As my body eased into Donner Lake on Wednesday afternoon all my skin attempted to crawl up on top of my head to avoid the frigid chill of the clear mountain waters. But I would not be denied the shock of the cold and plunged beneath the surface and pulled hard to make the raft floating on the surface of the sapphire colored lake perched 6,000 ft up in the Sierras.
The boys had preceded me in the aquatic frolic and lay sunning themselves on the dock. Swimming in a mountain lake without a wetsuit is an exercise in controlled shivering. As I climbed up the ladder to the dock I made sure to shower them with some liquid refrigeration eliciting the expected howls of protest from sun-warmed bodies.
While the girls were happily ensconced on the sandy beach we all felt ourselves begin to get into the rythym of the mountains and let the therapeutic beauty saturate our souls.
As we prepared to leave the lake and head to our friends’ house for dinner my buddy suggested we rent a bike for me and I could take a ride with his wife (who likes to ride but doesn’t often get the chance) while he watched their two young children and our four helped with dinner. We snagged the last bike that was my size and before I knew it she and I were pedaling along through pine-studded meadows, climbing up granite mountain grades and racing down the backsides. What a bonus! I got a bike training ride in with a great friend in one of the prettiest places around. Talk about a mountain high!
Dinner was filled with nostalgic visiting and reminiscing about Kristi and what she meant to this young couple. All too soon we had to take our leave and drive to another friend’s house for the night and to grab some quick winks for a very busy Thursday.
The flood-gates of emotion opened as I began to spread Kristi’s ashes around the perimeter of the mountain-top dance floor. I proposed to her on this very spot, twenty summers ago and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find the hand-built site. But after casting around for the trail, I finally spied it and we plunged under the forest canopy. Ten minutes later the children and I popped out on the rocky knoll overlooking the great central valley of California.
Like the lake plunge the afternoon before, I knew this moment would require my determination to forge ahead in spite what would follow. We all embraced and shared several moments of tearful grief before the children took their own turns with mommy’s ashes. Each spread them in their own way and while full of sorrow it was a sweet time.
What started with a nervous question and exultant response that night under the stars so many years ago has now brought forth four fabulous children and matured a young man into one with some gray wisps of experience on his temples.
After a prayer, a camp song (I Like Bananas) and some laughter, we sat down to a picnic and I shared all about how I built the floor with friends and surprised Kristi there on that evening. We all picked stickers out of our socks while we ate and I told them that was the ruse I used to kneel down and keep Kristi unsuspecting while I fished the ring box out of my boot.
I didn’t know how the event would come off, and tried not to have expectations. I knew I’d be crying and I know its hard for children to express themselves. But I think it was a good time for everyone, there on that mountain top and Kristi will always be a part of that place now.
The balance of the afternoon and evening were a blur of touring the camp where she and I lived and ministered for 10 years and where Katie, Megan and Luke joined our family. Then we visited the ministry where my parents lived and worked and where I grew up from ages 10-18. Finally we celebrated with several former colleagues and friends in a mini-reunion of sorts at an ice cream and candy store. That was literally and emotionally a sweet time. Dinner was hamburgers cooked over the open fire on a mountainside with friends.
Today, Friday was a chance to catch our breath after the day of flying on Tuesday, the trip to the high sierra on Wednesday and the whirlwind of Thursday. We slept in (for Texas time) and then shared a relaxed lunch with yet more friends (my apologies that we haven’t been able to see everyone who asked) before ambling back to Kristi’s parents house this afternoon.
Kristi’s sister Kim is here tonight with her children and we are all, John and Bev included, heading down to Mt Hermon tomorrow which is where Kristi grew up going to camp and where she and I met. But that’s a story that has yet to be told and I need some sleep.
Suffice it to say that the weekend will be equally as emotional as the preceding two days, but my heavenly Father reminded me once again on top of that mountain that I’m loved, that my children are loved and that we are tenderly yet firmly held in the center of his loving affection in the middle of this journey. That brings peace and comfort that no mountain high can match.
B-Gone, B-9, B-Healed!