For years now, Shanley High School has offered an annual retreat for its junior class, but I’m assuming few of these two-day events — if any — have happened in the snow.
This year’s outing, however, began with a spring splattering of the white stuff, which threatened to dampen the experience.
Memories of volunteering with other parents at this event two years ago, which included a sun-streaked Pelican Lake and tantalizing evening sunset, were replaced by worrisome weather reports, icy roads and late arrivals.
Though sad the kids would miss out on the warm, grass-splashed grounds of Camp Castaway, I trusted the experience would be worthwhile.
The retreat is meant to prepare the students spiritually for their senior year, with one eye glancing backward, and another, forward on God’s plan for their lives.
Their activities mostly remain a mystery to the parents, since we stay pretty much hidden, helping prepare, serve and clean up after the meals. Teachers and staff lead the retreat.
But after dinner this year, one student hinted at the overall tone, buzzing past us while exclaiming, “I wish I could stay here forever,” seeming to express what many faces showed.
And in the end, the snow proved inconsequential, including for the work crew. With no beautiful weather to distract us, we engaged in meaningful communion and robust conversations. Turns out parents need to belly-laugh sometimes, too.
While each of us had a chance to quietly celebrate our kids, God presented me a bonus opportunity by placing not only my youngest daughter there but my godson, too, and on his 17th birthday. I’d also had the forethought to sneak some cupcakes and candles into my bag beforehand, hoping to surprise him with a sense of God’s tangible love.
But it was the hug from him and the goodnight text from my daughter the previous night that confirmed what I’d come seeking — a glimpse of God’s gentle movements in them.
I marveled to think of how —17 years earlier, when my husband and I were asked to be this young man’s godparents, and when I held my precious second daughter for the first time —God already knew the details of these couple days, just as he knows every detail of these students’ futures, and all of ours, too.
By outside accounts, this year’s junior retreat seemed a snow-soaked mess. But from the inside, the soul-satiating presence of God showed up big.
I yearn for everyone to taste this somehow. Not just a delicious spaghetti meal followed by a giant warm cookie topped with ice cream, but the kind of food all our souls ultimately thirst for: knowing, without doubt, God’s love, and the life-changing purpose he has for our lives.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on May 6, 2017.]