Last year, this mother of yours reluctantly agreed to an all-day bike ride through the mountains of Montana. As you are aware, I’m not exactly fit and I have no cycling experience. Our dear friend Devon, having traveled this road before, assured me the trail was mostly downhill, and the views would be worth the challenge. But she failed to mention the miles of pitch-black tunnels on the way to these spectacular views. In the longest, darkest, coldest tunnel, with fingers and toes frozen stiff, all I could see for miles was a tiny stretch of gravel directly in front of me illuminated by a single handlebar headlight. About halfway in, my gears jammed no longer allowing me to adjust them to match the ever-changing terrain. Forced to franticly pedal to make the bike keep moving, soon I was sweating, shivering, swerving, and gasping for breath all at the same time.
If I glanced backward or to the side for even a second darkness would swallow me as I tilted off balance. If I looked ahead trying to determine the distance in front of me, desperate for any hint of an end to the exhaustion and pain, the disorienting absence of light at the end of the tunnel completely overwhelmed me. Occasionally I’d call out to my fellow straggling cyclists confirming I wasn’t alone and reminding them not to leave me should I fall. Of course, your father embraced the darkness with unflinching wisdom, endurance, and strength. As the first one through the tunnel, he never knew the faltering desperation I faced as he patiently waited on the other side for the last of us to emerge.
My strength and resolve had already been pushed far beyond capacity when suddenly my water bottle fell and rolled off into the dark oblivion. I took a deep breath and pursed my dry chapped lips together knowing I’d never make it the rest of the day without water. But I also knew stopping would be too dangerous. Not only would I never find the bottle, but I would never find the strength to remount my bike and begin pedaling again. And worst of all, I’d be alone as everyone pressed on without me. At that moment, tunnels, darkness, and light did not feel like players in some trite cliché, and it was all I could do to keep going. While I could never have been convinced of it at the time, and much to my astonishment, the views on the other side were truly worth the agony.
The road of life is like that Kori Jane. A long journey from here until eternity full of unbelievable joys and unimaginable pains. Sometimes you will look up to discover you are surrounded by this world’s most spectacular views and along with it an awareness of how small yet loved you are. Other times you will be completely overwhelmed by consuming silence and darkness, convinced you are all alone. But most of the time you’ll be traveling somewhere in between the extremes of the mountains and the tunnels, amidst the mundane without any idea what lies just around the bend. Of course, we forget it is in the in-between spaces we are most likely to lose our way.
No matter how many mountain sunsets you have bathed in or how many lonely tunnels you have already made it through in your 20 years on this earth, chances are the very best views and the very darkest tunnels are still ahead of you. As you face each new joy and each new grief- here is one important reminder followed by two practical pieces of advice from your momma that I never want you to forget as long as you live.
Here’s the Reminder: You have a faithful God who goes before you, follows behind you, and sends others to walk alongside you. He has hemmed you in on all sides. Your path may currently look nothing like any of us imagined, but nothing about the way you spend your days or where you lay your head at night is a surprise to your Creator. Psalm 139 is clear. Not only has every one of your days been written in his book before one of them came to be, but you have been fearfully and wonderfully made for the very path he has marked out for you. Indeed, he is the One who made every dark tunnel, mountain top, hurricane, sunset, deep valley, rogue wave, and spectacular view you will ever encounter. And you will never encounter anything alone because he promises to be with you even to the ends of the earth. Oftentimes (and always at just the right time and for just the right amount of time) he is with you in the form of the other people he sends to travel alongside you – even if sometimes you can’t see or hear them.
Unbeknownst to me, one of my fitter cyclist friends was following behind my faltering bike, watching carefully as I stumbled along. He saw my water bottle fall and retrieved it while I singularly focused on making the pedals turn one revolution at a time. I felt alone in there, but I was never alone. I was always in the presence of a God who promises to never leave or forsake me, but I was also in the presence of those sent to travel alongside me through the dark tunnel. There was Daddy patiently waiting in the light ready to come to my rescue should rescue be necessary. There was Devon who had been on this journey before setting the pace for me, showing me how to use my gears correctly, and continually reminding me to change gears ensuring the most control and long-term stamina for the journey. And then there was Brandon, trailing behind in the background, who without a word stopped to gather and then carry my lost load for me until I got to a place where I could carry it myself.
No matter how high you ascend, how far you fall, or how dark and long the tunnel, never forget you are always surrounded by steadfast love on all sides.
Now the Advice: First, keep going. Far too weak to stop if I was going to make it to the end, I just kept forcing my pedals around one more time. Finally, one more time landed me a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel. I made it through the darkness because I kept going even when I lost my load, my balance, my strength, and my sense of time and space. I made it through the darkness because instead of stopping, I forced the pedals around just one more time thousands of times.
There is so much working against us in the tunnels, begging us to quit and convincing us the darkness never ends. But it is often just as hard to keep going when you are on the mountaintop. Not because of a lack of endurance but because temptations abound to set up camp and make yourself at home. We never want the mountaintops to end, but the reality is that once the sun goes down or the seasons change, it gets dark, cold, and lonely on mountaintops, too. Enjoy the fleeting pleasures this world has to offer, but don’t get stuck. You must keep going through the in-betweens and the mountaintops as much as you must keep going through the tunnels. Otherwise, you will never make it to your final destination- utter perfection for all eternity!
And secondly, we all need help to make it to the end. Always keep going, but take others along and (as hard as this is for you) let them help you. Maybe even ask for help every once in a while. The strength to force your pedals around one more time sometimes comes in the form of fellow travelers letting you borrow their strength or courage. And sometimes it comes when they let you borrow their bikes.
Once I finally got out of that never-ending tunnel, I realized my struggles to keep up were not purely a lack of strength, endurance, or experience. While Daddy effortlessly pedaled his upgraded expert-level shiny new mountain bike he’d rented, the well-worn beginner bicycle assigned to me was found to have low tire pressure, broken gears, and a slightly bent frame. Devon quickly insisted we trade bicycles knowing I was never going to make it to the end at the rate I was going. Then different friends took turns bearing the burden of my broken bike the rest of the day. We are all limited humans with broken parts and bent frames and this does not surprise God any more than the journey he has marked out for us surprises him. Psalm 103:13-14 says “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. He knows our frame. He remembers we are dust.” We are all broken and bent in different ways which is why we must travel together, be willing to share our burdens with one another, and be willing to trade out bikes whether it is one of our companions or ourselves needing the help.
Call out into the long, dark, cold tunnels of life when no light can be seen, your gears are stuck, your water source has been lost, and you’re certain you can’t go on. Darkness isolates and disorients us even when we’re surrounded by other people, and the worst thing to do in a tunnel, when consumed by darkness, is to give in to isolation or disorientation. “Hello? Is anyone still here? How much longer? I might not make it. Please don’t leave me.” Even if no one is currently close enough to hear you, your God hears you and he is not going to leave you behind. Call out in the darkness when you need to be reminded you are not alone, trade bikes with others when your strength is gone, and let others bring water to you when you are convinced yours has been lost forever.
But be aware you will need just as much help on the mountain tops as in the tunnels. Take someone along who makes you stop and take in the breathtaking views no matter how weary and exhausted you feel. This will likely be the same someone who is willing to remind you when it’s time to leave. Or when it is time to turn on your headlight and take off your sunglasses as you enter the next tunnel, and then remind you to turn the light off again when you leave so your battery won’t die. If you are really lucky that same someone will still be laughing with you when you need all the exact same reminders 45 miles in.
I mainly offer you these reminders and this advice because of how often I still need them myself. I am writing this letter to you 45 years in on this journey called life, and seems there are often days I need the reminders now more than ever. The tunnels in my 40s have been darker and colder, the in-betweens more confusing and lonely, and the temptations to make this world my home even stronger on these middle-aged mountaintops than ever before.
So I remind you to take one more step, so you can help me remember to do the same. To keep pedaling. To get out of bed one more time. To make it another day. Then one day we will get to see our Creator face to face and find out not a single breath, a single drop of sweat, or a single fallen tear has been wasted.
Until then, make the most of every mountain top, every tunnel, and every moment in between. But whatever you do always keep going, knowing, even in your darkest days, you are never alone.