The intermittent flames hopscotched a remnant log in the glowing bed of embers as my son Arie and I sat mesmerized, listening to waves gently lap the shoreline. It was late August, and the warmth from the fire was a welcomed contrast to the cool night air and chilled sand. The silence broke slowly, as my son’s prepubescent rasp came with some reservation at first. “Daddy…. I’m nervous about going to Kindergarden.” I cleared my throat and sat straight in preparation of the talk I’d hoped for. It was the reason for our trip, really.
For nearly every day during the two prior weeks my wife and I came to our wits end to de-mystify our five-year-old’s sudden shift in attitude. He’d been recently accepted into a local Spanish immersion program around the time when something flipped. Our joyful & pleasant boy had become confrontational, emotional and honestly a bit of a downer to be around.
This called for a father-son adventure. An honest, just me-and-the-kid camp out. With a rudimentary plan including backpacks, basic provisions, and a willingness to commit to a night in uncharted territory, we headed for Noordhouse Dunes National Lakeshore.
Once at the trailhead, we reviewed the signage and studied the map of hiking trails. There were a handful of rustic campsites, several of which appeared to be within view of the water. With these in mind, we set off. Flora & fauna abounded. Encounters were shared with a porcupine, several deer, and a variety of colorful mushrooms, but by 7 o’clock we had seen no sign of the lake. Hopes for a picturesque site started giving way to anything flat enough for a tent. We followed an unmarked game trail to an unimproved site cut into the heavily covered hillside. It was underwhelming at best. “Bud we still have 20 minutes of light, do you want to stay here and play it safe, or keep searching?” He voted we keep searching for an epic view, and we moved on.
The woods darkened quickly. As I began to question the decision to press on, fingers of light split through the trees to the west and then everything began to sparkle. We jogged the next hundred yards to a better view of the shimmering lake. As the sun slid into the horizon, the natural scene before us was softly backlit. It was as majestic a painting as one could imagine. Lake Michigan, among the greatest fresh water gifts known to mankind, was a shimmering ocean surrounded by a sky of vivid pinks, oranges and blues. We sidestepped the final decent to a neat little campsite along the sugar sand beach and natural grass. It was 400′ from shore and ideally blocked from the wind from all sides – indeed, an epic spot!
Before I could heave off my pack, Arie had his shirt off and had started head-long towards the water. I followed close behind and we charged in for a cold dip before starting a beach fire. By the time we finished dinner, a sizable bed of coals formed. We sat silent and stared into its warmth as the stars emerged.
“Daddy, I’m nervous about going to Kindergarten”, he said. I immediately started a silent prayer as I sat straight. “Father, give me the right words to communicate Your Truth to this little guy.”
“Yeah? How come bud?” I answered.
“I know where the bathroom is, and where we have recess.
“Did you learn that from the visit last week?” I asked.
“Yeah. I know where the lunch tables are too….But…When the bus picks us up, where do we go?”
“Can I tell you something?… Dad’s got a bunch of unknown’s in his life right now too. New stuff comes with a lot of unknowns. That can be really scary. Did you know that the Bible actually talks to us about how to deal with it?
“It tells us to be strong and courageous when we face uncertainty, and that the Lord will be with us wherever we go. It also tells us that His Word is the light for our path, and guides us the right way…So, just like we use the light from my headlamp to find the trail to our tent, His Word is a like a light for our path of life.”
Before we turned in for the night, I slipped off my headlamp and gave it to him as a memento of our time together. Once the novelty of the new hand-me-down wears off, I can only hope the sentiment finds a way into his little heart.