My husband has wanted to share his childhood memories of South Dakota with our family. After a few years of “let’s wait ’til the kids get older,” we decided 2018 would be the year.

It will be an appetizer tour, hitting up part of the Badlands, Black Hills and Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone and Theodore Roosevelt National Park in just more than a week. Despite lingering reservations of the risk versus reward ratio of a major road trip with young kids, we are looking forward to the memories we’ll make sampling nature’s wide array of wonders.

Thanks to numerous documentaries on Amazon Prime, we’ve started learning about what we’ll see first-hand. It has been eye-opening as well to realize just how many outdoors opportunities this country offers “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

The vast variety – mountains, rivers, canyons, volcanoes, plains, lakes, coastlines, caves – is breathtaking, not to mention the new elements each season reveals within the same landscapes. A church hymn from my Catholic school days comes to mind: “Sing to the mountains, sing to the sea. Raise your voices, lift your hearts. This is the day the Lord has made. Let all the earth rejoice.”

It may seem a coast-to-coast stretch, but I find a parallel with the recent and upcoming celebrations of Mother’s and Father’s Day.

Just as nature can be equally glorious and even mysterious in its diversity of features, our experiences of motherhood and fatherhood are both similar and totally unique.

These celebrations can be treasured and unsettling – the excitement of a first-time parent, the turmoil of one who has lost a child through miscarriage, illness, tragedy or emotional separation; the often-hidden challenges of a single parent or one carrying the cross of infertility. There are mountains and valleys of parenthood, deserts and oases. And there is the desolate grief of those whose parents have passed on, no matter how recent or distant.

It can be a day of hope and disappointment, gratitude and dissatisfaction. It can also be so easy for us to compare our own life’s landscape to that of another. We see “those” parents who surely have it all together – balancing work and home, relationships and responsibilities – and then see ourselves as the ones that can never pull it together.

In our hyper-connected Information Age, we are bombarded by so many coulds, woulds and shoulds. Images of others’ happy families, blog posts and top 10s on every age and stage of family life, quizzes and quotes that seek to inspire but sometimes weigh us down.

What if we personified our one-of-a-kind national wonders with the doubts and misgivings we can experience as parents and as human beings in general?
How would we react to Yellowstone being jealous of the Everglades, or maybe feeling it’s geysers are superior to Arkansas’ Hot Springs? How could we talk the Grand Canyon through its discouragement at not being the Grand Tetons? How should we help Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley to value the changes of season, or Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to accept the relative absence of them? Would the Redwoods lord it over the Petrified Forest? Could Big Bend’s canyon heights fairly compare themselves to Mammoth Cave’s depths?

Contrary to what the internet might tell us, we can not have it all, do it all or be it all.

But we don’t need “it all” to find joy and contentment right under our noses. In fact, when was the last time we marveled at God’s creation right here in the Northwoods?

Another beloved hymn surfaces: “O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds Thy hands have made. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed.”

I think the real celebration of each mother and father is as an unrepeatable expression of God’s omnipotence and everlasting love; even His omniscience in a mother’s intuition and omnipresence in a father’s way of showing up when and where he’s needed.

God’s creativity is unlimited in the unique reality of the families we come from and the families we are forming. We aren’t supposed to be carbon copies – all with the same background and aspirations, number of children, age at which we raise them, work-home time management, resources and resumes.

The crux is to focus less on ourselves and more on him. The result – that we find ourselves marveling more at His masterpieces and longing less for what we are not or do not have.

I think the key to navigating this tricky pass is our personal relationship with God himself, the Creator of each of these incredible and awe-inspiring persons and places. In intimacy with him, we discover the terrain of our own irreplaceable soul and the national treasures of each family member’s existence.

And seeing these wonders of God, how can keep ourselves from singing: “How great Thou art! How great Thou art!”