"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." James 1:17
(View from the East Bluff at Devil's Lake State Park in Wisconsin about 5 PM-taken by my son John with his cell phone)
So often in life God sends us blessings, but we don't recognize them as such while they are occurring, it's only in retrospect that we realize the wonders that God has offered to us. Such is usually my experience regarding camping vacations, but fortunately, God opened my eyes early enough on my most recent camping trip so that I was able to recognize His blessings and enjoy them while they were happening.
Every September my family takes an annual camping trip to Devil's Lake State Park with some of our friends from church. As luck would have it, the weather turns cold and rainy and the ground is hard and rocky and I end up complaining that I will never camp again and wonder aloud why we don't just go hiking somewhere lovely during the day and then go home to our cozy beds at night. But my children enjoy camping, so every year I agree to the outing but am sure to include plenty of grumbling so that everyone knows how reluctant I am to camp. I do enjoy playing the role of suffering victim no matter how minor the suffering may be.
As a control-freak, I have a hard time taking even the shortest of weekend vacations fearing that the world will come to an end if I miss anything important while I am away. This year especially, I was reluctant to go camping because my friend, Fr. Christopher Klusman, suffered the loss of his father, and I had wanted to attend the funeral to offer him my comfort, (truthfully, it probably would have been me who would have received the most comfort from being there)but the funeral date conflicted with our camping schedule. Also, our parish held their annual picnic on the Sunday afternoon when we would be returning and I really had wanted to attend the picnic and celebrate with my family of faith instead of spending an afternoon unpacking and washing twenty loads of laundry. But the camping trip is our only annual family vacation so I sacrificed the other events and camping we went.
Our local Catholic Herald had a recent issue with a map of Shrines found in Wisconsin. One of the Shrines was very close to our campground and even though we have camped at that same park many times, I didn't know that the Shrine at Durward's Glen existed, so I was eager to pay a visit. As we drove our car off the little bit of Americana that is the Merrimac Ferry (Hwy. 113 ends at the Wisconsin River and the Merrimac Ferry carries the cars across to resume travel on the other side of the river where Hwy. 113 continues)we spotted a sign pointing to Durward's Glen so we made a quick side-trip before setting up camp, and as we were the only visitors to the Glen at that time, we enjoyed a peaceful and prayerful afternoon.
We found Durward's Glen to be a pristine area with a Mary, Mother of God Grotto, an outdoor chapel and a Stations of the Cross that led to a quaint cemetery and another chapel. Included in the Glen were several hiking trails throughout the wooded area. How lovely to begin our vacation in prayer in this natural setting! As we were hiking through the woods a big yellow dog came running down a hill towards us, giving us all a fright! My daughter Mary started running with the dog hot on her heels. At first we thought it was a wild coyote but she was soon joined by a little beagle and we saw that both of the dogs had collars so we assumed that they were local farm animals on a little natural escapade. The dogs quickly became attached to our family and stayed by our side on the entire walk. Joe decided to name them after my deceased parents so they were quickly dubbed "Grandpa and Grandma Reindl." It was hard to leave my parent's namesakes behind when it was time to go to the campground and the kids begged to keep them. Especially sad was the sight of the yellow dog as she chased our van down the highway while we drove away, trusting that the dogs would find their way back to their home and their rightful owners. (pictured: the hermitage at Durward's Glen-click here to visit Durward's Glen website)
Once we set up camp, it was a normal vacation-we enjoyed the company of our wonderful friends, the beauty of hiking around the ever-gorgeous Devil's Lake, the late night visits around the campfire, the expected frigid sleeping weather and the Sunday morning pack-up in the rain after an early morning Mass at the beautiful St. Joseph's Church in Baraboo. While we hate to attend Mass in our smoky-smelling camp clothes and could choose to attend Mass on Sunday evening when we're back home and cleaned up, we thoroughly enjoy worshiping God in such a lovely location and we feel that it adds holiness to our camping experience to make time for Sunday worship while we camp instead of putting prayer off until we're safely home.
And when we arrived home and had unpacked, my son Justin said, "Mom, I know that you don't like camping anymore and would rather not go, but thank you for taking us, because I had a really great time." How could I not agree to go again next year knowing that it means so much to my family? And, how greatly blessed I am to have teenagers who enjoy spending time with their parents!
Once the unpacking and clean-up was accomplished, we still had time to attend our parish picnic in the rain and arrived just in time to see Fr. Paul take his turn in the dunk-tank! There he was in his tee-shirt with the picture of Jesus on the front, sure that no one would dare to send Jesus under water, but he was wrong. Again and again, the children in line hit the target and that good sport Fr. Paul went down into the water surely accepting his frequent dunks as a sacrifice for the Lord! And, as a bonus to those parish staff members who sat in the tank after him, they now fell into "Holy Water" that had been blessed by the presence of the associate pastor!
We were also blessed to meet some friends who had been able to attend the funeral for Fr. Christopher's father who assured us that the funeral was well attended with over 21 priests including Fr. Christopher's graduating class and two bishops, so, of course, my friend was well comforted and my worries were for naught. But of course, I know that my prayers for him were well received even from the distance of my camping vacation.
This year's camping weekend will go down as one of the most memorable and prayerful that I have known. I will eagerly await next fall's camping trip knowing that my family and I will enjoy some time away in the beauty of nature with the company of good friends-all blessings from a good and generous God who loves us well and will care for all of those I love while allowing me a much-needed family vacation! God's blessings never end, and in our sorrow or our joy, in our work or in our rest, God is always there, loving us all so very well. I ask that you please keep Fr. Christopher Klusman and the soul of his father, Elmer, in your prayers: Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May Elmer's soul, and all of the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.