“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
This summer has been a year of new and fresh beginnings for our family — particularly me.
After a difficult year with a dark depression and grief over the loss of my oldest brother, I woke up near the end of June and realized something needed to change.
For a year I had continued to spiral — overeating, becoming detached from the world, and becoming angry and resentful of the friends and family that had continued with their lives without my permission.
It has been the most difficult period of my life, but not one that I wish to hide any longer. My grief, my sorrow, my depression, it is all a part of my story as a woman, and even as a mother.
But I knew that with the fresh air and the sun shining brightly, I had a chance for a new beginning. I felt renewed hope at the continuation of my story.
After moving to a new house in July, (a key to my fresh start), my husband received the opportunity to speak in Muskoka at a Christian retreat centre called Muskoka Bible Centre. This 200-acre slice of heaven has deep roots in our family history.
My husband’s grandmother worked at Muskoka Bible Centre as a teenager. His father spent his youth camping there. My husband spent nearly all his childhood summers at Muskoka Bible Centre in various trailers his family rented and then owned. Summers at Muskoka run through the blood of the Bell family — and by marriage, I have inherited the tradition.
After arriving in Muskoka in July, I felt a whisper in my heart that something great would be happening. To top it off, a dear friend of mine just happened to be there the same week, vacationing with her husband and five children. I spent the week enjoying time with my family, chatting with my dear friend, and seeking moments of solitude to pray for direction over my life.
It was a transformative week for me. It was a deeply spiritual one, where I felt like I finally found my footing on a steep uphill climb. The battle wasn’t over — it never would be — but I felt assured that brighter days were ahead.
To top things off, my family spent a second week at Muskoka Bible Centre in August.
Our August vacation was very different from our July trip. In July, we received a free (and rather luxurious) room, and free food, as payment for my husband’s speaking. This week we roughed it in a rather rugged trailer (no hot water and no shower), but we spent more time with one another. We also had our extended family with us, both of my in-laws and my mother.
Each morning, I woke up in our cramped trailer with a smile on my face. I was with my family on the happiest place on earth. I had found my refuge, a place that was a balm that soothed my aching soul.
In the mornings, my husband and I would sit side-by-side, reading our Bibles, chatting about what we read afterwards. Our children enjoyed the free children’s program, where they played and sang and grew to love their camp leaders.
In the afternoons, we would head to the sandy beach. The water was as warm as bath water, we dove right in, Penny and Georgia’s fingers wrinkly as prunes by the time we left. On one of the last days I sat in my chair reading a book, I took a break to look out on the water and remember the beauty in front of me. I watched as my husband and his father built a sand castle, their faces serious in concentration. My mom and my mother-in-law stood in knee deep water, chatting, while my daughters splashed in the water. It felt like the most perfect moment between two families blended by marriage.
Returning home from our trip, I felt my heart get heavy. How would I get through another year without my refuge at Muskoka Bible Centre? It was in Muskoka that I began to truly feel again. I was terrified of old me. I didn’t want to go back to her.
I looked into the back seat at my two smiling girls, their hair bleached blonde from days under the sun, their skin bronze from hours in the water. My husband reached across the space between us and held my hand tenderly, his rough finger brushing the palm of my hand. He knew my thoughts. I said a silent prayer of gratitude for them all, the whole car full of people who loved Muskoka just as much as I did, but who loved each other more.
I was returning with my people, the ones who walked through this year with me and made it to the other side. I had my renewed faith and hope, and my family to return with, and that was all the assurance I needed.
It’s going to be all right.