We just returned home from our annual camping trip with my parents, my sister and her husband, my Grandma, and three other sets of family friends. We have gone to this same location for the past 40 years (I only have taken part for 34 of those years). It has always been one of my favorite places...a place that I can breathe, and think, and plan and dream. A place of warmth (no matter the temperature), of laughter, of togetherness. The real joy is that now my boys also think of "Covered Bridge" as we affectionately call it, in the same way. They get so excited to go, and so sad upon its ending. They love every second that we are there, and I see them eating up and savoring the moments in their little hearts.
This particular year as the trip neared, many things worked against our going. I was in the ER on Monday night, and still talking to doctors all day Tuesday (Wednesday was our departure). I ended up passing a kidney stone on our first night at camp (I think I need to get a gold star or something for that). If that wasn't enough, the check engine light came on in the van. Once we actually got on the road, the lights went out on the trailer so that we had no tail lights or turn signals. Thankfully Jon was able to fix it, but it cost us a little time. The day before the trip, my therapist (yes, I have one of those...she is awesome), asked me if this trip was life giving. It was such an easy response: "absolutely yes." I kept thinking about that the entire time we were together on this vacation. Every time I saw my boys faces light up with excitement and joy, or the many times I spent giggling with my Grandma, life was breathed into my soul. It was not WHAT we did, it was how and who we did it all with. This entire trip is all about the mingling of souls. My sister has a "pet mouse" puppet that comes alive and entertains the little ones every morning while we eat Papa's famous chocolate chip pancakes. My Grandma plays her "Round the Garden" with my youngest and I hear him giggle uncontrollably when she tickles him under the arm. I get to shop with my mama and Gram for antiques (by far my favorite shopping), while my sweet husband takes the little boys back to the campground for a nap. We sit by the fire long into the night sharing stories, and laughing, and talking about everything under the sun. Many times, Grandma tells us about her life and has us all rolling with laughter at her stories from years gone by. We eat dinners potluck style with our family friends of forever. Our children play on the park, hike the woods, climb "the Rock." The boys look forward to the famous Ben's pretzels (who am I kidding...the adults do too!) and Mansfield's pumpkin ice cream. For my daddy, its Bridgeton's sirloin tips. At night the boys and Aunt Brenn and Uncle Adam join "Spooky Team" and run around the campground scaring my mom to death. These are the things they will never, ever forget. Their "happy places" that they will revisit in their minds and hearts for as long as they have life.
For as many years as I can remember, we have done this. And every year is special in its own right. But this year was extra special to me...treasured up in my heart. Watching my boys come to love my Grandma in the ways I love her, seeing the generations mingling in such a way...it was so precious, something money could never buy. The years go by and the TIME becomes more and more precious. I think because I see its passing so much clearer. The evenings we spent by the fire as a big huge family, telling stories and laughing, the moments will live on in my heart. We have some big things headed our way as a family, and this trip was everything I had dreamed it would be. My expectations were even surpassed, it was just that beautiful. It was a gift...a life giving, breath of hope worth far more than words can ever adequately express. People loving, serving, enjoying one another. My heart is full and I am so grateful, for the time, the people, the love, the laughter, and the gift of memories that can live on in our hearts for as long as we have breath.