“Up an’ at ‘em!” my husband, John called in his wide-awake morning voice. Moans and groans filled the camper as our three sons and I struggled to open our eyes. “We gotta get goin’ to beat the heat.”
We awoke to a picturesque morning in the Smoky Mountains, delicate ribbons of haze wisping around us as we made our way to and from the shower house. Once breakfast was over and the camper secured we launched into our planned hike up the mountain to the Appalachian Trail.
Our trek was well underway when my husband casually inquired, “Did you see the bear in the creek next to the shower house this morning?”
“Stop it!” I chided, “That’s not funny.”
“No, really! There was a bear…musta been thirty feet from the building.”
As we trudged on, the altitude inhibited my breathing and I fell behind. The boys were seemingly unaffected by mountain air, and John unwilling to let them get ahead of him. Soon all were out of sight.
A branch crackled behind me, then another. “The bear! She’s coming up the trail!” My steps quickened at the thought. Ahead of me the brush rustled. “Must be her cub. Am I between them?!.” I was nearly jogging now, my sons’ chatter no longer audible.
Soon my legs felt as heavy as the logs that lined the path. Side aching, chest burning, I puckered up, faintly emitting our family whistle-call. No reply! Knees trembling, heart pounding, I rounded the next bend, the bear’s breath hot on my neck.
My family stood along a fence rail, silently observing the beauty they had stumbled upon, oblivious to the approaching… “OH! Whew!” A quick glance behind revealed that the only thing pursuing me was my imagination. I collapsed, gasping for breath.
Although embarrassing, this incident confirms how much I value life. During those terrifying minutes (Or was it an hour?) I prayed, “Lord, give me strength!” I pleaded, “Please make that bear break her leg!” I promised, “If I survive I’ll teach the junior-high Sunday school class!”
The desire to preserve life is innate. Life craves life. But Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” (Luke 9:23-34 NASV) In order to live we must die! How does one so set on living choose to die?
God often reveals the parts of our being that are still clinging to life by allowing us to experience trials. We struggle, cry, plead, and finally, at the point of collapse, we die. That is when we begin to live the kind of life for which we were made, a life dependent on Jesus Christ.
Knowing how slowly I learn, and how quickly I return to old habits of fear and self-reliance, Jesus tells me to die (take up my cross) daily! Then I will live abundantly through Him.
Entering Yellowstone National Park the following year, our family was inundated with posters and fliers warning of bears. Campers were urged to “play dead” if a bear was encountered. It seemed that soft-sided campers like ours were especially vulnerable because of the food cooked and stored inside. With that in mind, we took many precautions as we prepared our campsite. Frightened by all of the bear talk, one son begged to sleep in the van. We conceded, and soon all five of us were sleeping soundly.
A loud r-r-r-r-r-i-p sat me upright as John’s feet hit the floor. Grabbing a pan from the stove, I frantically banged on it with the lid. Meanwhile, John struggled to shove the bear’s paw out of the camper.
Somehow, above all the commotion, a small voice was heard. “Mom, Dad, it’s me. I just want back in the camper.” The rip had been the sound of Velcro separating as our son reached inside to unlock the door. After calming all three boys, now traumatized by our frenzy, we fell into each other’s arms breathless, hearts pounding.
I have yet to encounter a real bear. If I do I will most likely die as I run, clamor, and plead for my life. Father, use my foolishness to remind me how much I desire to live, so that each and every day I will remember to die!
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