In the last year or so, while I was still living in Juba, I had this overwhelming desire to be in the woods.

It got to the point, at the very end of my time in South Sudan, where that was the only thing I wanted to do when I got back to the United States: go for a really long walk in the woods. I didn’t totally understand this longing, but I wanted to follow it.

I made plans with one of my good friends to do a week-long hiking / camping trip at Big Sur, and I dreamed of doing an even longer hike, solo, somewhere. Like along the John Muir Trail, or even the entire Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), which stretches from the Mexico border to the Canadian border on the West Coast, through California, Oregon and Washington and is some 2,600 miles in length.

My friend and I went on the trip to Big Sur not longer than a month after I returned home. We rented a car and took the inland route north. Once we reached the coastline of Monterey, we drove south on the California 1 / Highway 1 / Pacific Coast Highway, and headed toward Big Sur.

I wanted her to see, and I wanted to see the entire coastline starting from Carmel, which is just south of Monterey and north of Big Sur by about twenty miles. So, we slowly wound our way south through the mountains and clifftops, making a few stops along the way, until we finally reached the area where redwoods shot up into the sky.

Having been preserved and undeveloped for so long, Big Sur is a treasure. Commerce is limited and nature is abundant. Redwoods, mountains and wild coastline make it a majestic dreamland. We took long walks through the redwoods, and visited the coastline, sometimes all in the same hike. We saw Stellar’s Jays and deer and other wildlife. We saw a stunning rock configuration at Pfeiffer State Beach, and we watched as sun rays and ocean waves came through its portal at sunset.

By the end of our trip, I still didn’t totally understand my longing to be in the woods.

I just knew I was healing. I was surrounded by incredible beauty, and I was filled with awe and wonder again. And I felt safe. Maybe that’s a strange thing to feel in the middle of the woods, but I felt it. And maybe that’s part of what I needed. There I was in a place so wild – so unknown – walking freely and feeling safe. It felt like God’s joy and presence was washing over me. As if the invitation had been directly from him. As if all that time in Juba he had been saying to me,

When this is over, meet me in the woods.