Sunday, November 27, 2011

What the Blazes? Reflections on My TAG, part 2

So there I was, hiking the Paisley Woods Bicycle Trail, which had ceased to be a broad, friendly road and had become a (potentially) snake-infested, elusive, uphill-through-tick-country line in the grass. Here's that photo again in case you've forgotten:

Also, it was noon on a fairly warm November day, and I had brought only one pint of water. Why? I don't know. Apparently I'd left my brain back at camp along with the rest of the gallon I should have been packing. But (as previously mentioned) I had sprayed on some insect repellent, and I was wearing long jeans, socks, sneakers, and a hat. Why? I don't like ticks. Not only was this trail starting to look like it was harboring Eastern Diamondbacks and Pygmies, but it also looked like I was going to have to spend the next few days doing regular tick-checks. There is something about waist-high grass . . .  Some people complain that God owes them an explanation for mosquitoes. Me, I'll take mosquitoes over ticks any day of the week. I do not believe there is a single creature on the planet as disgusting as a tick. Suffice it to say, my hike had ceased to be a pleasure-jaunt and had become, in one instant, an ordeal.

That's okay. Drama Queen likes ordeals. That's why she subjects her characters to so many of them. But enough of talking about myself in the third person. I guess it is time for me to get alone with God, I recall thinking about then. (Yes, back to the GAG acronym.) So I spent some time meditating on the first lesson I'd learned, the one about the narrow path being harder to spot but better to follow (Matthew 7:13-14). "Right, Father," I said. "I need to keep my eyes open for your signs, don't I? Because when I ignore them and start following the way that looks right to me, it ends up being a dead end." One of the things I like about wilderness hikes is that I can talk out loud and no one is around to hear me. I can't really do that in places like the Enchanted Forest because there are so many people around. So the best I can do there is mutter. The Paisley Trail, on the other hand, is deserted.

Longleaf Pine Uplands is what the map calls this terrain, by the way. Key word here: UPlands. I'm not sure how God accomplished this particular feat, but it turns out that the Paisley Trail is uphill all the way, in both directions. As for the pine trees, I soon discovered an interesting fact: there had been a fire in the area not too long ago. The grass had mostly grown back but all of the tree trunks were blackened to a height of about fifteen feet from the ground. And this caused my next difficulty. I reached a spot where the burned trees were all I could see in every direction. They just went on and on and on and on. The yellow diamonds should have been easy to spot against those black tree trunks, but there were no yellow diamonds. Where have all the blazes gone? I wondered. Have I wandered off the path again? I stopped dead in my tracks and began looking for a diamond. Nada.

"Father, if you want me to continue this hike, you have to give me eyes to see your signs," I prayed. This wasn't like the first time I'd missed the trail. Then, I had only to turn around on a very obvious road; there was no chance of getting for-real lost.  Out here, however, it was another story. By now I had traveled at least two miles into the forest, and in the burned areas, the grass was so sparse that the path was not obvious. Only the blazes made the trail clear. Without them, I could easily lose my way and wander in circles for hours. (Once I got lost on a piece of property that was only five acres of woods. This was hundreds of acres, and Winnie the Pooh was not the only bear who lived here!)

God answered my prayer immediately. My jaw dropped as I realized what had happened to the blazes and how challenging it was going to be to find the trail. There, not ten feet in front of me, nailed to a pine tree, was all that remained of a yellow plastic diamond, twisted and shriveled and scorched. Plastic. The silly things had melted in the fire. The fire. So here was my second lesson of the day:
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. 3 For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior... (Isaiah 43:2-3)
As He had promised, God was with me here, even though a fire had swept through, but it wouldn't be easy to see Him. His signs were all around me, but they were hidden, obscured. How like life! "I will never leave you or forsake you," God has promised (Deut. 31:8), but when the fires of life come sweeping over us, it is easy to lose sight of His sovereign plan to work good for us (Romans 8:28). One thing was for sure: I was not going to be able to relax my vigilance, not for an instant. And I would have to stop often to check my bearings. Over and over again I lost sight of the blazes; each time, my first response was to pray. "Show me Your sign." Each time, God answered immediately. In fact, I cannot recall another situation in my life where God has communicated with me as quickly and as consistently as He did on the Paisley Trail that afternoon.

To be continued . . .

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