From the pebble beach of Blue Marsh Lake that yellow September day, I gazed at the sky above the vicious locust trees and asked Jesus what he had to say to me.
“A storm is coming.”
That’s what I thought he said.
Had I just imagined the words? A wisp of mare’s tail cloud hung low in the sky above me. Had the cloud placed thoughts of a storm into my mind?
I held still, waiting for more words from Jesus. It was a hot day, with skies as blue as blue could be, so why were the birds all darting for cover in the low forest underbrush? “Prepare for a storm.”
I didn’t know what that meant, but I kept those words in my heart. And I prepared.
Two months later in a riverside campsite under the pines, I tucked the first clean pot into the dish hammock and clearly heard these words in my heart, “Leave here and find your teammates.” I glanced at my watch. My co-guide had asked me to find her if she wasn’t back in an hour, but only half that time had passed. “Don’t overthink,” I told myself, “Just finish the dishes and find the group after the hour has passed.”
I heard pounding steps on the trail just as the final plates were being rinsed. I stood up and jogged out of the campsite before the panting messenger could ask me to. I wished I’d have listened to the Holy Spirit when he told me to find the group. I could have saved this messenger a lot of effort.
We waged war for hours, and by the time the war was in recession, our stuffed-crust campfire pizza was stiff and cold. The sun had set, and the moon had rolled out of bed to take his turn in the sky. One by one, the headlamps blinked out in the campsite. This war was not over, but the soldiers all needed rest.
I sat under the pines facing the tents and watched, and prayed. Many animals roam the woods at night. As snores rose up from the solo tents around me, the noises in the forest rose to rival them.
Owls hooted back and forth across the river in their comically quizzical way, and a grouchy ibis squawked at his unwanted neighbor in terse, short sentences. Rustling leaves told me the toads were a’hopping.
A howl broke out on the riverbank, downstream, and then moved closer. Panthers pass through this area, once in awhile. This noise wasn’t made by a panther, but it made me think about a hiker’s story of meeting one nearby.
Black clouds winged across the sky, sometimes revealing a handful of very bright stars, sometimes dropping bits of rain.
Silent, unseen battles swept through the campsite, passing, then receding.
All alone in this black campsite, palmettos poking my neck and mosquitoes nibbling my ankles, I wrapped a tarp around my shoulders and stared up at the sky. I asked Jesus for things, and gave him other things, and thought about the unusual fact that I wasn’t scared.
I felt so cozy, all alone there under the pines, in the middle of that active battleground.
Relieved, and comfortable, like showing up at a spring when your body has just traveled 25 miles under a hot sun.
The girl who could never sleep without her head being buried under a pillow– who could not walk outside at night without both a light and a big dog, was sitting cross-legged in a campsite at 2 a.m. with more peace than most people feel at church on a Sunday morning.
It was Jesus, obviously.
I’m not always so good at receiving love from Jesus, or from anyone else, but under those pines, in the short recess of that war he’d told me to prepare for two whole months in advance, I was recieving love from him like there was no tomorrow. It’s hard to explain what it’s like to spend a night sitting cross-legged in the woods with Jesus. But it fills you up inside.
When my watch beeped for the 5:30 making of coffee, I felt alive.
We human beans are pretty good at finding earth-things that make us feel safe. But a gun, or a dog, or a flashlight, or a man, or a can of pepper spray—these can’t know two months in advance that you’d need to prepare for war, and teach you how to prepare in exactly the right way.
A gun can’t answer the questions on your heart. A dog can’t tell you to drop what lies you are believing and what truth will set you free. A flashlight can’t fight the battles going on in unseen places. A man can’t protect the minds of the kiddos from bad dreams while they sleep. A can of pepper spray can’t make you feel so joyful in the middle of a battlefield–so secure that you could fall asleep.
It is a good place to live, with your spirit seated in the presence of Jesus and your body joining the armies of heaven in their battles on earth. I have much to learn about it.
But I’ve learned this so far: When you live in Jesus, life is 100% unpredictable. But it is 100% empowered. And 100% safe.