Yesterday was Labor Day, but today felt more like it as we labored to pack for a family vacation. Although I’ve put more than 16,000 miles on my Highlander in seven months, there’s been no restful retreat. Beginning tomorrow, however, we’ll start an official pleasure trip to the Wisconsin Northwoods, a week together after the most strenuous year of our lives.
Our destination is nearly 500 miles from the Michigan cottage, so perseverance will be tomorrow’s byword. We’ll be heading for Afterglow Lake Resort in Phelps, Wisconsin, a destination dear to all of us. Nate chose it 33 years ago when Nelson was four, Lars two and Linnea a newborn. We’d never been so far north and were astonished by the striking beauty of aspen forests full of wild blueberries and quiet lakes reflecting clean skies.
We loved our week “up north” so much, we returned for 25 summers in a row. Unlike the unpredictable waters of Lake Michigan, Afterglow never varied with its still surface, absent of motorboats and their noise. The lake was always stocked with fish, and each cabin came with a rowboat for young fishermen to try their luck. Nate taught all our kids to fish at Afterglow, spending as many hours in a boat with them as on terra firma.
The freedom that was afforded children at Afterglow was a big draw, since they could roam endless acreage in safety. We required life jackets until age 12, after which we knew they’d survive if they capsized a canoe, slipped off a Sunfish or fell from a boat.
Five of our grown children will be on this trip, each one keen to revisit Afterglow. Lars mentioned that he and Nelson used to hide trinkets in the woods before we left each year, eagerly running back to check for them the next summer. They’ll be checking again this year, although nine harsh, northern winters will have worked to dislodge whatever they last hid.
As we leave, all of us are hoping to meet with the fun of yesteryear, but we know we’re taking a chance. Without Nate leading our pack, we may be in for some tear-filled surprises. But I firmly believe it was God’s idea in the first place that we return to Afterglow. Last Christmas, with Nate’s November death still so fresh and painful, I didn’t have the heart for Christmas shopping. Our spirits were flagging, and the only thing any of us wanted for Christmas was to have Nate back.
So I cried out to the Lord and asked him what to do. The idea for coupons under the Christmas tree promising a week at Afterglow Lake in 2010 was God’s answer. (See “Lowering Expectations” Dec. 26, 2009) The kids had been thrilled at the time, and we all looked forward to that distant day, hoping we’d be well on the way to healing by then.
And here we are, departing in the morning. Healing has been checkered at best, and none of us is sure how this will work. Our expectation isn’t to cling to the past or reestablish Nate’s tradition without Nate. We’re just trying to put a period at the end of a long, happy vacation story.
Or… because we’ll have the effervescent Skylar along with us, instead of a period, it might just be an exclamation point!
“Then Jesus said, ‘Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile’.” (Mark 6:31)