Lessons from the Trail - Natalie McGehee
A few weeks ago in California, I went on an afternoon hike with a couple of young boys that I was watching for the week.
We drove up to the Etna Summit and stopped to admire the amazing view over the surrounding mountains. Then I drove a little further and turned on to a small dirt road that wound up, down and around the mountainside to the Taylor Lake trailhead. The road had so many rocks that I worried a bit about my little rental car making it to the lake in one piece!
We arrived at the trail head and took a short hike on a well-groomed trail to the lake. We watched for fish jumping and took turns skimming rocks across the water. The boys wanted to fly fish but the water was too shallow, so I suggested that we take the path around the lake to find a better place to fish.
The path was clearly visible from where we were standing and appeared to go around the lake. I did not anticipate any problems. However, before I knew it, one of the boys had wandered out of sight. I started calling his name. Silence answered. I tried not to panic because he had only been out of my sight for a few moments but after calling out several (actually, many) times, and having no answer, my heart started beating faster and faster with rising anxiety. Finally, we heard his light voice somewhere nearby. We couldn't tell if he was up the trail in front or back behind us. Panic started to creep in and stir me up. I went up the trail and then back down while calling him. Once I realized how foolish this was, I stood still in one place and called him to come to me. Finally, I saw his bright yellow shirt through the trees as he came down the trail. Panic subsided after a firm, loving talk about the importance of staying together while out in the wilderness.
About halfway around the lake, the clear path melted away into a wide open marsh area where the soil was grassy and damp.
It would have been a good place to fish except that the soil was too soggy to reach the shoreline, so we passed through the area expecting to find the path on the other side. As we approached the trees again, there was a small path that we chose, hoping it would widen and become clearer. Instead the way became more and more overgrown, dark and dense. At times, we had to climb over logs, around boulders and through dozens of small trees laying sideways. Our feet sunk in patches of mud and we had to retrace our steps back a few times to find a way forward.
We stopped several times to discuss if we should just turn back and return the way we had come, but there was always enough of a hint of a path that kept us going forward.
When my spirit faints within me, you know my way! Psalm 142:3 ESV
After trudging through underbrush, I suddenly realized that I was in an overgrown forest on a mountainside in the late afternoon without cell service or other people anywhere nearby. Panic started to rise like a little bubble again. Go back. Go forward. Go back or go forward? I was leading someone else's children where there was not a clear trail to follow. What was I doing? Gentle but urgent prayers were lifted, asking for the Lord to be with us, to guide us and keep us on the path. Under branches and scratched by vines, we kept going, following faint signs of a trail.
Bears. What if a bear found us? I asked the boys to sing. We needed to make more noise to keep any bears away. They only knew something called the "Peanut Butter and Jelly song"? I could only think of "She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain When She Comes" which I sang loudly. We all laughed and my panic lifted a little. What bear is going to come near me when I'm singing "she'll be driving six white horses when she comes. . . "?!
Throughout all of this, the boys followed me faithfully and without really showing any signs of worry. It was this middle aged grown up that was concerned about finding the trail.
And then we were on the path. I'm not even sure of the exact moment we found the trail again, but there was a definite trail under our feet, smooth and clearly marked back to the front of the lake.
On the drive home, I thought about our crazy afternoon adventure and my week in the mountains of California. I noticed how many different types of paths, roads and trails I had been on all that week. Lord, what are you trying to show me?
I was curious and started looking back through pictures and exploring scriptures asking Him to guide me and to help me understand more of what he was trying to teach me.
Some paths were rocky and uphill, but with beauty that just begged for slowing down and relishing God’s glorious creation. Would I allow God the time and space to refresh me and guide me along his way?
With weeping they shall come,
and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back,
I will make them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble, Jeremiah 31:9 ESV
The path to the farm where we went to do chores each morning was fenced in on both sides. There was no ambiguity or uncertainty in the way forward to the task at hand. Will I walk in obedience when you have laid out the path before me?
You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Psalm 139:5 ESV
Then the angel of the LORD went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. Numbers 22:26
Lush open pathways lay between the straight lines of apple trees ready for the harvest in the orchard. Father, will you show me how live a fruitful life pleasing to you? Will you help me see the good work you have called me to do?
So that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God. Colossians 1:10
A flat, groomed road trimmed with stones along the edges led to the main lodge. There were also ragged dirt paths that leading to the unknown. I could not see what lay ahead along the way and did not know where they would end. Do I trust the Lord to lead me on just the easy roads or also on the rugged path? Do I trust you, Lord Jesus, with the unknown and difficult as much as I trust with the easy and sure road?
Think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths. Proverbs 3:6 HCSV
You make known to me the path of life: in your presence there is fullness of joy . . Psalm 16:11 ESV
Here are some of my lessons from the trails and paths of California –
Don’t wander off on your own, but stay with the One who leads me.
Pray when the way forward gets rough, uncertain, fearful and confusing. Have faith that the Lord will hear and guide me out!!
Sometimes the path forward gets really lost in the trees and I need to trust the Lord to lead when things are unclear.
Unknown paths can lead to places of great beauty.
Stop and look at what God is revealing about Himself in the everyday world around me.
Fences that the Lord puts up along the way are for my protection and to keep me on his path.
Singing silly and laughing loudly will really help keep the bears away!
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Proverbs 4:26 ESV