“Working in the Big Field”

Witnesses from three friends who attended the Lower Midwest CL family vacation in Fall Creek Falls, TN.

I have a raspiness in my voice that has changed my singing voice significantly in the past five years. I can no longer control it or reliably carry a tone – any tone – but definitely not a tone above a G on a treble clef. Fr. Alex, unaware of any of this, asked if I would like to be the Reader during morning prayer and I accepted. I genuinely wanted to. But I knew I would make a squeaky sound when I made any sound at all, and I also knew I did not know the proper “way” to pray in recto tono. As the week went on I read for morning prayer Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Each day I was more confident in the order and the way, and each day after singing and talking with everyone, my voice was less and less reliable.

A tension started to emerge that revealed something important to me. I am aware that we try to do things well on the vacation, that if we can make it beautiful, it is good to try and do so. I felt concerned about guarding the beauty that we can offer one another. So I wondered if someone else might be better suited to read for the morning prayer. On the other hand was my desire to belong and give. I saw that I had nothing to offer but my desire. I had also forgotten my prayer book and had to borrow or share every day. I truly had nothing. At times not even a voice.

I believe that God allowed me the grace of poverty of spirit, the grace to endure the sting of my own embarrassment, and the grace of kind friends who neither praised nor criticized any of it. I judged that this experience is an example of giving what we have, even when it’s nothing, for the work of Another and of following without knowing where.

Rosalie, Lexington, KY

There are two things that struck me at the CL Lower Midwest Summer Vacation.

The first observation came to me right on the first day, after we had a hike through the forest in the rain. I loved the hike, but when we came back to the hotel, the kids were all wet and miserable. At that time, my wife asked me if I could stay with them and get them ready, while she went to rehearse with the choir. I was pretty exhausted and my first answer was: “No, let's take our time to bathe the kids and relax. After all, we are on vacation”. As I said that, the words from Fr. Alex's homily the night before came to mind. He invited us to imagine this vacation as a huge field in front of you that you can work. You might decide to focus only on a small piece of it (“relaxation”, “friends”, “nature”...) and only work in that reduced reality. Or, you can embrace all that is offered to you during these days. These words hit me deep and changed my gaze on every moment of the remaining days – they allowed me to change my response to my wife and I accepted and lived gladly the time spent with my kids so that she could contribute something beautiful to our Masses.

The other thing that happened was the fascination that my son (fourth grader) had for the middle school and high school kids: he attached himself to them and would follow them everywhere. I wanted to ask him to give them some rest and not annoy them, but then I realized that he was following something attractive and they were welcoming him, like older siblings. I begged for the same simplicity in following what has already fascinated me in this companionship: “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be”.

On the morning of the last day of vacation, my wife and I shared with each other that we both felt rested and regenerated even though we hardly had any “down time”. It was the gift born out of a time devoted to “working in the big field” of this friendship, where Christ's presence restores our true humanity.

Francesco, Columbus, OH

This year at the Lower Midwest vacation we had 90 children and 75 adults, with most children being ages 8 and under. Increasingly in these last years as we have more and more children with us, adults in the Lower Midwest have been asking how to propose something more to the children when on the family vacation. This year with a few others, I was curious how we could invite the children to enter into the things that the adults were doing and seeing – and not just “keep them busy” during the time we were otherwise occupied. We found that spending an hour and a half with them every morning while the adults participated in the morning prayer was a beautiful moment to prepare something specifically for them.

During this time together, we introduced a couple songs to sing with them that focused on what it means to dialogue and listen to the Father who loves us and invites us to participate more and more in His life. We processed from the courtyard into a room prepared for them, and brought them to see how we had selected key lines in the morning prayer for them to ponder. The children could embellish with watercolor or colored pencil after considering the lines they chose. They also could work on a mosaic of St. Joan of Arc or listen to a story about her life and martyrdom, which was the subject of a presentation over the weekend as well. The younger ones collected treasures from bins filled with rice, sifting through to see what may be waiting for them to discover. While vacations such as this ask much of us, the fact that the Father wishes to show us more than what we already see is evident, and something we wanted to invite even our littlest children to discover.

Outside the children’s morning prayer time, I found it difficult to follow the presentations or participate fully in the other moments when my small children were tired and hungry or needing to be cleaned after messy games or hikes. Additionally, my husband had many responsibilities during our vacation, so often I found myself having to respond to their needs by myself. At a certain point I thought it would be easier for everyone if I just went home with the kids. Yet, I knew I was responsible for the time with the children in the morning and since I said I would do this, I decided to stay and offer all of my inadequacy and frustration. In staying, I discovered that those of us who prepared this time with the kids became more friends, people with whom you can be honest and confess that you are struggling and wanting more at the same time.

On our last morning together, the children showed all of the adults the mosaic of Joan of Arc that they had made. One girl exclaimed, “this is the work we did together!” She is truly my “little sister” on the road. Something is always given, but I had to stay in order to see.

Julie, Evansville, IN