My wife and I recently took our boys to an outdoor animal park, hearing lots of praise about this popular location where you drive your vehicle alongside various species of deer and other types of wildlife.
It was such a splendid and surreal experience being so up close and personal with so many animals – many of which were quite comfortable and energetic in approaching us for carrots during the tour.
While having a herd of large moose or caribou come to your car door and shove their heads through your window for a treat can be a little unsettling, we were amazed at the animals’ beauty and striking but peaceful presence.
Having Isaac and Hugh, both toddlers, stare and marvel at these creatures from their car seats, Catherine and I were filled with childhood excitement (not to mention gratitude for power windows).
Cruising along the park’s car trail, I found it remarkable how we could be so close to these imposing wildlife animals and, yet, feel so safe.
It was during this journey that I couldn’t help but remember another encounter I had with a deer earlier in my life.
It came at a time when I felt at my lowest, and received an unexpected but comforting visit from God.
About seven years ago, I had gone on my annual summer road trip to visit some of my American relatives. While in Rhode Island to see my uncle and his family, I had decided to go for a jog one afternoon to clear my head of some frustrations and concerns.
I had been struggling with several items in my life that were causing great emotional upheaval for quite some time, including my parents’ marital difficulties, my seemingly fruitless pursuit of love and a constant desire for acceptance and belonging.
Running at an increasingly fast pace with footsteps of anger pounding the pavement and music blaring through my headphones, a deer suddenly burst out from the nearby woods and gave me one of the biggest shocks of my life.
Blurting out a short yell, I could do nothing but look at the deer that stood a mere 20 feet away.
In the moment, I was startled to the point of paralysis, feeling only my heart beat ferociously.
In what seemed like minutes but was actually perhaps 30 seconds, we exchanged an intimate and powerful staredown.
As my heartbeat returned to a more normal rate and my nerves calmed, I was soothed completely by the warm presence of the Lord.
It was at that precise point that I felt God consoling me, reminding me everything in my life would be fine.
As bizarre as it sounds, I simply thanked the deer, saying, “OK, God – I get it. You’re with me. It’s going to be alright.”
As I continued on with my run and the deer returned to the woods, I felt an indescribable peace despite my life worries still with me.
Now, naysayers will undoubtedly contend the deer’s appearance was simply a fluke. However, as people of faith, we believe there to be no such things as coincidences – only God-incidences.
I often share this unforgettable experience with my students to show God’s constant presence and mysterious reassurance. Truly, it is testament that during our suffering, God is always with us, providing His loving compassion. (Isaiah 49:13)
Such an occurrence as my encounter with the deer is but one example of how God reveals Himself to His people in our time of need.
Whether it is a particular song played on the radio when we are feeling depressed, a rainbow in the sky after the death of a loved one, a community rallying around a family hit by tragedy or any other signal, God shows an uncanny knack for comforting His children and restoring us during our troubles. (Psalm 71:20)
Of course, we must be open in faith to discovering how God is guiding us through our dark days.
Calling on Him to help us overcome our challenges can allow God an opportunity to fulfill His promise of unfailing love for His servants. (Psalm 119:76)
Doing so will not only provide us with a sense of peace and encouragement, but also reinforce the reality that God holds His people so dear.