The smell of blueberry muffins wafted through cabin 33 at Takayama.1 The girls were called from their beds, “And don’t forget your bathing suits!” Café au lait was in the thermos, while there was hot chocolate for the girls. We packed boiled eggs, homemade fruit salad, and bread and cheese. The girls reluctantly got in the car, wondering why they had to leave all their friends at the “Tak” beach and go to the “secret beach” their dad had discovered.
We piled out of the car with all our beach and breakfast paraphernalia and trekked down a hill toward a long, deserted beach. Making a path through the overgrowth, we took balanced steps on the wobbly boards in the swampy ground. We walked as fast as we could, while the mosquitos enjoyed their meal before we did. It was the first Schmidt’s Annual Picnic Breakfast! Setting up our table and chairs, we sang a praise song to the Lord and enjoyed some good food. The early morning awakening was forgotten as we played in the sand, threw a Frisbee, and enjoyed time in God’s beautiful nature. This annual time alone, with the same people and menu but at different venues, is one of the strongest vacation memories our three girls have.
How we created special memories while on vacation
Vacations are a chance to enjoy a change of scene, leave work behind, have fun with each other, and be refreshed. We all looked forward to vacation time in Japan. Whether it was at Takayama, Karuizawa, or Hokkaido, the important thing was that we were together and established yearly traditions that strengthened our family bond. Being away from our extended family, without the support and close relationships that would naturally form, it was all the more important to make our time together memorable.
For us, blueberry muffin mix is one of the things that trigger good memories. Another, saved for vacation time only, was a box of Lucky Charms, a hard-to-get American cereal with kids appeal. In those days, these desirable goodies were not readily available, so we planned ahead and had them hidden away for the upcoming break. When the children look forward to special times, it strengthens the memory and can build into a tradition.
As we got ready for vacation, we always packed the Family Notebook along with the proverbial kitchen sink. It contains our favorite summer recipes (written in scribbly children’s handwriting), the girls’ drawings of memorable times; write-ups of our vacations, and some photos. It also has new songs we memorized each summer. As my husband is a German-speaking Swiss, we used the time in the car and at a cabin to learn a new yodel or song in German. The family notebook became a mini scrapbook of our favorite family doings. On the front page is the inscription, “The Schmidt family’s continuous notebook of odds and ends, memories that make up ‘us’ . . . God is faithful, God is good.”
We loved the community family fun night at Takayama, especially the laughs, entertainment, and talent. The Swiss Schmidt Family Singers sang the songs we had learned or put on a skit we had written. When we did a yodel, my husband first got the audience to make sounds like they were on the Alps—the swishing of the wind and the mooing of cows—and then he broke into a Yoodolihoo!
Each summer, we would read a book out loud while the kids worked on a puzzle or a project or drew. As one daughter put it, it was a time to be creative. We also loved the lazy afternoons after coming back from the beach, when the five of us would each snuggle up with a book, enjoying each other’s quiet company. The pleasant hours spent in fellowship and game nights with others was balanced with cooking together, playing favorite games, going on walks, and having cookouts.
The importance of vacations and traditions
Ministry in Japan can be very demanding and draining. It is wonderful if you can take at least two weeks away. Get out in the fresh air, turn off your alarm clock, and have some uninterrupted family time. Devices, off; concentration on each other, on. The Lord will bring you refreshment that can bring new life and vision to your family and ministry. Years ago, some senior missionaries said that for them three weeks at a holiday home was ideal: during the first week they would wind down, the second they just enjoyed, and the third they started thinking about returning to their ministry.
Each family has its special characteristics, joys, and interests that make it unique. Take those and establish them into traditions that will bring your family together. As your family grows or gets older, different traditions will stand out as ones you might want to build on. They will develop naturally as you spend time with your family and see what they enjoy. Traditions do not have to be grand to have an impact. Something special done year after year can build the strength of a cherished memory. Making traditions can just require simple things and a bit of planning, and yet can make a lasting impression on your children and bring the family together for years to come. For those without children, start a special personal tradition of your own that gives you joy.
Including the third generation
When grandchildren come to visit while you are on vacation, there arrives the wonderful possibility of building fun and memories into their lives.
For example, grandparents can take their grandkids on a nature treasure hunt, even from a young age. As the years go by, the discoveries and depth of learning grows with their age. They can collect things, draw, take photographs, sing songs along the way, and go home to Google for more information about what they discovered. The experience of spending time with Grandma and Grandpa alone builds wonderful memories. And if the treasure hunt is topped off with ice cream, the memory is sure to be sweet! They will anticipate each unique hunt with joy.
It is not easy to be on the field while your grandchildren grow up in another place. Even if you cannot have yearly vacations with them, the Lord will help you find things to add to your Grandparents’ Notebook.
A call to rest
Taking time away for vacation can bring us rest and restoration for our souls. Our Good Shepherd, the giver of time, calls us to rest by quiet waters; he makes us lie down in green pastures (Psalm 23:2). Come away.
On vacation we can step back and shut out the usual things that clamor for our attention. We can focus more clearly on listening to God while we take time with him. In families with little children, rejoice. The possibility of long quiet times and leisure will come as they grow. We read in Psalm 143:8, “let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life” (NIV). May you take that time away to let the Lord bring you rest, rejuvenation, and lasting family traditions.
- A coastal property near Sendai that has been leased to missionaries for over 100 years for the use of vacation housing. More than two dozen cabins are owned by missionaries and mission organizations on this property.
Photo provided by author
Shelley Schmidt, with her husband Dieter, have been in Japan for 28 years with OMF International. They now run the OMF Guest Home in Sapporo. They also work with internationals at Sapporo International Church. They have one granddaughter.