Over the last few years my business partner (who has since become one of my best friends) and I would occasionally take our kids camping. Each location was radically different from one another – which made every excursion an uncharted adventure. From winter camping high in the mountains to settling deep in a canyon, our kids have experienced various types and places. 

On one occasion I remember taking our kids to the west desert. The ground was barren and dry, almost post-apocalyptic. Aside from a highway far in the distance, almost completely out of view, there was nothing but the desert. Night was fast approaching as we started a campfire and noticed thunderstorms far in the horizon that almost completely surrounded us. The contrast in light and color was mesmerizing - with the clear sky above and the deep, shadow-filled blues in the distance. As the sun set Mitch and I sat in a chair and watched towering mountains of cloud explode with light. It was magical. I have photos of that trip and will post them some day.

On another occasion [as seen in this photo] we took our kids high into the Uinta mountain range. Clay (my friend) was also a scout leader and helped our boys fulfill some requirements for a merit badge. The trip was a triple-win.

There wasn't a cloud in sight and because we were far from city lights we could see far into the heavens at night. I loved camping with my little boys because it was just one more occasion to cuddle with all of them. Each time we went camping Mitch and I would whisper to each other as we gazed through the tent into the stars – and this trip was no exception. 

The next morning we cleaned up camp and packed our cars when Clay suggested we play a game. The objective of this game was to line the kids up and have one child whose back was turned to everyone. While his/her back is turned the kids run toward the person (in this photo Mitch is the one whose back is turned). If he/she turns and sees someone moving, that person goes back to where they started. It’s terribly fun. 

Each child took a turn and it was so rewarding to see them laugh and have fun together. When it was Mitchell’s turn I remember seeing this shy, quiet boy smile. I will never forget the look on his face. He belonged … and he loved it. This experience, this look on my son’s face has never been far from my mind and it has brought me so much happiness.

Belonging, when he felt so apart from everything, meant so much to my son. And because it meant so much to him, it meant just as much to me. To see Mitchie visibly happy, to feel like he belonged … my heart leapt for joy this day. And it leaps again today.

As a very young boy I remember hearing my parents tell me they were happiest when they saw me well and happy … when they saw me learn and grow. I often scratched my head in confusion – sometimes I wondered if they were on drugs. But I have come to learn my parents weren't crazy and the only drug they knew was love. 

Being a father has taught me where my greatest joys are found … and they aren't found on the internet or in a store or a flashy box or sitting in a showroom for all to see. Real joy comes from those invisible moments [like this moment captured on camera] and those investments in time and attention with my family. Short of my relationship with God, I have known no greater joy. While my heart cries out with sorrow, it also shouts with happiness.

When I consider myself, a deeply flawed, imperfect father who stumbles again and again … yet I can find so much joy in the happiness in my children … how much more might our Father, who is perfect in every way, find joy in us, His children? Could it be that His happiness, too, is in seeing his Children well and growing? Indeed. 

Suddenly, the great plan of happiness becomes a little clearer and a lot more personal.