Yesterday I had the chance to surprise my mom, niece and nephew all with a huge gift. I have been going crazy with anticipation for weeks, but continued the fun by making them do a scavenger hunt for their prize.

I used the Goose Chase App the manage the fun

It was such a joy to see them dancing, laughing, joking and running all over the woods to collect their points. We had so much fun, we’ll probably be doing scavenger hunts any chance we can for a while!

When the time finally did come to reveal the surprise, my mom was overwhelmed and began to cry. Despite our social distancing up until that point, we couldn’t help but hug – laughing as we were scolded and both replying in unison “I didn’t breath the whole time!”

A Gift of Experience

So what was the big surprise?! My mom, neice and nephew will all be flying to Northern Macedonia at the end of this year to celebrate Christmas with my sister and her husband who are missionaries there!

I will already be in Europe traveling at that time and meeting them all over there, so it will end up being more of an experiential gift than just receiving their plane tickets. They have all traveled internationally, but I am excited to show them a culture both so different from ours as well as eerily familiar – at least I am curious if they feel the sensation of “coming home” like I do in that country (per our Yugoslavian heritage).

I love to travel internationally, especially in areas that allow me to really see the world in a different light, and I am overjoyed to have the chance to share this experience with some of the most important people in my life.

The rocks for the “biggest rock” mission (James won with the doozy on the right)

A Timeless Blessing

Personally, I have been forever changed by my global experiences. In highschool when I went to Panama for volunteer work I experienced a crisis of faith, identity and world view that subsequently changed everything about how I live. That was the first experience I had where I was faced with happiness being a choice rather than a condition.

There I was, in a shanty town, watching kids with no shoes and one tattered shirt a piece (and maybe a pair of shorts if they were lucky), playing and having fun like I had never played or had fun in my entire life. I had so much: lots of clothes, a sturdy home made of construction materials instead of scraps of garbage, three meals a day plus snacks, etc… And yet, I was quite obviously the more miserable human.

That was such a foundational experience and eye-opening realization for me, and though it took years to integrate what it would mean for my life, there is no doubt in my mind that seeing those children celebrating their life so fully in those horrible living conditions while I was in highschool has subsequently helped me become a more conscious and aware adult.

This is this same gift I hope to be giving to my niece and nephew on this upcoming trip. My mom has seen some communities of the less fortunate in the world herself, but the kids have been blessed to experience travel abroad in a very Americanized fashion (ei: resorts, cruises, etc), and I am so excited to give them some new, hopefully paradigm altering perspectives, on this trip.

An old picture of mom and the kids

Looking Forward to Everything

Of course, there is still a lot to do and so much to plan – but I will be letting the kids, my mom and my sister take the wheel on all of that. I have already been to Macedonia once and I will also be there for an extra week after my mom and the kids fly back, so there is no pressure from me to make their trip into my own design.

I am smiling ear-to-ear just thinking about their Google searches now: “top ten sights to see in Skopje… Best tourist destinations in Northern Greece… Hotels in Bitola…” They say that much of the benefits of travel are actually experienced while planning the trip, so I am more than happy to give them the next 7 months to fill themselves to the brim with anticipation and excitement!

I cannot wait to hear about all the sights, adventures and possibilities they end up discovering. I am feeling so beyond blessed for having this opportunity to share the world with my family, giving my mom a dream trip to a place of our heritage and history, as well as opening the kids eyes to just how different culture, customs and life can be across this glorious global home of ours.

It’s true, I don’t make traditional, “practical” choices. Not for my own life and not even when it comes to gifts, but honestly – I wouldn’t trade all of this wonder and blessing for even a smidgen more of acceptance and understanding. I am proud to be the woman I am, challenging myself and others to live fuller lives, and will never be sorry for making the unpopular choices that I do!

Image: @raminnazer

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