Through the Wilderness

(Please listen to Joshua’s story by clicking the white play button at the top of this post. You can read the transcript of the story below.)

Don’t be ashamed if you stray. You know, God has this gentle way of calling us back to him, whispering in our ears. And that’s the thing. He’s always gentle and soft spoken about it. He’s always reminding us, “I’m right here, even though you’re running, I’m waiting on you to come back.”

You know, I planned this trip to Arkansas for about two months. And I’ll be honest with you that whole time that I was planning, I wasn’t consulting God about it. I wasn’t praying about it. I, I strayed to the point where I wasn’t praying. I was out of the Word. I mean, I separated myself from God, but God never separated himself from me. And the amazing thing about this is though, even I got lost, I mean, I was lost out there. I was going on my seventh day, my seventh night, and God’s hand of protection never left me. Never. Not once.

So everything went according to plan. On Friday night, I had a great hike, everything was blissful. I caught the sunset that I wanted to see. I’m going back to my camp at nighttime. And I got to check one off the bucket list. I saw a black bear cross the road about 75 feet in front of me. So that was great, had a great dinner, got some sleep, woke up the next day on Saturday, the hike was going perfect. It was going according to plan. I got about halfway done with the hike. And I realized I couldn’t find the trail. So I started to panic a little bit. And I decided, I’m just going to go back up the ridge. I’m going to go back to the trailhead where I started from. It didn’t take long to realize that I was low on water. And I took a shortcut on a game trail thinking I could get on top of the ridge. But I got a little bit further on that game trail., and it split in two different directions. At that point, I knew that I was lost. And so the best thing I could do was try to find a comfortable spot, which was a little bit lower from that game trail. And that’s what I did. And I was just trying to get a text out to my mom. And I was really struggling with that because I knew that the only place I could find reception was on top of this ridge. And I was not in that area. No matter what I was trying to do. I could not get a text out. And I was just that really worried me and I just said a little prayer in my head. I didn’t speak it out. But it was the first time I prayed in a little while. And then that prayer was, “God, whatever it takes, this, let me get one bar, let me get one signal, I have to get this text out to my mom.” By the grace of God, I got one bar, and I was able to send a text out to my mother. And that text said, “Hey, Mom, remain calm. We’ll get through this. I gave her the most accurate position I could be based on the app I was using and the GPS information on that app. I was telling her, if she gets in touch with somebody at this lodge that he can get the ball rolling and we can get some help out. I had a lot of relief because it said delivered below that text. So I knew my mom would get that text and she would start to act.

Well, nightfall comes down and it’s dark out there. It’s a dense forest. So no moonlight or anything like that’s getting in. It’s so dark, you can’t see your hand right in front of your face. And I got separated from everything because I just went to get a drink of water from my water flask. And when I did that, these giant army ants, if you will. I believe they’re army ants. They just started to swarm me and that freaked me out. So I dropped my water flask and I strayed a little bit. And I don’t know how far I strayed. It couldn’t have been too far. But I was just wandering around trying to get away from the ants. I had about five feet visibility in front of me just by using my headlamp. I thought I was fine, though. Because at one point, I walked right to my backpack.

So I was just thinking, all right, you know, I’m cool. I’m in the neighborhood. And when the sun comes up, I’m going to find my backpack, I’m going to find my water flask. Even though the ants are tearing me up a little bit, I’m going to deal with it. I’m going to stay put, and they’re going to find me. But I wasn’t able to find my backpack. I wasn’t able to find my water flask the next day. And that’s when things really got out of hand. That’s when I really started to panic. So I was just thinking, Okay, I don’t even have my water flask. The only thing that I have on me besides the clothes that I’m wearing…I have my eyeglasses, and I have my two working headlamps. I have my wallet, my keys and my cell phone. That’s it. But at this point, yeah, like I said, I’m even separated from my water flask. So how am I going to drink water? That’s why I decided to stray those first couple of days from where I was. I was following water streams.

So I’m officially lost on Sunday, June 2, which is my 38th birthday. At this point, I’m already thinking to myself, I don’t know how long I’m going to be out here. I have to conserve my headlamp power. And thank God I did. Monday was the day that I was definitely feeling 100% despair. I wouldn’t say even desperate, I was just full of despair, Misery. And I’m thinking to myself, man, how, what am I going to do? How am I going to get through this? How much more can I take? And for those that don’t know, I have bipolar disorder. I’m off my meds. And I deal with anxiety and my depression can be pretty intense from the illness that I have. And so some of that’s going on. I’m struggling there. Well, I was thinking about how can I end my life as quickly as possible? I realized I couldn’t drown myself. I couldn’t hang myself. I didn’t have my Leatherman on me, which is a multi tool with a sharp blade that was in my backpack that I got stranded from, so I can’t use that. I was just thinking about banging my head on a rock, bashing my head. And I was thinking that’s the quickest way to do that, as unpractical, as irrational is that is, that was my thought process. And I found a boulder that I thought would do the job. So I got down on my knees and with both hands I grasped the side of this boulder and I’m mentally preparing myself to bash my head on this rock. That’s where my thought process was. So my hands are on the rock, I bring my head back to smash it on the rock. And in that moment I brought my head back, the Lord spoke to me. It’s the first time the Lord spoke to me directly. I knew it was the Lord while I was stranded, and this is what God said. He said, “Josh, where do you want to go? Do you want to go to heaven or hell?” I knew the answer to that question. So I stood up. When I stood up, instantly when I stood up, that’s when I heard rescuers calling my name. So they’re yelling for me, “Josh Joshua.” And of course I yelled back. I yelled, “Hey, I hear you.” The next thing I heard them say they said, “Well, where the hell is he?” And if they heard me, and I have a feeling they do, that’s where we lost contact. Maybe just about seven minutes later, so I heard one more person yell at the top of their lungs, “Josh!” But we lost contact with each other. When you’re yelling in the mountains, you can’t tell where the original sound came from because everything echoes.

The next day comes around. That’s Tuesday. And I was thankful that I got through another night. But I was still having that thought process even though I knew that there are people out here looking for me, even though I know God’s been in communication with me. I was still struggling, I was wondering, should I keep going? Or should I should I try to give in and at this point, I thought, well, I can’t bash my head on a rock. That’s not gonna happen. So this, the easiest way to do this would be to stop drinking water. That was my thought process. Should I keep fighting? Or should I give in. So I was thinking about drinking water or not drinking water while I’m looking at this stream. In that moment, God showed up again. A plane flew directly over my head and obviously looking for me. So that gave me a lot of hope. The airplane circled back again, flew right above me. That happened two times. Well, after the airplane crossed my path, flew directly over me, over myself two times, I decided I have to keep fighting, I have to keep doing this. So I took 11 gulps of water from my hands. I counted it, it turns out, that was the last water that I drank.

I bring my head back to smash it on the rock. And in that moment I brought my head back, the Lord spoke to me.

Wednesday comes around and I was trying to enjoy the morning. The sun just came up. And that was one of the most peaceful times of this experience is getting through the nighttime and enjoying sunrise. Well, with that being said, I encountered my third thunderstorm that day. I’m just shivering cold, it’s cold. And I was already a little cool to begin with because my clothes were damp. But it’s just pouring down rain. I’m shivering, I’m freezing. And I’m actually fearful that I might be developing hypothermia. And just a couple seconds later, boy did God show up. A voice came into my head and that voice said, “Josh, is there anything I can help you with?” I thought back, “Who is this?” And the reply back, again in my head, was, “This is the Holy Spirit.” That was the first time that the Holy Spirit ever spoke directly to me like that. It just blew my mind. And you know, it might blow your mind what my response was, but my response was, “Yes, you can teach me how to die in peace.” And the reply that I got again, in my head with enthusiasm was, “You got it.” Just like that. And that provided me peace in that moment. The Holy Spirit spoke to me, he said that he’s going to help me do what I said. And as someone who has bipolar disorder, as someone whose depressive cycles are more intense and last longer than my manic cycles. As someone who deals with anxiety… I’ve dealt with suicidal thoughts pretty often. I’m not ashamed to admit that. They’re more common than a lot of people realize. So with that being said, it has been in the back of my mind, even as a Christian, that I could go out like that one day. That one day, my life might end because I take it myself. Well, the Holy Spirit confirmed that he’s going to teach me in his time how to die in peace. I’m so grateful for that. And I don’t have to worry about that anymore.

This might sound strange to you that even after I’ve had this encounter with the Holy Spirit, even though I know God’s been talking to me, even though I know the search and rescue teams are out looking for me, I decided I can’t take any more of this. By Wednesday, I had decided I’m not going to drink any more water. So I was able to get through another night, as tough as that was. Well, Thursday came around. And the only thing that gave me a little bit of hope that day was I heard dogs barking in the distance. So I figured, you know, that search and rescue they’re out here looking for me and all that kind of stuff. But I wasn’t drinking water. So that Friday comes around. And, boy at this point, I’m severely dehydrated. I haven’t taken my medication in almost a week, it’s it’s about one one week. I haven’t eaten anything, I haven’t slept, I was miserable. It was an effort just to stand up that day. The sun came up, I was able to stand up, I was able to walk around a little bit but not far. 20 feet here, rest, maybe 30 feet, rest, and at the most 40 feet, rest. So not too far. I have no energy whatsoever. And I’m estimating it was probably somewhere around ten or eleven in the morning. It wasn’t brutally hot yet. And I had this thought in my head, and the thought was, “Josh, whatever it takes, you have to get to the top of this ridge, no matter what happens. Don’t remove yourself from the from the area. Don’t stray. Stay put.” That was God talking to me, even though I didn’t realize it in that moment. So by the grace of God, and by my determination and being obedient, I did make it to the top of the ridge. And that was, that was an effort, let me tell you. When I was up there, I had a lay spot, it seemed the most comfortable spot that I could lay down. And it also provided the widest opening in the canopy, but it wasn’t wide. Again. Again, this is a dense forest. And I had to sit spot that was about five yards away. It was in between two trees, it was the most comfortable spot I could possibly get in. Even though it wasn’t comfortable. There’s still ants. This is a rocky mountain. And I’m thinking to myself, man, I don’t know how much more I can take. I really don’t think I can get through another night. And a thought came into my head. And that thought was, what is said is, “Josh, I’m taking you home tonight.” And I thought back, “Who is this?” in reply back again. This is in my head not spoken. The reply was, “This is Jesus.” Clear as day and just as clear as the Holy Spirit spoke to me, Jesus spoke to me. And in that moment when Jesus told me that he’s taking me home, I thought he was talking about heaven. I was full of joy, full of peace, full of happiness. All despair had completely been lifted instantly. At this point it’s completely dark. I can’t see anything around me. I don’t know how much time went by. I heard a helicopter approaching and I knew this helicopter was close just based on how loud it was. And God told me, I had my headlamp on on ready to go. I still have one working headlamp at this point. And God told me, “Josh, I want you to go down in your lay spot, I want you to look up, and I want you to signal the helicopter.” At this point, I know it’s God speaking to me, again, this is all in my head. So that’s what I did. I was obedient. I went and laid down in my lay spot. And by the grace of God, this lay spot I had, I give Him the glory for picking this spot out. I don’t think I did it on my own. It had a wide enough opening where I could shine my headlamp. And it took a little bit for the helicopter to spot me. God’s telling me, “Josh, I want you to get up and raise your arms. Josh, I want you to sit down.” I’m thinking back and even asked God. I actually asked him out loud. I said, “God, why are you doing this? Why are you making me jump through all these hoops? What’s going on here?” I thought I was going to heaven. But Hallelujah, I’m alive and have a story to tell God’s going to get me there and his time.

The next part of this story is the part that completely just blows me away. At this point, the helicopters seen me there’s no doubt but I’m not rescued yet. So I sit back down. And not long after that. The Lord spoke to me. And I knew it was God speaking to me, God’s talking about the helicopter in this moment. This is what he said. He said, Josh, that’s your angel up there. He’s going to be going away. Don’t worry about it. I sent him on a mission, he’s going to be back. So I wasn’t worried at all. From the time that Jesus told me he’s taking me home all the way through this process. I am at peace, I am relieved, full of joy full of happiness, zero despair. I hope the helicopters and pilots get to hear this because the helicopter pilots they thought I was just going to be miserable. Well, it turns out about five minutes after God told me that the angel being my helicopter that he’s going to be going away, but don’t worry, he’s going to return. That’s what happened. The helicopter did leave I learned after I was rescued that the helicopter had to go to refuel. I wasn’t worried about it in the slightest. God had already told me that it helicopters coming back and I have no reason to doubt him. Why would I?  The Bible says that God cannot lie and Satan is the master of lies. So that’s why the gift of discernment is so important. Paul even said, Pray for these gifts. So you have to you have to be able to discern if the devil is lying to you if God’s telling you the truth, but God has this way of letting you know that it’s him. He can’t lie. He’s gentle.

I went back to my seat spot, and I just waited. I had no idea when the helicopter was going to return. But I knew for a fact that helicopter was coming back. I don’t know how much time it passed, probably no more than an hour and the helicopter returned. Before I knew it, lights were shining behind me. Those were the search and rescue team. That’s when I got rescued. And so that’s my story of how I survived. I was such in such good spirits. And when I, when I was rescued, the first person that showed up on the scene, I asked him straight up I could barely talk but I asked him, “Are you an angel?” And he just started laughing. And he said, “Well don’t tell my wife that.” And he had a good laugh about it. And we just grasped hands. And I just began to thank Jesus and just started to weep. After that moment passed, he shared and he said, “Josh, we’ve had twenty-two search and rescue teams out here for a week looking for you. Most of us are Christians, and most of us have been praying for you the whole time.” Just think about that, in your time of struggles. You have no idea who’s praying for you. I guarantee you that there’s at least one person out there praying for you. I’m just I’m actually thankful and I’m grateful for everything that I endured because I’m closer to the Lord than ever and it seems that a lot of people are being drawn to him through this story, which I’m just thankful for that.

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