A few weeks ago, hiking late in the day near Hot Springs, I got lost–not just temporarily detoured, utterly and completely lost.
I was alone and hadn’t told anyone of my plans. I was in an area I know well, so I didn’t take a trail map or download one on my phone.
I intended to hike for about an hour and a half, so I didn’t take water or food with me. It was a cool day; the night was forecast to be cold, with high winds, but I had enough clothes to stay warm as long as daylight lasted.
I set out on the trail, enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of the mountain woods. After I’d been walking for a while, though, I didn’t recognize where I was. The trail markers had disappeared or, more likely, I had missed them.
After trying to backtrack to the trail I meant to be on, I decided instead to attempt to shortcut my way to a more familiar place. I left the Forest Service road onto which I’d stumbled onto, a road I followed for a while but which seemed only to take me in wide circles, and hiked down and up pathless ridges—sometimes falling down and crawling up.
I texted Anita to let her know I was hiking. I told her I was fine but that I was a bit turned around and that she should eat dinner without me. That text was the first of many in which I tried to reassure her (and myself) that I wasn’t as lost as I knew I was.
I kept moving. Dusk crept in. Winds picked-up and howled through the hills. Just before darkness completely displaced light, I admitted to myself that I really was lost, very lost, and in trouble. About 8:00, I called 911. The people who volunteer with the Madison County Fire Department, Emergency Medical Services and who work with the Forest Service couldn’t have been more gracious and compassionate. Combining their local knowledge, GPS tracking devices, and a drone, they set about to find me. It took nearly three hours; that’s how lost I was.
I repeatedly asked what I could do to help them with the rescue. “Nothing,” was the answer. All I could do was stay still and wait to be found. So, I sat and stood against the same tree, near a ridge top, trying not to panic to pray instead, to stay warm, and to listen for the horns and sirens my rescuers said they’d sound when they got close where they thought I was.
To stave off the increasing cold, I walked tight circles around my tree, jogged in place, and stretched. I was dehydrated.
Being lost became nearly all I could think about.
The stars were stunningly beautiful, but their beauty only partly registered with me. The lights I wanted to see where the flashlights and searchlights of my rescuers.
About 10:45, I heard first a siren, then a horn. I texted the officer in charge to let him know that they I heard them. Then I saw a flashlight across the way, atop another ridge, and then another and another. I switched on my phone’s light and waved it in circles above my head. Voices shouted my name, “Guy, Guy!” I shouted—hollered—back: “I’m here. Over here.” Tears flooded my eyes. I took some deep breaths for the first time in hours.
Soon, one of the volunteers was at my side. We walked back to his truck which was parked not too far away in a field. A couple of other volunteers scooted over and made room for me in the back seat. They gave me a bottle of water and set the truck heater to high.
I was embarrassed and ashamed. I apologized over and over again. My rescuers didn’t shame me or scold me. They said, “It happens more often than you think. We’re just glad you’re okay.”
That night, I was lost, alone, and helpless to do anything but stay still and wait. I didn’t have the light or warmth or food or drink I needed to survive. I had to be rescued.
In these days after Easter, my misadventure bears, for me, a resurrection hope: Maybe you’re in the dark and it’s cold. Maybe you’re hungry for love and thirsty for joy. Maybe you feel alone and helpless.
Because of Jesus, I trust that God is calling your name and that you will hear it. I trust that God is shining light in the darkness and that you will see it.
As Jesus said in the last lines of his well-known parable: “This one was was dead and has come to life–lost and has been found.”