Camping for Christmas

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Chapter 7

December 24, 2020

Emily woke up to her phone constantly buzzing.

She sleepily reached passed Rylan and found the nagging device.

“Hello?” She whispered into the microphone.

Static.

She hung the phone up and decided she would check messages after breakfast. The church group had packed up a breakfast basket for them to use that morning and invited them to come over for lunch around 12:30 pm.

Emily started a fire and got breakfast going. She took a moment to admire Agape lake. It wasn’t as beautiful as a waterfall, but it was still peaceful. In fact, it was just what she needed. Being forced to find beauty in the lake opened Emily’s mind up to other opportunities.

The sun was almost up and several birds swooped around the waters. She needed to ask the rangers for a bird watching book. It would be nice to know what she was looking at.

Rylan joined her by the fire and nibbled on one of the banana muffins from the basket.

“Good morning, Princess,” Emily greeted her with a hug.

“Morning, mommy,” Rylan nuzzled into her. She was always her snuggliest in the morning.

“What are we doing today?” Rylan asked Emily as she rubbed some sleep from her eyes.

“I’m not sure yet,” Emily admitted.

“We could take a boat ride on the lake,” Rylan suggested. She heard some of the other campers talking about boats yesterday and it sounded like fun.

“It would be dangerously cold if we fell in,” Emily surmised. Hypothermia was not on her camping list.

“We could go on a treasure hunt,” some of Rylan’s usual enthusiastic energy was waking up.

Emily remembered the conversation they had before they left for the camping trip.

“Are we looking for the treasure those wild raccoons stole from us?” She joked.

“Yes!” Rylan yelled, “We have to get it back. There’s special medicine inside the treasure box that Lena needs!”

“Who is Lena? And why does she need medicine?” Emily always enjoyed trying to keep up with Rylan’s imagination.

“Ugh! Don’t you know Lena?” Rylan threw her hands up. “She is the ducky living right over there,” Rylan pointed to the lake. Emily’s eyes followed the finger’s direction until her gaze rested on a happy brown and blue wood duck swimming close to the shore.

“She’s beautiful! Nice to meet you, Lena,” to Emily’s surprise, the duck quacked back and shook it’s tail.

“She wants you to go find the treasure box so she can have her medicine,” Rylan reminded Emily.

“Oh, right. What sort of medicine is it?”

“Sweet medicine to help her head,” Rylan whispered. “She has a headache.”

“Poor duck! You don’t have a headache too, do you Rylan?” Emily wanted to make sure her daughter wasn’t sending her some kind of message through her game.

“Nope! I’m great, I’m just ready to go find the treasure.”

Emily wasn’t sure how she could hide a treasure chest with duck headache medicine in it while also looking for that same chest with her very observant daughter watching. She also needed to check her messages. It could have been her boss calling earlier.

Emily didn’t take much vacation time and was always worried about the office when she did. She was a program manager for a small nonprofit that provided medical research opportunities to students. As one of only three employees, she was responsible for a huge chunk of the daily operations, including finances. The job was definitely stressful at times, especially when the board of directors wanted answers. Right now, the board was reviewing the group’s 2019-2020 audit report. The report was clean, but somehow there was still some “knit-picking.” Emily was not a fan of explaining all the minute details over and over again.

Emily told Rylan to make up a special treasure hunt song and map to help them find the treasure chest. This bought her more time to figure out what to hide.

She was listening to Rylan hum the “map” song from the hit kid’s show “Dora the Explorer” and staring at her suitcase when she heard a familiar banjo tune on the breeze.

Oh beautiful star of Bethlehem
Shine upon us until the glory dawn
Give us a lamp to light the way
Unto the land of perfect day
Oh beautiful star of Bethlehem shine on

Jamey and Kenaniah paraded into campsite 1 with smiles on and voices blaring.

“Good morning!” Kenaniah called out to them.

Emily was relieved to see them, their arrival would give her more time to figure out the treasure hunt.

“Hello!” She waved back.

“We brought you some snacks,” Jamey said as Kenaniah passed a snack bag to Emily.

Perfect! This could be the treasure.

“Actually,” Emily pushed the bag back towards him, “would you mind burying it under the 10th tree on the left down the lake trail?”

“Um...okay, not a problem,” Jamey replied with his usual non intrusive nature.

Kenaniah was more curious. “Why?” He questioned.

Emily hastily explained about the treasure hunt and encouraged them to slip away quickly before Rylan came over. She was currently deeply invested in the drawing of her treasure map.

The boys hurried back the way they came, concealing the treat bag and resuming their song.

A quack from Lena alerted Rylan to the present and she noticed Jamey and Kenaniah leaving.

“Did they not want to go on the treasure hunt with us?” Rylan asked Emily.

“They had to go sing Christmas songs to the other campers,” Emily hoped this wasn’t a complete lie.

“I thought we were the only other campers?” Rylan continued.

She really is observant! Emily thought. “I think there are other campers in a different part of the park, maybe on the other side of the lake? They use RVs instead of tents, so they can’t camp in this section.”

This answer seemed to satisfy Rylan, but she wasn’t done thinking about Jamey and Kenaniah. “Can we go with them?” She wondered. “I like singing, we could do our treasure hunt later.”

Emily wanted to give the musicians a chance to hide the treat bag, “Not right now, sweetie,” she said. “I need to do some work. You stay right here, I’m going to walk around to get a cell signal.”

Emily left Rylan playing by the tent with Lena while she walked a little ways down the “Base Camp Trail” trying to get cell service.

She was finally able to get enough coverage to listen to her voicemail, it was, indeed, her boss, Lora.

“Oh Emily, Emily, I hope you’re having a wonderful time on your trip. I was just calling to congratulate you on your fine work this audit and to offer you a position as the finance director. The board will, of course, want to do an official interview, but you should pass that easily. Call me back so we can discuss!”

Emily couldn’t believe she was being offered a promotion. She knew the budget was already spread thin, would they be increasing her salary? Or was this just a tricky title change to get her to do more work?

She trusted Lora, though. Her boss wasn’t the type to be tricky. She was a very fair person.

Emily started to head back to her tent, content to return Lora’s call after Christmas.

As soon as she turned around, she heard an unfamiliar voice softly singing “I wonder as I wander.” It stirred deep emotions in her. Her grandfather always used to sing that song around Christmas time. She felt his loss keenly.

Emily closed her eyes and listened to the song progress, remembering sitting in her grandpa’s lap and being rocked to sleep.

I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor on’ry people like you and like I

When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall,
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all.
But high from God’s heaven a star’s light did fall,
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing,
Or all of God’s angels in heav’n for to sing,
He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King.

I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor on’ry people like you and like I
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

When the song ended, Emily opened her eyes and realized she had been away from Rylan longer than intended. She needed to hurry back and get the treasure hunt going. She was thankful the treat bag was hidden on the way to the church group, they’d be needing lunch soon.

She rushed into camp, still wondering who had been singing the song, and was surprised to see Ranger Hicks walking past her tent.

“Hey!” She shouted to him from the trail entrance.

He turned, waved, and strode towards her.
“A fine morning, isn’t it?”

“It is!” Emily was feeling a little overwhelmed, but aware of how many blessings she had already received that day. “Was that you singing?”

The ranger blushed. He didn’t know anyone had heard him through the trees.
“Yeah, that’s one of my favorites.”

“Mine too,” she happily noted.

“Where’s Rylan?” He asked her.

“Oh she’s just playing over here by the water,” Emily walked around the other side of the tent.

Rylan wasn’t there.

Emily checked inside the tent, she wasn’t there either. She fought the panic creeping up inside her.

“She’s missing,” Emily choked out as she continued to look around the campsite.

“Maybe she went over to the church camp?” Ranger Hicks offered. He was used to children wandering off at the camp, especially if they had friends nearby. “Let’s not get worried until we check there.”

They walked in silence down the trail leading to campsite 2. Emily watched and listened carefully for any trace of Rylan.

Ranger Hicks was also staying alert, but his heart was calling out to God on behalf of Emily and Rylan. Begging for the little girl to be safe and found quickly.
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