On Memorial Day the kids and I drove to the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge and hiked 4.2 miles around Catherine Creek. We drove far enough east that we hiked in high desert terrain. The almost constant winds and low precipitation make for a hostile environment for wildlife to survive. Signs on the nature trail told us that plants have to learn to adapt to the harsh conditions in order to thrive. They dig their roots deep. Pollinate when they can. Bend in the wind. And hold on tight for the few times each year when rain nourishes them. More on this later...
When my best friend Kelly asked me if we had fun on the hike I paused. Then answered, "I think so?"
A lot of parents ask me about hiking with kids. The two most common questions I get are: "Is it safe? And how do you get your kids to go hiking?"
The answer to the first question is, "It depends on the hike and on your kids. Do your research before heading out." The answer to the second question is, "I make them."
Typically when I tell the kids we're going on an adventure and it includes hiking, their first response is to groan, whine, or beg to go to a friend's house instead. But we live in paradise. It would be a tragedy to not take advantage of the rugged beauty and untamed wilderness that makes up so much of Oregon and Washington. So I tell them to grab their backpacks and their good attitudes and get in the car. They almost always have fun once we get there.
If Curt is out of town and I'm the sole parent facilitating the adventure, I often join the kids in the Crabmaster General army. It's a ton of work to pack enough food and water for an entire day, make sure kids have survival gear and proper foot attire, and fill the car with gas. Then I have to grab the hiking book and my camera, stock my backpack, and be ready to pull out of the driveway early enough in the morning that we can get the hike done and be back before bedtime.
We often spend the first five minutes in the car on the way to the hike revisiting all the ways we could have spoken kinder, used nicer tones of voice, been slower to get angry and quicker to listen. Then we apologize and pray that the Holy Spirit will help us refocus our attitudes and emotions in ways that are productive, kind and fun.
It would be easy to look at the photographs of stunning scenery and smiling kids and draw the conclusion that our kids never fight and that Curt and I don't blow it on a regular basis. But it simply isn't true. Just ask anyone who does life with us.
The truth is that on this particular hike the wildflowers that were supposed to be filling the meadows were done blooming. In their place was killer grass that sliced into our socks and shoes. The trail system was not marked well and we did quite a bit of backtracking and bushwhacking. One or two Stilp children laid down in the middle of the path and dramatically whined, "Are we done yet?" Katie lost her favorite water bottle. We all lost our tempers and had mini tantrums, except Paige who was angelic on this hike. (Thank you Paigey). Kids bickered and pushed each others buttons. We used the most disgusting outhouse of all time and got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic for an hour heading back into Portland. Momma got tired of choosing grace and switched to the side of justice, assigning two of the four Stilp children massive amounts of mandatory homework to do in the car on the way home.
One of my greatest battles in motherhood is not believing the Enemy's lies that I am a failure as a mom. "You screwed that up. Lost your temper. Raised your voice. Got impatient when you should have been loving. Gave a rebuke instead of hug. This whole day is a failure. All everyone did was fight and bicker. Your kids will never get along. Never like each other. Never like you. How will your children ever grow up without scars that YOU inflicted?" These lies are the reason I paused when Kelly asked me if we had fun.
But there's more to this story. The truth is also this. We laughed our heads off. Prayed together. Sang loudly and off key in the car. Played creative games while we hiked. All five us mingled in different little groups throughout the day, each of us enjoying spending alone time with each other. We picnicked on a bluff overlooking the gorge with Mt. Hood looming in the distance. Marveled at how the meadow grasses danced in the wind. Went out to eat - something we rarely do - and thoroughly enjoyed the worst hamburgers on the planet. The truth is we made incredible memories together on the Catherine Creek hike.
The truth is Jesus died to set me free. Because of the cross, sin and shame are powerless. Because of Jesus' great love and mercy, I don't have to be defined by my failures. My kids don't have to be defined by their failures. We are being made new each day.
So which truth do I dwell on?
I choose to throw away the rotten lies of the enemy, the tantrums, and lack of self control. I choose to make the good memories - the fun, the laughter, the greasy burgers and sunshine on our faces - be the memories I file in my mind. But it's not always easy.
The day after our hike I asked a small group of my older and wiser friends to help me process some of the scratch-your-head mothering moments where I just don't know what to do. Our conversation came back to prayer and how we could pray specifically for our kids. My very wise friend Di hears from God through words. She poetically said, "Pray that our kids will bend to Jesus' lordship and find relief in his love."
Di says I hear from God in pictures. Which brings me back to the beginning of this story. Remember the harsh desert conditions that force plants to adapt to survive? I had photographed a tree in the meadow where we picnicked. It was all bent over to adapt to the constant winds but clearly thriving.
After I photographed the tree, I asked my crew of Little People to go stand by the tree and pose for a photo. They didn't want to, but they love me enough to do it anyway. I'm going to frame this photo and caption it: "Jesus, May we be strong enough to bend to your lordship and find relief in your love."
|Jesus, may we bend to your lordship and find relief in your love.|
I learned a few things from our Catherine Creek outing. We won't stop in Cascade Locks again for greasy burgers and I will add more toilet paper to the backpack so we can avoid overflowing outhouses. But I also learned to pray that God will make me strong enough to bend to his lordship and find relief in his love.