I awaken every hour. Not every night. But I certainly do on this night. Sometimes two and three times an hour. Over and over, all night long. I look at the clock. It’s just been 20 minutes? I was only going to get five hours sleep to begin with, how is this helping? It’s not.
Every time I open my eyes it’s one of two thoughts.
Either—I’m not going to get enough sleep to manage tomorrow. Or, worse—”let’s think about all the people I’ve let down. Or perhaps will shortly let down.” I quickly try to quench the latter with concerns for the former.
But it’s hard. I’ve been off for a while. How long? Two years, surely. One year, dramatically. Nearly to the day. And I’ve been trying everything. I thought I had it fixed more than a year ago, but I was wrong. It’s gotten even worse.
My hands shake. It’s anxiety. I’ve always been a worrier, but I have a pretty solid poker face. These last two years my body has taken to betraying me. I’ll get up early, steady as a rock. Draw for a bit, no issues. Then my mind will be intruded by an obligation that’s likely to fail or a project that’s behind or client problems or relationship issues and—boom—my hands are shaking and they won’t stop for hours, no matter what I try.
When I finally slip out of bed this day, it’s a little after 4:00 am. I’ve prepped everything the night before, so I have the luxury of a relaxed pace. My hands are not shaking. Yet. I feel like they soon will be. It’s the first day back to work after the Thanksgiving break and we’re behind at the office and people have been out for stretches of days. This is not going to be a cakewalk, keeping things in sync with the businesses I have to run. It’s just not. I’m right to be concerned.
I forcefully ignore the looming burdens and plug in the coffee maker, brush my teeth, et cetera—standard morning stuff. My standard morning stuff also includes a lot of prayer, meditation and reading the Bible. Today is no different. I turn on more lights and begin by praying some version of a prayer that I use to begin most days.
“Thank You for this new day. Help me know Your will for me. Guide me through Your word to passages that You would use to speak to me. Open my mind, heart and spirit to be sensitive to understand what You are saying to me.”
This morning, as happens on many mornings—thankfully—each passage seems to speak directly to me. His grace. I feel so blessed when I’m given this gift of clarity. It’s like the fog has cleared away, if only for this small stretch of time. I land upon Psalm 73. It tells almost jealously of those that acquire their longings through unscrupulous tactics, while the author tries to stay true to his ethics.
Psalm 73:22a refers to when he became “senseless and ignorant.” In my early, blurry state I read “ignorant” as “arrogant” and it feels even more applicable. Senseless. Arrogant. I’ve been both.
But it follows in verse 23 that, “You always take my right hand.”
And that’s the part I needed. That’s the thing I keep forgetting. That, of all of the relationships that I may have, as important as they are, only one is vital. I see that this is where I should focus. My relationship with God.
I understand this to my core immediately. And it’s like a weight has been lifted.
I load the truck and set off in the dead dark of early morning.
Throughout my drive, I’m lifted by this understanding. An understanding I was sure I already knew, but somehow quite didn’t. And when those taxing thoughts begin to wiggle their way back into my consciousness, I turn them off. Easily. Because, well, how crucial can they really be?
And I am at peace. True peace. For the first time in a long time.
I reach my destination, pull on some warmer gear and head across an autumn-mown cornfield toward the woods. There’s a small dip that I know contains a little path that parallels two tiny, dried up stream beds. “50 yards in,” my friend said. I start counting steps. Sure enough, when I get to my estimation of 50 yards I can see it in the dark gray dim of the morning. A tree stand.
It’s the first day of buck season in Pennsylvania and I’m just happy to be in the woods. There are only a few days I get to hunt each year and there is only really one per year quite like opening day. The woods are alive with activity—hunters, gun shots, crows crying, deer on the move. I’ve never gotten a deer on opening day, though I’ve had a couple of missed opportunities. I’ve never gotten a deer, period. And I’ve never hunted from a tree stand.
My friend was supposed to join me, but can’t until the afternoon due to the passing of one of his friends. He’ll attend a funeral. I’ll spend the morning up there alone. We’ll convene in the afternoon.
I check his work, though there’s no real need to. He’s far more handy than I am. Everything is secure and stable. I climb the ladder and get situated.
A little change in perspective goes a long way. It’s another kind of beautiful up here.
Over the course of the next hour I watch the sun rise in three specifically different, yet astounding ways. First, dark gray to light gray right in front of me. While the night and dawn blend, a small squirrel is doing his best impression of a deer walking just below my position, keeping me on the edge of the bench seat. Then, pink over my left shoulder edging up over the field behind me. Trees silhouetted. Brighter to yellow. Finally, off to my right, the sun higher in the sky, but still early in its workday, illuminating the top sections of the trees while the bottoms remain shadowed within the valley.
I sit still for two hours, feeling more calm than I’ve been in years. Again and again my brain tries to turn to troubles, then I remember that I’ve got a bigger purpose. I remain present. Not fretting about the past or stressing about the future. I’m here right now. It’s beautiful. I am connected to it all.
Suddenly, I see the first deer of the day. A doe. Trotting down through a separation of trees off to my right. Followed closely behind her is a buck. Not huge, but he looks big enough. I try counting tines and I’m convinced he’s of legal size.
The doe senses me. Likely, smells me. She stops, as does he behind her. My rifle is trained on him, but he’s positioned so that his vital organs are behind an eight-inch trunk of tree. I wait patiently, safety off, crosshairs aligned, purposely slowing my breathing.
He understands the threat and takes a tentative step backwards, enough to reveal the previously safely protected area of his chest. I shoot.
He drops almost immediately. I sit and watch his breathing. On his side, chest heaving. I pray again. A prayer of thanksgiving for the ability to feed my family and for all of these things that grow upon our planet. And I pray for this deer. That his end comes quickly. I can see he’s still breathing. I have another round chambered. I know I have to be ready to use it. I keep praying. “Please, end his suffering.” And in another minute or so, with a final large exhalation, his breathing ceases.
I wait another half hour, watching. Allowing him to be in peace. Three more doe come jogging down that same deer path, this time turning to their right and heading into the hemlocks.
When I’m certain he’s had enough time to pass, I toss my pack 16 feet to the ground, unload my firearm and descend. I approach the downed deer and place my hand upon his barreled ribcage and pray once more. Expressing appreciation, yet again, for his unwilling sacrifice to my family.
The rest of the morning is field dressing and dragging and lifting. After I climb into the driver’s seat of my truck, catching my breath, I’m struck by the thought that for years I haven’t been as clear-headed as I was working those last couple of hours in the woods. And it may have passed quickly, but I will cherish the memory forever. With sincere gratitude, knowing “the nearness of God is my good.”