Today I’m going to share with you a story about which I am embarrassed. I don’t like to admit it to myself, let alone put it in print.
So why pull back the curtain? Why not keep this event a secret between me and the park ranger who was dispatched to rescue me?
Good question, one that I will address in two parts – both before and after I share the details of my folly.
My last post concluded with this question: can Doctor Jesus be trusted? He’s the one who made the bold claim – Do this and you will live*. Can his life-directing prescriptions really make a difference for someone today?
Before we can learn to trust Jesus, to lean on his wisdom and to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit, we need to become aware of and admit to ourselves the driving forces behind our decisions and our desires. You have them, and so do I.
Today’s post is about me having to do just that, on a day when my actions became a matter of public record with Washington State Parks on March 24, 2015.
Here’s the Point of our reflection and of my story: Jesus or me? Who can LeadBetter?
Yeah, I know. That’s a clunky phrase, and no, I didn't misspell it. My embarrassing event took place at … Leadbetter Point State Park in Ocean Park, Washington.
Contextual note: This event happened because of the kindness and generosity of some dear friends. For all our fourteen-year-sojourn in Washington State, I was entrusted with a key to an ocean-front condominium owned by Daidre West* and her late husband Larry. Two or three times a year I would head to the Long Beach Peninsula for sermon planning and for time alone with God.
Located on the northern tip of the peninsula, the park is surrounded on two sides by large bodies of water. The parking lot sits adjacent to Willapa Bay, and the Pacific Ocean is reached by hiking trails over flat terrain.
I’ve never made it to the ocean side. I’ve taken the trail, but always in the wrong season. The Peninsula gets eighty-six inches of rain every year, which explains the posted sign:
The trail system at Leadbetter State Park and the Willapa Bay Wildlife Refuge are impacted by seasonal flooding and are impassable during the winter months.
And yes, I also knew about the frequent signs that hiking off the trails was prohibited, which is a typical restriction at a wildlife refuge.
I had encountered the seasonal flooding on a previous trip. On that occasion I was prudent – turned back, chalked it up to bad timing, and left the park.
This time? Impassable? Oh yeah? We’ll see about that. I began my trek to the beach, and within a quarter mile, sure enough – the trail was flooded with more than a foot of water. Lots of water. Straight ahead. To the sides. What to do?
We all have moments in our days when we act. We go with our instincts, and so it was on this day. I wanted to be at the ocean, one of my favorite places to be alone with God. I figured I could make it there by finding ways around the flooded areas, traipsing through the brush.
Posted restrictions? Eh, no big deal.
Interesting logic, isn’t it? Break the rules to spend time with God.
The minutes turned into an hour. Or two. I don’t know. Still attempting to get around the flooding, my feet were dry, but my spirit was soggy. I realized that attempting to make it to the beach was a dumb decision – how was I going to get back to my car even if I reached the ocean? I got what I deserved – I was completely disoriented.
Late afternoon. No one knew where I was. Thick, overgrown forest. Cloudy day, so no sun as a directional aid. Hardly any power left on my cell phone. No backpack. No compass. No jacket. No food. No emergency supplies.
What to do? I made my first smart decision. I called for help. First, I asked God for mercy. But with the small slice of power on my phone I also called the Park Ranger’s office. I’m lost. I don’t want to spend the night alone in the park. Please rescue me.
I’ve never done that before. I hope I never have the need again. But I found it to be a wonderfully compassionate experience, as they didn’t ask me how I got into this mess before deciding whether to assist. Help is on the way. No questions asked.
Why do we think that God is any less merciful? Where did we get the idea that he only runs to rescue the ones whom his followers have deemed to be worthy of it?
Back to my story. I knew I was supposed to shelter in place – hug a tree, they say – but I decided to be proactive. I knew that if I walked in any direction and stayed on course, I would eventually break free of the forest and end up by the water – either the beach or the bay.
Sensing the direction of Willapa Bay, I began my trek. With my hiking boots quickly submerged, I either maneuvered around or climbed over fallen branches, but I stayed on course. My hunch was right; I eventually made it out of the dense forest towards the bay as darkness descended.
I turned on my phone again and called the Ranger’s number, alerting dispatch that I no longer needed to be rescued. Finding the parking lot was simple, and my car was the only one there.
After removing my boots and starting my car to drive back to the condo, the Ranger arrived so I stopped to thank him. Yes, he had received the message that I was okay, but he wanted to make sure that there were no other needs. That’s what rescuers do. I felt ashamed – this didn’t have to happen – but I also felt grateful.
No, It didn’t have to happen. But it did. And I’ve had eight years to ask why? And I have forced myself to admit to my operating principles and my resulting actions on that day. Here’s what I concluded:
I have impulses and desires. That’s normal. But not all my desires are in line with God’s purposes.
I will seek to cleverly find a way to get what I want. Pulling rank, charm, gentle persuasion, force of personality – my will and my pride have many tools.
I am open to the idea of ignoring posted regulations and civic rules if they clash with my will. Is this what I want to model for my children and grandchildren?
Even though I had good intentions – a time of solitude with God on the beach – I certainly wasn’t thinking about having Jesus lead me to get there, or whether meeting with him somewhere else was a better choice. I wasn’t thinking about how Linda would feel if that evening, or all night, she was unable to reach me on my phone.
I was on auto-pilot, unconsciously led by my follies and my foibles. I was thinking about me and my wishes – restrictions and other considerations be damned.
But by the mercy of God and the Washington State Park Ranger, I was rescued.
Okay. End of Story. Back to our original question: Why not keep this event hidden? What’s the point of sharing it?
My frustrating sojourn at Leadbetter State Park is a portrait of our daily lives: following our impulses, confusing dilemmas followed by hasty decisions, trying to make things turn out the way we want, finally lamenting our folly and calling out for help. Wash, rinse, repeat.
That’s my story. It’s probably yours also. But it doesn’t have to be.
As we become aware of and learn to distrust our foolish instincts, we can pause to pray a familiar line before we act: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Having aligned our desires with God, we will be more inclined to trust Jesus’ prescriptions for wise living. Why? Because he can Lead Better.
He leads, we follow. Sometimes he will affirm and applaud our choices; other times he will advise us to turn around and get back on track. That’s called repentance. And yes, he comes to the rescue when his child calls for help.
Over time we learn to say yes to his leadership, and we learn to say no to our operating principles and our passions if they are not in line with his prescriptions. **
After calling the believers in Ephesus to live as children of light, Paul evoked an ancient proverb as a daily wake-up call. “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise…. (Ephesians 5:14, 15)
May God help us daily to wake up from our slumbering and stumbling, and may we live wisely, forsaking the darkness and following the Light of the World.
Benediction of Blessing
May God give you the courage to unpack your decisions and your dilemmas to face the truth: what’s motivating you? What do you really desire?
May you find solace in knowing that God loves to draw near to you when you call out for help.
May you learn to say yes to Jesus more often and no to yourself … which is exactly what it means to be a disciple, according to Matthew 24:16.
*Daidre is a fantastic nurse (now retired), was an awesome leader at church and in the health care community, a Blue Spigot subscriber, and was one of the most supportive and instructive parishioners I have had the privilege of serving. The joy she exudes and her vibrant love of life are a delight. I want to be like Daidre!
** This is exactly the message of Paul’s counsel in Titus 2:11-12. Learning to say yes to Jesus means learning to say no to ungodly desires. May God help us to be dedicated learners!
Bald Eagle/Trail Head/Beach & Forest: parks.wa.gov
Flooded Trail: willhiteweb.com. Note: it wasn’t sunny on the day of my hike.
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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. TM