When Dave’s Dad turned 70 we had a big gathering with all eight of his siblings.  One evening we had a dinner outside in my sister-in-law’s back yard.  The weather was perfect and the conversation is one I still think about even after a few years have passed.
My brother-in-law Bob told us the theory of “thin places,” a term derived from Celtic origins that is described as a place where the boundary between heaven and earth becomes thin and almost translucent.  Bob asked us each to describe what we would define as our own “thin places” which in turn created so many thoughts and sentiments that were shared.  
I loved it.  
That night I talked about Bear Lake, and how I literally feel Heaven so close as I look out at that gorgeous shimmering lake and feel the presence of so many people surrounding me who I adore.
But ever since then, I have found plenty of other “thin places.”  I find them not just in gorgeous locations, but in the car talking with my kids, or when I hear the voice of my son blessing the sacrament at church, or the other day the Shanghai metro was a “thin place” as all my kids gathered around me buying our tickets and heading off on an adventure in the city.  Whenever I feel surges of love for the family that surrounds me, or unquenching love and appreciation for God’s grandeur, or when I’m feeling especially contemplative and full of gratitude, I feel that I have found another “thin place.”  
I think the two days we spent at Ha Long Bay in Vietnam probably made it a “thin place” for our whole family.  It was the “triple punch:” breathtaking beauty, family love and deep discussions.
We had reserved a “junk boat” to stay overnight as recommended from a friend here in Shanghai.  When we arrived at the bay, at once in awe at our surroundings, we hopped on a boat to take us to our junk boat.

The kids’ jaws dropped when they dropped us off at our boat…it was a beauty and had a little staff of people to take care of us for the night.

After we set sail and explored a little bit, they had us sit down for lunch.

Boy oh boy.

These guys worked hard to figure out the best place we could jump from.

Because it’s a rule that when you’re on a boat, you must jump off of it (at least in Max’s rule book).

So we changed and got to work.

Then we went kayaking.

One of my very favorite parts of the trip.

We came across little floating villages every now and again.

This is where the kids go to school:

Dave loved what our tour guide told us about how all the houses are single:

But they float together and tie up to each other tight when there’s a storm coming.

Isn’t that how life is?  We need to be tight-knit to weather the storms that come our way.

My favorite picture:

…on our way paddling to the pearl farm.

Love this video of Max explaining it all to Lu.

After kayaking dusk settled in and we headed to the place where we would “camp out” for the night.

 Claire always feels compelled to do these shots:

We sat in hushed reverence as we watched the sun sink below the jagged horizon.

After sunset our cooking class began.  Here’s a little snippet:

These guys taught us to make spring rolls. 
Then they cooked them up and served them for dinner. 
The kids thought they were the best things ever.
…along with all the amazing creations our chef made with the vegetables and fruit.  See these flowers below? 
Those are made with vegetables.   
Are you kidding me?? 
This is a rendition of our boat made with fruit.   
Honestly it was amazing!
We sat around the table and Dave and I explained the concept of “thin places” to our kids as we soaked in the warm evening air around us.
We played a couple games of banana grams on the top deck as we discussed some funny things we could get made in China to sell in the U.S., which turned into a great business discussion with Dave explaining some things to the older kids as they asked some really good questions.
You never know what kind of interesting products we might come back with…
The next morning we went to one of the two places in Ha Long bay with a beach.  This particular island had a great look-out spot at the top of a LOT of stairs.

It took some cajoling to talk Lu into keeping going after about the first 500…
But she did it and even ended with a smile.

We got to enjoy the beach for a little bit before we got back on the boat (which is in the background below…thank you Paloma Tours!)

We had the best little swim all together as a family.

The best thing about it was the show that was put on on the beach while we were out there.  A dog caught a mouse and was playing with it while a hawk kept trying to swoop down and steal it.  And all the while monkeys were jumping from branch to branch in the trees above.  Claire declared it one of the most entertaining shows she had seen.

This is what Lu wrote about it in her journal:

After the beach we went to explore a huge cave.  The opening is in the bottom left of that mountain in the picture below:

On the way back to the port Elle taught me about self-timers on iPhones ๐Ÿ™‚
Over and over again in that “thin place” that was so beautiful, I looked at these five children Dave and I get to raise.

I thought about how incredibly blessed I feel to be their mother.

I let waves of gratitude wash through me that we get to be here, right now, in this magical window of time.

Next year who knows what Max will be doing.  And who knows how long Lucy’s vision will hold out.  Family trips will take a different direction from here on out.

Which makes me even more grateful for this precious time of togetherness.

As we waved goodbye to the kind people who took such great care of us, I vowed once again to not ever take any of this for granted.

I felt that “thin place” grow inside of me even more as we went home through rice paddies as far as our eyes could take us, and listened to Max’s Family Home Evening lesson I talked about back HERE, and as we got closer to the city where motorcycles replaced the rice paddy fields, again, as far as our eyes could see.

So grateful for this awesome guy who took such great care of us, and gave us a couple days to fill with some golden memories.

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  1. Oh my goodness gracious, what a vacation to remember!! I loved looking at all of these beautiful photos. And I just have to say that I love that you took this special, sweet time to enjoy your family and make memories in China. So many people wouldn't have taken the risk/chance, but man, what a gift to give your family (and yourself) that you'll never forget!! So inspired by you Shawni. Thanks for sharing these pics and your adventure!

  2. Shawni, you inspire me. It makes my heart soar to see a family deliberately creating opportunities to grow together. Your pictures are beautiful (just like everyone says). Someday you should post your outtakes to make the rest of us feel better about our photography. ๐Ÿ™‚ But seriously, thank you for sharing your experiences with the world. You are awesome!!

  3. Thin places. Thin space between earth and heaven. This has me thinking of thin places in another way: where the space between each other is thin. Like a family trip, a screen-free time or area, a special experience shared together…. I like this idea. Lots to think about. Thanks for sharing your life with us. It's rich.

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