Archives For The Heart

Dawn and the Hunt

Chris Skaggs —  April 15, 2014 — 6 Comments

Mule Deer 0015I don’t get up at 6:00am. I never get up at 6:00am. I make software for a living and one of the reasons I chose that career was because it never ever requires me to get up at 6:00am. But there I was rubbing my eyes and envying my still-snoozing wife. Dressing in the near dark, layering fleece over flannel over cotton and hoping that it would be enough in the frigid November air, I fought against the bulk as I stretched to tie my shoes.

My uncle-in-law lives in northern Washington alongside a slow, chilly creek. The steep-sided valley of scattered lodgepole and aspen was covered in shallow fog and mile upon mile of tawny dry grass as I slipped from the guesthouse and headed for Dave’s front door. A tiny wisp of smoke rising from his chimney told me the coffee was ready and Dave was probably struggling to tie his own oversized shoes. Dave had drawn a late-season tag in a unit adjacent to his own property. It was his first yard in three years and by inviting his inexperienced, suburban nephew along he was taking a certain risk. Nobody ever said so in as many words but it was implicit that my role was to carry binoculars, stay behind the rifle and not ask too many questions.

While I’d grown up in a rural setting, there were no hunters in my family. I was familiar enough with deer but only as highway hazards and I couldn’t tell you if we were dodging whitetail, mulies, or rabid saber-tooth deer on Hwy 18 near Big Bear. I didn’t grow up with any aversion to hunting, no moral conflict over the steaks I ate, but neither did I understand the motivation to hunt. There was a stereotype in my mind, born no doubt of Southern California politics, that hunters were Bud-pounding, monosyllabic Neanderthals. But in fact, that’s a more accurate description of surfers.

By 6:45 Dave and I were climbing a steep dirt road in his Silverado. The rising sun lit the western ridge with brilliant hues of gold and rust while most of the valley still slept in the shadows of the eastern peaks. When we stopped the truck and stepped out into the stiff breeze, I felt as if I’d never seen this country before. Adding to the otherness of it all I stood not in soil but in several inches of fine powder. Fire tore across this slope fifty years ago, thinning the thick pines, making room for the newer aspens, and covering everything in a deep blanket of ash.

With a silent nod toward a distant shape, Dave shouldered his 30-06 and headed north. He’d spotted a doe and she was patiently waiting for her sisters to climb the steep gully she had surmounted. With no pretense of stealth, Dave and I approached to within a quarter-mile before the group of females casually sought higher ground. For the next half-hour we continued in this way, following one group of females or another at a good distance, looking intently for their mates. At the time I was so intent on the next moment and not screwing up Dave’s hunt that I was both hyper-vigalent to everything he was saying but somehow also disconnected – only dimly aware that each lesson, each pointer was more than just casual information – he was also making a deposit into my soul. Dave was giving me a crash course in outdoorsmanship by pointing out details I should notice: the wind, the clouds, the faint deer trails. He would periodically raise his binoculars and survey the sprawling hillside while I dutifully copied his actions, trying to see what he saw. By the time the sun had climbed high enough to light the valley floor, we were approaching a thinly wooded saddle with sunlight streaming through the trees in long, dusty blades. “Look for the sunlight glinting off an antler,” Dave instructed. “That’s the easiest way to spot a buck.”

I was fascinated with the trees, with the light, and with the tracks we found. “See how the toes are splayed out, and the impression of the dew claw?” To me it looked like a pair of quotation marks but I nodded respectfully. “That shows the animal had to be carrying a lot of weight. Probably a buck and a good-sized one too.”

From the driver’s side window woods are just woods and they all look about the same. Sure I could identify a half-dozen varieties of trees, recognize the major geological formations but here I was getting a glimpse of something far more, far deeper. This wasn’t calculated environmental science but wood-wisdom. A druidic knowing of the land and its inhabitants that could only come from sharing the space with fir and fox and the day’s first breath. As much as I was being instructed, I was being mentored.

More than that, I was being initiated.

As I’ve grown and learned and watched my son grow and learn I’m increasingly convinced of something I first read in Wild at Heart: masculinity cannot be learned, it can only be bestowed. And it can’t come from the world of women, no matter how well-intentioned or equipped, it comes only as a kind of substance that a young man eats, almost like a food, from the willing hands of older, more experienced men. It’s an inheritance, a gift and while that could sound exclusive or sexist in the wrong setting, it’s actually healthy.
It’s actually holy.

As we crouched there over the tracks I caught a sudden movement out of the corner of my eye. Bringing the binoculars up, I scanned the hillside and spotted another doe lying in a patch of rabbit brush, twitching her ears and rolling her neck. Following her gaze I quickly spotted four other deer slowly moving up the slope.

“There’s a buck over there,” I whispered to Dave.
“Where?” he said.
“See the dead tree? Look just to the left.”

There was easily a quarter-mile between us, probably more and almost no cover. Longing to engage, I said, “If we get behind that knoll we can close in without any of them seeing us.”

Dave looked at me a long moment, his eyes squinting in an unreadable expression and in that silence I was certain I’d said something obviously stupid.

“We could do that,” he said, “But then we won’t be able to see them either. If they move we won’t know where they went.”
I nodded, just a little crestfallen. Of course – it was a dumb idea.
“Still,” Dave said, inhaling sharply, “it looks like our best chance of getting a clean shot. Let’s do it.”

Without another word he stood up and started toward the tree line. I was partly caught up in what had just happened. Really? You’re going to take my input? We’re going with my plan? But without a word to my insecurity Dave was walking calmly and deliberately while he stopped now and again to watch the distant deer. Trying not to rush, stopping whenever a head would turn or an ear would twitch, we moved behind a small hill. Quickly now we crept across its base toward the dead tree that had helped us spot the buck. Not quite sure how close this detour had brought us; we eased quietly to its crest and took a peek. No deer – just another, lower hill between the courting buck and us.

Faced with open ground and a possibly closing window of opportunity we had to move quickly. Darting between rocks and pines, painfully seeking to make each step on the dry pine needles as silent as possible, my heart was racing. Above us was a large outcropping of basalt and the point of no return. If we reached that rock and found the buck on the other side, the shot would be clean and short and simple. If we poked our heads out to find nothing but sage, the day would be over and Dave would try again tomorrow, without me.

Those last fifty yards seemed like a mile. Every twig that snapped sounded like thunder, every sniff of my nose seemed like a hurricane. I couldn’t believe that I could make such a racket; and it seemed impossible that the radar-dish ears of these animals could miss it. Step be step we closed the distance and I dared to glance around the crumbling stones and what I saw took my breath away. Our blind ascent had brought us up a bare 30 yards from our quarry. The whole group was still lounging around, completely unaware of our presence, and I literally gasped in surprise. In that instant ten gigantic ears swiveled to face me and again I was threatened with the possibility that I had just blown it. Dave’s rifle wasn’t ready and any motion on his part would undoubtedly be seen. So we froze – stock still, trying to stop our tired breath from coming at all and helpless to do anything else we waited for what seemed like an eternity.

Gradually, blessedly, the deer went back to their munching and Dave slowly lifted the Remington to his shoulder. A moment later a sharp crack echoed off the hillside and a four-point buck fell among his escorts. The does stood, bewildered at the sound and only moved off when we stood up and approached them.

I won’t deny that the process of cleaning the animal soured my stomach just a bit but in hindsight it’s the detail that I remember least. The impression of that extraordinary day continues to be the glory of an autumn morning, the wonder of sharing that hillside with wild animals, and the discovery (or re-discovery) that the wilderness is not the border that surrounds and threatens my home and my life, but rather an older, more patient home that has simply grown unfamiliar.

More than that I remember the sense that has stuck around for years after the event and that was the experience of being fathered. Dave’s willingness to invite me up into something that was important to him, something his father shared with him but something he was never able to share with his daughters, was a strong antidote to my own “orphan” wounds. But of course it wasn’t just Dave and I out there but our shared Father in heaven – who was teaching us both. I’d hate to leave the impression that this path of masculinity is somehow inextricably wrapped up in guns and trucks and the spilling of blood, that’s not it at all. But it wrapped up in the exploration of things we don’t know. It’s drawn from the power of learning from God’s creation instead of being constantly surrounded by the handiwork of man. And it’s forged in the bond of one man initiating another into the larger story that we all have to share.

Head In The Clouds

Jayson Tidland —  August 23, 2013 — Leave a comment


by Jayson Tidland

I like clouds a lot and God the Father knows this. It is sort of hard to fathom why the creator of the universe cares that much about “our details” but he does. He knows our likes and loves and he often meets us on that level. In the same way, He cares about all the rest too. The good, the bad and the ugly. He wants us to invite him into all those areas.

Do you want exposure to eternal things? If you don’t get anything else from this story, get this…we can invite God into all of “our details.”

Unwavering Father

“Hide away, in wonder, wild,
These are times, quiet and free.
Father, present with his child,
Space and time bend a knee.


Storms and danger, troubles piled
These are times, quiet and free.
Father, present with his child,
Eternal things for all to see”

A path to cloud nerdiness began almost a year ago for me.  Don’t be fooled by the interest though. I started paying a bit more attention the “ordinary things” like clouds. Undoubtedly, my head has been in the clouds but it’s not just the clouds I’m looking for. It’s this thing between me and Papa. Our thing…

Continue Reading…

What I am about to share could happen to any of us. And does! In fact, I share life with a lot of people who have these kinds of ‘God experiences’ on a regular basis… and it is a completely normal experience. Yes, I use the word normal, though it is a hidden normal. Veiled in plain sight… lost in the noise and circumstances from a fallen world. The great deception of the enemy is to keep us from knowing who we are…

Eastern Oregon high dessert is beautiful. It was our 2004 bootcamp near Antelope OR. It was sunny with warm dry mild breezes; ideal conditions…I came into this camp with a lot of questions. Mostly the, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” kinds of questions.  I had spent the previous several years sort of lost and wandering without much direction. I know now that I was groping at life as a drowning man gropes for something to stay afloat. I felt that I had no clear starting point. Who thinks about this stuff? Well… at some point, everyone… So there I was.

Names are important to God. They are part of his design for the universe. For us, they are a testimony and sign to all of creation. The name that Jesus calls us is who we really are. The voice that spoke life into existence is the same voice that calls us by name. He always names us aptly…It’s a glimpse of all we are, how he sees us! It doesn’t happen exactly like this for everyone, but here is what happed to me:

The afternoon session ended… and now all the men quietly went out and about for a covenant of silence time, me included.  I headed for the nearest mountain. The questions on my heart were…” What’s next God?” and “Who am I God?”  Two questions…

The pathPart one: What is next? This mountain I was climbing was covered in loose shale and my footing was shaky… The trail was… well there was no trail… the terrain was steep. I was more focused on the question than my safety… My legs were burning, my lungs on fire but the question was bigger…The intensity was pulling me up the hill as if I were chasing after the answer. It was up there…

To add a little more context to this, I sort of saw two immediate life paths as it pertains to the questions. One was to continue down the rabbit hole with all the guys at Bootcamp NW… I loved these guys then, but not like I do now. I mean, it would have been easy to turn away…actually, more like fade away like I had always done. I would simply become (or remain) NOT critical to the plan. I had successfully avoided plenty of situations in life that fit the “much is required” description….especially if some vulnerability and exposure were involved. The old easy way of dealing with things was, well…safe and familiar.  So this, among other things was the context of my question. What happened next I was not expecting.

I was nearly there now…A little more panting, sweating and grunting before I finally reached the top… Tired now, I just found a place to sit and enjoy the view. I was at the crest now. Next to me, on the ground, was an arrangement of rocks in the shape of a cross. Beyond that was the panoramic view of the entire valley below…the camp and the neighboring and distant hillsides. It was my first time up there, and something about the struggle Treeand the beauty of it all just brought me to tears. And there was silence… and the question.

After some time went by, I caught a glimpse of a little paper booklet tucked under a rock that was part of the rock cross arrangement. It was literally right next to me! I pulled it out just to have a quick look and see what it was. It was just a little booklet for children (I guess) and it had pictures of gnomes in it. Nothing special. Trash I thought.

The booklet was missing its cover, so I had to read the little introduction paragraph to figure out what it was all about. The paragraph started out with simple lines like… ”Have you ever longed for a better prayer life? Do you ever wonder if God hears your prayers? Do you long to hear God speak to you? And so on…

“Oh yeah… Jayson…about that question…”

Oh my! The things I desired in the context of my question would represent a radical shift…“It’s prayer…”

Another wave of tears came. I flipped through the pages to see more, and the answer to my question began to unfold! This little booklet was about prayer! “Yep, It’s prayer! That’s what’s next.” It went straight to my heart. Did I mention it was written for CHILDREN with pictures of GNOMES in it!? It depicted little Gnomes praying in every kind of circumstance. God’s ironic humor! The emotion that followed was so deep and pure. I sobbed and the tears were like pure joy … imagining hearing, seeing or walking for the first time in your life…that kind2013-05-14 21.24.31 of joy!

I was excited to get down the hill now! I had to tell someone! Ahh, but God was not done yet. If you remember, I came up the hill with two questions.

Part two: Along the way, God and I… we descended the hillside in a different route. The route was down a steep ravine that widened near the bottom of the hill, and there were a few trees along the way with shade where I could rest. As I was coming down I noticed two or three deer resting peacefully under a tree.

ConfusedJust for fun, a sneak attack seemed in order. (please don’t judge me) After getting close as possible, I charged like a screaming mad man down the hillside! Like Gandalf charging the Orcs! By the time I got to the tree I was laughing beyond control! I claimed the very spot where the deehad been and dropped to rest. “Victory!” What a goofy thing to do, I thought. In the midst of laughter and self-satisfaction I hear God say to me, “You are my Scout”… (Laughter paused)… (Head scratch) “Umm…What does that mean?” Again I heard “You are my Scout.”

“Huh! Ok… I’m your scout.”

A little confusion in the absence of hopelessness must be akin to faith! There was peace about it even though I did not quite know what to do with the news. Like an unopened gift; you know it’s really good but have no idea what it is. That was the real beginning of the journey for me… Being a little slow to the process, it didn’t even occur to me then that God was putting me at the starting line of the journey… of discovery. His answer to my second question was to begin the journey of answering the new question. This journey entails doing and being and an abiding in Jesus. Who is “Scout”? Which is to say, who does God really think I am?

It is a better question…

The subject of our rightful name and why God reveals it to us is a good topic for another day. But I will say… God uses this in our lives in a huge way. It’s a critical piece in the process of walking with God and finding our true calling.

I don’t know if praying gnomes or elves will get you there. But as the word says… Ask, seek and knock….


….to be continued.

In one of the less famous scenes from the Chronicles of Narnia, Jill Pole winds up pushing Eustace of the edge of a cliff in anger (Eustace is saved by Aslan). Later she finds herself powerfully thirsty and drawn to the sound of a stream in the woods. This is the same forest Aslan disappeared into after the dreadful incident with Eustace and she is terrified to enter, but also desperate for water. Eventually she creeps through the trees and finds the stream – cool, bubbling, perfect. But she is paralyzed by what she sees there; Aslan, huge, silent, and still as a statue at the water’s edge. Jill is frozen between her fear and her need until finally Aslan speaks.

“If you are thirsty, you may drink.”

“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I am dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered only by a look and a very low growl. And just as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her frantic.
“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I come?”
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.
-The Silver Chair

I think all of us have moments where we resent the inescapable simplicity of Christ. Where our own fears or the shadow-guilt laid upon us by he Evil One make Jesus the last person we want to talk to – even as He is unquestionably who we need most.

I had a wonderful Thanksgiving, I really did, but like all families there is always a story or two from the previous year that brings our shared human brokenness into sharp relief. Whether it’s a divorce or a sickness, a failed business or plain old bad judgement, there is always a reminder of just how much we need Jesus, we never need to look too far to see just how much the world needs His love and healing but also how much we need His unshakable strength – His wildness.

I’m reading a fantastic book right now called The Holy Wild by Mark Buchanan where he talks about this God of ours who eats up kings and empires without apology. The God who gives us no options, “Either we drink from [His] stream or we die.” And it got me thinking how grateful I am for that discovery in my life, that despite all the options man brings to the table of his own suffering, there really is only one path to life. It’s not to disregard the tremendous help that can be offered by psychology or medicine, by education or recovery programs. Those things are all wonderful inventions and do tremendous good in the world. But in the end they are all woefully unable to truly change our state of fallenness.

Understanding does not equal healing.

Knowledge is miles from meaning.

When Thoreau says that ‘wildness is the preservation of the world’ he is of course talking about streams and woods and wolves. But isn’t the same thing so true for our hearts? Without a God who is wild how can we ever get beyond our own myopia? A God with no ‘wild’ in Him is boring and in no time at all we loose the awe that makes worship possible and obedience meaningful. The remarkable thing is that our God is much like the woods in this way – for much of our lives we can keep the wildness at bay if we choose. We can decide to live indoors where the temperature is controlled to within half a degree of 72 and little is asked of us beside an occasional missions trip offering (which feels like wrenching sacrifice). But the wild will always invade from time to time, reminding us that our cloister is not the world, not the real world anyway. And in that frame of mind the wild seems threatening and fey. It’s only when we seek the wilderness and embrace it on its own terms that we find it to be beautiful beyond measure and indeed the nursery of the abundant life we crave.

So among other things I find myself deeply thankful for the way in which Jesus has often stood in my way. Where He has stubbornly refused to “go away” while I do something for myself. I’m tankful that in my quest for Life He remains both the wall in my way and the door to the other side – if only I’m willing to knock.