If you were to ask my sweet, sweet girlfriend, Tori, for one of my biggest flaws, she would undoubtedly tell you that I am directionally challenged. And she would be absolutely correct. So much so, that when I first started driving I needed a GPS to find my house even when I was in my own neighborhood. So I don’t know why I thought that hiking a trail marked “most strenuous” without a map was a good idea, but nevertheless I did.
Leading up to the hike, I was very proud of the day I had planned for us. We were supposed to go on a 5-mile trek over the Black Balsam Bald near Asheville, North Carolina, and then head down into Asheville for dinner. She had no idea of our plans, and I jokingly said on the ride up, “Don’t worry, today will have enough excitement for today and tomorrow.” I had no idea how true this statement would turn out to be.
It was an amazing day for a hike, and I was so thankful to be able to take in the Lord’s wonderful creation with Tori. We did our devotional together on top of the Tennent Mountain, and we talked about surrendering our lives/relationship fully to the Lord. We discussed how this can be difficult and, as our devotional put it, that “surrender goes against every fiber of our being.” However, when we do surrender to Him we experience peace and joy, and our relationships are truly more secure because they are rooted in God.
It was a great devotional, but we had no idea how real all that we had discussed would become in a few, short hours.
Around 4 p.m., after we had hiked a little over four miles, we came to the end of the Art Loeb trail, which I thought was a loop. This is when the problems started appearing. The loop was nowhere to be found, and we were left guessing which way to go. I quickly realized that I did not do enough research on the trail we were hiking because I had no idea which way we were supposed to go at this point. All we knew was that we didn’t want to turn back and hike four more miles to get out. So, we decided to embark on a trail that we thought might lead us back to our car.
I always thought that getting lost in the mountains with minimal water, dying phones and without flashlights would never happen to me, but indeed here we were. We realized we did not know where we were so we would take trails that we thought would lead us back to the parking lot, but that never happened.
A few hours earlier, we had joked about getting lost in the woods and having to spend the night out there. Now it was a real possibility, and we were definitely unprepared for that. We started praying that the Lord would lead us out.
Tori was ready to be back in the car, and I felt like an idiot for getting us lost in the woods. We were asking ourselves, as Taylor Swift says, “Are we out of the woods yet?” around every bend. The answer was “no” every single time.
Now it was dark, and we were no closer to being on the right trail. I began praying that the Lord would supernaturally direct us. I did not have any idea what that was going to look like, but I knew we needed direction. We were completely lost, and without Him we were not going to find our way out that night. Sounds a lot like our need for a Savior, doesn’t it?
Fork in the road
In this moment of prayer we came to a fork in the road. We decided to go straight, which was actually the wrong choice. However, we walked a little ways and literally stumbled upon two people camping for the night. They asked if we were okay, and I had to swallow my pride and admit that we were most certainly not okay.
They were able to refill our empty water bottle, give us headlamps and point us in the right direction thanks to their maps. Finally, we were headed on the right path.
At this point, Tori was extremely frustrated with me, rightfully so, because I got us into this mess. This was definitely the biggest trial that we had faced thus far in our almost-six-month relationship. I hated that I had gotten us in this mess, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the faithfulness of the Lord and how He always provides for us. He literally was the lamp unto our feet and light unto our steps on this night.
The Father’s presence was so real to us. I kept telling Tori how crazy it was that we tried to find our own way and only got more lost, but in those moments of complete cluelessness the Lord provided for all our needs. We might have skipped church to go hiking, but we definitely got our dose of church and learned so much about how amazing our God truly is.
It was through recognizing this truth about the Lord — and many, many apologies on my part — that Tori and I were able to reconcile. I was so thankful for the reconciliation. I figured that since we had made up we could enjoy the millions of stars we saw as we hiked back.
All of the happiness of making up and awe of the stars vanished in an instant when we saw four glowing lights floating on the trail in front of us. They were not stars, but four eyes staring directly at us. The eyes were silver, which we later learned, is common among wolves. My prayer in life is to have a heart like David, but I did not mean that I wanted to kill predators with a slingshot, or in my case, a tiny, hiking knife. Again, the Lord was watching out for us, and the wolves disappeared into the thicket.
At this point in our hike we still had about an hour and a half of hiking left to do. That was definitely the most uneasy hour of hiking I have ever done in my life. We spent the rest of the hike yelling in hopes that the animals would leave us alone, which they did. During this time we were hiking through the valleys of the mountains in thicket that rose above our heads. Every step was not a matter of life and death, but it was a very real reminder that the Lord does watch over us in the valley of the shadows of death.
We made it through the thicket and over the balds and the trail started to look more and more familiar. Then, as we walked through the trees we could see the road; we had made it out of the forest!
We still had to walk a mile down the pitch-black road to our car, which was nerve-racking in itself, thanks to the heckling campers we passed just as we were exiting the woods.
Thankfully though, nine hours and over 15 miles later, we reached the car.
Never in my life have I been more excited about Taco Bell and getting stuck at red lights as I was when we made it down the mountain and into Ashville.
Looking back, that hike certainly produced copious amounts of tears and basically every emotion in the books. However, it also gave me a deeper understanding and thankfulness for the Lord as my provider, and encouragement for my relationship with the always-forgiving Tori Stoenica. Because if we can remain rooted in the Lord during our trials like the ones we faced on the hike, than our relationship will continue to head in the right direction.
Finally, in life, when we remain fully dependent on our Heavenly Father, we can have full confidence that He will always lead us on the right path; it doesn’t matter how directionally challenged we might be.