Why do I Chase the Fog?

This story is by guest writer, Terri Conlin. Her story is featured here as a collection from The Holy Ordinary Collective: A podcast + blog community of beautiful stories the articulate God in our regular spaces of life. You can listen to their story and interview on the podcast, and read more about them at the bottom of this page.


The morning wakes with a burst of sunshine. I walk in amber light that rings through the leaves like brass bells in the wind. This path is familiar. It runs high on a ridge at the top of Iron Mountain, part of an old iron smelting operation. The miners used to dig iron ore out of this mountain and transport it down a railway to the ironworks at the river below. The only remnants of that process are a brick chimney by the water’s edge and hefty iron deposits from the furnace hearth called salamanders or bears. Some of these metallic bears weigh two thousand pounds and standing on them gives me the best view down the river.

We didn’t discover the Iron Mountain trail until we had lived here almost seven years. The trailhead was a well-kept secret, its entry hidden in the blackberries. My husband, Mike, had just had heart surgery with a recovery plan that included daily walks and a slower pace of life. Back then, we brought along our black Lab, Luke. Luke was a born runner and this particular path, high and narrow, let him run but not run away. Mike is recovered now, healthy and back to work. Sadly, we lost Luke-the-lab to a brain tumor, but sometimes I think I see him running on these trails. We still like to walk here, breathing in the refining mountain and hearing the crunch of crushed stone underfoot.

On this day, I walk alone and make a last minute decision at the first wooden bench to take the sharp turn down the mountain. This route is steep so we didn’t take it during Mike’s recovery. My quick footsteps zigzag down to the Hunt Club in the valley. The horses are out in their paddocks, paints and palominos, nickering over the white rail fence, nuzzling noses and sharing secrets. They run along the fence in coats of evergreen and navy, shaking their manes in the sunshine.

I take my time in the golden light. The field is bright and beautiful, layered in green, rising to blue; wide open as far as my eye can see. It’s what you’d call an easy day; all impossibilities seem possible.

A few days later, the morning breathes a phantom fog and I am out the door in anticipation. On bright days, the sunshine warms my face and makes my freckles pop, so why do I chase the fog? I think about this as I take the switchbacks, dropping down to the valley floor. My footfall is muffled to match the shrouded day. The galvanized barrel-top barn curves over the emerald valley like a frown; bright white planks against a sentinel of dark firs.  I only glimpse the barn in-between trees until I reach the valley floor and slip through the veil of fog. I have discovered another entrance like the secret door through the blackberry thorns. When the field comes into full view, I catch my breath in the ghostly silence. The horse paddocks are empty. Barrels and high-jump rails, still and silent, only hint at another day of laughter and adventure.

But that is not today. Today, fog hangs over Iron Mountain and my heart. I am here to walk out my prayers. I want Fred to receive her new liver and survive the transplant. I want Meg to outlive her wicked cancer and her parents. I want to move Mike’s mama closer to family and quickly, before she falls again. I try to remember the view across the valley with horses kicking up clods of dirt and grass in strength and sweat. I know what is possible behind the fog, or I think I do, but I want to see it. In the misty hush, I realize I want the same things  in life: healing, restoration, and outcomes I can count on.

I turn to take the steep trail back up Iron Mountain. With my back to the barn, I lean into the incline, finding a rhythm in my steps with palms pushing off my thighs. I feel the muscles strain in my quads. Halfway up the mountain, I break a sweat and slow my pace. Because of the steep angle, my face is closer to the ground and I notice snowdrops on the upside of the mountain. A sign on a wooden stake pushed into dark soil reads,

“Do not touch.

Restoration in progress.”

Rough twine marks off the fragile area. I suppose, with my face toward the open field, I had missed these little flowers on the way down. I stop to take a closer look. One sign is knocked down. I lean over, right the stake, and get back to the climb. At the top of the path, turning back by the first wooden bench, I head home thinking about snowdrops and restoration.

At home, I pull off damp layers, put the kettle on, and search snowdrops on my computer. I recall their creamy white petals hanging down in the shape of a single natural pearl, like Vermeer’s painting The Girl with the Pearl Earring. Snowdrops are more than beautiful. I read they are hardy, hopeful, the first flower to rise in the snow. Their bright green stems filled with natural anti-freeze melts the snow around their feet. Petaled bells ring in the springtime and make homes for the bees.

And then I see the reason I chase the fog - the shape of hope. I strain to see clearly in the fog what I have believed in the sunshine, but fog is a teacher. The smoky mist challenges where I stand for security and changes my view, hiding some things and revealing others. I squint at the landscape and because the view is not wide and clear as on a sunny day, I look more closely at details in the dirt, details like snowdrops. Fog is a kind of cloud that kisses the ground, bringing sky and dirt together. I need that kiss. It calls me to remember what I saw in the sunshine and count on it for a cloudy day. I remember a line from the book currently on my bedside table called Trees are Full of Angels, by Macrina Wiedekehr

“It’s easy to embrace life when the sun is shining, but when the gloom is on, that’s another story.”

Another story - that’s the one I have my eye on. A story of restoration, of coming through the veil. I’m not really chasing the fog, but what’s solid beyond it, what I can stand on for a better view like the metallic bear from the heart of the iron furnace. I sense now, what in the sunshine I have gotten wrong. Hope comes in the fog, not after it has lifted.

Foggy days in my faith make it authentic faith. When I cannot see what God is up to, when my prayers seem to fall on deafness, when I cannot understand why God waits when I need him to act, when I can’t count on the outcome I design, that’s when I see with my heart that God is my outcome. He made a sure way back to him. Fog is a kind of cloud that kisses the ground, bringing sky and dirt together. Jesus is that kiss. The fog challenges me to trust Jesus as that way back. He is even more certain than what I can see on a clear day. He is real life coming through the veil. He is hope against hope, sight against seeing.

Paul writes in Hebrews 6:19, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain.”

Foggy days remind us to stand on the Rock and look with our hearts, not at our circumstances, not at outcomes, but at our good and beautiful God. That’s resilience and restoration. The uphill view wrapped in fog reminds us that restoration is not only possible, but already in progress - in the mountain, in us. That’s the story we were originally designed for and Jesus meets us there - where the snowdrops grow.

a fog-lover’s prayer

dear God –

we forget you tore heaven to come down to us.

we keep trying to see with eyes

what is made to be seen with hearts.

thankfully, fog helps forge resilience

so we can trust you -

hope against hope, sight against seeing

amen


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Terri Conlin is a writer, creative collaborator, and encourager for living a soulful life in Christ. She thrives when creativity, wild hope, and gritty faith flourish together with all of the qualities of home.

You can find her sipping dark roast coffee in a thrifted mug while writing at www.whitepitchers.com or on Instagram @terriconlin.

Terri and her husband, Mike, have four grown children along with four feisty grandkids she calls the Wonders. They live among the rain-soaked firs of Oregon.