What waterfalls, killer whales, and sleeping in a rotting tree taught me about surrender…

Years ago when I was in the Air Force I had the opportunity to be station in Alaska. One of my first assignments was temporary duty with a joint services task force to a little island off the coast of Ketchikan, Alaska called Annette Island. Annette Island is the largest deciduous rainforest in North America. The fishing was great and other than sleeping in plywood huts, I found myself sitting in one of the most beautiful places on earth. The forest was very dense, but I had been told about a series of waterfalls on the island and so I decided when I finished work that day that I was going to go take pictures of these waterfalls. I took a look at a map of the island to make sure I had my bearings and off I went into the woods. It was perhaps not the brightest idea that I ever had. I didn’t bring anything with me except my camera and I was wearing a camouflage uniform in the middle of a forest, but I was bound and determined to discover these waterfalls. The forest was so dense that it was impossible to walk through so I took to wading in the stream. The scenery was amazing! I was walking through dense forests wading in a stream and the salmon were racing upstream all around me. I found the first waterfall and took some great pictures. I then turned and continued my trip downstream towards the next waterfall. That is when things took a downturn. I felt myself walking much further than the map suggested. Eventually, the creek emptied into the ocean rather than ending up by the camp like I expected. I didn’t panic though. I simply followed the coastline knowing that it would take me back to the camp. That worked well until the tide came in. As the tide came in, I was forced off of the kelp beds onto jagged cliff like rocks on the coastline. There I sat. It was getting dark, I was wet up to my waist from wading in the creek, I had no jacket and no way to make a fire, and I was freezing. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, I could hear periodic breaths of a very large animal that continued to work its way down the coastline towards me. All I could do was sit still as it grew closer. Then, all at once in front of me a large fin surfaced about 15 yards away from me and a killer whale shot a breath out of its blowhole! It was exhilarating and relieving all at the same time! At least it wasn’t a bear or a wolf. Once the killer whale passed, I regained my composure and began to try to think through what I should do because I knew soon that I would be in real danger of hypothermia. I thought back to the Air Force survival manual. I remembered that it was a bad idea to sit on rocks because they rob your body heat, but I knew I needed to stay close to the coast in case a boat came looking for me. I also remembered a part of the manual that talked about decomposing trees being good insulation and actually putting off a little bit of heat. Through the dark, I made my way to the tree line and found a large tree that had fallen and was covered in moss and rotting. I gritted my teeth and I halfway crawled into that tree and laid down. It was gross, but I was past the point of caring. Things were beginning to get foggy and I was shivering uncontrollably. I knew that I was in the first stages of hypothermia, but during this time I remember having two interesting thoughts. First, I remember looking up at the sky and saying: “Well, God, this is not exactly how I saw this happening, but if this is it…ok then.” After that thought, I had a sense of peace come over me. It could have been due to the beginnings of hypothermia or due to the fact that I had just walked seven miles through a jungle with no food, but nonetheless I had a sense of peace. If I woke up in the morning, I was going to resume my journey and if I didn’t, well then, that would be that. About an hour later a landing craft boat pulled up to near where I was. I woke up when they happened to be right in front of my position. I flagged them down and they picked me up and took me back to camp. I was freezing, embarrassed, and a little disoriented, but alive. Looking back on this experience I learned a few things. The first of which is to be prepared for the journey. I was not and it almost killed me. The second thing I learned is that when we begin to feel lost that we should probably stop and regain our bearings rather than continuing to walk in the wrong direction. The third and perhaps most important thing that I learned was the importance of surrender. In that moment where I was laying inside that dead tree, I had to confront the fact that There was a good possibility that I may die. Out of options to take control, I had to surrender my very life in that moment to God. I don’t think there is any accident in the fact that Jesus, Moses, Buddha and others all went into the wilderness. The wilderness is a place to focus and it is a place where you quickly realize how little control you actually have. Those wilderness experiences are not about toughness or suffering. They are about surrender. Now, I am not talking about just giving up when things get tough. I am talking about surrendering the outcome to something larger than yourself. For it is only when we are backed into a corner with no other options to control in our lives that we truly understand what it means to surrender and depend on God to sustain us. The wilderness is a metaphor for many. Some may even find themselves in the wilderness now as they are reading this. My advice to you is this. Surrender. Remember that it is only a season in your life. Don’t stop working hard or attempting to get your bearings. Just surrender the outcome to God. Ultimately God is more interested in your growth than your comfort. We may feel pain, panic, and discomfort, but we are never truly alone in the wilderness. As we pass the beauty of the waterfalls God is there. As potential threats surround us God is there, and even in uncomfortable circumstances like sleeping in a rotting tree, God is there. We are never alone, but we must trust that there is something bigger at play. We must accept and acknowledge that we can’t control everything, but there is one larger than us who has a plan and cares for us. This simple yet sometimes terrifying act of trust is the key to growing during your wilderness experience. Trust and surrender. Great things come out of the wilderness….and in case you are wondering, I did get some really awesome pictures from this little excursion.🙂

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