I took my kids to Silver Sands State Park with my friends Kim, Vanessa, Deltra, and Tricia and all their kids. We four ladies all go to church together and attend the same small group through that church.
Note: For anyone who doesn't know what a small group is, it's a group of people who go to the same church, who usually share the same faith- hence the going to the same church- who live near each other, recognize their need for friendship, and agree to spend time together for the purpose of, hopefully, making lasting friendships with one another over time. We ladies weren't total strangers to each other when we started meeting together as a small group, but we really didn't know each other that well at the time our small group started a few years ago.
Anyway, back to Friday at the beach, we four ladies together have sixteen children! Here's a photo of almost all the kids before we headed home from the beach. Are we friends because we all have so many children? No. We are friends because of our faith. But I chuckle to myself when I see this photo because it is certainly no coincidence that the God we four ladies believe in is the same one infamous for the words, "Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth..." Clearly, this God has had an influence on our actions, no? Though we are four very different women, it is clear that God has influence what we value.
Friday- Dwayne took the day off and we spent the morning packing up our vehicles. Then we drove over to Kettletown State Park and settled into our campsite just in time to make dinner- Frito Chili Pie.
I told the kids they couldn't play their tablets until they were in their sleeping bags at night. So we did low-tech things for fun. We bounced a yellow bouncy on the road right next to our site- simple- but fun, actually. In this photo, Avril is walking back to our spot after retrieving the ball. That evening, we also rode our bikes around the camp circle over and over, jumped rope, drew with sidewalk chalk, and played jacks.
Dwayne built a fire, of course, and so we made Smores, of course. After dark, the girls and I all walked over to the bath house and showered off in the family-sized shower room. I put the girls to bed in the tent and then Dwayne and I sat up watching the fire a little longer before we crawled into our sleeping bags. I did not sleep well the first night for a variety of reasons including a late-night cup of coffee, a baby who kicks and takes up the whole air mattress, and neighbors who talked and laughed with regular voices/ regular laughs until 2am at least. I think I will write a blog post about camp etiquette sometime soon.
Saturday- We woke up in our tent anticipating a day with friends. One of the same friends from the beach photo above, The Kroemers, had arrived after dark the night before and had set up their tent across from ours. Another friend from the beach photo above, Vanessa, would be setting up at the site right next to ours with her kids, and other friends also from our small group, who weren't interested in camping, were still planning to come with their kids just to hang out and have dinner and Smores around the campfire that evening.
Before breakfast, I took my two oldest kids on a short hike. Before lunch, I went for another, longer hike with my oldest kids and my friend Deltra and two of her kids. Then, before dinner, Dwayne and I took all three of our kids on another, much, much longer hike. I carried our two year old in a hiking carrier on my back most of the time. It was brutal, but it made for an amazing workout.
I took the photo below when we stopped to rest on our longest, family hike on Saturday. You can tell my kids were already exhausted. Little did they know the hike wasn't even half over at that point.
We got back from our last, longest hike as our friends were arriving for dinner. We grilled burgers and hotdogs on our site and everyone contributed buns, drinks, or brought sides like baked beans and potato salad. We ate and talked and laughed at each other/ with each other while the kids played.
Dwayne and I don't have any family here in Connecticut, so over the last few years, our friends from church have become like our family. When I think about our small group from church, I think about this C. S. Lewis quote from his book The Four Loves-
“But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,' can truly say to every group of Christian friends 'You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another." The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others. They are no greater than the beauties of a thousand other men; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them. They are, like all beauties, derived from Him through the Friendship itself, so that it is His instrument for creating as well as for revealing. At this feast it is He who has spread the board and it is He who has chosen the guests. It is He, we may dare to hope, who sometimes does, and always should, preside. Let us not reckon without our Host.”
Throughout my years of knowing Jesus Christ and being involved in Christian churches, I have been blessed with so many deep, abiding friendships with people from church. I think this is one of the most basic, vital ways God blesses His people. Friendship is like unseen wealth God pours out on us. Looking back, I realized that I learned how to be a wife, mom, daughter, etc. by spending time with Christian people of all ages from church.
In the church, through the years, I have seen people of different ages, cultures, experiences, statuses, etc. come together and really enjoy one another regardless of differences. I am convinced that it is the Holy Spirit that makes this possible. When a person gives his or her life to Jesus, Scripture teaches (and Christians worldwide give testimony to the fact) that the Holy Spirit takes up residence in their hearts and lives and when the Holy Spirit is present with a group of people, He makes it possible for them to enjoy deep, abiding fellowship.
I have been in groups of people without this fellowship of the Holy Spirit and it is always remarkably different. Even in groups of people who I really love and enjoy and who share my greatest interests and passions in this world, the fellowship is never deeper than when I am with people, however different they may be, who are connected to me through the Holy Spirit.
I always marvel at this difference the Holy Spirit makes. Perhaps that is one of the reasons Jesus said, "It is better for you if I go away. Unless I go away, the Advocate (the Holy Spirit) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." I wonder if the earliest Christians, particularly those twelve disciples of Jesus who were so different and who fought about who was the greatest when he was with them, could tell the difference in their fellowship after Pentecost. I bet they did!
A few years ago, I really wanted to move to be closer to family or at the very least, travel to be with family more often. I asked God why He had us in Connecticut and why it did not seem like He was making it possible for me to travel as often as I could. For one reason or another, though we had the ability to travel, it never worked out, so I knew God was preventing it for a reason. Over and over again around that time, His Spirit said to me and showed me that He wanted me to, "Be a friend." It didn't make that much sense back then since we were just then beginning to make friends, but now, seeing what God has done over the past few years, it makes sense.
I believe God really cares about how we treat other people, particularly those people who we call friends. Even if we only have one friend, He cares about how we treat that one person. From that one friendship, He can and may likely give us more and more friends someday. I have not always known how to be a good friend and I am still learning how to be a better friend everyday, but I know that God is the best teacher, He values friendship, and He will help me live out friendship more and more. "Love your neighbor as yourself" is the second commandment, right next to "Love the Lord your God." Jesus said that we could actually fulfill all the laws of God if we could just somehow manage to love Him with our whole heart and love our friends as ourselves. Of course, we can't in our own power. But with the Holy Spirit, I see that He makes friendship, like all other good works, possible.
This is a photo of my friend Robin. She's an excellent wife and mom- capable, strong, smart, and very funny. I have learned so much from just talking to this lady as often as I get to see her. "As iron sharpens iron," women like this are making me a better woman.
I know I have gone off on a tangent about friendship, but this is the conversation I was having with God in the back of my mind as I enjoyed myself with my friends this weekend.
Anyway, after dinner, I took out my beloved parachute and took the kids (and some adults) through some parachute games.
By then, the fire was blazing because all the men had made Tim-the-Toolman noises as they worked on it together, so we made Smores again. With supervision, most of the kids made their own. The adults had Smores, too. And brownies. And some adults also had coffee percolated over the camp-stove. I didn't. I had learned my lesson the night before.
Here's a photo of my youngest eating a Smore. Notice the marshmallow sticking her chubby little hand to her even chubbier little leg. She was so filthy, sticky, and happy all weekend.
After everyone went home or to their own tents, we crawled into our sleeping bags for another night in the tent. I slept so hard that night in spite of our noisy neighbors. I think it was because of the hikes I had taken. I also put Adele in her own bed and stayed away from the coffee after dinner, like I said before, but mostly, I believe it was because of the hikes. Miles! Hills! Adele weighs over thirty pounds! It also rained on Saturday night/ Sunday morning. That was a beautiful experience. The sound of the rain on the tent helped me sleep even better.
Sunday morning- We woke up and had breakfast- hot coffee, scrambled eggs, and blueberries for me. I tried to eat fresh foods as often as possible.
Dwayne and the kids had cereal. I bought one of those "fun packs" of a variety of cereals in cute, little boxes. I know it's junk food, but the kids enjoyed picking out which cereal they would have each morning and we only do this kind of thing sporadically. Did you notice that my middle child is sharing her cereal with her baby sister? Loving your neighbor begins with loving your own little sister, after all.
Here's a photo of our friend Vanessa arriving back from a hike with her kids that morning.
After breakfast, we sat a little longer, sipped coffee, talked, and let the kids play. Then we packed up the vehicles and headed home.
Once in the house, we all had legitimate baths, checked for ticks, napped, enjoyed the air conditioning and the electronic screens we hadn't seen in several days/hours, etc. I did some unpacking, but I still have so much piled around me as I take the time to type this. Camping is a lot of work. It might be nice to own a camper someday, when we can save and pay cash for it. But since we had such a good time with friends this time, it was really worth all the trouble to tent camp.