First was crack!! Then snap!! Then the crash when whatever was falling impacted the ground.
It was about 3:00 in the morning and I was rudely disrupted from my slumber. I lay still in my sleeping bag, listening for other noises. No one seemed to be stirring in the tents around me. And I couldn’t hear any other sounds from what I suspected was in our presence – a black bear.
I was guiding a group of dads and sons and we had discovered an excellent campsite on the Appalachian Trail shortly after we had crested the Carter Gap. All of us alike were eager to set up camp and explore our surroundings after a challenging 3-mile hike. A groundwater source was discovered as well as a primitive toilet located behind a nearby Appalachian Trail shelter. We were set and it was time to prepare dinner.
About that time, an adult woman and an older man approached our camp. They were a daughter and her father section hiking the A/T. Father and daughter were finished for the day and asked if they could pitch their tents among us. Hikers they had intersected that afternoon warned them of nuisance bears along the trail. The woman valued strength in numbers. We welcomed them and enjoyed a few minutes of getting-to-know-you time. Dinner preparation resumed, and we enjoyed the rest of our evening as a community of fathers and sons.
Before bedtime, a couple dads found a good place to hang bear bags so that our foods and other aromatic possessions would not be messed with. Our neighbors for the night did likewise. I noticed their bags were lower, but didn’t bother to question their decision-making. Steady rain set in not long after and cut short our time hanging out around the campfire. Dads and sons gathered their miscellaneous belongings and scrambled to their tents. We were done for the night.
The zero-dark-thirty wake-up left me challenged to fall back asleep. As the morning sky began to illuminate, I decided to get dressed and venture out. I moved toward where I heard the sounds and it was obvious what had happened. The tree holding up our new friends’ bear bags had been knocked down and their bags had been confiscated. A quick glance a few feet further gave me relief to see our bags hung undisturbed. Yet my heart was heavy with sadness for the woman and her dad. Everything they had put into their bear bags was gone for good. And we were in a very remote location.
I offered them coffee and a willingness to help any way I could. They were grateful and were already in problem-solving mode. I dismissed myself and began getting things ready for our group’s breakfast and morning activities.
Shortly after breakfast was finished, the woman came up to me as she and her father were about to head out for their day’s hike. They had been able to contact someone and it sounded like they would be able to re-supply that afternoon. Then with a deep sense of gratitude, she said thank you for how we had responded to her and her father in their time of need. In the moment, it felt like an under-deserved gesture. We said goodbye and I returned to our group.
Later that day, one of our dads approached me and gave me the rest of the story. When the sons got up that morning, several of them made an effort to offer generous hospitality to the woman and her dad. Some offered their breakfast. Others offered to fill their water bottles. It seemed like every young teen wanted to help however they could. Then the woman’s expression of appreciation made a whole lot more sense. As I asked a few dads, they said their sons didn’t need prompting. They offered their generosity on their own initiative. I was humbled and proud of these young men.
As dads we can never be certain whether what we are teaching our children is being learned. As much as we may want some control over the outcome, it is in everyone’s best interest to trust God for how they mature and grow. That’s not easy as a dad. Yet when we see our sons or daughters offer the kindness of God to strangers, there is a sense that He is truly at work and we can trust Him with our children. So who’s learning the best lesson?
As God’s beloved son, do you sense you are learning what He is trying to teach you? Are you able to trust Him as your Father as you mature and grow?