We went to our “happy place”, as our youngest son calls it, for a family vacation from Saturday until Wednesday. Door County is the “thumb” of Wisconsin and what some refer to as “the Cape Cod of the Midwest”—a peninsula that juts out separating the waters of Green Bay and Lake Michigan.
Highway 42 meanders north past groves of cherry trees and grapevines, through cozy little villages with harbors full of boats this time of year. Our destination is always Peninsula State Park for camping in summer and cross-country skiing in winter. The towns of Fish Creek and Ephraim hold numerous fond memories for us from just after we adopted all three of our kids.
I remember bundling up Nick in a navy snowsuit, twenty months old but not walking yet, and placing him in a red sled I pulled along the forest trails while Anna (8) and Zach (6) skied alongside Todd. Seems like a blink ago. Here’s that once snow-suited cutie, now 18.
This week, we unplugged from screens and tuned into each other with no distractions. We laughed as the boys purposely fell off paddle boards and four of us squeezed into a paddleboat with faulty steering (or was it the weight?).
We ate ice cream every day, once at the famous Wilson’s that puts a jelly bean in the bottom of every cone and we can’t wait to get to the bottom of it to discover our flavor.
We relaxed about showers, most of us finding the swims in the bay sufficient for a few days.
And we played our favorite game, Charoodles, where we always end up laughing hysterically watching each other act out words. This time, we all laughed with Anna, now 24, who mispronounced three words on her card—record player turntable—as re-CORD player TURNable. And she had no idea what that was. We all just about died when we discovered that NONE of our kids knew what a record player turntable was!
The laughter continued about mispronounced words and even made-up words we’ve been adding to an ever-growing family list we all like to remember for fun. Words like “tooken” (as Zach, now 22, said not long ago when a parking spot was no longer available) and “discomBOOBulated” (as my MAN likes to say, I swear just to annoy me) and a host of others.
So, I spent five days thanking God for the simplest things in life—the trees and birds, the meals under warm sun on our skin, the digging our toes into the dirt. Mostly, I spent five days thanking God for the not-so-simple—this family of ours and how we can laugh—how we truly enjoy one another’s company after all these years and the many trials we’ve weathered together. I looked at each of these kids now grown and choked up, praising our faithful Father who has brought us through our many “Red Sea” times when I thought surely we’d drown (or maybe just me).
On our last night, sitting around our campfire, I turned the conversation serious, pondering all the years, the diagnoses, the specialists, the on-going need for assistance—all the invisible broken that will be part of their/our lives this side of heaven.
“What term do you kids prefer I use when I write: disabilities or special needs or some other term?”
“Disabilities. NOT special needs!” They were all emphatic and came up with no preferred term. So I asked the follow-up question.
All said the same, more-or-less . . .
“Because ‘special needs’ sounds negative—like we’re more special than others. We’re not. We have challenges. We have disabilities. We know it and we’re fine with it.”
I was shocked. I would’ve guessed they’d prefer the term “special needs”. I would’ve guessed they’d shrink back from discussing their disabilities so candidly, with not a tinge of shame.
I was wrong.
And then I realized how great God has been to us—a family with challenges in feet, legs, hands, back, mouth, eyes, nose, ear, brain, heart—a family that’s kind of a mess in many ways—a family who LOOKS completely normal but isn’t—a family who has struggled to hold on to God and failed many times—a family who has seen the saving hand of God in action too many times doubt His reality and faithfulness. The greatest gift we’ve all been given, each of us in this family? God’s flawless track record of faithfulness and love giving each of us a solid hope and a sure future (Jeremiah 29:11, all three kids’ life verse).
I look upon these three and their father this summer and give thanks to God. I look upon these three and their father this summer and give thanks that they’ve all said “YES” to the one who binds us together, in Him, in this messy, glorious, broken, wonderfully blessed family.