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Hello, friends. I left you hanging over a week ago in Fargo, North Dakota. We have since reached our destination, our little cabin in the mountains outside of Red Lodge, Montana, where we have no internet. I’ve also spent the last several days with our children and grandchildren which is more important than running to the coffee shop in town to access their WI-FI.

On Wednesday, the 22nd, we left Fargo for Billings, Montana under a deep blue, cloudless sky, and temps in the low 60’s. This was my first trip to the “Peace Garden State”. You might ask why I went so far north rather than take the shorter route across I-80 or I-90. Well, North Dakota was one of only two states (Hawaii is the other) that I had not driven through. Now I can check this one off my list.

We stopped in Bismarck, the state capital, to visit with a friend, Bernice, whom we met a year ago on our pilgrimage to Italy. We spent two hours catching up with each other and reliving moments from our pilgrimage. At one point our conversation turned to our faith and shortly a young mother with three children sat down at our table under the pavilion we were occupying in the park. She wore a t-shirt that said, “Be a ….Saint”, with the letters of the word “Saint” spelled out using the names of real saints. I caught her attention and said, “I like your shirt!” to which she responded, “I heard you talking about praying the Rosary!” It turned out she is a school teacher at the local Catholic school. Coincidence that we were there together? I don’t think so. (Bernice, thank you for the goodie bag! Everything was delicious!)

North Dakota Badlands, Theodore Roosevelt National Park

As we drove westward across the state on I-94, the topography changed from being flat in the east with corn as far as the eye could see, to undulating fields of corn and soybeans in the central part of the state, and then rolling hills of grassland and cattle in the west. Not far from the Montana state line we stopped at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit and drove through the Badlands of North Dakota.

We arrived at our hotel in Billings, Montana after dark with 670 miles for the day.

On Thursday morning we hit the road one more time for the final hour and a half to our cabin just south of Red Lodge. We arrived early enough to unload and get situated before our daughters and their families began arriving from Seattle, Washington, Olathe, Kansas; Lake Charles, Louisiana; and Memphis, Tennessee.

For the next four days, the 16 of us (two grandparents, four daughters, three sons-in-law, and seven grandchildren age 5 and under) had fun being together. We played, explored, hiked, fished, cooked, ate, shopped, and reconnected. The cousins, who seldom see each other, had fun and got a little rambunctious at times, driving their parents a little crazy. But, that’s what little ones do. We know, their mothers did the same to us. Regardless of the noise and shenanigans, It was wonderful spending time with them.

Cousins

Two daughters and their families left on Tuesday, and the others left early Wednesday morning to catch their flights home out of Billings. For the first time in a week Melinda and I were by ourselves in a quiet cabin. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate the peace and quiet, but it didn’t take long to miss the whining, the pitter-patter of little feet, and lightning-fast hands getting into things they shouldn’t get into. We’re already looking forward to the next time we can all get together, whenever that will be.

What do you do to get past the shock of missing your family after such an enjoyable time? You go fishing of course! There’s no better way to distract yourself than to be standing in a clear mountain stream waving a fly rod in the air. I found a nice spot on Rock Creek just down from the cabin and caught two Rainbows on a size 14 beaded nymph.

Rock Creek

In my opinion, fly fishing is only a step or two away from heaven. Even though following the drift of my fly takes intense concentration, my mind and heart still found a way to recognize the beauty and majesty of our God, and all that He has created. Between casts, I gave thanks to Him for this week, for my dear wife, children and grandchildren, for the love we have between us, and for the love that He has shown me through them.

I gave thanks for all the natural beauty we’ve seen this week: from the corn fields of Illinois, the pastures and dairy farms of Wisconsin, the woodlands of Minnesota, the prairie of North Dakota, and the grasslands, mountains and streams of Montana. All different but beautiful, all unique in their own way, but all precious and valuable to the people who live there. We go to great lengths to experience the wonder of God’s creation in all its forms, and we go out of our way to take care of it.

The most amazing of His creations, however, are us, His people. It occurred to me how different life would be if we marveled at people the same way as we do nature, and similarly valued life. What if we approached other people with an interest to learn more about them, trying to find out what makes him or her unique and what makes them beautiful? Just as we might study a geologic formation or the flora and fauna of a region, imagine how much we could learn from the experiences of other people if we took the time to get to know them.

With social media replacing real human interaction, society is becoming more and more isolated. Just as there is something special about road trips where you can see the country up close instead of simply looking at photographs, we ought to set the electronics aside and take more “personal road trips” to explore our neighbors, our friends, and our own families on a close and personal level.

God created us to be social beings, to accompany each other through life. Jesus asked us to love our neighbors as ourselves, but it’s hard for people to feel loved if we don’t know them. He asked us to grow His Kingdom by leading others to an encounter with Him, but it’s difficult to lead people who don’t know us and who feel as though we don’t care about them. We need to take time to share a meal, sit around a campfire, take a hike, play a game, (or better yet, go fly fishing together!) and for other activities which offer the opportunity to get to know each other. When we do these things, we need to be interested in the other person, and intentionally seek to know and understand them. Then, perhaps, when the time is right, they may be open to a discussion about faith. Then, we can do His will by leading others to Him.

There are a plethora of bad things going on in the world today. The media, both television and social, focus on the things that take away our peace, and instill in us fear and worry about the future. This is just what the Evil One wants. But, it’s only in the present moment that we are able to do God’s will. Thus, if we want to change the world, we have to first look within ourselves and take advantage of every opportunity to see Jesus in others and let them see Him in us.

“Heavenly Father, thank You for the time we’ve had together as family this week. Thank You for Your beautiful creations, both the natural beauty of our country and for the people You place in our lives. Lord, give me the grace to do Your will and lead others to You. Amen.”

(Road Trip Reflections: Family, Fun, and Fly Fishing was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

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