This story begins in an unlikely place; on a bike riding a rough old Indian trail through the middle of the woods on a sweet summer evening in Virginia. My friend and I decided to challenge our grown-up bones and take a two-hour ride running up next to Difficult Run stream. It was an amazing ride, invigorating and challenging. We stopped for a short while on our path to catch our breath and reflect on the beauty around us.
“This is awesome…listen to the sounds of the woods,” my friend said.
“Wow,” I said. It feels like when I was a kid. This stream reminds me of where we use to go camping.”
“Where was it?” she asked
“We used to go to the Smokey Mountains down in North Georgia called Wildcat Creek.”
“Did you ever see any bears?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I giggled. “All the time. Those mountains had black bears all over them. They came into our camp a lot at night.”
“Were you ever scared?” she asked.
“No. It never occurred to me to be scared. My father was there.”
It was hours later when reviewing the events of the day in my mind that I realized just how much that statement meant. “My father was there.”
It occurred to me that those summer camping trips are a reflection of my life.
My earthly father prepared me for life with the wild things of nature. I learned to identify poisonous vipers and how to avoid them; how to dig and light a fire pit and extinguish it without getting burned. He taught me to fish from a mountain stream with a string and a single hook; how to gut a fish…and all about bears. I know how to pitch a tent, how to lie it on pine needles for comfort, how to secure food from predators. I even know how to cook pancakes over an open fire and make stew in a coffee can!
I can tell my direction from the location of the sun in the sky and I know how to remove ticks from a dog’s ear without leaving its’ head behind. I know how to load a gun safely and how to shoot straight and deadly when there is no other choice.
As I grew up, I learned other things from my father and my mother too. I learned that it is important to tell the truth, even when it will hurt you. I was taught to always ask myself, “What’s the right thing to do?” and then do it. It was ingrained in me that “family comes first” and that is not negotiable. I know that it is right and honorable to esteem your elders, no matter how old you get and to appreciate the sacrifice of others on behalf of the greater good. I learned the basic mores of decent, honest living – work hard, pay your dues, and don’t spend more than you make, treat people with respect and be thankful for what you have.
Those simple lessons were important and as a young woman helped me to face the wild things of life with more thought and preparedness. However, the lesson that was somehow lost to me was the lesson that would give me life.
My Father was there too. Let me explain.
I was born in the 1960s and lived my formative years in the 1970’s and early 80s. I was surrounded by very wild things in popular culture and society; many of which caught my notice and led me to some very bad decisions. Though I grew up knowing that God did exist – but from a distance – I justified my actions based on my “beliefs” of what was acceptable (or not). Truth and morality were relative and individualized to me.
If you asked me in my 20s if I would go to heaven if I suddenly died, I would have looked at you like you were nuts. “Of course, after all, I am a good person. I was raised a Christian!” I would exclaim.
What I didn’t know then is that indeed, I was not a “Christian,” the true meaning being “little Christ.” Like the girl raised up to be independent and sure among my father’s wild things of the woods, I was actually pretty self-possessed and independent from my heavenly Father. I had total control of my life and pursued my path on my terms. I might have had “head” knowledge of God (after all, I thought myself pretty intelligent), but it had little to do with my heart.
However, as God is wont to do, He wasn’t particularly pleased with my great brain or my independence from Him. He decided to use other wild things to get my attention and bring me to a place where I could not stand on my own two feet, but could only drop to my knees in front of Him.
How did He do this? I can look back over the mile markers of my life and see His hand, His mercy and his justice– He pruned me continuously. He saved me from being attacked or hurt when walking to my car alone and too late at night, yet he allowed me to be abused at the hand of a boy friend. He saved me from wrecking my car in a drunken stupor, yet he allowed me to suffer two false pregnancies. He saved me from destroying myself, but he allowed me to destroy relationships out of my own false righteousness and anger. He saved me from being financially destitute, but allowed me to lose a job that caused me to have too much pride in myself and my accomplishments.
As God promises though, he does not let any experience positive or negative go to waste. He causes all things to work for good according to his plan for those who love him….and he continued to do so. He kept calling, whispering in my ear, standing outside my door, knocking. Jesus is the ever-present gentleman, never forcing. Sometimes I didn’t listen – yet He never stopped calling, knowing that some day I would hear and do His will.
Eventually I did finally hear. God’s will broke me of “self” and then one day I chose to “die” to dependence on ME and replace it with interdependence on Jesus. I was reborn to a true faith and relationship in Jesus Christ. He still prunes me, but now it is to form me into a new creation. Now older and hopefully wiser, I can answer the death question of my 20’s with assuredness – I know I have real life, found in my Father God, His Son Jesus and His Holy Spirit.
Though I still know how to fish a mountain stream with a single line, I have finally learned how to handle the other wild things of this world, and it is to only do so through reliance and faith in God.
Matthew 7:7-8 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you: For every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened.