My wife and I had vowed long ago, when our oldest daughter first moved to Wisconsin, that we would never visit there in the winter. We had had enough of cold, snowy weather when we lived north of Philadelphia, and here in Upstate South Carolina we get just enough ice and snow to appreciate what people in northern climes endure for months on end.
So when our daughter announced that she would soon be adding to our roster of grandchildren, we began calculating and realized with dismay that it would not be a warm-weather delivery. But we ransacked our attic and found enough winter clothing to provide layer upon layer of defense from the cold, packed our bags, and ventured northward.
The trip began ominously. It was 27 degrees when we left home. Twenty-five minutes out, as we climbed the mountains into North Carolina, freezing rain began falling, slowing our ascent to about 40 mph. By the time we reached Hendersonville, the interstate was ice covered. Between there and Asheville, we witnessed multiple accidents. We could only imagine what conditions were like farther north.
As we proceeded, however, I watched the in-car thermometer, and the temperatures rose quickly. By the time we reached the Tennessee-North Carolina line and descended into “The Gorge,” it was 52 degrees! Twenty-five degrees difference in only an hour! Roads were dry. Travel speeds were back to normal and remained so through Tennessee and Kentucky and into Indiana. But again the temperature dropped continuously as we continued through Indiana. Just past Indianapolis, a rain-snow mix began to fall, and the skies turned dark and ominous. Soon, the interstate was down to one lane, and speeds slowed to about 35 mph. The temperature was again down to 27 when we stopped for the night. We awoke to a driving snow and fierce winds. When we resumed our journey, traffic was light and speeds were no faster than 30 mph for a couple of hours.
Through Indiana and Illinois and into Wisconsin, the snow got progressively deeper, and the temperature dropped steadily. By the time we arrived at our daughter’s home, it was 8 degrees below zero. If not for the fact that we were bone tired from the two-day drive, we would have turned around and headed back to the warm, sunny South! But then we saw our new granddaughter, and we decided to stay!
During the next several days, as we watched that newborn child and held her in our arms more than we probably should have and gazed into her tiny face, myriad thoughts flooded our minds. We realized once again the preciousness of human life, the fragility and vulnerability of infants, and their utter dependence upon parents and others for their care. We wondered what the future would hold for her. We prayed multiple times that her parents would have the wisdom necessary to rear her properly in a physically and spiritually dangerous world. Most importantly, we prayed that she would grow up to know the Lord Jesus Christ as her own personal savior.
Especially poignant to me was the intensity of her gaze as I held her when she was awake. Her eyes seemed to bore deep into my soul to determine who I was. I gazed back, wondering what might be going through her mind. I found myself thinking of the question asked repeatedly by a character in a book that we had read to our own children years ago–Are You My Mother? And I asked myself, What kind of influence will my life have on her?
Whenever I wasn’t holding my granddaughter, or watching someone else hold her, I was trying to make friends with a decidedly unfriendly dog. Harley, one of my daughter’s two dogs, was already familiar with me and was friendly enough. Pepper, their newer dog, however, never seemed to get used to my presence. She growled and barked at me, sometimes viciously, whenever I rose from the couch or entered or exited the room. Going the three or four steps from our bedroom to the bathroom in the morning became a dangerous game in which I tried to “reach base” without alerting Pepper, but seldom was I successful. Her sharp ears set off the alarm, and she’d bark viciously and charge down the hallway toward me. I would make a mad dash for the bathroom, hoping to close the door before she caught me.
But now we are back in the warm, sunny South. We have unpacked our bags and washed and returned to storage our layers of winter clothing. I stroll freely throughout the house without worrying about where the dog is. And we will soon resume our regular routines, my wife in her second-grade classroom and I with my writing. But forever etched into our minds and hearts will be the image of Ryleigh Hope and the memory of the joy that she brought to our hearts during this Christmas season. Perhaps not unlike the joy that Mary and Joseph must have felt in Bethlehem on that first Christmas so many years ago.