We celebrated Luke’s ninth birthday last week; his big birthday wish was to go camping. Tim and I have camped in the past, long before we met each other. But we’ve never gone camping together as a family. When we moved back to Arizona four years ago, learning how to camp was on our bucket list. But, after losing Justin, our family went into survival mode, and that bucket list went on the backburner. The more we thought about Luke’s request, the better his idea seemed to us. We needed a change a scenery.
After much preparation, we headed out on the open road, late Friday morning. Our destination was a State Park on the border of Arizona and New Mexico. Google said it would take 3.5 hours to get there; it took us much longer. It was a long, slow ride through mountain roads with hairpin turns of which I am not a fan. And then, as we were entering another canyon out in the middle of nowhere, our check engine light came on. After finding a safe place to pull over, Tim got out, popped the hood, and couldn’t find any glaring issues. Once back on the road, we eased down the mountain terrain until we reached the next city, which was about 60 miles away. In the meantime, we prayed for safety, and I tried in vain to get a signal on my cellphone just in case we needed to find alternative lodging.
We made it without incident to the auto supply store. The kind gentlemen ran the code on our truck and determined that something was clogged in our airflow system. (I am sure there a better technical term for this, but this is the best explanation I’ve got.) Somehow, the problem corrected itself, and the check engine light magically disappeared; we were back in business. An hour later, we rolled into the State Park and found our campsite. The lake immediately magnetized the boys; they couldn’t wait to skip rocks and see frogs.
Everyone pitched in to set up camp, and before I knew it, it was dinner time. We went with easy and had hot dogs and beans. Afterward, the family roasted marshmallows and ate smores; I even brought my 90% dark chocolate so I wouldn’t feel left out. Chilled by the cool breeze coming off of the lake, we huddled around the campfire with the smell of burning mesquite wood filling the air. The stress of the day melted away as we gazed at the stars and marveled at God’s handiwork. The boys headed to bed first. I smiled as I listened to their giggles and watched their shadows dance against the red nylon tent.
In truth, the preparation leading up to our outing was a good deal of work. Adding to that, all week long, I felt like I was walking upstream. The night before we left, the night of Luke’s birthday, I stood in our kitchen, enfolded in Tim and Sarah’s arms, and wept. Justin’s absence is especially magnified on special days of celebration. Justin loved camping and being out in the wilderness. I know that he would have been all over this trip, hyping up the boys, and making us all a little crazy every step of the way.
In the end, I am so glad that we went on our adventure. We learned a lot for first-timers, and have a better idea of what to expect for the next time. Mostly, I am grateful that we bonded as a family; we came home a little closer and a little lighter. In my book, that’s a win.
Stepping out and doing something new amid grief will never be easy, but in doing so, the Lord meets me with His healing balm and provides His touch of comfort. Even in the littlest of things, He cares.
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3