Recently, I joined another minister on a 2 1/2 day, 33-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. The beautiful scenery along the trip was matched only by the strenuous nature of the rugged terrain. I had my share of stumbles on rocks and roots along the way.
As is often the case, the most difficult day of our trek was the second day. Our plan was to hike twelve and half miles and reach the Sarver Hollow Shelter area for the night. This was no ordinary camp site. A 500-foot descent from the ridge line down into the Hollow along a winding stone stairway reminded me of Frodo and Sam’s stone stairway of Mordor in Lord of the Rings. This was not easy.
Reaching bottom the ground was covered with shards of granite, everywhere. To walk on them with anything but firm hiking boots was actually painful. We had heard the area was thought to be haunted. My reaction to that was, “Yeah, whatever.” But the rockiness of the campsite and the thick forest surrounding it sure did add to the eerie feeling that was there.
Nonetheless, we found a spot for our tents and made camp. After a hot dinner and some recovery from the rigorous hike, we were ready to turn in for another cold night in the 20’s. It was hiker’s midnight — 9:00 p.m.
After having everything set, I zipped up the tent and cozied into my cold weather sleeping bag, snug as a bug.
About 12:15, I was awoken violently by a strong tug on one of the tent’s support lines that anchored mere inches above my face. I could hear the sound of movement go from the side to behind my tent, and then further down the hollow in the direction of the old Sarver ruins where the family graveyard is.
My immediate thought was an animal ran into it and moved on. It freaked me out. I already had to “go”, so you can imagine my consternation at this point. I was too afraid to go outside the tent thinking it was a rabid raccoon or pack of coyotes on the hunt, or worse yet, a hungry bear. Thankfully, the rest of the night was uneventful and somehow I even slept, though I didn’t dare go outside the tent until daybreak.
We finished our trek victoriously on the third day, glad to have done so without injury and now to enjoy a comfortable car seat to sink our sore bodies into for the ride home. On the way, I pulled up some info on Sarver Hollow and read this.
Legend has it that Henry Sarver and his family scratched out a meager living in that location from the Civil War until the Great Depression. The family cemetery near the home site shows many of the Sarver children died young. The only gravestone you can read is that of Mary Sarver who died in 1909 at the age of 9. For years, hikers have told of a ghost that walks the woods after dark and shakes campers awake in the middle of the night. Some say the ghost even shows up in photos they have taken. Other hikers claim they’ve heard footsteps in the woods around the shelter.
Yikes! In my case, there were no tracks left behind from any animal I thought were outside my tent, but something was there. The line was also completely in tact as I had left it—like it had only been yanked on, not run into. It seems I was pranked by little Mary Sarver.
I’m not the only one who’s been startled and afraid of an apparition. In fact, on the night of Resurrection Day, we find the disciples huddled together in the Gospel of John.
“That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit..”” John 20:19-23 NLT
Some claim to have seen spirits. But the disciples of Jesus saw their resurrected Lord, and received his Holy Spirit that night! And they were not afraid, but were filled with peace and joy.
You see, because He lives, this changes everything. He turns our mourning into dancing, our fear into joy, our pain into healing, our weariness into confidence, our emptiness into fullness, our past into a future with a hope.
Maybe you’ve been zipped or locked up in your own place, afraid of what may come or what has come already, and it’s frightening. In that same chapter from John, the risen Savior says, ironically, “Mary, it’s me!”
This week, take great confidence in this: because He lives, this changes everything. His Spirit is always with you. #ThisIsLove