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FULLY ALIVEA Journey that Will Change Your Life
By KEN DAVIS
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Ken Davis
All right reserved.
IT WAS THE END TO A PERFECT DAY. MY WIFE, DIANE, AND I had driven with our three granddaughters up an old mining road high into the mountains of Colorado and set up camp in a little meadow at 10,500 feet. All day we rode ATV four-wheelers on narrow trails that snaked above the tree line to abandoned gold mines. We climbed to the tops of rocky ridges where we could see for miles in every direction. I relished my role as hero, trailblazer, and camping expert to the three little girls who shared this adventure: Kialee, the studious competitive athlete; Lexi, the drama queen; and four-year-old Jadyn, part-time affectionate princess and full-time nemesis to her sisters. The girls in turn were experts at making me stop to see joy in the little miracles of life.
My goal was to lead them to the top of the mountain. Their goal was to enjoy the journey. They squealed with delight at every clump of high country flowers and whooped with excitement when I pointed out the chubby marmot watching from his rocky sentinel. They collapsed in giggles when little pikas with big ears squeaked in alarm and scurried off to dive for cover in the rocky crevices. Jadyn stayed close by my side, holding my hand, soaking in the wonder of it all. Even at age four she climbed fearlessly up steep slopes and rode narrow trails, eager to find whatever surprise waited around the next corner or over the next ridge.
After a long and exciting day, we returned to our cozy campsite to fix dinner. Every meal you can think of is a hundred times tastier when cooked over a campfire. That night we had filet mignon, known to noncampers as hot dogs. Dessert was s'mores. What a delight to watch the girls roast marshmallows! To a child a marshmallow on the end of a stick is an exotic torch. A beautifully browned marshmallow is boring, but smiles and shouts of joy erupt when the little white treats burst into flaming torches that can be waved dangerously around nearby siblings. The girls quickly mashed the charred blobs of marshmallow and a square of Hershey's chocolate between two graham crackers and swallowed them whole so they could light another torch.
When the marshmallows were gone, they poked their sticks into the coals until they began to burn. The glowing ember on the end of a stick became a magic pen for writing names and drawing elaborate designs in the inky sky. Finally eyelids began to droop. We allowed the fire to settle and then lay on our backs in the meadow, whispering of the beauty of the star-jeweled heavens. When you're at 10,500 feet on a clear night, the brightness of the stars hurts your eyes. A meteor streaked across the sky, sparking a minicelebration and marking time to call it a night. Diane and I tucked our treasures into toasty down sleeping bags and gave thanks for a magnificent day spent enjoying God's creation.
At the first hint of dawn, we awoke to the three amigas shaking us and shouting, "Wake up! Wake up and light another fire!" We were out of wood, so I slipped into cold, stiff clothing and icy boots to lead the girls on our first adventure of the day, gathering firewood. We looked for old, dead aspen trees, which are excellent for campfires. Many of these trees remain standing when they die. I knew we could easily push over the smaller ones and drag them back to camp.
I was concerned about our little princess, Jadyn. She could easily be hurt by even a small tree falling in the wrong direction. So as we crossed the old mining road, I handed her a fallen branch and said, "You can take this tree to your grandmother and help her start the fire." With obvious delight and pride she began dragging her personal "tree" back to camp. I can still see her struggling to get it across the road. When she was almost to the campsite, the other girls and I turned into the forest to search for bigger timber.
That was the last place I saw Jadyn.
Evidently the princess got almost to her grandmother and then decided, I would rather be with Grandpa. Unknown to any of us, she dropped her tree, turned around to search for me—and wandered into the wilderness at 10,500 feet. When we returned with our supply of wood and began to prepare for breakfast, Diane asked, "Where's Jadyn?"
"Isn't she with you?" I replied.
Her eyes widened. "No! I thought she was with you!"
Panic! We exploded from the campsite in every direction, screaming Jadyn's name. In the first hour after she disappeared, I begged God for mercy as our search expanded. Obviously she had wandered far enough not to hear our calls. I ran as fast and as far as I could along every path I thought she might have taken. I retraced the steps we took to gather wood. Diane hopped on one of the ATVs and drove a mile up the mining road from our campsite and then a mile below. She paused often to stop the machine and call Jadyn's name. In the first stage of this kind of crisis, hope lingers in the midst of adrenaline-fueled panic. Maybe with the next few steps I'll spot her pink matching outfit or a flash of that blonde hair. Maybe on the next breath of wind we'll hear her voice. Maybe she'll be where this road runs out. Oh, I hope she's not down by the river!
After about two and a half hours I began to steel myself for the worst.
A green truck made its way up the road. It was a forest ranger who, when he heard the news, immediately called the Chaffee County rescue team. These amazing volunteers seemed to arrive almost instantly and began to organize a search. A child lost in this kind of wilderness is in a life-threatening situation. The sooner the search begins, the better the chances of finding the child. They had to find her—storm clouds were rolling in over the peaks. The temperature could drop to dangerous levels in minutes, and if it started to rain ... I couldn't allow my mind to go there. Jadyn was my little partner, my little princess. I was her hero. She trusted me. I couldn't let her down.
As I stumbled through the undergrowth calling her name, I could see her trusting blue eyes looking out at me from every patch of brush. I remembered the prayer she had said on my behalf when I was very sick: "Please God, don't let my grandpa be afraid." Now my little prayer warrior was gone.
"Children don't go uphill." The rescue leader's briefing broke my train of thought. "When children are lost they take the easiest route downhill. Where did you last see Jadyn?"
I pointed to the spot, a small bush where she had crossed the road, dragging her personal tree. He took out a roll of pink survey ribbon, tore off a piece, and tied it to the bush. Pink ribbon! Couldn't they have chosen any color but that one? Tears flowed freely down my face as the leader explained that his team would go about a mile above our camp and begin searching downhill from there. As they began to assemble for the search, another team member asked for some of Jadyn's personal items, bits of clothing that might give search dogs a scent they could follow. Diane and I were inconsolable.
There was no cell phone coverage in that remote area, so Diane headed down toward civilization to call Jadyn's parents and to ask our friends around the world to pray. Still sobbing, I went to search the creek that flowed behind our camp, bracing myself for what I might find. Half stumbling, half running, I shouted myself hoarse calling Jadyn's name as I followed the bank. After about a mile I saw the mining road. Surely if she had come this direction she would have seen the road and taken it rather than continuing on through the tangled brush that bordered the creek. It was then I remembered the swampy area farther up the mountain between the creek and the road—a stretch of bog covered with almost impenetrable brush and potholes full of mossy, stagnant water.
I clawed my way uphill through thick brush that fought every move I made. Often I would sink thigh-deep in small muddy pools. The strenuous effort plus the altitude and stress dragged me to the brink of exhaustion. Don't let her be in here, I prayed as I slogged ahead. Please. Don't let her be in here. Then my boot caught in the tangled brush, and I fell into a small pool of water maybe a foot and a half deep. I had run and shouted for over three hours. I struggled to get to my feet, but I could not move. My strength was completely gone. My voice was gone.
Trembling there on my hands and knees, I realized I had reached the end of myself. I couldn't go another step; I couldn't shout Jadyn's name one more time. I could only weep and pray in a hoarse whisper. "Dear God, I have nothing left. You can have my career—You can have it. Take my savings. Take my house. Take my airplane. Take all the stuff I have cherished." My voice gave out completely so that my final plea was a silent one. Lord, I cherish this little girl more than all my possessions. If need be, take my life. Take me. But please bring this baby back.
ANGELS ARE NOT STRANGERS
It was just a day trip for the young couple, a day devoted to hiking the majestic Collegiate Peaks. As they slowly made their way along an old mining road near the timber line, the forest began to thin, allowing them wider glimpses of rugged beauty—the kind of beauty that stifles conversation and makes man seem small—and a child almost invisible.
They might have missed her except for the hot pink T-shirt that stood out in stark contrast to the earthy greens, browns, and grays of the Colorado high country. They might have missed her if she had chosen to sit in the shade of the thick buck brush that blankets the region between tree line and jagged peaks. They might even have missed her if their eyes had been scanning the jagged rock sentinels that loomed in every direction. But that tiny splotch of bubble-gum pink caught their eye.
Investigation revealed that the splotch of pink had long blonde hair and wore fancy tennis shoes. Then they saw the innocent, fear-filled blue eyes that matched the color of the sky. Eyes rimmed with tears held back to maintain a facade of bravery. Eyes that revealed the soul of a little girl not yet ready to trust her rescuers.
"Are you okay?" the woman asked gently.
"I can't talk to you!"
"I'm not a stranger. My name is Molly. I'm a teacher."
"Well, okay then."
Now it was safe to let the tears flow, safe to take Molly's hand and, between sobs, blurt out the truth as she knew it.
"My grandpa is lost."
Indeed, grandpa was lost, and though he did not know it yet, he was in the process of being found. This moment, like a beacon, would help draw him back to life.
I don't know how long I knelt helplessly in the water. Eventually I regained my footing and stumbled back to our campsite just in time to hear the radio on the forest ranger's belt crackle to life. "We have found Jadyn. She is alive and well."
I collapsed again, this time in grateful praise and thanksgiving. I was standing on the road when I heard the distant puttering sound of the rescue ATV approaching. There she was, blonde hair flying in the wind, riding shotgun in front of one of the volunteers. Our hero, Molly, had walked hand in hand with Jadyn down the mountain while her husband searched farther up for the family of a lost princess. As it turned out, the princess had walked almost two and a half miles straight uphill. They found her almost a mile above the spot where the rescue team had lined up to search for her ... downhill! Normal children may seek the easiest route. My grandkids are not normal children.
I remember one moment especially during the reunion because the rescue team later sent me a picture they had taken. In the picture I am crouching down to Jadyn's level, holding her hands. I didn't scold her. I didn't lecture her on the dangers of the wilderness. I remember the exact words I spoke to her. I memorized them.
In a raspy whisper, over and over I said, "I love you. I love you. I love you." Those are the only words that would come out of my mouth. They were the only words that mattered.
Thinking back, I also remember another sound—the sound of a stake driven gently but firmly into the ground, a stake anchoring this moment in my heart. Because even as I whispered, "I love you," it suddenly hit me: That's how God feels about me. That's how He feels when one of His children finally comes to Him after being lost. That's how He feels when one of His children steps from the wilderness of mediocrity onto the path of living fully alive!
Jadyn's rescue on the mountainside that day was not the end of a story; it was the beginning of one. Over the next several years I would discover other stakes that God had placed along the way, all of them pointing to the life my soul longed for.
My name is Ken Davis. I am Jadyn's grandpa. A year later I would return to the same spot to have one more stake driven in the ground, marking my life journey. But first I had some living to do. This is the story of how I found my way back to the path of living fully alive after years of wandering. I'm not a stranger; I'm not an expert; I'm a fellow traveler. And I fall down a lot.
I recently told a friend I was a little disappointed that it had taken me this long to follow the stakes and find the joy I experience today. I ended my whining diatribe with a sigh: "All those wasted years!" My friend leaned across the table and said, "Hey, you have today." What a profound wake-up call. That is all any of us have. Today.
Come with me to the land of the living.
Chapter TwoA WILD RIDE IN A SHALLOW BATHTUB
THE ICY WIND STUNG MY FACE. TEARS POURED FROM MY eyes and froze as they streaked back along my cheeks. The bare trees lining the road became a flickering blur as I careened down the hill, picking up speed. I prayed silently, Oh God, please don't let a UPS truck pull out in front of me.
The entire family was celebrating Christmas at a cozy cabin in the mountains of Colorado. There's a two-mile stretch of road that runs past the cabin and down to the valley. When the snow gets packed by traffic and the temperature is just right, the road becomes perfect for sledding. On this day it was a little too perfect. It was a sheet of ice. I had bought several little plastic sleds shaped like shallow, miniature bathtubs. The hill doesn't look very steep, but when you're sitting in a flimsy little bathtub doing forty miles an hour, you get a very different perspective.
There's a loud crunching sound as the sled gets under way, slowly at first. Then as it gains momentum, the crunch becomes sort of a swoosh. The swoosh becomes a shriek as you reach speeds never intended for a bathtub. You steer by dragging one hand on the ice. Dragging the left hand produces a left turn and a very cold hand. Dragging the right hand turns you to the right. Dragging both hands doesn't slow the sled but produces gaping holes in your mittens. To brake, you tumble off the sled.
I blazed past my grandchildren, who looked like brightly colored sumo wrestlers bundled in their winter snowsuits. They had veered off into the soft snow on the shoulder of the road and lay immobilized in their overstuffed clothing. "Grandpa! Wait for me!" they hollered. No way! I take every opportunity to win a race, even if I'm competing against children. I shot down the hill like a one-man avalanche.
My heart was pounding, my face was numb, and endorphins raged through my bloodstream. Now at top speed, I screamed, "This absolutely rocks!" Then sky became ground and ground became sky. This repeated itself several times. Somehow I had lost control and cartwheeled at forty miles per hour into a snowbank. Snow was packed into every opening in my clothing. I was gasping for air, my wrist felt like it was broken, and a trickle of blood dripped from my nose. I remember shouting, "I'm alive!" As I wiped the blood from my nose and checked to see if my arms and legs were still attached, I was overwhelmed with a sense of joy. I thought, Now this is more than just being alive. This is living fully alive, senses tingling, nothing held back!
In that moment another prayer drifted from my soul: Please, God, let me experience some of this in my real life! I wanted this sense of adventure and vitality to permeate every facet of my being. My wrist throbbed as I dug icy snow out of my collar and my underwear. The crash reminded me that pain is a sign of life. You are going to get a lot more banged up living life to the fullest than you ever will sitting on the couch trying to decide, as Dave Barry once said, "whether to open a second bag of potato chips or simply eat the onion dip right out of the tub."
Excerpted from FULLY ALIVE by KEN DAVIS Copyright © 2012 by Ken Davis. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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