What do you call the act of stuffing three sons and a 105 pound dog into a vehicle, then traveling for hours on end while attempting to squelch random fist fights and bouts of unexplained wrestling in the back seat as one hand clutches a 24 oz coffee and the other grips the steering wheel fiercely?
At one point in our lives, we foolishly called these events “vacations.” –Yes, there is a third son in the back underneath that afghan. This scenario is greatly improved since last year, though. Back then, we stuffed these three big boys into the single back seat of a Subaru and that 105 lb bundle of fur had to stretch across their laps. It was very exciting!
The term “vacation” brings to mind hand towels folded into the shape of charming animals, wait staff dancing about with flaming cakes upon their heads, and people named Velma who see that you are struggling to choose a dessert off the menu and proceed to bring you all three. These amazing scenarios occurred on our honeymoon … and have never ever ever ever never happened again.
Now we soak up the glories of acquiring over 5,000 mosquito bites per person (I counted the bites on my hands once and did an estimation but this was during actual backpacking), rushing to the doctor’s after someone’s hand gets slammed in the car door, and trying to decide if the dog’s insistent whining means that she needs to pee, drink, or is seriously considering breaking that firm “Do not growl at the children even if they are singing badly rhymed original ballads and waving your ears around in the air to the beat” rule that was sternly explained to her when she was a pup.
We have adopted the more appropriate term of “Adventure” for this end of the summer event. After a summer of living and breathing the hustle, bustle, heartache, and glory that is summer camp ministry, we are always thrilled to have the chance to be together, no matter how much the journey resembles a professional wrestling match to which crumbly snacks, dog hair, and a dangerous dose of “brotherly affection” (stealing eye glasses and then sitting on your sibling’s head) has been added. And yes, that is a fly on Princess Leia Freyja’s nose. Poor thing. But despite annoying insects, she was pleased that we now have AC and thus spent a good part of the car ride snuggled up to the vent. The boys also approve of AC. In fact, our new-to-us car has been christened “Glamdring AC” for obvious reasons. What? You do not know the name of Gandalf’s sword off the top of your head. Well, because my children do, our car now carries that illustrious moniker.
I once read an article about family closeness. A weird study was conducted attempting to discover how close families developed. The only thing families that rated themselves as having a great relationship had in common (nope, not money, status, race, location, religion, or number of pets) was that all these families went camping together. It makes sense. Even though people poured our syrup onto our pancakes for us on our honeymoon, we managed to find time to gripe at each other. And yes, there is always some griping on these family “Adventures” but if one survives them … one cannot help being closer than ever!
I think there are definite spiritual parallels here.
OK, so this first stop at the Boom Shaka bouncy extravaganza place was pure, unadulterated fun. No roughing it there! I’m sorry to say that you will have to wait for the actual camping photos. Those will appear in the next blog. I had too many fun shots to share of us bouncing. But nonetheless, The Hunky Hubby had to sacrifice so we could spend two straight hours leaping about and burrowing through pits full of foam that contained no small amount of sweat and perhaps a stray sock or two. He walked the dog the whole time so that we could play. That my friends, is true love!
I think the reason that camping is so good for family closeness is that on the one hand, it is an amazing experience in God’s glorious creation, and on the other, camping is so excruciatingly difficult.
Just consider the herculean effort required to have a simple breakfast of instant oatmeal.
First, you have to get out of your sleeping bag. The zipper is unreachable and so you worm around the tent in search of viable clothing options, trying to decide weather to change inside the cocoon of warmth that is your bag and risk injury, or change out in the frosty morning air, thus gaining a fine case of frostbite for your efforts.
Now that clothing has been donned, you must successfully exit the tent. The tent zipper is half-broken and if you don’t stretch the fabric just right and bite the tip of your tongue, the zipper will split and your tent will be ruined forever and always. A useless husk of its former self, only good for holding down the floor in the garage or providing building materials for young boys who wish to construct green, nylon forts.
Now that the tent has been properly exited, you must rush to the campsite bathrooms … only, you have forgotten your footwear inside the tent and must repeat that whole meticulous zipper thing in order to retrieve shoes.
Shoes in place you also grab your toiletries for a quick shower. Only, the showers are token operated. You must now hike to the ranger station at the entrance to the campground and purchase shower tokens at an exorbitant exchange rate. Coins clutched in your hand you journey back to the bathrooms, shower, and return to the campsite to make breakfast. All one must do to make instant oatmeal is boil water. Surely, you will prove up to the task of boiling water.
There is no water to boil. You gather a collection of random water bottles and hike them down to the water faucet at the other end of the campground. You meticulously fill each bottle, getting the sleeves of your fresh shirt soaked in the process. You then lug the bottles back to your campsite, getting the chest of your shirt wet as you clutch them to your person in an attempt not to drop them. You drop several. They roll hither and yon. You retrieve them and finally, finally plunk them down on your picnic table in triumph!
You find a camp pot, pour the costly water inside, place it onto your camp stove … and the stove will not start. You pump and pump and pump. Nothing. You check the small fuel line for damage, light match after match, scowl and frown and sternly resist an explosion of profanity that would make your parishioners/youth group kids/camp counselors blush. Yes, you are in professional ministry. Hey, this is my illustration after all, so get on board. Then you realize that the fuel can is empty!
You then drive out of the campground, into town, purchase the fuel, drive back, and discover that the dog has busted through the side of the tent attempting to protect the family from a rogue squirrel and made that whole “zipper is about to break quandary” a moot point.
You boil the water, make the oatmeal, and present it to your family. The rush of victory sweeps over you and you collapse in front of your own bowl of instant peaches and cream, spoon held aloft like a waving flag of triumph.
“I don’t like oatmeal,” says the small voice of one whom you greatly love. Nonetheless, you must pause for a moment to squelch the ridiculous impulse to leap upon that beloved someone and strangle them. You resist.
Since all of this was so exhausting you employ your children in the camp clean-up process. They wash out their own dishes, walk the dog and scoop poop, assist you in packing up the bazillion camping items that were required in order to boil water, and make and pack their own picnic lunches.
I think this phenomenon is the key to why camping showed up as the only commonality between close families. For the trip to succeed and all to remain sane, everyone must help. But it’s not like helping around the house where the results of chores are highly undervalued by all children involved. After everyone cleans up the camp and packs their lunches, you hike to the beach together. The crisp wind whips your hair around. The dunes rise before you in vast mountains of sand. The roar of the waves grows louder and louder as you near the shore. Suddenly the dog breaks free and gallops for the surf. All three of your sons follow in a wild romp that makes your heart ache with the beauty of their freedom and untainted joy.
When you camp, the whole family is forced to work toward a goal that is worthy of every struggle. The next time they must scrub oatmeal out of dishes or hike to get another pot full of water, they will remember those lovely hours on the shore, jumping waves, digging after clams, and constructing sand cities in the hopes that the tide will come in to destroy them in magnificent fashion. Camping takes life’s necessary skills and boils it down to their simplest forms. Get along and work together, actually live out all those pesky things Jesus said about love. The end goal is worth it.
Could it be that God Himself does something similar with us. As I remember the times when He did not step in to take away the struggle, it makes me wonder. Who would I have become without all these difficulties? Could it be my gentle shepherd, guarding my heart, forcing me to stretch out and be strong? Yes, despite the pain, I think that it was.
OK, come back next time for pictures of us actually camping!
P.S. While this scenario included many events that happened on our trip this August (stove running out of fuel, dog busting through tent, hiking to get shower tokens) I also used some stuff from other camping trips, backpacking trips, and car rides to create my charming picture of the wildness, toil, and beauty that is a family attempting to get along. So yes, some of it is stirred around and out of order. Don’t tell, but we got this awesome camp stove that you don’t have to pump … yep, the same one that ran out of fuel. But our zipper really was on the brink of collapse and yes, the matriarch of this family did heroically resist swearing. Yay, me!