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There are 5 stages to the trip experience and they’re the same for a family vacation, friend outing, or church trip. The stages are 1) planning, including building anticipation; 2) travel to; 3) the experience itself; 4) travel from; and 5) reflection about the trip.

After my recent vacation, I would like to add a 6th stage: Repentance and Forgiveness. This can be applied throughout any (and every) stage of the travel experience. For my family’s trip to Disneyworld, this 6th stage was vital during the experience part itself.

Although, I suppose it started well before we set foot in Florida. Our anticipations had been building up for months.  In our dreaming, planning and excitement, we wanted the trip to be so magical and so, dare I say, perfect that we put a good deal of stress on ourselves and others.  We wanted to do all the things.  See all the stuff. Have things run smoothly. Please everyone.

So we got on an airplane with that “baggage” in addition to our carry-ons.  Now, add the Florida heat.  And wait times and overstimulation. Add “hangry” and tired and whatever else comes with the agony of being in the most magical place on earth.

And someone eventually lost their cool. They “snapped”. They screamed and shouted and said things they really wish they hadn’t.

Tears fell.  We went our separate ways for a while to cool down.

Eventually my tears stopped. I continued through the park when I heard my family member call out my name from a bench not too far from where I had been sitting.

Our initial reunion was…tense…but it didn’t take too long for us to reconcile and move on. My family member would tell me they were trying so hard not to act the way they had. For years we’d get into shouting matches, rather than discussions. And this wave of emotion crashed over me. I saw them bending, or softening.  I saw years of repentance for previous outbursts.  They were trying to change. And immediately my heart broke for them and I fully forgave them. We tend to hold grudges. So, I liked this new way.  It felt good.

And, of course, I wished the argument had never happened.  Yet, I’m grateful that it did.  

We often think Disney is the most magical place on earth because of where we are and what we’re experiencing.  Yet, I’ll argue the real magic doesn’t come from princesses or fireworks.  The real magic comes from the work of our hearts.  It was more work than one would ever care to do on vacation, but it was the opportunity we needed.  By the grace of God we had the chance to be together 24 hours a day for 8 days and we came home stronger.  I saw a t-shirt that read, “The family that Disneys together, stays together” and I really think it’s onto something.

So, as you plan your family vacations this year, remember you’re going with your family.  You’re traveling with friends.  You’re with human beings.  They’re experiencing the 5 stages of travel, too. They’ll still have needs and frustrations and foods they won’t eat or bedtimes they won’t keep.  They’ll get on your nerves just as you are going to undoubtedly get on theirs.

But we can create magical change through the Christian teachings we’ve received.  Be sure to add that 6th stage of repentance and forgiveness as liberally as Pan applies pixie dust.  Add love.  Apply understanding and acceptance. (Reapply sunscreen!). Meet one another with patience, humility, and active listening ears as big as Mickey’s (or Goofy’s or even Dumbo’s).

Was our trip the most expensive family bonding retreat a group could take?  Probably. Was it worth it?  Definitely.

Wherever your family trips take you this summer, remember, it’s not so much about the destination, it’s about the journey we take together. It’s about the journey we take within our hearts.