What possessed me to take a trip into the mountains – not just the mountains, but the WILDERNESS – ALL ALONE?!? While I have been on numerous trips throughout the course of my lifetime, I have never journeyed solo. Okay, well, I have taken a handful of business trips and seminars by myself, but upon arriving at my destination there were always convention halls filled with other people, or at least business colleagues to dine with, & people whom I knew to meet up with to enjoy extracurricular activities after hours. But not on this particular trip. About a year ago I had ventured up into the Smoky Mountains with a companion, and we had such an amazingly perfect trip that we decided that we would go again together this year. The timing of the previous trip coincided with my birthday, which is always a very sad occasion for me, because it marks both the anniversary of my sister’s tragic death at a young age, as well as the ending of my long term marriage. So I like to retreat into myself & spend a little time alone during the time surrounding these anniversaries. However, last year changed all of that! I had SO much FUN on my birthday – probably more fun than I have ever had on any birthday since my sister passed away. Even though I have had 2 children that I raised who helped me celebrate birthdays, there was always something missing, & a sadness that I could not quite overcome.
But last year was different – I was actually HAPPY on my birthday for the first time in decades! So months ago, I began eager anticipation of another trip with the same companion to the same destination. I was excited about the prospects of shopping, dining, relaxing, exploring, hiking, & just stargazing amidst mountaintop breezes while sitting in our rocking chairs nestled, literally, in the treetops, with that splendid view of the Smoky Mountains. But, as does happen in life sometimes, Fate & Circumstances changed everything between us in the unexpected blink of an eye, & I found myself with no plans to take that particular trip after all.
Saddened at the thought of not going up to the mountains, I did not relish the alternatives, either, which were to either find someone else to accompany me there, go to a different destination, or stay at home & reminisce about both the best & worst birthdays of my life. I have MANY DEAR FRIENDS, & I am quite certain that I could have found one or more of them to either accompany me to the Smokies, throw me a birthday bash, or maybe take me to the beach. But I was not feeling up to company. Usually a fairly vivacious & somewhat entertaining person (or so I have been told), I felt that it would be unfair to any of them to go with me when I was just not feeling up to par. So I made a daring decision – I decided to go to the mountains alone. After all, I love the outdoors, & I can be perfectly content just watching the sunsets & sunrises. And I recalled a poster with a magnificent waterfall and the Bible verse, “Be still and know that I am God”, that once adorned my room. There are some lovely waterfalls in those mountains, and Lord knows, I would not “be still” if I remained at home.
So it was decided. I was going solo. I bought myself a new camera, so I could take plenty of pictures. I am but the most amateur of photographers, but capturing history via written word & photographs has long been a passion of mine. I started looking forward to being able to stop whenever & wherever I desired to take pictures.
I am a very sentimental soul, so I decided that it would be best if I booked a different cabin than the one I had stayed in last year. The cabin I booked was advertised as being “close to Gatlinburg”, but it turns out that it was nearly an hour away! When I emailed them for directions, they said that the GPS would not be able to take me to it, as it was “twelve miles into the wilderness.” GULP!!! My resolve was fading a bit. “What is the worst that could happen to me? My kids are grown & able to fend for themselves in the rare event that something DOES happen,” I thought to myself. Besides, I need some alone time to think about the direction my life is headed. I am going to go ahead, anyway! So I made all of my arrangements to go: Notify clients. Stop mail. Cut grass. Board puppy. And so on.
The night before I was scheduled to leave, I packed my suitcases, & went to bed, elated at the adventure ahead, for I do love a good adventure! But in the middle of the night I awakened feeling uneasy. I was actually a little bit frightened at the thought of going alone. I made myself go back to sleep, all the while contemplating the possibility of attempting to get a refund on my money as soon as it was morning. Suddenly, I awoke again, & the first few verses of one of the few Psalms that I had memorized from beginning to end as a child started running through my head: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
Over and over these verses kept playing, like a broken record. “Lord, is that YOU?” I whispered into the darkness of my familiar bedroom. The words just kept repeating in my mind: “He leads me beside still waters”. (There was a beautiful river on the property that I intended to walk down to see.) “He restores my soul.” (Events of the past 3 years had definitely left my spirit in need of refreshment.) “I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” (What was I afraid of? If God is with me, what can go wrong?”) So I took this subconscious summoning of the 23rd Psalm as a sign that I was indeed supposed to make this trip alone. I immediately fell back to sleep. But this time, it was a peaceful, refreshing sleep.
As I set off on my journey the next day, I said a prayer that God would not only grant me traveling mercies, but that He would speak to my heart while I was gone regarding some issues I had been struggling with on several levels. The day before, my check oil light had come on, so I had to stop & get some oil added to my engine. I had just had a belt replaced, & new brakes put on, so I should be good to go after the nice young man at Auto Zone added part of a quart of oil for me. Yet before I even left town, yet another light came on!
I had no idea what this light meant, & wondered if it was an omen that I should just stay at home, after all? It was a Sunday, so I could find no mechanics available to look at the problem. It was also starting to rain, and I was beginning to sink into frustration that my delightful trip might not even take place. Finally, I remembered the words from the night before: “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” So I pulled over into a parking lot, pulled out the owner’s manual, and satisfied myself that, though it advised taking the van to the dealer, I would not only make the journey, but make it successfully, because I had a date with the most important man in my life: God. Determination, coupled with anxiety that I might possibly break down & get stranded in the Smoky Mountains alone accompanied me every mile, & the worry was so great that I pulled over in Scottsboro to attempt to find another mechanic. No luck! So I sat in that parking lot & prayed about whether or not I should turn back & just stay at home.
Deep down in my spirit, I knew that this trip would offer me healing, & have a cathartic effect on me. It was a once in my life time opportunity to go out on my own & meet with God. An inspired appointment to re-discover myself. And that is exactly what I did! I set back out on the road with the conviction that my vehicle would not break down, that the weather would cooperate, & that I would hear from God in some shape, form or fashion while I was there.
And He did speak to me in NUMEROUS ways during the 6 nights and 7 days I was gone. I did make it to the wilderness cabin (although that was a treacherous thing and I ended up leaving and relocating to a hotel after a couple of days) all by myself! I did make it all the way there & back without my vehicle malfunctioning. And wonderfully, though there were a few sprinkles & a couple of times when it was pretty overcast, the rains only came when I was sleeping, so I was able to get outside, shop, hike, explore, or go rafting each day of the trip! I had a lot of time to reflect, read, write, pray, plan, ponder, prepare, wonder, & wander. Reflections of life, revelations about my walk with God, & recollections of relationships all flooded my soul, & I found healing, wholeness, & happiness there in those mountains. But those are stories for another day.
This story revolves around just the act of going into the wilderness itself. It did not occur to me until I was actually in that very secluded little cabin one night, but have you ever thought about how many of God’s most significant encounters with people, not only in the Bible, but throughout history, have happened when the people were totally ALONE, with no other human beings around? Have you ever pondered the fact that , when a student is having difficulty grasping a subject that they may have to get one-on-one tutoring? Or that, when a kid in school just will not follow the rules, they get called into the Principal’s office? Or that when we are around other people, though God is ever-present, we cannot fully focus all of our attention on Him?
God had some lessons for me to learn. On the surface, I think that my faith appears to be as strong as that of almost anyone else around me. But He has been trying to teach me to give Him TOTAL trust for quite some time now. He has been trying to teach me PATIENCE, to WAIT ON HIM, for a very long time. He has been trying to teach me, in the words that a sweet friend emailed to me not long ago, to “Trust in that in which I believe.” I have wanted to advance to the next level in my spiritual life for quite some time now, but on this trip I came to the realization that I needed to pass these classes first. And I knew that I needed to get away in order to properly process the lessons I was being taught. I am too hyper to be still enough for long enough to learn them if I am at home, because I will be into something, and if I am around people, I will most definitely be socializing! Not that these are bad things – it is just who I am. And God knows that!
Though I had never ever taken a solo trip like this before, I am so very glad that I did so, because I learned so much about myself, about my life, and yes, about God. Things that I would probably never have grasped had I not taken this trip. I intend to write about some of these adventures sometime soon. But for now, the point is that when you obey the calling of God and go where He leads you, He will indeed reveal things to you.
I do confess that I had a few momentary twinges of melancholy as I recalled past birthdays. However, though I was alone in the mountains, nearly 500 of my family, friends, colleagues and clients found a way to send me greetings and well wishes via social media, texts, calls, and emails. What better way to celebrate than spending a beautiful, breezy summer day outside exploring, then coming back to a nice hotel and answering a multitude of “Happy Birthdays”? And I did feel wistful as I passed by some of the places where I had gone the previous year with the companion that I was missing this year. But overall, I am so very thankful that I was finally able to unwind and rest enough to be able to meditate and contemplate where I am and where I am headed. That is a difficult thing to properly focus upon when you are surrounded by people, even though they are people that you love.
I do not expect everyone to understand why a woman of my age (or any age) would venture out into the wilderness all alone for a week. While I have been a successful businesswoman for most of my life, and believe that women are as adept as men at many things, I am most definitely not a die hard feminist. I was not out to prove anything to anyone. I was not looking for attention – I actually only told half a dozen people that I would be going alone. (Primarily for safety reasons, I did not want that word to spread until after my return.) And I actually prefer the thought of having the protection of a strong man, and love my guy’s hand to cling to in uncertain situations! But since I did not have any masculine arms in which to seek shelter, I am so very thankful that I had the shelter of the arms of my Father in Heaven, who holds me up by His right hand!
It is all right if you think it a bit unusual that I would do something like this, or if you do not understand it. But please, do not knock it until you try it! You may not have to go 12 miles into the wilderness, but if God needs to talk to you in private, by all means, you should step into His office and close the door behind you. Even if He chastises you a bit, as He did me, you do not want to miss out on what He has to say to you!
Sometimes, the only way we can listen to the lesson, really grasp and absorb it, is with one on one tutoring. Do I wish things had been different between myself and my companion of the previous year, so that we would have made that trip together, as planned? Most definitely. But taking that trip with that individual was no longer an option for me, so I was determined to move forward with my life, even if it meant moving forward into an adventure all by myself. One more thing about that: I was not really alone, anyway, because God was my companion. Together, we ventured into the woods; encountered a bear; sat beside a serene river; survived the crashing waters of Class IV rapids; ate steak dinners; indulged in pancake breakfasts with bacon; sat beneath the pavilion & listened to the birds sing; got eaten by bugs; saw the lightning crash over the mountains in the middle of the night; & encountered a wide variety of people, flora & fauna! I read my Bible & devotional books each day. I perused the little shops in what used to be quaint downtown Gatlinburg & the so-called outlet stores of Pigeon Forge. And I had FUN, again, on my birthday. Tears co-mingled with laughter. Joy dispersing sorrow. Pained by the past, but delighted by the present, & preparing for the future. Though it was not a five star resort to which I retreated, it was indeed a trip of a life time.
And finally, after a life time of praying, studying the Bible, and going to Church, I found the true meaning of the Bible verse on that poster from my teenaged room: Finally, I learned how to “be STILL.” FINALLY. And in that stillness, I learned things about myself that I wish I had known sooner. I learned some things that I hope have changed me for the better. And I have some pretty interesting stories to share that I hope will have meaning for someone else along the way. All in all, it was a great, incredible, awesome and wondrous experience that I would not trade for anything!! So if God calls you to wander in the figurative or literal wilderness, rest assured that it is there that He “will restore your soul.” May some of your wanderings lead you beside still waters.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong, & be of good courage; do not be afraid or dismayed, for The Lord God is with you, wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9