At times in our lives, my sister and I both realized we were a little off course. Our choices didn’t always align with our parents, but we were given a lot of freedom to make our own decisions. On this particular day though, we had chosen our parents’ preferred route and found ourselves off course—it seemed we had come full circle.
We were on our way up north to the family cabin for what would probably be our last trip there together. Mom and Dad were now gone. There was a buyer, an architect who admired and appreciated Dad’s work, and the closing was just around the corner. Although it was happening way too fast, it had felt as though we’d made the right decision and that they would have approved.
“How did we get on S?” I said.
“I thought we were on J?” Joan said.
“I thought we were supposed to be on V?”
“We should have stayed on 42.”
We were on the backroads which avoided all the tourist towns. I loved the tourist towns. That meant cookies and coffee, shopping and people watching, or leisurely hours spent at cafés sipping lattes or wine.
Vast spans of fields filled with sweet corn extended beyond what my eyes could see and were reminiscent of Mom’s life growing up on the farmlands of northern Illinois. Who will eat all this corn, was what I wondered. I rolled down the window so Sam could stick his head out and it was apparent cows were near—lots of them. My fourteen year-old dog, Mr. Sam, tires easily so the window was constantly going up and down as he recoiled from the wind only to recover within a minute or two. Likewise, my mind flipped back and forth between wanting to hold onto every image I took in, or forget them all together because remembering would be too sad.
“We could rent a place in Bailey’s Harbor and make new memories,” I said but Joan was silent. “I know, time to move on. Make new memories…”
“You were right. We shouldn’t have veared off left at the fork,” she said checking her GPS*.
We made a U-turn and got back on course in silence. The sky suddenly closed in around us with heavy thick dark clouds, drawing us out of our unspoken yet shared thoughts, as only sisters can do.
“Looks like a storm coming,” Joan said.
“Whoa, look at that cloud! Get a picture!” I turned to look and the car swerved to the right. Sam slid in the backseat and Joan kind of grabbed at the edge of hers. “It looks like a string of cyclones!”
I stared out over the field to my right to see more black bubbles of clouds forming and the car swerved to the left. Sam slid again and Joan yelled. “DEBBIE, KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE ROAD!” And those were the words that I would return to, again and again, over the next couple days, until I finally understood.
Dad had designed the cabin for Mom after she was first diagnosed with cancer. They began to break ground following her chemo and radiation. It was completed just in time to celebrate their 50th Wedding Anniversary about four years later.
Eight years of pretty good health passed. They spent great days there—offices for both of them, between their bedroom and screened in porch, where they were always productive. There was a piano for Mom, and a sailboat and canoe for Dad. Bethel Church ranked high on their list of priorities, as did baking apple pies, tending a well stoked wood-burning stove, long conversations, Scrabble games and crosswords, stormy winds and glistening calm. Mom was busy planting flowers one spring when she heard something snap in her chest. It would take another year to discover cancer was in the fluid of her lungs, and it had metastasized.
They were never sentimental about things. Things had changed and they decided to put the cabin on the market. It had served its purpose and the time had come to prepare for the next phase of their lives. When they didn’t get their asking price, they took it back off. Mom passed away three years later but not without putting up a good fight. Dad put up a For Sale sign. He didn’t want to go back to the cabin without her.
It was tough watching Dad go on without Mom, as you can imagine after 61 years of marriage. I overcompensated and tried to fill the void everyday with phone calls, meals and visits the best I could, and eventually attempted to convince him to take a trip to the place they had loved together. I succeeded and we went to the Island with Mr. Sam. Once Dad realized how much he really did enjoy it—the people and their down to earth, no nonsense lifestyle—it didn’t take long for him to change his mind. The cabin was back off the market once again. I think I enjoyed him enjoying it more than I enjoyed enjoying it.
As he neared the end of his life, Dad talked about a plan to create a family trust so we could keep it in the family. I can understand now that he held that plan loosely because he never went through with it. I don’t think he was totally convinced it was the right thing to do. I’m sure he asked God what God thought. There was no profit greater than God’s gain. Decisions were aligned according to God’s plan—souls were won, not property. “Eyes on your Savior, not the situation or thing,” he would say. That included the Island cabin. I can hear Mom say, “Move on kids. What’s next? Live your lives with adventure not holding onto the past.”
The water woke me several times the night Joan and I arrived. Each time I said my goodbyes to the little room I claimed as mine with the writing desk in the corner under the eave. I never spent time writing there because I found it claustrophobic but I loved it just the same.
I lay listening to the sound of the waves and regretted the decision to sell. The cabin had become a respite for me through years of struggle and I wasn’t ready to let it go. The next morning, news arrived that the sale had been finalized. We would have to be out in less than three weeks. Suddenly the relaxing Labor Day weekend became a huge to-do list clearing out 18 years of Mom and Dad’s lives. I cried. I clung. I called Todd and family members. Joan started packing.
The following morning, I woke up early, made coffee, opened my Bible and began my Conversation as I watched the sky begin to lighten.
What are you trying to build, My Kingdom or your own? Remember whose cabin this ultimately is. Remember from where the Design came, whose Strength was behind it, and on whose Blessing it was built. My Ways are higher than your ways. As long as you keep your eyes on the earth and its ways, you will never feel satisfied. Give careful thought to your ways.
Trust that My Light is shining on you.
My reasons for allowing loss may not be understood now but I Am with you. I Am the Father of the fatherless.
That’s when I began to realize that it was Mom and Dad I was having trouble letting go of more than the cabin. I wanted them back.
I Am not the God of the dead but of the living. Look out over the water to the rising sun and enter My gates. Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Has not My Hand made all these things? Look up and see the Glory.
Let go of all burdens and you will love and laugh again. If you keep carrying them, you will fall. Lay them at My feet and come walk with Me to the water—along the path to Heaven—the High Way—where there is no death.
I sat down on a rock and took in the picture spread out before me.
You are my precious child. The earth is full of My children. Bring them to Me. Press on in self-denial, accept hardships, and don’t shrink back from loss. Your portion lies beyond the hour of trial. Your crown is beyond the cross. Though rough and steep your path, worn and weary you may be, trust. My Way of living in the world is through you. Together we push through the darkness. You are here to be fruitful. Fruitfulness comes from vulnerability and weakness which allows Me to pour My Spirit into you.
Calm came over me then and my tears started to subside.
Set your mind on higher things. See My Mansion for you in heaven. Temporal things do not make you rich. What is of lasting value but knowing how much you are loved, having all the strength you need, being tolerant of others and patient with yourself, feeling understood, being humble and giving of yourself, and learning to be quiet under unfair accusation. Surrender all—all fear, doubt, pride, loneliness, unfair accusations, idols, desires. Do not envy the world’s riches. I detest the perverse. I mock proud mockers but give grace to the humble.
I AM your God. See the morning light and remember this beauty. No eye but yours has seen this picture.
Though it was a gray day, the waves were crashing on the shore. There were white caps I’d never seen before along the point. The water was high. Todd and the family arrived to help. Counters and corners were still cluttered like particles of dust needing to be swept away, each particle a memory. Things were packed up in vehicles or given away to charity. Our friend Dave Hansen agreed to pick up what was left to distribute to folks or take to the dump and saved us a major headache. The new owners agreed to take the beds and futons. The job was nearly complete with a lot less effort than I had imagined.
“Wacha think?” I said to Todd as he joined me the following morning on what I called Mom’s porch.
“Oh, I was just thinking about all the good memories here.”
“Like what…?” I pressed in and felt a new wave of emotion starting to rise.
“Everyone being here, playing my guitar on the porch, playing volleyball with all the cousins, singing at your parents’ 50th Anniversary. Thanks Bill and Dee.”
With that, Todd got up and let the screen door do its familiar slam behind him. He carried his sweatshirt down to the shore to take a seat.
They came then, my tears of love and gratitude moving beyond the grief. Joan was standing by the edge of the water, hands on her hips. “Debbie! The water is coming right through your path and is forming a little tide pool!” Water restores. Water cleanses. Water heals.
The path is submerged now but it’s still there. The rocks I dug up and placed last summer, and all those summers before, were now embedded in the floor of Lake Michigan just as my parents memories were embedded in my heart. I realized my struggle hadn’t been about the cabin. It will remain. I can return. I was letting go of my parents.
Was it a coincidence that I came across these words that morning? Above all else, guard your heart for it is a wellspring of life…Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or to the left.
Dad would smile and say, “Nope, probably not.”
Haggai 1 (Call to build the House of the Lord), Proverbs 4: 23, 25-27.