Virtual Influences

InfluenceFor the month of April, Struggle to Victory is focusing on my virtual influences by featuring guest posts, by guest posting on other sites, and by highlighting some of the regular visitors to this blog. Hopefully, you’ll be encouraged, strengthened & challenged by these people as much as I have on a regular basis, people I am proud to say have an impact on my thinking in ways that matter eternally.

With that in mind, the following is a list of individuals with whom I interact with on a regular basis on this blog, on their own blogs, and/or on other blogs. Please take the time to visit some (or all) of them over the next few days, and I think you’ll soon realize why they are part of my virtual influences.

There are others for sure, but these are the ones who not only do I read their blogs regularly, but they are regular participants on Struggle to Victory over the last few months. Many of these individuals are also people I email periodically, some more than others, for advice, prayer, etc. I truly am blessed to have these godly individuals in at the core of my virtual influences.

DISCUSSION: Who are the individuals at the core of your virtual influence? Give kudos to anyone on this list, or add to the list with some of your favorites!

Interview with The Precipice Author, TC Avey

For the month of April, Struggle to Victory is focusing on virtual influences by featuring guest posts, by guest posting on other sites, and by highlighting some of the regular visitors to this blog. Hopefully, you’ll be encouraged, strengthened & challenged by these people as much as I have on a regular basis, people I am proud to say have an impact on my thinking in ways that matter eternally.

THE PRECIPICE_coverToday’s post brings you an interview with author of The Precipice: When Everything We Know Ends, TC Avey.

TC Avey is a Christian devoted to God, family and friends. She is passionate about encouraging Christians to live lives dedicated to Christ as well as to helping them understand the importance of preserving our national freedoms through knowledge and love. She blogs at Wisdom of a Fool. You can also follow her on Twitter. Her book, The Precipice: When Everything We Know Ends, is NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon.

 

Why did you write The Precipice?

I love History and Current Events. In 2008 God began changing the way I view both. I can no longer read history, or news stories, and not see God. While God is a gentlemen and won’t force anyone to believe in Him, He can be seen everywhere. From the dawn of time, He’s been calling out to His creation, longing for a relationship. Far too often people explain Him away with science, logic, nature, or as coincidence.

I wrote this book to help people see God in the world around them. He is speaking to us through so many different venues, but sadly many of us aren’t listening. If we aren’t reading His Word, if we aren’t engaged in what is transpiring in the world, we can’t be effective witnesses of His. And we certainly won’t be the prepared bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13) He is looking for upon His return.

Do you think your book evokes fear in people?

I hope it doesn’t, but I can’t control how people respond after reading my book. Here’s something that’s sure to offend some: I think how a reader responds to this book tells more about that person’s relationship with Christ than it does about my book.

My book isn’t meant to inspire fear, but motivation. Motivation to build one’s life upon the Rock. Motivation to have one’s trust completely founded upon Christ and not foolishly placed in worldly goods, conveniences or governments. Motivation to seek God with all their heart, soul, mind and spirit.

I also hope it inspires people to become more aware of Current Events. To be active in our how world is being shaped.

People have more control over what is transpiring in this world than what they take. But having control means being responsible, responsible to Christ and responsible to others.

One of my favorite quotes by Dietrich Bonhoeffer is…

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

There is great evil and great good in this world. Which side will you stand on?

Is there hope that the tides can change?

YES! 2 Chronicles 7:14 says,

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

God doesn’t lie. Therefore, we can have confidence that if we do our part, He will do His. (Again, we have to be individually accountable and responsible.)

Throughout history people have thought it was “the end”…and here we are. No one knows the hour of Christ’s return.

While Matthew 24 (and other places in the Bible) gives us clues to look for, there’s no formula we can use as a countdown to His return.

The best we can do is live is each day as if it is our last and make each moment count.

What advice do you have for those who are scared of end times and/or modern events?

Draw closer to God. Seek Him in His Word. He will give you revelation, peace, and whatever it is your heart needs. He created you, only He can satisfy what’s going on inside. We must stop looking to others for spiritual nourishment or solutions to our problems. Yes, others can help, but they shouldn’t be our source.

Draw close to God and He will draw close to you. Learn to trust Him by getting to know Him. That takes daily commitment. And remember,

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18, NIV)

Christ is that perfect love. Remain in Him, IN the Vine. (John 15) Let His love and work on the cross perfect and settle you.

DISCUSSION: How do you react when you hear of end time events playing out in the news? What other questions do you have for TC about The Precipice, end time events or any other topic?

NOTE: If you purchase The Precipice in its first week of publication on Amazon, you will also receive a BONUS PACKAGE if you email your receipt to the author BEFORE APRIL 14TH.

Back to the Basics

For the month of April, Struggle to Victory is focusing on virtual influences by featuring guest posts, by guest posting on other sites, and by highlighting some of the regular visitors to this blog. Hopefully, you’ll be encouraged, strengthened & challenged by these people as much as I have on a regular basis, people I am proud to say have an impact on my thinking in ways that matter eternally.

THE PRECIPICE_coverToday’s post is by TC Avey, a Christian devoted to God, family and friends. TC is passionate about encouraging Christians to live lives dedicated to Christ as well as helping them understand the importance of preserving our national freedoms through knowledge and love. She blogs at Wisdom of a Fool. You can also follow her on Twitter. Her book, The Precipice: When Everything We Know Ends, is NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon.

Technology is awesome.

It allows us to do a plethora of wonderful things. Yet, it can also become a god.

If we aren’t careful, we can place more trust in gadgets, science, and modern conveniences than we do in the Creator of the World.

Rarely do I think we mean to do this (at least those who profess to be Christian); it just sort of happens…so slowly we don’t even realize it until its roots are deep.

But if one is willing to take a close look in their hearts, they can see this “god” in various ways:

1438233_88338198

When an emergency happens, what do you do first? Pray or call for help?

When your feelings are hurt, who do you turn to? God’s comfort or man’s distractions?

When your world is on fire, where is your refuge? The Cross or an object/place?

When you’ve reached the bottom of your strength, how do you go on? In Christ’s name or a doctor’s?

An honest review like this will cause most people to say, “OUCH.” I know it does me.

But it’s this type of scrutiny that is needed if one is to get back to the basics in their relationship with Christ.

Back to the Basics is one of the themes in my book, The Precipice: When Everything We Know Ends.

Life is fast paced.

Technology enables man to do more, be more and have more.

It also provides man with vast understanding, almost limitless access to anything a heart could ever desire, and even extends lifespans.

It showers us with possibilities, helps us to connect with others around the globe, and gives us almost instant satisfaction in having our needs fulfilled.

Technology can be a great thing, but it should never be our god.

It should never serve as a substitute for our Healer, Provider, Comforter or Salvation.

Often people have grand intentions, but when technology takes the throne of our time and energy, those intentions go out the window with God.

God is a gentleman. He will not force himself upon the thrones of our lives. However, as Creator and Sustainer of the World, He does speak to us in various ways.

The Bible is full of examples of God speaking to His people through calamities.

One such event is the Tower of Babel.

Man began thinking too highly of himself and God created confusion of speech and helped the people get back to the basis their need for God.

Today, our world is on a tipping point. God is calling out. But can we hear Him over our Bluetooth devices?

The Precipice can help readers identify where they place their trust and evaluate who their God is.

God is a jealous God. He won’t play second fiddle to anyone or anything.

I urge you, get back to the basics. God should be your “all in all.”

Yes, enjoy technology. It’s great. It’s a gift. But don’t let it be your god.

Only the living God can satisfy your soul and your endless quest for “more.”

DISCUSSION: How has technology become a “god” in your own life? What changes can you make today to put God over technology?

NOTE: If you purchase The Precipice: When Everything We Know Ends in its first week of publication on Amazon, you will also receive a BONUS PACKAGE if you email your receipt to the author BEFORE APRIL 14TH!

Phone image courtesy of Stock.xchng.

Managing Stress by Recognizing Limits

Everyone Has Limits

834002_53926801Stress is not necessarily bad. In fact, it’s required for growth. But we weren’t designed for constant levels of high stress. We need rest; we need to ebb and flow. Not only does an ocean’s tide approach to stress allow our bodies the rest and relaxation they need, it also allows for the mental space necessary to process and deal with life in a healthy way.

Is stress constant in your life, or do you get regular relief from its pressure?

Everyone processes stress uniquely, and every person holds a different tolerance level for stress. Not only that, but how we handle stress and how much we can handle also varies contextually.

The Energizer Bunny

My husband and I provide perfect examples of this reality. I don’t handle chronic stress well and need lots of rest after a stressful event or situation. I also don’t do well with thinking quickly and making a lot of quick decisions, especially with people watching and waiting.

841712_81663505My husband is the opposite. He is energized being around other people and pushing through challenges, and he has an amazing ability to think quickly and act efficiently. In fact, he thrives under pressure.

We are also different in our down time. I need a lot of quiet & down time. He recharges very quickly, and his down time usually involves a lot of activity.

While my limits are quickly obvious, my husband seems to not have them at times. In fact, he’s earned the nickname “The Energizer Bunny” because he keeps going and going and going with uncanny consistency.

Recognizing Limits

It’s obvious to everyone nearby when I’ve reached my limit of stress, and I feel it internally well before it’s visible to others. I look fatigued, my digestion slows, and I get over-sensitive to sensory stimulation.

My husband’s limits are not so obvious. He works hard, sleeps deeply, and shows very few visible signs of stress. But when stress lasts too long, a limit well past that of most people, signs begin to show and include an increased obsession with work and falling asleep in 30 seconds instead of 3 minutes.

Are you like me who needs more ebb & flow or my husband who can handle bigger waves?

My husband struggles recognizing his limits because he, like many high-achievers, doesn’t like admitting he has them. I usually recognize the signs before he does, though he’s improved in this area over the years.

How to Recognize Limits

578724_45121810Regardless of whether limits come quickly or seem higher than most people’s, there are always signs indicating their existence. Learning to recognize those signs can prevent you from speeding down life’s highway at a reckless pace.

Which of the following 5 areas best help you recognize approaching limits?

  1. Sleep – What’s your optimal number of hours, and are you hitting it every night? How’s the quality of your sleep? Consistency in this area brings almost instantaneous overall improvement in the ability to handle stress in a healthy way.
  2. Energy – Is your energy level consistent throughout the day? Or, do you have periods where yawning increases & eyes grow unbearably heavy? Are you constantly reaching for caffeine or sugar for a quick energy boost? An inconsistent energy level is a caution light indicating limits are getting near.
  3. Thoughts – Do you struggle focusing? Do you zone out when others are talking? Are your thoughts constantly wandering to impossible scenarios of relief? Or, perhaps all you can do is think about work or whatever is causing stress. Has your concern turned into worry? Remember that thoughts determine reality, so understanding thoughts can help sense approaching limits.
  4. Leisure – When was the last time you took a day or even an afternoon off? Do you constantly bring work home? Even if you do take a day off, do you sneak in time for work? CNN’s Jack Cafferty reports that 57% of working Americans had unused vacation time in 2011 with most of them leaving 11 days unused. That means they only took 30% of their allotted vacation time mostly because they felt they had too much work to do. An avoidance of leisure is a sure indication of approaching stress limits.
  5. Relationships – Do you spend regular time with your spouse and kids/grandkids? What about dinner with your family regularly? Do you have any friends you hang out with outside of work? Strained relationships indicated stress limits are rapidly approaching or have been reached.

Taking time to assess these areas of life can make a tremendous difference in preventing the crash and burn that comes when limits are reached, exceeded and ignored. Don’t let a heart attack or adrenal burnout or worse force you to recognize and respect your limits. Choose to do so on your own terms before your body forces you to on its terms.

DISCUSSION: What experiences or other perspectives can you share regarding limits?

Children & Stress

stress boysJonathan, an independent worker, gets easily frustrated, struggles with change, tends to over-analyze, and operates with a lot of “What if…” scenarios. Richard, a very social person, procrastinates, rushes through work, sacrifices quality for completion, and struggles focusing.

At least, when overwhelmed or not managing stress well, these descriptions fit my boys aptly. But when they manage their stress and keep balanced, they are very productive and positive.

I often forget to consider my kids’ stress. They are “just kids” and seem to handle stress way better than I do, after all. But when I see the signs and do nothing, I miss out on a valuable parenting opportunity.

Biblical Parenting_scriptureSpecific Kid-Sources of Stress

Based on the lives of my two boys (age 15 & 13), both their own stress as well as what they describe as stress in their friends’ lives, the top areas of stress for kids include: School (grades, homework, tests, etc.); peer pressure; sports; parent pressures (chores, behavior, attitude, etc.); consequences of stupid choices; wanting to relax; thinking about the future; and divorced parents.

An Immediate Response

Realizing that most kids, and many adults for that matter, tend to react to stress without first thinking, a stress-management approach for kids must be sort of programmed into their brains (in the spirit of Deuteronomy 6:7). Keeping this in mind, I always ask them the following questions when they struggle with a stressful situation:

What can you do about it?
What can’t you do about it?
Who/what can you control/not control?
Who/what can you change/not change?

We also usually address the “fairness” issue, since kids often dwell here. They need to know that life isn’t always fair.

In addition to getting our boys to realize they can only control themselves and their reactions, we also try to provide stress-relieving activities or approaches for managing stress. Those include giving them a venue to talk out what’s on their minds and making sure they have enough physical activity and leisure time. We also make sure to have lots of family time as well as to provide structure that suits the child. And of course, consistency blankets all of these.

A Biblical ResponseTitus 2

Advice on teaching our kids anything lies incomplete and ineffective without integrating what Scripture says about  preventing, managing and eliminating stress for our kids. With that in mind, lets make a somewhat unique application of some very familiar parenting verses.

  1. Don’t exasperate & discourage them. (Colossians 3:21) So often, my kids’ stress comes from or is made worse by my own poor stress management.
  2. Give them skills to deal with their feelings. (Proverbs 1:8-9) Be available to listen & to talk.
  3. Teach them ways to relieve stress. (Proverbs 22:6) Include them in your own stress relievers when possible.
  4. Tell them why managing stress is important. (1 Peter 5:3) Use yourself as an example.
  5. Model positive stress management. (Titus 2:7-8) Make sure what you say matches what you do.

I want my kids to realize that stress is not always bad. In fact, we need stress to grow and thrive. Take the amoeba – the most basic of life forms – for example. Scientists introduced it into a completely stress-free environment in a petri dish. What happened? The amoeba died. But when placed in a “normal” environment with all its challenges, the amoeba multiplied and thrived.

The same happens, essentially, with us. Without stress, we fail to thrive and grow. Plus, a stress-free life isn’t possible anyway.

Doesn’t good parenting, then, involve teaching our kids how to prevent, manage and relieve stress? Aren’t we living out what Scripture says when we train our kids to handle the inevitable in life to allow them to truly be not only productive and positive but to do so in a way that honors God and points others to Him?

3 Ways to Reduce Busyness & Discover Simplicity

busyToo busy?

Recently, I overheard a friend say, “I am done with holidays.” She explained that holidays were just too stressful and gave her too much to do along with having to deal with the drama that often accompanies family gatherings.

Since I know this person well, I also know that these words really characterize her whole life. She always has too much to do, and she’s always stressed. Which basically means that the holiday (Thanksgiving in this case) undeservedly received the blame for her stress.

Why are you so busy?busyness

Our culture is one of busyness, and I truly feel burdened for those I know and love who are simply too busy. This burden comes from living in that reality, being broken by it, and rebuilding a simple life without the weight of busyness. In other words, I’ve been there and know the way out. More importantly, I know that there IS a way out.

Much of this busyness comes from the seasons of life. Kids need attention, loved ones are sick, work is overloaded and ministry calls. This busyness, to a large extent, is simply the inevitable busyness of life itself.

But busyness reaches toxic levels when we, by deliberate choice, choose to do more than we are capable of doing. These are the things we say “yes” to because we “should” or because “someone has to do it.” They are the things born out of perfectionism and long-standing habits. This toxic level reaches epic proportions when we pile on “things to do” as a way to avoid doing the hard work of creating a balanced life focused on true priorities. Instead, we get lost in the multitude of activities, obligations and commitments.

When we’re too busy, we don’t have time for deepening relationships. We don’t have time to work through issues that created rifts. We don’t have time to read that which would deepen our character. We don’t have time to get the rest we need. We don’t have time to make healthy choices. And, worst of all, we don’t have time to spend one-on-one with God.

But my friend who said, “I am done with holidays” actually got at a very important point. Busyness and overload seem amplified during the holidays. We may casually notice at other times, but busyness suddenly jumps out as out of control during the holidays. The time between Thanksgiving and New Years seems to magnify the need to slow down and enjoy friends and family. It emphasizes the crucial need to worship God made flesh, which has a way of making us realize our desperate need for a simpler life.

Trapped in busyness?

Many people feel trapped in busyness. They realize that busyness creates an inner conflict that seems impossible to reconcile. This becomes amplified during the holidays and is really why my friend meant when she said, “I am done with holidays.” With that in mind, let’s explore three ways to reduce busyness and discover simplicity no matter the time of year.

busy 2Reduce Busyness and Discover Simplicity

1.) Make small changes. Small changes done consistently over time add up to make a huge difference. Becoming instantly un-busy won’t happen, but making small adjustments will slowly reduce busyness. Taking your time with this process rather than trying to “quit cold turkey” increases its staying power.

2.) Accept the painful truth. You will have to say “no” to some good things. You will have to let things you really want to do go in order to do the things that are truly important.

3.) Commit busyness to prayer. Ask God to show you how to become less busy. Ask Him to show you how to simplify. And most importantly, ask Him to change your heart towards busyness and to help you realize that obedience to Him does not mean saying “yes” to every opportunity that passes through your awareness.

Transforming a busy life is really hard. It requires brokenness. It requires letting go of attachment to accomplishments. It means admitting that under our own strength, we try to do too much. And it means admitting that without some help and without deliberate choice, we will continue feeling the increasing weight of busyness.

Sunday Reflections – 5 Reasons to Consider Camping

Dirt everywhere. Bugs too. Five minute walk to the bathroom. Very little privacy. Meals made over a campfire or on a propane stove. Cooler for “fridge.” Loud neighbors. Sleeping on a semi-comfortable air mattress. No air conditioning.

Personally, camping is not my thing. So, why? Why subject myself to two poor nights of sleep along with almost constant social interaction (not easy for an introvert)? Simply put, my husband and boys LOVE camping. On this past trip, the realization hit me that my efforts toward the camping experience were kind of pathetic. Just going did not seem like enough, especially with the words of 2 Corinthians 9:8 in mind.

“God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done.”

For this reason, I decided to consider the benefits of camping beyond the obvious of honoring my family. My Everyday God once again showed me more than I expected. I am realizing that if I get over myself and my expectations, camping can enhance other areas of life tremendously.

  1. Fellowship. We camp with friends, usually families from church. We have spent time together at church as well as church-related activities and even at each other’s houses. But something about spending two days together, talking at the campfire each night and seeing each other at our morning bests creates a deeper connection.
  2. Family. Take away video games, computers and phones. Take away toys and television. Minus housework and yard work. All excuses removed for why you can’t spend time together as a family. Camping returns a family back to the basic of enjoying each other in simple ways.
  3. Faith. Spending time in nature always increases my faith, and camping certainly is all about spending time outside. Walking trails. Enjoying sounds of animals. Watching the campfire. Something about camping brings out my introspective nature and opens me more to the voice of God.

These three crucial aspects of life seem to get a much-needed focus when camping. Maybe it’s the minimal distractions. Maybe it’s the simplicity of eating. Maybe both.

Not only does camping provide opportunity to strengthen fellowship, family and faith, it goes further into opportunity for

personal reflection and relaxation that few other settings can provide.

  1. Reflection. Think you’re doing pretty well in how you treat others and with humility? Feel like you do well with thinking of others before yourself? Camping gives a status check in these areas. How do you react when other campers are louder than seems appropriate? What about when people act as if they’re in their own back yard and seem to forget the existence of other campers? Do annoyances and small conflicts serve to separate or create greater bonds? Any expectation of personal privacy or routine must give way to flexibility. The only other options are unhappiness, irritation and even alienation. The choice comes down to being right or having relationship.
  2. Relaxation. In our nonstop world where so many people struggle to stop doing and just be, camping provides an essential break from the hustle and bustle of modern culture. The peaceful morning solitude. Simple, fun food. Congregating around the fire. With little effort, relaxing comes when the simpler life is allowed to simply run in course even if only for a weekend. Sure, everyone might relax differently, but simply being open to the idea of relaxing somehow allows it to flourish. Just one tiny step, maybe turning off the cell phone or putting down that file from work, and the relaxation that is camping easily consumes

This deeper look at camping has helped me realize that a change of venue to a simpler life allows perspective that only this simpler life can provide. Camping forces me to get outside of my silent, orderly world and into the world of interacting with others in a way that can strengthen and deepen bonds when flexibility and grace guide attitude, actions and words.

Maybe you don’t struggle with camping like I do. But you do have a “camping” issue in your life. Everyone does. How do you personally relate to my struggles with camping?

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How to… Have the Best Summer Break Yet

After adopting our youngest son two years ago, we discovered the need to create more structure in our summers than we’d had previously. (Our oldest is very independent and keeps occupied easily.) The tips below are the result of what has worked well for us over the past two years and that look to make this third summer with him the best one yet!

  1. Know Your Priorities. Many parents save vacation time or adopt a modified work schedule for the summer months. Do this if at all possible. The challenge of summer break is only for a season, and parents whose kids are no longer at home stress the importance of making the most of every opportunity while the kids are still young as a top priority. If a changing work schedule isn’t an option, do what you can to make evenings and weekends as focused on family time as possible.
  2. Create Goals. Have goals to help motivate and focus you and your kids. Set reading goals summer, such as a certain number of books or completing a certain series. Set physical goals such as training for a 5k or exercising so many times a week. Set academic goals too, such as memorizing multiplication facts or completing a summer bridge workbook. Having goals gives kids a “go to” activity when boredom strikes. And, of course, have rewards for reaching goals too!
  3. Have Balanced Structure. Partly because my youngest needs structure and largely because I like sanity, we create a daily and weekly schedule. We allow for alone time, time together, and time out. We schedule TV and electronics time, and we schedule projects and activities such as cooking new foods, visiting interesting places, and playing with friends. We don’t schedule to the point of exhaustion but enough to avoid boredom.
  4. Be Flexible. Yes, we have a schedule, but we’re not fanatics about it. We allow for the spontaneous and unexpected such as weather changes, friends calling and those joyful moments when the kids come up with something to do together all on their own. We keep a list of summer activities to help create our schedule but remain flexible.
  5. Set Boundaries. Many kids would play video games and watch television all summer if they could. To avoid this, schedule media time into the day. Also, even though kids are at home, I still have work to complete. So, the office door closed means I need some time to write without disruption. The office door open means they can sit and talk to me while I work.  Also, they stay in their rooms until 8AM every morning and let me have time to exercise, pray and do devotions until 10AM. Setting these types of boundaries goes a long way in maintaining balanced structure.
  6. Get Input. Toward the end of the school year and when school first gets out, my boys and I spend time creating a list of summer activities. They usually have terrific ideas, and giving input creates excitement for the summer ahead.
  7. Include Mental Stimulation.  Tell kids they need to do schoolwork all summer to keep from losing what they learned during the school year, and they’ll look at you like you’re insane. But include mentally stimulating activities such as summer camps and going to the library or museums, and kids get excited. Get creative, but find ways to stimulate your kids’ minds.

Whether parents are home with their kids or not for summer break, the above suggestions provide ways to help make this summer break the best one yet. Take time within the next couple of days to go through these suggestions and create a plan of action. Oh yeah, be sure to write down what you come up with. My kids love looking at the schedule and list of activities to find out what’s coming up.

DISCUSSION: What suggestions do you plan on trying? What suggestions can you add?

Additional Resource: The article Keep Your Summer Organized by Simple Mom has some terrific suggestions that go well with today’s post. Check them out and let Tsh at Simple Mom know how great her ideas are!

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How to… Not Need a Vacation After Your Vacation

The view from the balcony in St. Maarten.

Learning how to Plan for a Family Vacation Without Going Crazy, to Enjoy Traveling, and to Enjoy Family Vacations & Come Back Closer Than Ever all go a long way in making sure your next family vacation is the best vacation you’ve ever had. One theme that hopefully stands out in this series is making sure the time spent away is relaxing for everyone. Without that element, all the planning along with the best activities and locations will fail to produce a vacation that truly energizes and revives. If you come back from a vacation needing to recover from your vacation, did you really take a vacation more than in name only?

First, let’s take a look at WHY actually relaxing on vacations is so essential. Health Finds, a blog site providing News and Tips for a Healthy Lifestyle, provides some startling information about the benefits of vacations in the article Why Vacations Are So Important.

“A study published in the year 2000 in the medical journal Psychosomatic Medicine has shown that taking regular vacations is associated with a longer, healthier life. Vacations, along with sleep, exercise, and other leisure time activities, appear to be restorative and protective against the ill effects of psychological stress. Over 12,000 men enrolled in a heart health study were followed over nine years. The men who took vacations in most years were 20 percent less likely to die of any cause than those who forewent regular vacations. The vacationers were also 30 percent less likely to die of heart disease.”

Clearly, vacations are essential for a person’s physical health, but they also can provide tremendous mental benefit. In fact, in Why your brain needs vacation on CNN Health, Elizabeth Landau provides the following reasons for taking a vacation.

  • Visiting an unfamiliar environment can help give a new perspective on everyday life.
  • Traveling abroad helps with creativity through experiencing new cultures.
  • Vacations allow for the opportunity to be mindful, which involves seeing new things and breaking mindless routines
  • Mindful vacations can result in an “epiphany” and be a catalyst for permanent change.

So, to put special emphasis on the idea of truly relaxing while on vacation, the following tips are offered.

On the balcony with my e-book in St. Maarten.

  1. Schedule down time. So often, people schedule activity upon activity when on vacation resulting in fatigue that needs recovery time when they get home. Instead, schedule time to relax. Personally, my family and I schedule as much if not more time to relax than we do actual activities.
  2. Truly be on vacation. Simply put, don’t work. Turn off electronics, especially ones that relate to work, and leave projects at home. Shutting out work takes a deliberate decision. It will not happen otherwise.
  3. Clean your house. I hate the thought of returning to a messy house. So, my boys know that preparing for vacation includes cleaning the house. Knowing my house is clean allows me to relax more than I would otherwise.
  4. Get lots of R&R. Give yourself permission to rest and relax. For me and my oldest, that means reading a lot. My youngest son and my husband enjoy sports. For all of us, that means movies and games together. We also just sit and talk quite a bit, on the balcony if possible.
  5. Forget your routine. Allow yourself to sleep later and stay up later if you want. Give yourself permission to have an extra cup of coffee instead of heading out the door earlier. Eat lunch at 3pm if you want. Changing your routine is immensely relaxing and often enlightening.

Vacations provide a terrific setting for extra bonding with the family, for exploring new cultures and for learning history. Above all, they can be the perfect setting for true relaxation that does not come with everyday life for most people. Sure, relaxing looks different for every person, but everyone does need to schedule time to relax. For many, it just won’t happen otherwise.

How to… Enjoy Family Vacation & Come Back Closer Than Ever

As soon, and often before, our family vacations are over, our boys usually are planning our next vacation. Even at 11 and 13, they prefer being with their parents on vacation than at home with their friends. Not sure if that’s normal or not, but I love it. We work very hard as a family to make sure our times away strengthen and bond us, and the following tips are the building blocks of how we structure our vacations for this purpose. These points also help make vacations relaxing, which for me, needs to happen in order for the bonding to happen too.

  1. Know everyone’s priority. Depending on how long you will be on vacation, have each person prioritize activities. Then, do your best to make sure at least one of the tope items on every person’s list gets done. (Keep in mind that having several options is important.) We often spend time prior to leaving on vacation researching options while we plan our vacation as well as most of the first day of vacation deciding activities.
  2. Look at free/ low cost options. We love to visit state parks, national monuments and other free/low cost activities when on vacation. This gets us outside more and allows us to learn about the area we are visiting. On our last vacation, we spent a day hiking in a state park, visiting the fish hatchery and touring the DNR facility. These were all free activities and a lot of fun. Don’t forget to check out the local coupons for tourists too to help keep costs down.
  3. Immerse in local culture. We enjoy reading about the culture of our destination and then visiting some of the places we read about. We learn a lot about history and have fun quizzing each other on it. Local culture activities not only are usually the least expensive but are also often free.
  4. Have a flexible budget. My husband sets a budget for us and then monitors it as we plan activities. Utilizing the coupons that most destinations offer for tourists helps a lot in sticking to our budget. We also can enjoy activities without feeling guilty and wondering how we’ll pay for the vacation after it’s over.
  5. Schedule down time. My ideal vacation involves lots of reading and coffee time. Down time for reading and relaxing is my top priority on vacation, and my family knows this. They’ve also come to enjoy these times for themselves as well. We schedule plenty of time to rest, so the times spent out and about can be more enjoyable (i.e. no sore feet for me). We take movies to watch and games to play as a family for our down time, which usually makes up half of our vacation time.
  6. Avoid time. While I don’t wear a watch as a general rule, my husband also ditches his on vacation. Our oldest son enjoys being our “time keeper,” so we always know we can ask him if needed. Most of the time, though, we avoid worrying about the time. Having a week where time doesn’t matter is very refreshing. We eat when we’re hungry and sleep when we’re tired.
  7. Consider a kitchen. We stay in a time-share condominium on most vacations. Having a kitchen is a huge money saver, and it helps avoid unwanted weight gain that often comes with vacation. Many hotels have rooms with kitchens or kitchenettes, and they are well worth the extra money.

I know I don’t have all the answers when it comes to vacations, and know everyone’s situation is unique. But, I do know that what I have suggested here as well as in the rest of the series has made family vacations into great bonding times as well as low stress times for my family. All I can do is offer what works for me, and I pray that it stimulates you to explore what works for you to have vacations that draws you closer together as a family. Being deliberate about the structure of your vacation really will you to grow closer together as a family and to truly relax at the same time.

DISCUSSION: What are your suggestions for enjoying vacation and growing closer as a family?

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