Death and the Desert

Dropping my Religion was the most painfully honest thing I’ve ever done. Religion was my identity until I was 20 years old. Everyone I knew was a Christian, and I wanted to be a Missionary.

As the years went on, though, I believed it less and less. I prayed all the time, but never heard from Him. Then I prayed for the last time. I wouldn’t try to talk to God again until three years later, when I thought I was going to die in the Mojave Desert. 

The Mojave Desert is an alien landscape. Breaking up its flat features are mountains unlike anything else. They look like they’re made of boulders, like God dumped all the rocks in a pile here.

The first time I went to this place was with my university dorm. We wanted a bonding experience to start the year. We could have gone bowling or done a scavenger hunt. Instead, we went camping in the Mojave Desert.

Desert Death - Obit Magazine

Desert Death - Obit Magazine

Desert Death - Obit Magazine

We didn’t have much of a plan. We woke up at our campsite and started looking for something to do. The tallest boulder mountain had a lone Joshua Tree at its peak. We had no climbing gear or experience, but we set out for that peak.

To get up these boulders, you have to look for a natural, climbable path. Sometimes you get to a point where there’s no way to continue forward. You have to go back down, then jump to another boulder and hope that one has a way up.

At the start, we joked as we climbed, but that died out as the dry desert sun beat the joy out of us. Other than our grunts of exertion, we climbed in silence.

I turned around early, exhausted by the heat. I told my friends that I’d be fine getting down on my own.

It was easy at the start. But as the sound of my friends footsteps grew further away, the silence of the desert enveloped me. All I could hear was my own panting breath.

Desert Death - Obit Magazine

Those people had gear to climb at Joshua Tree.

Places that had been difficult to climb up were impossible to climb down. Without my friends to back me up, my confidence eroded every time the pebbles slid underneath my feet on a steep decline.

I took a detour down a safer way, then a detour from the detour. Within minutes, I had no idea where the original path was.

I was an unathletic kid alone on a rock at noon in the desert.

Then I shook with panic as I realized the main problem wasn’t just slipping down the 20 foot drop between boulders, it was the very real possibility that there might not be a safe path down the mountain from where I was. I imagined helicopters searching for my body and finding a dried husk of a corpse, cooked to medium rare by the sun.

Maybe it was heat exhaustion, but I started to seriously consider rolling down the mountain. I would break some bones, but at least I’d get down. I began looking for the least bumpy slopes.

This is when I said a prayer again. Here I was, denying every logical thing I knew and blabbering to the man in the sky about how I’d come back to him if He got me off this mountain.

Desert Death - Obit Magazine

I managed to stay in the sweet spot where I was hysterical enough to beg God for mercy but not enough to throw myself down the mountain. Through random chance, like a pinball bouncing back and forth, I eventually found a way down.

It was random chance, wasn’t it? Did the divine LORD, in his infinite wisdom, design for me to look into the jaws of death in that desert in order to come back to Him?

Maybe He did. I’m not sure. His messages would be a lot clearer if He just sent a text.

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