Missy bounced in the passenger seat of the car, eyes aglow. It had to be important. Missy has called me many things since Heather and I became her guardians over seven years ago – “He,” “Frank,” even “Mom” sometimes when Heather’s not in the room – but “Daddy” mostly tends to come out at moments of discovery.
And what a discovery!
Trees glowing with the lines and colors of Dr. Seuss. Lawns stacked with Grinches, with Nativities, with snowmen of every shape and size. Roofs blazing in the night like a multicolored landing strip made for a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer, or any UFOs that happened to be passing within 10 light years or so.
Her smile beamed brighter than any of the homes we passed. For Missy, this was the heart of the season – the regular Christmas light run, discovering new homes and new neighborhoods every night, shining with glory in the freezing air.
I smiled, too. And enjoyed. And with a little trepidation, looked to see which of the curving streets might eventually bring us back to a familiar road again.
Like wise men in the East, I could really use a guiding star about now.
Longtime friends and readers may remember that I don’t have the best sense of direction. And that may be putting it mildly. In the course of my wanderings over the years, I have wound up following ruts in farmer’s fields, or staring at a Denver-area dead end, or possibly discovering new lands in the name of Spain. I can find “down” without a compass … most of the time … if I’ve left a shoe untied.
Like any long-time Front Ranger, I know the rule of thumb: “The mountains are west.” Like any good 21st-century resident, I know the other rule of thumb: “Google Maps are your friend – except when they aren’t.” None of which helps when it’s too dark to see the peaks, you’re not exactly sure of your current location, and your eager passenger will become an impatient one if you pull over to check your phone.
Besides, on this night, in this place, it didn’t really matter. Tonight wasn’t about the destination. Tonight was about the journey, the traveling, the unexpected wonders ahead. Tonight was about wandering without really knowing what you were looking for, and allowing yourself the excitement of finding more than you expected.
This time of year, that sounds more than a little familiar.
From the beginning, Christmas has been about going places you didn’t expect and finding things you never anticipated. Whether the tale is sacred or secular, it’s a season of surprise. Shepherds being startled in the night and called to a manger. Grinches and Scrooges discovering joy and hope in a heart that had grown cold. Charlie Brown finding that just a little bit of love can make the scrawniest of twigs shine brighter than any aluminum Christmas tree.
It’s about breaking expectations. Seeing the world with new eyes. That can be hard to do, and even a little scary, because it means taking roads you don’t know and journeys that might be a little uncomfortable.
Most of us don’t like to do that. We like the familiar. And after a while, we stop seeing it. We go to places without really going through anywhere, exist without really living.
So when the sudden turns come, big or small, it’s easy to panic. But it also may be the first time we truly notice the world around us. And in noticing, wonder. Discover. And learn.
That’s a powerful gift.
So follow the roads. Trust the turns. Find the beauty that you never knew was there. It may take some searching on a cold, dark night. But it could be closer than you think.
Maybe even as close as Missy’s smile.