The picture at left above may not look like much, but to our family it's a little slice of heaven on earth. Green River Lake State Park near Campbellsville, KY, has been our annual camping destination for the past 8 years. It's there that we set up our big tent, cram inside it at night, and otherwise enjoy (most of the time) the slow pace of unplugged time together. I say "most of the time" because anybody who has camped knows that there is a lot of misery and unpredictability involved at times too, particularly in the chore of packing up what seems like a third of your house, or dealing with unpredictable weather, or even my family having to deal with my horrible snoring. The upside is I get these photos of Zoe, our 10 year old, kissing a fish and Naomi, our 18 yr. old, holding the biggest catch of the week.
I wrote a column about the blessed filter of camping memories a few years ago. Enjoy...and thanks for being a friend of the show.
The Blessed Filter of Camping Memories
One thing I appreciate about my kids is that when it comes to family vacations, they’re pretty easy to please. While they’re aware that some families are taking summer trips to Disney World, touring Europe, or enjoying Caribbean cruises, they’re usually content to pitch the family tent near a lake at a state park campground here in Kentucky.
Don’t get the wrong impression—we’re not survivalist campers. We like clean, well-lit campgrounds with shaded campsites, hot showers, camp stores, ice machines, and pre-bundled firewood. And when we load up, it feels like we bring half the house, with our big family van packed to the ceiling with clothes, tent, canvas gazebo, camp stove, cooler, fishing poles, lawn chairs, grill, clothes, toiletries, sleeping bags, and for the wife and me, the essential air mattress. Do you see why packing is the least enjoyable part of my experience?
Once you get there and set up, however, the good stuff begins. The quiet pace of unplugged days, the taste of freshly brewed coffee on a crisp campground morning, the smell of bacon on the griddle, the cool lake water on a summer afternoon, the tug of a bluegill on your hook, the radiant warmth of a crackling campfire, the taste of s’mores, and the fireside games and prayers.
But I won’t lie to you. Despite our best preparations, we’ve had a number of miserable experiences. Like when the air was so thick with mayflies that several got mixed in with our chicken and rice (thankfully we were eating after sunset—ignorance is bliss). Or the night our air mattress developed a leak, requiring a 3am Wal-Mart run to get a new one. Or the year our campsite got terrorized by a skunk who had spent way too much time around people. Not to mention the trip with the head lice and the bad transmission.
Then there’s the weather; and with tent camping you’re rolling the dice. We’ve camped through heat waves and damp chills, not to mention the rain. And storms, of course. There’s nothing like riding out a thunderstorm cramped together in your van on a muggy night.
One year we awoke to a thunderous downpour that had filled our tent with several inches of water, prompting us to abandon our tent and drive home, going back to retrieve it the next day (fortunately it was only in Frankfort).
Yet with all this misery, my children approach every summer with the same question: When are we going camping? Maybe I’m crazy, but I even find myself looking forward to it.
Memory is a funny thing, a filtering gift of grace that can bring sentimental joy from recalling the good times and gut-busting laughter in remembering the disasters. Our camping adventures serve as a microcosm of life, really. As much as we whine about our struggles, imagine how dull our lives would be if everything went perfectly. And while life’s most serious tragedies may not bring laughter in retrospect, the experience of enduring them together can serve to unite families in ways we could never experience in bliss alone.
Go to a funeral visitation, and listen to the memories shared by those gathered. See what they laugh about in their grief. Chances are it’s a memory of something that went wrong, maybe even caused by the person they’ve lost, or an idiosyncrasy of the deceased that was both frustrating and endearing. God, through time and grace, has redemptively filtered their memories.
That’s something I need to remember, whether in camping disasters or other life trials. My family, those who know me best, can tell you that I get pretty grumpy when things don’t go my way, when mishaps force changed plans or when time schedules get compromised.
They may even talk about my crankiness at my own funeral one day, but I guess that depends on whether I learn anything each passing year. Camping, with its highs and lows, might just offer an important lesson in virtue; namely, that the pains of the present can one day become important threads in our family’s tapestry of memory. And knowing that, maybe I can learn to not sweat the small stuff and actually enjoy this crazy ride.