I did not start out on a pilgrimage. It began as a “mark it off the bucket list while you can still walk” trip before my upcoming knee surgery. I made reservations to the Len Foote Hike Inn a while back, before Louise’s most recent rapid decline. I planned, talked my hiking buddy into going, and put in on the calendar. However, God’s timing is once again perfect. I ended up hiking with a friend who has taken this journey with her dying mother. Five miles in. Five miles out. The perfect person to share my current pain. The perfect time, just before the whirlwind that Louise’s death will bring. I am amazed. I love it when you can see God’s hand in orchestrating things, in secret, when you haven’t a clue what is going on…then you suddenly see he is in the tiniest of details.
It didn’t begin as a pilgrimage, but it ended up as one. A long journey or search, especially one of exalted purpose. That is the definition of a pilgrimage. This was a long journey…5 miles up and down the mountains, on foot, with a bad knee. It was not a fast journey, but fast is never my goal. Our exalted purpose became to prepare me for what is coming and to give me time to process all that has already been. It was a pause of sorts, from the constant concerns of walking with a loved one through a terminal illness. As we hiked, we talked about Louise, how she would love this hike on this beautiful day…and in fact had done it in the past with her hiking club. We laughed. I cried a bit. Jessica talked about her mom’s last days. She shared the story, and I shared mine thus far. We talked about death…not in a morbid sense, but as part of life that can have meaning and purpose in and of itself. We were silent some. We have that sort of friendship with the woods and each other. We tired towards the end of the hike. I was particularly weak. We had stopped along the way for water and rest. We had protein bars. We were prepared, so that wasn’t it. Not that hard of a trail really. (Blood Mountain still tops the list on hard trails.) For some reason, I took the last ½ mile slower than ever before. I think that my spirit was weak with grief unexpressed. I was carrying a load that was much heavier than a day pack.
Minutes after our arrival, my cell phone notified me of a message. I take those calls now, even in a place where cell phones are not allowed. I discussed memorial service plans with the pastor like a pro. Shed minimal tears, and set an appointment for when I arrived back in civilization. From there rest, lemonade, rocking chairs lifted the weight temporarily. Shower, dinner, mountain views, bear watching, and conversations with other guests into the evening. Relaxation.
In the top bunk, I tossed and turned, the weight came back. There was only fitful sleep between trips to the bathroom. Then the storm hit. Torrential rain outside my screen door. The wind and the rolling kind of thunder that sounded like a battlefield in the distance. Lightning that illuminated the veins on the leaves with its brightness, which went on for what feels like minutes. Bright as day for a flash, then back to pitch again. I felt the urge to go out into the storm, or at least onto the porch to watch it. God called me out into the storm, so out I went.
I sat. Listening for God in the storm. In Isaiah, it says he comes in a still small voice, but that night he called to me in the storm. A whirlwind raged around me, so close I was splattered from the downspouts. The silhouettes of the trees reached into the gray, sometimes white, sky. His thunderous voice demanded that I listen.
“I am in the storm. I am in control of the storm. I do not abandon you in the storm. I will carry you through the storm. There will be life after the storm. You can only see in snippets. You can only hear the pounding rain. Watch my power as the thunder rolls over the mountains.”
Then my tears came. In a flood, matching the rain around me. I was by myself in the storm, whimpering as a child. What will I do without Louise in my corner? My prayer was, “I lay it at your feet once again. I surrender everything, including Louise, and whatever happens after…I trust you.”
I heard God answer me, “Do not fear, do not fear, I am with you, even in this storm! Get your bearings, find your peace here among the torrent. I provided this time for you. Find me in the storm, my daughter.”
I said to him, “The great thing about a storm…you can weep and no one hears you.”
His response to me melted my heart, “I hear you. I am weeping. Crying for your broken heart. My sorrow is in the storm… for my creation… that there has to be death at all. I am groaning. My heart is in the storm. Can you hear it? I don’t want Louise to suffer. I don’t want death for my children. I do not like it. It hurts my Father’s heart. I weep in the storm. The storm does not rage… it is my sorrow. I am grieving for my creation.”
I sat in silence, as I listened to God weep.
He met me on the 24-hour pilgrimage he orchestrated. He arranged it all from the friend, to the storm. He comforted me. Soothed my heart. I found out that it is easier to weep when God is weeping too. I am not alone in my grief. I am never alone, even in the storm.