This is not the actual raccoon we saw, but at 3am, it was more or less what I saw in my mind. Except bigger. Like 3 feet bigger.

raccoon psychology

When you go camping, the first night is pretty exciting. All the comforts and amenities of home are stripped away as you try to return to some simpler state of being. As parents, there is the added pressure of pretending to be some sort of wilderness expert despite the fact that we usually end up fumbling our way through this process with a smile on our face to ease the nerves of onlooking children.

And so it was our first night at Devil’s Lake. We had setup camp and the kids had a snack of some fruit snacks and granola bars to keep them occupied. Our plan called for us to run into town for some final groceries and to eat one more supper with the common folk before we transitioned to our diet of things that can be prepared over a poorly regulated cookstove and a fire.

As we settled down to go to bed that night, everything was going great. The kids were having fun, Jamie and I hadn’t made total fools of ourselves, and so far no one had gotten hurt. Not bad for a half day away from home.

The kids surprisingly went to bed easily. We were all tired and were quickly asleep in our tent, all piled side-by-side. It was good. For most of the night.

“Honey, wake up.”

It was about 3 am.

“Wake up, there’s a raccoon outside the tent.”

Through the haze, I processed what Jamie said. This is roughly the exchange I had in my head for those 3 seconds, that seemed like an eternity.

Animal. Outside. No problem. Back to sleep…..

Wait. “Outside” doesn’t mean 2×4 construction and sheet rock. It means single-ply nylon between me and nature. And what about the kids? And Jamie? How exactly do you fight a raccoon? Do you “get big” or “play dead”? Both?

As I stirred myself and shook the cobwebs, I grabbed a flashlight and aimed it at the end of the tent where I heard the snarling and rustling. I saw a white garbage bag and a flash of teeth moving quickly around. It was at the other end of the tent, right next to Eli’s head who was sound asleep, unaware of the monster feeding next to him.

Like any good husband and dad does, I pulled myself off the hard ground, unzipped the dew soaked tent, and slowly shuffled my way in the dark to the far end of the tent. It’s funny how your mind can run wild with each step as you approach a wild animal. As I type this, I can see how irrational any concern about a raccoon is. In that moment though, that raccoon was a 6 foot long alligator covered in fur, wearing a leather jacket, wielding a switchblade. It was tough. And I was tired, cold, and caring a child’s flashlight as my only weapon. Seemed like a fair fight.

As I turned the corner to see where the raccoon was, I expected some epic confrontation. What I got instead was a torn up white garbage bag, the remains of some Cheez-It snack bags, and a sudden realization of how ridiculous this must look.

I slinked my way back to my sleeping bag and tried to calm my nerves. Eventually I went back to sleep. A few hours later, another raccoon visited, this time to Jamie’s end of the tent and found nothing but a way to have me woken up again. It ran away before I even saw it, but I’m convinced it was the raccoon’s way of getting one last shot in before he left for the night. But I was wrong. He wasn’t done with me yet.

The next night I walked up to the shower house to take out my contacts and brush my teeth. I realized I didn’t have my glasses, so I walked half-blind back to our campsite. I looked to the sky hoping to see the stars and the moon, but all I saw was a white blob on a black canvas. I could see blurry orange lights dotting the campground where smores and stories were still being exchanged.

I looked forward and was just across the street from our campsite, remembering the raccoon fiasco from the night before. Just then, the loudest slamming sound imaginable crashed to my left at the dumpsters. I spastically jumped two feet to the right as if the dumpster had tried to eat me. Was it the raccoon!?!

No. It wasn’t. It was my mind and blurry vision. Instead of a vicious animal, it was just a responsible camper putting their white garbage bag in the dumpster for the night to avoid the same fate we had the night before.

And that’s how the campground trains us to be more responsible with our garbage. No signs or warnings are needed. They don’t even have to pay someone to clean up the sites. We live in fear of the many-toothed consequence that awaits the litter bug.

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.

Leah Shovelhands

January.24.2008

While many are familiar with the popular Tim Burton film Edward Scissorhands, few are aware of the straight-to-dvd sequel, Leah Shovelhands. The story follows a young girl and her desire to shovel small amounts of snow from one bucket to another.

Sadly, in this pursuit of snow transfer, young Leah is unable to hold a shovel due to her multi-layer mittens. Thankfully, her McGyver-esque father had the brilliant idea of taping the shovels to her hands. A very happy girl ensued.

Okay, before you equate me to the lunatic who taped the Packer jersey to his son, this was not done out of some bizarre hatred towards my daughter. Rather, it was done because she asked me to and it seemed like a reasonable solution to an unusual problem.

Also, here is a picture of the stray cat, Chester, who has been living in our garage for the past week. Sadly, Chester turns out to be a girl which is the second animal I have incorrectly named based on their gender. Oh well. Either way, if you want a cat, let me know. This little guy…er…girl…can’t live in our garage forever.

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.

Too…much…snow.

January.22.2008

Thanks to a recent purchase of a thumbdrive usb camera (only $12 on amazon), I suddenly feel inspired to blog again. I never liked blogging when my photos were just something I found on the internet or worse, no photo at all. I’m hopeful with a camera always in my pocket I can capture the many interesting and in some cases bizarre moments on my daily life.

With that said, in the last few weeks we have just been buried in snow. It seems like every weekend I am out shoveling, snow blowing and plowing. At this point, it is getting hard to even find a place to put the snow. The photo below is while I was riding the snowplow down towards the office and dining hall, eating the blowing snow the whole time.

It’s certainly a bittersweet gift of snow though. I am always happy to see kids enjoying sledding thanks to the snow. I just wish there was a better way to remove it from the places we don’t want the snow.

At least I had a cute little girl to cheer me up when I went inside to warm up. I swear she just keeps getting cuter every day.

Familial Adjusting

December.14.2007

Closing in on one week with Micah in our lives sure went fast. He has actually been a really great kid and Leah, likewise, has adjusted considerably. There are still times that I can tell Leah wants nothing more than to be the undivided center of attention, but there are just as many times where she looks are her brother and simply becomes giddy with joy.

For me, I forgot how much I enjoyed just holding a little baby. Most days when Leah and Jamie are taking a nap, I have had Micah on my chest while I either watch some TV or play a videogame. It is probably the most relaxing feeling in the world.

At the same time, it isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. There are stressful moments when Leah is acting up or Micah decides to start squealing like pig that can quickly wear anyone’s patience. It’s these moments that I need to learn to stay calm during and remember that I need to be the voice of reason when the kids go off the deep end. I have seen many parents lose their cool when the kids act up and it just perpetuates or even increases the problem. I can’t let that happen.

Another unique change is how Leah has suddenly started to cling to me even harder than normal. She has always been very close with me but with the additional attention Jamie needs to pay to Micah for feeding, Leah is trying to comfort herself to the fact that even though Micah is here, mom and dad still love her.

It will be an interesting ride to parent two kids. I can’t believe how much the dynamic changes…

And Then There Were Four…

December.10.2007

It’s hard to believe it happened already, but here’s our new son Micah Joseph Coenen. It was pretty crazy how it happened. Let me explain.

On Friday, Jamie and I brought Leah to the doctor for Leah’s bout with eczema. After the appointment, we were on our way back home from the hospital (a 40 minute drive) and Jamie said she wasn’t feeling good. We figured it was just an upset stomach as Jamie is prone to car sickness.

When we got home, Jamie went and laid down and I fed Leah dinner and gave her a bath. Soon, Jamie was getting sick and complain of stomach cramps. We called a friend of ours who was going to act as a midwife for Jamie and she said we should probably go back to the hospital and bring along everything we need in case we need to deliver on the road. (Yeah, that part freaked me out a little.)

At the hospital, the checked Jamie and found her to be 4 cm and full effaced. For Tim and others who do not speak pregnant-ese, that means the baby is getting ready to be delivered. At this point Jamie is having contractions regularly and is getting sick quite a bit. She is pale and dehydrated.

I called a friend to come and take Leah to spare her the ugly side of childbirth. She brought Leah home and my mom eventually took over for her. It was comforting to know Leah was squared away during this process.

After two full saline bags via IV, Jamie was moving along. The doctor broke her water and suddenly the contractions doubled in intensity and duration. It was pretty rough. Jamie told me at one point this was our last kid and that if we had another, I would be delivering it. Like I said, it was pretty intense.

We opted for Jamie to get an epidural at this point because the pain was really intense and due to the dehydration, Jamie just didn’t have the energy to cope with the contractions. As the doctor administered the medication, Jamie was sitting up in bed and continued to labor.

Shortly after she laid back down, the doctor came in confused why Jamie was still in so much pain. He checked Jamie and found she was fully dilated and at a +2 (out of 5). In other words, it was time to push. 3 contractions later, Micah was out and in great shape. The total process took 4 hours compared to the 8 with Leah’s birth. Pretty amazing.

Now we are learning how to integrate this new member of the family into everything. So far Leah has been very good about loving her brother despite the attention his getting. I am eager for them both to grow up together and learn to be a family with us.

Here are some photos from the big day. It still feels like such a blur. Heck, this whole year feels like a blur, and these last few days are just a smudge in it.