Sleepless in Colorado

I’m writing this from a cabin in Colorado. It is 3am and I’m surrounded by fourteen sleeping women. We are all here to serve on work crew for a women’s retreat this coming weekend, and I’m their leader. This is my eighth time in this role, and it is an experience I deeply cherish.

Yesterday, the fifteen of us converged at a parking lot outside of Denver to make introductions and begin our journey to the ranch. When I arrived, my attention was drawn away from the group of women standing there to a herd of elk grazing on the nearby grass. That was my first “OMG” moment of the day. In twelve trips to Colorado for this retreat, I have never seen one elk, let alone a herd grazing contentedly mere steps away from me.

I’ve grown accustomed to the way that God romances my heart through sightings of deer when I am in Colorado. In fact, I first assumed they were deer when I saw their tawny figures moving about on the snowy hill. But no, this was something new and something so surprising it took my breath away.

As I’ve prayed for this retreat, I’ve pondered how God can and will take an event and a message that I have grown familiar with and make it fresh. Last week, as I was reading Frederick Buechner, I ran across this idea: You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary. Something you have seen a thousand times you suddenly see as if for the first time like the looking glass over the mantle. My experience, standing in that parking lot staring at “deer,” which suddenly transformed into these magical, mysterious creatures called “elk,” felt like a manifestation of those words and a metaphor for the weekend to come.

My second “OMG” of the day wasn’t quite as magical. Our team soon departed the parking lot to caravan to the ranch. I was riding with two long-time friends that I rarely see because we live miles and miles apart. These retreats are an annual reunion of our hearts, and we have journeyed together through some hard, holy terrain. So, naturally we fell into a deep conversation.

We wound our way through our stories as we wound through the rugged Rocky Mountains.

From time to time, we would pause to gasp at the staggering beauty of the snow-capped peaks before us. Then, suddenly, the driver exclaimed, “This doesn’t look right. I think we have missed our exit!” I searched the map on my phone, and sure enough we had…26 miles ago!

Now, to understand why this was a big deal to me, I suppose I should confess that I highly value punctuality and if there’s a plan, I really, really want to stick to it. Add to that the fact that I’m leading this group of ladies (most of whom do not know me), and I was struck with an overwhelming sense of panic. We backtracked our way through hairpin mountain turns (a fear of mine) in the settling darkness, and my tears began to fall fast and thick.

My dear friends, who know me well, honored the space I needed in that moment to allow me to quietly sift through my emotions and examine my thoughts. As we drove, I recognized my fear of failing as a leader and prayed for Jesus to catch my heart. When we arrived at the cabin, we walked in to find the ladies in their PJs, talking and laughing. They cheered for us, the wandering travelers, as we arrived.

The third “OMG” happened soon thereafter, as we shed our suitcases and joined the others on a cluster of couches. We went around our circle and took turns introducing ourselves, and it became a sacred time of storytelling. As I listened to each woman share, I was awestruck by her beauty, vulnerability, and courage.

It’s not easy to make such a journey, to gather with a group of strangers, and to choose to be fully present and fully real. Yet, these women were choosing to do just that. It was an honor to receive their trust but also an invitation to meet them with beauty, vulnerability, and courage myself.

Now, in the quiet of a sleepless Colorado night, I reflect. I see how God met me today in surprising beauty, in stress and disappointment, and in story and relationship. I am so grateful for His presence and his kindness. As my eyes grow heavy, my heart whispers a prayer of praise: “I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever” (Psalm 86:12).

Susan Tucker spends her days mothering her two teenage sons, teaching middle school English, and savoring rare moments of quiet and solitude. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her sons and her husband of 23 years. Susan finds life in a beautiful story, an authentic conversation, worship music, and ultimately, in Jesus, the giver of all good gifts.