It was July 2000 and Barnabas had granted me a Sabbatical – 2 whole months off! I wanted to do something big. Something the whole family would remember.
At the time, our family numbered nine. We had four biological children and we had become foster parents to three boys (later adopted). The kids’ ages ranged from 2 1/2 – 17. We asked ourselves, “What would be a convenient way to make a memory for a family of nine?” How about a 24-day cross-country camping trip? Obvious!
I planned the trip and gathered the necessities. I ordered T-shirts with “The Big Family Trip” printed on them – three sets of nine: blue, red and purple. We had a 15 – passenger van, a used Coleman Pop-up camper, a laundry basket of Book on Tapes, 2 coolers full of snacks, eager kids and a full tank of gas. I was excited and eager to push into new territory – 2000 miles and the big country in front of us. Off we went on a bright July morning.
Before we crossed the county line, someone needed the bathroom. One round of the “daily” snack was gone within the first hour. A dispute arose over the seating arrangements. Yes, we were on our way. We made the first campground in Tennessee. This was before the days of internet beaming onto your smart phone while in the car. So we located sites as-we-went, using an Atlas and a 3-inch thick National Campground Directory.
I had assigned each child with a role in the set-up and take-down of the camper: Child #1: Unlock the latches all round. Child #2: Crank up the top. Child #3 & 4: pull the slide-outs. Child #5: pop in the braces, etc. By the end of the trip 24 days later – we could do it under five minutes, including the checkered tablecloth on the picnic table.
We saw natural wonders: Mt. Rushmore, The Badlands, The Tetons, Old Faithful. We saw significant historical sites: Lewis and Clark Trail, Laura Ingall Wilder’s Little house on the Prairie. We traversed vast stretches; Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming. We have pictures and a scrapbook to prove it.
But we have more than flat pictures. We have living stories – the experience of each other is etched in our collective memory. We saw wonders, but we were a wonder – 9 very different human beings piled into a shared experience. We saw historical sites, but we were making history: working-through-things-together and working-on-things-together. We saw vast stretches, but we were stretched out of ourselves and around each other – warts and all. We have told a lot of stories about that trip and all that we saw. But the stories recycled the most are about the rubs and bumps and the fun of each other:
“Remember when you threw up after eating too much?”
“We drove into that one campground during the big storm…when that youth group’s tents were all blowing down.”
“Remember the halters on the little guys because you were afraid they would fall into the hot pools?”
“I think we listened to every episode of The Adventures in Odyssey tapes.”
“I remember being embarrassed that we all were wearing the same T-shirt. I tried to hide mine.
“You snitched my snacks.” “Yeah I did.”
“Remember when the propane tank bounced off and jammed under the camper? We were going like 60 and dad turned white as a sheet.”
“We kept feeding that chipmunk and trying to rig up a camera to catch a close-up.”
We take snap-shots on vacations to capture the experience of an exotic place. We paste them into a book to remember. But family vacations are snap-shot experiences of what families are all the time: exotic natural history in the making. Wildly different individuals (who didn’t really choose one another) are thrown into a car, a cabin, or a tent. You walk God’s green earth together. You work the ground together. You multiply the strengths and weakness of each other. You fill the earth; singing silly songs, yelling over who goes first, asking for help, laughing at a joke.
Yes. Family vacations are snap-shots of what families are all the time: re-creation stories. You are making memories. God is re-making the world through you.
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. In addition to counseling individuals & couples, Roger teaches & leads discussion groups about applying the Bible to everyday life. He is a licensed professional counselor, holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana & earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from UNCC. He is married to Jean, and they have seven children.