“Happy 37th Anniversary My Only One, Janet! 37 years is far too short a time to spend together, so we’ll just keep going for ‘always’!”
This sweet Facebook post showed up on my scrolling recently, bringing a smile to my heart. In a world where divorce is increasingly more common and life long marriages few and far between, it always gives me hope to see such public declarations of love. Especially after 37 years.
But this particular one is more special to me because Janet is my mother, and the author of the post is Ray- my father.
Summer. It’s the sound of freedom to students, as they look forward to pitching the books, jumping in the pool, and hanging with friends. To me, it’s just downright stressful. I don’t get a break from work, and all of the sudden schedules are all over the place.
I’m a routine based person, and all the changes summer bring throw me a curve ball- especially in our blended family situation. That ‘summer calendar meeting’ that we have with the girls’ mom stresses out my control loving heart so much. But I’m learning to stress less and enjoy the girls and all their adventures.
My husband and I have spent a LOT of time together lately….and we haven’t tried to kill each other! Which is quite impressive, considering we’ve spent our time together two very different ways.
Rewind almost two weeks, to Thursday afternoon, as I left work to go to my hair appointment. I had scheduled the appointment on that day because our five year anniversary was the next day, and I wanted to look snazzy! Since our anniversary falls so soon after Christmas, Brandon normally ends up doing a lot of the planning for it. I love him, and love celebrating our marriage; but my mind is kind of shot after the holidays.
As a kid, Christmas officially began on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Boxes and crates were dragged from the basement, and the red and green takeover began. It was great fun to embarrass my brother over his ‘pouty angel’ homemade ornament each year. And just maybe my mom would trust me enough to help with the invaluable nativity set that her mother painted. But I believe that my most favorite memories involved our Christmas tree each year.
You see, my parents were proud ‘real tree’ snobs. We picked out a fresh tree every year, looking down on those who pulled one out of a box each year. For a while, we would purchase one from the Kroger parking lot. But that was a little bit like tree roulette. You never really knew what that tree would look like when you cut the netting off from around it.
“There’s a group of us that planned on going camping this weekend, would you guys want to join us?” The question was posed to a sweet young couple with three little kids. The couple had never been camping, and they had none of the necessary equipment. But they were assured that all they needed to bring was a tent and some food…..everyone else would pitch in and help out with the rest. Not normally the spontaneous type, they debated, but decided that it sounded like fun. So they bought a tent, went to Kroger, and packed up the kids and headed out for the weekend.
This couple was my parents….almost 22 years ago. They never really planned on being a camping type of family, but the spontaneous invite from some church friends changed all of that in one weekend. You see, this group stayed together and became affectionately known as “The Camping Buddies”. Just this past weekend, I was able to take my family to the annual Memorial Day camping trip.
As I sat around the campfire in the unusually cold weather this past weekend, I couldn’t help but think about how uncommon a group like this was. We were a smattering of unrelated families, with all different backgrounds, who still planned to spend every Memorial Day weekend together. At one point, we all attended the same church in Lexington, KY, but those days were long gone.
Now, we all attend different churches and actually live in several different states. When the group was initiated, it consisted of some young couples with young children, lots of children. I was the oldest of these children, ranging from my age down to nine years younger than me.
Now, these kids are grown up, many married, and bringing back their own children. We consist of three different generations! The Patriarchs- those original couples who started the group. The Second Gens- the kids of the Patriarchs, those who have camped since they were kids. And the Grand Gen- the kids of the Second Gen that come back around with their parents.
And the more I thought about it, the more I realized what a good example of community this group is….real community the way that God wants us to be community. This group was formed out of the local church, all people who were chasing after the same thing. Knowing Jesus better. They decided that it was not just enough to see each other on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights, but that they wanted to live a little bit of life together. And they all enjoyed camping, so they started just doing this part of their life together.
As we all grew, evolved, moved, multiplied…..we discovered that we all aren’t the same. We have a mix of the political left and right. We have introverts and extroverts. We have extreme outdoorsy people and those who only tolerate a tent on this one weekend. It takes all kinds. It reminds me of the passage of Scripture in Romans 12 that talks about how the body requires all different parts to operate correctly. And it’s so true with our little Camping Buddies group!
We wouldn’t have steak night without Jon’s culinary genius. No, we don’t eat normal ‘camping food’. We eat fancy food….and a lot of it! It takes Jake’s mad fire making skills to keep us warm when the temperatures plummet unexpectedly over the weekend. Everyone anxiously awaits Mike’s pineapple upside down cake make over coals (yes, it’s possible). Conversation around the campfire wouldn’t be the same without Jennifer’s thought-provoking questions about the best way to dispose of a body. The culinary magic wouldn’t happen without all of Wyatt’s fancy wilderness cooking supplies. If Janet and Charlene didn’t take over the organization of it all, we would have a million desserts and no real food. I wouldn’t know how to fix my daughter’s Chacos without Andrew’s shoe expertise. My dad helped everyone load their stuff in from their cars and get their tents set up as they came in.
As I listened to conversations this past weekend, I heard parenting advice, cooking tips, recommendations on the best shoes for hiking, advice on school, new card game ideas, recipes, unknown musical artists….and the list goes on. We had a new person attend this year, and I heard those who live in Lexington make plans to have a game night with her, so she felt at home here in KY. After being reminded that a sweet young lady in our group was a teacher in the Frankfort area, we made plans, as a family, to connect with her.
My kids have some Second Gens that they look up to and look forward to seeing every year. It’s encouraging to me, as we make plans to meet up with them outside of this weekend, that my kids have godly role models outside of us. That they see young adults they wish to know better and emulate.
When my personal life was going south, when I couldn’t figure out what I needed to do with the mess I felt inside my own mind, it was someone in our Camping Buddies group that I reached out to who I knew would understand. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t talked to them since last Memorial Day, I knew they had my back. And I knew they could point me in the right direction. And because of them, I had an idea of what I needed to do to find a way out of the depression I was facing.
Every part is important! And everyone has something to contribute. It’s the same in the church, as we interact as family. Yes, this applies to our local churches, but even more to the universal church….all those who call on Jesus to save them. God has a purpose and use for each of us in His family. Even though we don’t see each other regularly, this family still means a lot to me.
So I’m forever thankful for this second family. This camping family. These Camping Buddies. They have forever made a mark on my life and the lives of my family. Without them, my life would be a lot different.
Wherever you may find this type of godly community, cherish it. Remember that God has placed certain people in your life for a reason, and vice versa. Lean into the roles that God has given you, and accept help from the ones that God has placed in your path on purpose. He did it for a reason. We were made to live life together, in community, so that we can glorify Him and know that we’re not alone.
And if you want to be initiated into the Camping Buddies Group, you just have to make the following pledges, as the four new inductees did this past weekend, and promise….. 1. Never to put wood with nails in it in the campfire. 2. Never lead with the Ace of spades in a game of Spades. 3. And learn how to make killer ‘brew’ over the campfire. Don’t worry….I’ll teach you the ropes