This season was the busiest in recent memory. Our church just began building an addition to our facility. Though excited about breaking ground, I sensed the construction was adding bricks to a growing wall between my family and me.
My wife, Cheryl, and I lamented how detached our family had become. The kids filled their days in the isolated world of television. And the growing numbers of people at church were tyrannizing my calendar. A new youth pastor, youth camps, additions to buildings, new member classes, Bible studies, discipleship, visits … aaaahh!
I decided we needed to get away—to rescue our ministry from burnout and to retrieve our marriage from strain. We took our Sunday evening through Monday evening "day off" and journeyed to Willow Creek—the one in Beaverhead National Forest, not the one in Illinois. A day and a half to find our sense of family again. No phones, no computers, no people, and no TV.
S'more family time
The first indication of the Lord's blessing on our trip was our cell phone's "no service" message flashing at us. The drive through a narrow canyon back to Hollow Top Mountain not only separated us from 21st century communications, it took us to South Willow Creek, where the water is so clear you can read the date off a dime five feet deep.
We set up a tent for Cheryl and me, and one for our daughters, Madison and Baylee, and our son, Hayden, whom we affectionately call "Spartacus." With tents pitched, we started a fire that would keep us company into the wee hours of the morning.
After the last s'more was consumed (defined as the one that makes you sick), it was bedtime. We wedged the kids into sleeping bags, prayed with them, left them a flashlight, and assured them that bears slept at night (and that dad sleeps with his 12 gauge, just for kicks). They giggled for 20 minutes and fell asleep. Then Cheryl and I settled into our lawn chairs and warmed ourselves by the fire.
It was an intimate fire, painting itself in shifting subtleties of blues, which is nice for looking at stars. When you are 50 miles from town and several thousand feet high, it becomes more of a challenge to find sky than stars. It looked like God had spilled a pouch of diamonds on the floor of heaven, and we sat bedazzled by the sparkle on the ceiling of Earth. It is easy to feel small sitting beneath the theater of the heavens.
It's also easy to blather on about everything you haven't talked to your wife about for months, or years. And blather we did—for hours. Each new log seemed to give us a new topic and the creek provided background music. Our conversations started small, carved through perspectives, poured into larger topics, got obscured in unrelated issues, and eventually wound back to the starting point. It was effortless, unlike conversations at home, where the words have to be pried from our mouths like bad teeth. Here, they flowed like the melted snow behind us.
Fishers of children
The next morning, we took the children to seek the native Cutthroat trout.
The thrill of catching the trout wasn't coaxing them from beneath the turbulent pocketwater or how readily they took a #12 PartridgeWinkle. The thrill of catching these fish was watching my kids reel them in.
I don't know that I've ever seen such honest expressions of wonder and excitement on their faces as when they took the rod from my hand and realized there was something on the other end. It's better than Disneyland.
Seven-year-old Madison lunged toward me from the bank to be the first one to reel in a fish. She slipped on a rock and struggled to catch her breath in the frigid water. But when she hoisted the Cut from the water, she gave it a kiss. Hayden stared at the little trout he caught and giggled like he had met a new friend.