A Family Woman Linda Prayer Spiritual Growth

Vacation Transformation – Travel And The Road To Self-Discovery

School has ended and the hustle and bustle that comes with all the juggling of schedules and activities has come to a halt. By now you’ve probably exclaimed, “I NEED A VACATION!!”

Somehow our bodies and minds seem to know when “we’re ready.” Hopefully you haven’t filled your vacation time with that same list of to-dos. So often we go against what our bodies are telling us and continue the same pattern of planning activity after activity – even on our vacation. As the years pass, our vacation or travel time has changed. Although my husband and I enjoy exploring and finding fun things to do in the communities we visit, we have also found that the travel process transforms us in our quest for self-discovery. Whether you are travelling abroad or simply taking day trips, the process of leaving the everyday routine and exploring new things can be a deep, spiritual experience.

Travel time, when done reflectively, can offer us new perspectives as well as being able to recognize harmful patterns in our life. By immersing ourselves in another culture or lifestyle, we can better understand our own beliefs and values. A few years ago, I found a small book at a local flea market called The Way Of The Traveler, by Joseph Dispenza. The book speaks of the process of how, with each new experience we encounter, we find out something new about ourselves. Although I couldn’t relate to everything in the book, I did find some of his thoughts and exercises helpful in transforming the way I view my time away, wherever that may be.

Sometimes we choose a destination, other times, a destination chooses us. Travel isn’t just about the destination, you’ve heard, it’s about the journey. Each facet of the journey is part of the experience, the preparation, the departure, the approach, the arrival, and the return. If you embrace the idea that travel can be a road to self-discovery then the goal is always to bring something back that becomes a new part of who God calls us to be.

As we prepare for travel, there are things we can include with the swimsuits and sunscreen. We can ask God to show us why we have been called to this place and bring an open mind to chance encounters, a joyful spirit (leave the negativity behind), and a great sense of adventure.

Next, there’s the departure from home. The simple act of stepping away from the same routine of everyday can be an act of willingness to change. Change can be so scary for people, but knowing that you have the roots of home to return to should empower you. Your home is a place of comfort, familiarity, and stability. Closing the door is temporary and you are opening the door to the mystery of adventure; an adventure that will bring an exciting change within you.

I was intrigued with Dispenza’s remarks on the approach to travel; getting to our destination. He references how “medieval cathedrals were designed with the concept of the approach foremost in the minds of the builder.” There have been times that the approach to travel has been crazy with my husband. His “let’s take a short-cut” proclamations make me cringe and hours later (and a few angry words shared), we finally arrive. Even though this isn’t always an ideal situation, he’s taught me to appreciate the approach – the sights along the way can be just as moving as the destination itself. The past few years we’ve done this a few times as we traveled to Vermont, upstate NY, and most especially back in 2015 when he announced that our vacation that year would be a College Road Trip.

My son was a junior in high school at the time and after a rough year, we hadn’t really made many college visits with him. We took a little over a week and incorporated three different visits. The most frightening part was when my husband said – we’re not making any reservations, we’ll find something along the way. Did I mention that I’m a Type A personality where checklists and back up plans are just a natural part of my nature? But, no reservations were made and we were off!

Taughanook Falls State Park, NY

I’m thankful for a God that always surrounds us with His provisions. Surprisingly, there was only one overnight at a hotel.  Otherwise, with a few short phone calls,  we were invited to stay with friends as well as a great visit with my brother and his family. We saw the river life and superb hospitality in Massachusetts, wine tasting at a quaint vineyard in Rhode Island, and the beautiful Green Mountains of Vermont (with all its twisty roads). We enjoyed the comforts of home with family while lounging in their pool, and ended with a scenic drive along the Finger Lakes which was filled with  wineries, distilleries, and breweries tucked along a strip of road that shares the wonders of cascading falls and some of the most picturesque woodlands I’ve ever seen. Even the occasional wrong turn promised adventure. Remember even mishaps can turn into an encounter.  

Along our journey there were several arrivals, each bringing something special and unique. The key was to embrace each encounter and search for the beauty in our surroundings, in people, in communities, and in ourselves. My husband and I are people watchers. We never seem to get bored while waiting – whether it’s for a flight, on line or anything else. Sometimes we watch people, other times we admire the architecture, breathtaking views, or sunsets. Sometimes we look at things that we never even knew existed. With each new experience, we are changed. A few years ago, I started talking to God in those moments and asking Him what he wanted me to notice about myself, someone else, or my surroundings. I often close my eyes and use my senses – to smell the aromas around me, or to taste foods of different cultures – it’s transforming.

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
~ Walt Whitman – Song of the Open Road ~

On my last day of vacation, I usually wake with a little knot in my stomach knowing that my little respite is over. It’s time to return to a life that’s very different. I realize that it’s also a life of familiarity and safety and that I’m bringing this new experience back with me. When possible, I like to rise early on that last day and take one last deep breathe in of all that surrounds me. Last year, I woke early to catch the sunrise on the bay. As the sun began to rise and I took another sip of my coffee, the certainty that the same sun was rising and/or setting somewhere else in the world filled me. Same sun – different experience. In these moments, I know that I am a part of something so much bigger than I can ever imagine and there is a God watching over every tiny detail.

As I use these experiences to journey inward, I find many times that there’s another person that’s been hidden away. Sometimes, I forget that person and I’m thankful to find her again. The artist sees the creativity in sculpted gardens and art, the missionary spots someone less fortunate, and the little girl sees the joy and laughter in an ice cream cone. It awakens me. Transforms me.

There is a new balance when I return home. Its familiarity welcomes me, but something is different. I need to find a place for these new discoveries. As Mr. Dispenza tells us, upon our return, “There is the grace of self-knowledge, wisdom, and peace.”

Here’s a sampling of some reflection questions adapted from The Way Of The Traveler:

  • The most surprising thing I am finding out about myself is?
  • What I am learning about other people that I never knew before?
  • If I had more time to spend at my destinations, what would I have done?
  • Of the things I’m learning about myself, I may have to readjust my thinking on the following:

So as you zip that last suitcase and hear the click of the door behind you, remember to invite God to be your travel partner and get ready to discover the vacation transformation He has in store for you.

Amy M. Ink Slingers Parenting Vocations

Spring Break

Spring Break… Answering the Challenge

   Spring Break 1


   As Spring Break approached, it seems the talk of the school and even the city, centers around where everyone is going.  Florida, Mexico, cruises… they all seem to be popular answers. Those of us “stuck” at home feel caught up in still “making the most” of the week. When I asked the children what they wanted to do this year during spring break, two things won out.  

   The first was a major bedroom switch. Four bedrooms, seven kids in five days. It was no small task. Amazingly, it went well with even the attic being reorganized! Most of the kids are enjoying the new arrangement of rooms.  Our “Felix and Oscar” (think “Odd Couple”) no longer share a room, which will hopefully preserve their relationship in the long run! The only one who may have gotten the short end of the stick is our oldest who is now sharing a room with his much younger brother. He’s adapting though, so life lesson built in!

   The second request was a trip to the Dunes to go hiking. The plan was to go on Monday. It was cold and raining.  Tuesday, and more of the same. All week our plans to go to hiking were thwarted by cold, wet weather. It seemed maybe we would have to be satisfied with the room change as our only spring break adventure.

   Saturday dawned bright, chilly, and breezy. We decided to make a go of it, packed a cooler for lunch, and made our way to the beach. The balmy 45 degrees nearly deterred us when we arrived, but the horizon was bright. After a stopSpring Break 2 at the nature center introducing us to many different birds, we chose a trail. Our only criteria before choosing was that we wanted a moderate or easy trail. We figured relatively short was probably best given the low temperatures and short legs and wanted to end up on the beach to walk back to the parking lot..

   We chose a trail we’ve walked many times, climbing one dune and then heading straight to the lake. However, with the older kids running ahead of us, they wanted to try a “new” path. We veered off from our original plan to trail 8. We figured we would just climb the one extra dune and then meet up with our original trail back to the beach. Reaching the peak of the dune we enjoyed the beautiful view. The cold temperatures and the breeze were much more tolerable while moving. After a quick break, we headed back on the trail toward our original trail. It’d all be downhill from there, we thought.  Spring Break 3

   It was, for a while. Then, we started to climb again. Spring Break 4 Hmmm…. Reaching a second peak, one of our daughters pointed out that we had now completed two-thirds of a 3-Dune Challenge the Nature Center advertised. Not ones to back down from a challenge, what could we do but continue and complete the challenge of the dunes.  Spring Break 5

   The third dune was all stairs. Easier than sand? Um no. But we did it! From the top, we could see the waves breaking and the shoreline for miles. It was breathtaking. The challenge trail looped back to the Nature Center where started.  

   It wasn’t the adventure we planned. It wasn’t the easy trail or even a particularly short trail. In fact, it was the only rugged trail on the map we learned on our way home. We didn’t end up leisurely walking back along the beach to the parking lot. 

   As Lent comes to a close this week, I find myself reflecting on my plans on Ash Wednesday. The prayers, fasting, almsgiving all have helped me quietly reflect on Jesus’ Passion.  I feel myself resetting as I often do during Lent. The purposeful slowing down chips away at the barriers that grow during the year. Busyness, plans, commitments that seem harmless but in reality are walls building up between God and me, pulling me away from God’s plan for my life. Lent is the time each year where I refocus, which breaks down those walls.

   Getting off the merry-go-round of keeping up and doing more, I can see that the simple, the best, things come when we just let go and let God. 

   God has a plan for each of us. The plan tends to be so much bigger than we can comprehend. We can only see a little ahead of us so that we don’t become discouraged. If we had known what we were going to be climbing, it’s likely we would have chosen a different trail, afraid the one with all the dunes would be too much for our little ones to complete.  

   In the end we would have missed out by doing that though. We would have missed the camaraderie, the sense of accomplishment, not to mention the beautiful views. Asking the children if they had a good break was met with a unanimous “yes.”  God’s plan is bigger and better than any of us can imagine. We just have to take the first step in faith. He will do the rest.

   “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm
   you, plans to give you hope and a future.” -Jeremiah 29:11

Spring Break 6

Evangelization Faith Formation Ink Slingers Mass Parenting Raising Saints Shiela Vocations

Destination Eternity: The Vacation of a Lifetime

A funny thing happened during a hike on my family vacation this past summer.  Or, you could say it was a God thing.  You decide.  I will explain more after I tell you where we go each year.

My husband and I have been married for nearly 17 years and we have taken as many vacations.  I am the planner and I am an expert at finding amazing deals on luxury accommodations.   We once had a breathtaking view of the Niagara river in Canada.   One year, we had a new baby and I found a great rate on a room at the Palm Beach Hilton.  When we arrived we were upgraded to the Presidential suite because it was available.  We had three balconies overlooking the white beaches and turquoise Ocean.  When we had three kids, we made the perfunctory trip to Disney.   These vacations were fun and memorable.  But, when I arrived home, I noticed how ordinary and messy our house was.  I did not feel rejuvenated.  I felt like I was missing something.

Two years in a row, my brother tried to invite us to Catholic Familyland in Ohio.  We thought it was some kind of charismatic, fringe element in the Church and shelved the idea.  But, our lackluster vacations of years past led us to finally taking them up on the offer and we joined them.  My husband and I made a pact to go and just make sure neither of us drank the Kool-aid.

We drank the Kool-aid

We have vacationed at Familyland every year since.  It is a 900 acre camp ground where families can experience Catholic culture through daily Mass, confession, Adoration, and family rosary, along with swimming, horseback riding, and fellowship with other Catholic families. The goal is to encourage family consecration to Jesus through Mary; and to live out that consecration at home and in our community.  By doing so, we fulfill God’s will and bring about peace in our homes and our communities. Their motto is “Helping families get to Heaven.”

Mornings, we rise early and eat breakfast al fresco.  Daily Mass is at 9AM, so the kids know to get their last bite in before 8AM.  The kids start early with play dates, too.  As soon as they empty their cereal bowl, they holler into the cabin that they will be at so-and-so’s cabin until we leave for Mass; it always amazes us how easy they make friends.

Daily Mass is packed.  The Mass is beautiful. The music is well rehearsed and each homily is a thought provoking, heart rending, powerful analysis of the Scriptures that is directly applied to our family life.   I am often driven to tears.  This past summer, as the waterworks started, my 9 year old daughter grabbed my arm and pleaded, “Mom, what is wrong?!”  I wiped my tears and said, “Apparently, you are not paying attention.”  Then I smiled and reassured her that I was fine, but my heart had just been touched and if she paid attention, she might be surprised at what she hears.

At the end of Mass, the children (4 and up) are dismissed to attend morning groups with their peers.  This past year, all five of my children were old enough to participate in the faith formation activities. What other all inclusive vacation provides this?  I know my kids are safe thanks to the great efforts of the Catholic Church to protect my children.  I know that they are being taught virtues through the loving example of the volunteers who teach them.  And one of the best parts is that my husband and I get some time away from them to learn more about our beautiful faith, to meet other couples who are on the same journey, and to sip coffee without interruption.

We usually have lunch back at the cabin and we plan our afternoon and evening.  There is always too much to do.  And, everyone wants to do something different.  And that is not a problem.  The kids just need to let us know where they are going and we agree to meet at the dinner shelter when they hear the meal blessing on the loud speaker.  Or, because we know that the Divine Mercy chaplet is prayed over the loud speaker everyday at 3PM, we agree to meet poolside for the chaplet.  My kids have never experienced such freedom and I have never experienced such confidence in allowing them to roam a park. At Disney, we needed those harnesses and leashes.

The teens have nightly evening programs.  I really don’t know exactly what goes on there.  But, I know that they have fun and I know that I have never had to force my kids to go. They listen to motivational talks that encourage them to live their faith.  They have opportunities for reconciliation and Adoration.  They sing and dance and they make the most wonderful friends.

The campground asks families to honor a 12AM curfew.  One night, I had fallen asleep before my daughter came home.  I awoke at 1:20AM.  Were I at home or at any other destination, I would have started pacing and calling 911. However, I knew she had mentioned that after the evening program she was going to go hang out.  So, I nudged my husband and asked him to go get her.  She was right where she said she would be, at a neighboring RV site, in a well lit cabana getting to know her friends.  The camp also asks families to honor a no alcohol request.  This creates an atmosphere of calm and respectful behavior from both adults and teens and no one is at risk of the intoxication that leads to poor judgment.

So, back to the God thing…  One afternoon, after the kids had dispersed to their activities, I was left behind with a cluttered cabin and a picnic table full of lunch debris.  My husband had set off with our four-year-old son, Joseph, to find friends.  He swiftly returned and invited me on a hike because our son had made friends with another boy named Joseph and we were invited to hike with the boy and his father.  I looked at the clutter and the lunch mess and had one of those Mary/Martha moments. I chose to leave the mess behind and headed out on the hike.

As we chatted with our new friends, I started to ask more pointed questions…what city are you from?  What parish?  And because of his answers, I asked if he knew Martina, the owner of the Catholic Sistas blog?   My new friend not only knows her, but also, he is a guest writer on the blog!  That’s right, reader, two Catholic Sistas bloggers, one from Texas and one from Virginia, met on a hike in the woods of Ohio, brought together by two little Josephs.  The only logical next step was to schedule this dual blog post.

Next time you sit down to plan your family’s next vacation, check out Catholic Familyland. It has transformed our family.  I must warn you that if you go once, your kids will insist that you go again and again. Stay tuned,  Allen’s post is up next.