I did not write a devotion last week because I was camping at 5200 feet elevation in the Talkeetna Mountains and hunting caribou with my son, Josh. I’ve had quite a few people ask me about our hunt, and some have even asked about my devotions. We flew out to our hunt site and had a personal limit of 50 pounds which each of us could carry. When you bring a 20 pound tent, then sleeping bags and sleeping pads, guns and ammunition, food and utensils, there is no room for a computer, even if we would have had internet coverage 40 miles off the highway. But, honestly, I would not have wanted to take my computer with me anyway.
Josh and I flew out on Saturday morning, August 31 with Meekins Air Service. Mike Meekins and his son-in-law, Matt Keller, each flew one of us in a Super Cub to our hunt site west of Sheep Mountain. On the way back from the hunt on Friday, Matt told me, “I’ve been flying with Mike for 16 years. No one has ever come back from there without a caribou, or maybe without passing on a shot because the animals they were seeing were not a trophy.” That sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? But the hunt was not that easy, for us at least.
The first day we were allowed to hunt was Sunday, September 1. As we woke up that morning and finished breakfast, we surveyed the valley and the mountains around us and tried to decide where we should hunt. With our packs on our backs, we decided on a spot we could see through our binoculars which looked like a game trail. Then, as we were getting ready to leave, a small group of 4 caribou showed themselves on a ridge in that area. According to my “fitbit”, by the time we got to that point we had walked over a mile. So, obviously we did not shoot because of the distance. But, we did start hiking in that direction, and then two more caribou showed themselves, also out of range. When we finally arrived at that location, the animals were not to be found. So, on the first day of our hunt we saw 6 animals during our first hour . . . and then we saw no more caribou for quite a while. On Tuesday Mike Meekins flew in to talk with us. He shared with us, “I’m worried. We aren’t seeing any animals from the air. They don’t seem to be moving yet.” Maybe we were going to be that first group of hunters he flew in who would end up without an opportunity to harvest some of Alaska’s wild game meat.
During the days to follow we hiked in various directions, usually about 3-4 miles a day. We were near the mountain peaks and the weather was constantly changing, from sunshine, to wind and clouds, to rain and sleet, and back to sunshine. I’ve been exercising regularly for the last 3 ½ years and had thought I was in pretty good shape. But, carrying a pack at 5200+ feet of elevation I found that, while my muscles didn’t tire, I often had to stop and catch my breath. And, at night the temperatures usually got down around freezing or below. We had snow on the mountain tops around us on Tuesday, ice on the coffee pot on Thursday, and frost covering everything Friday morning.
So, after seeing animals early that first morning, we saw no caribou the rest of Sunday, nor on Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday. I think it was on Wednesday when Josh asked me, “What lesson do you think God trying is to teach us that we are out here hunting, but not seeing any caribou?” We talked about that question. It was good to have father-son time. Even if we weren’t finding caribou, we were still seeing ground squirrels, sheep, eagles, and some other animals. It was good to get away from the demands of our jobs. In fact, this was the beginning of my retirement. We were praying every day. There are blessings and lessons to learn in stopping and meditating. Even though we were somewhat frustrated that we weren’t accomplishing our goal of harvesting a caribou, in the time to get away and soak in God’s creation, we could still see the hand of our Lord.
Actually, Josh’s question is a good question for more than just this hunt. “What lessons can we learn about God and about ourselves when we work toward a goal and it doesn’t seem to happen? What lessons can we learn about our Lord and ourselves when are we more than just frustrated, but when life is full of loss, and tragedy, and failure? Is God still with us?”
Some Scripture verses came to mind as we considered Josh’s question, perhaps, most obviously, Romans 8:28. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” God does not use His power to make everything in life good, or pleasant, or easy. God’s love and power is so great that He can and does work good from “all things,” from all events of life. God even works good for His people from the disappointments, the failures, and the tragedies of life.
The greatest example of God’s love and power is that our Lord even worked good through the death of His Son, Jesus, on the cross. God is the author and sustainer of life. For the Son of God, for God Himself, to die would be the worst calamity our universe has faced. Yet, in the death of Jesus, our Heavenly Father paid for our sin. And, in Jesus’ rising from the dead our Lord saved us from death and judgement because of our sin. He saved us for eternal life by His grace, through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. “ . . . God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
Our hunt was pretty expensive compared to our normal standards. But, in the big scheme of things, a hunt without animals is a pretty small disappointment, especially compared to the other tragedies and failure’s in life. But, that time on the mountain did give us time together as father and son. That time without animals gave us an opportunity to consider the beauty of the creation around us, and the blessings God had showered on us. That time of waiting gave us a chance to slow down, to consider God’s goodness, and to be thankful. When we went to bed on Thursday night we had resigned ourselves to a hunt with no harvest. But we had come to a point where we were thankful for our time together and for the blessings of God’s presence in the midst of our time.
When we awoke on Thursday, 5 caribou were grazing on the meadow across the creek in front of our tent. So, together as father and son, we harvested the bounty of God’s creation. I was with Josh as he shot his first large animal ever. We had the opportunity to consider the blessings of God through the journey of life, and then we were also blessed with meat for the freezer. Sunday evening’s meal of caribou roast was enjoyed by all.
So, I’ll rephrase that commercial. Time in the wilderness is truly worthwhile. Time hunting with my son was wonderful. But, time in the wilderness with your son, considering the hand of God, is priceless!