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how I wandered into the woods and found grace

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.”

2 Corinthians 12:8

My brother and I are on an overnight hike along the Superior Trail. We laced up our boots and told ourselves that morning we would go until we couldn’t go anymore because neither of us knew what we didn’t know.

how I wandered into the woods and found grace photo


We had whittled away at our packs, the night before, sawing the ends off our toothbrushes like the experts said, leaving behind the bulk of our clothes, determined to not carry any unnecessary weight. I had laid out the contents of my pack and sitting there, right on the top, next to the cookstove and ground coffee, were my journal, guidebook and William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.

My books were going. Words can lighten someone’s load or crush someone beneath them, and it’s up to us to determine which of these it’ll be.

So we set off. Past boulders and sometimes over them, their gray masses like checkpoints along the way. Past pine trees looming. Past tumbling, gurgling, and roaring rivers. Over snakes, shy under foot. We walked until blisters started to form on our feet and our minds were numb from exhaustion, and then we fell, into our tent, eating protein boosted Mac N’ Cheese, and I read these words:

“This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a puzzled whimper.”

T.S. Elliot

I turned my head away, turned off my lamp, and let the tears fall, slick against the sheen of the sleeping bag because this is how I felt: my world was ending and I was standing confused on the brink of ruin, knowing only that I knew nothing about how to stop it.

I had wandered into these woods, broken, confused, belittled by the darkness of this world and all its angst. I had wandered, trying to shed the weight of who I was and who I wasn’t… the bulk of yesterday’s guilt and misunderstandings, the many failures. The endless, anxious murmurings.

The debilitating depression. I had stumbled time and again under the weight of my anger at a God who allowed that to happen to me. Why me had become my daily mantra, this bitter replica manna I ate from in desperate attempts to believe I didn’t deserve hardship and surely I was owed something good to outweigh the bad.

“Be careful,” my brother said as I walked casually out over the gorge, onto the boulder, hundreds and hundreds of feet to fall with one missed step.

how I wonadered into the woods and found grace photo

I didn’t care if I fell. Something was freeing in the spreading of my arms and lifting them high, tempting myself to cannonball off the edge, to feel the air hurtling past me as I fell into the freezing waters below because I wanted to feel the end, to catch it within my hand and squeeze it tight, to learn every sharp pain of bitterness in acknowledgment that here I was, a human, completely and utterly undone and alone.

One shaky step.

Then two.
Closer to the edge.
Daring. Tempting.

A startling, cold breeze.

A knee buckling.
And yet.
Determination to live.

To keep breathing.
Sitting down on the edge of the boulder, I gave up.
Shoulders shaking.

Sometimes it’s only in the breaking of one’s will that we collapse against this earth. And it’s here, in the moment of surrender to a God who cares… I find it: less of me and more of You, Lord, I pray. Please give me hope for tomorrow, for courage to go on despite adversity, for Your redeeming blood to drench my life and cause a tiny bit of growth, this seed of faith unfurling.

Giving up sometimes looks like giving in, and God sat down next to me, then, on that large slab of stone, and I felt His presence in the wind, in every tree swaying, in every comforting beam of sunshine.

Grace, I’ve learned, is the conclusion to every battle between our broken humanity and God’s love.

And grace always, always wins.

Still shaking, I crawled on hands and knees back to safety.
I slung my pack onto shoulders sore.

It seemed lighter somehow like I might be able to actually carry on.

But he said to me,
“My grace is sufficient for you,
For my power is made perfect in weakness.”

—2 Corinthians 12:9

What I’m Reading This Week

Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel by Jesmyn Ward