Go to Disney World Every Day

Our Dream Vacation

We just got back from the best vacation of my life.

Me and my family of five got to travel to Orlando, Florida to celebrate my cousin’s wedding at Disney World. We loved the time visiting with family, staying in a gorgeous villa, and of course – going to the Magic Kingdom!

My kids really are the perfect age to visit Disney World. The girls are both 4 years old and my son is 2. At this age, Grace and Nora are just starting to pick up on the concept of make believe. They have a hazy understanding that some things are real and some things are pretend, but they can’t exactly identify which is which without mommy’s help.

That means for now, princesses seem pretty real and special effects are absolutely magical.

My favorite Disney memories are:

  • Gracie screaming “this is so awesome!” on roller coasters – She couldn’t get enough of the adrenaline rush. My wild child will tell you, “I want to ride on these forever!” and she absolutely means it.
  • Nora being amazed by Disney magic – My little engineer was totally stumped by how Disney magic works. I especially loved her in the Tikki room. With her biggest smile on, she kept jumping up and down saying, “mommy HOW are these birds and flowers singing?!”
  • Henry milking it with the princesses – He’s only 2 and he already knows how to get the ladies. From tripping on his way to Ariel so she’d give him a comforting hug, to twirling with Cinderella and playing the shy card with Rapunzel before blowing her a goodbye kiss, this little man stole the show and everyone’s hearts.

Overall, the entire day was epic; and that made me leave the park wondering, how does Disney do it? Millions of people flock to Disney World expecting an absolutely magical experience well worth all the trouble. And not many leave disappointed.

So what is it about Disney World that makes us so happy?

What I realized is that the magic of Disney World is actually something so basic, we can (and should) experience it every day.

How Disney Does It

The real magic of Disney World is their understanding of human nature. Disney knows what makes humans happy.

From what I observed, Disney World seems to “manufacture” happiness 2 main ways:

  1. Moments of Wonder – Whether it’s the adrenaline rush of riding a careening roller coaster or the exhilaration of meeting one of your favorite movie characters, Disney World delivers extraordinary experiences around every corner. Every ride and every show stun us with elements that are well beyond our normal every-day experiences. Interacting with something you can’t explain leads us to wonder and amazement – and those are close cousins to joy. We love to encounter something bigger than ourselves.
  2. Shared Delight – The first time I went to Disney World on my honeymoon I had a pretty good time enjoying the park’s attractions. The next time I came back my heart could barely handle how happy I was enjoying my kids’ reactions to the park’s attractions. Is there anything better than seeing your 4-year-old’s jaw drop when she meets her favorite princess? Seriously, this moment made our whole trip worthwhile:

    This face is why Disney World exists.

    Seeing my kids happy and knowing that I was part of bringing them that happiness was one of the more satisfying things I’ve done as a parent. All day felt like Christmas – constantly handing my kids new presents and getting to watch them ridiculously love each one. Disney World knows they can multiply your joy by the number of people you share it with which is why the whole park is designed to be a family experience. Not only did I laugh watching the Monsters Inc. jokes show, I then turned to see Henry fall on his seat in a goofy overreaction, Nora cover her mouth to contain all her cute giggles, and Grace shout out loud her own punchline answers and that all led to triple the reason for more happy laughter.


    My favorite princesses.

Why It Works

Disney World didn’t invent our inclinations towards wonder and relationships, they simply cashed in on it. What they’ve really picked up on are some of the essential aspects of our divine design.

It’s simple – we want to wonder, because we are made for worship.

From early on, we have a curious bent to believe in magic, and that serves as evidence that a simply natural world would never suffice. Somewhere rooted in this physical body and this material mind there is soul that savors the supernatural. It’s displayed in different ways, but it’s never denied. Disney World gets this right. Magic is amazing.

And shared delights are better because we are meant for relationships.

This life isn’t fully experienced if it’s lived alone. Loving one another is deeply satisfying. And sharing our happy experiences with another exponentially increases our joy. Meaningful relationships not only enhance our lives, they are the very motivation we have for life and living.

While I’m grateful Disney World reminded me how I was made to experience joy, what they left out was honestly the most important part: the magician Himself.

There’s More Magic

There was an unforgettable moment at the end of our day when we were watching the closing fireworks and listening to the “When You Wish Upon a Star” montage. Gracie heard these lyrics and acted on them right away:

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you

Grace looked up at the Disney castle and gleefully yelled, “I wish I could fly!!!” A second later, she whipped around and with her frustrated little face asked me, “Mama, why am I not flying?!!” Before I could respond she tried again, this time asking for her own playground. But again, her request went unanswered and I had to explain to her that the song didn’t exactly work that way.

The people around us ate it up. They thought it was so cute. But really, it was kind of profound. In the midst of all the Disney magic, Grace ran into reality. Disney World has all the top notch special effects in the world, but they are no magicians.

And that is exactly Who they are missing – the only magician, God Himself.

Both our bent toward worship and our delight in relationships are meant to point us to the source of our joy – Jesus Christ. Not only is God the Creator of our capacity for joy, He is also the One Who “magically” conjures joy for our delight.

John 15:11

11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Worshipping a limitless God means we have a lifetime of  unlimited wonder ahead of us as often as we step back and take in our amazing God. And sharing the delight of those moments of wonder with God and His people promises to exponentially increase our joy along the way.

What Disney gets right in part is fulfilled completely in Christ. At Disney World we get immediate delight, but it’s fleeting. It fades the moment you walk out of the park. What we get in Christ is unperishable, eternal, enduring -it grows rather than wanes. It sustains through suffering and is a hopeful reminder of the even greater inexpressible joy we have ahead of us.

Special effects are amazing, but who would ever chose that over real magic? The source of wonder, the source of all goodness and relationships all come from one place:

James 1:17

17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.


What if we spent as much time pursuing joy in our eternal relationship with God as we do planning for a temporary trip to a theme park? What if we really believed we could have more than Disney World every day?

The ticket to our joy isn’t the one to Disney World – it’s the experience of knowing and loving God and it’s already been paid for by the King. Let’s take joy in that today.


Mom’s Last Lesson

My mom can’t talk any more. But she can still teach.

A week ago I got the call I’d been waiting on for the last year. It was time. Mom wasn’t eating and they couldn’t wake her up. It seemed that her 4 year battle was finally about finished.

So I hopped on the first flight out of Montana and made it to my Ohio home the next evening. Just like that I left my busy, messy, hectic life so I could sit and just be a daughter that waits.

My first full day here, Mom perked up. She woke up every hour or so and struggled against her heavy eyelids to have her eyes sparkle hello. For a few minutes we would have our quiet chats. Me with my updates and mom with her loving glances. Eventually she would have to give in to her stubborn eyelids and just lay there next to me.

I don’t know how much she was taking in about the world around her, but I know she was still trying to respond. Even with her eyes closed she would use her few working fingers to squeeze my hand. My morse code is rusty, but based on the effort behind each attempt I interpreted her messages to mean something like “thank you for being here with me” and “I love you very much.”

Every day since, Mom has maintained a puzzling combination of improvement and decline.  She’s more alert and at times still tries to interact with the people around her. But at the same time she’s still not eating anything. And now there are shivers of pain that were not normal before.

Is she getting better or getting worse? No one really knows.

I think Mom just likes messing with us. For all her years of being prim and proper and respecting authority, this woman deserves a few days to break the rules and prove the doctors have no idea what’s going on. At least, that’s what I like to think she’s doing.

In reality, every day we say goodbye to another aspect of Mom. 3 years ago it was her short-term memory, last year it was the ability to walk, this past winter we heard her last words, and now this week we say goodbye to swallowing and even, I think, her precious hand holding.

It’s a terrible thing to see your loved one die in pieces. Every lost ability is mourned and only prompts the reality that more severe losses are to come. We’re at the stage now where I wonder, “what more can she possible loose?” But as soon as I ask it, another new handicap is quick with the reply.

What life is left for my Mom while she waits for death?

There – in that question about the value of a languishing life – is where I’m sitting and learning by my mom’s side.

Every day, every minute, every struggling breath mom is losing more control over her life… and teaching me how to surrender to receiving.

Mom was the woman you couldn’t get to slow down. If she wasn’t doing lesson plans for her students, she was cleaning the house for her family, or cooking meals for a sick friend, or planning a service project for her sunday school class. You could not get her to stop giving to others.

But today, my mom’s contributions are limited to occasional eye contact and an infrequent hand squeeze. Others bathe her, feed her, prop her up in bed. Others change her in the mornings and tuck her in at night. Others read her Bible to her and turn on music for her and choose what Netflix reruns she gets to watch.

It’s hard to see this vibrant woman trapped in a deteriorating body. Her aims in life were so noble and it’s felt like her life’s purpose – showing Christ’s love to others – has been taken too.

Or has it?

Ephesians 2:8-9

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

2 Timothy 1:9

(God) who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world, He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.

When I read these Bible passages I hear a whole lot of receiving. Receiving grace, receiving a holy calling, receiving salvation through God’s Son.

Here from her bed, unable to move or speak, mom is teaching me the art of receiving holy love. She is showing me our humble part in simply accepting the grace of our compassionate Savior. He knows we can’t earn His love or ever come close to repaying His service and yet we get to sit and moment by moment receive His constant gift.

She is still showing Christ’s love to the world around her. She’s showing how much we need His love. How constantly He grants it. How powerfully it sustains us. And how faithfully it will guide us home.

Her body is weak, but her symbol is strong.

And very soon, when we’ve learned all we can from her last lesson, she’ll get to go be with Christ and receive the fullness of His love and healing.

Romans 8:10-11

But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.  And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

This last lesson has been a hard one to teach. But she’s doing it so well.

Romans 8:38-39

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

3 Dollars for My Baby

It was another hectic library day. Library day mostly exists so when I see it written on my calendar I can feel like a good mom. The trip itself leave me far less confident about my parenting skills.

Strangely enough, I arrived early that day. Early is almost as stressful as late when you have a great big library waiting to be explored, 3 wide-eyed little wanderers, and no program to capture all their unbridled excitement. For those pre-Story Time moments, I knew what my mission was: get my rowdy bunch to the kids’ zone ASAP and try to restrain any screaming, fighting, or escape attempts along the way.

There was yelling to slow down hallways and begging to speed up stairs, but eventually we made it to our happy place. The toddler area is the one spot where noise is begrudgingly permitted – not coincidentally it’s also the only area of library where I feel comfortable looking other patrons in the eye.

My girls immediately darted to one of the new science exhibits. You know the type: “hands on” displays perfect for families that have a 1:1 parent/child ratio and a nightmare to moms of multiples who can’t keep track of all the hands that are “on” and throwing and squishing and trying to tear apart said educational display. I think the exhibit was supposed to be teaching us how molecules were made up of individual atoms. I think my girls had learned that foam atoms were very fun to throw and baby Henry had correctly deduced that they are delicious.

All of two minutes in, I was starting to worry we might be breaking the bounds even of library toddler haven. This was also the moment that a disheveled, middle-aged man walked up to me.

I don’t have much experience with his type. Most middle-aged men are afraid of young moms with chaotic offspring. They tend to avoid us. Unless of course they are annoyed by us to the point of confrontation – which is what I assumed was his purpose.

He was direct to say the least. Right off the bat it was: “Is he yours? That baby. Do you own him?”

Immediately I recognized that English wasn’t his first language. I also recognized that he was not smiling.

Bracing for whatever rebuke he had for me, I held Henry a bit closer and tried to muster the friendliest smile I could manage while nonchalantly prying the library display out of little man’s mouth.

“Umm… this little guy I’m holding here on my hip? The boy gumming a foam atom? Yes, this is my son. Why do you ask?”

All the man had to say was “OK.” Then he went to rummaging through his pockets.

We shared an awkward pause as he searched for God knows what in his coat, while I regained awareness of my surroundings and threw a mom-glare at my girls still ransacking the display.

Eventually, he pulled out two dollar bills.

“Here. For your baby.”

Well, this was new territory. The way he said it made me think he was trying to actually make a trade. Then came more rummaging.

“No. Here. Three dollars.”

“I, um, don’t understand sir. What is this for?”

I’m starting to notice that some social cues are a bit off. Now I’m sensing he’s not “all there.” Outwardly, I kept a consistently pleasant demeanor. Inwardly I’d just gone from timid, please don’t yell at me for being a mess of a mom to warrior mode. This weirdo wasn’t getting anywhere near my kiddos. What the heck is he getting at about my son? He’d better back up now!

He was struggling to find the right words. But very firmly, he tells me: “For your baby. Only your baby. You have baby. You take this for your baby. Only for your baby. Not you.”

And it hit me. This man was trying to make a donation. He wanted to give money to help. Well, that’s a totally different story. I softened my stance and gave my automatic American response.

“Oh. Well, thank you sir. But he doesn’t need any money. That is so nice, but we have money to take care of him. You keep that for yourself.”

“No, baby is good. Here is three dollars.”

From there he mumbled something about a bad ruler back at his home. I didn’t know how that related, but what I did understand was his fervor. In our confused dialogue his message was becoming clear.

It is good you have a baby. I want to help your baby.

Thankfully, God gave me the presence of mind to quickly push aside my pride and accept this act of kindness towards my young son.

“You are trying to be generous aren’t you, sir? We love our baby very much. Thank you for being generous towards him. I’ll use this money to help take care of Henry.”

As soon as I took his money he nodded approval and walked away. I on the other hand, was frozen for moment taking in the abrupt beauty of the previous 2 minutes. I don’t fully grasp what motivated him to give Henry three dollars. Maybe he’d had people give him a few spare dollars and he was reenacting the gesture he didn’t fully comprehend.

He gave me more than three dollars though.

With his broken words and awkward actions he confronted my misplaced priorities. I’d been focused on my failed attempt to appear put-together, but here was a man moved by a far greater image he observed. New life – rowdy, messy, unpredictable little life.. is life that still reflects the mysterious and astounding value of his Creator. How could I have forgotten the glory of the gift in my arms? The sanctity of the little lives meandering around me…

It was absolutely riveting to have someone point out my son’s astonishing worth when all day I’d been mostly preoccupied by the yogurt stains on his shirt.

For whatever reason, this man was motivated to care about and contribute to the well-being of my baby boy. And this mama will cherish the high compliment that came with those three dollars.

Next time I go out with my unruly bunch, I plan to look more strangers in the eye. I want to notice them and their value just like someone did for my Henry-boy.

And for the record, Henry got about 20 diapers out of the deal.

If You Failed in 2014

Ah, the end of 2014. A time for self-reflection, for looking back, evaluating life decisions and measuring the year’s success.

In other words, it’s time to polish off those Christmas cookies while you wallow over your annual list of let-downs.

Seriously, does anyone sit down and have a rush of accomplishments come to mind? Or are you like me, settling in for what seems like a necessary acknowledgement of how once again, I couldn’t keep up.

– Remember that crazy idea about getting up early? Pu-lease. No amount of solitude or Starbucks lattes could entice me out of bed before work beckoned or babies cried. Face it, I’ll never be the 6 am early bird that I so long to be.

– And what about my house? Is it STILL messy? I thought that new schedule, that new resolve, that new routine was going to actually change things around here. But for all my cleaning I can still guarantee that every room is punctuated by clutter as it was yesterday, last week, and last year.

– I had plans! Plans to read books, write articles, support causes, invest in relationships, get organized, get over anxiety, spend more time with God. What happened to last year’s eager resolutions?

I wish 2014 was the unusual year, but it looks painfully similar to my last decade of year-end reviews. While I celebrate the year’s facebook-worthy milestones, I can’t help but linger over my private defeats – the struggles that persist, the weaknesses that still hold me back, the fears I haven’t overcome, the failures I find myself repeating.

So what is this year’s great resolution? Of course I realize a more balanced perspective is in order. There WAS progress this year. I could purpose to dwell on what things went RIGHT in 2014:

– We potty trained two toddlers. (That’s 12 diapers a day I don’t have to change, people! And did I mention our year-long battle with toddler diarrhea ?… I will never get over how INCREDIBLE toilets are.)

– I nursed Henry for a WHOLE YEAR. (Annnd now you know where all the saved diaper-time went.)

– I finally found balance in my work-from-home/stay-at-home-mom routine. (I know all you work-from-home mama’s know exactly what I’m talking about. You can do it, ladies. It just took me three years to figure it out.)

– And of course there was the little fact that we paid off my school debt, Henry’s medical bills, and Nora’s adoption. (Insert obligatory thanks to Dave Ramsey.)

But a tally of all that went right, doesn’t erase its lurking counterpart.  It might distract for a bit and provide some excuses, but my other list lingers and is ready to forecast a repeat of my often unmet resolutions.

This year, I have no grand epiphany; but in the quiet, on this eve of either renewal or resignation, I’m reminding my soul to have hope for 2015.

My performance, my personal bests and worsts of 2014, can’t be where I start planning for 2015. They have their value, but no power to predict the outcome of the year ahead.

The only hopeful place for me to begin the new year is in the faithfulness of Christ.

He’s the only one to keep His every resolution – and I can’t believe saving me is again part of His annual plan. My 2014 failures have already been met by last year’s intended atonement and His promise to keep me clean in 2015 is as resolute as ever.

When I plan my upcoming year, I don’t want to fixate on my shortcomings, but revel in my clean slate. The year is new, and so is Christ’s resolve to free me from my stubborn sin. I prefer a more instant version of this process that God’s decided to draw out over the years of my life, but if He’s willing to walk me through another year of slow but steady growth, I’m ready to get started.

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:22-24 ESV)