Why did Sara shave her head?
Why did Sara shave her head?

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The story of Sara’s recent haircut actually starts back when she was 7. When I would take the boys outside for their haircuts, I would often ask Sara if she wanted me to buzz her’s as well. She never really went for it. (Surprise)

From time to time through the years, I would bring it up and ask her if she would shave her head for 100 bucks. Again, no. How about 500? Nope.

Fast forward to earlier this month, when it hit me. I knew what magic carrot I could dangle in front of her. Back in 2013, Sara saved up her money to go on a cruise and LOVED it. She’s been wanting to go back ever since. :)

“Sara, I’ll make you a deal: If you shave your head, I’ll take you on a cruise.”

Her eyes lit up. I had her.

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She spent the next few days thinking about it. Should she do it? Would she like it? Would she regret it? Would people think she was a boy? She made a list of pros and cons which included items like “faster showers”.

We also encouraged her to talk to other people and get their advice.

After doing all this, she was pretty set on moving forward. But still was not 100%.

The last time Danielle and I talked to her the conversation went something like this:

Danielle: So what are you thinking?
Sara: I really, really want to do it but every time I think about what other people will say, I get nervous.
Danielle: (Silence)
Sara: But that’s not really a good reason not to do something. Is it?

What Sara didn’t not know is that right then and there I would have taken her on that cruise.

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You see, the point was not for her to cut her hair. The point was for her to be willing to try something different. Something unconventional. Something that might make her feel left out. Think back to when you were in 11 years old. 5th grade. When all you wanted to do was NOT stand out. Danielle and I wanted to push her towards her strengths.

I know Sara is strong. I know she is fearless. I know she is a leader.

But I also know those muscles need to be stretched. They need to be worked.

I wanted her to learn at this younger age that she decides who she is. And start living it out now. It’s only hair. She is still herself.

She is not defined by a haircut.

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Sara will spend the next 10 years learning and discovering who she is, but that journey should be built on the foundation of confidence in herself and her identity.

The sooner she learns and grasps that, the better off she will be.

It’s a concept we all need to learn.

You are not defined by a haircut.
You are not defined by how pretty your wedding is.
You are not defined by a job.
You are not defined by how well your kids behave.
You are not defined by your GPA.
You are not defined by how many likes you get. (Follow me on Instagram here.)
You are not defined by how big your house is.
You are not defined by if your newborn sleeps through the night.
You are not defined by a ring.

You have value and worth regardless of what your circumstances or what others may say about you.

This idea is one that I need to be reminded of daily. And it’s a truth that Danielle and I want Sara to lock onto as early in life as possible. Even if that means I need to take her on a cruise.

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Snake Attack Day (10 Year Anniversary)
Snake Attack Day (10 Year Anniversary)

It’s that time of year again, as we flip the calendar and look towards April and all things spring, it’s the time of year when our little house celebrates one of our favorite holidays.  I’m talking of course about Snake Attack Day.

10 years ago while sitting at my desk working I heard Danielle let out a blood curdling scream.  Being someone who likes to document events I grabbed my camera and headed her way.  The following video is the result.

So now each year we celebrate our victory over the slithery beast.  We partake in gummy worms and crushed oreos to remind us of how close we came to defeat.  We tell tells of battles won against the serpents of yesteryear.  We share theses stories to remind the young that one day their time will come.  They will have a family and house of their own to defend.  And just when all hope seams lost they will think back on April 5,  2006 and remember how their father conquered the carnivorous reptile and protected his legacy and linage.

Happy Snake Attack Day everyone.

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How to Stay Married 5,000 Days
How to Stay Married 5,000 Days

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I’m sure we have all done the thing where we view our photo list in a big giant grid of thumbnails. It’s kinda fun to look back and see the blur that was the past few months or years. But we know that the never ending view of tiny thumbnails are not the important moments or photos. Those have their own album. Their own special gallery. That’s where we keep the BIG moments.

It’s ironic how we so often look for big moments to mark our progress in life and in marriage. Anniversaries are how we count our commitment to a relationship. It’s like they become this giant event that must be declared.

ATTENTION EVERYONE TODAY IS OUR ANNIVERSARY. WE ARE STILL MARRIED AND IN LOVE.

But, at the same time, the longer you are married, the more we realize that you don’t suddenly go from year 1 to year 2 to year 3. There are millions of tiny moments that fill up between those years.

Today Danielle and I have been married 5,000 days.

That’s kinda great. But honestly, I doubt TODAY will actually be any more special than yesterday or tomorrow. The thing is, we don’t really know when the “special” days will come. But, looking back, it’s easy for me to remember moments that did stand out. Days that bubble up to the surface when viewed with a little bit of perspective and history behind them.

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Day 1: Kinda obvious.

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Day 264: This was taken when our firstborn Joseph was less than a week old.  Little did I realize then just how much time Danielle would spend holding and loving on babies over the next 4,800 days.

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Day 653: We spent about 1 week in the hospital with Joseph.  I think it was the first truly hard thing we went through in our marriage.  Learning to trust, learning to stay calm and not let the moment overwhelm you, and learning to lean on each other even more when a season of life become hard.

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Day 1,103: I love this photo.  I’m not sure how many seagulls have carried off and eaten a human but Danielle was convinced that they were a very real threat.  Even so, she braved the birds and the beach and lived to tell of it.

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Day 1,273: I kept getting frustrated because Sara would not look at the camera.  To say we got into a fight over it might be a stretch… but it also might not. :)   Danielle assured me that it would be fine regardless of what Sara was doing.  I disagreed.  I eventually just photoshopped another shot of her looking towards the camera to make a “good” family photo.  Years later as I look back on that shoot, this is my favorite image.

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Day 1,457: Remember that time my office flooded and we ripped up carpet and soaked up water and were so broke we tried to put back down the wet carpet and hoped that it didn’t smell, but it did?
Those were good times.

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Day 1,833:  Little by little Danielle has come to understand my love for technology and things that go blinky blink.  So, even though she didn’t camp out with me for that first iPhone… She did let me do it.
(Even though that meant she was at home with two kids and 8 months pregnant with our third.)

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Day 2,229: Danielle and I always look back on Luke as being when we really started to get the hang of parenting.  Maybe it’s because “third time’s the charm” or something, but by the time this kiddo got here we had learned how to not sweat the small stuff and Danielle had learned how to make a killer birthday cake.

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Day 2,500:  It’s funny how things work out.  Just out of curiosity I decided to check back and see what the half way point of our little journey was.  When I did the math, day 2,500 was the day I photographed Danielle’s college roommate’s wedding.  It’s one of like 3 weddings I’ve shot that Danielle and the kids have attended and having Sara & Yan be a part of our timeline is extra fun.

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Day 2,629:  We had just started homeschooling the kids and I still remember how scary that idea was at times.  I’ve seen her reading and helping these kids learn to read countless times over the years and looking back on this moment fills me with so much pride in what she has taught our kids.  The little guy who was learning to read a Curious George book right there just wrote a 34 page short story of his own last month. (Just for fun.)

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Day 2,864:  As great as she is at teaching our kids, she’s even better at playing and connecting with them.  This is one of my all time favorites.

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Day 2,968:  Somewhere someone decided that minivans are not cool.  I disagree.  They have doors that open when you push a button, kids can get in and out without help, and they hold a whole basketball team.  Anyway, the day we sold this van was bittersweet.  She had served us well, but her time was done.  Before we sold her, we took one last family photo.

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Day 3,144: Our last kiddo had just turned 1 a few days before this photo.  Danielle held Eli every chance she had.  We knew were were entering a new season of life but leaving this one was also hard.

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Day 3,225: I’m always amazed at what Danielle will let the kids do to her.

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Day 3,261: We had wanted a fence for a while and finally saved up enough cash to build one…. but not enough to pay someone to build it.  :)

So, board by board, Danielle walked them over to where I was nailing them up.  AND, since she knows I’m a words of affirmation guy, she even wrote me little encouraging notes on some of them.

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Day 3,654: On our 10 year anniversary we went back out to Elmwood Gardens and had some cookies and told the kids about the time their Mom and Dad were married.  We talked about how marriage is hard, but even when it’s hard, we are committed to it and to each other.  They kinda looked at us like what are you talking about and asked if they could have another cookie.

(Fun Fact: Every year on our anniversary we dress back up in our wedding close and have a vow renewal ceremony at home.)

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Day 3,892:  This is the day that we learned that if your daughter falls on her two front teeth, they might break off.
This is the day we learned that staying calm helps.
Even if you are freaking out on the inside.

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Day 3,963: Remember how we homeschool?  Well, when we started I think we had like 1 kid…. Today Danielle is teaching 7th, 5th, 3rd, and 1st grade.

THAT’S INSANE!!!

This little photo was after her first year teaching all 4 of the kiddos.  (Looking back on it I realize maybe I should have printed out an award for her.)

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Day 4,507: We decided that it was time to move.  We had outgrown our house and were ready for something a bit bigger.
We packed it all up, and put our house on the market.

Thought this process we realized something, we didn’t need a bigger house.  We didn’t want another house.  We needed to find contentment where we were.

Little by little we did that.  Together.

And then… we moved back into our house. :)

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Day 4,632: Every now and then you get one of those perfect days.  Days where school gets canceled and it snows in Texas, days filled with uncles and friends and laughter and kids on sleds.  You soak up those days, you remember those days, because you never know how many you have.

1 week after this day, Danielle’s brother and his friend were in a car wreck.  Her brother survived but our sweet friend Pasha did not.  This hit us hard and our family went through a dark season.  A season of mourning and sadness, a season of questions unanswered.  But little by little we came through it.  Together.  And we came out on the other side stronger.  Again, we realized that when the hard times comes.  Lean into each other.

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Day 4,842:  Remember that time that Mickey Mouse said “I would like you to be the family of the day and help me open the Magic Kingdom”?  Because you should.  Because it was one of the best days ever.

The best thing about these days is that they were not planed for back when we were married.

They are little markers along the way that remind us that marriage is about growth.

Marriage is about changing and continuing to love each other.

Marriage is not just about those big epic moments.

Your love story is not only written when you are dancing together in the rain, it’s written every day.

Little by little, one snapshot at a time.

The reality is there is no trick to staying married 5,000 days.  You choose to stay married one day at a time.

One diaper at a time.

One lightsaber

snow cone

basketball practice

house repair

spilled goldfish

fight on the way to church

at a time.

It’s in the common, the mundane, the beautiful holiness that is the everyday.

And, as much as I’ve loved these 5,000 days, I can’t wait of the next ones.

I’m already looking forward to November 7, 2029.  When I can look into my brides eyes and say I’ve loved being married to you ten thousand days.

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Disney World 2015
Disney World 2015

So, after a few years of saving and planning and saving, we took a little trip to Disney World. This post is not for the faint of heart. So grab a sandwich, have a seat, and get ready for a billion photos.

We sat the kids down a week before we were going to leave and surprised them with the news.

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Those photos don’t really do it justice. (This little instagram clip is kinda a better look at their reaction.)

The first step on any successful Disney trip is driving.  Lots of it.  Enter iOS devices and headphones.

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17 hours later.  We arrive.  The lines to meet Anna & Elsa are typically up to 2-3 hours.  We settled on meeting these two plants instead.

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One of the perks of homeschooling and going to Disney in September is the parks are less crowded.  (As in, parts of it are empty at times.)

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The last time we went, Eli was not a fan of meeting any of the characters, this trip he was all in on the process.

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Hey look, it’s Aunt Gabby!

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The step-sisters and I have a special relationship.

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Eli managed to lose a tooth on the Haunted Mansion ride.

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If you have ever stood around waiting for a parade, you know it’s a super magical time for everyone.

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Later that day Eli lost another tooth. :)

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Each morning they pick a few families to help them “open” Hollywood Studios.  You get to hold a clap board and get some fast passes.  We soon realized, if you get there early and smile hard enough, you might get picked.  We managed to pull this off for all three of our Studios days.

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Luke was slightly terrified of the Tower of Terror.

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Sara and I not so much.

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Wanna save a million dollars on your Disney trip?  Pack your meals.

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Luke was chosen to drive a full sized “remote controlled” car at the Stunt Show.

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Things Disney is great at selling:

1. Yummy food.

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2. Lego blocks.

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3. Plushes.

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We felt like we would be bad homeschoolers if we did not visit the Hall of Presidents and American Adventure Pavilion.

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Jo kinda fell in love with Captain EO.

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Russell would not get out of my face ’til I saluted him.  We are now best friends.

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Festival of the Lion King may be our favorite thing ever.

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Finding Nemo the Musical may be my favorite thing ever.

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Kilimanjaro Safaris may not be Eli’s favorite thing ever.

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Things we learned:
1. Danielle is creepy. 2. We all fit in a phone booth. 3. Lists are better if there are three funny items.

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Danielle almost used the barf bag on Mission Space.

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Me channeling my inner Fast and Furious.

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Joseph has mastered the art of the ride photo.

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Hey, remember how they pick a few families to open Hollywood Studios?  Turns out they pick one family to open the Magic Kingdom each day.  It’s kinda a big deal.

You get in early, when no one else is around.

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They take your name so you can be introduced to everyone.

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You get to go around the park posing for photos wherever you want, all alone.

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You get to meet the opening number performers.

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They flirt with your son.

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You are backstage when the train comes out.

(This may have been my favorite moment.  As the train pulls in all the characters are waving at the hundreds of families waiting in line.  For one brief moment though, Alice turned and waved to our family.  It was just a little nod to the fact that we were back there, too.  We were in on the secret.  It kinda made the magical moment even more fun.)

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Then you, Mickey, and his friends get to open the park.

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You know what else you get?  A Fast Pass to meet any character you want.  Remember how Anna & Elsa had a 2 hour wait?  BOOM!  Front of the line!

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We adore the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse.

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DOUBLE RAINBOW!!

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Sara challenged Gaston to a reading contest.  Without hesitation, he took the book out of her hands, put it up on a ledge and said “Good luck reading it now.”  I love that guy.

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Of course they each should eat a cinnamon roll the size of their head.  Why not?

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I do like a good parade. But even more than the parade, I like watching my kids watch the parade.

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One more shout to Cindy from St. Charles, IL.  She totally made our trip when she asked us to be the Family of the Day.  You rock.

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Of course I didn’t just take photos, by the time I edited our home movie of the trip, it came in at about an hour.  I won’t ask you to sit through that, but you might enjoy this little 2 minute trailer.

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Belize 2015
Belize 2015

True story.

I love mission trips.

I love them for 2 simple reasons.

1. By going somewhere and serving, you can impact another life.

2. By going somewhere and serving, you can impact your life.

It’s really that simple. I’ve been on about 7 of these type of trips in the past 3 years and each one reminds me more and more that they are worth taking.

This was a special trip because it was the first time Danielle and Sara joined Jo & I. I knew it would make for a totally different experience and I can’t wait to share these little snippets with you.
(Also, if 100 photos and lots of reading is not your thing, that’s cool. You can skip to the bottom and watch a little movie.)
Let’s start with this photo.

FACT: The 4 of us went to Belize for a week and did not check one bag of luggage. BOOM! #WINNING

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I loved seeing Sara sign her first customs form. I loved filling out 4 of those super annoying bad boys with all types of information and serial numbers. I loved Danielle giving me the stink eye when the first sign through customs was an Ebola warning. I also loved Danielle settling her nerves by reading a little Pride & Prejudice.

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Rule #862 of these types of trips: sleep whenever you can.  (This is Jo’s third trip.  He is a pro.)

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We were serving in a little village called Guinea Grass.  Population 3,000.

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One of the things we were doing was striping a basketball court we helped build last year.

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These girls are college athletes. They tried to jump in the air on “3”. They kinda failed. Take heart all you jumping bridesmaids and groomsmen. It’s harder than it looks.

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It was so great to go back and see so many familiar faces.  It’s crazy that they remembered many of us by name.

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Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner all came from this stove.

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The kids loved all of the crafts, songs, and Bible stories that we would do in the afternoon.

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Sara could usually be found in a crowd of kids.

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This is Dakota.  I love him.  He is tall.  Really tall.  As in… he played college basketball tall.  The crazy great thing about Dakota is anytime there were kids around, you would find him way way down on the floor, connecting with kids.  It was so great to see.

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After VBS, we would do a little basketball camp for the kids.  The skill levels varied greatly.  That was part of the fun.

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The other part of the fun was when it rained, the court could be used as a slip and slide.

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(I told you he was tall.)

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I took these photos within like 20 minutes of each other.  I love them because they look so similar and yet are so different.  Sara would go and seek out a group of girls to play and hang out with.  Danielle would look for just one, and then little by little others would flock to her.

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Reason #462 of why I love these trips: They stretch you.
Ryder ended up leading one of our devotionals. It was his first time doing anything like that and he crushed it. He shared from his heart and his experiences, and it was super open and honest. I loved listening to him and I loved seeing one of his closest friends kinda just ignoring him and stuffing his face with breakfast.

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This is Norman our bus driver for the week.  When he was not driving us around, he was giving impromptu bus driving lessons to one of our team members who was about to come back to the states and have to take her bus driving exam.  Crazy right?

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Reason #5208 of why I love these trips: The unexpected.

Another group had been to this village before us and met this little boy with a medical condition that keeps him from walking. A member of their group was able to find and purchase a walker that would grow with him. They got in touch with our group and had us deliver it. Needless to say, when this little guy started taking his first steps, his face lit up with joy. It was hard to keep shooting because all of the water in my viewfinder.

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On a less emotional note… Remember that girl who learned to drive a bus?  She was going to be without her newfound boyfriend for TWO WHOLE WEEKS!!!!!  (Forever, I know.) Anyway… I thought it would be fun to bring a little cut out so she could share the trip with him. #WINNING

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We also were able to take a little detour to see a Mayan ruin. This lead to us climbing it and making a Mayan face.

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Our last day was spent playing on a nearby island.

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The boat ride we took to the island was not Danielle’s favorite.

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Sara & I tried to snorkel but soon decided to just swim back to the boat and wait for the good stuff.

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Sharks & Stingrays (AKA: The Good Stuff)

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Sara was crazy brave and touched a shark. Danielle was crazy brave and climbed into the water, and then proceeded to climb onto my back and crush my lungs with her death grip.

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We walked up and down the island looking at gift shops and souvenir stores. Jo finally decided on getting a used Sherlock Holmes book. (Of course he did.)

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Towards the end of the week, we got a little video  message from the two boys we left back in the States.

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You know what’s neat?  When people get baptized.

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You know what’s also neat?  When you have your first cappucino and coconut water on the same day.

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Again, I love the sharks, the basketball, the songs, and the boyfriend cut outs.  But the thing that really makes these trips stand out is the faces of these little kids.

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One of my most favorite moments ever happened on this trip. Kids would constantly run up to me and ask me to take their photo. I would, then I would show them, then they would go get more kids. Rinse. Wash. Repeat.

This little dude comes up to me one morning and says… “Can I trade you this mango for a picture?”

Seriously? Uh… yes. Absolutely.
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Like I said at the beginning, I love how these trips stretch you.

I love seeing my quiet homebody son be willing to interact with dozens of kids he’s never met and love on them.

I love seeing my bold, fearless daughter travel to a new country and fit right in like she’s grown up there her whole life.

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These trips help center us.
They help remind us that the world is bigger than our:

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photography business
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They remind us that right now is the time to love others.

Right now is the time to serve and give.

You don’t have to leave the country. But you do have to serve.

Find a place to give back. Plug in. Pour yourself out.

And, in the pouring, and in the giving, you’ll find the strangest thing happens.

You are filled.

Thank you Belize for filling me up.

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Oh, one more thing, here’s the video I promised.

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