From there we went to Tennessee. We spent Christmas Eve watching football and walking around downtown Gatlinburg. It was sooooo cold! Seriously, this Louisiana girl is not cut out for super-chilly temps! Christmas Day, my mom & grandma cooked Christmas dinner and we sat around eating and lounging pretty much all day.
Monday we went to lunch as a family, then spent some time in the city before heading back to watch the Saints decimate the
Dirty Birds Atlanta Falcons (and watch Drew Brees beat Dan Marino's all time single season passing record!). Tuesday we took SC to the Dixie Stampede, which was pricey but worth it. They had a live nativity, a toy shop that "came to life", lots of horse riding and tricks, and a huge meal. The only detraction was that you have to eat with your hands! I cannot stand to have anything on my hands (yes, clearly I need therapy), especially something greasy, so it was a big adjustment for me. I ended up bringing most of my meal home. But SC had a blast, and that was all that mattered.
That afternoon, it started SNOWING!!! The snow (lightly) fell off and on for the rest of the evening and night (more on this later). The next day, I went with B, SC, and my grandparents, and we hiked to Laurel Falls. I was so proud of SC for going almost the entire way without being carried. She loved seeing the waterfall up close, but it was so cold she was ready to leave as soon as we got up there. Then that evening B and I went out on a date. We got Mexican food (because we're weirdos like that) then walked to a candy store for some caramel apples to share.
Thursday we went to Ober Gatlinburg. We enjoyed it, although we didn't enjoy the long lines and high prices. We took SC on the chair lift and the Alpine Slide, then we rode the tram up and down the mountain. She also took advantage of the carousel and the kiddie area. She had such a good time, and it's hard to find something to grumble about when your kid is having so much fun.
Friday was our last full day. My grandparents left that day so it was just us and my parents. We had lunch then took SC to play mini golf. It was her first time and she had so much fun! I loved seeing her learn how to putt and by the end of the course she didn't want anyone helping her. We had a little scary moment when we took a mountain road we thought was a by-pass and it turned out it wasn't. But we (obviously) made it back safe and sound.
Now we're home and looking forward to 2 days of rest and relaxation before we all hit the ground running again on Tuesday. It was so nice to get away. My hubby hasn't had a vacation since May 2010, and he spent most of that vacation inside with me because I was sick with (what I didn't know was) multiple pulmonary embolisms. This year has definitely had its share of stresses, but it's also had its share of sheer joys. This family vacation was a wonderful way to cap off the year, and I'm so thankful my folks treated us to such a wonderful time.
* * *
Changing gears now, God has continued to reveal more and more about grace to me over these last several months. It started when we began attending our not-so-new-anymore church earlier this year. I noticed how often my pastor and his wife (my Bible study teacher and old college friend) talked about grace. At first my heckles raised a little bit - so much talk of grace concerned me that I was about to start hearing a doctrinal spill on Calvinism. But God quickly convicted me of such thoughts. He challenged me - did I really and truly believe His grace was only evident in salvation experiences and forgiveness of sins? No, His grace is in everything. (It's most definitely giving me a new approach to reading 1000 Gifts.) I started to see how every little thing in our daily lives, from breath in our lungs to sunshine on our shoulders, was indeed grace. I began to marvel anew at the awesomeness of God, at the graciousness (for lack of a better word) and generosity of God.
SC had prayed and wished fervently for snow in the weeks leading up to our trip. I checked the weather right before we left and sighed with disappointment, and broke the news to her gently that we wouldn't be seeing any snow. She still remembers the freak, 2 hour snowfall from 2008 and has begged for snow every year. She handled the disappointment OK, but I could tell she was really let down.
But then, on Tuesday, we looked out the window and there it was - fat, soft flakes drifting and swirling to the ground. It wasn't a lot, and it was barely enough to stick the following morning, but to a five year old who has her heart set on seeing the one thing she never gets to experience? It was everything. It was breathtaking. It was magical. It was grace.
I found myself praising the Lord for answering such a small, simple prayer of a child. A quiet, unassuming snowfall. Something the locals would not even bat an eye at. But something my child watched, touched, molded, held with wonder.
We are surrounded by grace. Everywhere. At all times.
* * *
That brings me around to gratitude. I think it's only fitting to close out 2011 in a state of gratitude. I've learned to say "thanks" many different ways this year. For hard things that, had I had my choice of plans, would never have happened the way they did. For the complete, overwhelming graciousness and generosity of God and of those around us. For challenges. For mountain tops. For lessons learned. For valleys. For sickness. For healing. For unconditional love from God and from others. For conditional love, as hard as those relationships can be. For family. For friends. For faith. For a God that keeps His promises. For a God that sends grace through the simple, yet beautiful things. For God, because He is who He is. And He is.
* * *
I don't do resolutions. The diet ones never stick because right about the time I make a diet-related resolution, Rouse's starts putting out their king cakes, and any and all intentions of being more health-conscious fly out the window. But this year, I feel the need to set up some, not so much goals, but standards. Areas of my life that are in consistent need of strength and growth.
1. Spend a significant amount of time reading the Gospels. I thought about attaching a day limit to this. Either 90 days or even a year. But those things don't work for me, because they always end up being more about the number than the task itself. I feel compelled to spend serious time focusing on the words about the Word. This challenge has been fostered mainly by two people - my husband and my Bible study teacher (also known as pastor's wife, old college friend, etc.). My husband encourages me so much because daily we seem to have a discussion where he brings up some parable or teaching or example of Jesus. I find myself wanting that time with Jesus. I want to savor all there is about my Savior.
2. Be purposeful with relationships and firm in boundaries. Pour into and invest in the people I know and love deeply, and set (but more importantly, enforce) necessary boundaries for relationships that need healing from the Lord.
3. Be intentional about sharing my life and my faith with those around me.
4. Be disciplined in the areas of responsibility in my life - my family, my home, my daughter's education.
I hope 2011 has been a great year for you. Even with the ups and downs, it's been a year that I've grown to love and would not trade for anything. I am so grateful to God for all He's taught me, and I cannot wait to see what He has in store for 2012.
Happy New Year to you all!