We’d gathered back at the WilderLodge after a full day of typical family life. Joshua stood outside to the right of the front steps taking a leak, making a large arc and clearly preparing for the snow he hoped would soon fall. After emptying our week’s plumbing activity into a 28-gallon portable tank, I climbed the three metal floating steps. Abigail greeted me inside by opening her pockets to celebrate the day’s bounty: two single-serve ketchups, three mustards, and a Chick-fil-A sauce. Cherie followed with the exuberant announcement of the discovery of another dumpster where we might be able to stash a bag or two of trash.
I took it all in, smiling from ear to ear, and realized it was clear: After five months of trailer life, we had become a family joyfully living on 15 amps.
“Sell everything but the kids.”
Dave Ramsey’s invitation came to us 18 years ago through Financial Peace University. It was returning to me now. Then it was hopeful sentimentality; today it was a preposterous reality.
On a Friday afternoon last spring, we walked out of the closing, having sold the only house our kids have ever known and given away most of the “stuff” we’d accumulated over 17 years of life together. If it didn’t fit in a 10-by-20 storage unit, it had to be JoyCycled out of our story into the lives of another. In this moment, we were the proud owners—by our culture’s standards—of very little stuff. Beyond the WilderLodge (our 32-foot travel trailer boasting a full 198 square feet of living area on wheels) and a pair of old vehicles, we were more disentangled from the world than we had ever been.
In the words of an elder from ages past, we had reached a joyful high water mark in our story:
“Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other.” Romans 13:8
We found ourselves being led one small step further into the consecrated life St. Francis alluded to:
“Wear the world as a loose garment, which touches us in a few places and there lightly.”
There we were. The four of us, allotted a duffel bag, a large bin, and a backpack apiece, embarking on a new Kingdom adventure.
Very little changed externally. Work, school, community, place, mission—all remained the same.
But what changed was simplifying. Simplifying our external to allow us more energy to consider some deeper matters of soul.
So we could slow down and listen.
Tuning in to Love’s energy as we transition from one season to another in the story of the life of our tribe.
Trading three-digit utility bills for 15-dollar propane refills and life on 15 amps.
Dinners by a single candle.
Flower arrangements gleaned from the wild nearby, displaying their bounty in a tin cup shot glass.
Living on top of each other, all up in each other’s business in the very best way.
Required to be thoughtful about many things we took for granted, like every bit of water and electricity we choose to use.
It started on a bike ride, at a nondescript traffic light. I put the question out to my buddies: “What would you do if you were in our situation, in an ‘in between’ of sorts, and were needing a reboot of the soul?”
JD responded, half joking, I think, and half serious. “I’d buy an RV and move into it.”
As the light turned green and we began to pedal, he added, “Your kids will never forget.”
That second comment seized me. The Spirit breathed confirmation into my heart in that moment. I was beckoned with an invitation that reason and rationality couldn’t shake. That evening, I brought the invitation home to my wife and kids. I expected Cherie to be practical, to graciously shut it down. Instead, she responded with a beam of light in her eyes. “Let’s do it!” Prayerful confirmation followed, and within weeks we were responding with curiousity to the invitation.
The research and dreaming ensued. Three weeks later, Joshua and I hooked up 6100 pounds of beastmode to our trailer hitch. In that moment, as the hitch reset under the load a good eight inches below where it had proudly stood only moments before, I realized that a GMC Yukon is in fact a car masquerading as a truck. Talk about junk in my trunk—our trunk was several courageous inches from the ground and looking like a plumber under the sink in an undersized T-shirt. We used every tool and trick in the book to re-rig it. I wish you could’ve beheld the scene. The specs are right: technically, my light-duty truck with a 5.3-liter V8 and a 3.43:1 gear ratio should be able to safely tow 6100 pounds. Technically, that may very well be true. But even after installing a trailer brake and a secondary transmission cooler, it was a pathetically entertaining sight for onlookers. We held fast in the slow lane of I-25, hazards on, watching a Subaru Brat, a ’78 Daihatsu pickup, and several minivans from the mid ’80s cruise by with ease. The saving grace was coming upon an old-school hippie RV creeping along without a care in the world. A guy leftover from Woodstock, with dreadlocks and one foot out the window, smoking something joyful, gave us a smile as we inched past. We gave him a shout out and conveniently positioned the WilderLodge in front of him to avoid getting smashed from behind. It was the first and only time the WilderLodge has ever passed another vehicle on the highway.
It was a risk. Not just the driving, but the whole endeavor. It still is. But the rewards are pouring in like spring rain.
To watch my kids hook up the 28-gallon portable sewage tank and empty it as part of our weekend ritual. To learn the whole of a system, to take ownership over our use of and impact on the earth.
To enjoy my six-foot teenager crawling up into a bunk bed to share a space smaller than a walk-in closet with his little sister.
To convince ourselves the kids don’t know when we’re making out a full 18 feet away, rockin’ those stabilizers.
To wake up in a grove of ancient Ponderosa pine trees every morning.
To say no to the world. And yes to adventure.
To let life be a little bit simpler and a lot more messy.
To be uncomfortable in every soul-satisfying way, where God has to show up and affirm He is in the center of this story or it simply won’t work.
To really listen in to His leading, His prompting, His invitation.
To take stock of the costs, the sacrifice—and still say yes.
To realize we really can do it.
And to know everything that really matters is portable. Turns out you can pack a whole lot of love into a tiny little camper.
It’s soul goodness.
And it is always available. Every moment of every day.
We are being chased after, the Scripture says. Yet more often than not, I’m moving too fast to provide Love the opportunity to catch me. I’m convinced more and more that His chasing after me is at a soul’s pace, not at the world’s pace.
Our Father wants life for us. Real life.
He wants the impossible to become possible in Him, through Him, and always in the context of us risking love. In the words of Gerald May,
Maturing in receiving Love.
Maturing in giving Love.
Maturing in drawing closer to the source of Love.
Onlookers of the WilderLodge might think we’ve become Catholics all over again. Liturgy is a regular part of our lives these days. But it is less about high holy days and more around the microwave and the hair dryer.
You see, both of these modern luxuries require 15 amps. And that’s all we’ve got these days. For perspective, find the electrical control panel for your home. Turn every breaker to “off” except one of the smallest on the panel—welcome to life in the WilderLodge.
Through this holy constraint, when Cherie turns on her hair dryer, the kids and I have no choice but to power down everything and sit and watch.
When the microwave fires up, that means all lights go off. And we sit and pause and watch the glow of our simple little life and a frozen burrito go round and round.
Last night I looked at my daughter in the glow of our single candle in an empty bottle of Crown Royal, decorated brilliantly by the flowing drips of five months of candle wax.
I thought of the tears Abigail had had at the first hint of discovering one day we might not be living in the WilderLodge any longer.
I sat back under the glow of the microwave’s light.
And my heart was full, so very full of God’s Kingdom.
I never thought my admiration would turn to Cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation and possibly one of the best movie quotes of all time:
“Merry Christmas! Shitter’s full.”
And yet, with glee, here I am.
Maybe comfort, convenience, and efficiency aren’t what they’re all cracked up to be.
Maybe Life is beckoning us in the least likely places.
Maybe it’s time to take a new risk.
To dare greatly.
Today we’re living on 15 amps.
Hoarding single-serve sauces.
Occasionally arcing it off the front steps.
And through God and His Kingdom in it, our hearts are being made a little more whole and a little more happy one day at a time.
Almost 18 years ago, we were led to offer this prayer from Sir Francis Drake, in the final page of our wedding program with friends and family.
Little did I know, nearly two decades later, that the words would become flesh and dwell among us, all in the context of the WilderLodge and this reminder:
Love never gives up.
Love never loses faith.
Love is always hopeful.
Love endures through every circumstance.
And Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13)
It was our prayer on our wedding day for friends near and far. And as we arise today in the WilderLodge and this risky and Love-saturated adventure, it is my prayer for you.
“Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little, when we arrive safely because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the waters of life, having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity, and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas, where storms will show your mastery, where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizon of our hopes, and to push us into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love. This we ask in the name of our Captain, who is Jesus Christ. ”
Strength and Honor,
Living on 15 Amps is dedicated to our friends, heroes, and adoptive parents, Ken and Kaye at Waage Woods, who graciously welcomed the WilderLodge and its four squatters onto their land and into the Deep Magic of the Ponderosa pine grove in Black Forest, Colorado. We are beyond grateful and pledge to bear fruit from the seeds of love you have sown into our lives.