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Kathryn Swegart shares a story of hope in a time of discouragement and danger.

Shortly before Christmas, on a day not long past, a freak storm barreled toward Maine. The National Weather Service painted the day orange, warning residents of high winds, freezing rain, and plunging temperatures. Most residents heeded the message. One did not.

That morning, a woman strapped on her snowshoes and decided to beat the storm before it hit that afternoon. After all, she must not miss her daily walk. She ventured ahead on a well-marked snowshoe trail behind her house, one familiar to her. Shortly into the hike, she realized that the woods were marked with streams of melted snow, making it difficult to stay on the trail. One misstep led to another until finally truth arrived on the scene. A deep dread settled over her. She was lost in the woods.

Denial is a strong force. It took her more than an hour to accept the fact that she was “turned around.” Her course should have been eastward. She was slogging through deep wet snow, going due west without a cell phone or compass.

Once again, she enlisted the aid of her guardian angel to rescue her. Meanwhile, her husband knew something was wrong and called neighbors. He also contacted religious sisters at a local chapel to ask for prayers.

Onward she slogged. She never stopped and cheered herself forward. Don’t give up. Don’t be afraid. After two hours she found herself emerging from the woods to rolling fields covered with deep, wet snow. Now what? More slogging. Suddenly she looked to the west and saw a humble house trailer perched on a hill less than a mile away. If there was a dwelling, she thought, there would be a driveway leading to a road, more houses and someone could drive her home. Hope sprang into her heart. Strength surged into her sodden body.

Two obstacles stood in the way. The passage was blocked by saplings bent into the snow. A rushing stream of icy water cut through the gnarled terrain. How deep was the water? She poked her walking pole into the water and did not hit bottom. Could she step into an icy stream? Would it be over her head? She looked at the trailer. Just do this one desperate effort and you will be home free. Courage welled up in her heart.




She stepped into the frigid waters and sank up to her neck, grabbed onto a sapling and held on with a firm grip. You know how to swim, she told herself bravely. Pull yourself out of the water. First try was a failure. Now weak and her clothes heavy with water, it seemed impossible to get out of this dire predicament. Again, she looked at the trailer. One last pull. Up and over, she picked up her gear and trudged toward the trailer.

You may have guessed that I am that woman lost in the woods. Now for the rest of the story. A kind woman drove me home. Upon arrival, a search team had gathered. With a heart filled with gratitude, I waved to them, took a hot shower, and sat by the woodstove with my right foot in a bucket of warm water. My feet were swollen from frostbite and one toe had turned black. Thankfully, circulation returned quickly to the afflicted skin.


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In those moments of discouragement out in the woods, hope became real, a tangible force. #CatholicMom

Since then, I have learned to use a compass and now carry a cell phone on my hikes. Beyond those practical measures, I now have a healthy regard for the power of hope as symbolized in that trailer on the hill.

To quote the Catechism, hope “keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment” (CCC 1818). The Catechism teaches about the theological virtue of hope “by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.”

In those moments of discouragement out in the woods, hope became real, a tangible force, stronger than the freezing rain beating down on my weary head.



Copyright 2023 Kathryn Swegart
Images: Canva