Tuesday, July 26, 2011

to the wild country

to the wild country - experiences and thoughts in God's wilderness

It was meant to be a deer hunt.

There were a few rules: between the power lines and the highway, no deer stands, no does, shotgun only, 00 buck.

I knew the area well from running my dogs. Lots of brush and trees, saskatoons and huckleberries growing in patches, old logging roads, rocks and boulders, not much open country.

The shotgun I picked out was nothing special but it was sturdy – a single shot 12 gauge built like a tank with a 28 inch barrel. The full choke would keep the pattern of the 9 pellets tight. I put it in the back of my jeep with a box of shotgun shells, threw on my olive drab fly fishing vest with all its pockets and headed for the hills.
The weather was a tossup – some cloud, some sun, a hint of rain, no wind. I parked to the side of a logging road well below the power lines and their towers. Put some 2 and 3/4 shells in one of my vest pockets and a bag of trail mix. Loaded the shotgun. And set out.

I moved slowly and silently along overgrown roadways and paths. I never saw anyone else. Crept a half-mile one way and crept a half-mile back another way and never saw any deer either. Then I decided to hide myself behind a boulder at a spot in the bush where several deer trails converged. There were fresh tracks so I was hopeful.
Hunting whitetail with a shotgun is a very different challenge from hunting them with a rifle and a scope or crouching all morning in a stand – you have to get in very close. Even a traditional blackpowder rifle will give you more range than a shotgun with 00 buck. The chances of getting within 30 to 50 yards of a stag without him picking up your scent or movement are slim but it can be done. Sometimes you are just plain lucky to surprise one. Or blessed.

After an hour and a half cramped up behind the boulder I decided to try for higher ground. I was basically in a kind of foothills environment, with white-capped mountains to the west, and I knew there were several rocky outcrops in the hunting zone that might offer some success with a buck. I began to move along the trails again, stepping slowly and quietly, until I reached the first knoll. I scanned it carefully and began to climb, stopping every few moments to look and listen. But I saw nothing in the way of deer. So I ate some trail mix, climbed down, walked a couple of hundred yards, and tried another knoll. Nothing.

On the third a whitetail lifted its large tail and bounded from a thicket. I aimed my shotgun. The distance was less than 50 yards. But it was a doe. I lowered my weapon and watched the whitetail disappear in the thick brush of the slope. I decided to finish my climb to the top anyway.

One of the beauties of hunting is the fact I don’t have to bag game to feel the time spent was worthwhile. The forest, the hills, the weather, glimpses of various birds or other wildlife all combine to give me a sense of God’s craftsmanship and diversity and his own very real presence. It’s like an ultimate worship experience, where I’m praising God for what I see and hear, while all around me animals and insects and reptiles are making music to heaven: I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is them, singing. (Revelation 5:13, NIV)
I ascended a final ridge. I didn’t think it was going to be my day to harvest a buck but I stepped carefully up a trail of gravel and scree just in case. At the top was a thick bush and I came around it softly. I expected to see more bare rock. A grizzly bear, startled, gave a snort and lifted its head from where it was feeding on a patch of clover. There was no more than 20 feet between us.

My mouth went dry. Instantly. The hairs on the back of my neck rose just as quickly and I could feel them poking against the collar of my fishing vest. Everything suddenly became walled in and the grizzly was at one end of a short corridor and I was at another.

Saliva evaporating from your mouth. Hair standing up at the back of your neck. Tunnel vision. These were all things I’d read and heard about but considered exaggerations. Now I was experiencing the truth of those sensations first-hand on a remote hill where I faced an 800 pound bear.

I didn’t move. Neither did the grizzly. In one second, with one or two bounds, it could be on top of me. The law did not permit me to hunt a grizzly without a special tag however it did permit me to shoot in self-defense. But I was not holding a Holland and Holland .700 Nitro Express in my hands and had no illusions about a charge of 00 buck stopping a grizzly. It would have the same effect, Kit Carson once wrote, as grains of sand.

The bear did not take its small eyes off me. I knew that grizzlies were believed to be notoriously nearsighted. That only if I ran would I be in trouble because it would see the movement, consider me prey and attack. But I’d been told as a child they couldn’t climb trees either and one had recently gone 60 feet up a tree in Alberta, hauled a woman down who had scaled it to save herself, and killed her.

I remained motionless. I felt that if I moved backwards it would lunge. That if I dropped and rolled into a ball it would still lunge. There was no sign of cubs in the vicinity but that didn’t mean they weren’t there. They could be in the brush and frozen into immobility just like their mother.

I had never felt so trapped or confused in my life. I couldn’t think of a single solution to my dilemma. It’s one thing to scope a grizzly from half a mile away or watch it from your pickup. It’s another to be so close you can smell the reek of its fur.
A charge could come at any second. I wouldn’t survive it. Even I turned to run, it would be on me, clamping its powerful jaws on my head or neck. If I dropped down to feign death it would swat me with its paw before I was halfway to the ground. The six inch claws, let alone the force of the blow, would open me up.

I felt like a man who has only a fraction of time left to live unless he can come up with something fast. But every plan that sprang to mind I rejected as useless or too risky. This was not a TV show with a prearranged script. I really could die.
I prayed but my prayer was very basic Sunday School stuff: Lord, help me. I don’t know what to do. There’s nothing I can do. God!

Maybe a minute went by. It could have been two. Our eyes remained locked on each other. I was not about to so much as twitch a finger, blink an eye or move a foot in any direction. The grizzly did not shift its weight or shake its head or attempt to take a step either but that didn’t mean it couldn’t change its mind in a flash, roar like a mountain wind, rush forward and tear me apart.

Suddenly it put its head down. Turned away. And moved slowly and heavily into the thicket behind it. I listened to the snapping of branches for a few moments. Then all was quiet.

I had read about bears pretending to do one thing, with an eye on their quarry, and then, when an opportunity presented itself, move against their target with blinding speed. So I waited and watched and listened. Just because I couldn’t see the bear didn’t mean it couldn’t see me. My turning and half-running down the slope might be just the sort of activity it was hoping for.

I’m certain I remained there at least another five minutes. Then I took one step backwards. The brush did not explode and a brown bear did not come hurtling out at me, jaws wide and spewing saliva. I took another step, not daring to avert my eyes from where the grizzly had gone into the thicket, trying to feel with my boot for a safe place to bring my foot down. One more step. Then I was behind the large bush that I had rounded when I first made my way to the top.

I hesitated for several seconds, straining to hear the sounds of a big body moving fast over rock and clover. Finally I made my way down the trail of loose stones as swiftly and safely as I could, trying not to turn my ankle or fall and crack my head against a boulder or the trunk of a tree. Once I reached the bottom I got away from the ridge as quickly as I could and out of sight into a tangle of aspen and bushes. I headed in the direction of my jeep.

I never felt it was over. I never relaxed and the saliva never returned to my mouth for the longest time. Every now and then I stopped to listen – was I being pursued? When I reached the jeep the after effects of adrenaline made my hands tremble and I dropped my keys in the dirt twice. Finally I got inside and locked the doors, staring through the windshield to see if a bear was thundering through the trees and down the logging road at 35 or 40 miles per hour. After a few moments I leaned my head back and closed my eyes and whispered, Thanks.

When Jesus was born there were animals present and when he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness the animals were there for him too. Except at his birth they were domestic animals and in the desert they were wild. What sort of relationship did he have with the wild ones?

At that time in Israel and the Middle East there were still lions and bears as well as deer, gazelle, ibex, wild boar and leopards. Considering that he was the Son of God does that mean they might have been tame with him? Would they have lain at his feet? Let him touch them?

Or could it have been more like my experience? They went about their business all around him and let him be. He watched them, they watched him, but no harm was done. He could see their beauty and strength and be part of their world without fear, just as they had no reason to fear him. It seems like a glimpse of the world to come, of heaven on earth, of Eden before man’s fall into sin, where animals and humans roamed about freely without threat.

Of course I did fear the bear though I have no idea if the bear feared me. Still, in the wilderness, it watched me, saw that I meant it no harm and permitted me to live. At the time I could not savor the experience. Now, because I was not hurt, I do. I saw a magnificent creature up close, close enough to touch, and it let me be. It was an extraordinary moment of God’s grace.

There are, I suppose, all kinds of reasons the grizzly left me alone. I will never know them all and neither will anyone else. Nor will I ever understand how much of a part God played in it, not on this side of life. Perhaps there was an angel. It sounds far-fetched but who knows? When Jesus was among the wild ones the angels were there too. He was with the wild animals and angels attended him. (Mark 1:13, NIV)

It could not have been a coincidence that the Son of God had the wilderness animals with him. Jesus’ life was not a life of coincidences. And I doubt my experience with the grizzly was a coincidence either. Do the children of God live out lives that are strings of coincidences any more than their Lord and Master did? The Bible says God knew me before I was born and that he was well aware of all the days of my life before one of them came to be. So my day of the grizzly is there too.

But what does it mean? I have thought about it many times and I really can’t say. Except there is one thing – the encounter did not make me value God’s creation less, I came to value it more. I did not love it less, I loved it more. I did not return to it in fear and anxiety but in anticipation of something greater because I had been so near to one of the most powerful creatures in North America and allowed to walk away unscathed.

The experience did not take from me. It gave to me and, in those minutes of my greatest fear and vulnerability, made me much more a son of God.

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
(Psalm 139:16, NIV)

Monday, July 18, 2011

heaven on earth

It is 150 years since 1861 when the American Civil War began. For the next several years, right through to 2015, Americans will be commemorating various battles and events that occurred between 1861-1865.

I have been contracted by a publisher in the USA to write a book on that war. I presented my plot outline and they accepted it without my having shown them a single chapter - the first time in my life. Of course they have seen other things I have written so they are basing their contract commitment on that.

I was eager to write the book. With family on both sides of the CAN-US border, and being trained as a historian by my second Masters degree, I felt I could do a creditable job (see, I am talking 19th century talk). Moreover, I have been reading about that war and how it affected America since I was about ten years old. I have a lot of research in me and I have seen some of the battle sites. I intend to see more before I am done.

I want it to be one of the best books I have written. This is chapter one. I won't be posting any other chapters. But please let me know what you think of the first 3000 words and whether or not the story interests you.

God bless. I pray he will help me find not only the words I need but the depth I need for this important book.


Chapter 1

Whenever she thought back to that morning years later, or told her children and grandchildren how it was before the whole world changed, it was the warm spring sunshine Lyndel spoke of the most and the brightness of the sky. That and the green scent of the grass over which a morning rain had just come and gone, the opening of red snapdragons, and the talk of the men on the porch being lost to her ears as robins and larks opened their throats for the second of April, 1861, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

“Was it beautiful, Mama?” her children asked when she would tell the story around a fire on a sharp winter night cut open with stars.

“Tell us how beautiful it was, Nana,” her grandchildren pleaded when she was older and they sat together on the summer grass while the sun fell slowly from the sky.

“It was very beautiful,” she always responded, laying a hand on each of their heads, “and I was very young.”

“And beautiful also,” Sarah would say, “just like the month of April.”

“Yes,” she smiled, “I think so. That is certainly what Nathaniel King always told me.”

Lyndel remembered that the cows had already been milked and that her three younger sisters were hard at work with the butter churn in a room just off the kitchen. She was heading to the barn to open the doors and lead the dairy herd out to their spring pasture. A sudden pause in bird song allowed the men’s voices to reach her as she crossed the yard.

“Jacob, they have seized the federal forts in South Carolina and Mississippi and Georgia. Their intent is clear. I see no hesitation on the part of the states that have left the Union. They mean to have their own country.”

“Wait. It is only a ploy to force President Lincoln to take their demands seriously. All will be right as rain by summer.”

“I am not so sure, Jacob. They mean to keep their slaves and Lincoln made many speeches against slavery.”

“So you say it was wrong for the President to make speeches against slavery, Samuel?”

“I did not say it was wrong. Only I do not think they are spinning tops and playing games. They will have their slaves and they will have their own country.”

Lyndel was surprised to find the cows pushing against the barn doors. Once she opened them the herd rushed out, almost knocking her to the ground. Without Lyndel having to say a thing Old Missus rapidly led the way to the pasture gate so that the young woman had to run ahead and swing it wide. The cows shouldered through side-by-side, a few of them bawling, and traveled at least a hundred yards before deciding to stop and crop grass. Latching the gate Lyndel went back to the barn to see if she could find out what had disturbed them. Perhaps a snake had found its way in among the straw.

Picking up a pitchfork to chase away any pest she encountered she began to walk through the barn, glancing often at her feet as she stepped through the dirty straw. Looking into the first stalls she found they were empty of anything like porcupines or skunks or badgers. She stopped and listened a moment but heard nothing. Slowly she made her way to the back of the barn holding the pitchfork at chest height. Sunlight trickled between cracks in the walls and through a dusty skylight so that she could make out what was in the corners and by the time she reached the end of the barn there was still nothing. She didn’t bother taking a look at the last two stalls and turned to head back. Whatever had spooked the milk cows was long gone. But suddenly she heard a groan of pain.

She whirled, fear pricking her chest. Brandishing the pitchfork she stepped towards the last stall on the left, expecting to see a wild dog or a coyote or fox. In the dim light she saw two sets of human eyes and a lot of blood. Then teeth as a face grimaced, struggling to breathe.

“Don’t hurt us!” a voice cried and a hand shot up to ward off a blow.

Lyndel immediately lowered the pitchfork and stepped closer. “You’re slaves!” she said in astonishment.

“We’re men.”

“How long have you been here? What has happened to you?”

One man was holding the other in his arms. He was the one who spoke to Lyndel while his friend could only fight for air and wince. “We’ve been on the run from the plantation in Virginia for three weeks,” he said, holding the wounded man close to his chest. “We made good time riding the boxcars. But we had to jump while the train was moving last night and Charlie got hurt pretty bad.”

Lyndel was wearing a traditional Amish dress of navy blue over which she had tied a large black apron. Leaning the pitchfork against the wall, she knelt and took the apron off. Charlie had a deep cut at the side of his chest and she folded the apron twice and pressed it against the wound to slow the flow of blood. She used the apron strings to tie it tightly.

“Have you had anything to eat or drink?” she asked the man who was doing the talking.

“There’s plenty of water in the streams and rain barrels. But we haven’t had anything to eat. Not for two days.”

“Let me fetch you something.”

A hand grabbed her by the wrist. “Don’t tell anyone. I know they’re hunting us. This is the third time Charlie’s tried to escape. They said they’d hang him if they caught him running again. They’ll cross the state line and comb this county.”

Lyndel, still kneeling, fixed her eyes on the frightened man. “I will only tell people I can trust. I won’t tell anyone who would go to the sheriff in Elizabethtown. He would feel bound by law to tell the slave hunters if they showed up here.”

“They’ll show up here.” For the first time a smile came over the man’s face. “We may not look like it right now but we’re worth a lot of money.”

Lyndel paused. Smiling back, she patted the man on the arm. “Then we must take good care of you.”

He released his grip on her wrist and she stood up. “I will be a few minutes,” she said. “Please don’t worry. I will not betray you.”

He was still smiling. “I believe you.” He extended a hand while with the other he held the folded apron to his friend’s chest. “My name is Moses Gunnison.”

She reached down and clasped his hand in hers. “I am pleased to meet you, Moses. I am Lyndel Keim.”

“Pardon me for saying so but you have large hands for a woman, ma’am. And some strength in them.”

“So I have been a farmer’s daughter all my life, Mr. Gunnison.”

“Do you have a husband, ma’am?”

“Oh, no. There’s been no time for that. But I do have a brother. He is the one I will go to. He will help you. We will both help you.”

“Thank you, ma’am. God bless you.”

Lyndel straightened and brushed the straw off her dress. “Why, God bless you too, Mr. Gunnison.” She adjusted the black prayer kapp on her head and looked down at Charlie. “You are going to be all right.” He stared up at her, his eyes exhausted from fear and pain. “I will be right back with my brother Levi as well as food and drink.”

She thought quickly as she walked through the barn and out into the morning sunlight. The men were still seated on the porch and still talking politics. Her father, the bishop of their Amish community, sat in the middle of them, tall and slender, his beard night black, listening carefully to the different opinions, now and then leaning forward and interjecting. She loved her father, indeed, she cared for all the men seated with him, several of whom were the church’s ministers. But she also knew how law-abiding they were. If she told them about Moses and Charlie they would offer as much assistance as they possibly could. Yet they would also feel bound to hitch up a wagon and drive into Elizabethtown and inform the law there were two runaways hiding out in the Keim barn.

Instantly she decided against confiding in any of them, including Papa. She smiled as she walked past them for the stable where she knew her brother was doing the work of a farrier and trimming their horses’ hooves now that it was spring.

Levi was wiping his face with a red handkerchief, sweat running down into the collar of his white work shirt. He was speaking to someone who was bent over and holding a horse’s hoof between his legs and fighting to get the nipper in position to cut. Lyndel hesitated. Even though the man with the hoof nippers had his back to her she recognized his build and when he answered her brother she knew for certain. Levi’s best friend, Nathaniel King, was the one wrestling to trim Dancer’s left front hoof. One of her hands went to her mouth. She had not expected to see him today but Levi must have asked him to come over and lend a hand with the horses.

Her brother glanced over and grinned as she came into the stable. “Hello, Ginger. You’re just in time to help. Nathaniel can’t get Dancer to agree to a manicure and she’s your mare, isn’t she? Can’t you reason with her?”

“I can try.”

She walked over and stood in front of Dancer who whinnied and allowed Lyndel to hold her head and scratch her between the ears.

“That’s better,” grunted Nathaniel. He moved quickly with the nippers and the mare was done. He released the leg and stood up, stretching his back and smiling at Lyndel. “Danke.”


“May I call you Ginger too?”

“No, you may not. I don’t like it. Only Levi gets away with it.”

“So just plain old Lyndel?”

“Yes, just plain old Lyndel. You make me sound like one of Levi’s horses.”

“My apologies. You certainly deserve better than that. Hair like fire. Eyes like sky.”

Lyndel felt the heat in her cheeks.

Levi laughed. “Are you going to court my sister? I thought you came over to help me.”

“I did,” smiled Nathaniel. “But now we’re finished.”

“Ja, well, how about sitting down for a coffee before you ask her to go for a ride in your buggy?”

“Sure, a coffee would be good right about now.”

Lyndel walked Dancer out of the stable and into a bright green paddock with two other horses. “You don’t need to talk as if I’m not here, you two,” she said over her shoulder. “And the older men are still sitting on the porch.”

“Still here?” groaned Levi. “What do they find to go on about for so long?”

“The South.”

“Oh, the South. These things work themselves out.” Levi glanced at Nathaniel. “If we want coffee we will have to run the gauntlet. They’ll probably make us sit with them and offer up our opinions.”

Nathaniel shrugged. “I don’t have an opinion on the South. They live what they live and we live what we live.”

Lyndel turned from closing the stable gate. “And what if others can’t live, Nathaniel King? What is your opinion on that?”

The strong tone in her voice made Levi and Nathaniel stare at her.

“What do you mean?” Nathaniel finally responded, wiping his hands on a large blue rag.

“Would you favor slavery for yourself or your family?”

Nathaniel met her gaze. “No. I would not. I have read about these things and thought about these things. That is why I am still Amish and still a Northerner.”

“How is it you have been coming to our house for years to visit my brother but I have never heard you express these thoughts?”

“Why, the occasion for it has never occurred in your presence.”

She kept her eyes on him, turning what he said over. Ever since she had seen Nathaniel in the stable she had been debating with herself about what to do – should she tell him about the men in the barn or not? Now she made up her mind to find out what sort of person he really was behind his soft brown hair and shining green eyes. “I need your help, both of you. Two men are in the barn. They have run away from a plantation in Virginia. One of them is wounded. I am afraid to tell the elders. I do not want them to go to the law.”

“Slaves?” asked Levi in shock.

“They do not like to be called that.”

“What are they then?”

“What you are. What Nathaniel is. Men who are hungry and thirsty.”

Nathaniel kept his eyes on her. She wondered if he was looking at her red hair and blue eyes or waiting to hear what she had to say. For a brief moment she realized she hoped it was both. Then her thoughts returned to the crisis at hand.

“Levi, can you get a sausage from the smoke house? I don’t dare go into the house for bread, Mama will ask what I’m doing.”

“Why can’t we tell her?” Levi demanded.

“Because then everyone will find out and someone will speak with the sheriff. And if slave hunters come the sheriff will tell them two men are in the Keim barn.”

“Are they headed for Canada?” Nathaniel spoke up.

“I did not ask,” Lyndel replied, “but that would only make sense.”

“All right.” Nathaniel reached for a bottle on a shelf. “You said they had wounds? This alcohol will help with that. Can I draw some water from the well for you while Levi gets the sausage?”

She gave him a small smile, wanting to make up for some of her harshness. “That would help.” Then she glanced around her. “My problem is bandages. I can’t go into the house. And I already gave the man who is wounded my apron to staunch the blood.”

Nathaniel nodded. “I have a clean shirt in my wagon. To change into after helping your brother. It is just under the driver’s seat.”

She did not mean to give him her full smile but it opened upon her face before she could stop it. “Thank you so much, Nathaniel.”

“My pleasure. And an honor.” He gave her a long look. “You know, you really are something, Lyndel Keim.” Then he walked out of the stable in the direction of the well.

A feeling went right through her like light.

Lord, what is all this about?

She went out to the King wagon that was parked near the house and was surprised to see that the porch was empty and all the visitors’ buggies gone. She patted Nathaniel’s bay named Good Boy who stood patiently in the shade of a crab apple tree and reached under the seat for the shirt. It was wrapped in a thin blanket to keep it clean. She ran her hand over it a moment and thought of Nathaniel wearing it, a young man so tall, so strong, so pure. Then she tucked white shirt and blanket under her arm and walked towards the barn doors where he and Levi were already waiting for her. They entered the barn together.

As soon as he saw them Moses said to Lyndel, “There are three of you.”

“Yes, Moses. This is my brother Levi. He’s brought you meat from our smokehouse. And this is his best friend Nathaniel who has brought you a pail of water.”

Moses stared at Nathaniel. “Can we trust him?”

Lyndel knelt and began to rip Nathaniel’s good cotton shirt. “Well, he gave me this for Charlie’s bandages. Let us give him an opportunity to prove himself, ja?”

Nathaniel set down his bucket. “I have some well water. And a tin cup. Can I give your friend a drink?”

“Give me the cup,” growled Moses. “I’ll give Charlie the drink.”

Lyndel dipped a square of Nathaniel’s shirt in the water and mopped Charlie’s forehead and face. “How is he?”

“Now and then he starts to shake. The blood seems to have stopped coming out of his wound though.” Moses put the tin cup to Charlie’s lips. “Come on now. You got to take some of it in.”

Lyndel pried the folded apron from Charlie’s side. It was thick with blood. She reached her hand towards Nathaniel. “May I have that bottle of alcohol now?” He tugged out the cork stopper and gave it to her. She poured some alcohol onto another cloth and pulled Charlie’s shirt back from his wound. She began to clean the gash and the sting made him cry out once and then clench his teeth together. Sweat covered his forehead again.

“Levi?” Lyndel asked her brother. “Could you take another piece of Nathaniel’s shirt and wipe Charlie’s face?”

Levi had been standing there taking it all in. He squatted down and, not knowing where to put the two large rings of sausage, placed them on Charlie’s lap. “Are you hungry? It is very good sausage. My mother’s recipe and her mother’s also.” Then he splashed water over a cloth and patted Charlie’s face and neck. “How is that? Is that all right for you?”

“Perhaps I should go back to my house,” said Nathaniel, “and get some blankets and pillows. We need to make them comfortable here. They will need a few nights of rest before they move on.”

Lyndel glanced up at him. “That sounds like a good idea.”

Moses shook his head. “No. They’re on our trail. Reason we jumped from the train was we could see a whole gang of them waiting on the station platform a quarter mile ahead of us– bloodhounds, rifles and rope.”

“But we have to get Charlie’s wound closed up first,” protested Lyndel. “He’ll bleed to death if you run too soon.”

“They’ll hang him from the tallest tree on your farm if we run too late.” Moses looked around at their faces. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do. I’d heard there were good people hereabouts, good Christian people.” He gripped Lyndel’s hand. “But they’re going to hunt until they find us. One more night here and then we have to get up to New York and Ontario. I tell you, we’ve got to move on no matter how bad Charlie is.”

Nathaniel nodded. “In that case we have to make sure you have a very restful night. I will fetch bed linen for you and Charlie from my home. And a poultice recipe of my mother’s she swears can close any wound.”

“No need to go all the way back to your home when there is a spare bedroom here.”

Lyndel jumped to her feet. Her father was standing behind them. His eyes cut dark and sharp right into her.

“You should have told me daughter,” he said. “You should have trusted me.”

Sunday, July 10, 2011

burn out

One of the more interesting stories in the Bible is the story of Elijah's flight into the desert to die.

I say it is interesting because it is a story many of us can relate to even though it is not a story many of us know.

Most people, at one time or another, have felt like giving up. Not just on their job. On their marriage, their family, their church, their faith, their entire life.

Sometimes they actually do. Others agonize for months or years, feeling depressed and depleted.

There is not always an easy answer. They have already been praying and been prayed over. They believe in Jesus. Yet they are exhausted in their inner spirit and in their body and in their mind and don't have the energy to see things through that have been important to them.

So we look at Elijah and we ask - "How did God deal with his burn out?"

After all, he was a major prophet, a key spiritual leader in Israel. He had just called down fire from heaven and defeated the priests of Baal in public. Obviously he had expended a lot of prayer and energy to get to that point but it was a victory and it was meant to prove to the wavering Israelis that YHWH was the one true God.

Perhaps he felt the fight was over.

But when Jezebel said she'd kill him, and no one stood up to say, "No, Queen Jezebel, you dare not harm this man of God who has done so much for our country," that was it. He snapped. He'd had it. He didn't want to live.

No one had any intention of protecting him even though they knew the Queen was wicked and Elijah righteous.

So he fled into the desert without food or water. With the purpose of going to the mount where Moses had received the Ten Commandments. Not by camel but by foot. A journey that would take more than a month.

He would not live more than three days without water. But Elijah was not interested in living. He was so burned out he wanted to die.

And in the desert wilderness between Egypt and Israel he would have.

But God watched. And he did not yell at Elijah and tell him to grow up, to have some faith, to trust and pray. He made sure he had lots of sleep. He made sure he had water to drink. He made sure he had food to eat. A kind word. A gentle touch. And yet more sleep.

Read the story in First Kings. God makes sure Elijah gets a bit of shade. Rest. An angel makes sure there is food and water and tells Elijah to get even more rest: "The journey is too much for you."

Think of how some people treat others with burn out. Think of how some church people treat other church people. Scolding. Impatience. "Where's your faith???" "Get up and get moving!!!" "God will help you when you help yourself!!!"

Isn't God astonishing? We make him in our own crabby image sometimes and think that is the way he should act with a moaner-groaner like Elijah (who, being a prophet, should know better than to act the way he's acting, right???). Instead, the Lord is kindness himself. Even when Elijah reaches the holy mountain God does not come to him in the fire or earthquake or wind but in . . . a whisper . . .

And tells him he is not alone, he has never been alone in the battles of life. Seven thousand others have never caved in to Baal or lost faith in the true God. The right is prevailing over the wrong even though Elijah is not aware of it.

God gives him more holy work to do. And, when that is done, makes sure he bypasses death altogether and brings him to heaven in a whirlwind.

Quite a reward and a blessing for a burned out believer.

It is time we treated ourselves with God's kindness when we are burned out with life and church and faith. It is time we treated others that way.

Are you worn out? Exhausted mentally, spiritually and physically? Emotionally drained?

Make sure you get plenty of God's good rest for you. Burn out is not the time to push through even harder. It's time to sleep deeply and restore yourself.

It's not the time to fast. It's the time to eat properly. Get fresh food and fresh water into your body. Another way of restoring yourself.

Do we still pray and seek God? Absolutely - Elijah did, even in his suicidal state. But don't be surprised if you are touched by an angel. And make sure you look for God in the small things and listen for him in the whispers.

And rest assured he is sympathetic to your plight and struggles. (Not disappointed in your weakness and exhaustion.)

And rest assured there are others going through the battles of life too, battles similar to yours (or identical!) and God is close to them and cares for them and is seeing to it they not only survive but overcome.

When you are strong enough - and not before - let God (not everyone else) tell you what to put your hands to. Let him give you purpose and focus and a sense of destiny once again. Only let him do it in his way and his time, not yours.

And if he chooses to reward you with a chariot of fire and heaven and more life instead of death - let him do it.

in Christ's name