January 3, 2018
It is the tenth day of Christmas, and the third of a brand new year.
I’m sitting at my little desk in the waning light of a January day. Even from this distance, I can hear the sounds of hammerings and saws coming from the house, the occasional pounding, the muffled noise of someone calling a measurement up the stairs. I wonder if, when all of this is over, the silence will take some getting used to again. I’ve always cherished the quiet here, the sudden pastoral calm the moment you pull in the drive, the peace of a place that’s held its own counsel for generations. And as our restive city encroaches nearer by the day, and our busy world whirls faster and faster, the silence here bears the weight of a blessing. A benediction we did not make, but can only receive.
Today the contractors are finishing up the last of the ceilings. After the fire, every ceiling in our house had to come down, which meant exposing and removing the original bead board—a fact which at once rejoiced and broke my heart. We’d always wanted to have those ceilings restored, and it felt like a crime to see all that heart pine torn out and piled in the yard. (Don’t worry, we saved every scrap we could!) And now, all these months later, a clutch of skilled carpenters have recreated those lovely ceilings in new bead board, milled to an era-appropriate width and installed with artisanal skill. Some will be painted; some are already stained. I can’t wait to show them to you.
I hardly know what to say about this holiday. In some ways, I feel that its treasures will only reveal themselves in years to come, when we look back on our Camp Marah days with tenderness and humor and more than a little amazement. It was a hard holiday, and a beautiful one; spartan, yet overflowing with mercy. The simplicity forced upon me was a gift I will carry with me into other holidays, for even in less lean times we will remember what really mattered this year—and what didn’t. This is not to disparage the concrete expressions of our hope which make Christmas the crown of the year—far from it! I will always bring the best of my heart and my hands to this blessed time; I will always take joy as tangibly and visibly as I can. It’s just that I think (I hope!) I will be less dissatisfied with what I’m able to bring in any given year. That I will be gladder to welcome Christmas because I’m more desperate for my Dayspring.
I don’t have any tidy takeaways, or bows to tie upon the experiences of this year. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s how vitally, critically, essentially, I need a Savior. I’ve been clinging to Jesus like a plank from a shipwreck, and He has not let me sink.
I celebrated Christmas from an impoverished place this year, from a heart cracked and dry with sorrow and a mind bent with care. Goaded by crises and urgencies both related and unrelated to this restoration, consumed with the overwhelm of our situation and all of the inconveniences/discomforts/disappointments attendant upon it, I found my daily prayers condensed into one choking cry for mercy:
Lord, save me!
When I had neither words nor time for more detailed petition, when the fury of this tempest made me feel abandoned and unseen, this was—and is—the only plea that fit the bill. It’s been like the beat of my heart, the most sincere and constant prayer I can utter.
Lord, save me—because I need a Savior. Not because I need my circumstances improved, or because I’m going through a patch I can’t manage on my own, or because I need a dose of holiday feels.
Because I need a Savior.
This was the gift waiting for me in this Advent time, the deeper beauty I kept asking the Lord to let me see: I need a Savior in every detail and particular of my life, and this is exactly what God has given me in Christ. It’s as simple and stupendous as that. He didn’t come to make things go the way I want them to; He came to save me from all that separates me from Him. And all He’s asking me to do is to believe it—to assent to this one impossible thing which takes all other things up into its imponderability and impossibility and makes them bring good to us.
And you shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins…
Over the past year I’ve often felt like a frightened child crying in a dark room. or a terrified baby bird, desperate and fearful that its mother will never return with its food.
But He says He is Abba Father. The Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
He says fear not, for I am with you.
I still feel frightened at times. I still don’t want to be living in a trailer. I still don’t want my Daddy to be dead. I still don’t want to be in this barren place.
This isn’t what I want. I’ve been griping it under my breath.
But in the Incarnation, God spoke a Name that made all things well, and is making all things well. The “now, but not yet” of the Kingdom is at work in our world, and the Prince of heaven has made His home among us.
There is a hidden glory in all this darkness, and it’s not the resolution of my circumstances or the relief of my anxieties.
It’s Jesus Himself. My Savior.
And so, it was a meaningful holiday, bright but bittersweet, threaded with memory to holidays past and anchored in hope of holidays yet to come. I had the joy of my sister home for Christmas; the mystery and wonder of a barn at midnight on Christmas Eve; a steady torrent of visitors to our little backyard camp; and the delightful insanity of a new puppy (because, hey, when your lives are already in chaos, why not go ahead and add a puppy to the mix?). In all serious, though, this little girl has brought laughter and levity into a place grown much too serious with grownup cares. Luna Lovegood is nothing short of a gift, and an unspeakably timely one, at that. We love her so much.
On New Year’s Eve, we built a bonfire and invited the neighbors over for fireworks—real Alabama fireworks, not just Georgia sparklers and bottle rockets. As bloom after bloom exploded in the night sky, swirls and peonies and chasers and stars, I found my eyes drawn to the faces around the fire, upturned with expectation and delight, mouths agape in wonder. What better image to carry into the New Year than such an embodiment of trust in a present and coming goodness?
After our friends had gone, we sat by the fire together with the dogs, counting down the final moments of 2017, and at the very stroke of midnight, I grabbed the rope of the old school bell out back and rang it with all my might. Peal after peal of farewell to a hard year and welcome to a new one.
When that was done, we turned on Pink Martini’s version of Auld Lang Syne (my favorite!) and sang along at the tops of our lungs while I danced around the fire with Luna in my arms and Bonnie barking at my heels. A Happy New Year if I ever did see one.
Good is always coming, my friends. May we all take heart to believe it in 2018.