Home(sick) for the Holidays

I’ve never faced a holiday season with such uncertainty. Every year previous I’ve had a relatively comfortable idea of how things would go: when I’d start my baking; what night we’d decorate the tree; where we’d gather for various meals, and with whom.

There’s always been an ageless excitement bubbling around the end of October so that by the middle of November I’m like a kettle on the cusp of a boil. This is the season, more than any other, in which I come into my own as homemaker and hostess, when all my ideals merge in one glad torrent of meaning and fulfillment. The days leading up to Thanksgiving are some of my favorite of the whole year because it’s all ahead of us. Every snippet of choral music, every hint of cinnamon and ginger, even the sweet fragrance of decaying leaves is a messenger, bursting with blessed tidings.

No matter what hardships the year has seen, there’s always Christmas at its crown, illuminating our tired old world with the renewed glory of the Incarnation. It’s no wonder so many of the old carols and poems liken Christmastide to springtime, or the heady rapture of high summer.

Why does the chilling winter’s morn
Smile like a field beset with corn,
Or smell like to a mead new shorn?…

~Robert Herrick

My daily walk

This mid-November awakening is a tradition of its own, for November is the month I fall in love with my home all over again. As soon as the hickories flame out, gathering a mantle of coppery gold over our old farmhouse, and the goats linger along the fence for a handful of acorns on my daily walks, something primeval flames out in my heart. I watch the light flickering low and radiant over the old walls with a lover’s eyes; I breathe a soul-deep sigh each time I pull in the driveway and see its green gables (yes—they really are green!) through the trees. My summer quarrels with peeling clapboards and faulty gutters are forgotten, banished to the realm of project lists, dentist’s appointments, and other non-essentials—in short, anything that doesn’t contribute specifically to the preparation for and enjoyment of the holidays.

In November I know exactly who I am and where I belong.

But this year I feel kind of lost. Back in May our house caught fire, and we’ve been living in an RV in the backyard ever since. Such a curious circumstance—to be home, but not home.

To be homesick at home.

I love the fact that I wake up at my own place every morning, that every night I can tuck my barn animals safely into their stalls, and that my daily walks still ramble over a little landscape that’s become so much a part of me its terrain feels graven on my heart. I’m thankful for this sanctuary of a trailer, especially during the long heartbreak of the demolition process, and the even longer wait for the restoration to begin. God has provided, and His mercies are too many to count.

Our temporary home

But I miss my house. I miss the worn floorboards under my feet, and the filigreed patterns of light on plaster walls. I miss the little rituals of days and seasons; I miss my tea kettle and my stove and my piano and my grandmother’s crystal lustres.

I miss my Christmas books and my cookbooks, both casualties of the fire. And I miss my boxes of antique ornaments, stowed so carefully from year to year in reams of white tissue paper.

(“We don’t clean Christmas decorations,” the woman from the contents company told me.

I smiled sweetly. “Okay, well, thank you for cleaning these Christmas decorations.”

She smiled back, with a sigh of resignation. “You’re welcome.”)

I miss it all so much that, frankly, I’m tempted to miss the holidays, too. To burrow into survival mode, to emotionally hibernate until that blessed-but-far-off day when the restoration is complete and we can move back into our house. In fact, I’ve been dreading the holidays ever since the fire.

Back in July, Laura and I exchanged a series of text messages that went something like this:

Laura: Hey, how was your weekend?

Lanier: Hideous. I cried all day Sunday.

Laura: Oh dear. Was it the work? The overwhelm? The trailer? All?

Lanier: Yeah. But mostly Christmas.

It’s dangerously easy to just hunker down and hold out for that elusive mirage of “next year.” When the harbingers of the season pierce my heart with more sadness than joy, it’s hard not to shy away from the whole thing like a wounded animal. All of the images of happy families around laden tables, the onslaught of Pinterest and Instagram, the glitter and sparkle appearing on street lamps and grocery aisles—it feels like a blow upon a bruise.

I don’t want to lean in—I want to run away.

But—thank God—I know better.

I’ve seen a soul’s night lit up with stars, and I’ve watched a desert bloom. I know that Advent images longing, and that Christmas itself is haunted with the bright sadness of a broken world and a dying God.

What’s more, my heart’s been invaded by the “good tidings of great joy” which shattered our separation from God on the night of Christ’s birth. If the Incarnation changed everything, then these circumstances I’m in are no exception. If He comes to us in our abundance—when recipes, traditions, celebrations and decorations are all caught up and transfigured into an oblation of love—how much more so in our brokenness? The God who sets the solitary in families and wipes away our tears and spares not His own Son—is with us.

In our grief and in our joy, He is with us. When it’s all said and done—whether we’ve watched Mercy crack the rim of the world, or seen the shadow of the Cross athwart the creche in the corner of the room—He still came.

~

I know I’m not the only one facing a holiday season fraught with sadness and uncertainty. Between hurricanes and wildfires and horrific headlines—not to mention the scores of personal trials that never make the news—I know I’m not alone in this ache of displacement. The discrepancy between the way things ought to be and the way they are seems inconsolable. Irreconcilable with joy.

But is it?

Is it just possible that incorruptible joy, like Christ Himself, is born at night?

~

I’m not making any assumptions about this holiday season. It will be radically different than any I’ve ever known, and I realize I must honor my limitations, physical and otherwise. But it doesn’t have be devoid of beauty and meaning just because I’m on the longest camping trip of my life. It both frightens and enlivens me to consider that, if everything I’ve ever believed about the sacredness of our homes and the holy potential of our domestic efforts is indeed true, then it’s as true out here in this little trailer as it is in my beloved farmhouse.

In other words, if it’s not true out here in this trailer, it’s not true anywhere.

I believe it is true, more than ever, though my heart fails me at times to affirm it. I want order and rhythm; I want early morning devotions by my Christmas tree; fireside evenings and favorite recipes. I want to honor the season in the way I always have, the way that best suits my ideals and my temperament.

But I don’t want to miss a moment of what waits for me in this place. Like Anne Shirley smelling flowers in the dark, I want to get hold of the soul of this holiday, plunging deep into the pathos and implausible joy of the Incarnation. To welcome my King with a widow’s mite of an oven, a clutch of handmade ornaments, even a few tears.

Tears, sadness, loss—they all seem so utterly at odds with modern notions of excess and happiness at all costs. But Christmas isn’t about harried shoppers and overstuffed calendars and frantic pursuits of pleasure–we all know that.

Still, anything that reminds us is, at heart, a mercy.

~

Homesick at home—what a metaphor for a waiting world.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

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10 thoughts on “Home(sick) for the Holidays

  1. For those of us who harbour a strong sense of place, disruption of or removal from that place is a wound both spiritual and physical.
    There is the acknowledged blessing of being on your own property, the familiar barns and fences, the pastures and wooded walks; there is also the yet unmitigated sorrow of loss–the little treasures that cannot be fully restored or replaced, even though the house will be rebuilt.
    I like to believe that joy can exist even where there is pain and upset and that the moments of joy and renewal will far outweigh the times of painful remembrance during this season.

  2. This is one of my favorite pieces you’ve ever written, dear Lanier! And it gives us a window into the heart of Mary, who was also probably heartbroken to be consigned to the meagre lodgings of a stable on her big night. Reading your post, I can almost hear her say, “But we would have been able to entertain the shepherds so much better at the inn!” And yet, and yet…into a bed of straw He came. It was good to be reminded of the concept of Bright Sadness. Your whole post moved me to tears.

  3. Thanks, Lanier, this is a good read. I just returned from my daily walk with my good friend Joey, our 9 year old flat-coated retriever. During these walks I talk to God thanking him for his great creation as I am certain you are doing. There’s no doubt in my mind that you and Philip will come through this fire setback with renewed gratitude for what you have, a strong faith and continued neighborly love.
    As a Christian education teacher of young people, I will use some of your beautiful thoughts of hope and faith with my 12 year old charges this Sunday as we go through three challenging stories of David.
    Best wishes,
    Ed

  4. Lovely friend, this post is just so full of your twisting heart, wrung out. I’m so sorry, and so glad at the same time for all I know He is teaching you at this time! Also— I know it’s simplistic and silly, but I have a strange feeling you need to make sure you catch How the Grinch Stole Christmas this year… the old version of course. I think it’s going to feel awfully close for comfort … and yet!

    And bless the restoration company lady. Lord, let everything come out just right. ❤️ to you from Franklin.

    Misty

  5. I am so thankful for your beautiful words tonight. All of the things that you wrote I’ve been feeling, those thoughts have been swirling in my mind, but I just couldn’t get them to come out to make sense and you did that for me. I lost my husband in April and I am alone for the first time in almost 34 years. My children are grown and I’m struggling with how to proceed through these holidays. How can decorate and celebrate through this grief? I had been a homemaker for 34 years and I’ve lost my bearings and I don’t know how to make a home and decorate my home and celebrate this year without him here. I think I will need to go back and read this again and just take it one little step at a time. Thank you.

  6. “Yeah, but mostly Christmas.”

    I’m sure there were more than a few readers who wondered, but dared not ask about how your Christmas treasures had fared, knowing this would be the hardest for you… I am sorry for the loss of precious books, and heartened by your plucky response to the woman from the contents company! I know there will be such gladness on the day they are returned to you.

    “But I don’t want to miss a moment of what waits for me in this place. Like Anne Shirley smelling flowers in the dark, I want to get hold of the soul of this holiday, plunging deep into the pathos and implausible joy of the Incarnation. To welcome my King with a widow’s mite of an oven, a clutch of handmade ornaments, even a few tears.”

    Because for years you’ve recorded your love of Christmas, there are things that can never be stolen from you heart, even while this Christmas, you ” . . . concern [yourself] with the Present because there, and there alone, all duty, all grace, all knowledge, and all pleasure dwell . . . .” (C.S. Lewis)

    I will pray for unexpected joys, and for tears of laughter and well as those of sorrow, in this season.

  7. Lanier, if it’s any comfort, the only thought in my head is that of weeping with those who weep. There’s a collective soul-deep sigh sounding across the land during this season of loss for you and Phillip, I’m sure. How anyone can mine gold out the dross is a wonder and a gift. Ushering us into this corner of grief and glory in your world is a precious privilege. Thank you.

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