Thirty Seven Years Strong: The Makings Of A Strong Marriage

“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.

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Camping Buddies

“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

Official Camping Buddies Initiation

Camp Letters, a T-Shirt, and a Lesson In Humility

“Oh, I’m so glad she liked them!  I’ve always sent little notes to the kids when they go to camp and I didn’t want Audrey to be left out.”

I overheard this statement from Brandon while I was washing dishes and instantly felt the frustration well up. You see, the girls were at church camp, along with Audrey, a little friend of theirs. Every year our girls go to camp, I make sure that both Brandon and I write notes that the girls open each day of camp. Because this was Audrey’s first time at an overnight camp and she didn’t really know the rest of the kids, I wanted to make sure she felt super comfortable with the whole experience. So I wrote her a couple of little notes as well, one for each day.

That conversation above? Brandon was talking to Audrey’s mother. And I just seethed inside. Yes, Brandon wrote a few of the notes, but it was because I organized it, and all he had to do was write on the paper I gave him.  And it was my idea to include Audrey this year. And when her mom called to thank us for loving on her daughter…this was his response?

I told myself this was stupid to get upset over. That is was petty and childish. But that didn’t stop me from washing the dishes a little bit louder. And subsequently get upset that I had to clean all the dishes up from dinner. Funny how a little bit of anger can bring out all kinds of irrational and crazy….

I decided to tell Brandon what was on my mind instead of just stewing over it. Typically, I’d insist that nothing is wrong when every aspect of my person seem to say different. I’m working on this…trying to be more direct and honest, even if it feels confrontational to me (eek!). He’s not a mind reader, and I really shouldn’t expect him to be.

So I told him that I felt like he took all the credit for something that was my project every year. I told him I didn’t need a raving review of my letter writing skills, just saying ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ would suffice. He understood, and told me that he was coming to thank me for all of my efforts, that Audrey’s mom really noticed appreciated it.

Then I felt even smaller, because while I appreciated his thankfulness, I wanted Audrey’s mom to know that it was me who did that part. But as it came out of my mouth, I realized how selfish it sounded. How much I was looking out for Kala and how much attention I could bring to her. I apologized for being petty and he promised to use ‘we’ more often in conversation, and we moved on. All was good again.

I was reminded of a component of my marriage that I had selfishly abandoned. When Brandon and I got married, we became one flesh. Which means to me that we have some right to one anothers’s accomplishments. We should lift each other up and acknowledge each other’s victories, but we are operating as a unit. And that’s how God designed it. He designed it so that my husband’s strengths compliment my weaknesses and vice versa. My organizational skills and attention to details and his personality that calmed down three girls anxious to be away from home paired together perfectly to create an experience for a sweet little friend who means a lot to our girls. A little girl that we are praying comes to know how much Jesus loves her. It took both of us.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps not record of wrongs.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)

I say I love my husband and my girls…and I say that I love people enough to point them to Jesus. But in that interaction, I was not kind, I boasted in myself, gave into my pride, and was very self-seeking. Having Christ-like love is hard! It is so against our nature to act this way. So how do we do it?

By bathing in the love that Christ has for us. Christ loved us in a perfect, self-sacrificing way. He loved us as evil sinners who spit in the face of all that He stands for. He chose to forgive those actions that showed total contempt for Him. He chose to love us as we are- warts and all.

If we’ve truly embraced this love that is extended to us, how can we not try our best to love like He’s asked us to? It’s the least we can do to show our gratitude.

Sometimes we can be pretty dense creatures. I understood that I’d had an attitude problem and needed to fix it. But God graciously put a few things into perspective for me, even after I’d repented.

We were eating lunch with the girls after camp, hearing all about ziplines, lakes, bunk beds, worship time, and the snack shack. Brandon asked them if they’d read the notes that we’d written them, joking about his chicken scratch handwriting. Someone at the table made a comment that note writing didn’t really seem to be Brandon’s thing, to which he quickly gave me the credit for it. Laughter continued, but I believe that God specifically allowed me to hear the small comment that came next, hidden underneath all the laughter.

You see, Ava is 11. Going on 25. So it’s kind of uncool to admit that something someone did for her touched her in anyway. Especially her stepmom. She has little tells that let me know she appreciated something…the little smile she tries to stifle when I get her food she likes or pick out clothes she would actually wear. Or a side hug…that’s something special. I knew I had arrived when she bought me a shirt at camp. That’s huge in Ava words!

As the laughter and chit chat continued around the table, I heard Ava mutter under her breath that she knew I was responsible for the notes, and that was the reason that she bought me a shirt…a shirt more expensive than the ones she bought for people way higher up her totem pole than me.

I was immediately humbled and put in my place. It didn’t matter who got the credit for the notes; they weren’t for me to gain step-mom points. They were for the Ava, Hallie, and Audrey.

The purpose was to show love and kindness to two girls that God placed in my life and charged me to love. And if Ava felt loved by the little messages, than that was enough. It didn’t matter if everyone else thought Santa Claus wrote them!  Ava knew that I cared about her. And hopefully Hallie and Audrey did too.

I pray that I can continue to fight the selfish desires in me, and imitate the love of God in the selfless, sacrificial way that He loved me. I pray that I can be looking out for the interest and value of other people, not myself. What better way to show a hurting world that there is hope.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)

Grace In Life’s Messes: Hope for Blended Families

I want to take a few minutes to talk about something that is pretty close to my heart. I hesitate though, because I don’t know the answers the majority of the time. Most of the things I write about, I haven’t perfected and probably don’t do well; but I at least know what I’m supposed to do, how I’m supposed to act. But when it comes to this, I don’t know. And if I’m really honest, the fear of failure here is another reason that I hesitate to start this dialogue.

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