The smell of pine and earth and sticky sweet marshmallows roasting golden over an open fire. The scurry of lizards and God’s fury creatures, birds with brightly colored feathers calling to one another in chirps and song. Steep rocky peaks and lush meadow greens, winding waters babbling over smooth river stones. Crisp air deep to breathe. Space to move. New things to see.
This was the adventure we had planned. Ten days of open road taking our crew of boys to exciting wilderness locations—embracing the gift of family time away in God’s great creation.
Our hope was to start our expedition heading 1,000 miles north to Yellowstone National Park. But seeing that overnight temps were still dipping well below freezing in mid May and most of the campgrounds were closed till later in the season, we decided to relinquish our dream of elk and buffalo and hot springs for another time.
Surely it was best to take a less uncertain route.
Before we left on our Camping Extravaganza, as I was calling it, I asked a friend to pray that I would be lighthearted. A day into the trip another friend texted me and asked how she could pray—a flexible spirit, I said.
These weren’t my usual requests. More typically I would ask for protection prayers—you know, Lord, please don’t let anyone fall off a cliff or into the fire pit. Jesus, don’t let my kids pick up a poisonous snake or puke all over the van coming down the mountain.
I enjoy safety and sanitation. Stitches and vomit should be avoided at all costs. (Can I get a mama, amen?!)
I believe God not only has the power to answer our prayers, but the power to prompt them. He knew I would need a light heart and flexible spirit for this epic adventure with my husband and three young sons. He was preparing me before we even pulled out of the driveway, a day and several hours behind schedule, in our silver minivan packed to the gills with camping paraphernalia and, let me just be honest, a ton of unnecessary crap.
With Noah, Elias, and Jude squeezed in the backseat like booster-buckled sardines and our own small mountain of stuff, we headed off across the California dessert, through Vegas traffic, a corner of Arizona, and finally to our first destination: the beautiful red rocks of Zion, Utah.
Except we couldn’t see the breathtaking vistas and awe-inspiring stone formations. Because we arrived at 9 pm. Because we left late.
We spent our first night in a $200 hotel room. Everything cheaper was booked. The boys thought the tiny bottle of bright green mouthwash was the best thing ever.
At daybreak, Chris—faithful husband and superhero daddy—wrenched himself from the satiny hotel sheets (where little sleep was had because a certain middle son apparently grinds his teeth at a soul-piercing decibel) to drive into the Park and wait in line for a campsite. He made it to the tired attendant as the sun was lighting the mountains on morning fire, just before all the spots were filled. She handed him a card for site #77.
Chris retrieved the boys and I from the hotel and chauffeured us to our new outdoor residence. Number 77 was the worst site in the campground. Probably the worst in all of Zion. One dead tree stump. No shade. Sandwiched between busy entry and exit roads. A lovely view of several worn out trailers. Not the lush, spacious, private nature escape we envisioned.
Lighthearted. Flexible. Please, Jesus.
We ate stale bagels grabbed from the hotel buffet and set up camp. Now it was time to see the glory of Zion. The boys thrilled over riding in a tram for the first time, which took us through the Park’s inner ravine. Magnificent views of sheer faced cliffs painted in sandstone of every crimson, amber, and amethyst hue never ceased as we traveled ever higher.
By the time we reached the last stop, our intended hiking launch, we realized it was nearly noon, the trek back to camp would take at least two hours, and we had overlooked packing lunch or even a snack. We road the tram back down.
When we walked up to our site we noticed a small open gap in the tent flap. Slightly concerning. It was more concerning when we discovered that a barely undone zipper had given way to a naughty squirrel that weaseled into a food box with hot dog buns, granola bars, and the most delicious loaf of cinnamon swirl bread.
Nothing says bon appetit like plastic bags gnarled by varmint teeth.
Friends, are you getting the picture? From day one, this trip was not at all what we expected. In many ways it was a disaster. Yet, if you have been following our journey via Instagram or Facebook, my hunch is that you’d say it looked pretty picture perfect.
Both are true.
We could have let things like snoring kids, high winds, and a crappy campground ruin our time. We could have let sticking to a preconceived plan or rigid definition of a fun and successful vacation ruin us. But instead we chose to be lighthearted. Flexible. I know this was a gift from the Spirit because this is not my normal bent. (Structure and fulfilled expectations are dear friends I prefer keeping close.)
We ended up spending less than 48 hours in Zion’s glorious shadow. We didn’t head northeast to Bryce Canyon or northwest to the great Sequoias like we planned. We went home. Took showers. Got a decent night’s sleep in our own comfy beds. And ditched half the crud we didn’t need.
Being flexible lightened our load.
We spent the last three days of our trip just an hour and a half from home in our local San Bernardino Mountains. South Fork campground in Big Bear had the perfect spot. Its skyscraper evergreens, big boulders, and swift stream taught me that making memories isn’t hinged to a specific location. Growing in gratitude for God’s creation and love for one another isn’t tied to a certain set of circumstances.
It’s all connected to our perspective.
The boys had a blast. Building secret hideouts with fallen branches, shooting arrows like ninja spies, and playing catch with Daddy. Self-planned quests involving buckets of water, mud, rock jumping, and thorny bush weaving.
Imaginations soar in the fertile soil of temporary boredom and nature’s playground. All they really needed was a sling shot, 99 Cent Store toolbox, a patch of dirt, and freedom to explore.
We started our trip late and ended early, but we certainly weren’t shortchanged. We were rich in laughter and fireside snuggles, rich in learning to be patient, adaptable, and grateful. It wasn’t all yellow butterflies and rock-skipping wonder. Brothers still bickered and kids earned time-outs. Adults still used harsh tones and forgot to be humble.
Still there was a constant thread of grace woven in our overall lightheartedness and willingness to flex.
This wasn’t the epic Camping Extravaganza I had imagined.
But it was everything we needed it to be.
… A joy to link up with the beautiful communities of #TellHisStory, #CoffeeForYourHeart, and #FreshMarketFriday …