My years as a field forester spanned three geographical states (from California to Oregon to Washington), two marital states (from single to married), and on one particular day, two physical states (from lost to found).
For four years every workday began largely the same way. I’d load my boots, my vest, and my hardhat into the company truck, stop at the office for a co-worker, my paperwork, a cup of coffee and a donut if I was lucky, and then head out for whatever corner of the company’s land holdings I was to work in on that particular day. At the end of the day everything went back into the truck for the drive home and a run-through of the events of the morning in reverse. The duties of each day varied depending on my job title, office location, and the season of the year. Some days I found difficult, such as the one on which a “controlled” burn lost that status when it jumped the fire lines and turned into a raging forest fire. I hated working in the bone-numbing cold of snow and hiking on terrain so steep that I had to hang on to the brush I was pushing through to keep from catapulting down the hillside. But there were many more moments I loved, such as coming over a ridge onto the heart-stopping beauty of tree-covered hillsides stretched out before me, the heart-dropping thrill of helicopter rides with herbicide applicators who needed to be shown boundary lines, and the depths of friendships that developed between coworkers who got through all the moments together somehow. Yet few days stand out in my mind as forcibly as the day I got lost in the woods.
It began like so many others. Armed with the tools of our trade, my coworker and I headed out to find the stand of trees we were supposed to work in that day. The morning seemed to go smoothly, but at some point in the early afternoon we noticed that our maps weren’t lining up well with what we were seeing on the ground. The more we tried to get back on track the worse the situation became until suddenly we realized we were hopelessly turned around; in short, lost. For hours after that we trudged in one direction through thick brush and open tree stands, up one hill and down another, hoping to intersect with a road of some type that would give us a clue as to our whereabouts.
I remember the heat and physical exhaustion of the trek and our overwhelming disappointment each time we reached the top of a ridge only to see more hills and valleys before us with no logging trail or access road in sight. But mostly I remember my incredible thirst. Our water supplies emptied hours earlier, we looked in vain for refreshment in dry streambeds on a warm end-of-summer day. Weary, soaked in sweat, and incredibly cotton mouthed, I can’t describe our relief when we finally stumbled across a road, determined our location, retrieved our truck and were headed home at last.
It was a humiliating experience at best, one that required multiple explanations over the days that followed to an inquisitive boss, interested friends, and (supposedly) sympathetic spouses. Mine just thought it was funny, and the longevity of our marriage is due in part to the fact that he quickly learned to quit bringing up the subject for laughs in social gatherings of one sort or another. The people around me focused on the fact that I got lost. Yet what made it memorable to me was the absolute joy of being found – the relief of finally coming across a road, the gratitude for the directions we were given, and the satisfaction of finally drinking my fill.
Shortly after this incident occurred I discovered that I was as lost in life as I had been in the woods that day. My job had been going along fine until a transfer to a new city left me lonely and vulnerable. A few missteps in the wrong direction knocked me seriously off course until I gradually came to realize how desperately I longed for a way to get myself back on track. I was tired of waking up each morning to more of the same questions, problems and difficulties, the answers I sought having eluded me once again. I didn’t realize how spiritually thirsty I had become. Desperate to find a way out of my situation, I sought help from a fellow traveler who answered my questions and pointed me in the right direction, a path that led to the foot of the cross.
It likewise was a humbling experience. When that particular morning began I was a 24-year-old college graduate just killing time in the back of a classroom, looking forward to my plans for the rest of the day while my boyfriend fulfilled his weekly spiritual obligation of teaching a Sunday School class to a handful of sixth grade girls. People later laughed to hear that I needed the lesson he taught more than the kids I was with. But I remember the absolute joy of walking out of the room much as I walked out of the woods that day, having moved from Lost to Found, a huge smile framing my face.
One more detail from our Bad-Day-in-the-Woods. When we finally found a road and had made a decision which way to head on it, we soon came upon a small house. My coworker knocked on the door to get directions, but I spied something I needed more. A hose was curled up underneath a faucet on the side of the building. Without waiting to ask permission, I ran to it, turned the spigot, and got the drink I so desperately needed. I drank and I drank and I drank.
Once you’ve discovered how lost and thirsty you are, you don’t necessarily need to wait for the next available church service or to pray with a pastor to ask for a drink of Living Water, good though it is to get direction in those places. You can go straight to the Source and get what you need.
In my case, I found the Road, slacked my thirst, and have been happily heading Home ever since. The same can be true for you.
“The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I, the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.”