What does camping have to do with my marriage?

By Dani Watkins

About a year ago, I was having coffee with a friend who was about to get married. She was sharing about the excitement of choosing the venue, the guests, the anticipation of the big day. Her words were filled with joy and excitement.

Then suddenly she stopped mid-sip, looked through the steam coming off her cup, and said, “I’m ready for the wedding, but what I’m not so sure I’m ready for is the marriage.”

Wait….what? Tell me more.

She started to unpack her thought. She told me that the wedding part is easy, it’s just planning for an event. Marriage is new and foreign. Something we’ve never done before. Plus, everyone keeps saying things like, “Marriage is hard. It’s so hard. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” Those words were freaking her out.

I sat there for a second, agreeing with the idea that marriage is hard. I’ve been married for 22 years, some of it blissful and some of it struggle. But how do I explain that it is both to someone who’s just stepping into this adventure, fresh and excited. So, I took a deep breath, and tried to share my perspective.

Hard has such a negative connotation. When we hear hard, it’s natural to jump to pain and suffering. And while there can be some of that in marriage, that’s not the only way to view the word hard. Hard can also mean a challenge, and challenge is good. That’s where growth comes from.

Think about hiking a tough trail to the top of a mountain. You’ve heard the overlook is going to be glorious so you are committed to getting there. But getting there is hard. You get out of breath, feel dizzy, or straight up need to rest for a bit. Hiking that trail requires a ton of effort, energy, and persistence. It’s not easy and you will probably want to quit ten times before you get to the top. But in the end, when you get to the top of that trail and the incredible view spills out before your eyes you think, wow, I just did that! Sure it was hard, sure you almost passed out and your legs are killing you. And it was totally worth it.

Let me let you in on a little secret that I shared with my pre-nup friend about marriage. Nothing worth doing is easy. Just like hiking that tough trail to the beautiful overlook. Let me repeat. It’s THAT important.

NOTHING WORTH DOING IS EASY.

Several years ago my husband, Judd, started getting into camping in the woods with his dudes. They’d take off on their motorcycles and spend a week at a time, living off the bikes in the wilderness. He loves it. He finds total freedom in it and he comes back a changed man. A better man (and a better husband). I think it is great for him and somewhere in my deep downs, if I’m honest, I wanted to experience just a taste of what he’d been experiencing in the woods. But I certainly never thought about myself camping.

Right before our 20th anniversary Judd came home and said, “Babe, guess where we’re going for our anniversary?” All I could think of was steel drums, umbrella drinks on a beach, and sunscreen. Needless to say, I was super excited. That excitement came to an abrupt halt when he followed up with “We’re going camping in forests of Colorado for a week!”

RECORD SCRATCH…[dream umbrella drink falls out of my hand and crashes to the floor]

Wait, you’re taking me into the woods?

“Yep!”

In a tent?

“Yep!”

With the bears and bugs? Yep! Followed by Judd stating confidently, ‘It’s going to be GREAT!’.

Now, camping for me had mostly involved an RV with electricity and air conditioning. He was talking about backwoods, no running water, eat out of a bag camping. I didn’t know if I could do it. (Actually, I was pretty certain I couldn’t) I didn’t think that I would last 2 days camping in the woods. But Judd was gentle with the idea, telling me that, if I needed a hotel on the second day, or the fifth, or even everyday, we would go grab one. He wanted to share this experience with me because he knew that the challenge of camping was something he loved and it had grown him. He wanted that for me too. Little did we realize it would grow “us”. I went, reluctantly, terrified that I wouldn’t last eight days in the woods.

I remember the first campsite we found. It was beautiful. In a stand of giant trees, just off a meadow we found a ring of rocks with the remnants of an old fire. There was a tiny babbling brook and even a bed of shaved cedar for us to pitch our tent on. How does that happen? Miles and miles from any civilization, tucked inside a random stand of trees on the side of a mountain. (God is so good!). I loved it.

Until the sun went down.

Then I got super antsy. I heard every little noise, absolutely sure that a bear was coming to eat us. I remember Judd finally looking at me asking if I thought I would ever be able to settle down. He was concerned I might not be able to make it through the night. At the time, I had no idea if I’d ever settle down. But I survived that night. I actually slept pretty great. And when we got up the next morning, I was braver than the night before. I thought, “Wow, I just did that!”

During our time in the woods, I learned more about who I am as a woman and who Judd is as a husband. I overcame things that I would have never thought possible. Like not having an actual shower for 8 days and using the restroom in the woods. Like setting up and breaking down a tent. Like sitting inside that tent, ten thousand feet up the side of a mountain, while a full blown thunderstorm crashed all around us. Judd loved me so well on that trip. Giving me grace when I was spooked. Explaining that, no that wasn’t bear poop. No, the jeep wasn’t going to slide off the cliff. No, we weren’t lost (we were totally lost, btw). Having a steaming cup of coffee ready for me when I rolled out of my warm sleeping bag into the cold mountain morning. Still offering me the chance to stop in a hotel if it became too much. His patience fed my bravery. Every day in the woods I faced a challenge and each morning I thought, wow, I just did that!

I also learned more about God in that space. Who He is as a creator. What He wants for me as a wife and us as a couple. One afternoon we explored Ophir Pass and I hiked out onto a rocky ledge. As I stood in awe of the incredible view, I heard God whisper in my ear, “Do you like that? I made that for you.” In that moment, I felt so special and so loved. God painted together so many different shades of greens, blues, browns to delight me. He made the tiny little rabbit creatures that were eating the tiny purple flowers on the mountainside, just to make me giggle.

Maybe around the third morning of no phone, no makeup, no mirror and no showers. I just looked around and was totally at peace. I felt love more deeply than I ever have before. Let me be clear, I didn’t feel “loved” more deeply. I felt LOVE more deeply. Love from the Father and love from my husband.

Turns out when you don’t have the distractions of the daily grind, when you aren’t painted with a mask of make up and titles, and when you are straight up exhausted, God has space and freedom to do some incredible things.

That trip out west wasn’t easy. In fact, it was really hard. But I would do it a hundred times over, because it was incredible. It taught me to embrace things that are challenging, because that is when amazing growth comes.

So, as we wrapped up coffee that day, I looked at my friend and told her that she was about to begin the biggest adventure of her life. I encouraged her to step into and embrace it, that she wouldn’t regret it.

Couples Camp is a way of giving you the chance to experience a piece of the challenge and freedom that we found in those mountains. Letting you push yourself out of your comfort zone. Embrace the challenge. Make space for God. Make space for each other.

Come, share the adventure.

Dani Watkins
Everyday Adventurer | Community Champion | Change Agent