I always tell people that my happy place is by a river fly-fishing. Often, when I get anxious, stressed out, fearful, I imagine myself standing in shallow water, balancing myself on slick, slimy rocks, casting a fly into a riffle, hoping to see a fish rise. I’ve been on many fishing trips away from my family over the years, but I had been waiting for the time when I could bring them out west with me, to Montana or Wyoming in particular, to encounter the natural wonder of the place and perhaps, even, to experience fly-fishing in one of the many, large, picturesque rivers. Well, last week was the opportunity. We took a vacation to a dude ranch just south of Jackson, Wyoming. It is called the Spotted Horse Ranch, and, though the main focus wasn’t to be fishing, it was an option, and my kids would finally see what all the fuss has been about. In addition, my brother came, my sister and her family, my mother (the benefactor) and her significant other.
Staying at the ranch struck a great balance between a private vacation and a resort or hotel stay. There were around 35 guests, including us, and many kind staff members, from wranglers to housekeepers and kitchen help. But, though I could tell early on I would see the same people daily, I had intended to keep my health situation private. I wanted to escape, as best I could, from the heaviness of life, especially from conversations about cancer. Well, that didn’t last long, as my wife, Kim, told one of the women she had just met about our battle. So, on the second night there, I stood on the deck watching my son attempt to cast a fly into the river that ran beside the ranch, and I wind up in the very type of conversation I had hoped to avoid with the husband. And this is what made it even worse: they were Clemson fans.
Let me say that I don’t want this blog to be about the things I don’t like. I realize the previous post described my disdain for mayonnaise, but I have to admit that I also hate the color orange. I’ve been raised to. As a Georgia Bulldogs football fan and geographically surrounded by orange-clad rival teams at Florida, Auburn, Tennessee, Clemson, you can’t help it. But honestly, is there anything humanly natural about the color orange? With the Bulldogs, I associate the color red with the blood of life. With these other teams, I regard the followers as fruits. And there were 15 of them in a large, extended family at the ranch. Kids running around everywhere (and I mean running, like cross-country), and I think all they packed in their suitcases were orange shirts bearing the Clemson paw print.
My daughter, Samantha, referred to this group as the “fit family” because they exercised daily. And often. Not exactly what I consider a relaxing vacation, but impressive. I’ll add here that the presence of all the male children was a God-send for my son, Owen, who had playmates during the breaks between organized activities. But there was something else they did. They had family devotionals on the front porch in full view of all of us dudes. This family was certainly disciplined. But we discovered that they were kind, and fun, and sincerely interested in us. They gave off light, and I suspect this is why Kim felt comfortable telling them our story. I confess to being convicted by my desire to escape the world I know, while this family seemed to invite others into theirs.
The trip was amazing. Horse-back rides across rolling mountains to breathtaking views. Whitewater rafting. Cookouts. A rodeo. And, yes, fly-fishing. But each activity brought a sense of longing with the pleasure. I couldn’t get close enough to Grand Teton mountain, even atop it’s neighbor, Rendezvous, at 10,000 feet. The rapids were thrills for mere moments. I didn’t catch the 25″ trout that has eluded me for 20 plus years of fly-fishing. We even left the rodeo early. But we have memories for a lifetime, pictures and video to remember what we did and who we were with. Priceless, really, though my mother’s American Express card says otherwise.
But the trip also took a toll. I may have wanted to escape the attention of being a cancer survivor, but my body didn’t stop reminding me. My recent issue with edema in my right leg reached a peak of its own on Saturday night, as I was swollen from my hip to my toes, as if I had stepped into a nest of yellow jackets. Now THAT would have been fitting, considering those annoying bees are the mascot of another of Georgia’s bitter rivals, Georgia Tech. I lay on my bed that night, leg resting on a stack of orange pillows. I couldn’t escape a thing, it seems.
Late to bed Sunday night at home, I awoke early, desiring to pray and read the Bible. My Scripture journal led me to Acts 27, and I read about the apostle Paul’s perilous journey across the Mediterranean, Aegean, and Adriatic seas, seeking Rome and audience with Caesar to plead his case. Their ship ultimately wrecked on the island of Malta. But before doing so, Paul was visited by an angel who reassured him that he would indeed make his way to Rome and to Caesar, and Paul likewise encouraged the others on the ship to take heart because the Lord was with them and had promised deliverance to their destination.
Another Summer vacation over, will I hear the voice of an angel promising me another? Are there signs telling me I’ll live long enough to see my children graduate high school, college, marry, and make families themselves? Will I ever catch the trophy trout? Have I any promises to cling to?
Well, yes, but not for tomorrow, for eternity. Jesus promised me Himself. The true Happy Place, mysterious, yes, but not ever-eluding. And the orange family are reminders. We have so much more than photos, souvenirs, or other keepsakes with their promises to pray for us and follow our journey by reading my blog. Our family of brothers and sisters in Christ has grown. We, as sojourners in the world but not of it, are proclaimers of the Promise, and we reassure each other that we will reach our destination, find audience with the King, and are safest if we stick together.
For as long as I endure edema, I will need to elevate my leg. Naturally, my resting place is my living room couch and a stack of red pillows. Hereafter, I’ll remember the orange ones at the Spotted Horse Ranch and the family with the Clemson clothes. But I get it now. The red of our blood mixed with white light of the Spirit. Orange? Not humanly natural, no, but another reminder of glory? I’ll never see that color the same way again.
By the way, the picture above is of my son, Owen, and the fish he caught. He didn’t shy from reminding me that his was bigger than mine, of course. Caroline is on the right with one of hers. And we all caught Snake River Cutthroat Trout, shown below. Anyone else think they bleed orange?
Thanks for reading. If you’ve made it this far, we’re heading to Nashville for treatment on Aug 2. I have an eye exam to check for any retinal damage and an EKG to check for heart inflammation, both possible side effects of treatment. And I have a CT scan to assess the state of my disease. As always, we cherish your prayers.
Blessings all. Even you orange people.