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Shifting Family Sands

Updated: Nov 9, 2022

I love the ocean; always have. When I was about seven years old, my family moved from Rochester, NY to Jackson, NJ. It was hard to leave our friends and the only home I had known to start over in a new town, at a new school, having to make new friends. We moved in the spring. That summer, for the first time in my young life, we went to the ocean. My parents took their seven kids, 10 and younger, to the beach (my youngest sibling, child number eight for my parents, came two years later). They gave us a lot of warnings about undertows, staying near the shore, and about staying close to each other. That first encounter with the ocean has stuck with me. The saltwater smell was overwhelming. The sand burned my feet. The waves were so big and never stopped. The sun was so bright. It all made me feel so small. I was completely enthralled. I remember standing on the wet sand and having the waves roll over my feet, pushing sand on top of and all around my feet. Then the waves rolled back out and pulled the sand, even the sand from under my feet, back out toward the water. Then the next wave would come and repeat the process. Then the next. Then the next. My siblings and I went up a little out of range of the waves and built a big sandcastle. We thought it would be safe from the waves. The waves weren’t rolling up that far. Turns out we did not build our castle far enough from the waves. High tide came in and our castle went out with the rest of the sand. It is hard to hold on to sand.

Over the past few weeks our family has experienced our fourth child’s 20th birthday and our third grandchild being born. We are currently preparing for our second child’s wedding in July, and like all families, our lives have been filled with many other changes. In mid-May, our third child returned from a semester in Spain, then graduated from Franciscan University, and got engaged all over the course of four days. These events all happened in rapid succession which led my wife Sara and me to look back over how our lives have changed through the years. We were recognizing how different moments really stick out to us. We find it easy to reach back and grab onto some of those moments, almost like we are right back there. We think about meeting each other at camp, getting married at camp, each of our children being born, about their early years, entering school age, all the sports and music and drama and other activities. We remember the joy held by many of those moments as well as the sadness of other moments. The years have moved by so quickly. We are looking forward to celebrating 28 years of marriage this summer.

At this point in our lives, one child has one year left of high school, one has two years of college remaining, and the three oldest are finished with college, and every moment is somehow filled with all the moments that came before it. We feel joy and we feel some sadness too. Reflecting on our experience of life moving by, we thought about how what filled our days for so many years has changed. We loved the time of first falling in love and getting married. We loved the early years with our children. Each day was so full. It is hard to fathom having the energy required of us on a daily basis with our five young children, but it was wonderful! But I do not think God wants us to hold on to those times too tightly. Remember them, yes, of course! But God wants us to live fully in the present. When we reach back and try to hold onto the past, it can feel like trying to hold sand. No matter how hard you try to hold onto sand, it will always slip out of your hands. It will always get pulled back out from under our feet into the sea.

What I am finding is that when I just try to live my life in the present and I don’t so much try to grasp the memories and the joys and sorrows and all that has come before, I am still able to feel the joy of holding our babies, of reading to them in our bed before tucking them in, of cheering for them at their soccer, and baseball, and basketball games, and track meets, of taking their pictures on prom night, and of caring for them when they were sick or hurting or just sad. I am better able to appreciate the beauty of each moment as it comes. I still feel so connected to all of those times, but I play different roles now. Instead of holding on to yesterday’s sand, God sends another wave of new sand, with new experiences, new joys and new challenges.

These new waves of sand include seeing our children complete high school and college, become adults with their own excitement and challenge and opportunity, and get married and start families of their own. I see them navigate those things as best they can, and I trust that God has provided and will provide each of them sufficient grace to navigate their lives. I am thankful for the part I was able to play in launching them into their lives and for the part I get to play now in their lives. The new waves also include seeing our parents age, having our own health challenges, and working on our relationship as well as trying new things. I want to be present to the new sand. I don’t want it to pass by unnoticed. I choose not to hold on to yesterday too tightly so that I can be more fully alive today.

Family camp for me has been one of those places where I can mark different roles that I have played in my life. From a teen staff in the 80’s, to returning to be a program director in the 90’s, to coming back with my own family in the 2000’s after child number four was born. And then going every summer for 18 years as a family. We played the role of the new family learning from all the other wonderful families, the priests and spiritual directors, program directors and teen staff. And we worked our way up to playing the role of the family with the older kids who are happy to lead and support the other families. And now we are in the role where we are an older family that is aging out of being an every summer camp family and moving into a different stage. I served on the board for several years. Now Sara is serving on the board. Our older children have all been either program director or assistant program director at some point. All of the children served as teen staff many times and super staff multiple times. They have invited their friends, and they have been witnesses to the joy and the wonder of what camp is. We are so grateful for our years connected with family camp. We are thankful for that Holy Ground. We are so grateful for that daily celebration of the Eucharist as a small Christian community. We’re so grateful for the witness of the other families through good times and bad. Camp has been instrumental in our lives in many, many ways; in fact, as I wrote above, I met my wife there, and I married my wife there. Our daughter Brigid met her fiancé at camp, albeit when she was about nine years old! (She’s 22 now.) Christian Cappello and Brigid got engaged on May 13. We are all so excited!

I am sure, no matter how old you are, you can relate to the shifting roles you play in your life. I think God calls us to be faithful in our present situation no matter what that is. I hear God calling me today to love my family, to be a support as my children are entering into their own marriages and into parenthood. I recognize Sara and I have new opportunities to get to know each other in a new space and time. And I try to remember that I don’t need to grip the past, I don’t need to try to hold all the sand, I just need to let God‘s waves wash over me knowing that as the sand gets pulled out with each wave, God puts new sand into my world. God brings new joys and new sorrows, new opportunities, new friends, and new roles to play. I am so grateful for the role that camp has played in my life and in the life of my family. I hope and pray that each of you reading this has also experienced or will experience the immense blessings that God bestows on us through family camp at Camp Koinonia.

And I hope you get a chance to play in the sand sometime soon!

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