Water seeped through the soles of my boots, soaking my socks. I slammed my trunk shut, pulled my hood tighter against the rain, and walked back across the parking lot toward the retreat house. The storm door banged behind me. I stepped into the kitchen to get the last of my things and found a woman sitting at the table.
She looked up as I walked in. “I forgot my boots,” she said, “So I came back for them.” We were two of a handful of women who’d come from various places and for various reasons to spend a few days in retreat on the Loretto Motherhouse grounds. She told me she’d been coming for decades. The cooler and bag on the table told of my impending departure, so she asked where I was headed.
“Nashville,” I said.
“Me too.” She asked what part of Nashville I was from, and I asked her the same. As she walked out the door, she said, “Maybe I’ll see you on the road.”
One of the best parts about Loretto is how remote it is. No cell phone service, nobody to bother me, no city lights to obstruct the stars. It’s a forty minute drive from the interstate. My GPS had guided me in fine, but I didn’t have service to look up the route home, and wasn’t entirely sure that I could mentally reverse it.
I looked out the window. She was still parked. I went outside and flagged her down before she could leave. “I usually come with a group and am not the one driving,” I told her, “So I’m not very familiar with the way back to the interstate. Would you mind waiting a few minutes for me to get the last of my stuff so I can follow you?”
She agreed, so I half-ran inside, put my jars of leftover soup in the cooler, threw it in the backseat, and slid in behind the wheel. I followed her down the hill and around the corner and through stop signs and over rises and into valleys. I watched mile after mile pass, thinking about all the times I would have second-guessed myself and wanted to turn back because it didn’t look right.
Thank God for the saints who have gone before, the ones who lead us home.
Sometimes they drive a red Subaru, but other times they meet weekly for coffee to check in or start dinner clubs or have a counseling license or spend hours on facetime from far-away or sit together every Thursday night for Bible Study or know just when to say the most encouraging thing.
There have been moments this year when I’ve second-guessed. Surely anything good wouldn’t be this hard. Surely I missed my turn. But here these people are. They show up and they walk beside me and they see me and they let me see them.
“I’ve been here,” they tell me, more with their lives than their words. “You’re not alone. The only way out is through, but there is so much beauty waiting on the other side.”
I probably could have made it home eventually on my own, but what a blessed thing it was that I didn’t have to. I took curves and kept pace and watched her slow down when I fell behind, followering her Tennessee license plate through most of Kentucky, the two of us strangers in a foreign land. Only she’d been there many times before, and she knew the way home.