Grace Uninvited

Five states and three Christmases with family celebrations and visits with old friends scattered in between.  Somehow the silence in my parents’ garage is unnatural after the frantic festivities of the past five days, the patio heater Mom gave me this weekend finding its ideal purpose as I hide from the cold rain.  Charming is with my father and brothers at The Dome watching the ‘Cuse.  My sister-in-laws have finally coaxed the four little ones to sleep.  I’m alone for the first time in nearly a week.

And I’m grateful for the unnatural silence, however unsettling.  We’ve managed to pack in a full season of memories into a long weekend.  We kicked off the holiday with an early Christmas in Maryland with Charming’s family, and I felt quite at home there having shared so many holidays with them in the past year and half.  As we drove north on Christmas Eve toward my family, I found myself giving Charming a Cliff Notes cram session, preparing him for all the people that he would meet in my world.

I told him about Grams, about what to expect now that dementia and a stroke have nearly silenced her.  Then I told him who she was to me growing up.  On Christmas day when Dad took us to the nursing home, he’d see an old woman, tender and sweet, uttering only a few words.  He’d watch me talk her through the photographs on her wall, reminding her of all the doctors and teachers that came from her, all the great-grandchildren that wouldn’t exist without Grams as the Matriarch.

And I did so with tears in my eyes as I understand Charming will never get to know the woman who so dominated my youth with her strong will, resilience, and vibrant spirit.  The qualities I most revere in my grandmother are ones she passed on to me. I told him about that woman on our road trip north.

I also told him about Michelle, the woman who’s cut my hair for thirty years now.  She’s more than just my hair dresser.  In my time working at the Hair Shed as a receptionist in high school and college, Michelle became a dear friend and confidant.  I took him with me this morning when I had four inches hacked off because stories just wouldn’t cut it.  Michelle’s witty banter with our boss Johnny is best observed in person.  And she told him stories about young Laura Joy… and all her loser boyfriends.  It’s amusing now that I’ve got Charming in my life.

And I told him about Joanie and Bob, my parents’ best friends, though I’ve done so before.   These people are uniquely different from Grams and Michelle because I got to know them when I moved back to Syracuse for a year after I left my husband.  They didn’t know me when I was a fearless teen, grabbing life by the horns, determined I would change the world, holding myself to an expectation of perfection.  Those qualities were endearing, however misguided my young heart was at the time.

No, they met me when I was dead inside.  When I could barely gather the will to climb out of my old canopy bed and face the mess that I’d made of my adult life.  For the first couple of months that I was living with my parents again, the only outings I made were to their small group, church and Sunday lunches with Joanie and Bob afterward.  There was nothing beautiful about me to attract them.  I was hopeless, faithless, lifeless… fallen.

Fallen.  On Christmas, my family and Charming all curled up together in the family room to watch a Hallmark movie about a young writer.  She was a hopeless romantic and endearingly dramatic.  The protagonist, after falling for an irreverent young man, writes in a letter to her mother that she is now a “fallen woman”.  We all laughed at her histrionics, and in a way, I was laughing at myself.  She reminded me of a younger me, always seeing the world in superlatives with consequences far more dire than reality would assess.

I was, in fact, a fallen woman when Joanie and Bob set their hearts on loving me, their friends’ broken daughter.  Perhaps I, too, had fallen for the wrong man, and I left in attempt to right my own ship, but I was a fallen woman because I lost faith.  I could not see God’s hand in my divorce or my childhood bedroom.  I couldn’t see Him in the severance of a decade of the life I was building in Nashville, snuffed out with no farewells.

Despite my unbelief, they welcomed me as the odd member of their small group more than forty years their junior.  It didn’t take long to understand why my parents cherished this couple.  Bob met Joanie on a blind date and proposed the same night.  When she said she needed to think about it, he said he’d check in the next day, and when he did, she agreed to become his wife.  Fifty-four years later, they’ve written quite the love story.  That same tenacity with which they approached their union regulates their ardent dedication to my parents.  I’ve never seen my parents laugh so genuinely as when Joanie and Bob are in their company.

They are real and authentic, guided by a fervent faith in a God of grace.  And they believed in God’s grace for me even when I’d stopped trying to utter faithless prayers.  Joanie inserted herself into my life as my mentor without my permission.  That’s Joanie.  She speaks her mind, and fortunately for me, she’s been imbued with the wisdom necessary for her words to carry weight.   My inbox is littered with unprompted emails over the past three years, careful words of encouragement at just the moments when I needed them.

Moving to Virginia and away from their small group didn’t end Joanie’s investment in me.  She’ll drop me a note after a blog post I wrote prompts a thought or when God lays me on her heart.  In essence, there are a handful of emails in which Joanie told me what I needed to hear, and what I might not have actually “heard” had it come from anyone else.  When I moved home during my divorce, I could have never anticipated the extension of family I would gain in her and her husband.

Preparing Charming for meeting these two incredible people stirred memories of that broken season, reminding me of the fallen woman I was when I parked my car in this garage nearly four years ago, head hanging in shame.  I wanted him to understand the role they’ve played in my life, loving me simply because their best friends’ daughter was lost and in need.  Now, when I call Mom after weekends with Charming, she insists I give her all the details because Joanie is waiting for an update.

Last night, Charming got to do more than put a face with a name.  He could feel their warmth and love in a simple greeting.  I awoke this morning to another carefully crafted email from Joanie that brought tears to my eyes. She told me it was great to finally meet Charming, a man who was “handsome, delightful, modest, and perfect” for me… a far cry from the boys I introduced to Michelle back in my Hair Shed days.  Joanie promised to continue to pray for us both as God continues to knit us together, and in doing so, she speaks His grace into my life.

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Bringing Charming home for Christmas was about more than presents and delicious home-cooked meals.  I was taking him to a place that contained all of these people who have shaped my existence at varied junctures, people like my grams and Michelle who knew me when I was young and hopeful, and people like Joanie and Bob who knew me when I was at a loss and emptied of life.

Bringing Charming home for Christmas is painting a picture for him and for me of God’s incredible redemptive grace.  Nearly four years since leaving Nashville, I am whole again.  Restored.  Surrounded with family and friends, in love with a man who is more than worthy.  Somehow, when Joanie looked into my downcast eyes back then, I think she saw who I would become.  She committed to speaking hope and encouragement into my life, absent any obligation to do so, so that woman might be revealed.

Joanie saw God’s hand on my life when I couldn’t.  God knit us together, too, an unlikely pair separated by miles and decades.  And we’ve both bid farewell to that fallen, broken woman who came back from Nashville.

Visions of Christmas Joy

Cue up a Hallmark Christmas movie, start the electric fireplace, and bring on the wrapping paper.  I cater toward meaningful gifts concealed beneath the combination of wrapping paper, ribbon, and glittery tag that fits the recipient.  My coffee table is transformed into Santa’s Workshop just like the ping pong table in Mom’s basement.  The process is slow and creative, a perfect match for my sick day last week.

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I wrapped them all, thinking about the family and friends who will open them soon as I worked.  I put them all under my tree.  It was even more beautiful… for a moment.  That was before I packed up a box to send to my brother’s family in Greenville, a bag of gifts to take to my brother’s family here, and still more bags and boxes of gifts to take to Charming’s and my parents’ for everyone else in our lives.

In our lives.  There was this moment when I was tangled up in silver ribbon struggling to get the tape dispenser back on track when my eyes settled on my gift list.  I’d made two columns, because, of course, every respectable list is inherently organized by some gradation.  One was for the people in my world.  The other was for the people in Charming’s.  It shocked me how nearly equal the two columns were in length.  Granted two were for a gift exchange, but still for his parents’ Bible Study Christmas party.

I’d knocked out most of my Christmas shopping while on my training tour in Madrid last month.  Amazon Prime fulfilled much of the rest with rarely more than two days’ shipping time.  In recent years, since our family has grown so large, we’ve taken to doing a Secret Santa among the siblings and spouses and between the children.  This year, I ignored it and brought each back a small token, a reminder of my love despite geographical boundaries.

I don’t think they’ll mind.  My favorite gifts to open are the ones for which I can’t imagine the contents.  They won’t be expecting anything, so they can’t be disappointed.  I remember reading books and watching movies about kids snooping for presents, but I wasn’t one of them.  The surprise heightened the impact of each gift.  I’d sit year after year for decades in the same spot in the middle of the living room rug and spread out my secret treasures.  If I’m honest, that should be in present tense.

On Christmas morning, we take turns opening presents, one apiece in age order, savoring each gift with the appropriate due response.  My mom is fun to watch for these couple of hours each year.  She turns into an excited little girl, with this dimpled delight in her smile, appreciating the thoughtfulness and sentiment with animated joy.  I’m this way when I’m opening my own gifts, I’m sure… but her joy comes when we open those she’s given to us.

Mom enjoys giving gifts.  It’s her love language.  She actively loves us in the contents of each perfectly wrapped present; she’s the author of nearly every one of my Christmas traditions, not the least of which is matching the tag and bow to the paper and the person.  In less than a week, I’ll introduce Charming to a Palma Family Christmas.  I imagine Mom’s looking forward to blessing an extra person in that living room this year.

That’s how I feel about that second column on this Christmas gift list.  In just a few days, we’ll be celebrating the holiday early with Charming’s family before heading north.  We get the best of both our worlds.  My first Christmas together with Charming, and his family, and my family.  I’m my mother’s daughter, and never is that quite as obvious as in December.  The opportunities to love people in personal gifts are exponential with the meeting of two young-ish people who were single a year and a half ago.

At this intersection of our worlds, Charming’s and mine, the collective joy of gift giving is multiplied.  Essentially, I got twice as many chances this year to love on people who matter to me, in a capacity not typically fostered by our constant trading of weekends between Alexandria and Hampton.  I exchanged gifts with some of the ladies in his Bible Study, and it was while wrapping those gifts that I got tangled up in silver ribbon and couldn’t help but feel a little tangled up myself.

I straddle two worlds.  I have my work, my house, and my brother’s family here.   I bounce between churches when I’m home; church shopping having never yielded that perfect match, when our weekends land in Hampton, I settle for one that’s familiar.  I know I should have a church home, and I should be in a Bible Study of my own.  I should.  And I know.

But I had that once, when I wasn’t straddling two worlds, when I was completely immersed in a Hispanic Christian subculture.  For a decade, my entire adult life until the day I left, I was a Nashvillian.  I loved music, and I dreamed of the day when my husband’s talent would finally be heard by the right producer.  We shared that dream.  We had his family, our church, and our friends.  I had my teaching job.  He had a nine to five that paid the bills.  He stopped making music.  That dream died.  Maybe we died with it, because that was the lives we envisioned and expected for our future.  Having come to the proverbial Christmas tree with expectations, we were sorely disappointed when the contents of our marriage and our futures did not seem to contain the things we wanted most.

Somehow, looking at that list while wrapping made me think about all the names that used to be in a similar column, similar relationships to a different man.  His family, his friends, our Bible Study group.  When I was in Madrid last decade, I bought a piece of jewelry for my ex-husband’s grandmother.  Last month, I bought one for Charming’s.  Those people aren’t in my life anymore.  But new people are, and I should be grateful that God is connecting me, weaving stories together so that I don’t feel so much like a snowflake as much as part of a snowstorm.

That was how I felt, too, at the Christmas party with all Charming’s parents’ closest friends, their children, and for some, their children too.  Three generations of families bound by a weekly Bible Study meeting well into its fourth decade.  As he made the introductions, Charming would supply me any necessary background information.  Everyone was laughing and smiling, despite the cancer or car accident or tumor that had recently rocked various members.

I should be in a Bible study.  I only know a handful of vague tragedies some of these men and woman had faced, so imagination can see the exponential potential for more that have littered the past thirty-five years of their shared lives together.  Lives in which they supported one another.  Grieved and celebrated together.  An extension beyond family that is somehow just as deep, bonds forged in the moments when they have been most vulnerable only to find themselves embraced when the tears are done.

I imagine it, anyway.  That’s what it’s like for my parents’ small group, too.  I want that.  But I thought I had that in Nashville, and I lost it, and that was a whole different type of grief than what I experienced over my marriage.  Perhaps, I haven’t actually mourned it completely, distracted by the myriad of losses when I uprooted myself with little warning to anyone, myself included, and just left.  No goodbyes.

The unexpected sobs wrenching my chest are making it hard to write, also confirming my suspicion.  There are new people in this column, and I think I’d like to wait to see if they are still there, if maybe they’ll someday be on my side.  I want to end up with Charming, and if our worlds finally collide, there’s going to be some losses.  If I have to leave Hampton, there will be enough to grieve without adding another small group to my wake.

If… if… if… and I see the list now as evidence of the gamble of my existence.  It’s not unlike Christmas.  I have no expectations, so I can’t be disappointed.  Like my mom, I get to love some new people this year through nicely presented packages.  After all, the potential for joy is exponential when two worlds intersect.  Jaded realism answers back that the potential for future loss and grief is equal.

Yet we buy the gifts.  We wrap them, not thinking about whether or not we will wrap presents for these same people next year.  There’s no more gifts under my tree tonight.  My husband and I wanted a different life than we had.  With Charming, I want more of the life we already have.

That childlike joy my mother sewed into my genes will find Charming in the center of the living room floor with me on Sunday morning, the greatest of my secret treasures.  It’s a good thing I like surprises.

The Real Prince Charming

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When I attended this winter ball last year, I posted a Photoshopped picture of me with Disney’s Prince Charming.  Still in the budding stages of our romance, my beau and I hadn’t gone “Facebook official” yet.  My most popular blog was shortly after, in January, when I posted the first picture of my Charming, perhaps because the fairy tale became real for my readers like it was for me.

It’s tricky to balance the art of anecdotal integrity and respect for others’ privacy when you’re a writer.  Perhaps you’ve wondered, even when drafting a status update, just how much is too much.  Nevertheless, as creative writing teachers, we emphasize the importance of specifics and details.  We ask students to show us with imagery rather than tell us so that we might creatively engage with that story ourselves.

When my sophomores are writing fairy tales in the spring, anecdotal integrity will be integral.  It’s fiction; there’s no need for protecting people’s privacy.  They can give background stories and qualities and characteristics to their protagonists and supporting characters without crossing sensitive boundaries.  With my bloggers afterschool, a little club time is always devoted to tactful ways to figure out how to give our readers just enough that they can engage and relate, but without divulging details that aren’t ours to share or writing salaciously about painful events.

Sometimes, I’ll use my own blog as an example of how I struggled to construct a personal anecdote involving Charming knowing how incredibly private he is by nature.  I’ve respected the natural boundaries I imagine my ex-husband would desire, including withholding the specifics surrounding our divorce.  That’s easy.  My mother uses her own experiences when leading Bible studies or speaking at conferences, so I typically feel safe bringing her to life on writing nights.

My friends and students have all been carefully concealed by fairy tale pseudonyms.  This choice allowed me to share more private, personal sentiments without fear of reproach.  My young bloggers sometimes refer to themselves at school by my princess nicknames, and it makes me smile.  We have an inside joke, a little secret we all prize: this gift to write about those who are important to us, especially each other.

Writing about Charming has always been a challenge.  Even now as I type these words, I wonder if he’ll cringe dramatically at the title or the picture.  Charming is a military man.  He’s served in Afghanistan.  He’s currently posted at the Pentagon.  The black tie gala we attended for the second time this past weekend was a military ball, and Charming was awarded a medal at a ceremony beforehand.  These all speak to who he is.

I’ve never shared this much about Charming before.  But when I posted a picture of him, my blog stats boomed.  My readers needed to see him to understand my infatuation, to be able to join me in my fairy tale.  As the year progressed, I’d divulge too much on occasion and make Charming uncomfortable; the pseudonym no longer protected him once there was a photograph.

For one night, just one, I want to write the real Prince Charming into my narrative.  He met me in a tea shop in Richmond fifteen months ago and changed my life.  Teachers and kids tease me about a ring under the tree at Christmas, but I know there won’t be one.  I don’t want there to be.  Because I know the real Charming, and he has to take his time.

I don’t know what it will take for him to decide I’m the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with, and that’s okay.  It’s out of my hands, and rightly so.  When my kids are writing their fairy tales, I don’t chime in during their exposition and hand them their resolution.  They have to develop their plot for the story that they want to write.  Giving them an ending would limit their creativity, destroy their sense of ownership, and cheapen the integrity of the experience.

Charming has to write his story, and one look at that uniform says he’s written some amazing, inspiring chapters all on his own.  One look at the girl on his arm says he’s got a leading lady for his narrative now, and it’s not up to her whether this story ends as a comedy or a tragedy.  We fell in love, so we have two potential outcomes: marry each other or fall out of it.  I don’t want to consider the latter.

What I know is that I felt twice as much pride on Charming’s arm at the ball this year as I did last December.  Now, I know the real Charming.  Our story is not a fairy tale because it’s filled with sunshine and roses.  We’ve struggled to get ourselves working on the same chapters, much less ending up on the same page.  He’s a year behind me in the divorce process… and pretty much everything else.  He’s nothing if not consistent.

Our story is a fairy tale because of who he is.  I gave him his nickname before our first date.  I didn’t know that he would embody it.  Nor is it self-fulfilling prophesy.  Charming never sought to be my hero.  He was simply the answer to every question of my summer of online dating.  I didn’t have to settle.  Men of quality still exist, however difficult to fish out of a quagmire of doctored profiles.

Charming still opens the car door for me.  He lets me pay for inexpensive meals to feel like I’m carrying my weight.  He thinks of things that will make me smile, like dressing up in a sparkly red gown I haven’t worn since I was seventeen (hmmm…. fits me a bit differently now) and dancing with the man of my dreams.  He might take his time to arrive at major life decisions involving a potential life partner, but in the meantime, he fills our moments together with creative memory making.

When I asked him to write me a love letter, it took him a few weeks, but it was so rare and honest that I cried when I read the words.  When I asked him if he would love me, it took him a few months; then, he finally said the words, and I cried because I knew he meant it.  Like me, Charming has amassed a slew of broken chapters in the development of his narrative, and I feel honored to be his leading lady now.

Tonight, I don’t want him to cringe.  He is the reason I get to have a fairy tale every week, and I know it’s hard to battle my weaponized biological clock while he’s finding his way to a few months from now.  His royal track record shows he consistently catches up eventually, so that’s promising.

The reality is that I might be alone during the week, resenting the absence of the pitter-patter of little feet, but on the weekends, Charming gives me two-day episodes in our own fairy tale.  He’s never put me on a pedestal, never asked me to be his royal match, but his courtship has made me feel like a queen.

I don’t need a ring to believe this man loves me.  He respects me.  Our relationship honors God.  I get to look my dad in the eyes without shame.  Two years ago, that was unfathomable.  Our story may not play out like a Disney movie, but Charming has never failed to live up to his name.

A Beacon in the Night

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This kind of beauty doesn’t come easy… nor does it last long.  After a long, cold December afternoon trimming the tree and my porch, I had just enjoyed an early episode of Friday Night Lights with Charming by the warmth of my electric fireplace and the twinkling lights of the most perfect Christmas tree ever.  I was unaware that the intricate web of lights outside had surged somewhere, and now half the lights were out.

Much to Charming’s dissatisfaction, as anyone can imagine who has braved the fear of heights and uneven ground, carefully shifting the ladder in two feet minor successes to hang them, it was the icicles above the porch that had apparently burnt out while I was avoiding burning a celebratory frozen pizza.

I wasn’t even sure I was going to do it this year.  Exciting holiday events extend Charming most December weekends with the exception of Christmas where we’ll be in Syracuse with my family.   Charming’s taking me to that military ball again this weekend, and I’m looking forward to attending his parents’ Bible Study Christmas party again a week later.

So why do all this work just for me on these weekdays?

I can’t be the only one.  In fact, I know I’m not.  Mom still hauls carefully labeled, organized, and bubble wrap laden tubs of decorations down two floors from the attic each year.  I learned how to do Christmas from her.  Her house still feels more like Christmas than anywhere I’ve been in three decades.  My first Christmas, I couldn’t have known the joys yet to come on the carpet, nor the pain the one after my divorce, long after it had been ripped out to reveal preserved hardwoods.

Last year, I was the only child visiting on Christmas day, but Mama Joy preserved all the best traditions.  Each year is slightly different, but never too many changes all at once.  There’s always the candelabra in the garland behind Dad’s couch in the family room, always the porcelain choir boy trio perched on the piano.  Even the mudroom greets you with cinnamon broomsticks.

I dreamed of making a home like that at Christmas in my own place.  In college, I decorated inside my apartments.  The first Christmas after I had married, I relished decorating our rented house inside and out.  I took measurements first, then purchased strings in the appropriate types and lengths for their locations, and finally attached numbers to each end of the each strand and extension cord.  The preparation phase complete, stringing the lights was a breeze.  I braved the ladder.  I couldn’t wait for my husband to come home and see our house all lit up!

Only, similar to that sinking feeling I had this weekend when I realized the icicles were not lit, when he returned he was upset that I had done it without him.  It was totally unexpected.  When a string of lights went out mid-season, I let him fix it. The next year, I made sure to include him.  I thought that my labeling system would carry over and make for a simple reproduction.  In all, I think we made three trips to Home Depot that day.   We were frustrated.  The lights didn’t even matter at the end of the day.

In truth, we got better at decorating together in years to come.  He’d purchase trinkets and ornaments that reflected his tastes, and he knew which staples I envisioned to be my versions of Mom’s choir boy trio on the piano in Syracuse.  We got better at anticipating which replacement lights to have on hand.  We learned which extension cords provided the necessary power.

And we did that with the Christmas lights, year after year, better than we did with our marriage.  I didn’t give up on Christmas that last year we were together, though I considered it then, too.  Nor was I giving up on my marriage.  I was just replacing broken lights all the time.  I’d diagnose the problem in the electricity or our relationship and try to identify what would fix it.

When I returned on Christmas Eve after two weeks visiting my parents, all the lights were dead.  So was the fridge in the garage filled with rotting meat, days since frozen.  I’d tried to coach my husband through this over the phone.  Find the red “reset” button on the GFI outlet in the garage.  I flipped it.   The lights came back on outside.  The reindeer started moving.

I’m not sure the power ever came back on in our marriage.  I equate these Christmas lights and decorations to making a house a “home”.  This time of year, no matter how lifeless or alone we feel, there is comfort in the living current of the reason we celebrate.  My Precious Moments nativity is my most prized decoration.  The reality in every twinkling light and snowman’s wink is that I’m never alone.  A baby would become a man who would sacrifice himself to make that the reality.

When I started over the next year in New York, I bought new Christmas lights.  Everything worked.  Because it does in the beginning, when it’s new.  I tried to diagnose the problem in our marriage in those final months, but there were so many broken pieces I could no longer identify what one thing was going to get the power back on.  I I thought that a second chance at happily ever after would be like the new Christmas lights that lit up my snowy front yard that year.

Here’s the thing about new lights: they’re only new the first use.  After that, there are no guarantees.  You can anticipate problems, diagnose and replace, but eventually, unexpectedly, things will go wrong.  There will be power surges and you will have to put time and money into fixing them.  I don’t bother labeling the strands anymore because they might not make it to next season.

This weekend with Charming was reminiscent of that last year I spent with my ex-husband.  The lights just didn’t want to cooperate.  We bought new icicles the next day, Charming hung them, and they were five feet short of connecting with the next strand.  He had to rehang the rest of the icicles.  Again with the scooting of the ladder.  And then there was a portion of those lights out, so I re-hung them this time.

We couldn’t celebrate long, because when I snuck out to the gym during the first half of the Redskins game, the lights were out again.  I stopped at three stores on the way home, settling for Dollar General white lights, grabbing extras.   I tried to replace the troublemaker before Charming noticed, but he’d heard me pull in and caught me wrapped up in the evidence.  I assured him it wasn’t the icicles this time, and we fixed it again.  We took a picture of the house: this beautiful, shining wonder amidst a windy, evening chill.

Then the lights went out again.  Charming had to get on the road, and I fixed the lights after he left.  I made some changes to my layout, rerouted some lines, added power sources, and it worked.  This year, the process was discouraging… but it’s nothing compared to the type of troubleshooting on a marriage with a shelf life of four years.  The decision to leave was an agonizing one.  I had run out of solutions.

This weekend with Charming was only reminiscent in the electrical problems. He was a saint, stringing and restringing lights despite a nagging cold.  We would have only these two days in my house this year, faces lit by the most perfect Christmas tree ever (the salesman at Home Depot confirmed it!).  He made sure that we made the most of those moments together.

Lights went out, but it mostly happened when we were making memories inside.  At times, we fixed the problems.  They were valuable learning experiences.  But if we spent all our time fixing things, we’d never get to the memory making.  At times, we left well enough alone and snuggled up by fake firelight.  A relationship is a lot like Christmas lights.  You have to fix the problems as they come.   If there are too many broken strands, fixing it seems somehow insurmountable, and you never have time to enjoy one another in the peace or the stillness.

I do this with my lights, because when I pull into my driveway after a long, cold day like today, my house is an actual beacon in the night.  Its glow lights my way from down the street.  This season, when I most long for a home to make memories in like my mother’s, and a family to make them with, this is the time of year where I spend the most time alone with reminders of my faith.

That tree that keeps me company while I grade persuasive essays is adorned for one reason.  I am not alone.  I am never alone.  And my little house can be a home with just me and baby Jesus in the Precious Moments nativity.  I have two days of memories shared with Charming to scatter through the days to come, too.

I won’t give up on the lights.  They twinkle around me as I write. They warm me in the cold.  I’m in the beacon now, looking out at my neighborhood, typing my way to the realization that all the mental and physical effort is worth it because of what it represents to me.  The Beacon, the Light of the World, born on Christmas day.

This type of beauty doesn’t come easy.  To be a light in the darkness, there are bound to be some broken connections I can’t figure out.  I have to trust that the author of Light will work in the darkness.