A Burst of Hope

A divorced mom faces a lonely Fourth of July. But with a little faith, she discovers a new independence.

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An artist's rendering of a man with dog watching fireworks.

Ah, the Fourth of July.  That meant one thing: It was Lake Junaluska time!

For over 20 years, my family had been celebrating Independence Day there. We’d spend the week in a cabin at the lake, grilling, playing cards and roasting s’mores over the fire late into the night.

The highlight of our trip was a hike to the top of Way Mountain–a pristine peak nestled in rolling hills surrounding the lake–to watch the fireworks and camp overnight. I loved seeing the kaleidoscope of colors.

The trip was a tradition. Even after my husband and I divorced, I went with our four sons. But now the boys were grown, and though I’d been putting bugs in their ears for weeks about our trip, no one had committed.

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The morning of the Fourth, I picked up the phone and tried again. “Hey, it’s time for our trip to the lake. You in?” I asked my youngest. “Sorry, Mom. I have plans with friends this year.” And so it went.

At three o’clock that afternoon, I gave up. Might as well just stay home this year, I thought, slumping on the couch. It wasn’t like I could go to the lake alone–I mean, I was still struggling with living on my own. Besides, I couldn’t bring my yellow Lab, Molly. She’d be too scared.

As if she knew I was thinking about her, Molly trotted over and draped herself across my feet. She came into my life several years after the divorce. My third son rescued her from an abusive home where she’d been left to fend for herself be­cause she was the runt.

He didn’t need to ask if I wanted to keep her. One look into her pleading cocoa eyes and I melted.

Now Molly was two years old, healthy and strong. But she still hadn’t recovered from the abuse she’d survived as a puppy. She was wary of strangers and skittish in new situations.

“We’re just a couple of homebodies, you and I,” I said, reaching down to scratch her ears. Except for a homebody, I was feeling restless sitting there on the couch. Lord, please let me get used to being on my own, I prayed, not for the first time. Help me know you are all I need.

Suddenly, I felt an inexplicable urging. I wanted to–no, had to–go to the lake. I grabbed a quilt, a tent, two cans of dog food and some cheese and crackers. It was impulsive, foolish even. I’d never been a spontaneous person. But it was a feeling I couldn’t ignore. Is this you, God? I wondered.

“C’mon, girl,” I said to Molly. We hopped in the car and hit the road. The lake was calling and we were answering.

We got there around 6:30 in the evening and started up the winding trail to the top of Way Mountain. Wild turkeys, hawks and chipmunks were everywhere! It was a scene right out of Wild America.

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Molly had never been around so many other animals before. I figured she’d get overwhelmed and go stock-still. I bent down to her level and stroked her soft fur. “I know this is a lot to take in, girl, but you’ll be okay. Just stay close to me.”

The next thing I knew she took off. “Molly!” I shouted. She ran up ahead, darting through the trees like a flash of lightning. “Molly, come back!” I called again. She turned, cocked her head and flashed me a wide doggie grin–a stick hanging halfway out of her mouth. I busted up laughing.

Finally, she scampered back down to me, her tail swooshing wildly. It was like she was a new dog, bold, ready for adventure.

By dusk, we’d reached our family’s campsite. I unpacked the tent and almost cried. “Now, Mol, how am I supposed to set this thing up?” I asked.

She looked up at me trustingly. “You really think I can do this, huh?” I thought back to the dozens of times I’d watched my sons put it together, and slowly, piece by piece, I did it myself. “Molly, we’ve got a tent!” I spread the quilt outside its door, and Molly and I settled in for supper.

Memories of those Fourth of July parties flooded my mind. I could still hear my family laughing into the late hours of the night. Now it was so quiet. So still. So lonely. Then, boom! Crack! The fireworks! I couldn’t see them yet, but the explosions were deafening.

I quickly wrapped my arms around Molly. “Don’t worry, girl,” I said. “I’ve got you.” Her tail thumped. She looked up at me as if to say, “Why would I be afraid? This is pretty cool!”

The two of us sprawled out on the quilt for a better view, but all we could see were little pinpricks of light. I had watched the fireworks from that same spot for years, huge bursts of color. Strange how small they seemed this time, I thought.

Molly snuggled closer and I swear she sighed contentedly. “Glad we came, aren’t you, girl?” I said. Come to think of it, the fireworks weren’t the only things that seemed small and far away. So did my fears of venturing out on my own. Lord, you knew this was just what Molly and I needed, didn’t you?

We were free of our fears, free to explore the world God gave us. For Molly and me, Fourth of July turned out to be a celebration of independence after all.

 

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