I can’t believe how quickly decades pass! As I write, I’m sitting on a red-eye flight, starting our 20th family vacation—our first without Lance. My mind goes back to what seems like a moment ago. I’ve been here before. It was in a hotel room in Palm Desert, California about 13 years ago—our last night of family vacation in another era. We had spent the day swimming, roller blading, mini-golfing… all the good stuff of a family vacation. The lazy day wound to a giggly close with two little boys—very little—jumping on the bed in their pjs, being tickled, and praying together.
As they were brisked off by mom to brush their teeth, I faced a sudden rush of tears, seemingly out of nowhere. It was an emotional and unexpected flash forward to a far off moment—a time when the two boys would be grown men and family vacations were, in themselves, winding to a close. As I imagined that “far away time” I fought off the emotion, but Dana caught my eye. She must have sensed something in my face. She turned, and with her winsome smile said, “Hey, are you okay?” I had held back the tears… until she said that. That ever happen to you?
As I began to cry, I laughed at the same time… at myself. Dana came and sat next to me asking what was wrong. “Nothing… I just realized, if God gives us 18 family vacations with our first born, then six of them are gone already! That’s just not much time, really.” And then, while the two boys who were supposed to be brushing teeth were obliviously splashing water and giggling a few feet away, we just sat on the bed, held each other and cried for a moment, both feeling silly for doing so.
So, yes, I’ve been here before. But this time it’s real. Tonight we got in the car and held our annual family tradition of many years—we listened to You’ve Got A Friend in Me. Once again, Dana started crying when she realized that one voice wasn’t singing along as he always does. And once again I’m reminded of how quickly the years have passed, and I’m thankful for every family vacation.
If you have a young family, I want to share with you the things I’m so glad we did over the years, and encourage you to redeem the time while your children are young.
At least once a year, get a week or two away as a family—make this a priority, whatever it takes. Plan for it, be creative, be tenacious to provide this for your family. You all need it. A big part of raising kids is just having a good time with them. So many kids reject the faith of their parents because at the end of the day, the parents just made the journey miserable! If you want your kids to adopt your beliefs, you’d better make them attractive. Family fun is a big part of that.
Spend at least a week alone as a family—I’m all for time with extended family, but your family needs alone time. Many years ago we started taking at least five days together as a family alone. Many vacations since then we’ve spent the entire two weeks alone together. Thankfully our extended family has understood even though I’m sure it wasn’t always their first choice. Looking back, this focused time together was invaluable!
Laugh a lot and deliberately have fun together in ways you will always remember—for us this has been as simple as Scrabble and as complex as a theme park. I don’t believe it’s about expense, but rather expression—environments and elements that allow you to fully enjoy your family relationships in memorable contexts. (Be sure to take pictures so one day you can remind your kids of all the fun you had together!)
Use the time to especially love on your kids and let them know how special they are—start vacation by writing your children a personal note of love. Put some spending money in it. Let them stay up later than normal, eat more candy than they should, and act sillier than normal people act. Do small things that say, “you are special, and I’m glad we get to be together for this special time.”
Disconnect from other demands to give yourself fully to each other—voice mail messages and auto-emails that say, “I’m out of pocket…” are a beautiful thing. If you serve in ministry, you know that you’re never really off the clock, and if you’re “called,” you don’t want to be off the clock. But all year long your family is graciously flexible to share you for various needs and emergencies. Let this be a time when they don’t have to share you.
Rest and restore your relationships and hug each other a lot—be physically affectionate with your children, all the time, but especially on vacation. Snuggle a lot, hold hands, hug, put your arm around them. On top of this, sleep in and catch your breath spiritually. If you didn’t grow up in an affectionate home environment, get over it and be affectionate. Don’t rob your kids of the same thing your parents withheld from you.
Balance different types of vacations—I think there are three basic types of family vacations. The adventurous, sight-seeing kind, the visiting family kind, and the hanging around doing nothing kind. The Lord has allowed us to have all three types over the years, and sometimes a combination of the three. Be sure you don’t overdose on one over the others. They’re all awesome!
Figure out favorite places and family traditions and return to them regularly—over the years, God has given us favorite spots like P.F. Chang’s, favorite treats like shaved-ice, favorite pastimes like collecting seashells, and favorite activities like the Cranium Family Fun Game. Once a tradition is established, it’s all the more special every time you return to it.
Now, before you feel sorry for us, we will eventually meet up with Lance on this vacation (so I’m not sure why I’m all introspective about it). And even if we didn’t, we are thankful for the great years together that God has given us. Emotions at a time like this are not those of sorrow, but of transition. Life is filled with them. Sometimes they just catch you by surprise, even when you knew they were coming.
I hope these ideas will encourage you. Don’t let any force on earth prevent you from giving your family what you should while you have them. For sooner than you think, giggling, splashing, roller-blading little men leave their boyish ways and grow somewhat beyond the reach of family vacations…