The PA Grand Canyon, Family History, and Bald Eagles: 2019 Family Vacation

It was that time of year again. Family vacation time!  This year I had rented a place for an entire week plus a day.  We hadn’t been able to do that since 2011.  I spent months searching for the perfect house, making lists and comparing pros and cons.  I interviewed each child and found that they didn’t care as much about the house as they did about the land. 

They wanted to be far enough away from other people that they could shoot BB guns and have camp fires.

                We finally settled on a farmhouse in Liberty, PA.  It had 6 bedrooms and 130 acres.  I was hoping it would provide the perfect peaceful retreat.

                The week preceding our vacation, Chris had transferred to a new building at work.  He is a UPS driver, and they had moved a lot of the routes to this new building.  His 10 minute commute became 30.  Not too bad especially since he had gotten his own regular route for the first time since he started 4 years ago.  However, the days proved to be much longer, threatening to overtake his 14 hour limit.

                “Did I tell you I saw an eagle at work the other day?” he asked me at the end of the very long week. “It was right there, flying over the Target parking lot.”

                I marveled at that!  Chris had gotten a very busy route in the heart of retail businesses.  Not a place you would expect to see an eagle.  Eagle sightings had become a sign of God encounters to me.  I have written about it in many articles starting with A Hawk, a Vulture, and an Eagle and continuing with Part 2, This is a New Season, and A Surprise Visit from my Marine.  Wow! I really have seen a lot of eagles! I took this fresh eagle sighting as a sign that this new position for Chris was part of God’s plan. 

Though it seemed that it would require endurance and long hours, God would meet him there.

                I was also fully expecting God to encounter us on our vacation, and I was not disappointed!

Saturday

                It sure took a long time to get 10 people packed up and ready to go.  We filled a rental trailer with all of our essentials.  Half of it was food!  By the time we were ready for the long drive, the rain had cleared away.  The journey toward northern Pennsylvania was beautiful, the golden sun playing on the autumn leaves, weaving in and out of the rolling hills.  We listened to the CDs I had checked out of the library, The Penderwicks in Spring. It was the fourth book in the series that we had come to adore, and it seemed just perfect for our family right now.  The oldest girl was away at college (just as our oldest daughter is away at missionary school), the neighbor boy was away in the army (as our oldest boy is away in the Marines) and the other Penderwicks were of many different ages, just as our children are.

                We finally arrived!  It was quite remote and the land was beautiful.  The house was very interesting with an old, quirky charm.  Everyone got unpacked in their new rooms.  Then we cooked hotdogs and s’mores over the fire outside. Such a lovely evening.

Sunday

                Chris drove most of the children to the PA Lumber Museum and they enjoyed the antique vendors, the demonstrations, and the exhibits. 

Chris purchased a book published in 1901 titled The Life of William McKinely.  Many times in the next week I would see Cadin enjoying the solitude of his own room and reading this book. 

Since the Lumber Museum wasn’t handicap accessible, I stayed home with Ashlyn and Aria.  They were so sweet and we spent a happy morning outside in the sunshine.

                That evening Chris grilled hamburgers and we all ate outside.  It was cold!  Chris decided to zip Aria into his jacket.  He still was able pass the football with his boys.

I wanted to hold these family moments forever in my memory!

Monday

                We drove to the Lenard Harrison State Park.  They had a beautiful overlook to view the PA Grand Canyon. 

Soon however, we encountered stairs and Ashlyn could go no further.  We found an employee who showed us on a map the two Handicap Accessible trails.  We stopped for lunch first at the playground.

                Then we drove to the Pine Creek Trail which was at the bottom of the canyon.  The path was wide and flat, good for bikers and horses.  It was gorgeous!  We saw a covered wagon tour pass by.

                We continued the adventure by driving to the other side of the gorge to access the Barbour Rock Trail.  Most of the children were tired of walking and just wanted to stay in the van. 

                “We came this far, I am going to walk to the vista!” I announced.

                Chris came with me along with three of the children.  Chai stayed with the rest in the van.  It was only .7 miles to the Vista and what a lovely walk.  All of a sudden we came upon the vista and it was breath taking. 

I wanted to linger there just a little longer than the boys would have liked.  My patience was rewarded as Chris and I got to see a large bird circling over the gorge.  When the sunlight flashed on the white tail feathers, I knew we had seen a bald eagle! 

Oh to be an eagle and to soar over such a sight!

                The entire day felt like a gift from a loving Father.

Tuesday

                We took the morning and drove to Mansfield, my father’s hometown.  First we visited the house where he had grown up.

The last time I had been there was for my father’s internment in 2013.  The home had looked small and barren, stripped of the magic it had possessed when I was a child.  The current owners must have poured a lot of love into the property, because it looked so charming again.  What relief that brought me!

                Right down the street was Oakwood Cemetery.  I couldn’t remember where the family grave-site was, so we just got out and started looking.  After a few minutes I caught sight of two stones decorated with flowers and birds, the prettiest in the cemetery.  They belonged to my Grandmother and Grandfather! 

And right behind them was my Dad’s and a stone for my mom, ready for her but not yet needed (thank goodness!)  As a child, I had always been very bored when my relatives took me to pay respects in a cemetery.  Now it was a very meaningful part of my family history.

                We drove to the History Center on Main St. and were greeted by the woman who runs it.  She talked to us and showed us around. 

She showed me a picture of my Dad in her Mansfield High School display.  She remembered him!  She said that if I donated something of his, she would put it in her display.  I loved seeing the history of the small town and felt honored that my Dad had been a part of it.  The children mostly just loved the little dog Amos who considered the museum his home away from home.

                We ate lunch at a park that had a swing just perfect for Ashlyn.  It sat in the shadow of Mansfield University where my grandfather had been a professor.  Grandmother and Grandfather had passed away when I was still in elementary school.  Before they died, we would travel to Mansfield only once or twice a year.  We always came for Thanksgiving, and it was always cold, wet, and dreary. 

But on this sunny fall day as I watched my children play at the park, my view of Mansfield was being redeemed.  It was a gorgeous little town!  I felt the sunshine make its way into my memories and brighten up my view of my father’s side of the family.

Wednesday

                Being the first rainy day, we decided to stay at the farmhouse.  There were so many books and games in the library and a large collection of toys and coloring materials in the loft room. 

As Chris was reading about the nearby Penn Wells hotel, he decided that he should take me there on a date that night.  I was actually hoping to return, since it had been the place that my grandparents would take us for Thanksgiving once Grandmother decided that she was too old to cook.

                We drove through the hills and low lying clouds to get to the charming town of Wellsboro.  I recognized so much about the Penn Wells, and I enjoyed being there again.  Memories of my grandparents warmed my heart; Grandmother asking me to sit by her at the meal because she wanted to get to know me better, Grandfather insisting that I turn in the $2.75 in quarters that I had found in one of the payphones in the lobby. 

                After we finished the meal, we walked up and down the main street and took in the display windows of all the little shops.  Dark had fallen and nothing was open, but it was still fun!

Thursday

                The children were so anxious to get out of the house and use some of their spending money, that Chris took most of them to Wellsboro that morning.  I stayed home again with the girls and enjoyed the relative quiet of the house.

                That evening we took a walk and gathered wild flowers for the table.  We listened to Frank Sinatra on the CD player while we made supper.

Friday

                The children had taken every opportunity this week to play outside and explore the woods, the fields, and the 5 tree stands.  They had conducted target practice with BB guns. They had honed their skill with the bow and arrows.  They waged laser tag battles.  This day they decided to craft a tepee/ wigwam!

Saturday

                The week had come to an end.  We had to get packed up and set all things back in their proper places; no small feat with many small hands constantly grabbing and relocating!  We pulled away at 11 am and told the children that we had two surprises for them.  The first came after an hour of driving.  We stopped at the Country Cupboard to partake of their lunch buffet. This was a special place because we had spent two Thanksgivings there.  I groaned inwardly when I saw that most of my children’s idea of enjoying an all-you-can-eat-buffet meant getting a plate of rolls and mac and cheese followed by two plates of dessert.  Finally we issued the proclamation: a meat and a vegetable must be eaten before dessert is consumed.

                After the meal we had fun walking around their large greenhouse and gift shop. The second surprise was just 20 minutes away. We drove along the river to find our way to the Joseph Priestley House.  I looked up and saw two large birds circling directly above the street. 

A pair of bald eagles!   

                We arrived at the lovely house built in the 1700s.  A tour guide was just starting the tour, and we learned all about Joseph Priestley.  He is famous now for discovering oxygen.  He also discovered many other gases and created carbonated water.  First and foremost he was a man of faith and believed that science both confirmed and validated his faith.

                After we departed the historic site, all that was left to do was drive home.  Such a stunning drive!  I pondered why God had allowed me to see three eagles on this trip. What was His message to me?  I think I simply saw them because I was always watching for them.  I expected to see them.  Most of the rest of the family hadn’t spotted them because they just weren’t looking. 

I think that God encounters are around us all the time, we just need the eyes to recognize them! 

And of course, God is just so very, very GOOD!

A Hawk, a Vulture, and an Eagle: Part 2 – The Cabin

When I look back on those three days, I can see that God planned each little detail to show us just how much He loves us.

We were able to leave our puppy at home with a good friend.  She provided respite care for Ashlyn as well.  Ashlyn gets stressed and agitated in new places with new schedules.  She seemed happy to continue her routine with home and school.

Someone let us use their trailer for free!  We loaded suitcases, sleeping bags, camping chairs, bikes, fishing poles, a pack-n-play, towels, a folding table, about 30 other items, food, food, and more food!

The 10 of us piled into the van and enjoyed the 2 hour ride.  There was talking and joking and raucous laughter constantly.  I found myself belly laughing over and over again.  Laughter is good for the soul!

The Cabin was huge.  Bigger than our house!

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There was a bunk house right next to it that had 6 large beds and a wood stove for heat.   The five oldest boys decided to sleep there.

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They were so excited to have some independence.  They got the fun of a sleepover, and the other children each got their own room in the cabin.  Areli, my 18 year old, said that her favorite part of vacation was the fact that she had her own room with its own bathroom.

The weather was perfect!  Cool and misty in the morning.  Sunny and warm during the day.  Cool and clear at night, just the right temperature to enjoy a fire.

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The first day we enjoyed the expansive yard.  I loved how it was full of moss and ferns without a bit of poison ivy.  There was a swing set and a rope swing.  The boys rode bikes.  They played games.  We cooked our meal over the fire.  My favorite were the apples I roasted on the dying embers.  Delicious!

The second day we decided to go to the World’s End State Park. We went into the visitor’s center and learned a lot from the friendly staff.  There was a gift shop with silhouettes of birds on the ceiling.  I identified the Cooper’s hawk.  Wow, it is small! Then we located the Red Tailed Hawk which was definitely bigger.

“That was what crashed into our van!” Calvin said.

Then I saw the turkey vulture.  It was large with wings that each bent like a V.  Right next to it was the bald eagle, larger with straight wings.  Still, they looked so much alike.

“How will I ever tell the difference?” I wondered to myself.

Finally we set out for adventure!  The older 4 boys went fishing.  The rest of us decided to take one of the easier trails that should take about an hour, the Double Run Nature Trail.

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This was a very special time for me.  I had not gone hiking with the family in so long, I can’t even remember.  I would always stay back with Ashlyn.  With her delayed walking and then club foot deformity, she could never navigate a trail.

It was cold and lovely in the woods.  Areli, Calvin, Courage and Annalise were excited!  We came across a few little waterfalls.

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It didn’t take long before we realized that this wasn’t an easy trail.  Soon we felt like we were going straight up a mountain…on a path littered with large rocks and roots…with a four year old and a two year old.

What was I thinking when I suggested this?

“How long is this trail?  Are we going to be able to make it back to the van?”  the adults were wondering to ourselves as we took turns giving piggy back rides.

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Finally, we began the descent and found the Cottonwood Falls.  It was all worth it!

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We returned to our meeting place and found the boys waiting for us.  They were a bit dejected since no fish were biting.  We ate a picnic lunch and the children played at the playground.

Then we drove to the Loyalsock Canyon Vista.

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I suggested we check out the Rock Garden.  I thought it would be a boulder field.  It was not what I was expecting!  Huge rocks jutting out the ground in random ways.  The children loved it.  The boys climbed and jumped from one high cliff to another.

I was tied up in knots on the inside as I watched them.  I felt terrified as I tried to help Annalise and Courage navigate through.  There was no discernible path and I was worried the older ones, who were running ahead, would get lost.

“Please, let’s go now!”  I pleaded over and over again.  Finally we all walked back to the van as the boys excitedly talked about how that was the best thing ever and please mom can we go back again tomorrow and again next year and again and again…

I could breathe once more as I watched all my children with their feet on solid ground.  I choose to put out of my mind the possibility of ever returning.  I’ve always been afraid of heights, and I am even more afraid of my children being UP ON THE HEIGHTS!

We drove to the High Knob overlook.  We could see for 40 miles, the beautiful expanse of Penn’s woods.

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I searched the sky for birds but saw no eagles.  How amazing would it be to see this view from the vantage point of an eagle!  We returned to the cabin, tired but happy, ready to cookout again and enjoy the amazing stars in the black, black night sky.

As our last day dawned, we pondered what we should do before we had to pack up and clean the five bedrooms and 5 bathrooms.  The previous day we had seen a sign for a DSC_0659general store.  At the visitors center we learned that the women who used run the World’s Best Snack Shop was now at that general store.  The children had dollars that they wanted to spend on some exciting souvenir.

So we set out to try and find the general store.  We finally found the Hillsgrove Country Store and decided to stop.

As soon as I walked into the little shop, something caught my eye.  There was a photograph of a bald eagle mounted on cardboard and wrapped in plastic.  It was beautiful!

I thought to myself, “This might just be my eagle!”

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I asked the women who was at the counter (who used to run The World’s Best Snack Shop) how much the eagle picture was.

“Forty dollars!  Isn’t that a great price?!  A local photographer spent three months watching two eagles before he got this picture,” she answered.

“Where did he see the eagles?” I asked.  Maybe I could see them too!

“Just a few miles down the road at the Slaptown Bridge.”

I considered $40 to be quite a hefty sum, but I didn’t want to miss this God moment.  He had led me right to this lovely eagle and I couldn’t leave him behind.

Courage and Annalise picked out 25 cents worth of penny candy.  The other children purchased chips, drinks, and sausages.  Finally I walked out the front door and sat down to wait for the other children. I looked out to the street…

THERE IT WAS…

A Real Live Eagle!

It was flying from across the street and came right towards us!  It was so close that I could almost see individual feathers. This didn’t look anything like a vulture!  It was larger.  Its wings were absolutely straight.  There were lighter feathers underneath.  There was a stark white head and white tail feathers.  It was majestic and noble…and beautiful!

Areli just happened to have her camera with her, and she snapped a few pictures when the eagle sat in a tree.

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Then it took flight again, soaring higher and higher, further and further away.

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Chris was almost excited as I was.

“I am so happy for you!” he kept saying.

We watched it until it was joined by another eagle.  We watched them until they were so far, they looked like tiny black dots against the sky.

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We finally headed to Hunter’s Lake to let the boys try fishing again.

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The lake had just been stocked that morning and quite a few fishermen had gathered.  We ate a picnic lunch and enjoyed that lovely view.  We learned that there was an eagle’s nest along the water’s edge.

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The fish weren’t biting, but we were delighted by the multitude of monarch butterflies on the goldenrod.

I didn’t see an eagle at the lake even though they are very fond of fish.  However, the entire afternoon, eagles were soaring in my imagination.

I was in awe of how God perfectly orchestrated this eagle sighting.  I had asked Him, and He had answered.  How could I ever doubt His words to me?

He created me to be an eagle!

I have been born to fly!

After 41 years on this earth, I think it is high time that I stop saying that I am afraid of heights…

and start to learn to how to soar.

 

 

A Hawk, a Vulture, and an Eagle: God’s Voice!

I heard Bill Johnson say recently;

“Instead of emphasizing our inability or our weakness in hearing God’s voice, it would be wiser for us to emphasize His ability to be heard.”

I just experienced God’s amazing ability to be heard despite my reluctance to listen.

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The Hawk

I was just minutes from home, returning from a trip to the farm.  Calvin and I were enjoying the peaceful Saturday drive while listening to Revelations on CD.

“WHACK!!!!!”

Suddenly a huge bird slammed into the corner of my windshield with such force, I thought that certainly it must have killed itself.  I saw it only for a split second before it fell and disappeared, but it looked like a hawk.

I felt shaken.  I felt sad and guilty and wondered why this had happened.  You see, I had been searching the landscape for hawks lately.  I longed to catch sight of this bird of prey, hoping to unlock some mystery. Now I had just encountered a hawk much closer than I ever expected, and it wasn’t a good experience.  Just a moment after the sickening, “WHACK!”, a voice on the CD said…”I saw an eagle flying overhead…” (Revelation 8:13)

It had all started over a year ago when I remembered that God had told me that I was an eagle and I was to raise my children as eagles.  I wrote an article about it.  My interest in eagles became an obsession as this majestic bird kept showing up in my God encounters.  (See my some of my other articles, The Sky and the Ocean, Maleficent .)

I was never much of a bird watcher, but lately I had been watching the skies constantly, trying to spot an eagle.  Whenever I took a drive in the country, I would see huge, dark birds.  They looked so beautiful and so free, soaring high above me.

Chris was with me one day when I spotted some of my “eagles.”  I was so excited to show him.

“Those are buzzards.  You know, turkey vultures,” he informed me.

“What!  How can you tell?  They are so far away?” I said.  I was so disappointed!  Had I really been looking to the vulture for spiritual inspiration?

“Trust me, those are buzzards!”

“But I want to see an eagle!  How will I know when I see one?” I wondered.

“I don’t think eagles circle like that, and they are usually alone. They don’t spend as much time in the sky circling like the vulture does. Like the hawk I saw today, sitting in a tree.  ” Chris answered.

Google had told me that there were two eagles that lived in Pennsylvania, the Bald Eagle and the Golden Eagle, but they didn’t seem very common.  I decided that spotting a hawk was a much more realistic expectation.  I could learn what I needed to know from the hawk, which was very much like the eagle, just smaller, I reasoned.

I concluded that I would look for a hawk from now on.  They were smaller and lighter colored, such as the Cooper’s Hawk or the Red Tailed Hawk that Cadin had seen close to our home.  I wouldn’t get them confused with a buzzard.

I told Chris about my violent hawk sighting.  He said jokingly, “God is trying to tell you something.  He wants you to get the message so badly, that He had to smack that poor bird into your van!”

Perhaps God wanted to discourage me from looking to the hawk.  He had spoken to me about an eagle.  He had told me that I was supposed to be an eagle.  Perhaps I should believe that He would show me a real eagle.

Immediately my mind reeled.

“How ridiculous!  There probably aren’t any eagles living around here!  Even if there were, how could I see them up in a tree somewhere.  If they were flying, how could I ever tell them apart from the vulture…and I don’t want to make that embarrassing mistake again.”

The fear of disappointment came to me with such force when I even considered believing God for a real eagle sighting. The many disappointments of the past few years had conditioned that response.

The thought that I was destined to actually BE an eagle –  lifted by God’s presence, seeing from a higher perspective, speaking with a prophetic voice – seemed even more farfetched and foolish to me.  Me, the one who had been admiring the VULTURE, for goodness sake.  All my recent shortcoming flooded my mind.  I didn’t feel at all like the person I was meant to be.  I didn’t feel like I would ever learn to fly.

There it was!  The point God was trying to get across!  I had given up on being an eagle because it seemed impossible.  I had downgraded my vision to the hawk.

Then He began to show me that my thoughts and attitudes recently had been very self-loathing, full of my own failures and weaknesses.  I was reminded of a conversation I had with Chris just a week before.  I had been investigating avenues for publishing my first book.  It seemed that every possibility turned into a dead end.  The only option I found was to pay what I considered to be an exorbitant sum for assisted publishing.  And what if we spent all that money (which we didn’t have) to publish my book and no one bought it?  I was afraid to even ask friends to look over my manuscript and give feedback.  What if they thought it was too long and too boring?

Chris couldn’t understand my fears.

“Do you believe in your writing?  Do you think God Gave it to you?  Do you think He will use it to impact other people?  You have to believe in it.  The way you are talking, you sound like the vultures in Rick Joyner’s vision.” Chris said.

The Vulture

I was very familiar with this vision from the book, The Final Quest.  It meant a lot to me because I used to be a prisoner in that camp of fear.  I used to have those vultures of depression vomiting their condemnation all over me on a regular basis.  But I had found the freedom to live in the love and joy of the Kingdom of God…or so I thought.

Chris continued, “It sounds like you are speaking the words of the vultures, vomiting lies all over yourself and your writing.  You need to stop!”  Chris sounded mad.  At the time I felt that he just didn’t understand, that my insecurity and fear were justified.

Yet now, I was realizing that I had been living under this cloud of depression, thinking that it was normal.  God brought to my mind another bird sighting that had happened back in November.  God had stretched me beyond what I thought I was capable of, and I felt my authority increasing.  I had prayed crazy, unrealistic prayers.  I had received unbelievable answers to those prayers.  An amazing victory had been won!  I felt elated!  Still on an emotional high, I began to read a prophetic word posted on Facebook by Veronika West. In essence it said:

 The enemy had endured a devastating wound, but we should be on guard because a backlash was coming.  The enemy wasn’t going down without a fight.

As I pondered what that meant, I looked out the kitchen window and saw a huge vulture sitting on the roof of the church right across the street.  It was looking straight at me, and it gave me the creeps.  Perhaps it was a physical manifestation of an evil spirit, so I prayed that God would hide me, and I told it to leave. I saw the dark bird take flight, circle the church steeple, and fly away.  I had never seen a vulture in my neighborhood before that day, and I have not seen one since.

Now God was reminding me of the incident.  The light bulb went on in my head.

  My Good Father allowed me to see the strategy of the enemy against me.

The enemy knew that if I would submit to fear and allow those vultures to vomit their lies on me, I would live under that cloud of depression.  I wouldn’t be able to see clearly.  I wouldn’t trust God to flow through me.  I wouldn’t believe in Him or believe in myself.  I wouldn’t be able to take flight and become an eagle.

“Forgive me for thinking the lies are more realistic than the words you have given me,” I prayed.

The Eagle

As God began to shine His light on these things, I decided to take the risk to believe again.  I began to ask Him to let me see an eagle, a real live eagle.  I wanted to see one close enough so I wouldn’t mistake it for a vulture.

I also began to ask Him to make ME into an eagle, as unrealistic as that seemed.  The dark cloud began to lift and I began to hope again.

While all of this was taking place in my heart, I was hard at work planning a family vacation.  The first three days in October we would be staying in a cabin up north, enjoying the outdoors.  It had been three years since we had been able to get away. This was so special, so important for our family, that I wanted everything to be perfect.  I began to worry.

“What if I put in all this effort to plan and pack, and it is all for nothing?”

A thousand little details began to transform into a thousand things that could go wrong.  The fear of disappointment reared its ugly head again.  I began to think back to the last time I had tried to plan a family vacation, the last time I had prayed that God would give us a family vacation.  It was two years ago.  We had just endured 4 years of the toil and stress of business ownership.  We faced the heartbreak of having to close our business.  We were in the process of selling our sign shop.  I was praying for enough money to break even, and just a little extra to take the family camping for a week.   A week to reconnect and to heal.

My heart’s desire was deferred.  The sale fell through.  Bills, debts, and bankruptcy ensued…but no family vacation. Why did I think that it would work out for us this time?

“I am doing it again! I will not live under that cloud of fear and lies!   I need to believe that my Good Father is working everything out for us.  I need to just trust Him!  This will be a wonderful vacation!  It will be a blessing to each child and bring us all closer together,” I thought to myself.

My faith began to rise again.  I watched my Good Father work out every detail.  He gave us a cabin to stay in for free!  He worked out the schedules of all the children and gave us everything that we needed.

I was getting the feeling that my Father was orchestrating this vacation to be a redemption of the one that we had lost.  I was beginning to expect Him to speak to me in wonderful ways while we were away.

“And perhaps I will even see an eagle!”  I began to think.

To Be Continued…