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Sometimes God Sneaks Up on You

September 13, 2012

I am in the midst of my annual God-cation (solo retreat) in the Adirondack Mountains. At the moment, I am exhausted from climbing Algonquin Peak, the 2nd highest mountain of the High Peaks. But that is another story. Today, I thought I’d share a segment from my famous (not really) story posted several years ago, describing an “incident” while hiking. 

The trails in the Adirondacks are marked with colorful tin circles, about four inches in diameter, nailed to the trees every several dozen yards or so. The paths you are supposed to follow on any particular trail are usually clear-cut, but they can become iffy at times, especially when crossing thick patches of forest. But if you look up every now and then, sure enough, the friendly yellow circles will greet you at a forthcoming tree, saying, “Hello again, friend! Yes, you are on the right track! Continue this way towards more delights of the Adirondack forest!” I became very attached to these yellow markers on this hike, as they were a point of security, confirming that I was not veering off into a fortnight of survival skills in six million acres of the wild.

As my hike continued, it started raining and then gradually progressed from a sprinkle to a more committed precipitation. No problem, I told myself. A rainy day in the Adirondacks with God is better than a thousand elsewhere. I tried to focus on the glories of God’s natural woodlands, in an effort to distract myself from thinking about The Man Who Died From a Heart Attack While He was Hiking.

A beautiful stream was to my left, cut deep into a rocky gorge; with a series of cascading waterfalls marking it’s descent from one ledge to the next. I stopped to soak it in. Though, literally, now I was soaking, because the rain had advanced to a heavy downpour, demanding my full attention. I pulled out the bright orange poncho from my backpack, pulling the plastic hood over my head. I was now dry, but it felt like I was also participating in some kind of NASA echo chamber experiment – I heard a plastic reverb with every step, every breath, every pounding drip of rain. “Houston, we have a problem! I look like an idiot!”

I continue undeterred, persisting through the deluge. This is my time with God.

I started reciting to God a stream of phrases the Psalmist might use. “Thank you, Oh Lord, Praise you for your loving kindness and all your mercies. Bless your holy name, Oh my soul.” This was working. I concentrated more on my meditation. “Thank you for all your blessings, God you are magnificent, thank…you…umm…”

“Where did the trail go?”

I whipped my head in all directions, looking for a path. Nothing. Just a mirror of repeating generic forests on all sides. No trail. My heart started pounding. The adrenaline was pumping as my body geared up for a major fright event, even though I hadn’t really given myself enough time to confirm that I was lost.

Remain calm!” I admonished myself. “God is with me.”

But seriously. Dude. Where’s the trail?

Stay calm. I will not die out here. I will not die alone.”

Of course not.I will die together with God. He’ll be watching as I slowly wander in confused circles to a slow, protracted death on my Godcation. That must be His plan for me. Just accept it.

No, don’t be ridiculous. I can’t be that far off the trail.” I turned around and took a few steps from where I had been hiking, and searched frantically. No yellow markers. I walked a few steps to the left and scanned the forest. No yellow circles. I’m getting dizzy. It’s pouring. The visibility has become horrible. My boots and socks are soaked right through, making squishy sounds with every step, like they are filled with jello. Lord, please help me. I’m verging on a flat-out panic attack.

I should not have made fun of those people in the Incident Reports. Surely, this is my well-deserved punishment.

After a few more minutes of wandering, I stopped altogether, leaned against a tree, and prayed. Lord, I am losing it. This is crazy. Help me to find the trail. I listened to the torrential pattering of the rain against the hood of my poncho, like the incessant clicking of a dozen typewriters. My team of writers sealing my fate with a tragic ending.

I regrouped. On a hunch, I took a few steps to the North, in the one direction I hadn’t covered yet. Sure enough, there in the distance, I made out a little yellow marker on a tree. “Hello, friend!” it said, in a squeaky, rattled little voice. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, then ran up and hugged the tree.

I try to come off like I’m this confident, sophisticated and worldly professional. But when you drop me out in the middle of the wilderness on a rainy day with nothing but a backpack and a poncho, you can bet that within an hour or two the real truth comes out: I’m a basketcase of fear, insecurity and doubt. Which is to say, I’m so full of crap.

I had a sheepish feeling that perhaps this was God’s lesson for me today, as if He was sitting back in his chair with folded arms saying, “All right, Mister Smarty Pants, now that we’ve gotten that great truth out of the way, maybe we can try to get some real work done around here.”

It was time to turn around and head back to the car. I had enough of the rain and heart attacks and getting lost in the woods. The thought of a hearty dinner and fireplace waiting for me at the lodge became a much more appealing location to practice meditation. I trudged back along the trail, but instead of praying, this time I paid very close attention to those yellow trail markers. It was pouring, but there was a light kick in my step from the tremendous relief of finding the trail. I was lost, but now am found.

I thought about those yellow circles, how they reminded me of the consistency of God’s grace throughout the course of my life. All I know is, if we keep looking up, He’ll give us signs along the way. Maybe it comes as a word from a friend, or through a passage we read, or a coincidental circumstance. Somehow, if we’re paying attention, He gives us these little hints from time to time to let us know He’s got his eye on us, that we’re heading in the right direction. That things are going to be okay.

To read the full story, click here.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 13, 2012 8:18 pm

    I haven’t heard this famous story yet, Jim :). It’s a good one. But…I want to hear the other story too.

  2. September 14, 2012 12:25 pm

    Love the reflection and the fact that you are getting off the trails ! Even though you didn’t particularl y choose too

  3. September 15, 2012 8:23 pm

    I love this so much! Hiking reveals who we really are. Also, your failed attempts at prayer–I can so relate.

  4. pastordt permalink
    September 16, 2012 1:09 am

    I love, love, LOVE this so much. I can relate to all of it – except the hiking alone in the wilderness. Just thinking about doing that makes my heart beat too fast and the adrenaline surge. I love to look at pictures of such places, but I do not enjoy being isolated. At all. I’ve learned to crave solitude . . in my CAR at the BEACH with people not too far away. I don’t care what you call yourself, you’re a brave dude to go out there all alone. And yes, I can imagine God watching you with some soft smiling going on. But only as a tender parent wants their child to recognize their limitations and learn to ask for help when needed. This is great storytelling, Jim (I almost said ‘Brad!’-I’m getting there…) Thanks for it.

  5. September 16, 2012 7:30 pm

    I can so relate Jim and great story! Now Bob and I just need to get you to come and join us for a run on some local trails 🙂

  6. September 17, 2012 9:08 am

    This was a great one. I panic when my patience with God’s plan wears thin (as it has recently). This was a much needed reminder to stay the course.

  7. September 17, 2012 10:34 am

    I so love hiking. My son and I aim for places where it is okay to get lost. A 2000 acre park for instance. When we get lost we just keep walking until you find a fence, then follow it.

    Also, I’m thinking about your “vacation with God” idea. Do you think God would go with me to a nice resort in the Caribbean? I’ve always wanted to go there.

  8. November 21, 2012 1:24 pm

    How interesting. So, whatever happens to you, you think it is part of God’s plan? I thought that, once. Now I think, no matter what happens, God’s ultimate plan will not be thwarted. I don’t think everything that happens is part of His plan. He knows about it. He records it. I’m not sure it’s all what He would have intended if it weren’t for human free will. Can’t be. Too may bad things happen.

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