Sun streamed through the tall pines and the children laughed with excitement as our car followed the winding narrow road through the forest. We were looking for a place to camp.
“How about that meadow?”
“Too much sun!”
“Let’s get closer to the stream.”
At last we found the “perfect” camping spot and pitched our rented tent in an area cleared for that purpose beneath towering green pine trees. I helped the children form a ring of rocks in the stream under an overhanging branch. In the circle we stored our milk, cantaloupe, and soft drinks.
That night, following our planned menu, we feasted on hot dogs and salad. Every item needed for this long-awaited camping trip had been budgeted after much discussion. Money was tight. I had recently left my full-time job to become a full-time homemaker, and we sorely missed my paycheck. Like many other parents, we had always felt it important to teach our five children how to use money wisely. Even our four-year-old knew she could get a whole bag of popsicles at the store for the price of only three from the ice cream man.
Though we had always stressed thrift and caring for what we had, it seemed especially important now. Cold cereal was a once-a-week luxury; powdered milk replaced jugs of fresh milk; movies and eating out became just a memory. We reminded Bobby how much his shoes cost every time he chased a soccer ball through the mud. Our oldest daughter babysat for her piano teacher in exchange for her lessons. Broken bowls, glasses of spilled milk, and torn pairs of pants were greeted with, “Do you know how much that cost?”
And so instead of spending our vacation in a favorite mountain cabin in a neighboring state, we decided to rent a tent and camp nearby. We explained to the children how much fuel we would save and billed the trip as an adventure in roughing it. The children were impressed when we picked up the tent at the rental agency and discovered we were the first family to use it. The agency had only had it two days.
The second morning of our vacation dawned dear and beautiful. We began the day with family prayer, and after a campfire breakfast of pancakes and eggs, we climbed the mountain behind our camp. We hiked until noon in a beautiful and seemingly forgotten little valley. But as we started back toward camp, we noticed that the day wasn’t so bright anymore. Great towering black clouds were creeping nearer from the west. Hurrying, we barely reached our tent before the first big drops splashed the dry dust around us.
We settled down to eat our lunch and read for as long as the storm might last. We cautioned the children against spills, reminding them we would have to pay extra if the tent became dirty or damaged.
We felt uneasy as the rain turned to hail and gusts of wind whipped through the campground. Seven-year-old Lezlie complained that she couldn’t read because her sleeping bag was messed up. Somehow she had managed to get her air mattress on top of her bag, so her daddy told her to come sit on his sleeping bag.
Lezlie moved to Boyd’s sleeping bag in the center of the tent, and our youngest daughter and I settled back to watch the hail dance like popcorn on the roof of the tent. Suddenly a loud crack thundered in our ears and the tent bent nearly double. Boyd and Lezlie grasped each other for support. Through the white canvas top I could see a big black shadow coming toward us. It hit with a tremendous jolt. Branches slashed through the canvas, with one, as big around as my arm, being driven like a stake through Lezlie’s pillow. One side of the tent disappeared under a great weight.
Panicking, we ran out into the rain. We were stunned at the sight of two eighty-foot pines lying across one corner of the tent. We had never known living evergreens to come down in a storm before and could only conclude that the loud crack that rocked the tent just before the trees fell must have been lightning.
Boyd and I immediately felt deeply grateful that none of us had been killed or injured. We hugged Lezlie to us as we realized that had the trees fallen a few seconds sooner she would have been crushed. We took the children back inside the tent out of the rain. They cried as they saw the broken branches, the mud, and debris scattered about.
“What will we do?” they wailed. “Will they take all our money ’cause the tent got ruined?”
“We don’t have enough money to pay for the tent, do we?”
“It wasn’t our fault.”
Still wrapped deep in awe that we had miraculously escaped that freak, violent accident without a scratch, we were shocked to hear our children react in financial terms. We had unconsciously dumped our financial problems on them, giving them a feeling of impoverishment rather than an appreciation for thrift.
Putting his arms around Lezlie and Mary Jo, Boyd motioned for us all to kneel. There in that broken tent with the rain seeping through, he poured out his heart in gratitude to our Heavenly Father for our safety. Fervently he thanked the Lord that our little daughter had been preserved from harm.
Realizing we had over-emphasized the importance of money, following our prayer we explained to the children that though we have to be careful about money, money isn’t as important as people. We would somehow find the money to pay for the tent. But if one of them had been killed, no amount of money could have brought him back, nor could it have wiped away the pain if one of them had been injured. We wanted them to know that they mattered more than money.
During a recent family home evening I reminded the children of our close call in the mountains, comparing the physical danger that day to the spiritual danger around them now. I told them that temptation can strike as quickly and unexpectedly as those two big trees. “For example, hitting a baseball through a neighbor’s window would bring an expense,” I said, “but running away to avoid paying for the damage would be much worse. Spiritual safety is more important than money.”
Boyd continued by reminding our teenage daughter that no matter where she might be, if her companions’ actions become spiritually threatening, she should leave them and call her dad to come and get her. Her spiritual safety takes precedence over his work, his Church assignments, and, certainly, over the price of gasoline.
We’re still trying to teach our children to shop wisely, to appreciate the work behind each dollar, and to make what we buy last, but we’ve changed our emphasis. We’re more tolerant of the little accidents and the forgetting children seem to do. Our children are beginning to learn that their personal and spiritual safety come first. They witnessed a miracle that day in the mountains, and it wasn’t measured in dollars and cents. We want them always to remember that.