The first thing I noticed was all the water. Creeks tumbled everywhere and my ears were filled with their exuberance. Some months past, I felt the need to return, had planned the trip and finally…here I was. After 27 years, I was deep in the wilderness that raised me.
My friend and I had left our families safely at home to trek into the heart of the central Idaho backwoods. We were armed with our respective cameras and journals, mini backpacks, and hiking boots. Neither of us knew what we would find, exactly–but both of us were searching, having faith that God had something for us.
Life complicates so easily, like a drumbeat that slowly speeds up until the dancers fall in their effort to keep time. So it was in my existence. Schedules…money…health. Schedules…money…health. SCHEDULES! MONEY! HEALTH! What do you do when your life becomes so crazy that it literally makes you sick? No doctor had figured out why, but for almost two years whenever I lay down I would become dizzy, rest turning into struggle. Consequently my diet was restricted to a total of a few meats and some vegetables along with brown rice. Every pot luck, party and dinner I attended saw me on the fringes—my only participation in savoring the aroma.
What did I do? I screamed at God to make it stop. I begged Him to ease the burdens of my chronic illness and other stresses. I begged Him to rescue me from the clutches of fear. What did I receive in response? An incredibly strong urge to return to my native wilderness. So there I stood in mid-May, surrounded by creeks, a light breeze playing with my hair.
I scanned the beloved hills and drank in the cacophony of rushing water, bird song, and melodic pines. The trees I thought large as a child had become behemoths. Strong and proud, they rustled in the breeze. Berry bushes and plants crowded for attention around every corner and rock. Everything was so incredibly vibrant! In the palpable peace, every part of me relaxed. No schedule, no appointments, no cell service…perfection!
I wandered around the Forest Service station I used to call home. So many memories generated with the caress of this forest. We crossed the primitive dirt road to the old barn standing beside the pasture. Without thinking, I scaled the fence like I used to and walked up to the water trough. It was only a third full, but there was a butterfly floundering in it. I scooped up the pretty little bug and eased it onto a sunny rock to dry. A wave of déjà vu hit me then, for I recalled performing that very service hundreds of times before. In that moment, I connected to my childhood self: That carefree girl who scampered about the countryside looking for surprises and adventure, who championed pretty insects, yet couldn’t abide spiders. I remember one particularly plump bumble bee as fuzzy as a stuffed toy. While it busied itself on a flower, which bowed under its weight, I carefully petted its back for a second. The bee paid me no mind and though I refrained from pushing my luck further with more physical contact, I was captivated. I stayed close and watched it with avid interest. The soft buzzes it made, the complete abandon to its task. It’s a soothing creature and since then I have adored bees and, they in turn have never hurt me.
Likewise, I encountered many varieties of wild animals when I lived here and though the happenstances always caused my heart to jump for a moment, the occasions simply added to my collection of beautiful memories. Sometimes a black bear would be startled or a few elk would unexpectedly lift their heads and we would lock eyes. In the nine years I spent in this wilderness before moving at the age of eleven, they had never hurt me either.
One little girl, living in an immense forest. I was beyond insignificant and reveled in that awareness. Everywhere I went and in everything I did—fishing, trail riding, hiking or playing…I felt tiny, but confident. I knew God was looking after me. Fear was much more prevalent in story books than it was in my life back then.
We wandered through the pasture and back across the bridge to the car, my history walking with me. The heavy tread of my horse Leo as it sounded, muffled in the grass. The concussion in the air from helicopters which landed and took off out of that same pasture during fire season. The tiny titters that a little bat made when it slept, hanging from the ceiling in my favorite cave. The late afternoon thunder storms that I watched from the front porch of our cabin, eating my mom’s rhubarb crunch as cool air danced around me and blue streaks lit up the sky.
Everything here nurtured my senses and needs: food, song, beauty. It reminded me of when I set up the nursery for my daughter and made sure everything was geared toward safety, comfort and growth. I was safe here. I was taken care of.
After climbing up to my favorite cave, looking for bats and collecting some quartz rocks for my yard, we retraced our steps and then descended to the river. I sat on a large rock and straightaway saw the most beautiful piece of quartz on a boulder in the current. God’s “yard glitter.” I grinned, imagining God placing that boulder specifically where the water made it sparkle all the more.
I looked around again, amazed at the variety and effervescent health of all the plants. I’d striven for years with my own yard, researching, planning, spending time, money, and energy, yet still failing often to get plants to grow. The only one looking after all of this beauty was God Himself. When I had lived here I thrived as surely as the willows and birds in front of me. It hadn’t come with turmoil, angst or grief. On the contrary – it had simply been.
My thoughts clarified intensely. Why hadn’t I needed to strive when I lived here? I knew I was completely helpless, I simply hadn’t cared. Why hadn’t I worried? Agonized? Feared encountering scary unknowns? It came to me again: I had known I was being taken care of—that God was with me.
My life over the past years had deteriorated into striving, driving on the fuel of fear. Striving to please God, striving to always make right choices, striving to be wise. Research, time, energy but mostly…fear. Fear that doing the wrong thing would have dire consequences, fear that I would displease God, fear that I didn’t know what to do, fear that my not knowing would be the end for me and cause my family pain. Fear is perhaps the real disease that I need freedom from.
“Lord, what do You wish of me? What happens when I return to regular life from this cozy nursery where I was fostered?” My audible, yet whispered question joined the splashes of the river as it tripped over snags and boulders.
While God didn’t respond with perceptible, English words, He did respond. I looked at the chipmunks going about their business, heard the sparrows and mountain bluebirds gossiping in trees, and watched the river cavort down the mountain. The answer was there and the forest was embodying it.
Stop striving. Stop agonizing. Don’t fear the bears in life you will encounter. Let Me take care of you again, the way you did when you lived here.
My striving and giving fear a prominent place in life had gotten me nowhere. It could even be part of my struggle with illness. The forest flourished without striving. Each critter conquering the task it had in front of it, content in that task and only that task. I had been that way once, and I needed to return to it.
Simple, but therein lies the secret I had been searching for—the missing puzzle piece—the anecdote to the disease of fear that crouches in wait: God is the one who is caring for me, if I let Him, just like He cares for my beautiful forest and all the critters that live there.
I left my rock by the river later that day but I took the secret in the forest with me. I delight in returning to that instant of revelation, mentally revisiting moments of peace on my big rock by the river, when I knew beyond a doubt that I was in God’s care again.