Nothing draws a family together like doing dishes…except maybe every other activity known to man.

when the camp family goes camping

introduction

We survived. I wish I was being clever and melodramatic, but the best way I can summarize a family camping trip for 3 nights with 4 young kids is simply that. We survived.

It was still a good trip. There were some bumps on the road that I’ll share in the next few posts, but it cannot outweigh the moments of wonder and happiness each of us experienced during the trip. As we were driving back, I asked Jamie “In hindsight, would you have rather spent two days at a waterpark, or still have this camping trip?” Without hesitation, she still would go camping. And that’s one of the reasons I love her. (Many of you would probably take the waterpark once you hear some of the more trying moments of this trip.)

For me, the best part of going camping as a family was just to sit with the kids and listen to them. Everyday I hear them, but I realize I don’t always really listen to what they are saying and try to figure out where the words are coming from. There were several moments during the trip when the kids would say something and I would just smile to myself at the curiosity and innocence that they see the world with.

And the same was true for my time with God during the trip. It seemed as though I had this ongoing conversation with God during the entire trip with a friend I had not be in touch with for some time. A flood of insight kept hitting me day after day. These moments of reminded me that it is important that I let God inform my view of life and not to allow life to inform my view of God. If I start with Him, the rest makes much more sense and allows me the strength and endurance to be who He needs me to be.

I look forward to sharing a lot of the insights from this trip over the next few days. Some will be about God, some will be about family and some will probably just show how broken I can be at times. Through it all, I’m eager to share it and finally do some writing.

part 1: the crow’s song

One of the best parts of going camping is setting up camp. It is the initial moment when you get to build your house for the time you are roughing it. The decisions of where to put the tent, the picnic table, the kids toy tent and extra stuff are all integral to success. That’s why I let Jamie do it.

In reality I know that Jamie knows the flow of our family better than I can pretend to. She manages the day-to-day operations of our household better than I ever could. I just pray I can keep her laughing and sane enough to do it each day.

And so as she directs where things go, I go about setting the tent. We invested in what is probably the largest tent I have ever seen, but when you have a family of 6, things don’t get any smaller. In a park full of RVs, we seemed to fit in until people realized our tent didn’t have wheels or an air conditioner.

So as I was working with Jamie to put the poles through their respective sleeves and pretending to remember how this thing went together, I kept hearing the unmistakeable call of a crow. The obnoxious “caw” over and over again. When contrasted with the other birds in the area, it sticks out so painfully.

And when there is one of these large blackbirds, there are more. Soon a whole group of them is constantly piercing the relative quiet of the park with their noise. There are few things more ominous than these large groups sitting in a tree by your tent either. I suppose that is why a group of crows is affectionately called a “murder” of crows.

It was during this growing annoyance with the crow that I felt God remind me of the plank in my own eye though. As if to remind me, “There are plenty of times I hear nothing but cawing from you like that crow, but I love you all the same. Your song isn’t always pretty, but I still care. Day after day, in happiness and sadness, the crow sounds the same because it only has one song. I gave you a voice and heart to do so much more. Try to remember that with those you meet as well.”

As I paused to let it sink in, I gave a knowing sigh as I realized this was going to be a good couple of days for me. I need these reminders. I need to keep perspective so I remember I am more like a crow most days than some wonderful song bird. Even at my best, I can do better, serve more, be more generous, and love more people. I hope that even on my days of sounding like the crow, I caw out a song that pleases my God even if it isn’t easy to compose with one obnoxious note.

Finding Home…again.

February.18.2009

Whenever I have moved to a new location, there are a few landmarks that need to be ironed out before comfort can be found. Once I know where to get groceries, go running, find people, and go to church, I’m pretty well set.

Well, we have now been in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin for about 3 years and we had found all but a church as of about a year ago.

Churches are a funny thing. It’s kind of like trying to find a favorite restaurant. You don’t really know what you want until it’s right there in front of you. And sometimes, the food is great, but the service is so horrible that it doesn’t matter. Or even worse, the people there are great, but the food lacks flavor to the point that it’s not even a restaurant. (see what I did there?)

The worst part is that we actually found a great church. We were as active as we could be considering our unique situation of living at a camp. We even were active in a small group and helped lead the youth ministry for a time. But then it happened.

When gas prices went through the roof, it became a difficult decision. Driving 40 minutes each way to a church multiple times a week became not only a drain with two small children, it also became a drain on our finances. So in came some doubt…

For some reason we decided to renew the church search. We went to several churches and I even had myself convinced that I found a better church that was closer.

Week after week we went to this new church and it was okay…but it was never home. I never felt that my faith was intertwined and being refined by those around us. It wasn’t their fault, it just wasn’t happening.

So we went back to our original church. And it was home. Again.

It’s amazing how familiar and comfortable good fellowship feels. It’s the same way with my closest friends. Even if I only see them once a year, it feels like they came to my house in a Delorean with Doc Brown riding shotgun. Nothing has changed. It’s astounding.

In the parking lot on Sunday I confessed to our pastor that I had my “prodigal son moment” of churches and hopefully it was over now. His reaction was straight out of the Bible story as he smiled and honestly was pleased that we came back.

I just wish we didn’t have to leave to realize how great we have it.

Imaginary Faith

April.3.2008

I never realized we had a lion and a monkey named “Crumbley” living in our house. Well, I never realized it until our 2 year-old daughter told us so.

It started out innocent enough. As we took a walk to the mailbox (a daily walk that takes anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes depending on how distracted our daughter is) I watched as our daughter looked behind us and motioned forward saying “come on. Come on buddy.”

Now this would be standard fair if we had a dog. Heck, I’d even settle for a pet chipmunk. But we don’t. We don’t even have a pet turtle anymore. So I’m not really sure where she got this instinct to encourage something to follow. And more importantly, there was no one (human, animal, or otherwise) for her to talk to.

And then it dawned on me. Leah has an imaginary friend.

“Who are you talking to?”

“Monkey.”

“What’s your monkey’s name?”

“Crumbley.”

Crumbley the monkey shows up at the house from time to time now. I’ll pick him up and carry him along to brush our teeth. I set him down carefully on the top of the toilet tank where Leah knowingly looks at him and smiles.

As crazy as this would sound if she wasn’t a creative 2 year-old, it made me think about my relationship with God. I wondered if my knowing and faith that God would take care of me and my family just looks like a make-believe monkey named “Crumbley” to those around me.

Odds are, it does at times. Without explanation, faith in anything looks crazy. When I walked away from a great career to do ministry at a camp, my coworkers thought I was an idiot. Heck, when I lose my faith, I think I was an idiot.

At the end of the day though, my faith is also my happiness. When I get to see kids and adults come to this place and discover something greater than themselves who loves and cares for them, that is the purpose of my life. That is the moment when I look at the little monkey sitting on top of the toilet tank and smile at something so many other people miss.

For the past few months, my family and I have been volunteering with the youth group at our church. For most part it is a great experience, but the depth of our spiritual discussion is really limited.

The church we attend is definitely a seeker-friendly church. The congregation is largely brand new Christians which in turn leads to brand new Christian kids in the youth group. Actually, in most cases, I’m not even sure half of the kids are Christians.

This is by no means a bad thing. As a Christian, I am excited to have the opportunity to disciple new Christians. At least I would be if they were receptive to the message.

The last couple times our pastor has shared really relevant topics it has been a battle. Every point becomes a debate as we look at such basic ideas like the blatantly sexual and derogatory lyrics in popular music, the idea that God doesn’t punish us for our sin, or even the dangers of a lack of boundaries in a dating relationship.

While I have credited a majority of this debate to kids searching for their independence, it is still troublesome. This week I am going to be sharing with the youth and I’m tossing around several ideas for topics. I keep coming back to one though.

Proverbs 2 is a simple story of the importance of wisdom and how to accept it. I know it’s probably a stretch for junior high kids to get it, but at this point, I need them to realize they are missing the point. My other option is as my blog title suggests, that I remind them of the parable of the soils. No one likes to hear they are the hard, unaccepting soil, but the truth will hopefully open their hearts to what we are trying to share with them.

My Little Cheesehead

January.23.2008

It’s amazing how fast kids learn stuff. Leah now knows what a football is, can identify it on TV, knows who the Packers are and is well aware that “Dad watch football.” She’s a smart one. A little too observant at times, but still smart.

Today was a rather long day for a day off. Having two kids who are pretty congested and sick in general that it is hard to get any sleep let alone sleep in. Thankfully my wonderful wife did allow me to sleep in until 9 after getting up at 6 with Leah.

Tonight we went to drop some food off for friends of ours who just had their first baby. Then we went grocery shopping and to help out at the youth ministry at church. I am in charge of the games each week, so this week I pulled out the classic “Sock-head Jousting.” For the uninitiated, you play this by putting a pantyhose on your head with a tennis ball in the end and twirling it around trying to catch and remove the same contraption from your opponent’s head. For the night I was 4-0, which I credit to my abnormally large nose and satellite-esque ears.
Next week I get to lead the “spiritual” component for the group. I’m not sure what I’m going to talk about yet, but I’m leaning towards the topic of how heroes, idols and God need to interact.

For the past two weeks, my life has been more consumed by worry than any other emotion. While most people would have probably considered it a rational feeling for the situation I was in, I am always disappointed in myself when my lack of faith and trust in God allows me to believe He is not in control or that He will not do all things for good no matter the outcome.

Granted, this belief does not guarantee the safety of loved ones or my success (in my view) in all situations. And this is probably why my level of worry was just so high.

The cause of my worry was the same as it is for many people; a meeting with a doctor. While I trust the medical profession probably more than any other I interact with, it is hard for me to imagine that they all realize how much meaning and impact their words have on everyone they see. People rarely go to the doctor to hear just good news. They go there for the truth and the reality of a situation to get clarity of what the future holds.

When we went to the doctor for an ultrasound a few months ago, the doctor told us that our baby to be had a slight problem they would be monitoring in the coming months. Apparently the growth of the uterer (a tube that goes from the kidney to the bladder) had grown too quickly which can result in some complications. It was looking like we would have to deliver the baby very early so the medical staff could do surgery.

For weeks we lived with this information with little incident. When we went to a follow-up appointment two weeks ago, the ultrasound appeared to show that things had taken a turn for the worse. The size of the uterer had gone from a “5” to a “9.” In most cases, numbers mean something to me, but in this case I was never given an explanation so I was left to wonder just how bad the situation was.

As we waited for an appointment with a specialist to give us a second opinion two weeks later, our lives were consumed with stress and worry of the situation. It is never comfortable to have no control of a situation, especially when it involves one of your children. As a dad, I wanted to protect my son, but all I could do was pray and trust.

When we saw the specialist, it was clear that this issue was far less dangerously than we had made it out to be in our minds. The doctor told us that this is one of those cases that ultrasounds can be a bless and a curse and in this case it was a curse. The ultrasound they did showed the uterer to be between a 5 and a 6 (which I also learned is the measurement of the diameter of the uterer in tenths of a centimeter) which is on the borderline of a problem, but not worth delivering early.

So in the end, all things worked for good. Our baby is fine, we are all anxiously awaiting his healthy arrival and I am again reminded that my ability to worry will never out perform God’s ability to heal and help those in need.

Forwarding to the Divine

September.24.2007

I lost a mother-in-law, a friend and a role-model today.

Click Here.

Welcome Back Cotter

August.26.2007

Anytime I get work in a Welcome Back Cotter reference, I know it is going to be a good post. Especially when it is the title AND the picture.

After another summer here at camp, life is finally slowing down. I am still only getting one day off a week, but at least the stress levels are down. We had a great summer with extremely high numbers in July. So the work life is good.

The family life is pretty good too. Jamie is continuing to show the signs of pregnancy and the child is growing nicely. It has been great to here the heartbeat and see the ultrasound images. In a level of needed prayer, the ultrasound did show the baby had kidneys that are developing too quickly which may result in emergency surgery at the time of birth. Hopefully the rest of the baby’s body catches up to those kidneys.

We also continue to work through the process of Jamie’s mom’s failing health. It is amazing to me how a strong belief in God can change the outlook of so many in regards to this stage of life. The trust in the hereafter is worth so much right now. Knowing that we will all be rejoined one day gives my heart some comfort. I am eager for a big family dinner in heaven.

In less heavy news, I have found a new favorite internet service. Goozex is a videogame trading site that matches used videogame owners to make trades for only $1 per trade and postal fees. A pretty good deal. I’ve traded literally about 15 games at this point. Saving me a ton of money. If you want to sign up, use me as a referral and we both get some free points/trades! (Click here if you are interested.)

Other than that, not much going on. Hopefully this is the start of more consistently blogging from me again!

Wind…it blows.

May.24.2007

When I was a kid, I used to love the wind. One of the happiest moments I have from growing up is flying kites with my dad. It was one of those things we did to bond. These weren’t the typical single-string Smurf kites though. They were the two string variety that allowed you to guide the kite through the air.

Now, 15 years later, I still like the wind. However I do not always like the effects of the wind. When you live at a camp, you are typically surrounded by trees, as I am here. You quickly learn that in an environment like this, with wind comes work. The stronger the wind, the more trees and debris liter the ground. As much as I love using a chainsaw, it does get old after a while.

As I was cutting up a large tree today, I was grumbling and thinking through the annoyance of increased wind velocities and the relative flimsy-ness of the trees at this camp. Then, for no apparent reason, I remembered the scripture of John 3:8 which I have always liked.

“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

That kind of put things in perspective for me. I wonder how often in my life the Holy Spirit goes through and blows down the dead trees and branches cluttering my life, and my response is not thankful, rather it is a childish reaction of annoyance. I enjoy the dead things that surround me even though they are not very pretty or even nice to have around.

One thing I have also learned about dead trees is that they tend to fall in the worst places. In theory, a tree has 360 degrees of falling radius, yet it always seems to fall across a road, into a cabin or just in a difficult are to reach.

In my own life, this is manifest by the dead wood falling into the areas of my life that I enjoy such as my family, friendships or just free time. And again, rather than clean up the mess, I grumble and slowly remove as little as I can get away with.

I guess I just need to listen for guidance and start cutting before the Holy Spirit moves so I can do my best to thin out the forest. If all I have left are healthy, strong trees in my life, the wind can blow through with force and all that happens is a beautiful sound of rustling leaves.

That is the sound I want for my life.

It’s hard being human. To have my desires constantly changing like the wind to be happier, better and/or more successful is a frustrating place to be. As normal as it is, why can’t my desires fall more in line with what God wants for me?

Clearly it’s a lack of obedience on my part. With the realization that I have now committed my life (and my family’s life by proxy) to ministry, I am eager to know where I will go to serve Christ. Granted, I am already doing His work in this great place, but for some reason the grass is always greener…

So what spurred all these thoughts/emotions? Well, I had another church call me about being a youth pastor a few days ago. I have had several now which is very flattering and if circumstances were different, I would entertain the thoughts more seriously. I have a desire to serve youth and encourage and enrich their lives with the truth of Christ, but in what capacity that will take is so unclear.

I know I am only 26. I know my life is in the hands of the same Creator who put amazing ministry in the lives of ordinary people (see the entire Old Testament and the 12 disciples). I know that I have a great wife and family who will trust in God and my discernment to determine where the next stop in ministry will be.

I just can’t handle the waiting.

I have so much I can do in my current ministry and I always hear positive feedback about how this place is changing and improving since I arrived less than a year ago. But I still feel like God has something more in the way of direct ministry than this. Maybe someday that door will open and I will actually hear God calling to encourage me it is time to take that next step.