The last dusty plastic dish has been washed. The ice chest has been emptied, rinsed, and packed away. All of the campfire-smoked clothes have been fumigated and the only remnants of our church’s annual family camping trip are our memories and the three dozen photos locked away in the bits and bytes of our Nikon Coolpix digital camera.
Frankly, I hope a few of the memories fade into obscurity. Like the smell inside the tent when I was cleaning up Caleb’s latest monument to the inadequacy of my potty training techniques (Although, in all fairness, it could have been much worse. My multitudinous thanks go out to the inventor of Pull-Ups.) Or Katie’s allergy attack that woke me up at three in the morning and kept me awake for the next four hours listening to a rhythmic symphony of *sniff*…*cough*………*sniff, sniff*……*snort*….*cough*, punctuated by squeaks and rustles as she tried in vain to get comfortable on the inflatable plastic pillow that came with her new sleeping bag. The boys, being boys, slept right through it.
Most of the memories, though, are already taking on the pleasant golden sheen of nostalgia, their laughter and wonder joyfully added to the bank of shared family experiences, where even the thorns and bruises will one day be fondly recalled around some future campfire.
I’ve always loved the phrase “church family.” For as long as I’ve been alive, wherever I’ve gone, I’ve had a church family. The family of God stretches around the globe, and I’m never out of reach of their loving arms and fervent prayers. The family here in Coeur d’Alene has been a shelter for us through some of the best and worst moments of our lives, in times of tears and in seasons of blessing. They’ve given of their gifts—fixing our car, looking over our taxes, watching our kids, dispensing free medical advice. And we’ve given in kind—building computers, moving furniture, babysitting. Everyone has something to contribute, and each individual is cherished for his uniqueness. For me, family camp every fall is a celebration of the joy of being part of that family.
At our large group campsite, tents pop up all over like dandelions, while the sophisticated older campers among us pull up in RVs and park them in an area we jokingly call Trailer Row. Next to that, George and Joanna, the weekend’s planners and architects, set up a long table and roll out the free-standing heat lamp, creating a community gathering area that sees a weekend-long procession of card games and feasting. On Friday night, George and his deep fryer always offer all-you-can-eat steak fries, giant wedges of potato cooked to crispy perfection and passed around the entire camp. Saturday, it’s funnel cakes with powdered sugar and fruit toppings.
Anyone wandering from campsite to campsite is sure to be haled into the circle of firelight and invited to eat whatever is on the stove, from pancakes to tacos to grilled chicken. You could probably come to family camp with absolutely no food and still leave six pounds heavier.
Every day bursts with free time for hiking, boating, or swimming. People bring their dogs, their horses, their bicycles. There are also planned events, like a scavenger hunt for the kids, and a kite flying contest.
On Sunday, we gather underneath the tall pines and give thanks to the One who made it all. The singing rings through the forest and, with no roof to hold it in, rises into the sky like smoke. Heaven feels a little closer.
Despite the interrupted slumber and the various odors they added to the experience, my children were a delight to watch as they explored the woods and took part in important camping rituals, like the ceremonial roasting of marshmallows, the carefully orchestrated assemblage of s’mores, and the subsequent spread of gooey marshmallow mess on every possible surface (the better to get the dirt to stick.)
The highlight of the weekend was probably their discovery, within a rotting tree stump, of a tiny green inchworm:
Katie, who has taken to calling everything “Cutie,” from stuffed animals to ants on the kitchen floor, branched out a bit and named the newcomer “Cutieboo.” He passed from hand to grubby hand and spent a half hour under the careful scrutiny of my two tiny scientists before we convinced them that his mom and dad were missing him and he should be returned to the log from whence he came (where he probably suffered a wormy little coronary and died from the shock of being handled.)
For the next few hours, we endured Katie’s mournful expressions of love and concern for the wee green beastie:
“I can’t see Cutieboo anymore. I miss him!”
“I hope Cutieboo’s not scared!”
“Do you think Cutieboo will come back, Mom?”
“Should we leave some food out for Cutieboo?
“Maybe next year when we come camping, we’ll see Cutieboo all grown up into a moth!”
And so on…
Fortunately, Katie’s tirade eventually broke off and, with the sun setting on our last day, the business of packing up camp was upon us. As we rolled sleeping bags and scattered the ashes of the fire, I recognized the pleasurable fatigue that follows a weekend well-spent. As Thoreau would say, we’d seized the day and sucked the marrow out of it. It was time for the fat lady to sing (and to take a shower, too.) A long drive, several baths, and a few loads of laundry later, I finally collapsed on my own couch in a completely satisfied heap.
But not before I took a pair of scissors to that plastic, inflatable pillow.