My breathing quickened. No, it was worse than that. I hung over the side of the rail gasped for air and prepared to face my Jesus.
“We should have brought oxygen!” I said. “Those can-thingy’s skiers use.” My husband, Jay glanced back and laughed. He was feeling proud because he’d been working out, and for the first time was in the lead, on our traditional hike up Chimney Rock in Asheville, NC. On this particular morning, the elevator which released us at the beginning of the trail was out of order so you could say the hike became a double-wammy for Tammy. As I looked up at the endless stairs, I wished we’d broke tradition and went to Grandfather Mountain instead; but then again Grandfather Mountain was not without its own horrors.
The last time we went to Grandfather mountain and crossed the swinging bridge I slipped past a group of mourners and ate their loved one. Yes, you read it right, they wished their dead mother farewell, just as a gust of wind picked up her ashes and planted them in my face. That smoky grit in my mouth about made me sick. I often wonder if I’d be considered a cannibal?
So, there I was killing myself on the stairwell to heaven watching my husband skip along in front, glancing back smiling from time to time. I wanted to kick him in his big rear so badly, but I didn’t have the energy to get my foot that high. Through sheer stubbornness, I made it to the top where the group in front of us plopped on a boulder to enjoy the view. After a few minutes, they stood and began the hike down.
“Wait!” I wanted to yell. “That’s it? You climbed all those steps for that?” But instead, silently I watched them descend. We glanced at the map and it appeared additional climbing awaited us. I suppose the others saw this and felt it wasn’t worth the trouble.
Jay glanced over his shoulder. “So, what do you think, are you up for it?” He said.
“Absolutely! I want to do the whole thing.” The woods were ahead, and I wasn’t going to miss that.
We were alone in the woods. The sun splintered through the fog and trees creating a beautiful light show. The hike was a breeze compared to where we’d been, and a cool mist showered us in the shade. The air smelled sweet like Christmas trees and the birds sang. Growing up, the woods were my playground, a place my imagination and memory runs wild. To this day, I imagine my Cherokee ancestors hide behind the trees watching, and just when I turn to catch a glimpse, they duck out of view. Throughout my childhood, my siblings and I waded in the creeks under the trees, built forts, and played war with pinecones. Today, I often wonder if there’s a forest in heaven, for my sister who passed away December 19, 2014. I hope there is.
Jay and I came across a patch of light hitting the forest floor. The beam shined through the fog, and I stepped into it and glanced up. I can’t describe how good God is. He knows exactly what I get excited about. He knows my heart. The forest was a gift, and bathing in the light was His way of letting me know no matter what dark world I’m living in, He’s the God who sees. He sees me. Not just the physical me, but the girl He created me to be. The one who sometimes gets lost in the stresses of perfectionism, but still finds delight in nature.
I stepped out of the light and trudged on quietly.
“What are you thinking about?” Jay said.
I shrugged. “Nothing really. I was thinking about the hikers. They did all that work coming up only to go back down. They did the hard part to only look back and see how far they came but missed this beautiful light shining through the forest. How could they miss it?”
Jay nodded. He knew what I was saying, without me saying it.
Today, I remembered our October hike, and thought what about us? Are we missing the Light? As we toil through hanging wreaths and trimming a perfect tree have we thought of the perfect One? In the midst of all the baking and the eating, have we stopped to savor the Savior? While wrapping the gifts and tying the bows, have we pondered the gift wrapped in swaddling clothes? If all we get out of Christmas is the labor, the eating, the present swapping and then stepping back to admire it all, the true spirit of Christmas will pass by and we’ll miss it.
We’ll realize it when we’re trudging back down that mountain, putting away all the ornaments. A nostalgia will fill us. Was that it? We’ll think to ourselves. We’ll know something passed us by…something beautiful. We’ll shrug the feeling away… for there’s always next year, we’ll tell ourselves.
I’ve heard a longing in the voice of Mommas lately. It’s as if their Christmas spirit departed as their sons and daughters went to college. “I so wish I had a child again at Christmas time.” I’ve heard repeatedly as they peer down at Bella. Yes, I’m blessed to have four children under my roof, including a three-year-old bundle of giddy, but I can’t burden her as my joy supplier at Christmas time. We must look to our source of everlasting joy…Jesus.
So as we’re gasping for breath, climbing all those stressful stairs of preparation let’s remember whose birthday we are celebrating. A baby who had no tree, shrub lighting, or sugar cookies. He slept in a manger under the light of one brilliant star. Take time to delight in the Light, savor our Savior, and focus our minds and hearts on the perfect gift of all…the Lord Jesus Christ.