This week I experienced God’s grace in a way that helped me to more fully understand that concept of unmerited favor. My family and I spent the week on vacation in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with my extended family – all 20 of us. The contrast to our family vacation last year could not have been greater. All too often the pictures you see on the internet of the places being offered for rent do not live up to their billing in person. This time, the pictures did not do the place justice and we were all overwhelmed by the quality of our accommodations. Deb and I knew that we would be on the top floor across from our boys, but we did not realize that our room would be the size of the entire apartment last year. What a blessing to have this space to ourselves to unwind and relax and how kind of my sister and the rest of our family to give us the “penthouse suite” for the week.
As we spent the week together, I was constantly reminded of God’s grace to our family through the years and how good He has been to us. For five years from 2001 through 2005, we had done similar vacations as a group and then took a break for the last five years while my brother and his family served as missionaries in Spain. What a joy it was to reconnect and look back on all that God has done in our midst. Many families have traditions that help them create lasting memories of God’s faithfulness. Here are some of ours:
1. Family Meal time – my sister Heidi is the planner in the family and the one who typically arranges our accommodations. This year, even though she is pregnant and just had a fire in her house, she still created the meal plan and spreadsheet for the week. Each family is assigned a main meal for one day of the week and this time several cooked it in advance. As usual, I was assigned my famous stew (which I did not cook in advance) and enjoyed the two hours of prep time as people smelled the aroma of the slowly cooking meal they were eventually going to enjoy. Often some of the best conversations took place during the meal prep time and clean up as we worked together.
2. Game Nights – my brother in law Chris is the game master in our family and loves to teach us new games. Generally, we play a different board game every night and often include old favorites like Settlers of Catan with the new ones that he introduces us to. This year, I learned how to play a card game called Gang of Four (which became somewhat addicting) and Chris taught my boys and I how to play bocci ball on the beach.
3. Family Devotions – each family is assigned a different night to lead devotions and this worked out great as we have five family units now. Every night is different and at least one night is normally dedicated to charades that all the family participates in no matter how much they may protest. The family that leads devotions is asked to share prayer requests and often this time is spent praising God for his blessings during the prior year as well as asking for his guidance in the year to come. Nothing is more sacred in our family than our devotional time together and it is remarkable how unifying and edifying those times have been for us. It is amazing that we still sing songs that my siblings and I sang when we were little children ourselves.
4. Picture Night – Chris loves to take pictures during the week and also capturing other people’s photos for posterity. This year we ended our vacation time as we have many times in the past by looking at old pictures of prior vacations. One year, we even showed slides on a bed sheet on the wall and Chris took pictures of the slides so that we now have a digital record of that night. How fun it was to see some of the adults in the room who were children themselves in the old slides as they look a lot like their own children today.
5. Friendlies – for those who know me and my dislike of the service at our local Friendlies restaurant, it may seem ironic that our family always eats out once during the week at Friendlies in Myrtle Beach. We even discovered by looking at the old photos that we have been going to the same one all these years (there are three to choose from) even though our beach house location has varied over the years. Fortunately, southern hospitality was on full display again this year and we even got the banquet room to ourselves as we had a big enough group.
As usual, I spent my downtime reading and devoured two books that turned out to be great reads – Weird: Because Normal Isn’t Working by Craig Groeschel (very practical and convicting) and Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? by John Fea (very balanced and informative). As the week came to and end, I had one overarching thought that captured the week for me – I am a blessed man, to God be the glory.