spectacle of Traveling with A Large Family and What I Learned From My Boys On Our Road Trip

Sometimes folks are subtle, and whisper across the table. And sometimes they unabashedly stare and point at what seems perfectly normal to me, but outrageous to so many onlookers: a family with six young boys. Throw in the novelty, I suppose, of us being a mixed race couple (with super cute hapa babies!) and the comments and questions seem endless. 

And while this is a natural daily occurrence at the grocery store, the playground, the mall, or pretty much anywhere we go as a family, nothing compared to the amount of curiosity we experienced while on vacation these last two weeks.

It was as if many of the couples and families on vacation in Orlando, New Orleans, and all the other cities we passed through all had the same (sometimes unspoken) questions for us:

Are all those boys yours? And if so, did you really choose to take a vacation with all of them?

My favorite of all the questions asked of us was when one older gentleman in an elevator with Troy and the boys, tried to make sense of the number of kids and the ethnicity, and stepped out of the elevator asking,

“Are you all a Christian organization?”

It really never bothers me when people ask in disbelief, because to be honest, I’m just as shocked as they are. I’m the most unlikely mother I know. I planned on having 2 kids, tops. And I only imagined having girls. So, yes. I empathize with folks who simply can’t get over why we have six boys, and why we’d travel 4000 miles in a car with them. And not go to DisneyWorld. 

Sometimes I think we make vacations far too complicated. I know I did, prior to journeying 2 weeks with my tribe from New Mexico to Florida, and back again. We imagine all the daily challenges of raising young people– the bickering, the whining, the logistics, the fussing, and the noise…and all the daily challenges of being an impatient and weary mom— and we cannot help but fear endless hours together in a car, sharing the same space, doing the same things for days and days. So, we might avoid the opportunity altogether (which I almost did) or fill the time on vacation with a busy agenda (which I was tempted to do). No, traveling with six young boys isn’t easy. But, neither is raising them. We don’t do it because it’s easy, or because we are naturally good at it. No, we’re not a Christian organization; we’re a perfectly chaotic group of people who long to reflect Christ.

And while there are seasons and years where vacationing with littles is simply un-relaxing, I’ve been discovering that sometimes the most un-relaxing part of spending time with all my kids, is me. 

Because this is what I learned from my boys on our summer road trip: What kids really want more than anything…more than souvenirs, more than ice cream, more than movies, and more than roller coasters…are parents who are having a blast being with them doing whatever they do.

That’s it.

If I was having fun…at the pool, on the road, listening to audio books, at the beach, or cleaning out the car…they were having fun too. It really didn’t matter what we were doing, as long as we were enjoying each other in the process.

The boys looked for my smile, more than they looked for the next exciting thing on the itinerary.

Of course we had family meetings, arguments, bad attitudes, and repentance and forgiveness with one another. That’s what family does. At home or 2000 miles away. But that’s all part of the package. You don’t take a vacation from being family. You go on vacation to experience it more fully.

And to my surprise, our family is closer and richer for the miles we’ve traveled together. 


*For more behind the scenes photos of our trip, visit me on Instagram #simonsroadtriptoflorida.

Shaping Family Culture on a Road Trip

I can’t remember the last time I took two weeks off from writing here at the blog. It was an unplanned, but lovely break, but I am eager to give a quick update on what we’ve been up to. 

We spent the last month working diligently around the clock to get our house back on the market…this time, more intentionally, and listed with an agent. It is such a difficult decision to finally take the plunge and commit to moving from your home of 10 years, a home that you have loved and grown from a family of 3 to a family of 8. 

And so, to give our best effort in staging and presenting a home for sale, we moved our boys out of the master bedroom boys bunk room, remodeled the master bathroom, and moved no less than half of our belongings and furnishings out of the house. (You may remember the Christmas home tour here, as well, for reference.) 

And that’s where we’ve been for the last month. 

On Father’s Day weekend, we touched up the last of the paint, packed up all the kids, and headed out on a three day drive + 2 week road trip to Orlando, Florida for an ACCS conference for our school board. 

A ton of you, who follow me on Instagram, gave me amazing travel tips and game ideas for a cross-country road trip with kids. I had great intentions to use all the ideas and to even blog about them….and with the chaos of preparing to travel and to list the house, I didn’t implement even one. 

But amazingly, we not only survived the three day road trip…we loved it.

Enjoying the hospitality of friends and meeting each other’s families was definitely the highlight. I love that the boys longed to spend more time with both families we stayed with. They spoke so highly of our new friends and cherished the memories made with them both…

The conference proved to be a blessing, and while I missed that continuing education I usually enjoy for myself, I was grateful for extended time alone with the boys by the pool. Half of my boys are non-swimmers, so that time by the pool each day was a little less than relaxing…but even so, I knew to soak up the blessing of vacation and time away.

Any family of any size in the same room, vehicle or space for days…is a perfect context for learning humility, patience, service, and forebearance. We never set out to purposely learn these things as reason for a trip, but somehow, the blessing of sanctification and growing as a family always comes as a byproduct, whether we’ve asked for it or not. And, I’m always grateful that the Lord knows what I need without my asking…

And from Orlando, we headed to Cocoa Beach, where our friends invited us to stay with their family at their home along the Banana River. I’m looking out on to the water right now, as I write, and recognize, this is just what our family needed. We chose simple pleasures for this trip. There’s no shortage of amazing, entertaining, wonderful things to do in the Orlando area; but for us, this time–with our family culture goals in mind– decided to draw the kids’ affections toward things of nature of wildlife, of family and friends…of slowness and simplicity.

When 8 imperfect, sinful, broken human beings make up a family…and go on vacation…you realize that family vacations are less about experiencing culture around one another; but rather, it’s forming your very own family culture together with purpose. 

The home we are staying in belongs to the parents of my friend, Leah. (It’s a wonderful 3 bedroom home with a pool and a private dock…And, it’s one of the few of it’s kind available for rent in Cocoa Beach on VRBO!) While the home and the environment has been idyllic, the most significant part of our stay has been the deliberate investment Leah’s dad has made to teach my children (and Troy and me!) everything he knows about this area, the history, about kayaking, fishing, wildlife, and of enjoying the Lord’s presence in nature. I think Troy and I have felt that the relationships and the memories made through special people in our lives truly make a trip like this more than a vacation, but a shaping of our family culture.

Shaping of our family is our ultimate goal for any and every opportunity to travel and step outside of our everyday lives.

No amount of fun, entertainment, luxury, or time away can “fix” messy circumstances, mend broken hearts, or change an outlook…unless it is a change of heart. I’m grateful that there has been some true rest of heart and a fulfilling of goals in our family culture and values on this trip. I’m grateful that we have been more than able to reflect and receive the wonder of God’s glory as we gaze upon his creation and enjoy the fellowship that He has provided. For these, I am forever grateful…as they have given our weary bodies and minds fuel for the road ahead.

I invite you to follow me on Instagram and/or Facebook for all the behind the scenes photos and posts of our trip. Thank you for joining me here. I’m honored to be a part of your life…

Because of grace,

I’m so honored that you are here. If you enjoy this blog and would like new posts to come directly to your inbox, I invite you to subscribe to GraceLaced by email.


P.S. Friends, thank you for your orders from the shoppe! I look forward to completing your custom orders and fulfilling your print orders as soon as we return back home! Thank you!

15 Years Later with 6 Kids {Durango Trip 2013, Pt. 1}

We honeymooned in Durango, Colorado, 15 years ago this week. Though we’ve been heading up here every summer since, this year is extra special because we are returning 15 years later with 6 children. We would’ve loved to have gotten away without the kiddos for our anniversary, but with Number 6’s arrival only 3 months ago, traveling with the entire fam was the best for all of us. Anniversary trip and summer vacation all in one, to one of our favorite places on earth, and here’s why…
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Every family is different. Ours finds great satisfaction in simple traditions and rediscovering discovered pleasures, again and again. One of our simple traditions is to stop at the park at the edge of town when we first arrive in Durango. Because every other year there has been a new baby with us, this park has seen our family grow, and our boys have made special memories here.

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I love that the boys don’t need much to feel like they are on vacation: fun snacks for the road, audio books, new scenery…fresh air…streams and rivers…a train whistle…

Durango Trip Part 1

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…I truly believe our kids respond to what we portray as the greatest joys in vacationing. If we revel in being together, they will too. If our focus is the agenda, theirs will be too…and you know how fun it is when everyone’s overly focused on sticking to the agenda. :)…_DSC0050

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…so, instead, it is savoring and resting– not scheduling and packing it in– that is the focus when we arrive at our destination. Sometimes, the destination is to rest and BREATHE.

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 My in-laws lovingly gifted us a package they won for us at our school’s fundraising Gala, that included a night at the historic General Palmer Hotel. We felt incredibly blessed to have a night of such pampering and Victorian sophistication….

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 (We had a 3 room suite…they don’t actually ALL fit on this bed. :))

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 So much of what makes family trips and vacations special is the new contexts in which you can engage some of your children…

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 …and seeing wonders through your children’s eyes…

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 …and, to save up for that special meal (sushi at East By Southwest!) to enjoy with the entire family, not because it is the most convenient or economical, but because incorporating gentlemen training and tastebud orientation is high on our priority list

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 And speaking of simple pleasures, the boys spent a few hours exploring the shallow river’s edge…

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 …catching water snakes…

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…and telling stories…10

Vacationing with six young ones is no walk in the park, and not all moments are precious and memorable for the right reasons. Parenting doesn’t end when you are on vacation, you know? Vacations can be downright exhausting…but my sweet husband reminded me today that the kids are at the age when they still think being together is better than anything, and that they will have as much fun as our attitude is in being with them. And, this week, I am giving thanks for the privilege of being together with my crew.

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Linking up in community…

Welcome to GraceLaced Mondays, a link up dedicated to sharing any and all blog posts by like-minded lovers of grace–God’s grace! Grace is found in the everyday when you are intentional about taking note of it…and I invite you to share your story, great or small, of how everyday moments are full of Grace.

*Link back to GraceLaced –so your readers can find us here– by copying and pasting the code below into the html page of your post. (Make sure you scroll down and copy the entire code, thanks!)

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*Add your link anytime this week!

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In Praise of A Cruise

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“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
-Mark Twain

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Every family benefits from a family vacation. Some of our vacations are staycations, and some are camping trips. We love any and all forms of travel, taking our family to places near and far. However, we made some choices, intentionally or not, when we decided to have a large family. One of those takes the form of this reality: Our family simply cannot take a vacation at the drop of a hat–both financially and logistically.

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As a family of 8, hours and hours of planning now goes into any trip we take. With kids that span the ages of newborn to 11 years of age, there are many, many issues to consider: logistics of travel, sleeping arrangements, amenities for children and infants, food/meal choices, indoor/outdoor activities. One child MUST have a pool involved. Another child is into sports and loves to be active. One child really loves downtime for creative endeavors. Another child needs a quiet spot to read a little each day…you get the idea. (And that’s not even including mom’s desire for a nice dinner and live music and dad’s desire for exploration and sightseeing!)

Dreaming About Cruising

So, when a friend recently shared stories of taking her family on a cruise, I listened. Truth be told, I never used to think about going on a cruise. In my younger years, I felt intrigued by the idea of navigating public transportation, travel guides, language dictionaries, and hole-in-the wall restaurants. I still find that kind of travel mesmerizing–I do–but something’s happened in the last decade of my life: I had 6 kids. And now, now, I want to spend less time thinking on the HOW and more time BEING together. A cruise has been sounding pretty enticing.

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I was told about Norwegian Cruise Line‘s family-friendly cruises, and well, it looks like they’ve thought of everything. While my kids love to stay all together as a family, they would surely enjoy the youth program Norwegian offers, The Splash Academy, replete with sports, circus activities, and counselors to guide their fun. The program is available for children 6 months to 12 years of age…um, that’s pretty much perfect for us! And what would Mr. Simons and I do without little ones to chase after? Well, for starters, Norwegian has the first rappelling wall at sea and and the only U.S. rated climbing wall afloat. I would have a difficult time getting Troy to come to dinner with me. 🙂 As for me, I’d be happy with a hot stone massage…and perhaps a few other amazing spa treatments available on board. That’s all. 🙂

With so many little ones to attend to and so many needs to meet, it is compelling to hear about flexible, creative options for the entire family that make it possible to spend less time working out logistics of how to do the things everyone wants to do, and more time enjoying one another– which ultimately, is what a family vacation is all about.

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Click here for more information about Norwegian’s family vacation experience.

Norwegian Cruise Line and BlogHer are hosting a sweepstakes for one grand prize – a voucher for a cruise for a family of four! You can enter the sweepstakes by commenting right here on this blog post! Simply leave a comment, answering this question:

“What is your dream vacation for your family?”

 

No duplicate comments. You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods: *Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt on this post (see above.) *Tweet (public message) about this promotion; including exactly the following unique term in your tweet message: “#SweepstakesEntry”; and leave the URL to that tweet in a comment on this post. *Blog about this promotion, including a disclosure that you are receiving a sweepstakes entry in exchange for writing the blog post, and leave the URL to that post in a comment on this post *For those with no Twitter or blog, read the official rules to learn about an alternate form of entry. Entries from all participating blogs will be pooled for winner selection; only two entries per household. This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older. Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. You have 72 hours to respond, otherwise a new winner will be selected. The Official Rules are available here. This sweepstakes runs from 5/6/2013-6/2/2013. Be sure to visit  Norwegian Cruise Line’s brand page on BlogHer.com where you can read other bloggers’ posts!

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Summer Road Trip, Part 2

I’m popping in to share some quick photos of our day at the Durango Mountain Resort over the weekend. You’ve seen our past trips to Durango, and know how much we love it…but as this was our first time at the Alpine Slide, the kids quickly deemed this visit as one of the most memorable.

And for the record, I went on my first zipline, 65 ft. off the ground. I couldn’t believe how nervous and shaky I was! I said to the gal strapping me in, “I’ve birthed five children, 4 completely naturally–I can do this!!” 🙂

I survived unscathed. Wobbly, but alive. I like wobbly and alive!

We were so thankful for a day of gorgeous weather, fun memories, and a reminder that life’s true adventure is not how fast you go, or how far you can fall…the craziest, most daring thing our family is pursuing has nothing to do with speed or adrenaline. We are living out the paradox of a Gospel-driven life…and it’s truly adventure enough for me.