Posted by: Betsy Devany | December 21, 2009

Take Joy in the Journey


Having returned from Idaho, I reflect on my time in Boise, where I helped to make gingerbread houses, attended The Nutcracker ballet at Ballet Idaho, perfected my Girl Scout salute, watched the movie Up for the third time (cried for the third time), was inspired by nineteen girls to find the true meaning of Christmas, visited the cancer clinic, listened to other people struggling in their lives (hugged them tight), read to my nieces, tended to my sister, learned that my husband was laid off from his job , decorated my sister’s house for the holidays, folded laundry,read to my nieces, loaded the dishwasher, unloaded the dishwasher, danced with my nieces, reorganized the refrigerator, read The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt (laughed and cried), reorganised the laundry room, attended the holiday show put on by first, second and third graders (smiled until my cheeks hurt), read Hush by Jaqueline Woodson, reorganised the craft drawers, watched the film Young at Heart (everyone needs to see this), shopped for party favors for the girls’ birthday party, organized the decoration of the party bags, spontaneously found ways to entertain the girls at the party during a lag in activites (my group was sent to another room as we were having too much fun), and had my first experience climbing a mountain to find a Christmas tree. 

Our journey in the mountains of Idaho began in the late afternoon on a Sunday with my sister, her husband, their two young daughters, myself, and Tessa, their very energetic and independent schnauzer. It began with a view of the mountainside, and the knowledge that we had to climb quickly–if we were to avoid the impending loss of sunlight. The girls ran ahead to test the depth of the snow, which was up to their knees. Tessa buried her face in a snow bank, and then shot out of sight. I began to make my way through the snow with my sister by my side. Breathing the fresh air, I realized there were no street sounds: cars honking, music blaring, people shouting. It was remarkably silent, except for the sounds we made. 

In that wonderful silence, I thought about my writing; the peaceful hours in the morning when I begin a journey with a new voice, which grabbed my heart, urging me to follow.  To listen. To write their story. These voices don’t allow me to give up. There is a reason they slip into my mind, and my job is not to question why, but to simply get their story right, even when the path to writing the manuscript seems insurmountable.  

Reminding myself that I have faced writing challenges with success keeps me moving forward in search for the perfect tree. Even when the temperatures dropped and my fingertips stung through my gloves. And even as I paused to wonder whether the two tiny trees we noticed–in the first ten minutes–might be a compromise for one large tree, so we could go home. 

 But then I remembered my nieces. I remembered how the journey through a first-draft can be long and arduous, and how, no matter what, I continue to write.  

I needed to continue to move forward.  

My sister was tired. She made the decision to head back down the mountain and wait for us in the car. I promised her I would keep track of the girls and that we would soon return with a tree, not realizing that well over an hour would pass before we would see her again.  

Twenty minutes went by. The girls began to bicker. They were cold. And tired. They were worried about their mom at the bottom of the mountainside in the car. They didn’t like that Tessa continued to disappear from our sight. 

“We have a tree to find.” I tried to keep my lips from shaking, and wiggled my toes inside my boots to keep them from going numb. “It’s just around the bend. Ahead of us. I can feel it.” 

“You said that already,” said Lili. 

“Yeah,” said Sofi, “at least three times already, and we haven’t found the right one yet!” 

“We will,” I promised. We had to. 

The sunlight was fading. The temperature had dropped. The girls’ cheeks and noses were red. Their father was out of sight, though we continued to call back and forth. 

I slipped my gloves off and held my warm hands to their cheeks, which were as cold as icicles. “We can do this, girls. For your mom.” 

We continued up the  mountainside to find their father. And the reason for this journey: the view ahead of us. A gift we did not expect.   


 Our tree was not far from that view. A tree we carried down the mountainside in the dim light. The girls led us in singing carols, and even when we slipped (more than once), we kept our spirits high. For we had found a tree, and whether or not it was indeed the most perfect of trees, the joy was in the journey. 


I was once again reminded of my writing and the journeys I take with my characters. It is important that I make myself stop and take a step back, especially when I have been in the depths of a manuscript for weeks. Only then do I see the view; the true story I was meant to discover.  

Take joy in the journey.  

Happy Holidays! 


Darkness falls as we tie the tree to the car



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