“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” John 14:1-5
After dinner–a four-course Tyrolean meal that included prosciutto-cloaked melon and spinach späzle–I head back up the trail. I walk in flip-flops, eager to get out of the boots that I wore for 18 kilometers today. The trail is still uneven, just as it was when we came this way around mid-morning, and it’s colder up here than the valley in which we’d hoped to spend the night.
We’d hoped. That the huts we wanted to stay in–mountain lodges perched grandly on ridges, beside lakes, in the shadow of the spiny Dolomites–would have space for us. That the town to which we’d hiked instead would provide a charming guesthouse, with showers in Internet, where we could wash our socks and hair, check email, reconnect with the grim news of the world outside the Italian Alps. That each destination today would be our last, providing rest and restoration for the walking ahead.
I’m hiking with my parents, beginning their 40-day trek through the Italian, Austrian and Swiss Alps. The first day, we hiked as planned, up a valley to Dreizinnenhütte, red and white and boxy, balanced on a rocky saddle in the middle of a Dolomiten panorama. It was spectacular. The next day of hiking brought its share of wonders, too, World War I bunkers buried in green forests, and new mountains unfolding with each pass, but at the end our hut was full. We stayed in a hotel that night, a prim, clean, Austrian affair down the road in a shady green valley. We heard the rains pour, and were thankful not to be in a tent.
Now, the third day, there were times when we longed for a tent, some shelter that didn’t depend on reservations, transportation or phone calls. Nine hours of wandering brought us down three valleys, back up one, then back up another, so that we’re only six kilometers from where we started in the morning. Tomorrow, we’re taking a bus and train to Austria. Italy is full.
I have the lyrics to a pop song stuck in my head as we walk, Mikky Ekko wailing “Hey, is there a place for us? Where flames flicker and wave for us?” We want places, safe and dry and warm, waiting at the end of the various journeys of which our lives consist. How comforting it must have been for the disciples when they remembered Jesus’ words, after the dinner they didn’t know would be the last, a promise that he’d not only prepared a place for them, but would take them there himself. There would be room, space enough for all who loved him, a place for them to be together again.
I reach the top of the valley, the point where the trail juts into the forest, and find a bench by a creek. The water is icy cold, sharp against my aching feet, so I sit down on the bench, a forbidding wall of stony peaks folding their arms in front of me, bouncers of the Dolomites.
It’s not just at the end–the beginning of eternity–that he prepares for us, I realize. This place, somehow, was prepared for us today. The last room in the last hotel in the area, this semicircle of mountains in front of me. We’re prepared for places, too. Twelve years of traveling in Europe led me to this day, making reservations in German and navigating Italian public transport. I think of the ways that Timmy and I have been prepared to work at Black Forest Academy, the years of experiences and education, chances and circumstances, that led us to Germany and to each other. Prepared.
In a week I’ll be back in the classroom, cutting out signs and rearranging furniture to begin the year. Preparing a place for students I’ve never met. In a year, Timmy and I will be somewhere new, somewhere God is preparing for us, preparing us for. Like this strange yellow house in the Dolomites, it may not be what we’re expecting now, not the destination we’ve picked out on the map. But Christ is preparing us, even now, for the next valley, the next journey.