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The great outdoors! Nothing’s better than camping the old-fashioned way. You wake up in the middle of the night, look up at the stars twinkling merrily overhead, and think to yourself . . . shoot! What happened to my tent?

An old joke. But as you read this I’ll be out there somewhere in the dark—a chubby chunk of bear bait, Bob bobbing on some air mattress trying to keep my feet warm inside the faux shelter of a wafer-thin nylon shell. Not that travel trailers are any safer these days. I hear that grizzlies now equip themselves with can openers. Prefab plywood isn’t much of an obstacle to them, is it?

Margo and I started out camping in a borrowed tent (sorry for the footprints up the walls, you guys). Then we bought our own. Next we bought a small pop-up (or “tent-trailer” in the Canadian language). As our family expanded, we traded it for a bigger one and finally graduated up to a Volkswagen Westphalia.
Next our empty nest and a tender environmental conscience meant a smaller, fuel-efficient vehicle, bringing us full circle back to a tent. We’re actually fine with that, as long as it doesn’t rain much. Then all bets are off.

In good weather we count ourselves truly blessed. Many folks never get the chance to walk up a mountain or paddle a canoe in a teal-colored lake that hasn’t even been named yet. By the same token, of course, they don’t need to worry about catching Lyme disease from tick bites, blowing their hair off while lighting the camp stove, or waking up to the steady roar of rain pelting a campsite into soggy oblivion—precursor to a day of staring out of the car window and erasing old crossword puzzle entries so they can be solved again. Are we having fun yet?

Tenting definitely has its moments. Rewind a couple of decades to a soggy summer’s eve in an Ontario campsite where Margo and I do a “walkabout.” We notice one nice young couple who can’t get their fire started. Wood’s too damp. They finally throw in the towel, venting words that could make a raven blush.

At times like that I try to mind my own business, but for once decide to risk it. I amble over and ask if I might give it a whirl, seeing as we come from British Columbia where they call big stands of trees rain forests for a reason. Young dude shrugs his shoulders and waves me over to the grate where, by luck or Providence (probably the splash of white gas helped), we get things cooking.

Amazed, he asks me what I do for a living. I tell him I’m a preacher and ask him in turn. “I’m a fireman,” he says. It takes me a split-second too long to react, so he hastily adds, “I’m just good at putting ’em out.”

Bottom line: tenting is a ton of work. The rewards are real but few and the frustrations are legion. But when it’s worth it, it’s definitely worth it. Jesus knew that. That’s why even he “tented for a while among us” (John 1:14—from the Greek).

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