“thought that I was all alone, broken and afraid but You were there with me, yes, You were there with me and I didn’t even know that I had lost my way but You were there with me yes, You were there with me”
it was a Wednesday morning and after a fairly slow start to the day (truly we took our time waking up that morning). Val, Mary and I crawled into our car (Jordan had class of course) and we took off to make the journey to Lookout Mountain, near Chattanooga. It was about a 2 hour drive and the day started out very dreary and cold. I woke up feeling slightly ill with a minor headache but i reasoned that i would be fine, popped a couple ibuprofen and prayed i wouldn’t get motion sick on the 2 hour drive to the mountains.
my sister was driving that day and i had chosen to settle myself in the backseat next to Mary so we could talk and just plain be close. out of all of my friends, she is the one i easily feel most comfortable with and it’s deeply incredibly helpful that she understands how one of my major love languages is physical touch so she lets me sit close and link arms and things like that which really mean so much in ways words cannot describe. i think that’s what i remember most about the car trip to the mountain, that and playing the songs we both know and love. i felt minorly bad for my sister since she was being overdosed on so much awesome music, but then i got over it and remember just how much epic we were exposing her to [dear sister, if you’re reading this– you’re welcome!]
we talked about so many things and i could tell both of us were incredibly introspective that day, it happens to both of us. i also knew that grey days were especially favorites for Mary and so i allowed time for silence also. that’s one thing i love about close friends– words don’t always have to be spoken and often, silence is more of a comfort than any attempted speech. and so we drove.
about an hour in, we needed gas and a bathroom break, so naturally my sister picked the SKETCHIEST gas station to stop at. it was nestled in the hills and the 3 people who walked in while we were there all were very hick-looking guys wearing steel-toed boots and carhardt jackets. it was like being back in my hometown almost except they weren’t very nice looking, quite a bit more terrifying actually. after feeling incredibly apprehensive, we purchased a couple bottles of water, a small bag of puffy Cheetos and escaped back to the car. while Mary and i began to polish off the Cheetos, i checked my twitter and sure enough, there was a tweet from my best friend, teasing, of course, about mine and my sister’s reaction to a deep south gas station. I don’t care what you say Mary Rose, that was a SKETCH place and i’m pretty sure there were hill-billies in them there hills if you know what i’m saying… the funny thing is, while there, i just had this overwhelming urge to call people Billy Jean and Cletus. absolutely inexplicable.
finally, after a seriously frightening, winding, scary up-hill climb of a road, we made it to the top of the mountain. after parking, we decided to check out the gift shop and museum part first before entering the actual park. i was incredibly intrigued to learn more of the Civil War history aspect. after moments of reading and a short interactive video, the knowledge i gained in high school all came back to me and i remembered exactly the battle and who won and even a few of the important officer names. the Civil War was one of my favorite subjects in history so it was very cool to explore artifacts and photographs. moments after dragging my sister away from a mock-Confederate hat, we opted to explore the actual park instead of staying inside any longer.
the sun had begun to peek out and i had hopes of warmth because it was fairly windy atop this hill and my legs were itching to explore. after paying a small admission fee, we carried on into the park and after a couple hundred feet, we got our first breath-taking glimpse of the view. you could easily see for miles and there was so much to see. at nearly 2500 feet, it was the highest up i had ever been and the biting wind did not stop me from trying to take in the view every single second. as i stood at the edge of the precipice, overlooking miles of cities and roads, an old familiar song lyric came to me, “fade in start the scene, enter beautiful girl, but things are not what they seem as we stand at the edge of the world” and i held my breath, remembering the last time i had stood at such a juncture as this. in those days my heart was in a very different place and i had very different ideas and plans about life itself. memories came flooding back and for a moment i was lost in them– this was not something i had planned. of course, like many other things, Mary noticed almost immediately where i had gone, even though i’m not sure she fully knew because i didn’t say a word. she questioned me and the look on her face brought me back to reality. that part of me was dead and long gone, and i chose to step back from the edge and step back from the haunting memories. a darling couple asked if we would mind taking their photos and i happily obliged, it’s one of my favorite parts about understanding technology and photography. it’s one thing to ask a stranger to take your photo for memory’s sake and hope it turns out halfway decent. it’s another thing altogether to have someone take your photo who knows what they are doing and can make it turn out well. it’s a kindness that gives me joy.
we meandered a little further before plummeting back down the hillside to a second lookout point. this was the moment my sister decided to be utterly mischievous and before i could blink she was on the other side of the railing proclaiming “this is what my mom always told me NOT to do…take my picture!” and so i most certainly did. Mary and i both laughed and more photos were taken but not before my feet were pulling me further along the trail– more exploration was to be had. As we crept along the edge of the hill, there was a canon and much to my delight, a wide stone staircase that led downward. neither Mary nor my sister could quite see the staircase yet and as i proclaimed “further up and further in!” (a most beloved Narnia quote) i disappeared downward, pounding down the stairs quickly, anxious to see what was ahead. moments later i came to a fork in the road and i paused, catching my breath and waiting for my comrades to catch up. they did and we all journeyed on together. in the end we discovered more incredible lookout location and a smaller photography museum that smelled like old musty leather. we enjoyed the view and made use of the panorama function on our smartphones and then we made the climb back up to the top of the hill where we had begun our journey. by this point all three of us were quite tired and ready for sustenance…. the only logical thing to do was drive across the border into Georgia and get us some Chik-Fil-A, which we very happily did. still feeling a bit off, we also stopped at a Starbucks and by this point, Mary had completely realized where she was. we were very close to some of her in-laws and it was a comfort that she knew where we were especially when my GPS kept proclaiming “proceed to the route” at which point we would all crack up laughing.
somewhere between Chattanooga and Nashville, as i lay across the lap of my best friend, letting songs of redemption and hope wash over my heart, i heard God whisper to me. i reached over and softly traced the outline of Mary’s “love” tattoo with my finger and began opening up into a conversation about scars and stories. i suddenly had a boldness i had never known before with any friend, it was easy this time though, to roll up my sleeve and recount the story of the marks that i let name me for so long. it was the right moment to speak the words that i always wondered if i ever would and somewhere in a conversation between death and redemption and life i sat up with a gleam in my eye. “let’s get tattoos together.”
the words hung in the air and i knew what Mary was thinking. “on me.” i firmly stated before she could protest, “what would you get?” without a hesitation she replied ” Χάρις (charis)” and when i questioned where, she pointed to her right wrist. i nodded and asked what she thought. “well i should probably ask Jordan, even though i doubt he will mind, he knows i’ve wanted this for a long time” and just like that, we made a plan to do something spontaneous and a little crazy (more about that later).
it was funny to be because i completely knew the hand of God in it, for some reason He wanted this for me (argue the point all you like, i know what He spoke to my heart) and i wasn’t sure why. i had mostly given up the idea of ever getting another tattoo due to in part to the strong opinion of a good friend and the fact that i could just never decide on anything i would want forever…. but like i said, more details on that later!
Exhausted, but happy, we drove back to Nashville and chose to have a low-key evening. Post-dinner we were debating on what to watch, I opted for a movie of some sort but we settled on Doctor Who and i was completely happy with this choice. After a short 5 minute failed attempt to capture my sister’s interest, Mary and Jordan and i gave up and tuned in to watch one of my favorite two-part episodes of DW, “The Family Blood” and “Human Nature”. my heart was struggling with several things and it did not take Mary very long to catch on that i was having difficulty being happy around her. She chose to sit next to me and i let myself snuggle close as i linked arms, refusing to let go because for once, i actually didn’t have to be alone when i was struggling. it was a most incredible, beautiful grace to my heart and it is a moment that i have already locked away deep in my heart, to be treasured for years to come. the irritating part was that i couldn’t put my finger on what was going on with me and though i eventually determined what was happening, in that moment it was just deep sadness that cannot be explained with any amount of words.
that night, as i lay in bed, fully unable to sleep with my mind racing, i was reminded of my first ever Christian summer festival, Lifest in 2007– the summer before one of the worst years of my life. i remember it being a super hot, and dry day with a scorching sun beating down on us, i remember a slight sunburn on my nose and being exhausted from the heat. i remember how dry the ground was and the dust trampled under so many feet, was all over my feet and legs, caked on by sweat. what i remember about that evening was standing, leaning on a railing during Third Day’s set, a band i had never seen live before (like so many others at this point). i remember feeling the weight of my whole life on me in that moment and i remember the panic of not having a clue what to do in the future….who did i want to be? what did i want to do? college wasn’t really an option, it was a place to choose and i was terrible at making decisions. i was only 17, what did i know about the person i wanted to be? …. in that moment i remember hearing a most incredibly honest and moving song that was familiar to me, but in that setting, it completely broke me and i was able to see God clearly for who He was. it’s not a moment i ever really shared with anyone before now and to the person reading this piece of my story, it probably seems incredibly ordinary and maybe even boring. it was anything but those things– that moment was a reminder. a refreshing drop of rain during a weary summer of my life. that moment was God reaching out to me and holding me firmly in a hug, promising me He wouldn’t let go, even though i would go by the whole next year basically forgetting everything He was…and as i lay there in bed, tears softly flowing down my cheeks, i knew He was reminding me of what He had shown me then. it made it easier, if that’s possible, to have a conversation i needed to have the following day.
“Even though the journey’s long
And I know the road is hard
Well, the One who’s gone before me
He will help me carry on
After all that I’ve been through
Now I realize the truth
That I must go through the valley
To stand upon the mountain of God”
-Third Day, ‘Mountain of God’