By Karen Majoris-Garrison
In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.
The snow arrived earlier than predicted as I stuffed grocery bags into the Chevy's trunk and shut the hatch. Several feet of snow already covered our community, and this new storm was another cruel blast.
"It'll probably be the storm of the century," I grumbled, revving the engine and thinking about the past few difficult years. I'd worked through illness, financial loss, and the deaths of friends, but something else was distressing me -- the hopelessness that results from unattained goals and broken dreams. And, now, the seeds of regret, something I'd never nurtured in the past, had sprouted.
"Another storm," I whispered aloud, usually relishing wintry evenings such as this.
Tonight, though, my thoughts lay heavy as I edged toward our country home.
Usually a positive person of faith, I had always viewed life as a series of hurdles to overcome. In recent years, however, the hurdles seemed endless and more difficult to clear. Though I thought I'd handled the adversity well, I hadn't realized that the real me, the one whose passion for life had inspired others, had burned out.
In the past year, I had been faced with unexpected choices. And in my disillusioned state, I'd chosen wrongly, making critical mistakes. Now I was afraid to trust my judgment, afraid to make decisions, and afraid of the future.
The headlights flashed along my home's white picket fence. I maneuvered the skidding car around a sharp curve, up the icy slope to our driveway, then parked and shut the engine off. Exiting the car, I lifted several bags of groceries, dropping a package of apples. The plastic bag burst -- sending an apple rolling into the snow. Picking up the bruised fruit, I stuffed it into my coat pocket, thankful when my husband, Jeff, hurried out to help.
"I'm glad you're home," he said. "This storm hit sooner than expected, and that curve on our street freezes quickly. I prayed you'd remember to take that bend cautiously."
"And I did remember," I said, thinking of how well I knew the curves of our neighborhood roads. How I wish I knew what lingered around the bend for our future....
Jeff's hazel eyes studied me. "You've been crying?"
"It's melting snowflakes," I joked, attempting a smile.
"You don't have to be strong all the time," he pointed out later inside our home.
But I do, I reasoned. Too many people depend on me, and I can't afford to make more mistakes. Yet, I'm so tired and in need of a positive surprise.
After putting away the groceries, my children and I settled by the fireplace to play a board game. When nighttime arrived, I prayed with each of them by their bedsides and then returned downstairs. My husband had fallen asleep on the couch, and I covered him with a blanket before moving towards a window to peek outside. The white snow glowed against the dark backdrop of night.
I decided to take a walk in the crystallized world outside, and pulled on my coat and boots and gloves. Outside, my feet seemed to disappear in the endless white as I plodded along snowy fields toward the forest a quarter of a mile or so ahead.
The hushed quiet -- a peace that only a freshly fallen snowfall provides -- encouraged me to surrender my burdens. It was during heavy snowfalls like these, I'd told my children through the years, that time stood still.
Somewhere along my journey, I realized I'd been crying. Pausing to catch my breath, I felt a moment's panic. I'd somehow traveled off the recognizable path from my home. "Oh, no," I murmured, uncertain of my location. "Help me, Lord."
Through the windblown snow I searched for familiar landmarks and found none. It was symbolic of my life, making mistakes like going for a walk in a snowstorm, and wandering off course. I had fumbled in unfamiliar territory again, and I was suffering the consequences.
Tired and defeated, I slumped to the ground, resting my head on my drawn-up knees. Minutes passed, and then I felt a nudge against my arm. I slowly lifted my head and my breath caught.
A doe stood only a few inches away. She locked her gaze on mine, and then she snorted -- sending swirling puffs of steam into the air. I studied her. She seemed thinner than most does I'd seen, and she was alone -- an oddity since I'd always seen deer in groups.
My father, an experienced hunter, had told me that during harsh winters, hungry deer ventured closer to residential areas in search of food. Perhaps this was one of those times.
Mesmerized by her beauty, I waited. Her nervousness suggested she'd flee at any moment, so why had she approached me? The snowfall eased and peaceful silence seemed to encourage a mutual trust between this mysterious creature and me.
She stepped closer, my heart raced, and then she lowered her head and nudged the right side of my coat. I felt my pocket and realized I still had the apple I had retrieved from the driveway. I offered it to her.
A few moments passed as she sized up both the apple and me. I couldn't believe this was happening. I had walked off the beaten path, gotten lost, and was now experiencing a remarkable moment.
"You've given me what I'd hoped for," I said to my new friend. "Mistakes can bring positive outcomes, after all." As if she'd been waiting for me to say that, she took the apple in her mouth and sprinted away into the night.
"Thank you, God," I whispered, suddenly unafraid as I stood up. I was warmly dressed, not in imminent danger, and so I picked the most logical path to head home. If I made a new directional mistake, perhaps another astonishing wonder waited around the bend.
Just like in life, I told myself. Mistakes, regrets, and incorrect choices... they come with consequences, pain, and fear, but it's the wisdom and willingness to learn from the past and then press onward that can lead to a surprising and joyful future.
Excited by my new insight, I trudged ahead in powdery drifts of snow, growing tired but pressing onward, determined to be just as persistent in life... even if that life contained unfamiliar, unseen bends in the road... because maybe once-in-a-lifetime moments waited just around the corner.