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I’ve come to the conclusion that God does, in fact, go on vacation. Why? Because when our family took a long-planned, greatly anticipated trip to Florida, we couldn’t avoid feeling that God had come along with us. Of course, for God, taking a vacation doesn’t mean being on vacation. If anything, he seemed more available, not less.
Most people take time to get away from the ordinary, do something a little different, and just change the pace of things a bit. That was pretty much our intent when we planned this vacation as a family celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary last June. With work obligations, school and summer activity schedules, scheduling the trip was a challenge. Looking not very far into the future, it became clear to us that now might well be our last chance to bring everyone together before education and work and growing up and moving away -- let alone sheer expense -- made it impossible.
Once we made the commitment to gather the clan, we started to plan our time together. We settled on Disney, Sea World, a dinner show, a day at a water park and snorkeling with manatees. God, it seems, made his plans too.
By the time we left, we knew we were going to encounter at least a tropical storm -- and maybe a hurricane -- in a few days. While I knew that there was nothing we could do about it, I have to admit to a lot of anxiety about the potentially devastating effect such weather could have on our trip. The sun was shining when we got there, and the first day out in the theme parks was overcast and a little rainy. For the next four days, however, we were completely drenched in wind and rain. The storm wasn’t terribly severe, but it was slow-moving, and hung around long enough to cause some serious flooding in other areas. I just kept wishing the rain would go away, and certainly, I prayed that God would somehow intervene. He did.
Nobody goes to the “Sunshine State” for rain, but we soon realized that if we were willing to just resign ourselves to wearing ponchos and looking like wet dogs, we could do everything we had planned without waiting in lines, risking sunburn, or being uncomfortably hot. Being at Disney during a tropical storm had significant advantages. The day the weather finally cleared, and the rain was completely gone, a rainbow appeared in the middle of a bright blue sky. The storm wasn’t a divine punishment or a divine gift. It was just how things were. Still God was there. He had been with us all along.
As the weather became more of what we had expected, I began to see that perhaps the trip we planned was giving us an image of what our family’s first 25 years had been like. We started out, as every couple does, with hopes and plans, some that are easily fulfilled, and others that seem threatened by the storms of reality that blow into all our lives. Children come, and grow. We struggle with each other and for each other. There are times when things are easier, and times when they are harder, but time together is what it’s all about.
In the final analysis, all of us will have sun and rain, storms and calm. God is on the journey with us through it all, and there are gifts to be found even in life’s undesirable situations or seasons. We may feel as if we have a lot to say to God about things, but if we can listen for even just a moment, we will realize that he has been trying to say a few things to us as well.
On the last full day of our trip, as we plunged into the wave pool at Blizzard Beach, we all got the message we need for the next 25 years of our family’s life together. God couldn’t have spoken more clearly. High in the cloudless blue, an airplane was busily skywriting these words: “Smile, Jesus Loves You,” “God + U = Smiley Face,” and “Trust Jesus.” Moving forward with all we carry with us, it is good to know that we can trust Jesus, wherever we are, and in the midst of whatever we encounter along the way.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis De Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.