Family Vacation

This summer many Americans will embark on a family vacation.  Destinations include the mountains, beaches, lakes, reunions, amusement parks, and historical sites. The preferred mode of transportation remains the automobile. Fathers and mothers sit in the front seat while the children enjoy a panoramic view of their parents’ heads.

Today’s kids sit in the lap of luxury on long distance trips. They enjoy a vast array of entertainment alternatives, including video screens, DVD players, and game consoles. If a child is not in the mood for a Disney movie or X-Box game, additional options include tablets, laptops, handheld computer games, and other electronic pacifiers.

Boys and girls luxuriate in a climate-controlled environment. The touch of a button raises or lowers the ambient temperature. Some vehicles feature a variety of heat/cool zones that can be tailored to each occupant’s preferences. Many autos also feature tinted windows, tilting seats, leather surfaces, MP3 jacks, wireless headphones, and twenty-some-odd cup holders.

I grew up “back in the day” when kids were made of sterner stuff. Parents expected children to entertain themselves. Other than a few games of “Count the Cows” and “License Plate Bingo,” our parents left us to our own devices. The highest tech device I ever owned was a battery powered tape recorder. Otherwise, I contented myself with an eight pack of crayons, a pad of paper, and some books.

A Ford advertisement from 196something.

A Ford advertisement from 196something.

We stylishly rode in a Ford Fairlane station wagon. Climate-control meant a passenger window with a stubborn hand crank. We stuck our heads dog-like out the window to catch the breeze. The wind blast stretched my face like an astronaut in a centrifuge; but no matter how fast the windblast, ninety degree air still felt hot.

The sun turned the interior of the car into a sauna. Our bare legs stuck to the blistering vinyl seats like B’rer Rabbit to the Tar Baby. The back seat came equipped with four cup holders: my hands and my sister’s hands. A Coleman thermos provided all the water we could drink—but with the understanding that my father only stopped every few hours when the car needed gas.

Regardless of the decade, every generation of parents and children share some common experiences. We start off with high expectations of an idealized family vacation.

Then the car leaves the driveway.

Before long, children grow antsy, parents become short-tempered, and the road stretches on forever. Bathroom requests, “I’m thirsty” moans, and fast food appeals fill the air. Then there is the always popular, “Are we there yet?” The question is almost always followed closely by its cousin, “How much longer?”

The cynical wonder if the phrase “family vacation” is an oxymoron which joins together two irreconcilable realities.

“National Lampoon’s Vacation” is a classic film that depicts the challenges of traveling together as a family. The Griswolds experience every imaginable disaster on their trip to “WallyWorld.” The vacation becomes an unmitigated disaster. By the end of the movie, however, the Griswold family discovers that the journey matters much more than the destination.

I treasure memories of the vacations I spent with my parents and sister. In turn, I hope that my children will recall the quality moments our family spent together in quantity amounts of time. These memories are worth every moment of aggravation and discomfort.

My hope is that you and your family will have the opportunity to enjoy a vacation together this summer. Enjoy all the conveniences and comforts that modern technology provides. Cherish the moments with those you love as your family is making memories for the future.

When you reach the point that you have enjoyed all the family togetherness that you can stand, don’t forget that parents can use the headphones, too!

Last Day of School

Last Day of SchoolThe last day of school possesses a magic all its own. Students stare at the clock as it slowly tick-tock-ticks a countdown to summer vacation. When the final bell finally rings, excited cheers fill the classrooms and halls—and that’s just the teachers! Children sing an ancient refrain: “School’s out, school’s out, teacher let the monkeys out!”

During childhood, I loved the last days of school. The final week included all of the best elements of education without the needless distractions of books, tests, or learning. We spent the time helping our teachers prepare the rooms for summer vacation.

The teachers appointed various boys in the classroom to carry heavy stacks of textbooks to the stuffy storage room. I still associate the smell of dust with higher learning. We considered the manual labor to be a badge of honor and entitlement. The savvier among us could stretch the five minute roundtrip to a quarter hour of roaming the halls. Four roundtrips consumed an entire class period.

Meanwhile, the girls washed the chalkboards and stripped the bulletin boards. We cleared a year’s accumulation of debris and detritus out of the desks. Then we scrubbed our desktops till they shined.

The more trusted among us went outside to clean the erasers unsupervised. We banged the felt pads against the building before scrubbing them on a wire box. Clouds of chalk dust filled the air and coated our lungs. No doubt a future Surgeon General will determine that chalk dust caused many of the problems plaguing my generation.

The more idealistic educators—who still believed that students should learn something during the final week of school—gave handouts to their classes. However, most of the work felt like play. The assignments included clever word problems, numerical puzzles, crossword puzzles, and intricate mazes.

We also played games indoors and out. Inside contests included Seven Up, Spelling Bees, Hangman, and Around the World. Outside activities featured softball, kickball, freeze tag, and the always popular game of chase. We reveled in the minimal amount of adult supervision provided by the teachers and coaches.

The cafeteria closed early for its annual cleaning and degreasing, so the school provided grab-bag lunches with mysterious contents. Typical fare included a sandwich, chips, cookie, and apple. In the days before peanut allergies had been invented, we often ate peanut butter and honey blended sandwiches—a terrible defilement of the traditional peanut butter and jelly classic.

When the last bell of the last class of the last day sounded, we erupted from our classrooms like escaping prisoners of war. Whoops of joy resounded in the hallways with obsolete notebooks abandoned in our wake. Bursting through the exits, we exalted in our newfound freedom.

No more pencils, no more books, and no more teachers’ dirty looks!

An endless summer stretched before us, bright with promise like the June sun. Who knew what new adventures awaited us? Anything and everything could happen. Life stretched before us filled with unlimited potential and possibilities.

On my best days, I like to imagine that the final day of my life will feel like the last day of school.

Open Church Door

Holy Land Journal #10: There and Back Again

In February, I joined over one hundred United Methodists from Georgia who visited the Holy Land. I am sharing my reflections about the pilgrimage in a series of journal entries.

After touring Jerusalem on the final day of our Holy Land tour, we returned to the Olive Tree Hotel. The group enjoyed a buffet supper before the bus ride to the airport. We arrived at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv about 7:30 p.m. local time.

The Israelis take security seriously. As the Bus Captain, I represented the forty-plus people on our vehicle. The Head of Security asked me a series of questions about the individual members. By the end of the intense interrogation, I felt mildly guilty about some unknown offense.

After the prescreening interviews, we presented our credentials at passport control. Then the line led to another security checkpoint where inspectors checked suitcases and documents again.

On the far side of security, duty free stores gave travelers a final chance to spend their remaining New Israeli Shekels. I bought two water bottles for the twelve hour flight. Then I discovered a final security check at the plane prohibited taking liquids onboard.

I traded seats with a group member who preferred a window seat on the Boeing 777. I sat in the middle section on the starboard aisle. In a plane filled to capacity, the middle seat next to me remained unoccupied. God is good ALL the time!

After reaching cruising altitude, the flight attendants served a late supper. For variety’s sake, I tried the crepe entrée. I chose . . . poorly! I spent the flight watching movies, reading books, taking catnaps, and pacing the aisles.

Twelve hours later we landed at Newark Liberty International Airport for the connecting flight to Atlanta. Our church bus took us back to Lawrenceville—THANKS Jeff and Otilio!

I later did the math—it took twenty-four hours to travel from the hotel in Jerusalem to my home in Grayson. I arrived midafternoon in Georgia; however, my body remained on Israeli time seven hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Savings Time.

Since arriving home three months ago, people have repeatedly asked about my favorite part of the trip. How does one summarize such an amazing journey to the Holy Land in a thirty second elevator speech or a 140 character tweet?

Holy Land Pilgrims Map 2My memories include: baking in the Dead Sea sun . . . climbing the Herodium’s steep slope . . . bowing beneath the Church of Nativity’s low entrance . . . gazing over Bethlehem’s shepherds’ fields . . . boating on the Sea of Galilee . . . praying at the Mount of Beatitudes . . . walking to the high place in Dan . . . eating falafel on Mount Hermon’s slopes . . . descending into the cool grotto of Jacob’s well . . . ascending the hills into Jerusalem . . . walking the Via Dolorosa . . . praying at the Western Wall . . . witnessing Christ’s empty tomb.

The wise on life’s journey discover an important truth. The trip and the destination are certainly important; but it’s those you travel with who make the most difference. Long after the memories of the trip’s itinerary fade, I will still recall the brothers and sisters in Christ who blessed me with their presence.

Since our return, many have expressed an interest in visiting the Holy Land. When the time is right in your life, I strongly encourage you to consider making the journey.

Talk with those who have been—it’s more than a excursion or vacation. Traveling to the Holy Land is a pilgrimage that will radically transform your life and your understanding of the Bible forever.


Holy Land Journal #9: Jerusalem

In February, I joined over one hundred United Methodists from Georgia who visited the Holy Land. I am sharing my reflections about the pilgrimage in a series of journal entries.

We spent the final day of our Holy Land Tour in Jerusalem. The bus dropped us atop the Mount of Olives with a panoramic view of the city. After a group photo with the Dome of the Rock in the background, we followed the traditional route of Jesus’ triumphal entry on Palm Sunday.

Tombs line the slopes where the Jewish faithful have been buried for 3,000 years. According to a religious legend based on Zechariah 14:4, the resurrection of the dead will begin on the Mount of Olives when the Messiah comes.

The site of the Garden of Gethsemane rests at the foot of the hillside. We walked through a grove of ancient olive trees before entering the cathedral. The Church of All Nations rests on the foundations of two earlier churches from the 4th and 12th centuries. The Roman Catholic church covers a rock where Jesus’ prayed “Thy will be done” the night before his death.

Entering the Old City of Jerusalem, we visited the Pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed an invalid on the Sabbath. Then we walked the Via Dolorosa and paused at plagues designating the Stations of the Cross.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher (or Sepulchre) marks the traditional location of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Although the claim cannot be supported with historical certainly, Christians have worshiped at this sacred site since the fourth century.

Altar marking Golgotha

Altar marking Golgotha

Past the entrance we climbed a stairway on the left that ascended to the site of Golgotha. Under an elaborate altar, pilgrims knelt and touched the rock where the crucifixion took place. The Chapel of Adam is located beneath the altar. Legend claims the blood of Jesus seeped through the rock and covered the skeletal remains of First Man.

A large rotunda left of the entrance houses the traditional site of Jesus’ tomb. I stood in a line winding around the sepulcher. The anteroom contained the “Angel’s Stone” which is purportedly a piece of the stone that sealed Christ’s tomb. A priest stood inside, directing three people at a time to enter the second chamber of the tomb itself.

The low entrance forced us to bow while entering the site of Jesus’ burial. An altar marked the place where Joseph of Arimathea placed the body. We knelt in silent reverence on holy ground.

Later in the afternoon we visited a second site claiming to be the possible place of the cross and empty tomb. Golgotha (Calvary in Latin) literally means “the place of the skull.” A British general and amateur archaeologist named Gordon found a rock formation outside Jerusalem’s walls that resembled a skull. He then unearthed a tomb nearby bearing a striking resemblance to the Gospel’s descriptions of Jesus’ burial place.

The Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb certainly gave us a sense of what the tomb might have looked like. Our British host talked about the various claims supporting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Gordon’s Calvary. Finally, he paused and said in true English fashion: “However, ultimately it doesn’t matter which site is authentic. The important thing to remember, you see, is THE TOMB IS EMPTY!”

The Crucifixion and the Resurrection bisect history. History swings on the hinges of the cross and empty tomb. On the far side of Easter, nothing remains the same.

The Easter angel’s words continue to ring down through the centuries and in our ears: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here—he is risen!”

God has conquered sin and death. Jesus Christ is the firstborn of the resurrection, and he invites us to receive life, abundant life, and everlasting life. Easter people need not fear the grave because we serve the Lord of Life.

The important thing to remember, you see, is THE TOMB IS EMPTY!