“If you don’t believe in miracles…perhaps you’ve forgotten you are one.” – attributed to Albert Einstein
I am often met by individuals who question so many aspects of our God: existence, faithfulness, protection, unconditional love, peace. Considering their perspective, I can understand their desire to question or disbelieve, as the world around us seems fraught with things pulling us away from God. We are reminded daily in subtle ways of God’s existence and purpose; occasionally, we are given a less-than-subtle experience. Those impactful times become defining moments in our lives; I am choosing to share one of those today.
Some of you know my mom, Anne. For those who don’t, you may follow this link to read a post I’d written for her birthday five years ago, in which I briefly discuss her resilience as a woman who is legally blind (diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa at an early age) yet conquers more than many sighted people I know.
Mom and Eddie at Tallulah Gorge
Now, fast forward…
Just over 18 months ago, my mom called me the day before her birthday, sharing with me an email she’d received from her husband of nearly 25 years. Through shock, my mom tearfully told me her husband was leaving her. In that single moment, I will share with you that I selfishly felt a sense of joy, of peace, of happiness, as I knew in my heart and soul that an incredible burden was being lifted from her, even if she had yet to understand. My relief was palpable.
To say my relationship was fractured with my mom isn’t a fair description, but it’s somewhat true. Because of her husband, and actions on his part for years prior, I’d distanced myself as a means of protecting my own well-being. When Evan and I were blessed with our first son, this distance grew. I felt a fierce desire to protect my new family, and keeping my mom’s husband far from our peaceful, safe existence was critical to me. This distance left us with great lapses in communication; I’d spend weeks without speaking to my mom, and months without seeing her. Through no fault of her own, I’d selfishly exiled her, waiting for a time to best discern what to do.
By knowing this, it’s easier to understand why I felt relieved and overjoyed at the prospect of her husband’s disappearance; it meant that we could reconnect in a way that had been impossible for the four years prior to that moment. While we couldn’t go back and change the past, we now had years and years ahead that would be filled with happiness and love. A new chapter had begun.
You may wonder how my mom handled this drastic change in life. Have you ever witnessed someone come into their own being? Finding their path, and starting a new journey, regardless of their fear or trepidation? Those milestone moments of independence, accomplishment, love, joy – there’s nothing on this earth like bearing witness to a person growing from the muck and becoming a lotus. I could share paragraphs of the past 18 months, but that’s not the purpose of this post. I tell you of my mom’s newfound independence as it’s an important aspect of the experience I’ll share now.
Last week, we packed our bags and headed to western North Carolina for a weeklong family vacation. My husband and I have made this an annual trip for the past 14 years, and this year, we were bringing my mom along for the ride. We were all excited and thrilled to spend a week together hiking in the mountains, creating memories to share with generations.
On the second day of our trip, we made the drive up to Roaring Fork in Tennessee, with the expectation of hiking and taking in the beautiful sites along the nature trail. Our first stop was a 1.7mi hike to Grotto Falls, billed as “easy, with only a 510′ ascent” in the GSMNP’s guidebook. Ever the adventurer, my mom joined us, along with her guide dog, Eddie.
The hike included areas of exposed roots, river rock, and wet earth, especially as we neared the falls. Nevertheless, my mom carried on, navigating the rough terrain with the help of Eddie. Together they climbed rocks, crossed creeks, and kept pace with my wild sons who’d made it their mission to beat everyone to the falls.
Wild mountain boys.
As we neared the falls the path narrowed, and the terrain became rockier. Just past the second cascade from the river, my mom and Eddie decided to stop and wait for us as we went on to Grotto Falls. It was a short distance away, but accessible only after some upward climbing over wet rocks and muddy side paths. It was a wise choice by my mom. The falls were dangerously beautiful, earning their name as you could disappear behind them in a small cave. Our boys soaked up every moment, splashing in the chilly water and touching the falls. Once we’d finished exploring, we headed back down to my mom and Eddie, beginning our descent to the trailhead.
Because it was a Saturday, the narrow portions of the trail could become congested and difficult to navigate. As we reached my mom, we paused to allow a couple to pass before moving forward. Evan led the way with Grant, our youngest, and I followed closely behind Miles. I recall asking Miles to watch his step, as we were on the right side of the trail which held a steep, sheer drop to the cascades and river, roughly 30′ below. After ensuring Miles’ safety as he grabbed my husband’s hand, I turned to help guide my mom. This was the instant in which I later wished I’d done a hundred things differently.
As Eddie trekked forward on the trail, he neared the edge, not knowing the earth had grown soft from the falls’ constant mist and spray rising up from the valley below. One small step too far to the right, and the trail instantly gave way. I stood in horror as I watched my mom and Eddie disappear off the side of the mountain, completely out of view.
Do you know what it’s like, to believe for just a moment that someone you love is gone, forever? It feels like this: a punch to the gut, a loss of vision, a gasping for breath as you must surely have fallen beneath the heavy, dark, unending ocean, with no light, with no way to reach the surface. It lasts for just a moment, but in hindsight, it’s an eternity of heightened emotions you will replay over and over again.
I called for my mom; I called for my husband; I called for my boys. In my mind, I called for my God, requesting a dozen things at once: that my mom be alive, that my mom be conscious, that we witness a miracle.
Evan quickly climbed up to where I stood in silent disbelief. He guided the boys to me, and we moved as close to the side of the trail hugging the mountain as we possibly could. Peering over the side, I saw the first miracle: A tree. A rotten, old, decaying tree was left protruding from the sheer cliff. Both my mom and Eddie were wedged between this tree and the earth. This tree, no more than 14″ in diameter and seemingly void of purpose in life as it was no longer living, became a life raft. Had my mom fallen six inches to the left or right, this tree wouldn’t have fulfilled its destiny of literally, in every sense of the word, rescuing her.
Like a skilled rock climber, Evan created footholds in the soft earth as he climbed down the mountainside. Now I’d lost him from sight as well, but I trusted he would be given the knowledge and instinct to do what seemed impossible.
I could hear my mom telling Evan of the pain she was in from her ankle, leg, and hip. I felt the fear in her voice as the tree loosened, and she silently prayed, believing these could be her last breaths on this earth. My own breathing calmed, as Evan began a narration of instructions to get back up the mountain. It was a guidance of cues for someone visually impaired. I thought to myself, “He never misses a single thing.”
Evan first untangled Eddie from my mom. Then, untangling his lead from his harness, Evan asked me to the edge and tossed the lead up to me. He hoisted all 80lbs of Golden Retriever up over his head, and I pulled Eddie to where the boys and I were standing. Our second miracle: my mom had kept Eddie’s lead attached. With just his working harness, I’m not certain we could have pulled him up the mountainside.
Next, Evan guided my mom into a position that would allow him to push her up the side of the mountain. He then apologized for needing to lift her by pushing from her butt and up the cliff. Can you imagine, maintaining a sense of modesty and manners? I thought later, my own inner sailor would surely be in full-blown colorful language at this point. Not Evan. I don’t believe he faltered even once. Slowly, my mom grabbed at the roots in the trail, and we hoisted her up to the path. Evan then climbed up himself, to take survey of the situation. Two humans and one dog, safely on the trail. Evan is a miracle.
Now we’re on a path nearly two miles from the trailhead, and we are quite the caravan needing to make the descent: an injured and blind woman, her guide dog, two boys aged five and three, with my husband and I as the caravan leaders (okay, Evan as the caravan leader – I’m better at copiloting, truthfully).
Here’s where I’ll tell you I know God is real, because what happened next could only have been his work. Climbing up the trail, three young women came upon our group and saw my mom sitting in pain and distress. What did these young women say? “We’ll take a look at you – we’re physical therapists.” Yes, physical therapists – THREE of them! They quickly assessed the damage, rotating my mom’s foot, ankle; pressing her calf, shin, knee, and hip, to determine if anything was broken. After finding no broken or protruding bones, they began to formulate a plan to get my mom down the mountain. Here they were, less than 100′ from the falls, and their sole concern was the wellbeing and safety of my mom. In conversation, I learned they’d just graduated medical school the day prior, and were vacationing in the area to celebrate. They discussed basket carries, shoulder rides, and how to set my mom’s ankle once we were down. Jill, Beth, and her sister were placed on this path for a reason that didn’t include seeing the falls that afternoon.
As we began the slow descent, another couple, Jason and Deanne from British Columbia, came upon our group. Following them came another couple, Dave and his wife. Seeing our slow progress and large group, and knowing we had a fair distance to travel, these four joined in the assist. Jason, an acro yoga instructor, carried my mom on his back. His partner, Deanne, took Eddie. This left Evan and I free to bring the boys down the trail. As we lagged behind, Jason and Dave stopped to give my mom and Eddie water, and Aleve for the pain. They carried my mom down the trail in its entirety, reaching the trailhead long before Evan and I. By the time we’d arrived, only Jill, Beth, and her sister remained, as my mom had already expressed her gratitude, thanks, and taken a commemorative photo for posterity.
These two couples who made the descent possible were miracles, as well.
My mom, sore and shaken, was loaded into the van and we traveled back to the cabin. She spent the following day resting, after wrapping her ankle, and by the next day she felt well enough to join us for some easy hiking and lunch in town. Today, you’d never know she fell down the side of a mountain in Tennessee.
And this is how I know God is real. The actions of my husband, who quickly apprised the situation and planned the rescue. The arrival of three physical therapists, moments after pulling my mom to safety, to assess the injuries. The assistance of an acro yoga instructor, whose body held the strength and stamina to carry my mom down the mountain. The aid of his partner, keeping pace with Eddie and bringing him to safety. The additional help from Dave and his wife, providing water and medicine. For all of these people to be in this spot, this trail, at the same time on the same day – only divine intervention could make this so. Only God’s hand at work could make this possible.
God is real, and he has a plan for your life. He led those seven individuals into their fields of work, their callings for hobbies, giving them the ability to help. He gave my husband a bravery I’ve never known in anyone else, and a mind set with precise decision making skills. He gave all of them hearts of servants, looking for where help is needed, then showing up to do the work without questioning its difficulty.
The day before we left for North Carolina, we arrived home after taking our boys for haircuts. Evan noticed a billowing cloud at our neighbor’s house. While I thought it was just the sprinklers running, Evan quickly turned the car around and drove straight to their house. There was a small fire burning just at the front corner of their garage, melting the siding and creeping slowly higher. As I ran to the front door, finding no one was home, Evan pulled the hose from their sprinklers out of the ground and doused the flames. Later, after the house was cleared by the Fire Department, we left a note explaining the melted, blackened vinyl siding and disarray to their sprinkler system. Our neighbors called Evan, and requested a hug. Realizing had we arrived 15 minutes earlier or later, the state of the home would have been dramatically different. It was a moment in which I recognized God’s work in Evan’s life.
Not all heroes wear capes. Not all are called to a life and career in a field giving them the opportunity to rescue others on a daily basis. But, God calls us all to help, and in those moments of helping – even small ones – we are rescuing. Be it through a kind deed that plants the seeds of faith, or a courageous act that pulls someone from the side of a mountain. God uses each and every one of us for His purpose, if we are open to it.
Here’s what else I know: God’s plan for my mom is real, and it is incredible. A woman in this set of circumstances could easily throw in the towel, questioning life’s purpose, wondering why things have unfolded in such a way. But, knowing my mom, these past 18 months have been a period of tremendous growth in confidence, ability, independence, trust, and most importantly, in faith. This is a woman who never sees a roadblock, but rather an obstacle to overcome. This is a woman who has found her inner strength, greater than Hercules, and has used it for good. Each day, she helps others see their own power. Each day, she bravely ventures into a world that in another time would have told her this life is impossible. Each day she reminds those who doubt that nothing – absolutely nothing – is impossible.
I’ve spent several days replaying moments, words, emotions. It’s difficult to express the depth of gratitude, thankfulness, and abundant love I’ve felt for these people, for my family, for my mom. The idea of treasuring each moment is different, once you’ve felt those moments could be taken away. I have a deep peace, knowing our world remains safe.
There are a hundred different reminders of God’s existence each and every day, but I have a new and deeper understanding of his strength. I know God is real because there is no other explanation for the events that transpired on the side of that mountain on a beautiful spring afternoon. In an instant, the trajectory of our lives was altered, bringing renewed faith, hope, and trust. Proof of his love. Proof of his ability to rescue. Proof of his plan for our lives.
Proof of his faith in us to willingly place our faith in him.
Worth the trip.