Gallery In the Mountains
"The Third Hiker"
Our trip began on Friday with an 11 hour drive to Hot Springs, North Carolina that normally takes only 8-9 hours. Roadwork caused the delay, which was no problem since our hike was not scheduled to begin until Saturday morning. We rested well, but woke up to an increasingly ominous weather forecast. Forecasters predicted rain in our mountain destinations on Sunday and the next three days. Thus, most of our hike would involve wet paths, wet clothes, wet camping sites, and most of all, wet people, namely, us.
Hiking in the rain is not impossible. We experienced 2 days of a constant downpour during our adventure in Georgia last May. We actually did fine, although we didn't adequately cover our backpacks. This led to wet everything, which made the aftermath of our hike the most challenging aspect of the soggy matter. Thanks to our dear friends Bryan and Peggy, with whom we stayed for several days after the hike, we were able to clean and dry our gear and ourselves. This led to looking back on our "wet hike" with a sense of gratitude and bemusement that we had walked more than 30 miles up and down mountains in the rain. Thank you, Lord, and way to go, Frances! And thanks, Bryan and Peggy!
That being said, it is one thing to unexpectedly encounter bad weather in the mountains. It is another to know it is coming, and march into it. Back in May, the weather reports had not been entirely accurate. "A chance of showers" became 2 days of downpour. This time, both reports and radar told us that we were likely to experience another wet hike. Neither of us relished that idea. However, neither of us could imagine cancelling our journey after months of planning and preparation. We have only two such opportunities each year, and the thought of missing this one really stung. We woke up on Saturday morning to the very real possibility that wisdom decreed a major change of plans. "A man's heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps" (Proverbs 16:9).
We were scheduled for a shuttle that would take us 35 miles from Hot Springs to an Appalachian Trail site where our hike would begin. Once on the trail, there would be no turning back, and very little communication in the mountains. To say that cell phone service in the highlands is "spotty" involves a major overstatement. Hikers are often pretty much cut off from contact with the outside world while making their way up and down rocky trails and through dense forests. Frances and I actually love this aspect of hiking. It's just the three of us (we never hike without the Lord, of course! :) ), and we greatly enjoy the only time in our lives when we are really just by ourselves. She's a great companion, He's a great companion, and the two of them are amazing trail guides! Me? I'm just along for the ride, as it were. Frances is the one who has most educated herself about hiking. I'm learning more, but she first began to have an interest after joining me on a regular walking program. In her usual manner, this led to much reading and research about mountain hiking that yet again confirms my assurance that she is the smartest person in the world. So, when we're out on the trails, I rely much on her knowledge and insight, and again, even more on the Third Hiker in our party. "So what do you think? Go or no go?" I asked the questions of Frances more than several times as we contemplated the almost certain scenario of another wet walk in the mountains.
She deferred to me. "You make the final decisions in this family, Buster!" She didn't actually say "Buster". But I knew what she meant. We both strongly believe in the family structure of authority prescribed by Scripture (Ephesians 5:23). Thus, having gleaned as much information from Frances, weather reports, and memories of our hike in May as possible, I deferred yet again. "Let's pray and ask the Lord for wisdom and guidance", I said. We did so, following the Scriptural mandate, "Commit thy way unto the Lord" (Psalm 37:5). Immediately after saying "Amen", a thought occurred to me that we had not before contemplated (notice I reference a "thought". Not a voice, or an impulse, or a sense of direct Divine communication. Just a thought that I had hadn't "thunk" before. Keep this in mind, as it constitutes the main point of this essay). I looked at Frances. "What about this, Sweetie?" (and I did say "Sweetie"). "The weather doesn't look bad for today. What if we change our plans, and do a hike from here in Hot Springs? We'll venture out half way up one of the mountain trails that surround the area, tent overnight, and then make our way back tomorrow before the rains set in. Then we'll adjust our plans for the rest of the week and see what happens."
We tossed the matter back and forth for a few moments, and realized the idea to be the best possible option. I made the decision, we cancelled our shuttle, had breakfast, and were shortly on the trail, making our way along a waterway known as the French Broad River (I don't know if that refers to a European lady, or to the width of the waterway!). Absolutely beautiful, and we experienced a day and night in the mountains we'll never forget. I'll address this more pointedly in essays to come. For now, however, I want to emphasize the process of prayer and subsequent analysis that led to a change of plans and my decision.
"Be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:24).
The Bible teaches that relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ leads not only to different thoughts, but to a different way of thinking. The presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit causes us to ponder life and reality in terms of Divine presence and involvement. He leads us to think differently and better as we trust and submit ourselves to Him. This especially relates to our decision making regarding God's will for our lives. How do we know what He wants us to do regarding the multitude of particular paths that constantly lie before us? How did we know whether to hike or not? Note this question - "To hike or not?" Then consider that this was not actually the inquiry we needed to ponder. Rather than go or no go, the matter rather involved when, where, and how long. We had not considered this option until we prayed. We did afterward, however, and I have no doubt that our Heavenly Father illuminated and energized our thinking processes because we committed this particular way to Him. No voice, either heard inwardly or outwardly, spoke to us. No impulse redirected our way. Nor did I exclaim to Frances, "The Lord has said to me…". Instead, we thought differently, more wisely, and better. We chose to "trust in the Lord with all thy heart, and lean not on thine own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5). The Lord then faithfully worked in our understanding to faithfully fulfill His promise, based on our acknowledgement of Him - "He shall direct thy paths" (Proverbs 3:6).
I share this with you because I believe this to be the Lord's fundamental way of guidance in our present earthly lives. Inward or outward voices, impulses, and supposed direct Divine communications comprise a risky business when seeking to know and walk in God's will. Were there no demonic influences in the world seeking to mislead, such means of direction might be less dangerous. Moreover, if our mental, emotional, and physical processes were already glorified, we might also have greater confidence in being directly guided by our Heavenly Father. Deceiving spirits do exist, however, and our humanity is far from perfected. Thus, we must rely on a far safer and more secure means of realizing the paths prescribed by the Lord. A mind illuminated by consistent exposure to the Bible, along with humble, prayerful seeking, and aided by the fellowship and counsel of committed believers leads to decision making based upon effective thinking rather than the vaguries of impulse, impression, notion, and "God told me". One day, such direct guidance and leadership will be possible. But this is not that day. "Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Ephesians 6:11-12).
Scripture promises the guidance of God. "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (Romans 8:14). I have never felt more directed by Him than on that morning when our plans seemed to crash upon the rocks rather than our feet traversing the rocks of the mountains. Frances and I enjoyed one of the best days of our life together. Our companion, the Third Hiker, receives all the honor and credit for such a blessed time and experience. He led us. Of that I have no doubt. And He did so in that manner we have come to expect, through renewed minds that trust not in themselves, but in their Maker and Illuminator. He leads us to think differently, to think better, and to make decisions in a way that most reveals His living, loving, and involved presence in our lives.
"To be spiritually minded is life and peace."
Weekly Memory Verse
Sanctify them through Thy truth. Thy Word is truth."