Rescued from the Woods

By Carolyn MacInnes 

Being Lost 

First of all, I’m embarrassed that I even have to tell this story. I’m a 46-year-old mother of two, for crying out loud. Way too old to get lost. But standing alone in the forest, watching the sun slip behind the massive outcroppings of boulders, I knew the time for pride had passed. I started to shout.

After setting out for a short hike, I somehow strayed miles from the trail. For nearly seven hours, I’d climbed up and down endless rocky peaks, searching for a path. I followed trails that led me in circles. Weeds tore up my ankles and ice compromised my footing. At times, hail and high winds battered my face. I stood in the same spot where I’d found myself hours earlier, with no better idea of how to free myself from this maze of forest.

The magnificent stones and sprawling vistas that once awed me with their beauty were now my prison. I called out into the vastness, “Hello!” When the only response was the faint echoes of my own voice, my cries became louder and more desperate. I couldn’t remember a time I felt this alone.

Utterly Alone 

No one knew where I was. I neglected to tell anyone I was on a hike. I didn’t think it mattered since I expected to be gone for only an hour. I could’ve mentioned the hike to  my teenage daughter when she called a few hours into my adventure. But at the time, I believed I could get out on my own. How humiliating would it’ve been to admit that I was lost in the woods, near a reservoir where we frequently hiked?

The sun was setting. My phone battery was stone cold dead. I made one more half-hearted attempt to turn on the phone. To my amazement, it showed three percent power! I dialed 9-1-1 and had just enough time to state my name, my general area, what I was wearing, and my husband’s number before my cell died. I wondered, Had they received my coordinates? Would someone know where to find me? Should I stay put, or should I keep walking to avoid being trapped in the darkness?

Miracle of God’s Grace  

I scanned the sky for a rescue helicopter and listened for an ATV.  Nothing. I walked on. Maybe there was some hidden path I’d missed. Nothing. I yelled and prayed. I thought of my family. I wondered if a person could survive in the snow-covered woods overnight. My thoughts turned to the cold night sky and I wondered where I’d sleep. And what creatures lurked around me. Would this be the end of me, all because Id been too stupid and prideful to tell someone where I was?

If felt like another hour had passed before a clear cry cut through the twilight. “Carolyn? Can you hear me? This is Search and Rescue!” No voice had ever sounded so sweet. I yelled over and over again until I was certain the person had heard me. A man appeared from the woods, heavily loaded with gear, and confirmed my identity. Was I okay? He asked. Thirsty? Hungry? Injured? He quickly radioed his teammates, as well as my anxious family, that I’d been found. He and his partner gave me some water and guided me with steady hands along the mile walk back to their vehicle. Despite their fatigue, they smiled and assured me, never once chiding me for my foolishness. When I reached the trail head, I spotted my husband and ran into his arms, shedding tears of relief.

Over the years, I’ve felt lost many times. When loved ones left me. When depression overtook me. When parenting challenged me beyond my abilities. But my intense, tangible experience of being lost in the woods brought new meaning to the word. I also learned the definition of “rescue.” I’ll never forget the moment that rescue worker walked out of the trees and held out his hands to me. I’ll always remember hearing the joy in his voice and relaying the message that I’d been found. My nightmare was over. I would wake up in my own bed the next day. This was not the end of me. 

When I reflected on the resurrection of my cell phone in the woods, the skeptical part of me asked, “Was it just a glitch of technology that I was able to turn on a dead phone and make one more call in the middle of a forest? Could I have witnessed an actual miracle?” The spiritual side of me thumped my temple and said, “Really? You’re alive! It was a flat-out gift from God. Just say thank you.” I have…over and over.

Are you looking for a miracle?

I chose to share this story in case anyone else is looking for a miracle right now. Life is hard, for all of us, in so many ways. Raising a teenager and pre-teen is kicking my butt. Sometimes I just want to lie down in the forest and not get up. To let the wild animals hunt me down. But during my hike, I felt God was telling me not to give up. I was reminded that God alone has the power to shine His light through the dark woods where I’ve wandered. He is mighty to save.

Help didn’t arrive after the first time I yelled, or even the twentieth. But I’ve heard it said that if God always met our expectations, He’d never have an opportunity to exceed them. He exceeds them, all right – by showing me his power and provision in ways too incredible to ignore.

Tips for those who are lost

For anyone who feels discouraged today, let me share a few hard-learned tips: 

  • Keep walking, even when you don’t think you can take another step. (Isaiah 40:31) 
  • Keep yelling. Don’t be ashamed to cry out for help. (Psalm 34:17) 
  • Keep looking. Aid may come from the place you least expect it. It might be just over the next ridge. (Psalm 121:1-8)
    Keep believing. As long as you’re breathing, there is still time to change the ending of your story. (2 Corinthians 5:17) 
  • Someone loves you and needs you, so don’t give up without a fight.  
  • This is not the end of you.

    Carolyn is a freelance writer and mother of two Russian adoptees. She studied communications at Harding University and received her MA in English from Abilene Christian University. She loves thrift shopping, traveling, drinking good coffee and spending time in the great outdoors of Colorado with her family.  

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