When I was a kid, I remember playing games with my older brothers - goofing off with friends - and even just playing with other kids in the neighborhood. We had a wooded area that surrounded our little community in
I remember the time when I was playing either "war" or "hide and seek" with a group of other kids in the woods...only this time, it seemed that we had gone deeper than we had ever gone before. There were creekbeds, fallen trees, overgrown vegetation and tracks from area wildlife...the adventure was going to be HUGE this time. I don't really recall whether or not I was the one who was "it," but all of a sudden, I clearly realized I was alone - completely.
I yelled out the names of my friends. Nobody answered. I listened for signs of their movement - the sounds of their voices. Nothing - other than the buzz of a distant mosquito and the trickling water in the creek.
I started to run - quickly realizing that I had no idea where I was running - I had completely lost all sense of direction. Thorn bushes. Mud. Sun setting.
And then...I heard it.
JOEY! (Don't laugh - that was my name as a kid).
Heart pounding out of my chest.
That cry that I had been holding within my throat - you know, that feeling like your throat has a knot the size of your fist in it - that cry suddenly exploded, "DAAAAAADDDDD!!!!!"
DAD! I'm coming! Keep yelling!
Within seconds, I reached the edge of the woods where I had heard my Dad's voice coming from and Dad was in full sight as I ran full-speed into his arms. And then I lost it - I completely fell apart and wept as I buried my head into my Dad's neck, hugging him and crying, "Daddy, I was so scared! They left me and I was lost!"
"I'm here for you, kid - you don't have to be afraid anymore."
That's all he needed to say.
I have no idea why he was there, but he was...and we've never talked about it since.
I'd relegated that experience into the "Almost Forgotten" file of my mind - until this week.
Yesterday, Pam and I took the kids for a short drive outside of
This trip was suppose to be a quick trip:
- 20 minute drive
- 15 minute hike up to
- the brochure listed the hike as "EASY." Treasure Falls
- 10 minute hike back to the car
- 20 minute drive back
When we reached the parking area, the trail that we started out on had a big sign: "TRAIL CLOSED."
So, I did what any good Dad would do. I said, "Come on, kids! Let's see how far we can go!"
Well - a normal 15 minute hike took the Tooleys nearly 85 minutes. I won't go into all of the details - those are memories for my kids to share some day in the future. I will say that there was GOOD reason why the sign said "TRAIL CLOSED."
Trees had fallen, vegetation had overgrown the path, and portions of the trail had eroded away in some pretty treacherous parts of the path.
It was at such a point that I decided to venture ahead of Pam and the kids to see whether or not the trail and the ensuing chasm were crossable. I tried crossing it. It looked terribly frightening, yet - in all honesty it was safe for us to cross. I had a solid footing - there were branches from a long-time fallen tree to grab on to...it was safe.
I'm not sure what brought him to this critical point of hysterical fear, but when Nic saw me cross the eroded path at that high-altitude point in the trail, he went berzerk. He lost it. He pleaded and cried, "No, Daddy! Please don't make us go any further!" He sobbed huge sobs with giant, crocodile tears.
I KNEW we could cross safely. I KNEW we had come so far and the reward was just ahead...I could hear the water falls cascading over the mountain side.
Nic was still crying, pleading to turn back. My fatherly instincts kicked in at this point and I knew that if we turned back - a huge teaching moment would escape my son...and ultimately, me.
At the same time, my heart was absolutely crushed because my son was so gripped with fear. His tears were almost unbearable. I could have just scooped him up and headed home. Instead, I said in a calm voice, "Son? Can you look into my eyes? Look at me." And then I asked, "What is it that you're afraid of?"
He didn't miss a beat. In his small, pleading voice, he said with conviction, "I'm afraid I'm going to fall off the mountain and die." Tears were running down his face.
I replied, "Son - that's not going to happen. You can trust me. You have to trust me. We are not going back - we're going forward and in order for us to do that, we all need you to be brave and to trust Dad."
"What if fall!?" was his immediate response.
"I'm going to be holding on to you so tightly that even if you slip, I won't let you fall."
Now - when I asked Annikah if she was going to cross, she responded with a "YES!" in the same way as if I had asked, "Annikah, would you like to have a million kitties, puppies and your own flower garden?" She had ZERO hesitation. She grabbed my hand...took 2 1/2 steps and was across safely.
I didn't even have to ask Allison - she just grabbed my hand, found her footing and crossed the broken pathway over the ravine.
And then, standing behind Nicolas and rubbing his arms and neck in a way that only a comforting Mother could do, Pam said, "Nicolas - Daddy promises to hold on to you. You'll be safe - you can trust him...and I'm right behind you."
That was it. That's all it took.
He grabbed my hand - took his 2 steps and was safely across.
His fear was gone, instantly - His trust was full.
Today, I found time early in the morning (thanks to a faulty alarm clock that woke me up WAY too early) to go for a wonderful walk to a coffee shop near the place where we're staying. A fantastic double-shot americano (2 Splendas and just the right amount of cream) along with an hour of praying and reading Scripture was what God had arranged for me.
Jeremiah 39:18: "I will save you; you will not fall..., because you trust in me, declares the LORD."
There are so many promises in Scripture - none have ever failed. This particular one was for today.
And then - I opened up Facebook and read through the first 10 updates that appeared on my page. The third one down hit me in such a way that, right there in the middle of the coffee shop, I actually started to cry. My friend had posted something so simple, "'Trust in me, Cindy.' ~ Abba."
Perhaps it was because of the previous day's experience with Nicolas and how my mind kept coming back to it. Perhaps it was because of the promises God had once again laid in front of me through His living, breathing Word.
The image of Father God...Daddy God...Abba - standing at this seemingly impossible precipice that our family is in front of in our journey right now, saying, "Trust me, Joel and Pam. I'm your Daddy and I will save you - you will not fall because you trust in ME."
Our lives have experienced so much uncertainty this past year. I often look at the path in front of me and like Nicolas, cry out, "No! Let's just go back! I don't want to get hurt!"
Well - after we made it past the "pit of death" as Nicolas later referred to it, I asked him, "Hey, Nic...what do you think of our hike now?"
"Well, Dad...that was the scariest thing I've ever done and I never want to do it again."
"...but, I'm really glad we did it."
Me too, son. Me, too.
PS: Shortly after our harrowing experience over the ravine - we stumbled upon a very well-kept, wide and well-marked path. It turns out, the National Park Service had built a new, easier path that started just yards/meters away from where we had started off on our own - down the "CLOSED TRAIL." The falls were marvelous and the journey down the mountain path was quick. Nic was a much happier hiker!
PSS: Dad, I love you. Thank you for never failing me - for always being there at just the right moment.