My dear ones have been giving me flowers from their gardens, or cutting them from my own yard. Beauty matters, friends.

Dear Friends,

In purely musical terms, a burden is a good thing: a continual refrain rounding up and affirming the essence of a song.

And if the song embedded in this season of life is a bit difficult for me to make out at times, the burden is unmistakable: thank you.

In the nearly eight weeks since our house fire, Philip and I have been overwhelmed in the holiest way by the love of the people in our life—including those on the other side of this computer screen. Each of your heartfelt messages, texts, phone calls, emails, and comments has been like a cup of cold water in a weary land. While it pains me that I’ve lacked both the time and the mental resources to respond to them as I would wish, I want you to know that I’ve read, digested, been nourished by them as doses of true comfort. Comfort, as Madeleine L’Engle reminds us in her preface to Lewis’ agonizingly honest A Grief Observed, means, quite literally, with strength. Your words, your condolences, even your laments, have imparted strength to both of us in ways I’m simply unable to articulate. You have told us, again and again, in unique and beautiful ways, that we are not alone. As a dear friend reminded me early on in this trial, in the faithful presence of the Body of Christ, we are ‘held when we cannot hold.’

If you’re reading this, you have been a part of that holding, and my heart extends to each of you a metaphorical bouquet of flowers. I long to make you understand what your compassion has meant; to clothe my gratitude in speech that will make you see it, hear it, and feel it.

Trouble is, the words have been sucked right out of me.

(Case in point: it’s taken me five days and counting to compose the preceding 300 words.)

Cleanup underway

I still can’t believe this is my house. Thank God, we’ve got some incredible people on the restoration team.

Trauma affects each of us differently, but always, I think, at our most significant (and therefore most vulnerable) place. It’s for that reason that my language vacuum has been one of the most disorienting aspects of this ordeal. I’ve (temporarily) lost my home—but I’ve likewise lost my refuge, the small but dearly loved sanctuary of my writing life. This also is temporary; both my own experience and the counsel of the wise assure me that time and self-care will soothe the shattered nerves; that a reasonable run of unbroken slumbers will shut off the sirens in my head.

That a gentle-yet-deliberate return to ritual and rhythm will anchor me once more in all that’s most meaningful to me.

Afternoon tea: the first ritual to return. And there’s a beautiful story behind that china, let me tell you.

I know this is true. But it’s difficult for me to compose a grocery list right now, much less a blog post (or even an email). I lose my train of thought in the middle of sentences; I’ve been signing my maiden name on forms, for crying out loud. (And, oh, the forms. There have been hundreds, it seems.)

When we were in Maui a couple of years ago, I waded gleefully into the Pacific Ocean for the first time in my life—only to be scooped head-over-heels with a force that yanked the ponytail holder out of my hair and brought me upright once more with a scalp-full of sand.

“Ah, you’ve been sand-dunked,” a native chuckled when I described it later.

And that’s very much how this experience feels. It seemed like I was just getting back on my feet again after Daddy’s death, and now I’ve been knocked down worse than ever.

(It occurs to me, of course, that maybe God doesn’t want me “back on my feet” so much as leaning on His arm.)

At any rate, it’s going to take some time to get my bearings again, to train my heart and mind out of emergency mode.  

But I’m longing to find my sanctuary once more, to begin the long work of heaping and shaping all of these whirling fragments into something meaningful, even redemptive.  

I don’t mean to be presumptuous—in this context, human agents are more like midwives, assisting in the birth of something they did not create, while meaning and redemption flow from God alone. Even in my worst moments I believe that. But I also believe that something beautiful is going to emerge from these ashes, something infinitely more abiding than mere human fortitude or endurance. I don’t want to grin and bear it; I don’t want a brittle resilience here.

I want to be made new.

I say all of this, not to complain, but to let you in on where I am. I want you to know that my silence has been born, not of neglect, but sheer overwhelm.

I want you to know that when your packages have shown up at the end of my driveway, I’ve wept at the return addresses. And I’ve wept again at the astonishing love and thoughtfulness behind their contents. I’ve adorned the fridge in our temporary home with your cards, and I’ve tucked your letters between the pages of my Bible where I can read them over and over again.

Bonnie and the kitties are thankful, too. 😉

I want to assure you that we’re all right, that we are being held, and that while there is much, much to grieve, we’re not counting losses so much as mercies. Mercy tips the balance every time.     

(Every time.)

But I also want to invite you into this place. From the earliest days after the fire I’ve had a running list at the back of my mind of things I’ve wanted to tell all of you. I’ve found myself describing this season in bits and scraps of mental prose (gone a moment later!), narrating a story I feel you’re all a part of. So many of you have been reading here since sunnier times—a fact which, for all my fits and starts, never ceases to fill me with gratitude. The least I can do is let you into my “dark wood” as well, where, together, perchance, we’ll see the night lit up with stars.

For the truth is, everything I always believed about the shaping of a home, the sacredness of place, and the enduring worth of beauty matters more to me now, not less. In the face of ruin and loss, this physical context of relationship appears more critical than ever. Philip and I are not merely rebuilding a house—we’re refining a vision, evaluating (and re-evaluating) every single aspect of stewardship in the light of what’s lasting.

Like outposts in a heartbroken world, our homes have the potential to image what it means to be “at home” in God. This is as true of the travel trailer we’re currently occupying in the backyard as it is of the house we’ll return to someday. I want to affirm this here—and I need you to affirm it back to me.

There’s so much more I want to say, but if I try it will be yet another week before this post is published. Let it suffice for now that I’ll be back soon with a report on our home, our current living situation, and the faithfulness of God.

Thank you, thank you, dear ones, from the bottom of my heart. Words are so inadequate to this burden of gratitude. But you have blessed me with courage and hope and beauty and truth. May God bless you in return.

Under the Mercy,