A Year of gifts
SOMETIMES THE ROADBLOCKS, SETBACKS, AND HEARTBREAKS OF LIFE TURN OUT TO BE THE GREATEST GIFTS OF ALL . . .
We almost canceled our family vacation this year.
It was going to be a bigger trip than we usually take, but with one college and three high school graduations to celebrate, we’d decided it would be worth the extra expense (and hassles that come with international travel). The kids are growing up fast, and soon, it may be nearly impossible to schedule a vacation with extended family due to the many work and school schedules.
A month or so before we were scheduled to travel to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, the media was suddenly filled with scary stories of unexplained deaths in that area of the world. Their reports were instilling apprehension and fear. Any time I mentioned our trip to someone, I’d brace for the inevitable comments about the well-publicized situation. It seemed everyone had heard the stories.
Never underestimate the power of the media to alter behavior. Many people have cancelled trips to the Dominican Republic in the past month.
Were we acting irresponsibly, taking six young adults, ages sixteen to twenty-two, to a foreign country where a dangerous mystery seemed to be expanding?
I worried. I lost sleep over it. The other adults in our party did as well. Then we decided to take a closer look at the media reports.
First of all, I don’t in any way want to minimize the tragedy of lives lost. People have died, and my heart goes out to their families and friends.
But we did try to understand whether or not the instances were increasing in number over prior years. Upon further research, that didn’t appear to be the case. Millions of people visit that area every year. Unfortunately, there are some inherent risks associated with traveling, and sometimes underlying health conditions can be exasperated when away from home.
Finally, with only a week before our scheduled departure date, we all decided we’d be extra careful and vigilant, but we weren’t going to cancel. It isn’t often we have the opportunity to experience a trip like this, and we wouldn’t be scared off by the hype.
We left on July 6th, following one last-minute panic when I discovered I’d spelled my daughter’s first name wrong on the travel itinerary (Imagine my panic when I realized this the morning of the 4th but no one was open to help me fix the error because of the holiday! I must have looked at those documents ten times before, but didn’t notice it until right before the trip – and you can’t have misspelled names on international travel documents that don’t match passports!)
I am happy to report the error was fixed before we left, the trip was amazing, and we made memories we’ll never forget. We had absolutely no problems.
This trip serves as a powerful reminder to me that we cannot let fear rule our lives. It would have been a shame to miss out on this opportunity to spend quality time with family. I sometimes forget that life isn’t meant to be lived in a cocoon of only what we know to stay safe from all risks.
First of all, scary things can happen even if we never leave our own communities. And second, it’s a big beautiful world out there, full of amazing people, and we miss out if we don’t go out and explore it sometimes.
Leaving can also make you appreciate home. While the resort and beaches were beautiful, other areas of the island we drove through showed evidence of poverty and lack of sanitation. The days were hot and humid, and many people work outside in those severe conditions, doing back-breaking work. Seeing how other people live, without many of the everyday conveniences we take for granted, makes me appreciate living and working where I do.
Walking along the ocean, feeling the salty breeze on my face, also reminds me of the massive power of those vast bodies of water. I live in the middle of North America and seldom visit oceans. What secrets do they hold? What swims beneath the surface and lives in the depths? In a mere twenty minutes of snorkeling, the variety and sheer numbers of fish swimming beside and below me were astonishing. We can only imagine what else is out there, miles and miles out at sea.
If you have the opportunity to travel 50 miles or 5,000 miles, take it. Find a way to pay for it and make the time to do it. Make memories while you’re able. Capture the beautiful scenery and people in photographs to enjoy for years to come.
We had to order new passports for this trip. This means we have ten more years to fill the pages of these little booklets with stamps, bearing evidence of more fun adventures. I wonder where else we’ll find to roam in the years ahead?
Safe travels to you all, and if you have suggestions for fun destinations we could explore, please add them to the comments! Kim
How can a pile of dirty hoodies, yoga pants and little slips of elastic that now pass as underwear be considered a gift?
I often cringe when a mound of smelly laundry suddenly appears next to the washing machine. It is one of those never-ending tasks where you never seem to catch up. It's easy to settle into a state of resignation, even frustration, over this particular household task that never seems to be done.
But all it takes is a tiny shift in mindset to look at those piles in an entirely new light. I experienced this recently when it dawned on me that we were only a couple of months away from the day when a significant portion of those clothes will be packed into the back of a small black Nissan and driven off to a dorm room. Another portion will be strategically loaded into a red Toyota for a much longer trip, half-way across the country.
As I looked around the messy room, a wave of gratitude washed over me. Those piles of clothes represented so much more than another mundane task. They signify the presence of our greatest blessings – our kids. The clothes themselves mean we were able to provide for them. Some they've purchased themselves because they work now, too. We shouldn't take that ability for granted. We have machines to help wash and dry the clothes, and although the washer shakes like crazy and has been torn apart and repaired multiple times, it still works. We live somewhere with electricity and abundant clean water. We're physically able to climb the stairs to the laundry room and toss a load in.
Suddenly the monotony of the task fades away, replaced by the beauty of the blessings the dirty laundry represents.
When I get home from work at the end of a long day, and the kitchen looks like it did when I left the house ten hours earlier (aka no one has thought to start supper), I can become frustrated. I gaze into the fridge, often without one single idea what to make. Now is when I need to take a deep breath and feel appreciation that the refrigerator isn't bare. There might not be the makings for a full course meal in there, but we won't starve. And finding containers of leftovers from the night before is like finding gold. I remind myself that if the kids grumble over the prospect of reheating last night's dinner for a quick meal now, they'll eventually appreciate the beauty of leftovers, once they're off on their own.
When I start to feel anxious because the house is dusty and cluttered, I need to remind myself that it still provides a roof over our heads, protection from the outside world, and a safe place to sleep at night. Too many people have no place to call home. Shame on me for grumbling over cleaning it up once in a while.
Vehicles can be a money suck: they require gas, new tires once in a while, repairs, and insurance. The gas runs out and needs to be refilled. The cars get dirty and need to be washed. If we aren't careful, we can find ourselves sighing again. But vehicles also provide essential modes of transportation that allow us to get to work, run errands, go out for a fun evening, and travel to see family and friends. Around here, where there is little public transportation, one would be hard-pressed to function well without a vehicle.
I could go on and on, but I know you get my point.
Having loved ones to feed and clothe, food in the cupboards, and a roof over our heads means we are blessed beyond measure.
As a fiction writer, I like to explore the complexity of every day, the gifts we find as we go about living life. The reality is many of these gifts go unnoticed and unappreciated when we don't make a conscious effort to look for the blessings. So much of our joy in life is found in the small, day-to-day experiences we live, but sometimes we forget this.
In my newest book, Rebuilding Home, the very first chapter is titled "Gift of Dirty Laundry." Ethan, the main character, is struggling to maintain their household after his wife has walked out. Yes, he has mounds of smelly football gear and stinky teenage boys' clothes piling up in the laundry room, but at least he still has his kids.
Our homes and the people we share home with should never be taken for granted. Yes, it takes work to keep everyone clothed and fed, but over time, the demands on our time will shift. Some years will be busier than others, filled to overflowing with seemingly dull household tasks. But if we work to view those tasks in a new light, there can be joy found in completing them.
If you spend much of your days maintaining a household, you are doing important work. If you spend your day working hard away from home, earning money to use to hire others to help maintain your home, that's important, too. The point is to keep your eyes open to see the blessings in it all.
And in the spirit of full disclosure, everyone pitches in at our house and does much of their own laundry. I'm a busy woman, and we are all capable of washing clothes. So, while the kids might not agree, teaching them to be self-sufficient is a blessing as well.
Joy is the reward for a job well done, and all jobs are important. May your day be filled with blessings, even if some of your hours are spent sorting through dirty laundry. Kim
Hello everyone and welcome to my blog! My name is Kimberly Diede and I'm a self-published fiction author and family girl. When time permits, I am happiest with a great cup of coffee in one hand and a book in the other. I love to alternate between reading and writing. Winters here can be long, dark and cold. Summers are unpredictable, lovely and always too short. Every season of the year, as in every season of life, is a gift. Let's celebrate it together!