Last night we came back from our family first camping trip since Olivia joined our family. We survived the overnight adventure, and we learned quite a few things during those 24-plus hours. Here are our list of ten dos and don’ts, based on our recent experience:
1. Don’t rely solely on your Japanese friends in picking a campsite. The places that were highly recommended to us we found out (fortunately before making our decision) that they are popular because they have amusement parks attached to the campsite. Not what we were looking for. One helpful neighbor friend recommended that we NOT go to Lake Biwa (where we went) because it was a long drive and their doctor had said that if children are in the car for 3 hours they will likely get a fever. (Our children survived just fine, no fevers. Phew). Here’s a map of where we went- you’ll see the lake near the middle to the right of Kyoto. Biwa is the largest lake in Japan…. We went to the northern part, and the water was absolutely pristine; the landscape beautiful.
2. Don’t forget your tent. Halfway there, we realized that it was still back in our shed. The good news was that the campground where we were staying rented tents. The bad news was that their version of a tent for 5-6 people was truly made for five very very little little Japanese people. Poor Molly didn’t get a wink of sleep as she got jostled from corner to corner in the midst of everyone trying to stretch out!
3. Don’t forget your stove. Yes. Upon arrival, we realized that we had forgotten that too. For having a very very full back-of-our-van, it was amazing the essentials that we didn’t have. Fortunately, the campground also rented us a burner. We probably could have stayed in a cheap motel for the price that our camping escapade became, but the salmon and corn on the cob wouldn’t have tasted nearly as good in a Motel 8 room.
4. Don’t trust your navigation system to get you home. After going about a half an hour on a small mountain road, we were able to stop at a little store and found out that our navigation system was taking us NORTH instead of SOUTH because it decided that we should really go home the longer, expensive way on all toll roads (that would have brought the camping trip costs up to that of a luxury hotel for a night). We weren’t in a hurry, so we turned around and went down back the mountain road.
5. Don’t waste a lot of energy when living in Japan looking for the ingredients for s’mores. No one in our family really liked them. Annie liked the marshmallows and chocolate right out of the bag; Owen loved putting the marshmallow on his stick, walking proudly over to the other side of the fire, and then eating the marshmallow OFF the stick. Go figure.
1. Take along a one-year old and a small dog if you want to get to know everyone within a one-mile radius of where you are camping.
2. Choose a location where your children will be happy campers because then you will be happy, too. Even without a ferris wheel, our kids had a great time. We were camping right on the lake, and so we could sit at our campsite and watch Owen and Annie having a blast for hours in the shallow water. It really WAS relaxing at times. I was amazed. And happy.
3. Take advantage of anything that will help you get extra sleep. When Olivia woke up at 5:30 am with the sun, we were ever-so-thankful for the small video machine in our van. I climbed into the car with her, put on a video, and at least was able to keep my eyes closed until Owen woke up 30 minutes later.
4. Continue to be surprised by the little things that can bring joy. Annie’s favorite part about camping was the little, green tree frog that allowed her to pet him and hold quite an extensive conversation with him.
5. Take advantage of darkness to allow God to speak. Even though it was a short time, God used this time in nature, and in darkness, to refresh our hearts. I have always loved a quote by Annie Dillard, who wrote:
You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require nor demand it.” (From“Teaching a Stone to Talk”)
After I spent some time in the tent getting Olivia to sleep, Eric took the two older kids into the tent to settle them down. I sat by the fire, and found it to be such a great time to pray. I prayed about a number of people who have been on my heart, and then about our recent huge prayer request to possibly move to another home in our same neighborhood. We would like to, but no home has opened up that would be suitable.
While I was praying, I was reasoning with God. (Thankfully I think God understands my need to reason!). I told the Lord that I would be really ok staying in our current home, and I would continue learning about contentment, if I knew that is what he wanted. But it would help to know if He really was going to provide a different home for our family, so I could emotionally prepare. So as I was praying, I asked the Lord if it was OK to ask for a sign. And in my mind i thought of a falling star- and asked God, if he would, to provide a falling star when I opened my eyes if he was going to provide a new home for us. If there was no falling star, I would know we should plan to stay where we are.
But then- I couldn’t open my eyes. I realized that I didn’t have faith that God really could answer. So I kept praying, asking God to give me faith that He could choose to show me a shooting star if He wanted to, or he could choose not to. Finally, I felt able to trust God either way. I opened my eyes.
I looked across the sky above me. I sat for a minute. And then I thought: “well, that was a silly sign to ask for! You can only see about five stars out here tonight…” And then it happened. A huge, glorious, beautiful star shot down from the very center of the sky. I could hardly breathe. I said “Oh. My. Gosh.” in a loud voice, making Eric in the tent wonder what had happened.
Eric came out a little later, and we talked about this. We talked about a lot of other things. I grilled a few more marshmallows in the fire. The whole time we sat there, not one other shooting star appeared.
Coincidence? Depends on who you ask. If you ask me, it was a most generous and gentle God responding with love to the petty prayer request of one of His own.
It’s good to get away and into the darkness sometimes.