Such Good Advice
My underpinnings had been kicked away. Unsteady and airborne, I felt as if I were a stone that had been thoughtlessly thrown; just some helpless pebble randomly selected to be skipped across an open lake; bobbling and gliding, then bobbling and gliding, powerlessly being carried along through the emptiness of space. Those refreshing moments of respite, those times of leveling out just long enough to touch down and skim along the surface of the glassy water, those moments were camping.
Alone and isolated, living with overwhelming responsibilities, I was lost. Thirty one years old, deeply depressed, grieving the loss of my husband, yet the mother of five young children. My oldest daughter was 8, my son had just turned 6 and the triplets were only 3 years old. Everybody seemed to have advice for me in those days. I think I received more opinions than the Gallup Poll, but none of it help. I secretly wanted God to lower the bar of expectation, giving me permission to numbly float along for the rest of my life. I felt I had the copyright on pain and wanted God to compensate me for that.
While God did speak to my heart, He didn’t seem to feel sorry for me. He said, “Get up!” - definitely not the response I was hoping for. I could not imagine ever getting back up. I didn’t know how. Where to begin? Quite simply, God prompted me with, “Go camping.” I did not see how camping could help anything. It was too hard, and felt too complicated. Besides, I didn’t know how to camp, I had no gear and I couldn’t possibly take 5 children camping all alone! Just to prove it could not be done, I took the kids and we went camping. From that sassy beginning, the momentum for a new life slowly began.
I was absolutely overwhelmed with the daily routine of caring for five children, let alone planning a trip that involved cooking outside and sleeping in a tent. With no strength to give it, I told the kids to get their swim suits, 3 changes of clothes, a pillow, a blanket and meet me at the car in 30 minutes. I tossed some food and simple cooking utensils in a box, shoved all our stuff into the trunk and drove away so unsettled I never expected to return home.
I was mentally exhausted and way too tired to plan ahead. Once we got into the car, I just drove north. The kids immediately began having a blast, which made me relax. It did not take long before I started feeling like this trip was a pretty good idea after all, certainly it was much more fun than just sitting around the house being miserable. I drove about 5 hours and we ended up on an isolated beach on the shore of Lake Michigan.
Now the kids were really excited. They ran and ran and played and splashed and laughed while I sat in the sand surveying the surroundings. Like a lighthouse, back and forth and back and forth, I scanned for any signs of danger and every kind of predator.
When it was dinner time, I had the kids scout around for firewood. I opened a can of beef stew and heated it in a pan over the open flame. I felt like the prehistoric Fred Flintstone, but the kids loved the do-life-outdoors experience. Still, the inevitable was fast approaching; it was getting dark! Soon, I would have to get the sleeping arrangements figured out.
Well, actually, there was nothing to figure out because I was so scared I refused to allow anyone out of the car. That first night, with the tranquil waves of Lake Michigan lapping against the sandy beach, the six of us slept sardine-style in the car. I scanned for danger off and on throughout the night.
The next morning, we unfolded ourselves and instantly five wide-eyed kids were ready for more adventure. I held open a box of cereal as they gladly grabbed out handfuls of breakfast. Not to be distracted, I continued my vigilant scanning. With a hoop and a holler, the stampede of happy feet were off and running again, racing down the beach, chasing birds and screaming as the cold waves shocked their senses. Two days into this adventure and we had not yet been mauled, eaten or murdered. I was surprised. My shoulders began to slacken a bit and my scanning was reduced to just periodic surveying.
Later in the day, we set up the tent – real close to the car just in case we needed to make a run for our lives. I dreaded nightfall, but the kids had flashlights and were anxious to explore. Later, we unzipped the roof of the tent, snuggled together under our covers, and watched the moon and the stars while telling stories and jokes. Each child vibrantly relived the day’s excitement. That truly was the happiest I had seen those kids in a year, what’s more is that they were so easy to please. It seemed my lack of organization and no gear was quickly over-shadowed by the 5-Star luxury of the planet Earth.
There on that beach, in that tent, our bellies again filled with campfire stew, grief was momentarily pushed aside by laughter. It was healing-laughter, laughter that comes from playing and exploring and risking impulsive adventures in the great open-air-arena of nature. With no psychological ceiling pressing down on us, we were, for that moment, a family immersed in simple, unconstrained living; exploring and singing and frolicking until utter exhaustion forced us to rest. The morning of the third day was breathtaking, crisp and cloudless, and we were still alive. It wasn’t until after lunch that I remembered to scan for danger.
By now I had to admit that God was good. No, that God was great! That He really did have us in the palm of His hand and being the Creator, He really did know how to thrill and heal and rebuild a family. It was there on that sandy Lake Michigan beach that I began calling us the Cheerful Chamberlains – a name I’ve never stopped using.
By the time we returned home, I was amazed at what I had accomplished. I actually felt proud of myself, and had gained some much needed confidence, but the best part was seeing how excited the kids were. That trip was not just a camping trip, it was a launch pad. It was the liftoff that transformed us into campers.
With a tent and a car, we were unstoppable. We began camping all the time. We camped all over the state, then we broadened out and went to other states and even into Canada. Every adventure was successful and, still being unable to plan ahead, every adventure was spontaneous. Camping became our family identity. It was something that was instantly fun, that we could always do and was always affordable. There was always some interesting place on God’s good earth where a single mother and her five young children could pitch a tent and just play outdoors. Camping is what the kids remember most about growing up and the legacy still holds as they now camp with their own families. I shudder to think how close I was to not chancing that first daring step of getting beyond my grief.
Twenty eight years later, two of my six grandchildren were with me when I had the privilege of revisiting our first campsite. Below is a picture taken at that reunion. I’m the little speck in the lower left-hand corner. I am thanking God that in His sight my family was never insignificant. Standing on that bluff, looking out over the water, I remembered back to those awful feelings of hopelessness, then I thought about the amazing journey we’ve had and all the accomplishments my family now owns.
Mostly, though, I realized that it was God who had confidence in His own advice for me and I barely trusted Him. With a car and a tent, we stepped out in faith and ended up with a fresh, new identity that sprang from doing life amidst the glory of creation... and that’s camping.