As a child, we visited this area often because my grandparents had a home in Maggie Valley.  I remember gawking at the mountains, as I peered out the back window of my parents car.  I loved to sit on the back porch of their mountain cottage and try to see how many ranges of blue I could count.  I would find myself in awe when the clouds would settle in between the ranges, clearly indicating why these mountains are known as the Great Smokies. 

Now, we find ourselves trekking up and down, over and through these ranges.  The views from above are so different, and yet, still the same. 

Occasionally we crest and find ourselves amid grassy areas known as balds.  From here one can see miles and miles of mountains… if it isn’t too “smoky”.

Lately, it seems as though the kids are so much stronger than we are.  They simply fly over the rocks, nimbly balancing on the uneven earth.  We allow them to trek ahead.  We may be hiking the Appalachian Trail together, but we are hiking our own hikes as well.  Ryan and I, always bring up the rear.  I love that they are enjoying the vast freedom of the outdoors, but sometimes I regret that I am unable to capture their faces on camera.  

The kids arrived at Spence Field Shelter, LONG before we did.  Kole and Taylor had already set up the tents.  The kids had eaten a snack and were visiting with everyone at the fire. 

I love that all of our kids are meeting so many interesting people.  They are not merely kids out here.  They are fellow hikers.  Their ability to carry weight on their backs while hiking miles and miles each day earns them a seat amongst the hikers by the fire.  In this environment they find themselves peers to the 18 year old, just graduated from high school to the 82 year old attempting to set the record for the oldest thru hiker.  It is here, in this arena, I see the fruit of my labor come ripe.  Taylor and Kole are able to discuss literature, history and current events with confidence, adding bits to the conversations.  And in this same arena, they are learning.  Riley asks politely if he can draw a fellow hiker.  He sits quietly putting form to the drawing in his sketch pad.  He is developing his skill.  A hiker in the group studied art, and was teaching him to forget the lines and look deep into the shadows.  There are no lines, only shadows.  Riley was in art class for over an hour, listening intently to every word.  

Kole brought out the ukulele and serended the group with song.  He gains confidence with every song he plays, and is pushed to learn more, practice more.  His face beams when everyone applauds his effort.  

Zoey and Ava love to sing along with their brothers ukulele.  They are finding themselves here.  Ava has started to allow her voice to be heard.  It is beautiful.  They are finding strength they never knew that they had.  It excites me to see all that has unfolded in the few short weeks out here on the trail. 

Together, we are unearthing strength we only hoped existed within.  Our family is the same, yet everyone is morphing into something new.  We’ve wrapped the caccoon around ourselves, and in the woods, through the ups and downs, we are morphing.  Our hearts are gently being drawn closer to the heart of our Creator.  Because we know that He is at work, we know that he is preparing us for what is next.  When we emerge from this caccoon, we will be ready for what is next.  

For now, we just absorb what is happening in each day.  We seize the opportunity to be here full heartedly.  As we approach a month on the trail, we can honestly say we have no regrets. We are where we are supposed to be. 

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