It was a cloudy but beautiful evening in the Smokies of North Carolina. Even though he’d fractured his right leg and torn up his left knee in an accident early in the summer, my brother-in-law, Olian, wanted us to take a walk. He had been wanting to try out a portion of the Mountain to Sea Trail that runs along the Blue Ridge Parkway near the cabin he and Freeda bought last year. I love hiking so I was easy to convince. With a preliminary dose of Ibuprofen and a promise of supper ready at seven, we headed out. At six.
With the crimson of sumac and the varied tones of sassafras coloring the low growth, we turned off the gravel road and into the woods. The path was barely worn at all and covered with leaves of the full palette of autumn in the mountains. But, there was the general shape of a hiking trail and the white circle markers on tree trunks every now and then.
We talked as we walked with Olian occasionally stopping and turning back to face me as he pursued some particularly important point. It was the conversation of two believers, tempered a bit by life and open to one another’s comments. We continued on the upward path as the sun settled toward the horizon beyond overcast skies. From time to time, the path came out of the woods by the Parkway. I kept watching for the trail or a shortcut off of it that would lead us back to the cabin by suppertime.
By six-forty-five, it was clear we wouldn’t be back to the house by seven. I tried to call and text Freeda to let her know. No answer and no response. By the time we reached the Mount Jefferson Overlook, we tried again, this time, including an indication of our willingness to accept a ride back home. No response.
The shorter version of this is that we ended up hiking somewhere between two and three miles, emerging from the woods onto the opposite end of the gravel road around seven-thirty and with the last bit of daylight having faded into the hills around us. As we walked along the almost self-illuminated gravel, I could see that Olian was in real pain. "Do you want to sit down and rest here while I trot on home and get the car?" I offered. "No, I’ll make it, just not at a very fast pace." I repeated the offer every five minutes or so and he held to his original position. I was afraid that he would not be able to even stand on the leg the next day.
Another three-quarters of a mile up the road, we saw the glow of headlights. My messages had finally made it through on America’s Most Reliable Service.
What a welcome sight it is to see our relief when we are weary. How much more welcome when we have suffered what seems like as much pain as we can stand. And yet, we often find, if by nothing more than our own intense determination, we are able to keep going until our deliverance is at hand.
It is often in the refusal to give up that we reach our destination. And whenever it is that we cannot take one more step, He carries us one more mile.