“Did You Ever See An Angel?”

As I approach the three-months-to-go-until-I-retire milestone, I’m discovering a lot of ‘lasts’ – things that I’m doing, using or talking about for the last time in my classes.  Things that I still like doing.  When someone congratulates me about my retirement I try to be gracious, but at this point… I don’t know.  There’s still a lot I like about what I do.

I do know that I still have more to do and more things to tell.  Like today, when a student asked, “… did you ever see an angel?”  Those were the magic words that launched me into a story that I’ve told students for almost 40 years.  And today, I realized, it would probably be the last time.  

Depending on the day, I can stretch that story to last a whole 45 minute class period.  It makes me a bit sad.  It’s like saying goodbye to an good friend.  And that’s the way it is with old friends, I guess.  Sometimes you just can’t get enough.

So without going into great detail here… a friend and I went backpacking in the Smoky Mountains.  It was to be a 3-day, 2-night trip into the wilderness.  No phone, no electricity, no cars, just our feet and all the things we’d needed on our backs.   It was enjoyable, a lot of work and not without its frustrations.

One of the frustrations was the trail that went along Eagle Creek.  We discovered, late in the day, that to get to our designated campsite, we needed to cross this creek.  There were no bridges or stepping stones to walk across, either.  Just deep springtime, swift water flowing over slippery rocks.  

We stood and puzzled for a while, not quite sure what to do. We needed to cross the river.  We needed to complete our loop.  Our families were going to be waiting for us after all.  What to do?  

While we were thinking a guy came walking up.  He looked like he just got out of the shower, fresh and neat.  Quite the contrast to the two of us – hot, sweaty and a mess.  He had no backpack either, just a small sack.

Brian was his name.  He said he had worked in the park summers and knew this trail we were on.  He said he was there to meet his brother coming down the same trail.  Then he said, “You’re going to have to cross this creek a dozen times before you get to your campsite.”  Then he said that he wasn’t going to wait around for his brother and did we want the butter pecan ice cream he had in his sack.  We took the ice cream and Brian walked away.

After a bit of ice cream, still firmly frozen, we decided to try wading across the river.  One step convinced us that we were making a big mistake as the water immediately came up to our waists.  Soaked, tired, frustrated and armed with the knowledge that it would take a dozen crossings of Eagle Creek if we were to continue, we turned back.  

We turned back and looked for Brian!  He certainly could help us figure out a shorter way back to civilization. The ice cream was still frozen, after all.  Quickly, we headed back, but Brian was gone.

Here’s where I could play up the ‘angel’ part.  But I really don’t believe Brian was an angel sent by God.  I do believe, however, that Brian was indeed sent by God to a couple of inexperienced hikers.  I believe he was God’s messenger to tell us about the dozen crossings across Eagle Creek.  Armed with that information we humbly went back, safe and sound, the way we came.

The point I make with my students is about God’s providence.  Just like he took care of us on the trail by sending Brian, he takes care of us every day, in usually, ordinary ways.  He does what’s best for us, even if we don’t always realize it.

So, did I see an angel?  Probably not.  Did I see another example of God’s care? Yes!  It’s a fun story to tell, and today, I probably told it for the last time.  However, In the telling I’m reminded, once again, that God’s providential care will last for all time.


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