A few years ago, I took my children to see long-time friends in Colorado for a summer visit. It was wonderful getting to walk in the mountains that feel like old friends in the Estes Park area. When I was just out of college, I mentored a group of high school girls through Cru (then called Student Venture) and we fundraised and were able to come to camp at YMCA of the Rockies in that area. So, I have walked those paths several times over the years. Getting to take my children to that special place with dear friends was very dreamy.
This visit also came after a long recovery and physical therapy from a terrible fall that tore both of my knees sometime after the wildfires took our home and I had been care-taking for a loved one after medical emergencies. I had to re-learn to walk and build my knees up on land – and then again in the pool. When I started, I couldn’t even kick my foot in the pool! So, when this trip came up, I worked hard and was not only able to walk, but I could climb. Not like when I worked with high schoolers but pretty high up there.
But I did hit a limit, and my sweet son Joey offered to pull aside to a lower lake, while our group continued higher. As we ambled around, I found a sign saying it was called Nymph Lake which brought a smile since I write fantasy for kids.
Joey, then ten years old and every bit an explorer, asked if we could walk beside the lake and was having fun climbing over fallen trees, zig zagging everywhere. Then he disappeared for a moment and I found him walking on a fallen tree over the water. The view took my breath because as far as you could see, there were lily pads and flowers everywhere. I warned him that he could fall in the shallow water and would have to hike down soaking wet, but he just grinned at me. I slowed. How often in our busy California lives could he just climb on a log next to a lake? Never. So, I smiled back. And stopped to soak it all in.
Huge grin ear to ear.
“Mom, can we stay here so I can figure it out?” His pre-teen cheeks were covered in speckles of dots like sand across his nose – he could rub off the light bits of dirt, but the freckles would stay.
“Sure,” I said. “Leave your shoes here in the sun to dry and go have fun.”
This wasn’t the hike I’d hoped for, but he was having so much fun I just sat in the grass. Dragonflies darted left and right, hopping to the flowers on the water, then buzzing over my head. My book has a talking dragonfly in it so I had a lot of fun just watching them as Joey tip-toed further and further, a few feet out where I could get him in the knee-deep water if he needed help. I had already learned from years of detours and moves that sometimes life gives you what you need, not what you thought you wanted, and this seemed like one of those moments.
I laid out his dripping socks and shoes in the sun and brushed some hair from my forehead, removing my hat in the shade of a tall tree nearby where I could just lean back and watch the sky and hear his giggles. I wanted to stop time. I prayed about this season with gratitude that this mountain hike was even possible after all we had been through. All the loss and change. I missed having magical moments like this in our lives and asked if I should keep writing. Could the Lord please give me a sign?
Instead, another SPLASH! Giggles. More grins and mud. Back on the log again.
And as I put my hand on the soft grass, I felt something beside me. I pushed aside miniature bright green ferns and long grasses and found a wonderful red mountain mushroom.
These mushrooms, or toadstools, are often pictured with fairies and sometimes even with gnomes. You can see them in photos and paintings with magical moments like the ones that are often in my mind as I write. It felt like this was a little sign, a love-pat from the Lord, especially since some of my stories feature gnomes, although they are much larger and are tech experts. But what are the chances that I’d sit right there in that spot to watch Joey play? And the toadstool would be hidden by grasses and ferns, yet only I could see it sitting just there? If we had continued on the trail and not stopped to play, I would have missed seeing the little gem entirely. And there weren’t any more to spot easily from around the lake.
It was like getting a special present wrapped by a hug just for me from the Lord. Right there in the mountains. I had to smile and appreciate the tenderness of His care for such a small thing and me, too.
Today, years later, Joey is taller than me and kind in other ways as a teenager. My kids are too grown up now and I miss that time of simple playing with little ones. And I need that magical moment still.
Our Christmas season isn’t going quite as I’d hoped with lots of neat decorative arrangements. Our artificial tree broke and we tried to replace it, and the boxed tree was lost in the mail for a week, then finally found – and the tree didn’t work so we had to return it. I’m sensing a detour from either circumstances or the Lord and want to slow, to listen. Perhaps there’s a magical-feeling moment I’d miss if we kept things as normal. So, I decorated a bit differently and still am not sure how things will go. We’ve had a heavy schedule and with my older son about to apply to college, and the fall illnesses, and one family member with a surgery – it’s been a different kind of fall season.
We’ve detoured. No doubt about it.
Detours aren’t always pretty like at the Nymph Lake, or perhaps it takes a bit more searching now to find the beauty in the big city we live in. But the heart-moments are waiting this season. I just know that’s as true as the burdens in life are, too. Instead of a big Christmas tree, the magic may be found in a moment while baking cookies and playing with frosting or going to see Star Wars (you know we’re big fans) or playing chess by the fireplace. I have a feeling that the real gifts of the heart are already sitting right beside me, like the beautiful mushroom hiding in the grasses, and all I need to do is be still and look a little deeper inside.
Wishing you a wonderful Christmas season filled with magical moments of quiet beauty. And a heart to greet the unexpected twists and turns with an openness for renewed hope and joy.