A wise woman once said to me, “There is such a thing as too much fun.”
That’s what comes to mind when I think of camping.
Every year around this time, it seems like everyone I know makes a mass exodus for the woods, as if they’re coming out of hibernation or something. But not me. I know what you’re thinking. I’m just some prissy city girl that doesn’t want to get dirty, right? Wrong. The real truth, is that I don’t want to get eaten.
I did my time. Camping was what my family did growing up. At Christmas, they gave camping gifts. For birthdays, camping gifts. Vacation? Camping. Anytime. Anywhere.
Even though there’s a picture of me being potty-trained on a stump in the woods at age 2, my earliest memory of camping is a little later. My parents packed up their tiny gold pickup with the usual gear, drove into the wilderness (Code for: Big Foot country), found a place as far off the road as the truck could take them, and set up camp. We were probably hunting, but my early memories are that we were doing nothing more than torturing me. I slept in the front of the cab with one eye open all night watching for bears.
Of course, I have good memories too. Like the summers spent camping with the entire family. We’d rent out an entire campground, fish all day, fish all night, and end the week with amazing fish fries. Sponge bathing under the camping shower and finding doodle bug holes was glamorous. I didn’t mind the red muddy lake water or the fact that man-eating sturgeon lurked just below the surface.
My mom had insomnia and so nothing ever happened at camp that she didn’t know about. Perhaps that’s why she made such a great children’s church pastor. In the mornings, while she cooked breakfast, she would tell me about the cougar she watched prowl around camp while the rest of us slept.
And therein is my problem with camping. In the words of Jim Gaffigan, “Camping’s fine during the day. But night time comes and we’re all gonna die.” I know this is an exaggeration. Of course. It’s easy to be rational when you’re sitting in your living room, and not snug as a bug in a sleeping bag in the boondocks.
So what is it that calls our name? Why, when winter slips away and spring’s chill fades into summer’s warmth, do we rush for the woods and the rocks? What is it about summiting things that makes us feel invigorated? What’s so different about the air up there?
I think it’s because we can see Him more clearly.
And by Him, I mean, the One who made it all.
Our agendas fade away. There’s nothing to do, but just be.
And the greatness of it all is quite unfathomable at times.
The last camping trip I took with my large family, was in 2000. I went out, for the first time, on my uncle’s boat, as he and my cousins fished in the bay. I didn’t last long. Sitting out there, in the tiny boat, I was shown, literally just how small I was in the vast universe. The piece of sturdy plastic and fiberglass was lifted up each swell, over and over again, only to dip back down again, with the black, vast depth of water all around. I was overcome with complete reverent fear. That God brought it into being with one. single. spoken. word. A blast of His incredible power, released, and an ocean, a world of its own, appeared. And there I was in the middle of it.
And that that very same spoken word took on flesh and walked among us as Jesus because He loves us is almost too much to comprehend. We can try to understand, but really . . . we cannot know, we cannot fathom such greatness.
But He feels closer, somehow, doesn’t He? While sitting around a campfire, with the music of a guitar below and the explosion of stars above.
When I was 14, I sat around a fire with my classmates and gazed up at the stars. One classmate, a boy that would live for 4 more horrible years and be crushed by a semi truck when he turned 18, followed my gaze and looked up. I don’t remember our exact words, but I wondered aloud that the God who made those magnificent stars loved us personally. And this boy, who had always doubted God’s love because he had been rejected by his own mother and father, considered aloud that God’s love might actually be real.
He feels closer, though, doesn’t He, this Creator. Everythings comes into focus. It’s easier to believe when surrounded by the work of His hands.
When I was 16, I backpacked up Union Trail with some friends. We stopped just before the trail made the climb up to the snowy caps above. The flowers that lined the circled valley were as tall as I was and a bear wandered among them. It rained profusely that day, and we huddled together in tents eating cold mac and cheese. And that night, when the clouds cleared, and the sky above peered down on us, all we could hear was the rushing of the creek. The freezing runoff from the peeks above, rushing down through the little valley. And we remembered that the Bible refers to the voice of God as the sound of many rushing waters . . .
He feels closer, though. It’s not so difficult to see that it was all fashioned by perfect hands, by a power greater than ourselves. The idea that it all happened “by chance” is so preposterous when seen up close.
I spent a handful of summers camped out on the lake; fifteen houseboats, 250 students and adults, there for one purpose. To know Him more. To experience life, to laugh, to adventure, to enjoy, and to put it all into perspective. It’s so much easier to understand His love when you see the rainbows of the sunset spilled out over the lake, like a gigantic canvas.
How many bapitsms have I witnessed with the magnificent sun rising up over the hills, pouring in through the trees, and the steam of night lifting into the air? We sang, we laughed, we cried, as many entered the waters and committed their lives to Christ. Oh to those that do not understand, it must sound ridiculous. But to be there, face to face with a declaration of faith- there’s nothing else like it. Fathers baptizing their children, wives and husband renewing relationships, vowing to love one another as they pursue God, a woman in a wheel chair too crippled to walk on her own- carried into the water by loving hands . . . All dipped beneath the water for a brief moment in time, coming up anew. The old gone. A fresh start.
All for the One who made it all.
It’s been a while, but I’m starting to remember it all. It’s easy to throw off the notion when babies arrive. The decision to give up camping was made easier when I married a man who understood others’ fascination with the outdoors as much as he understood Latin.
But that’s changing too. A few days ago, I was putting a diaper on a squirmy baby when my husband came in. He didn’t say “goodmorning” or “how was your night?” No. He said, “I wish we had a tent. I know it’s impossible, but I’d sure like to go camping.”
Hmmm. I laugh. And just like that, all the reasons I thought I hated camping disappear And I remember.
I remember. And I want my children to experience those memories too.
I guess I better get a tent.