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Christian Family, family, Follower of Christ, Foster Family, Foster Life

Why Families Are Failing

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While my last post addressed a hard reality of the foster crisis and the church, it was not an exhaustive explanation. I’m not sure we can completely define the cause for the crisis, as there are multiple layers. Nor am I sure it is the best use of our time attempting to do so. With that said, I do want to explore the conversation a little further. Because this crisis should not be in existence when you line up the numbers of children/churches and you layout the call of the church. And if we do not at least have an understanding of why, even if it fails to offer a complete answer, we will not know how to move forward with solutions. 

As the wife of a pastor, one of our greatest and most constant struggles is lack of volunteers. Which I believe provides a significant insight into why the church is so uninvolved in this crisis. This problem within the church is a result of the same problem causing much of this crisis outside the church. Our churches are filled with members who are spectators rather than participants. We have failed to teach the most basic truth for a follower of Christ, that it is not left for the super saints to take up their crosses. It is in fact, the most fundamental mark of a true believer. The consequence is cultural Christianity. As Christians, we have accepted a “religions affiliation” Christianity rather than a disciple view of our faith. As individuals, we attend church and have our moral stances but we are not living transformed, surrendered lives.

Now consider the progression with me. Our relationships are only as healthy as the individuals making up the relationships. Thus, the result of this discipleship deficit is that our churches are filled with spiritually infant believers who are living in spiritually infant relationships. I do not say this critically of church members but of church leaders. Our lack of diligence over the decades in discipleship has been to the detriment of the family. The result is marriage and family relationships functioning for the earthly rather than eternal. Unless we have such Christ centered view of life and relationships, we will not have the heart to sacrifice and serve for the sake of others. We will continue to enjoy the benefit of Christ’s sacrifice and service for us, but we will not strive to share it with others.  We will not desire to steward our time and our family for the sake of the gospel. We will resent our spouse for serving others, we will place our own kids above the needs of other children, we will see our time and our family as ours to control and keep our own.

The reality is that many marriages and families making up our churches are in their own forms of crisis. They are unhealthy and hurting. They function without margin. They are not Christ centered. Thus, they are not Christ proclaiming. They look more like the worlds definition than God’s. They are their own idols. Which has resulted not only in families falling apart but in families failing to function with God’s vision. Marriage and family are God designed kingdom partnerships with kingdom purpose. The church must capture a high and holy view of marriage. A better, eternal view of marriage. Where churches are filled with homes of kingdom partnerships, spouses and children teaming together for the glory of Christ. The condition of our families within our churches directly impacts the condition of families within our communities. When our own marriages and families are falling apart within our churches, we are not present to help the failing families within our communities. Until Christian families view themselves with such God designed significance, there will be no desire or room for such sacrifice and service-inside or outside the church. They will continue to function at full capacity, with no room to serve. They will continue to function self, spouse or child centered rather than Christ centered. They will continue to idolize itself above its God given mission. Here is what I can tell you. Family only works when it works the way God designed. Even our best intentions to build strong marriages fail, because they focus on the individuals rather than teaching the individuals to focus on Christ. Therefore, until the individuals making up the homes in our churches are being transformed into the likeness of Christ, the families in our churches will continue to fail.

All the while, our communities are filled with children who live with the consequences due to the brokenness of their parents. Parents who needed the church to be lighthouses but were not, so they’ve turned to addictions. Parents who are so poverty entrenched that they needed the church to help them find a their way out, but we didn’t, so their children are neglected. As a result, our communities are producing traumatized children who will statistically grow up to repeat the cycle, become homeless or end up in prison. And the church was not there to prevent nor to stand in the gap. Because those within the church were too consumed with their own lives and broken relationships. It is a cycle that must be broken or the moral, crime, poverty and drug crisis of our culture will only continue to escalate. Individual Christians must come to a place of healing and wholeness in Christ, in order for their marriages to be whole and healthy, in order for their families to be whole and healthy, in order for churches to be whole and healthy, in order for churches to impact the broken families within its community.

The goal of Christian family is not good Christian homes. It is gospel centered homes. If we want to see our own children loving the gospel, they must see us living the gospel.

 

Christian Family, Follower of Christ, Foster Family, Foster Life

You Are the Answer

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My heart is a big mix of emotions. My office today is our empty foster room. I’m not sure why I did this to myself except that I felt God leading me to lean into the ache of my heart. Not just for missing our girl. When you love a child for 16 months through their most significant seasons of development, it is such loss. And unfortunately, psychology is my education so my mind tells my heart that she will have abandonment issues. And my heart cannot bear that burden. I must give her to Jesus again and again. Because if anyone knows that Jesus gives children much grace for the failures of parents, I do. He heals. Because He healed me. So I know there is hope for our girl. Because just like I had family stand in my gap, so does she. And my parents know that none of my words are in bitterness, but with the greatest gratitude for the work of Christ in both my life and theirs. It is my own story that has led me to stand in the gap. It is the circumstances of my childhood that fills my heart with compassion for these children.

My hurt is not only for her. And perhaps somehow for the childhood I did not have, which comes in unexpected waves of grief. But for every child who walks this same road. Who does not have what God knows they need. And for the selfish neglect of His church to stand in the gap. We cannot claim His name if we do not carry His heart. We have loved our own comfort and convenience more than Christ. And these kids have paid the price for our self-consumed lives. This is not His fault, it is ours. We cannot ask Him why these things happen to these kids. Here’s the thing. They have lost parents because we have not been in our communities leading them to Christ. And we have not come to their rescue to love them as Christ when their parents cannot.

There are so many myths about foster care. We cannot arrogantly look down on bio parents for their addictions and choices when we have not been there to help them out of their pit and walked with them towards Jesus. It is a myth that they can just get it together. We cannot assume that entering foster care is the trauma because for these kids, being in the neglectful, abusive home is the start of their trauma. At the same time, we also cannot assume that entering the home of a stranger, even though it may be better or safer, is not equally terrifying. It is it’s own trauma. It is an unfair and uneducated myth that these are bad kids. No, they come from bad circumstances that have resulted in bad consequences and resulting behaviors, through no fault of their own. And the most damaging myth is that kids are resilient. Because it lets us off the hook. They have the potential to be resilient, but resiliency requires relationship. I could nerd out on verbiage like ACE’s and the lasting adverse impact these children face. I will refrain. Here is what you need to know. Through safe, stable loving relationships, these children can have hope-filled futures. Your role re-wires their minds and brings healing to their hearts.  We want to see things black and white, but when it comes to the mess of sin, it is not. It is both and. It is trauma to stay in the chaos and it is trauma to leave the chaos. It is all trauma because it is all not God’s good and perfect design. These myths must stop being our excuses to excuse God’s expectation of us to enter their chaos. God does have an answer to this mess and it is us.

This is love, that we lay down our lives. We do not love Christ because we have not loved the least. We have kept these kids from coming to Christ because we have not been His hands and feet of safety and protection. We have not opened the doors of our homes. And He says it would be better for us to tie a millstone around our necks and drown in the sea. You see, we want to blame the parents. When we are the ones with Christ. Thus, our silence is the more sinful. Because we know what He has commanded. But we have settled for a self-righteous religion, foolishly believing that if we live our upstanding moral lives, then we are living obediently to our Savior. It doesn’t take much reading in the New Testament to learn that Jesus condemned such pride.

Church, we must repent of our sin. We will answer to Him. These kids are paying the price for our pride, this love of ourselves. We are our own idols. May I have the liberty to say, our own kids are our own idols. As if they have more value because they were born to us “good” people. Have we forgotten the gospel we claim to believe? That we were once just as lost and dead and wretched? The love of Christ leads to sacrifice, submission and surrender. Anything less is a false illusion and sin.

Start somewhere. First in your own heart. There is no productivity in comparison and pointing and blaming. If we each take personal responsibility in our sin of neglect, true change will begin to take place. Ask God where you have been selfish, ask Him to turn your heart towards Him, ask Him how He has called you to step out in obedience to serve these kids. Ask God to reframe your perception of fostering, from burdensome to beautiful. Yes it is certainly hard because these kids are from hard places, but you are seriously doing brain work! Then take the step of asking questions to those of us in the trenches, begin having conversations and praying with other believers about how you can join together and actually BE Christ. Then just do something. This isn’t just “my thing.” This is Jesus’ heart so it must be all of ours.

And let me end with some grace. I realize that much of our disobedience is simply due to a lack of awareness. That was us for years. But once we become aware, we are responsible. My heart is that all of us as Christ followers are without excuse. Further, our lack of willingness may also be due to lack of support. That is my second goal, that by bringing awareness, an army of support is forged. Lastly, know that God knows what you can and cannot do. There are seasons and how you are called now may look different than in another season. May I lovingly say, though, that obedience always requires sacrifice. And there is never a convenient time to sacrifice. So examine your heart to make sure you’re not confining your calling to what you think you “can” do. Christ followers have the singular calling to lay down our lives. As with us, God is currently moving our foster advocacy in a new direction that will actually allow us to better serve these kids in a greater capacity and is a better fit for this season of our family. He will ask you to step out in obedience in the way that YOU can best serve these kids, with your gifting and circumstances and even your own story. But it will all push you out of your comforts and convenience and require great sacrifice.

Christian Family, Easter, family, Follower of Christ, Holidays, Ministry

Easter Week Family Easter Basket

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When our children were younger, I began doing an Easter Week Easter Story Basket to  to help them better understand the events and meaning of this holiday that is the culmination of our faith. Nothing fancy, I just gathered objects from around the house to use for our basket and wrote out devotions for each day. It has been my intention for a couple of years now to get our Family Easter Week Devotion into a format to share. I finally made myself get it done this week! I made baskets with each object and a copy of the devotions for each family with children in our church.

My hope is that this tool helps your family more meaningfully experience Easter and gain a deeper gratitude for the sacrifice of Christ.

Here is the link to the download. Enjoy! Also, I finished this up with my two year old foster toddler in my lap, so if there are typos, please forgive! I am usually grammar police but I had to just be good with getting it done!

family easter basket devotions

Follower of Christ, Foster Life

I’m Not Wired for This

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Here’s the thing. I’m not a sit down and play kind of mom. Read books? Yes, every night. Teach my kids how to do chores and responsibilities. That’s my jam. Play? I’ve never been that mom. Ever. A few minutes is about all I can do. My 3 bio’s were so close together in age that they were built-in play mates, so it was never really even noticed that mommy didn’t play much with them. But the reality of parenting a child from trauma is that their greatest need is constant closeness, attention and affection. And for me, that is absolutely draining. Big kids, WHERE ARE YOU??? I NEED YOU TO PLAY WITH HER!!! Here’s the other thing. I also prefer being alone. Seriously. My people know, stay out of my kitchen if I’m in there. If I’m getting ready in my bathroom, please for the love do not get in my space. Being around people for any length of time sucks the life out of me. Loud and crowd sends my senses spiraling. All I know is, my wiring is weird. I own it and embrace it. But it’s not necessarily a fit for being a foster mom. This past two years of fostering has forced me to do things out of my normal. It’s forced me to do things out of what fits my personality. And it’s fostered a deeper understanding of myself.

It’s taught me that the purpose of knowing how we are wired is not so much to narrowly define the space in which we are willing to operate. Because if what we do and how we do it is only within the limits of how we feel comfortable and what comes natural to us, then we’ve not really given God much room to use us in ways where only He can be glorified. I’ve always thought that understanding my personality was simply to guide me into the kind of career and activities and relationships that fit me. The thinking that obviously, God made me with this wiring so only these certain things and areas are mine to live. What these last two years of doing what’s so far outside of myself has taught me is that when God shoves me outside of the safe lines of my personality, it is the understanding of myself that informs me of how I will struggle and how I will be strong. It is self-awareness that informs me of what my self-care must be. Let me give you an example. My enneagram 5 self screams at me saying, MAKE THIS STOP. You see, parenting trauma is exhausting. And my personality type has very low emotional tolerance. It’s like the difference of an ocean and a dry river bank. Don’t you dare touch the few drops of water available to me. The greatest fear of my wiring is being depleted- you asking too much of me. So everything in me says, this child is asking too much of me. However, instead of me saying no to being her middle mom, I acknowledge the limits of myself. I realize what I have to do to self-care and must keenly be self-aware. I admit when I have simply met the max of what I can give and ask for help. What she needs and who I am simply do not match. But God has no yet released me from middle mothering her. So instead of saying, “oh this can’t be my calling,” I continue to say yes by leaning into Christ to be sufficient for me. I trust him to be my source because even though my well of emotional capacity is shallow, his is bottomless.

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We’ve misunderstood the purpose of all the personality things. Yes, I certainly believe it is wise, for example, to see that if we are introverted that an extroverted career may not be our best decision. But we cannot put such narrow limits on what God asks of us. We’ve actually used our wiring as boundary lines of how and where we are willing to serve God. But what about Moses? A man with a speech impediment called to speak before pharaoh. Gideon, the most unqualified match, called to be a mighty warrior.  God is going to ask you and me to do things that are entirely against who we are because He wants us to experience more deeply who He is. And He wants to use us in ways that can only He can receive the glory. So rather than placing limits on my obedience, as I am obedient, I begin acknowledging my personal, unique limits within the yes. Instead of placing restrictions on my obedience, I realize how my unique wiring will respond within the yes, how I will have to refuel and how I will have to rely on others. Rather than limiting our availability to God based on our ability, we are informed about ourselves for the purpose of knowing how we will need Christ to strengthen and sustain us as we do this thing that we literally do not have the capacity to do. “I could never do that” is almost like a dare with God. “Oh really? Let me show you just what I can do in and through you.” Saying yes to the things outside of ourselves is how we experience his limitlessness in our limitedness. It is how we experience his sufficiency in our insufficiency. It is how we learn to live dependent upon the depths of who he is rather than the boundaries of who we are.

And so last night, we bonded over baking. Because it’s more tolerable to me than playing. It’s like the balance, or maybe compromise, of my capacity and her need to be close and connected. And when we are done, I have to go be BY MYSELF for a few minutes to decompress. But for 30 minutes we measure and stir and pour and laugh and lick the spoon. Because what she needs matters more than me staying within my lines and limits.

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Foster Life

Saying Yes to Grief & Grace

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Isn’t it crazy, there are times God actually expects you to believe what you say you believe? That He is always all good and sovereign and working all things for His good, eternal purpose?  But my heart doesn’t want to trust that right now. I would rather just keep control.

Today was the one year court date for our foster daughter that we’ve had nearly 8 months. She will be going home soon. Too soon. And my heart has never felt such pain and such peace. Right now, I do not feel brave. Right now my faith is small. Right now my heart is scared and I would rather know that I am the one keeping her safe rather than trusting that God will.

And yet, as I sit here in her room, alone and sobbing, I am reminded once again that He loved her first. And her Father is clearly telling me to wrap her mom, yes her mom, because I am only the temporary mom. The mom who saw her first steps and was up for months of sleepless nights with cutting teeth and sickness and terrors and the mom who heard her first words and watched her become a toddler. I am the mom who now must wrap her mom with the grace my Father has given me and the support she needs to succeed. Not knowing if she’s actually ready for this. Because our daughter, her daughter, needs her mom to make it, to do this, to be mom.

Giving grace means deep grief for my heart. Grief knowing that overnight, our temporary daughter will not know what happened to her temporary family. The family she has known as mommy and daddy and “babbi” and “li” and “bubba” (translation: Abbi, Eli, Evan) for nearly half her little life. We will be out of her life and her gone from ours and she is too young to understand why. And the psychology education in me knows that her mind will experience even more trauma as a result and the mom heart in me does not know how I will survive this.

Right now, I hate foster care. This system is so broken. Parents are so broken. Leaving these kids so broken. And my heart broken. Right now, I do not know how to trust that God is in control of this mess. But I must trust Him to be in control of my heart. And I must trust that He did hear and answer our cries that He would do what is best for our temporary daughter. And I must lay down my pride of trusting myself that I am what is best for her. And trust that just maybe, not only was His purpose for us to be temporary family in her story, but to be part of her mom’s eternal story.

To be honest, I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to feel this brokenness or go through this insanity, anymore. What God is whispering to me, though, is that I did not say yes to this child for my sake or even for her sake but ultimately for His sake. I say yes to the joy and the grief and the pain, because of His purpose. I say yes to this messy broken process because of His greater story. I don’t do it confidently, more like completely weak and wavering. I can’t even say that I do it willingly, more like kicking and screaming. None of us are cut out for this chaos. None of us are strong enough for this stress and sorrow. And our family will have to take a season to grieve and to rest. Because I will not lie, this has been hard, she has been hard. But there is no one good at this or equipped for this, we all only have the ability to do this by Him and for Him and through Him. So all of us can say yes to this, somehow, someway. Because His grace is sufficient even when we are not. And today, I ask you to say yes to this crazy by simply praying for our hurting, tired hearts and the future of our precious temporary daughter.

“He is before all things and by Him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:17

family

Tips for a Family Vacation to DC

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This was a milestone year for our family. Our oldest turned 16 and our youngest turned 13. My husband graduated from seminary with his Masters of Divinity. And it all hit me how quickly time is passing. Y’all. Two more years and my firstborn leaves the nest. While I have raised my kids to leave and I am typically not a sappy mom, 16 has made me want to soak in all the time I can while my crew is all still at home. To celebrate Tim’s graduation and to have a memorable family trip, we agreed that D.C. was the trip to take. We all love history (well, not my daughter so much but she’s a foodie so she’s always up for travel!) and wanted to go somewhere we had never been before.

For months, I researched and planned and talked to everyone I know who has ever been or who has lived there. In fact, I had to preach to myself before we left to take a breath and chill, because things would not go perfectly even though I had planned diligently. Thankfully, the planning allowed us to pull off a wonderful week together. Some things we wish we would have done a little differently but the trip overall was exceptional and we plan to return to do all the things we could not fit in this time.

Now that we are home and have had a few days to recuperate from our trip (hello, vacation from vacation!), I wanted to share some of our tips and suggestions. This is a trip that every family should take at some point and I hope to make it a little easier for you!

OUR WEEK IN DC
Sunday
Drove to Bristol, TN/VA for the night
Monday
Finished last of drive; Mount Vernon; Arlington National Cematary
Tuesday
Monuments and National Mall; Lunch at Union Station; Smithsonian National Zoo; Supper in Old Town Alexandria
Wednesday
July 4th Parade; Smithsonian National Museum of American History & National Museum of Natural History; National Archives; Supper & DC Fireworks – Crystal City
Thursday
US Capitol Tour; Library of Congress; Stop by Supreme Court Building on way to lunch at Union Station; International Spy Museum; Supper in Chinatown; DC Night Tour
Friday
Museum of the Bible; Lunch at L’Enfant Plaza; Holocaust Museum; National Air & Space Museum; supper at The Wharf
Saturday
Did a little sight seeing in Old Town Alexandria, ate a good lunch then drove to Knoxville

HOW I PLANNED OUR WEEK
1. Choose our Vacation Week
Growing up in small town rural Arkansas where July 4th was the event of the year, it has always been a dream of mine to experience July 4 in our Nation’s Capitol. When we settled on D.C. for our vacation, I still had a hard time deciding to go on July 4 because it is the hottest and busiest time to visit. We decided to tough out the heat and crowds to experience D.C. on Independence Day and I am so glad we made that decision. With that said, I would not recommend going over July 4 if you aren’t just dying for the experience. We would not change going over the holiday, but when we do go back we will pick a different time of year so that we can see the city without all the extra vendors, etc setup for the festivities. The National Mall isn’t nearly quite as pretty when it’s lined with stages and vendors!

We decided to drive rather than fly, because budget! With 5 of us, the expense of flying would have cut into our fun and food money significantly. We decided we would rather drive and be able to do all we wanted to do while there. Figuring the hotel nights, gas and food for driving was still over half less than the cheapest flights I could find. We live 15 hours away from D.C. We split our drive up each way. Going, we drove the first 10 hours to Bristol, then got up early the second day of driving so that we could get to the City by lunch and start our sightseeing. On the drive back, we stayed exactly half way at Knoxville. The drive from where we live is beautiful and well worth the money saved so we were completely happy with this decision. Teenagers sleep and watch movies and eat so they made it fine!

TIP: To keep the teens happy, because there’s just something about getting to get junk food from the gas station, I got $5’s in cash and gave them each $5 when it was time for a rest stop.

TIP: Our total time in DC was just the right amount. We didn’t cram too much in or stay too long. We were exhausted so I don’t think we could have done another full day. We could have probably fit more in, but we were able to enjoy the museums and sights without being overly time crunched.

2. Choose Hotel Location
You will get a variety of opinions on this decision. Many travel blogs I read said to, without question, stay near the Mall for the 4th. And I completely understand why! It’s so crowded that it would be a nightmare otherwise. However, people we talked with who had been before or have lived there suggested staying in Crystal City or Alexandria. I decided to just start searching for hotels and see what I could find for all three options. It is obviously more expensive to stay in city, but more convenient. In order to make our budget work, we chose Embassy Suites in Old Town Alexandria for a couple of reasons. The first being that we have 3 teenagers so the rooms at Embassy are much more comfortable. Secondly, it was significantly less expensive, fitting our budget much better, allowing us to enjoy all the meals and activities we wanted to do. Thirdly, Embassy Alexandria is directly across the street from the Metro stop in Old Town Alexandria. After a long day of sight-seeing, we were so glad we could step off the Metro and right into our hotel without having to walk several blocks.

On July 4, we watched the fireworks from Crystal City so we were able to see what hotel options would have been there. I will say that as far as eating, Crystal City might be a better option. Although I am not sure how close hotels are to the Crystal City Metro Stop. There is a very nice, safe, extensive underground shopping and dining plaza with lots of great dining options. We ate at We The Pizza before heading to the fireworks! We will pick Alexandria to stay again, but weigh your priorities when deciding.

TIP: Read the fine print for daily parking charge. We drove rather than fly so we had our vehicle parked all week. In the city you will pay anywhere from $60-$80 a day or more for parking at your hotel. Our hotel charged half that which was even further savings.

TIP: The Metro and Circulator are the absolute way to go in DC. They are safe and it’s basically impossible to get around otherwise. If you stay outside the city, I would buy the week pass, you’ll use it and save a ton! To use the Metro and circulator, buy a metro card, fill it with money at the kiosk (at every station stop) and swipe! It’s the same card for Metro & circulator. Metro is $3 per ride and circulator $1.

TIP: We were completely happy with our hotel and the location. We will choose the same one when we return. We are actually very glad with our decision to stay out of the city away from the crowds. Alexandria is a beautiful historic town, very safe and the Metro stop being right outside the door is was a life saver after long days. Embassy breakfast is much better than standard hotel breakfast and the extra space is so nice. We booked through hotels.com for a very reasonable price. I shopped hotels.com for several weeks until it hit the price I wanted (I am a rewards member so I receive secret prices and earn free nights which ended up giving my husband and me a free anniversary getaway!).

3. Determined our Activities

As you begin to research D.C., it becomes overwhelming as there are so many sights to see. In fact, it is absolutely impossible to do it all in even a few weeks. So just settle in your mind up front that you will not be able to do it all. How I decided to narrow down our activities was to have each one in my crew choose their top 3 musts. Many of ours overlapped, which was helpful and everyone mostly chose the obvious things so it was easy to begin the planning. The only curve ball was our daughter who only gave us one  must which was the Smithsonian Zoo. I’ll share more about that soon! This worked out really well because everyone got a say in the planning and we had no complaining!

4. Planned our Activities
Once I had everyone’s lists of musts, I began to use Google Maps to determine the locations for everything then plotted our days based on what all was within close proximity. This worked well for the most part and we loved every single one of our days. Except Zoo day. I don’t want to talk about Zoo day yet so that will come later!

If you are not an OCD planner like me, let me kindly suggest that you cannot just show up and do D.C. without some kind of plan. You will end up wasting so much of your time. I didn’t want to be too rigid and overly scheduled, but we had a general, flexible plan for each day so that we were able to get in everything.

TIP: If I had to do it again, I would also study the Circulator Map to plot what we visited on the same day rather than plan only based on location. The circulator has a website, I highly recommend researching that!

TIP: When choosing which Smithsonian’s to visit, my suggestion is to visit the ones that most interest your crew. Most everything I read said that Natural History is a must, but we really could have skipped that one, just depends of if dinosaurs etc are your thing! We wish we would have done African American History instead.

TIP: There are security lines to everything, obviously. You are allowed to carry in bottled water, which I suggest carrying because DC is HOT. We each carried a refillable bottle each day. Because bags have to be checked, I was the only one who took a bag and everyone just put their stuff in my bag so that only one of us had a bag checked. I carried a cross body bag which worked out great. Make sure you allow 30 minutes or so in your schedule for security at each sight.

TIP: Do the Night Bus Tour. It is so worth the cost. Every tour bus company picks up at Union Station so that’s a good supper stop!

5. Scheduled our Tours
This can be a little tricky, because you have to put requests for tours in  14-90 days in advance, but you don’t find out until closer to time for the Capitol and White House tour when your times will be. We did not get a White House Tour. I ended up having to switch some things around because of waiting to hear back about tours, so my plan didn’t fit together as nicely as I would have liked. I could have waited to plan out our days but waiting until last minute would have been too stressful for me. In addition, the Holocaust, Spy Museum would have most likely been booked up if I had waited any longer. So you really have to plan in advance then adjust if needed once you are given your Capitol and White House tour times. And we had a fiasco the week before we left with DHS and our foster little so I was relieved that I also trying to plan out our week last minute!

TIP: If touring the Capitol is on your list (and it should be!), contact your Congressman. You can do public visitor tours, but when you go through your Congressman’s office, you get a much better experience! Not to mention, you don’t have to wait in the lines. Plus, when Speaker Ryan is out, he opens us his private balcony (which is the best view of the city you’ll see!) to the private tours!

What sights you will have to book for tours:
>Pentagon (we waited too late and the week was full so this is on our list for when we return)
>Capitol
>*Night Tour (we were told this is a must and I would agree, one of our favorite parts of the week!)
>Holocaust Museum (in the summer you just have to reserve a time)
>White House (conflicting opinions on whether or not you can actually get a tour at this time)
>*Spy Museum

*purchase tickets

TIP: If you plan to do more than a couple of paid sights, I would recommend looking into a DC Go Card We wanted to do 3 paid sights: Mt. Vernon, Spy Museum and Night Tour. All 3 were offered with the Go Card which saved us almost $200. It all depends on which attractions you choose as to whether or not you’ll see much savings.

6. Research Dining for Each Day
Some of our friends went to DC just a few weeks before us and the one thing they said negatively is that it’s hard to find food. And food is of most importance, especially to my daughter and me! There are actually several locations to eat, but you have to know about them. There are great food trucks around the city. There are several federal buildings with cafeteria’s. There are some Smithsonian’s with cafeteria’s. Our go to lunch place was Union Station because it’s a convenient circulator stop and has a good food court and a Shake Shack. Don’t waste your money at the hot dog and snack carts around the mall. Several federal buildings have cafeteria’s are within a close walking distance. 

TIP: If you love seafood, do The Wharf. It’s brand new so not many tourists know about it yet. It’s a close walk from the Holocaust Museum which was conveniently our last day. So we ended out trip with an amazing sunset seafood supper overlooking the Potomac. It was perfect. We ordered fresh seafood from one of the open air markets, they cook it to order then sat at one of the picnic tables down by the pier.

TIP: DC dining is just expensive. You save on so many sights, so just plan for food to take the bulk of your budget. We didn’t get to experience as many food places as we had hoped because our time was taken up getting to places so we had to eat convenient (aka, food courts). Thankfully, we were still able to have a few fantastic meals!

Cafeteria’s & Food Courts:
Union Station Food Court
Reagan International Trade Center
L’EnFant Plaza Food Court
American History Museum
Library of Congress
Old Post Office Pavillion

Our Favorite Dining:
Shake Shack for quick
We the Pizza in Crystal Bridges Plaza
Open Air Seafood Market at The Wharf
Hard Times Cafe in Alexandria
Carmine’s Italian (family style) Chinatown

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WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY 
1. Getting to the Zoo was a bust, we were all cranky and hot and tired by the time we got there, then we got drenched in a downpour and hardly any animals were out due to the heat/humidity. Needless to say, we were all frustrated with Abbi for making us waste an afternoon at the Zoo! But she loved it and it was the only place she asked to see so it is what it is. If the zoo is on your priority list, and for us we wish we have had the time spent there somewhere else, there are a few things to keep in mind. The closest circulator and metro stop is almost a mile away, uphill. We spent more time getting there than actually there. Also, the habitat is the most amazing we’ve seen and we’ve been to some incredible zoos. However, we were not impressed with the animal selection. Our favorite zoo animals are the arctic animals and they do not have any. For us, the zoo was a letdown. We would have rather had that afternoon for either the Pentagon or the National Museum of African American History and the Bureau of Engraving. We had planned to walk Embassy Row and metro to Georgetown after the Zoo but we were too exhausted from the heat and all the walking so we ended up going back to see a few more monuments then heading to Alexandria for supper.

2. Study the circulator maps better! We figured out the circulator the hard way, unfortunately. The map can be a little tricky to read, so make sure you get on when it’s headed the direction you’re wanting to go. For example, on the Red Route around the Mall, make sure it’s coming not going or you will end up at Union Station rather than the monuments. There are numbers at the stops, so what we figured out very quickly is to pay attention to where on the route the bus is stopping next!

Along with this, I wish we would have rode the circulator around the entire Mall first, before beginning our sight-seeing of the monuments. We had varying advice on the circulator, some saying it was too crowded to use and others saying it’s wonderful. We actually only had one ride where it was crowded, so we wished we had utilized it more on our monument day.

TIP: Once you swipe your card, you can get on and off the circulator for the next two hours for free. Also, the circulator route around the Mall is the exact same route as the bus tours you would pay for. $1 a swipe per person is much cheaper than the $40+ for a tour unless you are just wanting the narrating!

3. Possibly doing our first day a little differently. I did not want to have to figure out the Metro upon arriving Monday, so I planned that day based on not going into the city. Which is why Mt. Vernon and Arlington were our day 1. Now that we know the Metro is so simple, we could have gone into the city on the first day and done the night tour to get our barrings with the city. Many people we met did the night tour on their first night which is a good idea! I don’t know that I would necessarily change the day, but that could be another option in your plan. A good full day would be to do Arlington, Pentagon and Mt. Vernon. Their Metro stops are all right together, Crystal City is in between and has lots of food options and all are around Alexandria.

FAVORITES AND MUSTS
1. Arlington National Cemetery & the Changing of the Guards
The changing of the guards and the Kennedy tomb are absolute musts. Arlington was a very touching patriotic experience.
2. Night Bus Tour
The night tours on on open air buses and the narration is exceptional! Seeing the city lit up at night is beautiful!
3. Monuments: Washington, Lincoln, Vietnam, WWII, Korean, Jefferson, FDR, MLK
It was incredible seeing all of the monuments. We will go to all of them again when we return!
4. Capitol Tour with Congressman’s Office
We went through French Hill’s office and they gave us an incredible tour. We learned so many interesting things about the Capitol, this is a must!
5. Library of Congress
The most beautiful architecture you will find. This is an overlooked stop but an absolute must. We were blown away by this beautiful building. (It’s actually 3 buildings but we only went to the main one. Which you can walk to by tunnel from the Capitol so plan those two stops on the same day!)
6. National Archives
Seeing our Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights on our nation’s birthday was such an incredible experience.
7. Holocaust Museum
I almost couldn’t take in the Holocaust. There is so much information and it is hard to take it in, deeply emotional. If you have younger kids, prepare them. 
8. Museum of the Bible
Such a well designed, first class museum. We could have spent an entire day here, but we only had two hours.
9. Mount Vernon
You really have to go if at all possible! This is the estate of George Washington and it has been impressively maintained.
10. Air & Space Smithsonian
We actually wish we had given ourselves more time here and skipped Natural History. 
11. American History Smithsonian
There are some parts that we skipped, but just seeing the actual Star Spangled Banner is worth the visit to this museum.
12. Supper on The Wharf
This was our favorite meal! So much fun and such a great way to end our week in DC!

If we had done Pentagon, that would most likely been on our favorites list, as well! We are still bummed about not seeing the Pentagon. The architecture of the city is incredible, enjoy taking it all in!

Ok, so basically we LOVED everything we did, except the zoo! Here’s what will want to do when we go again:
1. Pentagon Tour
2. Bike Embassy Row
3. Museum of African American History
4. Ford’s Theater
*it is actually only a block from Spy Museum so do Ford’s the day you do Spy Museum; we planned on seeing Ford’s, but stayed in Spy too long. Ford’s closes at 4 so we missed it!
5. National Cathedral
6. Bureau of Engraving
7. Georgetown

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If you do plan to visit on July 4, here are a few suggestions!
1. Don’t get to the parade early! We took a chance and didn’t arrive until 11am, the parade starts at 11:45. We found a great spot under the shade! People say to get there at 7am but we opted for some sleep!

2. The parade is almost two hours. Don’t watch the whole thing and use some of that time to get into the Smithsonian’s. The security lines can be a long wait. We picked our parade spot right by the American History Museum, so we only watched an hour of the parade then went to the American History Museum. There was no line wait and we ate lunch in the cafeteria. I will say, yes it is overpriced cafeteria food, however the convenience with Constitution Avenue being closed off for the parade until 2pm was worth it. We ate then toured the Museum and also made a quick stop in the Natural History Museum before the parade was out.

3. Everyone wants to see the National Archives on July 4th, but what we didn’t know is that you can reserve a time rather than stand in line out in the heat for an hour! You will still have to wait once you get in, but it at least saves you some waiting time. But I highly recommend

4. We did not want to fight the insane July 4 fireworks crowd and many of the metro stops are shut down on July 4. I researched other viewing locations prior to arriving, then talked to locals when we arrived in DC. Since we stayed across the river, we opted to ride back across to Crystal City where we ate supper and watched from a neighborhood park, based on local recommendations. I think we could have figured out getting a little closer but we had great views and tons of fun. And it was only two more metro stops to our hotel.

If you would like more details about any part of our trip, please feel free to email me your questions!

 

Follower of Christ

Social Media Wisdom for Christians

*This post was originally published in 2015 on my former blog. I personally needed the reminder.

Our social media culture has brought on an entirely new set of struggles and strife for Christians. Sadly, we look worse than the world most of the time, simply because of our social media interactions and reactions. We argue and fight with each other more than those who don’t know Christ. No wonder the world has no interest in our message. If Jesus has made no difference in how we live our lives then why would they have any need of Him? Follower of Christ, you can stand staunchly and even prove yourself right, but I’m afraid that looks far more like the Pharisees than Christ. When Jesus said to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, He meant social media too. We do not have the freedom to abandon our Christ-likeness on social media. The fruit of His spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self control. When we get into social media soapboxes and rants and raves, we are loving ourselves more than Christ. And nothing about us is displaying His Spirit. I believe we have an incredible opportunity as Christians to display Christ to the world like never before through social media. But we are wasting it. Because we care more about being heard than proclaiming Christ. We act like victims and look for every way possible to get offended. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” No wonder they don’t know.  

God’s Word gives us wisdom, even for social media. Over the past few years, God has used the following verses to teach, convict and correct me when it comes to social media. I share out of love, not out of condemnation.

As much as it is up to me, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18)

Please. Stop fighting and arguing. If you take notice of Paul’s example, he was a master at engaging conversation and even speaking the truth without picking a fight. Facebook is no place to argue positions or to set each other straight. We spend so much time fighting each other. Do you realize that the lost can read your fight? And posting statuses? If you’re fighting with a friend, let’s just please stop the passive aggressive posting and learn some healthy conflict resolution skills. Further, if the world does something you don’t like, say make a red cup or pass a law, just pause before posting. Paul responded the way he did to those who opposed him because he was guided by the Holy Spirit. We would be wise to just pause and pray first. Ask God, would this be wise? Will this help or hurt the name of Christ? Do you realize that you have people who follow you whose only frame of reference of Christians is what you post. Their eternity matters so much more than my voice being heard. As for our brothers and sisters in Christ, we don’t have to fix them. If he or she posts something stupid let’s just stop trying to diffuse their stupid by creating our own. Pray for him or her. Out of love not self-righteousness.  Trust me, I know. It makes me cringe too when a Christian posts something that is just off the wall or mean. Or different than my opinion. I want to scream too. And I want to fix it because I don’t want those who don’t know Christ to think that is how all of us are. In reality though, if I do try to fix it, I honestly just make it worse. Maybe they don’t realize how it comes across. Maybe they had a moment of poor judgement. Maybe they have a perspective I need to consider. And yes they may be wrong. However. Let your life speak for itself. You are held accountable for you not them. God may lead you to graciously and lovingly send them a private message or have a face to face conversation to address it. And He may not. But public forum is not our place to resolve conflict with one another. In reality, it won’t fix the problem but create a bigger one. And others are watching. We are a witness to others of the love of Christ simply by how we interact with each other on media outlets.

Turn the other cheek. (Matthew 5:39)

Can I just say that if Jesus didn’t reply when falsely accused and walked to the cross, then I can keep my mouth shut. I can speak truth but do it in love. I can love my social media neighbor as myself. I do not have to get the last word. You do not have to prove your point. The way of Christ is to love others more than ourselves. That’s the truth of the gospel. While we were still sinners Christ died for us. Because He loved us more than himself. He chose death so that we could have life. Somehow we’ve abandoned that when it comes to social media. We love ourselves so much more. We would rather make our point than pray for the other person. We would rather be heard than to hear the other person. We look on “them” with contempt rather than compassion. We want to be right rather than to know they are right with God. We love ourselves more than we love our neighbors on social media. I’m not talking about wavering from the truth of God’s word. But nothing about our approach is like Christ. He saw people as sheep without a shepherd. Their posts and opinions show something deeper into their soul. If we would take our eyes off of ourselves and our hands off the keyboard, we might just see them as Christ does and be moved with compassion. God never separates truth and love. Why do we?

Whatever is true….think on these things. (Philippians 4:8)

Ladies, this is for us. Stop getting jealous. When you see “her” post that appears as though her life is perfect, think about what is true. Your life isn’t worse than hers. (Yes, that is a generality. I know there are always exceptions.) You don’t need to get franctic and try to fix your life to make it look like hers. Your husband may not have bought you that awesome thing that hers did for her, you may not have gone on her awesome vacation and you may not have made those adorable Pinterest gifts. Breath. It’s just ok. Does your husband faithfully provide for you? Does he show his love in the quiet mundane of life? Think about the truth and loveliness of that. When we dwell on “these things” it keeps our minds from places they don’t need to go. There was a time when I would post all of these family projects we would do. If I’m honest, I was probably posting out of insecurity I was dealing with and not even realizing it. I truly thought I was just sharing, not at all intending to brag. However, after a couple of other moms commenting on what a better mom I was than them ( I am so just not a better mom), I stopped with those posts. Because how I make her feel matters more than how I feel. And sweetie, your worth is so much more than the number of likes you get. Think about what is true-you are created and loved by God. That is the only opinion that matters. Stop dwelling on the approval of others. We have allowed social media to gauge the quality and value of our lives. Jesus has already determined that. Further, maybe we should use this verse as our rule of thumb when choosing whether or not to post something: Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell {post} on these things.

Do not think more highly of yourself than you ought. (Romans 12:3)

Do not be wise in your own opinion. (Proverbs 3:7; Isaiah 5:21)

Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus… (Philippians 2:5)

One of  the blessings and curses of social media is that everyone has a right to an opinion.  The problem is that we all think our opinions are right. I think we need to go back to third grade and learn the difference between fact and opinion. As Christians, we need to follow the example of Christ. If He didn’t think more highly of Himself when He had every right, then I absolutely do not have the right to think that everything I think is right. We are so arrogant. We act as if we have it all figured out. We think our thoughts and opinions must be heard. As Christians we have become victims in our mindset. We get so easily offended and call it injustice. Blogs are one of those things that I love and I hate. There can be so much to learn from others. And believe me, I need all the help I can get. What I notice, though, is that blogs have become our source of wisdom and information. We let the blogger do our thinking for us. Even the good ones. Don’t let some blogger be the voice of God in your life. Read it and examine it and pray about it. And if you’re the writer or poster, please remember that there is so much pride in thinking that what I think is right. Can I just pause right here and ask you to internalize that rather than think of “that other Christian” who needs to hear that? Christian, none of us have anything figured out. If we did, He wouldn’t be God. Humility is the greatest sign of maturity in a Christian. So let’s just get over ourselves and how smart and enlightened and spiritual we think we are. Christ took on the form of a servant. Let’s start asking ourselves how social media can be used as a tool to serve God, not ourselves.

Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God. (Colossians 3:17)

Let’s use the incredible opportunity of our time of being connected to the world for the glory of God. God placed us in this time and place for a purpose. He planned for us to live in this social media culture. What satan means for evil God means for good. Paul meant everything. As Christians in the 21st century, it means social media. We cannot rant and rave about how unjustly we are treated and our rights. First, because Christ never did. He says to expect to be hated. So can we just get over that? Secondly, if it’s not displaying Christ then it’s not glorifying Christ. The purpose for our lives is to bring Glory to God. Including social media. Instead of using it for your own personal platform, how about let’s try leveraging it for the glory of our good and gracious God?

Set your minds on things above. (Colossians 3:2)

We get so lost and caught up in life. Does proving your point on a post eternally matter? I do not like the super spiritual guilt driven posts, you know the ones: you better post this or you’re denying God. What about everything else I’m posting? What about my attitude and actions outside of that post? I can post all the “spiritual” posts I want but if the rest of my life and my posts are not matching up then there is a problem. If we do have a mind fixed on eternity, we will post out of love. Not out of anger or debate or proving our point, no matter how right we think we are. We will pause before we post. We will care more about people than positions and posts. We will see their soul not just their stance. There is so much more to life. Most of our social media problems would be resolved if we just lived this way. Eternally minded. One day, I’m going to be gathered around the throne of God most high. I want as many people there with me as possible. Really, that’s just all that matters.

As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are to “stir one another to love and good deeds” not strife and conflict and contempt. Let us begin to use social media to encourage one another, to bring unity in our diversity of thought and most importantly to make much of our Savior.