This blog post brought to you by daylight savings time, thanks to which I was able to shower, shave, make a breakfast with at least three food groups, clean my bathroom and still make it to the nine o’clock service this morning.  On time.
We took Chicago by storm last weekend.  Me, driving down early Thursday morning to meet my love, kids safely wrapped up in Nana and Papa’s arms.  Dan texting me every few miles to see if I was there yet.  Me texting back this picture looking cross-eyed without my glasses and offering proof that I had arrived and was happily perusing the shelves of Container Store, where I always find four hundred and seven things I didn’t know I couldn’t live without until that very second.  Things like bandaid holders and chip clips.  Things without which, my home would surely fall apart.  There are no pictures of the next 24 hours as they were spent hoofing it from one place to the next, trying to cram it all in before nanny’s white chariot delivered the Smalls on Friday afternoon.

And deliver them it did, amidst fast food packages and their goodies bags with a crisp bill to spend and new goggles for the pool.  And we immediately set off for the glass overlook at the John Hancock building.  Only the glass overlook is in the Willis Tower.  But we didn’t find that out until we’d paid eighty bucks, so we made the best of looking out of plain glass windows in a really tall building, our ears still popping from the ride up.  And it kicked off a sweet weekend together. 

 There were several trips to American Girl and to the Lego Store and to NikeTown.  There was a dinner at Ed Debevic’s, where the waiters dance on the tables and say things like, “Here’s your toilet water.  Enjoy.” and “Hey, didja find the booger I put in your burger yet?” and “Anything you order is gonna give you diarrhea, so hurry it up, wouldja?”.  If you go to Chicago, you gotta eat at Ed’s.

There was The TinMan (available for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs) who, for a couple bucks in his hat, will spring to life.  And then he’ll point to the feverish pink Small in your stroller and motion for her to come strike a pose, which she’ll do because even with a fever and scratchy throat, she’s always game for stuff like that.

 There was a rickshaw ride for me and Grant when we ventured out late one night for one last spin around the city.  The cost to go four blocks in a bike-powered rickshaw? Thirteen dollars.  Seven quiet minutes alone with your son in a big city? Priceless.

 There was a wind tunnel machine I sprang for at Lincoln Park Zoo.  You put two bucks in and it blows your coat nearly off.  I tried to explain to them that hundreds of thousands of people on the east coast were getting it for free and could tell them that being in a windstorm isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

 But like most lessons and kids, they had to figure that out on their own.  Lucy is laughing, but Tess is teetering precariously between sort of afraid and totally petrified.

And at the end of the weekend, there was us, leaving daddy behind for more business and heading home, five very tired Vos’ and a new movie to keep the action going through three states.  There was the first Mac Donald’s stop in months, which made everyone’s tummies sick, but netted us two pair of redneck teeth from the truck stop lobby vending machine, which was totally worth the sick tummies.  And there was me, driving the Smalls and having lots of time to think while the movie played.  Chicago messed with me.  It was great and it was awful.  There is deep ache in walking down Michigan Avenue, your arms laden with bags and passing homeless people on either side.  Mothers huddled in the cold with their children.  Old men mumbling and shaking a styrofoam cup at passersby.  How to justify all the bags when they only serve to widen the gap between me and them?  Even if they were things I bought for Christmas presents.  Even if it was with money I’d earned myself and saved up for months.  Even if.  And how to teach our children not to just walk past, but to stop and engage and meet needs.
The next time we go to Chicago (and we hope there will be a next time), we will come better prepared. We will remember the faces and we will talk about Jesus and what a walk down the Magnificent Mile with him would look like.  There will be extra warmish things packed into our suitcases.  Things like hats and mittens and thick socks and blankets and jars of peanut butter.  And, hopefully, there will be the perspective that must-see lists have to give way to must-serve lists.  Have to.  That in the kingdom scheme of things, visits to American Girl stores are not precious, but filling empty seats in heaven is.  Doing the eternal work of blessing a brother or sister with a pair of soft mittens and, in doing so, letting them know that they aren’t invisible, that we see them, that is the stuff of the good life.  And I don’t want to suck all the fun out of a special weekend (it is so good to get away sometimes), but there can be a better balance than the one we just struck with our family in Chicago.  And next time we’ll be better prepared for it.  So, this is me asking Chicago to put up your dukes.  Because the next time the Vos family invades your city, we will be armed better with compassion and time and stuff.  And we’ll still take the girls to see the dolls and the boys to ooh and ahh over the life sized Lego creations, but we’ll do kingdom work too.  And if that means that we buy less, then so be it.  Either way, we’ll be bringing home some wicked cool souvenirs.
This is me being real.  And wondering if you ever get to the big city with you family.  And if so, how do you do it?  This is me signing off because even though the clock reads 10:38, my body is telling me it’s 11:38, which is way past my time.  Goodnight friends.

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