A Bridge to Renewed Faith

She had called it a vacation, but she was really running away from her fear and pain.

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- Posted on Apr 18, 2013

Denise Valuk and Collin

“Whoa!” my nine-year-old son, Collin, said, staring up at the Mile-High Swinging Bridge, which connected the twin peaks of Grandfather Mountain. “Will we feel it move when we walk on it?” He was wide-eyed with excitement.

I wished I was the same. The shiver I felt wasn’t from excitement. Or from the wind that was gusting. It was from the sense of unease that had shadowed me all through our weeklong mother-son hiking trip in the mountains of Tennessee and, now, North Carolina.

We’d seen God’s beauty at every turn, yet I felt more desolate than ever.

The past months had taken a toll, with one tragedy after another. My father, following a long struggle with depression, committed suicide. My grandmother died shortly after that. And having spent years trying to have a second child, I’d finally gotten pregnant only to suffer a miscarriage.

It was devastating. I felt as if I’d come to the end of myself, losing that baby.

Why, I asked, would God allow all of these trials to come down on me at once? I was miserable... and miserable to be around. When I suggested that I take this vacation with our son, my husband quickly agreed.

“The fresh mountain air might be good for you,” he said. What he meant was, “Maybe it will make you you again.”

Yet all I could feel was a sense of foreboding. What’s next? I hated feeling that way. If there was one thing I’d taught my son, it was not to be afraid. I’d taken him on so many roller coasters and thrill rides that my husband joked I was turning him into an adrenaline junkie.

Collin had even taken the lead a few times as we hiked lonely forest trails.

Now he dashed up the stone steps to the bridge ahead of us. I glanced back at the parking lot—empty except for our car—and followed. Wow. Who would ever think to build something like this way up here?

The chasm between the twin peaks was about 80 feet wide... and a mile down, as if someone had taken a giant ax to the Earth. On each side of the gap, a metal tower held up cables attached to a 228-foot-long walkway—a visibly swaying ribbon of steel—that led to an observation deck.

“Wait!” I yelled to Collin, who was about to step on. “Let’s take a picture first.”

I fumbled with the camera. “Come on and take the picture already!” Collin shouted. The second I did, he tugged my hand, and we started across.

The bridge moved beneath our feet, like a boat in a stormy sea. A blast of wind made me clutch the railing. “Sure is windy,” Collin said calmly, his puffy jacket rippling and his hair flying everywhere.

But I was busy imagining tomorrow’s headlines: Mom and Son Blown Off Grandfather Mountain. Mile-High Bridge Collapses in Gale- Force Winds—Two Dead. “We’d better get across!” I said. I grabbed his hand and pulled him to the observation deck. It was deserted, like the parking lot.

Now the wind was howling. Collin and I hunkered down behind a pile of rocks. I glanced back at the bridge. I couldn’t fathom going across it again. Not into those gusts. I wrapped my arms tightly around my son. “Are you all right?” I asked.

“I’m freezing, Mom,” he said, his voice shaking. “How will we get back?”

I looked into his eyes. I saw fear in them. My brave little boy, who always wanted to sit in the front row of the roller coaster, who’d blazed so many trails on this trip. The kid who couldn’t wait to go on this crazy suspension bridge.

Then I realized. It wasn’t his fear that I saw. It was mine. He could see how shaken I was, and that more than anything made him afraid. What could I say? I couldn’t think of anything...only what had been stuck in my mind. “I really wanted to give you a brother or a sister,” I said.

Collin was quiet a moment. “I know,” he said. “I prayed every night, and it didn’t happen.”

We huddled there behind the rocks and talked. About how hard it had been for him to watch me struggle. About how sad he was that his grandfather and great-grandmother were suddenly gone. All the while, the cables of the bridge groaned, straining with each powerful gust.

I’d faced some terrible losses, but I had Collin, I had my husband, a home to take care of, a life to lead. I had God. I needed to push through the headwinds, however fierce they were, with his help and love.

I’d called this a vacation but really I was trying to outrun my fear. That, I saw now, would only leave me stranded in a desolate place. But faith...that could bridge even the most impassable chasm.

I took my son’s hands in mine and together we prayed. For the loss of my dad, my grandmother, my baby, for healing in our home. “God, we need your arms of safety, and we need your courage to take those first steps back.

“Let’s go,” I said to Collin. I held him tightly in front of me, and we made our way all 228 feet back across the bridge, against a wind so strong it felt as if we were digging through it. On the other side, a ranger was holding one end of the chain that barred access to the bridge.

“Wind gusts are eighty-five miles an hour,” he said. “We’re closing up. Thought I’d have to come and get you. Not many people that daring.” Collin beamed. “Let’s do it again, Mom!” he shouted.

I squeezed his hand. “Come on now,” I said. “Daddy’s waiting for us back home.” 

 

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