When I told a good friend of mine that my son no longer believes in God she immediately said, “That boys needs an encounter!”
You can teach your children the words from the bible, you can try to model your life after Jesus’, you can try to build a community of believers around them, you can love them with all your heart and even talk about the presence of God in your life and theirs but you can’t create an encounter.
An encounter with God is an absolute knowing that God is with you. It’s between only you and him. It most often involves a miracle. God is providing opportunities for encounters with us in every moment of every day but few of us recognize it.
Most of us can point to God’s grace entering our lives at least once in each day – a sunrise, the smell of rain, beautiful flowers or an opportunity, an answered prayer, a feel good moment.
But for some, those miracles are simply ordinary nature. Not orchestrated, not given with love, just how things happen.
I believe you must have a tiny bit of an open heart, an open mind to experience an encounter with God….which made the perfect recipe for faith in my younger two sons.
As I have been trying to figure out what to do differently with them to develop a connection, a relationship with God, I prayed to God for encounters with them both. Something that without a doubt, without question, would anchor in their hearts and minds that God is always with them. It didn’t take long for that moment to come….
A few weekends ago, the boys and I (my husband included) went to Rocky Mountain National Park for a hike. It has been years since we took the boys hiking – mostly because sports fill our weekends and we find it difficult to get away. On this particular weekend games were cancelled and the stars aligned for us to have an opportunity to get out in nature and explore the beauty of the Rocky Mountains.
I have always felt that the easiest way to recognize God is in all the gifts of Mother Nature. The smells, the sites, the sounds sends a sensation of connection, purity, simplicity and joy up your spine that is electrifying. Nature enlivens your sense of wonder. A sense of wonder is the foundation of spirituality.
So despite the complaining that there were “better things to do” the entire ride there, the moment we stopped at Alluvial Fan, the boys were racing toward the water and then up the rocky cliffs.
Halfway up the mountain, we found a large rock to settle on for lunch and as my husband and I sat down, the boys called out they weren’t hungry and they continued to climb up the hill bounding from rock to rock.
Alluvial Fan is a prime example of the tremendous power of Mother Nature…about 34 years ago a lake on top of the mountain flooded into the valley below. The flood led to a land and rock slide that sprayed thousands of tons of boulders the size of cars down the hill and across the valley to look like a large fan. A river with multiple water falls and small pools flows continuously now from what once was a lake. The top of the mountain is now a sheer drop off held together only by the tree trunks of the evergreens that keep the soil in place.
Thank you Lord, for offering my children an encounter with you. Thank you Lord, for the reminders to never stop growing in our faith. Thank you Lord, for keeping my children in your hands.
We could watch the boys as they climbed the mountain and smiled at how much fun they were having. On this busy day, you could see families hiking up the other side, a son following his father in barefoot through the many pools and we soaked in all the beauty and fresh air.
As we watched our sons approaching the point where the rock ended and the sheer cliff began, we saw two adults on the other side of the river try and climb the dirt. We saw them struggling and commented to each other, “They must not be from around here – we hope they figure out scaling dirt is not safe!”
My husband instinctively said, “The boys would know to stop at the end of the rocks wouldn’t they?” I wasn’t so sure…it had been years since we had be hiking and they had two adults across the river doing exactly what they shouldn’t be doing. As much as we were enjoying the nature, I took out my technology and picked up my phone to call them…no answer – the reception wasn’t good. “Should I go run after them?” he asked. We watched our children’s figures go in and out of site as they climbed over and around the rocks the size of cars. We saw them reach the summit of the rocks and we tried to get their attention – they were so far ahead, it would take a while before my husband could get to them.
A few moments later I put my head down for just barely a second and my husband said, “Someone just fell!” Because my sons were just at the point where the rock and cliff meet, we were unsure how bad the fall might have been. We could no longer see the older of the two boys behind a huge boulder but we watched the reaction of our youngest son. He wasn’t panicking, he wasn’t looking for us, he seemed to be just talking to his brother. There was no reaction from other hikers either that would have had a better vantage point than us. Eventually our youngest looked our way and we waved for him to come back down. He gave us a thumbs up so we figured everything was ok. A few minutes later he too went behind the boulder – purposely. They must have found a way to the water from there we thought.
My husband came back down believing the boys were fine and we sat to finish our lunch. A few more minutes passed and we could see both boys coming back down the hill, away from the river. Still smiling and bounding- all was well.
When they arrived back at the picnic rock and sat down, my older son’s first words were, “I almost just died!” Our hearts started pounding again – even though we knew he was okay, those words took us right back to the moment where neither of us were sure if we should panic or let boys be boys.
“I tried to start climbing the dirt” he explained, “I wanted to get up and see the lake. The dirt gave way and I started slipping down the hill – I don’t know how I did it, but as I was falling with only one hand, I was able to grab onto the root of a tree while my knees dangled over the cliff.”
My youngest piped in, “I told him not to try it! I knew it was dangerous to hike up dirt but he kept saying it would be fun! I didn’t know what to do but he needed something else to hold onto to pull himself back up so eventually I walked down and gave him my hand.”
“I knew if I pulled too hard I would pull him over the cliff too so I tried my hardest not to use him as an anchor.” the older one commented with his voice fading as he came to the full realization of what could have happened.
“How did you get up? How did you pull yourself up?!” I said incredulously still in shock with the knowledge I almost lost both boys just moments ago.
“I have no idea. I really can’t say. I don’t know what happened. I just got back up to solid ground.” my older replied still in disbelief.
“What happened? How did he get up?” I asked my youngest.
“I don’t know. I was just doing everything I could to be there for him.” he replied.
Both boys sat in shock as they were finally in a safe place to process what had just happened. My older son’s knees and elbows were all scraped up and his hands trembled. I reached for him finding it difficult to come up with words to describe the flood of gratitude for my boys to be back by my side, “I am so glad you two are safe! Thank God you are both alive!!”
“Yeah, I didn’t even realize how steep the cliff was until I got back up and looked down. I’m fine, I’ll be fine.” My older son is my calm, cool, collected kid. He was trying to get the attention off of him so we turned to the younger.
My younger more animated one, starting saying he was so scared. He knew the cliff was steep. As he spoke I marveled at how he had appeared so calm himself, even offering a thumbs up to ease our minds. He continued to describe how he had to hold onto his older brother without sturdy footing himself. Although he is only about a foot shorter, in my mind it seems he is almost half the size of his older brother. “I saved your life!” he exclaimed to his big brother in a “you owe me one” kinda voice.
As the whole scenario became clearer to me, there was no doubt that this was an encounter moment with God. With too many unbelievable moments – catching a root of a tree with one hand as half of his body hung over a cliff, my youngest holding onto to steady his big brother when there was nothing to hold onto himself and no recollection by either of them how the older managed to get back onto the mountain. I imagined guardian angels surrounding the boys with one who held on tightly to my youngest as he reached out for his brother and another who pushed my older up back over the ledge.
“You boys have some amazing guardian angels taking care of you! God must have great plans for you to go to such efforts to keep you safe! Your work on this earth is not yet done!”
The boys grew quiet and my husband grew uncomfortable trying to lighten up the moment by encouraging them to eat their lunch.
I must have said it at least 10 times the rest of the day – “You boys had a divine intervention today. God was by your side.”
Later I asked, “Why did you give us a thumbs up, when we motioned you to come back while your brother was hanging over a cliff?”
He paused, a bit confused as if trying to process why he would have done such a thing, “ I guess I just wanted to let you know I saw you and I knew we had to work on getting back to you.”
There were many lessons as a parent that day. The thumbs up was God or maybe even Mother Mary herself comforting us and letting us know God has our children in his hands. There is no reason to worry and all will be well.
The other lesson was a reminder that our faith needs constant attention through study, practice and awareness of our experiences. Even though we may have told our children many times before how to make sure your feet are on sturdy ground when you climb a mountain, we had not told them recently. Unless we practice our skills or our faith on a regular basis, we will need reminders of the path to take. Faith like our hiking skills gets stronger the more we work at it. It was a good wake up call that more work is needed to sharpen my sons’ awareness of God’s presence with them in each moment.
I asked the boys a few days ago how much impact that event had on their faith. The older said it didn’t. The younger wasn’t sure. More signs for me that Mom’s work is never done.