I opened the passenger door of the Camaro. There was a bag of snacks behind me, my purse beneath me, and my phone on my lap. I pushed my hair away from my face and tucked it behind my ear as I looked to my left and watched the man with the red jacket lower himself into the driver seat.
“Ok, I need you to do something and don’t ask any questions.”
I smiled at his instruction, until he said the words nobody wants to hear: “give me your phone.”
I handed over my phone, watched him turn off the sound and then tuck it into the center console of the car. As though he could read my thoughts, he said, “the kids know to reach me if they need you.”
With that knowledge, I relaxed in my seat and was prepared to enjoy our four hour car ride without distractions from the outside world.
As we drove into the mountainside, my mind recalled every detail of the same drive I made six months earlier with my cousin. The landscape looked different at this time of year; there was no snow on the ground, the sky was crystal clear, and there were more cars on the road.
As we entered into the campground of Hume Lake Christian Camp, my heart fluttered with the familiarity of its natural beauty and the excitement of being here again with the man in the red jacket.
Once parked, he looked my direction and said that he wanted to walk around the lake with me…something we didn’t get to do when we were there months earlier.
We began our walk onto the trail lined by trees that seemed to touch heaven. As we walked, he held tightly to my hand and stopped along the way to take in the beauty of God’s creation. Together, we marveled at the sound of the wind blowing through the trees and watched the lake glitter beneath the sun.
We laughed as we reminisced about our first meeting when I wouldn’t dare look into his eyes nor engage him in conversation. We recalled all that has taken place since then and the many ways in which we have seen God at work.
As we continued our walk, Michael mentioned that he made lunch reservations for us and that he was becoming quite thirsty. Having walked around the lake months prior, I knew that we weren’t far from quenching his thirst when he suddenly stood in front of me with a movement as sharp as a cat focused on prey.
He effortlessly picked me up, began walking the opposite direction and frantically said, “what does Lily do all day?” Granted, we had been discussing my dog, but I didn’t understand why that question would be reason enough to sweep me into his arms as though it were a romantic query.
I giggled and said, “lays around?”
After a few steps, he placed my feet on the ground and instructed me to walk back towards the bridge we had already crossed. He was giggling, which caused a giggle to escape my lips, but I had no idea why we were laughing.*
Through wide eyes and contagious chuckling, the man with the red jacket directed me towards the edge of the lake.
“What just happened? What’s so funny?”
He wasn’t answering me. He only smiled, laughed, and then said, “let’s sit down here and enjoy the view.”
As we sat and I continued to study his sudden bursts of laughter, he reached for his phone. “Let’s read some scripture and pray together.”
Side by side, we read Psalm 71, Psalm 62, and Psalm 100. I wrapped my arm through his, leaned my head against his shoulder, and closed my eyes as he began to pray. I was so lost in prayer that I forgot we were sitting in the midst of God’s beauty, and when I opened my eyes, everything seemed more magnificent.
We began our walk back towards the main campground where I was aching to find some water and, I’ll be honest, use a restroom. But our walk was interrupted when I noticed someone with a camera not-so-secretly tucked behind a tree.
Wait. Could it be? Huh?
It took me a few seconds to realize that my cousin, Katie, was the one behind the camera.
“What are you doing here??” She only smiled. “Who has my kids??” Another toothy grin. She wrapped me in a hug and I broke down crying into her shoulder.
Once I collected my heart, the man with the red jacket swiftly grabbed my hand and continued to lead me on our walk.
As I tried to piece together how my cousin got to Hume and wondered who had my children, I didn’t realize what I was walking towards. I felt Michael tug on my hand and lead me off the trail.
Suddenly every sound that I noticed before went silent. I couldn’t hear the wind. I didn’t hear the birds. There was nothing but silence as I approached what was waiting for me.
When I was first at Hume six months earlier, my cousin took a photo of me as I stood at the edge of a rock admiring God’s beauty. I didn’t know she took that photo, but I shared it not long after I returned home from Hume with my thoughts circling around God’s plans and His timing.
At that time, I could’ve never guessed that I would be standing in the same spot six months later…but this time, the view was much different.
Through tears, I watched as the man with the red jacket dropped to one knee and then placed my hands into his. As he spoke, my mind was flooding with memories of our first interaction. Like a flashback scene in a movie, I could see him so clearly in that red jacket. I could feel the rush of the Spirit-led emotion that grabbed my attention when I first saw him. I could hear my nervous giggle and tiny voice that kept me from speaking.
But this time, when he spoke, there was no nervousness in my soul. There was no shakiness in my voice. There was only an overflowing gratitude for God’s love for me shining through this man on bended knee.
Just as my eyes stopped crying, there was another surprise waiting for me. From behind a rock popped up my children, and as they made their way to me with smiles on their faces, Brandon said, “did you say ‘yes,’ mama?”
I grabbed him so tightly and cried into his shoulder. Through sobs, I nodded in response to his question, and I felt his arms hold me tighter.
Once he released his grip, my daughter approached me. I embraced her with all the energy I had left, and through more tears, I whispered to her, “thank you. For everything.”
Once the emotions settled and I could take in what was surrounding me, Michael wrapped me in his arms and directed my attention to a detail I hadn’t yet seen.
In the middle of the beautiful setting was a photo of the very thing that connected me to Hume.
The little brown church.
The one Ryan discovered when he was assisting the Rough Fire years earlier. The one he excitedly showed me when he returned home from the fire.
The one that connected me to Hume from a distance, never knowing that one day my tragedy would lead to my hope in the place that would intertwine my past and my future.
I don’t want our story to be remembered as romantic or dreamy. I don’t want people to associate only Hallmark or fairytales with it.
Our story is so much more than that.
I want our story to be an example of faith. The illustration of true hope in God. I want people to hear about us and say, “did you see what God did?”
I want non-believers to believe. I want tepid Christians to feel the fire of faith. I want to shake the core of close-minded thinking and I want to open eyes to modern day miracles.
I want to impact the world with purpose, not with romance.
Anyone can tell a story. Anyone can write a happy ending. But not everyone lives with hope.
Pray for purpose, not for pleasure. Pray for direction, not for shortcuts. Pray for conviction, not for convenience.
When your desires are filled with God’s will, when your heart desires only what He wants for your life, only then will you find true hope in God.
Let the Author of life write your story…it may even include a day-trip to New York City…
* Michael’s version will explain why he was laughing