Finnegan, my eight-year-old son, went on a trip this past weekend to West Virginia with his father and grandfather and the menfolk of two other families. They go every year to a schoolhouse converted into a cabin in a narrow mountain valley called Shook Holler. It is very rustic there and remote. I’m told that the stars there are much brighter and when you climb to the tops of the mountains, the views take your breath away.
When they go, my heart goes on high alert and all the things to worry about jump around in my brain. The menfolk roll their eyes at me and my fussing so I just throw out warnings as they go that if any harm should come to my boy…you can imagine the rest! And so, I wait four days to hear how their trip went. They emerge back on “the grid” after descending about an hour away from “camp.” Sometimes they can get a phone signal from the top of one of the mountains. They do not stay there long so sometimes I do not talk to them. My mother-in-law did touch base with them and sent me a text saying: “All is ok. Finn was stung by a bee but ok.” I was kicking myself for not making sure that they had bee sting wipes in their kit, but felt a little at ease that all was fine. When they came home, the report of their stay to me was mundane – everything went fine. When they came home, however, Finnegan gave me a different report.
Away from the rest of the family he started at a whisper “Mom, I don’t ever want to go back there!” Tears were threatening to rise. I asked him to tell me what happened. The last time that he went he cut his hand and proudly showed me his bandage but this time there were no physical signs of harm. He then proceeded to tell me about how he had been “dead scared.”
He and two other boys (ages 13 and 9), decided to venture out on their own. Armed with a machete, they told the men that they were going on a hike to a place that they call the bear cave. Don’t worry – no bears emerge in this tale nor have they ever seen one there. Along the way there is an old abandoned house they want to explore – it is mostly just log walls left – so do not worry about floors or the roof caving in! I am imagining what could have scared him so as he is telling me where they were headed though.
Finn and the boys went down a dirt road and then climbed up into the woods. After a while he says that he felt uncomfortable with the distance that they had traveled. He told the boys that he was going to head back, but they did not want to return. So, Finnegan turned around and headed toward the road alone. He followed the road thinking he knew the way but then, unexpectedly the road ended. Looking around he decided to go into the woods and find his way. It was not long though that he realized he was lost. Very lost and very alone. He continued through the steep woods with tears flowing and breathing hard. He stumbled on a rock and fell hard into the mud. Covered in mud, he just kept going at one point finding himself in a field of grass taller than himself, running full speed. He found a little house that he thought that he knew. There is a local man who goes by “Golden” and Finn thought that he lived there so he went to knock on the door and ask for help. No one was there. Finn saw another dirt road and climbed over a fence to get to it.
It is hard for me to guess how long this miserable journey lasted him, but to a boy alone in a mountainous wood, it must have seemed endless. But following that little dirt road, he did find camp and muddy and tear soaked, he walked up to the men. They removed his muddied pants only to give him a clean pair which housed a hidden bee – thus the sting – adding insult to injury.
I told Finn that if he does decide to go again, that he should carry a whistle to blow if he should ever be lost. That was just the beginning of “changes” to suggest if he goes on this trip again.
I tell you this story as it relates to something that was alluded to once in service years back. It was about the Three Essential Prayers as explained by Anne Lamott: Help, Thanks, and Wow. The idea being that those three things can be the most important things that we can say. Each on their own can illicit great examples of how life changing each word can be. But for now, let’s focus on Help.
For a little boy lost in the woods, it would not be a hard thing to say if there was someone to say it to. But something happens when we grow up where it gets harder to ask for help. Maybe there is a shame in it or embarrassment or maybe the help we need is something little – too little that we do not think it worthy to mention. Or maybe the help we need we see as too big – something we do not want to burden others with.
But it is ok and important to ask for help – big or small – for whatever reason needed. You are not lost in the woods but you are here with friends and your church family. Reach out for help when you need it – there are many people that can help you! Have radical trust in that people will help you when you ask. You have a voice that can be heard, you have a whistle.
I am going to gift you this proverbial whistle. Imagine it shinning in a golden cast – small and sleek. It is affixed to a necklace of soft silky satin cord which is black but if you hold it to the light, it looks a little blue. Put the lanyard cord around your neck and then take a couple of practice breaths on it. What does it sound like when you put your energy to it? What is it communicating to others? Get used to that sound and fortify yourself with the knowledge that your whistle is there and its sound is true. It will always be there when you need it. It will bring you help. When you are lost or so helpless and you cannot see the light, blow child! Blow!
Finnegan describes getting lost.