Tuesday, June 20, 2006

June 18, 2006 - Family Retreat

This weekend I’ve been on our church’s Family Retreat, at Johnsonburg Presbyterian Camp, in northwestern New Jersey. This event, originally conceived as an inter-generational, all-church getaway, has since evolved into a retreat for families with small children. I enjoy the opportunity to go when I can, because it’s fun to see the family members interacting with each other, and with friends from other church families.

Often, Robin anchors this retreat, taking a chaplain role, but this year she’s off representing Monmouth Presbytery as a commissioner to our denomination’s General Assembly in Birmingham, Alabama, so it falls to me to be at Johnsonburg with a whole gaggle of young children and their parents (and, in a few cases, grandparents). Jim, one of our elders, has agreed to preach and lead worship in our Sunday-morning services.

It’s an enjoyable duty. The weather is ideal this year, and everything runs smoothly with the retreat program (excepting, of course, the usual assortment of minor injuries that occur when kids are at play). It’s fun to see the children doing things like catching fish in the lake, swimming in the pool, ascending the climbing wall – enjoying themselves with their parents at their side. These young families are often beset by competing demands for their time, and it’s good for them to get some time away. It makes me a bit nostalgic for the days when our kids were that small.

One of the challenges the older kids face is the climbing wall. There’s expert assistance from the camp staff, and plenty of safety equipment. Everyone’s encouraged to make it as far as they can. It’s an unfamiliar role for the kids, using hands as well as feet to carefully pick their way up a vertical surface. The handholds and footholds look insubstantial, but in reality they’re very adequate, once the climbers get the hang of it (no pun intended).

There’s also a natural tendency for climbers to rely on the safety rope – to try to pull themselves up by the rope, rather than letting it hang loose, trusting their own hands and feet. Getting up a climbing wall is mostly a matter of learning to trust oneself and one’s own abilities – relying, also, of course, on others who are nearby, “spotting” for safety purposes and cheering the climbers on.

It’s not unlike living with cancer. For us cancer survivors, the journey is ours alone – although there are others nearby, eager to help. As the old spiritual puts it,

“We must walk this lonesome valley,
We have to walk it by ourselves;
O, nobody else can walk it for us,
We have to walk it by ourselves.”

I do find, on the retreat, that my energy level is still a bit on the low side. Just walking from our lodge down to the lake, I have to pause for a moment to rest. During the Saturday-afternoon free time, I return to my room for a nap.

Fatigue is sneaky, that way. It’s been so many months since my energy level was normal, that I don’t quite know what normal is anymore. I know I’m feeling better than I was during my chemo treatments, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready, yet, to run on all engines. The improvement I’m seeing is incremental, so there are no dramatic breakthroughs, no milestones of improvement, by which to gauge the pace of recovery.

One handhold at a time...

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