I’m from Los Angeles, so driving up a mountain is not something I’m used to doing. Especially when the sun goes down, the dense fog wraps itself around my car, the roads are wet and the snow banks look as though they are near tipping over.
My cousin, Katie, and I crept up the mountain in our rental car with white knuckles and wide eyes. We had zero cell phone service. ZERO. Our phones were flatlined and we couldn’t call for help if we needed it. We suddenly realized that stopping along the way to take pictures of the sunset may not have been a wise choice.
We arrived hours later than our sweet hosts had anticipated, and after checking in and getting the keys to our cabin, we parked it for the night and thanked God for getting us there safely.
The following morning, Katie and I headed to the dining hall for breakfast. We were greeted by so many friendly faces and were told the tales of worry we caused the night before due to our late arrival.
Immediately after breakfast, there was a small service being held for the members of Firefighters for Christ in a nearby chapel.
Katie and I followed the crowd and tucked ourselves in a corner as we prepared to worship with a roomful of people we didn’t know.
Worship music was being played and I could feel myself settling in for the service. The atmosphere was light and I was soaking in every minute of this experience. Until the gentleman delivering the message that morning began speaking…because I could hardly understand him. He was one of the men who traveled from Northern Ireland and the most I could understand was that he loved God.
Once service concluded, Katie and I made our way back to the cabin and then roamed around the campground in search of WiFi. We hadn’t yet connected with our families at home, and without cell service, we were becoming desperate.
We were told that there were two areas to purchase and use WiFi: the coffee shop and the dining hall area. The coffee shop was closed, so we made our way towards the dining hall.
As we walked, Katie was taking in the beautiful surroundings. I could hear her taking pictures as she “ooh’d and ahh’d” with each step.
But something happened to me.
My palms were sweating and my hands were shaky. I could feel my heart racing and my lungs felt as though I just completed a 5 mile run. My entire body felt nervous. ‘What is happening to me?‘
In the distance I saw two men walking towards the direction in which we were headed. I couldn’t see their faces. I couldn’t hear their voices.
I could only see that one of the men was wearing a red jacket.
Our paths were coming closer together and I could see that we were going to be in the exact same spot at the exact same time. As we got closer, my heart was beating faster. I could finally see his face. He was so handsome. And in that moment, my shaky hands pulled out my phone to make me look busy and pretend I hadn’t noticed him.
I’m not sure who spoke first. Was it the man in the red jacket? His friend? Or my cousin? It certainly wasn’t me. My entire vocabulary was stuck in my throat.
I wasn’t listening to a word being said. The only thing I heard was noise intermixed with their accents and my cousin’s laugh.
I was still looking at my phone. My hands were shaking as my body was trembling. I felt so nervous. It scared me. It worried me. I didn’t like one minute of it.
I don’t remember at which point the man in the red jacket began talking to me. I don’t remember when he introduced himself to me. I don’t remember if I said my name when we shook hands.
But I remember looking up at him, peeking beyond the brim of my hat, and finding his piercing blue eyes staring back at me.
I immediately looked down at my phone. We had all been trying to connect to the WiFi; I was the least successful. My cousin explained that we hadn’t connected with our families at home and the man in the red jacket was trying to help us get connected.
From a height that could’ve sounded like God speaking in an Irish accent, he said to me, “here, I’ve already purchased the WiFi, why don’t you connect to my hotspot?”
“No, no. I’m ok, thanks.” I never looked up.
For several more minutes, this kind gentleman in the red jacket tried to help me. And I refused his help.
At one point he asked how we were involved with the fire service. My cousin, waiting for me to answer but seeing that I wasn’t, said, “Jennifer is speaking to the women tomorrow during the tea, I’m here for emotional support.”
I finally got connected to the WiFi. Momentary relief swept over the nerves in my body and I excused myself to begin texting my children.
I started walking towards the lake, as far away from the dining hall as I could get without leaving the campgrounds.
My body was still trembling and my mind was racing, “what the heck was that?” I said nothing to my cousin about it. Instead, I slowly turned to face the area of the dining hall. I saw the man in the red jacket standing there alone and somehow I knew that interaction with him wouldn’t be the last.