We’re winding through the mountains, enjoying miles of thick evergreen forests topped by stunning snow-capped peaks.
In the context of such beauty and the joy of time off with my beloved, the sadness doesn’t make sense.
But it’s there. Every time we get away without the kids and grandkids and I step out of the car to breathe deep of pine-scented air, a pang hits me.
A nameless, keening ache that refuses to leave.
I close my eyes. Warm summer breeze caressing my skin, I’m transported to another time and place.
I’m a kid visiting Yosemite National Park with my parents and brothers and sister. I’m climbing out of the little wooden camper which my father made with his own hands.
I’m helping set up the big canvas tent we bought when we outgrew the camper.
Or I’m twenty again, living in Yosemite for the summer, working a day job and volunteering with a ministry team between Bible college semesters.
I’m climbing up the back of Half Dome with my new friends, singing silly Monty Python songs up the trail and then unrolling sleeping bags on the granite monolith for the night.
(My mom found that ministry and made that summer happen, one I will never forget.)
Or maybe I’m a young mother of three little boys and we’re camping in the woods, hiking in the Tetons, marveling at the bubbling mud pots and geysers of Yellowstone.
Or just plunking bait into a quiet creek in the middle of nowhere.
Or we’re in southeastern Alaska, hauling in halibut from the depths of a tranquil, opal sea, astonished at the killer whale swimming right up to the boat.
Then there’s our extended family vacations at the lake. Boat rides, jeep rides, the swimming dock, the meals out on the deck with cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents…
Two things have made our vacations special: the beauty of God’s creation, and the opportunity to enjoy it together as a family.
God has wired parents in such a way that we naturally want to show our children the world and help them interpret and enjoy it.
However, special family memories don’t happen by accident. They require intentionality.
Years ago, I knew a family that never took any vacations together. The father was terrified that his family would be disappointed, so he just wouldn’t take them on vacation at all.
Tragically, this dad’s fear prevented many a good memory from being created—memories which he and his wife and children could have always cherished.
In this case, the problem was fear. For another mom or dad, the problem might be lack of planning or lack of a role model.
Maybe you didn’t grow up going to special places with your folks. Maybe finances are an issue.
Here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter if you sleep in a tiny tent in the woods or go to a fancy resort. It doesn’t matter if you drive twenty miles or fly two thousand.
What matters is being intentional and creative about building family memories – memories that take place outside of your usual environment and routine.
The family vacations I’ve enjoyed, both as a child and as a mother, have shaped who I am. To this day, my senses trigger pleasant memories I’ll always enjoy.
Those special trips strengthened my feeling of belonging, of sharing a unique family history.
They grounded me.
So I don’t mind the pang I feel when I travel without the whole family. I cherish what that ache represents: so much joy.
What kind of trip will you plan to build memories and strengthen your family’s bonds?