Many people are coming home after a journey this time of year. We just returned from Montana where we enjoyed a family reunion at the Sauskojus Resort outside Billings, MT.
I remember a journey I took once with Dan. We were between churches and were living with my folks in Plains, Montana. My sister, Wendy, and her husband, John, were trying to sell their house. They had a guiding business and left to go their hunting camp, leaving us with instructions on how to contact them if they got a buyer. It was a balmy day in October when Dan cheerfully agreed to hike into their camp.
A couple of weeks later, we got word that John and Wendy had a prospective buyer. Dan got ready to go, even though the weather forecast was predicting a snow storm, and I volunteered to go with him. We were offered everything from hip waders (there was a creek to cross) to my dad’s heavy Alaskan winter parka.
Various people had given us directions to their camp. One man said, “You cross the creek four or five times, then head up a steep bank. At the top of the hill, the ground levels off and their camp is up there in the trees.” As you can see, this was a little vague.
We started off from the trailhead in the mountains west of Superior, MT, with high spirits even though snow was falling — heavy, wet flakes that nearly obliterated the trail. We felt prepared for the hike, yet nothing could prepare us for the journey ahead. It was November 18, 1996.
The forest was as quiet as a cathedral with the falling snow and dim light. We trudged along, knowing we had to hike about five miles, yet as we walked, we wondered if we were on the right track. The snow was already about three feet deep on both sides of the trail. After crossing the creek the fourth time, we began to be afraid, for night was falling swiftly and still we only heard the quiet drip, drip, drip from laden branches — no sounds of a camp. We were getting wet clear through, and had no desire to spend the night in the forest. At one point, we stopped and prayed. “Lord, help us. Show us a sign that we are on the right path.”
We crossed the creek again and climbed a bank. There, on a tree, was a sign that read: “Klekers Outfitters”. Wow! I was elated when I saw it, yet as we listened, we heard no sounds of the camp, and the snow covered any tracks going in the forest by the sign. The trail led up a hill, so Dan thought the camp was on top of the hill.
Dutifully I followed behind him as we left the creek and began climbing. It was dusk. In a few minutes, we would have to find a place under the trees to camp for the night. We stopped and prayed again. Listened. Nothing. Then Dan saw tracks in the snow. They were all leading down the hill! “Let’s go back by that sign and see if something is there,” I urged.
But what if the camp was just around the next bend? By this time, we were wet, tired and cold. We turned and started back down the hill. When we got to the sign, we saw footprints leading into the trees. Following them, we saw a hitching rail! And after turning another corner, we came upon three wall tents half buried in the snow with smoke coming out of chimneys. My sister popped out, and with surprise on her face said, “What are you guys doing here?” I’d hiked that whole way just to see that look on her face!
A warm tent, dry clothes, and food cooking on the stove seemed like heaven to us. When John arrived with their hunters, he said, “You can’t go anywhere to get away from relatives!” We delivered our message and after a scrumptious dinner, fell asleep to the sound of snow hitting the roof of the tent.
The next day, they broke camp and started for base camp. Six hours (and many adventures) later, we arrived at the trail head only to find the car buried in snow! John and Dan took the horses on over to the base camp (over downed trees), borrowed a chain saw, and returned an hour later. Wendy and I piled into the car. I changed clothes and we ate some crackers. The men put chains on the car and we drove to the base camp. Dan and I started for home. At the freeway, we took the chains off, and drove to St. Regis. We’d only had breakfast and a few snacks all day, and so were looking forward to a hot meal at the restaurant in St. Regis.
As we got on the highway, we discovered it was really icy! Semi trucks were stopped and we found out later they closed the freeway behind us. St. Regis was dark — the power was out. We went on. The drive to Plains was slow, for the road was totally covered with ice. When we arrived, we entered a cafe and said, “We want the fastest dinner you can put on a plate!” They got our dinner out in ten minutes!
I called Mom and told her we were safe. She shouted, “Hallelujah!” and said she’d called practically the whole town of Plains to pray for us! What we didn’t know was that the Ice Storm of November 19th had covered the whole area — from Spokane and over Lookout Pass to the southeast — with a heavy layer of ice, taking out power lines and causing havoc across the whole region.
Yes, Wendy and John sold their place, and yes, they were grateful we’d made the death-defying journey to tell them.
I got thinking about our journey this morning and came up with some lessons I learned from it.
1) Chose your leader carefully. I follow Jesus Christ, and the man He gave me, Dan Work. As in Pilgrim’s Progress, the trail is often hard and another path might look better because it is easier and does not climb. But if it leads away from Christ and His Word, then shun it like the plague. With Christ in my focus and His Word in my heart, I take one step at a time and whether the path is hard or easy, I do not fear, for He is holding my hand.
2) Watch for signs, but don’t bet the ranch on them. They might lead you astray. We saw the sign leading to John and Wendy’s camp, but we didn’t know what to do with it since there were no footprints leading up to it. Signs can be tricky. We often interpret them to point the way we want to go, and not God’s way. Stick with the Word of God and ask God to lead you, even if it’s against what you desire. He is a faithful guide, and just like He led us to the camp that night, He can direct your path.
3) Jesus is with you in the storm and the surprises of life. We felt totally alone on the trail that day, yet we were not. Christ lives in us, and He was helping us find our way. You may feel alone as you face the storms of life. If you have Christ in your heart, you are not alone. He is there. Turn to Him and He will comfort, guide and direct your path through the storm. I like that word “through”. It means there’s an end to it. Your circumstance will pass and you will find peace, joy and love on the other side of it. Don’t despair. Trust Christ.