Heather’s ringtone is the theme song from Batman. You know the one. Dah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-Batman! It hasn’t always been my friend’s ringtone. There’s a story behind it.
The first week after my husband left, I existed solely on chai lattes and Skittles. Over-chewing the little rainbow-colored candies every day caused my TMJ to flare up. One rainy night, my jaw got stuck closed while I slept with a night guard installed in my mouth. I awoke to a feeling of claustrophobia and thrashed about in my now-enormous bed, completely losing my mind. When my fit was over, I padded downstairs in my robe and flipped on the kitchen light. I grabbed an ice pack from the freezer and placed it on my cheek, hoping it was the correct remedy for such a situation.
Chilly now, I curled up on the sofa and watched the sun rise in the sky, as it did every day—every week, every month, every year. As it always had, as it always would. My life would go on. My mind knew this truth but had yet to convince my heart.
After a few months of avoiding friends, binge-watching reruns of Parenthood, and crying myself to sleep every Tuesday night—the third night in a row that my boys were at their dad’s—my friend Heather invited me to be her guest at a women’s retreat in the woods. It was an intervention.
So, off I went, into the woods for the weekend. Heather was the only person I knew at the retreat, but she was busy rehearsing and performing with the praise band, so I spent much time alone. Sitting by myself at the dinner table that first night, surrounded by the tittering and clucking of fifty church ladies, I started a conversation with the guest speaker, a kind gal about my age who was also a stranger to the group.
Marie had survived an unspeakable tragedy a few years before. One that left her a widow questioning God’s purpose for her life. She’d found it, along with a deeper faith, and began her new life as an author and speaker. She was an inspiration, and I hung on her every word. That night, Heather’s praise music was moving, and the lessons were poignant, but after the evening session, I was exhausted and ready for the cozy bed in the little cabin that I’d share with Heather and three of her friends.
Upon arrival at the retreat center earlier that day, we’d moved in and chosen our sleeping arrangements. Heather and I were to share one bedroom, two other gals shared the second bedroom, and one gal, who suffered from Tourette’s syndrome, took the fold-out couch in the tiny living area. The only other furniture in the space was an ancient La-Z-Boy rocker—arms yellowed with age. Not exactly the Ritz, but it was warm and dry, and I was thankful.
After the session, Heather and the gang headed to the cafeteria for a late-night snack, and I excused myself, feigning exhaustion. What I needed was time to think.
Marie’s words captured my heart. The actions of her late husband had propelled her life into a dark world—a world she didn’t want and had no control over. His decisions tore her life apart, but she waited on the Lord, and He never failed.
Marie shared some Bible verses that night.
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
Will bring her into the wilderness,
And speak comfort to her.”
Hosea 2: 14 (New King James Version)
“You shall be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord shall designate.”
Isaiah 62:2 (New International Version)
After her tragedy, God called Marie into the wilderness, comforting her and giving her a new purpose, or “name.” God brought her away from the darkness and into the light of new life. He would do the same for me. My life would no longer be full of abandonment but abundance, and I would no longer be broken but beloved. I clung to this idea and asked God for a similar experience.
Waving goodbye to the group, I headed into the night. It had snowed while we were in the service. Soft white snow enveloped the pitch-black, quiet woods. The temperature had dropped, and it was bone cold. I’d left my coat in the car and was unprepared for the long walk along the road to our cabin on the far side of the compound.
Scanning the area with the light on my phone, I spotted the trailhead we’d taken as a shortcut to get to the convention hall a few hours earlier. It was a direct walk to the cabin, so I took it. An eerie thing to walk alone in the snowy woods with nothing but the sound of snowflakes falling around you and no light but the minuscule beam from your phone. I pointed it directly in front of me, and it landed about one step ahead.
With Marie’s testimony on my mind, I took one step at a time within the pool of light, careful to avoid ruts and roots on the rough trail. It was slow going, but the symbolism was not lost on me. One step at a time. That’s all I could do in my new existence, and that was more than okay—it was ideal. When life forces you to take such measured steps, you must go slowly and think about your next move. The night around you is too dark and scary to enter, thrashing about in the wilderness. Step by step, one must focus and follow God’s direction.
Back at the cabin, I changed into my pajamas and snuggled into the bed, leaving the front light on for Heather and the other girls. Sleep sent me into dreams of the wild.
Sometime after midnight, I heard the melodic voices of Heather and the crew. They shuffled in, saying goodnight and retreating to their various accommodations. I listened to the girl with Tourette’s say, “Don’t worry if I thrash around a bit in the middle of the night. My meds will wear off around 3 am.” Heather snuck into the room, careful not to wake me. Once settled, I fell back into sleep.
A squeaking sound permeated my dreams in the deepest part of the night. It was persistent enough to wake me. I nudged my friend.
“Heather, did you hear that?”
“Huh?” The squeak sounded again, louder this time. “Is that a mouse?”
Maybe. But it didn’t make sense. The sound was coming from above us. I reached for my phone to use its light to shine again into the wilderness. I brought my arm back over us in a wide arch, and there it was! The source of the squeak. Before my mind could register what my eyes had seen, Heather jumped over me and absconded with the blanket over her head, running into the other room, screaming. Without time to grab my glasses, I raced after her in my thin nightgown, slamming the bedroom door behind me. It was a bat. A bat had circled the room in a spiral as if preparing to land on our faces. My heart thumped in my chest, and I felt faint.
The commotion drew the other campers from their room, and the girl with Tourette’s sat up, staring at us, owl-eyed. I couldn’t see without my glasses but could ascertain the various states of hysteria suffered by my cabin mates. One girl took charge and called the convention center, asking for a maintenance man or someone—anyone—brave enough to help us. The call made, she noticed my state of undress and built a fire to warm us. There was no way anyone was opening that bedroom door to retrieve my clothes or eyewear. The bat could escape into the cabin’s main room, and then what would we do?
Thus, established before the fire with a scratchy wool blanket over my shoulders, I sat with my eyes closed and waited for salvation. Heather sat in the decrepit La-Z-Boy, which had the habit of snapping closed if you tried to recline. The girl with Tourette’s miraculously fell asleep and twitched on the sofa bed. It was a blessing. She’d been upset about being awake without her medicine but didn’t want to take more in the middle of the night. An hour went by, then came a tap on the door.
We released a collective breath. Finally, opening the door, we welcomed the perfect specimen for our salvation—a brawny man in a flannel shirt and camo pants, armed with…a Tupperware container. Tupperware? What, was he going to a picnic? The small container was perfect for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. What the heck did Mr. Brawn plan to do with it?
He looked at our confused expressions, then at the Tupperware, and shrugged.
“To catch the bat.”
“It’s in there.” Heather pointed to our bedroom door. He approached, hand on the doorknob. We huddled together in the corner of the cabin on the other side of the sofa bed, our companion asleep before us, muttering in her sleep.
He opened the door, and we screamed. Nothing happened, so in he went.
I swear to the high heavens that man was in there for forty-five minutes. We waited in agony. Mr. Brawn came out, closing the door behind him, with a sheepish look on his face. “I didn’t see anything.”
We groaned. It was the worst possible outcome—a missing bat was worse than a bat landing on your face because it was missing. It could be anywhere. Mr. Brawn left, taking his meager Tupperware with him.
The other two girls returned to their safe, bat-free bedroom to catch a few winks before dawn. Heather and I looked at each other, considering our options. “The car?” No way, it was freezing out there, and we’d parked the car a good fifty snow-filled yards from the cabin. I was still in my nightgown and without eyeglasses. We surveyed the room. Joining our friend with Tourette’s on the bed was not an option. She had pivoted and now lay sideways, arms and legs hanging off the sides of the meager mattress. Heather considered the recliner. “It’ll have to do. There’s no way I’m going back into the bat cave.”
There was nothing for it. I had to go back in there and face my fear—alone. I shook Heather’s hand. “Ok, Batwoman. It was nice knowin’ ya.” I hummed a funeral dirge, braced myself, and walked to the bedroom door. Pausing with my hand on the doorknob, I looked back at my friend, already settled in the La-Z-Boy. About to turn the knob, I jumped at the sound of the recliner snapping closed on Heather. She grunted in pain but forced the chair open again and stretched out her legs, desperate for sleep.
I opened the door with a rush, hurried inside the room, and dove onto the bed, covering myself in the blankets and hiding my face under the pillow. I counted to ten, but nothing happened. Had the bat moved on to another cabin? Was it hiding in the rafters, poised to descend? With my phone in my hand—my only weapon was light—I positioned myself like a mummy in a tomb—only my mouth and nose exposed so I could breathe. Once again, I could only see what was right before me. Was this the wilderness God was calling me into?
I heard the snap of the La-Z-Boy and Heather’s muffled groan from the other room, and I had to laugh.