Growing up our family always went on vacations over the summer. We camped, which meant we always drove to our destination. Our trips ranged from a long weekend camping trip only an hour away, to a 10 hour drive to the ocean for a week long camping trip. Our longest vacation was when I was in high school and my parents took my three sisters and myself on a three week cross country camping trip. These trips were not fancy resorts, were not ridiculously expensive hotels with top notch amenities, but they were the best vacations I ever could have asked for. I remember people saying after our cross country trip, “Wow three weeks together in a car and little pop-up camper? You guys must have driven each other crazy!” But we didn’t. I don’t remember any fights at all. Maybe a small argument here or there if someone crossed the imaginary line between your seat and the seat next to you in the car. Perhaps an occasional grumble over whether or not someone was hogging the blankets at night. But fights? No.
We enjoyed each other’s company. We laughed, we sat around the campfire talking, telling jokes, and roasting marshmallows. We hiked, we swam, and we just stood admiring God’s creation. We took photos and divided them up so each of us kids could make our own photo album of our adventure and I still look through those photos today. But more than photos or small souvenirs, we have amazing memories. Memories of hiking in the Rocky Mountains topped with snow. Memories of wading in the freezing Lake Tahoe waters because we just had to go in! Memories of standing in the quiet of the Redwood Forest feeling like a tiny ant surrounded with these massive trees and ferns. Memories of holding hands and stretching our arms as far as possible to see if we could reach around the enormous trunks of these great trees (which we couldn’t!) Memories of visiting the Pacific Ocean and watching the waves crash on the shore. Memories of wearing our rain ponchos as we visited the Sequoia National Forest and the massive trees that seem to reach all the way to heaven. Memories of hiking around the Grand Canyon and watching the beautiful colors change as the sun set and storms began to form on the other side.
Whenever we traveled as a family, certain music was involved. Radio stations were sometimes hard to find so we would accompany our road trips with the same tried and true cassette tapes and eventually CDs. There are certain musical memories that stick out in my mind: Raffi, various Disney tunes, Silly Songs with Larry from Veggie Tales, The Beach Boys, The Eagles, my parents playing “Name that Tune” to the local classic rock stations – but most of all John Denver. My parents love John Denver and his music went with us on any family trip. Not only did we listen to these songs, but we all sang along. You know how sometimes you will see a teenage kid going down the road with his boom box blasting and the car shaking from the loud, pounding bass? Well that is how we listened to John Denver. Volume up, bass up, singing our hearts out. Even as adults we still do this. I had to give my husband fair warning before he traveled with my family for the first time – There would be family singing of good old John Denver involved in this trip! “Take me Home Country Roads,” “Rocky Mountain High,” “Fly Away,” “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” and my favorite, “Sunshine on my Shoulders.”
My family is a bit spread out now and we don’t have the luxury of lengthy vacations together anymore. School and work have taken us to different states and our schedules are a lot harder to match up. Nevertheless, we are closer than ever in our relationships, talking almost daily via phone, text, email, or video chats, and we look forward to the time we do get to spend together in person. This past weekend I was blessed to have my Mom come into town for a visit. We talked, laughed, played games, cooked, and just enjoyed each other’s company. It was such a wonderful visit! Yesterday we went to surprise my Grandma for her 85th birthday. She lives just over an hour from me and didn’t know my husband and I were coming, let alone my Mom! Grandpa and my other aunts, uncles and cousins all managed to keep it a secret and Grandma was so surprised to see us! We had a wonderful day and at the end of it, I said goodbye to Mom so she could spend the next two days with her mother before flying back home.
Last night I was feeling a bit bummed out, as I always do when family visits are over. It seems they are too few and far between. This morning I woke up and the sun was shining bright, which has been rare lately. I thought about my family and the upcoming group camping trip we have planned. I thought back on all our memories of vacations in the past and “Sunshine on my Shoulders” popped into my head.
“Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely
Sunshine, almost always, makes me high”
I felt like the memories of childhood vacations and the promise of wonderful things to come with my husband and the family we might one day have became the sunshine on my shoulders this morning. Thinking about memories from the past is wonderful, but can sometimes make me cry. But when I look at how lovely the sunshine is in my life now, what wondrous things God has given to me, I feel happy. I feel high and uplifted by God and the love that surrounds me from my husband, my parents, my sisters, and entire family. The wonderful memories of the past were filled with love and joy and that inner sense of faith, love, and family has stayed with me and paved the way for new wonderful memories. Memories of meeting my husband for the first time. Of that moment when we knew God meant for us to be together. Memories of our engagement, of sharing the news with all my family and friends that we were getting married. Memories of our wonderful wedding day, of moving together, of adopting our cute little pup. Memories of our own vacations and day trips to parks, of visiting the lake, the ocean, amusement parks, and ballparks. And we have so many more memories to make! With such lovely memories behind me and such faith filled hopes and dreams of the future, it seems the sunshine isn’t just on my shoulders but filling my heart and soul too!
I have so much to be grateful for, why focus on the physical distance between family? I have my incredible husband, my adorable dog, our lovely home, our wonderful church, my loving family and the amazing technology that keeps us so close even now, marvelous memories of times gone by, and the warm sunshine on my shoulders, sent from the Father above, making me happy.