A Faithful Friend
Although I didn’t need it, when I was invited by a neighbor-friend to go camping and stay in her RV, it was the first thing I put on my list to bring: my sleeping bag.
I had to bring it; I have taken it on every sleepover, every slumber party, every Girl Scout camping trip, every family road and camping trip, and every firehouse duty night.
Ordered from the Sears Wish Book in 1972, its red-bandana cotton print on the outside is still vivid; the blue flannel inside is faded and starting to show signs of wear. By today’s standards, it would be called a slumber bag, meaning it is not intended for outdoor use and is not waterproof, both of which I can validate as truth.
My parents gave me the sleeping bag when I joined the Girl Scouts, in preparation for my first big adventure: tent camping in the middle of a forest, in the great, wild outdoors. Well, at least that is what my 11-year old skittish-self, with an overactive imagination, visualized. In reality, our troop camped in a wooded area on a hill just beyond the military base housing. Each camping trip was an adventure. My fellow scouts and I had to lug the musty canvas tents from the storage area to our assigned tent sites, assemble the metal poles, drive stakes in the dirt and erect the tent. After a full day of hiking in the woods, making crafts, starting a campfire and preparing our own dinner, when the sunset we were sent down the narrow path to our respective tents. Of course, that was when the real fun began: unending giggles, girl talk, and telling scary stories. If I happened to be tenting with the mischievous girls, I’d tag along when they sneaked around in the dark, trying to scare fellow scouts by shaking their tent, making animal-noises and rustling in the brush. Screams equaled success and we’d hurry back to our own tent lest we get busted by the troop leader. If I was in the tent with the rules girls, we’d be the victims of the pranking. I was good until my tent mates fell asleep and I was left alone with my imagination. Knowing there was only a piece of canvas that separated me from lions, tigers and bears, I’d inch down in my sleeping bag until it covered my head. The warm flannel helped silence the spooky noises, provided protection and a hiding place from whatever lurked outside our tent.
I was a sheltered, only child until I was 11½. I thought sleepovers and slumber parties were fun…until it was bedtime. I didn’t do well in the dark in an unfamiliar place. While my parents never got a middle-of-the-night phone call to come get me, there were a few times I almost caved in to my fear. So when it was lights out and my friends quieted, I’d burrow deep in my sleeping bag, blanketed by the familiar scent of the soft flannel. Eventually, I succumbed to sleep.
When my parents bought a camper, I’d enjoy snuggling in my sleeping bag on the top bunk. On family road trips, I’d spread it out in the back of the station wagon, prop up on pillows, and watch the miles go by, daydreaming about grand adventures.
When company came to visit, or when we visited out-of-town family and friends, I had to sleep on the living room floor with the other kids. Nestled in my sleeping bag, I would pretend to be asleep and eavesdrop on early morning adult conversations. I can still hear the voices of my grandmother and aunts, who came to visit us in Hawaii, catching my mom up on all the goings-on back home.
I was 20 when I joined the volunteer fire department as an EMT. Instead of making up my bunk on duty nights, I just lugged along my faithful sleeping bag. It provided warmth in the cold, drafty bunk room. When I returned from a middle-of-the-night call, often anxious about what I had just experienced, as soon as I was sandwiched between the layers of flannel, I would find sweet solace.
When I started adulting, my sleeping bag got shoved under the guest room bed. Over the past four decades, it has only been used a handful of times; on a women’s cabin retreat in the mountains of Tennessee; as a coverup on unusually cold Florida winter nights; and once when I allowed my niece to use it when she stayed overnight. She didn’t get the same thrill of sleeping it in, which was just fine, because I am a bit possessive over it.
So when I was invited along on the camping trip, I took it along. After all, how could I go on camping without my faithful old friend?
Actually, we were not really camping, we were glamping in a nice motorhome with comfortable sleeping accommodations: a queen-size air mattress on the fold-out couch. As my friend made up the bed, she looked at me oddly when I unzipped my sleeping bag. I know she thought I was nuts…why did I need my sleeping bag when there were comfortable sheets, warm quilts, a space heater and the RV was heated?
I climbed in bed, and like I had always done, burrowed between the layers of flannel. Although I was tired and yawning, sleep was elusive. My mind was like a pinball, bouncing wildly from one thought to another.
At some point, a comfortable, familiar warmth encompassed me, quieting my thoughts. I awoke just before dawn and peeked out the blinds at the awakening sky, then retreated back in my warm cocoon. As I moved my feet against the soft flannel, my emotions stirred. I felt safe and protected. I was surrounded by a familiar warmth, cozy and comfortable. I felt loved.
And then I realized my old sleeping bag is a picture of God’s love:
He will protect me.
He will hide me in the secret place of His tent. (Psalm 27:5c).
He is familiar, having made a way for me to know Him fully.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
He surrounds me and He is with me wherever I go.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not be terrified nor dismayed,
for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)
He gives me sweet sleep.
When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. (Proverbs 3:24)
He covers me with His peace.
You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you. (Isaiah 26:3)
He encompasses my anxious heart.
When my anxious thoughts multiply within me,
Your comfort delights my soul. (Psalm 94:19)
And He is forever faithful.
Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps
His covenant and His faithfulness to a thousand generations for those who love Him
and keep His commandments. (Deuteronomy 7:9)
One day, my old sleeping bag will wear out, but the steadfast love of my Lord will never cease.
The Lord’s acts of mercy indeed do not end,
For His compassions do not fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.