“Five… four… three… two… one. Goooooooooo!!!” The fourteen individuals in front of me quickly dispersed on foot into the wooden landscape devoid of the fresh green growth that is just waiting for the final Michigan snow to come and go. Brown leaves crunched beneath the feet of the teams who decided to abandon the packed down dirt of the well-traveled paths at Seven Lakes State Park. There were six teams of 2-3 each who were on their first Project Forty adventure race—twenty markers hidden in the forest with only a map and compass to locate and snag a piece of the flag for evidence of their discovery. It only took a few minutes for everyone to disappear and I was left standing in the quiet space of God’s beautiful landscape, an icy cold lake in view filling the space between the leafless trees.
I decided to head off into the woods as well, alone on foot half jogging half walking. I was slightly concerned that the 40-50 mph winds from the previous two days had run off with some of my flags, which would make the course a bust and leave a sour taste in the mouths of my participants regarding their view of Project Forty… not good news for the mission. Dipping below a low branch and trotting over a bridge that did not make the official trail map, I glanced below a small spruce pine and located marker number four, and further noted that one number had been tore off, evidence of the first team finding the flag—success! On my return I stopped off at the sandy pad along the shore of Spring Lake to say hi to a man known in the area as Papa Smurf. Standing a few inches taller than myself (which is not hard to do as I measure in at 5’4 ¾” on a good day), his long, fluffy white chops have aided to his accepted nickname. We have chatted several times before over the past few years, and I have only known him as Papa Smurf. He spends much of his free time stacking rocks at the park, into tall towers of art that come and go with the wind.
This time conversation revisited some of his military training, karate experiences, firing weapons and his childhood where he spent much of his time outdoors and exploring these areas in and around Holly. His story was added onto when I learned that he had nearly died four times in his life, the most recent time in 2018 when a Brown Recluse spider got him in the upper thigh. I was grateful that he didn’t proceed to show me the wound, but he did express the pain and continued problems that he would be facing the rest of his life as a result. I simply asked him if I could pray for him and his leg and that opened the door for me to share about the simple prayer that I pray with my wife and kids regularly. It’s a sailboat analogy we learned from studying with The Timothy Initiative. The bible says in John 3:8 that “the wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” So, if the Spirit of God is like the wind, then let’s be like a sail boat that moves with the wind when its sails are untied (confess any unconfessed sin) and our sails are up (asking the Holy Spirit to take control) in order to catch the wind. This has opened my eyes and ears to the voice of the Spirit and there have been so many opportunities to share my faith and pray with people everywhere I go.
For Papa Smurf, this meant me sharing the sail boat analogy and letting him know that the peace that he described to me during his four near death encounters was the presence of God, and he doesn’t have to be at death’s door to feel it! This can occur daily if we would take the time to engage with God and ask Him to fill us to overflowing. “SAILS UP!” I say and want it on a shirt for sure in the near future. This simple prayer, prayed out loud with our family has been changing the way life is done in the Foss family. It’s not a formula, it’s not the words, but it is a genuine surrendered heart to the will of the Holy Spirit and willingness to set aside personal comfort and schedules to engage with the people that we encounter day to day, even the ones who go by Papa Smurf.