This flurry of plans
is over, over.
And I’m sorry and glad together.
Our bustling house“Sorry and Glad Together,” Karen Peris
is sane now, sane now.
And I’m sorry and glad together.
This lyric by Karen Peris of The Innocence Mission perfectly articulates my feelings on this ripe and radiant November day. It’s the first “normal” Monday I’ve had in months, for which I am right royally glad. But Saturday was one of the very few nights since August that there hasn’t been a guest (or four!) tucked into one of the bedrooms upstairs—for which I am most tenderly sorry. I love the quiet; I love the sudden silence within which to notice that the light really has changed in all my rooms and that the air outside is redolent with wet leaves and woodsmoke—fragrances which, above all others, pin my heart most firmly to the comforts of home. I love the way my house seems to enfold me with a motherly warmth this time of year, affirming the beauty of the simplest things. But I am desperately missing the dear ones who have also learned what it means to be at home here over recent weeks or months or years. Life is such a poignant bouquet of “both/and.”
It is good to be home, though. After a summer of keeping the road hot between here and our beloved barrier island; after a three-week writing retreat in September; after a family wedding and a family vacation which most merrily dominated the balance of October, it is good to pause here at my desk with a stout cup of tea and a cluttered bookshop behind me and just be still.
About that wedding (I knew you’d ask ?)—it was the joyous celebration of my brother and his lovely bride, Irish, held in our backyard, under the very same trellis that Philip built for our wedding. Zach and Irish actually married during the height of the pandemic and were unable to gather with friends and family at the time. In the intervening months, however, we gained, not only a sister whom we love with all our hearts, but a tiny nephew, who bears my Daddy’s name, has my brother’s expressions and esprit, my sister-in-law’s lovely dark eyes, and his own darling, smiling, boundlessly sweet temper. In short, he’s swept us all completely off our feet.
The day before the wedding, my sister and Irish’s sisters, Irish’s mother and grandmother and Irish herself made dozens of arrangements for the reception tables out of pink larkspur and feverfew, goldenrod, wild asters, and armloads of blue mist flowers gathered from the front pasture, while I bound up roses and anemones, protea and dusty miller into bouquets for the bride and her bridesmaids. My sister had the Sense and Sensibility soundtrack (the real one, the Patrick Doyle one) on repeat, and as we worked together I couldn’t help but feel that, in all its sweetness and loving simplicity, the scene might well have been lifted straight out of an L.M. Montgomery novel. As a final touch to Irish’s bouquet, I ran to the garden for handfuls of aromatic lavender and sage, then tied the whole thing up with blush-pink satin ribbon. Philip gave the pastures a fresh cut with the tractor and helped Zach construct a wooden frame for the great garlands of ivy to be hoisted over the dancefloor; the dogs came and went, rapturous over all the excitement; Mama played pat-a-cake with the baby. And in the midst of all the happy preparation, we managed to squeeze in a little birthday party for my sister—she and I were both trying to remember how long it was since she’d been able to come home for her birthday.
At the wedding, we feasted on Southern fare and danced under a tent made positively Shakespearean with bunting and greenery and twinkling lights, and when all but my family and a clutch of guests had gone, we sat out by the firepit until after 2am. The next day I served bacon and eggs and mimosas for breakfast (at noon) and the day after that we all swept down to the coast—11 adults, one baby, and two dogs—for a few precious days before everyone had to scatter back to their respective corners of the world. On the last night, we dined on the wharf (dogs and all!) and it was one of those resplendent evenings of glancing sunlight and flaxen marshes which give the Golden Isles their name. We passed our nephew around, swaying with him to the live music; we laughed and clinked glasses; my brother slow-danced with my mother, and my sister and I cut a rather silly rug to “Leroy Brown.” Stepping back for a moment against the railing of the wharf, a sudden lump rose in my throat.
This, I thought, is exactly what I’ve been longing for.
What I’ve prayed for, though not in so many words. For years I asked God to bring my brother a wife like Irish; for years I’ve asked to see the tide turn, to feel the warmth of a returning sun upon my face.
Don’t get me wrong: life is–always has been—lit with the undying lamp of God’s goodness and love. I have known joy, not in spite of ‘unpropitious circumstances,’ but right smack in the very middle of them—because of them, I might even say. But over the past decade my family—as most families do—has seen a lot of sadness. Some of it I have shared here; some of it’s not my story to tell. But we have known loss and bereavement, disappointed hopes and the disarrangement of things which seemed permanent. We have suffered, alone and together, and we have grown to cherish one another all the more as a result. There are many things, I think from time to time, that I would change, should God hand over the reins for an instant (thank God that he won’t!). But that night on the wharf—that culmination of such a period of extended and abundant joy in the life of my family—drew me up short and sharp. I seriously doubt we would fully appreciate the happiness of now, were it not for the refining sadness of then.
This is not to oversimplify the salmagundi of joy and sorrow which typifies each life. But, in the economy of Scripture, sorrow is an overnight guest. Joy, coming sweet as the morning and welcome as a warm hearthfire, is our home. It’s what we’re made for, what even sorrow must serve in the restoration of all things.
“He will restore the years the locusts have eaten,” says the Old Testament prophet Joel. That was one of my mother’s favorite verses; it spoke to her of the fruit-bearing faithfulness of God in the face of wasting circumstances and lost opportunities. In fact, this very hotel where we were staying had been an image of such to her. Once, when my sister and I were little, we had vacationed on Jekyll Island, and Mama and Daddy brought us over from our beachfront condominium to see this boarded-up, Gilded Age beauty on the river side. It was a heartbreaking sight: paint peeling, shingles askew. The gracious veranda was deserted; the fountains in the garden were silent and choked with leaves. Daddy took a lot of pictures in black-and-white, which seemed appropriate. Mama, who had stayed here as a child, felt inarticulably sad.
When we returned over a decade later, it—and we—had changed. For one thing, Liz and I had a younger brother in tow. And Mama and Daddy had a new source of meaning in their lives, had been illumined with a new Light by which, as C.S. Lewis would say, they saw everything else.
“It’s like,” Mama said, gazing out over the freshly painted veranda with its army of wicker rocking chairs, the manicured lawns and the colorful beds of snapdragons and salvia and riotous golden lantana, “it’s like what Jesus has done in our lives.”
I’ve always assumed I got my penchant for seeing the world around me as a series of deeply significant glimpses of eternal realties from my imaginative and rather sentimental father. Looking back on this little vignette, however, I realize this is only very partly true.
At the wedding reception, I gave a toast to the bride and groom, and in it, I told a little story that has already woven itself like a golden thread into the tapestry of our family. Years ago, Mama and Daddy prayed for another child; we prayed as a family, entreating God with childlike faith over what we deemed an exceedingly answerable request. Daddy, being the idealist that he was, had already picked out a name.
“Don’t you just love the name Irish?” he asked me with one of his huge grins.
We did not know anyone named Irish; I had never even heard it used as a given name. But I agreed—it was lovely. I still remember the way he’d test it out from time to time with that twinkle kindling in his eyes.
As far as we knew that prayer went unanswered. What we did not know—could not know—was that far away over the sea a beautiful little girl would be given the name Irish…would move to this country…would meet my brother…
It’s impossible for me to dismiss such a thing as a cosmic coincidence. God answers prayer, friends. And if it’s rarely in the way we expect—if we even get a peek of it this side of eternity—it makes no difference in the great scheme of overarching, overwhelming Love which holds the whole universe together. There’s a reason Christ tells us in one of his parables to “pray, and never give up.” Prayer isn’t a mechanized turnstile to the things we want; it’s a willing alignment with a purpose always larger, always more loving and particular, always more far-reachingly redemptive than our own. Soli Deo Gloria.
With characteristic prescience, Karen Peris circles her lyric back to the Joy at the root of all our joys:
It’s finally come round.
It’s been a long time, a long time.
And I’m sorry and glad together
How possible everything is
in this wondering,
And how sure is joy, and safe.
And, so, our ‘bustling house’ is still—for the time being. Thanksgiving draws near, and Christmas, like a great, gallant ship with brightwork gleaming and banners flying, rises on the far horizon. In these quiet days I hope to recover a few old and loved rhythms, read books, play the piano, take walks under ambered trees.
And I have hopes for this month in a writerly sense. Years ago I participated in the “NaNoWriMo” challenge to write an entire novel in a single month—a project which not only gave me incredible joy, it trained me to own my calling as a writer in an entirely new way. (Don’t look for that novel, by the way…much as I loved writing it, it’s what Madeleine L’Engle would call ‘finger exercises.’) The glad and focused intention of that time is a memory that inspires me yet, and, to that end, I’ve decided to devote this November to a super-secret, super-exciting writing project which also has a hard and fast deadline approaching. I can’t say much about it just yet, but look for some teasers in the weeks to come, both here and on my Instagram page (@lanierivester). I have a couple of ambitious goals, both for this project, as well as for my memoir on home and place (which I’m continuing to revise—a little over halfway there!). If you think of it, I would treasure a prayer or two on my behalf as I’m seeking to steward my time and shepherd these two book children into the world.
A glad and golden November, my friends. May you have, in the words of the old blessing:
Walls for the winds, a roof for the rain, tea beside the fire, laughter to cheer you, and those you love near you.