A funny thing happened during a hike on my family vacation this past summer. Or, you could say it was a God thing. You decide. I will explain more after I tell you where we go each year.
My husband and I have been married for nearly 17 years and we have taken as many vacations. I am the planner and I am an expert at finding amazing deals on luxury accommodations. We once had a breathtaking view of the Niagara river in Canada. One year, we had a new baby and I found a great rate on a room at the Palm Beach Hilton. When we arrived we were upgraded to the Presidential suite because it was available. We had three balconies overlooking the white beaches and turquoise Ocean. When we had three kids, we made the perfunctory trip to Disney. These vacations were fun and memorable. But, when I arrived home, I noticed how ordinary and messy our house was. I did not feel rejuvenated. I felt like I was missing something.
Two years in a row, my brother tried to invite us to Catholic Familyland in Ohio. We thought it was some kind of charismatic, fringe element in the Church and shelved the idea. But, our lackluster vacations of years past led us to finally taking them up on the offer and we joined them. My husband and I made a pact to go and just make sure neither of us drank the Kool-aid.
We have vacationed at Familyland every year since. It is a 900 acre camp ground where families can experience Catholic culture through daily Mass, confession, Adoration, and family rosary, along with swimming, horseback riding, and fellowship with other Catholic families. The goal is to encourage family consecration to Jesus through Mary; and to live out that consecration at home and in our community. By doing so, we fulfill God’s will and bring about peace in our homes and our communities. Their motto is “Helping families get to Heaven.”
Mornings, we rise early and eat breakfast al fresco. Daily Mass is at 9AM, so the kids know to get their last bite in before 8AM. The kids start early with play dates, too. As soon as they empty their cereal bowl, they holler into the cabin that they will be at so-and-so’s cabin until we leave for Mass; it always amazes us how easy they make friends.
Daily Mass is packed. The Mass is beautiful. The music is well rehearsed and each homily is a thought provoking, heart rending, powerful analysis of the Scriptures that is directly applied to our family life. I am often driven to tears. This past summer, as the waterworks started, my 9 year old daughter grabbed my arm and pleaded, “Mom, what is wrong?!” I wiped my tears and said, “Apparently, you are not paying attention.” Then I smiled and reassured her that I was fine, but my heart had just been touched and if she paid attention, she might be surprised at what she hears.
At the end of Mass, the children (4 and up) are dismissed to attend morning groups with their peers. This past year, all five of my children were old enough to participate in the faith formation activities. What other all inclusive vacation provides this? I know my kids are safe thanks to the great efforts of the Catholic Church to protect my children. I know that they are being taught virtues through the loving example of the volunteers who teach them. And one of the best parts is that my husband and I get some time away from them to learn more about our beautiful faith, to meet other couples who are on the same journey, and to sip coffee without interruption.
We usually have lunch back at the cabin and we plan our afternoon and evening. There is always too much to do. And, everyone wants to do something different. And that is not a problem. The kids just need to let us know where they are going and we agree to meet at the dinner shelter when they hear the meal blessing on the loud speaker. Or, because we know that the Divine Mercy chaplet is prayed over the loud speaker everyday at 3PM, we agree to meet poolside for the chaplet. My kids have never experienced such freedom and I have never experienced such confidence in allowing them to roam a park. At Disney, we needed those harnesses and leashes.
The teens have nightly evening programs. I really don’t know exactly what goes on there. But, I know that they have fun and I know that I have never had to force my kids to go. They listen to motivational talks that encourage them to live their faith. They have opportunities for reconciliation and Adoration. They sing and dance and they make the most wonderful friends.
The campground asks families to honor a 12AM curfew. One night, I had fallen asleep before my daughter came home. I awoke at 1:20AM. Were I at home or at any other destination, I would have started pacing and calling 911. However, I knew she had mentioned that after the evening program she was going to go hang out. So, I nudged my husband and asked him to go get her. She was right where she said she would be, at a neighboring RV site, in a well lit cabana getting to know her friends. The camp also asks families to honor a no alcohol request. This creates an atmosphere of calm and respectful behavior from both adults and teens and no one is at risk of the intoxication that leads to poor judgment.
So, back to the God thing… One afternoon, after the kids had dispersed to their activities, I was left behind with a cluttered cabin and a picnic table full of lunch debris. My husband had set off with our four-year-old son, Joseph, to find friends. He swiftly returned and invited me on a hike because our son had made friends with another boy named Joseph and we were invited to hike with the boy and his father. I looked at the clutter and the lunch mess and had one of those Mary/Martha moments. I chose to leave the mess behind and headed out on the hike.
As we chatted with our new friends, I started to ask more pointed questions…what city are you from? What parish? And because of his answers, I asked if he knew Martina, the owner of the Catholic Sistas blog? My new friend not only knows her, but also, he is a guest writer on the blog! That’s right, reader, two Catholic Sistas bloggers, one from Texas and one from Virginia, met on a hike in the woods of Ohio, brought together by two little Josephs. The only logical next step was to schedule this dual blog post.
Next time you sit down to plan your family’s next vacation, check out Catholic Familyland. It has transformed our family. I must warn you that if you go once, your kids will insist that you go again and again. Stay tuned, Allen’s post is up next.