The final day of our trip was Asher’s birthday, June 4th, and we had hoped that everything would line up so we could celebrate his day with some special treats…First, at the hotel, there were the presents to open, which were wonderfully received, with a great mix of, “Oh yay, I hoped I would get those!” and, “Wow! That is so cool! I never thought you would get that!”
As for the rest of the day that we had planned, we hoped to begin the day with a tour of Linville Caverns, manage to find a birthday cake somewhere for lunch (for which I had candles and matches ready in my pocket 🙂 ), and then end our day with sliding and swimming at the Sliding Rock near Asheville, which would be our exit from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Now, the weather for June 4th called for thunderstorms all day long, with the chance of rain increasing throughout the day…So….we would see!
The Linville Caverns are a series of limestone caverns with an underground river flowing through them, colored rock formations, and a population of cave-blind trout and crawfish! It was a whirlwind tour, the whole system explored in just half an hour…
My favorite part of the tour was a narrow grated bridge, where you could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the cavern walls and stare beneath your feet into the crystal depths of the subterranean river, at a place where the depth is unmeasured, having exceeded the 250-foot measuring line.
Back on the surface, we had a few minutes to relax and unwind in the above-ground portion of the river, as well!
And, as I emptied my pockets into my car door, I was reminded just how much Asher has influenced our family! Look at all those sparkly rocks, hahaha!
Happily, our next stop would be the Museum of North Carolina Minerals! There were gems-and-minerals to look at inside and rocks-and-minerals to climb on outside 🙂
And then it was getting close to lunchtime, and we took an exit for a town called “Little Switzerland”. I had been curious about it on the map, and thought it might be a neat place to stop for lunch. Who knows, maybe they would even have some kind of bakery for a cake!
We pulled right into a little corner-cafe for lunch, eating salads and sandwiches outside on the porch, looking out across the picturesque little town.
Attached to the deli was a little line of shops, and I wandered along until some hand-woven straw baskets caught my eye. I asked Joe to come take a look, and we chatted with the shop-owner, who told us the story of how she had come to sell these baskets, hand-woven by a women’s cooperative in Africa. Her original trade was in quilting, and so she would visit different craft fairs and trade shows for her business. And then she had experienced an illness or injury that left her partially paralyzed. At one of the trade shows, she discovered these straw baskets, which she found to be so well-balanced that she could still manage to carry her fabrics in her weakened state. She wanted to share this with others, particular those who might have similar needs, so she partnered with the cooperative herself to sell their baskets, which she also donates to those in need. But my favorite part of this story was that she shared about how the Lord had led her through some hard times, and that she still suffers from pain and reliance on medication due to her condition. I left Joe with her, as he shared the encouragement of the healing that he had received from Ankylosing Spondylitis, a particular form of arthritis that attacks the spine, and for which doctors say that there is no cure, only “pain management” through a nasty line of immunosuppressant prescriptions. She was so happy and prayerful to hear how Joe described that, once he realized that the pain was in a sense a lie, simply a signal from inflamed nerves, and not a true indicator of any real physical damage, he began to refuse medicine and lean on the Lord, and healing came, and freedom from pain, and greater strengthening. The truth, in a very real way, set him free! And this was a message that was exciting for her to hear as well! I pray that our encounter will continue to bring this sweet lady hope as she leans on the Lord in her own journey, and increased freedom from pain and medication!
Meanwhile, back at the picnic table, lunch plates had been cleaned, and it was time to take Asher inside to see if they might have a little something in the line of baked goods…Or, maybe, they might just have a whole display full of cakes to choose from!
Asher chose the chocolate peanut-butter-cup cake for his birthday monster-slice, and we lit candles, sang a little song, made a wish, and…
Thank you, Lord, for birthday cake on the road!
And as we climbed in our car, a lady stopped us in the parking lot…”Look out!” she said, “There are storms coming in. You’re headed into some weather and lots of rain, so drive carefully!” Hmmm….Would we be able to visit the Sliding Rock? We would just have to wait and see!
And so we wound along again, unravelling ever southwards and westwards, and there, at the Craggy Gardens, were the expansive views of the blue ridges…
Framed by brilliant rhododendrons!
Of course, one of us missed the whole thing… 🙂
And never awoke until we reached our last Visitor Center, the Blue Ridge Parkway Destination Center!
We arrived around 4 pm, with just an hour until they closed. At this point in our trip, Asher had decided it wasn’t quite worthwhile for him to complete all of the Junior Ranger worksheets. There was a tiered program, where if you completed 1 worksheet you got a plastic pin, after 4 worksheets you got a patch, and if you completed 12 worksheets, you got an enameled metal pin. Asher had decided to settle for the patch, but Spencer wanted the metal pin, and had been diligently continuing to work towards it throughout our trip. And now he was almost there! Could he finish his final few worksheets at the Asheville Visitor Center? He resolutely searched for answers and recorded them in his worksheets, all neatly arranged in order from first to last…And he did it! The boys presented their work to the Park Ranger, who swore them in as Junior Rangers, and presented Asher with a patch, and Spencer with a patch and a lovely metal pin! Yay! His face lit up, and his smile stretched from ear-to-ear, as we all congratulated him and Asher said, “Wow, Spencer, you did such a great job on this! I’m so proud of you!” And then I remembered how, Visitor Center by Visitor Center, the Lord had lined up all of our timing. Each day, we had arrived at the last Visitor Center on our route right before closing, so that we hadn’t missed one…Right down to this one, where we arrived with just enough time for him to finish the whole program. Not by our great planning, but by His kind provision of a very special treat just for Spencer!
From eating to sleeping to beauty to an extra bed to birthday cake to a Junior Ranger badge, there were so very many little things that I could see over the past few days that the Lord had specifically, purposely, graciously gifted to our family…And there was one more gift in store!
We exited the Blue Ridge Parkway, bound for our final destination, the Sliding Rock in the Pisgah National Forest near Asheville. This spectacular formation is about 60’ of naturally-occurring waterslide, plunging into a 6’ pool surrounded by splash-and-play shallows! But would the weather hold? It did! We arrived in the early evening, under cloudy skies but warm air, amidst a dwindling crowd, with just enough time to finish out our special birthday-day!
Surprise! The kids were delighted, excited…
Maybe a little nervous – it looks intimidating, no?
But ultimately thrilled, as they took turns taking the plunge!
And for Genevieve, a short slide off to the side ended in a knee-deep pool that was just right! She went again-and-again-and-again, first with me, and then all-by-her-big-girl-self!
And beneath our feet, the water rushed, and the rocks glittered like streets of gold!
“Oh my goodness, can you believe we just did that?!”
And then, there was water-gun time!
Until the teeth-chattering, shiver-shuddering finally exceeded the fun and excitement, and we wrapped up in towels and called it a day.
River-scoured, towel-dried, and bundled into jammies, we piled into the car as the evening deepened…Having accomplished all we could have hoped for in this day, Asher’s special day, through the calm and gracious provision of the God that we followed…Amen, happy birthday, Asher!