A couple of years back after one of our family adventures, I started a series of posts that I called "Better than X Box and Umbrella Drinks". It became a small seminar that Beth and I taught at our church about how to use adventure vacationing to teach your kids your values and bond them to you.
We were inspired to do so after I returned to church following one vacation and threw in some pictures from Yellowstone National Park in my sermon to enhance an illustration. A mom came up to Beth and said, "Your kids saw buffalo!? And to think that I took my kids to a hotel where they played video games and while I had umbrella drinks by the pool. Next year I am doing your kind of vacation."
This young mom had had the same "aha!" experience that I had one day, when in a small group, I asked a man with grown daughters some parenting advice. I noticed that his two daughters and their husbands loved being with him and his wife. That this family seemed to have an uncommon bond even as adults. I asked him what he had done when raising his kids that had led to these rare and so satisfying relationships with his now grown children. He answered with one word, "Camping." Then he explained, "When times were tough, we could take the camper down to the beach and make a fire and block out the world. When times were good, we could load up the camper and head down the road and keep our focus on what really matters. I think camping was the best thing we ever did."
That next summer when Brooks was six and Ali was two we took our first RV vacation to Yellowstone.
Of all the things we have learned as parents, our "adventure vacations" have been the most satisfying lessons. As another amazing two weeks "off the grid" (so to speak) hiking, fishing, seeing beautiful places and wild animals comes to an end, I can feel my soul being refreshed and the hearts of my wife and our kids being more closely knit together.
Our evening prayers are always filled with gratitude. The sense of wonder at the immensity of God's creation and the artistry of the Creator have flooded our senses. Bears, beluga whales, moose, caribou, bald eagles, rainbow trout, salmon, marmots, dall sheep, mountain goats. Thick forests, calving glaciers, cold rivers, bright sunshine, thrusting mountains, ranging valleys. Fishing, flying, boating, hiking, skiing, napping, reading, driving, singing, laughing. Eating pie.
As our kids enter the teen years we are more and more grateful for every minute we have with them. And the catalog of memories literally span the globe. We have been blessed with the resources (and have made a priority) traveling to beautiful semi-wild and somewhat wild places. But the distance traveled is not the issue, but the decision to unplug, unwind, and get outside into God's world together. When the kids were younger we RV'd to national parks. This time we rented a cabin with another family, we have found a few favorite places to which we are drawn to return and exploring may soon give way to a special spot. There is no right way to do these kinds of vacations, but the common themes are family, nature, adventure, laughter...and pie.
Recently, I talked to another older man about the sadness I feel that my kids are growing up so fast. Frankly, I have more adventures in my mind than summers left on the calendar before Brooks goes off to college. This man said to me, "Tod, if you do your job as parent well, you'll get twice as many years with your kids as adult friends. And that is when it is really fun."
So, with thanks to Scott McOwen and Jim Ritchie and all the others wise souls who have encouraged this pastor to unplug for his family's sake. And with gratitude to God the Great Creator who gives us this big beautiful world in which to "go outside and play", here are a few more pictures, a couple of book suggestions, and a gentle nudge to consider how some intentional decisions about vacations could be the most powerful investment in your kids lives and your family relationships for years to come. (Facebook friends can see the whole album over at my FB profile page.)