Wanderings

I stood on the cliff watching the thunderstorm approach, with tendrils of rain feathered from the clouds ahead of me and the soughing of the pines growing louder at my back. In the national forest, my vista was hundreds of acres of dark-green treetops; sharp, rocky exposures; and mountains silhouetted in shades of bluish gray.

I had hiked this rim often in the last month, with map and notebook tucked under my arm, relishing the time away from the madding crowd. This was a job that was hardly a job by logical definition, because I loved it there in the woods and looked forward to the solitude it afforded me among God’s creatures.

My previous job as curator of a large museum left me sick from the gypsum dust of earlier renovations, and it was increasingly harder to breathe without coughing. Then I heard of an opening for an archeology technician in the forest service. Since I had been volunteering my time at the forest service offices, inputting data on their map-making system, it appeared that I was in the right place at the right time. In looking back though, I realize that God provided the perfect job for my physical healing and spiritual rehabilitation.

In that job, I hiked many miles a day and saw little glimpses of what heaven will be: springs high above the forest surrounded by lush, tall grass; herds of elk in fields of hellebore, rabbits curiously sneaking around a log to "share" my lunch, camp-robber jays that begged for food, stellar jays that quietly stalked me in the dark maze of blown-down trees, and wild flowers galore! It was a time of growing joy, feeling the presence of my Father, and realizing, as I never had before, that His angels guided my wanderings.

With the busyness of school, I had grown distant from God, and yet in the beauty and simplicity of the outdoors, I could almost hear Him calling my name. He must have been very patient with me as I slowly, very slowly opened my heart. I was awestruck by the wonders that God unfolded for me in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. And as time went by, I could also see how He protected me from logging trucks on precarious cliff roads, from drunken hunters, and from encounters with a bear and with a bull elk during hunting season.

As I worked, I found myself talking at first to no one in particular in the solitude, and then it became regular chats with God. Not as formal as a prayer; it was more like easygoing, relaxed conversations where I felt folded in His love. In my amazement over the beauty He provided all around me, I let my guard down. With childlike wonder, I recall finding Lady's Slipper orchids on the forest floor, or suddenly a family of pikas, chattering and whistling. Each surprise of nature was like a love note from God. So I gradually leaned on my Father and spoke to Him of my concerns about my children, about finding a reliable car, and those mundane things of everyday life that I had told myself years ago that He was too busy to be concerned about.

And so, with the dry days of summer just ending, I stood there as the rainstorm drew closer and sniffed the air's clean smell. The scent of damp pine needles grew stronger as the wind picked up. My heart was filled with the exquisite panorama below me, and it was suddenly as though a message came to me on the wind—almost audibly.

I remember saying out loud in utter amazement, “You would have made all this just for ME!” My tears mixed with the onslaught of the storm, and then for the first time, I felt completely loved and cherished, knowing that I mattered to my Father in heaven. And I thought how patient He has been with my wanderings over the years, probably yearning for this day when I would finally understand His loving heart.

March 01, 2006 / Perspective
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Jeanne Barrett-Usher writes from Yakima, Washington.