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?…
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.
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.