by Mary Noble Garcia.

The thermometer read -10 degrees. We had just finished cross country skiing and decided to head to the sauna. The biggest question of the weekend remained—would we jump through the ice hole into the lake? As we warmed up in the sauna, the women who had jumped in already began to encourage us to take the leap.

As the heat became unbearable, one wise friend said, “I live too much of my life on the safe side. I am going in!” Her words were a challenge for me, living life on the safe side. I surprised myself by responding, “I will go if we can go together!” And so we emerged from the 225 degree heat of the sauna, giving each other courage. We ran into the winter air and jumped into the icy waters. Tingling, exhilarated, we celebrated avantouinti—ice swimming.

Avantouinti reminds me that we are never alone in the experiences of our lives. I am blessed with people who are God’s loving presence as they offer encouragement to step into the unknown. They are with me in the unbearable heat that accompanies the suffering I did not choose for my life. They wait with me, take my hand, help me to find the courage and energy to take the next step into the cold. And then they leap with me into the icy waters when I am ready. I need only say yes to their presence—God’s loving presence with me—as I risk taking their hand so we can jump together.

Mary is a spiritual director at Loyola. Read her bio here.