One trip, to Ithaca New York, had me particularly excited. I had never been to New York, and even higher on my bucket list than the Big Apple was a little town in upstate called Palmyra. In my faith, Palmyra is considered a sacred place, and central to our understanding of Jesus Christ. I realized we would be staying just about 70 miles away, and added an extra day to the itinerary.
The morning of our tour we woke to what we would later learn was the worst ice storm New York had seen in over ten years. Flights were grounded, roads closed, and travel advisories flashed across every station on the TV. We would have to be idiots to attempt the drive.
Which is exactly what we were. Against our better judgement and the stern admonishment of the front desk clerk at the hotel, we loaded up the rental car and hoped for the best.
It was the worst. 70 miles of white knuckling, sliding on black ice and wondering what our life insurance beneficiary would do with their meager payout. Three hours later, somehow, we arrived in one piece.
The site, referred to as the Sacred Grove, was deserted. Not a single car in the parking lot. We walked around and knocked on one of the little log homes, and an elderly guide opened the door. I have visited plenty of historical church sites in my life, and this was for sure the first time I was greeted with, "What are you doing here?"
He said that for the first time as far as he was aware, the Sacred Grove was deemed too dangerous for visitors, and closed.
And that was that. Rather than spending our much-anticipated visit among the beautiful grove of trees, we got to spend about twenty minutes standing in the parking lot, looking at it from across a field.
I had seen depictions of the Sacred Grove my entire life, and imagined what this moment would be like. Our visit was in April, which was serendipitous. Surely it would be warm, with streaming rays of light brightening my path. The leaves I imagined would be every shade of green with just enough wind to make them dance. I was certain there would be butterflies.
Instead I huddled, shivering, in a cement parking lot with the view of a frozen gray storm. Every few minutes a branch would crack under the enormous weight of ice and crash to the ground. My fingers were numb, and I dreaded the drive back.
According to every circumstance, I should have felt disappointed by the failure of my one and only opportunity. But as I watched those falling branches I instead felt an overwhelming, reassuring feeling of peace and happiness that belied my surroundings. To this day it remains one of my most treasured memories.
Faith for me never has been the result of circumstance or logic. I learned then and life has confirmed since that faith is what steps in when circumstances fail.
The sun rarely shines down in perfect rays, and butterflies have yet to dance around my head. But when it's gray and cold and I can't feel my fingers, faith in Jesus Christ has been the compensating force that makes bad days better, rough relationships smoother, and even the most unsettling routes somehow worth the journey.