With the sun raging high in the sky, I begin making a mental list of the resources on hand, an instinct gained leading youth mission trips. I am on a two week vacation with my family – the luxury of time together meant to make up a little bit for the countless family moments I missed while studying in seminary. We have lost the trail we were following, which adds significant time to the hike we are on and brings us closer to the hottest part of the day. My daughter’s asthma is beginning to bother her and I am worried she might be overheated in the desert sun. Just a few turns back, when we had the cairns in sight, the words of the Godly Play wilderness stories come to mind as I imagine running my fingers through the smooth, red sand and telling a story: “The desert is hot in the daytime. The wind blows the sand making it hard to find your way. People usually don’t go into the desert unless they have to.”
I’m worried my daughter, never one to complain, might be feeling worse than she lets on. I take one of my bandannas, wet it in my Camelback, and force her to wear it around her neck. I notice I am halfway through my water. A quick squeeze of the girls’ back packs confirms they are, too. My husband’s water is low. I’m not sure what he has in his pack besides the camera. In my day pack, I’ve got a granola bar, flashlight, fire starter (not to be considered in stage of fire ban here), a whistle, a cell phone with no signal, and a foil emergency blanket which I’m guessing could deflect the worst of the sun. The four of us are together, which is comforting.
As I am taking inventory, silently in the part of my brain devoted to mothering and thinking three steps ahead, we reach the last cairn we noticed before we lost the trail. We try a few possible turns, but none seems right. We rest in the shade of the canyon wall, thankful for a reprieve from the relentless sun. My daughter takes her inhaler and perks up a bit. After a few minutes, we spy a couple coming down a rock slope, marking the trail we are to take. We complete the rest of the hike without incident, with new appreciation for the desert.
When I get home, I sneak a look at the news, even though I have vowed not to during this period of renewal. I see my friends’ pictures of the march for families. I see more pictures of the immigrant children. I can’t help but note there is only one item in their possession – a foil blanket like the one I carry in my day pack. I read about children in immigration court, alone, too young to know what country they come from. The words of the wilderness stories echo again in my ears, compassion stirring within me as I imagine the arduous journey people risk in the search for safety. Our oldest stories remind us that immigration is a part of our story, movement has shaped our Christian narrative as water carves canyon walls. God called Abraham and Moses’ people to the desert in search of what they needed. Our stories reminds us of the truth that the desert is a dangerous place. People don’t usually go into the desert unless they have to.