Dark Path

You really haven’t lived until your eyeballs are frozen, and you have lost all feeling in your fingers. When I bought tickets to go on a luminary walk in the winter, it sounded peaceful. An event named Candlelight and Ice was so appealing because we had not seen one flake of snow. It was a deceiving offer as it presented itself in October when the days still were sunshine filled, and the wind was warm. Not wicked cold and blowing sideways. And, the sun disappears after not making much of an appearance by 4:30. 

We made our way to the wildlife rescue that was a half-hour away. The temperature was only going to drop more, so I figured if we got there earlier, our chances of dying from hypothermia would be less. Apparently, so did everyone else. There were spaces available for ten cars at the most, and at least seventy-five of us had shown up right when it began. I had to drive away from where we were supposed to enter and park on a side street. 

This added to our time out in the elements where you can see your breath. Something that you would never think about and take for granted suddenly reminds you that you are still alive. 

At first, the fresh air feels decent because we are locked up so much with a furnace running full blast. You breathe it in, wondering why you haven’t done this sooner. By the time you dodge traffic and get back to where you started, it is beginning to occur to you that you should have dressed warmer. This is when your lungs start to let you know that they are not accustomed to taking in air that has come straight from Siberia. 

When you look around during times like this, people are basically all foreheads and eyebrows. Not an inch of bare skin is visible, and everyone moves stiffly because their arms and legs are restricted by limited mobility. They have put on layers and stuffed themselves into jackets and ski pants. The frigid air is filled with the high squeaky sound of nylon rubbing against nylon. Everyone is trying to move quickly, but they are going nowhere. 

You know that all of these people are some of the same ones that were at the Sunflower Festival in August when the temperature hit one hundred degrees, and the suffering was the opposite. Just so you can get that perfect picture of fields teeming with vibrant yellow flowers, you traipse through the dirt that kicks up dust, so you go home a dirty mess. 

“I have your name right on my list,” the lady said. “You can either go to the right or the left. The one to the left is the longer of the two.”

This was to lead us through the woods with the two trails to choose from. If I have taken the time to drive thirty minutes away from home, I will not take the mini version of anything. I am going to make sure that I drag my frozen corpse down the one that is going to give me the whole experience that offers the bluest lips and most windburnt skin. 

Both of us stopped for a minute and decided where to house our phones so we could easily access our cameras. I had on enormous gloves that were three times the size of my hands, so zipping up a pocket was a miracle. In this type of situation, you want to expose any part of yourself as little as possible. 

But then it happened. I saw how beautiful the candles were glowing on the trail ahead of me. So I removed one glove with my teeth and was going to capture it. Right as I was going to take it, two kids ran ahead of me and started tripping and falling all over each other. Then the pushing, shoving, and the wrestling began. 

There went the idea of peace as they beat each other up in the snow. 

This is where the ‘ice’ part of my night began as my right hand became immovable.

“I have to put my fingers together inside of my glove,” she said.

I did the same thing as I moved ahead. Now I was walking with fists inside of my gloves, trying to get them to return to normal, and just as they did, I saw another picture-worthy moment. Thus, began the freeze and thaw process. 

“Weren’t there supposed to be animals out here? Didn’t you say we would see deer or owls?”

“That is what the description said. I think it said if you looked close enough, you might see something.”

If your eyes are still functioning. 

“All the wildlife are smart and have gone someplace warm, unlike us,” she said as both of us felt our legs beginning to go numb. I do pay a mortgage on a fully heated house, so why would I go outside and put myself through that?  

Because it’s pretty.  

There is something that calls us into nature, even if it is miserable. Later, we tell everyone we went, but during it, you are wondering why you came.

I have had the same experience with God. You recognize the still, small whisper telling you to do something and then wonder why you are doing it. It doesn’t make any sense, it feels so uncomfortable, and you don’t have to if you don’t want to. But, you do it because your relationship with heaven is more important than any other thing you can think of.  

During a time when I had next to nothing to live on, I was in a mall with my two daughters. I glanced over at a young couple sitting a few tables away from us in the food court. I had a twenty-dollar bill in my wallet that I was hanging onto. I was limiting what I was eating to be sure that my money would last longer and that they had everything they needed. 

I wasn’t trusting God fully at the time to help me, and I lived in fear. Yet, when I heard the familiar voice say, offer them the money, I pushed my chair away from the table and told my daughters I would be right back. I didn’t give it a second thought as I walked over to them. They both looked up at me.

“I am supposed to give you this,” I said. Whenever I have done this, people look surprised. I noticed a newborn baby in a carrier sitting next to them. I hadn’t seen it from where I was. 

The young mom said,

“We were just talking about how we needed to buy more diapers, but he doesn’t get paid until tomorrow. We don’t have any extra money right now.”  

“Then take it,” I said. “It’s yours, not mine.” I had just relieved the burden of another and forgot all about my own.

That became a pivotal point in my walk with God, where no matter how much I felt I was living the unbearable, I would be a giver and act on it when I was told to. It takes a bit of sharpening of spiritual hearing because all of your logical parts will scream and tell you not to listen. Every single reason you should not do what you are hearing will manifest itself. So I had learned to move fast. Don’t think. 

I had read this in the book of James,

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. (Message)

I didn’t want my faith to be dead. 

As I walked in the cold air amongst all the softly glowing bags and containers that lit my way, I was reminded of this great verse from Psalm 119:105 that tells you who God can be to you, if you allow it,

By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path. (Message)

(This may or may not have been when my legs lost all feeling…)

Amazing

As if daily existence isn’t a puzzle enough, I decided to test myself by going into a corn maze. Doing this during the day would have been too easy, so she and I opted for an after sunset challenge with a flashlight. 

There are two things I’m very aware of that don’t always work in my favor. My sense of direction, even as simple as left or right, can suddenly betray me without warning. And my aversion to feeling trapped. That one takes precedence over the other.

One time while wearing a long winter jacket that went to my calves, my zipper got stuck midway, trapping me in like a physical restraint. With minimal mobility, panic was quickly my friend. This was in the middle of a busy mall in the winter, where the heat index was at least 100 degrees. 

When I realized I could not escape easily, I frantically started jumping in place because it gave me the feeling of accomplishing something. I got one arm free and wrestled the entire thing off to the floor. It felt like years had passed.

Both of my girls stood away from me, laughing, to let it be known they were not associated. They had initially tried to help, but I wouldn’t stop moving long enough, so they gave up. When that type of fear sets in, the outside world becomes a blur. 

So realizing my weaknesses, why not go into an enclosed space, in the pitch dark? I figured it would possibly cure some of my irrational, claustrophobic fears. 

Before I went on this evening adventure down at the farm, the other thing on my mind was an episode from The Twilight Zone. A bratty kid sends people to a cornfield when he gets offended, and they are never seen or heard from again. Scary segments and scenes from that TV series always seem to pop up in my memory at the most inopportune times. 

I affixed my wristband that would help identify my body later when the rescue team would find me. And I grabbed a map. 

“The phone number is at the top of that. Are you going to call them if you get lost? I can just see you in a dark corner trying to get help,” she said, laughing. 

“If it comes to that, yes,” I said. We all have our security blankets in life. 

“It says right here that no profanity is allowed,” she said, pointing to the small print. 

“I cannot guarantee that,” I replied. 

That had already been the case when I left the house. My map decided to reroute me out of rush hour traffic and felt I would immensely enjoy a ride through massive construction instead. Then, it took me to a water tower and announced I had “arrived”. I had to pull into a parking lot to take my life back. 

We stood at the entrance and watched young children filter into the tall corn stalks and the blackness, unafraid. I figured if it got too bad, I would just apply the verse that says: and a little child shall lead them. She clicked on her light to illuminate our way, and as if scripted, the moon came out from behind a cloud to watch. 

“I’m going to let a higher power guide me through this,” I said. “And I always have heard to go to the right. If you do that, you will find the answer.”

I followed behind her hooded head as she went into Nancy Drew mode. Every single turn to the right was a dead end or a circle back to where we began. So much for that theory. 

We rounded a corner and stumbled into a woman sitting on the ground. Both of us jumped and grabbed each other for protection.

“Sorry. I’m just waiting for my family.” 

I was so thankful that this was not an added feature to contend with all along the way. We left her in the corner and carried on. 

We slowed down for a second as it seemed we had come to an impasse. To our left, we spotted a tiny, obscure opening. Everyone else seemed to be running past it, but we both had a feeling to sneak through it just to see where it led. We took the path less traveled, and it bought us our freedom. 

“Most people aren’t seeing that,” I said to her. 

It reminded me of this verse:

But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:14, NLT) 

Behind me, a large group of kids materialized. They had followed us, ditching their parents.

“We did it! Let’s wait here to see how long it takes them.” 

You never know who you are influencing by taking a risk, going out on faith, and showing others the way. 

We decided to drive to another field not too far away. I ended up on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere. We were leaving civilization behind to upgrade to a more prominent attraction. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a UFO hovering over my vehicle.

My right hand was stamped to prove I really had signed up to do this a second time, and we walked to the entrance. The cornstalk walls seemed much closer together, higher and more complicated. But, just like before, she pulled up her hood, clicked on her light, and went back into character straight out of Scooby-Doo.

The decision making was more intense. At one point, we had three openings to choose from, and in the middle of it all, there was a set of stairs that led to a platform. We could see the entire field from there. It was a nice view, but it did absolutely nothing to get us out. 

We thought we had it solved but then decided we were not right. 

“Did we just go around in one big circle?” I asked. 

“I think so,” she said. 

We retraced our steps. She thought maybe some of the smaller openings were the key, but it didn’t work that way as I was whipped across the eyes by stalks that led us to a parking lot. My first clue that we had taken a wrong turn was the smell of exhaust. 

“This is not the way out, Nancy!” I said, pulling a piece of dried stalk out of my mouth.

She laughed, and we plunged back in. We soon discovered that we had been at the exit earlier, but we hadn’t realized it, second guessed ourselves, and overthought it. 

“Why didn’t we just walk out? We were done a long time ago,”

“It didn’t look like the right way.” 

It reminded me of this from 2 Corinthians 5:7:

For we walk by faith, not by sight. (ESV)

We can talk ourselves out of a blessing and possibly a miracle just by deciding it doesn’t appear to be a gift from God. We choose to go our own way, and we miss out. Then we spend unnecessary time going in circles wondering why God has forsaken us. Being a victim of circumstances and making excuses are easy habits that keep us stuck.

To move ahead, one has to trust that God is in charge, advancing us forward. 

On a cold October night, I made it out alive, became more comfortable in a limited space, expanded my capacity for patience, and was shown once again that while life can be uncertain, it is meant to be amazing. 

(Maze 1 before sunset)
(Dead end, but no dead bodies..)
(Maze 2..I passed the height check..)

Inviting Light

It was the dead middle of January and dark outside by 4:30. With the sun down, the air would be frigid in no time. We were covered with snow and more predicted on the way. I was in bed by 7:30 under multiple blankets to try to stop the chills. My temperature felt like it was shooting up, and the pressure in my eyes was excruciating. All I could do was lay there and drink sips through a straw. Somehow moving anything brought on the spinning, so I spent the day drifting in and out. I managed to change scenery and sit elsewhere momentarily, but then it was back to my room, where relief seemed to be waiting. The only escape was to surrender to sleep.

I thought I heard a strange sound near my bedroom door that I had left half open. I opened my eyes, thinking it was one of my dogs trying to figure out what was going on with me. That is when the same peculiar noise came again. Closer. Whispery and constricted, it seemed as if someone was choking. I sat up a little more. I wondered if my daughter heard this. The tv volume in the living room was down low not to disturb me. From my vantage point, I should have been able to see her in the other room. Closer now, the raspy voice drifted to my ears again. A single word finally made sense.

“Mom!”

That was all it took for me to be in an upright position. I flipped on the light to investigate. My daughter was in a mid crawl trying to tell me something but pure terror had overtaken her speaking ability.

“What is going on?” I said, trying not to fall over from the dizziness that was coming on quick.

“Someone is on the porch! I saw a face in the window looking in at me.”

She was breathing so fast I could hardly understand her. I wanted this to be a fever dream! The reality of what she just said left me feeling a bit weaker.

One of my underlying concerns was the addition on the back of my house and that someone would come in and be at the sliding glass door. I knew I had some time because I always locked that entry and put a bar across for extra security.

“I was sitting on the couch and felt like someone was there. I turned my head and saw a face. I don’t even know if this is real! It was this pure white face like a ghost!”

I grabbed my phone and stumbled toward the kitchen. Why had I not put up the drapes I should have years ago? I slowly peered around the corner. Sure enough, a wild eyed girl was staring at me through the glass. The lights were off behind her, but I could see her face. Seeing me, she started to knock slowly and pleaded to come in.

I was thinking,…not on your life, sister! I had just read an article about an elderly man nearby who fell for the same scheme. A pathetic looking young woman showed up at his house asking for help, and when he let her in, a man with a gun beat him nearly to death and robbed him.

The little bit of space between her and me was going to stay intact.

“I’m going to get you some help.” I held up my phone to show her that I was trying to assist her. She started rambling.

“Please let me in. They threw me out of the car, they took my phone, and I have nothing but my purse.”

She proceeded to take a small handbag and dump the contents on the floor. She got down on her knees and rummaged through the pile of junk in front of her.

“I’m not going to let you in, but I’m calling for help right now!”

She angrily looked at me and started calling me a bunch of names I won’t repeat. Including who she thought I supported for the President of the United States. Yep, she definitely was not coming in.

“911. What’s your emergency?”

“There’s a person on my porch needing assistance, and she wants to come in. I have been sick today with the flu and was in bed, and I am not sure what is going on with her.”

I described in detail what was unfolding before my unbelieving eyes.

“Are you taking any medications for your illness? Are you hallucinating?”

What?

“No! Really, a person is talking crazy on my porch right now.”

“Okay. We will send someone over.”

I kept my eyes on my surprise guest as she went from sobbing to cursing to laughing hysterically.

“Help is coming,” I said. This brought on another berating of my character and how awful I was.

“You hate people!” She screamed.

By now, my whole house had every light on, and all occupants were fully aware that we had a weird situation going on. I noticed a trickle of sweat come down my face. Adrenaline is your best friend, as all of my symptoms had momentarily disappeared.

Angrily, she stood up, grabbed a stray towel that had been left outside, and wrapped it around her head like a turban. Turning, she made her exit into my backyard and began running through the snowbanks. That’s when I heard car doors slamming near my driveway.

I opened the front door to see three police officers walking up.

“She’s out in the back!” The wind had picked up, and light snow was beginning.

They took off running with their hands on their holsters.

I went to see what was about to take place. Two of them jumped the fence and started chasing her. It looked like they were playing a game of slippery tag. Somehow, one caught up to her, and she seemed to let him willingly.

The other officer came up to the porch. He had a notepad and pen to take down my name and other incidentals. He kept glancing at the front of my shirt.

“We didn’t believe someone was here. We thought you were high on drugs when you called in.”

“Why?” I said, totally taken off guard. “I have the flu and have a fever, and I’m not seeing things.”

I looked down at the gigantic sweat stain that had appeared like I had gone into the shower with my clothes on. Apparently, my fever took this opportunity to break.

“We believe you now. The girl is 16 years old, and from what she said, she was with friends in a car, they stopped and left her here. They took her phone, so she was wandering looking for help. You are the only person who went through all this trouble. She knocked on doors, but no one would help her. There are some pretty heavy substances in her system, so we are taking her into the emergency room for evaluation. Could you unlock one of the gates so we can get her to a safe place?”

I told him I would. I changed out of my drenched shirt and threw on another. My head was buzzing loudly as I stepped into the cold night to get this over. I watched them handcuff her and made her get into the squad car’s backseat. All of her energy seemed to have been spent, and I hoped this would never happen to her again.

As I watched them drive away, I wondered why she had gone through all the trouble of jumping the fence when she could have kept trying doorbells? I walked around to my backyard and looked up toward the porch. Clearly, I could see the kitchen light.

I heard in my mind: She was drawn to your house because of the light.

I looked around at all the other houses, closed up and dark for the night.

Matthew 5:14 says: You are the light of the world.

Isn’t that the point of our existence? Aren’t we here to offer a kind word, a smile, and encouragement to someone who is downcast? The timing of this person’s appearance wasn’t the greatest, but I found the strength to get her into the hands of people offering shelter. We are called not to add to the frigid darkness but to radiate God’s warm, inviting light.