And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
— Luke 11:9-10
I recently gave my daughter a small book that taught her all about the indigenous wildlife that inhabits the southwest desert in our neighborhood. It’s full of great pictures and information, the kind of useful stuff that helps educate kids about a part of creation that many of them find interesting, and some of them find truly awe-inspiring.
My daughter and I are in the latter group, so it’s not enough for us to merely look at pictures and read copy. We like to get out to fully immerse and engage with pristine habitat that beckons right from our own back door.
Over the course of many excursions, we’ve had the blessing of seeing practically all of the critters listed in the book –– up close and personal. Coyotes, foxes, bobcats, javelina, mule deer, desert tortoises, jack rabbits, ringtails, pronghorn antelope, snakes, lizards, prairie dogs, wild horses and donkeys, owls, hawks, eagles, roadrunners, hummingbirds, quail and birds of all varieties… a great list of diverse critters.
My daughter was asking about white tail deer, which she hadn’t seen firsthand yet, so I decided to take her on a hike up a canyon where I had spotted a small herd with one of my sons on a previous adventure. It was overcast and periodically drizzling, but neither of us was going to let that get in our way.
As we were winding our way up various game trails and desert washes, I was praying for success and seeking various intercessions from the likes of St. Francis of Assisi. Of course I was also visually keen on the surrounding terrain, paying particular attention to the patches of desert green belt along the arroyos as well as any fresh sign of track on the ground below.
There was some fresh deer track here and there in the wet sand, but I was having no luck spotting anything moving. I prayed a bit more fervently for success on our trek.
After another half an hour of hiking up the canyon, the following thought gently presented itself me. Basically, I came to realize that we would not be treated to any white tail that day (Let Go), but that Our Good Lord had something else that He wanted me to ‘see’ on our journey (Let God). That something else truly surpassed my wildest expectations.
Eventually, we came upon that special place where I had previously built the two rock cairns (for more info and visuals about that spot, CLICK HERE). It’s a peaceful, rocky oasis beneath towering reddish cliff faces, the kind of place you can easily relax, take in picturesque desert landscape, and enjoy some quality conversation with your hiking companions.
My daughter chatted away excitedly about the greatest and smallest of things, while I endeavored in the brief openings to tie some of her comments and interests to matters of faith. It’s funny, but I always wonder in those instances just how much I’m actually teaching vs. how much I’m truly being taught.
During the next lull in the conversation, she spotted a cave opening higher in the cliff face above us and was suddenly feeling adventurous.
I had already climbed up there on many occasions, both alone and with my sons; enough times to know that it was virtually impossible to make the final ascent into the cave because of the smooth, vertical rockface and the lack of reliable hand and footholds.
Undaunted, she told me that she really wanted to try it, so I humored her by climbing all the way to the last stretch that I knew was insurmountable. Even so, I found that I could lift her above my head just far enough that she could reach the first landing below the cave. “I can make it from here,” she announced.
Hm. Well, I certainly didn’t want her trying it on her own since she’s only 8-years-old, so I struggled mightily to find a way up that last stretch of rock face. I tried all sorts of angles and handholds to no avail, even crashing down on my backside with a hard thud until I was thoroughly frustrated. “I can’t find a way up,” I told her
I was annoyed and trying to calculate a knew approach, when suddenly she thrust her little, booted foot out and said, “Here, Dad, I can pull you up with my foot.”
At that point I looked up to notice that she had maneuvered herself to face me on the ledge above with both of her hands braced on two sturdy rock holds. Hm. I couldn’t imagine for a second that she had the strength to serve as a hoist for me, but her expression certainly looked serious and determined. “I don’t think that’s going to work, honey,” I said, as I tugged gently on her boot to prove it.
I was kind of surprised to discover that her leg held pretty sturdy. Her little face continued to be a mixture of calm and simplicity. “Come on, Dad.” I quickly calculated that I only needed a moment of extra leverage from her extended boot to make it to the right handhold, then… And with that, I took a little leap of faith by planting my right boot on a rock, wedging my left a bit higher up, one hand reached for a small lip, the other grabbed her boot for a moment, the other hand alternated for a grip even higher up… and viola! I pulled myself the rest of the way up onto the ledge next to her.
We scrambled up the last stretch with ease into the cave opening and began to explore something that I had previously been only able to wonder about from the vantage below. It was nice and dry on the inside and looked to be fairly pristine (i.e. – I didn’t see any evidence of human footprints), but there were plentiful signs that various critters had made home there or taken refuge.
I could see a light source emanating from somewhere in the back that I wanted to explore, but my adventurous daughter was already on the move. Eventually I caught up to where she had discovered a hidden back entrance (pictured at left). From there, we found a small game trail that gently wound its way down the south side of the mountain, right back to the base from which we had started.
We wandered around exploring for a while longer until the sun finally popped out, illuminating the desert area under that post rain cleanliness that provides the most dramatic clarity and colors.
On the way back down the trail towards home, I was thinking that God had His own ideas concerning my prayers and the answer He intended to provide.
We hadn’t seen any white tail deer, but what I had ‘seen’, and in a whole new light, was a dazzling little soul in my care, and she was happily skipping down the path in front of me, truly warming my heart.
And for that initial prayer intention of mine? Well, you can be sure that we’ll be back out on the trail many more times, and I’m sure we’ll eventually spot those deer out of tireless persistence.