Hike 2: Control

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When I told my family the desire God was calling me to do (40 hikes in my 40th year) I got a myriad of responses from each. Cory’s eyes twinkled like the evening stars visible in our country backyard, eager to be a part of the journey alongside me as hiking is his happy place too. Luke, our youngest, found a new pep to his step, proclaiming he was ready! The last time he and I hiked together we saw nature at its finest—a snake devouring a salamander right in front of us. Luke decided he wanted to join me on as many hikes as he possibly could. Lyndi, our middle child and only daughter, is up for anything and genuinely gave me a smile, knowing that this challenge of mine meant more family time together, which is one of her favorite love languages. But our oldest, Eli, rolled his eyes. 

Eli and I have loads of similarities. Our eyes have the same dark chocolate deepness and our lashes can nearly reach out and touch you. Our freckles in the summer look like the night sky with secret constellations that await a connect the dots game. We are both passionate people and strong-willed, but therein lies our differences. Our passions vary. He loves, loves, loves basketball and, while I have many talents, sports isn’t one of them. I love, love, love plants but they irritate him. We both love, love, love books but our favorite genres vary. We both do love, love, love cats, so there’s that. 

Hiking, on the other hand, is one of the differences we have in our loves. Just say the word aloud and while a peace rushes over me knowing what a few hours deep in God’s land will do for my soul, I can also feel the tension in the air from Eli’s annoyance at them. Please no, Momma, he begs each time I mention a hike. Sometimes, he gets an “out” but many times when we are on vacation he’s stuck slopping in mud up some mountain next to me even though he would rather be literally anywhere else but. And yet, he knew that this challenge of mine meant that he wouldn’t be able to wiggle out of all the hikes. He would have to come on at least one with me whether he wanted to or not. 

Most of parenthood is about preparation, I’ve learned. When the kids were little, I needed to ensure that my diaper bag was filled to the brim with any and everything I could fathom that one of the kids would need. As they’ve aged, my preparation skills have also matured along with the gray hairs. I knew that Eli would have to join me on a hike and Luke’s persistence in being a part of the second of my 40-hike challenge, I decided to prepare by having Eli be a part of the Scripture choice.  

On the ride home from school one day I asked Eli to consider what Scripture passage I should study for my second hike. With a weary look of confusion, he took the bait and together we discussed different stories in Scripture that he liked and through the divine guidance of God’s unseen hand that day, we landed on a story that I vaguely remembered from my childhood and one I hadn’t even known Eli was aware of: Daniel in the Lion’s Den (Daniel 6).

A story of bravery. One of God’s faithfulness. A testament of trust. 

Yes, this story was bound to offer me and the rest of my family some life-changing insights. I just didn’t know quite how many and what it would take to uncover them. 

Luke could hardly contain himself. It had been a handful of days since my first hike and he had concluded that the weather was perfect, all homework complete… that Tuesday evening would beautifully paint the picture for hike #2 despite the fact that it was one of Cory’s late evenings. As he rolled into the driveway around 7 p.m. we told him our plans to get another hike in and put Cory in charge of selecting the location. 

We live close to a lake and yet, like most people do, we don’t always see the beauty right under our noses. I hadn’t even considered Taylorsville Lake as a hiking destination, but by 7:30 p.m. or so we were cruising down the country backroads that took us to a hike Cory found… one that looked easy enough for our family but promised to give us a glimpse of nature’s beauty in our backyard. 

The Bathhouse Loop. The hike we’ll never forget. And the one that proved to me that my preparation skills were lacking quite a bit. 

Our GPS took us into a campsite parking lot. Confused at first, we figured after analyzing our map that the trail started and ended at the campsite, looping around the outdoor bath house structures. Lovely, right?! But the photos on our All Trails app showed that despite its potentially “stinky” location, it offered beautiful sites around ponds and weaved in and out of a horse trail. I looked up at the sky and realized that while it may not have been the trail I’d want for my second hike of the year, time was ticking and I would make due. Plus, God can teach me anything anywhere. I knew it. 

We laced our shoes and while putting on our chemical-free bug spray (yes, we’re those people) my not-so-happy oldest was already beginning his complaints. It’s getting dark. It’s going to be too long. My shoes don’t fit. After a while, I just had to tune out the monotony of complaints, I realized, if I wanted to find any joy in the hike. So, with my hiking sticks in hand and 39 rocks in my backpack, I tuned out the negative and took a deep breath. 

God, I’m ready. What can you teach me through Daniel? 

The All Trails app showed that the entrance of the hike began at the end of a cul-de-sac, and passed a row of campers. For this hike, our Zoey, a beautiful white cotton ball of a Great Pyrenees/Retriever mix, joined us and got lots of attention on the way to the hike’s entrance. A beautiful dog ran out to meet her and her owners got up from the fire pit they were preparing to give us a warm welcome. Like long lost friends, Zoey and the other pup ran in circles together, enjoying the carefree life the outdoors offers while we exchanged pleasantries with the other family. 

I don’t remember all that we spoke about. Maybe we offered surface-level chit chat around the weather or the beautiful scenery. Possibly we each spoke of how amazing our dogs were or how cool their camper looked. Months later as I put pen to paper on what I learned on this hike has left me with little recollection of our exchange outside of one phrase that the couple said to us. Now, I wonder if it was a foreshadow of what was to come. 

Y’all be careful, you hear. It’s getting dark. Maybe you should wait to hike tomorrow? 

I laughed off their warning. It was inching closer to 8 p.m. but it was late Spring. The sun stayed up longer than usual. Our brief 3-mile walk would be a walk in the park, I thought with an arrogance I later regretted. And, with confidence, we walked to what should have been the entrance of the hike, only to find it missing. That, my friends, should have been our first warning to go home and hike another day. 

But we were there. We were committed. There would be no turning back for the Fegers. Where there is a will, there’s a way and we were going to find a way in. 

We decided to take the trail backwards, heading toward the exit versus the entrance. We rounded one bath house. Lovely. And as we circled the second one I was beginning to think the concrete trail was a scam. I wanted to be in the woods not on a campsite walking in circles around toilets. But alas, I found it. The entrance into the trail that had no exit. 

The trail really was something stunning. Loads of creek rock created natural stepping stones for us as we weaved around hidden ponds and bounced through low-water creeks. While Lyndi declared the hike was awesome in her sing-songy voice echoing throughout the trees, Eli negated her positivity with complaints of the blisters he was growing on the back of both feet. Determined I wasn’t going to let his energy rub off on me, Lyndi and I decided to go a bit faster, putting us quite a ways ahead of the boys. 

There, we could just hear bits and pieces of their voices but couldn’t make out their words. There, we could rest in gratitude for God’s creation and that we did. 

Daniel in the lion’s den, I said to Lyndi. What in the world does God want to teach us about that story? At this point, Luke, who danced between hanging out with the girls and the boys, shared what he knew about the common biblical story most children hear once or twice in their lives. As he retold the story with Lyndi piping in a time or two, I realized it was a story I had forgotten.

King Darius, who was a fan of Daniel, a devout Jewish man, put Daniel in the lion’s den after several officials in his court manipulated him into doing so. While throwing him into what would likely be his death, King Darius expressed to Daniel his hope for Daniel’s God to save him. He didn’t want him to get hurt. And, guess what?! God did. God sent an angel in the middle of the night to shut the mouths of the lions and when King Darius returned in the morning, Daniel was alive!

Daniel 6 as described by my littles!

What a story of faith, I thought. Daniel had more trust that I ever could have, I considered. Our God is a fierce protector of His people, I realized as I reflected on the story with two of my littles. And within a few minutes, I thought I had figured out just what God was planning on teaching me on this hike. It’s like I could hear Him in my ear: Stephanie, my sweet daughter. If you trust Me, I can and will do anything for you no matter what challenges lie ahead. I was overcome with peace, knowing that God’s message was so immensely clear on this hike. Despite any circumstance, God’s got this. 

Surely you’ve heard people warn you to not pray for patience, right?! For when you do, God offers you opportunities for patience. And, trust me, those opportunities aren’t always rainbow and butterfly experiences. In the same vein, I think my confidence in the message God was gifting me in this hike was actually an opportunity to experience it. It’s one thing to know God’s got this; it’s another to experience it firsthand.

As I confidently took steps deeper on the hike and grateful for God’s clarity, the sun also took steps closer to its daily rest. The farther along the hike we went, the more the sun began to set. Beautiful at first, Lyndi and I were enjoying the newly risen light from the full moon until reality sunk in. There, in the middle of the forest, three truths crystalized.

  1. The evening was coming and with a vengeance. Darkness was enveloping us and my phone’s battery was near empty. 
  2. Lyndi and I had been so focused on our hike that we could no longer hear the echo of the boy’s discussions. We were separated by what felt like miles. 
  3. Joy turned to fear as the nighttime brought a new set of noises, complete with crickets and coyotes, one of which we didn’t want to meet. 

We needed to complete the trail and pronto. Our fast pace became faster; us two girls had the energy of the Energizer Bunny. With my phone’s flashlight guiding the way and the app providing us directions, every second was a second of battery juice gone. When I tripped over a rock and plummeted into mud, I decided I needed to phone Cory to ensure they were picking up their speed. 

Cory, we gotta get out of here. My phone is near dead and it’s pitch black. Do you have any battery-life left? 

His answer was what I expected. Both of us were nearly off the grid without our consent. I gave him guidance to stay focused on the trail and run if possible since we were just a turn away from the exit and hung up. Lyndi and I began to follow my advice and ran we did, only to uncover what we should have realized from the beginning. 

If we couldn’t find the entrance the first time from outside the hike, what would make us think we could find the entrance this time from within it? The All Trails app showed where the exit should be but instead of bringing us to it, it took us deeper into the forest, away from civilization. My fear was fueled when I realized the end wasn’t the end… the trail was broken and the app was no longer correct. We didn’t have an out. 

We were (gulp) lost. 

The only way out was backwards, and that was already a 3-mile hike of confusion. Poor markings caused us to get lost in the day-time; we’d never make it out alive in the night. I paused, immobilized by fear, and called Cory once more, knowing that call may take the little battery juice I had left. 

Cory, we need to turn back. The app isn’t accurate. There is no ending. We’re lost. We need to get out. 

Deep breaths, he told me. We’d figure it out, he promised. We’re safe, he proclaimed. There’s an out, he offered. 

I had seen it too. A half of a mile back, there was visibility of a camper. We could traverse the overgrown grass to safety… if we could find it. The optimist within me threw positivity out the window. From head to toe adrenaline rushed and fear took over. Lyndi and I scrambled to the meeting place on the hike Cory beckoned us to, getting half-lost on the way to him yet again. With each step, I yelled to Cory and like an echo in the forest, he yelled back confidence. 

Cory, can you hear me? Help! Lyndi and I are lost.

I’m here. You’re close. Stay on the path.

You sound so far, Cory. Don’t move. Help!

You’re almost here, I promise. We’ll figure this out together. 

Cory wasn’t the only one listening to my screams, though. And, how could he? They were reverberating in every nook and cranny the hike offered. One of my yells had a different voice return an answer. Ma’am, are you lost? Do you have kids with you? Keep following my voice. We’ll help you get out. Just keep following my voice. 

Even as I write this, I can feel all the feelings come back like a wave in the ocean engulfing me or a current taking me under and not releasing me on my own will or plea. It was a moment in life where I had to be strong for my kids but was failing miserably for I couldn’t be strong for myself. Strength, I realize now, isn’t something that is by your own choosing; instead, it’s by your own trusting. 

Amidst my panic, Cory’s yells became clearer, proof Lyndi and I were inching closer. And, confused, I heard his answer to the voice from campers who were safely at the campsite attempting to help us reach their destination. 

We are fine, he said. We don’t need help. Thanks anyway. 

Are you crazy?! I said in return. We are lost. There are kids. There isn’t a way out. HELP! 

When Cory’s head came into my purview, all I could see was him shaking it from side to side. He knew we’d find a way out; I had already determined we’d be the coyote’s dinner that evening and this Momma Bear wasn’t having it. Panicked but rejoined together, we followed the voices of the campers and found a place where the thicket was thinner. I tossed away my fear of ticks and together, we ran out of the darkness and into freedom. 

My heart was pounding so loud I could hear it in my ears as we tried to get our bearings and figure out the direction to our car. Huddled together, you’d think we had just spent a night with Daniel in the lion’s den ourselves as we walked to our van with shaky legs and anything but a peaceful spirit. 

We came upon the fork in the road where if we turned left, we’d make it to the car, but turning right would take us to the campsite where the voices that helped us out were staying. Our friends, the owners of Zoey’s dog buddy, the ones who had questioned our entry were the ones who helped us get out of our pickle. Cory headed to them to call off the search party while I took the kids to the car to slow our racing hearts. 

There, in a locked car and between deep breaths, we sat with more emotions than any one hike should offer. Fear was still rushing through our veins but gratitude for safety was beginning to take over. Worry was still in the back of our minds but subsiding as it was replaced with the truth that we were safe now. What Lyndi had originally proclaimed as an awesome hike was now being deemed as an awful one. I didn’t overlook that awe was found in both words and how quickly it could be swayed away from being memorable for good reasons to being remembered for not so great purposes. 

The rock. The weight of my backpack was nothing compared to the weight of my worries trapped in the forest. But as I settled in the driver’s seat and took off my backpack purse, I couldn’t overlook that I was still carrying 39 rocks. I hadn’t left one behind. And as Cory got into the passenger seat, we both agreed that our nerves weren’t quite ready to leave anything behind on that hike quite yet. Time was required. 

Months went by. Other hikes took place. And, sitting on the console of my van remained a single rock. A reminder that what I started wasn’t yet complete. The hike from hell still had much to teach me. But what? What did I learn? What was I called to leave behind? And, better question, what would I take from it on my pilgrimage with God? 

There I sat, three months after the hike, frustrated that my health had plummeted.

For two weeks I had felt like a prisoner in my bedroom, lacking energy and capacity to do much more than sleep and binge watch documentaries on Netflix. While that lifestyle may sound desirable to some, it’s a frustrating, overwhelming and hopeless experience when you don’t choose it. And, for this gal who prefers to have control in all parts of life, it leaves me feeling like I’m constantly spinning out of control instead. 

Living with a chronic illness is a rollercoaster, and I was stuck in an uncomfortable loop de loop that kept me off of hiking trails and canceling parts of my life I didn’t want to. I was frustrated with my situation and, if I’m being honest, my body’s limitations, my inability to do all that I wanted and God’s current choice to not remove the thorn in my side. I had goals and God gifted me a charge. I wanted… no, I needed the energy to tackle it. And I was close to waiving the white flag of surrender when control felt so far out of reach. 

Moments like these aren’t limited to my life circumstances. We are all thrown into unexpected change, hardship, worries or loop de loops, and Scripture is filled with stories that prove these situations have existed for thousands of years. Take Daniel, for instance. He may be the epitome of being thrown into a not-so-pleasant situation. Daniel, however, chose a different path; one where control was surrendered from the beginning. One I’m confident God was ready to use to teach me much. So, while I had plans, God had another… and He was ready to teach me something profound. Finally, I was ready to listen to what He began sharing with me on that hike months prior. I was ready to learn from Daniel’s story of just who my God really is. I sat in my office with my Bible open to Daniel 6 and my husband next to me to process it, and together, we uncovered God’s message in it for me during that hike. 

If you take a moment to read the biblical account of Daniel in the lion’s den, you’ll likely uncover much more than you may have once been taught in VBS or at Sunday School. As I reflected over my charge to relinquish control of my health woes and every other aspect of my life, I saw a completely different side of Daniel. And, maybe you will too.

Despite external factors, Daniel didn’t waver in his faith and trust in God.

In Daniel 6, we learn that Daniel’s situation was not poised in his favor. Everyone had turned against him (outside of the king) due to jealousy. A devout Jew himself, the king’s administrators created a situation where Daniel would most certainly fail. So, he had a choice: to give in or hold strong. In the thick of his circumstances, Daniel chose to keep praying and asked God for help (Daniel 6:11). He didn’t run from hardship; he ran to the only One who could help him. 

Despite all odds, Daniel trusted that his God would protect him. 

We learn in Daniel 6:21-22 that even after spending a night in the lion’s den, Daniel’s God did deliver. He sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lions so they could not hurt him. An outcome none of us would have considered God made possible. I can only imagine that Daniel’s confidence in God in that moment wasn’t one of courage or bravery (because that’s what is needed when you willingly choose to walk into danger), but rather trust and wisdom (which is at the heart of knowing God will work for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose). (Romans 8:28)

Despite earthly demands, Daniel chose to follow God’s law, not man’s. 

Daniel proclaimed that the lions did not hurt him because “I was found innocent in his sight.” (Daniel 6:22) Daniel knew that God’s laws reigned supreme; that man’s laws were fickle, wavering like the wind. And he chose to follow the true King of Kings. His true protector was by his side all night and ensured his safety. 

As I read Daniel’s story, I found myself back in the woods, panicked for my life; for my kids’ lives. How could something so right turn so wrong so quickly? And, the better question I considered was this: what would I leave behind on that hike so that I could move forward in the same unwavering faith and trust that Daniel had? How in the world could I be like Daniel when I was thrown into the next unexpected hardship? Here’s what God placed on my heart. 

Control is a mirage, meaningless and unattainable. Give it to Me, Stephanie. Let me carry it.

I badly want to control my life. I want to know what my days will look like. I want to know that when I make healthy choices, I have healthy outcomes. I want to feel confident that my kids will achieve their potential because of the situations I’ve been able to control for them. But this is all a cloud of smoke. Control isn’t real. Outside of how we react and respond to situations, we have little control of much else. Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den without his consent just like we are thrown into a cancer diagnosis, a chronic illness, a consequence to a poor decision, a relationship gone sour… get the drift? The sooner we hand over the control baton, the sooner we experience a deep peace. 

You aren’t their protector, my sweet daughter. I am the Protector of all my children. 

Cory and I reflected on what was really at the root of my emotional breakdown in the woods that day and I uncovered that in addition to feeling completely out of control, I also felt like I couldn’t protect my children. I lacked confidence, control and clarity on my next steps. And I knew that my three littles were looking to Cory and I for answers. Praise God their dad had his head on straight because this momma was going to draw the coyotes to them instead of away with her loud screams. But I can’t protect them… not in the woods or in my home or anywhere we go. Circumstances far extend what my two hands can navigate. The only way to fully protect them is to pray for them. 

Stop looking elsewhere for help. I was always here, Stephanie. I’m just a prayer away. 

My situation would have looked a lot different if instead of letting fear take over, I paused in the darkness with my family and together, hand in hand, we prayed. As I read King Darius’ note to all the nations after Daniel’s safe delivery, I would have hoped my prayer in the middle of the forest spoke a similar truth: 

“For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.”

Daniel 6:26-27

I made a pact to my family that we would not do the Bathhouse Loop hike again, but I couldn’t stare at the rock any longer. While I didn’t have to step foot on the trail, I had something I needed to still leave behind. On the way to church one Sunday, we took a detour on some country roads to the end of a hike that left my family in a panic so I could stand at the edge of the opening into the woods and toss in one little rock with a whole lot of weight. 

On one side, a biblical truth was written; one I hope I never forget. “He rescues and He saves.” (Daniel 6:27) Oh how grateful I am that God does rescue us from any situation, those we choose to be in and those we are thrown into unexpectedly. 

On the other side, it read control. While I never truly had it before, I was ready to begin the life-long journey of giving it over to God. In return, I’d let trust fill its void. I’m ready to embrace grace, rest in His promises and release my worries one day, one hardship, one lion’s den at a time.

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Stephanie Feger

Throughout her life, she’s been in the business of empowering people. She’s empowered her teams to collective success. She’s empowered individuals, groups and organizations to embrace perspective as a tool for deeper satisfaction and personal and professional accomplishments. And she’s empowered authors, small business owners and entrepreneurs with communications and marketing strategies to help them reach their goals.
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Stephanie Feger

Through her life, she’s been in the business of empopwering people. She’s empowered her teams to collective success. She’s empowered individuals, groups and organizations to embrace perspective as a tool for deeper satisfaction and personal and professional accomplishments. And she’s empowered authors, small business owners and entrepreneurs with communications and marketing strategies to help them reach their goals.

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