December means Christmas. Christmas often means family. And family often reminds us that we really need boundaries. 

I like to dedicate the Wednesdays in a month to a particular theme, and this month I wanted to talk about boundaries with family members–including some with your spouse. And I had this great post all planned out to go out today.

But then I hit a huge snag. And I’d like to tell you about it, because it taught me a good lesson, too. Besides, it’s a good story.

A few months ago my husband and my mom and I decided that we’d really like to travel to Costa Rica. Mom had done some mission trips there in the early 2000s, and really wanted to see the country with us. And my husband was all on board because he’s a huge birdwatcher, and the birds are incredible there. My mom’s 75, but she’s in amazing shape (it’s kind of pathetic, actually. She gets less winded walking up hills than I do). So we’ve decided that we’re going to do a lot of trips in the next little while, while she’s still active. (That sounds way more morbid than I meant it to).

We saved up some credit card points, booked our flights, and headed down for 8 days.

We had an amazing time, and I want to make it clear that the story that I have to tell should in no way reflect badly on Costa Rica. I honestly think Costa Rica is the best country we’ve ever vacationed in. In many ways it’s perfect. It’s not really third world at all; there’s a thriving middle class. The country is actually getting better. The roads are better. The schools are amazing. They’re doing everything they can to preserve the environment. The people are friendly. And the prices are still relatively low.

Plus there are sloths. We saw sloths! Not in a zoo. And we saw so many birds!

Sloth - Why We Need Boundaries: Recognizing When You Just Can't Change Things

I’m not going to post the pictures, but Keith has a ton on his Flickr account. You can see monkeys and crocs and lots of birds (and me) here.

Anyway, it was probably the best trip I’ve had south. I’m not a sit-on-the-beach kind of gal. I’d rather do things. And all the nature trails in the rainforest at one of our resorts just made the place a paradise.

I highly, highly recommend this little nation.

And the way that they’re preserving the rainforest is just great. (by the way, I’m now dedicated to buying organic bananas and pineapple, when I never was before. That’s what’s killing the rainforest).

Anyway, all was well until it was time to return home with Air Canada.

We were supposed to depart Monday morning at 9:20 am. At 4 am my husband got a text that the flight was delayed 8 hours, so we stayed in our hotel for the morning and headed to the airport about 2. Soon the flight was delayed another two hours. Then another. They obviously had no idea what was going on.

It turns out it was due to “weather conditions”–you know, that weather when the sky is sunny with a lovely breeze. Planes were landing and taking off all around us, but Air Canada had diverted the night before because of fog, and was trying to bring their plane back to San Jose, and kept circling, but didn’t land.

They gave us vouchers for dinner (at one of two restaurants in the airport; there were 300 of us to line up in single lines at two fast food restaurants). They wouldn’t tell us anything. And finally, at around 8:00, Air Canada texted everyone to say the flight was cancelled. The crew on the ground then scrambled to figure out what to do with us. They rented huge buses to take us to hotels. They had the families with kids or people over 65 go on the first bus (thank you, Mom, for being a senior citizen!), and everyone else took later buses.

All the buses went to one hotel, where there were two agents to check us in. Each bus took about an hour to process. We got our room at 9:15. Apparently some people didn’t get theirs until 1. They were standing in line at the hotel until 1 in the morning when the flight had been cancelled at 8. And many of them had been at the airport since 6 that morning, since they hadn’t received the text that the flight was delayed beforehand.

They gave us coupons to eat breakfast at Denny’s, which was 24 hours and attached to the hotel. And then announced that the shuttle would pick us up at 6:45 am to take us to the airport for the 10:45 flight.

(Our bus wasn’t actually informed of the shuttle time. We were told “it might be 7 or 8”. So we came down at 6:20 and found that most people had already eaten. We thought we’d be early, and instead we were the last on the buses after going to Denny’s. They told us they would notify us of the shuttle time; they didn’t. Some people had to be woken up.)

All 300 of us got to the airport at roughly the same time, and had to wait in this massive line at the airport.

It was all just so very frustrating. There was no reason that Air Canada couldn’t have sent us to four different hotels to make check in much faster. There was no reason that they couldn’t have sent buses at staggered times, so that those who got their rooms at 1 didn’t have to leave their hotel until 8:30. Seriously, we all just stood in line at the airport for 2 1/2 hours, because we all got there at exactly the same time. It made no sense. It was easier on them, but much harder on us.

One family was travelling with an 18-month-old and a 3-year-old, and my mom made friends with the 3-year-old and occupied her during many of the waiting periods. In fact, we really bonded with many of the travellers.

Boundaries with Family Members: Our trip to Costa Rica

But it was still very, very tiring. The most aggravating thing was that Air Canada wasn’t up front with us all day on Monday. They kept saying, “the plane will be landing in 20 minutes,” but the plane never materialized. And at a certain point it was clear they’d have to cancel the flight anyway, because the pilot can’t fly for that many hours in a row and would have to take an 8 hour break. They should have told us. They were obviously trying to prevent a riot, but it would have been much better just to be honest.

I truly hate Air Canada at this point. We had a horrible experience with them flying to Nairobi in August for our missions trip. The flight itself was fine; checking in took 6 hours, and it was entirely the fault of how the employees were organizing the airport. It was ridiculous. If I can avoid Air Canada in the future, I definitely will. Their employees do not use common sense or go above and beyond.

And that really brings me to what I want to say today.

Many times on my trip I had to keep repeating to myself, “this is not my issue.” Whenever I see something that is a problem, I automatically try to fix it. On the trip it usually was nothing major, and I just had to train myself to not get involved. But in this whole airline fiasco, what was really grating is that they were making things worse, and it was so obvious how it could be done better.

It was obvious how the check in at the hotel could have been done better. It was obvious how they could have arranged us for shuttles better. Yesterday, at the airport, it was obvious how they could have processed us more quickly. And I just wanted to go and try to organize things myself. But that wouldn’t have worked.

Sometimes you have to endure things because, even though it is clear to you that others are being stupid, there is absolutely nothing you can do to change things.

I had to decide that instead of stewing (done that) or standing up on a chair in an airport and leading a revolt (did that in Nairobi back in 2006; it worked too); or demanding certain things of airlines (done that plenty of times); I was just going to relax as much as possible and talk to those around me in line. So we got to know the couple heading back to Newfoundland; the couple who had a guest home in Costa Rica; the man whose son had been treated for a brain tumour at a Toronto hospital when Keith was working there; this family with the two kids. We just got through it.

At Christmas you will likely encounter some family members who are doing really stupid things. It will be obvious to you how they should change to make their lives work better. The younger brother who just needs to stop playing video games and get a job. The sister who needs to stop dating jerks–or break up with the one she’s with. The mother who needs to grow a spine–or maybe the mother who needs to start being nicer because she’s pushing all her grandchildren away. And so on and so on and so on.

Sometimes people make stupid choices.

But when we carry the weight of other people’s choices, we don’t change anything.

We just add to our own burdens when there’s nothing that we can do.

I have a family member that I love dearly who has made some poor choices. I so want this person to thrive in life, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. I keep texting and reaching out. I want this person to know that they are loved. But I can no longer obsess over it, because it isn’t good for my mental health. I can pray and I can love, but I can’t change anything.

Creating Healthy Boundaries: Sometimes you have to let go

God put in us a deep desire to see justice done.

He created us with a purpose, to have a life where we make a difference, use our gifts, and learn to love.

Bible Icon - Why We Need Boundaries: Recognizing When You Just Can't Change Things

Micah 6:8

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

We were created to act justly. When we get frustrated at Air Canada for not being upfront and for creating problems for people (seriously, how could they have let older people stand in line for four hours until early morning, and then another 3 at the airport)? That isn’t part of justice. That isn’t part of how the world is supposed to work. When we see it as wrong, it’s because we do reflect God’s values.

But it’s what we do with that information afterwards that counts. Sometimes things are bad, but we can’t do anything. And then it’s time to just relax, talk to those around you, and love those you can. That’s what Jesus did. He didn’t try to overthrow the Roman government, even though it was wrong. He just made a difference–a huge one–by loving those around Him, and by letting God’s will be done in His death.

I actually didn’t have all that bad a day at the airport on Monday and yesterday. I knit. I read some books. I got to know some good people. And it was okay.

Let’s talk this month about how to let go when you can’t change things. And maybe I’ll write that epic post that was supposed to be published today soon!

What do you think? Have you ever been in a frustrating situation that you can’t change? How do you step back? Let’s talk in the comments!

P.S.: Don’t fly Air Canada!

SheilaSidebarAboutMe - Why We Need Boundaries: Recognizing When You Just Can't Change Things Sheila Wray Gregoire has been married for 26 years and happily married for 21! She loves traveling around North America with her hubby in their RV, giving her signature "Girl Talk" about sex and marriage. And she's written 8 books. About sex and marriage. See a theme here? Plus she knits. Even in line at the grocery store.
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