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We are blessed to live about 30 minutes from some of the most beautiful trails in the Smoky Mountains, and we’ve gotten to hike a number of them over the years.

The story I’m about to share with you happened to a young woman hiking one of the trails in the Smokies in December of 2007. As the week of Christmas comes to a close, let the message of this true story stay with you throughout the New Year as a reminder of the power each of us has to make a difference in the world with nothing more than words.

It’s a crisp morning in mid December, and for several months now a young woman’s thoughts have been on her husband of two years – a Marine serving in Iraq. It’s always harder around the holidays when he’s away, and especially at Christmas.

But rather than hearing that he would be coming home for Christmas, two weeks earlier she received a personal visit from one of his superiors. Her beloved husband had been killed in a firefight.

She is crippled with grief. And now that Christmas is just a few days away, she cannot imagine going on without him. She has to get out of the house and just go. Somewhere. Somewhere away. Someone alone.

The trail she loves to hike – the one that always helps her clear her head – seems like the right place to go. At least she’ll be alone there.

The trail is high. The bluff is near, steep, and deep. When she gets to the top, she finds herself considering whether it would be easier to just end it all. It won’t take long. It would be over in a few minutes.

In her own words…

I’m just about to step over the edge when I look up and see a middle-aged woman coming toward me. She stopped a few feet from me, looked me right in the eyes, smiled at me and said, “Merry Christmas.”

That was it.

Then she just walked on past.

I stood there like a stone. I don’t think I even said “Merry Christmas” back to her… I’m not sure. And then I just started to bawl. I never cried so hard in my life. I just stood there heaving; I couldn’t stop.

When I caught my breath I turned around, planning to walk her down and say, “thank you for that.”

But she wasn’t there. There was no one there. I mean, it was just a stretch of trail with no turns. There was nowhere else for her to go but down the trail, nowhere for her to disappear to… but she wasn’t there!

Two simple words – Merry Christmas – said in earnest, saved that young woman’s life that day. That’s all it took to keep her from ending it all.

“Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.”

Multiple opportunities to make a difference for someone come our way every day, opportunities that require no more than a little thought, a bit of awareness, and a genuine concern for others.

Let’s keep our eyes and hearts open to those in need who cross our path every day, that we might do them – and ourselves – good as we allow the truth of this woman’s experience to change us.

Merry Christmas… and a blessed New Year!


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