Eventually the time came to begin gathering up the kids who were scattered across the country . So after a week of unpacking Ginger and I started on our "Summer Vacation." It was not your normal summer vacation even though it may have looked like one. The practical side of our trip was to pick up the boys who had been staying with friends, but I would soon realize that along the way our pasts would collide. First we drove from Niceville Florida, (yes that is where we live and yes it is rather nice) to Sumter SC to pick up Boston and Greyson.
We arrived at one of Ginger and Troy's best friends house, Coop and Christy. It was Chrisy who was at Ginger's house on Nov 26th 2006 when the doorbell rang and her life was forever changed. It was Coop who became the boys mentor during camp in 2007 and 2008, for boys who had lost their father. Coop was one of the men who stood in for Troy. Coop and Christy supported Ginger, as many did and they will always hold a special place in Ginger's life. As Ginger and I drove to SC we began to realize the significance of this trip in our life. I guess previously we had been too busy to stop and think about what was going to happen. What it meant when I walked in to Coop and Christy's home with Ginger as my wife. What it meant to Ginger but also to Coop and Christy.
Next we went to see a good friend of Ginger, Marlo and Steve in Asheboro NC. Marlo had lost her husband in an aircraft accident as well and she and Ginger formed a unique bond. Ginger flew out to meet Marlo in the spring of 2007. Marlo proved to be an inspiration to Ginger has she struggled with her loss. Now two years later Ginger and I arrived at her home. It was a testimony to God's faithfulness for Marlo to see Ginger with a simile on her face, living life again.
Next we headed to Fayetteville NC to see Mac and Lisa, one of Andrea's and mine best friends. Lisa was a very special friend to Andrea. She was the first "Chemo Girl" in NC. Lisa would drive to Goldsboro every week to sit with Andrea during her treatments. Andrea and I spent many weekends visiting Mac and Lisa during our two years in North Carolina. Now I came to visit with Ginger, and for the first time Lisa met Ginger. And just has with Andrea, Lisa first formed her friendship with Ginger via the phone. So it was so nice for them to meet and to spend time together.
Finally, we headed to Goldsboro NC to pick up Anthony who had flown there to visit friends. For the first time Ginger walked into the place were Andrea and I faced our greatest trial. Much like my visits to Phoenix where I attended church with Ginger in the same church where she and Troy attended, or when I went to the house they lived in, visited friends that were "their" friends. It is a strange kind of closeness to someone I will never meet in this lifetime. Now it was Ginger that saw the house Andrea and I lived in and the squadron we were in. But it was the visit to Andrea's Oncologist, Dr. Atkins that was the most difficult for me. We went in the exam room were Andrea found out her cancer had returned. We went to the Chemo room and saw the chairs where Andrea once sat. We met the nurses that became our friends. I think it was equivalent to Ginger and I going to Troy's crash site. It was where it happened.
It soon became apparent to Ginger and I that this trip was about more than just picking up the boys, and it was more then a normal summer vacation, it was another strange step in the merging of our lives. It was another sharing of our past and the forming of our future.
One of my very favorite places on earth is the Kenai River in Alaska. It is a beautiful place where the green waters of the Kenai rush towards the sea calling the Sockeye Salmon back to the fresh waters to spawn and die. It is an amazing spectacle of nature to see the drive of these fish as they swim against the current of the river to reach the place of their birth to spawn the next generation of life. As they depart the life giving waters of the ocean and enter the fresh water of the Kenai river their life begins to end. There is no turning back and as you watch schools by the thousands go by you realize there is no desire to turn back. They are drawn onward, with a single focus. Some of those salmon are searching for the waters of the Russian River which flows into the Kenai River miles upstream of the mouth of the Kenai. It is a unique place where the clear water of the Russian meet the green water of the Kenai called the confluence. You could sit on the banks and see the Salmon by the thousands as they hugged the shore seeking the clear waters of the Russian River. Here you could watch the two rivers as they mixed and the clear waters of the Russian became one with the green glacier runoff of the Kenai. I spent many a summer day fishing with Nic and Anthony while Andrea relaxed on the bank reading a book on the banks of the Russian.
There are many symbols of life and Christianity in this image. Be the inevitable flow of the rivers towards the ocean, or the determination of the Salmon to return to their place of birth or the sacrifice one generation makes as it lays down its own life to give birth to the next. But as I think back to our vacation I think of the confluence where the two rivers mixed into one just as Ginger's and my life did this summer. Old friends that were once unique to our separate worlds now intermix and become part of our new life together. As our pasts collide and become one Ginger and I become and little more "Us" but we always carry a part of Andrea and Troy with us. No matter how far the water flows from the confluence there is some portion of the Kenai River that is uniquely the Russian River. It was that smallest of molecules that the salmon must sense as they find their way from the ocean to the place of their birth.
I think as Ginger and I become one, we balance the uniqueness of our marriage and who we are as a couple with the responsibility to keep some portion of Troy and Andrea in our life. I want Nic and Anthony to always sense Andrea in our home, just as Ginger wants Boston, Greyson, Isabella, Aspen and Annalise to always sense Troy in our home. It is a difficult task to balance but it will be the measure that we judge the success of our unique meeting.