Oh, The Places I Have Been

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My son Matthew is a sports nut just like his father.
I knew I was in serious trouble when right after
giving birth to him his father said while holding him,
“can you say Bobby Knight?” His first real word
beyond mama and dada was “ball.” On walks through the
neighborhood, pushing him in the stroller, he would
gleefully shout out “b-ball go” (translated –
basketball goal).

So what’s a non-athletic mother to do? I’ve tried
for years to act interested in sports, playing catch
in the yard, and even watching the Colts, Pacers,
University of Tennessee or Indiana University play on
television. I felt as if I had nothing in common with
this little wonder athlete of mine.

Then I got the bright idea that, although his dad
taught him anything and everything one man could
possibly know about any sport with a ball to it, I
would be the one to offer him some “cultural”
experiences beyond the fences of a football or
baseball field.

Our church members always go to a family camp every
labor day somewhere up in northern Indiana. Being the
only single parent with child, I thought this might be
good for us, and would expose my son to how other
families interact with each other. It was a good idea
at the time. But I was soon to find out that my
fail-proof plan was full of holes.

Off we went with another family from church, singing,
laughing and having a good old time in the back of the
van. The ride up proved to be very scenic as the
highways turned to curvy, winding roads, and flat
cornfields turned to beautiful hills and little quaint
towns full of history and antique shops.

Arriving at the campgrounds in the dark, I couldn’t
fully appreciate the view yet, but I knew by the nice,
rustic sleeping quarters, forest background and a lake
sparkling from the stars beaming down on it that we
were going to have a great time.

“Okay, here’s a map to the building you and Matt are
to bunk in this weekend,” said the nice white-haired
Sunday school lady. After wandering around for a bit
in the dark “headless horseman” kind of path, we come
upon a huge log cabin structure with a deck
overlooking the lake.

Pushing open the creaky, heavy wooden door, we saw
that the inside is one huge recreation hall with rooms
off to the side down a dark hallway.
“Well, Matt I think this is our room, let’s go and
see!”

Opening the door, we walked into what appeared to be
a room for junior high camp, complete with four bunk
beds and one outlet to plug a clock or appliances.

“Look mommy! I can have a slumber party in here!”

He proceeded to jump off and on all the bottom bunks
while I remain frozen to the floor, stunned and
confused about our sleeping arrangements. I thought
we were going to be with the other families in the
building up on the hill, not stuck in the farthest
building from civilization. After the shock wore off,
I took Matt’s hand to see who else was bunking in our
building for the night.

Creeping through the dimly lit hallway, I saw four
other empty rooms like ours, but no occupants. Matt
really wanted somebody to play with by now, wound up
from containing all that six-year-old energy earlier
in the van.

“Let’s take a walk to the cafeteria and get something
to eat, okay?”

“Can I have a hot dog, mommy?” I reminded him that
this wasn’t a fast food restaurant, that he may have
to eat something different from his usual fare. He
immediately started pouting.
“French fries are a vegetable. I want that and a hot
dog.”

After convincing him to see what they have first, he
finally trudged along in the chilly night air,
dragging his feet. It didn’t matter how many times I
told him to pick his feet up, he liked the sound his
shoes made and preceded to stir up dust, and my
allergies.

Spotting our friends we drove up with, Kerwin and
Cheryl Kauffman and their two handfuls, Stephen and
Ryan, I asked about the possible mix-up in room
reservations. Kerwin laughed and said to check with
the director and tomorrow we could move up to the big
house shared by most of the families.

The next day, after being sandwiched between two huge
families, with Matt sitting across from me at the
table at breakfast (and practically every meal
thereafter), we trotted off with schedule in hand to
see what cool stuff this place had to offer.

“Mommy, look at the boats! Can we take a ride,
please?”
Who could ignore those big green eyes looking up at
me? I did say I wanted to provide him with different
opportunities, but I haven’t the first clue about
boating. I tried distracting him by offering to play
baseball with him and the other kids. Nope, he wanted
to ride in a boat. We’d already tried fishing earlier
that summer. He got upset when we had to throw the
fish back that he had caught, telling everyone what a
mean mommy he had because he wanted a pet fish in a
glass bowl to keep in his room.

Well, here goes my test of sanity. We buckled up
with our life preserver vests, listened to the old
gentleman rattle off directions for using the oars,
and headed into the murky depths of the lake, me
paddling slowly, and with a death grip on the oars.
If we lose one of these then we?re really sunk!

Matt was grinning from ear to ear, singing “row, row,
row your boat” at the top of his lungs. Later, I
would find out voices carry over water and everyone on
the shore was getting a good laugh at his serenading.
I think I must have held my breath the whole time due
to a severe panic attack sweeping over me.

“Oh, no honey. Don’t rock the boat. Mommy might get
sea sick.” Matt laughed and thought it was a joke,
and it was all I could do not to scream at him to
stop. He started to look over the edge a little too
far to see what was in the water, and I had to muster
all the niceness I could to ask him politely to stay
in the middle of his seat.”I wouldn’t want a big shark to grab you and take you
away!”

“Mommy, can I paddle now? I want to paddle the
boat.” His question struck pure terror in me.
Looking to see how far out we were, the shore seemed
at least 50 miles away by now.

“No, the boat guy said only grown-ups could have the
oars. Are you ready to go play with your friends
now?” By the time I reached the sandy shore of the
lake, I held myself back from kissing the green grass
and solid ground my feet were standing on. I think
the boat guy recognized that look of a frightened deer
staring at an oncoming car because he patted me on the
back and told me I did a good job. Matt clapped his
hands at my great boating ability. “Can we do that
again tomorrow?

“It’s going to rain tomorrow dear. Maybe another
day.” Whew! Never again!

Another talent I realized I don?t possess is finding
my way through a forest with no map, and no sense of
direction. Matt and I wanted to see the tree that
looks like a cross that everyone was talking about, so
after lunch we headed into the forest of huge,
centuries old trees, and our path being whatever we
choose to make it.

Matthew held my hand, dragging me along through
weeds, sticky bushes and mosquito haven, convinced he
was Indiana Jones and he knew the way. I was just
thinking about whether I remembered to bring bug
repellent or poison ivy itch cream. I was ready to
give up and start heading back when Matt shouted out,
“Mommy I see Jesus? cross! I see it, mommy. Over
here!”

After walking through probably my tenth spider web, I
climbed on the big sitting rock Matt had found. We
sat in silence, admiring this gigantic old tree with
its limbs twisted into the shape of a cross. It
actually grew this way. In this little open clearing
in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere was this
awesome work of God, and I was sharing it with my son.

“Isn’t it bea-u-ti-ful, mommy?” He patted my back,
smiling at me with such a look of child innocence and
faith that I started to cry. It felt so holy and
peaceful here.

“It’s a good thing I knew where to find it, right
mommy? I’m a good leader, ain’t I?” He jumped up and
ran over to the tree to hug it, then ran back to hug
me.

Hand in hand, we headed back, trusting that we would
find our way home together, and a renewed faith that
God would guide our walk with him always.
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