The Tale of Ranger Randy

When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up? That is a question that came up in my Facebook stream this year. Perhaps you saw it too. If so, what was your response? 

I remember being asked the question in school when I was a Jr. High student. My answer then was: a Forest Ranger. I imagined myself in the neatly-pressed, green ranger uniform, patches on the sleeves, hat on my head, walkie-talkie on my belt, standing in a fire tower, looking out over the forest through giant binoculars. The picture in my mind is still as vivid today as it was then. I can see the tops of the trees all the way to the horizon, broken only by a river and some winding dirt access roads. There are birds in the air and other wildlife occasionally passing by on the ground, next to my Jeep. Yes, the forest ranger in my head drove a Jeep. 

The follow-up question on social media went something like: …and are you doing that thing today? 

If you know me now, you know that I am not a forest ranger. I am a pastor, serving as full-time hospice chaplain. Life takes us down many roads. Things change along the way and many of us end up doing something completely different than our childhood dreams. Ministry is my calling and I love the work I do, but there are still some elements of my childhood dream that are alive and well in my adult life. 

Sharon and I have been campers the entirety of our marriage. In our early days, we would take a tent to Cook Forest, Pymatuning, or some other western Pennsylvania location. Our outdoor adventures did not let up when our children came along. We would shoe-horn all of our equipment into the trunk of the car, load the kids and head out to a woodsy site. 

I may not be a ranger in the fire tower today, but we have climbed them. My uniform may not be that of the park employee, but my hiking gear does just as good a job at helping me feel connected to nature. I enjoy collecting sticks and starting a fire with my ferro rod. I enjoy a good meal, cooked over the campfire. Although we like the comforts of an RV, we are not beyond pitching a tent, and have on a few recent excursions. 

God created each of us to be a one-of-a-kind treasure, molded together with interests, talents and dreams that are uniquely you. Take time to enjoy the path he has established for you. In so-doing, you will find that life is full of joy and the embers of your childhood dreams are still glowing within. They may not look like you envisioned them when you were young, but they have a way of weaving throughout the building blocks of who you have become. 

My love for the outdoors converges with my faith as I ponder the origin of the trees; the feel of the ground under my feet; the crackle of the fire; the beauty of the vast night sky. Psalm 19:1 says it well: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. All of this natural beauty draws my attention toward God. 

So, getting back to the question; are you living your childhood dream? If you are, congratulations on the unwavering dedication to make your dreams come true. I suspect, however, that many of us diverged onto another path, somewhere along life’s journey. If that is the case, are there elements of your childhood dream still alive in your experience today? 

May you find joy as your childhood dream gets rekindled. Fan that spark into flame and see where it takes you. Perhaps we can share a campfire someday and reminisce about the journey. I’ll bring the hot dog sticks! 

Blessings, 

Pastor… or should I say… Ranger Randy 

©2021 thetravelingkites.com

A Higher Plan

Recently, I shared a post on Instagram in which I wrote: “Every once in a while, life throws us a speed bump. The key to successful navigation is to realize that there is still a road ahead on the other side. Press on! (Philippians 3:12-14).” Here is the beginning of the story behind that post.IMG_20180630_092142_090

Sharon and I had a week of vacation set in our calendars for quite some time. That week finally arrived at the end of work on April 27, 2018.

As we pondered what to do with the time, we decided to just head out – no reservations – in whatever direction felt right. We considered heading west toward Michigan, then as the weather continued to be cool up north, we decided to head south instead; perhaps toward the beaches of South Carolina.

Although we are campers, we decided to go the hotel route this time. However, camping is in our blood, so we were going to throw the tent and sleeping bags in the car, just in case the weather and location aligned for a few nights of sleeping on the ground.

As we were near the middle of our last work week before vacation, we received news that Sharon’s mother was heading to the local hospital. Over the next couple of days, it seemed that she had a touch of pneumonia and would be fine. I kept in conversation with Sharon about whether she thought we should stay home. She felt like things were going well enough that we could go. There are other family members that live close enough to stay connected to our loved one.

We were planning on heading out on Saturday morning. But then everything changed. The phone rang around midnight Friday night with the news that they were going to transport my mother-in-law to Pittsburgh by ambulance. She had a collapsed upper left lung. We knew then that we wouldn’t be heading south in the morning.

When we got up and around on Saturday, I called Bear Run Campground near Portersville, PA to see if they had a full-hook camp site available. It was still early enough in the season that finding what we wanted was no problem.

The reason for the campsite was that we are a 90-minute drive from the hospital at home, but only 35 minutes from the hospital at Bear Run Campground. Not knowing what was ahead, I booked the campsite for three nights; Saturday, Sunday and Monday with a Tuesday departure.

The next few days were spent at the hospital with nights at the campground. As Tuesday approached, it became evident that our stay needed to be extended, so I paid for two more nights.

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On my in-laws 63rd wedding anniversary, my father-in-law came to visit. As the day progressed, he ended up admitted to the same hospital and the next day, was put in the same room as my mother-in-law. The hospital staff told us that they were the talk of the hospital for having spent their anniversary together there.

There were a lot of family members visiting each day, so I took one day to stay back to camp while Sharon took her sister along to the hospital. On that day, I went for a hike at McConnel’s Mill State Park, which is not far from the campground. I stopped at the Pilot station close-by to fill the truck with gas and have lunch at the Subway inside. Back at camp, I took some time just to sit in my chair, under the canopy with my feet up. It was finally barefoot weather in western Pennsylvania!

The owners and staff at Bear Run Campground were very gracious and understanding to us during the week. When our new departure date came, we found the need to continue our stay. I was going to reserve for the three more nights that would take us through to a Sunday departure, but found that our site was booked for the weekend. Thankfully, the campground had other sites available and I reserved the three nights at a different site. But then the blessing happened. When we arrived back from the hospital our last night before having to pack up and move to another site, the campground staff told us they had called the folks who had our site reserved. They explained the situation to them and asked if they would be willing to take a different site so we could stay put. They agreed and we were thankful.

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Binx, the Camping Cat, came along

No one wants to experience a week of vacation spending every day in the hospital. But, we are family and that’s what family does. Sharon apologized to me at one point during the week, saying she was sorry that our vacation turned out like this. But I told her that this was important. We had talked many times through the last few years about what it might take to give our parents the best experience possible as they entered this phase of their life. I told her that as time moves forward, we will never look back and regret that we took this week to be with them.

God was working through the whole week. It was easy to see. First-off, consider that we didn’t have any reservations made for this vacation. We had planned to just head south and go as far, and in whatever direction felt right at the time. So, we didn’t have any backtracking to do to cancel arrangements, possibly losing deposits.

Consider that our week of vacation was this particular week. We could have chosen a week before or after, but no; we chose this week. God knew where the need was and directed our timing.

Consider the kindness of the campground to work with us as the week went on. They made our stay a stress-free part of the week; especially when they arranged for us to not have to move to a different campsite. God knew where to put us for this kindness to happen. We certainly felt genuine concern from the camp staff as they asked us daily how things were going.

Consider the fact that Sharon’s sister from Virginia needed a place to stay when she came to visit that week and we just happened to have room for a guest in our camper. God was at work for her as well.

There is far more to the story than I could ever tell here. But there were two things that stood out to me that week: 1). Family is so important and; 2). When going through tough times, God is very near. We just need to call on His name and trust His plan.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” – John 15:12

©2018 thetravelingkites.com

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