My family faced some heavy losses in 2014. We lost my step-dad in January, my father-in-law in May, and my husband’s brother in December—all sudden and devastating losses. Needless to say, we weren’t exactly in the holiday spirit when Christmas rolled around.
So we bailed.
My family, my brother’s family, and my mom took off to Leakey, Texas, and settled into a cabin on the Frio river for five days. We spent Christmas in the cabin—no internet, no phones, no TV. Our family was completely unplugged.
I learned a few things as a result:
1. My kids really enjoy each other.
The coffee table was stacked high with board games and cards. We all hung out and played together. There wasn’t a single distraction that took our attention away from being a family. No phones buzzing, no TV blaring, no Facebook alerts, no video games, just face-to-face game playing, laughing, and being together. NOT A SINGLE SELFIE WAS TAKEN! The kids didn’t fight once. They worked together to figure out how to play different games, and they helped each other. They were a team. After several hours of card games and a few of us repeating, “It’s ‘Go Fish’ not ‘Goldfish’!” we finally gave up and renamed the game “Goldfish.” Watching the kids laugh and love each other reminded the rest of us that even in our deepest sorrows, life goes on and it’s pretty beautiful.
2. My kids have wildly wonderful imaginations.
I think we walked more in those five days than we had all year. We must have gone on a hundred explorations. My mom created scavenger hunts for the kids, and it turned out to me more fun than a trip to Disney World. I never knew how fascinating a leaf could be, but as all the kids walked ahead of us we watched them compete to see who could find the biggest or most perfect leaf. They threw rocks across the river for hours. Seriously, for hours! I’ll brag and say that I am the rock-skipping champion of the world, no matter what my husband says. We stopped at a small waterfall, and after a few minutes of complete silence I realized that everyone was silently staring at the water. It’s the most peace we had felt in a long time. There was not sadness, loss, or pain, just complete peace.
3. My husband’s a fisherman.
I’ve watched my husband build several things around our home. I’ve watched him mow the lawn countless times, and I’ve watched him play with our children for hours at a time. Over those five days I got to watch him teach our children a skill that his dad taught him. I watched him pass the time the same way his brother use to pass the time. I watched him fish, and it wasn’t as lame as it sounds. A few months ago my husband and his brother took a boys fishing trip, and his brother came home making fun of my husband because he wasn’t that great at fishing. But on this trip I got to see my husband carry on his dad and brother’s favorite pastime and teach the skill to our daughters. I watched a tradition get passed down to my girls, and even though it was just fishing, it was beautiful. Our hearts were aching from the loss of my father- and brother-in-law, but they were also filled with joy as we let them continue to live through our children.
4. My husband’s a fisher, of men.
We have holiday traditions that we’ve done for years. We have family over on Christmas Eve and feast on a huge buffet of tamales, beans, and chips with dips. Cousins run wild in the house, and our favorite holiday movie is on in the background. Each year on Christmas Eve we open one gift and then run off to bed to await Santa’s arrival. This year was different. We ditched the traditions. My family sat at a big wooden table in the middle of the cabin, and my husband read the story of Jesus’ birth from our youngest triplet’s Bible. No crazy chaos, no TV noise, no huge buffet—just my family listening to my husband read God’s word. I’ve never been so at peace in my entire life. I absolutely love our Christmas traditions, but in that moment there was not a single regret that we chose to bail on them this year. I’ll take watching my husband lead our family in worship over a holiday movie any day of the year. I know that my father-in-law would swell with pride to watch his son read the Bible to his grandchildren. That alone will change a heart from sorrow to joy.
5. We’ve become too busy, and I pinky-swear to my family that we’ll slow down.
We’ve become an instant gratification society, and it’s filtered into my home. We’ve become glued to our electronics and dependent on the satisfaction they immediately gives us. There’s such an expected fast pace these days, and if you aren’t going, going, going, you’re almost viewed as behind the game. After five days unplugged in the cabin by the peaceful, calm river I’m pretty much over it all and just want quiet. I want to be still. I want my family to slow down. Why are we in such a rush anyways? Why are we staring at screens when we can be looking each other in the face, playing old-school games that require you to talk to each other instead of having our avatars talk to each other for us. This family is unplugging as much as we can. We learned the hard way last year that life will pass by way too fast and you aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. Slow down. Unplug. Make the little moments count in a big way. And don’t forget to say, “I love you”—not through text or email but face-to-face. Don’t ever forget to say, “I love you.”