A family trail crew in 1982

Nancy cooks in the campfires smoke

Pat Armstrong with Monty & Mike

Grading out the new trail with Mike

Nancy takes the kids fishing after bringing us lunch

Katie serves pie and coffee to a tired crew

Brook packing his pony Dusty

Pat washes off the dirt after a hard day of trail work

Lesson #1 – Learning to trust God for unexpected provision & blessing – Entries 149

In the summer of 1982 I made a life changing decision to quit my job.  It wasn’t easy – in fact it ranked high on the scale of the trauma events of my life.  The choice I made with Nancy’s blessing challenged every logical bone in my body because for the first time I had no plan, I was reacting to what I sensed was God’s leading for our life.  I had been a secondary school teacher for the past twelve years after having completed six years of university work which ended in a master’s degree in administrative education.  Turning in my resignation meant not only throwing away everything I had prepared for and accomplished in the past eighteen years, but the security of tenure, health insurance and a growing retirement fund.  Not only that, it was a job I loved.  It was crazy.

I had been sent into the mountainous border between Thailand and Burma by our church to minister to the Karen Hill Tribe people the year before and the experience had changed my worldview and my priorities. I had discovered a greater cause and a passion to use my life in a more meaningful way.   I felt the call to God’s service, but had no idea how I would support my family.  I felt clearly called and had the faith to believe that God would cover our act.  He did – in amazing ways.

After we had made the final decision I remember finding myself in a mild state of after-shock wondering what I should do next.  Unlike those who are caught in unemployment of the current day recession, my season of unemployment was my own doing and because of it I felt whatever transpired was going to be my own fault.  My emotions were all over the board; one day I would feel confident and courageous in my choice while the next I felt reckless and irresponsible.  Realizing that my resignation was a spontaneous reaction to conviction and passion rather than a well thought through long range plan I wasn’t financially prepared and knew I needed a quick means of paying the bills.   Before I continue I need to say that what we did isn’t something we would readily recommend for others to do, but for us it was the beginning of an amazing adventure I’ve never regretted.  It’s an adventure that we are still living to this day.

We were not planning to return to Thailand for at least another six months and I had to somehow generate the finances not only to support my family, but to get us all on an airplane to the other side of the world.  That’s when I learned how faith really works.  When things seemed darkest Nancy and I committed our dilemma to prayer and as a result of it something happened that I never expected or anticipated.  We were nearly out of money, living off our dwindling savings account when our old friend Pat Armstrong called out of the blue saying he needed help building a section of the Pacific Crest Trail near Lake Tahoe.  The Pacific Crest Trail is a hiking trail that stretches from Mexico to Canada along the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California and the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and Washington.  Pat was a trail building contractor who had been working on the Pacific Crest for years.  I had known him from our days at the College of Idaho and in summers past he had hired me during my two month break to lend him a hand.  Even when our kids were in diapers we would pack into his camps and join his small crews.  His call that summer gave me great relief.

We drove to the ski area at Squaw Valley just north of Lake Tahoe and unloaded our pack horse out of the back of the pickup. We traversed the ski slopes and climbed beyond the chair lifts until we crested the nine thousand foot ridge above.  Crossing through a saddle we started our descent down the other side until we spotted a meadow a thousand feet below that we figured to be the location of Pat’s summer camp.  The view of the country was breathtaking and I remember feeling a sense of God’s goodness when I realized it would be our home until the fall snows would eventually force us to leave.

For years I had been meeting up with Pat in remote mountain places, yet I never got over the feeling of relief and accomplishment after locating one of his hidden camps.  In those days there was no such thing as GPS’s, only government topographical maps and Pat’s verbal descriptions of trails, valleys, and streams.   His camps were usually located a bit off the beaten path in somewhat secluded places where there was a fresh water spring and plenty of good grass for the livestock to graze.  The camp that year was one of his best.

During the weeks that followed we worked long hard days.  He had taken a contract with the U.S. Forest service to construct about ten miles of new trail through this high rugged country and wanted to finish it while weather permitted.  Much of the proposed trail traversed through large granite outcroppings, over a steep pass and in places through heavy stands of brush and timber.  Because we were in a designated wilderness area all the work was required to be done without the aid of motorized equipment such as chain saws.  We were however granted a special blasting permit to aid us in places that needed to be shelved out through solid rock.  Our greatest assets were Pat’s two mules, Monty and Mike who worked in harness pulling a heavy ditching plow and a spring tooth harrow.  The harrow was used to pull up smaller rocks and roots, loosening the earth so that the plow could then be used to grade the trail bed level.  I loved the work, and always felt a sense of satisfaction seeing what we had accomplished at the end of every day.

During the days Nancy cooked for our crew and homeschooled the kids in camp.  At noon she and the kids would hike or ride down the newly built trail and deliver lunch and words of encouragement.  She would always comment on our accomplishments which was of course good for our male egos and motivated us to work all the harder the rest of the afternoon.

At the end of every day we would arrive back in camp tired and filthy.  Nancy started heating large buckets of water over the fire in the late afternoons in preparation to fill the hanging canvas shower bag at the edge of camp.  It felt wonderful washing off the days dirt with a hot shower revitalizing us for another recovering evening in camp.   Sometimes Nancy and Katie would bake pies in the Dutch oven using the fires coals which added to the joy of eating together.  After dinner we lounged around the fire recalling the events of the day and retelling stories of the past adventures we had had together in other camps.  Sometimes we took turns reading out loud from books like the Tales of Narnia which sometimes lasted long into the night.  After catching the mules and horses that had been hobbled in the meadow for their evening graze and securely tying them for the night we crawled in our tents grateful for the invention of folding cots, Thermal-rest mattresses and comfortable down sleeping bags.

That fall was the first time in my life that I had ever witnessed the Aspen trees turn to their vivid yellow and orange colors in the crisping high country air.  In previous years I had always been in the confines of classroom walls unable to experience the mountains so late in the year.  It was a small thing, but I distinctly remember getting tears in my eyes thinking of the privilege I felt.

We left the mountains and returned to our ranch sometime in early October, but in the months that followed we watched God do miracle after miracle providing us with the means to pay bills and keep food on the table.  We not only survived financially, but we spent rich times together as a family. We learned to live on much less and because of it we gained much more.  My first lesson from being unemployed was that God is faithful.  When I was most fearful of not being able to meet my families needs He provided us with a very special kind of provision that money couldn’t buy; He provided us with an experience that enriched our lives with memories none of us will ever forget.