Sunday Night Musing: Surrender

Tonight we heard the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Sometimes I just want to hear about how the Scripture applies to my life, telling me what to do. Sometimes the debate of commentaries is tiresome. Tonight, my friend Toyna taught on this passage having us think about the places where we don't see the needs of others and how we may use our resources (time, talents, possessions) to help them.

She also shared that there used to be old Jewish folk tales about a rich man and a poor man who die like in the story Jesus tells. But the folk stories have the poor man going back to the living to give the rich man's family a warning about the after life and living well. Jesus, however, doesn't have that happen. He says that the living have the words of Moses and the prophets. If they don't believe them, then they won't believe even when someone rises from the dead. 

Jesus seems to be saying that we have all we need for faith. We've had Him rise from the dead. Even that wasn't enough for everyone to believe. 

Faith isn't about having enough proof. It's about where our heart is. If we're not ready to give up our own will and follow God's, then no amount of proof of His existence will matter. If we're not ready to surrender all to God, faith isn't really attainable.

I'm learning that surrender is a daily thing for me. Just because I gave my life to Christ once (okay, actually several times over the course of several summers at Bible camp), doesn't mean that I'm living like it each moment. Every day I have to choose to follow Jesus over doing what my own will wants to do.

Each morning I try to remember to pray a prayer of surrender. I don't always remember, but I try. Days seem to go a bit better when I do remember.

And while I'm surrendering I'm keeping my eyes open for the people God places in front of me to reach out to in what ever way they need. Or at least I'm trying.


It's Not Easy, Not Being Green

My greatest struggle with social networking is jealousy. There; I said it.

Right now I saw on Facebook that a cousin of mine is away on vacation for a week with her husband while her mom watches her children. I am jealous that her mom lives close by and isn't working so that she's able to be available to watch the grandchildren. I am jealous that they are able to get away for a week together.

I get jealous seeing that a classmate of mine is successfully getting her book plugged on news reports and radio shows. I get jealous reading of all her travels in her book.

Of course I overlook the other circumstances in their lives--that my cousin's dad died from cancer years ago, that my friend's book is based on her having 50 dates in 50 states as she searched for a man to spend her life with. If they allowed themselves, they may have been jealous of my father still being alive or of me having a spouse and children.

I can get jealous of others' job endeavors, financial successes, ability to go to concerts and plays, camping trips, and even just that they had some time for bike ride by themselves. (Edit: Let me be clear that it's not that my wife doesn't give me time for bike rides or that we don't go camping. I can simply be jealous when others get to do it when I'm not. Or that someone has the time and ability to do a 40 mile bike ride. Or that someone is camping in Glacier National Park when we're at a state park just outside the Cities. It's my twisted perspective on things.)

My jealousy, of course, has nothing to do with them at all. It is all about me. Actually, that's the issue. That I'm trying to make it all about me. I'm comparing myself to them and their circumstances. I'm wishing I had what they have.

But it's me who is not being content. I'm not focusing on the blessings I have. I'm not being thankful for the opportunities my friends have.

A year or so ago a friend gave me the book 1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp. It's a book by a woman who has seen plenty of loss and trials, but she has also found blessing by focusing on gratitude. She made a list of 1000 things she was thankful for in her daily life.

I've got a notebook that I'm trying to do the same experiment in. I'm up to 157 things I'm thankful for. Honestly, most of the time I forgot to write in it. Most days I forget to keep gratitude before me.

Sure, I take a moment before meals and when putting the boys to bed to thank God for the food we have, the day He gave us, and a assorted other things, but I admit that it's sometimes a perfunctory action. I seldom keep an attitude of gratitude before me throughout my day.

And this is really the issue at stake. It isn't about what others have or what I don't have. It's about God. He has given me everything I need. Way more than I need.

So when I see a friend post that they're backpacking through Glacier National Park or getting away for a romantic weekend with their wife at a cabin or selling their book well, I can stop and be happy for them. I can give thanks that they are able to have those opportunities.

But more importantly, I can look around me at all I have and give thanks for it.

For wonderful kids, a beautiful wife, a stable roof over our heads, a steady job, a beautiful world to explore, and more than I need: I give thanks.


A Nation of Unhappy Children

I was listening to a book on CD today that stated that children in the USA are the 2nd unhappiest in the world (only children in the UK are unhappier). That's right, unhappiest. Being on CD I couldn't look at the footnotes to find the study, and I had a hard time finding the exact report online, but there were several articles stating that children in the UK were the unhappiest in the world and that the US was right behind them (again, not being able to find the exact report findings I'm not sure how old the study is but the book is less than two years old, so I think the study is well within the last decade).

This should be disturbing to all of us. We are a nation that prides itself on its right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Clearly we have failed in that pursuit.

All of our material possessions, technology, wealth, and freedom aren't making us happy. I wonder if our children are unhappy because of all the pursuing we're doing...

Giving our children more stuff isn't making them happy. Working more hours so our family has more money isn't making our children happy. Video games, ipods, and other pieces of technology aren't making them happy. Enrolling them in more and more extra-curricular activities isn't making them happy.

I think part of the book's conclusion on that part was that our children aren't happy because they're not picking up happiness from us as parents and that we haven't taught them well how to use their brains in ways to choose to be happy.

I haven't done well in this area, I confess. I grew up in a Scandinavian culture where emotions were something to be suspicious of. I'm just learning to be more in touch with them and to control them rather than just repressing them. So I know I haven't passed on those skills to my children well. And I know that I don't often portray happiness throughout my day.

Forgive me for another shameless plug, but in my book, Cultural Enslavement: Breaking Free into Abundant Living, I look at some of these issues. I assert that spending time slowing down in God's creation is better for us rather than spending too much time connected to technology, that our lives are fuller when we choose not to fill them with busyness, that we need to connect more with people in meaningful ways. In short that we need to slow down, do more reflecting and meditating, and dwell richly in God's provision. The book/CD isn't faith based, but it's nice to hear some research that points to the same conclusions.

So today may we each take a few brief minutes to slow down, breathe deep, and choose happiness. If not for our sake, for our children ("think of the children!"). I intend to try and smile more tomorrow.

(The book is 10 Mindful Minutes by Goldie Hawn. Yes, the Private Benjamin Goldie Hawn. I'm not through it enough to recommend it one way or another yet, but it does have some interesting data and scientific facts about the brain.)


Sunday Night Musing: Shrewdness

The gospel lectionary passage for tonight is from Luke 16:1-13--the Parable of the Shrewd Manager. Go ahead. Click on that link and read it. As Pastor Jan noted, it's not an easy passage. Bible commentators can't agree on what the passage means--what it's real point is.

Basically the steward--the manager of another person's estate--messed up and is getting fired. So he goes out and tells some of the people who owe his employer goods that they should cut their bill in half. He figures that by being shrewd (admittedly an underused word) he'll make friends who will look out for him when he's unemployed.

Jesus gives the story of an example of how we should be with our wealth in the world saying that we should be more like the steward, that people of the world are shrewder in dealing with their own kind than people of the light.

The passage contains some familiar thoughts:
  • "Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."
  • “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much."
  • “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
It touches on being trustworthy, a good steward, shrewd, forgiving, putting God above all else, using money wisely. And those thoughts all seem to be connected for Luke or Jesus. I think the main thought is about using our money (wealth, possessions, influence, etc.) in ways where we're not hoarding it or making it the main priority in our lives, but that we use wisely and in shrewd ways (which I don't fully understand what that looks like).

So when I reflect on the sermon each Sunday night, I do so not to influence your thinking, but so that I can process God's word and figure out what it means for my life. Tonight I think this passage is helping me remember to be trustworthy in all I do--that the small stuff matters. I think it's also a reminder to be generous. I still struggle with that. I look uncomfortably at the person on the street corner with the sign saying they're homeless, and I turn my head so they don't see that I've noticed them. I don't know that I'm very good at using the money I have to be generous with my friends very well, either. I can always be better at forgiving those who owe me and not holding grudges or being resentful at those who haven't paid me back. And of course I always need to keep myself in check as to whether God is my priority or if I"m serving something (or someone) else in life.

There's always plenty to work on in my life. I guess I'm learning to be a good and shrewd steward of it. 

I'd love to hear what the passage says to you...


OMG: the Grotto

On our way home from Iowa on Sunday, the boys and I stopped at the Grotto of Redemption in West Bend. This tiny town holds what has been called "the eighth wonder of the world" by some (though I know that monicker gets thrown around a lot). About a century ago, the priest at St. Peter & Paul's began building a grotto with rocks and precious gems he collected from around the world. It stands as the largest man-made grotto in the world (actually composed of nine separate grottos showing the life of Christ) and the largest collection of precious stones and gems.

It is huge. I'm guessing the top is well over two-stories tall. The effort with which the rocks and gems were laid is amazing as well. Ornate decorations and pictures flow throughout the place.

Anders asked part-way through it if it was an okay time to say "Oh my God." I told him it was; I could tell he was truly in awe.

Of course, the cold wind and lack of child-focused entertainment meant that it didn't hold the boys attention for too long. That's okay. A spiritual experience with two young boys in a large grotto with stations of the cross and scenes from the life of Christ probably isn't going to happen in deep ways. But spiritual experiences don't always have to be deep (and sometimes the deepness is not in ways we expect).


Sunday Night Musing: Lost

God is a God of the lost. Luke 15:1-10 makes this clear (as does the succeeding story of The Prodigal Son).

As we talked about the lost/found image in the Bible tonight at church, three things came to mind:

1). Being a young child and getting lost in a department store. 

This was not because my mom chose to leave me, but because I was hiding in the midst of a rack of clothes or because I wandered away to look at some display (likely involving toys or candy). My mom, sooner or later (she might not have realized as soon as I did my lostness), would look for me.

2). The common getting-lost-while-driving event. I grew up in Iowa where the roads tend to follow north-south and east-west grids. Getting from my grandma's house in Des Moines to my parents' house three hours northwest of there, I knew I had to stay within the parameters of Highway 3 to the north, Interstate 35 to the east, Interstate 80 to the south, and Highway 71 to the west. I could pretty much take any road within those boundaries and, as long as I was heading north or west, end up at home. Once, though, I got on an unfamiliar road in the dark (before cars came with compasses on the rear-view mirrors). It curved a few times and I eventually found that I had gone in a loop. This happens more commonly for me in Minnesota or Wisconsin where the roads don't follow straight lines at all. One road could go for miles and miles just to loop back to a spot two miles down the road from where you first turned off. Men are known for not liking to ask directions. I fall into this category. But I know when things start getting unfamiliar its because I've taken a wrong turn and need to look at the map (or my phone's GPS).

3). Blazing a trail through the woods and not being sure where it will end up. Occasionally I like to slip away from the designated trails in places and explore new territory. I will generally only do this if I have a sense of boundaries and destination. Like if I'm at the top of a ridge and know there's a river that runs through the park. Then I know I need to head downhill until I hear running water. Sometimes though, I get a sense that I may not be headed in the right direction; that I could just be looping around and walking for hours. Then I breathe a sigh of relief when I see a landmark that tells me I'm where I need to be.

These images made me realized that being lost is a choice. One doesn't simply just find themselves lost. You take a wrong turn. You choose to go off the marked trail. You let go of your parent's hand. You get arrogant and prideful and think you can find the way without any help.

I was also reminded of canoeing across countless lakes in the Boundary Waters. There are times when I have looked at the map and think I've gotten landmarks figured out, only to canoe to my destination and discover that it's not actually my destination. What I thought was a peninsula was actually an island, or where I thought was the mouth of a river was just a bend in the shoreline. 

Frustration rises after spending time and energy into going the wrong direction. The same happens in life. I regret wasting years not being where I was supposed to be (whether physically or spiritually). I don't always make the right decision. Sometimes I like to blaze my own trail rather than stay on the path where I'm supposed to be. Sometimes I'm just cocky and want to prove I can get where I'm going on my own without asking for help. 

God never gives up on the lost. I remember the first time as a parent when my oldest son was little and wandered away from me in a toy store. I panicked. While trying to look composed, I quickly walked, scanning up and down each isle, searching for him. My mind raced to those "what if..." places that aren't good. I did all I could to find him (thankfully an experienced employee must have been familiar with the focused look on my face and pointed me to where he had wandered). 

Being lost does not need to be a permanent condition. Unfortunately I don't often realize that I'm getting myself lost by the decisions I'm making until it's too late and I get myself into a panicky place. Fortunately, there is grace. 

And I guess the take home lesson for me from tonight's passage is that I need to always check myself and make sure I'm staying on the path and making the right choices. 

When hiking and canoeing I've learned to look behind me every so often. We tend to be focused on the path ahead of us, but the path going back looks completely different. So if I'm planning on returning via the same route or just in case I get lost, I try and take mental snapshots of how the path looks going in the reverse direction. Sometimes we need to look back so that we can move forward properly. 


Friday Night Lights

As we drove across the border into Iowa on our trip back from Minnesota to my family's farm on Friday night, the sun began to dip below the horizon. Cornfields became more amber-colored. Pinks, purples, oranges, and reds lit up the clouds. A deer halted alongside the road as it stepped out of a cornfield. Dusk on the prairie lands.

It was too dark to for my children to read or draw (though they still would have tried), and the boys knew they'd want a little time with FarFar and FarMor (Grandpa and Grandma) before going to bed so we decided it would be best to try and rest a little in the last leg of the drive. Nils requested classical music instead of the book on CD we had been listening to.

I scanned the local radio stations. Several times. No classical music was available. We did hear at least twenty different high school football games. Honestly. Twenty.

There is one, maybe two, larger high schools in northwest Iowa, but no major metro areas. These are mainly small-town schools (or what has emerged from consolidations). And football is what the radio stations air on a Friday night. 

Part of the surprise of this is that there are people not at the football game that would be listening to it on the radio. There were no towns anywhere but at the high school football field in the few towns we drove through where a game was occuring.

The football games are not simply popular because there's nothing else to do (indeed, there may be nothing else to do because the football games are so popular), but because that is what you do in a small town. You support each other. Especially the youth. 

I grew up on a farm outside a town of less than a thousand people. The other town in our school district was home to a few hundred at best. But on Friday night, the bleachers were packed no matter how cold it got. 

In the winter, the bleachers in the gym were full. I remmeber taking the court during the basketball game and seeing almost the entire town there cheering us on with fanaticism. 

I'm not going to try and paint a rosy picture where everyone stayed out of trouble because of that. But I do think it mattered. I don't think one person in the school wasn't aware that there was an entire community out there that supported them in whatever they did. Music concerts, school plays, homecoming parades, even magazine sales. 

Those who were able to find work and stick around have become a part of that. Some of us left for big cities or big adventures. Some had to leave in order to find gainful employment. But even now there are those in the community who still support us and cheer us on in our endeavors. 

Call it nostalgia if you want, but those Friday night lights are at the heart of small town living for me. I didn't play football, but I was there for every home game (I was in the marching band). I didn't see a lot of time on the basketball court, but I knew that the fans were cheering just as loudly for me as they were for my friends who were tall and skillful enough to be good. 

I was excited to hear all those games on the radio. I didn't know any of the players' names. Even some of the school names are unfamiliar to me now. It may be that none of them go on to play any sort of professional football. But it doesn't matter who wins or looses, or how good the teams are. The radio stations are still broadcasting from tiny little press boxes perched above the bleachers because what happens on a Friday night matters to that community where the bright lights are shining down on 100 yards of turf. 

And what happens matters to them because they know that supporting those kids matters for the future. For those students' futures. For the community's future. 


Sunday Night Musing: Counting the Cost

Confession: I felt disconnected at church tonight. I don't know if you've ever felt that way, but every once in a while I do. I'm not sure why. It wasn't anyone's fault. It may have been because we weren't at church last week. It may have been because I was a little frustrated with how my son kept butting heads with me throughout the day. It may be that I haven't connected well with others from church recently. It may be that I've been feeling dry with my relationship with God lately. There could be a number of reasons why, but I wasn't feeling that connected.

The text didn't help, either. It's a hard piece of Scripture. Quite hard. During the sermon our pastor acknowledged that it makes you almost want to lay down on the floor under the weight of it all. So be forewarned as you read it:
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. (Luke 14:25-33, NIV)
Let's acknowledge that the passage contains a lot of difficult phrases:
  • If anyone...does not hate father and mother...even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.
  • Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
  • Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. 
Now clearly there is some hyperbolic language being used, but it seems like Jesus is trying to turn the crowd away from Him, not invite people to follow Him. Not only are we supposed to "hate" our family, take up a lethal instrument of torture (which is fitting with the hating your own life part), and give up all we have, we're also supposed to calculate if we can follow through with it all. 

If there was an enlistment speech for the Christian faith, this would be the one to avoid.  Even the parables aren't that inviting. How am I supposed to know if I'm going to complete the task of following Jesus? Why would I commit my army to fighting a battle in which we have half the troops? What is this war anyway? Who am I fighting? They're not helpful illustrations.

I've been told to look for the grace in passages. Frankly, it's hard to find. At the end I want Jesus to say, "Okay, so here is how you're supposed to do all this..." or "Now if you want to be my disciple, here's some hope..."

As the passage stands, I can just imagine everyone walking away and Jesus being left standing alone. 

I get that Jesus isn't actually asking us to hate our families or our lives but to make sure they don't get in the way of our love for God--that following Jesus must come first. I get that we aren't to hold tightly to what we own or who we are--that we are to be generous to others and to God. But it still seems quite heavy. 

If actually sit down and figure out the cost, like a farmer building a new structure would do, I would probably come to the conclusion that I'm not able to do it. And there's little chance I would enter into a war with half the fighting power of the other side. Not unless they were a very inexperienced army.

And maybe that's the point. Maybe Jesus is trying to say that we can't do it on our own. Maybe He's wanting us to remember those other things He's said: that things are only possible with God, that human effort cannot bring about salvation. 

I would just really like it if Jesus came out and said that here, though. Something like, "Yep, the cost of following is pretty much impossible. That's why I don't expect you to be able to do it. I expect you to rely upon me for being able to do all this." 

But I think that it's there. I think (and not just because our pastor also thought so) that Jesus is offering grace by saying that we can't do this with our own efforts. I can't at least. 

I think that's the key to my feeling a little disconnected as well. I can't rectify that by my own efforts. I need God to connect with me. I need Him to connect me to others. I need Him to help me get through those trying moments with my kids. In short, I need Him. 

And thankfully He offers Himself freely to me. That's grace. 


Yard Parties and Hospitality

Last night we hosted a gathering of other families from school. We grilled out and hung out in the yard while children played. We posted an invitation on the school's parent forum Facebook page. We didn't know how many people would show up. It was only about 7 families. Which wasn't overwhelming and was a nice size for getting to talk.

Sometimes the thought of having a group of people over can be overwhelming. I wish we were at a point where we financially could afford to offer everyone's meat and drinks and just have them show up, but we're not. And that didn't stop us.

We said we'd have a grill ready along with paper plates, eating utensils, and water. People were asked to bring their own protein to grill, a dish to share, extra beverages they may like, and a lawn chair (we had about a half dozen chairs outside, a picnic table, and a picnic blanket). Really we just provided space and time.

Hospitality doesn't have to be audacious or lavish--at least, I don't think it does. Hospitality can be simple. It should, either way, be focused on the guest.

St. Benedict wrote, "Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ" (RB 53).

That's a high calling--not an easy thing to do. I honestly don't often think about that most of the time. I know I didn't last night. I spent my time turning the hot dogs, chicken, and one piece of steak. I was getting food on the table and cups by the water cooler. I grabbed the extra lawn chairs out of the back of our car. At some point I sat and ate and got to talk with people. Most of the time I felt more like Martha than Mary.

But I think--I hope--that even creating space and time for people to come together is a step toward receiving the other as Christ. And let me be clear--it was not a religious gathering in anyway. We knew a few families as having church connections, and we may have talked a little about church, but it was just a gathering of families connected by school. Many knew each other--at least in passing, but some hadn't met before. And that was good. People came together. Relationships were built. These are good things, I believe.


Of Church Yards and Sanctuaries

Prepare yourself; this will be a bit of a venting rant. You have been forewarned.

Background: We rent our school building from a Catholic Church that used to run their own school. The buildings are connected. But the church has made the boundaries clear. They don't want students in the lawn area around the church--only the area around the school. I guess there was some concern last year about students climbing in trees and breaking branches and such. I would regularly spend my break time in the church courtyard on the benches that surrounded a shrine of the Virgin Mary and Christchild--having some quiet time, reading my Bible app, making some phone calls/texts to friends, reading, journaling, etc.

I was out there today when I was approached by a man whom I assume was the priest (though he was without clerical collar or any identifying marks). He asked if I was waiting for someone. I replied I was on my break and enjoying some quiet time. He, in a Minnesota nice manner of indirectness, asked me not to be there--but to feel free to finish up what I was doing today.

There had been some vandalism recently. Plus, he seemed to want to maintain the clearness of the school/church boundaries.

I get it. I do. A friend of mine who pastors in town recently experienced arson at his church as well as some hate-based vandalism. We don't live in an age where churches can leave their doors open during the day as a sanctuary.

Still, I initially felt a bit perturbed, to state it mildly. And not necessarily specifically at that church, but at the church culture as a whole. I know hat church isn't the only place I would experience such a thing.

Have we gotten to a point where we're afraid of people finding sanctuary even in our outdoor spaces? Why bother having church yards with gardens and statues? Wouldn't having people utilizing those spaces help deter vandalism?

Now it's easy for me to be a little judgmental here as I'm not working in a church at the moment (the last one I worked at had a nice prayer garden that was utilized by neighbors, though it was well hidden from public view, I guess). The church we attend doesn't own it's own building. It doesn't even have outdoor space other than a parking lot.

I know that churches need to be cautious. I think we're missing out though when we can't be sanctuaries and places of refuge. Shouldn't we be trying to invite people into our spaces instead of trying to push them out?

What are your thoughts? How do we balance safety and security with openness to the community?


Labor Day

Labor Day.

I for one have never been around any sort of Labor Day celebration, parade, or other official festivity. For most Americans it is the last push of taking in the bounty of summer before school starts (or for those of us for whom school has already started, it is for giving summer one last embrace before we kiss it good-bye). Grill-outs, a day at the lake, camping--all typical Labor Day activities. Enjoy the sun, outdoors, and friends and family.

Because of the heat last week, school was cancelled Thursday and Friday. A veritable five-day weekend. Normally, I would pack the car and tell the family we're going camping. But I dislike sleeping in stifling heat, so I didn't even bring it up.

Over the weekend we got a fair amount of projects done around the house. It cooled off a bit--good bike riding weather, not so much for swimming in a lake. We had a great evening with friends old and new.

Today we got out of town and did a day trip we'd been meaning to do all summer. Well, not right away. We have friends who live on the route of an annual 10k/5k race. Usually a few friends from church and school run in it, and several families gather together in front of our friends' home to cheer on the runners, eat some breakfast, and enjoy hanging out together. My wife ran there in the morning while the rest of us were still in bed. I made a picnic lunch while waiting for our youngest to rise from his slumber. We all finally made it there after the race was over and hung out for a little while.

Then we hit the road.

The first stop was Franconia Sculpture Park, about 45 minutes northwest of the Twin Cities. It's a lovely drive getting there on Highway 8 which takes you through a series of small, lakeside towns that were settled by Scandinavian immigrants. The sculpture garden is a wonderful outdoor interactive art arena. Artists reside in a large white farm house in the park, and you may occasionally see them working on a sculpture in the work areas.

I'm not sure how often they switch out exhibits, but there were several new ones from last year along with old favorites. Despite the admonition at the information shack not to climb on the sculptures, several obviously beg for interaction. The boys love to climb there. A couple are basically large scrap-metal playgrounds, and they're built that way--with swings and slides and steps. They beg to be climbed on.

And there are some sculptures that obviously aren't supposed to be climbed on (and the little signs posted around them help make this clear). It's one of those places that encourages you to stay together as a family. At least so that parents can notify children when those signs are present.

After a mid-afternoon lunch break, we drove a few more miles down the road to Interstate State Park on the edge of Taylors Falls. We have never camped there, but we've stopped on a few occasions at their visitor's center. Well, not the visitor's center per se, but the trails right next to it that take you through a glacial potholes park.

The trails invite exploration. Rocks to climb, potholes to sink into, beautiful views of the St. Croix River and Wisconsin across it. It's not for the "helicopter parent," though; it would certainly produce a brain embolism or some such disastrous outcome for such a person. Deep drop offs, sharp edges, riverside cliffs, pathway hazards to stumble over; it's not a safe place. But it's a lot of fun. With proper boundaries (and the occasional "okay, not THAT close to the edge") the boys love to climb and crawl and explore.

Did I mention it's all outdoors? Added bonus.

The boys got a frosty root beer float at the local drive in (appropriately called "The Drive-In") while my wife responded to a text from a friend wondering if they could come over for a bonfire. I totally appreciate people willing to either 1) set up a playdate with my children since I'm terrible at doing that and 2) invite themselves over to our home whether it's for a bonfire, supper together, or even to use the guest room if they're coming through from out of town. (Of course, we reserve the right to say "no" if our family schedule doesn't permit, but, hey, it doesn't hurt to ask.)

Our road trip was conveniently drawing to an end, so we headed back home (thankfully traffic wasn't what I expected it might be on Labor Day evening). And thankfully, our friends had some hot dogs to pair with the hot dog buns we had. The kids played; the adults sat and talked. Hot dogs roasted; the fire blazed. Ahhh.

And so the long weekend has come to a close. Week two of school promises to be cooler. We're sliding back into our routines (the boys have been doing fairly well at getting to sleep--hooray!). We're readjusting to the busy schedule. Fall is around the corner. Sigh.

I will miss summer: swimming in lakes, gardening, time outside.

But autumn holds it's own beauty: cooler weather for bicycling, hikes through woods where leaves are changing, evening bonfires.

I grateful for this one last day to just enjoy the blessings of summer. Even if we did have to wear long sleeves most of the day.