Thursday, December 29, 2011

just enough dark to see.

Listening To: You and I by Ingrid Michaelson
I read: Mark Batterson's The Circle Maker and highlighted, underlined, and put little ♥'s on every single page. The book rocked my soul and my whole concept of prayer. Incredible. Would be an amazing first read of 2012. Full gushy review coming soon. 
This: is beautiful. Did anybody not cry when they watched it? 

Every year around Christmas, Dad and I drive to the top of Lookout Mountain and walk through Rock City's Enchanted Garden of Lights. The whole experience is fun and festive and, I'll admit it, tee-totally touristy. But I think people should geek out and get touristy more often, especially when it comes to the cities they live in.

I once heard someone (snarkily) say that tourists are easy to spot because they're always looking up. And I remember thinking, and I still wonder ... what's so bad about always looking up? 

I hate the idea of walking around like some uninspired drone all the time. I've lived in my city for a few years now and I still look up at the buildings. I still take pictures of them. And I still freak out when I drive over the hill at night and see my city's lights. My town looks so sweet then, all snuggled up into the mountains, shining and blinking like clusters of stars have fallen asleep in the valley.

We weren't headed for the valley though. We were headed for the hill top.

Dad and I drove up and around the curvy-tall mountain, all the way to city of Lookout Mountain (which, incidentally, has always looked a little bit like The Grinch's Mountain to me). Lookout Mountain is a gorgeous, whimsical town; criss-crossed by streets with names like Red Riding Trail and Pied Piper. Fairyland Elementary is their school. How amazing is that? Lookout Mountain is home to crazy mansions and sweet cottages. And cute cafes, trails, and parks and a ton of Civil War history. (And a college that looks like Hogwarts.) (And a gas station that won't let you use the restroom even if you buy gas there. Not that I'm still bitter.) (Also - so not buying gas there ever again.) (*gives the Shell Station the stink eye*)

And it's the home of Rock City. I've been to Rock City several times, but my favorite time to go is Christmastime, for The Enchanted Garden of Lights.

As you may already know, the Enchanted Garden of Lights is pretty darn fun. You get to walk through all sorts of caves and caverns, all lit-up for Christmas. It's gorgeous and a little bit spooky and kind of cheesy and so, so, so fun. Rock City is a rare blend of natural beauty and manmade-dorkdom. I'm a fan of both aspects. We walked through Fairytale Caverns and looked through the storybook windows. We read nursery rhymes carved into stone. (The nursery rhyme people are delightfully creepy up close.)

We walked down into a cave and found a wishing well, where little lights sparkled up the stone walls like fairies:

I made a wish. A B I G wish. Tis the season. (It's always the wishing season ;)

We walked through Goblin's Underpass. We stopped to watch a timed-light manger scene. We pointed out gnomes (fake ones) (... I think) sitting on rocks and swings. We stopped for hot cocoa and split a chocolate chip cookie and took pictures of a cliff-facing turned into a snowman (pic forthcoming).

Christmas music played constantly (gnomes like surround sound). And the lights were always shining; around us and above us. One of my favorite displays is the simplest: a wire-bird made of tiny, white lights.

But my most favorite part of the whole tour was the star-part. 

Before the tour started, while we were driving up the mountain, we rounded the final curve and I saw the big, iconic star that's fastened to the cliffs of Lover's Leap at Christmastime:

And I pointed and yelled, "Look!"(As if we hadn't seen that star a billion times before.)

My dad pointed higher and said, "Look."

And I looked up just in time to see a falling star burn a fire-path across the sky.

A falling star.

real star.

And it was every bit as magical and wild and wonderful as falling stars are rumored to be. They're a scream and a sparkle, those star-things. Suddenly the world seemed very merry and bright and full of hope. I couldn't stop smiling. I'm smiling now just thinking about it. 

I've always been a skyfreak. Stars and sunsets, in particular, make my heart pound like crazy. Stars make me a little bit melodramatic, obviously. And that particular falling star got me in a thinking way. 

I thought about how it's kind of funny that I was so busy freaking out over a fake star that I almost missed a real one. And I thought about how typical that is of me, how sometimes I get so fixated on one thing - one dream, one goal, one flaw, one chance to prove myself -- that it consumes my vision. And I forget there might be something better, even more wonderful, even more rare and beautiful just past what I can see. 

I've been thinking star thoughts ever since that night.

Every December,
when I climb up the mountain,
and I stand on the edge,
I see miles of stars.

I see the sleeping stars down in the valley.
I see the wire-star that somebody fastened against the rock.
I see the timed-light star that buzzes like a bug light over the manger scene.

I see real stars, the night-kind that reach for each other across the ceiling of the sky.

But that night,
Because somebody reminded me to look past a star made of wire and light,
I saw one perfect wish burn a mad-dance down the December darkness.

And I remembered what I love about this season,
the advent, the epiphany, the new year, the new of it all:
it's this desire I have not just to live-out the day I'm in,
but to have enough vision and imagination to look past it too.

I think even the most dreamy dreamers need that reminder:
there is more happening here than what you see.

It's not that you're overlooking the day you're given.
It's that you have the perspective to see past it,
to know this is one page in an amazing story.

I've been reading so much lately about vision and imagination and prayer (and how they're all linked together). And I've been thinking about how I need to cast my vision further out than I do.

Sometimes, I need to look past this day I'm in, especially if it's breaking my heart, and know better days are coming.

Sometimes, I need to look past my flaws and choose to see something that is sometimes, surprisingly, kinda cute. (Snakeskin jeggings and all!)

I want to look past my fear and find enough courage to do the thing I love.
Even if it seems crazy.
Especially if it seems crazy.

I want to look for the good in a situation.
I want to keep choosing to see the good in people. To find the best and brag on it.

I want to choose beauty.
Choose goodness.
Choose to do some good,
choose action over apathy.

I want to set my sights a little higher.
Get a little bit riskier.

I don't want to limit my perspective to only what I can see.

When we got to the top of the mountain, to the very edge where the city lights and stars roll into one long canvas of night and light, I thought about everything I'm standing on the edge of right now.

And I thought about how easy it has been in the past (and no doubt will be in the future) to convince myself the climb will never be worth it. But sometimes the climb is worth it. Sometimes all it takes a slight change in perspective, just one brave glance past the obvious, and I see that the view isn't just good from here. The view is starry from here. One of my most favorite song lyrics of-all-time-and-always comes from Cindy Morgan. She sings, "Heartaches we go through are often blessings in disguise." It's a good reminder for a new day. I believe there's so much truth in those words, even though sometimes it's year before I see it.

I'm starting to see it. Some of it.

By day, you can see everything from the edge of the mountain: cities and six other states and farms and battlefields and woods. But almost none of that is visible at night. All you can see at night is the promise of something good: the tip of a far-off mountain in the moonlight, the lights from the city, dark patches of fields. Miles and miles of stars. You only see the promise of what's in front of you; a vision that's not realized just yet. But will be.

And that's how I'm ending my year: with my feet firmly planted on the rock. With hope in my heart. With stars in my eyes.

Happy New Year, Beauties! Thanks for being so encouraging and smart and funny and genuine. I adore you people. So does Biscuit. If you were here, Biscuit would totally pounce on you and sniff your ears. Which is her way of saying that you're awesome (I've considered trying this out when I meet people ... seems more creative than a handshake). I can't wait to see what shenanigans we'll get into in 2012.

Till then, I hope your weekend is super fun - full of sparkling grape juice and pizza snacks culinary wonders. And full of falling stars.

Do you have any big hopes for 2012? Any plans you're looking forward to? Do you make resolutions? Or set new goals? I'd love to hear about them! 


  1. I love this post.

    And now I *need* to go to this Fairyland place. :)

    I definitely have big hopes for 2012. I love how inspired and excited I always feel between Christmas and New Years. I have a whole list of things I want to accomplish next year.

    P.S. About "The Girl Who Circumnavigated...", sometimes I had a hard time getting into it. But sometimes it was amazing, and those times made up for the others. :) I haven't actually read The Wizard of Oz yet, but it reminded me a lot of Alice In Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass. I loved it! :) And you do need to read The Wilder Life as soon as possible.


  2. I think I've mentioned before how much I LOVE stars. They are my most favorite. Rock City is amazing, and I can only imagine how magical it'd be at Christmastime. Here's to an awesome new year Natalie, you have no clue how much you've helped make this one awesome for me. did you get my thank you card?

  3. This is so similar to my last post about climbing. Thanks for sharing, girl. That video was moving, and I was so sad to see from other links that he passed away. Crazy.

  4. So the day after I read this, I was sitting outside with a friend, and they saw a shooting star. And I missed it. I was RIGHT THERE and I missed seeing my first shooting star. It was so disappointing.
    But just knowing one had been there was still sort of magical. Maybe next time:)


  5. confession: i finally got paperdoll, and my latest blog post may gush over it just a little :)

    as for 2012 goals, i really don't know right now. my future is kind of in the hands of other people, so right now i have no idea what's going to happen.