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A vanishing trail

by davesandel on March 4th, 2021

Thursday, March 4, 2021       (today’s lectionary)

A vanishing trail

The Lord watches over the way of the just, but the way of the wicked vanishes.

Not far from Asheville, North Carolina, deep in the back woods, our family camped on a balmy summer night. Early the next morning Chris and I set out in our van to a hiking spot I’d found on the map. Margaret, Marc and Andi were still asleep in our relatively comfortable tent.

We found a spot to descend into the woods. Far off we heard the sound of rushing water, and we headed for the stream at the bottom of the ravine. The trail petered out after a little while. It was exciting to be together with 13-year-old Chris, exploring the wilderness together before breakfast.

We found the stream, we took pictures, we got hungry and we started back up. In just a few minutes we realized we were lost. I had not turned around much on the way down, so I didn’t see that behind us the woods just closed in. And I also didn’t see that the road, the van, everything we had left and wanted to return to, was not visible from down here.

“I think we’re going to die,” Chris might have said after a little while. If he didn’t say that, I’m pretty sure he was thinking it.

“Trust me,” I told him. We have to trust God, and you have to trust me. And we set off in some random direction, hoping to find the way, or at least some way, up to the road.

Sometime an hour or so later we began climbing as straight up the hill as we could, trying to avoid overhangs, drop-offs, and dead ends. We came out finally, on the road, down the road from our van, and in that moment, we felt the joy of the blessed. We had truly been in danger, and we had truly been rescued. Our prayers, aloud and silent, did not fall on deaf ears.

Blessed is the man who delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on his law, day and night. He is like a tree planted near running water.

Getting back to the van we realized how frightened everyone else was, because they had no idea where we had gone. I think Chris and I may have just decided to head out without telling anyone. This has happened to me with Margaret more than once. I feel pretty stupid every time. Careless. Assuming the best … O, everything will be fine. We’ll be back before breakfast.

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I, the Lord, alone probe the mind and test the heart.

Lord knows, I don’t mean to be an idiot. I especially don’t mean to put others into a panic. But I do sometimes, and who can understand it? Jeremiah says God tests the heart to “reward everyone according to his ways.” But I thank God that a few chapters later (Jeremiah 31) He relents. God speaks of the future and of my future too when he says …

I have loved you with an everlasting love. You will come with weeping, you will pray as I bring you back. I will lead you beside streams of water on a level path where you will not stumble, because I am your father.

We call ourselves trailblazers, but really, not so much. The way of the wicked vanishes. When I follow it, I get nowhere. Then in my foolishness God puts me on a level path. I stumble, but then he sets me right. Great pain, great loss sometimes, and always, in the fullness of time, the joy of being blessed.

I have heard your moaning, and I will turn your mourning into gladness, give you comfort and joy to replace your sorrow. You can have hope.

Jeremiah was dreaming.

At this I awoke and looked around. My sleep had been pleasant to me.

No, this is not only a dream. Here is Yahweh coming to speak truth into our lives. “The days are coming,” he says …

I will put my law in your minds and write it on your hearts. I will be your God, and you will be my people.

(Jeremiah 17, Psalm 1, Luke 8, Luke 16)

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