A Note from Jessie – Covenant Newsletter, October 2020

Cold rain drops poured down my sister-in-law’s muddy face, leaving clean tracks behind. “This is miserable!” she exclaimed, half laughing. “I want OUT!”

We were only a quarter of the way into a seventeen-mile bike ride on the Virginia Creeper Trail when the gray sky opened to release its heavy load. Although it had started as a crisp, rather promising morning (with flashes of clear October sunshine breaking through the downy cloud cover, setting the autumnal leaves ablaze), the weather had taken a significant turn for the worse. But what were we to do? We were the stubborn ones, the optimistic ones, the ones who had scoffed at the weather reports and doggedly refused to let the family adventure we had planned for months fall by the wayside. While our original crew of Yanceys had started out as nearly twenty, we had dwindled to half that size with the news of Hurricane Delta’s far-reaching rains. 

So there we were: the self-selected few who smugly smiled when the day began with ideal conditions, and then who soon became the regretful parents with smiles fading as we gazed at the wet backs of our young children pedaling ahead of us on the slippery trail, round drops splashing off their little helmets and trickling down their shivering shoulders. We had a long way to go.

Perhaps the essence of this hapless scene feels familiar. Perhaps you have found yourself in the thick of a foolish escapade before, or, more seriously, in the midst of a waking nightmare. Maybe you are, currently, smack dab in the middle of a season that feels endless, grueling, or inescapable; and maybe you have found yourself searching for an escape route or at least a temporary shelter where you can weather the storm. 

Several memories of this vein now surface in my mind:

…trying moments during the ongoing pandemic when I have felt physically depleted, emotionally discouraged, and more than a little fearful for the well-being of my neighbors.

…helpless, sleepless moments of early motherhood when both of my babies would begin crying at precisely the same moment.

…the complicated dynamics of blending families after marriage, when it seemed challenging to find middle ground between well-meaning though vastly differing sides. 

…the immense pressure I would feel bearing down on my shoulders while studying for an impossibly comprehensive English exam with the midnight fluorescent lights of the library blinking down disapprovingly.

…the twin sensations of panic and despair Steele and I shared as we sat awake all night in hospital chairs, watching doctors tend to our small children who were suffering from various frightening conditions like fractures in her infant skull and second-degree burns covering the majority of his tiny chest…

I shudder now to recall how much I wanted an OUT of those moments. 

Certainly we all can recall finding ourselves in the quagmire of less-than-ideal situations with no end in sight. And I would venture to guess that many of us have experienced that human instinct of wanting “out” in one way or another. 

Left to our own human devices, we can find all sorts of ways to momentarily flee from discomfort and circumnavigate pain. We turn to anger or blame, denial or physical withdrawal, mindless distractions or any number of numbing agents. There are far too many ways for us to slip beneath the surface of our lives and momentarily disconnect. Though as we discover time and again, none of the outs we pursue actually help in lasting, sustaining ways. Blaming only deepens the pain, numbing only delays the inevitable or defers the consequences for later, and quitting merely distances us even further from the present life we are called to live while we are alive.

And we turn to God. We reach for Him in prayer. We plead for His assurance when we do not know how we are going to make it.

Yet in those moments, God does not always grant us that eject or rewind button we so long for, nor does He give us an easy pass. He invites us into something more challenging, oft-times more life-changing, and strangely more life-affirming instead. In those experiences when we most want to coast or quit or sink into self-pity, he calls us instead to engage; to tuck our chins, brace for impact, and Keep. Moving. Forward. No, He does not offer us an “out,” but he does offer us a “through.” 

Back to the muddy trails…

I must admit that when we stopped for a quick break and learned that we were now only half-way through with about eight more miles to go, I started going through a mental rolodex of possible escape options. Could we call one of the family members who had backed out of the trek to come pick us up? Was there a safe space where we could at least dry off and warm up for a bit? Could we just ditch the rented bikes on the side of the trail and explain to the company where they could pretty please pick them up later? None of us actually vocalized these options, but we exchanged knowing glances through the onslaught of rain which communicated clearly enough that at least some of us were thinking the same thing. 

But then– surely in thanks to the Lord above– one of us piped up with, “Okay, team. We’ve got this.” 

And then another younger rider, emboldened by the encouragement, added, “Let’s DO this!”

Finally, even one of the more disgruntled members steeled her gaze and nodded her head resolutely. “Only one way down this mountain,” she said. Then she took a deep breath. “Let’s go.”

The trials that God places in our life’s trail, whether trivial or heart-breaking or somewhere in between, always seem to forge the biggest imprint on our lives. It’s in those challenging moments when we choose not to give up hope but to double-down with faithful grit that push us closer to growing into the people God created us to be: people who are awake to the wonders of His world, are engaged with others in meaningful, messy ways, and are fully alive with the strength and capabilities He has given us.

And you know what? When we arrived at the end of that trail hours later, soaked to the bone and covered from head to toe in sooty mud, there were wide, joyful smiles all around. We felt tough, strong, bonded to each other in a new way, and so very grateful. We felt alive.

The “through” can be undeniably brutal, but ultimately life-affirming indeed. God created us to be so much grittier and more resilient than we realize. Moreover, He promises to stick with us as we trudge along whatever trenches we find ourselves in, and He promises that what is waiting for us on the other side is most definitely worth the passage through.

Comments

  1. Dalie T. Thomas says

    Beautifully lived, expressed, and shared! God has a way to help us grow at whatever age we are in ways we never forget. He does this by giving us hope that translates into unexpected joy that we must experience to understand.
    We are so happy you all made the long trek to come spend the weekend with us and we look forward to taking tackling the Creeper Trail with you on a more pleasant day. Thank you all for sharing your experience and time with us. We love you!
    Granddaddy & Nana

  2. Jane Yancey Thomas says

    Jessie,
    This is beautiful and so well written. Thank Steele for sharing. The warmth and joy of the fellowship that same evening over good food Grandaddy had
    Worked on so diligently was hilarious and unforgettable. God is so FAITHFUL. We can totally trust Him with all our messy lives. He made us, He Knows us and is working it all together for good to
    Them that love God-and are the called according to His purpose. Thank you for this reminder.

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