Dear Sojourner,

When I was growing up, my dad would often take us hiking in the hills of Pennsylvania. We’d cross rippling creeks and hop over dead logs while caught up in whatever tales dad spun regarding the noises we heard or what we might find out there in the woods.

I’ve always had an extremely ACTIVE imagination. In fact, during one of those childhood hikes I was convinced there was a huge black bear bounding towards us when it fact it was just a huge black dog that had wandered from a neighbors property. Yet, little Holly was quite undone and shocked that dad did not seem quite as concerned as I was. Until the dog got closer and more into focus and I realized he wasn’t going to eat me.

Like most single people on dating apps, I’d list hiking as one of my hobbies. That’s a bit of a generalization, but it seems like every third profile I come across has it listed. I’m not a “I-hiked-the-Appalachian-trail-barefoot” kind of hiker, but I enjoy being in the woods without the noise of everyday life….as long as I’m with someone. I’m a bit of a scaredy cat otherwise. Today, I decided I would be courageous and walk a local trail alone that I had hiked twice this week each time with friends. Usually, the trailhead has a few cars in the parking lot, but today there wasn’t a single one.

Of course.

“You can do this,” I told myself as I started the trail. “It’ll be fine. This is no big deal.” It felt as though my heart might beat right out of my chest as every downed log looked exactly like a black bear poised to strike. Every noise was an animal coming up behind me. I’m too stubborn to turn back but with each step and each rattle of my keys (my best friend suggested I make as much noise as possible) I realized I couldn’t do this alone. I was going to have to call a friend.

The first friend sent me to voicemail. (Don’t worry she called me back later. haha) I knew my next and best option was my sister who THANK GOD picked up the phone and would be my companion on that hike for the entire 45 minutes. She is an actual saint and when I’d freak out over a sound she’d go, “What is it?!?!” One time it was a hawk that fell out of a tree. Another time it was a family of 4 deer crossing my path. In case you were wondering, neither the hawk or deer tried to eat me. I was safe.

When on other occasions this trek left me more at ease with each passing step– today was different. Was it still beautiful? Yes. Was it any more demanding then it had been on other days? No. Same trail, but a completely different experience.

I recently finished an online class on Race & American Christianity through the college I once attended. When my professor would email us he’d begin with the greeting, “Dear Sojourners,” and it was quite fitting as many of us were trying to find our way through the intersection of faith and social justice.

In my final paper, I referenced that identity and how it seemed to accurately define where I was at in life. Much like the Israelites wandering in the desert, I felt like I had been freed from a place of bondage and yet I hadn’t quite made it to the Promised Land. There was talk of “milk & honey”, but all I can see is sand and all I know is wandering. I’m convinced there’s something GOOD ahead, but what do I do in THIS place?

I guess….I keep walking just like I did today. Too stubborn to quit. Crossed that sea and there’s no turning back now. It’s scary and I’m not quite sure how I’m going to do it. Days where the anxiety caused by all the unknowns just about kill me.

Unlike at the Houghton Land Preserve trail, there is no map. There are no blue spray painted markers alerting me to turn right here or a carved wooden sign alerting me “End of Trail”. There are many unexpected twists and turns and moments of “This looks familiar! Haven’t we been here before?!” or “Where the heck are we?!”

There are no “3 Easy Steps” into the Promised Land and it may take longer than you thought to actually get there, but you will get there. You may need to call a friend and have them walk with you through a scary part. You may need to tell yourself “You CAN do this.” Or rattle something noisy and let every scary thing know you are in the area. You’ll most certainly need to let out a few desperate prayers asking God to help you do it, too.

Dear Sojourner, keep going. I know you’re weary and tired and you’ve walked long enough. I know things don’t look like you thought. I know you had hopes and dreams and things couldn’t seem any further from them. I know you don’t have a clue what to do next or how long this hike will take you. There’s more “I don’t knows” than answers. I get it. Just please, keep going.

With love and affection, A fellow sojourner

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