By Mikayla

This story does have quite a few details, and I’m aware of it. But stick with me—I promise there’s a reason for all of them.

At last, it was the weekend, and I was going hiking! Since discerning out of the convent the previous summer, I had been busy working at a homeschool resource center (and under the radar adjusting/ grieving). Over this summer I was grateful for the extra hours working on some projects, but I was ready for a break. Hiking had been a favorite pastime growing up, and since discerning out, had become a very freeing opportunity to immerse myself back in the silence that I had loved so deeply in the convent. After grabbing some Builders Bars from Publix, I jumped in my truck and was ready to execute all of my perfectly made plans and enjoy my hike by the Etowah River. But Jesus–He probably watched me and smiled, because He knew He had His own plans.

The mountains were about a two-hour drive from where I was living, but I am not afraid of long drives. I saw signs on the way to the Etowah River campground and excitedly knew that I should be getting close. When I arrived at the location where the maps on my phone had taken me, it was a dirt road going onto what looked like private property with a sign that said “no campground.” 

Well, now what? Where could this campground be? It must be around here somewhere. I wanted to ask for directions, but there was not much more than some homes around the curving mountain roads. Luckily I saw a little sign (about the size of a yard sale sign) saying: “Annita’s Hair Salon: Walk-ins Welcome.” 

Hm. Okay. I drove up the steep driveway and walked into the tiny little building. It was one room, with a half wall in between. There was a lovely lady doing a gentleman’s hair in the one solitary chair on the other side of the room. 

“Can I help you?” she said as I walked in. 

After asking for and receiving directions to the campground, I was quickly on my way again. The angels in heaven could practically have been singing as I drove past the sign—at least I was. But when I arrived, I quickly discovered there was nowhere to hike; I couldn’t even get by the river. It was really a campground, mostly for RVs with about five spots for tents. 

The internet lied, I internally grumbled. I stood outside the locked office door trying to make acts of trust in the Lord, but I was really so full of frustration. It had ended up taking me three hours to get there, and it was unmistakably a dead end. 

Why would you bring me all the way out here, just to bring me to a dead end? What do you want me to do, just turn around and go back to the city? Just a waste of all this money on gas! Why would you let this happen to me? 

Just then the alarm on my phone went off to remind me that it was 3pm. The hour of mercy!

After listening to a great talk on the hour of mercy a while before, I had made a habit of saying some prayers in honor of Divine Mercy at 3 o’clock every day, so as usual despite the frustration, I stopped to really pray. Afterwards, I looked at the crucifix image on my little ring, and I stood there deciding—do I go home or look for another fun thing to do up here? 

Don’t give up

After a brief interaction with some lovely people from Arkansas staying at the campground, I was determined to at least try and find a cool waterfall. I needed a map or directions from somebody local (my phone was no help in this regard)—so first step: find civilization. 

First, I encountered a solitary Dollar General where I went in looking for a map. Due to a lack of success, I went to the lovely purple-haired teenage cashier and began to ask her. “Um, I don’t really know, but if you want I can ask the manager.” It was sweet of her, but the manager didn’t know either.

A decent 20-30 minutes away, I knew there was a little mountain town that was rather touristy, so after my Dollar General excursion, I headed there. It was getting to be late in the afternoon when I finally arrived at the town’s information center. Not too long after looking around, I heard, “Can I help you with anything?”

“Um, yes, do you have any maps of hiking in the area?” I told her the story of my day so far. After giving me a glance up and down, she said, “You want to do some real hiking, don’t you?”

“Yes, if you know how to get to the Appalachian Trail I’d love to try that for just a little day hike. I couldn’t figure it out online when I tried to look it up before I headed out here. That was why I tried to hike by the Etowah river…”

“The Appalachian Trail?! Oh, I’ve hiked it a bunch of times!”

“The whole thing?”

“Well, pieces of it…” She then proceeded to pull out a map of the town and circle the entry points to hiking the Appalachian Trail. Following this, she pulled out a packet with directions to every place you could possibly hike in the area and started circling the directions that were applicable to me. 

“It’s about a thirty-minute drive up to this mountain. And once you start hiking it, you’ll want to be really careful because so many people go there and make different trails that go off the marked trail.” 

My gratitude was through the roof! And at this point I was thinking, “What’s another 30 minutes in the car at this point? Might as well!” Through my brother, I knew where a little Eucharistic Adoration chapel was in this town, so I walked past the square to go express my joy and gratitude to Sweet Jesus.

Not long after, I was headed further north into the mountains, going higher and higher through the S-curved mountain roads. I arrived at the little mountain store at the foot of the trail at 4:45pm…15 minutes before they closed. Just in time to talk logistics about parking and where to get water. There was a stunning view by this store with picnic tables where I sat to say Vespers. At that point, the 4 hours in the car were all worth this view already. But then, I was on the move.

 

Oh! It was steep! But it was amazing! I was continually grateful for the lady in town who had warned me about staying on the correct path. It was definitely tricky at parts, and I was intentional about remembering how I had come, knowing that I would be coming down the mountain at dusk.

How does one convey any “mountain top experience?” I don’t think I can. It wasn’t flashy or exciting. Just simple, peaceful, and splendidly beautiful. At the top, I had almost a complete three-sixty of the Appalachian mountains. The sun was setting behind clouds with soft gold streaks coming through the breaks in the clouds. It was so much better and more perfect than anything I could have planned on my own.

Now, you may be thinking, “Well that’s nice for you, but what’s the point?” God ruined my plans to give me something better. It was a great reflection on being asked to leave a convent. Some people have very healthy, good experiences where they and the superior mutually decide that this particular life is not their calling. I was not one of those people. Being told that I was not admitted to renew my vows was the most excruciating “dead end.” I felt like I had nothing left to live for. 

“Why would you bring me all the way out here, just to bring me to a dead end? What do you want me to do, just turn around and go back home? Just a waste of all this time, energy, and love! Why would you let this happen to me?” Only, this was a bigger deal than driving out to the Etowah River for three hours and hitting a dead end.

My dear sisters in Christ, God has not abandoned or rejected you. Just because you owed obedience to your superiors does not make them equivalent to God. People may leave you behind, screenshot you out of community photos, and pretend like you never existed. 

But He. Was. There. In fact, He was there with you on the cross, His heart breaking alongside yours. Why does God not spare us suffering? Why doesn’t He get rid of it? He did something much better. He touched it with ETERNAL GLORY. The glory and radiance of His merciful love. The cross cannot be overlooked, but neither can the resurrection. Why did you leave me dead and all alone, Jesus? My God, my God, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?

My beloved bride. I allowed this for something beautiful beyond belief. I WANT YOU TO RISE FROM THE DEAD. Reality is so much better than anything you could possibly imagine.

He ruined your hiking trip so that he could take you to the highest point of the Appalachian Trail to enjoy the sunset with Him. But we’d never have made it to the top if we hadn’t set out to begin with. So sisters, further up and further in. I know it’s all uphill. But I trust that it is worth it. Are you in?

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