My shoes are melting.
It's my own fault, though. I can't resist resting them on the metal fire ring as I lounge in my canvas chair, a poking stick near at hand.
My family is spending a few days camping downstate. After seemingly endless preparation (why does getting away from it all take sooo much work?), we were glad to find site 30E and start to make it our own.
The kids know the routine of setting up our little pop-up camper. Jonah shows off his eight-year-old muscles as he cranks up the roof. Emmalyn unzips the windows while Isaac puts the bed support poles in place. I take charge of the inside, unloading tubs of food and arranging bedding while my husband sets up camp chairs and moves firewood.
Everything has its place. The grilling supplies and dog food go under the bench, cups and plates in the middle cabinet, clothespins in the drawer, shoes on the mat outside. The kids usually wrangle over who gets to sleep where, but in the end everyone has a spot to call their own.
The options, once the camper is set up, are infinite. There are walks to be taken and playgrounds to conquer and a lazy river to explore by paddle. There is time to spend reading or playing cards or just sitting still.
Camping offers a gentle kind of quiet. Voices call in muted tones. The wheels of a child's bicycle crunch on gravel. Noises carry an earthy tone, softened by dirt and trees and fresh air.
Camping is pie irons and roasting sticks and checked table cloths and soft laughter and talk of Bigfoot.
It is listening to the tappety-tap of rain on the canvas above my head and knowing that there is nothing I have to do and nowhere I need to go.
It is rolling newspaper and collecting kindling. The thrill of success when the big logs finally catch. Finding the perfect position for your marshmallow. Melting the bottom of your shoes. Gazing at blackened logs and watching them twinkle like little cities.
Fond memories of my parents' voices murmuring by the fire after I had been sent to bed. Murmuring by the fire knowing the sound is a gift to my own sleepy children.
Falling asleep to the sound of my loved ones' breathing. Waking up before everyone else and stealing outside to poke the fire back to life.
Camping is a world apart. It is peace and stillness and permission to just be.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. Psalm 23:2-3
I love the imagery of God making King David lie down in the grass. Can't you just imagine it? The most powerful man in the land, a kingdom to rule, wars to oversee, taking time to hunker down in a dewy meadow for half an hour?
And yet, maybe watching the fluffy clouds for a few minutes was just what he needed.
There is much agitation in the soul that is responsible for its own happiness. How it must struggle to be good enough, to follow all the rules, to find justification for the mistakes of the past and the decisions of the present.
It is a great weight, the task of shaping yourself into all that you wish to be, periodically realizing with a thud that you will never succeed.
Ah, grace, beautiful grace then comes grace.
Grace is your Maker saying, Stop, little one. Stop for a while and see what I have done. Stop. Hush. Be still.
Grace is a gentle kind of quiet. It is not having to be good enough, because Someone has been good enough already. It is laying down the weight of do-it-yourselfness with a sigh and accepting the freedom of forgiveness. It is admitting that you have made mistakes, shrugging a little shrug and giving them to God.
Grace is a being set apart from the world. It is peace and stillness and permission to just be.
On days when I'm fed up with who and what I am turning out to be, I am going to take my soul camping. I want to lie down in the sunny pasture of God's grace, barefoot and breathing softly,with all the permission in the world to be nobody but the person He made. I want to gaze into baptismal waters, reminded of the washing that has made me wholly clean and wholly His.
Our Savior stands with hand extended. Come to me, all you who are burdened. I will give you rest. I will restore your soul.
Let's go camping.
Julie Riddle is the mother of three boisterous children and the wife of Pastor J. Derek Riddle of Peace Lutheran Church in Rogers City.