I spend a lot of time outdoors teaching kids about hunting and fishing. I don’t always take them far and away to exotic lands and lakes; as a matter of fact, I never do that. Most of the times I teach them urban outdoor skills. All it really takes is a backyard, a creek, a ditch, a tree or just a patch of grass if that is all there is. But outdoors is the key.
A few years back we ended up with two boys staying over one night. Not uncommon at our house. Darius and Kyle are boys I have mentored for years. The third musketeer that day was Jon-Michael “JM”, our youngest. The plan was to let them hang out after church, and with no school on Monday they could go late. The plan morphed into a sleepover, then a campout in the backyard. This gave me another chance to kick in the ‘TJ Urban Outdoor Living’ program. These guys were living beings for the experiments, perfect.
After a grilled cheese lunch the plan was put into place. BB guns were handed out and loaded to capacity. If we were to ever cash in on the copper content of the BB’s we keep at our house, we would be rich. First the mandatory safety lesson and then they were off down the deer trail. The deer trail is a well-worn path along the electric substation nearby. The area is heavily wooded on both sides. No animals usually but cans and leaves, stuff to shoot at.
Hours were spent exploring and plinking. They ended up at what they call the sewers. This is an intersection of large concrete drainage ditches. They came back, swapping the guns for bikes and skateboards, then off again until sundown.
As it was getting dark, we cleared a spot under the tin shed where I use my grill and put up cots. We put some wood in the burn pit and sparked up a campfire. They grilled deer sausage on sticks and heated a can of beans for dinner. The rest of the timeline goes something like this.
10PM – I told them it was time to go to bed. The fire had burned down and I was beat, so they needed to be in bed.
11: 40PM – Checked on them through the back door window, they were sitting by the all-but-gone fire again, throwing small sticks in for short bursts of flames. “Go to bed,” was the cry from the back door.
12:30AM – “Get him!” was the warrior’s cry. Bang, clank, bang again…..”Here he comes, run!” They had seen an opossum and were chasing it around the yard throwing rocks and sticks and laughing hysterically. My wife awoke to hear me laughing out loud. She told me in no uncertain terms to go and quiet them down. I said “OK, in a minute”, and I let them have fun. She rolled over and went back to sleep knowing it was a lost cause.
1:15AM – “Bang, get him, pop, over there, run – there he goes!” Rocks were flying and hitting everything including the house and wood fence. OK, now I was going to have to tell them to go to bed. “Dad, there he is, get him!” my son yelled as I walked around the corner of the house. The opossum was hanging on the fence. I tailed him and took him out across the street and released him to the woods. “Go to bed or else,” was my hollow charge.
2AM – Checking out the back door again, I saw Darius up on a chair with a big stick in one hand and the flashlight in the other. JM and Kyle were asleep. He was scared of another opossum attack. I went out and sat next to his cot. He has come from a very tough and wounded place. Fear is a demon he lives with. I had him lay down and I made myself comfortable in the old cloth camp chair. I assured him it was OK, and it was only minutes before he fell asleep.
3:40AM – Checking again through the back door, they were up again sitting by the fire. Small flames flickering on their faces as I walked out to check on them. They asked what time it was. I told them it was a quarter to four and to get back into bed. “We thought it was almost time to get up.” They had no watch or TV, phone or radio to check the time. “Go to bed, I will get you up early.”
6:15AM – Sunrise. I drag myself into the kitchen and pour a cup of coffee, as our coffeepot begins brewing automatically at 5:30AM. I look out back and two of the three were up. I wander out and help them set up the Coleman stove. The one sleeping camper, Darius, had makeup on his face; that is what happens at this camp if you sleep in I guess.
They cooked a big breakfast outside, cleaned up and resumed the BB gun shooting and skateboarding all day. At 4PM the two visiting campers were sent home. Mine showered and crashed out. When I checked on him later that evening he woke for a moment and said, “Man, Dad, that was awesome,” and then fell back asleep.
Raising up boys can be hard. I drift between proud and confused, worried and dumbfounded. My childhood agreements with anger, lack of parental skills and thinking I am highly busy all work against my deep desire to be a great dad and mentor to the fatherless boys God puts in my life. But those things are not who I am in Christ; He has made me new. That means I can get up each day and push the reset button. I may have to say “I’m sorry”, clean up some mess I made in a relationship, or really work hard on one of the many revelations God brings forward.
This time with the boys was rich, and to this day I savor the memory. I may not always do it right, but this time, score. I built a memory for the boys, one that included me. I so desperately want to be that guy. I want to be the dad who listened and gave wise advice, who had time for these boys, my family and friends when they were in need. The one thing I have found that gets me close to that place, the one I so dearly long for, is when I am good with God. When I am spending time with Him in conversation or listening. I am at my best when I ask Him to come sit by me in the ‘ole cloth camp chair.