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Those who know me are aware that I had a dad who suffered from mental illness. There were decades of hardship and not a few difficult memories. But there exists in my repository of adolescent recollections a frosty memory that warms my soul.

It was a cold December day in Casco, a small New England town in southern Maine. My older brother and I were dressed up with snow pants and boots, a thick winter coat we could barely move in, knitted mittens and hat. I believe warm scarfs were also wrapped tightly around our necks to help keep the cold at bay. Our dad was all decked out in winter clothes as well, as he announced the mission for the day. We were going to hike out into the woods and find the perfect Christmas tree!

We were bristling with excitement and ready for the adventure. We walked out of our old, turn of the century, rambling farmhouse and onto the lane that marked a line of separation between our property and the old graveyard across the street. Moving south down the snow-packed road, we veered off into the meadow. Walking instantly became a challenge for my short stature; after all, I was but a child still not yet 10 years old.

The snow was deep, yet our excitement and sheer determination made us plow forward into the woods. If my dad had not been leading the way we would have never ventured out in such conditions. One thing that we found helpful was trying to walk in the tracks my father made in the fresh snow. Somehow it was a bit easier following the path he created.

As I recall, we found a wonderfully green and beautifully-scented evergreen tree, cut it down, and dragged it back through the snow to the house. We presented it with pride to our mother. She did a wonderful job decorating the tree.

I’ll never forget that Christmas hike. It’s a good memory that sits active among others not as pleasant. I’m grateful to be able to have this positive frame of reference of a good day – a day when not all was bad with my father.

I still need to walk in the footsteps of my Dad. No, I don’t want to trace the footprints of my earthly father; after all, he’s with Jesus. Instead, I want to walk the path marked out for me by my Heavenly Father. It’s a path that may include difficulty. But I have found that my Heavenly Father is good and all His plans for me are according to His divine purpose. I can walk through the deep snows and hardships of life knowing that my Father is never out of reach. This knowledge is a treasure I hold more dearly than even the good memories of days gone by.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1, NIV84)