Christmas in a Construction Zone

Dear Ones,

Just popping in on this early December morning to say that I haven’t forgotten about the newsletter! I’ve been working away on the first installment (which includes a brief history of our house) in the few spare moments this phase of the restoration affords–and taking pictures of absolutely everything! But I will say, I completely underestimated the relentless question-answering/decision-making/sourcing and scouting of this season! From the moment the rebuild commenced it has been full-on chaos around here. I’m very (very!) excited, of course, and our general contractor is a Godsend, in every sense of the word. Things are moving forward…but I’m grasping for moments of quiet in the meantime. 

I have to laugh when I contrast my expectations of this time with its reality. In the former scenario, I’d get up early, sip my coffee while praying and pondering the day’s tasks. Then, after barn chores, I’d have a quick briefing with my contractor, before returning to the camper for a spate of housekeeping. (The mixed blessing of living in a trailer is that it takes roughly half an hour to clean my entire house–the flip-side being that the slightest thing out of place gives the impression of a total mess! ;)) Once things were in order, I’d make some tea and settle in for a day’s-worth of writing, pausing around four for yet another pot of tea and maybe an audio book and some needlework. A debriefing with my contractor would follow, with a clear plan for the next day’s work. Then supper, barn chores, more reading or Masterpiece, before crawling happily into bed to do it all over again the next day.

I’m an incurable idealist.

And the reality?

I generally bound out of bed in a panic, remembering an appointment I’d forgotten to set the alarm for the night before. I dash through the trailer, doling out breakfast and vitamins to cats, dog, and humans, before racing to the barn to tend the animals (or texting Philip to see if he’s already done it) lest some major decision is made without me in the house. Up to the house for said decisions, brainstorming, compromises, workarounds, and last minute solutions, before dashing out into Atlanta traffic to source some fixture that’s probably going be roughed in before I return. More questions, workarounds, solutions, then a hasty lunch while drafting the specs of a wall that’s going to be framed in that afternoon. Around four, I remember I’m comatose because I haven’t had any caffeine in at least half an hour, so I brew a pot of tea that generally gets cold because one of the cats has thrown up on the bed, a contractor needs access to a pasture (which means frantically finagling goats and sheep into the barnyard), someone else needs the measurement of a window sash up at the house, and the HVAC guys needs to know ten minutes ago where I want my range vent to duct,  all the while fielding about 18 phone calls and texts. (Forget emails–I’m chastened to say that there are exactly 293 unread messages in my inbox at this moment.) I manage to cobble supper together around 9pm, and when it’s finally (blessedly!) bedtime, I fall into our little nest of an RV queen in a stupor–only to wake at 3am with a running laundry list of all the things I’ve forgotten and need to remember for the next day.  

Of course, I’m being dramatic. And, of course, I’m leaving out all the delightful conversations and running jokes and laughter with our contractors. I’m leaving out the heartwarming fact that when an unreasonable inspector pretty much shut down our work plans for the weekend, our GC and crew came anyway and helped us clean up Camp Marah from the ravages of the previous weekend’s snowstorm. I’m leaving out the magic of seeing a design that originated in my own head suddenly translated by another’s handwork, and I’m leaving out the fun that Philip and Bonnie and I have each night when everyone’s gone for the day, wandering through the sawdust-y rooms with gins and tonics, exulting over the day’s progress and dreaming aloud about the future.

(‘m also leaving out the headaches and perplexities over codes and inspections, not to mention the brilliance, ingenuity, and flexibility of our GC and subs, God bless them.)

I was giving a friend a glimpse of this season over coffee last night, trying to illustrate the insanity with a little vignette from a couple of weeks ago: our electrician (who really is a genius) was roughing in the upstairs bath, and he needed to know the placement of my wall sconces. When I stepped into the newly framed space, I looked at Jonathan in utter befuddlement. 

“So you need to know where sconces are going that I don’t have yet, on either side of a mirror I don’t have yet, over a console sink I don’t have yet–on a wall that basically doesn’t exist.”

Jonathan nodded thoughtfully.

“Yep,” he said, with utmost philosophy. “Pretty much.”

He managed it. Like I said, he’s a genius.

But it’s all coming together, and the laundry list of materials to source is shrinking steadily, if not swiftly. I’ve picked out my range, and a truckload of cypress bead board was delivered last week (sorry, y’all, I’m not a shiplap kind of girl), and next week a reclaimed clawfoot tub is coming to live in the aforementioned upstairs bath. We passed our final rough-in inspection yesterday, and as my GC Danny told me, “Now we’re really gonna rock and roll!”

I’m so excited. But I feel like I need to hold onto my hat. And maybe start brewing my tea in a thermos, rather than a pot.

Things long dreamed-of are materializing before our eyes. And yet, the wait is an agonizing reality. On the one hand, this little trailer is home, because all that I love is here, and because our story is unfolding in this space, as surely as it’s done in our house. On the other hand, however, I’m so homesick I can hardly stand it. I can’t look at pictures from last Christmas, or even listen to most of my favorite music. It’s just been really hard.

I hope to write more about it during Christmas week, but this has been the most unusual and challenging Advent season I’ve ever known. In normal life, I have a recurring anxiety dream if I get too stressed–basically, that it’s Christmas Eve and that everyone is arriving imminently for our yearly feast and festivity, and I haven’t done the first thing. I’ve basically forgotten all about Christmas, absurd as that sounds.  

This year kind of feels like the inverse of that dream. Christmas is blooming out all around me, and the world has thrown out its twinkle-light welcome, but I feel like I’m moving through it all in slow motion, and at a very great distance. The joy is real, and the wonder of His coming among us more wondrous than ever…but the struggle and strangeness is real, too. I’m just holding both in my heart this year, and asking God to show me a beauty deeper still than all the beauty and blessedness I love so dearly in this season.

I will always love it–more so than ever. And I will always look back on this Christmas with great tenderness, for the forced simplicity is a cloaked blessing, and the light shines in my darkness in an unprecedented way.

Yet will I rejoice…

I started this post as a brief hello, and a friendly assurance that the newsletter to which so many of your have responded with such warmth is indeed in the works. But it’s turned into quite the little chat, here in the predawn darkness, with my coffee and the light of my Christmas tree–truly a resting place of fellowship as I envision each of you kindred souls reading on the other side of this computer screen.

Thank you for sharing this journey with me. I’m consistently amazed at the generosity of your time, and the heartfelt comments and messages you share (and believe me, not a single one of them goes unread or uncherished!). I hope and pray, even as I’m typing this, that yours is a most blessed Advent and Christmas season, and that our Dayspring would scatter all sadness and night this year may have held for you with the inexorable light of His love.

I’ll be back next week. But, in the meantime, if you’d like a peek into what Christmas looks like in this little wilderness camp of ours, head on over to Golden Hours, the seasonal blog I keep with my dear friend, Laura.

I’ve had a taste of … sweetness this Advent, even amid some of the more acrid realities of displacement. From making ornaments for the smallest Christmas tree we’ve ever had, to early morning tea-light devotions, to sipping an only-at-Christmas treat of a St. George “Terroir” martini, it’s been a sweet, albeit deeply tender season. In endeavoring to honor the heartache of homesickness and the beauty of the “present little moment” I’m finding to my joy that there’s room for both in this place…

To read more about Christmas at Camp Marah, click here.


  1. I think the memories of all the blessings of this time will be cherished as this time becomes our past instead of our present. God bless you and keep you in His loving care! I love, as always, your words and the beauty by which you craft them.

  2. How DO you make the smallest, most common space dance with light and life?! It is spiritual, and of that there can be no doubt. (Your post reminds me why I never want to build another house.) Thank you for this delightful ongoing chronicle, and know that every time you “pick up your pen,” you bless! Merry Christmas!

  3. “And maybe start brewing my tea in a thermos, rather than a pot.” Haha! This is where I live! ☺️

    “Things long dreamed-of are materializing before our eyes. And yet, the wait is an agonizing reality. On the one hand, this… is home, because all that I love is here, and because our story is unfolding in this space… On the other hand, however, I’m so homesick I can hardly stand it.” What a poignant picture of life. The already/not yet of the kingdom. I am always so encouraged by you, Lanier. Thank you once again for sharing your story.

  4. What a picture you paint in using the name Marah. For us, rather than a physical place, it’s been more of a Marah year. A lot of bitter water where I’d taken sweet for granted. We are just starting to see it come around again and I am determined to drink deeply of the sweet blessings with a renewed sense of awe and gratitude.
    I am profoundly grateful to you for your willingness to share the bitter and the sweet.
    I wish you and yours the Merriest of Christmases and a sweet New Year.

    1. To Shannon: 2019 is that “marah year” for us. And, yes, as the joys begin to return, we drink more tentatively, with awe and gratitude, AND fear and trembling and tears. Perhaps that is how Job drank when his joys were restored. I wonder…if it is the “for granted” that God means to wash away with these blows and the desert.

  5. Your words and photos are like pearls…strong, beautiful, pure. And your journey to return home is filled with everything a real journey entails…inconvenience, challenges, unexpected swerves, anticipation, joy and sadness, as each day brings you closer to a homecoming that will most assuredly be both sweet and poignant. When the circle closes and you are again standing where you began, in a place both familiar and different, old and new, this journey will, I think, become one of the most treasured chapters of your life. Merry Christmas, Lanier, to you and all your loved ones.

  6. Awe. . . Loved “catching up” on your building/camping/Christmas adventures and reflections (though profoundly jealous of the snow you enjoyed 🙂 as our was just a quickly melting smattering of what could have been)!

  7. You just keep on shinning, girl. And that’s what we all should be too. Despite it all, a very Merry Christmas to you!

  8. Lanier, thank you for taking the time to write to us. I don’t know how you have time or energy to produce such lovely posts, but I’m thankful that you do. I always feel so peaceful and calm after reading one of your posts. Your photographs and words are so beautiful, such a blessing and an inspiration. I pray that you and yours will be blessed beyond measure this Christmas and into the New Year.

  9. Thank you for catching us up on the latest news from Camp Marah.
    I know this was a different Christmas this year, but I’ve no doubt that someday….maybe a long time from now ? …you’ll look back with fond memories of this time.
    Please add me to your newsletter list. Can’t wait to see the new farmhouse sink!

  10. Thinking of you during this time. I’m more of a headboard rather than a shiplap girl myself and I will be vicariously living through you and your antique tub. As they say in the Philadelphia Story: isn’t it yarrr?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *