These are the faces of a happy church planting family headed up to Forest Home for a week of family camp. The car is packed with everything we need for hikes, and play, and bible studies, and memories.  What you can't see is how weighed down the car is with pain, struggle, regret, expectations, and hopelessness.

 The week came at a time when it was everything we didn't know we needed.
As humans, as Americans, as Southern Californians, and especially as Christians, we bought into the lie that we couldn't easily share our struggles, be transparent with our desperation, that we couldn't admit how much we needed help.

 I was deeply depressed.  The feeling was not new to me.  It has been a frequent visitor in my life, it's grip was familiar, and I kept trying to keep it at bay.  We had been so stretched thin with a season of loss when our pastor left the church we had called home for over dozen years, with confusion as everything we knew there changed, with fear as God called us to the unknown waters of church planting.  Jason and I found ourselves at war with each other, when from the outside everything looked so beautiful and magical.  We fought through nap times, through the midnight hours, across from each other on a therapist's couch.

 The drought that has crippled California had nothing on the drought that was crippling our marriage, the desolation that was bleeding over into every aspect our lives.  Our parenting, our friendships, our relationship with God.

We arrived at camp hoping to receive some distraction from the pain, some fresh air in the staleness.  Some life in the desert. 

 For our kids to make new memories, new friends, have new experiences.  I truly didn't expect anything more.  The pain became a blanket that I had wrapped around my shivering shoulders, afraid to take off.

 Between meals, campfire chats, worship, hikes, bible studies, and chocolate chip shakes, God found a way to bring a glimmer of hope into our darkness.

The uninterrupted time of just being together, no access to the never ending list of needs at home, at church, the lack of distractions, let us be present and focused on this beautiful family that was right around us. 

 Between hikes, fireside chats, paddleboarding and face painting, there were desperate prayers, raw conversations, and healing.

Life is messy.  Life is painful.  Yet in that there is redemption.  There are sunsets.  There are sunrises.  There is healing.  There are Ninja Turtles.  There are promises that God is strong, and good, and there is nothing too broken for Him to fix.

 There are morning hikes.  Friends praying for you.  A creation so beautiful that it could only have been made by a brilliant creator.

 There are smiles.  There are tears.  There is coffee.  There are pancakes.

 There are CCA's who love your kids, bring backpacks full of games, make them laugh, and put them to bed.  All while you are having life changing deep, painful, raw conversations under a star filled sky.

There are camp counselors who shine the love of Jesus in such a way that your kids want to be just like them when they grow up. 

 There are cozy cabins, and a week of delicious meals prepped for you.  Even meals to please your picky and dramatic child who hates pretty much everything that isn't pizza, cereal, or croutons.

 There is a light filled chapel that I visited when I was a camper in high school.  God met me then.  He met me there again.  Alone, I cried out to Him.  For strength.  For hope.  For healing.  For Him to write the story of our marriage.  The story of our family.  To be the God of the impossible.  To make beauty out of the ashes.

I know He isn't done writing our story.  I did know that our story would be dramatically different after that week at family camp.   

Now when anyone asks why I love Forest Home so much, why I believe so deeply in family camp, it is because God used that week to save us from the self imposed wreckage of our life.  That there truly is something special that happens when you leave everything behind, make room for Him, and cry out for Him to change you.

In high school, and even in our years in youth ministry, we would buy into the myth of the "camp high", or "mountaintop experience".  That coming down the mountain your old life would come back, and what God did on the mountain wouldn't last.
I choose to no longer believe that.  God does not only work on the mountaintop.  His power is not affected by elevation.  His change is real.  We drove down that mountain different.  We are different on this day, one year later.  We have been changed forever.  We serve a God of miracles and we will never forget the miracles he performed during week 9 in 2015.

Today we are heading back up the mountain with just these two.  The big girls are on a train with their cousins and Nana bound for Oregon to make their own wonderful memories.  We leave expecting fun, growth, adventure, and the lasting promise that the work God has started has not yet been completed, and that He is the master craftsman that continues to build us into who He knows we can be.

For more information about Forest Home family camp click here.  Feel free to ask me any questions, and be prepared for my eyes to tear up a bit.  For a girl who doesn't cry in public, this is a big deal and proves how deep my feelings go when talking about the place that has changed my life more than once. 

Something else that makes me cry?  Watching the video from our week at camp.  So much goodness in each frame.

Summer Family Camp 2015 // August 9-14 from Forest Home on Vimeo.

The love for Bass Lake runs deep in my family. It is an enduring legacy that it has woven through the past 75 years, and once again we found ourselves on it shores, which thankfully have benefited from the substantial rainfall Northern California received this winter.
It was the perfect kickoff for a summer full of adventure, full of road trips, and full of exploring new and sweetly familiar places.   

We always day trip into Yosemite.  This year we hiked to Mirror Lake instead of making the drive to Glacier Point.  Because there was WATER!!!!
 Speaking of water, the Merced was flowing, and the rafting was safe but oh so fun.  Especially when this pink haired sunshine found herself caught on the wrong side shore, and rescued by another helpful family.  There is something so special about being in the outdoors, surrounded by the wonder and the beauty, everyone seems friendlier, and helpful. Life is better outdoors.
Fun fact, I have driven through the tunnel into the valley probably fifty times in my life.  Without fail, I cry every time.  EVERY TIME.  Lately we blast Phil Wickham with the windows down.  It is one of our favorite traditions.
Water!  Tucked behind those trees is Yosemite Falls.  With water!  In late June!
Our favorite secret swimming places at Bass Lake were also near water capacity.  It was glorious.
 We added a new facet to this year's trip, we decided (and by we, I masterminded the plan and somehow convinced Jason to add a day to the trip to go along with it.) to take the back route home through Tuolumne Meadows, and I wondered where it has been all my life.
I was ready to leave surburban life and spend the remainder of my days on the shores of Tenaya Lake.  There are no words to describe this clear, blue, wonder, surrounded by domes.  I want to come back armed with a hoodie and blankets at night and stargaze. 
 Then there is Tuolumne Meadows.  The elevation is high, the crowds are low.  There is beauty and wonder, and wildlife wherever you look.  I cannot believe I have never been there.  I cannot wait to come back.
 There is nobody I would rather road trip, hike, and adventure with.  I love that our kids love the Sierras as much as we do.  I love that they are a part of their story.
Lu is my yoga hero, and she is working on a little project for our friend Casey.  Her dancer pose is pretty much my life goal.

Another life goal of mine is to start shooting more video.  As much as love photos, there is something so specail about home movies.  Knowing that I have a professional level video camera in my pocket at all times gives me no excuse not to use it.  You will see our dear friends the Johnsons, who are family to us, and have gladly drank the Bass Lake and Yosemite koolaid with us.  All footage was shot with my iPhone 6s & GoPro and edited together as we drove home in the iMovie app.  Seriously.  Go shoot some video.  You will never regret it.  While you are at it, head to the Sierras.  I'll meet you there.