We went into the wilderness without Him. I don’t know what I was thinking. We all knew there were people dying in the wilderness every day. Their hollow and broken cries echoed up the deep ravines and dry riverbeds, bouncing against the stone hewn walls of the ancient fortress that sat just at the foot of the great northern mountains.
It was Him and only Him that led the teams into the wilderness to rescue those who were perishing. He had been gone several days on one of these journeys when a particularly desperate cry began to wail out. It seemed to be very near the fortress walls. So close in fact that a few of us decided it would be no great risk to venture out and find these hurting ones. We would be too close to the mountains to get lost.
How foolish we were, though our intentions were true and pure. We hastily packed only our weapons and a day’s rations of food and water. We assumed we would be home by nightfall. Yet by nightfall we were hopelessly lost. Somehow the mountains had disappeared though not a single one of us could say when we lost sight of them. The desperate cries we had been following for hours faded away into the distant horizon, though in which direction we could not say. And when the pitch black of night covered the sands we knew we had truly failed and made a terrible mistake.
By morning our water, what little we carried, was gone. And before we had even begun to resume our wandering a sudden and violent sandstorm burst in a cloud towards us. It whipped and sliced and beat down upon our backs in a frenzy, bending us to our knees and ripping through our clothing with vengeance. Somehow in the midst of this confusion I lost sight of every one of my companions.
Terror and dread seized my heart as I sat bent on my knees, holding a thin scarf tightly over my nose and covering the rest of my body as best I could. Then I waited for the storm to pass. Hours, maybe even half a day, laboriously dragged by. And then just as suddenly as it had come it was gone and there appeared the clear sky once more. And with that bright blue immediately came the oppressive heat skittering across the sands towards me.
My throat was so dry I could barely speak and my lips and exposed skin was cracked and bleeding. I whispered His name, wiling my beaten legs to move and squinting into the sunlight. I would never make it if He did not come and find me. But would He come in time? Did He even know yet that I was lost? Would He be angry? Grieved? Disappointed? In that moment it did not even matter. I just wanted to see His strong silhouette striding towards me; just see His trustworthy eyes and know without doubt that everything would be ok.
But as the sand settled across the wilderness there was no movement or any sign of human or even animal life. I was standing on completely flat ground that stretched out in all directions. I needed to find one of the many deep ravines that cracked its way across the wilderness in a intricate maze of narrow tunnels. There at least there would be rocks and shade from the sweltering heat.
I pushed up my feet, which were covered in blood having been cut many times by the pounding granules of sand, and stood grimacing heavily. I then hobbled across the sands, for many hours, hopelessly trying to keep my skin from burning, my thirst multiplying with every minute. And when my vision began to blur and my breath came out in only in ragged, piteous gasps, I discovered a ravine. It was very narrow, with only one very large rock but it was enough. In excitement I tripped and fell face forward down into it. I cried but rolled over under the rock not bothering to get up again. I curled into a shaking ball of hunger and thirst. I closed my eyes, trying to shut out the walls of agony and fear collapsing against my chest. The last thing I remember thinking as I faded out of consciousness was: this must be what it feels like to die…
Who knows how how many hours passed before my eyes slowly parted and opened once more, weakly taking in the shape and light in front of me. It took me a moment to realize it was His face I was seeing. And then His deep voice whispering my name over and over again. My beloved. My friend. He had come.
There was no anger or disappointment in His eyes only concern, empathy and tenderness. He was kneeling beside me, sword strapped to His thigh, arms glistening in sweat. How long had He searched for me? His calloused and big hands were gentle as they lifted my neck, pressing water to my mouth. I feebly swallowed, though it hurt dreadfully against my dry tongue. I reached out to grip His other hand. Warmth enveloped me and I could feel myself fading again.
I heard His voice speak, still in a whisper, “Its ok. I am here now.”
And then I was once more unconscious. For many hours I drifted in and out of awareness. He patiently gave me more and more water and eventually food. And as nightfall approached once more, my strength began to grow. I finally sat up as He built a fire beside us. I tried to speak but then began to weep, wrapping both arms around my knees and pressing my mouth against the tops of my knees. I felt so embarrassed and ashamed. Why would I go into the wilderness without Him? How many times had He gently but firmly told me not to do this.
“ I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” I repeated.
He quickly sat back down beside me, pulling my face into His chest. He smelled like always of frankincense and myrrh.
“ It’s already forgiven. You have nothing to fear. I knew you had left before I had even returned.”
And over and over again He reassured me of His love, His devotion and His satisfaction with me.
“ I will always find you,” He whispered into my ear, “…always.”
And as the dark night stretched its shadows around us under the rocks I sank into a deep peaceful sleep leaned against Him.
When morning came He pulled me to my feet and said in a heartening voice, “We will walk out of here together.”
I nodded willing to try, though I wondered if I would be able to even take a few steps. My feet He had bandaged and covered in healing oils. But the pain had not left the soles.
His arm slid around my waist, keeping me upright as He saw the doubt in my eyes.
“We will be home by sunset.”
Then, shouldering both our swords and His pack on the other arm, He led us up and out of the ravine. The light of the wilderness seemed even more blinding than I remembered. I leaned heavily into Him as we walked, gripping His shoulder. He was much taller than me; my feet were nearly lifted off the ground. We continued walking across the wilderness until the sun was past the middle of the sky. And despite His help and the water and food and bandages I still felt much pain.
The sharp, blinding rays of the wilderness sun slapped forcibly on our burned and salty skin. I could not see the trail that He seemed to be so confidently following. The heat waves pulsated, almost as if there was a silent drum beat pounding the wilderness’s flat floor.
My steps faltered many times. At each time His gentle eyes looked down at me and His kind voice said, “ It is not as far as it seems.”
We stopped for water and it must have been halfway through the afternoon. I was beginning to shake again. But through my cracked lips I tried to smile and locked eyes with His, desperately grasping for strength from Him again. Those colorful eyes, swirling between blue and gray and green. They held me fast for a few extra minutes, brimming with compassion and affection. How did He do that? Express so much in one glance? He seemed unaffected by the harshness of the wilderness. His dark skin glistened and His long hair dripped with sweat and yet He did not appear weary.
I closed my eyes, finally being the one to break the gaze. I pressed my face into His shoulder taking a slow deep breath. I felt His other hand reach up, brushing back the damp hair that clung to the curve of my neck.
“Let me give you my strength,” He whispered.
I bit my lip, holding back the ready tears at the gentleness in which He saw my weakness and did not despise it.
“Look at me again…” He said in a voice that could not be denied.
I did what He said and He spoke with clear authority in His voice as one who was used to giving commands and being obeyed.
“You will move your feet and you will walk. We will see the mountains very soon. Just lift up your face.” His arm tightened around my waist again.
I nodded though my head felt hot, heavy and achy.
“ Yes…” and ever so slowly I stretched my right foot forward even as pain shot up my ankle. We inched forward foot by foot, yard by yard, mile by mile. And as the dust shook under our footsteps and the heat radiated around our forms, ahead the way began to clear just as He said. I began to see the deep purple of the northern mountain peaks and then the jungle green of the lower slopes. And finally the crystal blue of the lakes right at the wilderness’s edge.
I let out a gasp of relief and I heard His deep throated chuckle above my ear. A final burst of strength surged into my muscles and bones. Our pace quickened, yet He still held onto me, keeping us both steady. We continued in this way until we reached last few feet of the wilderness floor. The fortress was now in sight, nestled on the east side of the largest lake.
The watchmen heralded our appearance with loud trumpets. And the people came pouring out of the great iron gates. At this familiar sight I wept leaning on my Beloved.
I was safely home.
“Who is this coming up from the wilderness leaning on her beloved?”
Song of Songs 8:5
Natasha is a short story writer who has been blogging for the past decade. She is currently raising four kids in the midwest United States and married to her wonderful husband of 10 years. They both work with YWAM and media missions.