Trials of the trail….


Because of dyslexia sometimes I don’t know whether I’m facing trials or trails…. Then, if I step off the trail, there’s the trial of getting unlost….

Wow, dyslexia complicates things, if it wasn’t for my ADHD kicking I would analyze that topic, but ADHD is revving up (why are there two v’s in revving? It just looks weird, also double consonants are an issue for me) and reminding me of a time when I was really lost…

Everybody hang on, where headed for a flashback!

Wow, that was easier than I expected, everybody still here? Ok here we are in 1988 ish and we’re in the Army (I know… none of you signed up for this)

We were doing training for land navigation for both day and night. We were working in 4 man teams and had to find 5 markers using a compass, map, and what passed for intelligence. I’ll protect the names of my 3 companions by calling them privates Houston, Georgia, and New Boston (You should all be proud of me for maintaining the high ground and not making a joke about describing “my privates”) Private Houston was from Houston and I’d known him from when we signed up and we’d been together through basic and jump school. Private Georgia was from Georgia and grew up a few miles from our Post, and Private New Boston was the token New Yorker/Bostonian that appears in every military story. I don’t remember where he was from just that he talked funny (If y’all will read that last line in my semi-southern drawl it would be funnier.)

During the briefing our instructors told us that we would have to find 5 points in total for the daytime test. Each team had their own set of points and the requirement was to write down the letter and number designation that could only be found at the actual point. We were handed an envelope, told to get going, get our points, and get back before dark.

Out in the woods Houston opened the envelope, he was second smartest and first most aggressive so he was in charge, “O.k. guys this one’s easy…” He read off the direction and distance, we took a reading with our compass, “Deckard you’re on point with the compass, Georgia, and New Boston you all are on pace count.” The pace count is when you know the approximate length of your stride so that you can count your steps to give an idea of distance (come on now! Y’all have been in the Army for three paragraphs now, I expect y’all to know that!)

I spoke up, “O.k. what’s your job Houston?”

“Team Leader.” His commanding tone and the 50lbs he had on me was convincing enough so we got going.

Our first point wasn’t really difficult to find. The higher ground in Georgia is dominated by statuesque pines that seemed to reach the sky (I guess they did reach the sky, even a short tree does but… whatever) and the pine needles kill undergrowth so it was like a walk in a groomed park full of quiet shade while the peaceful sound of our footsteps on the soft carpet of needles fell just short of drowning out the sound of Georgia counting his pace to himself (he was 4th smartest so I was moderately surprised he wasn’t in charge.) We could see the signpost after only about one and a half clicks but Georgia still counted the whole thing… when he got to 1750 steps it actually took him longer to count than to walk, officer material….

At our first point Houston looked into the envelope again and gave me the direction for the compass, gave Georgia, and New Boston the distance; about 3 clicks (I know some of y’all are wondering but afraid to ask what a click is… google it private!) and we got going. We were heading for the relative low ground and the majestic pines gave way to moderately majestic hickory, and those then gave way to decidedly unmajestic post oaks. Not that we had to look at the post oaks much because the under growth spread out and up and was intermixed with “wait-a-minute vines” which got their name because they grew long curved thorns and if you went through one or even brushed one in would grab your clothes (or skin if it could get the chance) and hold you up as if to say, “wait a minute.”

Our relaxing stroll through the park quickly turned into a trudge through, hot, humid, mosquito and thorn infested swampy heck (relatively far from hell but… it was unpleasant.) We trudged through three more points with no more incident than having to cut our way out of the wait-a-minute vines, during one such escape I asked Georgia, “Hey what’s the real name of these vines anyway?”

He looked at me like I was dumb, “Thehy’re cahld waitaminuht vaines…” *sad attempt at writing a Georgia accent, also I’m sure you’ve noticed how quiet New Boston has been, he actually never stopped talking but I can’t write a New York or Boston accent… so…

We were sore, scratched and sullen by the time we got to our fourth point and we were ready to just be done. We still had plenty of time to find the last point and then take our direction back to where the whole mess started. Houston gave me the direction and it was leading us into even thicker underbrush.

“Uh gawd we goatta go tru dat?”

Even though I wasn’t sure what Boston said (I told you I couldn’t write the New Boston accent) I could tell by his tone that I agreed with his sentiment. “Houston, is there a map in that envelope?

“Yea but we don’t really need it, we just have to go distance and direction.” His commanding tone had given over to a defeated cadence with barely any inflection so I acted on his moment of weakness and grabbed the envelope. There was a shallow ravine that only had a couple inches of water just to our left that was going almost the same direction as we needed to go so I was curious about the map. After a little time with the map, the compass, the previous distances and directions, I had traced out our path and found about where we were. I projected our current objective and saw that it should be just the other side of a clearing from where the ravine ended. Perfect.

It was at this point that, even though I was first smartest, I took charge. “Look guys, if we follow this ravine we will be out of the vines, won’t have to use the compass or keep pace count. This should take us right to the point we need to hit. The four of us would soon realize why you don’t let first smartest take charge…

I had failed to take two things into account; first, all the rain in Georgia mixed with the sandy soil made any map of a ravine a very loose suggestion of where the actual ravine may or may not be, and second, all that rain had to go somewhere. Our jovial romp splashing through the ravine ended not at a vast meadow of flowers with frolicking dear chasing butterflies…. It ended in a legit lake. Somewhere, across a half mile of water, was the point we had to find in order to complete our mission and get back before the time matched our moods (dark.)

“O.k. guys we just gotta go across, it can’t be that deep.”

“Aw nah, they gaht gahtahs out theah.” Georgia’s understanding of zoology was on par with that of his botany.

I really wanted to explain that American alligators ambush their prey on the shore, and that it would actually be more dangerous to walk the edge of the lake than to just go through but my credibility was shot, so around we went.  It was a wet, hot, and quiet trip. Even New Boston was silent (which was a good thing because I’ve already written too much accent dialogue.) We found our last point and got our next distance and direction and put Houston firmly back into the leadership role. We made it back before dark, turned in our points (all correct) and headed over to where the mess hall had brought us out hot meals.

While we were eating, the instructors were giving us directions for the night land navigation (that’s right troops, we aren’t out of the woods yet.) Our instructors said over and over, that in order to pass the night land navigation test we had to get back in three hours, one guy raised his hand, “What about our three points?” Get back in three hours was the response.

An idea was brewing in my head….

We got out into the woods after getting our envelope and we were walking toward our first point. Houston was carrying the compass because he no longer trusted me. It was so dark we had to hold onto each other’s LBE (basically like a fanny pack with shoulder straps) to keep from getting separated. We couldn’t see the map, couldn’t see the compass, and absolutely couldn’t see the steep drop off that Houston fell down.

“Aaaaaagghhhhhhhhgggghhhhh,” Houston’s scream (and mine also honestly) went on for what seemed an eternity and I was wondering how deep it was that he hadn’t hit yet, then I realized that I was holding him up by his LBE shoulder straps and that New Boston had mine, and Georgia had his. Houston stopped screaming, caught his breath, and started screaming more. “Let go! Just let go, I’m like an inch from the ground I can feel it with my toes.”

I was worried he was wrong and going to fall to his death but he was in charge so, I tentatively let go….


My heart jumped into my throat and then I heard him giggling… he was in a ravine that was no more than six feet deep.

It was at this time that I hatched the idea that had been brewing. (maybe I should have tapped the idea since it was brewing?) “Guys, they said about six time that we just had to be back in three hours, they never even said that we had to get all three or any points, just to be back in three hours. Let’s go back to that clearing, sit and relax for three hours and then go back and say that we just couldn’t find any of our points….”

Their tiredness got the better part of their judgment so they actually listened to me. We spent three hours relaxing and telling extravagant “truths” about women we dated, meals we ate, and cars we owned and then returned triumphantly to camp with ten minutes to spare. Our instructors were pleased, high marks all around and no mention of not getting to our points. Unfortunately one team decided to get all of their points, but get back 10 minutes late so we spent the remainder of the night doing push-ups, scissor kicks, mountain climbers, and about 6 other exercises for punishment…. But it wasn’t our fault, which was absolutely no consolation what so ever.

O.k. let’s flash back forward and reflect….

I was put on a path, the trial was to follow directions but I decided to try to take an easier way, I put away my compass and map and went my own way, I ended up in deep water. God is going to give us a trial, and it may be full of wait-a-minute vines and be uncomfortable but they lesson may be in the journey so we need to live it.

The other thing I learned is to listen carefully to the instructions and don’t put myself into a trial that He hasn’t given me.

I know I am on a path right now, a trial God has given me. Over the weekend I stepped off of it and instantly was in the deep water, only by listening to his instructions and calling a close friend was I able to get through the trial, and learn from leaving the path and become more mature from the experience.

It’s much like James 1: 2-4 reads….


“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”


7 thoughts on “Trials of the trail….

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