Talk of the wilderness or the desert has put fear in the hearts of humans since the beginning of time.
We don’t like to be exposed.
Desert is synonymous with “uninhabitable”, so that fear can be innate as we were originally designed to inhabit a place-of-plenty—a gift from the One-who-provides.
It wasn’t long before the two in charge of that original “plenty” met hardship—a consequence for their wandering hearts. Later, when Cain killed his brother he became a wanderer of the wilderness.
Much later, in the minds of the Israelites, desert was synonymous with death sentence:
“We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” Numbers 14:4
“If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into the desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” Exodus 16:3
A death sentence?
So how are we to respond to hardship and lack, thoughts of the desolate? Should we respond with fear and complaint as the Israelites did? Should our focus be on seeking out the plenty, the pampering, the plush?
Our family must be wired weird, wanting to wander in the wild wilderness
If the desert is a consequence or death sentence, why does my family like it so much? I’ll try to unravel the why and give 6 desert survival tips along the way…
#1: Be prepared
My mom and dad are both desert survivors so maybe the desert is in my blood. I was born in a tiny hospital of a tiny northern California town, where Nevada is just a whiff away beyond the alkali flats out the back door. It it so dry there, that even while in labor with me, my mom had her brother turn the car around so she could fetch her chapstick. She knew to always be prepared for dry conditions.
#2: Know where the springs are
Good memories, adventurous memories, often tie hearts to a specific locale. I’ve already spoken of bumping down Nevada roads for hours with my Dad while he checked cattle or fences—like his dad before him. We may have looked underprepared for a day in the desert, with our only water in an old plastic milk jug. It was okay because my dad knew where all the springs were.
#3: Don’t wait too long to take refreshment
I remember one dry, hot day when I got dehydrated. We were horseback for hours in the exposed desert. I had a can of Squirt tied to the back of the saddle and I was determined to save it for later. What could have been a cold, refreshing treat soon turned into warm, pressurized yuck. Chasing high-minded cows through the sagebrush had taken its toll on my Squirt. When I finally drank it, it came right back up. I had waited too long to hydrate.
#4: Look for the treasures and know their worth
Toughing-it-out somewhere can help form an attachment—a place conquered. My brother and I would often have hours to play with only the toys, or treasures, the desert gave us. I remember one day when he incessantly kept a rhythm with his mouth and some sticks. I’ll never forget that beat! Those quiet times developed our imaginations.
One day our dad took us opal mining not far from where the cow camps were. We dug through an ordinary-looking wall of dirt and, at the end of the day, we were rewarded with a small jarful of beautiful, raw opals. I kept them in the jar, with water, because the water made them shine. Sometime later I saw that the water had turned murky and, the opals, slimy—in my childish foolishness I tossed them out.
That treasure was wasted on me.
#5: Verify your citizenship
Attending the University of Nevada, Reno, and attaining Nevada citizenship certainly deepened my desert-love. I worked for most of a year out near Wadsworth, at UNR’s S-Bar-S Ranch—an oasis on the Truckee River. You drove out to seemingly the big empty, no-man’s-land, down long highways and dusty roads, finally dropping out of sight alongside the Truckee. There was an oasis there for anyone who bothered to look.
Around that time I met a Nevada girl and introduced her to a Nevada boy. The two would eventually marry and become our treasured, adventuring, Christ-following friends. We have wandered often together in the deserts of life, having a blast along the way.
#6: Find a fellow desert-lover and go for it!
I’ve already told you that My Man and I had the desert in common from the beginning. Remember—such a heart-throb—Nevada license plates and all!
Now, continuing a bit with our story from last time, My Man and I settled into our new little home. Then, by the next winter, we were blessed with our second son. KH was born close to the time of the tragic Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. Right after KH was born, My Man took crews down to Texas to clean up in the aftermath. I followed him down there once the baby was old enough to travel. Even with two little ones we were determined to keep up the adventure momentum.
When My Man was finished in Texas he came home and bought an old Dodge Monaco motorhome. Now we had two little homes—one on wheels and one to come home to after we wandered.
We were ready for adventure! We soon took the two boys and met our Nevada friends to camp near the Black Rock desert. Yes, of course in wintry conditions! It was quite the thrill to take that beast of a motorhome, setting our own land speed record, across the playa. We could have gotten stuck out there, but we were prepared!
We were following all six of our survival tips
It is probably easy for me to say that the desert is where its at, I’ve never had to wander there for years without a wall tent, motorhome, or rapid-boil stove. But, even with conveniences, there is still a challenge and harshness to the desert that I crave. I like risk, a reminder of depravity, my need for God.
I don’t see the wandering in the wilderness as a consequence or death sentence, even for Cain or the Israelites, it is, and was, an opportunity for great reward. An opportunity to draw near to Him:
The True Spring
The wandering, wilderness, desolation and desert is where we can meet God.
God raised up John the Baptist in the desert to be greatly used by Him: “And the child continued to grow, and to become strong in Spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.” Luke 1:80
God provides in the wild: Hosea 13:5 “I cared for you in the wilderness, in the land of drought.”
Isaiah 48:21 “And they thirsted not when he led them through the deserts: he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them: he clave the rock also, and the waters gushed out.”
God will split the rock for us and refresh us!
The wild heightens the senses and keeps us on the lookout
In the desert we have to actively look for treasure, be aware of danger, look for Him and look for better things to come:
Isaiah 40:3 “Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.”
Jim Elliot liked to stay aware of the source of life:
“But God wants me to find satisfaction in wells in a famished land, not the river of a fat one.”
Once a soul has found God in the desert, it can’t return to a pampered, dull life
Have our eyes become full and dull? Pampered or over-indulged? How about our souls?
Let’s follow the 6 tips:
Be prepared by knowing the story, God’s Word, HIStory. Know where we came from and why we were made. Know God, the only source of life and the True Spring, Jesus. Refresh ourselves with Him, often. Not once a year, or once a week. Refresh many times daily as we would with a glass of water. Fill up with the Living Water, not things that overindulge the flesh—dulling our senses to the real treasures. Become acquainted with empty, quiet, depravity, solitude—so that we can see the eternal treasures He has for us. Know their worth and don’t let them be wasted on us. Verify that our citizenship is in heaven. Examine ourselves…expose ourselves in the light of His Word…meditate on His Word…recognize the famine of the soul without Him. Find fellow-lovers-of-Jesus and be together, often. Navigate those desert roads together that lead to Him.
There are many gifts in the Big Empty
As you can probably tell, I love writing about the desert and writing my desert fiction trilogy. My first book details a girl’s journey through that same portion of northwest Nevada where my dad kept his cattle–ending in Denio. Her fascination with the desert is my own:
“I doubted that much had changed here in thousands of years. I belong here, I thought. The desert was granting me permission to just exist. Everything was perfectly still. There was no rushing about, no angry voices, no goodbyes. It was where survivors found their solace. Those acquainted with hardship could rest in fellowship with one another.” Corrie, “To Be Called Mary: A Tale of the Lookout Lynching”.
Once your sharp thirst has been refreshed at the Spring you will be desert-obsessed, too