I never dreamed I would spend Christmas Eve away from my native Midwestern roots, without the comfort of family and familiar foods. But, then I never dreamed I would be a widow at age 29 either. But both are true. And now, by the generosity of a fellow teacher, I am ensconced in a plush room at the Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone National Park, awaiting the holiday festivities. That is, my daughter and I are sharing a room next door to my fun-loving friend, Christy. Though my parents will sorely miss having my 3-year-old opening her gifts at their home tomorrow, I could not bring myself to come without her — we go everywhere together — we are best buds.
Christy bounces in. “Hurry already!” She tosses her jacket on the chair. “They're having the most awesome buffet downstairs in the great hall.” She smooths her skirt and starts toward the door.
I stop her. “Christy, thanks. For this. The trip . . . everything. I mean, it’s been 2 years and still . . . well, holidays are difficult.”
She gives me a quick hug. “Hey, I know. I have loved having you and Kenna here with me. Now, how about that food . . . .”
I make a face and grab Kenna's hand. And we're off to join the other guests for a scrumptious and hearty meal.
The Old Faithful Snow Lodge is the quintessential mountain structure — exposed beams, hewn stone, oversized seating, and a mammoth fireplace with snowshoes on the mantel — just being here makes you feel like a Klondike adventurer. And with the snow piled deep by the door and the Christmas trees catching the sparkle of the crackling fire . . .well, it almost rivals Christmas with my family in Indiana . . .almost.
When I cannot possibly swallow another appetizer, I pull Kenna back on my lap and settle into an Adirondack chair. She sits still for a minute, then pulls back to look at me, and points toward the window “Mommy, please, let's go see the snow.”
I can’t refuse her. I want to see it too.
We go over to the room across the hall and gaze out the huge window at the silent world being draped in a frosty coverlet. And seeing isn’t enough. Kenna and I want to feel the feather-soft snow on our faces. A quick dash upstairs, and we are bundled into parkas, gloves, and caps. We go through the main hall and out the door. I happen to catch the gaze of a young park ranger as we go out the door. Thinking he might attempt to dissuade us from our play, I quickly slip out, hoping he won’t follow.
The snow is incredible. Kenna and I twirl in circles like 2 sisters, laughing at the shower of tiny snowflakes. She is so tiny there beside me, an elfin child in a world of white. Then…...she is gone. I don’t see her. And the panic is unbearable. I turn toward the lodge, opening my mouth to scream. And look up into the face of the ranger. His face is calm, chiseled against the wintry night sky.
I point. “My little girl. She was right here. I can't find her.”
He lightly touches my shoulder and is gone. I hear a radio and realize he is calling help.
Someone holds out a hand, “Come back to the lodge. They'll find her.”
As I stand by the window, I moan my stupidity. What was I thinking? To go out in the snow, at night, with a child? And I find myself running to my Father. “Oh God, I‟m so sorry. Please keep her. Help him find her. You said You‟re a help to the fatherless — please be with Kenna. Help her not to be scared.”
It is really a very short time, though it seems much longer, and Kenna is back safe and sound, her nose very red, and a few dried tears on her cheeks. She snuggles close to me by the fire. I try to thank the ranger.
He smiles and leans down. “I heard you and Kenna praying over your meal, and I knew she was in good hands. He just used me to find her. And anyway, I’ve been looking out for you since you came yesterday. You seemed a little out of your league here.” His eyes twinkle; he extends his hand. “I'm Bruce Grayson — park ranger, Sunday School teacher, from Montana.”
I put out my hand. “I'm Claire Isaacs — Kenna's mom, Kindergarten teacher, from Indiana. Wait a minute . . . Bruce Grayson . . . from Montana . . .you’re not . . .you were my husband's hunting buddy? The one who led Him to Christ?"
He nods. “I heard about Dave . . . can't believe he got to spend Christmas in heaven before I did. We used to talk about that by the campfire. He always wanted me to meet you. I’m glad I finally get the privilege.”
It‟s getting late. Kenna’s head is lolling around on my shoulder. I get up. “Again . . .thank you. I am very grateful.”
“You’re welcome.” His tone takes no credit, just rejoices.
I start toward the stairs, glance back and see Bruce walking toward the front desk. Our very own guardian angel. Who would have guessed?
A few minutes later, I am wrapped in my chenille bathrobe, fuzzy slippers warming my feet, when I hear a knock on my door. A bellboy stands there with an envelope. It’s from the ranger. “Please join me for breakfast tomorrow. I have some stories about Dave you probably never heard. The lodge kitchen makes a mean French toast platter. — Bruce.”
I smile. An angel who likes French toast. I prop the note on the night stand and switch off the lamp. God is looking out for me — my present and my future. Maybe Bruce will be part of that. But for now, I am content. Christmas is alive in my heart.