So let's rewind back to mid-February. I think I've mentioned that Deonne and I (and our family) moved our membership to a new parish. We love it. It's a much smaller church than the cathedral we were once part of, much more our speed, much more - oh, I don't know the word - home-ier I guess. The kids love their Sunday school classes, look forward to Wednesday nights for the children's program and parish dinners, and can't wait to see their new friends. Deonne and I like recognizing the folks we worship with each Sunday - where the size is such that it's not a whole different congregation every service. Our Sunday school class is great, we're making new friends, and I really really like the Wednesday night programs as well (and the fact that I don't have to cook or clean up the kitchen one weeknight a week is an added bonus.)
Most Episcopal churches in our diocese take one weekend a year for a parish retreat. Our diocese goes to a camp called Kanuga located about 10 minutes out of Hendersonville, North Carolina. It's only 10 minutes from a thriving town, but feels like it is miles away once you are at the camp. Quiet. Secluded. Full of trees. Quiet space. Rustic cabins. Beautiful chapels (both indoor and out). A lovely lake.
Deonne and I frequented Kanuga before we had children and when we were very involved members at our previous church. As youth advisers, we stayed with the youth (teenagers) in their cabin during that church parish retreat, we attended conferences there as youth advisers to learn more about how to effectively work with youth, and took a few kids up there for special camps at various times.
It is a special place. Some could say, a holy place. It is where Deonne and I made the decision we were ready to start a family (not knowing that it would take over a year from our deciding conversation to actually conceive a child.) It is the place we prayed feverishly for a child about a year later (as it turns out, two days before we returned home and I found out our prayers had indeed been answered.) A place that is very much a part of our Christian life together.
So when we saw in the church bulletin that St. Johns parish retreat was coming up in February - we immediately decided we wanted to go.
It was a special time.
The cabins are very rustic. No TVs. No phones. Limited cell phone coverage. The idea is to really and truly get away from it all. There was programming for the adults and children on Saturday morning, and nursery for the little ones, but the afternoon was free for playing, running, reading, talking, tricycle racing, and story telling. Meals are scheduled and family style. Big tables and a big buffet of home cooked meals. Challenging, yes, when us parents were scrambling to fill plates and cups and glasses for the kids who were always hungry - from all of that outdoor play - but well worth it. No cooking. No cleaning. (AMEN to that one.)
James' birthday fell on the Saturday we were there. The congregation celebrated by singing 'Happy Birthday' to James during the lunch service. We celebrated in our cabin with cupcakes and candles - then turned the kids loose to run off all of that sugar.
It was beautiful.
Deonne carried Jack. Anna and James followed behind. They didn't speak. They didn't giggle. They didn't hop or jump. They simply walked behind their father. Step for step in peaceful unison.
I walked the labyrinth alone. I was a few paces behind from taking pictures of my husband and my children. As I walked the lines and curves, I could glance up now and then to see my life and my future before me. And about the time I reached the center point, I realized I was leaving some things behind me... slowly letting go of another piece of the grief of losing my dad. Slowly shedding the guilt of not being able to be close with my mom. Focused on how to help heal the strained relationship with my stepdad.
Oh, Kanuga. Just what I needed. A breath of fresh mountain air. A chance to escape our daily life at home. An opportunity to deepen friendships with some lovely people. A moment of peace to think about my parents, to miss them, to hold them dear, and feel the hurt in a safe haven.
I can't wait to return again.
A perfect end to a perfect weekend.