As long as I can remember, I’ve been a Christian in name. I grew up in a Christian home, went to church, believed that Jesus was the Son of God, and knew that he had died for my sins, but I never understood what that actually meant. I always thought that I had a “duty” to God to go to church and pray every now and then, and that those things made me a good person. In middle school, I asked Jesus to forgive my sins and enter my life, but I left it at that – I wasn’t going to radically change myself. I was my own man.
In the summer after my high school graduation, God showed me otherwise. I was working at a youth ranch in northeast New Mexico, and having a bad time. Over the previous year, all of the things that I always saw as proof that I was leading a good life began to slip away: my dad lost his job, my family hit very hard times financially, my sister and mother were ill, my grades and test scores (a source of great pride at the time) had begun to slip, I lost several good friends, and I had even begun to doubt God’s existence.
On July 10, 1997, I went hiking alone in the nearby mountains. Unfortunately, my map was badly out of date, showing trails that had ceased to exist and omitting others, and I got badly lost. By the time I realized this, I had run out of water and was too far from the nearest water supply to go back. I was in an open field, about three miles from any other person, without any emergency signal or water, in ninety-eight degree heat. After about two and a half hours without water, I progressed from dehydration to heat exhaustion and into heat stroke. In heat stroke, nearly always fatal, all you want is to lay down and sleep. When you fall asleep, you die. I could barely walk ten feet without stopping, and, eventually, could not even stand up.
As I sat in a small patch of shade and waited for the end, I prayed to God to give me a second chance. I lost track of time, drifting in and out of consciousness. The next thing I remember is hearing the hymn “Amazing Grace” playing in my ear, as if a small choir was singing a few feet away. I stood up and began to hike rapidly. In an instant, I knew where I was and was completely refreshed. Once I got to camp, I had a few sips of water, but otherwise felt fine. I spent five hours frantically reading my Bible, trying to understand what had just happened.
The lesson I learned that day was this: God loves each of us and wants to help each of us, but we have to let Him. Everyone reaches a point in life at which he or she is powerless to help himself or herself – we have to have faith to rely on something greater than ourselves. The mountain I hiked that day is called Urraca Mesa, which means “Magpie Mesa.” Magpies were seen as death messengers by those who named it. The mesa lies in the Sangre de Cristo, or “Blood of Christ,” range. It’s ironic – I saw death that day, and only Christ could save me. In the words of the hymn,
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me;
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
The message is this: God gave me a second chance that I had not earned and could never hope to earn.
In the time since that day, I have seen my difficulties disappearing. No, life is not perfect and easy, but I have a peace about it now – I can trust Him who can carry me. When I fully rely on Jesus, I fully rely on the firmest foundation one can have. I have grown closer to God than ever, but I almost missed my chance. Please don’t miss yours!
May God bless you as you seek Him out!