A Time to Embrace

November 14th

I’m sitting by my kitchen fire this chill November evening after a long day of almost monkish domesticity. I’ve been so industrious today that this welcome pause is almost too much: the warmth of the fire and the weariness of my bones is conjuring a somnolent spell I can scarcely resist. But my heart is wide awake, enlarging with a quiet presence that I can’t gainsay. Tired as I am, I must find utterance for this shining thing within, howsoever imperfectly. It’s so persistent, so ingenuously obdurate, I fear if I tried to go to sleep now I’d simply lay there spinning words and weaving sentences, the threads of which have been darting around the corners of my mind all afternoon. I have to acknowledge this radiance that has settled to roost in my heart like a homing bird—because it’s my own joy, come back to me in a silent rush of unseen wings.

It’s been just the kind of day I love—just the kind of day to coax my joy out of hiding. I’ve been so intent on surviving mere circumstances recently that I’ve scarcely noticed the springs of my life were running dangerously low. It wasn’t until I felt that sudden uplift this afternoon at the sweet scent of decaying leaves, that giddy plunge of happiness borne on a gustering autumn wind, that I realized what had happened—and what was happening again, in the mercy of God. He has been kindling my weary soul the past few days with sword-flashes of light: a fireside evening with a sister-friend, swapping grace tales over a pot of tea; the laughing joy of watching a Nubian goatling bound and stot into the shocking freshness of a November morning; the stupendous simplicity of a nourishing soup and the tang a Winesap apple so laden with happy associations it almost summons tears. And brimming over all, the mounting, blooming wonder of Advent, approaching on tireless wings. So many of the year’s heartaches have dwindled to their proper proportions before that bright-gleaming Bird.

And this very fact is grace in itself, and the source of so much of my joy on this mid-November night. Much as I hate to admit it, three days ago I was paralyzingly overwhelmed with the thought of the holidays. This year has taken so much out of me that I felt I had nothing left to give, particularly in this season that I love best. I was so overwhelmed, in fact, that I sat down to have it out with God one morning with something akin to Jacob’s desperation in wrestling with the angel. Give me some guidance or I perish! I settled on the couch with my Bible and an enormous cup of tea, prepared to stay there as long as it took, despite the obnoxious insistence of my planner and a Monday to-do list that was more than I could possibly accomplish in a week. If I couldn’t find my lost place of peace, then all my best-laid-plans were worse than worthless, and I knew it.

And this is what God said:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens.

Such simple words, but what enormous freedom they bore to me! I don’t have to “do it all”, and I don’t have to do it all at once. There are seasons for ambitions and for rest, for lavish acts of love and for homely gifts, for weaving words madly into story and prose and for sitting quiet and prayerful with pen poised over a Christmas menu. God has been reminding me keenly of late (life-changingly, I really believe) that He is not asking me to do things for Him, but to walk with Him. And I am coming to understand that so much of the intimacy of that journey depends on understanding the season I am in and how best to love God from that particular place. I read through the list of seasons which the chapter in Ecclesiastes tallies, and I found myself asking God to tell me the season I’m in.

It was scarcely out of my mouth when quick as a wink the words blazed on the page and burned in my heart: a time to embrace.

A time to kiss all the faces of my beloved ones. A time to pour into the lives of those I love. And a time, itself, to be embraced, for it will not come again. Though Advent invades our lives every year with its blessed presence, though the beloved bother of the holidays puts everything on hold that can be put on hold, this particular time will never come again.  It was both sobering and exhilarating, a lightning charge of joy and energy that seemed to shock through me and shock all my joys awake. Nothing—and I mean nothing—has been the same since. A joyful anticipation has burgeoned and bloomed in my heart and every familiar, commonplace thing I see around me seems bathed in its light. I really feel like the Lord whispered to me the grace of the season and my spirit rose instinctively to greet it—because it is my place. It where I am to be for now, in the mercy of God, waiting and preparing beneath His sheltering wings. There is no other explanation for this return of joy and energy. And it’s real.

Today the music of Palestrina filled my home with soul-soothing accord, a whispered acknowledgement of things to come, a respectful nod to the swelling anthems of the holy season that is gathering its glory to visit us once more. Almost an advent of Advent, it seemed. The strains and harmonies and antiphonies bore my heart along with a joy that felt newborn as I polished silver and washed curtains and mulled over Christmas centerpieces while the fire hissed and crackled companionably on the hearth. And over all, stitching everything together into one fragrant, intentional whole, the aroma of apple butter brewing away, decanting a magic of all that is wholesome and homeloving and good. My home was filled with such a warmth of spices and woodsmoke it felt like an embrace.

So, the season is upon us.

And my arms are open wide.


  1. Ah yes, walking with God. Some day’s I’ve woken up and nearly said to the Lord, “alright, here is what I have planned today, are you coming with me?” And I have been so wrong. Each morning is a new change to say, “Lord, it is a new day. I want to walk with You, not running ahead of You, not lagging behind You, with You. Please show me what You want me to accomplish today and may I ever be Your true servant.”

    I love that He so tenderly told you this is a “time to embrace.” What sweet words from our Savior.

  2. So beautifully written! this past week I have found myself tamping down panicky feelings that I am already behind in my holiday preparations—and remind myself that it is not even Thanksgiving yet! (Yesterday, I saw two houses that were already decked out in Christmas lights!!) Thank you for your sweet and wise words, as always, so wonderfully expressed!

  3. Absolutely beautiful!

    Thanksgiving and the entire Advent season has changed for me over the past years. Some of it heartbreaking as my daughter and her family live too far away to Come Home. Those things I always hoped for like grandchildren opening gifts by the Christmas tree are just not possible.

    All of this on top of those circumstances unwanted but allowed by Him who guides my life… well, my Advent has changed over the years to become more quiet and Christ centered. But last year I still cooked an entire Thanksgiving and Christmas meal even though we were alone.

    This year Thanksgiving is coming to us as my daughter-in-law’s precious family knew I could not travel so they are coming to us. I can “do” setting a beautiful table, baking a turkey, putting together my mother’s dressing recipe, and stirring up a gravy. Everyone else is bringing the rest and helping with clean up.

    That’s God’s grace. Sometimes He doesn’t give us what we wanted but instead He sees if we will “settle” for second best because when He gives it then it is really first best (perhaps not proper grammar?).

    I’ve been polishing silver and washing my collection of brown transferware china. I’ll spiff up the house a bit and sweep leaves off the front porch. Christmas music is already playing but the day after Thanksgiving the decorations will come out regardless of circumstances. I figure that is the least I can do to Thank Him for that time when Heaven kisses the Earth.

    Of course, having a new post from you to read is a wonderful gift, too. 🙂

  4. Thank you, Lanier for your meaningful thoughts and lovely words and thanks also to your wonderful friends who have commented.

    After reading it all I am reminded to be Mary and not Martha; to remember that there is only one thing needed, and as Maria stated, to ask our Lord to “show me what You want me to accomplish today and may I ever be Your true servant.”

    Today I had “just the kind of day to coax my joy out of hiding” by accomplishing one task at a time, and I found there’s nothing better to lift one’s heart than a sunny fall day, a freshly cleaned window and newly planted pansies in the window box.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

    God Bless.

  5. Thank you, Lanier, for sharing your heart with us so beautifully yet again…I seem to always leave your blog feeling spiritually refreshed. May He bless you this season!

  6. Dear Lanier,

    Some time after linking, I just want to say thank you personally for this post. It’s so beautiful, a gift of a reminder to embrace this time. Every blessing on your holiday preparations and happiness!

    Your English Friend

  7. Having to admit that the years are slowing me down is frustrating–so many things I want to do–so many things that need to be done always for family, for church, with and for friends.
    The world, even my little corner of it, will likely not be the poorer for those plans and projects that don’t come to fruition.
    For me, its about asking for the grace to accept limitations, asking for the courage to face what each day brings–and yes, waiting for the renewal of that fine joy which so enlivens the simplest tasks.

  8. May I use your line about Bilbo and the dwarves’ song as an epigram in a paper I am presenting this fall? It exactly expresses my thesis.

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