Years ago, when we were residence directors at Trinity Christian College, we began a summer routine that was totally family focused. Our life on campus was a strange life... one we loved deeply... but not at all "normal" by society's standards. During the school year, our small apartment was full of students who came to share with us their successes and failures, joys and sorrows, lessons and ponderings. It was a full life that never lacked for activity and busyness.
Then came summer. All of a sudden, in the span of one week, every single students would pack it all up, shove it into vehicles in various stages of disrepair, and head off into the horizon for a three month adventure into things "not-college". There we stood... the chaos of finals week come to a screeching halt... the stressful, loud, full week, falling COMPLETELY silent and still.
We came to that time each year with very mixed feelings. Truth be told, we were ready for a break by the time the break came. That said, we did love our job and so loved the students that very soon after they left, we were lonely for them. But, living on a college campus and having that campus become your YARD for 3 months... HEAVEN!
Those of us left on campus were all residence directors... a very small group of us... and while most of the summer we left one another to the quiet of an oddly individualized schedule, once a week, at night, we made a fire.
The college had a fire pit that we were free to use and around that rusty, old pan we would sit and talk and breathe and relax and just BE. It was a wonderful tradition and one we treasured... there is something so good about sitting around a fire with family and friends and focusing on nothing but the being... well, the being and the food! We took turns building the fire and took turns bringing the necessary snack items... always the supplies for s'mores. Sometimes the kids slept through the whole amazing night, sometimes they sat, in bathed and jammied sweetness, on our laps as we stared at the flames warming our tanned legs.
It was good... really good... and when the time came for us to plan a life off of that beloved campus, a fire-pit made the short list of things we had to have in the "normal" life we began to plan.
Six years have passed since we drove our own vehicles (also in various states of disrepair) out of the parking lots of Trinity Christian College, filled to the brim with our worldly possessions. Our family has grown by two, our finances have been complicated by a townhouse unsold, and still we spend regular summer evenings sitting around our own, now rusty, fire pit. My kids call it "camping" (though they are more than familiar with what true camping is) and they look forward to it with all of their being. The wooded lot of our family home offers plenty of firewood, though we save our Christmas trees to supplement the supply. There is a simplicity to it all that is a relief and a joy. I find ways to push aside all my motherly instincts about eating healthy meals and on fire nights, we roast hot dogs on sticks and count potato chips as veggies. We sit in a circle, my family and I, and stare at the fire and wait for the coals and sit back in chairs and relax. We eat our fill and before I am done someone will ask if it is time for s'mores. I buy the supplies in bulk during the summer and though everyone eats only one, we will empty those boxes before Labor Day. The older boys have gotten into stirring the fire and trying to see how big it can be. The little ones watch wearily, ready to watch if a pine branch with brown needles might spark a fire that is taller than them. And then, when we have all had our fill and the fire is constant and needing little tend, we spend a few minutes singing. The kids each have a favorite campfire songs... some from school, some from VBS programs, some from church... and we sing heartily in our backyard, oblivious to neighbors and social moires.
Last night, I sat with my family around me and watched the fire light dance on their faces. I listened to them laugh and chatter and scare the sparrows off the finch feeder. I watched as the fire grew and blossomed, then quieted down... again and again and again. Together, we basked in the glow of last year's Christmas tree, lit in a whole new way.... and it was good. Very, very good.
I walked the puppy with Noah and Benjamin when the fire was coals and Mark was inside with Josiah and Elizabeth. My mom came with us and Noah saw a shooting star. I found myself wishing I could pick the memories of my children... help them to know what to remember and what to let go. I would release the moments when my focus is skewed... clean house, organized children, frustrated momma... and hold for them the nights like last night... simple, good, warm and worthy of being stored up as a snapshot of their lives as children.
Next week, we will do it again... burning the weeds from our yard and the limb that fell from a tree in the back... and the memories I want them to have will be the ones that they store again and again... a fire, a hot dog, s'mores and singing... and if we are lucky, another shooting star.