Chaplain’s Corner: CLVIII

“God’s Exchange Policy”

In the summer of 1995, a 26 year old Cheryl Strayed solo hiked 1,100 miles of the Pacific Coast Trail. The PCT traverses some of America’s most daunting wilderness areas. Cheryl strode from the Mohave Desert through the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the Cascades of the Pacific Northwest.

Her adventures are documented in her best-selling memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail. A film was later produced in 2014 entitled “Wild.” Reese Witherspoon was nominated for her portrayal of Strayed for Best Actress.

By her own admission, Strayed’s life was a mess. She felt crushed by the cancer death of her mother two years earlier. Within the previous 12 months she had essentially sabotaged her marriage. “I broke my own heart,” she wrote. Her divorce papers included this question: What name do you plan to use in the future? Up to that moment her name had been Cheryl Nyland. “That blank line stuck in my heart. I would choose a new name for myself.” Ultimately she felt drawn to “strayed.”

The layered definitions spoke directly to my life: To wander from the proper path, to deviate from the direct course, to be lost, to become wild, to be without mother or father, to be without a home, to move about aimlessly in search of something, to diverge or digress. She felt like a stray. A stray who had strayed. So she would be Cheryl Strayed.

She was woefully unprepared to tackle one of the world’s toughest trails. She had no training and little understanding of the perils she would be facing. She began her hike in California with so much stuff that she could barely lift her pack. Her brand new boots were a size too small. Halfway through her trek her feet hurt so badly she could barely walk. Another PCT hiker glanced at her shoes and observed they were from the Recreational Equipment Superstore. “Why don’t you exchange them?” he suggested.

Right. As if that could happen in the middle of nowhere. Strayed didn’t even have the money to cover shipping. “Just call them,” the other hiker persisted. With no expectations, Strayed dialed REI’s number from a pay phone at a rest area. “We’d be delighted to send you a new pair of boots, one size larger,” said the REI rep. No questions asked. No need to beg or plead. No need to turn in the old ones. Free of charge. Free shipping. “Look for them in the mailroom at the next PCT rest stop. Her new boots did indeed arrive just as promised. And they carried Strayed and her sore feet all the way to the state of Washington.

God’s exchange policy is a bit like REI’s. We may be going through life crippled. Self-crippled, for that matter. We’re spiritual strays who may have no clue that amazing grace has always been available.

“Now that we know what we have-Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God- let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all-all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.” (Hebrews 4:14-16, The Message)

It’s free. Just call.

Ron Naylor, Chaplain