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:

home remodel
photography business
iPhone 6
playstation
american girl dolls
10 year plan
5 year plan
1 year plan

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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danielle, jo, sara & i are going to belize. wanna help?
danielle, jo, sara & i are going to belize. wanna help?

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A few years ago I was able to go on my first mission trip to Haiti, the very next year I brought Jo along.  He was 10 at the time.  I loved seeing him connect with kids from the other side of the world and I love how he came home understanding that there is a bit more to life than video games and new Lego sets.  He’s since been to Haiti and Belize and this year Danielle and Sara are joining us on our trip to Belize!   We will be helping build a basketball court in a village as well as teaching vacation bible school during the week.

(This is the part where you come in.)

We are funding the trip ourselves and are still a bit short of the full amount. (Plane tickets are expensive yo!) So I thought, why not see if anyone out there is interested in contributing?!? As a little thank you for your gift, I’ll shoot a mini-session of your choice. Family, baby, maternity, senior, kittens? You pick it and I’ll shoot it. (These will take place in the East Texas area on selected dates.) I’m only offering 10 of these so get em’ while they last.

10 mini-sessions, $150 bucks each. All proceeds go to getting Danielle, Jo, Sara & I to Belize.

Two more things…

1. If you don’t need photos, but still want to donate. That’s allowed. (Email me here: alexmphotography@gmail.com)

2. If you don’t need photos, and don’t want to donate. That’s also allowed, passing this post along to others would be a HUGE help.

Ready… Go!

(Email me here: alexmphotography@gmail.com if you want to book a session.)

Here is a little video I put together from our trip last year.

And… if you still want more Belize goodness, you can click here to read about our trip from last year.

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Snake Attack Day Turns 9!
Snake Attack Day Turns 9!

Today marks the 9th anniversary of our families favorite made up holiday.

Snake Attack Day!

Short story: I heard Danielle scream. I ran outside. This happened.

Today we give thanks for surviving this close close encounter many years ago.

Eat a gummie worm & join us in celebrating our victory over the serpent.

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The Cruise
The Cruise

So, this post began sometime back in 2013.  At our house, we do a little thing called “Spending Day.”  Every other month, our kids are allowed to spend their allowance.  They plan ahead and get to go purchase what they have been saving towards.  Sara was great at saving, but never could quite find anything she wanted to spend her money on.  She started saving towards some larger American Girl purchases, but once she got to 30 or 70 bucks she would then say…. “Wait a minute… I don’t want to spend 28 bucks on a Beach Chair, much less 85 dollars on a Sunset Sleepover Tent.”
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So we suggested for her to save up for an experience or a trip of some kind.  One thing led to another and she found out she could go on a 5 night cruise for 300 dollars.  The girl was locked in.  She was on a savings mission.  Every other month, she would go on the spending trips with the family and watch her brothers purchase something.  She would bank her money and move on with life.  Some Spending Days were harder than others.  But overall, she was super determined.  We made a little chart to fill in for every dollar she saved, and after about a year and a half of extra jobs, birthdays, savings, and chocolate chip cookie sales, she had reached her goal!

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Danielle was not interested in getting on a boat, so I was awarded the honor of being cruise parent. (Try not to feel to sad for me.) From the beginning, Danielle and I knew she would love it. It would be a trip she would remember and cherish forever: that one time she got to go one a week long cruise with her dad.  I could already envision her coming home from college one Christmas as we sat around the fireplace and talked about it.
This was the first cruise for Sara and I so every little thing was a treat.

Examples:
Made Beds
Lounge Chairs
Bath Robes

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One of the things we both were looking forward to the most was free food.  Anytime.  All the time.

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Boats are long.

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Out favorite parts of the trip, were waking up each day and watching the sunrise on the ocean.

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Sara very quickly realized, this was the life she was born to live.

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Danielle was a little nervous that our diet over the course of the week might not be the healthiest.  She may have been right to worry.

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The boys were so sweet and surprised Sara with a lego set to build and play with while on the cruise.  She was super giddy.

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Mine. Mine. Mine.

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Our stop in Progreso was a blast.  Sara had her first experience with the fine art of haggling.  She could not believe that the bracelet that she liked went from 35 dollars down to 11 in about 18 seconds.

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Also in Progreso,  Officially Licensed Disney products.

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The ship had a spa where you could get a pedicure, manicure, eat ice cream, and look out on the ocean all at once.  Sara would have been content to stay there the rest of the trip.

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Wait… you can pick up the phone and they bring you free dessert 24 hours a day?  Done and done.

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I mentioned that Danielle was nervous about our meals.  We decided to document everything we put into our mouths.  We ate like kings and queens.

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Remember that time that we went snorkeling in Cozumel and I found a super nice girl that braided Sara’s hair for me?  Thank you sure nice girl from Dallas.

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These are fish we never saw while snorkeling, but were given a photo of.

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#islandlife

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Seriously?

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Our favorite times were really in the morning while most of the boat was sleeping.  So quiet and peaceful.

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Our best friend on the boat.

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Of course Sara loved all the little towel animals. (I didn’t take a shower all week because she would not let me undo any of them.)

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As we pulled back into Galveston Sara got her sad face on.  He dream week was coming to an end.

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Over the course of the week I realized something: I thought I was taking my little girl on the cruise.  Somewhere along the way, I realized that I don’t have a little girl; I have a young lady. Sometime between 2005 and 2014, Sara has grown up. She was more mature than I realized. I was prepared to make dad jokes all week to make her laugh, but her wit and humor kept me in stitches. I was ready for her to miss being home, but her sense of adventure is what helped get me through the week. She didn’t really grow up over the course of the cruise; she has been growing up all along.  But something about getting her away and alone, made me realize just how much of a young lady she is. Everyone who I spoke with before the trip just keep gushing over and over about how special it will be for her. Just how much she’ll remember it forever. How lucky it is that she’ll have these memories.

What I have since realized is that I’m the lucky one.

I’m the one who is treasuring that week.

I’m the one that will remember it forever.

I’m the one who will one day hold a grandkid in my lap and talk about that one time their mother took me on a cruise.

And, if I’m too old to remember the stories… I’ll turn on my vintage iPhone and show them this little movie.

The Cruise from Alex Maldonado on Vimeo.

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Belize 2014 | The Photos
Belize 2014 | The Photos

Warning: If you don’t like Belize, my kid, or lots of photos, this post is not for you.  If you only want to see things that might be on Etsy, Pinterest, or Style Me Pretty, then just scroll for a while and you’ll get there. :)

Our trip kicked off with Eli trying to convince me on the way to the airport that he could get small enough to fit into my suitcase.

1. He could.
2. I still didn’t try to.  I think the TSA frowns on that.

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We landed in Belize and got to do those cool stairs off the plane thing.  I always feel like I’m important when I get to do that.  The truth is, it just means I’m in a janky airport.

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This was the church/school we stayed at for the week.

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This was the gecko that greeted me when I went to the bathroom to wash my hands.

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We spent the first night going over our plans for the week and inflating 20+ basketballs.

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Bright and early the next morning, we started mixing concrete and doing construction work.  This is Cameron.  Cameron is a sophomore in high school.  He is a haas.  He is my hero.

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Meet Crystal & Zach.  They have been married about 2 months and instead of spending their money on a honeymoon, they came to Belize to build a basketball court and teach kids about Jesus.  They are my heroes.

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Once we arrived in Belize, we found out there is a concrete shortage in the city, so we would not be able to finish the court.  We went ahead and put up a goal anyway in the back just to have something to use for the week.  It was heavy.  Rather than try and lift it, I stood off to the side and took photos of those men lifting it.

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At nights, our team would play a charades game of sorts where they told Jo the movie and he would act it out.  I’m not sure what movie this is.  His hands are up in the air… My guess would be Leap of Faith but that’s probably not it.

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These next two photos/moments might be my favorites from the trip.

It was our first full work/VBS/basketball camp day.  We had already finished the work portion and were having lunch around 1:00, when Cassi & Colton received the news that their great-grandmother had passed away.  They were super close to her and it really shook them up.  They spent about an hour or so crying / talking / grieving together.  When it came time for us to head to do the VBS/basketball part of the day, they joined back up with our team.  No one forced them or made them join in.  They just did.  I looked over and saw Colton leading a group of about 15 boys in the story of when Jesus calmed the storm.  I broke down crying at how perfect this image was.  Colton might have been the only person those boys would have sat and listened to that day, and he could have easily stayed back in the room.  Yet here he was.  Teaching them about a man who did something so many years ago and also just minutes ago in his life.  Those boys had no idea the pain Colton had just been dealt, they just know he was there loving them.

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This is Cassi (right). she played college basketball and was in charge of setting up all our drills, stations, and groups for the week.  She also had every right to be in her room grieving about her great-grandmother.  She could have chosen to be alone.  She could have chosen to hide.  Instead she chose to do what she came to do.  She came to love kids and teach kids.  So here she is; two hours after learning of her loss, full of life and joy and being re-energized by serving others.

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If there is one thing that made those little kids from Belize happy, it’s crushing us in soccer.

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On one of our outings, we passed through an Old Order Mennonite community.  It was like traveling through time.

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Mennonite Home Depot

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Once you hit the pink, yellow, and orange laundry, it means you are out of the Mennonite community.
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Almost everywhere we went, Jo felt like he should be in front of the group.  Which is interesting, because he is the youngest and typically had zero idea where we were going.
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Sometimes I see signs that make me laugh and I take of a photo of them like a 7th grade boy would.

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We climbed this Mayan ruin.  It was steep.
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This one was less steep.  I was still tired at the top.

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It does not matter if you are in Haiti, Belize, or America, kids are super cute.  Take a look.

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Once we realized the court was not going to get finished, we headed to a hardware store in town to get supplies to build some soccer goals.  The owner of the store got excited about the project and offered to donate these super sturdy goals when the court is complete.  That was a huge deal.

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I also met this girl who is getting married next year.  She wants me to be her wedding photographer.  I did not have a business card to give her.

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This is my friend Beckie.  Her thing is going around the world holding tiny humans.  She is good at her thing.  She is my hero.

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This toe belongs to Abby.  She probably broke it playing soccer the second day on our trip.  She still loved on kids and never complained all week long.  Abby is my hero.

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Our last day was a beach/play day.  We headed out to a little island.

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Remember my friend Beckie who likes to hold tiny humans?  She apparently also likes to sit in the back of the boat and get pelted by the waves. :)

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This is Jo’s victory cheer when he had a hamburger after a week of less than his favorite food.

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Our trip leader Irv.  He spends his days holding hands with his wife while walking along the coast and… being held in Spongebob’s arms.
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Our group went snorkeling… more details to come….
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Hashtag island life.

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So Beckie, the tiny human holding one, did not want to snorkel, but wanted to conquer her fear of it.  So she tried it anyway.  She jumped in and swam around for about 45 minutes.  All the while clutching her father’s hand with a death grip.

Jo, also did not want to snorkel, but we decided to try it anyway… after about 10 minutes, he still didn’t want to and it was clear that the situation was not going to improve.  This is us swimming back to the boat.

These two photos are what parenting is about.  It’s about knowing your kid and knowing when to push them and holding on to them and encouraging them to keep pushing through.  It’s also about knowing when to bail on an idea.  Knowing when something is just “not for us” and being willing to back out.

This will look different for every family and each kid during various stages of life. But the sooner we figure it out, the easier our job becomes.

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A little while later the boat drove us to this spot and they said… “We are gonna toss out food and sharks and sting rays are going to come.  You can swim with them if you want.”

Yes, please.
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Remember Cassi?  Last year she gave Jo the nickname J-Money.  It’s how he introduces himself to people on mission trips.  All I can do is shake my head.  Thank you for that Cassi.  Thank you.

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My favorite part of heading home is counting down the minutes till we are greeted at the airport by my people.  I always miss my people.

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Part of the reasons I love taking Jo on these trips is to show him how much bigger the world is.

That the world is not just Playstations, Lego sets, and Tolkin books.
That the world is full of beauty and hurt.
That there is sadness and joy in unexpected places.
That the world is bigger than the next Marvel movie.

The thing is… every trip Jo has been on, he has turned around and shown me how much bigger he is.

That he has a heart that can love a stranger.
That he can do work I assumed he was too small for.
That he is bigger than Playstations, Lego sets, and Tolkin books.

Every time we’ve gone somewhere together, I leave thinking I’ll be so proud of what we do, but I always return more proud of who he is becoming than anything else.

I can’t wait to go back.

I can’t wait to take him with me.  He is my hero.

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