I am blessed to having spent my life in the Ozark Mountains. I grew up on a farm of 40 acres with woods all around, and neighbors who didn't care if I crossed over into their land. As a kid I would often explore the woods, small caves, and running streams after a good rain.
I remember as a young teenager one day sitting in the woods deer hunting. Let me be clear- I am not a good deer hunter. My patience needed lacks as you will see. I had been sitting what seemed like hours, more likely 30 to 40 minutes. Bored, with no deer sight or sound anywhere nearby, I remember starting to hum a song that came to my mind, If I had a Hammer by the folk legend Pete Seeger and made famous by Peter, Paul and Mary. I started out humming quietly, keeping my ears open to deer. But after a time I forgot all about why I was in the woods and got lost in the song. What started as a quiet hum became a loud, joyous vocal rendition!
"If I had a hammer, I'd hammer in the morning, I'd hammer in the evening, all over this land..."
Suddenly my song was interrupted from across from the ridge by a loud, "Hey!"
Looking up, my father stood staring at me and laughing. "What the hell are you doing?" he asked, chuckling.
My face turned a crimson red, which replayed itself several times as my Dad shared with pleasure the story over ensuing weeks of catching his amazing deer-hunter son scaring deer away all over Taney County.
Apart from that one embarrassing memory in the woods, my overall memories are of walks of exploration, contemplation, and communion with my Creator. Sometimes those walks in the woods brought happiness and peace to my heart as I observed the Creator's marvelous work. New blooms of dogwood and redbuds, squirrels hopping from tree to tree above me, and the joyous song of the carved out streams making their way towards Bear Creek. Other times I traveled to the woods with a troubled heart. As a middle child, I felt at times the runt of the litter, never the athlete of my three brothers. I would go to the woods to complain to the Lord, enjoying a nice pity party, pretending I was lost for months in the wilderness, with friends and family searching for me.
I was pretty pathetic.
I remember during my junior year in College coming home for Thanksgiving Break. Right before break my girlfriend from Chicago, Cris, broke up with me. I felt blindsided and crushed. I really felt like we were headed to eventual marriage. Walking out in the woods, with cold winds moving the tall oak and cedar branches side to side, I looked up from the bottom of a valley (we call it in the Ozarks a holler), and yelled at God. "Why did you allow me to meet her? Why did you let this happen? Don't you even care?" I had tears of anger rolling down my cheeks. Here in the woods I felt the freedom to be completely honest. I did not often bare my soul to others...only God...and only in these woods below our house.
I remember hearing in my heart these words immediately after my outburst, "Though others will forsake you, I will never leave you."
A sudden wave of peace and comfort washed over me. My mood instantly changed. I remember walking back towards the house up the steep wooded slope with the reminder deep in my soul that no matter what this broken world threw at me, I had a Savior who would always lead, always guide, and never leave me.
Where is your "woods?" Where is a place you can go to be totally honest and open with the God who fashioned you, accepts you, loves you and now and forevermore wants to guide and lead you? I encourage you to find that place, whether it's actual woods, a park, in the middle of a lake with a fishing pole in hand...get away often and share your honest heart, then listen to the still small voice of love and wisdom.
I live today on the same land I grew up on. I need to get back in the woods more often myself. Life's hectic pace and the tyranny of the urgent have robbed me of these precious times of adventure and peace.
Oh, and I don't plan on singing anymore while deer hunting. I have a son who is a very good hunter. I'll leave the deer hunting to him!