Greetings on this October afternoon-almost-evening. I’m sitting in the den with my tea, windows open to the brisk sweetness of an autumn breeze and the house fragrant around me with the scent of tonight’s pot roast supper. From the barnyard comes the occasional plaintive bleat of a sheep who’s decided it’s high time for a cup of cracked corn, a manger-full of hay, and a safe stall for the night (it’s pointless to tell them there’s still an hour to go before the sun goes down—dear as they are, you just can’t reason with a sheep). I spent the morning at my desk, and the afternoon studying Anglo-Saxon poetry for my course at Oxford and comparing fabric swatches for the sunroom. It’s Thursday night, which means when Philip gets home we’ll sit here in the den, sipping something festive and listening to something beautiful—a symphony, a concerto, a friend’s soaringly honest songs.
In short, it’s an Ordinary Day, and my heart is absolutely singing over the goodness of it all
If you’ve read here for any length of time, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I’m a great lover of ordinary days. ‘Normal’ is a bit of mirage, since even the commonplace is thronged with the unexpected. Or, perhaps, especially the commonplace. Wonder gleams on every side, “but the beholder wanting” as dear old G.M. Hopkins would say. And if the commonplace seems, well, commonplace, perhaps it stems from the fact that the rush and worry of the world have dulled our senses to the essential romance of daily life.
At least, that’s been my experience.
In which case, even the rush and worry can serve a sacred office, prodding my weary soul back to its haven of commonplace things and inauspicious, ordinary days.
I want to apologize for the utter dearth of words around here. (And to my long-suffering newsletter subscribers—I beg a boatload of pardons! I promised you a final installment back in May, which has yet to be written. I’m so sorry. But I haven’t forgotten.)
The truth is, things were even crazier around here after we moved back into the house—or, at least, crazy in a different way. Desperately glad as we are to be home, there was an avalanche of work waiting for us: the regathering of our possessions from what felt like the four corners of the globe (for nearly a year I literally did not know where my piano was!); the sorting and storing of such possessions into new spaces (and about half-a-dozen trips to Goodwill); the lingering catalogue of loss and damage for the insurance company; the dismantling of Camp Marah; the loose ends of contractors and contents specialists (my parlor curtains seem to have disapparated); the endless days with paint cans, sewing machine, power tools.
In addition to all this, we extended our bathroom eight feet to the north to add on a laundry, which involved, among other things, a public hearing (owing to the fact that ours is a historic home), and one last truckload of bead board. We’re almost finished, and I’m so happy with it—it’s no exaggeration to say that I love doing the laundry in such a sun-drenched, carefully planned space. Not to mention the fact that my kitties have an out-of-the-dogs’-reach place for their dinner bowls and cat box.
I put in the vegetable garden and organized my new kitchen and, with the help of friends, unpacked roughly two hundred boxes of books (some in far better shape than others, sadly.). And as spring became summer, I hung pictures and made curtains and tracked down bedframes and mattresses for our guest rooms. Before May was out we’d already hosted a couple of rounds of houseguests—and this though the front porch was so stacked-to-the-rafters with construction debris and packing materials you could scarcely see the front door, and, at least on one occasion, our guest was obliged to help us assemble their bed!
But I will never forget standing in our brand-new larder with our friends Doug and Lise, chinking a toast to an already dreamlike past. On the very site where the fire broke out; on the very site where, last October, Philip and I stood amid the charred bones and timbers of our home, reading and choking our way through Doug’s exquisitely sensitive Liturgy for Those Who Suffer Loss from Fire, Flood, or Storm.
In the light of all that had gone before, in the face of all we had left to do, that moment was like a wisp of pure, heavenly poetry. A glimpse of the current of redemption ever flowing through our days.
Slowly, steadily, my rooms took on familiar faces once more. I’ve rejoiced much in the new—the materialization of new spaces, new windows, my bright new kitchen. But I think I’ve rejoiced the more in the old: the old beadboard back in its place in the front hall; the old patterns of light on the floors; the old, somewhat shabby but well-loved furniture finally back in place. I’ve delighted in a new wall to hang family photographs, a new place for the (new) drawing of my sheep that my sister gave me. I nearly wept, however, when Philip hauled the primitive coat peg rack up from the barn and mounted it in its old place in the back hall.
At the end of July, we held a massive celebration to thank all of the men and women who helped us restore our home in half the time we thought possible—and helped us survive along the way. You’ll be hearing more about this occasion, but, for now, suffice it to say that I had been planning this party since the day after the fire—I am not kidding—and that its realization was nothing short of a miracle. The mercy of God was in that summer night, lantern-hung and song-filled. My heart can’t help but associate it with the goodness and mercy of our wedding, in that same backyard, nineteen years ago.
A week later, we whisked off to France for a slightly impulsive (for us!) adventure with my sister and some of our dearest friends. It was a trip that God provided, down to the tiniest detail, and we’re still amazed that we got to go. Two weeks on a tiny island off the coast of Brittany, bookended by a few magical days alone together in Paris, was soul medicine in the truest sense. In Brittany, we camped in view of the sea, where the music of the waves and a sky-full of stars brooded over our nights, and where sunlit beaches and coastal hikes and picnics defined our days.
And, oh! All those days with people we love so very much—and with little to no virtual connection! We got to know our friends’ children, spoke French (Philip: beautifully; Lanier: terribly), ate way more buckwheat crepes and huîtres crues than could possibly be good for us, picked vegetables from an organic farm down the road, shopped for mariniers and foutas. And we feasted together every night, at a long, rustic table, passing platters of melons and local cheeses and sipping good French wine, with the song of the sea ever singing over us.
I think that my homecoming from France was my heart’s real homecoming to our house. After being away, having this time of demarcation between one season and another, I was able to come back here ready to gather up the threads of my old life. So many things would never be the same, of course—but all the blessed, old, deep-down things were still here, waiting for me. It was time to tend them once more.
But first, I collapsed in utter and unprecedented exhaustion. After 15 months of nearly endless heartache and hurry and work work work, not to mention the happy upheaval of international travel, I just gave out, body and soul. Thankfully there was a space of quiet to catch me, and I spent a number of days simply resting, exulting in a long cup of coffee on my own front porch, the simple pleasure of a book, the feel of my own kitchen floor beneath my bare feet.
(Never underestimate the force of weariness, my friends, or the restorative power of the things you love, simply and purely. Many a bout of darkness has been staved off in my life—or, at least, diminished—by an L.M. Montgomery novel, a morning at my piano, an afternoon in the garden…)
It’s Friday now, and there’s a fire crackling in the den stove and my rooms are sweet with the woodsmoke and spice of October. It feels like a baptism of scent, a distillation of all that home means to me. A welcoming embrace from my house, which—I have not the least doubt—is as glad we are home as we are.
I want to say again, in closing, as I’ve said before, but cannot say enough—thank you. Thank you for caring enough to read here. Thank you for following our journey, in sunshine and in shade. For standing with us in this latest chapter—in a thousand ways we will never forget. Ever. Your words, your prayers, your gifts, notes, emails, comments, and kindness have been a very real part of the way God has carried us over the past year and-a-half. I want you to know that I am moving into a season of Thanksgiving with a prayer of thanks for you on my lips. God bless you—each of you. I cannot be thankful for the place we’re in now without being thankful for you.
Under the Mercy,
p.s. newsletter subscribers—take heart! I really will get the last installment out to you!
p.p.s. everyone—I really am resolved to care for this space more regularly going forward. Look for an upcoming little story about how my garden saved my heart last summer, and for some exciting news in the bookshop! ?