The fresh snow on top of the lake was so deep that I wasn’t sure where the lake started and where the beach ended. In fact, until I got on my hands and knees, dug through the snow, and hit a cold brick of clear ice, I didn’t believe that I was standing on a lake, a hundred feet from the shoreline.
My friend Adam and I had met his friend John at dawn that winter day on the outskirts of Caldwell, Idaho. Now John was holding a giant drill—an augur, I later learned—perpendicular to the lake. I watched with suspicion as he cranked it up and then pushed it down into the snow. For a moment, nothing happened. Then a column of water shot up around him, and I backed away. He took the giant drill and set it aside. “Looks good,” he said, and he walked over to me to create my very own hole in the ice. I backed away farther.
The ice around us was blinding white, I had no cell service, and it was 20 degrees. I was wearing snow boots, a pair of tights, two pairs of socks, snow pants, a lot of shirts, a snow jacket, a scarf, a beanie, and gloves with hand warmers stuck in them. Everything that had the word snow in it I had bought at a thrift store in Boise a few days before because it turned out that cold weather clothing is expensive and my “winter outfits” for Atlanta, Georgia, weren’t a match for Idaho. I was surprisingly warm, though, and the sun was beaming down. The sky was a rich blue and seemed unbelievably deep; the mountains all around were tall and white and daunting. When I saw them, my heart swelled in wonder, and I instinctively thought, My God made that.
But the truth is that the thought tired me. I had booked a flight to Boise, Idaho, less than 48 hours in advance. After a wearying few weeks, the only thing I wanted to do was get away. I don’t believe in avoidance as a general strategy for taking on questions of faith, but I was so wounded and weary and disappointed that I just wanted a break. Idaho, and my dear friend meeting me at the airport, seemed like a perfect escape, a perfect place to hide.
But now, in the middle of the Magic Reservoir (that really is the name of it), even the mountains were testifying to the glory of God. Appreciation for beauty and my connection to it ran deeper than my frustrations back home in Atlanta. But the truth is, I wasn’t interested. The God who made those mountains seemed far away and distant.
John was now working on Adam’s ice hole. I leaned forward to check out my own, and, sure enough, there was a perfect circle with water in it. A few minutes later, John handed me the shortest fishing pole I had ever seen, Adam baited it (I refused to touch the slimy worm), and I dropped my line into the freezing water.
About thirty minutes in, we had gotten settled in our spots, sitting on little folded chairs in a triangle. John asked me what I did, which if I had been in a better place would have been a welcome opportunity for me to talk about my love of writing and the gospel. At the moment, it was the last thing I wanted to talk about. So I answered simply: “I am a writer.”
As a writer, I should have realized this was a poor choice of words. It only piqued Adam’s interest further. “What do you write about?”
“Christianity,” I answered, perhaps coldly.
But now he was genuinely interested, and I groaned inwardly. The last thing I wanted to do was share the gospel when I was upset with God. Somewhat smugly, it occurred to me that my heart was colder than the ice I sat on.
“What do you usually write about when it comes to Christianity?”
I looked at the mountains, as if they could give me strength. “Questions about God,” I said, returning eye contact. “The reliability of the Bible, moral questions, things like that.” There was no point in remaining cold. John mattered more than my frustration did. Besides, I had five more days in Idaho that I could spend moping.
John paused, changing out the bait on his line. He knelt before my ice hole and stuck his hand into it. “It will start to freeze over again if we don’t keep it clear of ice.” The water was no match for the 20-degree air. He removed the ice from Adam’s spot too and then pulled out a bag of tortilla chips and nacho cheese from our gear. I relaxed, but then upon returning to his foldable chair, he said, “I’ve wondered about evolution.”
Over the next few hours, the three of us would talk about sexuality or understanding Genesis or the infallibility of scripture, and then Adam or John would catch a fish (I never caught one, but Adam let me take a picture with his trout, so I at least got an Instagram-worthy photo of myself in thrifted snow gear on a snow-covered lake holding a very cold fish). They would get up and take the fish off the hook and rebait their lines. Then they would sit down, and the conversation would pick up right where we left off.
As for me, engaged in precisely the kind of discussions that I was trying to avoid, I found myself praying that somehow I would be compassionate to John in the midst of my profound weakness. Even though I was tired and confused, I still believed that Jesus rose out of the grave, and I still believed that there was nothing more important for John to know.
At the end of the day, we wound our lines for the last time. John said, “I want to believe in God, sometimes I just struggle with it. But I’ve never heard anyone talk about Him like you do.”
And all I could think of was that I struggle with God too. I have questions too. I have doubts and fears and I get nervous and afraid. But somehow, in a way that God only could, he found a way to speak to me even when I looked at the mountains in derision. And somehow, I’d like to think, he gave me some words to help John, whom he loved.
In the middle of Magic Reservoir, I wasn’t looking for words to help someone. I actively resisted having a conversation. I certainly wasn’t looking to share the love of God with anyone. But God is not bound by my unbelief or even my unwillingness. He simply chooses his broken vessels and does his work.
As we got in John’s truck to leave, he paused, looking at the ice banks before us. “They have melted some, so we might have to push the gas for a minute here.” It was an understatement. The truck rocked back and forth on the melting ice like a fair ride for a very long twenty seconds. But we got on solid ground, and we began the long, winding drive back home through the mountains that my God made.
I did not leave Idaho with changed circumstances. I did not leave Idaho with a renewed appreciation for my many blessings. I didn’t even leave it particularly well-rested.
But in addition to my overstuffed suitcase (filled with all my new snow gear), I left with the knowledge that God saw me and that he can warm my cold heart. God was bigger than where I was; I could not escape him—or his love. I had traveled 2,000 miles to avoid my own questions and fears, and he decided to meet me right there in the middle of a frozen reservoir.
As my plane back to Atlanta coasted above the Rockies, I leaned back in my seat. Even though I felt lost and confused, it was enough, at that moment, to know that my God made the mountains below me with his word. Regardless of how I felt, I was found in him. He was good, he could be trusted, and he would hold me when I struggled to hold on to him.