Comfortable being uncomfortable

I’m glad to be here right now, poking at my threshold. I want to get more comfortable being uncomfortable. I want to get more confident being uncertain…

We’ve been doing some poking at our threshold lately. Digging up the hardened surface of familiar, looking for fresh new ground in which to plow small seeds of change.

Change often begins with a shift in routine. Despite the fact that our lifestyle is wrapped in change, it is surprisingly easy to maintain a degree of sameness. If this sameness is dipped in the waters of conscious choice it can be a wonderful thing. If however, it is simply leftover residue from past repetition, it can become inhibiting to growth. This week we made a move toward getting more comfortable being uncomfortable.

New neighbors

As the landscape outside our home has changed, our family has had the opportunity to see needs newly presented. Our experiences in cold climate, small town communities were predominately void of panhandlers. As we drive through cities, concern and alarm has rung afresh, particularly within our kids. There are needs that are not hidden. There is despair on display.

It’s not new to me. My heart has had time to grow accustomed to the poor and needy. My mind has had time to develop conflicting ideas and thoughts about how to help without hurting. Our kids however are seeing new needs from fresh hearts. It is their perspective that I often need. How can we respond in a way that shows love and represents Christ?

New grocery list

The day before Thanksgiving we compiled a list and went shopping. Rather than filling our cart with food items, our goal was to assemble ready-made care packages to distribute as needed.

  • socks
  • toothbrushes
  • toothpaste
  • shampoo
  • deodorant
  • ear plugs
  • playing cards
  • snacks
  • small bibles
  • gospel tracts

The kids had a great time counting out items and making sure we got what we needed. Our cashier wondered where in the world we were traveling to need so many travel size tubes! We explained our plan and she raised her eyebrow, “playing cards?” “Everyone likes to play games,” we reasoned.

packing party

decorating bags

The following day, after we filled our bellies, we set up a packing station and filled our bags. We stood around the table, warm, surrounded by family with full stomachs, filling bags.

love bags

Knowing that the next time these bags were opened, it would likely be held by someone with an empty stomach who is cold and alone was humbling.

“It’s not enough, Lord. Shampoo and deodorant are not enough.”

Yet I was reminded that hope comes in various forms. One of the most powerful is knowing you are not forgotten, knowing that you matter. We closed the day asking that God would help us to see those who needed hope.

…I want to get more confident being uncertain.

on alert

The next day we packed the van with our bags and headed to Nashville. What a difference it made to be ready and willing to distribute freely. We had several things planned in the downtown area: the Tennessee State Museum, Bicentennial park and the Farmers Market. Throughout the day we were vigilantly aware, on alert for anyone who might need hope. No obvious need crossed our path. A strange sense of disappointment filled our hearts as we drove home.

Discomfort

Our chance came however the following day. Driving home from the Adventure Science Museum, Trent noticed a man shuffling along, his profile illuminated by the streetlight. He was moving slowly, pushing a grocery cart full of unidentifiable items. As Trent slowed the car to match the speed of the man’s movements, I found myself wanting to sink into my seat.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I was very uncomfortable. It wasn’t an issue of safety. It was an issue of heart. My heart was recoiling from the unknown. It was in a new place that wasn’t easy. My easy is donating money online for someone else to distribute. My easy is packing a Christmas shoebox for someone else to hand out. This was not my easy. I’m glad I was not driving. I might have been tempted to try again another day. Instead, Trent rolled down my window and called out to get the man’s attention. As he approached our car, we offered him a bag. His face became soft and receptive. I looked him in the eyes and smiled–my discomfort dissolved.

That evening as we tucked our kids in for bed, we had someone new to pray for; we had a face to care about as the evening temperatures dipped low. I’ve come to see how healthy it is to keep expanding that distance between easy and hard, between comfortable and uncomfortable.

…I don’t want to shrink back just because something isn’t easy. I want to push back, and make more room in the area between I can’t and I can. Maybe that spot is called I will. ~Kristin Armstrong

comfortable being uncomfortable

Yesterday as we drove home from church, the kids spotted a man standing on the other side of the road facing opposing traffic holding a bright green sign. “Maybe he needs help!” was their instant concern. “I think he his likely holding a sign to advertise for a local business,” I reasoned. “But what if he’s not?” they responded.

I had to choose between what is easy and what takes effort. I had to ask myself, will I only offer help to those standing next to me or am I willing to make an effort?

“We better go find out,” I responded. Trent turned the car around and at the intersection my eyes met a man frail, worn and in need of hope. “Could you use something like this?” we asked extending our package out the window. “Oh yes, I sure could, thank you!” His face softened in a sincere, appreciative smile. As we drove away, I noticed my heart had grown. It hadn’t shrunk back from the unknown.

I realize that the issues surrounding poverty are complex and confusing. I admit that I don’t have it figured out. Certainly I’ve got leagues of growth in front me. What we did this week was only a baby-step, but it was a step. I was able to see that I won’t get any closer to being useful in this arena unless I’m willing to change my routine and get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Giving my GPS a rest

 

I drove 20 minutes into town today and I didn’t need to use GPS to navigate my route. I now know where the closest grocery store, chiropractor and thrift store are located. This is a sign that we have officially been in one place for a long time.

With the exception of a short jaunt to Kentucky’s Mammoth Caves, and a quick trip to Memphis, we’ve now been stationary in the Nashville area for almost a month. This was not the original plan. We’d anticipated being somewhere near the Gulf of Mexico at this point in our journey. However, as we are learning and all seasoned RV travelers would confirm: travel plans are best set in Jello-mode.

Our extended stay can be contributed to a bolt that broke off of our dinning room slide. Since that time we’ve been waiting for Camping World to order our part and fix the slide. Thankfully, we’ve been able to continue living in our RV while we wait. Thankfully, we are camping out in my brother’s driveway and not paying per night at an RV park. Thankfully, our schedule has been able to be loosy-goosy. We’ve enjoyed the downtime. We’ve enjoyed the extended family visit.

However, my feet are getting itchy. I’m ready to start seeing a new horizon outside my front door. We have new friends to meet in Florida and memories to make along the way. Isn’t it ironic that just a short time ago I was basking in the glorious mundane and now I’m ready to go-go-go? While there is a comfort in finding familiarity, change is calling. Again and again I’m reminded of William Cowper’s simple truth:

Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavour.

The Titanic Museum: It’s deep impact on my heart

Some things that we have seen or experienced on our RV trip are fun and easy to share. Others take more time to process. Visiting the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, TN last month was challenging to process. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write about it. However, the more time I’ve had to marinate on the experience, the more deeply I’ve been affected. And that my friends, is when it is time to write.

The Titanic Museum

First impressions of the titanic museum

From the road, the Titanic Museum could have easily blended in with the visual cacophony of “tourist trap” businesses. I’ve never seen a town quite like Pigeon Forge before. Businesses bested for our attention in amazing style. Mini-golf, Wax Museums, even an upside-down house called to our children begging them to ask their parents to pull over and spend money. We could practically feel dollar bills floating out of our pockets as we drove along. Had we not specifically heard it was worthwhile, we would have driven right past the Titanic Museum proclaiming, “Look away children, look away!” However, long before we’d crossed the Tennessee border, this museum was on our itinerary.

To be honest, my first impression was of disappointment. Pulling into the parking lot, I noticed that the Titanic Museum’s neighbor was the upside-down house. While it did look cool, the museum was comparatively smaller and frankly, less upside-down-amazing. To be fair, we had recently walked through a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark. Somehow, I’d erroneously assumed the Titanic Museum would also be built to-scale. It’s not. Instead, it looks like a mid-size ship cut in half and turned into a museum. If I seem disgruntled disappointed, I don’t want you to worry, I’m over it now.

What doesn’t matter

We purchased our tickets (which I’ve read are occasionally available on Groupon) and proceeded into the ship-building. From here my interest level rose. Each member of our family was given an audio tour headset. The content for the children was catered to their level and we proceeded through the museum at our own pace.

I could get sidetracked and tell you that there were 75,000 pounds of fresh meat, 100 grape scissors and 12,000 dinner plates aboard the ship. I could share the touching letter sent from a passenger stating, “It’s been a beautiful day here, and my neck is aching with looking up at the Titanic so I haven’t seen much of the weather.” But while these things are interesting, what really touched me in a place that no list or artifact can reach was the reaction of the passengers who offered everything they had in the moment of deepest need.

This is what mattered

Mrs. Straus (whose husband was the co-owner of Macy’s) gave her seat on a lifeboat as well as her fur coat to her maid and said, “I won’t be needing this.” She then turned to her husband and said, “Where you go, I go.” They were last seen standing together arm and arm on the deck.

The water was only 28 degrees. Colder than the freezing point of ice. Yet the warmth in her words brought tears to my eyes. Sacrifice is most meaningful when it is costly, is it not?

Reverend John Harper knew something of sacrifice as well as opportunity. While submerged in the frigid Atlantic waters, he swam from person to person sharing the love of Christ and praying with them until his death. Even now, I cannot envision the image of this sodden man encumbered with the weight of the water, yet driven to offer his only hope to those perishing around him, without tears in my eyes.

Is this not a picture to enfold within our hearts creating an inferno of passion and purpose? This. This is what matters. Not the grape scissors or the fancy plates. Not the grand view that makes our neck ache. It’s the opportunity. It’s the chance to wisely throw off what easily entangles and run the race with purpose.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Ephesians 5:15-17 NIV

 

Visiting Memphis with kids: our weekend trip

We took a side trip driving from Nashville to Memphis this weekend. For the first time since leaving Idaho, we left our RV behind. In Nashville we’ve parked our RV at my brother’s house. Because we planned to return to his place after our visit in Memphis, we opted to drive to Memphis in our van and stay in a hotel over the weekend. The kids expressed their feelings toward this plan with squeals and shouts. However, after three nights visiting Memphis with kids, I’m ready to be back in our little house on wheels.

Memphis weekend highlights

Memphis is tucked on the far western edge of Tennessee. The Mississippi River flanks the border with definable boldness while the city itself overflows with music, fried chicken, BBQ and cultural diversity. Our visit to this “Birthplace of Rock ‘n Roll” was driven by the desire to reconnect with my nephew and two college friends. During our stay we were treated to a meal consisting of BBQ, beans, greens, macaroni & cheese and apple pie as tasty and southern as they come.

memphis-bbq

Even richer than the food was our opportunity to rekindle relationships. In the last few weeks I have noticed a craving for community creeping up inside of us. This has begun to take is toll on our hearts. Twice we’ve camped within minutes of other traveling families. However, because of the rapid pace of our travels, our ability to connect with others has been limited. This weekend we had the opportunity to enter into deep discussions about life, loss, and God’s role in our lives. It rejuvenated my heart to make those connections. It also confirmed our desire to connect with other traveling families in the future.

Our time visiting Memphis was limited and the people we were there to see took center stage. However, we did enjoy visiting a few of local sights and sounds with the kids.

Visiting Memphis with kids: paid activities

memphis-childrens-museum

The Memphis Children’s Museum was a fun diversion with my nephew. We’ve now had the opportunity to visit a few Children’s Museums. Thanks to a reciprocal arrangement through our ACM (Association of Children’s Museums) membership, these visits are either free or discounted by 50%. While our kids enjoyed their visit, this wasn’t my favorite of the Children’s Museums we’ve visited so far. It was smaller in scale and I didn’t feel the value was equal to the $15/person price (even with our 50% admission discount). If you are unfamiliar with the different museum memberships beneficial to traveling families, I encourage you to read this post that first clued me in.

memphis-botanic-garden

An unexpected highlight was our visit to the Memphis Botanic Garden. A large area of the garden is designed with kids in mind. My Big Backyard contains more than a dozen unique areas created to encourage delight and discovery. Jumping, creating, playing, and daydreaming are all part of the plan in this carefully designed landscape for kids. Hours could be spent here in open-ended play. Click here for a photo tour. Prices: Adults: $8, Kids 2-12: $5

botanic-gardens-in-memphis

visiting Memphis with kids: free activities

memphis-weekend

Relaxing on the bank of the Mississippi River watching the steamboats floating effortlessly down river was a treat. There are several parking areas (some free, some paid) making this an accessible activity. The kids also found the RiverFIT riverfront fitness trail extra interesting.

civil-rights-museum visiting memphis with kids

The Civil Rights Museum is a place I’ve mentally bookmarked for the future. We didn’t visit inside the museum on this trip. However, from outside the museum we were able to see the hotel balcony where Martin Luther King Jr. died and learn more about the incredibly influential life that he led through short instructional video displays. Standing in the place where history has gone before me is something that I continue to love about travel.

Walking down Beale St. after sundown with live music pulsing and neon lights illuminating the evening created a memorable close to the day.

visiting memphis with kids

As we head back to Nashville we tip our hats to you Memphis for your idiosyncratic melodic style. You play to your own beat and we found that beat super groovy. To see our Memphis visit via video, click here.

Have you been to Memphis? Please share your favorite spots and activities in the comments below. On my Instagram account @christiededman commented: “I would add Mudd Island museum, Pink Palace and at least drive by Graceland (don’t pay to go in not worth the money) the Lichterman Nature Center is beautiful too.” Mudd Island did sound amazing. We would have visited, but it had unfortunately closed for the year at October 31.

Mansker’s Station visit with kids review

This week we dipped our 21st century fingers into the pot of the late 1700s past to test and try to understand what it was like to live in a fort forged by men who were masters of skills that most of us don’t even have the vocabulary to explain. Stopping at Historic Manskers Station, just 20 minutes north of Nashville in route to Kentucky, was an ideal way to sample this life of the past.

Visiting Mansker’s Station

According to some online reviews, we anticipated costumed interpreters and expected to spend about 1-2 hours touring the recreated fort. We arrived just after they reopened from the one hour lunch break at 1:00 and discovered, much to our delight, that we had the place to ourselves. Upon our entrance to the fort, we were met by a burly mountain of a man who was enthusiastic not only about the fact that we were homeschoolers (“they ask the best questions,” he said), but about his historical knowledge. Like a pot of well warmed soup, he bubbled over with bits of information and interesting tidbits while showing us around. Any questions we asked were met with a knowledgeable answer.

Kicking back, letting our guide fill our minds with knowledge while tobacco leaves hang from the ceiling to dry.
Kicking back, letting our guide fill our minds with knowledge, while tobacco leaves hang from the ceiling to dry.

We learned:

  • The difference between a station and a fort (while they are often used interchangeably, the former typically refers to a settlement of civilians while the latter usually indicates a military presence).
  • How to card wool by hand.
  • Where the term “nit-picking” came from (picking out small impurities from the wool–best accomplished by small fingers).
  • The origin of the term “sleep tight” (from the desire to keep rope supported beds snug and firm).
Learning the correct technique for carding wool.
Learning the correct technique for carding wool by hand.

About 1/2 way through our tour we met a second guide who continued our deluge of learning. This time we received an education and demonstration of the importance of the local blacksmith. The video below shows our children trying their hand at keeping the blacksmith fire burning.

We learned:

  • That iron nails were so important at that time houses were being burnt to the ground in order to retrieve and reuse nails for future building projects (until an ordinance was passed outlawing this potentially dangerous practice).
  • Blacksmith apprentices began their education around the age of 8 when they would move out of the house and live under the blacksmith’s tutelage.
  • The 8 primary skills that a blacksmith obtains as he hones his skills.
  • Often the blacksmith would also be called on to be your dentist!
manskers-station-woodworking
The shave horse was so named because the silhouette of a person using it would resemble that of a horse rider.

Switching back to our initial guide, we were invited into the woodworking shop for a demonstration of his lathe (see the video below) and shave horse skills while explaining details of his craft and tools. The kids were invited to partake in some of the activities (sans sharp objects).

Next we were escorted into the nearby 200-year-old Bowen Plantation home (the longest standing brick structure in middle Tennessee) and given a tour and explanations of various antique medical equipment (because the home was at one time owned by a doctor). In addition, we were given a demonstration of various textile machines for the development of fabric from hemp, cotton and wool. It was also here that we saw our first cotton plants in bloom and had the chance to attempt seed removal by hand (think cotton wrapped around velcro). The afternoon was a plethora of one-on-one experiential learning.

Examining the doctor equipment (including the skull drills).
Examining the doctor equipment (including the skull drills).

Overall our experience was fantastic. I could not have asked for a better value for the time, knowledge and expertise demonstrated through their patient staff. I’d highly recommend stopping by for a visit should you find yourself in the area, you won’t be disappointed.

Mansker’s Station Travel details:

  • Nearby: Mansker’s Station is located adjacent to a park which we intended to visit but ran out of time. This would be a great place to eat if you happen to come during the 12-1 hour that they are closed or just to let your kids burn off some energy.
  • Parking: easy. We were able to park both our van, truck and 40′ RV without a problem using the park loop driveway which has designated parking areas throughout. Exiting was also easy due to the loop design.
  • Time to tour: Some may be able to tour this place in 1-2 hours, but that would require moving much quicker than we did. We were there for at least 3 hours–I guess we ask good questions ;).
  • Prices: $8 for adults (which begins at age 13-super lame in my opinion) and $4 for kids ages 6-11. For some reason I could not find any pricing info online before we arrived so I was thankful to see that they were so affordable. There are AAA, senior and military discounts.
  • Hours: They are open weekdays from 8:00-4:30 with the last tour beginning at 3:00.