Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Yurts and Giant Hamburgers

I’ve said it before… I am terrible at keeping surprises.

So, two weeks ago, when Patience and I decided to book a night away for the family, I had to practically be muzzled to avoid telling the kids our plans. Thankfully my wife is much better at restraining her excitement, so we were able to pull off a total surprise getaway one week later.

We reserved one night away at Cloudland Canyon State Park, just over the state line in Georgia. The original idea was to camp, but there were no available sites, due to it being Independence Day weekend. While scrolling through the accommodations page online, I stumbled upon an available yurt rental. If you have no idea what a yurt is, just imagine a tent and a cabin fall in love and have a baby… that baby would be a yurt. These cylindrical canvas huts are the closest you will ever get to camping without actually camping. Patience and I had stayed in a yurt years ago, and really enjoyed it, so we were certain the kids would have a blast.

This is the yurt we stayed in.

As it turned out, camping would have been a wash, literally, because of all the rain that was coming down the day we were to leave on our surprise trip. I sat at work that morning fidgeting and watching the clock, like a kid on the last day of school, until I couldn’t take it any longer. I asked my boss if I could take a half-day and snuck home to surprise everyone, including Patience. The rain was dumping down on my windshield by the buckets full, but I only saw blue skies. Finally… we were going to tell the kids our secret.

This is a side note, but is worth sharing:

If you decide to take a half day off of work and do not tell your spouse, please be diligent in how you make your grand entrance. I quietly pulled my car around to the side of the house, crept up on the front porch, and knocked loudly on the door. I was expecting the kids to come running to see who was there, so I hid out of sight against the wall as to jump out and surprise them. Oddly enough, no child came to the door. So I knocked again; this time much harder. No response, except for the dog going crazy on the other side. I decided to slip into the front hallway. Once inside I heard feet shuffling up the stairs. When I round the corner I was met with an exasperated yelp and a hit on the shoulder. Apparently Patience had seen a person lurking beside the door through the peephole, and was frantically trying figure out what to do about the trespasser when I began to open up the door. 

“I honestly about had a heart attack!” she said through clenched teeth.

She held her chest and let out a long exhale.

Breaking and entering your own house unannounced… bad idea.

Lesson learned.

Anyways, after her heart rate returned to normal, Patience was happy to see me, and so were the kids. They played downstairs as we packed the back of the SUV ever so slyly. Once all the bedding, food, clothes, and toys were in the car, we announced to the children we were going to run some errands.

“Why would you take a half day off work to run errands with us?” my perceptive 10 year old asked with curiosity.

“Because I love you,” I responded with a grin.

She wasn’t buying it.

We ran to the car in the pouring rain and strapped our seat belts.

“Why is there blankets and pillows in the back?” JulieAnna asked.

“Because we are dropping them off at Goodwill while were out,” I answered off the cuff.

I could see her suspicious glare peering back in the rear view mirror.

“We’re going camping aren’t we?”

“In the pouring rain?” I asked, “I don’t think so.”

JulieAnna hesitated as she tried to piece together the clues, “You two are up to something.”

We just smiled and told them we were going to a store we had never been to before that was a little further away than normal.

The car returned to quiet as we drove through the rain down I-24. Both boys began to nod off, but JulieAnna was alert and watching out the window for answers. 

“What’s the name of this store?” she asked.

I paused to think. “Cloudland Canyon,” I replied. 

“I knew it!” she exclaimed as she sat up in her seat, “Cloudland Canyon is a campground!”

“We are not camping…I promise.”

I looked at Patience with a smirk. I was dying to spill the beans. She shook her head in disapproval, so I kept my mouth shut.

Minutes later we pulled into the Cloudland Canyon General Store where we would check into our yurt. At this point Sawyer was beginning to question.

“We drove all the way for this? What does this place have that the other stores don’t?” he asked.

“You’ll see,” I answered, as Patience and JulieAnna ran into the little brown cabin.

Moments later the two returned and JulieAnna was in hot pursuit of finding answers. 

“I know you guys are up to something.”

“I guess you’ll have to find out,” Patience responded.

After a few miles through the woods, we pulled in front of the yurt.

“We’re here,” I said, “This is where we’re staying tonight!”

The kids all began to scream and JulieAnna began her I told you so’s. After Sawyer finally stopped jumping in his seat he posed a legitimate question.

“What is it?”

We laughed and explained what a yurt was. Then we all ran out and into our home away from home for the night. The kids were bouncing off the canvas walls, as we unloaded a tote full of snacks, a cooler full of sugary drinks, and a bag full of board games. I soaked up the moment of glee, and for a minute felt like a kid again myself.

We had a few more surprises up our sleeves. 

The rain cleared out later that evening which allowed us to go to the nature center and walk around the overlook. 

The kids played on the playground and swung on the swings. For dinner we had called in an order a day in advanced at a little Mom and Pop’s restaurant called Randy’s in Trenton. The reason for the notice was because we ordered their infamous 48 oz cheeseburger. This monstrosity is served on an extra large pizza plate, and was enough to feed our family of five and still have leftovers! Sawyer made it clear that this was his favorite surprise of the day.

After staying up way past our bedtime, playing games and eating junk food, we all settled into our beds. Though Patience and I slept terrible because of the severe storms throughout the night, I found myself waking up the next morning at peace and deeply grateful for the special time together with my wife and children.

Lying in the bed, looking up at the rain pelting the skylight of the yurt, I began to think about God. I have heard my entire life people refer to God as a Heavenly Father, but I guess it wasn’t until I became a father myself that my perspective changed about him and how much he loves us.

Lately, it seems, my life has been on shaky ground. Ever since we brought home our son from Korea, seven months ago, so much has changed. Uncertainty has crept into my soul, and I have often found myself feeling quite lost and looking for answers. In a lot of ways I have felt like my daughter in the back of the car, questioning the driver on whether he knows where he’s going. I’ve tried to be optimistic. I’ve watched the road for all the clues, but there has been little sign of direction. To sum it up… things have been quiet and I have been frustratingly curious.

But as I lay on the futon in the yurt listening to the Georgia rain fall in the early hours of the morning, my heart overflowed with the realization of God’s love for me. I couldn’t help but imagine him as a father with a big surprise up his sleeve, just pacing the floor in excitement to let me know what it is. Maybe that's why I've been waiting. Because the best surprises are the ones worth waiting for; the ones you never see coming.

I’ve since decided to sit back in my seat and trust that God not only knows what he’s doing, but that he has something bigger for me than I could ever conjure up for myself. I'm not talking about a prosperity gospel, and I am sure not assuming God is going to send Publisher's Clearing House to my front door. I am referring to an anticipation that comes from trusting your Dad has your best interest in mind, and has the resources to give you a life you never expected: an adventure with Him.

Maybe things have been quiet for you too. Maybe you’ve been questioning the direction your life is heading. I invite you to hold out hope that God is doing something spectacular behind the scenes. That’s not to say that life is always sunshine and blue skies. No, most of the time life feels like one long road trip in the rain, seemingly leading to nowhere. But God is a good father, and when you least expect it, he is going to  surprise you with his love. It might not be a yurt or a giant hamburger, but I bet it will be pretty awesome.

Some other pictures of our time at Cloudland Canyon.

The friendliest opossum we've ever met

Jumping from the benches

Family Shot at the Overlook

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